Warm thoughts for January days

January is a month of contradictory tempos.

For some, it's a time of high-purpose resolve and energy, symbolized by a determination to follow through on all those noble New Year's resolutions.

For others, it's a season for slowing down and nesting - what trend-watcher Faith Popcorn has called "cocooning."

When the 6 a.m. alarm goes off and the radio newscaster announces that the temperature is a bracing 14 degrees, a nester is tempted to think hibernating bears have the right idea. It's a time to burrow back under the covers for a few more minutes, even as a hungry cat pounces insistently on the bed, demanding breakfast. Cats do not hibernate.

Once a January nester is vertical, midwinter darkness can vanish in the cheerful glow of the kitchen light - instant indoor sunshine.

Later, bundled against the cold, a nester-turned-commuter can find unexpected beauty in winter sun glinting off frozen banks of dirty snow. Even so, it's not too early to anticipate the pleasure of an evening fire in the fireplace. What better wintercombination than a book, a bowl of popcorn, and a cat dozing by the hearth?

Perhaps nowhere does the nesting instinct manifest itself more insistently than in the January longing to fix up the house. Flipping through the pages of shelter magazines, a cocooner dreams of domestic perfection.

"Cozy rooms to warm your winter" reads the cover of House Beautiful. Other magazines offer similar enticements: "Timeless rooms you'll love." "Attaining elegance: 6 exquisite homes." "The best looks, from country to modern."

By the warmth of a January fire, all things seem possible.

This is even a month when Time Inc. is unveiling plans for another shelter magazine, targeted to "women of means" and tentatively titled Haven.

Haven. Home. Hearth. How comforting all those H words sound these days, as winds whistle and talk of war fills the air. Does a house ever feel more like a sanctuary than it does in January?

Still, all those pristine, uncluttered magazine rooms raise a practical question or two: Where do these owners and their families curl up and relax? Where do they store all their books and magazines? And what happens if a cat claws the pricey Fortuny silk on their dining- room chairs?

Perhaps a less-than-perfect house has advantages.

For Northerners of every tempo, January brings the temptation to flee to locales blessed with sun, sand, and sea. The Bahamas are tantalizingly close to the US, a TV ad teases. And cruise ships by the dozen are plying azure waters.

Escape! Now!

Yet a true nester often wants to stick it out, waiting for the famed January thaw. When it comes, what pleasure there will be in opening the door and acting as if August has arrived. Enough of huddling beside the fire. It will be time to enter the world again, at least until the next snowstorm or cold front.

One advocate of a nesting-style tempo is Karen Salmansohn. As the author of "How to Change Your Entire Life by Doing Absolutely Nothing," she claims that slowing down has made her more efficient, more focused, more productive.

Emphasizing the importance of "emptying your mind of its ceaseless chattering so you can better see and understand the world around you," she says, "When you stop and do nothing you can move more quickly forward."

A January nester can take that as welcome permission to throw another log onto the fire and savor the slower pace. For now, all those worthy resolutions - even the one about sprucing up the house - just might be able to wait until February.

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