cold

Adventures in the Cold

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Happy New Year! So, we have passed solstice and swapped out our old calendars, so Old Man Winter has seen fit to hit us with a vengeance! He has been a little hard on us lately, dishing out temperatures as low as -43 C. We had a snappy little cold snap that lasted several days (see below). For those who don’t know, that kind of cold — anything approaching -40 — is extremely hard on vehicles and machinery.

Temperatures in Fort Simpson over the last week
Temperatures in Fort Simpson over the last week

Our fun began when we noticed how rough the car was starting, despite being plugged in. Let me offer an explanation for my southern friends and followers: “Plugging in a vehicle” actually means plugging in a heater of some sort — usually an engine block heater — which gobbles up electricity in order to attempt to keep the vehicle “warm.” I know I’m overusing “quotes” and I don’t care! “Warm” is a relative thing. When it’s well below zero, the oil which is meant to lubricate the engine and allow it to turn freely and not grind itself into pieces gets really thick. When it’s -40C, it’s most jello than liquid. This makes the engine very slow to turn over and your battery has to work extra hard to get it to turn over enough times to start. it’s a blast, really, to count how many times the engine will roll over before starting — I think the record for my car is 12 times. But it started! So, back to the story.

It was about -25C or so, and although the car had been plugged in, it sounded really rough starting. This led us to think there might be something wrong with the block heater. The obvious weak points are the power cord, plug in, and extension cord, but these all checked out fine. Since my husband is such a snazzy, smart guy, he tested the resistance in the circuit — seemed fine, but this isn’t an indicator of power flowing, just that there is no clear break in it somewhere. A further test was needed, to check how much current was flowing. I helped by holding ends of wires from the multimeter (a device for testing circuits) to the extension cord end and the block heater plug… not the kind of thing you should EVER try to do if you don’t know what you’re doing! Suffice it to say, we discovered that the block heater must be dead.

Drat. Well, what can you do? Start finding out how to get a new one, or look into buying an oil pan heater instead. Oil pan heaters are easier to install than block heaters, and apparently work just as well, or even better, since they heat the oil directly and keep it from becoming jello. Mmmm! 10W-30 jello, my favourite! (Just kidding!)

Long story somewhat shortened, we couldn’t get one very easily. We would have had to buy it over the phone from Yellowknife and get it shipped in by plane, or get a friend in High Level to buy one and then find someone driving north who could bring it. We brainstormed what to do… and then I remembered that I have a buddy heater! It had belonged to Peace Air, before they went out of business, and it’s a great little heater. Pilots put these heaters inside the engine cowlings on planes to keep the engines warm, and they produce quite a bit of heat for their size — not as intense as a hair dryer, but not far off. The best part of all is that they are meant to operate outside, for hours, unsupervised. Perfect.

So, the trick was to figure out how to get the heat to the engine. We quickly figured it would work pretty slick to slide the heater under the car and put cardboard around the bottom of the car to keep the heat in. Well, when we got to it, we ended up making use of the plentiful firewood and piling snow around the car on the sides. We tried to position the heater directly under the oil pan, and considering that the it’s not quite as cold out (only -25C) and there isn’t much space below the car to heat, I think it’s going to work!

So, that’s just one of many adventures we had over the Christmas season! The others involve repairing a block heater plug in -25C (wearing gloves as much as possible!), a malfunctioning defrost heater (or any sort of internal heat), and a truck that wouldn’t start. It might be the starter solenoid, or the starter, or maybe it just couldn’t face the -40’s.

~

This blog post is dedicated to my friend Jim, and ALL the men and women who maintain our winter roads — grader operators, plow truck drivers, sanding truck drivers, and all the other operators! You rock. I know you work hard to keep our roads passable, and believe me, we “regular motorists” appreciate it! Take care out there.

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Surviving Cabin Fever

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It’s been a while since I did a Top Ten, so here you go! ๐Ÿ™‚ Perhaps others don’t have such a hard time with this, but I think it’s relevant for the season!

Teresa’s Top Ten ways to combat cabin fever when it’s been too cold for too long:

10. Get smashed. Go to your liquor cabinet, with a tall glass in hand, and pour one shot of each liquor — whatever you’ve got — into the glass. Add ice, if you like, and a splash of orange juice, coke, or grenadine, depending on your tastes. Drink one of these every hour until you can’t walk, talk or think. JUST KIDDING! Don’t do this! If you do, you’ll have the worst hangover ever! But I guess you wouldn’t be bored any more! ๐Ÿ™‚ Seriously, it can be fun to invent a new drink, with just one or two types of liquor and have one or two with a friend.

9. Clean something. Ya, I know, it’s not a very fun one, but it’s a productive way of spending some time at home… tackle that messy hall closet or scary corner of the basement. Keep reading, I have better, funner ideas coming up!

8. Eat something. But not just anything… Scour your cookbooks or go online and make something wild and fantastic you’ve never made before. Like this chocolate cake (it took me three days to make last year!), these brownies (so strange yet soooo yummy!), or a spicy curry dish (one of my favourite meals). Maybe you’ll have to make a trip to the grocery store, but you probably have a lot of crazy ingredients at home that you could use. Check out the “leftover wizard” at bigoven.com. Don’t be afraid to substitute ingredients if you don’t have what you need and you don’t feel like leaving the house. Then savour your creation!

7. Make something. If you’ve got a project half-done, finish it! If you don’t, check out the Make webpage and see if you’ve got something around the house that you can transform into, say, a guitar!

6. Grab a book. You probably have a few books (or 20) that you’ve bought or been given, that you just haven’t quite started yet. Grab one, and a nice warm beverage, cozy up in your favourite spot and read the afternoon away.

5. Play a game. If you’re home alone, I guess it’ll be solitaire or something computer-based. But if you have family or friends over, convince them it’s time for Twister, Wii, or get out the cards. Aggravation is one of my favourites, or Blokus. No doubt you’ve got something you can play… strip poker anyone? (Not to be played with granny.)

4. Learn a new hobby. Got something you’ve thought about trying? Why not do it now? You can find videos for almost anything online, so as long as your internet (and your furnace) work, you can do anything! You could learn to knit or crochet, do yoga, do tai’chi, make fishing lures, build something out of wood, learn photography, start a blog or podcast… your imagination is the limit!

3. Play music. Get out that guitar you haven’t played in months (or the one you just made) and learn some new chords. Or, if you find your house strangely lacking in musical instruments, go through your music collection, listen to something you haven’t heard in ages (your fav’s from the 80’s!) and just enjoy the tunes! Dance your heart out. Air-drum along, or use pots. ๐Ÿ™‚

2. Get off your duff. Step away from the TV, or computer (not right now, as soon as you finish reading this), and get some exercise. Most of us have some form of exercise equipment around the house, and most of it is rarely used! Blow the dust off, get out the track pants, and burn a few calories. Don’t do it because you have to, do it because you’re bored silly — do it for your sanity! (I promise it will help.)

1. Do something fun outside. This is perhaps the hardest cure for cabin fever, but it’s also the most effective. Bundle up, wear double scarves, toques, mitts, whatever it takes, and go outside. If you’ve got equipment like cross-country skis, snowshoes, ice skates, or a ski-doo use it! If not, simply take a walk, go tobogganing (cardboard will work on a packed hill), make snow angels, or stomp out patterns in fresh snow. When you get back, you’ll be glad to be inside, cozy and warm!

The overall strategy for curing cabin fever is distraction. Distract yourself from the fact that it’s freezing and you’re stuck inside… that you’re bored or lonely… that it’s cold and only getting colder… ๐Ÿ™‚ I hope this blog will help you distract yourself with something that’s mildly productive or fun (more fun than TV)!ย  ๐Ÿ™‚

I think I’ll do my next blog on how to dress for cold weather. It’ll be practical and fun, yet serious life-saving stuff! Check back in a couple of days!