Water is boiling for pasta, and my umpteenth cup of tea is getting cold. The sun sets on my third snow day. I can’t really complain about the bliss of having three unexpected vacation days, but I won’t be sad to get back to work. Introvert though I be, I do like people, particularly my familiar people that I usually see every day.
Watched: A Little Chaos (about the landscape of Versailles under the reign of Louis XIV, RIP Alan Rickman), Far from the Madding Crowd (the chipperest Thomas Hardy story by far, and the light and landscape are just too beautiful), Wimbledon (oh the technical inaccuracies, also in what world is Kirsten Dunst the number one tennis player; Serena was definitely winning majors when this movie was made), The Painted Veil (because everyone knows the best romance is the one where the heroine falls in love with the husband she hates).
Made: two batches of buttermilk biscuits, braised cabbage (that I braised way too long and thus threw away), orange yogurt cake (to eat with more yogurt for breakfast), heirloom popcorn with butter and truffle salt.
Crafted: the uber long, denim skirt with cross-stitch panels (started in July, finished in February), cast off two complicated knit dish towels (literally, I just needed to cast off to finish these but had put if off for well over a year).
Explored: my park (there’s a whole new upper loop with a hidden soccer field that I at first thought was a frozen pond, but it was like a whole new world was opening up to me. Monument Valley Park is the gift that just keeps on giving).
Read: Daughter of Time (a mystery dedicated to absolving Richard III of the deaths of the two princes in the tower), The Baker’s Daughter (because being the housekeeper for a married, absent-minded artist who is ten years your senior and then being such a good cook he marries you is every girl’s dream), Homecoming (reading this for curriculum choices at school), and Brooklyn (spoiler: it’s heartless to kill off the big sister. The truth is big sisters never get a fair shake in literature. The heroines are always the middle sisters or only children or orphans).
Additionally, I did a lot of yoga, reorganized my books, deep scrubbed the kitchen sink, and dusted my bedroom. Oh, and the hyacinths that I was forcing bloomed, so the whole place smells like spring whilst the rest of the world is buried in snow (except for the trails at the park. Those were plowed before any of the roads).
I probably should have read more and watched less, but snow days are gifts and whims are not to be questioned.
Blame it on my Scandinavian heritage, but I don’t hate winter. I do hate the sun going down at 5:00 or earlier, but that’s a personal safety when running thing. Other than that, I’m good with the cold. I can always throw on another layer, but there comes a point when the heat must be endured. But I also revere/practice the “hygge” concept. Although, if I’m being completely honest, I have no idea how to pronounce it, and I’m all too aware of how hot Scandinavian anything is right now. Whatever. I like trends.
As I’ve gotten older (so old), I’ve learned to enjoy winter even more. Here’s what I’ve do:
Wear the right clothes. In college in Michigan, I was constantly running around in silk ballet flats and bare feet. Insane. Always cold. Now, I wear the proper cold weather clothes. There’s no shame in wearing a hat and gloves with your coat. The same thing holds true for running; the right clothes make all the difference.
Light the candles. I’m all about lighting candles now. As a single lady of a certain age with an intense cat allergy, I was going to lean pretty hard into some weird thing. Candles are that thing. Although, truly, I get this from my father more than anyone else. My favorite smells for winter are anything fir or pine. I got the beautiful candles from Anthropologie, but I’m also a big fan of the slightly cheaper Bath and Bodyworks Fresh Balsam candle. Somehow one candle cozies up the entire space (of my 525 square feet).
Read books. This is kind of lame because I read books through all the seasons, but I seem to buckle down and get serious reading done in the winter. Or at least, I attempt lengthier reads. I’m currently in the middle of my French Revolution novel, but then I’ll get back into Madame Bovary which I somehow missed reading in four years as a French major (but if you want to know anything about 17th and 18th century French lit, I’m your gal). In past years, I’ve read The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Forsyte Saga, Our Mutual Friend, Team of Rivals (if it’s 600+ pages, I’m in).
Venture outdoors. Anyone who really knows me knows that I do not get cabin fever. Staying in is ideal, and I rarely get bored or restless. But I do think that I am happier and healthier if I spend some time outside. Most days this looks like running. But when I get together with friends I try to schedule walks instead of coffee dates. This is now sounding like such an obnoxious self-help article, but I am super indoorsy, and my daily dose of fresh air is never something I regret. Except that one time last week when I was running, and I was over a mile away from home and I started to experience some digestive distress. I was inwardly cursing my decision to run. It was an odd experience of needing to run faster to get home to get to the bathroom and fearing that quick movement would dislodge my innards. But I digress, fresh air is necessary for me and for my students (and we all get really grumpy when we’re told to stay inside when the temp hits 20º).
Accept a challenge. I don’t really ever do New Year’s resolutions (I like to make them in August/September), but I love competitions against myself. So I’m on day 18 of a 30 day yoga challenge. I get up early (around 5:30) and spend 30-40 minutes doings my moves. I’m up earlier and my morning is less hectic and I feel so much better all day. Of course, I’ll probably never do yoga again after the 30 day challenge is completed. But these kinds of challenges keep me occupied, and I feel like I’m accomplishing something big.
Nurse hot tea. I bummed this super expensive chai mixture off of my mom all Christmas break before I broke down and bought my own. It’s actually not a black tea at all, but a mixture of ground up spices that you spoon into hot water. I add a squirt of honey or agave and a splash of cream or coconut milk or almond milk (whatever new health trend milk I’m drinking), and I’m all set for an evening of tennis.
Watch the Australian Open. Tennis is one of the best spectator sports to watch. You can be a fan of one person, not an entire team. It’s a very mental sport, so the on-court antics are usually entertaining unless the athlete is relentlessly classy in all conduct all the time (looking at you stoic, Federer). And it can go from hopelessly dull to riveting. I zone out while watching tennis all the time. And then the score gets tight, and I drift back into the game, fixated on a 27 shot rally. To be a tennis fan, the level of commitment is low. If I wanted to really follow college basketball, I’d be blocking off November-March/April. Same goes for almost any other sport. Ain’t nobody got time for that. But every few months, I can handle two weeks of intense tennis fandom. The AO is at the perfect time because it’s January, and life is hard because Christmas is over and Lent is the next big thing on the calendar. But in Australia it’s summer, and tennis=summer. It’s like a warm weather vacation with none of the warm weather. In fact, when I watch I usually end up being grateful I’m huddled over my laptop blasting the space heater. “Look at them toiling away in 90º heat with 49% humidity. I would hate to be playing tennis at an elite level making millions of dollars.” And if you’ll remember how I feel about hot weather, you know this is absolutely true. It’s weather escapism that oddly makes me feel super grateful that it’s winter, and I can wear sweaters and enjoy opaque tight season (and all the non-shaving that that entails).
I love history, but I generally don’t like historical fiction. Usually, historical fiction just strikes me as inserting some 21st century ideas/woes/storylines into the a different time period, and the result is often clunky and disjointed. But as a history teacher, I love history, and I know that the best way to learn history is to be drawn into a good story. For me, this usually looks like well-written biographies or other non-fiction tomes that focus on a war or period. But these books have made me reconsider historical fiction. Actually, I just want to read everything Hilary Mantel has ever written. These novels transport you to Thomas Cromwell’s world. Thomas Cromwell is, to quote Hilary Mantel, “the smart Cromwell.” Related to Oliver Cromwell through his sister’s son, he is becomes Henry’s chief advisor, much to the dismay of the English aristocracy (he’s the son of a blacksmith). She writes these characters so well. Henry VIII is charming and dangerous and foolish and magnificent, often in the same chapter. I was riveted by the unfolding of the English reformation (which is really closely linked to the Protestant reformation in general). Another thing I loved was the way she refused to “Tudorize” (the awful tv show) this period of history. There’s enough that’s sensational about this time period without adding in steamy bedroom scene after steamy bedroom scene. I literally google The Light and the Mirror (third book in this trilogy) to see if she’s any closer to publication.
A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel
I said I wanted to read all of her books. And this was a way of gleaning new information for my French Revolution unit and reading another one of her novels. I’m not yet finished with this book, but I’m actually stringing it out because when it’s done I will be bereft. This follows the meteoric rises and falls of Camille Desmoulins, Georges-Jacques Danton, and Maxmilien Robespierre. I started this over break, and was constantly sharing interesting bits with my family members. I fell a little bit in love with Robespierre (so earnest and so well-dressed). But most surprisingly, I changed my mind about a character. I generally never change my mind about a character, but I am now rooting for Camille Desmoulins (even though ultimately all of these men will have a bloody rendez-vous with Mme. Guillotine). With his stutter and brilliant writing and true devotion of democracy and actually bettering the lives of the 98% of France, it feels like in another time with another set of friends he would have been a truly great reformer. At its core, this novel is about the ties of friendship between Robespierre and Desmoulins and Desmoulins and Danton. Yes, there’s a revolution going on, but these relationships makes the novel so readable. And a bonus is that I now know the difference between the Jacobins and the Girondists. In fact, the whole mess is much less confusing now having read this novel. And by the way, I am no French Revolution newbie. I majored in French in college, took a class devoted to French history, and I’ve taught the French Revolution for the past five years. If you want to learn a lot about the French Revolution and you don’t care about feeling sorry for Marie Antoinette (she is on the periphery of the story), you ought to read this book.
Would you Baptize an Extraterrestrial? by Guy Consolmagno and Paul Mueller
The format is a little cheesy, but this was one of the most thoughtful and fruitful discussions about the relationship between science and faith. Both of these men are astronomers as well as being Jesuits and working for the Vatican Observatory. I never knew the Vatican had an observatory, but it doesn’t really surprise me. Really, though, what took me the most by surprise was the spiritual depth in this book. The book is broken into chapters that involve a conversation around a commonly asked question. My favorite chapter was about the end of the world. I did read this a few months ago, so my memory is a little fuzzy, but one of the men shared a story about babysitting a friend’s son. This child was convinced that there was a monster under his bed. Despite checking and re-checking, this little guy was unconvinced and inconsolable. Eventually Father Paul offered to lay down on the floor next to his bed until he fell asleep. The little boy was able to fall asleep, and Father Paul cried as he lay next to the bed. He cried because he would never have his own children, because of child abuse within the church, and because even though the child was afraid, the priest’s presence had made him feel safe. This was the conclusion of the chapter, they discuss what could cause the end of the world, the mind-blowing idea that the universe is expanding, and human mortality. And in the end Father Paul shared this story to illustrate the truth that despite all of our fears (which may be realized someday) God is with us. (“Surely I will be with you, even unto the end of the age.“) If you have any interest in science, or any interest in the intersection of science and faith, I would highly recommend this book. In fact, writing this little blurb has made me want to re-read it!
“In the juvescence of the year / Came Christ the tiger… / The tiger springs in the new year. Us he devours.” (from “Gerontion” by T.S. Eliot)
I was going to write about these lines (and clearly I still want to, but they don’t fit in with my thesis anymore. Here they are nonetheless).
A few days ago, I would have written something about these lines of poetry. I love literature and unconventional ways of describing Christ and God, but this past week drove that all away. Last Wednesday, during a routine physical, my doctor found a lump under my arm. She wanted it checked out. I would need an ultrasound. I nodded and walked out of her office. Mechanically, I grocery shopped for a dinner I was bringing to a friend. I argued with the pharmacist over an albuterol inhaler. I cooked dinner, fretted over my lack of a tupperware for the soup, and wished I’d made a dessert too. And then of course my imagination took over.
My mind raced and raced and raced. I went down some dark roads. I was thinking about how to take a leave of absence or could I still manage to teach through treatments? How would I pay for all this? And of course, I was terrified of dying. For the a week, I have been terrified and crippled by anxiety and tears. I’m not saying this to be dramatic; I was crying a lot.
In this weakness and terror, though, I was surrounded by strength and compassion and prayer. There were hugs, comforting words, laying on of hands, the works. I was going to say that I never felt the palpable presence of God during this week of waiting, but that would be incorrect. Because of course, I did feel God’s presence; I just felt it through hugs and prayers rather than hearing a voice in my head.
As I was reading my Advent devotional today, William Willimon wrote that we forget how passive we are in the nativity story. We are the receivers of this great gift. Before we can be Ebeneezer Scrooge blessing all of London we need to realize just how empty-handed we’ve come to this table. I usually focus on my own generosity and my own attitude during Advent, and I don’t think this is necessarily wrong. I want to be generous and chipper. But to some extent, that gives me a sense of control. Before I can be a giver, I must be a receiver. It was a little uncomfortable to receive all this care and attention, but I can’t imagine soldiering on alone. I received the all-clear call this morning, and there were lots of happy messages sent. Life can return to normal. But I do think this week was a gift, if only to open my eyes, even for a while, to the fact that it’s not that I love God but that he loves me, and that this love looks like the love of friends and family.
“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” (1 John 4:9-12)
This fall marks the third anniversary of getting back into running after many years of doing zero physical activity. Speed-wise I’m about to where I was my sophomore year of high school. And I was not a superstar runner in high school.
I now own an embarrassing amount of running gear. The bulk of my laundry is running clothes. And I even will wear those a few times in a row (nasty, I know, but we do live in a very dry climate and sweating is pretty minimal).
My shoes were on their last legs, and I just went to the running store and got an updated version of the same shoes I’ve worn since high school. For the first time ever, I felt like a pretty legit runner. My weekly mileage is by no means elite, but it was enough to elicit a murmur of respect from the salesperson at the store. And the competitor in me felt very superior until the ultra-marathoner walked in after me.
I love the feeling of knowing that I’ll be able to complete a run. When I was training for my first half marathon, I used to start off on long runs unsure if I’d actually be able to complete the run. Now it may not look pretty or feel good, but I know I’ll be able to get it done. This past Saturday I was cussing the heat the entire time. And I had to give myself a pep talk since I needed to finish my run by running the last 4 miles at a faster pace than my first 4. I believe I may have muttered out loud, “You’re gonna have to fight for it, girl.” I do my best high school football coach impressions during long runs.
And maybe the whole reason I keep doing this thing is to listen to wonderful podcasts and audiobooks on my phone while I run. My current favorite is the podcast On Being hosted by Krista Tippetts. Her guests are usually experts in their field but the conversations generally lean toward the philosophical and theological side of life. One of my favorites is her conversation with Jean Vanier. He’s the founder of the L’Arche communities. The love he feels for the mentally disabled and the dignity he has been able to restore to so many lives (mentally disabled and “normal”) is wondrous. And probably the topic for another blog post. On the other end of the spectrum, I’m loving The Right Reasons podcast put out by Grantland. It’s all about reality TV shows I will never watch. Important clarification: I don’t watch them because there’s just not enough time in a day not because I disapprove of them (although I should).
So that’s it. I don’t know if I’ll be running forever. But now that it’s been a couple of years, it feels like something that would be hard to quit. But never say never. I could get super into biking. Compression shorts are probably the gateway drug into cycling.
Writing this post now is a little like sending your Christmas cards out around Valentine’ Day.
This school year has started, obviously. And it’s been pretty smooth sailing so far (fingers crossed). My students are challenging enough to make things interesting but not so challenging that I start to lose sleep. I just finished Parent Teacher Conferences and feel pretty proud of both of my outfit choices for those days. (Typically I wear the least comfortable and flattering clothes I own).
Thus far the biggest challenge has been the mice. They were nesting in one of my floor to almost-ceiling cupboards. Opening the door unleashed the powerful scent of mouse urine. It took the better part of an afternoon to scrub things out. On the plus side, I was able to purge all of my predecessor’s things since they were now covered in feces and urine. I think we all know Marie Kondo would be proud.
I’ve made some big life changes here on the homefront. I floss my teeth every night. No excuses. In the past year, I’ve become a disciple of Gretchen Rubin (author of the Happiness Project). She makes the point that habits aren’t things we ever stop doing. Also, in one of her books she makes the point that if you floss every day you don’t have to hem and haw to your dentist about how you’ve been meaning to floss more, but just haven’t gotten around to it. Now I can say I floss everyday and still have horrible teeth!
I make my bed. Same reason as above. I also love the sight of the crisp white corner that I can see when I walk into my front door. It really does help me feel better both in the morning and at night.
The kitchen sink stays pretty clean. I realize these are things that other people can do without giving it a second thought, but it took effort at first. Like any new habit, once it becomes engrained the struggle is nowhere near as difficult.
As you can see, this is a life of daring and adventure over here. After years of running the same route in my neighborhood I branched out and started running in the nearby park which has a beautiful little wilderness and a tree tunnel! Unfortunately, my secret path is routinely overrun by the Colorado College cross-country team. Nothing keeps you humble like getting passed over and over by young, fast college students.
Back in January or February, Jenny proposed a road trip. We would start in San Diego and end in Seattle. She had a number of college fairs to attend along the West Coast, and rather than flying like all the sane admissions counselors, she thought of me and my love of mooching and road trips and made her proposal.
The trip was a blast. I hope that you all have a friend that you never run out of things to talk about with (there’s so much wrong with that grammatically, but, oh well) and with whom you can sit in perfect non-awkward silence. We listened to all of Serial (I firmly believe that Adnan is guilty, but Jenny had some pretty solid theories for his innocence), Go Set a Watchman (heresy to say we like it better than To Kill a Mockingbird?), and The Girl on the Train (I wanted to keep driving so that we could listen to more and more of the story).
I met Jenny 10 years ago, almost to the day. She was my freshman RA. She had long, curly hair and she knew the ropes of the big HC. She also led my freshman Bible study, and we memorized so much scripture (all of 1st Peter, I think). We became close friends, eventually roommates in the tiniest, coldest room. She has helped me move across country. We have been bridesmaids together. She moved to CO just so this friendship could continue indefinitely!
Anyways, the trip was a blast, mostly because I was on it with Jenny. Oh, and we saw some pretty amazing sights. Here come the pictures!