Saturday, December 7, 2013

In the Deep Freeze

Yup folks, it be chillsome!

OK, before I proceed to regale you with tales of my frozen backside, I figured I'd tell you a little story.

So, it was November of 1985 and I was in Trondheim, Norway living as an exchange student. At this point I still didn't speak the language very well, and was really homesick.

So when a fellow exchange student who I had met at language school asked me to come to Stockholm to help her cook Thanksgiving dinner for her host family I jumped at the chance.

To get to Stockholm I had to take a bus to downtown Trondheim, then take a train. Seemed simple enough. I bought my ticket ahead of time and left the house with plenty of time.

But somehow I got on the wrong bus, so instead of going directly downtown, I ended up on the scenic route which took me all the way around the fjord.

Finally, the bus arrived downtown mere minutes before the train was supposed to leave the station.

I sprinted through the streets of Trondheim and literally jumped on the train as it was pulling out of the station.

So I'm sitting there on the train, hurtling through the dark - because in November it's pretty much dark all the time that far north - when suddenly it occurs to me... "Gee, I hope this is the right train!"

What I should have done at that point was to go find the conductor and ask if I was on the right train, but since my Norwegian sucked at that point, I was too shy to do it.

So I just sat there watching the frozen blackness speed by and hoped that I was going to end up in Stockholm and not some Lapland village north of the arctic circle.

So I'm sitting there feeling miserable and scared, when the train starts to slow down and comes to a stop at a small station in the middle of nowhere.

I look out the window, and (not kidding here) this is the sign that I see (OK... this photo was taken in the daytime when there wasn't a foot of snow on the ground, but it's the same sign.)

Yup... I had officially arrived in Hell! Well, Hell, Norway that is.

I couldn't help but burst out laughing. Fortunately the conductor came by a few minutes later, took my ticket and assured me that I was on the right train. Whew!

Anyhow, sorry for that little diversion, but I'm pretty sure the sign in the first picture was taken in that town. BTW - "Hell" doesn't mean hell in Norwegian... I'm not sure it's an actual word, but it probably means something closer to "luck."

OK... so back to the topic at hand. It is FREAKIN' FREEZING!!!!!

Actually, "freezing" might be overly optimistic since I don't think it's been above a blistering 14F (-10C) for the past 3-4 days.

Holy Moly! At these temperatures I'm pretty much cold no matter what I do. I can crank up the furnace, but after a few days like this, even the walls get cold and I'm lost in the land of Brrrrr....

I guess we all have different ways of dealing with the cold. CatMan, AKA the psychotic one, is out riding his bike today. I guess exercise does get the blood pumping, but seriously?

For me, the cold serves as a great motivator for long-avoided chores.

My first line of defense was to cook, because food makes everything better, doesn't it?

No really, this is a great time for making things like soup, or lasagna, or roasted chicken, or baked beans (all of which I made) or anything that needs to cook for a long time, because it helps to warm up the house.

My next course of action was to dig out my lightweight hat and fingerless gloves - not for going outside - you need the heavy weight ones there. These are for wearing around the house!

Then I fixed the waistband on my silk long underwear (which I'm wearing right now, or else I'd take a photo for you.)

I also decided to cobble together some window coverings to keep it warmer at night. As I mentioned in my attic-fan-cover post, a few days ago, I had a grandiose plan of making insulated coverings for all of my windows, but I gave up after one because it was just too hard to sew them.

But since it was getting unbearably cold in here I decided to toss elegance out the proverbial window and just try to make something that would help get me through the next week or so.

My original plan included using Mylar space blankets to create a radiant heat barrier, and I did make one that way for the north window in the kitchen. Instead of sewing it, I just used duct tape to attach the Mylar to the insulated fabric (which was a hunk cut from an old bedspread.)

It worked OK... we'll see how long it lasts. But I ran out of duct tape so I decided that the other ones would have to suffice without the Mylar.

The real challenge was finding a way to attach them to the window frames. I have a TON of Velcro that I bought for the original project... the problem is that it's almost impossible to sew through the stuff (which is why I gave up in the first place.)

Sooooo... first I tried stapling it to the fabric, which works OK if you leave the cover in place.

But once you put any force on the staples (like to take the shade down) they just pull out.

Since I'd broken half a dozen sewing machine needles trying to sew it the first time around, I figured that method was out, so I tried sewing it by hand.

A thimble allowed me to push the needle most of the way through, but the problem was that I couldn't grip the needle well enough to pull it the rest of the way through, so it would just slip hopelessly through my fingers.

Then I remembered some rubber finger coverings that I'd seen somewhere, and thought maybe, just maybe this is what they were designed for!

Needless to say, I didn't have any rubber finger tips, and there's NO WAY I'm making an extra trip out in this weather... but I did have some rubber gloves and voila! Instant traction!

It feels sorta ridiculous to be sewing with rubber gloves, but hey, it worked!

I still managed to break one needle - even sewing by hand...

But eventually I managed to sew the Velcro onto pieces of old blanket that were cut to size, and then used a staple gun to attach the other part of the Velcro to the top of the window frame and now have make-shift window coverings that are keeping it MUCH warmer in here.

So tell me, what are your tricks for keeping warm when it's really cold out?


  1. Heh, when I read Trondheim, I thought Tromso and I was like, wow, you were really up north! I never knew there was a Hell, Norge either.

    Anywho, when it's really chilly I usually nudge the heater up a degree or two, add an extra pair of warm fuzzy socks and maybe another layer sweater, etc. and drink something warm. And if I can coax a cat to lay on me, even better.

    1. Ha! Tromso would sorta be a cruel joke to play on an exchange student! Actually, Trohdheim wasn't all that cold in the winter... it basically hovered around freezing all winter. I think being on the water helps. It was dark though!

      We've definitely turned up the heat a few degrees - especially at night!

  2. I too too put extra layers on and try and cover myself in cats :) Our heating broke one winter when it was really cold, and until it was fixed, I brought out the duvet I had when I was a student in Durham, which is a bit further north and cold (especially as our house had draughty single glazed windows!) Anyway, said duvet is goodness knows how old, really thick and filled with feathers. It's quite hard to get out from under, as it is so heavy, but there is no chance of being cold!

    The front door of our house is north facing and means that our boot room/porch is always way colder than the rest of the house- I need to sort some sort of thermally lined curtain for it- might ask the bfs mum to make one, as she is awesome at sewing!

    Loved your Hell story, and love the baby seal picture :)

    1. Ah yes... the living feline blanket approach. It works so well until you need to move! :-)

      I slept under a duvet like that once when I was staying with my step-mom's family in Germany. It was AMAZING! I've never been able to find one quite like it here in the states, but I do pretty well at night with the layered approach - one blanket, one quilt and 3 comforters - and with a hat to keep my head warm! :-)

  3. I think your window blanket will help a lot! One of the places we lived had about 30 square feet of single pane window across the long wall in the living room and we could feel air coming in around each one. Thankfully, the house had two sets of thermal drapes, so we could shut those and be more comfortable. But it makes me so grateful for our double pane windows at our current place.

    Another thing that helps is a down comforter - my parents bought me the warmest one from LL Bean years ago and I've never been cold underneath it. I'm not sure if the quality is still the same because I've heard LL Bean doesn't handmake much here in the US any more. The heater broke one winter (I lived in a townhouse at the time, so at least the 3 units surrounding mine protected it somewhat) so when I wasn't hiding in bed, I took hot showers, washed dishes, vacuumed (moving all the furniture and pushing that awful machine around warms me up) and drank a lot of hot chocolate. Good luck! Hopefully the cold eases up a little soon!

    1. I slept under a wonderful down comforter in Germany (see above comment). When I got back to the US I bought one and was sorely disappointed! The thing hardly has any feathers in it at all! Maybe I should start my quest again.

      Anyhow the window blankets seem to help a lot - and I rigged some covers for the basement windows last night because it was so cold down there that I could almost see my breath! I was afraid the pipes might freeze!

  4. I cut the turtle necks off of hubby's old shirt and wear them on my head -- pulled down over my eyes so I can keep my nose warm. I can't sleep with a cold nose!

    At the old house, I had to make two draft catchers for each window. I hung blankets over them. I just got old wool ones and cut them to size (no hemming. Then I did sew a pocket at top and put them up using tension rods. If you clip a weight to each bottom corner, it holds them down pretty good. I kept a lot of draft out that way. The last year we were in the house, we had someone re-caulk and tighten up the windows. It did make a huge difference.

    We also had a few big arch-ways and I hung a blanket between rooms to keep the warm air into each section -- especially the front parlor where we had our couch and TV.

    Do you have radiators? Keeping big stones next to them -- touching them will draw heat into the stones and they'll help keep the room warmer too.

    Our current home is much warmer so I don't have to do any of this stuff.

    1. My house has a combination heat pump and a highly efficient gas forced air furnace that kicks on when it gets below freezing. It's the biggest thing I've done for my house - when I bought it, we still had the original furnace from the 1950's! So it's much better than it used to be!

      I like the tension rods idea.... might have to see if I can find some.

      And caulking... YES! I had an energy audit done a few years ago and they said that my house is sealed up so tightly that I'd have to install a fresh air vent if I sealed it up any further! I guess being the "queen of caulk" has paid off!

      The turtlenecks thing is an interesting idea. I sleep with a blindfold thing that covers most of my face so with that and the hat I'm pretty well covered!

  5. btw, there is a small town named Hell at the highest point of an island named Saba in the Caribbean.

    1. Ha! So there are two places that are "Hell on earth!" :-) I doubt that sign is from the Caribbean though with all that ice!

  6. I love your creativity!

    My only trick is to live someplace where it never gets really cold, even though that makes it harder to find a culture I like. Anything below 20F just hurts.

    I agree about down comforters and snuggling up to other warm-blooded folks. But then I can't live my life rolled into a tiny ball.

    I also like hats, scarves, and fingerless gloves (I actually wear sweaters and fingerless gloves at work when they over air-condition the place).

    I love hot drinks except that the only hot drink I really like is hot chocolate. I should not be drinking that all day! I tried various kinds of tea, but even with lots of sugar, I still don't really like it. So now I just drink plain hot water. It's not that great tasting either, but it keeps me warm and hydrated for zero calories. Oh, I also like ramen noodles (with lots of extra water to cut the salt), but again, that's something I don't want to be eating all day.

    I have to turn the ceiling fan in the bedroom on high if the clothes are ever going to get dry (and make sure to flip them after about 12 hours), but I turn it to low when I'm sleeping in there.

    1. I've never had a ceiling fan, but I've heard that most of them are designed to rotate in 2 different directions. One way cools and the other way just circulates the air forcing the warm air downward to keep it warmer. Don't know if it works or not.

      I'm a big fan of hot tea... this time of year I like to add a handful of cloves and a cinnamon stick. Have you tried hot cider? That would at least be more healthy than hot chocolate (which I also love.) Hot milk with nutmeg is also good.

    2. I've heard that, too. I don't understand it--air is still moving past me. My boyfriend really wants a fan on most of the time, and of course my laundry also always wants the fan on (in whatever direction dries the clothes).

      Yes, hot cider is yummy, but also sugary. Hot milk with nutmeg? Does it have sugar, too? I really don't like it when milk sits out too long and gets warm, so hot milk does not sound good to me (except hot chocolate made with milk). I do like nutmeg.

      One other hint--I like to keep a hanky in my pocket because I blow my nose several times a day when I'm cold.

    3. Well, hot air rises, so I think the idea is to push the hot air back down where the people are - but I agree... seems like it would just create a breeze.

      You could always try mulled wine or hot totties for warm beverages. After a few drinks you probably wouldn't notice that you were cold! :-)

    4. Oh... and to answer your question... no sugar with the milk just nutmeg. I hate luke-warm milk too, this tastes more like hot cocoa that isn't so sweet.

      The other thing I used to drink at work was something called Postum - I think it's made from toasted grain or something. It was OK...

  7. I have to ask. Is you house cold enough with the heat turned up that you need 5 covers with a hat at night to sleep? Or is that is what you do to conserve energy and money?

    As far as beating the cold, I think it's time for CatMan to come stay for a few days. Nothing like the heat of another human to warmyou up.

    1. Usually the furnace turns down to 65 at night, but during this cold snap I've turned it up a few degrees so it bottoms out at 67. Theoretically this shouldn't be so cold... but somehow it just feels freezing! But I'm always cold at night regardless of the weather... not sure why. And if I stay up too late I get soooo cold that I can't sleep. There have been plenty of times that I've had to get up and take a hot bath just to warm up enough to sleep. CatMan says that my internal thermostat has 2 settings - on and off, because I'm generally either freezing or boiling. Don't know what that's all about!

      Anyhow, it would be lovely if he and I could sleep together, but unfortunately we seem to be incompatible in that department. I tend to toss and turn, and he has a nerve injury that requires him to sleep in an odd position - and if it gets accidentally bumped (like say, by a tossing and turning bed partner) it throws him into excruciating pain for several days. So we tried sleeping in the same bed when we were first together but very quickly concluded that it wasn't gonna work for us. Sigh.

    2. I have gotten up and taken a warm shower before to warm up enough to go to sleep. Mostly, it's my feet that are too cold even with socks and a hot water bottle.

    3. Oh yes... sleeping with cold feet is impossible as far as I'm concerned!

  8. There's a Hell, Michigan! There's also a Paradise, Michigan, as well. Several years ago the Detroit Free Press had an article about how it was easier, from Detroit, to get to Hell than Paradise. I think maybe your sign picture was taken here.

    Great suggestions for staying warm! I boil a pot of water every day, fill my carafe, and can have hot tea all day.

    1. Ha! So now there are three places on earth named Hell! I bet you're right... that sign does have a very US Highway look to it.

      So how do you keep the tea hot all day? Mine goes cold in about a half hour.

    2. My boyfriend either makes tea in the coffee pot and leaves it on the coffee maker burner to keep it warm or pours it into a thermos.

    3. Hmmm... maybe I need a thermos or a t-pot cozy.

    4. A hot water/coffee carafe can be purchased for, oh, around $15 and it's basically a giant thermos, with an insulated inner part. I start out with making hot tea in the morning in my mug and add the rest of the boiling water to my carafe (hint: if you pour a little hot water in the carafe first and swish it around, it will warm the interior of the carafe and keep your water even hotter longer) and I find that I still get a decently hot cup of tea by 5:00 p.m. even when the carafe is getting empty from my repeated usage all day. A GOOD travel mug will also work and is what I used during our recent kitchen renovation when the stove was unavailable to me (I used a hot pot--I really don't like microwaved water for tea--it tastes funny to me--and poured it in my Thermos-brand travel mug).

      Tea cozies are somewhat helpful--it holds the heat in a teapot for maybe an hour longer--but for all-day hot water without repeatedly heating up the stove, a carafe is the way to go.

      I always wonder what people say to others when asked where they're from--"I'm from Hell! No, really!" I get way too much amusement from this sort of thing.

    5. Ha! "Pleased to meet you... I'm the cat lady from Hell!" Oh my!

      Anyhow, the carafe sounds very interesting. I might have to see if I can find one at the thrift store.

  9. Funny story about the train ride! I like your DIY approaches to keeping warm. We were getting down into the 30's this past wee, and about the only thing I'm doing is trying to let sunlight into the house during the day, and wearing a hat/layers. Easier to keep me warm than the house!

    1. Opening the south facing windows helps a HUGE amount... just ask my cats! They jockey for position in the sunbeams all day. :-)

  10. That's too funny riding the train into Hell! We're well into summer here so don't have to worry about being too cold (and luckily my place is a basement, so stays relatively cool).

    Do the cats sleep with you? That's a bit of extra warmth :)

    1. They used to, but I stopped letting them because it just became too complicated with 4 of them... they tend to fight, and Sputty (the one with the bladder condition) tends to pee on the bed, and Princess wants under the covers... yadda yadda yadda. I miss the kitty cuddles, but it turns out I sleep much better without them.

  11. I'm trying to figure out how to stay warm in our new cooler home. The high yesterday was 29!! Ok, that probably sounds nice to you, but that's the coldest temperature I think I've dealt with in my life. I still need to find a good, thick winter coat and will try to find some knee-high boots to keep my legs warm. I've been wearing leggings under jeans and about 4 layers of tops and knit gloves. My least favorite part is having to get our boys dressed, especially my aspiring nudist. It's worse than pulling teeth to get that kid into enough clothes. Even with it freezing outside and chilly inside, he screams if we make him put on clothes (other than undies) in the house. It's really making we wish for warmer temperatures just to get rid of that battle lol!

    1. Hmmm... well, the thickest coat isn't necessarily the warmest. If you want something really warm I'd suggest looking for down. Next best is something poly-filled - look for poofey rather than heavy (it's the trapped air that gives it insulating power, not the material.) And materials like wool or polar fleece will keep you MUCH warmer than cotton. Good luck... I'm sure it's a shock to your system having lived all your life in the desert!

  12. Flannel sheets are very nice. Not flannel pillow cases though, don't care for those.

    And here's a vote for silk underwear. You can buy short or long sleeve tops and bottoms with long legs, glove liners, anything you want. Very thin, so easy to layer up. Keep you nice and warm.

    Keep your wrists covered. The blood vessels there are close to the surface so you'll lose heat. There are very simple knit or crocheted wristlets for this exact purpose, some plain and utilitarian and others with ruffles and bling. Or, I suppose, you could just cut the ribbed portion off an old pair of socks and slip then on.

    1. Warm wrists... I never thought of that. At the moment I'm wearing a wool shirt that's actually a men's size so the sleeves are too long. I've been trying to push them up all day, but maybe I'll just let them hang out over my wrists and see if it helps. Thanks for the tip!

      Flannel sheets sound wonderful. Might have to see if I can find some of those too!

  13. Re the ceiling fans: yes, in the winter you switch it so that the warmer ceiling air is pushed back down . . . it does not create a breeze at all. We have one in the kitchen by the woodstove, one in the main room and one at the top of the stairs.

    As a Canadian I am all too familiar with frigid temperatures. As long as there is no wind we manage fairly well but, in an ancient wooden farmhouse, wind is our undoing and, as I live on an island, wind is almost constant.

    This year I found some fleece lined tights . . .that may sound odd and bulky but they are pretty much as thin as normal tights yet incredibly warm. Better for wearing under pants than long underwear because they add no bulk at all.

    I am always so hot at night that I removed our down duvet and replaced it with a light down blanket and still, even when the temperature outside is frigid, need to keep the bedroom window open. Drives DH nuts. What can I say . . . I'm a hearty Canuck!

    1. So the ceiling fan thing really does work! That's good to know. I have actually considered trying my insulated bike tights underneath my pants. They're the kind that are designed to be worn over bike shorts so they don't have a big pad in the butt or anything. :-) But they are really warm yet thin, and fit tightly but still allow me to move, so they might be just the thing. Although it's looking like the frigid air is finally moving out and we're getting back to "normal" for this time of year.

      I think I'd make a terrible Canadian. CatMan and I have actually fantasied about moving there for political reasons (if they'd even take us... which is a big if) but Holy Moly... I'm not sure I could handle the winters!


I welcome your thoughts so please leave me a comment and I promise I will respond.

On older posts I've had to enable comment moderation to prevent spammers, so don't worry if your comment doesn't show up right away - unless you're just commenting for the sake of embedding a link, in which case I really wish you wouldn't waste your time or mine because I'll just delete it.

Thanks, and have a fabulous day!