Rising to Morning Dew (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

This week I’ve awoken and walked outside into springtime. There are dandelions running riot over my lawn and the air is warm and humid. A favorite moment in greeting each day has been to witness the dew clinging to the blades of grass as the day begins. It rained last night so everything was permeated with hydration and the promise of sunlight; together, they form live-giving and sustaining necessities. It’s been the type of memory that I want to imprint on my soul, a brief moment where the season feels encapsulated in a dewdrop. What sensory memory speaks “springtime” to your heart?

A Chew Toy A Day (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

Because I’m spending all my time at home, my dog has relaxed into a routine of playing with his toys more frequently in the afternoon than he previously did. He will chase a ball briefly and loves to “kill” certain toys. I purchased two new ones for him and they were delivered today. Before I could even remove the tags, he stole a small fox plush with a squeaker and ran off in delight. He has been playing with it for hours now and is semi-seriously guarding it when I get near. The joy and excitement it has brought him is making me smile from ear to ear and was well worth the money spent. I also bought him a small bull plush toy and he is loving gnawing on its ears. It was hard to judge the size and feel of each toy through a computer screen, so I’m pleasantly surprised at how well they have been received. If you have a pet, what is its favorite toy?

Springtime Flowers (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

It is a beautiful day outside where I live and the arrival of spring is upon us. Each spring, I am welcomed back into the season of growth and expansion by daffodils blooming in my yard. I love that they require no effort or attention and yet return again and again to brighten my spirits. They serve as a superb reminder that not all growth requires conscious effort. What is blooming in your life today?

A Pup in a Basket (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

After finishing my work this morning, which went well but felt chaotic, I needed to stretch my legs. I went outside with my dog at apparently the same moment everyone else in the neighborhood decided to do the same thing, which results in him barking left and right as there was nowhere we tried to walk that didn’t have another pup present. It was not relaxing!

I came home and regrouped. I decided to put him in the basket of my bicycle and go for a short ride. I’ve purchased a trailer for him but am not convinced I can attach it to my bike without breaking the entire wheel system; luckily for me, he only weighs 10 pounds and fits easily into my basket. We biked past another dog and he ignored it! It felt so good to have the warmth of the sun hitting my skin and the cool breeze blowing on me as I navigated the streets in my subdivision. I came home feeling refreshed and my dog has been napping ever since!

Trying a New Flavor (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

I”m a pretty adventurous eater, so it’s rare for me to find a food I haven’t already sampled. The current crisis, however, has led me to purchase dried unsweetened fruits that are allowing me to experience new flavors. My favorites so far are jackfruit and pineapple.

The only dried tropical fruits I had as a child were coated in a thick layer of sugary syrup. I’ve never liked fruit-based desserts so they did not appeal to me. Fruit dried with nothing added is a completely different experience. The jackfruit reminded me of Fruit Stripe gum, and held its flavor for more than the three seconds the gums used to. The pineapple had an almost jerky-style savoriness to it. I love that I can get nutrients I need while learning to appreciate new textures and scent journeys. What’s the most recent new food you tried? What did you think of it?

Following Habits (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

When I got my dog as a puppy, I purchased him a stuffed animal dog into which I could place a plastic “heartbeat” and a warmer. I intended for it to be soothing to him, but he developed another kind of relationship with his dog friend. Let’s just say people tend to feel a bit awkward when he has his special time with it when they visit. It is the only thing he treats that way and it cracks me up.

I wash his puppy every Sunday and he eagerly scampers to the dryer to attack and get frisky with his friend next to the pile of fresh laundry (his bedding, etc.). Today, I forgot to wash it, and the search was on for where it went. He eventually found it and brought it down an entire flight of stairs just so that he could share the love of being next to the laundry as he snarled and bit the stuffed animal. It made me laugh so hard that he apparently has an entire ritual built into the puppy being washed. What’s made you laugh today?

Unbridled Joy (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

My poor pup has been cooped up more than usual as of late, between the winter weather and my attempt to avoid unnecessary trips during the health crisis. I had a few housekeeping items crop up unexpectedly today, so I decided it was worth it to head to a local home improvement store that allows dogs in. His incessant whining the entire trip there let me know he was very excited about the trip.

As soon as we arrived at the store, my dog started leaping for joy as his feet hit the ground. He found the nearest human and tugged me in their direction. There was a family with several small children, who did not quite know what to make of such a small dog (he’s a Yorkie) enthusiastically sniffing their shoes and looking up at them in bliss.

I found the light bulbs I was looking for and headed off to another area of the store. We ended up behind another family, and my pup joined right in with them, ignoring their personal space and acting as though they obviously wanted him to tag along. I normally keep very close tabs on him, but, between trying to locate and carry several items, he kept sneaking closer to people than I realized he was.

He met the first family again at the cash register. The young boy who had at first drawn back from him didn’t reach to pet him, but did give him more attention as he stood facing him. My dog was in heaven, surrounded by new humans who might, just might, let him sniff them and perhaps even pet them.

I am in love with the innocence and earnestness with which my dog approaches people. Me in dog form would totally be bearing teeth and foaming at the mouth at anyone who approached; thankfully, he is not me. The fact that he seems to believe he owns the entire warehouse, barking loudly at any other dogs who dare to enter, and prancing around as though it’s been too long since he took stock of his playground, never ceases to bring a smile to my face. I’m reminded of what seems to be my grounding statement this year–there is more beauty than pain in the world. I am so happy to have witnessed it today.

A close-up of the center of a loaf of soda bread with an X cut in the middle.

Soda and Seed Bread (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

For several months, I’d been making sourdough bread. I loved the taste but got tired of the amount of time it took to feed the starter and proof the bread. I’ve since been experimenting with soda bread, which requires no rise time at all. Anything I can make in less than a hour has to be a winner!

Ingredients

500 grams flour (1/2 white, 1/4 rye, 1/4 whole wheat)

300 ml 2% milk + 2 TBS apple cider vinegar

2 TBS each raw sesame seeds, sliced almonds, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds

1 TBS baking powder

1 tsp. salt

Steps

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Pour the vinegar into the milk and let sit while you mix the dry ingredients.
  3. Mix the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl. If you’d like, you can toast the seeds and nuts before adding to the flour, salt and baking powder.
  4. Pour the liquid into the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.
  5. Wet your hands if needed and pat the dough into a flattened disk.
  6. Cut an X into the middle of the dough.
  7. Bake for 40 minutes.
  8. Let cool before slicing.

This recipe makes a dense, hearty bread that is great with soups, jams and plain butter! If you’ve made soda bread, what is your favorite recipe?

Tasting and Smelling Delicious Food (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

I am still sick with a respiratory illness but am hopeful that I am on the road to recovery. My sense of smell has been severely impacted and I’ve eaten meal after meal in which the only aspect of the food I could appreciate was its appearance and texture, because I could not taste anything. Today, some scents and flavors are getting through, so my lunch felt like an incredible luxury solely because I could enjoy more than how it looked!

I created a whole-wheat pasta dish with spinach, salmon and home-made pesto sauce. I started by cooking the pasta on one burner while I wilted the spinach on another in a cast-iron pan. After removing the spinach, I then pan-fried the center-cut salmon, skin-side down, in the cast iron. Finally, I toasted the pine nuts and then blended them with locally-grown basil, avocado oil and Parmesan cheese in my Vitamix (I am allergic to garlic but most people would add it in here). After sprinkling on a pinch of salt and a dash of oil, I served the dish in a large ceramic bowl I use for my more elaborate meals.

The creamy texture of the sauce, combined with my renewed ability to detect actual scents like basil and salmon, was so enjoyable. It makes me think of the tens of thousands of meals I’ve eaten in my lifetime and leads me to wonder how many of them I’ve scarfed down without any consideration or appreciation for being able to bring all of my senses to bear. A good meal is my quintessential simple pleasure. Have you cooked anything tasty in the last week? What’s your favorite or go-to lunch? Do you have any mealtime rituals that enhance your enjoyment of food?

A large christmas tree outdoors covered in red balls and large white snowflakes.

Visiting the Zoo on Christmas (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

Christmas (along with my birthday) is one of the most difficult holidays to manage emotionally as someone who is estranged from their family and who struggles to connect in relationships. I’ve been invited at times to friend’s houses for the holidays, but have found being around an intact family stirs up more pain than it soothes. I’ve also tried staying home and telling myself it is just a day like any other day, which tends to lead to binge-eating and/or wasting money on online shopping. This is the first year that I chose to engage in an activity on my own.

I visited a local zoo and was greeted more times than I can count with a “Merry Christmas!” Each time I heard it, I felt a little less like I was missing out on something and a little more like I was present experiencing something. None of the other zoo-goers were particularly festive, although I did see one child gifting another a pale-stripped candy cane. The zoo itself was decorated in holiday themes galore and the cafeteria offered a special holiday menu.

I’d only ever been to low-budget “zoos” growing up, the kind where some crank gathered together animals in questionable housing and in which their distress was palpable. I have mixed feelings about even the highest-quality places as keeping animals locked up feels against their nature. As I visited the zoo near where I live now (which is much better than the ones I had growing up), I felt an internal clash of recognition that the animals were safer than they’d be in the wild and that they were serving as “ambassadors” for their habitats, but also that they weren’t free to live life on their own terms.

A polar bear diving into water.
A polar bear diving into water.

The animal that pulled at my heartstrings the most was the polar bear. I got to the zoo right as it opened and walked fast enough that I was able to see the bear alone. I was very upset when I first saw it as it was pacing back and forth in a small area and looked agitated. It was scratching its sides against the enclosure in a frantic rather than soothing way. As I stood watching it and willing it to calm, it looked at me more and more directly with each pass. Finally, it jumped off the small ledge on which it was standing and swam right up to where I was standing! I felt immensely connected to it and an overwhelming feeling of sadness to which I could not put words overtook me. I’m sure my emotional reaction had little to do with what the bear itself was feeling, but, in that moment, I believed that something more than two beings staring at each other was happening. I could barely bring myself to leave the exhibit.

A small deer-like creature peering through a wire fence.
A small deer-like creature peering through a wire fence.

The animal that delighted me the most was a small deer-like creature (I did not pay much attention to the information on the signs). When I first approached the enclosure, I only saw one deer and it ran away from me. I looked to my right and there was this little one only a few feet from me, gazing at me with amused eyes. It kept regurgitating and chewing cud (or something like that) which was not the most pleasant eating practice to watch, but I felt joy and a sense of adventure in its perkiness.

The zoo is very large and I’ve purchased a year’s membership, so I left several exhibits unexplored, waiting to be visited next year. On the whole, it felt so good to do something aside from spending money on useless trinkets or stuffing my face with junk food on a day on which my sense of alone-ness in the world tends to peak. Holidays are not necessarily a choice, for those of us with difficult family issues, between spending time with people who have harmed us, crashing parties that heighten our distress or curling up alone crying. We can make whatever we want out of it. Merry Christmas (and Happy Holidays!).