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

Itching for the Environment

Sitting here at my desk writing, a nagging itch creeps up my scalp.  I scratch at the discomfort gently noting how it now moves to a new spot.  Periodically, I check my shoulders for the flaky evidence of my itchy scalp, so far so good.  I’m clear. Still, it will be awhile before I don any black sweaters.

Why, you may ask am I sitting here in discomfort when a quick rinse with the newest dandruff/itchy scalp shampoo will take all my problems away?

It’s all my son’s fault.

Let the revolution begin!

Recently, our city changed from blue bag recycling to one large blue plastic container bin.  Who would have though this small change could have held to an uncomfortable conviction.  With this change, I became acutely aware of how much we were tossing into recycling, and while delighted that our recycling was always more than our garbage, I had a nagging feeling that much of my recycling just ended up in the same landfill as the rest of my garbage.

Then, the youngest member of my crew decided it would be a great idea to show his mom a picture of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  Lesson: Don’t let your kids show you things.

I now had visual evidence of my nagging feeling.

Thus, began my personal war on single-use plastics in our home.  I will list the tenets of my war in another post soon.

For me, lasting change takes time.  If I try to institute change quickly, I quickly burn out, become overwhelmed and give up.  I love the self-awareness that comes with getting older!

The battle began in the bathroom since I was running out shaving cream for my legs. At a farmer’s market, I purchased a bar of vegan soap wrapped in paper as a substitute.  The beautiful-looking bar smells absolutely lovely but dries my skin out.  I will use it up since I refuse to be wasteful; however, I will be experimenting with a locally made goat milk soap next. 

My second project was my hair.  This was hard for me because I tend to get an itchy scalp and have been using dandruff shampoo for years.  Conviction really is the pits.  First, I made my own shampoo which turned out remarkably better than I thought, but with the change in the season and the weather getting colder.  I am now more aware of my scalp which is one of those body parts you’d prefer not to have an awareness of.  I’m giving it a good solid 30-day run though while at the same time researching cures for itchy scalps which may include adding a few drops of tea tree oil.  Any suggestions are welcome.  I may try out a shampoo from a refillable product store which is about 45 minutes away; however, the shampoo cost may be prohibitive.  Stay tuned!

The conditioner was a big of a shock…apple cider vinegar.  The other conditioner recipes were too complicated and involved bringing in ingredients not readily available.  This has been my biggest success in that I don’t come out smelling like a pickle after my shower, and my hair really is nicer for it.  It almost calms the itchy scalp though does not take it away completely.  I will experiment a bit more with it when I re-dye my hair and when I perhaps change shampoos to see if the conditioner works with these.

Sometimes, my itchy scalp (and legs) feels like a high price to pay for such a tiny drop in the environmental bucket; however, anytime I live in alignment with my values, there is always the rewarding ripple effect, be it the fabulous Facebook groups I discover along the way who are 10 steps ahead of me, the local producers who take a little extra time to tell me about the product they are making, seeing your children make a different choice taking plastic into consideration and the many unexpected rabbit trails. 

At least that’s what I remind myself when the discomfort creeps in…just  sec, I have to scratch.

This is just the children’s…Ugh!

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.