Things I Love

My dear friend, Beth, just blogged about things she loves, and I thought it was a great idea for me on this long, Education Minnesota (State Teachers’ Convention) weekend as I’m home recharging my batteries and trying to get caught up in grading and homework.

Things I Love

Early October days when one can walk down the city street on mountains of fallen yellow and red leaves; the curbs are covered, and the overarching trees are dancing like preschoolers in their first brightly-colored tutus.

Teenagers. Seriously.  I like the geekiness, the awkwardness, the enthusiasm, the hesitancy, the bravado, the thoughtfulness.  They crack me up and they challenge me, and every time I get to interact positively with one I get to revise a bit of my own truly awkward, truly horrible, truly painful youth.

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Coffee. Dark, black, and preferably from a French press so it’s foamy on top and leaves a residue.  I like Turkish coffee, too, for this very reason…with its cardamom.  I like the smell of coffee, the color of coffee, the taste of coffee, and the effects of coffee.  I love the atmosphere of coffee; the intelligent conversation, the mismatched furniture of a coffee shop, the many types of non-mainstream music that goes with coffee. I’ve rid myself of every other addiction, I believe…but this one?  I drink far, far less than I used to–I usually try to limit myself to one cup per day, often two, rarely more than that–but oh, how I love it.

Fires. In fireplaces or in pits outside…not housefires (although still fascinating to watch if one could erase the trauma and emotional despair).  Wood fires.  Not just the aroma and warmth, which most people do, but the time-weaving effect of them.  Everything slows down, lives get dissected at a leisurely pace between passing around the poking stick, histories evolve on wisps of smoke. The moments between the crackling of the twigs hold everything possible, all soothing.  I’m a person who rarely, if ever, truly relaxes, but in front of a good wood fire, I usually get close.

Me at Stonehenge, 1996

Traveling.  Anywhere, usually, although I gravitate toward places with major history and/or natural beauty (which for me is topography, trees, and water). I love, LOVE how the air feels…changed…in different places.  Not the smell (although that’s there, too) but just the molecules themselves; the interaction between the air and my skin, my eyes.  The excitement of seeing new things, or seeing old things that I’ve been reading about my entire life.  Of touching places that thousands of others have touched over the centuries.  Of following a new road just to see where it goes.  Of looking at the homes of others far different from myself, and those quite similar to myself. Of hearing other languages spoken around me.  But again…that air.  Nothing like it.

Animals.  This is a hard one because this also means that anything that deals with pain of animals, cruelty or accident, is difficult (or impossible) for me to bear. I can handle the abuse of animals far, far less than I can that of most humans, for the simple fact that animals (and small children) will not understand that it’s not their fault.  I can’t get past that.  I’m crying now just thinking of it.  But I love watching different animals, I love eyes and gaits, and I love the wondrous variety.  And, of course, I love my kitties, especially a cute husband and a bunch of cute kitties, all finding room in our big bed with a pile of mismatched blankets and more pillows than creatures, every which way, spending a lazy afternoon in bad weather.

Flannel.  I like the blue-collar, working-man connotations of it.  I like the feel of it, especially old, worn flannel, against my skin.  I like the patterns of it, especially plaid.  I like the usefulness and the strength of it.  I like the associations of coziness and winter and love and comfort that come with every yard of it.  I even love old-fashioned, granny flannel nightgowns, and I don’t care who thinks that’s weird.


Snow Days.  Even more now that I’m a teacher than when I was a student, if that’s possible.  Especially when we get the call before I’ve showered, and I can curl up on the sofa in front of the picture window, coffee beside me and an afghan around me (in my flannel jammies), and a good mystery book in my hand, to watch the sun come up in the periwinkle blue world that is an early-morning snowstorm in Minnesota.  That periwinkle color is my favorite color in the world, and it’s hard to find anywhere but in the sky on a morning such as this.  I love the quiet of a snowfall (not blizzards, mind you, which aren’t quiet), and the whole feeling of stocking up at the store in case it’s going to be a few days, and of making neat edges with the snowblower down the sidewalk, and how everything looks better covered in fresh snow…even Marshall looks pretty, and that’s hard to do.

Teaching.  I came to it late in life–I started teaching at age 35–but it was worth the wait.  I love lesson-planning; the fact that anything I hear on the radio, anything I see as I go through my day, anything in print I stumble on, likely becomes possible lesson material and I tend to look at it in just that way.  I love the smell of floor wax.  I love the anticipation of a new year.  I love the performance aspect, the theatre of it.  I love the give-and-take aspect of class.  I love, LOVE when I can make a class laugh, or they make me totally lose it and laugh.  I love the kids, the books, the possibilities. I can’t imagine doing anything else, ever.

My friend Beth also wrote that she loves “containing multitudes” in the Whitman manner, and I have to agree with that.  I love that I can be a frumpy, middle-aged schoolteacher but also love some rather shocking music.  I love that I can dress in tie-dye but yet listen to hiphop.  I love that I can play Frank Sinatra back-to-back with Steely Dan and Green Day.  I love that I read Whitman and Gaiman, Chaucer and Anne Tyler.  I love that I can use some lingo of my parents from the 1920s as well as understand much of the current teenager slang. I love that I’m not easily pegged, and that those I gravitate toward are always full of surprises.  That we’re all jigsaw puzzles–the hard kind–and we take lifetimes to solve.

That, perhaps, we’ve not solvable, but that doesn’t keep any of us from attempting it.

Forty Below in the Modern Age

‘Tis the season to take things for granted and go capitalist-crazy, or so I’m told.  Today, however, I’m finding myself feeling definitely pampered and Queenly because I have central heating (mostly reliable), indoor plumbing (completely reliable), and double-glazing (a bit leaky).

See, it’s 40 below zero (fahrenheit) in the wind chill here right now.  In common parlance, that’s “freaking frigid.”

This morning as I was complaining that I still had to go to work (two hours late to allow for it to warm up a few degrees for kids waiting for buses), stepping out of a nice, hot shower, I suddenly felt sheepish.  I had a warm room to step into–warmth I didn’t have to carry and burn wood, or coal, to have.  Constant, steady, reliable (except for the three furnace repairs I had done last month, ugh).

And I didn’t have to pee in a bucket or risk my skin going to an outhouse in temperatures that can freeze within seconds.

And only a few of my windows were iced over on the inside, and that’s only because the storm windows weren’t yet on (how stupid is this?) or not completely sealed (as on the storm doors).

And, after my husband left the car run for a few minutes (he had to step out for a smoke, anyway, is my rationalization for his starting it), I had a very warm (overly warm) car to step into after only a few cold steps from my warm house.

And I wondered what people did before the last few decades of princely pampering?  How did people survive here?  How *do* people survive in places with extreme temperatues but little in the way of modern convenience even today?

Now, I like winter.  In fact, I love winter.  I would never live anywhere more temperate than where I do, and I’d much prefer to be even further north.  My father, too, is a true Scandinavian who relishes the cold and abhors the humid heat of summer.

So, I’m not complaining.

But I do wonder.  I asked my father–born in 1923 in central Minnesota to a poor farming family–how he survived before air conditioning, and he said, quite honestly, “I have no idea.”  Like father like daughter, neither of us likes temperatures above 75F at any time.

But, in most cases, the summer heat doesn’t kill—the winter cold, on the other hand?

My parents have told me stories of warming rocks, or potatoes, on the hearth and putting in the foot of their beds at night.  Of having the dogs sleep with them.  Of the dread of emerging from under the covers in the morning, to a cold, unheated upstairs, with the fireplace/woodstove a full flight of stairs below, and all of this before decent insulation.

I don’t know how humans adapt to this, and I fear how weak and unable to cope we’ve become in a generation or two.

However, my fear hasn’t prompted me to sign up for any winter camping expedition in order to toughen myself up, I notice…

(And I promise to get the remaining storm windows in place as soon as it’s warm enough for the latches to move!)