I’ll Take an Order of Beauty and a Side of Color, Please. And a Better Night’s Sleep.

I am writing on four hours of sleep. I think I mentioned in passing that I was aiming to be honest with you, so let’s not waste any time. Here are three things not to do in the evening: Stay on your computer until 11:30 p.m. absorbing the screen’s blue light, which suppresses melatonin; eat a bowl of chocolate chips during this light show; and decide that climbing into bed and reading a riveting, gut-wrenching novel like Sadeqa Johnson’s Yellow Wife will lull you to sleep.

You might perhaps wind up like me, staying awake until 5 a.m. finishing said book.

I didn’t just stay awake; I also tip-toed downstairs to the comfy chair in the living room, where the dog was snoring on the couch and the Scotsman had turned the heat down to a level that would just barely keep pipes from freezing. At least I had a wool hat and a cheap throw. 

To improve on this situation, I then decided that drinking a cup of warm milk would be a good idea, because that’s what my grandmother Honey always did when she couldn’t sleep. But I couldn’t resist turning it into a big mug of hot cocoa (at least it was good quality cocoa!), which zeroed out any drowsy-making and put my bladder into overdrive as a bonus.  

Looking on the bright side, at least it wasn’t a nip of scotch, neat — a frequent trick during the Before Times that I used to treat sleep disturbance caused by too many evening drinks. Catch the irony there? A vicious circle.

The point is, even though I may be sane, sober, and well-intended these days, I’m still stupid. And stubborn. You?

I listened to a great podcast this week, The True Hard Work of Love and Relationships. On Being’s Krista Tippett interviewed Alain de Botton, the author of the widely read New York Times opinion piece, Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person. In it I was reminded, with relief, of the importance of realizing how imperfect we all are so that we don’t experience the chronic delusion that everyone else’s relationships are better than ours. And more importantly, so we don’t set up ridiculous expectations of our partners. We’re all crazy in some way; if we’re going to make a go of it, we’ve got to accept each other’s craziness, starting with our own. 

I bring it up because it never hurts to take a gentle look at the crazy stuff to see if it’s really working for you. And because lately I’ve been thinking that my stubbornness – or insistence on doing (or not doing) things a certain way – can sometimes actually limit my imagination (as well as affect my sleep!).

For instance, how is it that I managed to grow things outdoors for so many years, across three seasons every year, without realizing I could (more or less) recreate the experience indoors in the winter?

It took a pandemic and hibernation to snap my longing (and need) for year-round beauty into focus. In this most wintry of winters, I finally embraced the house plant. Or, more accurately, plants in the house. It started with a collection of scented geraniums I rescued from outdoors — peppermint, orange, lemon, rose — each plant with its own seductive fragrance and uniquely beautiful leaves. Some leaves as soft as bunny ears. But then I bought real houseplants, too. A fern. A jade plant. Ivy. Two fancy rosemary topiaries.

I swear I’ve done nothing more than crowd them all near southern windows and water them sporadically. And I’ve been wildly rewarded. In the breakfast room, we have a sea of soft green leaves blanketing one wall like a living mural. In the bedroom, a tabletop collection of greenery that lights up in the mid-morning sun, casting cartoon shadows on the dog basking on the carpet below. 

“Put yourself in the way of beauty,” Cheryl Strayed wrote. I have loved that ever since I read it in a little book of hers called Brave Enough. (You need that book!). But I never stopped to think about how beauty really works. What is the real reason that I love flowers and foliage so much?

Sure, nurturing plants fills a need and assuages anxieties (not inconsequential). But there’s more. It turns out there’s a connection between our vision and areas of the brain where pleasure thrives. Beauty, and its sidekick color, can actually stimulate serotonin production.

Ah ha! No wonder, for one who runs a wee bit under the optimal serotonin levels during the winter (lightbox: check, vitamin D: check, omega 3 fish oil: check), the pleasure of seeing green every morning is so rewarding. The color green supposedly reminds our brains of peaceful and pastoral settings. The color pink (my favorite) is relaxing, blue (the color of our walls) calming. And while I don’t normally lean into yellow, it’s the color of happiness — which may account for the very cheering effect of some bright yellow (and red) tulips that wandered into our house last weekend.

My suggestion? Get thee to a florist, please, and purchase a plant, some flowers, a flowering plant, or a planting flower. That’s the good kind of crazy.

Have a beauty-filled day.

P.S. Thank you to all of you who emailed me last week or commented on the blog after the reboot! So nice to be reconnected. If you feel comfortable, I want to encourage you to post your thoughts in the comments section below, so that we can share conversations with each other. 

Read last week’s post: Be the Light! Rebooting the Sixburnersue Blog

Looking for new recipes? Visit cookthevineyard.com and sign up for the free weekly newsletter. (Something I do as part of my day job.)

8 thoughts on “I’ll Take an Order of Beauty and a Side of Color, Please. And a Better Night’s Sleep.”

  1. Sue, I am SO SO glad you starting blogging again! It’s always a pleasure to hear your thoughts. You write so eloquently and I can “hear” your voice while I read your posts!

    Glad to hear about your sobriety and wanted to share that I am currently reading Quit Like a Woman. It is one of THE best books I have read on addiction (which I would argue affects almost every single person whether they are dealing with addiction themselves or live with/know someone who is!!). I can’t recommend this book highly enough to anyone interested in understanding this hugely important issue. She articulates things that I believed already but didn’t know how to express.

    Keep the posts coming!

    Laura Hussey

  2. Hi Laura,

    And SO SO wonderful to hear from you! And I hope all is well with you and your boys! I am hearing a lot lately about how Quit Like a Woman is helping people, so I know I must read it, as she has a different approach to the one I took and I think it is important to be open to all ways of dealing with addiction. No time to waste for the people who are suffering badly, and as you say, pretty much everyone suffers from addiction in one way or another. Perhaps one of the reasons why our society is so wonky these days! Somebody who wrote eloquently on that subject was Gerald May. I have an old book of his called Addiction & Grace that I learned a lot from. In it he says, “I mean in all truth that the psychological, neurological, and spiritual dynamics of full-fledged addiction are actively at work within every human being.” Well, onward we go, and thank you for reconnecting! Love Susie

  3. Susie,
    Ann D introduced us several summers ago at your farm stand. I too and happy you are blogging again. I enjoyed every word of the above post and forwarded it to my daughter. I will be a loyal reader! (btw, my husband and I enjoyed your winter kale meatloaf last week)
    DeeAnn Cox- Athens, GA

  4. Hi DeeAnn,

    I remember you of course — and when you stopped at the farm stand! So glad you guys enjoy that meatloaf — it really is a good one! And I’m so glad you’re enjoying the reboot of the newsletter, so great that you’ve sent it on to your daughter. Hope you’ll be back up to visit Ann when we can all travel again! Take care, Susie

  5. Hey Suzie!! I am so so so glad yr back!!! I love ur blogging and didn’t realize I have missed it til now!!! It’s also one of the things.. besides the recipes.. that I live about ur cookbooks!! All the great stories u share with us!! U are a phenomenal writer and when I read u it’s like I’m transported! So please keep it comin! So funny (not haha) the things that have come out of this pandemic..Who’s have thunk a global virus could spur one on !?! Happy trail!!🥰

  6. Hi Tommye! Aw I’m so glad — that makes me happy. I know, this pandemic has kind of put reality into sharp focus. We are so lucky to be on this Island, though, all things considered. Hope you guys are well, and geeze am I ever looking forward to getting my hair cut — yikes! Love you, Susie

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