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Be someone on whom nothing is wasted. One of my undergraduate professors used that line on us and I’ve never forgotten it. It’s especially top-of-mind whenever I get to do something I consider a privilege, not unlike the month-long trip I’ve been making to Florida every January for the past five years.

There is untold value in getting away for even a short retreat, but that’s often impossible for many women who have work and family obligations. As I made my way home last weekend, I wondered if or when I might get to go again. And if not, how could I change my daily reality to get the same mental health perks that came with spending a month in sunny Florida?

There’s not much we can do about living in a city where the sun shines only half the time and most of those 186 gray days occur consecutively during the same season—winter. Or is there?

If you’ve got the winter blahs, here are some ideas for manufacturing some excitement by simulating the pleasure of traveling when you can’t leave home.

Pursue every opportunity to meet and talk to new people. I don’t know why, but when I’m home, I can go for days without meeting anyone new. I mind my own business, mired in daily responsibilities. This, my friends, can kill your sense of adventure and possibility. When I’m in Florida (or maybe just when I’m traveling), I am more open to striking up meaningful conversations with people I don’t know.

One morning in Dunedin, I was walking along the intercoastal waterways and spotted a lady who was photographing a stranded boat—one that had intrigued me on previous walks along the same route. “Did you get a good shot?” I asked her. That question led to a 20-minute conversation about creativity and a lunch later that week. Donna was a local artist who introduced me to the majestic Belleair neighborhood in Clearwater. After lunch, we walked the neighborhood, a rare spot that sits above sea level. Together, we watched an amazing storm gather in the sky. (Below is the gorgeous photo Donna captured the day we met.)

Everywhere I went, I was open to conversation. It just seemed like the natural thing to do. I made several new friends this way—people I may not see often, but I’ll be in touch with. What a grace to have the world expand a little. I vowed to try this at home by speaking to people I run across in my daily routines.

Improve and beautify your indoor space. I stayed in a historic bed and breakfast home for three weeks. My host had an amazing knack for adding small flourishes that gave the eye something to feast upon. One day I came home and found a hyacinth bulb in a vase. Over the next few days, I watched it bloom and enjoyed the fragrance as I got dressed in the morning. Another day she changed my bed and arranged the pillows decoratively. When the hyacinth was just beginning to bloom, she brought in a new vase with fresh flowers. All through my stay there were little surprises like this. It doesn’t cost much to put a beautiful stamp on things and gather a few moments of delight in the dead of winter.

Take structured breaks from media. Other than checking email, scanning a headlines and a weekly check on social media feeds, I avoided media during January. It was like taking a happy pill. I felt more hopeful and optimistic and less fatigued. I found extra time in the evening, which allowed me to read four books in a month—a lot for a slow reader. I heartily recommend The Lost Painting of Sara DeVos, by Dominic Smith and Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, by Elizabeth Gilbert. Gilbert’s book isn’t just for writers; it’s great for all creative people.

Both books are available at Parnassus Books, an independent bookstore in Nashville, which is co-owned by Ann Patchett, a favorite author. (Have I mentioned that I stopped there on my way home? It was a bucket list item!)

I’m not advocating that you bury your head in the sand, but if there is any way you can reduce time spent on national and social media, you will get an immediate lift from the winter blues. Subscribe to a publication like The Week. It allows you to do a deep dive of aggregated national and international news once a week, so you won’t miss a thing. I’m experimenting with posting and checking social feeds only once or twice a week, too. Pick a formula that works for you and try it.

Start a new spiritual practice. My girlhood friend Melanie introduced me to a new ritual of writing scripture. I purchased a beautiful journal and it’s been so uplifting to start the day with sacred words. If you already have a morning prayer routine, it’s a fantastic way to hear from God before he hears from you. I’ve been taking my time, writing four or five verses at a time slowly and intentionally so I can make my penmanship as beautiful as possible and savor every word. Even mature Christians can get stagnant if they aren’t making a conscious effort to improve. Are you like the fabulous birds that pursue what they need to grow, or more like a dilapidated sailboat that gets stuck in a shallow harbor? Here’s a post on my church blog to check yourself. 

Be part of a community. It’s one thing to stay in a bed and breakfast for a weekend retreat, quite another to stay for three weeks. In the past, I’ve always rented condos, but this year, my parents elected not to join us. That opened options I hadn’t considered before. I selected a bed and breakfast we enjoyed last summer when we were in the Tampa Bay area for a wedding.

Initially, I was reluctant about sharing space for such a long stay, but I needn’t have worried. The owner lived on the third floor of the home, giving guests full run of the rest of the house, including a laundry room and a well-appointed kitchen. We were completely surprised by how much we enjoyed the other guests and felt part of a community.

For the better part of a week, we enjoyed morning coffee with Keith and Linda, a retired couple from London. Their British accents and alternate words for objects delighted us. (Example: we say diapers, they say nappies.) We shared dinner on their last night and Jim played 18 holes of golf with them while I was working one day. How informative to hear their perspective on world events! They also own a bed and breakfast in London—not for the income, but because they value the chance it gives them to meet new people. They describe it as “traveling without leaving home.”

In the middle of the day, I took tea breaks with Joanie, a retired tax attorney from Rhode Island who survived pancreatic cancer and is now healthy. Her stay overlapped with mine minus one day, which gave us plenty of time to cover many topics. We bonded over our desire to distill our lives down to only the most essential possessions, leaving space and time for things that matter to us more.

Finally, there was Karen and Dennis, a Canadian couple who transitioned to retirement by buying a 45-foot boat and living on it for a year. In 2016, they navigated from Canada through the Great Lakes, down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico, around the Keys, up the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterways, back through the Hudson River. Theirs was a spellbinding story of adventure. As they recounted it to me one morning, I kept repeating two words: “No way!” No way, no way, no way. Yes. They did.

The point is this: when you put yourself in situations that might otherwise seem uncomfortably close, there’s a chance that you will meet people who are living the kind of extraordinary life that inspires you to move forward with your dreams, whatever they are.

Don’t be intimidated when you meet these people; get closer. Run with that herd wherever you can find them—at church, at school, in your neighborhood, at local events or maybe at a summer camp for adults.

Winter is a time to dream and plan what’s next. For one week next summer, you could go back to school at Indiana University’s Mini University, where you can stay on campus and choose from over 100 classes. You could take a class online at Skillshare. (I’ve got my eye on this calligraphy class. )

If you’re a writer, you might enjoy the International Women’s Writing Guild summer conference, a week-long multi-genre writing session in Allentown, Pennsylvania on the campus of Muhlenberg University. 

Maybe a small weekend getaway somewhere nearby would give you the same inspiration as a lengthy respite. Or perhaps you’re someone who would consider opening your home to guests or a student in an exchange program—the antidote for the traveling itch when you can’t leave home.

My annual southern tour each January has been one of the great blessings in my life, a way to reconnect with old friends, make new friends, look for new business, recharge my batteries and share time with my Mom and Dad. The experience of traveling alone on my own steam has also been a great confidence boost. Hey, I can do it. And you can, too! Whether you’re traveling or staying at home, I hope these mid-winter ideas inspire you to enjoy what’s left of winter. If you do escape part of winter, I hope your travels stay in your heart and shape your thinking the way a good book does.

Life is short. Wear the good stuff.