As we approach autumn, it looks like Covid-19 is still with us and more measures could be imposed soon to try to prevent its spread. Let’s hope it won’t be another full lockdown, so bad for mental health, with the lack of family and friends’ visits that made March through to June so difficult for many people. Most of us have already tried different methods of social interaction, from garden visits to online meets, but as winter approaches, the garden options may not be viable. A lockdown winter could be a hard one.
Here are a few things to think about while we still have good weather – though that is set to change soon. What kind of things can we do now to make winter easier to handle in the current circumstances? This is a personal list, and I am aware not everyone has an outside space or a garden, so I will include some alternatives where I can. I’ve never lived in a house without a garden, so I’m very lucky.
- Start feeding the wild birds now, then they will know where to come when harsher weather bites, and you will be entertained by bird-watching from your window. This can be done in a garden or back yard. You might also try your local park or any places near you where wildlife comes. Ducks often go hungry in the winter, so consider them too. Birds like to eat all sorts of things, not just commercial bird seeds. Bacon rind, scraps of fat from meat, fruit such as windfall apples, breadcrumbs. Ducks like sweetcorn and grain – so if you have nothing to give them but bread, choose granary. They get little nutrition from white sliced bread (and neither do we). If you are going to a park or wild space to feed them, you also get the benefit of a walk.
- If you can get to any woods where there are pine cones, go on a forage trip. We are lucky to have a pine tree in our garden, so I have been gathering there. Pine cones make great firelighters – for best results use up your left over candle stubs, melt in a double boiler, then dip the cones in once it’s starting to cool. Pine cones also make great seasonal decorations – but first you need to bake them in the oven for about an hour on a low heat, placing them on a foil-covered baking tray, to kill any insects hiding in there and to fully dry them. Then they can be painted, strung together, heaped in bowls, or made into miniature Christmas trees, whatever you like.
- I’m also harvesting windfall apples and freezing them down into stewed apple, which can be used in pies, crumbles and as an accompaniment to food. You may not have your own apple trees, but there may be some going free locally, or you may find some community apple trees. Ask around. People who have them often have more than they can handle and are glad to offload.
- If you have children, it’s fun to take a nature walk or treasure hunt this time of year. Acorn cups, beachnuts, sycamore wings, fallen leaves: there are many things around to collect for a temporary nature table. In the 1950s and 60s, it was common practice for schools to have a nature table, though the practice seems to have died out. It’s a great way to learn about nature, though washing your hands after handling these things is a good plan. It’s fun to look things up and write labels for them, and the display could be made permanent by taking photos.
- While charity shops are still open, do consider donating goods, but more importantly, purchase things. Charities have really felt the pinch, and you can help them AND yourself by buying winter reading, cosy blankets to spread around your living areas to save having heating on all day. It’s better for the planet to buy second hand clothes where possible, and prevent things from going into landfill by both donating and buying second hand.
- If you have sewing skills, unwanted garments can be reclaimed into fabric for new makes. Things like lavender bags only need scraps of fabric. Or start a patchwork quilt with your scraps and unused fat quarters.
- I’m starting to make Christmas gifts, and again charity shops can be a good source of goods to transform. I am thinking about small gifts like a hot chocolate kit. Buy a charity shop mug, make some chocolate spoons by melting chocolate into a shot glass or small jar, insert a pretty spoon (also from charity shops), slide out of the container when set and wrap in glassine or greaseproof paper. Put a couple of these in a mug with marshmallows and other treats, and wrap together. People who use foodbanks might like to have these too.
- I’m also knitting scarves, hats, fingerless gloves, small shawls and so on. These are fun to make and are great for using up yarn oddments. Knitting keeps you warm, and keeps your fingers agile. You could also consider knitting preemie hats and blankets for hospitals. I can’t crochet well but the same goes for crotchet.
- There are lots of easy one pot recipes for winter eating. Make casseroles with lots of veg, and some form of protein such as beans, or meat if you eat it ( we do). A little goes a long way, and stews and casseroles can have a suet crust or dumplings to make them truly one pot – or add potatoes to the mix. A nice recipe I make is red cabbage casserole. Chop the cabbage, red onions and a red pepper into a pan and sweat in a little oil, add chopped up apple and some walnuts, then bake in the oven, using veg stock or cider as the liquid. Serve with baked potatoes. Very satisfying. You don’t need recipes to make casseroles, just be inventive. Suet pastry or crust couldn’t be simpler. One ounce of flour per person, half the amount of vegetarian suet (because it’s nicer). Mix together with a knife add salt, pepper and any herbs you like (Thyme works well), mix into a stiff dough with water, and either roll into balls in floured hands and drop into the almost cooked casserole (while it’s still quite liquidy) and cook for a further 20 mins with the lid off, or roll out on to a floured surface and drape over the casserole contents and cook for 20 more mins without the lid.
- Cultivate the art of writing letters to loved ones you can’t actually see right now. Include photos, recipes they might like, quotes and poems you’ve found comforting. Little parcels can be really nice to get too. I’ve been sending my granddaughter little things, and will start this up again if we can’t see her. Things like colouring sheets, washi tape, and little home-made books and toys can bring a smile. I made paper dolls by enlarging a graphic from the internet and backing it with card before cutting it out. It’s lovely to receive real letters and parcels in the post. Perhaps time could be spent making Christmas cards to send this year, even just a few to special people, and having children make cards for the grandparents, aunts and uncles would keep them entertained on rainy weekends. Home-made cards are best kept simple.
collage art I made with an autumn thrush