Winter is Coming: Cleaning and Contemplating

Musings on winter prep, memories from smell

and Cecily Neville on a trip into the mountains

Though we’ve had a spot of termination dust recently, winter otherwise isn’t really making itself known to us yet, at least not in a big way. At the same time, it’s pretty safe to say summer is a thing of the past, and to that end I’ve been engaging in a few activities to psych myself up for the long months ahead.

CLEANING IS NOT REALLY ANYONE’S FAVORITE, but for me it does have a bit of a soothing calm, if I do it methodically and without rush. I always do this first because even a small corner of chores from this angle sort of revs me up for more, and I get into the groove of moving outward from there, making sure the pieces fit together nicely. Once I start baking and cooking for the freezer, for example, I want to be adding my prepped goods to a space clean and ready to receive it. The same goes for the rest of the kitchen and, indeed, my home, which I will aim to shed of clutter and excess. Sometimes it can be tricky to decide what is stuff as opposed to valued pieces –and by valued I mean that they “bring me joy,” as Marie Kondo might say. Not too long ago I whisked everything off the tops of furniture in my living room (bookshelves, armoire, son’s desk hutch), power dusted and replaced only some of it. I should add that I wipe with a wet cloth, then dry. A duster, in my opinion, just moves dust around, and we have a lot of it here.

With the exception of books and perhaps some records, not a lot to be added to the living room – instead I did some removal and switching around. To this area I moved two of the six lamps Turtle gifted to me last Christmas, where previously they had all been bunched together in one corner, hung at varying heights. Below, the stripping of library markings from my book sale acquisitions continues. You can see my growing collection of Karen Maitland, Michael Jecks and Alys Clare works. I love beautifully colored and shaped jars, and the card, from Hastings, still brings me joy.

I won’t really be adding things to the rest of the house the way I do the kitchen, but some items are sure to come in. Books, for example, are a given, perhaps also a few new records. I have my eyes on a pine cone project I might do, and new sheets and towels are likely this winter, perhaps even a new comforter. (This last one I keep trying to justify.) The storage area in my laundry room, though I dislike cleaning it out, at least does surprise me most of the time, in that even when I don’t get rid of much, when I put it all back, looks better than it did before. It’s not unknown for me to go in there a few times in the days after just to look at it.

I WON’T START COOKING AND FREEZING lots of food just yet, especially if I’m trying to use up what remains. Still, the fall is a wonderful time to re-visit some of the medieval recipes I’ve played with in the past, such as a Medieval Sallat. Our “monsoon” season is now upon us and I love the sensation of working the salad in the kitchen with the door or window open to hear the pitter patter of rain against the roof. I enjoy the little bit of chill, a nice contrast to the Lumbard mustard I prepare. My son loves my pumpkin bread, so I’ll make a few loaves of these as well, and the smell is simply heavenly. I’ve always heard smell is the sense most associated with memory, and indeed the wafting pumpkin sensation always brings me back to the day when he, just a tiny guy of nearly three, was nowhere to be found one Saturday morning when we’d first moved into our house. I could still smell the spices in the air from the previous night’s baking, which he’d helped me with, himself wrapping the loaves in foil and leaving them on the counter to cool off.


Turnips, quartered | Parsnips, sliced | Beets, quartered

St. John’s bread (carob) | Almonds | Filberts

Cabbage, shredded | Large prunes | Figs

Dates | Golden raisins | Dried apple rounds

Dried, honeyed pineapple, cut in small wedges

Lumbard or sharp mustard | Brown sugar

Ingredients for Medieval Salad, with simple instructions on p. 185 of

Fabulous Feasts by Madeleine Pelner Cosman


I didn’t get the panicky feel people talk about when discussing missing children; perhaps I could sense his presence, but just couldn’t place it. I looked in every single room of the house, but only came upon him when I started looking into crannies, so to speak. Eventually I located him beneath our large kitchen table, loaf of bread in hand and ripping off chunks of it to stuff into his little mouth. His tiny face turned up to me and I laughed at the scene, crying out, “Oh honey, I’m sorry, you must  be so hungry!” It was instinctive but it also served to show him he wasn’t in trouble. He crawled out and up into my lap, curled into me as I sat at the table, and continued to eat some more of his “breakfast.” We sat there a good long while after he finished, cuddled up and quietly enjoying each other’s company on that November morning.

WHEN MY HOME IS ORGANIZED AND ORDERLY, my stress level is reduced and, indeed, I can even concentrate more effectively. One result is that when I leave and come back, I can more fully enjoy the tail end of whatever activity I’ve just returned from, which to me signals the real closing portion of it, as opposed to just leaving the place I’d been to. In the case of a recent jaunt, this will actually carry on into another endeavor at home—not, strictly speaking, a winter preparation or chore, and in fact a new pursuit, the seeds of which began with repeated mention of Annie Garthwaite’s debut novel, Cecily. Still, is bears the marks of one, given the prep and indoor nature of the rest of it.

So what is it? Well, after having seen all these mentions of Garthwaite’s novel, and it being about the mother of Richard III, I simply had to look into it and ended up ordering the work for my own Richard collection. I loved the vibrant colors of the cover and began to watch my mail notifications with a bit more enthusiasm. It was perfect timing to learn more about Cecily Neville, a strong, capable woman, the mother of kings who navigated them and herself through years of war and peace, both of which required action plans in the fifteenth century. With winter coming on and more reading time ahead, I gave a peek at the author’s website, which included the recipe for a “classic cocktail that celebrates Cecily’s complexity and strength of character.” It was perhaps the color that drew me in most—the color! So vibrant, like the volume’s own cover and, indeed, Cecily’s character. Of course, a bit of vibrancy in winter is a great little tool to have in one’s arsenal, non?

SO I DECIDED TO DO IT, though the hibiscus the Negroni recipe mentions wasn’t available here, and a friend and I decided to substitute fireweed petals—a nice little Alaskan twist (and seen above, sprinkled across the table). Personally, I think Cecily would enthusiastically approve of making something your own, even toss a Good on you! at the notion of embracing one’s own environment and acknowledging its part in what makes you, you. As it happened, the plans my friend and I made seemed constantly thwarted, re-scheduling becoming an annoyingly constant recourse. Then, a Wednesday arrived in which we were finally able to go up in elevation (the fireweed was rather picked out down in the city and surrounding area), and we did. When I met up with her, I also had great news: my copy of Cecily had arrived that very day! Serendipitous, she called it.

More serendipity occurred: On our way, we missed the exit we needed off the highway, so we simply took the next one, near to which is a back road that links the two. Slow is required, not only as it is a smaller road, but also since troops frequently use it. We didn’t run into the Army that day, but were happily surprised to come upon a black bear crossing the road. We both grabbed our phones, but somehow it just didn’t work. As for me, I was a bit excited and flustered, so the presence of mind to zoom in wasn’t there, and we had to carry on. “Perhaps we’ll see him on our way out,” Vita remarked. Mmmmm. Perhaps, I remember thinking, though I doubt it.

As it happened, we did! I couldn’t believe our luck when, as we ambled past the last of the greenery marking the road toward and away from the mountain, I spotted he who by that time I had named Randy. He had a small brown marking on his snout and he just struck me as…Randy. Even Randall if one was to be on formal acquaintance. This time we were prepared and managed to get lots of video. Unfortunately I haven’t had time to edit it—it’s a bit long—but I do have a still from it and will add the actual video once I have it all prepped. I love how the still came out—Randy looks sort of like a model, posed in transition with his foot dangling gracefully as he peers back at us, sitting not far away. Eventually he came closer, and I was surprised at how much noise he made walking through the grass. Vita aimed both phones, something I learned a few minutes later was actually rather difficult to do, while I had my finger at the ready, prepared to close the window if Randy got too close. But all was peaceful and eventually Randy himself ambled across the road and into the forest on the other side.

What would Cecily make of this? Since time travel is almost always on my mind, I contemplate what it might be like to have hosted her on our little jaunt, show her a little piece of our homeland. By Cecily’s time, bears were extinct on the British Isles, but I like to think she would not cower at the unknown quantity. I think she would be curious and enthralled. Perhaps she would even take the view, as we often do, that if we respect their boundaries and take care around them, they are not really the ones to fear. The army she would encounter on these roads would be what we call friendly, though her own experiences with armies might give her pause. Still, I feel she wouldn’t back down from the opportunity we set out for that day, and would have been an enthusiastic participant, especially once she learned about our plans and winter prep. I don’t yet know much about Cecily, but one trait I have always believed she possessed is curiosity.  

A marvelous attribute, curious is a delightful manner in which to approach life, perhaps especially winter, really with so many things to discover, even if much of it comes by way of performing the ordinary tasks of the season that, to many, can often be written off as sheer drudgery or tedious in character. Though I typically enjoy winter, it can be this way for me too at times. I hope to make this year different by more often finding the Cecily in me—not because I will be doing anything of great consequence to or for the world, but perhaps at least for mine. Finding things meaningful to life is one manner in which to build up ways to make a difference to others. The pieces fit together nicely, you might say.

And so in this manner I make my way toward winter, cleaning and contemplating, peering backward and looking to the future. It’s a little surreal to be fussing over ordinary tasks while the world seems to be turning upside down, and perhaps Cecily would be able to relate to this as well. But time marches on, and winter is coming. Summer is a thing of the past and the time to adapt is at hand.

Slideshow images: Cecily, fireweed petals and Negroni ingredients; Anchorage in the distance; Randy peering at us during a break from bulking up; fireweed petals soaking in boiling water; a sprig of mint leaf for good measure, just because it made a nice image; roughly half the bottle of gin poured into a glass jar with boiled fireweed petals added. They now will infuse for a few days.

Above: Portion of the Chugach Range.

All images courtesy Lisl Madeleine. Permission required to reproduce; while permission typically will be given, it must be acquired in writing. See Book Review Policies for email address.

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