April 12, 2013

a floridian's guide to surviving canadian winter

The barges of compacted, grey ice - once present in every parking lot - have melted. Wellies have replaced snow boots. That, and the arrival of daily rain showers, are sure signs that spring has finally gotten off its hibernating ass and is making its way to Mississauga.

I believe it's officially safe to say that I've survived my first winter in Canada.

Not surprisingly, my small collection of 50-cent gas station gloves did not prepare me for what lied ahead when I landed at Pearson in January. When I lived in New York I had no problem transitioning from Indian summer to crisp autumn mornings to cold winter nights. But the shock of going from Florida's 80-degree weather to Ontario's subzero temperatures - literally overnight - played a serious part in my struggle to acclimate to this new environment.

Being three months older and feeling worlds wiser (not to mention itchier and less tan than ever before) I feel I've learned enough to comprise a first timer's guide to northern winter. These are things that - I learned the hard way - are vital to making it through the frigid months in one piece... minus some dry skin and a little bit of dignity. ;)

1) Thermal underwear, also known as long johns. I was forewarned by a coworker in Florida that not investing in these bad boys would be suicide. She was from Michigan and had been around the winterized block so to speak. I ignored her and I am sorry. After receiving what felt like 2nd degree burns on my thighs after the wind whipped through my pants for 2 months, I finally stuffed a pair of Bobby's thermal pants into my skinny jeans and walked to the mall one snowy day. I swear it's as though I floated there on a cloud. I literally skipped down the sidewalk in glee. What a difference a layer over your bum makes. Pictured: Women's thermal underwear set, americaneagle.com.

2) A fleece blanket - more specifically, a Hudson's Bay fleece blanket. This beauty was gifted to us by our good friend Bill the week I moved to Canada, and it has been a staple on our couch ever since. Whether it's used as a pillow for Bobby's naps or to cover our legs while watching The Office, this super soft throw has kept us warm & completely comfortable on chilly evenings. Pictured: Hudson's Bay Company Collection fleece multi-coloured throw, thebay.com.

3) Lip balm. Oh dear god, lip balm. This is crucial if you plan on going outdoors for more than 2 seconds. Even if you can't feel it at the time, the dry air is brutal on the ultra delicate skin of your lips. I recommend  something with olive oil and/or shea butter. Even putting straight olive oil on your lips before bed can only do good things for you. Pictured: Olive & lemon lip balm, nivea.com.

4) Ear protection. I'd heard much about the famed Canadian toque so I purchased a few knit caps for myself while still living in Florida. The concept is great but the static cling from the dry air always left my hair looking a fright when I pulled the hat off indoors. The solution: a chic knitted headband that covers the ears. It keeps your hair from getting too messed up, plus it's so cute you won't want to take it off indoors. Pictured: Knit turban headband, Chichidee.etsy.com.

5) Decaf tea. Specifically decaf because this was usually consumed by Bobby and myself as an after-dinner nightcap. Instead of turning the heat on, we'd pour ourselves a cup of tea and instantly warm up. We sampled all different kinds of tea including Tazo's Passion, Bigelow's green tea, and various chais, but our wintertime favorite was definitely David's Tea Toasted Walnut. It's a nutty, vanilla-y, all-around great dessert tea that's so flavorful you don't even need to add milk or sugar. Pictured: Rooibos tea, davidstea.com.

6) Insulated gloves. This should really be #1 (but those long johns are just too cute). As mentioned earlier, I purchased a bunch of 2-for-$1 gloves thinking I could layer them the way I used to do in New York and I'd be fine. Even with two layers I could feel the wind whipping through the knit and underneath my fingernails. Insulated gloves are the only way to go. It isn't just about comfort but also safety - not covering your hands in freezing temperatures is one of the fastest ways to get frost bite. Gloves are our friends. Pictured: Wool knit lined gloves, totes-isotoner.com.

7) Good-quality lotion. I consider myself an unfortunate expert on this topic. I hauled a dozen bottles of lotion to Canada with me, not knowing that very few kinds will work on winter skin. I only used lotion in Florida to make my freshly-shaved legs look & smell yummy, therefore most of what I owned was of the Bath & Body Works/Victoria's Secret variety. Bantamweight stuff. I ran the gamut of lotions before finding what worked best for my patchy, itchy skin (which began on my legs but spread to my hips, underarms and heels; another fun winter surprise). Aveeno products worked best for me because they not only moisturized but soothed the itch for 24-hour periods. And within one week of use, my dry, rough patches completely disappeared. Pictured: Aveeno Daily Moisturizing Lotion, aveeno.com.

8) Temperature converter app. In my world, 32 is freezing and 75 is a day at the beach. In Canada Land, 0 is freezing and 25 is barbeque weather. You can appreciate my confusion, I'm sure. And although I remember the equation from grade school, I refuse to subtract 32 and divide by 1.8 everytime I want to know the temperature. My solution? A smartphone app that does the work for me. Pictured: Temperature convert app, itunes.apple.com.

9) Snow tires. This was added at the request of my boyfriend, Bobby, who thought that bringing a rear-wheel drive sports car to Canada, sans snow tires, was an okay thing to do. After numerous incidents where he either rolled backward down a hill or had to dump the car in a parking lot and call a cab, he now realizes the error of his way. No matter what the mechanic at Tires Plus tells you, "all-season tires" sold in Florida are NOT okay for Canadian winters. Pictured: Winter tire, canadiantire.ca.


  1. I would like to add that a pair of well-insulated, waterproof knee-high snow boots are a MUST!! Saved me everyday when I walked to the gym. :)

    1. So true. I wore a pair of non-insulated rain boots in the snow one day and thought my toes were going to fall off! MISTAKE!

  2. Great list and blog post Jaime! I can relate to the temperature shock-I am from Melbourne and my partner is from the Bavarian Alps. Flying at Christmas time means going from mid-summer to mid-winter. My biggest jump from one day to the next was +40 degrees to -20 degrees Celsius. Eek! Right now we live in London which is a consistently chilly, drizzly, dreary grey, but I guess at least it lies somewhere in the middle of two extremes!!! Thanks for including my knit headband in your survival list :o) Leanne xx

    1. Wow, Leanne, that *is* a real shock! So jealous you're living in London! I've heard the weather's awfully dreary but what culture! So amazing!


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