Cold is relative.

th-1As in, my relatives are never cold. Specifically, my great-nephews are never cold. I was visiting them on a 10-below-zero night when a friend called to say that Jupiter was quite visible in the night sky.

The boys stampeded out the front door – in their PJs – and stayed out there for at least five minutes, looking. At least they put on their boots.

I used to be that kind of badass. But I find I’ve lost my happy thoughts after 11 years Outside – which is how Alaskans describe Everyplace That Isn’t Alaska. (It gets the upper-case even in the newspapers.)

It was nothing for me to stick my feet in whatever footwear happened to be by the front door and walk outside in nightgown and bathrobe to see if the northern lights were dancing. If they were, and if they were particularly nice, I might go back in and pull a coat on over the robe, or maybe just put on some sweatpants and go back out.

Then I spent a few years in Illinois, where people whirl and howl about Lake Effect Snow and Chicago Winters, but where you also get thaws with 60-ish temps long before spring has really sprung. After that I spent eight years in the banana belt that is Seattle – sure, it’s damp and miserable, but “cold” there means anything cooler than 40 degrees.

While I haven’t yet pulled out my biggest, baddest winter parka – it’s basically a building made of goose down – I’ve been wearing my Eddie Bauer coat and zipping it all the way up. Often I wear cotton thermal long underwear, even in the house. My view is that it’s better to put on your long-handles than to sit and curse the coldness.

Of course, I’ve been keeping the thermostat at about 60 degrees. My view is also that there’s no reason to pay for heat if you can manufacture it yourself. Hence the thermals.

Contrast that to a couple of kids I saw climbing up a 20-foot pile of snow (thanks, Mr. Plow Driver!) and trotting down as casually as though the baby glacier were a short flight of stairs. They were wearing baggy knee-length khaki shorts and medium-weight hoodies. No gloves. The hoods of the hoodies weren’t up, either. The temperature that day was about 18 degrees.

Lifelong Alaskans, I bet.

Embrace the chill

As I noted in “Snow days,” winter weather keeps us humble: “It reminds us that no matter how advanced we think we are, no matter what technological marvels keep us spinning in our self-contained, self-important little worlds, there’s not a cell phone or a snowplow in the world that can beat Mother Nature when she’s feeling frisky.”

Luckily the bike paths in my new neighborhood are plowed pretty regularly. Making time for at least a one-mile walk is important to work-at-home me. When I worked at the newspaper one or more colleagues would bug me to walk around the building a couple of times, a distance of about a mile total. Even a one-around helped clear the cobwebs. As a writer friend once told me, “I think in walk tempo.” So do I.

Now I have to get my own work-at-home butt out and moving. A two-mile walk on a 12-degree day is invigorating – especially the part when my chilly face hits the (relatively) warm air of the house. Recently I took a weekend walk with DF after baking cookies. Coming back in from a snowy stroll to a house that smelled like oatmeal cookies with chocolate chips was lovely. So was stoking up the fireplace insert and watching the snow fall.

The best part: The snow was outside, and I was inside. Near a fire.

Signs of improvement

Lately I’ve noticed signs of acclimation. For starters, I’ve nixed the long underwear unless the temperature is 10 degrees or colder.

I can walk from the shower to the kitchen without undue whining. However, I do wear scuffs on my feet. (My rabbit-fur slippers are still over at Linda B.’s house. Moving is a gradual process.)

And recently I found myself hanging out sheets at 19 degrees, sheets that froze as stiff as signboards. When I was a kid I used to do that – but never while wearing just sweatpants, T-shirt, bathrobe and scuffs. I even stayed out for a little while after the sheets were up, puttering around in the garage. (Well, it would be a garage if it had a fourth wall.

It helped that there was a warm(ish) house to go back into, of course. But the ability to freeze a few sheets without curling up and dying is a sign I’m getting used to winter once more.

Which is a good thing: DF is talking about driving up to Fairbanks for the World Ice Art Championships. Follow the link and click on the video for the 2010 championships video, so you can check out things like the ice castle and the ice slides illuminated by multicolored lights. If we go up I’ll probably try the slide, no matter how cold the air is. I’ll make sure DF shoots a photo.

Fairbanks is some serious cold. A musher who came down from Fairbanks for a recent sled dog race mentioned that “it was 40 when I left.” He didn’t mean 40 above.

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  1. Ick!

    I moved to the South after graduate school, and don’t think I can ever go back North. Alaska cold is beyond my ken.

  2. We just moved home-Wyoming-after thinking Arizona was the place for us…wrong! I’d gladly take the cold any day over the AZ summers. It’s good to hear you’re acclimating!

  3. Sandra Gonzales

    I don’t think I could handle that kind of cold weather but more power to you if you can. Brrrrr!

  4. As a Chicago girl all my life, I can’t say that I *like* the cold winters, but I’m fairly acclimated to them. But what’s the deal with the sheets? We used to hang our sheets outside in the summer, but put them in the dryer during the winter. I still do that, although I hang my clothing to dry…inside the house. If it’s below freezing, how does laundry actually dry? And how do you fold the sheets when you take them down? 😉

    • Donna Freedman

      We bring them in and drape them over a couple of wooden clothes racks so that any damp corners/ends can finish drying. They smell so good when dried outdoors that if there’s even a little sun/wind we’ll give air-drying a shot.
      Usually DF takes care of this task — and he does it in nothing but a jellaba (basically a floor-length nightshirt) and scuffs on his bare feet. Brrr.


    Growing up in Montana and Idaho, I was NEVER cold. Now that I am 78 and in the south the winters are COLD and DAMP. I wear sweats and sweaters most of the time. I would rather have snow with the dry cold. (I too hate hot weather)

  6. Kenzie

    Sounds like you’re acclimating nicely! =) I’d love to hear how you make Alaska a frugal place to live (sent you a PM via Facebook, but I’m sure it went to “other”). I know the cost of living here can sure add up fast!


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