Posted in Life, Random

“Winter” “Woes”

[Why are both words of the title in quotation marks? Because it’s not really winter, and these aren’t really woes. I mean, technically, it is winter, according to the calendar, but it’s a woefully weak one so far. And these are woefully weak woes to be experiencing during a woefully weak winter. But let’s get on with it.]

Today, at 11:00AM, I slathered myself in sunscreen, put on a lightweight t-shirt and shorts, packed a bottle of water, and went for a walk at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, one of my favorite places. Nothing about this excursion sounds unusual until I remind you that this was TODAY: December 30th.

It’s a balmy 78 degrees in Austin, Texas, today. I’ve experienced warm winter breaks before, but this one takes the cake. Austin is currently wrapping up its hottest December on record and, as an added bonus, the city is topping off the record heat with a more than generous sprinkling of cedar pollen. The cedar count here yesterday was 24,875 grains per cubic meter. Not sure what that means? Let me put it in perspective for you. Cedar is considered in the HIGH range at 500.


“So…” you may be asking yourself, “…WHY did you go for a walk in nature if the cedar pollen is in a range best described as ‘MURDEROUS’?”

Good question. The answer is because I listen to fortune-telling objects more than people.

Yesterday, I asked my Magic 8 Ball, “If I take a walk at the Wildflower Center tomorrow, will I die of cedar allergies?” And Magic 8 Ball replied, “My sources say no.”

Who (or what) the Magic 8 Ball’s sources may be is a mystery for another time. I was satisfied with my answer. Although, when I shared my plans with friends, they passionately tried to talk me out of my mission, overusing shocked-face emojis and lamenting my imminent and impending doom.

I mostly ignored them. However, on their advice, I did wear a face mask to filter out at least some of the vile allergens.

The mask– along with my t-shirt, shorts, and whole self– was drenched in sweat within just a few minutes. Austin knows how to do humid. Plus, there’s just something about warm weather in winter that makes it seem stickier than usual. It’s like the temperature is mixed with a layer of betrayal.

I ran across this sign on my sweaty walk and had to laugh.

Despite the heat, I felt pretty smug about my decision to take a hike until I came face to face with one of the offending trees and, letting curiosity get the best of me, poked it.

This is when I realized I may have made a mistake.

WARNING: This video may cause sneezing in sensitive viewers.

Thankfully, I am not as allergic to cedar as most of my friends (sorry, friends) so I did not actually die from my excursion through cedar country. I did, however, see this hearse on my way home.

If you gotta go…

I’m glad to know that if someone did succumb to the cedar, they had a sweet ride waiting for them.

After I got home, showered, used my neti pot, and took some medicine, I was totally and completely fine except for a little sneezing and some brain fog and a general sense of remorse. And a headache. And one itchy eye.

So, in conclusion, the Magic 8 Ball is always right, cedar pollen is the devil, and warm winters are just weird.

Posted in Reading

5 Cool Books to Read When It’s Hot Outside


The heat index yesterday in Austin was 104 degrees. That kind of temperature just makes you want to climb into one of the compartments on the frozen food aisle and take a nap on the bags of edamame. But that’s a good way to get kicked out of your favorite grocery store. The next best way to survive the heat is to curl up in a dark, air conditioned room with a good book. If you choose the right book, you can transport yourself out of the hot, humid central Texas air, and into a winter wonderland.* Here are five books guaranteed to cool you down at least a few degrees.

[* Warning! Winter wonderlands are not always pleasant places.]

I’ve given each book three different ratings:

  • Entertainment Value = How much I enjoyed the story, regardless of the weather.
  • Iciness Factor = How much it made me want a sweater while reading.
  • Squeamish Scale = How much it disturbed and/or traumatized me.

(Note: Ratings are on a scale of 1-5, 5 being the highest. Also, my levels of squeamishness and cold-tolerance may differ from yours.)

1. Greenglass House by Kate Milford

GreenglassHouseThis charming middle grade novel is set in a big, ramshackle inn on the top of a snowy hill overlooking an inlet of harbors in the middle of winter. Milo and his parents run the inn and it’s usually empty during the cold season, but this year a succession of odd characters arrive, bringing with them mystery and adventure.

Entertainment Value = 5 – I loved this book. To read my full review of it, click here.
Iciness Factor = 3 – The descriptions of the snow and the wintry winds and all the coats and galoshes they put on before going outside will definitely make you shiver, but there are also plenty of scenes by the fireplace and lots of hot chocolate.
Squeamish Scale = 0 – Nothing to scream (or squeam) at here.

2. Surviving Antarctica: Reality TV 2083 by Andrea White

SurvivingThis is a cool book (pun intended). It’s a historical fiction novel set in the future. (Um, what?) The year is 2083 and five fourteen-year-olds are re-enacting Robert F. Scott’s 1912 doomed expedition to the South Pole for reality television and a chance to win big prizes, if they survive. The story combines futuristic technology with quotes from the real explorers’ journals and makes for a gut-wrenching and gut-freezing read.

Entertainment Value = 4 – This is a fast-paced, interesting take on the dystopian genre. Fans of The Hunger Games would enjoy it.
Iciness Factor = 4 – The descriptions of blizzards and snow blindness and ice crevasses and Antarctic temperatures will definitely transport your senses to a cooler climate.
Squeamish Scale = 2.5 – It’s been a while since I read this, but I only remember a couple of things that truly gave me the heebie jeebies. One had to do with eyes, and I’m pretty squeamish when it comes to eyes.

3. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

OneDayNothing keeps you cool like a day in a Siberian prison camp. Ivan Denisovich Shukhov was wrongfully sentenced to ten years of labor in one of the coldest places on earth. Solzhenitsyn’s novel depicts one of his three thousand, six hundred, and fifty-three days of internment.

Entertainment Value = 4.5 – A great read. Ivan handles the cold, hunger, and injustice of his situation with dignity, strength, and even optimism.
Iciness Factor = 5 – This book will chill you to your bones. And make you hungry for bread.
Squeamish Scale = 2 – I don’t remember anything violent or gross in this book, only general suffering and despair.

4. The Shining by Stephen King

TheShiningA family of three spends the winter at a luxurious hotel in Colorado. That’s one way to summarize this book. Another way is… A writer with a history of alcoholism and abuse, his nervous wife, and their strangely gifted five-year-old son take on the job of off-season caretakers at a haunted hotel. Horror ensues.

Entertainment Value = 5 – I can’t believe I waited so long to read this book. It’s amazing. To read more of my thoughts on The Shining, click here.
Iciness Factor = 3 – If you want it to make you even colder, you can always put the book in the freezer like Joey did on Friends. I always loved that episode. Although, now that I’ve read the book, I know that Joey was actually describing the movie. :/
Squeamish Scale = 4 – This book is high on the squeamish scale, but it’s my kind of squeamish. Good scary stuff.

5. In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides

IceThis nonfiction book tells the story of George De Long and the thirty-three men who set out in 1879 to try to reach the North Pole on the USS Jeannette. Two years into the voyage, after being trapped in the ice for more than a year, the ship sank, stranding the crew almost a thousand miles north of Siberia.

Entertainment Value = 3.5 – This is a well-written account that reads like fiction in many ways. It’s interesting and informative and gripping, but very harsh in places.
Iciness Factor = 4 – It takes more than a hundred pages to actually reach the arctic, and Sides doesn’t dwell on the cold as much as Solzhenitsyn does, but the very thought of being marooned on an ice pack should cool you off sufficiently.
Squeamish Scale = 4.5 – If you’re squeamish about things like frostbite, syphilis, starvation, and dogs dying, be wary of this book.

Happy reading! May your teeth chatter with delight. 🙂