Thursday, December 15, 2011

What Do You Do to Stay Warm?

On Wednesday it was a gorgeous, sunny, 65-degree day, perfect for my hike. On Thursday, the temperature fell like a hawk on a bull snake to 25 degrees. With the furnace kicking in every 20 minutes throughout the night to maintain a crisp 63-degree atmosphere, a memory floated to the surface from my days in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

In the autumn of 1979 I began my third year of college. Nick (Norma), Mel (Mary Lynn), Lynn, and I rented a small, dilapidated, old house on Niagara Street, or Niagra, depending on which sign you looked at. In the dark, musty basement of the place lived the Octopus, a huge-bodied furnace with about eight thick arms that could never reach the two bedrooms upstairs. From October till May that house was freezing, particularly Lynn’s and my bedroom, yet our heating-oil bills ran about $350 a month. I don’t think they insulated houses the year that place was built.

The memory was of my roomies and me arguing about who would wash the dishes. After all, there was only so much hot chocolate and peppermint schnapps we could drink and we all wanted to be warm. So we’d come back from classes, eat dinner, and then, almost in unison, shout, “I get to wash dishes!”

“No, I do!”

“No, me!”

Hands in hot water is one way we could keep warm.

That 30-year-old memory led me to thinking of what others do to keep warm. So I asked a few friends.

Anita, who turns her thermostat down to 59 degrees at night, covers with an extrawarm comforter, and probably blows steam rings from her pillow, uses a little space heater in her office to keep her toes toasty warm when working. Banjo Bill says he puts on a vest.

Sam can’t handle anything less than 70, except his women. When cold weather sets in, he aims the thermostat lever at 80 and books a flight bound for Florida or Mexico where he frolics for weeks till he thinks it’s warmer back in Colorado. If I look at my book, though, I’m pretty sure that every year he returns to cold weather. He should be like my relatives. Mom’s brother and his wife, as well as her sister and husband, each have a home in northern Wisconsin and another in a warmer climate: Jack and Becky winter in Arizona, Shirley and Duane, in Florida.

Cherri, who hails from and moved back to Miami, handled Colorado’s occasional cold weather quite well, even driving in snow, albeit way too slowly. One night we had a sleepover at her place and what she laid on top of us was not an ordinary quilt. It felt like a 300-pound concrete patio. It pushed the air out of my lungs and left me motionless all night. I don’t believe the weight added any more warmth than a light blanket would have, and it reminded me of something I was missing in my life.

In Wisconsin, I remember some gals would pack on weight and guys would grow beards. I guess I could let the hair on my legs grow, but if I ever wore pantyhose…ew! like hair in a hairnet. Joe Namath wearing pantyhose comes to mind—dressed in drag before it came in vogue.

Me, well, I enjoy my morning coffee, half milk with honey, and a vigorous hike after working a while. If it’s too cold to hike, I vacuum and stand on my hands, but not simultaneously. A hot computer sitting on my lap makes work less frigid, and throughout the day I sip tea or my warm, milky concoction. Hot soups, chili, and other tomato-based meals make cold days more tolerable. Even red meat starts sounding good if I can get past the thought of slaughterhouses. Before dinner I might slip into my appetite suppressant, the hot tub that keeps me warm for hours and contributes to a better night’s sleep.

During the day I wear up to four layers on top, two on the bottom, and at bedtime I quickly slip into stretchy pants, socks, and a cami while a heating pad warms my sheets and jammie top. My room probably smells more like America’s Test Kitchen than it does a bedroom.

One story I’ll never forget is when my daughter, Ivy, was four years old, five inches of snow had fallen and was still coming down. I stuffed her into snow pants with suspenders, matching coat, scarf, and boots, then put her toddler’s toboggan in the Trooper and headed for the park.

A long, flat stretch of land runs adjacent to the parking lot and sits only feet from a perfectly sloping hill, great for sliding. The snow was sort of sticky, so I had to push the toboggan several feet to get it going. After a few trips down the hill and trudges back up, the snow smoothed out, making the journey slider friendly.

Being considerate, Ivy offered the next trip down to me, so I climbed in, held on to the toboggan’s edge lips, and Ivy pushed. Halfway down and still not gaining momentum, I turned around to give Ivy a quizzical, I-don’t-get-it look and found her dragging behind me, holding on tightly to the toboggan’s back lip. My shocked look melted the tricky little red-cheeked prankster into a warm puddle of laughter.

We all have cold-weather stories, but what do you do to stay warm?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Twenty-eleven has been a year of great change in my life and around our home. My daughter graduated from high school and now attends an out-of-state college. Our home’s atmosphere has gone from moody oscillation to subdued ventilation. I might finally be going through menopause (I’ve had a big pause in men). And though every day I have always repaired or maintained something in our house or yard so projects don’t accumulate, major repairs and maintenance were waving their hands saying, “pick me!” Overwhelmed by all these responsibilities, I listed them and fainted.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’d rather clean a toilet than paint, and indeed I have cleaned a house or two. Is this beneath me. Heck no. I enjoy it. Nevertheless, for the first time since my BGF and I did it in 1996, I painted the stucco portion of the house’s rear below the brick and it looks great! It has a golden glow that really warms the structure and blends beautifully with the brick. Now my neighbors to the south can enjoy the view even more than when I dance naked at night with the draperies open.

I also tricked myself into a lot of touch-up painting. To some that might seem as simple as popping open a can of Coors and guzzling it down, but for me, opening a can of Sherwin-Williams is akin to opening Gorgonzola. But I opened, chewed, and swallowed, and again, the place looked and even smelled better.

But there was the big project, the one for which I could sort of see my destination but couldn’t fathom the path to get there. Dots on a map with empty space in between. You see, two of my many friends who have recently passed away left me their libraries, so I wanted to honor them by creating a space for their books where people could peruse, then check out a book or two. It’s what we already do in a condensed space, and there was only one room in which to comfortable house these books. So I began interviewing every friend who walked into our home. “Come, let me show you my new library!” I’d say. Then I’d ask them for suggestions.

In the lower level of our home is a room with no windows. When we moved here in 1994, I dubbed it my daughter’s playroom, where I could lock her up when she was naughty. It was space in which she could be creative with her friends, keep her art supplies accessible, and hang projects on the cork walls. I believe the room had previously been a torture room, with its sink and long shelf for accommodating chemical baths, or maybe it was a darkroom.

As she got older, Ivy and I called the room her office. We set up a desk with shelves, bought a decent lamp with three movable bulb casings, tossed in her huge beanbag chair, and kept the table for doing projects. But when Cat Number Two came into our lives in 2007 (see “Tattoo and Piercing”), he laid claim to one part of Ivy’s office. He used the cork wall as his scratching post. At first I was bummed to see chunks of cork of the floor and bare spots on the wall, but eventually I just walked past the mess or vacuumed it.
One day in late summer 2011, a month after Cat Two returned from a two-and-a-half-month explore 18 pounds lighter and regained his scratching momentum, I decided to do some cork removal myself. Ed suggested taking not only the cork but the whole drywall off. Attempting this, I soon feared the entire house would collapse, plus I found a wire that I suspected was still hot (wrong again), so I ceased further activity and prayed for a handyman.

Sam suggested keeping the cork on the top half and paneling the bottom, but cork was missing from the top. Two other friends, Michael and Anita, separately suggested placing drywall or paneling over the cork, to which I replied, “I’d be losing square footage in my home.” Michael also suggested ripping out the sink, shelves, and anything fifties in my home. Realizing I’d have to move, I chose another option. My neighbor suggested razing the house and starting from scratch.

Mentally exasperated, I needed closure, so by late October I knew how to proceed. Using a four-inch broad knife, I removed the cork, leaving small bumps of cement and pieces of flesh on the wall. Taking a lesson from the cats, I covered the bumps with paint texture I found in the garage. Almost everything used for this project, I found in the garage: paint, molding, a door, timbers.

I decided on a southwest, rustic motif. Two tones of blue for the sky, terra cotta for the sunset. I previously painted the brick wall, the backdrop to my bookshelves, a latte color and used a blend of warm tan and white for the rest of the room. When the painting was almost complete, my neighbor made numerous cuts with his saws—table, jig, and circular. I was on my way home.

Using my former 36” x 76” front door for shelves and two landscape timbers for spacers, I built bookshelves.

A table frame with Pergo shelves houses my encyclopedias from 1970.

Two stretches of door molding became a chair rail of exactly the correct length on the former cork wall.

Rope light and a six-foot length of molding were all I had to buy.

How cool is that?

Newt Gingrich

Guess who just called me.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Mormon Coffee—Chocolate

Humans can be so gullible.

I read a Parade interview with Mitt Romney in which he confirms that Mormons are not permitted to smoke, drink alcohol or coffee, or have premarital sex. Of these four directives, the least understandable is coffee abstention. Placing coffee in the same group as premarital sex is odd. I can’t imagine sending an 18-year-old off to college with the admonition, “You be careful now, honey. And be sure to avoid sex and coffee.” Then once the Mormon marries, he or she still can’t drink coffee. Why is this?

In response to the question, “Has it been hard to [not drink alcohol or coffee],” Mitt tells Parade, “My view is that the commandments of God…are not so much restricting as liberating.”

Now this little auntie has read the Bible several times, and there are a lot of drunk, adulterous, incestuous folks discussed. They lie, behead, pillage, and rape. But presently I do not recall a coffee restriction listed in the commandments.

Let’s check my Book of Mormon. Across from the inside cover reads “A Few Interesting Book of Mormon References.” Nothing about coffee, nor in the table of contents. In the index, coffee would be between Cockatrice and Cohor: the first stimulates my interest. Could it be that abstaining from coffee became law after 1948, the copyright date of this book? Checking Wikipedia’s entry for Book of Mormon indicates no word coffee in its contents.

What is so bad about drinking coffee aside from consequential bad breath? One answer is, given the number of kids Mormons usually have and how close two people need to maneuver to conceive all those offspring, a person’s breath is vital and should be fresh at all times, just in case.

Another thought is, coffee can be used as a stimulant, giving the drinker a kick-start in the morning after rolling over. I don’t see anything wrong with waking up before driving to work, but if you’re like me, you blend regular coffee with decaf in the coffeemaker and don’t experience any stimulating effects, just warmth and, of course, bad breath, but I don’t practice procreation. There’s usually not even enough caffeine to get my bowels moving. But with all those kids—they have five sons who’ve given rise to 16 more children—wouldn’t you think a stimulant would be a Mormon mandate?

From reading the entire article, I don’t believe stimulation or caffeine is the Mormon’s culprit, since Mitt’s wife, Ann, says he really likes chocolate—hot chocolate, chocolate milk, and specifically, Over the Moon Chocolate Milk, the low-fat kind. Chocolate has been known to have caffeine, so coffee’s naughtiness cannot be caffeine’s inherent crystalline compound.

Let’s ask my iBook Oxford what coffee really is: “a drink made from the roasted and ground beanlike seeds of a tropical shrub…of the bedstraw family that yields these seeds, two of which are contained in each red berry.” Hmm, it’s not made from beans, so Mitt can probably warm his insides with a piping hot bowl of chili during those cold Massachusetts winters without sin. Coffee is made from seeds. Further in the interview, Parade notes, “The Governor’s current favorite cereals are Brown Sugar Chex Bites and Quaker Oatmeal Squares.” Mormons, therefore, condone seed and bark eating, since seeds and spices are often cereal ingredients.

Not being permitted to drink coffee really has me baffled. What is this bedstraw shrub that bears coffee’s seeds? Oxford states it’s “a herbaceous plant with small, lightly perfumed white or yellow flowers and whorls of slender leaves. It was formerly used for stuffing mattresses.”

That’s it! Just when you thought I didn’t have a story. It’s the mattress component. If you drink coffee, particularly in the presence of an unmarried member of the opposite sex to whom you are attracted, the next step is obviously onto a mattress, with bad breath, no less.

Like to share a Hershey’s bar? Mine has nuts.

Excerpts from