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November 25, 2011

Slipping into the winter dark

by Barbara O'Neal

6267442647_89428073c0_zAs the long winter nights close in, the most basic human desire is to curl up by the hearth and rest. Nap and be quiet.  Read. Tell stories to children, tales of adventure, tales of caution, tales of romance. Sleep long, with a mate tucked close to your side, or the warm body of a cat or a dog.   The winter dark is a time for stews and fragrant teas and candles and fires.

All of the old traditions tell us that this is what we should do now.  Rest our bodies and minds as the earth rests.   

What are we doing instead? Black Friday. Christmas shopping.  Frenetic layers of activity piled on the already busy live we live, always connected, always talking, always learning one more new thing from our online worlds.

In an ideal world, we would all reduce our activity through the short dark days of the next two months. In the modern world, that’s a foolish dream.  We have to work. We have to get ready for the holidays and then host them.  Many of us have to travel, attend Christmas plays and recitals, visit neighbors, go to parties…..make merry for a month or more.

Nothing wrong with making merry, of course.  Food and drink and good company are some of my very favorite things. 

But this year, I find I’m not in the mood.  I want a fire and piles of books and mugs of mulled cider at

my elbow.  I want to dream and think, to restore my batteries and eat nourishing things.  I am in the mood for planting seeds that might grow in the spring, when the cycle turns again.  

Like everyone else, I have obligations.  Work and home and family, friends and exercise and spiritual activities.  I get hundreds of emails that have to be sorted, just as you do.  I have social media gnawing on my ankle.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been pondering the question. How do I, as a modern woman, create the rest the winter dark demands, while meeting the demands of my busy life?

I’ve come up with a few things to try.  Maybe you’ll find one or more of them helpful. 

1.  Read more.  Everyday, maybe for a whole hour.  I’m going to read whatever I want, too, not what anyone tells me I should read, or have to read.  What. Ever. I. Want . 

2. Go to bed a half hour early on weeknights, and sleep later on weekend mornings.  Not that easy if you have children, of course, and my dog will awaken me when he thinks its morning, but a thing 5375998813_c37321e5cc_z doesn’t have to be perfect to be helpful.

3.  Take Sunday afternoons off.  From noon to six, I am not required to do anything.  No writing.  No email or Facebook.  No housework or cooking or shopping.  Just me and whatever I feel might be nourishing, restful, fun.   I might go to the movies.  I might sprawl on the couch and read.  I might have coffee with a friend, but not because I should, only because I want to.

4.  Leave the computer alone after seven pm.  Just walk away and let the world run on its own until morning.

5.  Eat nourishing, hearty soups.  Lentils, maybe.  Bean.  Carrot and barley. 

Maybe if I honor the old ways by resting just this much, I will be better prepared to manage the full-on rush of the modern holiday season.  Maybe I’ll be more discerning when I shop.  Maybe I’ll buy more books as gifts over glittery geegaws.  Maybe I’ll be more relaxed when the people I love gather around.  And maybe, when spring rolls around, I'll be ready with new ideas, projects, possibilities. 

Tonight, as the winter dark closes in, I will start reading a thick new novel,  Clash of Kings by George RR Martin.  I’ll have a cup of mulled cider at my elbow, and a son reading on the couch beside me. 

What are your plans for this holiday weekend? What are you reading? Do you have any winter rituals?


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I thought it was just me, becoming less social in my middle years! Thanks for sharing the kindred spirit. I can't seem to sleep in so I am going to take naps on the weekends.

No rest for the wicked. Sick for 4 days, 3 days in the hospital and still have to manage my part of the holidays.

I'd really rather hide with my new Nook tablet and play.

Beautiful . . . just beautiful, Barbara. In fact, it is so restorative just to read, I believe that is evidence of its value. I will be looking for one of your books to read.

Normally I spend this part of the winter - in our house called Black Month - getting ready for Christmas and New Year's visitors and family activities. This year I am planning on hosting more intimate events - not fewer activities, just simpler get-togethers.

I think I will do this at church, too. I am planning and leading the alternative midweek service for December, and I've decided to have a simple gathering to share a Christmas cake with live music, uncomplicated and with no obligations a practical living prayer of being together in mindful pursuit of simple friendship.

Judith, I hope you can relax a bit . . . and feel better.

Unfortunately right now is the busy season at work and the frenetic atmosphere is hard to avoid. I work today, in fact, although I may try to slip into Staples and JoAnn Fabrics before going in. I used to shop on Black Friday, but I can't work up the energy this year.

Your #4 would be the most useful for me, but it is also the most difficult. Computers take far too much of my time, time that would be better spent sewing or reading. I like Kathy's idea of naps on weekends, too. It sounds counter-productive, but I also want to walk more. Walking is a huge stress reliever for me.

This is wonderful. I'm calmer just reading it. Thank you.

I will take you up on your reading more, and I love the Sunday afternoon idea. It's always my inclination to settle in exactly as you describe when the days are short and cold. However, I also need to make myself get out and walk the dogs, which I tend not to do when the weather makes me want to cuddle up. But they love it so, and it makes all of us feel better. I'll try to do that, and reward myself with book time by the fire, with hot chocolate (which may or may not contain some Bailey's).

Thanks for this, Barbara - just what I needed today.

Judith, I hope you're feeling better.

The frantic shopping of Black Friday is so distasteful to me. (But then, my family stopped exchanging Christmas gifts years ago. Instead, we do a book exchange, which is so personal, fun, sometimes hilarious---and definitely eases the pre-holiday stress.) So I'll join you on the sofa, Barbara!

I'm still plugging through Moby Dick, which might be the ultimate snuggle-up-for-the-winter read.

Bailey's in the hot chocolate.....it's only 9am here. Is that too early to have one of those?

Such a soothing post, Barbara. I'm hibernating today. I refuse to join in the Black Friday madness.

Thanks for the getwell wishes. I'm just hoping that the next part can be put off until after the first of the year. DO NOT WANT Yule to be spent at North Hills Passavant. Nice people that I can do without. :)

Weekend naps are a heavenly idea. And Reine, that midweek service is one I would enjoy-- simple, practical, nourishing.

Hugs, Judith. I hope you can find an hounof quiet this weekend.

Computers are so tempting, and they give us all that little jolt of attention. Maybe trying just a little step at a time--turning it off a tiny bit earlier, try two hours instead of all afternoon. Baby steps are good, too.

Laura, I love long winter ambles with my dog. So much quieter than the summer. Love the hot chocolate idea.

One of my sons had to work at Best Buy at 11 last night. I've never been a fan of that kind of shopping. Mdont want that many people in my space. Ew!

One of my favorite winter reads is The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis.

Barbara, when I saw your title at first I was worried that someone had passed off this mortal coil. Such relief that you were just writing about hibernation!

My husband and I have a rule about Saturday or Sunday afternoons: If you can't hear activity in the next room, tiptoe quietly lest you wake someone up! We started napping a few years ago, especially Steve. It's his one great joy, I have to say.

Judith, best wishes for better health, my dear.

We had a ham/scalloped potatoes dinner last night at my stepsister's. Tomorrow is our turkey dinner day, when my oldest daughter and her family come to visit. So I'm putting off the turkey coma for a day or so!

I love this . . . and I'm going to try to embrace the notion of s-l-o-w-i-n-g down myself. Read, knit, plan menus, nap, snuggle.

I might not even get out of my jammies at all today . . . and I started the day with pumpkin pie for breakfast.

Nancy, it's definitely not too early for a splash of Bailey's in your hot chocolate.

Judith, hope you're feeling better soon!

Karen, I love that idea of tiptoeing into a quiet room.

Not getting out of the jammies is a delicious idea, Judy.

Lovely, Barbara. I always look forward to your posts and this one is especially restorative.

Judith, I'm so sorry you've had a hard health time, and I hope for better times ahead for you and your body.

I'm still in my pj's this morning. I recently redid my bed so it's cozier and warmer, and it now beckons me to read in bed much more often than it was able to do before. Now it's pretty and soft and cozy. Hmm, why am I sitting here in this chair when I could be over there!

I'm going to finish building my computer desk/cabinet this weekend. This is a hobby that relaxes me even if I get frustrated a tiny bit if there is a glitch. I listened to the Scent of Rain & Lightning (I loved it) when I started the cabinet now I have to pick another one to listen to while I finish it.

I used to do Black Friday shopping when my mom was still alive because she really enjoyed it. We would exchange our lists after Thanksgiving dinner then plan which stores to hit. Mom, my sister, nieces etc would make a day of it. I always think of mom and my sister and the fun we always had on Black Friday. I miss them greatly but I don't miss the hassle and the idiots. Although most people were actually civilized back then.

I just saw this quoted, by Cheryl Unruh, on Facebook:

“They read the long afternoon through, while the cold November rain fell from the sky upon the quiet house.” ~ Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

Diana, you've just made me smile hugely. And in my next life, I'm going to learn carpentry.

This post gave me a peaceful, easy feeling today too. Thank you, Barbara. I took today off from work so that I could enjoy a four day weekend where I wasn't taking off for a conference or business trip. I have a short "to-do" list of things that I want to accomplish but I purposely didn't overload myself. At some point, I'm making soup this weekend to use up the fresh vegetables that I steamed in herbed broth for my contribution to a pot-luck dinner yesterday.

I have every reason to look forward to a nap each day and plenty of time to read.

Diana, that is so fantastic! I still have, and use, the beautiful bench that our "baby" made in middle school.

We are not doing Black Friday, either. Just to clarify my earlier post, I meant that we are so turned off by Black Friday madness, we have done away with Christmas shopping altogether (except for book buying), calling that time between Thanksgiving and Christmas Black Month, when we are in the black for a change.

Nancy P, you are feeling better today? I recently redid my bed, too. Over the years, Scout and I have collected a number of Pendleton blankets, and I chose a colorful one for the dreary winter overcast we are having here right now.

Let's not forget knitting, and knitting while reading, and knitting while watching tv, and knitting while watching the slow world of our condo pass on by. And then knit some more.

And maybe cook a little.

I noticed a few Canadian retailers were advertising Black Friday sales. Since yesterday and today are not holidays for anyone here, what sense does that make. We stopped doing presents a few years ago and this year may be the first that my family doesn't do Christmas at all so I don't have to do any shopping.

I love curling up with a hot chocolate and reading. Interspersed with the occasional rerun of Big Bang Theory and I am set. Bazinga.

A bit, Reine, thanks. A good day for reading.

Such a warm and lovely post! I recently attended a class that included a discussion of the importance of honoring, celebrating, and living in *all* the seasons, including fall and winter. They are renewing times, which we need more than ever these days!

I have 3 kinds of soup in my freezer at the moment, am crocheting an afghan for the baby, and am about halfway through my umpteenth re-read of Little Women. I'd love some good recommendations - I need nice, thick books I can dive into and wander around in. . .

Happy post-turkey day to all!

Reading, making soup, snuggling in -- lovely images! When I was still teaching, most Christmas preparations waiting until I turned in grades. I send New Year's letters over break . . . now, with only the minimal commitment of three aqua-aerobics classes a week . . . I have also minimalized holiday hoopla, and am enjoying my new status as a human being (rather than human doing). Joy to all!

Barbara, just reading your post makes a difference. What a lovely prayer for all of us.

Lovely, comfortable moments. Nancy P, I'm glad you feeling better. Reine, your mindful Christmas service sounds wonderful and so healing. Nancy M, it is 5pm somewhere, so enjoy. Although I am Jewish, the season evokes such wonderful images of comfort, that I have adopted some of it for myself. Truly, 'tis the season of the child. (I do light my candles).

This post makes me want to cry. I've been sleep-deprived lately, like so many of us, but I've also been solitude-deprived. And I can't remember when I last read for more than ten minutes at a time, let alone read something sheerly for pleasure, as opposed to hoping what I need to read will also be a pleasure to read.

You've inspired me, Barbara. The only one who can make it happen for me is . . . me.

Solitude-deprived. Yes, that happens to me, for sure.

AuntieL, I am absolutely positive I could not knit and read, but the idea of doing two such peaceful things at once is wonderful to imagine.

A new product to add to your hot chocolate or coffee...Cinnamon Kahlua. OMFG!!!!! Cozy up with that and a good book...heaven.

Pam, you beat me to mentioning, our house favorite!

Maybe I should have been upset that my husband spent five days at his mom and dad's for Thanksgiving, but 1. my not going was his birthday present to me and 2. the day he left, after I dropped him off at the airport, I went to the library and got 17 books. Not having to see his parents (I am not their favorite, for many reasons including how I eat bacon) was the main present, but having five straight days off from cooking and conversing was the big secondary present. All I did was eat what I wanted when I wanted and read.

PS Yes, it is true they don't like how I eat bacon. The story is here: http://diaryofagolddigger.blogspot.com/2010/01/in-which-sly-tells-primo-that-i-am-bad.html

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