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Getting Through Winter

Getting Through Winter

“Even in the cold months of January and February, the Danes are hard to beat – some even seek colder heights in Norway and Sweden for skiing. These dark months of biting frost are, however, still lit from within by the warm, homey light that the Danes love, yet now with a light somewhat dimmer and more silent than during the festive season of Christmas.

But suddenly two months have passed since winter solstice, and you realise to your delight that daylight hours have increased considerably. And then we start to dream of spring and the first sprouting flowers and herbs that emerge from the frozen ground in March.” From Visit Denmark

A long time has passed since I had to deal with weather of any sort; living in Santa Monica, California is a blessing and curse like that. It’s one weather dressing, flip flops year round with just a sweater needed for warmth. Scarves are for decoration and rain becomes a novelty.

Winter was a charming holiday activity; each year for my February birthday I’d go back to Europe, playing in a sudden snow storm without care, lounging by the fire with family, find reasons to dash into every cafe after walking outside for only a few moments. It was on these holiday trips where I’d stop and think, “I could do this. I could live this way forever.” And upon returning to the heat and generic weather of my newly adopted home town, I’d start fantasizing about moving somewhere that would have winter and all the hyggelig things I’d do in them.

However, the reality of going through my first real winter in years (after living in a combination of California, the mild Northwest and hot Texas) has been a little different than my romanticised, on-holiday dreams (isn’t that always the case?). I’ve had to realise that I actually do need sweaters, a puffy winter coat and gloves that are more than just for decoration. That shoveling snow isn’t so fun after the first foot and that being snowed in (while charming when you’ve nowhere to go), can be slightly isolating. Long walks are replaced by quick ones from car to home and the dog park is replaced by quick ‘business’ trips to the backyard. And while sun, warmth and beach seem to be that of youth, long dark, cold days seem to make a person feel a little older and heavier.

Call it the winter blues or adjusting still to a new city. Whatever the word, my first official winter has been a challenge. But since I am here with no escaping the winter (until my birthday next month when I’ll take a warm holiday thank you very much!) I’ve been actively trying to incorporate the charm of winter I found on holidays into my day to day life. I took being able to do that for granted when I lived in warm, colourful, lively places – my mood and surroundings were more open to it. But with the heaviness of winter, I have to be more conscious of how I’m doing and living and what I can do to get through until the robins come back and flip flops are in order.

This, of course, has had me thinking a great deal about Hygge, a word I think, that really derives from winters. When people felt the need to get cosy, to feel good and secure, to indulge in good food, relax, and get through the dark and cold days. It’s why you often see bulbs sprouting paper whites in windows everywhere in Denmark in January and February and now, in my home too. The bit of greenery and sweet scent reminds me that it is possible to grow during this time.

And so, I’ve made a few changes to my daily life to help me get through winter.

Candles, while always important in my home, have become even more so. I’ve bought large, beautiful mercury glass containers with non-scented candles so that my home has a warm, cosy glow in the evening starting at about 5 or 6. In fact, in most rooms, the lights never go on. It’s simply candle light. This has really helped my natural body rhythms unwind. If I do use scented candles, I’ve been leaning towards fireplace scents (vanilla and patchouli) which seem to fill the room with instant warmth and cosy.

Usually a tea drinker, I’ve found myself having a warm cup of coffee in the morning. Although I’ve long tooted my love of my french press and Urth Coffee, I bought a small personal coffee machine which has brews a pretty good cup in 3 minutes – something essential when the floors are cold and you just need warmth to help you wake up (this is also perhaps one of the reasons Danes drink so much). Although I initially bought the machine for guests, I’ve given in. Summers are for the press, winter mornings are for quickness. I do, however, still have tea in the afternoons. I’ll drink as much warmth as I can but I need that slow brew process in the afternoon.

I’ve always been a fan of hot food over cold (I am the kind of girl who will eat soup on a scorching summer day) and that’s no different now. What is, is that I’ve been doing a lot of slow cooking. My Whole Foods runs for dinners have almost stopped and cooking and reheating leftovers has taken it’s place. Not only has this been great for the pocketbook and staying in shape when I’ve been less active in my daily life (not eating processed food has been huge for me), but the rhythm of cooking, of feeling invested in what I’m doing and not rushed, has made the dark 6-7PM hour a little sweeter.

When two feet of snow arrived a couple of weeks ago, I took early morning and late night walks through town in it. I stopped in several cafe’s for coffee or hot apple cider. I took a horse-drawn carriage ride through downtown Philadelphia – for an hour, in 29F weather! But bundled up and learning the history of my new town, I felt like a happy tourist instead of a bitter local waiting for spring. And yes, I totally grabbed a coffee after that!

I ordered flannel sheets.

So while there are some adjustments that have been harder to make (investing in winter gear, living in a totally heated, dry house, not walking outside as much as I’d like, missing light and warmth), I’m hopeful that by incorporating more hygge into winter, I’ll get through it just fine.

Although, between you and me, summer can’t come quick enough!



  1. January 5, 2010 / 11:51 AM

    You have described my winter days (replace snow with rain) and attempts at coziness here in Seattle. I would add one more detail however… seed catalogues begin to arrive and remind me that spring is coming.
    I enjoy reading your lovely blog!

  2. January 5, 2010 / 11:57 AM

    You have written a lovely essay!
    Hailing, as I do, from the “land of endless summer” (i.e., southern California) it touched a chord within me. You have put to words things that I’ve felt but only half~formed into organized thought. Your solutions of candlelight and freshly brewed morning coffee are so charming! Thank you for the wonderful read and for provoking my appreciation for the friendly climate I take too much for granted.


  3. MariNo Gravatar
    January 5, 2010 / 12:01 PM

    One of my long-standing jokes is that I can live anywhere in the world with no troubles after enduring Chicago’s wacky weather swings for the past decade. Our temperatures here can become unbearably hot and sticky in summer and nose-numbingly bitter and cold in winter — which lasts about 5-6 months of the year.

    This is honestly the first winter I’ve been coping well with the cold weather temperatures. Beginning in fall 2008, I began investing in winter gear: a high-quality, long down-filled North Face coat with furry hood, two layers of Smartwool gloves, Smartwool tights, socks, and leggings, and Merrell waterproof boots. It’s completely worth it. I’m toasty warm in sub-zero temps and that makes my mood better. (The downside? Winter isn’t very helpful for looking pretty. But I’d rather be snug.)

    This year I’ve begun doing Tai Chi to keep my body moving and focus on meditation. It’s drawing my attention inward during these cold months when even we humans want to hibernate, maybe just a little. I’m also focusing on projects in the home, taking walks, and drinking Glögg, which can be found aplenty in our Swedish neighborhood. And my fella and I have picnics in our living room — we throw a blanket on the floor and spread our dinners and wine there and chat or watch a movie.

    I think the biggest part of countering a new environment to which you are unused is maintaining a positive attitude, which I know you can do and are doing in spades. It took me a l o n g time to enjoy winter at all, but this year I’m welcoming it as part of the world’s changes.

    (But, like you, I’m going to be very happy to see warmer temperatures and budding branches again. Did you know there are only 10 weeks + 4 days until the Vernal Equinox? Not that I’m counting… 😉

  4. January 5, 2010 / 12:15 PM

    As someone based in northern Europe, oh how I can identify with all of this. I’m afraid it’s the lack of light that gets to me in Winter and a winter holiday in the sunshine is a blessing when we can manage it.
    This year I planted indoor Spring flowering bulbs and seeing them growing at this time of year is a real boost to the spirits. A pink hyacinth has just started emiting its wonderful scent from is first buds today…. gorgeous. I’ll definitely be repeating this bit of indoor gardening next Autumn/Winter. 🙂

  5. January 5, 2010 / 12:52 PM

    I find myself the exact opposite – summer can’t leave quickly enough. I so look forward to the cold, rain and the small chance of snow each year (here in Portland).

    My wife and I lived in Vilnius, Lithuania for a year, and though there was about 3 feet of snow on the ground from December through March, I never felt stuck or trapped, because the city (and really the whole country) does such a good job of clearing roads and sidewalks, everyone is still very mobile through the winter (plus most people walk anyway, so it’s easy to stay mobile). Not so in Portland – we get 2 inches of snow and people are abandoning cars on the side of the road, and all traffic comes to a complete halt (except the minority who walk or ride bikes).

    I love the feeling of walking outside and having the cold air sting your face, and I love the feeling of coming back into a warm house and feeling a bit tingly and flushed. I don’t mind the long evenings and the short days, the dark offers a sense of privacy and closeness that I kind of enjoy.

    I love cooking always, but in the winter it is the best. We just made boeuf bourguignon last night, and it is so active and warm and the smells fill your kitchen (and what smells!) and you can finish off the wine you use for the stew while cooking, and to me that is just the best way to spend an evening.

    Best wishes in finding the things that make winter livable for you, and I hope they might even make it enjoyable.

    Also, for anyone who is interested, here’s a great tutorial on how to dress well in the cold and stay warm at the same time, from a fellow Northern European 🙂


  6. January 5, 2010 / 1:28 PM

    Lovely post Alex. 🙂 I was thinking last night as I was warming up our bed…that I need to start drinking tea in the morning to help make the most of the snowy winterland outside. All I want to do is bike with the kiddos to our new grocery store each day…but the roads aren’t yet plowed well enough to let the builder ride his training wheeled bike along side the other kiddos I’m pulling in the trailer…quite yet. My husband laughs at me as i’m already itching for spring having spent Christmas with my family in Orange County…and yes, we went without coats and the designer in his shorts he loves so much. 🙂 Anyways, I’ll be thinking hygge as i get the kiddos and I a spot of tea this morning. Warm thoughts and wishes floating your way. luv, trina

  7. January 5, 2010 / 10:26 PM

    Slow cooker meals are convienent, tasty, and make the house smell so delicious! Though it’s cold outside, it gives me more excuses to sit on the couch snuggled up with warm blankets and books!

  8. LauraNo Gravatar
    January 6, 2010 / 5:33 PM

    Bravo, you!

    Add some Blondo shearling boots, cashmere knee-length socks, and a Canada Goose parka.

    Best wishes from the Canadian prairies

  9. January 7, 2010 / 10:49 AM

    As someone who has lived in Northern Europe my whole life, your post struck a chord with me too. I struggle with emotions like this every winter, and it has gotten worse as I have gotten older. I too think it’s the small, everyday things, that makes it manageable.

    And even though life in warmer places seems easier in many ways I think that we in colder climates have a special kind of appreciation for the spring change – it makes us all giddy and we relish every moment in the sun, it’s almost like falling in love all over again!

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  11. January 7, 2010 / 8:53 PM

    Ah, winter. I grew up in Southern California (San Diego), and was so excited for four seasons when I moved to North Carolina two years ago. This year, though, with it being so cold, I’m feeling housebound even though there’s no snow on the ground! I’ve been drinking more hot cocoa and using my crock pot as much as possible–both help me feel much more cheered in the weather. But, still, there’s no substitute for a sunny, warm holiday, and I’ve been counting down the days to my Feb break, too!

  12. MiriaNo Gravatar
    January 8, 2010 / 5:39 AM

    It’s minus 17 on my window here in Oslo. Being an Italian in Norway, this is a bit extreme… One thing I am re-appreciating these days is baked apples with cinnamon and honey. In the evening with a cup of tea.

  13. MeganNo Gravatar
    January 9, 2010 / 12:31 PM

    Hi Alex,
    I’ve been reading your blog for a while and this particular entry gave me a lot of thoughts. My husband and I are from New England and recently returned to the area after living in SC or over 4 years. While living in that state I missed the 4 seasons in the northeast so much! (People in the South think they have 4 reasons—um, no they don’t). Returning to a cold climate has been an adjustment. I’m glad you got flannel sheets. They help so much! One thing you might want to consider getting is a lightbox for Seasonal Affective Disorder. You can buy one on Amazon for about $100. Even if you don’t suffer from that SAD it may be helpful for the winter blahs. EVen in SC I started experiencing winter depression, but was able to handle it by sitting out on the porch and eating lunch every day. That’s definitely not an option here! I was worried about returning to MA where the light is less direct in the winter, and where it’s too cold to sit around outside. But the lightbox has helped so much. Even though I’m already tired of the winter cold, I don’t have that horrible oppressed feeling when it gets dark at 4:30.
    Also, you should really keep in mind that the cold snap and heavy snow Philadelphia is experiencing is kind of unusual. It’s definitely cold and dreary in winter, but I don’t think it’s usually quite this bad.

  14. January 27, 2010 / 1:03 PM

    I love love love winter. I love cozying up on the couch with a soft blanket and a good book. I love cuddling to stay warm and sipping on hot coffee or cocoa. I love watching the rain through my window, listening to rain drops and daydreaming. I even love the shopping hustle and bustle of the holidays.

    That’s how I romanticize winter, anyway.

    But in the real world? When I have to go out in the rain? When I get the gas bill? When I have to stand in ridiculous lines at the mall? Loving winter not so much.

  15. January 29, 2010 / 10:35 AM

    Hi! I just saw your comment on decor8 & just wanted to say that I agree with what you wrote.Now it looks like I have yet another blog to visit…hmm,how do I find more time for this now? 🙂 Anyways,hope you are having a great day!

  16. MaggieNo Gravatar
    February 9, 2010 / 5:08 PM

    We are having the snowiest winter on record here in Philadelphia since they started keeping records in 1884 — so your first winter is a record-breaking one! Normally, we get about 3 snowstorms a year — usually only a few inches. There are lots of great spots for hot cocoa in the city — like Naked Chocolate — this gives you a good excuse to learn them.

  17. March 7, 2010 / 6:52 PM

    love reading all of your blogs. . . thanks for all you do. . . hope your day is going well