Farmer’s market Croissants

A few weeks ago, I made croissants for the Troy Mother’s Day farmer’s market, and I’ve had so many requests for the recipe, I thought I’d jot it down here. Croissants have a reputation of being complicated to make, but I don’t think they are, just time consuming. I hope you’ll try them, because it’s so satisfying to make this French bakery staple at home, and if you, like me, live very, very far away from the nearest good bakery, sometimes you must take matters into your own hands!

***Allow five hours for initial prep of the dough, 8-18 hours resting time and another two hours to roll, form, rise and bake the rolls. Most of this time is inactive. I usually start the process in the early afternoon, rest the dough overnight and get up and bake in the morning. ***

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk, heated to warm
  • 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 3 3/4 to 4 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) cold unsalted butter [I use salted sometimes too, and cut the salt down to about a teaspoon]
  • 1-2 eggs, beaten, for egg wash

This recipe makes about 20-25 croissants.

First, make the dough. Dissolve the sugar in the warm milk, then add yeast, stir, and let sit until it starts to foam. Add the flour and salt and knead until you have a soft, sticky dough. You can use extra flour to make kneading easier if your dough is very sticky.

Form the dough into a rough rectangle and pop it in a plastic bag in the fridge until very cold, about one hour.

When your dough is close to being chilled, begin to prepare your butter. I find the easiest way is to take the three sticks of butter and cut them in half horizontally, then line them up next to each other on a cutting board to make a rectangle.

Now make the butter into one thin, uniform piece as much as possible, by pounding with a rolling pin, so it can more easily incorporate into the dough.

pound

Take the dough out of the fridge and roll it out. It will spring back and “fight’ you. Let it sit for minute to relax if you want, or just keep rolling until you have a long, thin rectangle of dough.

roll

Scrape the butter off the cutting board in one piece and place it in the middle of your strip of dough.

crop

 

Then fold both ends of the dough over the butter to make an envelope shape [the process is only half done in the picture]:

fold

Roll out thinly, and fold again the same way and put the dough back in the fridge for an hour.

It’s a lot of rolling. Bakeries have rolling machines that can make the dough much thinner than we can by hand.

In the pictures [taken by the lovely Madeline – thank you] I had just gotten home from yoga, and with the amount of rolling you will be doing, you might want to limber up and get some exercise wear on as well. I call it the French housewife workout, and it’s a nice way to offset all the croissants you will be eating later!

roll 2

Then wrap the rough rectangle of dough tightly in a plastic bag or plastic wrap and put it in the fridge for 8-18 hours.

When you are ready to bake, take the dough out and roll it, as thinly as you can, into a long rectangle. It might take some time and wrestling to get it as thin as possible and you may have to re roll as you go as the dough springs back.

Cut your first croissant. You want to make as many long, thin, wide based triangles as you can from the dough.

Stretching the dough as you work, start to roll from the wide base of the triangle to make a croissant shape. [I don’t have pictures of this stage, but here are the finished, unbaked rolls]

raw

 

Pre heat your oven to 350F/180C and let the croissants rise in a warm place for about half an hour, then brush them with egg wash and bake for about 20 minutes, until golden brown and well risen.

baked

Yum! enjoy. My croissants are never as even as commercial ones, and sometimes they un furl in the oven and look more like snails, but despite their looks, the first warm, crunchy bite always takes me back to an early morning in a little village bakery near Lyon, France, where I ordered croissants and ate them all before I got back to the house.

Because of their high fat content, croissants freeze and re heat beautifully, so pop any leftovers in a bag in the freezer, and thaw at room temp for 10-15 mins before cutting in half and toasting, or crisping in a hot oven for 10 mins.

All we have to do is nothing

Last night, at about 4:45 am, I woke to the sound of a child crying and calling out.

It took a minute to realize it wasn’t one of my children, who slept in a tangled pile of sheets and limbs.

‘Haak? do you hear that child crying?” I asked and we both got up to stare blearily out of the open window.

A family with two young boys recently moved in across the street. The kids are about five and six years old, and the older one is in Atticus’ class.

It was one of those boys crying for his mom in the very early morning, and there was clearly nothing we could do to help.

As I settled back to sleep I had a strange thought about parenting, and kid’s emotions:

It’s gonna get ya in the end.

It sounds ominous, but I don’t feel ominous about it, really.

It is a truth that is still sinking in for me, though: that on some level, we, as parents, will be exposed to our kid’s emotional lives for the rest of their lives in a way we’re not with anyone else.

If our kids feel safe with us, they will show us how they feel. And when they are little, it’s very much a show.

It’s a powerful kick, a high pitched scream, a frantic fit.

Both of my kids, when they are really upset, often yell at the top of their lungs “you’re hurting me! Oweeeee! get off! I hate you!.

We can put a lot of energy into stopping their feelings – we can, if necessary, put a sucker [lollipop] or pacifier, or breast, into their tiny screaming mouths.

We can coax, cajole, bribe or beg our kids to please stop, not now, not here.

We can make it so our feelings are bigger than their’s, and our anger quietens them.

There are times I’ve done everything I possibly can to stop my kids having strong emotional expression – at the dentist, or during the vows of a wedding, and sometimes, a fact I’m not proud of, because I just couldn’t listen.

I think it’s fine to let our kids know, especially as they get older, that sometimes they have to hold it in.

But giving up the fight is sweet relief. I try to find a comfortable place to sit with them, take their boots off [weapons!] and surrender to minutes, even hours, of being there.

All we have to do is nothing.

When I hold my three year old daughter while she screams it feels like forever. Sometimes it’s 45 minutes, but mostly it’s seven, or three.

When I hold my six year old son, he is pure muscle. It takes more engagement to be with him as he gets older, and it happens less and less. Sometimes he flips me. Sometimes he comes in and out of fury and a little smile creeps across his face and we laugh and then he lashes out again, not wanting to indicate it’s over before it really is.

Lately, an image of a card some friends have always had on their fridge pops into my mind while the kids are screaming. It is a small white, business style card that has written on it, in red typewriter print: LOVE IS ALWAYS THE APPROPRIATE REACTION.

So I try to meet fury with love, and hard, fighting little bodies with softness. But I do not let them hurt me.

Here is Callie, really, really really wanting to wear a different dress, and carry the bag, and not wear a hat right before we left the house this morning.

I did not give in to her demands. But I did let her cry.

 

crop 2crop

When it is over, it’s as clear as the sun coming out from behind storm clouds.

My daughter, red and sweaty from fighting so hard, will snuggle in, her wet face on my chest.

And then, as if nothing had happened, she will say “can my baby come to the post office?” and we get on with the day.

Sometimes it takes me awhile to get to that sunny place. I’m irritated that the need to cry interrupted my plans and I feel drained.

Ideally, I would be able to do what they do so well, but in the absence, I try to be gentle with myself for the rest of that day.

If you put off listening to your kids, they will fight for the right to be heard. When they are young, if there is no time in the day, they will, like our neighbor’s child, cry through the night.

The repercussions in adult relationships can be much more devastating, and long lasting – I saw an acquaintance’s mom in the parking lot across the street, who said she had not heard from her daughter for three months and has no idea why. Her daughter has a family.

If we cannot hear the ways we are doing our children wrong and if we cannot tolerate their deepest feelings when the feelings are about not getting to take a toy on a bike ride, how will we hear their adult concerns? how can we remain impartial while they fuck up?

A woman with two daughters’s in their 50’s, who has good relationships with them both, was telling me a story and ended with “I’d prefer if they didn’t feel that way [her daughter’s] but, you know, as parents, we just have to cop it sometimes, don’t we? we just have to say nothing.”

As I watch my adult friend’s struggle with parental relationships, I’m ever grateful for the times I’ve watched my parents close their mouths, a conscious physical act to protect our relationship.

I hope like heck that as my children grow, and ‘do nothing’ turns into ‘say nothing’, that I have the power to follow through and be a good listener when the words may be more cutting than a generic and humorous “I hate you!”

 

 

 

Many of my thoughts expressed in this post spring from the theory of  Re-Evaluation Co-Counseling

 

 

 

Homesickness

I used to feel homesick a lot when I was first living in Montana.

I would kind of dive into the feeling, longing so hard to just feel fine sand beneath my feet and smell fishy, minerally sea air.

To walk across dry, crackling good smelling eucalyptus leaves and be in the harsh Australian sun, mildly wary of snakes and feeling the skin on my neck crisp.

IMG_0147[1]

Now the homesick feelings have tapered off, partly because I’m pretty used to coming and going, and partly because I have two kids and a lot less time to think!

But it still sneaks up on me sometimes …

We were in Missoula visiting friends and picking my father in law up from the airport last weekend and I walked down to the Good Food Store, a huge organic grocer down the street.

It took me long seconds to figure out that the cashier was Australian. She just sounded funny – I thought maybe she was deaf.

When I realized, I asked her “are you Australian?” and she said, without looking up, and in a tired voice “yep, good guess.”

And then I said something, a simple communication: “I have some bags” and her head bolted up and she said “are YOU Australian?” and we looked at each other for a second. I was so happy in that moment. To see yourself in someone else – a stranger. What a powerful force national identity is.

I wanted to hang around and listen to her talk to people, but that would have been weird, so we quickly established that she was from Tassie and I from the South Coast of NSW and I loaded my bags and walked away.

I do, of course, talk to my family sometimes. And every year, we have had at least two visitors from Australia, so I hear the accent. But it’s different when it’s people you know, and know well.

So sometimes I call our Australian bank or the mortgage company. Usually, there is a reason, like a blocked bank card, but sometimes I call for an account balance I can access online in two seconds.

And when the recorded ad reel begins in a broad Aussie accent, I relax. When the sales rep answers, I melt further, allowing my voice to flatten, the ends of words to run into one another.

I cut my words in half and relish it. I say ‘dodgy’ and ‘I reckon’, try to work in ‘shed’, ‘ute’, ‘relo’s’ and ‘veranda’. For a five minute conversation with Kirsty from St George, I am so Australian it hurts.

Then I hang up and step out into early spring.

Sleet/snow/rain is falling – what the weather stations quaintly call “a wintry mix.”

Thin slashes of icy slush hit my face and I breathe in the grey light. I am here, I am choosing to be here with Haak and our Montana family and I know now that even this wintry weather will soon bring spring.

 

 

 

Can we imagine better social media?

I started this blog partly because social media was leaving me unsatisfied – Facebook, long my stand by for messages, video chat and getting basic soul feeding news about the place we are not living, seems to be be giving me less and less of what I want.

What do I want? I want what I think everyone wants from social media, and from relationships in general – to be connected, acknowledged and appreciated.

But with our back-and-forth lifestyle, keeping up with social media takes on a new importance – heck yes I want to see pictures of my cousin’s brand new baby, or know that someone I know moved into or out of the area.

I want to know who’s building a house, who lost a parent and who is receiving awards at work.

I also need to see those casual snaps of your dog which show a corner of town I’m missing, a tree or shrub, something normal from the other place, to sooth my homesickness.

But Facebook feels like it’s going down the tubes.

Although this is not the first time Facebook has been in the spotlight for breeches of privacy, CEO Mark Zuckerburg’s appearance in US congress in April to address his social media companies role in the presidential election felt different.

Zuckerburg faced accusations that he allowed a data firm used by Trump during his campaign and election, Cambridge Analytica, to use information from 50 million Facebook users without their permission.

You get the sense from Zuckerburg’s comments and interviews throughout the scandal that he has no idea how to control what he has created [a feeling parents of two year old’s can relate to!].

Most of us know that Facebook has our basics – age, gender, location, occupation, and that it targets ads towards these factors [which is why I get bra ads that say “do you have relaxed breasts?” why yes, I do!] and makes stinking zillions of dollars – a business model known as ‘surveillance capitalist’.

But what feels different is the possibility that our info was used for political influence. US politics is messy business, and if Facebook influenced the results of the last presidential election in any way except one user sending another user something [meme, article etc] then I’m very uneasy.

If something we think is absolutely our own – our political beliefs – has actually been twisted by timely, and possibly untrue, information, then Facebook has become the monster Zuckerburg fears.

Un sure about Facebook, I recently re activated an old Instagram account.

Glossier than my life is, Instagram all the same has its strong points – mostly that it seems to not breed the kind of contemptuous political memes as Facebook. It’s hard for people to start an online brawl over a close up shot of dandelion fluff.

But fluff or politics, it’s all the same in the end – many people don’t know that Facebook owns Instagram [since 2012], and despite the apparently different ways the two sites engage their audience, the end result is that one company owns all our information.

There is, however, a clear demographic split between Facebook and Instagram.  Facebook is hosting more and more of my parents generation, even their parent’s generation, while if you want to keep up with your teenage or under 30 year old friend’s, you’ll find their Facebook account exists but is not active.

But before you imagine young people have realized the fundamental flaws of social media and are joyfully living life free from the bounds of social media, check Instagram – where under 30’s post every day, and it’s a beautiful glimpse, hungrily eaten up by grandparents who joined Facebook to keep up with their young people, only to have the young people jump ship.

This demographic shift has happened gradually, and it’s hard to remember now that Facebook was started by a college aged kid, and designed for college aged kids.

When I first opened a Facebook account in 2006, I was working at a summer camp in Maine. I don’t remember any Australian friends being in Facebook to start with – it was designed for the people I was working with, American students in their early 20’s – but it sure did take off fast.

Since Facebook’s business plan depends only on having information to mine, it may not matter if the average age of it’s users is 20 or 60, as long as it still has a critical mass.

I’m not convinced either Instagram or Facebook has what I’m looking for – which makes sense, since my age neatly places me between the two loose age groups [almost middle aged!].

Instagram specializes in aesthetically pleasing images, macro shots of the items or experiences we value, enhanced with filters to give a glow.

And perhaps there’s something in it – I stepped away from a party to take this shot of poppies in the late evening sunshine. But although I was away from what was happening, somehow that action of taking a photo helped me be more present [this picture is not edited – at all. And nor did I post it on Instagram].

IMG_9986[1]

So maybe it’s not the beauty of Instagram that intimidates – maybe one of the reason’s I’m uncomfortable with it is that it neatly knocks a few layers of people in my life out: those who don’t have smartphones – older people who haven’t figured out smartphones yet, and people who can’t afford a smartphone, or don’t live in a place with reliable cell service.

I’m not quitting yet though – I love the connection I get sometimes from my social media sites, and, like a rat receiving random rewards, I keep coming back for more!

Thanks to all who are reading, following and engaging with this blog. These interactions have deepened my social media experience so much in the last few months.

Tell me, what do you want from social media?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being a tea drinker in the US sucks

I just got back from a mother’s day tea party at Atticus’ kindergarten. It was adorable, and Atty”s kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Root, and her helper’s had laid out plastic table cloths and real cups and saucers for mom’s [I’m a M-o-m now, not a M-u-m, as I always expected], dixie cups of lemonade for the kids.

[An aside: Australian readers are thinking wait a second, her son’s teacher’s name is MRS ROOT? this would be the worst name for a teacher in Australia, because root is slang for sex. If you were being very crude [or funny] you would say to someone: wanna root?]

I was super impressed with the effort that Mrs Root had put into this party. She is an awesome teacher. But was I expecting to actually drink tea?

Absolutely not.

I have long ago adjusted my expectations around tea when we are in Montana.

Early on, I tried every brand of black tea I could find. I ordered it online, I bought it in bulk in fancy health food store’s. I don’t know what it is, but American tea just tastes bad to me.

I’m kind of mad about the Boston tea party, although still shady on the details, because I suspect we are still tasting the repercussions here in the US. We could be drinking great tea, like they have in Ireland, Australia, New Zealand: basically, all the western countries that didn’t chuck a bunch of tea in the sea.

I think that the countries that grow tea [India, Pakistan, Kenya, Turkey] give American tea suppliers all the dregs at the bottom of the tea chest – tiny specks of tea mixed with grass and sheep poop and other things that don’t taste like tea.

One of my closest friend’s here, Shawna, stopped drinking coffee last year. And when tea was her main vice she finally understood what I’d been complaining about all these years.

So I started slipping her some of my gift tea, sent from Australia. Mum is my main supply, but it’s become common knowledge for Australian’s visiting that a few packets of Aussie tea will always be welcome.

tea

Australian tea is strong, but somehow still sweet. Many people drink it with a bit of milk, some with a lot of sugar. Because it’s not as caffeinated as coffee, it’s served more often: when you go to someone’s house anytime of day, you’re often asked: wanna cuppa?

My cousin Lily always has a weak, milky cup of tea before bed. I love her sleepy dependence on the routine: even in the days we were out drinking together, she would come home and make tea at 2 am.

When I first had Atticus, and my friend Lulu had a baby at the same time, she said to me once, sleep deprived and frustrated with babies: “It was a five cups of tea day today for sure.”

Although I usually have just one cup, and thankfully my baby days are over, sometimes I still use Lulu’s measure. Hangover days. Jet lagged days. Days after everyone had a stomach bug all night.

One of Haakon’s cousin’s, Amanda, once took us to an amazing tea house in Boulder, Colorado. It was early in my time here, and I remember that cup of tea being very special, especially that I could ask for milk with the tea and be understood [American’s usually drink black tea black].

I remember the first time I was served my own cup of tea: I was about ten, and I was on holiday with my family, visiting some good friends of my parents who were staying at Scott’s Head in northern NSW.

It was late [for me] and dark and a salty warm wind blew off the ocean. My friend, Meredith, the daughter of mum and Dad’s friend’s, and I were given warm, milky cups of tea and what seemed like a generous amount of scotch finger biscuit’s for dunking.

We took our treats to the upper deck of the rental, looking out into the darkness where we could just barely see white waves rolling in; but we could hear the roar.

The wind blew, and I remember getting kind of crazy, jumping and holding our arms out. Was it the tea? the lateness of the hour? the thrill of feeling like adults?

Whatever it was, addiction set in, and tea stills feels like home. It’s the first thing I do when I wake up: put the kettle on, drink tea with milk.

Back in the kindergarten classroom, Tracy [a teacher’s aide] came around with an ornate tea pot: but what would be in it?

Turns out, tea.

And really tasty tea. Some kind of lightly sweet, iced tea with an earl grey flavor.

And Atticus asked me for a sip. So I gave him one.

Atty

 

 

 

 

Contraceptives: the real measure of inequality

Aside from having my basic human needs met, what is the greatest freedom I have?

Since 2011, when I had my first child, my first thought when I see my belly is always gratitude.

Belly crop

I’m grateful that I was able to grow two healthy babies. I’m humbled that I got to choose when I conceived [roughly!] and with whom.

I’m so, so grateful to my mum for being into homebirth so I knew that was a possibility, and so honored that Anki was our midwife, and both kids born into water at home.

And I’m delighted that I have chosen to close that chapter, and that Haakon has a vasectomy, leaving us completely free and easy with regards to contraception [I’ll talk about the merits of vasectomy in a later blog].

No more wondering when a period is later than usual if a baby is the reason.

No more hypothetical moral grappling – if I were pregnant, would I abort?

I see this access and the ability to control when, and if, to have kids, as the ultimate luxury, and one humans have not been enjoying for very long.

I don’t care how many babies people have, when they have them, or if they don’t, or if they have them with many different partners, or a same sex partner, or raise them alone.

But now that we have such amazing options for contraception, I care very much about people only having babies that they want.

According to the US census website, the world population is 7.6 billion as of May 2018, and growing by about 180,000 per day.

And the United Nations Word Population fund says that 214 million women in the developing world who want to prevent pregnancy don’t have access to contraceptives.

We should want to fix that, because parenting is not for the faint of heart – a friend’s toddler once threw her head back and broke her mother’s nose during a tantrum. Most of us parents have cleaned a log of poop out of a pair of pants at least once.

Having and raising a child takes resources – food, clothing, money or bartering power. But it also requires support, a community, social capital.

If you have no resources, especially social resources, having a baby will not magically make them appear. And we need those resources – every one of us has felt squeezed dry at some point by the emotional demands of parenting.

Knowing this, sexually active women everywhere spend hours, weeks and months of their lives caught up with trying not to get pregnant.

More and more men are taking responsibility for not making babies, but since the evidence is written on a woman’s body she is often the most invested in preventing pregnancy.

In both of my homes, the US and Australia, people generally have pretty good access to contraceptives, whether drugstore condoms or an IUD, implant or vasectomy.

But access doesn’t necessarily trump culture. Although contraceptives are technically available in white, rural America, where I live, they often remain just out of reach of those who really need them – young people.

A conservation, religious undertone means sex ed leans towards teaching abstinence.

I just got back from a walk to the park, where I bumped into Tyran, who is not quite 21 and has two sons – a  four year old and an eighteen month old.

I asked her about her first pregnancy, and how that came about, how she felt about it.

“I was 14 when I got pregnant, and I had Lovell when I was 15,” Tyran said.

But Tyran wasn’t naive about getting pregnant:

“Oh, I knew how it [sex] worked, my mom told me, and we had sex ed at school,” she said “they didn’t give us condoms though, I think that would be good, if there was a clinic you could get free condoms, if they put them in our hands.”

Thinking back to being 14 myself, and remembering not being able to see past a week, I asked her if she just didn’t care.

“Yeah, I think that was it. In that moment I just didn’t care, I thought I loved him.”

Tyran, with help from her mom, the grandparents of her kids, and her youngest son’s dad, who pays some child support and has custody of both kids whenever he can, has fulfilled the American dream.

Work hard, fight adversity, not get an abortion.

Of her youngest child, Tyran said:

“His dad is really cool. A nice guy. We got married after 3 months because everyone said to me ‘why not, he loves Lovell,’ and I thought maybe god was giving me this, a family,”

She gestured to her youngest son, in his stroller, as we walked.

“But he [god] was really just giving me another kid,” she said, and smiled and stopped to adjust her son’s visor “he was conceived on a pull out couch. That’s kind of ironic, isn’t it?”

Tyran plainly loves her kids.. She sent me this picture of her sons, Lovell and Kale:

lovell and kale

Although Tyran was close to getting the contraceptives she needed, and turned a hard situation into a positive one, in some places, getting and using contraceptives effectively is an even bigger hurdle.

A family friend and doctor of sociology, Richard Barcham, told me a bit about the availability of contraceptives in Papua New Guinea, where he has worked on and off since 2000.

According to Richard, people in PNG are generally not shy about talking about sex and contraception, and tend towards being “pretty promiscuous.”

The biggest hurdle in getting contraception to those who want it, he said, is the power men have over women.

“The status of women is very low,” Richard wrote in an e mail “a large family is a big loyal workforce for a man to build prosperity, so men sometimes have multiple wives.”

Richard has heard women say they carry condoms in case of rape: he said rape is “gut-churningly and bizarrely common.”

Although the PNG government offers what it can by way of health services, most people have never seen a doctor, Richard wrote.

Churches and other aid groups provide better and more healthcare than local services, and because of religious conflicts, these groups often don’t offer contraceptives.

If a woman is offered long term contraceptive options, like an injection or implant of hormone birth control, often her husband must give permission, and “this can be a problem,” Richard said.

Richard told a story about working with a non profit group called Touching the Untouchables, who aim to bring health care to people in the highlands of PNG, only accessible by one road, which is “a bit dangerous,” because of road accidents and highway robbers.
“We often traveled in a District ‘ambulance’,” Richard said  “really a Toyota troop carrier and not anything like an ambulance at all. I recall on one occasion travelling in the front of such a vehicle,  with a health worker and the driver, while a group of village volunteers, NGO staff and their cargoes bounced around in the back. The health worker had boxes of stuff on her lap, and every time we passed a group of people standing by the road she would pass handfuls across to the driver. Behind us, people scrambled in our dust to pick up these tossed treats. On closer inspection, the contents of the boxes turned out to be condoms.”
A rising awareness in PNG of using condoms to prevent HIV, as well as to control pregnancy has made their use more popular. Richard sent me this link about a recent donation of 120,000 condoms to PNG.
The best part? every one of those condoms is strawberry scented!

 

If you appreciate your freedom with family planning, and want to gift that to another person, some organizations that provide contraceptive aid in the US and internationally are:

The United Nations Population Fund 

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Planned Parenthood

Pathfinder International

 

 

 

 

Darling jacket

I’ve never had a relationship with an item of clothing quite like my love affair with the down jacket I bought two years ago.

I’ve worn this navy blue jacket ten months of each year I’ve owned it, and when I’m not wearing it, its presence is upsetting Haakon because I slither out of it like a second skin:

IMG_9926[1]

[I also hang it up sometimes, because I love him]

Back home in Australia, there is no clothing item that I wear so much – and that could save my life. [OK, maybe sun protection is on par!]

I spent the first few winters in Montana muddling through the unfamiliar cold with borrowed, old style down jackets, and layers of wool jumpers.

I was cold and hot a lot, because I didn’t understand the different types of cold yet – that the common cold here is between 30-40 F, which is cold, but not that cold.

I always wore leggings under pants in winter, no matter the temperature, and when I stepped into heated buildings, waves of sweat would wash over me, a feeling not unlike stepping out of an airplane into a tropical climate still wearing jeans because when you left, it was cold.

Now I step out in just jeans when it’s in the 30’s, feeling naked and so tough.

But there’s also the cold I had never experienced that hits in January or February- dry, windy 10 F, cold that makes your face hurt, which is almost impossible to comprehend on this fine spring day.

Cold that makes you realize your hair is not quite dry when you hear cracking as each hair freezes.

Cold that makes you run to try to get away from it, cold that makes your heart vibrate.

After hearing a story from a friend who is on the search and rescue team, I started throwing a lighter in my pocket when I went walking in winter.

This friend had searched all day for a teenage boy who had gotten lost while hunting.

It was early fall and the temperature was around freezing and the kid was disoriented when he was found, a sign of hypothermia.

The kids jeans were wet and he was wearing cotton socks and sneakers, and I remember my friend saying over and over “wool [which is warm when wet] could have saved his life if we didn’t find him. Having matches or a lighter would have saved him. He was totally unprepared.”

Well, I didn’t want to be un prepared.

I had chosen to live in this ridiculous climate, so I better learn how to survive it. I started noticing that when women went out in winter in fancy shoes, they put insulated snow boots in their cars in case they broke down and had to walk.

I realized I could not be prepared for winter by shopping at thrift stores, which is where all my other clothes come from.

I bought some tall neoprene boots, which are supposedly protective down to -30F. They are certainly cosy, and completely waterproof.

And then I bought the jacket. Extremely expensive, it is also light as a feather and seems like it wouldn’t insulate at all.

I wore it all winter with a sweater or two under it and was warm, even on the coldest days.

I wore it in the fall and spring over a light shirt or T-shirt, because in the mountains, the cold is always there, waiting, and the second the sun slips behind a cloud, a brisk and icy breeze makes you wonder why you were wearing a T-shirt at all.

I’m still wearing it in May, although daytime temps are in the 60’s and 70’s [20’s in Celsius] throwing the jacket in my bike basket when we ride to the park to pack up the ice skating rink and wearing it on cool nights around a campfire.

The companies that make these jackets always have advertising showing people out in the elements, rock climbing, running, cycling.

I reckon they should have an advertising campaign about how their gear helps transplants from hot countries just survive a north American winter.

Bugger cycling, I’m using my hard core performance wear to walk to the store and to dash from car to house.

I’m not the only one.

Pascal moved here from Cameroon to be with his wife, Heather, and their daughter Madeline [below, with Pascal]

 

Pascal

Pascal just got done with his first winter here. His wife, Heather, told me that he didn’t like having cold hands and feet and that he won’t admit it, but he spent most of the winter sitting in a rocking chair beside the wood stove.

Like I did, Pascal will have to figure out how to dress to be able to enjoy winters here.

I’ve passed Pascal working his job as part of the school maintenance crew over the winter, both of us hunched against the cold, both looking, I imagine, at the falling snow with the same combination of wonder and disgust.

When I pass him at the school, Pascal is wearing a big, puffy black jacket, and he waves, smiles, and gets back to flag raising.

Our jackets hold us down, despite their lightness. They keep us with our families.

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