When Winter Goes On and On
I love Chicago and I love the full range of seasons and I say this every year, but $#!+ is winter long. My sis and I have come to the realization that as tempting as it is, curling up in the corner of the couch, piled under every blanket in the house while subsisting on Doritos, French Onion dip, and wine so we can hibernate until bulbs emerge is unfortunately not practical with a family (and the need of an income) — nor is it particularly mentally, physically, emotionally, or spiritually healthy. I read that it is one of the mildest winters on record (for Chicago), but it still feels dark and cold and unrelenting. The joy that comes with the holiday parties, fairy lights, cute winter boots, fun hats, colorful scarves, and cozy sweaters has waned to the point of being long forgotten. The lack of sun and vitamin D and warmth are nearly at an apex. I’m not saying it is life-changing or shockingly original or realistic for everyone, but here are…
5 things I do to bring a little bit of sanity to the never-ending of winter:
Plan for Warmth. Sometimes we’ve been frugal enough to have just a little extra in the slush-fund and I plan a trip to someplace warmer. The transportation is always budget-class and the accommodations are nowhere near luxury but just a few days with the smell of the ocean, sandals on my feet, and the ability to breathe warm air is worth it. Even if there is no money to plan a trip, I still plan for summer. I fervently search for already scheduled local events, fests, and concerts and put them on the calendar. I then write down all of the things I’m going to do when it is warm (bonus if the things are free): Go to the zoo, ride my bike to Rock the Block, see Shakespeare in the Park, camp at Sleeping Bear NP, swim lessons, kayak at Big Peach, walk for drinks at that new bar with the outdoor patio, Oak Street Beach at sunset, Kenosha for a fest, E-town weekend trolley, etc. It gives me hope and it helps to have a plan so that when summer comes, it doesn’t fly by and accidentally miss all of the things that I love (my list is on a spreadsheet… who is surprised?)
Explore Indoors. Check for free days at museums (many of the less popular museums are completely free), get a children’s museum pass and drive a few hours to a local reciprocal museum, tour the Jelly Belly Factory, do some architectural tours of landmark buildings, go to a new mall, meet up with friends at a fun bar or restaurant or indoor playland, embrace local live music, theater, art, then go on a search for the best happy hour specials, take a pottery class, learn how to plant seeds, go to the library or better yet, explore other local libraries (the picture above is from Deering Library at Northwestern and looks like Hogwarts), find every single conservatory in the tri-state area, go to garden shows and auto shows and any other events held at convention centers. Pretty much anything indoors that gives variety and space and adventure.
Clean-up the House. For me, part of the problem with winter is that I feel a little trapped, especially if the house is a mess and the routine is so mundane. I work from home, so my days involve straightening the house, washing the dishes, doing the laundry, trying to pay bills, making dinner, and then working at my desk until I go into a haze. It gets so monotonous in the winter that it feels like it will never end. So, when my mind has gone numb and I need a break, instead of scrolling for a new dress that I don’t need, I put on an interesting podcast and organize until the podcast ends. It takes way less time than I’m expecting and I simply tackle one small area at a time. If the laundry room is a mess, I pull all the junk out, throw away and donate and sell what we aren’t using, and then put back in just what we need. Start with easy projects until you gain momentum, a drawer or desk or bookshelf are a great first step. Never start with the stuff that seems overwhelming. And then, next thing I know, the house is all organized and much easier to maintain, and I don’t mind being sequestered quite so much because I’m surrounded by balance and things I love and need and use rather than the chaotic mess of minutia.
Read & Binge. Sometimes I feel guilty about reading light-hearted novels and binging on mindless TV because I should be doing something more productive or changing the world or at least changing the load of laundry. But in the winter, I won’t let myself feel shame about it. I sit and stretch and pour copious amounts of tea and let myself enjoy the fact that I really don’t need to leave the house and brave the cold. Various parents will entirely disagree with this part (and that is okay) but I put very few limits on electronics, especially in the winter. I’ve found that if we are all Minecrafting and watching Grace & Frankie to our heart’s content, by the time warm weather comes, we are sick of video games and TV and cotton candy reading. We all want nothing more than to get out and explore this beautiful world.
Make Soup. There is something about cooking soup that makes being trapped in the house not so bad… probably from the extra humidity and because the whole house smells amazing. But anyway, nearly daily, I saute onions, celery, carrots, and garlic in olive oil or butter. I then add some starch (I use arrowroot) to make a roux and then add vegetarian broth (my daughter doesn’t eat meat). 20 minutes before serving, I add whatever combo is in the house and sounds tasty: frozen zucchini spirals, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, cabbage, peas, corn, peppers, mushrooms, beans, diced tomatoes, HWC, cheese, etc. Usually, I add some pre-cooked rotisserie chicken to the bowls of the meat-eaters. If you eat carbs, add rice or potato or noodles. I change up the spices every day and give it a whole new flare. Some days it tastes like basic cream of veg soup, but usually I add some flavor to make it Greek with thyme / lemon or Asian soy-ginger or broccoli cheddar or Italian or Cajun or Mexican or minestrone or Thai curry or tikka masala or chili. It is really cheap to make, super forgiving, and can cook all day or be ready in 30 minutes. I never need to leave the house or figure out a healthy option or waste money on delivery. We always have the ingredients on hand and honestly, it never really gets old because I just pick a new fusion each day.
Miscellaneous Advice, Randomness, or Minutia:
So, what do you do to maintain some semblance of sanity before the vernal equinox? I’d love to know… because my own ideas are running a little low right about now. Thankfully, we have a family wedding in South Carolina at the end of the month, so I am living for our Spirit flight and our long weekend of relative warmth. But for now. The snow is coming down. Again. On a Wednesday night. Again. Which is the night my husband teaches until 10p… So I’m on shoveling duty. Again. I love snow… from inside… so first… An episode of Anne with an E and soup while under a pile of blankets in the corner of the couch.
Still choosing to spread peace and love and kindness every day, even these crazy cold ones <3 – kv
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