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How to stay warm in a Chicago winter
How to stay warm in a Chicago winter

How to stay warm in a Chicago winter

how to stay warm in a chicago winter

I grew up here. I distinctly remember the Blizzard of ’79, when we got nine feet of snow. I learned at the tender age of six that an ironing board is an acceptable parking-space holder, and that if you ignored that tidbit and parked in someone’s spot anyway that you were likely going to be chased by an irate homeowner brandishing a tire iron. Don’t mess with someone’s parking space, is what I am saying. Also snowblowers are a good idea.

When I was in college I and two roommates lived in a pit of an apartment. We actually called it The Pit. It was a house converted into three apartments and we had the main level. This was the place that taught me that main level or not, an inch of water teeming with maggots can and will end up on your kitchen floor. This was also the place that taught me that sometimes plastic window sheeting can get blown off the window frame if said frame is merely a suggestion and not actual weatherproofing. Turn up the heat, they said. So we did. When the thermostat is set to 92 and reads 70, maybe some insulation is in order. Just sayin’. Needless to say, it’s no longer standing.

So through my formative years I lived with Winters Are Cold And Mean. Then we moved to Colorado, where for 14 years it was Winters Are Cold But The Sun Is Warm And Grilling Is A Year-Round Event And Snow Is Nothing To Fear It’ll Be Gone Before The Next Snowfall. I got spoiled and cocky. Two years ago imagine my shock and horror when we were back to Winters Are Cold And Mean And Now It’s Personal. Our first year we got lucky and had a “warm” Chicago winter, in that it didn’t get below zero and stay there for a month. Last year was colder, and it stayed colder throughout the entire summer. Now it’s November and oh my god I’m watching the leaves just POUR off the trees right now and I raked yesterday and now my lawn is 100% yellow because of the leaves I just want to cry. It’s going to get and stay very cold here shortly, and I hate being cold. Despise it. Fear it. Last winter I got a chill deep into my bones and just couldn’t get warm. My teeth chattered unless I was under my electric blanket, which sent my jaw into spasm, which cracked teeth, which led to a crown, which led to me vowing I’d never get that cold again because that all hurt way too much and I love my flute too much to give it up because of a spasming jaw.

This winter will be different. This winter I will be warm. No, not because we were able to insulate our house (though it needs it) or replace windows (though it needs it), but because I won’t let Chicago winters win. How? Here’s how.

  1. The best way to stay warm in a Chicago winter is to not be here in the first place. Move. Anywhere. Florida, Arizona, Hawaii…somewhere warm, where ice is something covered in syrup and drips down your chin as you frolic on the beach. If this is a possibility for you, take me with you.
  2. Layers. I’ve doubled up my layers, wearing a tank top under everything. Yes, I look like a marshmallow, but I teeter on that resemblance without the tank, so I might as well be warm. Most days I add a charming scarf. You may think it’s a delightful accent to my wardrobe, I think it’s keeping me from hypothermia. When the temps get colder I’ll add tights or leggings under my jeans. Also wool socks, slippers or shoes, and if I’m still chilly, a stocking cap. In the house. Sooo stylin’.
  3. Drink hot things. Lots of hot things. I am partial to coffee in the morning, green tea through lunch, a homemade latte at about 1, and herbal tea until dinner. This also has the benefit of flushing out my kidneys, so, you know, win.
  4. Electric blankets. I have one on my bed and a throw on the couch. They are almost always cranked to “lava.” Same with the seat heater in my van.
  5. Sigh. I caved. I became that weird old lady musician and bought some fingerless gloves. Wristies. They came today and are on right now. They are black fleece and dang they are toasty. I have to make sure they’ll work while I play flute, because our rehearsals can get a bit chilly (I swear I’m right under a vent or something) and I about died last week. I’ll make these suckers work.
  6. Heating pads. I have terminal AAS and sometimes a heating pad is the only way to warm up that particular body part. (Even right now it’s like I have a side of beef in the trunk, and it’s 57 degrees out there).
  7. Crank the heat. This is my last of all last resorts option. I like that my utility bills are affordable enough that I can buy things like groceries.

We’re at the beginning of a long 5-6 month stretch of butt-freezing-offing. I will not let this winter beat me, I am going to stay warm. It may get to the point that no one sees anything other than my eyes in January and February, but I’ll be nice and toasty.

Now. Anyone up for some raking? Please? It’s chilly out there.


  1. ChaosRu

    You’ll have to come over here and have a sauna (no not communal, nice and private). We Finns have worked out how to survive long, dark, cold spells and we’re all about sharing the warmth.

    1. Jen

      I will do this, and I will wrap it around my kidneys in hopes that warms up my whole body. Today I have double layers, a trendy scarf, fingerless gloves, hot beverages…and finally caved and turned up the heat.

      It’s going to be a long winter. :p

  2. I am stealing that sock heating pad idea. Genius.

    I love it when transplants from sunny states move here and whine about winters in Portland. Sure, it might be rainy for 40 days straight (my first winter; it was traumatic after Nevada). Everyone has SAD lights. But cold, really cold? No. Maybe once every few years, and then only for a day or two. And “really cold” means numbers that are still positive. And if it snows?


    (I love driving in the snow, but NOT with these idiots.)

    But it is just about time to break out the SAD light…

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