Monday, January 18, 2016

How to Survive a Canadian Winter

I'm suffering from a horrible case of winter blahs at the moment.  Until a few weeks ago, we were having a very mild winter (0 to -10 C on most days), and it seemed completely bearable.  Then the weather dropped into the -20 to -40 C range, and everything started to feel unpleasant.  Our apartment never quite warms up, despite the heaters running continuously.  My skin freezes in an instant if I go outside without it fully covered.  And nothing feels quite worth going outside, no matter how fun or smothered in cheese it might be.

My instinct at this time of year is to cocoon myself in bed with cats, hot chocolate, and a pile of library books.  I have zero desire to work or to do any of the things necessary for maintaining my existence.  Laundry?  Groceries?  Dishes?  All of these things seem like too much effort when the outside world is frigid and the daylight disappears before I leave the hospital.  Every year I long to bypass these months, even though I recognize the finite nature of life and theoretically want to enjoy every precious moment of it.  For me, there is nothing precious about -40 C before the windchill*. 

This year is about being present though, which includes being present during the loathsome months between Christmas and the Spring melt.  So I'm trying to come up with ways of not being miserable until March.  Some of the things I've come up with?

Long johns**:  My girlfriend made me buy a pair of long johns last year, and they may be the only thing that keeps us from killing each other when the weather is cold.  (She is a crazy person who thinks that people should go outside despite the cold.  She is very wrong.)  Winter is slightly more bearable when I have long johns and an undershirt and a down jacket and a toque to keep the warmth inside.

The Conservatory:  Our local zoo has a plant conservatory, which is a rather unimpressive greenhouse filled with the type of tropical plants that you can buy at Walmart.  But!  It is ridiculously hot inside, and it has a glass ceiling, so visiting it in the Winter can feel just the tiniest bit like being outside in a warm place.

Winter foods:  Soups, stews, and casseroles smothered with cheese.  Warm and hearty things from my kitchen are all that keep me going on some days.

Hot tub:  I'm spoiled and live in a building with an indoor hot tub.  I really must spend more time warming my frozen bones in it.

Skating:  I haven't yet mustered up the strength to do this, but it seems like it would be good for me to get outside and participate in something Wintery.  Maybe I would hate Winter less if I actually enjoyed something about it.  Cross-country skiing is also a thought, and it would take advantage of the flatness of the region in which I live.

Sigh.  I don't think this list is helping.  I want to go to street festivals and run along the river and sit on a patio drinking overpriced cocktails.  Nothing about winter seems pleasant right now.  Maybe I should just blow my budget and go to Mexico.

If you have the misfortune of living somewhere that is frigidly cold right now, how do you manage to be happy despite the weather?  Or do you give up on being happy and just treat Winter like a horribly bad call shift and wait for it to pass?

*If you live someplace warm and don't know what a windchill is, I kind of hate you.

**Are there people who aren't familiar with long johns?  And toques?  I hate all of you.


  1. Snowsuits are also useful indoors... (Snow is part of why I moved South...)

  2. my tuques all had pom poms on them, not sure why wikipedia claims they are not tuques!

    I spent ONE winter in Calgary with -45 with wind chill - and I took public transit - standing at the bus stop waiting for the bus (in the dark, morning and evening) was the coldest I have ever been in my life.

    Now I live in California. I bask in your hate, the way I bask in the warm sunshine. (Actually it's been raining a lot - which is good because: drought)

  3. Well, after spending most of last winter snowed in back home in PEI, I'm sort of reveling in the fact that we haven't had to so much as lift a shovel yet where we now live and it's halfway through January. It still feels no more wintery to me than a couple bad days in December or so, though. I can completely get behind your list, though. There are lovely things to enjoy! We have a fireplace and it's been lovely for taking the chill out of the air in the house. Jealous of that hot tub, though...

  4. I agree with the cats and hot chocolate part, but in my house, these are available only AFTER playing outside for some time... I try to like skating (but not quite succeeded yet), when there is enough snow, I love snow-shoeing, or just taking a long walk outside... And there is always downhill-skiing, but that takes more like the whole day. Once you've been outside for a significant amount of time, the hot chocolate, with the cat, in front of the fireplace will be even more lovely, don't you think?

  5. May I also suggest knee socks and a sleeping bag coat? And s scarf that you can wrap around your face. And two layers of pjs when you're indoors (at least). I also used to go running outside in Chicago as long as it was above 10 Fahrenheit. Appropriately bundled, it usually felt good. I'd go for like 15 min.

  6. I was born and raised in Alaska, but in a Vancouver-esque sort of mildness. Then i moved to Fairbanks, where it gets REALLY cold. And the #1 thing that made it livable was getting outside every day. I took up snowshoeing and cross country skiing and fortunately my dog is a good sport, and we went out a lot. I knit myself a big warm sweater, got a bunch of wool socks and fleece pants and gaiters, and we were set. Then I lived in an Eskimo village (they prefer that term to Inuit) and discovered how awesome it is to be outside in the cold when you're not running from car to building (I had no vehicle) - I embraced the cold and really enjoyed myself. -20 (same for F/C there, right?) is my favorite temperature, and I feel pretty good until -40 F but then I take precautions and don't stay out too long. Because hypothermia.

    That said, the coldest winter I spent in my life was in Kansas. There is something so awful about prairie cold - the wind whips right into my marrow. Awful. So if you're in that setting ... good lord woman, MOVE. The tundra is much better.

  7. I think you hit the nail on the head with finding a winter activity you love. May I suggest fat biking, xc skiing or hockey? Might not be compatible with your budget goals though...

  8. Its not even AS cold here, and I still used to treat it like a bad call night & count down the days. A few years ago, I realized I didn't want to wash away a full quarter of every year of MY LIFE, so I'm learning to embrace it. Proper gear (indoors & out), getting outside every day, mugs of hot tea, snuggling with warmer creatures, comfort food, indoor activities, and substituting "summer on the patio" cocktails with "winter huddled around space heater" cocktails (if you have a fire, this is less pathetic).
    We try to save certain things for the cold months, like watching movies, museum visits, cozy restaurants/bars, soups/stews so that it feels "special" and I can look forward to those.

  9. It's bleak where I live -- not as cold but no sunshine as our valley gets socked in with winter cloud. Terrible for people with SAD. We escape to the local hills to snowshoe, cross-country ski or alpine ski. I second the advice of those above -- find something to do outside. There's a certain camaraderie that happens too. Our winter friends are different than our summer friends -- there's some sort of extra specialness to it.