Beliefnet.com producer Amy Cunningham will be writing a "Spiritual Mom" blog during the week of May 23 (note to hardcore politicos, her emphasis is less political than what you've grown used to in this space). A Presbyterian who takes yoga classes, struggles to meditate, and worries about food additives, she lives in a Christian-Jewish household near Manhattan with her husband and two school-aged boys. Her work has appeared in More, Vegetarian Times, Parenting, The Washington Post Magazine, Glamour, and Redbook. As a writer for Beliefnet, she has discussed her love for George Harrison, her efforts to Feng Shui Beliefnet's offices, and how not paying attention to the Michael Jackson trial can be a spiritual practice.

Never Quit

Last night Spiritual Mom and her husband went to a fundraising gala! The evening's entertainment was provided by a singer who once wrote a really excellent song that was picked up by a more talented singer and then catapulted into an enormous international hit. This writer/singer's latest CD was distributed at the gala as a party favor, and this morning I listened to it, and...

Well, it's painfully awful. There's one nice closing number, but the rest of the music, for me, was nearly impossible to endure. At first, I felt vehemently critical of this person. Then, a wave of compassion washed over me and I realized that, well, gee, this individual is really hanging in there, and even though the sound of of this person's latest music makes you want to bang your head on a tree, it's impressive that they're still "feeding the river," as my writing guru James Alan McPherson used to say. I'm also reminded of something short story writer Grace Paley said in a writing seminar: "The most important thing is to not to quit, because you NEVER know when you're on to something." It's our spiritual responsibility as a people is to hang in there with each other (especially when all intentions are good) and encourage all of our best efforts, no matter what. Prayers A-Plenty on Beliefnet

Lord knows, I love Beliefnet.com. In fact, my husband Steve Waldman is the co-founder, and we moved to New York as a family in 1999 to start it up. But one thing I've been bugging the high ups about is that we need a flash tour, a little movie on the homepage that will guide newcomers around and show them just how many tremendous resources we have archived here. Don'tcha think that would help? For instance, did you know that we have a fabulous interfaith prayer collection that might assist you if you're ever called upon to pray spontaneously as Ben Stiller was in Meet the Parents? (Remember? He ended up quoting "Day by Day" lyrics from Godspell? Hilarious!) Up until a year or so ago--when our childrens' bedtimes finally stopped requiring so much adult direction--we prayed almost nightly with our kids. I've been realizing that we've got to get back to the habit. You'll find a sweet collection of prayers for children's milestones on the site, as well as prayers for meals and family occasions. So start praying your heart out! Regarding the Scene Where Bambi's Mother Gets Shot

SM (Spiritual Mom) has found her voice. And now, she's freaking out because TODAY is her last day of blogging for Beliefnet, and she's realizing she has so much more to tell you! So forgive me if I seemed rushed. Here's the crux: If you are a parent with children under twelve, BUY THIS BOOK. It may be your second Bible. It's called "The Movie Mom's Guide to Family Films," and in it, author Nell Minow tells you exactly which motion pictures are appropriate for which age group. I used to xerox the index she has in the back for my pals with youngsters because it's so, so useful. Bambi? Beauty and the Beast? These Disney films have scary parts inappropriate for young children. You don't want the movies you show to give your kids nightmares, do you? Minow also provides family film discussion questions, and most endearingly, she resurrects uplifting, old family films from the 1940s and 1950s you wouldn't have thought up on your own and that are still available in video stores. Movie Mom also has a wonderful website on Yahoo where she stores very valuable information on how to watch TV with your children. She' s treasure. Spiritual Mom once phoned Movie Mom to say, "You are SO COOL. Would you come to our school to speak some time?" Turns out, Movie Mom doesn't like to travel, but she did volunteer that she loves Beliefnet. My First Brush With Buddhism

Back in 1982, when I was a lonely, fragile, single woman needing to meet nice people, I took a wonderful three-day Shambhala meditation workshop in Washington D.C. I can't remember the name of my teacher, but he was a handsome American who had been meditating for many years, and was affiliated with a retreat center in Vermont called Karme Choling. After many intense hours of sitting meditation, walking meditation, and lecture, I began to feel as though there was hope: I might one day be able to still and calm my chattering mind. Our teacher told us to continue meditating, preferably in the mornings, for about forty minutes. He said: "If you don't TAKE the forty minutes, you'll waste the forty minutes doing something else--like trying to find your car keys." That hit home. So I wrote down the name of the biggest Buddhist meditation center in Washington, vowing to connect with the people there, and hoping to also find support for my newfound spiritual practice. One week later, I walked into the center and I was quickly struck--almost stunned--by how attractive all the men at the center were! "Wow," I said to myself as I surveyed the enthralling landscape: "I bet I could have a wonderful romantic relationship with almost any one of the sweet, thoughtful single men here!" With that, turned on my heels, and left. I was terrified of the prospect. And I didn't think about Buddhism for another ten years.

Today, I tell my mopey, single friends and relations: "Drop your bull, honey. Get into a legitimate, loving spiritual community as fast as you can."

Fastest-Ever Juice Fast

I've upped my wheat grass juice dosage to two ounces, and whoah, I swear I'm getting a nice buzz. Whew! So that gave me an idea: Why don't I go on a juice fast for two or three days? I've got the juicer tucked away in a lower kitchen cabinet. I could bring it out and get bright-eyed and happy for Spring! Not so fast, Buster, says a wonderful Brooklyn nutritonist named Rachel Kieffer (she also used to sing with me in a woman's chorus).

Here's what she emailed me:

"I do not recommend fasts without supervision, especially if the plan is to stick with them for more than one day." Boo, Rachel, you're no fun! But I know in my heart, she's right. In her wisdom, she said I could try a gentler "cleanse" by staying on a grain/bean/fruit/vegetable diet. "Do it gradually, reduce refined foods (flour, sugar) the first day, reduce animal foods the next, and then gradually bring those foods back. It's a good opportunity to reduce refined foods permanently from our diet. Getting plenty of water is very important." She also recommends drinking warm liquids like herbal teas and vegetable soups. Detox tea by Yogi Tea is excellent, she says. "As you go through the cleanse, it is important to exercise moderately and get plenty of rest," she adds in closing. Mouse Tales

On a recent, warm day, I took a four-pound bag of birdseed out to our backyard bird feeder and really went wild. Like Lady Bountiful, I spread the seed not only in the feeder, but also in a couple of empty flower pots. That night, as I worked in our basement office, I heard some very ominous scratching, skipping and prancing within the drop-ceiling above me. "Oh, it's squirrels! We've never seen mice or rats over here," my neighbors told me. Three days after that, mice drawn to the backyard birdseed had a banquet in our pantry eating, pooping, and peeing everywhere they went. They liked the pistachios and obviously relished an old box of soup nuts. I know it's mice now because their excrement is smaller than our gerbil's. I called an exterminator, and then canceled our appointment an hour later, because the guy had came on so darned strong: $150 in cash, subsequent monthly appointments, yadda, yadda. When I mentioned that we've been peacefully living with ants for a while now, he got even more excited.

So I took out a bottle of strong Tea Tree oil and sprinkled it (in all its stinkiness) on a towel which I then placed in the pantry. I also burned some Frankincense and Myrrh stick incense (given to me my boys as a Mother's Day present), allowing the smoke to go up into the basement ceiling vents. I'd also heard that swabbing the cabinets down with vinegar could help, but all I had in the house was a high-priced Balsamic (great on strawberries).

These natural remedies worked for two days, but now the mice are back. "Termites and mice are not on a realm compatible with ours," says Marina Lighthouse of fab website FengShuiShopper.com. I was on the phone with her anyway, ordering some new windchimes. "Mice represent scattered thinking. And you never have just one," she went on to explain. "So if you have mice in your house, you are to bless them, believe they are going on to a better existence and get rid of them in the best way you can. If you find a compassionate exterminator, that's great. If you can't, do your best to just guide the mice out of this life and your life as quickly as possible." So two days after that, in came Robert--a heavy-set, bearded, and nearly toothless exterminator. He limped around with a canvas bag in his hands, placing little bricks of mouse poison up into the ceiling. Then he said he wanted to spray for the ants, but I wouldn't let him. Even the canister of spray in the house gave me the creeps. "Robert," I said as he worked, "Since you do what you do, it might be good to supplement your diet with high doses of vitamin C to eliminate.you know, whatever you're exposed to..." "You think that would help?" Robert said, then he laughed sardonically. He is my shadow. He is doing my dirty work. Stay tuned, friends. Spiritual Mom is staying open to learning whatever it is I have to learn from this unfortunate infestation. Goodbye to All That

Spiritual Mom behaved so well yesterday. I think my eleven-year-old son was pleased.

He was about to depart on a fifth-grade, three-day field trip to Shelter Island. I won't see him again until late Friday afternoon.

And instead of yelling my usual partings like "Drink water!" or "Listen to your body, and go to bed when you're sleepy!" or the worst of all--"BREATHE"--I said nothing. His teacher was talking, I didn't want to interrupt, so I just rubbed him on the shoulder and smiled. My husband kissed him on the head. Then we left. And that was that. All Smiles Now

I once wrote an essay called "Why Women Smile" for the women's magazine Lear's. More than fifteen years later, I'm still receiving checks from academic presses planning to re-run the article because, apparently, it "teaches well" in first-year college writing classes. This smile piece has also been featured in a lovely textbook called The Writer's Presence, where yours truly is wedged in with writers like Virginia Woolf and Joan Didion!

But here's the quandry: I now know that a whole chunk of my all-too-popular article is incorrect. Next time they call me, I'm going to say "Stop. Don't use it. Don't tell another generation of women not to smile. They should smile broadly."

In the actual piece, I argue that women smile more than men because they're insecure and want to be liked. I confess in the article that I am trying to smile less. I also say that if you fake a smile, the smile doesn't do anything good for you. For my research at the time, I interviewed noted psychologist and facial expression expert Paul Ekman. I remember that when the piece was published, Ekman didn't seem so thrilled with it. He didn't write me back. I now know that's because he had been trying to tell me that he was conceiving of the human smile in a new way, and that the feminists who thought women should smile less weren't approaching smiles from the right perspective. But I couldn't hear him. Ekman then was just a short time from researching Tibetan monks and the Dalai Lama's smiling meditations. He was on his way to substantiating that smiles--even fake plastered-on smiles--CAN indeed lift our moods and keep us happier. So actually, smiling women have had the right idea all along. But I was so attached to the notion that feminine niceness was some kind of pathology that I couldn't hear what Ekman--an incredibly nice guy, by the way--was telling me. Indeed, I couldn't imagine that if you smiled while seated quietly in meditation, you would spread the energy of cheer throughout the world and rise up feeling better. I couldn't conceive of the topic spiritually. Since then, Ekman has published his findings. And my melancholy little prose piece (which my mother always hated anyway) is out there like the Ever-Ready Bunny banging its drum. God, make it stop. So until I can make this wrong a right, do me a favor: Smile generously and freely. There are smile meditations all over the web. Try them. Here's one to start with: Get happy. Thanks for the Posts

Regarding the prices of organic groceries: they ARE too expensive. As I pay, I imagine they cost more because more love and thoughtfulness is put into them, but I know I'm fooling myself. They do seem to me to have a different energetic vibration, but again, I just feel it. I can't tell you I know. We should all just try the best we can, treat food as the sacred thing it is, eat it slowly, and appreciate each bite. Buy fresh, buy local. These things are the most important considerations. So say my friends interested in sustainable agriculture. His holiness the Dalai Lama says: "You should spend more money on food, for good health, and on education, for a good brain." I basically try to do everything the D.L. recommends, which explains why I have my kids in a Montessori school, eat organic when I can, and maintain less in savings than I should. The Next October Surprise

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of The Shalom Center distributed a press release this week alerting us all to a fantastic "confluence of sacred moments" coming "in a way not seen for decades" this October, inviting us to "pray with, or alongside, each other and to work together for peace, justice, human rights, and the healing of our wounded earth." "The sacred Muslim lunar month of Ramadan, and the sacred Jewish lunar month of Tishrei (which includes the High Holy Days and Sukkot), both begin October 3-4," Waskow writes. "And there is more: October 4 is the Saint's Day of St. Francis of Assisi (who almost alone of all Christian leaders of his generation opposed the Crusades and studied with Islamic teachers, as well as connecting deeply with all the creatures of the earth); October 2 is Gandhi's birthday, and is also Worldwide (Protestant) Communion Sunday. In mid-October, there are important Buddhist and Hindu festivals." Some party! "There is much that we could do to heal the world during this sacred season made up of sacred times," Waskow suggests.

"Perhaps in groups of congregations -- a church, a synagogue, a mosque, a temple -- each congregation could host one meal for members of the others, after nightfall on any of the evenings of Ramadan. Jews could invite Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, and Hindus into the Sukkah, a leafy hut that is open to the wind and rain.Synagogues could invite Muslim scholars and spiritual leaders to teach on Rosh Hashanah when Jews are reading Torah passages from the saga of Abraham, Hagar, Ishmael, Sarah, and Isaac..."

Read some of his other ideas here.

Wallace Stevens Cuts Loose

Towards the end of his life, his poetry had an marvelously expansive, spacious, open quality. Remember as you read this, that poet Wallace Stevens spent his whole career working as a lawyer for insurance companies.

A Clear Day and No Memories
Today the air is clear of everything.
It has no knowledge except of nothingness
And it flows over us without meanings,
As if none of us had ever been here before
And are not now: in this shallow spectacle,
This invisible activity, this sense.
--Wallace Stevens, 1954. Gotta love the web. There's a whole website devoted to analyzing the poetry of Wallace Stevens from a daoist perspective.

The High Price of Spirituality

The Summer 2005 Isabella Catalog ("Books and Gifts for Reawakening the Spirit") has arrived in the mail! And when I added together everything I want, the total came to $167.73. That's excluding the $89.95 Lavere Lifting Serum (for the face, not bosom, thank you very much), which is billed as the "top seller amongst Isabella employees," leading me to believe that the place is staffed by aging ladies not too unlike myself.

This serum...gosh, it sounds so great (the copy writer volunteers that if she could take only one beauty product to a desert isle, this would be it), but that's awfully expensive.... Could I justify it with my favorite rationalization: "If I'm going to raise children and care for others, I must then buy things to nurture myself?"

Being spiritual can get expensive. What's great about Isabella, though, and it's hugely successful mother catalog company Chinaberry, which sells uplifting children's books and tapes, is that while you can often get the same things they sell at Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com, or your local heath food store, the write-ups and personal product endorsements are so thoughtfully written and aimed at you personally, you end up buying through them. They just seem like such a swell bunch of people.

That Lifting Serum--a pricey wrinkle cream that no doubt works wonders--still causes us all to fret about our appearance, and I think that's probably a bad direction. I hope they don't venture too much farther down that road.

That Leonard Cohen Song that Always Makes Me Cry

Oh, you who must leave everything that you cannot control,
It begins with your family, but soon, it comes around to your soul.
Well, I've been where you're hanging,
I think I can see how you're pinned:
When you're not feeling holy, your loneliness says that you've sinned.

--Leonard Cohen, from "Sisters of Mercy"

Keeping Us Safe from Red Dye #40

Just let me get this off my chest: I have seen the face of evil, and it's that doltish guy, Punchy, in Hawaiian Punch ads. Actually, it's not the mascot, or the beverage, that's the true problem. It's the Red Dye #40, a common food coloring believed by some to cause behavior problems in certain children.

Since I became a mother eleven years ago, numerous friends of mine have been tapped for visits with their nursery school directors to discuss what's "going on" with little Jimmy or Janine. Usually, what's going on is ascribed to any number of physical or emotional pathologies requiring a wide variety of therapies.

I, too, have paid big money to see experts and motor therapists who have told me that my offspring needed occupational therapy, vision therapy, horseback riding (for balance), even sensory "brushing" therapies (that can help some children resolve their most basic infant reflexes and start moving around more normally). All of these things we did gladly, of course. And they worked nicely. Plus, we added a gifted osteopath to the mix, which was the best intervention of all.
But what is often neglected in these intense collaborations is the importance of the child's diet. So, if your son or daughter is disobedient, crabby, euphoric or actually falling off chairs after snacks and meals, you've got to get serious about analyzing every darned thing they place in their young stomachs. Monitoring the intake of sugar and corn syrup is a small start, but it isn't enough. This can be taxing since Red Dye #40, preservatives, other colorings, and chemicals show up in cereals, ice creams, nacho chips--essentially many packaged in the grocery store. What makes this a national disaster is that every year, children with junky diets are placed on Ritalin when they might not need to be medicated. I have found that there's a kind of spiritual malaise, or hopelessness, amongst parents who feel like they don't want to be controlling or neurotic about what their kids eat. Obviously, we want our kids to have fun, but must they consistently eat junk? You'll find amazing testimonials from parents who've seen firsthand how drastically diet influenced their child's school performance by consulting the Feingold Association's website and by supporting this wonderfully effective organization.

Stories about Red Dye #40 are housed at this amazing web site exclusively devoted to this petroleum-based toxin.

My kids get laughs and fond looks from other shoppers at the grocery store now when the dash up to me holding something they want to buy, and saying, "Look Mom, this is okay. I read all the ingredients.'" On the Kitchen Boom Box

Three weeks after the attacks of September 11, my husband, kids, sister, brother-in-law, and I went to a rocking, soulful "new age" klezmer fundraising concert at a club called Tonic. I think what we witnessed there will remain in my memory as one of the most moving musical experiences of my life. A klezmer singer named Adrienne Cooper, who is also director of all the cultural activities at the Workmen's Circle, sang Holly Near's "I Ain't Afraid," a song from the singer/social activist's November 2000 album "Edge." Everyone present was absolutely stunned by the song's significance. I played "Edge" for myself today, and I hope you take advantage of the free download of "I Ain't Afraid" from Near's website since I'm still surprised at how few people know the song. Here are some of the lyrics: Chorus
I ain't afraid of your Yahweh
I ain't afraid of your Allah
I ain't afraid of your Jesus
I'm afraid of what you do in the name of your God I ain't afraid of your churches
I ain't afraid of your temples
I ain't afraid of your praying
I'm afraid of what you do in the name of your God

Rise up to your higher power
Free up from fear, it will devour you
Watch out for the ego of the hour
The ones who say they know it
Are the ones who will impose it on you

In Medias Res

Boy, blogging keeps me in the moment.

I sat down at the computer this morning and thought, "I guess I'll start by reading what I wrote yesterday..." Then another voice in my head cried out, "No, no, no! Just write new stuff!"

We're all multiple personalities with voices inside us arguing over what to do every second.

This reminds me of the time I was berating my then six-year-old son Joe for behaving horribly in a nice restaurant. After railing on and complaining without getting any apology from him, he finally turned to me and said, "Mommy, let's not talk about the past..."

Blogging is something like sharing what "The Artist's Way" author Julia Cameron calls "morning pages." These are the journal entries she says in her books and seminars that you must produce daily to make contact with your inner artist--pages written without thinking too much, every day, no matter what. Morning pages are the written voice of one brain de-stressing. So actually, this is not that. This is more polished. But hang in there with me through the end of the week. By then, I may be channeling material spontaneously, as if from a higher source. I understand that can happen to people who blog too much. Compassionate Touch for Children

"Mom, that is one of the dumbest books you've ever read to me," said my eight-year-old Gordon in disgust. He now knows how to tear me up. We had just completed ""I Can Show You I Care: Compassionate Touch for Children," a book for kids four to eight by Susan Cotta, illustrated by Gregory Crawford, that instructs children in how to place their hands and powers of concentration compassionately on the bodies of loved ones to comfort and heal. The illustrations are of children comforting friends, pets, and family members with closed eyes and open hands. It IS a nice book, gosh darn it. So I'm telling you about it. Cotta skillfully explains, through the narrated experiences of her young characters, just how nice it is to be physically touched and nurtured by a friend. Sure, Star Wars is the talk of the dinner table at our house, but I'm not going to give up on compassionate touch. I'll keep this book around and show it to Gordon again. Then at least he'll have reference point to remind him it's okay to be the touchy-feely guy I know he still is. The book contains information on how to start a "compassionate touch" program at your local school though the Upledger Institute in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

Church Hopping

At the fifth annual Conference on Spirituality, Psychotherapy and Healing ten days ago in New York, I was privileged to hear author and Omega Institute co-founder Elizabeth Lesser give a marvelous speech in which she mentioned her love of peeking into any religious sanctuary at random and seeing what's what. She said she got this idea from reading "The Seven Storey Mountain," the famous autobiography of Catholic monk, poet and philosopher Thomas Merton.

Apparently, while attending New York's Columbia University. Merton loved to ride the subway on Sundays in any random direction. Once up from the station, he'd attend a service at the first church he saw. Oh! You know those moments when you hear something said, and your whole body resonates with the exclamation, "Yes, that's me"? (Not that I'm as saintly as Thomas Merton.) But I've been casting about, not knowing how to feel about not attending one church regularly, dutifully taking my kids to synagogue and Jewish activities, then staying happily mired in spiritual books, music and conferences the rest of the week. I'm beginning to think I'm OMNI-religious, meaning that I find it my business, passion, and calling to explore as many faiths as possible, and immerse myself in all manners of religious expression and spiritual experience. God to Amy

Twenty years ago, my dear friend Bob Rosen and I were having lunch in Georgetown (the oldest and prettiest neighborhood in Washington, D.C.), and Bob said he didn't believe in God. He just didn't feel God's presence. He said he thought people who believed in God just made everything up. I said I disagreed, but I had no evidence. I just felt that God was there. We paid our tab and left the restaurant. We put on our bike helmets and started to ride down Wisconsin Avenue toward the Potomac River. At the base of K. Street and Wisconsin, my front bicycle wheel turned between the cobblestones and an old streetcar track. I went down fast. The car driving slowly but right next to me, screeched to a stop as I fell. I had to bring my head out from under the car to get up. And when I rose, the terrified people inside the car looked as though they were seeing a ghost. They felt certain they'd run over my whole upper body. And indeed, this is the closest to death I've ever come. But it was so odd--and wonderful, I guess--that Bob and I had just been talking about God. God, for me, has always shown up in the form of ironies and coincidences. After my grim tumble, pumped full of adrenaline, I laughed disconnectedly and told everyone I was fine. "Amy," Bob said in an annoyed, loving, worried voice. "Stop. Check yourself out. Are you okay?" I was fine, I was fine, I was fine, I said. I went home, nursed a huge bruise on my thigh, and slept for fourteen hours. Today, incidentally, Bob's deep into the examination of his spiritual side, and he's reading mystic teacher Eckhardt Tolle.

The Chai Debates

If you're like me and you love tea, check out the Tea Review Archive for user-written and hotly debated commercial tea critiques.

On the Boom Box

I've been playing Alison Kraus and Union Staion's new CD "Lonely Runs Both Ways" all day today. The problem is that I keep wanting to hear the last song, "A Living Prayer," over and over and I don't know how to do that without running over to the machine to push the number 15 every time. I'm not technically astute. A web search reveals that the angelic Ms. Kraus (who my husband and I used to see sing before small audiences at the Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia) has been wow-ing fans by closing concerts with this overtly religious encore written by band member Ron Block.

It's a hymn, really, and could be sung as such anywhere. Check it out.

"In Your love I find release
A haven from my unbelief
Take my life and let me be
A living prayer, my God, to Thee."

My Favorite Yoga Story

So I showed up on time for my yoga class, feeling down in the mouth and fat. Class began and I moved through the sun salutations, focused on my unattractiveness. Too heavy. Too old. Oh woe, woe, woe.

It's amazing how focused a woman can be when she's hating herself.

Then I spied a younger woman in a sexy leotard working through her postures on the other side of the room. "Now SHE is beautiful," I said to myself. Was she a dancer? Small features, lithe body, intelligent face. Somehow, I managed to get through class, moving through down dogs, warrior poses, inversions and shavasana. The yoga made me stronger, but there was still a wound remaining, a propensity to feel like hell.

As I was folding my mat and blanket, low and behold the beautiful woman came up to me! She hesitated before she spoke. What did she want? "I was watching you the whole class and your postures were so beautiful," she said to me with total frankness. "Oh gosh, how nice," said I.

Then she said, "And I kept telling myself that if I kept at it, I'd someday do my postures as beautifully as you do yours."

Taped Above My Desk

"Take off from here. And don't be so earnest,
let others wear the sackcloth and the ashes.
Let go, let fly, forget.
You've listened long enough. Now strike your note."

From Station Island, by Seamus Heaney

Heathcliff! Heathcliff!

You've just GOT to believe in the theories of reincarnation and karmic connection when you read that last Friday night, 43-year-old former schoolteacher Mary Kay Letourneau, having served seven-and-a-half years for seducing and raping 12-year-old former pupil Vili Fualaau, and having had two children with the boy, finally wed her young soul mate. He's currently 22.

Like Heathcliff and Kathy in Wuthering Heights, these love birds seem like souls who've met before. I mean, what other possible explanation is there for their bizarre persistence?

Here's an outtake from Larry King's conversation with Letourneau on CNN last October:

KING: ...Do you think it was deep spiritual bond?

LETOURNEAU: I don't think it was. I know it was, and it IS. And that's why we are -- it's not just a chemistry.

KING: Not just physical?

LETOURNEAU: Oh, not at all. And it always has been a deep spiritual oneness.

KING: Even from the start, when it was very physical, it was also very spiritual?

LETOURNEAU: No. It was spiritual first. And emotional and intellectual before anything ever went.

KING: Before you ever made love?


One Word: Plastics

I'm going to have to tell my beloved and in-all-other-ways-perfect mother-in-law that she can't steam the corn-on-the-cob in the microwave under plastic wrap any more. I knew this intuitively, then heard it on Oprah, but was too timid to mention it for fear my image as the militant Whole Foodie in the family would tip into the realm of true obnoxiousness. The new issue of Organic Style plainly states (in a pull quote, no less): "Cover foods with paper, not plastic when microwaving" because the polyvinyl chloride (PVC) in plastic wraps can leach into the food and increase the odds over time of...." Well, you don't want to know. But they mentioned birth defects and cancer. Of course, some holistic healers would say we shouldn't microwave our food at all, but I'll delve into that debate later. Organic Style, Part Two

Also in this issue (am I in Organic Style's demographic, or what?) is a snazzy guide to the nation's flea markets from the Rose Bowl in Pasadena to Marburger Farm in Round Top, Texas, to Washington D.C.'s Georgetown Flea to the Brimfield Antique Show in Massachusetts. I am the sort of person who will say, "See this sweater? Five bucks." And "You know that nice painting in our living room with the tree and the cows? The vendor didn't know what he had." This fascination with gently-used belongings runs in my family. My older sister leaps out of moving cars for tag sales. At flea markets you learn history, surround yourself with sweet people who also enjoy honoring the past, and of course, you can get great stuff for a dime. I commune with my intuitive side when I pass second hand stores and ask myself: "Is there anything in there for me today or not?" On the days I get a big yes, I always find amazingly good stuff. Organic Style justifies its eight full glorious pages of flea market photos by maintaining that browsing through the stalls "slows us down." I have to agree. Second hand shopping is among my favorite ways to unwind. I go far, far away from my cares. The edges of my ego fray. And I am happy to find an old postcard, a pair of ear bobs, or nothing at all. Weights We Bear in Life

The other afternoon, I was walking in Manhattan and the large handbag I carry everywhere suddenly felt incredibly heavy. Oh God, what was in there anyway? I'd been out all day. So I opened my bag and peered in. Aooohhh... scary. It's pretty cluttered in there. So I started to dig and then to my amazement out came a fourteen-inch-long stainless steel gardening trowel with a heavy handle that I'd purchased four full days earlier to do some digging in our back garden. It must weigh two pounds. Upon realizing this, I stopped in the middle of the city sidewalk, waved my trowel, and laughed outloud. Isn't it amazing how quickly we take on new weight and accommodate to it? At least I noticed. I think there have been times in my life when I just would have just soldiered on. On the Boom Box

George Frideric Handel's "Sacred Arias" with Daniel Taylor, counter-tenor; Monica Huggett conducting.

I am a great lover of early music, and I come to it as a lay person, not having a hugely sophisticated understanding of it. These Handel arias have been filling our little house today and inspiring me greatly. The high voice of the counter-tenor seems neither male nor female, youth or adult, just clear, pure human voice in air.

"As with rosy steps the morn
Advancing, drives the shades of night,
So from virtuous toils well-borne
Raise though our hopes of endless light!
Triumphant Savior! Lord of day!
Thou art the life, the light, the way!"

Handel's librettist here in 1738 was Charles Jennens, the same man who selected the passages of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer three years later that would make up the text of "The Messiah."

You'll find a great history of the counter-tenor's voice here.

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