When it’s bitterly cold for long weeks, it’s easy to stop going out for a walk. But then cabin fever sets in…
These are woods near our home, in a town 25 miles north of New York City, with a paved trail a mile long that runs beside a reservoir, whose landmarks — officially, watermarks, I guess — can include several white swans, enormous flocks of geese who rest on the ice mid-migration, and, in the summer, multiple small black turtles and a cormorant who stands on a rock to dry out his wings.
In the winter, though, the woods are silent. I can only hear planes overhead and traffic circling the reservoir and the gurgling of a stream. No scurrying squirrels or chipmunks or birdsong.
It’s a more austere world, the remaining leaves bleached, bare branches etched against the sky, thick fungi crowding a log.
I hate to admit it, and being self-employed allows for this, but I’ve been falling back into bed almost daily at 3:30 for at least an hour. I feel slothful, but my body tells me this is a good choice, so I’m going with it. Hey, animals hibernate!
Fresh flowers and plants
Little hits of color, shape, texture and scent — at bedside, in the living room, at the front door as we enter the apartment.
When all the sky offers, from dawn to dusk, is gray, we need life and color!
Tea and coffee
Moroccan mint tea to Constant Comment to Earl Grey to Irish Breakfast to fruit-y stuff that comes out bright pink. (Did I mention color?) I love the ritual of putting on the kettle and filling a china teapot, then choosing a mug or a teacup and sitting with a steaming little bit of pleasure. No-calorie rehydration is also healthy!
Living in New York, I enjoy WFUV, the station for Fordham University and WKCR, of Columbia University, which plays reggae on Saturday mornings. I love many NPR shows, like This American Life and The Moth; you can hear them all on-line. We also enjoy TSF Jazz, a fantastic station in Paris.
Vigorous exercise — away from home!
I know, some people loathe spin class — which is basically riding fast on a stationary bike for 45 minutes while listening to music. But I really enjoy it. It burns plenty of calories. It’s social. I love the music. It makes me leave the apartment! Thanks to a screwed-up right knee and torn tendon in my right foot, I can’t do a treadmill or elliptical so all I have left for aerobic work is spin and swimming (which I don’t enjoy.)
Go for a walk and get as much sunlight as possible. Our bodies need fresh air and Vitamin D too.
We’ve still got another two to three months swathed in layers of wool and leather (or pleather) and rubber to stay warm and dry. Strip down and sweat for a while.
I just read —- oh, is it possible?! — that a long bath actually burns calories. See y’all later!
Moisturize everything all the time
Hair, nails, skin, hands. Repeat.
Winter air, both outdoors cold and indoor heat, is dehydrating in the extreme. I keep tubes of cream and lotion in every room and apply multiple times a day. I fill the tub and add plenty of Neutrogena Body Oil and scented essences like lavender, peppermint or eucalyptus.
I saw this first in Stockholm in late November — when it was dark by 2:30 p.m. and the sun didn’t reappear until 8:30 a.m. Even at lunchtime, candles flickered on every restaurant tabletop and their effect was soothing, lovely and intimate. At home, I light candles in the morning to wake up slowly and gently, and sometimes as my last illumination.
So much nicer than the cold blue light of a screen!
Add something new, gorgeous — and permanent — to your home
When last winter’s endlessly gray skies made us miserable, we repainted our small sitting room from soft warm gray to pale, subtle lavender, the color of clouds just tinged at sunset; (Peignoir by Farrow & Ball, my favorite brand. I even visited their Dorset factory last summer!)
When you’re stuck indoors day after day, week after week, month after month you really need some color, comfort and beauty!
For us, that’s framed art in every room, well-chosen colors for walls and floors and rugs and furniture, and plenty of comfort — a teal waffle cotton throw we bought in Paris at BHV, a paisley duvet cover and shams, a soft sheepskin rug bedside.
A couple of patterned throw pillows, a set of lacy pillowcases or shams, a bright tablecloth or fresh hand towels or a lovely mug don’t have to cost a lot and can add a cheering jolt of pretty. If money is super-tight, thrift and consignment shops can offer great stuff at very low prices.
I love this blog post about true hygge — the newly trendy Danish word meaning cosy and charming. It includes some of my suggestions, (candles, plants, art) but is really a wise life philosophy:
That’s what real hygge is – a simple moment that feels so special, cosy, relaxing, loving or happy that you just need to call it out. It’s not about being fancy, or styled, or being in the best circumstances, or having the right things. It’s literally about being present enough to see how great a moment is, and give that moment a name – hygge.
I’m not against beautiful images and styled things at all. I love to both see these and take them but I am against all the sites, articles and posts selling the concept of hygge as if it’s something you can just buy and do and you’re done. It’s not a “lifestyle” as so many non-Danish posts try to make it out to be. It’s not one thing you can check off your list and your life is better. And it’s not always picture perfect.
Hygge in its simplest form is really about being present.It can happen several times a day, anywhere, anytime – all it takes is you. Nothing else.
Some of you — lucky things! — live in much warmer places right now than frigid snowbound New York, (and much of the Northeastern U.S.)
For newcomers to this climate, like the refugee Syrians tobogganing in Canada, it can come as a hell of a shock.
I grew up in Toronto and Montreal, cities annually subjected to a sort of winter that makes finding ways to enjoy it essential. I thought I knew snowfall until I spent an adult winter (only one!) in Montreal, when it didn’t stop snowing for about 12 hours and I had to walk my poor little nine-pound terrier across the plowed mountains of snow on either side of the street.
I now live in a suburb of New York City, whose climate is similar, with many days and weeks of cold, ice and snow ahead.
Here are some of my tips for making cold, snowy, windy weather your friend, or at least less of a foe:
Indoor heating parches your skin and lips, as do wintry winds. I keep a tub of lavender-scented body butter nearby and am now using it multiple times every day. A bottle of cuticle oil and a pair of cotton gloves to wear while it soaks in are good, too. Olive oil is a terrific moisturizer as well. I never leave the house now without a small tube of heavy-duty cream in my pocket or purse — and don’t forget to carry and use lip balm.
No matter that it’s cold, keep using your SPF.
The winter sun can be super-bright as it reflects off snow and ice. Not to mention brutal winds whipping into your eyes. Keep a great pair of sunnies handy.
These are your best friend for navigating slippery, icy streets and paths. They slip over your shoes or boots to help grip the surface you’re walking on — falling on ice is no joke and emergency rooms are filled with broken bones this time of year.
Whether you’re wearing gloves lined with it, a hat or scarf or sweater made of it, it’s warm and light, saving extra bulk while keeping you super-warm. You can find it on sale and in some thrift and consignment shops and it wears well for years. (The photo of me above includes my favorite cashmere muffler, now a decade old or so.)
Not sure if you want to spend $300, but these battery-heated socks are worn by the Austrian ski team, who surely know what cold feels like! Even indoors, warm toes will make you so much happier; I’m loving these gorgeous suede sheepskin slippers I received for Christmas this year — now on sale for $69 — in jewel tones of burgundy, navy and tan.
Plants! Fresh flowers! We recently had two glorious purple hyacinths scenting our apartment and it felt like spring, even as the wind howled outside in frigid temperatures. Treat yourself to a bunch of tulips or a few green plants.
Wear cheerful colors
I love buying winter gear when I’m home in Canada as the selection is so terrific. My winter wardrobe now includes deep purple nylon boots, purple mitts and cap, a soft orange winter coat and a neon yellow faux-fur muffler. Not to mention the turquoise coat I had custom-made a few years ago. No tedious gray, black or brown for me!
A goosedown duvet
I love ours. Nothing is more cozy — and lightweight warmth — than a down duvet. Choose a pretty cover and snuggle in.
Cook some comfort food
Everyone has their favorites, whether cassoulet, mac and cheese, risotto or baking up a batch of muffins. Cold winter afternoons are a perfect time to pull out your cookbooks and find a great new recipe to try; one of my standbys is Bistro Cooking.
Have friends over
If you can woo friends over for a visit, enjoy an afternoon of cards, conversation or binge-watching together. Get off the bloody phone and computer and hang out in the same room with someone whose company you really enjoy.
This gorgeous path is a five-minute drive from our home…
Go for a walk
If you’ve bundled up enough and your gait is steady, you’ll find it invigorating. The winter landscape is so beautiful — elemental, graphic, monochromatic — and so dramatically different from every other season. After a snowfall, the lights and shadows across those white expanses are also spectacular. I went out right after the enormous snowstorm of Jan. 23 and found our local woods walkway largely empty and silent.
Not easy when it’s freezing out, but take advantage of the lengthening days and seasonal beauty to capture some of it. Winter offers such spare, sere beauty: shadows on snow, the low, slanting light, a coral and gray sunset, the gleam of ice.
The most fun for me of the recent snowstorm battering the East Coast was seeing all the images on Twitter and Facebook of people enjoying it all — even snowmen in Times Square!
Few things are as welcoming as a wood fire…One of my favorite travel memories was arriving at Le Germain in Montreal to see a fire blazing in their elegant glass fireplace. Here’s a list of 10 New York City restaurants with fireplaces, including my longtime favorite, Keen’s Chophouse, (steps from Macy’s!)
A hot-water bottle
Classic. If your bed or sofa just isn’t warm enough, fill a hot-water bottle and tuck it at your feet. I loved this one, spotted in a Paris store window last January — still regretting not getting !
A long soak
When we renovated our apartment and our tiny bathroom, a super-deep tub was top of my list. It’s 21 inches deep — hell to clean! — but covers every inch of me. Add plenty of bath oil and some glorious scent like jasmine or eucalyptus from a bottle like this one.
A spa or hammam day
One of my happiest ever travel memories — going back maybe 20 years — was a bitterly cold, dark, dreary winter’s day in Paris when I retreated to the steamy depths of a hammam in the 5th arrondissement. Hammams are what I miss most about Paris in the winter, a Middle Eastern tradition, a place to relax, refresh, enjoy a gommage (exfoliation), massage, sauna. Last January I tried one in the 18th and the steam room was so hot you couldn’t even see across the room! Here at home in Tarrytown, we’re blessed to have a gorgeous spa literally next door to us in a luxury hotel. What a lovely way to while away a frosty Sunday afternoon. Treat yourself!
Drink lots of tea
One of my favorite beverages is hot tea in all its glorious forms — oolong, rooibos, jasmine, green, herbal. And never a lonely little teabag dumped into a cup of hot water, American style. Please! Invest in a proper teapot and loose tea or bags, whether fragrant Constant Comment or the tangy, smoky Lapsang Souchong. I love discovering great tea rooms whenever I travel — like Le Loir Dans La Theiere in Paris or Bosie in Manhattan, so nice that I visited it twice in one recent week. It’s easily missed, on a very short block in the West Village but well worth a visit.
If you’re in the West Village, head east or west a few blocks and stock up on tea at Porto Rico on Bleecker or McNulty’s on Christopher, each of them a tin-ceilinged 100+-year-old institution.
Not to mention, a pot of fragrant tea is so much more comforting than slugging yet another bottle of cold, boring water — we all need to stay hydrated in dry/heated homes and offices.
Look to pre-industrial historic interiors for how best to boost winter’s weak low natural light — add a few large mirrors near your windows, candles and reflective surfaces like glass, crystal, gleaming brass, silver or copper. These might be candlesticks or lamp-bases or decorative objects. Dust every lightbulb in your home and, if feasible and safe, up the wattage to make sure you’ve got sufficient light to read, cook and work by. Thoroughly clean, dust or replace your tired old lampshades. Throw open those curtains!
New curtains for the sitting area…no more black bare window glass on cold winter nights
Make or order something charming for your home
By mid-winter we all start to feel a bit cabin feverish — and if your cabin/house/apartment/room is less than cosy it can get really depressing. Even if you’re in a tiny rental, find something affordable that will cheer you up every single time you look at it. Maybe it’s a stuffed animal (oh, go on!) or a floral tablecloth or a lovely throw that you crochet or knit yourself. It might be an antique bit of beauty or something shiny and modern.
Think of it as your gift to your home, a way to say thanks to it for sheltering you and keeping you warm, safe and dry through these long few months.
Now that The New York Times has, this week, killed (!) its weekly Home section, I’m here to the rescue!
But as someone passionate about interior design and who studied at thew New York School of Interior Design, I love all things design-related and will miss that section a great deal.
Here’s the first in a series of three posts, all of which I will post in the next week, on how to solve some of the most common design problems.
Especially for those of us in the (brrrrr) Northern Hemisphere and those anywhere near the 50th parallel, sunlight is a treasured resource — only now are the days beginning to lengthen.
Nights are long, cold and dark — and every scrap of light matters.
I once visited Stockholm in November and will never forget what incredible attention to light was paid there, everywhere, from the post office to the votive candles glowing on restaurant tables at mid-day; (it was dark by 3pm or so.)
No matter how much time, money or attention you pay to your home (or not!), the quantity and quality of the lighting there can make a huge difference to your mood, ability to concentrate, your family’s happiness and, most importantly, their safety.
Many people are badly injured, even killed, by falling in their own homes and being able to clearly see where you’re stepping — or chopping onions! — is really important.
A few tips on how to best illuminate your home:
— The most welcoming rooms have four different light sources. Our living-room, which is 12 feet by 24 feet, has five: a desk lamp (task light); a small accent light; a floor lamp, a lamp on a bookshelf and a reading lamp. There’s no overhead light, nor do I ever want one there.
—There are many ways to use light.Task lighting is used, as it suggests, for doing specific things using that light — cooking, bathing, working, reading. A chandelier over a dining table creates a focal point for the room, casts a warm pool of light, and saves floor space in a small area. Many people use under-counter lighting in their kitchen beneath their kitchen cabinets. We chose open shelves instead, so the lighting in our kitchen is three wall-mounted lamps from Restoration Hardware and three pot lights in the ceiling, all of them on dimmers.
— What mood do you hope to create? A nasty overhead light far above your head does little to flatter anyone or any interior. Useful for a hallway, sure, or a bathroom, but not very attractive in a bedroom, living room or dining room. Pools of light delineate your space.
— Dimmers! We have our bathroom, kitchen and dining room lights on dimmers and it makes a huge difference to the atmosphere we can create as a result.
— Choose your lighting with a careful eye, not only the style of each lighting source but the bulb: LED, incandescent, filament, halogen…each has a very different quality of light and energy usage.
— Lamps can make or break the beauty of a room. Whether you prefer formality and elegance, modern simplicity or a sparkling crystal chandelier, it’s out there!
— Consider quality, size, color and condition of your lampshades. They can be square, rectangular, round, conical, in card, silk, cotton, burlap. The most elegant, formal rooms often have tightly pleated colored silk lampshades, glowing like jewels when lit. Plated sharp-edged card shades are hell to clean.
— Don’t forget how many amazing options are available on-line. Two of my favorite resources are Circa Lighting and Renovation, with hundreds of choices.
— Make sure your lamps are close/tall/bright enough to actually do the job you need them to; three-way bulbs are a nice choice.
— Remember that every lamp you choose adds color and texture to the room. I love this metal articulated task lamp from Wisteria ($219), this one (in purple, turquoise, cream and silver) from PB Teen for $79, and this table lamp, with a clear glass base from West Elm, which we have and love, $89. It doesn’t look like much, but its value, to me, lies in its ability to cast enough light without adding any design drama because of its simplicity. I discovered the PB teen lamp in — of all places — a gorgeous inn we stayed in in Prince Edward County, Ontario. They were the bedside lamps and so perfect I picked one up to see who the manufacturer was. (Ideas are everywhere!)
— Include the timeless beauty of candles as well, whether a row of flickering votives lining a windowsill or tall tapers. I keep a scented candle by my bedside and often start and end my days with a few minutes of its gentle light and spicy, relaxing smell. We also eat dinner in a room filled with lit (unscented) candles, votives and tapers, (in addition to a chandelier on a dimmer, with reflective bulbs [silver bottoms] that keep the glare out of our eyes.)
— The shadows cast by electric or candle-lit lanterns made of pierced metal are mysterious, exotic and add a distinctive note; look for great sources from Morocco or Mexico.
Right now across North America it’s colder than….insert cliche here.
For us Canadians, it’s “really?”
I grew up in Toronto and Montreal, have visited Quebec City several times in winter and even once reported a story from the Arctic Circle in December.
I know cold!
Anyone who survives multiple winters in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal or parts further north — like Yellowknife (- 27 today) or Salluit (-11) — quickly learns how to handle bitter, biting winter winds, frost, ice and snow. As one friend, a former wildlife biologist who worked in the Arctic says, “It’s not the cold. It’s having the right clothing.”
A few tips:
— Don’t wear anything made of metal! If you have piercings on any piece of exposed flesh — earlobes, eyebrows, nose, whatever — take that thing out now. Metal conducts cold. You do not want to invite frostbite. That includes metal watches, bangles and rings.
— Exposed skin can get frostbite within minutes.Wrap a wool, cashmere or polypro scarf or cagoule (Americans call this a neckgaiter; the link is to a $12.99 one in black. Do it!) around as much of your face as possible. Forget vanity! If you have to work outside or spend long hours outdoors, give in and buy a balaclava. Yes, you’ll look like a cat burglar. Deal with it.
— Woolen tights and socks only.Forget any other fabric right now, except cashmere. Only wool will give you the insulation you need. Woolen tights are also super-durable, so even if they cost a little more, you can use them for years.
— Moisturize. Skin is easily dehydrated and chapped by winter winds, so wear plenty of creamy, rich moisturizer and use lip balm. Refresh often.
— Don’t forget SPF.The sun is still shining and your skin still needs protection; choose a moisturizer or facial cream with 15 to 30 SPF.
— Windproof clothing is your best bet— down-filled nylon from makers like LLBean, The North Face, Patagonia, Lands’ End. Look for features you really need right now — a tight elastic cuff deep inside the sleeve so you can tuck your gloves or mittens into it so that not one inch of your flesh is exposed between sleeve bottom and mitten top, a high collar that can cover your throat and lower face and a warm, insulating hood with strings you can draw tight around your face.
— Fur is the best. If that suggestion horrifies you, sorry. But if you can find a fur coat, scarf and/or hat — at thrift stores, vintage stores, Ebay, etc. — fur will keep you warmer than anything, and (sheared fur, like sheared beaver or mink) with minimal bulk.
— Yaktrax can help save you from serious fall and injury. I love these things! For $20, these metal/rubber grippers slip over the soles and sides of your shoes or boots and will make even the slipperiest of sidewalks less terrifying. They’re light and small enough to tuck into your purse or backpack in a Ziploc bag after use.
— Stay dry. Exposed moisture will freeze. That includes wet hair. Yes, I used to get hairsicles as I crossed the University of Toronto campus between winter classes after my early morning squash game. Always wear a warm hat that covers your ears and thick windproof gloves or mittens.
— Drinking hot tea helps. Winter wind is dehydrating and drinking lots of hot tea will warm you quickly and affordably, with no calories. Try a new-to-you blend like Constant Comment or smoky Lapsang Souchong.
Montreal — like much of the Northeast U.S. right now — is in the middle of a heavy snowstorm. The streets are thick with snow. Pedestrians trudge and slip and slither, gaze firmly downward, their mouths covered by heavy, thick mufflers. The bus fills up fast, between puffy parkas and oversize backpacks.
When I got into the cab this morning to head north from Old Montreal — we’re at the Nelligan — to my appointment, I asked the driver, in French, “How’s traffic?”
“Are they plowing the roads?” It was then 10:30 a.m.
“Not yet,” he replied. “They won’t do it until later today.” (We only started to see plows at 3:30.)
I’m here reporting my fifth New York Times business story. It’s been interesting, since I lived here in 1969 and from 1986 to 1988 when I was a reporter at the Montreal Gazette. Jose is here with me, my husband, and he’s loving the crazy cold as much as I am.
As I move around the city, on foot and by bus and by taxi, so many memories! It was here I flew kites atop Mount Royal with my Mom and took a freezing cold caleche ride with my American beau, the man I would later marry (and divorce.) It was here my Dad took me to Expo ’67; the grey concrete cubes of Moshe Safdie’s Habitat still stand, a few blocks from our hotel.
It was here I lost a tooth — yes, really — at the Ritz-Carlton, when my father was staying there. Jose and I later took refuge there, at bargain rates, after we both reported on 9/11, terrified and exhausted. We came downstairs for breakfast and wondered who the raspy-voiced, long-haired guys were at the next table — Aerosmith.
We drove past the Royal Victoria Hospital, an enormous gray Victorian stone pile on a steep hill — and I remember the day I slipped and fell on the ice outside my hotel and tore all the ligaments in my left ankle. It took six hours to get a pair of crutches. (I was on assignment then for The Globe and Mail, and [of course] kept working, in snow and ice, on crutches.)
Here’s a photo of what was our 1969 address — now transposed to a glam condo tower from the gray limestone apartment we lived in, since torn down.
It’s 3432 Peel Street, a block north of Sherbrooke. We were here for a year — my Mom had a TV talk show and I attended a private, co-ed Catholic school. It was a hell of a shock. I’m not Catholic and I had not attended school with boys since third grade – this was Grade Seven and all the girls were a year older and hopelessly sophisticated in comparison.
I promptly developed a huge crush on a pink-cheeked boy named, of course, Michel.
We have been utter gluttons on this trip, as some of it is vacation. Yesterday we indulged in a 2.5 hour lunch, with wine at La Chronique. The restaurant, ironically designed with a menu that looks like a newspaper and a ceiling design that mimics a printer’s tray, had only four tables filled, people staying away because of the weather. It was silent, the food fantastic.
We ate one night at Lemeac, a neighborhood restaurant for affluent Francophones, and the couple at the next table were intriguing. She wore a gold signet ring the size of a grape, a leather skirt and expensive manicure. She sent back her food because they brought her a steak — not steak tartare, which is essentially uncooked ground meat. The picture of polished, wealthy, mid-life elegance, she sounded soigne en francais, and crude in English. “He’s a fucking idiot,” she snapped to her companion of someone they were discussing.
He was Asian and they slipped easily back and forth, as so many people do here, from French to English, like otters slipping in and out of water. I miss living in a place where language is so fluid and thinking done automatically en deux langues.
I took Jose to one of favorite haunts from my time here in the 1980s, Stash Cafe, whose apricot crumble is a thing of magnificence. Here he is, post-stew.
One major difference between Montreal and New York is that so many people, here, wear fur — trimming their parka hoods or full-length unapologetic mink and sable that sweep to their ankles. There are boutiques selling fur in a variety of forms.
It was also here, on a face-punchingly, nostril-shuttingly frigid day in February 2007, that I bought mine. (Fur horrifies many people, I know.) It is also both light, non-bulky and extraordinarily warm, making it perfect for this sort of unforgiving cold. It is nice to wear it here, and be completely unremarkable — in New York, some PETA fanatic might well douse me with red paint in fury.
People mocked us for heading north in February — again! — for this holiday.
But, as my most Canadian friend — a former wildlife biologist — reminded us: “Cold is not the problem. Improper clothing is.”
If you live in the Northern Hemisphere and are heading into our fourth month of cold, snow, ice and short days, it’s time for a cheer-up!
Here are ten ideas:
Spend as much as you can afford on fresh flowers. Even $20 or $30 will fill several containers with living color, scent and beauty for a few weeks. I snagged $16 worth of white lilies from the supermarket last week and they’re still blooming and fragrant in the bedroom and dining room. So lovely to open the front door to a hit of scent! If you have nothing to put them in, check out your local thrift shop.
A long walk, preferably with a camera in hand. Snow and ice transform the landscape in unexpected ways. The jagged stone walls surrounding our apartment building, covered with snow, look exactly like a row of teeth!
A long talk with someone you adore. Make a phone date — or face to face, better yet — and settle in for a good 30 minutes or more. Forget email and Facebook.
Bake! This morning I cranked out blueberry/banana muffins and spice muffins. Easy, fun, something nice to look forward to every morning for a week or more. If you haven’t replenished your pantry, make sure you’ve got the staples on hand for when inspiration hits.
A small pretty treat for your home. Check out the sales at old favorites like Pottery Barn, Home Goods, Crate & Barrel, West Elm, Anthropologie, Wisteria, Sundance — a few of my on-line favorites. For even $20 or 30, you can enjoy a new set of hand towels, a few new dishtowels, some pretty candles, a 2 x 3 foot cotton throw rug from Dash & Albert, some fresh pillowcases. Check out Etsy for affordable and charming choices. Here’s the Dash & Albert rug we ordered for our living room.
Make fresh tea — in a teapot. Enough with this awful Americanism of “tea” being one sad teabag stuck in a mug of hot water. I think not! You need a proper china or pottery teapot; here’s one shaped like Big Ben! Some lovely teas, maybe a few you’ve never tried before. I love Constant Comment (with orange and spices), cardamom/chai, Earl Grey and even (wild stuff) Lapsang Souchong, whose smoky, tarry flavor makes me feel like I’ve been licking the deck of some 17th century frigate. If your local store doesn’t have these, order from my favorite New York purveyors, both of which are more than 100 years old, Porto Rico Coffee & Tea, (try their pumpkin spice or chocolate raspberry coffee), and McNulty’s. Even better if you’ve got a lovely bone china teacup with saucer; check out this one, in blue toile, for a mere $9.75. Aaaaaah.
Something cashmere. A pair of socks, or gloves, or a watch cap or scarf, or a turtleneck sweater. The sharp-eyed can always find one affordably in a local thrift or consignment shop.
A massage. If you’re really lucky, your sweetie knows how and is happy to provide. If you can afford it — usually $65 or more — a scented rubdown is sheer bliss after months of being swaddled in wool and rubber, our chilled muscles stiff and sore. My local drugstore sells a bottle of eucalyptus scent for a few dollars…add it to some light oil and you’re good to go.
A stack of library books you’re dying to read. Make them two-week returns so you won’t procrastinate! I recently read, and totally loved, “The House in France” by Gully Wells, a memoir.
Get out your pens, pencils, watercolors, oils, paper, wool, threads, fabric, dye….and create! Borrow your kids’ Legos or Barbies or trolls. Turn off every single electronic “toy” and use the best one of of all — your brain!
Bonus: Paint something: a bathroom, a funky chair from the thrift store, a bookcase you’re sick of, (one of ours recently went from deep olive green to pale yellow/green to match the walls. Big difference!) A fresh coat of paint in a new-to-you color is a guaranteed happiness-inducer: quick, cheap, eye-opening. Here’s a $10 guide from House Beautiful magazine with some wonderful choices. The British company Farrow & Ball makes the yummiest colors ever. They’re expensive, but even a sample pot will give you enough to re-do a lampshade or lamp base or a small table top. Here’s a sample of Straw, a great neutral mustard tone which we chose for our very small (5 by 7) and only bathroom; two years in, we still love it.
Are you utterly sick of snow and ice yet? There’s more to come.
Coping skills, stat!
Nice piece on how to survive this insanely cold snowy winter, from The Globe and Mail:
Take a young person to whom you are not related to lunch. I did – a charming way to find out about their lives, to reflect on your own children’s progress and to feel generous, hopeful and wise. If you’re young, suggest lunch to a mentor. For sure they will pay!
Volunteer. The eternal cure. Whether it’s to teach literacy to newcomers or to ladle out soup on a cold winter night, helping others never fails to lift your own spirits.
Cook passionately. Entertain generously. See people constantly. On one snowy day I made a red lentil soup that made several people happy, and you can never go wrong in winter with a nice hot curry.
Movies. Why go out, the theory goes, when DVDs and downloads are so easy. In the depths of winter you can explore a theme. I’m thinking great newspaper movies, such as Citizen Kane and All The President’s Men.
Tea. I have a huge stash of tea ready at hand, from black and spicy loose leaf Earl Grey and blackcurrant tea to green tea, chai (Tazo is nice), lemon and Constant Comment, which has orange and spices in it. As the daylight fades, I brew a pot of tea in my white bone china teapot, let it steep, find a cup and saucer, add some milk and pour. Maybe a few biscuits or a bit of cheese and apple. Perfect!
Cashmere. Think thrift shop, vintage stores and consignment shops and you’ll find a cosy cashmere cardigan or pullover for the price of a cotton T-shirt. Cashmere is, although it comes from the belly of Mongolian goats, the workhorse of fabrics. I’m writing this wearing my go-to winter outfit — a calf-length black cashmere T-shirt dress that is so old I can’t remember the year I bought it….1993? A long time ago.
A lovely bit of cashmere, whether socks, a sweater, a scarf, mitts or hat, is light, warm, chic, and will last for decades. What’s not to love?
Plants, everywhere. Just when you think you will never see green again, time to head to your local nursery and pick up a few growing, live plants. Watering and spraying them will remind you that living things still do exist!
Visit a botanical garden. What better place than the fragrant humidity of a glass-enclosed garden? One of my best memories ever was in November in Stockholm, when it was dark by 3:00 pm and the sun did not rise until 8:30 a.m. We visited the Butterfly House — where live butterflies float past and often land on you.
Long walks. The best investment anyone can make when facing a long, snowy, icy winter is a great pair of winter boots, waterproof and warm — and a pair of Yaktrax. These little rubber overshoes with metal claws on the bottom make a long, vigorous walk a serious option without that terrible fear of falling. I’ve used them. They work!
Ice skating/snow-shoeing/skiing/sledding. If you’re stuck with months of ice and snow, best to find some ways to make fun use of it. There are plenty of great places to go skating even in super-urban New York City. One of my favorite things to do is cruise the temporary ice-rink at Bryant Park, open until February 27, which offers fabulous music and the most lovely surroundings — from the glittery curves of the Chrysler Building to the Empire State Building a few blocks south. Soaring around its oval as the sun sets and the towers light up all around you is a wonderful way to end even the coldest and grayest day.
Gotta love that practicality. A 32-year-old Canadian chain of 385 stores, Mark’s Work Wearhouse sells casual clothing, boots and coats. Sure, you want it to look good and, but as any Canadian can tell you, how warm it is in the middle of a brutal Calgary/Montreal/Ottawa/Toronto winter — let alone north of 60 (i.e. the 60th. parallel, the Arctic) — is what matters most. Add a little wind chill and you’re toast.
The Calgary store, their 27,000 square foot flagship, has added a walk-in freezer, and can even turn on a fan in there to mimic wind chill, taking the internal temperature to a frosty -40 Celsius (-40 Fahrenheit.) It’s part of a larger retailing trend, focused on “experiential” selling; the store also has roof shingles and concrete so buyers can feel the footwear against the surface they’re standing or working on all day.
Having just come through one of the toughest two interviews of my entire career last week — I’m talking sweat rings — there’s some interesting experiential in-store possibilities here. How about a panel of four grueling questioners to test out that interview suit? A spitting-up baby to make sure that new dress really is washable? A 550-degree oven to make sure those oven mitts do the job?
You really can’t make fun of Canadian winters. Having survived so many, I fled to New York (no, it’s not Florida, but what passes for “cold” here is not what I call cold.) I once walked all of three blocks along Sherbrooke Street, Montreal’s elegant boulevard, in February with a wind so bitter blowing in my face I could barely breathe. It felt like someone was punching me. I stumbled into the nearest store and bought a very, very warm coat.