Sunday, February 5, 2012


There are so many different levels of cold, and this past week we experienced beyond cold, beyond freezing cold, beyond frigid. The highs were lower than -30º C (that's -22º F) and the lows got down to -40º (where it's the same in both Celsius and Fahrenheit).

At some level, you're no longer cold. You're in pain.

The previous week had been frigid, and there was no outdoor recess. Sophia and I bundled ourselves up before the walk to school and again at the end of the day; in the morning, we wore ski goggles. Bundled up so that no speck of our skin touched the cold air, we were fine during our walks.

This past Sunday after church a coworker offered to drive us to school in the mornings. He lives in our building and gives us rides home from church. I almost said no, we were doing fine, but I said yes. I'm quite glad I said yes.

Because there's a difference between -30 and -40. I learned this week that -30 and warmer I can handle, whether or not I want to. The closer you get to -40, the further you get from cold and the closer you get to pain.

We still bundled up just for the walk from our door to the parking lot. Yup, it was that cold. But we didn't need ski goggles. I learned my lesson, however, as one day I felt like my eyeballs themselves (and my contacts!) were starting to freeze during the walk home. I blinked my eyes rapidly, hoping to keep them warm, and the moisture from my breathe froze onto my eyelashes, nearly freezing my eyes shut.

Yup, it was that cold.

The principal sent out an email to everyone saying that school would close (or be delayed) when it got below -40. This means -41 and lower, and the only time it reached -41 was Tuesday, and it didn't reach that temperature until we'd all arrived at school, and so school was not cancelled. I learned this week that it actually does get colder after the sun rises! I hadn't known that before, nor would I have believed it until this week. The temperature would be -38 when I woke up, and slowly would drop as I got ready for school.

We were infinitely grateful for our ride to school. One morning, my coworker said that his car almost didn't start. It turns out that our apartment's garage isn't heated, and he has one of those automatic systems on his car so that it turns on when it gets too cold. But that hadn't worked well one night, and his car almost didn't start in the morning. The principal & her husband, however, he said, didn't even have a garage for their car. So their car froze and wouldn't work, and they've been walking to school.

At school, the hallways were cold. The school is made out of 5 buildings--one is used for the preschool through 1st grades, plus many activity classes; one is used for the elementary grades, plus the library and music room; one is used for the administration and high school; one is the gym; and one is the cafeteria, with the auditorium/indoor play area above it. So doors are constantly being opened and closed as children and teachers come and go from one building to the next. The hallway on the first floor got so cold that we could see our breath!

Luckily, the rooms managed to stay warm; we kept our doors closed to keep in the heat. My assistants get colder much faster than I do, so they kept the mini heater running, and I was quite cozy.

We had to warn the children not to touch door handles with their bare hands. The metal gets so cold it can burn your skin, so I was constantly reminding the children not to touch the handles without gloves on!

But there is at least one positive side effect of extreme cold: A friend of mine, who lives in South Carolina, where winter temperatures this year got close to +20º C (68º F), posted on facebook a video of people in Canada doing an experiment. They threw boiling hot water into the air, and it instantly turned into a puff of cloud.

I told my assistant, who was so excited that she immediately went to boil some water. The kettle is next to the 6th grade classroom, so they were the lucky ones to see the experiment first.

Finally, we got to see it. She poured some of the water from the kettle into a cup, opened the window, and threw the water outside. Poof! Suddenly there was a huge, vaporous cloud coming towards us! The children squealed in delight.

A coworker tried to see what would happen to room-temperature water; nothing. I guess it will have to get colder for something to happen!

On the walk home one day, I didn't think to make sure Sophia's face was fully bundled. She had on snow pants, extra socks, gloves under her mittens, and even a balaclava (ski mask), but I didn't insist that she cover her face with it, so she rested it under her chin like she prefers. I just wasn't thinking that it can still be painfully frigid in the afternoon.

She started crying right away that she was cold, so I stopped to pull her hat over her forehead more. Then I hurried her along until we got to Mega, the mall that's halfway between our school and our home. We went inside and then I saw what had happened--her tears had frozen into rather large chunks of ice on her cheeks. I wiped them off and saw that while most of her exposed skin was bright red, the skin under the ice was white. This concerned me, and we stayed in Mega for some time as I waited for her to warm up.

Those spots on her cheeks remained white for a while, and at home I googled "frostbite". In the end, she probably just had what's called frostnip, not even superficial frostbite. (And definitely not the worrisome deep frostbite.) The area is now red and it blistered a little and some skin came off, but it never looked too bad, never blistered very much, and never turned black, as skin affected by superficial frostbite will do. Phew! But now I definitely make sure her face is properly covered!

So the moral of the story is this--Don't cry if you're outside in temperatures below -30º C! But if you're inside, do throw some boiling water out the window.

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