Wellness Wednesday #53: Happiness Jar

buttonBack in 2012 or 2013, I first heard of the “happiness jar.” You get a glass jar or other container and use it to hold slips of paper on which you write down things that make you happy throughout the year. At the end of the year, you pull all the slips out and read through your happy moments of that year. I experimented with this in 2013, which wasn’t the best year for me. The jar got to about 3/4 full. I decided to do the same in 2014, which started out as a really lovely year. My jar was nearly half full by the end of March! Of course then everything fell apart. My year got worse and worse, and I kept putting little slips of paper in the jar. My happy moments became not true happy moments, but “less bad” moments. There were things on there like, “a full night of sleep” and “I didn’t cry today” and “I made it through this book.” It was like through the bad times, I was desperate to feel like something happy was happening, even when it wasn’t. The jar got full. Not long after we moved to Boston and things at home grew even worse, I tossed the jar and papers away without looking at them. I haven’t kept a happiness jar since.

This year, I decided to try something similar. Instead of filling a jar with slips of paper, I bought a bag of river pebbles and have been dropping them in the jar instead. A happiness garden, I suppose, instead of happiness jar. And I’m making sure I only put in pebbles when I have a truly happy moment. I knew it would be a hard year and that there probably wouldn’t be a lot of pebbles in the jar. (Before I went to Texas in late February, for instance, there were only seven.) At present –>, there’s about one happy pebble for every two days of the year-so-far, and most of those have been gathered either while I was on vacation or around the adoption of Nimi. Honestly, I’m surprised I have as many as that, because as I expected, it hasn’t been a terribly good year.

Once again, I find myself compelled to seek more happiness. I’m not going to falsify it, the way I did to myself in 2014, but I want to take a more active hand at mindfulness and appreciating the things in front of me. I’ve started another 100-happy-days photo challenge like I did in 2014 and 2015. While I don’t know if my actual happy things will increase, I hope my ability to see them will increase. Sometimes that’s all you can do, right?

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Wine Isn’t Rocket Science, by Ophelie Neiman

Illustrated by: Yannis Varoutsikos
Translated by: Nysa Kline
Subtitled: A Quick and Easy Guide to Understanding, Buying, Tasting, and Pairing Every Type of Wine

This book is, quite simply (and explained by the subtitle), a guide to wine. The world of wine can be complicated, and this is meant to help newbies to enter it without intimidation. It’s an illustrated how-to separated into six chapters focused on choosing, tasting, pairing, and buying wine, as well as going over the process of making wine and the attributes of vineyards all over the world.

I first heard of the book at Beth Fish Reads. The review there is excellent and I highly recommend taking a look at what Candace has to say. For my part, I mostly enjoyed the book, learned a lot, and will simply present in bullets my thoughts from reading.

– I appreciate the humor in this book. There’s a lot of snobbery around wine culture. I remember once Jason getting a 365 wine calendar from an oblivious coworker (who didn’t realize that Jason was both under-age and didn’t drink). He would read out the entries to me, laughing at the wine descriptions. There’s a page in here that provides a “shortcut” to talking about wine, and it sounds a lot like that calendar. “Repeat one of these phrases at random and speak them with an air of conviction” the book says, followed by speech bubbles that say things like, “An intense nose. On the palate, it has presence and a muscular, tannic texture.” There are places like this all throughout the book, providing a bit of humor to what can admittedly be a snobby field at times.

– The book is very France-centric. There are jabs at why the British have always been poor wine-makers. The states of Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Missouri, Ohio, and Michigan are collectively referred to as “the Midwest.” There are jabs at the US, too, saying that we prefer sweet wines because of our extensive soda-and-fruit-juice consumption. And though the author admits that Italy is just as wine-centric as France, the French wines are considered obviously better. It’s cheeky in the way it displays all this, though, which made me laugh every time. My only quibble with it is only a quibble because I don’t live in France. Much of the book focuses on the different subtle wines and varieties coming from France, many of which I’d be hard-pressed to find. I would have liked a wider world view of wine, but the book is from France, so I can understand why the French wines took the spotlight.

– While the book is meant to be an easy introduction for newbies, I think it would have scared me off completely when I first started drinking wine three years ago. The section on the different kinds of wine (in Chapter Three) and the pairings (Chapter Five) would have been the only parts I’d have paid attention to back then. Back then, having never even heard of most types of wine, I wanted a basic guide to tell me basic things: dry or sweet? what things should I taste? what foods will this work with? etc. If you’re new enough to wine to not know whether or not muscat is sweet, this book might be a bit intimidating. However, after several years of trying many wines, with the help of wine shop employees and a lovely app called Pocket Wine, I now have a general average-drinker’s intelligence of wine, and found much of what was in here to be useful in deepening my knowledge. Plus, it introduced me to wines I’ve never heard of or seen, and I can’t wait to find and try them!

– This book, combined with information from Real Food, Fake Food, gave me a lot to think about in terms of bottle labeling. Of course, the labeling information here is related to bottles in France, and the labeling laws are different here. However, there was enough information that I could better understand the French portions of the wines I had tucked away.

– I’ve never done a wine tasting (other than those that happen to pop up at grocery stores), been to a wine festival, or visited a winery. These are all things I’d like to do. And now I know a lot more about tasting wine, and what different things mean when I taste it and see it in my glass. I had some basic knowledge before, but I know more now, and yay for knowledge!

– Ironically, back in 1999 when I was on a study abroad program in France, I had a chance to do a wine trip across central France. Our group went to several wineries and did tastings, saw the vineyards, and who knows what else. At the time, I was twenty years old and didn’t drink wine, and so declined to go on that trip. Imagine my chagrin now. I also feel sad that the last time I went on a cruise, four years ago, I didn’t take advantage of having a sommelier at dinner every night, because I still wasn’t drinking wine at the time. Sigh. What a waste. I need another cruise. Ha!

– I don’t know that I’ll ever be more than a casual wine drinker. Even so, I definitely want a copy of this book (currently have the library’s copy). I love the handy reference and illustrations. I love the ideas for parties and the tasting sheets. Generally, despite a few flaws, I found the book entertaining and informative, an excellent read for casual wine drinkers, which is the only class of wine drinker I can vouch for.

Posted in 2017, Adult, Visual | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Sunday Coffee – Yes and No

Society teaches women to say yes. To everything. That is a very, very hard lesson to overcome.

I remember once, back in middle school, when we went through the drive through at some fast food place and they gave my mom the wrong order. She couldn’t force herself to go back to have them correct it. Confrontation was difficult for her. She didn’t make store returns, even when there were duplicate gifts. She didn’t answer the door when sales people came. She actually listens to telemarketers when they call, because she feels bad hanging up on them.

I tried to learn from all that, and I’ve done relatively okay. I can close the door on sales people and hang up on unsolicited calls. I can make returns when necessary. I definitely make sure I have the right food. At other times, though, I end up agreeing to things I don’t want to agree to when I’m put on the spot. A couple weeks ago, for instance, a local store called me about setting up some volunteer times. I’d gone to volunteer once at the request of a family member, and had to fill out a form while I was there. I didn’t really intend to go back – I have enough to do at home – but on this call, I allowed myself to agree to four shifts of volunteering that I didn’t really want to do. It took four days of anxiety and fretting to call back and tell them I needed to cancel and withdraw from volunteer duties.

It shouldn’t be that hard. I don’t know what it is about saying NO that is so difficult. It causes so much anxiety that it’s often easier to just accept the anxiety of whatever you’re saying YES to. Only when the YES anxiety outweighs the NO anxiety does it become worth it to decline (or cancel). And the whole thing is just ridiculous. I shouldn’t feel bad saying, “No thanks, I just filled out the volunteer form because a family member needed help that day.” But I do. And then I feel anxious about going. And then I feel bad about canceling. There’s no winning here. And this whole cycle is just stupid.

I’ve read about that one book about saying yes to everything for a year. I think I need the opposite. I need to just say no to everything for a good, long time and see what emerges from all that.

PS – I was mixed up on dates and wrote about Mother’s Day last week. So once again, happy Mother’s Day to y’all out there!

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Wellness Wednesday #52: Every Body Yoga

buttonEvery Body Yoga by Jessamyn Stanley is a book that tackles body image, the fundamentals of yoga, the history of yoga, and much more. I’m not writing a full review of this book because I didn’t read the entire thing. There’s a giant block of the book devoted to how to do specific yoga poses. Given that I’ve been doing yoga for two years now, I’m already familiar with these poses* and thus skipped that section. I read the rest, however, and feel like this is a really good book that more people need to read. Compromise: Write a not-review on my Wellness Wednesday series!

The book is segmented into five sections. There’s a general section on current yoga practice and the way the author isn’t exactly the standard model of what America thinks when they think about yoga. There’s a history of yoga combined with a comparison of the ancient practice versus the modern practice. This section also includes a guide to the different kinds of yoga currently out there, as well as a discussion on the full breadth of the practice (which includes far more than the fitness/poses aspects). Then there’s the actual poses laid out in text and photo. These are the ones I skipped, though I can say they are well done and I wish I’d had this book back when I started! Then there’s a memoir-like section tied in with various yoga sequences, and a conclusion section.

I think there’s a lot to be gained from the book. Some parts were more interesting to me than others. I’m not really much of a memoir person, for instance, but I loved learning more about the adaptation of yoga over time and the parts of the practice not usually tackled by modern-day classes. In fact, I want to get my hands on a copy of this book (I currently have the library’s copy) just for the in-depth discussion of the eight-limbed  path.** I like that Stanley included references to other resources, and that she included photography of yoga poses not just of herself, but of other people who may not normally fit the thin-blond-white-suburban-mom image normally in popular yoga portrayals. Additionally, she’s the first person who’s gotten me interested in trying out a personal fear of mine, the Bikram yoga class***.

On a more personal note, I find Stanley to be extremely inspirational. As a plus-sized person myself, it’s amazing to see what yoga can help a body to do no matter your size. I’ve definitely had increases in my flexibility over the last few years (see pics!), and I hope to increase that even more in years to come. I have a lot to learn, but people like Stanley give me a lot of hope.

*Except the dolphin pose. I’ve never seen that one or been asked to do anything like it in my home practice. I definitely need to try it out.

**Haven’t heard of it? Neither had I before reading this book, and I’ve been doing yoga for two years now. I highly recommend either looking it up or taking a peak at this book. Stanley explains far better than I ever could.

***This involves doing over an hour of yoga in a boiling hot and super-humid room, which generally sounds like a nightmare.

Posted in Book Talk, Wellness | Tagged , , | 10 Comments

Top Ten Things I’d Like to See More Often in Books

I’ve been thinking about this topic, and I worry that this will be more of a “what I’d like to see less in order to see more of” kind of topic. Hopefully that’s okay. Because there are things that show up too often in books, and things that really ought to show up more. Here are my choices:

1. Friendships that don’t turn into romances. I don’t care if these are same gender, opposite gender, group friendships, longtime friendships, or new friendships. Just more non-family relationships that don’t have to tend toward romance!

2. This-world fantasy set outside of the US and Europe (especially Britain). Can we have some fantasy set in, I don’t know, Indonesia? Zambia? Argentina? Please?

3. Non-binary characters. I’d love to see some agender, gender-fluid, intersex, and other non-binary narrators/characters, especially in books that aren’t about that person’s non-binary-ness. Ditto for characters/narrators with non-binary sexual and romantic orientations. There should be more asexual, pansexual, bisexual, etc people in books.

4. Grey characters. I’m so tired of the tropes (which show up most often in YA) of 100% good or evil people. I recently quit reading a book after a character’s father was introduced as the cruelest person to ever exist. How about a father who is stern and believes in corporal punishment, yet also loves his kids and is simply doing what he thinks is the right way to raise them?

5. Situational antagonists. This is kinda vague, but basically imagine a book where the antagonist is not evil, where no one in the book is really a bad guy, but the situation falls out because the situation sucks, because events happen that cause bad things. Maybe everyone is trying to be good, trying to do right, but their actions come into conflict and cause bad things. I guess what I want to see is more ambiguous sources of conflict.

6. Pets. I don’t mean as the focal point of the books, but as part of the textured background of a story. Many, many people have pets, but far few characters do. It would be fun to have that touch of realism introduced in more books.

7. Cruise settings. Because really, I just love cruises as book settings, and there aren’t nearly enough of these.

8. Women confident in their sexuality. The narrator from City of Dark Magic is a perfect example.

9. Diversity. Race, religion, language, culture, heritage, gender, sexuality, body, ability, etc etc etc. Just more diversity. Especially in fantasy.

10. Happy, supportive families in YA books. I’m kinda bored of the absent-parent and dysfunctional family tropes in YA. I’d love to see more of the other kind, especially big ol’ extended families all living close together, or big families made up of biological members and adopted members. Blue’s family in the Raven Cycle books are a perfect example of this.

What are some of your book wishlist items?


Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Posted in Book Talk | Tagged | 5 Comments

Sunday Coffee – Happy Mother’s Day!

Morning to you all! I had a rough night – family emergency that’s now over and well but which resulted in very little sleep – so I’m once again keeping my Sunday post short. Hopefully there’s a nap or three in my future. That’s how I now plan to spend my Mother’s Day. Heh.

But in spite of that, let me just give a shout out to the other mothers out there. I hope you have a lovely day today. 🙂

ETA: So my brain is screwy. Jason’s been telling me about Mother’s Day plans for this weekend all week, but then it turns out it’s next weekend. So this is a week early. Happy early celebration to you all. Ha.

Posted in Personal | Tagged | 5 Comments

Big Little Lies, by Liane Moriarty

Someone has been killed at a themed, costumed, school trivia night. There should be multiple witnesses, yet all claim to have not seen. Speculation abounds. Perhaps it was the alcohol in the punch that night, much more potent than it should have been. Perhaps tempers were running high due to the bullying in the kindergarten class. Perhaps it was the head lice that got everyone all riled up, or the French nanny, or the full moon. Certainly someone did it, and no one is talking.

Meet the community on Pirriwee Peninsula. It has all the suburban quirks you’d expect. There are the stay at home moms vs the working moms. The poor and the rich. The PTA parents complete with groupies. The gifted kids and the normal kids. And past all that, there are the secrets. Domestic abuse. Sexual assault. Bullies and affairs and lots of pointing fingers. (Trigger warnings for anyone who can’t read about those sorts of things!)

The story is told in flashback, going back about six months from the night of the Incident. Primary narrative focus is on three women: Madeline, a drama-loving woman sharing custody with her ex-husband, who also lives on the Peninsula with his new family; Celeste, gorgeous and rich at the same time that she’s spacey and jumpy; and Jane, single young mom new to this area with a lot of skeletons in her closet. Madeline and Celeste are already friends, and they draw Jane into their circle on the day of kindergarten orientation. Unfortunately, a bullying incident occurs during orientation, and a line is drawn in the sand, parents taking sides in a frisson that only grows more powerful over time.

This is the sort of story that tackles a lot of really important issues, placing them in and around the ridiculous squabbling of schoolyard parents. There’s humor in it, and also a lot of discomfort. Moriarty makes a very definite point of taking subjects like domestic abuse and sexual assault and exploring the grey areas that tend to blur the psychology of the whole situation. I can’t say more without going into spoiler territory, but I wanted to include a quote from a therapist character:

Domestic violence victims often don’t look at all like you’d expect them to look. And their stories don’t always sound as black-and-white as you’d expect them to sound.

The book also explores the psychology of women in today’s society, and what society expects from them. Another quote that really struck me:

That’s my point. What if I was a bit overweight and not especially pretty? Why is that so terrible? So disgusting? Why is that the end of the world? It’s because a woman’s entire self-worth rests on her looks. That’s why. It’s because we live in a beauty-obsessed society where the most important thing a woman can do is make herself attractive to men.

There’s more than that, but again, it would go into spoiler territory.

I really loved this book. I worried in the beginning that it would be too suburban-squabble for me, and there certainly are a lot of stereotypes played up here, but those just ended up being a vehicle for deeper issues. And I admit, I love the way it ended. It was probably too neat or whatever, but I just loved it. I definitely need to read more from this author.

Posted in 2017, Adult, Prose | Tagged , | 3 Comments