It is an undeniable fact, dear reader, that if one lives in the frozen North, one makes one’s peace with long winters or one runs mad. Fair warning: I’m about to go stark, raving bonkers.
It happens every year just about now. We’ve gained about two hours of sunlight since December, so when the resident fur alarm clock gets me up at 5 a.m., the sky is already beginning to lighten. On sunny days there is real warmth when I eat my lunch at the table in front of the great room windows. These cues feel like the first inklings of Spring–until you go outside and get whacked in the face by a wind so cold it’ll freeze your nose hairs. What the heck kind of a cosmic bait-and-switch is that, huh?
Some deluded souls actually enjoy winter, I’m told. Snowmobiling, skiing, snowboarding, ice fishing, and snowshoeing all have enthusiasts. In truth, I enjoyed some of those myself back in the day. Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing used to get me out on trails through the woods, and on a twenty degree day with no wind and bright sunshine, it was a treat. So was the wine in the flask. (Oh, did I say that out loud?)
However, I was given a commandment by my doctor several years ago of the Thou Shalt Not Risk a Fall With Thy Brittle Bones variety, and since much of the fun of skiing or snowshoeing, it seems to me, is sitting in the snow cussing out that little chickadee who’s cheerfully hopping along the buried branch you just went sprawling over, I had to reluctantly agree that the doctor might have a point. (Which is odd, because I routinely ignore the commandment during the summer months to climb ladders and hike trails slippery with moss. Selective sinning, I guess.)
So if outdoor sports aren’t your cuppa, and you have to do something or go completely ’round the bend, you start pulling out every tried-and-true distraction that’s ever worked in the past. Some people spend their February school vacation in Florida or some other place where they expect to find sun and enough warmth to swap their longjohns for shorts for a brief, blessed time. Others attend high school basketball tournament games, munching hot dogs, popcorn, and soft pretzels while they cheer young athletes who are sweating off all those calories for them. There are church suppers, Scrabble tournaments, colloquia on world affairs, quilting clubs, swimming at the Y, and, of course, shopping.
You see the common thread here. Get out. Leave the four walls of your cabin for awhile.
Or change the four walls. That’s generally my solution. I take on a Project like hanging track lighting in the parlor, painting a ceiling, refinishing a wood floor, installing new faucet sets in the bathroom sink and tub, making quilted curtains or a slipcover for the couch, or building a new cold frame.
A couple of years ago, for instance, I was experiencing a serious case of GOTTA HAVE THAT for a light stand, one of those fancy gardening carts with three or four shelves equipped with florescent lights. I dreamed of an indoor garden that would keep me in salad greens for the winter, grow enough cat grass to keep Gracie happy, and start seedlings that want a long, warm babyhood before they go out to the greenhouse to harden off.
There are many commercial light stands on the market, but they carry price tags that make me wince. So, since I am descended from a long line of Yankee women who know how to squeeze a nickel until the buffalo passes excrement, I decided to build one. Some scrap lumber, left-over paint to match the kitchen trim, six shop lights (three that I already had down in the cellar, three bought new), a couple of yards of lightweight chain and some cup hooks to suspend the florescent fixtures, Christmas tree timers to turn the lights on and off automatically, and four seedling heat mats, and I was set. I built a rack six feet high, six feet long, and fifteen inches deep. Because it is tall and narrow and makes a fine jungle gym for a feline, I took the precaution of screwing it to the wall so Gracie’s climbing can’t tip it forward and topple the whole thing. Now she can climb to her favorite perch on the top shelf and sleep for hours under the warmth of the low-hanging light, her very own kitty tanning bed. She’s a happy camper, and so am I. I love being able to pick a handful of fresh baby spinach for an omelet while a blizzard rages outside the window.
Last year my Project was to do something about the storage and food prep situation in the kitchen. For years I had lived with a couple of rolling carts that stowed under a table which jutted out from the wall to make a kinda-sorta island between the stove and the dining table. I stowed baking sheets, pizza pans and casserole dishes on the carts, and the tabletop held the bread machine, toaster, a basket of onions and garlic, and a lot of junk mail. One morning, however, I whacked my hip on the corner of the table one-too-many times as I was maneuvering to open the fridge, and after I swore and rubbed the bruised place, a light came on. [Cue the light bulb over the head.] “Why don’t you just get rid of the table and carts, idiot, and build a storage cabinet with a butcher block top so you’ll have a nice big area for rolling out pie crust and prepping veggies for canning?”
Now, although I’d built a garage, screened porch, and chicken coop, I had never attempted cabinet-making, which calls for some different skills–joinery to make doors, for instance. But I’m a game girl, and I’ve been a huge fan of the New Yankee Workshop and This Old House for years, and, besides, fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Plus, my hip hurt.
I did cheat a little, buying the shell of a kitchen base cabinet at the Habitat For Humanity ReStore in Bangor. It was missing the back, top, one side, the interior shelving, and the door on the front, but it did have a sturdy frame, a working drawer, and a smaller door. I taught myself to use a dowelling jig and a router (ooh, new gadgets and tools!) and fashioned something that meets my needs well. It has plenty of room for storing kitchen equipment and, as an added bonus, the top is exactly the right height to make a good standing desk so I can use the laptop there rather than sitting for hours at a time at the desk.
I’ll never love winter, but when I’m feathering the nest a little at this time of year I can make my peace with it.
I can’t believe I just wrote that. I told you I was going bonkers.