• One Minnesota Writer

Hygge for the Pandemic

A small calm place.

It’s true that the world is awful right now. How do we find any joy in our existence in this time?

That question has been key for months as part of my own self-care, resilience, and strengthening of my immune system for any battles it’s going to have to face. To recognize moments of joy before they slip away and feel grateful for something beyond overwhelming dread or fear is one way of moving forward. Hopefully, this will help buoy us to the other side of our pandemic.

Here in Minnesota, we are experiencing a horrific surge in COVID cases just as the weather cools enough that we can no longer comfortably gather outside. We have arrived in the season of indoor activity, which this year translates to the season of intense isolation.

With that in mind, I’ve been thinking about daily practices that bring coziness, happiness, and calm into my own house. Hygge for the pandemic, if you will.

Over the summer, I moved my computer onto a desk in front of the window in my office. Part of this was a little reorganization that had to be done to create two separate spaces for my husband and myself to both work at home when everything shut down. Turns out being in front of the window is a glorious thing. As I typed this post, I glanced out the window now and then to see treetops, the neighborhood pigeon flock, woolly clouds. That view into trees and sky is so soothing; being upstairs means I don’t see the neighbors’ cars or people walking on the street or the mail carrier. I just see the birds’ realm. I can pretend I’m far away from everything with only the neighbor’s chimney visible to remind me others are nearby. For his part, Mick’s desk is in front of one of our basement windows that looks into the backyard. He watched wrens build nests over the summer, and enjoyed the doe and fawn who visited our garden all summer long.

I’m grateful for windows in workspaces.

This is another window view that I found when I walked away from my computer screen for a break.

Another thing I’ve started doing while I work is lighting a candle. I have a bunch of old scented tealights that I don’t use for much, so they’ve ended up in my office. A little flame completely changes the mood of the room and a little lavender scent is another soothing thing. Since my office is in my house, there’s no one to tell me I can’t have a candle. Mick likes fire, too; he’s been turning on the fireplace downstairs on these cooler days when he’s at work. His office on campus certainly didn’t have that option.

I’m grateful for the ambience of fireplaces and candles.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Mick brought all his office plants home. Now we have plants all over the house – in the dining room, living room, kitchen, laundry room. Our daughter Abby gave us plants for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and our birthdays, so the greenery factor is high around here. Did you know that there are health benefits for having houseplants that include less dust and mold in rooms with plants? And more humidity? Oh, and stress relief? I double-checked those ideas at WebMD HERE. As the snow piles up, we’ll keep the indoor garden going.

I’m grateful for indoor plants.

Our Thanksgiving cactus has beautiful blooms right now.

Our family, like many, has used video chats with everyone joining in to stay connected throughout the pandemic. Since we can’t share a Thanksgiving meal this year, I’m making our annual batch of fudge during our weekly chat this Friday. It’s a little goofy, but there’s joy in being creative around those traditions that will be so missed this year. Bonus: I get to lick the spoon without any competition. I don’t think my kids will mind too much since I’ll be depositing a portion of the fudge on their doorsteps over the weekend. And we’ll organize a video chat to open our gifts together on Christmas.

I’m grateful for creative ways to celebrate and connect via video chat.

Our 13-year-old dachshund, who is hyperalert and overreacts to every other living creature, is having the best old age ever. She’s got some health problems that we figure will force some tough decisions within the next year or so, and being home all the time without unexpected guests has eased her anxiety. Her greatest joy is pushing herself onto the couch and gluing herself to Mick’s or my side. In her dog-mind, her people never leave her.

I’m grateful we can give our dog security and snuggles.

When there's no one on the couch, Truffles makes do with her own dog bed and a little sun through the window.

Mick and I have fallen into a routine of morning exercise, meditation, and breakfast that makes the start of each day loving and solid. We both tend to wake up early – Mick earlier than me – so have time before the first Zoom meeting of the day to care for our bodies and minds and each other. When I think about past years when mornings were often rushed affairs with our tempers short and exercise that got put to the bottom of the to-do list, I am certain that I’ll do everything I can to not return to that kind of pace.

I’m grateful to learn a different pace for my life.

While the world battles COVID and people here in the US squabble about who’s got the best plan for the country, I’m clear that the sanctuary of home and a deliberate choice to find bits of joy or comfort is essential for everyone. As I worked on this post, I streamed Minnesota Governor Tim Walz’s daily update on COVID. The call included people who contracted the virus, a doctor who sees the impact of the spread every day, the lieutenant governor whose brother died from COVID, and a parent whose kid is trying to cling to youth sports as their only outlet during distance learning. There were a lot of stories, but the common thread is how nasty and impartial COVID is. Things here are as bad as they were in New York City in the spring. I took a lot of deep breaths as I listened, thought of my family and friends and how much determination it’s going to take to do what is necessary to stop the spread and give ourselves the best chance to be here after the pandemic has passed. Being informed is not the same as being overwhelmed; it means that my choices are different than they would be otherwise. I’m choosing to love this space I’m in, choosing to remain home, choosing to wear a mask when I have to go out, choosing to find the small moments of joy that remain here in front of me even now. This is my practice. This is how I balance on the tightrope of a pandemic.

I hope you choose a moment of joy soon, no matter how small, and carry it forward to the next day and the next, a talisman as we move beyond this crisis to the rest of our lives.

A little love goes a long way.

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