The power of narrative and how it shapes our perspectives–and ultimate happiness–cannot be underestimated. The stories we tell ourselves make up the fiber of our lives. A simple recipe for muesli does not sound like a potential storyline for a happy life, but the emotional payout resulting from its creation and consumption might just surprise you.
It is with no small measure of gratitude and wonder that I am on the verge of celebrating thirty-six years of wedded bliss. How we got here is a blur of blessings: equal amounts of good fortune and plain old dumb luck. Ours is not a complicated relationship–we depend on a diet of minimal drama and passionate play to keep our union thriving. Each anniversary we sit down to review, and hopefully renew, our contract of connection. We're not perfect–but over time, we've become perfect for each other.
‘Rewarding unions are built on these little molehills of happiness.’
Love is a choice and a practice, it's not a state or a destination. Real love and true intimacy exists when two people are free and safe to be completely real with each other in each moment. A habit we've developed over time–and this pulls strongly from the dumb luck category–is what I call polishing each other's stones. We accept what is present in each other's basic natures, for better and for worse, and we work with what we've got, championing each other's lives. Some healthy friction is not inherently a bad thing. We understand that bits of irritation in life are necessary to create something beautiful, just like the abrasive grain of sand that triggers the mother-of-pearl to create a shiny gem. We don't try to change each other's quirks to meet our own needs. Rather, we look for the potential luster in each other, and polish, as best we can, the stones that nature has gifted us. I can confirm that this form of loving kindness is a blessed antidote to criticism and contempt.
An example of this happened in our kitchen. We've both been bread-winners and parents during our marriage, but the provisioning and preparation of meals has always fallen squarely on my cutting board. I'm pretty sure Jeff never saw the inside of a grocery store during our first three decades together. Frankly, I'm bored silly with meal-making these days. So that we don't end up with a bin full of take-out containers, I began to look for a way to spark some synergy in our kitchen. I hoped to engage us both in the magic of creation, while honoring our goal of eating as many plant-based meals as possible. While he's a world-class eater, I knew it was sheer folly to think Jeff was ever going to become an avid cook. I was looking for a simpler contribution that he could make that would provide the spark (and meal relief) I was craving. And that's when–holy doodle–the Muesli project hit me.
Most everyone has an oat-based cereal recipe they adore and think is the BEST. Ours may not be for you, so go ahead and sub in your ingredients, and stick with my story. Our ingredients include, but are not exclusive to, organic old fashioned oats, slivered and whole blanched almonds, walnuts, hemp seeds, chia seeds, ground flax, black sesame seeds, and unsweetened coconut; maybe some cinnamon or nutmeg–but that's up to Chef Jeff. All it takes is a trip to Trader Joe's*, a pair of scissors, and his big, beautiful hands to make a giant batch in about ten minutes. No fuss, no muss, no cooking: this is a low drama, high fun-factor project. The muesli is portioned into zip-lock bags and frozen for safekeeping; our batch lasts about six weeks. Each morning we add fresh blueberries and a plant-based milk like Ripple or almond. The stuff is rocket fuel–a delicious vegan-protein-regulator-bomb that energizes for hours, and travels well, too.
The point of my story is that I was able to find a way to make myself happier because my spouse is now in charge of at least one meal per day. Rewarding unions are built on these little molehills of happiness. Positive emotional experiences contribute greatly to love's longevity, but the trick is to experience pleasure at the right moment: to laugh when the joke is funny, to savor delicious food, to solve an issue when you need it solved, and to compound these feelings so that they last through the next cycle of irritants.
My emotional payoff comes with each daily serving of muesli and how I see my darling husband: his ability to jump into something new with enthusiasm, to be seen for a skill he did not know he possessed, to marvel at the pride and ownership he takes from his contribution (Jeff's Muesli!), to see his stone shine a little brighter as a result of our ability to apply a little sandpaper to our meal situation.
Do you know how my husband polishes my stones? When I get bitchy and want to bicker he'll indulge me for a little while, and then he will say, with a tiny emery board, 'Kim, we're both on the same side.' How in the heck do I fight with that? Rub, rub, polish, polish. He polishes my stones by living his life with integrity and independence and he respects my right to live the same way—and then he is interested enough to want to hear all about me at the end of each day. The power of narrative is fierce; whoever said that ‘feedback is the breakfast of champions’ really knew about human nature and what we all crave: to be seen for who we are and to be free to discover who we might become.
What does it look like to shine this light on our loved ones? Although it may take some practice, the ability to see the beauty and potential in each soul is a grace we can easily extend to others. Love is the practice of polishing, after all. When we invite a child to shine at a particular task, or cheer on our iron-woman pal, or let down our guard and confide in a trusted friend—these genuine nods of appreciation for others' gifts are the stuff that sparkle is made of. Doing this regularly for our 'everyday' people creates beautiful bedrocks of human connection. My Mom and I recently spent a weekend transferring a beloved summer property from her stewardship to mine. I was deeply aware of how difficult this process was for her. Instead of taking my usual quick and dirty approach to the project, I asked her to help me decide what should stay and what might go in every single drawer and closet of the cottage. Her grace and enthusiasm embracing this process was a beautiful shining-light experience for both of us. Polishing each other's stones is a choice on the happiness path–that's MY story, and I'm sticking to it.
Chef Jeff's Muesli
We have been provisioning ingredients from Trader Joe's—it's an easy grab and the results are delicious. *In keeping with our renewed commitment to reducing plastics (since experiencing the NZ Kiwi's profound devotion), our batches going forward will be fetched from the bulk bins in recyclable containers from our local whole food store. We try to eat organic ingredients whenever possible.
Jeff's Muesli makes an excellent instant topping for baked fruit crisps. Simply bake a batch of your chosen fruit, with a dash of maple syrup, to the halfway point of desired firmness. Top the fruit with lots of granola and lightly drizzle some avocado oil over the top. Finish the crisp by baking an additional 15-20 minutes, until golden and bubbling. Serve with vegan coconut ice cream. Additionally, toss a couple of handfuls of muesli into any cookie recipe for a nutritional bump.
Chef Jeff's Muesli
16 ounces-unsweetened coconut
16 ounces-toasted slivered almonds
16 ounces-toasted pumpkin seeds
4 pounds-old fashioned oats
12 ounces-chia seeds
12 ounces-hemp seeds
8 ounces-lightly crushed walnuts
4-ounces black sesame seeds and ground flax (optional)
2-T cinnamon (optional or substitute any spice)
In a giant prep bowl, combine all ingredients. With large, loving hands massage the batch until well mixed. Store extra portions in freezer. Daily servings of this muesli will polish your gut, keep you super regular, and fueled for fun!
I’d love to hear from you—feel free to send your comments to me!