Mary Moreau

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How to Cultivate Happiness

I've been thinking a lot about happiness lately. I have been trying to figure out how to have more joy in my life for many months; it's why I changed direction in terms of work, but I think I've been measuring happiness on too grand a scale. Big gestures like changing a job that drags your mood down doesn't ensure happiness. There is no one single thing you can do to make sure you are happy.

Recent events made me realize that I have to approach this question of happiness from a different angle and that it has something to do with the culmination of many, many small actions. When I went to my monthly Downtown Knit Collective meeting I was not expecting the lecture titled "Confessions of an Obsessive Knitter" to give me much insight into, well, anything. Thankfully, I was wrong. Robin Hunter, a local knitwear designer, who is also a self-proclaimed psychology geek, gave the lecture. The "confessions" were the reasons that we all knit and, various though they are, they all have the same root - knitting makes us happy. The topic of knitting was the platform from which to launch an examination of happiness.

Hunter had a few references that she shared with us, one of them being the book called "The Happiness Project" by Gretchen Rubin (the link is to the blog with the same name). I picked up the book and began reading. I haven’t finished the book yet, but one theme has emerged; things you wouldn't expect to contribute to happiness, mundane things, like putting your dish in the dishwasher immediately can put a spring in your step. Rubin has a rule that anything that can be done in 60 seconds or less should not be put off. You should try it. She asks what are the niggling little things that are praying on my conscience, perhaps causing guilty feelings, and then, get this, addresses them.

So in a similar vein, I asked; “what is something that I don’t like that could be getting in the way of my happiness?” I don’t like waking up to a messy kitchen. Then I asked; “how can I address this problem?” The solution is to clean the kitchen at night - even if I think I'm too tired to do it. How brilliant is that? I mean it’s so simple anyone could do it! So now I wake up and the kitchen is a clean slate and I feel good. It also means that I’m more likely to make proper food for breakfast and start the day right, which also contributes to a good mood.

Even though I am not really what you call a green thumb, it’s spring and I think that it is a useful metaphor to think of happiness in terms of gardening. Just as one needs to tend a garden, do all the little chores like tilling, weeding, planting, pruning, to enjoy the reward of beautiful plants and flowers, so to does one have to tend to one’s happiness. Just as there are many outside factors that we have no control over in gardening, like weather, that can affect the garden, so to in life. But the best thing to realize, the empowering thing, is that there are myriad little things that you can do to make your spirit soar. How will you cultivate your happiness?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Thoughtful Person

Our small business teacher reminded us that our last business class would involve all of us bringing something to eat so that we can have a "party" and discuss our business idea now that we are at the end of the course. I moaned about the fact that I'm doing this crazy diet and would likely have to abstain. Then I tried to explain that it wasn't that kind of diet and started to give details before realizing that these classmates, who hardly know me, might not care.

Well, I was totally taken aback last Thursday when the classmate I sit next to, let's call her Amanda, brought in this book by a nutritionist (Meals That Heal Inflammation) because she wanted to make something that I could eat at the so-called party. She had narrowed it down to two recipes and asked me to choose the one that fits the diet best. Wow.

This was such a lovely reminder that these kinds of gestures, which don't really cost us anything, have an exponential impact on both parties. The giver and the recipient both walk away feeling lighter and brighter. Let's call it emotional mathematics. It was also a reminder that I need to brush up on these formulae since I am often thinking of other people, but I forget to go that extra step to let them know I am thinking of them.

Well, now I can't sign off without including a little something for you. It is Spring (soon to be the 3rd day of it) even though it is still pretty brown and grey in Toronto. Feast your eyes on a picture of pretty flowers that I took in Morocco last spring. It's a reminder that we will see green again!

Yours truly,


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Hound, Thy Name is Coffee

I had no idea that coffee had such a tight grip on my soul, that is until I embarked on this anti-candida diet where caffeine is a no-no. More than anything else, I CRAVE coffee at some point everyday. I would have bet dollars to doughnuts that booze would have been the most difficult to give up with a name like Merlot. Anyhow, I didn’t consider myself a coffee fiend; I think of myself as a tea drinker who also enjoys coffee quite a bit. I didn’t need to have a cuppa joe to get my day going, nor did I necessarily have a coffee every single day but, I guess if I’m honest I did fall into the habit of drinking coffee.

When I was still going to an office everyday I did get a coffee on the way in, though I think that was more about delaying the inevitable. Now that my home is my home base for work I did start making, almost daily, a pot of french press for myself. I was getting good a perfecting that art to my personal taste. I never used to do that. I haven’t owned a drip coffee machine since my university days when I had a 4 cup outfit that my roommate’s boyfriend abused (who makes the measurements on coffee machines? They need to conform to what the rest of the world calls a cup). Seriously, the grounds would be everywhere and to my knowledge, he never, ever cleaned up after himself. Whoa, sorry, I guess I’ve been harbouring some latent resentment.

Don’t get me wrong - I love coffee. I’m pretty particular about the way I like it, in that I like it done the proper way. In fact, I’m a bit of a “snob” as I am with practically anything food and drink related. I just don’t usually like to waste my time on things that suck, especially if they are contributing to either my nourishment or my demise. I feel like I had a pretty solid foundational education in the way coffee should be consumed when I lived in Florence for a few months. I managed my Euros so that I could have my daily fix at il bar. This is why if I am in a situation where I am ordering a coffee at Charbucks I go for the drip coffee, which I don’t like that much, because they have no clue how to make espresso drinks. On a sad side note, I have discovered, to my shock and horror, that it is now possible to get an espresso to go in that storied città. Photographic evidence can be found here.

Here are my all-time favourite ways to enjoy my jet fuel:

  • Caffè macchiato (or espresso macchiato). Macchiato means stained, as in this shot of espresso is stained with a tiny bit of milk. It should not resemble a cappuccino. Period. There is a small amount of foam floating on top to differentiate it from plain espresso. It is served in a “to stay” demitasse that has stayed warm on the the top of the espresso machine. I like sugar in my caffè macchiato, so you can see that I’m not a purist. FYI: A shot of espresso in a to go cup is absurd because a) it gets cold too fast and b) you don’t linger over your drink or else it gets cold. I guarantee you that you have enough time in your day to have an espresso the proper way. My favourite place to have one is standing at the marble counter in my erstwhile local café (il bar) in Florence, but that is not surprising, now is it?
  • Caffè (or short espresso). No milk in this one, just the delicious crema, or foam from the way the coffee is made. Also served in a demitasse that is kept warm. I add sugar to mine, but have been known to drink it without. My favourite place to have an espresso is that café that I found in Venice that isn’t charging €5 a shot where the local working class men are having theirs.
  • Caffè Corretto. This is an espresso with a bit of liquor in it. I like to take mine with Sambuca in Trastevere in Rome.
  • Cappuccino. A cappuccino, contrary to popular North American belief, does not come in a giant bowl. And you can’t do sizes with a cappuccino unless you are keeping the ratio correct. In a similar vein, no one needs a giant cappuccino, give me a break. While I do love a cappuccino on occasion, I rarely order it because so few places actually know how to do it justice. There are a few establishment that I treasure deeply for their cappuccino making abilities and I enjoy the cappuccinos there all the more for it.
  • Drip coffee, diner style. You know those places where you go for a greasy breakfast? I LOVE that kind of coffee! They are the kind of places that the coffee is always fresh since the waitress is going around filling your cup before you can get a third of the way in. I take mine with cream and sugar, thank you very much.
  • Lattes. Lattes are controversial for me. I don’t like lattes because it’s way too much warm milk and what am I, a baby? On the other hand, I will order an iced latte on a hot day in summer. You know the kind where the tall glass is filled with ice (therefore limiting the amount of milk that can be added) and it’s so hot that the glass just drips its sweat onto your thighs as you sit on a patio bench at your local café?

So there you have it folks, my favourite ways to enjoy my coffee. I realize now that I must have spent some time thinking about this as I am quite opinionated on the topic and I’m arbitrarily cutting myself off - because I could go on. As I write this paragraph I am finishing up my second mug of french press today, the first coffee I’ve had in two weeks! This transgression was totally worth it, but I guess I'll be a good girl and stick to herbal tea for another couple weeks .