Happy January Birthdays

January, a month of fewest births and most deaths, is where we stand fighting the latest variant of Covid. How wearying to be still writing about this unwelcome virus. But like glitter left from wrapping paper or cards, it won’t be dusted, swept, vacuumed, washed, or wished away. Lots of people have stories about trying to rid the nasty stuff from clothes or rugs or skin, but no one really knows the secret to beat the stuff. Wear a mask, wash your hands, stay inside, but the hated Covid, like unwanted glitter, stays in the air. 

Our family has a tradition of January births, even among in-laws. The older generation of January birthday holders has mostly passed, many on December dates, but there are four of us who are happy to celebrate. Birthday cake is a nice treat after holiday chocolates and cookies. Maybe there’ll be one more chance to get that sweater or book that wasn’t under the Christmas tree. Even better, everything is discounted and can be bought for yourself with little guilt. Even if there can’t be a party, there are safe ways to gather family or friends. If all fails, Zoom offers forty free minutes to talk with your relatives in sunny Florida. 

“In the Bleak Mid-Winter” by Christina Rossetti and Gustav Holst often runs through my mind at this time of year.  Rossetti’s beautiful words describe winter: “Icy wind may moan, earth stood hard as iron, water like stone…” and that often experienced January weather of “Snow on snow on snow.” As soft and gentle as January is icy and lonely, versions by Sarah McLachlan and James Taylor and others fill my blue light time when it is neither day nor night. You have to sing through to the end of the song for its encouragement that “as empty as I am (of gifts for the Baby Jesus), I must give my heart.” 

That is a magic message. If our basic physical needs are met, then we can push through January, holding each other tight inside our hearts until free once more to meet personally during spring’s warmer days. Until then call a friend, send a note, take a walk. We’ve figured this out and know how to make the weeks pass. In honor of the friends and family who are no longer with us to celebrate these January birthdays, I will treasure mine.

Still Winter (Don’t Read This Cranky Blog)

Let’s see. It’s still winter. I’m done with it, but it’s not done with us. No use complaining (but that’s not stopping me). Weather isn’t personal. The same rain/snow/slush falls on all of us. The same ice clumps chunk off our tires. We drive the same roads that are scabby with ice or as slippery as Crisco.

Impeachment rages on and on. We know how this will end but the players must follow the script anyway.

No wonder I obsess about clay. I revel in the small personal thrill of throwing porcelain for the first time in years. Voilà! A small vessel I hope to make into an old-fashioned perfume bottle. Not to hold perfume. Just because I like the idea of them.

Maybe I’ll make stoneware wine goblets next. The sturdy kind without stems. Or stoneware tumblers for iced tea and mojitos with fresh mint. Mint that I’ll pinch from a plant in next summer’s garden.

Why not stoneware flower pots? That’s genius! When I’m not a potter, I’m a gardener. I could bring together two of my passions.

What about platters and bowls with sayings? Hmmm. I hate art that exhorts me to Live! Love! Laugh! Shut up, I think, even though I do want to live, love, and laugh. Isn’t stamping Ellen-isms into clay at odds with that? Too bad. I’m doing it.

 

I’ve been holed up in the pottery studio with my potter’s wheel spinning fast. It corkscrews my focus tighter and tighter until all I see is the lump of clay that I’m forcing to be centered. Even though it resists, throwing off stray blobs and splashes of watery clay.

Hours pass. My back and shoulders ache.

Weeks pass.

Now when I leave the studio at 5:15, it’s light out. The big wheel of the seasons is also turning. Slowly, slowly, but turning. Bringing me back to center.

 

Sunset Season

There’s a certain time of year when the sun stops staging its setting and instead slips away between the flatness of late afternoon light and evening commute darkness. Those summer and fall evenings, when lovers and families and friends drink wine out of plastic cups while sitting on porches or park benches, have slipped away as well. Coats, scarves, hats and gloves diminish the intimacy of strappy dresses, t-shirts or cotton pajamas. Sunset watching falls into the past season’s memory book and onto the a distant season’s to-do list.

Timers bring holiday lights to life, a small gift to ease the lost hours of sun. Walking home from the bus stop or a friend’s house, we step in and out of the circles of sparkling white or bright color bulbs.  Dark and light, dark and light. The city people walk in the perpetual comfort of the street lights as long as they stay on public walkways and out of the darkness of undefined areas. Lights from stores, cars, homes suggest places where the people share time. At the right slice between dusk and dark, the interiors of houses and offices are as clearly lit as big screen televisions. In suburbs and small towns walkers might depend on those window views or harsh garage lights before the moon and stars accept responsibility to illuminate a path.

So we hurry from the dark, almost as much as from the cold, to the places of light where we belong, have control, feel safe. Another winter begins. Wishing you a season of good holiday experiences and memories.

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Dormant

Usually I’m philosophical about the below zero temperatures and snow we have every winter in Minnesota. The deep freeze is a time to stay indoors, be less social, and avoid unnecessary errands. Mother Nature pushes me to slow down, maybe be more introspective, read more. It can also be a time of creative planning (gardens, vacations, workouts), organizing or clearing out (closets, photos, files) and tackling household projects I wouldn’t bother with when the weather is nice.

For a little while that feels OK, maybe even good, as if I’m in tune with a natural rhythm, akin to a Circadian rhythm. This is what I’m supposed to be doing now. It feels good to wear wooly socks, make soups and stews, and settle in to watch movies or stream new TV series.

But with the persistent, longer-than-usual spell of extreme cold weather this winter, I feel as if I’ve shifted from slowing down in a pleasant, restorative way to being dormant. On pause. Hiding, like a tulip bulb buried deep in the ground. Waiting for enough time to pass so I can come back to life again. Hunkered down. I’ve been getting restless with so much reading and TV, and I’m trying hard not to register the waiting, which makes it worse.

I’ve lived in Minnesota long enough to know this spell will pass. The temperatures are already moderating. The days are getting longer. The torpor of these frozen days will dim so much that by August I’ll wonder if I imagined the feeling. But I didn’t.

The Daily Slide

November 27 was a hectic day filled with appointments, work, weekend cleanup and errands. Near sixty degree temperatures lured me into thinking the gentle fall weather would last. When darkness began I apologized to the dog for missing our daily walk and promised him a long one the next day.

Within twenty-four hours drizzle, falling temperatures, freezing rain and snow changed the scene. Ice turned the roadway into a glossy slip and slide that the UPS truck found difficult to navigate. Dog and I found footing dangerous at the end of the driveway and turned back to the house.

Winter is not my friend. Warm sweaters and cozy evenings are great, but aside from occasional beautiful days I’ve lost my enthusiasm for the package deal. I prefer green grass and gardens filled with flowers to brown sticks poking through white and hothouse daisies purchased with the groceries. I’d rather open the office window for fresh air than fill a humidifier.

What I dread most is ice. Nothing undermines free exercise faster than the possibility of losing traction at any moment. If the mail vehicle, a neighbor’s SUV and the UPS truck are having trouble, the dog and I are not heading out. Even walking like a penguin can’t make everything enjoyable and safe.

The penguin walk instructions offered in the lobby of a family member’s condo building, is one of the personal affronts of the icy season. With feet apart and turned slightly outward, lower your center of gravity over one leg, and waddle around the sidewalks. Pretend others don’t notice your strange effort to stay upright.

Being resigned to months of dressing in layers of black outdoor clothing with leather boots is enough. The indignity of a daily slide or penguin walking is undeserved punishment.

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