Giving Up Happiness

Ministers on Happiness and Giving Up

I blame this twisted line of thoughts about happiness and giving up on the ministers at my church.

Last Sunday, Fat Sunday to many of us here, one of my ministers delivered a homily on happiness, the happiness parade, as he titled it. Then, on Fat Monday, the associate minister circulated a question on social media: “What are you giving up (or taking on) this Lent?”

Somehow, I pinched these two messages together and began to ask myself:

What if for these “giving up” occasions we give up something that seems elusive yet desirable, something we define as important and good?
What if I give up happiness for forty days?
What if I give up love?

During Lent, many give up naughty or indulgent habits.

  • I’m giving up chocolate.
  • I’m giving up alcohol.
  • I’m giving up social media.
  • I’m giving up cigarettes.

The fasting is not always about something consumed. Sometimes it’s giving up bad behaviors: gossip, complaining, worry. But I’m stuck here: what if I give up something good? Something more abstract?

Giving Up Good Things

And so I continue to mush the happiness homily and Lenten question together. Initially this line of thought seemed silly. But turning it over and trying to imagine what giving up happiness would look like, how I could achieve it, how it would make me feel, I realized that it would not be a trivial endeavor. This fashion of giving up would be damn hard.

I don’t think of myself as exuberantly happy or brimming over with love (my happiness and love are muddled with a big dose of grumpy), but as I imagined pushing something good away for forty day (Happiness? No, not having any of that! Not for forty days.), two words surfaced to the top of my muddled musings:

  • failure
  • awareness

The former puts me among the more fortunate. I would fail at pushing happiness away.

I consider the latter the more important of the two bubbles. The awareness gives turning this thought over a few times merit, because too often the good things, just like bad habits, linger quietly. Good things take their places behind the grumpy routines and the humdrum of our day. Like bad habits and habitual indulgences, good things can go unnoticed for long periods of time.

When I give up an indulgence or bad habit for Lent or any other occasion, what I give up becomes isolated, noticed, and inspected. I start noticing my complacent patterns. That glass of wine while I’m cooking? Never thought about it until I gave up wine on weekdays. That extra helping of dinner? I didn’t realize that I was never really hungry for it until I made a mental note to only have one helping.

Exercising the Mindfulness of Giving Up

I don’t advocate giving up good things like happiness and love. But I do think there is a giving up exercise that can enrich those good things. Perhaps it’s as simple as giving up our complacency about the good things.

Lent is not part of my religious tradition, but I’ll join the giving up energy of it this Lent. I’ll give up my complacency about happiness. I’ll be mindful of it as I stretch into each new day of Lent. I’ll look for it as it follows me, as quiet and as true as a shadow. I’ll pull it up to my chin as I fall into the night and curl up with a good book.

My minister’s query included a parenthetical phrase: “What are you giving up (or taking on) this Lent?” This exercise in giving up will roll easily into taking on.

Love? Why yes! I’ll have some more of that please.

It is Valentine’s Day, after all.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2018.

Make Time

Let me preface the main message about how I make time with a couple of notes:

  1. It’s easy to look “derelict” or collapsable in Louisiana because the mildew/mold embraces even the least embraceable of us.
  2. My house isn’t falling down. It’s solid.

A few days ago, a friend was giving me advice, and folded into it was a comment that might have insulted or angered some folks. I don’t remember the exact words, but they entered the advice something like:

. . . because your house is falling down anyway . . .

I think the reason I don’t remember her exact words is because I was not angry or insulted. Besides, I had experienced a similar comment from a stranger. “Derelict” was the word he had used. One good pressure wash sent that mold and mildew into space (or maybe to a neighbor’s house), and a friend (not the falling down friend, but a different tidy, appointed-house friend) exclaims “your house looks so great, so fresh.”

My house is solid.

I Make Time

Back to my friend who has this idea that my house is crumbling: it’s not true, but her perception is not without cause. It’s about time. My house and my projects need some attention, that is, they need my time.

A day or two before the falling down conversation, the same friend and I were talking about the bead run for our Mardi Gras Krewe.

“Let me know which days you have time to go and we’ll plan a run.”
“I don’t have time. I make time.”

I never imagined that, empty nest, I’d be battling time. But I do. Surprised? No. My dad stands, sword unsheathed, furiously battling the minutes of each day every time I visit. I don’t think we were born time warriors, but the work ethic, the (over)commitment, the creative yearnings, the desire to do, these traits and habits shape us, until one day, midlife, no young children to blame for time challenges, we find ourselves atop a mountain of obligations, endeavors, and relations, battling to make time for them all.

Lately, mostly due to work obligations, the most honest response to most requests begin with “I don’t have time.”Make time

  • I don’t have time to go.
  • I don’t have time to visit.
  • I don’t have time to attend the ball.
  • I don’t have time to Mardi Gras.
  • I don’t have time to write this blog.

I don’t like the don’ts, and they bring me to what I told my friend.

I don’t have time, but I make time.

This is how I do battle atop my mountain. I make time for people and tasks that matter most.

I don’t always make time to take a shower. But I’ll make time for a friend who drops by. I probably won’t make time to dust or mop unless I’m having a get together. But I make time to visit my parents every month. I may not make time to tidy my office. But I’ll steal those extra minutes I save to write a story, post a blog, or tinker with jpegs. I don’t make time to organize that spare bedroom. But I’ll always make time to help you lift a brick off your chest or to join you for a laugh or a jig.

If I do anything that isn’t work, I made time.

I admire people who keep well-appointed homes. I have friends who do. My mom does. I’m not like them.Make time

They make time to appoint their rooms. Those moments in between work and friendship, when my friends might dust shelves and vacuum rugs, I’m writing or making something. Maybe you’ll come to my house and think “It’s falling down.” But I started a novel. Maybe you’ll notice that I didn’t finish moving the ponds, but I finished a screenplay. Maybe you’ll see the dust and birdseed on my end table, but I’m so happy that you’re wearing the earrings that I made. And did you see my garden?

Time and Choices

We all make choices about how we spend our time. Judge me if you will about what I don’t do in mine. I don’t judge you if you do, and I don’t judge you for choosing to chase the dust. I mainly hope I have time to finish Elle’s story so you can read about what happens to her when she lands in 2019 from 3014 after a time hiccup. Sweet Ophera also needs my attention. She’s anxious to reconcile with the grandmother she ditched on a restaurant patio.

Make timeI have a couple dozen personal projects that wait patiently mid-dream for me to make time. Dust collects on the furniture. It will always collect, and no matter how often I pull it away, it will always return. I’d rather make time to till my words, dig my stories, write my garden, fire enamel, and photoshop my friends, the ones who come visit me in my falling down dusty home and the ones who fall from my foggy head into that shimmering computer screen.

I’m not yet a celebrated novelist or screenwriter, but I take comfort in stories about folk such as JK Rowling, who explains how living in squalor is the answer, and other creative humans, who sequester themselves to concentrate on creative endeavors. They confirm for me that squalor and sequestering pave the path. I took my time getting here, and now I’ll make time to follow this path.

My friend’s falling down comment didn’t upset me. But it gave me pause to ponder my choices. Falling down is my validation. This is my path. and, like my house, it’s solid.

© Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2018.

First Freeze of a New Year

I greet the first dawn of the New Year, standing in a familiar place, toes chilled by an unfamiliar freeze. First freeze of the new year.

Goodbye 2017first freeze beach

2017 was a challenging year, horrid for some people in my life. I’m tempted to join the “Good Riddance, 2017!” chorus but I’ll resist. The lyrics to that song don’t honor the blessings, however brief or small, that I experienced this year. So, I’ll give my challenges and shortcomings a nod, because they deserve that much if I’m going to learn from them. However, I choose to focus my memory energy on the good things.

Some of the highlights:

  • 20-foot U-Haul New Orleans to Chicago trip through Storm Helena and a child’s successful step towards her future
  • burning trees
  • Cakes beach trip
  • mom’s cognitive therapy and mom’s green thumb in my garden
  • Magical Mystery Gleaux (Mardi Gras)
  • blue birdsfirst freeze bluebird
  • A grandmother’s garden” canvasses (I love PhotoShop!)
  • boatloads of code in my brain (I can explain why to use overflow-x:auto with overflow-y:hidden)
  • pins, fieldwork, and a bright career ahead for my oldest
  • work trip to Chicago, joyful visit with daughter
  • 40th high school reunion: old friends, new friends, heartwarming events
  • birthday and drop dead slumber party
  • beginnings of a new novel (can’t finish what I don’t start!)
  • birthday surprises for family and friends (I love Photoshop!)
  • 13th Gate Escape (we died the first time)
  • #ruralhomeoffice established: more time with mom and dad and a beautiful setting for work
  • Washington Parish Fair with my folks
  • Thanksgiving with family and a wee morning talk with my favorite nephew
  • Christmas with all my children, my folks, and family friends
  • And, on the last day of the year, a brand-spanking new (first-time!) subscription to PhotoShop (no more sluggish outdated PhotoShop for me!)

Hello 2018

As any good freelancer would do on a holiday, I was on my way to work at daybreak on this first day of 2018. But I saw the first colors of the new year sky, and a minute later, I stood in bare feet in a frozen yard trying to capture the colors with a phone.

I will work today, but, first, I’m saying hello to 2018 with my words. First, I’m making a 2018 folder in my Pictures library. First, I’m writing for myself.

First me on this first day begins 2018 on the right foot (no matter the frozen toes). First me feels good and opens the door to more blessings.

I’m not one to make robust resolutions on the first day of any year, but I have become a fan of the monthly calendar resolutions. So on this first day, I look forward to the good habits that each month will bring. On this first day, my first promise is to take better care of myself and my time. On this first dawn, I resolve to seek the blessings in each day and make more time for family and friends. On this first freeze of the new year, I’ll allow the distractions of beauty, curl my toes against the frozen brick, and snatch a bit of the moment for myself.

This is how I find my first blessing of the new year. Wishing you a first and many more blessings this new year.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2018.


Post-op recovery threw me into all of my zones of discomfort. The surgery was minor, recovery time relatively brief, but the discomfort was enormous. The physical discomfort was tolerable with a few pain killers and Advil. But the discomfort in the socio-emotional spheres was damn-near intolerable.

The Secret’s Art of Allowing and Don Miguel’s Don’t take it personally

The largest harp that I play to family and friends has two strings:

  • allowing
  • not taking things personally

Even as I play that harp, I know allowing is challenging. I am aware of the energy it takes to make peace with cruel or thoughtless words and acts. I play the harp well and I mostly live the tune.

For a couple of days after my surgery, I was failing at my most convincing harp tunes.

  • I was pissed because my surgeon didn’t warn me how painful recovery would be.
  • I was pissed because I had to allow myself to be helpless (I truly had no choice) as my daughter and a couple of friends made sure I was safe, hydrated, nurtured, and, importantly, that the plumbing was working properly.
  • I was pissed because I couldn’t get up and go as I pleased.

Luda was found by a friend of a friend. She liked to roll in stinky stuff, catch rodents and eat bird seed (and poop with bird seed in it). She loved to crunch on ice cubes, and she danced the cutest two-foot dance when she wanted to be fed. We will miss her.

I’m not in control

On the third day, just as I was beginning to feel a little more at ease if not more independent, Luda, our first family dog, started behaving oddly. She was still wagging her tail, so we opted out of the only available vet visit that day. By evening, I realized this beagle-blue healer mix was breathing just like our mother cockatiel Annie did on her last day. My heart sank, then it sank deeper: I couldn’t invite Luda onto my lap. I couldn’t even bend over to pet her. I couldn’t be the one to go with her to the animal hospital.

The hospital called me at 2:20 in the morning. Luda had died in a breathing tent there. I had to allow her to slip away without a lap cuddle, without sitting with her like I did for Annie. I was angry and sad, but crying wasn’t an option with staples stitching parts of my core.

The next day, my first day home alone, our first foster fail had another seizure. This happens about once a month (that we know of), and I normally lie on the floor and hold her to protect her from hurting herself during the seizure. This time I couldn’t. Core staples. That distress was soon left behind by the stress of witnessing a “limp” seizure. She looked dead. After almost 20 minutes of my gentle foot nudges, she wobbled up and out. I’m still suspicious that that seizure changed her more than any previous (much more violent) ones.

That night, to most of the city’s delight, it snowed. I wasn’t expecting a snow, so the weekend before my surgery, I had done nothing to prepare for it. My garden and my pots of peppers were exposed. The power went out for 36 hours. I sat from my recovery chair watching the white dusting of snow and cold choke my plants. To salvage what they could, my daughter and my honey dragged some of the plants onto the back porch and ran water over the plants that were in beds. They boiled pots of water on our gas stove and pulled out camping equipment to warm the air so our cockateils wouldn’t freeze to death. I sat. I watched as others took care of a problem because I couldn’t.

Lessons in Allowing and Forgiveness

Maybe because I fiercely play that harp of allowing and forgiveness. Maybe because I find it so simple to apply in most of my situations and so logical when I harp at others about applying it. Maybe because I shouldn’t play the harp at others. Maybe because I needed a reminder. Part of allowing is allowing your own ugly feelings and process. Part of allowing is allowing yourself to face emotions that can’t be digested at that moment. And part of not taking anything personally is not taking your own shortcomings personally. Part of the tune is allowing yourself to recover even as you shake your fists at the pain.

The process trips over and folds into itself, but on the other side of it is forgiveness for what we didn’t like and couldn’t control and hope as we embrace what we still have and can take forward.

My recovery isn’t over. I still can’t jump up and go. I’m not supposed to lift anything over 5 lbs. (But I need that bag of sugar! It’s Christmas, for crying out loud!)

This is an itty-bitty recovery. This recovery is not worthy of sympathy, empathy, or even a blog post. The worthy is in the reminder. The worthy is finding the path on the other side of recovery.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2017.


Last weekend I visited the annual Mini Maker Faire at our local public library. Ten days ago, my mom and I perused the wares of hundreds of makers at the parish fair. At the beginning of this month, I set up a booth to sell my wares during the Plant Fest at the arboretum. Next weekend, we have the Artisans’ Bazaar at our church.

I’m drawn to making. I feel a deep reverence for makers. Not only for the crafty and artsy ones, but also for the ones who grow the vegetables I buy from the farmer’s market and CSA, for the handy ones who show up with planks of wood and a pocket of nails to build a deck or a shed, and for that guy who sells hand-crafted gelato at just about any event where makers gather in my town. I’m drawn to the old ones whose creations are infused with years of practice and knowledge. I’m drawn to the youthful ones who surprise with fearless imagination and ingenuity. I’m drawn to making and makers who add beauty and goodness to our experience.

Makers make a difference.

Makers boost our spirits every time we admire that print on the wall or fondle the clay bowl we bought at the fair. They make us more attractive every time we wear that ring or scarf we bought at the bazaar. They make our meals better with organic vegetables and cleverly blended seasonings we bought at the farmer’s market. They provide comfort every time we wrap ourselves in that hand-sewn quilt or bathe in hand-crafted salts we bought at the fest. I could go on and on about how makers improve our personal lives (take my jelly for example!), but there’s more than that more.

Makers at local venues reduce pollution. When we buy their wares, we avoid the transportation and paperwork shipping entails. Makers add integrity. We’re not wearing trinkets or clothing made in a sweat factory or decorating our home with pricy objects imported by a company who underpaid the artisan. Importantly, makers bring community together at events like the farmer’s market, the fair, and the bazaar. Even when we don’t purchase, makers provide eye candy, ideas, and a good dose of Ooooh, look at that!

Look for the makers at your local fest, market, bazaar, or fair. Admire their wares. Listen to their stories about what and how they make. Get inspired. Invest in your community and buy a trinket or some vegetables. Better yet, invest in yourself and make something!

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

Don’t Blame Me!

I left the house for the third time this week. If you have friends who work from home, you know most of us are loath to leave the house to meet up, run errands, or anything that might hazard bumping into other people. It’s a bother to go out. The shower (yep, we probably need one), the real clothes, the face, the hair, and (the horror!) shoes! Who could blame us for not wanting to meet up for a drink?

After going through this treacherous routine for a long overdue hair cut (it’s been seventeen months), I arrived to discover that my appointment was misscheduled. They had scheduled me for last Thursday, the week I was out of town, something I clearly explained when I asked for an appointment the next week. This week right here.

The receptionist probably unintentionally clicked on the wrong Thursday. These things happen to the best of us. I was almost over it, going through my list of consolations (fabulous weather, at least I don’t live far), when the manager came out. I assumed she was there to placate me.

You were scheduled for last Thursday. You even confirmed your appointment. 

Wait, what?

Yes, we have an automated system, and you confirmed.

That’s impossible. I was out of town.

They only had my landline, so she suggested maybe someone else confirmed it for me. Seemed unlikely, but I let her go with that, since I had no way of knowing until I was home to check caller ID. Rescheduled, so sorry, see you tomorrow, . . .  On the way home, I called my honey.

I don’t remember confirming a stylist appointment, but maybe . . . 

So he’s folded into this blame game too.

Why blame anyone?

When my children were young, if they started playing the blame game, sometimes I would diffuse it with It doesn’t matter whose fault it is. It’s about responsibility. Pinning the blame on specific people is tricky and not necessarily useful. Approaching a mistake or mishap by engaging responsiblity and next steps is much more effective.

The salon had blamed me. At home, I checked my caller ID and found only one call from the salon, on the day of my appointment, fifteen minutes after the misscheduled appointment should have started. I won’t even flesh out all of the crimes against customer-is-right code that the salon manager committed. The need to blame is outside of that. My initial feeling was to call the salon and cancel tomorrow’s appointment because I had been falsely blamed. But that would be petty, and I truly need a hair cut!

More importantly, even if she broke the customer-is-right code, she may have honestly thought I had confirmed an appointment. I’m not sure how their system works and what she was seeing on her computer screen to make that determination. And who would lie about a phone call these days? We all have caller ID.

I did call the salon.

Hi, this is Pennie Nichols. I was just there. Yes. The misscheduled appointment. I checked my caller ID. I didn’t receive a confirmation call before the appointment. The only call I received from the salon was fifteen minutes after you had me scheduled. The message was that you were checking on me because I had an appointment. You should check your automated system. Apparently it’s not working.

What fabulous weather we had today. I’m happy I was able to get out for a bit.

Addendum: A fellow blogger shared this Brené Brown YouTube® with me in the comments. Don’t miss it! She pins down the blame point: Dr. Brené Brown on Blame.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

Remembering Rainbows

This Swarovski glass crystal hangs in my kitchen window. For over twenty years, I’ve kept a crystal in that window. For over twenty years, many mornings start with rainbows.

Before some of my children could walk or say mama, the morning light would crash through the crystal and splash rainbows on the cabinets and floors. My children learned to follow the bursts of color through the air, capturing little rainbows with tiny hands.

I remember the rainbows.

The nest is long empty, but I keep the crystal in the window.

Crystals are fun. Science. Fractured light. Folklore. Memories. Magic. The simple joy of chasing rainbows in our tiny kitchen.

Mama! Rainbow! I got the rainbow!

But rainbows are impossible to hold. The sun floats up through the morning, indifferent, and the colors follow, fading from the kitchen.

Those tiny hands are long grown, their adventures and journeys like arcs. I stand in the wellspring of rainbows and look up. On some mornings, as the light shatters through crystal in the window, I dance among the tiny rainbows. And remember.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

We All Drop Dead

As I tidied my website a bit, I realized I needed a new subcategory in my menu: dead.


I already have several relevant posts. Sooner or later we all drop dead. I don’t obsess, but perhaps I’m at the age when I don’t block the thought completely. Consider, for example, my purple folder, my dead cayenne, my body donation, what we learn from pets that die. Arguably the most important is “Are you ready?

I have to confess that, despite my intentions to be prepared, I’m not. I think about it more, but I don’t do more, at least not “as more” as I should.

It’s easy to make light of our plans, our check-out tickets. our sunset. But filling that purple folder with proper information and making sure everyone knows exactly what’s in it and where it is? It’s challenging. I hope I don’t drop dead before I’m done with it!

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.


Even the Weeds

I’m leaving my rural office until November in the morning. I’m grateful for this place. Even the weeds. And the butterflies and bees that are drawn to the weeds.

I think I’ll get some beehives.

Shut up! Now you’re complicating things!

But, it’s  just . . .

Stop it. Just be here. See the beauty before you.

I’m grateful for these weeds. For the beautiful things that are drawn to them. But mostly for the time with my parents. Yes, those folks will might mow down these weeds from time to time.

But not these weeds at this moment.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Right Reserved, 2017.

The Parish Fair

parish fairI took a few hours this morning to go with my parents to the Washington Parish Fair, purportedly the largest free county/parish fair in the country and the second-oldest fair in the state.

A Creek Runs Through It

My dad is proud of this fair. When my kids were young, we spent the bulk of our time on the carnival rides. Today, however, my folks and I spent the morning winding through the craft booths, the blue ribbon displays, the 4-H barn, and the Mile Branch Settlement, a pioneer village, with authentic cabins and structures, and “pioneers” in period dress.

One of the best decisions the organizers ever made was to put the carnival rides on the other side of the creek.parish fair

Dad’s not opposed to carnival rides, but he’s proud that, at this fair, they are secondary to the “main” part of the fair. The creek that separates the two parts, he believes, has helped keep the emphasis on the slice of Americana displays and competitions.

I had forgotten that most fairs were primarily capstones for those who worked the land and livestock. These days, “Let’s go to the fair” is more likely to excite images of ferris wheels and ball and bucket toss, not historical displays, the steer a teenager raised, or jars of canned goods draped in blue, red, and white ribbons.parish fair

This fair is primarily organized, operated, and imagined by people from the parish and nearby communities, not by “outside,” disconnected businesses that drop in to make a buck.  That is special.

parish fair

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.