keen relish; hearty enjoyment; gusto.

an agreeable or piquant flavor imparted to something.

anything added to impart flavor, enhance one’s appreciation, etc.

piquancy; interest; charm.

liveliness or energy; animating spirit.

the peel, especially the thin outer peel, of a citrus fruit used for flavoring: lemon zest.


I’ve been thinking about “zest” recently.

Truth be told: I needed a “z” word anyway for my post title today, as this is the 26th day of the March Slice of Life Story Challenge and I secretly decided to stick with the abecedarian approach that worked for me last year. “Ta-daaa,” as my sixteen-month-old granddaughter would say.

But there’s also the fact that I haven’t felt much zest for anything of late, having battled viral congestion for the last four weeks, in the midst of this already extremely challenge-riddled school year. One really cannot have zest for sleep, right? It’s an oxymoron. I did crave citrus, however, for one zest-ish connection. Last week I stocked up on clementines and three kinds of juice; nothing has been more restorative than drinking giant glasses of pure o.j. on ice throughout the day. Clearly I needed the vitamin C, for I am almost well now. That plus time…

It just so happens that I’ve been reading about zest being part of necessary human strengths as defined by positive psychology, which focuses on eudaimonia, Greek for “good spirit.” Turns out that zest, or enthusiasm, is linked to courage and other traits necessary for individual happiness, satisfaction, mental health, and living life well. It’s a relatively new and accordingly controversial domain of psychology… yet I hear a ring of truth in it.

Maybe I should say I can taste the truth in it.

Consider these phrases from the Dictionary.com definition of zest: keen relish, hearty enjoyment, gusto; anything added to enhance one’s appreciation; piquancy, interest, charm; liveliness or energy; animating spirit...

In short, a person must have positive experiences to look forward to (akin to hope) that bring true enjoyment. The very knowledge is energizing; so is the savoring of the experiences. In its own way, zest is the antidote to the inertia of despair. If we are zest-deficient, what can we do about it? It’s different for different folks…does it mean finding a new job or career, or being an agent of change where you are? Does it mean taking up skydiving, parasailing, horseback riding, or volunteering in a place where people are suffering? Is zest in itself an end goal, or does it forge a path to a different kind of fulfillment tied to purpose and value?

All food for thought. In the end, zest is a motivator for something intrinsically rewarding. There are people with a zest for cooking, gardening, sports, hiking, biking, singing, building, redecorating… the greatest connective tissue I see is energy. These are physical activities.

I think about writing. I love it. I work at it. I set a goal to write a meaningful post every day last year and I accomplished it. Yet I cannot say zest was often or even occasionally involved…which brings me to ask myself: Where is there zest in my life? Once upon a time, people might have jokingly mentioned the soap; remember the slogan “You’re not fully clean until you’re Zestfully clean”?

As soon as I ask, an image begins forming in my mind…

A birthday party a few years ago, with extended family. The guest of honor, turning sweet sixteen. Dark eyes sparkling, cheeks rosy from all the attention on this special day. She loves acting, her grandmother informed me. Wants to perform onstage.

She could have been me, years ago. I relished performing in plays at her age…I wanted to do it for the rest of my life. Zest!

It is not what happened for me, but as cake and ice cream was served, immense gratitude for the life and family I have flooded my soul.

Zest, by the way, is also linked to gratitude; a savoring, as I mentioned.

I took my plate of cake and ice cream, which I expected to be vanilla, but—oh!

“Is this lemon ice cream?” I asked. I knew it was. Unexpected and amazing. Not tart. Just sweet silken cream, with a breath of light lemon fragrance…

“Yes,” came the answer. “It’s homemade.”

I had to have the recipe. I thought immediately of two people for whom I wanted to make it: my daughter-in-law and my sister-in-law. They love lemon. I like it, say, in old-fashioned (real) lemonade, in my ice water, in pound cake…not so much in meringue pies. This ice cream, though, was divine.

And so I’ve made it several times since, usually as a topping for blueberry cobbler straight from the oven. Last time I made it was at the beach. My sister-in-law arranges for our families to vacation there each summer. She started doing this after her brother, my husband, had a massive heart attack and was almost taken from us. And so we celebrate togetherness and the good life (another translation of eudaimonia). I sat at the big wooden table in the upper room of the beach house while my nephew-in-law cooked dinner. Everyone was laughing and talking, we were hungry from having been in the sun all day, the ocean sparkled like diamonds beyond the windows, and there was a faint taste of salt on my lips as I grated the lemon rinds to make this ice cream.

Zest. For my family.

My sister-in-law took one spoonful and said, “That’s the best ice cream I’ve ever had in my life.”

It’s also the simplest…as the best things in life are.

No machines, needed, just a bit of work and a willing spirit, ready to share.

Of course this post would not be complete without the recipe…

A bit of zest for your day, friends, on the wings of wellness.

Lemon Ice Cream

1 pint whipping cream
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons lemon zest
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

Combine whipping cream and sugar; stir until sugar dissolves

Stir in lemon zest.

Sir in fresh lemon juice.

Pour into freezer-safe container, and freeze.


lemon ice cream. jules:stonesoup. CC BY 2.0.

Your why

Last Friday at school our professional development centered on finding our whys. For we are not made of what we do; we’re made of why we do it.

In a YouTube video, comedian Michael Jr. puts it this way: “When you know your why, you have options on what your what can be.” To illustrate the difference between knowing what and knowing why, he calls on a member of the audience (a school music director by the name of E. Daryl Duff) to sing a few bars of “Amazing Grace.” Duff’s voice is resonant, beautiful. Michael Jr. then asks Duff to sing as if a couple of specific, tragic things had happened to him; the transformation is stunning. Duff sings in a higher key with a vibrato full of emotion and energy—see the “Know Your Why” video).

It’s a perfect example of how our power, our potential, lies in knowing why we do things.

So, my colleagues and I got to work on finding our whys. 

We were to map at least five peaks and valleys in our lives; if we needed help, we could use a memory prompt based on the work of Simon Sinek:

Our principal modeled the activity first (let us remember that good teaching and good writing have a primary rule in common: Show, don’t tell). The peaks and valleys didn’t necessarily have to be milestones in our lives, but experiences surrounded with much meaning or emotion, maybe turning points, times we gained knowledge that changed us. The more specific we could be in listing several significant life events or people that made an impact on us, the better we’d get to our why. 

Mulling the suggestions and the need for specificity, I chose these events, people, and moments that first came to mind as being beyond the norm:

Thinking of such experiences and writing them can be emotional, but sharing is where the emotion really kicks in.

Laughter. Tears. Reassuring hugs.

In pairs who were moderately comfortable with each other, but who didn’t know each other really well, we shared some of our peaks and valleys. We didn’t have to share everything we wrote, just the items we wanted to share. We told why we chose these points in our lives and what stood out about them. While one partner read, the other listened for connections or patterns in those life events, made notes, and then the roles switched.

We then shared what we discovered about one another.

In my case, my father’s sudden death (my lowest valley), reading “The Murder of Robbie Wayne, Age 6” in The Reader’s Digest when I was a young teen, my birthday party when my mother invited a boy who had bullied me, and a boy who did one of the greatest acts of kindness I’ve ever seen back when we were in 5th grade (I wrote about it: The Valentine) all connect to my present notions of fairness, doing what’s right, and being an advocate.  My having asthma as a child, my husband’s loss of an eye to disease two years ago, and my return to college to finish after a span of many years have a common theme of overcoming. The others—my husband’s ministry, my grandmother’s belief in me, my volunteering to do a play with elementary students when I was still in high school, my blog, the professional development I’ve led in writing, my boys’ individual accomplishments in music and leadership, and the high school teacher who saved the lead role in The Matchmaker for me to read in class—are tied to inspiration.

Synthesizing all of this leads to drafting a why statement comprised of our contribution and our impact:

To _____________________ [contribution] so that ___________________________ [impact].

Mine, at the moment, is this (still working to tighten it further):

To inspire others so that they know they can overcome obstacles and setbacks.

This is why I do what I do; some of the whats are literacy coaching, encouraging others to write, and writing this blog.

I wonder, now, how many colleagues—how many people in the world, actually—have their whys and whats aligned. Seems to me there’d be incredible frustration, anger, anxiety, depression, imbalance, and utter lack of fulfillment when whys and whats aren’t aligned, when people don’t recognize their contribution or see the impact they can make. I think of people in jobs that don’t match their whys and how such dissonance makes for misery.

In The Art of Coaching, Elena Aguilar writes of a teacher struggling with classroom management. The man couldn’t bring order because, when he was in school, he suffered being stereotyped and devalued by a teacher. Being the authority figure for his students felt like he was doing the same to them. He went into teaching because he had a genuine love for the kids, but his core beliefs, his why, the very essence of who he was, wouldn’t allow him to establish the needed structure.

He couldn’t change his why; he could only change his what. He ended up leaving the teaching profession.

“When you know your why, you have options on what your what can be.”

We are not what we do.

We are why we do it.

Knowing that, as Robert Frost might say, makes all the difference.