Tag Archives: winter

Halfway through Winter

Winter in Manitoba up here near the 51st parallel arrives sometime in late October and early November and slowly disappears by about mid to late April. That being said, it is not unheard of for winter to arrive with October (like it did this year) or hang around well into May. The severity of winter varies just as much. Last year there were extended periods of weeks at a time where our home town was under extreme cold warnings with daytime highs rarely breaking -40C (-40F). This winter’s temperatures have so far been mild with many days with the highs running in the single digit negative zone (30-16F range) with night time values dipping into the high teens (-1F). Snowfall is about midrange normal this year with three blizzards and multiple days of light flurries. The ground is covered with 20 cm (8 inches) of the white stuff in the lowest spots with drifts running well over a metres (yard) deep.

I think of the end of January as being the midpoint of winter for two reasons. First there is almost always a brief spell of relative warmth that lasts a week or two. Temperatures will get up to the freezing mark. There will be some thawing and maybe a bit of freeing rain. This is always followed by most of February dropping into the extreme cold range. It’s like Mother Nature comes up for air, takes a breath, and plunges down into the deep cold again. We are in one of those January warm spells right now.

After spending ten years of winters in the south it has been quite an experience for me to live through a Manitoba winter again. Thus far it has been far less awful than I worried about and far more pleasurable than I expected. The main reason is because being retired, if it is bitterly cold outside I just stay home. I don’t have to layer up and go outside and start a cold vehicle and leave it to warm up which my teeth chatter and I freeze. I don’t have to stand in the wind waiting for a bus to arrive because my husband’s work schedule did not overlap mine that day and it was his turn to take the car. I get to miss the worst part of winter.

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A particularly fine example of sun dogs.

The other thing that has astonished me is that winter is far prettier in a rural area. The snow stays a lovely white instead of filthy slushy brown. The trees are beautifully decorated in ice that twinkles like stars in the sunlight. Wildlife is suddenly visible in ways it has not been before because animal leave tracks everywhere. The trees are bare so you can see wondrous sights like one of Manitoba’s official provincial bird, the great grey owl on a post or red flash of a fox in a field. Sun dogs make sparkling bright lights or even rainbows beside the sun. The sky is so blue it almost hurts the eyes and the night sky is stunning in ways it never is in summer. The sun rises late and sets early so even though I am not a morning person I get to enjoy both.

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Animal tracks in fresh snow.

The other thing I have discovered is that my community goes into high social gear in winter. We have had more socials, more dinners, more reasons to be among our neighbours this past month than over the entire summer season. I took up curling to have a reason to get out of the house and get some exercise and discovered I love it. It is a combination of luck and skill and there is few things more satisfying than that perfect two rock knock out or putting your rock “on the button”. I even splurged on myself and bought my very own pink curling broom from Canadian Tire. Twice a week I walk one block to the local curling rink and have a blast playing senior stick curling.

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Winter sunset with lovely clouds.

I decided I would not feel sorry for myself and whine and carry on about the cold. I decided I would be positive. And with that attitude I find I have actually been enjoying this winter. It has passed this approximate halfway point far more quickly than I expected. I still dread February but it begins with curling bonspiels so maybe it will be just as much fun as January has been. Some of my friends in this community have told me they prefer winter. I always thought they were crazy. I can’t say I prefer winter but I can now see why they do.

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Sunshine on frost decorated Trees from my son’s backyard in Neepawa Manitoba

Full Winter Has Arrived

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Full Winter requires a definition for non winter people. Full Winter means that outdoor temperatures stay below freezing at all times. Snow that falls stays on the ground except when it is really cold and it starts sublimating. We actually don’t get a lot of snow in midwinter when it is really cold because it is just too cold to snow. We get the most snow in fall and spring. It’s dark when we wake up and dark when we sit to eat dinner. I bought artificial lights for my poor houseplants or they just won’t make it.

Full Winter means you do not go outside without first donning a heavy insulated winter coat, winter boots, mittens, hat, and something to pull up over your face when the wind blows. The hat is the most important. I like face warmers myself but lots of people use scarves or balaclavas. Exposed skin can freeze in minutes, even seconds in real cold. Indoors, multiple layers, especially long johns and undershirts are required. I add a fleece vest. Most people from the south don’t realize this but jeans are very poor winter gear. The cotton is thin. The wind goes right through and jeans wick off heat when they get wet. I only have jeans on over thermal long underwear. Full Winter means before you come inside you stomp your feet and bang your toes against a door jam to get the snow to fall off. If you track it inside it melts and makes puddles. Also the sweat from your feet makes the inside of your boots damp so you have to make sure they can dry out before the next use. You can always spot a fake winter scene in a movie or TV show by exposed necks, no hat and no pause to stomp away snow in the door. John Snow and his family was not well dressed for winter in spite of the furs.

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Full Winter with small children can be amusing. I recall it taking me twenty minutes to get three little ones dressed, out into the car, safely strapped into safety seats not designed for bulky winter outwear. That’s actually a good thing because full winter also means you start the vehicle and let it warm up for ten or fifteen minutes before you drive anywhere. So you dress yourself, run out, start the vehicle, run back inside and get one child and carry that child to the vehicle, strap the child in, run back and get the next one, strap them in and then get the last one. Whoever invented the remote start deserves sainthood. Oh and I learned it is very important to make little kids use the washroom before you start winter dressing. I recommend delaying toilet training until spring. An accident in a snowsuit is a disaster.

Full Winter means safety in the cold. You do not drive somewhere unless you first make sure someone knows you are going and that someone will notice and miss you if you don’t get where you are supposed to get to. This is especially important on rural roads with low traffic because it is all too easy to disappear into a snow covered ditch and get stuck. Obviously, one also has a fully charged cell phone but some areas where I live have no service. Full Winter also means checking your winter emergency kit for you vehicle in case you get stuck overnight. Aside from some obvious things like a shovel and a scrapper for your window, a good safety kit also includes extra blankets to stay warmer than just your winter gear. (Winter gear is designed for when you are moving about and will not be warm enough to sleep in.) Also a heat source is required. A couple of candles provide enough heat to keep you alive if you have proper winter gear and blankets. Those nifty little chemical break and heat packs for hands and feet are in my safety kit. Also some high energy snacks will help keep away the hypothermic stupids. Hypothermia clouds the brain and results in stupid decisions like trying to walk to get help. In the cold, never leave your stranded vehicle. That is how people die. Cars are easy to spot by passerby searching for you. A person just walks until they get cold and then sits down for a rest and some farmer finds you the following spring when it is time to plow.

Full Winter means your food preferences change. Instead of salads and spicy heat that actually cools, hearty soups and stews sit better. Cold drinks are not as appealing. Tea and coffee are favoured. When you are cold, you have an urge to eat, especially fatty and sweet. Plus it’s such a nuisance to go through the whole procedure of getting dressed that you just do not get out for a walk as easily. The result is you put on weight if you are not careful. Extra vitamin D to chase away the winter blues is a good addition to your life. The sun shines a lot in winter during that very short day and it is lovely but doesn’t warm and most of your skin is covered so you just can’t make enough vitamin D.

Full Winter is not all bad. My cat seeks my company, my lap, my warm bed and he rarely goes outside. In summer he is outside for hours at a time and I can almost forget I have a cat except for making sure he comes in each evening before dark when the coyotes roam the town. He gets bored indoors and so he even invites me to play with him like he’s a kitten again. The dog stays closer as well and actually plays with her ball inside instead of barking at nothing outside. The animals sleep curled in balls often with their tail over their nose.

Full winter is when you can really get to know the wildlife in the area because you can find tracks. This morning I found my deck covered with fresh snow and dozens of bird tracks. I had no idea birds like to walk on my deck. Because the trees are bare you can see the deer and bunnies and catch a glimpse of an illusive cougar or moose. And you don’t need to worry about bears in the bush. The bears all go to sleep. There is a cold beauty to winter. The snow sparkles. The ice tinkles. The night sky is spectacular in a way it never is in summer. The stars twinkle more and the aurora flashes and dances more in the cold. There is a blanket of quiet over everything.

Full Winter is when things are slower on the ranches and farms. The land is asleep. The cattle are nearby and need regular tending twice a day but in between chores, there is time to go to town and sit over coffee and visit or play a game of whist or do some curling. Social life really picks up in the winter. You go to the arena or community centre and hear that stomping to clear the snow away and look over and there is an old friend you did not see all busy summer who can sit and enjoy a cup of coffee and a long chat.

Full Winter means cocooning. You wrap yourself in a warm throw and sit in a rocking chair (assuming the cat lets you take his seat) to watch TV or do a little handicraft. I like to read the seed catalogue. My garden is never so perfect as when the seed catalogue arrives and I am planning for spring. There is a special pleasure that comes from being warm under your blankets in bed. You fall asleep to the sound of the furnace kicking in while outside the wind is howling. Cozy is the word I think of then. Cozy can be very nice.

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Home Again

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We pulled into our Manitoba home late on March 13, 2016. We got in two days ahead of schedule. We just wanted to be home so when we left Sisseton SD we just kept driving. We crossed the border into Canada at Selkirk about 4:00pm. Each time we cross they check something different. This crossing it was making sure our pet’s papers were all in order. This is why you need to be fully prepared for anything because you just never know what they will test you on. Of course our pets papers, along with all our other papers, were in order so they let us back in.

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We arrived home to winter. Even though spring has arrived further south it’s really just end of winter here. I have to admit I planned it this way on purpose. I wanted to see our Alonsa home in winter. We have been five years now without winter and in a very weird way I have sort of missed it. Plus coming home early meant we saved about $600 in out of country health insurance which also offset some of the costs of having our dollar plunge to 0.68 of the USA dollar. The other thing I was curious about is I have had three full years without a single asthma attack requiring a trip to the hospital. My allergist attributed that to being away from snow mould. I guess I wanted to test to see if my lungs have healed instead of just functioning without exposure to snow mould. So far so good! We were also worried about our little house. I must admit feeling some resentment about that. We had five years of being worry free about the stick house and now we have this anchor which also at times feels like a burden. It was a relief to back into our own driveway and see out little stick house is still standing.

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We promised ourselves we would not try to move into the house that night. We were going to just stay the night in the trailer and then move in the morning. Well that didn’t work out. We were so excited to be home we moved right in anyway even though it was almost midnight. Everything was fine. Well sort of. Houses require maintenance and when you leave for months, repairs pile up. We found our kitchen sink’s tap is leaking and will require replacement. Our furnace wasn’t working properly. The neighbours who had been so kindly watching our house for us told us it had started acting funny just two days before and since we were so close to home and the weather was above freezing, and it was making enough heat to keep it warm enough to not freeze, they would leave it for us to deal with.

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The dogs and cat acted like they knew immediately where they were. Fred in particular seemed to be quite happy to be home and the first time we turned our back, he promptly took off to tour the town. He strolled back home about two hours later after setting every dog in the town off barking at him as he came by to say hello.

Snow snow snow blanketed everything. My garden is frozen. The ground is slushy/frozen mess. We dug out winter coats first thing for our daily walks. We then spent the next few days unpacking the trailer and settling back into our stick house. We got an electrician to come and fix our furnace ($80) then the guy to drain our holding tank and check if it needed thawing ($85) and the plumber who had fixed our sump pump while we were away and drained our flooded basement dropped off his bill ($141.25). We learned how to wash dishes fetching water from the tub instead of starting the flood in the kitchen sink again. We did a temporary fix on one deadbolt that failed over the winter until we can get to town to buy a new one. We have two screen doors to fix. One will likely have to be replaced, not fixed. Wind blew them both open and ripped out the frame of one and the door pull of the other. We will make do until we get a chance to go to town and find a good deal. We will check out the “ReNuz It” store and see if they have a nice screen door for cheap. I think that kitchen faucet is as old as the house and we want one with a sprayer so I think the result will be an improvement. I did a temporary fix on that one screen door when we first moved in to try to make it do for now so fixing that properly will be an improvement too. Still, I asked my husband more than once to remind me why we bought a stick house again.

There were soon many reminders why a stick house is nice. I have room to rock in my wonderful rocking chair which was waiting right there for me. The house is warm now that the furnace is working properly. I can take a shower or a bath and use as much hot water as I care to. The “big” kitchen is lovely. I can make chile, wait for bread to rise, and make apple crisp without having to play Chinese puzzle with the limited counter space. We got the new washer in place of the old one and it works like a Maytag is supposed to. The little Panda washer spin dryer did its job but it sure is nice to throw in a load and set it and walk away instead of the infernal wash, manual wring, move wet clothing to spin, spin, rinse, manual wring, move wet clothes to spin, spin cycle. The clothesline is still sitting in the corner of the basement. It’s too cold to hang laundry outside.  It sure felt good to carry loads of laundry warm from the dryer upstairs to fold. Even so, it took a full week before I really felt at home again.

There were so many little things still to do. The trailer had to be drained and winterized. Even though it was above freezing when we got home, I knew, being March it would get cold again fast so the third day home I drained the water and put in the RV antifreeze we bought in North Dakota. We went through the whole trailer, taking out anything that might freeze solid. We left the good mattress in for a few days of subzero weather because that kills dust mites and any Florida cockroaches that might have joined us for a trip to Canada. After everything had been thoroughly frozen we changed mattresses. There have been two snowfalls since we got back and that electric blanket means we can turn the thermostat down low at night and snuggle. The trailer needs a full front to back cleaning and reorganization but it’s too cold to even think of that now.

I still have a whole lot to do over the next few weeks. The final sets of proofs for the book are here and need our attention. I started some plants from seeds. I am showing my faith it will warm up and we will have a garden again. I am looking around at the interior of this little house and thinking I need to get at fixing that again. I have promised myself I will not spend another penny on the house until everything I have material purchased for is used up. That mean painting the garage and finishing the bathroom tiles. The truck needs a full inspection, wash and wax, inside and out. There is always something to do, isn’t there?

And there are some special good things. Our internet provider contacted us with the good news that our area now has upgraded service so we can finally enjoy full LTE Wifi for a little bit less than we were paying for the slow stuff! Best of all, our assorted neighbours recognized us and every step outside of the house we are greeted with pleasantries and asked about our trip. We heard all the local news too, a new baby girl in this family, an elderly grandfather who was very ill when we left has passed on. We feel we have a community here and we really like that. And so we are home.