Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Choose happiness. And pie.

The theme of one of my first posts of 2013 was "choosing happiness." I talked about venturing away from a long list of new years resolutions and focusing instead on things I could do to be simply that: happier. I decided one of the first steps I could take was to acknowledge all the good that surrounded me.  Like most of you I imagine, I have a tendency to get bogged down with relatively insignificant frustrations. I can simultaneously be aware of "how good I have it" while also cussing the bag of flour I've turned over on the counter or begrudging a rude remark from someone just having a bad day or hating the way my stomach looks in the mirror.  Sure, this is human nature to some extent; however, it's also pettiness and loss of perspective.  I want to be better than that. 

My gratitude jar, which I added to nearly every day from January 25 to September 22, has become my tangible meditation, my reminder of the good.  Even on relatively crappy days, I always have something positive to write on an uneven strip of scrap paper.  Some are more serious than others; some are a reflection of things I did, others, a product of friends or family's actions; some made me laugh when I went back to read them, others reinspired the sense of gratitude I felt the day I wrote it; some are simply things that made me smile, while others address people or things in my life that I would never want to live without.  They all find commonality, however, in the motivation that grounds them: a desire to live a more engaged, more appreciative, and more contemplative life.  Even in the midst of a seemingly bad week (...or month...or year) or an overwhelming heartbreak that feels permanent, a full jar suggests a full life, a life replete with things for which to be grateful.

A sampling from my gratitude jar (I include them here exactly as they are written in my chicken scratch on the papers)...
-Ear warmers - they made going outside today so much more comfortable:)
-New (at least to me) songs on the radio - Sleigh Bells' "Crown on the Ground" :) jam.
-Seeing Addy so happy. I like the humor and ease between her and Zach.
-A good fountain drink with crushed ice.
-For interesting and creative people in my life...Carri Peterson's photography open house at Café on the Square tonight and then stopped by Billy's art studio to chat
-The conversations Terry and I have in the office. I'm grateful for our friendship.
-Unexpected joys that make me smile the library conference, a representative from KY Down Under brought a baby kangaroo:)
-Taking chances that scare me a little, but that make me feel better than I did before...simple things like "abstracting" my sky in painting class;)
-A little relief from the packsaddle bite - Benadryl and calamine
-New pets that come into my life and make me smile - Charley:)
-Seeing my pups in a window, waiting for me to come home.  I love how happy they seem whether I've been gone 2 hours or 2 days.
-Getting a run in even when I don't feel like it
-Fixing a good pot of coffee in the morning. Finding a somewhat obscure YouTube video that I like. Drinking coffee and listening to music by the fireplace.
-Good news:) Leigh Ann is pregnant!
-Community events like the adult Easter egg hunt (Citizens Bank fundraiser for Relay for Life) - seemed very "Stars Hollow"esque
-Hamilton's BBQ:)
-Solitude of picking blueberries (and making money), good dinner with the Morgans on their back porch, being able to talk to Leigh about serious stuff
-A strong Extension Office that offers good programs - "Family Adventures in Extension" event at the high school: gardening, Pinterest, photography, animal care, emergency procedures, beekeeping, cheese tasting
-The farm and the way I feel when I walk or work it...particularly at the change of seasons
-Unconditional love from someone
-Being able to stop and see Isabella multiple times/day
-3 of 4 grandparents still being alive. We celebrated Granddaddy's 80th birthday tonight at Little Taste of Texas
-Rain holding off so we could haul hay - I like feeling like I'm contributing to the farm
-Beautifully-plated breakfasts - Magnolia Café at the Galt House (eggs, toast, fruit, yogurt/granola/berry trifle)

General conclusions:
-I want to stay here for a long time.  So many of my notes related to the farm, the beauty of Cumberland County landscapes, and seasonal weather patterns in this small Kentucky community.
-I need to start running again. I would never have guessed that I included multiple references to the ability and motivation to run even when I didn't particularly feel like it.
-I am an introvert. Many referenced solitary activities and the peace of mind that came from being alone.
-Isabella truly makes every day better.
-Trying new recipes, pretty plates, and successful meals brought me far more joy than seems healthy.
-Being around smarter, more creative, or more talented people is good for my soul. My notes that included other people primarily revolved around being inspired by them.
I thought you all might want to check out this recent article from the Huffington Post. I particularly like the closing line about how gratitude can inspire action...

"When life's got you down, gratitude can seem like a chore. Sure, you'll go through the motions and say the right things -- you'll thank people for help they've provided or try to muster a sense of thanks that things aren't worse. But you might not truly feel grateful in your heart. It can be like saying "I'm happy for you" to someone who just got the job you wanted. The words and the feelings often don't match.

This disconnect is unfortunate, though. It comes from a somewhat misguided view that gratitude is all about looking backward -- back to what has already been. But in reality, that's not how gratitude truly works. At a psychological level, gratitude isn't about passive reflection, it's about building resilience. It's not about being thankful for things that have already occurred and, thus, can't be changed; it's about ensuring the benefits of what comes next. It's about making sure that tomorrow, and the day after, you will have something to be grateful for.
One of the central findings to emerge from psychological science over the past decade is that certain emotions serve socially adaptive functions. When we experience emotions like compassion, admiration, and shame, they drive us to alter our behaviors toward others. As Adam Smith intuited long ago, these innate feelings, or moral sentiments, impel us to act in ways that benefit our fellow humans -- to engage with them in behaviors that foster the common good. And in the case of gratitude, the evidence couldn't be clearer. In the face of loss, tragedy, or disaster, few psychological mechanisms can do more to benefit an individual's or a society's ability to thrive.
The more gratitude people feel, the more likely it is they'll help anyone, even if it's someone they've never laid eyes on before."
Fall recipes!
In case you aren't familiar, this is a cushaw.  It is squash that I typically bake and use as a substitute in pumpkin recipes. I show below how to clean/cook it and what you can do with it.
The neck is like a butternut squash, the bowl like a pumpkin. I usually quarter the neck and place face-side up in a baking pan that has a little water in it.  I clean the bowl and place it in another dish with water. I add butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon to all of it.

How about some cushaw donuts?!
The common tools of any baker.

 Another butternut squash pie and some homemade pumpkin/cushaw butter


  1. I really do think gratitude - both the kind that emerges in the present and the kind that comes through reflection - changes everything. When I acknowledge my gratitude in the very minute I find a good parking spot at work - I feel this remarkable lift! And - you know - bigger stuff, too :) The HP article sounds really great; I will check it out.

    Gratitude definitely takes practice, and you have done a visibly wonderful job of encouraging it. Kudos to you, my wise, thoughtful friend.

    1. This was so much more well-written than anything I put in my post. I am grateful for you, dear friend, and the way you inspire me to be more thoughtful and more articulate (well, it may not show, but I do try to be). Love you.