Saturday, August 28, 2010

Another Piece of Pleasure

If you read my post on happiness, you learned about my insight into consumer happiness.  Today I would like to write to you about universal happiness.  I realize it is a condition that everyone is seeking including myself.
Diane's pleasure is her harvest of new potatoes, a sweet hungarian pepper, bush beans and pink tomatoes.
Lately I have been contemplating joyfulness.  I am aware bliss doesn't occur when we want it to but it can happen in short bursts throughout the day.  I can be cheerful watching a butterfly flit by the kitchen window even though my children are dragging their feet while cleaning up the table.  Happiness always partners with some unpleasantness.

I believe that is why I am fond of bittersweet (sweet with a bitter aftertaste).  It is one of my most favorite words to use and I love the flavor.  I can't resist eating dark chocolate,  drinking a caffe latte, or sipping a Belgian beer.  Delight in all things bittersweet has taught me to accept exceptional experiences with imperfect times.

Likewise, I can accept the bittersweet parts of life.  Monday was taxing because it was my first day back to college after having a only month off from studying.  Initially, I was stoked about starting school since I passed my grueling Praxis exam.  However, I learned in my first class that I could expect about 15 hours of observation at a local high school (how I could fulfill this with three small children to take care of, I did not know).  This requirement was on top of my regular homework assignments.  I hadn't even attended my other two classes and I felt a wave of crushing defeat hit me.

The former Diane would have tried to find a way to avoid the feelings of frustration, anger and sadness generated by this considerable school assignment.  Instead, the alternative Diane decided to bear these
emotions without dodging them.  Why, you might ask.

Carlin Flora in her article, The Pursuit of Happiness writes that "happiness is not your reward for escaping pain."  Many of us run into problems when we avoid suffering.  We may fall into harmful habits that unwittingly help us avoid distressing occurrences.  Instead, we need to face discomfort in order to fully experience contentment.

I have to agree with this.  By encountering the disagreeable thoughts of new homework assignments,  I could feel the unpleasantness and move on to more positive feelings.  Another consideration to this dilemma would be to have a more zen-like approach.  By not judging the feelings we are experiencing at a certain moment as good or bad, rather seeing the emotions as a necessary part of life, we can accept the obstacles and try to decipher what they mean to us.

Yes, life is demanding (as I found out this week at school), but it also is gratifying.  I just pulled an assortment of vegetables from my garden and they look delicious.  I am going to sit out on my patio and have a sun ripened tomato, my piece of pleasure.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Time to Smash a Pumpkin

Michael butchered our home grown pumpkin yesterday.  He put pumpkin soup on the menu because the gourd was ripe and ready to eat.  I snagged the pumpkin seeds before he tossed them into the compost heap.   I know it's early but I wanted to make toasted pumpkin seeds.
This is a modest amount of pumpkin seeds from our five pound pumpkin.
 I thought it would be easy to find a recipe for toasted pumpkin seeds.  After a five minute internet search, I found about a dozen different recipes.  Directions varied from soaking the seeds overnight to boiling them first before roasting the seeds in the oven.  I wanted a simple but scrumptious recipe.  Therefore, I decided to make my own.
Pumpkin seeds need to be towel dried before mixing with butter and spices.
 After gutting the pumpkin, I sorted the seeds and removed the excess flesh.  I then rinsed the seeds in a mesh strainer and dumped them onto a sheet pan with paper towels.  After towel drying the seeds, I started work on the spice mixture.

Roasted pumpkin seeds taste great with butter, nutmeg, sugar, cinnamon and salt.
 When ever I make roasted nut snacks, I prefer a sweet but salty flavor.  A lot of the recipes had incorporated salt and some type of oil.  Very few cooking instructions included spices.  I felt that because  pumpkin is always associated with pie, I had to add cinnamon and a little nutmeg.

I combined melted butter, salt, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg in a bowl.  Meanwhile, I spread the seeds on a Silpat (silicone pad) in a half sheet baking pan.  The seeds were piled on the Silpat and the oven was set to 350 degrees.  I poured the butter mixture onto the seeds and mixed it with the seeds by hand.  Then I spread the seeds out onto the pan in a single layer.

Most recipes I viewed said to roast the seeds in the oven for ten to fifteen minutes.  I ended up toasting the seeds for twenty.  I would just keep on eye on the seeds and look for browning after fifteen minutes.  It probably depends on how wet your seeds are.

This is Diane's home grown toasted and tasty pumpkin seeds.
Let me tell you, Michael and I ate up all these seeds.  They were delicious.  The kids probably had one each.  Hopefully some day they will appreciate the sweet and savory seeds.

Diane's Toasted and Tasty Pumpkin Seeds

*per 1 cup of pumpkin seeds

1  tbs melted butter
1  tsp granulated sugar
1  tsp salt
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp cinnamon

1.  Set oven to 350 degrees.  Rinse seeds and remove excess pumpkin flesh.  Drain in fine mesh colander.  Dry with paper towels.

2. Melt butter and place in a small bowl.  Add sugar, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon.  Combine.

3.  Place seeds on parchment paper or silicone pad on sheet pan.  Pile seeds onto sheet pan.  Add butter mixture.  Throughly mix seeds with butter mixture by hand.  Spread seeds out into single layer.

4.  Place sheet pan in oven.  Check in fifteen minutes for browning of seeds and smell of cinnamon.  Remove and let cool.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

My Own Slice of Bliss

I came across a New York Times article last week about consumer happiness.  Stephanie Rosenbloom wrote about the current economic recession and how it moved some people to change their approach to purchasing goods.   People are buying less, but it is ingrained in our culture to find happiness through possessions.  Does this mean we are less content?  Is there a alternative way to locate elation?

One of my simple pleasures is finding a new butterfly in the backyard, a variegated fritillary.
In Rosenbloom's article, she writes about a couple of people that have opted out of the shopping treadmill.  One woman gave up her job as a project manager to become a freelance writer.  She and her husband pared their belongings down to 100 items and now live in a 400 sq. foot apartment.  Another person, a filmmaker downsized from a posh home in San Francisco to a trailer park in Malibu.  He wanted to be closer to the surf action.  Both groups of people have shed materialism to find a happier life.

I started questioning how this could fit in my own circumstances.  Before I pondered this, I wanted to learn more about happiness.  If you look in the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, happiness is defined as a state of well-being and contentment.   Likewise,  Wikipedia lists happiness as a state of mind that has origins in biology, physiology, religion and/or philosophy.  It seems that contentment is manifested in many different ways.

Now I will tell you I started reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin earlier in the year.  I confess I didn't finish the book.  It wasn't a quick read.  I do intend to go back and complete it.  From what I did read, Rubin had some interesting suggestions for well-being like getting to sleep earlier and exercising more frequently.  I am doing those things already, but I sometimes struggle with finding happiness.  In spite of that, I give her a lot of credit with using different approaches to locate her bliss.  Rubin's book shows us that happiness is not elusive, we just need to track it down.

I continued further with my investigation of happiness and found a few more tidbits.  In Psychology Today, Carlin Flora writes about The Pursuit of Happiness which is a discourse about the latest trend in popular psychology.  Why are Americans still struggling with finding bliss?  Flora states that some of us are stuck in a self-indulgent pattern of acquiring the latest gadgets or securing social upgrades.  These are only quick fixes with no lasting happiness.  However, a person can seek true contentment by detaching from the "hedonistic treadmill" and look for pursuits that are lively and not instantly boring.

What does this mean?  For myself, going back to school has been pleasurable.  I have found it to be full of challenges, forcing me to meet new people and helping me a learn new skills.   Likewise, another source of happiness has been home improvement projects.  I moved my vegetable gardens this spring and have been reaping the rewards of having daily fresh tomatoes this summer.  In addition, I recently stained our backyard deck.  It was four days of patient, sweaty labor but now I can watch butterflies to my heart's content on our newly restored deck.

Getting back to the New York Times article, Rosenbloom spoke with a number of psychology experts and found happiness to be firmly rooted in experiences and not material goods.  One expert, Dr. Diener suggested that Americans need to strive against "hedonic adaptation."  The excitement over a new purchase quickly declines in order to maintain homeostasis.  This means that money is better spent on a trip to the beach than acquiring a new car.

I have to agree with Dr. Diener.  Tim and I had a lovely time at the Medina County Fair a couple of weeks ago.  We are still talking about our encounter with all the fascinating farm animals and produce at the fair.  Having said that, you can ask me what I purchased recently and I struggle to remember.  Maybe  I got a book and some skin cream.  Whoop-de-do.  It just goes to show that I have an easier time remembering what I did than what I bought.

Needless to say, I learned a lot about consumer happiness in a short week.  I can be contented with less belongings and more pursuits.  It doesn't mean I will stop spending money.  It just means I will be more selective in what I do with my money.  I wonder how many people have figured that out.  Hopefully you are one of the lucky few who know the rewards with experiences rather than owning more stuff.  Oh well, live and learn.  And don't worry, be happy!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Diane's Uncelebrity Playlist

While I was walking daily on my vacation, I listened to a number of iTunes Celebrity Playlist podcasts.  It was fascinating listening to people like Jewel, the Edge, Mick Jagger and Slash put on their favorite records.  There was always hidden surprises to their playlists and I liked hearing their reason for choosing the various tracks.
Diane is listening to her beloved tunes on her iPhone 4.
I thought I would entertain you with my digital selections.  You might find some tucked away music you haven't discovered yet.  Or my tunes may call to mind a sweet musical memory.  Without further ado, here is my summer playlist.

The first number on my playlist has to be a catchy song with drama and can withstand repeated listenings.  I have been leaning slightly towards alternative country/folk.  I also need music that is peppy and full of acoustic guitar.   And It Spread by the Avett Brothers fits the bill.  They have a nice mix of vocal harmonies, poignant lyrics and hummable melodies.  I feel like I am sitting on their porch during a lazy afternoon listening to their little vignettes.

The next song I have to bring out is a Cleveland band that I heard on my local public radio station, 91.3 the Summit.  Love and Misery is a haunting song by the Modern Electric.  It is sung by Garrett Komyati who reminds me of male Janis Joplin.  We all have been in tormented relationships and I think this tune sums up the feelings very well.  The keyboards are brilliant on this song too.

In that same vein, I downloaded another local artist, Kate Tucker and the Sons of Sweden.  She was born in Ohio and moved to form her band in Seattle.  I like her music because it is guitar-driven and evocative.  Saturday Night is my favorite track off the album.  The song has a haunting melody and expresses the frustration of being under someone's influence.  By the way,  she will be in the area for Concert on the Square on September 3rd.

Now to lighten the mood, I have to put the latest popular summer song on my playlist.  Train's Save Me, San Francisco is a funny but plaintive plea for the band's hometown.  I like how the lyrics weave different musical metaphors to describe the band's historical transformation.  They touch on everything from disco to calypso.  What a rhyming way to describe the rough road to stardom.

After sharing a few current numbers, I have to include an older song to awaken some good summer memories.  Every time I hear this melody, I have to smile to myself.  Al Green has a serious gift for soul music.  I know I will have critics countering me but Let's Stay Together is his best work.  The strings, the beat and Al's velvet voice are mind-blowing.   I always think of a warm sunny place with my sweetie while listening to this track.

Although you must forgive me for experiencing my formative years during the disco era.  I have to include Got To Get You Into My Life in my playlist or it would be a serious omission.  Earth, Wind and Fire always fascinated me with their whole Egyptian getup.  I loved the costumes they wore for each performance (and this was back before music videos).  Granted they were a African-American R&B, Jazz band and not real Egyptian musicians.  If you ignore that, the band sultry presence with Phillip Bailey on vocals is stellar with killer horns!

I have to include one more oldie but goodie and it's all because of Natalie.  We were listening to it the other day and she was grooving with me.  If a seven year old likes a mature pop song, it must be a first-class number.  Thriller reminds me of summer drive in movies that were scary but fun.  What a timeless song.   I realize that Michael Jackson may have had a questionable personal life but the man had imposing talent.  

Back to the present, I want to submit The Outsiders  by Needtobreathe for my playlist.  It is a plucky anthem that talks about standing your ground.  I like the harmonies and banjo on this track.  It make me feel like I'm in a rural southern town listening to Bear Rinehart's supplication.

My second last entry of Diane's Uncelebrity Playlist has to be Just Breathe  by Pearl Jam.  The song has a quiet ballad vibe without being pretentious.  I like the open honest confession that Eddie Vedder makes to his loved ones.  The lyrics are just beautiful.

The final recording in my playlist has to be The Blackest Lily by Corinne Bailey Rae.  I like the song because it has a retro feel to it.  When I heard her iTunes Celebrity Playlist, she only had time-honored music.  I was impressed with how gracious she was towards the greats like Jimi Hendrix or Ray Charles.  Her song echos the funk scene and describes the buzz a person can get from a love affair.  

Well, I hope you enjoyed Diane's Uncelebrity Playlist.  You may have discovered some new tunes or unearthed a nostalgic remembrance.  In any event, may your summer be filled with many days of musical enjoyment.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

It's a Pumpkin!

While I was vacationing by breathtaking Lake Erie, my garden was up to mischief.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, Mother Nature's activity is hard to predict.  A gardener never knows what Mother Nature will bestow.

Here is the mystery summer squash that is actually a pumpkin.
 When I arrived back home, I had to survey the garden.  I found out I wrongly labeled the mystery plant.  Our summer squash turned out to be a pumpkin.   Timmy must have planned this.  He's always wanted to grow a pumpkin from a seed and now he's gotten his wish.
I located genuine summer squash in our garden.
 Much to my surprise, in the same vegetable garden, we have another summer squash plant.  Mike and I love summer squash.  Hopefully you have checked out Mike's recipe for summer squash and tasted some.  It's our new favorite dish this summer, by the way.
This cuke is growing outside the box, literally. 
 I also found a cucumber fruit growing outside the chicken wire which is our safety zone.  We have a plethora of rabbits living in the neighborhood.  The cuke has probably been growing for the last two weeks so maybe rabbits don't like them.  I won't try to protect it so we'll see if it survives to maturity.
We have been getting numerous grape tomatoes from the upside down tomato bucket.
 We have had no shortage of tomatoes since we've been back from vacation.  It's best part of summer.  Every other day, I have been able to go out my back door and pick tomatoes.  I've had grape, cherry and cherokee purple tomatoes.  I don't know if I have a favorite fruit right now.  I have to admit, the cherokee tomatoes have a juiciness that the grape and cherry tomatoes don't have.  Home grown tomatoes are the best!
This is Ben's lowly Rudbeckia that has survived bunny munching.
In the front yard we've had a couple of revelations.  The bunnies have been actively eating our hostas, violets, an ironweed plant and Ben's poor rudbeckia.  When I could, I would spray those plants with hot pepper wax to discourage the snacking.  Amazingly, Ben's black-eyed susan flowered after being chewed down to a couple of inches.  I can't believe how resolute plants are to stay alive and reproduce.
The mexican sunflowers are much loved by bees, butterflies and goldfinches.
The last wonderment I witnessed was the pair of mexican sunflower plants that have thrived in our front garden beds.  The bees and butterflies just love, love, love the plants.  One afternoon while reading a book, I counted twenty some visits by the Eastern Tiger Swallowtails.  I have seen both the yellow male and female along with the female dark morph.

I am so grateful to witness the changes that take place in a garden.  Nature has a sublime way to dazzle and delight anyone who observes it.  I hope you get a chance to marvel at your garden's changes this summer.