Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Times on Dirt

Two friends have posted this article on how dirt is good for our immune systems, and it is, for me, cause to celebrate.

I know about the various diseases we can catch from dirt, soil, or animals: salmonella, toxoplasmosis, simple gastrointestinal distress. And yet, I'm enormously pleased to think that my laissez-faire attitude about dirty children might be paying off. The once-a-week bathing, for example, might just be the thing for development of a healthy immune system.

Now, I'd love to apply this attitude to what we do today, but we are looking out our windows at a cold drizzle falling on icy snow, and I'm thinking that to find any good dirt today we'd have to get a pickaxe. And unfortunately, snow days make me feel like I have to clean up house a bit or I'll go insane with the clutter. But now I know reason #2987 for playing outside, as soon as I can find an outdoor activity that matches with wet rainy sleet and slick puddly snow.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Fickle ice

This week's activities featured ice skates, sleds, snowboard, cross-country skiis, and alas, a big end-of-week melt. Yesterday at this time I was heading out for a walk in the warm sunshine, sans gloves or long underwear; last night the temperatures dropped again, just in time to make the Winter Festival feel truly like a winter festival. As you can see, even without skates on the pond was a major feature of interest, even while competing with horse-drawn wagon rides, a band, roasting marshmallows, and free pizza and hot dogs.
But here we are, at 3:45, back at home indoors, because Emily was baptised today in another ancient winter rite of passage: her leg pushed through the ice when she stepped on a thin patch hidden by snow. She got herself out and we came right home - she's fine. I guess we can say that she has a new level of empathy with the polar bears. And any of my readers who know Emily know that she can always use a lesson in caution, given her personality. Although I witnessed her playing - to all appearances being cautious enough - she is just the kind of kid who would find a thin place on the ice, just to see what it was like to go through.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Two firsts: one outside, one inside

This afternoon, despite the fact that Emily's basketball team lost their game (after winning the first 2), we all had reason to celebrate, as Emily made her first basket, a nice little layup at a moment when her team really needed her. We got home, got some food, and then, at Emily's request, went to the pond at a nearby park to ice skate.

Last night we went skating indoors at a rink crowded with teenagers and with music to urge us on, with a snack bar steps away, skate lessons to watch, and young hockey jocks to dodge. I think of this as the normal way to skate, since I had never, before tonight, been skating outside. It isn't something children growing up in Kentucky learn to expect, and plus, I'd never had my own skates. But it has been so frigid, and this park's pond is a shallow little water body which we've slid on before during the local winter festival, so we had a good idea it would be safe.

Another family was out tonight, too, a dad with two boys, complete with hockey sticks and pucks. I suspect the older boy was 5, a wickedly good little skater already. None of us is a great skater, but tonight we all got better. Hazel figured out how to propel herself forward without me or a wall - it seemed easier without so many people around, and also easier perhaps because the ice wasn't so smooth and fast as indoors. Emily, despite literally having two left skates due to my taking advantage of an end of season "bargain" last year, was whizzing around the pond, and had a great time skating fast and crash-landing into the snowbanks at the edge of the shovelled "rink".

It was fully dark when we stopped. I feel like we've finally participated in an ancient rite of winter, linking us to children we've read about in history, whose only concept of ice skating was outdoors. And though I've known for some time that I love snow in winter, tonight I finally learned to appreciate bitter cold spells, for giving us thick, safe ice for a chaos-free skate in the brisk night air.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Seasonal overdose

Back when I was in my 20's and fitness came easily, I would often get into a nice summer exercise routine and then drop it like a rock when cold weather came. In grad school, with friends there, I started cross-country skiiing, my first regular winter exercise, though I wasn't too regular about it. Then, in Chicago, I had Ser, a native Alaskan, to prompt me safely through a season of winter running, and the standard was set. I learned to give up on the same routine working in all seasons.

That's not to say I always manage to successfully develop a routine. This fall I lost track of exercise, mostly, despite many beautiful days and the once-weekly biking through October. Winter is always challenging, but finally last weekend we got snow - not much at first, but now settled into about 4 inches of squeaky-cold white stuff, just right for skiing.

Saturday, the girls and I went sledding with a friend of Emily's, despite cold rain which threatened to melt the snow out from under us, but didn't quite. Sunday, we went downhill skiing at Seven Springs, with Hazel and I pairing up on the green slopes and Emily and Brian going for slightly bigger challenges. Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday I cross-country skiied, and hope to go out again this morning once the sun has had a chance to warm up a tiny bit. I go right down our yard, across the snow-covered pool parking lot, and to the flat field and hilly power line at the Community Center. I try to go about 2 miles, though I'm not measuring exactly, and as you can see, on Monday I had to work to keep from melting the snow beneath my repeated ski tracks. (This is not a problem today!)
Barbara Kingsolver and other responsible garden writers extoll the virtues of seasonal produce overdoses. Today, I extoll the virtues of seasonal exercise overdoses. Swim and mow the lawn in summer, run or bike in fall in winter, rake leaves in fall, dig the garden in spring, ski, sled and shovel in winter. At the end of summer, I am infinitely relieved to see the end of growing grass; at the end of fall, I love to see the last leaves tucked safely in a pile. I'm not sick of skiing yet, but I might get there. If I do, I'll be proud of myself for making the most of the weather, for making the best of the season, and for making it through winter, perhaps no thinner, but at least still in good enough shape to keep every pound I carry moving.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The long haul home

Several times before, when there's snow on the ground, I've picked the girls up from the community center with sleds in tow. It's a relatively short walk (0.2 miles?), and mostly flat, so they don't really need the ride. However, it is undeniably fun for them to get a ride, and I can generally use the exercise.
Tonight we're in what may be our first real snow of the season - Emily's basketball game for tomorrow was already cancelled, in fear of it. We weren't out for long - perhaps 40 minutes, total? But in that time we made good progress on icing down our driveway with smooth, fast sled tracks. (I felt really funny reminding Emily not to scrape the snow off the driveway with the sled...perhaps not the best advice if we plan to drive tomorrow.) Cheap fun on a Friday night, with the full moon haze showing through the clouds and deer bounding across the backyard, just a few feet beyond the end of our sled tracks.