the rickety furnaces i depend on

Posted by on February 7, 2007

bedroom window in winter

When the temperatures stay this low, for this long, I think about the planet as a dangerous place. I think about the homeless, or just people who live in drafty houses. I think about the fact that anyone exposed could actually die or lose limbs in these temperatures.

Our church is an hour drive from us, in Chesterton, and going actually seemed kind of risky this past Sunday. I mean, our car is reliable, but it still felt like a flimsy separation between us and the howling desert of ice that we drove through just to show up (very late) to liturgy. At coffee hour I was recruited to a table of women– all mothers of various ages– including the priest’s very sweet wife. She uncerimoniously pinched my wrist and informed Esme that her mother “did not eat enough calories.” What? Firstly, I must say that I in fact pig out. Lately I have been eating no less than four tofutti cuties per day, for example. Secondly, my wrist is not the place to pinch if you are going to measure the percentage of my body fat unless you want to get a false reading. Nevertheless, the discussion about how to eat nourishing foods while breastfeeding made me quietly recommit to a high calorie breakfast, so this morning I woke up and made buckwheat pancakes and baked pears with cinnamon.

I was lying awake thinking of these things and also of a story my grandfather told me about WWII. He was stationed in the Aleutian Islands (Alaska), where he said that the temps were so low that they had to read the thermometer from a distance, with binoculars, to get a true reading. If a man approached the mercury too closely, his body heat would cause it to rise.

I don’t know how cold it would have to get to create such a phenomenon, but it was negative five degrees when Jeff left for school the other day.

I started taking vitamin D to keep seasonal affective disorder at bay, and it seems to work. I have energy to accomplish things around the apartment and don’t get plowed under the frost and shadow, taking Esme with me. Our social calendar is also pretty full this month, which helps tremendously. I have a girl’s game night, dinner with friends, a folk festival at the University of Chicago, and another meeting with some friends in Indianapolis all lined up. Oh, and some friends volunteered to babysit Esme so that Jeff and I can go out on Valentine’s Day. Knowing that all of these things are coming up really helps keep me from my usual post-holiday gloominess.

But all of it feels like a room full of rickety furnaces against the cold outside. I’m frantically tending them, stoking them. What if one of those furnaces were to falter and give out? My computer died, and it’s usually one of my surest life lines against isolation and stagnation at home. I can feel the draft blowing from the particular corner. I’m spoiled, for sure. How did people survive winters in decades past? I know my brother-in-law from Wisconsin says they all got together at people’s houses, all the time, to play games and watch the Packers. If you can’t do that, I imagine the whole thing turning into a nonfiction version of Ethan Frome.

  1. Ser
    February 11, 2007

    Hello Julia,

    I have been a lurker on your blog for some time. I am good friends with Jenny Schroedel, and so began reading your blog on her advice. I love your writing, and so relate to this post. Isn’t it scary to realize how fragile we are in weather like this? And this is oh-so-much more noticeable when we have children. And yet depend upon these rickety furnaces we must.

    Take care,

  2. Jenny
    February 11, 2007

    First of all–I love this post. I hate to say it again, but there are few words other than pure gushing love to express what I feel when I read your blog.

    Please note, however, that this voyeur has discovered that Julia, Jeff and Esme (of famed appearance on this blog) are apparently headed to UC for the folk festival. You are welcome to crash here, if you’d like. We’ve just purchased a bed roll, and I think we could make you pretty comfy.

    Mainly, though, Natalie is just BEGGING to meet Esme, so please do stop by, even if you can’t stay.


  3. Lucy
    February 11, 2007

    hurrah! you’re blogging even if your computer doesn’t turn on! my rickety furnace has been going out too (oh applecare oh applecare!). And tofutti cuties help and pass the nostalgia lenten tests. I realize this post is mostly nonsense.

  4. Julia
    February 12, 2007

    Hi Jenny,
    Thanks as always for your compliments on my blog. It means a lot comin’ from you.

    My friend who was organizing the folk festival trip (to remain un-named so as to not embarrass) got the date wrong so we all missed it. Ah well. I’ll just have to invade your mat some other night. I’m glad to know it’s there for us!

  5. Molly Sabourin
    February 17, 2007

    Hi Julia,

    How fun to run into Jenny and Ser here! I love it when the paths of friends cross over. Your truest fan, Ms. Schroedel, has also sent me to your blog for a visit and I was not disappointed. You are a beautiful writer – quietly poignant, provoking thoughts long after the words have been read and digested. I look forward to reading more.


    Molly (from Church, with all those crazy kids)