How to survive an Iowa winter

After we brought in the vegetables on Tuesday night, Steve asked me if we could turn up the heat. “Are all the storm windows down?” he asked. “It’s freezing in here.”

“None of them are down,” I said. “It’s going to get warm again and we’re going to have to put them back up. Just leave them.”

I repeated my warning as he struggled with the bathroom storm window. “You’re wasting your time. And they’re such a pain that you should probably just wait and save yourself the aggravation.”

“If you’re going to keep talking crazy,” Steve replied, “you should just go get a sandwich board and take it down to the Ped Mall.”

I’ve got Iowa friends who are thrilled at the change in the weather, but these people are the same ones who started complaining about the “hot, humid Iowa summer” right about the time that it got to 75 degrees and, say, 40 percent humidity. I was born in Washington D.C. It was built on a swamp. I thought the Iowa summer (other than a couple of miserable weekends) was downright pleasant.

On the phone last night, my friend Rob, who works in media relations, mentioned that he’d talked to a reporter from Sioux City, Iowa. “She said it was 32 degrees there this morning,” he said. “Is that right? 32 degrees? On September 20?”

“Probably,” I said. “It was 33 or 34 here.”

“That’s not right,” Rob said. “Not right at all.”

I may be sandwich-board-worthy, but I keep holding out hope for another day or two of warm weather before the true temperature freefall commences. However, after riding out one Iowa winter, I recognize it’s time to prepare for a second. To that end, and as my entry in ProBlogger’s “How To” blogging project, I offer a few tips on how to survive an Iowa winter:

1. Get in touch with your inner Grandma.
When the first ice and snow arrives, people from Iowa act like it’s, well, one of those vaunted hot and humid Iowa summers. They drive like maniacs on the tundra-like highway, and then end up, like maniacs, in the ditch on either side of the road. Solution? Drop your speed, engage your hazard lights, and grip the steering wheel as hard as you can, while leaning forward so you can see better through the blowing drifting snow. Do not go above 45 miles per hour, and do not get any closer than 12 carlengths away from the vehicle in front of you.

2. Build in an extra hour to get to work.
First, you’ll have to shovel, unless you’re lucky enough to know a neighbor with a new snowblower, in which case, they’ll have already come by before dawn to “test it out” on your sidewalk, driveway and grass. Then you’ll have to clear off your car. Then you’ll have to scrape the windshield. Then you’ll have to figure out how to deal with your frozen doorlock. Then you’ll have to see if your battery made it through the overnight hours. Then you’ll have to drive very slowly to your place of business (See #1).

3. Put away the spaghetti straps.
I’m surprised the University of Iowa doesn’t lose a significant portion of their female undergraduate population every year to pneumonia. I don’t like to think of myself as old and functionally un-hip, but when I drive around town in the winter and see young coeds walking to the bars with blue lips, their bare arms wrapped around their torsos, I have to restrain myself to keep from yelling out the window, “Put a coat on!” When did tank tops become fashionable as outdoor wear in January? I remember not wanting to carry coats to frat parties and bars. I remember dashing from car to bar or party door, praying that there wouldn’t be a line to get in so I wouldn’t die of frostbite, but usually I at least had on a long-sleeved shirt of some kind. Still, I went to college in Virginia, not Iowa. The weather was a whole different story back East.

4. Throw parties at your house as often as possible.
There are multiple advantages of this winter survival ploy. First of all, you get to socialize without having to leave the house, which means you save all that bundling-up time. Second of all, more bodies in your house means more body heat, which helps save energy while still keeping you cozy. Third of all, if you go with a potluck theme, people will bring you alcohol and food, which will save you from having to bundle up to go to the store.

5. Plan a trip out of town, preferably to somewhere warmer.
Last year, I escaped to the Bay Area of California for a weekend, and Steve and I hit Puerto Rico for a week. On both trips, I thought about just staying where I was and not returning to the meat locker blast of air that would greet me when I left the airport in Iowa. But just having those little breaks from managing the weather makes all the difference.

Now please excuse me while I go check out tropical vacation deals at…


22 Responses to “How to survive an Iowa winter”

  1. 1 Kalyn September 22, 2006 at 7:10 am

    This makes me want to cry.

  2. 2 lazygardens September 22, 2006 at 1:39 pm

    Neener, neener! It’s just now getting cool enough to garden, the eggplant have hit their peak production, and the tomatillos are setting fruit like crazy.

  3. 3 Donna September 22, 2006 at 2:57 pm

    I’m not sure I would have read this off the list, not being from Iowa, and, winters getting shorter as they are — but, I am so glad I did. I got a real chuckle out of your post, I love the sandwich board image, and the whole notion of putting up the storm windows — something that we wouldn’t dare do in September (in fact, it’s usually one really cold morning when I’ve left all my laundry downstairs in the laundry room and I run down there wet and cold, and pass by the front door and whoosh, in comes a blast of cold air that I think, storm doors, storm windows, oh yeah, we have to do that). Excellent fun post, I look forward to exploring your site more (even though I am not a gardener).

  4. 4 MamaDuck September 23, 2006 at 9:53 am

    Ah, I almost miss snow….

    Our how-to is up as well if you’d like to check it out!!

  5. 5 cole September 24, 2006 at 7:46 am

    Hey…I highly reccomend Culebra..if you want to go near Puerto Rico again. It has the best diving in the carribean and is so beautiful. We were there about 13 years ago and it has changed a lot but still gorgeous. Plus you can take a ferry there and have a 2 hour ride through the carribean to get there.

    Or try Mexico this year…?

    sigh. jealous. the spawn are tying us down lately.

  6. 6 inadvertentgardener September 24, 2006 at 9:16 am

    Kalyn, Luckily we’ve had a nice weekend here to balance out the frost earlier in the week. But yeah, it makes me want to cry, too.

    Lazygardens, I’m so jealous! Can’t wait to see how you put those tomatillos to good use.

    Donna, thanks for the sweet comments and for stopping by — please come back anytime!

    MamaDuck, thanks for reminding me about your list — great stuff. And thanks for stopping by!

    Cole, Culebra didn’t make the cut while we were there, but I’ve heard great things about it. Mexico’s been on my mind — there are some good sales to get there, and some cheap options…we’ll see what we come up with.

  7. 7 lazygardens September 25, 2006 at 1:14 pm

    Oh your Inadvertency, yoo-hoo! Tomatillo post is up, with recipes.

  8. 8 Lydia September 27, 2006 at 12:32 pm

    I’m laughing out loud! This is exactly how we survive winter in New England, too. Layer up, shovel out, and host parties as often as you can. Doesn’t sound too bad, does it???

  9. 9 inadvertentgardener September 27, 2006 at 11:41 pm

    Lydia, it doesn’t sound too bad…until you’re in it. Ugh. The only good thing about winter is when it ends… Glad I made you laugh, though, and thanks for stopping by!

  10. 10 Robin October 7, 2006 at 10:49 pm

    Wow…another DC transplant to Iowa! This will be my first Iowa winter and I’m just a wee bit nervous! You know DC winters…snow that last just a couple of days and nothing much colder than the lower 30’s, except for a day or two. I’m going to print this and hang it on the fridge!

  11. 11 inadvertentgardener October 8, 2006 at 4:28 pm

    Robin, hopefully the tips will work…they’re only slightly tongue in cheek! Good luck with your winter prep, and welcome to Iowa. Bizarrely enough, I was just in Manchester this week…if I’d known you were there, I would have seen if we could have met for coffee or something! Looking forward to following your blog.

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