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Jan. 28 2010 - 5:15 pm | 200 views | 0 recommendations | 7 comments

A cold hater’s winter survival guide

Downtown Chicago in the winter

Downtown Chicago in the winter Image via Wikipedia

Another deep freeze is settling over Chicago this week. It seems like this winter will last forever – especially to a cold hater like me. You’d think I’d be able to handle the frigid temps and drifting snow; I had a very outdoorsy Michigan childhood. I skiied, I iceboated – I had my own snowmobile suit for god’s sake. But a few winters back I started breaking out in itchy hives whenever I went outside.

At first I thought it was a bad case of fleas, but a trip to the doctor  revealed I had a  cold allergy. Really. It’s an actual medical condition. Unfortunately, other than benedryl and long underwear, there’s no real cure.

So, while my North Shore neighbors make the best of the winter by building backyard skating rinks, hiking the icy shores of Lake Michigan,  playing paddle tennis, and even surfing - I survive the season by staying indoors as much as possible. For all my fellow cold haters out there, here’s my guide for making it through a long, freezing winter.

#1 – Stay Home

Why go out? With the wind chill and icy roads, it’s dangerous out there. Work from home, order your groceries through Peapod, build a fire and hunker down. Catch up with friends over the phone or video chat. If you  absolutely must leave the house,  put on a full length puffy coat and RUN to your next interior destination.

#2 – Dress hot

No need to worry about style since you’ll be home most of the time. Your winter wardrobe needs to deliver warmth and comfort. My favorite outfit is pull-on exercise pants (no zippers), a fleece sweatshirt, and my much beloved  Ugg sheepskin slippers (every member of my family has a pair.) This unisex ensemble doubles perfectly as pajamas which is great, because changing clothes is chilly. Optional accessory  - a colorful scarf.

#3 – Get your own blankie

Everyone deserves an amazing plush throw from Restoration Hardware. Mine is so luxuriously cozy,  I drag it around with me from room to room like a little kid. It comes in an variety of colors and is on sale right now for $39.00.

#4 – Learn something new

Now’s the time to refine your skills in an area you wouldn’t make time for in warmer months. Get a book on meditation, etiquette, handwriting analysis, or my pick, The Art of Conversation by Catherine Blyth. When you reconnect with friends in the Spring, you’ll dazzle them with your new accomplishments.

#5 – Watch old seasons of TV shows on dvd

And by this I mean:  watch Lost! I don’t know what desert island I’ve been on for the last five years, but now that I found Lost, I’m obsessed. My kids and I are gobbling up the first season on dvd. Without commercials we can watch two or three episodes a night. And hel-lo Josh Halloway.

#6 – Exercise at home

As much as I like to conserve my energy in the winter, a new study has found that too much sitting around is bad for your health. An exercise video is the perfect way to exercise without leaving home. I’ve been working out to Biggest Loser trainer Jillian Michael’s Banish Fat, Boost Metabolism dvd and i’m telling you – the workout kicks my butt. You can order it online for under $10, it’s easy to follow,  and you don’t need any equipment.

#7 – Experiment with beauty treatments

Long hours at home provide ample time for playing around with cosmetics. As I type, I’m deep conditioning my hair, whitening my teeth, and wearing a moisturizing face mask. My current appearance might frighten small children, but in the Spring I will emerge like a butterfly with silky locks, dazzling teeth and supple skin. (Not to mention my stimulating conversation skills.)

So, my fellow cold weather sufferers, thus concludes my personal tips for surviving a long, cold Chicago winter.  As an additional resource, I canvassed my North Shore Facebook friends for their ideas and have listed them below. You might note a theme.

Chris – Date a wine guy! (Chris is a wine guy)

Meg – Bake, and then eat what you bake along with a complementary warm drink. Homemade food is the balm for long cold winters!

Kristen – Guiness!

Joe – Get outside. Bundle up and learn how to ice skate, paddle tennis, cross country skiing,etc. The learn to make and love hot toddies and hearty soups. Enjoy it instead of being miserable about it. (Obviously, Joe does not suffer from my cold allergy.)

Debbie -Read, clean closets and discover the artistic side of yourself.

Bruce – ditto Kristin on the Guiness

Randy – When you’re really cold, make a fire in the fireplace and sit as close as you can. Heats up every part of your body. Everything else can’t be posted here :)

Caryn –  Take some time to ponder. Busy isn’t always the answer.

If you have any tips of your own, please share them here in the comments section. Stay warm!


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  1. collapse expand

    These are fun.

    I’d add, take lots of photos on days that are less miserable. The world looks very different in winter, and in snow.

    Tea! Buy yourself a lovely teapot, real loose-leaf tea, and a beautiful cup and saucer. At 4:30 every winter afternoon, as the light is fading, make a big pot of tea and settle down for at least 20 minutes of silence and sipping. Tea is NOT a nasty little bag and a cup of lukewarm water. Try teas you’ve never heard of, like Lapsang Souchong, which is like licking the deck of an 18th century schooner. (tarry, smoky.)

    Cuddle! Kids, pets, sweetie. Body warmth is good.

    Massages will help to loosen tight muscles; I find I tense up after weeks or months of daily cold.

    Cashmere, baby! Anything soft against your skin (hat,gloves, scarves, socks, sweater — or all of these.) You can find fab cashmere sweaters at many thrift or consignment shops for a fraction of new stuff.

  2. collapse expand

    The cold allergy sounds like an awful inconvenience. I love getting out in the cold for hiking, skating and XC skiing, but if you can’t do it, here’s a few things to do indoors:

    1. Head to a steam bath or sauna for a good sweat. It will loosen up the dry skin and take away some of the itching.

    2. I agree with the idea of baking and making stews. Get good at it now and you can do it more easily and quickly when you need something fast during busier months.

    3. Throw a Mardi Gras party full of spicy foods and Dixieland music. It’s cheaper than a trip down to New Orleans, and fewer people will throw up on you (individual results, of course, may vary).

    4. Watch the Winter Olympics on TV and imagine what it’s like to be Apolo Ohno or Lindsey Vonn. Then be content to realize that you’ll need to be content at this age to merely keep your footing on ict sidewalks.

  3. collapse expand

    James,
    My whole family has been complaining of itchy dry skin. The sauna/steam is good for congestion too. Ah, winter!

  4. collapse expand

    Forgot to add, use lots and lost of moisturizer — people forget how dehydrating winter winds are. And facial moisturizer with lots of SPF, even on cloudy days.

    On the very bitterest of days, like today in NY, you also know — or learn quickly — to avoid wearing exposed metal earrings/adornments as they conduct cold. Ouch.

  5. collapse expand

    My favorite winter things:

    Hockey. Watching lots and lots of hockey. NHL, college, and this year, olympics.

    Home Improvements. As we speak, the kitchen is getting a desperately needed update (on the cheap, with paint, drawer pulls, etc.) I’m hoping it will be complete before my Super Bowl Party, which, James will be pleased to know, is New Orleans themed in honor of the Saints. Cafe du Monde coffee is on it’s way as I type this and I’m debating whether or not I should make mufalettas (sp?) or have the Central Market FedEx them to me? Although I do expect that at least one of my friends will puke. If not, I’m sure one of the cats will after they attack the pot of jambalaya when nobody’s looking.

    Winter hikes are awesome. The world does look different, sharper somehow, in the winter light with a coating of snow and frost. However, I draw the line at 20 degrees. If it dips below that, I’m not leaving my bed. This girl has her limits.

  6. collapse expand

    Jody, your Superbowl party sounds great – except for the puke part. It’s not getting over 20 degrees here today. I’ve had to go out many times to drive my kids to school & hubby to O’Hare and my car thermometer read 6 degrees at 5:40am, 10 degrees at 8am, and 12 degrees at 10am. I deserve a nap.

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    About Me

    I'm a 40-something mother, wife and writer who took a long unexpected gig as a stay-at-home mom in the Chicago suburbs which, to my surprise, I liked. In addition to spending quality time with my two kids, staying home gave me time to hang out on the North Shore, act in community theatre, sing in a band, host a local-access cable TV show and go back to school. Now I'm relaunching my career as a writer. I have another blog about life after 40, and am a regular contributor to local magazines and newspapers. I look forward to bringing stories from my neighborhood to yours.

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