Morning Coffee: The “Eyes” Have It

Healing HeartWe’ve all heard the old saying, “The eyes are the window to the soul.” The proverb can be traced back to Cicero (106-43 B.C.), Roman statesman, orator, lawyer and philosopher, who served as consul in the year 63 BC. He is quoted as saying “Ut imago est animi voltus sic indices oculi”…”The face is a picture of the mind as the eyes are its interpreter.”

The eyes can tell us everything about a person. They show love, hate, anger, happiness, confusion, sadness. Mothers only have to look into the eyes of a child and know when that little person is lying. And the child only has to look into the mother’s eyes to know she knows.

A simple look from an emergency room doctor can tear your heart out. While the look from the person you love can make your heart race with passion.

We describe people by their eyes: “kind eyes”, “shifty eyes”, even comical but expressive “puppy dog eyes”.

Actors know the power of the eyes. I was recently watching an old “All In The Family” episode I hadn’t seen in many years. The one where Edith Bunker is sitting at the bedside of one of the patients at the Sunshine Home, listening to her tell why she’s ready to die, how she’s had such a wonderful life. Jean Stapleton was a master character actress and when she teared up watching her friend pass, so did I. I wanted to reach out and console her. The look in Edith’s eyes made me care.

It’s the same with a good book. I haven’t watched any of the “Outlander” television shows yet as I’m currently reading the books. But I don’t have to see the way Jamie looks at Claire to know how Claire reacts to his gaze. Diana Gabaldon’s words take me there. I feel every heart-skipping, breath-catching, moment as his soul touches hers.

A good writer, like a good actor, never forgets the power of the eyes.


Morning Coffee: Hygge

feetPronounced “hoo-ga” or “hue-gah”, this Danish word has no single definition. It’s not about a thing, but about a feeling, a sense of well-being. It’s about enjoying the simple things in life that make us feel content and it’s a trend taking off world-wide.

Hygge can be a solitary experience, or one shared with friends and family. During these long cold winter months in northern Wisconsin I find hygge in a book with a cup of coffee, tea, cocoa, or a glass of wine. If it’s not too cold, I will enjoy a long walk on the wooded trails behind our house, or snow-shoeing in the woods behind our cabin with my husband. Counted cross-stitch while watching a movie and drinking coffee is a great way to start my day, while a hot bubble bath with candles and soft music is a very relaxing way to end it.

Jig-saw puzzles are a fun winter activity, alone or with friends. This week we hosted our monthly card night. The six of us enjoyed a meal of hot soup and bread, followed by a rousing game of Hand And Foot with wine and chocolates and lots of good-hearted ribbing. New Year’s Eve it was Trivial Pursuit, women against the men. This year we women skunked the men both times! Game nights are a great way to spend an evening with family and friends.

Hygge isn’t just for the winter months. It should be a year-round goal. Once the weather turns nice again I’ll enjoy more frequent walks, many rounds of golf, days spent at the lake boating and picnicking, and even some fishing. The county fair is a great way to relax and have fun. And, of course, a good book is enjoyable any day. But in the summer you’re more likely to find me sitting on the back patio with a cold drink within easy reach.

Hygge isn’t about what you can buy, or one-upping the next guy. It’s about what makes you happy. It’s about sharing a cup of coffee with an old friend while remembering the goofy things you did together as kids. It’s more about jogging for the peace and quiet you feel while doing it, and not about running a race for the blue ribbon at the end. It can be as simple as ditching the bra and too-tight pants for sweats or pajamas at the end of the work day. It can be your feet in a pair of your fuzziest, warmest, socks.

How do you find hygge in your life?

Morning Coffee: Saying Goodbye To Another Holiday Season

winterAnother holiday season has passed and, like so many of you, I’m ready to see it go. If you consider as far back as Halloween, it’s been a little over two months of sweets, parties, family dinners. Add to that the presents that need to be purchased and wrapped and ultimately opened and then put away (if not returned or exchanged), the cards to be addressed and mailed (I make all of mine and write the verse), the decorations inside and out, cookies and special desserts to be baked, candy candy and more candy…well, you see what I mean.

I’m exhausted and I still have to look forward to putting away all the decorations. But we’ll leave that for next week because with all the holiday prep and celebrations, I haven’t written anything new, other than this blog, in a month.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the holiday season. But I can go a long time now without hearing another Christmas song. Not even “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” can raise a smile anymore.

And thank goodness the Christmas cookies and my special double decker peanut butter fudge guaranteed to spike your blood sugar and put your doctor into a panic are almost gone! Now to hide any unopened chocolates I received as gifts until a later date because, while I’ve somehow managed to stay on an even keel with my weight through the holidays it’s time to work at losing a few…actually, more than a few…pounds.

The one downside of the holidays being over is that winter is NOT almost over. Now we enter the three to four months of snow and cold. As I’ve written in past blogs, I am not a winter sport enthusiast. I tried downhill skiing when I was young and foolish and quickly knew it wasn’t for me. I tried cross-country skiing after we moved back to Wisconsin from New York State, even bought the expensive equipment, then injured my tailbone falling on the raised ice track. I kept trying that winter, convinced those who told me in time I’d get the hang of it were right…but I didn’t. Those skis now sit in the basement collecting dust. And forget about ice skating. I’ve never had the ankle strength for balancing on a single blade. That leaves me with bundling up to walk our beautiful wooded trails. Even with the cold, I have to admit the snow-covered trees sparkling in the sun are nice to look at. And snow shoes are actually quite easy to use! If I do fall in those, I don’t flounder in the snow like a fish out of water while trying to regain my footing.

There was a time I didn’t understand why people would go to Florida in the winter. I would miss the snow! That was back when I was a kid. Back when Saturdays and school snow days meant sledding. When it was fun to build snow forts and hold snowball wars. When it was fun to actually lie down in the snow and make angels. When we’d compete to see who could build the best snowman. Now I sit at my computer and stare out the window at all that cold whiteness and listen to the Siren call of the snowbirds as they try to tempt me away. Some year in the maybe not so distant future I will answer that call and head out for at least a month of warm sunshine, sand between my toes, and the sound of gulf waves and palm trees blowing in the breeze to encourage my creative muse. Until then, I remain seated at my computer, staring out at the cold, and telling myself at least the snow looks pretty in the sunshine.

Morning Coffee: Blind Date With A Book

poinsettia-6Here’s a fun game for exchanging books for Christmas, or any other time, for that matter. I first heard of this when I attended a workshop a couple months back. It was part of a game where we took turns standing up and sharing a humorous, confusing, or even mean review/critique. After you shared you could pick a book out of a basket. Thing was, you couldn’t see the book you were choosing. Each donated book was wrapped in plain brown paper and on the front was written four or five brief descriptions.

I don’t remember the descriptors written on mine, but if I were giving this book away as a blind date I would write: medieval, inspirational romance, lost honor, forced marriage, murder. The book turned out to be “Adoration” by Olivia Rae, a Wisconsin writer. This is a book I wouldn’t normally buy. Not because I don’t like medieval history or inspirational romance, I do, but there just aren’t enough days in my life to read all the books I would enjoy so I have to be choosy and there are other time periods I enjoy more. But I was happy to receive this book. I could hardly put it down.

This is also a game that doesn’t have to cost participants a single cent. You can all agree to bring a gently used book from your own home library. You can add a “white elephant” angle to your game, in case someone picks a book they have already read, or maybe because someone else picked a book they would prefer.

The right to pick a book can be earned by shaking dice or answering a trivia question correctly. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination and the people playing the game. If you can’t come up with an idea yourself, try Googling it. There are tons of ideas online, from Pinterest to…well…a million other sites. And it doesn’t have to be a party game. Libraries and bookstores are doing it, as well.

Admittedly, the concept goes against the way we normally choose our books. What’s the first thing that attracts you to a book, whether in the library or a store? The cover. Choice of cover art is the top priority when a writer decides to self-publish…other than good content, of course. Unless the book happens to be written by a favorite author, it’s the colors, graphics, even the title font that attracts us. Only after spying an interesting cover do we pick it up and read the back cover blurb before making that all important purchase decision. Blind Date With A Book takes away that visual attraction and truncates the blurb.

I felt an excitement greater than normal as I flipped through the remaining books in the basket. There was a sense of mystery, an intriguing unknown, to the process. I read the descriptors on each. I held them in my hand and felt the size and weight. I ran my hand over the top of each as if willing the contents to expose themselves to me psychically. And when I returned to my seat I didn’t hesitate before untying the string and removing the paper to see my prize, the treasure I had won. The cover was beautiful. I read the full blurb and knew immediately I had picked a winner. But I also knew every book in that basket was a winner. No one “lost” that went on a blind date with a book that night.

Morning Coffee: Jólabókaflód

Mockingbird2Pronounced Yo-La-Bok-A-Flot, this Icelandic Christmas Eve tradition is one for the books…literally. It means “Yule Book Flood”, and that’s exactly what it is.

Americans are overwhelmed with Christmas marketing even before the Halloween candy has left the store shelves. In Iceland, however, the holiday season begins with the annual delivery of the Bokatidini, a catalog of every new book being published. Can you imagine that happening in the United States? One catalog put out jointly by all the publishing houses and delivered free to every household? The cost alone would be prohibitive, not to mention the sheer weight and size. Iceland, on the other hand, is not large enough to support the year-round publication of new titles. So the few publishing companies “flood” the market with new titles in the weeks prior to year’s end. The arrival of the catalog is met with great excitement.

The tradition began during WWII, when foreign imports were restricted, and paper cheap. Books are exchanged on Christmas Eve and everyone retires to their room, anxious to read long into the night. Forget the raucous parties with too much food, alcohol, and noise. No one is worrying about who should have their car keys taken away, or what the road conditions are like for the drive home. It’s just you and your new book, a warm bed, and perhaps a cup of hot cocoa or tea and a plate of cookies. Maybe a beloved pet curled up at your side while snow falls quietly outside your window.

News of this tradition has spread on social media and book lovers world-wide are starting their own Christmas Eve book exchange traditions. I’m thinking this would be a wonderful idea for next Christmas, although probably not on Christmas Eve as we have our own traditions. I already have a few ideas.

Morning Coffee: Fairy Tales and Princesses

fallThere’s a growing movement telling little girls that fairy tales and princesses are bad. Recently an actress announced she no longer lets her daughters watch “Cinderella” because she doesn’t want them to believe they need a man to come along and save them. Another actress announced she had to have a long talk with her daughters after they watched “Sleeping Beauty” because the prince kissed Beauty without her consent. Women have voiced concerns about “Beauty and The Beast” because that Beauty is held captive by a frightening beast until she falls in love with him. And the list goes on.

I’ve heard similar complaints about romance novels. We shouldn’t be telling stories about love at first sight and finding your one true love. These stories teach young girls they can’t be happy on their own. If it’s a sweet romance or a Christian romance where there’s no sex outside marriage the one side complains it’s unrealistic and preachy. If there is sex outside marriage the other side dubs it “mommy porn”. This makes me sad.

We’re living in a time when women are being encouraged to stand up for themselves in ways that were unacceptable in the past. This is a wonderful thing! Hopefully our daughters won’t have to put up with the harassment their mothers and grandmothers routinely experienced. But why does it have to come at the expense of love and romance? Yes, young girls should be taught they don’t need a handsome prince to come save and protect them. Yes, they absolutely must give consent before being kissed or touched in an intimate manner. And being held captive by another is now, and always has been, a bad thing. But falling in love is a beautiful thing, something we should all be so blessed as to experience at least once in our life.

Love is a biological process hard wired into our brain for both pleasure and procreation. That feeling of excitement, the racing heart and sweaty palms we experience when first falling in love, is due to a release of dopamine, norepinephrine, and phenylethylamine. Dopamine is the “pleasure chemical”, the cause of that feeling of happiness whenever you are with him or her. Norepinephrine is similar to adrenaline, the reason for the racing heart and excitement. Put them together and you have that crazy cocktail we all recognize: happiness, excitement, sleeplessness, loss of appetite. Researchers studying MRI images taken while their subject is looking at a photo of their love have observed the area of the brain that lights up is the same area connected to cravings and addictions. It’s why when we are in those first throws of love we often find it difficult to focus on anything else.

Love is what connects us to others. Whether it’s the love of a parent, a friend, or a sexual attraction, it’s the one thing that assures us we are not alone. Love is a good thing. So, let’s be careful we don’t sacrifice love in our search for a better future. Have those important conversations with your daughters and sons, but also let them experience love through the eyes of an animated prince and princess. And if you, your friend, or your neighbor enjoys reading a good romance novel, whether of the sweet or erotic or anywhere in between kind, celebrate that, too. We could all use a lot more love and a lot less judgment in this world.