Seven ways to smile through winter

Forcing lily of the valley is a great way to smile through winter.

It’s only mid-January, and I’ve reached winter’s crying time.

After the recent ice storm, I feel almost as frozen as this holly. We'll both thaw out in time.
After the recent ice storm, I feel almost as frozen as this holly. We’ll both thaw out in time.

You think I’m being overly dramatic? I’m not. Usually, I reach this stage mid-February right after Valentine’s Day, but crying time came early this year.

Ice storms are beautiful, but hard on plants and people.
Ice storms are beautiful, but hard on plants and people. I don’t mind snow as much.

In one week, Oklahoma had a snowstorm, an ice storm and copious rain.

Don’t panic. I’m not really crying. I am a bit lethargic and misty-eyed in winter’s aftermath. So, this morning, I took myself in hand, sat down with a cup of tea and a breakfast bar, and considered ways to smile through winter.

More of Mother Nature's icy grip.
More of Mother Nature’s icy grip.

After 54 years of circling the sun, I know myself pretty well. First, I thought about why I’m in such a funk. Oh yeah, my entire family was sick for weeks during and after the holidays. Between the cold virus, bronchitis and the norovirus, my poor family was down for the count. It reminded me of the years when I spent all my time doing laundry and pouring cold medicines down everyone’s throats. I am grateful I did not catch the norovirus. You just don’t know how grateful.

In the meantime, my exercise routine fell off, and I haven’t been outside nearly enough. I also went to see the movie, Jackie, yesterday in the rain no less. No wonder I’m feeling crotchety.

Time to make some changes. Here’s my seven-point plan

  1. Keep eating healthy as much as possible. With May and Megan’s wedding looming ever closer, I need to look my best for those important photos. Plus, it’s good to be healthy, and I’m not getting any younger. Blah, blah, blah.
  2. Exercise three to four times a week. Grant permission not to kill myself either. My exercise has been pretty bad for the last couple of weeks, and it shows in how my clothes fit. However, I have a tendency to punish myself when I relapse from the treadmill. That just makes me sore, and then I don’t exercise in a vicious circle. Remember that I’m also trying to stay strong for spring and garden season along with a daylily tour here in June.
  3. Read more books and stay off the internet as much as possible. I have a new reading challenge on Goodreads. There are now studies showing our brains work differently because of our social media addiction. I know I get a dopamine rush when my phone bings. So, more books and less online time unless I’m working on an article or post.
  4. Have more indoor plants. I’m thrilled my bulbs are starting to grow and bloom. It makes winter seem less formidable. Also, I’m going to spend more time in my greenhouse. I’ve neglected it this year because we had a disaster early on. I need to get out there and cut back the dead limbs on some of my citrus burned by cold weather. The door blew open, and I haven’t had the heart to repair the damage indoors.
  5. Use my NatureBright SunTouch Plus Light and Ion Therapy Lamp when I’m reading for thirty minutes a day. I need to remember to use this because I have one, and it works.
  6. Keep doing videos. I like live video and my channel on YouTube. I don’t do many gardening videos this time of year because there’s not much gardening to do, but I enjoy making unboxing videos and such.
  7. Garden when and where I can. As I wrote above, so far this month, we’ve had a snowstorm, an ice storm and copious amounts of rain, but in between, we’ve also had wonderful weather. I need to get out there and cut back the perennial grasses. Since we finally got some cold weather making the roses dormant, I’ll also prune them.

These are my seven ways to smile through winter. What are yours?

A bevy of backyard birds

American Goldfinch in Winter

Bill and I were standing in the living room at the back window gazing outside as our son walked by.

“What on Earth are you two doing?” he asked.

“Watching birds,” we said, in unison. Bill and I then turned and grinned at each other.

I added, “It’s what old people do.”

We then laughed. Our son just shook his head like we’d lost our minds and walked on into the kitchen where he promptly ignored us.

How he thinks we’ll lose our minds simultaneously is beyond me.

Male Cardinals don't mind each other in winter when they need to be at the feeder. However, when temperatures and sunlight both increase in spring, watch out! They are fiercely territorial.
Male Cardinals don’t mind each other in winter when they need to be at the feeder. However, when temperatures and sunlight both increase in spring, watch out! They are fiercely territorial. See the female Cardinal on the right of the feeder? She blends in. Nature’s protective camouflage for nesting birds.

The truth is Bill and I have always been into birds. You can’t live out where we do and not be into them. Well, I guess you can, but what’s the point? Birds are plentiful here, and none are more plentiful than my sassy cadre of Cardinals.

A bevy of birds jockeying for position at the feeder.
A bevy of birds jockeying for position at the feeder including a House Sparrow, the backend of a Tufted Titmouse and a male Cardinal. I love how pissed off birds look when you see them close up. Being a bird is serious business.

In winter, Cardinals, male and female, and mostly in pairs, belly up to the bird feeder all day long as long as those feeders are full of seed. We use a mix of Wagner’s 76027 Black Oil Sunflower seed and regular, high-quality birdseed. We also fill a finch feeder with Audubon Park 12236 Nyjer/Thistle Seed so that smaller birds like House Finches and American Goldfinches (only in winter) have a chance. Like Carol at May Dreams Gardens, we have our problems with Enga the Squirrel too, but nothing dissuades us from filling our bird feeders. We chase the squirrels. We also sometimes coat the copper poles with WD-40 to discourage them. It must be reapplied, and birdseed sometimes sticks to it which is gross in pictures. No, I’ve never poisoned a bird or squirrel by using it either.

[Click on photos in gallery to make them larger.]

If you do hang a feeder, you must keep it full. The birds depend upon you through winter once a feeder is available. We hang two regular feeders on long copper poles on the back deck which is surrounded by trees so that the birds can perch and fly for cover especially when the red-shouldered hawks come to eat. You know what hawks eat right? Smaller birds and rodents.

Nature is often cruel and takes no prisoners.

Feeding birds isn’t cheap, but we buy our seed in bulk locally and store it outdoors in three Behrens 6110 10-Gallon Locking Lid trash cans on the deck. The squirrels can’t break into these cans so they work well for our needs. Bill likes to layer the food in the feeders with a stripe of black oil sunflower seed between the regular food. Watching the birds makes our winter days shorter. They have such funny behavior.

Before the birds’ mating season begins and once temperatures rise, we’ll take in the feeders until late fall. That way, the birds will find their partners and carry on for the next year. I don’t spray pesticides, and I use many native plants so our birds have plenty of bugs and caterpillars to feed their young. Bugs are essential to a bird’s life cycle. If you don’t believe me, believe Doug Tallamy who has been writing and speaking on this subject for years. His two books, Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, Updated and Expanded and The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden, the second written with Rick Darke, are essential reading if you love wildlife. They certainly changed the way I garden.

The other afternoon, Bill said, “That’s weird. There are no birds out there.”

“There must be a hawk nearby. The birds quickly figure out when a hawk is near, and they go hide in the trees. Sometimes, the hawk is lucky. Most of the time they are.”

This time Bill looked at me as if I had two heads. “How do you know this stuff?”

“I just do.”

It’s best to keep some mystery alive even if you’ve been married as long as we have. Just ask Mrs. Cardinal.