Choose Happiness

Last weekend I spied this little vignette on the fence of the nursery, and it hit me like a revelation. “Choose Happiness?” Of course! Just make the choice, it’s all within my power. I just have to choose.  I was all about putting something like this on my fence, because if I”m reminded, I’ll probably always make the right choice. Or mostly, anyway.

But then this morning I started off really grouchy. I was mad at my son because he came home too late, or didn’t come home too late but didn’t come inside because his key didn’t work in the lock which I thought was bullshit, except I tried it and it really didn’t work. I was pretty annoyingly grouchy about that. Then I got an email from the furniture store that ordered all new cushions for my expensive new couch that looked terrible almost immediately after I got it, saying that the cushions had been in for a week but they’d been too busy to tell me. And now I have to pick them up on a weekday at the shipping place, before 4:30 P.M. and I don’t get to town before 5:00, so they might just as well be in Cincinnati for as much good as that’ll do me.

And then I thought, “Choose Happiness.” Right. Like just twist your heart and mind around that idea, and become happy. That wasn’t happening. Nope. I was too justified in my grouchiness, in the grievous wrongs that had (not really) been done to me. So I took a figurative step back and thought that maybe I have to do something other than just choose. Maybe I have to create an environment or do an action in which I can choose happiness. So I went out for a walk, and here’s what I found:

The bridge over the channel, all wet with puddles from the rain that has fallen in the last two days.

A big house that’s way too orange for its own good.

The path of the greenway that I didn’t realize existed in my neighborhood.

Some very odd and interesting plants that I’d never looked at up close.

After I walked for half an hour or so, I decided that even more persuasion was necessary, so I got in my car and went to meet some friends for early morning coffee.

I found this bit of deliciousness to further my search for happiness.

I found this bit of deliciousness to further my search for happiness.

On my way home I stopped and bought donuts for my son and left them on the counter with a note of apology for my grumpy outburst. Even if his actions weren’t perfect, I didn’t have to be such a grouch about it. Like who did that help? Right, nobody. Then while I was out for coffee, the furniture store lady emailed me back and offered to have the sofa cushions picked up for me during the week, so I can get them next Saturday. That’ll work just fine. No problem there, either.  It all works out. It does.

So, in the end, I think I did choose happiness, just by choosing the actions that I know will lead me to that feeling. Walking, taking some photos, meeting friends are all happiness catalysts for me.  I’m so glad to recognize them so I can employ them at will. Because there will definitely come a time that I need to choose again, and this time I’ll know what that choosing entails.  What about you? Do you have happiness catalysts? What are they?

Saturday Morning, Feeling Strong(er) and Writing

Well, it’s been a week. I woke up last Sunday with the beginning of a cold and by Wednesday it was pneumonia. Viral, and not earth-shattering, but I was so sick, a whole body sick. Not like my head is stuffed up but otherwise I feel fine. Nope, it was a lay on the couch and watch a Law and Order Marathon all day sick. To tell you the truth, I got tired of the delicious soup, and I gave some away and I still have some. So maybe next time I could temper the quantities. When you have a contagious infirmity you should probably make less soup. Dinner parties are pretty much out of the question!

Anyway, on Wednesday I went to the doctor and she put me on a 10 day Prednisone taper and now I feel so much better. I’m barely sleeping and full of energy, but I guess that’s the way it goes. From 0 to 60 overnight. So, I’m working in my yard a little. My son Alex has been moving the huge flower pots around, and I’ve been directing him. Like that Lowe’s ad that says “Here’s how to move a refrigerator with one finger.” That’s how I’m moving pots of geraniums. It’s pretty great, actually. I’m missing the gym, but that’ll come back.

And I’ve been writing. I’ve been doing the multitude of exercises in Natalie Goldberg’s book about writing memoir. It’s called Old Friend From Far Away and really has me going. Here is a piece of advice from that book that really spoke to me: “You will want your memoir to have tension and drive, to let people know you were alive on this Earth. This willingness to write with fear and danger at your side is the beginning of how to give your writing a friction that draws in your reader. They will trust you.You have a right to write it. Throw it out, rip it up, swallow it down. Build up a capacity to bear up, don’t let fear ruin your writing life. Hide your notebook in a good place.” Think about Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. She tells some really unflattering stories about herself and her behavior, and you don’t judge her because she is honest about it all. She lays out the whole coming to grips with herself thing. That’s what Natalie is talking about.

Or consider this blog post by Jen Louden, which includes a video of her talking about taking care of herself while she’s writing some hard honesty. It’s obviously grueling, yet there are ways to help yourself through it, and it is critical that you do it. I’m not quite there yet, but if I want to write memoir, I have to be willing to do hard things, so it’s on my list. I’m looking for a good place to hide my notebook!

Okay, I’m out. I’m watching the sun as it travels across my garden today, looking for just the right place for a new plant I bought at the farmer’s market today. It’s a Chinese May Apple, apparently somewhat rare. For what I paid it should be blooming gold nuggets. Wish me luck with it! If it grows it’ll be a winner.

Chinese May Apple. I know this isn’t a stellar photo of it, but it shows the little flowers pretty well. Apparently it’ll get 10″ leaves, and be a couple of feet high. Fingers crossed!

Have a great weekend. May you do whatever your heart desires, with those you love.

Sick on Tuesday (and Wednesday), Special Soup

Today is the third day in a row that I’ve been sick. I finally took a day off work and it’s a good thing I did, as I’m coughing so dramatically that it’d be embarrassing to be at school. I was sick yesterday, too, but I went to school. Several students suggested that I should stay home today. They didn’t know how right they were!

Today I’m craving a spicy rich soup, full of meat and vegetables. Since nothing like what I want is available in a can or otherwise pre-prepared, I’m making it. I am really good at making soup. That may sound like bragging, or it may  just represent an understanding of what I am good at. Either way, today I’m going to show you how I make this delicious soup. It varies every time, so no ingredients are absolute. Other than the roasted poblano peppers and the dried New Mexico chiles grown in the holy dirt of Chimayo, New Mexico. So here goes.

Here are my ingredients today:
1 beef shank with bone. (I think I need that marrow because I’m sick.)
1 beef roast. Could be tri-tip or chuck roast. Today Round roast was cheapest so I got that.
1 big leek, finely sliced
4 Roma tomatoes, roasted in the skillet
2 cloves of garlic, roasted in the skillet
1/2 yellow onion, roasted in the skillet
4 carrots, all different colors, roasted in the skillet
2 Serrano chiles, roasted in the skillet
1 “Oriental Beauty” yam, cubed and peeled. You don’t have to peel it: I did because this variety has a very thick skin. If I was using garnets I probably would not peel it. But I’m in love with the flavor of this variety of yam, so there. I threw away some vitamins.
3 Poblano chiles, roasted over an open flame
about 3 Tablespoons dried crushed New Mexico chiles
about 1 Tablespoon of Kosher salt
4 zucchinis, cut in chunks
Chopped cilantro, as much as you like
Avocado and queso fresco and sour cream as garnishes, if desired
OPTIONAL , really good: black beans, either home cooked or from a can. Two cans of them.

1. Cut up the tri-tip or other meat into about 1 1/2 inch cubes. While you are working on that, put the beef shank in to brown until it’s nice and crisp and the marrow looks soft. Then brown the rest of  the meat quickly in a hot skillet, using a little bacon fat or olive oil to moisten the pan. Use a high heat and stir it frequently. Don’t let it cool down as it will begin to lose its juices, and you want that to happen in the soup pot. Browning it before adding it to the soup gives it a nice flavor that it won’t have if you just put it in raw. Also only brown a little bit at a time. It doesn’t like to be crowded – it’ll give up its juices too soon. Here’s about how much to put in the pan at once:

It will probably take several batches of meat browning to get done. It’s worth it, don’t ruin it by crowding the skillet.

2. Cover the meat with water (or other broth if you have it Sometimes I use organic chicken broth, but today I don’t have any.) Turn the stove onto medium heat to get the broth going.

3. Now, the vegetables.Put the poblanos over the gas flame to roast. If you cook with electric heat, you can use a skillet without any oil or water in it. While they are roasting, slice the leek and toss it in with the meat. Using tongs or the stem of the chiles, turn them until all sides are roasted black and the skin looks loose. After they are roasted, toss them in a plastic vegetable bag and cover them wit a dish towel and set them aside to cool. They should look like this:

The charred skin will come off very easily with a butter knife. Just hold the chile and slide the knife along its side. The skin will come right off. Then cut off the tops, remove the seeds and membranes and cut the peppers up. Like this:

4. Next, roast the rest of the vegetables. I think that any vegetable tastes better roasted, so I just roast them all. Again, the skillet should be dry and you just keep moving them around as they turn blackish. They will taste so rich! Put all but the tomatoes and tomatillo and Serrano chiles right into the soup. Cut the tops off the Serranos, and remove the seeds. Then chop them into the soup. They are quite spicy, so you do want to remove the seeds. And don’t touch your eyes after you do it. Don’t the vegetables look delicious?! I will roast the zucchini by itself later, and add it to the soup right close to the end so it doesn’t turn to mush.

5. Put the tomatoes and tomatillo into the food processor and make them into a chunky puree. Saute this by putting a (very) little olive oil into your skillet. When it is hot, pour in the tomato puree. stir it until it changes color, for about three minutes. It will begin a pinkish color and will turn darker red. Then add it to the soup.

6. Add the dried chiles and salt and cilantro. Now, just relax and let the magic happen. Simmer it for as long as you have, at least 2 hours. Or you can put it all in the crock pot for a few hours. Maybe on low for 6 or high for 4? You’ll need to experiment with that. I’d just use those times and then see if it’s ready.

7. To serve, I chop up the avocado, and crumble some queso fresco. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of avocado and queso fresco. If you are not a dairy eater, just leave the last part out. If you are touchy about spiciness, then be sure to use the sour cream or regular heavy cream. It cuts the burn, while leaving the flavor.

Does this sound like too much work? It does take a little flurry of work, but the relaxing afterwards and the deliciousness later are worth it, in my humble opinion. Now I can go relax and focus on getting better. Here’s the end result:

There is nothing blue about this soup. It’s reflection that I didn’t see as I took the photo. It’s too late to change it now, so you’ll just have to ignore that part. Thanks.

If you have a great way of making homemade soup, please let me know!

On Completion of a Task

 For quite some time I’ve thought about putting bark around the plants in my yard. When I came to live here, fresh bark had been spread everywhere, and now it was getting old. Much of it had gone, either into the earth or victim of the leaf blower. I talked about it and thought about it, and finally decided it had to happen this week. We are in a drought and the bark will surely help retain the soil’s moisture. On Wednesday I decided that I would go and buy it the next day.

On Thursday morning, I went to the landscape center and with their assistance, decided I would need three yards of small bark pieces. They offered to deliver it that very day. I went by the hardware store on my way home and bought two five-gallon buckets and then came and waited for the bark to arrive. Soon a white dump truck pulled up, and the driver asked where I wanted it. When I told him the driveway would be fine, he backed up, pulled a lever, and BAM! I had a huge pile of bark in my driveway. Huge. The picture you see above was taken after I’d covered two of the front garden beds.

Hoping my son would come home soon to help me, I began work. Bucket after bucket I carried, pouring then spreading then going back for more. This went on all afternoon, and again after my gym workout. By the time I went to bed, the front was finished. My son managed to stay away until it was too late to help.

This morning I got up and began again. When I’d done about half of the backyard, my daughter and her  funny toddler came to help finish it off. What a gift their help was! I was just at the point of wanting to sit down and rest often enough that doing the job would’ve taken all morning just because I was resting so much!

Now that it’s done, and it looks really great, I’m thinking about the idea of setting oneself a big task and then having to see it through, whether you have help or not. I think in the past I may have organized it, and then let it sit until I had help to do it. Once a job gets old, it can be really hard to resurrect it and get it done. But my driveway was not usable. There was no tomorrow!

I found that  I did enjoy the work. It was kind of a rote task. Shovel, carry, pour, spread, repeat. There is a satisfaction in having done a hard thing, or if not really a hard thing, a big thing, a thing I meant to do and were a little overwhelmed by, and finally did. There is satisfaction in knowing that I can accomplish whatever I want to without counting on anyone else.

A Sense of No Sense

They say planning a trip makes you happy, even if you don't go on the trip. I'm going on the trip.

They say planning a trip makes you happy, even if you don’t go on the trip. I’m going on the trip.

Do you ever have a day that just doesn’t make sense? I mean, you seem to be stuck in some fuzzy atmosphere that just doesn’t connect with anything.  Today is one of those days for me. I have a huge menu of things I could and should be doing, since I’m on vacation. Some of them I want to do, and some I need to do and none of them are happening.

I tried listening to a yoga video, thinking I could get that started again, but I lost interest about three minutes in. I got out Natalie Goldberg’s memoir writing book, and have great interest in doing her writing exercises, except I don’t really want to do them.  I thought a little meditation might focus me, but I only lasted for about 30 seconds of that. I went to the library because I wanted to check out some books by an author I’m interested in, and there were none there. I carried a couple of other books around for a while and decided that I don’t want to start any more fiction when I still have plenty on my iPad and Audible.com to entertain me. So I put them back and came home.

In the morning I went to the cafe to write, but just looked at Airbnbs and rental cars and flights for a trip I’m taking next summer.  I made a reservation for a night in an Airbnb in Sedona  on my way to Taos, and I made it for the wrong date. So now I have to either change the date or add another day. But while I’m at it maybe I should choose another place entirely. So I’m just sitting on it, waiting for the next rush of that sort of energy to arise. I have multiple piles of paper to file, but my file box is pretty full so maybe I need to bring in a file cabinet. But how can I do that and have it not be a glaring ugly eyesore in my sweet office? I don’t know either, so I let that go as well.

Then, I read Anne LaMott’s Facebook post. Here it is.

(For some reason, this link show up embedded on my computer but not on my phone or iPad. If that is the case with your technology as well, and you want to read what she wrote, just go to Facebook and search Anne Lamott. Read yesterday’s post.)

She always manages to say what I mean. That doesn’t exactly  make me feel better, but it sort of does. At least someone knows what I mean.  Tomorrow I will make a short list of things that must happen. Not a menu, a list. When I’ve done them I will feel great  better.  Especially because one of the items is a workout at the gym. That (almost) always makes me feel better. So we’ll see what works.

What do you do with days like this? Just appreciate Anne Lamott and hope tomorrow is better? That’s my idea for today. I’d love to hear alternatives. See you anon.

A Very Decisive Man (#sol15)

Recently a friend told me that he was thinking of moving down the hill to the town I live in. He’d been living in a smaller town in the hills for quite a few years. He’d always said he liked it there better because it’s cooler in the summer. But recently, he’d decided that he should move to ‘town’ before he gets old, so that he is closer to services and he doesn’t have to drive up and down the hill several times a day, like he does now.  At that time he was in town early for morning coffee and then he’d go back home to hang out before he came back down to go to the gym or play racquetball.  Sometimes if he didn’t feel like driving home he just hung out in town for a few hours, until his next engagement.

This made good sense to me. He is 73, and will surely begin to get old one of these days. I suggested a neighborhood of rather luxurious duplexes close to my house. It has good access to shopping and medical services and the homes are spacious and comfortable. He looked at one with me and a couple of other friends, and then we didn’t hear much more about it. He is famous for circling the drain around a decision. He can search and research a purchase for something like an iPad or a new iPhone or even a blender for months before making the plunge. I could only imagine how long he’d take to decide on a new home.

There is the added issue of his being something of a hoarder. He lives for thrift stores and yard sales, and basks in the glory of having spent only $8.00 on a like-new NorthFace jacket. He has 100 such jackets, and even more primo Hawaiian shirts. You can imagine that he has quite a bit of stuff to move. I kind of forgot about his moving idea as it seemed too big to actually act on. I halfway expected he’d just stay where it was, having exhausted the idea of moving.

Until a Sunday a couple of weeks later when I learned that he had purchased one of those duplexes and was going to be moving in two weeks. I was so impressed. I learned that when he got mad at his loan agent because the escrow was going to take an additional two weeks, he just up and paid cash for the new place. Yikes! What happened to my drain circling friend?! I commented on how we had both made a decision to move and had accomplished it within a month or so, and he replied, “Yes, we’re very decisive people.” It would seem that he is, at least.

Last Saturday he moved to town. He sold his house the day before and had the movers come on Saturday. I went to visit, and was very impressed with his beautiful new home. My friends and I sat down with him for a little visit, and suggested a few possibilities for TV placement and CD storage. He confessed that he was completely at sea about how to set up his new kitchen. He was afraid he’d put things in the wrong places. I offered to come and unpack it and put it all away for him.

So Easter Sunday morning, after coffee with friends, I went to set up his kitchen. I’ve never seen a kitchen with so much storage. I took some Post-it notes and a marker, to label the cupboards. By the time I got there, he’d unpacked everything, so all I had to do was figure out where to put it. He was amazingly willing to get rid of stuff, so it went quickly. Within an hour and a half we were done. All the dishes and pots and pans and utensils were put away, and there were Post-its labeling each drawer and cupboard door. Easy peasy.

Now he says I’m a genius. So I’m decisive and a genius. Wow. I wonder what he’d call me if I actually did something difficult! And now his real work begins. He has to dispose of years worth of thrift shopping before escrow closes on the old place in a month. It appears that he’s up for the challenge. He is an inspiration to me, as I identify greatly with the drain circling.

Although I sold and bought my new house much as he did (not paying cash for it, however!), and I did get rid of a lot of stuff when I moved, there are things that I just didn’t know what to do with. They are all still in my garage, two and a half years later. Then I think about my former husband who recently died, leaving a barn and a house chock full of stuff. As my daughters and I go through it all, I think of my garage. Even if I purge the relatively few things that sit out there, there will still be a lot to go through to wrap up my life when the time comes. The least I can do is clean the garage.

Last Day of a Challenge (solsc2015) 31/31

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Woot! This is it, the last of 31 days, 31 blog posts in a row. Even if yesterday’s post didn’t count because my day didn’t wind down until after 9:00 P.M and that is the early-bird cutoff time for West Coasters, I know that I managed a new post every day of March. So, what did I learn? Let’s see…

Each day I found something to write about. Some days it was a list of random things I was thinking about, some days a specific thing. I never knew in advance what it would be. Only when I sat down to write did the idea arrive. Before I started this, I didn’t sit down to write a blog post until I knew what I was going to write about. That often meant long intervals between posts. Now I’ve begun to think that it’s about regularity. Like, “Today’s a post day. Let’s see what I’ll write about.”

Commenting every day has introduced me to some new blogs that I really enjoy. I feel in this way that I’ve made some new friends.  I want to know what these people have to say each day, and I know I can count on them being interesting. This has been a big bonus of this challenge. I’m thankful for having so many people’s writing to read and think about and respond to. The comments were so uplifting! They definitely give added value to writing a blog!

I’ve posted a photo or two most days. Sometimes they were pertinent to the specifics of the post and some to the spirit of it. I tried to always choose those that added in some way to the post .All but five were photos that I took myself.  In doing this photo posting I learned the value of a caption. If the photo isn’t specific, then the caption has to tie it to the idea of the post.

Here is my last list, the list of things I plan to do with my blog in the future, as a result of this challenge:

1. I will post one or two days every week, the same two days each week.The specifics of what and when I post will come.

2. I’ll continue to use captions with the photos in the blog and make sure I have a fresh supply of photos. (This will have the added bonus of me taking more photos than I sometimes do.)

3.  I will read and respond to several blogs every week. I have at least six new blogs in my reader that I’m looking forward to following.

This is a list, not a menu. If I add one more thing it’ll become a menu, so here I end. Thank you to everyone who read and commented on my blog posts all those days. It truly made my day to see comments waiting for me. I hope you’ll continue to read, because I plan to continue to write! Be well.

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At the end of the day, taking time to reflect is enriching, I think.