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Finding my inner Koeslig

Embracing the cold in order to crank up the cozy
John and Mary Letson in rain gear as young children
John and Mary Letson well-acquainted with the outdoors in 1966.

I grew up learning to embrace the outdoors regardless of the weather. I was reminded of this recently reading about the Scandinavian concept of cozy or koeslig. Rather than dreading the onset of winter, the notion is to look forward to the change of season as an opportunity to bundle up for winter play, drink in cold, fresh air and burn a bunch of calories so one can return indoors to crank up the cozy with candle light, a roaring fire and hot cocoa. What I know is that lighting up the internal koeslig is key in this whole equation.

My three siblings and I were trained experts at developing our inner koeslig. Really, it was more of a survival strategy than anything else. It was a Letson law that outside play happened every day, all year. Negotiating this point with Mom was futile. Staying in to watch cartoons or play Lego if it was horizontal rain and five degrees was not an option. Mom ran our home like a benevolent, budget-conscious dictator; answering to no one, doling out the rules with caring, pragmatic consistency all with one eye on preserving her sanity and the other on raising four robust children. 

Our outdoor gear was solidly practical – not a single fur adornment or frill to be seen. It was built to last, or rather built to hand down, an important feature considering I was the youngest of four and on the receiving end of said items. I grew to love September as it was the one time of year we received new clothing for the start of the school year. Mom used her time wisely, avoided the shops and ordered our clothing from the Simpsons Sears catalogue. For the start of grade one I remember receiving a brand new “Swamp” coat, a very Letson item in its affordable, durable practicality. Mom was a firm believer in investing in anything that impacted our overall health and wellness - including our feet. With proper foot development a priority, shoe purchases were an event complete with a visit to the Buster Brown shoe shop. Fantastic. I would sit on the bench with Mom next to me (also an event to have Mom all to myself) and a friendly gentleman sales clerk would place my socked foot on a ruler with a metal slide thingy, tickle my toes, give me a wink and trot off to the back room for the prized box containing brand new shoes. I was in heaven.

Mom bundled us up in whatever the day required and out we went either to our rambling back yard or beyond to the neighbourhood or boulevard. When it was time to come home, Mom rang a bell like a farmer bringing in the herd. I had rain pants, a rain coat and always a solid pair of gumboots. If I was lucky I might find a pair of mitts but I recall mitts were prime real estate and in short order they were sodden, forcing my brother and me to slide socks over our hands so we could venture outside again into the wonder of West Coast snow. I had a toque with a long tail, like what an elf would wear and it tied under my chin. I couldn’t tie it myself and I remember marvelling at Mom’s multi-tasking skills as she effortlessly carried on a phone conversation pinning the phone receiver against her ear and shoulder, wordlessly telling me to stand still and tying my elf toque snugly under my chin.

The fabulous flip side of mandated outdoor play was the pure joy of coming inside. Spent from the cold and wet, we shed our sodden gear, climbed into warm, dry clothes and devoured whatever was on deck that day for afternoon teatime. Homemade cookies or thick slices of homemade toasted bread drizzled with honey and sprinkled with cinnamon, or some kind of cake all served up with milky tea. Not a single purchased treat in sight – everything from scratch. Whenever snacks appeared from outside Mom’s kitchen kingdom it was a big deal; Dad’s Cookies or Peek Frean cream-filled cookies were rare and exotic imports.

Outdoor, all-weather playtime has stayed with me after all these years. I wear practical, solid outdoor gear complete with insulated rain pants (so cozy) and not a single fur trim to be seen. I am perhaps less enthusiastic about venturing out initially, but once out and moving in the fresh air, I am content. More importantly, I am a happier human once I return indoors. Mom was instrumental in helping me find my inner koeslig so many years ago. Teaching us to build the fire from within has helped me venture out into winter’s sodden, windy greyness with a little more resilience so I can return to light candles, curl up under a blanket and truly lean into cozy.