Let your photo(s) tell your story.
If wintering is a verb then we all need to learn to winter – to rest and recharge, especially in difficult times. Wintering can be a season to survive, a respite from the busyness of the rest of the year, or a state of mind such as a feeling sad or depressed.
Winter is often a time for retreat – never more so than this year. Usually I don’t mind the month of January, and enjoy the excuse to stay home when the weather turns nasty, but this year it just seems like more of the same. So it was with interest that I saw a review on someone’s blog of a non-fiction book called Wintering, by Katherine May. As I sometimes enjoy a light philosophical read, I ordered it from the library, but found it so interesting and well written that it might go on my purchase list. (I usually only buy books I intend to re-read.)
Here’s the Publishers Blurb: Sometimes you slip through the cracks: unforeseen circumstances like an abrupt illness, the death of a loved one, a break-up, or a job loss can derail a life. These periods of dislocation can be lonely and unexpected. For May, her husband fell ill, her son stopped attending school, and her own medical issues led her to leave a demanding job. Wintering explores how she not only endured this painful time, but embraced the singular opportunities it offered.
A moving personal narrative shot through with lessons from literature, mythology, and the natural world, May’s story offers instruction on the transformative power of rest and retreat. Illumination emerges from many sources: solstice celebrations and dormice hibernation, C.S. Lewis and Sylvia Plath, swimming in icy waters and sailing arctic seas.
Ultimately Wintering invites us to change how we relate to our own fallow times. May models an active acceptance of sadness and finds nourishment in deep retreat, joy in the hushed beauty of winter, and encouragement in understanding life as cyclical, not linear. A secular mystic, May forms a guiding philosophy for transforming the hardships that arise before the ushering in of a new season.
About the Author:
Katherine May is a freelance writer of both fiction and nonfiction, and previous creative writing teacher. Her journalism and essays have appeared in a number of publications, including The Times, Good Housekeeping and Cosmopolitan. In the book she reveals she has Asperger’s Syndrome. “I learned to winter young. As one of the many girls of my age whose autism went undiagnosed, I spent a childhood permanently out in the cold.” (page 11)
As we’ve just passed the winter solstice, this is a book to curl up with and enjoy in the deep dark depths of January.
The book is a series of personal essays, divided into chapters, from September to March, with further sub-titles such as Slumber, Light, Midwinter, Snow, Cold Water, and Thaw.
I especially enjoyed the chapters on hibernation, (who knew dormice and bees could be so interesting), slumber (isn’t it always easier to sleep in the winter), and light (seeking out the northern lights in Norway). As the author lives by the sea in England, and has not experienced the full force of a brutal snow-filled winter, she journeyed north to seek the cold and snow and to view the Northern Lights.
She also visited Stonehenge during the Winter Solstice. There’s a chapter on light (the festival of St. Lucia), on cold water (taking the polar bear plunge) and snow (winter walks in nature are much easier on a British beach than trudging through snowdrifts).
Here’s a Goodreads link to some quotes from the book for a sample of her writing. The prose is so lovely, I would recommend it for that reason alone, even if you weren’t interested in the topic. No wonder Elizabeth Gilbert praised it as “a truly beautiful book.”
She also mentions a poem by Syliva Path titled “Wintering” which I was not familiar with, but I imagine inspired the title of the book.
It’s difficult to sum up what this book is actually about, it’s not advice, or self-help, but more meditative reflections on a season we all must go through.
The eagle has landed – on the ice floes in the river, and I have joined the paparazzi lining the banks in search of a picture. He perches on the ice hunting for fish in the water and lives with his brethren in the nearby trees. People have reported sightings of his massive wingspan while driving along the river road.
For all I know, this could just be a myth, for I’ve never seen a bald eagle, although I hear they like to hang out in the waterfront park this time of year and catch fish.
They’ve even been known to hitch a ride downriver with the swift-moving current, like surfer dudes trying to catch the big one.
This quiet park has been frequented this past month by photographers along the shore, tripods and fancy zoom lens in hand, watching and waiting, all eager to get that first photo for the Facebook page. Apparently, it’s been a good year for eagle sightings, for everyone but me.
I’ve walked in this park quite a few times the past six weeks and nada…..although the fellow walkers I meet and greet will tell me, “there were nine here yesterday. Yes – nine!” A real eagle convention. My neighbor saw one swooping down right in front of her windshield. One man told me there were two circling high in the sky, but not to my eyes. All I saw were seagulls.
Maybe they know which days I walk, and decide to stay home and take a nice long nap in the old nest.
Eagle nests can reach a great size, but usually only have two eggs. The large nests must support their weight and height, as they can be big creatures, averaging 12 lbs for the female, and 9 lbs for the male, and standing up to three feet tall, with wingspans up to seven feet. They hardly flap their wings, but glide about on the air currents. Both the male and female take turns sitting on the eggs, although the female does the majority of the incubating. They can use the same nest for years, and the eggs hatch mid-April to May. I saw a news video recently of baby eagles in a nest – two cute little balls of white fluff. The young eagles are brown until they are about 5 years, and then develop the distinctive white heads and tails. They are birds of prey, predominately fish eaters, but also small birds and mammals, and not too fussy about the type of carcass – roadkill will do just fine. They are notorious for their sudden dives and grasp their prey with their talons, using the sharp hind toe one to kill. Average life span is about 20 years although they can live longer.
Apparently, there is a nest somewhere, in the trees along the river, whose bare branches would surely make such a sight visible, but again not to me. The nests tend to be mid-tree in order to support their weight. It must be farther back along the creek which empties into the river. This is a popular spot for overwintering birds, as an industrial plant discharges warm water into the creek, thus providing a sauna-like atmosphere much appreciated in the freezing cold. There are plenty of seagulls, more Canadian geese than anyone would ever want to see, and those pairs of mute swan lovers I’ve featured on Wordless Wednesday.
Eagles are majestic creatures, a symbol of freedom. My American readers surely know more about them than I do, as the eagle is their national bird, (I really liked that eagle on Lady Gaga’s sweater at the inauguration), whereas we in Canada have the more industrious and ugly-as-hell-rodent – the beaver.
There’s been very little ice in the river this year. After a brutal snowy February, we’ve had a relatively mild March, so the ice and snow have all melted now and the photographers have dispersed. The eagles must either be nesting or have gone south for spring break, leaving me with no good reason to visit a park now littered with green geese goop. There’s always next year….
700 words seems kind of short for a blog, so I’ll add some art, poetry, and music.
I remember studying this Alfred Lord Tennyson poem in grade school:
He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring’d with the azure world, he stands.
(Eagle stats from Wikipedia and St. Clair County Community Newspaper – MI)
PS. Check out fellow blogger Eileen of Myricopia for her blog about observing breeding habits of bald eagles for Arizona Game & Fish here – link.
Let your photos(s) tell your story.
Let your photo(s) tell your story.
Although we’re currently experiencing a few weeks of bitterly cold temperatures, it’s been a fairly mild winter with little snow – a few inches here and there, but nothing that requires shoveling and so far no major storms. Now with the Polar Vortex settled in, it’s too cold to snow, (very cold air contains very little moisture) but when I think of all those long brutal winters when I drove through hell, it makes me angry that now that I’m retired, there’s practically nothing. Last week in part one, I blogged about Snowmageddon – the storm of the century, now in part two – let’s talk about the worst drive ever.
Those of you who live in regions which experience the four seasons in all their glory, may appreciate snow when it first appears in December, that nice white fluffy stuff that makes you want to book an inn in Vermont.
These people sensibly took the train…
But by February most people are sick of it, and almost everyone dreads winter driving. Oh, you get used to, but I bet you secretly rejoice when spring arrives and you don’t have to continually check the weather forecast for storms on the horizon. If you’re working from home now, lucky you, you get to escape it altogether this year.
Even if you’re a good driver, and have the ultimate heavy duty vehicle with snow tires and four wheel drive, you still have to worry about other people’s driving. And isn’t it always the worst during the first snowfall of the season, when it seems everyone has forgotten how to drive, and the police, called out to fifty or more cars in the ditch, are reminding everyone to slow down – winter is here.
If you do go slow, then inevitably there is someone on your tail, desperate to pass, usually a big truck. Once some impatient young man finally passed me on a bare stretch, then spun around on the next snowy patch, right into the ditch. I was tempted to wave at him as I drove past, but a farmer had already come out to help him. Why do people always expect farmers to pull them out with their tractors – get a CAA membership.
Snowmageddon made me think about my worst drive ever. There are two in particular which stand out in my memory.
The first was when I was in my twenties and had a little two seater Fiero. (Yes, I know, not exactly practical). I didn’t have much winter driving experience as I had gone to school in Toronto and took the subway. The Fiero’s engine was in the back for stability, but the car sat so low that you sometimes felt like you were plowing the road.
It was late November and I had gone to London with my parents to Toys R Us to buy Christmas presents for the grandkids-who-had-everything. It was a mild sunny day otherwise we wouldn’t have gone, as London is in the snowbelt area, but shortly after we got back to the farm, a storm came out of nowhere and I decided to drive home before it got worse. It was dark by then, and the snow was that heavy wet stuff and by the time I came up to the train tracks just outside of town the windows were coated with it. The red warning lights were on so I stopped, but they had been having problems with those lights for quite awhile and they would sometimes flash even if there wasn’t a train in sight. By then I was having a hard time seeing any distance at all. I opened both windows to check if a train was coming and the windshield fogged up, but I accidentally hit the trunk instead of the defogger button so the trunk lid flew up obscuring my rear view. I sat there for a few minutes, not sure what to do, until there was a long lineup of angry cars behind me, and finally some guy with a truck (it’s always a truck) blasted his horn. Maybe he could see better than I could? So I went over the tracks, too quickly and promptly spun out on the other side in front of an oncoming car but I managed to get back into my lane just in time. I arrived home quite shook up – not one of my better drives.
The other episode involved a particularly bad stretch of country road and a dark and stormy night. I was working the late shift and it had been snowing heavily for hours, and was really getting bad out there as every second person who came in insisted on telling me,as if I wasn’t already worried enough about the drive home. I should have stayed at the B&B in town, a newly restored Victorian with a skylight and claw-foot bathtub in the bathroom, but it was pricey and I wanted to be home in my own bed as I was off for the weekend. Both ends of this county road would usually be plowed out, but the middle section was always a no-man’s land. With no houses or buildings to block the wind, just wide open fields, it was the perfect storm for winter white outs. Luckily this section wasn’t well traveled as on many a snowy night I would often be the only fool on the road.
On this night it was so bad I couldn’t even tell where the road was. There was zero visibility. Was I too close to the ditch? Where was the ditch? If you’ve ever driven a county road in the dark, there are no streetlights, only the light from your headlights. I crawled along, plowing through the drifts, chewing gum (as opposed to clenching jaw) and listening to Pachelbel’s Cannon on repeat – my routine for those white-knuckle drives. I’m sure there was an angel on my shoulder that night. When I finally drove out of it, the road was still heavy with drifted-on snow but I could see the light from some of the farmhouses on either side – a navigation point , signs of civilization.
A friend of mine ran into a pack of wild dogs/coyotes one night in that same section. They must have become disoriented in the snow to have come so far out of the bush and refused to move off the road. She finally drove through them and they parted – what a strange sight that must have been, a bunch of eerie eyes glaring at her, as if she had invaded their territory.
I’ve had other bad drives too (hey it’s Canada), and some thankfully, where I wasn’t driving. Men always think they can drive through everything, and maybe you can if you have a big SUV/truck. At least then I could close my eyes and pretend to sleep or read a book to take my mind off the fact that we might be following a long line of red taillights right into a ditch. I’d much rather drive in heavy rain than snow, more traction, but recall one horrible night drive in a fog so thick I could barely see the lines on the road. Where was Rudolph when you needed him?
Now that I’m retired, I’m grateful to be able to stay home when the weather outside is frightful, and looking back, I often wonder how I did it for thirty years? I’m not such a brave driver now that I’m older – I’ve become a weather wimp. If there’s a blizzard outside, I stay home and bake cookies, and say a prayer for those poor souls who must brave the elements to go to work.
What’s the worst drive you’ve ever experienced?
The nor’easter which hit the US and Maritimes recently reminded me that it’s the ten year anniversary of “Snowmageddon” – the storm of the century in my part of Canada. A raging blizzard so bad that a massive dump of snow closed the major highway for two whole days. Police patrolling the area on snowmobiles counted 200 tractor trailers and more than 100 cars trapped in the drifts, but the unofficial count put the number much higher, with estimates of 1500 passengers stranded and 700 rescued, with many vehicles simply abandoned on the country roads.
The storm started brewing on Sunday. Snow squalls coming off the lake usually move, but this one stayed stationary dumping over 40 cm of snow on the roads with 70 km/hr north winds making for blustery driving conditions. A state of emergency was declared on Monday and the national guard was called in, complete with rescue helicopters to airlift passengers who had been stranded in their vehicles overnight or longer.
A snowplow towing a school bus was dispatched to collect people along the route and bring them to warming stations in the nearby villages. By Tuesday night close to 300 motorists had been rescued from the worst hit section, but it took several more days for the plows and tow trucks to clear the 30 km stretch of highway and start in on the side roads. At the rescue centres, residents of the small towns and villages were generous with food donations, blankets and cots and some even opened up their homes to grateful strangers.
Now, it’s nothing new for this highway to be closed periodically in the winter, usually just for a short period of time as streamers coming off the lake make the area notorious for sudden white-out conditions. I should know, as I drove to work in this region for over thirty years. As an essential worker, I was used to driving in anything, but even I did not go to work that day because all the roads in the area were closed. People who had detoured off the main highway soon found themselves on roads less traveled but just as deep with drifts. Friends of mine took in a couple who were stranded in front of their farm – for two days they fed them home-cooked meals, and played cards and told stories and so people from the city got to experience a dose of rural hospitality until their vehicle could be pulled out of the ditch.
When I was working, I dreaded winter. It might be bright and sunny when I left home, but by the time I reached the snowbelt area it would be a raging blizzard. If you didn’t go in you were home safe but sorry, as you would inevitably feel guilty about leaving your colleagues with a skeleton staff and a 12 hour shift and you’d make up for your day off with an increased workload the following day. But I was a dedicated employee who seldom even took a sick day, so I’d go in and the drive would be predictably awful and my nerves would be shot by the time I got home.
When I worked at a rural hospital, I was lucky as I drove in daylight. If it was bad out, I might leave a bit early to get away before dark, and if it was an exceptionally wicked storm I was allowed to stay home, at my discretion. This would happen maybe once a year. As so many of the employees lived out in the country, the hospital had a contingency plan where the current staff stayed over, and someone’s husband with a snowmobile could always be counted on to go out and collect the staff who lived in the town. There wouldn’t be a lot of admissions on those days, surgeries would often be cancelled if the surgeons couldn’t get out, (once one of the doctors had to do a C-Section by phone when even the ambulance couldn’t get there), but the ER would be busy with the usual disasters that such weather always brings on – heart attacks for the snow-shovelers (best stock up on clot busters) car accidents, (hopefully minor, but not always, hence my anxiety about winter driving), and once someone frozen under the ice in a creek overnight (miraculously he survived intact).
After I changed jobs and started working evenings, there was no backup plan. I drove through everything as the only excuse for not showing up at work was if you were dead. Snowmageddon was the only time I ever remember my workplace being closed, and that was only for one day. Even my boss didn’t go in that day, having turned down the offer of a snowmobile ride. It was one of the few occasions where there was nothing open and nobody out and about. The hospital was open of course, so it’s not like people were without medical options. In fact, ER was doubly busy with all the stranded people who did not have their insulin/inhalers/critical meds with them. And just for the record, this storm had been predicted – there had been plenty of warnings and advance notice starting on Sunday, so it’s not like it came out of nowhere, but some people don’t pay attention to the weather forecast. I always had the weather network and the winter road report on speed-dial, and my emergency car kit would go in the trunk in the fall and stay there until May 1st. Once November skies darkened and the flurries began to fly, my snow anxiety level remained on high alert.
Although I was some distance from the worst hit region, I didn’t have a snow day. I offered to pick up a shift for someone who lived along the lake and had no hope of getting here – she actually started crying on the phone, so great was her relief. I only had a short drive and once I made it out of my subdivision it was okay. It always amazed me how busy we would be on snow days, but I’ve reached the conclusion that some people just cannot deal with the claustrophobia of a snowstorm. They must be out and about in the worst of weather conditions – to the grocery store to buy eggs, the library to return books – any excuse will do.
The next day, when the county road was still closed, I called my boss and told him I was not coming in. This was met with a stony silence (and probably some degree of shock) and then a small voice….well couldn’t you come in later, if the road reopens? It did finally at 4 pm, but no, I did not, as I would have had a miserable drive home in the dark, and there would have been no hope of booking in at the only B&B with all those stranded passengers. I didn’t even feel guilty as there was no thanks for helping him out the day before, and it’s not like he was by himself as someone who lived in town had come in to help him out. The next day the sun shone and my courage returned, but there was hell to pay, as we were still backed up, but personally I’d rather be safe than dead in a ditch.
We’ve had very little snow this winter, a few inches here and there, but no major snowstorms so far, although there has been in other parts of the province. When I think of all those years I drove through hell and now that I’m retired, practically nothing, it makes me mad. It also makes me wonder about climate change. Maybe blizzards will soon be a thing of the past? Maybe I’ll be like one of those old people telling tales about walking ten miles to school in two feet of snow….and reminiscing about the big blizzard of 2010. (Next week – Part Two – The Worst Drive Ever)
PS: Does your workplace have a snowstorm contingency plan? It seems to me that some places are open when they needn’t be. Like the library for instance – is that an essential service? I wish administrations would think about their staff when they make decisions, especially if they are driving home at night. Even closing early would help.
It there’s ever been a time for comfort food, it’s now, in the winter of our discontent. Eating well is one of the few things we have to look forward to, locked in our homes day after day and our favorite dishes can return us to a time when the world seemed a more secure and safe place.
Comfort food is defined as “food that provides consolation or a feeling of well-being, typically any dish with a high sugar or other carbohydrate content and associated with childhood or home cooking.” (Oxford Dictionary) We may feel nostalgic for a favorite dish our mother used to make. Wikipedia even lists a breakdown of favorite comfort dishes according to nationality. (link) I’m glad to see butter tarts made the Canadian list, but my childhood butterscotch pudding did not. While nursery type foods such as puddings and oatmeal are often considered comfort foods, so are more hearty dishes like soups and stews and macaroni and cheese. Calorie dense, high carb, high fat foods may trigger the reward system in the brain, leading to a temporary elevation of mood and relaxation. Whatever the mechanism, we take comfort in refueling our bodies.
Today’s recipe is for Easy Microwave Rice Pudding. I’m not a big fan of rice pudding, but my mother loves it and those individual packaged portions are a staple on her grocery list. Last week when I was confronted by a whole container of leftover white rice from the Chinese restaurant (they insist on adding it to the takeout order even if you don’t want it), I decided to look for a recipe online, something simple, nothing to do with steaming in a double boiler etc. I’m all about easy these days, when we’ve been spending way too much time in the kitchen, and also against waste, when so many people are suffering from food insecurity.
1/2-3/4 cup sugar (I used brown sugar)
2 tablespoons cornstarch (30ml)
3 cups of milk
2-3 cups cooked rice (I used 2 1/2 cups as that’s what was in the Chinese food container)
1 teaspoon vanilla
The recipe also called for 1/4 teaspoon salt, one egg and 2 tablespoons of butter (the butter is optional) – all of which I omitted. I’m guessing the egg would add a creamy texture, or maybe the microwave would just hard-boil it, but eggs were in low supply so I left it out. I also added the vanilla at the beginning instead of the end, so it acquired a nice vanilla flavor as it cooked.
Whisk the ingredients in a large microwave bowl. Add raisins if you want, (I added them at the end as some people don’t like raisins and I didn’t want to overcook them). Put in microwave and cook 1 – 1 1/2 minutes. Remove and whisk. Put back in microwave for another 1 – 1 1/2 minutes. Remove and whisk again. Continue above steps until desired thickness – but don’t let it get too thick. You want it a little less than desired as it will continue to thicken as it sits. I repeated this four times but mine was a bit too thick, but then I only used 2 cups of milk initially.
Add anything else you want, cinnamon or nutmeg. Serve warm, or you can reheat with a splash of milk if it gets too thick. Makes six servings.
I forgot to take a pretty photo of it but here it is packed up in a container to be taken to someone who appreciates it more than I do.
Hot chocolate is a comfort food I associate with childhood snow days, but now use as a reward after my daily exercise. Walking in such frigid temperatures (it’s January-cold now), definitely requires a treat.
I put a teaspoon or two of a good quality cocoa in a mug, add milk and sugar to taste and microwave the whole thing for a few minutes, stirring frequently to dissolve. So much better than those powdered pods, mixes or heated chocolate milk with it’s six teaspoons of sugar!
Chicken pot pie is one of my favorite comfort dishes this winter. I’m spoiled by the deli’s takeout version, (it’s rich as they use cream) but if you have leftover chicken and frozen veggies you can whip up an easy meal. I tried this one with a biscuit topping, but think I prefer puff or regular pastry.
Any kind of soup qualifies as comfort food. My mother still likes to make a big pot of chicken soup occasionally, but Campbell’s chicken noodle is always my go-to on sick days, and scrambled eggs and toast when I’m feeling better but not quite recovered.
When I was growing up, my mother made wonderful macaroni and cheese from scratch, something I’ve never bothered with as my cheese sauce never turns out as good as hers. Stouffers frozen mac and cheese is a close second, and if you spread bread crumbs on the top the last twenty minutes in the oven and bake until they are toasty brown, it can mimic homemade. Served with a green salad it makes a comforting and filling meal. A hearty homemade chili or beef stew is also a nice wintry dish, especially served with some nice fresh pumpernickel bread.
Today’s menu was meatloaf, just because it’s January and below zero.
But the ultimate winter comfort food award goes to that old favorite – grilled cheese and tomato soup. Best served after shoveling out the driveway.
Oatmeal with brown sugar is a particularly filling start to the day, but I sometimes like it before bed, especially if I’m in the mood for something sweet.
I hope I have made you hungry! What are your favorite comfort dishes?
Postscript: Don’t forget to give the birds a treat…..and all creatures great and small. (Is anyone else finding that mini-series just a tad disappointing? Usually Masterpiece is spot on in their casting, but the actors seem either too old or too young for the part. The best acting so far goes to the cows and last week, the racehorse. The scenery is beautiful though, you can’t go wrong with sheep in green fields with stone walls.)
Wordless Wednesday – allow your photo(s) to tell the story.
The crowd standing near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was a sea of black. It was Armistice Day in Ottawa and the mood was somber, as was fitting for a ceremony commemorating the war dead. There was the odd splash of red or gray among the thousands of people huddled on this cold snowy November morning, but this was the reality of a Canadian winter, solemn occasion or not – we are a nation of black coats.
The vast majority of winter coats come in only one color – black, and one style – big and puffy, as in parkas that are flattering to no one, not even penguins. They range in price from the cheaper now-defunct Sears version all the way up to the down-filled fur-trimmed Canada Goose brand which retails for $1000 and which has become the latest target of thieves. Dare to leave your Canada Goose dangling on the back of your Starbucks chair while you fetch a stir stick and you might return to find it gone.
Winter weather is here to stay now, but I’m not worried – I’ve got it covered. After years of looking, I bought not one but THREE winter coats this year – and none of them were black.
It had been well over a decade since I’d bought a dressy winter coat, although whether a toggle coat can be considered dressy is debatable, but it was the style in 2008 and it came in red and petite (I come from a long line of leprechauns). The next year, I bought a red ski jacket with a plaid flannel lining, after seeing it in Oprah magazine. It too came in red, but a bright candy apple red, not that dreadful orange tone.
These were both nice serviceable coats, but with our long winters ten years is a good amount of time to get out of a coat. I was way overdue for a new one – but everything was black. The coat manufacturers had been playing it safe since the last recession.
Oh, I understand the appeal of black. It’s practical. It doesn’t show dirt. It’s easy to accessorize. It goes with everything. It’s classic and tres chic, as in you can pretend you’re a famous fashion editor and of course, some black is okay as in Twenty Pairs of Black Pants or the LBD – Little Black Dress. This is by no means meant to be disparaging to those of you who like black and can wear it – by all means do!
But what if you don’t like black. Or look good in it? I find that for many women of a certain age, black near the face is draining, it makes your skin look pale or sallow. If you are old enough to remember the 80’s having-your-colors-done craze where a franchised sales rep draped swatches of color near your face to determine if you were a Winter Spring Summer or Autumn, then you will know what I mean.
As a pale Celtic Summer, I knew black was out for me, not even with a scarf for camouflage. Plus, I find winter dreary enough without being in mourning – I need something colorful to cheer me up.
In younger years when I was a dedicated fashionista, I did my fair share to support the clothing economy. Now that I’m retired, I live in yoga pants and casual tops and spend very little on clothes. I don’t wear most of what I own and it seems wasteful to buy more, so I shop in my closet. Fast fashion is not for me, I want quality and style. If the latest trends are lacking I feel it’s my duty to leave ugly clothes in the stores where they belong. Why buy something, unless you need and absolutely love it?
I’ve had many winter coats over the years, but only a few I remember. Fellow Fashionistas might enjoy a historical look at my multi-colored coat collection, beginning in the sixties with purple velvet.
I’m twelve and still in grade school, but the Age of Aquarius is dawning and purple velvet is groovy. My coat was short and belted like the style below, and not a crushed velvet but more of a velour. It was also too big for me but my mother let me buy it anyway.
Mini skirts were the current thing (uh huh – Cher), and although I loved my Princely purple coat, it was not as mod as my teacher’s long black maxi coat, worn while patrolling the schoolyard during recess and the envy of all the girls. (We also envied her cute boyfriend – although she was only 19, they were already engaged). Sewing was popular back then so there were even McCall’s patterns should you wish to make your own. I would never have tackled such an ambitious project, no matter how alluring the ads in Seventeen.
In the early 70’s, my first years of high school I wore a long corduroy coat in a rich dark brown, double breasted with a belt.
The belt came in handy as the coat was too big for me, a size 11/12 when I normally wore a 7/8 or 9/10, but my mother let me buy it anyway. (I so seldom asked for anything, that my mother was a pushover). That’s the best thing about online shopping now, you can get the size you need, back then it was just what was on the rack. Sizing was also different, size 2 or 4 didn’t even exist.
When I was sixteen, I bought a loud plaid wool coat at Saks because the sales rep told me I looked like the cover of Mademoiselle, a magazine I was not familiar with but went right out and bought.
While not quite the same pattern as above, mine had red, green and yellow, and while I love plaid to this day, it was not a tasteful plaid at all. Even I was surprised my mother let me buy it. My dad said it looked like a horse blanket. It was the one and only thing I ever bought there, as it was too expensive a store for us to shop at regularly. It fit perfectly but I only wore it one year. By university I considered it too garish and trendy as I had graduated to Glamour magazine by then and something more classic.
During university, I found a lovely wool camel coat at the Eaton’s store in downtown Toronto which I wore for the next several years. A knockoff of the classic wrap style, it was suitable for a student budget and I can still picture myself wearing it over my jeans, striding around campus late for class as usual. One night I went to a formal with it draped over my long red dress, an evening that started with an argument about whether to wear a wrap or a coat – it was January what was I thinking?
In the early 80’s, the start of my working years I had a long oatmeal colored coat which my mother said reminded her of the 1940’s swing coats. When I had more money, I splurged on a designer camel wrap coat with a detachable fur collar, which I still have as what would I do with it? (Poor little fox, but like Oprah says, when you know better you do better).
I suppose I could wear it with the collar removed but the coat is so heavy and long it might qualify as a maxi. As the climate changes, perhaps it will end up in a museum some day, a Doctor Zhivago-like relic of cold winters past?
Musical Interlude: (better version by Sarah Vaughn at the end).
I’m not the only one who wore fur – full length coats used to be considered essential on the bitterly cold Canadian prairies where people were known to run from their cars to the house – now replaced by more modern insulating synthetics. It was too expensive and much too dressy a coat to wear everyday, although it did look great with a hat – that was in the Lady Diana years, when you could wear a hat without people staring at you.
In the later 80’s came a long royal blue wool coat with gigantic shoulder pads. It too only lasted one season before it was recycled to the thrift shop as it was way too bright.
The 90’s meant another camel coat, cloth this time, with a dark brown fake fur collar – real fur being out by then. It was stylish but practical and I wore that coat for years. All these 80-90-‘s coats were long by the way, because women wore skirts and suits to work.
By the millennium pants were in, and even dressy coats became shorter, what used to be called a car coat. This was the brown decade. I had a brown trench coat with a lining for work, not really warm enough for winter, and a more casual brown velour/sherpa L.L.Bean coat with a matching hat and mitts, which was a bit too big but I couldn’t be bothered to return it, as it was a hassle with the duty and taxes. It was on the cover of the LL Bean catalogue and while cute and stylish, it too was by no means warm enough for our Canadian winters. I must have stayed inside that decade. Then came the red coats who overstayed their welcome.
The decade of drought ensued – the only coats in the stores were black. I searched for years, refusing all things black and puffy, but since I succumbed to the lure of online shopping, my life has become a lot more colorful again.
Last year, I bought a beautiful soft blue wool coat at Reitmans, a mid-range somewhat frumpy Canadian women’s chain which has been in operation since 1926. It was $190 regular, but a steal for $75 at the Black Friday sales. Ordered a small online.
To Meghan Markle’s credit, she did give Reitmans quite a stylish update when she was their spokesperson before she married Prince Harry. (Her TV series, Suits was filmed in Toronto). The coat was very warm too, as some wrap coats tend not to be if they have a silk lining. It was classic and stylish, and I got many compliments on the periwinkle blue color, even from complete strangers. Welcome back to Canada, Meghan – you can resume your old job at Reitmans any time! (My prediction is Meghan will start a fashion label with her designer friend Jessica Mulroney, Harry can be a stay at home dad. Nothing I’ve heard, just my guess as to why they would trademark the name Sussex Royal).
I still needed a new ski jacket, so I started looking early this year and was lucky to find a Columbia at a 40% off Black Friday sale at Marks Work Wearhouse, another Canadian staple. Ordered a small online.
Red again, but a duller red with a gray fur hood which luckily went with all of my winter scarves, so no need to accessorize, it was already done.
So, I thought I was finished, new dressy coat and new ski jacket.
But the ski jacket wasn’t warm enough for walking. Nor windproof. That Omni-heat lining is way over-rated. So, when I saw a $300 gray down-filled Columbia jacket at Sportscheck, I watched for the pre-Christmas sales for 50% off and ordered online.
It came by Canada Post (so no porch pirates), fit perfectly and went with all my scarves. I was definitely on roll here, but I also realized I had become one of those shoppers retailers hate – people who browse in stores and then buy online, but it’s not my fault if they don’t have my size.
Then came the Boxing Day Bargain. I went back to Reitmans to buy more socks (Christmas presents now marked down to $6 from $20), and there on the sale rack was a gray herringbone tweed wrap coat ($70, no tax, regular $190), just calling my name.
Did I need another coat? No, but it was my size so I bought it anyway. It’s not warm enough for very cold weather, but perfect for the edge seasons, late fall and early spring. And a classic – the kind of coat Meghan Markle might wear. Even the sewn-in back belt was stylish, plus it went with all my red and gray winter scarves.
After adding up all these great deals, I’m left wondering why anyone would ever pay full price? I also remembered what fun shopping used to be – when you found something you liked!
So I now own two dressy wrap coats, one warm (blue), and one lighter (gray tweed), and two ski jackets, one light (red) one for the car and running errands, and one down (gray) parka for walking and very cold days. It’s January and the Visa bill has arrived. I dare not go coat shopping for the next decade at least.
PS. Do you have a favorite winter coat – style and color?
PS. Just for the record, no one observed me photographing my coats on the dining room floor! My house is dark in the winter and I needed a window, for maximum light. Some photos sourced online and from my collection of vintage fashion magazines. I saved a few from the attic and while looking through old 70’s Glamours I was amazed at how classic some of the styles were, but then I haven’t read a fashion magazine in well over 25 years. Maybe some of that stuff is back in – I see pants are getting wider again, just when I just got rid of all mine. (2300 words – sorry)
A better version of Button Up Your Overcoat.