Posts tagged: cozy
January 21, 2013

Danish Dreams, Coming True

At some point in the last several years, my enchantment with Paris was supplanted by a fascination with Scandinavia. Paris will always be Paris, of course, but these cold, cozy countries to the north captured my imagination in a new way. How could a place so cloaked in long winter darkness be home to the happiest people on earth? The part of me that can’t stop thinking about how where we live affects how we live couldn’t get Scandinavia out of my mind.

The day I stumbled across Alex‘s blog, Hygge House, was like finding a door in the back of a wardrobe that leads to an enchanted country whose language has a single word that encapsulates so much of what I care about:

The Danish word hygge (hue-gah) is a feeling or mood that comes from taking genuine pleasure in making ordinary everyday things simply extraordinary; whether it’s using real lights on a Christmas tree or breaking out the good wine when friends come over.

It’s about owning things you only truly love or that inspire, being present in yourself and your life, putting effort into your home without being Martha Stewart or buying a bed in a bag. It’s also about being conscious and authentic from home to work to friends to celebrations and making all events {no matter how big or small, mundane or exciting} matter.

Words like cosiness, security, familiarity, comfort, reassurance, fellowship, simpleness and living well are often used to describe the idea of Hygge. Some refer to Hygge as the Art of Creating Intimacy (with yourself, friends and home). Technology and modern day busy-ness has removed so many of us from ourselves, our homes and ordinary tasks, making them feel as though these things are hard to do, have no importance or are too time-consuming.

Danes, however, only like to do things that are fun, nourish the soul and are familiar so they find ways to incorporate them into their daily life. By creating simple rituals without effort {such as brewing real tea with a little china cup every evening to stopping at the farmers market every week to buy flowers} the Danes see both the domestic and personal life as an art form and not every drudgery to get away from.

When I found the complete set of the Time-Life Food Series in an Upper East Side church basement, I fell in love with the volume on the Cooking of Scandinavia. The author tells the story of exceedingly welcoming Danes who go out of their way to put a dinner on for him and his wife.

The dinner was a triumph of what the Danes called hygge, a word that connotes a sense of well-being, of visceral and mental comfort when the world has been reduced to a dining-room size and the curtains have been drawn against the night. It is an atmostphere that all Danish hostesses try to create for their guests, an extra something to go with the food and to which the food itself contributes. More candles must be burned per capita, more flowers bought in their pursuit of this hospitable aura in Denmark than in any other country in the world. […] One of their sayings puts the matter this way: “First flowers on the table; then food.”

And what of the food in Scandinavia?

It is many things: fish, of course, but pork and poultry as well; beets, potatoes, cucumbers; dill, parsley and horseradish; apples and almonds; cream and that golden product of cream, butter. The cooking is pure, and it is simple. Foods taste of themselves in the North: they smack of the sea, or a fresh-water lake, or even the earth. And some, like the garnet lingonberry or the sand-colored mushroom, are not only born of the forest, but bring a breath of pines or birches to to the table with them.

I read the book On My Swedish Island, asked for a pair of snow shoes for Christmas, and started visiting the sauna at the YMCA more regularly.

I started looking at design blogs, longing for pale wood floors, candles, and sheepskin rugs. I loved these rooms that were clean, simple, and cheerfully whimsical, all at once. I pinned like crazy.

I can’t quite explain why this region so captures my imagination. It has something to do with the clear winter light that reminds me of Minnesota, an unafraid embrace of winter (“there is no bad weather, only bad clothing”), the fresh outdoorsiness, the clean-flavored, simple food. It all feels wholesome to me. And when I imagine that life in the woods where I am stirring a pot of stew and growing geraniums in the windows, that is how it feels: soul-nourishing, in the most basic and elemental kind of way. It feels like an important connection, even if it’s one I’ve completely dreamed up.

Dreams are coming true this Friday night when we board a plane to Copenhagen. I am bringing an extra empty suitcase and a fully-charged camera battery. I’m thinking of this as Life Design Inspiration Trip: I want to photograph everything that delights my eye, buy candlesticks and platters and blankets, and come home filled with ideas to make my own life more hygge.  I am so excited I am about to burst! Please, if you have suggestions––restaurants, hidden gems, favorite museums, day trips, etc––I am all ears! And if you are there and want to meet up, even better!

December 6, 2012

A Simple Christmas

We have more evergreen branches and pine cones in our little apartment than we have surfaces to put them on. After Thanksgiving I carried a pair of clippers into the woods behind my mom’s house to snap off the fragrant, feathery branches of a fallen white pine. They went into a garbage bag, then into my brother’s trunk, then into a taxi cab, and then were slung over my shoulder and carried up the steps to our second-floor apartment. They are draped on top of a mirror (still holding some of last year’s Christmas cards tucked around its edges), on windowsills, and in vases on the dining table and the bedroom, with a line of pine cones in front of the television. They are a very long way from home.

In that sweet week after Thanksgiving before December hit, I caught the same “make things!” bug Molly did. I bought cheapo squat candles from the grocery store and wrapped them in brown paper bags. I had been inspired at an overpriced restaurant. The candles on our table stood inside slim glass holders wrapped in thin brown paper. The light was pure warmth and the idea was dead simple, just my kind. I made them one afternoon while watching the final season of Lark Rise to Candleford. (My, is that Gabriel smoldering. But don’t tell me what happens!)

Now on a crafting roll, I bought charming, old-fashioned scrapbook paper and watched The Goodbye Girl (watch it! so good!) on Saturday, looping the cut strips into long paper trains for our tree. It’s a giant douglas fir that stands tall next to me in our living room corner right now in front of a street-facing window. It smells like heaven and nearly touches the ceiling. We carried it home Friday night, Sebastian leading the way holding the heavy base and me trailing behind carrying the light crown. I still have a sap on my jacket.

It does not escape me that three years ago, we couldn’t afford a tree.

I loved what Elizabeth said about Little Women being the inspiration for her holidays this year: “simple and charitable, but also festive and merry and creative.” I feel the same way, and keep slowly turning the pages of that book wanting its sweet perspective to inform my life for as long as possible.

And after such a long crafting lull, I’m using the quiet joy and creativity of the season to get out of my head and use my hands. It feels good to be creative in a new way, to not rely on the will of my intellect to twist a sentence until it suits. That’s been feeling hard lately. But crafting warm golden light and handmade decorations and artfully placing tree branches around our little home seems an important part of creating the atmosphere that is my favorite part of this season: one of warmth and generosity, care and homemade mirth. For me, the sweetness of this time of year is all about the feeling of it, the way all the sensory abundance adds up to something singular. There is a woodland tree in our living room! I light the candles when I get home in the evenings and drink saison. There is something slow-simmered on the stove, and a last-minute invitation for someone to come over and share it. If we can slow down to hear it, there’s a hush.

And I still have one more garland to go. Cranberries are up next.

I’m of course interested to hear how you all keep your holidays simple and meaningful, and what traditions mean the most to you. Please share!

February 1, 2012

Winter Wellness Guide

I think a lot about the creative process: how there are sparks of ideas and bursts of activity followed by periods of inaction. That period of inertia is what always drove me mad. What are we doing if not getting better and moving forward? Something important, it turns out. Like a field that’s given up its harvest, we’re lying fallow: rejuvenating, gathering reserves, collecting our energy for the next big burst.

This, I think, is what is so sweet about winter. When the world slows down, as it naturally does this time of year, we can take the time we need to prepare ourselves for our next surge of growth–whatever that may be. And so we stay close to home, write in our journals, practice yoga, linger over our coffee, and take the time we need to reflect. Its not laziness and it’s not inaction; it’s the practice of shoring up, and equipping ourselves with the care, thought, and ideas for whatever comes next.

In Chinese Medicine, winter is associated with the element water. Water is “the stage of energy before structure; it is potential,” writes Lorena Monda. “To access this phase of transformation, we must create space and quiet within us to mindfully look and listen. We direct this deep looking and listening to the world inside and around us. It is here that we begin to know what we want or what is necessary. It is here that we set our intention.” Continue reading “Winter Wellness Guide” »

January 25, 2012

Winter Quiet

Photos: 1. Nordic trees linen napkins, 2. cabin in the snow, 3. soup, 4. fireplace in the bedroom, 5. how to do a self-portrait, 6. candles, 7. birch logs, 8. felt coffee cozies, 9. tea

Words have felt like quite a lot of bother lately, but pictures–pictures feel good. I’ve fallen deeply and quietly into the land of Pinterest and Etsy looking for winter images that feel how I want to in the deep of January: calm, cozy, quiet, creative. On the heels of a weekend like this one, where I woke up to a covering of snow on the wet gray streets and begrudgingly pulled myself out of bed and out of the house, it feels good to be quiet. Monday, the snow melted, and I walked in the rain to get the crossword (a new favorite winter-quiet activity!). Things are good, and even, but I want the muffled quiet that comes with more snow. And so, for a change, I’m making collages instead of droning on and on. You know how it is, I know you do.