On Point

I grew up in a typical, suburban, curb and gutters neighborhood, in a cookie cutter house, with manicured lawn, in a small Northern California town. A couple of years ago, I moved back home. Same bedroom, same house, same street, same neighborhood, same town. Though much has changed. There are only a very small handful of “original neighbors”, those people who moved here when the houses were first built nearly fifty years ago. My mom is an original neighbor, now, so am I.

Scarlette Begonia

I took ballet lessons, like most young girls in my neighborhood, from the lady around the corner. An original neighbor, still in the original house. She was a bit strict, but she was passionate about ballet. Her strictness intimidated me some, but I respected her. I needed that strictness, I needed the structure and the discipline of ballet. I was chaos in pink tights and a black leotard, otherwise. She would pick us up from school in her big station wagon. I thought it was so cool to have a station wagon, she had five children, and a flat tummy, strong slender arms, and long, thin, legs. She wore her hair long, tied back in a ponytail, or up in a bun. She looked the part. I was an only child, so the dreamy thought of being part of her family, with so many brothers and sisters, was almost more than I could bear. And they all danced. In the station wagon, after school, every seat was filled with a tiny, young, dancer. After ballet lessons, she’d drive us all home, one by one, around the block, all the neighborhood children. There were other children who attended her ballet school, many other children. They came from other neighborhoods and went to different schools. Ballet school was one of the few places where I made friends with children from other schools and neighborhoods; ballet, Sunday school, honor band, and, in later years, at the stables where I kept my horse.

Scarlette Begonia

I have always been motivated, when interested, and a little bit competitive. I really wanted to move quickly from beginning ballet class, which was held in one of the upstairs bedrooms of the old, repurposed white and pink Victorian house, to the next level. Eventually, I’d be promoted to “the living room”, downstairs, where the real ballet dancers, the “big kids”, practiced, all I wanted in life was to go up “on toe” or “on point”. Being ready to wear toe shoes, that meant you were a “real” ballerina. You attended a different class and got to learn the things the ballerinas who danced in the Nutcracker performed. Once you were up “on point” you got to wear “toe shoes”, which required all kinds of special care and had ribbons that laced up your legs. Once you made it up “on point”, the next thing to aspire for, was to be chosen to be part of the “troupe”. Each summer the ballet troupe got to travel to a faraway place, like Japan, and perform.

Scarlette Begonia

That was all I wanted. No, it wasn’t. There was one thing I wanted slightly more; a horse. A horse of my own. When my eleventh birthday rolled around, I was, I felt confidently, close to going up “on point”. But, as I’d been begging for a horse for as long as I can remember, it may have, in fact, been the first phrase I constructed, “I want a horse”, when I was given the chance to empty my savings account and buy a horse, I jumped at the chance. The only caveat was, since I was purchasing the beast, but lived in a curb and gutters, cookie cutter, suburban, neighborhood, the horse would require boarding. Mom and Dad were going to pay for that. Which, as I was told, meant I could not also have ballet lessons. It was dance, or a horse. I traded in my ballet slippers for cowboy boots. And while I won’t say I ever regretted the decision, I did regret the situation, being made to choose.

In college, after selling my horse, I enrolled, again, in ballet, as a P.E. class, for college credit. It was fun, but I remember nothing about my instructor. He, or she, (I meant it, I don’t remember anything about the instructor) just kind of was there, fulfilling some sort of job description. I don’t remember any passion, or taking away any life lessons. Perhaps I was just beyond my impressionable stage.

To this day, I love dance, and I wish I were better at it. I will often seek out and participate in the new barre fitness classes, they are rooted in the concepts of ballet, but are more contemporary, so, it’s like ballet moves to Zumba loud music, and with instructors I doubt ever trained in ballet, classically speaking. Still a good workout, but no chance to go up “on point” or to perform in Japan.

The youngest of my ballet teacher’s five children was a couple of years younger than me. The next oldest child was in my class in school, from kindergarten clear through high school. Grown up and married and with two sons of her own, she ended up settling, teaching school, and raising her boys, not far from where I raised my family. We connected from time to time when our kids were very young, and met up at class reunions thereafter. Once Facebook became the platform for staying in touch, while she doesn’t have a profile, her husband, also a local boy, does. News is shared.

Scarlette Begonia

The next oldest child is only a year older than me. She, too, is on Facebook. The other two, a bit older, and, in fact, the next oldest, the second oldest of the five, was my first, beginning ballet teacher in the bedroom, upstairs in the repurposed, pink and white Victorian house, downtown.

Scarlette Begonia

I remember being very young, probably even before kindergarten, and the three youngest children would come over to play. While I don’t specifically remember, my mom often tells a tale of the youngest of the five, still in diapers, requiring some attendance with said diaper. We go back that far. He, too, is on Facebook.

Down the street from my ballet teacher lived a family with three kids, one boy a year older than me, a girl, a year behind me in school, and another boy, a couple of years younger than me. Grown now, of course, the youngest is on Facebook, and is, and has always been, best friends with my ballet teacher’s youngest son.

I have been, somewhat purposely, not paying Facebook all that much attention. I go on daily, dole out birthday wishes, quickly scroll through the New Feed, and, truthfully, kind of fed up with the same old, same old, I close out and turn my attention to other more interesting and entertaining social media platforms.

Scarlette Begonia

I recently noticed a few posts about the ballet school, still in the repurposed, white and pink, Victorian house, downtown; they have their own Facebook page, with I began following not too long ago. I often see posts from the two friends, my ballet teacher’s youngest son and the youngest boy from the family a bit further down the block, now, if not fifty years old, darned close. And, they remain close, living not far from one another, sharing activities, and Facebook posts. I enjoy their contributions to the social media platform, more than many. I also saw, fairly recently, a picture of my ballet teacher, her husband, and their two small dogs. All smiles and the picture of familiar vibrancy and joy, my ballet teacher, apparently, was in the hospital and the dogs were “snuck in” for a visit. She looked bright, happy, and, really, quite healthy, so I assumed it was something minor, nothing serious. I did, however, in the weeks that followed, notice old family photos being posted, and photos of her as a performer. Still, I thought little of it. She was several years younger than my own mother, only in her early eighties. The ballet school celebrated its fiftieth year this year, I related the photos to that, and perhaps that was their purpose.

Scarlette Begonia

After a week of self-absorption, with work, and my birthday, and sneaking away for an adventure in celebration of my own dance towards old age, I returned home, and to Facebook, and, partially out of boredom, caught up after checking all the likes and comments on my own, self-indulgent posts of my, recent, “me-centered” life, I scrolled through the News Feed, a little further than I have been, as of late. I was shocked, but not totally surprised, when I saw a post from the best friend, to the youngest son of my ballet teacher. It was lengthy. Lengthy posts are usually a rant, a tirade, or something like that, or, they are really important, meaningful, worthy. As it was authored by someone with a history of worthy posts, I deemed it important enough to stop scrolling and actually read.

She died.

The Facebook post was a lovely, heartfelt tribute to this woman who touched and shaped this man’s life, from the earliest of memory. I immediately clicked through to her youngest son’s profile and Timeline. There were many such posts, and more photos of my ballet teacher, throughout the years; dancing, performing, teaching, some more recently, at the ballet school, in celebration of the fifty years, with family, pictures spanning decades. A woman with five children she gave birth to, and a whole community of children, for generations, that she taught, helped raise.

Scarlette Begonia

I quickly drafted a tribute of my own, then wrote a second one to her daughter’s Timeline. In writing, I reflected and discovered, perhaps for the first time, that I too, was really shaped by the lessons offered by this teacher. That’s what teachers, good teachers, do; they offer lessons. As students, it is entirely up to us to accept them or reject them. A truly good teacher finds a way to deliver lessons in a more acceptable manner. That way, the only way, is through passion.

Scarlette Begonia

In my tributes, both, I told of how I only allowed a handful of people, in my young life, to actually teach me. The rest, I tolerated, and performed at some level of competency, near, but not exceeding the expectation, only for a few did I excel, only for a few did I feel like it mattered. Passion made that difference, perhaps flavored with kindness, sincerity, generosity, and compassion. I can count, on my fingers, the teachers that made that kind of impression, that kind of difference for me, throughout my life, to date. On one hand, I can count the teachers, from my youth, who I still quote often, their voices I hear as clearly as if still speaking, those who offered the lessons I allowed to shape me, to define me, to make me the person I am, and the person I still strive to become. The teachers in whose steps I sought to follow, still seek to follow; my first grade teacher, my third grade teacher, my Girl Scout leader, one of my 4-H leaders, and my ballet teacher. It is in their footsteps, whether in practical loafers, pretty pumps, hiking boots, cowboy boots, or point shoes, I aimed to follow, in raising my own family, in being a youth leader, that I still try to follow, in writing, and in sharing my little stories.

The unspoken lesson these great teachers taught me, I now recognize; it is about passion. A fulfilling and joyful life is based on finding our passion, living our passion, working our passion, and sharing our passion. Without passion as our purpose, we are merely performing at some level of competency, near, but not exceeding expectation. We are going through motions, but we aren’t dancing.

I faithfully follow a YouTube artist and vlogger, I am totally inspired by his talent, but more by his passion, and the example he sets in following his passion. He exudes it. He tells stories, and one in particular, of the person in his life he most admires; his nana. She was a dancer in New York City. She danced with the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall during World War II, and she was absolutely passionate about dance. Her father died of cancer a month before her first Rockettes recital, this shaped her life, her purpose, and her passion. When she married and raised her family, she began to teach tap dancing lessons in the attic of her house. She had seventy students and taught six days a week. Every year, she would hold a recital and the proceeds were all donated to cancer research in honor of her father, in hopes that a cure will be found and there will be no more missed, first, recitals. Out of passion, she taught tap dance, in her attic, six days a week, for 45 years, until she was 92 years old. She taught until the day before she died. That is passion, “on point”.

Scarlette Begonia

The point, I think, is to listen to your heart, to find your passion, that which moves you, causes you to feel like dancing, and then to just keep dancing. In living your passion, you inspire others to seek out and live their passion, that one by one, example by example, we may all someday learn to be “on point”.

Still? Still. Still?

Let’s talk about the word “still”. Five letters assembled together into a single syllable word that has a few different uses, a few different meanings, both good and not so good. Still.

An Effort to Evolve

Still; a bad thing. It takes motion and activity to accomplish things, from getting out of bed in the morning, to acquiring knowledge, to running a marathon. Being still, when we should be moving, then, is a bad thing. We cannot accomplish goals, learn, grow, be healthy, prosper, if we are still. Stillness suggests inaction, or, perhaps, complacency. Sure, we may move, physically, during the course of our day, but are we in motion towards anything greater than we currently are? That is the question. We were meant to learn, grow, achieve, by design, to which stillness is the enemy.

We were meant to learn, to grow, to achieve
We were meant to learn, to grow, to achieve

Further, we were designed, by nature, to move, physically. We are hunters, we are gatherers, by nature, our bodies, our minds and our souls require frequent, vigorous physical activity to thrive, to survive. Consider, then, stillness, the killer. Stillness robs us of our youth and our quality of life.

We were designed to hunt, to gather, stillness is a slow, silent killer, a robber of our quality of life.
We were designed to hunt, to gather, stillness is a slow, silent killer, a robber of our quality of life.

Are you still? Are you too still?

How do we know how to move, what direction to go, what to seek, to chase, to learn, to achieve?

Through stillness!

Still; a good thing. To connect to ourselves, in order to, perhaps, decide what it is we are meant to do, or be, or accomplish, we must be still, in body and in mind. This, though, for only a portion of our day. To learn to sit and quiet ourselves so that only our breath and the immediate moment surround us. In quieting and clearing our mind, in connecting our body and mind to our soul through breath and presence, we become aware of the current moment, the present, and we are more clear on who we are and in our purpose. There are many ways to practice stillness; meditation, peaceful, solitary activities such as walking or hiking, yoga, cycling, running or paddling. We simply need time set aside to allow the mind to quiet and the constant noise of our thoughts to cease. We need time to be present and focus only on our breath as it comes and goes, daily. In this stillness we have the opportunity to become ourselves, to connect our spirit to our being, and to be present.

Is your mind cluttered?
Is your mind cluttered?
Find stillness of thought in nature, walking or hiking.
Find stillness of thought in nature, walking or hiking.

How do we accomplish our goals, our purpose, or even just stillness?

Still; a good thing. Still is also a word used to imply consistency. Much of what we wish to do with our lives, in this world, relies on consistency, constancy, and perseverance. Whether achieving and maintaining our health, our fitness, a skill, some knowledge, or the ability to sit in stillness and connect to our breath, it all will require practice, consistent, regular practice. Still. A lifetime, sometimes.

Consistency, practice, perseverance to learn new things, acquire new skills
Consistency, practice, perseverance to learn new things, acquire new skills

Are you still? Are you still? Are you still?

Happily Ever After

Moore's Landing - Public Fishing Pier - Cutting's Wharf
Moore’s Landing – Public Fishing Pier – Cutting’s Wharf

Isn’t that what we all want? Our “happily ever after”?

I had a wonderful, fun, over-indulgent, sunshiny, friend-filled, food and wine overdose week this past week while my Sweetie visited from far, far away. His plane just landed back home, seconds ago, three thousand miles away. As I lay in my lonely little bed earlier this morning, a little thought crept into my mind as I tried to meditate, it proclaimed, “all I want is my happily ever after.” Then, for emphasis, the pathetic little voice added, “now.”

Like all little thoughts that creep into my mind while I’m attempting to meditate, I dismissed it, but not without acknowledging it, so I could address it later. I am here to address that stray little thought. Now.

Just the other night at dinner with my friends and my Sweetie, we reminisced about afternoon syndicated television shows we all adored during our childhood. We all talked about TV after school, with Gilligan’s Island, Lost in Space, I Dream of Jeannie, I Love Lucy, and Bewitched. The Friday night line up, of course, Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family, and, then, Sunday, having to endure Lawrence Welk with the older family members in order to enjoy Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom and, finally, the Disney movie. The Disney movie was like the whipped cream and chocolate sauce on top of the ice cream sundae, making ordinary vanilla ice cream that “once a week” treat.

My kids were “raised on Disney”, too. We had a pile a mile high of all the Disney classics, and added to the pile every time the newest movie came to video. We watched them all, over and over and over and over again. What is it with Disney movies? Simple, it’s the “happily ever after.”

Moore's Landing - Public Fishing Pier - Cutting's Wharf
Moore’s Landing – Public Fishing Pier – Cutting’s Wharf

In every story, there is some sort of sadness or strife or discord and then, there is the “happily ever after” and the credits roll. Most of these stories are based on tales of yore, books and stories generations, if not centuries old, though the newer ones follow the same pattern, promising them success in the box office with the kids, and the adults, alike. We want to see that “happily ever after”, ever after. And even in our favorite childhood TV shows, the usually happy characters had some sort of chaos that made us laugh, and in the last moments of the episode, order was restored and things were just the way they were supposed to be, “happily ever after.”

“The happily ever after” is usually a kiss from a prince, a castle, a sunset in the Disney version. In our favorite weekly series, the characters were all together, right where they belonged, with a laugh, smiles, and hugs. The sadness and strife ended and there was bliss, the “happily ever after,” we all assume, begins. And that’s what we all want. And that’s what we all chase. And we are all missing the point.

There are no guarantees in life, except one; no one and no thing can ever bring you your “happily ever after.”

From the lighthouse - Point Reyes National Seashore
From the lighthouse – Point Reyes National Seashore

The real sadness and strife in life is that so many of us spend so much thought, time and energy trying to produce this “happily ever after”, others of us just sit and wait for it to arrive at the doorstep without putting any effort into it. We treat “happily ever after” like it’s going to be some cataclysmic event, like rounding a corner or clicking on a light switch, and BAM! From that point on, happy, ever after. We are under the sad impression that “happily ever after” happens to us and is external; a person, a thing, and worse, we think that person or thing will make us happy, ever after.

I have to think of my hero, here; Gilligan. In all those years, Gilligan and his pals never actually got their problem solved, their “strife and sadness” being the fact that they were stranded on some uncharted island in the middle of the ocean. The television show only existed as long as their “strife and sadness” continued. Their rescue, their “happily ever after”, would mean the series would end and the kids of the seventies would have to watch something else after school. Or invent video games to fill that time instead.

In spite of the fact that Gilligan and Skipper, the Howells, Ginger, the Professor, may he rest in peace, and Mary Ann, didn’t find their “happily ever after” at the end of each episode was okay. They were happy. They were happy for what they had, they were grateful. They used the resources they had and made a pretty sweet looking existence. I wanted to live in a grass hut, sleep in a hammock, cook over a fire, have daily adventures, go to the beach, fish and always have my friends around. That looked frickin’ awesome to me, on the other side of the TV screen. And just like Gilligan, our “happily ever after” is right where we are. We need only look around and be grateful for what we have.

Our “happily ever after” will never come as a result of meeting a terrific person, falling in love, getting the job, gaining career success, making millions of dollars, traveling around the world, driving a sports car, or buying the big house, it isn’t a pill the doctor prescribes or an intoxicating beverage from a bottle. Our “happily ever after” isn’t as a result of a thing, or a person. It can’t be bought or visited, it isn’t even tangible. Our “happily ever after” is something we are in possession of and is something we have power over. It is in our midst and in our grasp at all times, immediately and forever.

Our “happily ever after” comes from within, and, only we can make it happen. Disney movies follow the same storyline movie after movie, show after show, there are certain components and factors that make their success measurable at the box office and those same components and factors are applied to each story to thrill the audiences and give them a glimpse at a “happily ever after”. Our own, personal, real life, living color “happily ever after” also follows a familiar storyline and has consistent components and factors. And, just as with a full-featured, animated blockbuster success, producing our own, personal, “happily ever after” isn’t quite as easy as rounding a corner or flicking on a light switch. There’s a reason why Disney is more successful with their productions than others, they know the formula and the repeat it consistently.

So, what’s the formula? What’s the prescription for our own, personal, “happily ever after”?

  • Gratitude. Take time every day to remind yourself, in some way, of all you have and of what you are grateful for.
  • Now. Live in the present. The past and the future steal the only thing we really have in life, the present moment.
  • Self-esteem. Like yourself. You have to like yourself enough to make positive changes. You have to truly believe you deserve better before anything positive from within can happen.
  • Meditation. Quiet that noisy, whiny, needful voice in your head, separate yourself from it, and, in the process, discover your true self inside.
  • Cleansing. Get rid of all the clutter, the things that hold you back, drag you down and imprison you.  Too many possessions, too many commitments and too many toxic people. Clean house.
  • Purpose. Do something meaningful, every day. We have to have a reason to arise in the morning and something to feel satisfied about as we slip into sleep.
  • Passion. Do only what you love, for work and for play. There simply isn’t enough time for all the rest.

No, “happily ever after” isn’t easy, I never said it was, that’s why we all look to something external like the prince on the majestic steed to just whisk us away. Our “happily ever after” is more subtle, a little elusive and it takes practice, a lifetime of practice, in fact, we must practice forever after. But, every moment can be happier than the last with effort and practice, diligence and discernment.

And we can begin immediately. We don’t have to wait until the prince on the horse gallops up, we don’t have to wait until we find our way back to Earth again, we don’t have to wait until we figure out how to get rescued from the uncharted island. Like Gilligan, our daily happiness is all around us, we just need to identify the resources, like building a hut from grass and a hammock from old fishing nets and making cups from coconut halves. We have what it takes.

So, though I’m sad that Gilligan’s Island isn’t still on TV, I’m okay, I have the series on DVD. And, though my Sweetie isn’t here, now, I’m okay, because while I’m happy and oh, so grateful that he is part of my life, he isn’t what creates my “happily ever after”. I do.

An Effort to Evolve

A few resources for finding your “Happily Ever After”

http://vimeo.com/22100389

http://www.eckharttolle.com/

http://www.missminimalist.com/

Francine Jay, “The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize and Simplify Your Life”

Eckhart Tolle, “The Power of Now”

Jillian Michaels, “Unlimited, How to Live an Exceptional Life”

Let’s Get Cookin’

It’s that time of year, my favorite time of year. “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables. I agree. Presently, on a cool October morning, overcast, damp and chilly, I sit in a coffee shop in Downtown Napa, writing, sipping and getting things organized for the rest of the day and for the upcoming weekend. It is warm and cozy and smells divine in here. There is enough activity to be interesting, but not so noisy to be overwhelming.

Where I am enjoying my morning.
Where I am enjoying my morning.

On my list of things to do today is to dig up the pumpkin soup recipe I made, traditionally, for many years, before the kids went out trick or treating on Halloween. I always believed in family dinners and pulled them off on a regular basis, until both kids were in high school and we had multiple activities in multiple directions, every night of the week. So, even on Halloween, for many, many years, there was a family meal. We’d have my pumpkin soup and the kids would be off to trick or treat. I usually stayed home, dressed as Morticia from the Addams Family, answered the door and doled out candy. It was our tradition. My soup recipe comes from my favorite cookbook. I have many, many cookbooks. I love cookbooks, really good, quality cookbooks by esteemed chefs. I like to browse through them, given the time, especially when preparing to entertain. I read them like novels and sometimes I will find myself amidst a pile of cookbooks and half an afternoon has vanished.

My collection, and this is my pared down, minimalist lifestyle, essential collection.
My collection, and this is my pared down, minimalist lifestyle, essential collection.

My pumpkin soup recipe comes from my favorite cookbook, the one cookbook I always reach for first, my “go to” guide to all things kitchen. Fannie Farmer, revised by Marion Cunningham. There may be a newer version out there, mine is pretty faded, splotched and tattered from many years of use, but it is this book I love, no matter its antiquity.

My all-time favorite, go-to cookbook.
My all-time favorite, go-to cookbook.

My mom has her favorite cookbook, the Better Homes and Gardens one. She gave me a copy, too, when I went off to college, I think, but I no longer have it. My man has his favorite cookbook, always on the windowsill, at the ready, “The Joy of Cooking”, his “go-to “guide, that, and anything that Jacques Pepin said, ever.  No complaints, no complaints, he is a master in the kitchen and never have I been disappointed.

An old standard.
An old standard.
My man's favorite go-to cookbook.
My man’s favorite go-to cookbook.

There is a “neighborhood” wine tasting party in his neighborhood in a couple of weeks. Sadly, I won’t be there to attend, but he’d mentioned maybe making pumpkin soup, so, I thought I’d send him my recipe, I mean Fannie’s recipe, or Marion’s. The recipe I’ve used many, many times. We’ll leave it at that. The recipe I use calls for canned pumpkin puree, which is fine and, even by my standards, can be obtained in a suitably organic, sustainable variety. Otherwise, I’m not much of one for canned food. I buy organic canned tomato sauce and fire roasted tomatoes from Whole Foods for a fast, weeknight spaghetti sauce, but, generally, I prefer fresh. I thought I’d look up pumpkin soup recipes on my favorite “go-to” online recipe resource, AllRecipes.com, and I found pages and pages and pages of pumpkin soup recipe. I only wanted one, one that used fresh pumpkin, as an alternative to my recipe and the canned pumpkin puree. Pages and pages and pages, and many of them with many reviews and many stars, which would be my obvious selection criteria. I mean, really, who would choose to use a recipe that had only a few stars, or none, and only a few reviews, or none? My point, exactly.

Too many pumpkin soup recipes!
Too many pumpkin soup recipes!

So, today, at some point, I am going to gather up two recipes for pumpkin soup, the one I’ve used with fantastic results for many, many years and another that I decide on from AllRecipes.com, I’m going to tuck them into a sweet, romantic card I’ll find, no doubt, at Target, fill it with mushy musings, and address it to my Sweetie, far, far away.

Recipes. It occurs to me that recipes are much like life. Think about it.

We are all trying to piece together a life for ourselves that ends up like a beautiful cake, the perfect crumb, texture, moistness, flavor, the loveliest icing, decoration, and garnish. There are as many lovely cake recipes as there are people on the planet, I’m nearly certain, if, ever, you could gather together every known cake recipe of all time. I mean, I have “The Cake Bible” and in my entire life I don’t think I could ever bake every recipe in that one book alone, though the idea intrigues me in a “Julie and Julia” kind of way. Food for thought, no pun intended, and you know, I am the Queen of Puns.

If I were to find the perfect recipe for the cake of my dreams and you were to find the perfect recipe for the cake of your dreams, I’m 99.9% certain we’d have different recipes and that our idea of the cake of our dreams would differ considerably as well. So it is with finding the recipe for our perfect life. We all have unique, individual ideas of what “our perfect life” would be, and even over time, our ideas are certain to change. Just like I may decide carrot cake with cream cheese frosting is my favorite, I may change my mind, at some point, and declare red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting my favorite. That’s okay, our goals, purpose and passions in life change like our preference for dessert, but, generally speaking, we have a few favorites we are always happy to see on the dessert menu!

If I were to make a carrot cake or a red velvet cake, again, there’d be countless recipes from which to choose, and each would be a different combination of different quantities of ingredients. Almost certainly, for carrot cake and for red velvet cake, there’d be common ingredients across a majority of the recipes; flour and sugar, for example. Again, so it is with building our perfect life, there are likely to be key ingredients we are going to want to include for best results.

So, if I wanted to piece together a perfect life, what would my recipe look like? That’s the first question, always, what kind of cake do I want? There are several ways to approach selecting a recipe, one is to consider the ingredients you already have on hand, the number of people you intend to feed, the cost, the nutritional value, another is to see a picture or read a recipe, and no matter the contents or cost, that’s what you want to bake!

With choosing the recipe for our perfect life, then, do we consider the ingredients we already have on hand? Or do we start from scratch using the pretty picture and yummy sounding recipe as inspiration? That, you must decide. Do the ingredients in your life, now, include things you want in your final recipe? Your home, your family, your career? Likely so. Or, are you in a place where you are gathering those ingredients up and don’t have them on hand, just yet? You see what I say?

There are going to be those secret ingredients, too, that all good cooks have, that ensure their success. A dear friend of mine, one I’ve known since kindergarten, is a well-known, successful pastry chef. She has always loved to cook and to bake, even as kids, she’d come over to my house after school, now and then, and we’d get out my Betty Crocker Cook Book for children and we’d whip up a batch of cookie dough. We’d practice our fractions and halve the recipe, or quarter it, and, once in a while, we’d even bake the cookie dough. Usually not. Anyway, she went on to enter the Napa Town and Country Fair cake decorating category every year beginning in high school, and she’d win. She decorated cakes for all us girls for birthdays and other occasions. She graduated to baking cakes, having attended a culinary program at a nearby community college, and, year after year, her cakes won at the local fair. She’d be asked to produce a recipe, which she had, in her mind and would have to transcribe it in written form to be published in The Napa Register. Every year she won, and every year, it was, essentially, the same cake recipe. Chocolate with a rich, chocolate filling and frosting. Her success was in the quality of her recipe, and she applied it consistently, and won. Consistently. She has since gone on to accomplish great things, I’ve seen her name listed in Gourmet Magazine a time or two, which considering the number of pastry chefs in Napa alone, is quite an accomplishment.

How it all started.
How it all started.

So, what’s your recipe? Mine includes the following ingredients:

Purpose

Passion

Values

Guiding principles

Roles

Goals

I decorate my cake with carefully selected ingredients, including:

Self esteem

Self-confidence

Self discipline

Inspiration

Motivation

Enthusiasm

Action

Every now and then, I have to adjust the ingredients a little, add a little more self-confidence and a little less action, or I may re-evaluate my roles and goals, but, in the end, the same key ingredients are always in my recipe. And that is my recipe for personal success, that’s how I piece together my perfect cake.

When you look at the ingredients list, though, each and every one of those ingredients are rare and somewhat elusive. Like making an exquisite cake, some of the ingredients may be very hard to find, very hard to come by. We often struggle with identifying our passion, but we must in order to find our purpose. We have to know our roles in order to be able to identify our goals. All of this takes time, a lot of discernment, constant consideration and occasional adjustment. Other ingredients will need to be continually replaced, refreshed. You’d never use old eggs or outdated cream in your cake recipe, would you? Likewise, my self-esteem, self-confidence, inspiration and enthusiasm need to be refreshed daily, for best results.

And your recipe may differ from mine in the source of your ingredients, though, in all likelihood, the same key ingredients will be there. You must have passion and purpose, you absolutely require values and guiding principles, and I can’t imagine a recipe not including roles and goals. None of these key ingredients are going to mix well and rise properly without self-esteem, self-confidence, self-discipline, and inspiration. And it all requires action, like baking the ingredients, otherwise, you’ve just got batter!

As we become comfortable in the kitchen, the recipes we use regularly are rarely written down. I’m fairly certain that most of the meals we cook, nightly, week in and week out are not carefully measured and read out of a cook book. We know how much salt, pepper, and smoked paprika we like on our pork chops, we aren’t measuring an eighth of a teaspoon of each, precisely, based on the written recipe. And I’m sure we all use slightly different amounts of slightly different ingredients. The results are all good, I bet I’d like your pork chops nearly as much as mine. My point here, is that our daily recipes, our most successful and relied upon recipes, are from memory, are so familiar and reliable that they are comfortable to us, and we don’t have to labor over specific instruction to prepare them. And, our daily recipes that we are so comfortable with, that we rely on for sustenance, regularly, are completely individual and unique, as each of us are as humans. We are all masters in our own kitchens, we all have our unique masterpieces. My Sweetie and I both love to cook, when he cooks he does things his way and the result is fantastic. When I cook, I do things as I’ve always done, and the results are wonderful, if I do say so myself. We do things differently for different reasons, based on different resources and preferences, neither of us is more or less right, just unique, just individual preference, just habit.

So, whatever you come up with, ultimately, as your recipe for your perfect life may contain many of the same ingredients as mine, but as master of your own kitchen, you may use a whisk where I’d use a wooden spoon, you may use Canola oil where I’d use EVOO. The results of both will be extraordinary, guaranteed, but unique, I promise. Put your apron on, read a few cookbooks for inspiration, and get cooking. Life was never meant to be just batter, but better. You can have your cake and eat it, too!

What Do You Want?

We think we know what we want. We go through life thinking everything will be just fine once we have this. Once we have that. Once we have the other. We may even acquire this, that and the other, but there is always something more that we want. It all seems so clear.

In our quest for all that we want, sometimes we lose sight of what we really want. I have many things in life I am actively working towards; career goals, personal goals, relationship goals, fitness and health goals, all of which are progressing well, most of the time, usually, for the most part. A few are shaky, here or there, now and then. And I had a really bizarre experience regarding those goals and all that I want while on the phone with the love of my life. Having been a little unsettled about one or more of those goals, those wants, he asked, quite simply, “what do you want?”

I was speechless.

If I could go to the wish factory and grab anything and everything I wanted, what would I grab? If I could go to the wish factory and grab four items, what would they be? Two items? One item? What is the one thing I want more than anything else? What is the one thing I’d choose at the exclusion of all the rest?

I have no idea. Really. When it comes down to it, I really don’t know what I want. I go through life writing down my goals, clarifying my goals, I write down my affirmations every morning. You would think these are things I “want”. And they are, but to put them into an intelligible sentence, expressed out loud, in response to the question “what do you want?’ wouldn’t make sense. So I sat, silently, speechless. I have no idea. My goals seem so abstract, so unreal.

I know what I want as in I know I want good health, I want general happiness, I want good relationships with family, friends and my lover, I want fulfillment in my career, I want self confidence, I want a high level of physical fitness. Yes, I want all that, but, what do I want in a more tangible, tactile sense. I don’t have a house, I don’t really want a house. I drive a car, make payments on a car, but, really, the bank owns the car for quite a period of time more, and I don’t really want it, anyway. Some things I “want” just don’t seem real, they could happen, they are possibilities, but they are so ethereal at this point, I barely dare express my desire for them for fear they will evaporate like mist.

I spent so much of my life wanting stuff; a horse as a child, a car, a boyfriend, a different boyfriend, a husband, a different car, another horse, a house, a ranch. All tangible, all material, for the most part. Of all of those things, and I got them all, ask me how many I have now. None. And I’m still me and I’m fine and I’m happier now than I ever was in possession of any of those things. I am grateful for those “things”, but they left me still wanting.

For the past several years, I have focused only on wanting what I could provide for myself, only wanting qualities, traits, characteristics, achievements, goals. Nothing tangible, not anyone, not anything. Oh, sure, there are secret, unspoken desires, but I dare not express them in response to “what do you want?” First, they don’t qualify as something I can provide myself, a quality, a characteristic or trait and wanting them, if they happen, is never guarantee or promise that they will last and certainly not a requirement for happiness. Often, the contrary.

So, what do I want? What do you want? If you could go to the great big wish factory, what’s there for you? Do you ever feel like you’re walking somewhere, really fast, urgently, but when asked, you don’t know where? You’re just walking and walking and walking. This is perplexing to me, this walking without direction, without purpose. When this happens, or when we realize it has happened in spite of our efforts to focus, to identify our purpose and our goals, it means something has changed and it is time to re-examine those goals, that purpose. In those four little words, “what do you want?” I discovered that I want to sit down, again, and redefine my purpose and my goals so I know where it is I am walking so very urgently.

We can’t just dutifully sit down and scrawl out a goal or two and consider it crossed off of our to-do list. Goals are ever changing, evolving, as we do. As our life progresses towards or away from our goals, we need to repeat the exercise. Change is part of life, change is good and is a catalyst for growth and evolution. Change is also the impetus for us to re-examine, clarify, and focus our goals.

Ask yourself, now, what do you want. If you don’t have a clear idea, if you can’t readily express what it is you are urgently walking towards, take some time, today preferably, as I am, and figure it out.

That’s what I want.

What do I want? to see the world, to have experiences that shape my life and make me feel alive.
What do I want? To see the world, to have experiences that shape my life and make me feel alive.