How do you measure happiness?
First, you have to know what is happy when it is staring you in the face. Because, as a mother of a busy family, happiness can look a lot like chaos. Sometimes it is disguised as dust balls coating a nicked wood floor. Or a pile of laundry that mystically grows LARGER every time you begin folding it. It can be a toddler screaming at the top of their lungs in the middle of the produce aisle or a nearly-tween daughter putting her hand on her hip and declaring that you, in fact, know nothing.
One place I can always count on finding and measuring happiness is in the kitchen.
I grew up in central Wisconsin on a dairy farm. Our only spices were salt and pepper and the common ingredient of potato was in nearly every meal. This did not stop me from dreaming big. After picking black caps—more commonly known as blackberries—in the woods (and escaping a raging bull named Harvey with an impressive vertical over a barbed wire fence at the tender age of 8,) I decided to make a stellar dessert that would propel my status of average middle child to master chef.
The fact that we had few ingredients in our house and my entire knowledge of making dessert was opening a package of Oreos was of little matter. I set a bowl on the counter, gathered everything that I knew to be sweet (maple syrup, crushed wafer cookies that were more than likely past their expiration date, cream of tartar—cream is sweet, right?) and a big spoon. Pulling a chair up to the counter, I climbed up and mixed the merry concoction together with stars in my eyes. I knew for certain this would be the perfect topping for our vanilla ice cream that evening. No one would even THINK to ask for the chocolate syrup. I crushed the berries with my spoon, ignoring the leaves and bits of thorn that were included, and squeezed in the right amounts of all of the ingredients without even measuring. This was bliss!
To my parents’ credit, they somehow got the blackberry stains out of the formica countertop, cupboards, laminate flooring, and ceiling AND kept a straight face while “enjoying” the perfect dessert. (My brothers’ reactions I will reserve for another blog entry.)
When I met the man of my dreams to whom I am now married, I invited him over for a meal in my small apartment as our fourth or fifth date. The only thing we both remember me fixing is the green beans—which were freezer burned so badly it is a wonder we weren’t poisoned. To his credit, my future husband asked for a second helping with tears still in his eyes from the first helping.
I smiled and said, “I know they’re awful, you don’t have to eat them.”
He didn’t say, “THANK GOD,” but the words hung unspoken in the air between us.
Luckily, he married me anyway, though he has never told me anything other than the unvarnished truth since that day. (Ask me about The Great Chili Divide another time.)
Birthdays have always been big for me. I used to bake box mixes in metal pans and frost them for friends, adding sprinkles so they knew how special they were on their big day. Then came my first daughter. I had a strong desire to try something new, bake a cake from scratch. But I remembered the blackberry delight and the green beans. Sighing, I asked a friend to make her cake.
For a subsequent event, I had to make chocolate chip cookies and forgot to purchase the refrigerated roll at the store. Anxiously, I paged through a cookbook and found a recipe, but was in such a hurry that I substituted some ingredients and mis-measured others and…
Monster Cookies were thus born. In their 9 years of existence they have inspired marriage proposals in the dozens, been shipped overseas to soldiers resulting in the best “Dear John” thank you letter ever, and rained joy on countless individuals.
These days I don’t measure when I bake or cook. My associates are my willing taste testers and my husband is my severest critic. I think even he will admit that I have come a long way since the green bean days.
And such is happiness. Generally, happiness can be measured in the thrown together chaos of life much more easily than some carefully regulated recipe made by someone else. The blurs of weekends spent together with family or going to church or having 4 minutes to find a birthday present or rushing to events or even collapsing together on the couch to watch an eighties classic movie with popcorn… this is where you will find that you are truly blessed beyond measure.