Shy Stars in the Winter sky…

Freezing cold air numbs my fingers, and I finally donned some soft gloves today. I thought the bright sun beckoned me outdoors, but the cheery skies laughed at the shock I felt when winter’s winds buffeted me while I stood outside in just my sweatpants and sweatshirt. My cat braved the bright cold to watch the deer as they made their way down to the partially frozen creek, but my cat wears fur. Since fur isn’t “in” these days, I decided to wander back inside. I stood on the back deck long enough to feel my lungs and throat seared by the frigid air. I gave up far more quickly than my heat-loving cat.

Snow flying in the Kentucky air.

Winter’s cold has a way of ushering me indoors. I’m thrilled to find myself at the end of the day next to a roaring fire and yelling out wrong answers to Jeopardy, or binge watching a show. Which isn’t truly a binge, since my husband can sit for two episodes at most. Then we listen to vintage music or shove our noses in books. I’d like to think I pair a glass of wine with the wending way of words in my pile of novels, but the reality of wasted calories factors in. Chocolate and cream in my coffee matter more.

How do those of us who dwell within reach of winter’s embrace find happiness in the endless sullen clouds, the snows that fall and must be shoveled again, and where a run outdoors is almost considered dangerous? Look to the Swedes. They live in months of darkness, with cold seeping into their veins, and they’re happy. Swedes commit to the cold and practice a form of coziness, hygge. It’s the latest in loving winter, but they’re truly onto something.

When I lived in upstate New York the snows sometimes came up over my head, and we shoveled down our cereal just to be out in the glittering sunlight to build a fort. When my parents moved back there during my university years, I bought some skis and went skiing. My family decided to join me on these forays into powder and moguls, where all we worried about was shoving off of the ski lift without falling down. I went cross country skiing with a friend, and when we figured out that we had taken the wrong trail, or maybe it wasn’t a trail at all, we laughed so hard at our novice skiing efforts on the nonexistent trail.

The woods at our farm this past week.

We had to ford a swollen creek in those long skis. My friend and I finally abandoned our skis and hoofed it back to the chalet to hand in our rented equipment. My boyfriend (now husband) took the cross country skis out one dark night where the shy stars peeked out between the clouds as they passed. Looking up we marveled at the wonder of dark skies, bright new snow, and quiet, almost holy moments.

Winter is jolly, rushed, and full of celebrations in December, so the real test of our mettle comes in the long months that follow. My inclinations these days is to stay tucked up in a cocoon of soft blankets, with scalding hot coffee at hand, and burrow in deep as I sit by the fire. But winter has a magic that begs to be discovered by us. The Swedes make a point of going outdoors to collect items from nature such as rocks, feathers, sticks or moss to bring inside and use as decor. They also light up the darkness with bright white lights in windows and in the house.

If we took a cue from the people who enjoy winter and remain happy despite the cold and dark, we can hold onto ribbons of bliss.

Tonight I read about a challenge where a person commits to hiking at least one mile fifty-two times in one year. I have to ask my husband if he’d like to join my on a hike every week, and we’d have to start this week since we’re behind already, but what a unique way to get people out of their homes on dull winter days. Soon enough we’ll be posting about walks in the rain and hikes in the steamy hot days that refuse to release their heat. For now, though, this hiking challenge sounds like something the Swedes would try, and I’ll throw in searching for a beautiful pine cone.

Our bodies were made to move. After a day or night of work the last thing most of us want to do is head out for a walk. Plus the older you are, the easier it is to fall into the habit of hibernating. There are no kid’s basketball games to see, no swimming lessons to attend, and no book club due to covid. Listlessness is easy. Complacency looks alluring, but playing cribbage while drinking herbal tea or a wee dram of whiskey is better than relentless, mindless shows on tv.

I think we’ll feel better if we do commit to braving the cold and embracing it.

The real fireplace at the cabin.

When I lived in very cold Wisconsin, I watched the frost crawl up my bedroom wall in horror. The temperature hovered at -25 degrees. That cold welcomed us in our first year of Wisconsin living, but we adapted to the frozen months and accepted them.

My husband and I both took up running, since we were too poor to join a gym, and we’d run in almost any weather. I did take a nice four-miler in a blizzard, and my husband would run in every cold possible. Nothing daunted him, though -10 stared my in the face, and I backed down. The main point is changing our perspective and our position. Join in and skate outdoors, make snow angels, shovel a neighbor’s driveway. Find a leaf or feather to bring indoors to your winter collection.

The people I met when I lived in Wisconsin were friendly and hardy. One soul-chilling Saturday evening when the thermometer hovered at another night of -25, I asked my roommates what we were going to do since walking over a mile to the bars wasn’t going to happen. They looked at me as if I had sprung antlers out of the sides of my head! They were going to walk downtown fortified by some strong liquor and heavy coats; staying in would never be an option, so I dressed cute (no heels, because it was too cold for that at least) like Madonna, guzzled some scorching liquor that drew heat into my chest and head out for a long walk in the gloom of yet another dreary night with no starlight.

Just being out in that awful penetrating cold with my funny friends made me realize attitude is everything. We laughed our way downtown and made our way into our bar, since most students had a certain bar they hung out in for most of the night. We chucked our parkas at the door and sure enough the place was packed with all our friends. Nobody in Wisconsin is afraid of the cold, and they celebrate almost anything to bring light and laughter to a long season of frozen days.

I’m not advocating swilling down shots of booze as a way to lighten your mood. Those days are behind me, and I didn’t guzzle, even when my roomies did. I usually ordered a dry martini and nursed the drink for an hour or so, hoping some guy would buy the next one. Hey, I didn’t have much spending money!

The point is we can choose to like winter or hate every single day of this season, but what good is that? My friend laments the cold here, which isn’t honestly that cold, and she talks about moving to Fiji. I just discovered she wears a battery-operated coat that heats her coat up nicely, so in my eyes she is set. I could have used that heater in my coat when I’d leave the school library at midnight, but there’s something about bravery that lifts the spirits.

Snow flying in Kentucky.

Staring down the dark and cold take courage of a certain sort. If we balanced our weeks to include hikes on a trail or around our city, if we huddle under our softest blanket, if we sip hot tea and read the words of a book that delights us, then we’ll be happy. Make your home, your space, a place of warmth, even if it is from a space heater. Place a pile of magazines or books next to your sofa or bed and luxuriate in words.

I know this is crazy long, but this is one last tidbit I wanted to share with you. In Germany one day I stayed in my hotel room, because I wasn’t feeling so great. I placed a Do Not Disturb hanger on my doorknob, and the cleaners still came in. They cleaned around me in my bed, and they opened up a window even though the day was brisk. Germans like to open up the windows in their houses and apartments once a month, no matter what, to freshen up their homes. I understand that. Even winter air is fresh and clean with a scent no other season possesses. Open your window. Just a crack or so. Grow used to fresh air, and don’t be afraid of the cold. Enjoy it.

I hope you look up and memorize one constellation that isn’t the Big Dipper or Orion. Winter brings very dark nights just ripe for spotting planets and stars. I’ll be looking up. I hope you do, too.

I’m wishing you all the happiness your heart can hold.

Until next time
Deanna Eppers

Blissed Out or Stressed Out…

The sun sets later every day now.

I try to write about finding happiness in our worlds, whoever we are, wherever we live. But it feels like most people are very exhausted with this pandemic, and people are losing their patience, tempers, and are acting out rather than acting zen. What can we do, while we wait for out turn to get the vaccine? I’ll take you through my days, so you can see how I find snippets of happiness along the road.

A new scent, Winter, from a new source is a treat.

In winter, in particular, I find myself craving light. I need sunlight, which is sparse and tough to find here in wintertime. So I turn on the lights inside and burn warming candles. They make me feel cozy as the scent wraps around my arms, my body and my space. I want the gas fire to be on, for light and warmth. I remember days when our house felt cold all winter due to old drafty doors and windows. One winter we nailed a quilt up against those windows to keep the sub-zero temps out. Warmth is a blessing.

Our creek grows wider and louder on rainy days…

I also find myself wondering out on mild days when it’s not snowing. We’ve been having light, little snowfalls for a week now, and you can see how the creek rises when we receive snow or rain. Being out on the cliff overlooking the waterfall is soothing, and the roar of the rushing water drowns out all other sounds. It’s just me and the water that hurries away. I’m cold, but I’m happy. There is a beauty outside.

A little graveyard in KY. Quiet and undisturbed.

One place that is restful and hauntingly beautiful is the little family graveyard on our land, and we like to think about the people who lived and worked on this land. And then they passed away. Several of the couple’s children did in the 1800s. One son was eighteen, while a daughter made it to twenty-five. Why is the wife buried there but not the husband? Where is he? Graves tell us beguiling stories, and we have to wonder what life felt like for them. They died over a hundred years ago now, and yet the spot feels right. Peaceful. Quiet, except for the wind blowing the tops of the trees above me. I feel a kinship with them, since we know where their house stood, along with their well, and the ponds they had for their cattle.

Dinner out at a tiny wine bar and restaurant. A rare treat!

A week ago, my husband and I took time to shop at the stores in our small downtown area, though the husband can only endure about fifteen minutes of shopping! So we walked down to a wine bar/restaurant and found they had just opened for dinner. We decided to enjoy some really good wine and wonderful food, and it felt like old times, as in before the world fell apart a bit. We both liked being in this very small place, so guess where we’re going for Valentine’s Day? Yes, to the wine bar. I’m already dreaming of their dessert menu.

Scalding hot coffee with a splash of cream keeps me warm. And clears my mind.

The weather here is supposed to turn bitterly cold and very snowy, which is a huge change from the original prognosticators claiming we’d have another mild winter. When February arrives, I’m ready for mild days, so I’ll try to embrace the cold. Skiing, skating or walking outside? No way! I’ll work out at home, bake some gluten free pumpkin bread, turn on the fireplaces, and warm up in my sweats and two pairs of socks. I embrace the cold by being warm these days. Plus every winter when I think I’m going crazy waiting for spring, I read a book about a snowed in family on the frontier. It never fails to give me perspective that life can always be worse. So…think warm thoughts and push on.

Our cabin as seen from our little road.

I do like the feeling when a snowstorm is upon us. I’m tucked inside baking, and the world is muffled. Quiet. Until I hear the relentless scrape of shovels or the drone of snowblowers, and I know it’s time to crawl out and join in camaraderie or send my son out instead. Living in the back by the woods is different, because the creek is rarely quiet. Today when I lifted the blinds in the morning I spotted a lone deer making her way into a steep ravine, and later I looked out and saw the neighbor’s kids flying by on a sled. Life can be so good, and filled with quiet moments that light up our days. Think on them.

I like having too many candles and too many books.

It’s time for my story, and then I’ll leave you to your own delightfully warm thoughts about hot chocolate and being snowed in with a great book or film to watch. So, back when we lived in Wisconsin, it could get terribly cold. Frigid. My husband’s sister had offered to watch our two little cherubs so we could spend a night at a hotel. We lived in Milwaukee, and she lived in Madison, which is about ninety minutes away. The actual temp on Saturday morning was minus thirty degrees, so of course my car wouldn’t start.

Keep looking for those beautiful blue skies.

Undeterred, we pushed my car into the road, and my husband’s car was in a rickety old garage, but it offered some protection, so we took his car battery and brought inside to warm up. We wanted that night away so desperately, and the warmed up battery started his car and we took off with the kids. The real temperature outside never moderated, so we hovered around negative fifteen or so with a strong wind, but we never turned the car off until we had dropped off our daughters.

The waterfall down the hill from our house.

We tried drinking Irish coffee in the lobby, but the cold crept in and snaked around us, so we decided to take our drinks up to our room and order my favorite thing: room service! How decadent for me back in those days. To order and never move, then have a beautiful meal wheeled in for us was splendid! My husband went outside every two hours to run the car for a few minutes to keep the battery charged, even throughout the night. We loved that one night, and to this day I still think of how wonderful it was of “Alice” to watch our kids. Never mind that one of them kept her up all night saying, “Goggie!”, because she had a dog and we did…not.

If you’re feeling chilly or downright cold, then find a way of warming yourself up. Call a friend. Bake or cook or do delivery. Find the beauty in others, because kindness is always pretty. Spend a day dreaming about what you’re going to do when the world goes back to normal and write your ideas down, because this is when we have the time to dream big and small. So do that. Make your own space a little cozier, pile up pillows, blankets, and make a little fort. Watch a miniseries all in one day. Why not? Before we know it, this world will be back to being busy as usual, and we will have wished we had spent our pandemic time more wisely. Normal is coming. Hang on a little bit longer; we’re going to get there.

And in the meantime, stay happy, warm and safe.

I’m wishing you all the happiness your heart can hold…

Until next time,

Deanna