January. proper noun. The first month of the year; also known as the month in which we get 12 inches of snow in one day and don’t even get a snow day out of the deal. (I’m not bitter. Not at all.)
December is such a trickster.
The holiday season feels so cheery and cozy. I actually believe that I can do the whole winter thing. It’s not so bad! I’m a hearty Minnesotan of the “bold north”! I will hygge my way through these cold dark days! My beliefs that summer is the only worthwhile season might change!
Under the twinkling glow of Christmas lights, even the end of 2017 looked satisfactory. I was making real food. I was investing in church and my people. I was doing more reading and writing, less Netflixing and Facebooking. I had figured out how to do insurance, for heaven’s sake. My life was all right.
And then January hit.
And some days this month, quitting my job and being homeless in Hawaii seemed like a legitimate option.
My complaints? Mostly, it’s still winter. I wince every time I walk outside, my shoulders scrunching up near by earlobes. On good days, I see a scant 20 minutes of sunlight on my drive home. I have to wear socks every day.
And there’s the extra annual anxiety about how little control I have over my life that crops up every January. What will 2018 (or the rest of my life, or heck, next week) look like? Who knows! There’s no guarantee of anything! All my plans will come to naught! My life is on the brink of purposelessness!
So let’s just say that I am currently a bucket of sunshine, and that I am glad January is behind us.
I would continue my weeping and gnashing of teeth, but my tears might freeze to my face in this below-zero windchill. So let us move on to more cheerful matters, like those things that have warmed this chilly month for me.
Home – Marilynne Robinson. With this book, Marilynne Robinson solidified herself as one of my very favorite authors. This tells the story of the Boughton family. Glory comes home to care for her aging father, and his wayward son Jack finds his way back to Gilead at the same time. Though it feels like the entirety of this book takes place with Glory cooking at the counter and Jack sitting at the kitchen table, it was tender and heartbreaking and so, so lovely. I might even like it more than Gilead.
Out of the Silent Planet – C.S. Lewis. This is a book unlike any I’ve ever read. A philologist (what a fun word) is kidnapped and taken to another planet. I don’t know if I would have enjoyed this had I not read C.S. Lewis’s other works – so much of his philosophy of the world comes out in this that it adds an entirely new layer to the story. I look forward to the other books in the series.
Not Becoming My Mother: and Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way – Ruth Reichl. This won’t be my last Reichl book. This slim little book of essays is all about Reichl’s complicated relationship with her mother and the world of women in the mid-19th century. It was well-told, and it made me grateful for all the opportunities I have.
Heartless – Marissa Meyer. This book tells the story of Cath, a girl who lives in Wonderland (of “Alice in Wonderland” fame), who is being courted by the king, but who dreams of being a baker. I typically love Meyer’s spins on fairy tales, but this one didn’t work for me. Wonderland wasn’t nearly vivid enough, and Cath’s character didn’t do much except pine after a person she couldn’t have – until a sudden and unexpected sprint of character development in the last 20 pages. Plot-wise, nothing much happened in the first 2/3 of the book, and then everything happened in a way that felt jarring and undeveloped. However, online reviews are divisive here, so maybe this one would work for someone else.
Flying Lessons: and Other Stories – edited by Ellen Oh. This is a collection of short stories compiled by the editor of the We Need Diverse Books movement. Some of the stories were charming – Kwame Alexander is brilliant here, too – but not all of them were winners for me.
Currently Reading: Refugee – Alan Gratz. Hannah Coulter – Wendell Berry. Book of Hours: Love Poems to God – Rilke.
There are multiple movies in theaters at this second that I want to see. I haven’t watched any of them. Yet.
Clear – NEEDTOBREATHE. Since I went to a NEEDTOBREATHE concert in December, my devotion to them has been renewed. I am especially obsessed with this song.
May You Find a Light – Josh Garrels. Though this is technically from his Christmas album, I think it’s entirely fitting for Epiphany, and I am listening to it shamelessly.
All I Ask of You – Josh Groban and Kelly Clarkson. Josh Groban has an entire album of Broadway hits, I discovered this month. This song is gorgeous.
Loving – Alternatively titled “What’s Saving My Life in the Suckiness of MN Winter”
- The Examen. I don’t do this reflection every night, but when I do, it helps me remember that not everything is terrible.
- Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry. I’m still in the middle of this book, but it might be one of my favorites, ever. I’m reading it in small snatches because I don’t ever want it to end. It’s studded with brilliant lines that condense the deepest of emotions into a single sentence. Poor Adam gets these texts more than once every single time I open that book.
- My microwavable rice heat pack. My grandma made mine, but I think you can buy them at Amazon or Target or wherever you buy random necessities like this. I’m using it almost daily to help my tight shoulders and make me not perpetually cold. I once put it on under a jacket before a long car ride, and it was magic.
- Lemon ginger tea. Add a slice of lemon, and it kicks up the yum factor about 12 notches.
- Spotify Premium. I cannot talk about how worth it this is. Also, how had I never tried Spotify’s radio feature before this month? It’s handy.
- Argan Oil. I have the Acure brand from Target, but I know they sell it at Trader Joe’s and other fancier beauty places. My skin is insanely dry right now, and this eliminates the flakes and makes it almost dewy. It might even reduce the redness in my cheeks, too.
- Keeping a blanket in my car. I use it on nearly every car ride. I may look like a nursing home patient with a lap robe. I care not.
- Church community. I don’t understand how adult people find friends without church. The people at mine have been particularly lifesaving this winter.
Thrifting with my sister for a day before she flew back to Palo Alto. It felt like old times in college. I get to visit her in a week, and I am so excited.
Visiting Adam in Chicago. Despite a minor debacle where my phone died when I was alone, with all my stuff, in downtown Chicago, at midnight, trying to figure out how to get to Adam’s apartment…everything was great. We went to the American Writer’s Museum (see the typewriter and quote below – I highly recommend it), and went ice skating at Maggie Daley park, and read some good books, and ate donuts every day.
Attempting to cross country ski. I’m borrowing a pair of classic skis this winter, and I have never before been disappointed by days over 32°. I’ve only made it out on the trails one and a half times. The first time convinced me that I am not made for attempting to traverse hills on cross country skis when it’s icy. The half a time was me remembering my ineptitude and turning around after 5 minutes and one fall. C’mon, Minnesota. Give me a good snow (and a snow day too, perhaps?) and then good skiing weather.
Inviting people over. I am trying to get better about hosting things, and I’ve actually done this in January. It’s a good reminder that I don’t need to be Joanna Gaines with a degree from Le Cordeon Bleu to welcome people in.
A quick trip to Alexandria. One of my grandpas celebrated his birthday there, so my brothers and I drove up to meet the family for a few hours. We stumbled into a used bookstore before lunch and found some treasures – including a Marilynne Robinson I haven’t read yet!
Going back to school. This is the hardest part of the year for me. The kids get cabin fever, and it feels like there’s a whole lot of year left. On the bright side, we’re doing poetry. At least it’s a bright side for me – I am delighted by my own poetry assignments and would happily complete them. The students are slightly less enthused. Thankfully, they have been very into the Socratic Seminar discussions we’ve done, and it’s fun to hear their contributions to conversations.
What have you been into this month?