Friday, February 28, 2014

Sunnyside Up

It started yesterday with a jade plant.

Happy little jade.
When I look directly to my left from my desk, this is what I see, EJ's happy little jade plant. Yesterday, it sat in a pool of sunlight, sunlight that shone its way right over to me. The sun on my face made me turn, then see that plant, then smile and take a photo.

It is bitter cold outside, some 20-30 degrees colder than average. Even if we'd not had eight straight weeks of this weather, we'd be psychologically ready for spring by the end of February. Given the temps and snow, we were ready three weeks ago. That's not happening, though. The cold isn't just cold, it's frigid, and those spring showers we hear about—well, they'll be spring snow showers, with the chance that by Tuesday, we'll have another fresh foot of the white stuff on the ground.

Still, though, it has been sunny. It is an odd thing for the sun not to make you feel warmer—the cognitive dissonance on that is high—but according to the news, it has been the sunniest February in eight years. I have said many times that the hardest thing about moving back to the Great Lakes was the loss of sunlight, a loss that has led to me getting a small seasonal affective disorder light to help trick my body into feeling awake during the worst of the winter. As miserable as our weather situation has been, the extra sunlight has improved my mood—how on earth would any of us have endured this atypically harsh season without bright light to carry us through?

So yesterday, when I saw that jade plant, and realized that it had no idea that the outdoors would kill it, it just soaked up the sunlight in our indoor radiator heat and kept on trucking, I decided that was going to be my approach for whatever extended weeks of winter we have left.

Let's be real, Midwesterners (and all who love us), Mother Nature has forsaken us. Don't bother calling her, she's not picking up. The good news, though, is that we have had ample time to go through the stages of grief, and we are ready to move forward. I'm done being depressed—I am exhausted hearing myself say how much I hate the weather, I can't imagine what all you lovely readers think. I don't have the energy left to be angry—cold temps and car-window ice-scraping sap the energy for righteous ire right out of you. I used to think bargaining might help, but who am I kidding? Denial doesn't work, either: every time we leave our homes, we know the horrible truth. It all comes back to acceptance—eight+ unrelenting weeks in, and there is nowhere else to go.

Yes, tomorrow it will be March. No, it isn't going to be nice out. It just isn't. But it might sometimes be sunny, and I'm going to will some springtime energy into my mind and my space no matter what it takes.

Last night, I attended an event about Provencal food and wine, and just like always, thinking of my time in Aix, looking at pictures of that remarkably blue Southern France sky, getting to speak French, and drinking lovely warm weather-friendly rosés, brought me to my happy place. By tasting-glass number three—oh, there were so many glasses, bless the wonderful Alliance Francaise—I declared in my own mind, "Winter, I have no more time for you. In my mind, I'm living the good life. I'm living SPRING."

The colors of French rosé. They all tasted delicious, I promise.
So far today, while doing some grocery shopping, I purchased hydrangeas and clementines, then set them out to enjoy in front of Cézanne's St. Victoire. 

Les fleurs et les fruits.
Setting out beautiful, fresh things always necessitates picking up those last little items left on the table: the homework scratch paper, the errant envelope from the mail hastily opened, the cup of tea that didn't make it to the dishwasher. Willing in spring feelings is willing in spring cleaning, too, and I'm all the better for it.

Adding to the party is the chicken stock I'm making. Leek tops, carrots, celery, onions, garlic, parsley, peppercorns, bay leaf, and the saved remains of our roast chicken from Tuesday's dinner look like springtime in a pot. All. That. Color. The smell of this bubbling away all day has been heaven, and I am banking on a supply of this stock in the freezer to fortify us for any freakish springtime snowstorms or arctic blasts. Springtime, I'm willing you into being with chicken elixir, used equally well in rib-sticking winter braises as in light, spring-vegetable soups and risottos. 

The greenest things around these days are celery and leek tops.
I'll take 'em.
So join me, Polar Vortex Survivors*, and those springtime lovers who empathize with us, as we will the power of SPRING into our homes. It isn't happening outside, and we don't need a meteorologist to tell us that. Who knows when "outdoor spring," as I'm now calling it, will actually arrive? We must take things into our own hands. Twenty-four hours into my personal, "indoor spring" campaign, and I haven't felt this sunny for months.

*Yesterday, I signed up to attend BlogHer 2014—hope to see you there, too! When asked what I wanted on my name-badge, I chose: Writer, Polar Vortex Survivor. Wouldn't you have done the same?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Remember Me Honestly

The longer I live with my family, the more convinced I am that my obituary will read,

"Throughout her life, Ms. Lusignan picked up tens of thousands of socks."

Another key point might be,

"When faced with a difficult situation, her first response was always the same: coffee."

As for the heroic, idealized finish, how about this:

"Kori Lusignan was a courageous woman, as evidenced by her survival of the Chicago winter of 2013-2014, known to us metaphorically as the 'first horseman' of the catastrophic climate change we now experience. As a response to that winter, Ms. Lusignan showed tremendous fortitude and creativity, spending the rest of her life moving from place to place to capture the best weather conditions, while pioneering innovative virtual working practices with each relocation. She never missed an opportunity to share a loving word of caution about snow and ice with young people."

This stuff writes itself, I swear. Let's put it in the vault for another 60 years, give or take a few, and we'll be all set.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Thumbs Up

On Friday evening, I went to bed with my right thumb aching slightly, a little big swollen, a little bit tender at the spot where it reaches the inside of my wrist. When I woke up Saturday morning, it was three-times its normal size, I could barely touch the tender part, and I soon discovered that you can't do much when the thumb on your dominant hand is hurt.

This was one of those weird injuries that I could tell wasn't really serious—it has gotten better, progressively, every day—but would make daily tasks really irritating. Stranger still, I had no idea how I had gotten it—when had I bumped it, twisted it, wrenched it, or bruised it, to cause so much inflammation?

Now, as my thumb is back at 80%, I look around our house, and realize that without me noticing an injury taking place, a sliver of chaos is starting to take hold. Sometime in the last few weeks, our neat, organized house stubbed its thumb, and it is becoming cluttered. Given that it looks 150 times better than it did last year, why am I only drawn to noticing the small stuff, the stuff out of place?

Later this week, a realtor is coming to assess our condo, and talk through what we need to get done (quickly) to get it up on the spring market.

Like the thumb that kept smarting whenever I would forget it was hurt and would try to do something silly, like grab a glass of water, I keep looking around and noticing all the stuff that now seems out of place, cluttered, etc. We have spent close to a year purging, sorting, and organizing, and the house really works well now, but as the realtor is coming in just a few days, all I can see are the file boxes out of place, random pieces of kid clothing left in different rooms (did you know that dirty socks belong wherever you choose to take them off?), and pantry items that don't quite fit.

A house never seems messier than right before guests are coming over, but this is especially true when the guest is a realtor.

Here's hoping someone who wants a fourth-story gem in Hyde Park is thinking, "Maybe I'll start looking next month." Here's also hoping that no more hidden house injuries are uncovered in the final prep stages before market. The mad final cleaning dash begins...NOW.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Give It Up

Next Wednesday, Lent begins, but discussions around our house about what to give up for the season have already begun.

EJ suggested yesterday that she thinks she might give up after-dinner treats, but "only those, because that is enough, and a few treats during the day aren't a problem."


I suggested we may want to rethink her plan if she would like to fully participate in Lent without little-kid dispensation this year.

I'm no shining example of Catholic self-sacrifice when it comes to Lent. I understand the meaning behind it—fast to draw closer to God, to understand suffering, to release yourself from "idols" in your life, to seek out prayer each day—but practically speaking, this sacrifice can all too quickly become self-improvement, or "Revenge of the New Year's Resolution." I don't think that is the point at all—"Follow Jesus' walk through the desert, and in just three EASY steps, lose 15 pounds by Easter Sunday!" If God were choosing an informercial script for this season, I don't think that would be the winner.

Should Lent be a way in which, through daily piety and prayer, we establish habits that last the rest of the year?

I don't think God has a problem with anyone starting to go to the gym regularly; at the same time, are squats and lunges something that draw folks closer to God?

It gets even more complicated, though, when you peel back the onion a bit. If the Lenten commitment is to make time every day for focused piety and prayer, well, I think you've got yourself a sure-fire winner. But what about if you just spend less time on your phone each day? That is trickier, because without the business of mind and disconnection from the present that phone time creates, an individual might immediately feel more peaceful, more present, and more mindful. Isn't that a form of prayer, to be truly present with those around you, or thoughtful when alone?

Only the people making Lenten sacrifices can really know what they mean, and to me, the profoundness of this season never seems to be adequately acknowledged by giving up chocolate, or going on a daily walk. I'm not saying that those types of sacrifices aren't spiritual—I can easily imagine turning to God in prayer every time you wanted (but did not have) coffee, for instance—I'm just saying that they don't ring the spiritual bell for me.

As for Mike and me, I think this year might mark a new kind of spiritual/practical hybrid in our Lenten devotion, as we are (GULP) going to cut out television all but on Sundays. I'm truly anxious about this, as I love television—I really, really, love television—which makes me know that I should give it a try. I also know that I am going to need serious divine intervention in my life to help me to do this, so that's not a bad sign, either. Practically, though, we are concerned that we waste too much time on shows, we stay up too late when we don't need to do so, and we pay too much for the television access that we have. If we can forgo television for six weeks, can we make long-term changes that give us more peace, more time together, better health, and more resources?

I hope that the fruits of the sacrifice are primarily spiritual, but even I must admit, without a hint of blasphemy intended, I think the entire Holy Trinity would be pleased if, this April, we ended our relationship with Comcast.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Publishing, Time-Travel Edition

Yesterday, at school pick-up, I had a moment to make small talk with EJ's teacher. I asked her if she'd had a good day, and she lit up as she discussed how the class had just started a new magazine project. Apparently, four classrooms at the school were picked to participate—this must be funded or sponsored in some special way, but as this was small talk, I didn't get the details—and hers was one of them. The classes participating in the project are broken into teams of three students apiece, each with a different job (writer and editor were mentioned, I'm not sure if she said the third), then they create their own magazines, and learn how to launch them into market.

It sounded like a blast, and given all the time spent on test prep these days, I could tell she was excited about it. I didn't mention what I'd heard about the project on the ride home, but EJ did, describing the tasks, then listing her assigned teammates. According to her, her teacher tried to pick groups with kids that don't normally pair up, as that is what working in a magazine is really like—you must work with a variety of new people from different departments all of the time. She was excited about the whole thing.

Now, I'm totally in support of this endeavor. The kid is interested, she loves her job on the team (writer), and she likes the kids in her group a lot, so that makes it even more fun. I love the fact that this is creative, and different from their everyday work that. I have no complaints.

What struck me, though, was while I was talking to EJ's teacher, I commented, "How entrepreneurial!" to which she replied that this project is a form of college-preparedness training. Last year, eight graders in the school completed this; this year, several grades are, including EJ's third-grade class.

College preparedness? MY KID IS EIGHT. Everything we do here, including teaching her to fold her laundry, or challenging her to make good food choices, is eventually going to prepare her for college. Everything in school prepares kids for college, in a building block/making connections/"you don't start with calculus" kind of way. It strikes me as interesting that, in order for these special programs to get put in place, they must tick off boxes like "college preparedness." It also strikes me as sad that not every classroom can do something like this, given the enthusiastic response, just because it is FUN.

In the moment, I joked with her teacher, "Of course third graders are doing it this year—third grade is the new eighth grade!" but I think my humor fell flat. It isn't actually that funny, especially since it is becoming increasingly more true. I'm waiting to see if, in two years, my ten-year old will be taking the PSAT.

I like EJ's teacher, and I love that this project is on deck for all of them. A good thing for my kid is a good thing, period. I imagine, though, that making a magazine, with all of the creative/organizational/teamwork/writing/thoughtfulness/critical thinking it provides, would likely make the eight and nine-year olds happy, college-bound or not.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

No Talky-Talk

I woke up this morning with almost no voice, and a dry, horrible cough. You know those nifty neck pillows, the kind you can heat up in the microwave and wear to make you feel less tense? I felt like I had one of those inside my neck, encasing my lymph nodes and throat, a much less relaxing reality. 

My plans for the day, aside from the mandatory parenting tasks that do not get eliminated for something as trivial as illness, were immediately scrapped in favor of resting and hot beverages. I was supposed to make trip #4 to the dentist to get a porcelain crown placed on the tooth I broke a few weeks ago, but figured that the coughing and limited ability to breathe would make holding still while they cemented pretty impossible.

The whole family has been fighting off the crud for at least a week—this weekend, we made grand plans to do all kinds of family fun, but then mostly lazed about because we were all feeling subpar, at best. Last week, the kiddo got the cold full-on, even requesting that she miss piano (her favorite) in favor of resting. I thought that I had beaten it before it really got ugly, but I was wrong.

Whenever I get a hint of laryngitis, the first thing I think of is my mom, in her speech therapist voice, saying, "Total vocal rest." Drink hot drinks with honey and lemon, take medicine, rest if you can—all these things are good—but the number one piece of advice from mom has always been the same, "Total vocal rest."

Of course, the first person I really spoke to today was my mom, who called to check in but got off the phone pretty quickly, lest she sabotage her own recommendation. She doesn't even need to say it anymore, I know what to do: stop talking, and stop whispering, too. Explore ridiculous hand gestures and/or not answering anyone's questions as new forms of communication. For me, "total vocal rest" = be completely the opposite of your normal self.

The really funny thing, though, was that the less I spoke, the less I could imagine writing. I rarely talk about what I am writing out loud, and obviously, typing requires no use of the vocal chords. Why would an absence of talking lead to an absence of talking points? This made me consider the recent studies that suggest that being able to make facial expressions allows us to feel empathy, as we match the expressions of those with whom we are speaking, then are more able to feel what they are feeling. Folks with Botox injections, the control group for these studies, were much less likely to be able to empathize—if you can't make the face, you can't read the face, essentially.

We also know that the act of smiling, even smiling so slightly that others can't really notice it, can make individuals feel happier. The expression isn't always a result of the feeling, it can actually make the feeling, too. Embodied cognition is some cool stuff.

Could it be possible then, that when making a conscious effort not to talk, I send a signal to my mind to have nothing worth discussing cued up? Not moving my mouth says "don't think of things to say?"

Whatever the case, consider this near-midnight blog post as current for at least two days, unless I have a miraculous recovery tomorrow morning. I'll be here, trying not to think of anything worth saying.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Hat Trick

Happy Tuesday, everyone! It was President's Day here yesterday, so I took a day off of blogging to celebrate. By celebrate, I mean to say that I spent the bulk of the afternoon extricating my daughter from her school during the worst snowstorm-related driving conditions we've had all year. Ah, thundersnow, thanks for adding to "Killer Winter 2014: This Season Will Not Die, But You Might, Silly Midwesterner!"

I'm not sure what snow-hell had to do with Washington or Lincoln, but despite the scary drive, I did enjoy the day off, especially the part where we got home safely after turning the car into a bobsled on unplowed Lakeshore Drive.

It is actually a miracle that I could operate a vehicle at all yesterday, given how tired I was. On Sunday evening around 9:00 p.m., two hours into Olympics coverage and chilled out for the night, I thought I'd do a quick check of the Erma Bombeck writing competition website. I knew that the deadline was the next day, and I had anticipated spending most of my morning finishing up my piece and submitting it. I wouldn't call this procrastination, I'd call it "maximizing my time."

I wasn't worried, as I had been ruminating on an idea for the 450-word piece for a few weeks. I started a blog with the thought early in February, then stopped myself, knowing that the subject might be perfect for this competition, and one of the rules was that submissions be previously unpublished. I hadn't written much down since that moment, but I had 90% of the work written in my head. I was actually looking forward to morning coffee and story-from-brain extraction as my Monday start to the week.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I noticed (for the first time, shame on me) that the competition closed at 8:00 a.m. EST on Monday morning. Drat.

I'd love to say that I jumped to the computer to work on the piece right then and there, but I didn't. I sat, watched the Olympics, and thought about this new time constraint. I was in slow-motion Sunday mode, and to shift gears needed additional energy. By the time I sat down to the computer and really got at it, it was late, later than it should have been.

The good news is that writing the piece, a tale of housework and the modern conundrum of "equitably splitting the work" among spouses, took less than thirty minutes. Like I said, it was really all in my head, and aside from some transitions and some additional (hopefully) funny pieces, it really just needed to be put down on paper. The longer part of the process involved surgical cutting to ensure the piece was 450 words or less, while still making sense. I had Mike take a read, and he laughed, so I called that a good sign. I checked it for spelling, proofed it to remove double spaces, and got online to submit.

Two new challenges then faced me: giving the piece a title (I had never even thought about this), and writing a biography of myself. Ugh. I have a work bio, but that wouldn't work for this. This is where waiting until I was tired made simple tasks seem harder than usual. The title I arrived at was impulsive but decent, and after about fifteen minutes, the bio seemed done, which was all I really needed in the moment. Once I hit "submit," I felt absolutely high, so pleased that I had gotten this done, a little buzzy in my head and hands. I figured that falling asleep might be tough, but my eyes were tired enough that I thought they might even out my adrenaline.

I walked into our dark bedroom, and started groping along the dresser to find my phone, so I could turn the sound off. As my shaky fingers felt around, I heard a "ping," just the softest of noises, really, with no thud to the ground. What could I have hit? As soon as I felt my husband's glasses, I knew: I had knocked his wedding ring off of the dresser.

I didn't want to wake him, but I started to panic. I turned on the lights. It turns out he hadn't fallen asleep yet, so it wasn't too horrible of a wake-up.

"Honey, I bumped your wedding ring. I can't find it."


"I lost your ring. I was searching around in the dark, then I heard a ping..."

"Hang on."

Mike got up and we started to look. It wasn't on the floor, but I hadn't heard anything roll, so I wasn't surprised. It wasn't on the soft rug. It wasn't in the two drawers that were slightly ajar, allowing the ring to fall on soft clothes. We shook out and refolded everything. We opened drawers that weren't open before. It was gone, just gone.

That's one of my things: when something goes missing, I declare it gone, gone forever, irretrievably gone. It makes no sense: in this case, the ring couldn't have left our room, but in my mind, it was now lost for the ages. This is not one of my finer qualities.

All of that chemical energy wrapped up in my writing happiness was quickly converted into panic. Where could it be? Where was the ring? Why did I have to do this, now, so late at night?

Mike told me that I shouldn't worry. "The ring is just a thing, just a symbol, not the marriage, itself." It was all okay, he wasn't mad. He was going to go to bed and look for it the next day, and I should, too. He gave me a hug, and was so sweet.

I returned this kindness by practically screaming at him that this was not nothing, there was no way ON EARTH I could get any sleep now, that I needed to have all the lights on to look more thoroughly, and if he wanted to rest he should probably go to the guest room. Oh, and why did he put his ring somewhere so unprotected, anyway, since it may be "just a thing," but it is certainly special, and didn't he even care enough about this ring to keep it safe?

For those keeping score, I messed up and accidentally lost his ring, then I blamed him for putting it where I would accidentally lose it, then told him to leave our room so I could stay up like some half-deranged sleuth with all the lights on and a flashlight.

Ahem. He (very rightly) let me know that my thoughts were not appreciated, then turned off the lights and started to go to sleep.

I left the room, crying. I was really tired, really amped up, and really unable to make sense of things. I paced around. I grabbed all the clothes from the drawers, and searched through them again on the couch. I was no Erma Bombeck, and I was about three universes away from the pithy, "Isn't it silly how we families approach chores!" lady I was a few minutes before.

As I walked back into our room to put the refolded clothes away, flashlight in hand, I wasn't sure what to do. I couldn't possibly sleep, but I couldn't do anything else. I couldn't give up the hunt, but looking made no sense. Mike was right, Mike was right, Mike was right, so why didn't my anxious body agree?

It was as I spun around to leave again, so as not to disturb Mike, that the flashlight reflected back to me a pinpoint of gold. There, in the goofy-cool hat that Mike bought on our honeymoon, hanging on our bedroom doorknob, was Mike's wedding band. The ping I had heard happened as it bounced off the dresser, the lack of any other noise was because it fell softly into the hat. It all made sense. I gasped loudly as I grabbed it, but Mike thought I sounded hurt, so he startled up.

"Are you okay?"

"I FOUND IT! It was in the honeymoon hat!"

"Oh, that is great."

"Where can we put it so that I don't bump it again? I'm so sorry, so so sorry."

"'s okay...I get it. I couldn't sleep anyway."

Monday morning came early, with the headache that accompanies not enough rest, amplified by the hormonal marathon my brain had run through before sleeping. I thought about how silly I had acted the night before, and I told Mike I was sorry again...and again...and again. This lady he married, the same gal who can smoothly and efficiently write a whole story in her head, can be so erratic when overtired and overly sentimental—how does he put up with her?

When I saw the big smile on his face as he slipped his ring back on, I didn't worry. I took some Advil, drank some coffee, and remembered that this is the real equitable breakdown of household life: we will switch back and forth in the roll of "calm and patient" spouse roughly a million more times, get the best night's sleep we can, then put our rings on and smile.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Happy Valentine's Day!

Here's hoping your Valentine's Day—no matter how you spend it—is as sweet as a homemade, heart-shaped, smiley-face pizza, with mushroom hair and giant pepperoni earrings.

My kid is my chef. Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Unsolicited Test Review

Yesterday, EJ had the day off of school to celebrate Lincoln's Birthday. It's an Illinois thing.

We've both been fighting off a cold this week, but rallied to make the day a fun one. Before heading over to a haircut appointment at the kid salon that feels like one part carnival, one part toy store, one part shenanigans, and sure, one part hair-cutting, we stopped to get lunch. Over her bowl of chicken soup, I asked her,

"So kiddo, of all the things going on right now—school stuff, activities, etc.—what's getting you the most excited?"

Here is what she said:

"I don't like that we don't have science or social studies at school anymore, because we have to spend all of our time preparing for the ISAT. Well, science I don't mind, because we barely did that at all before. Social studies is so sad, though! Mom, I love studying the states."

So, for those who are paying attention to the important contribution that standardized tests play in one third-grader's life, here's what we know:

  1. The kid misses time to do things other than reading, writing, and math, as well as test prep—prep that focuses on how to take the test, as well as how to do well in reading, writing, and math on the test.
  2. The kid, when asked what excites her about her life, including everything from school, to Girl Scouts, to rainbow loom, to ballet, started by telling me that she is upset that she misses core subjects.
  3. The evening before, EJ's school hosted an evening for third-grade parents to learn all about the ISAT test, as this is our children's first year: what to expect for the next few weeks of prep, as well as the two full weeks of testing in March
  4. The ISAT test is being phased out after this year in favor of the PARCC, and will not be used as a part of teacher, principal, or school evaluations. Apparently, it is still linked to "No Child Left Behind," but common logic tells me that leaving science and social studies behind for at least a month is a bigger concern.
We didn't attend the prep meeting—I was the one free that evening, and I was sick. I was worried about missing vital information, about Mike and I being "those parents" who "don't participate," about leaving my kid in the lurch. My head was pounding too intensely to go, though, so the parent guilt I hoisted on myself didn't make any difference. After talking to EJ yesterday, I realized that no amount of test knowledge on my part will make the main problem go away: this test is an unnecessary interruption in an already test-crazy school calendar. 

I'd opt her out, but it would be more trouble than help. We've already been told that they've reduced the number of assessments administered to our kids from twenty-five down to ten. I know, we should feel grateful, right? Oh, wait, ten is still a crazy amount of assessments, especially when one of the ten is an obsolete test that takes two weeks of class-time to administer and a month of prep before. Twenty-five to ten including ISAT feels like our kids just got bamboozled by the offer, "I'll give you TWO quarters for your ONE dollar bill." Let's hope not, though, because that would mean that they aren't going to do very well on the math portion of the test.

For what it is worth, I suggested that we take a roadtrip this summer, and visit a bunch of states, see their capitals, etc. She suggested that we fly to each of them, because she thinks that we are wealthy, apparently, and can jet around from Madison to Denver to Sacramento, if those capitals suit our fancy. If I'm flying to any capitals after we all survive this winter/third-grade year, I'm going to make my choice Honolulu. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Winter Olympics

I'm a self-professed Olympics-junkie. I come by it honestly: my mom loves them, too, and every four years as a kid, the Olympics became sacred appointment television. This is saying a lot, because I have almost no memories of my bookworm mom watching television at any other time, with the exception of an epic mini-series and the Dallas/Dynasty combo. It was the eighties, after all.

Having been raised with a childhood devoid of live-streaming, on-demand, internet-access, "watch these events whenever you feel" possibilities, I have embraced—maybe even gorged, at times—on the all-access media that is now available. Kids who were never given sweets as a kid, even on special occasions, know this story—they get to college, and start calling Cookie Crisp and a Mountain Dew a complete and balanced dinner, at least until they discover that upon finishing their meal, they feel like their brains are about to explode out of their skulls, and their guts are exploding out of the jeans they brought freshman year.

The Olympics, for some reason, still feel like appointment television to me. I realize that the events that we see in the evening are not technically live, given the time-zone difference, and I also appreciate that using our DVR allows me to stop for glasses of water and other interruptions, but for the most part, I try to watch the events as they are presented, without delay, in a retro approach. There is some sacredness about them to me, and as I chat with friends and read posts in social media about Olympics-consumption, this seems to be a theme among my peers.

The summer Olympics are bigger, and they tend to get more fanfare. I'm not going to lie, I'll watch those compulsively, too, but given my choice, I'll take the winter Olympics every time.

The idea that these young athletes, without big endorsements, without million-dollar prospects for a professional sporting career, are putting themselves in harm's way for the love of performing and perfecting their sports: well, that's just something unbelievable, right?  NBC had a summer Olympic track star come to see the ski jump competition the other day, and he nailed the analysis with just the look on his face as he stared down the hill. People can DIE doing that, and it may not even be the most dangerous sport at the event. Skeleton much, lately? Yeah, I think that if my house was on fire, and the only way out was to head face-first down a skeleton track, I'd take my chances with the flames.

Let's face it: Winter Olympic sporting events make NFL players look like overpaid office workers, concussions and all.

The more years I watch the games, the more I like the obscure events. The little girl who sat in her Wisconsin living room with her parents and brothers watching Scott Hamilton win the figure skating gold in Sarajevo is still inside me, but she'd now like to spend some time watching curling. Yes, that's right: curling. Ten-year old me would find that ridiculous, but forty-year old me finds it downright entertaining.

I know some folks are protesting the anti-gay rights policies in Russia by not viewing the Olympics this year. Others are abstaining because of the controversies surrounding the staging of the Olympics themselves, with the displacement of Sochi citizens, animals, etc. I respect these points of view, and I have to say, I feel solidarity in the protest. To me, though, the athletes are the reasons to make the Olympics an occasion. For so many of them, this is it. Just like television watching in the 70s and 80s, the events, themselves, cannot be replayed or redone, cannot be picked up when they feel most ready and approached again. I can't stop watching the Olympics. I can't get over the sense of awe that comes with watching individuals who have sacrificed, prepared, and practiced, show up on their big days and be fully present, no matter what.

I'm too old and too out-of-shape to have the same Olympic fantasies I had as a girl, that I might become an Olympic athlete myself, doing my best on the world stage. When I think about the Olympics, now, I think of them solely as a spectator. I think about the moments with my family as a kid, waiting excitedly to see what happened next, the personal heartbreak of Dan Jansen, the triumph of seeing Torvill and Dean's "Bolero." I think of my year abroad in France, and my trip to Austria during the Lillehammer games, during which the lady who ran the Salzburg hostel at which I was staying saw me peak up to see if she had the Olympics results on the television, then invited me to come up to watch the figure skating finals and alpine skiing with her. She served us both a warm, alcoholic drink that I know had cinnamon in it, and we sat on her couch smiling, oohing and aahing, and making hand gestures to communicate our feelings about the performances and judging across the German/English language barrier.

As I sit on our own couch now, minus the cinnamon-spiced liquor, I think of how inspiring it is to see people try so hard, work so hard, and then be so in the moment. I let my mind wander into pure enjoyment, I let my adrenaline ride up and down with the suspense, the fear, the elation. Then I go to bed feeling happy; happy that—no matter the results—every two years, winter and summer, I can have my own piece of the Olympic spirit reignited, carrying me through my own life's events. 

May everyone feel like the answer to a life seized is to prepare and practice, then just show up and do our best, recognizing that we can handle any outcome, no luge required.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

What the Big Girl Eats

As I type this, I sit surrounded by boxes of Girl Scouts cookies waiting to be delivered to my daughter's customers. The dining room in our big old condo is so large that it also doubles as my office, and our temp storage area for items like thin mints and samoas. I'm not 100% sure what they were doing in dining rooms in 1915, but I know it required some elbow room. It also required servants, if the maid's quarters that we have converted into our daughter's bedroom and bathroom are an accurate indication. My 2014 lifestyle does not require this much dining space, but I'd be willing to try a live-in housekeeper, you know, as an exercise in historical exploration.

When it is cold and you are stuck in the house a lot, slow-cooking, braising, and baking become not just a way of making meals, they become a participatory activity. If I were asked what the best thing a new cook could learn would be, I would probably say how to braise an inexpensive cut of meat. It's so forgiving, and so tasty, it would give the brand new cook the confidence to roast a chicken, or root vegetables, and eventually to sauté. If I were running my own home-cookery course in this climate, I would start it in January, and give everyone a pork shoulder, a good dutch oven, and 5-8 hours of cocoa-drinking and novel-reading while dinner turns into its succulent self without much work at all. Then I'd charge money for all the knowledge I was imparting, and drink some cocoa myself, and maybe bake another batch of cookies with my daughter, claiming that we were using the time to practice fractions.

With the rare winter we are having—so many days below freezing, so many days of snow and difficult driving—the amount of melted interstitial fat in our diet has gone up to epic levels. Even though my brain says stew-soup-slowcooked meaty goodness, my brain is starting to say salad, please God, give me a salad. When I eat salad, it tastes exactly like one would imagine it would in six-degree weather: refreshing, but not appropriate.

I mentioned last week that one of my goals was to revert back to more fruits and vegetables for snack around here, and that was a minor success. Grapes were tasty to the kiddo while I was eating them, too; when asked for as a snack the next day, they were left out in a bowl that I did not see until they were semi-raisined a day later. Apples are happy snacks when accompanied by peanut butter; they are "brownish" and "not quite right" without the protein punch for dipping. And while I munch very happily on pickled veggies—cucumbers, asparagus, mushrooms—the kiddo will try each once, tell me, "That's pretty tasty!" then reject them at every additional offering.

It will be a wonder if we make it to March without developing scurvy or rickets. That's right, we'll be the ones suffering from something Mayflower passengers called common.

I've been paying more attention to my eating as of late, not just because of all the time cooking, and all the time at home in the blessed kitchen (where is that 1915 housekeeper again?), but because I have been feeling yucky. Dizzy. Uneasy. Not myself. I'm going to attribute it (as I do every year) to the February blahs, but it requires attention and a dietary kick-start. As a certified obese person (You didn't know there was a certificate program? Oh yes, everything comes with a certificate these days!), a large percentage of my life typically surrounds thinking about food. The process of becoming fat, as every late-night comedian would suggest, isn't simply because I eat all of the time. ("Those fat people! They are hilarious! They just shovel food into their faces like giant out-of-control disasters! It is the funniest!")

If only it were that easy. When my obesity-related symptoms are raging, a whole range of dietary stuff goes haywire. Sometimes I barely eat. Sometimes all I eat is junk. Sometimes I eat way too much of the healthy stuff. Sometimes I go hours and hours without eating, other times, I can't seem to stop myself every 15 minutes. When I am not eating, though, a good chunk of head-space involves worrying about what will happen when I must eat, or what might happen if someone sees me eat, or sees me pick out a meal for myself. Will it be healthy? Will they think me unhealthy? Will I become a joke for them moments later? 

That is the disease, it is not a disease of eating, it is a disease of thinking, with eating (or starving) as its coping mechanism. 

I posted yesterday about my busy mind, and my sweet aunt told me I needed to do meditation. I do! When I let her know that, she told me I must need more, and I laughed. The truth is, despite years of yoga, I really learned meditation during a clinical trial to help me deal with—you guessed it—obesity. Counting calories only makes the thinking worse, but mindfulness, being present, getting centered in the body, breathing—that's the stuff that helps make the thinking, thinking, thinking quiet enough to make the eating something not so scary.

So it is not without fear, trepidation, and a healthy dose of dread, that I approach examining my personal diet (again) because I am feeling crummy. I have a referral for a new nutritionist, and I am working not to be defeatist or cynical before approaching that appointment.

I'm inspired to eat more consciously because I know it can change me, and I know it is the best model for my daughter. She's a great eater, a fan of healthy foods and eating the rainbow (as the First Lady would encourage), and not one to overindulge, but she is just as likely as the rest of us to get the February blahs, and want baked goods in lieu of carrots. If I don't keep eating those carrots with her, what hope does she have? If I just skip meals and snacks, or then eat crunchy/crispy/vacant food to fill up that void, what does that show her? I only want her vibrant health and good eating habits to continue; doing the right things is the only way to prove my conviction.

With that, as we approach temperatures at freezing as a warm up—wrap your brain around that, approaching freezing is WARMING UP here—I will continue to do the things that feel unnatural: have a meal schedule, have healthy foods stock our pantry and fridge, have choices that support our healthy family. I don't have to always like it, and I don't have to decide that I really think that lettuce tastes like potato chips, or that eating at regular intervals is what I would prefer. When my obesity does the talking, it says, "Let's hide out and eat whenever we want whenever we want it, let's skip meals for days, then only eat salty meats and rich dairy, let's use the feelings of hunger and fullness to drown out the thinking." When I do the talking, I say, "Salad, with a little goat cheese and some nuts, please."

I also say, "Can we get these thin mints out of here, already?"

Monday, February 10, 2014

Go Where You Wanna Go

Anytime I can start a Monday morning off with a blog titled after a Mamas and Papas' song, I feel like I'm getting a good start. May we all have Cass Elliott on lead along with our wake-up coffee, even when it is -3 degrees outside. Maybe especially when it is -3.

I had a fun, busy weekend, and I hope you did, too. Over the two-day span, I got asked, once, twice, three times if we are moving. Why? When? To WHERE?

I gave my standard answers: 

Why? We are putting our condo up on the market soon because it was not meant to be a long-term home for us, and we have already been here since 2004. It is a fourth-story walk-up, and is not accessible to all of our family, which means we cannot ever host a holiday, get-together, etc. Also, my 30-year old self was much happier ascending and descending icy stairs than my 40-year old self, and I have no doubt that new 30-year olds would be happy with that climbing arrangement, too, if we made this place available to them.

When? We thought we'd have it up on the market now, but the anomalous winter we are having has pushed back real estate spring from "post-Superbowl" to "whenever people actually feel like leaving their homes, TBD." We still need to do some painting, some final organizing, and some interior design magic, attempting to artfully hide a dozen crates of Girl Scout cookies stacked up in our dining room and awaiting delivery to far-flung places like Milwaukee. Of course, maybe Girl Scout cookies piled high make a dining room look extra inviting to potential buyers? We'll consult experts on this.

To WHERE? We don't know, and it is freaking me out. Is that a good answer?

I'm looking for work here. I'm looking for work there. I'm looking for work everywhere.  I'm the Dr. Seuss of relocating. I'm focusing my everywhere on places that are great for me and for my hubby and kid, too. I'm focusing my everywhere on places that are a) close to family and friends, or b) warmer and sunnier, or c) vibrant places to live, or d) some combination of a-c, knowing I (likely) can't have it all.

What does that mean?

LIMBO. Unknowing. Swimming in the soup. 

I'm not sure why I imagined that getting older meant feeling more solidly rooted to things, more sure of where I should be planted. I didn't arrange my life that way. We didn't pick Chicago as a place to live based on a desire for permanence; we came here for a temporary goal, the hubby earning a PhD. I have never been a person who is particularly change averse—steadiness is wonderful, but change is necessary to grow—so having some degree of impending change on the horizon shouldn't be a shocker. Having ambiguity seems to be exactly what I have opened myself up to experience. So if that's the case…

Why do the questions about moving unsettle me so?

I've decided, at least for now, that they most worry me because they set my busy mind spinning into "should have" mode. "You should know where you want to live by now. You should have already bought a house there, actually. You should have started building community, and equity, and certainty. You should have stopped being self-employed a few years back, and found steadier work then, and gotten more financial security established. You are already older than you should be to do the things you want to do. You should have done all this before having to endure this winter. You should paint/call the electrician/call the realtor again. You should have thought this through a little more thoroughly three years ago."

I'll stop there, but my brain goes on and on, from the mundane to the strategic to the spiritual. When given the chance, my spinning brain is mouthy. Sometimes I ignore her, but sometimes I have to talk back.

I have to ask her things, like, "Who says? Who says I needed to figure any of this out before right this minute? Who says I'm not exactly where I want to be? Who says the time isn't now?"

I have to tell her things, like, "You may always be talking, but you aren't always talking sense. You love your life, even with the icy stairs and the sense of unknowing. You've never been afraid of not knowing—not knowing is your sweet spot, where you do your best work."

Then I have remind my whole self, brain, body, and breath, things like, "You are here. You are here. You are here. You love others. You care for yourself. You are here. That is enough. That is home, wherever you live today, and wherever you live tomorrow."

Will this do the trick? I don't know. Busy brain has been living with me for as long as I can remember, and she likes her share of my time. If only I was as good at telling myself where to go—are we moving?—as I am at telling her where to go, she'd have a lot less to talk about these days.

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Greatest Friends

One of my greatest, lifelong friends is visiting tonight with her kids, having come back to the Midwest for a family medical emergency that has thankfully turned out okay. She and her family can still use your prayers, of course, especially for the recovering patient, as well as for my friend as she treks back across the country through difficult winter weather conditions. Thinking of her coming tonight, trying to prepare our home for the family's arrival, a few things occur to me:
  • The greatest friends don't require that you get your house really clean before they show up. They know your deal, they don't care about your dust, or the weird mail clutter that is accumulating as you are trying to separate out junk magazines from tax forms.
  • The greatest friends pick up the house for their visiting friends, anyway, because they want it to feel extra nice.
  • The greatest friends are just happy to spend time with you, and don't ask that you figure out a special meal for them just because they have a food intolerance or allergy.
  • The greatest friends go through their pantry, anyway, and then talk through every ingredient with their guest to make sure they can enjoy a beautiful meal without being sick.
  • The greatest friends don't need to see each other all the time to have a warm, safe place in each other's hearts.
  • The greatest friends sure like seeing each other as much as possible, anyway, no matter how secure their friendship is.
  • The greatest friends get excited about getting to know and love each other's kids, embracing the role of honorary auntie
  • The greatest friends get even more excited when their kids like each other, too, all on their own.
I wasn't a popular kid growing up, and even today, I still have moments when I can't believe I'm as lucky as I am to know so many wonderful people who seem to like spending time with me. Elementary school can teach you some pretty tough lessons about what it means to belong. It is nice to feel loved in the crowd.

To have a handful of tried-and-true friends, though, the kind who keep you simultaneously grounded and lifted up, laughing even while you need to cry, and who don't require a single thing from you except that you show up and be completely yourself—well, to have that is to have a blessing handed directly down from heaven.

I could go on and on, but pictures might say even more.

Baby shower hosted for friend's first,
back in the DC townhouse.
Honorary auntie meeting EJ for the first time,
after a car-trip across the country expressly for that purpose.
Second generation friendship can start early...
...and gets better with every visit.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Read My Face

It strikes me as a little funny that I made the decision to write everyday in November, while celebrating my birthday on a trip to San Diego, with sun and friends and plenty of writing ideas jumping through my head. I could not realize, of course, that the most unrelentingly harsh winter I can remember since childhood would descend a few weeks later once I was back home. Being a shut-in is not conducive for storytelling, as one can only write so much about how cold they are, or what's happening in their home, or what is going on in their own brain, before author and reader begin to feel claustrophobic.

This morning I did get out, though, to the Magnificent Mile here in Chicago, so that I could see my dentist and get a mold made for a new crown. Between the proximity to the lake and the wind tunnels created by the skyscrapers, the glorious Gold Coast is not for the faint of heart when the windchill is already in the negative twenties. If you'd like to recreate this feeling at home, take all your knives, put them in the freezer, and when they are too cold to really handle, start stabbing yourself in the face.

Everywhere I looked today, the same expressions hung on the faces I saw. It was utter weariness, psychic exhaustion worn into eyes peeking out from scarves, mixed with pangs of physical pain. Indoors, as our heavy outdoor layers were stripped and hung around our necks like a trapper hauling pelts, you could hear the sighs. The resignation. The sheer "enough of this already" that seemed to come out with a hiss of air past tightened shoulders and a furrowed brow.

Even the majority of folks who profess to love winter, love snow, and love the cold seem to have had it. Conversations today included, "I don't want to shovel anymore," "It's never warm enough to enjoy the snow, it's so cold it hurts," and "I'd think this was prettier if everything wasn't covered in dirty slush."

For goodness sake, the eleventh story of the high-rise parking garage I used today had snowdrifts in it. The eleventh story! Doesn't that say it all? Even the parking garage is over this.

Instead of heading right back to the car after my dental appointment, I took the elevator up a floor to the Red Door Spa, asked if they had in any walk-ins available, and got myself an overpriced deep tissue massage. If this winter is going to keep beating us up, at least I'm going to get some of that stress rubbed out.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Drifting Across the (Crazy) Line

Yesterday, I sketched out a whole blog post for today, in honor of the snow that was set to fall over night, about how we need some smarty-pants engineer/inventors to figure out how we can ship some of this Great Lakes snow to the west, where they are experiencing drought. We can't even find room for what we already have, much less all that is still coming, and they could use a good soaking for their ground water. There must be a way we could suck it into those tankers that carry milk and gas across the country, and just shoot it out onto their fields. Yes, it would use a lot of gasoline in the process, but the overall environmental benefit would outweigh this, right?

Then this morning, as I took EJ down for the carpool pick-up, and set out to walk Ada, I knew I had to change course. The blog must document this new phase of winter, which came upon me as if a cosmic switched had been flipped, sometime around 8:10 a.m., CST.

The new snow was only 4-6 inches—I can't believe I am saying this now, but that doesn't even phase me at this point—but it was drifting. There were places on our sidewalk with snow 2-3 feet deep, as tall as our dog. For her to get over to the buried grass—I'm assuming there is still grass buried under there—to relieve herself was an absolute joke.

So, there we were, me trying to kick snowdrifts as high as my thighs down so my grandma dog could pass through, old lady dog, who usually adores snow, looking up at me like, "Seriously, what the heck happened last night? This is unacceptable." After much adventure trying to find a patch of land where the snow had drifted away, our dog finally got about to her business. My urging pleas for her to hurry herself up didn't seem to make a difference. I suppose if someone put a foot and half of snow on my toilet, I'd be pretty intentional about my actions, too. That wasn't the only problem, though. Guess who had a sick tummy this morning? That dog has some sort of ESP for when it is best to carefully place a back-breaking straw, I'm telling you.

Here's the picture: wind blowing, snow flying, me stooping down to pick up copious amounts of poorly-formed excrement, scarf almost blowing into the mess, gloves almost being coated in the mess, bag for the pick-up blowing into the mess and becoming its own disgusting remnant, second bag to nest gross bag in almost blowing away, dog's tail swishing almost into the mess roughly twenty times, my big red down coat blowing open and nearly knocking me down into a smelly pile.

Once the clean-up was over, the dog looked like she wanted to stay out and enjoy the snow. Of course she did! I felt the wave of relief that comes when you know the worst must be over. It was around the time that I stumbled over in a different three-foot drift as I attempted to get all the bagged-up gross to the garbage can, nearly losing my boot in the process, that I snapped. I started laughing. Laughing like a maniac. A lunatic. A person whose brain had simply decided, "This s)%* is crazy, you are going on a mental vacation right this second." It made me felt better. It also made me feel a little cuckoo.

Yesterday, there was a hilarious article in Jezebel about how sick of winter we all are. I posted it on my Facebook page for others to enjoy, highlighting one of my favorite quotes, "It's been cold for so long that The Shining is starting to look like a documentary." I thought of that little gem as I burst into my fit of "winter is absurd" laughter this morning, and neighbors attempting to dig out their cars looked over with faces that said, "Keep a wide distance from that lady." This winter, people, is crazy-making.

Ha, ha, ha, ha! Ha, ha, ha, ha! Ha, ha, ha, ha! 

Run if you hear me whisper "Red Rum." I'm getting coffee now, so I think we'll be okay, but still: safety first.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014


The top headline in the online version of the Chicago Tribune this morning was this: "Chicago bracing for yet another round of snow." Yeah, more snow is coming, starting at rush hour, ending sometime before July 4th. There's no where left to put all of this, so I'll just expect to dig a tiny tunnel tomorrow to leave my condo, and call it a day. No bracing for snow around here. Winter, you've worn me down. Feel free to just bury me completely, just give me time to find some scuba gear to wait out the thaw.

I am bracing, however, for two pressing Tuesday events:

  1. We are getting our piano tuned today after (oh my gosh, I am so horribly ashamed) YEARS of not having tuned. That should be interesting. I just can't listen to EJ practice anymore with it so out of whack. The tuner seems really kind, so hopefully I won't get too long of a lecture about piano maintenance.
  2. I am getting insistent again about fruit and veg for after-school snack. EJ has gotten more and more dubious about eating grapes or apples when we have had polar vortex leftovers and baked goods laying around, which makes her just like everyone else in the Midwest. We are all just going to have to pretend like eating fresh, raw fruits and vegetables is what sounds appealing when it is freezing, and our minds tell us, "None of this stuff is growing, just look outside." Don't worry, the kid has had nutritious meals, it's just time for another "let's look at our snack choices" campaign. I am rarely hungry when she comes home and has snack, but a few days of eating fruit/veg alongside her should do the trick. It always does. The first day is always a protest, even if the fruits and veg are her favorites. No one likes to be told what to eat.
I'm up for these challenges, and even though they might feel yuck-o in the moment, I'm excited to see the results. What's on your bracing list today?

Monday, February 3, 2014

Smell My Feet

This winter has posed a particular stinker of a problem for me: how do I keep my feet warm, but still pleasant?

The world is full of real problems, and a cold winter compounds them: homelessness, hunger, and human suffering all move from horrible to crisis when the weather turns frigid. I'm not going to pretend that I am not extremely lucky to have a warm place to live, food to eat, and access to everything I need to be healthy and functional when the cold hits. Yes, I am extremely, extremely fortunate.

I will disclose, though, in a way that women are never, ever supposed to disclose unpleasant things, like chin-hair plucking or using the bathroom in any way, that my feet do not smell like roses, and this bitter winter is making the problem particularly tricky to solve.

When puberty hit, and every kid took their turn discovering that deodorant was their new best friend, a strange thing happened to me: I never needed it. I started using it primarily because I felt like I was supposed to do this "adult thing"—the gym locker room is a great hotbed of peer pressure and self-judgement—and because I got used to the wonderful effects of antiperspirant, especially in schools that a) did not have air conditioning and b) had a ban on wearing shorts, so we were always sweating like maniacs. I've never stopped using deodorant, but I really could—I promise I am not fooling you when I say that my armpits do not stink.

Now, this should just be a given, because as we know, ladies always smell like roses and dreams and soft spring breezes, just naturally. Why else would the leading brand of ladies' deodorant be called. "Secret," as in "it's our little secret that this chemical paste is what really smells powder fresh."

With millions of dollars spent on advertising, the cat is out of the bag on underarm sweat: we can all gracefully admit that body odor exists across gender lines. Personally, I find the fact that I am not one of the vast majority on this front kind of freaky.

Here's my little secret, one that has no commercials featuring ladies gracefully cruising across a finish line, or piloting a plane without a bead of sweat crossing their brow, or looking fabulous at a fancy dinner: some ladies have feet that stink. This lady foot-stink is not the least bit tempered by feminine virtue: it is like something that is being cultured in a bioweapon-development lab, or like a whole NFL locker-room right after the Superbowl. I own a pair of these feet, for I have the genetic gift of podiatric swamp stench.

Where's my special girly foot deodorant, with a lotus flower and the promise of becoming a feminine super-heroine on the package?

Over the years I have learned about how to make this problem less onerous, mostly through trial and error (read: embarrassment and humiliation), but also by talking to other relatives gifted with this trait. Natural fibers for socks only. Rotate shoes often—never wear a pair more than two days in a row. Look for foot deodorizing powders that don't cake or stain. Wear crocs as slippers, as they aren't as toasty (read: sweaty) as fuzzy varieties. Look for words like "wicking" in all foot-related purchases. Think like a man, because the girly stuff is pretty, but it meets none of the critical hygiene requirements.

Because my feet run hot like the engine of a sports car, they are sweaty quickly. You'd think that getting my feet even more wet, with precipitation, for example, would make things better, not worse, as it would wash some of the sweat away. Nope. I've learned I must never, under any circumstance, get my feet wet inside my shoes (yes, my feet are a bit like gremlins,) lest I want my shoes to become tiny steam engines billowing death-spray. Back in the nineties, when I was at my first real job, and wearing the clunky, chunky leather shoes that were as popular as the "Rachel" haircut, I learned what can happen when my prone-to-stink feet get wet in my shoes during an outing with my coworkers. We were running on Connecticut Avenue to get to the car, the appointment, the meeting—I don't remember—but my big leather shoes were submerged in a puddle. On the ride home, with five people crammed in a colleague's cramped Toyota, people started to wonder WHO HAD DIED in the car. Was there a rodent decomposing in the vents? A corpse hidden in the trunk? I was too young and embarrassed to admit it was just my feet, but I could join them in opening windows and breathing as little as possible.

Winter is always tricky for me, as I don't have three pairs of boots to swap around, and boots, in general, are too warm for my feet. Boots with really good treads, so that I don't spend the entire season falling on my keister, can often have polyester nightmare fillings, turning swamp feet into tiny kilns. (Need to fire that mug you've been working on in pottery class? Stick it in my boot!) Winter is also the season of constantly battling wetness in the shoes, either by getting snow inside my boots outside (rare), or getting slush on my socks while taking off my boots once inside, thus activating my least glamorous scent. Everywhere you go in the winter, taking off your shoes is a must, and I have to admit, whenever I show up at someone's house and I must take my boots off before going inside, I gulp and pray that I won't be in for a smelly surprise to share with the crowd.

This winter has presented a new kind of challenge. It has been so cold, with no break, for so long, that for the first time in a very long time, my feet are getting cold. Really cold. Cold enough to take out the fuzzy slippers that I was given as a Christmas present years ago, but never wear because they make my ankles and arches boil within five minutes. I am now in uncharted territory, trying to constantly swap between foot-gear that keeps me from smelling like a monster, and cozier items that keep my toes from falling off.

So, friends, if I show up at your place this February, and you suspect that the stench may be rising (mixed with lavender to dampen the blow), I apologize in advance. I'm fighting it the best I can, I promise. If I make it through the winter without frostbite on my extremities, I promise to wear breezy no-smell sandals without socks for as long as I possibly can.

Hang in there, stinkers. The groundhog says you have to work overtime.