Saturday, April 23, 2011

Happiness is...a familial connection.

My mom is pretty big into genealogy. It started years ago when my grandfather started to trace his ancestors back to England and everything ran aground after only one generation when he ran into his oh-so-creatively-named grandfather, Henry Brown. She (and others in her family) have worked with professional genealogists, spent countless hours in the local family history library and even traveled to England to hunt down clues about him and his family. We did finally find him, the details of which could be an entire book of its own, but suffice it to say, because of the constant activity and mom's natural inclination to be more talkative than dad, I've always had more of an interest in and known more about my mom's side of the family than my dad's. I had little pieces of the puzzle thanks to our obviously Scottish last name and passing comments made by my grandparents but nothing really concrete to build on.

Well, this past year for Christmas my dad gave all us kids folders filled with stories, journals, newspaper clippings, and charts detailing some of our family history and I've absolutely loved learning more about my paternal ancestors.  My proud heritage includes pioneers who crossed oceans and plains for their beliefs, members of the ill-fated Martin Handcart company, settlers and school teachers, missionaries and hard-workers in many fields. Reaching out and touching the distant past gives me a greater appreciation for the present, all that I am and all that I have. 

But the greatest joy has been in coming to know my grandfather a bit better.  Relations in my dad's family have always been a little strained and we've not had the chance to be as close as we'd like, so being able to read his own words and hear about his childhood has been fascinating.  I feel as if I've come to know him as a person instead of just as 'grandpa'. Born on the cusp of the Great Depression, he lived the life I've read about in so many of my books, at once both hard and idyllic; winter sleigh rides, summer baseball games in the pasture, and hours spent listening to programs in front of the radio. This got me reminiscing about my own adventures listening to the radio.

When I was young there was a radio station that would play these old radio shows at night.  From 9 until 10 when I was supposed to be in bed asleep I would turn on my alarm clock radio and get lost in the worlds of Fibber McGee and Molly, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, The Great Gildersleeve and the Twilight Zone.  (You ever want to be truly terrified? Forget books. Screw movies.  Turn off the lights and listen to chilling stories told by someone with a horribly creepy voice and strategically placed sound effects. It's amazing what your imagination can conjure up when it's not got anything else to do.  I spent months sleeping with my lights on or with my dolls locked in my closet after particularly scary episodes.  My mom finally but the kibosh on my listening habits...which of course inspired me to turn the volume down really low and put the radio right next to my pillow.  Readers aren't the only ones with clandestine nighttime activities!)

In his history my grandpa mentioned listening to Amos and Andy specifically and I decided to see if I could hunt down some version to see how it compared to the other shows I was familiar with. I checked out a comedy collection from my local library (aka my home away from home) and have spent the last several weeks in the company of some of the greatest comics in history. The Great Gildersleeve wasn't as funny as I remembered it being and I didn't love Amos and Andy (sorry grandpa!) but I can totally understand why George Burns had such a long and lustrous career.  Opting for listening first thing in the morning rather than late at night, I often had to stop applying my mascara or curling my hair for fear of jabbing myself in the eye or dreaded forehead burns from giggling too much at Red Skelton, Jack Benny and Abbott and Costello. Laughing out loud....what a fabulous way to start the day!  And what a simple, yet powerful way to feel just a little bit closer to my grandfather.

My challenge for you this week is to make some connections of your own.  Dig deep into your family history and learn something new.  Talk to your parents or grandparents and ask them their most cherished memories. Make a few memories of your own. Try a recipe from your native homeland.  Watch your grandfather's favorite movie. Plant your mother's favorite flower. Tell their stories, keep them alive, make them real. And I guarantee you'll find a bit of happiness along the way!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Happiness amazing video.

I've seen a few of these videos circulating on blogs and in emails over the past couple of weeks or so and I am just absolutely blown away by people's creativity. I wish I had the kind of mind to think these things up in the first place and then the how-to-it-ness to bring it to life.

So, here are a few of my favorites.  Hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

All I can say is 'wow'!

The Lego commercials are always entertaining but I love what 'regular' people do with them almost as much.  Check this out!

(I think the waves are the best part)

And this doesn't have anything to do with anyone's creativity but it is probably the dang cutest thing I may have seen in my entire life. Ever!

I'm going to try and steal a penguin just like this when I'm in Antarctica.  And he'll live in my bathtub.  And I'll call him Pete.  And you can all come visit him anytime you want.  But only if you promise to tickle him! :)

Happy weekend!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Happiness is...a mini road trip.

My roommate is moving back to the west coast in a month or so and decided she could not leave without having been to New York City.  So, this past weekend we hopped on the Chinatown Bus (cuz it's cheap) and spent a few days wandering around the city that never sleeps.  It's a wonderful town!

Here are some of the highlights:

The view from the Top of the Rock

MOMA amazingness

Mmmm, cheesecake!

Our fun show

Our ultra fabulous hotel (cuz it was cheap!)
Lady Liberty

Washington Square Park

Devouring a Gray's Papaya hot dog

The original Winnie the Pooh animals at the NYPL

scrumptious hot chocolate at Serendipity

Times Square

Central Park

More Central Park

Bethesda Fountain
Saturday our weather was horrible and we spent the day drenched and running from place to place trying to avoid the worst of the storm and the puddles.  The rest of the weekend was lovely, perfect for walking uptown and downtown and all around town. And the walking made it perfect for working off all the calories from the food we were constantly eating (food trucks have got to be one of man's greatest inventions.) 

I love the hustle and bustle, the manic busyness of city. I love the energy and excitement and air of possibility.  However, it also exhausts me. It's a place I love to visit for short amounts of time but have no desire to stay for any extended period. The longer I live in a place that is constantly on the move the more I realize just how much I don't fit into that lifestyle.  Give me open spaces and slow paces.  Not in a city, but close enough to be able to get to museums and concerts and ballets and restaurants when the mood strikes me. But until that happens, I'm happy to take advantage of all the great places and opportunities so close by.  

What places make you happy? Where do you recharge, find your energy, get away from it all, experience new/different things?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Happiness is...a mud puddle.

Spring has been a bit elusive around these parts, as I think it has been just about everywhere this year.  Our temperatures sky rocket to 80+ degrees one day then plummet back down into the 40s the next.  Our sky is nearly always a steely gray with nary a hint of blue in sight.  Sunshine in its truest form is but a memory.

But things have been looking up the past few days.  Saturday I went hiking with a good friend and while it was still overcast and a bit gloomy, once we got moving we were warm enough in just our jackets.  Plus, we'd had rain by the buckets full the day before so everything had that just-washed look about it, the colors brighter and crisper, the air fresher. One could almost begin to believe that spring was on its way.

And then today, summer hit.  My light sweater turned me into a soggy, sweaty mess by the end of my lunchtime walk and my roommate convinced me we should have ice cream for dinner.  (Never fear. Though I'm sleeping with the windows open tonight tomorrow is supposed to be back in the much?!)

But back to the mud.  A puddle incites thoughts of splashing and childhood.  There's something tempting, alluring, forbidden about puddles as an adult.  There's no rule that says I can't splash about in a puddle (and I have been known to do so on occasion) and yet rarely does one succumb to the urge. (Please tell me I'm not the only one to have those kinds of urges!) It's silly. It's messy. You can't expect me to walk around in wet shoes/pants for the rest of the day. And fill that puddle with mud instead of the relatively harmless rain water and the danger factor grows exponentially. And everyone knows that more danger = more temptation.

Mud puddles also hold a bit of mystery.  Regular puddles are open and honest.  There's no doubt about what they hold at their depths. You almost feel as if you could lean down and drink from them or put the water to good use nourishing a nearby plant or animal.  Mud on the other hand is opaque and murky. Who knows what lies at the bottom? And because of that opacity you get a unique reflection of the world around it.  It's not a true mirrored reflection with realistic colors and recognizable features but a monochromatic Wonderland or Looking Glass world, bent and rippled and a little less known than our own. They always seem a bit more magical to me, like a goblin or elf is hiding just below the surface looking back at me without my knowledge, safe in his muck and mire.

Here are a few of my mud puddle mirrors and proofs of my springtime rambles.  Enjoy!

Now, go out and find a natural wonder of your own and don't forget to tell me all about it!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Happiness is...going to church in your jammies.

AKA General Conference.

Twice a year The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints holds a conference for all of its members to gather and hear counsel from prophets and apostles. Our regular church meetings are on hiatus for the week in April and again in October while we gather around our televisions, radios and computers to watch and listen to the broadcasts from church headquarters in Salt Lake City.  (For those who would like more information, go here.)

It's always relaxing.  Not only because you can hang out in your pajamas in the front room all weekend but because you come away so uplifted and rejuvenated emotionally and spiritually. Some of the messages are calls to repentance and warnings but many of them are hopeful and encouraging.

This weekend we were reminded of the love of our Savior; His sacrifice, Atonement and resurrection.  We were reminded to be prepared, and be obedient, live honest and moral lives, to have faith and strengthen our families.  We were given counsel to serve each other, to seek personal revelation, to obey the commandments.  There was a lot to take in and a lot to work on applying to our lives. But I'm always grateful for the opportunity to be taught and edified and guided and corrected.

What was your favorite message from Conference? If you are not LDS, what is your favorite go-to religious teaching (a scripture or doctrine or message or leader) that brings you peace or hope or strength when you most need it?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Happiness is...nature, up close!

I've always had a bit of a fascination with birds (as you may have noticed!)  I think it stems back to my mother or maybe even my grandfather.  (It's definitely not from my father. He has an unnatural fear of birds.  Seriously. Being in the same room with one of our pet parakeets flying loose has been known to reduce him to a shrieking, cowering little girl!  --love you daddy!) Whenever we'd go for drives or go camping we were always on the lookout for wildlife, birds particularly.  Mom would always exclaim and point out the windshield and try to determine what kind of bird it was while all of us kids craned our necks and contorted in ways that would make circus acrobats proud, trying to get a glimpse of it out whichever window we were closest to.  Pretty much every bird of prey became a 'hawk' in my mind. (I've still not gotten the hang of identifying most of them unless they are really close, the dark silhouettes in the sky all look the same to me!) 

Grandpa is an amateur naturalist who'd wanted to be a forest ranger when he was younger.  He'd hike with us and tell us what kinds of trees or flowers or animal tracks we were looking at or pull out the bird identification book when we got back to the car to look up an unknown specimen.  (One of the first books I bought when I moved to the East Coast was the Audubon Bird Guide so I could identify all the birds in my new habitat!)

I've always loved watching birds soar through the sky, particularly the birds of prey that spend most of their time gliding effortlessly along the currents.  I'm hoping that one day I will gain the ability to fly (a girl can dream, right?) I even went paragliding the week before I moved from Utah.  It was an amazing experience and probably as close as I'll ever get.

I've had a few brushes with birds up close and personal.  Sometimes they've been at bird shows and aviaries and zoos and things, safely overseen by trained keepers with leather gloves and tightly held tethers.  But I've also had some pretty amazing experiences out in the wild as well. 

Once while hiking, my friend and I rounded a curve in the trail only to spot a bald eagle sitting directly in our path.  He was about 6 feet in front of us calmly minding his business until he noticed our presence and took off.  Watching his spread his enormous wings and take to the sky, almost close enough to feel the breeze caused by the flapping from his wings, is one of the most incredible things I've ever seen in my life. 

Another time while driving down a twisting part of the Romantic Road in southern Germany, my sister and I had the unfortunate experience of seeing a hawk (well, it was big and brown, so of course it was a hawk!) flying straight for us literally at eye level.  There was nothing we could do but scream and pray he would pull up in time. He did.  Barely.  His lowered talon clipped the car at the top of the windshield and we both gasped and then said a prayer that he would have little more than a slight limp from our encounter.  Still, it was breathtaking to see something so beautiful so close.  And to have such a rare view of it, head-on.

Well, this afternoon I had another, slightly less personal experience.  In the library where I work we have a small courtyard/garden area with benches. The children's area is lined with floor-to-ceiling windows on one whole wall looking out into the green space. It gets a lot of play in the warmer months but it's been so cold lately not even the daffodils will show their faces.  This afternoon, however, we had a majestic visitor.  Perched on the back of one of the benches was a hawk (again, he was big and brown so what else could he be?!  Actually, I think I'm right this time!) I stood at the window and watched him for several minutes, preening and fluffing his feathers like an owl, hopping down onto the bench seat and then the ground and then up tot he back of the bench again.  He strutted a bit like a peacock and pawed at the dirt like a chicken, turning this way and that giving me a splendid view of his mottled wings and breast feathers, his hooked beak and razor sharp talons. His coloring was magnificent and his bearing was regal.  I marveled at his beauty until at last he tired of the fashion show, spread his wings and soared off over the tops of the trees.  I watched him until he was just a dark speck in the distance and wished once again for the ability to join him in the blue vastness of the sky.  (And oh, how I wished I'd had my camera!!)

Take a moment to stop and smell the roses this weekend, dear reader.  What bits of nature do you have at your disposal? Maybe you can walk barefoot through freshly mown grass or marvel at the newly blooming blossoms. Watch the buds and leaves unfurl on the ends of spindly branches or peer at recently returned robins splashing in puddles.  Rescue a wriggling earth worm after a rainstorm or trace a snail's iridescent path across the sidewalk. Whatever you do, take a deep breath, close your eyes and give thanks for this wondrous world that is ours.