The cold has already crept in under the doorframes and whistled through the windowpanes. Winter in New England is many things; it can be jaw-droppingly beautiful, and it can be long—like, “will I never feel sunshine on may face ever again, please help me.” It is not too late to prepare for the stretch of winter that still lies ahead.
When snow falls or the temperature drops and all you can think is “hibernation,” you’re not alone. We all—well, most of us—have to go to work, so the ideas that follow are for after you get home, shrug off the parka, and kick off the mukluks, or for a weekend, or wherever you can fit them in for the run of the season. Enjoy winter from inside triple-paned windows, buoyed up by the crackle of a fireplace.
Don’t let the season get the better of you—use the season to get better. Make it a time for enhancement, enjoyment, and fun. As you snuggle in for a long winter’s night or day, have a battle plan to get through the winter.
Learn a foreign language. Do you want to move beyond “oui, oui” and “ciao?” Order DVDs in the language of your choice online through Rosetta Stone or any other language program. Commit an hour or two each day or a day each week. You can learn a language on TV, online, in a book, on audio books, or in classes taught at local community colleges. What about sign language? That’s a definite thumbs up. You have absolutely no excuse not to. N’est-ce pas?
Every Saturday afternoon, play video games with your kids. You’ll see what all the hype is about while improving your reflexes and exercising your eyes and mind. Quality time.
Take cooking lessons so you can use your wok as more than a fruit bowl. Go online or read a book and learn to make sorbet, snow cones, or cotton candy. I’m sure there are also healthy things you can make. Tune into one of the cooking channels, and schedule your DVR for whatever recipes you want to try—all fish recipes, or Hungarian, or desserts—and then spend a few afternoons or a weekend in your apron mastering a new cuisine. Have a weekly Family as Guinea Pig night.
Are you worrying about putting on a few extra pounds through the winter? Well, there are people right here in your hometown who are going hungry. Volunteer to cook a meal once a week for a shelter; if that doesn’t work, ask them what you can do for them.
Feeling ambitious? Hold a can drive (or whatever is number one on the shelter’s wish list: towels, dry goods, etc.) at your place of employment (with management’s permission, of course) or at a gathering of friends and family. All it takes is a box and a sign in a well-trafficked area. The following month, hold a dollar drive. Ask each person to donate one dollar—no more, no less. Even if you raise only $10, it will be appreciated at any human or pet shelter. All you need is a jar and a smile. People often want to give but don’t take the time. Make it easy for them.
Commit to working out with the Wii Fit a few times a week. You come home after a long day, you cook, clean, and supervise, and then you stand on the Wii Fit board and, with death-defying speed and precision, you pound your virtual opponent to a pulp in the virtual ring. You raise your hands in victory because not only have you pounded out your daily aggression but you have also burned calories and got in a cardio workout. Now the exercise endorphins are making you feel good. With that second wind maybe you’ll play with the tennis or the golf game, or maybe the aerobic stepper. Get off the couch. Really, it’s fun.
Reawaken your creativity. Take a lesson in sculpting or watercolors at Saint-Gaudens in Cornish, New Hampshire. Buy a DVD or instruction book, or check out YouTube and try it at home. Learn calligraphy, sculpting, watercolors, or origami.
Have a Mug O’ Soup non-event—mainly because it’s so easy—and chances are you have a lot of mix-and-match mugs around the house, as well as a few friends. Line up your mugs next to a humongous steaming pot of the best soup ever (deli bought, homemade, or even canned). Soup. Just soup. Maybe add a crispy bread loaf and a crock of butter. That’s it. Now have a body-warming midday Mug O’ Soup on a cold day with some friends. You get to stay home and everybody gets to talk, laugh, and slurp.
Volunteer to work on a hotline for whatever you’re passionate about (suicide prevention, breast cancer, teen pregnancy, alcoholism). Nothing warms the soul like lending an ear.
Wuthering Heights? Catch-22? Shakespeare? Iris Murdoch? Toni Morrison? Dostoyevsky? Stephen King? Lee Child? Pick one category—author, century, classics or contemporary, poetry, fiction, sci-fi, memoirs, international, or local, whatever you have been itching to get to. Make a winter reading list and buy (or borrow) all the books on the list; make it a manageable number for the season. Read them.
Do a winter book club from the comfort of your couch. If your friends won’t come over, set a date to do it over speakerphone when everyone has free minutes, or online (there’s always a book discussion going on), or by instant message, or video cam, or Skype. Just do it. Read only novels set in sultry climes, or in the Alps; your choice.
Take instant photos of the season, like little Malcolm or Buffy enjoying hot chocolate, big Daddy in his long johns, Mrs. Claus in her reindeer robe, or an early present under the tree. Hang them on the mantle at Christmas time, or stick them in surprising places throughout the house or in a lunchbox. You’ll find random reasons to smile.
Pull out the board games during every snowstorm. Remember how fun friendly competition and raucous conversation can be? Spiced cider doesn’t hurt.
Dance. If you want to make it a family affair, buy a strobe light bulb, move aside the furniture, and make Saturday nights Oh, I Know I Can Dance night. You might be able to turn the kids on to some of your golden oldies, but remember, they may want to reciprocate. If you live alone, strip down to your undies and let yourself go. Who’s stopping you? Burning calories and having fun. Groovy.
Take up sewing and make blankets for the needy. Take up knitting or crocheting and make matching hats and scarves to go with the blankets. It’s good practice and good karma.
Make a month of menus—that’s 93 in total—a breakfast, lunch, and dinner plan for 31 days of the month (on 30-day months you’ll have a bonus meal). Don’t plan to put your menu to use until January 1, 2011. Be practical—repeat family favorites and freeze and prepare big meals (like lasagna) once a week and you won’t have to worry when you’re running late. Go through your cookbooks and online resources, watch cooking shows. Write it down! Don’t worry, you can cross them off or swap meals and days. No more than 30-minute meals for weekdays, and save multicourse feasts for weekends. Plan for pizza, burgers, or ziti on those days you won’t feel like or won’t have the time for cooking. Make every Tuesday Build-Your-Own-Burger-on-a-Paper-Plate night. Thursday is potluck, Friday is kid’s choice. If you have more than one child, then throw everyone’s choices into a hat and pick one each week.
Learn how to meditate and create a tabletop Zen garden. Go online for instructions and ideas. Achieve enlightenment and introspection, or at least try.
Camp indoors and roast veggie dogs and marshmallows on long skewers in the fireplace. Make s’mores and drink mugs of hot chocolate or sugar-free flavored seltzer. Stay up all night.
Spend one day every weekend cleaning, painting, or reorganizing something. You know all the boxes and papers in your office, guestroom, and attic? Well, sort out one box a day throughout the winter and you will have gone through everything by the time mud season rolls around.
Have a fright night with candles, a comedy night with popcorn, or a cartoon night with children (or the young at heart). Make a list of all the movies in the genre that suits your mood. Watch them that night or weekend or throughout the season every Friday. Maybe enjoy the Star Trek movies all in a row. Laugh, cry, scream; totally suspend your disbelief.
Adopt a pet and train it to get your slippers, or at least to curl up on your lap and look for snacks and love. Best way to get through the winter, ever! Name him or her Sunshine.
Get current on more than office gossip. Every day of the long, cold winter take a half hour and sit down to watch the news or read the newspaper from cover to cover. Pay attention. What is going on in your state? In this country? Across the globe? Sound like you know what you’re talking about.
Offer to teach someone one of your many talents; they just have to show up. If it’s an immediate family member, they probably already live with you, so that’s even easier. Are you a good chess player, singer, baker, or mathematician?
Take up bird watching from your couch. Put up a birdfeeder early so the birds will know where to find you (winter birds like seeds, suet, and berries). If it’s early enough, put in a bird nesting box. Make a list of birds you are likely to see in your area, and check them off when you spot them. Give a prize at the end of the season for the most eagle-eyed voyeur. Keep a few blank lines for unexpected or undetermined bird spotting.
Make a photo album or scrapbook. If you already have one, spend some time on the couch looking at the pictures and telling old family tales. Let the kids tell the new ones. Write a paragraph about each picture and put it in the album.
Do you want to go back to school and continue your education? Then spend the winter making a plan. Do all your research. Decide on a school and a program. Call the school and talk to a counselor. Apply for financial aid. Ask for a brochure. Review the schedule so you know what’s feasible. Make it happen.
Learn to play cards, sing opera, play jacks, build a bookshelf, redesign the guestroom, do papier-mâché, or groom your dog.
Make a serious attempt to catalogue your expenses and debits—from daily coffee to the mortgage payment and everything in between. Maybe later you can do a budget, but first just figure out what is going where and why. Make a big chart and maybe include a graph. Track every nickel, gas tank, and pack of gum at the end of each day. You’ll be surprised.
Watch travel shows with a notebook in hand and plan your next vacation or dream vacation in detail. Check hotels, routes, airplane tickets, points of interest, pet travel, vacation times, and maps. Print a Trip-Tik from AAA. Go wild—and then pare down to what’s doable.
Bone up on your history, science, vocabulary, or math skills (any area you often think, “Boy, I wish I knew more, was better, or had a clue . . .”). Audit a class at a local college or take one online in your fuzzy slippers. Buy some books or stop by a library. Do the tests in the back of old textbooks. Long winter nights lend themselves to self-improvement. Make Wednesdays History Channel night, Thursdays National Geographic night, or a Sunday afternoon News Hour. Heck, go ahead, finally learn metric conversions. How many kilometers in 3 miles?
Every Wednesday call someone you haven’t talked to in a while just to say hello. Call it Gabfest Wednesday so people will know that you plan on some freewheeling gab time.
Jigsaw puzzles sound boring, until you open the box, spread out the pieces, and actually start making it all fit together. It’s probably been a while, but the fun is still waiting for you. Pick an image that the whole family can enjoy, or have one made at Piece Time Puzzles in Northwood, New Hampshire—with the image of your choice—like a super goofy family photo.
Have a romantic dinner with candles and wine, and, well, see where the night leads. If you have children, preplan this one for every other Friday of the season. Stay up all night.
Every Sunday midday pull out that beautiful tea set you never use and invite your sisters, mother, mother-in-law, or girlfriends over for A World of Tea Day. Lay out teas from around the globe, scones from a local bakery, or cookies from your oven; add an assortment of unique jams and creams. Use clotted cream for authenticity, and have a tea-tasting contest. Who can really tell the difference? If you want to do this with your brothers, father, father in-law, or boyfriends, try A World of Beer Day with chicken wings and barbeque sauces from around the globe.
Make a vision board—a visual affirmation of your hoped-for future. It helps to clarify and focus you on your goals. Get a box and spend a few days or weeks collecting photos and words and anything else that makes you smile, or makes you hopeful, from newspapers, magazines, ads, or cereal boxes. Use any firm piece of cardboard or foam board. Grab a pair of scissors and a glue stick. If you can visualize it, you can achieve it or become it—that’s what they say. It can’t hurt.
Write the novel, short story, poem, or memoir that you haven’t been able to get out of your head. Join The Writer’s Center in White River Junction, Vermont, and stop saying you’re a writer and write something! You can have a pretty nice (and rough) first draft of a novel, an entire short story, or even a timeline for your autobiography completed by the time the first crocus blooms. Take up journaling (nobody has to read it but you) and write through the snowdrifts.
Learn to play a musical instrument. Always thought you were the next Guitar Hero, with a real guitar? Ever want to tickle the ivories like you knew what you were doing? How about the harmonica? If you have it, can rent it, borrow it, buy it—just do it. The music is in you. Compose your own theme song.
Take every other weekend and watch an entire season or two or three or four of the show you always wanted to watch but didn’t. Lost, anyone? The Sopranos, Glee—maybe the Tudors or Masterpiece Classic? Check what’s on-demand from your cable provider. They may have just the thing you are looking for and chances are, if it’s that old, it’s free.
Spend a day or so figuring out Facebook and Twitter, and if you are already familiar with them, spend the day looking up old friends and lovers and eavesdropping on their lives or dropping them a howdy-do.
Always thought you could run your own business? Find out what it would take. What are your products or services? What is your ideal location? Call to find out how much it would cost to rent it. What permits are required? What is currently on the market that would be your competition? Research, research, and then research some more. It never hurts to be prepared, or to ask, is this really possible? Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Dye your hair. You’ll be wearing a hat most of the season anyway.
Clean out your cabinets and closets, one a week for the season, and then donate everything you can to a shelter. Many pet shelters need towels and sheets!
Watch a month of design shows with a notebook in hand, and find a flare for decorating your home and life. Or at least make it more manageable, comfortable, and attractive.
Make a list of people you care about and go to www.123greetings.com to find the perfect e-card for everyone's birthday, anniversary, graduation, etc. Sign up for a free subscription or pay a minimal price on another site and schedule all e-cards to go out automatically on the correct date. That way you never forget a friend or family member’s special day.
Buy a multipack of white t-shirts and personalize them for family and friends with indelible markers or t-shirt kit patterns from a nearby store. Look for patterns and designs online. Say anything, like “Real Men Don’t Shiver” or “Mama Bear in Hibernation.”
Volunteer to record audio books. All books in the public domain are going live on http://Librivox.org. Combine two talents—talking and reading.
Write long letters to people who matter to you, even if you retype them later and send them by e-mail. Or buy an envelope and a stamp. Imagine their surprise to get a handwritten letter!
Do everything on this list at least once throughout the season. Before you know it, the ground will thaw, spring will be here, and you will be rejuvenated and better than ever.
Commit to it. Determine your time schedule. Get a calendar from the Dollar Store or a sales bin, or print one from your computer at www.timeanddate.com. It just needs to cover the winter season. Map out your start and end days.
Determine how long it will take you to read your book list. How often will you have friends over for a midday Mug O’ Soup? What night will be Oh, I Know I Can Dance night? How often will you be able to sort through a box or closet? What day and time will you spend sewing, watercoloring, or meditating? Write it down. Commit to it. Do it.
Create an atmosphere conducive to your task or adventure: a comfy spot and good light for reading; a large empty table for expense review and scrapbooking; a card table for cards, puzzles, and board games. Turn off the lights and use candles for Fright Night, line up the videos for the Lost marathon, and move the furniture and clear the floor for dancing, Wii, and indoor camping. Have whatever you need near at hand. Make it easy to do and then enjoy it.
Everything on this list can be done in a day, a night, a weekend, or throughout the entire winter season. No matter what you do it’s going to be long and cold—it might as well be productive.
by E Senteio