5 Simple Joys: Quarantine Edition

Well, that was a title I never thought I’d type. But here we are, sheltering-in-place, social distancing, and generally trying to feel productive and purposeful while also trying not to freak out.

Just today, I realized that I am wasting wide swaths of time scrolling through Instagram: something I’m certainly going to address, in a heartless Marie-Kondo fashion if this carries on indefinitely (unless I “lean in”) …

So my new strategy in these early days is to divvy up my day à la Hugh Grant in About a Boy: “I find the key is to think of a day as units of time, each unit consisting of no more than thirty minutes. Full hours can be a little bit intimidating and most activities take about half an hour.” Why this bit of dialogue stuck with me is for another day, but I have set the time on my phone, and attacked email for one unit, Duolingo (in a never-ending attempt to learn French) for one unit, and so on. At the same time, I’m still making lists, still being curious, still discovering. As such, here are 5 simple joys I’m passing along in hopes that they will lend one of your daily “units” a bit more cheer.

1. TV   Curb may be ending, but thankfully, season two of My Brilliant Friend has just begun and I find it mesmerizing. Magnificent casting/costumes/scenery. And a stressful storyline — which frees my brain to worry about somebody else!

2. Books/Reading  I don’t know about you, but my attention span is NOT what it used to be. Most weeks, I’m just happy to get through the New Yorker before the next issue arrives. That said, I recently purchased the new edition of Gertrude Stein’s “The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas”, beautifully illustrated by Maira Kalman, and plan to read it. Find a title that speaks to you and do the same.

3. Stationery  No parties, no weddings, no reasons to leave the house allowed, but still, I found Strawberry Sorbet online and am dreaming of (2021?) parties to come. (Marcella, Madeleine, and Felicity are favorites.)

4. The Hospitality Industry  trying to do my part, responsibly ordering take out to supporting my local sandwich shop, I’m also thinking about ordering a couple of Talbott & Arding’s beyond-delicious fruit and nut loafs.  One for me; one to leave on my parents’ front stoop. **

5. Goats   pure escapism: the Instagram site bringing me the most joy these days is Bracken Oaks Farm, and their delightful baby Nigerian dwarf goats, who jostle and jump and vamp for the camera while adorably playing king-of-the-tree stump.

if you’ve made it this far, apologies for the run-on sentences and the rambling … and please, add your quarantine recommendations in the comments!

** just ordered. sent to my parents’ house. i will pick up the second loaf from THEIR stoop. #thinking

5 Simple Joys: Charleston

Charleston is one of my favorite US cities to visit. It’s decidedly walkable, and I take full advantage: peeking at the beautiful houses and gardens over a quiet morning walk to a leisurely strolling into the shops on King Street. And not to worry: there are a multitude of excellent places to stop for a bite (or a drink) to refresh yourself. About the only thing I don’t like about Charleston is summer. (I melt.)

Here are five of my regular haunts in the Holy City:

1. Babas // @babasoncannon

babas on cannon: simple pretty charleston

I vacillate between wanting everyone to know about Babas because it’s THAT good, and wanting to keep it to myself (because it’s THAT good). Too late: I’ve told you, so please, GO. At breakfast, try the house-special banana bread, served toasted with a smattering of sea salt, or visit at cocktail hour for small plates and a glass of wine or perhaps a hand-crafted cocktail: it’s super cozy. (Or, like me, do both.) I like Babas so much that I’ve considered moving to Charleston just to be closer: yes, summer and all.

2. Sugar Bakeshop // @sugarbakeshop

sugar bakeshop: simple pretty charleston

I think I’ve been going to Sugar Bakeshop since it opened in 2007* — Cannon Street was a bit more quiet in those days. These days, it’s under new ownership (the original owners decamped to Maine**) but the jewel-box shop is as charming as ever, stocked with cupcakes and cookies to delight your sweet tooth.

3. Worthwhile // @shopworthwhile

worthwhile: simple pretty charleston

Worthwhile is the perfect shopping antidote to today’s overexposed marketplace. Eclectically enticing, the shop is a mix of avant garde fashion and carefully selected (and artfully displayed) items for the home. Worthwhile makes shopping FUN.

4. Harken Café // @harkencafe

harken café: simple pretty charleston

Harken Café has creative and flavorful sandwiches, pastries and drinks on offer, and a charming side room with table seating. It’s a terrific place to stop, refuel, and relax after a morning of exploring. At my visit, the turkey and sweet potato sandwich was outstanding (and unique). Of course, I also grabbed a couple of cookies (bourbon-cherry shortbread and chocolate-chip) for the road.

5. Little Jack’s Tavern // @littlejackstavern

little jack's tavern: simple pretty charleston

For a simple dinner out, a burger is always a good option, but a great burger is an even better one. I end up dining at Little Jack’s Tavern every time we’re in town, drawn to the retro-chic pub atmosphere, and yes, one great burger.

all photos by jane potrykus

* okay, it was 2008

** summer?

5 Simple Joys: Nashville

When you live in Chicago, Nashville is the perfect spot for a quick weekend getaway for that small-but-important weather upgrade. My husband and I spent a recent weekend in Nashville in order to visit the Antiques and Garden Show. On Super Bowl Sunday, ready for an afternoon of exploring, we headed to the charming 12 South neighborhood for lunch and a wander. Here are 5 Simple Joys from that outing.

1. Taqueria del Sol // @taqueriadelsol

taqueria del sol, nashville: simple pretty

One of my favorite drinks is a margarita on the rocks. And for me, it can make or break a Mexican restaurant. Thankfully, Taqueria del Sol has an excellent house margarita and tacos with a southern flair (fried chicken, memphis bbq). Pro-tip: skip the line and grab a seat at the bar for super-quick and attentive service.

2. White’s Mercantile // @whitesmercantile

white's mercantile, nashville: simple pretty

Every day of exploring needs a good dose of shopping (even if it’s window shopping). White’s Mercantile, on the site of a former gas station, is a delightful take on a Southern general store. I had a good browse: spotting Sugar Paper products brought a smile, and true to form, I could not leave without buying a few new greeting cards.

3. Las Paletas // @laspaletasnashville

las paletas, nashville: simple pretty

A friend told me not to miss Las Paletas, located at the end of the 12 South shopping district near Sevier Park. She was right: the hardest decision was which flavor to choose! (I went for strawberry; my husband chose chocolate with chocolate chips.) My recommendation? Grab one to enjoy over a stroll through the park.

4. Five Daughters Bakery // @five_daughters_bakery

5 Simple Joys Nashville // Five Daughters Bakery

A cute bakery (which usually means striking graphic design) never fails to get my attention. Five Daughters Bakery specializes in 100 Layer doughnuts, their take on the cronut. I can attest to the deliciousness of the Purist, a 100-Layer option covered in a simple vanilla glaze. I’m an afternoon bakery shopper (usually thinking of the next day’s breakfast) so it was nice to learn that the Five Daughters website features a doughnut cam for each location. Strategy.

5. Amelia’s Flower Truck // @ameliasflowertruck

amelia's flower truck, nashville: simple pretty

The one spot I’m sad to have missed (the flower truck’s off season is December through February) … what could be better than a truck filled with flowers by the stem? Would have loved to cap off the day with a pretty bouquet. Next time.


photo credits: 1-4 by jane potrykus; 5 via ameliasflowertruck.com

5 Simple Joys: Podcasts

A good percentage of my adult life was spent driving my son to various sports practices. The soundtrack of those years was NPR: not only did it keep me entertained (and informed) but I like to think some of it rubbed off on my backseat passengers.

Now, my day is not complete without a long walk, outdoors as much as possible. Podcasts keep me company on those outings in the same way NPR did while I was driving: engaging my brain yet still allowing me to take in my surroundings.

For a simple joy, check out one of my five favorite podcasts at the moment, and please leave a comment if you have a favorite show that I’ve missed.

1. Freakonomics

5 simple joys: Freakonomics Podcast

As someone who devoured the 2005 Freakonomics book, signing up for the podcast was an easy decision. Stephen Dubner covers an eclectic range of topics … from the mystique of Trader Joe’s to the politics of Andrew Yang to the problems with high school math. Invariably, I learn something new, and predictably (annoyingly?) I try to pass along said information to whomever will listen. Pro tip: the live shows are fantastic.

2. Slate Money

 slate money podcast | simple prettyI discovered the Slate Money podcast last fall while in the throes of my Succession obsession, searching for “more” about the show. The weekly recap and commentary was clever, insightful, and had just enough snark to keep me hooked. The “regular” episodes are a lighthearted and straightforward discussion of the week’s financial news. Plus, I must confess, I really like Felix Salmon’s accent.

3. Reply All

reply all podcast | simple prettyA fascinating and entertaining dive into all things Internet. I have learned so much from this podcast … and have become so much savvier regarding my phone/laptop/app use. Is Facebook listening to you? Why did a Snapchat account get hacked? Wonder about two-factor authentication? Or just want to understand something tech-related better? PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman have you covered.

4. Conan O’Brien Needs A Friend

conan o'brien needs a friend podcast | simple prettyRecommended by a culturally savvy friend, I admit I was skeptical at first, as I don’t watch O’Brien’s TV show. I started by listening to episodes that featured celebrities I found interesting. (see: Lin-Manuel Miranda; Tina Fey; Charles Barkley) Each week, the concept grew on me. O’Brien is a skilled interviewer (no surprise), but my favorite parts just might be the banter between O’Brien and the regulars, Sona Movsesian (his longtime assistant) and podcast producer Matt Gourley.

5. Lovett or Leave It

lovett or leave it podcast | simple prettyAfter the 2016 election, I found myself consuming a lot of political media in an attempt to process “what happened”. I first landed on Pod Save America, as their outrage was cathartic. It sustained me for a while, but I know myself: I process grief/outrage/anger best through comedy. Jon Lovett’s weekly podcast is a targeted smart-take on politics, with extra-credit for exposure to the millennial mindset/culture.

image credits: freakonomics.com, slate.com,gimletmedia.com, earwolf.com, crooked.com

5 Simple Joys: Seattle

I’ve always been a fan of the weekend trip: sufficient time to visit favorite spots, but not lingering to the point that you feel you’ve seen everything and wish that you’d booked an earlier return flight. (My motto: Always Leave Them Wanting More.)

And so, after years away (we last visited in 2011), I found myself booking an October weekend in Seattle, my curiosity piqued by Instagram’s serving up so many tempting places to see. From touchdown on Friday afternoon to wheels up on Monday, I covered as much ground as possible — mostly by walking, and given the rainy weather all weekend, I was elated when the sun peeked out for a few brief hours on Saturday.

My 5 Simple Joys from that weekend (instagram handles included for your ogling pleasure):

1. London Plane

My very first stop after hotel check-in — I determinedly walked through a heavier-than-usual Seattle rain to get there — London Plane is an assortment of all of my favorite things assembled in one place (that would be pastry, coffee, flowers, and stationery, lest you’ve forgotten). A bountiful, beautiful display of seasonal flowers await you at the entrance and set the scene. Just past that is London Plane’s coffee bar, perfect to grab a latte to go and perhaps a sweet (but please allow yourself a moment to admire the beautiful calligraphy delineating your choices). Have time for a longer stay? London Plane’s restaurant offers two levels of seating (upstairs gives you a bird’s-eye view of the space) and I can vouch for the deliciousness of their brunch offerings (yes, I made two trips). Not to be missed if you’re anything like me. // @londonplaneseattle

2. Flora and Henri

Once my long-time sources for simple, high-quality children’s clothing, Flora and Henri, established by Jane Hedreen in 1998, has recently been updated and repositioned as a full-on lifestyle store. In my opinion, this makes the shop an even more appealing destination: the airy new bricks-and-mortar space in Pioneer Square is a joy to wander, with items that are simple, functional, and beautiful, with the bonus that you have not seen them at every other retail shop. (In fact, many of the brands were new to me: a delight.) Especially strong were the selections of sweaters and books, which makes sense given Seattle’s weather tendencies. // @flora_henri

3. Le Pichet

I will admit upfront that dining, for me, is best when I can eat at the bar (even better if there is a selection of red wine from France). And so Le Pichet had me at hello. Charmingly cozy on a rainy evening. I stayed true to the classics, ordering a fresh salade verte with hazelnuts followed by bavette grillée, but I chose decadence for dessert: Le Pichet’s specialty, chocolat chaud, served in two dishes: one bittersweet chocolate; one whipped cream. Perfection.  // @lepichetseattle

4. Red Ticking

Pam Robinson has assembled the interiors shop of my dreams. Treasures abound, from the back of the shop,  given over to cubby holes filled with stacks of vintage floral and striped fabrics, to the center table, laden with beautiful dishes and housewares, to the perimeter, home to an abundance of accessories, from cushions to artwork to lamps to baskets to gift-worthy foodstuffs. Every item is artfully arranged and displayed, and the space is simply heaven. You’ll want it all, but it’s even worth a visit solely to window shop. // @redticking

5. Kurt Farm Shop

It is with sadness that I tell you about this delightful little shop, as Yelp reports it has now closed. No matter: Kurt Timmermeister’s charming jewel box of an ice cream shop was merely an introduction to learning more about Kurtwood Farm, Timmermeister’s Vashon Island dairy farm. (The shop’s closing will allow Timmermeister to devote more time to his farm and to photography.) For a taste of what you can expect, treat yourself to Farm Food, two seasonal booklets (Timmermeister describes them as serialized cookbooks) that celebrate life on the farm. // @kurtwood_farms

simple pretty seattle -- 5 simple joys in the city

photos taken and edited by jane potrykus

n.b. out of enthusiasm (or utter lunacy) i have started *another instagram account devoted to my favorite finds in the cities that i visit. please give @simpleprettycities a look + let me know what you’d like to see next