Holding the Self Accountable

With leaps of faith, daffodils bloom.

As spring struggles to break winter’s grasp, I find myself spending far too much time wiping dog paws and mopping floors.

Mutter, mutter, mutter.

Occasionally I take a hike up my stairs and stop in admiration: defying the swirling snowflakes, a Mourning Dove takes its turn sitting the nest, incubating the first brood of the year in my gutter.  I can’t mutter anymore.  Nope, got to stop my fussing at nature and model these gray bundles of hope.  Just what eggs have I been incubating this year?  Are any close to hatching?

1)  The readings for my Civil War course are close to completion; within the week I will listen to the last two lectures .  I have any number of questions popping into my head that will stimulate some very interesting family history interpretations–just in time for the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War observances.  It’s gonna be a good four years, folks.

2) I have steadily made my way through the treasure trove of the Minor Papers.  Can’t say I am close to finishing the annotation and storage project, but I have seen the bottom of more than one pile.  Progress is a good thing!

3) I have been on one field trip–Washington, DC!!!!  YAY!    And thoroughly enjoyed the Civil War exhibit at the National Archives and the tour of Robert E. Lee’s estate which overlooks Arlington National Cemetery.  Both visits supplemented my Civil War study while getting me out in the Cherry Blossom Festival.  THAT is my idea of a successful field trip!

So, though I feel the residual of winter blahs I have to admit to some eternal tug of hope right now.  Spring will come with its blossoms and mud, with its fledglings and song.  And I will have taken some good steps toward hatching my own plans and goals.

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My Happiness Project: Get Old AND Get Happy

Happiness is not a goal; it is a by-product.

Eleanor Roosevelt

I borrowed my kids’ childhood to be happy; to be curious, silly, and grown-up. To ride horses, play soccer, blow bubbles, and paint faces. To see wonder and awe, to hide from fear and cynicism.  I borrowed their school days to provide structure, and their games to connect to sports my body no longer allowed me to play. I borrowed their friends’ mommies to create circles of support and their teachers to introduce new concepts into my aging brain.

No wonder that my children’s ascent into adulthood coincided with my descent into a dark maze, complete with dead ends and unexpected connecting paths.   Only now, two years into the journey of life-after-children do I have a sense of purpose, a goal, to shape my decisions: Get old AND get happy.  As Eleanor Roosevelt so succinctly pointed out, happiness is a by-product of what one does, thinks, creates.  Taking cues from Benjamin Franklin’s Chart of Virtues and Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project Challenge I have created dkays Happy Is As Happy Does initiative, a five-pronged challenge to structure my time, energy and resources in ways that produce a happy me:

BE a 3G Network: be gracious, be generous, be grateful.

Out of clutter, find simplicity: de-clutter, design, delegate, discover.

Get serious about play: lighten up, loosen standards, enjoy failure.

Capture the story: write, camera, action.

Live a sustaining, sustainable life: connect, enjoy, create.

Still a work in progress, I have nevertheless begun to use these guidelines to shape a day’s routines, to reshape expectations and even to monitor how I converse with my children.  My assessment tool is just a simple chart, my goals to the left, which I mark with a flourish at day’s end.  I am aiming for a page of waahoo!s and yippee!s, not Ben Franklin’s virtuous clean slate.  I haven’t thought out too too much about the specific resolutions that constitute success for each goal, finding it very satisfactory to take it weekly or seasonally.

For instance, capturing this story for this blogpost counts.  I am forced to practice my craft, and fine-tune this nebulous but profound project.  Great big yahoo! tonight.   Another example, cutting my lavender:  the seasonal delight of harvesting goodies from a garden, mine or a nearby farmer, counts for “Live a sustaining, sustainable life”.  I am learning the routine for Dance Day, July 31, sponsored by Dizzy Feet Foundation; I am not learning very fast or dancing very well, but I am having FUN!!! Yippee for play!  The mantra “be generous, be gracious, be grateful” is beginning to just melt into my breathing. Soothing, liberating, and contagious,  I hope by nightfall  to put lots of checks next to my “BE a 3G network.” Next, away from this computer, lies the clutter that awaits simplification.

Ah! I do, therefore, I am –happy.


Happy Is As Happy Does

Luci celebrates a year on earth by herding Canada Geese and goslings into the Susquehannah River.

I love the end of spring for all its diversity and color.  The urgent heat of day and the refreshing coolness of night.  The purple and blues of lupines, iris, chive and sage; the pinks of roses, peonies, dianthus-ish volunteers; the greens of grass, stalks, stems, leaves and needles–all creating a kaleidoscope effect of daily changing patterns and hues.  Birds provide an evolving instrumental accompaniment of song tones and percussive calls.

This spring my library holds a copy of The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, a book I make sure I read at least once a day.  I have taken quite a few of her suggestions to heart, including the suggestion to create my own happiness project, the only goal of which right now is to be happier more frequently.  Research has shown that what we do frequently has more impact in making us happy than what we do once in a while.  I am paraphrasing here, but that concept struck me as a real Secret of Adulthood.  It really matters that I have a perpetual calendar where I record the high and low temperatures, the colors in the meadow, the moment I hear the first bluebird or robin or oriole.  It makes me happy, a little bit every day.

I have been thinking too that Ms. Rubin’s admonition to be serious about play is seriously appropriate for my serious self.  Hence, my resolution to have an adventure at least once a week…..that adds up to 52 adventures a year.  The anticipation makes me happy! The planning makes me happy! The savoring will make me happy!  And recalling these adventures here, on this storytelling blog, will make me happy!  I have a project!!!! or a little bit of one.

Hence, today’s first adventure: LuciFreckles’ Birthday Walk on the dike of the Susquehanna River in NEPA.  I woke up early to promptly finish morning chores: dogs fed and exercised, trash out, son home on vacation awakened in time for hair appointment.  The heat promised by mid-day appeared to be arriving early.  I packed ice cubes to the top of our water bottles and filled the spaces with fresh water, sorted through containers to find a special “take with you” size, and changed Luci’s clothes, exchanging her invisible fence collar for her training collar.  Leaving the forlorn faces of Cappy and Fly, Luci happily leapt into the way-back of the FIT for the short ride from our Endless Mountain home into the Valley that separates us from the Pocono Plateau.  Through the middle of this valley runs the Susquehanna River, and on the west bank runs a portion of a dike network which presumably protects the nearby residences from flood waters.  The sidewalk atop this dirt mound is our destination.  From here Luci can look right to our low-lying Appalachain foothills and left to the river as we trot south.  We watch swallows perform loop-de-loops and starlings feed their @#$* young.  Song sparrows perform harmony for Red-winged Blackbirds, Canada Geese monitor their goslings’ foraging attempts on the bank playground.  Luci nervously watches bikers, a new sight for her puppyness, and sits politely to let them pass.  She growls a low rumble to alert me to the runner approaching from our left rear.  Other dogs get the “eye”. Head lowered in line with her withers, tail alert straight behind her, Luci sends a silent message to her canine peer: “Be aware.  Be very, very aware.  I can herd YOU!”  And just as they pass, her tail beats a steady “Hello! Come back!  Let me smell you!!!”

It is at this point, one mile out, that Luci seems to feel the heat rising from the macadem, the sun striking us from its climbing position.  The river-driven breeze dies down, and her tongue lolls out, dripping big drops of saliva.  Her brown sable eyes ask “The end now?” and Luci seems only mildly relieved as we head down the bank to the riverside tree-shade.   Gamely she trots on, but without the nose-to-ground of a happy pup.  She is doggedly determined to    just    get    back      .

One final detour as we round the corner to the car park: the beach where Canada Geese sunbathe.  At our approach the honking begins, each adult joining the call to flee.  “To the water, to the water, to the water!”  Goslings waddle to the river edge and quickly slide into what I can now smell–the stinky, brown Susquehanna. An oily residue coats the surface and the fluid teases my thirsty one year old birthday girl instead of offering an early drink.  Barely acknowledging the goslings and assorted adult geese Luci just looks at me in admonishment, “You have clean water in the car!!!!”  As we make the final trek I plot my strategy for teaching Luci and Cappy how to wear a pack.  Next adventure we will carry water and treats WITH us.

Once back at the car Luci and I drank our ice-cold, clean water happily.

“Happy is as happy does.” states the childhood ditty that some adult probably offered to cajole me into doing something I didn’t want to do.  I now add it to my Secrets of Adulthood list.  In spite of the heat, and the left-behind water, the biker who belatedly called “On your left!” and the unwelcome appearance of gnats, I had been happy.  I savored the adventure with my birthday girl, taking time to feel the sun, to identify the bird songs, to smile at my fellow adventurers, and to pet my pup’s silky coat.  Turns out happy is as happy does.