My 5-year old daughter’s widening vocabulary astounds me. She’s inventive and witty with her words. She quickly picks up on catch phrases and idioms to test them out in conversation, often with a high rate of success. And it’s with much pride that I tell you she understands the fundamental nature of puns and seeks out words that have double meanings so she can tell a joke and follow it up with a bout of self-satisfied laughter at her own cleverness. If you ever feel like making a new best friend, ask her to tell you a story and she will engage you in a monologue of epic proportions until she is physically removed from the room!
Still, occasionally she fills in the gaps of her limited knowledge with her own made up or cobbled together descriptive phrases and combination of words. She’s been using one such phrase for a few months now. When her dad or I observe her usually vivacious self looking a little more subdued and ask her how she’s feeling, she’ll respond by saying, “Actually, I think I’m little bit on the dark side.”
It puzzled us the first time she said it and we questioned our decision to buy her the red (Sith) toy lightsaber from Target because it was marked down for more than its blue (Jedi) counterpart. Was she turning from the light? Should we cut back on the Star Wars? When prompted to explain, she told us that it meant that she felt a little tired, a little mellow, and a little less like herself.
Her description felt familiar and I pondered it one evening while I washed the dishes and stared out the kitchen window into the deeply slumbering backyard that was silent and still under a few inches of ice-crusted snow. “Oh!” I thought as it came to me, “She’s got the winter blues!” Like many of us, she feels the weight of the weather and the way it limits her capacity to charge her battery with sun and fun, playtime and warmth.
The most frustrating thing about seasonal blues is that stymies more than just our capacity to enjoy good weather; it drains us of our color, our reserves of joy, and our hopes that we’ll ever return to feeling like the best versions of ourselves. It makes us miss the way we used to embrace the day and let our worries take a backseat to authentic happiness.
The next time you find yourself feeling “a little bit on the dark side” and not sure how to shake it, try a few of the following true and tested methods for creating a bit of your own sunshine.
Make a Mug Cake
One of my daughters’ favorite ways to shake a melancholy mood is to bake. I concur, and we regularly heat up the oven, dirty every dish in the kitchen, and spill powdered sugar onto the floors. We wear matching aprons and I try to let the the two of them take the lead as we whip up a batch of peanut butter cookies or homemade granola.
When we’re sapped of our energy or lacking in patience, my daughters and I simplify and make one of our favorite treats: double chocolate mug cakes. The ingredients are few, the bake time is short, and the payoff is divine. We top our gooey cooling cakes with a dollop of whipped cream and plenty of rainbow sprinkles, clink our spoons together in an affable cheers, and banish our blues to the very bottom of our mugs.
The kitchen isn’t everyone’s happy place, and baking takes time, skill, and a good amount of effort to see the fruits of one’s labor, but I bet you can find your own kind of “mug cake” recipe–even if it’s more akin to boxed brownies or slice ’n’ bake cookies–or use my 5 year-old’s favorite by Rosanna Pansino of Nerdy Nummies. Laugh while you stir, sing while you crack an egg, and feel your winter funk evaporate as you dig into an indulgent little treat with your happy-to-have-a-snack-with-mom minis.
Plan for Planting Season
I am the first to admit that my green thumb is more or less brown and undernourished but that doesn’t stop me from pouring over my favorite gardening guide in the winter months and making grandiose plans to cultivate a bountiful vegetable garden come May. Making seed lists, drawing raised bed sketches, and bookmarking raw food recipes helps me find my happy place. In the end, I more or less stick a few tomato seedlings into a large terracotta pot and call it a day, but the February planning I do transports me to imaginary sunshiny afternoons filled with garden weeding and bean snapping.
I encourage you to be a bit more practical than me: spend a few gloomy afternoons realistically ruminating on your planting season. Are you thinking it’s time to add a few new shrubs to your side yard? Have you always wanted to have an herb garden? Want to include your kids and craft a whimsical fairy garden by the back shed? The sky’s the limit, literally, and I bet you can already envision the way a row of statuesque sunflowers will add beauty to your life. You may not be able to dig in the dirt until the ground thaws, but you’re already planting creative seeds that can bloom even on the dreariest of days.
Add to Your Adventure List
I met my husband in a World Poetry class during my freshman year of college. By the time we were restless seniors, we had rented a teeny-tiny one-bedroom apartment together and began the quixotic period of our lives in which we were madly in love with each other, with the world around us, and with an idealized version of our joined futures.
We were also completely broke.
Thinking outside the box became necessity, and while we partook in plenty of stereotypical college pastimes, we also kept a giant list attached to our refrigerator door. Titled “The Adventure List,” it held onto the very best of our ideas and the most splendid of our hopes. When we had a little cash saved, we crossed off adventures that required payment, like going to a drive-in movie or trying all the ice cream flavors at our favorite local eatery. When we couldn’t spare the change, we crossed off others–exploring the creek that ran congruent to our campus and starting a snowball war with the neighbors.
Perhaps the best part about The Adventure List was that it provides adventurers with something to do even when you’re sure there’s nothing to do. The simple act of adding to your list is fulfilling because requires creativity and collaboration with your loved ones. Watching it continuously evolve as you cross off adventures and aim for new ones will give your days joy and purpose.
I know, the idea of sinking a lot of time and effort into planning a play date or dinner party is daunting. Friends and family have busy and varying schedules, the weather never seems to cooperate, and post-party clean up is enough to sink any previously lifted mood. So simplify!
Pick a date that works for you. Invite over a few friends and neighbors. Order a pizza, make a big pot of pasta, or ask attendees to bring a dish to pass. Break out the card table and paper plates. Don’t sweat the small stuff but, rather, concede that gathering together means just that; your main task is to connect with loved ones. Let the details fall to the wayside and concentrate on filling up your cup with the joining of community members. Revel in the laughter, the stories, the good-natured complaints, and the comforts of connection.
And hey, make it a regular thing. Keep your door–and your heart–open and it’ll feel like spring again soon enough. I promise.