Saturday, January 26, 2019


There’s the “postcard” kind of cold that makes you want to hunker under a blanket with a cup of coffee and watch it snow.  There’s the “toughen up” kind of cold that bores into your forehead like an ice-cream headache.  And then there’s the “shrill” cold that whips around corners, tears at your face, and pulls a string of highly colorful vocabulary from your lips before you even realize you’re speaking.  

I’m learning about cold—it’s brittle, diamond-like texture, and it’s clear, clean character.  It’s three weeks into my move to Wisconsin and I’ve been outside every day.  A Wisconsinite told me that the best way to acclimate to the weather was to be in it, so that’s what I’ve done.  Every day.  Several miles a day. Bundled up like Nanook of the North, trudging through snow and ice and frost.  I do this because cold is like a bully, and bullies need to be faced head-on.  I refuse to cower in my house. Cold is what you expect them you move to Wisconsin in January.   The  surprise is that I like it.

There are things I don’t like:  salt on everything (thank goodness for my Swiffer), hat hair, and the turn, on a hill, leading into our underground garage—a driveway so treacherous that despite not having put a scratch on the car, I keep having visions of crashing through the garage door in an uncontrolled skid…

But I like the cold. I like the way it creates instant community and common ground in public places.  I like how it feels to wake up to a day so clear and frigid that everything is diamond-hard and brilliant.  I like how the river steams when the temperatures get into the single digits as it flows through banks of pristine white—a monochrome, architectural world. I like sleeping on cold nights, snuggled under quilts, while the weather presses against the windows.  The Danes call this sort of cosy thing Hygge.  I call it winter in Wisconsin.   

The outside world: snow, sunshine, an adrenaline rush of exercise in cold air.  The inside world: sun warming hardwood floors, a view of the river, hot tea, soft quilts, and music.  I’m working on Bach’s Goldberg Variations and Chester Biscardi’s Companion Piece.  But on this particularly cold day (it was -12* this morning), I warmed my home with Still—a piece of music as loving and generous as my friend Dana Libonati who composed it.  Here it is—an impromptu “performance” on my out-of-tune piano and filmed on my phone—a little slice of Wisconsin Hygge on a frigid day.  

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

On Wisconsin!

Lawrence University

Our condo sold four days after we listed it.  The piano was the first to go, followed a week later by the furniture.  In two days my husband and I will drive across country, in January, with a cat (!) to our new home in Appleton, WI.

“Why Wisconsin?” I’ve been asked by many Portland friends.  

“For the weather,” I reply.  And then, after the laugh dies down, I add “and for family.”

But that’s not the whole story.  Yes, my husband’s family lives in Wisconsin and yes, it’s a big factor in our choice to move, but it’s only part of the reason. Truth is, we’ve been looking to leave Portland for the last two years.  We started with Europe:  London (can’t stay longer than six months), Amsterdam (can’t stay longer than three months), Bordeaux (not a good fit), Dublin (couldn’t sell the condo).  Then we looked at American cities: Austin, Denver, Seattle, Santa Fe (to name a few), but none were the right fit.  I kept saying I wanted a place that felt like Appleton and two months ago I said, “why not just move to Appleton?”

Why Appleton? A myriad of reasons: great music (it’s home to Lawrence University), an airport, close to Chicago and Minneapolis/St. Paul, as well as Milwaukee, real seasons, cheese, live music in restaurants and bars any night of the week, Brewers/Packers/Badgers—a trifecta of sports greatness...but underneath it all, a sense of community.  This is a place where political parties raise money side by side for a shared cause.  This is a place with a well-educated middle class and a strong work ethic.  This is a place with refreshing humility and open-faced friendliness.  It’s a place where you feel like you’re part of something even when you’re a stranger. 

Will Appleton be a forever home?  Maybe, maybe not.  All I know today is that it’s the next step.  It feels right.  It feels grounded—like sinking your hands into fresh soil—a place to put down roots.  The winters may be brutal, but the people are warm.  My husband is returning home.  I’m returning to a place that might prove to be home:  the heartland.