Midwinter is always the time of year that gets to me in New England. It’s March and, despite being teased with some 50-degree days in February, we’ve been staring down -4 for the past week. A blizzard with 18 inches of snow is coming tomorrow.
This time of year causes certain problems.
One, I find it almost impossible to drag myself out of bed for a run if the temps are below 15 degrees F (if that sounds horrible to you, believe me, it does to me too). I do not take running lightly. It is critical to my being tolerable to the rest of the human race, so imagine how fun I am to be around in the winter. Two, Spring feels forever away. And I need the hope of Spring.
Most of the time, I really dig the weather here, but this time of year, after we’ve already gotten through an epic winter, with sub-zero temps, snow, isolation, and another solid two-and-a-half months of pretty cold temperatures to go, I feel a little desperate.
This past Friday, my loving mother went to Charleston, South Carolina, to visit my grandmother, and she sent me this picture:
This is our yard right now.
Thanks, Mom. (You know I’m kidding!).
Part of the difficulty I have with March, April, and May is that I am a Southerner. In the South, Spring is the best of the year, filled with bright sunlight, blooming azaleas, and short sleeve Easter dresses.
In New England, March, April, and May (also known as Mud Season) are the worst months of the year. This time of year means brown landscapes, dirty snow, and freezing temps. I wear my heavy coat on Easter. There’s not a lot of snow, skiing is pretty much over, and it’s cold.
Imagine all those pictures of people in LL Bean catalogues frolicking along the coast of Maine in their barn coats. It feels like that. Without the frolicking. Spring (at least the way I know it) feels ages away, because it is. We get Spring starting around Memorial Day, if we’re lucky.
This weekend, because of the cold, the two junior ThreeYears spent a long time engaged in their favorite indoor pastime: wrestling. That only ended in tears about seven times. I finally made them go outside (just them, not me! I’m not crazy!) and they lasted fifteen minutes before coming back in, shivering and red around the ears. Actually, my older son came back first and said my younger son was in a “jam.” I had a panicky ten seconds imagining I’d have to put my winter clothes on and go rescue him before I saw his head emerge from the edge of the yard, where he’d extricated himself from the blackberry briars. After that little adventure, we promptly fixed hot chocolate. If there’s one upside to cold weather, it is definitely hot chocolate.
So what do we do when we have serious Spring fever, without breaking the bank and jeopardizing our savings goals?
We Look at Art
We live in an area that’s very close to an Ivy League school, and with that proximity comes perks like a free art museum. While perusing priceless artworks doesn’t really work with small kids, it is much easier now that the boys are older (6 and 9). We get out of the house and learn about something really cool, like Assyrian bas reliefs (I admit to some mid-museum Googling and my enthusiastic teacher voice to get them to the “really cool” point). All of this can lead to subsequent discussions about art, or how to pronounce “bas” correctly.
We also have a gallery near our house with a program for budding young artists. For $5 per child (and free for adults), we can spend a day with the kids as they draw, paint, and mold with clay. There’s even a room to eat your lunch if you bring it. Best part? Our house stays clean and we get a change of scenery!
I find that there is something uplifting about appreciating or creating art in the coldest, bleakest part of the year. It has to do with reminding ourselves that there is beauty in the world, even if things look dead and frozen outside.
We Get Outside
I’m a reluctant outside person, especially when it’s uncomfortably cold or hot, and so is Mr. ThreeYear. But getting outside is imperative during an endless New England winter, especially when you’re in danger of Vitamin D deficiency because of the lack of sunlight, so we do things as a family to trick ourselves into getting out. Most of those things involve planning non-cancelable activities or meeting up with other people beforehand. Because inertia is strong in the winter.
I’ve already mentioned running. I have a group of friends who keep me running during these cold months. In the winter, these runs are really short, and we don’t tend to run if it’s really cold, windy, or snowy outside. We also have to watch out for icy conditions. Despite all of these obstacles, we still manage to get out 2-3 times per week for runs (alright, it’s usually more like 1-2). Even though I find it really hard to motivate myself to get outside during the winter, once I’m there I love it. Usually, if I’m running, I’m so winded that I warm myself up by about 15 degrees. And I really need the extra endorphins that running provides when the Seasonal Affective Disorder looms close.
We also like to ski, so if the weekend temperature and conditions are right (i.e., we have enough snow and it’s above 20 degrees), we’ll pop over to our local ski mountain to take advantage of the “Ski for the First Two Hours” weekend deal. I’ve learned that I have to do something to hold myself accountable to such a plan, like tell the kids beforehand, or else I’ll lapse into what I call my “mid-winter malaise” and spend the morning binge-drinking coffee and warming myself by the fire while scrolling through my Twitter feed for three hours.
There are lots of local families who snowshoe on the trails that run throughout our little town. This is a quintessential New England activity, and a great way to walk in the woods in the winter.
We are not that family, mainly because we don’t own snowshoes. But we’ve toyed with buying family snowshoes for future winters. If we decide to start snowshoeing, we’ll find “expert” help (and by expert, I mean, someone who’s done it at least once before). Sometimes doing something you’ve never done before feels so overwhelming that you just don’t start. We’ve learned that if we can find someone to “teach” us, even if it’s just to tell us where to go or figuratively hold our hands while we do it the first time, it helps us add that activity to our arsenal.
We have also taken advantage of the local ice skating rink. Each town in our area of the state creates a free local rink in the winter time somewhere in an outside public place, by filling a shallow plastic liner with water and letting it freeze. Some towns even provide free skates. We’ve been fortunate to have hand-me-down skates, so we can skate-walk around the rink a time or two. Again, this always works better when we do it with other people, because it’s easy to lack motivation when it’s so cold, and knowing that another person is waiting on you makes you more likely to rise over the lack-of-motivation hump.
No surprise here. We love to eat, so we go to the store and get special food to make at home, as a mid-winter treat.
Our favorite is ceviche. Knowing that delicious salmon cooked in lemon juice is waiting for us for Saturday lunch is enough to brighten our weekend morning.
We also make sushi, with whatever ingredients we have on hand (we always keep a 10-pound bag of sushi rice, rice wine vinegar, and a giant pack of nori on hand since we make sushi a lot. I go to our local Asian store and stock up once a quarter or so, and then we can make sushi anytime). Our sushi doesn’t look as pretty as Mr. Tako’s because it’s harder for us to get sashimi-grade fish, but it is delicious (read his post linked above for a great step-by-step guide to making your own sushi at home).
When we visited Thailand last year, we took a cooking class in Bangkok, and learned the fundamentals of Thai cuisine. While we’re by no means experts, we love to experiment with Thai curries. Sometimes, like yesterday, those experiments fail big. I was a little heavy-handed on the chili powder and our red curry chicken was so spicy we couldn’t eat it!
Part of the fun of making food at home is the anticipation of eating, the fun of cooking together (our youngest loves to help in the kitchen and is getting a lot better at chopping vegetables, which is definitely helpful for my blood pressure), and not having to venture out in the cold weather, of course!
Oh, and the wine!
When we stay home and cook, we feel good because we’re cozy, we’re together as a family, we’re making something and learning new skills, and we’re saving money because we’re not eating out. It’s our version of hygge. We don’t burn candles, but we simmer delicious soups and stews, breathe those aromas in deeply, sip our wine, and enjoy warm winter food by the fire.
Mid-winter is bleak, and it can be depressing. After living in New England for almost seven years, I’ve learned that I have to be extra kind to myself during this time of year. That doesn’t mean spending a bunch of unnecessary money on clothes or manicures, but it does mean taking time to plan activities that help bring a little joy and anticipation to our cold, holed-up weekends.
This year, we also made plans to go somewhere warm for Spring Break. That trip has helped a ton, because we know that if we can make it to the end of April, we’ll have a warm, sunny week at the beach to enjoy.
In the meantime, I’ll go put on another layer of clothing and make sure my snow shovel is ready.