The Wisdom of Harold and the Purple Crayon

Embrace Life’s Journey

Harold and the Purple Crayon, the 1955 classic children’s book by Crockett Johnson, is one of those deceptively simple stories that can be read on many levels. The basic plot follows a boy who ventures into the night for a walk, taking along his big purple crayon. Whatever he draws with his crayon comes to life, and Harold must deal with the ensuing consequences. After numerous adventures, he eventually finds his way back to his own room and drifts off to sleep.

harold and the purple crayon cover

Johnson’s spare prose and simple drawings appeal to young readers. However, the story is far from simple. It’s made clear from the beginning that Harold is not acting on a childish whim when he sets out on his walk but has been “thinking it over for quite some time.” And he isn’t really alone because he has the moon to guide him. It’s the first thing he draws and the last thing he looks for to find his way back. The moon acts as Harold’s spiritual guide, always there to ground him and remind him of what’s truly important.

Leaving the Long Straight Path

Harold initially sets out on a long, straight path but soon realizes that “he didn’t seem to be getting anywhere.” He appears to have a destination in mind but it’s never explicitly stated. However, he’s anxious to move on and decides to draw a short cut across a field.

harold and the purple crayon path

Harold has a true entrepreneurial spirit–creative, confident, and undeterred by the odds. He never once looks back longingly at the straight (presumably safe) path, even when confronting a menacing dragon, almost drowning, or falling off a high cliff.

harold in boat

Instead, he focuses on moving forward and improvising when necessary, which leads him to new and exciting experiences and opportunities. When threatened with drowning, he draws a boat and sets sail for new lands. In mid free-fall off a cliff, he quickly sketches a hot air balloon and is soon enjoying a fantastic view of the countryside.

Inspiring or Terrifying?

harold with dragon

Most children are entranced by the book–even if they don’t enjoy it. My now-adult son, for example, recently told me that the book initially terrified him. As a young child, he had an extremely vivid imagination. He could spend hours staring at one page in a picture book, imagining different scenarios, personalities, and plot lines. For him, the idea that his imaginary worlds could suddenly come to life without warning was extremely disturbing. He associated imaginary play with safety and security–the opposite of Harold’s world.

Other children might find Harold’s adventurous, independent spirit inspiring. A review on Common Sense Media, describes Harold as a story about “a calm, upbeat but mostly silent little boy who creates his surroundings with his ever-present purple crayon….a wonderful celebration of imagination and independent play.”

Harold does whatever he wants, unburdened by the rules of the adult world. He’s able to get himself out of scary situations without relying on adults, by using his own ingenuity and creativity. That can be reassuring to a child who feels small and powerless.

Making sense of reality

As readers, we’re never entirely sure whether Harold’s journey is meant to be dream or reality. It seems unlikely that he could really place the moon in the sky or draw an actual ocean but, nonetheless, we buy into the plot. We feel anxious when he’s in danger and curious as to how he will survive.

harold with policeman

Ultimately, the distinction doesn’t really matter. Whether fantasy or fact, Harold’s adventures help children decipher reality, says Jayme Johnson in a post on Teaching Children Philosophy.  The book can be used to guide students in a philosophical discussion on the nature of reality, says Johnson. For example, if the moon is “real” why did Harold have to draw it into existence?

“What makes the moon we observe any more “real” than Harold’s moon?” writes Johnson. “This line of questioning leads the children to discuss the relationship between perception and reality. Must things be experiential in order to be real? Or can they exist simply in our minds?”

The genius of Harold is in its layers of meaning that get peeled away over time. As adults, it’s not hard to interpret it as a metaphor for life’s journey. How many times have we created mental monsters that envelop us in fear or gotten mired in seemingly hopeless predicaments of our own making? Harold is a great role model for how to cope with just about anything. Face your problems head on, trust your instincts, take action, and don’t waste time looking back.

Keep the Moon in View

The moon accompanies Harold through all of the twists and turns, adventures and dangers of his journey. It acts as a kind of guardian or spiritual guide. Harold stays safe as long as he keeps the moon in sight.

Near the end of the story, Harold loses his bearings and can’t find his way back to his room. He seems to be spinning his wheels as he draws a whole city full of buildings in search of his own bedroom window. But then, a friendly policeman reassures him that he’s on the right path. He just had to pause for a moment and orient himself. He had to find the moon.

“Then, suddenly, Harold remembered. He remembered where his bedroom window was, when there was a moon. It was always right around the moon. And then Harold made his bed. He got in it and drew up the covers. The purple crayon dropped on the floor. And Harold dropped off to sleep.”

harold back in own room

Buddhist Mudras & Their Meanings

What is a Mudra?

Mudras are a form of silent communication using hand gestures and finger positions. In Buddhist practice, they represent certain concepts or states of mind, such as compassion, fearlessness, or wisdom. As put by one source, Mudras are external expressions of “inner resolve” that not only replace but can be more powerful than the spoken word.

Many mudras are represented in statues and other artistic representations of the Buddha. Knowing the significance of these poses enhances our appreciation of Buddhist practice and helps in deciding where to place art objects in the home or meditation studio. According to the Buddhist magazine, Tricycle, every Mudra has both a symbolic, or outer, and experiential, or inner, function, communicating aspects of the enlightened mind to both the person performing the posture and the observer.

Mudra is a Sanskrit work that literally means a posture or seal, notes Fractal Enlightenment. They are used in yoga, together with Pranayama (breathing exercises) to revitalize the flow of energy to different parts of the body. Tibetan, Zen, Theravada, and Mahayana Buddhism all use mudras during mindful meditation. Following are 8 of the most commonly used Mudras and their meanings.

8 Common Mudras

Dhyana Mudra (Meditation)

8 common buddhist mudras meditation

The Dhyana Mudra is one of the most commonly seen in Buddhist statues, representing meditation, concentration and spiritual awakening. The hands rest in the lap, with the back of the right hand on top of the palm of the left hand and thumbs touching lightly together. The positioning of the hands, with one atop the other, represents transcending the world of appearance through enlightenment. It is the pose that Buddha assumed under the Bodhi tree to fend off attack by the demon armies of Mara.

Bhumisparsha Mudra (Touching the Earth)

In this Mudra, the left hand rests in the lap with palm facing upward while the right hand hangs down with palm inward, pointing to the earth. The pose represents the Buddha’s moment of enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, when he called the earth to bear witness to his triumph over the demons.

Bhumisparsha Mudra

Abhaya Mudra (Fearlessness and granting protection)

The Abhaya Mudra shows the right hand raised with fingers pointing upward and palm facing out, while the left arm remains next to the body. It indicates the absence of fear and is meant to reassure others and free them from fear. It is used as a gesture of protection and blessing. The Buddha assumed this pose immediately after enlightenment.

Buddha statue with imparting fearlessness gesture

Varada Mudra (granting wishes)

In the Varada Mudra, the right arm hangs down with the palm facing outward, with fingers fully extended, empty and exposed to the observer. It is the Mudra of generosity, representing charity, offering, and sincerity. This pose is often combined with the Abhaya Mudra, so that a statue would show the right hand making a gesture of fearlessness and the left hand one of generosity or wish granting.

Vitarka Mudra (Teaching)

In the Vitarka Mudra, the right hand faces outward with the thumb and index finger touching each other to form a circle. The left hand rests in the lap. It refers to the teaching phase of the Buddha’s life when he concentrated on preaching and discussing the dharma. The circle represents eternal perfection, having neither beginning nor end.

Dharmachakra Mudra  (The wheel of law)

This Mudra shows the thumbs and forefingers of both hands touching to form a mystic circle, with left hand facing in and right hand out. The hands are held near the heart. It refers to a pivotal moment in the Buddha’s life when he preached his first sermon after his enlightenment and discussed the four noble truths. Dharmachakra means the Wheel of Law and is one of the eight auspicious symbols of Buddhism.

8 common buddhist mudras Dharmachakra

Buddhapatra Mudra (Alms bowl)

This Mudra is associated with Shakyamuni Buddha. The hands are placed horizontally at breast level, with one hand above the other as if holding an alms or begging bowl.

Anjali Mudra (Namaste greeting)

Namaste mudra

The Anjali Mudra is a universally recognized symbol of greeting and respect in Buddhism. It shows the palms together at heart level with fingertips pointed upward.

References & Resources

The following web sites were referenced in creating this post. Check them out if you’d like to read more about Buddhist history and practice.


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Plant the Seeds, Watch them Grow

Life Lessons from “Frog and Toad”

“Leave them alone for a few days. Let the sun shine on them, let the rain fall on them.

Soon your seeds will start to grow.”

from “The Garden”
The frog and Toad treasury, by arnold lobel

The Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel is among my favorite children’s book series. Lobel’s stories are labeled as “I can read” books in the Children’s section because they’re perfect for beginning readers. I first encountered them when my sons were very young and just starting to read sentences. Lobel’s tales impart life lessons using simple words, straightforward language, and engaging human-like animal characters. This description fits most high-quality children’s books. But it doesn’t fully capture the appeal of Frog and Toad. Lobel’s books were among a handful of favorites that we took home from the library week after week to read and re-read. I never tired of reading them and my sons never tired of listening. I still think of them today (and suspect they do too!)

Practice Patience

frog and toad treasury by arnold lobel

Lobel strikes a perfect balance between instruction and entertainment. My kids and I loved the illustrations and amusing plot lines and absorbed their wise yet subtle lessons. One of my favorites is “The Garden,” (see excerpt above, from The Frog and Toad Treasury). The storyline is simple. Toad, who typically looks to Frog for guidance on practical matters, admires Frog’s lush garden and asks how he can start his own. Frog gives him some flower seeds and tells him to plant them in the ground and wait.

However, Toad is impatient when the seeds don’t grow right away. He shouts at them, “Start Growing!” but that only makes matters worse. The seeds are likely too scared to grow now, observes Frog, and urges Toad to wait and let nature take its course. But Toad has to do something, so he tries a friendlier approach. He proceeds to sing songs, play music, and entertain his seeds with stories and poems. As nothing seems to work, he eventually drifts off to sleep. The next morning, he awakes to see tiny plants sprouting out of the ground.

Trust the Process

This story comes to mind whenever I feel like I’m spinning my wheels. I put a lot of time and effort into achieving a goal that seems perpetually out of reach. Growing a small business is a perfect example. The ultimate goal is to generate a full-time income doing something I love–to enjoy the fruits of a fully mature garden so to speak. According to business gurus, I should simply develop a roadmap with that goal in mind and methodically follow it through step-by-step. If I do all the right things–put out a quality product or service, know and engage with my customer base, be strategic about how I spend my time and money–the end is achievable.

However, like Toad, I get inpatient and start flying off in all sorts of directions. Maybe I should sell different products, provide different kinds of services, advertise in different places, or target different customers. Perhaps blogging is the key, or social media, or online courses and e-books. Or maybe this field is too crowded and I should go back to a regular job where I get paid without worrying about any of this stuff … it goes on and on. My logical, sensible side–my inner Frog–tells me that success will come eventually if I work hard and have patience. But at the same time my inner Toad impatiently yells in my other ear, “Don’t just stand there, DO SOMETHING!”

Follow your Heart

Interestingly, Lobel had a similar dichotomy of thought. He once reportedly commented that “Frog and Toad are really two aspects of myself.” He probably a gut feeling that his characters were compelling, but could he have predicted their phenomenal worldwide appeal? Could he have set a “goal” to write an all-time classic children’s series and methodically worked towards it? Probably not, because the end result is, ultimately, out of our control. The best we can do is trust our instincts, work hard, and wait. And consider ourselves fortunate if we manage to support ourselves at all–let alone achieve fame or recognition–by doing something we enjoy. In interviews before his untimely death (in 1987, at age 54), Lobel described himself as a daydreamer who “cannot think of any work that could be more agreeable and fun than making books for children.”

Chances are that we will eventually succeed if we fully commit to following a path with heart, with all the actual heavy lifting and day-to-day work that entails. Good things do occasionally happen to me. And I don’t necessarily know why. Is it the result of a specific strategy or effort? Or the natural result of steady hard work and attention to details? It’s likely a combination of both. A confluence of fate and deliberation. Yes, all my hard work matters. But I never know exactly what I did to make a specific good thing happen at a particular moment in time.

Have a Little Faith

frog and toad The Garden Arnold Lobel

Just when Toad gives up hope (“these must be the most frightened seeds in the whole world!” he laments at a low point), his seeds start to grow. It seems so true of many things in life. There are practical, useful strategies that we can and should pursue. It’s generally wise to save money, plan ahead, and work hard. However, none of these things guarantee success. Events might not, and often don’t, go the way we plan. We might not achieve our goals, but then again our goals might change over time. Happiness and fulfillment might look different than we thought it would, and happen in a way that we never imagined. At some point, we have to have a little faith that it will all work out in the end.

“At last,” shouted Toad, “my seeds have stopped being afraid to grow!” “And now you will have a nice garden too,” said Frog. “Yes,” said Toad, “but you were right, Frog. It was very hard work.”

“The Garden”
THE FROG AND TOAD TREASURY, BY ARNOLD LOBEL

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Tidying up, Mindfully: The Appeal of Marie Kondo's Approach to Organizing
Thoughts on Boredom: The Upside of Having Down Time

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Mexico’s Talavera Pottery

Rich Cultural History

Talavera is among the most popular styles of hand crafted Mexican pottery. It is one form of Majolica ceramics, which are known for their unique tin-glazing technique and intricate hand painted designs. The craft is centuries old and incorporates a diverse mix of cultural influences, beginning in the Middle East and extending to China, Italy, and Spain. Spanish craftsman introduced the technique to Mexico following the Spanish invasion in the 16th century. Mexican artists brought their own ingenuity to the form, resulting in what is now known as Talavera.

puebla mexico tile facade on building
Decorative, tiled baroque house facade in Puebla, Mexico

The term Talavera refers to the city of Talavera de la Reina in Spain. Around the beginning of the 17th century, the first Mexican factory opened in the city of Puebla, which remains the epicenter of authentic Mexican Talavera production. The first potters’ guilds were formed here to establish production standards and regulations. Uriarte Talavera, one of the oldest and best known factories, still operates in the city along with seven other certified producers in the region, according to All About Puebla. Major competitors include Talavera de la Reyna and Ansar Talavera. These factories continue to produce high-quality ceramics ranging from dinnerware to decorative tiles, which are on prominent display throughout the city.

How Talavera is Made

Creating Talavera pottery involves an elaborate and time consuming process that starts with selecting clay from in and around Puebla. Tierra Y Fuego outlines the steps as follows:

  • Ground clay is placed in containers, or piletas, and soaked in water for several days until it is the appropriate consistency for kneading by hand or feet.
  • After kneading, clay is rolled and cut into blocks. The clay blocks are left in closed dark rooms and then placed under the sunlight to dry for a few days.
  • Tiles and other ceramic pieces are fired in wood and/or gas kilns that will form them as bisque or jaguete. They are now ready for glazing.
  • Tile bisques are dipped into a chalky liquid glaze, which gives them their unique shine and color.
  • Finally, the pieces are fired again, at a temperature of approximately 1000°C. Brilliance and final coloration are determined by the temperature and kiln time.

The Finishing Touches

Skilled artists apply hand painted designs after the initial glazing. A key mark of a high-quality piece is its raised appearance and glossy sheen, as well as beautiful clear colors derived from natural mineral pigments. In the early days of production, blue was a mark of very high quality because the pigment needed to produce it was very expensive, notes Talavera.com. As a result, it was used for only the finest pieces. Additional colors such as green, mauve, and yellow were added during the 18th century.

After the final firing process is complete, pieces must be certified in order to qualify for commercial sale. The Talavera pottery produced in certified workshops in Puebla is officially recognized and protected by the Mexican government. Certified factories must follow a rigorous process and use clay from approved sites in the Puebla area. Once certified, pieces bear the signature of the potter, the logo of the workshop, and a special hologram denoting authenticity.

talavera pottery Mexico
Colorful Mexican pottery and ceramics at a streetside shop.

Recognizing Authentic Talavera

Talavera’s popularity has encouraged knockoffs so it’s wise to know what to look for. Here are some characteristics of genuine pieces, according to Talavera.com:

  • Talavera is made from a mixture of only two clays, a dark clay and a light, slightly rose-colored clay.
  • Clay comes from the Talavera geographic zone of Puebla and the communities of Atlixco, Cholula and Tecali.
  • Talavera is hand formed with a potter’s wheel or using molds, not poured.
  • Pieces are hand-painted and artists us six color pigments.
  • Talavera pieces have gone through two firings and ovens should be at least 800 degrees Celsius.

Today, Mexican Talavera is popular throughout America, especially the Southwest. In addition to colorful tiles, it is used in plates, bowls, planters, sinks, and decorative figures. These handmade ceramics are durable enough to use everyday in your kitchen but so beautiful that you will appreciate them as standalone art.

For More Information


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Thoughts on Boredom: The Upside of Having Down Time

Folk Art of Peru

Recently I acquired a collection of folk art made in Peru, and am reveling in the intricate handiwork of these (mostly unnamed) artisans. I’m particularly fond of a group of hand sewn panels and wall hangings that feature detailed scenes of village life and customs recreated in gorgeously vivid colors. These beautiful pieces are made of fabric called arpilleras, the Spanish word for sackcloth or burlap. Most will be listed in FindzShop but I could not resist setting aside a couple of favorites for myself!

Panels Depict Peruvian Life

The colorful arpilleras depict everyday life in Peruvian villages and the surrounding countryside. Tiny hand sewn people tend to gardens, go about their daily errands, and participate in traditional dances and celebrations. The details are incredible, with different colors and textures for the hair and individually crafted articles of clothing.

To make an arpilleras, the artist appliqués small objects made out of scraps of various materials, including fabric, vinyl, felt, straw, onto the base. In the photo shown above, for example, you can see how felt scraps were used leaves, vegetables, and other elements of the scene. The artists show unerring instinct for conveying different moods and emotions. A slight upward slant of the mouth or eyes, a head bent intently to a task or gazing tranquilly upward, arms flung about in dance–all wordlessly convey what is going on in the scene.

Celebrating Peru’s Traditional Dances

In one arpillera, people are dressed in traditional costumes performing the Marinera, a traditional Peruvian dance that reenacts a couple’s courtship using handkerchiefs as props. People look on in the stands above. This particular piece pays tribute to the Marinera Limeña, one of the oldest variations, involving elegantly dressed couples dancing to the rhythms of the guitar and cajón drum, according to an article in the Smithsonian. Other styles include the Norteña dance from Trujillo, which is more flirtatious and accompanied by a brass band, and the Mochera style, which reflects its North Coast rural origins in the dress style.

Another panel shows a dance performed in the old capital city of Cuzco, which is famous for its fiestas, according to Machu Travel Peru. The people of Cuzco express their identities through these dances. Each dance is tied to a particular community or region. Most are based on very old stories originating before the Spanish invasion of the Inca empire in the 1500s.

Art Reflects Peru’s Rich Cultural Heritage

The enduring appeal of Peruvian art is rooted in its long history of blending diverse cultures. As noted on the travel site Adventure life, organized villages were documented as early as 1500 B.C. Since that time, the country has been ruled by the Nazcas (architects of the famous geoglyphs); the mighty Incans; and the Spanish Conquistadors, until it gained independence in 1821. The two main surviving cultures descended from the Inca: the Quechua and the Aymara peoples. Both groups have preserved their native languages and customs. Today, Peru is a rich mix of Hispanic and native traditions that make for a vibrant artistic community.

I’ll close with a passage from Adventure life that describes how Peru has retained much of its mythical feel:

“The cultural capital of Cuzco provides a glimpse into the country’s proud history, as the center of the Sacred Valley and the explorer’s base for the lost city of Machu Picchu. The Quechua and Aymara, descendants of the Incas, weave threads of their culture with Spanish influences to create a rich Peruvian culture of art, architecture and music. A Peruvian traveler has the opportunity to see watch the sun set on the Pacific, climb the highest peak in the snow-capped Andes, and catch a glimpse of the pink river dolphin in the Amazon River.”

Don’t forget the llamas and alpacas–I’m ready to pack my bags!


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(Note: Featured image at top by kolibri5 on Pixabay).

Growing a Small Business: The Myth of Failure

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas A. Edison

Did you ever feel like you’ve just wasted a full day (or a week or a month) trying things that didn’t pan out? As someone trying to grow a small business,I feel that way pretty often. I get an idea or inspiration that launches a frenzy of activity. I feel inspired and energetic, certain that I’ve hit upon the thing I had been missing–that turning point, Eureka moment, or flash of insight that’s going to propel my business forward. I’ll go from fledgling startup to overnight success story! I’ll acquire a new set of “problems”– like how to fill orders fast enough or respond to the many queries stacking up in my Instagram account.

In reality, most ideas result in modest process improvements or slight upticks in sales, or fizzle out entirely. The energy and inspiration I felt in the beginning starts to wane as I go down various rabbit holes of investigation. I become intimidated by the competition or overwhelmed by the logistics of following through and end up retreating to my comfort zone. Then comes the realization that I’ve spent the better part of a week pursuing a lost cause and am wasting precious time–and panic sets in. The whole process usually ends with doubling down on what I was already doing, because at least it got me this far, right?

Missteps Essential to Discovery

The cycle can be depressing. However, what is the entrepreneurial process about if not trying new things? All the business gurus tell us that we have to fail to succeed. When you really think about it, “failure” is a misnomer. As Thomas Edison says in the quote above, failing is essential to the process of discovery. There’s value in knowing something doesn’t work. According to The Franklin Institute, between 1878-1880, Edison worked on at least 3,000 different theories to develop an efficient incandescent lamp. He never became hopeless or discouraged, although many of his associates and assistants would happily have thrown in the towel. It’s no wonder that the lightbulb has become a universal symbol for ideas and invention.

Trying new things doesn’t always turn out as we plan or hope but it’s almost always better than doing nothing, and it can yield unexpected benefits. At the very least, we will learn or experience something new. Better, that new lesson or experience might trigger a solution to a completely different problem–one we never otherwise would have solved or perhaps even tackled. We may “fail” to achieve whatever we initially sought but discover something potentially more valuable in the process.

Mistakes That Triggered Famous Inventions

History is ripe with such examples. Storypick’s list of 10 world-altering inventions that were made by mistake includes penicillin, the microwave oven, and X-ray images. A New York Times obituary of Wilson Greatbatch, inventor of the pacemaker, relays that Greatbatch’s crucial insight came while he was an assistant professor working on a heart rhythm recording device. He reached into a box of parts for a resistor to complete the circuitry and pulled out the wrong size. When he installed it, the circuit emitted electrical impulses very similar to the rhythm of a human heart. The realization launched him on a path that eventually led to the first implantable pacemaker device.

I don’t expect my ideas will ever change the world but I find these stories helpful in staying focused and motivated. Things change or improve when we take action. I sometimes find myself getting into a negative frame of mind, wondering, “when is something good going to happen to me?” Those kinds of thoughts lead nowhere. Nothing good (or bad) happens as long as I go along accepting the status quo–which is something I rejected when I started this business in the first place. “Nothin’ from nothin’ leaves nothin”, as the old song goes.

Wise Words for Inspiration

Below are a few more quotes from successful people that I find inspirational in times of doubt (find more on WisdomQuotes). Keep trying until you find what works!

  • Failure is simply an opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” Henry Ford
  • I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” -Michael Jordan
  • Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” – James Joyce
  • Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” – Albert Einstein
  • The only real failure in life is not to be true to the best one knowsBuddha

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Tidying up, Mindfully: The Appeal of Marie Kondo's Approach to Organizing
Thoughts on Boredom: The Upside of Having Down Time

Tidying up, Mindfully.

Marie Kondo strikes the perfect note for a generation focused on mindful, joyful living

You have to hand it to someone who turns organizing sock drawers into a transformative experience. But Marie Kondo has done just that. Most people have heard about the Japan-based tidying expert by now–her name and inspirational slogans seem to be everywhere. Star of the hit Netflix show, “Tidying up with Marie Kondo” and author of the bestseller, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” Ms. Kondo devised an approach to organizing that fits perfectly with today’s preoccupation with mindfulness and joyful, meaningful living.

Feel the Magic

Curious, I recently tuned into an episode of her Netflix show to see what all the fuss was about. Tiny in stature, Ms. Kondo literally sparkles as she enters a home, like a band of sunlight flooding a dark room. She makes me think of Cinderella’s fairy godmother, as if everything would indeed turn out fine now that she had arrived. In this particular episode, she helps a frazzled couple with two young children organize all of their belongings by category, instructing them to first thank and then discard any item that fails to “spark joy.” By the end of the episode, the house–which initially appeared to be a hopeless mess–was crisply pristine, the couple gazing at each other fondly while their toddler-age children happily fold clothes.

The show deliberately does not address the psychological disorder known as hoarding. Participants are messy but not dysfunctional. As a result, most viewers can relate to their predicaments, which seems to be a key aspect of the show’s appeal. These are regular folks who probably know deep down what needs to be done but for various reasons can’t pull themselves out of the quagmire they’ve descended into–both literally and metaphorically. They need help re-prioritizing, reevaluating, and mindfully putting their stuff–and their lives–back in order.

Focus on Joy

Ms. Kondo’s philosophy is, according to her web site: “Keep only those things that speak to the heart, and discard items that no longer spark joy. Thank them for their service – then let them go.”

This way of thinking is so much more in keeping with the modern mindset than some older shows that shamed people into getting their act together and forced them to painstakingly get rid of excess stuff, room by room. Not a word of gratitude or spark of joy in sight. Today, Instagram is full of inspirational quotes and messages along the lines of, “live your best life” or “do what you love now.” Marie Kondo is perfectly in tune with that sensibility. Having her in our homes a pleasure. She loves our sentimental treasures as much as we do and would never force us to throw away an object that brought a smile to our lips and/or hearts. She’s the opposite of tough love.

Get Started

I’m not sure I’ll become a regular watcher of the show but I have to admit to being influenced by just one episode. I’ve started to imagine my t-shirts lined up vertically in my dresser drawer in neatly folded parcels. What would it be like to open the drawer and simply pull out the shirt I wanted, without digging through a massive pile of (mostly unloved) shirts? Maybe I wouldn’t be frustrated enough to start throwing everything on the floor until the right one appears and cramming them all back inside so that the drawer barely closes. It hasn’t happened yet. But I’m starting to visualize those neat rectangles–and it sparks joy.


Famous Birthdays

Judy Blume (b. Feb. 12, 1938). One of my favorite childhood authors. “Are you There God, It’s Me Margaret” taught me more about getting through middle school than anything my parents disclosed.

Boris Pasternak (Feb 10, 1890 – 1960). The Russian novelist won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958 for Doctor Zhivago. I also loved the movie starring Omar Sharif and Julie Christie.

Thomas Edison (b. Feb. 11, 1847 – 1931). The inventor of the incandescent bulb, phonograph, movie camera, and much more. He’s known for saying “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” However, I also like a quote I saw displayed in my chiropractor’s office–further evidence that he was ahead of his time: “The doctor of the future will give no medication, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.”

Last Week in History

Feb. 11, 1990 – Nelson Mandela was released from prison in South Africa at age 71, after 27 years of incarceration for attempting to overthrow the racist apartheid government. He was elected president in 1994, in the first all-race elections.

Feb. 10, 1968 – At age 19, Peggy Fleming won the gold medal at the 1968 Olympic Winter Games in Grenoble, France.

Feb. 12, 2000Charles Schulz died, one day after his last Sunday original Peanuts comic strip was published.

Word of the Week

Gaggle. I love this word, which refers to a flock of geese, particularly when not in flight. Marion Webster also defines it as, “a group, aggregation, or cluster lacking organization,” opening up all kinds of possibilities for using it in everyday speech. Side note: when you type “gaggle of…” into Google‘s search box, the following top suggestions pop up: nuns, geese, turkeys, ducks, crows, hens, birds, witches, swans, and gay gooses.

Hanging with the Gaggle

Cool Link: Wild Black Leopard Photos

British wildlife photographer Will Burrard-Lucas took the first professional camera trap photos of a wild black leopard in Africa. Locals had reported sightings but no one had been able to capture him on film. Check out his photos published in The Guardian.  All you can see at first is a pair of bright penetrating eyes as this magnificent creature emerges out of the shadows.


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Thoughts on Boredom: The Upside of Having Down Time

Thoughts on Boredom

Maybe having nothing to do when we were kids wasn’t so bad

An article in the New York Times last week makes some excellent points about the up side of down time when you’re a kid. “Boredom teaches us that life isn’t a parade of amusements. More important, it spawns creativity and self-sufficiency,” writes Pamela Paul, editor of NYT’s Book Review. Just a few decades ago, parents were likely to say, “clean your room” or “go play outside” when their kids moaned about having nothing to do. But today, “subjecting a child to such inactivity is viewed as a dereliction of parental duty,” notes Paul. The modern conscientious parent fills their child’s schedule with enriching extracurricular activities, whether they like it or not.

The article took me back to my own childhood in the 1970s. During the summers, in particular, we spent many full days with nothing particular to do, and no suggestions or guidance forthcoming from our parents. We often complained of being bored, but in retrospect there were benefits. No one was planning our days so we had to come up with our own ideas. I read for hours a day, planned daylong hikes or bike rides with my friends (we were only about age 9-10 but there was never any talk of parents coming along), built elaborate forts with blankets, among other pursuits. Sometimes I read huge piles of “Archie” comics or just sat around daydreaming. Complaining to my Mom was a last resort–she could always come up with a bunch of household chores (none of which were particularly intellectually enriching or likely to help me get into a good college).

Interestingly, my parents had a book called “What to Do When There’s Nothing to Do.” I don’t really remember what was in it, or whether I ever followed any of its advice. But it inspired hope that someone had answers, and it was such a great title!

Famous Birthdays

James Joyce photo Portrait of the Artist

James Joyce. (b. Feb 2, 1882 – d. 1941). A sentimental favorite of mine. As an English major in college, I took a yearlong seminar on Ulysses where we read the entire tome aloud in class. At the end, we had to select one page as the topic for a 20-page paper. I developed a true appreciation for Joyce’s genius and am forever thankful to that professor for making us read the whole thing (I may never have done so otherwise). I also loved Dubliners and  Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (However, have never been able to get through Finnegan’s Wake...)

Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes (b. Feb. 1, 1902 – d. 1967). Born in Joplin, Mo., this influential American poet had a major influence on shaping the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s, according to his bio on poets.org. Unlike many of his contemporaries who were writing obscure, esoteric verses, Hughes poetry was unabashedly for the people: “He wanted to tell the stories of his people in ways that reflected their actual culture, including both their suffering and their love of music, laughter, and language itself.” You can link to his poems here. I like this excerpt from “Dreams:”

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly

Word of the Week

Coronal – a crown or garland. Originating in late Middle English, it’s also used in anatomy in relation to the crown area of the head, including the coronal plane and cornea of the eye. Here’s a sentence from Joyce’s Ulysses: “He encircled his gadding hair with a coronal of vine leaves, smiling at Vincent.”

Other Items of Interest

  • The New York Times published a photo feature about the history of ice skating in Central Park. I love the one of two sisters skating while eating ice cream cones at Wollman Rink in 1956 (I think I used to own a hat like the ones they’re wearing).
  • Flying squirrels can turn hot pink under ultraviolet light. No one knows yet exactly why but it’s a very cool thing to see!
  • Winterlude is in full swing in Ottawa, Ontario. The annual Canadian festival, which occurs during the first two weeks of February, features an international ice Carving competition and skating along the 4.8-mile Rideau Canal.
Winterlude Ottawa skaters on Rideau Canal
Skaters on Ottawa’s Rideau Canal (photo from Pinterest)

January Doldrums? Not in Scotland

Viking ships, torches, marching, and more!

Up-HellyAa, a fire festival started in 1876 on the Shetland Islands of Scotland that is still celebrated today on the last Tuesday of January. During the festival, squads of costumed “guizers” led by a “Jarl” march through town carrying torches that are eventually thrown into a specially made replica of a Viking longship. More marching and partying ensue–those crazy Scots! (Interested in witness it live? Visit the official Up-Helly-Aa web site).

Viking Dragon ship replica made for Up-Helly-Aa (photo from Shetland.org).

Famous Birthdays in January

Anton Chekhov (b. Jan. 29, 1860). The Russian-born playwright and master of the short story left a formidable legacy, despite dying of tuberculosis at the relatively young age of 44. In addition to penning classics like The Lady with the Dog, The Darling, and The Cherry Orchard, Chekhov was a practicing physician and supported his entire family after his father went bankrupt (he also cut a dashing figure, based on this photo). Reportedly he was quite modest, never anticipating his posthumous fame. Check out this Wikipedia page for links to many of his most well known stories and plays.

Franz Schubert. (b. Jan. 31, 1797). The famous composer’s life was remarkably similar in outline to another prodigy of the day, Amadeus Mozart. Both outgrew traditional lessons before they were 10, attracted the attention of Italian composer Antonio Salieri, and managed to be extremely prolific despite living short lives (Schubert was 31; Mozart 35). Reportedly, Schubert’s first teacher could do little more than look upon his pupil with “astonishment and silence.”

Word of the Week

Serendipity, used to describe a fortuitous unexpected discovery, was coined by the politician Horace Walpole back in 1754, according to Oxford Dictionaries. In a letter to a friend, Walpole said he based it on the fairy tale, The Three Princes of Serendip, because the heroes ‘were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of ’.

Links to Check Out

Nature Video. Watch this short clip posted by the Audubon Society to see the African black heron turn himself into an “umbrella” to catch prey.

Interesting Museum Exhibit. As we close out the first month of 2019, it’s interesting to browse this photo gallery of calendar systems posted by The Smithsonian. Love the artwork in this one from 1896.

From the Smithsonian’s calendar online exhibit.

Weekly Web Roundup

6 links worth checking out this week

  • This week in history: Edouard Manet, a pioneer in the Impressionist movement, was born on Jan. 23, 1832. Quite controversial in his day, the painter ignited a public uproar with his depictions of nude women in “indecent” poses. Also of note: He married his former piano teacher, Suzanne, who previously had a child out of wedlock–possibly fathered by Edouard’s brother.
  • Pulitzer prize-winning poet Mary Oliver died this month at the age of 83. She was “a phenomenon,” says the NY Times obituary, “a poet whose work sold strongly.” I like the opening lines of this winter poem: In winter / all the singing is in / the tops of the trees. You can read more of her work here.
  • Intriguing quote from an article about Tibetan sand mandalas: “it is truly a metaphor for human life…nothing and no one ever truly dies but just changes, growing at the same pace as the universe.” (From Ancient History Encyclopedia).
  • What would an ad for FaceBook or Twitter look like if it ran in the 1950s? The ad agency MaxiMedia has some interesting ideas.
  • The first frisbee was introduced on Jan. 23, 1957, in Bridgeport, CT. Partners Walter Frederick Morrison and Warren Franscioni got the idea from watching college students play with pie tins–they went onto produce a more durable plastic version dubbed the Flying Saucer. The toy company WHAM-O bought them out in 1958 and changed the name to Frisbee.
  • In the 1960s and ’70s, all the cool kids wanted an Ericofon, created by the Ericsson Company of Sweden. It was the first commercially marketed telephone to incorporate the dial and handset into a single unit, according to Vintage Everyday (which has some very cool photos.)

That’s it for this week! Hope you enjoyed these links. Subscribe if you’d like to receive these posts in your inbox every Friday, along with highlights of our latest listings in FindzShop.