How to Hygge at Home

Usually I don’t mind January even if it is cold, dark and dreary. It’s a quiet month, a welcome respite after the rush of the holidays and a perfect time for quiet reflection or creative projects. But as we start year four of the COVID pandemic, (yes, hard to believe), along with flu, RSV and those nasty Christmas colds still circulating – well, it’s hard not to resent being stuck inside once again. For some inspiration on how to turn a bad attitude into gratitude (so cozy to be cocooning among the comforts of home), I turned to Danish author, Meik Viking’s latest addition to his growing list of hygge/happiness books.

Because the world needs more hygge!

Here’s the publishers blurb:

The author of the New York Times bestseller The Little Book of Hygge, helps you turn your home into your happy, cozy safe place.

The urge to nest and control our close environments has never been stronger. We spend more time in our homes than anywhere else—but the way in which our homes impact how we feel has remained relatively unexplored until now.

Backed with Danish design principles, years of research, case studies and a sprinkle of hygge, Meik Wiking has created the ultimate guide to turning your home, office, or wherever you may be, into your happy place.

The Hygge Home will teach us all how to create a much-needed cozy safe space in our homes into which we can retreat to escape the tough things going on in the outside world. Meik will explore the size of our spaces, the way we decorate our homes, the amount of natural light coming in, how much access to green space we have and how we can extend these design principles from inside our homes to our neighbourhoods and beyond. Meik is guaranteed to help you create a home and safe space where you can both live and thrive.

Discussion:

If you have read his previous books, The Little Book of Hygge or The Little Book of Lykke, (Denmark is home to the world’s happiest people and the author is the CEO of the Happiness Institute) this is basically the same book, although much larger in dimensions (9X11) but with the same small print. There are plenty of pretty pictures of fireplaces scenes and cocoa…

….and advice about cooking and stocking your pantry. “A well stocked pantry is comforting….if there is an abundance of food, mankind would preserve it from earliest times.” Of course stockpiling provisions for the winter was always a matter of survival for our ancestors, so when my relatives reported those 10 bushels of apples on the 1861 census they were also preventing scurvy as there was no fresh fruit available at the general store. “No matter what is going on if there is something to eat at home and a well-stocked pantry, fridge or kitchen cupboard, there is a fail-safe way to hygge hunker down during events beyond our control, whether it is a blizzard or a global pandemic.”

My pantry/freezer is so well stocked that I may not have to venture out until March!

There is a section on pre-cluttering – a term I had not heard before, but he says stop and think before you buy that pancake batter dispenser. Does anyone really need a pancake batter dispenser – no but I’m tempted, it sounds like a handy thing if you make pancakes.

There are also readers stories, like the man who wrote and said what a difference lighting a candelabra at supper had made to his family’s dinner table conversation, no more teenagers shoveling food in and then disappearing back to the company of their electronic devices, plus it saves on hydro too. (This is so true, walk into any candle-lit restaurant and don’t you feel an instant sense of calm descend…..until you see the bill.)

There are anecdotes, like Cezanne designing his studio in the south of France for the best possible painting conditions, and the author’s own search for a writing room of his own. I envy him his walnut desk which he bought with his first royalty cheque. I myself would love to find “a desk that begs you to sit down and write,” although I’m usually okay once I get started.

Overall, there was less about what constitutes hygee (book one) or happiness (book two) here, and more about lighting, design, workplaces, green spaces and city planning etc – he is Danish after all and so many people have been working from home…..and hope to stay there.

I suppose if you have great literary success with a unique formula you can just keep re-inventing it and readers will continue to buy it. Although it was somewhat repetitive, I did enjoy this book because it was fun and sometimes you just need a light comforting read. Plus it made me feel better about hibernating indoors.

What else helped? (or applying the principles)

The weather has been mild and above freezing most days with little to no snow, other than that mini-blizzard at Christmas – very strange weather for January, but good for walking, if you don’t mind walking in the misty rain. It hasn’t been very hygge though – hygge requires the contrast between coming in from the bitter cold to a warm and comforting environment.

Almost a month into winter, and the most snow we’ve seen has been on my mother’s puzzle.

It was a really nice puzzle – German made, not a brand or artist I was familiar with or could credit the photo to.

I haven’t worn my down-filled parka even once as…..

the only thing chili has been in a pot.

Channeling my ancestors – freezer provisions for Superbowl Sunday.

There have been plenty of books, (reviews to follow sometime) including this one which I’m just starting. The 86 yr old Swedish author, Margareta Magnusson, wrote The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning – a bestseller several years ago, the gist of which was don’t leave a mess for your heirs to clean up. (That’s fine but how do you know when you’re going to die – you might live another ten years and wouldn’t you want your treasures around you until then? Where’s the hygge in that?) She must have decluttered the book, as it’s a very slim 130 pages, more of a memoir really than a decluttering guide, although there is an appendix chapter at the end. I seem to have zero interest in cleaning and reorganizing this January – the maids cancelled again and I just don’t care – let the dust and the glitter from the Christmas decorations reign supreme.

There was a batch of brownies – the kind with lots of icing – always comforting on a bleak winter’s day.

And if all else fails, there’s always pie…..channeling my ancestors again.

Good apple pies are a considerable part of our domestic happiness.” (Jane Austen – letter)

Happy January – from my hygge home to yours! Two more months until spring….yea…..

There is nothing like staying home for real comfort” – Jane Austen

Fifty Years Ago Today

“It was fifty years ago today, Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play….” 

No – if my memory serves correct, the lyrics are, it was twenty years ago today.

You know you’re getting older when the Beatles are considered senior’s music and many younger people don’t even know who they are.  One youngster upon hearing an early Paul McCartney track remarked that he thought the singer would go far. If you haven’t seen the cute British movie, Yesterday, it’s based on the same premise – a world where no one knows the Beatles music.  (Aside – British actors must get annoyed when every lead role goes to the lovely Lily James.)  

I recently turned old enough that the government is now sending me money – along with an information package that I’m now eligible for free drugs and pneumococcal and shingles vaccines and reminders to get routine tests done so I don’t become a drain on the heath care system someday.  I’m right smack in the middle of the baby boomers, and the problem with my generation is that there are so many of us.

I came across this list in a magazine geared to boomers the other day, and yes, we are still a marketing demographic.

How many do you remember?

Suddenly I’m fifteen again in the kitchen of our old farmhouse waiting for the bus, with the radio tuned to the local FM station. It’s 7:30 and I’m wearing a mini-skirt and trying to grab a few bites of breakfast with the smell of perked coffee in the air. I’m sure my mother sat down and enjoyed a cup when we were all out the door and peace and quiet reigned once more. Maybe she changed the station to some easy-listening music.

The bus stopped frequently as practically every farm had kids and my brother playing lookout at the window could see the flashing lights down the road, thus giving me a few extra minutes to gather my books and fringed suede purse, (all the rage then.) The bus picked up students for six different high schools in town so it was crowded. (Did I mention there were so many of us?) As we were the last ones on we often had to sit three to a seat, and someone from another school would reluctantly move over to make room, but the advantage to being scrunched in like sardines near the front, was close proximity to the bus-driver’s radio and more top ten hits. I got in at least an hour of music a day that way.   (A few years later when I was in my senior year, the peak had thinned out and there were empty seats. Now there are only three high schools left.)   

Even though we lived in the country, we weren’t country music fans, unless you counted cross over artists like Anne Murray, Kenny Rogers and Crystal Gayle, so the only one I recognize from the country list is Charley Pride – Kiss an Angel Good Morning, but I know every one of the top ten billboard hits. 

Of the movie list, I only remember seeing Billy Jack (with my cousin) and Fiddler on the Roof (my mother’s choice), both rather forgettable, other than perhaps one memorable song each.  We didn’t have the money or the wheels to go to the show very often.  I think Love Story was out that year too, a more popular film for teens, but not all movies were good, then and now.

We might have had better music but would I want to be that age again – no!  Too much homework, and not enough money.

Many of my fellow boomers are retiring.   My dentist recently retired and when his millennial-aged children took over the practice, the first thing to go was the oldies-but-goodies radio station. During my last checkup I heard Spirit in the Sky for the first time in decades, (possibly not the best soundtrack for a root canal.) Now it’s some variation of that horrible rap music.  I turned the radio on the other day and heard this snippet of a lyric, “I held your hair back when you were throwing up.”  Now, there’s a romantic visual.  Contrast that to “Well, she was just seventeen, and you know what I mean…”    Not that all those hits on the list were great though – Knock Three Times on the Ceiling was pure cheese – the same thing could be easily handled today by a text message.  

My financial adviser recently retired – I’ve been with him since I was 32 and took an “Investing in the 80’s” evening course he taught at the local community college.  We had a meet and greet to introduce me to his much younger replacement, and I swear we both had tears in our eyes reminiscing about old times and 12% interest rates and that $150 dot.com stock I once sold for $10.  I only saw him once a year at RRSP time, but he was someone you could count on for wise advice, well except for that one stock whose name escapes me, although it caused much angst at the time. Now I have to start all over again with someone else. The same with my doctor, my accountant, my hairdresser.  I’m already on Lawyer Number Three. The previous two died young, and as the replacement is the same age, I’m worried. You see all that expertise and work ethic walk out the door, and it can be unnerving having to adjust to someone new, whatever their age.   

That’s the other thing about being in your sixties.  People YOUR OWN AGE start to die on you – cousins, work colleagues, the spouses of friends. You start to read the obituaries online.  I lost a work colleague last week, a kind soul who always used to call me SISTER, and I felt incredibly sad that I hadn’t gone to visit her, hadn’t even known she was that sick. 

I remember the head nurse of chronic care once saying that the key to a successful old age, was being able to adjust to change and loss.  No wonder they say, “old age isn’t for sissies” but really what is the alternative? Another approach is accepting the limitations that come with age, not necessarily giving up but pursuing more realistic and meaningful goals. I won’t be backpacking in Europe anytime soon, but I might still become a rich and famous novelist and rent a villa in Tuscany and invite all of my blogging friends…..

It also helps to have a passion in life, a sound mind and good health. It’s hard to enjoy yourself at any age if you are in constant pain or suffering from any of the many indignities of growing older – bad knees, hips, cataracts, etc….many of them fixable, but reminders all the same.

Now that I’m officially “young-old” my mother must be “old-old” although she has never really seemed her age. She has certainly been an inspiration when it comes to aging (she built a new house at 72, took up painting at 87 and has had several solo exhibits) but somehow I doubt if I’ll see her age. I have more of my dad’s genes, hence the need to start taking better care of myself. (You might have noticed there have been no baking blogs lately…..maybe next week)

If there’s one thing that scared me when reading Keep Sharp – Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s new book about building a better brain, it’s that our habits in middle age (good or bad) help determine how we will live our old age. Number one was exercise. Some people were motivated to make positive changes during the pandemic, others waited it out like hibernating-couch-potato-sloths addicted to multiple streaming services. I recently signed up for Netflix – the last Canadian holdout – as I figure it’s going to be another long winter ahead.

If anything I think the pandemic has aged us all to some extent. We stay home more, get more sleep, take afternoon naps, watch more TV, have tea and toast or Meals on Wheels/Door Dash delivered when we’re sick of cooking and fill our days with errands and appointments to minimize exposure……plus scan the flyers for bargains as food costs soar! I’m sure I’ll be taking up bird-watching any day now – seriously, I have three sets of binoculars and this is on my Bucket list for next year. If old age is for the birds, I want to see them!

Apparently albums are back in style again for music connoisseurs, so I’m thinking I might pull some of those old records out of the basement and crank up the stereo (Pioneer with vintage 70’s turntable – make me an offer) and listen to some Carly Simon if “it’s not too late.” Let the Music Play!  

PS. A neighbor of mine lived to be a vibrant 105, but she was always young at heart…