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Bring More Joy To Your Life: Happiness Hacks November 2017

Bring Joy To Your Life: Happiness Hacks November 2017

November FLEW by – one minute I’m sneaking Halloween candy, and the next I’m boxing up cornucopias and hanging outdoor Christmas lights! Despite the speed with which I flipped my Hay House affirmation calendar pages, November definitely was a month that brought joy to my life! Surrounded by new adventures, old friends, and loving family, I found joy from California to Washington D.C., and I do wish that my November happiness hacks bring a little joy to your life, too.

Happiness Hacks For November 2017: Time To Travel

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Sunsets on Carmel Beach are always spectacular.

I love traveling. I hate airplane flights – especially ones over water. This has been my discomfort spot for as long as I can remember, and definitely where I need to put growth mindset into action.

bring joy
Presenting on Hyperdocs at the TGC Educator Summit in Washington, D.C.

This November, I took trips to Carmel, California, Washington D.C. and St. Louis, MO. One of my happiness hacks, when I travel, is to take something from home that makes my day start on the right note: coffee. I travel with either a plastic pour over drip coffee filter or a portable French-press in a travel mug. All I need is a baggie of my favorite ground coffee, some hot water and I’m starting my day off just like at home! Note to self: check hotel cups carefully before heating water in hotel microwave. I nearly evacuated the 24th floor in St. Louis after smoking out my microwave at 6 am – who knew there were metal bands around PAPER coffee cups?

st louis view

Happiness Hacks For November 2017: Happy At Home

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My babies = bring joy to November.

It’s my daughter’s senior year in college, and so far I’ve been able to get her home for every Thanksgiving. Having her live far away has had its challenges, for sure – but the blessing of devoted family time when she comes home definitely takes a bit of the sting out. Besides our daughter coming home, we filled our house with special aunts and uncles and cousins and dogs…nothing fancy or elaborate, just time together to laugh and share the small moments of life since we were last together. One thing I’ve learned is not to sweat the details about family gatherings, and to accept all the help that is lovingly offered. There is plenty of time during the year when we are lost in our daily routine, and to just relax into the comfort of loved ones is an easy happiness hack to accomplish.

Happiness Hacks For November 2017: A Bit Of Reading Time

I met my Goodreads goal of completing 37 books in 2017! Making reading for pleasure a priority has brought so much simple joy into my life-it’s like channeling all those comforting childhood moments when I would find a space to read and immerse myself in imagination. This month I completed Cowboys Are My Weakness by Pam Houston and The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. I’ve got several of Pam Houston’s novels on my shelves and considering she’s a local UC Davis author, I jumped in. Her realistic fictional short stories about love and life in and out of complicated relationships were easy to read, and just the right size to complete one or two in a sitting. And don’t worry if you’re not a cowboy fan – the emotions are relatable despite any longing for campfires and horseback rides! The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah is one of those books that has been recommended by so many people that I was getting embarrassed to say I haven’t read it. Like so many, I whipped through her tale of two French sisters battling during WW2 in vastly different ways. I can’t say that the writing itself was anything too breathtaking, but Hannah manages to carry the reader along an expansive track of the WW2 timeline without losing interest or momentum.I’m currently reading:  Homestead: Modern Pioneers Pursuing the Edge of Possibility by Jane Kirkpatrick (love her pioneer stories) and Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward (must read her latest, too!) – with a dash of Wonder by R.J. Palacio ( I so need to read more YA lit!=) just to mix it up. I’ll finish these three by the end of 2017 just so I get to an even 40!

Happiness Hacks For November 2017: Wise Words

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St. Louis sunrise over the Mississippi River from my hotel room – a perfect reminder to be present.

I want to introduce you to one of my favorite bloggers/writers – Katrina Kenison. She writes her blog, A Gift of An Ordinary Day, at www.katrinakenison.com. I’ve read all of her books, and absolutely absorb every word she writes. This month her post, “A Blessing For Deeper Knowing”, really made me stop and think deeply about who I am and how I integrate into the world around me. She writes, “This work of knowing begins anew each day, with our own quiet recommitment to the truth of the present moment. And truth, of course, begins with me: the truth of who I really am, the truth of what I say and do, the truth of the consequences of every choice I make. So it is for each of us.” Definitely, check out her words-I just know you’ll feel inspired.

Happiness Hacks For November 2017: Teacher Hacks

Along with a month of travel, November was a month of presentations – for my district on Inquiry Learning, for the Teachers for Global Classrooms cohort on Using Hyperdocs, and for the National Council For Teachers of English on Recapturing The Love of Teaching Through Blogging and Social Media. You can see my presentations here:

Inquiry Learning

Using Hyperdocs

Recapturing The Love of Teaching Through Blogging and Social Media

I’m loving working with teachers and districts lately – if you’re interested in having me come to your area, please contact me.

I hope these happiness hacks help you add a bit more joy to your month – have a happy holiday season, and I’ll be back with more in December!

~Jennifer

**A little background on my Happiness Hacks series:

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 past monthly “happiness hacks” posts below:

Happiness Hacks For October 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 Reasons Why I Didn’t Write A Book Last Summer

“What I want most this summer is simply to spend time with the ones I love. To have more days just like this one. Enough presence of mind to pay attention. And enough presence of heart to make gratitude my song, acceptance my refrain.”

Katrina Kenison

I didn’t write a book last summer. In fact, I didn’t even write a single word of a book. The boxes of letters remain untouched, unopened and unread in the same position that they began the summer, eager for my attention and begging to release their stories. But like so many things during the eight weeks or so when I detached from teaching and attached to myself, the book never materialized. The stories remained in their envelopes.

This was going to be the summer I finally did it, the summer when the story that’s been forming in my head for decades would finally find its way from my ruminations to my laptop. I’d even taken those first steps – I’d declared my intention, out loud, to a few friends and even some strangers. I’d moved the storage box from under my desk to my writing space, thinking that if I looked at it every day I would obviously make it happen.

June coast summer

But somehow, as usual, life got in the way. At first it was because Lily was home for only a week in June, and we needed to adventure to the coast and take long walks along the creek and go for Dutch Bros coffee even when we really didn’t need it. I told myself it was OK, I was just ‘detoxing’ from teaching and that the summer days would hover in front of me, intimidating me with their silence just as soon as she left for Oregon. I convinced myself, as I counted down the days until she left, that I would straighten out her room, lay down the letters and get to work. I bought a new journal and found my favorite writing pen, and instead of writing my words, I finished reading stories written by Barbara Hambly and Tara Conklin and dreamed of what the Civil War must have been like.

Carmel surf summer

And it was July, and the heat smacked us over the head like a battle weapon. So hot I couldn’t think or breathe and instead of settling down in front of the air conditioner to write, I bolted for the beach – I took my boy and my dog and sat in the fog and watched him board and swim and somehow even managed a little sunburn. I devoured Robin Oliveira’s book about Mary Sutter, a Civil War nurse, and cried through Lee Woodruff’s retelling of her husband’s tragic accident in Iraq.

And then John started to feel ill and life turned inwards as it often does when he can’t manage or work or talk very much. We went inside for a few weeks and spent our energy figuring out how to navigate chronic illness when it consumes your life. It felt a bit like hell. I read some more – Kim Edward’s The Lake of Dreams helped me disengage when I needed to step away.

Chelsea market summer

Still, the journal remained unopened, calling to me in a voice I couldn’t answer. I went to New York City for the first time, hopeful that surrounding myself with writers would ignite the story, would retune my ear to her whisperings and somehow, something would appear on the page. Instead, I walked Central Park in the heat, devoured gelato in Chelsea Market, went to bed early, and filled my head with thoughts about equality and kindness and my introversion kicked in big time. I escaped the city with my oldest girlfriend, watched the fireflies at dusk, hiked a mountain and ate Thai food with her sons. Oh – and I met an actor on the airplane home.

Big Sur Summer

In August, I covered my new journal with lavenders and blues and sea glass and butterflies. I read about the somewhat scandalous hidden life of Edith Wharton. I stayed in bed late, listened to NPR and when Lily came home, I relished every single ordinary moment together. August 3 came and went, and I celebrated one year of healing since Cameron broke his leg and ten days of both babies sleeping under the same roof. My girl and I escaped to Carmel and Big Sur, riding with the windows down and hiking in the sun. I spent a peaceful night alone at Tahoe and dashed off to a long weekend of hiking, family and gratitude in Yosemite.

Utah summer

And before I knew it we were loading the rental car, driving across the desert and depositing Lily back at school – this time in a house. We spent a few days shopping and unpacking and hiking and laughing and suddenly it was time to go. Those ten hours driving home across the Salt Flats were long and tedious and when I walked into the house I simply cried, not only because she was gone, but also because the summer was, too.

Then, I cleaned. Every room in the house. I cleaned her room and moved in new bookshelves and lugged the boxes of letters onto her desk. I placed the journal alongside and vacuumed the floor, straightened her duvet cover and cleaned the glass on her dresser. I walked out her sliding door into the garden and noticed the Russian sage alive with honey bees and a red-breasted hummingbird just leaving the tall crimson tube of a Canna flower.

summer Big Sur

I breathed and reminded myself of all that I did do this summer, and realized that those things, as small and ordinary as they may seem, were exactly what I needed to do. They were exactly what I wanted to do; those moments of paying attention, of walking alongside those I love, and of feeling gratitude for the gifts the Universe has presented me with. This was supposed to be the summer I wrote a book, but instead, I created the stories of my life, every single extraordinarily ordinary moment. And for that, I am truly grateful.

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: Top Ten Titles of 2014

What a fabulous year in books! I’ve compiled my top ten choices from last year’s “books I’ve read” titles- not all were published in 2014, some I wrote reviews on, and others I just simply savored. I definitely notice a leaning towards women writers telling the stories of strong willed, independent women – and lots of historical fiction. I’ll miss these women, but I’m eager to start my discoveries in 2015- my shelves are groaning with new titles!

I Shall Be Near To You by Erin Lindsay McCabe

A fabulous novel by a northern California ex-teacher-turned writer – after years of research, Erin Lindsay McCabe’s tells the love story of Rosetta, a strong willed young woman who follow her new husband into battle during the Civil War. I had the most wonderful time getting to know Erin this year – I love it when a great author is living right in my backyard! You can buy her terrific novel here: I Shall Be Near to You: A Novel.

Cover of "These is my Words: The Diary of...

These Is My Words/Sarah’s Quilt/The Star Garden by Nancy Turner

I fell in love with Nancy Turner’s stories last summer – I couldn’t put down her thrilling stories of Sarah, a tough willed woman living in the 1900s Arizona Territory. This trilogy was the type of story that sucks the reader in, riding the prairies alongside her as she shows us how very hard it was to be a strong woman at the turn of the century. You can purchase her stories here: These is my Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901 (P.S.)

Mitten Strings For God/The Gift of an Ordinary Day/Magical Journey by Katrina Kenison

I must say, finding the books of Katrina Kenison was a true highlight to my year. I first read her blog, and fell in love with her simple yet poignant stories of the changing landscape of motherhood, and what it means to keep in touch with our selves during it all. I found myself savoring each word of each book, knowing how much they would be missed when I came to the last page. My books are highlighted and flagged, and in her words, I found so many quotes to include in my own writing. If you’re a mother, start with Mitten Strings for God: Reflections for Mothers in a Hurry and relish each word through The Gift of an Ordinary Day and Magical Journey. You’ll be glad you did.

The Opposite of Maybe by Maddie Dawson

I discovered this book through From Left to Write, an online book review group I’ve been writing with for the past few years. Maddie’s story of 44-year-old Rosie, who suddenly discovers she is pregnant, made me think a lot about motherhood and how simple, yet not always easy, parenting can be. You can buy Maddie’s book here: The Opposite of Maybe: A Novel

Mom and Me and Mom by Maya Angelou

Oh, the sadness of losing the brilliant voice of Maya Angelou in 2014…only tempered by her heartwrenching story of her relationship with her own mother. One of my role models, mentors, and most cherished writers of all time, Maya’s words of love and her stories of being raised by Vivian remind me of the importance of showing our daughters how to be strong, confident, and fiercely loyal to our ideals. You really should read this book – you can purchase Mom & Me & Mom here.

Impatient with Desire: The Lost Journal of Tamsen Donner

In keeping with my fascination with strong women in history, picking up this title was a natural. When I read stories of the Donner Party, particularly as I’m spending my weekends in the Sierras, I’m endlessly fascinated by their sheer determination to not only survive, but to maintain a ‘normal’ family life amidst the complete devastation of all they knew to be true. If you enjoy historical fiction, fiesty women and stories of survival, pick up a copy of Impatient with Desire: The Lost Journal of Tamsen Donner this winter.

If you’re looking for more titles, you might find some additional ideas on lat year’s post, My Year In Books 2013. If you’re a book nerd like me, I’d love to connect with you on Goodreads – I love adding books to my shelves and reading and writing and chatting about books!

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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Friday Photo: Surprise Endings

sunset in Bend, Oregon
sunset in Bend, Oregon

“Some doors close gently, others slam shut, shaking the house to its foundation. Some stories unfold predictably and others careen toward surprise endings. But as I think of the women I know, I realize that we are all confronting endings in our lives. We are all on journeys of one kind or another, trying to figure out where we’re supposed to be going and what we’re meant to be doing. I’m certainly not the only one asking, Now what?”

~from “Magical Journey” by Katrina Kenison

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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Broken

“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.” ~Ernest Hemingway

“Hi, Jennifer. This is Coach Karen. How are you?”

I knew when I heard her voice that this was not the call I wanted to receive. It was 9:00 on a beautiful Sunday morning, and I had just pedaled my bike into my driveway. We were celebrating that warm, sunny morning – an early breakfast out followed by a ride around the duck ponds, just chatting and excited about the day. Our girl was returning home after a summer away working in Oregon, and we were counting down the minutes until we would drive to the airport. I had a morning’s worth of preparation before our ‘empty nest’ would start to fill again.

It was that kind of morning when it was hard to feel anything but happy.

“I’m fine…how are you?”

This felt strange – I had never spoken to Karen before. I’d never even met her – we only knew her as the new coach.

“Well, I’m afraid Cameron has had an accident. He’s loading into the toboggan now. We’ll let you know more once we get to ski patrol, but we think his leg is broken.”

I sank to the stability of the black metal porch chair. No. Wait. What?

“Did he hit his head? Is he conscious?” My mind was racing to the worst possible scenario. I’m good at that.

“He’s awake. It’s just his leg. They’re taking him down now, but…they wouldn’t have said that if they didn’t think it was broken. I’m sorry. I’ll keep in touch.”

It was the phone call no mom wants to get – the call that says your baby is hurting, your baby needs you, and you’re 600 miles away.

I’m one of those moms who goes to every game, every race, every meet. I could count on one hand how many times I’ve missed a competition. I’ve dug my nails into my skin when there have been falls and crashes, and whispered quiet thanks whenever they’ve gotten up and back on course.

This time, I wasn’t there. As my stomach began to clench, tears began to flow. Then I sprang into action.

I’ve been struggling to write about this for weeks, which is strange to me – writing is my meditation, my coping mechanism, my way of digging through this life and coming out the other end. Somehow, the words churned in my mind but couldn’t find their way to the paper; instead, they remained trapped inside, almost as if writing them would make them real. As if I just kept them in the safety of my mind, they would transform into a bad dream. I would wake up, rewind back to our bike ride and our conversation about the future…I could pick up my Sunday to-do list, change the sheets, buy the groceries, bake her favorite pumpkin scones and head to the airport full of joy at seeing my girl and spending her last ten days together before she left for college.

Instead, time stopped. His body was broken. Broken badly.

broken tibia at Mt. Hood

The days passed in a whirl of plane flights, painful drives and hovering over my son as I hadn’t since he was born. I had surrendered, placing him in another mother’s care until I could reach his side. My gratitude was endless, my heartache terminal. I had entered a parenting sphere which tilted me on my axis, tossing me in a sea of emotion. Every part of me wanted to suck up his pain, to make it my own. To fix his broken leg and mend his broken dreams.

But all I could do was look at what was right in front of me – a boy, my son, in pain and in need of care. In survival mode, I was unable to look past the next hour, the end of the day. This broken leg had simultaneously broken long-held dreams, had cracked the future just big enough to keep me from wasting one second on it. When tears welled up I called for gratitudes – three, right now. It became our ‘thing’. It became our way of making that moment ok. My fourteen year old, once so gloriously independent, had been reduced to asking me for nearly everything. Humbling, to say the least – for both of us.

Humbling, in that the very struggle I find myself chasing every day had now been taken away – another struggle in its place, but for these moments, I was present. My boy, me, and the gift of time together. A broken leg had shattered dreams and shuttered any thoughts beyond right now.

As the weeks have passed, we’ve returned to a ‘new normal’. My girl got to college, I made it back to school, and Cam passed the first hurdle and replaced his full leg cast with a short one. Our days are filled with lesson plans, laundry, walking the dog, homework and dishes, and our nights are peaceful. We’ve learned how to navigate these new moments, and find joy in the smallest of blessings – a pain free day, ‘walking’ on a cast, and watching movies side by side.

first day of school, on crutches

And in the mysterious way that the Universe has of giving me just what I need, just when I need it, the talented writer/mom Katrina Kenison posted on her blog. Turns out, her summer has been ‘broken’ too. As I read her words, I finally found my own. She writes,

Even so, finding meaning in a situation that seems utterly meaningless, random, and unfair is hard, slow work. The “new normal” keeps changing. It’s human nature to want answers and plans and promises. And instead we have only the present moment, mystery, and hope. (Of course, we’re kidding ourselves if we think any life is predictable, any outcome assured, any promise a guarantee.) But slowly, bit by bit, the incomprehensible becomes more manageable.”

Right now, answers and plans and promises are for another day. Right now, right this moment, as he sits behind his closed bedroom door, homework completed with music shaking the walls, I know all is well. I know he is here, safe, and moving forward. I know, although broken, slowly, bit by bit, he is becoming whole again. And slowly, bit by bit, so am I.

Isn’t that all that matters?

 

 

 

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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