Here There Be Dragons!

Calico Pennant male at Wiregrass lake

Calico Pennant (Celithemis elisa)

It’s that time again–it’s early summer and the odonata are plentiful and active. You may have noticed that I’ve been dabbling in dragonflies for several years, and have written about them a few times:

Thrashers, Dashers, and Mayflies (July 2016)

Things That Float and Things That Fly (July 2015)

Herps and Odes, Dragons and Toads (July 2013)

This year as I take a break from birding, I’m stepping up my efforts to learn about and photograph odonata.  So yesterday I spent the afternoon dragon hunting with a friend who is much more knowledgeable about them than I am. And more skilled at finding them as well.  He took me to a place where he knew we could find clubtails, a type of dragonfly I’d never seen before. And sure enough, within a few minutes of arriving, we’d seen multiples of two different species, the Pronghorn Clubtail and the Dusky Clubtail. I didn’t get a good photo of the Dusky, but here’s one I like of the Pronghorn, even though his tail end is out of focus. I like his face.

Pronghorn Clubtail dragonfly

Pronghorn Clubtail (Gomphus graslinellus)

As we continued walking and chatting, he would casually point out another species over there, and then another one over here, even identifying them as they flew far out over the water. I was impressed with how easily he could name each species, and it was a little bit overwhelming. It reminded me of how I felt the first year I came to Ohio to see the warbler migration — people around me were pointing out one species after another and I could barely look at one before they pointed out another.

But just as it did with warblers, this will just take some time and experience.  One of the tricks with learning birds, which I think will work the same with the dragons, is to get very familiar with the common species first. Then it becomes easier to know when you’ve found something different, and you can pay closer attention to it.

Twelve-spotted Skimmer dragonfly - Irwin Prairie

Twelve-spotted Skimmer (Libellula pulchella) with a mite on the back of its head

And, as with birds, you learn the particular habitats for each species, and the timing of their migrations and/or breeding cycles, and all of that information helps you to figure out what you might see at a given time in a given location.

Painted Skimmer dragonfly

Painted Skimmer (Libellula semifasciata)

Unlike birds, there are many species of odonata that can only be identified if you have them in your hand to examine the fine details of their complex bodies. That’s why some people use nets to catch them and see them better. But I don’t see myself doing that, at least at this point. (And you usually need a permit to do that in a park or nature preserve.) So I’ll have to accept the fact that, even if I get excellent photos, I won’t always be able to identify every species I come across. But that’s okay with me. This is something I’m doing for fun, for the simple pleasure of learning new things.

Bluets at Wiregrass Lake

Two different species of Bluets, a type of damselfly

Will I keep a species list? Maybe. Or maybe I’ll just enjoy being outdoors in the sunshine surrounded by these fascinating creatures. There’s something so refreshing about just being, without the need to record everything I see. Yeah, I think I could get used to this feeling.

By the way, go back up to the top picture of the Calico Pennant–did you notice that the red spots are heart-shaped? I didn’t either, until my friend Donna pointed it out to me. I think this one will now be nicknamed the Love Dragon. 🙂

Note: All of the odonata in this post were photographed on June 6, 2017 in northwest Ohio.

Posted in Insects, Ohio, Wildlife | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Wildflower Wanderings

This spring I’ve spent more time than ever before searching for wildflowers around northwest Ohio. I’m a novice at identifying them, but I’m having a blast and am learning new things every day.

Large Flowered Bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora) (1024x682)

Large-flowered Bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora) — it’s so delicate-looking! (Goll Woods)

One rainy day in April I took a road trip west to visit Goll Woods in Butler County. I’d read that it’s the place to go for spring wildflowers in this corner of the state, so I grabbed my rain jacket and headed into the woods. One thing I always tell people when they look at me like I’m nuts for walking in the rain: “Hey, if you want to have a place almost to yourself, then walk in the rain.” And it was true on this day too, as I only saw two other people there for the two hours I walked.

Admittedly, it was a bit of a challenge to juggle two cameras, binoculars, and an umbrella, but I made it work. Luckily it wasn’t a heavy rain, so occasionally I could put the umbrella on the ground in order to take some flower photos. I could have left the binoculars in the car, though, because birds were few and far between on this day. I guess I have such a habit of always carrying the binoculars that I didn’t even consider leaving them behind.

White Trillium - Goll Woods (1024x768)

White Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum)

There were hundreds and hundreds of White Trillium in bloom, and a few pinkish ones, which I believe are still White Trillium but they turn pink as the flowers age. I’m still investigating this.

White Trillium - Goll Woods v2 (1024x768)

Pinkish Trillium - Goll Woods (800x533)

White Trillium turning pink as it ages (I think)

After I got accustomed to all the trillium, I was able to begin to look at things that were not trillium. And that’s when I found one of my most-sought-after wildflowers of the day. This is Dutchman’s Breeches, which I’d never seen in person before.

Dutchman's Breeches wildflower at Goll Woods

Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)

They really do look like pairs of pants hung out to dry, don’t they? Apparently there was some controversy in Victorian times about calling them “breeches,” as it was considered rude to refer to clothing that covered the–ahem–lower portion of the body. (A little tidbit I learned from one of my favorite books, The Secrets of Wildflowers, by Jack Sanders.)

And then I found another surprise, a white variety of Bleeding Hearts:

Bleeding hearts v2 (1024x955)

Squirrel Corn (Dicentra canadensis) – closely related to Bleeding Hearts

I later learned from my friend Kelly that these are commonly known as Squirrel Corn. I couldn’t understand where that name came from until she told me that if you dig just below the soil surface, you’ll find little bulblets that look like kernels of corn. I wish I’d known that while I was there so I could have seen them for myself. But here’s a link to Kelly’s blog where she shows you a photo of the “corn” kernels.

Ent from Lord of the Rings - Goll Woods (682x1024)Goll Woods has some of the oldest trees in Ohio, with some as much as 400 years old. And trees that live that long tend to get pretty darn big. Some of them are 4 feet in diameter. This one made me think of Ents from Lord of the Rings. (Ents are a race of tree-like creatures…read more here if you like.) My imagination instantly saw that tree as a sleeping Ent who might, at any moment, rise up and tower over me. Fun stuff.

A couple weeks ago I was on my way home from Cleveland and decided to take a slight detour south near Sandusky to visit Castalia Prairie. I wanted to see White Lady’s-slippers for the first time and I was not disappointed. I saw hundreds of them all over the place. I had my macro lens and tripod but wasn’t sure about what the rules were there for going off the trail. To be honest, there was barely a “trail” at all, just a path where I could tell someone else had walked and flattened the grass down.  I did my best to get some photos without stepping on anything endangered, and had a great time discovering new things. (And the next morning I made a less-welcome discovery, as a tick had hitched a ride on me…shudder. Reminder to do a tick check immediately, not the next morning. Duh.)

White Lady's-slipper orchid, Cypripedium candidum (1280x853)

White Lady’s-slipper (Cypripedium candidum)

I also found a bunch of these one-inch snail shells scattered around. I didn’t find any evidence of the former inhabitants of the shells though.
Snail shell from Castalia Prairie v2 (1024x749)

It’s funny, I just realized that I’m traveling around to see flowers in much the same way I would normally search for birds. Except the flowers are easier to find and to photograph because they can’t fly away. It’s a nice change of pace, both mentally and physically, and it’s great to be learning about an entirely different part of the ecosystem.

I’m excited to be heading down to Urbana this week to meet a friend and see the Showy Lady’s-slipper orchids at Cedar Bog. And I may also be going up to Ann Arbor to see the magnificent peony garden at Nichols Arboretum. If I could only have one type of flower in my garden for the rest of eternity, it would be peonies. I can almost smell them now….sigh. So stay tuned for more botanical beauties!

Posted in Ohio, Walking in the Woods, wildflowers | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Ohio Has the Blues

Looking up at tall trees - (800x594)

Looking skyward in a grove of evergreen trees at Oak Openings Preserve

Living in the Oak Openings book cover (785x1024)The region of northwest Ohio where I live is called the Oak Openings. It’s one of the world’s rarest habitats, a band of sandy soil about five miles wide and 80 miles long, stretching across Ohio and southeastern Michigan.  When the last glacier receded from this area 15,000 years ago, it left in its wake a large lake that eventually became present-day Lake Erie. That ancient lake deposited large amounts of sand on top of the clay soil, and this unique combination is what has allowed the formation of a variety of ecosystems, ranging from open oak savannas to wet prairies to sand dunes. The Oak Openings region is home to dozens of rare species of plants and animals. And since I live here now, I want to learn all about it.

Girdham Road Sand Dunes sign with fairy (1024x683)

The sand dunes are one of my favorite places at Oak Openings Preserve

What better place to begin my exploration than Oak Openings Preserve, the largest of the Toledo Metroparks. We’re in the midst of  “Blue Week” here, an annual celebration of the special flora and fauna of the Oak Openings area, particularly those that are blue. The iconic plant associated with Blue Week is the Wild Lupine, which is found in large swaths throughout the metropark right now.

Blue lupines (2) (1280x853)

Wild Lupines (Lupinus perennis)

I had seen lupines before, but never in such abundance. I love the gorgeous blue spikes rising above the bright green blanket of leaves. And the circular arrangement of the leaves is really pleasing to my geometry-loving brain.

Blue lupines v3 (1) (1280x853)

Blue lupines with bee (2) (1132x1280)

There’s a tiny endangered butterfly that can only breed in places that have Wild Lupines, and so I was hoping to catch a glimpse of one of them as well. They’re a subspecies of Blue butterfly called the “Karner Blue.” I’d read that they were the size of a nickel, so I had a feeling it would be hard to find them. But as luck would have it, I was standing out in a sandy path listening to birds when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw fluttering movement. I glanced down to see a tiny blue butterfly flitting among the grasses at the edge of the path.

I wasn’t able to get very good pictures of this guy (these are highly cropped), but I’m pretty sure this is a Karner Blue.

Karner blue butterfly - rare endangered (1)

Karner blue butterfly - rare endangered (2)

I wish I’d had my other camera with me that day, but I’m glad I was able to get these documentation pictures at least. If you want to read more about why this species is endangered, the US Fish & Wildlife website has some good information. It was such a “connect the dots” moment for me out there in that windswept sandy prairie, seeing the endangered plant and the endangered butterfly that depends on it for survival. Nature is endlessly fascinating, isn’t it?

Ferns - weird two shades of green (1280x960)

Not blue, but an interesting fern with two shades of green —  I need to investigate this one.

Boardwalk and bridge at Oak Openings (1280x960)

And, as luck would have it, just as I was finishing this article for the blog, I got to do this:

Lupines I transplanted for Toledo Metroparks

Yes, I got to help the metroparks by transplanting some Wild Lupines from cell packs to 4″ pots. I had volunteered for a day of potting tree seedlings, but when I arrived for my shift they had already finished the trees. I was very disappointed, thinking I’d made the 30-minute drive for nothing. So I asked if there was anything else I could do, and that’s how I ended up spending almost three hours with the lupines.

I found this to be such a satisfying job now that I know how important those plants are to the ecosystem. Each time I popped a tiny plant out of the cell pack, I envisioned it standing tall and blooming on the sand dunes at Oak Openings, providing nourishment for the Karner Blue butterflies that can’t survive without it.

And as if that wasn’t enough for a gratifying experience, they gave me six tiny lupines for my yard! I had mentioned to the greenhouse supervisor that I was considering trying to grow them in my garden, and as I was preparing to wrap up my shift, she made the sweet gesture of offering me a six-pack of baby plants. I was overwhelmed, and cannot wait to find the perfect (sandy) spot in my garden for them.

Speaking of my garden, perhaps in an upcoming post I’ll show you some of the plants that have been blooming here lately. My new yard has been full of surprises!

P.S. I found an interesting bird-related trivia tidbit about the phrase “to have the blues.” It goes back at least as far as 1827, when John Audubon used the phrase in a letter to his wife Lucy.

Posted in Flowers and Gardening, Ohio, wildflowers | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

No Words, Just Birds (#3)

Scarlet Tanager - Metzger Marsh - May 3 2017 with sig

Scarlet Tanager male (Metzger Marsh, Ohio)

Black-throated Green Warbler cute w sig

Black-throated Green Warbler (Magee Marsh, Ohio)

Eastern screech-owl at Pearson Metropark w sig

Eastern Screech-owl roosting at Pearson Metropark in Oregon, Ohio

Northern Rough-winged Swallon on cable with chain reduced w sig

Northern Rough-winged Swallow at Metzger Marsh

Great Blue Heron best in flight over Metzger pier reduced w sig

Great Blue Heron soaring over Metzger Marsh on Lake Erie’s south shore

Note: The winds have remained mostly northerly, but some new birds did manage to get here last night.  We’re still waiting (a bit impatiently) for the big wave of warblers to arrive.

Posted in Birds, Migration, Ohio, Photography | 4 Comments

No Words, Just Birds (#2)

Red-headed Woodpecker at Oak Openings

Red-headed Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker habitat shot (800x533)

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker v2 with sig (756x800)

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker on snag with sig (800x749)

Pileated Woodpecker

Field Sparrow at Oak Openings

Field Sparrow (aka Baby-Face)

All photos in this post were taken at Oak Openings Preserve, one of the fine Toledo Metroparks.

Posted in Birds, Migration, Ohio, Photography, Toledo | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

No Words, Just Birds

(Well, maybe a few words…. For the next month or so, I’ll be too busy birding and editing photos to write much, so I’ll just post a selection of pictures a couple times a week to show you what I’ve been seeing. Thus “No Words, Just Birds” — I hope you enjoy these!)

Snowy Egret at Magee Marsh (800x504)

Snowy Egret (Magee Marsh Wildlife Area)

Green Heron at Woodlawn (800x590)

Green Heron (Woodlawn Cemetery in Toledo, Ohio)

Green Heron at Maumee Bay (800x666)

Green Heron (Maumee Bay State Park in Oregon, Ohio)

Cedar Waxwing in crabapple tree (790x800)

Cedar Waxwing (Woodlawn Cemetery in Toledo, Ohio)

Cedar Waxwing eating crapapple blossoms (800x636)

Cedar Waxwing eating crabapple blossoms (Woodlawn Cemetery in Toledo, Ohio)

Posted in Birds, Migration, Ohio, Photography | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Armchair Birding

Lately there have been quite a few slow birding days around here. Spring migration is happening, but the birds are still just trickling through in dribs and drabs rather than pouring in. But what is pouring, today at least, is the rain. So I thought I’d give you a taste of what a birder does when the weather and the birds don’t cooperate.

It’s called armchair birding. This can refer to actually watching birds from inside the house or, as I’m using it today, to reading bird books. Well, I guess I did watch the birds from inside too, but just for a few minutes. (Birds seen in my backyard: House Finch, American Goldfinch, Mourning Dove, House Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, and American Robin.)

Rain-spattered window and view of backyard - blog

Raindrops on the sunroom window, and a view of my azalea and Japanese Maple tree.

And I hit the jackpot at my local used bookstore this morning. They had posted on their Facebook page about having Birds of the Toledo Area by Lou Campbell, and I’d asked them to hold it for me. While I was there I innocently asked if they might have any other bird books. I walked out of there with almost $50 less in my pocket, but boy was it worth it!

Blog - Birds of the Toledo Area (800x723)

Birds of the Toledo Area, by Lou Campbell

One of their customers said that her grandmother was Patricia Eckhart, who did the illustrations for this book.  I’m tickled pink to get a copy of this out-of-print book with such a strong local connection to my new hometown. It’s signed by the author too. And, inside one of the other books I bought was this:

Newspaper article about Lou Campbell - Birds of Toledo Area author (594x800)
It’s a full-page (and more) article about Lou Campbell. The article is dated 1993, when Mr. Campbell was 94 years old. It refers to him as a local institution–the “Dean of Birding” and “Dean of Nature,” among many other accolades. He was a founding member of the Toledo Naturalists’ Association, wrote a nature column in the local paper for more than 30 years, and was the acknowledged authority on birds in this region for 60 years. I wish I’d been around to know this man!

Blog - The Birds of Ohio cover (594x800)

Oh my gosh, this book is a large and gorgeous hardcover.

Blog - The Birds of Ohio - sample illustration (594x800)

A sample of William Zimmerman’s illustrations from The Birds of Ohio. (Author Bruce Peterjohn)

Blog - A Sketchbook of Birds (800x594)

A Sketchbook of Birds, by Charles Tunnicliffe

Blog - Sketchbook of Birds - illustration of Curlew Sandpiper (800x594)

Curlew Sandpiper illustration by Charles Tunnicliffe, from the book above.

And a few more little treasures, including two Golden Guides to birds:

Blog - more bird books from NeverMore (800x594)

I can’t find a publication date in the smaller Golden Guide, but Wikipedia says it was published in 1949. It’s falling apart as I turn the pages, but I just love reading the species accounts and tips on birding, like this:

“Hunting with a gun is giving way to hunting with a camera. Only a few species of game birds may be shot, but you may photograph any bird. Bird photography offers thrills and hard work. Don’t begin until you really understand photography…..”

Times have sure changed, haven’t they? Today anyone can take great bird photos, sometimes even with a cell phone camera.

I have to confess, my intention in buying old field guides was to take them apart and use the pages for some art projects. But I don’t know if I can bear to do that now that I’ve got them in my hands. Well, maybe the one that’s already falling apart….after all, I only paid $3 for it. Maybe I’ll try to find another one in better condition to keep in my library.

So as I hunker down indoors today to wait out the rain, I’m having a great time investigating my new treasures. I wouldn’t mind if it rained all day tomorrow too. I’m also doing this:

Ahh, now this is a good day. I hope you’ve enjoyed your introduction to armchair birding.

Posted in Birds, Books, Ohio, Toledo | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Here They Come…

April and May are so exciting here in Ohio! Every walk brings the possibility of finding new flowers and trees blooming, and new birds arriving.  And now that I have so many new places to explore after my move, it’s even more exciting than usual.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet yard bird - better shot

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

I’ve been spending a lot of time walking in the beautiful Toledo Metroparks, getting to know the various trails and learning the bird habitats so I’ll be prepared when the birds start arriving en masse. We’ve seen some of the early species starting to show up, but the frenzy of “so many birds I don’t know where to look first” hasn’t begun yet.

Every spring, the various species come through in waves, with the timing of their arrivals somewhat impacted by wind and precipitation systems. What we hope for are winds from the south, because that gives the birds a bit of help on their journey up here. Northerly winds can delay them in getting here, or keep them here longer while they wait for more favorable conditions to continue northward.  To know when to expect the birds, I rely on the weekly BirdCast migration forecasts from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Those forecasts help me plan my birding schedule and locations to try to maximize the new species I can find each time I go out. (Yes, despite saying that I’d lost all motivation for the sporting aspect of birding, somehow I got myself into a competition with a friend to see who can get the most species in our county this year. He knows I can’t beat him, but it’ll be fun anyway.)

GCKI cropped

Golden-crowned Kinglet

I’m feeling so happy with my decision to move to Toledo. After enduring such struggles for the past couple of years, I’ve finally turned a corner. My attitude is more one of openness to new people and experiences. I absolutely love my house, my yard, and this wonderful city. It’s small enough that I can get across town in 20 minutes, but big enough to have great restaurants, the Toledo Museum of Art, the gorgeous Toledo Botanical Garden, and of course, those metroparks I can’t stop raving about. (And the museum, the botanical garden and all of the metroparks have free admission…can you believe that?) The population of the city is racially and ethnically diverse, much like the metro Detroit area I’ve been accustomed to. You can find almost any kind of food you want here — Lebanese, Greek, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, and Hungarian (Tony Packo’s, anyone?), just to name a few.

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper

And my efforts to meet new friends are starting to pay off too. I’ve been pushing myself out of my comfort zone constantly, joining everything from book groups to hiking groups. Sometimes it’s scary to walk into a group of people where you don’t know a single person, but I’ve been doing it. I admit to chickening out a couple of times, but most of the time I’m able to do it.  That’s the hardest part, because once I get myself to an event, I always have a great time and everyone is friendly and fun.

I try to be grateful every day that I was strong enough to make yet another huge change in my life. I’m emotionally stronger and happier than I’ve been in a long time. I guess if there’s any benefit to going through hard times, it’s that they make you more appreciative of the good times. They have a motto here that’s posted on signs around town, and I’ve adopted it as my own:

You will do better in Toledo sign.jpg

Why yes, I do believe I will. 🙂

Okay, enough of that sappy stuff. Let’s show you some more birds:

American Coot eating

American Coot – it’s hard to get a good photo of a black bird with red eyes, but I got lucky this time.

Pied-billed Grebes at Metzger 4-10-17

Pied-billed Grebes – such cuties!

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker - Magee Marsh 4-10-17

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker – this bird is usually hard for me to find, but this one flew right in front of me as I was searching for an owl

Red-breasted Mergansers - Metzger Marsh

Red-breasted Mergansers – I just love their long head feathers

Okay, stay tuned for some beautiful warblers coming very soon!

Posted in Birds, Happiness and Gratitude, Migration, Ohio, Toledo | 3 Comments

The Power of One Little Flower

Black-capped Chickadee in my yard

Black-capped Chickadee

Well, I did it! I’ve been in my new house for 9 days now. I’m still trying to find places for some of my stuff in this smaller space, but overall the place feels like home now. I’ve got my artwork on the walls and most of the boxes are unpacked. I’ve cooked meals here. Each day I have fewer instances of having to open multiple cabinets to find what I’m looking for. Even half asleep in the predawn hours, I can successfully navigate the now-familiar path from the bedroom to the kitchen to feed the insistent cats.

I’ve started a new Yard List to record the birds that visit my yard. I’m up to 17 species so far, and am excited about what spring migration might bring.

something-to-look-forward-to-594x800Back in October I told you about my efforts to keep my life interesting by always having something planned that I could look forward to.  Using that as a sort of motto has kept me from becoming complacent and taking anything for granted. I’ve worked hard to keep in touch with friends and nurture the relationships that bring joy to my life. And during the past two months, my life has been consumed with the myriad details of the move, so I haven’t had to try hard to have things to look forward to.

But as I get my new house in order and life starts to settle back into a more normal routine,  I’m sensing that I need to redouble my focus on that motto. I’m in a new city where I don’t yet have any friends, and I’m feeling lonely. I know this will pass, but I have to acknowledge the little bits of anxiety about my new life. For months I’ve been telling myself, “When I get moved I’m going to get involved in lots of activities and meet people and all will be fine.” And that was a great confidence-builder as I looked forward to the move. But now I’m here and it’s time for the rubber to hit the road, so to speak. It’s time to take the difficult steps of finding things to get involved with, and reaching out to people who might become friends. I’m making progress, but it’s all a bit scary, if I’m being honest. In my darker moments, I succumb to the fear of rejection, failure, and continued loneliness. But I’m not letting those thoughts stop me from getting out there.

Squirrel in my tree (759x800)

Fox Squirrel eyeing the new human

European Starling in my yard (800x590) (2)

European Starling eyeing the Fox Squirrel

Today I had a moment that I think was cathartic. I’d been feeling a tightness in my throat all day, as if I needed to cry. I thought it was because I’d read a news report that upset me. So I kept myself busy, hoping the need-to-cry feeling would go away.

After eating dinner, I sat down in the living room to write and happened to glance out the front window. And I saw this tiny yellow flower that had just opened, and I started crying. It’s cliché, I know, but I was struck by the symbolism of a flower rising from the ground in the spring after being dormant all winter. I see my own life as a parallel to the life of that beautiful little flower, and it gives me confidence that I too am going to stand up and tilt my face to the sun. And I will make new friends and have a happy and fulfilling life here.

Miniature daffodil in my yard (697x800)

I think this must be a miniature daffodil — I’ve never seen them this small before.

Isn’t it funny how someone can get such hope from a tiny yellow flower?

I’m remembering now that this is partly why I’ve always loved growing perennials–seeing them wilt in the fall and then come back in the spring after resting in the earth through the winter. To an observer who doesn’t know what’s happening inside the plants, they appear to be dying. But they just need that period of dormancy to regenerate and prepare for the next phase of life, when they’ll show their beauty again.  So maybe I’m like a daffodil or crocus, just trying to push through the mulch so I can reach the sun again.

Yeah, I like that.

Posted in Happiness and Gratitude | Tagged , , , , , , | 16 Comments

This Moment is My Life

Today I’m in my new home, two days before my move-in day, waiting for various installers and service people to show up. In the quiet times between appointments, I sit in a lawn chair in my empty kitchen, working my way through a seemingly endless list of phone calls on my to-do list. I pause occasionally to pick up my binoculars or camera to watch the flurry of activity at the half dozen bird feeders the previous owners graciously left behind for me. The light snowfall overnight has brought the birds in droves to this easily-accessible energy source.

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My lawn chair and a few of my treasures. I can’t wait to get some color on those walls!

As I walk around the empty rooms of the house with my footsteps echoing around me, my thoughts and emotions fluctuate from excitement and anticipation back to fretting about how much work and money it will take to maintain a home by myself. I think I’ve made great progress in the past year in learning how to control my fears, and I know that no matter what happens, I can figure out how to deal with it. I am braver than I ever imagined. I am resourceful and creative, and I’m willing to ask for help when I need it.

Blog - empty sunroom at new house (800x594)

Empty sunroom, awaiting the two cats who will LOVE it!

A few minutes ago I was standing at my kitchen window looking at the birds, and I realized that I was trying to decide what I was feeling at that moment. It was the oddest feeling, making a conscious decision about how to feel. But that’s another thing I’ve learned recently—our thoughts determine our feelings, not the other way around. If you feel scared it might be because you’re paying attention to the random fearful thoughts that pop up in your head. If you actively force yourself to think of happier things, or even just make yourself smile, your emotions will follow.  You’ll feel lighter, happier, more joyful.

Blog - garden art lizard at new house (800x594)

Garden art left behind by previous owners — I don’t know if I would have bought this for myself, but it makes me happy

Seriously. Try it right now. Put a big smile on your face and notice how it makes you feel. I’m not talking about a grin here. Make it a full show-your-teeth smile. How do you feel? When I do that, I instantly feel more optimistic and happier. It may seem strange, but who cares? Do it when nobody’s looking, or go in the bathroom for a quick smile break. Knowing that it’s often that easy to lift your own spirits, we’d all be crazy not to take advantage of this little secret, right?

Blog - my new pink and brown bathroom that makes me happy (594x800)

My funky retro bathroom that REALLY makes me smile! Yes, the oddly-shaped sink is pink. It’s SO not something I would have done on my own, but I adore it.

So as I stood at the window this afternoon, I decided to allow myself to feel the joy that was just under the surface. I had a fullness of heart, as if my heart was literally expanding from an excess of gratitude. When you decide to allow YOURSELF to be happy (because I know you will), make sure to ignore that mean little voice that sometimes tries to whisper, “Be careful of being too happy…it won’t last…you know bad things are coming.” That voice is not your friend. Or course it’s true that bad things will happen to all of us. That’s life. But if we deny ourselves the experience of joy just because of sad things that might happen in the future, we’re robbing ourselves of our lives, moment by moment.

And I don’t know about you, but I’m running out of moments to waste.  This moment is my life.

Posted in Happiness and Gratitude | 12 Comments