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Cabin Fever

How to keep the winter blues from driving you bonkers

Late February typically means extra layers, soaring heating bills, and trying to bribe that friend with the snowblower into clearing your driveway. Granted, this has not been the most typical February—whoa, did we just see some dude jog by in shorts and a T-shirt?—but the meteorological consensus says we should be seeing snow sometime soon, and with it will come the requisite feelings of boredom and ennui we so often associate with the winter months. Many of you probably feel that way already; after all, there’s just not all that much going on this time of year. So for those of you who are pacing your apartments, anxious for theater season to begin, and for those of you in denial of the fact that the Big One is going to dump three feet of snow on your front porch any day now, we’ve assembled the following list of methods for combating the dreaded ailment known as Cabin Fever. You can thank us later.


If Elected . . .

Have you spent these dreary, warm, wind-gust-ridden days of sprinter fretting about the 2008 elections? Well, it’s time to stop worrying. It’s time to toughen up, buy that cheap politician’s suit, polish your shoes, and practice your hand-shaking and baby-kissing skills, because you, my friend, are the ideal candidate for ’08!

What’s that? You don’t have a platform to run on? Don’t be silly; that’s the last thing you need to make it in politics these days. Let’s start with the important things. First you need to vet yourself. How well do you really know you? Break out that little black book and call all your exes to see if you might have something to hide. (You never know around which corner that nasty rotten-cabbage fetish lurks.) Hand out whatever hush money or empty threats are necessary to keep mouths shut.

Remember that your neighbor might also read this and may also consider a presidential bid in ’08. You better get to work digging up dirt on other potential candidates. You never know when you’re going to need an attack ad. Even if you can’t find damning evidence, remember, with negative ads you can make a mountain out of a molehill. “Mrs. Spencer says she’s for the environment but she doesn’t use a pooper scooper to clean up after her dogs!”

Next you need to come up with the perfect campaign slogan. Something along the lines of “(Your Name Here) = Jobs, Freedom and Dead Terrorists.” Once the perfect tear-jerking, pride-exploding slogan is in place, it’s time to consider fund-raising.

Pundits say the only viable candidates these days are those with their own fortunes to throw around. Working under the assumption that you have not been born with a silver spoon stuck somewhere on your person, you have two options to get yourself rich in time for 2008. Start looking around for widows/widowers who are due to inherit a large fortune from an obscure business—let’s say ketchup making or emu farming—it’s either that or you need to make it big in the oil industry.

So get out your shovel, and instead of shoveling the snow, start your search for Texas tea. With a little luck and a lot of energy, you might just hit it big. Don’t worry; you’ve got a couple more dreary winters left before ’08.

—David King

Seeding Time

OK, so we may keep having weeks where it feels warm enough to be picking fresh tomatoes, but one look at the labels at the grocery store will tell you we still have to go far, far afield for most of that fresh produce. If you’re starting to feel constrained by potatoes and carrots, now is the time to be looking forward to when the ground is supposed to be softening. Capital District Community Gardens’ annual sign-ups and classes are starting, and the seed companies are in full swing.

Bundle up (as much as needed) and tromp out to wherever you have your garden—pace the boundaries, draw up where you want your paths, imagine heavily laden vines rising on trellises before your eyes. Figure out where you’re going to get your compost from. Sit down and sort through your newspaper recycling pile, discarding all the glossy paper and pages with colored ink on them and setting aside the rest for mulch.

And then pick a few delicacies (like those tomatoes, for example) for whom it is spring already in their preferred clime, clear some space in your guest room, and set yourself up to grow some seedlings. It takes patience and precision to get garden-ready seedlings. A good light at just the right height, some clever tricks to stave off the fungus called “damping off,” careful judgment of the gradual process of exposing them to the elements to get them ready for transplanting.

But by the time you’ve done the research, fiddled around with the set up and the soil and the seeds, hovered over your babies several times looking for signs of growth or disease, and emerged triumphant with seedlings ready for a freshly prepared and already-sprouting-weeds garden, you’ll be amazed at just how fast spring has progressed when you weren’t looking.

—Miriam Axel-Lute

You, Artist

By channeling your stir-crazy insanity through an creative outlet, you not only relieve the building pressure inside your head, but you make something that you can look back on as a reminder of, um, darker days. Don’t write yourself off as “not the artistic type”; take some chances and see what you have inside you. If nothing else, if you spend an entire afternoon and evening hopping from painting to songwriting to flash animation, and you somehow come up with nothing, you’ve at least crossed off another calendar day.

Songwriting is a surefire method to beat the winter blues. I have no doubt that Jimmy Urine of Mindless Self Indulgence developed his band’s signature sonic frenzy while cooped up in a one-bedroom flat beneath four feet of packed powder. You should be able to make due with your laptop—in fact, a relatively inexpensive program like Apple’s GarageBand gives you all the tools you need to make your own virtual rock band. It’s easy to use, and if you can’t make a song with that thing, it should at least be fun (and colorful) to try. Even better, keep an acoustic guitar on hand—nothing says February like a softly strummed E-minor-9 chord.

Haven’t painted anything but ceilings and woodwork since your third-grade art class? There’s no need to go out and splurge on acrylic paint and heavy canvas; find an old bedsheet that you don’t use anymore, tack it to some heavy cardboard, and dip a brush into whatever leftover paint you might have around the house. (Or, to hell with the brush: Pollock your bedroom floor!) Don’t worry about creating a masterpiece; just start going at it and see what comes out. If all else fails, you’re never too old for finger painting. You gotta start somewhere, after all.

Still not feeling the muse? Tell yourself a story. Make something up out of thin air. You can, and do, this very thing every day of your life, probably without realizing it. (So why were you late to work again?) Now, write it down. We were all “forced” to do a certain amount of creative writing in school; see how much fun it is when you’re not being graded on your work. Seriously—I’m doing some creative writing right now, and I’m not bored at all.

—John Brodeur

All Fall Down

One surefire way to address the confining effects of cabin fever is to hone those all-important matching skills in a rousing game of Dominoes.

Dominoes can take a long, long time to complete if you go the full 15 rounds. And because it’s so intellectually nonengaging, players find themselves wandering into the Annoying Pop Songs lobes of their brains. This is an excellent way to flummox your opponents.

Pretty soon it’s Hey, Mickey, you’re so fine, you’re so fine you blow my mind/Hey, Mickey! Hey, Mickey! and players begin to go a little colorblind.

There is a loud call for silence and for a minute or two all you can hear is the click of Domino tiles and the munching of potato chips. Then someone bursts out in their best Freddy Mercury: Scaramouche, scaramouche, can you do the fandango? Thunderbolts and lightning, very, very frightening, me!

It’s hard to match the little colored dots on the Domino tiles once someone starts playing air guitar and singing I wanna free fall out into nothing, Gonna leave this world for a while, Cause I’m freeee-eee, free-falling.

The only way to respond is with some bitchin’ Donovan: First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is/First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is!

(“Lalena” or the opening monologue of “Atlantis” are also effective.)

Perhaps this sounds like passive- aggressive game playing. But Dominoes is such a dorky game that it needs a little edginess. And tormenting others with pop songs, while not in violation of the Geneva Convention, does lend the game a soupçon of brutality.

Playing Dominoes while singing “Cracklin’ Rosie, get on board” sends a ripple around the room. People get their hackles up. It’s not about the dots anymore; it’s about creating the mental instability in your opponent so that their dots blur.

“Little Red Corvette” can be good. Especially when you mimic that part where Prince goes into a falsetto. (U must be a limousine!) “Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again” is always a winner—especially if you do a particularly poor Bob Dylan. Ditto for “Pass the Dutchie” and your Jamaican accent.

Singing both the Nat “King” and Natalie Cole parts of “Unforgettable” is, well, unforgettable and can sometimes make the game go a little faster.

So before you know it, there will be a winner. And by then everybody will want to get out of the house, swing their arms around a little bit and let their inner Gwen Stefani run loose in the backyard.

—Jo Page

Winter of Disc Content

If you’re the sort of person who buys DVDs and shelves them immediately after watching the main feature, consider getting snowed in to be God’s little way of telling you it’s time to expand your movie-watching habits. Yes, it’s time to surf the special features, folks.

Sure, the extras on DVDs can be hit or miss, with some filmmakers cramming a bunch of pointless footage into the film package just so they can jack up the price, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some real gems out there, too. And trust me, they’re worth the search. Whether it’s “making of” documentaries, deleted scenes, blooper reels or interviews with the cast and crew, there’s a good chance that some of the special features will make you feel even better about one of your favorite films. For some films, the theatrical footnotes can increase your appreciation of a film you already love (Shaking the Cage, the “making of” documentary included with 1969’s Easy Rider, immediately comes to mind), while other special features can provide answers to some of those questions that linger past the end credits (the deleted scenes from 2001’s Donnie Darko almost provided too many answers).

At the very least, you owe it to yourself to learn the background stories behind your favorite films. For example, knowing that the filmmakers behind Swingers couldn’t afford to rent out a bar or hire extras so they simply lugged their cameras in and started shooting for each of the film’s bar scenes only increased my love for the 1996 film. Along the same lines, a short documentary from the special features of 2002’s 8 Mile that I watched one recent winter morning might give even the harshest Eminem-haters second thoughts about the film’s star.

So next time you’re stuck inside, give your DVD collection the once over, folks. Throw a disc in, skip over the “play now” selection and see what the DVD has to offer—after all, you paid for it.

—Rick Marshall

You Got the Beat

During my high school years, a sad, half-breed mechanical beast sat in the cellar. Technically, it was a drum set, although by looking at it most people wouldn’t have been able to tell. To most, it would have appeared to be a car crash or some sort of industrial accident. Being stuck inside during rotten winters resulted in my friends and me adding any sort of percussive element we could find to the drum kit, from waste barrels and scrap metal to chains and springs and coils.

If you find yourself wanting to knock down some walls this winter, you might want to consider bashing on a drum set. There is nothing as satisfying as pounding out a beat on a makeshift, scrap-metal kit. Yes, Einsturzende Neubauten and the Blue Man Group had this idea long ago, but your beats don’t need to be limited to industrial music or body-paint theater.

Grab some scrap metal, mount it on a pole, clang it with a metal pipe, find some chains to rattle against an empty drum, pull some wire taut and pluck it. Hell, if you’ve got a spare gong lying around, throw that into the mix, too. Don’t forget that as spontaneous as bashing on scrap metal might sound, you can record this cacophony and put it to use in serious recordings. If you have a laptop handy, get digital with downloadable shareware music programs (like Fruity Loops) that allow you to create your own samples. With a sampler you can bring your primitive noise machine into the 21st century, and suddenly you can have the most original beats on the market. If the neighbors complain, invite them in to see your contraption. I promise they won’t be back to bug you anytime soon.

—David King

Get Organized

If winter is making you stir-crazy and you need to put all that pent-up energy to good use, think about organizing, or reorganizing, your home. If you’re lucky, this cabin-fever beater will last you weeks, not just days. Here are a couple good places to start:

Get your closet in order. If you’re like most of us near the end of winter, your overstuffed, messy closet needs a good cleaning out. Attack this job systematically. Reorganize your clothing so that each type of item has its own home in your closet. Group dress shirts; group skirts; group tank tops and T-shirts. You’ll feel less rushed during hurried, late-for-work mornings when you are able to locate articles of clothing with a glance. Streamlining your closet (and, in the process, reminding yourself of what you actually have in there) will greatly reduce those “I have nothing to wear!” moments.

Now is also a good time to inspect damaged clothing: Replace missing buttons, mend the lining of your spring coat. Have a large garbage bag ready for clothes and shoes you’d like to discard. If you’re stuck on a particular piece, here’s a good rule of thumb to follow to determine whether or not you’re ready to let go: If you haven’t worn that sweater in two years, it’s time to say goodbye. (Think about it this way: You’re making more room in your wardrobe for a new sweater!) Donate your gently used items to the Goodwill or Salvation Army, and don’t forget to get a receipt from your chosen charity. Your donations are tax-deductible.

Arrange your kitchen cabinets. Cluttered cabinets are the reason you end up with three little bottles of vanilla extract and two canisters of matzoh meal. What happened was this: You went grocery shopping, completely forgetting that you indeed already have ingredients for your chocolate-chip cookies or your matzoh balls. Know what you have so you know what you need.

Start by emptying your cabinets. Combine open containers of like foods and dust crumbs off of your shelving. Check expiration dates and discard any old items. Organize baking ingredients, pastas, sauces, cereals, etc., into groups, assigned to particular shelves in particular cabinets. Make everything as visible as possible—there are many types of cabinet organization products (i.e. spice shelves) that make this job much easier. This chore may take a while to complete, but it’ll be time- and money-saving in the end.

—Kathryn Lurie

Celebrate the Season

Everyone says the cure for the winter blues is to get outside. But even when it’s warm enough that that’s not crazy and yet not so warm it just makes you depressed that it won’t last, sometimes going outside is not enough. It can be bleak and desolate, full of brown grass and trash frozen into the mud.

So what do I mean, celebrate the season? Find yourself an activity that can’t happen without winter. Not the usual skiing and ice skating—if you like those, you already know it. And besides, those don’t exactly rely on winter, the season. They just rely on snow and cold. That’s so *superficial.

One way to tap into the spirit of winter is find yourself an educational walk (look in our calendar under “workshops” or “sports/outdoors” for some ideas) in one of our regional state parks. Tracking bobcat prints through the snow or learning to identify what kind of animal nibbles on which shrubs can temporarily turn your mind from longing for bird song and leaf cover.

Or check out a “sugaring off” event like the ones held on Sundays in March at the Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown. I mean, what better reward for winter than the fact that it makes maple syrup possible? Maple syrup needs weather that’s below 20 degrees at night and around 40 during the day. Learn how it works, eat pancakes, and find yourself rooting for chilly nights.

Or go stargazing. Sure, it’ll involve some bundling up, but winter has two things going for it over lazy summer nights: much clearer skies, and a whole different set of constellations. There’s a whole world of stargazing that only winter offers!

—Miriam Axel-Lute

In a Stew

If you’re desperate enough, almost anything organic can be turned into a stew. Charlie Chaplin famously boiled a shoe in The Gold Rush, but his was a too-simple recipe that relied on the native flavor of the leather to enhance what essentially was a braised meal.

Stews don’t have to be complicated, but if you’re stuck in the house trying to pass some television-free time, you may find yourself getting so caught up in the preparation that the actual consumption of it will be anticlimactic. And, let’s face it, you’ve been tasting it all along.

Onions and garlic are a stew’s best friends. If you can add celery and carrots, all the better. Slice ’em up small and get these things sautéeing in some olive oil in a big, heavy pot. While you’re slicing, think of what you’re going to add next.

If I have no leftover potatoes in the fridge, I’ll add uncooked ones. Potatoes take up a lot of space and absorb flavors nicely. Some of the oddball greens tucked in the back of the crisping drawer can go in there, too, lettuce included. If I were making a stew today, I’d slice the fennell bulb that I forgot to add to a dish I prepared last week.

Do you have some meat on hand? Cube it, dredge it in flour, and throw it in. Cover the ingredients with water, lower the heat, and get creative with your seasonings. For a thick stew, make a roux by heating equal parts butter and flour, and, when it’s just starting to brown, ladle some of your stew liquid into its pot and stir. Then pour that mixture back into the stew pot.

Cooking a stew warms the kitchen, releases enticing aromas, cleans out the refrigerator or root cellar, and freezes well on the back porch. Just remember that if you do end up adding clothing or footwear to the batch, you should double or triple the cooking time. And season it heavily.

—B.A. Nilsson

Video Gaga

One of the classic ways to wile away a cold wintry night is to curl up in front of America’s fireplace. Of course, “America’s fireplace” isn’t an actual fireplace: It’s the TV. Walk around your neighborhood after the sun goes down any night; whether you live on a city block or a suburban cul-de-sac, observe how every living room is suffused with the blue glow of video entertainment.

And why not? Everything you need is close at hand, from your loved ones to the snacks in your kitchen to the god-like power conveyed via that wonderful invention, the universal remote. It’s cold out; bundle up in front of the screen and bathe in that eerie electronic wash of light.

Let’s face facts, however. TV gets old because, by the end of February, there’s a content problem. Every version of Law & Order has cycled through the same episodes a couple of times on USA and TNT. You’re tired of watching autopsies on CSI, and given up on ER because it’s impossible to keep track of who’s screwing who. Football is over, and the pro hockey and basketball playoffs—the part of those seasons that matter—haven’t begun. And Netflix? It’s great, but there are only so many movies you can watch.

Why not try the home-video equivalent of a mash-up?

Think of the geeks who were convinced that Pink Floyd recorded Dark Side of the Moon to synch up with the classic musical The Wizard of Oz. While they were clearly bonkers—“start the CD at Leo the MGM lion’s third roar” my ass—doing something like this can be fun.

The first time I tried it was around 10 years ago, matching Soul Coughing with Cecil B. DeMille’s 1923 version of The Ten Commandments. To my surprise, it worked pretty well: Around the time pharaoh’s way-too-Anglo-looking son was swatting Moses with a whip, Mike Doughty was intoning “blue-eyed devil.”

This also works well with action or Sci-Fi stuff like the first two Matrix films, or an avant garde film from the ’60s, like John Boorman’s Point Blank; just cue up something discordant or trippy and you’re off. It’s also a way to get revenge on something awful—turn up ABBA’s Greatest Hits, pop in the last Star Wars flick and have a laugh at George Lucas’ expense. It’ll warm your cold winter heart.

—Shawn Stone

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