The virtues of winter

The excitement of the holidays has ended. Now begins the long, cold, dark and foul-weathered journey

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The excitement of the holidays has ended.

Now begins the long, cold, dark and foul-weathered journey to spring.

But don’t despair. Believe it or not, wintertime does have its virtues, and one need not be a hard-core sports enthusiast to find them.

Lying low

For one, now is an ideal time to “recharge your battery,” says Mary Sotameyer of Schenectady.

“Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing I love more than feeling the warmth of the sun on my face,” she said. “But I have learned to appreciate the stillness and peace that winter can bring. During the summer, I’m busy juggling birthday parties and barbecues and all kinds of other events. Then in early fall, there are all of the back-to-school activities and Halloween. Soon, the stress of Thanksgiving and the holidays is upon us,” she said.

“But in the dead of the winter, it becomes quiet and everyone is hibernating and we all finally have time to breathe and let everyday stress fall away. It gives me a chance to catch up on things. I feel as though I have fewer social obligations and I can just chill. That’s priceless.”

Kindness of strangers

Holly Peterson of Schodack makes a habit out of looking for the bright spots in life — and winter is no exception.

“I am not a fan of cold and snow, though I love how foul weather brings out the best in people. You see so many random acts of kindness,” she said.

“I live in the middle of nowhere,” said Peterson. “A couple of years ago, my snowblower broke and I thought I would be snowed in for quite some time. Before I knew it, I got a call from a neighbor across the way who I barely knew. He was wondering if I was all right since my driveway was untouched. I told him about my predicament and he spent an hour clearing me out. He wouldn’t even accept money. I was so touched by his generosity, and I made a new friend that day.”

Peterson added: “Keep an eye out this winter. You’ll find strangers helping strangers, whether it’s shoveling, plowing or getting a neighbor’s car unstuck. There is something about winter that really brings out the best in people. I don’t know about you, but when all you hear about is bad news, all it takes is one kind act for me to feel good about the world again.”

Bird watching

Diane Scoville, owner of Backyard Birds in Latham, said winter is an ideal time to assemble a feeder and take in the beauty of upstate New York’s myriad feathered friends.

Even if you’ve never thought about birding before, you will soon find yourself plastered to the window wondering what you’ll see next.

“Birds really break up the monotony of winter. When you look outside and see red cardinals, black-capped chickadees, American goldfinches and blue jays, the colors are wonderful. We also get some visitors from up north. The northern junco nests up in the Adirondacks, and then comes down here for winter. This is the only time of year to see them.”

To take part, Scoville said, all you need is a sturdy feeder and some black oil sunflower seeds. You might also want to offer some suet, a dense fat that is found around the kidneys of beef cattle. It is readily available in supermarkets.

Besides being able to enjoy a rainbow of colors in flight, Scoville said, feeding birds also makes you feel good because you know you are helping to give those birds a leg up in less-than-ideal conditions.

Besides, she said, “It’s something you can enjoy from the inside. Run outside, fill your feeder and then run back inside and enjoy your coffee while you watch the birds. It’s wonderful.”

Gardening Dreams

“I like to do something I call ‘armchair gardening,’ ” said Debora Moran, extension educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Schenectady.

“You don’t have the pressure of keeping up with outdoor plants, and it is a great opportunity to start and plan for next year. [Now] is when all the gardening catalogs come out. It’s so exciting to sit by the fireplace with a cat on your lap and a cup of tea or hot chocolate and look at those glossy photos. It’s your time to sit back and dream and make notes in a gardening journal.”

Moran said now is also an ideal time to take a gardening class, attend horticultural programs at places like Landis Aboretum and the Berkshire Botanical Garden or take part in some botanically based arts and crafts, like dried flower crafts or topiary. “There are lots of classes that are offered,” she said.

Real estate opportunity

Contrary to popular belief, the market does not fall into a deep freeze come January and February.

Because so many people place their house on the market in the spring, winter sellers have a huge advantage because there are fewer houses available and less competition for buyers.

Winter also brings out people who really want to buy.

“It’s a different kind of market,” said Zita Ryan, an associate broker with Weichert Realtors Northeast Group in Saratoga Springs. “It’s a wonderful time. The market isn’t dead at all. It is full of opportunity,” she said.

Hay fever relief

Winter may come with its own set of allergens, but the vast majority of allergy sufferers improve tremendously.

During spring, mold is a major culprit, followed by tree pollen. The ragweed group is the biggest one. A lot of allergic types start sneezing in mid-August, when the plant pollinates.

A very cold, snowy winter benefits these allergic individuals because trees pollinate later offering sufferers an extended respite.

Creature comforts

Slip on a warm, fuzzy robe, some comfy slippers and make a cup of hot chocolate brimming with mini marshmallows and whipped cream. This is the ideal time to surround yourself with everything warm, and that includes hearty soups and stews.

“I’ve made chicken soup in the summer before. It’s just not the same as feeling warmed from the inside out on a frigid evening,” said Bea Farnan of Schenectady. “I love to cook, and who wants to cook in the heat of the summer? I cook all winter long. My house smells delicious and I eat like a queen. Pea soup is my favorite, and there is no time like now to enjoy a big bowl of it.”

Outdoor fun

Don’t be a stick-in-the-mud.

One of the best ways to enjoy winter is to get out and enjoy it.

Get sledding or skating. Run outside and make a snowman, or start a snowball fight with your children or a friend. Build an igloo. Before you know it, you’ll be giggling and feeling like a kid again. Also, because you’ll be moving around, it won’t take long for you to work up a sweat and forget about those frigid temperatures and mounds of precipitation.

Speaking of those fluffy, white flakes, you may be too old for snow days. But that’s no reason to stop hoping for a mountain of snow.

“There is definitely something amazing about a fresh, heavy snowfall,” said Jack Penfield of Schenectady. “I can’t even put it into words. It is a magical occasion,” he said. “A lot of people see it as a hassle, but if we would all just go outside and stand in it for a while; listen to how quiet everything becomes; let the snowflakes fall on your face. Catch one on your tongue. Twirl around. You can’t help but smile.”

Categories: Life and Arts

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