Real Simplereaders express their gratitude for the things that matter most.
Texas with couples illo
Credit: Christopher Silas Neal

I finally came home. My husband and I were both born and raised in Houston and attended Southwestern University, which is about 25 miles outside of Austin. My husband moved to the Bay Area in California after graduation, and I followed him in 2005. We had a great experience there but were thrilled to move back to Austin last year. Everything about this place—from the ultra-friendly people who stop you in the street to say hello to the surplus of top-notch taco vendors—feels just right.
Danielle Stapleton
Austin, Texas

In April 2008, I relocated to Columbus, Ohio, from Wisconsin for my job and wanted to join a volunteer organization where I could help animals and meet new people. By 2010 I was involved with the Columbus Dog Connection, a local dog and cat rescue organization. I now see this group as my surrogate family. I recently got engaged, and a fellow member posted the news on Facebook. I am so lucky to be embraced by these like-minded people.
Jessica Leonard
Columbus, Ohio

Scrapbooking. Currently I am working on 12 different albums. I have a few of my son, my wedding, weddings attended, trips taken, and one filled solely with birth announcements from our family and friends. I love to go through them with a glass of wine and revel over the wonderful moments they capture.
Ashley Jaques
Escondido, California

I started doing yoga in June and in a matter of three months became totally addicted. I go about five times a week. Obviously I’ve noticed a physical change (I now have muscles I didn’t even know existed), but there has been a mental one, too. Getting through a particularly tough class at my studio makes me feel so accomplished and as if I can do anything. I then take that attitude from my mat to whatever challenge I have to face that day.
Dana Nudelman
Chicago, Illinois

My career as a filmmaker is finally taking off. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t think making movies sounded like fun. But I didn’t take the idea seriously until I studied film as an undergraduate at Hollins University, in Roanoke, Virginia. Recently a script I wrote, Catching Up—based on true stories from my childhood, when I would visit my dad at work (he was a guard at the county jail)—has received a few awards and nominations and provided the jump-start I needed. Whenever I reach the end of a project and I have a film to show for it, I feel so fulfilled.
Mary Ratliff
Reston, Virginia

A neighborhood dinner once a week. The first dinner took place when my fiancé and I realized that the couple who lived next door to us were suffering financially and could probably use a free meal. These dinners now involve 10 to 12 people, and we rotate from apartment to apartment, bringing together adults and children from different parts of the country. Over the past six months, we have gone from a group of strangers who happen to live near one another to the best support system I’ve ever had. The last dinner was at our house. We had to work around my gluten allergy, a milk allergy, and diabetes. We have all learned to use different ingredients than we’re accustomed to and have done our best to make people feel welcome and taken care of in our homes.
Kate Saccone
Orlando, Florida

A trip to the Basque country, in northern Spain. In the summer of 2009, my husband and I hosted a teenage girl from the region as part of a student exchange program. Her father is an avid cyclist, like my husband, and after her homestay he invited us to visit their family for three weeks the following June during La Pyreneenne, a popular cycling event. My husband was kept busy on his bike, while I was able to take in the vibrant culture and food. One of the most incredible meals of the trip took place at the local gastronomic society. Until recently, only men were allowed in these “foodie” clubs. Now women are welcome, but not in the kitchen. The mouthwatering steaks, rich cheeses, and ripe fruits that we enjoyed over this languorous lunch are forever etched in my mind.
Rita Koch
Upland, Indiana

My husband and I bought a pontoon boat early this summer. My husband fishes off of it, and I just relax with a book. We plan to take the boat out until the first week of October, which will hopefully be late enough to see the leaves changing color from the water.
Becky Neibarger
Muskegon, Michigan

My best friend, Marissa, introduced me to Zumba, a Latin-influenced dance class. It makes me feel more confident and in control of my body, and I love shaking my derriere to the bumping beats while getting a killer workout.
Rachna Fraccaro
Arlington, Virginia

After almost 20 years of friendship that began when we were nine years old, my best friend and I spent 12 years not talking. Our lives were going in different directions, and she had left Pittsburgh, where I live, for Atlanta. This past January, I looked her up on Facebook. She accepted my “friend” request and sent a message with her phone number, and we talked for four hours. Since then, we have visited each other, and we talk every day. As I have grown older, I have come to appreciate the value of having that one true best friend who will always be there for me.
Marie Brown
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

My husband bought me a sewing machine back in 2004, and this year I finally learned how to use it. I took a class that taught me how to read patterns, sew seams, and cut fabric. As a result, I’m now able to make these cute, retro-looking aprons, which will make perfect gifts. Next up, curtains.
Rebecca Narkiewicz
Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina

Despite the fact that our venue in Nashville was flooded three weeks before the big day, May 22, my husband and I managed to pull off our dream wedding. Fortunately, we were able to find another location—a renovated hosiery factory that was available on the same date. And hours before the wedding, friends and family came together to hang decorations and set up tables and chairs. The celebration was truly a labor of love.
Delaney Gray
Nashville, Tennessee

Waking up to e-mails from various family members every morning. Since both sets of parents, grandparents, and siblings are spread across multiple states and time zones, my husband and I don’t see our families that often. Those e-mails keep us connected: We trade recipes, discuss books and movies, pass the word on online sales, and send pictures of our children.
Ashley Scherff
Travis Air Force Base, California

Grommet, our 10-month-old puppy. This little Shih Poo (half Shih Tzu and half poodle) was our way of preparing for parenthood—and has it ever prepared us. During the first seven months, my husband and I went out together just once on a weeknight; Grommet needs to be let out, after all. We’ve also gotten a preview of our future parenting styles: We will probably spoil our kid rotten the second he gives us puppy eyes. But the best part about having Grommet is that we have realized that we are up to the challenge of having a baby.
Erica Rixen
Washington, D.C.

I’m a member of a roller-derby squad called the Jerzey Derby Brigade, in Morristown, New Jersey. (We all have nicknames. They call me Bruiser because I hit hard.) This past year, I have noticed that the sport has improved my overall health, but I am most grateful for the innate qualities that the sport has brought out in me—patience, determination, and self-confidence.
Evan Tintle Charpentier
Fair Lawn, New Jersey

The past nine months, which I have spent in Tanzania. I first visited in 2008 to see my boyfriend, Patrick, who was apprenticing to be a safari guide. I made the move from the States in January. Almost immediately, we began running an ecolodge for safari enthusiasts and exploring the bush. Taking weekly outings to the various national parks with Patrick has let me form a deep connection to this wonderfully wild land.
Carly Ximenes
Arusha, Tanzania

Hosting Thanksgiving. I’m feeding only 15 people, but you would think that I was planning a meal for the White House. As in past years, I’ll take off from work the day before to start prepping, buy the wine, and map out the seating. I’ve even told my husband that he can move the television into the garage for rowdy football watching. I’m sure that the day will go off without a hitch, but if not, at least I will be stocked up on wine.
Rachael Rude
Liberty, Indiana

From the time we got married in 2005 to the end of 2009, my husband, a U.S. Navy captain, was deployed for a portion of every year. He missed so much. In 2009 we adopted a 10-month-old boy from Korea. He had to meet our son, whom we named Parker, via Skype. So I couldn’t be happier that, finally, this year our family will be together, all under one roof.
Hong Yoon Plurad
Sierra Madre, California