Yeah baby it's cold outside. The sky's a perpetual handsome shade of gray that unites in a monochromatic shitpile with the sludge accumulating alongside every sidewalk and parking lot. The days are short, commutes are long, and we've only just begun this somber slog. But hell, let's have some fun. Winter brings each of us a series of choices to be made. We can slug a few more pills and retreat under the covers — and indeed this can make Monday seem like Mardi Gras for a while, we can tell you from experience — or we can embrace it for the latent wonders each snowfall and freeze reveals.
Following are a few of our favorite ways to while away the winter. Try one on for yourself, or share you own sanity strategy at facebook.com/clevelandscene or tweet 'em out to @cleveland_scene.
We love this town through thick and thin. But a few reminders why never hurt.
Do Something Nice for People (Nobody Else Will)
Every December, we're bombarded with heart-wrenching stories about how you too can contribute coats or shoes or toys for tots, feed a needy family holiday dinner, or make some kid's Christmas wish come true. And you, dear Clevelander, come through like Brutus Beefcake with a folding chair every time, because we here in the epicenter of all that is just and humane know when to take care of a brother in need. And then January comes, and we get back to being emotionally needy bastards unto ourselves. Thing is, hunger pangs and bare shoulders and loneliness don't recede into 2011's footnotes once the calendar turns over. Food, clothing, and volunteers are still needed now — and all year 'round. The Volunteer Center at Business Volunteers Unlimited — a national group that pulls in thousands of volunteers to assist worthy nonprofits (find them at bvuvolunteers.org/volunteer-center.html) — has year-round opportunities no matter what kind of time or talent you have to offer. Or check with a local church or school to see what they need, now that the Christmas crush of volunteers has evaporated. Remember what the great prophet once said, or maybe it was Marty Schottenheimer: There are few better ways to lift your own spirits than by lifting those of others.
Take a Musical Adventure
Even the dark days of winter have a bright side all their own: Without all that lawn work, softball games, and yelling at neighborhood kids, you've got more time to conquer new cultural frontiers. Cleveland's astonishingly broad arts scene offers ample opportunities for musical Magellans. We all know this city rocks. But in a region that boasts a world-class symphony, a renowned institute of music, and music-centric programs in Oberlin and Berea, it's no surprise that classical versions of the art form are resounding from nearly every corner. Get off the beaten path and sample something you haven't heard before. Maybe some baroque music from Apollo's Fire or Les Delices. Blues, swing, gospel, and roots from the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra, perhaps. A free violin recital at the Cleveland Institute of Music. Or for the true musical adventurer: Chart a course to the Cleveland Museum of Art for a Viva & Gala performance, its annual series devoted to sounds from around the globe. Feeling a little more lowbrow? Scope out a local club's eclectic weekly offerings (we can help!), and plan your aural escape. Music is a great way to travel, and this winter, your options are all over the map.
Be the Beer Man
Seasoned Clevelanders manage the chilly months exactly like they manage the warm ones: firmly tethered to a bottle of delicious alcohol, and preferably one of notable quality. The problem, of course: You must leave your house to procure such quaffable options. The solution: Brew your own beer in big honking batches, and let the experts idiot-proof the process for you. Start by selecting a day during which you will have to put on pants anyway, then head over to the Brew Kettle or the soon-to-open Bottlehouse Brewery in Cleveland Heights, pick out a recipe, and get to work learning about the fine art of intoxicants. After your session, say, at the Kettle, a hundred or so bucks gets you six cases of 22 oz. bottles — perhaps enough to last through the weekend! It's a fun and practical exercise in chemistry, and a sound way to ensure a safe home-bound hibernation till spring, by which time you should be sober enough to drive to the store.
Adopt a Live Footwarmer
If every kid wants a puppy for Christmas, very few puppies want a kid at that time. Pet experts warn against bringing a new animal into your house over the holidays, what with all the excitement and disrupted schedules and drunken uncles. But once the January doldrums set in and the poison-to-pets poinsettias have been composted, it's high time to bring a furball in out of the cold. Local shelters are teeming with homeless cats and dogs who'd jump at the opportunity to be your cuddling companion. Take one, or maybe even two — the Cleveland APL offers a discount for a second adult cat; ask for any more and they'll assume you're feeding a python. Science tells us that housepets know little of cabin fever and tax deadlines, so while you may have other miseries to keep at bay, your new little pal will remind you how to smile. Check out the Cleveland APL (1729 Willey Ave., clevelandapl.org), the Cleveland Kennel (2690 West 7th St., friendsoftheclevelandkennel.com), or the Cuyahoga County Animal Shelter (9500 Sweet Valley Dr., Valley View, cuyahogadogs.com). Many cities also have shelters; check your town's website.
Indulge Your Inner Geek
Come wintertime, the rest of us learn what homeless folks have known for years: The library is one hell of a welcome refuge from the storm outside. But never have they been this good. The Cleveland Public Library was recently named one of the country's top four libraries, and you can bet the other three bribed the judges. The Cuyahoga County Library — which serves no fewer than 52 communities — is also consistently rated near the top. Even local communities that run their own shops — say, Lakewood, for one — are raising libraries to a form of public art. So stop crying over bankrupt bookstores and jacked-up Netflix prices, and get to know your local repositories of heightened knowledge and mindless Nicolas Cage movies. These days, libraries are about way more than just books, music, and movies: You can check out computer software and games and even children's toys, or be enlightened by guest speakers and enrichment programs. Your tax dollars created these wonderful monsters; time to get out there and reap the rewards of your investment. Connect with the county library at cuyahoga.lib.oh.us; find the Cleveland Public Library at cpl.org. Chances are, everything you're craving resides in one branch or another, and they're happy to schlep it to the location nearest you.