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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.

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.

As I step into my parents’ house, I hear an all too familiar, “Bark! Bark!” Rounding the corner at top speed, our family Yorkie, Max, comes running at me full steam ahead. His ears are plastered back, tail wagging one-hundred miles per hour and, I kid you not, I swear he has a toothy doggy smile plastered across his adorable face. If he was a German Shepherd or Lab, he would surely knock me to the ground. Instead, thanks to his small size, his excited pouncing only reaches thigh high at best. It is as if he is seeing me for the first time; when I squat down to his level, he stands on his hind legs to reach my cheek and plaster it with sloppy kisses.

I love this about him, no matter if I have just walked in the door after a month or an hour long absence, it is always the same joyful greeting each and every time. His greeting is like this for me, my family, or even a random door-to-door salesman off the street. Every person is greeted as if they are his long lost friend. After the routine greeting, Max usually runs for his favorite toy, an old tennis ball. He grabs it in his mouth and then proceeds to prance in front of you, waiting for you to lunge for the ball or chase him around the house. He believes that every visitor has entered his house for one reason, and one reason only, to play with him. He will pester each and every person for a few throws of his ball until he wears out his welcome. Finally, the adrenaline surge will die down, and he will resume his regular call of duty, guarding his beloved spot on the couch.

The love this dog shows is unconditional. When he has an accident or misbehaves, rather than moping or holding a grudge after being disciplined, he quickly forgets and returns to his fun-loving self. When I was younger and had tears after a heartbreak, he was there to confide in without judgment. He never complains or whines if something doesn’t go his way. And there’s no need for fancy workout equipment for my parents; he’s their biggest motivation to go for nightly walks after dinner. Max is advancing in age, and I dread the day when he is no longer there to be my fuzzy, loving friend. But I will always cherish the fond memories of his tail-wagging welcome I’ve received at my parents’ front door.

Today’s simplest pleasures:

1.) The love a pet can give is truly unconditional.

2.) Our pets make wonderful friends and can enhance our day-to-day lives.

3.) Need a workout friend? Grab your dog and head out the door for a walk. It’s an easy way to bond with your pet and improve both of your fitness levels.

This morning, I awoke and performed the same routine as most Sunday mornings. I ate some breakfast, read the newspaper, and went to church. This has been my Sunday mornings for as long as I can remember. It’s as comfortable to me as slipping on my favorite pair of running shoes. I have my parents to thank; they raised me this way. Every Sunday, like clockwork. Get up, eat my Cheerios, brush my teeth, throw on my Sunday best, and out the door we went.

My parents both come from strict religious upbringings. My Dad was raised in a very strict Netherlands Reformed Church; my mom, Catholic. My parents met halfway, and decided on a Christian Reformed Church as their home to raise my brother and me in. For many years, my Dad was an infrequent attender with us. He was burned out from the Church from years of over bearing rules. Gradually, he started attending more and more. After my brother was born, I only remember him missing church due to work or illness.

As I grew, I became curious like most kids do. I knew what I believed in, but I knew there were other religious and spiritual groups outside of my church. I knew that I liked the idea of going to church; it felt like food for my soul. Every week a new message; a lesson to help build me spiritually. I had many questions though; I wanted to know what other people did to meet their spiritual needs.

When it came time for me to leave home and attend college, I choose a school in Massachusetts; quite a ways from my small community in Michigan. The city was much bigger, school was tough, and I had to make new friends. But one thing still remained, I still had this spiritual drive inside me. So, like I did back home, every Sunday I continued my tradition. I had to find a new church though, Christian Reformed was hard to come by in Boston. One year I settled on an upbeat multi-denominational student led church group. The next year, I attended a small Methodist church with some friends. When it became tough to find rides to leave campus, I walked across the street and attended Catholic masses each Sunday. I also took my required core classes of Philosophy and Theology at school. Through the diverse churches and messages I came across, I always was able to walk away feeling “full”. Not one church or religion I encountered felt better than another. They all had wonderful things to contribute to my spirituality.

Today, my husband and I attend a rather large, traditional Christian church. We both feel comfortable there, which is important to me, because he comes from a non-religious upbringing. When we are away from the church, I find other ways to engage my spiritual center. I pray, or run and enjoy my surroundings, or strike a few yoga poses, or read the Bible. To me, religion is more than just going through the motions of attending church, it is finding those things that strengthen us at our core.

Today’s simplest pleasures:

1.) Find your way to feed your spiritual needs be it attending a church, traveling to holy lands, striking yoga poses, meditating, or studying theology or philosophy in school. It will help strengthen your entire being and enrich your experiences while here on earth.

2.) Share your spiritual progress with others; it may help awaken the eyes of someone who has been asleep but didn’t know it.

“Hello. My name is Sharon, and I am addicted to peanut butter.” Yes, it is true. I cannot hide behind the empty peanut butter jar any longer. It is one of my strongest weaknesses. Some people love their steak, some love their potatoes, and I love my peanut butter. If I had to choose what to take with me on a deserted island, I would choose peanut butter. Ok, I’m sorry, I would choose to take my husband. If he found out I’d choose peanut butter over him, he might never forgive me. That, or he’d never let me buy another jar of peanut butter ever again, and that is one risk I am just not willing to take.

I have loved peanut butter for as long as I can remember. My babysitter fed it to me as often as possible when I was a child. I had been born prematurely, so I think she felt obliged to my parents to try and get me to grow and fatten up a little. She alternated lunches of peanut butter and butter sandwiches with macaraoni and cheese, buttered noodles, and hot dogs. Not the healthiest fare; especially when you think of the number of fat grams in a peanut butter AND butter sandwich! I have never been overweight in my life though, so I guess all my running around outdoors as a child burned off all those tasty calories. Needless to say, it didn’t take long for me to start choosing peanut butter sandwiches over any other meal when asked what I wanted for lunch.

My mom made my lunches when I went to grade school. She tried to sneak in an occasional turkey sandwich, but I think she gave up on that pretty quickly when I told her I was trading them for peanut butter and jelly with my friends at lunchtime. I would do whatever it took to get my hands on one of those sweet, creamy sandwiches. One time, I even traded Halloween candy for a friend’s sandwich. What can I say? I was desperate and in need of a fix!

As a professional adult, I have diversified my palate, but I still need my regular peanut butter injections to keep me happy. Today, I savored a more sophistocated version of my childhood sandwich; peanut butter and honey. On the side, I did what any responsible adult would do, ate a salad to make me feel less guilty for eating such a sweet treat for lunch. If it’s not on a sandwich, I find other ways to sneak in some peanut butter each day. An occasional peanut butter english muffin with breakfast. Some peanut butter smeared on my apple for a healthy snack. My personal favorite is just an open-the-lid-and-dip-a-finger-in-the-jar for a quick taste. I can get away with this any day, since my husband despises peanut butter. He says, he ate so much pb&j growing up as a child, that he is totally turned off from the sight or smell of it. “Good!” I tell him. “More for me!”

Today’s simplest pleasures with peanut butter:

*peanut butter and jelly (or banana, or raisin, or honey) sandwiches

*peanut butter ice cream or fro-yo

*peanut butter cookies or no bake cookies

*peanut butter on apples (or carrots-thanks em!, or celery, or bananas)

*peanut butter mixed into smoothies

*peanut butter smeared on wraps, english muffins, hamburger buns, or bagels

*peanut butter fudge

*peanut butter and chocolate brownies

*peanut butter mixed into oatmeal

*peanut butter as a dip for crackers, pretzels, or crunchy breadsticks

Feel free to share your guiltiest pleasures with peanut butter, or recipes under the comments section!

It’s been said that baseball is America’s pastime. I did not always understand this phrase, because I didn’t grow up watching it even though I did play little league softball for a number of years. Then my husband stepped into the picture a few years ago and changed all of that. He is a HUGE baseball fan and especially loves watching the Detroit Tigers. My world was turned upside down. I found myself in love with a man who loved a sport like it was his own brother. Of course I knew the basic rules, but I just didn’t get it. What is the infatuation with this sport? WHY is it America’s pastime? I soon learned the answer to these questions.

On our first date, we attended a minor league baseball game. We mostly talked during the game, and I was so interested in this man, I remember very little of the game or my surroundings. A year later, the Tigers were making a comeback out of the basement of their division, and my husband (still boyfriend at that time) proposed we get tickets and head to Detroit for a game. We made the journey across state, and the day turned into one I shall not soon forget.

After parking our car, we had to walk roughly a mile to the ballpark. We were surrounded by opposing fans; some wearing Tigers hats and jerseys, and some wearing Red Sox attire. We rounded a corner and I had my first glimpses of the stadium. It was huge! Two concrete carved Tigers greeted us at the entrance. Once through the gates, there were people streaming in various directions. I could vaguely hear an announcer overhead on the PA system. We walked the concourse and passed a variety of vendors selling souvenirs, cold beverages, peanuts, popcorn, and the famous ballpark hotdogs. I don’t even LIKE hotdogs, and these dogs smelled unbelievable!

We found our seats just before the game began, and I couldn’t help but take in my surroundings. There were people filling the stands as far as the eye could see. The sun was shining overhead making the green grass in the outfield shimmer in the heat. The infield dirt was finely raked; the chalk lines perfect. Watching these athletes up close and personal was completely different than anything I had ever seen on TV. You could hear them talking, calling for the ball before they caught it. You could see their sweat and pain. Most importantly; you could feel the excitement in the air being surrounded by this crowd of fans. Every play caused a reaction. A good pitch lead to clapping. A quick double play meant more clapping plus whistling. A home-run brought the crowd to its feet. It was truly an awe-inspiring sight, and I loved being a part of it all.

Being at the park that day, I realized why baseball is the American pastime. It brings people together to cheer for their team. Baseball is more than just a sport; it is a tradition that has brought friends and families together for years. Ever since I stepped into the stadium of my first Major League Baseball game, I feel changed. I can never look at it as I once did, just a sport. To me, it’s a beautiful display of sights, sounds, tastes; and feelings that touch all the senses. I can remember different images from every game I’ve been to, and they will flood my mind every time I sit down to watch a game with the ones I love.

Today’s simplest pleasures:

1.) There is so much more to baseball than just the game.

2.) Baseball (or any sport) can be a good opportunity to share time with loved ones.

My internet service is going down on Friday, because I am changing internet providers, so I am posting Friday’s blog message Thursday night…

My boss brought two huge vats of freshly picked blueberries into the office the other day. Her husband is a blueberry horticulturist; he tries to develop and grow the biggest blueberries for a living. Needless to say, these were not your every day grocery store variety. Plus, they were free! My co-workers and I scrambled for every tuperware container and ziploc bag we could find.

As I was filling my containers with these juicy, blue jewels, I couldn’t help but remember the summer days of youth when I was out in the blueberry fields picking berries with my mom and brother. We always visited a farm that was outside of town, not far from Lake Michigan. My brother and I were always competitive with each other growing up, but when it came to blueberry picking we each had different goals. I aimed to pick the most blueberries possible; he tried to eat the most. The sweltering heat never deterred us, we hardly seemed to notice as we stuffed as many luscious berries into our mouth as we did our buckets. Within an hour, I usually had 2 full buckets; my brother would have one full stomach. He always creeped up behind me and quietly grabbed berries out of my buckets by the hand full in order to make his bucket appear like he’d done some actual work. My mom and I would catch on to his tricks, and we would all start laughing and make fun of his blueberry stained lips and tongue.

When we got the berries home it was like breaking open a treasure chest. Everyone wanted a share of the wares! My dad would gobble down blueberries by the bowl for a snack. My mom would make hot blueberry muffins. My favorite though were the juicy fruit salads we’d often eat with dinner filled with the berries along with thick cubes of watermelon, tart strawberries, and sweet cantaloupe. I could have eaten the fruit for three square meals a day if my parents had let me.

Now, as I sit eating blueberries picked by another hand, it makes me appreciate how much hard work and sweat went into grooming these especially plump berries. I hope to get back out the fields someday and pick my own. The berries I pick just always seem to taste years better than anything I can just buy off a shelf.

Friday’s Simplest Pleasures:

1.) One of the greatest pleasures of summer is enjoying the bountiful harvest of fresh fruits and vegetables.

2.) Picking fresh fruit is a wonderful tradition that can lead to nostalgic memories for a lifetime.

3.) Harvesting your own blueberries is as good for the soul as it is for the stomach.

Whatever you may choose to do this weekend, be sure to enjoy it…

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