This winter is shaping up to be one like no other.
The Lititz Fire & Ice Festival is canceled.
The closest Polar Plunge is virtual.
And nobody’s invited to Punxsutawney Phil’s annual February prognostication.
But there’s no reason merely to hibernate for the next few months.
Here’s a list of winter activities suggested by some members of the LNP|LancasterOnline staff. Most can be done indoors.
Read a good book
Ever since I could read, books have been my safe haven. I take a good book with me nearly everywhere I go, even into adulthood. I can read quickly, my mind picking up vivid details in the text and playing them like a movie. Characters live with me as if they’re extensions of my own self.When I picked up “This Tender Land” by William Kent Krueger, I originally wrote it off. The title reads like a farmland romance novel, and the premise seemed just OK. I was happy to be wrong.
“This Tender Land” takes you on a heartwarming — and sometimes tragic — journey through the heartland of the United States during the Great Depression. Four orphan kids in dire straits leave their abusive boarding school in search of a good, happy life. The characters they meet along the way are almost as charming as the kids themselves.
In a time of year when the daylight hours are limited and the light at the end of the tunnel may seem dimmer than usual, this book is a lighthouse guiding you to shore.
Find it wherever books are sold. $17 paperback at Barnes and Noble.
— Mickayla Miller
Simmer a comforting combo
Winter’s a time to hunker down. This year looks like we’ll spend even more time at home because of the pandemic.
Make your home smell amazing with a simmer pot.
I rediscovered this after finding a bunch of whole cloves on clearance. The simmer pot has been my favorite way to put the cloves to work. (Sorry, orange-clove pomanders. You didn’t help during the time of the Black Plague.)
To simmer: Take a small pot and add citrus peels. (We keep a “future simmer” container next to the stove to collect them between simmer sessions.)
Add sliced citrus if you have some to spare. (This is a great way to deal with citrus with a soft spot or that lime that’s starting to turn.)
Add two cinnamon sticks.
Add a tablespoon of cloves.
Fill pot halfway with water and simmer. In about 15 minutes, your home will smell amazing.
Add water to the pot as it evaporates.
— Erin Negley
Repair dry hands
I was an obsessive hand-washer as a kid. So, you can imagine how my hands are faring in the age of the coronavirus. There’s no debating that hand-washing is an effective measure in mitigating the spread of the virus, but all that action can take a toll on skin. Add frequent applications of alcohol-filled sanitizers, and you’ve got a rough situation on your hands — literally.
We have to maintain those good hygiene habits, so take care of your hands this winter with a quality moisturizer. My favorite is L’Occitane’s Intensive Hand Balm. It’s 25 percent shea butter, yielding a super-rich product. I apply it right before bed so it can work its magic overnight, and I’ve never seen a more immediate improvement from a hand product. Plus, L’Occitane produces it through a sustainable and fair trade partnership with women in Burkina Faso.
The hand balm is $19 for a 1.7-ounce tube, or $36 for 5.2 ounces. “A little dab’ll do ya,” so a tube will last a long time. Find it at loccitane.com.
— Jenelle Janci
Grow your own flowers
There are so many houseplants to bring some green into your home over the winter. (Lately, I’ve been impressed by the varieties of peperomia popping up at local garden centers.)
Even better than greenery is a plant that blooms. That’s why you should grow paperwhite bulbs.
Yes, amaryllis will give you a bigger bloom in shades from white to deep red, but they take longer to flower. Paperwhites will bloom in as little as two to three weeks.
They’re not hard to find locally and usually cost $1 a bulb.
They don’t require any special equipment either. They don’t even need soil! Look online for inspiration to see how other gardeners fill their containers with pebbles, marbles, tiny Legos or beads.
All you need is a container that’s at least 4-5 inches deep. Leave about a third of the bulb exposed above your growing medium. Add water below but don’t let the bulbs sit in water or they will rot.
Paperwhites can grow leggy and may flop over. Look outdoors for a stick to support your plants as they grow. Red twig dogwood adds a pop of color.
Another option: Add a bit of booze to the water to stunt this plants’ height. Researchers with Cornell University’s Flower Bulb Research Program found the plants respond well when the water is 5% alcohol. To get a 5% solution from 40% liquor, mix 1 part booze to 7 parts water. However, don’t share your beer and wine with your plants. These contain sugar and will cause problems.
Planting a few bulbs each week will keep the blooms popping throughout winter.
That’s something a trendy spiral cactus won’t do.
For an edible version: grab a mushroom-growing kit and watch mushrooms grow in about a week.
— Erin Negley
Brush up on a foreign language
Learning one foreign language in high school was not enough for this wannabe polygot; I took concurrent French and Spanish classes to keep things interesting.
These days, my Español is more like Spanglish, the result of infrequent practice. The extra time indoors has inspired me to return to my second language in a practical and meaningful way. One of my favorite yoga teachers (found online, a great pandemic discovery) suggested I check out Duolingo.com, an online language site and app based in Pittsburgh. In addition to Spanish, Duolingo offers free tutorials for than 30 different languages, from Swahili to Swedish. It sends you daily inbox reminders to take a five-minute break for a few exercises, which feel fun versus taxing. I’m under no illusion that this website alone will have me achieve fluency, but it’s a start that hopefully will inspire deeper study with a focus on conversational practice.
– Kim O’Donnel
Tailor an at-home workout
Imagine, if you can, a writer in his late 20s who has no defined physical fitness to speak of. That writer is me, unfortunately, after a short lifetime of not ever stepping into a gym. Prior to quarantine, I wasn’t out of shape, per se, but certainly didn’t resemble your reliable MMA fighter du jour. Because of the combination of increased comfort food intake, couch sitting and the cruel hands of time, I’ve welcomed a new member to my quarantine bubble — The Paunch.
However, a month ago, I discovered the Nintendo Switch game “Ring Fit Adventure,” and hopefully that Paunch will get to stepping soon after I do for a few months consecutively.
If you’re unfamiliar, here’s a brief rundown — players connect the Switch Joycon controllers into the leg strap and Pilates ring that come packaged with the game. Workouts take place in an action adventure roleplaying game, where you use everyday workouts as attacks against absurd, fitness-related baddies.
It is, in effect, a fitness game for video game nerds. I have not only embraced that fact, but perhaps thrived because of it. A few weeks in, there’s still a lot of work to do, but I hope in the coming months I can advise The Paunch to seek shelter elsewhere.
Find it wherever video games are sold.
— Kevin Stairiker
Make some art (even if it’s bad)
From early August to early October, I went through an intense phase of painting. Maybe it was because we were spending so much time indoors, but whatever the reason, almost all of these paintings were images of our apartment.
I’ve been making art in some form or another my whole life, but during this latest phase of art-making, I feel like I really learned a lot about painting (with lots of help from my wife, who is a natural artist). I learned about perspective, how to paint light and shadow and how to blend colors.
My goal isn’t really to make paintings that look exactly like real life. I enjoy the fuzzy, and almost cartoonish quality that happens when I paint — because basically I’m not that great at it. I was looking for a quote that I’d read recently — I think it was Picasso who said it. It says, basically, when you’re attempting to paint something and you make a mistake, that mistake is your style.
If painting is how you want to be creative, there are tons of resources online that can help. You can search YouTube or hashtags on Instagram and find tutorials to help you learn specific techniques.
For me, just searching online for images from some of my favorite artists such as Paul Gauguin, Joe Roberts, Dane Tilghman, Lois Dodd or David Hockney is a huge inspiration that gets me fired up to paint. And I know that if I try to make a painting like them, I’ll fail and in failing, I’ll find my own style. So this winter I’m excited to fail. Try it with me.
— Mike Andrelczyk
Spot a bird
Birds are on my personal bucket list for 2021, and I hope they’re on yours, as well. They’ve been on my radar ever since I got a set of bird flashcards for Christmas when was a young child.
My mom always had a bird-identification book and a pair of binoculars at the ready next to the living room window where the bird feeder hung outside my childhood home. And I enjoyed Sunday trips to a local duck pond and the poultry barns at Penn State University with my father.
I still enjoy looking at birds. I can feel the stress of the day melt away when I hear the songs of myriad birds along the trails at the Overlook Community Campus in Manheim Township. It’s always an event when I notice a heron or cormorant looking for its dinner in the waters of the lake at Long’s Park in Lancaster.
The world of birds is varied, colorful and interesting — even the ones I can see pecking for food outside my window, such as doves and sparrows. And, if the weather cooperates, it’s a great reason to get out of pandemic isolation and into the great outdoors.
I’ve long intended to become more of a “birder” and less of a casual observer. I already have a couple of pairs of binoculars, two or three bird-identification books and a CD of bird songs as tools to get me started.
I’m currently working my way through a series of free YouTube videos titled “Birds of North America,” by naturalist and birder Jason Ward. Ward offers tips for newbie birdwatchers at bit.ly/JasonWardBirds.
I’m also planning to check out the webinars being offered free on the Lancaster County Bird Club website, courtesy of Wildside Nature Tours. You can find them at bit.ly/BirdClubWebinars.
Maybe by this time next year, I’ll be a more experienced birder, and can volunteer to participate in the local club’s annual winter bird census, part of the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count. (Read LNP | LancasterOnline’s preview of this year’s count at bit.ly/LNPBirdCount.)
— Mary Ellen Wright