“We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails.”
Throughout the pandemic, this Dolly Parton quote has been posted in the window of a small shop in my neighborhood. I like the quote nearly as much as I like the tiny woman with big hair.
The Dolly quote reminds me to shift my sails and invent new ways to safely enjoy life and the people around me. It’s especially important with winter on the doorstep. Meetings and events usually take place inside during the colder months, but being outdoors with others is ultimately safer during a pandemic. So here are five ways to add warmth and cheer by moving post-meeting gatherings outside.
Light a fire
In most of the country, it won’t be warm enough to sit outdoors in the winter without an auxiliary heat source. No wonder outdoor heaters are flying off shelves. Look for hotels and resorts with fire pits, outdoor heaters or fireplaces, and sheltered courtyards to cut the wind. If an outdoor event is part of the plan, send attendees ideas for a winter-worthy outfit. Outside magazine suggests layers: a thin base layer — what we used to call long underwear — of wool, silk or synthetic to wick moisture away, topped with warm wool or fleece topped with a puffy coat, filled with down or synthetic down. A warm hat, good gloves or mittens, thick socks and insulated boots complete the outfit. Nice hosts will hand out inexpensive hand-warmer packets to drop in gloves or pockets.
Sing — or story tell — around the campfire
Sitting around a fire, even at a social distance, is a natural way to build camaraderie. Boost the campfire feeling by adding a little light entertainment. Ask the hotel or local convention bureau to help locate talent or do a little sleuthing yourself.
Want live music? Call the music department at a local college or do as a friend of mine did and hire a local street musician to play a saxophone or guitar in the background. Another option: Enlist a professional storyteller. The International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough, Tennessee, is a good place to start; watch some of the country’s best storytellers on the center’s website, then find a state or local storytelling association near your meeting location.
Area museums and history centers are good resources as well. Montgomery History, a nonprofit in Montgomery County, Maryland, has more than 75 programs from which to choose, including one about a local pet cemetery where various D.C. movers and shakers have laid their pets to rest.
Take a vigorous walk
Hikers know that layers of clothing and vigorous walks create quick body heat. Winter walks in the woods or along city streets also get people talking, sharing and laughing. It’s a way to unwind, see the sights and get better acquainted. At a resort or state park, line up a naturalist and turn a walk into a learning experience. Outdoor centers often offer nighttime hikes where nocturnal creatures like owls or the nighttime sky entertain.
In cities, it can be fun to walk through a quiet downtown that’s tucked in for the night, windows alight. Or stroll through historic neighborhoods: Colonial-era Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, stretches along the Potomac and has self-guided architecture, art, waterfront and mural tours, as well as guided history tours. Or explore German Village in Columbus, Ohio. The lovingly preserved historic area’s charm makes this neighborhood of tightly bunched brick homes one of the city’s most-desired places to live.
Cocoa, coffee or tea? Heat up happy hour
No one wants to hold an icy cocktail in their mittens as they sit by the fire. Thankfully, there are many ways to turn hot tea, coffee, cocoa and ciders into adult beverages — or not — and heat up happy hour. Some winter cocktails are almost medicinal, like a high-end Chicago restaurant’s Cure for the Chicago Cold, a mix of bourbon, Aperol, lemon juice, simple syrup and hot tea that’s a play on the classic hot toddy. Farther South, a Southern Limerick at Nashville’s Pinewood Social bar gives brewed coffee a kick by adding rye whisky and amaro.
Guests at the historic Deer Park Inn in Lake Forest, Illinois, feel like they have landed in England with this renovated property’s grand Tudor style, afternoon tea and gardens. In the winter, they can ask for one of the bar’s specialty drinks, like the Red Velvet Hot Chocolate, with whipped-cream-flavored vodka, hazelnut liqueur, brandy and whipped cream on top.
Head south and soak up the sun
Perhaps the easiest way to get warm is to head south. According to currentresults.com, Florida is the warmest state in the continental U.S. in the winter months. The state is also blessed with about 1,200 miles of coastline. Resorts and hotels rise up from many of its beaches, so it’s easy to find a nice property where groups can gather in the sand, on a pool deck or on a lawn under palm trees.
In Clearwater Beach near Tampa, for example, the 196-room Postcard Inn on the Beach is totally modern with a vintage surfer vibe. It has a large open-air tiki bar, a roomy pool, palm-shaded gardens and fire pits surrounded by Adirondack chairs. Looking for other warm states in the winter? Try Louisiana, including the small towns north of Lake Pontchartrain, a more peaceful alternative to New Orleans; Texas, where beaches beckon in Galveston; and Georgia, where there’s plenty of shade under live oaks in Savannah or Augusta.a