Category Archives: Nature and Happiness

America’s Top Ten Flower Festivals

The first day of spring is this Monday, on March 20th. As I write this blog from the California desert, with temperatures currently soaring to 90-plus degrees (too soon, too soon!), the northeast is being pummeled with a massive storm and blizzard conditions.

spring flowersBut, as we all know, this crazy weather shall soon pass and we all have some gorgeous spring days ahead of us.

So, let’s think spring! What better way to celebrate this wonderful time of year than visiting one of America’s top ten flower festivals?

In Southern California, thanks to this winter’s abundant rain and snow, we’re looking forward to explosive colors as wildflowers begin to spread across our desert, coastline, and foothills. Other parts of the country, from grassland prairies to alpine meadows, are also anticipating nature’s colorful display of flowers, guaranteeing us delightfully longer, warmer days.

With that in mind, I’m sharing 10 popular spring flower festivals from different parts of the country. If you get a chance, don’t miss an opportunity to enjoy nature’s wonders at a festival near you!

DALLAS BLOOMS

Where: Dallas, Texas

When: Now through April 9, 2017

The largest floral festival in the Southwest features 66 acres of gardens at the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden. Enjoy every spring color imaginable as 600,000 tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, Dutch irises, poppies, and other flowers bloom in a spectacular way.

This year’s theme, “Peace, Love and Flower Power” will appeal to you baby boomers as the festival celebrates the headlines, music, TV, fads, and fashion from the 1960’s and includes amazing topiaries built on a classic Volkswagen van and bug.

Click here for more information, a list of events, and to purchase tickets.

EPCOT INTERNATIONAL FLOWER & GARDEN FESTIVAL

Where: Orlando, Florida

When: Now through May 29, 2017

If you have children or grandchildren, this is just the ticket for some whimsical fun. At Epcot, you can enjoy more than 70 Disney-themed topiaries from every era brought to life through flower sculptures and manicured trees.

Flower towers, wildlife habitats, and vibrant gardens add to the beauty. Exhibits, seminars, and how-to demonstrations, outdoor kitchens with pint-sized plates, and outdoor concerts add to the fun.

Disney horticulturists are onsite each weekend to help those interested in learning more about gardening. Admission to Epcot is required. For more information, click here.

cherry blossomsNATIONAL CHERRY BLOSSOM FESTIVAL

Where: Washington, D.C.

When: Now through April 17, 2016

One day I’m going to see this famous flourish of pink blooms in the nation’s capital. If you plan to go this year, however, you better hurry! According to its website, the National Park Service has updated its peak bloom prediction from March 19 to March 22 due to recent temperature trends and the weather forecast for the next seven days.

Today, on March 16, the annual Pink Tie Party, a fundraiser benefiting the festival, kicks off the season in style. Several events follow. The opening ceremony will be held on March 25 to celebrate the gift of trees from Japan to the U.S. The Blossom Kite Festival takes place on April 1. The National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade, featuring lavish floats, giant helium balloons, and marching bands is on April 8. To wrap up the season, Southwest Waterfront Fireworks Festival will feature live music and entertainment on April 25 with fireworks at 8:30 p.m.

For more information, blooming updates, and/or tickets, click here.

DAFFODIL FESTIVAL AND PARADE 

Where: Tacoma, Puyallup, Sumner, and Orting, Washington State

When: The parade begins Saturday, April 8, 2017 in Tacoma at 10:15 AM; Puyallup at 12:45 PM; Sumner at 2:30 PM; Orting at 5:00 PM

Maybe this festival is not quite as famous as the ones I’ve listed above, but it’s one of my sentimental favorites. When I lived in Puyallup, Washington about 20 years ago and worked as a newspaper reporter, I covered this heartwarming traditional, family- and community-oriented parade.

This event features floats decorated with thousands of fresh-cut daffodils as well as high school marching bands in celebration of daffodil flowers that have grown in the Puyallup Valley for the past 80 years. Come on, who doesn’t love cheerful daffodils and parades! For more information, check out their website.

tulipsTULIP TIME

Where: Holland, Michigan

When: May 7 to 14, 2016

When Holland residents brag about tulip time, they’re not kidding! Nearly 5 million tulips are planted throughout the town which awakens in the spring with bright spectacular bursts of color.

Since traditional Dutch dancing is popular in this old-world town, the festival hosts dancing events practically non-stop throughout the weekend. Be sure and take in one of the three parades, where participants brave the pavement with wooden clogs and traditional Dutch outfits.

Their website has posted the following update regarding blooming time: “Tulips are on track for a typical bloom time here in Holland, Michigan (late April to mid-May.) While the weather here has been slightly warmer than usual overall, the forecast has us back to cold weather for the next two weeks. The early blooming varieties have just started to sprout but the cold night temperatures keep their development at bay. We will have a more accurate estimate of bloom timing (which is highly dependent on the weather over the next 2 to 3 weeks) by the first week in April.” For blooming updates, events, and tickets, click here.

DOGWOOD-AZALEA FESTIVAL

Where: Charleston, Missouri

When: April 20 to 23, 2017

Take a stroll along the six-mile Dogwood-Azalea Trail when Charleston glimmers with stunning dogwoods and azaleas at their peak blooms.

You can celebrate the floral spring beauty and enjoy the wholesome hospitality of this community with a candlelight tour, arts and crafts bazaar, one of the area’s largest parades, an old-fashioned ice cream social, art show, piano concerts, and an old-fashioned carriage ride. For more information, see their website.

THE 2017 WILDFLOWER FESTIVAL

Where: Crested Butte, Colorado

When: July 7 to 16, 2017

Surround yourself in the symphony of wildflowers in Crested Butte, dubbed as the wildflower capital of Colorado. The mountains and valleys brim with explosive colors in the late spring and summer as magnificent blue columbines, Red Indian paintbrushes, sunflowers, delphiniums, lupines, and other flowers bloom in full glory.

The week long festival offers over 200 events including hikes, art workshops, jeep tours, and photography classes. For more information, click here.

roses

PORTLAND ROSE FESTIVAL

Where: Portland, Oregon

When: May 27 to June 12, 2016

Portland hosts the largest rose show in the nation, overflowing with more than 4,000 blooms in all their glory and rich fragrances.

Enjoy one of three starlight parades with twinkling floats throughout its three weekends, thrilling rides, fireworks, live music, tasty treats, and much more. For more information, click here.

INTERNATIONAL CHERRY BLOSSOM FESTIVAL

Where: Macon, Georgia

When: March 24 to April 2, 2017

Dubbed “the pinkest party on earth,” The International Cherry Blossom Festival in Macon, Georgia celebrates all things pink, including the town’s impressive collection of hundreds of Yoshino cherry trees.

Festival highlights include a bed race, nightly live concerts, fashion shows, a street party, as well as the Cherry Blossom Festival Parade. For tickets and more information, click here.

THE FLOWER FIELDS AT CARLSBAD RANCH

Where: Carlsbad, California

When:  Now through May 14, 2017

This festival is another one of my personal favorites since my father lives nearby and we visit often. Every spring, 50 acres of rolling hills overlooking the striking coastline are transformed into a dazzling display of blooms from early March through early May.

Wagon rides, live music, dinner tours, arts and crafts shows, exotic plant sale, and photography classes are available throughout the festival dates. For a schedule or to buy tickets, check out their website.

Images, in order of appearance, courtesy of twobee, pazham, criminalatt, and nuttakit at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Enchantment of Snow

Why does snow falling have the ability to make us feel so entranced and enchanted?

“Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes,

Silver white winters that melt into springs,

These are a few of my favorite things.”

Aw, I still love those famous lyrics from my favorite movie as a child, Sound of Music.

Family Snow Day

Family Snow Day

Although we live in the California desert, we’re only an hour drive away from the mountains. This weekend my husband, son, grandchildren, and I went up to Idyllwild to play in the snow.

The trip got me to thinking about why snow can make us feel so darn happy.

(And yes, I am aware that I was only visiting the snow and didn’t have to live, shovel, or deal with the slush afterward. But don’t rain – or snow – on my parade!)

Here are my top three reasons snow brings us such unadulterated joy:

The Magic of Nature

snow gate “Silently, like thoughts that come and go, the snowflakes fall, each one a gem.” — William Hamilton Gibson

Actually, I lived in northern California as a child, Idyllwild as a teen, and Washington State for a few years as an adult. I remember well the pure excitement of waking up to a white winter wonderland where the snow gently kisses meadows and trees in a breathtaking way.

I know some of my friends up north and back east may be sick of the snow by now, but let’s not lose that childlike wonderment and genuine delight. No matter how old we are, we can still appreciate the way snow beautifies everything it touches, creating a still and stunning landscape.

Forming those first footprints in a vast white pristine field while breathing in the invigorating fresh cold air allows us to connect with our natural surroundings in a profound way.

Live in the Present

“A snow day literally and figuratively falls from the sky – unbidden – and seems like a thing of wonder.”   Susan Orlean

Catching snowflakes on their tongues.

Catching snowflakes on their tongues.

A fleeting snowfall forces us to pause and take note of the entrancing beauty. No matter what’s happening in our lives, peaceful falling snow has the serene power to calm us down.

Who can dwell on the past or worry about the future while we’re watching snowflakes gently float soundlessly from the sky?

Who can frown while creating a funny, fat snowman, playfully catching snowflakes on our tongues, or enjoying the thrill of a sled ride? Who can resist screaming with delight during a snowball fight?

And who can stop laughing when you discover your granddaughter is photobombing you in the snowstorm? Not me, as evidenced in the photo below!

snow photo bomb

Time with Your Family

“We build statues out of snow, and weep to see them melt.” — Walter Scott

Ah, so true. Whether you’re skiing, snowboarding, sledding, or creating snow angels, snow forts, or snowmen, or having a raucous snowball fight, snow naturally brings families together. But as the poem notes, all good things have to come to an end. Well, sort of.

Eventually my granddaughter cried because her fingers were painfully cold and it was time to head for the warmth of our home. Luckily, the joy of a snow day continues after you go inside to warm up by a roaring fire with a mug of hot chocolate.  It’s a wonderful chance to snuggle with your loved ones and reminisce about the glory of the day.

So all of you snow haters out there, excuse this Californian’s enthusiasm for the white stuff, but I can’t help feeling the same way as American novelist Candace Bushnell, who eloquently wrote:

“Thank goodness for the first snow. It was a reminder — no matter how old you became and how much you’d seen, things could still be new if you were willing to believe they still mattered.”

 

Top Ten Sailing Quotes

Is it the feel of brisk sea air in your face, the disconnection from all the stress, noise, and worries, the sounds of the gentle lapping of the water at the helm and the hum of the wind in the sails, or the deep connection with nature, peace, and serenity?

Sailing 1Hard to point to one reason why sailing is so addicting. Add in the spiritual connection, the profound appreciation for God’s creations when you see joyful dolphins or playful sea lions.

My husband would no doubt describe how sailing makes you feel one with the boat, the wind, and the sea. How he loves the sense of control and skill, the elation of trimming the sails perfectly, the speed, the anticipation of adventure, and the freedom. It’s all that and more.

Whatever the case, I blame our addiction on my father who bought a small sailboat from a friend 35 years ago. We’ve been sailing ever since. A few years ago, my husband and I were fortunate to buy a 1972 25-foot MacGregor for a mere $1000 and some trade work. Nothing fancy, and sure, it needed some work, but it was fun fixing it up.

I’d highly recommend trying sailing at least once in your lifetime for some guaranteed bliss. Last weekend we had two perfect days of sailing which has inspired today’s blog. There’s actually a lot of wisdom in some of these quotes.

So here you go – here are 10 of my favorite sailing quotes along with some sailing photos sure to soothe your soul:

Sailing in Chicago

Sailing in Chicago.

Quote One:

“I really don’t know why it is that all of us are so committed to the sea, except I think it’s because in addition to the fact that the sea changes, and the light changes, and ships change, it’s because we all came from the sea. And it is an interesting biological fact that all of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea – whether it is to sail or to watch it – we are going back from whence we came.”

John F. Kennedy’s remarks at the Dinner for the America’s Cup Crews, September 14 1962

 

My friend, Cindy, took this photo sailing in the Outer Banks.

My friend, Cindy, took this photo sailing in the Outer Banks.

Quote Two:

“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than those you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from safe harbor. Catch the wind in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

~Mark Twain

IMG_0579

The next generation – my grandson – learning to sail.

Quote Three:

“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.”

— William Arthur Ward

Quote Four:

“hark, now hear the sailors cry,

smell the sea, and feel the sky

let your soul & spirit fly, into the mystic…”

― Van Morrison

Sailing EveningQuote Five:

“We clear the harbor and the wind catches her sails and my beautiful ship leans over ever so gracefully, and her elegant bow cuts cleanly into the increasing chop of the waves. I take a deep breath and my chest expands and my heart starts thumping so strongly I fear the others might see it beat through the cloth of my jacket. I face the wind and my lips peel back from my teeth in a grin of pure joy.”

― L.A. Meyer, Under the Jolly Roger: Being an Account of the Further Nautical Adventures of Jacky Faber

Oh, all the elegance in those words. Here are five more famous quotes with some sage sailing advice that applies to life as well:

Quotes Seven Through Ten:

“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” – Andre Gide

Sailing 3

“A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.”~Franklin D. Roosevelt

“A ship in harbor is safe — but that is not what ships are built for.” — John A. Shedd.

“I can’t control the wind but I can adjust the sail.”~Ricky Skaggs

“On a day when the wind is perfect, the sail just needs to open and the world is full of beauty. Today is such a day.” Rumi

Yes, today is such a day and always remember that the world is full of beauty. Hope these quotes and photos lifted your spirit a bit. I wish you all a happy day, happy sailing, and a happy life!

My husband, Scott, and I on our boat, the Jules of the Sea, last weekend.

My husband, Scott, and I on our boat, the Jules of the Sea, last weekend.

 

 

Five Fun Ways to Celebrate Spring

SpringI love this photo. I lived in Washington State for a few years and loved watching the crocuses break through the frozen soil to announce that spring was right around the corner.

The bright tulips and daffodils never failed to cheer me up. In Puyallup, where I lived, the town even had a daffodil parade to celebrate the season.

I now live in the California desert. We’re not exactly famous for crocuses or daffodils here. However, spring still manifests itself in beautiful ways. The wildflowers bloom, the jacaranda trees explode in purple flowers, and even the cactus display flowers in brilliant colors.

Wherever you live, you can’t help loving springtime. Longer days brighten the sky, birds sing joyfully, and trees begin sprouting bright new leaves.

How can you celebrate this spectacular time of year? Here are five simple ideas to get you started:

  1. spring vegetablesIf you’re looking for a way to bring the beauty of spring and nature back into your hectic life, think about planting a garden. After many years of threatening to plant a vegetable, herb, and flower garden, I finally did! One of my favorite activities is picking out seeds or plants at the garden center with my grandchildren and planting them when we get home. The joy of walking outside, enjoying the beauty of greenery shining in the sun, the sound of bees buzzing nearby, plopping an irresistible strawberry in your mouth, and then gathering vegetables and deliciously aromatic herbs for a recipe – what better way to celebrate spring! If you don’t have a garden, visit a Farmer’s Market instead.
  2. spring picnicEat al fresco! Spring is finally here and we have that precious extra hour’s daylight. Head outside, have a picnic at the park or some other scenic area, and enjoy eating fresh food with a view. Or simply throw a bright and cheerful tablecloth on your patio table, add some fresh cut flowers into soup cans painted in spring colors, and a few floral napkins. Then enjoy a magical spring dinner with the family outside to welcome the season. Or simply eat outside at a local cafe. 
  3. Take a hike. This is a no brainer, but put on your hiking boots, pack up some water and snacks, and go discover the great outdoors. As I pointed out in my blog, Hiking and Happiness, no big surprise, a new study shows that walking or hiking in nature can bring us inner peace, joy, and happiness. Or if you prefer, gently stroll on a deserted beach with your loved one or take a bike ride with your kids or grandkids. Just get out there!
  4. Bring the outdoors in. Open your windows and listen to a spring shower or simply enjoy a gentle spring breeze. Take a few calming deep breaths and enjoy all that fresh air.  Buy some showy tulips or daffodils with their bright, cheery colors or clip some spring blossoms and display them in your home.
  5. spring kiteWhen was the last time you flew a kite? Bring out that inner child hiding inside. This carefree activity can get you outside, help you focus on the present moment, let go of stress and worries, and do something just for the sheer fun of it.

Don’t let spring zip by without some kind of celebration. These are just a few ideas, I’m sure you can come up with more. In fact, I’d love to hear them in the comment section below.

Whatever you choose to do, shed that winter coat as soon as the weather allows, grab a pare of scandals, and get out there and enjoy the glory of spring!

Images courtesy of Simon Howden, Carlos Porto, franky242, and phanlop88 (in the order the photos appear) at FreeDigitalPhotos.net. 

Four Ways to Heal From Emotional Pain

We would all like to hide and run away from emotional pain, but no one skips through life untouched. I can’t complain. Most of my life has been relatively easy and free of pain and adversity. However, as I’ve written about in this blog, this year was a tough one with two recent deaths in our family.

Emotional HealingI’m sure there’s many of you out there going through similar experiences. If you’re going through a challenging time, how can you heal and move forward with your life?

Of course, recovery takes time. Allow yourself to surrender to feelings of sadness, anger, and pain. Accept what you are going through. Give yourself time to rest and heal. However, there are things you can do to help the process along.

Last week, my father in-law and sister-in-law as well as my two sons, daughter-in-law and three grandchildren went to the Living Desert, a local animal park. (If you ever visit the Palm Springs area, be sure and visit this charming zoo.) The day was therapeutic for all of us. Why?

After giving this some thought, I came up with four reasons. If you’re going through emotional pains, I hope these tips will bring you some peace of mind:

Tap into Your Spirituality

At the Living Desert, we couldn’t help of thinking about God and all the beautiful creations he put on this earth for us to enjoy. God gives us strength beyond what is normal and reliance on Him is essential to recovery. Honestly, I wouldn’t have made it through this year without a spiritual foundation, prayer, meditation on God’s Word, and the support from members of my congregation.

Surround Yourself with People You Love

This is true in general, but never more so than when you are going through emotional trauma. Lean on those people who genuinely love and care for you. My husband, my children, my father, and my siblings became more important than ever to me after my Mom’s death. The same thing is happening now with my husband’s family. As we mourn my mother-in-law, we are all clinging to each other. Our grandchildren are soothing and restoring us with their laughter and silliness, their excitement as they learn about new things, and their hugs and kisses.

If you are in a state of recovery, make it a point to only be around those people that make you happy and bring positivity to your life. People that are optimistic and cheerful. People who can make you smile and laugh. People who remind you of the beauty in the world.

River w butterflyAllow Nature to Heal You

Simply being outside in nature will heal and comfort you with its gentle reminders of rebirth, rejuvenation, and renewal.

At the Living Desert, the sun shone bright on us warming our faces. Butterflies landed on our shoulders. We laughed at the giraffes’ long purple tongues greedy for carrots. We ate lunch surrounded by palm trees.

My grandson, Rowan, said, “This is the life.” And he was absolutely right.

That’s why you’ll find me sitting in the courtyard enjoying the smell of lavender and rosemary, watching our new kitten play, and listening to the gentle sound of our gurgling fountain every chance I get. Our family often spends evenings on the patio by a crackling fire gazing at the stars. We planted a garden and are thrilled to see carrots and radishes breaking through the soil.

As Thomas Merton said, “One has to be alone, under the sky, before everything falls into place and one finds his or her own place in the midst of it all.”

Turn Your Wounds Into Wisdom

Now is the time to contemplate and meditate on lessons learned from pain, loss, and disappointment. Yes, there are always important life lessons that can improve our lives.

“Turn your wounds into wisdom,” Oprah Winfrey advises.

So, allow yourself time to rest, time to heal, and time to recover. Then follow these four steps and remember that no pain lasts forever. You’re still alive and there are people to cherish, exciting places to see, thrilling experiences to be had, and new things to learn. No matter what happens,  you can rebuild and create a fabulous life feeling grateful for every day you’re alive.

Postscript: I wrote this article before the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California yesterday – which is only about an hour away from where I live. My heart goes out to all those affected by this senseless tragedy and I pray you all can find emotional healing from this horrific event.

Image courtesy of marcolm at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Hiking and Happiness

I didn’t think that I would get any sort of a vacation this year, but it turns out that we are going to squeeze in a quick last minute trip to Yosemite and Kings Canyon. I plan to do some hiking while I’m there and, evidently, I’m going to feel happier for it.

HikingNo big surprise, a new study shows that walking or hiking in nature can bring us inner peace, joy, and happiness.

The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, found that people who walked for 90 minutes in a natural area, as opposed to participants who walked in a high-traffic urban setting, showed decreased activity in a region of the brain associated with depression.

“These results suggest that accessible natural areas may be vital for mental health in our rapidly urbanizing world,” said co-author Gretchen Daily, the Bing Professor in Environmental Science and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

More than half of the world’s population lives in urban settings and that is forecast to jump to a whopping 70 percent within a few decades. It’s no coincidence that just as urbanization and disconnection from nature have grown dramatically, so have mental disorders such as depression and anxiety. In fact, those who live in the city have a 20 percent higher risk of anxiety disorders and a 40 percent higher risk of mood disorders as compared to people in rural areas. People born and raised in cities are twice as likely to develop schizophrenia.

Me in the middle with my son (left) and daughter-in-law (right) hiking in Ladder Canyon.

Me in the middle with my son (left) and daughter-in-law (right) hiking in Ladder Canyon.

Yikes! However, if you happen to live in a city, don’t feel discouraged. A simple stroll in Central Park or any nearby hiking area will help.  As I wrote previously in my blog, Finding Serenity in Nature, studies show that even a limited dose of nature like a short walk or even looking outside through a window is good for us. Although I live in the desert – nowhere near a forest – my husband and I have had fun exploring some of the local nature trails. This last winter we hiked the Ladder Canyon Trail/Painted Canyon in Mecca.

It’s worth the effort. Nature can improve your mental state, lower blood pressure, reduce cortisol levels (the stress hormone), and increase your energy. The great outdoors can even provide a surge of creative energy. That’s why you’ll often see people in scenic spots with their easels or writing poems.

People have long known that natural environments are good for us. Clear back in 1857, S.H. Hammond wrote in the book, Wild Northern Scenes; Sporting Adventures with the Rifle and the Rod:

“Hurrah! hurrah! We are in the country, the glorious country! Outside of the thronged streets…away from the heated atmosphere of the city, loaded with the smoke and dust, and gasses of furnaces, and the ten thousand manufacturies of villainous smells. We are beyond even the meadows and green fields. We are here alone with nature, surrounded by old primeval things. Tall forest trees, mountain and valley are on the right hand and on the left. Before us, stretching away for miles, is a beautiful lake, its waters calm and placid, giving back the bright heavens, the old woods, the fleecy clouds that drift across the sky, from away down in its quiet depths.”

Centuries later, don’t you feel some of those same emotions when you’re hiking in the forest or camping under the stars? You can feel all that negativity, anxiety, and stress just drain away.

I realize that not everyone can take a week-long vacation to camp in the woods and explore nature trails. Maybe it’s not financially possible or you have physical limitations that prevent you from hiking. However, everyone can insert a little nature into their lives.

If you need a few ideas, here are a few simple and easy ways to incorporate nature into your life as shared in the blog I mentioned above:

BirdFeederStargaze and watch the heavens light up.

Spread a blanket over the grass and take normal activities such as reading, eating a meal, or simply discussing how your day went with hubby outdoors.

Build or buy a bird feeder or a fountain and watch the birds splash, play, and frolic.

Visit a Farmer’s Market.

Watch a sunrise or sunset.

Or if you are healthy and able, take it from nature writers and explorers like John Muir who have known this secret for centuries.

Go take a hike! Of course, I mean that in the nicest way possible!

Images courtesy of marcolm and Paul Brentnall at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

 

Five Ways to Enjoy Summer

“Summer afternoon – summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language,” Henry James wrote.

Image courtesy of 9comeback/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of 9comeback/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Is that how you feel? If so, you better take time now to enjoy the rest of summer. The Fourth of July weekend has come and gone and we’re already halfway through the season.

If you read my blogs on happiness, you know I’m a big supporter of living in the present instead of stressing about the future or fretting about the past.

So, by all means, try and savor the remaining lazy days of carefree sunshine that lends itself to serenity and joy. This isn’t the time to start thinking about school clothes, college tuition, or forecasts for next winter. Take a deep breath, slow down, use all your senses, and notice the little things that can make a summer day special.

Here are a few ways to do that:

Take a Mini Vacation

Image courtesy of digitalart/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of digitalart/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

With high gas prices and a recovering economy, many people are staying home this summer in place of a costly vacation. But that’s no reason to be depressed. Take a mini-road trip for a quick family getaway. For example, I live in the California desert, but in two hours or less I can drive to Big Bear and hike in the mountains, go sailing at the beach, or visit Los Angeles for some culture and night life. Visit a neighboring state, discover a new swimming spot, go camping, kayak in a lake, or take a leisurely scenic drive somewhere new and exciting. With hundreds of national and state parks across the country, chances are you don’t live far from one that is loaded with fun activities. One year, my husband and I realized that we had never been to the Channel Islands even though we had lived in California most our lives. One of the best weekend trips ever!

Learn a New Sport

Image courtesy of arztsamui/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of arztsamui/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Whether learning a certain sport was a childhood dream or something that catches your fancy as an adult, it’s never too late to learn a new sport. Of course, if you’re older, get medical clearance from your doctor, be safe, and use common sense. Maybe you’ll want to continue the excitement of the World Cup by joining an adult soccer league or try hockey or cricket. Take advantage of hiking and kayaking trips that combine physical activity with luxuries such as gourmet food and comfortable tents. Learn to surf, golf, mountain bike, or scuba dive. You’ll get into shape, learn new skills, increase your confidence, make new friends, and expand your horizons.

Connect with Nature

Image courtesy of mapichai/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of mapichai/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Of course, you may automatically think of going camping or hiking when you think of enjoying nature, but there are plenty of other ways to enjoy the great outdoors. Visit a farm and pick your own fruit and veggies. Have a picnic by a stream. Buy a bird feeder or birdbath and watch birds come and go. Grab an easel and find a scenic spot. Build a potting bench, create an herb garden, or paint old patio furniture bright summer colors to enjoy nature in your own backyard. Get down on your knees with the grandkids and imitate their wonder and curiosity while examining an insect or a rock. Catch fireflies. Take note of the feel of grass beneath your feet, the smell of fragrant lavender, and the chorus of birds.

Slow Down

Image courtesy of savit keawtavee/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of savit keawtavee/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Make the choice to do less. Focus on what’s absolutely necessary and let go of the rest. Disconnect from technology. Eat slower. Live at a gentler pace. Create room for some delicious breezy nothingness. Refuse to look at clocks and watches. Go fishing, dance around the house, jump on a trampoline, paint, lie in a hammock, read a book, listen to soothing music, or take a leisurely stroll through the park. Learn a new barbecue recipe and enjoy a candlelit dinner al fresco. Sit quietly and enjoy a cold, yummy ice cream, milkshake, or smoothie. Brew a pot of sun tea and sip it slowly on the porch. Enjoy a slice of watermelon with a dash of salt. In other words, make time for the simple pleasures in life.

Star Gaze

Image courtesy of Idea go/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Idea go/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Spread a comfy blanket and look to the sky with your loved ones. Countless wonders await you on a clear summer night. A telescope is fun, but is not necessary to enjoy star gazing. You can see a galaxy two and a half million light-years away with your naked eye and craters on the moon with a simple pair of binoculars. Ransack your public library for books on astronomy basics and obtain detailed sky maps. You can learn the names of stars, constellations, along with a few fun myths. To see planets, start in the early evening. In the summer, Venus appears prominently in the western horizon right after sunset, and Jupiter is the second brightest object in the evening sky―just look south.

So there you go!  Use a few of these tips to enjoy the remainder of summer. As Kenny Chesney croons in his song, “Summertime,” “It’s a smile, it’s a kiss, it’s a sip of wine … it’s summertime!”

Finding Serenity in Nature

Spring Time On the River
Pavel P. / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

When you look at the above photo, don’t you immediately feel calmer? I do. Nature is one of the best ways to bring joy, peace, and happiness into our lives – and it’s absolutely free! 

You probably already know this. However, even though most of us realize that enjoying the outdoors is a quick remedy to feeling less stressed, we often get caught up in our busy lives and take nature for granted.

I’m certainly guilty of that. As a freelance writer constantly meeting deadlines, I’m often indoors pounding on computer keys. As I’m writing this blog, I can look out my window and see the bright morning sun, the hibiscus blooming, and hear the birds singing. Nature is calling my name, but I’ll be in my office all morning. Even if you’re not a writer like me, most people spend way too much time in front of lap tops, televisions, iPads, and iPhones, cooped up indoors even when the weather is gorgeous outside.

So let’s change that. Even if it means getting up an hour earlier to take a quick walk before work,  packing a lunch to eat outside at a nearby park, or dining al fresco.

Think of how nature makes you feel and you’ll be inspired to get out more. Something as simple as walking in a forest or meadow can be magical and awe-inspiring. Can’t you just feel the negativity draining out of you just thinking about it?

Every chance we get, my husband and I go to the beach where our sailboat is docked. The minute I see the ocean, I literally feel the tension and stress melt away. Sailing is the ultimate way to leave our troubles on shore. Hiking in the nearby spectacular Santa Rosa Mountains in the desert where I live inspires peace and tranquility. I can even find refuge and comfort in my own back yard, simply looking at the nearby mountains, admiring my flowers and herbs, and listening to our water fountain.

Springtime is the perfect time to embrace nature with the emergence of tulips and bright green leaves and blossoms sprouting on trees. The warm sunshine not only provides us with essential Vitamin D but also instantly brightens our mood. Perhaps you have a favorite hiking, biking, picnic spot, or getaway on your balcony or yard that immediately boosts your spirit.

Science backs up the fact that nature offers us inner peace and joy. Studies show that even a limited dose of nature like a short walk or simply looking outside through a window is good for us. Nature can improve our mental state, lower blood pressure, reduce cortisol levels (the stress hormone), and increase our energy. The great outdoors can even provide a surge of creative energy. That’s why you’ll often see people in scenic spots with their easels. Others are inspired to write poetry.

So, just in case you aren’t already inspired to run out there and enjoy nature, here are a few ideas to get you outdoors:

  • Fly a kite.
  • Stargaze and watch the heavens light up.
  • Spread a blanket over the grass and take normal activities such as reading, doing homework with the kids, or simply discussing the events of the day outdoors.
  • Plant a small vegetable garden.
  • Build or buy a birdfeeder and watch the birds frolic.
  • Visit the Farmer’s Market.
  • Watch a sunrise or sunset.
  • Go camping.
  • Grab your grandkids and a butterfly net, ball, or gardening shovel and head outdoors and imitate the way kids carefully examine a bug, smell a flower, or inspect a rock.

Keep in mind that the best way to reap the ultimate reward from being in nature is doing so in a mindful way. That means putting away your iPhone while you’re outside and focusing on the beauty of nature.

Me – I’m going to take my own advice and eat lunch on my patio. And this afternoon, if my heads starts to spin after hours on the computer, I’m going to take a quick walk, aware that the best ways to come up with brilliant ideas and be more creative is to take a break with nature.

How will you incorporate more nature into your life?