Simple Pleasures

Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need--a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, some one to love and some one to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing. 

 I can do without the pipe or two but, other than that, I think Jerome K. Jerome got it right. In the midst of all the nonsense in Three Men in a Boat, there is a bit of wisdom. At the end of a grumpy day (or so my kids say) here is a list of simple pleasures that should cheer up even the grumpiest mother.

Chocolate chip cookies warm from the oven.

The first sip of a perfectly made cup of tea. Or coffee if that is your thing.

Standing outside on a country road and listening to the birds sing.

A hug from the person/people you love best in the world.

The perfect response thought of at the perfect moment. (This rarely happens to me. I usually think of the perfect response two weeks later.)

The handful of buttercups picked and jammed into a cup right before the lawnmower chops them all down.

Book mail. Of course.

The perfect consignment shop find that rings up at 25% off, making it an even more perfect find.

The scent of lilacs.

A brand new notebook and pen.

Getting into bed right after you have changed the sheets--cool and crisp and tight all around you.

An unexpected text from a friend you haven't talked to in a while.

The smell and the sound of the ocean.

Freshly picked berries--blueberries, strawberries, raspberries.

Having plans you are looking forward to.

The joy of having plans canceled when you just want to stay home.

A good conversation where your minds just click.

Finding the right words when you are trying to say something or write something.

Sitting by a campfire. Bonus points if someone is playing the guitar and you are making s'mores.

What simple pleasures make your life a little bit better?

This And That And A Couple Of Books

There is a storm coming through, tornado warnings, heavy rain, and thunder and lightning. I am long past the age where I view hours without power as an adventure. I want running water and lights. I have filled buckets of water and have just been emailed a list of steps to start the generator. My husband is visiting his parents in Illinois and believes in me being prepared. Of course, I really should have learned how to start the generator long ago but never bothered. This will teach me. I wonder what other life skills I am currently lacking?

I have a little lilac bush that has refused to bloom for years. It stubbornly sits there, not getting much bigger and not producing any flowers. This year it has decided to reward my patience and has burst forth with gorgeous flowers. Lilac is my favorite spring flower so I am very happy about this. I am completely redoing my front flower beds. Since I am not much of a gardener this is a big project. I dream of a cultivated wildflower garden look but, in actuality, I end up with an overgrown mess of weeds with a few flowers mixed in. So, I am digging it all up and simplifying. We shall see.

I have read a few very good books lately. Last week I finished The Hopkins Manuscript by R.C. Sherriff. It is published by Persephone books but my copy is an older one I have had for a while. I love the illustrations.

It is the account of what would happen if the moon crashed into the earth as told by a retired schoolmaster. It is not so much an account of the occurrence itself but more about how people reacted to the situation. It was disturbing and engrossing. I gulped it down and am now tempted to reread it in order to appreciate all the finer details I know I missed in my initial reading. I particularly appreciated one passage.

It occurred to me what an interesting competition a newspaper could organize:  "If two days of life remained to you--how would you choose to spend them?"  How various the entries would be! Some would vote for a pack of hounds, a sturdy horse and one last glorious run across the country; others for a box each night at the opera. My own desires were simple and modest.  Tomorrow afternoon I would take my favorite walk. I wanted to see the trees and the downs and the distant river from the hillside for the last time.  Tonight I would read.
I went to my bookcase.  My hands moved instinctively away from the classics--the heavy books of history and philosophy that had helped me through unhappy times in days gone by.  Instinctively I went to an obscure, untidy row of books in the corner of the lowest shelf:  the oldest friends in my library--the treasures of my boyhood.
I took "The Wind in the Willows." I drew my chair to the dying fire, and roamed once agin in the fragrant meadows with Badger and Mole and the immortal Mr. Toad. The first streaks of dawn were coming as at last I arose to go to bed, and as I looked over the silvering valley I no longer saw a stricken world upon the brink of eternity.  I thought instead of those myriads of little animals stirring from their winter sleep:  wide-eyed and cock-eared for the Pipes of Pan. 
I slept deeply and peacefully from the moment I closed my eyes. 

I am currently reading The Siren Years--A Canadian Diplomat Abroad 1937-1945. It is absolutely enthralling. He is sent to London before the start of the war and kept diaries the whole time. He not only records the events of the times but he also is so good at evoking the mood and atmosphere of the moment. Here is an example.

I walked back today part of the way from Marston under a rainy grey sky appropriate to an Oxford Sunday (indeed in my experience rain and Sunday are inseparable in Oxford). In the village street a group of little girls were collected under an umbrella held by the tallest of them.  Two ancient dames dressed alike in black with touches of mauve at the throat and clutching prayer books and ebony walking-sticks trundled timidly to church, glancing up and down for fear of cyclists.  Earlier I had met the vicar bicycling along a country lane with his black straw hat pushed on the back of his head.  All this made me remember that life in England has not been touched--that the raids are only superficial wounds.  I stood waiting for my bus in Marston churchyard. I could hear the organ grinding out the music for the evening service and could see lights in the church windows.  Outside in the churchyard was a modest war memorial 'Lest We Forget' and lower down 'Their names are recorded within the Church'. The bus lolled slowly up the hill. 

I also enjoyed the sole sentence for 14 May 1939 while his mother was visiting him.  "Family life makes me long for the brothel or the anchorite's cell."

I am starting to think this post is going to be mainly quotes but there are just so many I like. Here is one last one.

It was impossible to do any serious work today.  I went for a walk in St James's Park. It was a day like early spring--one expected to see crocuses but there were ridges of dirty left-over snow. I was walking along purposefully in my black hat swinging my umbrella thinking damn the war, oh damn the bloody war.  I only curse the war when I am happy.  When I am miserable it suits me that the world should be sliding down into disaster  Then, realizing that I was happy, I thought that this must not be wasted, let me sit on this bench in the sun and say to myself as I watch the ducks, 'At this moment happiness is right here at my elbow.'

 I am exactly halfway through. It is possible I will have to inflict another blog post full of quotes on you because I keep marking more and more passages.

The storm seems to be passing. We still have power and I haven't had to test my knowledge of generators--thank goodness. Now, I have a pan of gingerbread and a book I need to get back to.

Book Sale Treasures

I love books sales. I am sure none of you are surprised to hear that. It is the thrill of the hunt, the discovery of the book you didn't know you wanted, the bargain prices. All of it makes me happy. A few weeks ago, there was a book sale in Vernon, CT. I used to go to this sale every year when I lived in a neighboring town but now that I live an hour away I keep missing it since I never see it advertised. Through a set of fortuitous circumstances, I found out about it a few weeks ahead and actually had the time to devote an afternoon to it. I picked up my parents and dragged them along with me; not that they complained too much.

The sale had already been going on for a few days but they restock throughout the day so I was confident I could find a few treasures. I didn't find anything that made me shout with glee--no Viragos or Persephones--but I was content with my purchases. I bought fifteen books for $14.50. No, I don't know where I am going to put them. Right now they are in a box in my living room, sitting in front of one of my bookshelves, perfectly placed for everyone to trip over them as they walk by.

So, what did I buy? Well, I just spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to photograph my purchases. However, Jack the Cat thought he should feature in all the photos so I eventually gave up. See what I mean?

I think you can read all the titles. I mainly bought nonfiction. A lot of the fiction just was not my cup of tea. Here is a photo of the fiction books I bought.

My mom is definitely coveting the Miss Read books. They are such perfect things to read on a stressful day. I already read A Peaceful Retirement.

Today I will be in Boston right across the street from a bookstore. There really should be no need for me to go in. After all, I just bought fifteen books.

Who am I kidding? I know exactly where I am going on my lunch break.

The Joys Of Rereading

I have spent much of the last week rereading Louisa May Alcott's books. I worked my way through Little Women, Little Men, and Jo's Boys. I am probably going to read Eight Cousins next. I have read all of these books many, many times. Little Women was read over and over and over when I was a child. I know the story by heart and have a deep and abiding love for it. Nothing will surprise me because I remember it all; Amy's pickled limes, Jo's temper, the plays and newspapers they create, Beth's death, Jo's refusal of Laurie (which is absolutely and completely the right decision) all of it is there unfolding in my mind almost before I read it. So why do I read it again?

Because it is familiar. Because it is comforting. Because it is well-written. Because it is a good story. Because reading a well-loved book over and over again is a joy and a pleasure. Because reading Little Women again is like meeting up with old friends. I know what they are going to say and what interests them but I am still pleased to see them. Because love for a book isn't a one-time-only thing. That love goes on with time and grows with greater knowledge. The first time we read for the story and every time after that we read with a greater appreciation for the creation of that story.

Last week I also read Book by Book by Michael Dirda. He had this to say about the joys of rereading:

This is why rereading is so important. Once we know the plot and its surprises, we can appreciate a book's artistry without the usual confusion and sap flow of emotions, content to follow the action with tenderness and interest, all passion spent. Rather than surrender to the story or the characters--as a good first reader ought--we can now look at how the book works, and instead of swooning over it like a besotted lover begin to appreciate its intricacy and craftmanship. Surprisingly, such dissection doesn't murder the experience. Just the opposite: Only then does a work of art fully live. As Oscar Wilde once said, if a book isn't worth reading over and over again, it isn't worth reading at all. That's a bit extreme--there's a place for the never-to-be-repeated fling--but essentially he's right. This is why Hamlet, Persuasion, and Abalom, Absalom! are endlessly rereadable, why teachers look forward to discussing them year after year. Major works of the imagination only gradually disclose the various facets of their artistry; only slowly do they reveal the subtleties of their construction. The great books are those we want to spend our lives with because they never cease to reward our devotion.

Well, exactly. Whether the books we reread are Shakespeare or Alcott, Austen or Heyer, new or old, classic or simply beloved by us, the reason we reread them is the same. They speak to us in some way. We have come to care about the book beyond the plot because the characters have become people we know.  They are old friends we are happy to meet again and the more often we meet them the more we appreciate their creation.

Do you enjoy rereading?