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.

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{ 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

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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?

Small Pleasures: August Edition

August threw me from the heights of unstructured leisure to the rude awakening of a tightly scheduled existence with barely enough time to catch my breath.  Now, in the middle of September, I realize I never took the time to review the best small pleasures of last month.  They were delightful and deserve the proper amount of recognition and gratitude so I’m posting them without guilt even though summer vacation is long gone.

  1. Stargazing.  Light pollution makes for a very disappointing stargazing experience in my neighborhood.  When we camped in the Adirondacks in early August, I was thrilled to find a visible swath of Milky Way and a glittering mass of stars filling the clear night sky.  My experience was the same as Switchfoot’s Jon Foreman when he sings, “When I look at the stars, I see Someone else, when I look at the stars, I feel like myself.”
  2. Sitting around a campfire on a cool night in the Adirondacks.  This includes hanging with family and making s’mores.  No other explanation needed.
  3. Listening to The Girl With All the Gifts audiobook with my family.  The Girl With All the Gifts is a great book that generated a bit of communal gagging and several stimulating discussions.  There is nothing like vicariously battling zombies to bring a family together.  (Book review can be found here.)
  4. Vistas.  I’m talking about the view from Mount Defiance looking across Fort Ticonderoga and Lake Champlain and the panorama of wilderness from the fire tower on top of Snowy Mountain.  Nothing was much higher than four thousand feet but the views were spectacular and all the more rewarding if effort was required to get my middle-aged, sadly out-of-shape body to the lookout spot (i.e., the 7 mile Snowy Mountain butt-kicking haul).
  5. Kayaking on a perfect summer evening.  Simply sublime…

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Small Pleasures: July Edition

In my small corner of the world, July is the sweltering zenith of summer.  Small pleasures abound this time of year: the smell of growing corn, the buzz of cicadas, the cool sweetness of watermelon, the willy-nilly flight of small bats at dusk, the delicious reprieve of air-conditioning.  The list is endless but there are a few pleasures I’ve been especially thankful for this month.

Kan Jam.  My competitive family is hooked on this fun Frisbee game and we’ve spent many sultry summer evenings playing together.  Anything that entices my teenagers to hang with their dad and me is going to be at the top of my happy list.  Prime family time and some exercise to boot – a perfect summer pleasure.

Fruit smoothies.  About two years ago, I had a momentary lapse in good judgement and attempted The Fast Metabolism Diet.  The diet was an abysmal failure overall but it introduced me to a simple, no-fuss, guilt-free recipe for fruit smoothies that is perfect for the summer.  They are so refreshing AND are a healthy substitute for those Coke slushies I also adore.

4 day work week.  Most faculty members at the local community college where I work have 9-month contracts.  I have a 12-month contract because of my specific teaching and clinical responsibilities so I’m on campus all year.  When summer rolls around, the college operates on a four day work week.  This means I’ve been enjoying 3 day weekends with Fridays off all month.  Do I need to explain how much I am enjoying this?  I didn’t think so.

The Man in the High Castle mini-series.  This Amazon original series is based on Philip K. Dick’s book by the same name, an alternative history/sci-fi tale set in a 1960’s United States after Japan and Nazi Germany have won WWII.  The alternative history aspect has been fascinating but it is often dark and brutal – the Nazis and Japanese are still behaving as they did during the war.  Even though we aren’t exactly sure what’s going on, the content is thought-provoking and addictive.  My husband, youngest son and I have watched the entire first season this month.  The second season is scheduled for sometime later this year and we can’t wait!

Ice cream from Pine View Dairy.  One dip of peanut butter curl ice cream on a waffle cone, to be precise.  I’ve been indulging far more often than is reasonable but, really, who could blame me?

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I hope you’ve had the opportunity to indulge in small happinesses this month.  Please tell me about them in the comments!