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Warmest Regards: Happy with pleasures big and small

Published May 25. 2019 06:30AM

By Pattie Mihalik

I’ve often expressed my belief that our own personal happiness is tied to how well we appreciate the small pleasures of life.

It isn’t the “big things” that give us happiness. After all, how many “big things” do we have in life?

Grand events like the birth of a grandchild or a dream trip abroad are incredible events to savor. But they are not day-to-day happenings, are they? What we do have each day are the many small pleasures that add up to a happy life — provided we learn to see and appreciate those small moments.

I truly believe what makes me a happy, contented person is taking the time to savor small pleasures such as the first cup of coffee in the morning or a glorious sunset.

This week, to celebrate my birthday, it was a rare big happening that came into my life. That big event was a trip to the Italian Riviera with my two daughters.

This has been a year when I am all too aware that the sands of time are running far too fast and might soon be gone.

I decided my daughters and I were overdue for our trip together. We had fun debating where to go, finally deciding to head back to Italy. This time, we picked Cinque Terra, five colorful villages built on cliffs overlooking the aquamarine waters of the Mediterranean Sea.

Daughters Andrea and Maria did all the research and planning, finding a spacious apartment with a dazzling view of the colorful coast.

There were so many visual delights each day. Along with appreciating the tourist attractions, I especially loved seeing how the people live.

Unlike America, there are no huge supermarkets, only tiny grocery stores where housewives go each day to buy their daily provisions.

Like many places in Italy, the food was incredible, especially the homemade pasta and pesto. We sure did relish every single dinner.

What I missed was what I regard as “a real mug of coffee” to start each day.

Andrea stressed we should never go to a foreign country and expect to find what we enjoy at home.

We stayed in the tiny hillside town of Vernazzo, accessible only by train or boat. No automobiles are allowed on the narrow streets, and hopping on trains to get anywhere is a way of life.

Without Andrea’s fluency in Italian, I would have been lost, unable to find my way out of the busy train stations and certainly unable to understand directions given mostly in Italian. Thankfully, Andrea is a savvy traveler and was quite adept at getting us to each destination.

One unforgettable day trip was to the Pompeii ruins. There are centuries-old ruins in many places in the country, of course. But what makes the Pompeii ruins extraordinary is that several entire Roman cities were buried almost instantly by the eruption of the Mount Vesuvius volcano.

The eruption in A.D. 79 collapsed buildings, instantly burying more than a thousand unsuspecting people under stone and volcano ash.

According to experts, it is the volcano ash that preserved the bodies intact until they were unearthed centuries later.

Casts were made of several of the bodies found frozen in suspended action. According to one volcanologist, pyroclastic surge deposits that reached 572 degrees was enough to kill hundreds in a fraction of a second.

He said it explains why the bodies were frozen in suspended action. One young boy was found bending over in a struggle to breathe, bringing home the horror of that volcanic explosion.

It is those bodies that gripped my heart. At first, I questioned how the bodies could have been preserved for centuries until I read the casts were made from impressions of bodies made by the ash deposits.

Mount Vesuvius remains one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world.

I knew nothing about the Pompeii ruins until I went there, but now I read everything I can about what happened there centuries ago.

As archaeologists continue to dig, we will keep learning more about the ancient Roman city.

We also spent a few days in Rome, using it as a base to explore the city as well as surrounding towns.

As we walked through the plaza at night on the way to the fabulous Trevi Fountain, we saw sparkling bubbles filling the square. But the magical bubbles disappeared in minutes, leaving me to think it was like life itself. We can see it and enjoy it but we can’t have it forever.

While I enjoyed all our sightseeing, I have to admit what I like best about the entire Italian vacation was the precious time I got to spend with my daughters. With the three of us living so far apart, our time together is a treasured gift.

When we flew back to the states I discovered, once again, trips abroad are special but your own home is just as special.

Now that I am back home, I am immensely enjoying the small gifts of an ordinary day. Conversation with my husband, the welcoming cup of good old American coffee and an early morning walk around my neighborhood are part of my ongoing daily pleasures. Seeing sites in foreign lands is a rare treat, but small daily pleasures are ours to cherish every day.

Contact Pattie Mihalik at

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