#Winter Fun – Wordless Wednesday
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.
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.
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.”
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.
I haven’t worn my down-filled parka even once as…..
the only thing chili has been in a pot.
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.
Happy January – from my hygge home to yours! Two more months until spring….yea…..
#Spring Thaw – Wordless Wednesday
Let your photo(s) tell your story.
If wintering is a verb then we all need to learn to winter – to rest and recharge, especially in difficult times. Wintering can be a season to survive, a respite from the busyness of the rest of the year, or a state of mind such as a feeling sad or depressed.
Winter is often a time for retreat – never more so than this year. Usually I don’t mind the month of January, and enjoy the excuse to stay home when the weather turns nasty, but this year it just seems like more of the same. So it was with interest that I saw a review on someone’s blog of a non-fiction book called Wintering, by Katherine May. As I sometimes enjoy a light philosophical read, I ordered it from the library, but found it so interesting and well written that it might go on my purchase list. (I usually only buy books I intend to re-read.)
Here’s the Publishers Blurb: Sometimes you slip through the cracks: unforeseen circumstances like an abrupt illness, the death of a loved one, a break-up, or a job loss can derail a life. These periods of dislocation can be lonely and unexpected. For May, her husband fell ill, her son stopped attending school, and her own medical issues led her to leave a demanding job. Wintering explores how she not only endured this painful time, but embraced the singular opportunities it offered.
A moving personal narrative shot through with lessons from literature, mythology, and the natural world, May’s story offers instruction on the transformative power of rest and retreat. Illumination emerges from many sources: solstice celebrations and dormice hibernation, C.S. Lewis and Sylvia Plath, swimming in icy waters and sailing arctic seas.
Ultimately Wintering invites us to change how we relate to our own fallow times. May models an active acceptance of sadness and finds nourishment in deep retreat, joy in the hushed beauty of winter, and encouragement in understanding life as cyclical, not linear. A secular mystic, May forms a guiding philosophy for transforming the hardships that arise before the ushering in of a new season.
About the Author:
Katherine May is a freelance writer of both fiction and nonfiction, and previous creative writing teacher. Her journalism and essays have appeared in a number of publications, including The Times, Good Housekeeping and Cosmopolitan. In the book she reveals she has Asperger’s Syndrome. “I learned to winter young. As one of the many girls of my age whose autism went undiagnosed, I spent a childhood permanently out in the cold.” (page 11)
As we’ve just passed the winter solstice, this is a book to curl up with and enjoy in the deep dark depths of January.
The book is a series of personal essays, divided into chapters, from September to March, with further sub-titles such as Slumber, Light, Midwinter, Snow, Cold Water, and Thaw.
I especially enjoyed the chapters on hibernation, (who knew dormice and bees could be so interesting), slumber (isn’t it always easier to sleep in the winter), and light (seeking out the northern lights in Norway). As the author lives by the sea in England, and has not experienced the full force of a brutal snow-filled winter, she journeyed north to seek the cold and snow and to view the Northern Lights.
She also visited Stonehenge during the Winter Solstice. There’s a chapter on light (the festival of St. Lucia), on cold water (taking the polar bear plunge) and snow (winter walks in nature are much easier on a British beach than trudging through snowdrifts).
Here’s a Goodreads link to some quotes from the book for a sample of her writing. The prose is so lovely, I would recommend it for that reason alone, even if you weren’t interested in the topic. No wonder Elizabeth Gilbert praised it as “a truly beautiful book.”
She also mentions a poem by Syliva Path titled “Wintering” which I was not familiar with, but I imagine inspired the title of the book.
It’s difficult to sum up what this book is actually about, it’s not advice, or self-help, but more meditative reflections on a season we all must go through.
The Eagle Has Landed
The eagle has landed – on the ice floes in the river, and I have joined the paparazzi lining the banks in search of a picture. He perches on the ice hunting for fish in the water and lives with his brethren in the nearby trees. People have reported sightings of his massive wingspan while driving along the river road.
For all I know, this could just be a myth, for I’ve never seen a bald eagle, although I hear they like to hang out in the waterfront park this time of year and catch fish.
They’ve even been known to hitch a ride downriver with the swift-moving current, like surfer dudes trying to catch the big one.
This quiet park has been frequented this past month by photographers along the shore, tripods and fancy zoom lens in hand, watching and waiting, all eager to get that first photo for the Facebook page. Apparently, it’s been a good year for eagle sightings, for everyone but me.
I’ve walked in this park quite a few times the past six weeks and nada…..although the fellow walkers I meet and greet will tell me, “there were nine here yesterday. Yes – nine!” A real eagle convention. My neighbor saw one swooping down right in front of her windshield. One man told me there were two circling high in the sky, but not to my eyes. All I saw were seagulls.
Maybe they know which days I walk, and decide to stay home and take a nice long nap in the old nest.
Eagle nests can reach a great size, but usually only have two eggs. The large nests must support their weight and height, as they can be big creatures, averaging 12 lbs for the female, and 9 lbs for the male, and standing up to three feet tall, with wingspans up to seven feet. They hardly flap their wings, but glide about on the air currents. Both the male and female take turns sitting on the eggs, although the female does the majority of the incubating. They can use the same nest for years, and the eggs hatch mid-April to May. I saw a news video recently of baby eagles in a nest – two cute little balls of white fluff. The young eagles are brown until they are about 5 years, and then develop the distinctive white heads and tails. They are birds of prey, predominately fish eaters, but also small birds and mammals, and not too fussy about the type of carcass – roadkill will do just fine. They are notorious for their sudden dives and grasp their prey with their talons, using the sharp hind toe one to kill. Average life span is about 20 years although they can live longer.
Apparently, there is a nest somewhere, in the trees along the river, whose bare branches would surely make such a sight visible, but again not to me. The nests tend to be mid-tree in order to support their weight. It must be farther back along the creek which empties into the river. This is a popular spot for overwintering birds, as an industrial plant discharges warm water into the creek, thus providing a sauna-like atmosphere much appreciated in the freezing cold. There are plenty of seagulls, more Canadian geese than anyone would ever want to see, and those pairs of mute swan lovers I’ve featured on Wordless Wednesday.
Eagles are majestic creatures, a symbol of freedom. My American readers surely know more about them than I do, as the eagle is their national bird, (I really liked that eagle on Lady Gaga’s sweater at the inauguration), whereas we in Canada have the more industrious and ugly-as-hell-rodent – the beaver.
There’s been very little ice in the river this year. After a brutal snowy February, we’ve had a relatively mild March, so the ice and snow have all melted now and the photographers have dispersed. The eagles must either be nesting or have gone south for spring break, leaving me with no good reason to visit a park now littered with green geese goop. There’s always next year….
700 words seems kind of short for a blog, so I’ll add some art, poetry, and music.
I remember studying this Alfred Lord Tennyson poem in grade school:
He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring’d with the azure world, he stands.
The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.
Music: Fly Like An Eagle – Steve Miller Band – 1976
(Eagle stats from Wikipedia and St. Clair County Community Newspaper – MI)
PS. Check out fellow blogger Eileen of Myricopia for her blog about observing breeding habits of bald eagles for Arizona Game & Fish here – link.
#The Water in Winter – Wordless Wednesday
Let your photos(s) tell your story.
#Snowpeople – Wordless Wednesday
Let your photo(s) tell your story.
The Worst Drive Ever
Although we’re currently experiencing a few weeks of bitterly cold temperatures, it’s been a fairly mild winter with little snow – a few inches here and there, but nothing that requires shoveling and so far no major storms. Now with the Polar Vortex settled in, it’s too cold to snow, (very cold air contains very little moisture) but when I think of all those long brutal winters when I drove through hell, it makes me angry that now that I’m retired, there’s practically nothing. Last week in part one, I blogged about Snowmageddon – the storm of the century, now in part two – let’s talk about the worst drive ever.
Those of you who live in regions which experience the four seasons in all their glory, may appreciate snow when it first appears in December, that nice white fluffy stuff that makes you want to book an inn in Vermont.
These people sensibly took the train…
But by February most people are sick of it, and almost everyone dreads winter driving. Oh, you get used to, but I bet you secretly rejoice when spring arrives and you don’t have to continually check the weather forecast for storms on the horizon. If you’re working from home now, lucky you, you get to escape it altogether this year.
Even if you’re a good driver, and have the ultimate heavy duty vehicle with snow tires and four wheel drive, you still have to worry about other people’s driving. And isn’t it always the worst during the first snowfall of the season, when it seems everyone has forgotten how to drive, and the police, called out to fifty or more cars in the ditch, are reminding everyone to slow down – winter is here.
If you do go slow, then inevitably there is someone on your tail, desperate to pass, usually a big truck. Once some impatient young man finally passed me on a bare stretch, then spun around on the next snowy patch, right into the ditch. I was tempted to wave at him as I drove past, but a farmer had already come out to help him. Why do people always expect farmers to pull them out with their tractors – get a CAA membership.
Snowmageddon made me think about my worst drive ever. There are two in particular which stand out in my memory.
The first was when I was in my twenties and had a little two seater Fiero. (Yes, I know, not exactly practical). I didn’t have much winter driving experience as I had gone to school in Toronto and took the subway. The Fiero’s engine was in the back for stability, but the car sat so low that you sometimes felt like you were plowing the road.
It was late November and I had gone to London with my parents to Toys R Us to buy Christmas presents for the grandkids-who-had-everything. It was a mild sunny day otherwise we wouldn’t have gone, as London is in the snowbelt area, but shortly after we got back to the farm, a storm came out of nowhere and I decided to drive home before it got worse. It was dark by then, and the snow was that heavy wet stuff and by the time I came up to the train tracks just outside of town the windows were coated with it. The red warning lights were on so I stopped, but they had been having problems with those lights for quite awhile and they would sometimes flash even if there wasn’t a train in sight. By then I was having a hard time seeing any distance at all. I opened both windows to check if a train was coming and the windshield fogged up, but I accidentally hit the trunk instead of the defogger button so the trunk lid flew up obscuring my rear view. I sat there for a few minutes, not sure what to do, until there was a long lineup of angry cars behind me, and finally some guy with a truck (it’s always a truck) blasted his horn. Maybe he could see better than I could? So I went over the tracks, too quickly and promptly spun out on the other side in front of an oncoming car but I managed to get back into my lane just in time. I arrived home quite shook up – not one of my better drives.
The other episode involved a particularly bad stretch of country road and a dark and stormy night. I was working the late shift and it had been snowing heavily for hours, and was really getting bad out there as every second person who came in insisted on telling me,as if I wasn’t already worried enough about the drive home. I should have stayed at the B&B in town, a newly restored Victorian with a skylight and claw-foot bathtub in the bathroom, but it was pricey and I wanted to be home in my own bed as I was off for the weekend. Both ends of this county road would usually be plowed out, but the middle section was always a no-man’s land. With no houses or buildings to block the wind, just wide open fields, it was the perfect storm for winter white outs. Luckily this section wasn’t well traveled as on many a snowy night I would often be the only fool on the road.
On this night it was so bad I couldn’t even tell where the road was. There was zero visibility. Was I too close to the ditch? Where was the ditch? If you’ve ever driven a county road in the dark, there are no streetlights, only the light from your headlights. I crawled along, plowing through the drifts, chewing gum (as opposed to clenching jaw) and listening to Pachelbel’s Cannon on repeat – my routine for those white-knuckle drives. I’m sure there was an angel on my shoulder that night. When I finally drove out of it, the road was still heavy with drifted-on snow but I could see the light from some of the farmhouses on either side – a navigation point , signs of civilization.
A friend of mine ran into a pack of wild dogs/coyotes one night in that same section. They must have become disoriented in the snow to have come so far out of the bush and refused to move off the road. She finally drove through them and they parted – what a strange sight that must have been, a bunch of eerie eyes glaring at her, as if she had invaded their territory.
I’ve had other bad drives too (hey it’s Canada), and some thankfully, where I wasn’t driving. Men always think they can drive through everything, and maybe you can if you have a big SUV/truck. At least then I could close my eyes and pretend to sleep or read a book to take my mind off the fact that we might be following a long line of red taillights right into a ditch. I’d much rather drive in heavy rain than snow, more traction, but recall one horrible night drive in a fog so thick I could barely see the lines on the road. Where was Rudolph when you needed him?
Now that I’m retired, I’m grateful to be able to stay home when the weather outside is frightful, and looking back, I often wonder how I did it for thirty years? I’m not such a brave driver now that I’m older – I’ve become a weather wimp. If there’s a blizzard outside, I stay home and bake cookies, and say a prayer for those poor souls who must brave the elements to go to work.
What’s the worst drive you’ve ever experienced?
The nor’easter which hit the US and Maritimes recently reminded me that it’s the ten year anniversary of “Snowmageddon” – the storm of the century in my part of Canada. A raging blizzard so bad that a massive dump of snow closed the major highway for two whole days. Police patrolling the area on snowmobiles counted 200 tractor trailers and more than 100 cars trapped in the drifts, but the unofficial count put the number much higher, with estimates of 1500 passengers stranded and 700 rescued, with many vehicles simply abandoned on the country roads.
The storm started brewing on Sunday. Snow squalls coming off the lake usually move, but this one stayed stationary dumping over 40 cm of snow on the roads with 70 km/hr north winds making for blustery driving conditions. A state of emergency was declared on Monday and the national guard was called in, complete with rescue helicopters to airlift passengers who had been stranded in their vehicles overnight or longer.
A snowplow towing a school bus was dispatched to collect people along the route and bring them to warming stations in the nearby villages. By Tuesday night close to 300 motorists had been rescued from the worst hit section, but it took several more days for the plows and tow trucks to clear the 30 km stretch of highway and start in on the side roads. At the rescue centres, residents of the small towns and villages were generous with food donations, blankets and cots and some even opened up their homes to grateful strangers.
Now, it’s nothing new for this highway to be closed periodically in the winter, usually just for a short period of time as streamers coming off the lake make the area notorious for sudden white-out conditions. I should know, as I drove to work in this region for over thirty years. As an essential worker, I was used to driving in anything, but even I did not go to work that day because all the roads in the area were closed. People who had detoured off the main highway soon found themselves on roads less traveled but just as deep with drifts. Friends of mine took in a couple who were stranded in front of their farm – for two days they fed them home-cooked meals, and played cards and told stories and so people from the city got to experience a dose of rural hospitality until their vehicle could be pulled out of the ditch.
When I was working, I dreaded winter. It might be bright and sunny when I left home, but by the time I reached the snowbelt area it would be a raging blizzard. If you didn’t go in you were home safe but sorry, as you would inevitably feel guilty about leaving your colleagues with a skeleton staff and a 12 hour shift and you’d make up for your day off with an increased workload the following day. But I was a dedicated employee who seldom even took a sick day, so I’d go in and the drive would be predictably awful and my nerves would be shot by the time I got home.
When I worked at a rural hospital, I was lucky as I drove in daylight. If it was bad out, I might leave a bit early to get away before dark, and if it was an exceptionally wicked storm I was allowed to stay home, at my discretion. This would happen maybe once a year. As so many of the employees lived out in the country, the hospital had a contingency plan where the current staff stayed over, and someone’s husband with a snowmobile could always be counted on to go out and collect the staff who lived in the town. There wouldn’t be a lot of admissions on those days, surgeries would often be cancelled if the surgeons couldn’t get out, (once one of the doctors had to do a C-Section by phone when even the ambulance couldn’t get there), but the ER would be busy with the usual disasters that such weather always brings on – heart attacks for the snow-shovelers (best stock up on clot busters) car accidents, (hopefully minor, but not always, hence my anxiety about winter driving), and once someone frozen under the ice in a creek overnight (miraculously he survived intact).
After I changed jobs and started working evenings, there was no backup plan. I drove through everything as the only excuse for not showing up at work was if you were dead. Snowmageddon was the only time I ever remember my workplace being closed, and that was only for one day. Even my boss didn’t go in that day, having turned down the offer of a snowmobile ride. It was one of the few occasions where there was nothing open and nobody out and about. The hospital was open of course, so it’s not like people were without medical options. In fact, ER was doubly busy with all the stranded people who did not have their insulin/inhalers/critical meds with them. And just for the record, this storm had been predicted – there had been plenty of warnings and advance notice starting on Sunday, so it’s not like it came out of nowhere, but some people don’t pay attention to the weather forecast. I always had the weather network and the winter road report on speed-dial, and my emergency car kit would go in the trunk in the fall and stay there until May 1st. Once November skies darkened and the flurries began to fly, my snow anxiety level remained on high alert.
Although I was some distance from the worst hit region, I didn’t have a snow day. I offered to pick up a shift for someone who lived along the lake and had no hope of getting here – she actually started crying on the phone, so great was her relief. I only had a short drive and once I made it out of my subdivision it was okay. It always amazed me how busy we would be on snow days, but I’ve reached the conclusion that some people just cannot deal with the claustrophobia of a snowstorm. They must be out and about in the worst of weather conditions – to the grocery store to buy eggs, the library to return books – any excuse will do.
The next day, when the county road was still closed, I called my boss and told him I was not coming in. This was met with a stony silence (and probably some degree of shock) and then a small voice….well couldn’t you come in later, if the road reopens? It did finally at 4 pm, but no, I did not, as I would have had a miserable drive home in the dark, and there would have been no hope of booking in at the only B&B with all those stranded passengers. I didn’t even feel guilty as there was no thanks for helping him out the day before, and it’s not like he was by himself as someone who lived in town had come in to help him out. The next day the sun shone and my courage returned, but there was hell to pay, as we were still backed up, but personally I’d rather be safe than dead in a ditch.
We’ve had very little snow this winter, a few inches here and there, but no major snowstorms so far, although there has been in other parts of the province. When I think of all those years I drove through hell and now that I’m retired, practically nothing, it makes me mad. It also makes me wonder about climate change. Maybe blizzards will soon be a thing of the past? Maybe I’ll be like one of those old people telling tales about walking ten miles to school in two feet of snow….and reminiscing about the big blizzard of 2010. (Next week – Part Two – The Worst Drive Ever)
PS: Does your workplace have a snowstorm contingency plan? It seems to me that some places are open when they needn’t be. Like the library for instance – is that an essential service? I wish administrations would think about their staff when they make decisions, especially if they are driving home at night. Even closing early would help.