Happiness

Are you happy?

It’s a simple enough question. Or at least, it should be. But how often does that question stump someone? Well, does the questioner mean right in this moment? Or in general? Are there things in your life that make you happy? And then maybe you might even start thinking about what could make you happier. Because when you stop to think about being happy, you get taken out of the moment.

Happiness is on my mind, not because of any defining happy moment, but after finishing a book about the search for a happy place. Literally. The book was more of an investigative piece about happiness than a travelogue (which is initially why I picked it up). I didn’t pick up The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World because I was feeling particularly grumpy, but I was intrigued by the idea of a sense of place creating happiness. It’s so much more than a sense of place, it’s all of it. It’s a place, a place’s history, a culture and present-day attitudes.

Seagull

Eric Weiner explored countries at all ranges of the happiness spectrum (Iceland – happy, Moldova…quite a bit less so), and all across the planet. There were common themes that I’ve come across in myriad articles, such as trust, relationships, but then also very different approaches to happiness. From a que sera, sera attitude to karmic lessons, to a gung-ho ‘I’m going to find my happiness’.

There are these beautifully serene moments where it has struck me: “I’m happy.”

Right now, in that very moment. It didn’t matter whether I was annoyed earlier about the car that almost hit me as I crossed the street (a common event in DC), or stuck in traffic, or having come face-to-face with a rude person. It didn’t matter what tomorrow might bring. The moment came and I consciously recognized it as a moment of bliss and let it go. I am happy, here and now, and I’m not going to think about it anymore. I’m just going to enjoy it. And interestingly enough, that brief acknowledgement let me hold onto the moment longer.

Those moments can strike anywhere. I’ve had them sipping coffee on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial, on an airplane home after a long couple of months, driving on the highway with one of my favorite songs turned up, standing at the base of Ta Prohm, or gazing at Liberty Leading the People in the Louvre. Some moments happen in exotic locales with the recognition of an incredible lifetime experience, and others are just ordinary afternoons. It’s a patio dinner with friends, a shared bottle of wine and lots of laughter, and so many other moments.

“Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.”
-Marcus Aurelius Antoninus

“Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.”
- Omar Khayyam

vineyard2

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Dallas Beer Festival

I am not a beer drinker, not really. And it’s not because I don’t like it. I have had some really delicious beers, though usually having been steered in their direction by friends more knowledgeable. So when friends invited me to join them at the Big Texas Beer Festival, I saw it as an opportunity to taste some local brews (and not so local), and expand my knowledge.

That and of course it also sounded like a fun time.

beerfest

It was also a chance to taste some very unique and interesting flavor combinations. And while delicious, I think they were better suited to the small tasting glasses. I am thinking most specifically about Armadillo Ale‘s Brunch Money (and you don’t get much¬† more Texan than armadillo). Yes. This beer was brunch in a glass, and gave another meaning to drinking your meal. The first inhalation brought you the smell of coffee, waffles and maple syrup and a hint of bacon. And then the taste? Coffee and maple syrup. How do you even make that into a beer?

Of the other unique flavored beers, the one that stood out to me and that I wouldn’t mind having a glass of while sitting out on a patio somewhere was Lazy Magnolia‘s Southern Pecan. While not a Texas brewing company, this definitely had the sweet, very slightly smoky flavor of a pecan. With a name like Lazy Magnolia and pecans in their brew, this was definitely a very Southern beer.

Then there was 903 Brewer‘s coconut beer that tasted strangely healthy, most likely due to the fact that it tasted more like coconut water with a hint of beer. I will say that the first couple of sips I thought “hmm…this is unique and light,” and that was that. But the taste became more and more pleasing. As I neared the end of my tasting glass, I kind of wanted more. It was one of the few I had that I think I’d enjoy a full glass, especially on a hot summer day (and we will definitely be having plenty of those coming up!).

We wrapped the afternoon with a little bit of live music and food trucks. The tofu Korean taco from ssahmBBQ was delicious! There was a little bit of spice, a little bit of crunch, freshness from the cilantro cutting through all of that, and a great, somewhat smokey flavor. Food trucks make appearances at lots of events around town, and I will definitely be keeping my eye out for these guys.

IMG_0193If you’re around next year, I would recommend getting together with some friends and spending the afternoon tasting some great things Dallas has to offer. Just beware of the line to get in. It went quickly, but the challenge was to find the end. And that was before starting the tastings! The line snaked around the trees and entrance walkway, but then also snaked inside of itself. You had to cut through the line in order to get to the back of it. Either the person who first turned it that way had started their tasting early, or it was an attempt to give people waiting something to talk – or tweet – about. In that case, they were successful.

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Happy Spring!

The vernal equinox was this past week, and the first official day of spring was an absolutely beautiful day here in north Texas. Finally. In most -if not all – parts of the country this year, winter definitely fought to stick around. And from what I hear, it’s still fighting. But our forecast as April lurks is definitely bringing in April showers, even with warmer weather.

cherry blossom sunset

I choose to look at the first day of spring as a good omen of things to come. And even more exciting this year, spending spring in Texas. I have not had a Texas spring in over a decade. College spring breaks came too early and then even later, I went to Montana (where there was lots of snow and no flowers). Great years, so I’m not complaining. But Texas fields will be a wash of colors with Texas Bluebonnets, Indian Paintbrushes and Indian Blankets, Mexican Hat Coneflowers, and beautiful, fragrant Magnolias.

Something I’ve heard about this year, but never did before when I lived here, is the Bluebonnet Festival in Ennis. I’ve heard that it really is a beautiful sight to see the pastures covered in a blanket of blue, so I and my camera are definitely ready, and checking out the bluebonnet sightings. It’s kind of like checking in with Bloom Watch for peak cherry blossom viewing on the weekdays (on the weekends, I just walked down to the Tidal Basin to see for myself).

cherry blossom

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A Rumor of War by Philip Caputo

I have quite a phenomenal book recommendation to make: A Rumor of War, a Vietnam memoir by Philip Caputo. I started writing this post before I’d even finished reading the book, and wanted to note that it has the writing, development and world-building of a great fiction novel. To see Caputo’s trajectory from a young officer wanting adventure and a desire to prove himself to a battle hardened ‘old’ man (he talks about seeing that same change in others…that his mind was decades older than his body) is done incredibly well.

There are difficult moments in here, but in a way, that’s what makes this book so poignant. You can read that the jungles were harsh on the soldiers, that it was difficult fighting an enemy who seemed to vanish into the trees and that there was no sense of advancement, but it often seems like a time and a world so far removed. Caputo draws you in, brings you to Vietnam in the late 1960s. The same bonds that are formed with him and his unit are also formed with the reader. And that is one of the things that just made this book a high recommendation in my mind. Along with the writing, the development and those things I mentioned first off.

I’m leaving this review short and bittersweet. This is one of those cases where the book will definitely speak for itself. So if all I can do is just put it on the radar, please allow me to do so.

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A visit to Southfork

The third season of the Dallas reboot began this past week, and in preparation I finally went to visit Southfork Ranch. Despite what the show has you think, visiting the ranch isn’t so much of a view of how the other half lives. Unless by other half you mean weekend ranchers and casual horsemen (though the original owners were successful Quarterhorse breeders).

Southfork gate

The first thing one notices upon approaching the house itself is how small it is! On the show, the house is pretty much a sprawling estate settled on acres of pastures and wooded lands. Which I guess is a testament to the wonder of camera angles and lenses. Growing up, I thought it was kind of fun to hear about the Olympic sized pool and how it really wasn’t that much bigger than the pool at my old house (which was definitely not Olympic sized nor on acres of land).

But maybe the glimpse of…another half was in the atmosphere, of sitting out by the pool and looking into the neighboring pasture with longhorns quietly grazing. After touring the house and starting to wander around the grounds, I realized I could have stayed for a few more hours on just such a property. What I would love would have been to sit on that porch with a glass of wine and just while away my Saturday afternoon (and one interesting fact: the glass table was one of the only set pieces from the original series).

house

rodeo pen

The tour will be of interest when watching the show. For example, this one hallway, small, short and narrow and painted this dark blue color – very much out of the scheme of the rest of the house – was done so for filming. Two of the three bedrooms were set up for tourists, but the third set up as a ransacked hotel room complete with crime scene analysis. It will be really cool to see that in the show and see how it the wonders of filming turn the interior of such an iconic house into a hotel hallway in Mexico.

And of course, the show continues to make a global impression. My tour group consisted of no one from Dallas (unless you count me, though I’m not yet hitting my year mark). Other Texas cities were represented, but there were people from Serbia, France and the UAE. And I think the draw came from both the original series and the reboot.

Well. Welcome to Dallas.

horse

pool

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Austin

There’s a reason Austin is such a great city. Well okay. There are many reasons. The music, the culture, the food, the small city and big city feel, surrounding nature, etc. And not to mention that it’s also the seat of the state government and has a beautiful, pink granite Capitol building.

Texas capitol

I made my first visit in nearly a decade earlier this month. That was way too long to be away, but with visits back to Texas for a few days to maybe a week, there just wasn’t time to make it back until I returned. I also didn’t get to do all that I planned, which is fine. Because I’ll be back.

But I did get to do a couple of things on my list. First was of course a visit to Capitol building after a delicious lunch. I didn’t go inside to visit, but that was fine. I’d mainly just wanted to get a couple of pictures of the exterior and some of the really cool sculptures on the grounds. One that I really liked was put into place in 2012, so wasn’t even there the last time I visited the grounds.

capitol sculptureThe sculpture, designed to commemorate the Tejano contribution to Texas, honors the early Spanish pioneers. The story is written out in plaques around the story, though I admit I was a little too preoccupied trying to get a good shot of the statue in the just beginning to set sun.

Sunday morning the sky was clear and blue, the weather warming up almost instantly once I stepped outside. I first went to a funky and delicious vegetarian cafe a friend recommended to me just outside of downtown. I sat at the espresso bar for breakfast, but if you were waiting for a table, there was a small market set up out front with jewelry and art available for purchase. To get there, I first drove through a few hills and neighborhoods with houses all uniquely designed. No cookie-cutter houses here. And after breakfast I visited one of my favorite bookstores: BookPeople.

I stumbled upon this bookstore years and years ago and instantly fell in love. I always said it was going to be one of the first places I visited once I went back. I didn’t browse too many of the shelves, instead I looked specifically for the staff recommendations, and picked up two books to add to my ever-growing to-read pile. I wanted to buy more, but will leave books for the next visit.

Thanks, Austin, for the great weekend.

guitar

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2014 Reading List

A friend of mine posted his reading list for the upcoming year, and I thought that was kind of a fun idea. It’s not something I’ve really done before. Sure, I have a pile of ‘to-read’ books, but I generally keep this physically small. And that pile is often added to by simply browsing at the bookstore and seeing a cover/reading a blurb that catches my eye. But there are some books I have that I definitely want to read this year, and others that I don’t but that I need to pick up sometime throughout the year and read.

With that in mind, the list below in no way represents a complete to-read list for 2014. I’ll definitely be adding to it (planning to visit Barnes & Noble today, actually), and I’d be very much interested any suggestions from you. So, what are you reading?

Fiction
Transatlantic by Colum McCann
The Marlow Papers
by Ros Barber
Insurgent
by Veronica Roth
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (I read this in high school, but I’m kind of wanting to read it again).
Requiem by Lauren Oliver
The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene
Paris: The Novel by Edward Rutherford
Le Morte d’Arthur by Thomas Malory

Non-fiction
Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War by Robert Gates
Michael Collins: The Man Who Made Ireland by Tim Pat Coogan
A Rumor of War by Philip Caputo
Three Roads to the Alamo: The Lives and Fortunes of David Crockett, James Bowie and William Barret Travis by William C. Davis
A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War by Victor Hanson
American Lion by Jon Meachem

 

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2013 Christmas

I love Christmas. Not just the day itself, but the full holiday season. There’s just something a little magical about the twinkling lights, the garland wrapping around doorways and staircase railings, music, traditions, family and cooking. Even the cooking becomes an event and I think those vegetables sauteing and meat roasting smell just a little bit better.

Last year I wished you a Merry Christmas from DC. This year, I am happy to send warm Christmas wishes from Dallas. To all of you celebrating this year:

Merry Christmas from Texas!

DSCN7792

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Winter Wonderland

Winter hit this past weekend. Just in time for the Christmas holiday (and I heard a rumor there might be more). All manner of Christmas lyrics came to mind this past weekend: Baby, it’s cold outside; let it snow; walkin’ in a winter wonderland; dreaming of a white Christmas; oh the weather outside is frightful. Well. You get the idea. Brr!

But given that this is North Texas, the walking in a winter wonderland was a bit difficult. While it was beautiful outside with snow glistening on white covered streets, it was ice. Not snow.

bird and ice

And it has been good to sit by the tree, sip hot chocolate (my Aunt last year introduced me to Peppermint Patties: adding just a little bit of peppermint schnapps to hot chocolate), catch up on some reading and there may have been a couple of games of Scrabble involved (I won about half).

I’m reading a great book that I have to admit I received last year as a Christmas gift: Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power. It was a super busy holiday season/spring, and then I read quite a bit of fiction over the summer. It seemed to be a great book to start reading during the cooler months and I’m loving it. I’ve read some other Jefferson biographies, and this one is of course sweeping in scope. What’s great is seeing the events and his mentality shaping his actions and really connecting those items. If you’re looking for a good biography, I’d definitely recommend this (on Amazon it has about 4.5 stars!).

It seems pretty much back to normal now with only a few ice patches where the sun doesn’t quite reach. But there is rumor of another storm coming through…just in time for Christmas? And maybe this one will have snow instead of ice. Luckily I have plenty still in my to-read pile. I guess the only question might be which one to read next?

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The Book Thief

Last week I finished The Book Thief, spending longer and longer periods with its pages in each reading. It was one book in a very long time that I’ve wanted to skip forward to the end to find out what happened to the characters, those whose futures were not hinted at in other sections. I didn’t. But that’s not to say it was easy to fight the urge to do so. I think the reader just gets that invested in the novel.

The characters were so complex, each layer peeling away through the different sections, which is so telling of Zusak’s writing. Real people are complex, and he has illustrated this so well in that yes, the main characters are developed well, but so are the secondary characters, and those in passing. It is really a small microcosm that he has created in those pages. And the other thing that was quite remarkable was delivering the human element in an otherwise bleak world. When I think of WWII-era Germany, I think of the dark period in human history from our history texts. But when reading about Liesel, it wasn’t a World War II novel, not like Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead was a World War II novel.¬† It was the story of Liesel and World War II was the setting, a backdrop, encroaching more and more on this character I became all too invested in.

On the day I finished it, I tweeted that this book reminded me of why I write. It may be that I write a different style, or a different genre of books, and I’m not saying that it reminds me that I want to write a literary novel such as this. But it just reminded me of what I love about books. Why I love books. It’s the world creation, the character development, the seeing the possibilities in another way, etc. It’s amazing when books make that kind of impact.

It was such a great read. I kept reading though a tear may have been rolling down my cheek, wanting more to get to the end than to wipe it away. So in the off chance you cannot tell from this review, I’m definitely recommending that you read this if you haven’t already. And if you have read it, what did you think?

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