Archive for October, 2010

At the beginning of autumn, I get a strong urge to wear tweed, wool, and rich brown, camel, and burgundy knits. This means I start looking for that perfect sweater, overcoat, [insert your object of desire here] in every store I visit. I swoon over the equestrian-inspired ads of Ralph Lauren and Burberry, and covet the pieces in the fashion spreads of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.

And then, after a few great buys, I find myself channeling Janny Cavilleri of Love Story fame.

Yes, it may be one of the corniest tearjerkers of all time, worthy of many witty retorts and critiques, but her character has also inspired countless fall wardrobes, especially here in New England. Including mine.

This is one of the joys of autumn for me. Mixing layers, styles, and fabrics means a better chance of dressing for exactly the right temperature. Too hot? Take off the belted sweater. Too cold? Put on your scarf. That way, when the temperature climbs to 70 degrees in October, like it did this week, it’s only a matter of shedding layers. It’s also a generally good practice for those of us whose thermoregulation is questionable at best.

There’s one day each fall, though, when last-minute outfit changes are not welcome: Halloween. For those of you who spent last October 31 in Boston, you may remember that it was unseasonably warm.

Given my autumnal love of wool and tweed, I decided that I would dress as Sherlock Holmes: wool pants, wool cape, leather shoes, and, of course, a canonical hat with ear flaps. And then my efforts were met by an October heat wave that prevented me from piling on my mysterious layers! Instead, I dressed as a rakish pirate. It turned out to be a well cobbled-together costume, but it lacked the inspiration of Sherlock.

So this year, I’ve chosen a costume that allows for better layering. I’ll be Catwoman, the badass superhero (no dainty whiskers for me!), who faces down criminals—and whatever temperature the Boston weather brings. And yes, that’s a challenge.

Weather: I haven’t  gone outside yet, but I see blue skies through my window!


Anna – 7 out of 10 on the “I’m so miserable I can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. It’s the weekend and I’m ready to channel a superhero!

Hannah – 6 out of 10. She thinks she may be getting sick.


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A good friend of mine is on a mission to recalibrate our emotional scale.

Let’s call him T. T would be the first to say that he has a depressive personality. His psychologist once suggested that he make a chart of his moods. (That’s where I got the idea for the mood chart on this blog, actually). On T.’s chart, the x axis represented feeling okay. His mood line never went above that line.

So for T., feeling “okay” is a really good thing. When T. is okay, he’s not devastatingly unhappy. He’s not even mildly depressed. In a nice feedback loop, the pleasure from feeling “okay” is almost enough to nudge his mood over that x axis.

Here is a dialogue that drives T. crazy:

Friend in the street: “Hey, T. , how ya’ doin’?”

T.: “Okay.”

Friend in the street: “Just okay?”

T. says: what’s wrong with being okay? Most people are “okay” most of the time!

I bring this up because I think my emotional expectations are a little out of whack. On this blog, 5 is average. Less than average is 3 or 4. Super Over-The-Top Happy is 7 or 8.

And yet, when I was feeling lonely I gave myself a 7. When I was feeling stressed and overcommitted, I gave myself a 6. And that’s not fair. It puts too much pressure on my daily life. In a not-so-nice feedback loop, it makes me feel badly about myself every time I’m not jumping for joy. When I look at life that way, I risk feeling badly about myself all the time.

So today I’m going to give myself a 7 because I am feeling really good. After a week of seasonal dissonance (seventy degrees and sunny in mid October! It’s just not right!) everything’s finally back in place. It’s Friday. I’m going to watch vampire films with live organ accompaniment tonight. It’s cloudy and windy and the leaves are turning colors and there’s no better weather for Halloween.

Weather: gray and windy and a bit chilly. Possibility of ghost sightings in late afternoon. Or zombies.


Hannah: 7 out of 10 on the ““so miserable I can’t get out of bed” to “Jumping for Joy” scale.

Anna: 7 – She’s given up on stressing about roommates. And she’s happy it’s Friday.

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One glance at my mood rating over the past few posts, and it’s obvious that, perhaps, I’m (momentarily) regretting signing up for 3 committees, 2 subcommittees, and a myriad of other engagements this year!

It would be one thing if I were just going to meetings after work. That would be manageable. My plummeting mood, though, was not caused by meeting overload, but by the fact I had so many meetings while continuing to search for a new roommate. The joys of roommatehood and Craigslist…

So far, the search has lasted three weeks. The first batch of candidates seemed fun, friendly, and responsible, but alas, 75 percent of them weren’t even able to move this month! Terrible luck. During the second go-around, there were also some strong candidates, but nothing worked out. At some point, I realized the chances of getting someone in for a November 1 start were slim to none. And that’s when my stress peaked and I started to panic.

I thrive on a good dose of stress, but once I go over my personal stress threshold, I feel terrible. I still do what I need to do, but everything becomes a chore. I shed my optimistic tendencies and morph into a seemingly-eternal pessimist.

This past weekend, when I realized I would have to scrap my November 1 roommate timeline, I ventured out to run an errand and, of course!, got pelted with raindrops. Even the sky was gloomy!

During a separate super stressed out moment, I went for a walk and—instead of gray skies—witnessed the most vibrant sunset I’ve seen in months. My optimism increased, and I paused to think about how strongly my mood is tied to the weather.

For me, at least, the weather seems to impact my emotional state when I’m already experiencing a more extreme mood. If I’m closer to my default state of general contentedness, weather seems to influence it less. I’m not sure if this is typical, so I’d be curious to know, how do you think weather affects your mood?

Weather: Overcast with a strong breeze. Rain earlier in the day.


Anna – 7 out of 10 on the “so miserable I can’t get out of bed” scale. Things are looking up since I accepted the fact a roommate by Nov. 1 is a pipe dream. Something about reframing…

Hannah – 7 out of 10. She’s lonely at the office. Does someone want to throw pebbles at her window and cheer her up?

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The other day, my roommate made an apple crisp. Eva was celebrating an overabundant apple harvest and my mouth was just starting to water in olfactory anticipation when she walked into the living room.

“Ummmm,” she said, “the stove won’t turn off.”

Cue: a week-long battle with the stove and the gas company. So when I walked into the house one cold evening and smelled burning fuel, I expected the worst. Maybe the oven had finally imploded.

Instead, it turned out that my roommates had decided to make the leap and turn on the heat for the first time this year.

Turning on the heat is a big step. There’s an environmental aspect, of course, and a financial one too: heat is expensive in more ways than one. But for me, the most difficult part is the commitment to winter. Turning on the heat says: there will be no more surprise seventy degree days. Summer’s long over, and Indian Summer is too. Once the heat is on, there’s no denying that – oh god – the cold is here to stay.

(Interestingly, Wikipedia says that Indian Summer can last until mid-November. So maybe there is hope, after all.)

The other thing about turning on the heat is that it tends to bring a bizarre side effect. Every year when the heat goes on, I start to get these intense and realistic dreams. The dreams can linger as long as a month, and I always wake up feeling distraught. In one dream this week, my mother told me to abandon my career in favor of an (imaginary) job in public policy. In another nightmarish sequence, I spent what felt like hours pursuing the perfect pair of gloves in a labyrinthine box store.

Just like in real life, I never did find what I was looking for. And the stove? Sitting, unplugged, in the middle of our kitchen.

Weather: Sunny and just past the foliage peak. 45 degrees.

Hannah – 6 out of 10 on the “so miserable I can’t get out of bed” to “Jumping for Joy” scale. Really tired of eating microwavable dinners.

Anna – 5 out of 10 for general life stress. Ask her about her erg.

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My world hasn’t revolved around an academic schedule in several years, but like many people, it still affects me. I suppose this could be because many of my friends are in grad school and as soon as September hits, it becomes difficult to coordinate schedules around seminars, chapter deadlines, advisor meetings, and dissertations; I’m vigorously reminded that the school year has begun. But I have a sneaking suspicion my calendar will always be impacted by the start of the academic year.

You see, when I imagine each year, I conjure up an oval. I’m nearly always situated at the 6:00 position, or September. If I move clockwise and go halfway around the left side of this stretched oval, I hit May and June crowding around the 12:00 position. If you’ve followed, you’ll realize I mentally pack the entire academic year into one half of my clock-like calendar. Only June through August sit on the right half of this oval. And, if you’re not satisfied by this culturally-influenced perspective, let me add that in my mind, the left side is in shadows and the right side is awash with light, so there’s a strong seasonally-driven, light-related component as well.

For as long as I can remember, this has been the way I imagine time passing in a year. If someone mentions scheduling an event in December, I imagine myself at a dark 9:00 position dotted with lights—lights on a Chanukiah, Christmas lights, all sorts of lights that bring cheer.

But December is not where I mentally start on my calendar, despite the fact it ends with the secular New Year. I start in September with the rest of the students. Always. And so I expect that even as the years pass and my friends graduate, adding various letters to the signatures of their emails, September—and the beginning of the academic year—will continue to hold a unique place on my emotional calendar.

Weather: Some sun shining through earlier today, but completely overcast now.


Anna – 4 out of 10 on the “so miserable I can’t get out of bed” to “Jumping for Joy” scale. 6 points off for too much stress surrounding the search for a new roommate—is it already almost Nov. 1!? Also, too many commitments this week.

Hannah – 8 out of 10. She has a new book to read!

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Every fall, the squirrels go crazy.

This year, I’ve noticed it while biking to work. They charge across the bike path without rhyme or reason, occasionally squeaking past my tires, other times hesitating in the middle of the road as I approach. It’s highly dangerous for both them and me.

I’m pretty sure it’s seasonal. Since childhood, I have been led to understand that squirrels and chipmunks get super-focused in their autumn search for nuts and berries and, as a result, they totally lose track of the rest of the world. Squirrel relationships are compromised. Roadside fatalities increase.

The same thing tends to happen to me. Each autumn I get really focused on new projects, often to the sacrifice of other things. I get this feeling that I have to get it all done before winter sets in and I start to burrow.

Of course, squirrel mythology tells me that although in the fall squirrels go crazy for acorns, when winter finally comes they forget where their caches are. All that hard work – the mad dashes across dangerous bikeways and careful stashing of valuable nourishment – goes to waste. So, in fall, I always get a little anxious. Is this year that I’m going to carry my projects through to spring, or am I going to slip into a winter stupor and abandon them in a tree trunk, again?

Tragically, the conflict has already begun. This weekend, I started to feel really overwhelmed by the new and super-exciting projects that I have taken on in the last month. Paint my bedroom! Bake bread! Make soup! Start a salon! Learn Russian!

It wouldn’t be the first time that I ended up living for a year in a half-painted bedroom. But this time, with my new-found seasonal awareness, I’m going to try a new tack. My resolution: to pick one or two projects now. And see if I can get them to survive the first snow.

The other lesson I’m taking from this? Until fall fever dies down, I’m being extra-careful when crossing the street.

Weather: A beautiful, sunny fifty-five degree day with light clouds and a gentle breeze. But brutally cold in the morning.


Hannah – 6 out of 10  on the “so miserable I can’t get out of bed” to “Jumping for Joy” scale. 4 points off for overcommitment anxiety.

Anna – 8 out of 10 and generally happy because of a perfect combination of feeling well-rested and well-caffeinated (and it’s a beautiful day).

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In my first post, I discussed how October can leave me feeling excited and agitated. I plan, I commit to various activities, and I keep myself wildly busy as the school year begins, even though it’s been years since my life has synched with the academic calendar.

Here’s another confession: I also “nest.”

I realize that “nesting” is a term that seems to be applied only to birds and pregnant women these days—categories into which I certainly don’t fit—but it’s exactly what I find myself doing come autumn.

You know those pumpkin-laden porches I mentioned before? Well, once I see them, I want to fill my own apartment with strange-looking dimpled gourds and squash. Last year, I managed to keep a few pumpkins on my windowsill through January. Magically, they didn’t rot.

I’m not one to seasonally decorate, so this impulse is an aberration of sorts. The coziness of autumnal color schemes, bowls of apples and squash, and the smell of pumpkin pie is too powerful for me to resist!

But artfully arranged displays of oddly-shaped vegetation is only the beginning. This is also the time of year when I “refresh” my apartment. I replace odd things, like bathmats, sheets, and toothbrush holders. I arrive home with bags of scented candles. And I go on mini DIY sprees. Last weekend, were friends to have stopped by, they would have found me wielding two paint brushes, touching up the walls.

So while on the one hand I go out of my way to participate in new things in the fall, I also try to make my home as comfortable as possible. A welcoming place filled with warm cheer. And of course, with seasonal fruit.

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When Anna and I decided to call this blog “ditch the umbrella,” we both agreed that the title might need some explanation. So I’ll tell you a story.

This past summer, I got really into cycling.

I’ve had a bike for years. As a student, I rode a fixie around campus, which was neat because I could pedal both forwards and backwards. When I lived in Jerusalem, I would commute to work by bike, an often dangerous feat among the Israeli drivers.

But this summer, I took the biking thing to a whole new level. I started biking over seventy-five miles a week – way more than I’ve ever done before. I got a pretty new road bike with real gears and ultra-thin tires. We had an absolutely, stunningly perfect summer, and so I figure I spent at least ten hours a week on my bike in the sunshine. Definitely a good thing for my vitamin D!

In her first blog post, Anna wrote about how as the fall sets in, she’s been feeling anxious. Anna’s anxiety comes from wanting to get up and move in autumn, which is funny because I usually think of fall as a time to settle down and prepare for hibernation.

But this year, I’ve been feeling anxious too. Because I know that my days on my bike are numbered. Pretty soon, this lovely New England fall is going to turn into a lovely, but hideously cold New England winter. The roads will ice over. And my bike will go into storage.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that this fall, I’ve been trying to get as many hours of bike time in as possible. And so I’ve been riding in all sorts of crazy weather: heavy winds, torrential downpours, even the occasional flood alert.

Riding a bike through a tropical storm is certainly “ditching the umbrella.” But the point of this blog is not, literally, that we should spend more time in the rain. The point is that by “ditching the umbrella” I’ve become incredibly aware of changes in the weather, and the complex ways that they impact my life.

Which all means very little for me. Winter’s coming and I still feel anxious. So for me, this blog is about understanding the greater patterns in my emotional calendar, and about learning what to do with this new knowledge. When I say I want to “ditch the umbrella,” I mean that I want to achieve a greater level of seasonal embrace – both physically, and emotionally.

My great discovery so far: rainy days may make us feel under the weather. But riding a bike through a storm? That’s exhilarating.

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Many seasons, storms, and holidays ago, I (Anna) and my trusty co-blogger, Hannah, were introduced to the concept of the emotional calendar through our  research with Dr. John Sharp, psychiatrist and author of The Emotional Calendar. This wasn’t the first book either of us helped research, but something about it was different. We couldn’t get it out of our heads. Everywhere we turned, every article we read, every conversation we had seemed to lead us back to the main idea: that seasons, weather, cultural events, and personal milestones and memory all profoundly impact something called our “emotional calendars.”

Everyone has an emotional calendar. You thought you were cranky and agitated last Saturday because your friend showed up 20 minutes late to dinner? Maybe so. But what if the reason was something deeper, something you didn’t even realize was affecting you?

Last fall was the first time it dawned on me that I was under the influence of an emotional calendar. It was October and once again it seemed to me that the leaves had changed from a lush green to firey tones of yellow, orange, and red practically overnight. That I had fallen asleep one night and been jostled from slumber the next morning by the “oohs” and “aahs” of the traveling leaf peepers.

I felt restless. I had an overabundance of nervous energy. I was itching to do something.

And then I realized what was happening.

After college, I decided to move abroad. But in order to finance that, I had to work through the summer, so I didn’t set off on my great adventure until October of that year (three points if you can see where I’m going with this).

Last October, the changing landscape, the smell of apples, and the overabundance of porches dotted with pumpkins were triggering that anticipatory excitement all over again. But this time there was no new country to explore and so, instead, I felt off balance.

This year I’ve prepared myself for this hot spot on my calendar. Again, I’m feeling a bit restless, but this time I’m directing my energy. I’m meeting new people, volunteering for more organizations, and appreciating the crisp New England air. Oh, and I’m planning a trip to Prague and Vienna, because really, it’s about time for another epic adventure!

And, of course, I’m starting this blog with Hannah with the hope that through writing, we will both become more aware of our emotional calendars and embrace them with newfound appreciation.

How is your emotional calendar influencing you?

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