We Want to Protect You, or Surviving Cabin Fever

That’ll teach me to leave the snowshoes home!

Cabin Fevah, Ya say? If you’re a flatlander, ya probably never heard of it. In Maine it’s a fact of life every February, earlier if Old Man Winter gets his longjohns in a twist. Everyone has different ways of determining when it hits. The good folks who post here are sharing theirs below as a public service to help the uninitiated avoid serious mental and physical harm by saying or doing the wrong thing.

John Clark knows the symptoms. He ain’t native, but is wicked close. He’s gonna start by warning you about Town Meeting as influenced by Cabin Fever. #1-Do not sit in Old Man Perkins’ spot. It’s three seats from the aisle in the front row. The last fool who made that mistake still has to look backwards when he’s walking. #2-When sidling up to the refreshments table hosted by the Ladies Auxiliary (damn near every Maine town meeting has at least one food selling auxiliary), remember the following: The coffee and store bought pastries are safe, but partake of Liddy Fitzwalter’s baked goods at your own peril. Anyone who’s ever peeked in her kitchen will tell you they lost their appetite for weeks afterward. #3-Do NOT miss a chance to play Bullshit Bingo. Not only does half the pot go to the town VFD, but the odds are better than 50/50 that the winner will get to yell ‘Bullshit’ during one of Myra Fiddlewick’s endless laments. Trust me on this as it’s happened three years running.

Other symptoms of Cabin Fever: People start laying blue tarps over snowbanks in a futile effort to shrink them enough so they can back out without becoming intimate with the grill on a logging truck. The clerk at the only store in town no longer bothers to respond when you inquire about ice melt. Gray squirrels hold your dog hostage until you put something other than sunflower seeds in the bird feeders.

Kate Flora: Before I learned the good sense of a trip away in February, I used to img_2086regularly go crazy that month. I love being stuck at my desk and winter is great for writing, but when the ice dam is six inches thick, the heat tape isn’t working, and my husband and I have to keep going out to shovel the roof, it can have an effect on the disposition. I suggest that a few good soup recipes can help. Just don’t keep doing this until you run out of pots.
Helgard‘s Curried Pea Soup 
1 pkg. frozen peas
1 med. onion
1 carrot
1 celery stalk with leaves
1 med. potato
2 c. chicken broth.

Toss onions, carrot, potato and celery in pot with curry & broth. Simmer for 30 minutes. Add peas and cook until tender, then run through blender (I use a hand blender) and add 1 c. light cream. Top with cilantro or chives.

In earlier years, I used to do a newsletter for my Thea Kozak series, featuring what I called Thea’s “Quick and Dirty” recipes. This is one of Thea’s soups:

Power Soup
Pour 1 c. warm water over 1/2 c. dried shiitake mushrooms. Set aside

In saucepan, combine:
1/2 pound chopped lean beef or a chopped chicken breast
1-2 T. sesame oil
1-2 T. Balsamic vinegar.

Simmer 30 minutes. Drain mushrooms, reserving liquid, and chop.
Add liquid and mushrooms to soup. Simmer 20 minutes until mushrooms and meat are tender. Chop 1/2 bunch of kale, add, and simmer 15 minutes longer, or until kale is tender. Taste. Add salt, pepper, and additional vinegar and/or sesame oil to taste.

Why is this called Power Soup? Because Thea knows that the cop on the job often doesn’t eat very well, and so, like many women, works at sneaking healthy food into her guy’s life. This simple soup is an excellent way to use up left-over steak or chicken. Kale has been rated #1 among veggies by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Shiitake mushrooms are considered by the Chinese to be a superior medicine.

For a vegetarian version, substitute vegetable stock and tofu.

And here’s a super-fancy one for New Year’s Eve
Salamander Smoked Fish, Sweet Potato and Corn Chowder

2. T. canola oil
1 Spanish onion, diced
1 T. minced fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 t. cracked coriander seed
1/2 c. dry white wine
1 4-0z can coconut milk
1 3/4 c. liquid–fish stock, clam juice, chicken stock or water
1 10 oz. pkg. frozen corn
2 c. diced, peeled sweet potatoes
3/4 pound smoked fish, such as haddock, bluefish or mussels
salt and pepper
chopped cilantro and scallions for garnish

Heat oil in a large pot. Add onion, ginger and garlic and sauté about 4 minutes. Stir in IMG_4953coriander, wine, coconut milk, and liquid. Cover and bring to a simmer. Stir in the corn and sweet potatoes, and cook about 15 minutes, until potatoes are tender.

Add fish and cook until it is just heated through. salt and pepper to taste.

Though if soup doesn’t work, it’s okay to take to drink.

Bruce Robert Coffin: Cabin fever has never been something from which I suffered. Maybe being a dyed in the wool Mainer makes me immune from the seasonal malady. Or perhaps it is because I enjoy spending time outdoors this time of the year.

Mountain hiking in the winter months might sound scary to some, but consider the many benefits. There are literally no tourists crowding the trails. Most every animal capable of killing you will be fast asleep. There are no bugs to contend with. If you dress properly, in layers, you wont be anywhere near as sweaty as during the other seasons. The rocks and roots criss-crossing every trail will be buried far below a soft and smooth cushion of the white stuff. Winter hiking is the best.


I will concede however that as the cold and snowy months continue I do begin to long for spring and summer. Thoughts of warm and sunny months where the days seem to last forever come creeping into my head. Chores and projects that I’d failed to get to last year haunt me. Even the writing which tends to carry me most of the way becomes secondary to staring out the windows at the snow and ice. I mean my house isn’t going to take care of itself, is it? I do have a responsibility after all. And nothing, not even this hellacious winter weather, will keep me from my duties…


Lea Wait: I haven’t got a lot to add – I love the quiet of winter and the time to write without the distractions of company and summer entertainment. I also love this time of year because it allowed me time to catch up on my reading, (including books by other Maine Crime Writers,) and to binge watch movies.  (Two very different ones I’ve enjoyed recently are A Very English Scandal. A Quiet Passion, and The Innocents).

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson
Cabin fever? What’s that? I even love being snowed in. I’m not crazy about power outages, but we have a wood stove for heat and cooking, a big bucket of water in the bathroom to flush with, and a battery big enough to run a reading lamp and recharge the iPads.

For plain old winter doldrums, the best cure is to keep busy. I accomplish an amazing amount of writing during the winter months, at least in part because I don’t even try to schedule any events that would require me to leave the house. There are a couple of conferences in February and March that might be fun to attend, but when weighed against the possibility of having to cancel due to bad weather or, worse yet, getting stuck in an airport halfway across the country, I find it easy to talk myself out of going.

the view from my window in winter

Some might say I’m just an old stick-in-the-mud, but those inclined to become hermits during the winter have an advantage. They’re perfectly happy to hole up, snug and warm. There’s really plenty to do to keep busy: jigsaw puzzles, binge watching favorite TV series and the occasional new one, reading, and, of course, writing. If it’s a particularly long, cold winter, I might even end up writing an extra novel.

Susan Vaughan:

1. Vacation to somewhere warm. But give yourself plenty of time at airports. The government shutdown has led to some TSA flu, so lines may be long. Last year we went to Marco Island, Florida, for some R&R. Luckily it was the warmest February ever in that state, so even the water was warm. This year? Well, see #4. The closest I’ll get is this photo.

2. Read a good book. I have three going at the moment. I’ve nearly finished Sandra Brown’s paperback Lethal , a riveting thriller. On the treadmill or stationary bike at the Y, I read on my Kindle. Again, see #4. My recent e-book is our own Kate Flora’s Be My Little Sugar: Another Girls’ Night Out Novella. Also unputdownable, this story is suspenseful, witty, and humorous. The third book is nonfiction, unusual for me. I read reviews and saw an interview with Jill Lepore, award-winning historian and knew I needed to read her These Truths: a History of the United States. It’s dense, insightful, and beautifully written as well as thoroughly researched. I’m making my way through it a little each day because I need to digest and ponder as I go. I’m learning facts and background I didn’t pay attention to in school.

3. Walk the dog, feed the birds, go snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. Since I don’t ski and won’t be snowshoeing this winter, or even walking Sasha for a while, I watch the birds at the feeder and look for a bald eagle fishing at the river below our house.

4. Don’t have foot surgery. Yes, this is why I won’t be snowshoeing or walking the treadmill or taking a trip to somewhere warm. I’ve had a joint replacement on my big right toe. Yes, you read that correctly, on my big toe. Arthritis had eaten away the cartilage in the large joint, so it was bone on bone. Walking had become quite painful. So I’m sitting here on my sofa with my foot propped up on a stack of pillows. The upside? Hubby is waiting on me hand and “foot.”

Look how happy I am out in the snow snow shoeing!

Maureen Milliken: The only times I’ve ever had cabin fever are when I’ve had to share the cabin. Cooped up with other people for extended periods of time gets on my nerves. I’m sure they’d say the same about me.

Otherwise, I love the winter and here’s a pro tip: you don’t have to stay cooped up in the cabin.

Getting outside unless the weather is really, really awful and living by yourself are the best things to counter cabin fever.

I’ve taken several day trips to parts of the state that are beautiful this time of year, gotten out the snow shoes, walk to the store when it’s too ucky out to drive, and more.

One thing about snow shoeing — you can do it anywhere, you don’t special skills, you don’t need money. It’s a great way to get outdoors. You also get to take in some things that you maybe wouldn’t otherwise.

My town, January, 4:30 p.m., 2 degrees and dropping.

The other day as dusk  was arriving — I won’t say as the sun was setting because I don’t think there was any that day — I was driving home and caught a neat view of my town, our still-lit tree and our one year-round restaurant.

When I got into the house, I put the ice cream in the freezer, fed the cat, got the camera, and despite the 2 degrees and dropping temperature, got the photo.

One of the great things about getting outside — besides the fresh air and exercise — is coming back home to a cozy couch, hot chocolate (or ice cream!) and a night of binge-watching “Disappeared” on ID as the wind howls outside.
Maine is beautiful year-round and I love it.
So, the takeaway is, don’t hate winter in Maine, embrace it!

Sandy Neily here:  The woods and fields are full of tracks  and scat messages. (Kids love scat clues.) How do you snowshoe? I tell folks, wear warm boots, walk a bit wider and use poles for balance.  In March, there will be hooting owls!  Track Finder and Scats and Tracks are my favorite guides: small, easy to carry, and easy to understand. Last week, using my Track Finder, I solved a mystery where large fluffy tracks disappeared at the edge of the woods. Lynx! Jumping up into a tree. How cool is that? 

Skidompha Used Books Store

Indoor treat! Down a back street in Damariscotta, you’ll find an amazing second hand book store. (But most of them are good for cabin fever or no fever at all.) This one is worth hours of browsing or setting up one’s computer for some closeted work. Its large windows hang over the tidal comings and goings of the river. It’s light and airy, has a fabulous carpeted kids’ section, a riverside alcove with bird guides and binoculars, and room to spread out and work. Oh, and a cozy fireplace with well placed chairs.

Brenda Buchanan:  As my colleagues say, the secret is getting outdoors. I agree with Maureen and Sandra that snowshoeing is terrific, but as readers of this blog know, I live near some of Maine’s sandy beaches and they are a particular magnet in the winter. There is something elemental and wonderful about the beach in winter, especially when the wind is howling and the incoming tide is rushing up the beach. Whether it’s 20 degrees or 5 below, whether the air wouldn’t lift a kite or 40 mph gusts make it a slow walk in one direction and an exceedingly quick one in the other, I’m at home on the beach in the winter, especially on Sunday afternoons.  As Bruce says about his winter hikes, there are no tourists, no entry fee and it’s easy-peasy to find a parking space.

I often take Kate’s advice and have a nice, hearty soup or stew simmering when we get home. Like Kathy and Susan I always have a book (or several) at hand to transport me to another place when night falls.

And when it gets really bad, I imagine it’s August and we’re in Brooklin, hiking on a sweltering afternoon, slapping away mosquitoes, pouring sweat. At the end of the trail, we reach the cove and dive into the bracing ocean water. The thought of that sublime sensation cures cabin fever every time.


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3 Responses to We Want to Protect You, or Surviving Cabin Fever

  1. Charlene Fox Clemons says:

    Reading for sure, often two or three books at a time; crocheting or cross-stitch projects with a cup of tea and a movie to watch; bread baking (to go along with those soups Kate mentioned); writing; lots of genealogy research; walking the dog; cleaning the snow off the walk and deck; winter photograpy. But most important a through house cleaning so that when spring comes I can be outside! Goodwill loves me this time of year!

  2. I’ve missed reading y’all’s posts for a while. Somehow I stopped getting email reminders, but I’ve fixed that. You’ve shared some great ideas. Not sure I’m hardy enough for all those outdoor activities, but I guess what’s really needed is the proper clothing and boots. I’ve shared this blog. 🙂

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