Tag Archive: sunlight


rice pudding

I woke this morning knowing that I was going to make rice pudding for breakfast. Despite the simplicity of its preparation, I have only made rice pudding three times in my life, so the strength of my conviction that we were having rice pudding for breakfast is somewhat of a mystery.

rice pudding

Photo Credit: cyclonebill; Licence: Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

I know that rice pudding is traditionally a dessert but it is definitively labelled in my mind as a breakfast item. I know that my mom made rice pudding when I was a kid, and I can only assume she served it for breakfast, thereby creating the association. But I can’t trust my memory. My memories of childhood are so poor that I think I must have been in a coma for half my life and no one is telling me. I wish I were joking, but the reality is that most people I know can relate their childhood experiences in vivid detail while I sit there smiling politely, wondering what’s wrong with me.

My apparent childhood blackouts aside, I can say that rice pudding is a comfort food for me. I didn’t wake feeling any particular desire to be comforted, but when I sat down with my family to eat the pudding, a smile burst forth on my lips, and a warmth circulated through me.

When the kids were finished eating their pudding, both boys came to me separately to thank me for making them a delicious breakfast.  Zachary, my 3-year-old, actually made a point of finding me upstairs where I was employed in the glamorous task of cleaning out the bathroom sink drain. He gave me a hug, thanked me for breakfast, and then on his way down the stairs he commented to his mother that the rice pudding “was sooo yummy.”  Clearly, the rice pudding was a hit.

Sometimes my kids are so sweet I can only assume they have an agenda. And sometimes they do.  But then there are the occasions where their sweetness is genuine.  For all the times their antics make me think I’m going to lose my mind; for all the times I am driving to a symphony of sibling rivalry and I toy with the idea of  stopping the car and dumping the kids by the side of the road;  for all the seventeen thousand times I’ve had to tell one of them to stop picking his nose or to wash his hands or to flush the toilet or to sit up straight at the table or… or… or…  Those rice pudding moments make absolutely everything right again.

Today, I am thankful for… well, rice pudding, I guess.  I’m thankful for these talismans of tradition, the vehicles into which we pour our comforts and memories and transmit them to our children to be carried forth into future generations.  For some, they are lockets, or vases, or figurines.  For me, it is rice pudding.

I picture my boys, older.  Maybe they haven’t achieved something they worked hard for, maybe they’ve lost someone special to them, maybe work is stressful.  Then maybe they start cooking some rice on the stove and the soft bubbling of the thickening liquid calms them.  They add their milk or cream, then vanilla, cinnamon, raisins, reducing everything to a creamy consistency and filling their homes with a sweet aroma.

And if their memories of their childhood are better than mine, maybe they’ll remember the stillness of that one Sunday morning when the sun peeked through the window and they ate a breakfast that warmed their bellies, while they sat with people they loved and in whose presence they felt safe and happy. And maybe they’ll have little ones who will give them big hugs afterwards and thank them for yummy breakfasts.

Then maybe, for a little while, the world will be right again.

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intangible pleasures

Coffee Cream

Photo Credit: Krishna; Licence: Public Domain

On Monday, I wrote about my youngest son’s inexhaustible fascination with throwing leaves into the river rapids.  On Tuesday, I talked about the simple delight of flowers.

Writing about these things got me thinking about simple but intangible pleasures in my life: impalpable experiences that give me a brief burst of delight, but which might go unnoticed.  So, today, I started compiling a list. It’s only 3-long so far but I hope to add to it over time.  There is no intrinsic reason why these things should bring me pleasure.  They just do. I don’t even want to analyze it.  Here’s the list:

  1. cream in my coffee: I love watching cream as it is poured into coffee. The way the cream folds into the rich, dark liquid, sinking first to the bottom, and then funneling up the sides in an upside-down mushroom shape.
  2. warmth in the centre of frigidity: have you ever been stuck outside in the dead of winter, with a frigid breeze sucking away all of your body’s warmth. Then suddenly the breeze dies down for a few seconds and it happens right when the sun is shining directly on you?  I love that.
  3. the secret chord: “I heard there was a secret chord that David played and it pleased the Lord” — so goes the Leonard Cohen song.  Every once in a while, there is a progression in a musical piece to which I am listening that just blows my mind and fills my chest with excitement.

Today, I am thankful for intangible pleasures.

What are some of your intangible pleasures?  Tell me about them in the Comments.

sunflower

Our family travels a lot.  A lot.  Particularly in the summer.  And this summer we travelled even more than usual.  The vehicle we use for trips is a few hundred clicks away from the next oil change. Our third since the beginning of June.

Perhaps its a product of travelling more, or simply indicative of a change in my perceptions, or maybe they’re just becoming more popular, but everywhere I go, I see sunflowers.

I’m not complaining, of course.  Machismo be damned: I adore flowers.  I especially love wild flowers, and daisies are my favourite.  Look at a daisy and try to tell me you don’t feel happier.  I won’t believe you.  (Unless you have severe allergies, in which case I will most certainly believe you, but suggest that you try looking at the daisy while safely protected behind glass).  Sunflowers are just enormous daisies, so happiness can only be multiplied.

field of sunflowers

Photo Credit: Bruce Fritz; Licence: Public Domain

There is something almost fantastical about sunflowers.  Walking beside a flower that towers above me makes me feel as if I’ve climbed a magical bean stock and entered a land of giants, or climbed through a looking glass into a Carrollian dreamland.  Adventure must be only right around the corner.

Today, I am thankful for sunflowers, and flowers in general.  They are such a simple pleasure in our world: free to look at, free to enjoy.  Obviously, they serve a vital purpose in keeping the planet alive, but their beauty can be enjoyed by everyone without anything asked in return.  Next time I think of some material good I “need” to be happy, let me remember the sunflowers.

now

My parents rented a cabin last week and took our kids with them.  Situated near the Haliburton Highlands, a gorgeous stretch of lush forests and sapphire lakes, the cabin placed them at a jumping off point for a variety of outdoor recreational opportunities.  Hiking, swimming, canoeing, picnicking — the kids had a great and memorable time.

My wife and I visited on Friday to spend the weekend there, and we learned that one of our youngest’s favourite activities all week long had been to go down to the river running beside the cabin and throw leaves in the rapids.  These are the sort of simple pleasures never fully appreciated by anyone much older than about four.  There were untold delights in the sweep of leaves through the current, moving slow at first, then rushing through the tiny waterfalls and gliding out into the wide river, destination unknown.

On Saturday, we drove to Bonnechere Caves, a series of subterranean paths irresistible to anyone with a sense of adventure – young or old.  Right before we headed out, I was down at the river with Zachary and my father, me snapping photographs and my father keeping Zachary supplied with leaves.  When we told Zachary it was time to go, he protested, and he continued to do so even when we explained that we would be exploring caves and tried to tempt him with all the wonders that activity would surely hold.  It would certainly be much better than throwing leaves in the water.

No dice: the kid was immovable.

leaves in water

Photo Credit: Jon Sullivan; Licence: Public Domain

We ended up getting him into the car, and had a great day at the caves.  Later, it occurred to me that I was a bit envious of Zachary.   I spend about a third of my life sleeping, and probably spend about 98% of the remaining two thirds focused not on what I am doing in the moment, but instead preoccupied with what I hope to be doing later (whether 10 minutes or 10 years later), or dreading some unpleasant thing I know I’ll have to do later.  It is a rare occasion indeed when I am able to appreciate “the now.”

Today, I am thankful for now.  This very moment.  The sun is shining down in patches on my freckled hands through an original wrought iron window in our 120 year old home.  Zachary is playing with a water table in a corner of our foyer, getting most of the water on himself and on the floor, but enjoying himself immensely.  Gregory is watching a show on his computer, earbuds in his ears.  Sandra has disappeared to the basement.  The room is quiet except for the sound of Zachary pouring water, the hum of Gregory’s computer, and the click of my keyboard.

This moment — this specific moment — is pure and discrete.  It’s a very rare gift — no one in the world can experience it from my perspective; it has never happened before, and it will never happen again.  It’s the only moment like it in the whole universe.

sunset

I can’t pass by a sunset without wanting to snap a photograph. I’ve never seen a picture of a sunset that has done a real sunset any justice. No photograph ever captures the complexity of colour, the sheer beauty, the eerie silhouetting of the landscape, the rays of light that push through the clouds as if the gates of another world have opened, the illumination of the endless sky in hues of gold, purple, pink, and peach.  Sunsets are the picture of eternity.  If I ever lose my sight, sunsets will be the first thing I will miss.

sunset

Photo Credit: Krishna; Licence: Public Domain

Today, I am thankful that I have sight.  Even though those born without it derive pleasure from the world in other ways, and those who lose it later in life learn to do so, I can’t imagine my life without the gift of sight.

I don’t want to focus on loss of sight as a disability.  I had a blind acquaintence in university who volunteered helping new students who were blind learn their way around the university.  He played electric guitar and he took a bus to Toronto a few times each week to work for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind.  There is a blind man in my neighbourhood who walks simply everywhere, always with a broad and warm smile on his face. Disabled these people are not. Maybe they can’t get in the driver’s seat of a car, but there is plenty they can do.

But I’m too much in love with the world I see to give up sight of it.  Call it an appreciation, an obsession, an addiction — whatever you want to call it, I’m grateful.

silence

A little over a year ago, we had our lawn dug up and new sod installed.  The work was completed right before a six-week period of pitifully little rainfall that led to my having to sprinkler the lawn for a couple of hours each night to keep the grass alive long enough to take root.  I was conflicted between guilt for the excessive water use and agony at seeing an expensive investment literally wither before my eyes.

One night, I was too exhausted to stay up to shut off the water, so I turned it off and put the sprinkler on first thing the next morning before the heat of the day would evaporate the water.

As I got ready for work, I noticed that the kids were not underfoot.  This was odd then, but is an even odder occurrence now.  Their sibling rivalry is of a variety that usually starts out well, with the boys playing nicely but boisterously.  It is not long, however, before one of them accidentally gets hurt, believes it to have been intentional, retaliates, and the next thing I know, they’re screaming at each other.

But that morning it was dead quiet, and had been for at least 20 minutes.  Concerned, I went to see what they were up to and found them both in my oldest’s bedroom.

The sprinkler was positioned in the front lawn outside the bedroom window, and the boys would catch a glimpse of the sprinkler as it rose in the air, before it disappeared.  The boys found it so mesmerizing that they had sat at the window for 20 minutes watching the water appear and disappear, all the while quietly whispering to each other about… something impenetrable by adults, I’m sure.

I was touched and snapped a photograph of the moment:

boys at the window

Photo Credit: (c) J. Matthew Lake

Today, I am thankful for the moments of silence that sometimes descend upon our house when the boys are wrapped in one of the many magical moments of childhood, when their imaginations allow something as simple as a sprinkler to become filled with mystery.

colour

In June, we road tripped to the eastern provinces of Canada.  We weaved our away east across Ontario to Quebec, south from Montreal through the mountains into Vermont, then southeast through New Hampshire and Maine to New Brunswick.

We passed through countless small towns and villages and, for the majority of the New England branch of the trip, the majestic mountain range was a constant companion.  I vividly recall a moment in the drive when a storm had collected over mountains in the distance, desaturating them of colour, while verdant forests awash in sunlight surrounded us.  It was an ominous sight.

In Nova Scotia, we visited Peggy’s Cove, a small fishing community on the southwestern shore of the province.  We arrived shortly after a drizzling rain and the gray clouds were still suspended in the air.  We were visiting outside of tourist season, and I was left with an unshakeable impression that the village was just waking from a long hibernation, still groggy with sleep.  Yet the village itself was anything but muted: everywhere I looked, I was astounded by the vibrant maritime colours — reds, yellows, greens, blues.

Peggy's Cove

Photo Credit: (c) J. Matthew Lake

On Prince Edward Island, I simply could not stop snapping photographs of the rolling farm land, rich in colour from the green of new growth, and the beautiful red soil.  I remarked to Sandra that I felt a strange and insatiable craving for red velvet cake before realizing that it was the soil that was reminding me of the delightfully moist cake.  P.E.I. quite literally looked delicious!

Then, in the final leg of the trip, we drove north through New Brunswick towards Quebec, traveling along the Trans-Canada Highway, which runs adjacent to the Saint John River for a good stretch.  Later, while encouraging a friend to drive rather than fly if visiting the east coast, I described the vista: marbled precambrian rock robed in lichens, and this brilliant sapphire river cutting through the emerald forests.  It was breathtaking.

When I reminisce about the trip, I realize that some of my most pleasurable memories have something to do with colour, and I wonder if the trip would have been as memorable if I had not been able to perceive all the vibrant colours which surrounded me.

Today, I am thankful that I can perceive colour without any deficiency.  When a surprising number of people in the world have some type of colour blindness, I feel very lucky.  I can’t imagine the world without the variety of colour I see.

Does perceiving (or not perceiving) colour fully affect your life and experiences?  Please share your thoughts with me in the Comments.

food

I am fortunate to live in a place where fresh food is right around the corner. A produce stand no more than 3 minutes drive from our house sells freshly harvested corn on the cob and, between late spring and early autumn, we drive 10 minutes up the road after work or on the weekend to a U-Pick farm and pick the wide range of seasonal vegetables and fruits they have available. Peas, strawberries, beans, squash, peppers, sweet potato, eggplant, cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, rhubarb… our plates are swimming in selection and colour, and the produce is fresh and quite simply delicious.  The little bit of extra work associated with picking the produce is more than compensated for by the quality time spent with family and the significant savings. What would cost $50 in the grocery store costs $5 or maybe $10 at the U-Pick.

strawberries

Strawberries we picked at the U-Pick farm up the road. Photo Credit: (c) J. Matthew Lake

On weekends, when we have more time, we might drive to a produce and baked goods stand run by an Amish family who live about 20 minutes away. There, we can buy just about anything, including eggs that are truly farm fresh, or we’ll visit one or more of the several farmers’ markets within a 5 to 30 minute drive of our house. When possible, we’ll buy cheese directly from the dairy that made it, and meat from a local butcher.  In winter, or when we want milk or yogurt or the packaged foods in which we guiltily indulge, the grocery store is available to us. We also have the occasional option of eating out in restaurants when an exhausting day leaves us too fatigued for cooking.  There are vast warehouses of food in major cities not far away, with food shipped in by truck or barge.

Food is all around me and so, too, is the incredible waste associated with my continent.  I know that so many parts of the world face drought and famine, and food is not available; or food is available but poverty makes it inaccessible.  I know that there are people in my own neighbourhood and community who cannot afford food and manage to eat only by the charity of others.

That is why, today, I am thankful for food.  I am thankful for the independent farmers who commit themselves to backbreaking labour to put food on my plate.  And I am thankful for living in a place with temperate climate and a good balance of sun and rain, allowing a variety of delicious fruits and vegetables to grow.  Most of all, I am thankful for being able to afford food.

sun

Yesterday, I was thankful for rain, so it seems only appropriate that, today, I am thankful for sun.

It is a little inconsistent with the theme of this blog for me to be thankful for something so universal. My posts have thus far registered my gratitude for things that I am lucky enough to have but shouldn’t take for granted because they are not givens: not everyone has the benefit of them, or they could be torn away from me at any moment.  But the sun?  It shines in even the most desolate parts of our planet.  Yes, I could be thankful for every day that the sun continues to be visible, because there are certainly a few things which could keep sunlight from getting through: nuclear explosions, meteors hitting the planet and sending a cloud of dust into the air, etc.  But I don’t want to get too morbid.

No matter how commonplace it might be, I nevertheless feel gratitude for the sun every time it rises and sets, filling the sky with impossible colours; every time I drive down a country road and am startled by how golden the wheat fields look under the sun’s rays; every time the sun glistens across calm waters; every time grim winter yields to verdant spring.

I am grateful for the relaxation I feel after a day in the sun; for the contentment I extract from listening to the laughter of my children running through the sprinkler to cool off when the summer heat hangs in the air; for the happiness I derive from waking to the sound of birds singing outside my window, welcoming the inception of a new day and new possibilities, while the sun plays hide-and-seek with the breeze-ruffled curtains.

With the longer days of summer, I always feel a sense of timelessness and eternity, as if there is no end to what I can accomplish today, no limit to the range of good things that can happen.

What are your happiest memories of time spent in the sun?  Please share them with me in the comments below.

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