The Secret Ingredient

     The grocery lady’s eyes lit up as she surveyed my batch of items. Perceptively she inquired if I was on a mission to bake chocolate chip cookies. I smiled shyly and told her truthfully that I am a decent cook, but baking eludes me. Honestly, if faced with a baking 101 final exam, I would fail miserably. At that point, my new best friend leaned in and asked if I would like the secret to baking world-class cookies.

     Before I share the magical ingredient with you, here’s a bit of background. My friend, Carol (excellent cook and baker), gave me the recipe for “Salty Oats Oatmeal Cookies,” She adds chocolate chips, walnuts, craisins, and raisins. When Carol pops these out of the oven, the end result is round, crunchy, sweet, and salty, bits of heaven. Yum!

Chocolate Cookie Isolated On White Background

My goal is to learn how to master this recipe. So, in the still of an early sunny Saturday morning, I asked Alexa to play some sultry music, carefully assembled all the ingredients, collected the appropriate tools, including a hot pink spatula my friend Jeanette gifted me with (where would I be without my friends?) and after whispering up a little prayer, revisited what the lady at Walmart shared.

     Can you guess the secret ingredient? Okay, maybe you’re thinking it’s love, close, but that’s not it. Ready? Drum roll, please. What makes a cookie great is patience. You see, before learning the secret, my grocery lady friend confessed to zipping around the kitchen baking cookies for her grandchildren. Her goal being, “just get it done” until one day she tapped the breaks and performed the task mindfully.

     I don’t know about you, but I am often guilty of a “just get it done” mentality. I rush a task, mind elsewhere, and end up tripping over my own feet, sometimes literally.

     Let’s drill down on patience for a bit. First off, it’s considered a virtue, which of course, is a good thing showing high moral standards. Keep reading as there is more upside. For example, studies show patient people suffer less depression and negative emotions. They have more satisfying relationships due to the ability to be more empathic and forgiving. These individuals are less demanding and more understanding of the world around them. 

Patient people maintain a positive attitude making life’s speed bumps and curveballs easier to navigate and field. As I can attest, the ability to slow things down and not skimp on details is rewarded with a better end product.

Oh, about my “patient” baking experience. Adding the secret ingredient to the mix worked in a rather interesting way. When I accidentally splattered batter all over the backsplash of my countertop, refrigerator, and cabinets (yeah, I’m rather clumsy with a hand mixer), I laughed with abandon. Thanks to the Walmart grocery lady, my laid-back demeanor helped keep my cool as I buffed and polished the glass tiles and other affected areas. Final note: Not only did my cookies look and taste great (well, maybe not a good as Carol’s), but I enjoyed the process of being a messy but happy baker.

The Key to More Happiness is Water

Photo by Carol Stringer

While setting my coffee cup down on a coaster, I stopped midair, taking in the motivational inscription on it entitled “Advice from a Dragonfly.” The inspiration begins with the line “Spend time near the water.”

I’ve seen dragonflies zip in and around ponds, canals, and other forms of wetlands.  I get it. And it is not coincidental that I live in a cozy condo along Florida’s Intracoastal Waterway.

Photo by Carol Stringer

Wanting to discern precisely why humans, animals, and insects alike are so drawn to the water, I did some research. Ever heard of blue mind? Apparently, it’s a thing. According to marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols, it’s a “mildly meditative state characterized by calm, peacefulness, unity and a sense of general happiness with life in the moment.” Experiencing blue mind makes sense. Our brains are composed of 75% water, so no wonder we are enamored by flowing oceans, rivers, and streams.

Okay, ready for some geeky science stuff? Stay with me; this is interesting. According to scientists, the atmosphere near moving water contains elevated levels of negatively charged ions. Why is that important? Because these ions cause a brain reaction that emits the mood-enhancing serotonin helpful in lowering stress. Here’s another interesting fact, aquatic therapists are now treating PTSD, addiction, autism and anxiety disorders. And my favorite fun fact proclaimed by Nicols is one of our founding fathers, Ben Franklin, did much of his writing (yep, you guessed it) in the bathtub.

Establish Blue Mind

Okay, I realize not everyone can flit around water like a dragonfly or live alongside a body of water, or even spend a day at the beach. But do let this sink in; Nicols is spot-on when he states, blue mind is not going to be accomplished on Instagram.

So, make time to shut down all the screens, silence the chatter, log out and find some water, even if it’s a pond in the park or a fountain in front of city hall. Try getting creative. Any chance you can plan a day to go where the fish live, cast a line and perhaps catch a few? Or how about heading to the YMCA or gym with a pool and do some swimming.

Home Remedy

If all else fails, do what dear old Ben did. Fill your bathtub then slowly breathe in and breathe out as you contemplate the calming effect of water.

A quote by scientist Loren Eiseley neatly sums up the importance of this liquid elixor, “If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.”

Advice From a Flamingo

My friend Carol gifted me with a coffee coaster adorned with  flamingos of the flamboyant pink variety wading in a wetland. As I gazed at the scene I identified with the key verb – wade. That’s how I feel about 2021. It’s January 13th and I am still not prepared to dive in and embrace the year head-on. In fact, I haven’t even created my goals for the next twelve months. Could be I’m looking for a softer entry, and wading into life this year sounds perfect.

Thinking about this bird prompted me to do some research. As I did, I realized a flamingo is a good role model for setting goals. Recalling the flamingo display I saw a few years back at the San Diego Zoo, I remembered they are fed a special pallet to keep them “in the pink.” Hmm, staying healthy both emotionally and physically is always a goal for any year.

Finding Balance

You probably know this top-heavy bird can balance on one leg for hours on end. Ah, another key word, balance. I want to stay grounded and keep this year in-balance which leads me to another interesting term – pivot – which I am making my word of the year. I want to excel in the art of the pivot. Yes, this does indicate change, but it’s a balancing act. When you execute a pivotal movement, one foot is kept fully grounded. I don’t need to be a change agent this year, but pivoting will keep me flexible. So sign me up for the flamingo balancing act.

Setting the Pace

Here’s another fun fact about our feathered friends. In order to fly, flamingos need to run a few paces to gather speed. Perfect! I’m not diving in or hitting the ground running this year, I shall gather momentum to get me moving in the desired direction.

Lastly, a flamingo nest is not fancy, just a mound of mud, maybe 12 to 24 inches (30 to 60 centimeters) high. This speaks to the simplicity I want to keep in my life. Editing out the noise and focusing on only what is important, necessary and joyful is key here. My goal is to concentrate on activities that help me grow as a person, along with actions that bring kindness and caring to the forefront.

Be the CAO of Your Life

So, dear readers, seems like the flamingo’s advice helped me work through how to structure my life in the coming year. How about you? Anything resonate, like balance and simplicity? As my friend Joanne states it, you are the Chief Awesome Officer of your life, so plan accordingly.

I wish you all a year of living in the pink as you follow your dreams and make your dent on the universe.