Small Pleasures: August 2017

August was a month of changes for my family and me.  My youngest son, my baby, turned sixteen.  Sixteen!  He has his permit and now my husband and I can look forward to six months of being scared witless every time we get in a vehicle with him because he will be behind the wheel, learning how to drive.  In August we also experienced the bittersweet and disorienting upheaval of sending our two older kids to college for the first time and the subsequent struggle to establish a “new normal”.   The realization that life will never be the same has been sobering.

Needless to say, August was an emotionally complicated couple of weeks for me.  This is why I’m happy to focus on the simple things that added sweetness and lightness to my month.  It feels good and right to acknowledge that no matter what is going on externally or internally in my life there is always something to appreciate and be thankful for.

DSC_4537

August’s Small Pleasures

  • Fresh flower bouquets.  I think the flowers have been breathtaking this summer and the local orchard had spectacular bouquets for sale all month.  Zinnia, hydrangea, black-eyed susan, lisianthus, coxcomb, snapdragons, sunflowers – you name it.  I couldn’t help myself.  I bought a bouquet every time I stopped in the orchard outlet.
  • Definicils mascara (Lancôme).  This is the perfect mascara – no clumping, no flaking, no running.  Even though it is always showing up on make-up “Best Of” lists, I avoided purchasing it because of the price tag.  No more!  My eyelashes have never looked so good.  🙂
  • Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (in audiobook format).  Jacqueline Woodson’s award-winning (National Book Award and Newberry Honor) autobiography is children’s literature of the highest order.  It’s written in verse, which makes for an interesting reading/listening experience.  The story provides a singular, intimate portrait of a young African American girl’s experience growing up in the South and in New York City in the 1960s and early 1970s.  Woodson narrates the audiobook and it is so well done.   I can’t recommend it enough.
  • Spending time with my family.  I always enjoy being with my family, but the times we spent together this month seemed more precious because I knew the kids were heading off to school.  I’m thankful my kids still enjoy hanging out with Jay and I and hope the changing circumstances don’t interfere with this too much.
  • Shetland. I’m talking about the series which I discovered on Netflix, not the actual islands.  My husband and I spent several nights watching the atmospheric murder mysteries which take place on the northern islands of  Scotland.  Breathtaking cinematography, moody music, interesting crimes.  What more could a person ask for?  One small warning, though.  Some of the characters have heavy brogues which make understanding what is going on a bit dicey.  We spent a fair amount of time replaying certain scenes to get the gist of the dialogue.  Trust me, though.  It’s worth the effort.
  • Solar eclipse shadows. (See below)                                                                                         We were not in the swath of the United States which experienced a total eclipse of the sun on August 21.  This was somewhat disappointing until we discovered the partial eclipse in the dapple patterns on the patio.  When the sunlight filtered through the leaves of the Zelkova trees in our backyard, the spaces between the leaves acted like pinhole cameras.  These “cameras” created multiple partial eclipses that shimmered over the pavers and furniture.  I took photos but they don’t do the experience justice.  It was magical.

DSC_4991

August has faded away and it’s departure marks the unofficial end of summer.  It makes me sad to say good-bye to my personal happy-go-lucky season, but I’d be a liar if I said I wasn’t looking forward to cooler temperatures, brilliant fall colors, harvest fairs, and hot chocolate.  It’s time to look forward to the new season and all the good things that come with it.

Bonus

A fun song…

Small Pleasures: July 2017 Edition

DSC_4373 July was filled to the brim with good things: rest and relaxation, fun celebrations, lush summer landscapes, and local farm stands overflowing with deliciousness.  The downside of all this goodness is it’s been a struggle to edit my Small Pleasures list into something manageable.  So, after much deliberation, here are my top five (plus a bonus) little happinesses of the month.  Enjoy!

July’s Small  Pleasures 

  1. Swimming in the ocean.  From the first time my dad walked me into the breaking waves at Tower Road beach in Dewey, Delaware, I’ve nurtured an undying love for the ocean.  I love it when it’s gentle, perfect for floating on my back with my eyes closed, losing myself in the gentle rocking. I love it, too, when it’s rough and churning with waves that boss me around and deliver tenfold on the promise of boisterous body surfing and boogie boarding.  I even love how refreshed I feel when I mosey back to my beach chair, my skin tingling from the brisk salty water.  I don’t live very close to the ocean so I’m thankful for the time I was able to spend in it during my trip to the Outer Banks at the beginning of July.
  2. Orange Creamsicle smoothies.  In Corolla, North Carolina, there is a little café  that serves up the best remedy for a hot day.  Their Orange Creamsicle smoothie tastes exactly like the namesake popsicle and I indulged almost every day of my vacation.  Yum!
  3. A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman (audiobook narrated by George Newbern).  The story of Ove, a crotchety older guy with a hidden heart of gold, is a delight as an audiobook.  Through George Newbern’s narration, I grew to love Ove and the people who inhabited his world and I looked forward to washing the dishes or taking my walks just so I could spend more time with the whole bunch.  Listening to this book was a very satisfying experience and my thoughts frequently wander back to Ove and his “family”.
  4. Peaches.  Peaches are in season around here and they are delicious.  We’ve been enjoying the sweet, juicy fruit by the basketful and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
  5. Walking at sunset.  July has been a sizzler so Jay and I have started walking later in the evening to get away from the worst of the heat.  The sunsets have been spectacular lately and the stillness of dusk has been soothing and restorative.  It’s become a restful way to close the day.
  6. The Bonus Pick.  This video by Mark Broussard and his daughters.  Evie just cracks me up…

I hope your height-of-summer has been as delightful as mine.  Now it’s time to wave good-bye to July and embrace the mellow last days of the season.

 

Small Pleasures: April 2017 Edition

April ended up being a month of utter craziness at work.  To buffer the effects of all that stress, I indulged in a lot of escapist activities at home.  This translated mostly into reading (or listening to) lots of books, watching stuff on Netflix, and eating too much junk food.  Most of the small pleasures on my list this month are derived from these self-indulgent activities.  I can’t really say how helpful all the culture consumption was for my unruly stress levels but it sure was fun!

  1. Sing (2016).  Last weekend, my husband and sons went with my dad to his cabin in the mountains to do some trout fishing.  This left my daughter, Julia, and me to fend for ourselves as best we could.  This basically meant lying on the sectional in the basement bingeing on movies and mini-series.  (It was glorious.)  Sing was the first movie we watched.  The general gist: anthropomorphic animals participate in a singing contest that’s designed to save an old theater from being repossessed by the bank.  The animation is fabulous, the characters are comical and endearing, and the music is energetic and uplifting.  Sing is an adorable, entertaining piece of fluff and sometimes that’s just the thing when life gets too serious.
  2. North & South (2004).  I love a good period drama based on literature and the BBC cranks out the very best.  My all time favorite miniseries is Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle.  But, a very close second is North & South with Richard Armitage and Daniela Denby-Ashe which is based on the book of the same name by Elizabeth Gaskill.  This is one instance in which the movie outshines the book by a long shot. So much chemistry and repressed passion vibrate between Margaret Hale and John Thornton that I think I could watch the last scene over and over without ever tiring of it.  It pushes all my romantic buttons.  Julia watched this for the first time with me in April and she loved it, too.
  3. Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.  During the couch potato fest I mentioned above, Julia and I stumbled upon this Australian series on Netflix.  The series is based on the books by Kerry Greenwood and revolves around the exploits of lady private detective Phryne Fisher in 1920s Melbourne.  There is so much to love about this show: the sumptuous costumes (I’ll take every pair of Phryne’s shoes), the storylines, and the characters and their relationships to one another.  There are three seasons worth of viewing pleasure and we’ve been tearing through episodes.  Finding this gem is the happiest accident of the month and escapist indulgence at its best.
  4. News of the World by Paulette Jiles.  This book.  It has everything I need for the perfect reading experience: memorable characters who demonstrate growth, a strong sense of time and place, an interesting storyline with layered themes, beautiful writing.  It’s the best book I’ve read so far this year.  So. Very. Good.

The following small pleasures simply increase my general happiness quotient but aren’t specifically related to escaping stress …

  1. What Should I Read Next (WSIRN) podcast.  This weekly podcast is so much fun! Every Tuesday, Anne Bogel (a.k.a. Modern Mrs. Darcy) interviews one guest about three books they love, one book they hate and what they are currently reading.  Anne then offers the guest three suggestions for what to read next.  The conversations are always interesting and informative and now my TBR pile is completely out of control.  I also read the Modern Mrs. Darcy blog regularly for book suggestions.  The Summer Reading Guide is coming out in a few weeks and I can’t wait!  Both the podcast and the blog take me to my bookish happy place.
  2. Lamb Loves Fox and trois petits oiseaux Flickr feeds.  Other than photographing my travel adventures, I haven’t been spending much quality time with my camera.  That doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate and be inspired by other photographers’ work.  Visiting Lamb Loves Fox and trois petits oiseaux always makes me smile and fills me with just a little awe.  The photos are artful and whimsical and precious.  And often chuckle-inducing…

Now it’s your turn.  What small pleasures help you manage all the stress?

Small Pleasures: March 2017 Edition

At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, I’m going to go ahead and say this has been the most unusual (in a good way) March of my life.  My husband and I just returned from French Polynesia where we spent fifteen magical days celebrating our 25th anniversary.  Without a doubt, the trip was filled with big and unique pleasures (i.e., scuba diving for the first time, watching performers from the Marquesa Islands, waking up in an over-the-water bungalow to a turquoise sea and an unobstructed view of Moorea, etc.).  I want to talk and talk and talk about all that.  But not today.  Instead, I’m remembering those small things that made my big adventure that much more delightful.  Here are my small pleasures of March…

  1. Word Trek.  This phone app takes the word search to a whole new level by using every single letter of the search format to form words.  The game tells you how many words to look for and the number of letters in each word and you have to discover the rest on your own.  As you move through the levels, the number of letters in the search and length of the words increases.  I downloaded the game before we left on our trip and Jay and I chewed up hours of airplane and yacht downtime trying to decipher the puzzles.  It’s fun and I feel smart when I play it.  That’s a first class win-win in my book.
  2. The Body Shop’s Coconut Body Butter.  In my humble opinion, this is the creamiest, most delicious smelling lotion ever.  It comes in a jar, which also makes it a smart travel choice.  It’s the perfect accoutrement for sailing around tropical islands.  I polished off one whole container on our trip so it was a small pleasure I indulged in with abandon.
  3. Chocolate croissants.  French Polynesia is an interesting amalgamation of Polynesian and French cultures and I was surprised by the large population of French people who lived throughout the islands we visited.  Perhaps that’s why the croissants were so good.  I consumed a ridiculous number of big, flaky chocolate ones while on vacation which I always spread with an embarrassing amount of butter.  They were something wonderful to wake up to each day.  (Now my mouth is watering.)
  4. The Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny.  Cruising around French Polynesia provided plenty of opportunity for reading.  So did 28 hours of airplane time.  In total, I finished five books over 15 days.  Two of those books, A Fatal Grace and The Cruelest Month, are part of a murder mystery series by Louise Penny that I am really enjoying.  The setting for the books is the area in and around a small, picturesque village in Canada near Quebec and the characters are singular and likeable.  The murders aren’t graphic and end up being a catalyst to delve deeper into the worst (and best) of human nature. I’m currently reading the fourth book, A Rule Against Murder, and will definitely continue with this somewhat fluffy but well-written and satisfying series.
  5. Snorkeling.  Because snorkeling is something I only get to do when I travel, I could label it as a big, special pleasure.  But the act is so simple and has such a high happiness quotient for me that it feels more like a small, intimate joy.  Every time I put my face in the water and get a peek at the vibrant world under the waves, I get a thrill.  And yet, there is also something meditative and mindful about snorkeling.  I breathe deeply and regularly, I float languidly, and I am forced, because of my mask, to look closely at what is directly in front of me.  I slow down and am able to see details I might otherwise miss (like a blue-spotted boxfish resting at the base of some coral or a single clownfish hanging out in an anemone).  Snorkeling almost always ends up being a spiritual experience for me.  I am so thankful for the opportunities I had to indulge in this pleasure this month and I’m sure it’s one of the reasons I came home feeling so rejuvenated.

DSCN0254

{ Double-Saddle Butterflyfish – Taha’a  (photo taken by Jay Yoder) }

So tell me, what small or not so small pleasures have you been enjoying lately?

 

Small Pleasures: January 2017 Edition

dsc_8530

In many ways, January has been a struggle.  I freely acknowledge this truth but have no interest in dwelling on it.  Instead, I’m focusing on the little things in my life that made January even the tiniest bit more pleasant.  When life feels hard, I seek out ways to soften the edges and my January needed a lot of softening.

  1. Winter twilight.  I’ve been wondering lately if there is any beauty comparable to the quiet, muted loveliness of dusk in January.  These evenings always lift my spirit and draw my heart into worship.
  2. Books.  Well-written, entertaining books which don’t require monumental mental effort have been my escape of choice lately (i.e., Journey to Munich, I Let You Go, and Everything I Never Told You).   Me, finding pleasure in books? -Shocker, I know. 🙂
  3. Hot tea.  Sipping a cup of steaming tea is a pleasure I’ve been indulging in with abandon this month.  As a matter of fact, I’m having a cup of my favorite, Harney’s Christmas Tea, as I type.  Delicious!
  4. Victoria.  PBS’s Masterpiece Theater is working it’s magic once again and my daughter, Julia, and I have fallen under the spell.  Every Sunday evening we settle in to experience the early reign of Queen Victoria as she navigates the intrigues of Court and the complexities of royal responsibility and love.  Starring Jenna Coleman as Victoria, Rufus Sewell as Lord Melbourne, and Tom Hughes as Albert, Victoria is a dependable bright spot in my week.  I’ll be sad when it’s over; we’ll have to check out The Crown on Netflix next to get our royal fix.
  5. Anticipation.  My husband and I will be celebrating our 25th anniversary this year by traveling to the Society Islands of French Polynesia in March.  We will spend most of our time on the Wind Spirit sailing between the islands  and are hoping for gorgeous scenery, spectacular snorkeling, and sublime relaxation.  It’s summer there this time of year so the weather will be hot, humid, and perhaps a bit rainy – all the things winter in Pennsylvania is not.  I can’t wait for this trip and the anticipation of it has helped me endure the rough spots of this month.

Well, January is almost over and thankfully so.  Here’s to a February that is healthier, saner, and much less stressful.

What small pleasures are getting you through?