It’s 11:30 in the morning, and I’m sitting at a cafeteria table.
The air is filled with the sound of children’s voices and the smell of the day’s hot lunch—chicken nuggets and french fries—but to be perfectly honest, I’m really not paying that much attention: My lunchbox sits in front of me, and my little 8-year-old self is trying to guess what’s inside.
For as long as I remember, my mom has made my school-time lunches, and I love them so much that I hardly ever buy hot lunch. Because aside from the typical yummy sandwiches and snacks, she always throws in a few extra special treats. One of them is always a Little Debbie. I don’t have discriminating tastes when it comes to these delicious desserts, so it’s always a surprise as to which one my lunchbox holds: Will it be an Oatmeal Creme Pie, or maybe a Zebra Cake? Maybe it’s a Swiss Roll, a Star Crunch, or a Fudge Round. It might even be a Nutty Bar, a Chocolate Chip Cake, or—if it’s December—a Christmas Tree Cake.
When I can’t handle the anticipation any longer, I crack open my lunch. I see a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and Pringles—ones that I will surely use to make duck lips with my friends later—and, yup, it’s my lucky day: a Swiss Roll. They’re my favorite.
But as good as that Swiss Roll is, I know there’s another—even better—treat waiting for me. Peeking out from below the cellophane of the Little Debbie is the edge of a piece of paper, and I excitedly slip it out to read the sweet words I know are sprinkled upon its surface:
Do you know how much I love you?
Twenty minutes later, with my heart full of love from my mother’s words and my belly full of Little Debbie-deliciousness, I head back down the hall to my classroom. In one hand, I hold my purple, plastic lunchbox—the one that proudly displays my name in all its paint pen glory—and in the other, I hold tight to my mom’s lunchtime reminder of love. I slip it under my pencil box for safe-keeping before we head to the library.
Soon I’m sitting on the library floor, happy to be surrounded by the millions of words and thousands of stories our school’s collection has to offer. And then, as if the day couldn’t get any better, the boy who I’ve been hopelessly crushing on since he kissed me in the pool when we were six years old appears next to me and offers his outstretched hand. I take it, and as he pulls me up from the floor, he asks, “Wanna go sit next to each other and read?”
Lunchtime treats and love notes from mom and library time and the hand of the boy I like? It’s a good day, full of good, good stuff, and I couldn’t be any happier.
* * *
“I adore simple pleasures,” Lord Henry says in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. “They are the last refuge of the complex.”
The older I get, the more complicated and complex life seems to be. And the more complicated and complex life gets, the more I find myself craving simplicity. As children, that simplicity is often easy for us to find, but as adults, we sometimes have to look a little harder.
I often find that this simplicity I seek can be found through appreciating the simple pleasures, savoring the small moments, and soaking up the “good stuff.” And even though some days the good stuff is harder than others to find, I firmly believe it is always hiding around the corner, waiting patiently in the lunchbox of life, just waiting to be discovered.
The key is to pay attention.
* * *
It’s Saturday, and I am standing in the in the kitchen appliance aisle at Target. My daughter Zoey is next to me, jumping up and down.
When she finally stops, she looks up at me, her eyes open wide. “A new hand mixer?! Really?!”
“Really!” I laugh. “You can pick out whatever color you like.”
It may seem strange that a five-year-old is this excited over such a simple baking tool, but what can I say? The girl loves to be in the kitchen. Zoey loves to help me cook dinner and bake up sweet desserts and develop new fun and tasty treats. She recently has also discovered the wonder of a little (and by little I mean hugely successful) YouTube baking sensation by the name of Rosanna Pansino. Not only has Zoey become slightly (and by slightly I mean hugely) obsessed with Ro’s sweet and nerdy baking videos, she’s also fallen in love with the KitchenAid hand mixer that the star uses to make her recipes.
And a random Saturday is as good a day as any to be surprised with a new hand mixer, right?
So Zoey picks the mint-colored one because it matches her shirt, and on the car ride home, she cradles the box in her arms so gently, you would have thought she was holding a newborn. Before I even close our front door behind me, Zoey already has the mixer out of its box. She grabs our aprons and drags her stool over to the counter and plugs in the mixer and patiently waits for her faithful sous-chef to get her act together and join her.
The recipe we’re tackling today is an easy homemade ice cream, and I’ve even given Zoey free reign over the goodies we will mix into its creamy, vanilla base. She picks chocolate graham crackers, chocolate chips, marshmallows, chocolate sauce, and a warm drizzle of melted peanut butter. She then proudly announces that this delicious concoction will be named Peanut Butter Chocolate S’Möregåsbord.
We put the base ingredients in a bowl, and as Zoey mixes and whips and folds and stirs, thick, sweet cream appears. Some of it sprays out onto the counter and into Zoey’s hair, and she stops mixing momentarily so we can laugh at how silly she looks. While she blends up this goodness, we giggle and tell stories, happy to be creating this recipe, making this memory, and spending this time together. When we finish mixing, into the freezer it goes.
And then it’s time to wait…
After reading 13 books, going on a bike ride, playing at the park, coloring some pictures, and cleaning the apartment, the ice cream is finally ready to eat. We scoop it into our bowls and finally dive in.
With my first bite, for just a moment, I’m transported back to lunchtime at school, and the moment I would take that first bite of my daily Little Debbie, the one that offered a sugar-rush of happiness. This sweet nostalgia makes me smile.
“Mommy,” Zoey says through a mouthful of ice cream, “This is good stuff.”
“This ice cream really is the real deal,” I agree, savoring the sweet spoonful of cold flavors on my tongue. It’s decadent and rich and feels like a total splurge.
Zoey sticks her spoon into her half-eaten “s’mörgåsbord” of goodness, wipes her face, slides off her chair toward me, gives me a hug, and smiles.
“Yeah, the ice cream’s pretty awesome, too,” she says.
Zoey often says things that make me forget she only has a handful of years under her belt, and this comment is one of them. I love that she is able to recognize that this sweet treat we are eating really is secondary to everything else: the ice cream is simply just that little dash of something extra added to the recipe of life we are creating right now. Because this—her hug, her smile, this moment, this day—all of this—is what the “good stuff” is really made from:
It’s the note from your mom and a Little Debbie in your lunch box and the new hand mixer that matches your t-shirt. It’s creating something wonderful, like making homemade ice cream or writing a new story. It’s the joy of your daughter and the way her hugs feel like home.
It’s your first loose tooth and riding a bicycle for the first time without training wheels and the feel of fresh air on your face. It’s the summertime sound of bullfrogs and campfires and watching the wonder of lightning bugs. It’s dancing to songs that take you back, and it’s twirling around fast enough until you collapse in a heap of delicious dizziness. It’s holding hands and stealing glances and stolen kisses.
It’s sitting on top of your dad’s shoulders and finally sticking that hard landing and staying up late past your bedtime. It’s a hot cup of tea and the cold side of the pillow and the sound of rain on rooftops. It’s the perfectly toasted piece of bread and your favorite childhood meal and a cup of coffee with cinnamon sweet cream. It’s hearing the voice of someone you’ve been missing and it’s someone telling you you’re beautiful in such a way that you actually believe it.
It’s kindness and it’s peace and it’s gratitude. It’s laughing until you cry and singing because you just feel like it and sharing and making memories that will last a lifetime. It’s slowing down and facing your fears and learning to believe in yourself. It’s two words—Thank You—and three words—I Love You—and four words—You Matter to Me—and it’s all the words and it’s everything.
Because when all of these things mix together, the ordinary becomes the extraordinary, and when that happens, it’s so much easier to see that joy and happiness and—above all—love is scattered and sprinkled throughout our lives in so many delicious, delightful, decadent ways.
…This is the good stuff.
Let Us Know: What are your simple pleasures? What’s your “good stuff”?
* If you’ve never seen Rosanna Pansino’s YouTube videos or watched her cooking show, Nerdy Nummies, you really should check them out. They’re happy and fun and full of goodness, both in the treats she makes and in the palpable joy she exudes. I love that Zoey has been inspired by Rosanna’s infectious spirit and passion to make life just a little bit happier, sillier, and splurge-worthy. Does it get any sweeter than that?
Week 26 Suggested Viewing
The title of this Kenny Chesney song says it all. At the end of the day, when all is said and done, it will be the “good stuff” that matters most. So, like Kenny sings, Drink it up…
Just joining me on my journey? Catch up on the Everyday Nostalgia series here.
At The Nostalgia Diaries, our goal is to help you simplify, enhance, and engage your lives by focusing on the most important things: remembering, appreciating, believing, and becoming. It’s all about celebrating the past to create better days today.