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If you are reading in the Northern hemisphere today, your thoughts may be turning to preparations for a long winter. You may be thinking “How am I going to get through? Do I have enough yarn? Can I be sure I am pronouncing ‘hygge’ the right way? Have I anything to look forward to after the holidays? And how can I tempt my friends out into the snow for a visit?”

I am here to help. (Friends in the Southern hemisphere: carry on with your beach days and picnics; I am glued to your Insta. And bookmark this piece for next March.) 

For everyone else, some suggestions to ward off the chill and also the bleakness:

  1. Host a soup exchange party. Invite three friends to quadruple their favorite freezable soup, and bring the results to the party in containers. Eat some, trade some, and share the recipes. My favorite is the red chile from Nom Nom Paleo: Food for Humans by Michelle Tam. You don’t need to be paleo to enjoy this dish! (You can find a slow cooker version here but if you have a big Dutch oven, the stovetop method is even better. It’s about three hours in the oven, which helps the ambient house temp. For vegetarians, another warming soup is Anna Thomas’s cream of poblano from Love Soup.
  2. Beans! Winter is made for beans. Cassoulet is a recipe you probably know as the thing that takes 72 hours and a degree from culinary school. Mais non, madame! There’s a faster way and it’s just as delicious. It still needs overnight, but this is another dish that will keep your oven on for a while.
  3. If you want last-minute beans, there’s a cheesy beans recipe going around that takes less time to make than explain. Put salt, pepper, paprika, tomato paste, garlic and oil in a pan and cook until fragrant. Add beans (canned or cooked ahead), grate cheese over, and pop in the oven until it’s riled up. A delicious home-alone meal that you’ll start eating before you can set it on the table.
  4. Get you a winter sport. I’ve been hearing this advice since I first moved to New England, where I also first heard that old chestnut about how there’s no bad weather, only bad clothes. Knitters, do they even have bad clothes? Certainly not. So maybe this is the year I get snowshoes…?
  5. Stock up on the cozy wintry books. If you’re a fan of the Wilders, there’s always The Long Winter to make you feel lucky. If you’re “the Wilders are maybe a little problematic” person, have you read Bich Minh Nguyen’s Pioneer Girl? It is a wonderful Wilder response and a real page turner. And there’s also Louise Erdrich’s Birchbark House books, a period series about an indigenous family in the North Woods. On my list!
  6. Or you could be ambitious, and undertake a whole Reading Project, which I always think about doing and never really do but is always upper-cased in my mind.
  7. If you live with someone, take turns making coffee and bringing it back to bed for your partner. (This is actually my number one tip.)
  8. Coat drive! I just cleaned out my coat closet, thanks to some expert engineering advice I got earlier this month at the MDK Odious Tasks Party. (Yes I know it doesn’t seem like you need an engineer to clear out a closet, but: BELIEVE.) Anyway guess what? There were some extra coats in there! One Warm Coat tells how you can help others stay warm in your area.
  9. You could have a sock-mending party, on the Zoom or in person. This November, I do not have one single pair of warm socks without holes in them. I’m sure it would be easier to address this situation with friends nearby.
  10. I hear they have electric bed warmers. This from a reliable source. However I am devoted to my hot water bottle because I am 600 years old and my technology is rubber. Knitty has a free penguin bottle cover pattern here. I don’t have black yarn, but what’s wrong with a pink penguin?
  11. Window stars! I mean. They’re not technically a window insulator but beauty helps keep us warm.
  12. You could have a puzzle exchange. There’s still a lot of us doing jigsaw puzzles right now and we could be circulating our stashes. I’m not sure this has an actual warming component? Or maybe it does. I can get pretty heated if I start to suspect there’s a missing piece. Anyway, The Raconteur was my favorite puzzle this year.
  13. Homeless shelters near you need funds, always. They say it’s going to be a harsh winter. If you can help keep the lights and heat on at a shelter near you, it will save lives.

Well, that’s 13 ideas! I was hoping to get to 100, but it looks like another case of needing a village, and that means you. In the comments below, please add your favorites and your ambitions to the list, and then we can all bookmark the page for that tough time after Valentine’s Day. Or tomorrow.

Image CREDIT:  Snow Storm in Vermont, 1800s, Mary Altha Nim, The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of Richard Seymour Bayham 1934.124. Used with permission.

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About The Author

Max Daniels is a research-based life coach whose weekly emails make us laugh with recognition and rethink everything we thought we knew. Her new book is Meals at Mealtimes. What a concept!


  • You’re missing the obvious one…play with fiber! Take up a new aspect of fiber..crochet, spin, dye, felt.

    • Yes, so many great things to do and learn and enjoy with fiber.

  • Seed and plant catalogs! Gather them up and plan your garden for spring, summer and fall.

    • YES!

    • also -some seeds like poppies and cone flowers need to be planted in the fall and overwinter. I plant some in the plastic milk jugs (loeave the top on and cut partway around the middle so it hinges kind of. and then tape it closed ) and the sprount in spring. something to look forward to. There is a group on facebook and probably elsewhere on the internet called winter sowers if you want to learn more.

    • These are such great ideas! I know the last minute bean recipe you are talking about, and it is DELICIOUS! I saw it on the NYT cooking a few weeks ago, thought it would be fine, and then liked it so much I’ve made it 3 times since! My modification is to add a package of sliced smoked andouille sausage to the pan first, gosh them out, the add them back to the pan with the beans later. Such a hearty, quick, soup warming food! I could eat it all winter.

  • Every winter (after finishing Christmas knitting/gifts), I cozy up with knitting baby blankets. It uses up lots of odds and ends, keeps my lap warm and the the blankets are donated.

  • I love the practicalities of this. To which I would add rounding up all the stray hats mittens, gloves, cowls and scarves from around the house and keeping them in one centralized place. Nothing delays a nice foray outdoors like not finding that other mitten. And for me personally get all the chores done early including dinners in the crockpot so I can knit, knit, knit! (That’s the plan, anyway:).

  • Make bread! Perfect your technique, watch a bunch of you tube and try it for the first time or maybe just up your game by making extra loaves for friends or local folks who can’t get out and about in the winter.

    Makes your house warm and lovely smelling, tastes delicious and gets you up out of your chair (what I need most). And there’s a recipe for all types of food restrictions, allergies and preferences.

    • Some 30 +/- years ago I made a lot of bread. All sorts. Then life got busy. But, my daughter has asked me to bring mashed potatoes and “your dinner rolls” to Thanksgiving at her house. Yikes! So Sunday I dug out a bread recipe to practice kneading etc. The resulting loaf was fantastic. I’m already looking at recipes to try or retry this winter.

      • Perfection!!! ❤️

  • My husband and I are retired and live in the northeast. Here is our recipe for enjoying winter: invest in traction cleats for ice and snow, good warm boots, quality outerwear, and long underwear. Create a list of winter trails to explore. Vow to get outside and walk at least five times a week. Come home to a hot meal in a slow cooker. Fall asleep reading a good book and sleep like a log.
    Oh, and always have a big bowl of knitting nearby.

    • Yes! I’m a big winter hiker. No ticks, no gnats, no sweat, lots of tracks to see if there is snow. Then chili and Knitflix until bedtime. Also, pile a few cats on your lap….

    • Love this, Barbara…all of it!

  • Very satisfying but not glamorous at all – a little winter deep cleaning! All the books off all the shelves, dusted and put back…somehow when I glance up from my knitting they are noticeably cleaner, a tiny pleasure!

  • A great column and some even better ideas for winter weather.

  • Move the coffee pot to the bedroom! Game changer!

    • Yessssss! Super good idea

  • Volunteer, opportunities abound. When you get back home bake a batch of cookies to share with friends or family or dare I say both!

  • But a sack of bird food and start feeding birds. Years ago, I started without a bird feeder, even—I just put a pile of bird seed on my back porch. Yes, it took a day or two for the birds to find it, but I was so filled with joy when flappy customers showed up that I immediately set up a bird feeder. Now I buy giant bags of black sunflower seed and have a whole world of birds out my window. So fun.

    • Definitely! Try a Christmas Bird Count with the local Audubon Chapter too!

  • Well, you can always get a job doing income taxes like I do. Keeps me so busy the winter flies by.

    • If you want a little less of a time commitment, you can help at your local Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, preparing taxes for elderly, disabled, and low income people to make sure they get the tax credits they are entitled to without having to pay fees they can’t afford to professional tax preparers. Working with VITA is surprisingly fun. It’s easy, you can get trained online, you can give as much or as little time as you want, and it is super-satisfying – and this is coming from someone who *hates* doing her own taxes!

  • That treadmill you don’t use but to put scarfs and cowls over? Use it. Make sure to put your phone in a pocket to count steps, and heat up. Watch baking tv on your iPad or such and feel the heat from the ovens and get double warm. (Avoid politics. You don’t need that kind of heating up.).

    • Great column. Re: puzzles. Some libraries loan puzzles and board games. It’s a great way to try many different puzzles (up to 1500 pieces) and you can have board game events with friends and grandchildren!

  • Bake, but to make it special focus on a single country. If you haven’t experienced the joys of David Lebovitz and his “American in Paris” baking and cooking, you’re in for a treat…start with Madeleines, move on to macarons, you get the picture. I’m not affiliated with David in any way, just a fan:

    • I would add his recipe for shortbread. It’s on his site under a trip to Ireland. Quick and delicious!

  • Went to Knitty, they don’t seem to have the pattern available. Would have liked to have seen it with the possibility of making one, two (?).

    • It’s called “Mr. Popper”. – but none of the photos would load on my iPad. The pattern is there though.

  • I always like to have hot tea around when I’m reading that book, knitting, or whatever.

    • Yes, I was going to offer this tip: drink tea. A favourite in the winter is rooibos: warm in scent as well as temperature.

  • Love these!! FYI link to penguin hot water bottle cover doesn’t seem to work.

    • Try the site again and you might find it this time. I did and the pattern seems very complicated and no picture. Good luck! Happy Thanksgiving.

  • I went back to the pattern reference you made and that didn’t show the pattern, but this time I did find the pattern. Seems very complicated and has no picture to show what the penguin will look like and see how it is put together. Try again.

  • My middle kid had a mattress warmer when we lived in Canada. We would turn it on about 15 minutes before bedtime and it made going to bed so nice! The cats loved it too. I second getting outside as much as possible – get some sunshine on you!

  • My friends and I instituted a Thursday morning walk, where we hop on a conference call and go for a walk before work. It’s not physically warm, but it is very good for my mental health, and having it be a group thing helps with accountability and also it’s more pleasant to walk around with a conversation.

  • Birdwatching! At feeders placed safely (don’t want the birds to crash into the window due to reflection) near a window; or, even more adventurous head out for a National Audubon Christmas Bird Count or a field trip. Wearing a hand knit hat, mittens or scarf will provide great conversation starters…

  • What a wonderful column and what great responses! Thanks to all for sharing! Reading MDK each morning is my go-to in all weather, but especially during the cold winter months.
    I think laughter helps push back SAD….seasonal affective disorder. So, I plan to audio a great deal of the irreverent David Sedaris while knitting. There is also an Office episode when Michael arrives at work with a badly burned foot. He keeps a griddle near the bed to wake up to the smell of frying bacon and accidentally steps on it. This is an idea to accompany the coffee maker by the bed idea someone posted!

  • So many great ideas. When my youngest was a teenager, she would have to beg and cajole me endlessly to go out after dark, because of course it gets dark EARLY in the winter in the northern hemisphere, if she wanted to do anything. I’ve never liked driving when it’s dark, and as I’ve gotten older it’s harder to see. Finally exasperated, she declared “Mom! It’s not illegal to go out when it’s dark!!” Never will I forget that! and it spurs me to do things in the winter rather than hide for 4-5 months! Thanks for all the great ideas everyone!

  • Go south to warmer weather!

    • We went to Arizona from Calgary, Canada every winter for 9 years. Every morning I would get up and look out the window at sunshine and the biggest blue sky in the world. No snow, no ice, no boots, coats etc. It was heaven. Then my husband got sick and we could no longer go. I’m loving all the ideas here…as I feel pretty “lumpy” during our 6 month cold season and these comments have helped. Thank you!

      • @KimTomlin, As a fellow warm weather lover who now lives in the Pacific Northwest, layer up and take a walk as early in the morning as you can. I’m not a morning person by any means but I’ve started walking “first thing”* after I wake up and it really helps. The key for me was wearing the right clothes for walking in freezing temps. Layers and your warmest mittens go a long way to helping. And I’ve been known to wear my mask on the coldest mornings – it keeps my nose warm and the air I’m breathing from freezing my throat and making my nose run.
        *I allow myself yo wake up at my own pace, but walk before breakfast.

    • Best idea!!!!

  • This is for Kay and all the other sewists out there: corn bags!

    Take two largish pieces of fabric (recycle an old flannel shirt if you have one) and stitch them together on three sides. Turn so the seams are on the inside. Press if you’re a purist.

    Fill with deer corn (available at your nearby farm and tractor supply store. Use any leftover corn for the birds and squirrels—or deer!)

    Sew up the open side (use decorative stitches if you’re inspired.)

    Heat in the microwave. Experiment with time. A large, heavy bag (12” square or so) may require 4 minutes; an average bag 2-3. Remove from microwave or add time in 30 second increments if the bag is still too cool.

    Use it to preheat your bed, warm your feet, relieve cramps or back pain. You can make long one to drape over your shoulders. And you don’t have to worry about electrical heating pads shorting out or burning tender skin.

    Repeat process when the corn begins to smell like popcorn (1-2 years, depending on use). Compost the corn or feed it to the squirrels.

    • I’ve made these also, but filled with rice. The long ones are heaven wrapped around your neck.

  • Once a month, a local group meets at a park and swaps puzzles. This was the first one I attended and I was able to exchange for some fabulous new ones!

  • I love all of these Ideas. I recently did a big book clean out and it felt great. Today, I am going to bake all day today, rolls from @alexandracooks, apple crisp and pumpkin custard. And that always makes me happy. After tomorrow turkey, I am going to make a bunch of pillowcases, some for my grandkids and some for donations.There is also a soup kitchen in my town that could use some help so I may do a fundraiser. A dear friend of mine told me if you are feeling blue, go help someone else. I resented it at the time but old age has taught me that it does help.

  • I’ve never really understood soup. What is its purpose?

    • It warms you from the inside out!

    • Your question made me laugh! My husband thinks soup is just a lumpy beverage!

  • I love a long walk or shorter run in winter evenings after work. It’s dark and quiet (wear safety lights), and I usually encounter no one. It is just a matter of dressing properly no matter how cold. I especially enjoy doing this during a snowstorm. By the time I return home, I feel I have ‘earned’ my time with Netflix and my needles, a warm blanket, and 2 cats on my lap for the rest of the evening.

  • I started knitting this past spring and have fallen down the rabbit hole with dozens of hats, scarves and cowls for family. I finished my first sweater a few weeks ago. It’s supposed to be big and bulky but you could fit 2 people inside it. I just found MDK and I start my mornings binge reading it. What a lovely community. I love sweaters, but I live in Los Angeles so I hope to find suggestions for yarn blends. Thanks for providing such a fun, informative site.

    • Maybe try linen yarn? I’ve not knit with it but I love my linen shirts for when it’s warm. I used to live in the Central Valley of CA and when spring hit, all my linen would come out until it was cold again.

      My other favorite fiber is silk. A tad expensive so I’ve not knit with it but the few silk tops I have are amazing in both cold and warm weather. Silk is great for trapping my body heat but not overheating me.

  • Baths! Ideally up to your chin and with a great soundtrack.

  • I’ve never done intarsia in the round, so Mr. Popper the penguin is very appealing indeed.

    Thanks for giving an older pattern a shoutout. There are always so many new patterns out, the oldies but goodies need a bit of help.

  • Oatmeal! A hot breakfast is such a nice start to the day! I like mine with half an apple chopped small per serving put into the cold water, by the time the water reaches boiling and you cook the oats, the apple is cooked too. You can choose your “decorations”. Cinnamon, nuts, honey, cream, raisins or currants, even a bit of flax seed.

  • .14 Come on down to Florida. Everyone else seems to be here for the winter. Bring your flip flops!

  • Thank you for these reminders!

  • I am taking a crochet class right now so in addition to my knitting – I am working on a throw blanket I would like to make some yarn projects (scarves, hats) and donate them this winter.

  • Adopt a dog if you don’t have one. They make every day happier, warm your lap and bed, and require walks, which will keep you moving.

  • This was a thoughtful bit of writing. It’s much appreciated here in upstate New York. Where we are about to huddle into our hibernation period. Doing so in these “ new normal “ times can be challenging. It’s helpful to be reminded of the tried and true ways to find and bring comfort to ourselves as well as others. I’m grateful for this post

  • Such a beautiful image. I went out to the Cleveland Museum hoping it was for sale but it’s not even on display (perhaps a protection issue).

    I would add puzzles of all kinds–crossword, sudoku, jigsaw. They’re marvelous for ‘grazing’–leaving and coming back to until they’re done.

  • The recipes look great! I heartily recommend snowshoes. It’s wonderful to be able to go out in the woods/ fields and explore without post holing through deep snow. It’s beautiful out there, and fun to see the tracks of various animals.

  • Candles. Lots and lots of candles.

  • Love these ideas! Anxious to try the cassoulet and soups. My “tip”…always cuddling up (knitting, reading, napping) with the dog(or dogs). They want to stay warm, too!

  • Thank you for the reminders — this will be my year to start memorizing stanzas of the song/poem “To Drive the Cold Winter Away”. I will sing it with conviction and gusto! (Plus, going to find a recipe for Swedish Pepparkakor and make a batch of gingery-peppery-spicy heart-shaped cutout cookies)

  • I finished a toddler-sized baby blanket for my 2-yr-old grand nephew and realized I needed to start another to keep my lap warm… so now I’m making an even bigger one for my Sister-in-law, his grandma. It is great knitting for cold evenings. And because I’m making log cabins (thank you for the inspiration, Ann and Kay!) I am also putting a much-needed dent in my stash. The many colors make me smile, and the blankets will keep two more people warm.

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