Romancing the Ordinary: A Year of Simple Splendor 2004 Engagement Calendar

Romancing the Ordinary: A Year of Simple Splendor 2004 Engagement Calendar

by Sarah Ban Breathnach, Sarah Ban Breathnach
     
 

In her first major book since Something More, #1 New York Times bestselling author Sarah Ban Breathnach takes readers to a new level of personal fulfillment and spiritual awareness as they learn to rediscover and savor the sensual experience of daily life.

Organized as a saunter through the year, Romancing the Ordinary celebrates the

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Overview

In her first major book since Something More, #1 New York Times bestselling author Sarah Ban Breathnach takes readers to a new level of personal fulfillment and spiritual awareness as they learn to rediscover and savor the sensual experience of daily life.

Organized as a saunter through the year, Romancing the Ordinary celebrates the spirituality of the senses, seasonally and monthly. Ban Breathnach believes that women are endowed not with five senses but with seven. In addition to rediscovering sight, sound, scent, taste, and touch, readers will come to cherish their sense of "knowing" — a woman's intuitive sense — and "wonder," her sense of rapture and reverence.

Writing in the style so beloved by her millions of readers, and drawing on myth, literature, film, music, and drama, Ban Breathnach encourages each woman to discover what moves her to tears, makes her blood rush to her head, her heart skip a beat, and her soul sigh. Interwoven with the text are seasonal indulgences intended to restore weary feminine souls — recipes, rituals, decorating, fashion, and gardening hints. By encouraging her to delight in the often overlooked gifts of every day — from the aroma of simmering homemade spaghetti sauce to the sensation of freshly laundered linen against bare skin — Romancing the Ordinary is sure to help every woman fall in love with Life.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publishers Weekly
"Women were created to experience, interpret, revel in, and unravel the mysteries of Life through their senses," declares Breathnach (Simple Abundance), insisting that women have two extra senses: those of "knowing" and "wonder." Breathnach then works her way through the calendar year, offering tips to women to free their "essensual" selves. Much of the advice (e.g., make your own scented sachets and foot lotions) is rote. At times, Breathnach herself criticizes the commercialization of the sensual. For example, the bath is a "waterfall of delight" that's being "snuffed out by the banality of the self-enhancement poseurs." Homemade is the best way to go, says Breathnach, and even the hours spent preparing various potions are a gift in themselves. On the other hand, she heartily endorses purchasing gourmet fruits, "essensual sets of underwear," silk sheets and other luxuries, since these items also pleasure the senses. Fortunately, the object of all this pampering isn't just to attract a mate. Breathnach urges women to stop focusing on finding a partner and to "learn the sacred soulcraft of self-nurture." While exhortations to "become your own courtesan" may seem narcissistic, the message will strike a welcome chord among women who've learned that sacrificing for others isn't always worth it. At times Breathnach is unintentionally funny she recommends taking Beckett plays to the laundromat to "try on for size being an intellectual." But her occasionally pretentious use of quotations and capitalized references to the Spirit and the Divinity shouldn't stop her fans from pampering their Inner Goddess. (Oct.) Forecast: An author tour and the success of Simple Abundance ensure hearty holiday sales. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal - Library Journal
In this program, Ban Breathnach offers a guide to seasonal indulgences that will help listeners enjoy time by themselves, to discover the essential self and its preferences. The ultimate goal is to remind women that the most satisfying and lifelong relationship they will have is with themselves. These essays are strongest when they remind the listener of basic pleasures such as setting aside "sacred" time for self-renewal: reading a book, listening to music, or simply sitting in the sun and watching nature. The advice falls flat in offering examples that seem to be written for the Martha Stewart devotee. Yet the underlying message-to notice and enjoy the gifts already in one's life-will resonate for many women. While those familiar with New Age thought will not be concerned about the author's recommendations, some ideas may seem shocking to some listeners. For instance, Ban Breathnach has a section on how certain personal rituals and thoughts may, to her way of thinking, be a way of casting benign spells. Unabashedly written to and for women (although many of the concepts apply to both sexes), this program is recommended for public libraries serving a predominantly female clientele who have, or want to carve out, time to treat themselves well.-Kathleen A. Sullivan, Phoenix P.L. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780743218771
Publisher:
Scribner
Publication date:
10/29/2002
Pages:
576
Product dimensions:
5.72(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.47(d)

Read an Excerpt

November

The love of bare November days

Before the coming of the snow...

— Robert Frost

November loves the pilgrim soul in you and longs to erase the fretting from your frazzled face. With the holidays fast approaching, have you already grumbled away this month's gifts of grace? Family, feasting, and fussing might be en route, but November knows how to take care of you. So let her, with cold comfort charms, a winter's tale or two, sumptuous pajama suppers, and splendor in the glass. The stunning Ordinary in the simply overlooked. Let that cup runneth over with sensuous self-preservation.

You Were Meant for Me

To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.

— Oscar Wilde

"Truly choosing to be single is very different from being single and looking for a partner or just waiting for one. After ending a long-term relationship I realized that I had never chosen to be single, it had just happened," reveals the artist and writer Sark in Eat Mangoes Naked: Finding Pleasure Everywhere and Dancing with the Pits, with the disarming candor that makes her so beloved by all her fans, including me. "So I embarked on a real love affair with myself, a mad passionate one which involved having a very singular focus on myself and my capacity for self-love. I had always been afraid to explore self-love for fear of what I would find, or not find there, or being thought of as selfish! Also, who would I be without someone to love? Could I really stop 'looking' and just look at myself? And ifI was not enough for myself, how could I be enough for another? Could I be my own someone?"

Sark's question is one that every woman understands she might have to ask one day, but we never expect it today. Surprise. Love's pop quiz is on the agenda right now, and it isn't multiple choice. So crib from me. You are your own someone (whether or not you're in a relationship with someone else). And though it might be a clandestine affair at the moment, it's time to go public with a little love magic called dating yourself.

"Dating yourself is quite possibly the most satisfying way to date. You know from the start that you're building a relationship that will last. You don't have to worry about infidelity. You always get to choose the restaurant and you never have to pretend you're in the mood to see Baywatch or anything else. You win every argument, and you'll never lie awake in the wet spot feeling unsatisfied," bad girl Cameron Tuttle assures us.

Whether you're single or married, eighteen or eighty, you can date yourself. However, as Cameron points out in The Bad Girl's Guide to Getting What You Want, "When dating yourself, it's important to communicate clearly, just as in any other relationship. Make time for pillow talk a few nights a week. If you set an appointment with yourself, you'll know you have a sacred and safe place where you and your hand mirror can spend some quality time together in bed. Make a ritual of it: turn on soft romantic music, light a candle, and then speak from the heart to your own reflection. 'I love spending time with you. You're the best thing that's ever happened to me. It's fun getting to know you. You make me so happy. I've never loved like this before. You complete me.' When you say the words out loud, your feelings resonate and actually become more real."

I confess I snickered when I first read that passage. But skeptics make the best evangelists. "Self-seduction does sound a bit mad, doesn't it?" Anna Johnson admits with a sensuous smirk in Three Black Skirts: All You Need to Survive. But "romancing your life creates energy, energy makes you happy, being happy brings back your sense of humor, and laughing makes you pretty. Everyone is suddenly asking you, 'Are you in love?' and all you have to say is, 'Yes, in fact, I am in love — with snails and poems and pastry flour and a cloud shaped like Mozart's ponytail and Lyle Lovett's voice and my nephew's big toe and the smell of fresh sheets and the squish of wet earth in the garden and the way I feel singing Etta James on my bicycle...but other than that, no, not really."

When you date yourself, you get to try on all sorts of different personas. A little bit of country. A little bit of rock, or roll over Beethoven. Are you a secret bombshell or a sassy bluestocking? The singleness of purpose behind trying to woo yourself is twofold: you get to have fun, and should the occasion arise, you know how to convey your pleasures to another. Pretend you've met the perfect partner who adores plotting and planning your pleasures (just the way you do for others). You read the Sunday papers together, and as you see events that pique your interest, you rip out the listing or review. What shall we do this week, darling? What sounds like fun, pet? All right, my sweet, I'll take care of it. Suddenly your Essensual Self is behaving in a mad, impetuous manner that delights you: ordering tickets to that chamber music concert; walking down a street lined with art galleries and registering your name in the guest books for invitations to openings; attending a reading on a subject that fascinates you but that you've never explored; signing up for motorcycle lessons (motorcycle optional). This past year my Essensual Self nudged me into a fling with Scottish football (Americans are the only ones in the world who call the sport "soccer"). I knew I was well on my way to becoming a romantic adventuress when I was the only woman among a hundred Scotsmen attending a televised football match in a New York City bar on a Saturday morning at 7 A.M.

"Follow the phosphorescent thread of intuition that moves toward delight. So many things to learn, things to learn from," Rainer Maria Rilke encourages us. "Love is an art, like music, dance, or painting pictures. It thrives on light and imagination and daring. The heart of the lover learns wisdom from a stone, a song, a blossom, a breeze." Or an offside penalty kick.

Come to Your Senses

Just One

Alone, alone, oh! We have been warned about solitary vices," the Quaker writer Jessamyn West complained, but "have solitary pleasures ever been adequately praised? Do many people know that they exist?"

We don't have to ponder this conundrum very long.

How about exploring the enticing possibilities of our "just one" theory? To wit: Romantic diversions are not like the Ark, to be enjoyed only two by two. Sometimes one will do nicely. Like today.

Of course, there's a catch. The treat has to be something totally frivolous. A trifling you can live without, but why? Let's see. What single, perfect indulgence might just hit the spot? Certainly chocolate must be right up there at the top of the list. How about a single, frightfully expensive bonbon from a luxurious chocolatier? Pretend you just walked into Madame Vianne Rocher's shop in Chocolat, the novel by Joanne Harris about a single mother who changes the destiny of a small French town through her chocolate love magic. Vianne is psychic, so when customers enter her shop she "senses" what malady of the heart ails them. As she recommends a particular sweet, chocolate becomes more of a homeopathic romantic remedy than a sin, especially as the novel takes place during Lent, the season of denial. So when you enter a chocolatier, take your time choosing, inhaling the entire fragrant ambience of the shop. Which confection whispers, "Try me...test me...taste me"? What is the name of the sweet that seduces? Take another moment to appreciate how the single candy you've selected is placed in a tiny package, as if it were a jewel. Unwrap it as if you have no idea what's inside. Sniff it. Finger its smooth whirls or geometric ridges. Nibble, don't scarf. Make the experience last as long as you can, and savor the aftermath — the taste of the chocolate on your tongue, the scent now transferred to your own breath.

Or, visit a fine grocer to discover what delicacy might be just right for a single serving. How about the tiniest jar of quality caviar? Save it until you're curled up on your bed in a sexy nightie, and eat as slowly as you can, licking the soft roe off the tip of a finger. The writer Barbara Holland describes her favorite breakfast as a "glass of cold champagne and a perfectly ripe pear, perhaps with a spoonful of caviar eaten straight from the jar." And I can assure you that her breakfast menu makes a scrumptious supper for one. Or, what about the smallest container of a pricey gelato or sorbet? Sip dabs off a demitasse spoon, allowing the lusciousness to literally melt in your mouth, before taking another tiny bite. Or, treat yourself to a miniature bottle of a liqueur you have always wanted to taste: licorice-flavor anisette, perhaps, or minty crème de menthe. Transfer it to your prettiest, smallest goblet, and take your time holding it to the light, sniffing its aroma, rolling it in your mouth before swallowing. Or, for total decadence, sample it only a few drops at a time, in coffee, or over ice cream (not frozen yogurt!).

Fabric and trimming stores are a virtual carnival of touch and sight. Visit the bolts of tapestry prints and velvet, commune with the ribbons and edgings, treat the imaginatively molded buttons as a gallery of miniatures. Choose "just one": a single button shaped and painted like a cat's head, or cast in brass to resemble a rose...a single yard of exquisite braid or bridal lace...as small a piece of beautiful fabric as the shop will cut for you (I like to get a yard). Once your selection is home, place it where you can see and touch it: drape fabric or trimmings over a mirror or swirl them upon a shelf; treat a button as a jewel, propped amid your earrings and brooches, or pin it from behind to ornament a drapery. Don't find a use for such things, enjoy them purely for what they are. A glimpse of something that triggers a personal sigh of appreciation.

When was the last time you stopped in at a fine-arts store or museum shop to look at the prints and cards? Browse, then buy just one postcard-size print of the piece you like best. Tuck it into a frame, get a discreet magnet and decorate your refrigerator door, hang it in your office cubicle.

Now for a solitary vice that I probably engage in a couple times a week, especially if I'm stressed out and haven't made it to the gym. If you know all the words to a favorite album, the next time you're home alone, why not turn the music up and lip-synch before a mirror? I've got "Every Breath You Take" down and I'm ready for my duet with Sting as soon as his calendar permits. Or, go one step further: put on a music video, turn off the sound, and supply the vocal dubbings yourself. (Even if you aren't Audrey Hepburn, who didn't do her own singing anyway, you can take the starring role in My Fair Lady in the sanctity of your own living room!) Or, put on the most romantic movie you know and say all the lines aloud to your screen lover. "Whisper sweet nothings into the air, then spin around really fast to catch them in your ear," Cameron Tuttle suggests.

Anna Johnson thinks private babe time should be the crazy stuff that can trigger a Really? I can do that? response. How about "watching four pretaped episodes of The Nanny back to back; doing your housework in a crocheted bikini, an apron, and a raspberry-colored beret; teaching yourself to two-step with a broom; speaking Italian to your plants; or taking Polaroids of your breasts for future generations to admire?...You are not crazy," she insists in your sexy solitude sojourns. "You are, hopefully, charming the pants off yourself."

The Secret Marriage

When it's over, I want to say: all my life

I was a bride married to amazement.

I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

— Mary Oliver

"After you've dated yourself for a few months, you'll feel rejuvenated and ready to date other people," Cameron Tuttle assures us. "Or you may feel rejuvenated and realize you've found your soul mate, the love of your life, and you never want to date anyone ever again. But either way, you'll feel rejuvenated."

You'll also have gleaned important information about yourself. I've been in a committed relationship with myself now for about two years, and in that time, thank Heavens, I've learned that if I want to be happy for the rest of my life, I'd better not dillydally with anyone who doesn't like the English countryside, rare sheep, horses, dogs, and Scottish football, among other surprising pursuits. My personal passions are precious to me because they bring me bliss whether I'm by myself or in the company of others who share them. It's taken me a lifetime to learn this, but hopefully my new insider knowledge will shape the rest of my life.

A few years ago, after my divorce, I was invited to the wedding of a close friend. Both she and her fiancé were in their fifties and both were getting married for the second time. As they exchanged their vows, I was struck by the enormous responsibility these two people were taking on in the name of Love; not only each other but their new partner's children, health, finances, opinions, obligations, habits, passions, preferences, and priorities. The courage that marriage requires! When you're young and in love/lust, courage is the last thing you connect with marriage because you believe that anything's possible if you have each other. When you're older, you know that the most precious gift you can give another is emotional courage.

It's wonderful to be committed to another soul's happiness. But it's wondrous to be committed to your own. The truth is that our relationships are only as emotionally healthy, happy, holy, and content as we are. Can you imagine how splendid and rich your life would become if you married yourself before another? Imagine what choices you would make if you were deeply devoted to your own well-being before another's. Can you pledge before Spirit to be faithful to your own passions the way you would be to a partner's? Can you imagine celebrating life with your own soul for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health?

I do.

And I hope you can, too.

"Aroused by beauty, moved by its poignancy, the sensuous woman embraces life, inviting it to enter like a lover into union — a marriage of one, unique Woman with all-mysterious Life, a marriage of earthly delights. This passionate sense of connection, this encompassing sensuality, celebrates life with mindfulness and joy," the English writer Elisabeth Millar observes in The Fragrant Veil. "The sensuous woman reaches out to the world with her senses and through her senses receives its marvels...She is sentient, sensitive, alive with perception."

Night Vision

There is in God, some say,

A deep but dazzling darkness.

— Henry Vaughan (1650)

When I moved to the country, my most surprising adjustment was learning to live according to the rhythm of natural light. Day is for activity, night is for rest. "There's a certain Slant of light" on winter afternoons, Emily Dickinson points out, and "When it comes the Landscape listens."

In the city, electricity makes it easy to blur the boundaries between day and night, winter and spring, and I do, usually by burning the candle at both ends. But on winter nights in the country, when I'm in the back of beyond, the only candles meant to be burning are on my dining room table.

Simmer down now, the shadows seem to say. By five o'clock the curtains are drawn, the fire is blazing, and the lamps are lit, throwing off golden slivers that creep through the cracks between the windows and doors. The cares of the day are set down by the front door, sure to be picked up in the morning. But for now, the conviviality of evening awaits my company.

Outside, it's dark. And dark as you have never seen dark before, unless you grew up in the country. The startling absence of artificial light reveals a sky as black as a raven's wing. As deep autumn slowly moves into winter, the sky reveals a darkness so deep, yet so full of light, it's dazzling. Part of the luminosity comes from the stars, like a thousand blinking eyes, watching to see how earth is doing, when they are not waiting on Lady Luna. Nighttime used to be a time of apprehension for me, especially if I was alone. But since I have allowed Life to romance me, I have known some of the most serene, sweet, and poetic hours sitting on the bench in the dark, underneath an apple tree in my garden, conversing with Night. Sometimes I'm bundled up, sometimes I'm barefoot, but always I am content. The Darkness has become a dear friend to me, a comforting presence, not to be feared, but to be embraced.

Like everything else in the natural world, the horizon changes with the seasons; becoming familiar with the mysteries of light and darkness is an exquisite seasonal splendor. The light in November is crisper than in the warm haze of June, but November's velvety darkness has just as distinctive a beauty as July's gossamer nightshade.

One of the ways you can discover this is to take up shadow walking. Learn to experience the world through night vision. This week on a clear, crisp night, take a walk at dusk where you feel safe (bring a friend if you'd like, a dog if you have one). Observe how the shadows fall, how dusk turns into twilight through a progression of eventide hues — steel gray to smoky blue to charcoal ash. On another night, take an early-evening saunter after supper; save a midnight stroll for a full moon. As the nights progress and the seasons change, what nocturnal wonders are revealed for your eyes only?

Learning to love the nights of our lives as well as the days is the beginning of contentment. "For the night was not impartial," Eudora Welty observed in 1949. "No, the night loved some more than others, served some more than others." My guess is, if Night has her favorites, it's because the romance is reciprocal.

Come to Your Senses

This Delicious Day

Can you remember the last time you tasted something so scrumptious that the first bite triggered a squeal of delight or spontaneous prayer? Oh, God, this is good! In her marvelous food memoir With Bold Knife and Fork, M.F.K. Fisher recalled such a tasting sixty years after it occurred. "I can taste-smell-hear-see and then feel between my teeth the potato chips I ate slowly one November afternoon in 1936, in the bar of the Lausanne Palace. They were uneven in both thickness and color, probably made by a new apprentice in the hotel kitchen, and almost surely they smelled faintly of either chicken or fish, for that was always the case there. They were a little too salty, to encourage me to drink. They were ineffable. I am still nourished by them." She went on to explain that the sense memory remained so powerful she was rarely tempted to eat potato chips again. Honoring our sense of taste actually "cultivates restraint."

Give us this day our daily taste, the poet Robert Farrar Capon asks. To which we all say, "Amen."

It's true that our senses become jaded as we get older — requiring new, fresh, and frequent jolts to awaken them. Every adult has about ten thousand taste buds in the mouth (primarily on the tongue, but also on the palate, pharynx, and tonsils). Throughout our lives, every ten days or so these taste buds wear out and regenerate. Unfortunately, as we enter middle age, they don't regenerate as frequently as we might hope. This could be taken as a bitter pill, but I think it's a cause for celebration. Use it as just the excuse to introduce a new, guilt-free taste sensation once or twice each week. Think of it as regeneration rejuvenation, especially if you aim for a mouthwatering memory as palpable as Miss Fisher's potato chips.

Today simply bring your awareness to the way you approach food. Do you really taste or just eat what's put in front of you? "Anytime we eat it's holy," M.F.K. Fisher reminds us. "We should have ritual and ceremony, not just gobbling down some food to keep us alive."

Fisher's words are, for me, vast food for thought. Care to join me in a bite?

Delicious Day Potato Chips

I couldn't locate the recipe for M.F.K. Fisher's epiphanous potato chips, but this one is inspired by the glorious handmade chips once served in the bar of the Hotel Lancaster in Paris. Yes, they are fried. No, they are not low-fat. But oven-baked chips do not trigger religious experiences. These do.

YOU WILL NEED:

4 russet baking potatoes

About 4 cups canola oil

Salt

A deep-fat thermometer

Peel the potatoes and submerge them in a bowl of cold water. Pat each potato dry as you use it. Manually slice potatoes as thinly as possible, and let them soak in another bowl of cold water. Drain the potato slices, and spread them out on a triple layer of paper towels without overlapping. Blot the slices completely dry with another triple layer of paper towels.

In a deep fryer or a 3-quart saucepan, heat the oil until a deep-fat thermometer registers 380° F. Working in small batches of 8 to 10 slices, fry the potatoes, turning twice until golden (about 2 minutes). Watch out for spattering oil. Slowly lift the fried chips out of the pan or fryer with a large slotted spoon and place them on a clean layer of paper towels to drain. Blot twice with fresh paper towels to absorb as much oil as possible. Sprinkle with salt.

As you continue frying, make sure the oil returns to 380° F before adding the next batch of potato slices.

They say these potato chips can be kept in an airtight container for up to 2 days. I suppose some things must be taken on faith. They've never lasted longer than an hour in my house.

How Do You Keep the Music Playing?

Who hears music, feels his solitude

peopled at once.

— Robert Browning

I spend so much of my life in the company of good music that, when I venture out into the world, it's often startling to realize how much of my time is spent alone. I won't kid you; occasionally a brief wistfulness comes over me when I see happy couples talking and laughing together. But then I'll see another couple sitting in resigned silence, and suddenly I feel grateful I'm not part of that pair. Once back home, the thrill of a heady romance is just within earshot and always beckoning. Like Robert Browning, my solitude is very convivial these days, largely because of music.

At some point in each day, every woman should be able to feel home alone, especially if you share your space with others. Listening to your favorite music is an easy way to carve out a private interlude.

Music is one of the most sensuous ways in which Life flirts with us. As I'm writing, an amorous tenor saxophone is wooing me with the thought that I'm somebody's one and only love. Jazz great John Coltrane may be the messenger, but I know the Sweetheart who really sent this reassuring reminder.

Enjoying music that makes us feel good, or feel better, is an important way to pamper ourselves. But how many women actually revel in this sensory pleasure? Having different kinds of music readily available so that you can listen to your own mood music when you want may not sound like much. But if you don't recognize the value of music, you don't know what you're missing. And sorry, flipping on the radio when you drive to work or cook dinner doesn't count.

I know that I didn't understand the power of personal audiotherapy until the ordinary began romancing me. A few years ago, I was sorting my CDs. Since there was no particular love interest in my life, I found myself weeding out my favorite romantic love songs from the thirties, forties, and fifties — Cole Porter, George and Ira Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Rodgers and Hart — to be packed away. "What are you doing?" my Essensual Self asked. "You love those songs!" I only allow myself to have pleasure when there's someone to share it wasn't an acceptable answer for that Babe, so I started listening to my favorite love songs right then and thankfully haven't stopped.

It's funny, but when we're in love and we hear a refrain in a song with the word you in it, we immediately associate the song with the object of our ardor. But when we're not in a relationship and a love song is playing, it's hard not to feel empty. That is, until you put a new spin on the experience. Choose to believe that Life is serenading you.

Here's a great way to get started. This week go through your CDs and tapes. First, sort out your romantic favorites, as well as those that get you going when you're weary or relax you when you're overwrought. Weed through the rest, and put aside the CDs that have only one or two tracks you like (Doesn't that drive you crazy?). Recycle the ones you no longer listen to by bringing them to work and leaving them at the coffee machine with a note that says, "Free to a good home." As soon as you can, invest an hour to make your own compilation tape by recording the scattered favorites on a new tape or CD. It's fabulous to have your own selected music so readily available. You'll wonder why you didn't do this years ago. Well, years ago we didn't know how to indulge ourselves, or even if we should. Now we do, and that's how we keep the music playing.

Come to Your Senses

A Plea to Stop Whining

When we think of wine and cheese, the word party can't be far behind. If you, like me, have always hated to go to parties alone, it's crucial that we learn to bring the party with us. One of my favorite long weekends is a winery tour, and I absolutely adore wine tastings, so I've learned how to adapt the pleasure to suit my circumstances right now. "Think, for a moment, of an almost paper-white glass of liquid, just shot with greeny-gold, just tart on your tongue, full of wildflower scents and spring-water refreshment. And think of a burnt-umber fluid, as smooth as syrup in the glass, as fat as butter to smell and sea-deep with strange flavors. Both are wine," the famous British wine authority Hugh Johnson tells me.

Don't you want to taste the difference?

One of the more amazing things we discover when we finally decide to adore Life is that every pleasure we assume or insist it takes two to enjoy can be transformed into a passionate romp for one. You don't always need the company and commentary of others to — why not say it? — to drink in the subtle aromas, colors, and flavors of romance. A party of one is just right, when the pursuit is pure sensation. So shall we take the pledge to stop the whining? Even though we think no one can hear us, Spirit can.

Since we're only entertaining one today, we don't want a staggering amount of leftovers, so let's think about quality rather than quantity — say, three cheeses, three wines. If you've been unable to differentiate between similar wines or cheeses, why not invite them to a "panel discussion"? A frank, side-by-side comparison might clarify particular features you had overlooked before. Or perhaps you've been playing it too safe, buying only a few familiar, middle-of-the-road products. Treat this as an opportunity to explore new ground: creamy mild versus sharp cheese, goat cheese, blue cheese; robustly mature versus young, dry wines, fruity or spicy wines, sparkling wines.

For best flavor, buy your cheeses freshly cut. Avoid precut, prewrapped, processed brands. If you rely on your wine merchant for brand or vintage, be firm about the price range you would be willing to spend on each bottle. A responsible dealer should be able to make good suggestions that won't blow your budget. In fact, I recommend you find yourself your own vintner. The way to do that is to meander into an interesting-looking wine shop (not on a Saturday afternoon) and ask someone to help you.

Here are some general matches preferred by vintners:

• Mild Brie, Camembert, Edam — cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot noir

• Mature Brie, Camembert, Edam — zinfandel

• Swiss, Emmentaler, Gouda, Gruyère — chardonnay, Riesling, gewurztraminer, sauvignon blanc, or a Rhône wine

• Muenster — zinfandel or Beaujolais

• Port Salut, taleggio — red or white burgundy, or pinot noir

• Mozzarella — pinot blanc

• Cream cheese — champagne

• Chèvre, feta, or other goat cheese, sheep's-milk cheese — sauvignon blanc, chenin blanc, Pouilly-Fumé, or any other very dry white wine

• Blue cheese, Gorgonzola, Roquefort — sauternes, Riesling, sweet and fruity red wine

• Aged Parmesan or aged provolone — Chianti or burgundy

• Mild cheddar — merlot or chardonnay

• Aged cheddar, Stilton — port or muscat

Remember that this is going to be a wine viewing as well as a tasting. Put away your cut or tinted glass for another time, and don't even think of using plastic. Large, clear glass goblets will best show off the color and taste of your wine. Use a separate glass for each wine bottle, and place by it the cheese you have selected to be its partner. Appreciate how each pairing looks.

Now, look at your poured wine, under a good light. Young, dry white wines will be clear or pale yellow or green; fruitier or more aged white will be golden, even almost tawny. A young red will be a uniform color, but an aged red will be darkest near the rim of your glass and contain more purplish, orange, maroon, or brown overtones.

How would you describe the color of each liquid? Does a white wine suggest precious platinum or humble celery? Does a zinfandel remind you of a particular rose-colored carpet? Does an aged red bring back a memory of the pony you dreamed of riding when you were twelve? (Here's where not needing to announce your impressions to others might actually give freer rein to your imagination!) Sniff wines quickly, for a "first-blush" reaction. Smelling them for too long actually deadens your sense of smell. Instead of prolonging the sensation, take a breather and then come back to sniff again, as if testing a new fragrance. Get a little notebook and jot down your impressions.

Don't neglect communing with your cheeses: Which looks creamy, even runny; solid, crumbly? Are holes round or crackle-edged? Is that blue cheese really blue, or is it parchment flecked with aqua-green? What texture and body does each cheese present to your knife or fingers? (Be sure to serve fairly bland crackers or a simple baguette, so as not to cloud your sensations with extra flavorings.)

Working from mild to strong, try a small slice of cheese followed by a sip of its companion wine. How does the aroma of the one blend with, complement, or heighten the other? What lingers in your nose and throat once you have swallowed and taken a few breaths? If you have chosen well, the scents and flavors will be in balance and won't fade too fast. This last is a sign of a good wine: the same impressions you received upon first impact should remain after a few moments have passed.

As wine is so sensitive to air, it is essential to purchase before you begin your tasting session several vacuum corks, used to preserve the wine you don't drink at the first sitting. Store the leftover red at room temperature and the white in the refrigerator. Strong young wines and sweet wines keep longer than mature or very dry ones; try to finish the latter within a day or two, and the others within a week. Don't even think of using a spoiled wine for cooking.

Store leftover cheese in the fridge, too, tightly wrapped in plastic or foil; stick a little label on each to identify it, until you learn to recognize your cheeses. Then pop them all into a lidded plastic container. Cheese does not keep forever, either. A small icing of mold can be cut away, but resist convincing yourself that a cheese that is going bad is simply turning into blue cheese — leave fermentation to the experts.

One of the most thrilling compliments I've ever received was from a Frenchman, who was not a lover but became a close friend. "You have a very sensual soul, Sarah." (Imagine it said with a French accent.) I'm still blushing. When I asked why he thought this, he said, "You revel in your own pleasure. Your house wine is always a good vintage. You can tell more about a woman from the wine she serves when she's at home alone than you can from her perfume." We then had a wonderful conversation about the habit many people have of always reserving "the best" for others, which has nothing to do with money, and everything to do with believing that personal pleasure is not important. I confessed to my new friend that it had not always been that way. Learning the art of Life is a bit like learning the art of wine. One sip at a time. For only when you generously fill the cup of happiness for yourself is there plenty left over to quench the thirst of others.

Lovespeak

The real thing creates its own poetry.

— Anzia Yezierska

For many years I've used poetry as a form of meditation. This practice started when I was writing on deadline for newspapers. Convinced that I didn't have twenty minutes to quiet my mind or take a walk, I'd open a book of poems instead and randomly pick a poem. As my list of deadlines has increased over the years, so has my poetry collection grown, especially with the help of secondhand-book shops. My latest coup was finding the complete oeuvre of Rod McKuen, which I snapped up for nostalgia's sake.

I fell in love with love and in love with poetry because of Rod McKuen, and I'm not embarrassed to admit it, although I probably should be. But Willie Yeats and I wouldn't be such a hot item today if I hadn't fallen under the rapture of Listen to the Warm, Caught in the Quiet, In Someone's Shadow, Stanyan Street and Other Sorrows. Do you remember Rod? As I reread his poems today I understand why for decades my love life didn't stand a chance. How could it when my concept of romance came from the fantasy of someone telling me, "If you cry when we leave Paris, I'll buy you a teddy bear all soft and gold." God knows, I wish I were kidding! But we all have to begin somewhere, both in discovering what we need from love and in moving from clichéd sentiment to great writing.

Many of us resist the power of poetry to illuminate our lives because we have such bad memories of high school English class: "Quoth the Raven, 'Nevermore.'" Get past it. You're cutting yourself off from one of life's great pleasures. More of us have an inferiority complex about poetry that we need to get over: we view poetry as an esoteric art that only the well educated, literate, and erudite can appreciate. Interestingly, poets are the first to disagree. As everyday alchemists, they know that life's hours of lead are base metal waiting to be transmuted into wisdom's gold. "Poetry connects you to yourself, to the self that doesn't know how to talk or negotiate," Rita Dove, America's first African-American poet laureate explains. Once, on the radio, I heard her read a poem about waiting to board a flight home. I was standing at the stove one moment, and the next I was boarding my own flight. It was an exquisite sensory experience and I've never forgotten it.

Recently the power of poetry changed my life again when I was reading David Whyte's collection The House of Belonging. Because poetry is written for the soul not the mind, it pulls no punches. As I read Whyte's verse This is the temple of my adult aloneness and I belong to that aloneness as I belong to my life, I was shaken, rattled, and rolled into a personal awakening. Suddenly, I understood that I had been isolating myself from love in ways I hadn't realized. David Whyte was writing about his life, but the message was meant for me. That is the mystical power of poetry. Poets are Spirit's agents provocateur. Now, hanging on the wall at the landing of the staircase leading to my bedroom, there's another verse from The House of Belonging:

This is the bright home

in which I live,

this is where I ask

my friends to come,

this is where I want

to love all the things

it has taken me so long

to learn to love.

There is no house

like the house of belonging.

"Because poets feel what we're afraid to feel, venture where we're reluctant to go, we learn from their journeys without taking the same dramatic risks," the poet, Diane Ackerman, reveals. "Think of all the lessons to be learned from deep rapture, danger, tumult, romance, intuition. But it's far too exhausting to live like that on a daily basis, so we ask artists to explore for us. Daring to take intellectual and emotional chances, poets live on their senses." And sometimes "we need to be taught how and where to seek wonder, but it's always there, waiting, full of mystery and magic." Wrapped up in the heartstrings of a poem.

Come to Your Senses

Dearest and Best

Being an incurable romantic, I've sent more love letters than I've ever received. I regret almost none of them because I always put my best writing in a love letter. I'm not alone. Michelle Lovric, editor of two luscious anthologies of famous love letters, as well as a delicious primer, How to Write Love Letters, explains why the story of most women's lives is written in X's and O's. "We write letters because they last, even when the love that inspired them has gone, leaving little other trace...We write letters because we are all insecure. We cannot hear often enough that we are loved...We can scarcely believe our luck...Writing love letters are graceful palliatives for the lonely, the lustful, the needy, and the disbelieving."

Women also write love letters because words are potent, passionate, persuasive go-betweens, able to woo potential lovers far more successfully, we believe, than we ever could in person. Frances Wilson tells us in Literary Seductions, "In literary seductions it is writing that seduces and not the writer." And so in September 1846, when the poet Robert Browning saw his soon-to-be runaway bride, Elizabeth Barrett, outside her house for the first time — they were eloping to Italy — he was already besotted. Despite being forty, and an invalid with an overprotective father, Elizabeth had managed to seduce Robert with her passion on the page. In the previous eighteen months they had exchanged 573 letters, each more sensuous and erotic than the one before it. On the page each could reveal his or her true self to the other. Their clandestine affair was kept alive with the love letter, and with wry acknowledgment their affectionate nickname for their son was Pen.

As modern life becomes ever more mechanical, factual, impersonal, how much more necessary to our souls is the secret whisper, the intimate nickname, the caress in just the right place, the voluptuous cataloging of every small detail of a moment shared or anticipated or of the body's delights...

Are you swooning just at the thought? Well, as with so many other things, for a job well done, you'll just have to do it yourself. A love letter. From you. To you. To the you that, perhaps, few if any know well enough to write what you would most wish to read. A letter from the one person who has the boldness to address you with the specificity of sensuousness and the insight you deserve from a lover. (Wouldn't you like to receive one perfect one before you die?)

"Before words," Michelle Lovric explains, "there is, of course, desire. Language is the thread joining that desire to its object, explaining its needs, expressing its cries. The love letter is our heart on our sleeve, our battle standard, our essence, our indelible signature, our emotional fingerprint, our private well of memory, our own ghost of kisses past, our true secret self."

Consider the romantic letters exchanged by Nicholas and Alexandra, collected in A Lifelong Passion. In one, the czarina informed her husband, often absent for affairs of state, "Your precious letter and telegrams I've put on our bed so that when I wake up in the night I can touch something of yours." Or the letters of Oscar Wilde to his wife, Constance (whom he loved very much, despite his infamous extramarital behavior). Separated from her, briefly, in 1884, he wrote, "The messages of the gods travel not by pen and ink and indeed your bodily presence here would not make you more real: for I feel your fingers in my hair, and your cheek brushing mine."

Written while in the absence of their loved one, many love letters are in fact a recording of the heights and depths of the writer's own feelings while he or she is in solitude. They contain sensuous details about the place where the writer is, or fond memories of physical pleasure, sweet pet names, and perhaps even silly endearments, confessions...everything that you are in a perfect position to provide for yourself.

Don't feel self-conscious. Instead, feel conscious of your self. Gather your most beautiful paper, your most flowing pen, your thoughts. Sit by a window flooded with sunlight, or sit in a garden; tuck yourself into a cozy nook. Remember. Feel. Yearn. And now, write.

Dearest and best, my own sweetheart, Heavenly creature, ma Chérie, My One and Only Love, Pet...What do you wish someone would call you, but once? Describe where and how you are seated, what you are wearing, in a way that will allow the reader of your missive to picture you longingly from afar. Use the most luxurious language you can summon to perfectly capture this moment. I am in the large wing chair, the little wine-red velvet pillow tucked beneath my elbow to hold my hand steady, my darling, as I thrill to write to you...

Recount a special memory, confess a hope or wish, lavish praise upon an accomplishment, languidly stroke your body with the imagery spun from a well-wielded pen...express what joy you take in knowing this person, the recipient of the letter, how much you treasure her. Close with kisses and flowery, fond superlatives. Sign the letter with a secret, romantic pseudonym or password. May you bloom forever, garden of my heart, I remain, forever Your Own Girl.

Address an envelope to yourself. Affix a stamp. And, yes, mail the letter to your home.

When it arrives, wait a week, then open it and read it. Giggle. Blush. Reread it incredulously. Reread the juiciest bits aloud. Sigh. Dry a tear. Press the page to your heart...and then press it in a book, perhaps a collection of love letters itself, or an anthology of love poems, to come back to and read yet again...or write more letters, and tie them together with a ribbon, as if you were the heroine of an old romance novel. Go about your day aglow with the feeling of being loved by someone who will always be there for you. And imagine what a riotous uproar the letters will cause someday when they're discovered after you're gone.

Cold Comfort Charms

I, singularly moved

To love the lovely that are not beloved,

Of all the seasons most

Love winter.

— Coventry Patmore

How long it has taken me to learn to love winter. Probably as long as it's taken me to learn the difference between solitude and loneliness. The secret, I think, was realizing that if I was so inclined, there could always be singular winter pleasures waiting to cajole me into good cheer. The Danish writer Isak Dinesen, who spent many years alone in between passionate liaisons, referred to the country house near Copenhagen where she was born in 1885 as a cherished refuge of a "hundred summers' sweetness and winters' comfort." We can try to create such a seasonal sanctuary for ourselves.

While snowy days may leave us feeling that we'd rather stay in bed where it's warm, there are cold comfort charms available only to those who venture outside in the early morning. The first snow is here. So throw back those covers at daybreak. Bundle up and get outside while the snow is smooth and fresh, still unmarked by footprints and unsoiled by the snowplow. Tonight's dessert:

Snow Sherbet

YOU WILL NEED:

1 cup heavy cream

1?2 cup superfine sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

8 cups of fresh snow (remove the ice crust on top and scoop up the soft, wet snow immediately beneath it)

Chocolate and nutmeg, shaved, for garnish

Combine the cream, sugar, and vanilla. Beat well until frothy. Place the mixture in a large bowl and gradually add the snow until the liquid is completely absorbed. Place in freezer until serving. Garnish with shaved chocolate and nutmeg.

Now, wasn't it worth getting up and out for?

Come to Your Senses

Romancing the Cold

The last thing a woman wants to think about when she's about to drop into bed — eyes burning out of her sockets, red and runny nose, raspy throat, hacking cough — is how fetching she looks, unless of course her name is Camille.

While we might aspire to look ravishing when we're caught up in a romantic fever, if the fever precedes the flirtation, please, really, darling, we just want to be left alone! But on the other hand, your body is aching for extra pampering, a loving touch, and rest.

Happily, many soothing solutions are right at hand. No need to struggle out to shop, no need to call for reinforcements.

Let's start with your sleeping arrangements. Slip into something light and loose. If you still feel cold, add another easily removed layer or two. Don't trap achy limbs within garments that bind or stick. The same goes for your bedding: lightweight, layered covers that can be drawn up or kicked off is what the lie-a-bed lady needs. Have a couple of extra-comfy pillows close by, so that you can hug one when you thrash to the left or heave to the right. Raise your head with an extra pillow. And keep some extra bedding (sheets, blankets) and nightclothes nearby, so if you become at all uncomfortable, hot, sweaty, or stinky, you can remake your bed and change into a fresh set.

You'd be amazed at how quickly a runny nose, fever, or upset tummy can deplete your body of essential fluids. Drink as much noncarbonated mineral water, juice, and decaffeinated herbal tea as you can.

Staying fresh and clean when you're sick seems impossible, but it makes you feel so good. When I was little, my mother would wash my arms, face, and neck with a moist cloth, wiping the "sick" away, as she called it, and I always believed her, as did my daughter when I carried out the loving ritual with her. But if you can muster the energy, a long, warm shower or leisurely eucalyptus-scented shampoo will do wonders for respiratory ailments. And I love having a humidifier moisten the bedroom air with a scented mist. You can sweeten and moisturize the air by simmering a few drops of lavender, eucalyptus, peppermint oil, dried rosemary, lavender, or ground cinnamon in a pot of water. Then place it on top of the radiator in your bedroom. It's something a Victorian nanny would do for her little charges.

Your nose is so sore, poor thing. Are you using the softest tissues? Keep a pot of lip balm and skin lotion on your nightstand. Pure almond oil is soothing, as is petroleum jelly for your lips. All of these things can be collected in a small pretty basket and stored in your linen closet, so you don't have to search for each one when you're sick.

Drink through a straw if you have cold sores; have a small jar of flavored honey to dip a little spoon into and every so often suck on it.

Remember to wash your hands frequently (all winter long); a lovely lavender-scented liquid soap in a pump bottle at the sink is a good reminder, even if you're too stuffed to smell its fragrance. And remember to wash your glasses, cups, and towels frequently. You don't want to pass your own germs back to yourself!

There are stages in the progress of every cold or flu. To fill the hours when you're too bleary-eyed or feverish to read, listen to soothing music that lets you drift in and out of pleasant hallucinations. During one nasty bout of what felt like malaria (but wasn't), Johnny Mathis kept me company, just as he did during my high school years. It was great. Chances are that old favorites you haven't heard in a while can induce pleasant reveries for you, too. I also keep a "Wonder Years" box — Nancy Drew novels (the originals), comic books, and a couple of old issues of Seventeen that I found at a flea market. They're so amusing to flip through when I'm feeling poorly. The whole point, when you're sick, is to treat yourself as wittily as you can.

"The sad truth is that there is no point to getting sick when you're a grown-up. You know why? It's because being sick is about you and your mother," Adair Lara reminisces. "Without that solicitous hand on your forehead, there is no one to confirm that you are really sick."

Except your Essensual Self.

Come to Your Senses

Pajama Food

Comfort food, nursery food. Whatever evokes that image for you, it's likely to be soft, and warm, and prepared with love. A snuggly flannel "jammies" food that tucks in your hungry spirit.

What do you reach for, or yearn for, when you're sad or sick or have had a hard day? What memories are associated with that food? Memories that soothe you as you sip or sup?

For some, it's a happy recollection of their mother or grandmother making a favorite treat just for them, a culinary confirmation that all was well. They can still see the beloved cook standing in her apron at the stove, stirring. They can smell the aroma of comfort waiting in the wings, feel the special comfort that a repetition of the predictable and familiar brings.

To others, comfort food is what they proudly learned to make themselves, in a magical ritual of transforming ordinary, everyday ingredients into a single, heavenly whole. Butterscotch pudding. Buckwheat pancakes. Tuna-and-noodle casserole.

It's the rare comfort food that doesn't involve milk and some kind of starch, our very first nursery foods. What wonderful unconscious feelings of safety and satiation lie just below the surface of delicious memories; no difficult excavation process here to get at these comfort icons.

Is your happiest treat a chilly-morning porridge — oatmeal, Cream of Wheat, farina...thick with milk and sugar or maple syrup? Sweet-potato pie or nutmeg-topped whipped squash, served only on Sundays or special occasions? Cream pies? Old-fashioned peanut butter cookies, the kind squashed flat with a fork?

Creamy puddings rate high on the nostalgia list. In England, where many homey desserts fall under the name pudding, the cry "What's for pudding tonight, Mummy?" might encompass anything from a gelatin parfait to a sophisticated layer cake. English steamed or boiled puddings, such as fruit-laden Christmas puddings, are actually moist cakes. What Americans think of as puddings, the Brits call custard. Sure enough, the British-manufactured Bird's custard (a basic cornstarch pudding mix dating back to Victorian days) remains a huge seller over there and you can find it in some large American supermarkets. It's positively redemptive when consolation is called for.

Traditional milky puddings such as tapioca, junket, rice, and bread-and-butter are also feel-good foods. An important contributing factor to most is that to properly make them, one must assemble them from scratch...so their comforting quality comes not only from the listed ingredients, but from the gentle touch of the hand that stirred the spoon.

Gift yourself with this loving attention. Make yourself a pudding, and while you do it, take pleasure in anticipating the delight the eater (you and you alone) will take in the finished dish. How "warm and fuzzy" it will be to make it for her. What good care you are taking of her...and of her memories.

There, There Rice Pudding

YOU WILL NEED:

1?4 cup long-grain white rice (regular or basmati)

3?4 cup water

Pinch of salt

2 teaspoons unsalted butter

1 egg, at room temperature

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 cup milk (vanilla soy milk will also work well)

1?2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1?4 teaspoon each ground nutmeg and cinnamon

1?4 cup raisins

1. Place rice, water, salt, and 1 teaspoon of the butter in a medium saucepan, and bring to a boil. Cover pan, lower heat as far as it can go (use a "flame-tamer" pan beneath, if you own one), and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, do not remove lid, and allow to stand for 15 minutes longer. Then remove the lid and allow the rice to cool in the pan. Rice can be made up to a day in advance this way (refrigerate, covered, if not using immediately).

2. Preheat oven to 325°. In a 2-quart bowl, combine the egg and the sugar, and beat several minutes, until light. Stir in the milk, vanilla, a dash of each spice (reserve rest), and the raisins. Stir in the rice.

3. Coat a 1-quart casserole (ovenproof ceramic or glass) with the remaining 1 teaspoon of butter. Pour in the rice mixture, level it off, and dust with the reserved spices.

4. Place the ovenproof ceramic or glass pan into a large, high-rimmed baking pan, and fill the pan with enough water to come halfway up the sides of the casserole.

5. Bake at 325° for 1 1?2 hours, or until set. Eat warm or cold.

This recipe makes 3 standard portions or 2 extra-comforting big ones. I've also served rice pudding as dessert for grown-up dinner parties, and the clamor only subsides after I pass on the recipe.

Come to Your Senses

A Winter's Tale or Two

At the end of a long day, how do you turn a pleasant rendezvous with a wonderful new book into a winter splendor? Start by turning the lights down low and tucking yourself in bed, with a cup of warm cheer. Now sink your weary head back on a pile of plump pillows, and play footsie with a hot-water bottle while listening in the dark to one chapter of an audiobook. My favorite bedtime storytellers include Jan Karon and her enchanting Mitford series, about small-town life and middle-age romance (beginning with At Home in Mitford). Other sweet dreams came after listening to the English writer Rosamund Pilcher's Winter Solstice and Joanna Trollope's Marrying the Mistress. Besides the cozy domestic details that I adore, these novels are filled with the reassuring affirmation of how rich our ordinary lives are. And we can never hear that often enough.

As far as I'm concerned, movies are either spiritual mentors or self-medication. Depending on the moment, mood, or time of the month, hunkering down in the dark with popcorn can seem like the answer to a prayer or feel like the cure for whatever ails you, from boredom to feeling betrayed. "As we women know, movies are more than entertainment," Nancy Peske and Beverly West remind us in their witty and wise reference tome Cinematherapy: The Girl's Guide to Movies for Every Mood. "A good flick is like a soothing tonic, that if administered properly, in combination with total inertia and something obscenely high in fat grams, can cure everything from an identity crisis to a bad hair day to the I-hate-my-job blues."

This month let the snows and breathtaking fashions of yesteryear woo your sensibilities with these sweeping winter-set sagas of star-crossed lovers: Omar Sharif and Julie Christie in the film adaptation of Boris Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago, set in the days of the Russian Revolution; Ralph Fiennes and Liv Tyler in Onegin, a sumptuous dramatization of Aleksandr Pushkin's nineteenth-century novel in verse, Eugene Onegin, about a man who becomes obsessed with the love he once scorned; and a stunning rendition of Edith Wharton's heartbreaking novella Ethan Frome, written in 1911, starring Liam Neeson and Patricia Arquette. As Peske and West put it: "Indulge in the forbidden pleasures of enmeshment without having to pick up the emotional check."

Romance the ordinary experience of home videos by imagining that you are one of the characters in a film. Pick a character early on, before you know how the film will evolve, but make sure it's someone you feel a connection with whether it's because she's gorgeous, or because she reminds you of a favorite aunt. Or find a character living out your dark side: the less-than-good girl, the not-so-perfect mother, the ruthless executive. Then follow the twists and turns of "your fate." If the film is adapted from a book, read it later to fill in the blanks of the character you've chosen. You'll be amazed at how enlightening and fun this reflective reverie can be.

For, as the philosopher Marsha Sinetar observes in her fascinating book Reel Power: Spiritual Growth Through Film, "Movies mirror us and invite us to go beyond the obvious. Their themes and images can powerfully equip us to see ourselves as we are at our worst, and at our best, or to help us invent new scripts about who we hope to be."

Going Back to Your Roots

Had we but world enough, and time...

My vegetable love should grow

Vaster than empires, and more slow.

— Andrew Marvell (1652)

I grew up thinking that there was only one vegetable in the world — mash. This is not too surprising because from the time I could hold a fork, every vegetable that ended up on my plate looked the same, boiled beyond recognition. It took a trip to France in my twenties to discover how miraculous vegetables truly are and it was an epicurean epiphany. Suddenly vegetables had color, flavor, texture, and aroma. I had to be shown how to eat an artichoke at a dinner party, but instead of being embarrassed, I was giddy with possibility. Thus did my vegetable love begin to grow. (A friend later told me that whenever she has a group of relative strangers to dinner she serves artichokes, putting a large bowl or two at the center of the table for discarded leaves. The tossing of leaves into a communal bowl always breaks the ice, she says.)

While most people wax lyrical about spring's first asparagus or summer's tomatoes, my praise goes to root vegetables, which are at the peak of their flavor during the winter. "Few pleasures are more satisfying than coming in from the cold to a warm house filled with the aromas of freshly baked bread and slowly simmered soups, or the earthy smell of overroasted vegetables," Darra Goldstein argues persuasively in her luscious cookbook The Winter Vegetarian. "Winter need not be a time of gastronomic deprivation, a season to be weathered, a culinary gap to be endured year after year. The cold season can and ought to be an opportunity to luxuriate in the comforts of hearth and home."

Vegetables that grow underground are known as root vegetables, but go way beyond the familiar carrot and everybody's favorite, the potato. They include beetroots, Jerusalem artichokes, celeriac, fennel, turnips, yams, parsnips, and the much maligned rutabaga. One of the more seductive ways that Life attempts to woo us each month is with seasonal foods. Until a few years ago I was unacquainted with the particular charms of these winter marvels. But love that grows slowly always takes root. Why not expand your old boundaries by preparing one new-to-you vegetable a week? This suggestion sounds so inconsequential it's easy to overlook or dismiss, but please don't. The return on your investment of curiosity will be delicious. Each root vegetable has its own distinctive flavor and requires little ornamentation; and each provides a sense of being cozily content when dished up hot and soft. Root vegetables absorb nutrients from the ground as they grow, and they retain this goodness during storage and cooking, unlike more fragile, leafy vegetables that fade with time or heat. This makes them a terrific means of getting your daily vitamins and minerals in large, delicious doses.

French-fried sweet potatoes have become a café sensation, but how often have you had them whipped, like the lightest and creamiest of white mashed potatoes? Sans marshmallows, sans syrups, sans spices except salt, pepper, and a bit of fresh thyme? Here's how to rediscover the taste of the sweet potato. Scrub one medium sweet potato well, poke a few holes in it so it won't explode, then oil it lightly with olive oil. Bake at 350 degrees for one and one-quarter hours, or until easily pierced with a fork. Remove and discard the skin and puree the flesh (cut into chunks and use a blender on low). In a small saucepan, melt two teaspoons unsalted butter. Add the melted butter and one-half teaspoon fresh, finely snipped thyme (an herb traditionally used to cleanse, stimulate, and yet soothe digestion), and give it a quick whirl. Pour into a bowl and top the fluffy treat with a sprinkling of salt and freshly ground pepper.

Carrots, beets, and other root vegetables can be prepared similarly, using a blender or a food processor. But instead of baking the vegetables first, cut them into chunks and steam them, then whip them. A tablespoon of cream cheese added to a turnip puree is divine. A touch of bourbon in a carrot puree is wickedly good. See what happens when you combine different root colors and flavors, and in different proportions: beets and turnips, or carrots and parsnips. Whip small amounts separately, and build yourself a vegetable landscape of white, pink, and orange scoops (just the way your mother might have!). Play with your roots. They've been patiently waiting for you all this time to reveal their true nature.

Come to Your Senses

Vegetable Love

Discovering and preparing simple meals that induce sighs o f contentment is one of life's unsurpassed pleasures. Rich in vitamins and minerals, void of fat, low in calories, high in flavor, vegetables are good for you — body and soul. Mother might have known best, but she just didn't know how to cook them. Darra Goldstein does. Her roasted winter-vegetable medley will pique your palate as well as your spirit.

Roasted Winter-Vegetable Salad

This is so simple, satisfying, and scrumptious you'll designate it a "company" dish. Peel and slice an assortment of vegetables in whatever combination you want. Go wild and mix together raw beets, carrots, celery root, fennel (trimmed and sliced), garlic cloves (peeled and left whole), yellow onions (peeled and cut into wedges), parsnips, potatoes (peeled and cut into small wedges), rutabagas, shallots (peeled and separated into sections), sweet potatoes (peeled and cut into small wedges), turnips, and winter squash (peeled, seeded, and sliced).

Preheat the oven to 425° F. With good olive oil lightly grease a baking dish large enough to hold the vegetables without crowding. Toss the vegetables with a little more olive oil (about 6 teaspoons) and balsamic vinegar (about 3 teaspoons), and season with salt, freshly ground pepper, and a teaspoon each of dry savory and thyme. Put the dish in the oven and roast for about 45 minutes, turning the vegetables every 15 minutes until they are tender and browned.

With a loaf of crusty French bread (to push the vegetables around on your plate!) and a nice glass of red wine, this dish makes a meal well worth staying home for.

We'll Take Romance

Is not this the true romantic feeling — not to desire

to escape life, but to prevent life from escaping you?

— Thomas Wolfe

In her delightful essay "A Plea for Flirtation," written for Vogue in 1964, the writer Marya Mannes points out that the purpose of flirtation is "to warm, to amuse, to titillate, even to excite" our drab daily round. "And it would make this impermanent life a lot more fun if more of us learned the art of keeping the spark alive, and glowing."

It would seem that learning the art of keeping sparks alive is a lifelong occupation for every woman.

If truth be told, I'm a woman born for relationships, and yet, to my great bewilderment, I'm alone. Glancing back, I suppose I've been alone all my life, especially when I've been in relationships, and that is the loneliest kind of lonely. It astonishes me to confess this, because it sounds so sad. And it was very sad — for about half a century. But then one ordinary day, like the ordinary day I discovered the miracle of gratitude, I got tired of my own misery. To others, I effectively hid my secret sorrow, but the emotional exhaustion of carrying and concealing my loneliness became more than I could bear alone. So I turned to Spirit.

Knowing the transformative power of gratitude to redeem every situation, especially the impossible ones, I started a brand-new Gratitude Journal devoted to romance. I began by listing the reasons that I was grateful, at that particular moment, to require a table only for one. The holiday season is especially hard on single people, so if you're lonely because you're no one's sweetheart this Thanksgiving, here are a few entries to help you stop enduring your loneliness and begin embracing your at-one-ness:

1. I don't have to stop what I'm doing to take care of anyone else except my daughter.

2. I don't have to hide my purchases in the trunk of the car.

3. I can stay in my pajamas all weekend long.

4. I can eat pizza for breakfast, or make pancakes for dinner.

5. Waxing can wait until spring (both floors and legs!).

6. I can spread all my papers and books on the other side of my bed and leave them there until I'm finished.

7. My decor needn't accommodate jarring departures from my exquisite personal taste.

8. I don't have to make an appointment to spend half an hour in the tub.

9. I can watch a wonderful old movie at 3 A.M. without keeping the volume down.

10. I don't have to share my closets with anyone.

11. I can dress up for the fun of it without anyone asking, "What's the occasion?"

12. I can tear pages out of magazines and newspapers without waiting for anyone else to read them first.

13. I don't have to tune out the clamor of someone else's choice in music, television, or videos.

14. I can spend Saturday reading and catch up on the housework whenever.

15. I can eat anything in my own refrigerator at any time.

16. I can celebrate any darn thing I want to with an expensive bottle of wine.

17. I'm always happy with my own birthday present.

18. I'm not working overtime to pay for someone else's frivolities.

19. I don't have to stop everything to catch the score, unless I want to.

20. I don't have to explain myself, ever.

None of this may sound like the stepping-stone to living romantically, but trust me, the experiment has to begin somewhere. At this moment you may be feeling sorry for yourself because of loves lost. But discover a few new-to-you reasons to be grateful for your singleness of purpose right now — your determination to find your own essential, long-overdue happiness — and who knows what you'll be grateful for tomorrow?

Between the Lines

Love After Love

If you wake up feeling depressed because you're alone, especially during the holidays, the Nobel Prize-winning poet and dramatist Derek Walcott's poem "Love After Love" becomes an eloquent prayer expressing gratitude for the unexpected blessing that comes when we are ready to take a chance on Life's true romance.

The time will come

When, with elation,

You will greet yourself arriving

At your own door, in your own mirror,

And each will smile at the other's welcome

And say, sit here. Eat.

You will love again the stranger who was your self.

Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart

To itself, to the stranger who has loved you

All your life, whom you ignored

For another, who knows you by heart.

Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

The photographs, the desperate notes,

Peel your own image from the mirror.

Sit. Feast on your life.

Copyright © 2002 by Simple Abundance?, Inc.

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