Sunday, December 6, 2015

Winter Visions

I adore winter. Like fall it contains secrets, only this time of year they're both darker and merrier.

The quiet stillness of night falls earlier,
dropping onto your shoulders like your grandmother's quilt.

We sleep breathing frost in the air
waking up to a dark sunrise
pressing thick wool socks into chilly floors
falling under the spell of beckoning fireplaces-
the only way to keep the cold
at your back.

Still we hope for snow.

Donning leather boots and
trekking into the great outdoors
to build snowmen or shake icicles from trees.
If you head downtown to see the city's lights,
you can't pass the stand selling hot, fresh doughnuts
without buying any.

The world tastes of peppermint
and evergreen.

Though trees everywhere have shed their leaves, their dark silhouettes are more beautiful than ever, stark contrasts against the blossoming bruise of the sunset each night. Houses become warm pockets of light, armored against the brittle season. Winter's descent can be harsh, but it ends up bringing people together, seeking warmth and friendship, or just a place to get away from the elements. The key is the contrast, the search for warmth against the embrace of cold's beauty.

Don't hide from the chill- immerse yourself in it. Light candles for balance and let that frosty spirit reach out to you. Each window serves as a frame of light, into which one can peer in to catch glimpses of individual moments, pieces of stories that could go centuries back. Winter is a time for the history and the present to merge with a mystical hope for the future.

Then there's winter as summed up by my little brother (he'll be eight tomorrow):

"It's cold. You get to do fun stuff. And sometimes it snows."

A reading list to take you away…  

"Under the Tuscan Sun" by Frances Mayes
This is hands-down the best book ever for escaping into the heat of an Italian summer.

"Eat Pray Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert
Again, anything related to traveling to foreign, summery lands is perfect for a too-cold day.

"I'll Never Be French" by Mark Greenside
A memoir about the author's life in France.
…and one to bring you back.

The Gemma Doyle trilogy by Libba Bray
Victorian ballrooms in winter + the kind of mystery you just want to curl up with = essential winter read.

The Age of Ice by J. M. Sidorova
The author is Russian. The book takes place in Russia and Siberia, and involves an Arctic expedition. You will feel cold after reading this.

The Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffman illustrated by Maurice Sendak
This is the best version of the Nutcracker, featuring the work of the man behind Pacific Northwest Ballet's retired version of the tale.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
For a little bit of reminiscing… who could forget the old wardrobe that opened into the snowy forests of Narnia?

In my family we have a history of tradition… There are certain sights we seek out every year, like the carousel set up downtown or the indoor snowstorm at Pacific Place. We join rosy-cheeked, mittened masses on the shore to see the Christmas ships play music while we sip hot chocolate from thermoses. There are always things to do in the winter, especially in the city.

We seek out places where people are gathered and happy.

Embrace the magic of the season..

Go ice skating! I do this all year, but it's especially fun in the winter.

Read wintery books with a cup of hot chocolate. Add marshmallows in excess (or Kahlua).

Create winter themed Pinterest boards and find new ways to layer your clothes.

Listen to Russian music and daydream of winter wonderlands.

Roast almonds and hazelnuts.

Window shop holiday decor at local business like bookstores and candy shops. I'm partial to Violet's Sweet Shoppe, a vegan candy shop in Seattle that is always super decked out for the holidays.

Curl up on the couch and watch movies with people you love. For the lighthearted: A Charlie Brown Christmas; for the more serious: A Coffee in Berlin. For the in-between: Downton Abbey. 

Take care of your skin with luscious oils and lotions.

Wrap yourself in blankets and read/write all day. Drink gallons of tea.

Find a new winter food or recipe to enjoy.

Spend hours selecting the perfect gifts for your friends and family.

Eat real dark chocolate with crumbled peppermint, or bits of cranberries and orange, embedded (Madecasse and Theo both make amazing holiday bars).

 Build a fire in the backyard and make s'mores. Ignore what the neighbors may think.

Make wrapping paper out of brown paper (or paper bags turned inside-out) covered in stamps.

Wear glitter.

Wear an ugly holiday sweater in public. Non-ironically. I dare you.

Dress warm and glamorous and walk somewhere you usually drive. Feel like you are some sort of Northern European royalty (don't do this when it's raining, though, it will ruin the effect). Gaze affectionately at Christmas lights and admire the way a place being lit up makes it seem so much more warm and cozy on the inside.

Make holiday cards out of sequins, bits of ribbon and pretty paper.

Find a local organization doing a holiday giving tree, and give something to a family in need. The YMCA usually does this, and you can check with your workplace too. 

Spend hours in libraries and bookstores, browsing the shelves for the perfect stories.

Go to Goodwill and hunt down all sorts of cozy or kitschy mugs for less than a dollar apiece.

Visit a Christmas tree farm, even if you celebrate a different holiday, because it's so fun to walk around on a bright winter day and see people amongst the greenery searching for the perfect tree.

Find a new haunt- whether it be a coffee shop, bookstore, library or antique store - and spend inordinate amounts of time there.

Take a dance class. This is more fun in the winter because of the lawyers you shed as you warm up. The dance studio I go to when I have the time has a big window looking out over a park, and a few years ago it actually snowed while we were dancing. So beautiful!

Dress to battle the gloom in outrageous amounts of lace, color and generally outlandish attire, then grab a friend and do a photo shoot somewhere incredibly public. Laugh your asses off and make use of the gently bright afternoon sun. Bring warm jackets.

Take your workouts outside! I'm a runner who can't stand treadmills so this happens anyways, but it's always so refreshing to be out in the wind and cool air. Plus when you get back inside you feel like you've been on an adventure.

 Set a goal. NOT a New Year's Resolution, because statistically those always fail (seriously, the statistics are depressing). But give yourself something to work towards, a constant that you can hold yourself to so you'll already be occupied with something when 2016 rolls around. 

Immerse yourself in The Nutcracker, whether that's by seeing the ballet, listening to the music, or reading the story. Bonus points if you can actually crack nuts in one.

Find any snow you can, even if it's the fake kind. In Seattle, Bellevue and Singapore I know they have fake snow every year, so it can't be too hard to find! And you can make some if you're really desperate, just use boxed mashed potato flakes!

Listen to holiday songs, and music that just reminds you of winter. For me, the album "It's Blitz" by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs reminds me of winter, because I got it for Christmas a while back and spend the whole week after replaying it. Also, this winter playlist, which I listened to at 3am in Singapore last year missing winter, the cold, the holiday season. Really, just listen to anything that makes your heart soar like you're becoming one with the season. In the end, it's about that building anticipation.

Finally, make a wish on the plains of chilled air that sweep past you when you step from the confines of your warm home. Make a wish on the sky and let it be free. Watch, and wait for something to happen.