Podcasts I Like: Happier with Gretchen Rubin

It’s been a while since I’ve written about a podcast.  I have become an avid podcast listener in a pretty short span of time.  I don’t have time for audio books because I listen to so many podcasts!  They each bring me satisfaction in different ways.  Anne Bogel’s What Should I Read Next? podcast scratches my need for book talk, while The TED Radio Hour makes me think and feel smarter.  Pop Culture Happy Hour makes me laugh and makes me feel more plugged in to pop culture even if I haven’t seen or heard what they’re discussing.  On Being fills a spiritual niche, soothes my soul, and makes me feel better about the state of the world.

podcasthappierlogoHappier with Gretchen Rubin is my most recent podcast addition, thanks to a recommendation from Smithereens.  I’ve only started listening in January. They are coming up on their 2 year anniversary, so I have plenty of episodes to choose from!  It’s funny, because I’ve read three of Rubin’s books, The Happiness Project, Happier At Home, and Better Than Before, and I’ve not given one of them more than three stars.  There is something about her self-help books that annoys me, and I’m a fan of self-help books in general.  I really think that I can only take Rubin in small doses, and reading an entire 300 page book by her is too much.  She’s very Type-A, and I am so… not.  Yet, when she was writing a monthly column in Good Housekeeping magazine, I loved it and looked forward to it every month.  So clearly I think that she has good ideas, but maybe there’s something in the delivery.

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Gretchen and Elizabeth

But, go figure – I am really enjoying her podcast!  It helps that her co-host is her younger sister, television writer Elizabeth Craft, and Elizabeth seems more laid-back and less annoyingly “together” than Gretchen.  So they balance each other out.  I particularly enjoyed a recent segment about doing something for your “future self.”  The topic came from a listener who had read about the idea on Wil Wheaton’s blog (read the post here) and it can be summarized like this:  do things for the future you, so that Future You is happier and healthier.  Like, you may not want to go to bed at a decent hour, but Tomorrow You will be in a better mood if you do.  Or, you may not feel like exercising regularly, but Future You will be so glad to be more agile, flexible, and spry when she’s 70. It’s a neat little re-framing device that can help you adopt good habits.  In the same episode I learned about flying wish paper, special origami-like paper that you write wishes or burdens or whatever on and then when it burns up, it flies into the air.  I like how each episode is divided into segments, and the episodes are fairly short, 35-45 minutes, usually.  On Mondays there’s a bonus short episode called A Little Happier, which is only a few minutes long and is Gretchen reading a quotation or a message she’s found helpful in applying to her life.

This podcast is indeed making my commute happier because I like hearing about tips and strategies for a happier, more organized life (even if I don’t apply them!)  I’m curious if you’ve ever listened to this podcast or read any of Rubin’s books. What do you think of them?  Are you a fan of self-help books/articles/blogs/podcasts in general?  Is there another podcast (on any topic) that you really love and you think I should try?  Have you ever tried flying wish paper?  Let me know in the comments.

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40 for 40: A Year Of Smallish Challenges

Hi friends!

In my previous post I mentioned recently beginning to practice yoga.  I’m doing it twice a week at night after my son gets to bed.  Three other nights I do some sort of strength training.  I’m especially trying to execute REAL push-ups, not the ones on my knees that I’ve been doing my whole life, but the ones on my toes.  Considerably more challenging! But I am happy to say that I’ve seen a little progress already in the month or so that I’ve been doing this.  I am more slightly more flexible and I feel like my posture is truly improved, and the yoga leaves me feeling refreshed and mentally clearer.

Why am I telling you this?

keep-calm-its-my-40th-birthday-4Because I’m turning the big 4-0 later this year.  And it’s kind of freaking me out a little.  I know age is just a number, or a state of mind, or something.  But there’s something about approaching what could be the halfway point of one’s life (if you’re lucky) to make you start thinking about how quickly time passes.  I’m assessing my goals, dreams, hopes, aspirations, wild longings.  And I feel a renewed sense of energy about accomplishing things.

To that end, I’ve embarked on a series of weekly mini-challenges that I’m calling 40 for 40 (I know, not terribly original, but I needed something to call it!)  Here’s what I’ve achieved so far:

  1. Drank 64 ounces of water daily for a week.  (I’ve kept this up!)
  2. Did not get on Facebook or Twitter after 6 pm daily for a week.  (Sadly, I have NOT kept this up.)
  3. Memorized a poem.  (The Summer Day by Mary Oliver.)
  4. Tried the 30 Minute Fitness area of my gym for the first time (weight machines and steps.)

I have to say that so far I’ve really been having fun with my challenges.  It’s added a much-needed sense of freshness and purpose to my daily routine. Some of my other ideas for this year include:

  • Hike with my Dad (an avid hiker) in the Great Smoky Mountains.
  • Ride a bike to the bridge not far from my house (this will mean I actually have to PURCHASE a bike!  I’ve not ridden one since high school, but we have all these great greenways in my county and I need to make use of them!)
  •  Get my passport renewed.
  • Travel to Toronto this fall and meet my cousin for the first time!
  • Spend a day volunteering for an organization, maybe a neighborhood clean-up.

parnassus-blog1Of course, I have some reading challenges on my list too!

  • Read a classic book that has intimidated me
  • Read something that my husband picks out for me
  • Visit Parnassus Books (Ann Patchett’s bookstore) in Nashville

This is where you come in, bookish friends.  I have space on my list for eight more challenges.  I’d love to hear any suggestions you may have for me!  I’ll tell you that I won’t bungee jump or jump out of an airplane, but I’m open to almost anything else.  So what have you got?  Have you ever done something like this yourself?

I’m Back!

Ah, home sweet home.  Traveling is wonderful, but the unique pleasures of being home are something special.  Little things, like my own (firmer) bed, my (palmetto bug-free) shower, my favorite coffee mug, my slightly insane and moody cat… I am so glad we went, but I’m glad we’re now home.

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Happy Beach Faces!

We went to Folly Beach, South Carolina.  It’s about fifteen to twenty minutes from downtown Charleston.  We’d been to Charleston before, but never stayed on Folly.  It’s got the greatest laid-back vibe.  There’s a little strip of cafes, restaurants, bars, and shops in the center of town (appropriately on Center Street) and a beautiful, long fishing pier jutting out in the middle.  There are a few hotels right near the pier, but mostly there are houses for rent – some gigantic and new, some small and delightfully ramshackle.  Our rental was decidedly the latter.  It was funky and cute and kind of a throwback to what beach houses used to be, at least in my imagination.  The best thing about it was the public beach access one house down and across the street.  We were at the beach in less than five minutes!

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Our sweet little ramshackle rental house.

We had four full days there, and spent a few hours on the beach each day.  It was warm and mostly sunny most days, and the beach was not crowded at all down where we were.  Few things make me happier than feeling the sun and wind on my skin and hearing and watching the waves roll in and out. Happy Laila Beach Face was in full effect over the four and a half days!  IMG_3391My four year old son was thrilled with standing waist-deep in the ocean and letting it hit him over and over.  Digging for “treasure” was another of his favorite pursuits.

One day we found some cool tide pools further down the beach.IMG_3386

If you ever get the chance to go to Charleston, try to stay on Folly.  The vibe is funky but not sketchy, there are some truly yummy places to eat, a cool pirate-themed playground, and it was surprisingly quiet down at the end of the island where we were.  After a self-imposed week of no Twitter, no TV, no Goodreads, and no book blogs, I’ve got a lot of catching up to do!  (It was a nice media break, I have to admit.)  I missed reading your blog posts, though!  I am excited to see all that I’ve missed.

 

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Looking back at Folly from the end of the pier.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Vacation!

Hey folks, I won’t be posting this week.  My family is heading to Charleston, SC for a little getaway.  I’m taking Middlemarch by George Eliot and Gorge: My Journey Up Kilimajaro at 300 Pounds by Kara Richardson Whitely with me.   I may or may not get much reading done!  I learned from my vacation last year not to expect much reading productivity while traveling.  I hope you have a wonderful week, and thanks for reading.  Catch you next weekend.  Happy reading, book lovers!

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Mourning and Celebrating: What Prince Meant to Me

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I was at work Thursday, about to go to lunch, perusing the internet during a down moment at the desk, when I read that Prince was dead.  I gasped, I got chills, and I said to my co-worker in disbelief, “Prince is dead.”  I immediately started to cry.  I had to go into the break room.  I cried for a few minutes, trying to get a grip on myself, and then I went ahead and took my lunch.  I couldn’t eat or read for half of my lunch break, I just cried.  I could feel that my co-worker didn’t get my reaction.  It’s okay that she didn’t feel strongly one way or the other about Prince’s music.  I’m sure there are some of you reading this that didn’t feel much about his death beyond the normal (one hopes) human response of sympathy for the passing of another human being.  It’s totally cool.  There are so many awesome musicians and artists in the world that it’s hard to listen to everyone, and people like what they like.  Timing also plays a huge part in one’s musical taste.  I was a child in the 1980’s, a teenager in the 1990’s.  The music from those decades molded me, shaped me, stayed with me as I became an adult.

Prince was a huge part of my musical landscape.  From the moment I heard “Little Red Corvette” on the radio (I was about 6 years old) I was a fan.  I didn’t see Purple Rain in the theater, I was too young.  But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched it on DVD over the years.  (Despite its heavy moments, there is so much humor in that movie!  Prince could be marvelously funny!)  One of my best friends in middle school and high school and I went through an intense Prince/The Time/Purple Rain/Graffiti Bridge phase, and my memories of the movies and the music are all tied up with my memories of our particular friendship.  I remember listening to Purple Rain‘s soundtrack in another friend’s parents’ basement, and as a matter of fact, the compact disc I still have has his name on it.  He gave it to me when he was digitizing his collection, I think.  In college, all of my friends were into Prince, and it seemed that no house or room party was complete without playing his songs:  “Kiss,” “SexyMF,” and “Gett Off” were in heavy rotation on the dance floor.

I was lucky enough to see him play live once, in my hometown, in 2004 on the Musicology tour.  It was a long set full of hits.  He was masterful and playful and soulful and deeply funky.  He was fully engaged with us and we were awestruck by him.

In recent years I didn’t listen to him much.  Sometimes you take your favorite musicians for granted, you know?  I tend to seek out new songs now, inspired by the AltNation station on my Sirius/XM radio.  But I did have “Little Red Corvette” on my phone prior to Thursday.  It’s still a favorite.

I have read many beautiful tributes to Prince in the last couple of days.  It makes me feel less alone to participate in this mass outpouring of love and celebration and grief online.  I needed to be a part of that on Twitter and Facebook, to know that I wasn’t crazy in my inability to stop crying, in my need to listen to his music, to watch his performances on YouTube, to remember.  Justin Timberlake’s heartfelt post on Facebook made me cry. There’s a good piece from the L.A. Times by Marc Bernardin about how Prince gave black kids permission to be “weird.”  Roxane Gay and others on Twitter have made similar comments.  I’m not black but I always appreciated the way in which Prince owned his fashion, his style, his diminutive physical size, his sexuality.  He encompassed so many different things all at once – man/woman, black/white, God/sex, all the supposed dichotomies all rolled together into one sly, brilliant, talented package.  He was truly a musical genius.  And he never apologized for who he was.

The takeaway for me from the past two days is this:  Appreciate your favorite musicians while they’re still here.  Go see them play live, no matter how much money you have to spend or how many days you have to take off work.  I will never regret one dime of the money I have spent seeing my favorites in concert.  Not even back when I didn’t have any money  and I put it all on credit cards that I had to pay off years later.  If we are lucky, we are on the planet at the same time with our favorite artists.  We need to remember to stop and appreciate that fact.  I am guilty being “too busy” to listen to music, of neglecting my favorites.  But they are my favorites for deeply held, deeply felt reasons, bordering on the spiritual.  Music matters.  Art matters.  Our personal connections to it shape and define us in ways we may not be able to feel until we are much older.

I hope that Prince knew how much we loved him.  I think he probably did.  I consciously didn’t realize how much he meant to me until he was gone.  There’s a lesson in that too, right?  Thursday night I listened to “Purple Rain” and cried and cried.  But now I think I am ready to listen to his music and watch his movies again and celebrate  – and dance.

 

 

What I Wish I Would Have Said (On Meeting a Favorite Celebrity)

“I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If you f***ing like something, like it.” -Dave Grohl

Friends, this post is not about books.  Indulge me.  I did absolutely no reading this past weekend.  I was too busy fan-girling!  My good friend, Diana, and I traveled to Cherokee, NC on Saturday to see the Dancing With the Stars Perfect 10 Tour at Harrah’s Casino.  I am a super fan of Dancing With the Stars.  I’ve watched it for years and voted faithfully, with two phones and four email accounts! This was the first time it’s worked out for me to attend a live show.  Check out my new wallpaper:

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That’s me and my favorite dancer, Valentin (Val) Chmerkovskiy.  Truly, is he not the cutest?  But his gorgeous face is not the only reason I adore him.  It’s so much more than just that.  I want to try to put into words what he (and the show) mean to me.  This blog post is what I wish I could have said to him in the two minutes we encountered one another outside the event center the other night, when I was so dumbfounded that he was actually standing there in front of me that I lost the ability to speak.

He is my favorite dancer for so many reasons.  His choreography is sometimes jaw-dropping.  He puts every ounce of himself into his dancing, every movement complete all the way to his fingertips.  He embodies passion, hard work, artistry.  He is sexy, vibrant, and alive.  You can see how much he loves what he’s doing every time he steps out on the floor with his partner, whether it’s on the show or on this tour.  It’s a joy to watch someone who is so in love with what they do, you know?  How often do you get to see that, much less on a weekly basis?

When I watch Valentin dance, I am reminded of how much I’ve always loved music and love to dance.  Sadly, the world doesn’t give many opportunities to adults to dance.  Sometimes I put on my iPod and dance in my kitchen after my son has gone to bed.  I always feel lighter, happier, sexier.  Music and dancing is something that is part of my soul.  Sometimes I forget that I’m allowed to dance – me, with my not-perfect, pushing-forty body.  Me, a librarian, a wife, and the mother of a young son. Watching him inspires me to remember that my body can always connect to music, interpret it, celebrate it.  I can be – no, I am a dancer.

His passion and positive nature remind me that it is possible to work hard and become the best version of myself.  If there were a non-celebrity version of Dancing with the Stars (Dancing with the Fans?) I would want him to be my partner because I would want to be taught by the best.  He truly wants his partners to succeed, not for his gain, but for themselves.  At heart, the show is about the journey of the celebrity doing something outside of her comfort zone and the pro dancer pushing her to believe in herself.  It’s a beautiful, inspirational thing to watch.

It’s also a hell of a lot of fun.  Yes, some might say it’s just a silly little dance show. And Val is just a guy about ten years younger than me who can really dance.  But isn’t it wonderful to have these charming, fun artistic confections (shows, bands, whatever) to think about and look forward to and bond over people with?  Doesn’t it make life so much more delicious?  To love something, and to put it out there for everyone to see, is to be a little bit vulnerable, especially in this age of cynicism.  Like Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters, I don’t believe in guilty pleasures.  I just believe in pleasures, period!

So, thank you, Valentin Chmerkovskiy, for doing what you do and being who you are. Thanks for being so gracious to your fans, always.  Thank you, Keo and Emma and all the other dancers who came out on their own time to hug fans and chat and take pictures.  Thank you all for working hard on this tour and bringing it every week on the show and giving people joy. Because you truly do bring people joy, and I hope that you know that.  This weekend was a fantastic experience that I got to share with a great friend!  I’ll never forget it.  And I’m starting a fund right now for the next tour – VIP seats next time, baby!