Monday, January 4, 2010

Only in Chicago

There are a few things that I have learned about living in Chicago this past month.

Observation 1:  One of the first stores that I entered upon arriving in late November was a display of mittens that have an ice scraper already attached.  It seemed absurd to me at the time, almost comical, until last week when our daughter Laura’s car was completely encased in ice and snow after sitting overnight in our driveway. 

Observation 2:  There are certain appliances that we consider necessary to home life here:  a stove, a furnace, and above anything else, a snowblower.  You don’t even need a fridge.  Just set the stuff outside.

Observation 3:  The weather is not part of the daily news.  It IS the news.

Observation 4:  One afternoon I went outside to run some errands.  It seemed relatively warm.  The thermometer on my car said that it was 36 degrees.  Later, I noticed that was the exact same temperature inside my refrigerator.

Observation 5:  Twenty-two degrees is not all the same.  The way it feels depends on a myriad of factors, including wind velocity, presence of the sun, whether you have gloves, how far your car is parked from the entrance of the store, and what coat you are wearing.  The right clothing makes all the difference.

Observation 6:  Along the same lines, people in Chicago appear more robust.  This has nothing to do with body weight.  It has everything to do with how many layers they are wearing.  Fashion is cast aside.  When one of Hannah’s friends moved to Chicago from sunny California, her mother told her, “Face it.  No matter what you wear, you are not going to look cute.”  Being warm takes precedence.  Hannah reports of girls on the Northwestern campus wearing full length goose down coats who look like caterpillars walking around.  Bill and I saw a woman in a festive strapless party dress at a Christmas party.  Everyone felt so sorry for her.  The rest of us had sweaters on, and I suspect, some with long underwear as well.  Being cold (or warm) is not so much based on the temperature as on what you are wearing.

Observation 7:  Is it cold?  I purchased a pair of heavy black tights to wear under my slacks.  I haven’t worn tights since third grade.  I also uncovered in the move a couple of turtlenecks that I haven’t worn since we lived in Iowa City ten years ago.  Not exactly a fashion statement, but beginning to sound like a good idea.

Observation 8:  Why do people stick out their windshield wipers when they park their cars outside?  To keep the blades from freezing to the glass.  And to make scraping the windshield easier.

Observation 9:  Believe it or not, I received a type of tire chains (or crampons) for the bottom of my running shoes as a Christmas present.  These are along the same lines as the snow chains that my dad would put on the tires in the winter when I was a little girl.  Actually, they operate a lot like the spikes the guys who climb Everest clamp on the bottom of their boots.  They make the pavement a lot less slippery to run on during a snowfall.  I didn’t even know such a thing existed.

Observation 10:  Yes, they plow and salt the streets to melt the ice, but under 12 degrees, road salt no longer has any effect.  You can buy specially formulated salt at Home Depot to get you down to about zero.

Observation 11:  I went to the hardware store to get a couple of door mats.  The woman at the store pointed out to me that I didn’t need outdoor mats, but ones to place inside the door for people to step onto.  “Anything outside will be iced over anyway and won’t do you any good,” she said.

Observation 12:  Just about every furnace that we saw when we were looking at houses has a humidifier attached to it to condition the dry winter air.  After living in thick-as-soup air in Memphis, it seemed really bizarre to need to actually ADD humidity.

Observation 13:  Basic rule for survival in a Chicago winter:  a chapstick in every pocket.

But before you think that all is absurd living in the Northland:

During a recent snowfall, I watched some neighbor children sledding on the empty lot next to us.  They were outside playing in the snow for at least two to three hours.  I could hear their laughter ringing in the air.  Snow gives kids the permission to be kids.  To play.  To play outside, even in the cold.  I have seen tough teenagers suddenly become kids again, just because of the snow, sledding all afternoon.  And having fun.  I rarely see kids really having fun anymore.  But on that snowy day, I heard laughter in the air.

Also during another snowfall, my daughter Beth saw one of her neighbors out front of his house building a tiny snowman.  By the time Beth returned from her errand, he had completed an entire family of snowmen in their front yard.  All by himself.  He has a child, but she is only three months old.  Again, snow brings out the kid in all of us.  Her neighbor, by the way, is a former NFL player.

I awoke early one morning.  The snowstorm had ceased.  The air was silent.   I was transfixed by the beauty of the whiteness.  I may be a newcomer yet, but I was awestruck by the wonder of it all.  Cold, yes it is.  But also amazing.  


Clare said...

Quite the opposite from Panama at the moment. I just stepped outside to lock our gate after reading the first couple of observations thinking I needed to brace myself for the cold! You did an amazing job of cooling me off. I may have to refer back daily!! Great entry!!
Warm Wishes!
Clare R

mamakaren said...

It seems,Clare, as if you and I are living at the extremes at this moment in time. But there is something vaguely familiar here about the brisk air, indeed, something that surpasses even the shivers of a Chicago winter. There is NOTHING more frigid than walking into a Kroger in Memphis on a summer afternoon.