Uncle!

“No exposed flesh” is a reasonable dictum in mid-January. When winter is still six weeks away, it is almost enough to make a long-term resident cry “uncle!”

The temperature should not be in the single digits (Fahrenheit) in early November. When I got my bike out of the garage to go to work, the wheels wouldn’t turn. The tires were frozen solidly to the fenders and I had to chip them loose before I could roll the bike out of the garage. It wasn’t quite icy enough to lace up the skates but it was close. I usually put the studded tires on between Christmas and New Year’s Day. I may have to move that up to tonight. [And yes, the studded snow tires are now on.]

Meanwhile, corn and soybeans are still in the fields. Fall was too wet to harvest. Now the beans are beansicles. Flood watches are not normally issued in late fall around here, but we have them again this week. On the other hand, the university crew was out rowing yesterday. It may be below freezing, but the lake is still liquid, so they can still train on the water.

This is the first fall in memory in which I mowed the lawn and shoveled snow in the same week. The wet fall meant the grass had not yet gone dormant even after the first snowfall. Green leaves fell during the first snowstorm.

Usually we wonder if we’ll have a white Christmas. This year was a white Halloween/Samhain/Día de los Muertos.

“Winter Wonderland” Chet Baker (but it’s still fall!)

Checking my old backup hard drive, I came across a little something I did back in 2007. It was the magazine open on the lap of the snowperson in the photo below.

I also found a picture of my old bike.

Lake freezing before my eyes
Rowing season may have just ended. But I was wrong – they were out the day after this photo was taken. I don’t think the crew bought an icebreaker.
Might be time to get the piers and boat hoists in before it’s too late.

The half-fast cycling club got together to do what we do best, in accordance with our slogan: “When the going gets tough, the half-fast go for a beer.” The occasion was the 25th anniversary of a local brewpub, and even those we haven’t seen on a bike all year showed up. Not to be dropped by the group, I spent the week in training with single malt Scotch.

If it’s too cold and snowy for you to want to ride (we’ve already set records for both), and you’re in Madison WI, save the date: Sunday, December 8 at 3PM at Trinity Lutheran Church for “War and Peace: Music of Remembrance” with the Choral Arts Society.

In Praise of Snot

The other day I heard Bill Bryson on NPR talking about his latest book. To paraphrase, he said that our bodies deal with cancer on a nearly daily basis. Usually we recognize mutated cells as invaders and destroy them before they cause damage. This is, of course, a completely unconscious process. Our bodies are way smarter than our conscious minds. (Imagine having to take responsibility for beating your heart every second, and still having enough consciousness left over to decide whether The Bachelorette was making a smart choice.) It is only on the rare occasions that those cells divide uncontrollably that we are faced with what we know as cancer.

That got me thinking about mucus. Over the years I have seen a lot of fad diets come and go. In the ’70s, the “mucusless diet” was a big thing. The theory, as I understood it, is that when we have a cold we have an excess of mucus and therefore mucus is bad. We have a stuffy and/or runny nose and we don’t want that. The next step was that certain foods cause us to produce mucus and we should avoid them. Among those “mucus-producing” foods were all dairy products. Being a Cheesehead, that was pretty hard to swallow. No 11 year old Cheddar? No Brie? And don’t get me started on the Velveeta on which I was raised.

What if that is bass-ackwards? What does mucus do? It forms a protective barrier. When we leave a dusty environment, we notice that we want to blow our nose. When we do so, we blow out some pretty disgusting-looking stuff – dusty mucus. The technical term for that is boogers. Our body makes mucus (snot) to line our mucous membranes. That snot ensnares toxins in the air we breathe – dust particles and god knows what else. It traps that gunk so we can get rid of it before it gets into our lungs and causes some real damage.

When we have a cold, that system gets overwhelmed. Something has gotten past the defense. Our body makes more mucus to try to repel the invaders. Too much, too late. That we have failed doesn’t mean the system is bad. Our body also has an inflammatory response. Sometimes it, too, is overwhelmed. At that point we suppress it with ice, elevation, and anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen or steroids. Does that mean the system is bad? No, it just means that it sometimes overcompensates after its failures. (Sound familiar?)

Likewise, mucus is not bad. Mucus is a good thing. We need it every day. It is only when it is overwhelmed and tries to overcompensate for its failures that it becomes excessive.

Long live snot! (And eat cheese if you want to.)