Tag: Ann Patchett

Happiness Hacks For August 2017: Bring More Gratitude Into Your Life

Posted on August 31, 2017 by

August! An exciting, anxious month for many of us and sadly, ending with weather disasters from west to east…with friends losing their homes, their hopes, their happiness, it’s all the more reason to take a minute and read my Happiness Hacks for August 2017 Bring More Gratitude Into Your Life.

This month, I’ve had some great moments traveling, setting up my classroom, visiting with old friends and starting year 27 of teaching middle school. Along the way, I found happiness and gratitude!

Happiness Hacks for August 2017 Bring More Gratitude Into Your Life

A Little Bit of Reading Time:

The summer months are my best times for plowing through my stacks of books to be read – and I made a good dent in August. Two of my favorites were by Dani Shapiro – her memoirs Devotion and Hourglass. Wow – I couldn’t get enough of either one, finding myself wanting to shout out loud, “Hey, me too!” on nearly every page. Reviews to come.

A surprise read was Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing In The Rain – it was one of those books I heard about when it first published but never got around to picking up a copy. Boy, am I glad I did – such an interesting narrative technique, and if you’re a dog lover/owner, it’s a must read.

In one sitting I read Garth Callaghan’s Napkin Notes – a sweet memoir about a dad, his daughter, and cancer.

I’m ending the month in the middle of Louise Erdrich’s The Round House – another title that’s been hanging around my shelf for awhile.

I also wrote a review about one of my favorites, Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder. Have you read it?

What are your recommended reads right now?

Happiness Hacks August 2017: Bring More Gratitude Into Your Life

Something Yummy:

Shishito peppers. I spent four days in San Diego for an AVID conference, and my aunties introduced me to the Blind Lady Ale House and their tasty appetizer of fresh shishito peppers. Have you tried them? They’re my new obsession – simple to prepare by sauteeing in a bit of olive oil, add a bit of pink Himalayan salt and munch away! I’ve found them in bags at Trader Joe’s and Safeway – they’re not spicy, just full of flavor. Yum!

Listen Up:

Podcasts keep me company at home while I cook and wash the dishes, in the garden when I water, on my bike when I ride to school and anywhere I walk the dog. I’m constantly looking for something new and different – last month I spent quite a bit of time listening to “The Ten Minute Teacher” (super cool teaching ideas in a fast podcast format), NPR’s “Up First” (it helps to condense the daily news and avoid overwhelm) and balanced it off with the always-inspirational “Dr. Wayne W. Dyer Podcast”.

Do you have any podcasts you’d recommend?

Happy At Home:

Sharpies. I  LOVE them. Not just because I’m a teacher (although I do have a pretty awesome special collection in my classroom) but because they are so USEFUL! Some of my favorite Sharpie hacks include:

  • labeling sheets with the correct size (no more guesswork!)
  • writing on electronic plugs to identify what they go with
  • labeling plastic bags in the freezer
  • writing on clothing tags to match to the owner
  • making signs to organize bins

If you want to get REALLY creative, check out these amazing Sharpie projects from Happiness At Home’s blog.

Treat Yourself:

Pedicures. Manicures – I love them both. I don’t care if I go by myself or with a friend, I just love sitting back in the massage chair, feeling the warm sudsy water relax my tired feet and an amazing scrub and soften, followed up with a fun polish color – it just makes me smile, and for me, it’s worth the price to have a bit of pampering every few months!

What do you treat yourself to?

I hope these Happiness Hacks for August 2017 bring more gratitude into your life. Please be sure to leave your happiness hacks in the comments – I’d love to share your tips for living an ordinary, extraordinary life.


Do you have to intentionally make yourself happier? Some people, like me, need ‘happiness hacks’ to remind themselves every day of what a blessing it is to be alive each day – what great fortune we have to be living for one more extraordinary, ordinary moment.

Years ago I started a gratitude journal – just a daily addition to my morning pages that documented the ordinary things that I was grateful for – simple things that made me happy.

During this time I read Gretchen Rubin‘s book, The Happiness Project – Gretchen’s writing and podcasts inspired me to create what I hope are monthly lists of ‘happiness hacks’ – small, simple acts or moments in life that bring me happiness and maybe they’ll rub off on you, too. You can read my essay inspired by Gretchen’s other book, Happier At Home here. 

In June 2017 I started with my first set of ‘happiness hacks’, and loved the responses I received on the post and on social media. Turns out, you do things to make yourselves happy, too. 

You can read my “happiness hacks” posts below:

Happiness Hacks: July 2017 To Bring More Gratitude Into Your Life

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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state of wonder cover

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett: An Unforgettable Book

Posted on August 1, 2017 by

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

“This was her moment, the perfect now.”
― Ann PatchettState of Wonder

The closest I’ve ever been to the Amazon was hearing stories from my husband about his adventures canoeing there as a young man – that was enough to make me understand the power of the river, and the prominence it plays in Brazil’s geography and culture. That is until I cracked open Ann Patchett’s 2011 novel, State of Wonder. This perfect novel took me into the ‘now’ of the life of two female scientists and left a story that lingers in my mind months after reading the last page.

State of Wonder

Started on the plane, couldn’t put it down.

What it’s about:

Everything magical and powerful and uncompromising about the Amazon wrapped itself around me and pulled me into the story of Dr. Marina Singh, a research scientist, who is reluctantly sent by her company to locate her mentor, Dr. Annick Swenson, in the deepest part of the Amazon. The unexpected strength of Dr. Singh hooked me into her story – how would an educated yet urban woman survive such a test of endurance, faith, and determination? It’s when she locates her mentor and begins to live alongside her in the jungle that the story comes into full bloom – Patchett creates two women of opposing points in life, both grappling with the idea of the fleetingness of time and the reality of our own mortality.

Why I liked it:

I ranked this a 5-star read on Goodreads – I only give top billing to books that I didn’t want to end and couldn’t stop reading. It took me only two days to buzz through all 353 pages, and when I closed the cover my head spun with Patchett’s mastery of language and characterization. My favorite characters, the doctors Singh and Swenson, offered a perfect contrast between the young woman full of hopes and dreams for a ‘conventional’ life of love, children and career and the woman in her last decades, still vibrant and quick yet realizing that some of her dreams are no longer able to be realized.

State of Wonder also made me think of the possibilities and limits of science and the ethics of going into a culture and forcing our ideas and opinions and lifestyles onto the people.Spending time in rural Nicaragua, I struggle with the idea of the ‘good life’ – is what I am accustomed to any better than the simple, slow pace of the Nicaraguan people?

state of wonder

Making tortillas over a wood stove, the simple life in Nicaragua.

Perhaps one of the most fascinating aspects of the plot to me was the idea of never ending maternity and the hazards of women being able to bear children in the last decades of their lives. How old is too old? How big a price would I pay to have a child, or to bear a child for another?

I know many women who struggle with the work-life balance, including myself, and I found that theme recurring again and again in the State of Wonder. Do women regret their choices to put career over family? Do we ever truly know the right choices to make for ourselves? At the end of my life, will I wish I had done more or less?

Words I loved:

One of my favorite aspects of Patchett’s writing is her dazzling use of language; from Bel Canto to Run to Commonwealth, Patchett’s novels keep me pausing to think with every page. Here are some of my favorite lines to ponder:

“He used to say we all had a compass inside of us and what we needed to do was to find it and to follow it.”
― Ann PatchettState of Wonder

“Never be so focused on what you’re looking for that you overlook the thing you actually find.”
― Ann PatchettState of Wonder

“The question is whether or not you choose to disturb the world around you, or if you choose to let it go on as if you had never arrived. That is how one respects indigenous people. If you pay any attention at all you’ll realize that you could never convert them to your way of life anyway. They are an intractable race. Any progress you advance to them will be undone before your back is turned. You might as well come down here to unbend the river. The point, then, is to observe the life they themselves have put in place and learn from it.”
― Ann PatchettState of Wonder

“One must not be shy where language is concerned.”
― Ann PatchettState of Wonder

Who should read it?

Everyone. State of Wonder is an exciting escape for the reader. While it’s a thrilling read, it shines with the complexities of themes of fertility, mortality, the ethics of science and the excitement of travel. If you’ve ever wanted to visit the Amazon, read this book. If you’ve struggled with relationships, read this book. If you’ve been intrigued with science and indigenous cultures and experimentation, read this book.

Above all, if you’re looking for a book that makes you think and lingers in your heart, you should read State of Wonder by Ann Patchett. And when you do, come back and let me know how much you loved it, too.

I review my favorite books approximately monthly. You can find past reviews here.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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My Year In Books, 2013

Posted on December 31, 2013 by

In 2013, I set a goal to increase my reading this year, despite all the other events that take up my spare free minutes. I met my goal, and have some great titles to share with you! Thanks to all the wonderful authors that shared their stories with me this year – here’s to 2014 and many more great books!

January, 2013

I wasn’t sure if I would like (or finish) The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot but finish I did-I was fascinated by the story behind HeLa cells, and the idea that racism could be entwined with medical science in such an unfair manner.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje, beautifully written and lyrical, shares the story of 1970s northern California – my own backyard.

Divisadero (novel)

Divisadero (novel) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here I Go Again: A Novel by Jen Lancaster is a delightful read you’re looking for a good, funny escape-my-life chick-lit novel; check out my review of Here I Go Again!

Saturday Night Widows: The Adventures of Six Friends Remaking Their Livesby Becky Aikman is a book that shows us how life has a funny way of taking us on a different path than we might expect; Becky Aikman’s novel was a great reminder for me to live in the moment and love what I have. Read my post, “When Life Doesn’t Turn Out The Way It’s Supposed To” inspired by her story.

February, 2013

I’m a huge fan of historical fiction, and adored A Good American for that reason – but also, because of the author, Alex George. Tweeting with him while I was reading was such a thrill-and I cannot wait for him to finish his next novel! Read my review of A Good American here.

Another brilliant historical fiction novel, The Kitchen House: A Novel by Kathleen Grissom, recounts the story of a white Irish servant girl and her attempts to survive  as she lives and works with the slaves in a plantation house during the 1800s.

March, 2013

Raising Cubby: A Father and Son’s Adventures with Asperger’s, Trains, Tractors, and High Explosives by John Robison Elder helped me understand some of my students who have Aspbergers in a touching story of a father-son struggle to love each other.

April, 2013

Afterwards: A Novel by Rosamund Lupton – oh, I loved this book, despite the constant stream of tears rolling down my face. You know what I mean-those books that touch you deeply? This one triggered volumes of emotions about motherhood, as I reflected on my post “Forever Afterwards”.

May, 2013

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena: A Novel by Anthony Marra wasn’t at the top of my 2013 book list, but I did enjoy the story of the father and daughter in war torn Chechnya and how it reminded me of playing Risk as a child.

June, 2013

Those We Love Most by Lee Woodruff, a beautifully written story about motherhood and change, left me teary and happy I was introduced to Lee’s writing. While her autobiography detailing the horrific accident endured by her husband, reporter Bob Woodruff, established her talent, this novel will solidify her ability to evoke emotion within her reader in this story of a fictional tragic accident.

The Binding Chair; or, A Visit from the Foot Emancipation Society: A Novel by Kathryn Harrison satisfied my need for more historical fiction, this time a story set during turn of the century Shanghai combined the pull of the past with the push towards the future – really a good read.

The Samurai’s Garden: A Novel by Gail Tsukiyama didn’t catch my attention-maybe it hid in the shadows of Harrison’s novel-I’m not sure why I didn’t get into it.

I was introduced to the mystery novels of J.A. Jance years ago by my friend and author, Dawn Wink (see below for her novel Meadowlark) and fell in love with the character of Arizona sheriff Joanna Brady – think of Judgment Call: A Brady Novel of Suspense (Joanna Brady Mysteries) as a story to satisfy your need for a  grown up Nancy Drew

Home by Toni Morrison – what can I say about a novel by one of my all time favorite novelists? Simply beautiful, haunting and a must-read.

English: Graffiti de Toni Morrison en el front...

English: Graffiti de Toni Morrison en el frontón del barrio de Aranzabela-Salburúa, en Vitoria-Gasteiz. Imagen tomada el 30-12-2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

July, 2013

If you haven’t read Ann Patchett, you’re certainly missing out and you should certainly add Run, a story set in a New England snow storm,  to your 2014 book list!

The Execution of Noa P. Singleton: A Novel by Elizabeth Silver combines a mother’s love, a murder mystery, and the death penalty into a gripping novel. Reading it reminded me of  the power of memories, and as children when we feel powerless over our future.

This Is Paradise: Stories by Kristiana Kahakauwila is a beautiful collection of short vignettes about the author’s homeland, Hawaii. I loved her stories about making choices and growing up, especially as I was helping my daughter navigate the college application process. Kristiana Kahakauwila is not only a gifted novelist, but her ability to connect with her readers (me!) over social media made the reading experience really come to life.

August, 2013

The Whole Fromage: Adventures in the Delectable World of French Cheese by Kathe Lison – I can’t really recommend this book unless you’re SERIOUSLY into cheese. I’m not.

Meadowlark was written by my friend, confidante and a wonderfully amazing woman, Dawn Wink. Elegantly written, Meadowlark is simply a beautifully heart-wrenching story of her great grandmother’s life on the South Dakota prairie that you MUST read! After being one of the first ‘editors’ of her story many years ago, seeing her first novel birth into the world was one of the highlights of 2013.

September, 2013

“Parenting is hard as hell” – that quote resonated with me, even though my parenting experience is vastly different than the author, Lori Duron’s. Raising My Rainbow: Adventures in Raising a Fabulous, Gender Creative Son is an eye-opening read for modern day parents and educators – see my reflection here.

Mother, Mother: A Novel by Koren Zailckas was the first in a series of stories surrounding the theme of motherhood that I read this year as part of the blogger’s book club From Left To Write. This psychological thriller left me wanting to hold tightly to my own children, and savor every momenet with them.

October, 2013

The Funeral Dress: A Novel by Susan Gilmore Gregg was a story that captured my attention and kept me up late for a few nights-I couldn’t get through the story of love, motherhood, and marriage fast enough. Can’t wait for her next novel!

The Dinner by Herman Koch wasn’t my favorite read of the year, but I was intrigued by the narrative technique used by the author as he shares the mystery story of a mother’s love.

The Cartographer of No Man’s Land: A Novel by P.S. Duffy takes the reader back in time to World War 1, but for me, it reminded me of my summer travels and the Pull of Nicaragua.

November, 2013

I was haunted by The Last Winter of Dani Lancing: A Novel in part because of the skillful mystery writing of author P.D. Viner, but also because it brought back memories of a horrible childhood memory when I first felt the horror of murder in my community.

I devoured Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers (30 Minute Spiritual Series) by one of my all time favorite writers and life-guides, Anne Lamott. I spent this month hunkering down and preparing for big change; read my thoughts about Help Thanks Wow here.

Buddy: How a Rooster Made Me a Family Man by Brian McGrory was a sweet memoir by the editor of the Boston Globe….reminded me of finding my own very first buddy.

December, 2013

Lady Catherine, the Earl, and the Real Downton Abbey by Fiona Carnarvon tells the story of the REAL Downton Abbey-if you’re a fan, you’ll love this one.

I’m wrapping up the year with Happier at Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon Self-Control, and My Other Experiments in Everyday Life by Gretchen Rubin – enjoying parts of her story, but not all.

Yes, I’m one of those people who has ongoing novels on my bedside table:

I’m slowly rereading The Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav, which reminds me that every day should be infused with reverence.

Cover of "The Seat of the Soul"

Cover of The Seat of the Soul

I started reading The Merry Recluse: A Life in Essays by Caroline Knapp after reading blogger Lindsay Mead’s recommendation-I love savoring an essay a little bit at a time!

Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers by Kate Hopper is another blogger recommended book that I dip into, chapter by chapter, as I attempt to describe this glorious time of my life.

Have you read any of these great books? What was your favorite book of 2013? What’s your reading goal for 2014?


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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Where Did The Summer Go?

Posted on August 28, 2013 by

summer zinnias

Where did the summer go?

It went home

Where tottering stacks of ironing lay neglected

To cluttered cupboards that needed organizing

And dark, dreary closets that screamed to be thinned.

It went to the garden

Where stubborn weeds towered over rosebushes

To brilliant pink cosmos borders that needed deadheading

And hummingbird feeders, parched and waiting.

It went to the kitchen

Where warm blueberry scones burst from the oven

To freshly shucked white corn and barbecue any night

And sugary peaches, plums and dark chocolate at my fingertips.

It went to sleep

In between well worn cotton sheets

Early or late, it didn’t matter

And it woke me without an alarm.

It went to friends

On early morning walks to the Arboretum

Restaurants, cafes and bars for celebration

And long chats on the couch because we could.

It went to my children

Similing in the back of a pickup truck

Laying bricks and eating gallo pinto

And making memories to last forever.

It went to colleges

Searching for that perfect place for her

Soaking in the moments, the emotions

And feeling conflicted about her leaving.

It went to my students

Scouring the internet for the latest teaching trends

Reading, writing, planning, dreaming

And creating exciting new experiences.

It went to writing

Time to journal, to think, to center

Allowing myself time to feel the words through my fingertips

And share my life with you.

It went to books

Written by powerful, thoughtful women

Dawn Wink, Kristiana Kahakauwila, Elizabeth Silver, Lee Woodruff, Ann Patchett,

And Toni Morrison.

It went traveling

By plane, by car, by foot and by pick up truck

To Washington D.C., Newport Beach, Healdsburg, Lake Tahoe, Oregon, Washington

And beautiful, strong, glorious Nicaragua.

Where did the summer go, you ask?

It went inside my heart, stilled my breath, helped me grow

Paused my mind, made me think, cry, laugh, smile

And nurtured my soul.

Happiness in Nicaragua

Happiness in Nicaragua

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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