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Notes from the Polar Vortex

When we lived in Illinois, our neighbors across the street were fanatical about clearing their driveway of snow. We didn’t know them at all; the only time they spoke to us was right before we moved. Someone had kicked in their front door and robbed them, right in the middle of the day. The guy came over to see if we had seen anything (the police also came by before he did) but we weren’t even home that day, we were at my mom’s. (I have to confess, I was glad to be leaving the neighborhood after that happened.) Anyway, we never knew anything about them but we assumed they had jobs in the health care industry because they kept kind of strange hours, Dave had seem them in scrubs before, and, like I said, they always kept their driveway shoveled as if they needed to be able to leave in an emergency.

They used shovels, both the husband and wife, and the minute we had more than one inch of snow they would be out there, methodically shoveling. The sun hit their driveway perfectly, so it would melt whatever stray flakes they missed. (I used to be envious of that; the house shaded our driveway so the sun never warmed it and we always had little icy mounds that didn’t melt.) Dave and I would watch them surreptitiously in amazement. We used to joke about them blow-drying the driveway to get every last bit of snow removed. It didn’t matter if it was still snowing or it was below zero. They’d pull up, park their car in the garage, and then go out and get that driveway cleared. It was obviously important to them, being able to leave at a moment’s notice if they needed to.

Honestly, we would have rarely shoveled our driveway if we didn’t feel pressure from the neighbors. The renters on our left didn’t often bother to shovel. If they could drive over the snow, that was good enough for them. The guy on our right had a snow blower and he was pretty rigorous about using it … except on the sidewalk, which always irritated me. We’d be out there with our shovels, shoveling HIS area of the sidewalk so our kids could make it to school without walking in the street. Asshole.

So I’ve been watching to see how our new neighbors handle snow removal, just out of curiosity. Most people here are pretty lax about it. They have trucks and SUVs and they just drive over the snow unless it’s over six inches deep. We have this big half-circle driveway but we really only use the half that goes up to the car shelter, so we tend to just shovel that side. Sometimes I’m feeling feisty and like I want the exercise, and I’ll continue all the way around to the mailbox on the other side. But if we don’t bother, I don’t feel like the neighbors are judging us. I mean geez, the sun is going to come out and melt it eventually – why bother?

This has been a very cold, snowy week here in Michigan. Yesterday I was reading in bed and I realized my hands were freezing – like, going numb. It’s usually colder in the early morning because I have the thermostat set for 66 degrees during the night, but it felt unusually cold. So I got up to check the thermostat and it read 60 degrees. I stood there for a second as the thoughts tumbled around in my brain. If the furnace is broken, we’ll freeze – we have no fireplace or wood stove here, and we’re in the middle of a polar vortex until Sunday. What if it takes the repair guy a week to get here, what will we do?

I woke Dave up, poor Dave, and told him the furnace wasn’t working. He went downstairs, messed around a bit, came back and said we were going to have to call the landlord. I started putting on layers of clothing. He went back downstairs, did something else, came back up and said he thought it was working. A few minutes later, the heat came on. Hurrah!

He had also turned the thermostat up to 75 (I had changed it to 70 when I got up that day). The furnace has been running fine ever since, so we think it was just the thermostat being temperamental. But for the rest of the day, he was restless and nervous. It was snowing like crazy all day. It was beautiful and awe-inspiring, watching the snow blow and surround us. But Dave kept fretting about the fact that he wanted more gasoline in case we needed it for the generator – what if the electricity went out? – and the bird seed was low, just a handful. The birds were depending on us, how could we let them down?

At 4:00 we had a little break in the snow and he wanted to drive to town for gasoline and bird seed. We ended up compromising – we have a wind chill warning until noon today (it’s -7 degrees as I write, with a wind chill of -29). Then we have a winter storm warning from 3 pm today until 4 pm tomorrow – more snow is coming in, with lots of blowing and drifting. We’re heading to town for supplies during that three hour window. Hopefully it will at least be one degree above zero – a heat wave, you know.

I find that weather like this brings out my maternal nature. “Wear gloves!” I admonish Dave when he leaves the house. “You’ll get frostbite!” When my daughter mentioned a trip to visit a friend, I texted her, “Wear a hat! Gloves! A scarf!” (I know she doesn’t listen to me. The thought of her heading out in a hoodie , no gloves or hat, and moccasins with no socks makes me cringe.)

As long as we don’t lose electricity and the furnace (or thermostat) keeps working, we’re doing just fine. Dave put out a seed feast for the birds this morning and I’m watching them right now – finches, chickadees, a red-headed woodpecker, lots of cardinals and blue jays, a tufted titmouse.

Dave and the Birds

Dave feeding the birds (on a warmer day than today)

I think, though, that a fireplace or wood stove has just been added to the mental list of things I’d like in the next house we buy.



Winter in Illinois

Dave and I both slept fitfully last night, and I think part of it had to do with the snowstorm.  It started snowing yesterday afternoon, right around the time my mom stopped by to visit, and continued snowing through the night.

When everything is covered in white, it seems to give off a glow, a light – the bedroom never really seems dark, you know?  I kept waking up, sure that it was almost dawn, and then I’d see that it was 2 am or whatever.

Once the cats rousted Dave out of bed around 6:30, I woke up too but stayed in bed to play around on my tablet.  About an hour later, Dave came in all dressed for the outdoors.  He did a few things and then left, and I followed him to see what the situation was like outside.  I watched from the guest room window as he stepped outside and started shoveling the steps.  He made it to the driveway, looked around, then slid the shovel across horizontally, stopping at the end to fling the snow onto the already-huge pile where the yard normally starts.

I could see then that the snow was really deep – it looked like a foot of snow from where I was watching, but Dave thinks it was more like 6 to 8 inches.  I knew it would go a lot faster with two people, so I bundled up and headed out to help him.

Usually if I ask Dave if he wants help shoveling, he’ll wave me off.  We had a snowstorm earlier this week, from New Year’s Eve through Jan. 2nd, that dropped a foot of snow.  He shoveled two or three times before he finally agreed to let me help him.  I had mentioned that it was good exercise and he said, “OH, I didn’t realize you wanted the exercise.”  I laughed and said, “Why else would I want to shovel snow?  It’s not like I enjoy it!”

Between the two of us, we got the driveway finished in about 15 minutes this morning.  (A neighbor had already done the sidewalks with a snow blower.)  The snow, however, hasn’t let up.  Right now you can’t even tell that we shoveled.  I told Dave we can either shovel again in a couple hours, around 4 pm, or wait until Wednesday.  Tomorrow our high temperature is going to be -13F, and Tuesday it’s going to be zero.  We have nowhere we need to be, and I’m not about to get out in that kind of weather and shovel.  The temperature is dropping now; it was 18 when we shoveled this morning, and it’s about 8 degrees right now.

After our winter storm warning ends at 6 pm today, a wind chill warning kicks in from then until noon on Tuesday.  Tonight we could have wind chills as low as 50 below zero.

We did our grocery shopping yesterday morning so we wouldn’t need to venture out in the weather.  When we went, around 9 am, the stores weren’t very busy.  I saw pictures later that day on Facebook with people waiting in long lines in various local stores; it was even on the news.  It seems excessive to me; we didn’t go out to ‘stock up,’ just to get our usual week’s worth of groceries.  Why would you need to stock up for two or three days of nasty weather?

Our feral cat visitor, the one we call Goldie, has kept me worried for days.  The cold weather worries me more than the snow, really.  We have a house set up for her under the smaller lower deck (both decks are enclosed) but Dave discovered that she’s been sleeping under the bigger deck, which is attached on one side to our house.  (He thinks maybe she’s getting some extra warmth from the side where the house is.)  So he built a second little cat house and put it under there today, along with a heat light bulb that we used to use for the hedgehog.  I’m not sure the light bulb will do much or survive the cold temperatures itself (I’m hoping it doesn’t burn out right away) but Dave reassured me that it wouldn’t burn the deck down.  (!)

Ideally she would just come into our house; she eats right outside the patio door and we’ve opened the door numerous times to see if she’ll be brave enough to enter.  She did step inside a couple times, onto the mat by the door – just enough to look around a bit and then scamper back outside.  Usually she runs off if we open the door, though.  I hope she survives the next couple of days, poor little thing.  We’re doing everything we can for her (food, water, outdoor shelter) but I still feel like it’s not enough.

I’m kind of enjoying the Christmas decorations with all this snow as a backdrop, but they are coming down tomorrow.  (Sigh.)  I did my annual changing of the calendar on New Year’s Eve, where I use the old calendar to write in all the birthdays, etc. on the new one.  It never fails to entertain me, looking back at all the things that happened over the year.  Hopefully this year’s calendar will have less medical entries and more fun ones!

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