Hatching Happiness through Husbandry

When I was a kid, the word stress had a few specific meanings:

  • “Please stress the notes in your right hand, as there you’ll find the melody.” (I played the piano.)
  • “Hey! Get off the tire swing, dummy. Dad said it can’t hold two people cuz it’ll stress the branch and make it snap!” (I played with my brother.)
  • “I cannot stress enough how you must never eat any mushroom on the forest floor that looks like it is cherry flavored.” (I played being a Pioneer Princess when going for woodland walks with an elderly neighbor.)

As an adult, the word stress emits a different tone. It effectively and uncomfortably punctuates the feelings of anxiety, burden, anguish, and fatigue.

The CDC stresses the importance of social distancing and face masks for the safety of you and your neighbor.

The long-ignored stresses of systemic racism are experiencing a resurgence of interest and commitment from more than just those who experience it.

The constraints of quarantine have placed an abundance of stress upon the economy where many manufacturers may never find recovery. The toilet paper industry, however, is finding their lack of stress is primarily experienced by grocery shore shelves meant to hold their product.

The fact remains, we are inundated with strain and tension, and must find new ways to counteract the effects of them.

It reminds me of a story I once heard when attending a synagogue service long ago. The rabbi—an elderly man who missed his calling on the stage—delivered his sermon with this dramatic narrative.

 

Once upon a time, there lived a Jewish man—miserable in his existence and driven to alter it. He traveled to his village rabbi, and once seated face to face, began to unload the cause of his unhappiness.

“You wouldn’t believe the tumult, Rabbi. My wife, she heckles me all day long. My daughters bicker between themselves. I cannot find a moment’s peace. I need your advice. What should I do?”

The rabbi nodded sagely, and looking him straight in the eye, said, “Do you have a cow?”

“Yes,” said the miserable man.

“Then go home. Bring that cow into your house and come back to see me in the morning.”

The miserable man was confused, but did not resist, and carried out the rabbi’s advice. The next morning, the miserable man returned to the rabbi, looking woeful and confused.

“Rabbi, I think there must be some mistake. I took your advice, brought the cow into the house, and had the worst night ever. My wife still heckled, my daughters still bickered, and now as well, the cow has made a mess all over the floor and the whole house stinks. I’m very unhappy. What do I do?”

The rabbi nodded sagely, looked him straight in the eye, and said, “It’s as I thought. Do you have chickens?”

“‘Yes,” said the miserable man.

“Then go home. Bring those chickens into your house with the cow and come back to see me in the morning.”

The miserable man, again confused, carried out the rabbi’s advice. The next morning, he returned to the rabbi, dismal and depressed.

“Rabbi, again, I feel there must be an error, as I took your advice with the chickens, and last night was even worse than I could have imagined. My wife with her heckling, my daughters—such bickering, the cow and her mess, and the chickens—well, the chickens clucked and crowed all night. There are feathers everywhere, and I have been pecked more times than I’ve had hot dinners. I’m terribly unhappy. What do I do?”

The rabbi placed his hand upon the miserable man’s clasped grip. “Do you have any sheep?”

The man nodded, hope filling his face.

“Bring the sheep in with the cow and the chickens and see me in the morning.”

The following morning, the man returned, beleaguered, exhausted, and bleak. “Rabbi, the heckling, bickering, cow’s mess, and chicken clucking had the added awfulness of a night filled with unending bleating. No one can sleep, there is no room, and the place is in shambles!”

The rabbi walked the miserable man to the door, his arm around his shoulder. “There is one last thing you must do. Have you any pigs?”

The miserable man reeled back, his faith in the rabbi’s wisdom beginning to wane on his face. But he did as was advised and returned again the next day.

The man slumped into a chair across from the rabbi, put his head on the table, and announced his defeat. “It was worse than worse. More horrid than anyone could imagine, Rabbi. The heckling, bickering, cow’s mess, clucking, and bleating was joined by a ruckus so unbelievable. The pigs ran amuck of everything—toppling furniture, eating our food, bringing in flies. I cannot stand it anymore. I give up.”

The rabbi put his hands on the miserable man’s shoulders and said, “Go home. Remove all the animals from your house and give it a good cleaning. Come to me tomorrow.”

The following morning, the miserable man appeared at the rabbi’s door looking … happy.

“I don’t know what you did, Rabbi, but I feel wonderful! My wife is so pleased with our house free of animals. My daughters smiled gayly at breakfast. And I slept peacefully, at last. I cannot thank you enough.”

The rabbi walked the contented man to the door and smiled broadly as he said, “There is nothing so simple as to live through misfortune to illuminate one’s blessings. The real point is to not lose sight of them from the beginning.”

 

And I think it’s easy to state unequivocally, that life at the moment feels like we’re living within chaos. But, as has been asserted by the greatest of philosophers, from within crises we experience fog, upheaval, turmoil, and finally clarity.

The stresses we put on systems are often purposeful and meant to reveal where we should place our greatest attention and energy.

I think with dedication, sacrifice, and perseverance, we will increase that which is right at our fingertips and has been the entire time … peace.

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

A Problem Shared is a Problem Halved (or not Felled if You’re Quick)

Currently, I’m in the middle of a fight with three people.

Well, they’re not actually people, they’re animals, but they are just as stubborn, unreasonable, and small-minded as some of my closest friends, so it’s easy to confuse the two groups.

There is a cardinal, who for weeks has been fighting with fisticuffs, or whatever feathered version there is of that, with nearly every window I have on my house.

And on my car.

And with my head if I’m outside and happen to have extra shiny hair that day.

 

Obviously, one must protect one’s nestlings from intruders—even if you mistake them for your own reflection. And I, obviously, must protect a smaller-brained organism from leaving his nestlings fatherless.

But my efforts are thwarted by the cardinal’s span of territory to patrol. I cannot blackout every window to diminish the glare, as I have limited supplies and a biological need for vitamin D.

He will have to take his chances with the likelihood of beak repair.

There is also a squirrel. One who suffers from great impatience.

The rule in my childhood neighborhood, adhered to by anyone with one season of vegetable growing experience was thus: plant 1/3rd for the deer, 1/3rd for the birds, and 1/3rd for your family.

For years this directive was sage and followed by all participating creatures.

This year, I cannot get the seeds in the ground without a squirrel—one I now recognize because of the prison art tattoo on his back—digging them up the second I’ve stepped away.

First, I tried netting the box. He must have opposable thumbs. He easily unnetted the netting.

Then I tried heavy-duty tree trunk wiring. He must have tools. Unwired, and again I am seedless.

Then I just put out half a pound of already grown green beans and a sign that said YOU WIN.

(*insert squirrel snickering here)

Lastly, there is a beaver.

He is industrious. He is relentless. And he has expensive taste.

He has already struck down and carried off three massive bayberry bushes and is now working on a beautiful thick oak that will take him years to gnaw through. Gauging his angle of approach, it will likely land directly on my house.

It’s okay. I’ve got time.

But to deter him from this great specimen of timber—which may or may not survive his insatiable appetite for cellulose and lignum—I have begun laying piles of thick branches and small logs at the base of the tree. A gift. An impediment. A message that suggests If you carry on with this task, you will soon become a part of my winter wardrobe.

Nevertheless, he persists.

My next step would be to enmesh that tree with the heavy-duty tree trunk wiring, but it’s still currently in use with my next squirrel-thwarting endeavor which involves a small makeshift catapult.

I know these minor skirmishes sounds like small potatoes as we’re all muscling our way through day after day of the pandemic which forces us to revisit and ration our daily wants and needs.

But might there be a silver lining out there for many of us? The substantial amount of people who have yet to experience the oh-so-real terror of scarcity?

Is it such a bad idea—despite the fact that it has been forced upon us—to reevaluate what the word need truly means? Or to press each of us into a state of deliberative ingenuity?

I’m not suggesting we all slap on a coonskin hat and become some version of Daniel Boone, but would it be so awful to think like an Italian nonna when facing the dwindling supplies on one’s pantry shelves and you’ve got thirteen hungry bellies to fill?

I think most of us would benefit from a few hours of bootstrap thinking.

Certainly, when I look at the microcosm of The Hunger Games event I’m involved in with Mother Nature and her brood, I can see that there’s more than one way to skin a cat—or a beaver, if you will.

I see them effortfully striving, every day, for the same things: food, shelter, and the protection of one’s progeny.

That’s the focus. And I don’t blame them.

That said, being the individual with slightly more gray matter, I find it’s possible for me to not only endeavor to achieve those same things, but maybe help a few of them in their pursuit as well.

Now is the time for inventiveness, resourcefulness, and innovation. Along with that comes the eye-opening bonus of gratitude.

We may never view the necessities—the essentials of life in quite the same light. Whether you’re handing out bags of successfully grown green beans to neighbors, or you’re delivering face masks made from the hairy hide of a befallen beaver, you’ve seized the chance to be a section of a solution and not part of a problem.

Most important, this is a critical time for self-reflection. The point is none of us have to be bird-brained about any of it.

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

Amazing Grace–a happy human condition.

I have this habit of seasonally taking stock in things.

In the fall, I tally how much wood I have for the fireplace.

In the winter, I measure the amount of scotch in storage.

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In the spring, I size up what made it through the harsh winter and then I toss whatever didn’t.

In the summer, I keep my fingers crossed that I was one of those things that survived the spring cleaning.

My birthday is this week, and each year when it arrives, the first thing I do before sticking a toe out from beneath the covers is to make a balanced body account:

Anatomy-wise, what is still chugging along cooperatively? What is barely keeping up? What buckled under the pressure and was left on the side of the road and is currently being pecked into bite sized morsels for turkey vulture vittles? If I find that the scale hints even slightly in the positive direction, I will roll over and begin my morning ablutions. If I have a deficit, I will try again in an hour.

I have been lucky thus far. Rare has a birthday come and gone with me spending most of it hitting the snooze button. I have been criticized much of my life for being uncommonly, uncomfortably and annoyingly happy. But this quibble regarding my nature is inaccurate. It’s not that I’m continually popping perky pills, it’s much more simple than that.

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I’m grateful.

And gratitude can be a heady drug.

I cannot walk by a blooming bush or a cluster of planted posies without detouring in order to inhale a lungful of their inebriating fragrance. Occasionally, I find I am nose to nose with another individual who is not particularly thrilled with me overseeing his work, and can make a painful point about territorial rights.

I can easily be swept away by the colors that explode around me: greens that are so intense they are nearly pungent, hues of blue that suggest a depth of travel for which there is no end, blushing bursts of color that flare across fields and hillsides beckoning the eye and tossing in an extra heartbeat to my normally steady rhythm. I am a sucker for a rich palette, whether displayed on canvas, or within a shock of teenage hair; it is eye candy and I am drawn to it hungrily.

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My appetite for conversations with the small brood I care for is insatiable. I want to know what they’re thinking, how they’re thinking and if they’re thinking. Their learning process has been so different than mine, so foreign to my intuition and intellect, that I find myself wanting to study them like an entirely new species. And they are. Their alien intelligence is something I may have paid for, but am denied access to. Still, I am granted the license to observe and appraise, to curiously examine, and to marvel at the mechanisms of learning. I also marvel at the fact that most nights I am not face down in my soup, having exhausted all reserves of energy in attempting to follow their rapid fire, warp-speed conversations about topics I couldn’t even classify. Copious amounts of their words are not in my lexicon.

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They are a foreign species, but I’ve found I have a taste for the exotic. Another tick on the gratitude graph.

My appreciation scale widens further with the component of a truly savory experience. The phrase Food and Wine is one of the greatest string of words mankind has thrown together. With every adventure into a grocery store, a restaurant, or even my own refrigerator, I am continually caught by delighted surprise with what is available and creatable. I am also caught by surprise—not the delighted kind—with what is available and creatable.

Yum and yuck.

Ultimately, whether I am drawn to something new, something bold, something blue, or something old, the notion of feeding my body, feeds my soul. And many times I have found myself tempted after a particularly delectable adventure to turn to someone next to me and ask, “Does this make my soul look fat?”

Fingers crossed it does.

Lastly, true sensation–the ability to feel both physically and emotionally–is not without risk. At one end of the spectrum floats blissful nirvana. The other is the lead weight of despair. Somewhere betwixt is balance, but the gamut is wide with a breadth and depth that needs to be explored to claim the title of ‘a life well-lived.’

And this is what I seek: the taste and touch, the sights and sounds, the extraordinary, the humbling, the awakening, the challenging, and that which steals your breath away, but hopefully returns it.

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If I stop to think about it, I’ve been spinning in a reeling pirouette from the moment I was a cluster of human cells. Rightly so, I should be dizzy enough to ask for pause to untangle myself from the one way spiraling road trip, but thankfully, I am determined to remain in my seat.

Each day I continue to purchase a ticket, find an open stool, and buckle up my safety belt.

Destination: Life

~Shelley

 

June Gotta Have a Gott winner

In January, Rob and I announced that his sketches will be available toward the end of the year in the form of a 2015 calendar! And our readers would get to be the judges and voters for which doodles they’d like to see selected for each month. We’ll reveal the winners one by one, and come November, If you’ve Gotta have a GOTT, you can place your order. Jump on over to see the cartoon winner for June!

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

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A recipe for a delectable life.

I find it hard to fathom that one more year has blown by and I’ve tacked on another 365 days worth of eating way too much, sleeping way too little and spending countless hours attempting to teach my dog to talk. Funny enough, I’m sensing the future will be much of the same. I’m not big on change and everyone agrees that the hound is making forward progress with his sibilance.

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I mentioned last year how one of the first things I do when waking on my birthday is to take stock.

Acknowledge things that work: check.

Acknowledge things that don’t: check.

Acknowledge things that squeak … yeah, that one is a growing list, but … check.

There were times in my life when making a splash with my birthday was worthy of planning and fuss, but the older I grow the more I often feel that this yearly rite is more enjoyable as an inner nod to the growing number of trips I’ve made around our sun.

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The way I look at it is that it’s similar to an amusement ride we’re all sharing and none of us can get off. Ever. Lungs taking in air or not, the ticket was purchased and has no foreseeable expiration date.

And although there may be times when we feel dizzy from the speed, overcome with exhaustion from hanging on, and close our eyes to what’s become a blur as we round another corner, this yearly journey is also filled with flashes of sheer exhilaration, eye-opening perspectives, and heart stopping moments that bring you to your knees and fill you with unimaginable gratitude.

I think back to those first remembered birthdays—the ones filled with confetti cake, sugared air and ribboned boxes—and try to conjure up the innocence. Like the sweetest of berries and the most ambrosial fruit, the years of childhood are delicate, and their flavors, fleeting and rapturous, leave you wishing it was possible to preserve them, lovingly labeled in six ounce jam jars, safeguarded in the pantry for blustery, bone-chilling nights.

Once we’ve emerged from the cradle of youth, we begin ticking the boxes of societal benchmarks, placing an ever increasing amount of importance on a yardstick that has been whittled partly by time grown wisdom and the rest by Hallmark and overly invasive but overwhelming successful marketing campaigns.

Fourteen (553x800)Hey! You’re double digits!

A teenager at last!

Sweet sixteen!

Now that you’re an adult …

Twenty-one! Let’s have some fun!

The big ‘3-oh,’ the big ‘4-oh,’ … HALF A CENTURY?!Thirtyfour070713 (648x800)

But there’s still all that middle ground that needs to be covered, all the numbers not snazzy enough to be grandly celebrated, fussed over, or worried about. Thirty-four and sixty-two and fourteen are pretty “blah” digits that have no dedicated section in the greeting card isle, but should that make them any less significant? Any less worthy?

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Maybe someone could make the argument that distinction is a good thing, that if every birthday were a monumental celebration, they might not feel so monumental any longer. Maybe we need the milestones to bring a flavorful variance to the day. Maybe having your favorite black-out, chocolate chunk, chocolate cake every day sounds like a great idea until about day six or seven when black-out becomes cross-out and cross-eyed.

I might just have to offer myself up to science on behalf of us all to test the theory. It’s okay. I don’t mind. I’m sure it would make a fascinating read in one of the fancier periodicals like The New England Journal of Medicine Specifically Related to the Cacao Bean, or maybe peer reviewed in Nature and Science and Chocolate.

I’ll keep everyone posted for its release.

Regardless, what I find more important with each passing year is the resolve to be fully present. And although this has nothing to do with bow-tied boxes, it has everything to do with gifts.

I want to notice more within each flip of the calendar month, each crossed off master task list day, and each fleeting moment that combines together to create them all.

I want to steep myself within the joy, marinate inside the fear, fester around in turbulent anger, bubble about within surprise.

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And by doing so, I feel I’ve made a marvelous feast of a life. In fact, I long ago tossed out the powdery confetti cake in favor of its unctuous chocolate replacement. But it’s not just a chocolate cake anymore; this cake is drizzled with blissful caramel, mixed in with tooth-cracking toffee, spiced with hot-headed cayenne, and packs a bombshell number of calories. Is it clear? Joy, fear, anger and surprise? It’s all mixed in together. It’s the sum parts of my whole year baked into a forkful or two. Or five.

They are put together for a reason: so I remember to take it all in. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

They are the ingredients of life.

And they are worthy.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and what we all talked about down in the pub (here). And to see more of Robin Gott’s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone–click here.