Simple pleasures

This Little Piggy

August 30, 2010

Cute, isn’t she? Penelope the Flying Pig hangs from a shelf on my desk. She’s a symbol—representing whimsy and creativity to me. I don’t go so far as to call her my muse, but she watches over me while I work at my desk, and makes me smile every time I see her curly, pink tail.

We also have a flying pig in our foyer:

My husband purchased this one on a family trip just after we sold our business. This little piggy represents freedom. After years of working long hours in our insurance business, he finally felt free from stress, free from having to be somewhere all dressed up at eight (or earlier) in the morning, free from problems with clients or staff.

We only have two flying pigs in our home, but we have no fewer than five variations of bicycle objets d’art (including a bicycling pig). I don’t know what the bicycles stand for yet. My husband is an avid cyclist, but we started picking up the bicycles before he started riding regularly. Perhaps they also represent freedom—the ability to ride away if things get tough? Or maybe they symbolize the excitement of exploring or going on adventures? (Clearly I have too much time on my hands if I’m assigning hidden meaning to articles of household decoration. Maybe they’re just bikes.)

Is it just me, or do you have any objects in your life that are more than just decoration? Objects that speak to your heart and soul for some perhaps unaccountable reason? Maybe it’s a trinket brought back from a family vacation, or an item picked up at a flea market because it called your name.

When I see the pigs, I think of vacations (I bought Penelope while on vacation, also), freedom, playfulness, joy. My heart lifts, even if it’s just for a moment. I think we need these unexpected hits of happiness in our daily lives—little jolts from a special item or a photo of a happy occasion placed where we see it often during the day.

If you have any items that serve as symbols for you, what are they, what do they mean to you and where do you keep them?


It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year...

August 24, 2010

Back to school that is. Today is the first day of school in our county, and our son dragged himself out of bed at 6 a.m. It just doesn’t seem right to go to the school bus stop when it’s still dark.

First day with the new backpack 
Actually, I have mixed feelings about him going back to school. He’s nice to have around, and this was probably his last summer as a “kid.” Next summer will find him completing community service hours for a state-sponsored scholarship program and/or working at his first job. (Of course, our food bill might be smaller now that he’s back in school. Teenage boys are eating machines!)

Now that he’s back in school, I can look forward to the approach of fall. I frequently set new goals in the fall rather than in January. In Florida, summer is so hot and drags on so long that I’ve lost all ambition and energy by September. If I didn’t have to leave the house, I’d never change out of my pajamas. When we get our first cold front, hopefully sometime in October, I begin to perk up, look around me and decide on new projects and tackle the to-do list that has grown large and unwieldy during the summer. I review any goals I set earlier in the year to see if I’m on track.

It looks beautiful, but it's HOT
So much has changed since last fall: I began writing articles for and for this blog, I found my new friend Laure, my son grew taller than me. And I met all of you who are kind enough to read the blog and comment on it. You’ve enriched my life by sharing your thoughts with me and each other.

Do you have a favorite time of year? What makes it your favorite? My current favorite is fall, because that’s when I start to feel human again, instead of like a giant, sweaty lump. Hopefully your reasons are a little more poetic than mine…


Come to Your Senses

August 20, 2010

Summertime lends itself to slowing down, savoring the moment. We lighten up our schedules and the long days encourage lingering at whatever we are doing. Who can bustle around full speed when it’s 92 degrees outside, and with the humidity, it feels like 105? I speak from personal experience.

What better way to savor the season than by “coming to our senses”—pausing to notice what is going on around us, what we see, hear, feel, taste and touch. I don’t know about you, but I often take for granted that my five senses work quite well, despite contact lenses and the occasional need for close captions on TV.

When I slow down enough to notice my surroundings, I find plenty to enjoy. Here are a few of the things I most enjoy when I come to my senses:


  • Sweet, juicy watermelon
  • Crunchy, slightly sour salt & vinegar potato chips
  • Creamy, cold ice cream in a crisp waffle cone
  • Freshly cut grass
  • Someone cooking on a charcoal grill
  • Fresh basil leaves snipped from my plant
  • Salt water and sand at the beach

  • Green grass, blue sky, puffy white clouds
  • The faces of my son and his friends, flushed and sweaty from playing outdoors
  • Words on a page telling me a story or teaching me something
  • The four-legged miracle that is my horse, Tank

  • Frogs singing at night
  • The hush before dusk
  • My favorite summer feel-good song played loud in the car (currently Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music.” I dare you to sit still while listening.)
  • My husband playing the piano


  • My dog's soft ears
  • Silky water on hot skin
  • Air conditioning after I’ve been sweating outside
  • Cool cotton sheets on my bed
This weekend, take 15 minutes to come to your senses. What did you see? Hear? Feel? What surprised you? What did you enjoy? Was there anything you didn’t like? Come back here and share your discoveries.


A Marine in the Family

August 17, 2010

One of the best simple pleasures in life, if we’re lucky, is family. This weekend, our family experienced a milestone: the commissioning into the Marines of our nephew, Jonathan, as a 2nd Lieutenant.

Jon's parents pin his bars to his uniform
Jon is the son of my husband’s sister. He was the first grandchild in the family, which grew to include Jon’s sister Jennifer, and a few years later, our son. Our kids became good friends, and despite the age difference, Jon and Jen always include our son in everything when we’re together, for which I am eternally grateful. Our son loves and looks up to both of them, and I’m encouraged that kids can make it through their high school years to begin productive lives!

After the ceremony, in an email to family and friends, my sister-in-law wrote about one of the most touching moments of the day: “Following the ceremony they asked the families of those to be sworn in to stand, followed by those still in active service, followed by those who are veterans. Finally, they asked anyone, regardless of political beliefs, to stand if they recognize the sacrifice and dedication of those men and women who serve in the United States armed forces. Every single person in that arena of thousands stood at that point…. I am proud of Jon and what he has chosen to do and humbled at the same time by the heart of service that every man and woman possesses who serves to protect and defend our country.”

Jon at right
The future by its nature is uncertain, perhaps now more than ever. Jon and Jen give me hope for that future. They’re smart, kind, energetic and full of life. That arena of people standing in support of their family members, regardless of political beliefs, gives me hope that maybe we can put aside our differences and work together to make the world better.




August 13, 2010

"Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you."

~Nathaniel Hawthorne

Recently, four of these odd-looking structures appeared in our pool cage. My son first drew our attention to them, when they were still moving about, choosing a place to rest until metamorphosis. They eventually scattered themselves across the back of the screen enclosure, and one made its brave way over to a plastic Adirondack chair in the back corner.

Now I know what happened to my basil plant—at least I think these guys were responsible. I don’t begrudge them their meals, but I’m eager to see what will come out of these cocoons. Does anyone know? The caterpillars were already completely encased in their spiny shells when we found them. So far they have weathered our summer storms and withering heat, and I’m not sure how long it takes for a caterpillar to turn into a butterfly—or could it be a moth?

I’ll keep you posted.

"The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough."
~Rabindranath Tagore


I'm My Own Worst Enemy

August 09, 2010

I made a trip to the library today to pick up some books for future reference for the blog and for some prospective articles for—and look what I brought home!

The irony is that the DVD in the photo is about “simple living.” Ha. Nothin’ simple about trying to read, or at least skim, all these books while I simultaneously try to keep up with the Explorations Artful Journaling Class (Hi, Laure…yes, I will soon be turning in my two missing assignments…), get my son ready for the new school year (clothes, backpack, doctor’s appointments), keep writing while searching for new paying markets for freelancing, take care of my horse, and somehow keep my house from falling down around my ears.

Why do I do this to myself? It’s not like I don’t know better. Apparently, I don’t really want a simple life, or I’d have one. Or at least a simpler one. Apparently what I want is piles of books, stacks of papers, art supplies all over the kitchen table and a load of laundry left to languish in the dryer (It’s only sheets—they can wait to be folded.) What happened to Do Less in More Time?

When it comes to the fun stuff, I don’t want to cut back. I don’t want to miss out on anything that might be remotely enjoyable. The only problem is, when I cram my life so full of even the fun stuff, I fail to fully appreciate and enjoy each thing as I experience it.

So I guess I’d better figure out how to restrain myself. I think I’ll start by watching that simple living DVD. Maybe it’ll help.


Seven Things I Learned From My Emails

August 06, 2010

I just spent an hour sifting through my “junk” email account—the email address I use when ordering online or subscribing to newsletters, etc. I haven’t browsed through there for a week or two, and found some pretty cool stuff. Along with the reminder that my books are due at the library next week, and that I should expect The Ghost Writer in the mail from Netflix on Saturday (and a stray generic Viagra offer), here are seven things I learned from my emails today:

1. “Conscious Donation.” Sponsored by Goodwill Industries, “The Goodwill Donate Movement” encourages people to take as much care when deciding where to donate their belongings as they do when making a financial donation. You can read more about this here and here.

2. At the upcoming (Sept.) Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Lexington, 800 horses representing 62 countries are scheduled to participate. (A side note: Unfortunately, I will not be participating, as I was not chosen to be a Purina correspondent… But I’ll be watching on TV!)

3. Cheap Joe’s art supply catalog is offering $1 shipping until Monday, August 9. This is a great deal, because with art supplies, sometimes the shipping can be as expensive as the actual purchase, say a tube of watercolor paint. (Promotion code 1GRB, if you’re interested.)

4. Poetry can make you smile as well as make you think (Poem courtesy American Life in Poetry. Introduction written by Ted Kooser):

Rhyming has a way of brightening a poem, and a depressing subject can become quite a bit lighter with well-chosen rhymes. Here’s a sonnet by Mary Meriam, who lives in Missouri. Are there readers among you who have felt like this?

The Romance of Middle Age

Now that I’m fifty, let me take my showers
at night, no light, eyes closed. And let me swim
in cover-ups. My skin’s tattooed with hours
and days and decades, head to foot, and slim
is just a faded photograph. It’s strange
how people look away who once would look.
I didn’t know I’d undergo this change
and be the unseen cover of a book
whose plot, though swift, just keeps on getting thicker.
One reaches for the pleasures of the mind
and heart to counteract the loss of quicker
knowledge. One feels old urgencies unwind,
although I still pluck chin hairs with a tweezer,
in case I might attract another geezer.

(Poem copyright ©2009 by Mary Meriam)

5. “The five things [my] anti-wrinkle products must contain” (antioxidants, skin-identical ingredients, cell-communicating ingredients, sunscreen, and a formula that suits my skin type.), courtesy of Paula Begoun, the “Cosmetics Cop.” Paula is the author of Don’t Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me, and I’ve found her cosmetic and skin care recommendations work well for me.

6. The importance of blogging in my true voice, and some suggestions for doing so.

7. Five common “happiness boosters” that do more harm than good, including comforting myself with a “treat.” (Sigh.) Read the full list at The Happiness Project.

What did you learn today—and where/how did you learn it?

Simple pleasures

Cloudy With a Chance of Sunflowers

August 02, 2010

“…Bring me the sunflower crazed with the love of light.”--Eugenio Montale

Sunflowers make me smile. Some wonderful soul in our subdivision has planted sunflowers at the corner of our main road and one of the side streets. I see them daily as I drive in and out—one of those simple pleasures that add so much to life. They’re happy flowers—their bright yellows, oranges, even reds and bronzes, echoing the colors of the sun itself.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who finds sunflowers uplifting. Vincent van Gogh created a series of sunflower paintings during two different periods, the first (1887) in Paris, and the second (1888-89) in Arles, France where he hoped to create an artistic community. Several of the paintings were meant to be decoration for a room for his friend Paul Gauguin. For van Gogh, yellow symbolized happiness.

Here are a few more sunflower facts:

The sunflower is one of the few crop species that originated in North America. Native Americans domesticated and cultivated it.

Sunflower oil contains 93% of the energy of US Number 2 diesel fuel and researchers are exploring the potential of sunflower as an alternate fuel source in diesel engines.

The sunflower head is not a single flower as you would think from its name, but is made up of 1,000 to 2,000 individual flowers joined at a common receptacle.

Before blooming, the sunflower is heliotropic: It follows the progress of the sun from east to west in order to receive the maximum amount of sunlight. Overnight, the sunflower will turn its face east once more to meet the sunrise. Once it blooms, the stem usually remains in the east-facing position.

It think one of my next illustrated journal projects is going to be a sunflower—what could be more appropriate?

“Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow. It's what sunflowers do.”--Helen Keller