happiness hacks 2017 books

Happiness Hacks: July 2017 To Bring More Gratitude Into Your 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. 
Cover of "The Happiness Project: Or, Why ...

Cover via Amazon

 

In June 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 – especially when it comes to listening to podcasts to get inspired!  My Inner Chick says she wants to start listening to podcasts to make her happy, too. Tren says she loves her gratitude journal and recommends the podcast from The Simply Luxurious Life website – I’m loving it now, too! Thanks to both of you for the awesome happiness hacks!

You can read my first “happiness hacks” post here:

Happiness Hacks: June 2017

And now, my Happiness Hacks for July 2017!

Happiness Hack #1:  Google Keep

Have you tried Google Keep yet? It’s my new obsession app on my phone – and it’s available for your desktop, too. Google Keep is a way to keep track of everything – you can make lists, copy links, save photos, just about anything you can think of that you want to quickly and easily keep handy for future reference!

I’ve written before about how I love podcasts and use walking for meditation time…well, I also use walking and podcasts for getting ideas to write about. My struggle has been that while I was walking I’d come up with these connections I wanted to explore, but couldn’t stop and write anything down. I’m super visual, so I have a hard time remembering things I hear and would have to rush home and replay the podcast while I was at the computer. I tried using notes but it wasn’t the same. Now with Google Keep, I just start a note with the topic as a title, and I can either type my ideas or voice record them right into the app. I can set reminders, archive, and even add photos right to it that I want to use in my blog posts. Google Keep will save right into a Google Doc, too. I even used it in the mountains of Nicaragua when I was inspired to tears by a speech I was listening to in Spanish…stay tuned for an upcoming post inspired by that one! A secret: I started a ‘happiness hacks’ note on Google keep and write ideas down as I’m doing the things that make me happy! Double dip win-win! Check it out at keep.google.com, or you can watch this video to get even more inspired!

Happiness Hack #2: Making the bed

You know those things that your mother told you that run through your head as a grown person despite how much you try to stop them?

One of those ‘mom-isms’ that repeats on a daily basis is ‘You always have enough time to make your bed’.

I guess on some level I’ve gotten used to that little voice telling me to take two minutes and straighten the covers and fluff the pillows because just last week my husband sweetly commented that one thing he really loves about me is that I always make the bed every single day.I brought this up to one of my friends recently, and

Not sure if that’s the secret to our 32-year romance, but it couldn’t hurt…I brought this up to one of my friends recently, and she laughed a little and said she NEVER makes her bed – she doesn’t see the point. I understand that perspective, but for me, taking the time to smooth the sheets, to pull up my red paisley spread and adjust the throw blanket on the edge just gives me a little lift. By no means am I a compulsive home decorator, but just that little ordinary ritual of straightening up before I start the day just makes me smile.

Do you make your bed every day?

happiness hacks 2017 bed
Happiness hack #2: a made up bed and a doggie to cuddle!

Happiness Hack #3: Used books.

As a writer, I probably shouldn’t admit my obsession with buying used books. I DO spend money on buying new titles by my favorite writers, but more often I find myself searching out new books in second-hand stores. I read a lot, but my mom reads even more, so whenever I see a title that looks interesting I grab it, check the ratings on Goodreads, and take it home. To assuage my guilt I try to tweet and blog about the titles that really grab me, and I’ve met the most interesting writers that way! When I wrote about Susan Perabo’s title The Fall of Lisa Bellow recently, she connected with me on Twitter and offered to answer questions about my book if any of my students read it next year! How awesome is that? One unhappy issue my used book obsession is causing me is my lack of space – I have certain ways I make my ‘shelfies’ to indicate which books are ‘to read’, which are my ‘read and want to share’, and which books I just want to keep forever. You can imagine the chaos…and to my rescue comes my friend and blogger Jennifer Lyn King, with her own happiness hack post “How to build a built in bookcase without any carpentry skills”. What a badass! I’m definitely doing this as soon as my last child vacates the house next year… You can check out her post here: http://www.jenniferlynking.com/2017/07/12/how-to-build-a-built-in-bookcase-without-any-carpentry-skills/ – and be sure to follow her blog. She’s an amazing writer, photographer, and carpenter!

Where do you get your books most often?

happiness hacks 2017 books
Happiness hack #3: used books!

Happiness Hack #4: Silence

When I was reviewing my Google Keep notes for this post, the word ‘silence’ came up FOUR times! I’ll take that as a reminder that I need at least one – sometimes multiple – daily moments of silence to keep me happy.

It’s not easy to find those moments – during the school year I have to intentionally lock myself into my classroom alone at lunch sometimes, or stay late in the evening after everyone has gone home, just to find those precious moments of quiet. At home, my garden and my upstairs writing room are my best silent spaces – in fact, my husband has to find creative ways to interrupt my quiet time without me being startled into a heart attack. This summer he has been most successful putting his hand in front of the fan to stop the air flow, or texting me from the next room that he’ll be entering my space.

He’s a good guy.

Where do you find your silence in a busy life?

happiness hacks 2017 silence
Happiness hack #4: silence, view from my writing room into the garden.

So there you have my four happiness hacks for July 2017. I sure hope these gave you some ideas – and please, let me know if you try them – or better yet, what your favorite happiness hacks are! I’d love to include them in my August Happiness Hacks post!

Until next time, be good to yourself and spread some happiness into the world – we need it now more than ever.

happiness hack 2017

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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the fall of lisa bellow a must read

The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo: A Must-Read About Mothers, Daughters, Trauma and Loss

“Sometimes in the morning, while she waited for her brother to get out of the bathroom, Meredith Oliver would stand in front of her bureau mirror, lock eyes with her reflection, and say, “This is me. This is really me. Right now. This is me. This is my real life. This is me.”~from The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo: A Must Read About Mothers, Daughters, Trauma and Loss

When I read the first page of The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo, I wasn’t sure it was going to be for me. Not only am I extremely picky about the novels I spend time with (have you seen my Instagram shelfie shots? It’s obnoxious how long my ‘to-be-read’ list is), but also I spend every work day surrounded by girls like the main character of the novel, Meredith Oliver. Meredith is a typically self-conscious eighth-grade girl. Now I love my job teaching 8th grade, but sometimes at the end of the day, I just want to escape into a  novel nowhere near my real life.

I’m sure glad I didn’t give up on this one. The Fall of Lisa Bellow got under my skin – in a good way. That’s why I’m calling this one a ‘must read’ about mothers, daughters, trauma, and loss.

the fall of lisa bellow a must read

What it’s about:

Meredith Oliver is the youngest in her family; her parents, are both dentists and her brother Evan, is a high school junior. The novel starts off describing her typical teenage angst as she goes about her day, feeling overshadowed by her brother who has experienced life-changing trauma. The plot takes an uptick when on an ordinary day, in broad daylight, Meredith finds herself in the middle of a sandwich shop robbery, quivering in fear on the dirty floor next to the most popular girl in her eighth-grade class, Lisa Bellow. When the gunman chooses Lisa as his hostage, leaving Meredith behind, the plot expands to pull in their families, Meredith’s emotional struggle with being the survivor, and the ripple effects of trauma on the mothers of both girls.

Meredith’s mom, Claire, is uncomfortably pulled into the grief Lisa’s mom is experiencing, which forces Claire to desperately try to cling to her own daughter, the survivor. Claire’s character development weaves threads of maternal guilt, the anxiety of knowing if she’s doing the ‘right thing’, and the universal struggle between parent and child during adolescence. Evan, Meredith’s brother, appears first as a victim of his own traumatic accident and develops as an example of how one can rise and triumph. Mrs. Bellow, Lisa’s mom, portrays the gut-shattering grief experienced by parents experiencing the loss of their child, and the conflict of trying to live without her.

the fall of lisa bellow a must read quote

Why I liked it:

Aside from the fact that I am fascinated by the teenage mind and how humans seem to navigate into and out of its murkiness, I think what I connected with most in this novel was the battle experienced by Claire as she grappled with her maternal instincts versus the reality of her life as a mother, wife, and woman. I know firsthand, like so many mothers, what happens when our children are hurt, either mentally or physically. When my son experienced his ski racing injury and had to rehabilitate and adjust the trajectory of his life experience, I felt the anxiety of second guessing the enormity of his experience and wanting to trust my belief that ‘all will be well’. You can read my reflection on that experience here. Motherhood is no simple task, and add in marriage and career and mid-life disquietude I certainly connected with Susan Perabo’s character.

One of my favorite scenes came about half way through the novel. Claire, in desperate attempt to connect to her daughter’s experience, is consulting Meredith’s therapist. Frustrated at her inability to control the situation, Claire asks,

“How will I know when she’s ready?”

“You’ve been protecting her your whole life,” he said. “You’ll know.”

But he was wrong. Protecting her? …She could not protect her daughter. She could not protect her from the stomach flu. She could not protect her from cancer or AIDS or the common cold. She could not protect her from the mean girls. She could not protect her from her friends. She could not protect her from her own thoughts…She could vaccinate them and make them wear seatbelts and batting helmets. She could give them cell phones with emergency numbers on speed dial. She could give them straight-talk books and scared straight DVDs and a solid, honest, pitch-perfect piece of advice every single morning on their way out the door. But in the end, there was no intervention.

There was only awareness”

~from The Fall of Lisa Bellow, page 165

How many parents have felt this urge to protect, to intervene, to try to anticipate every hurt and shield our children from the pain of real life? This novel reminded me so much of the book If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie with a somewhat reverse plot line. I wrote a post inspired by If I Fall, If I Die called “Please Don’t Go Outside” in which I explored the paradox of wanting your children to grow and love and become their own person and the fear of letting them go where you can’t see. You can read it here.

I also enjoyed the narrative structure of the story; told in alternating points of view, the novel bubbled with tension and kept me connecting with both Meredith and Claire as the plot unfolded. Additionally, there were points in the storytelling where I found myself pausing and thinking about why the writer chose a sort of ‘flashback’ technique that made me wonder if I was really understanding the point of view at all. This beautiful writing, combined with authentic characters and suspenseful plot lines, kept me pushing to finish my end of the year grading so I could reward myself with just a few more chapters of this lovely book.

Who should read it?

As I paged through the story, I questioned if this was a young-adult novel or simply a story for parents struggling with watching their children grow. At the end, I decided it was both. I’m going to share this book in my 8th-grade classroom, and watch who gravitates towards it. I think teens will certainly connect with Meredith’s character and conflict, and I know moms and parents will align with Claire and Mrs. Bellow’s challenges.

Overall, I think The Fall of Lisa Bellow is a must read, and I sure hope you’ll come back here and let me know what your thoughts are.

The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo is published by Simon & Schuster, who provided me with a complimentary copy. All opinions are my own.

 

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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words that nourish

Words That Nourish, Friends That Write

I can count on one hand the number of women I trust will always be in my life. They each entered my world at different, crucial, life altering times, and while not one of them lives within walking distance of my home, our connection remains – through words that nourish.

I’ve been a pen pal, a journaler, a poet, a blogger, a note-take, list maker and a lesson creator. Words make my world centered, they offer me a chance to slip away and at the same time, ground myself. Words are solace in a life that I struggle to understand and often, to trust.

One of these phenomenal women is my friend Michelle. We met during our early years of teaching English – a time in our twenties when life as we know now was merely a whisper. Our paths crossed in an interview for a teaching position – I, the interviewer, she the interviewee. I was captivated by her quiet grace, her creativity, and her absolute desire to share her love of language and words and books.

That was over two decades ago, and despite many moves, some marriages, a divorce, numerous job changes and a few precious children thrown into our realiity, our friendship ebbs and flows like the tide, constant, reliable, soothing.

Michelle may not realize what an inspiration she’s been to me; she may not know that when I bake bread or dig in my garden, or read about her treasured Lousisiana or find myself succumbing to fine food and wine, she’s with me.

words that nourish

Today, we were on each other’s minds. Close friendships work like that – I mailed her a book she needed on her shelf this morning, and this afternoon she called to talk writing and summer travel plans.

Today, I’m happy to share a beautiful blog post written on Michelle’s new blog, A Power 4 Good. I know you’ll love her words that nourish – she’s one of a kind! Please welcome her to the blogging community with open arms!

Words that nourish; words that heal by Michelle St. Romain

“Wherever I’ve lived my room and soon the entire house is filled with books; poems, stories, histories, prayers of all kinds stand up gracefully or are heaped on shelves, on the floor, on the bed. Strangers old and new offering their words bountifully and thoughtfully, lifting my heart.” ~ Mary Oliver

I have been thinking recently about why we write stories, why anyone writes their thoughts on paper (or computer screens). In my days as an English major in college, I was always amazed by my classmates and even my professors who chose to put their written hats in the ring and try to publish their writing. Why would anyone pick out of the millions of things that have been written this particular piece or that particular poem? Why would anyone care about my writing, or anyone’s, for that matter?

And so I chose to do other things. I continued to write, because I cannot help it. I wrote in journals. I wrote essays. I wrote for a newspaper for a short time and I found quickly that my writing could be used in almost any profession, to entertain, market, raise funds, make a case, explain, take a stand.

At this point in my life, I find that the writers I have loved have become my teachers, their words the medicine for my soul. These are the ones who have the power to change my mood and my thinking in an instant. These are the ones with a power that transcends everything that is happening in our world, at any time, no matter how ominous or depressing.

They are Mary Oliver, Toni Morrison, Barbara Kingsolver, Amy Tan. David Whyte, Alice Hoffman, Joanna Macy. Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Marge Piercy. Alice Walker and Maya Angelou. Sandra Cisneros and Kate Chopin. This list could go on, go deeper, go farther into the past, more fully into the variety of cultures and stories that inform our world, whether we are conscious of it or not.

words that nourish

It goes to Ovid and Shakespeare, Richard Wright and Steinbeck. Their classics shaped my view of the world, challenged what I was taught about class and reality. They are immortal inside me and the influence of their words on paper cannot be known, even in the singular strand of my life – of decisions I have made, paths I have taken, words I have spoken. Of stands I have made on issues that seem larger than my small life.

I am making these decisions today.  And their words are my solace and guidance. They are my living teachers. Their stories and reflections shape me still, in this time of great change in our world.

I believe that stories and words will heal us from all that is hurting around and within us. I believe that every story that has ever been lived or spoken is still alive today. I believe that every story we are now living, every truth and broken moment, every travesty and victory, no matter how small or large, has been lived in one way or another and we can learn from what has happened before us.

We may have to go deep, go far into the past. We may need to journey to cultures far from our own, or perhaps simply allow ourselves to imagine what it is like today, in this moment, in a country where running water is a luxury and homes have dirt floors. If we expand our thinking to include the larger stories of those who have gone before and of those who are now living lives much different than our own, we may find our way. We may find hope.

We will most definitely find sorrow and grief, but we will also find companions on the path. We must only look, be curious, be patient enough to step back and open to seeing the larger shape of what is happening in any moment of our own life stories.

Thank you, great writers and thinkers and teachers. Thank you for the living gift of words that heal and uplift, teach and guide and make us question ourselves. I bury myself deeply in your wisdom. I offer my own words as an offering of gratitude, and as a prayer.

(this post originally appeared on Michelle’s blog, A Power 4 Good)

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 ‘Best of 34’ Books Read in 2016

I set a 12 month Goodreads Challenge in 2016 to read 30 books – more than I attempted in 2015, but as part of my ‘trust the journey’ focus, I knew that pushing myself to not only read more, but read more diversely, was key. I’m pretty proud to say that I made reading a priority, and completed 34 books in 2016! Last year, I wrote about my favorite books of 2015, and loved hearing from readers about what books they loved and were reading all during 2016.

If you’re interested in more recommendations, you can find them in my 2013 and 2014 favorites posts. I’ve also written a Books I Love post, and would love to connect with you on Goodreads to share more about reading in 2017. Goodreads is my favorite place to keep track of what I’m reading, and to look up reader reviews for new books I’d like to add to my ever growing shelf of ‘to reads’. 

In no particular order, I’d love to share My ‘Best of 34’ Books Read in 2016 – and please respond in the comments if you agree, disagree, or have a title to share for 2017! (p.s.- I included some favorite quotes just to tease you!)

“Love doesn’t work like that, one or the other. Don’t you know that yet?” – from June by Miranda Beverly Whitmore

I first learned about this author after reading her best seller, Bittersweet. When I finally was able to read June, I have to say, I loved it even more than her first. June is a story about a 25-year-old woman who, while mourning the loss of her beloved grandmother, lives in their old rural mansion and uncovers part of her past while creating a present full of love and excitement. If you enjoy small town stories, old time movie stars, and complicated love triangles, June is the book for you.

“We always think there’s enough time to do things with other people. Time to say things to them. And then something happens and then we stand there holding on to words like ‘if’.” -from A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

I figured that with all the hype over this book, along with the massive good reviews on Goodreads, that I would love it. I was right. I fell in love with Ove in the first few pages – his cranky yet lovable character made me really feel like he was someone real, someone human in his faults as well as in his incredibly huge heart.

“If you are going to abandon your work because someone speaks ill of it, then it has never been your work, has it? It becomes theirs. You give it up.” – from I Always Loved You by Robin Oliveira

As a young girl I devoured Irving Stone’s stories of artists and politicians, so upon discovering this gem about Mary Cassat and Edgar Degas I knew I had to jump in. Besides all that, Robin Oliveira’s book My Name Is Mary Sutter made one of my top 2015 books as well. I immersed myself in Robin’s story of 1880s Paris and the stormy romance between Cassat and Degas made me grab for my art history books and remember how uncommonly common relationships can be.

Chasing the North Star by Robert Morgan

This book was full of adventure; I felt the terror, the fear and the hope of Jonah and Angel as they attempted to escape slavery and bounty hunters in 1850s South Carolina. I’m a huge fan of historical fiction, particularly around the Civil War, and as such I loved Morgan’s strong characters and unusual twists on the slave narrative.

“It reminds us that as ordinary as we might be, we can, if we choose, take the harder road, walk forth bravely under the indifferent stars.” -from The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of the Donner Party by Daniel James Brown

Brown’s most well-known novel, The Boys On The Boat, is on my 2017 list – but I couldn’t resist reading his interpretation on one of my favorite historical stories. I devour books about the Donner Party – but this one was different. Told as a nonfiction narrative, Brown skillfully wove their story between historical information that really helped me get a sense of more than just what happened – but how and why it happened.

“There is no shame in who I am,” he said. “There is only shame in how I came to be, and that is not my burden to carry” -from Glory Over Everything by Kathleen Grissom

Grissom’s novel The Kitchen House was one of my top books of 2015, so when I spied this sequel on the library shelf I grabbed it and jumped right in. I wasn’t disappointed. Picking up the story of Jamie, the author transports us to 1830s Philadelphia to develop the plot around his life, while weaving in familiar characters from The Kitchen House. Immensely readable and believable, this sequel definitely competes with the original.

“You see, I have never felt the need to invent a world beyond this world, for this world has always seemed large and beautiful enough for me.” -from The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

Like so many, I adored Eat Pray Love when it came out in 2006. I listen to Elizabeth’s podcast and read her blog. Still, I wasn’t prepared for how much I would love this novel. L plants and flowers and all things eighteenth century, the story of Henry Whittaker, a wealthy trader in quinine, and his daughter Alma, a well-respected botanist, was a natural read for me. What I didn’t expect was for me to become so enamored of the characters as I was of the plot line. Explorations of science, religion, class, gender expectations made this a book that I never wanted to end – even after 501 pages! It was that good.

Last Ride to Graceland by Kim Wright

This is not my typical type of read – contemporary fiction about blues musicians and Elvis fans aren’t regulars in my reading choices. But I fell in love with Wright’s story of Cory, who travels South Carolina in search of her real father – who she believes is Elvis Presley. A sweet story of mothers, daughters, and what we really don’t know about each other…such a pleasant surprise.

“You only have one life, but if you live it well, that’s enough. The only reality is now, today. What are you waiting for to be happy?” -from The Japanese Lover by Isabelle Allende

Honestly, I have to say that this book was one of my TOP reads from 2016. I wrote a review about it here, and judging from the feedback I’ve received, everyone else loves it, too. Told in the tumult of pre and post WW2, Allende unravels the complicated love story between a young woman living in an opulent mansion in San Francisco and the son of the family’s Japanese gardener. Living near San Francisco myself, I could imagine the vivid settings and fell into the spell of their forbidden love of over 70 years. This story is about love and passion and history and the improbable situations we find ourselves in when we find true love.

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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To Look At Life As It Is

Summers have always been my ‘mommy’ time. I’ve never taught summer school; I’ve always looked at my time away from the classroom as time to focus on my kids, primarily, and also to catch up on all the other life stuff I push off between August to June. These 8 weeks of no students are both well earned and deeply cherished. Summer, in truth, is my time to look at life as it is.

This summer is a bit different. For months, I’ve dreaded summer just because of what I knew it would hold: a house without any hope of my daughter moving back home. People always said this would happen, that college kids come home the first summer, and that usually is their last.

I’ve simultaneously been hoping that wouldn’t be the case while praying that my girl would be so content where she’s living that she wouldn’t need to come home. Selfish versus selfless, I guess.

Turns out, this isn’t the selfish summer. It’s the summer to look at life as it is, rather than how I might want it to be.

The Girl On The Train
Have you read The Girl On The Train? Sure helped pass the time through the Nevada desert.

 

So I headed out on a road trip. If she’s not coming to me, I’m coming to her. I’ve got a few weeks off, and armed with some of my favorite podcasts and this fabulous book on CD, I headed over the mountains, through the Nevada desert and past the Salt Flats to Utah, my girl’s new home.

The first night I headed to her workplace to relax and have a salad on the patio until she got off – 650 miles is a long drive! My heart nearly burst when I saw her there, surrounded by people who have grown to love her. She’s in a good place.

salad on the patio at Kimi's

She was able to piece together two full days off from both jobs, so we headed to the desert: Capitol Reef National Park, to be exact.

to look at life as it is Capitol Reef National Park
Heading up on our first hike at Capitol Reef National Park.

 

The southern Utah desert is not like what most think of as desert; majestic outcroppings of red rock suddenly appear after hours of driving through rolling hills. I couldn’t stop thinking about how in the world this could ever be real. Despite timing our trip during a heat wave (can you feel the 100+ degree heat radiating off those rocks? I certainly could), we doused ourselves with sunscreen, braided our hair and popped on a cap and headed out on our first hike. It was then that I discovered that as much as I’d like to believe my 50-year-old body could keep up with my girl, I had to look at life as it is, and tap out. I opted for a patch of shade and this great book while she bounded up and back without me.

A good book and a shade patch took the sting out a bit.
A good book and a shade patch took the sting out a bit.

 

Luckily, we found a flat, shady trail along the river where we could see petroglyphs from the Fremont Indian Culture. Who would imagine that thousands of years later, a worn out teacher mom would be staring in awe at the stories inscribed on these red rock walls.

Capitol Reef National Park petroglyphs
Capitol Reef National Park petroglyphs.

 

to look at life as it is Capitol Reef National Park

Lesson learned, we slowed it down. Capitol Reef National Park contains nearly a quarter million acres of diverse rock formations, desert plants and animals, and hidden stories of the people who have come and gone through this awe-inspiring canyon. If you look closely, you can see the layers of different rock in the background, each holding moments of time over the last 50-70 million years.

 

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Because the park was surprisingly empty, we resorted to a few selfies.

 

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Capitol Reef was created by the Waterpocket Fold – an 87 mile long ‘wrinkle” created millions of years ago, and created stunning cliffs, domes, natural arches and canyons like this one. We were happy to take the bumpy, but air conditioned drive into the Capitol Gorge. Surrounded by Wingate Sandstone, the towering cliffs reminded me of how small and insignificant we really are.

I can hardly comprehend what prehistoric humans must have thought when they gazed upon these formations, let alone the pioneers who decided this would be a good place to settle.

 

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When we got to the end of the dirt road, we jumped out and began to trek through the canyon. Along the way we spotted more petroglyphs as well as the “Pioneer Register”, where Mormons from the 1800s inscribed their name in the soft walls after clearing this first road through the Gorge.

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One nice aspect of having an adult child is really being able to enjoy traveling together. Gone are the days of packing diaper bags, snacks and sippy cups, or finding a motel that had a slide into the swimming pool. As often as I really do miss those days, I’m learning to embrace life as it is, not how it used to be. Together, we reveled in our room with a view, watching the sunset together. The cows were an added touch.

Capitol Reef National Park reading
The title of this book is not lost on me as I gaze at the vista.

 

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With every vista we uncovered, I stopped and listened. The occasional flapping of wings, the rushing melody of the Fremont River, and the wind caressing the boughs of the Pinon trees reminded me of how, even though we think our stories and our lives are so important, in the big scheme we really are just moments. We will come and go and leave behind evidence of our love and reverence and the beauty of the natural world will stand as the great collector of what has come and gone.

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A towering trail marker. Thank you.

 

Capitol Reef National Park
At the top, evidence that I made it.

 

This is life as it is, not how I might want it to be. I would have loved to climb to the vista of Chimney Rock, but settled from the view from the bottom.

IMG_2195

Driving home, the rain rattled our windshield, moving in and out of sunlight and clouds. As my girl slept, I inhaled gratitude for all that I have in this life, as it is. I have moments of love and sadness; I have seconds of clarity and confusion. I’m learning to open to the ordinary in the extraordinary, and live in the paradox between the light and darkness.

I’m learning to live in life as it is, not what I might want it to be. Because really, isn’t this extraordinary path we find ourselves on just exactly as it is supposed to be?

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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