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November 2013

2013 30-day gratitude photo challenge


It's November, which means it's time to focus in on gratitude! For the past two years, Positively Present has hosted a 30-Day Gratitude Photo Challenge (see here and here) and this year I'm bringing it back again. I've really loved taking part in a challenge that helped me feel more grateful—and it seems like other people have really enjoyed partaking in the challenge, judging from the photos on Flickr and the repins on Pinterest. 

The premise of this year's challenge is the same—snap photos of the items listed in order to stay more present and grateful every day—but, as I did last year, I've added some new items and changed the order a bit as well. If you're new to the challenge or need a refresher  here's what you need to know:


* No photography skills needed. You don't need to be a photographer or even all that interested in taking photos to participate. All you need to be is interested in staying present and focusing on things you're grateful for.

Don't be scared by the word "challenge." It's just what these photo things are called so don't let it prevent you from participating. There's no reward, no punishment—just an opportunity to be more present.

* Any kind of camera works. You can take your photos anyway you want to—with your phone, with a digital camera, with a DSLR, Holga, Instax, SLR, Polaroid. Anything goes when it comes to cultivating gratitude.

* Start at any time. You can start the challenge on November 1 and do it for the whole month (as I'm doing) or you can start the challenge any day that works for you. The point is to focus on staying present for thirty days. 

* Use hashtag #Gratitude30. If you post your pics on Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, etc., be sure to tag them #gratitude30 so others can see them. I'll be posting mine on Instagram (positivelypresent).

* Share your photos. You can share by using the #gratitude30 hashtag, by posting the links to your photos (if you have them online) in the comments section, or by joining the Flickr group here and uploading them.

* Print out a reminder. You can copy the photo above (save it to your phone, perhaps!) or you can download and print out a version to post wherever you'd find a reminder helpful by clicking here.


You might think that, after two years of gratitude challenges, I'd be tired of coming up with creative ideas for staying present using photography, but each year I've done this, I've found it to be such a great way to stay present. Knowing that I have to take a photo a day, I find myself being more mindful of the world around me, and I also find myself being particularly mindful of that day's specific item. If you've done the challenge before, you probably already know how helpful it is when it comes to staying present and thankful. And if you haven't tried it out yet, give it a go and see how it feels! (And don't forget to follow along with me starting November 1 on Instagram!)


why halloween makes me happy



One of the best ways to live a positive and present life is to indulge in and celebrate that things that make you most happy. One of the things that makes me most happy is the Halloween holiday. Ever since I was a kid, I've loved it (even though I hate anything scary—such an odd contradiction). And over the past four years, the holiday has grown even more special to me since it's the anniversary of the day I met my boyfriend. I don't know why I love the day so much—perhaps it's all the orange or the celebration of autumn, my favorite time of year—but I can't get enough of celebrating what I think of as the happiest day of the year.

When I think of Halloween, my mind fills not with thoughts of spooks and spells, but with thoughts of happiness and excitement. It's not the holiday most people would consider the most positive—lots of demons, devils, scary things, and mocking costumes—but to me, it's filled with festivity and fun. In case you're wondering how I find positivity in the haunted holiday, here are some of the things that come to mind when I think of my favorite day of the year: 


Community: Halloween is one of the greatest holidays because almost everyone can participate in it. When it comes to donning Halloween gear, there's a sense of community, of people who all just want to get dressed up in something silly or scary or sexy. Just go into any Halloween costume store (they pop up all around the DC-area this time of year) and you'll see people joined together, searching for the perfect for Halloween costume. The search itself evokes a sense of community. And, of course, there's the time spent at a party or trick-or-treating with others who are decked out in fun gear. When else do so many people of so many different backgrounds spend time joined together in costumes enjoying a holiday?

Generosity: Halloween is the one day of the year you can (if you are or have a kid) knock on all of your neighbors' doors and they will greet you with a smile and a delicious treat. Can you imagine if every day were like that? If you could just walk up to your neighbor's door and s/he would open it with a smile and treat? The generosity of Halloween—free treats for all!—is one of the best things about the holiday. It's the only time I can think of when people are so generous to those they don't know well. Halloween's greatest lesson could be that it's wonderful to give others little treats.  

Creativity: Halloween is a great time to use your imagination to don a costume that is unique and innovative. It's your annual chance to live a fantastical existence. Whatever you want to be, you can put on a costume and be it (or at least pretend to be it). Consider the possibilities! You can be your favorite character (I've been Alice in Wonderland at least five times and I have a Buddy the Elf costume just waiting to be worn!). You can be your dream self (a 1920's flapper has been a go-to for me and I have a yet-to-be-worn ringleader ensemble). The beauty of Halloween is that you can use your creativity to become whatever you want to be (if only for a night!). 

Festivity: For me, Halloween has—and will always be—a time for celebration and festivity. In my mind, Halloween is New Year's Eve and Independence Day rolled into one. It's better than fireworks, more of a rush than champagne. Whether it was tame classroom parties in grade school, wild parties in college, or romance-laden anniversary dates, Halloween has always been a time for celebrating, for dressing up, for getting high on a sugar rush. Even if Halloween doesn't hold the same special place in your heart, it's hard not to get caught up in the festiveness of the autumnal holiday. 


Compared with some other holidays (I'm looking at you, Christmas), Halloween might not seem like such a positive holiday. But to me it's a celebration not just of ghosts and ghouls but of creativity and community, a night to indulge in fantasies and delight in generosity. And, for me, Halloween is now a day of love, a celebration of the years I've spent with an awesome man who I'm so lucky to have in my life. Even if Halloween doesn't exactly conjure up ideas of love for you, you can love the holiday and all that it has to offer: a chance to revel in community, generosity, creativity, and festivity. 

Love Halloween? Here are some links you might want to check out: 

Barkley & the Pumpkin : Barkley pup's first encounter with a pumpkin
Halloween Happiness
: my Pinterest round-up of all things Halloween-y
2013 Halloween Picks : thirty-one of my favorite Halloween-ish tunes
In the Pumpkin Patch : an anniversary poem I wrote for my boyfriend
The History of Halloween : in case you were wondering where it all started
28 Free Halloween Printables : so perfect for spooktacular decorating 
Halloween Caroling : Jimmy Fallon cracks me up with these carols 

b.r.a.v.e.: 5 lessons from training wolves


For my thirtieth birthday I received an amazing gift: an opportunity to assist in wolf training. (If you live in the US and want to do this, it's awesome and you can find more info here.) My boyfriend and I packed our bags and headed to the Virginia coast to check out the wolves and see how we could help train them. I didn't know what to expect (the website was a little vague), but when we started the training session, it turned out to be amazing. First, the trainers told us a bit about how they train the wolves (all positive training, just like I do with my little Barkley pup!). Then they demonstrated some of the training with two gorgeous, majestic wolves. Finally, each member of the audience was invited to ask a wolf for a behavior, followed by encouragement and a treat.

For the hour or so that we were able to learn about and interact with the wolves, I was captivated. I wanted to be nowhere else and I was thinking only of how beautiful the wolves were, how lucky I was to be so close to them, and how wonderful it was to be able to communicate with them. I was fully in the moment and loving every minute of it. It was only later—after the high of being so close to such impressive animals—that I thought about how inspiring the training session truly was. 

What struck me most about being there with the wolves was the bravery. The trainers were brave, getting right in there with the wild animals and doing their best to keep them happy, entertained, and stimulated. The wolves were brave for finding ways to thrive in an environment that wasn't exactly their natural habitat. And, in general, all the people around the world who seek the truth of underlying the lives of wolves—the knowledge that they are simply wild animals trying to survive and not vicious or evil predators out to get humans (as they're often depicted in films and books). 

The word "brave" kept coming back to me as I thought about the wolves and what it was like to train them. Even though I was secured in a spot above them, knowing they were relatively tame and could be called by one of the trainers, I felt brave, standing there, looking into the eyes of a big, beautiful wolf. Though I can't say I did anything all that daring, it felt gutsy—almost courageous—to be standing mere feet away from (and communicating with!) an animal humans had been taught to fear for centuries. 

That the gaze of the wolf reaches the soul sounds a tad dramatic when considered in an abstract way, but to be standing there, with the wolf looking right at your, it really felt true. Maybe it's just me and my crazy love of animals, but I felt connected to the wolf, as if in some odd way we knew each other, or at least understood one another. The connection I experienced was a lesson in and of itself, but perhaps more important were the lessons I took away from the training session. These are things that were established for the benefit of the wolves and trainers, but what I learned can benefit anyone striving to live a positively present life. 



When it comes to training the wolves, the trainers stressed the importance of balance. Too much training and the wolves would get tired or bored. Too little and they'd forget what they'd learned. 

Likewise, we all need balance in our lives. If you spend too much time on one aspect of your life—work, family, love, a hobby, etc.—whatever that aspect is can grow dull, tiresome, and even stressful. No matter how much you enjoy something, it's important to balance it with other aspects of life to keep it fresh and interesting. In addition, engaging in a variety of other activities often helps you come up with new ideas or techniques that can be applied to the task/relationship/etc. that you must enjoy. 



Positive training is all about praise and recognition. When training the wolves, "bad" behavior is ignored (not punished) and good behavior it rewarded. 

While not all bad behavior should be ignored when it comes to humans, there's something to be said for letting some things go and choosing instead to praise and reward the positive interactions with others. Positive reinforcement won't work for every human-to-human situation, but there is quite a lot to be gained from choosing to reward rather than punish those you interact with. (For more on positive training as it applies to people, check out Positive Reinforcement: A Powerful Positivity Tool.) 



To effectively train wolves, both the wolves and the trainers have to be in the moment, staying aware not only of their own actions but of each other's actions as well. 

Staying present is often a difficult task, but the more effort is put into it, the more rewarding interactions with others become. Perhaps it might be beneficial to imagine you're dealing with a wolf rather than a human when you find yourself drifting away from the moment. If a wolf, rather than a person, were standing in front of you, you'd probably be more in tune with it's body language, movements, and expressions. The more you tune into people that way, the better your relationships will be.  



Just like us, wolves get bored if they have to do the same exercise over and over again, which is why the trainers constantly switch it up, keeping them stimulated with new exercises, activities, and even smells. 

Creating variety in life is similar to having balance (don't put all your eggs in one basket!), but it's taking it a bit further. Rather than dividing up your attention between the current aspects of your life, why not try adding in something new? Pick up a new hobby or embark on a spontaneous adventure. If you've already got too much going on, consider how you can switch up your schedule or mix up your daily routines. After all, variety is the spice of life. 



Listen to the trainer's tone in the video. She sounds excited and energetic, right? To get wolves excited about what they're learning, the trainer has to also be (or at least appear) excited.  

Honestly, sometimes it can be really, really hard to get excited about life. Between the routines and stress and the unexpected upsets, being enthusiastic can sometimes seem impossible. But, even if you must force it, make an effort to be enthusiastic. No one wants to work with/live with/be friends with someone who is bored and blase about life. And you're not doing your mental state any favors by choosing to have a lackadaisical attitude. So get excited. Make it your goal to find reasons to be delighted by life. 



You might have noticed that I used B.R.A.V.E. as an acronym for the lessons. I did this because I believe that, as basic as these lessons sound, each of them requires a bit of daily bravery. In theory these ideas are simple, easy. But in reality, it's much more difficult to adhere to these simple-sounding concepts. To really encorporate these elements—balance, recognition, awareness, variety, and enthusiasm—into life requires courage, especially when you're facing tough times. Bravery doesn't have to be reserved for dangerous acts. Bravery can be a quiet kind of courage, taking form in the small, everyday acts of striving to live a positive and present life.