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New England by Heart

10 Tips for Surviving Winter in New England

I will confess. I love winter in New England. I do. I love it as much as I love every other season in New England, except maybe fall. Yes, fall is my favorite – how can it not be? But I do love winter, too.

I get it, though. With the holidays done, many of you are already dreading the long months of cold, the snow, the gray skies. You dream of some southern, palm tree studded beachside villa, where you can soak up the warmth until the April daffodils call you back home.

And while some of you are fortunate enough to have a place down south to snow bird to, many of you can only eke out a vacation week or two, while still more of you are by economic or other necessity planted in New England for the duration.

I understand. You want to be warm. You want sunshine. You want to be in your garden, or on your deck or taking a walk in the summer woods.

This article is for you.

While I can’t magically whisk you away, I can distract you. And, be forewarned, that also involves a bit of embracing the season – though in a good warm-ish way.

So without further ado, here are my top ten everyday things for you to do to spirit away those winter blues.

1. Install a bird feeder

Cardinal Tanager and Finch enjoying dinner at birdfeeder "food court"
John Kees, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Birds are pretty and fun to watch. They remind us that the world is still alive. Many of them stay here for the winter, eschewing their counterparts that head south at the first inkling of cold weather. So pick up a bird feeder and seed at your local hardware or general store and install it where you can watch from inside from your favorite comfy chair, or while dining or cleaning up after meals, or while working from your home office.

Catch the brilliant red of the cardinal – there is something about that red against the snow that is particularly striking, like how we go all ga ga over red barns in their winter white finery. Well, I guess we go ga ga over them in every other season, too.

Back to the birds. The sunny yellow tiny goldfinch, or the pudgy little black and white chickadee, will have you smiling. Their songs will enchant you as well – learn how to identify them by sound. The Audubon Society’s A Beginner’s Guide to Common Bird Sounds and What They Mean will have your knowledge impressing your family and friends in no time.

Before long, you’ll want to pick up a birding book so that you can identify some of the lesser known birds. The Audubon Society’s Field Guide is a great resource – I refer to my own copy frequently. Visit your local bookstore to pick one up.

2. Bake cookies

Baking Cookies

Who can resist the aroma of baking cookies? Winter is the best time for this – baking warms the heart, and not just from the oven being on. Make it a shared activity with children or grandchildren, or have them ready for when they come trooping in from the snow. Pair it with some hot cocoa and you may find yourself asking if this could possibly be as good as 80 degree weather.

3. Curl up with a good book

Reading by the fire
Santiago Rusiñol, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Winter is made for this. If you have a fireplace or a pretty candle, light it up, grab your favorite throw and snuggle into a comfy chair. Pair it with a cup of cocoa, tea, or a glass of wine. If the snow is falling, all the better. It will make you feel like you’re wrapped in a warm cocoon. Louise Penny is one of my favorite authors for a winter read – her books, set in the Eastern Townships of Quebec Province, invariably linger on winter. Alternatively, let yourself be swept onto a summer beach with an Elin Hilderbrand novel.

4. Take a walk in a winter wonderland

Walking through a winter wonderland in New England
A Plymouth MA scene after a snowstorm

Ok, I get it, I’m sending you out in the cold. But you have to admit, after a good snow, the world is unimaginatively beautiful. There’s a stillness and peace and the air is crisp and clean. So bundle up, and before you pick up the shovel, take a meditative walk and admire the incomparable art of Mother Nature. She can be at her finest in winter.

5. Do a game night

Game night with Scrabble
vastateparksstaff, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Board games with family or friends are the perfect way to while away an afternoon or evening. My favorites are the word games (surprise), but it’s always worth trying something new. It’s a social event and a great way to catch up with everyone on their latest escapades. Paired with can do to make us embrace the outdoors, yes, even in the cold.

Add snacks and your favorite beverages – it’s a winner.

6. Take a long weekend at a winter resort

Mountain View Grand Resort and Spa in Whitefield New Hampshire
The Mountain View Grand Resort and Spa in Whitefield, New Hampshire. With booklined hallways and cozy spaces, it's a great way to indulge for a winter getaway.

Ok, this one is about really embracing the season. The grand old resorts and cozy inns throughout New England are the perfect way to snuggle in and treat yourself to some great morning breakfasts, a sleigh ride or dog sledding, or a little snowshoe or nordic ski trek through the winter landscape. Cocktails and dinner will warm you right up afterward. You’ll fall asleep under a layer of quilts or puffy duvet and think that nothing could compare to this in the old sunny, hot south.

7. Stock up on jigsaw puzzles

The White Mountains Puzzle Store beckons on snowy day in Jackson, New Hampshire

Pick scenes of summer and warm places. Or embrace the season with some wintry scenes. Whatever your choice, make sure it depicts a place you’d love to be, or depicts a setting or vignette that brings you joy. Pick a well-lit spot where you can keep it going through the winter, and wander over in free moments to fit pieces in. It’s a great escape to places that make you feel all warm inside.

8. Have dinner out in a tropical simulation

Harvest Restaurant in Cambridge Massachusetts
Harvest Restaurant in Cambridge Massachusetts keeps the atmosphere light and warm. Photo courtesy of Harvest.

Seek out a restaurant that has a summer vibe – bright and airy inside, and not too many windows that might remind you of what’s outside. Make it your go to place for eating out during the winter months. It’s amazing what a little escape like this can do for the soul.

9. Visit an art museum or catch a local performance

Outside the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston Massachusetts

Art soothes the soul. Take your time to study pieces that grab your eye. You’ll soon find yourself miles away from the cold outside. If art isn’t your thing, substitute a science, historical or other favorite museum to escape to. Consider a season pass. All museums have changing exhibits and many special events. It’s always there when you need a reprieve.

Remember the performing arts, too. Watch for local music, dance and theatrical performances and be transported.

10. Dream of the garden or faraway places

Early summer garden of bearded iris and foxglove
An early summer garden includes a beautiful bearded iris and delicate foxglove.

Go online to find all the great garden nurseries and order their catalogs – White Flower Farm, Bluestone Nursery, and Proven Winners are favorites for me, but there are many others. Dave’s Garden’s “Garden Watchdog” is a great way to find them. Catalogs generally start arriving mid- to late-January and there is nothing like poring through all the new hybrids and old favorites and deciding what you might like to plant come spring. You can even order – they won’t ship until planting time. Just browsing these catalogs can put a spring (ha ha) in your step and even have you planning a new garden.

As a corollary to this, if you’re not into gardening,order travel brochures to warm sunny places. In a memorable (for me at least) scene in Louise Penny’s Three Pines village in the middle of the frigid, snowy winter, our favorite characters pore over brochures of dream vacations in sun-drenched locales – an annual tradition. They have no plans to go anywhere – simply browsing and imagining is enough. It may be for you too.

Remember that spring will come

White crocuses blooming in very early spring

I’ll admit, by March I’m watching for any tiny hint of spring, realizing that there’s still a month of solid winter. But I know, and so do you, that before long the snowdrops and crocuses will be popping up through the snow, with daffodils hard on their heels. The robins will be pulling worms from the warming earth, and all will be right with the world.

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