Friday, February 25, 2011

A Letter from a Winter Recluse

Since we are in the middle of another snowstorm I thought I would just put this out there. It is possible that I might be going about this the wrong way but winter is not a season I look forward to in the North. The locals are air drying their laundry in below freezing temperatures, turning their back lawns into hockey rinks and snowshoeing backwards while gnawing on maple taffy, but what I most want to do is stay indoors where it is warm, dry and painless.

In the past I have participated in several winter events including the front stairs back slide, the sidewalk knee grind with a double palm scrape, the slippery sewer cover behind bounce and for my finish magnifique, I used my car as a pair of ice skates to perform a Lutz into a guardrail on the Massachusetts Turnpike causing over $3,000 in damage to the backend of my car.

Seeing how accident prone I am in winter, it is really better for all concerned that I just stay inside. But then again, I have never actually broken a bone or had a hospital stay, so who really knows what forces are at work here. I must admit that my winter sports are probably more entertaining than curling, which is boring for the spectator as well as the competitor it would seem. Nonetheless, I have created a list of my essentials to help me survive winters in Canada.

1. A fireplace. Technically we do not have a “real” fireplace. After a bit of whinging on my part, my husband bought us an electric fireplace. Now I can curl up on the sofa with a paperback (and a blanket, an electric heating pad and the baseboard heating on blast) and pretend there is a roaring fire keeping me warm. Ours actually looks like a traditional wood stove so it’s just that much more twee. There is even a screen that makes it look as if the flames are dancing upon the wood logs.

2. Books, television and ice cream. Escapism is the key to my winter survival. Recently, I have toured regions of Europe and the South – in my head. Big thanks to Tim Parks and Maya Angelou. If I’m not reading, I like to watch Oprah and console myself with ice cream - it is torturous to watch what people go through in life. Anyway, all the ice cream shops close for winter here, so I know I am probably alone in this preference for ice cream in the winter.

3. 5-HTP. This supplement works for insomnia, weight control and anxiety. I learned about 5-HTP when I wanted to quit smoking. I smoked throughout my 20s. I did come up for fresh air a few times but that would only last for about a month or so. Needless to say, when I got married, my husband asked me to quit. I was also motivated by the fact that tax rates here caused my brand to cost about $8 a pack. Also, the woman at the convenience store pretended like she couldn't understand my anglicized French when I requested deux Camels. Since February 2009, I have been smoke free except one sneaky cig bummed off a mover when we were relocating to our new house. 5-HTP is sold over the counter and it is a naturally occurring amino acid that really does chase the winter blues away for me. Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. This has just been my experience.

4. Lotion. One of the great things about the South is that you don’t have to use moisturizer. It is so humid your skin is forever dewy. This isn’t to say that I didn’t buy lotion while I was living in the South. It’s fun to buy lotion right? Yeah. I probably have a lifetime supply of lotion in my bathroom right now. I’m sure most of it has gone off at this point. Oh well, time to buy some more. If you don’t use lotion you will literally turn into a reptile during the Canadian winter. Once you get your lotion on, run your fingers through your hair to remove the static (another winter treat) with the residual moisturizer.

5. Lip balm. I have been using Carmex since I was in the 6th grade. My school team made it to the Odyssey of the Mind world finals in Ames, Iowa where I first encountered windy, dry weather. Like most folks, I have an aversion to chapped lips. It was there that I went into a pharmacy and discovered my first pot of the ultimate lip balm. I have used Carmex every day of my life since. It seems to actually absorb into my lips rather than just smearing a layer of wax over the top like other brands that I have tried for kicks. Although I started out life using the jar, I now prefer the Original Stick with SPF 15. I hate the tubes though – whatever is in that doesn’t penetrate the skin the same as the jar or the stick.

6. Snow boots. Many of the locals like to wear 5-inch spike-heeled boots to maneuver along the icy pavement. Personally I feel that traction is my friend in these snowy times. My snow boots are actually a pair that I bought while living in the South. You see, I thought they were hiking shoes and they were on clearance. I don’t imagine the stores have a big rush on snow boots down there so it makes sense that they were on sale. It turns out that I just came to Montreal prepared.

7. Water and hot drinks. Drinking a lot of water in winter will help prevent crocodile skin mentioned earlier, but a hot cup is like having your own personal fire to keep your hands from freezing, then breaking off and being eaten by your cat. My favorite winter drink is chai. This is black tea spiced with cardamom, ginger, cloves and cinnamon then sweetened with honey or jaggery (an unrefined cane sugar used in rural parts of India) and served with hot milk. But if the evening is coming to a close, I prefer chamomile which ensures a good night’s sleep as soon as my head hits the pillow. Other favorites include hot cider with orange, hot chocolate with a pinch of cayenne pepper and, of course, coffee.

8. Flannel. It’s a good idea to just grab anything flannel you can find but flannel sheets and flannel pyjamas are a must. Just to mix things up, I also like to have an electric heated mattress pad and more blankets than my husband can reasonably tolerate.

9. If you absolutely must go outdoors you will need a snow shovel, a bag of salt and grit to de-ice the areas you plan on walking through, an ice scraper/snow brush because you can’t go anywhere without a thorough brush down of your car and a case of windshield washer fluid and de-icer (the kind that supposedly repels water and works to -20°C is a good choice). I have to clear my windows of interstate grime every minute or so if the temperature has increased just enough to melt the snow and ice so that it constantly sprays on your windshield while you drive. I have been caught on the interstate (twice this season so far) with a windshield completely covered with filth and no washer fluid in the tank. This frequent occurrence isn't because I am completely irresponsible, but because I ran out while driving and I have no indicator light telling me when the fluid is low. I get one of the worst feelings ever while trying to make out the shapes of other cars through a completely blocked windscreen while basically feeling my way to a pullover spot to safely refill the washer fluid. I just put my caution lights on and go about 2kph. The locals show concern by waving at me with a middle finger and barking with the car horn.

10. Sometimes our dear Quebec politicians take a recess from their daily grind of stockpiling taxpayer dollars into their personal bank accounts to pass through head-scratching legislation akin to a mother telling a child “because I said so,” i.e. no personalized license plates and the RĂ©gie des alcools, des courses et des jeux cash-grab that prevents Quebecers from entering most contests held in North America, etc. One bit of legislation that I do agree with is the winter tires regulation here. If you have a vehicle registered in Quebec you must install winter tires between December 15 and March 15. The rubber used for winter tires offers better traction in below freezing conditions so I feel safer while steering my car over all the ice and snow on the roads here. Also, you can be fined from $200 to $300 here if you don’t install them. It costs about $100 a season to have the tires changed out and I suspect I am being ripped off, but such is life in Quebec.

So there is indeed a reason I have never met another Southerner living here - this is very unfamiliar territory when compared to the South. The most surprising moment for me during the recent Grammy Awards was that two members of Arcade Fire, a band based in Quebec, were actually from Texas. I try not to live with an "only gay in the village" mentality (a la Daffyd on Little Britain) - there must be other Southerners here. I would be very interested to hear from Southerners living in Quebec and of course anyone else with a coping mechanism.

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