I've heard this advice about tackling hard things: pick the thing on your to-do list that you want to do least and just do it! Once you've scratched it off, the rest of the list feels easier, like coasting downhill slowly, as you tick down the items. You feel empowered by having accomplished that first unpleasant bit.
Fun fact: Sometimes you can't do the thing you want to do least for the obvious reason that you DON'T WANT TO DO IT. But that's okay. You try again the next day. Like those wretchedly long papers you had to write in college, somehow it gets accomplished!
I'm out at our house this weekend, happily breathing in the sea air and stopping at all the beaches around town, watching the water change color with the hour. There's something specifically wonderful about the ocean in winter weather. It's mercurial and capricious, swinging quickly from a calm and brilliant turquoise to a sullen navy blue, the surface swirled by cold winds and pelted with ice.
The weather outside is messy. Ferocious winds are whipping through the city, pelting the windows with tiny bits of hail. All day it has alternated between wet flakes of snow and icy rain. Once dusk fell, walking around was miserably cold, each block feeling like a marathon. Just one more block, I told myself, as I trudged home through the windy streets. Now one more, I encouraged, not long now!
The water is obscured by a thick mist today. I woke to the sound of rain, drumming against the windows. All day it alternated between a heavy downpour and a steady, gray drizzle. I took a run in the morning—out to the beach where you can stand at the top of the steep staircase that leads down to the water. I stretch my stiff legs there and watch the water slowly ebb and flow. It's oddly calm given the stormy weather, but you can only see a little ways out past the shore before the rain and mist blur the horizon into a smudge of soft blue-gray.
I can see the water from my seat at the dining room table. The windows on the eastern and southern sides of our house face the bay, which separates our little town from the white, windswept beaches of Shelter Island. Our street ends at a small cul-de-sac, which I love for two reasons. One, the street has no through traffic, but rather people walking their dogs or coming down to sit on the bench and hold hands or sip coffee at the water's edge. Two, there's a small dock that juts into the water, where I like to go and read my book in the summertime. It's peaceful and quiet in every season: the water lapping against the weathered wood of the pilings, boats entering and leaving the marina next door, and birds wheeling overhead.
I've just placed down in front of him. He quickly looks up and adds, "no offense" with a rather cute and sheepish smile. I give him a supercilious look and haughtily respond that I will take that as a compliment, that clearly I regularly cook such impressive meals that I make Nigella Lawson look like a rube in comparison to my own domestic goddess status, so this must be just beyond exceptional.
It's been a week, let me say. Highs and lows. The frenetic, happy pace of the holidays gave way to the calm, quiet rhythm of my daily routine back in the city. Being home with my sisters for Christmas is like stock-piling happiness, leaving me with a residual warmth to carry back to New York. But no matter how lovely my time away is, there's such a comfort in returning to a simple, expected structure. (Hi, can you tell I'm an introvert?)
My presents are arranged across the kitchen table, awaiting their wrapping paper and Scotch tape and silky ribbons. I say arranged although perhaps strewn would be a more appropriate word choice. Before I wrap them, I'll organize them into piles: first divided into stocking presents and under-the-tree presents, then stacked by recipient.
I glance at my phone to see that little red circle alerting me of a new text message. At the right moment, that can be the nicest sight. It says "headed home" and I'm happy. I'm in the kitchen, standing in socked feet at the stove. The twinkling strands of white lights, strung above the mantel, are glowing and Van Morrison sings warm love on the speakers. I've already made dinner, and I just need to reheat it.
The electric feeling in the air before a snowstorm reminds me of being little again. There's a giddiness and a building anticipation; throughout the city, the energy feels heightened. The grocery stores are busier, everyone seems chattier. The television screens inside nail salons and sports bars hum with red headlines promising "up to 6 inches!" and images of handsome weathermen interspersed with still shots of previous winters: Central Park blanketed in snow, cabs swerved on icy roads, and so on.