On Embracing the Cold

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This time last year I was in the Philippines. There were many fantastic aspects to that trip, so many that I didn’t finish writing about them on this site. One of the more minor fantastic points was that the weather was so nice – warm, but not too warm, although I probably wouldn’t have minded if there had been heatwave level temperatures the entire time  I was there. A respite from the Canadian winter is always appreciated, but it was more than that – a few days before my plane had left Montreal, I developed a sudden and violent allergy to the cold.

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Because I didn’t even know that cold allergies existed (they do!), it took awhile for me to connect the dots. One evening I came home and my thighs were covered in mysterious hives that went away so quickly I thought I had imagined them. The next morning, my hands would break into intermittent rashes, although they weren’t itchy, just red. I still thought I was overanalyzing my body. Then, coming in from lunch, feeling strange but trying to ignore it, a co-worker stopped me and said, “Teri, your face is really… red.” I went to the office bathroom and watched as hives popped up on my cheeks, one after the other. I went to a walk-in clinic, but by then the reaction had left. The doctor gave me a prescription for something a little stronger than Benadryl and convinced me I wasn’t dying. I thought I was maybe allergic to my parka since I seemed to only get the reaction when I was wearing it, so that evening I ran to the car without a coat on, and the reaction was even stronger than it had been earlier. I had started suspecting it was the cold, but it sounded so fake-y. I lived in Montreal – how was it possible that I could suddenly be allergic to cold air? I had recently gone to the doctor for a series of vaccinations for my trip, and this is the only thing that I think could have caused it. I’ve always been sensitive to the cold; maybe the shots had confused my body, pushed something over the edge. It was scary, though, to think that I might have this forever. Going outside seemed dangerous. The hives didn’t hurt too much, but they were ugly, and I couldn’t predict what would happen if I stayed out longer than just a few minutes, which, given that I lived in Canada, was probably hard to avoid between the months of November – April. And what about things like swimming in cool water or eating ice cream? At least I was going to the Philippines where I wouldn’t have to worry about the cold for a few weeks. Other than the first leg of my flight where I had a panic attack on the plane and was convinced that I was going to die alone somewhere over Western Canada (thank you, air flight attendants, for giving me blankets and reassuring me multiple times that my face was not covered in hives and that I could breathe just fine on my own), I lived hive-free. When I returned to Montreal, Andrew met me at the airport, and I dressed myself mummy-like in preparation of the frigid air. There was a slight reaction, but it was minor. The next day I tested it again, and it was better, and then, by the time I returned to work I was fine. I was no longer allergic to the cold.

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So, there is a kind of thrill when I’m outside these days. I’ve never loved winter, but this year I’m into it. Perspective, I guess. I’m sure my appreciation of the season will fade by next year, but for now I’m trying to enjoy the bracing cold, the coziness, the excuse for nights in and hearty meals. Ontario winters are much milder than the Montreal counterpart I’ve grown accustomed to, but there have still been a few substantial snowfalls. One afternoon we went to a nearby park with $3 crazy carpets and took turns going down the hill. I’ve become ridiculously risk-averse as I’ve gotten older, and it took a few deep breaths before I convinced myself that barrelling down a snowy hill was safe. I gleefully did a few runs, but after an unexpected bump at the end of one, psyched myself out and decided that I had had enough sledding for the afternoon, thank you very much. But it was still so much fun, all that rolling around.

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We went to Ottawa over the long weekend, and the cold was the kind I remembered, the kind that hurts if you’re not vigilant about bundling up. We visited an ice fishing village – dozens of little huts clumped together on the frozen river, holes here and there with lines sticking out of them waiting patiently to be tugged by fish. We spent another afternoon skating on the pitted Rideau Canal, stopping for Beaver Tails and hot chocolate. There was so much gorgeous winter scenery – lakes frozen over, the sky and snow dusted horizon melding into each other, crisp sunny mornings, huge clouds of steam and smoke billowing above the Parliament at night.

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On the day of the biggest storm in Toronto, I got caught in the worst commute (missed streetcars, out of service subway cars, buses that never showed up). Eventually I gave up and decided to walk the rest of the way home. There were barely any cars on the road and no one else was outside, so everything was fantastically quiet and muffled. When I accidentally tripped on a snowbank and dropped my bags, I yelled out of frustration, but no one heard. I was annoyed to be walking, but it was hard to deny how beautiful everything looked and how unusual it was to be surrounded in so much silence in the city. And I could walk outside in this beautiful storm without breaking into hives — that was something. Despite the yelling, I laughed too.

 

Weekend Artifacts

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Top left: Chris came back from the UK and brought us commemorative Diamond Jubilee Queen Elizabeth spoons. Thanks, Chris.

Top middle: Samantha and I both tend to wake up early, so we met for brunch at 9:30 on Saturday morning – no lineups! – and when we were done, the whole day still stretched before us. We walked around Leslieville a bit, and popped into the Value Village, which always has a good selection of books. This time was no exception.

Top right: On Sunday morning, Andrew and I drove north towards Lake Simcoe and along the way passed an antique barn. Maybe it’s a sign of aging/yupiedom, but I can’t resist a good antique barn. This place was huge, with lots of junk-y junk and overpriced junk, but we emerged with some really good finds: the teak dresser we had been looking for since we’ve moved, some Lou Reed records and this lady cigarette tin, which I will use to store my lady treasures.

Bottom: On Saturday afternoon, I was sitting on the couch trying to write the new thing I’m working on, which is now almost at 20,000 words. The first 15,000 words felt kind of breezy and fun, but I’m now officially at that point where I need “plot” to drive it forward, which is not as breezy or fun. So, I was on the couch and mostly not typing, and while I was staring out the window, I watched a man stop his car in front of our house, get out, and walk up to our porch. He didn’t knock, but he put something in the mailbox. I waved – it seemed silly to pretend I didn’t see him – and he kind of waved back, and maybe he hesitated for a second, but he turned around and went back to his car. Eventually I got up to see what he put in the mailbox, which I assumed would be flyers. Instead? A plank of wood. Written in pencil, it said “Treehouse”. I went upstairs to show Andrew, who was equally confused. The previous owners mentioned that they used to refer to one of the rooms, which they had built themselves, as the treehouse, so maybe it’s somewhat related to that? A mystery.

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On Lake Simcoe, there were many people ice fishing, and we walked on to the lake and a man riding a bike passed us by. We also watched a young girl augur a hole into the ice, and her father catch a fish shortly afterwards. So it was a nice weekend overall.

P.S. I’ve updated my other blog with an essay about Paris and uncertainty about food and life, and then growing up a little and getting good at picnics. Basically.