I should note that today's weather was as sunny and brilliant as only Anchorage can be at twenty degrees below zero. Shades of platinum blue wrapped around our city, with immaculate snow sparkling on every plane. I packed lunches, loaded the minivan and braved the icy staircase to the library. Three hours later we'd taken in a brown bag picnic, preschool storytime for the younger kids and solitude among the stacks of books for our oldest.
Even with these happy outings to punctuate our time, it's tempting to drift into wishing for what we do not have. Namely, warmth and light. A few years ago, dreading the season, I traded sighing encouragement over the phone with a more principled friend, and resolved to 'make my own sunshine'. 2012 is our tenth year of living here, and I hope I've grown up a bit in the way I face the darkness.
Without belaboring that chirpy analogy, here are eight ingredients that I consider vital for enjoying our eight month stretch of winter:
- community -- lively friends, dinner parties, public radio, library visits
- Tradition -- As Roman Catholics we have a rich liturgical calendar whose depth we can never exhaust. Couple that with the internet and you'll find a project.
- simply being outside of the house, even inside somewhere else -- I have a favorite thrift store, whose wall of books I'd take wagers on. If a book has been printed in the mass market, I seem to find it there. Often multiple copies, and usually for less than a dollar.
- prayer, again preferably outside of the house. Weekly eucharistic adoration is my tether to God's mercy and goodness. We share an hour with another family who has modeled grace and patience over the years. In that little chapel, a most personal relationship with our Lord has been given to me.
- family swim, gymnastics and playing outside. Swimming is a favorite for our bunch, but requires two adults and can be spendy.
- the visual and performing arts -- a handful of evil corporations sponsor Broadway-caliber shows for our community each year. Anchorage's museums have diverse exhibits and even offer "free Thursday afternoons" provided by a local grocery during the winter months.
- the gym -- ours is open twenty four hours a day and costs under $300 annually. Try to find an excuse not to go, with those stats!
- Other reliable sources of rejuvenation: reading, re-arranging furniture, short-lived fitness kicks, unbridled sloth, flat-ironing my hair, yelling about politics, and serving the poor. I've also been known to drive in circles near the airport in hopes of seeing a moose while the kids are sleeping contentedly in their carseats. Consistent use of full-spectrum lights also make a big difference for many of us.
Now that we have four children, trips to the store aren't on my list of kicks. In our current season of life (our older girls are four and seven), we've just recently begun to have success with actual arts and crafts. I cannot overstate how much joy this brings me. I think maybe I've only had children for an excuse to do crafts. We look forward to eventually having kids old enough to warrant time-fillery like snowshoeing or pottery classes as a family.
I'm off to watch Parent Trap with the girls, so I'll close by clarifying that our time is spent much differently in the summer. Alaskans are adventurous and systematic while the weather is warm and the fish are biting. The predictable mania of our climate means that May through August, each family's hobbies take precedence over organized groups. We take our kids to midnight movies while the sun is blazing, meet for spontaneous picnics on the beach, and pick berries until the bugs chase us inside. Our public pools and rec facilities often close for maintenance, and much less entertainment is expected from civic sources. I may be a lifelong Alaskan who spent twenty years in a sensible rainforest, but the groove of snuggling into the arctic calendar has become second nature. Any reason to watch Hayley Mills movies is good enough for me. Please add to my list, I'm sure it's only a beginning.