Hunkering down for winter

Jan 25, 2019 | 8 comments |

I grew up in a Canadian city (profiled in a documentary “Colder Than Mars”) that is either celebrated, or depending on your perspective, reviled for the harshness of its winter weather.

Now I live near a place that this week garnered the dubious distinction as the world’s coldest capital city.

Yet, despite proximity to this season’s many beauties, I am not, by nature, a winter person.

As soon as autumn’s crisp air is but a faint memory, I settle in with thermal socks and heated blanket at the ready, a stock of tea and hot chocolate in the pantry, a winter “survival kit” in the trunk (boot) of my car, and industrial-size pots of moisturizer to protect against cold days and frosty nights. 

Perhaps because it’s been an especially bone-chilling few days with temperatures hovering (with the wind chill) around -37 Celsius, I realized I spend five months of the year ‘hunkered down.’ 

But since the Canadian winter is an inescapable part of my life, I then reminded myself to “count the pluses” (as my sweet mom used to say) instead of bemoaning the negatives. 

Books and Netflix

Cozy in my reading socks and with a warm Floppy Ears snuggled by my side, winter is a time to sit by the fire, read, watch films, and refill my creative well. 

So far in January, I’ve read five books, have two more in progress, and have also watched numerous Netflix shows—yay for the return of a new series of Grace and Frankie here in North America!


Eating by candlelight isn’t an exception in my house but an almost daily occurrence. 

After the night draws in, there’s nothing better than pulling the curtains and lighting a candle (or oil lamp).

Not only is it calming, but there’s something about that soft glow that encourages lingering over a meal and more family conversation too. 

Heat, hot water and indoor plumbing 

Back in the 1840s, my Irish ancestors settled near where I now live. Their long-ago log house, recorded in early census data, had none of the modern conveniences to which I’m accustomed. 

What would it be like to use an outdoor privy (outhouse) on frigid winter days, bathe (at most once a week) in a tub with water heated over a fire, or wrestle with a wood stove to cook family meals?

I’m grateful I don’t have to find out! 

Winter walks 

Wearing the right clothes (cue thermal long underwear), I find special contentment walking along a woodland path in winter, crisp snow crunching beneath my boots, and cold air sweeping life’s cobwebs away. 

And when I lived in England, during rain-soaked walks from my daughter’s school to my then day job, I often longed for snowy woods—and now they’re on my doorstep.

Embracing the season

When there’s no prospect of a Caribbean beach in real life, I haul out an old CD and put Canadian music icon, Gordon Lightfoot’s “Song for a Winter’s Night,”on the player. 

So while I hunker down for winter (wrapped in the gorgeous shawl a dear friend sent me for Christmas), I also try to embrace and be grateful for this cozy time of simple pleasures.

And if all else fails?

Both books I’m currently working on are set in summer so at least in fiction I can retreat to a world where temperatures are balmy, flowers lush, and characters spend long, lazy days on the porch.

After all, no matter how long and harsh this winter season, there is always the gentle, if elusive, promise of spring.


  1. Teresa Padgett

    This is beautiful. It makes me long for my past Minnesota winters, cold as they were, and walking through the woods on the farm. Then coming home to the woodstove and hot cocoa. Thanks for the memories!

    • Jen Gilroy

      And thank you, Teresa. I appreciate you reading my blog and am so glad you enjoyed the post and it brought back memories for you.

      I grew up north of Minnesota across the border in Manitoba, Canada so, and like you, remember that kind of Midwest cold.

  2. Heidi Vanstone

    My faithful hound and I have just returned from a brisk 45-minute, minus 20 degree Celsius walk. What a wonderful blessing to come indoors to a heated house, and in short order, have a blazing fire in the woodstove. Although I tolerate the cold less than when I was a teen, I still remind myself that winter gives us an entirely different outdoor playground to appreciate!

    • Jen Gilroy

      I like the idea of winter giving a “different outdoor playground,” Heidi. I shall remember that when I walk my “faithful hound” later today. Like you, I’m grateful for my warm house, although no wood stove here. Thanks, as always, for reading and commenting on my blog.

  3. Lynn Folliott

    It’s been so long since I experienced a winter like the one you’re living through right now. I still have wonderful memories of outdoor fun and I’m sure I won’t be creating new ones. Thanks Jen, for bringing those memories back and may the weather warm for you soon so the bitter cold will be a memory.

    • Jen Gilroy

      I’m glad my post brought back memories for you, Lynn. We’re having a harsh winter here this year so I’m enjoying pics of warmer climes and spring flowers! Thanks, as always, for reading and supporting my blog.

  4. Susanna Bavin

    Your descriptions of Canadian winters make our UK winters seem very easy to get through. The thought of your harsh winters going on for so long is just extraordinary. What a challenge.

    I notice that Teresa and Heidi both mention having wood-burning stoves. Oh, how my husband would love to have one of those. Not that we have the same need that you Canadians do!

    I remember how, when I was a child, there would be ice on the inside of the windows of our non-central-heated house. How lucky and pampered we are nowadays in contrast.

    • Jen Gilroy

      When I lived in the UK, Susanna, I often thought about Canadian winters. Such a contrast! However, the UK doesn’t have the same infrastructure to cope with winter weather as Canada does so it’s really not a fair comparison!

      My parents had a wood-burning stove in my family home when I was growing up, as well as a fireplace. Because I’m now asthmatic, I’ve migrated to a gas fire but ‘wood stoves’ are still in regular use here, although usually in rural areas.

      I can’t imagine growing up in a non-central-heated house. You must have been resilient indeed to cope with what I remember as the insidious British damp! 🙂

      Thanks for sharing your memories here and commenting on my post.


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