I didn’t really go for a walk in the woods today because it was very cold and icy here. I can tell when I’m getting cabin fever this time of year, though, because I spend more time browsing through outdoor photos. Over the weekend I downloaded some Creative Commons landscape photos from Flickr and put them into the library for my digital art display. This is the one I chose yesterday, after a snowstorm.

Snowy path between tall conifers.

Seeing a snowy path through my imaginary “window” makes me feel as if I could get bundled up in warm clothes and go play in the snow, like when I was a kid. I haven’t actually gone exploring in a winter wood in a very long time, and I must confess that I don’t even own a pair of sturdy winter boots anymore. The snowblower is my husband’s domain. When we have a winter storm I’m usually sitting at the computer, or maybe reading a book on the couch.

Still, it puts me in a cheerful mood to see something that looks like a window onto a vast wild forest where I could spend many hours happily wandering around, even if it’s only an illusion.

My daughter and her husband came to visit for a friend’s gender reveal party. The friend has two daughters and was kind of hoping for a boy. As the designated revealer, my daughter picked up the ultrasound photo from the doctor’s office and was the only one to know until the party a few hours later (which was at a pizza restaurant yesterday).

Although I’d heard of such parties, I had no idea how they went, so it was fun to watch. My daughter decorated a clipboard with cute drawings, and everyone voted on it with tally marks for “girl” or “boy.” Then the reveal was done by putting a little toy duck into a bowl of water; it had a chemical that made the water change color. The ducks are sold online in packs of two, with a “boy” duck that turns the water blue and a “girl” duck that turns it pink. The revealer brings the appropriate one to the party after taking off the identifying sticker.

The water turned pink, so there will be a third girl, much to the delight of her sisters. My mother-in-law came to the party too; she adores the little girls. We had a good time, except for getting sideswiped by a careless driver on the way to the restaurant, which left my husband with the unwanted chore of buffing the scraped fender and applying touch-up paint. Could have been worse, though.

This morning my daughter, her husband, and their dogs packed up and left, and the house seemed very quiet again. After an unseasonably warm day, it had gotten much colder overnight, with snow flurries and howling winds. I put this image of a lonely canyon on my digital art display.

Dry, lonely canyon under an orange sunset.

Even though it’s not a real window, changing the landscape to match the feeling of a particular day seems to improve my mood by making clear how quickly everything changes. Just like the image on the display, a lonely house and the winter blues won’t stay too long.

When I browse through the online library for my digital art display, I sometimes come across interesting photos that have nothing in the caption to identify where in the world they were taken. That’s okay, though, because it can be more fun to create stories about them when I have no clue what they really are. Here’s the image that I am displaying today—where would you guess it might have come from?

Narrow cobblestone street between stone and wood buildings.

(Photo credit: Millie Walker)

The narrow street paved with cobblestones between buildings made of stone and wood has a timeless feeling to it, as if an unsuspecting traveler might go for a stroll and end up several hundred years in the past. As for the little pointed orange rooftops, they look like something exotic from a far distant kingdom out of a child’s storybook. I can imagine them at the entrance to a medieval castle, with archers posted there to keep watch from those little windows.

On a sunny morning, the street might be full of merchants in long robes driving their donkeys and mules to market, with wooden carts heaped high. Children would dodge between the carts, laughing and playing. Women carrying baskets of food or buckets of water would make their way through the crowds on the sidewalk. Maybe a small group of monks on a pilgrimage would pass by, intent on seeing a saint’s relics in a nearby cathedral.

And just maybe, looking out my imaginary window at that scene, I might see a tiny fairy with shimmering blue wings and strands of diamonds woven into her hair, invisible to all but those who believe in her.

As summer comes to an end, the shorter days generally mean less time spent outdoors. Although the weather may still be hot and muggy, like it has been around here for the past week, the angle of the sun makes clear that it’s not July anymore. Still, I enjoy the peace and calm of September evenings. Even on days when I don’t go down to the river to row, I like to post sunset photos on my digital art display and imagine that I’m looking out over the water in some new and exciting place.

Sunset over water with tree branches.

I suppose the peaceful feelings that people get from pictures of calm rivers and lakes must go back to prehistoric times, when such landscapes usually meant that all was well—plenty of water to drink, along with fish and other food to hunt and gather. Probably there’s something deep down in the primitive parts of our brains telling us that we need to spend time in such places.

Wherever it may come from, I definitely feel refreshed when I walk by the river—or imagine myself looking out the window of a beautiful lakefront vacation home—as the evenings come earlier.

Over the weekend I read the book Counterclockwise by Ellen Langer, a professor of psychology at Harvard who studies how people react to social cues. She is best known for a study in 1979 of elderly men who spent a week living as if they had gone back in time 20 years, in a building that was furnished entirely with items from that time period. They read books and magazines from 1959, listened to the radio shows that were popular then, and watched TV programs from that era on a tiny black-and-white set.

The participants in the control group were told to reminisce about life twenty years earlier in the past tense, while the instructions for the experimental group were to use the present tense and discuss events as if they actually were living in 1959. The men in both groups looked and acted younger by the end of the week, with significantly more of a difference for the experimental group. They stood taller, walked more easily, spoke more confidently, and showed some improvements in objective measures of health such as lower blood pressure readings.

That study, and others discussed in the book, illustrate the effects of our environment on what we believe about ourselves and how the body conforms to those beliefs on a subconscious level. Noticeable changes can happen even if we don’t rearrange our physical surroundings in great detail, but simply reframe the way we think about them. The key, according to the author, is to be mindfully aware of the possibilities. When we realize that our habitual assumptions are not necessarily the only way to look at things, we allow ourselves—whether consciously or subconsciously—to discover other ways of being.

I’ve noticed this effect when changing the images on my digital art display. Nature scenes leave me feeling rested, while photos of interesting places abroad make me feel adventurous; and I’m likely to feel younger and more creative when I choose fanciful scenes, like this seashell picture that I displayed on Sunday. Doesn’t it look like a fairy tale illustration from which a mythical creature might suddenly emerge?

Large seashell on beach.

As for all the things we don’t notice because we get so used to them, I found myself in one of those situations on Monday afternoon. I went into a jewelry store to get a watch battery, and one of their salespeople pointed out that the prongs holding the diamond in my ring had gotten very worn. Maybe he was exaggerating when he said that the diamond might fall out at any moment; however, once I looked closely at the prongs, there was no doubt that they really did need replacing, so I left the ring for repair.

Of course, if I had ever stopped to think about it, I would’ve realized that after being worn every day for the 32+ years since I got engaged, the ring would naturally show signs of wear. But it happened so gradually that the changes were not at all noticeable from one day to another, so my mental picture of the ring was that it had stayed the same as always. When I went back to get the repaired ring, the new prongs were much longer. It’s such a difference—I keep poking myself on them and getting surprised!

This week I felt like I was getting into the late-winter doldrums, so I decided it was about time for some imaginary travels. A winter photo of a castle seemed just right for my digital art display. The caption identified it as the Alcázar of Segovia.

Alcázar of Segovia on a dark, snowy winter day.

I didn’t know anything about this particular castle, so I looked up the history. The castle was built over the foundation of a Roman fort in the city of Segovia in Spain, and many kings and queens ruled from it in the Middle Ages. Later it became a state prison and then a military college. The castle has been restored beautifully with its medieval artwork and is now open to the public.

Looking at the photo displayed on my wall, I could almost imagine that I had traveled to Spain and was looking out the window of a hotel in the city below the castle. That put some fun into what might otherwise have been a dull winter day!

Over the weekend, the weather turned rainy, dark, and chilly here. It’s starting to feel like winter is not far away. Before I sat down at the computer to write this post, I put on my fluffy winter socks and comfy pajamas with a matching scarf.

But I’m not quite ready to give up summertime feelings of adventure and settle into long months of quiet hibernation, so I put this photo taken in Japan’s Yakushima Forest on my digital art display:
 

Mossy rocks in a stream in Yakushima Forest, Japan. 

Doesn’t it look like an illustration of an enchanted forest from an old-fashioned book of fairy tales, where anyone who followed the stream far enough would discover a magical cottage full of hidden treasures?

And with that picture on my wall, it’s almost like my house is the fairy cottage and I am looking out the window at the path I followed to reach it, after bravely daring to walk in the front door and finding no witches or goblins lurking there. Just right for the day before Halloween!

Now that the summer is winding down, my subconscious mind seems to be telling me that it’s about time for a vacation. Instead of the nature scenes I often post on my digital art display, I’ve found myself picking images like this quaint, narrow street:
 

Narrow street with cobblestones and tall old buildings. 

I don’t know where the photo was taken, but it looks like an older area of a city somewhere in Europe. The next day, I displayed an image of a ship with tall sails bravely crossing a storm-tossed sea. Then I chose a photo of a waterfront resort, and the next picture was a sunlit staircase with old-fashioned décor in Barcelona. So, adding up those clues, I would say they’re telling me it’s adventure time!

I had a busy weekend with a lot going on. It’s all good, but it left me feeling like I need to give myself more time to just rest and breathe. Also, can’t forget to de-stress by looking at a few good cat pictures, right? Wouldn’t want to end up like this poor kitty…
 

Cat picture that says "I'm so stressed out over being stressed out that I can't even remember why I'm stressed out... and it's stressing me out!" 

In the interest of avoiding stressed-out kitty syndrome, I put a beach photo on my art display this morning, with a nice relaxing view of the tide coming in. That, along with getting some exercise rowing for an hour or so this evening, should do the trick.
 

Beach photo with rising tide 

I’m hoping that this post gave everyone visiting my blog a little bit of stress relief too!

Although I’m not really going to the beach for Memorial Day weekend, I decided to get in the mood anyway by putting a cute beach and pool cartoon on my art display. Okay, maybe I can’t jump into the picture and be there; but hey, my inner child doesn’t know that, right?
 

Cartoon image of a pool with lounge chairs at the beach. 

Who says that doing therapy on oneself has to be all about angst and excavating mounds of deeply buried negative emotions? I honestly think that sometimes it might be more worthwhile just to invite my inner child to hang out at the beach for a little while, build a sand castle or two, and enjoy a yummy confection from the ice-cream truck.

At the very least, it can be a useful reminder not to take life too seriously!