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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 61 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

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Thursday, January 01, 2009

Surviving Winter's Doldrums*

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, January 6, 2010
as "Helpful Hints for Beating Old Man Winter's Blahs"

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

“We are made to persist. That’s how we find out who we are.”
--Tobias Wolff

The holidays have passed. The lights, color, and giddy excitement are behind us, having joined the substantial collection within the memory vault. Life returns to that state of being we so flippantly describe as “normal.”

Now we face the deepest part of winter. January and February, described as one long 60-day month, is a stretch I’ve come to call “the long, dark tunnel.” The days are short, and the weather’s bad. After the light, color, beauty, and emotional highs of Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Years have faded, it is a time of unimaginative routine; of sheer mundane drudgery unbroken by celebration. Snow has lost its brief romance, and what was once magic and beauty now has us grimly reaching for a shovel. The days shuffle past like a bent old man. The restless energy that had kept us charging at a breakneck pace for two solid months has vanished. We feel drained, flat, devoid of interest.

The hardest moment is taking down the Christmas decorations. For weeks, our homes and lives were brightened by lights and elegant beauty. Now, with the tree down, the draping garlands and the Nativity boxed up and stored away, the house feels curiously empty, as if the movers had come, leaving nothing but blank walls and vacant floors.

The New Year is a time that should be marked by anticipation; the promise of a future as yet unwritten; the chance to start over. However, the excitement of that promise dims quickly in these dark days. I think that’s why most people experience failure in their New Year’s Resolutions. It’s just too hard to keep the momentum going in January and February. Actually, the time for resolutions should be spring. The returning sun, the soft warmth of the air, and the re-emergence of things green and growing lift the spirit and infuse the energy. Under those lively influences, we are flooded by the desire to flee the self-imposed winter cave, feeling the urgent compulsion to do things. So rather than see my goals die on the rocks and ice of winter, I save my new year’s resolutions for spring, when I actually feel like doing something about it.

But those warm days are still months away. Now, we need to work to come up with activities that will get us through these cabin fever months with our psyche and relationships intact. Here are some suggestions:

1. Make Something. Get involved in something creative. Making something new adds a sparkle to these dreary days. Crafts, hobbies, all those things you didn’t have time for during the rest of the year. Bake a couple dozen cookies (from scratch, mind you! No cheating!). Put them in little bags with festive ribbons and bows and take them around to your neighbors. You’d be surprised how much the act of lifting their spirits will lift yours as well.

2. Teach Something. Teach your kids something new. Teenagers can be tough, but with some dedicated motivation, they can join the pre-teens and find fun in learning how to bake cookies, or sew. Dads can spend these days teaching how to fix things around the house. Make it look and sound like fun, and they’ll be interested.

3. Learn Something. Take a class. Doesn’t have to be a brain-buster. Could be a few weeks of square dancing, computer stuff, or some lessons on home improvement that will help you plan for that burst of springtime energy. It should be something new, an activity with a measure of novelty to it.

4. Celebrate Something. Did you know that January 10th is “Positively Penguins Day? Or that January 16th is “Appreciate a Dragon Day? This website, http://www.brownielocks.com, gives you a list of “holidays” both serious and humorous to celebrate. On one of the pulldown menus, you’ll find listings for almost every day of the year. Plan a party, or just have some friends over for an evening for a potluck, so that nobody gets stuck with all the work. One family we know has what they call “The Souper Bowl,” an event in early February where people bring their homemade soups to share and to be judged. The winner leaves with a goofy door prize, something that Monty Hall might have hidden behind Door Number Four. Part of the depression of this time of year is due to the tendency we have to “cave”; to isolate ourselves.

5. Go See Something. Get out of the house. Take the kids down to the local firehouse for a tour (call ahead first). Maybe call the Steelers and see if they’ll do a tour of the Heinz Field locker rooms. Museums are always a good choice on a winter’s day. Relatively warm weather can at times be found within a day’s drive. Take advantage of those opportunities.

6. Romance Your Someone. Guys, make the time to plan something really over-the-top for Valentine’s Day. Trust me, there’s no such thing as “too much” on that day. And ladies, please, please, please remember to reciprocate. We like to feel loved, too.

7. Play…Just Play. Plan a few “Winterfest” type Saturdays with the kids. Take them sledding, or skiing. Build a snowman, or have a snowball fight. If you don’t live near snow, then go find some. Believe me, those memories of togetherness and fun will stick with them for a lifetime. Maybe spend an evening with the family around a board game.

The post-holiday blues happen to most of us in some fashion. It’s a part of being human. However, we don’t have to give in to that particular vulture by slouching alone in a dark house. Get up; turn on the lights; get moving!

Take back Life!
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