It's the simple things...

February 05,2009
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath( )

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

Everywhere you go these days, there are headlines and stories and anecdotes about "living simply"--the fallout from the tanking economy. In our local newspaper the other day, there was a story about how families are foregoing beach vacations and exotic trips, and shying away from buying large and expensive items, because of job layoffs, downsizing, salary cuts, and, it seems, a growing consciousness of the importance of living more simply. On the one hand, I can't believe this realization has only suddenly hit millions of people; on the other hand, I'm glad it has. Thinking about living more simply always leads me to think about simple pleasures. People complain about new generations needing more and more material things to feel satisfied--and, indeed, sometimes when I look around my college campus I can't help but think this is true. Students talk about saving money to buy this or that, they sport the latest footwear and carry around Blackberrys (does a college student NEED a Blackberry?), but I know it's not just the younger generation who is guilty of this. I fervently, with-all-my-heart want my kids to grow up being happy with simple pleasures; I also don't pretend they won't want the greater pleasures, but I want them to derive joy and satisfaction from the small things in life--a perfectly brewed cup of coffee, for example, or a sunset, or going to sleep in freshly washed flannel sheets. When I think about simple pleasures (different from guilty pleasures, I think, although there is some overlap), I always think about my grandmother, who derived a tremendous amount of pleasure from the simple things in life--a ripe peach, a simple home-cooked lunch, her favorite television show, her first cup of coffee in the morning, window-shopping. My dad is like this, too, and T. seems to have inherited this, as well. Her face lights up like a candle at the thought of a trip to the library, or when she spies a dandelion in the grass. And when discontentment or grumpiness strike me, I try to think about the simple pleasures in my life--they're like fuel for my heart and soul. Things like this: Cheery vase I found this at a thrift store for 50 cents! I bought it because I loved it and it made me smile--it's such a cheerful little vase... My view This is the view from our back porch. I try to go out there once a day, at least, and just look into the trees. Sometimes I see a red-winged hawk, other times woodpeckers. Sometimes it's just eerily quiet, which is nice in and of itself. I have a personal philosophy that you should try to fill up your eyes with some glimpse of nature at least once a day. I know I need to do this--it's good soul food. I wish I could fill up my eyes with this every day: Ripples This is my favorite part of the ocean, I think--the perfect white ripples at your feet, and the way the tiny shells and rocks tumble over each other when the water rushes back. I don't need a fancy beach house, or restaurants and ice cream shops and tacky souvenir shops at the beach--just give me a chair and a chance to sit by the shore, and I could be happy for hours. Find of the year! It's kind of strange to put a shoe here, but I found these like-new Dansko shoes at my favorite thrift store for...are you ready? $10--this brightened my whole entire week. Then I went online and found they retail for about $130, and that made me happier still. A new jar of strawberry jam makes even a Monday morning seem a little cheerier, and knowing there are croissants to eat on a Saturday WITH the strawberry jam is even better. Coffee My favorite coffee, and my French press coffee maker. I'll spare you the picture, but I love my favorite sleep-shirt and black stretchy pants. People have bought me countless sets of pajamas over the years, but honestly I just like my mismatched sleep clothes, and putting them on right out of the dryer is just bliss. New shower gel, or new soap--how simple is that? There have been some mornings when knowing I have a new bottle of shower gel or a brand-new bar of soap waiting for me is the only thing that keeps my hand off the snooze button. And this: Snow Drop The first snow drop! Maybe we still have six more weeks of winter, but that little first snow drop is more beautiful, I think, than the finest rose. What are your simple pleasures?