Part I: It’s cold. It’s freezing. We’ve been saying the same two sentences all week long. Tired of repeating the same old hackneyed phrases? Here are some more colorful alternatives:
The Brassy Option
It’s colder than a witch’s teat in a brass bra.
It’s colder than a brass toilet seat on the shady side of an iceberg.
It’s cold enough to freeze the tail* off a brass monkey. *(Frequently substituted with spherically shaped male part of the anatomy).
It’s colder than a gravedigger’s shovel.* (Frequently substituted with word that rhymes with “brass”).
The Classy Option
“When the breath freezes into ice dust and falls almost silently to the ground, Siberians call it the whisper of stars.” from David K. Shipler’s Russia: Broken Idols, Solemn Dreams.
Part II: It could always be worse:
Here’s a reading suggestion that will put your shivering into perspective. Evgenii Zamiatin’s short story “The Cave” is about a couple trying to survive in an unheated apartment in the dead of winter. Post-revolutionary Petrograd is depicted as a prehistoric landscape of glaciers and woolly mammoths. The bitter cold drives the couple to desperate acts. The story is deeply depressing, of course. It is Russian literature after all. I know this doesn’t sound like much of a recommendation, but it’s a great story and I can guarantee you it will make you feel like you’re not so cold after all…If you have access to JSTOR, you can read the full text there for free. Otherwise, it’s in The Portable Twentieth-Century Russian Reader.
I spent the four coldest years of my life during my college days in frigid New Hampshire. I would run as fast as I could between classes trying to minimize my exposure…and there are very few things I hate more than running. As soon as the air hit my face, my ears would burn with an icy fire. The snot dripping from my nose would turn into miniature icicles. My eyes would start to water, the tears would freeze my eyelashes, and I would hear an icy tinkle every time I blinked. At least it’s not that cold…unless you’re reading this in New Hampshire.
It’s been widely reported recently that it’s colder in Winnipeg than it is on the surface of Mars. Again: no comfort at all if you happen to be reading this in Winnipeg.
And for more perspective…at least we didn’t get 26 inches of snow like we did in 2009!
Stay warm out there and have a wonderful weekend!
A few summers ago, we were heading to the beach to meet up with family friends with whom we were sharing a house. Our children would be sharing a bunk room for a week, and, we imagined, all the knowledge that they had amassed between them through friends, family, and sex ed classes. We knew that our friend’s son, who was going to school in another state, had already had these classes, and that even before this, his parents had dutifully taught him everything there is to know.
We, on the other hand, as usual, were woefully behind the curve. Not only had our son not yet gone through the “Family Life Education” classes as they are euphemistically called here in Virginia, we, as parents, had not given him any real information at all. I’m sure my son would say that we are overprotective parents, although he’d probably put it in a slightly different way. When he first asked me where babies came from, I flat out panicked and blurted out the first thing that came to my head, “You go to the hospital and the doctor helps you have the baby.” Period.
And so, as we drove down to the Outer Banks, my husband and I decided that at the very first opportunity, he would head things off by taking our son for a walk on the beach to have “The Talk.”
Later, he reported their conversation to me with a half grin on his face. It had been going pretty well, he told me, until he got to the actual mechanics…
“Ewww! That’s disgusting!” my son exclaimed as he recoiled in visceral horror.
“It’s really not that bad,” my husband tried to reassure him.
“Why? Does the doctor put you to sleep first?” my son asked with such sweet innocence that I really had to wonder if we had made a terrible mistake in tearing away the veil.
As a firstborn, our son has had to weather his parents’ inexperience. It’s often difficult for us to gauge how to treat him. I’ve always felt guilty about the fact that at the tender age of two, he automatically became “a big boy” in my eyes, the very minute his little brother was born. When I look back at pictures of how very little he was back then, I am filled with sorrow and regret that I didn’t baby him for longer.
On the other hand, he has always been the kind of kid who has bridled against being treated as a child. I remember one morning, when our son was a Kindergartner, my husband returned back home after seeing him onto the school bus with his shoulders slumped and a mournful expression on his face. As he had done every morning for months, he had given our son a big hug as he saw the bus pulling up to the stop. Our son bore it stoically, but as he mounted the stairs, he stopped and turned around for a moment. Gazing into the distance he said with a world-weary sigh, “I wish people wouldn’t hug me in public.”
It’s only gotten more confusing with time. He can now finally sit in the passenger seat next to me when I drive, but I usually have to remind him of the fact as he automatically heads towards the back of the minivan. I still have to nag him to do his homework and to pick up his clothes, but to do so, I have to crane my neck to look up at him as I shout my directives. Last week my husband bought our son his first razor and he shaved for the first time. He absolutely refused a tutorial, insisting that he’d figure out how to do it “on the internet.” This week, he’s going to get braces. And so we bumble on, hoping that he feels as cherished and loved as a newborn, while knowing that we are cheering him on as he makes his way to adulthood.
Discovering this on my door knob:
left for me by my friend Annika, with whom I led Helping Hands!
This poem by Russian poet Osip Mandelshtam, (1898-1938)
I’ve been given a body – what should I do with it,
So singular and so my own?
For the quiet happiness of breathing and living
Tell me, whom should I thank?
I am the gardener, and I am also the flower,
In the world’s prison, I am not alone.
The windowpane of eternity is already marked by
My breath, my warmth
A pattern is imprinted upon it,
Unrecognizable in recent times
Let the dregs of the moment trickle away
The sweet pattern will not be erased.
And this quote by Martin Luther King, Jr.:
Did Santa bring your kids sugarplums this Christmas? Ours got unicorn meat in their stockings!
There are lots and lots of reviews of this product on Amazon, including one by George Takei. You can read them here. I promise you, they are highly entertaining!
But perhaps not quite as entertaining as the kids’ reactions when they discovered what was inside the cans:
This weekend I was feeling distressed about the bad behavior, which led to the demise of the Helping Hands service group I had helped found about eight years ago. I decided to refocus my thoughts on people who inspire me. Fortunately, there are many of these people in my life, including the many children who have participated in Helping Hands over the years.
There are people like my friend Rosita, who as PTO president of her school in Madison, Wisconsin used funds to make sure every single child at her economically diverse school had a pair of snow pants. She refused to make the yearbook a fundraiser as is common practice, because she felt that every child, whether or not he or she could afford it, should be able to have one.
There are people like my dear friend Janel, whose every word and action somehow seem like acts of kindness:
And then of course, there’s my own mother, who won’t spend a penny on herself, so she can give lavishly to others.
Here are a few more stories I’ve been thinking about…
When my friend Amanda came to visit for a few hours over the holidays, we got caught up on what we’d been up to in our professional lives. I expressed sadness over my inability to provide meaningful help in some of the harder cases I had been dealing with at work. She responded by telling me the story of a nineteen year old she knew when she was about the same age, who was working in a hospice. When she asked him how he could bear to work in a place where he couldn’t really do anything to help the people who were there, he responded with a wisdom far beyond what you would expect of a teenage boy:
“That’s where you’re wrong. You can always do something to help. You can adjust a pillow. You can hold a hand. You can make a person feel less lonely by sitting with them.”
Those words, uttered decades ago by a nineteen year old I’ll probably never know, took my breath away. I’ll remember them for the rest of my life.
And then I asked Amanda what she had been up to. “The lunatic, the lover, and the poet…of imagination all compact” is my friend Amanda. She’s a professional medical writer and an incredible poet, who is always cooking up extracurricular benevolence projects. The last time we met up, she told me about how she’d been visiting sketchy neighborhoods late at night to meet up with prostitutes. She tries to get them the help they need to get out of the terrible situations they are in, whether by driving them to rehab or by finding them work clothes for job interviews.
“Sometimes, they don’t want to be helped. Some nights, all I can do for them is to buy them a hamburger. So that’s what I do.”
Now she’s expanded her scope to help longterm unemployed people. Don’t ask me how she does it, but she’s bringing people together to start up their own businesses. She’s pounding the pavement and meeting with lawmakers to make things happen.
And finally, there’s my friend and erstwhile co-leader of Helping Hands, Annika. We were emailing back and forth as we made the hard decision to give up the fight. As we came to our sad conclusion, I sent her one more message to thank her for all she had done. I shared with her my vague fantasy that we could open up some kind of business, because working with her has always been a joy.
In her reply, she told me that she had been fantasizing about the same thing when the lottery was getting so big a few weeks ago! I’m not going to lie…I had a few ideas about what I’d do myself, in the unlikely event that I would actually ever buy a ticket and in the even unlikelier event that I won. Me? I thought about debts that would get paid off, maybe getting a really nice camera…But Annika‘s idea for when she hit it big was that we would take all those millions of dollars….and open our own non-profit charity. Goodness.
Today on my way home from work, the skies were dark. As I stopped off at the pharmacy to refill a prescription, I realized there was a rainbow in the sky. A sign? I pulled out my camera set to autofocus and tried to take a picture. Every time I pressed the shutter button, the rainbow would disappear. Finally, I switched to manual focus and got the photo:
Sometimes, it just takes a little more effort to readjust your focus to capture the beauty that’s there.