Guilty Pleasure

Why is it so difficult to enjoy ourselves without feeling guilty? Like my grandfather’s prescription for wine and spaghetti, at times you have to let yourself go and “just enjoy”.

In a study of ninety-six volunteers, Arthur Stone, Ph.D., a psychologist from the State University of New York, found that pleasant events such as dinner with friends or a weekend hike in the woods gave a boost to the immune system that lasted for two to three days. In contrast, a stressful encounter such as an argument with a boss or spouse had a lesser effect, slightly depressing the immune system for just one day. It appears that the absence of ordinary pleasures may take an even greater toll on our health than stress does.

Remember that pleasure can go from the sublime to the ridiculous, from simple to sumptuous, and from free to expensive. It is not our budget that limits us but our minds. Have a “real” ice cream cone with sprinkles, or, God forbid a hot fudge sundae. Take a garden tour, or a hot air ballon ride, go for a manicure or ask a friend to give you one. Or go to two movies in one day.

One of my favorite pleasures is waking up early and sitting in my cozy bedroom chair while I sip a hot cup of coffee brought to me by my loving partner. The aroma, the chair, the windows which look out into my garden are all deeply rewarding. I love watching the birds swoop through the yard and seeing the squirrels running around squawking at each other. I spent years in my garden, weeding, clipping, and hauling dirt and rocks to create what is now a magical place. I cannot do what I used to do since my joints rebel. However, I still amble through the paths and pick the obtrusive weeds even though I know my back will not be happy. The joy still outweighs the pain.

One of my ultimate sources of pleasure is making fresh spaghetti sauce from scratch, cooking some spaghetti, and sitting down to fabulous results—liberally sprinkled with Parmesan of course. I can never eat spaghetti unless it is has a monumental amount of cheese on it. My grandmother and mother would admonish me any time they caught me re-sprinkling. They felt I was disrespecting their sauce. After all how was I going to taste it when I covered it up with cheese?

I’m afraid their messages of guilt didn’t sink in. I have continued to this day to be a lover of Parmesan cheese.

Don’t let life pass you by without indulging in some daily pleasure. There will always be work to do, errands to run, and responsibilities galore. But without the respite of pleasurable moments, life can feel like a stress rehearsal.


Black Friday benights a tradition

This week we celebrate Thanksgiving, a day dedicated to family, friends and food. I remember hours of conversation on what to make with my mother and grandmother and who was coming to dinner. I would try to straddle two worlds: The one my ex-husband lived in, which meant a traditional Thanksgiving, and another that demanded some Italian dishes.

Trying to make a traditional American meal while also satisfying two Italian women is close to impossible. And then there’s the issue of them possibly sitting next to a relative they didn’t like. You don’t want to be eating your drumstick while an Italian woman is giving you the “evil eye.” In the end you simply laughed at how close you were to being part of a soap opera. You tried to make everyone’s favorite dish but there was always someone who complained about not getting their creamed onions or puréed parsnips or “where’s the lasagna.” If it was up to my grandmother she would have stuffed the turkey with the lasagna. She loved to stuff everything and everybody.

The conversation always centered on the food, a missing relative, or periodic reprimands to the children if their behavior was not pristine. Of course there were also intermittent forays into the kitchen by my mother, who would give me the high sign to follow her. I knew what was to follow, which could be similar to the Inquisition. She wanted to know what I thought about my ex-husband’s family and how deplorable their manners were or didn’t I just hate how Aunt Mattie’s dentures kept clicking. The only way I could tear her away was to open a bottle of her favorite red wine and seduce her back to the table with its aroma.

I recall those days with great nostalgia. The time leading up to Thanksgiving was not muddled with ads for Black Friday. No one even thought about getting up from the dinner table to hurry to a store in the hopes of getting a bargain. It would have been looked upon as a total travesty. No matter how much you might have wanted to skip the whole gathering, you knew how important it was to your memory bank. Of course, retail was not one of the centerpieces of our economy at that time. But, I know if my mother and grandmother were alive today they would be have rosary beads in hand to pray for the people who left to the dinner table to go shopping.

I think we’ve gone nuts. When buying “stuff” takes the place of spending time with loved ones, then we have a real problem. The day after Thanksgiving used to be a chill-out day. You ate your leftovers and relaxed. Now there’s an incessant call to action from retailers. “Hurry, get your stuff while the sale is on.” The ultimate irony is there will always be a sale. But those who believe the hype might even go so far as to camp outside the store and cook their turkey on a grill.

What I’ve realized is that whoever came up with the name Black Friday hit the nail on the head. It is very black. And if we are going to continue this insanity then it’s time to wear black armbands and put a black wreath on the door to acknowledge the death of traditions.

I, however, am going to cook my turkey and lasagna, pour a glass of red wine and toast those those who made me realize what Thanksgiving really means.