Living in Canada, as I do, weather is the main topic of conversation. We breathe weather. We talk to our neighbors about the weather. It’s even a topic of conversation over the telephone with people we hardly know and with people we are intimate with.
In winter the polar vortex sweeps down from the North with little predictability. When that happens around here the first priority is staying warm. We’ve been doing this for 35+ years — living as we do in Canada and we’ve made a few mistakes. Some of these were serious mistakes — survival mistakes. Maybe sharing these with you will help you avoid some dumb winter weather mistakes that can seriously impede your survival. If sharing my dumb mistakes will help you, I’m willing to risk the humiliation.
Dumb Cold Weather Mistake Number 1
The first really dumb winter weather mistake I made was the January we moved to our 140 acres on the mountain. The previous owners had left the stock water faucet on full. Thinking I was being a prudent conservationist, I turned the tap down to a trickle. Don’t do that if you live where it gets below zero.
The gravity fed water system at Joybilee Farm feeds both the house and the stock waterer. The two join the source at a T-joint. Turning down the stock water also stopped the flow to the house, leaving the water standing still in the pipes. Although the pipes were 4 to 5 feet underground, under a snow pack, where the water enters the pipe was above ground. Mid January, in 2003, the temperature plunged to -40C/F and the water froze. We had no water until late April, when the water at the top of the system, on our North Facing slope thawed. To get water for cooking and flushing the toilet we had to melt snow for 4 long months.
Lesson: Always leave a tap on — preferably one that doesn’t drain into your septic system — which brings us to my next cold weather mistake.
Dumb Cold Weather Mistake Number 2
The second dumb cold weather mistake wasn’t entirely my fault. We had 4 wwoofers — all guys — staying at the farm in April a few years ago. It was shearing weekend and the shearer came. We had help with the shearing so that was great. Shearing 100 sheep and angora goats generates a lot of laundry. It also makes people want to shower a lot. Over the weekend, with 10 people flushing toilets, doing laundry, and showering our septic field failed. The field was half frozen still, shadowed by tall pine trees. On closer examination it turned out we actually only had half a field in operation. The other half was put in too high and actually sloped toward the septic tank. The whole field had to be redone — thankfully we had 4 wwoofers and a kind neighbor with a back hoe to help. Cost: $2,000 and a lot of lunches.
Lesson: When the weather is cold, limit the number of laundry loads, and showers to what your septic system can reasonably handle. Septic fields drain slower in the cold weather.
Dumb Cold Weather Mistake Number 3
The third dumb cold weather mistake — Cold weather and windows. We were in the middle of an ice storm and it was windy and cold outside. Inside we had a toasty wood fire. The kids decided to play tag in the house, running through the living room. They decided that the window was home-free. Warm hands on cold window and just a gentle tap — did you cringe? It was enough to completely shatter the single pane picture window in the living room. That ice storm resulted in a power outage that lasted 5 days. And the window remained duct taped and plastic-ed until a repair man could safely make the trip to fix it.
Lesson: Cover your single pane windows with plastic on the outside or with storm windows to protect the pane from the extra stress of heat differentials.
Dumb Cold Weather Mistake Number 4
The fourth dumb cold weather mistake: Not winterizing my car for harsh conditions. I didn’t make sure that the antifreeze had a high enough rating. I didn’t have a block heater. I travelled a few miles from home and the weather was colder than normal. At 0F the water and antifreeze mix in the engine block froze. I managed to get it started and I thought it was warmed up. I made it about 20 miles from home and then it died. The engine block cracked. I was without a car for 6 months.
Lesson: Always have your car winterized for conditions that are colder than what you actually expect. The weather can change quickly in winter, especially in Canada.
Dumb Cold Weather Mistake Number 5
The fifth dumb mistake: Thinking I had to buy my kids a lot of Christmas presents to make them happy because my own childhood lacked a real Christmas celebration — actually my childhood Christmas was one extended drunk with me at home waiting for them to come home. The pendulum swings. When our boys were little we had so many gifts under the tree for them that Christmas morning was 3 hours of gift opening. We poured over $500 into gifts, decorations, and food to make the season extra memorable for our three kids.
That was the year that the eldest said after opening his last gift, “Is that all?” That was the year I realized that it’s not about how much stuff we give. Or even how much food we eat. Or how together the decorations are. We set a limit right then — 1 gift per person from each person. That would be 4 gifts each in our family of 5.
Now that all my children are adults and we have three granddaughters — homemade personal gifts are more appreciated than store bought gifts. And food gifts or consumables top the list of most wanted items. For ideas on holiday gifts you can make yourself, check out this inspiring post.
Lesson: Celebrations are more about family togetherness than about how much money you spend. Don’t go broke trying to create for your kids something you missed as a child.
Ok, honestly I’ve made more than 5 dumb winter weather mistakes. But I don’t want to overwhelm you. Master these 5 and you’ll be on your way to surviving a cold and frosty winter on the homestead, no matter where the winter cold finds you.
Not sure if you’re cold enough to need these tips? Get this min/max thermometer so you can see how cold it got while you were asleep.
I told you some of my dumb cold weather mistakes, you tell me one of your dumb cold weather mistakes. Please tell me I’m not the only one….