Friday, January 8, 2010

Cold War

January and Toronto is one of the most miserable combinations imaginable. It’s dark (so dark), freezing, damp (if not outright wet), grey and (often) icy. During this month – and, in truth, through much of February – I wonder daily about why I live here. I mean, there are other northern climes that bring charm along with colder temps (Montreal, anyone?)*. I can’t tell you how fast it gets old, wearing wool socks with shearling slippers, jersey knit pjs, a sweater and a scarf to watch TV in the evenings! And we have the heat on. It just doesn’t seem to penetrate the dreary meteorologic reality. And, apparently, century homes have their detractions.

One thing keeps me sane though: walking. And I’m not talking about ambling along in a swing coat, catching snowflakes on my tongue. I mean, bundling up like some arctic explorer and kicking ass to get somewhere by foot - before said foot falls off from frostbite. To wit: The evening walk from work to daycare (to pick up M) takes an hour mid-summer. And I’m not going slowly. The January version takes 40 minutes. Sometimes I sweat despite the sub-zero temps. Because I’m practically running, you know. Running to beat the cold.

Because it’s so fascinating, here’s an example of my midwinter walk-wear for your reading pleasure: I start with wool socks. I wear an underlayer (cami or T shirt) which might or might not be partially visible under the merino or cashmere sweater I drape over top. I always wear a long, sweater-weight cashmere scarf. Where I fall down, I’ll admit, is on the pants front. I refuse to wear leggings underneath my jeans. Leggings and tights are for dresses and skirts. I don’t care how cold it is. But, as it’s often too cold for regular pants (never mind dresses or skirts!), thick denim has the edge. Of course, I make it dark and accessorize it chicly, as if I work in some fun creative environment. J

For the outerlayer: I go with fur (the warmest fabric on earth) or a combination of down and fur. For example: Canada Goose parka with fur hat. My boots are waterproof, flat (for the most part), and lined with shearling.

That, my friends, is how to spend 2 hours a day outside in TO in the winter.

Yesterday, I had the faintest glimmer of hope encouraged by a) a vague evening increase in temperature and b) the dimmest edge of daylight at the horizon, for almost my entire trek! Another trick in my arsenal of “northern maintenance of sanity” is vitamin D3. I’m not talking about wussy doses. Nor am I suggesting you follow my strategy, as it is naturopath prescribed/montiored and temporary. I take 4000 IUs of the stuff a day. Just for 6 weeks in the darkest part of the year. I’d like to tell you it makes me buoyant with energy, despite the hideous lack of light, but I suspect it’s just forestalling the suicidal impulse :-)**

*Necessary disclosure: People everywhere else in Canada despise Torontonians, for a variety of reasons (many of them inaccurate). All of them can agree, however, that we are soft and pathetic in our response to winter. And that, in TO, we don’t get real cold, thank you very much.

** If ever I am truly suicidal, I assure you I won't talk about it.


  1. Have you ever tried silk long johns under your pants? My pants are usually kind of loose-ish (terrible legs and butt) so a thin pair is quite warm.

    I used to live in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, so we mocked everyone in Ontario who complained about the winter. However, it was only light hearted, really. At some point in the thermometer, it really doesn't make much difference is it's -20 or -40C. The colder it is, the quicker you get numb.


  2. This post made me laugh: we wear hats and scarves inside our house, which we don't heat in winter.

    This post made me think back: to winters growing up in Chicagoland. I wore so much down garb I looked like a blue or red version of the Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man.

    Stay warm, K!

  3. it's slightly warming up in NYC too, and my no.6 shearling boots have made trudging through freezing sidewalks that much more pleasant and cozy. a true testament to the powers of great footwear.

  4. You are certainly prepared for your outdoor jaunts. And I, too, recommend silk longjohns. They're magical.

  5. Ha ha! I remember skating to university on the Rideau Canal, with a scarf over my head, mouth and nose, a hat, and ear muffs, not making good time because of the tremendous head winds, and being utterly drained (and overheated because of the exertion it took) once I arrived.

    We have a snow day today and children are home. And I'm actually teaching Can lit, so it's lovely.

  6. It's colder than Brian Harper's heart here as well. It has not been above freezing for the past 8 days.

  7. When I used to commute regularly to Ottawa for a few years (conjugal visits; my husband took a position there and I stayed at mine on the West Coast), I picked up a 2-piece set of silk long underwear and when the temperature hits 10 below, I wear the bottoms under pants -- I'm a wimp, it's true, but I love the comfort! Trouble is, of course, that's way too much warmth for most workplaces, so sometimes changing at the office is in order.
    btw, I know my Winnipeg sis might consider you Torontonians whiners, but you get only respect from me -- mildness of winters is relative and from my perspective, you guys are tough!

  8. You sound like me. I don't wear long johns either. Luckily, except for one day where it went below -20, there hasn't been a need yet. -20 is like my threshhold. Anything above that isn't cold.

  9. Have just referenced your post chez moi. On a snow day, what is there to think about besides the snow?

  10. I've been to Canada (Montreal)in February. Uggh! It was just a three inch layer of ice. But, I know if you bundle up and get your heart rate up, you can actually stay warm!

  11. Hmmm, It is cold enough here for me. I am not sure I am cut out for colder winters. But I do agree about fur and down, and layering. I don't like tights under jeans, the rub of the fabric seems to work against each other, and I'm not fond , of long underwear either under other pants, even the silk, but I think that the ones I have tried have all been cut for shorter people.

    I do like warm wool twill pants. I had a pair once with a heavy silk charmeuse lining that was so warm I couldn't tolerate it indoors in the office. I think I will consider recreating something like that
    for the really cold days. The problem with so many things is that if you are warm outdoors it is too easy to overheat indoors.

    Of course if you are walking fast you make your own heat.

  12. January is a dismal month anywhere in the Northeast. I am not cut out for temps below 30, and yet I'd never consider moving south (at least not in the U.S.). South of France, maybe...

  13. I grew up in Wisconsin, so these icy visions are still emblazoned in my mind despite my New York locale. Your expression of winter wrapping, in addition to being funny and vivid, moves me. Whenever I bundle for the elements, I find the exercise a proxy for self love. I'm literally saving myself from a very grave ill or a very possible immanent loss (of limb, courage). I am my own salvation.

    Note to you: I picked up a nasty virus last weekend in chilling winds. I believe I didn't exercise appropriate self care. Perhaps my ailment has colored this rather dramatic comment?

  14. Having survived a school term in Mississauga from Jan to March I can attest to the snow/cold/and clothes requirements.
    However it has stood me in good stead when the cold bites here in Blighty.
    My worst experience though was in Banff some 5 years ago when I was skiing and had a dreadful cold - it was so cold when I breathed in my throat felt like it was being cut by glass and my lungs were freezing - yuk. I can't believe I didn't miss a day of skiing.
    Keep taking the vitamin D!

  15. Christine: Thank you for your mocking honesty :-) And for the silk suggestion. Sal and mater agree with you...

    E: That's the thing, the sta-puff look is not attractive! Of course, I could care less at this point.

    Sophie: I'm glad the boots are working out so well. Warm feet make ALL the difference.

    Sal: You and Christine and mater are making me think I've got to try the silk long johns. Stay tuned.

    Miss C: Loved your post. Enjoy your snow days...

    Monkey: Nothing is colder than Harper's heart :-)

    mater: OK, the long johns, I gotta give them a go. And I love how you termed your visits "conjugal". Hilarious...

    Raven: That's the point when numbness sets in...

    Mardel: You make a good point about being too warm when you finally land indoors. I don't have a good system for changing at work, which is one of the reasons why I've left the long johns out of the equation.

    Wendy: DOn't forget February.

    Janet: I couldn't agree more! South of France is as south as I go :-)

    Lydia: I think I may have caught your bug. And, Wisconsin winters are serious. You know what you're writing about :-) It is a proxy for self love... Survivalism!

    Kate: Looks like you're gettin to pull out your Banff clothes this winter at home :-) Vit D to the rescue...