An Adventure in Rural Living
Learning to Winter

Learning to Winter

Last week, I told one of my clients that I moved to Wisconsin on December 15th.  He laughed out loud and said, “Did you lose a bet or something?”

Part of our dream has always been living in a place with real weather and real seasons.  We thought about how romantic it would be to sit by the fire in the evenings and take walks, holding hands, in the snow.  We could build snowmen with the kids.  We could ice skate on the lake.  We had fantasies of big, fat snow flakes outside and rich, warm cocoa inside.  We could have a real white Christmas.  I flipped through my favorite catalogue (#Sundance) and imagined actually living someplace cold enough for all the cute hats and jackets that I wanted to buy but couldn’t justify.

Well, the reality is just as magical, but maybe not quite as soft around the edges.  Our introduction to winter included two back-to-back storms that dropped 8 inches of snow one night and another 5 inches of snow two days later. I was driving through town, and there was a sign up that said, “Snow Emergency Declared.”  I was all, “Uh oh.  What exactly is a snow emergency?”

I learned that our cars handle very, very well in the snow, including in a blizzard.

Some things that I now appreciate, that I never really understood before:

Regenerative Braking – My Tesla has something called regenerative braking.  It’s super cool.  What it means is that the car slows down to a stop when you take your foot off the gas.  You don’t actually need to use the brakes.  In LA, that was a fun novelty that I had to get used to.  Frankly, it irritated me at first.  Now, I find it life saving.  I can slow down to a stop without using my brakes in the snow and ice.  This means I don’t slide and I don’t end up in the intersection instead of at the stop sign.

Roundabouts – We have several roundabouts in town.  I generally find roundabouts to be a pretentious, pseudo-European effort at solving a traffic situation that doesn’t need to be solved.  And, every time I enter one, I have flash backs to that scene in European Vacation where they get stuck in the roundabout for 8 hours and can’t get out.  But, I do have to admit a new appreciation for roundabouts.  Any traffic construct that means I don’t have to come to a full and complete stop in the snow and ice is entirely welcome and much, much safer than a stop sign or a stop light.

My Fireplace – One of the things that I didn’t love about my new home is the location of the fireplace.  It is right, smack in the middle of the house between the living room and the kitchen.  My fireplace fantasies included a romantic fireplace in the bedroom and another big roaring fireplace in the living room surrounded by fuzzy rugs and cozy furniture.  I couldn’t figure out what the people who built our house were thinking putting our fireplace right in the middle of the house like that.  Well, I know now.  My fireplace is not a decoration and it’s not for ambiance.  It is meant to keep the house warm and keep us from dying and it is in the most efficient and pragmatic place in the house to do that.  When we woke up one morning and it was 48 degrees IN OUR BEDROOM, I realized that fires are an essential part of heating your home in sub-zero temperatures . This is my official apology for my judgement and my thank you note to the geniuses who put my fireplace where it’s supposed to be.

Scarves – In Los Angeles, you know it’s winter because people wear hats and scarves as accessories as an outward declaration that they are trying to experience a season. Last week, Wisconsin experienced the second coldest temperature ever on record during the Polar Vortex.  It was -25 degrees at our house and -55 degrees with the wind chill factor.  In Wisconsin, you don’t go outside without a scarf when it’s below zero or you will die.  I mean, really. They were telling us that we should try not to go outside at all last week and if we did have to go outside, we should avoid taking deep breaths so our lungs don’t freeze.  And, if you do go outside, make sure all exposed skin is protected and covered because frost bite is likely within 5 minutes.  WTF?!?  We moved to Narnia!  The hell with scarves, all of a sudden fur makes sense.

Fingerless Gloves and those long sleeved shirts with thumb holes – I mean, really?  What is the point?  The point:  to keep your hands warm without rendering your fingers useless.  I especially love the fingerless gloves with the mitten covers that cover your fingers but allow you to free them to get out your wallet and pay for groceries and other things like that.

Dan, My Snow Plow Driver – I have never met this man, but he is one of my favorite new people in Wisconsin.  He is single handedly (or truckedly) keeping us from dying.  He plows our quarter mile long driveway any time there is more than an inch of snow on it, no matter how or when it got there.  He plowed at 11:30pm on New Year’s Eve because he didn’t want us to get stuck in or out.  He plows at 3am so that I can leave at 5:30am to catch my flight out of Madison.  He plows when there is no snow but the wind is so bad that all the snow he plowed two days ago gets blown back onto my driveway.  He told me I probably need a snow fence and didn’t laugh at me when I asked, “What’s a snow fence?”  Now, I theoretically understand that a snow fence is meant to keep snow from blowing across your driveway.  But, there are some physics to it that I don’t get that has something to do with the Bernouli Principle.  I’m going to need my kids to help me figure this out.

Delta Flights out of Madison – Steve and I both travel a lot.  Part of the deal with us moving was that we needed to be near an airport.  Madison Airport (MSN) is a very small, regional airport that doesn’t have a lot of direct flights.  Milwaukee Airport (MKE – the Home of the Discombobulated Signs) is only about 75 minutes from our house and offers a lot more direct flights.  When we lived in Los Angeles, we were about 2 full hours from LAX and got used to long commutes to the airport.  However, they weren’t long commutes in the snow and ice.  Connecting flights now seem a lot more practical than 75 miles in the snow.  Last week, I flew out of Madison in a complete blizzard.  I kept checking the status of my flight and it persistently said that it was on time.  I took a leap of faith and drove down my freshly plowed driveway, carefully navigated the snow covered roads, and braved the below zero walk from the parking structure to the terminal.  And that flight boarded, pushed back, de-iced, jammed down a freshly plowed runway, and took off on time.  These are things that I am not at all used to.  I mean, if it rained at LAX or there was weather anywhere in the country, flights started experiencing delays and getting cancelled.  This week, I landed in freezing rain.  As we were waiting for our plane to arrive in Atlanta, someone asked our pilot if we were really going to make it to Madison because other airlines were cancelling flights.  He said, “Ya, no problem. It’s Madison.”  As if that is self explanatory.  I asked more questions and it turns out that there are some airports that are just prepared for weather and have it all figured out–airports like Madison and Anchorage, Alaska and Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  I guess the actual planes they fly in and out matter, too.  But, Delta seems to have that sorted out.  So far, so good.

My Husband – I definitely appreciate Steve and I, mostly, understand him.  But, he has been such an amazing, good sport about learning to winter.  He carries in firewood and starts fires and cleans out the fireplace.  He shovels snow and salts the driveway.  And, he generally just tries to do everything in his power to keep me warm and safe.  He was in Iowa last week when we got 5 inches of snow.  So, I went out and shoveled it.  I would have left if for him, but I have learned that if you allow it to sit there and freeze, you won’t be able to get out until March or April when everything thaws.  So, I shoveled. We have two paths that need shoveling.  One is from our front door to our driveway and the other is from our side door out the dog run.  I sent Steve and the boys a picture to show off my awesome new Winter Skills. Steve scolded me, “Hey, that’s my job.  I am on my way home.  Please go inside and stay there and save the rest of the shoveling for me.”  And, Justin said, “OMG, Mom.  I can’t move there fast enough.  I will shovel the snow for you when I get there.”  It’s sweet that they worry about me.  It’s not because they think I’m incapable of shoveling a little snow.  It’s because I broke my back horseback riding three years ago and they don’t want me to hurt myself doing something stupid.

Every day, I learn something new and I think I have Wisconsin figured out.  And, the next day shows up with new lessons.   But, as crazy as it sounds, we really are enjoying our adventure.


3 comments found

  1. I burst out laughing with the Narnia comment. Your perspective and partnership make this adventure so much fun. I am glad that wintering is working for you and your family.

  2. Great read! I’ve always enjoyed the climate changes when we moved away from so cal. Seasons, and the lessons I learned from Mother Nature were always life-enriching for me. I loved getting so good at predicting the mid-afternoon downpours in Hawaii, as to succinctly pull drying laundry from the clothes lines just in time! Living in such with nature has a wealth all its own. Glad you’re all adjusting… the home is beautiful and cozy!

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