Embracing Simple Pleasures

May 29, 2015

“The people who seem to be most content don’t focus on a time years ahead when they hope to have whatever they imagine it takes to be happy—money or time or a wonderful relationship. They live in the present and take their pleasure seriously. And they create their own pleasures.”—Simple Pleasures: Soothing Suggestions & Small Comforts for Living Well Year Round, compiled by Robert Taylor, Susannah Seton, and David Greer.

What gives you pleasure? A delicious meal, a vacation, spending time with family and friends, getting lost in a good book, or maybe a new high-tech gadget?  All of the above?  Pleasure comes in many forms, and sometimes we forget that it doesn’t have to involve a lot of expense, time, or complicated planning. Small, simple pleasures are more accessible, and taking time for them on a regular basis can increase our level of happiness.

If simple pleasures are so easy to find, what keeps us from enjoying them more often? In my experience, three things. First, we are too busy (or think we are). We simply don’t have time to incorporate pleasure, or we don’t notice the pleasures already around us. Second, we put off pleasure, waiting for a time in the future when we’ll be able to enjoy life more. We save our good china, don’t burn the scented candles, don’t buy the fresh flowers or the good wine. And last, we feel guilty. Who are we to spend time and energy enjoying life when there’s so much to do and/or so many people who are suffering?

If you’re like me, struggling with one or all of the above, here are some ways you can make incorporating simple pleasures into your life easier.

  1. Start and end your day with a simple pleasure. For me, it’s a cup of coffee and homemade mini scone in the morning, and reading in bed at night.
  2. Work simple pleasures into your day as rewards for completing your must-dos. I sit down with lunch and a book after a busy morning instead of eating at my desk (or worse still, while I unload the dishwasher). I listen to my iPod while vacuuming or pick up a coffee while running errands.
  3. Share your pleasures with someone else. My five-year-old self understood this. One of my biggest joys was buying a candy bar for each person in the family and putting it on the dinner table with the place settings. At the time, my mom and I lived with my uncle and aunt, and on my tiny allowance, I could just afford to buy four Hershey bars for us all every now and then. Sharing pleasure with someone else makes it even more…pleasurable.
I hope that when you make plans for your days you make time to notice and incorporate things that give you pleasure. And now, since I finished this blog post, I think I’ll reward myself with the simple pleasure of refilling my coffee cup and admiring my blooming orchids.

What simple pleasures will you enjoy this weekend?


What's Inside You?

May 27, 2015

“Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what's inside you, to make your soul grow.”
 —Kurt Vonnegut


If My Cat Had an Instagram Account...

May 22, 2015

I know I’m late to the party, but I recently joined Instagram (follow me here—and if you’re on Instagram, let me know so I can follow you!). I finally have a smartphone that takes decent pictures, and I’ve always thought Instagram sounded like a fun way to record simple pleasures and everyday adventures. I’m still figuring out how to use the features, making mistakes and bumbling around. I was lying in bed contemplating what I might post, when it crossed my mind that it would be amusing to see what my pets would share if they had their own Instagram accounts. I decided to take some pictures from their points of view and share them here.

First up, if Prudy had an Instagram account, this is what she would post (FYI, the following pictures were taken with my phone, but not actually posted to Instagram.):

First things first—a selfie.

My favorite: the ’nip.

I like to knock this in the pool every day—it doesn’t seem to know how to swim.

My nemesis.

Where I hone my razor-sharp, tree-climbing claws.

This is dinner. Where is the parsley garnish? Cretins.

I’m sure this is exactly what the inventors of Instagram had in mind…

Stay tuned for life as seen through Scout’s and Tank’s eyes. (I know you can hardly wait.)

Maryann Corbett

Finding the Lego

May 20, 2015

Introduction by Ted Kooser: No ideas but in things, said one of my favorite poets, William Carlos Williams, and here’s a fine poem by Maryann Corbett of St. Paul, Minnesota, about turning up one small object loaded with meaning.

Finding the Lego

You find it when you’re tearing up your life,
trying to make some sense of the old messes,
moving dressers, peering under beds.
Almost lost in cat hair and in cobwebs,
in dust you vaguely know was once your skin,
it shows up, isolated, fragmentary.
A tidy little solid. Tractable.
Knobbed to be fitted in a lock-step pattern
with others. Plastic: red or blue or yellow.
Out of the dark, undamaged, there it is,
as bright and primary colored and foursquare
as the family with two parents and two children
who moved in twenty years ago in a dream.
It makes no allowances, concedes no failures,
admits no knowledge of a little girl
who glared through tears, rubbing her slapped cheek.
Rigidity is its essential trait.
Likely as not, you leave it where it was.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2013 by Maryann Corbett, from her most recent book of poems, Credo for the Checkout Line in Winter, Able Muse Press, 2013. Poem reprinted by permission of Maryann Corbett and the publisher. Introduction copyright 2014 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

Alexandra Johnson

Journaling Through Life--The Simple Pleasure of Keeping a Journal

May 15, 2015

You’re probably not surprised to learn that I keep a journal. (In my usual let’s-make-this-more-complicated-than-it-needs-to-be fashion, I actually have more than one type of journal, but that’s another story.) Journaling has accompanied me from high school to college, from my first full-time job, to getting married and moving cross-country to Florida—and beyond. There have been times when life kept me too busy or distracted for regular journal entries, and times when I wrote several pages every day.

The oldest journal I have (other than the pages I still have from my creative writing class) is from 1982, when I was a freshman in college. Part of that year I wrote in a battered black and white composition book, and part of the year I used a cloth-covered blank book. Those journal entries contain lots of exclamation points and underlining, and a palpable desire to grow up. I flipped through a couple of the journals pictured below, where I found entries from when I met the guy who was my “first love” and a brief mention of the first time I had a significant conversation with the girl who is still my best friend.  There were entries after we experienced a 6.1 earthquake, and after my husband asked me to marry him. (And plenty more, but I decided I needed to put down the journals and walk away or I might not be seen again. Reading old journal entries can be addictive.)

Choosing a journal or notebook and just the right pen is a source of pleasure as much as the actual writing. The best journals are just the right size and heft, but I’m also happy to use journals my friends give me, even if they aren’t quite ideal. Their love and thoughtfulness more than make up for any perceived imperfection in the book itself.

As a writer, I find my journals indispensable, but what about if you’re not a writer? Is there any value in keeping a journal? I think so. There are many reasons to keep a journal—as a way to remember important-to-you events, as a way to blow off steam, to clarify your thoughts, or to focus on something in particular (such as what you’re grateful for). Journals can be anything from a few lines written in a notebook now and then to a daily diary sort of document. You might keep a nature journal, an illustrated journal, a words-only journal, or something in between. As Alexandra Johnson wrote in Leaving a Trace: On Keeping a Journal, “Keeping a journal is one of the few ways to remind oneself of life’s unnoticed gifts.” 

If you want to journal but don’t know where to start, you can always use those pristine pages to make lists, paste in ticket stubs, business cards, and other bits of daily life. You can examine questions like: how am I feeling? What do I want to accomplish today (this week, this year)? What do I like about myself? What would I like to change? Describe your surroundings, your family, your pets, yourself.

You can fill a journal with favorite quotes and bits of wisdom, record your dreams, write down your family history. Or treat it like a scratch pad, as author and photographer Karen Walrond does, and jot down phone messages, ideas, grocery lists, whatever you need to record during the day. Click here for a list of journal-keeping ideas.   (And if I haven’t convinced you, click here to read Leanne Sowul’s “Ten Ways Journaling Can Make Your Life Better.”) 

My journals have been friends to me, absorbing grief, anger, elation, and joy as need be. They contain my story, even if no one but me ever reads it. Memory can be false, but journals can reveal the truth (for instance, I don’t remember staying up until the wee hours on a regular basis when I was my son’s age, but my journals from that time reveal that I often did!). Writing things down helps me work through what I really think, before those thoughts get unleashed on the world, if they ever do. Journaling through life has made it that much deeper and sweeter—and happier.

If you keep a journal, what type is it? Do you ever go back to reread it? What have you learned from keeping it?

Hand Wash Cold

Happiness Is Simple

May 13, 2015

Photo courtesy Ryan McGuire

“Happiness is not a science, an art, or an outcome. It can’t be quantified, procured, or consumed. It’s not invented, but comes naturally from mud and honeysuckle, pitted olives, and doting granddads who hoist you into their laps for a bumpy ride on a secondhand tractor. It’s what we are when we are utterly ourselves in unaffected ease.

“Happiness is simple. Everything we do to find it is complicated.”
—Karen Maezen Miller, Hand Wash Cold


What I Have

May 08, 2015

What is it about human beings that makes us want—oh so much—what we don’t have, while discounting what we do have? I’ve been noticing this about myself lately, especially in relation to traveling. I love to travel, whether it’s a trip to visit family, a week in Georgia, a road trip in New England, or a dream trip to Greece. And due to life circumstances beyond my control, it’s unlikely that I’ll be doing any traveling for a while.  

Which stinks. Big time.


Unless I take this time to notice the simple pleasures and everyday adventures within my reach, the delights that I would miss if I were traveling. After all, I love my home. I love reading, puttering, being with my animals, being with my family. I love sitting at my computer, eating oatmeal and playing Mahjong Titans. I love the way my morning coffee tastes, I love my library and its used bookstore. I love sleeping in my own, very comfortable bed. I love looking at these faces:

If I were traveling, I’d miss these things. Right now, it’s time to appreciate what I have instead of yearning for what I don’t have.

It’s also time to look for ways to infuse my daily life with some of the elements I most enjoy while traveling. There are plenty of things to sketch and take pictures of within driving distance, even walking distance, of my house. There are attractions people come to Florida to see, and when I get tired of that, there are books to whisk me away to foreign shores.

So I’m letting go of the frustrated feeling I’ve been carrying for the past couple of weeks. There will be a time when I can travel again. Until then, I’m going to try not to discount what I have—which is a very happy, interesting, full life.

What do you want that you do not have?


Husbands and Poems

May 06, 2015

Photo courtesy Todd Quakenbush

Today is my husband’s birthday. He’s very like the husband in this poem by Pauletta Hansel (though my father is not much like the father). When we were dating in college, my husband typed up and gave me a poem he felt applied to our relationship. I still have that poem, and it still applies. Wishing you a happy birthday, LJ!


My mother likes a man who works. She likes
my husband’s muddy knees, grass stains on the cuffs.
She loved my father, though when weekends came
he’d sleep till nine and would not lift
his eyes up from the page to move the feet
she’d vacuum under. On Saturdays my husband
digs the holes for her new roses,
softening the clay with peat and compost.
He changes bulbs she can no longer reach
and understands the inside of her toaster.
My father’s feet would carry him from chair
to bookshelf, back again till Monday came.
My mother likes to tell my husband
sit down in this chair and put your feet up.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2011 by Pauletta Hansel from her most recent book of poems, The Lives We Live in Houses, (Wind Publications, 2011). Poem reprinted by permission of Pauletta Hansel and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2015 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

Artist's dates

Picking Blueberries: An Artist's Date

May 04, 2015

A few minutes from my house, and just down the road from where I keep Tank, there is a blueberry farm that is now open for U-picking. After several weeks of unseasonably hot and humid weather, this weekend was fresh and spring like—the sun shining from a cobalt sky dotted with cottony clouds, so I decided to go blueberry picking for the first time. Here’s what happened:

Acres of blueberry bushes

After I park my car, the farm proprietor ties a white plastic bucket around my waist and tells me which sections were picked for market and which should have berries left. I walk down the grassy road between berry sections and choose my spot. There are other pickers scattered through the rows, a few with children in tow. U-picking with kids is popular, and this is one of the first weekends the farm is open. I see several generations of family members, from grandparents to toddlers, enjoying the experience.

And that’s why I’m here: to enjoy the experience. This is an artist’s date as well as a way to stock my freezer with fresh blueberries.

Once I choose my section, I begin slowly walking between the rows of shoulder- to head-high blueberry bushes. It takes me a few moments for my eyes to adjust to seeing the plump purple berries hidden in the foliage. I drop my first berries in my bucket with a thunk. While I search with my eyes, my ears listen to the sounds around me: the breeze flirting with berry bushes, the lady in the red t-shirt humming along with her iPod, the children calling out excitedly, and even the loud speakers periodically blaring screechy bird sounds to keep away other birds who would eat the berries. My mind is free to wander, but I find it mostly stays quiet, absorbed in the task of looking carefully for the ripe berries. I deliberately pick a few unripe berries to paint because they’re such pretty colors. I also remember and use Laure Ferlita’s advice to look up, look down, look all around.

As in life, in blueberry picking, it pays to go slowly, look carefully, and be gentle (so the fruit doesn’t fall on the ground instead of into your fingers). You need to look at the bushes from several different angles, and sometimes you will find perfect berries missed by others who have worked the same row. This is sort of like the process of creativity—good ideas, ripe for the picking are out there, waiting for the right person to come along.

It takes me about two hours to fill my bucket. I probably could have moved to a section with more berries per bush, but for once I’m not in a hurry. It is a pleasure to be doing one thing and one thing only. Once my bucket is full, I return to the entrance, pay my money, and carry a plastic grocery bag to my car filled with my bounty.

When I get home, I’ll have the work of drying out the berries (they don’t like to be wet), freezing them, and deciding what I want to do with the ones I won’t freeze. Blueberry muffins for my son, and lemon blueberry scones for me, I think.

This artist’s date was a huge success. I not only deeply enjoyed it while it was happening, but I also wrote about it in my journal and in this post, and I painted those berries! So far, I’ve only experimented with different colors for the berries, but I also want to do a full watercolor sketch page of various elements from the day.

What did you do this weekend?

Everyday adventures

Field Trip Friday: The Fancy Flea

May 01, 2015

As promised, here’s a rundown on last week’s Field Trip Friday—Laure Ferlita and I checked out the Fancy Flea Vintage Home & Garden Market.

The Fancy Flea is an “upscale outdoor vintage show” that takes place twice a year at the Strawberry Festival grounds in Plant City, Florida (between Tampa and Orlando). The show featured booths filled with shabby chic items, garden art, plants, antiques, salvage, handmade jewelry and lots of other interesting bits and bobs. There was also music and a food truck rally.

The Fancy Flea booths were all out in a field at the Strawberry Festival grounds, and though there was some shade, we were very grateful for the cloudy skies, since it has been summer hot already, and neither Laure nor I felt 100% that day. But we’d planned this little excursion for weeks, so we were determined to complete it, even if conditions weren’t just right. We were both in need of playtime and creative well filling, so we hauled ourselves out of our comfortably air-conditioned homes. 

Neither of us had explored the Fancy Flea before so it was fun to see what types of vendors and merchandise would be there. Unlike Renninger’s, there were more arty/crafty/repurposed d├ęcor items than antiques or true flea market “junk.” It took us a couple of hours to slowly wander the aisles. Our only purchase was some little packets of cancelled stamps to use in future art projects. We both bought some and shared with each other.

This cute metal sculpture

reminded us of this guy we saw in John’s Pass during Winter Interrupted:

Laure asked me at lunch later if there was anything I regretted not buying. In thinking it over now, I regret not asking the price of a couple of shadow boxes that caught my fancy…at the time I was irritated that the prices weren’t marked, and I decided I didn’t care enough to track down the stall owner and ask. I don’t need anything, and I don’t even really want very much. I’m more concerned with getting stuff out of my house than in bringing more in. So I mostly just enjoyed looking at the bright colors and creativity demonstrated by the people selling there. My favorite things included mini succulent or herb gardens created using baskets and other unusual containers. (I didn’t take photos because I didn’t think the vendors would appreciate it—since I plan to duplicate their efforts with items I already own!)

This beauty was a prize—love the color:

So even though we came home mostly empty-handed, we enjoyed the chance to drink in the colorful creativity of others, to leave our desks and drawing tables and hopefully, spark some new creativity in ourselves. That’s all I ask of Field Trip Friday.

How have you filled your creative well lately?