I am definitely suffering from a loss of my “Get through the winter” momentum. My first mistake was going away in December to a warmer place. Vacations don’t refresh me, they set me up for failure. Although I enjoy them while I am there, I come back feeling worse about having to come back to winter than I would have felt if I had never left. A few weeks after that trip I finally got back in the winter groove, only to find myself enjoying 40 and 50 degree days for a week and completely getting me out of the winter mindset. Add that to our late February trip up north to a tropical themed water park and here I am, feeling that loss of momentum.
This is when winter really starts to hit me hard. Now is when my friends in Jersey begin to emerge from the doldrums. They are prepping their gardens, getting compost, walking on the boardwalks, pulling out the bikes and the deck furniture, enjoying 60 degree days every now and again. Their crocuses and spring bulbs are emerging from the soil and the winter pansies will be making their appearance at garden centers any day now. And here I am, in Minneapolis, my gardens buried in a 2 foot snow pack, bulbs tucked away in the frozen ground, slush and ice still coating the streets and no green to be seen anywhere. And, as if adding insult to injury, it seems as though as soon as we get any kind of clearing or melt, it snows again, only to start the process over.
I think if winter ended right now, I would be ok. It would have been difficult and snowy, but I would be able to emerge still standing. It is these next few weeks, when snow becomes a distant memory for my more-southern-residing counterparts, that I really get beaten down. And by the end I feel like I am just barely crawling along, holding up a flag of surrender, looking for rescue from the seemingly interminable winter.
I felt it start to creep in today. I looked out my window at the University of Minnesota and saw nothing but gray. I took a deep breath and knew, I’m entering that end of winter tunnel. If I can just fight for joy these last few weeks, I know that on the other side I will find myself again, and I will have made it through this, my fourth winter…
We just came off of one of the most beautiful February weeks I have experienced in Minnesota. It began last Sunday and continued through Thursday with temps hitting the high 40’s and low 50’s every day. For most of the week we wore light jackets and allowed our hats and gloves to get lost in a mound of forgotten items, the way we do in spring. Now, you know from my previous posts, that I abhor winter. Truly, it isn’t only the snow and cold. Those are inconvenient and not my choice weather conditions, but I feel certain I could handle them if winter didn’t make me FEEL so different. I literally feel like a piece of me dies off in winter, leaving this empty hole that only feels filled again when the summer sun returns and warms my soul. Last week that piece returned. I felt the way I normally feel at the end of April, like I came alive. My laughter returned to me, bringing with it a lightness in my being that I usually experience only when winter’s gray has passed.
Yesterday, I walked out my front door and was slapped in the face by that stinging pain that comes with a blast of Arctic air. My brow assumed its formerly furrowed position and I prepped for what feels like the impending doom of potentially 2 more months. I woke up this morning in my bed, not wanting to get up because I could feel the chill in the air. And while the sun beamed behind my curtains, I knew the truth. It’s frigorific out there.
Last night the weatherman warned of 4-6 inches of snow we are to receive on Sunday into Monday. Man. I knew it wasn’t over. My friend, who encourages me a lot in winter, warned that it wasn’t over, but my body is so ready for it to be done. I don’t want to be cold again. And last week was like a drink of sanity, which has now been taken away by Old Man Winter. My guard has been let down, and now I have to fight to get it back up. Which leaves me asking, “Was it really worth it?” Was that little reprieve worth the sorrow of having to re-enter the tunnel of gloom, aka winter? One friend says, “Well, it was better to have loved and lost…”, but I’m not so sure. The reality of the difference between my winter self and my spring/summer self has been brought into sharp relief as a result of winter’s brief reprieve, and I don’t like that difference one bit.
A friend of mine is soon turning 30 and the other day she wrote as her facebook status, “Only four more days left in my 20’s”. I thought about how she might be feeling right now. I remember feeling like turning 30 was such a momentous occasion, like crossing through some gateway to the other side, the “old” side. But the moment I turned 30, (and I actually took a picture of the clock at the exact time of my birth on my 30th birthday) the world didn’t stop turning. My heart was still beating, the kids were still crazy, life just kept on moving forward.
The Moment-9:26 am, 7/2/2006
I think I spent most of my teens waiting to be 18, and then of course 21. After 21, it was “Holy cow, I’m going to be 25”. And then it was the BIG one-30. But having come through the gateway, and being a few years on the other side, I realize how little I think about my age now. Most times, when I need to tell someone how old I am or when I need to write it down, I actually have to pause and think about it. I lose track because it honestly doesn’t cross my mind very often. I never know how old my husband is, I always have to figure it out.
That is the beauty of being over 30. You kind of realize what people have said all along, but you couldn’t believe when you were in your age-obsessed 20’s: Age doesn’t matter. After 30 you realize we’re all just grown-ups, working, raising families, living life. I have friends who range in age from 20 something to 60 something. And it doesn’t phase me. They all have life wisdom to share and stories to tell. My friends who are in their late thirties and forties are more beautiful than I ever thought you could be when you were that “old”, and the guys are mostly padded and happy and not so arrogant anymore. Yeah, thirty-something is a beautiful thing. It’s the age where you are freed from the worry of the next number and able to think about more important things, because you realize how little the numbers matter anyway. After 30 I realized I won’t pass by this moment again, I’d better make it count. So take heart my friend, and enjoy the blessing of crossing over to the thirty-something club. I’m certain you’ll like it.
Minnesotans and the folks that live here have a great deal of pride. And I suppose it is rightfully so. There is a certain amount of bragging rights you earn by living in a place that easily has temperatures of 15 below in the winter and wind chills well below that. It is no easy task managing a snow pack for half the year and all the freezing, wet messiness that comes with it.
I laugh in the face of this pride, or I have at least historically laughed in the face of it. I roll my eyes with the rest of the east coasters at the ho-hum boringness of the midwest lifestyle. “Minne-where? Where is that? Is it somewhere in the middle?” I shirked at the thought of moving to a fly-over, one of those states in the middle of the country that they don’t bother teaching about in geography on the coasts because, after all, none of those states really matter. They are all kind of the same and blend together anyway. But yesterday, it happened. Crap.
I work at the University of Minnesota and managing the campus in the winter has been a bit of a challenge. The sidewalks are generally not super clear, especially this year with it snowing just a little every day or every other day for a while. I’ve almost bit the dust a few times on my way to my office because of the packed down snow and ice that is inevitably on the roads and sidewalks. So, for Christmas I received a nifty little present called Yak-Trax. They are worn on the bottoms of your boots and keep you from slipping and sliding. Those have really helped. And when I hear that it is going to be cold (below 10) I make sure I layer up. Long underwear, wool socks, boots (my cow-girl boots with rubber tread-they make me feel like I’m giving a little sass to Old Man Winter), jeans, shirt, fleece,down jacket, scarf, hat (or as my Minnesota friend calls it “stocking cap”), hood with Eskimo fur pulled up over said hat and gloves. And off I go, usually walking 8 blocks or so from the stadium parking lot to my building. If it’s below zero, as it has been this week, I pay a little extra to park in this underground garage that is only about 3 blocks from my building. (I do however always feel like there is a really good chance I am going to get mugged in there, but I’m pretty sure that’s the Jersey in me talking.) And I have done this, without much complaining, all winter.
I usually listen to the radio through my headphones as I walk (totally antisocial I know but no one talks to you on campus anyway-see my post about MN nice). Yesterday, as I emerged from the underground parking deck, the weather guy on the radio came on. “It’s 2 below in the Twin Cities with a wind chill of 20 below.” “Brrrr…..,” I thought, but I had on all my layers, so I was feeling pretty toasty. Then as I approached my building, the national news came on. “Chicago residents are being warned to stay inside. Spend as little time outside as possible. It’s 8 degrees in the Windy City with a windchill of 5 below” “Pshhht,” I thought as I walked along, “they’re not warning us to stay inside and it’s colder here.” I looked around PRIDEFULLY as I considered myself and the bustling campus around me full of people all going along, living our lives despite the absurdly cold temperatures. There were so many people out and about that if it weren’t for the extra layers we were all wearing, you’d have thought it was spring. “We just keep on living here,” I thought. “We know how to just keep going.” YIKES. I stopped myself as I realized I may have just had a moment of Minnesota pride, a feeling like, whether I like it or not, by sheer necessity, I’ve become a “Brave one of the North.” Aw man, how did THAT happen. I better move SOON!
That’s what we’ve come to call it, the fire. And everything on the timeline of our life is either BF or AF, before the fire or after the fire. And nothing since that day has been quite right, except for the birth of little Piper.
Tuesday, Novemeber 2, 2004 will forever be a marker of time in our memories. It was the last day I lived in my favorite little house in my favorite little town on a quiet little street near the ocean. It was election day and I, being a political junkie, was flying high after exercising my right to vote. I don’t even really remember the whole day. I wish I had enjoyed it more and taken notes, if only I had known what a few more hours would bring. I stayed up really late that night, watching all the election returns come in. The returns and the drama went on and on that night and I stayed up to see it, convinced that one way or the other we’d know who had won by the end of it. 5:30 a.m. rolled around quicker than I expected and I finally decided to leave it all in the hands of the 24 hour news guys. I needed some sleep! I turned off the TV and dozed off, only to awake an hour later to the sound of the smoke alarm.
The sound of a smoke alarm awaking you from sleep is a bit surreal and not something you ever really think you’ll have to face. I sat straight up in bed and said to my husband, “What’s that noise?” And immediately I answered my own question “It’s the smoke alarm.” At that moment we saw it. The smoke was entering our room. I remember it so vividly. It was white and resembled tendrils or fingers creeping in. It looked the way a cartoon artist draws an alluring food aroma that lures the character to itself with one finger as if to say “Come here.”
At that moment I shouted, “There’s smoke in the house! There’s smoke in the house!” I got out of bed and like a pre-programmed machine I ran to my little girls’ room. They were 5 and almost 4 at the time. We had recently practiced fire safety drills and I said to them “Girls, there is a fire in the house. You need to go down the stairs just like we practiced. I have to get Connor (he was 2).” I grabbed their most special possessions, cow blankie and beavoo, while they ran out of the room and slid down the steps and presumably out the front door. I ran to the back of the house to get Connor out of his crib. I remember how hot the smoke was on my skin. It was hotter than anything I had or have ever since felt. As I breathed it in it burned my throat and my lungs and I felt as though my body was screaming at me not to let that poison in.
Once we were gathered at the curb I thought of all my scrapbooks into which I had put so many hours of love and effort. I had to get those books. So against all logic and sensibility and fire safety instruction that I had ever heard I went back into my burning home and, with what Chris (the hub) has called Herculean strength, I picked up the huge storage ottoman where the scrapbooks were stored and carried it out of the house.
While all this was going on Chris had run down to the kitchen. In his shock he thought maybe the smoke was being caused by the toaster oven and he ran to check it. I remember being out front and screaming for him. All I wanted was for us all to be together. I wanted him where we were. He called the fire company and finally came around front.
The police came first and then the fire engines. I was told later that it only took the engines 4 minutes to arrive at our home, but in the moment it felt like an eternity. My mother passed away when I was 19 and the only pictures and keepsakes I have of her were up in that attic. I remember being on the porch during those few minutes and thinking that all the tangible memories I had of my mom were going to be gone.
While the firemen worked, we made phone calls. We called our parents, Chris’s work place, friends, telling them all this unimaginable bit of news, “Our house is on fire.” Not a sentence I ever wish to have to repeat. The minutes went on like years as we stood out in our pajamas and socks and watched the life we had come to love evaporate into the air with the smoke. The neighbors came out of their homes to see what was going on and we all stood together, frozen and helpless. But the firemen worked amazingly fast and by the end of the ordeal, our home was badly damaged, but still standing. And so started the AF chapter of our life.
I love food. Actually, I love eating food that is prepared for me by someone else. I especially love sweets. Ice cream, Italian ice, doughnuts, pastries. The things I remember most about any location are things I have eaten there. We are traveling to New Jersey soon and the whole trip is really about what we will eat when we are there.
The suburbs of Minneapolis are not that varied in what they offer to eat. There are mostly chains around us, so we have had to go searching for good eats, which are usually found closer to the city. When my brother came to visit me about a year ago, he introduced me to Isles Bun and Coffee in Minneapolis. (I should mention he lived in Minneapolis for seven years before I moved here.)
It is this adorable little shop, with barely enough room for people to stand in line and order. Parking is limited to the street, though we have never had a time when we couldn’t find a spot. But the baked goods that they produce are some of the best I have had anywhere, and trust me, wherever I go I search for yummy sweets. They make all sorts of cinnamon rolls and muffins, but my favorite is one called a puppy-dog tail.
Puppy-dog tails are served by the dozen, and are basically twists of dough iced with cream cheese icing. There is a giant bucket of icing at the coffee prep station in the shop. They have little cups so that you can grab extra icing to take with you because honestly you can never have too much. They are best served warm so that the icing can goo a bit. We usually call ahead and ask them to prep them fresh for us, which they do happily. It is absolutely impossible for us to eat just one. We usually go to Isles Bun and Coffee in the warmer months because then we can sit outside at these umbrella tables and soak up the energy of the street while enjoying a party in our mouths.
I went to Cub today and grabbed some doughnuts for the fam. I tried a Danish doughnut covered in sugar. It was delightful and sort of reminded me of my beloved tails. The air is warmish feeling (It’s 19 but with no wind) and I was reminded that in fact spring will come and puppy-dog tails are in my future, and that is one very bright and yummy spot of life in Minny.
I am an accidental suburban girl. I have always lived in the suburbs of some metro area, except of course for the time I spent in New Brunswick, NJ at college. The funny thing is that I have always longed for the noise and convenience of city life. Growing up in Brick, NJ suburban sprawl reigned! We had to drive everywhere and I never liked that. I longed to live somewhere where there were sidewalks so I could walk to places like they did on t.v.
While our kids were really little we lived in two small beach towns, giving me a little taste of urban life. The first one we lived in was Ocean Grove. It was a charming Victorian town where the homes were painted crazy colors and there were many residents who were in halfway houses and made life interesting. I loved that town. We could walk to the bank, the market, the restaurants and of course the beach and boardwalk. The other was Point Pleasant, NJ. That might forever be my favorite place that I have ever lived (and we have moved a lot. We left only because of a house fire, but that is a whole other post). What I found most alluring was the downtown strip and the ability to walk my little collapsible cart to the grocery store, get all my stuff, and walk home again. We’d walk to parks, ice cream stores, coffee shops. There was little we ever needed to leave the island for (maybe it was a peninsula-either way, you had to cross a bridge to get out).
As a grown up I have spent more time traveling and seeing more rural places, and these too draw me in. I love the openness of country life. Big open skies with little more to see than the horizon. I love feeling separate from the chaos of the world and all its gadgets, feeling like there is room for the kids to run and play and explore and imagine. Knowing that it doesn’t matter what I look like that day because chances are I won’t see many people anyway. The country gives me this feeling like I can pause and breathe deeply.
It’s just very funny to me that I have always lived in the burbs, and with great dissatisfaction I might add. Even where I live now it is the same. In the summer we make a point of riding our bikes to the Dairy Queen (blech), but making a meaningful trip to the grocery store is not possible. It’s a little far, but more of a problem is that there is really no safe and convenient route from where I live to the store that does not require me risking my personal safety. Plus, life in the burbs is not built around people walking places, everyone is in their cars. So, even if I could get there, the charm of greeting people along the way who are also living out their lives on foot isn’t there. And yet, when I get home from my car trip to the grocery store, I don’t get to go outside and enjoy the quiet peace and solitude of country living either. The neighbors are right on top of me with their leaf blowers, snow blowers, power tools, etc. going.
This all leaves me with quite a conundrum when it comes to planning our next (and hopefully last) move. Although I have never liked the burbs, I have never known anything else and I think I am afraid to try something new. I dream of living in the country or going really crazy and moving into some crowded downtown place, but I don’t know if I can do it. Maybe I am afraid I won’t like it or that it won’t be what I have imagined. At least with the suburbs I know what to expect, I know how to identify with them. They are the safe choice, neither here nor there, and I have kind of gotten used to this life in between.