Friday, March 29, 2013

Determination, persistence, Tennessee Williams, and a stuck kitchen drawer

Dusty, cramped, and with an unutterable sense of triumph, I crawled out of the cabinet.

Rick said it couldn’t be done. And when it comes to questions of mechanical engineering – or really anything related to spatial relations, hardware, or infrastructure – I defer to his expertise. That’s the kind of stuff he knows. And I don’t.

But in this case, I couldn’t accept the idea that a drawer in our kitchen could never be opened again. 

Four days earlier, I’d unloaded the dishwasher and filled that particular drawer with its customary inventory of square baking pans, cake pans, loaf pans, and pie plates. Yes, it was fairly full, but not overly stuffed. There was a place for everything and it all fit together efficiently, if a little bit snugly.

At least that’s what I thought until I closed the drawer. Somehow, and I still can’t explain quite how, when the drawer closed, it knocked a cake pan off-kilter. The edge of the cake pan wedged against the inside of the drawer, making the drawer impossible to open more than a fraction of an inch.

And it did seem to be an intractable problem. Even though we could still open the drawer a fraction of an inch,  just wide enough to fit in an implement like a spatula or a butter knife, there was no place for any of the items to go. Nothing would budge. Especially not the item wedged against the edge of the drawer, keeping it from opening.

The situation bothered me in part because it made me feel like a character in a Tennessee Williams play. Kitchen Drawer Forever Stuck Shut, no matter how often family members yank at it and curse it, its contents forever denied to even the owners of those very same contents. Along with the paper lantern over the bare lightbulb in Streetcar Named Desire and the fragile figurine in Glass Menagerie, the broken drawer just seemed to be shouting its symbolism. This family has a drawer that won’t open! What do you suppose that might mean about them?

But the drawer also had all my baking pans, and life without baking just isn’t an option in our household.

I couldn’t take no for an answer. Opening the drawer a fraction and sticking things in – a butter knife, a frosting spatula, a metal skewer, a screwdriver, a wire coat hanger, a pie server – didn’t help at all. Above the drawer was immovable countertop, and the front panel of the drawer didn’t have any screws to loosen or any way of being removed either.

For four days, whenever I had a few minutes to spare, I contemplated the drawer. Or stuck things into it, or rattled it. But to no avail. Rick’s prediction seemed accurate; nothing was going to change the situation.

Finally it dawned on me. The front of the drawer didn’t open enough to be of any help, but if the front was moving, then by an obvious law of physics, the back of the drawer had to be moving as well, didn’t it?

I emptied out all the pots and pans from the cabinet underneath the drawer and crawled into it. Then I told my daughter to pull the drawer forward as far as she could, and I found I could just barely slip my fingers up through the back of the drawer. Just enough to inch the pans I could touch a tiny bit farther back.

Which meant Holly could then inch the items at the front of the drawer a tiny bit farther back as well. Not enough to nudge the offending pan loose, but enough that we could then open the drawer a tiny bit farther. And reaching from the back again, I could lift the items farthest back in the drawer over the top and down into the cabinet.

In less than a minute, the job was done. The drawer was open, the pesky cake pan freed. I crawled out of the cabinet and crowed immodestly.

“This is the most proud I have ever been of myself!” I said.

“Really? More than when you got into college?” Holly asked.

Yes, because my college wasn’t that hard to get into, I thought to myself, but didn’t want to set a bad example by making my kids think that cake pans were more important than college, so I backpedaled a little. “Well, getting into college is important too, but this is amazing!” I said. “I actually fixed something!”

Tennessee Williams and heavy-handed symbolism aside, that was the bottom line for me. I’d persisted. I’d figured out that the key was to forget about the parts that don’t move; find the moving part and figure out how to leverage it. And I’d followed a gut feeling that despite what more mechanically inclined people told me, somehow there was a way to fix this.

I’d like to think that even in my mid-40’s, I’m not too old to draw life lessons when they hit me over the head. Don’t give up. Believe in your convictions. Think outside the box. Don’t put all your faith in naysayers. Try and try again.

Okay, maybe the messages I’m taking from it are a little heavy-handed after all. Maybe the symbolism of the story is too obvious even for Tennessee Williams. But it was worth it to me. I surprised myself with a rare moment of mechanical aptitude. It was more exciting than getting into college. And now I think I’ll bake a cake to celebrate. Using every single one of my (only slightly dented) cake pans.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Time to talk

We talked about vacation plans. We talked about parent-teacher conferences. We talked about food allergies and orthodontia. We talked about the pros and cons of massage. We talked about iPhones and iPads. We talked about how to make risotto and how to dispute a property tax assessment.

With almost 48 hours, we had enough time to cover everything.

I feel so lucky to live in a small, closeknit community in which I have so many friends and acquaintances, but sometimes it seems every encounter is rushed. I run into local friends at school events, at the library, on the running path, in line at the post office….but so often there isn’t enough time for even a complete sentence, let alone a full conversation. And most of us have kids who are old enough now that we can’t blame them for the distraction: it’s not like in the playgroup days, when we couldn’t finish sentences because we were keeping our toddlers from scaling the bookshelf or rolling in a mud puddle. It’s just that we always have someplace else to be.

So when three friends and I planned our second annual springtime getaway weekend together, I counted on finally having time to finish some conversations, and start new ones.

It’s not that everything we discuss is so important. Far from it. Amy told us about her singing dentist. I described the calendar my grandparents had in their lakeside cottage. Recipes and book recommendations were exchanged.

But other conversations unspooled amidst the chatter as well: concerns about our children and parents; the fears and frustrations we encounter every day; ideas and hopes about our own futures.

It didn’t matter what we talked about. We had from Friday evening until Sunday afternoon, and it was enough. I arrived back home early Sunday evening with the rare feeling of, for once, not having left any conversations half-finished.

It’s the second consecutive year the four of us have taken this trip. We’ll plan to do it again next year. By then there will be so much more to talk about: matters trivial and profound, uplifting and discouraging. There always is. In the twelve months until then, a lot of conversations will once again go unfinished. Yes, getting away for 48 hours is a huge luxury – and so is having enough time to talk and talk and talk. But it’s enough to know, or even just to hope, that in another year we’ll do it all again.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Pledge drive time

After another week-long pledge drive on our local National Public Radio station, I’m ready to stick molten railroad spikes in my ears to make it stop.

Somehow the sound of fundraising on the radio strikes me like the proverbial nails on a chalkboard. I think it could be used in hostage negotiation situations to make hostage-takers give up, at least if they were also public radio fans. I dislike the way it goes on and on. I dislike the way newscasters and personalities who sound so intelligent and insightful when delivering news or conducting interviews start tripping over their words, making meaningless quips and generally sounding like nincompoops when required to ad-lib some banter during pledge drive time. And mostly, I dislike the fact that it introduces skepticism into the otherwise impeccable reliability of National Public Radio. “We need only twelve thousand calls in the next three minutes to reach our goal!” the announcer will say exuberantly at 7:57 a.m. And then at 8:01, “Thanks, everyone! We made it!” Really? I believe NPR when they report on government scandals or papal secrets, but am I really to believe it when my local station claims to have logged twelve thousand phone calls in three minutes?

But yesterday I discovered something that made me feel a little bit sheepish. The station had a great raffle item for which every pledge caller would be eligible within a two-hour window, and that motivated me to call. I didn’t win the raffle, but I discovered to my surprise that the sound of fundraising was a lot less annoying to me for the rest of the day. This made me realize that perhaps it’s not actually the words or tone of the pleading itself but the guilt I feel when I listen to it without pledging. Listening to their supplications in the hours after I pledged, and knowing they were no longer talking to me, made it all so much more bearable.

Charitable giving is always a tricky topic for me. I try to support my alma maters, my church, our independent community newspaper, and National Public Radio, plus any cause for which a friend or family member is running, walking, dancing, jump-roping, or shooting baskets to raise money. But I confess that my chief motivation for sending in a check to my prep school every spring is knowing that the school publishes an annual list of donors by class and I don’t want my name to be missing. I can’t explain why I support my cozy suburban church more than, say, Oxfam, or my college rather than The Nature Conservancy. And I can’t even pretend there’s any direct correlation between where I send money and what matches my core values.

But for today, at least, I can listen to the last day of the NPR pledge drive with a clear conscience. I didn’t win the raffle prize, but I won a day of painless listening as the pledge drive ends. Maybe next time I’ll be lucky enough to get both.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Metaphorical broken windows

I was unloading the dishwasher, but I was thinking about broken windows.

More specifically, I was thinking about the “broken windows theory,” having just read a short essay about this by Happiness Project author Gretchen Rubin. The original broken windows theory posits that a city block populated by buildings with broken windows is more likely to attract other kinds of litter and eventually more significant problems such as street crime and arson as well. Conversely, if city officials make it a priority to fix broken windows, the likelihood of greater graft and criminal activity on the same block will be diminished.

Gretchen Rubin extrapolates this theory to maintaining a household, and I was thinking about that as I cleaned up the kitchen this morning. Her point is that if you can identify your own small acts of household negligence, you might be taking a step toward forestalling larger ones. Since I started the day with a sense of mild despair about the state of the household, washing the dishes seemed like a good way to test her theory.

I generally have a fair amount of ambivalence toward housework, especially on work days. If I don’t keep the house neat and clean, I start to feel a slightly suffocating sense of overall disorganization and frustration. But if I spend time doing housework, I remind myself that I get paid to write, not vacuum, and no one in my family except for me either notices or cares if the rugs have been vacuumed or the shelves dusted. And I also remind myself that I often use housework as a deliberate diversion when I don’t want to write. I’m definitely not the only writer I know whose furniture is never so well-polished as when she’s on deadline with a complicated story.

But this morning, I decided to test the broken windows theory when it came to my own home. I decided instead of vacillating between the priority of cleaning and the priority of earning a paycheck, I would spend the first hour of my workday cleaning up. Rather than toggling constantly between household tasks and deskwork, the way I often spend my work hours, I decided I would just focus on getting all the cleaning done in one hour that I could.

So I unloaded the dishwasher, reloaded it with breakfast dishes, cleaned all the bathrooms, dusted, and started a load of laundry.

And just as I’d hoped, after an hour, I did not feel an hour behind on deadlines and writing commitments. I felt renewed. I felt happy to be working in an orderly house. I felt more motivated than usual to think about what I’d make for dinner, since I knew I’d be cooking in a clean kitchen rather than trying to prep one meal and pick up from an earlier one at the same time.

True, there are days when I just don’t have the luxury of indulging in an hour of housework before I get to my real job. Sometimes deadlines are tight enough, or projects have accumulated enough, that I just have to forget about the clutter and grime and sit down at my desk instead.

But today, it worked for me. I cleaned, and then started my workday with a clear, dare I say clean, conscience.

I’d taken care of my broken windows, and I knew the rest of the day would have a more orderly feel as a result. Sometimes, fixing broken windows – literally or metaphorically – really is the best approach.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Parent-teacher conferences, one last time

As usual, I was a little lost trying to find my daughter’s fifth grade classroom. This entire second-floor wing didn’t exist when I attended school here myself – in fact, the building that housed my fifth grade classroom is now the subject of townwide debate as to whether it should be preserved as a historical artifact or simply torn down – and I can never remember which stairwell leads to which part of the fifth grade area.

So the thought that this was probably the last time I’d have to try to find Holly’s classroom as I hurried to our parent-teacher conference was momentarily encouraging. Our school does conferences in December and March; this might be my last visit to the classroom all year, and if I do go back for some kind of end-of-year event, there will probably be lots of other parents I can follow.

But the relief of thinking I’d never again get lost on my way to a parent-teacher conference was fleeting, because right after it came the realization that it wasn’t just a matter of knowing other parts of the campus better than the fifth grade section. The reality was that this might have been my last parent-teacher conference ever, since middle school teachers typically don’t schedule conferences with parents.

It was yet another milestone moment, just one of many I seem to experience throughout every school year, but perhaps especially this year, with Tim about to graduate from eighth grade and Holly on her way to middle school. Parent-teacher conferences have been a semi-yearly event for me throughout the better part of the past decade. Could this really be the final one?

In those first few years of school, conferences seemed profoundly important. The chance to sit down alone with my child’s teacher and hear all about what he or she was doing – their strengths, their weaknesses, their interactions with peers, their typical attitude throughout the school day – was a source of fascination, an opportunity to spend twenty whole minutes learning about an objective adult’s impressions of my child. Conferences in kindergarten and first grade carried the same excitement as the kids’ first few infancy check-ups: the two-week visit, the four-week visit, the six-month visit. How much weight has he gained? What percentile? What new developmental milestones can we record?

Of course, whether it’s parent-teacher conferences or infant physicals, it’s fun when everything is going well. The fact that I enjoy these opportunities only underscores how fortunate I’ve been as a parent to have healthy babies who grew into smart, cooperative schoolchildren. My delight in getting to hear other adults’ impressions of them, whether medical or educational, is duly tempered by the awareness that it’s sheer luck of the draw that enables me to sit and beam over my child’s math scores or latest attempts at haiku while another parent is poring over troublesome x-rays or proof of inability to read. There’s no reason I get the fun meetings while another parent gets the other kind. It’s just another thing to be both mystified by and grateful for in equal measure.

Now, though, enough years have gone by that parent-teacher conferences aren’t quite as exciting as they once were. I still love to talk with Holly’s teachers, and I still find it flattering when they compliment her, but a part of me realizes by now that no parent-teacher conference can possibly give a parent everything she wants. No teacher can promise that good test scores in fifth grade assure top marks in middle school. Or that a ready willingness to play with the new kid at recess means she’ll never get caught up in bullying behaviors in the lunchroom. Or even that one teacher’s overall enthusiasm about my child means that she’ll always be well-liked and treated so kindly.

Maybe I’ll miss these meetings when the next parent-teacher conference day rolls around and I realize my family has aged out, or maybe I’ll feel like we have enough perspective on our children as parents not to need the feedback from professionals that once seemed so valuable. Tim starts high school in six months, and from what I understand, we’ll know a lot less about what’s going on at school in general after that. It will be his world, not ours, and no one will feel obligated to report back to us, other than through that most linear of metrics, report cards.

I hope I’m ready for that change. Their school has treated them wonderfully, and I’ve enjoyed every opportunity I’ve had over the years to sit down with their teachers. But it’s time to move on now: for them, and for me as well. They need to learn that success means trying hard even long past the point where anyone hands you a report card. And I need to learn that being proud of your children doesn’t require a scheduled meeting to review their performance as much as it just means observing, appreciating, and celebrating.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Best sledding course ever

After an unexpectedly heavy snowfall throughout much of the day on Friday, the kids rebuilt the sledding course that had begun to deteriorate in recent weeks and spent hours sledding over the weekend.

Sitting at the kitchen table, I looked up periodically to watch them. Their course ran along the edge of our lawn, right near where the open space meets the trees which thicken into the forest of the state park that adjoins our property. Through that forest, I could see cross-country skiers streaming by all day both Saturday and Sunday on the park’s legendary cross-country trails.

This is the best sledding course the kids have ever built. This is only our second winter in this house, and last year we barely had any snow, so they didn’t discover the full potential of this yard until sometime around the February 8th blizzard.

Looking at it objectively, you wouldn’t be struck by its sledding potential. The yard at our last house had a much more obvious sledding hill. This yard doesn’t even slope all that much.

But Rick showed the kids how the slight incline combined with the length of the yard and the curve it formed around the side of the house made for an ideal track: fast, long, varied, with room to build up three or four jumps. He helped Tim sculpt the course the first time around; this weekend Tim conscripted Holly to help him pack it down and clean it up, and they were off. Sledding individually. Sledding double. Sledding backwards. Sledding with the dog running in their wake. They even made up a game in which they pretended to be mail carriers who delivered the “mail” – in the form of sticks – to various “houses” – in the form of rocks and stumps – along the route.

As I often remind the kids, there are very few perfect sledding days in any given winter; this past weekend we had two of them. I’m sure the cross-country skiers I could see through the woods felt the same way, and part of me regretted that it’s been years since I went cross-country skiing. If I didn’t feel like I needed to be at home right now, I could be skiing, I told myself briefly. But if I weren’t home right now, continued the thought, I’d be missing the chance to see the kids go sledding. And watching them have this much fun was surely just as good as being out skiing on my own – a truth every parent quickly learns.

When I glanced at Facebook later in the weekend, I was surprised to see how many people were bemoaning the new snowfall and the consequent extension of winter. It seems everyone but me is ready for spring. Sure, I look forward to warmer, sunnier days. I’m still enjoying the snow, though, and the sight of my kids sledding.

Sometimes when I look at these piles of snow, I think of how much mud will result when it all melts, and I think about how much time I already spend sweeping and vacuuming and mopping and wonder how I’ll ever keep the floors clean come spring.

But then I remind myself it’s an awfully small price to pay for joy. Seize the day; seize the winter and all the winter weather that came with it this year. Let mud season come when it must. Let the floors get dirty. Skip the mopping once in a while, even. Right now, there’s sledding and skiing and wonderful winter weather, and all kinds of fun to be had in the snow.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Musical cardinals at another nonsensical family dinner hour

Both kids were pretending to be arthritic Italian octogenarian cardinals, hobbling in circles around the kitchen and shouting at each other in fake Latin.

It wasn’t exactly the kind of family dinner hour that you read about in parenting magazines.

But did it count anyway? That’s what I’m beginning to wonder. For years, the importance of sitting down as a family to dinner has been considered virtually incontestable, and articles about parenting have even made recommendations about conversation cues and icebreaker games to facilitate beneficial family conversation.

Instead, my kids were acting out what they imagined it might look like if the next Pope were chosen not through a secret conclave but through a giant game of Musical Chairs. Hence the hobbling around yelling imaginary Latin phrases in equally made-up Italian accents.

Worse still, Tim, having not played Musical Chairs in about ten years, had inadvertently reversed the rules. He was thinking that the winner was the one who didn’t find a chair, rather than the last one standing who did. So his imaginary octogenarian Italian cardinal kept deliberately failing to find a seat when the imaginary music stopped. Until I realized he was misremembering the rules, I thought he had a remarkably insightful perspective on the situation, imagining that a cardinal might deliberately throw the game because being Pope would just be too much of a burden for anyone to take on if they could avoid it.

But no, he had just forgotten the rules.

When dinner hour dissipates into this kind of slapstick silliness, as it often does, I wonder whether it even counts as a family dinner. Are we actually getting the vaunted benefits of sitting down to a meal together as a family if we are neither reviewing current international events nor playing the “What was the best part of your day” game? Sometimes we have intelligent conversations, but other times Holly describes arcane foursquare rules. And sometimes, like last night, the kids act out something bizarre like popes playing Musical Chairs, or at the point when they are supposed to be clearing the table, Tim slings Holly over his shoulder and carries her around the kitchen like a Viking training for a wife-tossing competition.

Fortunately, New York Times writer Bruce Feiler’s new book about family life also contests the importance of family dinners. Feiler concedes that some families – like mine, and apparently like his – are sometimes just too worn out at the end of the day for the kind of dinnertime conversation that expands everyone’s thinking. He points out that there are other times of day and opportunities that can stand in for dinner hour. Family breakfast. Family laundry sessions. Family late-afternoon snacktime. This winter, for us, it could be family gather-by-the-front-window-to-watch-the-plow-driver-try-to-make-it-up-the-driveway time.

So I’m not sure whether I should take credit for the frequency with which we all sit down to eat together or not. On nights like this one when silliness prevails, it doesn’t seem all that cerebrally nourishing. But then I remind myself that anything can be eventually turned into a teaching moment. “It’s a good idea, but the popes don’t choose a successor by Musical Chairs,” I explain quickly before the kids move on to something else. “They hold a secret conclave and then vote.”

There. Useful lesson imparted. “Oh, and also, you win Musical Chairs by being the last one in, not the first one out,” I tell Tim. Second useful lesson imparted. Okay then, this should qualify as an educational and mentally nourishing family dinner. Even if the most significant lesson learned may have been how to play Musical Chairs. And why cardinals don’t, in fact, probably need to know that.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Moment of truth

I suppose I always knew this day would come. But actually, I thought it would be a lot worse.

“Mom, can you just tell me when you’re going to write about me in the newspaper?” Holly implored at dinner last night.

I tried to remember what might have brought this on just now. My most recent Globe stories were about supporting small businesses in West Concord and a portrait gallery in Lexington; my monthly personal essay column in our local newspaper this month is about how great it is to have a reliable coffee maker.

“Heather said at school last week that she read a whole article about me wanting to be taller than you,” Holly said in response to my puzzlement.

Oh, right. That was last month’s newspaper essay.

“Welcome to the rest of your life, kid,” my husband commented with what could be described as grim satisfaction. I think he’s been wondering for years whether the time would eventually arrive when the kids didn’t want their foibles and exploits turned into column fodder anymore. “That’s why I don’t read Mommy’s articles. They’re always about me.”

“Not anymore!” I protested. “They used to be about you! Now they’re always about the kids.”

Both kids looked at me then, and I realized it wasn’t necessarily the most artful response.

My father made a comment twenty years ago to the effect that the best thing about my getting married was that it meant my husband rather than my parents became the butt of most of my satirical writing. And of course it was only a matter of time before the kids became more interesting as writing subjects than either my parents or my husband.

My older child has never particularly minded, though. Not even when I wrote an essay about his approach to a sprint we ran together when he was three: he rounded the bend in the driveway and then stopped to pee in the woods. Of course, he was three; realistically, he probably didn’t read the paper back then and perhaps never knew about that column. But when I wrote an entire memoir about the unique challenges of parenting him and how I attempted to address them by inviting him to go running with me every day for a year, he seemed to think that was just fine. He even submitted to a radio interview about the book.

In the preface to Anne Lamott’s new book about grandparenting, her son, whose own birth inspired Lamott’s earlier memoir, said that her book about his infancy was “the greatest gift anyone has ever given me.” And Anne Lamott certainly has a lot more readers than I do – millions more. So I’d like to think that my children are equally sanguine regarding my essays about them, but it’s a lot to ask, I realize.

For years, readers and friends have asked if the kids mind being treated as characters, and I’ve always said they don’t, but I also always had the feeling I was living on borrowed time with that. And it’s not like Holly issued a cease-and-desist order. She just asked me to forewarn her when the whole town was going to be reading about her latest developmental phase.

It’s a reasonable request, and one I agreed to honor. A couple of years ago when I was taking a writers’ workshop, one of my classmates finished an excerpt of my then-unpublished book and said, “It’s good. And I can’t wait for the sequel.” “Why thank you!” I said, trying to sound modest. “I’m flattered. But a sequel? I’m not sure I’ll be writing another book about parenting.”

“Not by you,” he said with a smirk. “By Tim. The sequel will be his memoir about being parented by you.”

Fair enough. Because in a way, he’s right on a figurative level as much as a literal one: the sequel to everything we do as parents is what our children write about us, whether or not they or we ever actually put pen to paper. And if Tim – or Holly – ever does write that book, or even a newspaper column or two about me, I will do my very best to be as good a sport as they have always been for me. 

Friday, March 1, 2013

34 degrees and raining (a day in the life of a daily runner)

I have often remarked that the best thing about being a so-called streak runner, someone who logs a mile or more of running 365 days a year, is never having to spend time deciding whether or not it’s a good day to go running. I go every day; hence, I never have to choose whether to go.

And there are certainly times of year when that’s fortunate, because if I had to stop and think about it, I almost definitely wouldn’t get out the door.

This past week has been like that: the doldrums of winter, especially from a runner’s point of view. The three consecutive weekends of storms left over two feet of snow on the ground. In our town, the sidewalks don’t get plowed, which means running in the roadway with a three-foot snowbank to hurdle if you need to get out of the path of oncoming traffic. So I’ve been running on the long driveway at my parents’ farm, up and down, up and down; if I do three or four different variations on taking all the different forks in their driveway and then doing a loop around the parking lot of the ice cream stand next door, I can just barely eke out two miles. It’s safe from traffic, but the driveway has been slushy and icy all week; my feet get soaked and my clothes get muddy.

Up and down, up and down. Tedious, chilly and wet; yesterday it was raining as well, compelling me to trot out my favorite quote from Runner’s World founder Amby Burfoot: “There is no bad weather for running. Okay, maybe 34 degrees and raining.” It seems I’ve spent the majority of the past five winters running in 34 degrees and raining.

But this kind of weather is what makes a streak runner, in my opinion. Everyone gets out for a run on a nice spring day. Those of us who “streak” don’t wait for the right conditions – we just go. But to my mind, it’s not really a matter of fortitude as much as simplicity. Committing to running no matter what the weather means freeing up our minds to think about other things, and nothing frees up brain space quite like running perpetual laps up and down a half-mile-long driveway. I don’t need to think about the passing cars (there aren’t any) or the foliage (the trees are bare) or the houses along the way. I just…run, and let my mind fill with whatever it chooses. Anything except the cold damp weather or the icy slush filling my shoes. I try to think about the work I need to attack in the day ahead, or what I should make for dinner, or whether there are any errands I can get done in the afternoon, or how to respond to a complicated email.

The only thing I miss about the days before I became a daily runner was the feeling I’d get after taking the whole winter off from running, when the air was growing warmer and the snow was gone and I’d get a physical and mental craving to go running after not having gone for so many weeks. Now that I don’t take any time off, I never get that feeling, and I miss it. But instead, I get the peace of mind that comes from just plodding along with nothing much to think about. It’s a pretty good payoff, most days.