Managing the Grey

When we visited Dunnottar Castle on the day the haar rolled in (thick fog off the North Sea), we participated in a true definition of ‘grey.’ I had read about ‘grey’ in books set in Great Britain — the characters stayed indoors and played in attics or drank tea in rooms with low ceilings. As I sat in a stone window seat of Dunnottar’s keep, I knew this was that grey: its sound was the waves beating their spray upon the cliffs, its look was the mangled light left by the haar, and its feeling was what seeped through the woven flaws in my coat and pinched my skin. Scotland.


There’s a northernness to Scotland grey. It smells of steel and centuries and strength. But then there’s the fact that you live with it day to day, so when you’re tired or when you’ve sat still for too long it’s the grey of moldy bread forgotten in a castle — unnourishing, stale, and depressing.


(On the left: a picture of the sun at noon in the southern sky.)

I’ve learned to recognize when I’m seeing the moldy grey instead of the steely grey. It happens mostly on the days of 6 hours of daylight, daylight that’s held at bay by thick clouds and cold. Here are some of my tricks to thawing the moment:


Have a cuppa.
A cup of tea is comforting. This is my go-to remedy for grey. While the tea is fresh and too hot to drink, I cuddle it to my chest and refer to it as ‘my heater.’

Keep green things in the house.
I house stalks of grass and cut flowers in glass vases and jars, and I place them in important rooms (usually the kitchen, because I spend the most time in there). They alter the atmosphere in a room, somehow. God put his humans in a garden, so I put some garden in my home.

Use the oven and stove.
I’ll bake things when I’m cold, or start cooking dinner early. The anticipation of a warm, nourished gut gets my blood excited. That combined with the heat from the oven or stove lifts the grey mood in the house.  (Though I’m sure to close the kitchen door and vent the room somehow, or my typical UK mold problem will double.)

Do pushups.
I’m serious. When the cold seems incurable, I drop and give 10. It gets my heart rate up and puts a flush in my cheeks; it’s an immediate remedy! My practice is usually to bundle up first so the generated heat stays in my possession.

Play music.
Music rouses my soul. It colors the air. It makes lamp light feel more hearty and grey sunlight less damp. And at times dancing ensues — good for the heart and entertainment for the baby.

String up fairylights.
They’re magical. I have them in the kitchen. In my opinion, the best thing to wake up to is a sunrise over the Scottish hills, but in the winter this isn’t possible as the sun doesn’t rise until 8:30 and I am the mother of a toddler. Fairylights’ (US “twinklelights”), with their diffused light and warming wink, are the next best thing. Who says Christmas has the monopoly on the use of these things anyway?

I get that thing out and with all my might I rid the floor of dust. By the end, I’ve usually shed most of my layers, plus made room in my calorie count for those scones in the oven. And the house is a nicer space to occupy — being indoors in the dark at 3:45pm is suddenly more bearable.

Put on a scarf.
This traps in the heat like nothing else. I am bold and wear them indoors.

Have a cuddle (especially with a wee bairn).
Heat shared warms the heart as well (caption for a Kinkade painting?).
(Cuddle = US ‘hug/snuggle’; wee bairn = US ‘child’)

Turn on the hair dyer.
And stick it under your sweater.

Read poetry.
That’s a cure for any emotional malady. Turn that soggy perspective upside down. Grey is still grey… but now it’s located it in the difference between moldy and steely.

Eat haggis.
It will heat you up and make you a man. According to Robbie Burns.
Honestly though, the suet and spices  and lamb in haggis were engineered for eaters in desolate, stone towers, and it’s obvious from the first bite.  I love haggis. It makes me want to slay something in the highlands. With my bare hands.


And if none of these options works, getting in bed with the covers over my head in the middle of the day while wearing all my layers is also a viable option. Though for some reason it feels akin to surrender.

Carpe that grey!


I’m curious — how do you turn back the grey?


18 thoughts on “Managing the Grey

  1. I don’t know what Scotland’s grey is like, but I am used to California sunshine and mild winters. Living in Louisville last winter nearly killed me with below freezing temps, snow, and because we lived in a house that never kept warm. So in my limited experience here are my ideas:

    1. Have people over. Throwing a big party helps the most, but even just having a friend or two over to watch a movie or have a cup of coffee helps to diversify the atmosphere.

    2. Wear whatever you want. I don’t know if you feel the same way, but I’d get upset over winter mostly because I prefer summer clothes– dresses, skirts, shorts, and lots of bright colors. So last winter I’d layer up, wear tights, and warm wool socks and still put on my summer clothes on top of everything else. It made me feel better.

    3. Be creative. Although I was bad at keeping the creativity up since the winter zapped my joy, it’s helpful to have a project that you could work on to exercise the creative juices. Usually visiting pintrest or my favorite pretty looking websites helped to stir up that area.

    Bonus: and if you want to mix all three together, I’d encourage you to throw a fun creative themed costume party!

    I’m glad you are continuing this blog even though you are not in Aberdeen anymore! I’ll look forward to reading more.

    • Being the hostess! You’re so right, Jaclyn, we should do it more often as a way to hold back the grey WITH others. And it is definitely hard to be creative when you’re cold. That’s when I combine pushups, tea, and music. 😀 I like your way of wearing summer clothes in the winter. I think I do that, too, but never with the thought of “I’m wearing summer clothes!” Which would help mentally gear up against the cold. I’m going to do that. Thanks for adding your thoughts to the mix!!

  2. Forever. I want to read this forever, especially when the world or my spirits are grey.

    Some favorite snippets:

    “…seeped through the woven flaws in my coat and pinched my skin.”

    “God put his humans in a garden, so I put some garden in my home.”

    “Turn on the hair dyer.
    And stick it under your sweater.” (We totally do this… even in Louisiana.)

    “I love haggis. It makes me want to slay something in the highlands. With my bare hands.”

    “…getting in bed with the covers over my head in the middle of the day while wearing all my layers is also a viable option. Though for some reason it feels akin to surrender.”

    Don’t stop writing. Ever.
    Thank you.

  3. Jessie I am not sure you get these comments but after reading your thoughts on getting rid of the grey I am stumped. My goodness , most of them sound like real work . I hope Ambrose doesnt feel the ‘grey’ . My idea of grey is the fog that settled on the land in the morning after a nice fall rain — which we had last night . It is magical , probably because I know it will dissapate as the sun burns through because at 5 am the stars are as bright as they get . The smell is fallish and lingers for awhile and reminds me that winter grey is coming. Still , it is a silver feeling and I feel richer because of it. Seeya gp

    • Gp — I love the way you said “silver feeling.” It’s so perfectly put, I know that feeling. And so much of the time the “grey” here is indeed silver. But it really does get dreary here in a way I never had in the States, I think the lack of sunlight has a lot to do with it. The sun already sets at 4:00pm here. It’s not really that much “work” to stave it off — my list is what I do when I notice that I’ve gotten cold or list-less. Energy costs so much more over here that we (espcially PhD families) keep the houses a lot colder. Ambrose doesn’t seem to notice, if that’s any comfort. 🙂 I look forward to seeing you and Gm soon in sunny Louisiana for Thanksgiving!

  4. I don’t think Louisiana turns away from the sun at the same rate as the rest of the United States. It’s November 1st and I’m in a tank top and shorts, and somehow, I think the rest of the country has inched it’s way past us to the backside of the globe. We’re always a little behind, maybe that’s why we come in last in everything.
    SO, my grey is different. My grey occurs almost always in summer. It’s on those days when it’s 100 degrees out, overcast, humid, with not a single pipe out of the wind. Those days are my grey days. When all sunlight seems to be nothing but a glare, and you know it should be raining, or you should have a coat on or smell burning leaves. But none of that is happening, it’s just YUCKY. My remedy involves jacking the AC up, tucking myself away with a cup of coffee snuggled closely to my chest, and some fuzzy jazz music coming in over the computer while I draw or write, two activities that always seem to come more naturally in the winter. And then the grey coming through the windows seems perfectly fitting. It’s when one has to run errands and be a busy body during these glaring grey days thats the hardest.

    PS. There is SO much of this that I love: the idea of you cutting flowers with Ambrose on your back, or grooving to music while baby laughs, and you laugh back, or the look of you with a cup of tea to your chest, those pretty little fingers around the ceramic. A vision I will behold in less than one month, now. 🙂

    • Oh Letty! It’s so TRUE — Louisiana’s grey is in the middle of July! You nailed it. What a poetic twist! The sun makes everything the same, bland hue. Can’t wait to hug your neck at the end of THIS month!!!

  5. I love the writings of my artsy granddaughters! Get this!!! My retreat director asked me if i was an artist! Will explain when i see you in a FEW WEEKS!

  6. NOON. Noon? That sun in that photo is Noon? I’m astounded.
    Dunnottar … Jessie, your photo of it in the fog is spectacular. It’s got to be my favorite castle; I get it on my newsfeed cuz I liked it on FB, do you? You should; they’re groovy and know how to post.
    I agree with Tina’s choices and that you should always write.
    Everybody should; I enjoyed every comment on this post.
    Laugh at Katie and me, who were both paralyzed with cold just this morning because THIS is the coldest part of the year in Louisiana, when it’s cold in the morning but the weatherman has said it would be 80 by 3pm, so we mustn’t turn on the heat or we’ll end up needing the air conditioner at 3. See? So, Katie and I are wrapped in blankets every morning unable to get up and get to work, watching John as he comes downstairs, wondering if he’ll move toward the thermostat.
    Scotland is indeed grey, steely and moldy, and ancient … you capture it so well, and it’s all in my bones after visiting all the castles/palaces/cathedrals we did and now that I’m reading Mary Queen of Scots, I feel it in all your photos and descriptions. Can you imagine Scotland in the Little Ice Age? Rawer, frozener, windier winters and wetter, stormier summers? Those poor people!! Did they even have tea then? Help me! Redeem the grey!!!! Carpe the grey! I’m going to read the post again.

    • Mom, what’s even cooler about the foggy Dunnottar picture is that it was actually foggier than that! I have a picture I took a couple seconds after, and you can’t see the castle! I think I’ve liked Dunnottar on facebook… but I’ll go check to make sure. 🙂
      Oh yes! I remember not being able to turn on the heat in Louisiana on those cold mornings! The mornings ARE cold, ’cause they’re wet.
      I KNOW — I always think about those people who lived in Scotlands hundreds of years ago. When we visited the Isle of Skye it’s practically all I thought about. People are so strange and wonderful; why move to a remote island that’s freezing, cold, wet, and dark all year round?!

  7. Oh, I love this. I want to print it and frame it and hang it somewhere prominent to remind me how to rid myself of the greys (in America we call them the “blues,” although grey definitely seems to fit the feeling better). You’re so funny! And such a great writer!! And the pictures!!! I loved, “God put his humans in a garden, so I put some garden in my home.” What a great idea. I need to get some garden in here. The greys have started taking over now that most of the trees have rid themselves of their leaves, and I’m terrified of the idea that this is going to last another six months. BUT now I’m going to carpe the grey!

  8. I definitely understand; our darkness comes about half an hour or so later than yours. We also tend to have winds and snows that blow directly from Siberia, so when it’s gloomy grey AND your face feels like a cracked arctic plate the moment you walk outside, it can get depressing.
    Some of these may not work with a baby, but we tend to save up certain indoor activities. If there is a new book series to begin, a fun computer game to play together, a tv series to watch, a movie marathon (LotR for example), or an audiobook I can listen to while cleaning, I try to save it for the winter. When there is good weather, we maximize on the outdoors, and we it’s gloomy, we revel in stories and the art of (to a reasonable degree) escapism. We also allow more room in the budget for good cooking during these months; it’s a good time to be experimental in the kitchen. Splurging on some nicer ingredients (shallots!), or seasonal treats like mulled cider, pumpkin, lebkuchen, vin brule’, and glazed, oven-roasted birds can really make a difference.

    Also, I know this is so nerdy, but I remember our nerd tastes were very similar: pulling out the medieval music during the winter suddenly makes the weather feel so artsy smartsy cool. Here are some songs by artists I like:

    I love your idea about the fairy lights — I’m going to try and find some!

  9. I’m so glad you could help Sarah! Yes, Sarah, I think I’d be terrified when all the leaves were off the trees. Six months. We get excited down here when autumn comes, but if I lived up north or up high like you, my heart would sink when those first leaves turned. Maybe that explains Yankee authors’ equating autumn with death and feeling so morose about it. In Louisiana, autumn is LIFE. We can come out of our air-conditioned tombs!

    • So true, Aunt Lisa! I think being from the South initially, the autumn still excites me. When that first hint of cold makes the air crisp, and the leaves put on their golds and reds, my whole body thrills with happiness. Autumn is my favorite season. But the end of autumn IS like death. Everything is suddenly brown and I know I won’t see green for so many months. Up till now, I’ve always held out for Christmas. But now Jessie’s given me some ways to stay lively even come January!

  10. It’s sixty degrees in here! and we can’t turn on the heat yet!
    Hey, Jaclyn, I visited Scotland this year and came back to the States with a new look. My husband loved how the women dress over there… And you’ve put a philosophy to it that makes perfect sense! They’re wearing their summer clothes the best way they can, ha! Perfect. I’m cute now… I think I’m done with jeans forever. I’ve worn them since the ’70s.

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