Letter from Birdland: It's all about creating coziness now

Winter has settled into Birdland with its short days and bitter winds. My red cabbage and arugula weathered some of the earlier frosts, and I was able to pick greens for salads or to saute through half of November, but even these sturdy cruciferous herbs are sadly wilted.

I keep meaning to start some greens inside. So used to picking my own, am I, that I forget to buy kale when I get my groceries. I envision a little bit of springtime on the table in the upstairs window. Three large pots, one of lettuces, one of arugula and one of an herb mix.

If I get really ambitious, I will set a couple of large pots on the floor with lattices for cucumbers and tomatoes.

The winter began mildly, but now that it's here in earnest, we are beginning to remember the pleasures of creating coziness in a harsh climate.

Afternoon tea has become a staple in our family. Ellis comes home from school and brews himself a cup. Michael surprises me at my desk, with my teacup on a tray with a little pitcher of milk. My husband knows how I like to take my tea. I keep the water hot in a kettle on the wood stove so we are always ready for company.

The wood stove has moved to the basement. Michael put it down there last summer, when it seemed like we'd never need it again.

His idea was to keep the mess of ashes and wood chips out of the dining room and that has worked well. It's easier to sweep up from the cement than the wood floor. Easier to carry the firewood down the stairs instead of up, to fill the wood box.

Heat rises, we reasoned, so it will warm our basement first, then radiate upstairs. I confess I argued against the change, but I like having more space in the dining room. We moved the china cabinet in where the stove used to take up the whole corner, making setting the table for a party easier.

But when the cold hit and he hadn't yet attached the stovepipe to the chimney, I began to wonder if we'd ever have a fire again. Then, last week, I came home to the familiar winter-time fragrance of smoke rising from our chimney, and I was glad.

I have always liked tending the fire, stirring it when I wake up, shaking down the ashes, choosing a log or two from the wood box, opening the flue to get the split wood started. I close it again when the orange blaze flickers in the glass doors of the stove, when I hear the flames crackle and snap at the wood.

I feed the cat, dog, chickens and fire in that order. And then I go upstairs and feed myself. On the first day of tending the new hearth, I discovered another benefit of moving the stove to the basement: As the heat rises to the living area, it first warms the floors.

If you want to feel really cozy, make sure your feet are warm. You can have as many blankets and sweaters as you want, but if your feet are like ice, you won't feel comfortable. Now, with the heat radiating up through the floors, the whole house feels cozy.

The early evenings make me think of candles, and that's another bit of wintertime coziness. When I notice the windows darken in the late afternoon earlier and earlier now, I try to remember to light my candles. It is an evening ritual, just a little moment of peace and intention.

I hold the match to the wick and watch for the space of a few breaths. At first, the yellow flame jumps and dances, but soon it settles down to a quiet flicker, glowing behind the glass. Then I step back and take my tea and go about my evening work, holding that quiet glow in my heart.

Burn in beauty; glow in peace; blessed be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath, where she always has one harebrained scheme or another up her sleeve. Her latest book,"Breakfast for the Bee," is available athttp://www.etsy.com/au/shop/BirdlandBookArts. You can read more of her writings and see recipes and photos athttp://www.letterfrombirdland.blogspot.com. Mary can be reached at letterfrombirdland@gmail.com.

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