November and December were unusually dry and unusually cold. Two days ago that spell snapped. It’s warmer now, and has been dumping rain. This is what it was like all winter, last winter. At this time of year I spend a lot of time thinking about Seamus Heaney’s bog poems, and especially Bogland, and especially the final line: the wet centre is bottomless. I understand what he means.
Mimi has three Mondays off school in the month of January, and today was of course one of them. Long weekends mean 50% more entertaining-of-the-child, so today we made the best of it and visited Poulsbo, an ex-Norwegian enclave on the Kitsap Peninsula.
Poulsbo’s Norwegian roots are legit. The town was Norwegian-speaking until WWII and still today has a notable number of surnames ending with -sson as well as the tallest people I’ve ever encountered, anywhere.
No surprise that there is a grocery to cater to them. This place is amazing. I am used to seeing down-to-business Asian markets; every town of any size has them. To see the same sort of thing filled with Scandinavian/Nordic fare, though? Bizarre. Start by imagining Dollar General. Now imagine it’s 1959 in a remote Norwegian fishing village. There you go. I say this with the utmost affection, by the way. I am 4.3% Scandinavian by heritage.
It’s good for a thorough poke-around every couple months, and we have developed a taste for gjetost. But I digress.
The cheese aisle. I thought I was getting the tinned butter in here, but apparently not. Today they were out of Natural Viking cheese, which is my favorite. I know I like MY Vikings natural, don’t you?
I understand that much of northern Europe loves this stuff.
The pickle aisle. Because they can pickle that.
I can’t exploit a store this way without buying something (especially not when a clerk catches me mid-snapshot and pointedly asks if I’m finding everything), so I bought some licorice. I’m 25% Dutch so I figured it should be at least 25% enjoyable.
It was not as bad as the black “licorice” jellybeans of my childhood.
You are writing this on January 10 for you to read sometime around Thanksgiving of next year. Right now you are utterly and completely overwhelmed. You were manic in the month of December. You had a breakdown on Christmas day. Since the holidays ended you have been digging as hard as you can to get yourself out from under the mountain of to-dos, many of which were neglected in favor of the holiday fervor. Suffice it to say, when put this way, this Christmas past doesn’t sound like a success.
So here are your current thoughts about it:
1. You are a Christmas freak in a family of non-Christmas-freaks. Your daughter will be a completely different person next year of course, but this year, she wasn’t into it. She doesn’t want to do things too early, so cool your jets until she’s actually on Christmas break. She doesn’t want too much stuff. She doesn’t want too many sweets. She does–brace yourself–want lots of attention and lots of experiences, so give her that. Gift giving? Try for her stocking plus three wrapped presents. You don’t even have to buy her something big; you know others will likely step up to that job, and even if they don’t, she doesn’t care.
2. Remember all those dreadful lectures about expectations and taking things as they are? Those are for you, dummy. Your kid has never in her life awoken early on Christmas morning or been eager to start opening presents. Don’t expect her to do that. Don’t expect her to be excited about sitting at the table for Christmas dinner either…and that goes for your husband, too. Don’t work hard cooking anything fancy. Just think of simple, tasty, treaty-feeling stuff that will keep everybody fed and relaxed. And those expectations? Evaluate whether asking for them as gifts would intrude on your family’s autonomy and individual enjoyment. What I mean is, when Sparks asks what you want for Christmas, consider saying “I want us to stay up late watching Rare Exports on Christmas Eve,” so he knows that you’re anticipating that, and is ready to stay up late.
3. Don’t try to schedule Christmasy activities with the kid (except The Nutcracker, because this year she was crazy about The Nutcracker). Don’t fuss about decorating cookies or a gingerbread house unless she indicates that she is ready to do it NOW. If you want to do a project like that, start doing it, and let her join if she chooses. Don’t let her boss you around and don’t you try to boss her around. You tossed a perfectly good gingerbread house kit this year because it got caught up in your power dynamics. Let. It. Go.
4. I know it sounds awful, but try to keep up with housework. Try to keep the house as tidy as possible, because Christmas goes off like a bomb. The New Year is a great time for major organizing and housecleaning, but girl, you only have so many hours in the day, and housecleaning isn’t the ONLY thing on your plate.
5. Are you still writing? Because right now you couldn’t care less about writing. Has that book sold? Because if it hasn’t, maybe you need to reevaluate the whole thing.
Just a note from the seemingly endless morass that is winter break:
It is our ninth Puddingversary. Nine years ago today I brought her home from the humane society. She was about three then so she’s about twelve now. She’s skinny and sleeps a lot, but since the great cross-country drive a year and a half ago, she has seemed like a more trusting kitty. Like that whole ordeal finally got it into her head that we’re keeping her. So in addition to the lap-sitting and toy-chasing and nap-taking, she now allows belly-scratching and picking-upping, which were strictly verboten in the early years.
Luvya, Pusskins. Hope there are many more years ahead.
This beach was the first place we began to go when we moved here. I have the pictures: us in our sandals and work clothes, spattered with Kilz primer, looking exhausted but so delighted to be here. Saltwater! Mountains! Rainforest! We can pick around this beach and find crabs, snails, starfish, seaweed, oysters, and mussels.
Now that Mimi is in school we don’t go as often. I’m still happy every time we do, though.
The winter solstice is coming on, so I made a visit to one of my very favorite places. I call it the “church in the woods,” though the placard says it’s only a theater. Whatever. I know it when I see it. It’s buried in an aspen forest on a very short bit of trail. The light in that forest is special, somehow. Golden. When you pass under that gate, you know you’re entering a different place.
I didn’t have much patience for Solstice celebrating in the Midwest. I’ve said it somewhere recently, though I don’t remember where (maybe to Sparks) that back there, you have Christmas and then you have five more months of winter. Here, on the other hand, winter is all about light. At midsummer it blazes from full sunrise by 5am to lingering dust at 10pm. Then it slips away. Bit by bit. At midwinter it isn’t full light until after 8am, and dark around 4pm. Baby, you’d better believe the Solstice means something here, and it must mean even more in the higher latitudes my northern Europeans ancestors came from.
So goodbye, Holly King. Hello, Oak King. Winter’s back will be broken by the end of January. We’ll plant radishes and lettuce in February.