Category Archives: Joy

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.

Theodore Roosevelt and MacGyver

Theodore Roosevelt has been my inspiration this month.  I have been frustratingly limited by new health issues since October, which has provided ample time for reading.  In Doris Kearns Goodwin’s new biography of Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft I found this gem:

“If you are cast on a desert island with only a screwdriver, a hatchet, and a chisel to make a boat with, why, go make the best one you can. It would be better if you had a saw, but you haven’t.”*

Teddy Roosevelt said this was one of the most important lessons he learned during his years serving in the New York Assembly.  When first elected, he wanted to work only with men like himself and considered everyone from a lower social station boorish, illiterate, and repulsive.  After a series of legislative debacles, he adapted, learning to work with people of all stripes and circumstances with whom he found common purpose.  Politics is not the art of the perfect but of the possible.

So is life.  We take what we have and with it make something better, needful, or beautiful.  In our work and personal life, we are like Teddy Roosevelt at the turn of the 20th century. If you’re a T.V. buff you might say we are like MacGyver, the good-looking guy who solves crime, saves the innocent, and escapes danger with stuff like twine, an emery board and a light bulb. In less than ideal circumstances McGuyver solves every problem in fewer than 60 minutes. http://www.tv.com/shows/macgyver/

Part of the joy of life is to look at what is and see what can be.  I know it’s hard and frustrating, and sometimes downright depressing.  We can wish for more money, “better” colleagues, a less frustrating boss, more time, better health, a less dysfunctional family, or the presence of  loved ones who have died.  It would be better if we had a saw, but we don’t.  So we build the best boat we can with what we have.

That’s an outlook worth celebrating and the basis of a life worth living.

Every one of us can be a Teddy Roosevelt or MacGyver.  The basic question is whether we want to stay on the desert island or not.  If we want to get on the water, we set aside our frustration, negativity, paralysis, and limited thinking.  We look in new ways at what we have to work with. Remember, boats don’t have to be perfect or match our original plans to be sea worthy. You may not have every tool you want, but go ahead and make the best boat you can.

*The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism, by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Simon & Schuster, 2013, p.85.
**Photo by Lori Waselchuk for the New York Times

Do You Dance in The Rain?

“Those who think sunshine brings happiness have never danced in the rain.” That anonymous quote takes me back to my childhood in Ohio.  In bright rain slicker and rubber boots I used to skip and splash along my quiet street when it rained.  I jumped in puddles to see how deep they were.  I stuck out my tongue to catch raindrops and twirled with arms spread wide.  I sang and danced in delight as water dripped from my sleeves.

When I was a child, it sometimes rained for weeks in a row and, more than once, my friends and I counted to see if we would reach the biblical 40 days and nights of Noah’s time.  If we waited for sunny days to be happy, we would have had miserable childhoods instead of the happy ones I remember.

I doubt that I have intentionally splashed in rain puddles since my own children were young.  If I step in one now, I am more likely to curse than sing out in joy.  In Southern California where I live, rain is a rarity.  If sunshine brought happiness, everyone who lives here would be perpetually joyful.

In both cases, rain or shine, happiness springs from inside, not from external conditions.  Circumstances make life easier or harder, and some situations are so difficult that any scraps of joy are small indeed.  Nevertheless, happiness and joy depend on us, whether or not rain is falling from grey clouds overhead.  We are open happiness and joy, or we are not.  We cultivate them in our life or we don’t.

Even knowing this, I have slipped at times into the belief that I will be happy when I have a new boss or a new job, when I lose weight or have more money, when all my debt is gone, when the turkeys in my life become eagles, when I win the lottery, or when I am healthy.  The longer I spend in this unproductive thinking, the more negative I feel and the worse my life appears.

Certainly joy is easier with a good boss and enough food, shelter, money, and health to meet basic needs, but these don’t create happiness.  Joy is a state of mind we create and consciously nurture that makes it possible to sing in the rain and splash in mud puddles.

I began this post one morning while my husband was on a short hike with our dogs.  I stopped writing when he came home with the news that one of our dogs had rolled in human excrement on the trail and needed a bath before she could come in the house. As we ate breakfast and I tried not to think about the disgusting task ahead of me, the kitchen sink started gurgling.  It needed a plumber.

Before tackling the dog or calling the plumber, I sat down to write again…but couldn’t.  I couldn’t write honestly about being happy when life was raining you-know-what.  I was so unhappy right then that the hard part of walking my talk couldn’t have been clearer.  If I wrote about dancing in the rain, then I would somehow dance, even on that day.  I stepped away from my desk and walked down the street to inhale into my soul the beauty of our local mountains.  I hung pictures on a bare wall in my office after two years of procrastinating. I started singing and wrote a little more.

I hadn’t planned to wash the dogs that day, but oh, well.  They got clean and fluffy a few days earlier than expected.  I realized that if the plumber cleared the kitchen drain now, it was likely to stay open through the holidays and I could cross it off my Worry List.

Since then, I have had plenty more occasions to practice dancing in the rain as my health put my energy in the gutter this week and kept me from writing.  All things considered, however, I’ve done a lot of dancing in the midst of it.

Maybe I will buy a pair of brightly colored rain boots at DSW, put some plants in them and set them by a window as a reminder to myself that one doesn’t need sunshine to be happy.

Come rain, sun, or snow, it’s up to you and me to keep dancing.

*Photo by Mark Smutny