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Cottage Chronicle #13: Winter Prep

In the immortal words of Travis Bickle, “You talkin’ to me?” / Photo by Mary Lowengard.

By Mary Lowengard

SUMMER’S HERE, and it’s shaping up to be a hot one. For you, the time may be right to be racing in the streets, but not me. I fend off the heat and humidity with thoughts of . . . winter. Yes, summer is exactly the right time to pull up those fond memories of winters past, and start planning for snowy days to come. Here are some notes I made, a mere six months ago, to cool me down when the heat descends.

It’s cold. It’s dark. The wind is sweeping down the plain. The tennis courts are netless. Half the population has fled to Naples (Florida or Italy, whichever). Another group is skipping the weekend commute, and is back home shuttling kids to basketball and SSAT tutoring. My stretch of Fales Drive is dark and gloomy. Some days I feel as if it’s just me and 3,867 deer and, of course, DeeDee at the tiny Bucknoll USPO. 

God bless DeeDee. God bless her permanently installed orange Halloween bucket of Hershey’s miniatures, where I fish for the Krackel bars. When she disappears from view I turn my attention to the the plastic 30-gallon recycling cans she empties only when she feels like it (i.e., not very often), one on either side of  the door. Both are stuffed to the gills with discarded Bed Bath & Beyond 20-percent-off flyers, Grandin Road and Merrimade catalogues and yes, if you dig deep enough, the occasional Amherst alumni magazine addressed to someone in the community you would never have guessed went there.

In the dead of winter in Bucknoll, post office dumpster diving is my major form of recreation. It’s impossible in summer—too many people could walk in and wonder what I’m doing with my arm buried halfway in the bin.

This is just one of my secrets to enjoying that period between the end of summer (i.e., the moment the golf flags are lowered) and that first sign of spring (i.e., droves of dog walkers strolling down Fales Drive). Surviving winter comes down to three essentials: warmth, food and entertainment, enhanced by ample supplies of quality vino. 

Happiness Is Not Just a Warm Puppy

I am, by nature and nurture, a cold person. A year at boarding school outside London with no central heating set a chill in my bones that has never departed. Maintaining my core body temperature through the long Pocono winters at first seemed readily accomplished by fine-tuning (as in jacking up) my cool (as in phat) programmable thermostat. I’d hit the app as I left New York and walk in to a toasty cottage on arrival two hours later. 

It really matters not whether you sit inside or out, so long as you are properly layered up in fleece, wool and down. / Photo by Mary Lowengard.

My first year, this resulted in a $1,200 propane bill for the month of February, a month with only 28 days three out of every four years, may I remind you? That’s $42.85 a day, had I been there every day. I was there nine days so it’s really $133.33 a day, for which I could have gone to Naples with the other Bucknollers (Florida or Italy, depending on the exchange rate). It probably didn’t help that the contractor left my front door wide open for a few days that month, although exactly how many he was unwilling to admit.

Thus, quickly, I concocted my patent-pending “Bucknoll Winter Up and Down System.” At its simplest level it mandates a thermodynamic homeostasis: Layer up, heat down. Or, layer up with down.

The goal of a good layering job is the right combination of fleece, wool and, yes, down jackets and vests to the point where you can still manipulate the corkscrew and—this is important—not appear to have gained an ounce over 25 pounds. 

Doubling Down the Thermostat

Then, turn down the thermostat. Lower. Even lower. I set it for as low as I can stand, then move it another two degrees lower and put on another down vest. This I call “doubling down.” Okay, okay, if you can see your breath and you’re indoors, it’s permissible to move it back up a notch or two.

Sometimes, it gets so cold even the outdoor lights need hats. / Photo by Mary Lowengard.

Somewhat late to the party, I learned about Canada Goose tough-as-a-Toronto-winter parkas (the ones with the Boy Scout badge on the sleeve), which was so thrilling I almost wished I could skip the summer and wear the coat year-round. I scouted them out and quickly realized that my first move would not be to determine which style I wanted in what color, but that I needed to secure steady employment in order to afford the $1,395 these goslings cost on average. That would be $395 for the coat and $1,000 for the Canada Goose patch. Alas, if you think you might get lucky and pluck a goose off-season from the sale rack at Nordstrom, fuhgeddaboudit. They never go on sale.

I’m a Prepper, You’re a Prepper

Laying in prepper-level stores of food is another essential step. N.B., survivalists have been rebranded “preppers,” not to be confused with preppies, who spend their winter in the same sockless loafers and torn polo shirts they wear in summer. For this, I breathlessly await, and then pounce on, the Can Can Sale at ShopRite, shopping until I drop or until I feel confident I could be snowmageddoned from late January until mid-April and not starve, whichever comes first. I mean, who doesn’t need three cases of Tuttorosso Peeled Plum Italian Style Tomatoes? At 12 for $7.88 (that’s 65 cents for 28 ounces!) I can almost forgive Tito Tuttorosso for thumbing his nose at proper hyphenation. But sadly, I cannot forgive ShopRite for planting the Offenbach Can Can earworm in my head.

Guess I’m all set for marinara sauce for the next two years. / Photo by Mary Lowengard.

Now, for some fine wine and good spirits—actually right next door at “Fine Wine and Good Spirits.” That’s the name of the Pennsylvania state liquor stores. All of them. I take a cruise through, always buying based on the spread between the advertised and alleged retail price. It may set me back $150 for a case, but then I calculate I saved $205 off the sticker price so it’s like getting free wine. Right?

The Ultimate Entertainment in Winter

I’m happy to report Bucknoll activities are just as abundant in winter as in summer. You do have to wear more clothes, though. Favorites are hiking (no ticks, no snakes, no surprise encounters with Mama Bear), pool time (the type with cues, not chlorine) and tennis, the platform variety. How can you not love a game where you sip beer between sets? 

When you’re not planning to get plowed out (it just melts eventually anyway) one strategy is to back down the driveway. Very, very carefully. / Photo by Mary Lowengard.

But far and away the greatest source of winter entertainment is ice-crystal precipitation, i.e., snow. From the moment I slide down the luge run that my driveway becomes when piled high with it, I am hoping desperately I will not skid over onto Hayley and Monty’s nicely manicured if snow-covered lawn next door. This desire is tinged with the frisson of fear that my skid will be stopped only when I plow into their enormous hot dog of a propane tank.

Cat on a Cold Tin Roof

If I pull in at night (which in winter begins at 3:35pm) after or during a heavy snow, the first challenge is finding the stairs that lead to the cottage. The cat, who has been sitting nervously in my lap the entire drive, more than once has escaped my grasp on opening the car door, and leapt out in the darkness and, unaware that the snow cannot hold her weight, sinking out of sight. 

Given her druthers, the cat does in fact prefer the summer months. / Photo by Mary Lowengard.

This should be cause for panic (on my part as well as hers) but, no, she yelps and flies up and out of the crater she’s created and somehow makes it to the porch, in a series of bounces that I swear would get over a million likes if I could just manage to film and post the event to YouTube. 

Damn the Ice Dams, Full Speed Ahead

On entering the cottage in weather conditions such as these, my first task is a walk-through to determine if any ice dams have formed in my absence. If it appears that it’s been raining indoors, I will walk around the cottage the rest of the weekend muttering dam, dam, dam, dam.

When icicles hang off the roof, it can mean only one thing: ice damming. And, it’s time to organize a roof raking party! / Photo by Mary Lowengard.

But far and away the most fun in a month of Sundays to be had is roof raking. Your roof rake does double time as a piece of exercise equipment that will build your bicep-tricep-deltoid muscles. As with tennis or golf, quality equipment is key. I highly recommend the Garelick 89421 21-Foot Aluminum Snow Roof Rake. It’s $62.96 on Amazon Prime.

Yes, there’s nothing like a long, cold winter to get you pining for . . . summer.

Mary Lowengard really did own a country cottage once upon a time somewhere in Pennsylvania. She changed names to protect the innocent, and thanks KW, JM, JAR and Woody, who made these stories possible. For the full story, click here


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2 thoughts on “Cottage Chronicle #13: Winter Prep

  1. Holly Pollinger says:

    Thanks for the story about ferns. It was inspirational. I may even get a rubber tub! Holly

  2. Holly Pollinger says:

    Who knew the little bit of lotion I put on my arthritic toe worked because of CBD! I wonder what would happen if I put it on my tongue…

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