I used to read Frankie magazine religiously. I still buy it, but I haven’t read one from cover to cover as I used to for a few years now – pretty much since they changed editors. There is nothing noticeably different about the magazine or the content that populates its pages, but it is just a feeling; the knowledge that the woman who used to be at the helm, who ended up feeling like a close friend, makes it seem not as magical as it once did to me. What I love(d) about Frankie was that even the most mundane subjects or topics were made beautiful by the writers who contributed regularly. Whether it was a small piece about someone’s morning commute, what their favourite meal means to them or how annoying siblings can be, everything about everyday life was made into something worth reading.
I guess you could say that I have tried to emulate that with Don’t Ask Leah. I have always loved finding the beautiful and the peculiar in my everyday life. I have always loved the idea of celebrating things that people seldom give a passing thought to. Even though that is the case, a lot of the time I get caught up and get in my own way when it comes to writing. I get stuck on the idea that everything I post needs to have a point, needs to have a purpose. When really, writing is at its most beautiful when it is simple, honest and from the heart.
That being said, I am going to take some time today to celebrate winter. I can picture Man right now, shaking his head because he is much more of a tropical summer ocean fresh coconut kind of man and he knows that I am constantly freezing throughout winter. Yes, my limbs are generally numb from the end of May right through to mid-September and my fingertips have little to no feeling as I type this, but I absolutely love the colder months.
There is such romance when it comes to winter. I immediately think of the snow seasons I spent at Crackenback Cottage when my mum and my brother’s dad were still together. We would turn off the main road in Jindabyne onto a tightly packed dirt road, the smell of the open log fire drifting through the vents of the car. My brother and I used to gauge how far away from the snow we were by how cold the windows of the car got – as soon as we had passed through Canberra, we would excitedly leave hand marks all over the window, giddy with excitement as the temperature dropped. Even in my adult years, I do the same thing – whenever we hit the main road in Cooma, I press the back of my hand to the window and smile, basking silently in the memories. Snow gums are my favourite trees, and they are dotted all over the Snowy Mountains, and each new season I fall more in love with their wild, decorated branches. The crunch of snow underfoot, the sudden rush of warmth that makes your cheeks flush rosy pink when you step off the snow field indoors, a meat pie doused in tomato sauce that drips down your wrist – that is winter to me.
Winter also conjures up thoughts of my grandparents’ old Bed and Breakfast that they ran in Berrima – Berrima Lodge. To date, it is my most favourite place on earth. I spent many a night in those last few years of primary school – you know that time in your life where you look really awkward no matter what, and you dread seeing the photos taken of you in that time – spread out in front of the fire in the Guest Room. It was a long, wide living room where my Nan would serve their guests wine and an assortment of cheese and crackers on what used to be the lid of an old wooden barrel. I used to be in charge of locking the chickens up in their coop just after the sun disappeared from the horizon, and I remember the walk through the horses paddock was always freezing as I broke into a light jog. There was this one winter, where grampy spent months collecting wood for a bonfire – and not sticks or twigs or small logs – but there were large tree trunks and branches cut into sections from all of the neighbouring properties. He waited until my brother and cousins were there for the weekend before he lit it. We toasted marshmallows and threw discarded foliage into its heart. The fire lasted for eight days.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy winter at home too – not just in idyllic countryside (although that is always preferred). I love the nights where I come home, with nowhere to be and I cook a huge batch of rich pasta sauce with a glass of red wine in hand. The small heater I have whirs away in the lounge room, heating up the apartment painfully slowly. The menu of winter is another aspect I love; starting the day off with a huge bowl of porridge that has a very unhealthy amount of brown sugar staining it, or a hearty bowl of pumpkin soup – because all other soups are inferior to pumpkin – and the feeling of wrapping your hands around a scoldingly hot cup of coffee/chai/hot chocolate. Beanies and stockings, boots and turtle-necks, your favourite coat. Again, what’s not to love? The nights where the weather changes are my favourite; I spend the whole day watching dark grey clouds threatening to drench the city, and then night comes and the trees just outside my apartment bend aggressively in the wind, the smell of the rain creeping in through the cracks of the windows. But it is sliding into bed and pulling the doona around me that I savour the most in winter, especially when it is pouring outside and you are entwined with your partner’s warmth. There is nothing quite like falling asleep to the sound of rain in the arms of a lover.
Winter is the most sensory season for me, its months are poetry. Every time I read a book or watch a movie that is set in winter, something moves deep within me. Think of how you feel when you watch The Holiday – the moment where Cameron Diaz arrives at the little cottage that is covered in snow and its interior is like one huge hug. Seriously, if you don’t feel swoon-y when you watch that you are obviously dead inside. And if you haven’t read Lang Leav’s book Sad Girls, do yourself a favour and read it not only because it is fucking phenomenal, but also because when the main character goes off to a small town in the middle of winter to write her book, you will be transported there completely and will then want to write your own book.
As soon as I write about an open fire, I can immediately picture the sound of the wood crackling and the way that the embers dance a glowing red. I picture the rug that sits before it, covering weathered timber floorboards that creak from age and wear. Whenever I notice how cold my hands are, my initial desire is to warm them through the porcelain of my favourite mug that is filled with a hot chocolate, the marshmallow sinking slowly through the thick froth that is sprinkled with a dusting of chocolate powder. In quiet moments of writers block, I always end up at a cottage in the middle of the countryside. There, in my mind, it is always cold and I am huddled up with a warm blanket draped over my lap, a glass of red wine on the desk next to my notebook with the wind rattling the window in its frame.
So while I may be the most awful person when it comes to actually dealing with the cold, winter and I understand each other on an emotional level – definitely not on a physical one. My fingers may be numb, my teeth may chatter, and my cheeks may flush red (quite adorably, really), but I will always be an advocate for the snow gum, frosted windshield, bonfire, red wine and whiskey kind of winter.