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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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Although for me summer began as soon as I could ditch my coat and sweater every morning, it’s official start is today, the summer solstice. Many people mark the year’s “longest” day — the day when we in the Northern hemisphere experience the lengthiest period of sunlight all year — but my favorite celebratory ritual is a fictional account from I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (best known for The Hundred and One Dalmatians).

On the morning of Midsummer Day, the narrator, Cassandra, closets herself in the attic of her family’s crumbling castle and reflects on the rites she and her sister, Rose, traditionally perform each June 21:

“Yesterday I instantly remembered that it was Midsummer Eve, my very favorite day, and lay awake looking forward to it and planning my rites on the mound. They seemed all the more valuable because I wondered if it might not be my last year for them — I didn’t feel as if it would, but Rose outgrew them when she was about my age. And I agree with her that it would be dreadful to perform them just as an affected pose; they were a bit peculiar last year when Topaz [her freewheeling stepmother] kindly assisted me and went very pagan. The nicest times of all were when Rose and I were young enough to feel rather frightened.”

In this year of transition, Cassandra is celebrating Midsummer without her sister, and so she gathers wild flowers, braids campion and bluebells into a garland, and weaves roses into her hair alone. Then, as the church bells ring nine times, she piles twigs on top of logs and ceremoniously lights them on fire with a taper. Only when “the whole world [seems] filled with hissing and crackling and roaring,” does Cassandra carry out the ritual and dance and leap around the sacred fire — but this Midsummer she’s joined by an unexpected guest.

Midsummer bonfire in Mäntsälä, Finland. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

I’ve never marked the start of summer in quite the same way, but I like the idea of pausing to reflect on the seasonal transition. I have, however, been to a Swedish Midsummer party with garlands and cake and a feast. Maybe next time I’ll suggest a bonfire.

Weather: Gorgeous, sun-filled day with a temperature around 80 degrees. Currently, a lovely summer night.

Moods:

Anna – 7.5 out of 10. Summer has returned and with it, my energy!

Hannah – Perhaps hiking over sacred mounds or enjoying a roaring campfire. I’m imagining the possibilities…

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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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The walk from the T to my apartment isn’t terrible. It’s not great either. I live 12 minutes away from the nearest station and the walk never feels long when I’m on my way to work, but returning from an evening event, it can seem treacherous. If there’s one thing that keeps me from going out at night, it’s that 12-minute walk back to my apartment, along the cold, dark, and not particularly well-lit sidewalks of Somerville. I can deal with the time spent on the dysfunctional green, orange, and red lines. Not the thought of The Late-Night Walk.

Last night I had yet another meeting in the financial district. I stayed put after it officially ended, throwing around ideas and getting updates from friends. Then I picked up a tray of sandwiches that were going to be abandoned unless I gave them a home in my empty refrigerator, realized I had left my heavy scarf at work, and darted out of the building into the depths of South Station, emerging 30 minutes later in Cambridge, still carrying my unwieldy sustenance-laden tray. Then I set out on The Late-Night Walk.

Without my scarf, the wind was biting. And given the tray, I couldn’t exactly fold into myself to conserve heat. So I hurried along, checking my surroundings, jumping over patches of ice, and thinking “almost there” until I was, indeed, almost home. Then the wind whipped up. For an instant, I tensed, anticipating the moment when the wind would take all the wind out of my lungs, leaving me breathless. Instead, the cold air entered the collar of my coat—unfortified without my scarf—and rushed down the front of my body, escaping at the bottom of my zipper.

Instead of discomfort, the chill triggered a surge of energy. Of exhilaration. And rather than shivering and gulping air, I ran forward, full of wind-induced vigor, happy to almost be home.

Weather: Cold, but blue skies. This morning at 7:30am it was 11 degrees. But it felt like

-15 with wind-chill.

Moods:

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

Hannah – 7 out of 10. Unreasonably  happy.

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Rating our moods and matching them with a description of the weather was somewhat of an afterthought when Hannah and I started Ditch the Umbrella. We began with a looser formulation of what we wanted this blog to be about, and that mainly relied on self-reflection. But as we’ve written before, it can be difficult to balance insightful stories, impressions, memories, and emotions, and personal privacy. We have no desire to become constant over-sharers.

The mood rating has done a funny thing over time. First, we found ourselves seemingly-endlessly happy. Then we realized our scale must have been slightly off because we rarely judged ourselves to be middling 5’s. We made a course correction and started looking at general patterns.

Ever since it’s become cold and snowy, our moods have dropped. I’ve shed about two points from my summer/fall ratings, and Hannah’s have also decreased slightly. What had originally been an afterthought has actually provided us with a (slightly) more objective view of ourselves over time. And while last winter I didn’t take note of any mood drops, I also wasn’t on the lookout for them.

For me, summer is a time of freedom and exploration, sand dunes and salt water, and friends and weekends in seaside towns. In summer, it’s not at all uncommon for me to walk more than 5 miles, exploring the city and meeting with people. In the winter, I’m much more likely to stay in, watch a movie, and hibernate. Last winter, though, I explored the joys of the season, discovered cross country skiing, and rekindled my love for figure skating.

Somehow, though, I haven’t managed to get to the Weston Ski Track yet this year, and I’ve only skated once. We’ve been hit by storm after storm and I seem to go to meeting after meeting. By the time the weekend arrives, I’m ready to relax, not explore. That adventuresome part of my personality seems to retreat.

Now that I better understand these nuances, I am going to:

  • Join a gym and/or generally increase physical fitness. (Endorphins, yay!)
  • Schedule at least one weekend day in advance.
  • Leave one weekend day less structured. Sleep. Read. Relax. Undertake spontaneous adventures.
  • Play jazz. Loudly.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables (even though winter tomatoes regularly disappoint).
  • Go cross country skiing!

I welcome other suggestions.

Note: I may have to add trampoline dodgeball to my list.

Weather: Sunny, blue skies. 34 degrees.

Moods:

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

Hannah – 5 out of 10. Tired.

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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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Three years ago this week I was in the Grand Canyon!

Actually, three years ago this week my life was flashing before my eyes as I tried to swallow my fear (and my pride) and slide across a frozen waterfall over a 15-foot drop at the Grand Canyon.

Yesterday was possibly the worst day ever. It was gray out and preparing to snow and it felt like one in a long line of gray days that extended not just since winter began, but across all Januaries past and future.

And then today, the sun is shining, and I’m thinking about the Grand Canyon. I went there at the end of a poorly planned trip across the country with my then-boyfriend. A few days before I left there was a snowstorm just like yesterday, and I wrote an e-mail to a friend: driving across the country is the worst idea I’ve ever had.

Then the snowstorm ended and the sun came out. I drove north to Maine between glistening piles of snow on freshly-plowed roads. I wrote an e-mail to the same friend: this is the most gorgeous place I’ve ever been. The next day I headed west. A week later, the sun was shining and I was in the Grand Canyon.

I’m not in Maine today, or in the Grand Canyon. But the sun is shining on fresh piles of snow and even though I’m sitting at the same desk as yesterday, I’m filled suddenly with a sense of adventure. Today, I’m thinking, anything could happen. I could leap over a melting waterfall above a 15-foot drop. I could write a really brilliant chapter for the book I’m working on. I could make bread.

I made bread.

I guess I can’t go on an adventure every time a storm ends and the sun comes out. But it’s nice to remember the things that are possible. And it’s nice, after a month of storms, to have a beautiful day.

When I lived in Maine I used to recite a Robert Frost poem to my students that begins like this:

Happiness Makes Up in Height for What It Lacks in Length

Oh, stormy stormy world,
The days you were not swirled
Around with mist and cloud,
Or wrapped as in a shroud,
And the sun’s brilliant ball
Was not in part or all
Obscured from mortal view—
Were days so very few
I can but wonder whence
I get the lasting sense
Of so much warmth and light.

Weather:
32 degrees and sunny!

Moods:
Hannah 7 out of 10 on the can’t get out of bed to jumping for joy scale.
Anna: 6 out of 10 and much better than yesterday, which was a 2! (our worst ever – sorry anna.)

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Yesterday, at about 7 o’clock am, Somerville caught on fire.

I was walking to the gym, pushing my way through sidewalks heaped high with snow (and leaping over the occasional puddle or slick of ice) when the sun suddenly slipped over the horizon and Wednesday’s snowstorm turned brilliant in the reflected light. The trees, already frosted with snow, turned pink. I looked east down the major avenue by my house and the Boston skyline spread out before me. It was beautiful.

As a kid, sunrises were the sign of a special event. On family vacations we would all get up in the pitch black, blearily dress and pile our luggage into the car and drive off to our destination, hoping to evade the rush-hour traffic. I remember waking up in the back seat, wrapped in a blanket, and watching the sun rise over the highway. I remember feeling its warmth on my face and realizing that I was on my way to an adventure.

As an adult, I have become a sunrise chaser. I’ve caught sunrises at the Galilee in Israel and over the pampas in Argentina; I’ve driven recklessly down one-way streets in search of an eastern horizon on St. Croix, USVI. One all-time favorite memory involves climbing a mountain in the dark and the rain with a fellow sunrise chaser. Our purpose was to catch the sunrise over San Martin de Los Lagos, in the foothills of the Andes Mountains. We sat down on a rock overlooking the lake and pulled out a thermos of hot tea that we had lugged up for the occasion – only to realize that it was raining. There was no visible sunrise at all.

But yesterday’s sunrise was special because I didn’t have to chase it at all. It caught me unaware and, beautiful in itself, reminded me of so many beautiful sunrises past.

It also alerted me to the fact that the days are getting longer. Morning is a half-hour earlier than it was in December. I know January feels long and cold but at least I know that things are getting brighter from here.

Weather: 20 degrees and so gray you can’t tell the snow from the sky.

Mood:
Hannah: 6 out of 10 on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. Looking forward to a sleepy weekend indoors.
Anna: Is in Athens. it’s 55 degrees and sunny and she is most likely sitting in front of the parthenon and drinking a glass of wine before dining on olives, lamb, stuffed grape leaves, and other delicious things.

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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

Mood:

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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