Snow Day

          There’s nothing nicer than a snowstorm in January, especially when the early morning news is telling everyone to stay home and take a snow day, and the local radio station is listing the bus cancellations, and school and business closings.   There’s no second guessing, should I go out or not, when they start telling everyone to stay off the roads.   When I was working, I dreaded winter as I had a long commute – it might be bright and sunny when I left home but by the time I got to work in the snowbelt region 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/or a 24 hour shift.   When I worked in a small rural hospital if it was an exceptionally bad storm, the staff who lived in town would be collected by snowmobile – no need to stay home, we will come and get you!    Many a snowy night I drove home in whiteouts over unplowed country roads where I was the only fool on the road.   A friend of mine once ran into a pack of wild dogs/coyotes on her drive home – they must have been disoriented in the blizzard to have come so far out of the bush and refused to get off the road.  After I changed jobs, it was even worse, as there was no backup staff or plan.   I only remember my workplace being closed once due to snow and only then because my boss had wisely but reluctantly made the decision…..but that was the year we had a snowmageddon and the national guard was called in to deal with all the stranded cars on the highway, many of whom had been there for over 24 hours.   I did not even get a snow day as I was called in to cover a shift near where I lived for someone who couldn’t get in.   It always amazed me how busy we would be on those days, and how many people would be out and about during snowstorms, even when they were telling people to stay home.   Of course, there would be the expected increase in emergencies – car accidents, heart attacks, pneumonia and such, but then there would be the others.    I reached the conclusion that there are people who just do not like being stuck at home during a snowstorm, they must be out and about…to the grocery store for milk, the library to return books….any excuse will do.    Personally, now that I am retired, I am grateful for the opportunity to stay home when the weather out there is frightful. 

snow

Who doesn’t recall the excitement of an unexpected day off school when you were a child.   I think we remember them because they were so few and far between.    Last year there were about ten days when the buses didn’t run here and another five or so when the school was closed altogether.   Snow, fog, freezing rain, some of which never even materialized but the school board must make the decision at 5:30 in the morning and there are liability issues.   I remember one year our rural bus was cancelled for several days.  We made snow angels, built snow forts and snowmen, played fox and the goose in the pristine whiteness and had hot chocolate (the real stuff with cocoa and milk) when we came in from playing, and usually grilled cheese and tomato soup for lunch.       

My dad would plow out the lane-way with the front-end loader on the tractor but basically we were snowed in until the county roads were cleared, which was never a priority for the township.   My ancestors went to church in this old cutter when the roads were impassable.   

sleigh ride 3 (2) I guess you could say the one horse open sleigh was their backup plan!   (This picture is from the 1940’s when my dad still had the big Clydesdale horses).     

Wreath with snow

The month of January can be quite pleasant, once all the stress and merry-making of Christmas is over.   The days are quiet – it’s a good time for personal reflection, journal writing, and soup on the stove.    You don’t have to socialize if you don’t feel like it, you can read and watch movies and putter around the house with no agenda in mind.    You can bake and eat with no thought of exercising off those calories.   It’s much too cold and icy to go out, although you might be brave enough to shovel the driveway if no one volunteers to do it for you.  It’s a time of year to be savored.    All is white without, all is warm within.   You can go to bed at night and listen to the wind howl and be grateful for hearth and home. 

gingerbread house

While a snow storm can be a blessing in disguise, a forced stop to our constant whirlwind of activity, if the storm goes on too long cabin fever can set in.    I tend to feel a bit claustrophobic if the driveway and street aren’t plowed out after 24 hours.   I want to stay home but I like the idea that I can get out if I need to.    Of course, if the hydro or heat goes out or the pipes freeze that is a whole other story…..not fun at all.   And if the winter drags on too long into March that can be depressing indeed.  

So, what are the ingredients for a perfect snow day – comfortable clothes, but you don’t have to get dressed at all if you don’t want to, stay in your PJ’s.   A nice pair of thick socks is a requirement and you must have a stack of books or magazines.   I always have some books on reserve for just such days.

Snow pictures - AMc

A cozy chair in front of the fireplace or in front of a window where you can watch the snow softly falling is ideal.   Add some soft pillows and a comfy throw, plaid is perfect. 

A cup of spiced tea is lovely to sip while you read…and if you get sleepy while reading, simply move over to the couch for a long winter’s nap.   But first throw something in the crock-pot so you can awaken to the delightful aroma of homemade stew.    If you feel like baking, chocolate chip cookies or brownies are always a good choice and much appreciated by the neighborhood snow shovelers.    I always enjoy watching the kids on the neighbor’s skating rink from my kitchen window while I do the dishes, twirling around in their colorful Nordic coats and scarfs like a real-life Gap ad.    Somehow the weather is seldom too bad for a game of ice hockey.  Sometimes there is even night skating under the spotlights, the flurries falling, the slam of the puck against the boards, he shoots, he scores.  After supper, it’s movie time – and popcorn and hot chocolate.  Later you can watch the storm highlights on the evening news and be glad you are not out in it – and so, to bed.   Tomorrow all will be sunny and bright like a winter wonderland…..and regular life will resume, refreshed by this quiet moment of winterlude.  

Quote of the Day:                           

Brew me a cup for a winter’s night.
For the wind howls loud and the furies fight;
Spice it with love and stir it with care,
And I’ll toast our bright eyes,
my sweetheart fair.     (Minna Antrim)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Song of the Day:  Snow – from White Christmas – Bing Crosby & Co.                                                                                                                                                                   

 

How to Make Your Home Hygge

 

Ski Lodge - AMc - 2016
Ski Lodge – 2016

            Now that I’m no longer working and my daily commute is a walk through the snow drifts to the mail box, I’ve realized that my life is already pretty hygge, at least compared to what it was.   No more watching the weather forecasts for potential snowstorms or laying awake half the night worrying about the roads, (I had one of those jobs where the only option for staying home was if you called in dead), or driving home late at night through whiteouts, where the only good thing was that you were the only fool on the road and hence could drive down the middle of it.    One of the benefits of getting older is that you don’t have to work anymore, and if you are elderly like my mother, no one expects you to go out at all, so you can stay at home and paint.

             A big part of hygge is appreciating the things you have and do that make winter a bit more bearable.  (see previous blog Comfort and Joy: How to survive January, for more on hygge, which is a derived from a Danish word for “well-being”).   So, what are the things that make a home hygge?   The Danes are big on coziness, candles, coffee, blankets, fireplaces, mulled wine, sweets, relaxed decor, soft lighting, comfortable clothing and casual entertaining.   Sounds like a recipe for a snow day. Hygge is even better if you can arrange for a snowstorm, preferably one with howling winds, the kind where the weather forecaster tells everyone to stay inside and off the roads.   Then after it has passed, and the world is a winter wonderland, you can go outside and make a snowman.  

Blue Snowman - AMC - 2017
Blue Snowman –  2017

      And of course no snow day would be complete without grilled cheese and tomato soup, it’s the stuff childhood memories are made of.  

          There’s nothing worse for your house than to feel bare and cheerless after the Christmas decorations have been taken down, (your house has feelings too, see Tidying up blog Jan), so I keep some of them up until the end of January, sometimes mid-February, if it’s a particularly harsh winter.  You can put the Santa and reindeer stuff away for a much-deserved rest, but the greenery, pine cones, berries and fairy lights can help provide a hygge atmosphere.     15781418_10154920876079726_6554042033651567829_n     

      The Danes are the biggest consumers of candles, (mainly unscented), so light some pretty candles.  

     Comfort food is a big part of hygge.  Homemade beef vegetable soup simmering on the stove, leftover turkey pie, mac and cheese,

 

 

or a big pot of chili, with a simple green salad and some warm bread, all make a nice evening supper.   Dempster’s baguettes are so good, you could pass them off as homemade – eight minutes in the oven, and they come in whole grain and rosemary/garlic too.   Baking itself is very hygge, brownies from a box are quick and can bribe snow shovelers, while a date nut loaf takes more work but can give your house a wonderful smell.    If you don’t want to bake, you can spray some cinnamon room spray around and buy some treats.

      The Danes love reading nooks, so a plump lounge chair with some cozy pillows and a throw, is a good place to sip cocoa and read your favorite magazine,  even better if the chair faces a window where you can watch the snow falling outside or the cardinals at the feeder. 

         If you are lucky enough to have a fireplace, then nothing beats reading a book by the fire.  You can start in on that stack you got at the second-hand sale last year.  Popcorn and mulled cider make a nice fireside snack.  Add some mellow music, Ella Fitzgerald is always good.

       If you haven’t got a love to keep you warm, a cat is good company, maybe two, but no more than five.  

        Reading in bed with a cat purring, and tea and cookies, is pure hygge.

 

             There is something about plaid that is so cheerful.  I put a red plaid flannel duvet cover on my bed before Christmas and leave it on all winter.   It looks nice with crisp white sheets and lacy pillows, an idea I saw in a decorating magazine once.    A plaid flannel housecoat with a fleece lining (Vanity Fair at Sears before they closed, but L.L. Bean carries these too), can keep you warm and cozy while you do your final check around the house before bed, and when you look outside, yes it is still snowing.   It’s really piling up out there, you may be snowed in tomorrow too.   As you drift off to sleep, listening to the north winds howl, may you have sweet dreams….of summer!            

Song of The Day:  Our House – Crosby Stills and Nash – music link

 

 

Comfort & Joy: The Danish Art of Hygge (or how to survive January)

Oh the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful.”  The song, Let It Snow, has all the ingredients for winter comfort and joy – popcorn, snuggling by the fire, snowstorm, and the best part for those who hate winter driving, no place to go.   It’s also the perfect recipe for hygge.

          According to recent surveys, Denmark rates among the happiest countries in the world, and hygge, the Danish art of living well, is a major reason for their sense of wellness.   Hygge, which can be summed up as “cocoa by candlelight”, is the perfect antidote to the cold dark winters and is considered a major survival strategy for January when the hours of daylight are few.   The Little Book of Hygge – The Danish Way to Live Well was written by Meik Wiking, the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen.    You know that if a country sets out to study happiness they are way ahead of the game.   Here is my book review from Goodreads.

  The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live WellThe Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well by Meik Wiking

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a delightful little book, particularly suitable for reading this time of year, preferably during a snow storm. So light some candles, get cozy by the fire with a blanket and a cup of cocoa and prepare to be entertained. Based on the Danish art of living well, it may inspire you to practice a little hygge in your own life…..comes complete with charming pictures too, but warning – the print is very tiny.

         For those of us living in more melancholy nations, what exactly is hygge?  The word hygge derives from a Norwegian word meaning “well-being”.  Hygge is about atmosphere and experiences, not things, (great, I just decluttered, see previous blog post, but I hope I didn’t throw out anything hygge  – is it to late to retrieve those plaid pajama bottoms). 

           In the introduction the author describes a December weekend at a cabin with a group of his friends.  

Cabin in the Woods - AMc - 2016
Cabin in the Woods –  2016

Post hiking, they are sitting around the fire, wearing big jumpers and woolen socks, reading or half asleep and the only sound is the stew boiling, the sparks from the fire and someone having a sip of their mulled wine.  One of them breaks the silence and asks, could this be any more hygge, and someone answers, yes, if there was a storm raging outside, they all nod.     This is hygge in a nutshell, except he forgot the candles, (they are big on candles in Denmark as they have seventeen hours of darkness in the winter months), so I would like to add that I hope they ate by candlelight, and had coffee and cake later by the fire, (they are big on coffee and confectioneries too).

         According to the author, Danes have less anxiety and worry in their daily lives due to the cradle to grave social welfare state.  They don’t resent paying high taxes as they consider it investing in society and improving the quality of life.   What’s not to like about a country with paid daycare, where parents of small children must leave work early, and no one works nights or weekends, thus leaving more time for family and friends and all the other hygge-like things to do…..watch tv, read, relax.     

      The concept of hygge includes coziness, candles, coffee, blankets, fireplaces, hot drinks, good food, natural or rustic decor, nooks, soft lighting, comfortable clothing and casual entertaining.   Interestingly, the hygge life-style can be excellent for introverts, as it is a low-key way of being social without being drained or exhausted by too much activity and partying, not to mention being a soothing balm for over-stimulated minds at the end of the work day.   Even their workplaces try to be hygge.  They may have couches instead of desks.  I think I want to move.  I have a vague recollection of one of my first workplaces in the eighties where we had birthday cake during department meetings.  It was a horrible place to work but the cake was good. At my last job we didn’t even get meal breaks.  Or course, a hygge-like state is only possible if it is in contrast to something non-hygge, which tends to be the status quo for modern life.   Life today is a rat-race, stressful and unfair, money and jobs rule.  This book can inspire us to stop occasionally and add a little hygge to our lives, and don’t forget the cake!   (see next blog, How To Make Your Home Hygge).        

 Benjamin Franklin quote:  “Happiness consists more in small conveniences or pleasures that occur every day then in great pieces of good fortune that happen but seldom.”               

Snow - AMC - 2015

Snow Day –  2015