Another happy birthday for me

Where I started. Graham Texas, Thursday, 11/6/58. Someone really should've put a blanket over me!
Where I started. Graham, TX, Thursday, 11/6/58. Someone really should’ve put a blanket over me!

 

This was such a spectacular year in my life, it boggles my mind. How can my life just keep getting better and better? And yet it does. These aren’t the best pictures from my year, or of each place, but they’re the ones I labeled “happy Lori” when I filed them away; this year,

 

We went back to Vietnam, and to a tiny fishing village on the coast of Thailand.

happy me, in Tam Coc
happy me, in Tam Coc Vietnam, in one of my favorite places: on a little boat in a gorgeous landscape

We went to southern China.

happy me, in the countryside around Yangshuo
happy me, in the countryside around Yangshuo — I was drunk on those karst mountains, man.

We went to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

happy, flying around Manistique Lake
happy, flying around Manistique Lake, getting to be part of a place that was important in Marc’s life.

Next week we’re off to Laos again, and back to that same tiny fishing village in Thailand.….so only the happy anticipation of that trip properly belongs with this year of my life.

My family grew so much this year!

Last Christmas, with my daughters and their families. We already knew Ilan was coming (obviously, look at Marnie!), but we didn't know Lucy would be coming, too.
Last Christmas, with my daughters and their families. We already knew Ilan was coming (obviously, look at Marnie!), but we didn’t know Lucy would be coming, too.

My grandson Ilan was born in March, and I got to be with Marnie and Tom in Chicago for a month, to welcome him to the world and to take care of their sweet family. Tom reached out to me this year in a way I will never, ever, ever forget (my eyes instantly fill with the hottest tears every time I think about it), and Marnie’s regular weekly phone calls to me are an ongoing treasure, more than she knows.

happy Pete, during a very quiet morning in the first couple of days of Ilan's life
happy Pete, during a very quiet morning in the first couple of days of Ilan’s life
And I got to go back and see him again when he was a few months old. ADORE.
And I got to go back and see him again when he was a few months old. ADORE.

My granddaughter Lucy was born in Austin in September, and I got to stay with sweet Oliver so Katie and Trey didn’t have to worry about any of that, and then I got to welcome Lucy home. The easy chances I have to see Katie, opportunities to spend time with her (which I love, she’s so sweet and funny and smart), opportunities to help out a little and be their regular old Pete, those moments are the real stuff of life and are a big glory in my heart.

so happy to hold my sweet little Lucy girl
so happy to hold my sweet little Lucy girl, applet of my eye
so happy dancing with Oliver, and swimming, and walking our very slow walks together
so happy dancing with Oliver, and swimming, and walking our very slow walks together, and listening to him call me Pete.

The BEST Halloween costumes — their mamas are so creative.

I got to cast my vote for a woman, for president. Two heroes entered my psychological world this year: Hillary, for the way she just keeps moving forward, she never gives up EVER, you knock her down and she gets right back up, ready to work as she has for at least 30 years; and John Lewis for his quiet persistence for 40 years. When I feel like giving up, I always think of them both, now. This year they joined Mister Rogers in my own personal pantheon.

happy and crying, my steady companion combo
happy and crying, my steady companion combo, but especially present as I voted.

I read so many wonderful books this year; especially, I found Vivian Gornick, Lidia Yuknavitch, Irene Nemirovsky, and Lucia Berlin, new favorites; Nemirovsky died in the Holocaust and Berlin is also gone, so I can only cherish the books they left behind — but Gornick and Yuknavitch (the latter most especially) are still writing, and on my forever watch list, now. My beloved poetry group continued meeting at my place throughout the year, and they shared so much extraordinary poetry with me, and taught me so many things I can never repay them. Our monthly meetings focused simply on reading and talking about poetry, all of us hyper-thrilled about that, what a pinch-me gift, man.

I spent time with so many beautiful friends in Austin and New York — and made new friends, too, an ongoing source of joy, to make new friends at this stage of my life. I’m so lucky to have friends who take me as I am. And I’m also lucky to have friends all over the world (shouting out especially to my antipodean beloveds, whose love I feel this far away, but also to friends in England and France and Canada. I fear this makes me seem like an extremely old person going on and on about these new-fangled devices called telephones, but I was once again blown away by Laura, calling me from Perth to sing Happy Birthday to me).

I’m always shy about getting a picture of us together, and I don’t know why — I so love having your pictures.

cindy
getting mehndi with my Cindy; I thought about using the photo of us celebrating my birthday together, but I liked the rhyme of “mehndi with my Cindy.”
don
my darling, precious friend Don, who calls himself (and is, in my life) my Jewish father.
girls
A subset of the “book club” women, my dear friends. Some are missing from this picture, (Anne, Diane, Jen….) but always with me otherwise.
nancy
Nancy, my boon companion and quirt-wielder and I don’t know what I’d do without her.
sherlock
Sherlock, one of my oldest, dearest friends. I wish I had a picture with Peggy.

This year I tried oysters and now cannot get enough. If I had a million dollars I would eat a million oysters. Thanks, Sherlock, for showing me how to eat them. And thanks, Nancy, for eating them with me too.

from the first batch, eaten with Sherlock
the first dozen, eaten with Sherlock
Also, I kept eating donuts. Because OBVIOUSLY.
Also, I kept eating donuts. Because OBVIOUSLY.
Marc's surprise for my early birthday celebration. He knows me. :)
Marc’s surprise for my early birthday celebration. 🙂
I got to make lots of delicious food for loved ones throughout the year, and even when the cake stuck, it was still MIGHTY GOOD.
I got to make lots of delicious food for loved ones throughout the year, and even when the cake stuck, it was still MIGHTY GOOD.

I went back and forth to New York City, and while that’s also quite hard and wearing, I never fail to also feel so lucky, like I get the best of two very different worlds. Marc and I continue to find our way to make things work for us, and I’m so grateful for that. When I’m in Austin, his morning texts start my day off with great joy (and usually mystery), and when I’m in NYC I delight in his delight in making food for me, and in the way he always takes my hand. We both grew this year in ways that were good for us individually, and definitely that were good for us together. Would I have dreamed any of this was possible in late 2012? NO. Even though I love every gritty, urban street and curb and subway platform (well, almost), I never get tired of walking in Riverside Park, ever.

park-snow
my beautiful park during the epic snowstorm
parksummer
and on any day in the spring, summer, or fall
Marc and I walk in the park every day, at least once
Marc and I walk in the park every day, at least once

I survived a few very hard things — in largest part because of my own strength, forged and honed over my 58 years of sometimes-difficult life, and in critical part because I have the best friends, who check on me all the time, like Dixie inevitably does and always at the right moment; who say my name to me over and over when I’m lost, like Nancy did when I was despairing one night; who call me darling, like Anne does when I’m in deep need; who sit next to me at parties or anywhere else when I’m barely there and help me through, like Lynn did at a big happy birthday party; who reach their hands out to me in ways immediate and virtual (oh gosh, all of you), and who also laugh with me, and share themselves, which is my favorite thing. The violent reappearance of my brother, after decades, and with scary threats, was probably my worst trouble this year, in ways most people can’t understand. That one nearly done the old girl in…..but I’m still here, blowing and going. And speaking of that, a book was dedicated to me this year:

I cry no matter how many times I read it.
I cry no matter how many times I read it.

I didn’t have nearly enough work all year; another year has passed without my son, an ongoing pain I’m not always sure I can bear; I caught the flu a couple of times, the worst on our terribly long travel day from Can Tho to Ho Chi Minh City to Bangkok to Trat to Mairood; the Republican candidate for president has left me feeling terrorized all year and I am praying so hard that goodness prevails; and as stressful as those things might be in moments, they pale in comparison to all the rest. Yep, being 57 was amazing. I’m the luckiest person in the whole world, with the best life, far better than I ever dreamed it could be, it would be.

Fifty-eight. Amazing.
Fifty-eight. Amazing.

Let me tell you this. It’s really a privilege getting to be 58. I’m proud of it! It’s a privilege to have lived so many years, to have seen the wonders and survived the pain; it’s a privilege to learn and grow; it’s a privilege to soften and open. My hair has more bright silver in it — so beautiful! Why would I want to pretend that isn’t true? When I smile, now, you can see the evidence of all the years I’ve smiled. My skin is changing, my memory isn’t the same, and that’s OK because it’s part of it, and I’m grateful to have the chance to have every part of it, every last bit.

Thank you for being in my life with me, in whatever form you’re here. Thank you for the words, the touches, the drinks and breakfasts and lunches and dinners, the happy hours, the notes, the calls, the many, many ways you hold our connection. Your presence, your words, your friendship, and your faithfulness mean the world to me, and I count myself so lucky to you know. Happy birthday to me, and now on to the next! oxoxoxoxox

abecedarian

What are the things from your childhood that brought you such great delight, and that still bring you that same kind and degree of delight? And not just in a nostalgic way, like a sweet memory—ah, I really used to love playing with Lincoln Logs and TinkerToys (I did)—but the same delight now? Mine, quite reliably, are

  • pillbugs
  • trilobytes
  • dinosaur eggs
  • the ABCs

The whole pillbug thing is obvious, given where you’re reading this. I just love them so much, and I do sincerely have this little pretending that I’m their queen, but only [still] in the most benevolent way. People always send me news stories they read about pillbugs. 🙂

trilobyteAnd trilobytes! They deserve that exclamation point! It’s not shown on the cover, but that book actually has an exclamation point after the word trilobyte in the title. (If you want to read it but don’t want to spring for the book, here’s the full text, for free.) Trilobytes are cool, man. So cool. And I don’t know why, but my copy, received as a gift the year the book published, spells the word correctly, with a y, and does have the exclamation point. Hmmm.

eggsDinosaur eggs, my dearest, fondest, most intense dream for myself when I was five was to grow up to be a paleontologist and discover dinosaur eggs in the Gobi Desert. Oh how I longed to do that. I think a big cache had been found in those years and it just dazzled me. The idea that dinosaurs came out of eggs was just so mind-blowing, and I longed to whisper away the sand to see the long curve of one of those eggs. Also: Mongolia? I want to go there so so badly. Ugh. Still do, probably never will get to go.

And it’s not that I like to sing the ABC song, nor is it an appreciation for the alphabet because it makes words and I love words and sentences and paragraphs and books oh books(!), it’s a thrill about the letters themselves, how they evolved, how they came to be, how we use them, how we change them, the way these little squiggles get bent along the way. When I was a kid we had a set of World Book Encyclopedias at home, just like these:

wb

I read every word of every entry in every volume, beginning at A and ending in Z. Examined every chart — and they were clever, like the one that showed cotton production rates in cotton states used a little cartoon boll, one boll represented however many tons or bales or whatever the unit of measurement, so I’d count the bolls for each state and multiply and just have such fun with that. Cow heads for beef production. (Clearly the ones I remember most easily related to Texas.) I studied every picture, read every footnote, every reference citation. Beginning to end, repeat. In between I’d read the dictionary, a never-ending source of joy, a rabbit hole I’d love to get lost in.

But the reason the World Book is relevant here is that each volume opened with an entry about the letter itself. There were drawings of the various ways the letter had been written, by such mysterious people as the Phoenicians and the Sumarians and the Romans and the Greeks, the way each group changed it, how it was pronounced and from what it was derived. Although I loved almost all the entries in the whole encyclopedia (but not the one with the lamprey, I still remember hating that one), it was the ones about the letters of the alphabet that made me feel so excited I almost couldn’t hold it. Literally. I felt filled with electricity and wonder. Phoenicians! They were sea-going people, wow, Phoenicians. Their version of the letter reflected their culture, wow. All that excitement is filling my body just writing these words, it is so compressed in my chest I feel like maybe I need to get up and run in a little circle for a bit.

I follow The House that Lars Built on Instagram, always so inspirational, and it turns out that she does a book club! (Follow here, it’s amazing.) The last book they read was Drew Barrymore’s memoir, and when she announced the next one…. ALPHABETICAL! A book about the alphabet!! It’s a whole book, an expanded version exactly of those little entries in the World Book. Obviously I had to get it. It’s so rare that I buy a physical book, but come on. The alphabet.

abcHow every letter tells a story, the subtitle. I’m just in the A so far, but it’s been thrilling. I meet my old friends the Phoenicians. There is a luxury of time and space, so the information about the letters is much more involved, and he is as twitterpated by the alphabet as I am, so he writes with such wonder about this system we have created.

Want to know about A?

‘A’ starts its life in around 1800 BCE. Turn our modern ‘A’ upside down and you can see something of its original shape. Can you see an ox’s head with its horns sticking up in the air? If so, you can see the remains of that letter’s original name, ‘ox,’ or ‘aleph’ in the ancient Semitic languages. By the time the Phoenicians are using it in around 1000 BCE it is lying on its side and looks more like a ‘K’. Speed-writing seems to have taken the diagonals through the upright, making it more like a horizontal form of our modern ‘A’ with the point on the left-hand side. The ancient Greeks called it ‘alpha’ and reversed it, with the point on the right-hand side, probably because, eventually, they decided to write from left to right. Between around 750 BCE and 500 BCE the Greeks rotated it to what we would think of as its upright position. The Romans added the serifs which you can see on inscriptions like Trajan’s Column in Rome.

I wish there were more drawings, I’d like to see that A on its side, first to the left then to the right (the World Book showed all the variations), but that’s OK. His own delight in the material is happy-making.

And of course he speaks more broadly about these issues. I loved this line: “It seems odd to think that the reason why I say a ‘j’ sound and that there is a letter for that sound is because, nearly a thousand years ago, in the wars between the tribal warlords of northern Europe, a French-speaking group got the upper hand in the part of the world where I happen to live.”

I don’t know why my tiny-girl delight still lives in me so purely at the age of 57, but isn’t that a gift? You probably don’t have this thing with the alphabet, but I’m sure you have your own things like this. Of course as always I’d love to hear about them. I think these things, especially, are tremendous gifts to us, and they tell us something about each other. I can also see that my childhood delights are indicators of the grown-up I would someday become. Add in donuts and I am complete. 🙂

silence and thinking

So obviously I’m having a hard time coming here to write. I think the truth is that I’m in a bit of discomfort with an unexpected consequence of the changes I made more than a year ago. Most of the consequences have been remarkable, and positive, and self-reinforcing. But you know what’s really weird? The quiet inside me doesn’t feel uniformly good. Maybe that shouldn’t be surprising — nothing is uniformly one thing — but still, it surprises me.

I’ve been waiting, letting this discomfort be, because for all I know it’s just that I’m not used to peace! I’m not, that’s true. So prolonged periods of peace and quiet make my nerve endings start to itch just a little bit. I don’t want to stir up trouble, it isn’t that; it’s more like I’m waiting for that shoe to drop, the one that hangs over my head like a piano dangling on a hair-width thread. I’ve been just letting this discomfort be as I adjust to this new version of normal. Of course the shoe drops in everyone’s life, and it will drop again in mine, and that is just the truth of the world. Just like breathing, and loving, and laughing.

Another aspect of it is that inner quiet, in my life’s experience, has come along with the black dog of depression. One version of it brings a blank mind, a blank heart, that kind of bleak emptiness that isn’t the huge pain of other versions, but is its own kind of pain. I’m not depressed, but that quiet has always been part of that depression — so I have also been just letting it be so I can learn a new association with it, break the link that inner quiet EQUALS depression. I wondered if, with enough time, I wouldn’t still have that whispered wondering . . . no, my quiet is just quiet. It isn’t that depression is slouching around in the corners. It’s just quiet.

And maybe it’s also just so incredibly new, even as it’s been part of my inner make-up for just over a year now. So in a 57-year life, one year has been quiet inside, but the other 56 were thrashing! I have so much experience with a frenzied inner life, a racing mind, and only one year of experience with this quiet. Just because it’s generally good, that doesn’t mean it’s immediately and happily incorporated. It’s like walking around with a quiet little pea in my shoe.

So I feel unsettled a little bit. I still feel suspicious of it, a little bit. I frown, turn my head slightly and squint my eyes out of the left corner as if I can get a closer look. What is this? My old-style thoughts arise, thoughts I have neurotically chased around trees, around and around and around, but they now seem obvious, already understood, trivial, temporary, unimportant, whatever. Bubbles.

I have a couple of little thoughts to share, recommendations, etc., so here goes:

  • Make this recipe immediately. Use fresh corn on the cob if it’s available — in a pinch you can use frozen, if it’s winter for instance, but the fresh corn really makes it. Fresh lime juice. Good avocados. Cilantro. Red peppers. Olive oil. Black beans. Garlic and shallots. My goodness. Everyone I make it for goes nuts for it (not my recipe, I just follow the instructions), and it’s so so easy to make. You can also add some sliced cherry tomatoes if you like, I’ve done that and it’s good, but all the variations I’ve tried have not improved the original recipe. I’m not even a fan of red bell pepper but it’s so great in this recipe. Dang. And yum.
  • I always feel a bit anxious saying something about “who I am” because it might just be my little fantasy of who I am, and maybe your eyes will grow wide and you’ll think, seriously?? You are the opposite of that! I thought about this when I saw a man I know post something on Facebook about how being a gentleman is a matter of choice, and he makes that choice every day. Eyes wide, right here. I met him when I first moved to Austin and was as devastated as I could be. We met in a social group and he started hitting on me, HARD, and I told him I was only looking for friends, absolutely nothing more. He agreed and said he was too, and then he went right back to groping me. And every time we were in the same space he groped me. Once he just showed up at my house uninvited and unannounced. Perhaps we just have different meanings for that word. (But seriously, if I ever do that, just nudge me and say, “eyes wide right here” or something.)
a glimpse of the timeline view
a glimpse of the timeline view
  • I have a fabulous gratitude app to recommend! It’s called DayOne, and it’s free, and I’ve used it for the last 229 days, ever since Laura recommended it to me. I loved the old one I used, but the site closed down. One thing I love about DayOne is that, since it’s a phone app, you have the ease of adding a photo to each day’s entry. The photo doesn’t necessarily have to be the thing you’re noting gratitude for, of course (took me a long time to realize that, silly). You can also tag each entry, so if, for instance, I want to see all the posts I’ve written noting gratitude for Katie, I can tap that tag and see them one after another. It’s fantastic, no kidding.

My bad tummy the whole time in NYC was probably due to the fact that I ate 30 pounds of Marc’s amazing homemade pickles. Plus two pounds of his gravlax. And otherwise, I ate nothing but enormous raw salads — his Greek salad three times, huge chunks of cucumbers and tomatoes and onions, with dill and pepperoncinis and olive oil and kalamatas, and feta; his amazing Caesar salad twice, with homemade dressing, that coddled egg, lots of garlic, and fresh parmigiana, and anchovy, and olive oil. Morning green smoothies, yeah, but otherwise it was just lots and lots of cucumbers in various forms. (Seriously, I ate 30 pounds of pickles. I’m not kidding about that.)

Aside from that, here are a few pictures of the last few days of my life:

driving home from Dallas under that huge blue sky
I just never, ever get tired of a Texas sky. Never.
after all the pickles, it’s a relief to juice — this was carrots, cucumbers, celery, ginger, strawberries, and a dash of turmeric.
the reason for my quick round-trip to Dallas — lunch with my beautiful, dear Dixie and her daughter and grandchildren. Plus her husband, taking the picture, and her father-in-law. It was a table full of beauty. (And aren’t I a giant?)

OK, so HI, I’ve missed you, I’ve missed wanting and needing to write, and I hope you’re having a good Saturday. Hope to write again soon. xoxoxoxoL

skin in the game

And now for something completely different! I need something different; I think my response to the Charleston massacre was deeper than I knew, because I had a couple days of random and weird symptoms like sudden tremendous puking and migraines. Nothing else, just those things. Even now, when I think about the massacres my stomach comes up into my throat.

But here’s the completely different deal, and it’s a light topic for a change (what wouldn’t be, after monsters and a massacre). I have a recommendation to share, a way to baby and pamper yourself deliciously for very little money. It’s a sugar scrub, and it’s $9.99:

oh, the sumptuous smell
oh, the sumptuous smell

I keep it in the shower, and after I’ve finished everything else I scoop out a bit and rub it on my arms and shoulders and legs and feet (the tops of my feet and my heels, don’t want to slip in the shower). It feels so great, the sweet roughness of it, and the scent is not at all overwhelming. When I dry off after my shower (easy because the water is beaded on me wherever I rubbed the scrub), my skin feels so soft and smooth. It leaves such a light, light scent you have to put your nose against me to smell it, but when you do that it’s a deep complex smell — frankincense and myrrh, no idea what those should smell like. That’s the way I think scents should be: only smellable when you’re that close. The bathtub isn’t slippery from using it, which frankly surprised me. Even a week of using it every day didn’t leave the tub slippery. At all.

That jar has lasted me two months, so that’s $5/month for some deep pampering. I bought it at Target, but when I went to buy a new jar they seem to have stopped carrying it. Luckily I found it online, and cheapest from the company itself. Other sites sell it for up to $35! I don’t remember what I paid at Target, but it can’t have been less than $9.99. I like the company’s history, too, and they offer all kinds of products beyond this. I like what they don’t put in their products, and I love that their products have been “tested on our family for four generations” — and not on animals. They also donate 10% of their sales to causes that feel right for their company, and for the world. I’m obviously a huge fan, but it starts and ends in how great the product is. All those other things land in between and make me happy, but the scrub is so wonderful it sells me all by itself.

Softly yours,
the queen

the best: sleepy time app

There are all kinds of reasons you might want some sound help falling asleep. In New York, we always have to turn on the white noise machine on Friday nights because trash pick-up begins before dawn (and very noisily) right outside our bedroom window and goes on for several hours as a series of trucks comes down the block. Before trash pick-up begins, people sort through all the bags collecting bottles, and it sounds like they smash the bags and bottles on the ground. So yeah, white noise required.

It’s very quiet here in my sweet little Austin home, and sometimes it’s a bit too quiet. I often put the television on, low volume, with the sleep timer set for an hour or so, and that’s OK I suppose but it’s also kind of distracting. If I keep the volume low enough to avoid distraction, it hardly serves its purpose. And then there’s the light, which is not good for sleep, or so I’ve heard.

App to the rescue! I’ve tried all kinds of apps (in case you’ve tried them too, I’m comparing this one to Sleep Cycle, Calm, and Rainy Mood) but this one really hits it out of the park for my needs, anyway. It’s called (surprise!) WHITE NOISE and I think it’s available for all platforms. I like it despite the fact that it’s endorsed by Dr. Oz, who I may have unfairly lumped in with Saint Oprah.

white noise

 

I set it for both sides of sleep, the “going to” and the “getting up.” It comes with 40 sounds built in:

yeah, it kind of IS a miracle
yeah, it kind of IS a miracle

Air,  Airplane, Amazon, Beach, Blue Noise, Boat, Brown Noise, Car Rain, Cars, Cat Purring, Chimes, City, Clock, Clothes Dryer, Crickets, Crowd, Extreme Rain, Fan, Fireplace, Frogs, Hair Dryer, Heavy Rain, Heartbeat, Light Rain, Ocean, Pink Noise, Rain Storm, Shower, Sprinkler, Stream, Tibetan Singing Bowl, Thunder, Train, Vacuum, Violet Noise, Washer, Water, Water Drip, White Noise, Wind

I go to sleep to Rain Storm (which has a bit of thunder and lightning, but not at all frightening), and I set it to play for an hour, usually, which is long enough to get me to sleep no matter what. I keep my phone face down and the screen clicked off so there is no light, just the beautiful sound of a rain storm. I set the Tibetan Singing Bowl to wake me up, and it fades after 10 seconds (you choose that setting). It’s a beautiful muted gong-type sound if you aren’t familiar with it, just a lovely quiet tone to bring me up out of sleep. You can set the alarm to repeat any number of days (your options are M T W Th F S S) so you might have one setting for weekdays and one for weekends.

If you sleep next to someone this might not work for you. But for those nights you are restless and/or by yourself, I cannot recommend this one enough. Going to sleep is now a really enjoyable period of time and I find that my mind isn’t all over the place in the same way. For my money (this app is free!), it’s the best sleep app.

Y’all have a wonderful weekend! Mine is going to be lovely, and I hope yours is the same. xo

the best: gratitude-noting system

Benefits_of_GratitudeI know that we’re all bored of hearing about how great and important it is to be grateful. “Cultivate an attitude of gratitude.” *Yawn.*

But of course it is a very cool thing to regularly note the things you have to be grateful for. The reasons your life is wonderful, even if it’s not feeling very wonderful.

I’ve tried every system known to woman. I’ve bought dozens of beautiful little notebooks and a similar dozens of nice pens — each set aside just for this thing. That didn’t stick. I’ve bought regular old cheap spiral notebooks like you use in school, and plain old Bic pens. Didn’t stick. I’ve created Excel worksheets (my fave!), I’ve made countless Word documents saved on my computer, I’ve tried different things on my blog, none of it ever stuck. I tend to have a grateful attitude anyway, but I wanted to try to systematically pay attention to it to see what would happen for me.

And then I found Grateful 160. And I have not missed a single day since October 22, 2012. Not one day. And in that period I’ve taken several big trips to the other side of the world — but I did it even then. No matter what, no matter what. The day my life fell apart and I flew to Austin to start over from scorched earth? Yep, that day too. The many days I’ve been lost to depression here and there since October 22, 2012? Yep, those days too. There have been 3 or 4 days since I started where I felt so bleak I just couldn’t think of anything, and preferring honesty, on those days I wrote “Today I cannot think of anything.”

When you sign up on the website (http://grateful160.com/) you set up your preferences. You can get a contact 1, 2, 3, or 4 times a day. Your contact can be an email or a text. And you decide what time of day. Once a day is enough for me, and mine comes in an email in the late afternoon. It looks like this:

the specific greeting changes (Salutations! Good evening! etc) but this is what I get every afternoon
the specific greeting changes (Salutations! Good evening! etc) but this is what I get every afternoon

So all I have to do is click ‘reply’ and type something, then click send. DONE. Usually my responses are about people, but not always. Sometimes it’s the same person for several days in a row. Your responses are saved for you on the website, and on Friday the system emails you with your responses for the week. I LOVE THAT PART. Each Friday I get to look back at what was good in my week, and remember the things that made me write that answer each day.

this is how they're saved on the website
this is how they’re saved on the website

I’ve shocked myself by being faithful to this system, and for so long! It’s one of the few things like this that I’ve ever stuck with, and I believe I’ve stuck with it because it’s made simple for me. I don’t have to go track down anything, I don’t have to go find a pen, I don’t have to remember any passwords or where I put the damn thing. I just click reply, type a few words, and click send. SIMPLE. If I’m away from home, I always have my phone with me and can answer that way. (No need to carry around a paper notebook so I’m sure I don’t forget!) Some days the hard part is just picking a thing or two out of everything there is, but some days the hard part is the struggle to see what’s there. And those days it’s most important to do it.

This “the best” post is a two-fer — a question and its answer, kind of. The best thing you can do on a daily basis is think about what you have to be grateful for, to develop that habit. And the best way you can not just start the habit but easily keep it up is to use this brilliant little system.

Happy Sunday — today I’m grateful for the sun. And you. xo

the best: notes/list app

Miguel de Unamuno wrote a very modern book first published in 1914, called Mist. Here’s a line from the Amazon blurb:

First published in 1914, “Mist” exemplified a new kind of novel with which Unamuno aimed to shatter fiction’s conventional illusions of reality. It is an antinovel that treats its fictionality ironically.

Well, it’s also hilarious in places. You wouldn’t think that could be true, for an antinovel that treats its fictionality ironically, would you? I quote this line from it all the time, partly because it’s just so true, partly because as I get older it just gets truer, and partly because it’s hilarious:

The best mnemonic device is a notebook in your pocket.

I know people swear by mnemonic tricks like putting mental images of the thing you’re trying to remember in a very strange place to make it distinctive (“the silver head of lettuce is in the fork of the elm tree”), but that’s way too much work for my overworked brain. Anyway, I’d rather use all that brain ATP on other stuff, so I’m good with a notebook in my pocket.

Actually, it’s not a notebook it’s my phone, because come on it’s the 21st century. For the last year I’ve just used the little built-in Notes app that comes automatically on the iPhone, and it’s been just fine enough but also overwhelming. At one point I had approximately 30 notes, each of which contained dozens of unrelated things I wanted to remember. If we’ve spent any time together, I’ve shown it to you, I’m sure, because it was stupid. Thing after thing after thing after thing, and I had no idea what any of it meant anymore.

Wunderbar! Wunderlist! I love it so, I can't help it.
Wunderbar! Wunderlist! I love it so, I can’t help myself.

Introducing a new feature here in the palace, no regular schedule for these “the best” posts, but when I have something I’ll share it. I found the very best notepad/list app, by far. It’s called Wunderlist (free download for Apple here, and Android here).

There’s a free version and a paid version, and the free version has everything you’d need unless you work on a team and need to share lists back and forth and make changes to others’ lists. Seems like those kinds of teams surely have a different system than an app on their phones. Anyway. The free version is great.

It comes with built-in lists already made, though you can delete them. They’re pretty standard: inbox, private, work, shopping, movies to watch, wishlist, books to read. You can delete those, you can add others, but so far those have captured everything I need.

It’s simple to use, and just like a list you’d make on paper. Throughout the week when I run out of something I just add it to my shopping list, then when I’m at HEB there it all is, and I click the box and it gets crossed out and moved off the list. Makes shopping a piece of cake (note to self: put cake on the list) and I haven’t been forgetting anything since I started this. I always have my phone with me, so it’s simple to add things as I see I’ve run out.

And I’m always getting book and movie recommendations from people, always, so the Books to Read list is really useful. The next time I’m scouting around for a new book, I can go straight to this list. You can say as much as you want, so when I add a book I note who recommended it and any pertinent comment they made. I don’t know about you, but when I collect a long list of books that I really really really wanted to read, but look at the list later, I can’t remember why any of them felt urgent. It’s such a useful app.

Sure, I guess I could’ve done this in Notes — made one note that was titled Books, one titled Shopping, but that wouldn’t have had the automated strike-out feature that’s so helpful. It syncs across all your devices, if you have multiple devices (I guess that’s you iPhone plus iPad folks). Right now it’s the most useful app I have on my phone. When I’m traveling, the travel apps are most useful, but this one is useful every day, under all my circumstances.

Happy list-making to you, you wunderful people. 🙂