Tuesday, February 28, 2012

snow--all kinds

Snow. We haven't had much of it this year, but we are getting it today. And I have to drive to a meeting in a town an hour away. Oh well.  I have to expect it in February (even the end), right? The mild weather has made the trees begin to bud so that we have white on red. . . snow on buds. Appropriate for the month, perhaps, maybe not so good for the buds?

It's really pretty. It softens the world, and, after yesterday's news from Ohio, I feel that I could use a little softening. As I watch it fall, I think about all the snows I have known in my life. I've lived (mostly) in Alaska, Washington, and Utah--so I have some snow-life experience. Today's snow consists of tiny dot-flakes, wet, and thick, though falling slowly. My school is on the side of the mountain--but you can't see the mountain!--so today's snow is kind of like being inside a thin cloud.

On Sunday, while we were watching Downton Abbey, my husband commented on the snow in one of the scenes. The flakes were really large puffs of cotton, and they floated in the air! They didn't fall so much as swirl around. It was a lovely scene. It didn't look cold, rather like a snow globe scene. That conversation about snow, combined with today's fall of it, has made me think of all the different kinds of snow there can be. I can think of a few. Want to add??

Dry powder that blows away with the movement of my boots along the walk: I imagine I am a giant, in control of the elements. Swish. I step and, Swish, the snow parts in front of me.

Crusty snow that comes down wet and warm before the cold winds turn the top to a crust. I wish I were a feather so that I could blow along the crusty top without breaking through to experience the suck and pull of ice chunks that inevitably find their way inside my boots--no matter how tall they are--and turn to cold water.

Just-right snow with enough water to make a ball but not so much as to make either slush or ice. Perfect for snow angels and snow men and snow ball fights--all the fun things we associate with snow.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

do we shape our houses or do they shape us?

Yesterday, we were driving back from spending the weekend in Boise, Idaho. I was pensive as we drove past fields (not as green as in the picture at this time of year) and noticed houses of all sorts: old and new, large and small, messy and tidy. As we passed one community after another, I looked at houses in subdivisions on the hills at the edge of town and those along the streets, next to shops and restaurants. I observed single-family homes and duplexes and apartment buildings. And as I watched I wondered: how much are we shaped by the places/spaces where we live and how much do we shape them to us?

I saw one farm house a small distance from the freeway, surrounded by fallow fields. The home itself looked to have been built in the 1940s, but it was neat and well maintained. Farm equipment was parked off to the side, and large trees had grown up around it to provide shade during the summer. I wondered: if I lived there, would I work on a farm? Or would I still be a teacher? Or would I do something altogether different? Would I furnish such a home with antiques? Or Early American? Or would I have any particular style? Would I be the same person I am now if I had grown up in that house as I am having grown up in a different place, a modest home but in a neighborhood of similar homes with smaller yards (no fields) and different furnishings?

We had been visiting my son and his wife and children in the Boise area. They have a relatively new home in a fairly new subdivision. But some of the furnishings are ones my grandmother passed along to my son, her great-grandchild. My grandmother had been born and raised in Idaho and returned there after retirement from the FAA in Alaska. Her homes in Alaska had been mostly modern in design and furnishings, but when she returned to Idaho, she gathered in some furnishings familiar to her, some Early American tables and chairs that probably were from her family home. Now they are in my son's home, making it seem a little less modern, a little less shaped by the house. And I wonder how much of what my son and his wife have brought into their home shape the home instead of it shaping them. They bring their pasts into the space, but it is a space that will house their future--and be the home their children remember as their past.

My uncle Joe (my grandmother's brother who never married) lived in the house where he (and my grandmother) grew up. It was a small home on a ranch outside of Boise. White wood on the outside, the inside space was mostly functional. The kitchen was the biggest room, but the living room was fairly spacious, if a little crowded with chairs and tables. Beds (at least to me as a child) were tremendously tall and took up almost the entire floor space of the bedrooms, places where my ancestors apparently didn't spend much time. Squeaky wooden floors were old when I was a girl. Worn linoleum (from the 40s or 50s?) covered the wood  floor in the kitchen where an old stove that used wood for cooking seemed central--until I was a teen and Joe was too bent from arthritis to use it anymore. The couches and chairs in the living room sucked you in when you sat in the indentations made by lots of bottoms over lots of generations: hard to get out of, once you got in, but then the visits to Joe's house were always long, slow ones anyway. Doilies covered many surfaces--some I have now, not because I use doilies so much as because I admired the intricate designs crocheted by fingers that were related to me in some way. If I had grown up in that house, would I have been different? Do the things I bring from that house to mine shape me? Or do I choose where I live because it reflects who I am now and what I am now? Raised in Alaska with gray days and long winter nights, I must have a home with lots of windows, lots of light. I prefer high ceilings so that I feel space, even if the rooms are not tremendously large. So, do I shape my space--choose it and furnish it--because of who I am and what I bring with me? Or do the spaces and places where I live shape me? Or is it some of both?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

So it's good to eat chocolate (and sweets), right?

In my forays into any shopping area in the last few weeks, I have been amazed (and tempted) by all the treats I've seen prominently displayed. Now I will admit to seeing a very cute balloon bouquet that I thought would be fun to be surprised with on Valentine's Day, but mostly, I thought the food was beyond tempting. These cupcakes? I think I could eat the whole box--and they are the jumbo ones from Costco!

But all these sweets--and especially chocolate, by itself or covering almost anything--made me wonder why we associate so much of it with this holiday. I get that love should be sweet--so there is the metaphorical connection. But I learned that there might be more logical reasons, too.

Kate Dailey (Newsweek 2009) states that the taste for sweets is "hardwired into humans." Apparently, sweets reduce anxiety and stress. We certainly don't want our Valentine to feel stressed on this day of romance, do we? And the benefits of chocolate??? I could take all day to describe those. The basic idea I learned is that there are 380 known chemicals in chocolate, and--either by themselves or in combination--they  have the following effects:
* improve mood
* dull pain
* increase feelings of well being
* extend natural feelings of well being (to last longer)
* contribute to alertness and contentment
* decrease stress
I can see why we want these feelings on Valentine's Day. Day of Romance. Holiday of Love.
Oh--and chocolate has health properties, too. Physical, that is. Not just emotional. So, yes, chocolate is good for your heart in other ways, too.

But now I'm thinking that we should be enjoying these benefits on other days, too. Right? We want to be happy and de-stressed on other days, too, right?
 I think I might head to Costco at lunch today. I could stretch that box of cupcakes across several days, at least.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

being grateful

Last week a neighbor had a stroke. When the ambulance and fire engines swooped to a stop just past our house, I worried. I put on a coat and walked over. Paramedics took my neighbor away and left behind--for a few minutes at least--a family shaken and weeping, not knowing what the outcome would be. It was heart-breaking to watch. My neighbor survived, and she is supported by a great family--so those are the good parts. Her husband and sons shaved their heads so she wouldn't feel so sad about having her head shaved for the surgery that stopped the bleeding. One of her daughters told me that she had never seen her mom without hair to her waist, so this is a shock to the grown children and, probably, to my neighbor.

The hard thing is that she is having to learn to speak, and eat, and use her left side again--and these are long, slow, difficult processes. The oldest daughter started a blog so we could keep up on her mom's progress (great things, these blogs); yesterday's post said that the day had been a discouraging one. They had hoped to move from ICU to a rehab facility, but couldn't yet. Each day, there are pictures--ones I'm sure my neighbor will want removed when she is feeling better but ones that help us understand the challenges she is going through.

I have found myself reflecting on my neighbor's experience throughout this week. I have thought about how difficult times draw friends, family, and neighbors together. Or can. I thought of the end of To Kill a Mockingbird: "Neighbors bring food with death and flowers with sickness and little things in between." We have exchanged Christmas goodies with these neighbors for years. We see them at church each week and exchange pleasantries. Their boys have sometimes shoveled the snow from the sidewalk in front of our house. I have ached for them this week,standing in their shoes--on their porch, so to speak--knowing the multitude of changes that will come into their lives as a result of this event. I think they will be okay; it will take time, but they are already expressing gratitude for what they have gained from the experience.

I have thought a lot about how quickly life can change, how plans can be swept away through accidents, illness, inexplicable tragedy, and how, when those things occur, what we thought mattered isn't really the important thing anymore. More than ever, I have thought about being grateful for what I have, right now. For the gifts of the day: being startled by the deer bounding out of a neighbor's yard and prancing down the road past my car; seeing the stark white snow on the mountain tops against the bright blue morning sky; finding a parking space. Being grateful for the stuff I take for granted like food and water and warmth and work and love. So much.