|Get the best of Oprah.com in your inbox. Sign up for our newsletters!|
Best Life (22 posts)
As I stuck the list to the fridge, I daydreamed about the different lessons we would have every week, how I would combine documentary clips and projects and field trips in a totally inspiring and life-affirming improvised homeschooling situation. I envisioned the children and I racing through a meadow, peering at clouds through homemade cloud-viewers and shouting, "Cumulus! Nimbus!" at each other like greetings in a newly-learned language.
Right. So as it turns out, I apparently don't know how to learn about anything other than by checking out relevant books at the library. Each Monday I stare at the list, and think, Right. India. We were going to learn about India. Hm, guess I'll check out a book. What's next? Animal groups. Okay, I'll find a book. Now don't get me wrong, the disintegrating, outdated science textbooks at my local library are great and all. But I know there must be more engaging ways to learn about new things. And now I know where to find them: Learnist.
This new social media site is essentially Pinterest with a point. (No offense to Pinterest!) Users share their areas of expertise, compiling, say, helpful grammar infographics, or the best works of filmmaker Werner Herzog, or (my favorite so far) words that can't be translated into English. Learnist draws you in and around (I was not exactly looking for Werner Herzog, but suddenly here I am, obsessed) the way Facebook and Twitter do, but with more useful content -- lots of resources for teachers, home cooks, sports enthusiasts, basically, everyone.
So I can space out online and actually be compiling an unofficial lesson plan for my curious kid. Or, you know, myself.
Check out Learnist and request a (free, easy) beta invite!
Is Learning Ever Just Plain Learning?
The Importance of Curiosity
As Martha Beck writes on this very site, to live a life rich with everyday miracles, all one needs is a " sense of what's probable—and a world filled with moments of grace, strange synchronicities, and perhaps (who knows?) the occasional bedroom full of guardian angels." So where are your everyday miracles today? And when they appear, will you let them in?
The Big Question: An Adventure or a Nap?
The 23-Year-Long Road Trip
I know it's a luxury of my life that I get to think this, and yet I sometimes find myself wondering what I'm really doing here. Here in my life, I mean. Reading my kid a picture book about the rain forest the other day sent me into a mental tailspin. The rainforests! Are getting destroyed! What am I doing about it? Nothing! I don't volunteer, I don't donate large sums of money, I don't save the children (except my own, of course, when they teeter off the playground equipment). I don't even use cloth diapers! I'm part of the problem! Of course (and here come the excuses of which we all have so many) what could I do that would really make an impact without turning my life upside down, or maybe it needs to be turned upside? (And don't say use cloth diapers.)
So it was like something chimed in my chest when I read this BBC News story about Hernando Guanlao, a 60-something book lover in Manila who turned his private book collection into a lending library for his community. Twelve years ago, his parents died and Guanlao was looking for a way to honor their memory. Since he had shared with them a love of reading, he decided to put his books -- 100 or so -- outside his house, encouraging people to borrow them on an honor system. Over a decade later, his collection has swelled to the thousands, providing reading material to a community in which few people can afford to buy books and there is not a public lending library. Guanlao told the BBC, "It seems to me that the books are speaking to me. That's why it multiplies like that. The books are telling me they want to be read... they want to be passed around."
Books now overtake nearly all of Guanlao's home -- and life, since he quit his job in order to run the library, living off his savings. And this, as you may guess, was what spoke to me so eloquently. Here is a man who has found a way to combine a wish to help others with his personal passion, and it's changed not just his community's life, but his own. There was of course risk here -- he may well have lost all his books, in a place where books are expensive. And yet, as he told the BBC, "You don't do justice to these books if you put them in a cabinet or a box. A book should be used and reused. It has life, it has a message. As a book caretaker, you become a full man." Words which should be inscribed on every overstuffed bookcase everywhere, probably. (Read the full article to learn Guanlao's plans for even more intrepid and creative book-sharing.)
Guanlao offers another gift, too, even to those of us too remote to visit his library: a reminder that sometimes, when you're least expecting it, a need dovetails with your passion, and your life's mission finds you.
Becoming the Person You Were Meant To Be
How to Make Your Life Sparkle
Wait...Tea? I'm such a caffeine fiend that my 3-year-old is trained to wake me up with a "Mama, it's time to make your cup of coffee!" But the way
blogger (Tea & Cookies) and author (The Butcher and The Vegetarian) Tara Austen Weaver writes about tea, I almost believe I love it as much as she does.
In a recent post, Weaver, who shares my morning routine obsession, writes: "I know some who eat the same breakfast, day in and day out. Some people use the same bowl or cup (a friend of mine recently visited and brought her favorite mug with her). There are tea and coffee rituals galore. These are the ways we lure ourselves out of bed, ground ourselves for the day ahead." As all of us routine-obsessed folks know, the morning ritual takes on heightened significance around this time of year. Mornings are darker and chillier, making it harder to launch out of a cozy bed. Those of us who leap out of bed are forced to awaken in those way-way-pre-dawn hours really need a good reason to make the eternal trek from the bed to not-the-bed.
Like, maybe, the promise of the perfect cup. Coffee, tea, whatever it is doesn't really matter. As Weaver puts it, "What matters is that I do it. That I take the time for this small thing that grounds me for the rest of the day. That even on hectic mornings, in fearful times, on shaky ground, I am able to wrap my hands around a warm cup, inhale a fragrance both comforting and calming. In that small moment I feel like, Yes, I can do this. And then I get on with my day."
Because she can. And I can. And you can.
(Read Weaver's entire blog post for its rapturous celebration of that morning cup of tea but also for the can't-miss comments, in which her readers share their own lovely morning musts, snuggly cats, oldies stations and all.)
What Successful People Do in the Mornings
17 Ways to Get Out the Door Faster
Stress-Proof your AM Hours
The end of summer—not unlike the arrival of a 40th birthday—always makes me think of time. June, July and August seem to move on their own emotional clock, one that has a few different speeds: slow when it comes to hot afternoons, quick when it comes to a week of vacation, lightning-fast when it comes to considering the season as a whole in those last few final days of its fruition.
A friend of mine named Sam once described the three months right after the birth of his daughter as both "fast and slow at the same time." I knew what he meant: everything stops for a newborn and everything blurs by. This is why time is so fascinating. Its progress is so brazenly dependent on how we experience it. It can suspend and race. It can sludge by and whisk by and vanish completely—concurrently. Which is why I so liked seeing this video I found on The Laughing Squid.
Note how the clip only lasts just over a minute. But it seems as if it lasts for much, much longer. Three whole fat balloons bounce by after all, over and over. If I were the kind of person who uploaded videos onto her phone, I would keep this one close by, for all those dark horrible moments when I realize that my son's birthday was nine—not two—months ago or that my mother sold our old house 20—not five years—ago, at which point I scream to myself "Wait! Stop! It's all going so fast!"
Because, as odd as it may sound, the water balloon may be the only rival to the human brain, when it comes to slowing down time. Be each rubber ball manipulated by cameras (as in: here) or tossed towards our heads (as in: the park), these wonderfully lumbersome, cumbersome objects make us realize just how long 60 seconds can last. All for the price of 5 cent a (sorry) a pop.
Martha Beck manages time
Ways to love your life before the end of summer
The Gazette reports that Michelle Rodenburg and Tonya Dusold agreed to spend a day "plugging expired meters, handing out gift cards, leaving quarters in candy machines and buying ice cream for strangers."
The longtime friends shared how their attempts to distribute quarters at a laundromat ran afoul when people started eyeing them suspiciously -- so they tossed a bag of quarters into a basket and ran away, laughing hysterically. Rodenburg said, “It’s just so simple. When I first told my husband about it, he said it was a great idea, but that we should be doing something like this all the time. It really makes a difference. You have no idea what kind of impact a kind gesture will have.”
We should be doing it all the time, odd looks in the laundromat be darned! Because let me tell you, just reading this story on the newspaper's website I encountered another news story so breathtakingly sad and awful I felt like I'd been socked in the stomach. Then I remembered what I was supposed to be doing and came back to these generous-hearted women and their fun day sharing ice cream and coins and kindness, and my gut unclenched and I remembered, Oh yeah. Things aren't that bad. Look at that! You have no idea what kind of impact you'll have. How true, how ridiculously, senselessly, eternally true.
Read the whole article for the "Pay it Forward" twist to the 30th-birthday-kindness spectacular, and for more ideas on how to spread the joy yourself.
A Dying Wish: Leave an Awesome Tip
Day-Brightening Acts of Generosity
Plenty of road trips end with that Thelma-and-Louise feeling, am I right? You know what I mean. Reaching the end and realizing how much has changed, how much hasn't changed, how much you just want to keep on going. Not in a driving-into-the Grand-Canyon-because-the-law's-catching-up way, but in a soaring-into-the-air-eternally way. But you don't, of course you don't, because your life is waiting. You know, real life -- the job that needs to be returned once the vacation days expire, the dog that needs to be picked up from the kennel, the house full of all your very important stuff that you can't quite picture anymore, quietly awaiting your return. But what if you just kept going? Well, that's what Gunther Holtorf did. Twenty-three years ago.
When Gunther Holtorf and his wife began their journey in 1989, they meant to take an 18-month trip around Africa -- an ambitious enough undertaking. But somehow they just weren't ready to stop traveling, and continued on in their Mercedes Benz G Wagen for the next, oh, 500,000 miles. This BBC News video is a must-see, full of inspiring images of the trusty car (Holtorf says he's never had a major breakdown!) just about everywhere on Earth a person might want to travel.
And guess what: Holtorf has documented these amazing travels with only a couple of ancient film cameras. Film! No blog. No Twitter. No Instagram. It's almost as if the true roving spirit, the collective unconscious travel bug, has swarmed and assembled in this cheerful world-driver. After I'd seen this video for the first time, I was walking across a highway overpass and found myself gazing at the river of cars, wondering if any of them were in the midst of a grand adventure, feeling somehow, as I hadn't before, that most of them must be.
Ten Places to See Before They're Gone
Inspiration for the Armchair Traveler
What about you? How many useful life skills do you have? Do you know how to build a fire? How about without matches? Do you know CPR? Can you change a flat tire? Sew on a button? Give a speech? Even Cool has assembled a very helpful/shame-making list of 50 things everyone should know how to do. From jump-starting a car to cleaning your house to effectively flirting (it's very comprehensive), this list compiles skills every adult should have -- and of course, links to helpful articles from all across the Internet explaining how to do these very things. It's a list that should be bookmarked on every computer (don't know how to use a computer? It's on the list!), and emailed to everyone you know who's about to head off to college. Or grad school. Or, you know, another day at work.
A Father's Financial Tips for His Daughter
20 Questions That Could Change Your Life
Cerand writes of her longing for a quiet life, far from the breathless glitter of Manhattan and the constant hustle of her freelancer/publicist lifestyle. "An enormous amount of dedication is required to patch together a living, and it occurred to me this week that there is a direct correlation with how long it’s been since I’ve taken a vacation and how long since I’ve dated anyone. Years, so many that sometimes it seems pointless to reach for a two-week break, or a person." She draws a startling, vivid connection with the feeling of skidding on an icy highway—out of control, terrified, moving too fast to stop.
Then, as wise women tend to, she quotes Mary Oliver: "Tell me, what is it you plan to do/with your one wild and precious life?" Aren't you doing it, Cerand asks of herself, of all of us? And if not, good gracious, why not? Whether it's more quiet or more glitter, more time for contemplation or more nights out eating oysters and wearing pearls, leaving behind the job that's sucking you dry or embarking on a new project even though you know it will be demanding—when do you plan to start living that real life you keep meaning to begin?
As Cerand puts it: "I must practice, with all the days that I have; I will improve the way I pass the time."
To which I say: Yes, yes, yes. And: now.
Find Your Hopeful Place
The Beauty of Living in the Moment
Contentment in Your Own Backyard
It is the best thank you on Earth.
I'm trying to study this method of saying thank you. Not the cheerfully texted "thx!", not even that kindest of cyber-gestures, the retweet -- the actual, face-to-face, eye-to-eye, fully felt, "Thank you. Thank you so much." You know who they are, the people you need to thank: the customers who patronize your business, the shopkeepers who make dinner for your family when you can't deal. Try it, without smiling in a newscaster way, without adding verbal punctuation like "so so so, very very very" -- just mean it. Thank you.
Oprah on the Power of Saying Thank You
An Attitude of Gratitude
Thank You Note Etiquette
The Neuroscience of Gratitude