The First Day of Winter – Florida Style

I’ve never been a great fan of winter.

Winter scene

Growing up in New Jersey, I was always uncomfortable in the cold. Growing up in a poorly insulated house, I can remember complaining to my parents that I just couldn’t warm up.  On cold days, I would seek refuge in the cold basement where I would lean against the oil furnace which helped me manage to get through the cold, dreary months. 

At the age of 30, I jumped at the opportunity to relocate in Florida.  I can still remember the day it happened.  With two infants already in their car seats in the middle of a snowstorm, the oldest had a particularly leaky diaper blowout.  After going back inside to change the diaper, we had one of those “What are we doing here?” moments.  The next day, when I found an advertisement for a position in a newly created clinic in West Palm Beach, I knew we had to make the right decision.

The process of getting used to the tropical climate didn’t take me long at all.  The summer we moved down to Florida was an exceptionally rainy one.  That’s where we learned how the torrential downpours can be seen in the distance. 

Rain in the distance

It can be sunny where you are, but down the road as you see the bright headlights coming towards you, you know you are heading into a storm.  Sometimes the rainfall can be so heavy that your windshield wipers can’t even keep up with the volume and many people pull off to the side of the road to wait it out.  It’s the Florida version of blizzard conditions.

As the “winter” approached, we began to experience the cooler mornings when the temperature actually went down into the 50s.  When I realized I was complaining about the cold, I knew I had adjusted to Florida.  My blood was properly “thinned,” as they say here to indicate that you had finally made the transition and you have the right to complain about feeling cold when the high temperature for the day doesn’t even reach 70 degrees. 

Dressed up in winter clothes

Now that I have been living here for more than 40 years, I am considered almost a native. On the days when the morning temperatures are down into the 50s and rarely even into the 40s, we bring out our winter sweaters, coats, gloves and scarves.  We laugh when look at ourselves, dressed in multiple layers of winter warmth and our Canadian neighbors pass us by jogging in their shorts.  We’re freezing and they’re loving the heat wave.

There are some days that my hands and feet just don’t warm up.  I wear foot warmers to sleep comfortably and socks most of the time to deal with the cold tile floors.  Occasionally my hands remain cold, despite washing them repeatedly in warm water. I remember when I was working as a pediatrician, I had to apologize before examining a patient’s warm abdomen or they would jump off the exam table.  I added silly phrases like “cold hands, warm heart” to my apology. 

My outdoor plants at this time of year, however, are loving the cooler weather.  They are going through a big growth spurt during this season, producing new leaves and flowers.

My collection of orchids that I have accumulated over the years, however, look pathetic.  Their last blooms fell off at least four or five months ago, leaving the plants with non-descript nakedness.  With scheduled feedings and a careful avoidance of fatal over-watering, I have managed to keep them alive year after year.

While several of my Christmas cactus plants are in full bloom,

Christmas cactus, in full bloom

the adjacent orchids have been biding their time until the simple looking plants start to produce new shoots.  Almost every day for the past week, I have been watching for new buds on one plant after another.  I get so excited when these new shoots appear.

The early bud of an orchid

 I feel a sense of renewed optimism when I see the first sign of growth.  I know that they will turn into a stalk of 15-20 delicate flowers with such amazing detail and beauty within a few months. 

View of our lake in the morning

We often read that it nourishes your soul to express gratitude early in the morning for the simplest things in life.

View from my patio

When I give thanks daily for the warm December mornings and for the early signs of growth on my beloved orchids, you know that I’m thrilled to be living here in Florida.         

The Extreme Cold

When my children were young being raised in South Florida, I wanted them to experience the winter weather that I had grown up with in New Jersey.  I decided to take them on a ski trip in the middle of January to a resort north of Montreal in the Laurentian mountains.

The Laurentians, north of Montreal

Our first taste of the extreme cold was when the automatic doors opened to the outside where our rental car was waiting.  That first gust of Arctic air hit us hard and it was difficult for us to breathe.

As we traveled further north to Saint-Sauveur, it became more and more difficult for the car to remain warm.  Thankfully, the hotel was sufficiently heated.  Our first experience later that day was walking to a restaurant one block away in -20 ° F (-30° C).  It was painful especially for one daughter whose asthma was triggered by the extreme cold.  No amount of layering of clothes was enough to keep them warm. 

The next day, when we drove to the nearby ski resort, the temperature was a windy -30°F  (-35° C).  It was so cold that the signs outside warned that the snow-making equipment was not working because of the low temperature.  Luckily there was sufficient ground cover on the novice slopes so that my daughters were still able to take their first ski lessons.  I decided to remain indoors because I wasn’t interested in exposing myself to the frigid temperatures. 

Their first snowman

My daughters adjusted quickly to the cold and actually enjoyed the new foreign experience, but after a few days of this new sport, decided that their bodies were not really suited for the extreme cold.  They learned how to make snow angels and a snow man, but quickly became tired of having to wear layer upon layer of warm clothes just to go to dinner. 

Upon returning to South Florida, their most memorable moment for the girls was when we left the airport terminal to enter the parking garage.  As the automatic doors opened, the gust of warm, humid air was enough to convince them that they were truly happy to be living in Florida.  I made a promise then to my wife that there would never be any reason to leave our tropical paradise during the winter months.

Forty years later, my decision has remained strong and without regrets.  As we say in Florida, “our blood has thinned”.   When the temperature dips below 55°, it feels cold to me and I’m glad to be living in the South Florida tropics.

South Florida, my adopted home

If I never see snow again, that will be just fine with me.  On the occasional day that it goes down to the 40s or 50s (5-10° C), I dress up with my warmest clothes from the past and complain along with the Florida natives how cold it is.