Winter Projects

Readers share what keeps them busy during the cold months.


Sewing keeps Jessica busy and allows her to help the less fortunate.

Brian Orr

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Winter Allows Time to Make Gifts for Those Less Fortunate

Winter is a time for cooking, merry-making and spending time with family. And it’s also a time for focusing on those less fortunate.

For the past couple years, I have been making scarves for those who can’t afford to buy them. I go to craft and fabric stores whenever there is a good sale on fleece fabric. Then I return home with my purchases and spend endless hours running my sewing machine.

After mountains of scarves pile up in my workroom, I heave the bulging bags of winter gear into the car and deliver them to our local open-door food kitchen, where they are distributed to those who need them.

The greatest reward for me these past couple winters hasn’t been the countless gifts I’ve received, but the joy of having helped others. And imagine my happiness when I volunteer to serve at the food kitchen each chilly season and see dozens of people lined up bundled in the very scarves I made.

The little girls wrapped in pink fleece twirling around make me smile, and it more than makes worthwhile the time I spent making them – much more so than wrapping some random present and topping it with a pretty bow.

The chatter, laughter, happiness and gratefulness I witness at the food kitchen are the greatest gifts of all.

Over the past couple years, I have come to realize that making others feel welcome and warm is the best way to spend the cold winter months.

Jessica - St. Joseph, Missouri

Catches Up On Hobby During Winter Months

For me, winter is a time for catching up on little puttering tasks that are both tedious and exacting, yet challenging and fun. Although my old body moans and groans during the hibernating months when temperatures are below 40 degrees, I actually become a bit more productive in traversing indoor chores requiring my attention.

For example, I love to read, and two excellent books I enjoy during Ol’ Man Winter’s biting chill are by Carlos Ruiz Zafron – The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game. I’m now anxiously waiting to get my hands on his next book, The Prince of Mist, for it promises to be as stupendous as the others. No better books can be found and read.

I also have another hobby I enjoy working on when it’s cold outdoors. I bring out my bottle of glue and spend hour after hour cutting out the hundreds of cancelled stamps I’ve collected from envelopes and packages sent to me by friends and family members during the warm summer months. Then I glue the cancelled stamps onto a stamp ball, which has been increasing in size since it was started in 1981.

You might be wondering what made me start a stamp ball. Well, I didn’t ... really. You see, while living in Omaha, Nebraska, in the early 1980s, I took my mother to Boys Town, a youth organization whose mission for more than 90 years has been healing children and saving families.

While touring Boys Town, we saw a humongous stamp ball that had been created by the Boys Town Stamp Collecting Club from 1953 to 1955. The sphere, displayed upon a pedestal, is 32 inches in diameter, weighs 600 pounds, and contains a reported 4,655,000 cancelled stamps. It was also recorded as the world’s largest ball of stamps.

Mom pledged a private competition against the Boys Town stamp ball, and she had me promise to carry on her dream upon her death. Since Mom passed away in 1994, I have kept my promise to her and have added on to her stamp ball religiously. It has been challenging – and creative, I might add – to spend time on a project my mom began and to watch the stamp ball increase in size over the years.

Although our (yes, I now consider it ours) stamp ball is nowhere near the size of the Boys Town stamp ball, maybe one day I’ll have the prize-winning display to brag about and show off to everyone.

For many folks, winter may not be as grand a time as other months, but I’ve found it to be rewarding in many ways, if for no other reason than to work on the stamp ball my mom created and to read fabulous books.

Joanne - Herrin, Illinois

Many Cold-Weather Chores

Here in the Northeast, summers are very short compared to winters, so I want to enjoy every warm, sunny day I can. The many chores, and especially hobbies, can wait for winter. Hobbies are more fun then anyway, because I know I’m not missing out on the beauty of the warm outdoors. Therefore, I always get much more accomplished in the winter months.

Oftentimes I just like to relax, and the fire in the fireplace frequently invites me to curl up on the couch with a good book. I also spend a lot of time writing. Another project is putting photos into albums. It’s quite a chore, and no matter how much I get done, it seems I have an even larger stack the following winter.

The closets in the house also get a thorough cleaning each winter, and I try to clean the inside of my china cabinet. This task is tedious and poses the threat of something valuable getting broken, so I have a couple of rules. I do only one shelf per day, and I do it only when I’m home by myself. So far I’ve been lucky and haven’t broken anything.

I love being immersed in these winter projects, but I have yet another, and it’s my favorite: baking.

My grandchildren love my goodies, and I’m always happy to oblige. It may not be an accurate count, but I’m convinced I’ve made more than a million anise-flavored biscotti. Nothing is more inviting than a kitchen filled with the aroma of anise oil and a fresh pot of coffee brewing.

It’s easy and fun to make all kinds of treats in the winter. The hugs and praises for this winter “sport” are greatly appreciated, and they spur me on to try new palate-pleasing recipes.

Winter is beautiful, but it’s so cold in New York that I prefer to enjoy its beauty from inside the house, while trying to catch up on things that went untouched during the warm summer months.

One outdoor winter activity I plan to get to this year is to watch for the first thick layer of snow and, though I’m a not-so-young granny, make a snow angel. Then I’ll go inside, make myself a cup of hot chocolate, plop down on my cozy couch and relax with a good book. Doesn’t that sound like a perfect start to a list of indoor winter activities?

Elinor - Niagara Falls, New York

Long List of Projects

When winter sets in, I plan to start work on researching the genealogy of both sides of my family and both sides of my husband’s family.

I became interested in family history 40 years ago, but back then, research had to be done through the mail, and records had to be searched at their storage location, which meant travel expenses. Besides not having the money, I also didn’t have the time, as I was raising a family.

Now, much research can be done at the library and online. They even have genealogy websites you can join, which I hope to do eventually.

I also hope to make quilts for my grandchildren, and I plan to transfer the many videos of family gatherings from VCR tapes to DVDs. Another project I have planned is to type my recipes onto my computer. I had them typed in once, but when my computer crashed, they were lost. And I have many boxes of photos that need to be put into albums or burned onto CDs.

Also in need of attention are the unfinished manuscripts I’ve started, as well as my craft room, which needs to be cleaned and organized.

These projects are planned for this winter, but they were on last winter’s list, too, so we’ll see what happens.

Marilyn - Monticello, Iowa

Gets Photos Organized and Into Photo Album

The onset of winter means one thing: the task of completing this year’s photo album.

I’m still a dinosaur. I don’t take digital pictures that you can store on CDs. I’d much rather curl up on the couch with a photo album than sit in front of a computer screen to view my photographs.

From the kitchen countertop where I’ll work on this project, I can see across the family room to an antique bookcase that holds 42 albums, dating back to 1979.

Throughout the year, after having my film processed, I place all the photos in the top drawer of my dresser. Below the photographs, I have a manila envelope that holds memorabilia that will accompany the photos, including invitations, newspaper articles, ticket stubs, quotes cut from magazines and anything else that pertains to the events captured in the photos.

When winter hits, I start work. I make myself a cup of hot chocolate, grab a pair of scissors and some tape, spread the photos and contents of the manila envelope out on the dining room table, turn on my radio, and dive into the project.

Proceeding in chronological order, I organize the year’s events. Photographs and any memorabilia are cut to fit like puzzle pieces, wasting precious little space on each page. It is laborious work, usually taking somewhere around 15 minutes to do one page. Consequently, it’s not unusual for the annual photo album to take a month or so to complete.

But, when I curl up on the couch with that photo album, it’s all worth it.

John - Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

Much Gets Done Indoors When Weather is Cold

Each year I have the best of intentions and much enthusiasm when winter approaches, especially since here in Minnesota we’re short on daylight and long on cold. I always think to myself that I’ll have hours in the evenings, after supper, to work on crafty projects. After all, what else is there to do when it’s so dark and cold outside? And in no time, that cozy, homey feeling returns.

My dollhouse miniature craft boxes end up stacked on the floor in the living room, and I page through my “how-to” books, ready to create tiny treasures to sell – hopefully. My crafting fervor lasts for perhaps a couple of weeks, but I find as I’m getting older that the long, dark evenings tend to make me sleepy and unmotivated. Sometimes I find myself succumbing to watching DVDs of Little House on the Prairie or The Waltons instead of crafting.

In November and December, the holidays grab my attention. Cooking, baking, writing out Christmas cards, wrapping gifts and shopping make these months fly by quickly, and before I know it, another new year is under way.

When frigid January arrives, so do the spring seed catalogs. I begin collecting Styrofoam cups and cutting down orange juice cartons, and sometimes I even plant a few seeds in them. Seeing little green shoots appearing in the dead of winter inspires spring fever, and spring cleaning comes to mind.

When the weather warms up in a few months, I’ll want to be outside as much as possible, so why not get my spring cleaning done now, when it’s too cold to be outside? So, I gather up a few boxes and trash bags, then begin sorting and tossing, all the while reminiscing. Sometimes I even get a little emotional when I come across items such as my children’s favorite kindergarten art projects or photographs of loved ones who have passed away. It’s easy to get distracted, but I always come back to the project eventually, because a clean house looks and feels so good.

The time to accomplish a job inside the house is when it’s cold outside. I think God created this dormant period of time just so we can catch up on our indoor work. I don’t believe we should ever waste a day of winter – or any other day, for that matter, since every day is a gift. Time flies if you’re busy, so enjoy winter’s gifts of skating, sledding and snowmobiling, and when the temperature drops below zero, turn your attention to crafting, cleaning or just relaxing inside your warm home. Or, dig out the spring seed catalogs and dream of springtime. After all, it’s just around the corner.

Helen - Belle Plaine, Minnesota

January Starts Winter Ritual

When Thanksgiving and Christmas roll around, I stop everything that’s normal and think only of fun, food and friends. I end the year with frivolity, but when January moves in, I start my winter ritual. I slow down on e-mail correspondence, ignore the phone and cease shopping excursions. I begin to cook from stocked, harvest-inspired cupboards, and eat hearty but simple foods like soups and whole-grain breads.

I rise early, and while I used to head for the deck with a cup of green tea or a glass of iced tropical brew and tend my flowers and lawn, I now pull my robe tighter, pour a cup of black tea and head for my office.

I take all the poem and story ideas I’ve gathered over the past several months and begin working them into fiction and meaningful poems for publication. Some of the poems get used in greeting cards I make and then send to friends throughout the coming year. I also ponder significant memories before writing essays and blogs.

I stop at noon to share lunch with my husband, then spend my afternoons catching up on the reading I hadn’t had time for in previous months. I also map out ideas for next spring’s garden, and I plan a summer trip or two. And I might tidy a closet or two, weeding out a little clutter, which gives me a head start on spring cleaning.

By evening, I’m ready to pick up my knitting and continue working on whatever winter project I’ve chosen for the season. It might be a neck warmer, an afghan or a fringed shawl. The extra layer of yarn in my lap will be warming, as will the feeling of being productive while winds blow and snow falls outside. I will multitask with an old movie or two while snacking on a huge bowl of popcorn.

Before I know it, March is in sight, and my body and soul are rested. And like an eager robin, I’m ready to migrate back to the busy pace of a new season.

Claudia - Carthage, Missouri

Winter Means Crafting

During the fall, I’m occupied with preparations for winter and the holidays. After the holidays, crafting begins.

I have made denim quilts for all 13 of my grandchildren to be given to them at the time of their high-school graduation. The log cabin pattern quilts are made from seven different shades of jeans. I was lucky to find a pair of red jeans, which I use as the center square in each block, and colored flannel is used for the backing.

I personalize each quilt by embroidering the grandchild’s name and year of graduation in red on a jean pocket, which is then sewn into a corner of the quilt. I also add decals of each child’s interests.

I only have four quilts left to complete, and one will go to a graduate this spring. The last three are partially complete with decals of the children’s interest at this time. Since the last three grandchildren will not graduate until 2016 to 2020, I have left a letter of instruction to their mother for each quilt’s final completion, in the event that I am no longer here. The quilts are warm and attractive, and the grandchildren love them.

In addition to quilts, I make a patriotic pillow for each grandchild, which is given to them the Christmas following their graduation. I weave strips of patriotic material and blue jeans for the front, then embroider a pocket that is attached to the back. A bundle of red licorice is put in the pocket to add a little interest.

I have all the pillows sewn, but do not have them stuffed. The pockets are embroidered except for the last two numbers of the graduating year.

I hope to complete these unfinished projects this year. It will give me a sense of accomplishment – and it will also clean out my storeroom.

Berniece - Pocahontas, Iowa

Pre-Christmas Garage Sale

When October rolls around, I’m ready to dig in and clean house. Spring cleaning in the fall gets everything neat and tidy (and brings in a bit of cash) for the upcoming holiday season.

I clean room by room, starting with the easiest one. That way, after whipping through the first room, I’m on a roll.

I wash all the curtains, clean the baseboards, doors and windows, wax the furniture and clean out the closets. A lot of the stuff I thought I couldn’t live without that is just taking up space turns into my “Cash for Christmas Fund.”

Everything I don’t need gets put into a garage sale, and the money I make is spent to buy Christmas goodies. It’s also a way of fooling myself into thinking I’m getting paid to clean my own house.

When all the cleaning is done and the garage sale is over, I’m ready to sit down in my clean kitchen with a cup of hot cocoa and decide how I’m going to spend my Christmas cash.

Nancy - Murfreesboro, Tennessee

Crochets Baby Afghans

I am never bored during the winter months, as this is my time to be creative with the 50 or so skeins of yarn I’ve previously purchased in pastel colors.

I learned to crochet as a teenager while going through occupational therapy to strengthen my hands, which had been weakened from acute polio. The first project I made was an oblong purse crocheted in a simple double-crochet design. It was a prized possession, and I received much praise for my skill. That was the beginning of my lifelong love of crocheting.

I crocheted hats one winter, and my sister took them to work with her, where she sold them to co-workers. I made the hats using four granny squares joined together, with a square forming the top. My sister thoroughly enjoyed selling the hats for me, and it provided me with extra money.

I’m now in my 80s, and my plan for this winter is to crochet baby afghans to give away. I am so blessed by all that has been given to me, and in return, I’m overjoyed when I can give back by donating to charity. I’ve lost count of how many afghans I’ve made, but I aim to continue with this wonderful, fulfilling hobby because it brings me so much pleasure in so many ways.

I have some advice for anyone who gets bored during the cold days of winter. Learn the basics of crocheting. The rewards are simply amazing.

This great-grandmother is completely prepared for winter. You will find me in my winged-back chair watching the snow fall outside through the window, while I’m cozy inside, getting hooked on crocheting all over again. Life is great.

Phyllis - Three Rivers, Michigan

Winter Evenings Occupied With Favorite Activity

As the days grow shorter and the weather turns cold, I look forward each day to spending the evening in my cozy kitchen corner doing what I like to do best during the winter months: needlework.

I buy embroidery kits, knitting and crocheting yarn, and patterns throughout the year, whenever I find them on sale, and sometimes I’m even lucky enough to find them at yard sales. In other words, I have plenty of projects to keep me occupied through the cold months of winter.

I love doing counted cross stitch, but I also enjoy knitting and crocheting. I’m sorry to say I never learned the art of quilting, but in my opinion, I’m too old to take it up now. Besides, I have plenty to do without that.

When the day’s chores are done, and the supper dishes have been washed, dried and put away, I settle down in my corner and get busy.

In recent years, I’ve gotten into the habit of watching television while I’m stitching away, and sometimes I mess up. However, I’m always able to fix my mistakes, so I figure no harm is done.

I enter a lot of my finished projects in our local fair, and I’m happy to say that I’ve won a few ribbons. My favorite piece is a counted cross stitch called Brother Against Brother (pictured here) that I framed and gave to my husband for his birthday one year. I also entered it at the fair and won second place. I was told that had I framed my work in a frame with non-glare glass I would have won first place and received the blue ribbon. Silly me, I thought they were judging my work, not the glass.

In addition to doing counted cross stitch, I also like to crochet doilies, afghans, sweaters and more, as well as knit house shoes, stocking caps, mufflers, mittens and whatever other items I can come up with.

I give most of these items away, but now and then I keep something for myself.

Ursula - Coffeyville, Kansas