The Long Winter

 Posted by on February 6, 2014  Add comments  Tagged with: , ,
Feb 062014

I have lived in the upper Midwest my entire life, and I’m no stranger to long, hard winters. I grew up near the Minnesota border, and I can remember playing on mountains of snow as tall as some houses, and getting out of school for an entire week because of severe winter weather. We Midwesterners are generally pretty resilient because we’re used to coping with both extremes – stifling heat and humidity in the summer, and bitter cold and snow in the winter, but this winter really blows. Literally and figuratively.

I can remember many trying winters, but I cannot remember EVER being so anxious for a winter to be over. There is one major factor adding to my winter fatigue this year, and that is this:


We heat our house with propane.

Our house was built in 1971, when this area was not yet developed. Our property is somewhat unique in that it sits on top of a hill, on a 1 1/2-acre lot which used to be surrounded by farmland. It’s located only a mile from one town, and a half mile from another, and now overlooks two new housing developments. Because it was previously a “rural” property, it has its own well and septic system, so while we do pay for recycling pickup and electricity, we do not have to pay for other municipal utilities. We own our 1000-gallon propane tank, so every July when our LP dealer sends me contract papers, I go out and check the level on the tank, and taking into consideration how much is left, and how much we bought the previous year, I make an educated guess as to how many gallons we’ll need to get us through the winter. The reason we do this in the summer is because this is when propane demand is at its lowest, therefore the price is also low. This summer, I paid $1.39 per gallon, and bought the same number of gallons as we used last winter. This procedure has never failed me, in the 10 years we’ve lived here….but last winter was not like this one.

It’s only February 6th, and all of our prepurchased gallons of propane have been delivered, but our tank is only at 35%. After skyrocketing to more than $5 a gallon, due to increased demand and dangerously low supply, propane is currently at $3.59 a gallon here – almost 3 times what we paid in July. This means that even if we were able to buy just a couple hundred gallons to squeak by, it would cost more than $700. We’re really hoping we can ride it out until the end of this month, when many experts predict the price will come down, so we have our programmable thermostat set at 67 degrees during the day and a brisk 62 degrees at night. The children have piles of blankets on their beds, and when they’re cold, I give them the good old-fashioned advice my parents gave me – put on a sweater.

Since we also have a gas dryer, I’ve been hanging all of our laundry to avoid using precious fuel that might be needed for heat, so we have wet laundry everywhere.



I’m not a person who objects to doing a little extra work in order to save money, and we need the humidity in the house right now anyway, so I’m trying to think positively about this.

The children have had several snow days, and many late starts – two this week alone – and they’re tired of trudging down the hill through deep snowdrifts, and waiting in sub-zero temperatures (minus 7 today) for the bus.



We pay our neighbor to plow our driveway, and he’s cleared it at least 4 times already this month. We’re only 6 days in.


To make matters much worse, I get very depressed in the winter, and February is typically the worst month for me. This year, my husband and I have taken proactive steps to try and head off my predictable bout of winter blues, with these 3 things:


A SAD Lamp – My husband mounted this on the kitchen wall near the stove, right where I always stand to prepare meals. I turn it on every night when I go out to the kitchen to start supper, and turn it off after I finish cleaning the kitchen after supper. It emits a gentle, soothing glow that mimics sunlight, and makes me feel more cheerful.

Epsom Salts – Every night, I take a warm, 20-minute bath with 2 cups of Epsom Salts (magnesium sulfate), 1/2 cup baking soda, and 8 drops of lavender essential oil. I do this because I learned from friends that low magnesium levels often contribute to depression, and magnesium is more readily absorbed through the skin (see Psychology Today’s article,  Magnesium and the Brain: The Original Chill Pill). If nothing else, it just feels warm and soothing, and helps me sleep. I also started taking a multivitamin, plus extra supplementation of:

Vitamin D3 – There is evidence that Vitamin D deficiency also contributes to depression, along with a host of other illnesses (see Psychology Today’s article, Vitamin D Deficiency and Depression) and if you live above Atlanta, GA, it’s nearly impossible to get enough vitamin D from sunlight in the winter because the sun never gets high enough in the sky. D levels in most people are usually highest in August, and lowest in February – right when I’m feeling the most gloomy.  I take 2000 IU a day, and because I hate taking vitamins, I buy the gummies because I find them more palatable.

To stay warm and comfortable, I drink a lot of hot Chai Tea and coffee, and read a lot of books in what my husband calls my “nest.” I sit in my favorite chair in my warmest clothes and thick socks, with a blanket and sometimes a heating pad. My old, super-hot heating pad that I’d had for 20 years finally bit the dust, so I invested in a Thermophore – the hottest heating pad I’ve ever owned. This pad gets so hot that it has a control switch which must be held down at all times so you can control the heat level and not burn yourself (I hold the lever down until the pad gets so hot that I almost can’t stand it, and then release it until it begins to cool).

I read all the Little House books every year, and it seemed appropriate to read The Long Winter right now. It helps put things in perspective.


I’ve also started making protein smoothies in the morning, because I’ve found that a protein-rich breakfast gives me more energy, and makes me feel less tired and glum. I finally found a brand of whey protein powder that I like: Premium vanilla, from Swanson Vitamins.


I previously thought that I couldn’t tolerate whey protein powder, because I bought one container of the cheap kind from Walmart, and hated the taste so much that I had to force myself to finish all of it. But the Swanson brand is fantastic! It makes my smoothies thick and creamy, and I can’t taste it at all. Plus it adds a whopping 20 grams of protein!

My smoothie recipe is:

1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk (1 gram protein)
1 cup plain Greek yogurt (10 grams protein). I buy the Dana brand from a local Mediterranean restaurant and market. It is the BEST.
1 level scoop whey protein powder (20 grams protein)
1 cup frozen raspberries
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 banana or a handful of spinach (optional – if I have it on hand).

31 grams of protein in this smoothie! It tastes great, and is very filling, even though it only has around 350 calories.

So….I will get through this winter. It won’t be easy, but I will get through it…..and next year I’ll buy more bleepin’ propane!

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  19 Responses to “The Long Winter”

  1. We do not have propane, we live in a small town connected to a larger city. We have natural gas, forced air heat. Despite the fact that we keep the heat at 66 to 67 and turn off everything electric possible, line dry all clothing, etc etc, our power and light bills have been $339.00 the past two months. It hurts to pay this bill every month, but there is seriously nothing more we can do. I am currently researching other methods, like solar power, wood heat, etc.
    I also battle with winter “blues” and am going to take some of your methods and try them. I will pray for you and your family!

  2. It’s brutal here in southern Ontario too. Between the ice storm, two polar vortexes and a massive snow fall just yesterday, I’ve had it.

  3. Meanwhile here in the southern hemisphere we are having heatwaves of over 105 and would LOVE for winter to be around the corner! I’ve taken to hanging my washing inside too Heather because i keep getting burnt standing outside doing it! Hope you’re winter cures help – i have magnesium & vitamin D deficiency usually in winter so might have to remember these!

  4. I’m sitting 20 minutes off the west coast of Michigan. Its been brutal here too. After an oops with the blower, dad isn’t doing our driveway right we are paying a plow service. I still have to do some shoveling in the backyard and the two sets of steps. Sick of it!!

    I’m in a rural town and we also have propane with probably little chance of getting natural gas. About eight years ago, I installed a pellet stove which hooks into the furnace duct work. Its a bit too big for my small house, so on setting 2 of 10 the house is at 70-72 in this weather. I figure the four tons (yes 4) that I purchased in the fall will just see us through February. On a normal year, I burn about 1000 gallons for heat and another 300 for dryer, stove, water heater (and now the heat when its a bit too warm for the stove). My savings will be about $8-900 for a heating season…..BUT while its toasty and cheap, its messy, dirty when I oops and it smokes up the house, and I will have lugged over 200 40# bags to the basement (not to mention unloading the from the trailer). This long winter and the lugging is starting to show my age. I’m getting tired.

    I’m not sure if its better to pay a bit more and lock in the price for propane or not. Because my one tank lasts until summer-ish every year, I can’t prepay because I don’t use enough.

    I’m going to look into one of those lamps. I already do the D supplement but the tank is a little empty in the middle of winter.

    Of course, I’m a glutton for punishment I’m going ice fishing Saturday morning….it will be zero.

  5. Me and my kids would be dieing in your house. we keep our thermostat at 64.

    And we prepay our propane also. The discounted price is over $3/gal here.

  6. Oh Heather. We are sick of winter here too! In WI we have had more cold days from school than snow days. These stinking Polar Vortexs are going to drive me bonkers! We also live near a small town, which if all fueled by natural gas. But we live on a “rustic road.” So no one will run natural gas, high speed internet or cable lines. Our propane was almost out as well. (17% 1.5 weeks ago.) they did finally come and deliver our propane that we called for the week before the “shortage” hit the news. We do have a wood fireplace in the living room, and my husband spends his weekend splitting wood by hand so we can cut the furnace down to 66*. I also am line during everything in our house. We bought ceramic heaters to keep in all of our boys’ rooms as we figured it is better to pay the electric price than the propane price ($6.79 in our area!!!) October 2013 we filled up for $1.49! We have several cities near us requiring all homes to keep one faucet constantly running so the water mains don’t freeze. Normally the frost goes down 2-3 feet. It is now at 5-5.5 feet (where the water mains are installed.) Yikes! I am so tired of winter and spending our days cooped up (the little one and I while the older 2 get out for school). I’d love to be able to get out with him, but the flu is still spreading like crazy here in addition to the awful cold. I feel I go to bed earlier and earlier just to stay warm with the heated mattress pad we have. So all that said I may look into a happy light too! And prayer. Lots of praying that God will bring us warm weather soon!!!!

    • Sarah, I feel so bad for you. $6.79 – that is craziness!

      I find that I can tolerate the thermostat at 67 during the day as long as the temp outside stays above zero, but when it was 50 below with windchill, it got mighty cold in here! 62 degrees at night doesn’t really bother me though – I just keep tons of blankets on our bed and wear layers. The girls don’t like it much, but as I tell them, when they get a job and pay the heating bills, they can decide where to set the thermostat.

      Here’s to an end to this rotten winter for both of us! Hang in there!

  7. We recently moved to ND – yes,just in time for -from Las Vegas. The cost for normal water use,gas dryer & stove and electricity – our thermostat was set at 79-80 degrees for 5 months of the year – for our 2300 square foot house cost almost $600 a month. How much for the other 7 months,when the heat/thermostat is set at 64 the entire day? Easily,just for the electricity alone is $125 a month. Nevada Energy – our power company in Las Vegas,was just recently purchased by a company owned by Warren Buffet and the prediction for the new energy costs will be that they triple – oh,joy! 🙁

  8. Heather,

    I am a regular reader who just this evening happened to come across your “100 Things [About You]” post from several years ago. One of the “things” you listed had to do with an uncertainty about your relevancy based on the number of comments you get. I realize this was written a while back, but felt I still needed to offer the following: I rarely comment on the blogs I read, but I am doing so now on the off chance you still grapple with the “so what” monster. Please know I enjoy your blog. I read it often, and I so look forward to your posts because they are real (pretend “real” was italicized). I myself am a wife and mother (two boys). There is something very cozy and incredibly comforting about the way you document the day-to-day. It makes me feel sane. Thank you. I also love the way you write — intellectual, and with an engaging rhythm, without being over-the-top. Keep it up, please.

    For what it’s worth (and because I am a curious being who would want to know such things): I am 36, Catholic, married for 13 years with two boys ages 10 and 8, living just outside Washington, D.C., and just now attempting to ease my way back in to the “working world” after having been a stay-at-home mom for a decade. I completed a Master’s in Teaching (with a concentration in English) last year, and am pursuing a full-time teaching position for the upcoming school year.

    Well, there you have it…..I look forward to future stories.

    Keep up the good work.


  9. I love your ideas for winter blues and keeping costs down. Yes, wet clothes add humidity! Perfect, doing it 🙂

  10. Hi Heather! I have been reading your blog for a year now and I just want to tell you how much I enjoy doing so. You write really well; I wish I could too. I have subsribed to your blog and I look forward to notifications that there is a new post.

    Just want to let you know that you and what you do, are very much appreciated.

  11. Big hugs Heather! Down here in south Louisiana, we Cajuns get cranky if the temp stays below 40 for more than a couple days! I’ll be praying that this winter eases soon and that you can keep the winter blues away. Thanks for the review of the Swanson whey powder, I just ordered some and a bottle of Bach flowers remedies and Bach sleep remedy. Excited to try them and weasel some protein into my picky toddlers diet!

  12. I live in the south and can’t wait for this winter to be over either. Hope y’all can make it on the propane you already have until the price goes down again.

  13. Thank you so much for recommending such great products. I too was on the hunt for tasty protein powder and the Swanson vanilla whey is YUMMY! I’ve been making a shake a day or mixing it with milk. Even my picky toddler loves it. I also really like the Bach sleep remedy, it works wonders and I don’t wake up groggy after taking it at night. I haven’t tried the stress remedy yet, but I do have it ready to go!

  14. […] and the lows have been in the double digits BELOW zero. It’s still not as bitterly cold as last winter, but certainly no fun. The kids have had late starts 3 mornings this week, and school was closed on […]

  15. […] or peaches in apricot jello, and pineapple tidbits in cherry jello. You can also freeze fruits for smoothies, or add them to cake, muffin, or pancake batter. I made a terrific peach cake once by mixing some […]

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