River view

The view from the window. More peaceful in reality, where I seem to look past the trees without seeing them to the water beyond.

From the van window, I see trees and river beyond them, in one of the loveliest, most peaceful views I’ve had in a while. It makes me wish that I regularly took pictures of the view out the window and put them in an album, dated, so that I could go back and figure out exactly when I had last had a nicer view. The one at Sanders Cove, the last Army Corps of Engineers campground I stayed at, was definitely close. Well, and that one had much, much better sunsets—my window faced directly west and the sun set over the lake—so I guess I’ll give it the win.

It makes me think that the ACOE are pretty good at laying out campgrounds. Obviously, not every site can be great, but this campground, like Sanders Cove, has the sites with a view positioned so that even though there are campers on either side of me, none of us are blocking the others’ views of the river. I should find out the name of the river, but it feels very Tom Sawyer — green and brown and still, a lazy, peaceful river that deserves to have rafts made out of wood floating down it. Haven’t seen any of those, but the fishing boats are small motor boats instead of big cruisers. (I’m not finding out the name of the river because my internet connections are abysmal: slower than molasses. I’m trying to find that peaceful, rather than annoying, with mixed success.)

I’m baking granola again: this time at 275, instead of 250, and with 30 minute stretches between stirring, rather than 20. This time I added sliced almonds, took out the dates, upped the cinnamon, and added some salt. I think I upped the coconut oil inadvertently, but I suspect that if I’m really going to start making my own granola, I’ll be playing with this recipe quite a lot. And I think I probably am going to start making my own granola. While I’m not sure there’s any economic advantage—the ingredients are still not cheap—I like the control. Every morning… hmm, this story requires more background.

So I have a theory about happiness. Actually, I have many theories about happiness. But this theory is relevant to granola. 🙂 I believe that happiness is woven from four threads: awareness, acceptance, appreciation, and anticipation, and that it’s something you can get better at with practice. When I eat breakfast in the morning, I like to practice. Yes, I practice happiness. I know it sounds ridiculous. Bear with me.

Breakfast these days is mostly yogurt with granola and fruit. I used to eat leftovers for breakfast but that doesn’t work as easily in the van—it’s hard to cook in quantities to create leftovers because I just don’t have the storage space. So for the past six months or so, most breakfasts have been the same thing. When you eat the same thing every day, it’s easy to stop noticing it. Who pauses to savor the cereal they eat every day, after all?

But that makes breakfast a really good chance to practice happiness. Before I take that first bite, I try to remember to anticipate: is this going to be good yogurt? Will it blend well with the granola? How are those blueberries going to taste? And as I take the first few bites, I really try to experience them. To notice if the yogurt is the perfect blend of tangy and sweet, or not. To feel the blueberries in my mouth and their burst of flavor. To acknowledge the crunch of the granola, its texture on my tongue and cheeks, its taste. And then I try to accept whatever the reality is, and appreciate it no matter what. Maybe the blueberries are not the best. They’re out of season and their flavor is bland, or they’re over-ripe and squishy instead of popping. But still, even not-very-good blueberries are a luxury, a fresh taste that I’m lucky to have. And then I get to anticipate tomorrow’s breakfast, when maybe I’ll have a different fruit, maybe banana or strawberries.

And yes, the cynic in me finds this entirely silly. But the me that’s living my life (the me that’s choosing happy over right) has discovered that starting the day by practicing happiness over breakfast makes for good days. I like beginning my day with a buzz of contentment flowing through me, a reminder of pleasure and joy. And honestly, I like it a lot better when the three pieces of my breakfast are actually really, really good. When my thoughts go something more like “Oh, yum, I love this yogurt, this is so GOOD,” rather than “Huh, I wonder how much sugar is in this, I should have read the label, but I will appreciate it nonetheless.” It’s all well and good to practice happiness, but it’s so much easier to do a good job at it when the ingredients are all positioning me for success.

And so, back to granola: I’m not sure how many different gluten-free granolas I’ve tried over the past six months. Ten? Twelve? I almost never buy the same one twice, because they’ve all got good parts and bad parts. There are some that I’ve actively disliked and I’ve mostly eaten them anyway. Getting good at happiness isn’t about finding perfection in life, it’s about being able to appreciate what I have. I did throw away one that I really disliked because being smart about happiness also does mean changing the things that really don’t work for me. But mostly the granola is neutral in my breakfast savoring, there because I need the calories to keep me going through the morning.

But the granola I made became something I could think about. My appreciation was… eh, lukewarm. The oats were sort of flaky, somehow. They had a texture that wasn’t quite finished. But they improved as they got a little stale, so maybe I just needed to bake them a little longer. And the dates were terrible, so solid that they crunched instead of being chewy. And it was missing something, which I finally realized was a sprinkle of salt. By the time I finished the granola, this morning, it had gotten really good, maybe not the best granola I’d eaten in the past six months, but pretty darn close. (I picked out the dates and added a little salt, as well as the aforementioned staleness.)

So yeah, wasn’t that a long-winded way of saying that I think I’ll keep making granola? In my practice of happiness, it really tilts the odds in my favor to be able to love my breakfast, to start the day thinking, “Wow, that was excellent,” and to have my appreciation all be about the greatness of the experience, rather than how fortunate I am to have the first-world problem of not quite loving my fresh fruit.

In other news, I can’t believe that I just spent so much time writing about granola and happiness. Writing on Grace went well yesterday. Actual progress, I think. I’ve got one more day at this campground with its inspiringly peaceful view, so I should be working on Grace right now, seeing how much farther I can get.

Happy Monday!

Edited to change Cedar Lake to Sanders Cove — got my campgrounds mixed up!