Monday, November 08, 2010

kicking in to survival mode

The weather has been getting progressively colder here, in Northern Virginia.


Last week, Charlie flew out to California for a business trip and while he was there, he rented a convertible mustang for a few days. When he returned, early Saturday morning, he had a deep tan and a slightly sunburned nose. Meanwhile, there was frost on our windows and I was wearing a wool sweater and a pair of mittens.

IN the house.


Yes, the heat was on, but not too high, because after setting the thermostat at 70 for much of last week, my hands were so dry, they were cracked and bleeding.

Although we've both lived in colder climates, we've been in California so long that our blood has really thinned. Or at least mine has. William is affected by the cold, as is Elizabeth. Carolyn and Henry think nothing of it and would traipse outside in shorts and t-shirts if we let them.


This past weekend, we bundled up in scarves and hats and gloves and went for a hike in the woods behind our house. Ten minutes in to it, I looked over to see that Henry was wading up to his thighs in the creek. What? HOW? How is it possible that my genetic structure that has an extreme intolerance for discomfort skipped clear over that child?


Here it is, the second week of November, and I'm questioning how I will survive winter which hasn't yet arrived.


Charlie and I had a discussion the other day, when we woke up and the outside temperature was in the low 30's. Actually, it wasn't as much of a discussion as it was a panic session. We talked about contingency plans and emergency supplies. What if we lost power and couldn't heat the house? We definitely need to have a sufficient amount of wood on hand to burn. We need candles! and blankets! and water!


We need dried food and canned food, we need batteries and a hand held radio, we need matches and ... and ... and maybe a generator? Charlie will need to learn how to bow hunt between now and the first snowfall. And then he'll need to learn how to skin a deer so we'll have protein.

Huh. Or, maybe we'll just have a surplus of beans and rice?

As we spoke, I had visions of being trapped in the house for days on end. I imagined wrapping our children in every blanket we own in an effort to keep them warm. I told Charlie that maybe he should consider growing a beard to protect his face, and I'll stop shaving my legs.


Good heavens, in California, we've been through magnitude 7 earthquakes and our neighborhood was evacuated TWICE for wildfires. And yet, we were never as genuinely concerned there for our survival as we've been here. You'd think we were living in a grass hut on the tundra, as opposed to a brick house in the mid-Atlantic that has a durable roof and is fairly well insulated.

In the midst of going totally primal, I've really enjoyed the foliage. Each time I go out, I take my camera and am often snapping off pictures. I've still got California plates on my car, so I'm sure that people think I'm a total nut leaning out the driver side window with my zoom lens.


I'm really a very good driver.

It just looks like I'm on the wrong side of the road.


And here? Well, the sign is upside down. Definitely not me.


The leaves, which were green just a short while ago, are bursting with color before our eyes.


I've seen foliage before, but I've never felt the gobsmacked awe that I do now. There's no doubt, the millions and millions of small leaves each have their own little secret about what magnificent color they will turn in to, as the landscape transforms in to something more beautiful than a picture. Just driving to work, it feels like I'm in the middle of an art masterpiece.


I'm so glad I could take in all this splendor before my eyes froze shut.


  1. Oh you crack me up, I to am glad you got to witness this before your eyes froze shut, lol. Have you talked to your neighbors to see how often (if at all) your neighborhood loses power? We have a generator along with a wood stove and plenty of wood. We are prepared but luckily we live in an area that rarely loses power. But thanks for the reminder to locate my candles and purchase some gallons of water, just in case.
    Your pics are gorgeous, as my grandson (2.5)and I were walking a couple of weeks ago, he saw the leaves on the ground and exclaimed "Nana look at all the pretty flowers". So enjoy all your "blooms". Oh how I love fall:)

  2. I remember losing power many times growing up - due to ice storms and my mom could always cook for us because she always had a gas stove. That's why I have a gas stove - so that I can cook during power outages in the winter. We also have a couple of old fashioned corded phones because they don't die during a power outage (usually).
    During out last ice storm we were without power for about 8 hours. We lit the fireplace in our living room and hung quilts in both doorways to contain the heat - and of course bundled up. Many people have generators so they can run space heaters, etc.

    For your dry, cracked, bleeding hands, I highly recommend the Mary Kay Satin Hands set. It really helps. I'm sure there are lots of similar items out there if you can't find the Mary Kay.

    Winters can be brutal but snow days are also fun and cozy. Wait until your kids get to go sledding!!!

  3. O M G !!! Leaves change color? Miss you guys!!! :(

  4. Beautiful, beautiful. I envy you the autumn leaves! Thanks for sharing them with us.


  5. Wow. Those pics are absolutely stunning!!

  6. The Spring and the Fall here still never cease to amaze me - even 13 years in. We just didn't have this profusion of color in Texas. It was always green and then brown.

  7. Give it a year, you'll be acclimated! I recommend Bag Balm for the cracked hands btw. Works wonders.

  8. I live in Phiadelphia! Winters get COLD!!!! It would be wise to start buying those supplies now. It doesnt get AS cold in Virgina but it does get cold. Your children will love playing in the snow & building snowmen & snowball fights and you can forget snow angels. i hope you enjoy your first Fall and Winter on the east coast!!

  9. Um, yeah. You need a humdifier. A few, actually. One for large rooms on the first floor of your house, and either another one for large rooms on the second floor, or the regular room-sized ones in the bedrooms. you can't run the heat without a humidifier, you'll turn into a raisin and also electrocute yourself every time you walk across a rug. Don't invest in a whole-house humidifier. They're terrible.

  10. I am always cold too, I wear a lot of fleece in the winter and I layer underneath with silky type long underwear tops. Hang in there:)

  11. Really? The whole house humidifier isn't a good thing? We have one of those and just turned it on the other day. Why is it a bad thing?

    I must know more...

  12. Growing up in a huge 2 story, 5 bedroom house we had a whole house humidifier - It did the trick. Just had to keep it full! Gas stove, gas fire place and gas hot water heater are the only way to go! Fleece is best and I love my fleece lined jeans in the winter.
    Great to wear on a Saturday of errands or even on those days inside when I can't get warm - They always do the trick!

  13. BlackOrchid11/9/10, 9:29 AM

    The whole house humidifier helps, but not enough, unless you have radiators (old-style) you will want a humidifier of some kind in the bedrooms for the blown heat.

    What is your heat? Is it all-electric? Usually up here we will have electric WITH gas or oil heat? no?

    If it's all-electric, I would definitely get a backup gas-powered generator!

    Do you have a wood stove? Those are good for heating (and cooking!) during outages. WHICH DO HAPPEN! We have a LOT of power outages here in PA. I remember one ice storm when my cousin in Delaware had no power for over a week.

    This is the warm, pleasant time Jen! Are you kidding? What are you going to do when it's below zero every night for weeks? And there's a thick blanket of ice on your roof? Oh, you're going to LOVE that.

    Um . . . you need moisturizer, lip balms, the kids too. I use Aveeno and Kiehls for most everything. Has your chimney been swept? In an older house I would be sure of that, if you plan on using the fireplace. It's surprisingly common that people get fires in there if it's not clean.

    Good luck! lots of comforters and "sleepy socks" and you'll get through it! April is just around the corner, right?

  14. Black Orchid11/9/10, 9:37 AM

    Oh one more thing!

    stock UP on hats and mittens for the kids. I swear to God, I go thru ridiculous amts of them per season (they always lose them at school or on the bus)

    I already had to go to Target to replace the pairs I started THIS FALL with! it's crazy.

    I think they eat them at lunch.

  15. Isn't the riot of colors just gorgeous? I absolutely love the change of seasons we get here. Just when you can't bear the heat or the cold one more day, it starts to change. Lovely!

    I agree with the advice to check with your neighbors about power outages. We seldom lose power (even during those crazy two foot snows last winter) and we have never felt the need for a generator, leaf blower or anything else, and we've been here for 14 years (north of you, btw).

  16. I don't like whole house humidifiers either. I've had way better luck with smaller ones placed strategically throughout the house. Maybe its due to air circulation? The really thick lotion advertised for rough dry feet works really well on super dry hands ... other than that, my other absolutely must haves for Minnesota winters are haflinger slippers and smartwool.

  17. always a midwestern here... in wisconsin now for 20+ years. the change of seasons has always bothered me, especially the summer to fall to winter. can never get warmed up... by about jan it gets better. We have never lost power... so i wouldn't lose too much sleep over the possibilty. not saying you shouldn't be prepared, just don't lose sleep over it. if it happens, it happens and you make the best of it. I'd be more worried about my internet connection! lol.. hate being without my computer for very long

  18. I bet your children are amazed at all the colors too, there is nothing like fall in the Midwest, it's my favorite. Lucky for me I grew up here so I am used to it (although I could do without the below freezing temps). Hope you survive your first winter here, looking forward to hearing about and seeing the pictures of the kids building their first snowman:) Love geology chicks comment!! Gotta love California's wonderful temps but we have some pretty awesome stuff here too.

  19. I was always cold in our house (despite the huge gas bill); four years ago we invested in a pellet stove, which we put in our family room fireplace. And now we're toasty warm!

  20. Fall is my favorite season here in VA. Such a relief after the long hot sticky summer. I love your fall pics too. Gorgeous! You need Gold Bond Ultimate Healing Lotion for your hands, and always wear gloves when you're washing dishes or cleaning.

  21. For dry hands... stop using anti-bacterial soap and use regular soap instead. The anti-bacterial stuff dries my hands out very quickly - even when it is a moisturizing version.

    If you have forced air heat, you could put a ceramic pot on floor vents. You can also air dry clothes (sheets and jeans are good for adding moisture to the air). Anyone is coughing- get a room humidifier until the snot/cough is gone.

    Kathy (in MD)

  22. Well, you never know... last year we had snow up to our eyeballs in Nova! ;)

    And I am laughing because I think I know that exact stretch of road where it washes out when it rains. It used to be worse before they redid the road.

    I'm a teeny bit homesick when I read your posts now.


    it works wonderfully! but you do have to be careful.... and if anyone asks: you didn't get this idea from me

  24. as others have said- whole-house humidifiers aren't bad as in dangerous or evil, they're just bad as in worthless. they just don't do the trick. I don't know why they can't perfect them so they can keep the house moist/static-free but also not grow mold in all your ducts, but they just don't work. it's a pain in the butt to keep refilling multiple humidifiers, but it's really the only way to fly.

  25. Cuddl Duds.
    Not your grandmother's long underwear. As a matter of fact, I learned that the new term is, "base layer."

    Anyway, Cuddl Duds are silky smooth, don't make you look fat and get the job done!
    Check them out here, but buy them almost anywhere.

    (No, I don't work for them!)

  26. I have always wanted to be in Virginia when the leaves change. Your pictures are amazing. I can't imagine what it looks like in person!

  27. Moving from San Diego to...not San Diego...was quite an eye opener when we immediately had a big ice storm without power.

    Two years ago, we had a massive ice storm and I was out of power for 8 days, almost 9. EIGHT LONG DAYS. The first few days, you feel kind of pioneer like. It's almost cozy and fun! Piled under a bunch of blankets, reading by candle light, I felt like Abe Lincoln!

    Then by day 4 the fun had ended. I began calling the electric company regularly. By day 7, I was bawling into the phone, begging the electric company to save me from this icy hell. All of my houseplants froze to death, and my brain froze to death as well (haha). Anyway, all that to say that you can survive without power comfortably and cozily as long as you've got candles, some food that doesn't have to be heated, a grill to cook on outside, and a positive attitude. It really is kind of fun for the first few days. That 8 day thing was a fluke (that I may never recover from haha).

  28. Oh Wow. Beautiful!

    I hope you don't loose power because if your eyes freeze shut and you loose power; Henry will have run of that household and that's just not a good thought. ;-) Enjoy the beauty around you. Marg.

  29. Absolutely stunning photos. Having been born in San Francisco and lived my entire life in Northern CA I've never seen anything so spectacular.
    No wonder you feel like your driving to work in a painting.

    Perhaps long johns for all should go on your list.
    Silk insulates best, I know this from skiing.

    Good luck with the frozen eyes LOL

  30. Silk long underwear. Not silky, silk! It works. And a down vest. Invest in a cashmere cardigan too, they will keep you warm. Pretend you live in Minnesota and look at the Catalogs for Land's End etc where they tell you the warmth rating for coats and get one rated for really cold weather. Also keep a kettle on the stove for tea. There is a reason the Brits drink so much, the mugs keep your hands warm!

  31. Just catching up on your last few posts. We've had great success with Aprilair humidifiers for the whole house wired into our furnace. You can adjust the humidity level according to the outside temperature. We also have a room humidifier for when someone has a cold.

    We just moved into a new house without a humidifier and I'm shriveling up!