The Second Half: Tips for safely getting through the winter thaw

By Kathleen D. Tresemer


What happens in mid-January that gives us a few moments of joy, of hope, of warmer days and (relatively) balmy nights? January Thaw, that’s what happens—and it has finally arrived!

“I don’t know why,” my 70-something friend Pat tells me, “but this is the first winter I feel like it might be nice to go to a warmer climate.”

“I know why,” I tell her after falling on the ice twice during my daily walk down the road. “Living in the country during winter is wonderful if you never have to go outside.”

There, I said it. Winter can be downright dangerous, especially in your Second Half. If I had fallen and been unable to get up, it might have been ages before a vehicle went by. In that 1/2-mile stretch of road I call my walking path, I never saw a single car during my trek up or back. Scary thought!

For readers who are already warming up their rebuttal, let me qualify this: I LOVE WINTER! It has lots to offer in beauty, activities and such, but you just can’t discount the danger for seniors.

Last year, my favorite chiropractor, Dr. J (Dr. Jarrod Kerkhoff of Loves Park Chiropractic) recommended moving my exercise regime indoors once the ice hit the ground. “Slipping on ice hurts you in two ways,” he told me. “It injures you where you hit the ground—say your knee, hip or head. But it also injures you when you slip, as your body jerks around trying to regain balance. That’s why you can get that whiplash-type feeling a day or two after the fall.”

A 60-something gal pal of mine who lives in the city shared, “I fell on the ice by my mailbox, down at the end of my driveway. As I waved frantically for help, two cars went by and didn’t even slow down!” Lucky gal, she was finally able to get herself back to the house, but…YIKES!

Needless to say, I am exercising inside now. Hubby was sweet enough to move my treadmill and inversion table to the sunroom, where I can pretend I’m outside. He fills the birdfeeders, so I get a colorful feathered show as I walk or hang upside-down.

Winter has other disadvantages for Second-Half folks. Most of my friends older than 50, 60 and 70 years of age either live alone or spend a good part of their days alone. They need to drive. Winter driving conditions are hazardous, even during daylight hours, more so on the country roads where I live. Driving is not a good idea during any kind of snow, as the dim overcast light and the falling precipitation causes problems in depth perception and general visibility. And let’s not even talk about what happens if you spin off the road or get stuck in a ditch somewhere!

“You know you’re getting old,” I tell Hubby, “when your friends don’t question why you always drive around with thermal coveralls and winter gear in your back seat.”

Ten years ago, friends would tease me, “Going to Alaska during lunch hour, Kathleen?” They were wearing their high-heeled dress boots and light overcoats to work, because they were easier to drive in and they looked cool.

“They aren’t seeing you as old, just practical,” he comforts me. “That’s one reason I love you—you are so practical and independent!”

I’m not fooled. He’s just thrilled he can go to work without a “Help me!” phone call. Last week, after I got mired in fresh-snow-over-ice for half-an-hour in my driveway, he got me a 40-pound bag of Oil-Dri to keep in my trunk.

“If you get stuck again, just throw some of this under your tires and keep rocking until you get free,” he instructed me. Is that love or what?! I appreciate the fact that Oil-Dri is touted as environmentally friendly: “all natural before ‘all natural’ was cool.” Their Web site claims the following:

“Oil-Dri clay absorbents have always been a 100 percent all-natural earth product free of chemical treatment. In fact, Oil-Dri has been practicing environmental awareness through responsible mining and manufacturing long before it was mandated to do so. Put your trust in a company that cares. Oil-Dri, trusted since 1941.”

OK, OK! I trust you, at least enough to stick a bag in my trunk as a safety precaution. Plus, Hubby will use it next spring.

Another gadget Hubby is lending me: a coiled, spring-like device that slips over your boots for traction, called YakTrax Pro. I got him a pair last year to keep him from slipping in the barnyard after the 2009 January Thaw, when our whole acreage was covered in a melted and refrozen layer of sheer ice. YakTrax claims the American Geriatrics Society has published a study by Dr. Fergus McKiernan confirming their product helps keep the elderly safer on ice and snow. I LOVE the things, and they are only about $20 at sports gear stores.

This week, however, is the January Thaw, and I am headed outside in gym shoes and light jacket, to soak up the sunshine and bask in the glory of our balmy 30-degree weather.

“Sunshine prevents winter depression,” I tell Hubby as I stand outside with my face to the sun. “The more sun I get, the more cheerful I am!”

The last time I saw him, he was surfing the Web for vacation sites that beg, “Come to the sunshine!” Now, what’s THAT supposed to mean?!

In her second half of life, Kathleen D. Tresemer is both a journalist and an award-winning fiction writer. She lives with her husband on a small ranch in rural Shirland, Ill. Kathleen can be contacted by e-mail at

From the Jan. 20-26, 2010 issue

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