Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Happiness is...a fond childhood memory.

I have lost two cherished icons in the space of a week.

Last Friday the world lost the last half of the husband-wife team that created the much-loved Berenstain Bears books. Jan passed away after having suffered a stroke at the age of 88. (Her husband Stan passed away in 2005.) I don't know of anyone who hasn't grown up reading their books, whether as a parent to their child or as a child themselves. Probably best known for their tales with a moral, they've dealt with everything from sibling rivalry to too much junk food, stranger danger and even religion. Their books have taken a bit of turn towards the schmalz as of late, but their early stuff is priceless, with their beginning readers the best of the best.

Many a night I would beg for another reading of The Spooky Old Tree (still one of my favorite reads!), inducing the juiciest of chills followed up by a nice, warm happy ending, perfect for even the youngest of readers. *Warning* It's a gateway book for harder stuff. I blame it entirely for my late elementary school fascination with the likes of Agatha Christie and Edgar Allan Poe!

And I probably could still recite to you the entire text of Inside, Outside, Upside-Down and The B Book...they're very Seuss-esque, which is appropriate as he helped get them started in the publishing world.

The world is a much sadder and duller place for their loss.
Go here, to see a complete listing of their books, to play some fun games, and more.
And here to read a great memorial from the Huffington Post.

And then today I was hit with the news that Davy Jones had died after suffering a heart attack. For those of you not familiar with the great silliness that is The Monkees, go here and fix that, right now.  Or take a gander at these clips.

(Davy's signature song)

(The opening and closing credits of their TV show)

The Monkees was a musical group created to ride on the wave of the Beatles popularity. They were commissioned to star in the offbeat and sometimes ridiculous tv series where they often bumblingly solved mysteries ala Scooby Doo while meeting pretty girls and occasionally breaking into song. Their songs were released on records and they even went on tour. They were goofy and quirky and really not all that talented, but they were charming and so completely likeable that they were a huge success for several years.

As all the best things do, they came back into fashion many years later. In the 80s MTV and a few other stations began showing the reruns and a whole new generation fell in love. My mom happened to have nearly all of their records and so I inherited them along with a mad passionate crush on the token Brit (they had to have a cute guy with an accent if they were going to feed off the Beatles frenzy), Mr. Davy Jones.

Oh, he was so cute! He was my first celeb crush and I was devestated when my mom finally pointed out that he was older in real life than she was (reality can be tough on a 4th grader) but I've never lost my soft spot for him, nor my love for the Monkees in general. (I can still do a few of the interpretive dances my cousin and I worked up to some of their songs when the occasion calls for it ...the 'occasion' being any time one of the songs come on my ipod during shuffle mode!)

RIP my friends, you carry a bit of my childhood with you to your graves. Guard it well.

I'm beginning to feel as if I ought to change the 'happiness' tag on my blog. Sorry about all the downer posts lately. I'll try to do better, I promise!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Happiness is...having a place to whine. *update*

Okay, so I’ve had a few conversations, a good cry while watching PS I Love You, a long day off of work with some much needed naps, an excursion away from my couch which made me feel almost human again, and yes, some ice cream. And while I’m still exhausted and frustrated here are some truths I’ve uncovered and rediscovered.

In addition to my rampant spate of tv watching I’ve spent a lot of time online sometimes reading blogs but more often on facbook or pinterest as they take less brain cells and stamina. But I realize that they’re also feeding my feelings of inadequacy as I see all of the perfect parties I’m not throwing, the delicious meals I’m not preparing (or eating), the clothes I’m not sewing , the crafts I’m not creating, the houses I’m not decorating, the adventures I’m not having, the music I’m not listening to, the marathons I’m not running, the books I’m not reading, the stories I’m not writing, the husbands I’m not wooing, the children I’m not raising…the list is endless and very discouraging and compounded by the fact that right now I’m not doing much of anything at all.

Some of these amazing bloggers are gifted writers, creators, entertainers, parents and more and I love that the internet gives us this unique forum to get glimpses into people’s lives and be enriched and encouraged by their talent and example. It gives me something to strive for, but it also gives me plenty of ammunition with which to judge myself and all of my inadequacies.

I have some wise friends who have blogged about this very thing much more eloquently than I will (and I thank them for their thoughts) and I’ve had a few gentle reminders in the form of song and scripture come to mind in the past few days. I’ve been really struggling to learn of God’s plan for me, recognizing and appreciating my own gifts and abilities and fighting with my feelings that I have to have everything perfect and right now. I know one of Satan’s greatest tools is discouragement and he’s been working overtime on me lately in this weakened state. But when this song played on my ipod this afternoon the message came through loud and clear. To everything there is a season and right now my season is one of healing.

Another great reminder came as I was flipping through my scriptures-- literally, there was no reading involved, but for some reason this verse jumped out at me:

Mosiah 4:27
And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength.

I realized that yes, I have a lot of things I need and want to be doing right now. But God is aware of my plans as well as my situation and doesn’t expect me to do more than I am able, and at this point that is very, very little. And that’s okay. And if it’s okay by God then it certainly ought to be okay by me. For now I will do what I can with what I have even if that means not much of anything at the moment. This won’t last forever and soon I’ll be able to pick up where I left off and move forward with more enthusiasm and perspective because of what I’m going through right now.

And as sort of a bookend to that thought: This scripture has been hanging on my mirror for months but it had fallen behind a photo and when I pulled it out this evening and reread it the truth of it sunk into my shallow heart.

Philippians 4:13
I can do all things though Christ which strengtheneth me.

No matter how weak I am or perceive myself to be He will bless me with the strength I need to do what is required of me at every point in my life if I will just trust Him.

Sometimes that is easier said than done though which is why He gives us friends, scriptures, music, chick flicks and ice cream to help get us over the hurdles. And scenes like these.

How can someone look at this and not know that there is a supreme being in charge of the universe and everything in it? (Including my sad little life.)

Conclusion: God is good. Amen and amen.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Happiness is...having a place to whine.

I'm feeling very frustrated.  I think this virus might kill me.

Okay, not literally but still...

I came home from my trip feeling uber motivated to make some changes.  I'd set some pretty ambitious New Year's resolutions and was all gung-ho to get busy on them just as I got sick.  The first week I felt like I had a horrible cold so it was easier to justify the laziness and there were outward symptoms to back me up.  But now it's just the exhaustion and even though I have doctor's orders to rest and even take time off of work (ha!) it mostly just looks (and feels) like I'm lazy.

I've also spent most of my life being tired so my natural instinct is to just power through it, but some days that's easier than others. Some days I just can't do it no matter how much I want to. But I've been told explicitly that if I push too hard it will take me much longer to heal and I run the risk of getting secondary infections and such.  Pretty much after a day of work I've used up any energy I had so I come home with a looming headache, loss of any mental capacity I may have had and zero energy.

So, instead of training for a 5K, taking a photography class, writing my book, studying the scriptures, updating my resume and looking for a new job, learning to make bread, practicing the piano, going to concerts and the million other things I had planned I am doing nothing more than watching A LOT of TV. No progression for me, just lots and lots of stagnation.

With that in mind, I've decided to throw a party; a pity party.  And you're all invited.  You bring the bottomless container of ice cream and I'll provide the sappy chick flicks. Deal?

(Thanks for letting me whine.  I'll try to do better next time!)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Happiness is...a trip to the library.

Thanks to the glories of governmental holidays (long live our dead presidents!) I didn't have to work today.  But I still spent the better part of my day at the library, one of the greatest libraries in the world in fact, the Library of Congress. Begun with a sizable donation from Thomas Jefferson's personal collection back in 1897 it now consists of over 150 million pieces (including books, films, maps, photos and more.)

It's always been one of my favorite buildings in the District both for its aesthetic beauty as well as for the fact that it's, well, a library! The interior is gorgeous, full of rich murals, mosaics, sculptures and of course, books.

Only twice a year do they open the reading room to the public so my friends K, S and I made our way into the city for S's first visit and a tour of the grand structure. Little did we know we'd also get to play in the stacks and the card catalog.

Rows and rows and rows of neatly organized little shelves and drawers that smelled like old was a nerd's dream!

One row even had this fun little shelf label that sounded almost like poetry...

After expending all of my energy frolicking through books I came home to take a nap and spent the rest of the afternoon falling in love with Sherlock.  All in all a fantastic way to spend a day.  How was yours?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Happiness is...a mug of hot Postum.

I have been extremely under the weather lately.  Turns out I have a lovely little viral infection of sorts that will take weeks to fully recover from...hooray!  And the only thing I can do about it is to get lots of rest and drink plenty of liquids.

Well, last night I did just that.  I came home from work and put my pajamas on about 7:30 pm, heated up a mug of hot Postum and settled in to watch a few episodes of Castle.

I grew up drinking Postum, a delicious caffeine-free grain derived beverage. It was the perfect substitute for sugary hot chocolate, particularly when one was sick. But the dang ol' Kraft company went and discontinued it a few years ago.  That's right.  I've been hoarding one last jar in my cupboard for years, plural. I have about 1/3 of it left and I ration it out to myself only under the most carefully scrutinized conditions. Last night it was just what the doctor ordered.

I think it helped that I drank it out of a monster mug. :)

I cry when I think about scraping out the last of the rich, dark crystals and drinking the final mug full.  (And no, Pero is not a worthy substitute.) But until that dreaded day I will savor the restorative and reminiscent properties contained in each and every mug!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Happiness is...a new playlist.

I probably shouldn't complain about winter when we haven't really had one to speak of this year. And yet, I find myself longing to drive with the windows down, leave work when it's still light, go barefoot, and spend some quality time out about without the encumbrance of coats, scarves and hats (though I do love me some fun all of the aboves.) In other words, I have spring fever!

And since we still have at least four more weeks to go (according to the groundhog's predictions earlier this month) the best I can do is make me a new playlist and crank it while I get a head start on the spring cleaning and maybe some crafty creating.

I am nothing if not random so please no mocking, just open your windows a crack and enjoy the erratic musical assemblage as you would the various and sundry weather surprises on any given spring day.

Singing at the top of your lungs always helps.

  • Anchor                                 Mindy Gledhill
  • Sweet Baby James                James Taylor
  • Someone Like You               Adele
  • Folly Cub                             The Wooden Birds
  • My Life                                Billy Joel
  • Every Once In a While          Blackhawk
  • Rainy Weather Friend           David Mead
  • It's My Life                          Bon Jovi
  • Defying Gravity                   'Wicked' Soundtrack
  • Grenade                               Bruno Mars
  • Never There                         Cake
  • The More Boys I Meet         Carrie Underwood
  • O' England                           King Charles
  • Speed of Sound                   Coldplay
  • Don't Carry It All                 Decemberists
  • Loves Me Like a Rock         Paul Simon
  • Crumbs                               Jonatha Brooke
  • People Watching                  Jack Johnson
  • Slight Figure of Speech        Avett Brothers
  • Any Way You Want It         Journey
What will you be listening to this weekend?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Happiness is...a lovely memory.

One month ago today I jotted this down in my journal....

The water runs the gamut from deep blackish blue to a rich soft velvet to sapphire to the azure of the desert sky, veined like fine marble with the foamy remnants of waves and wake. The currents and years working the miracles of an unseen Michelangelo creating unrivaled masterpieces; a floating museum created and curated by the waves of the sea, endless galleries of rotating special exhibitions, pieces seen once and never to be seen in exactly the same way ever again. This morning we passed an aircraft carrier, a rising submarine, a lighthouse, the crenelated ruins of a medieval castle, a family of paddling ducks, the Sydney opera house and a prehistoric water dragon all meticulously carved into the ethereal blue glacial  ice. And we're only privileged enough to see the 'tip of the iceberg'.  What watery marvels must the whales and penguins be privy to? 

Hard to believe it's been a month already, and almost harder to believe I was actually there.  Take a look at some of the wonders that sailed by my window just a few short weeks ago.

I couldn't NOT throw some penguins in, now could I?
What an incredibly beautiful world we live in. And what a lovely memory to keep me content on gloomy winter days. What memories do you find yourself falling into time and again? I'd love to hear about them!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Happiness is...a musical interlude.

I’ve spent the last I don’t know how many hours under the funk composed of unburdened rainclouds, post-vacation let-down, and a raging cold that’s made my brain fuzzy and my head congested. During bits of consciousness and when not under the influence of cold meds or Downton Abbey re-runs I’ve been trying to catch up on the last month and a half of blog posts I failed to read while I was gone.

My friend K has a fantastic blog where she posts about the randomness of life, food, travel, DC moments, but most often music. Her bits of melody have lifted my spirits, opened my eyes and fed my soul and been the background music to my life's soundtrack this weekend. Here’s a piece that seemed to truly fit my mood today. I confess I haven't really listened to the words, just sort of let the sound wash over me. It has a bit of the energy I wish I could muster right now along with a sort of a helpless vibe to it that sinks into my bones.  I think, though, I most relate to the guy hanging upside-down in the straight jacket. Tell me you haven't had days where you felt like that?

Here's to good friends who can read your mind weeks ahead of time and good music that can help you forget where you are (and how you feel.) And here's to hoping this cold is on the outs! 

Have a fabulous weekend, all!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Happiness is...a penguin party!

I wanted to give you a few of the promised pictures today. When anyone asks about the trip I begin spewing the overused and completely inadequate superlatives of 'fantastic', 'awesome', and 'amazing'. Then there's the descriptions of the ice (more of that to come) and then waxing poetic about the penguins. I've taken to saying 'penguins' in this squeaky, double speed sort of voice, like a kindergartener on grateful this isn't a vlog so you don't have to be subjected to that. And apologies to anyone who has already heard it. But it kind of encapsulates how they make me feel; childlike and giggly and super-excited. I still can't believe I was able to see so many of them in the wild.

So, here are some photos and a little poem I scratched out over the course of my travels. Enjoy!

Penguin Promenade

dressed in his formal finery
he waddles and wanders from berg to floe
awkward as a newborn colt
wobbling and weaving
slipping and sliding
until he reaches the waters edge

tentatively he peers over the brink
and into the brine
until tumble,

he's in
and takes off like a well-dressed torpedo
cutting through the deep
with laser speed and precision
flightlessly flying through the blue sea sky

Gentoo Chick

King penguins on the Falkland Islands

King Penguins

Magellan penguin-Punto Tombo

Magellan penguins-Punto Tombo
Tell me they aren't cute?!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Happiness is...a good book!

I’m still working on sorting through some photos for you all but wanted to give you a little something in the interim. So, here are a few books I’ve read recently on Antarctica, the southern explorers and of course, penguins to tide you over. Enjoy!

The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition
Author: Caroline Alexander
Pages: 211
Age Range:
Non-fiction, Biography/History
Cover Score: ****
Overall Score: ****
: PG (some language, violence, peril, intense situations)

This is a brief recounting of Shackleton’s 1914 expedition to cross the Antarctic continent.  Hampered by pack ice and foul weather the men are forced to abandon ship before even making it to the mainland. They spend months camped on the ice next to their ship before it is finally crushed and they make their way across the Weddell Sea to Elephant Island in small, open wooden boats. There the group is separated, the majority of the men making camp underneath the overturned boats while Shackelton leads a small party in the last boat north to South Georgia in search of help from the whaling community there.  The ordeal lasts nearly 2 years but thanks to the men’s ingenuity and fighting spirits in conjunction with Shackelton’s powerful leadership skills they all survive.

When this book was published it was the first to draw from several previously unpublished sources and to present the stunning black and white photos of expedition member Frank Hurley. That the photos survived is miraculous but they are truly works of art that capture the stark beauty (and brutality) of the area and showcase the conditions the men lived in and survived. 

I’ve read several books on Shackelton now and I think this, so far, is my favorite.  There are quotes from journal entries and diaries of several of the men bringing a personal aspect and balance to the account but Alexander also pulls from interviews, books and sources published after the fact. It’s not comprehensive but gives you a great broad look at the harshness of the journey, the personalities of the men and their extraordinary story of survival and endurance. Highly recommended!

Race to the Pole: Tragedy, Heroism, and Scott’s Antarctic Quest
Author: Sir Ranulph Fiennes
Pages: 480
Age Range:
Non-fiction, Biography/History
Cover Score: ***
Overall Score: ****
: PG-13 (some language, violence, peril, intense situations)

In 1911, Captain Robert Scott and his competitor Roald Amundsen set out to conquer the unconquerable.  Through the workings of fate, good timing and some would say, deceit, Amundsen and his team were victorious in reaching the South Pole first while Scott’s team suffered every setback imaginable and eventually met with disaster.

Sir Ranulph Fiennes is a renowned modern-day explorer with his own experiences at the pole as well as the benefit of years of research and hindsight which give him a unique view of the events of 1911. His focus is on Scott’s tragedy, what happened and what went wrong, but he gives the reader a framework of the events of Amundsen’s expedition for comparison and counters with some of his own experiences to help show that Scott wasn’t as incompetent as history has often made him out to be. It was an interesting aspect that none of the other books I’ve read have offered giving a slightly different perspective and showing how amazing the early explorers really were. When you compare an expedition of today all decked out in GoreTex and the latest scientific equipment and still suffering from frostbite and exposure with the accomplishments of the early explorers dressed in layers of wool and animal skins you gain a whole new level of respect for what they did and went through.

Most of what I’ve read so far has been focusing on Shackelton’s expedition so this was a relatively new area for me but it was also kind of hard to read because I already knew the outcome. There has been a lot of speculation about what went wrong and why Scott and his men died. While we have Scott’s own words (I dare you to read them without tearing up) there still are missing pieces in the mystery of why they stopped just short of their goal and what actually killed them. It continues to be a hot-button topic among historians (as you will note if you read this book, the author spends his entire last chapter ragging on all previous writers of Scott’s story—my only gripe with the book) and provides fodder for Antarctic gossipers. We may never know the truth but that doesn’t make their experiences less tragic or heroic in their own right. It’s an important story and this is a well-told version.  Highly recommended.

Author: Polly Dunbar
Pages: 40
Age Range:
Picture Book
Cover Score: ***
Overall Score: ****
: PG (some scary images)

Ben’s new penguin is cute but doesn’t say much.  He tries everything he can think of to get the penguin to talk but to no avail. Finally, frustrated, he yells and startles a passing lion (whom he’d previously tried to feed his penguin to) who gobbles Ben up.  Well, the penguin isn’t having any of that and bites him on the nose. Ben returns and all is well again when the penguin launches into a Technicolor pictorial outburst recounting all of their adventures together and cementing their friendship.

This is such a simple, silly story. The words are very minimal and Dunbar’s equally minimal illustrations shine in vivid hues against a white background. It’s perfect for predicting what might happen next or allowing the child to re-tell the story in his own words. Adults will appreciate the humor as well!

A Penguin Story
Author: Antoinette Portis
Pages: 40
Age Range:
Picture Book
Cover Score: ****
Overall Score: *****
: G (nothing offensive)

Edna the penguin knows a world of only 3 colors; white, black and blue.  But she knows there must be more out there than that and she takes off with a few of her friends to find it. After sliding over ice and tumbling down a hill she stumbles into a research camp filled with orange! Orange tents, orange-coated humans, orange planes; it’s amazing! After a brief foray with the researchers she and her friends (toting a bright orange glove as a souvenir) return home feeling enriched and enlightened while Edna wonders what else there could be.

Again, this is a simple story that will delight even the youngest of readers yet not bore the adults in their lives. The illustrations are perfection; soft graphics highlighting the basic hues and exuding character and emotion in every sketch. There are hints of what is to come (a tiny orange plane flying in the distant sky and on the last page a little green boat on the horizon) for those more astute observers, and when the new colors are introduced you feel the excitement of discovery as much as Edna does. The orange shoots from her skin like lightning bolts and sets her imagination reeling, the perfect image of wonder and delight. I’m a huge fan of Portis’ Not a Box and Not a Stick but this is by far my favorite of her works. Highly recommended!

Lost and Found
Author: Oliver Jeffers
Pages: 32
Age Range:
Picture Book
Cover Score: *****
Overall Score: *****
: G (nothing offensive)

A small boy finds a penguin at his door one day and sets off to help him find his way back home.  When they reach a likely iceberg the boy deposits the penguin on it and sets off again, alone, in his overturned umbrella only to realize that he misses his new friend and the stories they told together.  Could it be that he wasn’t actually lost after all, but lonely?  

The soft, stylized watercolor illustrations are my favorite part of this sweet little book. For some reason I’m drawn to the unrealistic boy with his square body, moon face and stick legs where I usually prefer a bit more traditionalism. And really, who could pass up that darling little penguin? They just melt my heart. There are hints of redemption, forgiveness, home and connection in this tiny tale of friendship that will appeal to a wide audience. Highly recommended.

Hopefully you are surviving the winter that seems to have finally struck most areas of the world this week. Curl up with a good book (perhaps one of the above mentioned?), indulge in a steaming cup of hot cocoa and recoup for the week to come. I know that's what I would do, if I weren't working!  :)