Simple Things Make Me Happy

Squabbling over some prime sunflower seeds, the two Chestnut Chickadees chase each other around my feeder.  I find it baffling at times how birds can waste time arguing with each other when there is obviously plenty of food to be had by all…. are they siblings perhaps?  Hanging at odd angles, the Stellar Jay calmly dines aware that other than the cat that saunters through the yard on occasion it is the big kid on the block. Chittering away, my yard is alive with all the neighborhood birds that care to frequent my feeder.  Like a soap opera if you sit and watch long enough, you observe little dramas…the little one that seems to have to opportunistically sneak seed here and there, the boisterous one that is the first one to fly to the feeder after they are all scared away and the ones that seem to be prefer ground-level dining (I think they are the organic crowd).

This simple thing makes me happy.

These days, I find myself comparing the price of what something costs to the amount of enjoyment I am procuring from said activity and have come to conclusion that free or low cost makes me happy.  High-cost activities come with high expectations, and high expectations most often leads to a feeling of being let down or lacking.

Peace begins when expectations end – Anonymous Buddhist quote

This week, I watched a cheesy movie with my son on a weekday morning (I felt like such a rebel!).  If I had paid movie prices, I would have been very disappointed. Since it came from the library with the price tag of free, I had no expectations it would be good, looked forward to making fun of the cheese and saw it as an opportunity to knit and hang with my son.

This simple thing made me happy.

My sister, niece and nephew are coming for a visit this weekend, and I get to make my nephew a birthday ice cream cake.  Sure I could buy one as my nephew would not even notice the difference and would probably even prefer the store-bought cake, but I enjoy the kind of cooking where you can throw together a bunch of ingredients and see where they land, and very few things are as forgiving as an ice cream cake to give you that creative license…have you ever heard “Ewwww, too much Oreo.”  I think not.

This simple thing will make me happy.

And happy is where I choose to be.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less. – Socrates

Breakfast – The Most Important Meal of the Day

Since hitting my 40s and finding myself with a little more free time away from the responsibilities of “child raising” (Or should it be “parent raising?”  I feel that is the more appropriate term.  They’re still the same people they were when they were little, have attitude, a little gross and sweet, but I certainly am not.  I have less temper tantrums and now put away my toys…. I digress), I find myself now setting up playdates with other women.  This process usually takes the form of coffee, lunch or my favorite…breakfast.  I find nothing gives you an opportunity to assess the possibilities of a new friendship like finding out what they’ll order for breakfast.

Here’s my thinking….

Egg white vegetable omelet – Very conscious about food choices.  Physically active.  Translation: Always be wary when said individual asks if you want to do something fun…could be a 10-mile hike.  Not likely to be asking you out for ice cream.  They will keep me humble.

Vegan anything – Loves animals.  Socially conscious.  Translation:  High-maintenance friendship.  Can’t just call on the spur of the moment and say, “let’s do lunch.”  Must be willing to call them three days before said playdate to properly prep and research vegan options at restaurants.  Their personality makes it totally worth it.

Early-bird breakfast – Financially responsible.  Coupon clipper.  Thrift store shopper.  Translation:  Does not do Tupperware parties, raffle tickets or cash donations, but will always be there with hands-on help. 

Eggs, bacon and gluten-free bread – Bowel issues. Translation:  Minimal boundaries.  I can feel free to discuss bathroom habits and abdominal cramping without shame.  I can get real.

Eggs benedict – Lives in the moment.  Loves butter.  Translation: Kindred spirit. Will do ice cream.

After creating my breakfast friendship-judging formulation, I had the opportunity to take it for a little test run.  A new friend invited me to do breakfast, and you know what she ordered,

Chicken strips and waffles!

This friendship is way out of my league.  I’m not sure I can keep up with her.

Photo by Miguel Dominguez on Unsplash

Note: I do not in all seriousness judge any of my relationships based on breakfast.  This kind of shallowness is the antithesis to everything I believe in…

The important thing to consider is do they have a dog.

Extraordinary in the Ordinary

Struggling in the mud trying to keep with my dogs who have navigated the rocky, muddy route with ease and are way ahead of me gives me pause to notice how an ordinary event can be infused with the extraordinary.   Nothing like walking through sticky, slippery mud to make you notice every step…every flipping, precarious step…on a beach littered with dead fish.

Simultaneously cursing my decision to choose this path and stopping to catch my breath, I find myself noticing the many ordinary, yet extraordinary, events taking place around me. These include:

The Mud of Contemplation
  • An 8-foot sturgeon breaching the river…Amazing!
  • Rocks littered with dead salmon, the end of a long journey from the river to the ocean and back again to spawn… Smelly and humbling.
  • A feathered plant I had never noticed before…Delightful curiosity.
  • My awesome new boots…Warm, comfy, dry.
  • Mist settling on the river…Mysterious.
  • Dogs that don’t listen at all running ahead of me with pure joy…Annoying and lovely.
  • How much more nimble a dog with bad hips is over the rocks versus a woman in her 40s…Sad.
Plant I had never noticed before…pretty isn’t it!

By being forced to pause and reflect, I had an opportunity to change my story from getting the dogs out for walk (to-do list item #5 checked) to one of appreciating events weaving to create a magical moment infused with gratitude, awe, humor and delight.

It’s a reminder to get stuck in the mud more often and see beyond the ordinary.  I’m never disappointed when I chose to employ it, and it’s a perspective that always adds quality and value to the moment.

So, on the note of honing my skills, I’m going clothes shopping with my family today, and watch out, I’m bringing extraordinary (if your immediate reaction was pity for my family, you are not alone).   Kind of curious what kind of extraordinary magic can go into a moment that involves convincing my youngest to try on pants, but I’m willing to go there.

Dogs having fun and thinking about rolling on dead fish

Unrealistic Optimism versus Optimistic Realism

For years, I’ve had my own personal battle…I’m a recovering unrealistic optimist.

Confused?  You’ll continue to be.

In my early family years, everywhere I would go, I would be late.  It was a mixture of refusing to acknowledge how much time it took to get 5 people out of the house and extreme optimism about the traffic conditions and distance.  Regardless, I was always 15 to 45 minutes late everywhere I went.  It took a remark from a family member to make me realize what a problem it had become. 

Fast forward many years and I now manage to get most places on time and even earlier than intended.  I took myself in hand and realized how much I hate the rushed feeling of driving somewhere knowing I was going to be late and then feeling bad about being late.  Bad energy all round.  I now overestimate the time involved to get everyone out the door and have decided that pessimism about distance and traffic serves me well.

I have now become an optimistic realist…for family events and appointments.

The funny thing is that you solve one issue, only to open the door on another one.

The realization came to me as I was listing precariously to the left trying to haul my basket of groceries around the discount (enormous) grocery store. 

Let’s face it, paying the $1 for a grocery cart is a commitment to grocery shopping.  It says I’m serious about shopping, and I intend to do a lot of it.  Today, I imagined a more flirtatious shopping expedition complete with arriving at the till with my handful of healthy grocery items.

They say we never plan to fail, we fail to plan.  More appropriate to my situation would be…I never intend to list with groceries, I fail to look at the grocery list.

Here are just a few items on my list…a carton of soy milk, two 2 kg bags of French fries, 1 L of ice cream, 4 cans of refried beans, a dozen sparkling water and 1 jar of butterscotch sauce.  Now before you judge me on the health value of the products in my basket (Saturday night awesomeness), let’s think weight.  Those are a handful of items…a handful of very heavy items.  Thank goodness it didn’t include milk.

So here I am having to revise my errant ways again and re-dedicate to my desire to be an optimistic realist as opposed to an unrealistic optimist in the field of grocery shopping.  It’s time to stop with the flirtation and get real with commitment.  Get the cart.  I never regret it.  I would hammer the table with that point, but my arm is too sore.

Photo by Veronika Koroleva on Unsplash

Sunflowers and Noticing

Inadvertently this spring, I threw a seed mix into my garden just to use it up.  Nothing much came of the seed mix until we noticed one distinct weed was growing above the rest (weeding is taking a back seat to bramble fun).  Last week, it flowered and revealed a lovely, bright yellow sunflower.  Every day, the kids and I peek at our beautiful flower and admire…a bit of sunshine amongst the green weeds and bramble.

It’s continually fascinating to me how the Universe continually hammers a message at you until you finally reach a point of listening and understanding.  Sometimes, your subconscious already has picked up on the hints and is busy setting up hints for my slow processing speed.  My requests for books from our local library usually mirror whatever angst is going on in my soul, so after a period of feeling intensely busy all the time, I went to the library, and there on the order shelf was a plethora of books on calm, slowing down, slow living and mindfulness (tax time usually involves a selection of books on off the grid living).

Whining and lamenting my frustration at never having any breathing time or the opportunity to do what I wanted to do, I started my trek through these books…jotting down quotes of inspiration while taking short breaks from working, ferrying people around and errands of life, but still not connecting the dots.  Thankfully, the Universe never gives up that easily.

My constant mental complaining and whining only led to out loud whining and complaining…poor me…so busy…never any time for me. 

A few days ago staring through the window admiring the sunflower with my teens while making dinner, one commented to the other “It’s so cool the way it follows the sun.”  “Yah!” said the other “You can always tell what time a day it is by looking at where the head is.”

Record screeching halt to dinner preparation.  “What?!  It follows the sun?!” 

“Of course, Mom!  Didn’t you notice?!” 

Weakly answering, I said “No, I just thought it was a pretty flower.”

I received some deserved disdainful looks from my teens at this point. 

The next couple of days, I stopped and noticed our sunflower following the sun; it faced east in the morning and by the evening it was facing west.  Because sunflowers do not swivel 360, I noticed how it moved its face to follow the sunlight. 

And you know what, it didn’t stop there.  I started stopping and noticing the way my impatient mind would carry itself off when I was working or doing housework, and I started bringing it back to focus on the task at hand.  I started stopping more to stare out the window for a few seconds and notice what the bird was doing on the lawn or the dog digging a new hole in the lawn.  I dug into my book selections with a new mind of actually paying attention to what I was reading.  I started recognizing that feeling of over committing to something where it would manifest as quantity over quality and turned down some invites, rescheduling them in a more qualitative way.  I started noticing that anxiety rumble and started breathing.  I started noticing my bad attitude and changed my attitude or changed the plan. 

My life quality is going back up again.  I can almost feel myself welling a bit when I say this.  Anxiety and mindlessness are soul-sucking places to live. 

All this due to a sunflower (and teenagers).  Thank you, teachers.  I’m paying attention now and following the sun.

Our Pretty Flower

Sharing Abundance

One of my own personal acts of gratitude for the abundance in my life has been to tip and tip well whenever I dine out.  My husband started this trend for our family, and at the time being in the mindset of frugality, I failed to see why it was necessary to tip so high whenever we ate out.  My husband has always been a generous soul, and it was one of the many aspects of his character that I loved and continue to love about him…even if it did cause momentary irritation.

Now understanding that my own experience of lack and abundance has to do with perspective, I have embraced his generosity as my own.  In enjoying the comradery of my family and being served a wonderful meal, I celebrate the abundance that allows me the option to not cook, as well as appreciating the beautiful people who spoil me.

Photo by Melissa Walker Horn on Unsplash

Financially, there have been many times in our family life where eating out was not an option.  Recently in fact, my hubbie experienced a layoff which meant the luxury of eating out was off the table (literally); however, celebrating abundance is a habit that tends to stick regardless of circumstance, and having to weigh the cost of eating out including our generous tipping into the equation has enhanced the specialness of the occasion when we chose to do so.

Besides the benefit of being remembered by servers and eyes lighting up when we enter certain restaurants, these little habits of celebrating and sharing abundance have enriched my life and remind me to walk in gratitude because there truly is so much to be grateful for.

Himalayan Mindfulness

Picture a backyard on a steep slope covered with blackberry bushes as far as the eye can see, throw in three grumpy teenagers and their mother, you have our backyard.

Seizing up on the realization that I have a very limited time frame with free labor in the house, my summer project is for once and for all deal with our yard full of blackberry bushes (my daughter says I say this every year).  While ideally I’d love to have the importer of said Himalayan blackberry bushes over to clean up our yard, the next best thing is family.

Yes, there are easier ways to remove bramble, but hiring help would involve money (currently earmarked for removing DS’ wisdom teeth).  Chemicals are not an option as we have a small pond, and my first priority is to protect any life that exists in it…even if the dogs may have already eaten said life as they seem to have their heads in the pond every day. 

Photo by Molly Frances on Unsplash

So here we are, clippers and compost bags in hand (why Himalayan blackberries are compostable is a mystery to me…we are the reason I never accept our hometown’s yearly offering of free dirt from our city’s compost…do I really want to import all those blackberries back?!).

That aside, there is something therapeutic about tackling blackberries with hand clippers.   It has the same effect on me as hanging laundry or doing dishes…takes me to a place of mindfulness which I find soothing in a twisted way.  Relegating the whining to the background, I notice and rescue all the little creatures that show up in our efforts especially ladybugs.  Blackberry is quick to remind when you are not mindful as evidenced by the many scratches on my arms and pricks to my well-gloved bands, and as we climb higher up our hill, the view is just amazing putting me more into a state of Zen.

So if you’re in need of some therapeutic activity, I’m going to trademark a new mindfulness routine called Himalayan mindfulness…gardening in a mindful way.  You achieve Zen…I get my backyard back.  Win-win.

Non-Useful Musings

“Thank you, Auntie Jane, that was a very useful conversation we just had,” says my nephew as we lay side by side in hammock on my recent visit to Florida.  Bemused, I accepted the compliment in stride as evaluating all the other “non-useful conversations” we’ve had this week will just lead nowhere useful to the enjoyment of this little moment of relationship.  Seeing the look of satisfaction on my nephew’s face, my niece hops into the hammock as her brother vacates to see if she can derive the same “usefulness” from me.

Photo by Vu Thu Giang on Unsplash

Reveling in my sister’s hospitality and generosity, I have been spoiled to enjoy this particular visit alone.  Usually attended by my children who capture the complete attention of my nephews and niece with their ability to do everything amazing and teenagerly, this visit I left the competition at home and have appreciated the opportunity to connect with them.

Setting my intention for this visit, I committed to follow the little openings that life with children allow in order to get to know them all a little bit better.  Some of them are more eager to connect then others, and I had to make sure that I took advantage of every moment whether they were convenient for me or not.

I am happy to say that I have succeeded in my intention.  These delightful little souls of curiosity and joy have made me laugh, be patient and listen, but most of all remind me of the gifts of living with an open heart.  

Intentions are like donning a pair of glasses and choosing which way I want to view the world.  Do I don the ones that show every wrinkle in harsh detail or do I choose the rose-tinted lens that bring a hue of sunshine and brightness?  I wish I could say I always choose the rose-tinted lens, but instead of beating myself up for my flaws, I will celebrate my wins…and this trip was one of them.

Useful or not, from my perspective, it is indeed an honor to be “Auntie Jane.”

Afternoon Despair

With a roll of the dice, fortunes are gained and lost.  Head in one’s hand despair and frustration give way to joy and exultant glee; yet even amongst the rubble of poverty, there is an opportunity to extend a helping hand and to show generosity of spirit…that is unless you’re related to me and stakes are Boardwalk and Park Place.  Yes, my friends, this is the unpredictable world that is Monopoly.

I tend to be one of those parents who is invested in encouraging my children to pursue topics of interest and know that this investment means a large portion of my own time will be spent pursuing this interest alongside them, learning something that I up to this point have been totally uninterested in learning about, but gradually as in all things, the more you learn, the more your interest develops.  I can credit my children’s interests in having an assortment of miscellaneous information that I never in my lifetime thought I would accumulate from an intimate knowledge of spiders (total terror has turned to respectful fear) to building a personal computer (where is the on button to is that video card compatible with that motherboard) to learning how far we can distance cycle (never thought the end of the block was so far to wow, where’d these muscles come from!).  All this and more, I can credit to my children’s various passions through the years.

There was, however, one rather long-lived passion that could render me into my own abyss of despair and that passion was Monopoly.  Never in my own personal experience was there a game that could occupy so much time and result in so many tantrums including my own.  My children also had a knack of requesting said game around lunchtime which basically meant that my entire afternoon was now gone to be spent in the clutches this game.  Still to this day, I don’t fully understand the lure of this game for my children…it was so long!  My suspicion was that it was the feeling of all that cold hard cash.  Nothing thrilled them more than a pile of $500 bills and the joy of holding your fate in their hands.

Sadly, I even tried to throw the game in order to maybe obtain a little time with my book while my children played together, but to my kids’ credit, they always tried to make sure everyone stayed in the game as long as possible with loans and forgiving of debts.  Nope, once you were in, you were in.  To this day, I think the developers of this game have a cruel sense of humor. 

Having passed through this stage (happily) with the lure of video games, imagine my horror at being requested to play this game at a recent visit to my sister’s followed by the realization that I will never be free of this game.  If it’s not nieces and nephews, it will be grandchildren.  Being the good auntie that I am, I sat down with a wave to my afternoon.  However, there was a silver lining.  Apparently, technology has indeed shortened our attention spans, and in an effort to stay current, the manufacturers of Monopoly have shortened versions of their game.  With the same tantrums, the game can now be zipped through in less than an hour and sometimes twice!  Hello, Junior Monopoly!

Whoever espouses the view that video games are the epitome of evil will be staunchly opposed by me. All I can say is Thank goodness for video games…now, where’s my book!

The S Word

When my children were little, there was one word which they knew they were not allowed to say. Upon hearing this word from others outside of the family or within it, they would look at me wide eyed, mouth gaping open in shock and whisper “they said the S-word!” The S-word was stupid.

This word came back on my radar after a recent chat with a group of friends. In the course of the conversation, comment was made that there was very little difference between courage and stupidity.

What?! (Sound of car brakes squealing)

An ocean of difference resides between courage and stupidity, but not being one of those quick on my feet thinkers, I couldn’t articulate why in the moment and stowed the comment away for further reflection. It saddened me though to hear those words used in conjunction with each other and within a group of amazing, courageous women.

The definition of stupid as per Google is “having or showing a great lack of intelligence or common sense.” The definition of courage is “the ability to do something that frightens one.”

Would you rather be someone who does something unintelligent with courage or would you rather be someone who does something stupid that frightens them? I can see how the definitions could get intertwined.

Admittedly, I speak with bias. Stupid is that word for me. That jarring word conjures up an image of a heart and a small knife…death by a thousand cuts…soul death by a limiting belief.

The oceanic difference between stupid and courage is energy. Words (spoken or unspoken) have energy attached to them, either positive or negative…rarely neutral. Sometimes, we infuse the energy, and sometimes, the word holds the energy already. Word energy manifests through feeling and effect. Courage lifts, stupid puts down. Courage is vulnerable, stupid is small. Courage welcomes the lessons of failure, stupid fears and avoids them. Courage invites company, stupid stands alone in shame.

With time and internet access (that’s what I’m blaming), my children’s height and vocabulary have expanded greatly, and while they humorously enjoy testing out their new definition of the S-word on their poor mother (who feigns wide-eyed shock and mouth gaping…my teens like a little shock value), the original version of the S-word is one they still choose not to use and for that I am grateful.