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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