As I think I've mentioned a few gazillion times before, the big old house we live in is kind of hard to heat. We've tried over the years to make it a little more energy efficient by adding insulation and updated windows, but in the long run, high ceilings, a lot of big windows and, for that matter, a lot of square footage, means it's a challenge to stay warm without a fair amount of cold cash.
But it's not just the money.
Most of the time, it's just the two of us, so it has seemed sort of irresponsible to heat an entire house when we do most of our day-to-day living in about three or four rooms. In an effort to be more thrifty and responsible, I vowed that this would be the year we would turn the thermostat down, down, down and silence--at least some of the time--the steam boiler that rumbles, rattles and roars in our basement..
But my fear was that instead of living green and reducing the size of our carbon footprint, the dominate color would be blue--with cold--like the friend of mine who spent a recent winter rambling around his own hard-to-heat barn clothed in stocking cap, muffler, winter coat and half-gloves that allowed him to glumly turn the pages of his book while wondering if he was, indeed, seeing his breath in the frosty confines of his sitting room.
One of our main living areas is the kitchen, which has no radiator at all, based on the theory, I guess, that it would be heated by the oven as it baked the made-from-scratch goodies that we seldom get around to making. For the past fews years, it's been warmed up from freezing to just kinda cold by one of those electric radiators, which works well enough to keep the sink from freezing, though the wall-mounted microwave oven sometimes needs to be warmed and coaxed into life by briefly turning on the gas range below. We like our bedroom cold, so that's no problem, except when convincing oneself to crawl out from beneath the covers in the cold dawn light to make coffee and let in the clamoring cat. The room that really needed help is in the back of our house. It actually used to be a separate apartment, converted from a semi-attached garage by my grandfather during the great depression in an effort to make a little extra money and save the house from foreclosure; an effort, I might add, that failed, as he lost both his home and his business during those hard times. When we bought the house in the 80's, that area became an office of sorts, until I was crowded out by my sons who turned it into a kind of "no-mom's-land" where they hung out with their friends, watched TV, played video games and music, and otherwise declared a state of semi-, but not total, independence from us, their parents. Now that we're a two-person-and-one-cat family, we've settled back into the area, which features surrounding banks of windows, its own bathroom, and even a small kitchen and refrigerator.
But it's cold back there, located, as it is, at the very end of the line, heat-wise.
Or at least it was, until I purchased and installed an electric space heater. But not just any space heater. This one is modeled after a small wood stove, complete with black enamel finish and faux log and flames.
I have been delighted by the look and feel of the thing as its fake fire merrily flickers and it pushes out enough heat to turn a real-chilly room into a kinda-cozy den.
But that's just one room.
The rest of the place is still pretty chilly, requiring a mode of dress that is often somewhat, er, polar.
Warm socks and extra sweaters do the trick most of the time, but it is in morning that our true cold weather fashion statements come to life. I usually go with a layered outfit that includes pajama pants, sweatshirt, heavy socks and the kind of grizzled flannel robe usually worn by someone's grubby great-uncle who hasn't left home since 1959. She, on the other hand, has been known to sport an ensemble that can, on certain special days, feature a red fuzzy robe and a candy-striped nightgown that do an fine job of setting off her dazzling leopard-spotted slippers.
It makes for an interesting husband-wife set of dynamics when the doorbell rings and we're left to squabble over who will startle the UPS man or an unsuspecting neighbor.
Me: "I think it's your turn."
She: "In your dreams, pajama-boy."
When the Christmas holidays rolled around, I gratefully abandoned my cold-house commitment and cranked up the heat for our kids and beloved grandchildren.
For a few days, it was like Christmas in Aruba or some other warm-weather spot.
The radiators hissed and heated. I no longer had to start every day with a search for wool socks and long underwear. All was well. All was warm.
Then they left.
Driven by my own silly conscience and the promise I had made to myself, I turned the thermostat way, way, way down again.
The boiler fell silent. The radiators were, once again, cold to the touch.
"I miss them," she said on the day after the kids and grandkids left.
I do, too.
I miss the joy of family on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning.
I miss late-night chats with grown-up children and early morning breakfasts with the younger set.
I miss the fun. I miss the laughter.
And I miss the warmth.
In more ways than one.