#55 Bird Watch

Sharing 365 life lessons, tips, or hacks; the things that make life easier, happier, and more productive. I hope you’ll follow along and find them helpful too.

#55

Bird Watch

Early last summer I found myself sitting on the deck in my backyard enjoying the early morning with a cup of coffee. I noticed something yellow fluttering just outside my direct line of vision and ultimately realized that a pair of yellow finches had taken residence in the rear corner of my yard. It didn’t take long before I was mesmerized watching them move through their morning routine.

The contrast of the bright yellow against the summer green foliage was striking and I had to try and capture it. My phone wasn’t cutting it so I grabbed my more elaborate Nikon and added the telephoto lens. It essentially became a sort of binoculars and I found myself zeroing in on those finches – enthralled with their movements.

I was bird watching.

And I’m not a bird watcher.

That single experience and the deep pleasure that I experienced convinced me that there is joy in bird watching – something I never thought I’d admit. I understood that morning, what people loved about the sport – or hobby – of watching these creatures move about their environment.

I took to having my coffee on the deck more frequently and noticed a pair of woodpeckers. I had heard them of course, but had never bothered to get out there and see for myself – their pecking. I saw bluebirds and robins. My curiosity increased and I found myself on Google to try and identify the female birds too as they aren’t as colorful and I wasn’t sure which was which.

I was really bird watching – and I was loving it.

There was an unexpected pleasure in the activity even though it was so solitary and quiet – perhaps that was it. I was a voyeur into the lives of those creatures and they didn’t care at all. I found myself wondering about their habits even though animal behavior was the least of my interests when I was pursuing my psychology degree. I wondered about the casual and carefree sensation of being able to fly and move to the top of trees. I got it. There’s really no way to explain the feelings or the benefits. I accidentally learned why people pull out their binoculars and I highly recommend that you make the time to…

Bird watch.

I love hearing your thoughts and ideas. Please share in the comments below.

#59 Ride a Horse

Sharing 365 life lessons, tips, or hacks; the things that make life easier, happier, and more productive. I hope you’ll follow along and find them helpful too.

#59

Ride a Horse

I’ve spent a little time this winter watching a period drama on television where the only method of transportation was horseback and I have a client whose passion it is to ride; she trains year round. It reminds me of the couple of times my grandfather pulled me up onto his saddle and pranced me around his farm and a single trip down a Caribbean beach later in early adulthood. Both times, I recall feeling the horse beneath me and being amazed at the sense of power there.

Good for You

Horseback riding is actually good for you. Sitting on a horse, whether you know ‘how’ to ride, or not will challenge you physically. First, you’ll experience body awareness as you need to sit on the horse in a specific way in order stay balanced. As you do so, it’s likely that you’ll use muscles that aren’t used to being used – also, good for you (and those muscles). There’s an element of coordination required of riders that is also good for your body and posture.

The mental aspect of riding is also quite beneficial. If you are a recreational rider that only occasionally takes a trail ride – at the very least you are outdoors. Indeed, you are most likely in a beautiful location where there are endless opportunities for appreciation and gratitude.

If riding is a full blown hobby for you, the additional benefit is the connection and ultimately the relationship you have with your horse. Very different from that of a house pet, the energy shared with a horse takes trust to a whole new level when you are the rider. Often, that horse is five to ten times your size and while you are communicating through body movement and reign management, that horse can still do darn well do what it wants. When you work together, the symbiotic energy of the relationship is evident and can be quite lovely.

Grab the Chance

Obviously, we don’t all have the ability to step out and hop on a horse after we finish our morning coffee but if not, the next time you are on vacation and have the chance to take an excursion that involves a horseback ride along the beach, through the forest, or around the foothills, I hope you have the courage to…

Ride a Horse

I love hearing your thoughts and ideas. Please share in the comments below.

#60 Start a Collection

Sharing 365 life lessons, tips, or hacks; the things that make life easier, happier, and more productive. I hope you’ll follow along and find them helpful too.

#60

Start a Collection

Today’s suggestion may seem counter-intuitive or even contradictory to yesterday’s position of ‘Keep It Simple’, yet having a collection of something has been demonstrated to promote happiness for some people and it doesn’t seem to matter ‘what’ is collected.

Motivation

From Coca Cola paraphernalia to cars and beanie babies to rare tins, a collection is generally something that has emotional rather than monetary value to the collector. Perhaps it’s representative of a hobby (cars), a fond memory (beanie babies) or time spent with a loved one (Coca Cola). It may also be something that stimulates our winning reflex – the thrill of the hunt (finding rare tins). Other’s still may be inclined to collect based solely on the social aspect, a shared interest either with a friend or a larger group (Boy Scout or Military items).

Meeting Needs

A collection can meet many of our psychological needs. It can be comforting and relieve anxiety. It can help us feel a sense of belonging. It can induce fond memories. Moreover, it may function as a hobby which, is important from the perspective of broadening our interests and offering distraction from daily stressors. A collection can be a statement of who we are; introducing us to the world in a non-verbal manner.

Dysfunctional

Collecting things with intent and purpose is generally a healthy activity. It becomes unhealthy when either of those elements disappears. When we accumulate things out of a fear of letting go or a fear of not having enough, we may be approaching or experiencing unhealthy behavior. Hoarding is a good example of what people may describe as a collection but without intent or purpose. Also potentially dysfunctional is when we become ‘too’ attached to the ‘things’ that we’ve collected; if/when we identify through the material elements. These are the ‘dark side’ conditions of collecting but are much more often the exception rather than the norm.

In most cases, having a collection of something meaningful is a rational, healthy, and potentially helpful past time. What would you collect if you were to …

Start a Collection

I love hearing your thoughts and ideas. Please share in the comments below.

#115 Make Wine

Sharing 365 life lessons, tips, or hacks; the things that make life easier, happier, and more productive. I hope you’ll follow along and find them helpful too.

#115

Make Wine

Are you a wine drinker? A chemist? An inquisitive adventurer? Have you tried making wine?

Since the beginning of the current millennium, the number of American wineries has more than quadrupled and wine of some variety is now grown in all 50 states. With this type of availability, one might ask why bother to make your own and yet there are a number of us with devout curiosity about our ability to make a great glass of vino.

Process

Making your own wine doesn’t actually require a massive amount of grapes. It can be made from grape concentrate and it’s completely possible to purchase concentrate from almost any grape producing part of the world. Certainly, you can do the research, buy the grapes or concentrate, add the proper ingredients and chemicals, ferment the juice, and then bottle the result.

Options

You could take on the entire process yourself or… you could find something like The Wine Room in Cherry Hill, New Jersey where wine experts – having all of the ingredients and equipment available – are able to help you make a wine consistent with your tastes; you do the composing – they activate the process.

Shared Interest

This is one of those things that offers the opportunity for people to come together in their shared interests. It’s like a book club but wine making instead. It is the kind of thing that can motivate conversation, peak curiosity, and encourage cooperation all at once. It is a great activity for couples who share a liking for wine. It’s a great family project or special occasion effort (The Wine Room).

Grand adventure

There is a lot to learn and an entire industry to explore if you become curious about wine making. There are annual amateur competitions to be entered, tastings to win, and money to be granted. It could become a passion you never knew you wanted to pursue and overall, a grand adventure! If you have an interest in wine, you may consider spending some effort to …

Make wine.

I love hearing your thoughts and ideas. Please share in the comments below.

 

#129 Stargaze

Sharing 365 life lessons, tips, or hacks; the things that make life easier, happier, and more productive. I hope you’ll follow along and find them helpful too.

#129

Stargaze

While the bulk of the population may attempt this with the naked eye during summer evenings when we can comfortably lie outside and gaze above, there is a lot to see in the Autumn sky. The brightest star is Fomelhaut, the overall 18th brightest star in the sky – and it’s sometimes called the lone Autumn star as it seems to be alone up there. As the fall transitions into winter, the Milky Way gives way to the constellation of Orion and all of the neighboring stars. And if you’ve never taken the time to notice, the winter sky looks very different from the summer one.

Use an App

Knowing what you are looking at is easy these days with a smartphone. iPhone users can literally just point their phones at the sky using the SkyView app and identify precisely what is there. The apps NightSky and StarChart are also good options if you want to know more detail about the space beyond.

Telescopes

Another way to participate in stargazing year round is to view the sky through a telescope. Depending on your interest level, you can spend anywhere from $50 to several thousand in order to get a better view. A telescope magnifies and clarifies your view, allowing you to see much more than you might with the naked eye.

Family Time

Stargazing is a fantastic family activity that allows for fun and learning simultaneously. There’s always something to learn about the stars and planets we can see and because our view changes as the earth turns, it’s not exactly the same month after month. Not to mention that it’s a huge sky when you are gazing at it one part at a time so each night, a different quadrant can be explored.

The holiday’s are approaching and it may be the perfect time to consider adopting a new hobby or to introduce your family to an activity you’ve enjoyed through the years. If nothing else, the next time you are outdoors in the evening, take a few moments and do a little…

Stargazing.

I love hearing your thoughts and ideas. Please share in the comments below.

#280 of 365 Ways to live Easier, Happier, & More Productive

Sharing a daily life lesson, tip, or hack; the things that make life easier, happier, and more productive. I hope you’ll follow along and find them helpful too.

#280

Learn a new hobby

Yesterday I wrote about how learning to play an instrument – making music – can lead to more happiness because our brain is stimulated in a different manner and music, in general – makes us happier. Perhaps you already play well or learning an instrument feels overwhelming… pick up a different hobby.

I taught myself how to crochet a few years ago while recovering from surgery. It’s become a favorite pastime in winter months and now most everyone I know has an afghan, nothing fancy but they were all made with love. Once again, I learned by watching YouTube videos (really, there’s just so much to learn out there!).

Think of a hobby that you’ve always wanted to learn… what stopped you? Perhaps mountain climbing isn’t an option for you at this stage of the game but indoor climbing might be! What about card tricks or magic tricks? The Philadelphia Eagles player Jon Dorenbos taught himself magic as a hobby (and ultimately became a professional) and came in 3rd on America’s Got Talent last summer. It was a hobby – football was his career – and he became passionate about getting better.

But you don’t have to be great at your hobby. My step-daughter makes magnificent crocheted items that are sometimes artistic masterpieces. Crocheting is a hobby that she enjoyed into mastery. My crocheting hobby is not an artistic endeavor… it’s something to do in the evenings as I listen to music, chat, or watch television.

It may be photography, gardening, or painting… it doesn’t matter really. Try to put perfectionism aside and try your hand at something new; something that interests you, perhaps something that has been a secret desire. You may develop an interest in something that becomes a great little pastime (self-care) or turn it into a professional o r profitable endeavor. It’s as simple as …

Learning a new hobby.

I love love hearing your thoughts and ideas. Please share in the comments below.

#355 Jigsaw puzzles

My goal is to share a daily life lesson, tip, or hack. They are the things I want my children to know and the things that I teach to clients. They are the things that make my life easier, happier, and more productive. I hope you’ll follow along and find them helpful too.

#355

Jigsaw puzzles

I’m not quite sure why puzzles have such a bad rap. In my younger days we put puzzles together, mod podged them (wasn’t that the original use for mod podge?), and use them as inexpensive wall art. After all… we spent all that time putting it together and it felt sinful to instantaneously break it back into pieces and box it up.

I guess that’s one of the arguments against puzzles. Why bother if you are going to undo it? Furthermore, puzzles are like books for some – once you do it, there’s no enjoyment in a repeat experience so it may feel rather futile all together.

I may argue however, that puzzles are a great tool in the pursuit of mindfulness. They encourage our attention and concentration unlike television or reading. They allow us to simultaneously converse and engage. They provide a common ground and in some cases, allow for teamwork (“help me find this red piece”).

Having a puzzle ready for assembly is a great tool for breaking habits. When it sits out and is available as a distraction tool, it can replace energy that might otherwise be directed toward a smoke or snack break. It’s something that can be addressed five minutes at a time or in a five hour stint without recourse. Indeed, it’s a terrific – non-electronic – way to spend a rainy afternoon with a little Bon Jovi in the background and a glass of wine in the non-dominant hand.

In the UK at least, puzzles are making a comeback. So much so that puzzle manufacturers there are adding staff for the first time in decades. And, if you want to get REALLY serious… the big kids, the puzzle kings, the masters… have compiled this list of puzzles for the especially dedicated. The top one having 48,000 (!!!) pieces.

I suggest the use of jigsaw puzzles to clients who are anxious as a means of helping them to slow down, focus, and learn to quiet. As one might imagine, this suggestion is frequently met with resistance and lots of objections. “I don’t have time / space / patience…” – yada, yada. My rebuttal is a questioning  rise of the eyebrows to challenge the rote response. There is not a legitimate objection (in my mind) as we all could benefit from giving up 30 min of television or Instagram time in favor of some mindful moments with a partner or child searching for the ‘brown corner barn piece’ or ‘the inside of that pink flower’. Beginning your puzzle on a puzzle mat (a yoga mat works) so that it can be rolled up and tucked out of the way without disturbing your work typically nullifies the rest of the objections.

A simple way to increase your mindful activity, reduce anxiety, and increase family time is found in the pursuit of …

Jigsaw puzzles.

I love hearing your thoughts and ideas. Please share in the comments below.

Finding Peace

Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart. ~ unknown

The other day, a loyal reader added this on a blog comment: “My last comment is to say that I want to read about how you became the cyclist that you are.” – The individual asking the question is a friend of Harlan’s and has followed our bicycling ventures via Facebook. I had to laugh out loud when I read it because I would never use the word ‘cyclist’ to describe what I do and I’m pretty sure that people who are truly ‘cyclists’ might be insulted to consider what I do any part of the sport.

You see, I hate… more than strongly dislike… exercise of any kind. I always did. I remember being laughed at in grade school when we were trying to complete tasks to receive the Presidential Fitness Award. I couldn’t do chin-ups – I just didn’t have the upper body strength or perhaps my lower body was far too big and mismatched for the muscles in my upper torso. It was better to stand in the back than to fail miserably. I didn’t have any competitive spirit apparently. Consequently, I was the kid who was always the last pick; cementing my dislike of sports.

I did play basketball in high school because I was tall and it was expected. What I disliked most of all was running across the court over and over… and over again. I often thought about finding a sport that allowed you to stand still but I never found one. In gym, we were expected to run a mile at least once each marking period. That was four times around the track and the ‘runners’ could make it in six or seven minutes but it took me twelve to fourteen. Of course, I walked most of the way and was generally last, or close to it.

I did love to walk. I could walk for miles and did often. My long legs created a lengthy stride and I rarely got tired of walking. I loved all of the things that I got a chance to see when I was walking. We frequently laughed over the idea that I would walk from Oakland, CA to Chicago, Illinois twice a month when I worked for the railroad. Since I worked in the dining car, I was on my feet most of the time as we covered that distance.

No matter how much I ‘knew’ that exercise was good for me and no matter how many different types of equipment, sports, or activity I tried… I just couldn’t ‘get into’ the practice of exercising. It really was problematic since my body composition and metabolism required some form of external motivation. I thought people who enjoyed exercise were in possession of a magic gene that passed by me during conception. I didn’t get it.

When we were in Europe visiting Sara – who spent a year in Amsterdam as an Au Pair – we considered renting bicycles and touring around but it sounded like work and I was on vacation. Besides, somewhere after the age of 50, arthritis began to build in my hip and walking was challenging some days and so I believed that bicycle riding seemed out of the question.

Harlan, on the other hand, has always been an avid sportsman. From football to baseball and golf to running, his body almost required movement and elevated heart rate. He often spoke of the euphoria that occurred when he exercised. He loved the endorphins that were produced while I was always waiting for them to show up.

About two years ago Harlan decided he was going to buy a bicycle and begin cycling. He began researching and by late April made his decision. He encouraged me to invest in a bike but we were talking hundreds of dollars for something that required this exercise thing that I wasn’t into at all.

I decided to ‘test’ my interest in cycling by inviting my family along for a ‘Mother’s Day’ ride in a state park near the ocean. They looked at me a little funny when I said that’s how I wanted to spend my day but followed along. We rented bikes close to the trail head and the four of us set out, helmets on, across saltwater marsh lands full of blue herons. I was riding a hybrid with a cushy seat and twenty-one gears. I couldn’t remember that last time I had been on a bicycle.

Of course, as a kid – that was the primary mode of transportation. We went everywhere on our bikes and the best part of the year was decorating it for the annual Memorial Day parade. We wove streamers into our spokes and tied all kinds of noise makers behind us but… that was then – when I was ten and it wasn’t considered exercise. It was a necessity, a required method of transportation if you were one of the ‘cool’ kids.

We had a perfectly beautiful day to ride through incredibly beautiful scenery. I puttered along the trail which was predominately crushed stone and enjoyed the sun on my face, the breeze across my cheeks, and the smell of the fresh air. In fact, I barely noticed that anyone was with me. I embraced the sound of nature, the melody of the tire against the ground, and the tone of air moving past my ears. I loved it! My ass hurt but my hip was fine! I was happy as a lark and after about ten miles, the kids asked me how far we were going… I could have gone on and on but they were pretty much over it. We turned around and headed back – it was a total of sixteen miles that day. Not bad for a lady who hadn’t ridden a bike in more than thirty years.

That day, I found a Hollandia style bicycle – a hybrid ladies bike with fenders – very classic looking and it had seven speeds. I assured the salesman that I would ‘never’ need more than that as I had only used five all day on the flat trail we had traveled and that was just experimenting. I went for broke – buying as much bicycle as I thought I could afford while making sure it made sense for the kind of riding that we (Harlan) talked about doing. He had gotten a road bike and I wanted something a bit more versatile. I agreed to go with him if “it didn’t feel like exercise”, I said.

I’ll admit that I was pretty excited. We live in a mostly flat community that touts itself as being ‘bike friendly’ and indeed, there are bike lanes on almost every road. In addition, there are a variety of trails in town that are bicycle friendly. Furthermore, the Rails-To-Trails conservancy is a tremendous organization – converting old railroad beds into pedestrian and bike trails. We live in an area where there are a number of them within an easy driving distance. The nice part about Rail Trails is that they are FLAT – mostly. There is often a grade but it is hardly noticeable.

We started slowly… biking around town, after work, and on weekends. We biked into town and rewarded ourselves with a latte or ice cream. I noticed the calorie burn and my body started to take on a different shape. I wasn’t working hard at all. I pushed myself a bit… beginning to compete with myself to see if I could get up a slope in second gear instead of shifting down to first. And then, we headed out to trails that were longer… and longer… I fell in love with ‘my’ kind of biking. It was easy and fun. It wasn’t sport riding, though. It was leisure. But… it WAS exercise and my body liked it.

Before long, I was riding without Harlan’s influence. I was exercising just because I liked the sensation of those things that I fell in love with that first day… the sound of the air moving past my ears, the breeze on my face, etc. When I was out there – especially by myself – I could think about nothing at all or about everything at once. I allowed thoughts to flow through my brain at the same speed that I was moving but it wasn’t exhausting.

Eventually, my behind became accustomed to my seat and it stopped hurting. I was riding for 45 or 60 minutes several times a week and not thinking twice about it. Each time I left the house I could hear the theme song of The Wizzard of Oz playing ‘Duh – di duh – di da.’ Imagining myself with a full-on basket on the front of my bike, carrying a little dog. I wonder how many people saw me and thought the same thing? It didn’t matter. When I am on my bike, I am in a state of Peace.

I have challenged myself with longer and longer rides but let me be clear… they are leisure rides of 25 & 30 miles on relatively flat surfaces. One day last fall I took my bike up to Philadelphia and ran the Schuylkill River trail for 34 miles round-trip. I was done by mile 30 and the last four were brutal but it was exhilarating to know that I did it.

Harlan hasn’t been able to ride in months now and I don’t ride when it is cold. I bought an indoor ‘trainer’ last year so that I could bring the bike inside and maintain the routine but there is absolutely NO comparison and I don’t like it. I’d just as soon go to the gym and ride there – which I do now although not as religiously as I’d like you to imagine.

In any regard, that is how and why I became a ‘cyclist’… For me, it has nothing to do with the sport and everything to do with the PEACE I experience as I move through space on those wheels.