When I prepared to leave my Southern Californian home in the winter of 2004, I thought it prudent to purchase the heaviest coat San Diego had in stock. It was a lightly quilted affair made of nylon that I would soon learn was not waterproof in the least. I made my purchase and emerged from JCPenney to greet another sunny, 70° day.
I arrived in my new town on a cold, dreary January day--greeted with light freezing rain and blustery wind. The gusts ripped right through my SoCal coat and chilled my bones straight through until April. Thus began my pure, unadulterated hatred for winter.
Over the years, I’ve adopted an appreciation for the beauty of the changing seasons, but a love for winter has been elusive, until now. It has taken sixteen years, a pandemic, and subsequent utter reliance on “getting the heck out” for my hate to turn to love. Here’s the five-step process that got me on the path to ultimate snowman hugging joy.
Step 1: Get Outside
There are probably a bazillion studies about how nature deficient we are, how sunlight (even in January) can do us good. The Scandinavian saying, “There’s no such thing as bad weather--only bad clothing” is 100% true. If fellow Californian Blair Braverman can learn to thrive dogsledding in Alaska and Norway, we can all handle a Kansas winter with the right clothes.
Some activities, like bird watching and stargazing, are even more fun in the winter! Since the sun sets earlier, and rises later, you don’t need to wake up super early or stay up late to get some serious stargazing time. Just bundle yourself up, grab a thermos of your favorite hot beverage and get out there. If you are headed out with little ones, make sure to bring Amy Poehler’s moon candy, which oddly looks like M&Ms.
The “Get Outside” Books
Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube
Mindful Thoughts for Stargazers
National Geographic Pocket Guide to the Night Sky of North America
Step 2: Stay Active
When it’s dark outside, my brain tells me it’s hibernation time--perhaps I’m part prairie dog. Despite consistently feeling more alert, capable, and ready to take on the world after physical exercise, it still takes a ridiculous amount of activation energy to get my butt moving. Add to that a pandemic year where gyms are a bad idea, consistent schedules are laughable, and our minds are preoccupied with ways to end racism and xenophobia; I find myself in a perfect storm of motivation-zapping.
So we’ve got to be flexible. Again. If it’s nice and sunny, just get outside. If it’s gross and nasty out, do a quick body weight exercise or a few sun salutations. Just remember to start small. I really love the Pacer app (free or $29.99/year) that lets me map my walks and take photos of cool stuff I see while I’m out. It's just what I need to find the motivation for a 15-minute walk around the block. My partner’s pandemic goal is to do 100 pushups a day, 10-20 at a time throughout the day. It’s just enough to get your heart pumping and your blood moving.
The “Stay Active” Books
8 Keys to Mental Health Through Exercise
Step 3: Be a Birder
The more I force myself outside in the winter, the more appreciation I have for the critters who winter here. Since most of the trees are naked, it is much easier to spot and identify birds. There aren’t as many bird species that overwinter here, so identification is pretty simple. Birds also provide perspective--if a tiny little chickadee can survive the Kansas winters, then so can I!
Owls are my family’s new obsession; we’ve already dissected owl pellets, read Hoot, and ventured out after sunset in hopes of finding this wise, and elusive, bird. We are really so lucky to have top notch nature areas to observe. Some of our favorite birdwatching spots are Baker Wetlands, Prairie Park Nature Center trails, and Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, just 2-hours away.
The “Be a Birder” Books
Owls of North America and the Caribbean
Step 4: Winter Self Care
You know that mantra, “hydrate, hydrate, hydrate,” well it’s just as important in the winter. That heater blasting on level Hades is sucking the moisture right out of your pores as we speak. If you need more encouragement to chug more water, we’ve got some pretty great reads on the subject!
Winter is also a great time to make slowing down and recharging your batteries a prioritized part of your routine. Calm and Headspace are both free apps that can help you establish a mindfulness routine. When you finally slow down and check in with your body, you might just find that something (or maybe everything) hurts. Makeshift work-from-home desks and a stressful world mean that we are probably holding tension inside our body in an unhealthy way. I’ve really enjoyed using a foam roller, regenerative stretches, and a bit of self massage.
The “Winter Self Care” Books
Cadillac Desert (a classic)
Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics
Step 5: Get Cozy
Face it, some winter days are just going to be dreary, and gross. Give yourself permission to stay inside, snuggle under every blanket you own and nourish yourself with good food and a great book. Keep the cozy going strong by turning down the lights, burning a few candles, and making that fireplace roar.
I am absolutely fanatical about the Scandinavian concept of hygge, the kind of cozy you can feel on a cellular level. If anyone is qualified to give us tips to thrive in winter, it’s the Swedes and Danes. There’s nothing more cozy for a winter lunch than making a big pot of soup, or stew, and setting out a bunch of smorrebrod ingredients: deli meats, bread, butter, jam, pickles, thin sliced veggies and fruits. It’s your normal soup and sandwich but with a laid back and interactive twist. I also love anything Bronte Aurell bakes, so I definitely recommend you check out her sweets.
The “Get Cozy” Books
-Angela Hyde is the Friends of LPL Coordinator.