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An alphabet’s worth of things that make me happy
Apples. (Yes, really!) Their crunchy sweetness makes me smile every time. Even though I’m living in Bali at the moment and eating tropical fruit with Indonesian meals, I still have an apple every day for an afternoon snack. Once, in California, I had the pleasure of visiting an organic orchard at Windrose Farm on apple tasting day. First they gave a tour of the orchards, with trees trimmed like goblets to catch the sun. They grew about two dozen different kinds of heritage apples, and the flavors ranged from dark and earthy to bright and tangy. Fantastic!
Bread baking, My Dad taught me how to bake bread from scratch when I was a teenager. He preferred quick breads, especially zucchini bread, but I ended up loving yeast breads the most. I find such deep satisfaction from starting with only yeast, flour and water, then deciding whether the bread will be sweet or savory, and what flavors or ingredients to add to make it interesting and unique. Plus, I love it when friends make moaning sounds when they eat my fresh bread!
Cats. I lived with cats for about 45 years, until my last one died and I decided not to get another so I could travel. When I miss them a lot, I visit cat cafés. Did you know that barn cats exhibit exactly the same social structure as African lions? Or that house cats and mountain lions are very closely related? Even just seeing a cat sitting in a window fills my heart with joy.
Dancing, I’m an amateur enthusiast, and have tried and enjoyed many kinds of dancing over the years, from free form dance in neon discos to jazz dance, modern dance, ballroom dance, and I even spent a year taking tap dancing classes with my niece, which was hecka fun! Right now I’m lucky to be renting a room with an 8’ square empty space, so I can do Zumba online.
Ekphrastic Art. One of my weird passions is finding art, music or writing inspired by other art, music or writing. I’m always on a quest to find new ones, and I get ecstatic when I find one. Example: W.H. Auden’s poem
“Musée des Beaux Arts” was written in response to the painting
“Landscape with the Fall of Icarus.”
See: https://www.poetrybyheart.org.uk/poems/musee-des-beaux-arts/ and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landscape_with_the_Fall_of_Icarus
Funny anything. Laughter is the best medicine, so I read funny books, watch comedies, and scour the Internet for any kind of silly stuff. I even have a daily humor reminder on my phone after supper in case I’ve been too busy writing (or napping) to laugh. Sometimes I even make funny faces at myself in the mirror. I love listening to the neighbor kids play. They’re always laughing, and it makes me laugh along with them.
Glass blowing. One of my all-time favorite arts. It’s so insane playing with molten glass! It’s like melting taffy when hot and it keeps changing, but you can’t let it get too cool or it’ll explode! I also loved the euphoria from the blue light of the furnaces. It’s an expensive hobby, though. Bucket List: take an intensive course at Pilchuck or Corning, or maybe even in Murano, Italy.
Hugs. Can’t get any right now, and they’re one of the few things I’m really missing, so to get my daily oxytocin I’m doing self-massage on my arms and legs, and also gentle chest thumping (and I hum scales while thumping, because it sounds funny and makes me smile).
Ikebana. The Japanese art of flower arranging, also known as Kado, the Way of Flowers. “Facing flowers, we feel a joy beyond words.” (traditional text)
I love finding simple flowers at a stall or shop, then making a pleasing design with them in a nice container. Right now, no flower shops are open, so sometimes I just arrange interesting twigs and leaves. Since I’m self-taught from books, my Bucket List has: study Ikebana in Japan with a master for a whole season.
Juice. Taste explosion! I know juice has a lot of sugar, so I only allow myself one small glass of fresh juice per day. It’s fun to look for unusual things to try. Most unusual flavors so far: corn juice and tamarind juice. I drink juice very slowly, savoring it like an expensive vintage, and each swallow gives me great, smiling joy!
Kites. I had a half-dozen kites before giving everything away to hit the road. (Should have kept a pocket kite.) Every afternoon, I see a few Balinese kites flying overhead — not the fancy painted kind, but kid-made from bamboo strips and black plastic bags. They’re not the diamond we’re used to in the West but look more like fish, with a triangle at the top with flags off the tips and a square below that with flags off the bottom corners. The huge Balinese Kite Festival is every year in July, so I’ll go if things are more open by then.
Laughter Yoga. What a great invention! You get together with friends or even do it by yourself and try some of the wacky exercises, like rolling around on the floor laughing, or tickling yourself, or closing your eyes and walking around the room slowly and every time you touch or bump into someone you laugh. One I made up is laughing like every kind of laugh mentioned in the song “I Love to Laugh” from the Mary Poppins movie, sung by Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. “Some people laugh through their noses … some people laugh through their teeth, goodness sake, hissing and fizzing like snakes … some laugh too fast, some only blast, others, they twitter like birds.”
Music, music, music! I used to sing in a women’s chorus, and had a piano and djembe and a shelf full of hand-held instruments at home, but now that I’m travelling, I only brought a harmonica with me. Still, there are always spoons in the kitchen to play rhythms with any music I’m listening to, from avant garde to zydeco, and I’m memorizing one new song per week. I used to love moody atmospheric music, but for now, only happy music allowed!
New experiences. Main reason I’m a perpetual nomad. But even when I lived in one place, I’d get very excited when I found a new street I’d never walk down before, or an unknown new fruit at the grocery store.
Oddballs. I love weirdos! So many creative people are strange, and I love hanging out with their wacky selves. They keep or make unusual or surreal things, like porcupine quill hats, musical instruments from cow jawbones (that make a dull twang when you hit them), high-heeled shoes with little faux teeth around the edges (because you KNOW they hurt), or even silly games like Exquisite Corpse, or marching kazoo bands. The parade of joyful oddballs is never-ending!
Parasailing. There’s nothing better than floating peacefully along under a rainbow sail, coasting quietly above the water, watching the fish and turtles below and the birds alongside. Every single time I go up, it gives me joy.
Quilt making. Every year, for about two dozen years, I made a quilt and gave it away. I alternated years between giving a quilt to charity or giving a quilt to a friend, usually one who was moving away and I wouldn’t see for a long time. I worked in boring beige offices pushing piles of white paper, so it gave me enormous joy to go home and sew colorful scraps together and watch a prismatic quilt get bigger every time I spent an hour with it.
Reading. Few things give me more joy than an elegant turn of phrase, an exquisite description, or a twisty, convoluted plot. Excellent poetry makes my heart sing! And fantasy and science fiction … reading an inventive new first-contact novel or a clever urban fantasy novel keeps me happy all afternoon. Fave right now: travel articles! I can go everywhere while sitting still.
Skinny-dipping! Total freedom, total hilarity. How can you not giggle when you do it? Such silly fun! I haven’t had any opportunities yet while travelling, but I know a few secret coves in California . . .
Tree climbing. My absolute favorite activity as a child, and as a youth and young adult. I loved the challenge of the climb and the reward of sitting at the top of the tree looking out across the world. It’s on my Bucket List to take a tree climbing course in Georgia with either Tree Climbers International or Dancing With Trees.
Unique. I love things that are one-of-a-kind. Things that are not mass-produced, but that are made by hand. It gives me enormous joy to receive a handmade gift from a friend, or to make something by hand for a friend, because it’s precious, there’ll never be another just like it. And so people are even more precious, because each of us is the only one of us there’ll ever be.
Volcanoes and Vaulted ceilings (I couldn’t decide between them). Volcanoes because they’re scary and exciting and because, near shield volcanoes, like in Hawaii, you can take a stick and play with the slow lava like taffy (basically molten glass, which I also love). Vaulted ceilings because of their peaceful soaring beauty and architectural excellence (I also like flying buttresses). Beauty and excitement both give me vast joy.
Windows, big ones, especially abstract stained glass ones. I can’t stay in a room without a window because I need light to lift my spirits, and I love the being bathed in rainbows by stained glass. I do a little meditation where I breathe rainbows in and then breathe them out all my pores, until I’m a rainbow hedgehog (actually, more of a rainbow porcupine, but they’re not very huggable).
Xylophones, marimbas and ranat thum. All of these are percussion instruments that have a sort of keyboard to hit with mallets. A friend of mine once built an impressive marimba in his basement with big PVC pipes stretching across the floor under the sounding plates to get really deep tones. Ranat thum is a wooden Thai instrument with a delicious, warm sound.
Yes! Saying “Yes!” to new adventures gives me effervescent joy. For one whole year, I practiced never saying No, and said Yes to any wacky idea anybody invited me to join. That was a phenomenal experiment, and while there were a few uncomfortable moments, for the most part it was a great sizzle of joy. Nowadays, I find a creative way of declining without saying No if I really don’t want to do something, but most of the time I still say “Yes!”
Zentangles. Fun, small, geometric art projects that are very satisfying and take less than an hour to make. My travel box of mini-colored pencils is perfect for this. Creating something artistic gives me zinging joy.
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