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Hats Off to Winter Olympians, From My Warm Berth Inside

The Winter Olympic Games are almost here and millions of people around the world are eagerly awaiting the opening ceremonies. I'll try to be enthusiastic, but some observers may notice that my cheering lacks a certain spontaneity.

It's not that I object to giant sporting events, per se. Common sense and the distant echo of my mother's cautionary voice have convinced me that winter simply isn't the appropriate time of year to be horsing around outdoors. You don't have to live near the Arctic Circle to know what I'm talking about.

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Typical descriptions of winter weather usually include the words cold, wet, ice, snow, and/or windy. To me, none of these conditions is conducive to pleasant recreation. In the animal kingdom, those in the know have long since headed south or hunkered down in a cave to wait for spring.

I realize that some features of the Winter Games, such as cross-country skiing, have genuine historic links to Nordic countries. But anyone who thinks the Games are based solely on cultural traditions must answer these questions: Why are there no events that include reindeer? And what icebound society invented bobsledding?

No one can accuse me of not having given skiing a fair shake. During my high school years, my family tested the slopes at top resorts throughout the West. But even while gliding across an expanse of groomed powder, my overriding concern was how soon we'd be taking a break indoors. Nothing felt better than the moist, steamy atmosphere of the lodge, and my peak ski experience was the time I found a cocoa machine with a button labeled "Push Here for Extra Chocolate."

All the while, my mother was on constant alert to make sure our clothing offered protection to all body parts. She was often critical of the official uniforms worn by the American Olympians, especially when cowboy hats were part of the ensemble. "Why don't they wear something that covers their ears?" she would ask irritably during the opening parade. "It's cold!"

"They want to look stylish," my dad would mildly reply. This always brought on a disgruntled shake of the head from Mom and her patented discussion-ending rejoinder, "Oh, what nonsense!"

So far, thanks to El You-Know-Who, this winter has been a skate. The snow shovel hangs unused in the garage, boot liners are in a heap. But I'm not letting my guard down. There's always a lap robe near the big chair, and my wife gave me an electric tea kettle for Christmas to accommodate all my hot beverage needs. As the competition begins, I'll remain true to my own personal Olympic motto: Warmer, Drier, Happier.

* Jeffrey Shaffer is the author of 'I'm Right Here, Fishcake,' and 'It Came With the House,' collections of humorous essays. He lives in Portland, Ore.

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