On Saturday morning our chore list included putting up the screens on our upstairs windows. In our old house, it’s a way to mark the seasons: taking down the screens in the late fall, on the cusp of winter, and putting them back up again when the weather gets warm enough that opening the windows for a fresh breeze is a plausible option.
Taking down the screens is a lot easier than putting them back up, because our screens use an archaic two-part system to remain in place. The top of the screen is supposed to be slid into metal slots on each side of the window, and the bottom of the screen uses a kind of knob and fastener system to be locked into place. To remove the screens, you lift the fastener over the knob, the screens pop out, and you slide them out of the slots. But because the knobs and fasteners were added individually, to put the screens up you need to find the right screen for the right window, where the knob on the window frame and the fastener on the screen line up. And if you are putting the screens on the windows upstairs, you need to hold the screen in place, try to find the slots without being able to see them, hope that you matched the right screen with the right window, then line up the knobs and fasteners without dropping the screen. It’s the kind of trial-and-error project that requires multiple attempts and seems consciously designed to provoke some mild cursing.
But whatever the hassle, putting up the screens is worth it. Because when the screens are up, and the weather cooperates with overnight temperatures in the 50s — as happened last night — you can open the bedroom windows and sleep while the neighborhood quiets down, the cool night air fills the bedroom, and you hear the sound of a distant train whistle. For me, it’s a reminder of childhood, because I grew up in a house without air conditioning that was dependent on the night air to cool things down.
I like the brief periods of spring and fall open-window weather, which last only until it becomes too hot or too cold at night and the windows must be closed up again. A night or two of open-window weather makes the screen project well worth it.
According to Energy Star, during spring and summer you should set your central air conditioning thermostat to 78 degrees when you are at home. If you’re not going to be at home, you should set the temperature to 85. And when you’re sleeping, you should set the temperature to 82 degrees — or higher. That’s right — 82 degrees. And, just in case you can’t make basic, practical decisions without federal government instruction, Energy Star also recommends opening the windows on cool nights to let cool air into your house, and closing the windows during the day so hot air doesn’t invade the premises.
According to Energy Star, every additional degree at which you set your thermostat produces a three percent decrease in your utility bill. No doubt that is true — but has anyone at the Energy Star program actually tried to get a good night’s sleep in a house where the thermostat is set at a sweltering 82 degrees? The quality of my sleep is directly tied to the temperature of the room where I’m sleeping. If it’s above 69 degrees, I’m going to be spending a miserable night tossing and turning in hot, swampy sheets. If it’s 69 or below — as occurs in Maine, where we don’t even have air conditioning and instead open the windows and sleep in delightful cool breezes — I’m much more likely to sleep soundly. Trying to sleep in the Energy Star recommended 82-degree room would be a nightmare — except I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep to have the nightmare in the first place.
I can’t imagine trying to sleep in 82 degrees, or coming home to a house that where the internal temperature is 85 degrees, or higher. It seems to me that enjoying the coolness, and getting a good night’s sleep in the process, is the whole point of air conditioning. So thanks for the tips, Energy Star, but I’ll nix the 82-degree sleep setting, because to me a good night’s sleep is easily worth the additional utility bill cost. In fact, I’m willing to pay just about anything for a few hours of uninterrupted, cool, peaceful slumber.
Thank goodness we’ve got scientists around to confirm the obvious!
The study found that 38 percent of babies that were six months old were not getting even six uninterrupted hours of sleep at night, and more than half weren’t sleeping for eight hours straight. One-year-olds were only marginally better, on average, with 28 percent not yet sleeping for six hours and 43 percent not sleeping for a solid 8 hours at night. The study also found that many parents worry about their baby’s sleeping habits, with mothers reporting feeling tense and depressed about trying to get their child to sleep through the night. The researchers offered this reassurance for anxious parents, however: after following babies from birth until the age of three, they found no material developmental difference between kids who slept through the night at a young age and those who took longer.
The study’s authors seem to attribute parental focus on their new baby’s sleep habits solely to developmental concerns. I’m sure that some of the attention to infant sleep is attributable to reading the “baby books” about what is normal and what isn’t, but my personal experience teaches that at least some of it is naked parental self-interest. When our boys got to the point of getting a good night’s sleep — which incidentally meant that Kish and I got a good night’s sleep, too — we felt like we had crossed the Rubicon and should be popping the cork on a bottle of champagne. When a baby finally starts eating simple solid food (if you can call baby food “solid”) and falls into a sound sleep with a full belly, the mood around the house takes a decided turn for the better.
What’s up next for the scientific researchers trying to confirm what every parent knows? A careful examination of the joys of changing baby diapers?
Last night I slept very soundly, with lots of dreaming to keep my brain occupied while my body recharged. I don’t remember what my dreams were — I almost never do — but I do remember thinking, as I was dreaming, that these dreams were very entertaining.
When I awoke, I thought about what a marvelous thing dreams are. One second you are observing and participating in a curious, often inexplicable place where anything can happen at any moment and storylines can casually shift and twist and morph without it seeming at all unusual. Then, after you awaken, your experiences in dreamland vanish in the blink of an eye and you’re back in the actual world where the laws of physics and basic linear reality once again hold sway. Sure, you can have terrifying nightmares that give you the creeps even after you awake, but for the most part dreams are pleasant enough — nonsensical and crazy, to be sure, but non-threatening.
I found myself wondering whether my parents ever explained the process of dreaming to me. I don’t remember whether they ever did, and I don’t remember explaining dreams to our kids, either. Every mammal seems to dream — anybody who’s seen dogs run in their sleep knows that — and I remember watching our newborn boys’ eye movements as they slept in their cribs, knowing that they were dreaming and wondering what in the world infants could possibly be dreaming about. By the time they were old enough to have developed the language skills needed to have a meaningful conversation about it, they had been sleeping and dreaming for years and had long since grasped the difference between dreamland and real life. I suppose that’s why we never had a talk about the process of dreaming, as opposed to trying to interpret individual dreams. Perhaps dreaming is so basic and reflexive for mammals, and humans, that it is understood on an intuitive level, with no explanation required.
Every human is deeply interested in their dreams. Whether they are abhorrent or enticing, embarrassing or terrifying, dreams have their own unique fascination. We fall asleep and suddenly images start playing in our brains, and we can’t help but wonder whether the dreams are sending us some kind of important message.
But there are two problems with dreams: we can’t remember most of them, and we can’t control what we are dreaming. When we have bad dreams we remain trapped in their frightening context until we wake up with a jolt, pulses pounding. And good dreams inevitably end far too soon.
It’s also easy to see how such a device could be used in other ways. People who are afraid of public speaking, for example, could experience dreams where they confidently give a presentation that is well-received. People who are struggling with the devastating loss of a loved one could consciously revisit that person as they sleep and realize that they are at peace. And, because crass commercialization is the order of the day, no doubt people would gladly purchase dream-current products that allow them to experience close encounters with Sports Illustrated swimsuit models, be the quarterback that wins the Super Bowl, or enter the world of Wuthering Heights.
There’s something intriguing about the concept of controlling your dreams, but also something dangerous. What if the human brain needs to have uncontrolled, often unpleasant dreams to work correctly? After all, our current brains and their dreaming qualities are the product of millions of years of evolution. And how many people might conclude that they prefer living in a rich, completely manipulable dream world to the harsh and uncontrollable world of actual reality, and spend their time dreaming their lives away?
In our family, UJ was the great sleeper; he could sleep past noon if he wanted. Not me. I would awaken between 5 and 6, like clockwork, and trot downstairs to get the day started. Once I was up, I was up. That pattern continued into adulthood.
And so it was this morning. The dogs were up even earlier than usual, jingling their collars, shaking their heads, and making that flapping sound that occurs when dog ears slap against dog heads. So I was up especially early, feeding Penny and Kasey and going outside with them for our morning walk at about 3:30.
When we returned, the dogs went into dogsleep mode, and I thought: if dogs can do it, why can’t I? So I went back to bed, too — and to my amazement, I was able to fall asleep. Even more astonishing, I slept until 8, something I probably haven’t done since college. I dreamed pleasant dreams and awoke happy and refreshed.
Yesterday afternoon I took my book and a glass of water with some lemon juice out to the back yard. I plopped down on our outdoor furniture under one of our trees, balanced the water glass somewhat precariously on the cool grass, and began to read.
After some enjoyable reading, my eyelids grew heavy, as I knew they would. I tried to fight the sleepiness by moving around, taking a few sips of the cold water, and squinting extra hard at the page before me. But — as the Borg would say — resistance was futile. My head nods became more and more pronounced. After a few feeble attempts at staying awake, the buzz of the insects, the heaviness of the warm air, and the coolness of the sun-dappled shade finally got me, and I drifted off.
After a time the tweeting of the birds, the bark of a dog, or the cry of one of the neighborhood kids — I’m not sure which — caused me to slowly surface from my slumbers. I’m not sure how long I dozed, but when I reached for my glass it was still cool and dotted with perspiration, and a tiny shard of ice cube floated on top. I crunched the holdout ice cube with pleasure, stretched until my old bones cracked, and went back to reading.
What better way to celebrate the pleasures of summer than falling asleep in the noonday sun, stretched out in close proximity to nature, feeling the warmth on your face and the drowsiness overcoming you?
Kish grew up in Vermilion, Ohio, in a house located between two train tracks. Because there are two tracks nearby, and because a lot of commerce in America moves by freight train, the lonely sound of train whistles and the rumble of passing freight cars are a part of every visit we make.
There is something comforting about the sounds of trains. The train is far away when you first hear that whistle echoing across the countryside; the train politely gives you plenty of notice that it is on its way. As the train approaches, the sound of the whistle changes and expands. Soon you hear the throaty growl of the train passing by — and then the whistle gently recedes into the distance.
We don’t hear many train whistles in New Albany; I’m not even sure where the nearest railroad crossing is. Curiously, however, the sounds of the trains don’t bother me when we are here or interfere with my sleep. If anything, I sleep more soundly — and I think the trains, as well as the fresh air and the deep darkness, away from the light pollution of urban areas, may have a lot to do with it.
We attended the annual father-son get-together at the Quinnebog Fishing Club on Old Hen Island this weekend.
As always, we had a wonderful time playing cards, throwing horseshoes, traversing the webby rim of the island, drinking beer, chatting with the other guests, and eating like gladiators. The generous hospitality of the Quinnebog members is legendary in our family, and this weekend was no exception. Thanks, gentlemen!
It was hot as blazes when we were there, with the sun high in the white sky during the day and the air heavy and sultry at night. The heat posed sleeping challenges for spoiled wusses like me who are now so used to air conditioning that they get uncomfortable in any sleep environment that isn’t kept at a constant 70 degrees, or lower. The dormitory building on the island is an older wooden frame building that has never known the niceties of central air. It got a little warm in there.
In such circumstances, you just have to laugh at the outlandish notion of using a blanket, position yourself to take full advantage of any stray breezes that might find their way into your room, and recognize that waking up a little hotter than normal isn’t the end of the world. After all, the hot summer days just make iced-down beers taste that much better, and you just can’t find a better place than the rocking chair porch of the Pete Nowak Lodge on a balmy afternoon.
Equally important, humans apparently aren’t the only creatures affected by the broiling summer days. The sea gulls and other water birds spent a lot of time bobbing in the water, the fish generally kept to themselves, and even the despised biting black flies couldn’t be troubled to chomp on a bare leg. If a little heat is what it necessary to avoid the welt-raising plague of biting insects, I’ll take it any day.