Built for Speed

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I never tire of looking at photos of rabbits. These two stop-motion photos of wild rabbits sprinting through the winter landscape are fascinating. Rabbits’ bones are very fragile, though these creatures have great muscular strength, particularly in their hind quarters (as evidenced by their thumping, which is loud). This combination of a light skeleton and well-developed musculature gives them unbelievable agility and speed. My house rabbit, Boxer, is far more solid than these wild rabbits, but he has amazed me at times with his speed and reflexes –his showy demonstrations of flying leaps, high jumps, and mid-air twists of his body as he zooms around our upstairs and, particularly, in his playpen outdoors.

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The Case for Lawns

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Today everything is covered in six inches of snow that arrived on the wings of a winter storm last night, but only a few days ago when I snapped this photo, the temperature was in the 50s and it felt like winter was breaking up. Having lived in Pennsylvania for most of my life, I know not to trust what seems like the stirrings of an early spring; I was not surprised when the snowstorm blew through, but because there is a bit of a contrarian in me, I spent my day thinking about green things — lawns and parks, in particular. There’s a fascinating article about the history of lawns in America that I read in the New York Times Magazine nearly 28 years ago, which I’ve never forgotten, and today I wondered if it was possible to find it online. It seemed like a long shot but, lo and behold, I found it in one quick Google search and was surprised to find that it was written by Michael Pollan, whose name meant nothing to me back then, but whom I now know from his Netflix documentary series on food. I really love Pollan’s curious mind, his passion and eloquence, all of which comes across in this article, which is titled “Why Mow?; The Case Against Lawns.” What’s funny is that, while his article works towards his viewpoint that the American obsession with lawns is neither natural or healthy (either ecologically or psychologically), and he makes some valid and thought-provoking points in building his case, his article stayed in my mind all these years precisely because it made me love the ideas that influenced and informed our suburban American landscape.

IF ANY INDIVIDUAL CAN BE said to have invented the American lawn, it is Frederick Law Olmsted. In 1868, he received a commission to design Riverside, outside of Chicago, one of the first planned suburban communities in America. Olmsted’s design stipulated that each house be set back 30 feet from the road and it proscribed walls. He was reacting against the “high dead-walls” of England which he felt made a row of homes there seem “as of a series of private madhouses.” In Riverside, each owner would maintain one or two trees and a lawn that would flow seamlessly into his neighbors’, creating the impression that all lived together in a single park. †

Truly, I feel my heart flush with admiration when I read the quote above and think about the work of Frederick Law Olmsted — and I feel it flush with pride in regard to the American landscape. In terms of my tastes, architecturally and land-wise, I love beautifully flowing, open spaces. I need privacy like anyone else, and I think there can be areas in a yard that accommodate that, but I also love seeing my neighbors and having a reason to pause in my day and chat about the weather or the Christmas lights or the state of the azaleas in the spring. Though I understand Pollan’s feeling that lawn care in America is an exercise in conformity that can make one feel “the hot breath of the majority’s tyranny” when an individual doesn’t keep his lawn mowed, maintained, and on par with everyone else’s in the neighborhood, I don’t see how this expectation is different from other popular expectations we have about how a person should behave in our society. The majority of us hope and expect our neighbors and nearby business owners will keep up their properties and not let them fall into disrepair, whether there’s a yard involved or not. We don’t like it when the paint is peeling and falling off our next door neighbor’s house — and we don’t like it when they stop wearing clean clothes and traipse about the neighborhood looking disheveled and smelling ripe (unless, of course, they are undergoing a hardship or are not well, in which case we understand and find a way to help).

In the historical overview of his article, Pollan talks about what the landscape in the United States looked like before Olmsted’s influence, and basically it looked rough, “as if it had been shaped and cleared in a great hurry — as indeed it had: the landscape largely denuded of trees, makeshift fences outlining badly plowed fields, tree stumps everywhere one looked.” Unlike in Europe, hardly anyone practiced ornamental gardening because, if one had the luck and the fortitude to carve out a piece of land here, one was most likely engaged in eking out a living from that land by farming it. But, as Pollan notes, there were also cities here, with a growing middle-class of city people who were prospering and moving out of them in the years after the Civil War. That is when the “borderlands” of America started to change in appearance, he explains, and it began with Frederick Law Olmsted — the man who designed so many of our country’s beloved parks, including Central Park in New York City, as well as many of the campuses of our universities (such as Stanford and the University of California at Berkeley). He was the impetus, and his vision and groundwork were then furthered by another gentleman:

In 1870, Frank J. Scott, seeking to make Olmsted’s ideas accessible to the middle class, published the first volume ever devoted to “suburban home embellishment”: “The Art of Beautifying Suburban Home Grounds,” a book that probably did more than any other to determine the look of the suburban landscape in America. Like so many reformers of his time, Scott was nothing if not sure of himself: “A smooth, closely shaven surface of grass is by far the most essential element of beauty on the grounds of a suburban house.”

Americans like Olmsted and Scott did not invent the lawn; lawns had been popular in England since Tudor times. But in England, lawns were usually found only on estates; the Americans democratized them, cutting the vast manorial greenswards into quarter-acre slices everyone could afford. Also, the English never considered the lawn an end in itself: it served as a setting for lawn games and as a backdrop for flowerbeds and trees. Scott subordinated all other elements of the landscape to the lawn; flowers were permissible, but only on the periphery of the grass: “Let your lawn be your home’s velvet robe, and your flowers its not too promiscuous decoration.”

But Scott’s most radical departure from Old World practice was to dwell on the individual’s responsibility to his neighbors. “It is unchristian,” he declared, “to hedge from the sight of others the beauties of nature which it has been our good fortune to create or secure.” One’s lawn, Scott held, should contribute to the collective landscape. “The beauty obtained by throwing front grounds open together, is of that excellent quality which enriches all who take part in the exchange, and makes no man poorer.” Like Olmsted before him, Scott sought to elevate an unassuming patch of turfgrass into an institution of democracy.

With our open-faced front lawns we declare our like-mindedness to our neighbors – and our distance from the English, who surround their yards with “inhospitable brick wall, topped with broken bottles,” to thwart the envious gaze of the lower orders. The American lawn is an egalitarian conceit, implying that there is no reason to hide behind fence or hedge since we all occupy the same middle class. †

I don’t know about you, but most of these ideas sound rather good to me. I think our open lawns — these small acreages that you don’t have to be a land baron to afford, that stretch out for the enjoyment of all, at least visually — accurately and beautifully symbolize the democracy we strive for. Yes, our lawns certainly do have a uniformity to them, but uniformity does not necessarily equate with sameness — and sameness (where it does exist) doesn’t always equate with ‘bad.’ I’ll touch on that in my conclusion, but first I need to acknowledge that while I haven’t made mention other aspects of Pollan’s article (just as relevant now as when he wrote it in 1989) questioning the ecological impact of American’s insistence on having green lawns in places of the country where perhaps they don’t belong, using pesticides and chemicals  that perhaps shouldn’t be used anywhere, it’s not because I want to brush those points aside. It’s more the fact that the history and symbolism of the lawn is what thunderstruck me about this article originally and continues to do so now.

Pollan himself is proof that we are a country of smart people, of innovative thinkers, and this gives me hope that we will find solutions that will allow us to uphold our tradition of having these flowing green spaces across our country. Our collective lawns stretching from sea to shining sea, creating the impression that we are living in a park, is a more-than-lovely, defining feature of these great United States. In the same way that in landscape design, various elements serve as archetypes — with rocks sometimes set in the ground as a representation of water (symbolizing the unconscious), while a cave or grotto signifies the womb of Mother Earth — I really would like to believe, along the lines of Olmsted and Scott, that our collective, sprawling lawns makes an archetypal statement, too. One that declares,  We are Americans and we are united in our enjoyment of being a country that was formed with the promise that you could come here and own land, not through entitlement, but through labor. We earned this land as commoners: this is our pride, our commonwealth and our common good that is on display. We do hope you’ll come for a barbecue later, but for now, let us start our engines.

†Excerpted from the New York Times Magazine article “Why Mow?; The Case Against Lawns by Michael Pollan, published May 28, 1989. I linked the title to the online article, for those who’d like to read it in its entirety. It is fascinating, beautifully written, and brings up more topics than I’ve managed to cover in this post.

She Was Just Passing Through

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She was just passing through, on her way to Alaska on her motorcycle with her black-and-tan Chihuahua dog tucked into a sidecar that served as his doghouse. I can’t remember her name, only what she looked like: a tall, big-boned woman with a wide, smiling face—her long dark hair pulled back into a ponytail—wearing leather chaps over her jeans and a leather vest over her denim shirt. Her motorcycle was tricked out in all kinds of things: leather fringe, chrome-studded leather guards, a couple of those little American flags on sticks, attached to the back of the bike where they fluttered in the wind, and a handmade sign on the front that said “Alaska or bust.” She was an immensely attractive woman—there were dimples in the corners of her mouth when she smiled—and her build, sturdy leaning towards thick, worked in her favor. She looked like she was built to ride in the saddle of that motorcycle.

I was working for a small weekly newspaper in upstate New York, my second job in the six years I lived there and my favorite job ever, perhaps because it was a kind of newspaper I‘d never encountered before and was most certainly a relic, even in those days, the mid-eighties. In addition to items most people consider newsworthy, this paper had a fair amount of “social” news, owing to its graying readership, and it regularly published items that read like so: “Mrs. Elsie Wood and her niece, Miss Josephine Shawley, attended an afternoon tea and bridal shower at the Woodstock home of her cousin on the last Saturday of April. Tea and assorted sandwiches were served….” It wasn’t that I found the social items in and of themselves particularly endearing, it was that I loved how this quaintness extended to the staff of the newspaper and to the way the whole affair was put together. Oddly enough, I didn’t write for the paper but did everything else: from selling and designing ads, to being in charge of the newspaper layout—which was not done on a computer but by pasting everything up with the aid of light tables—to proofreading columns, and even to managing the paper boys and mailing out subscriptions. Don’t ask me why I found all of this so exciting, I just did. I loved staying at my job until 10:30 pm on Tuesday nights, which was when we “put the newspaper to bed” before it went to the printers in the dawn hours of the next morning. And working elbow to elbow with the editor, a sixty-year-old country gentleman who loved Manhattans and regaled me with his stories from a lifetime of working at the paper. Then having the entire next morning off to do as I pleased until the freshly-printed papers arrived back from the press in the early afternoon, all smelling of ink and ready to go.

It’s funny to think that when the motorcycle lady rolled into our parking lot, her story of riding to Alaska, from whatever Southern state she rolled out of originally, was deemed important enough to be a feature story, yet it was. This smiling Amazon in leather with her tiny-dog sidekick charmed the country-gentleman editor. So much so that, rather than assigning her story to someone else, he wrote it himself on the spot and asked his best reporter (who usually wrote the features) to take a series of photos to accompany it.

Of course, she thrilled the rest of us too, being that free-as-the-wind American dream that each of us had squarely tucked up in our heads but had never taken out to contemplate, for all of life’s valid reasons. The motorcycle lady didn’t have a husband or kids, and she didn’t mind looking for odd jobs that she could do on the way to help support her trip. (The oddest of odd jobs, at least in terms of availability, because she was intent on moving on, and how many restaurants only need a dishwasher for one or two nights?) Who knows whether she even made it to Alaska—at some point she might have turned around and headed back home—but that thought never crossed any of our minds, and if it did, I’m not sure we would have cared. She was living the dream we wanted to believe in, and everything about her (including her pint-sized dog, clad in his own leather gear) seemed larger than life.

Over the past couple months I’ve been wearing the gorgeous plum-leather fragrance Boxeuses, by Serge Lutens. Boxeuses is French for “lady boxers” (yep, women who box), but when I wear it I have a hard time conjuring up such an image. The fragrance is leathery, yes, but it’s a little too fun, a little too breezy to make me think of a lady boxer, or anyone in the heat of combat. This leather has a green-tinged (almost absinthe-like) anise coolness on initial application that spurs the image of my motorcycle lady to come riding into my consciousness. Give it a few minutes, and this leather is as fringed and tricked-up as her ride, with its dried-plum yumminess enhanced by a hint of chocolaty patchouli. If I were to use only one sentence to describe Boxeuses, I’d call it leather in the guise of a Fruit Roll-Up (that densely chewy, pectin-based confection approved by mothers for inclusion in school lunch bags because it fulfills the requirement of “fruit” while being conveniently portable).

Leather is one of my favorite notes in perfume. Sometimes it reminds me of men (for whatever reason its a scent that triggers masculine associations in my brain); other times it reminds me of freedom (because of saddles and horses), as it does here. Green-tinged, slightly woody, and sweetly prune-like, Boxeuses is one far-out-of-the-ordinary leather perfume that tugs at my heartstrings with its free-wheeling beauty.

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Serge Lutens Boxeuses eau de parfum can be purchased from the official Serge Lutens website, as well as from Barneys.com, where a 75-ml bell jar is currently priced at $300. My review is based on a decant I received from my blogging friend, Ines, of All I Am – A Redhead.

NOTE: This post is reprinted from my other site, Suzanne’s Perfume Journal, where it originally appeared on April 17, 2011. The story is true: I can see that woman in my mind as if it was yesterday, and I still wonder whether she made it to Alaska (and if so, did she stay or motor on?).

Image credits: Yamaha motorcycle is from Motorcyclecruiser.com; photo of Serge Lutens Boxeuses is from Fragrantica.com.

Want.

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Source: Pottery Barn

There are so many cute bunny plates that I see in the Pottery Barn and Pier One catalogs. If I had room for more dishware I’d buy some, but I don’t, so I just enjoy looking at them.

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Source: Pier One

Here are some of my favorites (not necessarily from this year’s catalogs … I got caught up browsing for bunny items, and these were the ones that stole my heart!)

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Source: Williams Sonoma

 

“Drunk as Drunk” — My favorite love poem by Pablo Neruda

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“Sea Lovers” by chyoyay is from deviantart.com

DRUNK AS DRUNK

Translated from the Spanish by Christopher Logue

Drunk as drunk on turpentine
From your open kisses,
Your wet body wedged
Between my wet body and the strake
Of our boat that is made of flowers,
Feasted, we guide it – our fingers
Like tallows adorned with yellow metal –
Over the sky’s hot rim,
The day’s last breath in our sails.

Pinned by the sun between solstice
And equinox, drowsy and tangled together
We drifted for months and woke
With the bitter taste of land on our lips,
Eyelids all sticky, and we longed for lime
And the sound of a rope
Lowering a bucket down its well. Then,
We came by night to the Fortunate Isles,
And lay like fish
Under the net of our kisses.

~Pablo Neruda

Beautiful wintry quote from the novel Doctor Zhivago

wild-rabbit-running-in-the-snow“I love the warm, dry winter breath of the cellar, the smell of earth, roots, and snow that hits you the moment you raise the trap door as you go down in the early hours before the winter dawn, a weak, flickering light in your hand.

“You come out; it is still dark. The door creaks or perhaps you sneeze or the snow crunches under your foot, and hares start up from the far cabbage patch and hop away, leaving the snow crisscrossed with tracks. In the distance dogs begin to bark and it is a long time before they quiet down. The cocks have finished their crowing and have nothing left to say. Then dawn breaks.”

— from Doctor Zhivago (Chapter 9, Varykino) by Boris Pasternak

The Sweet Nothingness of Cartier La Panthère Édition Soir perfume

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Simple yet beautiful La Perla lingerie.

A couple of months ago I ordered a bottle of a perfume I’d fallen deeply in love with — Must de Cartier — which I purchased through the Cartier website in order to get the older-style refill bottle. I’m really glad I did so! Their service was fast, the packaging was elegant, and they sent me spray samples of a couple of their most recent perfumes, which I wouldn’t have had occasion to try otherwise. Cartier La Panthère Édition Soir is one of those samples: launched last year, it is a flanker to La Panthère (2014), which I can’t compare it to, being unfamiliar with both it and the original (now discontinued) Cartier Panthère — the one without the “La” in the name – which so many people loved and which today can only be hunted down on auction sites like eBay. From what I’ve read, vintage Cartier Panthère was one of those animalic and audacious scents of the 80s that more closely matched up to the concept of a panther. Whereas this latest twist on the perfume legacy, La Panthère Édition Soir, doesn’t live up to its name at all (or at least not to my mind), though I still quite like it. I think of panthers as being showy and fierce, and I think of “edition soir” as referring to something dark and risque, conjuring up nighttime prowlings out on the town or leading to the boudoir, yet this perfume is sweetly kittenish with nothing dark about it. Instead it is sexy in a quiet and classy way; its left-of-center gardenia note, enhanced by the scent of something peachy or apricot-like, being reminiscent of a woman’s creamy skin. Once one has put aside any notions of there being a growl attendant with a scent of this name, then La Panthère Édition Soir delivers up some delightful feminine froth. To me, its gentle nectar has a filmy quality that reminds me of lingerie — of something that sits sweetly on the skin, hidden beneath a business suit perhaps, to remind a woman of the underbelly side of herself: the side that is is infinitely soft, curvy, and yielding. A tasteful matching bra-and-panty from La Perla, in a soft color like peach, comes to mind when I smell this perfume . So does a scene from a book — Rich in Love by Josephine Humphreys, one of my favorite novels — which begins:

     We went into Sweet Nothings, where underwear floated in the air. Bikini pants and bras and camisoles hovered just above my head, and Billy’s eyes were on a level with the garter belts. He batted at a slip that touched his hair, then tangled with a length of monofilament holding up a Christian Dior teddy. The plastic popped, dropping the little silk suit to the floor. A salesgirl picked it up.

“Can I help you, sir?”

He looked lost.†

This is a scene in which Lucille, the novel’s protagonist — a girl in her late teens, on the cusp of womanhood — takes her brother-in-law shopping for a nightgown for his pregnant wife, Lucille’s sister.

     “We want a nightgown,” I said.

….

“Did you have a color or a style in mind?” the girl said.

“We want something beautiful,” I said. “Something white. I’ll just look through these, thanks.” I slid the hangers one by one along the rack, looking at every gown. They were all either too glamorous or too matronly.

“Here you go,” Billy said, holding up a pink negligee with fur on it.

“No fur,” I said.

“No fur,” he said to the salesgirl.

“This one,” I said, coming to a white silk. It stopped me cold, its plain bodice cut like a slip, with thin rolled straps. It was soft and wispy, and just the thing to make Rae feel beautiful again.†

The only problem is that Lucille has forgotten her sister’s new girth. Since the gown won’t fit Rae, Billy suggests that she get it for herself — and because Lucille is modest and somewhat tomboyish, his suggestion surprises her. Under normal circumstances she would likely reject it, but the beauty of the gown has already worked its magic on her, and she follows the salesgirl to the dressing room.

     I hated dressing rooms because I didn’t like to watch myself undress; it was unnerving. In addition, I didn’t really like the look of myself once I got undressed, awkwardly standing there in the cubicle. So turning my back to the mirror, I took off my shirt and bra, then slipped the nightgown over my head. Then under the gown I unzipped my jeans and let them drop in a stiff heap to the floor. I turned around and faced the mirror.

The sight was almost too much for me. I stood there ogling myself. I even wiggled my hips some, regretting it immediately, but then I did it again. I stood sideways to my own reflection and tried to keep from smiling.†

This scene, in many ways, strikes me as a perfect analogy for the kind of feeling I get when wearing La Panthère Édition Soir. It has an understated beauty that is elegant and simple, yet, in the way that understated things often do, has the effect of amplifying one’s sense of one’s own pulchritude. Like the lingerie that Lucille had in mind when she went looking through the racks for the nightgown, La Panthère Édition Soir has no fur — no strong animalics: it is a perfume of pure cosmetic silkiness, with its liberal dose of musk and oakmoss enhancing the fruited gardenia heart of this fragrance in a way that speaks of glide, of “sweet nothing” sheerness, and of cool dewiness. Its oakmoss coolness recalls the silk fabric of lingerie; the warmth of a note that smells like apricot, combined with the creaminess of its white-floral accord, recalls skin. La Panthère Édition Soir is a little sweet when first applied, but quietly so, and over its many hours of wear, the oakmoss and some woody notes deepen the scent, making it smell just mossy enough that the scent steers womanly rather than girlish. The floral heart, which smells like it is composed around an iris note as well as gardenia, becomes more cosmetic smelling in the late dry-down, too, albeit the transition happens slowly. One might be tempted to describe this as a linear perfume, and perhaps it is, but a warming effect takes place, like body heat taking up residence in the sheer lingerie.

Bottom line (no pun intended): La Panthère Édition Soir is more of a daytime, pretty kitty than a panther running fiercely into the night, and that’s fine by me. This quietly luminous perfume might not live up to its name, but it more than gets by on its own merits.

La Panthère Édition Soir eau de parfum can be purchased from the Cartier website and fine department stores like Macys, where a 1.6 oz bottle is $112. (Btw, I have no affiliation with Cartier or Macys, I’m just someone who loves to review perfume!)

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Rich in Love, copyright © 1987 by Josephine Humphreys (Viking Penguin Inc., New York, 1987, pp. 225-226)

My Five Easy Resolutions for the New Year Series. Last up, Resolutions for A Sense of Well-Being.

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1) Condition myself to get enough sleep, which means more than five hours.  For most of my life, I went to bed at a decent hour and averaged about eight hours of sleep a night.  And then a couple of things happened that interrupted that pattern: I started a perfume blog nine years ago and began staying up later at night to work on my posts, and then there was a spell of time (probably only a couple of months) where my husband was staying up until the wee hours of night playing computer games, and that gave me tacit permission to stay up just as late. Of course, he got himself sorted out and I never did; though I wake up each day around 7 am and don’t take any naps, I typically don’t go to bed until 2 am. I know this is unhealthy, and yet oddly enough, it’s as if my mind and body are now hard-wired to expect only 5 hours of sleep (so, if I manage to go to bed at 11 pm, I’m often awake by 4 am). Even though I have obviously functioned for years now on little rest, I’m training myself to get back on track. Some nights it requires the aid of a dose of Benadryl to make me drowsy, but over time I’m hoping that sleep will prove to be a natural craving, the way it once was for me.

ti-mxzgbsmk-clem-onojeghuo2) Get new frames for my glasses so that I actually enjoy wearing them. I’m far-sighted and have had a pair of progressive lens (aka “no-line bifocal”) glasses for years, but have hardly ever worn them. When progressive-lens glasses originally came out, they were not as good as the ones that are being produced now – and my eyesight was such that I could get by with relying on my reading glasses, so I did. Then two years ago I got a new pair of progressive lenses that worked so much better, but I never liked the frames: they seemed the best choice when I was in the store, and since I had to make a decision that day (or so it seemed) I ordered them. I did make an effort to wear them at first, but every time I slipped them on I felt unattractive. So, my resolution? This past month I got my eyes re-examined and insisted that my eye doctor give me my prescription so that I could hunt for frames through some of the reputable eyeglass manufacturers on the Internet, at least one of which allows you to do home try-ons with various frames (and the shipping for the try-on frames is free). I’m going to resolve to be patient and find a pair of frames that works for me — and if in the end I order them and change my mind about how they look, I’m going to wrestle my utterly useless sense of vanity to the floor and commit to wearing them anyway. 2017 is the year of me wearing the glasses I need.

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3) Get back to doing pilates. Most of my exercise centers around running, and that leaves certain groups of muscles neglected: my arms, abs and back. I used to do pilates floor exercises quite a bit, and even doing them only twice a week makes a big difference in my muscle strength and posture. As I’m writing this, it also occurs to me that back in the days when I practiced it regularly I tended to sleep better, too. It’s a quieting exercise with a lot of focus on breathing, so it calms the mind much in the way yoga does, and in my experience, it’s a whole lot easier and more comfortable to do than yoga, because the movement is continuous: you’re stretching and trying to keep the movement slow and steady, but you aren’t holding a difficult pose or position for a determined length of time. I really like that about it, so why did I ever stop doing it? Well, for all of the normal reasons that people stop doing things that don’t come naturally and require a certain amount of concentration or focus. However, I hereby resolve to get back to it, and I’m lumping this in as an “easy” resolution, because I already know the routine. I don’t have to learn anything new, I just have to make the effort.

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4) Write letters to people I love. After featuring Garrison Keillor’s How To Write A Letter essay in one of my posts, I realized how much I treasure the letters people once wrote to me and which I have kept all these years, almost as souvenirs of those relationships, whether they were familial, friendship, or romantic relationships. I have letters tucked away from my paternal grandmother, maternal grandfather, my mom, childhood friends, college roommates, boyfriends, and even a couple from my husband, whom I’ve never been away from for more than a week or two, and who isn’t a letter-writing kind of guy, but who managed to write me a couple lovely letters anyway. It seems to me that if you treasure a certain tradition or institution, you should do your part to reciprocate and uphold it, so I’ll be writing letters this year, on the flaps of birthday cards (which is the easy way to start, since the motivation to address a card to someone is already there) and hopefully on some nice stationery, too.

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5) Do a better job at connecting with my husband’s interests. When you’ve been in a marriage a long time, it’s easy to take the other person for granted. If your personalities and interests are very different, and you think you no longer have to impress this person, why not let him do his thing and you do yours? I have the tendency to adopt that stance, but fortunately my husband keeps us on track. For the past two years it has been with ballroom dancing lessons, which has led us to going out a lot more with friends (the friends who are in our class and who are quite a social bunch). And his allowing me to bring my pet rabbit, Boxer, into our home has brought us even closer, because we never had children and now we’ve both fallen for this precious little guy who is like our child. All of which is to say, I’m grateful and I’m going to show it to him by engaging in some of his favorite pastimes. For starters, he’s wanted me to play computer games with him for the longest time, and this year I’m going to learn the ropes of World of Warcraft. (Yes, believe it or not, honey, it’s true. Count me in!)

This wraps up my “5 Easy Resolutions for the New Year” series. If you made any resolutions, I hope they’re going well and that they impart a sense of renewed energy, or perhaps a greater sense of personal contentment, in the year ahead.

Keeping my Resolutions: Homemade Wonton Soup

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These are the finished wonton noodles, prior to cooking them.

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The finished soup.

In one of my “Five Easy Resolutions for the New Year” series, I resolved to learn how to make wonton soup, and now I can check it off my list (though I will definitely be making it again, it was that good). I followed this recipe — Simple Wonton Soup from The Woks of Life blog — and followed it to a T, with the exception of using regular Japanese soy sauce instead of Seasoned Soy Sauce (a Chinese soy sauce that reportedly has a different flavor from the Kikoman soy sauce that most of us buy) and fresh-ground black pepper in place of white pepper. The recipe only calls for a very small amount of both these items, so I didn’t see the sense in purchasing new products when what I had on hand was close enough.  I did, however, make a special trip to an Asian grocery store to purchase the specific type of wonton skins described in the recipe’s instructions, as well as a bottle of shaozing wine, which is a dark rice wine. You only use a tablespoon of the latter — it goes in the filling for the wontons — but as rice wine is quite different from most other wines, and distinctly Asian, it seemed essential to purchase it.

For the broth, I used my husband’s homemade turkey broth, which is slightly richer than chicken broth, but still a light broth. Homemade broth is, in my opinion, the only way to go for this recipe. Whereas the western tradition of soup-making typically involves incorporating a lot of ingredients into the broth — the diced vegetables and meats simmered in such soups flavor them to the degree that you can often get away with using a canned broth from the grocery store (especially if you’re also adding a cream to the base of the soup and pureeing it) — the Asian tradition is often towards a clear-brothed soup, and it’s essential for that broth to be tasty and stand-alone good. (A boxed or canned broth in this wonton soup would be too flat and wan-tasting.)

Even using the richer turkey broth (rather than chicken), my husband characterized this wonton soup as being “more delicate and also more complex” than the soup we get at our favorite Chinese restaurant. I’d have to agree — I have no complaints about the restaurant soup (it’s a favorite of mine), but this homemade version was more elegant in terms of its tastes. I’m glad I put it on my New Year’s Resolution list because I would never have gotten around to making it; I would have kept saying that I was going to do it someday, and then kept ignoring it in favor of making the steady rotation of soups that are already in my cooking repertoire because, you know, they’re easy. Not that making wonton soup is particularly difficult, but for someone unaccustomed to filling and folding dumplings, it was more time consuming than my normal style of cooking. I knew it would be, so I made it on a day when I had no other obligations and could relax. I set my computer and headphones on my workstation and listened to YouTube videos while I filled and shaped the wontons. Doing this reminded me of why I made my New Year’s Resolutions the way I did. When resolutions involve big changes or daunting challenges, chances are you won’t do them. I’d rather make a list of a bunch of things to incorporate in the year ahead, and have them be just challenging and out-of-the-ordinary enough that they get me out of my normal routine. And if they add an element of joy to my new year, all the better!

Tomorrow I’ll be posting my final installment of my “Five Easy Resolutions” series. I realize it’s the end of January and most people aren’t thinking about such things anymore, but I still am. 🙂

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