Have you noticed that it seems as though we just took a nosedive into the dark, dank depths of autumn? It’s one of my favorite times of the year. An invitation to draw within. I know many of you are spry summer-loving fairies, but me, I prefer to lean into these dark days and find those things that bring on the warm fuzzies. The Danish folk even have a word for it: hygge. Maybe it’s my deep Scandinavian roots that pull me into this time of year and all its coziness. Either way, here are three things that help me create a bit of hygge in my autumn.
SOMETHING I’M LISTENING TO: SLEEP WITH ME PODCAST
When the kiddos were young, bedtime always, always included story time. Even when they were infants, we’d nestle together on the bed after their baths and read Goodnight Moon and Winnie The Pooh or later, Harry Potter. With practice, I had managed to master the voices of all the Pooh characters and The Mister was spot-on with most of the Harry Potter ones. Raising little humans was hard work and sometimes I’d stay and listen while The Mister read to the kids from Harry Potter, my eyelids heavy on the edge of sleep. I was struck by how soothing it was to be read to and how lovely it was to fall asleep with someone reading aloud. It almost didn’t even matter what was being read–just a familiar voice and the cadence and rhythm of a story being told.
It was earlier this year when, felled by the fatigue of pneumonia, I discovered podcasts. Unable to even sit upright for very long, I took to my bed and began to search through the hundreds of podcasts on my phone. I loved that I could just lay there in my drug-induced stupor and listen to someone tell me a story. It reminded me of those bedtime stories with my kids and I soon began compiling a list of my favorites. Storytelling podcasts like This American Life and The Moth, true-crime podcasts like S-Town and Dirty John, interview podcasts like Fresh Air. One for every mood. And then, it turns out, one to go to sleep by.
Sleep With Me is a fantastic podcast masterminded by Drew Ackerman, who hosts the podcast under the moniker, “Dearest Scooter.” It is advertised as the “podcast that puts you to sleep” and indeed, it does. With Scooter’s droning, monotone delivery, rambling on about random subjects like Game Of Thrones and Star Trek, I rarely make it through the whole hour awake. It’s like Ambien for the ears, with no sleepwalking or morning hangover side effect. I’ll set my phone on the nightstand at a volume I can just barely hear and let Scooter’s “soothing dulcet tones” lull me to sleep. I’ve used Sleep With Me when traveling or even when I find myself wide awake at 2:00AM, worrying about your sick aunt, my aging dog and North Korea. And if your sleeping partner isn’t a fan of Scooter’s monotone drone, you can even get these SleepPhones–headphones fashioned into a soft headband that are specifically made for sleeping in.
I know I’m not the only human wide awake in the dead of night. Might as well give Sleep With Me a try and let yourself be lulled into that elusive, deep slumber.
SOMETHING I’M COOKING: SOUP
Many moons ago, inspired by an out-of-character desire to create community, I launched First Friday Soup Nights. On the first Friday of every month, I’d unlock my front door and welcome in whomever was interested in sharing a bowl of soup, some crusty bread, a glass of wine and conversation. My kids thought I was nuts and maybe I was, but I still think it was a good experiment. The first few Fridays were a big hit, with lots of friends and neighbors and family stopping by. As summer approached, though, attendance dwindled and I put First Fridays on indefinite hold.
It’s still on hiatus.
I liked the idea then and I still do now, but my introverted nature makes it harder and harder to coax these cozy ideas into action. But the idea of soup is never far from my mind, especially on chilly October nights. I was recently listening (on a podcast, no less) to an interview with chef and author Anthony Bourdain talk about food and its emotional connection to us. He spoke about how he has no interest anymore in “fancy food” or in eating food that needs to be critiqued and analyzed. It’s about fresh, simple food made well that connects us to each other and our emotions. Yes, I thought. That’s exactly how I view my cooking and relationship with food these days. I don’t pretend to be a gourmet chef, but I’m a pretty solid home cook. Cooking and baking for and with others feeds my soul. And soup, in all its magnificent varieties, fits the bill perfectly. It is comfort food of the highest order–second only to casseroles in my book and far less polarizing.
Vegetable, Barley and Sausage Soup was the very first soup I served on First Friday and it lives on today as one of my go-to recipes. Some of us know it as “Jaina Soup” or “Juli Soup” or, if you were there that First Friday, “Tracie Jansen Soup”, but it’s all the same. A massively flavorful, veggie-laden soup with barley and the very important final flourish of a sweet-sour-umami combination of brown sugar, balsamic vinegar and Worcestershire sauce added just before serving. This recipe makes a lot of soup. Like, a lot. That said, plan accordingly and either 1.) divide the recipe in half, or 2.) make the whole recipe and throw a party, or 3.) make the whole recipe and freeze a bunch for leftovers or to bring to sick friends in need. Just make sure you use a soup pot that can handle the whole shebang.
Soup is fantastic because you can sneak umpteen million vegetables in it, add your favorite protein, a grain if you must, and eat it for days. This recipe uses a ton of cabbage and you could also swap in or add kale, chard or any other hearty, non-wilty green. Weekends are perfect for stirring up a pot of soup to have around for those days during the week that you’re too busy to cook. It’s cozy and comforting. Simple and fresh. Easy to share. Hygge.
This soup is so tasty it almost makes me want to pull First Friday Soup Night out of hibernation.
SOMETHING I’M DOING: RESTORATIVE POSES
It took me years of dedicated practice in an athletic, physically demanding power-vinyasa-style of yoga before I could appreciate the benefits of a restorative yoga practice. Or maybe that was just my ego that told me restorative yoga was somehow “cheating.” Either way, a little bit of age and wisdom, sprinkled with a nagging injury or two convinced me of the necessity of balance in my yoga. I began teaching a Slow Flow class twice a week, with the intention of offering a gentler, kinder yoga. One that was more accessible to more bodies. A practice that truly left you feeling the “ahhhhhhh” in yoga instead of the “ouch” that some classes created. I will often coerce myself to my mat with the promise of these restorative poses and then wind up doing a full hour practice before I even realize it. Especially as the days grow shorter and cooler, I invite in more of a contemplative, quiet practice that restorative yoga provides. These are three of my go-to restorative poses.
Find a blank wall (or create one) and sit sideways, with your hip against the wall. Roll onto your back and throw your legs up the wall. It’s as simple as that. You can make it fancier by placing a bolster or folded blankets under your hips if you’d like. The main idea is to get your feet and legs elevated and supported enough so that you can relax and simply breathe. In a pinch, I’ve practiced this laying on the floor with my legs up on a bed or chair, too. Viparita Karani helps to reverse the circulation in your legs and feels wonderful after a long day spent on your feet.
Taking time to lay in a passive, supported backbend takes us out of our “normal” rounded-shoulder, flexed-hip shape that we spend much of our day in if we tend to sit a lot. (Which a lot of us tend to do.) It helps open up the chest and shoulders, as well as the front body, all of which likes to contract and shorten as we age. I am a big fan of using bolsters, which you can buy here, or yoga blocks, to help get into many of these restorative postures. You can also improvise by stacking books, folded blankets or a firm sofa cushion underneath to support your body in this shape.
With a bolster (or firm sofa cushion) on the floor, sit up with your legs in front and pull the short edge of the bolster to the back of your hips. Once it’s there, simply lay back and extend your arms out to the side. Your butt stays on the floor as you relax and lay back onto the cushion. With blocks, place one block right at the bottom tips of your shoulder blades and lean back. Use a second block under your head to support the neck if you’re not comfortable letting the head drop back. Let the legs flop open and relax. Breathe deeply and allow your body to be held in this heart-opening shape. This supported backbend is one of my favorites.
Grab your bolster (or stack of folded blankets) and place it on the floor in front of you. Take your knees wide, with your big toes together behind you. Settle your chest down onto the bolster between your knees and turn your head to one side. Relax into the support of the bolster. For a variation, you can sit sideways to the bolster and then gently turn your chest to face the cushion again, settle in and allow yourself to be supported there. If you do the twist variation, just make sure you repeat it on the other side.
So there you have it. Hygge. Do these or create your own. Maybe even invite me over.
I’ll bring fuzzy socks and the glogg.