Friday, January 7, 2022

Feathers of Frost and a Polar Vortex Kind of Day: Survival Guide and Celebration

                     The Coldest Day of the Year is Here

I went to bed anticipating exactly the sort of day I awoke to, fabulous works of art on my windows, painted in the night by Jack Frost; to the north we have a delightful new feather pattern I have never seen before covering the entire outer windowpane, the inner one left with merely a fancy slope of icing along the bottom edge, just to let me know this is serious stuff. To the west there is a beautiful decor of tiny star bursts dotting the entire field of vision, more thickly bunched to each side. 

Nothing gives me more of a cozy thrill than a day at home when the temperature will not reach 0 degrees. To the poor people who miss this each year when they flee south for three heart goes out to you. 

"It's just not as cold as it used to be," can be heard around here, here being deep in the Midwest. Well, today it is, and we seem to be down to about one week of this each year now, which is just sufficient to put one in the right frame of mind for looking forward to the springtime again. I love these days, and this one is even better, because there is no reason for me to go back out in it. 

How cold is it? Well, let's see...I have been traveling around the state for work since Sunday. Sunday felt cold, but it was 16 degrees F., I believe. Saturday's snow dump had just barely been cleared away as I was departing. An hour before, on the road conditions website, parts of the highway were still marked "covered by snow and/or ice" and "towing not advised per state mandate." My red nose and cheeks can be seen in a quick video I shot to show the pretty, white Iowa landscape. I had been out of the car for all of 30 seconds and I looked like a 17th-century washerwoman at the end of a long week. 


Growing up, I had permanently rosy cheeks in the winter. It was colder back then, of course. My grandfather's favorite ways to greet me was, "are you wearing rouge?!" Four-year-old me had not a clue what that meant, but I soon understood it. "Rouge" -that was my first word of French. 

Monday, in a strange city and sans garage, I had to hop in my car at 8 am to get to work, but I found I could not see out the windshield, I was too high up because...the memory gel/foam cushion on the driver's seat had frozen to a solid block of ice. I tossed it aside and sped away, well not before exiting the car once more to reach for the snow-brush and scraper combo that most unfortunately was not in the back seat, but in the trunk, to scrape all the pretty frost off the windows. By the time I made the short drive to the courthouse, my toes were frozen just as solid as the memory gel. As I exited that courthouse to drive to a city two hours away, I wept lukewarm tears of "pain-to-come" realizing that I would need to stop for gas at some point before making it there.

This continued throughout the week, and there never seemed to be a single dang parking spot near the door. Once, in desperation, I pulled into the snow drift that had covered the last spot in the tv studio lot, testing my snow tires true power. Hallelujah, they worked just fine upon backing back out later after filming my first-ever television interview. *

Yesterday, I straight-up wore my snow boots to court. I was heading 85 miles away, it was minus 2, with a wind chill "feels like" temperature of minus 25 (that's Fahrenheit, folks), and I could not believe regular people did not just cancel work like school did. Oh, that's right, I am in Iowa, and we fear not the snow and cold, we carry the fart on. I loved the white drive, the snow makes everything a marvel to see, but I was not going to end the day with frostbitten toes if the car broke down. In my defense, there really was no room to add my nice shoes anywhere in the car, my emergency supplies had entirely taken over the rest of the space. 

Emergency whats? If you are going to venture forth in this weather, with all of the possible things that could go wrong (wind blowing you straight off the highway into a snowdrift, slipping on ice or snow on the road leading to the same fate, engine quitting, engine not restarting, etc. and a rapid glance to either side of the road you are on confirms that this is not a rare occurrence) you do so ready to hunker down for a time in your car. This means having with you: a pair of real mittens (no gloves, no separation of fingers, mittens), an extra-warm hat; the butt-ugly kind with ear flaps, a really big coat, the sort that covers your bum as you scrape frost and snow from the windshield, and blankets for the night you might need to spend in the frozen car, which is a hundred times better than setting forth into the wind and losing ears, nose, life. Also necessary are: bottles of water, snacks, a good book or two (not that it is all that easy to read with your super-thick mittens on), extra phone chargers, to communicate with the over-worked tow trucks when they finally get around to you, a thermos or two of hot something, and by thermos, I do not mean the pansy-type travel mugs they sell at the filling station or coffee shop, I mean the 20-hour-hot sort. 

So, dear traveler, you see why the nice shoes were an extra I could ill-afford to add? Besides, I was correct, there were no spots near the door, and I was not going to walk, again, in heels with no fur involved. The good judge did not remark on my footwear, I suspect he either failed to notice, or had his own fake-fur-lined, outer-rubber-waterproof pair on under his robes. 

I had planned on ending this missive on our winter weather here, but alas, the adventure continued into the night yesterday. School had called a late start to the day, I guess this was, in theory, to allow things to warm up enough to a level that was no longer this official definition of "25 below zero windchill" in which "frostbite will occur within 30 minutes of exposure." Seeing as how it never did warm up yesterday, it was fully expected by coach and parents that last night's sports, choir and other activities be cancelled by the school district. They were not. 

And thus, we found ourselves on the road to Muscatine, Iowa, at 5:45 pm. I had pulled into the garage at home at 5:35, slipped into something more comfortable if not less warm, put my snowboots right back on my feet, and drove 45 minutes to a SWIM MEET. This time it was with my sweet husband by my side...all the better to warm up with should the car hit the ditch. Thierry may have mentioned once or five times that we did not HAVE to go to this meet, but I figured, if the cold had not stopped the rest of the world from functioning, there was no reason to miss my son's thing.

That school parking lot seemed insanely far from the door, but we were "bundled up" as we like to say around here, and once inside, the pool was toasty warm. The kicker was knowing the poor children swimming would soon be back out in that cold to wait, first for the bus back home and then for their ride in the school parking lot.  But our team swam so well! I was there to see my kiddo break two of his own records, and the swimmers had a good crowd watching and cheering, so much better than empty bleachers and tv cameras.

The winter weather will continue into next week, but a serious bit of warming up is expected by my birthday, it is supposed to be 36, just right for ice-skating, which is what I've decided would be the happiest thing I could do to celebrate. Just last year, with a diagnosis of osteoporosis, I thought I would never sled, ski or skate again, too irresponsible, but two months ago, I was given the incredible news that my functional medicine doctor and I had managed to turn that condition around: no more osteoporosis! No danger of breaking a hip just from tripping over my own shoelaces...bliss!!! I am going to skate AND ski AND sled. 


But today, I am going to stay in and look out from my cozy spot here. 

*More on that and on the upcoming free foreign language workshop on Instagram at my new name (do you use "handle" for these things? That does not sound elegant at all) : French dialogues (no space, of course, on IG) is where you can find us now, Commence le Dream was too complex to remember, but it is still the name on FB.

Free foreign language workshop? Acquire a new language/refresh an old one at home in 3 steps? Please join us!!! There are unlimited spots to participate online, just a few spots left for in-person: Details Here.

Photo credits: johanna84 of Lapland  for the frost and Alain Audet of Quebec for the photo used for the header and the house, both on Pixabay. Merci!


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