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Archive for the ‘Energy Levels’ Category

A full year has come and gone since Hannah and I started Ditch the Umbrella. In that time we’ve reflected, mulled, and written about our emotional calendars, and, hopefully, gained a deeper understanding of what boosts our moods and where our emotional hotspots lurk. But now that we’ve completed a full seasonal cycle, we’ve completed our original mission, and so we will be concluding our little experiment. This will be my last blog post, and Hannah’s final reflection will be coming soon.

I, at least, have made changes to the way I live because of these little revelations: last winter, my worst season by far, I had such a bad case of cabin fever that I resorted to a frenetic and uncoordinated evening playing my roommate’s DDR (Dance Dance Revolution). This year, in an effort to prevent bad dancing, I’ve joined a gym so I can have an outlet for my energy when the days are short, the nights frigid, and the sidewalks nearly unwalkable.

The DDR incident, as I’ve come to think of it, taught me that I need to find ways to enjoy the winter sun, even if my face becomes an icicle. So this year, I plan on returning to cross country skiing, and may even try some winter hiking. (But only if I can start a snowball fight somewhere along the way.)

And I’ve started cooking, and cooking seasonally — enjoying fruits and vegetables when they’re naturally fresh (though I’ll still eat winter tomatoes, even if they’re nothing like the tomatoes Hannah rushed back to the States for) — and synching myself with the cycles of New England in that way.

But most importantly, I’m aware of my hotspots. Of the energy I feel in the fall that propels me to go-go-go, and to have an adventure. Of my weather obsession, which I no doubt inherited from the women in my family. Of my need to travel in the summer, or feel like I’m missing out on something. Of the amount of sleep I need to feel well rested and ready to go, especially when the hours of daylight are limited. Of the joy the holidays bring me with their carols, gingerbread, pine, and good cheer. Of the frustration I feel in the middle of winter, when I just can’t think about slipping on ice yet again. And of the things I can do to make the most of these experiences, and to revel in the joys each year brings.

Thanks for reading.

Late afternoon on the rails, Peru

Weather: Cloudy and unseasonably warm. Over 60 degrees in Cambridge.

Mood:

Anna: 6 out of 10. Energized, but slightly sad to be saying goodbye to DTU. A bit nostalgic.

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100 Percent Hot*

It’s pouring rain outside of my window and I finally feel like I’ve come home.

I was in Europe for two months. Two months always goes faster than you think it will: I could swear it was only a few weeks ago that I packed up my bags and walked through security at Logan Airport. But when I left the blossoms had just come out on the trees and it was still cold enough to wear sweaters in the morning.

Apparently a lot changed in my absence, because on Wednesday I stepped out of the airconditioning and found myself in the middle of a heat wave. The temperature peaked at 98 this week, according to my household thermometer. (That’s 36 in celsius!) For the last two days all I’ve done is sit on the couch in a stupor, reading Gary Shteyngart or staring off into space. I don’t know whether it was the heat wave or the jet lag that did me in, but I’ve hardly been able to move, never mind speak in complete sentences or write coherent statements. The Emotional Calendar has all kinds of tips for managing jet leg, but I was too hot and tired to do any of them. “I should have stayed in Barcelona,” I moaned several times a day.

Then this morning I woke up at 5:30 (that’s 11:30 Barcelona time!), just in time to hear the first drops of rain against the windows. Minutes later we were in the midst of a full-fledged thunder storm. Lightning flashed, water poured in through the wide-open windows (I took a break from writing this to run around shutting them) and the temperature dropped to 70 degrees. Finally, I’m glad to be home.

Weather: 70 degrees and raining
Mood:
Hannah: 8 out of 10.
Anna: in Beijing!

*Image courtesy of weather.com

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I’ll admit it. At the first sniffle, jabby pain at the back of my throat, or cough, I start worrying I’m coming down with something. I’m particularly conscientious of my health in the fall and winter during the back-to-school flu season, but it’s in the summer that I usually get sick.

Last year, it was the (possible) cat scratch fever (long story) that plagued me until the leaves turned orange. The year before that, just as the warm weather greeted the Northeast, I picked up swine flu at BookExpo America (thank you, Javits Center for your recycled air!). This year, it was nothing as dramatic, but, like clockwork, I got slammed at the beginning of June.

On Sunday, I woke up with a telltale scratchy throat. By nightfall, I was cowering in my bed. The virus passed in 24 hours, but I felt sandbagged all day Tuesday, every motion a chore.

Unpleasant recollections of my week with swine flu rushed back to me, and I relived a two-year-old memory: my epic swine flu-ridden walk to a  local convenience store the day I needed more medicine. At the time,  I felt like I had crossed the Sahara (without a camel) while the sun zeroed it on me and laser pointed its rays at my head. Not pleasant. I couldn’t believe a 15-minute excursion had me gasping for air, burning up, and slightly delirious, but so were the joys of H1N1 that summer.

And so, as I walked to work on Tuesday, I thought back to that more excruciating journey two Junes ago, and celebrated the fact that this time, at least, I didn’t have a disease that was terrifying America and parents everywhere. Just a 24-hour bug.

[There’s no song that I know of about swine flu, but here Ted Nugent croons about cat scratch fever, to the delight of the cats in the video.]

Weather: 70 degrees and cloudy. No sign of tornadoes.

Moods:

Anna – 7 out of 10 on the “so miserable I can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. Friday!

Hannah – She’s on an adventure, and hopefully thrilled by the beautiful landscapes around her.

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Migration

I know it’s April and I’m supposed to be looking forward towards sunnier times. But for the last month all I’ve been thinking about is cold. I wake up, I poke my head out of the covers and I think I am so tired of being cold.

I bike to work and no matter what super-nice gear I wear, I arrive freezing. My hands burn. My toes are numb. There is a chilling sensation in the very core of my body that can take hours to thaw out.  I am so tired of being cold.

It’s partially my fault. I put my down jacket away last month and swore not to take it out again until next year. Then it snowed. But I have stubbornly insisted on wearing my spring jackets and lighter sweaters, determined not to let New England’s endless winter win out.

Did I mention that New England’s winter is endless? Even if I was still wearing my down jacket and my wool hat, I’d be unhappy. The temperature may jump up to the forties at mid-day but it is still damned cold outside. “You know,” Anna said, “The main thing I’ve learned so far from tracking my emotional calendar is that winter is horrible.”

The emotional calendar has lots of recommendations for what to do once you’ve learned you hate winter. You can wear nicer clothing. Drink hot chocolate. Watch movies that take place in the desert. Go skiing. Find ways to reframe winter in a more positive light.

That’s all well and good but I think there are more productive ways to handle bad weather. I think it’s time to take a hint from the birds and start travelling south. Maybe to the Carolinas. Georgia. Texas. New Mexico. South America. The Caribbean.

How far would you go to escape the cold?

Weather: 48 degrees and cloudy

Moods:
Hannah: 5 out of 10 on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. Tired.
Anna:  7.5 out of 10. It’s friday, it’s sunny, things are starting to bloom.

**Image credit to the New York Audubon.

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Ever since Daylight Saving Time in March, my energy has skyrocketed, refusing to cave under the snow and rain. Either that or I’ve magically stumbled across the perfect combination of sleep and coffee intake. Given the timing, I’m inclined to think it’s DST- and not caffeine-induced.

The extra hour of sunlight renewed my spirits, optimism, and energy. Life seems brighter, especially as I look ahead at my spring/summer calendar and start planning sandy weekends away.

Even during the winter I have plenty of energy. I don’t get home until 9:30pm many nights, get up the next morning, and do it all again—without turning into a zombie. But in the spring and summer, I’m far less likely to get frustrated by T transfers and long walks home, and less likely to shudder at the thought of a completely booked week.

Then there are my Energizer bunny friends. They possess unflagging energy year-round, energy that puts my schedule to shame. They sit on six committees, run marathons, compete in triathalons, work 12-hour days, and still maintain robust social lives. They even fit in yoga.

The difference between winter and spring, or Daylight Saving Time and the dark months preceding it, is that I’m far likelier to (attempt to) match pace with those Energizer bunny friends when it’s sunny. Which leads to my next mission: before next winter, find out what their perfect sleep/caffeine combinations are and start experimenting!

Weather: Gray skies with off-and-on rain.

Moods:

Anna – 6 out of 10 on the “so miserable I can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale.

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Back in October of 2008, at the end of the fall season of environmental education, we threw an end-of-year celebration and staff party that happened to coincide with Halloween. That was the year that I wore my most inspired costume ever: a lampshade rigged up on top of my head. Partygoers were invited to pull the cord dangling by my ear. Nothing would happen.

“Oh dear,” I’d say. “I must be burnt out!”

Speaking of burning out, I was pretty exhausted last week after an epic writing run. So I took Thursday and Friday off and put myself through a strick four-day recharging regimen.

Task One: Read a novel. I chose Swamplandia!, which I purchased even before reading all the media hype because of a loose affiliation with the author. Enjoying a luxury I haven’t taken advantage of in years, I read for two days straight, failing to leave my apartment between 5pm Thursday and 9am Saturday morning. It was total immersion in the hot, humid, mosquito-ridden Florida swamps — the perfect escape from a cold winter of writing in New England.

Task Two: Go on an adventure. The final third of Swamplandia! is a hallucinatory near-death expedition into the swamps. On Saturday I got up early and caught a train out to Ipswich, where I rode my bike out to Crane’s beach. For the first 1.5 hours it was sunny, cold, and beautiful to be walking along the beach. Then I rounded the point and found myself in the salt marshes on the windward side of the peninsula. In the wind it was bitterly cold, I was exhausted, and when I tried to find my way into the shelter of the dunes I instantly lost the trail and got lost in the hills. Sand rose up steeply around me, the wind whipped through the narrow valleys, and slick sheets of ice pooled in the depths. I felt a little bit like the thirteen year old hero of Swamplandia!, lost and exhausted in extreme conditions in otherwise familiar marshland — the precise opposite of the Florida keys.

Task Three: Recovery. I slept for eleven hours on Saturday night and woke up feeling fully refreshed. Then I opened my curtains and saw the snow piling up outside. The solution? Fresh-baked chocolate chip scones, which were remarkably easy and delicious, if I do say so myself. (I will save the recipe for a Food Friday.) These particular scones always remind me of my uncle Mike, who lives in San Jose, California. Mike’s rare visits to the east coast involved massive pillow fights at night, and chocolate chip scones in the morning. This time I shared them with a few friends for an impromptu brunch. Glorious.

Today, I’m feeling refreshed, renewed, and ready to keep writing. Even the worst weather ever can’t put me off.  Plus, I had leftover scones for breakfast.

 

Not my scones. But don't they look good?

Weather: worst day ever. Thirty six degrees and rain/sleet/horrible.

Moods:

Hannah: 7 out of 10 on the can’t get out of bed to jumping for joy scale.
Anna:  6.5 in her current caffeinated state, but she has a stressful week ahead of her. “It’s Monday. But soon it will be Thursday!”

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Early this fall, in a fit of energy, four friends and I set out on a mini road trip. Our first stop was Portland, Maine. There was a cold edge to the air, but the sun was shining, and we were thrilled to be adventuring. There was only one problem: one of our close friends and connector-extraordinaire, D., had just moved across the country. We felt her absence.

It was also clear that, if anything, this was going to be our last blast of summer. That the cold edge was quickly going to become an all-consuming freeze. And that soon enough, we’d be taking day trips to cross country ski, not eat and explore.

Over lunch, someone suggested we band together to throw a party. We could rent a space, invite friends, and convince D. to fly back for the celebration. But when? Our Google calendars were already crammed with back-to-the-grind fall events, then the holidays loomed. So we settled on the worst month of all, the month when everyone seems bored and slightly on edge: February.

Which leads me to this past weekend. Saturday night, it poured, but at the Four Winds, we took little notice—we were laughing and chattering and dancing. I (subtly) put my newly-acquired DDR moves to good use, which proved easy enough thanks to the infectious rhythms created by DJ Face. D. even hopped in a plane, flew 3,000 miles, and joined us for a night of sorely-needed good cheer.

People kept asking why or what we were celebrating. Our answer: excellent friends who make the bleakest of months seem sunny.

Weather: Blue skies and warm-ish. Hopefully the 38-degree temperature will melt the snow and prevent more roof collapses.

Moods:

Anna – 5 out of 10 on the “so miserable I can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. Back to reality.

Hannah – 4.5 out of 10. Monday.

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My downstairs neighbors must hate me. Yesterday, during a random craving for exercise, I set up my roommate’s Wii, which I’ve never played before, and tried my hand (my feet?) at Dance Dance Revolution. I flailed about the room, attempting to hit the steps, and instead kept getting booed by the Wii for my constant screw-ups. In my defense, it was not at all clear why the game never registered shakes of the left-hand controller, or the right-hand one.

Clearly, I didn’t read the instructions.

Ever since I returned from Europe, I’ve had a case of the fitness blahs.  The food in Vienna, Prague, and Berlin was heavy and oil-laden, and rarely included anything green or brightly colored. It was a relief to fill up on salads in Greece, and the fact that I drenched vegetables in olive oil—good fats!—felt healthy. Most days I spent on my feet, touring museums, exploring alleyways and side streets, or running up 500 steps to “that seemingly-close acropolis over there.”

Now that I’m back and cooped up because of the snow, I’m desperate to sweat and exert myself—not my typical impulse. The sidewalks remain treacherous and barely shoveled. The streets have been overtaken by ice mountains and funny-looking snowmen, like the one below. And running up and down the stairs in my building just doesn’t sound appealing.

Tonight I’ll try my hand at DDR again and hope my neighbors don’t complain. A gym membership now seems essential, so signing up is on my to-do list. Until then, though, what would you do if you were me?

Weather: A slushy, nasty wintry mix. Good thing Punxsutawney Phil didn’t see his shadow today.

Moods:

Anna – 5.5 out of 10 on the “so miserable I can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. Cabin fever!

Hannah – 4.5 out of 10. She’s cold, even though she has heat.

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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.

Mood:

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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This just in from my favorite science blog: “snot is mostly comprised of mucous secreted by the inflamed tissues of the nose, and dead neutrophils that swarmed in kamikazi-style to gobble up whatever bacteria or virus they could find.”

Sad but true: in the past seven days the temperature has dropped from an appalling seventy degrees to an equally appalling thirty-two. With the temperature drop has come a corresponding drop in physical well-being. I spent the whole weekend sneezing (although it didn’t keep me from loving Halloween) and Anna’s voice has been reduced to a croak. Flu season has begun.

Cold & flu season is exciting because it’s an opportunity to talk about the immune system, which I studied for The Emotional Calendar and which is actually really neat. Kevin – an immunologist, science blogger, and (full disclosure) friend – explains it better than I ever could here: it’s all T-Cells and Macrophages and suicide cells and other cool stuff.

But it’s hard to get excited about immunology when it’s 3 am, your head hurts, and you can’t breathe through your nose. November is the ugliest phase of fall. The leaves are off the trees, the sky is gray, it’s cold out, and everyone is sick. October may be a good month to channel Love Story – in November it’s all about fleeces, the world’s ugliest sweater. And of course there is the heavy anticipation of impending doom – by which I mean the rapid approach of the holiday the season.

November is a good month to stay inside and focus on something small and cozy. Like cellular biology, perhaps?

Weather: cold and cloudy. 43 degrees.

Mood:
Hannah: cold and cloudy but no longer sneezing, thank you. 5 out of 10 on the “I’m so miserable I can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale.
Anna: 7. She already voted and two people want to be her roommate!

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