Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Walking an Icy Path

This is a guest post by Spice, not the addition to the Shed parable (that's still coming).  This morning, in 3 minutes, she told me several nice stories about her shopping trip the day before.  Seemed relevant- so I said "you should write that up, I'll put it on the blog."  6 hours later...


Parking lots in the winter are minefields. Most of the time they’re relatively safe, with just the soot blackened slush that soaks the bottom of your jeans to worry about. It’s not a problem to hang your pants above the wood stove, listening to the drip and sizzle as the ice thaws and drops onto the the stove top. You prop your feet on the open oven door, cup of cocoa warming your hands, until the red spots on the bottoms of your calves warm up from the “frozen so cold that it burns” to a nice toasty pink.

You also have to worry a bit about the people driving too fast. You watch them with a weather eye, mentally shaking your head at their stupidity. Do they think they’re in the Indy 500 as they whip around the last car in line, or cut through a diagonal space to troll up the lane the wrong way? You send them a mental “go kill yourself away from me” and continue with your life.

However there are those rare winter days when walking from your parking space to the wooshing doors of a store is literally playing dice with fate.  

Yesterday was just such a day. We had two days in the 30’s and 40’s F and then it dropped to -10 F (ten below). Everything melted, then froze in a sheet of ice.

December here is usually mild as winter goes. Average temperature usually hangs around 20 F.  People who have never been here in the winter have images of a frozen wasteland where your eyeballs freeze in their sockets and every breath feels like knives in your throat.  That’s January (historical average temp of 4°below)... And February... sometimes March.

December snow is fluffy flakes that stick to your eyelashes and make you want to laugh out loud. Some nights Jack Frost is a busy boy, painting the trees with hoarfrost, so when the sun shines in an icy blue sky, for just a few moments you live in an enchanted forest and wouldn’t be surprised to see mythical creatures moving like shadows among the trees. Eat your heart out Currier and Ives.

With the “financial crisis” right now Greenpa and I have cut trips to the City to bare bones. It’s about fifty miles away, which means a day-long trip. We used to get there once a month to stock up on items we couldn’t get as easilly or cheaply locally. Now there has to be a major incentive to go that far. More so after the Sam’s Incident. A 99 cent day at Savers is such an incentive, especially when you have a 3 year-old (oops a 3 and 3/4 year old thank you very much!).

As I was getting out of the car, ready to tackle the shopping madness, I watched the march of shoppers. A march that was more like the waddle, slide of penguins than the usual purposeful stride. They gingerly held on to luggage racks and car fenders as they eased from the sheeted ice to the narrow lines of safety dug by snow tires.

I opened the car door and sat sideways on the seat so I could slip my YakTrax onto my boots. I buttoned up my coat, pulled a snow cap over my ears and slipped on my cow hide gloves with their faux lamb’s wool lining. I was off, trudging safely across the uneven ice.

I noticed a woman. With her red hat pulled low over her nordic blonde hair and a matching red scarf and man’s coat, she was a spot of color in the grey. Her belly bulged under the coat in those last weeks of pregnancy that make women, even ones who never had children, wince in sympathy and men feel the cold sweat of nerves on their spines. In one hand, she clutched the pink, sparkly mitten of a blonde girl not much older than Smidgen. The other gripped the fender of a station wagon.

“Do you need help?” I asked. “I’m not going to fall, and I can get you to the door.”
I proudly showed her my YakTrax.

“Thank you. I slipped in the Sam’s lot the other day and was scared to death of hurting the baby.” She answered, breathlessly.

“No problem. I’ve been there too.” I wrapped an arm around her waist and took her daughter’s hand in mine and we walked safely into Savers.  I slipped off the Trax inside the store, warning her that they will slip on linoleum.

She asked me if I could wait for her and help her back to her to her car after we were done shopping. I said sure, that it wouldn’t be a problem.

As I was leading her out across the lot I told her about Yak Trax and that she could pick up a simpler pair for street use for $20 at the outdoor store.   We’ve used them for several years and they’re tons better than anything else on the market.

“That’ll be my next stop,” she answered happily.

I stowed my bags and went into the dollar store next door to Savers, where the cashiers and some customers had noticed us through the plate-glass windows.

“A friend of yours?” The cashier asked.

She was a lovely woman with the blue-black skin of deep Africa and the speech patterns of Chicago. Her hair was woven into tight corn-rows with tiny bells at the ends, tinkling merrily.

“Nope. A complete stranger.” I smiled. “I didn’t want her to slip.”

She looked at me strangely as I slipped the Trax off my shoes again.

I picked up the few things Smidgeon needed for a school Christmas (We’re too rural to worry about PC) project and a toy for her gift exchange. And walked over to the cashier.

 Bells In Her Hair smiled at me as she started to ring up my purchase.

“I’m freezing,” she said cheerfully. It's a typical northern conversation starter.

I looked at her thin poly-cotton slacks and pullover. “Layers work miracles.”

“Whaddya mean?”

I was a little surprised at the question. It may be naive, but I was pretty sure layers had been pounded into the heads of every child born north of the Mason-Dixon line since the land bridge.  

“Do you have longies on?” I asked.


“You can get a good pair at the farm store.”

“I don’t have a car.”

“Oh. I’m pretty sure the bus goes out there. If not get a friend to take you, it’s important to stay warm.”

By this time most of the people in my line and the line next to us were listening to our conversation.

“Why do you have to stay warm?” Asked a woman with styled grey hair and a gorgeous London Fog coat that looked about as warm as a, let’s face it, a rain coat.

I was surprised once again. “Didn’t you ever hear about layering before you leave so you can retain heat? You put on thermals, two pairs of socks, thick jeans, a pull over and a sweater. It’s easier to stay warm than it is to get warm.”

Almost everyone listening shook their heads no. I was flabbergasted. Didn’t they know how to take care of themselves in cold weather? These are adults here.

“Well you lose 10% of your body heat from each of your head, hands and feet. So I’m wearing a cap, got some gloves and have two pairs of socks on. Plus I don’t take my coat off inside even if it’s seventy, because I know I’m going back out. I also run my house cooler than normal. Preserve heat with clothes and winter’s a breeze.”

“I’ve never heard that,” she admitted.

I was almost checked out, so I pulled my Trax out of my pocket and slipped them on my shoes.

“What are them things?” the cashier asked.

“YakTrax. They're like chains for your feet. So you don’t slip.”

“Really. I’ve never seen such a thing. I was walkin’ home the other day and was so cold and slipped so much that I called a cab.”

“Well there’s no cabs on a farm, so I’ve gotta know how to stay warm and in one piece,” I said with a laugh. “You can get these at the outdoor store.”

I pulled my gloves out of my pocket, and the London Fog lady goggled.
“Those are huge,” she breathed.

“And warm,” I answered cheerfully. “You can find them at the farm store. It’s worth the price not to have icicles instead of fingers. Farmers seem to know how chuck style for warmth.”

After getting geared back up, I took my bag and trudged back out to the car. As I was backing out, I saw London Fog get into her nice Mercedes with heated seats. She had no gloves on her hands.

She, and the other people I spoke to really started my brain whirling. Why didn’t they know how to stay warm? Has the knowledge really been lost? Every year people complain about the cold. They belly ache, but seem to feel smug and superior when talking to someone from another place and can drop “it got to -10 last night” into the conversation.

I know that many city dwellers go from a heated house to a heated garage, where their car is already warmed up. They spend a few minutes between buildings and cars facing the bite of winter and then are in blessed warmth again. But what happens when they need warmth and have no idea how to get it?

Have we really lost skills that are so vital for five months out of every year? In the current economic climate these skills are going to be more and more important as people choose to heat their house and feed their family instead of buying a car with heated seats or heating their garage.

Trust me Smidgen the aspiring nudist hears... Put on your mittens, hat, coat, snow pants, boots, sweater, etc on... You need to stay warm... Where are your slippers?... In stereo every day from Greenpa and myself.  And once a day- why.

Later I saw the Mercedes in the farm store parking lot. It made me smile.


Greenpa: ok, full disclosure, we do NOT own stock in YakTrax.  But I/we really do recommend them for frozen snow and ice- they're life savers, and vastly superior to the 4 or 5 other "shoe-chain" type things I've tried over the centuries.

One other point I wanted to make here- in fact, Spice passed on a lot of good information- to a bunch of people who needed and appreciated it- in a painless fashion; just by living it.


Anonymous said...

That's an awesome story :) Tell Spice she does good work.

For folks in the city who don't have a car, I recommend Kaplan Brothers, at Lake & 13th in Minneapolis. It's on the 21 bus, just off the greenway, just a few blocks off the 14 (Bloomington Ave) and the 5 (Chicago Ave). Work boots, lined pants, coats, overhauls, gloves, and hats, for cheap cheap cheap. Plus it's right by St Vincent de Paul store.

Laura said...

Awesome guest post! :) I have been thinking about getting some YakTrax for a while now. If you recommend them, then that settles it.

And I have a renewed passion to knit my boyfriend a hat. He is 6'6" and had no small noggin', so hat's don't fit him easily. Knitting skills to the rescue! :)

Anonymous said...


Thanks for your recommendations. It's important for people to know where to get winter gear!


I've renewed a passion! Wow that makes me feel so powerful. Please knit him a cap. I have a small noggin' and have to wear kids caps, adult ones stick up! So I understand the flip side of his issue and know how much I'd appriciate such a thoughtful gift.

Thanks to both of you for the compliments. Makes me warm and fuzzy.

Farmer's Daughter said...

I agree, parking lots are dangerous. A teacher at my school fell and broke her hip walking into school a few years ago. It was very sad (but entirely avoidable!).

As for keeping warm, my husband and I have rediscovered how much warm pajamas help at night. I guess those early years of no pj's are gone for good! (At least until summer!)

Pangolin said...

Cripes, we know this stuff in California. Of course the cold here tends to be a wet cold. People can and do die of hypothermia at 40 degrees.

Sheepskin caps can't be beat. Gloves, scarf, wool socks because your feet will get wet and you will be miserable in cotton. For extended periods outdoors or mountains a balaclava that can slip under the wool cap. A waterproof shell because water resistant just doesn't cut it in a downpour.

One last thing to remember is that those plastic fleece things are warm but they are like spun gasoline. If you are working anywear near flames switch out to wool preferably or cotton if you must.

Keep warm out there.

shadowfoot said...

Excellent - and funny! - post.

I love my YakTrax. Got them last winter, right after I slid down the porch stairs. I'd just had surgery on my right shoulder and our only stair rail is on the right side (of course!), so when I started to go the easiest and safest thing was to just go with the flow. We stopped in at the hardware store in town and both got pairs. My only problem was being one-handed so putting them on was hard and sometimes I had to get help -- not a problem now of course!

I learned about wearing long winter underwear when I moved to Massachusetts when I was 8 years old -- don't need them in most parts of California :D And of course hats and mittens and scarves and all that.

My favorite combination when I had a paper route was to wear slim-type gloves (not bulky because I needed to be able to pick just one paper out of the bag) with a pair of mittens over the gloves.

My husband loves lined pants. I should look at getting him a new pair this year if possible. Or I may make him a pair, as long as he doesn't mind them not being too fancy, which I don't think he will -- we live on a farm nowadays.

Thanks again for the post Spice!

Beautiful Each Day said...

Lovin' the spicyness!

Our family is living our first rural winter after being soft city folk who went from house to car and then from car to work or school. I actually used to wonder why people used umbrellas at all. Now each member of our family owns 7 pairs of long underwear and we wear them 24 hours a day.

Anonymous said...

It's the same here; people going out without layers, without hats. I've been trying to provide some education via my winter blog, although it's a small effect. And it doesn't get nearly as cold here!

bluebird said...

Great story! I always wear a hat, even indoors. And a scarf around my neck too. Here in SW Ohio, we sometimes get icy/snowy weather. I will look into getting me some YakTrax.

CoCargoRider said...

It is funny how bad people have become regarding how to deal with inclement weather, be it -10 or 100.

feonixrift said...

I learned a little... Enough that as soon as it gets chilly, I start wearing two layers of pants with my coat and trying to figure out where my hat went. But I'm so clumsy at it that I know more, I think, about recovering from getting too cold than about avoiding getting there. Been reading military guides on hypothermia avoidance and hiking guides on properties of clothing materials, trying to learn what works and what doesn't, getting a little better at it... No good role models for *that* here in sunny (currently rainy and 40 degrees, perfect for hypothermia!) SoCal.

Anonymous said...


I'm glad you agree about death-trap parking lots!

As for P.Js... I've started wearing them too. It's really hard to convince a 3 3/4 year-old that she NEEDS to wear jammies if I'm not. Let's just say that she's figured out "do as I say, not as I do" and she's not fooled.
I've been much warmer at night ever since!


I've noticed that people from warmer climates tend to layer better also. We were in Hawaii last January, winter for them too, and I saw a los of locals layering in the mornings when it was 60F. We were enjoying the heat!
GreenPa has a theory that he calls "Minnesota Macho". In the winter, people here have to prove that they're tough, so they freeze. This gets past to kids and grandkids until a lot of people are freezing and clueless as to why.

Anonymous said...


We've got golfing umbrellas here! They're the only ones big enough to really cover you and let you work a bit. We also LOOOVE rain gear.
Glad your family has lots of thermals. It'll make a country winter lovely instead of miserable.


Funny. Don't get me started about the heat. I'm not as fond of it as the cold, and it drives me crazy that people don't take basic precautions.
Here we wear big brimmed hats long sleeved white cotton shirts and white cotton pants plus sunscreen to protect from sun and heat. We also save plastic bottles of all kinds, fill them with water and carry some while leaving others in key locations.
I get really mad when I hear of people getting heat stroke and 2nd degree sunburns because they were clueless.

Anonymous said...

Hello Spice! I loved reading this post! I was raised in California but moved out to Idaho a few years ago so I had to learn how to be "Weather resistant". I now help lead a co-ed scout troop where we focus on winter survival techniques. I've come a long way from being a "soft city" gal!

I truly believe that EVERYONE no matter where they live, needs to learn how to survive in their area when bad weather hits - whether its the cold, heat, tornado or earthquake!

Yaktrax Services said...


I work for Yaktrax and if anyone here is interseted in testing out a pair and posting their review of the product on their blog, please email me your shoe size and mailing address :)


Happy Trails,

Erika said...

I have been privy to similar comments from folks lately. I live in the Pacific Northwest, and we're having a bit of a cold snap, much cooler than normal for us, and folks are running around in jeans and long sleeved shirts, no hats, no gloves, (no brains). The newspaper actually had a box the other day about how to dress to go outside in cold weather! Folks in another town a few hours from here are having restrictions put on their electricity usage because the town has been using too much - folks just turn up the heat, don't think to add clothes...

Great story, I'm glad to hear the London Fog lady took your advice!

minervabird said...

Man, I lived in Duluth for 5 years, and I wished I had heard of those Yax-Trax. Would have sped up my walking pace as I crept from place to place, slipping and sliding on the ice.

That said my sheepskin coat and dual knitted mittens and silk long underwear were my best friends.

I live in the UK now, and I have all the raingear to stay warm and dry, including a waxed rainhat with a stylish bow!

Thanks for your post,

Anna Marie

Secret Garden Supper Club said...

Great story.
Here in Oregon we are experiencing atypical winter weather (teens, snow etc)...and I'm shocked at a couple things.
As I walked into work yesterday there was a girl who was navigating our icy parking lot IN HIGH HEELS hehe. I just shook my head and went about my business.
People also do not know how to drive in the snow/ ice here. They think that pulling a trailer and going 50 in the fast lane is *safe*. This morning I was passed by a semi!! The freeways were slushy/ bare/ icy in spots so I was moseying along at 40. The semi left me in the dust.
The winter preparedness portion of the post reminds me of the tragic Kim family story that happened a couple of years ago here in Oregon. They were Californians travelling here and they got lost in the Oregon wilderness. The husband died from exposure. It was a tragedy that could have been avoided. Heck when I headed off for work this morning (8 mile drive) I had my typical first aid kit, extra coat, gloaves, snacks, and a big fuzzy blanket. I erm forgot my cell phone at home sigh.

I wonder too, how many people could take care of themselves and their family if the power goes out and they can't heat their homes or food or whatever. We are so far from our roots. God help us if TSHTF for real!!

Anonymous said...

This piece should be sent to every newspaper around, as a letter to the editor. It deserves to be published, before Christmas.

Ready for a new job as a columnist?

Anonymous said...

Not being as nice a person as you, Spice, I would just say nothing and let Darwinism do the rest.

Greenpa said...


Thanks for the comment.


Thanks for the contact info about trying YakTrax. They really are great products, but some people have told me they don't want them because they cost more then the cheap department store variety. Too sad!


Sorry to hear about what's going on in the Pacific Northwest. I am glad, though, that someone thought to publish suggestions. Maybe you could write a letter to the editor about the box of suggestions and add on the addendum that people should wear sweaters and thick socks with slippers inside to keep warm without wasting electricity.

Greenpa said...


Ouch 5 years slipping and sliding in Duluth. You have my complete understanding. Enjoy your rain gear with the "stylish bow". I've got some great rain gear, but it's pretty plain.


My another commenter from the pacific northwest. I guess you are having a strange winter.
About winter driving...

I was taking Smidgeon to school today on snowy/icy roads. I was driving a safe 35-40m MPH and slowed down for curves. I was passed twice in ten miles (once by a semi!). Those were the only two vehicles I saw on the drive. It made me shake my head too and wonder if it's all symptoms of a disease.

I hope people can re-learn how to care for themselves or we're going to see a lot of horrible things in the next few years. Just remember, there are those who know how to survive (without joining nut job survivalist camps) and we're willing to help.

Anonymous said...


Thank you so much for the thought. It makes me so happy-weepy!!!

FYI I am working on a writing career, but not in the news.

Here's a pitch for editors of the world...
I've got two complete novels that I've been hawking. Hint, hint!
(Said in all good fun)


You're such a sourpuss. ;-)

Sometimes I'm willing for Darwin to strike too, but often I help where I can.

Britta said...

Grew up in Wisconsin and never knew about YakTrax. I'm getting a pair for my husband and I since now that we're on the Plains, there's more ice than snow. Thanks for the tip!

CuriousNomad said...

I ADORE my yaktrax! I've had them for years, and totally swear by them. Very highly recommended for everyone (and no, I'm not associated with the company.)

knutty knitter said...

Central heating is rare here so most of us know all about layering. That is except students! We are a university town and its not unusual to see high fashion with no warm stuff at all regardless of the weather. I suppose it would be against their beliefs to actually wear that bulky stuff called clothes. Then they wonder why they get ill so much! In my opinion blue and purple extremities aren't much of a fashion accessory but what would I know! I'm only an adult!

viv in nz

Florence said...

Your comments about the lost knowledge of how to stay warm brought to mind how many have lost the knowledge of how to cook. I'm 61 and thought everyone knew how to cook a pot of beans and make a pan of cornbread but I was surprised to find myself the center of attention at work when giving out the "recipe" for beans & rice and how to make cornbread.

Christina said...

Another commenter here from the PNW, but we just moved here from Nova Scotia where there's plenty of ice and snow. This is the worst Seattle weather in some 40 plus years, and I can't believe not only how people are dressed (sweat pants and a long sleeved T-shirt?!), but how determined they are to drive. There is little to no infrastructure here to clean streets of snow or salt for ice, but heaven forbid anyone has to do without because it's not safe to drive.

One guy from our apartment complex went out the morning after the storm(?!) to get McDonald's(?!) a mile(?!)down the road. When he got back, I asked him how the roads were (I was out enjoying a snow-ball fight with my kids). He said, "Horrible. Don't go out." Anyone see the irony??? I wish more people would take his advice though. When you go out with the roads covered in snow and ice you not only take your life in your hands but those of other people you might hit, plus those of the emergency responders and towing service personnel. It's not worth it - just stay home!

Anonymous said...

Good grief! And these folks are from MINNESOTA?!!? I mean, I get the "Minnesota Macho" thing -- it's what drives people to wear shorts in 50 degree weather -- but not knowing about layering? Or that it's better to just stay warm than try to get feeling back into your fingers? And it doesn't sound like these were all youngsters, either (although I worry for my young nieces and nephews who have faced very few "real" winters in their lifetimes.)

I *do* want to put a plug in for flannel lined jeans, too. I just acquired my first pair this year and LOVE THEM. I even wear other leggings/tights under them and have never been this happy. Granted, they are no good if you are going to be floundering in the snow and getting wet, but they are not a bad thing for just running errands in the city or shoveling my (city) sidewalk.


I'm looking at the weather we are currently having, and just thinking to myself that hopefully, it will drive some of the clueless back to wherever they came from. (I'm only about half joking here.) I am truly tired of hearing people gripe about the cold and make jokes about "yeah, right, global warming, bring it on!". :P Hey -- they knew our reputation when they moved here, right? So quit whining and bundle up! (Says the woman with the Scandinavian ancestry! ;)


Spice, you are a gem of woman for not only helping that gal but for sharing knowledge that really ought to be common sense for folks living up here. Please, consider contributing a form of this essay to at least the local MN papers. I think a lot of people are going to be in a lot of trouble this winter if the weather pattern continues the way it has this year.

(Says the woman who does not currently own good boots or actual long-johns. *sigh* Need to fix that... but it HAS BEEN less important when you live in the city and rarely drive anywhere that ISN'T city. As long as I fix it *soon*, all should be good.)

sac said...

Purchased my own Yaktrax and bought a pair for my Dad for Christmas. Thanks for the story and the reminder to use some common sense when it comes to inclement weather (I'm from MO, we know how to do it as well)!

Anonymous said...

thanks rosa (first post) that store is right near my apartment and i'm in the market for some lined bibs.

spice's story is a good one, and i think plenty of people in my neighborhood would benefit from it.
i walk to work, just a mile, each day, and its recently gotten too icy to retain my normal speed. luckily, i broke out my own yaktrax and it's a breeze now. they should advertise on my back as i skip through the streets.

kai said...

I love this post. There are plenty of people here in New England who seem to have completely lost their minds when it comes to cold. We had an ice storm here where just about everyone lost power for a minimum of several days. 40 degree interior temps for days (we have no woodstove, sadly). We had some out of town guests here who weren't really ready for that - but I had extra winter layers to go around. They seemed appalled at my collection of winter gear when I pulled it out, but they weren't complaining once they realized I had just enough for temporarily expanded household & felt the difference it made. I had forgotten how what is second nature to me (layers, wool, not cotton) was completely foreign for other reasonably smart people.

I'm 6 months pregnant, and thanks to the yaxtrax, can get my mail without fear. Been wearing them for years. I'm appalled that these things are still so unheard of.

For keeping warm at night, we have winter flannel sheets, a down comforter and 2 burrowing cats. I'm frequently way too hot, but the bedroom is in the 50s on a normal day. Normal day wear includes smart wool long underwear, wool socks, heavy wool sweaters & turtlenecks (for inside wear). My current problem: they don't really make good quality long underwear (or outerwear) for pregnant people.

Sadly, those who don't winterize their person probably have no idea even IF their house is insulated or winterized. If we could only get people up on insulating themselves AND their homes, just think of the energy savings that are possible!