How to keep the winter blues from driving you bonkers
February typically means extra layers, soaring heating bills,
and trying to bribe that friend with the snowblower into clearing
your driveway. Granted, this has not been the most typical
February—whoa, did we just see some dude jog by in
shorts and a T-shirt?—but the meteorological consensus says
we should be seeing snow sometime soon, and with it will come
the requisite feelings of boredom and ennui we so often associate
with the winter months. Many of you probably feel that way
already; after all, there’s just not all that much going on
this time of year. So for those of you who are pacing your
apartments, anxious for theater season to begin, and for those
of you in denial of the fact that the Big One is going to
dump three feet of snow on your front porch any day now,
we’ve assembled the following list of methods for combating
the dreaded ailment known as Cabin Fever. You can thank us
Elected . . .
you spent these dreary, warm, wind-gust-ridden days of sprinter
fretting about the 2008 elections? Well, it’s time to stop
worrying. It’s time to toughen up, buy that cheap politician’s
suit, polish your shoes, and practice your hand-shaking and
baby-kissing skills, because you, my friend, are the ideal
candidate for ’08!
that? You don’t have a platform to run on? Don’t be silly;
that’s the last thing you need to make it in politics these
days. Let’s start with the important things. First you need
to vet yourself. How well do you really know you? Break out
that little black book and call all your exes to see if you
might have something to hide. (You never know around which
corner that nasty rotten-cabbage fetish lurks.) Hand out whatever
hush money or empty threats are necessary to keep mouths shut.
that your neighbor might also read this and may also consider
a presidential bid in ’08. You better get to work digging
up dirt on other potential candidates. You never know when
you’re going to need an attack ad. Even if you can’t find
damning evidence, remember, with negative ads you can make
a mountain out of a molehill. “Mrs. Spencer says she’s for
the environment but she doesn’t use a pooper scooper to clean
up after her dogs!”
you need to come up with the perfect campaign slogan. Something
along the lines of “(Your Name Here) = Jobs, Freedom and Dead
Terrorists.” Once the perfect tear-jerking, pride-exploding
slogan is in place, it’s time to consider fund-raising.
say the only viable candidates these days are those with their
own fortunes to throw around. Working under the assumption
that you have not been born with a silver spoon stuck somewhere
on your person, you have two options to get yourself rich
in time for 2008. Start looking around for widows/widowers
who are due to inherit a large fortune from an obscure business—let’s
say ketchup making or emu farming—it’s either that or you
need to make it big in the oil industry.
out your shovel, and instead of shoveling the snow, start
your search for Texas tea. With a little luck and a lot of
energy, you might just hit it big. Don’t worry; you’ve got
a couple more dreary winters left before ’08.
we may keep having weeks where it feels warm enough to be
picking fresh tomatoes, but one look at the labels at the
grocery store will tell you we still have to go far, far afield
for most of that fresh produce. If you’re starting to feel
constrained by potatoes and carrots, now is the time to be
looking forward to when the ground is supposed to be
softening. Capital District Community Gardens’ annual sign-ups
and classes are starting, and the seed companies are in full
up (as much as needed) and tromp out to wherever you have
your garden—pace the boundaries, draw up where you want your
paths, imagine heavily laden vines rising on trellises before
your eyes. Figure out where you’re going to get your compost
from. Sit down and sort through your newspaper recycling pile,
discarding all the glossy paper and pages with colored ink
on them and setting aside the rest for mulch.
pick a few delicacies (like those tomatoes, for example) for
whom it is spring already in their preferred clime, clear
some space in your guest room, and set yourself up to grow
some seedlings. It takes patience and precision to get garden-ready
seedlings. A good light at just the right height, some clever
tricks to stave off the fungus called “damping off,” careful
judgment of the gradual process of exposing them to the elements
to get them ready for transplanting.
the time you’ve done the research, fiddled around with the
set up and the soil and the seeds, hovered over your babies
several times looking for signs of growth or disease, and
emerged triumphant with seedlings ready for a freshly prepared
and already-sprouting-weeds garden, you’ll be amazed at just
how fast spring has progressed when you weren’t looking.
your stir-crazy insanity through an creative outlet, you not
only relieve the building pressure inside your head, but you
make something that you can look back on as a reminder of,
um, darker days. Don’t write yourself off as “not the artistic
type”; take some chances and see what you have inside you.
If nothing else, if you spend an entire afternoon and evening
hopping from painting to songwriting to flash animation, and
you somehow come up with nothing, you’ve at least crossed
off another calendar day.
is a surefire method to beat the winter blues. I have no doubt
that Jimmy Urine of Mindless Self Indulgence developed his
band’s signature sonic frenzy while cooped up in a one-bedroom
flat beneath four feet of packed powder. You should be able
to make due with your laptop—in fact, a relatively inexpensive
program like Apple’s GarageBand gives you all the tools you
need to make your own virtual rock band. It’s easy to use,
and if you can’t make a song with that thing, it should at
least be fun (and colorful) to try. Even better, keep an acoustic
guitar on hand—nothing says February like a softly strummed
painted anything but ceilings and woodwork since your third-grade
art class? There’s no need to go out and splurge on acrylic
paint and heavy canvas; find an old bedsheet that you don’t
use anymore, tack it to some heavy cardboard, and dip a brush
into whatever leftover paint you might have around the house.
(Or, to hell with the brush: Pollock your bedroom floor!)
Don’t worry about creating a masterpiece; just start going
at it and see what comes out. If all else fails, you’re never
too old for finger painting. You gotta start somewhere, after
not feeling the muse? Tell yourself a story. Make something
up out of thin air. You can, and do, this very thing every
day of your life, probably without realizing it. (So why were
you late to work again?) Now, write it down. We were all “forced”
to do a certain amount of creative writing in school; see
how much fun it is when you’re not being graded on your work.
Seriously—I’m doing some creative writing right now, and I’m
not bored at all.
way to address the confining effects of cabin fever is to
hone those all-important matching skills in a rousing game
can take a long, long time to complete if you go the full
15 rounds. And because it’s so intellectually nonengaging,
players find themselves wandering into the Annoying Pop Songs
lobes of their brains. This is an excellent way to flummox
soon it’s Hey, Mickey, you’re so fine, you’re so fine you
blow my mind/Hey, Mickey! Hey, Mickey! and players begin
to go a little colorblind.
is a loud call for silence and for a minute or two all you
can hear is the click of Domino tiles and the munching of
potato chips. Then someone bursts out in their best Freddy
Mercury: Scaramouche, scaramouche, can you do the fandango?
Thunderbolts and lightning, very, very frightening, me!
hard to match the little colored dots on the Domino tiles
once someone starts playing air guitar and singing I wanna
free fall out into nothing, Gonna leave this world for a while,
Cause I’m freeee-eee, free-falling.
way to respond is with some bitchin’ Donovan: First there
is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is/First
there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there
or the opening monologue of “Atlantis” are also effective.)
this sounds like passive- aggressive game playing. But Dominoes
is such a dorky game that it needs a little edginess. And
tormenting others with pop songs, while not in violation of
the Geneva Convention, does lend the game a soupçon of brutality.
Dominoes while singing “Cracklin’ Rosie, get on board” sends
a ripple around the room. People get their hackles up. It’s
not about the dots anymore; it’s about creating the mental
instability in your opponent so that their dots blur.
Red Corvette” can be good. Especially when you mimic that
part where Prince goes into a falsetto. (U must be a limousine!)
“Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again” is always
a winner—especially if you do a particularly poor Bob Dylan.
Ditto for “Pass the Dutchie” and your Jamaican accent.
both the Nat “King” and Natalie Cole parts of “Unforgettable”
is, well, unforgettable and can sometimes make the game go
a little faster.
you know it, there will be a winner. And by then everybody
will want to get out of the house, swing their arms around
a little bit and let their inner Gwen Stefani run loose in
of Disc Content
the sort of person who buys DVDs and shelves them immediately
after watching the main feature, consider getting snowed in
to be God’s little way of telling you it’s time to expand
your movie-watching habits. Yes, it’s time to surf the special
the extras on DVDs can be hit or miss, with some filmmakers
cramming a bunch of pointless footage into the film package
just so they can jack up the price, but that doesn’t mean
there aren’t some real gems out there, too. And trust me,
they’re worth the search. Whether it’s “making of” documentaries,
deleted scenes, blooper reels or interviews with the cast
and crew, there’s a good chance that some of the special features
will make you feel even better about one of your favorite
films. For some films, the theatrical footnotes can increase
your appreciation of a film you already love (Shaking the
Cage, the “making of” documentary included with 1969’s
Easy Rider, immediately comes to mind), while other
special features can provide answers to some of those questions
that linger past the end credits (the deleted scenes from
2001’s Donnie Darko almost provided too many
very least, you owe it to yourself to learn the background
stories behind your favorite films. For example, knowing that
the filmmakers behind Swingers couldn’t afford to rent
out a bar or hire extras so they simply lugged their cameras
in and started shooting for each of the film’s bar scenes
only increased my love for the 1996 film. Along the same lines,
a short documentary from the special features of 2002’s 8
Mile that I watched one recent winter morning might give
even the harshest Eminem-haters second thoughts about the
time you’re stuck inside, give your DVD collection the once
over, folks. Throw a disc in, skip over the “play now” selection
and see what the DVD has to offer—after all, you paid for
Got the Beat
my high school years, a sad, half-breed mechanical beast sat
in the cellar. Technically, it was a drum set, although by
looking at it most people wouldn’t have been able to tell.
To most, it would have appeared to be a car crash or some
sort of industrial accident. Being stuck inside during rotten
winters resulted in my friends and me adding any sort of percussive
element we could find to the drum kit, from waste barrels
and scrap metal to chains and springs and coils.
find yourself wanting to knock down some walls this winter,
you might want to consider bashing on a drum set. There is
nothing as satisfying as pounding out a beat on a makeshift,
scrap-metal kit. Yes, Einsturzende Neubauten and the Blue
Man Group had this idea long ago, but your beats don’t need
to be limited to industrial music or body-paint theater.
some scrap metal, mount it on a pole, clang it with a metal
pipe, find some chains to rattle against an empty drum, pull
some wire taut and pluck it. Hell, if you’ve got a spare gong
lying around, throw that into the mix, too. Don’t forget that
as spontaneous as bashing on scrap metal might sound, you
can record this cacophony and put it to use in serious recordings.
If you have a laptop handy, get digital with downloadable
shareware music programs (like Fruity Loops) that allow you
to create your own samples. With a sampler you can bring your
primitive noise machine into the 21st century, and suddenly
you can have the most original beats on the market. If the
neighbors complain, invite them in to see your contraption.
I promise they won’t be back to bug you anytime soon.
is making you stir-crazy and you need to put all that pent-up
energy to good use, think about organizing, or reorganizing,
your home. If you’re lucky, this cabin-fever beater will last
you weeks, not just days. Here are a couple good places to
closet in order. If you’re like most of us near the end of
winter, your overstuffed, messy closet needs a good cleaning
out. Attack this job systematically. Reorganize your clothing
so that each type of item has its own home in your closet.
Group dress shirts; group skirts; group tank tops and T-shirts.
You’ll feel less rushed during hurried, late-for-work mornings
when you are able to locate articles of clothing with a glance.
Streamlining your closet (and, in the process, reminding yourself
of what you actually have in there) will greatly reduce those
“I have nothing to wear!” moments.
also a good time to inspect damaged clothing: Replace missing
buttons, mend the lining of your spring coat. Have a large
garbage bag ready for clothes and shoes you’d like to discard.
If you’re stuck on a particular piece, here’s a good rule
of thumb to follow to determine whether or not you’re ready
to let go: If you haven’t worn that sweater in two years,
it’s time to say goodbye. (Think about it this way: You’re
making more room in your wardrobe for a new sweater!)
Donate your gently used items to the Goodwill or Salvation
Army, and don’t forget to get a receipt from your chosen charity.
Your donations are tax-deductible.
your kitchen cabinets. Cluttered cabinets are the reason you
end up with three little bottles of vanilla extract and two
canisters of matzoh meal. What happened was this: You went
grocery shopping, completely forgetting that you indeed already
have ingredients for your chocolate-chip cookies or your matzoh
balls. Know what you have so you know what you need.
by emptying your cabinets. Combine open containers of like
foods and dust crumbs off of your shelving. Check expiration
dates and discard any old items. Organize baking ingredients,
pastas, sauces, cereals, etc., into groups, assigned to particular
shelves in particular cabinets. Make everything as visible
as possible—there are many types of cabinet organization products
(i.e. spice shelves) that make this job much easier. This
chore may take a while to complete, but it’ll be time- and
money-saving in the end.
says the cure for the winter blues is to get outside. But
even when it’s warm enough that that’s not crazy and yet not
so warm it just makes you depressed that it won’t last, sometimes
going outside is not enough. It can be bleak and desolate,
full of brown grass and trash frozen into the mud.
do I mean, celebrate the season? Find yourself an activity
that can’t happen without winter. Not the usual skiing and
ice skating—if you like those, you already know it. And besides,
those don’t exactly rely on winter, the season. They just
rely on snow and cold. That’s so *superficial.
to tap into the spirit of winter is find yourself an educational
walk (look in our calendar under “workshops” or “sports/outdoors”
for some ideas) in one of our regional state parks. Tracking
bobcat prints through the snow or learning to identify what
kind of animal nibbles on which shrubs can temporarily turn
your mind from longing for bird song and leaf cover.
out a “sugaring off” event like the ones held on Sundays in
March at the Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown. I mean, what
better reward for winter than the fact that it makes maple
syrup possible? Maple syrup needs weather that’s below 20
degrees at night and around 40 during the day. Learn how it
works, eat pancakes, and find yourself rooting for chilly
stargazing. Sure, it’ll involve some bundling up, but winter
has two things going for it over lazy summer nights: much
clearer skies, and a whole different set of constellations.
There’s a whole world of stargazing that only winter offers!
desperate enough, almost anything organic can be turned into
a stew. Charlie Chaplin famously boiled a shoe in The Gold
Rush, but his was a too-simple recipe that relied on the
native flavor of the leather to enhance what essentially was
a braised meal.
don’t have to be complicated, but if you’re stuck in the house
trying to pass some television-free time, you may find yourself
getting so caught up in the preparation that the actual consumption
of it will be anticlimactic. And, let’s face it, you’ve been
tasting it all along.
and garlic are a stew’s best friends. If you can add celery
and carrots, all the better. Slice ’em up small and get these
things sautéeing in some olive oil in a big, heavy pot. While
you’re slicing, think of what you’re going to add next.
have no leftover potatoes in the fridge, I’ll add uncooked
ones. Potatoes take up a lot of space and absorb flavors nicely.
Some of the oddball greens tucked in the back of the crisping
drawer can go in there, too, lettuce included. If I were making
a stew today, I’d slice the fennell bulb that I forgot to
add to a dish I prepared last week.
have some meat on hand? Cube it, dredge it in flour, and throw
it in. Cover the ingredients with water, lower the heat, and
get creative with your seasonings. For a thick stew, make
a roux by heating equal parts butter and flour, and, when
it’s just starting to brown, ladle some of your stew liquid
into its pot and stir. Then pour that mixture back into the
a stew warms the kitchen, releases enticing aromas, cleans
out the refrigerator or root cellar, and freezes well on the
back porch. Just remember that if you do end up adding clothing
or footwear to the batch, you should double or triple the
cooking time. And season it heavily.
the classic ways to wile away a cold wintry night is to curl
up in front of America’s fireplace. Of course, “America’s
fireplace” isn’t an actual fireplace: It’s the TV. Walk around
your neighborhood after the sun goes down any night; whether
you live on a city block or a suburban cul-de-sac, observe
how every living room is suffused with the blue glow of video
not? Everything you need is close at hand, from your loved
ones to the snacks in your kitchen to the god-like power conveyed
via that wonderful invention, the universal remote. It’s cold
out; bundle up in front of the screen and bathe in that eerie
electronic wash of light.
face facts, however. TV gets old because, by the end of February,
there’s a content problem. Every version of Law & Order
has cycled through the same episodes a couple of times on
USA and TNT. You’re tired of watching autopsies on CSI,
and given up on ER because it’s impossible to keep
track of who’s screwing who. Football is over, and the pro
hockey and basketball playoffs—the part of those seasons that
matter—haven’t begun. And Netflix? It’s great, but there are
only so many movies you can watch.
try the home-video equivalent of a mash-up?
of the geeks who were convinced that Pink Floyd recorded Dark
Side of the Moon to synch up with the classic musical
The Wizard of Oz. While they were clearly bonkers—“start
the CD at Leo the MGM lion’s third roar” my ass—doing
something like this can be fun.
time I tried it was around 10 years ago, matching Soul Coughing
with Cecil B. DeMille’s 1923 version of The Ten Commandments.
To my surprise, it worked pretty well: Around the time pharaoh’s
way-too-Anglo-looking son was swatting Moses with a whip,
Mike Doughty was intoning “blue-eyed devil.”
also works well with action or Sci-Fi stuff like the first
two Matrix films, or an avant garde film from the ’60s,
like John Boorman’s Point Blank; just cue up something
discordant or trippy and you’re off. It’s also a way to get
revenge on something awful—turn up ABBA’s Greatest Hits,
pop in the last Star Wars flick and have a laugh at
George Lucas’ expense. It’ll warm your cold winter heart.