Well, fellow blog readers, it has come to this. I have been spending so much time after work online not only writing this blog but getting sucked into reading other’s blogs, that I found myself spending well over an hour every night after work online. After stepping away from the computer over the weekend and then this week, because it’s been too busy and chaotic to make it to the computer, I realize that my blog writing days have come to a sad end. I love writing, and I really enjoyed writing for me and for you, the readers, but I already have a full-time job. And now that job requires me to be attached to a computer most of the day when I’m caring for my patients, so the last thing I want to do when I come home from work now is sit down for another hour in front of a computer screen. So my writings will return to my 10 minute jottings in my journal before bedtime, but I still plan on visiting your personal websites/blogs from time to time when it is convenient for my schedule. I will miss you guys, thanks for being such a great support system for me! Best wishes…

It has arrived, the last “hurrah” of summer; Labor Day weekend! I may have to dedicate a special post to it as it is one of my most favorite holidays of the year. I hope everyone has something fun planned for some R&R this weekend; I am heading up to my in-laws for some reading and fishing. Enjoy your extra day off, and I will plan on posting when I return to town next Monday :)

The alarm went off this morning, and I almost laughed at it as I rolled over and slammed by hand down on the Snooze button. I was supposed to get up and go to the gym bright and early this morning, but instead, I snuggled deeper under the covers and resumed sleep time for a bit longer. I haven’t slept that well this week, thanks to my husband having allergy problems one night (he kept sniffling, then running to the bathroom for Kleenex), and yesterday they started a huge construction project in my apartment complex. Guys in big dump trucks were outside my window until after 10pm last night digging and banging around, then they resumed after 5am this morning. I guess they don’t sleep much either!

So, where was I? Oh yes, I was being a delinquent from the gym, and had crawled back under the covers to regain another hour of beauty rest. By the time the alarm went off again, my husband had already left for work, and I was alone to lay quietly and wake up on my own terms. Usually I am a morning person and just bound out of bed at the first sound of the alarm, but when I’m this tired, I take my time and really have to allow my body adjust to the thought of physically climbing out of bed.

As I laid there this morning, stretching my limbs, the first thought that came to mind was “I love my bed!” I mean I REALLY love my bed. I have one of those Sealy Posturpedic knock offs, you know, the kind that have the memory foam so when you lay down on it, it practically forms a perfect mold around your body. My husband and I had picked it just a few years ago. I was all about a cheaper mattress and was quite hesitant to spend such a large amount of money on a mattress I thought to be “for old people with back pain.” But after lying on every mattress the store had to offer, he was able to sway my mind into believing that this mattress would give us the most bountiful sleep of our lives, so I was car-sales-manned into purchasing this particular mattress.

Ever since the day that mattress was laid onto the box springs on my bed frame, I haven’t regretted a penny that we spent on it. This mattress is seriously magical. When I lay down on it, I can be wide awake after a can of Diet Coke, and within minutes it will lull me to sleep. I swear it has temperature regulations built into it. I tend to be the warmer of the two of us, and I somehow manage to stay cool even with the 10 blankets my husband has thrown over us in the middle of summer. Even my dreams have been better and more positive since sleeping in this bed.

The bed is where I go when I want to relax and read. It is where I go if I just want to kick back by myself when my husband’s friends come over and watch war movies or world kick-box fighting championships. The comfort it brings me is like a security blanket to a small child, I never want to be detached from it whenever possible. If someone were to ask me, “If you had to spend the rest of your life at one place on earth, where would it be?” I would certainly answer, “In my bed.”

Today’s simplest pleasure:

Never underestimate the power of a comfortable mattress.

I love freebies. Who doesn’t?! In a world where a tank of gas costs as much as a week’s worth of groceries, for some, who doesn’t love getting something that doesn’t cost anything every once in awhile? So, without further ado, I’d like to present the recent freebies I have received that have been my simplest pleasures in the past few weeks. I hope you have had some that you too can add to this list!

1.) When I come home at the end of the day and get a kiss from my husband-priceless.

2.) The free gym membership my current apartment complex has so graciously given to its residents. Even more of an incentive to stay in shape, for free!

3.) A recent medical conference I attended was hosted by drug reps, so I stocked up on free office supplies. Pens, fun paper-clips, and notepads galore!

4.) The toothbrush, dental floss, and toothpaste I get every time I get my bi-annual teeth cleaning at my dentist’s office. My insurance covers these cleanings, so even though I pay for my insurance, I don’t pay for these visits.

5.) The free movie the local video rental store threw in on top of the rent-one-get-one free deal I already had. Three movies for the price of one; score!

6.) Every run and the places I see on my runs is a free experience most days of the week.

7.) The tasty samples they give out at my local grocery store each week. Ok, ok, so I usually end up spending money to BUY the product in the long run, but I eat LESS and save money BEFORE I go to the store just so I can fill up on samples!

8.) Talking to my best friend or family after 7 p.m. during the weekdays or on the weekends doesn’t cost me an extra penny, and I get to hear their voices and catch up with all the wonderful things going on in their lives.

9.) A “thank you” I receive from my patients at work brings an instant happiness and smile to my face without costing a thing.

10.) The beautiful music and melodies I hear from the band, orchestra, or choir at my church each Sunday is as good as any big city ensemble without the admissions charge.

A year ago today I was in the far-away state of Alaksa, riding a train on the Alaskan Railroad with two of my good friends and former college hockey teammates. The fourth member of our party was not in attendance on the trip, as she was the bride-to-be and had her hands too full with last minute wedding details to miss two days of preparation and planning.

The flight from Michigan out to Alaska was anything but spectacular. Eight plus hours of flying and a day spent in an airport is not my idea of fun. But as soon as we boarded the train destined for Denali, all memories of a day wasted in a plane and airport vanished. As we left Fairbanks and wound our way around the Alaskan countryside, it became evident to me that Alaska had some of the most beautiful land I had ever laid eyes on.

Upon arrival at the gates of Denali, we marveled at the mountains that surrounded us. Even in the summer, some snow still capped their peaks. The sky was a magnificent shade of blue, unlike sky that I have ever seen before. We grabbed our bags, and set out for a short trail hike. We crossed over a bridge with a raging river far below. It had a strong, powerful current perfect for thrill-seekers who dared to white water raft down its course. At the tops of hills, we often stopped and snapped photos of the mountains and green landscape that stretched below us. As beautiful as it was, nothing could prepare me for what I would see the next day.

At 5:30 A.M., our alarms went off, and the 3 of us quickly dressed and made our way to the awaiting bus. We were the youngest on the bus by far, but we didn’t mind sharing the ride and an adventure with some more mature folks. We drove away from town and arrived at the gates of Denali National Park and Wilderness Preserve just as the first signs of dawn approached. As our bus entered the park, we stopped not too far into our journey, and I snapped photo after photo of the most amazing sunrise I think I could ever possibly see. Before the sun shone above the horizon, a fog laid close to the ground, hovering eerily over the plain and tundra. As the sun made it’s entrance, many shades of oranges, reds, and purples highlighted the sky and shone off of the mountains around us. It was a truly majestic, magnificent, moving sight to be had by all.

We saw many other wonders as we drove through the park that day. A moose on the side of the road eating her fill of grasses. Three Grizzly bears who came down from the mountain-side and decided to take a stroll right past the side of our bus. We all looked on amazed, as they gave us a sniff, then headed back to the woods. Painted mountains with layered levels of brown, tan, and cream colored stone and dirt. And finally, Mt. McKinley herself, off in the distance with her peak covered by a low layer of white clouds. As beautiful and awe-inspiring all of these vision were, to this day, I still am reminded of the gorgeous sunrise I witnessed at Denali every time I am awake and see its first rays welcome my day here back at home.

Today’s Simplest Pleasures:

1.) Who knew the colors of the rainbow can be found even where it isn’t raining? One of my favorite places to find it is when the sun first starts to rise in the morning sky.

2.) National Parks should be something we all work to preserve for future generations, because they are home to animals and vast wilderness that can teach and inspire us.

3.) The beauty of nature never ceases to amaze.

Like most people, I like going on vacation and enjoying myself when I am not at work. It is nice to have a week or two off several times a year for “me time” and “family time” to be spent doing the things we enjoy without having to worry about the stresses and chaos that can come at the daily grind. And don’t get me wrong, I love my job, and I love what I do, but every one needs time away to keep them fresh and re-energized.

Vacations are usually pretty sparse and far between, since I am still new to the working world, so my only time off is the typical “weekend” of Saturday and Sundays between these vacations during the year. My husband and I try to make the most of this time and often travel to visit our families or go fishing, but on occasion, we make a short “vacation” of our weekend by traveling somewhere near by, usually within our state, and staying at a hotel for a night or two just to “spice” things up a bit. It’s a great way to get away without spending too much money or using much in the way of our vacation time/hours to do so.

A good example is this past weekend. My company, for the third year in a row, offered a continuing medical education (CME) conference for doctors and providers at a ski resort just two hours north of where I live and work. The docs in my office all wanted to go, so we shut down early on Friday at noon, no vacation time wasted, and we drove up to the resort that afternoon. We enjoyed two days (Saturday and Sunday) of half day classes, two evenings of dinner with all of the providers and families, and an afternoon (Saturday) of relaxation around the resort.

My husband and I not only had fun meeting other families, and perhaps making some new friends, with some of my colleagues, but it was a nice time for him and I to reunite after a long week of many hours spent at work and little time and energy left at the end of the day for us to reconnect. We enjoyed a quiet lunch together after my classes on Saturday. We felt like kids again, sliding on an “alpine slide” down the side of a ski hill with my coworker and her husband, and frolicking in the pool with the kids, hitting an inflated ball around like a volleyball, trying to keep it up in the air for as long as possible. At the end of the day we had a hotel room we crashed in, watching the Olympics, sharing a few drinks, and good conversation, without the worries of cooking or cleaning dishes like we did at home. Even the two hour drive was pleasurable, him and I catching up on conversation about our weeks and our plans for the following. We arrived home this afternoon, tired from late nights and early mornings, but at the end of this weekend, we feel as if we just returned from a small vacation with new friends and stories to share.

This weekend’s simplest pleasures:

1.) A vacation doesn’t have to be far from home.

2.) It can be relaxing and energizing to leave work and home behind, even if just for a night or two, to spend time away and just enjoy life.

3.) An occasional weekend away with your significant other can be a good way to reconnect after a long week.

I must confess that I am a shoe sniffer. You are probably wondering “What the heck is a shoe sniffer?!” Or maybe you are thinking the worst and are ready to dismiss today’s blog posting all together in fear of the grossness yet to come. I promise, this will not be a stomach churning post. I do not like to sniff old, stinky shoes. Just the opposite, I love the smell of brand new shoes. Fresh from the box. They still have that leathery, new smell to them. Ahhhh. There’s nothing else like it to these nostrils. Every time I go to a store, right when I sit down to try on a pair of new shoes, the first thing I do when I open the box is take a big whiff in. I don’t stick my nose into the shoes; that would be disgusting. Other feet have graced the insides of that leather, and I do NOT want to have my nose be a part of foot cooties. But, I can get a fairly good waft from just opening the box lid itself.

I do not know why I enjoy this scent so much other than the fact that I love the feeling of brand new shoes on my feet. I think over the years I have developed a Pavlovian response of some kind. After always smelling that fresh leather right before feeling the cushy comfort of the shoes on my feet, it has trained me to react with a positive feeling every time I get that first scent to hit my nose. It’s a wonderful emotion though, I almost feel as high as I do after completing one of my long runs. It makes me as giddy and as excited as a kid in a candy shop. All because I know in about five seconds, after the box opens and that deep breath is taken in, my feet are going to be in a very happy place.

Today’s Simplest Pleasure:

1.) New shoes, and the scents that go with them, are an appreciated indulgence to both the nostrils and the feet.

2.) Only buy shoes that fit well and feel great; your feet will thank you.

Every year around this time I have a craving that hits me after nearly every run, gym session, or hockey game that I play. It is not an insatiable appetite for a large juicy steak. Nor is it a desire to stuff my face with a bowl of the finest pasta. Rather, my hankering is for something cold and thirst quenching. Most athletes would reach for a Gatorade to replace all those electrolytes lost in that orange sweat that streams down their faces.  No, for me, Gatorade just won’t cut it. Instead, what my mouth is craving is something colder, icier. My mouth wants a Slurpee.

I think it must stem back to my days of youth athletics. I blame my Slurpee cravings squarely on my parents’ shoulders. They, after all, were the ones to encourage my strange obsession. After most Little League Games, I ran with Mom or Dad to the concession stand and waited patiently in line. The hot, humid Michigan weather always left me sweaty and parched. While other kids were picking out slices of pizza, hot dogs, or candy, I shunned these things in favor of an icy cherry and Coke twisted Slurpee. A layer of cherry, followed by a layer of Coke, followed by a layer of Cherry, and so on until I had the perfect blend of flavors. The first few sips were always pure bliss as I gulped them down. Until the headache hit of course. It never deterred me though; I still choose a Slurpee 9 times out of 10 when it came to post game snacking.

I don’t indulge in my Slurpee cravings nearly often enough anymore. I can thank some of my fall off the Slurpee bandwagon to my grown up taste buds that have become a bit more sensitive to the sweetness levels in these drinks. Another reason can be thanked to the local concession stand at my hockey rink never being opened after my 9 P.M. men’s league games. However, this past Monday night, after our late game, my husband and I jumped into my Explorer and had a simultaneous craving hit. He looked at me, I looked at him, and at the same instance we shouted “I want a Slurpee!” I practically squealed the tires as I pulled out of the parking lot on a quest for icy-sweet-goodness. After pulling a quick run at the local 7-11, we headed home, smiles plastered across our faces as we sipped down our frozen treats.

Today’s simplest pleasures:

1.) Who knew that a Slurpee could make a mouth so happy?

2.) There are so many flavors to choose from, any combination of Slurpees can be mixed to form your own one-of-a-kind mix.

3.) On a hot summer day, sipping on a sweet, frozen treat not only satisfies it symbolizes summer in a cup.

One of my favorite times of year involves my family’s trek out to Detroit for our annual family reunion. Next to Christmas and Thanksgiving, I consider it one of my most favorite “holidays.” It is my mom’s family who holds the reunion, often at one of the little parks in St. Claire Shores, MI right on the beach of Lake St. Claire. We missed out last year thanks to a wedding (my own!), but this year I was excited to hear about the rekindling of a fond family tradition.

Saturday afternoon I spent time picking out just the right recipes for my contribution to the picnic potluck. I choose a zesty homemade corn and tomato salad and a sickingly sweet pistachio pudding salad for dessert. When Sunday rolled around, I packed our cooler with these two large salads, 8 hamburger patties, a bag of rolls, some beer and lemonade, and my husband’s personal potato salad. We hit the road on that sunny day and coasted along until 2.5 hours later we rolled into the parking lot across from the park.

As we entered the park, I saw that it was a popular place. There were at least 5 other large gatherings going on at the same time. Even though I hadn’t seen some of these people in years, I was quickly able to establish my family. I could see some of the older men setting up a game of horseshoes, a family tradition at these parties. The tables were covered in food, but more importantly, Italian food. I saw a baked ziti, some lasagna, salad, fresh Italian breads. I must say, us Italians don’t want anyone to go hungry; we love to cook and share our food! As my husband and I entered the circle of tables, family came running over to great us. Most of them had not met my husband before, but they quickly embraced him as one of their own; hugging and kissing him on the cheek. He must have turned about 8 shades of read with all of the older women cooing over him. He definitely stuck out like a sore thumb in this group; the Italians with all of our brown haired heads and eyes and him with his Swedish/Irish fair-skinned complexion, blond hair, and blue eyes. My mom’s aunt even asked if he was from Australia!

After my parents and grandparents arrived, everyone assembled at their tables, and the food was passed around. Talk was non-stop; I caught glimpses and phrases of multiple conversations going on. I wanted to hear about everybody and everything; it was nearly impossible to keep up. After the meal and some birthday cake to celebrate my Grandpa and Great Uncle’s birthdays, people resumed mingling. Our wedding albums were produced which brought a small crowd of people, mostly my mom’s female cousins, who wanted to pour over the glossy photos. Finally, just as soon as the day had begun, it came to an end. Clouds began rolling in that afternoon, and a storm beckoned. We packed up our belongings, and spread our kisses around to our loved ones, promising emails and phone calls to keep in touch, before packing up our car and hitting the road once again.

I feel so blessed that I have family that enjoys getting together on a regular basis to celebrate our love and friendship. I know of so many other families who are broken from divorce; others do not get along and feud too much to make it worthwhile spending their free time together. I hope for every person that they at least have an opportunity to spend time with immediate family on a routine basis in order to enjoy some food, fellowship, and bonding to help strengthen the ties that keep families strongly united.

Today’s simplest pleasures:

1.) Family reunions are a time to strengthen family bonds and to catch up with loved ones whom we may not see very often.

2.) Food and conversation may seem like basic daily necessities, but when combined with the right people, it is a foundation on which love and tradition can be built.

The world right now is buzzing with Michael Phelps mania. And why shouldn’t we be? The man has just tied Mark Spitz’s standing record of 7 gold medals in one Olympics for largest gold medal haul by ANY Olympian EVER. And better yet, tomorrow he has a shot at marking his name at the top of the record books as the most winningest Olympian of all time if he can accomplish the unthinkable. Win one more race for an 8th straight gold medal. NBC interviewed both Phelps and Spitz this evening after Michael’s seventh title, and it occurred to me just how much I appreciate when the Olympics rolls around this time every two years (if you include the Winter Olympics as well). So without further ado, I’d like to present today’s Simplest Pleasures, Olympic style…

GOLD MEDAL: It is a pleasure to watch and support athletes who win with grace and humility.

Michael Phelps has won 7 gold medals, and during his interview on NBC this evening, he repeatedly spoke of feeling “honored” and “blessed” to be given “such an opportunity” to build and use his swimming talents. He thanked Mark Spitz for setting such high standards which gave him the personal motivation to reach higher to go after a record 8 medals. He often said he was “speechless,” and resorted back to portraying himself as a regular guy who “dreamed big.” After every race he retained his emotions and did not cause a scene, though he certainly deserved to, and looked up to the stands to his mother, siblings, and coaches as though each win was for them. He always congratulates his competitors and respects their talents as much as his own. This is the type of athlete who makes sports worth watching and is worthy of being looked up to as a role model by the younger generation.

SILVER MEDAL: The Olympic athletes teach us that no matter what, a positive, focused mind can always push the body just a little bit farther and harder than it was ever expected to go.

After their assistant coach’s father-in-law was killed in a freak accident outside of the Olympic village, the U.S. men’s volleyball team have every reason to waiver. However, they have held strong so far in the face of adversity; going undefeated into their last game of tournament play before starting the final rounds that could lead them to the gold medal.

The U.S. gymnasts finished second behind a perfect Chinese women’s team in the team competition a few nights ago with several girls pushing through injury to help the team capture a silver medal. Media called it a “disappointing” second place finish while the team saw it as a victory and celebrated their strong accomplishment. A night later, two of their top competitors went 1-2 to capture a gold and silver medal in the all-around competition proving to the world that the Chinese could be beat.

It is unheard of for a country to sweep the medal stand in any event. Yet, the U.S. women early on in these Olympic games proved that it can be done after capturing all three medals in the Women’s Fencing competition.

BRONZE MEDAL: The Olympics is a time when we can all reminisce of the best career highlights in our own lives.

Remember back to the time when you won a medal or ribbon in track and field day at school, at a local art competition, or for a recipe you sent into a local newspaper contest. Think about when you crossed the line first in your age class at a local road race, bench pressed more than you ever have at the gym, read a series of books in record time, or outperformed your coworkers on a project at work. We each have our own talents and have let them shine at some time or another in our lives. By watching the Olympians at their best, it helps the rest of us to remember that we’re each a winner in our own way.

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