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December 23, 2005

Merry Yule Tide

Ahh, the sweet holiday season: when people frantically rush about and purchase gifts calculatingly or generously. This year, like most, I am an amused bystander to the Christmas tradition. No matter how many people tell me it is no longer a secular holiday, I just can't get excited. Purchasing or making presents for everyone I care about is just too overwhelming. This probably stemmed from a few painful childhood memories regarding learning how to give and receive. That combined with a family that only celebrated the holiday intermittently, I am all too happy to watch others participate while maintaining my equanimity and distance. We celebrated Channukah a bit more frequently but since it is a minor jewish holiday, usually I just call my grandmother.

Not that the holidays don't affect my life. This weekend I am house and dogsitting for friends; the store where I work is busier than ever as people go all out to impress loved ones and relations. And of course I can't help but notice the sales, decorations, and parades that go on around town.

A bit more importantly is the solstice because as a car-free person I am very affected by the weather. I am always relieved when we make through the darkest part of winter and though the cold shall keeping coming, the days will get lighter and longer.

Thankfully, it is easy for me to view these religious holidays as I viewed Diwali with my Indian friends and Ramadan with my Muslim ones: Happy (belated) Solstice, Merry Christmas and Happy Channukah to all who celebrate.

December 21, 2005

Worldly Tips

It was a little less than a year and a half ago that my grandfather asked me about my plans after graduation. I outlined some grand schemes involving several different countries and possible futures. He chuckled about how small the world is for my generation. Now here it is a little later than a year after he died and I have hardly left the (lovely) state of Minnesota. Despite my homeliness I have a reputation to keep – so how does a girl keep up appearances of worldliness when she hasn't got the time, money, or follow-through to actually visit the world? Well I haven't let my accidental self-grounding go to waste; here are a few tips I have learned:

How to keep up appearances of worldliness despite contrary facts:

  • Always plan to be going somewhere – regardless of how likely it is to come true. The more places you plan on going the better. Six months ago had so many travel plans for this winter – either a return trip to India, a jaunt through Ethiopia with a native friend or a joining another friend for a family reunion on Reunion Island off the east coast of Madagascar. Does it matter that none of these journeys materialized? Only to me.

  • Interject experiences you have had in foreign countries in every conversation possible. If you can't be there now, you may as well talk about it now. Ignore glazed and rolling eyes – they are just jealous!

  • Listen to music from as many different countries as possible.

  • Read the internationally news religiously – especially pay attention to news about countries where you have been, or know people who are currently there. Talk about said news with anyone who will listen and be sure to mention your friends and/or experiences.

  • If anyone asks you about your travels to a specific country, be vague and downplay them. This display of false modesty and ignorance makes you seem even more worldly and wise!

  • Discuss the U.N. government as if it were more important and had more authority than your own government.

  • When other worldly friends talk about travel plans, both past and future, always listen attentively, ask intelligent questions and never appear jealous. Your turn will come one of these days, honest!

  • Always be polite and don't look down on people who haven't been able to travel abroad – at least to their face. When talking with other worldly people it is perfectly acceptable to say "everyone should leave their home country at least once," and then sigh exasperatedly at all the ignorant local yokels.

  • Keep practicing your second language and always act like you speak one more language than you actually do.

  • Read books by authors from as many different countries as possible.

  • Always seek out other well-traveled people at parties and make conversation about the various places you have been, even if this puts all other guests to sleep.

  • If anyone expresses interest in going anywhere always volunteer to go with him/her.

  • When you meet people who have been to places you haven't, quiz them as if you were leaving for that destination next week.

  • Look down on the way your government runs things, but get really defensive if anyone questions your patriotism.

  • Watch movies from other countries as much as possible.

  • Wear clothing and jewelry bought in other countries and be sure to mention where you bought the item if anyone compliments you.

  • Above all else, understand that you may be stuck in this god-forsaken (err, I mean beautiful and democratic) cultural hell-hole (err – opportunity for personal growth) for all eternity so be thankful for your past experiences!

December 20, 2005

Ack Climate

A quick search shows plenty of information regarding acclimatization during short periods of time - but what about long term? I heard once that it takes three generations before humans adapt to high altitudes but I haven't seen any scientific data to back that claim. On the other hand, I do have plenty of personal anecdotes. It seems to take me a varying amount of time to acclimate - almost none when I first moved here nine years ago. However, it isn't until my second winter here since I returned that I finally feel comfortable with the cold.

Recently our local weatherman posted a few reasons Minnesotans have weather bragging rights:

  • July is the only month that snow has not been reported somewhere in Minnesota
  • You would have to travel to Siberia to find greater extremes in temperature and moisture - we range from -60 to 114 in the shade.
  • The State experiences an average of 25 to 40 days a year that are potentially "life threatening," with warnings issued for blizzards, ice, floods, tornadoes, extreme heat and humidity, and lightening.

The last couple days the highs have been in the single digits, the lows in the negative numbers - and that isn't counting the wind chill. Nonetheless, I have loved the weather. The cold on my face and fingers feels cold and refreshing. The chill of my pants against my legs is invigorating. For some reason, no matter how cold my extremities get, I still feel warm inside. Inhaling the frigid air only reminds me of how warm and alive I am.

It was a switch that turned on last week. Just ten days ago during the previous cold snap, I felt chilled to the bone every day. I would go outside and continue freezing for a half hour after I returned in doors. I would shiver while walking home couldn't shake the cold unless our thermostat was up to seventy; even that didn't work at times. Yet there was a warm spell (in the twenties and thirties) and when the cold returned, it didn't bother me.

I feel fortunate because there are people who never acclimate to the cold and I hear that as you get older sometimes you can get more sensitive as well. I always scoffed at that until this winter when I experienced it first hand. Hopefully I won't ever have to go through that again.