After all, Christmas is over, the Bears lost to the Packers, and it's really too early to start worrying about the Cubs yet. So the dramatic blast of extra-cold, super-snowy winter weather that threatened to turn us into popsicles earlier this week provided a handy conversational topic for all of us, not to mention just about every newscaster and weather forecaster on the tube.
Suddenly, downright scary phrases like "dangerous temperatures," "life threatening wind chills" and "historic cold" entered our vocabulary, along with an ominous new term that I--for one--had never heard before.
The Polar Vortex.
“It’s not really a phrase I like," said Todd Heitkamp, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service out in always-chilly Sioux Falls Falls, South Dakota. "It makes it sound a lot worse than what it actually is."
Well, Mr. Heitkamp, we didn't make it up. You guys did. And if you can think of something much worse than minus-40 wind chills, let me know.
I, for one, knew it was unusually cold when Max, the devil-may-care cat took one sniff of the frigid backyard air and turned tail towards the litter box we keep in the basement in case of emergencies. Ordinarily, Max makes it outdoors in any kind of weather, preferring his toilet to be private and unremarked on, while enjoying a lordly spin around his domain. LIkewise, fur-ball Annie, for whom we are currently dog-sitting, had to be bundled into one of her ensemble of fashionable dog coats, then force-marched outdoors in search of a spot out of the wind and a shallow patch of snow.
The temperatures in much of our usually comfortable home seemed more like what folks encountered before the discovery of central heating. Heck, at times, it felt like it was like living there before the discovery of fire, even. But happily, heat rises and steam travels, so our upstairs bedroom and the small sitting room next to it stayed almost sauna-like throughout the cold snap, a happy bit of circumstance for my skinny, easily chilled body, though it did seem a bit crowded when the two of us, plus the cat and dog, huddled under the same blanket.
We had travel plans on Sunday, with an important scan scheduled for me in Chicago on Monday that would tell us whether the current round of chemotherapy I'm undergoing is doing more than making me bald and queazy. But the combination of road conditions and extreme temperatures scared us off. We considered taking the train on Monday morning, but luckily decided to skip the whole thing, a decision that turned out to be brilliant when we heard about the Amtrak trains stranded between Kewanee and Chi-town.
"That could have been us," she said.
I'm glad it wasn't.
Instead, like most people, we hunkered down.
She made beef stew and biscuits. We watched the birds crowding around our feeders. I ventured out to start the car once in awhile, and we hauled the trash cans to the street in a desperate maneuver that seemed more like Admiral Peary's trek to the North Pole than a once-a-week household chore.
But mostly, we stayed in, caught up on our reading and enjoyed the happy phenomenon that allows us to enjoy long periods of time together.
Meanwhile, there are only 162 days until summer. Then we can start talking about the heat.