Webster dictionary defines ingenuity as “skill or cleverness in devising or combining,” while Oxford describes it as “the ability to invent things or solve problems in clever new ways.” When speaking with children about the word ingenuity, one adventurous student replied, “Maybe it means a new engine.” And in a way, she is correct. Ingenuity is like a new engine: it is revved up and ready to go.
This week, I’ve been forced to relax and reflect at home due to a classic head cold. I have not sneezed this much in a long time! Wandering my small space, I began to think up interesting brews that might make me feel better. I am a tea drinker, so I like to experiment: mint tea with lemon and honey, black tea with orange and cardamom, green tea with ginger, lemon, and honey, chai tea with extra cinnamon and cider, the list goes on and on. I sip cup after cup and feel warm and comforted.
As dinnertime rolled around, I realized I needed more sustenance than tea, so I started thinking about soup. I didn’t look in my many cookbooks – No! That would be too ordinary, too mundane, too reliable. I decided to invent some soup recipes. I needed strong flavors that would clear up my sinuses. First, I made a hardy chicken tortilla soup, full of tomatoes and a bit of jalapeños. The next day, I made a miso broth filled with onions, garlic , ginger, lemon, and snow peas. It smelled so good, that I kept sticking my face over the pot to breathe in the aromatic steam. Then, I thought back to my Italian roots and made a vegetable-based soup filled with pureed basil and garlic, potatoes, and chickpeas. The smell of basil always reminds me of my Grandpa Tony. He was a consummate gardener and grower of basil. The soups were all wonderful. I loved creating them from scratch without any compass. I just let my mind flow and combine the tastes I love.
Feeling a bit better from my soup consumption, one afternoon I took a short stroll around my neighborhood. It was a warm September day – blue skies with a bit of a breeze to let us know fall is surely on its way. Suddenly, I became aware of wild movement. I look across the street and a girl, about eleven or twelve-years-old with long dark hair, is sitting at the top of her driveway on a red stool with wheels. The stool resembles an office chair without a back. In her hand is a large push broom. The girl propels herself down the inclined driveway, using the broom as a kind of oar or rudder. She is whirling and twirling down the drive. She leans back on the stool and is giggling with delight. She uses the broom to steer herself back uphill and does the whole swirling motion again and again. I move quickly on. I don’t want her to see me because I don’t want to interrupt her joy.
As I walk away, I smile to myself. Witnessing that type of ingenious joy reminds me of when I was eleven and twelve. My friends and I loved creating games out of things we found in our yards and around our neighborhood. One time, we made a hammock of old woven rope. It was a wonderfully intricate invention. When I hopped in, it enveloped me rolled me around and out onto the ground while still keeping hold of my left foot. I lay on the ground writhing in laughter. My friends had to rescue me, and that was all part of the experiment. Another time, I found an old skateboard with chipped wheels. I was adamant that it was still useful. I hopped on it down a steep hill with an old hockey stick for balance. Thank goodness for that hockey stick. The skateboard hit a stone and abruptly stopped, and I had to use the stick to break my fall. Even when my inventions failed, I was not deterred. I loved the process of experimentation. I loved thinking up new possibilities.
As I walked back to my home, I saw my young neighbor again. She was still in the process of creating her red stool ballet. Her body was staying back and forth in a curlicue fashion. She was pure poetry in motion. Maybe she was inventing a new Olympic game: a cross between luge and curling or skateboarding and polo. Or maybe she was just having fun!