As the saying goes, “spring is just around the corner” but it’s going to be a real, long corner. Winter in Maine can be really long and dark. So far this year the temperatures have been above normal and it’s one week before Christmas and there is hardly any snow on the ground. We had two days of heavy rain and wind which caused great damage to the state. Our bridge partially washed out and we live on a road that ends on a snowmobile trail that was also underwater. Days are short and it can be cloudy for two to three weeks before a peek of sun comes out. My husband and I are middle aged and not athletic so this is how we make it through the winter without getting cabin fever or killing each other. I am too old to learn how to ski, downhill or cross county but admire people that do. I do plenty of ice skating but it is unintentional ice skating, like sliding out to the mailbox or trying to carry water to the chickens without falling.
As a homesteader I have learned to really appreciate the slower pace of winter. Now is the quiet season. It is a time for reflection and calm. Review your accomplishments from the previous year and set new (realistic) goals for the new year. Rest up because the spring project list hanging on the fridge has been growing since November. We hit the ground running in spring! Think of all the things you wanted to do but couldn’t do during the busy season. I can actually sleep an extra 15 minutes on the mornings I don’t have to go into work now. What a luxury!
Even if there is tons of snow and extremely cold temperatures, the chickens still need tending to, twice a day. If it’s below zero, more frequently or the eggs freeze and crack. Laundry is still out on dry days and the dogs need walking twice a day unless it’s below 15 degrees. Then the dogs opt out of walking and take the lay in front of the wood stove option. Wood must be brought in and the kindling bucket filled every other day. These are just daily chores that need to be done regardless of the weather.
Winter is a great time to get the indoor spaces in shape. Spring, summer, and fall are so busy with projects, gardening, and canning that indoor projects get neglected. Now is the time when soups, stews, and meat get canned. Summer and fall are too busy with canning all the garden produce to even think about processing meat.
If weather permits, we try to walk down to the lake and back, which is approximately 2 miles. We may stop by and visit a neighbor on the way and maybe someone else is outside and we can stop and chat for a few minutes. I like to check out all the new animal tracks when there is fresh snowfall. Being outside feels good. Get as much sunlight as you can. The next town over has an indoor track and it is open to the public but I can’t bring myself to walk in circles indoors. As long as I am physically able, I want to walk outside. If the roads are iced up badly, then it’s not worth breaking any bones and we take a few days off. It is important to get outside and get fresh air and move around regardless of the temperatures. It’s too easy to turn into a couch potato. It’s okay to take a day periodically and just couch it and read or watch television if you have one, but try not to make this a habit. Remember you are not trapped in the house but are there by choice. We try to have several bigger chores or projects that we can work on a little bit at a time. This breaks up the days a bit and makes the work easier. Balance your days with some work, some play, and some rest. I am a morning person so I am gung ho to get moving on jobs in the morning but after dinner I am done. There is nothing wrong with a nap either. Many a summer day I longed to take a nap but could not due to an endless chore list. I can take that nap now!
Try stargazing. It is best on cold, clear winter nights. We are blessed to live in an area with no light pollution except what it coming from my own home. The winter sky is amazing! You can see planets, meteors, constellations, drones and satellites. A month ago as we were sitting outside and sky-watching, and Starlink satellites came over. Get a glow-in-the-dark constellation map and try to find constellations and planets. Even when we lived in New Jersey which has major light pollution, we were always able to find a more quiet country road with less light and stop and check out the sky for a few moments.
Cabinets and doors get their paint touched up during cold weather. Now is the time for organization, decluttering, and deep cleaning. It’s amazing how much stuff we accumulate during the year. Closets and shelves get reorganized again. By the end of next autumn, they will look like an explosion occurred. Inventory everything and make a list to check off as items are used. The garage needs some organizing and cleaning also. Resharpen all your tools to be ready in the spring.
Books get a thorough review of what we will keep and what gets donated. I have a hard time parting with books but space is limited and if it’s not a topic or novel that will be revisited, off it goes. Winter is also a great time to catch up on reading books or magazines that you really didn’t have time for during the busy season. What better way to wait out a storm than on the couch with a great novel!
All clothing gets sorted and inspected. Most people have way too many clothes, myself included. Anything that is seriously worn out gets cut into rags. Anything that doesn’t fit, off to the Goodwill Store. January post-Christmas sales are a great time to stock up on good winter clothes at a discount. Inventory your socks and underwear. If you need more of these items, and who doesn’t, get them while you can.
Old photographs tossed in a box need to be looked at and organized in an album. If I don’t recognize the person or the place in the photograph, out it goes. As digital photography takes over, photo albums will become a thing of the past in the next few generations. The quality of digital photos is wonderful but I would miss not going through the old family photo albums that mom has. Passing around a cell phone to look at family photos or your vacation pics just doesn’t have the same appeal to me as holding a photo album.
Learn something new! I am not a very crafty or artistic person but that doesn’t stop me from trying. My goal is to improve my bread-making skills. My husband is teaching himself guitar. Dig out the cookbooks and make one new recipe a week. Get with a mentor or watch a YouTube video and learn something, sewing, crocheting, baking, soap making. Write an article for SurvivalBlog. Expand your list of talents. Check your local library and adult schools for winter classes or book discussions. The interaction with people and using your brain will make a world of difference in how you feel.
As it’s a slower pace of life in the winter, it’s a great time to share meals and get together with friends and family. Now is the time I experiment with new recipes on friends who I know will give me an honest review of what I made. Get the Monopoly or Scrabble board out and make a big bowl of popcorn. Using your brain instead of being parked in front of a screen is a good thing. Your brain needs exercise too.
Now is the time to inventory my seeds and gardening supplies. The seed catalogs started coming the 1st week in December and my order has already been delivered. I spent some time going through the seed catalogs and looking for plants that were native to Russia, Ukraine, or any other cold climate area. I figured that they will grow well in my neck of the woods if they thrived in Siberia. If you really start having the gardening itch bad, go buy a new house plant and fuss over it. Smelling the soil after you water it will make you feel better. Nothing smells better than dirt after rain. Read up on companion planting and start sketching out where to plant for best results. You will be starting those seedlings soon enough. Sprout some microgreens to get you through til spring planting or force a bulb to flower indoors. Watching that bulb grow and bloom does wonders for your soul and mental well-being.
Some trees and shrubs are best pruned in colder weather also. Do your homework on when it’s best to prune or shape. Tapping maple trees and making syrup is a great family activity and tastes good too. Mark your maples when they have leaves so you can tap the right ones. It’s difficult to identify some trees when their leaves are gone. You can’t make maple syrup out of an ash tree!
Check out local museums or watch a play. Go to a concert. Stop at a store you drive by all the time but never have time to stop in. Help an elderly or handicapped neighbor with shopping or shoveling. Winter can be really hard for some folks with physical limitations. They are literally stuck inside and would love the opportunity to have someone stop by for coffee or tea and just say hi. Bring a bouquet for them or some baked goods and you will be rewarded with a mile-wide smile and the good feeling of truly making someone’s day.
We like ice fishing when conditions permit. We tend to go later in the winter when days are getting longer and the sun is stronger. I also love shed (antler) hunting. For me, nothing beats being out in the woods appreciating God’s creation. If I find an antler, it’s an added bonus.
If you are planning on getting some new critters for spring/summer, start your research now. Read up on the subject all you can and also try to talk to people actually raising the particular critter you have an interest in. Make plans on where this critter will be housed, fencing, and feed requirements. If you need to have hay for feed, start making contacts with hay farmers now so they can add you to their customer list. Don’t wait until the last minute or you may not be able to get enough hay to get through the winter.
So don’t dread the winter and hibernate. Embrace the slower pace as it will be “busy time” soon enough. Enjoy living and being with friends and family and count your blessings! You can have a second cup of coffee at the table instead of running out the door with it spilling all over. Just relax and enjoy the pace!