Unchained Melody: How to get through winter (and maybe even enjoy it)

By Melody Thomas

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Every year, Melody Thomas tries anew to embrace the worst season: winter. Will 2023 be the year it finally works?

Recently, comedian Chris Parker posted a video about people who love winter so much they make long sleeves their whole personality. I laughed with relish – silly winter people and their silly winter habits. And then I realised that six months from now, he’ll release the summer version, and it’ll be a parody of me (salty hair, peeling sunburn, “40 degrees tomorrow? Nice and mild!”) I’m a summer gal, what can I say. When the weather shifts, that first actually-warm sun peeks her beautiful face out from behind the clouds, I turn my own towards her and bask in the return of my dearest friend. Summer is when all the good stuff happens! Road trips and freshwater swims, strawberries and basil and a break from the endless grind.

Given how I blossom and glow in summer, it makes sense that I would wither and fade in its opposite. But I don’t want to suffer through winter! That’s a quarter of the year – more in Wellington, if we’re honest! (Remember in 2022 when we got six minutes total sunshine in a WEEK!?) I’m not saying I want to be a winter person, jeez no – never (no offence). But I DO want to figure out an approach to winter that isn’t just “get me the hell through it”. Where I don’t turn into a downcast and grayscale version of myself.

In my various attempts to do this, I’ve gone to saunas and joined cold water ocean swimming groups. I’ve pushed through my dislike of frozen wetness and cumbersome clothing to build snowmen, barrel down hills on a sled (admittedly a blast), and wolf DIY snow cones made from flavoured supermarket syrup. I’ve joined the gym! Taken up jogging! I even succumbed to the hideous necessity of the puffer jacket, and sensible woollen socks. And – granted – some of these things have helped insulate me from the most bludgeoning effects of the cold spell. I can attest to the power of jumping in the July ocean, as a means of facing down the frozen beast and coming out on top (or at least still still alive). I know the power of getting out into nature at every opportunity, especially if there’s a chance for a little Vitamin D hit. I don’t know how I ever lived without my puffer jacket and woollen socks, and believe these items should be handed out to every New Zealander the moment the weather cools. And of course there’s Matariki, the best holiday we have, a moving, reflective and perfectly fitting celebration, and the only part of winter I actively look forward to. 

But the mental weight of this time of year … when winter is only just beginning, and we’re staring down the barrel of weeks and weeks and weeks until that heavenly warmth hits again… I haven’t quite figured out how to make this bit easier, yet.

Except, maybe I have. Recently someone was telling me how their whole attitude to winter changed when they installed an open fire. That would do it! I thought. How good is a fire! Nothing is cosier, more welcoming, more comforting than that crackle, the smell, the all encompassing warmth. But of course, I don’t have the cash to install a fire (I don’t know how much a fire costs, but I know I can’t afford it!). That one will have to wait for me on the ‘one day’ list.

But in lieu of a fire, I did go and buy an electric blanket.

And it is a beautiful thing.

Every day since it arrived a week ago, my husband and I have mentioned the blanket to each other multiple times. We text each other and whisper about it behind the kid’s backs (they don’t know we have it yet – they already covet our bed too much, and we’ll keep it a secret as long as we can). And when it comes to bedtime, we pause on our opposite sides, gripping the covers and grinning in anticipation. Then we whip back the blankets and jump in, giggling as we writhe about in the cosiest of cosy beds, our legs searching for new warm spots to revel in, eyes rolled back in our heads like little demons. It’s ridiculous! And the novelty will eventually wear off, I’m sure. But what a difference it makes not to dread getting into a cold bed in a cold room, but to look forward to bedtime instead!!

I know not everyone will be able to afford this, and I myself hesitated a month ago when they went on sale, missing my chance and regretting it every day thereafter til the sale appeared again. But if you can do it – or if you can gift this experience to someone who can’t do it for themselves! – dooooo ittttttt. The happiness you get from this little luxury will more than repay the cost.

If you have your own version of the electric blanket, something that eases the seasonal transition, and helps you keep your head up til Spring hits, please do share it with me.

And to any politicians wondering how to secure votes ahead of the next election, I think you’ve found your answer. Electric blankets for all!

What I’m reading

Lanny by Max Porter (2019) (Plus, on my bedside table waiting for me: Dream Girl by Joy Holley (2023), Past Lives by Leah Dodd (2023), The Artist by Ruby Solly (2023) and The Axeman’s Carnival, by Catherine Chidgey (2022) – all on Te Herenga Waka University Press)

I missed Max Porter’s apparently “astonishing” debut Grief is a Thing with Feathers, but I’ll be sure to read it now. The title character of this book, Lanny, is a whimsical, otherworldly boy who’d rather decorate his bower in the woods than do whatever it is other kids do. He lives in a small village within commuting distance of London, where he recently moved with his parents. The village is much like any other English village: and from inside its little cottages we are privy to an endless stream of voices, contributing their bit to the village chorus – discussing life and death and work and love and what to have for tea. But the village is also home to the shapeshifting trickster Dead Papa Toothwart, who’s taken a liking to Lanny…

This book was endlessly propulsive, and I devoured it in close to one sitting, so much did I adore Lanny, and need to know what would happen to him.

The Axeman’s Carnival just won the Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction at the 2023 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards, which served to remind me I’ve been meaning to read it since it came out! If you haven’t heard about it, the protagonist is a magpie, which is about all the information I needed to go out and buy it. Other Ockham winners include the wonderful Jumping Sundays by Nick Bollinger and one of my favorite books of last year, Grand: Becoming My Mother’s Daughter by Noelle McCarthy. For a list of winners go here.

Finally! It’s a wonderful time for local poetry, with Pōneke bright stars Solly, Dodd and Holley releasing volumes at pretty much the same time. Why not grab the trifecta! As well as stunning to read, all three provide beautiful adornment to any bookshelf (don’t tell me not to judge a book by its cover – we all do it).

What I’m baking

Anna Jones’ Seeded Banana Bread with Lemon Sesame Drizzle and Meera Sodha’s Honey, Soy and Ginger-braised tofu

A lot of the time I find that baking loses its lustre when you try to make it healthy, but thanks to a whole lot of seeds, and naturally-sweet, overripe bananas minimising the need for too much additional sugar, Anna Jones’ recipe is both nutritious and delicious. I like the drizzle a lot but tend to keep it separate because the kids aren’t so sure. Delicious toasted with butter, or with a nut butter and a cup of coffee for afternoon tea!

Meera Sodha’s tofu is a recipe to win over any tofu cynic. It’s from the cookbook East, one of my all time favourites, and is one of the best recipes in there. The sweet, spicy, sticky sauce is made from ginger, garlic, gochujang and a grated pear – and it is so, so delicious. I usually double the sauce component, just to have more to go around.


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