It’s All Relative

Come on Spring!

For many years, I have deliberately kept my house cold at the beginning of the winter. I’ve made it a game to see how far I can make it before I have to turn on the wood stove (the first week of November). I occasionally use a ceramic heater on the coldest of mornings.

While I’ve made this a game, I really started it for health and financial reasons. A shorter heating season equals less wood use which equals money saved. Keeping the temperature moderate is also healthier for me because:

1) I become a slug when the temperature gets too warm. No physical activity means a fatter, unhealthier me, plus a ton of undone work. I also end up with more arthritis pain if I sit around, so I’m a fan of the zippy feeling you get when you feel cold.

2) I tend to stay inside if the difference between the outside and inside temperature is too great. No sunlight = No vitamin D production = brain mush and once again the work doesn’t get done. Being outside actually rejuvenates me, even in the dead of winter. It’s like free therapy.

3) According to Harvard researchers, being exposed to moderately cold temperatures “trains the blood vessels in the skin to be responsive.” Unfortunately, that’s about as much training as my body gets. Dutch researchers theorized that, at 61o, our brown fat was activated. Bring on that heat-producing, calorie-burning goodness. I can use all of the help I can get.

The one exception to my cool house rule is prior to a big winter storm. I will heat the house up pretty high (78O) just in case the electricity goes out. This has helped in the past to keep my house relatively comfortable while we ride out the power outage.

Over the years, I noticed that our tolerance for cold (or heat) is actually relative to the temperatures to which we have become acclimated. After basking in the glorious sunshine of summer, a sudden 50o day makes you want to wear a parka and drink hot cocoa. Then winter comes with the snow and the wind and subzero temperatures. Once in a while, you get a beautiful glimpse of Spring as temperatures heat up to a balmy 50o. I go out without a jacket and my kids run themselves ragged doing everything they couldn’t do outside during the bitter cold.

What changed? Our core body temperature is still around 98.6o so that can’t be the culprit. It’s just that our perception of the heat or cold is relative to the temperature we have become accustomed to at that moment. Our frame of reference has changed.

For example, since I have 6 kids, I’m used to chatting, arguing, drama and injuries. Throw some autism meltdowns into the mix and you have a very wild existence. I can actually see some people cringe at the general din and chaos when they walk into my house. They smile with a glazed over look as I say things like, “If you fall off of that and die, I’m going to kill you” and “You only lost one finger. Hold pressure on it and be thankful you have 9 more.”

The truth is that I used to get stressed out around a lot of kids because for the longest time I had 2 busy but relatively easy kids. In fact, I once said to a friend and I quote, “Having a big family is alright for you but I’m just not cut out for it.” I’m sure God was thinking, “Oh, ye of little faith.” Now, when I have just 2 or 3 kids in the house, it feels like a holiday.

My frame of reference changed. And that’s what I’m trying to take advantage of by waiting until our bodies have adjusted to the cooler temps. After many mornings of cozy warm feet hitting the freezing floor, putting on the heat feels akin to winning the lottery. Right now, I’m anxiously awaiting a new frame of reference. I know it’s only January but I’ve got my seed catalogs everywhere, garden planned, and outdoor projects lined up. I’m in a springtime state of mind. Bring it on!

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