How long has it been since you’ve seen a great, big smile — in the mirror or otherwise?
The air is thick enough to slice and dice. Ugly gray snow is wedged into your wheel wells, and it takes an extra tug to open your car door every morning. You can feel the ice crystals forming inside your nose when you walk to the mailbox.
It’s the bleak midwinter, folks, and time to pull ourselves out of the winter doldrums.
We, the staff of Life, have gathered some suggestions. Maybe one or two of these ideas will brighten your day.
“Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates” by Tom Robbins. Those who know Robbins from his more famous works like “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues” understand that he takes readers on journeys of goofiness and deeper meaning, filled with zany bits of magical realism and frank and robust sensuality. This one is the tale of a human contradiction named Switters, a high-ranking CIA agent who hates the government and loves show tunes, a vegetarian who makes an exception for his red-eye gravy addiction, a cybergenius who detests technology. And the story takes place in hot climates, as advertised.
“Midnight’s Children” by Salman Rushdie. Wonderful and fantastical fiction, “Midnight’s Children” is set in India and balances the real and magical, offering the perfect escape from a Utah winter — warmer climates, insight into another culture and way of life, telepathy and magical powers, and just plain beautiful writing.
“The Accidental Tourist” by Anne Tyler. The characters are so endearingly quirky, from grief-stricken travel writer Macon sloshing — er, washing — his clothes with his feet in the tub while he showers, to his odd siblings who never see fit to answer their ringing telephone, to the eccentric dog trainer Muriel, who helps Macon discover a new life.
“Last Stand At Papago Wells” by Louis L’Amour. Or any of his other books set in the desert.
“The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” series by Alexander McCall Smith. Nothing shocking or earth-shattering here, just sweet little stories from Botswana to read before bedtime that will send you smiling into your dreams.
“Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak. Few things make one smile like a memorable children’s book, and this is one of the best. Sendak is best read aloud, ideally with a child within earshot. Let the wild rumpus start.
Virgin pina colada. Make your blender your best friend this winter. Although it may seem counterintuitive, a frozen concoction may just be the ticket to help you hang on. (Why virgin? Alcohol is a depressant.) Oh, and don’t forget the tiny umbrella.
Sushi. If you’re already acquainted, you know how swimmingly the smiles come at a sushi dinner with friends and family. And for the uninitiated, a sushi meal is guaranteed to offer a raw new experience. Sushi is a culturally broadening, delicious food, and nothing breaks a routine like saying to yourself or a loved one “That tobiko (flying fish roe) is pretty good!” or “This time, let’s try some unagi (freshwater eel).”
High-end chocolates. Give up on the cheap vending-machine variety in favor of the kind you have to go to a chocolatier to purchase. You may not eat chocolate as often, but when you do ...
Pineapple. Not the icky stuff from a can, but the freshest pineapple you can get in Utah. It’s bright yellow like the sun, with a sweet taste that brings back island memories.
Bacon. Preferably Oscar Mayer or Hormel brand, cooked on the George Foreman grill and served with over-easy eggs, on a BLT, on a burger, but NOT in a sundae.
Cheeseburger Soup. Particularly a recipe from the fall 2001 Taste of Home Cooking School Recipe Collection magazine. Add some broccoli for a classic comfort food.
Enchilada casserole. A sure tummy pleaser, with those warm and melty layers of tortillas, spicy meat, olives and cheese.
A batch of homemade soup or stew. Beef and barley with lots of carrots, celery, green peppers, canned tomatoes, oregano and garlic … or a savory Beef Burgundy that combines a mix of vegetables and meat with burgundy wine, garlic, cocoa and other ingredients.
See’s Scotch Kisses.
“Raising Arizona.” Funniest. Movie. Ever. And bonus, this 1987 Coen brothers comedy is set in toasty Arizona — great escapist fare for a cold winter’s night. Look for the hi-larious Utah reference at the end.
“O Brother Where Art Thou?” This Coen brothers film, starring the handsome and hysterical George Clooney and the period-perfect tunes handcrafted by music director T-Bone Burnett, is based loosely on Homer’s “Odyssey.” For the most part, this movie presents an old-time version of the South, full of warmth, light, music and laughs — what more do you need on a gloomy day?
“The Thing.” Nothing will shock you out of the doldrums like a good scare, and John Carpenter’s 1982 horror classic is the perfect movie for the dead of winter. Set in Antarctica, the movie’s scenery is reminiscent of Utah’s winterscape — and who’s got time to be seasonally bummed out when they’re busy looking over their shoulder for shape-shifting aliens?
“Over the Hedge.” If Hammy the “I like the cookie” Squirrel can’t make you laugh, nothing can.
“Blue Hawaii.” This Elvis Presley movie, with a plot about tourism in Hawaii, is filled with beach scenes and fun music — you may feel like you’re on a warm and sunny vacation.
“Singin’ in the Rain.” Watching Gene Kelly splash and sing and stomp so joyously through all of those puddles makes a few snowflakes seem not quite so bad.
A disaster movie. That would include any Charlton Heston movie, whether he’s being chased by angry gorillas, having issues as the last man on earth or leading the Israelites through the Red Sea. Or perhaps “The Poseidon Adventure,” “Titanic,” “The Day After Tomorrow” — the point being that life may be mundane and even depressing at times, but at least you’re not on a sinking ship ...
Surf music. Like Dick Dale’s first album, “Surfer’s Choice,” with a version of his “Misirlou Twist” that is fully orchestrated and slamming!
“The Boy Who Wouldn’t Hoe Corn,” by Dan Tyminski. Just thinking about tending crops makes one feel warmer, but Tyminski’s delivery of this song is smokin’ hot. Tyminiski may be best known as the singing voice of George Clooney in “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” or as a member of Alison Krauss & Union Station, but he’s also a great soloist.
“The Sound of Music” soundtrack. If you don’t feel better after listening to “Maria,” “My Favorite Things” and the rest of the gems on this 1965 original motion picture soundtrack, seek professional help. Because you’ve got more than just the winter doldrums.
Soundtrack from “The Music Man.” “Ya Got Trouble” by Robert Preston, “Till There Was You” with Shirley Jones, and “Gary, Indiana” featuring cute little Ronnie Howard — pretty soon, you’re humming along.
“True Widow,” True Widow. True Widow’s self-titled release went relatively unnoticed when it came out in 2008, but it’s worth some attention, especially when you’re feeling sort of blah. The Texas three piece’s shoegaze, drone-y triumph won’t exactly cheer you up, but it’s heaving and melodic — beautiful in a numb sort of way — and the perfect record for when you feel like wallowing a bit.
A pedicure. You get legs, feet, even your toes — each one of them! — ever-so-finely massaged, plus your toenails are brightened with a cheery splash of color. Might make you grin every time you change your socks.
Massage. The best way to benefit from a massage is to work out and shower first, priming your muscles to respond. Most masseurs offer 30-, 60- and 90-minute sessions. A half-hour is not really enough to work out the tightness, but the 90-minute session is all but trance-inducing. Stay clear of it if you need to do anything other than head straight to bed. And always drink tons of water afterward to help flush any toxins and muscle soreness.
Make some art. Painting offers the chance for creative expression, working with your hands, and ending up with a finished product to admire. Even if you consider yourself less than talented, take a community learning class or just wing it — oil paints and other materials can be purchased fairly cheaply — and soon those winter blues will be different shades of color on your canvas.
Go shopping. Thrift stores, post-holiday sales on keepsake ornaments, save a gift card from the holidays and head out solo. Whatever floats your boat.
Escape the cold with a trip to Disneyland, in sunny California. For that matter, travel to anywhere warm and sunny that’s not about to be hit by a hurricane.
In case of emergency ... Make an “emergency winter survival kit” for a friend or loved one — a gift basket of your favorite doldrums-busting book, movie, music, food and indulgence. Include a note of explanation/appreciation. Seriously, nothing raises your own spirits quite like doing something nice for someone else.