Frigophobia

It’s been cold in New Orleans lately. The last two nights we’ve had freeze warnings. I don’t think it actually froze, though.

Fortunately the new insulation under our house seems to be making a huge difference in terms of our general comfort level. The energy savings remain to be seen.

I still find cold weather a challenge. My body seems to be deeply offended by any temperature below 70ºF. I’m not really comfortable until we hit 75 or 80º. It looks like we’ll get close to such temperatures again in a couple days, but right now it’s just hitting 40º and it was much colder on the morning bike ride — especially factoring the wind.

When venturing out in the morning, I gird myself my remembering that a) I come from hardy Norwegian stock, and b) I lived for a year by the arctic circle. I even have a photo to prove the latter.

Polcirkeln

It doesn’t look too arctic in that picture, but it was taken in August.

But back to cold mornings here and now: I bundle Persephone up thoroughly, with coat, hood, mittens and a scarf over her face to protect her tender cheeks from windburn. She’s only got a few minutes on the bike, though; I have a longer ride after dropping her off. It’s really not too bad until I turn off Jeff Davis onto Drexel Drive. That’s always the windiest part of my ride. Not sure why. Maybe the Washington Avenue Canal has something to do with it.

And yet I really don’t mind a cold and windy bike ride. It’s a brief ordeal. I dress appropriately, and I get through it. I’m active and moving the whole time.

No, it’s the sedentary parts of my day that are more of a challenge. When I get into my office my body temperature is usually elevated from the exertion, such that I can’t tell how cold it really is. This morning the thermometer told me it was 61º in here. After an hour or so, my body temperature subsides to its normal level and I really start feeling the cold in my fingers.

I’ve never understood why I have a tendency to sweat when I’m cold, but it certainly adds to the general unpleasantness. Some basic net searches turn up plenty of info about people who sweat in all climates, but that’s not me. I don’t sweat excessively in the heat. It’s only in cold weather that this bothers me, in particular when my feet sweat. Anyone with cold, wet feet is truly miserable. My fingers are cold to the bone. No, I don’t have Raynaud’s. They are just uncomfortably cold, not discolored or painful. And my palms are sweating. What the hell is going on?

When I mentioned this to my podiatrist last week, he made a remark about it being a “sympathetic reaction.” That phrase led me to this:

Also sweating responds to your emotional state. So when you are nervous, anxious or afraid, there is an increase in sympathetic nerve activity in your body as well as an increase in epinephrine secretion from your adrenal gland. These substances act on your sweat glands, particularly those on your palms of your hand and your armpits, to make sweat. Thus, you feel a “cold” sweat.

This would seem to bear out a long-held suspicion of mine — that I’m sweating because of anxiety about the cold. In other words, it’s psychological.

In fact, the name of my second, abortive blogging attempt from way back in April 2003 (a good year before I started this one) says it all: Frigophobia.

The universe is basically a cold place. Heat is a mysterious aberration. No one really knows where it came from, but we’re pretty sure that it is slowly going away. The universe is cooling, and in time it will chill out completely.

This morning it was around 60º F when I left the house. I was wearing a light sweater, a shirt, and an undershirt. After a ten minute bike ride to get to work, my hands were still like ice.

The air conditioning is out of control in my office. It’s so cold we all have to wear sweaters. We all run space heaters in our offices to offset the air conditioning, which cannot be turned off or adjusted by us directly.

I’ve been reading about Raynaud’s Phenomenon and Raynaud’s Disease. Many people have suggested that I might suffer from this, but years ago a doctor told me I didn’t. I’m inclined to trust her diagnosis. The coldness of my hands and feet does not come in the form of attacks. My fingers do not discolor. I do not experience pain.

I don’t have Raynaud’s. I just have cold hands.

My hands are cold. My feet are also cold, sometimes colder than my hands, sometimes warmer. The rest of me is fine.

I used to worry about my “core temperature” dropping. But it is very unlikely that my core temperature has anything to do with it. Indeed, the ability of the human body to maintain the same basic core temperature for many decades is a marvel. I’m not going to freeze solid and die anytime soon.

Two concerns dominate the thoughts of one who fears cold, besides the obvious factor of temperature; these twin concerns are: Moisture and Insulation.

Nothing is eternal. Even the idea of eternity is a fraud. Time is only temporary. The universe is ending, slowly, dying the Cold Death.

Calling it a phobia is probably overly dramatic. But it seems possible that my sweating is caused by anxiety. I wonder where that came from? What’s the root of this anxiety? Perhaps that year up by the Arctic Circle has something to do with it. It was a fairly grim time in my life. In any event, I wonder if I could overcome the anxiety and be more comfortable. It seems plausible but I’m not sure where to start.

Cold Front

Another cold front passed through our area this weekend. On Saturday it was unseasonably warm, on Sunday unseasonably cold, and all day long Sunday I felt out of sorts — not quite right — like my body was out of tune. Nothing severe, but a tiny headache, a touch of fatigue, a slightly upset stomach, general irritability and uneasiness. It adds up.

I found reference to this in an article by Jon Wright.

Perhaps the most stressful weather condition is the passing of cold and warm fronts. A cold front coming through your “neck of the woods” means more than just a drop in temperature. It also means complex changes in the barometric pressure, wind direction, humidity, and even pollutants that may be carried into a forecast area. All of these changes affect our bodies, our endocrine systems, our nervous systems, and our cardiovascular systems.

I do not like cold fronts. I generally don’t enjoy cold weather, period, but as noted above the passing of a cold front entails so much more than that. I swear I feel the drop in pressure deep inside my gut. I’m wondering what I can do to offset these feelings when the next one comes through. Do I need to stock up on calcium, phosphates, sodium, magnesium? Should I regulate my blood-sugar? I wonder if my hypothalamus and pituitary gland are out of whack, and if so what I can do to promote their function.

At least this was a dry front. I really don’t enjoy those cold fronts that drive storms before them. I would like to learn to relish such events instead of dreading them.

Meanwhile we are bracing for the coldest weather of the season so far overnight. We might even see some frost. We’ll be putting our new insulation to the test. I think I noticed a big improvement this morning, in terms of the air temperature underfoot. But the morning bike ride was tough.

Back to School

Instead of strengthening into a named storm, Tropical Depression #5 petered out and dissipated into nothing but a bunch of rainy weather. If it had played out differently, school might have been cancelled, but as it was today was the first day of classes at Xy’s new school.

Back to School

Yes, she’s teaching again, as I mentioned a couple months ago. Since then I’ve been joking that she needs to plan on working there for at least ten years. But it’s not really a joke; I hope she finds a measure of satisfaction and (dare I say it) peace in this position.

As long as I’m wishing, I’ll extend that to all teachers everywhere.

Some schools did indeed close today, including Persephone’s new daycare, a fact which I did not discover until I got there and found the place locked up and deserted. But “Dada’s school” is open so it’s an impromptu “Take Your Daughter to Work” day for me. It’s pretty quiet here, as summer sessions are over and the fall semester has not yet begun.

Better Safe

I woke around dawn to the sound of heavy downpouring rain. After it kept up for a while, I reluctantly dragged myself out of bed, put on a pair of boxers, some sandals, and a baseball hat, and ran out to move the car up to the driveway. Xy tried to tell me it wasn’t necessary, but I’ve learned my lesson from last time. Of course, when I got back into bed, the rain seemed to taper off significantly, but hey — better safe than sorry, right?

Three or four hours later, when I went out the front door on my way to work, I discovered a huge tree limb had broken off the neighbor’s tree, a live oak, and landed in the street. This was no mere twig. It was massive enough to do serious damage. And it was in the exact spot where our car had been.

Thawing Out

There was a little frost outside this morning, but our cold snap seems to be coming to an end. The morning bike ride was chilly but not bone-chilling. It looks as though we won’t see freezing temperatures for the rest of the week. Hopefully the rest of the season! Personally I’d be happy if I never experienced anything below 50ºF for the rest of my life. That’s plenty cold enough for me.

Xy left some overripe pomegranate on the deck for the birds to eat. I was taken with the image of the red fruit covered with white frost.

Frosted Pomegranate

As Casey pointed out, this is “chock full o’ meaning re: the Persephone myth!” Which is oh-so-true. Can’t believe I didn’t recognize that myself.

Speaking of the goddess, we were exploring the back yard yesterday and made a fun discovery. Some water had pooled on a tarp and remained frozen in a large sheet. That allowed me to take this photo, which I call “Toddler Encased in a Block of Ice!”

Toddler Encased in a Block of Ice! [crop]

Alas it seems that a lot of our plants have probably not survived. I brought in some of the smaller potted plants, but we did not cover any of the bushes and trees small trees, and it’s looking like we should have. The house came so nicely landscaped too. I guess we just haven’t been there long enough to be thoroughly familiar with the grounds and their upkeep. We also had a fish die; not sure if that was related to the cold or not. The flora and fauna generally falls under Xy’s purview, and she’d been pretty much out of commission ever since our trip out west. Hopefully she will feel better soon.

My Big Chill

By strange coincidence, I found myself watching The Big Chill Friday night. It’s one of those super-famous movies that I’ve just somehow never seen.

Alas, when the flick was over and I turned in for the evening, I neglected to leave a trickle of water running, as I’d done Thursday night. This, despite the fact I knew we were still under a hard freeze warning, with potential record-breaking lows on the way. Sheer stupidity.

See, here in New Orleans many houses have pipes on the outside, exposed to the elements. You can get away with that here for years at a time.

Sure enough, when I woke up this morning, we had no water out the hot taps. The cold taps were working fine.

As I examined our plumbing with greater scrutiny, I concluded that most of our pipes are enclosed. The only place a couple feet of pipe are exposed is our hot water exchange.

Hot H2O Exchange

Those short little blue pipes leading into and out of our tankless water heater are what froze overnight. By the afternoon they were thawed and appeared to be no worse for the wear.

I tried to pick up some pipe insulation, but the local stores were all sold out. So I improvised, and wrapped the pipes in some foam which I cut from a mattress pad. I secured the foam with garbage-bag twist-ties. I’m actually pretty happy with the result.

As I was driving around Mid-City looking for pipe insulation, I saw the fountain in front of Schoen Funeral Home on Canal Street had frozen quite beautifully.

Frozen Fountain

It was quite striking. I only wish I’d had a better camera with me.

Meanwhile the Banks Street Bar is advertising that, indeed, they “Have Heat.”

We Have Heat

Now we are bracing for round three tonight. It will be nice when things warm up next week.

Oh, as for The Big Chill? Not bad. Fun to watch. But I’m not sure I understand why it has such a rep. To watch the retrospective featurette, you’d think they invented the ensemble film. I’m not sure that’s the case. Maybe its success is simply a matter of generational resonance? I’ll have to quiz my boomer friends.

Coldest

We are experiencing the coldest damn weather since we moved here to New Orleans ten years ago. In fact it may break records going back much further than that.

Our new house is raised and has no subfloor. I’d been told a cold wind can whip under the floor something fierce, and sure enough over the last month I thought it was somewhat chilly. But this morning it was virtually unbearable. Lucky we have an upstairs. I think we may have to live up there for the next day or two.

It was cold enough I decided not to take the girl on the bike this morning. Instead, I bundled her up and put her in the stroller. After dropping her off at daycare I walked to work. I saw ice on the street in three places. The first time it didn’t even register as unusual. But the second time I started wondering, when’s the last time I saw natural ice here in New Orleans? I can’t remember.

Sometimes we get through a whole winter without a hard freeze here. The temperature may dip down and flirt with freezing briefly, but that’s not enough to produce ice. Hard freezes require several hours below freezing. We’ve had a number of those over our decade here, but I can’t remember the last time it was still below freezing at 10:30 AM.

This cold snap comes on the heels of the wettest month in the recorded history of the city. I’ve had enough extreme weather to last me a while.

(Oh, by the way, I lived up by the arctic circle for a year. I know what “real” cold is. Are you familiar with -30ºF? I am. But I also know at some point it’s just too damn cold, and we have reached that point.)

Well, Crap

Overnight New Orleans got pounded by heavy, heavy rain for several hours. Also some serious gusts. We lost power for a while during the night and there was of course some street flooding throughout the city.

The weather has caused our fumigation to be postponed. They were set to tent the house this morning, but during the storms the tarp got ripped. It was on another house at the time. That house has to be resealed and pumped full of more fumigant. So we have to aim for another date.

Meanwhile I’ve got a new worry to preoccupy me. This is by far the heaviest rain we’ve had in a while, and sure enough we sprang a leak. It appears to be in the area where the addition joins the older part of the house. Observant readers will recall a leak in this area was amongst the deficiencies we discovered in our inspection. But that was in at the other end of the addition; at least that repair appears to have held.

Summer Is Cool

Unseasonably cool weather again today, something we’ve been enjoying off and on for the last couple weeks. Nevertheless I feel that summer is here. Xy’s done with school, not just teaching but also the extra days teachers have to work after classes end. (In fact she’s cleared out her classroom and brought home a huge quantity of materials. Good thing we have lots of storage space.) Our daughter’s out of daycare, and Xy’s taking care of her, so my daily routine has completely changed. And to top it all off, after a week of caffeine-free living, I’m drinking iced tea again. So yes, summer is definitely here, and I like it.

I realized recently that for the majority of my life I have been either in school, or working at a school, or married to someone who’s working at a school. That means my life has been divided into a series of academic years, interleaved with summers. Maybe that’s why I like summer so much. It’s a special in-between time, a time out of time. Or maybe it’s just that my body doesn’t retain heat so well, so I enjoy the warm weather — though as noted, it’s been pleasantly and surprisingly cool here in New Orleans lately. It’s supposed to warm up a bit tomorrow but should still be lovely weather for a hike.

Uncommon Cold

I’m feeling better, though by no means 100%, and I’m back at work today. Ironically, as I’ve gotten over my cold, the weather here’s colder than ever. Yes, a cold front swept through overnight, and it’s mighty chilly in New Orleans. (Strangely enough our car has started without problems despite the recent cold weather.) How cold, you ask? Why it almost hit freezing. But not quite. The official low reading was 33ºF, from 6 to 8:00 AM this morning. Of course, with windchill it was below freezing, and Persephone and I definitely felt it. Fortunately it’s only a short walk from home to daycare. The temperature is climbing slowly now, and we’re only expected to crack 50ºF if we are lucky.

The above ruminations are posted for the benefit of my Midwestern friends and family. This cold snap is taking us below average, but it’s not setting any records. We do have hard freezes here, sometimes. But it’s been a while, and that’s fine by me.

Snow

Here’s something I’ve never seen before: It’s snowing in New Orleans.

Snowing

Update: So early this morning as I was taking the girl to school, I thought to myself, “It’s cold and wet and damp and nasty — but at least it’s not snowing.” Rimshot.

Boss Lady and O were beside themselves. Sadly enough, the only thing they could think to do with their excitement was prank call me: “Hey B, we’re doing a project and we need you to come in to the office right away. And be sure to wear shorts and a tee shirt.” Sad, sad stuff.

All this puts me in a mind to a silly rap I used to chant to myself while stomping through the snowy streets of Bloomington in the late 80s:

well I gotta relate that I hate the snowy weather
and if you think it’s great then I put you together
with the marquis de sade or charles manson
yo crazy mofo no the snow isn’t handsome
or pretty like it’s supposed to be
it’s a pain in the ass for pedestrians like me
i gotta walk around everywhere that i go
and i’d like to stay dry but the sticky wet snow
is piled up to my neck, it soaks my clothes
right thru to my bones and then i’m frozen when the wind blows
like an ice cream cone, a popsicle, a nutty buddy
don’t try and tell me that i’m some kinda fuddy duddy
who’s lost all vitality and joy for living
i’m still kicking, i’m just not into giving
a damn what anybody else may think
and i’d rather have a sidewalk than an ice-skating rink
so take your flaky opinions, you can keep ’em to yourself
i’ll talk to you again when the snow melts

I’ve got a recording of that I made with the Submersibles lying around on a tape somewhere.

Today’s snow was not a mere flurry. It kept on for a good three or four hours and actually accumulated a bit. More photos here.

Partly Nippy

It was cooler today, with a bit of a nip in the air, the first hint of cold weather since spring.

I object to this turn of affairs. I don’t know if it’s my body or my mind that takes greater umbrage. But I can feel myself clench up, mentally and physically. I was a little uneasy and out of sorts all day.

Some people enjoy this. Some people — native New Orleanians even — seem to take relish in reminding me that it isn’t even really cold yet. Inevitably we get into the topic of how I grew up in Indiana, and how I lived in Sweden for a year up by the Arctic Circle.

Was I born with thin blood or am I just a mental case? Don’t know.

It’s cool in our house now, but not really cool enough to fire up our two wall furnaces. I expect it will be actually undeniably cold tomorrow morning, like in the mid-40s.

It will be warming up in a few days, I hope.

A little brandy helps.

A Change in the Weather

A cold front came through yesterday, pushing rain before it. Now the weather here is distinctly cooler and drier. The oppressive heat and humidity of summer is gone, at least for a little while. Furthermore, we’re over the hump of hurricane season. After the 10th of September, I think, the historical record indicates a dramatic tapering of storm activity. Right now, there are no tropical cyclones in the Atlantic to worry about.

The sense of relief and optimism is almost palpable in New Orleans this morning. Tasks that seemed overwhelming last week now look doable after all. If I can just lay hold of a twelve foot ladder, I think I can unstick my painted-shut windows.

It’s almost enough to make a person forget that Louisiana has had two hurricane disasters in the last month, that tens of thousands of Texans are waiting in need of hurricane relief, that gas prices are setting new records, that the US economy is in terrible shape, that our election campaigns are farcical mockeries of the democratic process, that we’re embroiled in an unnecessary war where innocent civilians are killed almost every day… But nothing can kill my mood with weather like this.

Iked

I got Iked on my bike this morning.

I was partway to work, and I noticed the sky was getting dark — really dark. Hope I can make it there before… And then the heavens opened and the water poured down.

By the time I got to campus, the rain had practically stopped. I guess that was a feeder band for Hurricane Ike.

Ike in the Gulf

I got soaked. I mean drenched. To the skin. Every piece of clothing I had was saturated with rainwater, even my underwear.

I don’t remember when I last had such a thorough soaking on the way to work. That’s why I keep a set of clothes and a towel at the office. It’s always nice to have a legitimate reason for getting naked at work. Now if I can just get my shoes dry before I head home I’ll be happy.

Ike Is Wearing a Cowboy Hat

Sometimes a phrase gets stuck in my head and just keeps repeating like a mantra. Last month it was a random remark by my mother-in-law: “It’s only going to get worse.” But for the last two days, the phrase echoing in my mind comes courtesy of GJ:

Hurr.Ike is wearing a cowboy hat. Looks like he’s going to Houston. Beware.

And it looks like GJ’s right. Actually, with the southerly trend of the last few tracks, Ike’s headgear is starting to look like a sombrero.

Ike

In any case, he doesn’t appear to be headed our way, and I’m feeling extreme relief, not that I wish devastation on anyone. Still we can’t let out guard down. Ike could shift to the north unexpectedly, like Katrina did, and then we’d have to get out of town fast.

Here’s hoping this Ike is no Turner.

Buggin’ Out

New Orleans remains within Gustav’s cone of anxiety. The prognosticators seem to think he’ll make landfall late Monday somewhat west of here, but hurricanes have a way of turning unexpectedly for good or ill. This one’s gonna be too close for comfort.

Gustav

When Ivan threatened back in 2004, only the foolish and the poor remained. We were foolish, but we got lucky. I told myself if we’d had a child we’d have evacuated.

So: We’re outta here. Packing up the girl, some cats, some papers, and heading to Tuscaloosa. Hopefully by leaving before dawn we’ll avoid traffic congestion. Mayor Nagin has declared a mandatory evacuation and tried to strike some fear into people’s hearts last night, but we were thinking to leave anyway.

Yesterday we saw neighbors with suitcases, waiting to be picked up on Canal Street. “Where you headed?” Xy asked. “Wherever the bus takes us.” So finally the city is helping those who can’t evacuate on their own. If that had only been done three years ago.

I’ll continue to post daily, but for more immediate updates follow me on Twitter.

The only other time we evacuated was three years ago, and we all know how that turned out. The resonance with that other pre-dawn flight is eerie. This evacuation may prove, in retrospect, to be unnecessary. I sincerely hope so.

Distant Early Warning

Gustav is set to enter the Gulf this weekend. He’s only a tropical storm right now, but he should be a hurricane by then.

In Gustav's Cone

I only became aware of Gustav yesterday, when Karen asked, “When do we start freaking out?” My reply: “Thursday morning.” It’s only Wednesday now, so I’m not worried yet. But I am keeping a close eye on the NHC website.

Yeah, yeah, the track looks like it’s pointed right at New Orleans. But that estimate is five days out, very unreliable. Furthermore, I believe the center of the track is just the area of greatest probability. Gustav could end up anywhere within that cone, which covers half the Gulf. This most recent estimate veers eastward, which is good for us — not so good for those to the east, obviously.

I’ve even learned some misguided Democrats are rooting for Gustav to make a direct hit on New Orleans next week because it will make the Republican National Convention look bad. Fortunately I don’t believe any amount of wishful thinking will influence the weather. Otherwise I’d feel guilty about wishing Gustav off to the east.

Not to worry. Not yet. But this is a good time to check plans and supplies, to make sure everything is prepared.

Update: Come to think of it, I believe the track is constructed from multiple different predictive models, so the center of the track may actually be the area of least probability. My man Bob Breck seems to think so: “I want New Orleans to be the bulls eye at 5 days because it won’t come here…it will be on either side of the center line track by a large distance.” He may be a global warming denier, but he’s still a damn good weatherman.

Later that evening: The University just announced campus will be closed from Friday afternoon until the following Thursday. Kudos to the administration for playing it smart. This makes it easier for students, faculty and staff to evacuate if necessary.

What Cool Breezes Do

Fay

Fay was a killer storm. Yet now she’s disintegrating over land somewhere to the north and east of here, and we’re being gently lashed by cool breezes and mild drizzling rain.

It doesn’t feel like August in New Orleans, not by a long shot.

This is a dark time of the year here. August used to be my favorite month of the year. Not anymore.

But at least we have these cool breezes. I can’t help thinking how these same breezes that cool my flesh have killed people I never knew. There’s an aphorism that applies here but it’s just too damn obvious.

We seem to have a lot of local politicians and power brokers going down in flames hereabouts. But what do you do when you see that happening to a friend? I’ve seen one too many people go down like that. Our response as a society, as a community, as fellow human beings, is troubling to me. We seem to let people slide until they become a threat to themselves and others, then we step in with harsh punitive measures that often seem to make matters worse. I never know quite what to do in such situations.

I can’t believe how cool it is. We’ve turned off the AC and opened some windows.

A friend up in Indiana sent me some apples hand-picked in his yard. He also sent all the ingredients for apple crisp. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a whole nutmeg before. Reminds me how I dosed up on nutmeg once, oh so many years ago. A melancholy three-day trip. Seems like ancient history now. Anyway, I’m baking apple crisp today. Perfect weather for it.

Housecooling

We finally turned on the AC today as even the nights are getting quite warm. I like to make it to June 1st if we can, but this year not quite. This always strikes me as the saddest day of the year somehow. We now have five window units, at least three of which are the energy efficient kind and don’t even run their fans when the thermostat hits its mark. It’s now 8:00 and it’s hotter out there than it is in here. Sad, sad, sad. But the Boogaloo was pretty incredible, even though somehow I got sunburnt.