A return to Winter

Firstly, by way of explanation for those who are new to this blog, my friend Jo and I started this last autumn as an attempt to deal with the low, low moods that the previous winters had inflicted on us. You can have a look back to the first posts to read a bit more about that, but essentially this project was about trying to re-set our relationship with the winter and come out the other end in better shape than we had been managing until then.

From my own perspective it was an almost total success which took me by surprise. I had started to write a post about this back in March but somehow got caught up in a rush of Spring and never quite finished it. Which isn’t to say that I was desperate for the winter to be over, far from it. Almost unbelievably, when spring started to unravel itself and spread greenery all around I found myself a bit disappointed that winter was over before I had managed to do all of the wintry things that I had set out to do. That was a big turnaround from previous years when I had been willing winter to be done with, and feeling miserable when it didn’t bow out when I wanted it to.

As I have written a few times so far, the biggest difference for me was that I exchanged my previous passivity – waiting for winter to trudge past while I sat glumly marking off the days – for an active embracing of all the good things about winter, the things that only really work in the dark and cold that don’t make sense on a warm summer day. We made a list of these on our ‘Ideas for a more enjoyable winter’ page https://wintermoodproject.wordpress.com/ideas-for-a-more-enjoyable-winter/

This was the big difference for me; thinking about all the things to do, eat, drink, read and listen to that help make winter a special time of year that can be enjoyed instead of resented. And of course doing, eating, drinking, reading and listening to them. When considering why this worked I can’t help thinking that it was a form of mindfulness. Now, I know it’s hard to read anything about mental well-being these days without mindfulness being mentioned, so apologies for accidentally being a bit zeitgeist about it, but I do think that paying close attention to something that is causing us problems and thinking about its good sides can only help us to deal with it better. Doing this gave last winter a structure and a purpose that made it so much more palatable than previously. So I figure I’ll do another winter of blogging, if only to incorporate the things that I didn’t get time for last year. This is likely to include quite a bit more about food and drink, music (which we barely touched last year), books and whatever else pops up. I’ll try not to bore you with the running, promise.

Jo is not planning on being a regular contributor this year but may well chip in. As with last year, if anyone else wants to contribute anything, send it to wintermoodproject@yahoo.co.uk

Here’s to another good winter!

Chris

 

It had better snow this year. Photo credit Miguel Virkkunen Carvalho

It had better snow this year!  Photo credit Miguel Virkkunen Carvalho

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Quiet times for reading

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It has been very quiet from me I’m afraid. But not because I have been reading. I wish I had.  That would have been restful.  Some months are busy and this has been busy of the busiest and it was my birthday month, which always seems to speed up the already-short February.  Feeling tired of the tiredest, the blog has slipped write down to the bottom of the list.

Instead of the usual ramblings, I’m just going to list some possible Winter reads. I know that some of you may be thinking that March is almost upon us and that winter is all but done for another year.  But we know that here in Britain, we can’t be sure we have turned the corner into the next season until late April. I am still hoping for some snow to be honest.

Perhaps some of these wintery readings might creep into the remaining winter or may be you’ll feel like adding them on to your list for next year’s reading if you are bookishly inclined. I have read many of them but I shan’t leave a review of any sort.  In no particular order, here are some ideas:

Her Fearful Symmetry Audrey Niffeneger

The Winter Book Tove Jansson

The Snow Child Eowyn Ivey

Old Peter’s Russian Tales Arthur Ransome

The Girl with Glass Feet Ali Shaw

The Thirteenth Tale Diane Setterfield

The Woman in White Wilkie Collins

Collected Ghost Stories MR James

Under the Greenwood Tree Thomas Hardy

The Night Circus Angel Carter

Jo (ZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzz)

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Hygge

Well, this is very lovely. The wind is really raging outside, tearing branches from trees and scattering all sorts of things into all sorts of places they shouldn’t be, and I’m tucked up in our back room drinking ginger wine in front of a lovely log fire. That feeling of being cosied up while the elements get all extreme outside is a very appealing one, and although it is possible to get some of that feeling in the summer (usually lying in a warm sleeping bag in a tent while the rain bounces off), winter is definitely the best time for it.

Because I have some lovely Danish friends and spent a bit of time in Denmark, when I think ‘cosy’ I also think ‘hygge’. It’s not a direct translation though; ‘cosy’ is about as close to an equivalent word in English but hygge means a bit more than that and it can be a bit tricky to nail it in English because it encapsulates some important elements of Danish culture, but roughly speaking it is the feeling one gets when the fire and/or candles are lit and you have good food, good drink (if that’s your thing) and good company. Christmas is naturally the high season for hygge and spending time with family or friends in a nicely-decorated front room with a Christmas tree and a real fire is positively dripping with it. It’s definitely not confined to Christmas though and having as many hyggelit times is a great way to not only survive but enjoy the winter.

hygge

photo by Tracyapps

Jo and I are both pretty keen on lots of aspects of Scandinavian culture and I think that’s unsurprising given our interest in winter and ways of approaching it, since the Scandinavians have darker, longer and harsher winters than we do and have had to find ways of keeping their spirits up.  Really they are winter experts and it pays to know what they get up to, even if we can’t often go cross-country skiing or watch the Northern Lights.

I have tried to fit as much hygge into this winter as possible and I think it has been very positive for me. Despite the ferocious storm outside it is starting to feel like this winter is winding down and very soon the daffodils and crocuses will be out to spring in earnest, so I am keen to squeeze more hygge in before it’s too late. I never imagined that I would find a winter too short but this year I think I have. Mind you, it doesn’t need to stop there, summer evenings can be very hyggelit, just in a different way. For now I’ll keep enjoying the light inside and the dark outside. Skål!

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A quiet festival

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It finally feels like new year to me! I think, once January is over, I can warm to the idea of a fresh start and let some of the slugglishness of winter begin to be shaken off. It has been a month with some tiredness and illness and wet and…a great deal of mud. We did have two very short-lived little snowfalls up here on the Sheffield suburban mountains.  The going got tough occasionally in January. It always does but being busy with work, play, children and friends has helped.  Getting outdoors, amid the bad weather, for 3 goodly walks in the sunshine in the last month was the excellent antidote to low levels of oomph.

One thing I always do to perk myself up a bit is put up winter pictures on one my kitchen cupboard doors. I have pictures for every season but the winter ones are especially important. Excuse the bad light reflection on the photo here, but you get the idea of a winter collage.

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The New Year type energy is, in part, due to the fact that I recognise and welcome celebration of a festival called Imbolc.  As one of the Celtic 8 festivals, it is one of my favourites. It’s a quiet one but one nevertheless worth celebrating. Meaning ‘in the belly’ Imbolc (pronounced Imolc) falls on Feburary 1st/2nd and it is imbued with a sense of life within or perhaps pregnancy. Quite literally, within the earth, the seeds are in a state of preparation and the slow warming of the soil from the sun is beginning now in earnest. Celts and Pagans would know that it was a time of earth awakening, and spiritually and practically it would be seen as a good time to start anew and gain some of the imminent springtime energy to start new projects or draw some strength for the year ahead.
Think of green to signify fresh life; yellow, gold or red would represent the sun’s spark and the earth’s fire within; white and silver are for purity and newness – the colour of new lambs and of snowdrops.

Think ginger root as a warming plant of the season to kindle a fire inside and ease the ailments of the winter.  And think of willow as a quick-growing tree that can almost spring out of nothing when a willow whip is planted (February is ideal for planting willow hedges and for starting sculptures in the garden).  Light candles to acknowledge: the spark of life, the new brighter days coming and the Goddess of the season (if that is your thing).  She is Brigid (Brighid, Brigit or Bride), a maiden of fire, poetry and healing and of fertility – a representation of female intuition within. The same energy is evident within other cultures; such as the Nordic Goddess Freya and the Romans’ Juno Februata (a goddess of the febris or fever of love). You start to get the Valentine’s Day drift now too….

Others, at this time of year, go for the Christian festival of the purification of the Virgin Mary. This time is called Candlemas and, again, the fire and the light are key to this time of year.  My friend Glennie Kindred notes that ‘Cande’, (Anglo Saxon) and ‘Candali’,’ Kundali’, ‘Kundalini’, from Sanskrit are associated with the rising of life force and of sexual energy. The Serpent or the coiled up energy (Kundalini) is another aspect or characteristic of the Imbolc festival.  It always interests me that so many festivals and subjects for worship or respect have cross overs somewhere in their long histories; they have side alleys and detours that might take us back to similar starting points.

It could be that new intentions, images of coiled serpents, sleeping seeds, pregnant bellies or fires within may make sense as a metaphor for this time of year.  Or perhaps it’s simply the sign of the spring bulbs extending little green shoots or the prospect of lambs that appeals most. For some, it’s just a good old spring clean that is needed, mentally or domestically. I personally think it’s worth giving this quiet slice of winter a second look. It’s more than the drab little bit before spring. Look how this ‘dead’, cut dogwood has sprouted and even flowered after being brought into our house at the Winter Solstice. It reminds us of what wonderful energy lies within the earth right now:

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How grand it was to acknowledge a bright winter day and a quiet festival by having Chris and his family over today; we made a little fire in the back garden and drink a spot of ginger wine (sans alcohol which felt extra purifying). Chris has long been wanting to share a new-found winter activity – making delicious Danish ebelskivers (pancake/doughnut type delights – oft filled with spiced apple but jam or chocolate is good too) in his special pan.

2e030221e16c8ee8b6c5f740d44ee3b2[1]May your February have some oomph to it!

Jo

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late afternoon light

Some more winter loveliness here from A Cheerful Living Adventure

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Well, there was me saying I didn’t know what to write, and here I am with three posts in two days! Ridiculous woman.

run 6Today has been gloriously sunshiney, and, in contrast to yesterday’s in-the-kitchen day, I’ve spent a lot of time outside. A couple of hours at the community garden this morning, nattering and digging and pruning, and then (after a small, well-earned nap) a gentle run around the park.

run 1run 2The late afternoon light was beautiful, and I was so glad that I’d taken my camera. I’m doing that less and less these days, as I get faster and try to ‘train’ rather than just ‘plod’, but I think it’s good for the legs and the soul to just amble sometimes, so that’s what I did.

run 3run 5(Also, I ran 9.5 miles on Friday and haven’t quite recovered yet!)

It wasn’t that warm, but it felt good to have the sun…

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Gadgets and Krakens

I am not, as anyone who has shared a house with me will testify, a ‘morning person’. My propulsion from my bed to an upright position and embarkation on morning routines are pretty well covered by the phrase ‘The Kraken awakes’. In the spring and summer this is a lot less painful due to a rousing dawn chorus from the garden and sunlight feeling its way in through the two skylights in our attic bedroom, but in the winter this can be decidedly trickier. So with that and the Winter Mood Project in mind I requested a ‘dawn simulator’ alarm for my birthday this January, one of those with a light that gets gradually brighter when you want/need to get up (celebrating my birthday is something else that I made an effort to do this year in the interests of having more enjoyable stuff to do in the post-Christmas festival desert, and I actually enjoyed it; normally it just seems too soon after Christmas and a bit of a hassle). Since I had been planning to write a post about SAD lamps / light boxes I may as well cover both here.

The alarm is actually pretty good; it doesn’t really work if I am lying facing the other way and therefore not aware of the light, but if I am facing it I am aware of it even if I’m still essentially asleep. And it does do a good job of mimicking real sunlight and my brain is tricked into thinking it is light outside, which makes waking up a more pleasurable experience even if it is a little disorientating to wake into darkness when my brain is expecting full daylight. Tricking the brain is something that I have found SAD lamps can do effectively as well. I have one and used it last winter and the one before that, mostly on my desk at work in an attempt to get through the mid-afternoon plummet in energy levels that I have all year round but more so when it’s dark. I noticed that when I turned it off my brain’s first response was a desire for me to turn it back on again, so I figured it must be effective to some extent. There are debates about how effective SAD lamps really are and there is little clinical evidence to support them, but then anti-depressants are prescribed in their tens of millions each year in the UK and there is little or no evidence for their effectiveness except as placebos so draw what conclusions you will from that. What I have found interesting is that I haven’t felt the need to turn the SAD lamp on once this winter. I can only conclude that this is because of the other things I have been doing to form a more positive relationship with the winter and enjoy it more. To me this is a good sign that the Winter Mood Project and what it involves is really working for me. Whereas the SAD lamp was a way of trying to deal with the symptoms of finding winters negative and difficult, taking a healthier approach to winter prevents the symptoms occurring in the first place. That said, if you really struggle then you might want to try a SAD lamp, they seem to me to have some positive effect even if it is possibly short-lived, although I am finding the kinds of things listed here more effective https://wintermoodproject.wordpress.com/ideas-for-a-more-enjoyable-winter/

Chris

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Not a Blue Monday

Glad to say that it didn’t turn out to be that ridiculously named and commercially inspired ‘blue’ Monday today. Some dastardly folk tried to tell us that this would be the most depressing day of the year, just to inspire us to spend money to make ourselves feel better. For me, it was a thoroughly uplifting day. After work, I got to relax in heat, steam and ice – using a spa voucher given to me by my lovely friend and boss. I suppose it was an expenditure of someone’s money, but it wasn’t because of a gloomy winter feeling. It was in fact the realisation of a Christmas gift and the celebration of a year of toils and happy working friendships.

It’s a sociable and treat-filled day for thewintermoodproject as Chris is, I believe, out enjoying splendid live music as I type. You see we don’t always do our winter activities outdoors. That said, the weather today showcased the very best of what January can offer: bright, crisp, cold with a glorious hard frost to start.

It was actually a blue sky Monday.

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