Transcribe your podcast

Welcome to stories from the Village of Nothing Much. Like easy listening, but for fiction. I'm Katherine Nikolai. I write and read all the stories you'll hear on the Village of Nothing Much. Audio engineering and sound design is by Bob Widdershine. I have some stories to tell you. They are stories that celebrate the small pleasures that can be found around the holidays. For years, I looked for stories to relax to, tales to soothe me after a day out in the world, to remind me of good things and kind people, and to help me feel grounded and connected. After a while, I realized I might just need to write them myself. And that is how my sleep podcast Nothing Much Happens came to be. I wrote and told stories to help folks settle in and sleep. But after a while, I heard from lots of listeners that while they were grateful to finally be sleeping so well, they dropped off within a few moments of hearing my voice. They were a bit sad to not be able to hear the actual story. I think in the world we're living in, we probably need all the tools we can get to bring down anxiety, to remind us to be present, and to practice joy.


I took my sleepy stories and re-recorded them with a, hopefully, non-sleep-inducing voice, and we've added in some fun sound design to make for some excellent, cheerful daytime listening. All my stories take place in what I call the Village of Nothing Much. It's a friendly small town where all are welcome and represented and where kindness and compassion are the default. Listen, you may call me a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. So welcome to the village. We hope you enjoy your stay. To start off, let's take a big breath in through the nose and sigh through your mouth. Again, breathe in and let it go Good. Our stories today celebrate some of the special experiences to be had as the weather turns cold and the flakes begin to fall. We'll start with snowed in and spend a lazy morning making waffles and watching the landscape transform. Then we'll bundle up and head into town to see a magical display and enjoy some fresh popcorn in Model rains and make believe. Finally, we'll spread some cheer through the neighborhood and enjoy the twinkle lights along the way in comfort and joy. Snowed In. They'd said so from the day before.


They'd said it would snow all night and through the next day, and that the drifts would pile up into our doorways and alleyways, in our fields and intersections, and that we had all better stay safe in our houses. And we agreed. Across the village, through the county, we agreed. Today, we were all snowed in. I lay in my bed in the muffled quiet of the early morning, thinking about the snow, laid like a thick blanket on the ground, on the bare limbs of the trees, on the roof above my head, and on every surface it could find. I didn't move yet, just felt my limbs relaxed and warm under the comforter, and thought how good it is to know that you have a snow day, and how it is even better to have known it from the night before. I'd slept deep and woke without remembering my dreams and felt like in a couple of ways, I had a clean slate for the day. I slipped my feet into the waiting slippers beside my bed, pulled a long, thick sweater over my shoulders and stepped to the window. I pulled back the curtain slowly and enjoyed the small spark of anticipation in my belly as I looked out over the covered land.


I've grown up with snow. I've seen this a thousand times. I've had this same moment of the morning after a heavy snowfall, standing in my pajamas with my nose pressed against a cold window pane. Since I was a child. But still, I am always amazed. The morning light was thin and threw long shadows over the drifts, caught the still-falling flakes in their airy descent and showed the crisp, unbroken surface, sloping and rolling through the land around my old farmhouse. I took a moment there. Just watching the snowfall, my arms wrapped around me against the chill of the and enjoyed the gift of a day blocked off by Mother Nature. Snow days as a child were about excitement and rushing from the snow and the sled to the warm kitchen with cups of chocolate and back out again. As an adult, they were a relief. You were forced to rest and relax, and no one could reasonably expect anything from you for the day. In a busy world that sometimes moved too fast for me, that respite was good medicine. Now, I'd stacked up the day before, and my kitchen was full of all the necessities for a snow day.


Coffee, a pound of fresh coffee beans, a long loaf of seedy bread for sandwiches and toast, a bakery bag full of scones and muffins, and a sack of winter oranges and grapefruits. My fridge held jug of fresh juice and plenty of green veg. And in my pantry, I had neat rows of home-canned tomatoes and pickles, jars of beans, sacs of rice, and packages of crackers and pastas. I looked out the kitchen window and said to the falling snow, Keep coming down. I've enough for a few weeks. I started brewing some coffee, poked around the muffins, broke off a corner of one and nibled it. If you're going to do it, I thought, might as well do it right, and pulled the Waffle iron out of the cupboard. After all, this was part of the joy of a snow day, having time to do the things usually didn't, and no reason at all not to. I poured a cup of coffee, pulled some ingredients from the shelves, and started mixing and whisking and heating the iron. I set a place for myself at the kitchen table, setting my favorite chipped plate down with a napkin and fork.


I had a flash of memory, something my aunt had done when we were young. She had a special plate in her cupboard. It was painted gold in an old pattern and matched nothing else. If you'd done well on a test, or if it was your birthday, or if you'd had a bad day and just needed to feel special and cared for, She said it at your place, and you'd come to the table and sit down in front of it, and probably sit a bit taller and feel her warm hand on your shoulder, and dinner was sweeter. The memory warmed me through as I ladled batter into the hot iron, and I smiled as it sizzled and scented the air. With pancakes and waffles, it's always the rule of three: undercook the first one, burn the second one, and the third one is perfect. Once I had a plate full, I sat down with a fresh cup of coffee and a warmed jug of maple syrup and watched the snow come down as I ate. I pealed an orange and ate the segment slowly between sips. I rinsed my plate and tidied up the kitchen and walked from window to window, looking out.


I brought in firewood the night before and had the great filled and ready to light. I struck a long match and held it to the paper and kindling and watched it take and burn. I laid in a few bigger pieces and squatted on the hearth for a few moments till my face and fingers were warmed through. The wind was blowing now, and I watched as little swirling spirals of snow appeared and diminished in the air. Maybe later I'd bundle up and take a long tromp through the fields and woods and then reward myself with a cup of something hot, but for now, I didn't intend to leave my cozy spot. I could see myself spreading a jigsaw puzzle over the table and working away at it while a movie played in the background, a reading for hours, or laying in a hot bath till my fingers turned pruny. But first, full from breakfast and warm in front of the fire, I stretched out onto the sofa, pulled a long blanket over my legs, and felt like the best idea was probably to close my eyes and listen to the crackle of the logs and take a long winter's nap.


Model trains and make believe. There is something about this season, and the month of December in particular, in which becoming a kid again, slipping into that easily delighted state, is more effortless and welcome than at any other time of year. Even the bah-hum-buggliest among us will at some point look up at a streetlight and watch the halo of snowflakes circling around it, or see a a tree through a frost window or hear a carol plunked out on a piano in someone's front room and feel a shiver of excitement and warmth, just like they felt when they were young. My own bah, humbug quotient being naturally quite low to begin with, I found myself grinning at every shop window display, savoring each gingerbread cookie bought from the bakery, and taking deep breaths as I passed the Christmas to drink up the scent of fresh zapp and pine. So when I saw that there would be a model railroad display in the lobby of the movie theater downtown, I knew right away not just that I would attend, but that I would be a repeat visitor. I love little things, miniature things, the tiny Christmas villages that nestle under trees, doll houses with their Lilliputian furnishings, and of course, model trains.


I decided to go, at least for the first time, by myself so that I could take all the time I wanted to just look. I'd learned a long time ago that when the days are cold and dark, you have to look for the things that can be enjoyed and lean in deliberately. So I parked at the park and came the long way through town to to enjoy the light strung over the street. And by the time I arrived at the theater, my cheeks were stung with cold, and stepping into their old-fashioned lobby felt wonderfully warm. They had thick red carpets, brass fixtures, and a concession stand with a shining Walnut bar that was as old as the building. The smell of popcorn washed over me, and I bought myself a box to enjoy while I browsed. It came in the same red and white striped carton I'd been buying since my very first big screen movie. See, I was already closer to my younger self. Then, the trains. What fun. The tracks snaked through snowy landscapes, set across a dozen platforms, spanning nearly the full width of a theater lobby. I started at the train station, looking down with my bird's-eye view and saw that there were four separate tracks coming in behind the depot, along platforms bustling with tiny people.


The station master was there, a small arm raised and a whistle in her mouth, and I imagined the sounds I would have heard if I were there beside her. The train engines, people calling hello and goodbye, be careful and welcome home. The peel of locomotive bells. Wrestling overcoats, shoes clapping against the platform boards, bits of gossip as scarves were tossed around necks and gloves pulled over fingers. I hadn't even seen a train travel an inch yet, and I was already having a wonderful time. Beyond the Depot was a small town, and while it wasn't exactly our own little village, it was a tribute to it. There was a movie theater showing Miracle on 34th Street, per their marquee. The sidewalks were heaped with snow, just like our own, and there were cars stopped at the streetlight with fir trees tied to their roofs. I He came down to look into the shops where people were buying toys and standing on street corners with wrapped presents under their arms. All this time, the trains hadn't been running. Maybe to let the onlookers take in all the details first. Or maybe because they were just running on the schedule set by the tiny station master.


Either way, with a whistle and a wher, they came to life and began to travel over the tracks. I picked one to follow with my eyes and saw a bright red engine leave the station with several cars full of passengers. The lights in the lobby dimmed and the lights in the trains grew brighter. The Christmas tree in their tiny town square glowed with colored bulbs. Another locomotive caught my eye. This one, a shiny black, and it stopped to let a freight train chug across its tracks. I leaned down and saw their dining car lit up and full of passengers and servers. White tablecloths were spread over the tables and meals and drinks laid out. Again, I imagined my myself there. What might I order? Or would I be the bartender shaking up a cocktail behind the bar as the snowy land slipped past? The freight train cleared the tracks, the switch was thrown, and the diner sped off. I walked around the platform to take in another angle and saw a forest green engine pulling its cars up a steep mountain path. Beside the tracks were snow-covered trees. An ice-capped peaks and a tunnel cut through the rock.


I thought of the person who must have made this little world, the storytelling and drama they were able to build into it. A thing like this must have taken hours and hours, and I felt quite lucky to get to experience it at all. It's a thing I love about humans when they find a passion and put themselves into it. The gardener who knows the Latin names for all the plants in the greenhouse, the amateur astronomer watching for a comet in the quiet of early morning. Knitters and potters and model railroad enthusiasts. Isn't it just another version of the little kid who knows every dinosaur. When I was in college, there was a storefront between the bagel shop I stopped at most every morning and my first class of the day. In that shop, a man with silver hair made fine suits by hand, and I often peered in to watch him. Dressed neatly in one of his own suits, he ironed the fabric and marked it with chalk. Years later, I still thought of him often. His work was clearly a passion, and he did it with such care and skill. The people who wore his suits must have felt like they were walking walking around in a work of art.


My box of popcorn was nearly empty, and remembering that the trains would be on display all month, I pulled my hat tight over my ears and got ready to head back into the night. I pretended I was stepping off a train rather than out of the theater, and as I strolled through town, I made up a story about coming home for the holidays. My first time back in my hometown after a while away, and who might be waiting for me. Caring a lot about something, finding a passion, imagining, telling stories, and playing pretend. I would never be too grown up for any of it. Comfort and joy. I made a paper pain right after Thanksgiving, just like the kind we'd made in elementary school to help us count down to the first day of vacation. Thick strips of red and green construction paper curled over and daubed with a bit of Elmer's glue. It was actually quite a nice, calm project, as there was no way to do it quickly. I'd thread a new piece through the previous ring, making sure to alternate the colors, and then glue and hold it, press between my fingers for a few moments till it stuck, and start again.


I strung it above my kitchen sink, up and around the picture window that looks out through my side yard and down the sloping street into town. Each night before bed, after I'd wipe down the counters and set up my coffee pot for the next morning, I'd turn off the lights and look out through the window. My neighbor's house was strung with colored twinkle lights, and across the street, I could see trees glowing in windows. Streetlights reflected off of wet pavement and snow, and in town, cafés and shops were lit up as well. I'd read once that it does something to us to watch moving water. There's something primordial about it. When we witnessed the tide come in or a river rushing through the towers of a bridge, or even just a tiny stream rolling over rocks, we soften, we relax and focus. I have always thought that it must be the same ancient parts of our brain and heart that tell us to look for light in the winter. Twinkle lights, fireplaces, the candles on the minora, the atmospheric glow of a bustling city street. That isn't the same effect as tides and lakes. This fills a different need.


And each evening, as I looked out my window and drank up the light around me, I'd feel warmed, inspired, comforted. Then I'd reach up and tear away one link in my paper chain. I liked anticipation. Sometimes it was even better than whatever I was waiting for. And now my chain was just a few links long. They wouldn't stretch across the window anymore. I'd had to take them down and set them out along the sill beside the potted sprig of jade that, just like me, had been reaching for the light lately. Looking at the last few remaining links, feeling that building anticipation, I felt the urge to do something with these last precious days of the year. It was something a friend had said to me a long time ago, a simple fact that had left a deep impression that time passes either way. It passes whether you use it or not. Time doesn't wait for you. When I was younger, I'd sometimes interpreted that incorrectly in a way that had something to do with how much I could get done in a day, how productive I was. I'd moved on from Now I realized it had to do with how many days of my life I enjoyed, how many friends I made, the quality of time I spent, even when, or especially when, I was alone doing simple things.


So I thought about how I might spend this time, about warmth and light. I laughed to myself thinking of the old Carol. What I wanted was to bring tidings of comfort and joy. I stepped out into my garage in my slippers and began shifting boxes and looking through shelves and cubbies. Right away, I found a few boxes of twinkle lights, and without hesitation, I got dressed in my boots and coat and started wrapping them around the tree in the center of my front yard. It was rowan tree, fully mature but naturally a bit smaller than the oaks and maples in the neighborhood. I wrapped the lights in tight coils up the trunk and stretched them patiently out and around a few branches. Roe and trees are sometimes called travelers' trees and are meant to help prevent those on a journey from getting lost. Well, I thought, we can all use that, can't we? Once the lights were plugged in and the The tree was glowing in the yard. I went back to the garage to see what else I could find. Years ago, there had been a tradition in our neighborhood to light luminaries in long rows on the sidewalks on Christmas Eve, and For whatever reason, it had been forgotten for a while now.


I remembered my first holiday here, stepping out that night and seeing hundreds of white paper bags lit from within. It had felt like a miracle. In a dusty box between my bike pump and a stack of seasoned logs for the fireplace, I found what I'd been looking for. There'd been a fundraiser at the library over the summer They'd sold luminary kits with the paper bags, sand to keep them in place, and tiny candles set down deep in tall holders. I'd forgotten about them and was so happy to find them now. I looked through the supplies, counting what was there, and had an idea. I waited till the sunset, then loaded my kit into the back of my car and started to drive slowly through the neighborhood. I didn't have enough luminaries to line all the sidewalks, but why should not being able to do everything stop me from doing something? I parked my car at a corner and opened the hatch. I put a scoop of sand in each bag and took as many candles as I could carry and started to walk from house to house. Where their front walk met the sidewalk, I had settled the luminary, shaking the sand into an even layer across the bottom of the bag.


Then nestle the candle down into it, and with a long lighter, light the wick. Just like Santa, I went from one house to the next, and Also like Santa, I was a bit stealthy and managed not to be seen. I left one beside a vacant lot in front of the corner store and at the little library, where I often hunted for a new book. The candles didn't have much wax in them. They were meant to be burned for an evening only. I'd have to go back around tomorrow to pick them all up. But driving along the streets and seeing everyone represented in a glowing, flickering light made it all feel well worth it. People would look out as I did so often in the winter and see light, and at least for a moment, I hope, feel comfort and joy. You've enjoyed spending a little time with us in the village of Nothing Much. I always end my sleep stories with a heartfelt sweet dreams. But now I want to wish you sweet days. May you find small moments to enjoy and to connect with today and every day.