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Posts Tagged ‘energy levels’

Oberlin College Campus

My college campus - three weeks a year.*

I remember as a kid visiting the Harvard University campus with my aunt, a div-school alum. We would walk past students sprawled out on patches of grass, books splayed out around them. This must be what college is like, I thought. Green grass, sunshine, and really good books.

The truth is that most of college was nothing like that at all. Most of college, as I remember it, was late nights in the basement of the library and an oppressive cloud that hung over campus, making everything monotone and miserable. College in Ohio was great for many reasons, but for most of the year, weather wasn’t one of them.

The only exception was the last three weeks of the spring semester. Unlike Massachusetts, where the spring arrives slowly and hesitantly, in Ohio the warm weather comes all at once. One day it’s forty degrees and raining. The next day, it’s seventy degrees and sunny, there are flowers on the trees, and the smell of summer is in the air. On Friday afternoon in spring, student DJs would set up on the lawn and the student union would bring out coolers full of beer. It was good enough to erase all memories of winters past and convince you to return the following year.

Today is the first really warm day of the year: the sun is out, and the temperature is somewhere in the seventies. Generally I prefer the cooler New England springs to their Ohioan counterparts, and I don’t really miss being a student. But on days like this, I always feel nostalgic for my college years. I find myself filled with a sudden desire to abandon my responsibilities, find a good book, and lie out in the sun.

Weather: Technically, only 66 degrees.

Moods:
Hannah: 7 out of 10 on the ‘can’t get out of bed’ to ‘jumping for joy’ scale. loving the warm weather.
Anna:  6. She’s happy about the sun. Less happy about the amount of work she has to do.

*Photo credit to ideastream.org, from an article about marketing.

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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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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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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.

Mood:
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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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.

Mood:

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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