Monthly Archives: January 2008

Dachshund Aficionado, january issue, p.37

1/14/08

It was the winter of 1980, brutally cold in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and my middle school was sent out to sell magazine subscriptions to our neighborhood. Each subscription sold would earn us “points” towards fabulous prizes contained in this breathless 20-page brochure, and one of the prizes was an actual gun. There was also a working miniature John Deere tractor, the size of a dishwasher, that ran on actual gasoline. It didn’t have tines or a thrasher (and only went 5 mph), but it looked pretty awesome nonetheless.

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T-minus nine years until virginity loss and counting

I knew my neighborhood and my limitations, so I went for something a little more attainable: a brand new badminton set. The picture showed a family of ten playing a fantastic game of badminton next to a picnic, and I deeply craved that amount of fun, available for only 15 paid subscriptions.

As an aside: what the hell was my school thinking, sending hordes of 7th graders out into the world to sell corporate-owned magazines? On the surface, I suppose it taught us the business acumen of the Cold Call, but the whole thing became a runaway train of subscriptions to Life, Ebony, Crochet! and Cat Fancy. There was a contest to see which students could sell the most, but the rich kids always won, because their parents could easily buy 45 subscriptions to McCall’s Quilting and use them as kindling.

My own family did the best they could, and always upped their subscription to the New Yorker and The Atlantic Monthly (which contributed to my fascination with writing and with New York, apparently the only place in the world) and National Geographic (which started my lifelong and oft-mocked obsession with maps). Once my brother Steve moved out of the house, I could always count on his subscription to Analog Science Fiction and Fact magazine.

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my bedroom in middle school

But that wouldn’t get me close to my badminton set, so I had to go out into the hood. I was already delivering the Penny Saver to most of the blocks around me, so I knew the terrain, but the weather had turned ghastly, with four-foot ice drifts and wind chills that would freeze early settlers. Also, I despised selling things to people – I didn’t know the tricks, I felt like a sham, and I didn’t want to be responsible if people didn’t like their magazines. I felt beholden, and besides, I was ten minutes away from full-blown puberty and felt like I could explode with hard-ons and body hair at any second.

Unbelievably, I managed to get a few more subscriptions, mostly for TV Guide. Everyone bought TV Guide at the store anyway, and the thought of getting it in the mailbox a day early was a pretty good sales pitch. Before long, I had 14 subscriptions, one shy of the badminton set. The only person left in my purview (and indeed the town, which had been burned-over, Second Great Awakening-style, by hundreds of kids now growing desperate and moving far beyond their home turf) was this lady who lived on Forest Avenue who was notoriously mean and rumored to be harboring untold wealth.

So I put on my winter spacesuit, pulled my toboggan hat down to sub-zero, walked six blocks and made the infinite trek in 4pm darkness across her lawn. She answered the door, and to my surprise, let me in. It was blazing hot in there, smelled like a rainforest of ferns, and I was asked to sit.

I began my “pitch”, such as it was, but I soon realized this was not a woman who was going to read the TV Guide, nor, indeed, watch a television. I was to endure a brief scolding about the inappropriateness of the “uninvited call”. I’ll say one thing: she was mercifully curt, and before long I was back home, resigned to never have a badminton set.

One of my parents’ friends happened to be over, and after hearing about the aborted sale at the old lady’s house, she said, “well, you don’t get rich by giving all your money away.” At that very moment, I think I actually aged. I’ve heard that sentiment over and over in the last two decades, and it always makes me feel utterly apoplectic.

Was I to understand that a lifetime of not buying a $12.99 magazine subscription kept this old woman swimming in gold bullion? Even at 12, I understood this comment to be nothing more than a way people use to justify the cruel penuriousness of the fabulously wealthy. I mean, I probably wouldn’t have expressed it quite like that, but I got the concept. Everyone knew this woman inherited her money from her husband, an early stockholder of Quaker Oats.

Investing $17 million in the alpaca meat market? Selling stock to start a restaurant in Manhattan? THAT’S throwing your money away. Not buying a subscription to Dog & Kennel from a 7th grader? That’s entirely something else.

Totally depressed, I wandered up to my room, and leafed through the catalog, gazing at all the stuff I’d never get. After a while, my dad came up and said he and my mom would like one more subscription. To Saveur magazine. I jumped for joy, ran to school the next day, put in my subscriptions, and waited 14 to 16 weeks for delivery of my badminton set.

At some point in the summer, it arrived: two flimsy aluminum poles connected by a gauze of fishing line, two birdies bent irrevocably by shipping, and four racquets, one of them with the strings already unraveling. I got Sean and Michelle outside, and we played BADMINTON, god dammit.

Oh, and this week I’m putting together some pitches for Saveur magazine.

a message from apple yogurt

1/13/08

Three Things I Tried for the Very First Time This Weekend:

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Yoga – Well, that’s not entirely true. Chip signed me up for this “Beginning Ashtanga” seminar in 2002 that consisted of 45 chicks who knew what they were doing, and me and Chip trying desperately to follow a super-annoying teacher who gave us indescribable back spasms. Plus, it was hot.

After that experience, I’ve shied away from the subject, even though everyone I know – including dudes – have been into it, or are doing it still. But when Tessa pointed me to an “Absolute Beginners” program a few blocks away at Exhale, I decided to sign up for the weekend introduction, mostly because I want this year to be a “yes” year. The teacher was awesome, she explained everything slowly, no expectations were forced on us, and I thought it was kind of awesome. Even though it was hot too. What is with yoga having to be hot all the time?

One thing that stuck with me – besides the inner sense of peace and the feeling of conquering an old bias – is how weird everyone’s toes are. There were probably fifty people in there, and every one of them had bizarre toes. Except this one woman who was a foot model.

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Deep-tissue massage – I am very late to the massage game. I still keep accidentally calling them “backrubs” which makes Tessa look at me like I’m seven years old. I’m still fascinated that you can actually pay someone you don’t know to touch your body, let alone do so with no inherent intimacy. I don’t think I ever lived anywhere that offered actual massages, and certainly all of us were afraid to try University Massage in Chapel Hill lest we end up with gonorrhea and a tapeworm.

Miracle of miracles, there’s a chain here in LA that offers $44 massages in these delightful little rooms, so I called. The only time they could see me yesterday was at 4:15, with a “therapist” named Ort, who specialized in Extra Deep Tissue Massage. I told the receptionist my back issues were too numerous to mention and what “Extra Deep Tissue” meant.

“Well,” she said, “It’s really for people who can’t find anyone else to go as deep as they want.”

“But can… Ort… be a little more gentle?”

“Apparently he’s gotten better at not being so intense.”

The whole thing sounded like Hagrid softpedaling one of his magical creatures in the Forbidden Forest (“Really, Hermione – Grawp is just being playful!”) and that turned out to be the case. Ort looks half-German, half-sumo wrestler, and when he touches your back, it’s like a bear reaching into the still waters of a pond. He takes your shoulder muscles and plucks them like cello strings.

Was it painful? Yes. Excruciating? Yes. Glorious? Absolutely.

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Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard – You’ll never meet a bigger Mac fanboy than yours truly – I got my first one in 1986, defended them all through the early ’90s, saved up for the awesome tangerine toilet seat iBook in 2000, and stood in line for the iPhone last year. I’ve had extensive dealings with PCs for work over the years, and I just don’t see how the two can be compared with a straight face.

That said, what is up with Leopard, the new OS? Sure, it’s slightly faster, and has a couple of cool features, but I don’t see how it’s substantially better than what we had before. It was supposed to take advantage of the new Intel chips with 64-bit addressing (or whatever) but I don’t notice any huge speed gains working in Photoshop or much of anything else. Apple’s software/hardware has always managed to be even cooler than the hype – and apparently the update of 10.5.2 is supposed to be the biggest leap forward since the abacus – but can anyone out there tell me what Leopard brings to the table?

So how about all y’all? Tried anything for the first time lately?

ear, nose and taint

1/9/08

It is January 10 as you read this, which means, for me, I have gone a whole calendar year without getting sick. Given my body’s suggestibility, that probably means I’ll be in the hospital on January 11 with the grippe, goiters, shingles and the Strong Fives, but for now, I’m feeling utterly blessed to have made the anniversary.

Last holiday season, I’d fucking had it with being sick. I got five separate, horrible illnesses that kept me in bed – off and on – for two months, and I was getting desperate for a solution. My buddy Mark Rizzo, our neighbor and charmingly funny writer, turned me on to a cocktail of supplements his friend had researched, and I decided to try it. We also have a massage therapist friend who suggested something else. So I present to you the regimen that has kept the immunity wolves barking at illness for one whole year:

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1. Omega-3 supplement (preferably odorless) – I use the Trader Joe’s brand, and I recommend the odorless kind or lest you burp fish all day, which really can happen. Just one of these a day.

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2. Basic good multivitamin – I can’t imagine anyone reading this blog could possibly remember to do this more than once a day, so be kind to yourself: get the once-daily kind. Experiment with the ones that won’t give you heartburn, like the Nature’s Way version pictured above. If you want an adrenaline rush, try the “Energy” ones with all the B-vitamins.

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3. Co-Q10 softgels – Once a day, I take two of these. I don’t even care what they do, I’m just following directions from Mark’s friend. And my doctor liked them.

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4. Young Living Inner Defense softgels – From Julie Chertow, massage therapist nonpareil, we got this product – and both Tessa and I feel like it’s actually doing something. And this is coming from a guy who got kicked off stage by a hypnotherapist because he said I was ruining his show. Definitely take it with food, or else you’ll feel the essential oils, which are spicy ones like oregano. Their secret ingredient? A blend called “Thieves”, comprised of herbs once eaten by thieves during the Great Plague. Most of them apparently never got the plague, and credit this mixture.

Is all of this total horseshit? I don’t know and I don’t care. I’m not sick right now. I wasn’t sick all year. Better than that, I don’t instantly assume that I’ll get sick every time somebody coughs up a lung, which used to happen. I actually assume I’ll get past it. Sure, I’ll have a crappy afternoon or night once in a while, but for some reason, I have faith that I’ll be better the next day.

Does experience breed positivity, or does positivity create experience? Are those Thieves gels keeping me well, or is the act of taking them keeping me fooled? In this case, I’m happy to have my analytical powers fail blissfully.

taking hills for granite

1/8/08

Well, last night was a fascinating evening of politics, if you’re even temporarily into that sort of thing. While my personal loyalties have been for Obama since, well, 2006, I can sublimate my immense disappointment long enough to realize the following:

1. Beltway media punditry comes in two flavors: clueless or partisan – frequently both, and always useless. Just as 24-hour news networks have given these people millions of hours more airtime, their powers of analysis (or ability to say anything remotely enlightening) have plummeted.

Their coronation of Obama after the Iowa caucus was unfair to Barack, misleading to Americans, and obviously, laced with the breathless prematurity of a kindergartner running to lunch. The same people who smugly told the cameras why Obama was going to win were back last night, smugly telling the cameras why Clinton won, all of them doused in limp, painfully-obvious theories masquerading as insight. These people couldn’t get yesterday’s weather right.

I know, I know, just don’t watch them… but if you want up-to-the-minute returns (and you have a fave anchor, like Olbermann) there aren’t many places to go.

2. Goddamn, the polls are frickin’ pointless. Even going back to 2006, polling gave no indication of the progressive landslide on Election Day. This time, all the pollsters should be taken out back for a spanking. The USAToday/Gallup poll was off by… what, 16 points? My mom’s dog Hildy could conjure up numbers that bad.

Either polling technology is suddenly useless, or else NH voters were telling pollsters their noble intentions, but once inside the booth, they just couldn’t pull the lever for a black guy. Which leads me to…

3. Why do two lily-white, sparsely-populated states – Iowa and New Hampshire – get to determine whether or not we have an African-American president? New Hampshire’s idea of ethnic diversity is using the Medium Hot™ salsa at Taco Bell. I realize Iowa gave Obama a huge win, but taking an objective step back, this process is really fucked up. In Revolutionary times, Thomas Paine reasoned we should declare independence from England because it was scientifically “unnatural” for an island so small to control another continent so big. We have a similar situation now.

4. On a personal note, I like Hillary fine. She’s obviously wicked smart, and if she were to win the Presidency, you can count me among the first celebrate and cherish the fact that a woman can now be elected President. But she doesn’t inspire me.

Her position on gays has waffled into utter inconsistency, she doesn’t give brave answers to hard questions, her stance on Iraq (and Iran) is bullshit, she feels constantly focus-group-tested. Frankly, a Hillary vs. John McCain election fight sounds like one of the most miserable, mean-spirited six months of hell imaginable.

I thought my taste for political inspiration had died over the last eight years with that cruel monkey in the White House, but Obama woke it up. The only thing that could shake the USA out of its fear-induced sleepwalk is someone not afraid to say something ahead of his time. Someone who could say “Okay, here’s the thing: homosexuality is not a choice, and this country has to start treating gays better. You may not agree now, but along with plenty of other things, I’ll spend the next four years trying to convince you.”

Or: “So the death penalty isn’t working. It’s not deterring crime, it overwhelmingly punishes the poor, and sometimes we put the wrong man to death. I believe it’s uncivilized to participate in a government that kills its own people. Let’s fix it. Give me some time to show you what I mean.”

It’s called “leading.” I’m not saying Obama would be brave enough to try something revolutionary, but he might. One thing I do know? Hillary won’t.

spacious skies

1/7/08

My nephew Sean Patrick Williams has always been one of the funniest members of my family, but also managed to pull off something the rest of us have not: quiet, introspective, dogged determination. Sure, some of us have dared “determination” and have been “dogged”, but if anyone will end up writing policy for the 21st century, it’s him.

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Xmas 2002

Having grown up a few miles from my ancient homelands in Iowa City, IA, Sean Patrick has always had an odd front-row seat to politics by dint of the Iowa caucuses. Because of the dick-measuring contests between states determining to be first, Iowa was insanely early this year, which meant he couldn’t attend Christmas: he was caucusing for Obama, stumping on rural routes barely making the map. On December 14 of last year (three weeks before the caucus), he predicted Obama would take Iowa and Hillary would finish third, 10 points behind the leader. We were stunned. He went on:

Why do I think Clinton will finish in 3rd place? Fair or not, almost everyone with whom I have spoken has mentioned that Clinton doesn’t seem especially genuine. At a house party that I attended with 8 undecided voters last night, all mentioned this as a serious impediment…

I asked him to write today’s blog, so here is his report from what might be the first few pages of America’s future. On a side note, I’ve been a huge Obama fan for a while, with Edwards beside him. Imagine the basketball discussions in the Oval Office… anyway, here’s Sean:

***

It’s hard to write about the Iowa caucus results from a first hand

perspective without descending into hyperbole, especially if you have

drank as many gallons of Obama brand Kool-Aid as I have. Still,

Thursday evening was a pretty big deal.

What always struck me most about Barack is that he doesn’t force

progressives into the traditional dilemma they’ve supposedly faced the

last few elections– choosing between their heads and their

hearts. In 2004, the Democratic party elected a guy that we could

stomach that we figured everyone else would like, and it ended up

poorly. My fondness for the Howard Dean of August 2003 aside, the

candidate of the “heart” in that field would have proven even

more disastrous than the guy we chose. Obama has finally realized

(a la Paul Krugman, ironically Obama’s biggest critic from the

intellectual left) that progressive principles can win elections,

assuming that they aren’t put forth in a manner as brash as Howard

Dean (or, perhaps John Edwards of 2007) or as watered down and

poll-tested as John Kerry (or, Hillary Clinton 2007).

Obama’s message is unique, then, because it manages to reconcile any

number of values that seem to be mutually opposed. Aside from the

aforementioned “heart vs. head” issue, his campaign’s major theme of

“hope” is inherently paradoxical. While that word was so central to

his campaign message that it was the only one on his yard signs, when

you hear Obama speak you quickly realize that his worldview is

actually quite complex.

Obama’s politics begin with the assumption

that the American political system is deeply flawed, and rarely

produces positive results. Still, there are certain problems, from

health insurance to global warming, that necessitate a political

solution, and “the size of these challenges had outgrown the capacity

of our broken and divided politics to solve them.”

The key idea hereis in spite of. Rather than disagree there is reason for

cynicism, Obama says that we must do something in spite of it. For

all the bad in our political system, there are moments in history when

good does arise, from the civil rights movement to the New Deal.

Obama’s brand of pessimistic optimism (to use David Brooks’ phrase)

can charm even cynical observers such as myself because he doesn’t

deny cynicism; rather, he argues that to cede the realm of the political

to the cynics – and hope things don’t get worse – would be disastrous.

John Edwards or Hillary Clinton would have a good shot of getting elected

if they were the nominee. Given the similarity in their policy proposals, it

seems possible a bunch of good policy would make it through what

looks likely to be a Democratically-controlled Congress. What made

Thursday night so exciting to me is that Barack is not only likely to

win the presidency, he has the ability to do so by a margin that would

open the door to a broad progressive agenda.

Right now there are massive numbers of disaffected Republicans and

right-leaning independents just waiting to be swept up by a Democratic

candidate they respect, even if they disagree on substance. The 30% of

the country who still approve of George Bush? They’re a lost cause for Democrats,

but the 15% who voted for him in 2004 (and have since come to their senses)

may be up for grabs.

Obama has a very special appeal to these people, and it is certainly

not based upon differences in policy. Just read the glowing profiles of Obama

from any number of Republican authors, from Andrew Sullivan to David Brooks

to Steven Hayes of the Weekly Standard.

After speaking with Independents and Republicans in rural Iowa for the

last month, I’ve realized these aren’t just the opinions of the

right wing media– they are shared by normal people like my

Grandmother, a lifelong Republican from Cedar Rapids, Iowa who

registered as a Democrat to caucus for Obama. In short, the “I may

not agree with everything s/he says, but I trust and respect him/her”

vote is up for grabs this year, and I am ecstatic that a candidate

like Obama is drawing it in. It is these sorts of voters, by the way,

who are especially turned off by the Clinton campaign.

Maybe it’s unfortunate that this sort of voter will

make a huge difference in the direction of the country, and

that elections aren’t decided by a thoughtful comparison of the

particular policy positions of the candidates, but for at least a

brief moment, the randomness is serving the good guys. I would like to

believe that Obama’s paradoxical message is part of his appeal here,

and it isn’t a matter of dumb luck.

I’m not sure that being on the ground here in Iowa gave me any special

insight, but I guess that seeing Barack speak several times and

talking to voters informed everything above. I have any number of

anecdotes that will stick with me for a long time, a couple of which I

would like to recount.

On the day before the caucuses, I recruited a precinct captain for

Hills, IA (Population 679) for my friend on the Obama staff. Hills was

always a problem precinct for the campaign, and we were actually

concerned about even achieving viability (15%). On the night of the caucus,

the first individual to arrive told our 18-year old precinct captain

that he wouldn’t vote for Obama because he didn’t “want a colored man

in the White House for 4 years.” Still, Obama ended up with over 55 of the

80ish voters in that precinct. He was competitive in a number of rural,

1-delegate precincts across the state, which is a real feat of organization.

While the racist element may have been present in my 95% white state, it was

dwarfed by the numbers of individuals who involved themselves in the

process.

I have never seen a campaign with so many volunteers, nor have I

encountered such commitment from campaign staff, paid or not. Though

I worked “full time” on this campaign for the last month, I wasn’t

even in the top 10 volunteers in Johnson County in terms of hours

worked, and that doesn’t take into account the 18 hour days worked by

all of the paid staff. A few days before the caucuses, Hillary’s

campaign publicly bragged that she had knocked 30,000 doors that day.

Obama’s campaign had more than doubled that total on the same day.

On caucus night, I kept feeling like I hit my emotional peak, only to

experience something even more uplifting. Walking into my elementary

school’s gymnasium and seeing the Obama crowd so large it

swallowed both the Clinton and Edwards corners made my jaw drop.

All night long, I was nervously updating CNN.com on my

cell phone until they called the caucuses for Obama, at which point I

threw myself into my dad’s arms and burst into tears. I cried again

as he gave his extremely elegant victory speech, and couldn’t help but

repeatedly shout the phrase “We fucking WON!” until other people began

to shout it back at me before I even approached them.

I’ve been saying for months and months that Iowa would decide the

nominee, and at the moment that’s looking accurate. While

200,000 people in a small, predominately white state probably don’t

deserve the right to choose our next President, I can’t help but feel

a bit of pride for Iowa. For once, it looks like we got it right.

P.S. I can’t help but publicly boast about my predictions, and their

relative accuracy.

On December 14th, I predicted this finish:

1. Obama

2. Edwards (app. 5 points behind Obama)

3. Clinton, 10-13 points behind Obama

4. Biden, 5-7 percent

5. Richardson, 4-5 percent

6. Kucinich, 1-2 percent.

7. Dodd, between .5 and 1 percent.

I overestimated Edwards strength, perhaps largely because I watched so

many undecideds switch over to the Edwards camp that particular week.

I also overestimated the support of the second tier candidates. I

should have realized that in a field with 3 extremely strong

candidates, it would be difficult to find a precincts where a fourth

candidate could achieve 15% of the vote.

I did not expect this entry to end up this long, I applaud anyone who

has managed to make it this far.

Love,

Sean

the dry conflagration of seasoned elm

1/6/08

I’m putting together a blog of pictures for our extended family – y’know, the Christmas and holiday crazypantsing – but LFMD asked what secret present I’d given to Tessa. In short, it was a wood stove for our farmhouse that I installed myself:

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disregard mess at right

Two months of research went into this project, and I think I can safely say I know more about R-values, firebox capacity, hardwood burning rates and flue technology than anyone else with a music and psychology degree from the University of North Carolina. A quick breakdown of what I had to do:

– find the right woodburning stove that was super-efficient yet still looked like it belonged at a farm

– calculate precise dimensions and clearances so that the stovepipe could go straight up through the living room, through the bedroom upstairs and through the attic and roof without, you know, going through wires or a hot water pipe

– build a hearth out of Micore™, aluminum sheets and brick (which required learning basic masonry)

– saw holes through the floors and ceilings (unbelievably hard)

– make everything to code by using double-wall stovepipe and mirror-finish insulated pipe

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marking location and clearances with tape

…and a lot of other nickel-and-dime stuff that, like most other projects, adds a week to your timeframe just by being annoying. The hardest thing, by far, was getting the stove itself out of our car and into the house. We were having an ice storm, and I was doing it by myself, and that motherscratcher was so fuckin’ heavy that it flattened the tires on my dolly. Cast iron is serious bidness, yo.

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before mortaring

Because I’m relentlessly persnickety and have too much OCD because I’m on strike, I wanted to use antique bricks for the hearth. I found a few down in the foundation of our house from the late 1800s, and then used some others I found locally, like the Arrow Bricks (from the long-defunct brickmaker in the Hudson Valley). I though the pavers with flying ducks on them were cool, and also the “McManigal 1892”. I mean, why make a complicated project easier when you can make it so much more complicated?

Tessa’s reaction? Delayed joy, I would call it. When she first saw it, she was freaked out, because it was a huge change in our house that we hadn’t discussed – also, because I was waiting on chimney flashing, it didn’t work yet. But the next day, the pros came over to install the chimney cap, and we were off to the races. My whole family spent most of the holidays in front of it, and when the weather flirted with the minus-teens a few days ago, it saved our ass.

One thing Tessa and I have always wanted was a fireplace – neither of us have lived in a place with a working fire since we were kids. Real fireplaces are somewhat insane, with a heat efficiency that can be as low as 5%. These new woodstoves are in the 77% efficiency range, and the big window gives you all the cracklin’ you can stare at for hours. After all this labor, I truly do just want to make sweet, sweet love to it all night long.

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cleaning up during Xmas

meteorology waxing crescent

1/3/07

60 degrees Fahrenheit – Vaguely uncomfortable at first blush, but even the slightest exertion renders normality. A sweater, then catch the ball three times and it’s suddenly tied around your waist.

51 degrees – Bare minimum for golf. Get cocky and underdress, and you’ve signed up for low-grade misery. Fine in the sun, but the wind speaks ill.

42 degrees – Keeps threatening to be comfortable, but ultimately betrays. Cotton kills, you know.

32 degrees – It’s partly an emotional barrier, but what’s the difference if your fourth and fifth fingers aren’t responding correctly?

24 degrees – Begins to feel dangerous, as though the ancient settlers still living in your ancestral atoms are telling you from beyond: “Get the firewood inside! Gather the children from the croup!”

18 degrees – Painful, saps energy, and only three layers will do. Animals scarce, mice huddle, and start the car five minutes before getting into it.

Zero degrees – Another emotional barrier? No, this one is for reals. Even the double-layer wicking socks begin to fail, and the normal function of things – doors, batteries, tires – begin to fundamentally change. You think you can do a simple five-minute chore outside? Two minutes in, and it feels like you’re flirting with something truly ominous.

Wind chill minus-10 degrees – People can’t look at each other because your vitreous humor might freeze sideways. Strategize: how will I get from the car to the kitchen door? Every exposed piece of flesh feels like sandblasts of pain. Government services don’t see the point; phones aren’t answered, nobody comes back from lunch, people even stop talking about the weather. Fireplace flues utterly useless, lip balm becomes one of the major food groups. At night, you look through the window, at the cloudless starry sky, and see nature as a canny chess player who simply won this round.

Wind chill at farm tonight in Columbia County, NY: minus-20 degrees. And how is everyone else doing?