Caffeine and Cabin Fever

That’s it. I’m cutting myself off.

Two cups of coffee and I’m a jangly bag of nerves.

Turns out OCD, caffeine and cabin fever don’t mix. Who knew?

We’ll be stuck in the house for at least another 24 hours.

Hours that will be spent listening to and worrying about the loudest popping and creaking sounds this house has made in the almost 20 years we’ve lived here.

Is that a joist cracking? Seventy-year-old nails popping? Window frames warping? Subfloors bending? Hot-water heat pipes pinging, over-expanding under the strain of the boiler (the thank-God-it’s-a-brand-new-boiler, but still) running non-stop?

I am probably the only person caught in the polar vortex who could find so many things to worry about when I am safe and warm inside a house with heat, running water, internet access and hot soup.

If I were Charlie Brown, I’d be the Charlie Browniest.

Climate change is killing coffee, did you know that? So in another few years I might not be able to do this to myself even if I wanted to.

There’s always chocolate. Until there isn’t. Because climate change is screwing with cocoa beans, too, apparently.

Coffee I can do without, but chocolate? Are you kidding?

OK, I’m on a roll here! Let’s find more stuff to worry about!

That steam blowing by outside the window by my desk, from the stove hood fan vent? Is that adding to the icicles dangling from the new gutters? How much can the gutters take, before they give?

There is ice on the inside of the new-ish windows.

There has always been condensation on the windows, old and new, but the only time I have ever seen ice on the inside of the house (windows and wash basin, to be exact) was in my third floor “digs” in a drafty, uninsulated (I’m assuming the UK has advanced considerably since 1980 in the area of home insulation) Victorian town home in Oxford. I’m from Chicago, and up to and including today, I have never been colder indoors in my life than when I lived in England. Perfect storm of dampness, lack of insulation and a laughable appliance called an “electric fire,” which was about a quarter-inch thick piece of “al-you-min-ee-um”,  about 17 by 24 inches with a too-wide loop of electric coil inside, that stood in front of an old coal-burning fireplace that had been half-heartedly stuffed up with newspaper, which didn’t stop its iron flap front from going “tink, tink, tink” all night when it was windy, and which heated a space approximately two inches around its surface, and no further. I slept with a shirt, flannel nightgown, scarf, hat and socks on, under a “duvet” filled with inadequate synthetic something or other and covered in damp cotton. GAAAA!

It was kind of charming when I could see my breath while (“whilst”) studying in the RadCam, but in my bedroom at night? Not so much.

My Mom, a former nurse, used to open the window in my bedroom in the winter, even in subzero temperatures. She was raised by Mainers (“Maine-uhs” a/k/a “ha-dee New England-uhs”) who allegedly put infants outside in the winter, wrapped in blankets in their baby buggies, for their naps, on the theory that “fresh ay-yuh is good for you, dee-yuh.” Sure, as long as you don’t get pneumonia or get eaten by a bear (hey but let’s hear it for the bear who kept that three-year-old kid company until he was rescued, uneaten and apparently pneumonia free).

The floors in my room were wood, not entirely covered by braided rugs. Awesome on bare feet on a winter morning with the window open. Builds character! That’s how we did it back in the day! “We’re getting soft, right?

But I digress. We’re worrying about here and now, OK?

Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t use my functioning, recently chimney swept wood burning fireplace today, because opening the flue would allow a blast of arctic vortex to roar down the chimney and freeze us in our tracks.

Did you know in the 18th century there was a sea captain found frozen in his cabin at his desk, pen in hand? So it’s not like it couldn’t happen. Even though the story of the Octavius is now regarded as a myth. But still.

Through the kitchen window I can see two sets of animal tracks heading straight under the back deck.

I don’t begrudge the woodland creatures some shelter (temporary shelter) but please, let those tracks be from a rabbit, not a skunk (does the cold obliterate the smell?) or a raccoon or a possum. Or a coyote or a musky fox.

How long does it take to come down from two cups of coffee? Coffee which clearly causes excessive italicizing?

At least there are no chickens in the back yard anymore to tend to, in this weather. Or more accurately, if there were, frozen chickens to dispose of. So there’s that, anyway.

Still rattled. I’m going to have to go clean something. Vigorously.

Stay warm, and stay off the caffeine. Unless it comes encased in chocolate. For as long as that lasts.

Wishing you a warm, calm, creaking-popping-pinging and indoor-ice free day and night, I remain,

Your over-caffeinated, under-productive, anxious, italicizing,


Let’s Layer Some OCD on That Last Post

A few updates to my polar vortex post.

I revised it, to make it clear that I understand this is a very dangerous, life threatening situation.

And because I’m not that idiot 20-something that went outside in temperatures like this anymore.

That was a spectacularly stupid thing to do.

Just so we’re clear.

Please go back and read the revised version of that last post.



Because I worry about you. Pretty much all the time. It’s what I do best.

And because the wind is picking up.

I’ll be here, worrying about you, and praying for anyone still looking for a place to go.

Fretting, and listening to every pop and creak coming from inside and outside the house, I remain,

Your penitent, concerned, perseverating


The Obligatory Polar Vortex Post

Yep, that “snowpile” will be there until June.

“Snowpile” in quotes, because by the spring, this mini-mountain will have morphed into some other substance – an unmelting, filthy, grey conglomeration of salt, gravel, bits of asphalt, cigarette butts, lost mittens and coffee cups that fell off car roofs when the freezing drivers forgot the cups were there and just wanted to get into the damn car and warm up.

I’ll go back and take another picture of this in the spring just to see it’s not gone.

This one too:


And I’ll check on this tree to see when, or if, it gets any buds on it.


As you have heard ad nauseam, predicted low air temperatures here, tomorrow through Thursday morning may go as low as -21 (Farenheit) and Chicago may be colder than both Antarctica and Siberia tomorrow. And the wind chill may dip to -55.

This ain’t my first polar vortex rodeo (but I don’t remember it being referred to as a “polar vortex” back then. We just said, “it’s f….ing COLD.”)

If you look up “coldest temperature in Chicago” you’ll get -27 on January 20, 1985 – but that was actually a tie: it also reached -27 on January 10, 1982.

On that day I was living in a tiny, roach-infested studio apartment in a thin-walled, crappily built 4 + 1 (one of those really, really ugly Chicago apartment buildings where the first floor is raised above a parking area underneath).

And on that day, I put on pretty much every article of clothing I owned, including a long wool coat over a winter parka on top of a turtleneck under a flannel shirt under two sweaters on top of each other, wrapped my head in a couple of wool scarves with a hat on over those, put on a doubled pair of mitts (mittens, inside ski mitts, yes – try gloves on a day like that and you’ll come back minus a few fingers – if you come back) and I went outside.


Stupid kid that I was, I waited for a bus.

Because the CTA buses were running.

The streets had that arctic fog that floats about a foot above the ground. I forget what causes it. I’m sure there’s a weather nerd out there who can explain it to us in the comments. Please do.

Anyway, I got on the bus and I went to an acting class scheduled for that day.

And the instructor and three other students ALSO SHOWED UP.

Welcome to Chicago.

The wind chill that day was, purportedly, -80.

That’s what they said, anyway. Didn’t feel a degree lower than -60, to me.

I survived, and as far as I know, so did the instructor and the other two students. We did have to cut it off early, though, because the class area was just too cold. Or we couldn’t move in all those layers. Or both.

Somewhere in Chicago today (but please God, not tomorrow, c’mon, guys, there’s a limit) you will see a guy (always a guy) outside, wearing shorts.

You will see many, many guys (again, guys) outside without hats. Some without gloves (or mittens, dammit). Imagining their cars will always start, they’ll only be out for a minute, etc.

Some of those guys will end up in the hospital with preventable frostbite.

You will also see fleets of vans and box trucks, creeping along Lower Wacker or beneath underpasses along the Edens Expressway tonight, passing out sleeping bags, blankets, hot soup and coffee, and trying to convince the people they are helping to come inside a shelter or a warming center. God bless those devoted helpers.

For those who refuse to come inside, may God protect and keep you. But please, don’t refuse. Doors will be open around the city for you. Go in. GO INSIDE NOW.

This year, fortunately, more and more businesses have come to their senses and announced they will be closed tomorrow.

I’ll make a big pot of “Dad’s magic chicken soup” – the kind Mike used to make, and taught me how to make, before he died – that will keep us nourished, along with a pot of chili and some canned cream of mushroom, until Friday.

I’m damned if I’m going out there before Friday.

Because I don’t have an acting class to attend.

And I’m not an idiot kid anymore.

Shorts guy? Put some damn pants on.

Hatless guy? How many times do we have to tell you that you lose most of your body heat out the top of your head?

Gloveless guy? Do you work with your hands, at all? Do you find you need your fingers to, I don’t know, type an a computer? Play an instrument? Hold a tool? Put you damn gloves on – no, wait, mitts.

Stay safe and warm out there. No I mean, DON’T GO OUT THERE. AND IF YOU ARE OUT THERE, COME INSIDE RIGHT NOW.

Putting on another sweater, I remain,

Your loyal, devoted, gutting-it-out-in-layers-on-layers and expecting arctic street-fog,