Being balanced and happy is something that has many meanings and layers in my life. I talk about my health love of food a lot, but happiness weighs heavy in my life as I have struggled in the past and I am guessing I will in the future. I am referring to happiness in a big picture sense, not happy as in the moment happy. Searching for happiness has kept me up many nights, drove me to drink many drinks and even cost me a few wonderful relationships.
I recently found out my sister, a professor, teaches a course on living well and happiness. This doesn’t really shock me, because I see my sister as a very happy person. Sure she has her struggles, but she deals with them and moves on (sometimes she holds a grudge, but for the most part she moves on). She has a beautiful family, I am pretty sure she loves her job. She is healthy and fit and generally has a good outlook on things, though she can be a bit snarky and snooty at times. When it’s all said and done, I would have to say she has a full, rich and well balanced life! Love ya sis! =)
What I was shocked to learn is that at Harvard University one of the most popular courses is related to positive psychology. Did you know that there are over 100 different universities and colleges in America that have courses on positive psychology and living well? After thinking about it, I’m really not that shocked. Happiness has been a topic of discussion and debate for thousands of years. In America The Declaration of Independence endows us all with, ”certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”
I almost feel I have to pursue my happy place. Considering I am not even sure what happiness is for me, this seems like an awful lot of pressure. Apparently I am not alone in this lack of knowledge. Medical professionals, psychology experts, religious figures, and philosophers have trouble agreeing on what is “happiness.”
There are many definitions, but most agree that happiness is more than a mere “happy” smile with a giddy feeling. The most useful definition of happiness includes an overall sense of a content or satisfied life. Happiness is more than skin deep, more than a motivational self-help seminar and more than a shallow smile! Pretty vague definition, eh? (the eh is for my brother-in-law, he’s Canadian)
The concept of happiness is far from a new idea, though the past decade in America the “Happiness Movement” has exploded. If we go back about 2350 years or so, Aristotle came to the conclusion that everyone was in search of the highest good.
A state of “eudaimonia
” (“happiness”) and “eu zên
” (“living well”). All things we do should direct us to this purpose. That sounds kind of familiar doesn’t it? It’s pretty much the basis of most motivational speakers, self-help gurus, life coaches, snake oil merchants, Jack and his magic bean stalk beans (ok maybe that one is a far stretch) and the 20,000+ results when you search "happiness" on Amazon
So what really is happiness? Well that depends on you! Happiness does not come in a one size fits all snuggy box. I have pondered this many nights and think I have an idea of what happiness means for me. Happiness involves being fit and healthy, having an open mind, being curious about the unknown and accepting of that which is different, and acknowledging, confronting, and dealing with sadness when it knocks on my door. For without sadness there is no measure of happiness!
We will explore more on this later.....
I had the urge to clean up a bit today. This urge doesn't appear very often so when it does I have to embrace it. I set my sights on the dreaded Ikea entertainment center. I have a love/hate relationship with this piece of furniture which reflects many relationships in my life. This particular relationship started in California when I thought it would be a good idea to buy this 7’ x 7’ ginormous piece that seems to weigh two tons, has about 20 cubes and rectangles that collect more dust than a rock in the desert. I do have to admire the fact that it was extremely affordable, survived a cross country move and has fit perfectly in two different homes. I absolutely hate dusting it though.
This “entertainment center” also happens to be prime real estate for collecting many things. It sits a few feet from the front door and we walk by it several times a day. Among its collections are some photos of family and friends, relics from the past, trinkets, tools, old lotto tickets, board games and much more. As I was dusting two pieces in particular brought back some very fond memories of my grandfather’s. I do not have much in the way of physical reminders from my grandfathers, but what I do have I sadly often overlook.
Today was a bit different. As I dusted an old Mickey Mouse pocket watch that belonged to my Grandpa Kromer I thought about what kind of man he was and how that may have influenced who I have become. First off, I actually never knew my grandfather had a Mickey Mouse pocket watch. It happened to be one of the things my mom offered me to remember him by. Living in Orlando, I am not particularly fond of the rodent, but for some reason I was drawn to it and it has lived on the place of entertainment for the past few years.
To be honest I was never a fan of visiting grandma and grandpa Kromer as a child. Grandma suffered from severe Rheumatoid Arthritis, she loved Elvis and did things with yarn and those weird plastic grids and you could tell she just plain hated her illness and what she became. Her hands were deformed and there wasn’t much she could do for herself. My grandparents had their fair share of tough times and grandma’s health problems took their toll on grandpa Kromer.
Grandpa Kromer was a very humble and simple man. He worked hard for most of his life and sadly you could see it in his face. Even though he seemed to have been dealt a losing hand through most of his life (he lost a gas station business when I was very young, the IRS was not sympathetic and my grandmother’s health) he had a devotion to my grandmother and family that one has to admire. He raised five kids and you can tell he loved them very much though he may have had a hard time showing it. That looks like a decent brick shithouse.
Years of caring for my ailing grandmother certainly took its toll on his health and happiness. He sacrificed a lot for her and as far as I know he never asked for anything in return. After she passed his health and sense of purpose seemed to pass with her. In my view he was lost, and struggled with the void that was once filled with caring for his ill wife. A few years later grandpa Kromer passed away from some pretty chronic health issues. His passing was rather quick after the diagnosis. I am fairly certain he knew there was something wrong, but chose not to seek help or fight it. Without someone to care for or a purpose it was easier for him to let go. I did not have the opportunity to say goodbye, I was in my early 20’s living across the country and pretty poor at the time.
I was also a little bit angry. I am certain most would agree his passing could have been delayed or prolonged if he wasn't so darn stubborn (Stubbornness may run on both sides of my family). I haven’t thought about this in a long time and as I reflect back, I now know I had no right to be angry at him. He was a good man, devoted husband and father. He worked hard and I can’t remember ever hearing him gripe. I believe he did his best with what he had. The loss of my grandmother and sudden change in roles from caretaker must have had a profound impact on who he was and his purpose in life.
I can remember back to when I was probably 5 or 6 and he still had a little sparkle in his eyes, especially when he saw his grandchildren. He used to say, “I was built like a brick shit house.” I was too young to really know what he meant by that and as a kid I always thought he was saying I was fat. As an adult I like to think a little bit differently. I want to believe that he was trying to say that I was solid, I could withstand any crap life could throw at me and that my strength would keep me standing through any storm.
Grandpa wasn't around when the Urban Dictionary was created but I find a little humor in some of their definitions of "Built Like a Brick Shithouse
I can see some of the traits in my grandfather that have been passed down to my mother and myself. There is the courage to face things that scare us. I see this most in my mom. She too was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis and faced the fear of ending up in the same circumstances as her mother. Thankfully advancements in the treatment of this disease have come a long way. While she still struggles with pain and mobility sometimes I have to applaud her courage and outlook. She works at eating healthy and exercising. While every once in while she can be a bit grouchy, as we all can be, she is an amazing person who has a love and devotion to her family and friends that cannot be questioned. She and my grandfather are a large part of the person I have become and hope to be in the future.
While I may never agree with how grandpa Kromer chose to leave this world, I have accepted it and grown from it. What I have learned is that having a purpose is a large part of whom you are and who you choose to be. I have also learned that if that purpose is taken away you have to be open minded enough to adapt and allow yourself to find a new passion. Most of all I have learned that while being a brick shit house may not be glamorous, it certainly serves an important purpose in life. I can say that no matter what people do to me or what storms try to knock me down, when the dust settles I will still be standing strong and proud!
Stay tuned for reflections on Grandpa McCrae.
According to the Mayo Clinic and recent research in neurosciences and mind-body therapies, “the mind can change the brain.” The practice of mind-body therapy, Yoga, Tai Chi, Meditation, Pilates and even Music Relaxation and Therapy can soothe the mind and engage the brain areas that enhance resilience and happiness. By doing the activity you can reprogram the attitude!
The practice of yoga can redirect your focus and strength from your everyday stress and worries to your mind, balance and overall attitude. The ultimate goal of yoga is to coordinate the breath, mind and body putting everything into its place; providing a sense of cohesiveness throughout the temple of your own being. This hopefully follows you through your journeys thereafter.
The risks of yoga are low and it can be practiced by most everyone. People with lower back, neck and joint problems may want to avoid certain poses. You should also consult with a physician if you have a history of high blood pressure or blood clots. Yoga is generally considered safe for pregnant women, but poses that put pressure on the mid section and uterus should be avoided.
The benefits of practicing yoga on a regular basis include improved flexibility, balance, strength, peace of mind, coordination and a release of pressure we put on our bodies during the “daily grind.” Hours of slouching over the computer or standing and pounding the pavement can put pressure on the spine, hips, neck and core of your universe. Yoga can reduce and counter some of these external sources of internal stress.
According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, yoga can help reduce stress, slow breathing, lower blood pressure, alter brain waves and assist your heart to work more efficiently (Mayo Clinic 2010). Yoga has been found to increase some measures of cognitive function and offer a source of control over some symptoms of depression. Some studies even suggest that yoga can help improve binge eating habits. The National Institutes of Health is always conducting clinical trials on the benefits of yoga, to see the current trials check them out at their website
Yoga has also been found to reduce the amount of medication needed to control mild to moderate asthma. I have had chronic asthma issues most of my life and have been hospitalized at least 15 times due to asthma. A personal experience for me, a few months back I had to get all of my asthma prescriptions refilled which cost me a couple hundred dollars. Since I have been practicing yoga the past month, I recently realized I have not used my inhaler. I don’t expect yoga to eliminate my breathing issues or miraculously fix my lungs, but it does seem to reduce the need to rely on medication to get through the day.
Yoga has been gaining acceptance and increasing popularity in United States the past hundred years or so, though it has been around for thousands of years. It can be done solo, in a group, at your local health club or community center and even in the peace and quiet of your own home. Compared to most workout programs and gym memberships it is relatively in expensive to start out. Though I personally feel yoga should be part of an overall health program that also involves cardio, resistance training and proper nutrition. With all the benefits, there is really no reason to not give it a try.
“Approaches that at their core are based on the values of peace, forgiveness, compassion, selflessness, integrity and love will be the ones that will stand the test of time and continue to bring health and healing to this generation and the next.” – Amit Sood, M.D., General Internal Medicine, The Mayo Clinic
I wrote this story a couple of years ago when I was blessed with the opportunity to live in the Bay area for a while. I met some of the most wonderful people in the world, rekindled old friendships and explored new tastes. This tale encompasses all of that in one afternoon:
I woke up this morning to a brisk breeze coming in through the windows. After spending the last twelve years in Florida I rarely had the opportunity to sleep with the windows open. It was a bit chilly yet relaxing feeling. The temp was in the mid 50’s and the sky was a bit overcast, rain was coming, but I really didn’t mind. It has been a while since it rained and I like the crisp freshness of the air after a nice rain.
I was looking forward to this morning. I had plans to enjoy brunch with my friend Jessica, the food is usually good but the conversation is always better. On my way I asked Jessica if her sister, Paula “Sweetpea”, wanted to join us. I had heard stories about Paula but had never met her and was looking forward to meeting this mystical creature I had heard so much about. I heard she was a bit of a free spirit, intelligent, creative and had a way with words that described things like they were classical poetry. I imagined her frolicking around tall grass fields in Europe, dancing in circles as bunnies and butterflies swarmed around her. As she walked spouting random tid bits of knowledge and stories of her adventures sparkles magically appearing out of nowhere.
I made my way over to the east bay to pick up the gals. I managed to get a bit lost, I am not sure what they were thinking when they designed the interchange coming off of the bay bridge from the city. After I finally arrived, I was informed we were headed over to Aunt Mary’s Café
just down the road on Telegraph Ave. I am always up for trying something new and this place was on my list to make it too.Aunt Mary’s Café
features some unique and creative southern comfort foods with a twist and an emphasis on using local and sustainable ingredients. I was overwhelmed by the menu, not sure what to choose I asked for some suggestions from our lovely server. I was torn between the Southern Bubble and Squeak, potato cakes with southern greens served with 2 eggs and pot likker gravy. I have no clue what pot likker gravy was but I watched several dishes make their way out of the kitchen and it looked delicious. I also had my eye on the Hangtown Fry-TTata, a frittata with bacon, spinach and topped with fried oysters. I settled on an item from the seasonal menu (I can always come back for the other two) a Mushroom hash made with shitake, oyster and portabella mushrooms, cooked up with some potatoes and peppers in a rich and delightful sauce, topped with a couple of eggs over easy and a made from scratch biscuit.
AMAZING! What a combination of flavors! I am not sure what was in the sauce but my taste buds danced with joy! I am a mushroom fanatic and I couldn’t have been happier with my choice. The earthiness of the shitake with the meatiness of the portabella was a winning combination. The biscuit was perfection! I sopped up all the juices and smiled as it melted in my mouth. Life doesn’t get much better than that moment when you let out a little sigh because something is just that dam good!
Jessica was equally happy with her selection. She went with the Raised Rice Waffle, top with figs in a slightly sweet compote with a hint of anise! Being the good friend that she is she let me have a bite or two and for a hot second I thought about ordering a whole second meal. You simply can’t find a meal like this back in Orlando! Did I mention this delight was topped with a light and air goat cheese whipped cream? Shut the FRONT DOOR! You have to try this. Sadly my photography skills do not do this waffle justice.
Sweatpea went with some eggs over easy, southern greens and grits. I didn’t take a picture, and I have to assume it was good because her plate was clean shortly thereafter. Google Aunt Mary’s Café and try to convince my your mouth doesn’t water when you see those pictures!
While the food was amazing, it doesn’t compare to the conversations it sparked. I love food, it’s a large part of what this blog is all about. I love to cook, though I am not a chef. I love to try foods and talk about them, though I am not a critic. Sweetpea pointed out that food is in a way an expression of caring about someone. If you care for someone and cook for someone you are in a sense providing for that person, at least for that moment. She told me a story about a dinner at a friend’s house. As they were eating dinner the mother was just watching everyone eat and then said, “I love watching my kids eat.” It kind of made my heart melt.
Food is a huge part of our lives and our experiences. Look at how often the focal point of our social interactions is a meal or a beverage. In a way food is a connector of people, an experience we share. I think back to my friend’s in Orlando, we have “family” dinners as often as we can, but not nearly as often as I would like. We get together at someone’s place and lay out an amazing spread of home cooked deliciousness, and then we would kick back, chat, play yahtzee and laugh all night. When it comes down to it, life doesn’t get much better than that!
If new friends and new experiences became the focal point of all of our lives, just imagine what a happy place the world would be!
By the way my vision of Paula “Sweetpea” was not that far off, though I was slightly disappointed there were not random burst of magic sparkles surrounding her!