life

Welcome, July!

Today is July 1st, which means it’s a new year (for some folks, anyway, if they have a fiscal year that ended yesterday). At any rate, it’s the first day of the second half of the current year. And if you’re Canadian, it’s a holiday! HAPPY CANADA DAY, FRIENDS!

All of which is to say WHERE DID THE FIRST HALF OF THE YEAR GO?

I mean, I know where it went. Really and truly. But wowza, it’s the second half of 2019 now and that means six months until we rename the year, and is it just me or is time somewhat flying?

At the same time, given my meditation practice (almost typed “medication” HA!), time doesn’t always fly. Sometimes it expands. And I’m banking on some more of that for the rest of the year as I try to live life and get things done.

Speaking of which, I’ve been working on a new project, which is not yet entirely ready for primetime, but if you’d like to have a peek at it, you can check out this Facebook page for Actually I Can, which is a new sort of business and business venture for me, but it’s something I’ve been called toward for ages now, and with the help of a business mentor, I figured out how to start doing it.

Original mantra piece I made for myself at the start of 2019.

Original mantra piece I made for myself at the start of 2019.

I am also entirely excited to be getting back into my studio this week. I’m feeling called to do some collage and some painting!

Wedding-ready

I mean, technically, we aren’t ready, but at least we’ve decided (a) when we are leaving to go to my cousin’s daughter’s wedding, (b) where we are staying, (c) what we are wearing, (d) what the gift is, and (e) when we are coming home again.

And we’ve picked a wedding card. For the first time ever, we are using one of MY cards. I know that might sound strange, since I’ve been turning art into greeting cards for almost two years now, but it really is the first time we are using one for ourselves. This is, in part, because I adore greeting cards and often shop for them everywhere I go (especially if I’m in locations with museums or independent stationers and a good card assortment).

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Sonnet 116 by W. Shakespeare

Shall we to the marriage of true minds admit impediments? Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds, or threatens with the remover to remove. Oh no! It is an ever-fixèd mark that looks on tempests and is not shaken. It is the star to every wandering bark . . .

This will be the card that goes with (okay, contains) our guest. This card is available at Olde Pear Primitives in Cape May, NJ, and at MADE. Artisan Marketplace in Woodbury. It, and all of its friends, are also available in my online shop, which you can access using the button below!

And hey! If you are interested in signing up for my mailing list, where you will get information on new products, what is happening, plus more. Just click on over to my “home” page and fill in the form!

June is bustin' out all over!

Well hello! It’s almost the middle of June (what? how?).

There’s a full moon coming on June 15th, by the way, so if you are a person who is into moon energy, keep an eye on that, and maybe figure out what no longer serves you and what you want to release and do that.

June is known for being wedding season (which means, by the way, that it is also anniversary season), and it turns out that I have three greeting cards that are perfect for that:

If any of these are your jam, they are available in my online shop for $5 each, or 3 for $13.50 (and there are another 20 or so options from which to choose). These cards are also available at Olde Pear Primitives on Lafayette Street in Cape May, New Jersey, and at MADE. Artisan Marketplace in Woodbury, NJ (though I think you only get the discount on multiples at my site). They are all blank inside, and if you’d like ideas for easy copy to add inside, I’ve got you covered here:

  • Wishing you a lifetime of happiness!

  • Celebrating your life together,

  • I/we are so happy for the two of you!

  • You go together like tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches!

Okay, so maybe that last option is a bit too out there, but those first three are solid starters. And here’s a pro tip: if you don’t plan on writing too much more, just start with your phrase in the middle of the middle of the inside of the card, not at the top, so you don’t feel like you have to add a whole lot more.

What else I’ve got going on

I popped into the local library earlier this week to pick up a bag full of books, and was immediately reminded that I still have paintings on display at the Monroe Township Library in Williamstown, NJ. From left to right, the three paintings are “Beyond Fences”, “Muriel’s Garden”, and “Shine”. Here they are, from two angles:

I left my heart in San Francisco

Morris and I got away for a six-day vacation (which included Memorial Day weekend in there), and we visited San Francisco. We stayed at the Cornell Hotel de France on Bush Street, right near the corner of Powell Street (which is a cable car route). It was a beautiful hotel, and we enjoyed our stay and our breakfasts there. We flew out there suuuuuuuper early on Thursday morning, then spent some time eating a nice lunch in North Beach and shopping in Chinatown.

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We spent Friday afternoon at Alcatraz—I can’t entirely describe it as a pleasant visit, since the place is horrid, but the audio tour was fascinating. And even though I was having some health issues (thanks, rheumatoid arthritis!) and was using a cane, the whole thing was made doable since the ferry staff allowed me to sit rather than standing in line, and there was a tram and an elevator available on Alcatraz Island, all of which made it navigable. And after we returned to Fisherman’s Wharf, we lucked into a free lunch. Don’t tell me there’s no such thing—we both had an appetizer and an entree, plus a (non-alcoholic) beverage, which would have rung up around $75, in exchange for our opinions on the food, service, and pricing. (Okay — it wasn’t 100% free, since we left a nice tip for the server, but still!)

On Saturday, we hopped into a van with 10 other customers for a day tour with Incredible Adventures, during which we visited Muir Woods and two wineries near Sonoma, the town of Sonoma, and Sausalito. Jill, our driver and guide, was phenomenal (and an excellent driver), and we seriously loved Muir Woods and the Robledo Family Winery, and we were thrilled to meet up with my sweet friend Tanita Davis (author extraordinaire) and her husband, David, while we were in the town of Sonoma, but the whole day was really wonderful!

Sunday, we went to Golden Gate Park to visit the Japanese Tea Garden. We caught a tour run by a volunteer from San Francisco City Guides (free tours run by volunteers out of the SF Public Library, donation optional to keep the program running). Our guide was Jay Streets (accompanied by his goldendoodle, Norton), and he knew SO MUCH about the history of the gardens and about the Hagiwara family, Japanese immigrants who did much to improve the gardens and who ran the Japanese Tea House until they were interned in camps during WWII. The stories and details were phenomenal, and put things in historical context, reminding us of the dangers of not studying history.

The first two photos above were taken in the Japanese Tea Garden, and the third was taken outside the De Young Museum.

That night, we went out for a really nice dinner at Café Claude, where we sat at the bar for dinner (we made a late decision and got reservations, but for the bar). We had fabulous cocktails, a good meal, and a really enjoyable time listening to the live jazz trio that was playing in the bistro. Definitely a nice night out.

The next morning, we joined a scheduled tour of Chinatown with Linda Lee of All About Chinatown tours. She came highly recommended by one of Morris’s tai chi students, and she was decidedly entertaining and knowledgeable, though I have to add a caveat that there were parts of the tour that made me feel a bit uncomfortable, since we strolled through a few groceries as if we were peering into an aquarium or something (“look at the ‘weird herbs’ and the live frogs!”). We finished with lunch at a local restaurant, including dim sum and a few other dishes.

Tuesday was our last day in San Francisco, but since we had a red-eye leaving around 11 p.m., we had a full day to spend in town. We kept it super low-key, first at Joy’s Place on Post Street for coffee (excellent lattes, excellent music, no rush at all), and then at the Palace Hotel for cocktails (scotch for Morris, rosé bubbles for me). We visited some other places as well, but it was an easy day and one of favorites.

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CHEERS!

Cocktails at the Palace Hotel

It has taken me just over a week to get around to writing about it because I’ve been pretty wiped out since getting back, but I’m finally getting my feet back under myself.

Whew! That was a busy weekend!

SATURDAY

Saturday morning, my sweetheart and I drove up to Merchantville to check out the Mystical May Holistic Street Festival, where I was delighted to see vendor friends Dot Pakstis (Dorothy Claire Crystals) and Jody Thorpe (Mystical Blossoms) and to meet Jeannie Francis of Spirit to Sole Connection and do a bit of shopping at Aradia’s Treasure. And then we drove down Route 130 to head to Woodbury, which is where the wonderful creator space MADE Artisan Marketplace is located.

MADE Artisan Marketplace is in the process of moving into a renovated building at 65 N. Broad Street in Woodbury, between the Courthouse and Charlie Brown’s, if you know Woodbury at all. It will contain selling space for local artists, classroom space, gallery space, space for Say It With Clay, and spaces for artists in resident. PLUS there will be coffee—PAINTED BRIDGE Espresso Bar will be located in the space as well!

Below you can see my artwork set up on a couple of shelves. I will also be dropping off greeting cards, which will go elsewhere in the space. You can also see me with MADE’s indefatigable owner, Jamilah Damiani.

BUT WAIT! That isn’t all we did on Saturday. Because once Morris and I left MADE in the early afternoon, we drove down to Cape May, where our first stop was at Olde Pear Primitives. I had a great time catching up with owner Genevieve Lugo, and I dropped off some new stock. Below you can see a photo of Genevieve and I taken by Morris, and some pics of the products I made taken by Genevieve. (I didn’t make the cool metal tree, nor did I do that awesome painted woodturning image of the state of New Jersey, which was created by the talented Ashlesha of Henna by Ash.

I hope you noticed the super cute red, white & blue heart garlands that are on the tree and lined up in a box. I hand-painted those papers and drew every single star myself, then punched out and strung the hearts on baker’s twine. They look so charming on that metal tree!

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After we left Olde Pear, Morris and enjoyed a nice stroll over to Beach Avenue, where we walked along the sidewalk that skirts the dunes and looked out over the ocean. We eventually made our way down to the Rusty Nail, where we had adult beverages (a mojito for me, a bourbon-based drink for Morris) and a tasty dinner. Eventually we wandered back to our car and drove home, where I spent the next several hours packing and working on pricing for my event on Sunday.

SUNDAY

Sunday, Sunday, SUNDAY! (I totally just said that aloud like the announcer for a local speedway, in case you wondered.) If you’ve been keeping up with my blog, then you may remember me mentioning Decompress South Jersey. You can read my last post, which was all about it and included photos of my kids when they were (extremely small and) at Will-Moor Gymnastics old location.

I really loved my setup at Will-Moor, which you can see from two different angles above. And it was great to catch up with other vendor friends, including April of Willow Moon Candles, Rita of Jularee, Aimee of Relics Revisited, Jody of Mystical Blossoms, and Margeaux of Proud Mary Designs. It was inspiring watching Alisha teach Zumba, Stacia doing aerial yoga, Cheryl leading Buti yoga, and oh, it was magical listening to Jody do a sound healing session with her singing bowls.

And that’s, to paraphrase Walter Cronkite (yes, I am old—he was an extraordinarily popular and famous newscaster when I was a kid), the weekend that was.

Olde Pear Primitives and more news

I am delighted to share the two images below, both of which were taken by Genevieve at Olde Pear Primitives in Cape May, New Jersey this week. The first one is a watercolor seascape that I painted, which is nestled with some jewelry, and the second is a watercolor sailboat, playing nicely with some soap and bath bombs.

I am tickled every day, knowing that my artwork is available in this marvelous shop in Cape May. And, of course, I have art tambourines available at Mystic Gingery Collective in Blackwood, NJ, and also at the Grand Galleria in Williamstown, NJ.

This weekend, I will be painting murals on the walls of the main studio at Peace Love Yoga in Glassboro. Pictures to follow—though I am really glad that I’ve been promised some helpers, because I’ve been having a few joint issues lately (thanks, rheumatoid arthritis!), so I can use the assistance.

Next weekend, I will be dropping off artwork at MADE. Artisan Marketplace in Woodbury, New Jersey, which will (hopefully) be open to the public starting in May. All while making art and planning what to take with me on May 19th, when I will be at the Decompress South Jersey event at Will-Moor School of Gymnastics up in Mount Laurel.

A 5” square heart collage in spring colors.

A 5” square heart collage in spring colors.

And now, to get dressed for tonight’s seder with family. Happy Passover! And to those of you celebrating the Christian holidays, Happy Easter!

Gee, but it's great to be back home

And yes, I am old enough that I am actually quoting from a Simon & Garfunkel song from 1970. The song is “Keep the Customer Satisfied”, and it’s off Bridge Over Troubled Water. Here’s the first stanza:

Gee but it’s great to be back home
Home is where I want to be.
I’ve been on the road so long my friend,
And if you came along
I know you couldn’t disagree.

I’m just hoping not to have been slandered and libeled everywhere I go. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, click on through to YouTube and have a listen.

Dogwood from a rest area in North Carolina

Dogwood from a rest area in North Carolina

I am super happy to report that Dad is continuing to improve after his esophagectomy (esophageal cancer is no joke, yo, but he is likely to beat it as a result of the excellent treatment he has received at MUSC in Charleston, SC). His feeding tube came out on Tuesday (huzzah!) since he did such a good job tapering off of it. And he’s back on the golf course as I type this.

I am now back in New Jersey, where spring is still in its earlier stages—I feel somewhat lucky to have spent six weeks in the south and experienced mid- to late-spring in South Carolina, only to drive home again to where spring is just entering its middle phase. Of course, I literally drove through miles of “tree sex” in northern North Carolina yesterday on my way here, where the pollen was so thick it looked like a haze. Profligate trees!

Today I’m working on matting some of the smaller pieces I painted while in South Carolina. I think they are looking really great —these are in 8” square mats, with 4” square cutouts. The two on the left are chakra rainbows (which is why red is on the bottom). You may or may not have realized that the colors for the chakras from root to crown are the same as the seven colors of the rainbow, ROY G BIV: red orange yellow green blue indigo violet. But in a naturally occurring rainbow, red is on the top of the arc, and violet on the inside/bottom. I painted these the reflect the chakra alignment (though I guess you could flip the one that is just stripes to suit yourself). The pieces on the right are abstract landscapes.

The next step is packaging them in sleeves. Is it weird that I ran out of steam and just can’t even with that right now? Possibly. But it was a long drive home after a long time away, so I’m giving myself a break.

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.

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!

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"

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).


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).

Scenes from my studio on New Year's Day

We are happy with our quiet start of 2019. I got a pretty awful upper respiratory virus last week, and spent all of Saturday in bed with a a miserable fever. I mean, I shouldn’t judge, I guess. But it made me feel miserable, so I assume its feelings won’t be hurt if I reference it that way.

Today is for doing just a bit of each of the things I’d like to enjoy and focus on this year. (You can read about that a bit in this prior post.) I’ve done my meditation this morning, and am going to sit down with Morris, my sweet husband, and engage in some “year in review” stuff once he gets home from his tai chi class. There will be time for cooking and laundry and a walk in the sun.

And I’ve already spent some time in my wonderful studio, which is something that didn’t even exist at this time last year. Here are some photos from this morning.

And yes, I noticed that these pictures strategically cropped out a bunch of mess. I was hoping you didn’t notice.

Celebrating the New Year

In just about a week, it will be New Year’s Eve. How will you celebrate?

This is not representative of what our neighbors will shoot off, but still . . .

This is not representative of what our neighbors will shoot off, but still . . .

There are several ways of celebrating that get lots of press and publicity: pay to attend a fancy party (or a not-so-fancy one), with food and a DJ and too many drinks and free hats; go out somewhere to stand in the streets with strangers and wait for balls to drop or fireworks to explode (some of our neighbors set them off nearby, so we don’t really have to go outside—though there have been a couple times we had to wake up for them); go to or host a party in your home and watch a TV countdown with friends. Maybe it involves banging pots and pans outside at midnight, or sparklers, or waking the neighbors with your fireworks.

Then there are the quieter celebrations: out to dinner with your spouse and maybe some friends, then home before it gets too late, or a nice, quiet evening at home. Possibly with some champagne or prosecco (the leftovers are great for mimosas on New Years Day).

But what about New Year’s Day?

Well, I have a bit of a superstition. This is not a long-held superstition, nor is it one passed down by generations of family members (unlike the "shoes on a table is bad luck" thing, which is TOTALLY the result of generations of my mother's family). It's one that I developed myself over the past ten years or so, and it is a simple concept:

I believe that what you do on January 1st sets the tone for the year. Therefore, if I want to be a person who writes and paints a lot, I need to make time to do some writing and painting on January 1st. If I want to cook more, I need to cook something. ("Something" on New Year's day used to mean a pork roast and sauerkraut, based on long-held and family-bred superstitions, again from my mother's family, but may switch to ribs, since my sweetheart doesn’t eat pork — unless it’s bacon or ribs.) If I want to read more, I need to read. If I want to be a decent housekeeper, my house has to be clean by then, and I need to do a wee bit of tidying on that day as well. If I want to maintain the morning routine/ritual I’m working to establish for myself, I for sure have to practice it on New Year’s Day. That means yoga, meditation, journaling, and the aforementioned reading. If I want to spend time with my husband, I need to do that, too.

It's all very simple in theory, and not necessarily difficult in practice, but it does take being really conscious of choices on January 1st. Basically, it can make for a busy day. And, I suppose, it means being really conscious of choices on the 2nd, and 3rd, and 4th as well, though these aren’t resolutions as much as intentions. Nevertheless, come next Tuesday, my house will be clean and relatively tidy, and I will be starting my day with my morning routine and moving on from there.

Of course, come February, there will be Chinese New Year to celebrate (Year of the Pig!), and then there’s the start of the US school year in September, and the start of the new year in Judaism (Rosh Hashanah means “head of the year”, if you didn’t know that), which comes at the end of September next year. And I’m pretty sure there are some other new years in there as well, depending on your belief system.

So tell me: What will you do to celebrate the new year?

As always, if you are interested in subscribing to my weekly newsletter, which is designed to share tips on things you can do to live a more positive life, you can do that here.