February 23, 2014

Naked in the snow

Naked in the snow

I’m always telling my friends that the naked body looks best in “natural light.” And that’s true. Artificial light casts weird shadows and turns flesh odd colours. Flash photography will make skin look really white. That’s great if you’re trying for a zombie, walking-dead look, but most people prefer photos that don’t make them look like corpses. The best naked photos are taken outside. Really.

When I arrived with my friends at the cabin in the mountains last weekend, the first thing I asked was: “Who is going to pose for my blog?” They all turned to look out the window at the pine trees covered with snow, the deck piled with snow, and the frozen lake. Dancing Woman was the first to speak up. “It might be a little cold,” she said. I took that as a yes.

What we should have done was take the photo on the first day we arrived, when temperatures were warm enough that I could actually take my mittens off for a moment to take a photo. Sadly, we didn’t take advantage of the balmy temperatures that hovered somewhere around freezing. By the time we woke up on Saturday, the cheerful guy on the local radio station was announcing a wind chill advisory: “Temperatures are dangerously low.” It’s true that wind off the lake was chilly. When I went for my morning walk, I took my hands out of my mittens a couple of times to take photos, and even though I was fast, my fingers felt painful when I got back to the house and thawed them out.

“Don’t worry,” I told Dancing Woman. “We’ll take the photo close to the house, so you can dash back in.” I didn’t mention that my plan was to take the photo from inside the warm house, fully dressed. One of my rules for Project Naked is that if a subject asks me to strip for the photo, just so that the photographer is as vulnerable as the person posing, I will. On this frigid day, I decided not to mention the rule.

We thought it best to wait until Makes Bread and her twelve-year-old son had left for a walk. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from raising a houseful of boys, it’s that twelve-year-old boys don’t want to see their mother’s middle-aged friends naked.

Despite the icy wind that whipped across the lake, Dancing Woman was surprisingly cheerful about stripping off her clothes: the outer layers, the long underwear, the multiple pairs of socks. Too lazy to shovel off the deck, I found a frozen welcome mat for her to stand on. “It might be a little cold,” I said apologetically.

What amazes me is that Dancing Woman didn’t scream at all as she stepped, naked, out into the frigid winter wind. She moved gracefully, lifting her arms above her head, her hair whipped around by the wind. When I called out, finally, that I was done, she didn’t race inside, but just wrapped her arms against her chest, looked out across the lake, and then down at the mounds of snow that balanced on the deck railing like stone cairns. And so I took one more shot, which is the one she liked the best.

Read more about the history of the naked blogging project and check out the gallery of photos.

February 19, 2014


We've had lots of snow this winter — and some pretty cold weather too. It's been February for about 60 days now. So last weekend, a bunch of my women friends and I decided there was only one logical thing to do. We drove north into the mountains.

Thankfully, the roads were plowed, even the gravel road that winds through the woods until it reaches the shore of the lake. Well, we think it was a gravel road: we were driving on hard-packed snow that looked so clean and white that we knew we were the first car to drive down in that day. That whole weekend, we saw no one else, except snow mobiles on the other side of the lake, all traveling along what seemed to be one straight path, and white-tailed deer, who paused to look at us curiously as we went by.

We stayed in a lovely lakeside house lent to us by a friend's sister. I kept the fire going in the big stone fireplace while my friends got busy in the kitchen and made more food than seven people could possibly eat. We filled ourselves with lentil soup, slices of fresh fruit, fresh garlic bread with hot tomato sauce, an elaborate salad, and vegan Key Lime pie. After a lazy lunch by the fire, we bundled up to go out into the snowy world, walking through the winding trails and eventually out onto the frozen lake. 

It's a wonderful way to spend a weekend in February: talking with close friends, hiking in the most beautiful woods, playing silly games, and making food together.

February 16, 2014

Early morning on a mountain lake

I'm in the mountains for the weekend with a bunch of my women friends, staying in a lovely lodge at the edge of a lake. Last night, we stayed in by the fire, playing a silly game of Apples to Apples, and eating bowls of hot lentil soup. When I peered out the dark window, I could see the lights of snow mobiles zooming down the lake. This morning, I woke up to blue light spilling over the snow. Grabbing my winter coat and mittens, I headed out into the frosty air for a morning walk.

February 10, 2014

Sunshine, boats, and poetry

Even though I was in Coastal City for less than 48 hours, it was a welcome break from the February weather of Snowstorm Region. The temperatures may have been chilly, but the sun shone brightly both days, and I could see the ground. “It feels like spring,” I kept saying to everyone.

In the harbor, we saw boats still in the water, sails still furled tightly to booms. Some were decorated with Christmas lights. A bunch of teenagers were skateboarding on the pier, doing fancy jumps and turns. We wandered around the town, looking at the cute little houses and buildings from centuries past. The streets were fairly empty without the usual summer tourists, although the ice cream shop was still open for business despite the cold.

A couple of friends joined us for lunch in a café that served a spicy tea that smelled like mulled cider. We ate a leisurely meal while we talked about book projects and children, and soon it was time to go back to the college auditorium for my reading. The college I was visiting was a model for what the community college experience should be: the young people I met were excited and engaged, the man in the very front row was 89 years old.

That evening, my friend Ocean Breeze and I went to a Thai restaurant, where we ate crispy squares of tofu with sweet and sour sauce, and vegetables with garlic sauce over rice. Trying to squeeze every moment out of my short visit, we made plans to visit at least one museum in Nation’s Capital the next day before I got back on my plane and headed home.

February 07, 2014

Flying out of the storm

Winter Storm Warning. Those are the words I loved to hear when I was a child. The possibility of a snow day was always exciting. But the words are less fun when you are an adult who needs to get on an airplane the next day.

When I woke up Wednesday morning, about a foot of snow had already fallen. But I live in Snowstorm Region, where we have an amazing crew of snow plow and salt truck drivers. My husband doesn’t mind winter driving at all and kept saying, “Oh, this isn’t too bad,” as we rolled through several inches of snow that had not been plowed from the road yet. He dropped me off at the airport at 9:30 am, well before my scheduled flight.

The airport was ominously quiet. “We just don’t have many planes here,” the agent explained to me as I checked in. “Other airports keep canceling flights.” But my flight was still scheduled to go on time.

And it almost did. Well, at least we boarded on time. By then, it was snowing pretty hard. That is, it was a total white-out. “We’re going to take off in this?” the man next to me asked incredulously. I don’t know much about flying a plane, but I have to admit that it seemed to me he had a point.

The couple across from me leaned over to share their story. “We’ve been here since 4 am.” It turns out that THEIR original flight also boarded on time. But then the de-icing truck crashed into the plane, damaging the wing, and they all had to get off.

“At least you have a funny story to tell,” I said sympathetically.

The young guy sitting behind them chimed in. “Yep. I’m telling everyone that I’ve survived a plane crash.”

Everyone on the plane began to tell their worst-ever travel stories. We had plenty of time to talk, it turns out, because the de-icing process took about 45 minutes. The de-icing machine kept spraying gallons and gallons of liquid onto the plane, splattering the windows with orange and then green. It was like being in a giant car wash for 45 minutes.

 When we finally rolled away from the de-icing machine, we all looked at each other hopefully. “I don’t know,” said the man next to me. “I can see the snowplows on the runway — that’s a lot of snow.”

It turns out he was right. We ended up back at the gate, where the cheerful flight attendants spent the next couple of hours saying, “Just as soon as the storm lets up a little.” The passengers were, for the most part, pretty good-natured about the whole thing. The man across from me gave me half his chocolate bar. The young woman with the smart phone kept giving us updates on the storm. The old man two seats ahead began telling us stories about serving as a soldier in World War II; that kept things in perspective. We were warm and comfortable, and we had a good supply of food to share amongst us. Plus, the flight attendants started giving out free booze, which seemed to up the spirits of the young man behind me.

And we did eventually take off. The snowplows cleared the runway, we went through another long bout of de-icing, and then we went zooming down the runway, despite the newest layer of snow. When the plane rose, finally, into the air, everyone cheered.

February 01, 2014

Sugar, sugar

“They say it’s harder to give up than cocaine,” said my daughter, helpfully, when I told her I was going to stop eating refined sugar. I haven’t, actually, had any experience kicking a cocaine habit, but after going without sugar for most of last month, I am beginning to think she’s right.

It was last semester when I came to the realization that I needed to stop eating refined sugar. I don’t mean small amounts, like the sugar that’s used as glaze on carrots. I’m talking about the slabs of chocolate I’d eat while grading papers, or the whole cartons of tofutti I could consume in one sitting. I have the theory that my body doesn’t handle sugar well: I get an initial rush from the sugar, and then the crash comes while I am teaching my afternoon class. And there didn’t seem to be any compelling reason why I needed refined sugar.

So I figured I’d treat sugar like any other addiction: I’d take it a day at a time. I give myself a gold star any day that I go a whole day without sugar. Yes, I mean that literally. I bought a packet of adhesive stars at the drugstore.

I haven’t deprived myself of all sweets. I eat fresh fruit every day. I use honey, maple syrup, and other natural sweeteners. I eat unlimited amounts of healthy foods.

And I definitely feel better now in the afternoons. I don’t get that droopy, tired feeling. I don’t know if it’s from eliminating sugar in my diet or whether it’s a placebo effect, but whatever. It’s working.

But still. On the days I work at home, I still crave sugar. I still think longingly of the things I used to eat: squares of dark chocolate, handfuls of chocolate chips, mints pressed between chocolate, whole chocolate bars. I don’t have any of that stuff in my house any more, but I think if a girl scout showed up at my door selling cookies – or better yet, chocolate bars — I’d pay whatever price she was asking.