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Photographs by Meadow Linn

Monday, May 24, 2010

An Attitude of Gratitude

My life is not how I thought it would be. All through childhood and even into my twenties, I imagined a life very different from the one I am currently living. Of course, some childhood dreams are best left in the past. In third grade, our teacher asked us to draw a picture of what we wanted to be when we grew up. In my drawing I had my hair in a bun—that’s what I wanted to be, someone who wore a bun! Another childhood dream included living in a cabin in North Dakota and making cookies from snow for my 20 children all birthed at once (this was long before IVF made such a thing less of a wild childhood fantasy and closer to reality for some families). For many years I thought I would be the first female president of the United States. Although I wouldn’t mind wearing a bun from time to time and learning to make cookies from snow, I’m relieved that these particular dreams did not come to fruition, especially the one about being president; however, the life I’ve imagined for myself for as long as I can remember still seems distant and unattainable.

With years of expensive schooling and a graduate degree from an Ivy League university, it took me awhile to admit what would truly make me happy: being a stay-at-home mom (not to 20 children though!). I always thought that by the time I was in my thirties I would have a wonderful husband, a handful of adorable children, a fulfilling career, and a strong community of friends. I have bits and pieces of this equation, but if I have learned anything from years of math class, the problem can’t be solved unless you have all the necessary parts of the equation.

Despite the fact that for all intents and purposes my current life is pretty good, this feeling of lack has at times consumed me. My mom has always said, “Unhappiness comes from unfulfilled expectations,” and I believe she is right. Even though I have had immense fortune at many junctures in my life, I often get stuck feeling this is not how I expected my life would be and equate that with a sense of failure and unhappiness.

On this lazy Sunday morning while reading the newspaper in bed and drinking a steaming mug of English Breakfast tea, I realized that what I’m viewing as failure and disappointment is also affording me many luxuries that wouldn’t be available if my life were different. For instance, if I had children or an intense career with around the clock demands on my time, I wouldn’t be able to spend my morning in this way. So, with this in mind, I decided to follow my own advice and savor the day.

I’m going to try to change my perception. Rather than focusing on the fact that I’ve been on a date with nearly every eligible man between Monterey and Los Angeles and still haven’t found “the one,” I’m going to cherish the fact that I’ve had the great fortune of meeting many different men from all walks of life while gaining a clearer sense what does and does not work for me. I will always want to have a family but until that day comes, I’d like to put more emphasis on the many blessings in my life. Wanting to better visualize the good fortune in my life, I made a list of the things for which I’m grateful and was surprised by its length. Even though I continue to yearn for some additions and changes, my life is pretty darn good!

Unfortunately, our physical body is not always in sync with our mind and spirit. My “attitude of gratitude” was interrupted this morning by my growling stomach. As it’s been awhile since I’ve been to the grocery store, my refrigerator and cupboards are rather bare. I considered eating a frozen pizza for breakfast, but then discovered a jar of old-fashioned oats sitting on the counter. Continuing in my “attitude of gratitude,” I said to myself, I am grateful that I continue to buy oats even though I don’t care much for oatmeal that way I always have oats on hand, and I’m grateful that I buy dried fruit and nuts in bulk so there is always a bountiful supply. With that in mind, I decided to make a batch of Gratitude Granola.

There are many wonderful reasons to make your own granola. Homemade granola generally has less fat and sugar than store-bought, tastes better, is more economical than buying gourmet granolas from natural food stores, and provides an opportunity to be creative in your baking. I get bored making the same thing over and over again, but the great thing about granola is that you can make if differently every time depending on your mood and what you have in the house. The basic idea is simple: oats, something sweet, some type of oil, and some flavor. Here’s a recipe for Gratitude Granola:  

Gratitude Granola
5 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
pinch of salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
Instead of cinnamon and nutmeg, you could try other spice combinations using Chinese 5 spice powder, ground ginger, cloves, allspice, or vanilla extract. Play with it until you find the combination that works best for you! Or try it plain, without any spices.
2-3 cups raw seeds and raw chopped nuts 
            (roasted nuts and seeds will burn)
Suggestions: walnuts, pecans, almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and flax seeds are all delicious options.

Other possible additions:
1/2 –1 cup wheat germ
1/2 –1 cup shredded coconut

1/2 –3/4 cup honey or maple syrup (agave would probably work too)
1/2 –3/4 cup coconut oil (my favorite!), vegetable oil, canola oil, 
              or safflower oil

2-3 cups chopped dried fruit (must be added after cooking because it will burn otherwise)
Suggestions: raisins, yellow raisins, cranberries, cherries, blueberries, strawberries, apricots, peaches, figs, crystallized ginger, mango, papaya, pineapple

In a large bowl combine oats, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, nuts, and shredded coconut and/or wheat germ if using. In a smaller bowl combine oil and honey. Mix the liquid ingredients with the dry and stir to combine. The oats should be uniformly damp and taste delicious when sampled. If they are too dry, add more oil and/or honey. If not delicious enough, adjust ingredients until it passes your inspection.

Spread evenly over two large baking sheets and bake at 325ºF, stirring frequently, until crisp and golden, about 30-45 minutes. The oats will become more crisp as they cool. Stir in dried fruit. Cool completely before storing in an air-tight container.

Enjoy with yogurt and fruit, with milk, soy milk, almond milk, or rice milk, or as a topping for your next fruit crisp. Try it sprinkled on ice cream! Wrapped in a cellophane bag with a pretty ribbon, granola makes a great homemade hostess or holiday gift.

Be grateful for all the deliciousness and beauty in this world!