“There is nothing that makes me happier than sitting around the dinner table and talking until the candles are burned down.” ~ Madeleine L’Engle, A Circle of Quiet
As you’ve likely gathered, the content in this small corner of the web is unapologetically old-fashioned. A new-fashioned concept—at least to those of us outside Scandinavia—is hygge (pronounced hue-gah). If you’re a Bloglovin, Pinterest pinning, social media sort, you’ve likely caught wind of hygge, which is all about family and friends, graciousness, and life’s simple pleasures.
I first learned about hygge last May when I was reading The Year of Living Danishly (Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country). This is my first hygge-conscious winter, and I’ve been delighted to have a Euro-sounding name for what I do naturally: cozy up indoors.
Not that I have any real hygge street cred—Atlanta’s winters can’t touch winter in Denmark, or even Delaware. Still, there’s nothing finer than fellowship in front of a good fire. Or food by a fire. Or a book. Or a nap. You get the picture. The point is to build a crackling fire—with real, well-seasoned wood, if possible—and stay there. (I have to confess to occasionally opening windows or even turning on the a.c. when the Georgia weather is too warm.)
After nineteen years of living in our living room (we call it the den) the same way, on a lark we decided to huddle the furniture in front of the hearth, conversational style. The first time we gathered at the end of a long day and found ourselves facing one another, we were hooked. The room works better the old way, with the sofa pushed back against the wall, but we decided we can change it back come spring, when fire season ends, or when we have more than six people over at a time, whichever comes first.
As daughter Emma, visiting from college, said the other night as we toted our Mexican take-out into the den, aglow with a roaring fire and candles, “Even though it’s tacos, atmosphere is everything.”
The apple doesn’t fall far.
A couple weeks ago, I spent a chilly afternoon curled up on the couch, hearthside, trying to breathe some life back into a story I’ve been working on for far too long. As I furrowed my brow and frowned at my characters’ refusal to tell me what they wanted to do next, I failed to notice one leg had fallen asleep. Deep sleep. When I got up and tried to walk, down fell Laura, laptop and all. (For added noise and drama, I managed to send the fireplace tools crashing as well.) My computer somehow survived; my left foot didn’t fare as well. A writing injury! The sprain and the swelling forced me into my slightly oversized, bright red Wellies for more than a week (happily, it snowed and then slushed). Time (and ice and elevation) heals, and vanity and unseasonably balmy weather called me to put on these little numbers today. (I’ve had these shoes in my closet for a long while—which in shoe years means six months—but they’ve recently reemerged as I find myself asking almost daily, What Would Mia Wear?)
When the thermometer dips, Luke and I have been hygge-ing away, most recently belting out La La Land tunes—we do a spirited rendition of “A Lovely Night”—and watching movies like Singing in the Rain and The Glenn Miller Story and going over goals for 2017. (The latter sounds lofty. Our goal-setting goes something like this: This is fun. We really should watch more classic movies. Yeah, I’m down with that. And spend less on eating out. For sure. Although pizza’s okay. And burgers are pretty cheap. And the Irish pub.)
One thing Luke and I agree on is that we should see our people more. Face to face. Maybe even let them in on our awkward furniture configuration. But here’s the thing about hygge. The idea is super fantastic, a real winner, a peach. But I’ve managed to American-ize hygge—stocking up on throws, fuzzy socks, and organic cocoa for hot chocolate. I have bought stuff, but, more or less, stopped there. I’ve missed one of the key elements of hygge, the one that keeps the Danes not only sane but, reportedly, happy: the bit about hospitality.
In other words, I love my quiet so much, the silence has become deafening.
Why do I push people so far down on my priorities list? Part of it’s perfectionism, I realize. At the prospect of guests, I fuss too much.
“We both need to learn to have people in for stew and ice cream,” my mom, a fellow fusser, said when we swapped confessions about how we overdo.
Inspired, I text my in-laws Saturday evening: Can you come for dinner in 24 hours?
And so Luke asks the butcher, Arry at the corner grocery to butterfly a chicken, an operation which, turns out, produces a magically browned and tender chicken when you follow Ina’s simple instructions. Arry did all the work! I exclaim as I finish in five minutes the feat of setting bird on top of lemons and onions and garlic in our ancient cast iron skillet. Luke whips up some rather manly English peas (see recipe below). I pile clementines into a white wooden bowl on the table and set tapers, a soft saffron color, in brass candlestick holders we got as a wedding gift—”antiqued” thanks to two decades of me failing to polish them.
Presto, we’ve made ourselves a little party, and no one passed out in the process. Luke and I even manage to nap a bit in front of the fire before the arrival of Grandmama and Pops.
Luke’s folks live eight minutes down a country road. Why has it been a solid month since I’ve refilled their water glasses, offered them another roll? Why is no, not today my default? How I love to see eyes twinkling with taper-light, to hear laughter bounce off our worn wooden floors, to utter the earth’s nicest words: Coffee or tea?
Alone is undoubtedly good for my soul. By myself is how I recharge. But too much of a good thing, and eventually I am a rock; I am an island.
A winter’s day
In a deep and dark
I am alone
Gazing from my window to the streets below
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow ~ Simon and Garfunkel
A friend of mine who has been busy with moving her household into new digs told me (when she looked up long enough from her boxes upon boxes to talk): “I have been home so much, packing and unpacking, that when finally I went out in public to the store, I felt awkward and strange, like I’d forgotten how to be around other people at all. Like people were looking at me (they weren’t) because I’d forgotten to change out of my pj’s or something.”
I know exactly what she means.
I am devouring a book Lanier suggested, Roots and Sky by Christie Purifoy. I have a habit of bending pages when I find a nugget—words so profound or beautiful I want to mark them, go back and visit them like long-lost friends.
This is the part I come to the morning of our company-night, and I am glad I’ve booked the Boggs for supper:
“I know myself fairly well. I know that I do not like crowds. I do not feel comfortable with strangers. I struggle, mightily, with small talk. I am also cautious… To put it simply, I am afraid. I am lonely, yet I want only to be left alone.
But the kingdom of God is pretty much the opposite of alone. Also, in the kingdom of God, there is this voice saying, ‘Do not be afraid, do not be afraid, do not be afraid.’”
It does not scare me to visit with Grandmama and Pops, but it takes more effort than, say, breakfast for dinner in our pajamas. This, on the other hand, scares me: I think of how hastily I signed up Luke and me for a Wednesday study night at the home of the pastor of a new church we’ve been visiting. It starts tonight—we’ve done our homework, hired a sitter, set aside the evening on our calendar for the next ten weeks. But something—and something strong—in me resists. I feel old and a little tired, too old and tired to meet new people, cultivate new relationships. I surprise myself with my lack of adventure. I say I want to make room for more—more people, more God, more love. So why do I feel spent? And as reluctant as rain during a summer drought?
Luke feels the resistance, too, and tells me so late one night as we sit (you guessed it) by the fire. I nod my understanding.
“Well, I suppose we’re a little stuck, though,” I say. “And I don’t guess we’re going to get unstuck sitting here drinking wine and watching Netflix.”
“Oh, man,” he says. “Can’t we keep trying and see if it works?”
Turns out, one of the gladdest moments of my weekend is watching Pops, who struggles at times with his health and doesn’t always have a decent appetite, help himself to seconds. I think he even has thirds on the chicken. He eats both wings.
For dessert, we have ice cream. The evening flies by too fast, and standing in the kitchen Luke says what I’ve been thinking: “With this chicken, there’s no reason not to have more people in.”
“Two at a time,” I agree. “It’s a small skillet.”
English Peas Roasted with Bacon and Garlic
12-ounce bag frozen peas, thawed
two tablespoons butter, melted to pale brown on stove
four garlic cloves, peeled and halved
coarse salt and pepper
three slices cooked bacon
Line an edged baking sheet with parchment paper or non-stick aluminum foil. (Or not—if you really like scrubbing pans.) Empty bag of peas and garlic cloves onto pan and toss in melted butter. Salt and pepper to taste. Bake in preheated 400 degree oven for 20 minutes, or until peas are only slightly browned on one side. Crumble bacon on top and stick in oven for two or three more minutes. Serve peas while piping hot.