Preparing for Winter

(There is something special about the world, when everyone else is asleep. I am writing this in a stolen hour at 3am. I have the coming day off, so I can nap later when the day gets crowded. For now, it’s just me, and the quiet tip-tapping of keys.)

Winter is coming, and I am ready.
I talk a lot about seasonal living on my blog, and over on Instagram, but what does that really mean to me, and how do I apply it to ‘real life’? Basically, its about little things, small details that I weave into my day-to-day which remind me to pause, to breathe, to notice.

Over the past few weeks I have been making special effort to prepare for winter. With the busy week of my wedding in October, not to mention contractors in-and-out fitting our new log burner, and the worries of Covid19 restrictions, and all that before the run-up to christmas; the last hurrah of 2020 (already a somewhat stressful year) has all the ingredients of a frenetic time. With so much happening in a few short weeks, and plenty of agonising build up/excitement preceding it, I know that the likelihood of my energy and mood flatlining by January, February, March, is very real. I decided that this year, I needed to be prepared.

Naturally, ‘winter’ and ‘woollens’ start with the same letter so absolutely go together, and I’m already well stocked with cosy knits, warm socks, and comforting blankets. Candles and fairy-lights are with me all year round. But there must be more ways I can embrace the season, and store myself some little lifts for when I need them later?
Here are a few ideas I’m trying.

Pots of promises

There comes a time in the winter, not long after the clocks go back, when I find I leave the house in darkness each morning and return in it too. The land is asleep either under frost or mud, and the chances to get out in the garden or allotment are few and far between.
But all is not quite as dead as it seems. Deep down in the soil, where the frost and deluges are just a gentle kiss, nestled between the fungi strands and the microbes, are little papery promises: bulbs.
In each of the past two winters, I have forced a hyacinth bulb. This sounds rather brutal but really its just a terminology for encouraging bulbs to flower early, for an indoor display; extending the season that these blooms bring us joy and bringing a little bit of nature inside our homes at a time when its hard to access outside.

Forcing bulbs is in theory quite easy, they just need the right preparation. The simplest is the hyacinth – buy ‘prepared bulbs’ which are easy to find online or in garden centres (these have been temperature treated so all the hard work’s been done for you) and place them on a little gravel in a container. Fill the container with water, to just below the bulb, and wait. I grow mine in a hyacinth forcer which is even easier – just place the bulb in the top of the glass vase and add water. I love checking its progress each day, watching the roots grow down into the water and finally a green shoot develop into a sweetly scented bloom that fills the living-room with fragrance.

I’ve upped the stakes this year and as well as growing more hyacinths, I’m trying some other bulbs too. Paperwhites are a traditional forcing bulb; an exotic white narcissus (daffodil) famed for its fragrance. I’m growing Snowdrops too (see my blog post about this on Sat 12th September) to cheer up January.

Food for tummy and soul

Comfort food. There is a day in early autumn when I suddenly crave rich stews, buttery mash, and warm fruit with lashings of hot custard. This craving only gets stronger as we head into winter. Luckily, I already have the perfect answer stashed away in the freezer. I spent a Friday afternoon in September with some much loved friends: those stalwarts of the winter kitchen – foraged fruit, and butter/flour/sugar. I sliced and mixed fat brambly apples with juicy blackberries, quartered ripe plums, even used up that bag of frozen cherries that had been kicking about in the bottom draw. I sprinkled cinnamon, ground ginger, lemon zest, and covered each with a square of ready-rolled pastry or generous spoonfuls of buttery crumble topping.
Doubling up a stew mixture, or a warming curry, and packing one half away for another day takes little effort if I’m already cooking, and just knowing these easy nutritious and yummy meals are already prepared and waiting temptingly in the freezer is immensely cheering.
I guess it must tap into something ancestral in our DNA, connected to the need to store and preserve food to get through lean times in (both far and not so distant) history. I can get through a busy week at work, knowing my freezer has my back if the shopping is a little late.

Let there be light

At the start of autumn I had one job that lingered on my to-do list for ages; cleaning windows. Now that might not sound like fun (hence the fact that it stayed on my list for so long) but once I get around to it, cleaning windows is actually pretty quick and satisfying. The window at the front of the house is the most important, the back door and the bathroom window less so, although I will do them too of course. The front window gets all the sun. It also gets all the rain and dust so tends to look a little grimy if not cleaned regularly. The problem is, all that accumulated dirt on the glass, reduces the light that comes in, and in old cottages light is at a premium especially in winter. My desk sits just inside the window, so, on days off in winter if I can’t get out to climb the hill or tramp through the woods, I can at least soak up a little sunlight whilst I renew the car insurance or other mundane tasks.

A warm welcome

In summer we dash in and out, our attention running wild with the sunshine and long grasses beyond, but in winter, our focus is turned much more inward – to Home.
A cold bone-damp day at work, a dark drive back from a crowded supermarket: there’s nothing like the feeling of arriving home. A wreath on the front door, a pot of winter bedding plants blooming beside a clean-swept step… little details such as these make me smile as I leave the house in the morning and welcome me home at the end of the day, and that can make a big difference to my mood.

In reality, life doesn’t always work out as ordered as all of this. The front lobby is usually dusty with cobwebs and a mess of boots caked in dried-on mud. The freezer is a muddle with stray chips and something unidentified in a tupperware box in the bottom. Not all my bulbs will sprout, or flower on schedule. I had to move a pile of paper and clutter just to sit down at my desk.
But if I can achieve even some of this; if I can bank 5 minutes of energy here and there, now, it could turn those greyest days in the early weeks of the year, into something a little brighter, something to be looked forward to. I’d say thats a worthwhile investment.

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