Three Ways to Celebrate Spring

Whether the weather is springlike or not, the equinox will take place tomorrow at 5:58 p.m., and Spring will officially be sprung. It’s the season of new growth, and of pollen and allergies. The season of renewal, and the season that can leave some people feeling a bit flat or stuck. Today, I’m sharing with you four ideas to take action on to celebrate spring:

First, Create Space for Abundance

Not to jump on Marie Kondo’s train (although I bet it’s a really tide, neatly-folded train), but you can start by clearing some clutter. My personal policy is (and has been for the past seven years) to “get rid of everything that does not bring pleasure, beauty, or purpose into my life”. You can read six tips on how to clear clutter here. Clearing out the stuff that you no longer like, use, or want makes space for energy to circulate inside your space! You can read more about this idea in my post from October. Once you have taken out the trash, donated the stuff you no longer care to keep, and followed the other steps in my earlier post, you can start finding good ways and places in which to store your stuff. If your clothes all have homes in closets or drawers, then they won’t be strewn about your bedroom or home. It makes it simpler to find what you want when you want it, and it also reduces the amount of visual clutter in your life. If you get totally overwhelmed or are stumped with how to start in any given room, I always recommend clearing the top of the largest flat surface in the space—doing so gives your eyes a place to rest and makes the whole room look tidier in a hurry. Don’t believe me? Go into your dining room and make sure the table is cleared of stuff that doesn’t belong there (clothing, papers, crafts, shopping bags, etc.) Or go into a bedroom and clear anything that doesn’t belong on the bed off of it and make the bed. In your kitchen, clear off the island or (if you don’t have one) the longest stretch of counter space you have. Having a place in each room where your eyes can rest and not be driven wild by clutter will make you feel more relaxed and ready for spring.

Get Out

No, not the movie.

If it’s not a blizzard, tornado warning, or thunderstorm where you are, get outside. Some things you can do while you are there:

  • Take a walk in your yard or neighborhood, and keep an eye out for signs of spring. Count how many robins you spot, or look for whatever is just starting to bloom. For some of you, that might be azaleas or even roses, for others, it might be snowdrops. But look for signs of renewed life.

  • Plant something. Doesn’t matter if it’s a full garden or a single plant or shrub. Spending time outside and digging in the garden (or cleaning it up) is valuable exercise, both physically and mentally.

  • Do a quick maintenance and upgrade assessment of your yard and building(s). Are there things that need to be repaired or replaced? Do you need to get your gutters cleaned? Does your apartment door need sprucing up? Is your garden shed in need of a new roof or a lock on the door? What about your balcony or garden area? Do you need to buy or replace pots? Remove dead stuff? Plant something new? Spring is a great time for making a list of the projects you want to get to during the warmer weather.

Spruce Up Your Art Situation

An easy way to celebrate spring is to brighten the corner where you are. (And yes, I realize there’s an old hymn by Ina D. Ogden of that name, and the pun or wordplay was intentional.) You don’t have to put ginormous bunny and egg clings on your windows (though of course you can, and if you have little kids, they may really like that); you can simply add some spring touches inside and outside your home.

Outside ideas:

  • a new welcome mat; it doesn’t have to have a spring theme, but if your old one is looking sad beyond repair, this time when all those winter boots (and salt and cinders) are done is a good one to put out something new

  • a cheerful garden flag, if that’s how you roll. Could be spring-themed, or just something new and cheery.

  • a new birdbath or bird feeder, if you like having lots of avian friends

  • a new wreath or other decoration for your door; note: it doesn’t just have to be your front door. You can also perk up your door into your garage or laundry room or a side door, if that’s what you usually use to go in and out.

Inside ideas:

  • Once you’ve tidied up your front hall or foyer or sunporch, consider adding a seasonal touch; could be a small, cheerful birdhouse or a basket of eggs; could be a new piece of artwork to sit on a table or shelf, or hang on the wall to welcome your guests.

  • Take a good look at the art and photographs in each room. Do you still like the item? Do you still like its frame? If the answer to either question is no, consider replacing what you don’t like. If the answer is yes, assess whether it needs a good dusting. Wipe the frame with a soft, dry cloth, starting at the top and working your way down the sides, finishing with the bottom. If the piece has glass over it, decide whether the glass needs cleaning. Do not spray any cleaner on the glass. Instead, lightly spray a microfiber cloth with water or an ammonia-based cleanser (if you prefer, though water usually works fine), and carefully clean the glass surface by rubbing gently in circles, then drying the glass with another section of microfiber cloth. You may want to take the art or photograph down from the wall and lay it flat to do this.

  • Consider whether you would like to swap some of your art around to offer yourself a new perspective, or whether you want or need some new art in your space to brighten things up. (And if you do, consider giving my items a look? I’ve got tambourines and collages, paintings, and greeting cards here, plus prints and other items available at Fine Art America.)

Here, there, and everywhere

And yes, I am now completely distracted from singing the Beatles song of that name. It’s such a syrupy song, but I still completely and totally love it.

Here

Here for me is currently in South Carolina, where I am staying with my parents as my dad continues to recover from surgery to remove a cancerous esophagus. He is doing remarkably well, which is good. And I am keeping super busy with his home care, which is . . . busy. I have, however, also been finding time to learn a bit more about watercolors, so here, have a small bouquet:

Everything’s coming up roses . . .

Everything’s coming up roses . . .


There

There right now is New Jersey, where my home and studio (and husband and cat) are located. Other things located there: TWO businesses where you can currently buy my art, ONE that is opening on April 6th, which will carry my greeting cards and some art, and ONE MORE that is opening in late April. You can find a list of “Where to find my products” any time on my ABOUT page at my website, or by clicking the link in this sentence, but here’s the list:

  • The Grand Galleria at 405 S. Main Street in Williamstown, NJ, has several of my art tambourines in it. The Galleria is typically open when shows are on at the Grand Theatre.

  • Mystic Ginger at 102 S. Black Horse Pike in Blackwood, NJ, has several of my art tambourines as well. Mystic Ginger is the coolest hybrid space: part salon, part herbalist, part sales gallery for local artists. Open Tuesday through Saturday, hours vary. Their website is here.

  • Olde Pear Primitives at 523 Lafayette St. in Cape May, NJ, opens on April 6th. You will find my complete line of greeting cards, as well as some original art pieces, for sale when the new store space opens in a few weeks! Find them on FB, or at their website.

  • MADE Artisan Marketplace, 65 N. Broad St., Woodbury, NJ. MADE is currently in the process of renovating and moving into the building once owned by Franklin Davenport, who was Benjamin Franklin’s nephew. The mixed-use space will have gallery space, maker spaces, and selling spaces, plus an attached espresso bar. It’s gonna be cool! And likely will open near the end of April. More info to come, both here and on MADE’s website.


Everywhere

Where is an internet business if not everywhere? You can always shop for greeting cards, art tambourines, original literary collages, and paintings of various and sundry sorts on my website. Just pick your category from the top of the home page! And hey, while you’re at my home page, why not sign up for my email newsletter? It gets you info on what’s up, when, and passes along lots of tips and info on living life in a positive manner. Because we all want “to lead a better life”, as McCartney wrote and sang to open the song that loaned its title to this blog post.

You can see some of my greeting cards here. It’s a slideshow, so click to swipe!

Exciting things are happening!

You guys. Exciting things are happening for my art business. Like, REALLY exciting things.

In just a few weeks' time, you will be able to purchase my greeting cards and some of my original artwork at the new location of Olde Pear Primitives in Cape May, New Jersey. To say that I'm excited is a complete understatement. Seriously. To have my work in Cape May, and at a business that supports local artists, is one of those "someday" business dreams of mine coming true.

More info to come, but in the meantime, ALL THE CONFETTI!

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It's never too late to learn

My fifty-fifth birthday is coming up soon (and yikes, what’s with that?). And it reminds me that I started my journey making art a mere five years ago, just before I turned 50. I started with a course using colored pencils, drawing birds. (MASSIVE thanks to Val Webb for that course - she is amazing, and lovely, and good.) And eventually I started using acrylics by taking an online course called Paint Mojo with Tracy Verdugo, who is also amazing, lovely, and good. And then I took some online courses with Kelly Rae Roberts, back when she was still teaching painting online, in part because her first and middle name are the same as mine, as well as her initials, and in part because I really liked her work and her attitude. During those courses, I learned about colored pencils, acrylic paints, acrylic inks, charcoals, soft (chalk) pastels and oil pastels, oil paint sticks, some fine art markers, and more.

But I never used watercolors. Until this year, when I opened the package I bought myself from Prima Marketing, Inc., containing three tins of watercolors that they refer to as “confections”. Just below is the Vintage Pastels set just after I opened it, and a heart I made from the paints while “swatching” my set onto the little card you see in the left-hand photo.

I made about a dozen or so of those hearts, which went to some lucky customers who ordered Chakra Heart Garlands before Valentine’s Day. (You can still grab your garlands here!) And then I essentially put my watercolors away because I felt unsure of what to do.

So when it suddenly (and I mean that - it was just a day’s notice or so) came time to pack my bags for South Carolina, I decided to grab some art supplies to take along. I legit have no clue how long I will be down here to help my parents out as my dad recovers from cancer surgery (he had an esophagectomy, which means just what you probably think it does). In fact, it could be a month or more. Which is a long time to be away from my studio and all my supplies, so I brought some portable supplies with me. I have my watercolor sets and my oil pastels (not to play with together, though come to think of it, maybe I could) and a pad of watercolor paper with me.

Yesterday, I painted a bouquet (based on an actual one I’d brought home for my mom from the store—I know, grocery store flowers aren’t always optimal, but they were affordable and cheery, which is what was required). And today I took a shot at a shrub or tree in the neighbors yard, which is sending up dark green stalks with dark green leaves and pink flowers that we believe are camellias. Though I didn’t know they came in pink. But I digress. They were made in a state of creative exploration and happy, escapist meditation, and that’s pretty much the energy they carry with them. You can get a closer look at them by clicking on each. If you decide one of these two pieces below is your jam, please let me know and I’ll pack it up and send it to you for $10, shipping included.

Are these faithful representations of what I see? Nope. Are they a bit too tight? Yup. Is their composition good? Not really. But to me, these two pieces are huge successes, because I am figuring things out. How to mix colors. When to work wet-on-wet, when to use wet-on-dry. How much water to use in my brush. How the paint moves (or doesn’t).

All of these are important things to figure out. (I think?) And I am aware I can find a class (in person or online) or a YouTube video, or a SkillShare course, or or or . . . but for this weekend, I thought it would be fun to just play with my paints and see what came of it. This week may be for finding online lessons, now that I’m no longer nervous to use my supplies. Because it’s never too late to play, and it’s never too late to learn something new.

Have a bouquet!

Right now I’m in South Carolina while my dad recovers from surgery—an esophagectomy, to remove his esophagus and any remaining cancer cells in or near it. I got here last Wednesday evening, and have managed to create exactly one piece so far. Considering that we spent all day Friday at the hospital, and lots of time every day since then there as well, I consider this a victory of sorts. This bouquet is made using oil pastels on watercolor paper.

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Oh! And one of my friends who purchased chakra heart garlands shared a photo showing them hanging in her workspace, and how great are these?

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My sweetheart reminded me that I still have some of those chakra heart garlands at home. They are hand-punched from handpainted papers, and strung on red and white baker’s twine. Each string is approximately six feet long, and carries 14 hearts (each of the chakra colors, twice). They were created with lots of positive energy and an intention of helping to balance your chakras. If interested, they are $8 each or two for $15, and can be ordered here.

Crocuses. Croci?

I know that a few have started to pop up here and there in sheltered areas in New Jersey. Sadly, we have none on our property, except for these:

Original oil pastel on cold-pressed watercolor paper.

Original oil pastel on cold-pressed watercolor paper.

At present, I’m in South Carolina to spend some time with my parents, since my dad is having cancer-related surgery, and their spring is so much farther along. The forsythia is almost done, the azaleas are starting, pollen is everywhere, and it’s glorious. If I’m a bit less present here, though, you will know why.

Sharing a quick cleaning tip

And if you are not an artist, this may sound like it doesn’t apply to your life, but stay with me for a minute.

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As mentioned in my last blog post, I’ve been working on some oil pastel paintings (and yes, that’s what it’s called when you cover an entire surface with oil pastels). In fact, here’s a closeup of one of my favorites:

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Wild poppies

One of my favorite new oil pastel paintings, which I made using Sennelier oil pastels and cold-pressed watercolor paper

Turns out I didn’t just cover watercolor paper with oil pastels, I also managed to get a decent amount on my fingers. And on the surface of my wooden work table. And also? I dropped a bit of the wrapper from one of the oil pastels on the floor, and stepped on it, and it left a big white smear. And Kismet, my helpful studio assistant, knocked bright yellow on the floor and it smeared like WHOA when I tried to wipe it up. And I was temporarily bemused (not amused, trust me).

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Lemon

So fresh, so happy

And then I remembered that I am a distributor for Young Living essential oils in possession of many oils, but most specifically, of LEMON essential oil, which is the go-to for removing things like “chewing gum from hair” and “label adhesive off of glasses” and such. So i put two small drops of lemon oil on a paper towel, and wiped, and lo! the oil pastels transferred onto the paper towel and off the floor (and table) and all was well.

In fact, it was a bit better than that, even, since it left my studio smelling lemony fresh.

So if you, fellow artist, manage to get oil pastels on your surfaces, reach for lemon oil. If it’s on a wood surface, remember to wipe in the direction of the grain of the wood.

And same goes for anyone else with a sticky or greasy sort of issue that needs tackling (like tree sap) or something sticky that you’d like to remove—like chewing gum from hair, or stickers from things, or temporary tattoos on skin. (If you don’t have a local supplier of lemon oil, you can get in touch and order Young Living lemon essential oil from me.)



Trying something new

Actually, I’m trying lots of new things these days. And getting rid of some old ones, as well.

Case in point: MY HAIR.

Me, feeling sassy as I left the salon.

Me, feeling sassy as I left the salon.

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Back in my studio

And still feeling sassy. Of course, now that I washed it, it’s back to curly.

What’s new about my haircut isn’t just that I had it cut, and then blown dry straight. It’s that I went to a new salon (literally new - it just had its grand opening last Saturday): Mystic Ginger Collective. And I treated myself to one of their special “full moon haircuts” that comes with a scalp massage of oils and extracts mixed by the owner, Kellie, and even a surprise take-home gift that brings me joy! I set an intention for my haircut, which was to get rid of all that no longer serves me. (And I didn’t just mean the tips of my hair.) And so it is. 💫✨

I’ve also been playing a bit more with creating oil pastel paintings, and I’m starting to get the hang of it, you guys. All of these are done on cold-pressed watercolor paper that is 9”x12” in size. The first one you see (left) is done using Prima Water Soluble Oil Pastels, and the other three are done using Sennelier Oil Pastels (so buttery, so creamy . . . happy sigh). I’m going to be making these guys (and any others I make tomorrow) available to my newsletter subscribers on Sunday, February 24th, for $45 each (US postage included) on a first-come, first-served basis, so if you see something you’d like to have in your house, you should probably subscribe!

My last, latest new thing is actually the decluttering of old things. Between watching Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up on Netflix (I love her so much!) and some other energy work I’ve been doing, I am back to decluttering, big-time. And my sweet Morris is on it, too. Between us, we’ve filled two of those ginormous 55-gallon trash bags, plus two smaller kitchen-sized bags, with clothing that we have thanked and decided to let go.

I can feel the energy flowing a bit more freely in the house, and I know that we are creating space for new energy and more abundance to come into our home. I’m already looking at what else is due for some decluttering, and it’s enough to keep me fairly busy for the next two weeks. It helps that we’ve been activating the qi in the house with clapping and music and light and incense, all of which are feng shui energy clearing tactics. And wow, I feel lighter. Both because of the haircut and because there is so much less stuff in my closet. Next up is accessories, followed by makeup and other face products. Wish me luck!

Loving Life

In general, I try to choose happiness every day. And yes, I’ve come to believe that it’s as much a choice as anything else. I’ve thought it for quite a while now, but here’s a way to think about it:
If you’ve spent time around young kids, you will occasionally see them decide to get upset about something. Sometimes it’s valid (based on something they find upsetting that is not super serious), and sometimes it’s just them choosing to be in a mood. You can often jostle them out of it through hugs or something funny, but a truly dedicated kid will insist on returning to their sulk. And you can see them making that choice.

Here’s the thing: we as adults often do the same thing. And if we can choose to be sad or upset or sulky or insistent on holding onto a grudge, we can also choose to be happy. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have or experience other emotions, including anger, sorrow, confusion and more, but it does (for me) mean finding the things I’m grateful for and celebrating them.

Here’s me on Tuesday, choosing to be happy during my regular IV treatment for rheumatoid arthritis.

Here’s me on Tuesday, choosing to be happy during my regular IV treatment for rheumatoid arthritis.

Lately, I’ve been super busy. I spent two weeks in North Carolina with family, and flew home on Friday in time to pack things up and go to an event on Saturday. The Valentine’s Pop-Up Market at Creek Mercantile in Rancocas Woods (Mount Laurel, NJ) was a huge success. And I loved seeing so many female-owned enterprises in one terrific space! I bought the small macramé piece you see in the top row from Erin at Clove & Cedar, got myself a candle (vanilla and sandalwood, with a citrine stone) from April of Willow Moon Candles, scored a blue tiger’s eye necklace from Dot of DorothyClaire Crystals, and bought some more elderberry syrup from Jody & Michaline of Mystical Blossoms. (You can’t say I didn’t do my part to support the event — LOL!)

Saturday evening, my husband and I joined his kung fu family in Philadelphia to celebrate Chinese New Year with the United Fellowship of Martial Artists (of which Morris is a member). As you might imagine, Sunday was for getting things in order, like laundry, and groceries, just in time for snowy Monday. Pretty sure you are largely caught up on things now, though I do have a few other things going on: commissions that I’m fixing, talks with some businesses, and more. I will fill you in when it’s allowed!

In the meantime, I’d like to thank any and all of you who came out on February 9th, or who have gotten in touch for cards, garlands, and more!

Happy Valentine's/Galentine's Day!

A super quick blog post to share the love with all of you, and to let you know that I will be posting a more detailed update about the many things I have to share soon.

But for now, just know that you are loved.

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This is one of my original heart collages. As always with most of my work, holler out if you’d like one. (I have these in a variety of colors and am happy to make a custom one!)

Oh. And I’m about to send out an epic newsletter, so if you’d like in on that, you can subscribe here: SIGN UP.

Coming up this weekend!

It’s a Valentine’s Pop-Up Market!

Creek Mercantile is located in Rancocas Woods.

Creek Mercantile is located in Rancocas Woods.

I am super excited to be attending this wonderful event, which will take place in the newly opened downstairs space at Creek Mercantile. Here is who else will be there: Relics Revisited, Mystical Blossoms, Creatively Obsessed, Henna by Ash, Evelyn Taylor Designs, Proud Mary Designs, Dorothy Claire, Le Petit Fox Knits, Works of Hope, Clove & Cedar, Canary Works, Willow Moon Candles, Sage Woodworks, Loriginals, Lisa Mark’s Designs, Studio 42 Jewelry, Karen Hoffman, and Hunny House Market. It’s going to be a terrific day—sunny outside, warm and friendly inside. YOU SHOULD COME!

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Hand-painted Valentines

I’ll be bringing some of these beauties along

I will also have chakra heart garlands made with positive energy and hand-painted papers, collage heart pieces in two sizes and lots of colors, tambourine art, greeting cards, and possibly a couple of larger mixed-media collage pieces. (It will depend on how much I can put in my space without it becoming too crazy!)

A hyggelig end to the month

Well, it seems that the polar vortex has decided to visit quite a number of places here in the lower 48 states, forcing many of us to remain indoors for several days. And what better to do than to celebrate that with a bit of hygge?

As a reminder, if you are staying in, you can remain in your hyggebuskars (cozy pants that you never wear out of the house) and enjoy some homemade soup (using my recipe or your own) or a hot toddy. And, of course, there are tips for how to establish hygge in your home. And yes, I quoted Admiral McRaven in that last link.

This week, I’m following the core idea of hygge, which I discussed in this post, which I entitled “A little more conversation, a little less action.” I’m spending some time with folks I love and being a lot less present online (at least when they are with me) and a lot more time focused on the moments. And, of course, I’m painting my heart out.

Quote from “Grasshoppers” by Mary Oliver.

Quote from “Grasshoppers” by Mary Oliver.

Here's a heart for you

I am still enjoying keeping things cozy on this cold winter month—lots of cuddling with my husband (and our cat), and reading, and artwork in my studio. I’ve started the process of learning how to paint with watercolors, and while playing with them to start to figure them out, I created a series of watercolor hearts on cold-pressed paper, which decided to grow up and become Valentine’s Day cards.

Here you see the first four I made, though there are now about a dozen, and I plan on making some others this week just because they are fun and pretty and help me learn how watercolors work. These will be going with me to the Valentines Pop-Up Market on Saturday, February 9th at Creek Mercantile in Rancocas Woods, Mount Laurel. Each original artwork is mounted on a kraft paper card, which comes with a matching envelope—perfect for the one(s) you love!

This week, I hope to start painting flowers, in order to take part in a flowers for February campaign on Instagram, so wish me luck . . . as I said, I’m super new at working with watercolors! Meanwhile, there is cold weather and maybe even a bit of snow in the forecast, so we shall continue our focus on keeping things hyggelig around here. What has been your favorite way of injecting a bit of higgle happiness into your life?

In memoriam Mary Oliver

The world lost an observer, a speaker of truth this week, when Mary Oliver left our realm. I am a published poet myself, and even in my wildest dreams cannot imagine achieving the popularity and success that she did. I don’t resent her for it, but am instead grateful that we had her for as long as we did, and that she left us so many books.

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I am spending a hyggelig day here, nestled on the couch reading some of her poems. The quote above is from her poem, “Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long, Black Branches?”, which is from her collection entitled West Wind. If you haven’t read her work, or even if you have, I highly recommend the poem “Wild Geese”, which begins “You do not have to be good./ You do not have to walk on your knees/ for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. / You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” Here’s a link to allow you to read the rest.

Tell me , what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
— Mary Oliver, "The Summer Day"

Chakra heart garlands!

You guys. Yesterday, I woke up with this idea and made my first chakra heart garland. You can see the first half of it here—seven hearts punched from hand painted papers, strung on red and white baker’s twine. The full string has 14 hearts total (for 2/14). It’s just so pretty!

The full garland is twice this length, with 14 hearts.

The full garland is twice this length, with 14 hearts.

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I’m making a bunch to sell at this event

Thinking I’m going to pack these up and have them for sale at the Valentines pop-up at Creek Mercantile in Rancocas Woods on 2/9. In the meantime, hit me up if you’d like to order one or more for yourself. $8 each or two for $15, US shipping included. You can order them here.

A little more conversation, a little less action

Hopefully you get the reference from this blog post title - it’s a deliberate misquote of the lyrics from the Elvis Presley song, “A Little Less Conversation”, written by Mac Davis and Billy Strange. And my take on this is related to my exploration of the idea of hygge this month. One of the posts that got me thinking along these lines is this post, “What Hygge Really Looks Like”, written by Alex Beauchamp at the website, Hygge House. As she says in that article:

And that’s what real hygge is – a simple moment that feels so special, cosy, relaxing, loving or happy that you just need to call it out. It’s not about being fancy, or styled, or being in the best circumstances, or having the right things. It’s literally about being present enough to see how great a moment is, and give that moment a name – hygge.
One of my favorite people to have a conversation with — seen here at Mona Lisia, a favorite restaurant.

One of my favorite people to have a conversation with — seen here at Mona Lisia, a favorite restaurant.

Seen here in this photo of my sweet husband Morris: dinner, soft(ish) lighting, candle on the table, delicious food (mussels in red sauce—and if you get to Mona Lisia Restaurant in Williamstown, NJ, they are SO WORTH IT). And yes, I took this photo using my cell phone, but other than that, the phones were put away. And that is entirely intentional, so that we can focus on one another and on our conversation. It allows us to be in the moment with one another, and that, my friends, is what hygge is all about. If that sounds like some of the same sorts of advice you’ve heard on fostering relationships, or on intentional living, that’s no accident. And it’s no wonder that hygge help people to live happier lives.

Homemade soup as a form of hygge

If hygge is about comfort, coziness, and mindfulness, then homemade soup seems to me to be a hyggelig food. After all, it requires mindful chopping of ingredients, and its slow-cooked goodness provides lots of warmth and comfort, as well as whole-food nutrition.

My homemade minestrone

My homemade minestrone

I’m happy to share with you my own recipe for minestrone, which is really my take on vegetable soup. I patched it together a few years ago after referencing quite a number of recipes, and it is consistently good.

Minestrone/Vegetable Soup

  • 2 T. olive oil

  • 1 medium onion, chopped

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced

  • 3 carrots, peeled and diced

  • 2 stalks celery, cleaned and sliced

  • 1 small to medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise and diced

  • 1 large russet potato, peeled and cut in 1/2” cubes

  • 1/2 small head of Savoy cabbage, cut into 1” strips

  • 1 can chick peas or cannellni beans, rinsed and drained

  • 1 can diced tomatoes

  • 2 T. tomato paste

  • 8 c. liquid (low-sodium chicken or veggie broth, and/or water)

  • 3/4 c. tubettini or elbow pasta

  • 6 springs fresh thyme

  • 2 T. chopped fresh parsley

  • 1/2 t. dried basil

Heat olive oil in Dutch oven or large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add garlic; cook 30 seconds. Then add carrots and celery and cook about 5 minutes until they start to soften. Stir in tomato paste, then add zucchini, tomatoes, potato, herb, and liquid. Bring to a boil, then simmer 10 minutes. Add cabbage and pasta, and simmer 10 minutes more. Stir in chick peas or beans, then heat about 2-3 minutes longer. Top with grated Parmesan cheese (if desired) and serve.

It’s especially good when served with bread and butter.

3 steps toward achieving hygge in your home

HYGGE (pronounced somewhere between HOO-guh and HEW-guh) is the Danish word for a sort of mindful coziness. Now, I’m a word geek who absolutely loves things like etymology (the history of words and their meanings), and the background of the current Danish word is fascinating. The word hygge derives from an old Norse word that is about comforting, and is related to the Old German word that came over into English as “hug”. Kind of fun to know, especially when you are trying to get a handle on the concept.

If you are interested in incorporating hygge into your life this year (as a way of slower, cozier living, even if it’s just during the winter), then here are three concrete tips that will help you to get started:

First, tidy up a bit. Maybe you have been binge-watching Marie Kondo’s “Tidying Up” on Netflix, or have read her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, in which case this idea may already be on your radar. Or perhaps you read my earlier blog posts about decluttering, including this one from the end of October entitled “Creating Space for Abundance.” I’m not telling you to get rid of your favorite things (those stay!) or to clear your bookcases (heaven forbid — though weeding out those books that you don’t like or that make you feel bad about not loving them is a great idea). But having a bit less stuff allows abundance into your life, and also allows you to relax so that you can feel a sense of hygge.

One tip that works super well, and that has helped some friends of mine as well, is to find one space in each room to keep clear and tidy, to give your eye a place to rest. It helps even if it is a small piece of furniture, but it’s super soothing if it’s the largest thing in the room. For instance, a made bed in a bedroom (without stuff piled all over it) gives your eye a place to rest. And as Navy Seal Admiral McRaven says in this speech (which has gone viral and also become a small book), it will give you a sense of purpose and achievement. If you can keep the dining table clear, the dining room will seem okay. Same goes for the island in your kitchen, or at least a stretch of countertop.

Second, organize your stuff. If you have massive piles of books all over the place, consider obtaining a bookcase and corralling those books in one place. If you (like me) have Serious Paper Issues involving mail and articles that you intend to read but haven’t gotten to yet, figure out (a) where to keep them and (b) if there is an organizational device that would work for you. For some people, a set of mail bins is super helpful; others prefer a few folders; still others are fond of binder clips, or boxes, or a file system.

Quite seriously, I’m best with piling stuff in one place on my desk and scheduling time to go through it each week, then filing the stuff I need to keep and recycling everything else. And I would argue that forking out a lot of money on boxes, baskets, bins, and folders that just contribute to your stress and/or clutter level makes no sense (no matter how tempting those Container Store catalogs look, if you won’t actually use the things you buy, you will just end up with more stuff to manage).

A hyggelig moment in my living room.

A hyggelig moment in my living room.

Third, allow yourself to relax and enjoy your space. Introduce cozy elements such as lit candles, an afghan, or other comforts into your living space. Take time to enjoy and appreciate your space, and to enjoy and appreciate your day. Make your favorite tea or coffee or (if you’re an adult) open a favorite bottle of wine or beer. Spend a bit of time having an actual conversation, in person or by telephone. You can always use some of the suggestions from this post about celebrating the little things in life.

If you are starting to see a trend in these posts, I hope it is that these many suggestions about how to live a more positive life dovetail and overlap. Tidying up is good for creating comfort (hygge), but also it’s good feng shui, and it helps reduce stress (since you can find things when you want them and your things are no longer taunting you by being in disarray).


Hot toddies: such a cozy cold remedy

This month’s theme is hygge, which is all about feeling comfort and warmth (in the emotional sense, at least). I remain in the throes of rather nasty upper respiratory virus, which is apparently some sort of three-week cold that’s going around, and one of the things that helps to loosen the tightness in my chest and sooth my throat after coughing is a good, old-fashioned hot toddy.

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Ingredients:

  • honey

  • lemon

  • alcohol of your choice (if using): brandy, cognac, bourbon, whisky, or even rum

  • hot tea or boiling water

Here’s how to make this hyggelig drink:

Coat the bottom of your mug with honey. Add the juice of 1/4 of a lemon. Add 1-2 ounces of brandy, cognac, bourbon, whisky, or even rum (that’s 1-2 ounces of alcohol total—not of each!). Then fill the mug with hot black tea or hot water. Stir and sip.


This is a super soothing beverage on a chilly or damp day, and has actual medicinal properties if you are feeling under the weather. If you cannot have alcohol or are serving this to a child, just omit the spirits: the hot tea or water with lemon and honey is still soothing and tastes good.

Let me know if you try it!

This month is all about coziness

Or, to use the Danish term that better encompasses the precise idea of coziness that I’m referring to, this month is all about hygge. I’m defining hygge in brief as “a sense of cozy well-being; feeling present in this moment”.

My hyggelig work area at the dining room table. A favorite tablecloth, tea in a favorite mug, a candle, and a book.

It is a feeling, not an object. As a result, it’s something you create, not something you purchase. It can be as simple as mindfully enjoying a cup of tea or coffee in your favorite mug while focusing on the warmth it brings you. Or sitting down at your kitchen table with a lit candle and book.

It can be found in wearing a comfy sweater or pajamas or even a pair of “hyggebuksers”, defined in a December 2018 article in Country Living Magazine as “that pair of pants you'd never be caught dead wearing in public, but practically live in when you're at home on the weekends”. Again, it’s about the feeling of comfort, not so much the precise object you’re wearing. Note there’s no mention of it having to be “cute”, though many of the images you will find if you google hygge tend in that direction. (Think fireplaces, hot cocoa, a gathering of friends laughing and chatting.)

The Danes are consistently rated as among the happiest population on the planet, and hygge is part of the reason why. It is about comfort and connection with others, and there is much to commend it. So look for a few blog posts each week this month on the topic, and if you’re interested in getting the info delivered straight to your email, sign up for my email newsletter (no spam, just emails about living a positive life).