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What to look for at end-of-winter sales

Actually, Aunt Toby had a whole program planned out for this weekend. We’d had wonderfully warm temperatures this week, even for Chez Siberia – by Friday it was up to 63 degrees F. About 12-15” of snow cover melted and I was ready to get out there and shovel off one of the garden beds and talk to you about getting ready for spring planting. Unfortunately, overnight, the temperature plummeted down in the low 20s with high winds and snow, so I didn’t deal with that yesterday, and you get ‘housekeeping bits and pieces’ today. Sorry.

At this point in the season, we’re all extremely tired of winter, the snow next to the road is grimy, and we’re all itching for spring. For most of us north of the Mason-Dixon Line, though, we’ve still got several weeks of winter and some of it will be extremely nasty. We also have (and they’ve started already) ‘end of the season sales’ going on not only in our local malls but over the internet. So, at this point, I usually take a serious look at what my family has been wearing this winter, what shape it’s in, and whether or not the item actually performed its function HERE. Now, depending on where YOU live, the weather and temperatures might vary from what we’ve gotten here, but for winter, there are items where fashion goes right out the window as far as I’m concerned (if you have ‘tweens’ and teens, this whole discussion becomes moot because kids this age will refuse to do anything that comes close to ‘reasonable’ or ‘sensible’ or ‘did your mama make you wear THAT?’ The best you can hope for is that they don’t leave the house in shorts and flipflops in January, and get them coats with hoods and maybe they’ll put them up). We’ve talked about coats before, but here are a few items which are really useful to think about in terms of what you might see at the end of the season sale and if it comes in the right sizes, they are worth getting and putting away for this November.

Pants: in terms of jeans or chinos, you can actually get, from LL Bean and Landsend, versions lined in cotton flannel or in thin polyester fleece. Remember this formula: Fleece-lined is warmer than flannel-lined, flannel-lined is warmer than no lining at all. Cotton is NOT warm. If you are in a situation where you can wear jeans or chinos to work and don’t want to get ones with linings in them because you’ll roast when you get to work, wear something like tights or thin long underwear underneath and then take those off when you get to work. The very best pants or slacks to wear in the winter, especially if you have to stand outside in terms of waiting for a bus or train are made from wool flannel and lined. Men’s pants sometimes come with lining down to the knees and those are worth it. So, if you see any of these on sale now – get ‘em.

Sweaters: Lightweight sweaters in natural fibers are great because you can layer one underneath something heavier like a jacket, blazer or another sweater. I found some very lightweight mohair pullovers on sale and they have been a great layering piece. If you can find them in a cardigan format, so much the better but v-necks will be really valuable.

Tights: pretty soon, stores will be clearing out their winter weight tights. Pick up every single pair you can find in your size, especially the sweater knit sort. These have been in fashion for the past couple of winter seasons and if you are like me, you find that when you want them again, they have disappeared and you can’t find them for a another five years.

Hats, gloves and scarves: For all the common wisdom about wearing a hat, I find that a scarf around my neck under my coat is a major contributor to my feeling of comfort when I’m walking to work. It’s fairly windy and my walk is about a mile; even with my coat collar turned up, without a scarf to block the cold wind, I lose a lot of body heat. So having scarves is worth it. In terms of hats, I know many people feel very strongly about the whole ‘hat hair/fashion’ thing in terms of wearing hats in the winter. Believe it or not, Aunt Toby follows the ‘fashion weeks’ very closely and I can tell you that Fall/Winter 2011 is the season of hats: knitted, felt, you name it. The designers are showing everyone wearing hats…nice…warm….hats. And even if you can’t afford a new coat this fall, if you can find hats on sale, stand in front of the mirror with your coat on and try on hat..after hat…after hat…until you find one that you love and that loves you. Remember: Even if warmth was not an issue, skin cancer IS and you can get just as much UV exposure from reflected light on snow as you can in the summer. Winter is a time for hats with brims too. So look for a hat on sale NOW.

Gloves: OK, I realize that gloves are seen as more fashionable than mittens and there is a certain amount of dexterity issues that go on with having them, but all things being equal in terms of fit, and what they are made of, gloves will not keep your hands as warm as mittens will. Having said that, however, what they are made of makes a huge difference. For example, using the photo above, the purple and white knit gloves, though they are heavier and much thicker than the fleece gloves at the top, are only worthwhile down to about 35 degrees – there are too many holes for body heat to get through. If there were fleece mittens in that collection, I’d say that the fleece mittens would be warmer than the fleece gloves. Why? Because the fleece gloves have much greater surface exposure than a mitten does AND all of your fingers are inside, together, to keep one another warm by sharing heat. If you want gloves, however, the key there is getting lined gloves (whether lined in fleece or something else thick or one of the insulations from 3Mtm) which have an outside covering that is densely woven and windproof – nylon or something like it is vest. Cashmere-lined leather dress gloves are not as warm as you think. The next step up from that is something like the mittens at the right – lined in fleece, with a nylon windproof covering. If you have to work out of doors in the winter, these are absolutely the best and right now, you can find them in stores with sporting goods, ski and snow boarding equipment and discounter outlets over the internet.

Some other items are more from the ‘thing’ aspect – certainly you might be able to survive in the winter without them but worth knowing what is best:

Shovels: Because the winter weather all over the country has been so horrible this year, stores have ordered in snow removal equipment several times over and might have shovels in an end of the season clearance. Remember this formula: metal blade/wooden handle. Anything plastic is basically worthless. Aluminum bladed shovels with wooden handles are pretty good – hold up for numerous seasons and are lightweight. When you have heavy wet snow, an aluminum bladed shovel will be much easier to use and not so tiring but they do not last as long as steel bladed shovels. Steel bladed shovels (and get the ones with a curved blade that looks like a plow; they are really effect in that format), as long as you don’t leave them standing in water, last forever. When we bought Chez Siberia, we inherited a rusty old shovel which the owners inherited when they had bought the property 15 years before. Those sorts of shovels are worth their weights in gold but they are heavy. You will get a work out with them. The older ones are worth looking for at estate and yard sales, too. And if the handle is broken, that is ok – just go to a lumber yard or home center and get a new handle, undo the screw fastening the blade to the handle and replace. Remember: Plastic in the winter is worthless – the cold weakens it and they bend and break.

And finally, and I realize this is totally from the entertainment value for a lot of people, here is a bird feeding system that IS squirrel proof. We don’t begrudge the squirrel paying his way by working through the pile of dropped bird seed on the ground – he’s working for his meal and not dumping over the feeders, which is the problem we used to have. We suffered last year with squirrels that defied everything we tried – this sort of thing works because:
a) The metal pole (it’s coated cast steel I think; I don’t think it’s cast iron) is slick enough that the squirrels can’t get a grip to crawl up.
b) The collar prevents them from going any further.
Any pole or wooden stake will give squirrels a grip and up they go. Also, if the poles are close enough to the building where the squirrels can launch an attack from the roof, porch or gutters, they are worthless as well. One thing though, these poles are NOT bear-proof, so as soon as spring comes, take all bird feeding stands out and store. Also, don’t keep any seed or suet blocks where bears can find and smell them – remember, they have very keen memories and will come back. Also, in the fall, don’t put bird feeders out until it’s gotten cold enough that the bears will have gone into their dens for the winter.

So – stay warm, keep an eye out for good solid stuff for next winter.
And pray for spring!

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One Comment

  1. Shiphrah says:

    Re: gloves vs. mittens, there are several odd-looking contraptions we knitters can devise. I’ve spent this winter doing “texting mittens,” which are a variation on “pop-tops.” My BF knits a mitt – no fingers or thumbs – to go over her store-bought gloves. Same general idea: an extra layer of warmth on the hand.

    Texting mittens consist of a fingertip-less glove liner in fingering weight wool (real wool! nothing performs like it) on smallish needles. The outside is a mitten – worsted weight wool knit at a tight gauge – that has a large buttonhole on the thumb, placed “just so” so you can get your thumb tip out, and a flap top that folds back (I add a loop at the top and a button at the wrist, so it’ll stay put) to reveal those fingertips, cosy inside a mitt top. The whole contraption sounds complicated, but is actually pretty easy – and good for more than texting, but that sells the kids on wearing them.

    … And a DD of my acquaintance once upon a January in Des Moines, got dropped off at school wearing shorts, tank top & flip flops, and shrieked about the cold when she got out of the car. She was of course mightily offended when I laughed at her. Admin, in its infinite wisdom, heated the school to resemble the tropics, so her outfit was sensible, except for the sprint from car to main entrance. By grad school she wised up for the 3 mile trudge from home to campus.

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