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“The principal thing in this world is to keep one’s soul afloat.” – Gustave Flaubert

I don’t know about you, but I am exhausted.  The excitement and anticipation, which fueled my preparations for Christmas and sustained me throughout that joyous season, has dissipated.  The brightly colored and sparkly decorations have been packed away until next year.  So now what?  Rest, settle down, and settle in for the winter.

Embrace dormancy.  All the rest of the natural world does.  The animals slumber in hibernation.  The plants wait patiently.  Frost covers the earth and seals in its heat.  Enjoy the stillness.  Cultivate peace within yourself and those you love.  Turn your home into a haven of comfort and warmth.  Nurture yourself.

Use this quiet time to center yourself.  Take naps to restore your energy level.  Pray.  Read an inspiring or educational book.  Surround yourself with quiet beauty, and take time to meditate upon it.  I keep a prayer on my night stand in a small white frame which reads, “By the might of Thy spirit lift us, we pray thee, to Thy presence where we may be still and know that thou art God.”

In The Idea of Retreat, Gilbert Kilpach says:

Those moments when we enter into the life of the spirit and the whole world becomes suddenly luminous are the moments when we really live and the destiny of human life enters into its true fulfillment, and then we know that those years spent treading the busy round of feverish activity are not years of life at all, but years of death.  Thus it is that Charles Peguy says, ‘When a man lies dying, he does not die from disease alone.  He dies from his whole life.’ The only tragedy of death, is the tragedy of never having lived.

I take this opportunity to clear away the clutter, mentally and physically.  Many home décor magazines feature white or neutral interiors in their January issues.

Taking a cue from them, I focus now on simple beauty and simple pleasures, giving myself and those I love space to breathe, to think, and to rest. I set out white candles, white flowers, a clear glass beaker of pine cones, and a pastel bowl of shells. I try to turn everyone’s attention inward, toward the comforts of home. Alice Walker said, “It is attention to the details of tenderness that supports and encourages life.” We ordered a half cord of wood, so that we can enjoy a fire at night and maybe listen to some soothing jazz. When the power went out a few nights ago, we played Jenga by candle light in front of the fireplace. I scatter soft throws and blankets wherever people may want to sit and snuggle in.

I invested in a giant sheepskin pillow to curl up on the floor.  Delight in being safe, warm, comfortable, and at home.  Samuel Johnson said, “To be happy at home is the ultimate result of all ambition.”

Enjoy sedentary hobbies.  Yesterday, I went to the library and asked the reference librarian to help me find a couple of good, historical novels. I perused my own bookcase for works I had purchased but never had time to read. I may sit down and read the magazines that arrive in the mail that I haven’t had time to read (since Thanksgiving): Country Living, Oprah, Everyday Meals, Bon Appetit.  Before I injured my hand, I used to listen to quiet classical music and knit during the winter months.  Every once in a while, I pull out my set of artist’s pastels and sketch, just for my own pleasure and to get out of my analytical brain and into my creative, intuitive one.

Cook hearty comfort food.  Use your crockpot to give yourself a break. This week made a scrumptiously rich turkey chili with a recipe from the Epicurious website which I adapted for my crockpot. (I’ll share the recipe at the end of this post.) The complex depth of flavor and heady, spicy aroma of this dish come from its use of traditional, Mexican spice combinations: chili powder, cumin, cocoa, and cinnamon combined with meat. Top a generous bowl with a dollop of greek yogurt and a sprinkling of chopped cilantro for a heart healthy, but outrageously delicious, winter supper. Start the meal with a salad topped with clementines and avocados, which are both in season and reasonably priced now.  (I avoid hard or sour winter tomatoes at all cost.)

Indulge in real hot chocolate, the kind made from cocoa and milk.  I use a European processed cocoa powder (like Droste, Hershey’s European style) with sugar.  Use one teaspoon of cocoa powder and two teaspoons of sugar for every mug of cocoa you intend to make. Mix them together in a mug. Add the tiniest amount of water (a little at a time) to the cocoa and sugar in the bottom of the mug, and stir until they are moistened and look like the Hershey’s syrup we all know and love. Put the milk in a pan, and heat it on a low flame. As it warms up, add the homemade chocolate syrup you just mixed up, and combine it thoroughly into the milk using a wire whisk (or a spoon if you don’t have one. The whisk just makes it extra frothy.) Once heated, pour it into your waiting mugs.  If you want to do something extra special, whip up fresh, heavy cream ahead of time, and store it in the fridge in an airtight container. It will last for several days of decadently creamy goodness to top your cocoa. Or get some marshmallows.  I found some homemade ones (in vanilla, mint, and chocolate) at Raymond’s diner in Montclair, New Jersey.  I make sure our pantry stays stocked with them until the frost breaks.  Roast them alone over a fire as yet another special dessert one evening, or make s’mores.

Life, our lives, can be so beautiful if we make them so.  As Thoreau explained, “To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of the arts.”  I know I cannot help myself or anyone else when I am running on empty, so I’m taking this opportunity to fill myself back up.  The great, Christian mystic, Julian of Norwich reminds us that, “Peace and love are ever in us, working in our very ground, yet we are not always in peace and love.” I have always interpreted this bit of wisdom to be about the dichotomy that can exist between our interior life and the sometimes hectic swirl of activity surrounding us.  God exists inside our very souls if we have asked to be filled with His Holy Spirit, so we can access His peace and love from within, if we look for it.  We can calm ourselves even if we are “not always” physically or mentally “in peace and love.”

But, to do so, we must settle in.  We must create for ourselves the time and space to look within.  As Sarah Ban Breathnach reminds us in her uplifting book, Simple Abundance, “Authentic success is having time enough to pursue personal pursuits that bring you pleasure, time enough to make the loving gesture for your family you long to do, time enough to care for your home, tend your garden, nurture your soul.”

Delectable Turkey Chili

(in a crockpot)

INGREDIENTS

1Tbsp canola oil

2 medium chopped onions

1 ½ tsp died oregano

1 ½ tsp ground cumin

1 ½ lbs ground turkey (not 99% fat free kind)

¼ c chili powder

2 bay leaves

2 Tbsp  unsweetened cocoa powder

½ tsp ground cinnamon

2Tbsp brown sugar (or to taste)

(1) 28 oz can crushed tomatoes

3 c beef stock (or chicken, or veggie, or bullion from cubes)

8 oz can tomato sauce

(3)15oz cans small white beans (rinsed + drained in a colander)

Chopped fresh cilantro (optional garnish)

Plain Greek-style yogurt (optional garnish)

(1)   Place the oil in the bottom of the crockpot and swirl it around to cover the bottom.

(2)   Place the onions as the very bottom layer in the crockpot. (This is very important because it causes a layer of juice to form on the bottom beneath the meat + keeps it all from sticking + burning, according to my grandmother.)

(3)   Add the ground turkey next, breaking it up with your fingers or a fork.

(4)   Pour in the crushed tomatoes and the tomato sauce next.

(5)   Add in all the spices (except the brown sugar, which you should add to taste right before serving), and stir them gently into the top layer of tomato mixture.

(6)   Pour the beans on top of everything.

(7)   Microwave the water for your bullion and mix it up, or open the broth.  Add this stock on top and gently stir the top layer to incorporate the broth into the tomatoe mixture. (Try to leave the meat at the bottom on top of the onions).

(8)   Cook on low for at least 7 hours or on high for at least 4 hours. Break the meat up one more time, and incorporate it into everything else.  Take out the bay leaves. Add in brown sugar to taste, if you wish.

(9)   Serve with yogurt and fresh cilantro. (This recipe makes plenty.)

Wishing you every blessing,

Christina

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