Archive for November, 2012

Cultural Seasons

Every region has them. They are cultural touchstones that  happen around the same time every year and have no religious, scientific or civic relevance attached to them. If you are writing a regional-centric book (or series) you better know them by heart.

Here in the good old heartland of the upper Mississippi River Valley, we have several. Spring beckons Construction Season, Garage Sale Season, Fishing Opener, Cabin Season, and Gardening and planting time. Since our actual spring is so God-awfull short here, all of these seasons persist through the (usually) hot summer and into our equally truncated fall. Fall is the breather to get the harvest in and hit the last of the small town festivals (the ones that don’t celebrate cold and snow). Tourists and locals alike drive aimlessly along the back roads, oohing and ahhing at the pretty leaves.

Then, usually around Halloween, it gets cold. Temperature changes are almost never gradual here. We can easily have 40 degree differences in a matter of a few hours. When winter starts marching in, new seasons start.

First there’s Deer Season (technically it’s Hunting Rifle Deer Season, not to be confused with Bow Hunting Deer Season) in early to mid November. For nine days, blaze orange folks of all shapes, sizes, ages (over 12), genders, races, and political affiliates march through woods and fields looking for that bouncing white tail. It’s a time when those who don’t hunt know to pretty much stay indoors for the duration.

Deer Season trumps Thanksgiving, Football, and Black Friday in Wisconsin. Large brown carcasses hanging off of car roofs and out of truck boxes are a badge of respect and honor. A buck with a huge rack of antlers is especially impressive, despite the fact that the meat on it is so old and tough it’s relegated to stews and hamburger. “What’d ya get?”, “An eight-pointer.”, “Nice!”, “Yah.” That conversation will be repeated several thousand times during Deer Season.

After Deer Season, if there’s enough snow, you get Snowmobile Season. After Christmas, when the scientific winter is underway, Ice Fishing Season will start. For those of you in far off tropical realms, like New Zealand or San Diego, ice fishing is the act of sitting on a frozen lake, cutting a hole in the ice, and fishing. It’s like regular fishing without a boat. Most lakes up here will form a crust of ice around 3 feet thick. It’s thick enough to eventually drive a full size truck on and actually leave a small structure called a fish house behind for months at a time. If there’s not sufficient snow on the ground, people will snowmobile on the ice.

The coming of spring here is not heralded so much by flower buds and migrating birds as it is by the removal of the fish houses from the ice. That’s mid March. It can be 60 degrees or 10 degrees outside. The ground, which will be frozen at least 3 feet down, may or may not begin to thaw and expand from the release of frozen water, a phenomena called “the frost heaving.”Then the cycles of cultural seasons start all over again.

Cultural seasons, like the people who mark them, are steadfast and consistent. They persist through temperamental weather  patterns, shifting political climates, even disasters and wars. They mold who we are and where we come from. And they align us as a region like nothing else can. What are your cultural seasons? How do they affect you?

Be thankful with pie!

My sister and I love Thanksgiving. It’s our favorite holiday of the year. No pressure, no gifts, just bring a bottle of wine and a pie.

I think we broke the record last year with eight pies for about fourteen people. It’s getting harder every year to do the sliver of each pie on your plate.

When the weather is nice, the ladies of the family go for a walk after consuming the actual meal and  before the pie. My aunt and uncle live in town, so we walk a couple of blocks, over the bridge of the Apple River (and every year someone comments on the giant bobber- art piece), and turn at the dam to walk Grease Pit Road. That’s the back alley behind the Dairy Queen, Subway, and Supper Club (which I think is Mexican this year?) where the hot, salty fat  permeates the atmosphere. It’s actually a little sickening after all that turkey, so we walk fast.

Rounding the Baptist church at the end of the block, we head back for home and pass by my mom and dad’s old house. It’s the house they bought right before I graduated from college and sold right after my sister got married. In that time, they repainted all the rooms, put in new carpet and vinyl, refinished all the cabinetry, landscaped, added a garage door, and put in two huge picture windows in both the living room and family room. They sold it to a guy from Iowa. When the guy bought it, he was married with four kids. Shortly thereafter, he  divorced his wife who moved back to Iowa, ripped out most of the landscaping and started the kitchen on fire. His dad ended up taking over the place. It eventually went into foreclosure. I don’t know who owns it now.

Even though Mom and Dad have been in their new place for well over a decade, Mom still can’t go past that house without sighing.

You can’t make other people appreciate the time or effort you put into a particular project. They either do or don’t. Sometimes, self-satisfaction is the only satisfaction you’re going to get. Believe me, as a validation junkie, that’s a hard pill to swallow. The only time that’s not hard is with pie. Not everyone digs into your pie? Whatever, take the rest home. Be thankful with pie!

Why economists hate me

You know what I love to do? Shop in thrift stores. With 70% of our country’s GDP depending on consumer spending, that pretty much makes me persona non-grata.

The ugly truth is I am afflicted with the dreaded Lutheran Cheapass Syndrome or LCS. My husband has it too. It makes us very compatible, materialism-wise. It’s just that nine times out of ten we can rationalize ourselves out of most non-essential purchases. The only time we ever bother buying anything new is usually for someone else, like at Christmas.

Ah Christmas! How the birth of Christ manages to creep further and further into other holiday territories at the stores every year like some tinsel coated glacier is a phenomenon that can only be truly loathed by a person who has no intention of buying any of that crap.

I just think that having the fall bulb displays across the aisle from the giant glowing skulls across the aisle from the lighted shrine to the Griswalds sends a confusing message to customers.

I don’t particularly like Christmas shopping. Since my life is pretty much determined by my guilt factor, I stress about what to get each person that will rid me of my obligation to them with as little shame as possible. This stress is compounded by the said persons who will inevitably say, “Oh, I don’t really need anything. Don’t go to any trouble.” This is clearly a ruse, and I must now try to make whatever present I get them be a thoughtful one.

My husband shops with me, but he is basically not allowed to accomplish this task without supervision (because I’m a control freak). So together we will descend on whatever cluster of stores will provide the highest yield of required gifts in the shortest amount of time. I generally do all my shopping in one weekend in December.

This year will be our first year ever to host Christmas, and I’m planning something diabolical. No gifts. That’s right. Each family can exchange all they want with each other, but once they cross our threshold, their arms better only be laden with food and drink. We will watch Christmas movies, play board games, listen to holiday music and graze to our heart’s delight, but the only thing under the tree will be the cat fur coated tree skirt.

Is this wrong? Maybe. But the truth is I’m one of those annoying people who “doesn’t need anything” and I really wish that people “wouldn’t go to any trouble,”. The privilege of other people’s company to celebrate the birth of the Savior is all the gift I desire. You know, that and some kick-ass appetizers. Leave the leftovers if you feel guilty.