Thanksgiving – Kindness and Happiness

Brighten someone’s day.

As Thanksgiving approaches, I have been thinking about how each one of us has the capacity within ourselves to spread kindness and happiness in our own way.

Not long ago, I wrote a post entitled Voting is an Environmental Act hoping to help readers connect how voting or not voting affects the environment. I believe spreading kindness and happiness are also environmental acts. This is why.

You and I share a wondrous sphere that we call Earth with billions of other people and non-human living things. Earth is our home, our only home.

People are struggling to survive and so is Earth. It is going to take all of us working together for the common good to heal our planet so that humans and non-humans can enjoy life and thrive.

Only a society of people who respect, value, and care for each other will be able to accomplish what we need to do. Hate, anger, and fear will not get the job done.

Every time you or I encounter another human being in person or in the digital world, we can choose to act with kindness and spread some happiness. I know this is not a novel concept. I am just trying to reinforce it.

For my part, I am endeavoring to be more kind (a work in progress) and to sprinkle a little bit of happiness in my neighborhood on the California Central Coast.

Happiness Sprinkling Project

Laura Lavigne started the Happiness Sprinkling Project in 2012 to sprinkle some happiness in her town of Anacortes, WA with hopes that the idea would spread. It has—all across the country and around the world.

People Wearing Yellow Standing on Street Corner Holding Happiness Sprinkling Signs
A group of people standing on a street corner sprinkling happiness on passersby and offering free hugs. Photo credit Happiness Sprinkling Project (click the photo to visit their website).

The photo above illustrates the simple yet compelling concept. People, often wearing yellow, gather on a street corner or near a sidewalk and hold up inspirational signs to lift the spirits of the people who pass by.

A business card that says “You Rock!” inspired me to adapt the happiness sprinkling idea to my yard.

You can read more about Laura’s Happiness Sprinkling Project and about how I came to have a “You Rock!” card on my desk in the post entitled, Can Happiness Save the World?

Happiness Sprinkling for Shy Introverts

Perhaps if I were an outgoing extroverted person I would have organized a happiness sprinkling in my small town. However, each morning I continue to wake up as the shy introverted person that I am. After pondering ways to spread some happiness in my neighborhood, I came up with the idea of making a sign that said “You Rock!” and putting it in our yard.

One evening in September 2017, I broached the subject with my family during dinner. They did not immediately take to the idea. Nor were they enthusiastic about me writing a post about happiness. A lively discussion ensued.

One comment was that it might be a waste of time and energy as the sign might go unnoticed. Someone else wanted to know what happiness had to do with my core mission, which is trying to convince you, me, and everyone else to live more lightly on Earth. My spouse saw it as another project I would need assistance to accomplish (rightly so).

Undaunted, I declared that happiness is pertinent to the environment. I told my family it would be worth it to me if only one person had her or his spirits raised by seeing a “You Rock!” sign in our yard. Someone replied, “How will you ever know?” That was a good point. However, I decided to proceed and have faith that it would brighten someone’s day even if I never knew it.

My mechanically inclined and creative spouse decided to help me by constructing a weather-resistant sign holder and using Photoshop to create the “You Rock!” sign on three letter-size pieces of printer paper. We installed the sign holder in our yard in a place visible to people driving their cars or walking up and down our street.

Green Groundswell You Rock Yard Sign
The sign holder and our first happiness sprinkling sign were installed in October 2017.

Almost immediately, I decided it would be fun to have a different sign each month. The printer paper sign had been difficult to make and was not durable so my spouse suggested we have some signs made out of corrugated plastic.

We both wanted to use sayings that are universal and are not political or religious in nature so that no one would be offended, even if she or he did not like the saying.

A Year of Sprinkling Happiness

Starting in October 2017, on the first day of each month (or close to it), my spouse and I have been changing out the sign. I thought I took a photo of each one, but apparently, I missed January and September. I photographed those signs last weekend to complete my collection.

You can see how little rain we had during last year’s rain cycle by how few signs show green wild grasses in the background.

During the past year, I received a few waves and a couple of honks from people driving by while I was working in the yard near the sign holder. Perhaps this was just neighbors being friendly and had nothing to do with the happiness sprinkling yard signs, but maybe it did.

On the evening of October 10, a year after we began the happiness sprinkling yard sign project, something unexpected happened.

My spouse and I had walked from our house to the senior center to attend a candidate forum for our local water district board of directors. After the forum, we were trudging up our street (it never gets less steep) when a car stopped in the middle of the street next to us. The woman driving the car rolled down her window. I thought she was going to offer us a ride as some people do when they see us or other neighbors hiking up our street.

You cannot imagine my amazement when she said, “I just want to let know how much I enjoy your inspirational signs.” I said I was glad she was enjoying them and off she went.

This experience sprinkled some happiness on me and reinforced my belief that anyone and everyone can spread kindness and happiness each in our own way.

Thanksgiving is a good day to practice.

Featured Image at Top:  Thanksgiving Decorations with Gourds, Corn, and Paper Native American and Pilgrim – Photo Credit Shutterstock/Magdalena Kucova

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Adopt a Native Plant

Native plants make good neighbors.

I did not always appreciate the beauty of native plants and how integral they are to the wellbeing of the communities in which they reside, but I do now.

A native plant is a plant or tree that is adapted to live in the soil and climate of a particular region (small or large) and that can co-exist with neighboring plants and animals without being killed off or taking over. Native plants are good for the environment because they do not require extra inputs like water, synthetic fertilizers, or pesticides. They help nourish the soil, prevent erosion, maintain biodiversity, and provide habit and food for local wildlife and people.

It was not as if I woke up one morning thinking “Wow, native plants are beautiful. I need to learn more about them.” The appreciation for native plants just sort of crept up on me after several years of living in the Monterey pine forest of the California Central Coast.

I am originally from Southern California where my spouse and I doggedly defied the hot dry climate by maintaining not one, but two turf grass lawns. We also tended two dozen rose bushes, a few hydrangeas, and a bed of azaleas. The venerable old oak tree in the corner of the backyard might have been the only native plant on the property.

As you can imagine, moving from a manicured yard to a wild one took some getting used to. What you might call a weed, we call grass. Plant and tree seedlings volunteer to live wherever the wind blows their seeds or an animal deposits them. Birds visit daily to avail themselves of our birdbaths and deer cruise through in search of food and sometimes to hang out.

By observing the land surrounding our house and nearby open spaces, I saw that some plants seemed to flourish growing with a variety of different plants, while other plants seemed to be trying to hog a whole area just for themselves. I realized that I did not know much about native and invasive plants and that even our tiny piece of land might need a hand to be at its best.

I set out to educate myself by reading, joining the California Native Plant Society, and participating in events that provide me with opportunities to learn about native plants.

In October, my spouse and I attended the fall session of the Chumash Kitchen series being held at the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden. The Chumash people have lived in this area for thousands of years so what could be better than learning about native plants from Violet and Jeanette, two Chumash women who live here now. That day it was all about oaks and acorns. I came away informed and inspired to write Thanksgiving – We are All Connected.

We pick up the thread of the Chumash Kitchen story on a cool February morning that quickly turned into a hot day.

The Chumash Kitchen – February 2018

The winter session of the Chumash Kitchen began with the group gathering outside and forming a rough circle so that Violet could give us a rundown of the morning including a few hints about the native foods we would be enjoying at breakfast and lunch.

I had left my sweater inside and was feeling a bit chilled but there was no way I was going to break the circle to go get it. I forgot I was cold after Violet introduced her father, Fred, and he began telling stories about growing up in this area. Fred is a good storyteller and I think he could have entertained us indefinitely, but Violet gave him a gentle sign that he needed to wrap things up so we could all go eat breakfast.

Breakfast consisted of tasty rice, egg, and mushroom dishes made with locally harvested and foraged ingredients. I bypassed the coffee urn to try some tea made with cedar and Yerba Buena. The tea was both warm and refreshing with a slightly minty taste and a cedar fragrance.

We Meet a Toyon

After breakfast, the group set out across the grass of the adjacent park to a nearby campground to meet a plant commonly known as Toyon and called Qwe’ by the Chumash people. In the midst of winter, this 12-foot tall Toyon was glorious with evergreen leaves and branches laden with tiny ripe red berries.

Chumash Kitchen Group Photo in Front of a Toyon
Chumash Kitchen Group Photo in Front of a Toyon at El Chorro Regional Campground in San Luis Obispo, CA – Photo Courtesy of San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden

Easily passing the conversation back and forth, Jeanette and Violet shared information about Toyons, which are native to California and especially enjoy growing with oak trees. Besides being beautiful, we learned that Toyons provide habitat and food for a wide variety of wildlife as well as food, medicine, tools, and fuel for people.

Jeanette talked about how the Chumash and other indigenous people have been tending wild native plants and trees for thousands of years by gathering seeds, planting, weeding, pruning, transplanting, harvesting, and sometimes burning. When pruning a plant or harvesting from it, Chumash people give an offering of some sort, which could be a drink of water, a pinch of tobacco, a prayer, or even a piece of hair.

The Three Yerba Sisters

With the sun now bright and hot, we walked back to a cool shady area on the botanical garden grounds to learn about three California native medicinal plants and then go meet them. As Jeanette and Violet talked about the healing properties of Yerba Buena, Yerba Mansa, and Yerba Santa, they stressed that using plants for medicinal purposes is not like taking pills.

Pharmaceutical pills usually address a narrow range of ailments, have specific dosages, and are uniform in size, color, and ingredients. A plant may have many medicinal uses as well as be a source of food for people and wildlife and it is a living being so each plant in the family will have similar traits but none will be exactly alike. It is important to get to know the plant and to help care for it, after all, it is giving a part of itself for your benefit.

Yerba Santa Plant Growing at San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden
Yerba Santa Growing at the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden

After learning about the Yerba sisters, Lindsey from the botanical garden led us on a joyful walk through the garden to meet the plants.

She also gave us some background about the botanical garden, which showcases plants and trees from five Mediterranean climates like our own.

We headed back to the event center for a sumptuous lunch prepared by Violet and a talented group of volunteers.

Bountiful Lunch

The day before the event, a hardworking group of volunteers had done some of the meal prep work, which included removing two itsy bitsy seeds from each Toyon berry that had previously been picked and dried.

Chumash Kitchen Lunch Plate Full of Delicious Food
Chumash Kitchen Plate Full of Delicious Food – Photo Credit charmainecoimbra.com

After the food was blessed, our plates were filled with delicious looking and smelling food. A creamy gravy with ground bison was poured over rice. This was accompanied by sautéed greens and roasted root vegetables with a Toyon vinaigrette.

Chumash Kitchen Chocolate Crepe with Toyon Berries
Chumash Kitchen Chocolate Crepe with Toyon Berries – Photo Courtesy of San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden

For dessert, we were treated to a chocolate crepe topped with rose hip infused whipped cream and a lovely handcrafted chocolate rosette.

A sweet syrup made with Toyon berries was dotted around the plate and drizzled over the top.

The dessert looked almost too good to eat, but we did eat it and it was scrumptious.

Full of information and replete with delicious food, we were sent off with a tiny Yerba Buena seedling of our own to get to know and tend.

Yerba Buena Seedling from San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden
Yerba Buena Seedling from San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden

Get to Know a Native Plant

Meeting the Toyon was an auspicious occasion for me.

Even though I have seen hundreds of Toyons while living on the Central Coast, I had not met one until last December during my first native plant walk with the California Native Plant Society. Toyon was the very first plant pointed out on the trail. Later in the month, my spouse and I planted two Toyon seedlings in our yard as part of our tradition of planting two trees each year during the Christmas season.

I felt blessed to have had the opportunity to meet a grown-up Toyon that had been living at its location for many years and was obviously thriving. Better yet, was learning about Toyons from two Chumash women whose ancestors have been living with Toyons for centuries.

Over the past couple of months, I have developed a special affinity for Toyons that I cannot explain. When we got home, I filled up a watering can and gave the two small Toyons growing in your yard a drink and a few words of encouragement.

You can help native plants flourish in your community by adopting a native plant or two.

Learn about native plants at your local botanical garden, native plant society, or nursery. Select a native plant that appeals to you. Locate a suitable place for the plant to live in your yard. Get to know your native plant and tend it. Alternately, introduce yourself to a plant or tree living in the wild and adopt it.

Featured Image at Top: Toyon with Ripe Red Berries at El Chorro Regional Park Campground in San Luis Obispo, CA

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