By Naazish YarKhan

When all you’ve been is a busy bee, it takes some getting used to when you have down time. Surprise! Having been a worker bee for the longest, what’s ended up happening is that I’ve lost the ability to just chill. I feel compelled to be doing something, even if it’s aimlessly window shopping and that’s saying a lot considering I don’t really like shopping. But as duty-bound as I feel to do something, I really am not doing much. I’ve discovered that I need stress to function. The less time I have, the more I can get done. The more time I have, the less I am able to focus and the less I get done.

I’ve also discovered all the little lies I told myself when I was a busy worker bee. “If I had more time, I’d actually read the books on my shelves” is one of them. “If I had more time, I’d read more Quran,” is another. Add “work on my novel, exercise, clean the house, sort the closets, vacuum and so on” to that list. You get my drift. Truth is too much time, for me, translates into too little structure which translates into nothing gets accomplished. I’ve taken to setting a timer when I do household chores, so that I work against a deadline and get it done .

People used to ask me how I accomplished things when I was neck deep in multiple projects for multiple bosses. I guess the secret to my productivity was that I couldn’t let anything pile up, or I’d be in a royal mess. When there’s no time to spare there is no room for one of the seven deadly sins - sloth – nor its cousin, procrastination.

These winter days are garbed in gray clouds and it’s pitch dark by 5 p.m, so I can’t tell if it’s me, or the lack of light that’s robbing my brain of serotonin and with it, attentiveness and focus. Norman Rosenthal, a pioneer in Seasonal Affective Disorder ( SAD) research, has estimated that the prevalence of SAD in the adult United States population in winter is between about 1.5 percent (in Florida) and about 9 percent (in the northern US). Symptoms include feeling sluggish, muggish, snail-ish, sadder. To be on the safe side and since this is only the start of a long, dreary winter I have ordered a light therapy box, which promises to do wonders. The light box makes up for the absence of natural, God-given light, flittering across our horizons these days and sitting in front of it for 30 mins a day, apparently gets the serotonin humming in our brains. So we’ll see in a week or so, if I’m any sharper, smarter, focussed. Plan A incidentally is air plane tickets to Muscat for some real sun, in late December. Yummmm.

Now if our weather was better, we’d probably do more with our free time. We’re not at sub-zero temps as yet, but besides eating out, movies, reading and shopping, I can’t think of much else to keep myself occupied. (No, no, I am not thinking housework and cooking. That never gets done! ) Or so I thought. All that changed this weekend when my husband decided to drive us to Wisconsin, which is the state next door. We were off to a state park, two hours away, to roast marshmallows and some hot dogs. This is something I absolutely love about my husband. He has the ability to turn a-day-going-nowhere into an adventurous, back-to-nature scenario. He’ll pick a state park or town we haven’t visited, located within an hour or an hour and a half’s drive from us, get directions off the net, pack some apples and juice boxes, and off we’d go.

Chalk it up to the way my brain is wired, because memories of all the road trips my parents took us on kicked in and I thought driving down to Wisconsin was a great idea. So we got the kids into two layers of clothing, gloves, hats and scarves. If we were going to be outdoors, we had to be prepared for the cold. At the last minute we switched cars, because my car has issues and no one wants to be stuck in the cold, on some highway in boonieville.

Two hours later, we were there and it was beautiful. The kids romped down to the water’s edge and I followed them, trying in vain to not step in goose poop. One of the fall outs of global warming has been that the Canada Geese refuse to migrate South sooner, and it’s near impossible finding a single patch of unsullied ground. So there we are at the Lake’s edge. It was beautiful and picturesque, only more so from inside the car with the heat on. I shivered, missing my jacket, that lay forgotten in the car trunk when we’d switched cars. Farhat was braver. He stuck it out without gloves that he’d left in the back-seat of this car.

‘Don’t walk into the snow, or your shoes and then toes will get wet,” was my constant refrain. Just because we in Chicago didn’t have snow as yet, we’d forgotten that wasn’t necessarily the case in another state. So here were the four of us in sneakers instead of our insulated snow boots.

Then we tried building a fire. There are match sticks and then there are match sticks for campers which light a huge fire in a jiffy. Remember that car switch-a-roo? Yep, we’d left the campers matches in there. Anyway, twigs, papers, coal that the last campers had left behind and some match sticks did get a fire going. My family roasted maybe four marshmallows while I sat in the car, clicking pictures. After all, we had made it all the way, and there had to be proof! They braved the weather for a good hour before Taskeen scurried in, followed by Yousuf, runny nose et al. They peeled off their double layers of socks and warmed their toes against the heat vents in the car. “I am so happy we’re here,” said Yousuf, as I rubbed his toes. My heart sang as he said those words and I was so glad we’d made the trek.

Once we left the lake, we saw it was less of a state park and more of a clump of wooded area in the middle of wheat fields, cordoned off by busy highways. Still Farhat, didn’t want to miss spotting deer, nor scaling Powder Hill. So he and the kids took off, waiting to watch the sunset once they’d reached the top. It was still only 5 p.m. The day was still young, when we hopped back onto the highway, only to be thrust almost immediately into a bustling town. Why does everyone think of Wisconsin as the boonies, I wonder? Parts of it are, but where we were it looked as much of a suburb, though less dense and with more fields, as where I lived.

On the way back, we stopped at a huge outfitters store, with every kind of rifle and all possible equipment necessary for hunting, fishing, and boating being sold to customers in ‘Green Bay Packers’ T-Shirts, all indications that this was Wisconsin and not Illinois.

Wanting to show the kids the city, we looped through the town of Milwaukee, where the official baseball team is the Milwaukee Brewers, thus giving away the main trade of that city. Before long, we were back in Illinois, passing up the exit where Farhat’s company is located. We’d left behind fields, and now sped past houses and buildings. Gurnee Mills Mall was our next stop. Back to the stores we knew so well. Back to our world where winter past times are reading, movies, shopping and dining out. We hadn’t ventured too far from home, but far enough to treat ourselves to a refreshing change in scenery.