Category Archives: Happiness

Resilience in Many Forms

As the California drought deepens, I am exploring the world of succulents.  It seems these plants are wired to adapt and survive, no matter what.  Knocked to the ground? No problem.  Separated from the rest of the plant?  Keep on growing.  Hanging upside down?  Sprout roots anyway.  Succulents are resilient in the face of drought.  They propagate easily.  They adapt to adverse environments, not only surviving but growing.

My first steps in transforming my gardens to be less water dependent were to ask questions and read.  I learned that a branch broken off a succulent will root without extra attention.  Just put it in soil and watch it grow.  I learned that an agave leaf, if left alone on slightly damp soil out of direct sunlight sends roots into the soil, drawing its sustenance from the mother leaf.   “All that is required for a succulent to root is viable growth tissue,” writes Debra Lee Baldwin in Succulent Container Gardens (p. 234).

Succulent CuttingsNext comes experimentation.   On a friend’s advice, I am putting cuttings from succulents I already own into pots that I’ll sprinkle among my other plants.  I discovered our dogs had knocked some branches off our plants.  Some had fallen to the ground and were starting to grow roots.  Another was hanging upside down with its broken end pointing to the sky.  It had grown roots eight inches long that dangled from its end.

I added these to cuttings from my favorite succulents, set them on a tray for a week to become calloused at the cut, then stuck them in pots filled with cactus soil.  As they grow, I’ll transplant them to bigger pots and put them in the front gardens.

DSC00736My new plants are doing well after just one week in their new soil.  When I feel blocked, frustrated, or limited by circumstances or people, my succulents inspire me.  I consider the aeonium branch growing roots while dangling three feet from the ground an example of tenacious, creative adaptation.

If my plants can adapt like this to new or adverse situations, so can we humans.   All we need is our own version of “viable growth tissue” and a will to keep growing.

Homemade Yogurt or Hang-Gliding, hmmmm…

I was bored.  I thought about hang gliding that day, but the closest place was too far to make it home for dinner.  My criteria for an alternative were that whatever I did had to teach me a new skill, be something I’d never dared before, not cause injury, and get me home by 6:00 p.m.  Instead of taking a road trip, I tried two Do- It-Yourself projects that had intimidated me for months.

My first project was to make Greek style yogurt.  The recipe looked too easy to be true, as in, “if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.”  It turned out to be both easy and good.  This recipe used four cups of milk, ¼ cup nonfat dry milk, ¼ cup Greek yogurt, and fermented in the oven for seven hours.  Super cheap.  Super easy.  The hardest part was figuring out how to keep the oven at a mere 100° for seven hours.  Goldilocks-like, I discovered using a heating pad and leaving the oven light on were just right.   The next morning, we ate fantastic yogurt with bananas and crunchy granola for breakfast. Find the recipe at http://www.americastestkitchenfeed.com/do-it-yourself/2012/02/how-to-make-greek-style-yogurt/

My second project was to make vanilla extract.  This was even easier to make than the yogurt. Last year I met a woman who does this, bought some of her homemade vanilla and have enjoyed it ever since.  All it takes is good quality vanilla beans and some vodka.  My source recommends vanilla beans from Mexico and potato vodka.   My vanilla extract is taking its two month rest in the pantry now.  It will be ready to sample in late March. Find the cookbook that got me going at http://www.americastestkitchenfeed.com/do-it-yourself/2012/08/announcing-the-americas-test-kitchen-diy-cookbook/

I was so pleased with myself after these projects that I finished the day by making granola, filling the bird feeders, cutting roses for the kitchen table, and harvesting limes from the tree in my backyard.  Periodically I stretched out on the sofa and read.  I intentionally did none of my ordinary tasks for an entire day. It was glorious.

My day felt wasn’t as exciting as hang gliding would have been, but it was nevertheless different, new, and productive.  I learned new skills, pushed through the intimidation factor, enjoyed the world’s beauty in roses and good food, and pampered myself by doing only what I wanted to do.

The day was so far outside my usual routine that it had the desired effect: I awoke the next morning refreshed, excited and full of stories to share.

My tip for the day is that the next time you need a bit of newness in your life, a break from routine and stress, or an antidote to boredom, remember what I gained from yogurt and vanilla extract.

  1. Try something new that pushes your boundaries in some way.
  2. Learn a new skill.
  3. Experiment.
  4. Risk making mistakes.

By the time you finish your endeavor, you will have taken a trip to someplace you’d never been, your boredom will be gone, and you’ll have new memories to laugh about and celebrate.

L.A. Snow Day

imagesUKL5P5N9Yeah, yeah, I know:  we don’t have snow days in Los Angeles.  Except for me.  I had a snow day this week right here in Pasadena, California.  Of course, with roses blooming in my garden and a lime tree covered in fruit it required a bit of imagination.

I missed snow days when I moved from the land of freezing winters to the land of sunshine and palm trees. Snow days often bring power outages and travel delays, but they also give a guilt-free reason to cancel everything and slow down the pace of life. Who can argue when the governor or school superintendent tells everyone to stay home?

When smog made me cancel my calendar for two days this week and stay inside my house, I had a brainstorm.  I said, “Self, these are snow days. You love snow days. Pretend you’re in Upstate New York again and this is a snow day.”

Every time I felt frustrated at where I couldn’t go and what I couldn’t do, I filled myself with remembered feelings of coziness, leisurely reading on the sofa, comforting smells from the kitchen, and relaxed puttering around the house.

It worked.  For two days I kept frustration at bay with the wackiness of my imagination.  Then the weather changed and cleared the air, which is good because even actual snow days give me cabin fever after 48 hours and I don’t think I could have sustained my willing suspension of disbelief much longer.

My snow day/smog day framework improved my attitude by changing how I reacted to the smog.  I consciously chose how to perceive my limitations, chose how to act, and chose my attitude.

Life is all about choices, after all, some writ large and others known only to us. I chose to have a snow day in L.A. and it made all the difference.