How much is enough?

Published 6:00 am Friday, November 5, 2021

I’ve recently seen several versions of a funny story about how much garlic should be used in a recipe. The instructions start with a clove or a teaspoon. Then, through a series of responses, the amount increases. The chef refuses to return to reasonable quantities. The punchline suggests there is no such thing as too much—for garlic lovers, anyway.

I enjoy garlic, but I typically stick fairly close to the amount my cookbook suggests. For me, a comparable story would be better told with cinnamon. Whenever an ingredient list suggests an amount in teaspoons, I mentally translate it to tablespoons. I haven’t yet encountered an amount of cinnamon that I’d identify as too much.

My life is actually filled with things that suggest moderation isn’t always my strong suit. For example, when it comes to pictures of my children and grandchildren, I’ve never once said, “I have enough pictures. Don’t send anymore.” When I see those precious smiling faces, there’s no such thing as enough.

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My bookcases offer another example. They are stuffed to capacity. My preferred solution is to get another bookcase, but until I can do that, I’m content to stack the leftovers wherever I find an empty spot — countertops, floors, closets. Any cubby hole will do. Furthermore, lack of shelf space has never kept me from filling bags at the Friends of the Library book sale.

Lately, I’ve come to realize that this tendency of always wanting more of things that are pleasing can cause me to fail to appreciate what I do have. For example, Kurt Vonnegut is well represented among the titles in my bookshelves, but one day I noticed that my copy of Slaughterhouse Five had wandered off (probably inadvertently donated back to the library). Rather than submersing myself in the delight of being surrounded by the books that remained, I pined for that specific lost one. Apparently, a small piece of my contentment disappeared with the book.

I’ve noticed the same phenomenon occasionally rears its head at the grocery store. If I want fresh asparagus and can’t find any, I will fuss that the store has nothing. In fact, although the shelves may not contain absolutely everything I can think of, the vast array of products available would amaze any shopper who had ever had to deal with real hunger or food shortages.

In truth, many people around the world, across the nation, and even right here in our own community face these challenges. I loll in plenty, but they don’t have enough.

The approaching Thanksgiving holiday traces its origins to people who were well-acquainted with deprivation. The most commonly told story relates the experience of settlers who arrived in New England aboard the Mayflower. Some historians estimate half the original passengers died during their first winter. With the aid of Native Americans living nearby, the surviving community learned how to reap the New World’s bounty. Tales of their gratitude live on in holiday lore, although history reports that the situation disintegrated as competition for resources eventually led to distrust and war.

News accounts today tell us that malnutrition and deprivation persist in some corners of the world, but it isn’t necessary to look abroad to find situations where life’s necessities are in short supply. Here in our own country, in one of the best-fed nations on earth, more than 10% of U.S. households — and nearly 15% of those with children — experienced food insecurity at sometime during 2020. Furthermore, according to data gathered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, on any given night, more than half a million people experienced homelessness.

In light of these realities, my own senses of not having enough of this or that seem trivial. I’m trying to refocus my thoughts on being grateful for what I have rather than moaning about what I don’t have, what I’ve never achieved or what I’ve lost.

Still, when I mentioned my missing Vonnegut title to my son, he promptly gave me a replacement copy. I am blessed and profoundly grateful. His gesture means so much more to me than the actual book. I truly have all I need, and it is enough.

KAREN BELLENIR has been writing for The Farmville Herald since 2009. Her book, Happy to Be Here: A Transplant Takes Root in Farmville, Virginia features a compilation of her columns. It is available from You can contact Karen at kbellenir@PierPress. com.