31 January 2014

2014 february fun

It is February again tomorrow, that least favorite month of mine, and I'm attempting once again to force it to be enjoyable with a February Fun list: 28 small things in 28 days that will bring a little delight to every one of those days.

I am not unaware of the fact that 28 days is the typical length of an addiction-breaking cycle. Perhaps I am trying to break the winter doldrums, not that I'm addicted to doldrums. But this is the rut time of winter, and you either need to break out of it—or it will break you.

For this year, I modified previous years' February Fun lists based on some brainstorming session with friends. {That's another thing about this Fun: Everyone is invited to participate, but some of the days are pretty specific to me. Run 10 miles, for example. If that doesn't sound fun to you, I won't make you do it, shouting at you the whole time like a maniacal drill sergeant: "Are you having fun now?!??"}

Other people came up with ideas like: go to a movie, go to a new place for brunch, go to the Art Institute.

Meanwhile, I came up with ideas like: buy a new book, make sure all your pictures are up to date, bake brioche, clean out your closet {and donate what you don't need anymore}, and buy new underwear.

Broadly speaking, I'd say that other people have fun ideas of things to do together, while all I want to do is be alone with my food, books, and organizational tendencies.

In an effort to "grow as a person," though, I've incorporated some of those non-solitude activities {a less awkward way to say that: social activities, although that does sound like I'm on a cruise and the purser has planned fun things for us on the Lido Deck}.

Here's to a fun-filled February. Please report back and tell me, on a scale of 1 to 28, how fun your February was.

2014 February Fun

  1. retreat far, far away (and off the grid): I'm going on a partially silent retreat with my church. Doesn't quiet sound fun?
  2. wear fun earrings
  3. buy a new CD
  4. find a Zooniverse project to work on: I read about this in the Tribune the other day. You can help! With science! Just by using your computer! Look at the projects—I'm most intrigued by the one to help catalog soldiers' diaries from World War I.
  5. make something out of my new Downton Abbey cookbook: Or since you probably don't have this same cookbook, you can just make a new recipe.
  6. schedule coffee with a friend {or dinner or whatever—basically, schedule quality time with someone. Good friends don't count—this need to be someone you don't see much.}
  7. buy flowers
  8. bake brioche
  9. clean out your clothes and donate the ones you don't need anymore
  10. re-organize your books {or whatever else you want to organize}
  11. read a short story
  12. buy new underwear
  13. eat dark chocolate {good for the brain, you know}
  14. write a postcard to Java: I read about this in Oprah while I was at the gym one day. To help students in Java learn English, you can send them a postcard telling them a little bit about who you are and where you come from. If you include your address, they may even write you back. Learn more about it.
  15. go to a movie
  16. write to your nieces and nephews, if applicable: Otherwise, just write a card to someone, anyone.
  17. bake for your neighbors {or a friend}
  18. re-read a favorite childhood book
  19. write a poem
  20. host a craft night {or go to one, preferably the one I'm hosting}
  21. school spirit day: Remember back in high school when you got to have different Spirit Days, such as Wear Your Pajamas to School Day or 70s Day? We don't get Spirit Days in the Grown-up World, so I'm declaring a personal Spirit Day. For me, this means I could wear something purple and gray in support of my high school team, the Grayhounds—Fight, Purple! Fight, Gray! Fight, fight today! Yes, I still remember my cheerleading chants.}
  22. Glen Ellyn Style with friends: I'm sure you have no idea what this is, but all it means is "hang out with your friends in downtown Glen Ellyn and wander through a bunch of shops. Getting coffee is also a good idea."
  23. run 10 miles
  24. make something out of my new Simply in Season cookbook: I'm sure you're thrilled that I've gotten two new cookbooks just before this February Fun began.
  25. go to Starbucks and pay for a random person's stuff
  26. paint your nails
  27. be a wine-o {or just have a glass of wine}
  28. make hot cocoa. Like real hot cocoa, not Swiss Miss

27 January 2014

hashtag, eavesdropping

It was one of those to-do list Saturdays—a day when I had scribbled a few thoughts for the day down on a little piece of paper with a very bold THINGS TO DO printed at the top. Maybe it was the boldness of that declaration or the bright sunniness of the day {January sun makes Midwesterners feel that they could take on the world}, but the more things I crossed off the list, the more things I added to it. My little piece of paper was covered front to back, and it was only 10:45.

Sitting in the parking lot at Target, I crossed off such exciting accomplishments as:
  • Buy kitchen towels
  • Get a haircut {actually, this one is for-real exciting, not sarcastic exciting: scalp massage and someone to tell you you look pretty. That is one perfect way to spend from 9 to 10 on a Saturday morning.}
  • Go to the dry cleaners

And then I realized that if I wanted to accomplish what was next on the list—run at the gym—I would need to add something to the list: Eat.

To-do lists, as a side note, should always include what you think of as obvious tasks. Then you get the benefit of crossing yet another thing off {you're so accomplished!}, plus you don't forget to make time for obvious things, like food.

I know, considering how much I talk about food, you're probably surprised that I would ever forget about it, but there were kitchen towels to buy and baseboards to be dusted; I can really lose myself in the face of a promising day of productivity.

Food. Yes. I needed some of that so that I could go burn it off on the treadmill. I added "Eat" to the list, and went to what I saw as the least bad of my options in the area: Einstein's Bagels.

Now, I'm not saying a thing against Einstein's. I'm just saying that given the option, I will always imagine myself in a local, quaint cafe, one that has a soupcon of France in it, and one where I could read an Elizabeth Gaskell novel in a paisley armchair or write things where soupcon seems like a natural word to use.

That dream cafe was nowhere near me, probably because it is a dream, and I do enjoy a good bagel sandwich. I was sure that the atmosphere at Einstein's—breezy brunch—would match well with the book I'd brought to read {no Elizabeth Gaskell; it was the biography of PL Travers, the woman who wrote Mary Poppins}, and besides, I was just using it as a means to crossing something else off my to-do list.

I sat at a corner table next to a group of older people—like, in their 70s or 80s old—who had pushed together 4 little tables to make one big table.

I immediately began making up stories about them, mostly involving how they'd been friends since elementary school and how they'd been meeting up for brunch for the past 25 years and how they'd just decided to try this Einstein's the other month because who doesn't like a good bagel?

But my stories were no match for their actual conversation, which went like this:

Older Guy Who Looks like Jack Lemmon: Does anyone here understand hashtags? I know they're used on Twitter and Facebook, but why?

Another Guy, Who Is Wearing a Sweatshirt from the Grand Canyon, One that He Probably Bought in 1983: I can't figure out if they're used to say something you want to draw attention to, but you don't want to come right out and say it. You look at some of them, they're practically secret messages, all those run together letters.

A Woman in a Sweater Vest: I think they're fine on Twitter—yes, I tweet—but what I don't understand is when they're used in conversation. As in: "Hashtag, I like this coffee."

Jack Lemmon: Hashtag, I do, too. And hashtag, free refills.

Sweater Vest: See? We could just communicate on Twitter right now in our hashtags! Maybe this is a sign that computers are taking over the world and language is breaking down.

[Much laughter, which isn't the normal response when pondering the effect of computers and social media on our language. Then again, these people were old, so I thought that if they could chortle at that, maybe the rest of us shouldn't be so worried about it.]

Grand Canyon: Well, I just have to say: "Hashtag, I don't understand hashtags."

And then, throughout the rest of their conversation, they would randomly insert hashtags.

"Hashtag, going to be cold on Monday."

"Hashtag, I'm going to get some more coffee. Does anyone need anything?"

"Hashtag, I still can't believe you tweet. What do you have to say?"

This is wonderful, I thought to myself, all thoughts of reading about Mary Poppins pushed aside. I want to join in their conversation with something witty, but I'm scared I would blurt out, "Hashtag, I love you all." Or worse: they might ask me to explain hashtags because I'm young, and I don't want to admit to them that I never use them. Hashtag, not cool.

I lingered in that Einstein's for longer than I needed to, just to see what else those old people would say. They discussed Syria {no hashtag silliness there}, the Grammys, movies they would like to see, and what they're reading.

As I left, I thought 2 things:
  1. Please, dear Lord, let me be that in-the-know when I'm their age.
  2. I'm totally adding "eavesdrop" to my to-do list and crossing it off.
Hashtag, best Saturday of 2014 so far.

21 January 2014

snow {a poem}

It has become one of those winters
where it snows every other day.
In between, streets are plowed,
sidewalks are cleared,
salt is strewn with extravagant abandon,
and we're all just trying to make our way
safely through this slick, cold world
we find ourselves in.

The slush comes then:
the guck, mush, dregs, or whatever you want to call
the snow when it is so far beyond a thing of beauty
that we kick it to the curb,
stepping over it with a look of
disdainful horror worthy of a
Jane Austen character receiving an unfortunate marriage proposal,
one from her cousin—or worse, a poor cousin.

Give it a day, though, and
here comes that snow again,
whiting over the ugliness of yesterday.
It's another clean start
and it leaves us all hoping for two things:
for a better today,
and for the ability to remember this soft, blanketed world
tomorrow when it all {life, the streets, the sidewalks, our snowboots}
becomes a gray mess again.

06 January 2014

epiphanytide {a poem, not by me}

As I've found at so many points in my life, when you don't know what else to say, turn to poetry.

Oh, there are things to say: about how today is a record-breaking cold day; about how on my walk to the train station, I feared my eyes would freeze; about how I discovered that my mascara, while being water-proof, must not be cold-proof {perhaps the -37 windchill altered its chemical properties and took away its water-proofness}.

Or I could talk about how when I got home, legs shaking from the cold, there was a Post-It on my door from a neighbor: Cabin Fever Party! Come between 4 and 6 for snacks and chats!

It really said "chats," and that's really what I did with my neighbors for an hour or so over wine: we chatted about our days and how we survived the cold and how happy we were to have a place to be inside.

When it's this cold out, there are always things to say, even to perfect strangers. This is one of the great joys of weather and living in the Midwest: you always have something to talk about.

But it's also Epiphany today, when the wise men showed up on Jesus' doorstep with some pretty non-baby-friendly gifts, and we can once again celebrate the light that pierces our darkness. It's the light that comes just when you think the night can't get any darker, and that so small sliver of light can give you more hope than an entire sunny June.

Why does it do that? Why do the darkest, coldest nights make us cling to any little reminder of warmth that we can find? How is it that on a day like today—knee-deep in snow drifts and wrapped up in so many layers, you can barely bend your arms—it just takes one small gesture—a smile, a laugh—to feel so connected and right?

Oh, I don't know the answer to that. It probably has something to do with scarcity and something to do with how we were born for deep connection and something to do with Jesus in the manger.

On this quiet, cold night, then, I'm once again turning to poetry to let someone else try to get at the heart of the matter.

Christina Rossetti

Trembling before Thee we fall down to adore Thee,
Shamefaced and trembling we lift our eyes to Thee:
O First and with the last! annul our ruined past,
Rebuild us to Thy glory, set us free
From sin and from sorrow to fall down and worship Thee.

Full of pity view us, stretch Thy sceptre to us,
Bid us live that we may give ourselves to Thee:
O faithful Lord and true! stand up for us and do,
Make us lovely, make us new, set us free –
Heart and soul and spirit – to bring all and worship Thee.

Trembling before Thee we fall down to adore Thee,
Shamefaced and trembling we lift our eyes to Thee:
O First and with the last! annul our ruined past,
Rebuild us to Thy glory, set us free
From sin and from sorrow to fall down and worship Thee.

Full of pity view us, stretch Thy sceptre to us,
Bid us live that we may give ourselves to Thee:
O faithful Lord and true! stand up for us and do,
Make us lovely, make us new, set us free –
Heart and soul and spirit – to bring all and worship Thee.


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