In the Cold, Cold Night

I haven’t been warm for three weeks.

My town is at the bottom of a valley, so we regularly have temperature inversions in which hot air traps cold air beneath it for long periods of time. From context clues, I have gathered that “long periods of time” means “forever, probably”.

I don’t really remember what warmth is anymore. I think the frost has spread to my brain. When I try to dredge up memories of balmy beaches or blazing car seats, I can’t picture them. I was born in the cold, I live in the cold and someday I will die in the cold. Yesterday I felt the sun on my face for the first time in days and thought it was a heat wave. Later, the local arm of the National Weather Service posted this cheery message on Facebook:

Screen Shot 2013-12-18 at 9.08.46 PM

It was a heat wave. Someday we might hit temperatures as high as 33°F.

At this point, my only goal is to survive. If you are also trapped in an arctic wasteland— perhaps Siberia, Pluto or Canada— I’ve perfected a daily cold-weather routine guaranteed to warm your heart. (It won’t warm the rest of you, though. We’ll never be warm again. We’re going to freeze to death like unprepared Everest climbers and future generations will use our preserved bodies as landmarks on the frozen tundra.)

Winter Is Coming: How Keep Your Head Up and Your Extremities Attached

Before Winter Arrives: Prep Your Home
My bedroom doesn’t retain heat. When I first moved in, I considered storing my perishable food in there and sleeping in the cozier refrigerator. Several people vetoed that plan, so I had to come up with the following alternatives:

Step 1: Insulate Your Windows. I bought a kit that turned out to be a box of plastic wrap and double-sided tape. I heated the plastic with a hair dryer until it tightened over my windows and blocked the cold air. It made a huge difference, which is to say that the room was still the temperature of a meat locker but I no longer felt my nose developing frostbite. I also nailed some old quilts over the windows. I’m not sure they’re doing anything besides making my bedroom smell and feel like an antique store full of blankets someone probably died in.

Step 2: If possible, purchase a space heater. I bought one. Her name is Myrtle and we’re in love.

Step 3: Knit a draught snake. If you don’t knit,  you can buy long, padded tubes and shove them under doorways to block cold air. Luckily, I knitted a bunch of long rectangles in high school because that’s the only thing I knew how to make. I dug up two scarves I’d given up on halfway, sewed one into a tube and shoved the other one inside of it, and voila! Draught snake! Thanks for being a quitter, Past Me!

The First Cold Day and Every Cold Day Thereafter

7am: Wake up and curse your god. I can’t keep Myrtle on while I’m asleep because she’s an electricity hog and I don’t want to die in a fiery inferno (although I’m starting to change my tune), so getting ready in the morning is a painful experience.

When your alarm goes off at 7, wait until the last possible second to get out from under your six blankets. Reach over to turn on your space heater, then race to bathroom to turn the shower to its hottest setting and strip your eight layers of pajamas as quickly as possible. Try not to touch the floor with your bare feet as you get into the shower, because once you do, you’ve lost everything. (Hint: This is impossible.)

And believe me, I've tried to get around it.

And believe me, I’ve tried to get around it.

7:10am: Exit the shower. Once you’ve exited the shower, stand inches from the space heater and begin putting on layers of long underwear, jeans, socks and sweaters. Only stop putting on layers to dry your hair so it doesn’t turn into a bunch of icicles as soon as you exit the building. The novelty of hair icicles dissipates quickly.

7:50am: Oh, is it time to go? It doesn’t matter. Continue to put on layers until you’re late for work. You’re finished when you’re wearing so many layers that you’re perfectly round. It doesn’t matter, though. It won’t be enough.

7:50am: Leave for work and try not to cry or the tears will freeze to your face. Hopefully you made tea or coffee while you were putting on layers. Pour it into a travel mug and take it with you. It’s not for drinking, it’s just to keep your hands warm.

7:55am: Scrape off your windows or begin walking to work. Some days it’s hard for me to decide between driving off with no visibility and possibly causing a horrific accident because my windows are covered in ice, or getting out of the car to scrape the windows. They both sound like bad ideas.

I walk to work because I’m an idiot. If you’re dumb, too, it might help to imagine that you’re Han Solo riding out to save Luke Skywalker on the ice planet Hoth. Unfortunately, about five minutes into the walk you start looking around for a dying Tauntaun to slice open and crawl inside.

The weather site I use probably isn't helping.

The weather site I use probably isn’t helping.

8:05am: Arrive at work. Things will not improve there. The two walls on either side of my desk are external. It gets cold back there. This morning I ate a granola bar I was keeping in my purse against the wall. First I thought it was stale, but then I realized it was frozen. I’m thinking about cutting the fingertips off of a pair of gloves just so I can keep my hands warm while I type. I may also bring my Muppet Snuggie.

5pm: Walk back home in the winter coat you’ve been wearing non-stop all day. Repeat routine until death.

I’ve given up on ever being comfortable again. The only way I see that happening is if I sew a bunch of those hand warmers into long johns, and even that will fade after four to six hours. I’ve heard you feel warm right before you die of hypothermia, though. A girl can dream.

I've had to pee the entire time I've been writing this, but I haven't gone because the idea of exposing skin makes me tear up.

I’ve had to pee the entire time I’ve been writing this, but I haven’t gone because the idea of exposing skin makes me tear up.


  1. pastramibasket

    I moved to Wisconsin in the last 5 months and the gods have a sick idea of what winter is supposed to be here. Over 10 inches of snow and today was the first we hit 32 and above in the last few weeks. Winter is a cruel jerk.

  2. apaul70

    While I don’t condone an assured path to alcoholism, I had my first mulled cider with bourbon “of the season” and it was like a glass mugged dream. Its not an all-day affair, but along with your other survival instructions it rings true. I’m back in Minnesota for x-mas where the notion of cold is based on arbitrary rating of how the temperature ‘feels’.
    Cold skin, warm heart. Happy Xmas.

  3. emisformaker

    I’m currently putting off leaving my house. I don’t know what the weather is actually like out there, but I’m almost certain not to like it. Oh well, at least it’s not January yet.

  4. corlosky

    While it’s not quite so bad as that here in Ohio– considering the snow and ice have been alternately falling and melting– I totally know what you mean. Lake effect snow and windchill sound completely made up to most people, until they hit the northeast and can’t understand why a foot of snow and negative temperatures are just business as usual.

  5. James Thorne

    I just moved into a place where I work, that fells like a castle. Concrete floors, maze of rooms, and a all pervasive draft of cold air. The place was designed as a summer retreat so it has single-pane floor to ceiling windows and a poor heating system. To top it all off, its in the mountains. I think that maybe taking a warm bath with a knife handy might be the solution (only problem is that the hot water tank is the size of water bottle. )

  6. elperezoso

    I’m actually from Canada, the freezer to America’s fridge, and your post made me laugh so hard i can barely see through the fog caused by my breathing. I would like to, if I may, offer a few pointers:

    1)Don’t check weather reports between November and April. No need to add insult to injury: does it really matter if it’s minus 25 or minus 35 degrees? (or, in Fahrenheit, +89 or -447.32 degrees)

    2)Sell your car. Most people around these parts own a sled of dogs, which, incidentally, makes for adorable parking-related mishaps.

    3)Quit your job. Every September, I buy a dozen sacks of potatoes and kill a few deer, and inform my boss that I’m calling it a year. Who needs the aggravation of getting up at 6 am, a full 5 hours before the Sun?

    4)If you can’t quit your job, and have to brave the elements, end your showers with 2 minutes of cold water. The reason we Canadians are so rugged and manly is that we laugh straight in the face of that iciest of bitches, Mother Nature. Cold showers build character, get the blood pumping, and shatter any illusions that you are not in a frozen hell.

    5)If none of these are options for you, dress warmer. I myself am wearing four pairs of pants, three sweaters, and a jacket and a half, and today is what we refer to as ‘pleasantly crisp’.

    I’ve only got a minute or so before my fingers snap off, so let me conclude by saying you have a great blog, keep up the good writing :)

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  8. jamoroki

    Sounds like a nightmare. i gravitated from England to South Africa to Thailand. So I’ve gone from North to South to East and am now in the tropics. If the temperature drops below 10c I am beside myself. I can’t ever imagine living in UK again. I think I would die. I don’t like clothes!!! My wardrobe is full of other stuff.

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  11. Jenilee

    Oh man, does this resonate! I’m hypothyroid, so I spend a good 9 months of the year in layers. When that deep bone cold settles in, it is so hard to keep the thought, “I will NEVER be warm again!” from playing that track non stop. Oh, that does it. I WILL move to some place warm! Even if the Christmases aren’t as fun…

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