Saturday, November 1, 2014

November Blahs

Have you ever noticed that most picture calendars save the ugliest picture for November? I have, and the tendency has always baffled me. I love November for so very many reasons, but its reputation as a depressing, bleak month has been around for a long time.

In Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables books, October is the glorious month of autumn, and in each year of Anne's life, a glorious October is followed by a gloomy November. Perhaps on Prince Edward Island that is the case, but in Charlotte, North Carolina, where I grew up, the climate allows for a milder November, a month of thanksgivings and birthdays and crystal blue skies and steadiness before the crush of activity that December brings.

I was a girl raised in the South so January was my bleak month of gray, wet skies, coming as it did after the excitement of Christmas, which my family did up in fine fashion, and the anti-climax of New Year's Eve, which my family generally slept through. In fact, I was rather surprised to grow up and discover that Dick Clark's New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square wasn't the only party in the world, and that it is possible to have a great time celebrating the transition from one year to the next.

But still, I generally sleep through it.

Having now lived all over the United States, I've learned that the particular climate any time of year is what it is, and it's best to make the best of it as you are able. In some places, like Columbus, Georgia, summer is unbearably hot and humid, so people adapt by moving from one air-conditioned locale to another. Winter, however, barely happens by more northerly standards. In other places, like Rapid City, South Dakota, summer isn't so bad, but winter is rather long and wet and snowy, and frigid or mildly cold as the mood hits it. One Halloween, it was two degrees and snowed.

In Boise, Idaho, long summer days can be wicked hot and dry, but by 5:00 PM, as the sun moves behind the foothills of the Rockies, temperatures drop, and most restaurants in town serve dinner on outdoor patios. Such a delight! Winter is also dry, with cold and fog and ice and occasional snow, but it never seems to last very long, probably because the sun shines most days. With ski resorts close by, one may stretch winter if one wants to, but Boise's climate is pretty moderate, as far as the high desert plains are concerned.

Ohio weather is grayer than most places we've lived, and more variable. We've had winters that were so deeply frigid that many feet of snow went unblemished by was just too cold to play, and the snow was so powdery and dry that making a snowman simply wasn't an option. We've had other winters when it barely snowed despite weeks of gray skies and humid cold. Summers are equally variable. One year, we had no autumn to speak of, moving directly from hot summer to cold winter. Another year, the transition from spring to summer was just as abrupt.

This autumn has been glorious. October showed its colors gloriously, and some fine color continues to linger on trees and bushes as we move into November. But this, the first day of November, is rainy and cold, with snow appropriate mood-setting atmosphere for All Saints' Day, I suppose.

Our doorbell rang four times last night, for a total of ten or so costumed trick-or-treaters. I drove an enthusiastic Nick around the neighborhood as he dashed up long driveways in the rain to lit front doors opened by people who dumped handfuls of candy into his bag.

The whole neighborhood over-bought candy this year.

Last night, however, no weather would dampen Nick's greedy Halloween spirit. He dressed as a knight and played the part, telling homeowners that their castles were grand and occasionally offering up a hope that the plague wouldn't be bad this year. At one point, he said to me, "Tomorrow starts the Christmas season. I can't wait!" While I resent that Christmas has taken over November and thus taken attention away from Thanksgiving, I appreciated Nick's positive attitude on a night most considered a dud.

After our first few winters in Ohio, I recognized a tendency to harp on the gray gloom, and so I decided to spend a winter intentionally smiling at the cloudy skies and saying out loud for anyone to hear, "What a beautiful day!"

Mind over matter, you understand.

It worked. There is some magical connection between what we say and what we think. If we repeat a mantra often enough, we start to believe it. That winter, I got strange looks from people under their umbrellas, but I never felt better myself. The trick to mustering a happy November or December or January or whatever month gets you down is to choose to look on the bright side.

Assuming you can choose. For people suffering from seasonal affective disorder, or really from any form of depression, choosing your mood isn't as simple as repeating a mantra or making your face smile on a gloomy day. Professional help is needed. But for most of us who just find ourselves whiny about winter weather, positive self-talk can turn us around.

One of the best pick-me-ups from seasonal blahs, however, has to do with November thankfulness. Expressing gratitude for what you have by sharing with others--in words or deeds or donations--redirects our attention from our own petty complaints and calls us to purposefully help those whose complaints are anything but petty: children who have no shoes or coats or hats or gloves, families living in a car or a friend's unfinished basement or garage, homeless folks who suffer from mental illness, your next-door neighbor who's going through a nasty don't have to look far to find people whose lives you can improve with a simple, small act of kindness.

November is also the time for the Samaritan's Purse Operation Christmas Child. By packing a shoe box for a child in another country, you spread love and good will around the globe. If you register your box with Samaritan's Purse online, you can track the box and know what country it goes to. Last year, Nick's box went somewhere in Africa and Jack's went somewhere in South America. (My memory fails...perhaps Nigeria and Nicaragua?) By watching the video online for that country, both boys learned about conditions in those places of need.

It's harder to whine that your iPod is the wrong color when you see children who are genuinely grateful for pencils and matchbox cars.

Today, the first day of November, with temperatures in the 30's and high, gray clouds blanketing the cold and blocking the sun, I'm taking my boys shopping for their shoe boxes. The boxes must be turned in early to make their destinations by Christmas.

So Nick is right. For us, the Christmas shopping season starts today, November 1. I can't wait to see where our boxes end up.

That will erase the January blahs for sure. Nothing like planning ahead for reasons to smile.

Do you do anything special to overcome seasonal blahs? For those in the southern hemisphere, of course, you're entering summer and leaving the blahs behind. I wonder how it is for those living near the equator, where winter blahs aren't even a thing. 

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