I am always so amazed how many southern readers I have. Someone once asked me where the heck you all came from and honestly, I don't remember how I first connected with most of you! But I believe I specifically sought you out and through the blog of a blog of a blog -- and so on and so forth -- managed to pad my roster with SOUTHERN COMFORT and HOSPITALITY! Maybe it's the one-quarter Mexican in me, I don't know, but I'm pretty sure I am actually a displaced southerner!!! So many of you have written in the comments over the last weeks that you don't know how I do it -- you just can't figure out how I live in such incredibly cold weather. So this post is for you.
It's hard to believe (especially considering THIS!), I know -- even for me, sometimes -- but there are actually millions of Canadians and Americans who survive through harsh climates every year! (In case you're wondering, the coldest temperature our outdoor thermometer has ever shown is -42/-44F. I think that was two winters ago and there was about three mornings in a row like that.) And, even more shocking, we don't move away, we procreate, and our population continues to GROW!!!!
I guess, really though, it's all about what we're used to. I had to laugh on Tuesday afternoon because in order to take out the garbage and plug in the van to make it possible to go out in the evening, I had to don EVERY.SINGLE.LAST.STITCH of winter outerwear I own!! It was brutal! Now, I've delved into the subject of winter outer-wear before, so we won't belabour that issue, but let's discuss a few other ways we snowbirds cope with our climate.
Are any of you wondering why the heck I said I had to 'plug in the van'? Have you ever seen gasoline- or diesel-powered automobiles with an electrical cord plug sticking out of the grill and wondered what the heck that's doing there? Well, that, my warm and toasty American friends, is what we call a block heater cord. Vehicles made for Canadian winters come equipped with an extra piece of equipment under the hood: an electric engine block heater. Actually, many vehicles in the north-western States do, too. It's pretty much essential for starting your vehicle if the temps regularly dip below about 5F. And especially if they STAY even lower than that!! Engines just don't like it that cold!
Even with a plugged-in, functioning block heater, it takes a few miles of gentle driving before the engine block is at its peak performance temperature. Travelling normal highway speeds when your engine temp isn't high enough isn't good for your vehicle. And it reduces your fuel efficiency. Many people also purchase or fabricate a cover for the grill of their vehicle to keep the rad and engine protected from the wind while travelling. We also have to "start" our vehicles, which, in Canadian winter lingo means "send your husband out 15 minutes before you need to leave to start the frozen hunk of metal so that it will be somewhat warm inside when you actually need to get in and start driving!" This, of course, also consumes more fuel, but it's essential to raise the engine block temperature and start warming the air in the vehicle.
Another way we, personally, deal with winter is to heat our house with a woodstove in the basement. We have an electric furnace, but our house is old, poorly insulated, and the windows need replacing, so the cost of heating our house with electricity is simply astronomical. The second winter we lived here, we bought the tiniest little woodstove we could find, put it into the basement beside the furnace, and hooked it up to the old brick chimney that had originally been used for that purpose when the house was built, but hadn't been in use since the furnace had been installed in the 70's. The results were amazing.
The Bushman's tried to cut and split all our wood ever since -- because then it's free -- but this year, he simply didn't have the time, so we bought 4 cords of birch already cut and split for $500. That might sound like a lot of money, but considering it will probably last us into NEXT winter (we only heat with wood from about the beginning of December until the end of March) and considering we save about $200/mo on our electricity bill during that time, we're still saving money. We store most of the wood in the garage lean-to, but we cart several wheel barrows-full into the basement every other week or so. We have an unused cistern under our kitchen that the Bushman eventually wants to open up so we can store a whole winter's worth of wood inside.
But the warmth! Oh, the deliciously CONSTANT AND ALL-ENVELOPING warmth!!! Right now, on this FRIGHTFULLY cold and windy day, my house is a cheery 75F. When I'm seriously house-cleaning or washing dishes, I'm occasionally forced to change into a T-shirt -- and even shorts sometimes! On warmer days, especially when the sun is out, we sometimes open a window or two because it's just getting too hot in the house. When I'm using the oven, the kitchen is often sitting at around 86F. A little too warm to be comfortable! Hard to believe, I know.
Or, I wash dishes. I don't have a dishwasher, see, and two steps away from my kitchen sink is the door to go down into the basement, where the woodstove is. So when I'm cold and my fingernails are turning purplish-blue like they are wont to do sometimes, I wash dishes. In the very hottest spot in the house. It usually doesn't take more than a few minutes and I'm sweating all over. (sorry, TMI!)
And then there's my favourite Christmas present -- my FOOTBAGS! I'd never seen anything like them before, but they are literally bizarre little sleeping bags for your feet. And cozy? I'm tellin' you, you don't know from cozy and warm until you've tried some Baffin(tm) footbags!!
The Bushman went to kindergarten to help Peanut with a project one morning while he was off work in December and he saw one of the mothers there wearing a pair. Since I'd been complaining about my old ones for a while, he thought they'd make a brilliant gift. My feet and hands are often not as warm as the rest of me, so these come in downright handy! Especially first thing in the morning before the fire's warmed up the house.
Other than that, dealing with and surviving winters up here is mostly just a 'make the best of it' kind of thing. School buses don't run when the combined temperature and windchill is -46C/-50F or lower and entertainment is definitely more of the indoor variety from November to April, but outdoor activity certainly doesn't stop just because we're frost-bitten. Oh no -- on the contrary, once you're numb, almost anything can be enjoyable! Skating, skiing, snowmobiling, and tobogganing are all national favourite winter pastimes (not particularly with myself, though!) and Canada is known for its winter carnivals, held in various locations all across the country during the winter months. (The list provided on this site is by no means exhaustive)
So that's how we do it. We're just a hardy bunch, us Canadian prairie-dwellers! The li'l Mexican in me still dreams of someday skipping the harsh winter though. Just once. To leave right after Christmas and come home at the end of March. And spend the intervening time here...
Well, you get the idea!