Ways to make winter better

I get hit pretty hard by the winter blues. The desaturated bleakness of the snow-laden landscape triggers an almost-physical reaction in me. While I may not be able to get rid of winter entirely (or escape to the Philippines as soon as the first snow falls), there are probably lots of little ways I can make winter a bit more bearable or even fun.

Here’s what makes winter better for me so far:

  • W-, who makes awesome home-made chicken noodle soup for when I’m dealing with a sore throat, and whose occasional cravings for baked goods results in the creation of yummy yummy muffins
  • The two cats, whose antics keep us laughing – who needs a TV?
  • The ability to do my work from home, particularly appreciated when the weather turns downright flurrisome
  • Two winter hats from Tilley’s, with convenient ear-flaps
  • Two pairs of winter boots
  • Enough pairs of tights to keep me warm
  • A fuzzy bathrobe
  • Fuzzy pajamas
  • Sock slippers and fuzzy socks
  • A microwaveable neck wrap filled with buckwheat
  • Scarves that add a little color to my day
  • Funny cat pictures as my screensaver
  • Giving myself permission to feel wintery instead of expecting the entire year to feel like summer
  • Tons of books from the library
  • Lots of green tea at home
  • A box of tea in my cabinet at work, plus hot chocolate mix for emergencies
  • A radiator in the basement
  • Large batches of comfort foods such as chili or curry

What could make this even better? Let me see if I can come up with any ideas…

  • More colors: I can put our favorite pictures on my iPod Touch and flip through them when the dreary landscape’s getting me down
  • More awesome music: Listening to the thrilling swells of opera makes it easier to get through the commute
  • An electric blanket or neck wrap, lighter than my microwaveable neck wrap and consistently warm instead of cooling off after five minutes or so
  • More winter hats; maybe a red one
  • Maybe a red coat! (You can tell I grew up chasing Carmen Sandiego)
  • Crafts: sewing might be good, although trying to fit items and fix seams is not fun when it’s cold. Maybe a home-made dress model will make things so much easier and more fun.
  • Monthly massages

While chatting with W- over the freshly-baked muffins he made, I realized that there isn’t really a lot I can buy in order to make winter life more awesome. Instead of buying another hat or another coat when I’ve got perfectly serviceable ones, I’d rather spend on extra ingredients and experiment with baking.

And who knows, I may even end up dusting off that book and working on it again… =)

Speaking of routines: life is cyclic

Having a large blog archive means coming across blog posts that you’d forgotten about but which are surprisingly relevant to what you’re thinking today. It’s like having a Magic Eight Ball, except with more insight.

Two years ago, I had just started working at IBM, and I reflected on some changes I needed to make to my routines (The best-laid plans of mice and men). How far have I come since then?

  • Sort out my clothes for next week. Weekly laundry means I’ve got most of my clothes sorted out each week. I set tomorrow’s clothes out in the evening (including thermals – it’s fall!), which means I don’t have to think as much in the morning. I leave a pair of shoes in the office, and bike to work in my sneakers. I’ve phased out my skirts for now (don’t want to worry about biking in them), so my “uniform” consists of a scarf, a blouse, and slacks.
  • Prepare breakfast, lunch, and snacks beforehand. We freeze lunches for convenience and cooking efficiency. We also keep breakfast staples in stock: granola and milk, bagels, or steel-cut oats. We have a freezer bag full of biscuits that are ready to bake (15 minutes in the toaster oven) and home-made blueberry jam in the pantry and the fridge. For snacks, there are fruits, energy bars, home-made trail mix, and other good things. With a spread like that, eating is a pleasure I hardly skip.
  • Have my keys, wallet, and badge in a consistent place. Still working on this. I usually leave my keys on the key hook near the door. My wallet goes into my purse organizer, which also holds my emergency kit, iPod, phone, notebook, and fountain pen. My badge clips onto the mail holder inside our hallway, so that I remember to take it off when I get home and clip it back on when I’m heading out.
  • Wake up even earlier. Snoozed until 6:30 today, then finally decided to get up. Will work on eventually moving this back to something like 5:00am (ambitious!).
  • Stop replying to e-mail on the subway. No subway rides recently. I guess this is done! ;)
  • Blog in the evenings, after dinner. I realized that I prefer to blog in the morning, when I’ve got lots of creative energy and my mind isn’t buzzing from work. Having lots of home-made frozen meals in storage also means never scrambling to make dinner, which is great.
  • Start winding down by 9. Still working on this.

Five years ago, I was getting ready for my first real winter. My technical internship in Japan included classes in Yokohama and work in Tokyo, and my eldest sister lent me some winter clothes (including a pretty cashmere coat). In retrospect, winter there was pretty mild, but I thought it was Really Cold. (Now I’m, like, ooh, 2 degrees? That’s two layers and gloves when biking.) Since then, I’ve learned to have more layers: wicking camisoles, merino wool long johns, the works.

Two years ago, I was talking about passion, blogging, and Web 2.0. And I still am! <laugh>

Fleece blankets and seasons

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W- and I bought another set of microfleece sheets. They’re much cheaper than an electric blanket or heated mattress pad, and they’re significantly toastier than cotton sheets. We’re planning to keep the house at around 16C – or even cooler, if we can manage it, so the extra warmth will help. It’ll be hard to get out of bed in the morning, but the bathrobe I leave on my night-table may help. Wool socks, scarves, and thermal underwear will take the edge off the cold. I’m even looking forward to trying out the handwarmer that W- got for me.

Living in Toronto gives me three big challenges: being halfway around the world from family and old friends, making sure my paperwork is in order, and dealing with winter. Video calls, new friendships, and trips home take care of the first challenge. I’m about to finish my permanent residency process, so that’ll take care of the second challenge. As for the third challenge, it’s been said that there’s no such thing as terrible weather, only wrong clothes.

Why not just move back to the Philippines? W- shares custody of J- with his ex-wife, so he needs to be in Toronto. Having gone through the hassle of uprooting myself, I’d rather not make others go through the ordeal, either.

Now that I’ve accepted winter as inevitable, I can face it on my own terms and look for ways to stay happy (or be even happier!).

It’s hard to believe that I’m getting ready for my fifth winter in Canada. My fifth! And yet each year makes winter better and better. In 2005, I filled my wardrobe with winter coats from Goodwill. In 2006, a family friend gave me some great coats, and I spent winter time with Toronto friends. 2007 was my first winter with W- and J-, filled with tobogganing and hot chocolate. Last year, I discovered the joys of winter hiking, warm cats, and home-made clothes. This year, I’m looking forward to toasty blankets, lots of baking, and splashes of color in the clothes I’ll make.

The seasons change with or without me, so it’s up to me to adapt.

Fall down intentionally

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We had circled the ice twice. Hadn’t fallen yet, just wobbled about in the way beginners do.

Mel stopped. She flopped down. “Might as well get it over with,” she said.

Sounded like a great idea, so I did.

Skating got a lot easier after that.

Fall down intentionally. Get your fear out, then go.

Winter

This winter feels a lot milder and happier than the others I’ve been through.

A large part of that comes from being able to work at home. I like being able to opt out of snowstorms.

Fleece bathrobes, fleece sheets, fuzzy socks, fuzzy slippers, gloves, handwarmers, apple pie, warm milk… Things might not give you happiness, but they can certainly help.

Cats and their quest for warmth.

Cooking, baking, preserving, sewing, writing, drawing — hobbies for those indoor days.

Love.

So maybe it wasn’t seasonal affective disorder after all, just the need to adapt.

Making the most of Standard Time as the days grow shorter

The transition from Daylight Savings Time to Standard Time is always a little shocking. Suddenly the sunlight’s gone by 5 PM. It always used to make me feel a little colder, a little odder. This year, I’m playing around with some mindset shifts that might do for Standard Time what renaming “winter” to “baking season” did in terms of my happiness. =)

(Click on the images for a larger version.)

2013-11-05 Standard Time - Winter Time

Since my consulting engagement has flexible hours, I can arrange my schedule so that I commute during off-peak hours, and I work from home three days of the week anyway. Sunlight is important to me, so I go for a quick walk at lunch. This means that on the days that I work on-site, I’m not too tired when I get home in the evenings, and on the days I work at home, I have time to go to the library or run other small errands.

That frees up the evening for writing, drawing, learning, coding, and all the other things that fill my discretionary time. Having a long evening means I can break it into several chunks of useful, focused work, while still taking care of chores. It feels pretty relaxed – almost freeing! Maybe this will become something that will help me look forward to shorter days.

2013-11-04 Revising my mornings

Mornings are worth playing around with, too. I thought about shifting more of my waking hours to the morning because it often comes up in productivity advice, but I like being able to sleep in a little. That said, I also like lining things up so that I can gain momentum in the morning, and the bright sunshine is nice to enjoy.

This mindset shift looks promising. It breaks down yet another one of those barriers to making the most of life year-round. How do you deal with shorter days? Any tips?