Winter & Brunswick, Maine

I decided to board an Amtrak train to Brunswick, Maine. This was months ago, just when New England seemed to be at the peak of an already long and cold winter. There was an opportunity to tour one of the most elite colleges in the country. We’d heard things about this place: the campus is small but charming, the food is phenomenal, there’s an Arctic museum on the grounds. And because we all seemed to be suffering from cabin fever, we booked a hotel across the street from the school and called it our Winter 2019 Family Vacation.


Matt decided to drive to Brunswick where he would meet us at the station while Elle and I hopped on board the northbound Downeaster express. The route took us through Old Orchard Beach, Portland, alongside the L.L. Bean flagship store in Freeport, and along the coast. From our huge windows we saw Ferris wheels, frozen rivers, and the ocean. It spit us out right in the center of downtown Brunswick. Admittedly, Brunswick is small. And it was cold. Not Brunswick’s fault. But the town’s smallness was much appreciated by those of us traveling on foot. Not so far to go to get to where you’re going.

The college tour was cold, of course. Led by a sophomore government major in a miniskirt. She’s from Montana and therefore immune to winters. And I, while not even close to being immune to winters, am starting to find all things beautiful in these icy cold climates. I dream of visiting Newfoundland and consider risking seasickness in order to seek out puffin colonies on the North Atlantic coast. Iceberg spotting from Twilingate. Sighting auroras from the shores of the Labrador Sea. Eating a proper Scotch egg made by a Nova Scotian. These kinds of things.




Yet the closest I’ve been to any of these places is Brunswick. Our feet were frozen and raw from the walk around town. I got to touch a narwhal tusk. We ate delicious food.


Back in 2016 Malcolm Gladwell trashed Bowdoin College for spending more money on their dining services (they consistently rank #1 in best college food) than on providing financial aid packages for low-income students. It’s an unfair assessment on how Bowdoin spends their endowment and generates funding for its stellar dining options. And would you know we opted not to eat at the college. Why? Because we’re a bunch of idiots and we just wanted to go home after a long, cold day on campus. Tired, cold idiots. Nobody thinks rationally when they’re tired and cold.

The good news is Elle graduated an entire year early, so the chances that we’ll get to take another tour around Bowdoin are good.  I’m totally going to eat on campus and I’m totally only taking another tour during the non-winter months.


We drove home together the very next day. The Amtrak train ride to Brunswick was a practice run of sorts. We’d just recently found out my brother was getting married in Orlando in April. My husband wasn’t sure he’d be able to go, conflicting schedules and all. And I certainly wasn’t going to drive from New England to Central Florida without him. Flying? Out of the question.

That’s next…

Arctic Scenes

A couple of years ago I read a line from Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic, that said “Only boring people are bored.” Or something like that. Then Betty Draper said it to her son after suggesting he go bang his head against a wall. Why would she say that? He said he was bored. I’m not sure I totally believe that only boring people are bored, but the saying has certainly stuck with me.

During one of my worst bouts of unexplained jaw pain, I found myself increasingly unable to concentrate on reading. That’s my favorite thing to do – read. I read everything. Magazines. Novels. Essays. Short stories. Historical accounts. Nonfiction tomes. Cookbooks. Shampoo bottles. Brochures for outlet malls. Everything. But it’s difficult to pay attention when your mouth, your jaws, are in constant pain. I had to find an activity to do, something that required much more concentration and a lot less just sitting there. Unable to read, unprepared to bake, unwilling to clean, I became bored.

So I picked up a paintbrush. After my first painting I realized I hadn’t even acknowledged the pain in my jaws. For hours. HOURS. I did it again. It worked again. It worked in the way that I was either able to focus on something other than my misery or I was actually able to relax a bit. It turns out my jaw joints are completely void of any cushioning. My inability to deal with stress and anxiety have taken their toll, but it seems I’ve found a temporary solution in painting.

As a kid, my mother tried to teach me how to crochet. But we are opposite-handed and our teacher-learner dynamic is explosive, at times, so my little kid self probably threw a tantrum at not being able to do it the way I wanted to and promptly refused to try again. (I have since tried again and still find it utterly confusing.) Drawing, sculpting, jewelry-making are all free forms of creativity, all things I preferred to do. Just like painting. Painting without rules keeps me from being in pain and, according to Liz Gilbert and Betty Draper, it also keeps me from being bored, and, subsequently, from being boring.

I used only watercolors up until the beginning of October. That’s when I splurged on a $5 acrylic painter starter kit at Michaels. Aside from being consistently anxious, I’m also consistently frugal. When I agree to dip my toes into the waters of NEW THINGS, I rarely invest a lot of money. Therefore I had to actually talk myself into it. And now I can undoubtedly say I much prefer acrylic painting and I’m considering buying individual tubes of paint (that will very likely cost more than $5 each). A cheap investment that paid off, in my book.

Since early October, I’ve painted three outdoor scenes with acrylics. I’ll happily show you two of them (that third one will never see the light of day…eek!). There is an obvious connection between the two, both of them being arctic in nature. When I painted the Northern lights, I was just learning how to read weather alerts regarding solar storms. Just before this, I had even convinced my husband to drive to the shores of Lake Erie with me to see if the lights would appear on our north coast horizon. Sadly, they didn’t. We had a fun night anyway, and got to experience some Great Lakes nightwatching complete with stars, incoming clouds, and far-off lighthouse beacons.

And last night, I found myself watching Alaska: The Last Frontier and so was inspired again to try another Arctic scene: this time Baffin Island. A photographer I follow (through her blog and on Instagram) posts some of the most beautiful images on Earth from her polar expeditions. Between her photo of Sunneshine Fjord and the Kilcher’s up-close encounter with a calving glacier, I find myself looking forward to a possible trip far outside of my usual latitudes.


I’m quite pleased with them both.

So as I finish up my master’s thesis, I will probably be relying on these acrylics to help me come down from the muscle-tensing work that is writing. Hunched over, jaws clenched, writing, thinking, working, trying to find the right order of things with which to please a team of anonymous expert readers who have no idea who I am. This isn’t even a case of “writing for your audience.” They’re complete strangers, which just adds to the anxiety.

Soon, though, it will all be over. By then, winter will be fully upon us here in Cleveland. The lake effect snow, the La Nina weather pattern that threatens our forecast with deeper chills and heavier snow, our fireplace in all its blazing glory. I’m still waiting for those Lake Erie icebergs. I’m still waiting for a solar storm powerful enough to drive the Northern lights down to me. Until then, I will read and paint. Read and paint. Read and paint. And I won’t be bored.


The Beginning of Winter

There is a part of me that will always love snow, and it’s obviously a part of me I didn’t even know existed. The first snow we had here at the new house just made the whole place look so different. The entire yard changed into something new. Everything was quiet. The creek was no longer hidden by the dark canopy of trees. In fact, it was the one thing that really seemed to stick out.

First snowfall. Front yard. This place could make me like winter. #neohio #home #creek #snow



We are cold, no doubt. But it’s not unbearably cold. Yet. There is no wind like the Oklahoma wind, or else our temperatures here in Northeast Ohio would be unbearably cold. But I’m sure that’s coming. All in due time. Blizzards. Lake effect snow. Icebergs on Erie. The snow sticks are out. The neighbors have fled to South Florida. Preparations are in full swing. One afternoon, I counted four snowplows on the road just in the three miles between my house and work. There wasn’t any snow in the forecast, but it’s nice to know they are out there.

Hot tea is a constant. Candles are lit throughout the house. My husband picked up a tiny living tree at the town grocer to decorate for Christmas. It sits atop the wine rack where the blind dog can’t run into it and get lost. She still seems confused sometimes in the new house. I strung white twinkling lights across our stair bannister leading up to the bedrooms. The next day, half of them stopped twinkling. Later, that same half just stopped working altogether. But the half that works is so darn pretty. Our space heater, designed to look like a tiny wood stove, adds ambience to the unfinished living room. I’m getting by so far with my own half-assed version of hygge.

From our front window we watch the squirrels pick through what falls from the bird feeder. I haven’t had a chance to learn a single local wintering bird. Nuthatches? Finches? Orioles? I recognize a cardinal or a blue jay, but those little tiny things that flutter around all over the yard? No clue. The squirrels are gray, although some are black. Probably half of them are black. It’s a dominant trait, the black fur. A few black squirrels were released from a Kent State University lab years and years ago, and their coloring only occurs in certain areas. Like mine! I don’t think I could ever get tired of seeing black squirrels.

We also have a pair of barrel owls who live in our front yard trees. I know there are two because they talk to each other, but I’ve only ever seen one at a time. His name is Owlbert. Whichever one I see at any given time, his name is Owlbert. I don’t know what I would do if I ever saw them both at the same time. And I only have one cool owl name at the moment, so Owlbert it is.

Ice Storm

To call Oklahoma’s weather inconsistent is an understatement. In fact, a friend of mine recently called Oklahoma’s weather “a bipolar bitch.” It makes total sense if you live here. That our Thanksgiving weekend ice storm was topped off with a 4.5 earthquake came as no surprise. At this point we Oklahomans expect seismic activity to bring down the curtain on all of our major weather events. Are you familiar with the term quakenado? Of course it’s a real thing. Why wouldn’t it be? It’s Oklahoma.

We woke up early Saturday morning to the strange quiet of a power outage. After crawling out of bed, we puttered around the house unsure of what to do once we realized nothing works without power. Elle decided to do some drawing. Matt decided to do some gaming on his phone. I decided to put on two pairs of pants, three shirts, a scarf, hat, and fingerless gloves just so I could crawl back under the flannel sheets of my bed and read. It was 52 degrees inside the house.

Nena’s, a restaurant only a block away, provided us with power, heat, lights, and a filling breakfast. Nobody really wanted to go home after that, but where else could we go? We had already driven down streets on which power lines and whole trees had come down, stressed to their limits from the weight of all the ice. So back at home, we lit our gas stove to heat up a kettle of water for hot chocolate. Then Elle and I bundled up and stood on the porch where we watched neighborhood trees fall and listened to transformers explode. We used to do this back in Florida when a hurricane was blowing through. It’s pretty much the same here – only colder.

The dogs couldn’t play or pee outside unattended for three days. To have one get hit by a broken tree limb, a melting chunk of ice, or a snapped live electrical wire in our yard was just too risky to let them out alone. This past weekend was a test of everyone’s patience, and all the dogs’ bladders.

We were the lucky ones, however, who got our power back by Saturday afternoon. Our neighbors behind us just got theirs restored yesterday. Others have had to wait an entire week. The street is flanked on both sides by the remains of downed trees and various limbs, but everything has returned to normal. For the next few days, my husband will be doing the majority of our yard work with a chainsaw. And tonight we enjoyed the hot tub again with no more fear that the pecan tree would collapse onto our heads, drowning us both in a spectacular fashion. Believe me, I was so cold at one point that I still considered risking a dip in the hot tub…while wearing my husband’s motorcycle helmet, of course. You know, just in case.





Cabin Fever

We fell asleep last night knowing some kind of snow event was heading our way. The few inches we were expecting to come this afternoon actually fell overnight. Getting out of bed this morning was a little easier than usual because the ugliness of winter was (and still is!) covered by a nice blanket of white. Even though I’ve spent most of this winter holed up inside my house, it turns out I like snow a lot. I like snow about as much as I hate winter. Since it’s apparent I can’t have the one without the other, I’m learning the art of compromise here.

I decided to head out to nearby Will Rogers Park. While I have been there many times before, I have never visited the park after a fresh and clean snowfall. Getting there wasn’t easy, but my multiple attempts to go back home failed when my vehicle continued driving straight even though I was trying to turn! I didn’t want to tempt fate and, yes, I felt like this was fate telling me to get out of the house. So I kept going.

It was obvious to me once I arrived that I was not the first one there. I didn’t mind. There were still plenty of paths and trails that were free of footprints. And everything was really, really quiet.








The sun was peeking out of the clouds by the time I left the park, so the streets were actually in better shape. Funny, I’d only been there for little more than half an hour, but it just goes to show you how quickly the weather changes here in Oklahoma. And with that, we’re expecting two more winter storms to hit by Friday.


I have recently started volunteering at the 45th Infantry Division Museum here in Oklahoma City. The museum houses an overwhelming display of war memorabilia, including personal items that once belonged to Adolf Hitler as well as a variety of weapons from every war ever fought by Americans (especially Native Americans). In order to help me learn more, I plan to research and write about some of the items on display and accompany the posts with photographs.



That’s Venus up there in the sky, all 864º of it (that’s in Fahrenheit, folks). Venus, currently an evening star, is sometimes called Earth’s twin, though I don’t know why. They’re nothing alike. There is no water, the air is toxic, and any spacecraft that have successfully landed on the surface have been crushed by Venusian atmospheric pressure.

It’s pretty harmless from here, though.

During my first-ever semester in college, waaaay back when Pluto was still a planet, I took an astronomy course at Andrews Air Force Base and it was taught by a professor who worked at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. It was the first time I’d ever heard of people being made out of stardust. And because many of my classmates were full-time military personnel, we had a lot of discussions about aliens, UFOs, and the possibility of life on other planets. (Military bases are always a favorite tourist stop for outer-spacemen.)

My professor had a theory about our solar system and human evolution. He believed, in a way that makes scientist work so feverishly to discover things, that humans have lived on other planets before. We’ve simply destroyed them with our greedy, unsustainable ways. Luckily for us, and unluckily for the remaining planets, our always evolving abilities to create (dys)functioning governments and technological wonders have allowed for humans to continue colonizing other planets just in time to save ourselves from extinction. Earth today. Mars tomorrow. Maybe even Venus one day. Last and First Men, anyone?

We never brought up religion in this class. At least, if it was mentioned, I can’t remember it being a hindrance to the lively conversations we had about stardust, interplanetary metro transit, or the Martian economy.


Venus will eventually fade away from the night sky as the December days fall into January. Before you know it, it will be a morning star. The planet will soon be only 27 million miles away, still a fairly safe distance from here, and you’ll have to wake up nearly an hour before sunrise to spot it. Enjoy it while you can.


Kiddo's first time sledding! #oklahomacity #okc #winter #snow #snowklahoma #sledding

  • I submitted my 35-page in-depth bachelor’s thesis to University of Oklahoma a few days early, in anticipation of sledding all weekend with my family, and got this response from my advisor: “I’d recommend expanding it as a book and publishing it. It’s wonderful.” I’ll talk about my thesis in another post, when I’m feeling less flu-ey.
  • Yes, flu-ey. I was stricken with some kind of pestilence and couldn’t even walk into the kitchen without being exhausted by the entire ten-step journey. Fever-induced comas/naps were plentiful. P.S. All hail Mucinex and tissues with lotion.
  • While I missed out on the sledding event, I’m happy to have married such a wonderful man who was willing to take our daughter sledding with her best friend. It was the first time for both girls.
  • After a recent animated Facebook discussion with our friends about whether or not one should eat in the bed (I’m in favor of it, my husband is not), Matt made me a bowl of maple oatmeal and a mug of earl grey tea then served it to me for breakfast…in bed. He’s a catch, ladies.
  • The Apple TV wasn’t working in the bedroom all weekend so I was subjected to horrible network comedies and hokey family dramas on Trinity Broadcast Network, or, as I like to call it, the Jesus Channel.
  • Noontime on Saturdays is one of my favorite times of the week. The city’s tornado siren network runs a drill and my dogs howl like there’s no tomorrow. Chimay is the best at it. See the video here. She really is good.
  • Ten minutes later I experienced MY FIRST EARTHQUAKE! A 4.5, according to the USGS. The walls creaked, pictures rattled, I squealed like a kid on Christmas morning, and Elle was unimpressed. What is wrong with her?
  • Bedlam. BOOMER!
  • I dreamed about pizza on Friday night and my husband ordered some on Saturday. I dreamed about Cinnabon on Saturday night and my husband bought me some on Sunday. Matt spent his entire weekend cooking, cleaning, and taking care of disgusting me, the kid, and three dogs. See, ladies – my husband is a catch. I ate neither the pizza nor the Cinnabon in bed, though. I know not to push my luck.

Winter Arsenal

Do the accidents of our births mean we can’t feel hiraeth—only homesickness?” Pamela Petro wrote those words in her essay “Dreaming in Welsh“. I’ve just come across this new word – hiraeth. It’s Welsh and has no English translation. To hear it spoken is a kind of ear candy.hiraeth

The way Petro writes about hiraeth is almost like she’s describing it as a hex, as a curse. “I’m American, but I have a hiraeth on me for Wales.” For someone such as myself who has spent so many years feeling this unbearable feeling of homesickness, I was liberated the moment this word presented itself to me last night. Homesickness is so juvenile, it seems. It’s so sleepaway-camp-like. I’m too old for that. Besides, I have never been able to pinpoint where it is exactly that I want to be or where I belong, for that matter.

Yesterday morning, though, before all this talk about hiraeth, I was dreading the upcoming wintery forecast. Snow, ice, freezing rain. I was as prepared as one can be for the next few days of cold and gray (called brumous – another one of my new words). My Vitamin D, my SAD lamp, my books about Norse goddesses and their love affairs with the seasonal moons. They’re all there in my winter arsenal, the only weaponry I can think of at a time like this.

Instead of having breakfast, I grabbed a cup of coffee and started thinking about Upper Michigan, my childhood. (I don’t miss childhood, I just miss the time in my life when things weren’t so disheartening, which goes back to my earliest years in the north.) Those thoughts tend to lead to other thoughts, thoughts like fishing for smelt with my dad in the Dead River, sticky sap on my mittens, the peninsula’s mining industry*. (I don’t know why the mining industry weighs so heavily on my mind, but there has been some serious controversy happening up that way. Besides, iron ore pellets are very special to me. I have my reasons.)

Before I knew it, the snowflakes were coming down hard and fast here in Oklahoma City. These weren’t the kind of snowflakes a seasoned winterling would scoff at, either. These were serendipitous snowflakes, the big and fat kind that I’m convinced were falling from the sky just for me. They were accumulating softly in some places and freezing into dangerously icy piles in others. I found myself feeling very strange about the whole thing, too. This swelling of, dare I say, contentment (?) was forming inside of me. I smiled. I laughed about it. I was wholly confused by my behavior.

Then my husband suggested we go outside and enjoy the big, fat snowflakes from the warmth of our steamy hot tub. So we did. And it was the most fun I’ve had in a very, very, very long time. In fact, for a few moments I was so happy that I thought I would cry.

We stared up at the grayness of the sky (the brumous!) past the bare limbs of our backyard trees. Nearby a neighbor had lit a fire. The air was perfectly chilled and the scent of burning wood permeated all around. I am not too embarrassed to admit that I pretended I was back up in the big north woods, just for a little bit. I had to. I have a hiraeth on me for the place. The snowy woods, the sticky sap, the scented pines, the bears, the wolves, the Northern Lights.

And so I’ve added this hiraeth to my winter arsenal. Finally, it has a name.

*My mind is like fun house sometimes. There is a (likely) malfunctioning and (seemingly) boundless train of thought that can go in a million different directions, and often does. It’s exhausting.

The Beginning of Something

I wrote an essay a few years ago that kind of knocked my socks off. That doesn’t happen often – knocking my own socks off – but it’s happened a handful of times in my life. They are especially good moments for me. I use them mostly as a way to remind myself to get off my duff and do something (or, in this case, get on my duff and write something).

My memories of growing up in Upper Michigan pretty much wrote that essay on their own. I remembered in detail the hill in the deep woods, the snow that shook off the windblown pine trees, that frozen lake we stupidly walked across. When I wrote the essay I didn’t remember everyone who was there, but now I can remember Heather and Tammy. Tammy’s family was from Georgia and she talked like one of the Sugarbakers from Designing Women. We were only in the fourth grade but that southern accent of hers made her seem very worldly to me. I had only ever grown up around people who talked like they were from Northern Wisconsin and the U.P., because they were.  Anyway, her dad kept a bottle of peppermint schnapps in their winter coat closet. The four of us huddled inside that tiny closet and took sips of it, straight out of the bottle.

Back here in Oklahoma this morning, far away from Gwinn, Michigan, I woke to a wind chill of 15 degrees. This after having been lulled to sleep by last night’s blustery winds. Winter is officially here and I’m not horrified by the feel of it all, either. Strangely enough, this morning’s venture out into the freezing cold is what prompted me to think back on that bottle of peppermint schnapps. The biting winds helped me remember the red scarf I wore that day twenty-five years ago. I had red mittens, too, and a knit hat with a pom on top.

Maybe this winter while the temperatures fall and the snow blows in, I can get back to writing about those stupid, stupid girls on the ice. And I always relied on scent to bring back old, forgotten memories. Whodathunkit? I’ll certainly try to use winter to my advantage this year.