What's This?

Snow! It's snowing and snowing outside. I have to drive across the state tonight, and I don't even care. It looks so awesome out there. People complain about Holiday Creep, but I have no problem with it. None. At. All. I woke up the other day so excited about the Christmas Season. Family - yes! Tree decorating - yes! Cookies, presents, snow, snow boots, wool hats, wrapping, jollyness - yes, yes, yes. Bring it on.


Sweet Jane

Oh, wait. Blankets. I was going to write more about blankets.

This started around the time I went off to college. I had a work study job (hence, disposable income, although a paltry amount--$5.40 an hour doesn't add up quickly), and a bed to clothe, and no closet full of blankets and sheets with which to clothe it. I quickly discovered that I loved buying bed stuff--sheet sets, pillow cases, quilts, comforters, you name it. I started with two sets of ticking-striped cotton sheets, then added a flannel set for the winter. I found a sewing pattern for pillowcases and starting making my own. I spent a whole year quilting a homemade cover for my comforter. Cutting out all the pieces and sewing it together was a long and tedious process, but I loved my dorm bed that year. Coziest thing ever.

When I moved into my first apartment, I inherited my grandparents' old maple bed frame. Since it was a double bed, I had ("had") to find all new linens. I bought a new comforter and some fancy sheets (I remember discussing thread counts with my roommates). And kept going from there.

These days, I've got a spring quilt, a summer quilt, a fall/winter quilt, a yellow quilt for the couch, a wool blanket for the green reading chair, two duvet covers, a mountain of pillowcases, and almost half a dozen sheet sets. It's ridiculous, I know. But a warm bed is synonymous with home and comfort for me. I like nesting.

Unfortunately, our apartment is far too well-heated for such things. The radiators are irrepressible. I grew up in a house heated by wood stoves--a romantic, but relatively ineffective, method of heating, especially when your room is in the attic (as mine was) and the wood stove is on the ground floor (as ours was). So blankets were essential to winter comfort.

Luckily, with the New England chill right outside, we're still able to recreate the wood-heat experience occasionally by opening the windows at night to let the cool air spill in. Wasteful, I know, but we can't control the thermostat--it's set for the whole building. And it means I can pile the bed high with blankets, just as it should be.

In other news, for all you Jane Austen lovers out there (my sister and I actually call her J.A.): Did you know that PBS is playing adaptations of all her novels in January? At least, they are here in Boston. I saw an ad for the series today, accompanied by the Cowboy Junkies cover of Sweet Jane. Ha! A network after my own heart.


Low Tech

From "Caution: Killing Germs May be Hazardous to Your Health," in the October 29th issue of Newsweek (what can I say, sometimes I get a little behind on the news):

Americans have been obsessed with eradicating germs ever since their role in disease was discovered in the 19th century, but they've been partial to technological fixes like antibiotics or sanitizers rather than the dirty work of cleanliness.

(And by the "dirty work of cleanliness," the authors apparently mean washing "in all the spaces between the fingers and under the nails and rubbing for at least 20 seconds.")

I agree. Although I cringe a little when I hear broad generalizations about "Americans," as though we're all of one mind, I do think that many people put a lot more faith in technology than in time-tested, low-tech remedies for things like disease and climate change. Maybe there's a feeling that simple, old-fashioned solutions--soap rather than sanitizers, clotheslines as opposed to Energy Star dryers--just can't solve our weighty problems. Or that technology will save us. Or that taking the bus is just less glamorous/fun/enlightened- looking than driving a shiny new hybrid.

I don't say this to be Greener-Than-Thou. I have a car (not a hybrid); I have a computer; I just got a flu shot. I'm a fan of technology. But I find it reassuring that research is now showing that the simplest and cheapest ways of doing things--cleaning with baking soda and vinegar, buying less, walking more, drinking plain ol' water right out of the tap--are good for our health and good for the planet.



Two dream-like things have happened to me in the last twenty-four hours:

I awoke in the dark at 4:59 this morning to the sound of a small crash, about the volume of a slammed car door, followed by the frantic peals of a car alarm. There were flashing lights, and I could hear a large truck huffing and puffing outside--like a garbage truck, but they don't come by on Sundays. I walked to the window and saw that a firetruck passing its way up our narrow, potholed road with lights blaring but with no siren, had swiped the bumper of a little Honda hatchback out front. The car, as though startled from its slumber, was squealing and screeching its dismay. Three tired firefighters stood, surveying it, in the hazy glow of the streetlights. After a minute, the Honda settled itself, one of the firemen took its plate number, and the truck moved silently on.

That's the kind of scene my sleeping mind is wont to fabricate, and I'd be convinced now that I'd been dreaming then if Stephen didn't remember it, too.

In the daylight, hours later, we took the train to North Station in search of a new cupcakery we'd heard about in Boston. The storefront was so narrow that we almost missed it. Inside, a table for two was crowded in one corner, and a narrow counter ran along the opposite wall. An antique mint green lacquered stove stood sentinel next to a waist-high cooler of fancy drinks in translucent pastel-colored bottles. The remainder of the shop was divided in two by an enormous glass case filled with the kind of fanciful desserts that one might see in Willy Wonka and wish were true. S'mores cupcakes topped with tiny toasted marshmallows. Palm-sized Boston cream pies. Homemade Hostess cupcakes. Miniature pumpkin cheesecakes. Vanilla cupcakes, chocolate cupcakes, peanut butter and jelly cupcakes. Oreo cupcakes. Red velvet cupcakes. And so on. And on and on and on.

We bought four, and stuffed two in our mouths immediately. I drifted off to my afternoon meeting on an extended sugar high. The remaining two now sit, fluffy and decadent, preening, in their little white bakery box on the kitchen counter.

Proof that dreams can come true. Wow.


Changing of the Guard

The end of Daylight Savings this morning marked the end of one half of the year, and the beginning of the other. I know that DST is really more than 26 weeks, but the non-DST part feels long enough to be half. A friend once told me about a book in which the author describes six seasons: Spring, Summer, Fall, The Clenching, Winter, and the Unclenching. That image really works for me, because there's about a month and a half (half of October and November, March and half of April) on either side of winter that's not quite fall- or spring-like. Colder and grayer than those seasons should be. I think those months falls into this half of the year, the one we've just begun.

The shortened days have a lot to do with my negative feelings about winter. The limited daylight makes everything feel rushed to me. The sun is setting when I leave work, so I hurry home on the darkened streets. The stars are out by the time I arrive, so dinner feels overdue. No time for a nice walk or anything else outdoors, it's already night. And the wind is so biting that I've no inclination to venture outside anyway.

Luckily, I've discovered some antedotes to the season(s) ahead, and I'm looking forward to partaking in them. These are things that I don't enjoy nearly as much at other times of the year, so I guess that says something for winter:

Chai. Tastes the way I imagine liquid pumpkin pie would. I got some of the rooibos kind at the store last week, and it's waiting in the cupboard until temperatures drop.

Baths. When Stephen and I were looking for an apartment in Cambridge, we called our priorities the Big Three: I wanted a bathtub, he wanted hardwood floors, and we both wanted a dishwasher. We lucked out on the first two with this place. When I feel particularly cold or tired or sad, I always go run a piping hot bath. It's soporific, too.

Food. I love cooking in the winter. Smells nice, warms up the house, cheers everyone up. I'm making eggplant tonight. Maybe something with pumpkin tomorrow.

Light. My family is notorious (among its immediate members) for leaving the Christmas tree up until February. I still do that. It's so nice to have a lit-up tree in your house when it's dark and gray outside. Plus, it smells good.

Radio. This one surprised me, but I discovered last year that turning on NPR really takes the edge off when I'm feeling cooped up and isolated. Particularly This American Life or Wait Wait..Don't Tell Me! (But not A Prairie Home Companion. I can't take that voice.) Or sometimes I'll play records. Charlie Parker is particularly good for this.

There are a bunch of other things, too, now that I think about it. Wood stoves. Snowshoeing. Mountains. Cities. The smell of yuzu. Blankets. I'm actually kind of a fanatic about blankets. Have I written about that before? I don't think so. Well, there's a lot to say, so I'll have to save that for another time.


Inside Looking Out

Cold and rainy out today, perfect weather for a November Saturday. Stephen has grad classes all weekend, so it's quiet and still here at home. I have another paper to write, but haven't gotten up the motivation to start yet. I just want to sit at my desk and listen to the passing cars on Mass Ave. stir up the puddles.

I also want to clean. You know how some people claim to like exercising? I feel the same about cleaning. Not the drudgery kind of cleaning, like scrubbing the tub or rinsing dishes, but the sorting and putting things away kind. I love a clean apartment. I find it difficult to get much done when it's messy here--too distracting. So maybe I'll go straighten things up for a while, and then start my research. I think I might write about government-mandated inoculations. That'll wake things up around here.

Across the road, there are a dozen trees with all of their leaves still on, most of them green. That's surprising, because the honey locust that fills our living room windows went gold and then dropped its foliage weeks ago. I don't expect things to be green after Halloween.

Although I'm not fond of the cold, I love this time of year. I remember having a similar feeling about the summer after undergrad. I had lined up a summer job for June, then I was going on vacation with Stephen's family in July. My family was going away for the first half of August, and I had secured a full-time job that started right after we got back. It's rare for me to have arrangements set that far ahead of time, and I remember thinking that the summer would be like a conveyor belt, effortlessly moving me through all of the plans I had made. And that's pretty much how it was.

I get the same feeling at the beginning of November every year. Thanksgiving and Christmas lay ahead, glowing with promise, and all we have to do is wait for the conveyor belt of time to usher us into the holidays. It helps cushion the descent into winter.