In Mr. Putter and Tabby Write the Book, one of my favorites of Cynthia Rylant's Mr. Putter and Tabby books, Mr. Putter sets out to write a mystery novel (The Mystery of Lighthouse Cove he intends to call it, and the title is as far as he gets), but instead, after a series of distractions and procrastinations, he writes a book called Good Things which lists, as the title suggest, things that are good. His ever-supportive friend and neighbor Mrs. Teaberry tells him not to worry, because, as she says, the world is full of mystery writers, but writers of good things are few and far between.
Inspired by Mr. Putter's literary efforts, and Elyse's recent (but now waning) fascination with the song "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music, I am going to write an annotated list of the Good Things in my life, the things that make me happy (a few of them, anyway). Here they are, in no particular order but the order in which they occur to me:
Napping and Reading
Probably my favorite thing to do lately is to settle down in the reading chair downstairs with a cup of coffee on the end table and a book of short stories, and to read a short story, drink the coffee, and, when the need strikes, put a bookmark in the book, lay all the way back in the recliner, and take a nap.
I try to steal a glance at the clock just before I nod off so I'll know how long I slept; it usually ends up being twenty to thirty minutes, but is occasionally as long as forty-five minutes. (Once I slept a whole hour, but that's pretty rare.) (Also, if I do need to be awake by a certain time, like during the school year when I need to be sure to open the garage door before Elyse's bus comes so she can get in, I set a timer, but I try to start reading early enough so that that won't interfere with my nap.)
Reading and Napping
Reading short stories is one of my favorite things to do, and combining a good short story with a cup of coffee and a nap (as described above) is heavenly. For a long time my favorite short-story writer was the late Nobel laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer, but I recently finished his The Collected Stories (which is not the same thing as "complete stories," for there are over a hundred of his stories not included in this collection) and I don't have anything else by Singer to read. I've also been reading Flannery O'Connor, Eudora Welty, John Cheever, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Grace Paley, among others. I don't read nearly as much science fiction, fantasy, or mystery as I used to; I seem to have lost most of my old interest in genre fiction. Maybe I'll come back to it one day.
Roaming Around Stone Mountain
Another favorite thing is when we all (me, Anna, Jessica, and Elyse) go to Stone Mountain Park. I especially love it when we take the Summit Skyride up to the top of the mountain (someday I hope to be in good enough shape to walk all the way to the top, but I'm not there now) and walk around, enjoying the wind and the view of Atlanta in the distance.
I also love going to what they now call the Historic Square (formerly the Antebellum Plantation) with Jessica to explore the old houses and take pictures, and riding the train and/or playing miniature golf with Elyse.
Years ago, before we had kids, Anna and I used to go to Stone Mountain to spend a Saturday or Sunday afternoon on the lawn in front of Memorial Hall, mostly reading. Before I met Anna, I used to go there by myself to read on the lawn. Often I would walk up to the top first, back when I was young enough and in good enough shape to make it, and then change clothes and spend a whole afternoon reading on the lawn—I read all What Hearts by Bruce Brooks there one afternoon—and sometimes even writing, on a little Hewlett Packard palmtop computer I used to have.
Watching a Movie and Eating Pizza
I'm also at my most happy when we stay home on a Friday or Saturday night to watch a movie and eat pizza. It's pretty challenging these days to find a movie we all agree on; sometimes we watch what we call a "cooking show" ("Best Baker in America," "Cupcake Wars," "Kids Baking Championship," etc.) or, when there's something available that we haven't seen already, a family-friendly scripted show, like episodes of a new season of "Just Add Magic" on Amazon Prime or "A Series of Unfortunate Events" on Netflix (though I believe both shows are now concluded). Lately we've been watching "The Worst Witch" on Netflix.
We don't always watch TV, but when we do—no, wait, we do always watch TV. Or at least it seems that way sometimes. But a good TV show—or movie, when we can all agree on one, or when Anna and I decide to watch something (Condorman most recently) whether the girls stay with us or not—makes me happy.
Working on a Puzzle and Listening to Podcasts with Annie
Okay, we don't literally always watch TV. In fact, Anna and I don't watch that much television on our own; when we're awake enough to do something after the girls have gone to bed (rather a rarity lately, frankly; we're usually both exhausted by then) we go downstairs and work on a jigsaw puzzle and listen to podcasts. For a long time we listened to "Radiolab" or "The TED Radio Hour," but lately we've been listening to "Planet Money." We've probably done fifteen or twenty puzzles in the past five years, many of them prominently featuring cats (not a surprise) and/or small-town general stores.
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This is hardly an exhaustive list; there are plenty of other times when I'm happy (when we go to Rock City or the zoo; when there's ice cream in the freezer; payday and the following two or three days, until the money's all gone), but this is a pretty good introduction to the kinds of things that I believe make life worth living.