In any normal year, our Winter Guide would be a fairly easy undertaking wherein we give you skiing conditions, talk about some upcoming events you could attend alongside hundreds of other people, round it out with maybe a recipe or something and bam—issue done. During a pandemic, however, it becomes more like a game of Tetris. Piecing it all together became a tricky series of moves that required taking health orders, local businesses, potential quarantines and other fun things into account. These things come by the dozen; here we go.

Inside, find out how to join a cool book club, where to get some sledding done, play some Dungeons & Dragons, get the best cookies and learn what Kwanzaa's all about, among many other things. If we alter our perception a little bit and think about how to best make sure we're all taking care of one another, this winter might not be so bad after all.

You’re a Chocolate Chip off the Old Block

During the era of COVID-19, there's something precious about the small businesses in town. Chaine Peña knows it, as less than six months after opening, her cookie and macaron business (appropriately named Chainé's) was halted as the virus began its spread and public health orders came into effect. Still, global pandemics are no match for Peña's otherworldly baked goods.

"It's like a little nugget of sweetness in a day," Peña says. "A little bliss, a little unwinding. With everything going on, things like what I do are what get people through."

A multi-generational Santa Fe native who's worked as everything from a Hollywood makeup artist to a yoga instructor, Peña's fast-paced living in Los Angeles lost the appeal. Santa Fe's cozy atmosphere called her back home, where Chainé's became a product of her experience. Her New Mexico roots are the starting point for her baking projects.

It's about the simplicity. Rather than a wide array, she's laser-focused on cookies and macarons. Peña minimizes the usage of any processed ingredients and has a pure sense of taste as her guide. For example, her dulce de leche, something one could easily buy pre-made, is concocted in-house, and the New Mexico cocoa in her recipes is a beautifully dark 85% cacao. Even better? Chimayó red chile is the only red she'll use for that classic New Mexico contrast. Peña's other cookies boast such flavors as crème brûlée and dirty chai, while the piñon chocolate chip is her all-time best seller.

The majority of her business is online these days (chainescookies.com), but she's open weekends from noon-3 pm for pick-ups and walk-ins. Don't fret, though—safety is paramount, and Peña is certified through the state's COVID Safe Practices program and follows a strict social distancing process while keeping it simple for the customers.

Peña is fighting hard through the current economy, and her cookies and macarons are being devoured by Santa Feans in the know. Check out the Chainé's Cookies Instagram (@chaine_santafe) to see what the fuss is about. Stop by the storefront at 131 W. Water St., on your weekends for a snack and her new specialty hot cocoa with edible 24k gold and organic rose petals. It'll be perfect for your winter feels. (Riley Gardner)

Working Out Alone Together

While we first chalked up the thing as a gadget for wealthy people who want to watch TV while they work out from a company that obviously spent a lot of money on promoting it, we've now learned the Peloton exercise bike is a way to improve your fitness game outside the gym—and to socially engage while staying socially distant.

Exercise enthusiast Matthew Scarborough is also a brand new dad this winter. He, too, was extremely skeptical of Peloton. Then they got the big news.

"I was like, you better figure something out, because you are going to have a hard time going to the gym, especially with COVID," he tells SFR.

So he and his wife took the $2,000 hit to buy the bike and the $40 per month family membership. They don't regret it.

On-demand spin classes with front-row views and motivational instruction from elite level coaches is paired with a heart monitor and other sophisticated exercise science tools to make the most of it, says Scarborough, who works by day as a professional control systems engineer and moonlights as a quantitative financial advisor. While he's not into the social part, we've heard from others who really dig on the interactive aspects of group rides and live classes. There's already a small New Mexico Peloton group on Facebook, and Scarborough says he expects lots of market competition to sprout up soon and drive prices way down.

Those less inclined to plug things in yet who are also in need of motivation from other humans might look to a lower-tech, on-off kind of event such as the Snowshoe Classic. The race hosted each year by the Santa Fe Striders typically features a 6K lollipop from the Big Tesuque Campground and last year had more than 100 participants. This year, all of the registered -runners (runsignup.com) donate $30 that goes to Santa Fe Search and Rescue and then complete their own course any time between December 2020 and March 2021 to earn eligibility for raffle prizes. (Julie Ann Grimm)

You Can Still Spend Your Weekends Outside

We're sad to say we're taking a hiatus from downhill skiing this year in favor of exploring other snowy adventures. Yes, the Santa Fe Ski Basin is still open at 25% capacity, but the hassle of reserving tickets online (a requirement) and avoiding potentially COVID-infected tourists in the lift line just doesn't seem worth the $88 day pass.

Luckily, sledding is not just for kids and cross-country skiing is suddenly cool. Grab your mittens, a mask, a thermos of some kind of hot beverage and go enjoy the sunshine. Or gloomy clouds. Whatever.

Don't worry if you don't have a classic plastic sled stashed in your garage—-virtually any smooth flat or slightly curved piece of plastic, wood or light metal will do. We've tried trash can lids, baking sheets, lids from plastic bins, the bins themselves, pieces of cardboard wrapped in trash bags and large shovels to varying degrees of success. If you're sledding with kids, Patrick Smith Park and Frenchy's Field are classic options while Hyde Memorial State Park and the Valles Caldera National Preserve offer multiple spots for both cross-country skiing and sledding that are more fun for older kids and adults.

Cross-country skiing is admittedly much less of a thrill than the downhill version, but it's a peaceful way to enjoy being outside. Alpine Sports offers ski rentals for $25 per day. We suggest checking out the Nordski cross-country ski trail system located along Hyde Park Road at the final turnoff to the left before the ski basin. The interconnected web of trails is beautiful and relatively flat, but can be somewhat confusing to navigate. Pay attention to the maps tacked onto trees at intersections that show you where you are and the level of difficulty of the trail ahead. (Leah Cantor)

Get Lit

Santa Fe city officials have launched a program called "Light Up Santa Fe" to guide everyone to the best holiday lights. They claim the online map and photos are about building community, but we know they're really there to ramp up the already-hot competition on inflatable, illuminated yard figurines and all manner of digital displays.

It's easy to be skeptical of another interactive something-or-other, but this one warmed us right up. As of publication, 127 displays were mapped out with pictures and captions that show how much effort and love went into producing them. We suggest you plan a route and go see them in person.

And yet, we still love the old way: the festive homes and businesses that brighten your night without a plan. Like when we crested a hill in early December and saw a house near Santa Fe High glowing in color against a creamsicle sunset, we gasped and felt as though it was all going to be OK for at least a minute.

Downtown's Pueblo Revival architecture lends itself to great displays of electrolitos, the fake version of the traditional paper-bag light. When lined up on hotel terraces en masse, the effect is still wonderful.

The other big news this winter on the holiday decoration beat is that famed Canyon Road Farolito Walk will be a drive. Though we know lots of folks reveled in being encouraged to cruise around the Plaza for the annual lighting the day after Thanksgiving, we believe the trend of discouraging walking in favor of the built-in social distancing that comes with riding in a car isn't one of the pandemic's better pivots. But if you don't want to drive in a slow parade up a narrow street with a billion other people, knock yourself out by visiting the totally not cumbersome website:
light-up-santa-fe-thecitydifferent.hub.arcgis.com. (JAG)

The Telephonic Sculpture

This artistic game of telephone, said to have been invented by the surrealists in the 1920s and '30s, lets you collaborate from afar. Art is sent from player to player, evolving at each step as the next person responds with a new creation. It's perfect for anyone who loves a good surprise and an interesting challenge or who is simply longing to make something cool with friends and stay connected. Here are the rules:

Gather a group of friends. You can play this game with any number of people, but even just playing with one other person can generate a surprisingly fruitful and intimate artistic dialogue.

Each player chooses an object as a starting point and sends it to the next person on the list. This can be literally anything—a toy car, a rare material, a song—just make sure it's not something you are hoping to get back, because it might end up suspended in resin or covered in paint as part of the next person's art piece.

Document the thing you received and create something in response. You can use the original object as part of your next piece or simply as inspiration. Respond in any medium, as long as the thing you make can easily be physically or virtually delivered to the next player.

Repeat until you get back a piece of art that has evolved from the original object you sent. In our experience, the more rounds you play, the more fun the game gets. It can be interesting and at times hilarious to see how one idea evolves as it moves from person to person. 

Upload all of the pictures/videos you took along the way to a shared platform. Surely, everyone involved wants to see what everyone else has created. (LC)

In the Bank 

If you feel like giving back during the holidays and into 2021, The Food Depot, despite a recent infusion of $629,000 from the Legislature, needs both volunteers and financial help.

The nonprofit is among five food banks throughout New Mexico that received cash during the special legislative session to help fight the increased hunger in the state since the start of the pandemic. The local need is great, with long lines reported at a distribution in Santa Fe over the last month.

The additional money helps with the subsequent increase in operational costs, but the organization still needs both volunteer support and continued financial assistance, according to Jill Dixon, director of development. The need for volunteers can't be quantified because there is an ebb and flow of available people, she says.

"The Food Depot is so grateful for the incredible generosity shown by the community—both time and monetary contributions," Dixon tells SFR. "This generosity supported the vastly expanded hunger-relief services offered by The Food Depot throughout this year."

Dixon further tells SFR it's important the organization has a steady stream of new volunteers to replace those who leave.

"Having a strong corps of volunteers is essential for continuing the work and preserving our hunger relief efforts," she says. "For this reason, we are constantly welcoming new volunteers to the team, to stand beside our experienced volunteers as we all make this happen together."

Get started by emailing volunteer@thefooddepot.org—or donate to a specific program or the overall mission anytime at thefooddepot.org. (Katherine Lewin)

Have a Kwaazy Kwanzaa

Seems like lots of folks out there only know about Kwanzaa from the poorly written and borderline racist jokes in mid-'90s sitcoms, so ask yourselves right now, white people—how much do you really know? Not a lot, we bet, which is too bad: Kwanzaa is awesome!

The holiday created by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966 is meant to center Black voices and strengthen bonds for people of African descent, and it turns out it's one of the more beautiful and food-filled holidays ever around—plus, there's no Victorian-era weirdness forcing us to behave or be punished by a magical bearded arctic-dweller. Excellent!

Kwnazaa breaks down to a celebration of the Nguzo Saba, or Seven Principles of unity (Umoja), self-determination (Kujicaguila), collective responsibility (Ujima), cooperative economics (Ujaama), purpose (Nia), creativity (Kuumba) and faith (Imani).

Beginning Dec. 26 and ending Jan. 1, each principle is tied to a day, on which a candle is lit. No, it's not a menorah, but it's aesthetically similar. Through the week-long celebrations, revelers decorate, share music and offerings of food and drink and, at night, discuss the principle of the day. Every home can change it up how they see fit, however, because there's a lot of freedom to Kwanzaa (in your face, Rudolph).

On Dec. 31, the revelers feast (and we mean feast) with both African and African American foods (though, again, freedom means every home is different). The whole thing is kicked off with a poem or statement and comes to a conclusion with a farewell speech, and if it sounds way more mindful than your average Christmas, it is. Plus, if we're being honest, the feasting part sounds fantastic. There is, of course, so much more to learn, but this year let's ditch the yuks and make with the support. It's 2020—or maybe even 2021 by the time you read this. (Alex De Vore)

Don’t Go Outside

One wonders, if the outdoors are so great, why we've spent the entirety of human evolution making the indoors so comfortable? Our couch is inside. So's all our stuff. This is, of course, general knowledge, but when you wake up to the kind of snow that dominates any street with even the slightest shade, it only makes sense to look at your boots and think "Not today, Satan."

Of course, many a Santa Fean moved here for the outdoors. Often the refrain goes something like "But there are so many nice hiking trails/biking trails/lakes/woods/sledding spots/pools/spas and skiing zones, Alex! Why wouldn't you want to go outside?" Ummm, because like I said—all my stuff's at my house. Inside. Where it is also warm.

I get it—it's hard to change up one's behavior. Hell, even us indoor kids are starting to look at our time spent by our heater as at least a -little wasted. I mean, does it scare me how quickly we all adopted a cycle of work, entertainment, sleep, repeat? You bet, but if I'm gonna be stuck indoors, I need distractions. I was smart enough to preorder both the Xbox Series X and the Playstation 5 before their tumultuous release days, so my gaming time is well accounted for, but I'm starting to look at other things to do.

For example, you heard of these things calls books? You stare at dead trees and hallucinate. Amazing! Looking deeper, I've been researching the Hunt a Killer service, this site that sends you a fake murder mystery you have to solve over a number of months. It scratches both my need to puzzle-solve and my bloodlust. Apparently you can do it with a friend or partner, too. That's my plan. Oh, and let's not forget you can sleep all day, too—it's not just for depression anymore!

Lastly, we should probably think about people experiencing homelessness if we're so lucky as to have a warm home and steady work. Maybe take whatever money you were going to spend on strapping planks to your feet and hurtling down a snowy mountain and give it away? That could be cool, and you don't even have to go outside to do it. (ADV)

Roll 2D12 For Fun

Take a look at the current Xbox and Playstation release drama to learn one unassailable fact—we're becoming a nation of nerds. Oh, this isn't a bad thing, quite the opposite, but when one can't find a current-get console or is too busy trashing Cyberpunk 2077 for its buggy, premature release, it can be good to go back to the classics. Enter Dungeons & Dragons (or D&D if you're nasty), that Gygax-propelled pastime made popular by dorks back then, who grew into bigger dorks now and are raising a new generation of dorks dying to dork out. Thank goodness for virtual sessions, too, because we're all looking for something a little fun.

"I played D&D when I was a kid, and I played other [role playing games] during college," says Simon Boses, founder of Eldorado's Make Time, a sort of youth-based MAKE Santa Fe-esuqe offering for the kids. "D&D is the easiest one to jump into—and since the thing the kids are missing most right now is social interaction…unfortunately, putting kids online for school doesn't take care of that even a fraction."

Boses is a father of three and a former elementary school science teacher, so he knows from whence he speaks. He's also a longtime Dungeon Master, or DM, the one who runs the game and sets the narrative.

"The reality was, parents were just so overwhelmed with the transition, they couldn't even consider that," Boses continues. "What I find works really well is give them lots and lots of assets, tools and things [during a D&D campaign], then throw some problems at them and see what they do."

Kids who want to get involved need only be part of the Make Time Patreon at the $35 level or above. Once signed up, the D&D campaigns flow and, according to Boses, "It really supports kids who you could imagine becoming writers; screenwriters."

All kids are welcome, and Boses has broken the campaigns up into age-appropriate groups. Ideally, he says, those who sign up will stay committed. Trust us—missing one session is enough to confuse anyone.

Elsewhere, 12-year-old Mica Santistevan has been knee-deep in a campaign with his friends from Turquoise Trail Charter School for just a couple weeks, but he says it's made a huge difference in pandemic socializing.

"My uncle used to play, and had some old books, so I knew what it was but never played," Santistevan, who plays as a sorcerer, says. "I just wanted to see what it was, and [we're on] our second campaign. I might do some DM stuff myself."

So there you have it—start your own game, kids, or visit maketimeldorado.com to sign up with Boses. We promise nothing beats good old imagination. Probably. (ADV)

Make Holiday Cards for Prisoners

Help make this holiday season a bit less lonely for at least one of the 2.3 million incarcerated Americans who have spent the pandemic behind bars, cut off from the outside world and at the mercy of a virus that has moved quickly through the nation's prisons.

Many facilities have taken draconian measures to slow COVID-19, locking down prisoners in their cells for up to 23 hours a day and cancelling vocational and enrichment programs. Most have stopped visits from friends and family, and the lockdowns have severely limited inmates' access to phones and art-making/-letter-writing materials.

"Prisoners are experiencing such intense isolation right now," says Wendy Jason, founder and director of the Justice Arts Coalition, "so to receive a piece of mail from the outside, to know that someone took that extra time out of their day to write a note, to draw a picture, and just to acknowledge their existence and that they are a living, breathing, thinking, feeling human…that is worth more than gold."

The Washington, DC-based coalition helps member organizations across the country (including several in New Mexico) start local arts programing for people behind bars, and hosts an annual handmade holiday card drive and penpal project called pARTners, which pairs artists on the inside with artists on the outside.

All of the inmates on the JAC list are artists or creative thinkers, and in the artistically starved institutional setting, a hand-drawn card or a poem is particularly meaningful. But you don't have to identify as an artist to make a card that will be treasured, says Jason.

"If you've never done this before, just think about what you would want to hear if you were feeling extra alone at this time. It can be very very simple, a few words of acknowledgement and encouragement or best wishes for the new year."

Before you begin, write justiceartscoalitionmail@gmail.com for details. Prisons often have absurd restrictions on what kinds of paper, ink and envelopes they allow inside, so make sure you read the directions. (LC)

Learn a Book

I started a virtual book club this fall with two different groups of friends. One is here in Santa Fe and the other is scattered across the country. There are three people in each, including myself.

It's been a necessary way to keep up with my friends and have interesting (or more positive things) to talk about that aren't about the pandemic or rampant -relationship troubles stemming from -being stuck face-to-face with your partner for the better part of 2020.

With my Santa Fe group, we chose to first read A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. It's a basic book club set up—we read a couple chapters by a certain time and then talk about it. We haven't gotten very far between jobs and relationships and the holidays, but we've been able to connect on an intellectual level together. Wine, a good book, friends—it's easy to pass an hour or so talking about Russia's past and forget it's 2020, even over FaceTime.

My other book club is set up a little differently, but I love it as a way to keep in touch with my childhood friends who now live in California and Mississippi respectively. As we finish books (good or bad) we send them to each other. There's no specific circulation or timeline—it's about who happens to need a new book at the time.

This has given me strange insight into the topics my friends are interested in (one likes to read the newest romance novels, the other mysteries), and I've managed to get them to read some great narrative journalism, like Narconomics: How To Run A Drug Cartel, which is as necessary a read as The Open Veins of Latin America.

Normally I don't read romance or mystery or anything close to fiction (unless it's Tolkien), but this club setup has forced me to actually comb through a couple good romances and mysteries, such as One Day and Conviction. Who knew?

The only cons? I definitely have a backlog of books to read now and sometimes I have to tell my friends what they sent me is total crap. But, hey, honesty is important in a friendship. (KL)

Patio Partying

Outdoor fire pits, heaters, cheery lights and alcohol—The Beer Hall at the Santa Fe Brewing Co. headquarters is the best place for patio drinking I could find this December (after unsuccessfully hitting up two other breweries that had no outdoor heating—trust me, I looked).

I'm not a frequent beer drinker, so I -accidentally (but luckily) ordered a "Pepe-Lada," the michelada version of Santa Fe Brewing's Pepe Loco, a Mexican-style lager. There were only two kegs of it at the time of this writing, so I wouldn't wait if you like micheladas, a delicious combination of beer, lime juice, piquant seasonings and tomato juice. Santa Fe Brewing's is a lighter drink, and with added chile salt, it even felt more festive than a regular beer.

Considering I'm from the sub-tropics of Florida, no other patio I could locate had the necessary heating for me, so I stuck with homemade cocktails for the last week leading up to my vacation. If you have a backyard and drink tequila, the rest of this is for you. String up your own lights and light up your fire pit (assuming you have one), and it'll be like you're actually at The Beer Hall!

By homemade cocktails, I mean any recipe with tequila I could find on Pinterest, which has pages upon pages of Christmas cocktail recipes, ranging from super basic to so elaborate I felt like I'd need help to make it (like the Christmas Cookie Martini, which requires actual baking). Luckily, though, I did find a recipe that was easy to mix on ice at the end of a long day reporting the news: 3 oz cranberry juice, 1 oz lime juice, 1 oz triple sec, 2 oz of tequila and sugar on the rim. I'm warmer already. (KL)