Didn’t February last about seventeen weeks? And then Daylight Savings slammed into our bodies–which were already trying to figure out how to get through a day without drooping. What’s more, we’re in the midst of a snowstorm here today, currently racking up 6-10″ new inches on top of the existing white mounds.
Spring is approaching, but its rejuvenating air is still a faint whiff at best.
Even for the winter lovers in the group, and I count myself among them, this time of year generally holds at least a few black-brained, can’t-get-the-feet-to-shuffle, is-this-thing-over-yet days. For us in Northern Minnesota, it’s still the height of winter; certainly, I make sure I’m actively enjoying the blessings of the snow and ice while, simultaneously, I start fondling the Seed Savers catalog and mentioning to Byron that some packets of black velvet nasturtiums wouldn’t go amiss as a birthday present.
Actually, to put a finer point on it, I started fondling the Seed Savers catalog before Christmas and may possibly have taken a sharpie to its pages within fifteen minutes of its delivery.
The point is that I’m salivating anticipatorily about brightness to come.
So much is bright now, already, that I can keep thoughts of future color at bay by focusing on the riches currently in front of me.
(Earthy types loading up on soy margarine while treading lightly through the aisles of the Whole Foods Co-op might articulate this same sentiment while absentmindedly fondling kale; speaking to a clear-eyed listener sporting a felted hat, they would use the words “conscious” and “deliberate.” Should the word “mindful” float across the locally-grown potatoes and reach my ears, there is a strong possibility I might open a freezer door–letting precious cold escape!–so as to stuff their bodies inside, next to a box of Amy’s Breakfast Burritos, thus providing them a quiet minute in which to consciously consider how annoying Talk of Deliberate Living can be. Oh, no need to worry your felted hat, dear Harmony Borealis. I’ll let your pals out in a second, after they’ve contemplated the pretense inherent in yammering about something that should simply be lived without fanfare. Once they promise vigilant avoidance of pretentious yammer and undergo therapeutic retraining by mouthing the words “Skrillex,” “Dorito,” and “Tupperware” through the glass, I’ll crack the freezer doors and let ‘em out.)
Assuredly, there are some things that are making me very happy, even in these days of slush and grey and additional snowfall. Quite deliberately, in mindful fashion, let me consciously list some of this week’s soul-sustaining beauties.**
1) My new blue-and-green striped shirt.
I love this shirt because:
- It’s good for layering, and I am still alive thanks to layers. Seriously. Layers are how one makes it from November to April in this region;
- It reminds me of Dr. Seuss, and when I wear this shirt, I fancy I can hear a Who;
- It is both patriotic and sassy when it poses for photos (all the better to show off its well-developed biceps).
2) Fatboy Slim.
Can I get a witness when it comes to not really understanding the “craft” of being a DJ? The same part of me that gets exasperated when it overhears pretentious “mindful” talk at the Whole Foods Co-op also gets exasperated by the celebritization of DJs. Pretty much, I can’t see how what they do entails talent or even expertise, and I have to glue my slappers to my thighs when I
stagger walk into a local club and see some 22-year-old upstart with a huge headphone clapped over one ear, up on a dais, playing music that no one cares to dance to. When a danceable tune is requested, said DJ reacts with the the superior condescension of Misunderstood Artists everywhere. But here’s what I don’t understand: how is this DJ doing anything at all, outside of taking a paycheck for broadcasting other people’s work? And does this DJ not know he’s in DULUTH, MINNESOTA, FER CHRISSAKES?
Ah, but then the reality of being a grown-up kicks in, and I recall the myriad times in my life when I’ve dismissed something or someone just because I don’t understand them or what they do. In general, this policy is neither fair nor wise; once I learn more about the situation or person, I often realize there is something to it after all. To dismiss something as stupid and pretentious when I don’t understand it, well, that makes me as bad as I think the DJ is because I’m wrongly casting myself as superior and cool. Clearly: wrongly.
Thus, my aim in recent months has been to decipher what it is DJs do. Because I’m a limp researcher at best, I’ll admit my best lesson came from the movie Pitch Perfect, in the scene where Anna Kendrick’s character explains her love of DJ-ing for its alignment of beats and moods; the DJ is a sort of editing wizard who pulls together disparate sources into an intriguing new concoction. Now, if I’m willing to think a chef can be an artist, should I not grant the same possibility to a DJ?
I’m not going to answer that, for my jury remains out on DJs and DJ-ing. I still don’t really get it, but that doesn’t mean all DJs are pretentious idiots. It just means I don’t get it.
By now, you’re wondering how all this ties back to Fatboy Slim and him being a highlight in dark days. Well, the other night a song came on the radio station streaming over the Netbook in our kitchen, and I said to Byron, “What is this song? I could add it onto my running playlist. I like it.” Turns out it was Fatboy Slim, a DJ; I’d heard his songs for years, as it turns out, but never before put together the name Fatboy Slim with “DJ” and the familiar songs. At any rate, there is something intelligent in his music (in an electronica kind of way) that counters some of my unfounded objections to DJ-ing. I appreciate that.
3) The term “relict crop.”
I’ve been playing around with “healthier” baking, if such a thing is possible. Basically, I’m working at finding recipes that use yogurt and applesauce (instead of butter), non-wheat flours, and alternate sweeteners (instead of refined sugar). There’s no real reason for any of this, as none of us in the house has food allergies; however, I adore, adore, adore baked goods, especially when it’s cold and snowy outside, and so if my brain and body want me to be stuffing bread and brownies into my craw, it might be a good idea to figure out ways to minimize the damage. So far, I’ve made very good loaves of some lemon breads, some so-so pumpkin spice muffins, some pretty good chocolate muffins (good enough to pretend they’re cupcakes!), and some quite lovely mint-chocolate-ganache brownies (they use more traditional ingredients, which is probably why I like ’em so much).
My time leafing through recipe books has shown me how much I need to learn about some of these “healthy” ingredients. I was taken aback at how many not-exactly-natural-sounding ingredients there are in vegan cookbooks, for example: erythritol, xylitol, and–oh YEA–that soy margarine business. For me, if it’s margarine in any form, my eyebrows go all skeptical, and if an ingredient sounds like it came out of a chemistry lab, those same eyebrows hit Disbelieving on the sky-o-meter. What’s more, I’ve realized that I’m familiar with various kinds of flours, but that doesn’t mean I really know what they are. It’s kind of like DJ-ing that way. For example, I was making muffins with spelt, and suddenly I realized I don’t exactly know what spelt is, per se. Drawing up on the previously mentioned limp research skills, I went directly to the Wikipoodle and found out that spelt is sometimes known as dinkel wheat (Teehee! Dink!), hulled wheat, or “a hexaploid species” of wheat. There’s a lot more, so go read it.
You totally didn’t go read it. I see you right here, still staring at this post.
Anyhow, what I really loved as I read the entry on spelt is that it contains the term “relict crop” (basically, a relict crop is one that used to be widely sown but now only is farmed in small areas). There’s something about the sound and combination of those words, relict crop, that pleases me and feels like a metaphor for so much more. Seriously, wouldn’t that be a great name for a blog? Especially one where the writer used to post every day but now posts once a month?
4) Za’atar on bulgur.
People, as long as we’re on the topic of nifty words, there is a spice mixture that I’ve only just tasted for the first time, and it’s called za’atar. Last month, Byron grabbed a bag of it when we were in a Middle Eastern market (restocking our sumac supply), and so we had some bulgur sprinkled with za’atar a few nights later.
I’m actually thinking of getting some iron-on letters so that I can add the words “Za-atar Fan” to the back of my Seussian striped shirt.
5) The beautiful rabbit hole that is Wikipedia.
You better believe I looked up za’atar on Wikipedia, along with everything else on this list, and that lovely public service of a website took me from za’atar to the Levant to Circassians to the Crusades in under four minutes. How I ever knew anything before the Internet is a mystery. Sure, I had access to dictionaries and encyclopedias, but dollars to donuts that the encyclopedias in my childhood home would not have contained entries for either Fatboy Slim or za’atar.
As long as we’re thinking of childhood, I’ll tell you this: I find that passing time with Wikipedia in 2013 is equivalent to holding a tape recorder microphone up to the radio to capture Billy Joel singing “I’m Movin’ Out” in 1977. With both pursuits, I’m putting in endless hours trying to grasp something I hope to own.
5) The wedding episode of Parks ‘N Rec.
I love this show. I love the cast, the writing, the pacing, the characters. Of course, I love Amy Poehler. Of course, I love Nick Offerman. Actually, I should have typed that more like a crazed-stalker shout: I LOVE NICK OFFERMAN. To put a finer point on it, I love Nick Offerman as Ron Swanson. Few characters in television history have spoken to me–made me feel not alone in the world–as Ron Swanson does.
Everything I enjoy about Parks ‘N Rec was summed up in the wedding scene a couple weeks ago, when Leslie and Ben got married. Although I’m the type of person to get annoyed by DJs and crunchy types in the produce section at the Co-op, I just can’t get over feeling touched by a good set of wedding vows. Parks ‘N Rec delivered on those, in particular when the bride and groom affirm to each other, “I love you, and I like you.”
Because really. Love is nice and all, but if you’re going to live with someone, day in and day out, Like is infinitely more important.
6) Figuring out skiing so I’m a tidge less screamy on the trails this year.
When it comes to cross-country skiing, I’m not hardcore or committed in the fashion of many Minnesotans. Get this: I actually know people who own bait boxes (kind of like the huge multi-tiered boxes that a Hollywood make-up artist would tote to an ingenue’s house the morning of the Oscars) full of their ski waxes. I am not those people. I am also not of my husband’s background, he who had a Norwegian grandpa who’d been on skis since age four, won some medals in his middle years, and still was skiing on the golf course at 90. What I am is a person who first tried skiing at age 29 and who has, since then, come to understand the fun and glory of a good afternoon in the tracks; hence, even though I’m not skilled at it, and I hate to go fast or down long, turning hills, I strap the boards on my feet and give ‘er a go when I can.
In years without much snow, I sometimes have only gotten out a couple of times, which isn’t enough to improve. However, this year I’ve been out about ten times (compare this to my husband’s 30+ times in the last few months for perspective), which has been enough that I don’t necessarily feel like I’m going to hurt myself or sob wildly while hacking around the woods, poles in hand. As a rule, there are two sets of trails in this hilly area where I feel like I can handle myself, but last week, I decided to try, for the first time in some years, the park nearest our house (awhile back, I had a bad experience on a turn with a 90 degree angle there).
Friends, this non-Catholic, non-Hindu only said one Hail Mary and made only one quick offering to Ganesh at the top of the very gnarliest hill…before plunging down it and staying on her feet. I did it. So I went back again last night and continued to befriend those trails.
Bit by bit, effort by effort, I’m getting a teensy bit better and braver and more relaxed with each ski. I love trees and sun and sweat and whoosh, and skiing brings all of those together in one activity.
7) Watching Byron love Hilary Mantel.
Have you read Wolf Hall? Have you read Bring Up the Bodies?
I read Wolf Hall a few years ago, after it first won The Man Booker prize, and it was a more-than-worthy experience. What Mantel has done in Wolf Hall and its sequel, well, it’s one of those rare authorial efforts wherein the reader feels a genre being redefined–and I don’t just mean historical fiction, I mean The Novel. The way the voice of Mantel’s protagonist, Thomas Cromwell, takes hold of the novel is remarkable. For me, when I got into Wolf Hall, I realized I was having an experience much like when I read Keri Hulme’s The Bone People; to read the book right, I had to become a different reader, had to give over to the writing and meet it on the author’s terms. In the case of Wolf Hall, I had to not only read Cromwell’s voice, I had to hear it aloud inside my head. Once I made that shift, I got him–the incisive intellect, the wry humor, the vulnerability. Before I heard his voice in my skull, that character was abstract. Yet once I connected with Mantel’s Cromwell, I was fully on board.
Byron just picked up Wolf Hall a few weeks ago. He got it into his paws after a long-wait request he had placed at the library. When it was his, it was on a non-renewable two-week loan. The book is thick. That’s some pressure.
Motivated by his desire to finish the thing, he read it while stirring soups, while standing on the balance board in the basement (which he uses when he takes breaks from drawing), while he ate every meal…in every free moment he could wring from each day. As the due date crept nearer, he realized he wouldn’t finish it. But, heck, what’re a couple days of overdue fines compared to following through until the end?
Seeing someone I love profoundly read something I profoundly love has been a joy.
Oh, all right. I am crazy for the little flippers they have at the pool. They aren’t long deep-dive or snorkeling flippers, but are short and fierce, like:
In my efforts to keep my muscles confused and to mix no-impact activities with the high-impact of running, I’ve been hitting the pool once a week these last few months. Another goal with the swimming is to regain the strokes I’ve lost since childhood. Don’t get me wrong: I’ve always loved swimming and find great fun and peace when in any body of water. Over the years, though, my freestyle has completed faded away, and I do a modified breast stroke, at best, leaving me the middle aged woman whose go-to pool move is the sidestroke (or the underwater tea party, a trick perfected in childhood). Realizing I’m good at playing in the water or side stroking, but little else, I’ve been trying to trigger those old strokes again.
During the process, I’ve discovered that, like a successful drag queen, I’m all about the props. Without some supporting equipment, I was feeling anxiety and having trouble getting through even a full length of the pool with the freestyle. Fortunately, Byron, quite the dedicated swimmer these last few years, gave me the tip that I should remove my legs from the equation so that I could focus on my arms. To do this, I now hold a “pull buoy” between my knees as I use my arms to get across the pool. Then, to work on the whole stroke at once, I put on a waist belt, leave the pull bouy on the deck, and kick and haul my way back and forth. Even further, because I’m all about excess, I also do some kickboard laps and some laps with foam weights. In case this isn’t enough, I slap on some goggles and a nose plug.
Truly, it looks like the Michelin man exploded and scattered his internal organs all over the end of my lane, what with the litter of foamy stuff covering my space.
If it all had to go away…if I had to swim with only one prop…you better believe it’d be the flippers.
The other week, a bright young twentysomething who’s training for a triathlon was in the lane next to me; she’d been trying to find something to slap on her feet for the warm-up lengths of her swim, and so I’d directed her towards my Beloved Flipper Bin. After she slid her feet into Flippers and began to kick behind her board, she turned to me, glowing, and shouted, “I FEEL LIKE A DUCK.”
Nodding in agreement, I shot her a joyful “Quack!”
And if a flippered quack can’t get you through to chinook season,
you might as well throw on a fur coat, head for the nearest cave, and hibernate for a few months,
until the sound of fireworks drags you out of your depression.
**Kale was molested during the compilation of this list.