Chicago Winters

"Texas, huh? How are you liking our winters?"

It's hard to explain that, because of global climate change, Chicago winters have apparently been "mild this year" for years. That, yes, the cold is harsh to me but not much different from the Texas winters of my youth. That the temperatures don't drop lower than they did in Texas, they just drop low for longer. That the "mild" Texas winters they hear about have days that cycle from the 30s to the 50s to the 70s and back again, making my own internal heating system fluctuate wildly -- that those mild Texas winters may average out to 50s, but an average mean isn't a mode.

How do I explain that, because of how houses are built in the north (to hold heat) versus how houses are built in the south (to dissipate heat) we're actually warmer at home in Chicago than we ever were at home in Texas. That weatherproofing was put into this house, which has stood since the 1920s, and that the newly built house my (then) husband bought in Texas wasn't made nearly so well. When we put our hands near the windows and doors, there's no piercing draft, no need to tape blankets to the walls every winter.

When it snowed in Texas, we would be house-bound sometimes for days, often unable to access groceries or healthcare or even emergency services. When it snows here in Chicago, the streets are cleared quickly, often on the same day. We had been warned to buy snow shovels and prepare to shovel our sidewalks -- or to hire someone to do it, which we worried about as a "disability tax" we might struggle to pay. But we haven't shoveled a single snowflake; our neighbors on both sides generously rush to take care of the sidewalks, reassuring us that they like how the work keeps them warm and makes them feel helpful.

Sometimes we try to explain the differences in infrastructure. The confusion on our realtor's face when we asked him if he had an electric company "to recommend" to us; there is only one electric provider here while Texas has hundreds, all with different gimmicks designed to part you and your money without adding value. We tell them about the Texas power grid, how it is separate from the rest of the country and held together by glue and string. We explain how often the power would go out, compared to up here where the electricity has only gone out once in two years, and then only for about five minutes. About the year we lost power for days because of a snow storm and our neighbor who had to charge his oxygen tank with a car charger.

There's a difference in community here, in the attitude towards cold weather. Everywhere has coat racks, so you have a place to hang your jacket without having to wrestle with it. People warn syou about the weather, ask you if you're ready for it, and are happy to give tips. The city pushes warnings to our cellphone weather app, telling us when there will be ice on the roads and to be careful. When our street flooded in July, people came out -- city personnel and volunteers alike -- to tell us how to apply for FEMA relief and offering to help fill out the aid form. The city puts up helping weekly articles on the website for ways to qualify for relief; we didn't have anything like that in Texas. We've never waited more than ten minutes at the DMV up here, and getting our handicap plates was a million times easier than it was in Texas. Registering to vote by mail was a breeze. These things don't relate directly to the winters, but at the same time... it does. Having access to handicap parking means I have less icy ground to walk, and I'm less likely to fall and hit my head like I did that one time in the Michael's parking lot in Texas.

How do we like the winters? Better than in Texas, actually. It's colder, sure, but there are shields in place against the cold. Useful city warnings, a helpful community, swift public repairs, consistent utilities, and even buildings that have been built with the cold in mind: insulation in the walls, sealant around the windows, placement of buildings and out-buildings to block wind and shelter inhabitants. An accountant we met in our dentist's office told me he envied us for our life in Texas, for not having state income tax; I asked him if he likes having electricity in the winter during-and-after snowstorms, and he was shocked.

We told him, too, about the lack of public transportation and lack of de-icing services. How, after every snow or freeze -- no matter how mild or severe -- we would drive to work and pass three or four or five wrecks by the side of the road, casualties of the bad weather. How there are almost no buses, no elevated train, and whole roads that simply aren't cleared until the snow melts off on its own. He hadn't considered that these things he takes for granted because they've always been here for him might not be. Not that I blame him. It's been an adjustment for us too.

We don't exactly "like" the winters. But we like them a lot more than we expected.

Open Thread: February Hunger Moon

There are a lot of names for the monthly moons. As a Wiccan practitioner, my favorite name for the February full moon is the Hunger Moon. What's yours?

Open Threads are for socializing and sharing! What have you been reading / writing / listening / playing / watching lately? Shamelessly self-promote or boost the signal on something you think we should know about.