Archive for December, 2010

Call me naive, but I still love New Year’s Eve.

I love the new year because it gives me an opportunity to reflect on the past.  In 2010 I moved to Boston, began a new job, biked 30 miles a day, swam in the Atlantic, spent time in the Northern Kingdom, New York, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Minnesota, made my first vegan cookies, started to learn Russian, and started to take voice lessons. I reconnected with a whole lot of old friends (many of them unexpectedly in the street) and met some really amazing new people. One comfort I found while writing this list: even though I haven’t moved much, there’s been lots of opportunity for change.

I love the new year because it gives me an opportunity to think about the future. In the year to come I hope to leave the country (maybe a springtime trip to Rome?), start some independent collaborative projects, bake more bread, grow vegetables, learn to photoshop, and bike to the cape. I know that on TV the resolution ritual is a cycle of failure and self-loathing. But I think there’s a solution to that: I pick resolutions that I honestly want to keep. I usually do.

Finally, I love New Year’s because it’s the best party of the year.  Once during college, my family threw a big party with three generations of guests, a big bowl of punch, and a live band. (That party culminated with a midnight trek into a field and a mad dash straight into an electric fence.) Last year, I sat in front of a fireplace with my parents, drank hot chocolate, and went to bed long before the ball dropped. I love that New Year’s can be whatever I want it to be. In that way, I like to think, it’s a symbol of things to come.

40 degrees and sunny!! It’s like spring!

Hannah:  8 out of 10 on the ‘can’t get out of bed’ to ‘jumping for joy’ scale. Looking forward to the weekend.
Anna: 3 out of 10. So much to do, so little time!



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I relaxed on Sunday. My one foray into the outside world was for a cup of coffee at Starbucks. (Of note: my favorite suburban coffee shop is closed on Sundays.) Otherwise, I read. And listened to my mother fret about the impending snowstorm. Okay, okay. She was right—blizzard.

I spent the rest of my non-reading day watching weather updates on the news, talking about plows, and eavesdropping on the telephone updates my mother received from her weather-inclined friends.

Somewhere between discussions of salt, sand, and shoveling techniques, we flashed back to the December ice storm that clobbered this area two years ago. It left us without heat, electricity, and sanity. And we were the lucky ones—our power resumed after a mere four days. Other people were off the grid for weeks.

That ice storm was an anomaly. You see, we had no idea it would be so bad. We didn’t know it was going to knock a tree onto our brand new car. Or partially sever a tree branch right over our kitchen roof. When we finally shoved the tree off the car—still driveable—and piled in on a quest for a hot cup of coffee (priorities!), the only place in town that still had power was the insurance agency. Go figure.

Now, back to last Sunday. As any good daughter would, I reminded my mother that she was acting like somebody else she knew. My grandmother.

Especially around the holidays, my grandmother used to become the queen of weather reports. Is there a possibility of snow? Ice? Freezing rain? Anything that would impact her drive from her house to ours?  When she’d finally arrive, safely, she’d relax…until her return journey neared.

I like to think weather obsession is not genetic. I tease my mom about her constant monitoring. (FYI: Monday night’s news provided another few hours of weather gluttony for her.) And I don’t have to worry about driving in bad conditions since I don’t own a car. But I’ll admit to listening to the weather report on the radio each morning before setting off for the train station—I mean, what if it’s going to snow?

Weather: Blue skies over a blinding white blanket of snow.


Anna – 5 out of 10 on the “so miserable I can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. I was a 4.5 earlier in the day, but now I’m neutral.

Hannah – 5 out of 10. Post-Christmas exhaustion.

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Hoping all our Christian readers had a good holiday.

With love from DTU

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Crane's Beach, Winter 2008

If you live in New England, it’s easy to forget that the start of winter is a cause for celebration.

Here’s why you forget: there has been a heavy cloud cover for three days straight, a permanent layer of ice is slicked on the sidewalks, traffic is backed up all the way down route 2, it’s cold, snowy, wet, and unpleasant.

Here’s why you should celebrate anyway: it’s hard to imagine, but the worst is actually behind us. This week’s solstice marks a sunshine turning point. Previously, the days were getting shorter – we hit nine-hour days this week. But now, each morning comes a little earlier, each night starts a little later, and pretty soon I won’t be walking to the T in the dark.

Last weekend I went to Crane’s Beach, a stunningly beautiful refuge in Ipswich, just north of Boston. It was an entirely disorienting experience to walk a long stretch of sandy beach in the winter. The sun was shining. The waves were sparkling and the ocean was blue. The sand gleamed invitingly. I ran down the boardwalk and took off my shoes.

It turns out that walking on damp sand at thirty degrees is much like walking on ice. Instant agony. I put my shoes back on.

But it was beautiful, even at negative degrees Celsius. Instead of seaweed marking the high-tide line, there was a thin layer of ice. Palm-sized clam shells and snails were scattered across the beach. Seagulls shivered in the wind and grasses dressed the dunes in their winter shades of gold and red.

The sun is coming back, and that means there will be more opportunities to go out and appreciate the stark beauty of a New England winter. It’s the best time for some seasonal embrace.

Weather: 33 degrees and overcast


Hannah: 6 out of 10 on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. I haven’t packed yet for the holidays.

Anna: Anna is on vacation today so I’m going to go ahead and give her a 10/10. Happy Holidays!

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Amateur Astronomers, take note: tonight is a big night for celestial sitings. Tonight, weather permitting, we have the opportunity to observe a stunning collision of otherworldly events. On the eve of the winter solstice, on the night of the full moon, (beginning at 1:33am EST), there will be a total lunar eclipse. At 2:41 EST the moon will be fully obscured for a total of seventy-two minutes. It is the first time in 372 years that these events have overlapped.

And if you brave the witching hour and step out to observe the eclipse, there’s more: in the total darkness (if it’s not flawed by light pollution, of course), you may have the opportunity to catch a shooting star. The Ursids meteor shower will be occurring tonight as well.

NASA recommends 3:17am EST for primary viewing time of the whole shebang.

The lunar eclipse should be stunning. The Ursids – little known because they are so difficult to see – are less guaranteed. But if you caught the Disney channel movie you know: when a meteor shower and a lunar eclipse coincide, King Arthur will return. And chivalry will once again rein. And we will all drink mead, and celebrate.

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Consider the following:

  • Average hours of sleep in July: 7.5. In December: 8.5
  • Average week-day wake-up in July: 6 am. In December: 7:20am
  • Average weekend wake-up in July: 7am. In December: 9 am.

Sometimes I have a hard time distinguishing between sleepiness and depression. “My train arrives in half an hour and I can’t get out of bed!” I think. “I must hate everything and be really miserable.”

I lie in bed, down comforter up to my neck, as the minutes tick by. Then I realize that even though it’s 720 am, it’s still dark in my north-facing bedroom. Based on the numbness of my nose, the air in my bedroom must be below freezing. And even though I got a good eight hours of sleep, I’m still totally exhausted.

I force my sleep-fogged mind to acknowledge that it’s not life I hate. It’s just getting out of a warm and cozy bed to confront a cold, dark, and dreary morning.

Many people suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) a seasonal drop in mood thought to be caused by changes in sunlight patterns. (In case you haven’t noticed, we now get a mere 9 hours of sun a day).

But my seasonal disorder is less affective and more lethargic. It’s not only the cold dreariness that makes it hard for me to get up in the morning. It’s that I actually need more sleep to feel alert during the day. And if I make the mistake of going to bed on a summer schedule when it’s winter, I wake up feeling unrested. By midday, I’m ready for a nap.

So last night I decided to embrace my lethargy and allowed myself a full NINE HOURS of sleep. I woke up feeling the way I have every morning this month: cold, tired, and tragically ill prepared to greet the day. But by the time I left the house, wrapped in gloves, hat, and down jacket, the sun was shining. On the train, the trees flashed by, sparkling with frost. There was mist rising from the surface of Walden Pond. By the time I arrived in Concord, I remembered that I love winter, and that I’m actually quite happy to be alive.

Weather: 33 degrees and sunny.


Hannah: 8 out of 10. It’s lovely outside, it’s friday. But the scale might need an adjustment because I still can’t get out of bed.

Anna: 7 for reasons as yet unknown.

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The Mood Tracker

When Hannah and I started Ditch The Umbrella, we decided we should include mood ratings and a brief description of the weather so that we could, at some point, plot our emotional calendars over time. Hence, the creation of the “I’m so miserable I can’t get out of bed” to “I’m jumping for joy” scale.



But a funny thing has happened. If you look back at our posts, you’ll notice that my mood is almost always the same from day to day. I tend to hold steady at a 7. Hannah’s fluctuates a bit more, most often wavering between a 5 and a 7, and often settling on a 6.

Could we actually be the happiest people alive? For those of you that know us, we’re happy, but not constantly joyous! So why the trend?

Of course, we like writing this blog, and that brings us some pleasure, though I can’t imagine it influences our moods more than one point. One possibility is that when we’re truly miserable and stressed, we just don’t post. But that doesn’t account for those days that Hannah posts and asks me for my mood rating—which punches a big hole in that thesis. Another guess is that our perception of the scale is off. If I’m neither happy nor unhappy, a 5 sounds a bit low to me. As neither happy nor unhappy, I’m perfectly fine, and who wants to be middling anyway? I’d rather take a stance. For me at least, this is one of the biggest barriers to accuracy.

And finally, there’s always the issue of transparency. I’ve always marveled at those bloggers who share anything and everything—they post play-by-plays of the dates they go on, document troubled friendships, and seemingly share every last detail of their lives. I’m not one of them. And yet I’m blogging about my emotional calendar, which inevitably touches on personal topics. So it’s also likely a self-reporting bias is at play, which may help explain my consistent ratings.

I’m going to keep these ideas in mind as I rate my moods moving forward, so if my standard numbers are lower than usual, consider it a course correction!

Weather: A gray, chilly, and snowless winter day.


Anna – 6 out of 10 on the “so miserable I can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. I’m slightly more happy than unhappy, and apparently I don’t like 5s.

Hannah – 5.5 out of 10. It’s a gray day and she has a headache.

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I don’t love winter. I don’t love the fact that, at 4:30 pm, it’s already dark out.

I don’t love Christmas carols, holiday parties make me nervous, and I prefer summer sports.

Call me crazy, but I love the cold.

One of my favorite childhood memories is of the time the power went out during a family Chanukah party. (Fortunately, we already had a fire going in the fireplace.) We woke up the next morning to mounds of snow, and the electricity was out for three days. We slept in sleeping bags in front of the fire. My parents don’t speak fondly of that week, but I loved every bit of it.

Another favorite memory is from November of 2008. I was living near a tidal river in Maine and I decided that I wanted to get in one final swim before the season was over. So I dragged my roommate out of bed at  some ungodly hour of the morning and we  stood out on the docks in our swim suits. Our towels, and enormous sweaters, were piled up beside us. The tide was a bit low, and my friend and I were afraid we wouldn’t be able to pull ourselves up once we got in. We watched the sun rise and we dithered. Then finally we jumped.

The shocking cold, and the adrenaline that comes with it, was so incredible that we practically flew back out of the water. Then we went to eat pancakes.

We are a small but intimate group, those who love the cold. We are the people who sleep with our windows open year round. We live in extreme climates and we travel to colder ones. We go polar-bearing and we camp in the snow.

It’s been a balmy 50 degrees here all weekend. Like Louisa, I am bothered by the seasonal dissonance. I’m also ready for some good old-fashioned cold.

Are you?

Weather: 50 degrees and rainy


Hannah: 5 out of 10 on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. She has a headache and it’s dark outside.

Anna: Wavering between a 6 and a 7. She had a productive day. But she over-steeped her tea.

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In November, Louisa wrote a guest post for Ditch The Umbrella about her Thanksgiving experiences, promising a post-holiday update. Luckily for us, she’s blogged about another fascinating emotional calendar subject: seasonal dissonance. Here goes!

I wrote a post about a month ago about Thanksgiving—an emotional hotspot for me. I’m way overdue for an update, since Christmas is only two weeks away! Happily, Thanksgiving went off without a hitch this year, as it often does. My emotional mind was less charged up, which made for a much more enjoyable dinner for me, and especially my family. We went to my uncle’s house in western Massachusetts and feasted on turkey, squash, stuffing, and cranberry sauce: the whole nine yards. (Squash is my personal favorite.) I felt happy to be with my family and celebrate with them, and although the memory of that Thanksgiving fourteen years ago was still present, I also see how its effect on my emotions diminishes a little bit every year.

But of course, most people’s focus has moved to Christmas. It’s coming soon. I’m excited, and also quite proud of myself for already having most of my shopping done. With Christmas comes the cold weather, though, and this year it seems to be particularly frigid. In the past week, the high temperature has only been about 40° F, and that was last Saturday. The wind has made it especially bad, letting everyone know that winter is here to stay. Of course, if this were February, temperatures in the 40s would seem almost warm (at least in New England). But we have been cursed (or blessed, as most people would say) with some extremely warm days in November. According to weather.com, the high temperature in Concord on Nov. 13 was 65°. It felt more like mid-spring than late fall. That day was followed by 64° on the 17th, 56° on the 22nd, and 62° on the 23rd.

Regardless of how you feel about this type of weather in November, December seems particularly Arctic in comparison. I don’t like warm November days—such weather gives me a strong sense of seasonal dissonance, which happens when your mind is in one season and your body is in another. The calendar says Thanksgiving, but the weather says Memorial Day! This contradiction throws off my sense of stability, it makes me feel out of place, and it makes it far harder for me to get used to the December cold. For my sanity, I’m hoping that it won’t happen again, but the next time we have a really warm winter day—or even a really cold one in June—stop and see how your body and your mind react to the unfamiliar weather.

Weather: Frigid and gray.


Anna – 7.5 out of 10 on the “so miserable I can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. She’s energized.

Hannah – 7 out of 10. On the one hand, it’s cold and gray. On the other hand, she is excited to be at the Athenaeum!

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Speaking of flashbulb memories, here is the New York Times’ collection of memories from when John Lennon was killed, thirty years ago today.

It’s wonderful and moving to see how a musician, and one who sang about things like peace and love, has shaped so many people’s lives. Who among us doesn’t love The Beatles?


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