I first heard about the #100happydays challenge on Kate’s blog, and several of my other friends have since taken it up. The idea is to post a photo each day for 100 days in a row – on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, wherever – of something that’s making you happy.

A few weeks ago, stuck in a post-vacation funk and disappointed at the still-chilly weather, I decided to join in. Here are some highlights from my first 25 days:

100happydays photo collage

Frozen yogurt (and weather warm enough to eat it); new green shoes; Monday night yoga. Daffodils and blue skies; tiny crocuses peeping at me in Harvard Square. A map of Cambridge in a shop window. My husband (on the far left) performing with his a cappella group. Zucchini quesadillas for dinner. A playful, floppy eight-week-old puppy who belongs to one of our interns. And good books. Always good books.

This is a perfect companion to my one little word for this year – light. (And it’s a much-needed corrective on the days I tend to spiral toward grumpy or morose.)

If you need a bit of extra happy in your life, I invite you to join in!

jfk library atrium boston ma

When I was a senior in high school, I took an economics course, which focused mostly on big-picture principles: supply and demand, opportunity costs, the law of diminishing returns. Most of those concepts seemed hopelessly abstract to a group of 17- and 18-year-olds. We were more worried about homework, college applications, the always-shifting social politics of high school, and where to go for lunch that day. The economics we understood were the practice of stretching our lunch money as far as it would go and juggling our packed schedules to fit in as many activities as possible.

But one day toward the end of the school year, we sat down for a totally different lesson.

“This is a Form 1040,” Mr. Franks told us, handing us each an official-looking paper booklet covered in fine print. “Probably none of you have had to fill these out yet, but you all will someday. You need to know how to do it, and you need to know that you can do it.”

There’s nothing wrong with hiring a good accountant, he explained. But for our first few years as income earners – in college and beyond – we could get by with a Form 1040 or 1040EZ. Armed with a calculator and a bit of know-how, we should be able to fill the form out ourselves. And we should understand how the system worked before handing over our financial information to anyone else.

People don’t do their own taxes because they’re intimidated, Mr. Franks explained. They’re terrified of making a mistake and getting audited by the IRS. Everyone wants to make sure they receive the biggest refund possible. And many people have multiple jobs and other situations that make their taxes complicated. The tax code in this country is absurdly long and confusing. But the basics are just that: basic.

The first section was easy: name, address, filing status. Then Mr. Franks explained about exemptions and withholding, and talked us through taxable income and a few common deductions. The room grew quiet as our pencils scratched on the forms. I had always thought of taxes as a vague, far-off thing to be dealt with one day when I was an adult, but Mr. Franks’ lesson made them accessible, clear, even simple.

At the end of class, I stuffed the Form 1040 in my notebook and forgot about it. I didn’t fill out a tax form until several years later, when I received a W-2 from my first “real” post-college, full-time job. I am a bookworm who feels more comfortable with novels and poetry than financial statements, but that W-2 triggered a long-ago memory and a flicker of confidence. I picked up a Form 1040EZ, got out a pencil and a calculator, and set to work. I double-checked my calculations, made a copy of the form for my records, and sent the original off to the IRS. Several weeks later, I received my first tax refund check in the mail.

These days, my husband and I have multiple jobs, freelance income, student loan interest and other circumstances that justify our annual investment in TurboTax. We’ve recently started paying estimated quarterly taxes, as my husband’s work situation has changed. But we always sit down together to work through the forms and make sure we know exactly how our finances break down. When I click the e-file button to send our return to the IRS, I feel a surge of satisfaction.

The forms are longer and the calculations more complicated now, but that long-ago session in Mr. Franks’ room continues to empower me, all these years later. I am grateful for the guidance of TurboTax and the “help” pages on the IRS website. But I still believe in doing my own taxes – because Mr. Franks told me I could.

sand glitter beach coronado

When Death Comes

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

—Mary Oliver

Married to amazement, indeed. That’s what I want.

shoes book harvard yard

(It’s not quite warm enough to lounge in Harvard Yard with a book. But it will be soon!)

I Don’t Care if We Never Get Back: 30 Games in 30 Days on the Best Worst Baseball Road Trip Ever, Ben Blatt and Eric Brewster
The subtitle says it all. Two best friends – one baseball nut and one baseball hater – embark on an epic (some would say completely insane) cross-country baseball road trip. Wryly funny (if repetitive at times). Recommended for baseball fanatics. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 6).

Fingal O’Reilly, Irish Doctor, Patrick Taylor
A fun installment in Taylor’s Irish Country Doctor series, with all the usual colorful characters in the village of Ballybucklebo. I missed Barry, the young doctor who usually works with O’Reilly, but this was good comfort reading.

Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind, ed. Jocelyn K. Glei
This short book is packed with productivity tips from 20 authors. Further inspiration to create a schedule for myself and work on blocking out distractions. Recommended by Anne.

Scarlet, Marissa Meyer
This sequel to Cinder follows Cinder’s escape from prison but focuses more on Scarlet, a French farm girl on a search for her missing grandmother (accompanied by Wolf, an enigmatic street fighter). The storylines intertwine in surprising ways. Much darker and more exciting than Cinder. I can’t wait to read Cress (book 3).

Death in a Strange Country, Donna Leon
Commissario Guido Brunetti investigates the death of a young American sergeant stationed near Venice. Brunetti is likable and thoughtful, but the plot of this mystery dragged, and the ending was downright unsatisfying.

Catching Air, Sarah Pekkanen
I devoured this book in a day. Pekkanen tells a warm, relatable (but not predictable) story of two couples who move to Vermont to run a B&B. The men are brothers with a troubled history, but the story belongs to the women, who are each dealing with big questions about children, vocation and love. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 6).

On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction, William Zinsser
I’ve been meaning to read this book forever. Zinsser’s practical, witty guide is packed with useful advice for journalists, memoirists and business writers – anyone who wants to (or has to) write nonfiction.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

church candlelight vienna

Come ye sinners, poor and needy, bruised and broken by the fall
Jesus ready stands to save you, full of pardoning love for all
He is able, He is able – He is willing, doubt no more
He is able, He is able – He is willing, doubt no more

I had grand plans for Lent this year: perhaps giving up Facebook, or even all social media as my friend Laura did for the month of March. I heard about friends giving up cheese, ice cream, alcohol. I finally decided to give up hitting the candy jar at work, because it seemed like a challenge I could handle.

I pulled out a book of Lenten readings, intending to read one piece each morning as I often do during Advent. Eight days in, I closed the book and never reopened it. The readings did not speak to my tired soul.

Come ye weary, heavy laden, weak and wounded, sick and sore
Jesus ready stands to save you, full of pity, love and power
He is able, He is able – He is willing, doubt no more
He is able, He is able – He is willing, doubt no more

Every Thursday night, my husband and I sit down after dinner to plan Sunday’s worship service. We are half of a part-time ministry team that keeps things running for our small, scattered church body of 50 or so people. We organize potlucks, wash dishes and communion trays, send out weekly email messages, print service bulletins. It is important work, but it is also deeply mundane. By Thursday night we are often tired, frustrated, not particularly excited about shaping a coherent service out of this week’s lectionary readings or the emphasis of the current church season.

This Lent has reminded me of my own brokenness, not in dramatic fashion but in the small trials of each day. I hit the snooze button almost every morning, despite my attempts to kick the habit. I snap at my husband when he gets home late yet again, after another evening of the therapy work he loves. I sleep in and skip yoga; I neglect my long-distance friends. I resent being asked to do the same humdrum tasks, at home and at work, over and over again. I fail. I am weak and wounded, sick and sore.

We are still nearly two weeks away from Easter, and while joy is on the horizon, it hasn’t quite arrived yet. Even after Easter, the petty frustrations and the larger hurts will remain. We live in a flawed and beautiful world, caught between blessed assurance and the stark reality of a creation that groans. But we still sing the words of salvation and new life, not because they always reflect our present reality but because they embody the hope we are holding onto.

Saints and angels join in concert, sing the praises of the Lamb
While the blissful courts of heaven sweetly echo with His Name
Hallelujah, hallelujah – here we now His love proclaim
Hallelujah, hallelujah – here we now His love proclaim

We include different words in our order of service every week: Bible readings, poems, always the Lord’s Prayer. We do our best to vary the hymns, so people don’t get bored. But during this Lent, this song – especially the second verse – is the only song I have wanted to sing.

“Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy” arranged by the ZOE Group, after Joseph Hart’s original hymn

April is National Poetry Month, so I’ll be sharing poetry on Fridays here this month (and more often if I can’t help myself).

First up: one of my favorite poems from Seamus Heaney, whose words I discovered in a college course on Irish literature.

inishmor aran islands


And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park and capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.

That last line is a perfect evocation of what poetry should do. And this whole poem – its images, its Irishness, its use of simple words to convey a deep truth – is vintage Heaney.

(Photo from my trip to the Aran Islands in 2007, which caught my heart off guard and blew it open.)

Spring Manifesto


It is (finally) feeling springlike here in the Northeast – the trees are budding, the crocuses are sprouting, the air smells of damp earth (and mulch), and our students are wearing flip-flops around campus. I’m sure we’ll have more chilly days, but I’ve got a vase of daffodils on my desk and a little spring fever in my fingertips.

I’ve been making spring plans for weeks, it seems, so here’s a list of the fun things I’d like to do, try and taste this spring:

  • Watch for crocuses, daffodils, blooming trees and tulips. (Pictured above: daffodils in Oxford, spring 2008.)
  • Fly down to Texas later this month, for a work conference and a weekend with family.
  • While I’m there, eat as much Tex-Mex food as I can. (Obviously.)
  • Wear brightly colored shoes. (My silver flats and new bright green loafers are begging for a few long walks.)
  • Bake with rhubarb.
  • Continue the #100happydays photo challenge. (Loving it.)
  • Treat myself to a pedicure (maybe while I’m in Texas).
  • Celebrate my husband’s 30th birthday in early May.
  • Host a spring-cleaning clothing and book swap.
  • Make some summer travel plans.

What’s on your list for this spring?


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