Lego creations that my nine-year-old son, Michael, sneaks into my purse. I often come across small cars and planes—once, even a replica of Darth Vader with a woman’s head—that he has hidden for me. Finding them makes me smile and feel connected to Michael when we’re not together.
My rambunctious, doglike cat, Surge (whom I named after the energy drink popular in the 90s). He plays fetch and loves the water. For example, he sits on the edge of the bathtub when I’m in the shower, and after I get out, he hops into the tub and rolls around. His very odd behavior makes me laugh every day.
Asheville, North Carolina
Over the past year, my teenage daughter has left me dozens of Post-it notes saying, “I love you.” They show up on my shampoo bottle, toothbrush holder, and car keys and in many other places where I’ll be sure to notice them. They are great reminders that she feels as strongly about me as I do about her.
San Rafael, California
A new book of stamps from the post office. My favorite one of all time commemorated Frank Sinatra. I was tickled to come across it. My father used to play Sinatra’s music for me and my siblings on Sunday after church, and I’ve been a fan ever since. I walked out of the post office that day humming “New York, New York.”
When I catch several green traffic lights in a row, I feel certain my day is going to be a good one.
Durham, North Carolina
Finding a stash of cash always elevates my mood. Recently I was going through old clothes, deciding what to give away, when I found $20 in the pocket of a pair of pants. They were my “skinny jeans,” which I had been hanging on to even though I probably wasn’t going to fit into them again. But once I discovered the money, I felt OK about letting them go. I tossed the jeans into the “out” pile, then treated myself to a pedicure at my favorite nail salon.
Hackensack, New Jersey
Lemons in my vintage china bowl never fail to cheer me up. Maybe it’s their sunny color or the fact that I use the juice in everything—salad dressings, pies, pasta sauce. I actually commissioned my favorite artist to paint a picture of them. The painting now hangs above my 1950s enamel stove. The whole look is very homey and sweet.
Charleston, West Virginia
Hearing my favorite song, “Small Town,” by John Mellencamp. It takes me back to my youth in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, where my parents still live. It has always been the kind of place where strangers say hello and kids can ride their bikes home after dark. There is a line in the song about being able to breathe in a small town—and that is exactly how I feel when I visit.
Newport, Rhode Island
Cooking with my husband. We blast the music of jazz singer Diana Krall and pour glasses of Pinot Noir. If we’re making a vegetarian meal (my favorite is a paella-style dish with peppers), then I’m in charge. If we’re in the mood for a Cajun recipe, like shrimp étouffée, then my husband, a Louisiana native, appoints me sous-chef. Cooking together is never a chore.
I have purposely worn mismatched socks since I was a teenager. I try to coordinate in some way—same color palette, thickness, theme (for instance, I’ll wear a Thanksgiving one with a Christmas one). The real joy for me, though, is thinking back on when my father used to get a kick out of seeing me in my socks. He would always say, “I bet you have a pair just like that in your drawer.”
Slipping underneath freshly laundered sheets at the end of the day. At that moment, the world feels manageable.
San Angelo, Texas
My favorite hobby is bird-watching, especially during the winter, when the trees are bare. I sit next to the window and observe cardinals, chickadees, and sparrows feeding on seeds that I put in our seven birdhouses. I am so content watching all this activity; I even love hearing a woodpecker hammering away—as long as it is after 8 a.m.
As a child, I spent summers with my grandmother in San Francisco. Her home was always lit with candles and fragrant with the scent of newly struck matches. Years later, memories of our time together are brought back by that unmistakable smell.
San Diego, California