Thursday, May 10, 2007

The War of the Roses: no quarter in this marital battle over the climate control

March is absolutely the most glorious month of the year here. Everything blooms gorgeously. The rich green lushness of the semi-tropics is in full splendor: vibrant and vivid specimens of exotic flora twine together with more tranquil and traditional blooms. Oak and palm trees grow side by side. Spanish moss drapes both, equally. This is a unique and wonderful place in many ways. So many cultures and traditions blend together as a pretty patchwork, much like the landscape. Sip a margarita while eating a po' boy, then have apple pie for dessert. Everything is written in at least two languages. Welcome! Bienvenido!

In March, the weather is usually as good as it can ever get anywhere: sunny and 65-75. People practically skip down the streets in joy. In March, you are ready and willing to enjoy these temperatures, whereas in February you might have grumbled a bit, still liking a hint of cool, of winter. In March, you are happy to be reunited with flip flops and appreciate the ease of slip on and slip off coming and going. The laundry pile shrinks with less layers, smaller and lighter clothing, no socks. Happy days are here.


March is over. April---the transition month in which you begin girding your loins for the heat ahead---is over.

It's May now.

Spring sprung and it's early summer, at least weather-wise. It's the "still bearable" summer though, with temperatures not too much above 85, at least not too often, and a little wind from the north and west, keeping it from getting too, too humid.

Once this last bit of softpedal summer closes, it should be a good 90 plus degrees F with full humidity (meaning it feels like 100). Shortly thereafter the temps will hit ~100 and stay there for six solid unrelieved months, also with full humidity meaning it feels like it's about 8 gabillion degrees outside.

If you were to fly down here---say, for example, from the awesomeness that is New England---you would discover that stepping out of the plane into the jetway is physically painful. The wall of humid heat slams into you like a freight train. Everyone blinks, staggers back for a second, and then moves on.

And that's just May. Not June, when hurricane season begins. Not July, when the real heat mounts. Nor August, the month that smothers you with sultriness. Or September, or October, when you whine like a three year old about the neverending waves of hot, when you are ready to sell your soul for relief.

So my dread begins to mount this time of year. Although, I will say...after three years here I might just be gradually adjusting the teensiest bit to this heat.

Each day I can stand to be outdoors, we live there. Outside all the time. As much as possible. Today might be the last day! Today might be our last chance to be outside and enjoy ourselves, rather than worry about becoming a heatstroke statistic.

Other than intermittant cloud cover, and threats of wicked storms that move inland and back out to sea so fast you can get dizzy watching the clouds, it's been pretty nice outside. Even so, a little drizzle doesn't faze us. We aren't made of sugar.

"Keep playing!" I yell to the kids through my rain wet hands, "Climb that slide! It's like a water park!"

So far the mosquitos are still sparse enough that the vile chemical-poison spraying trucks aren't out yet. Without bug repellant you can get away with no more than a dozen bites. Citronella candles actually seem to work. That's practically pleasant. Also, the insects are still relatively small. My neighbors' toy poodle runs footloose and fancy-free with no fear that some mosquito will carry him off.

But we all know: this day will be done soon.

I watch weather reports obsessively, waiting for the wind to come up from the south, across the bay. Ocean water warmer than a hot tub.

More than any of this, though, the chief cause of my increasing anxiety is the Epic Battle of the Air Conditioner.

I know those of you still waiting for the last layer of permafrost to melt---and who are jazzed about hitting 55! With sun!---want to hit me when I say: oh yes, air conditioning season is upon us. Already. Has been for a couple of months.

This is when the battle begins. My family offers no quarter to me after the winter.

In the winter---using that word lightly to mean any time the temperature falls below 70---my pitiful children and husband spend the entire season chattering their teeth dramatically and crying for heat while I say, "Oh get some hormones already, I mean, a sweater, get a sweater!" I set the heater at 55, maybe 60 if the whining gets to me. That is not freezing, no matter how many times Patience declares that she is turning into a human popsicle.

"It never even freezes here," I explain impatiently, "It would have to get down to 32 and stay there for a long while. We don't even get below 40 really. It is scientifically impossible to freeze. Now suck it up sister! You're from NEW ENGLAND! Wailing about 54 degrees is a shame to your roots!"

They get me back this time of year though, that thin-skinned and thin-blooded family of mine.

The temperature hits 80 and I'm sweating, crying, "I'm melting! Melting I say! Ice water! Cool cloths! Help me! What are the signs of heatstroke?"

I keep my home warranty up to date solely to protect my air conditioner, although it comes in handy in other ways. I baby that appliance like no other. I expect much from it, so I give much to it, "Are you happy? Any St. Augustine runners growing into your vents? Is your condensing unit stressed? Should I call Pete to come work on you? Are the ducts supporting your air flow properly? Do the dampers need any adjusting?" The only other home maintenance thing I am this OCD about is pest control. (If you saw the size, quantity and variety of pests here, you'd go Monk too.)

We pass 75 by one degree---I do mean at 76, literally---I immediately switch on the A/C and work to ensure that my house is always a bearable 75, with all ceiling fans on. (Trading Spaces and any aesthete who says ceiling fans ruin the look of a room can kiss my lily white china. You live here with no fans. I double dog dare you.)

My husband moves it up to 78. I turn it down to 74. He moves it up to 78. I turn it down to 74.

"I need my footie PJs," Patience says, "It's COLD!"

"Footie PJs!" Persistence agrees, "Tits TOLD!"

"Fine," I tell them with a glare, "Call 74 cold. You guys are welcome to layer up in PJs and blankets. It's always easier to warm up!"

And that right there is my absolutely consistent main point: you can always add layers to be warmer, there is not enough you can take off to be cool when it gets really hot here.

The A/C is my lifeline, and is the only reason I don't run screaming to Canada by June.

My husband never says anything. I never say anything. We just keep moving that dial up and down. I feel warm, go check, yep, it's at 78-80. I turn it down. He feels cool, goes to check, yep, it's back at 74. He turns it up.

Yes, our unit is controlled by a 36 year old dial. I will not trade it out for the world. I'm a self-confessed Luddite of sorts. Through a plethora of very negative---by which I mean highly inconvenient and very expensive---experiences I have grown to be completely against high-tech computer run push button appliances. They break all the time. They freak out and do weird things like beep all night. And they cost a blooming fortune to maintain and repair.

Meanwhile, my dial at almost 40 years old is a perfect specimen of climate control.

I do not find it trouble at all to turn the dial back down to 74.

I will concede one little pro to those complicated modern computerized climate controls. In our last house we had one, and I had the edge. I won the battle more often. See, I will read instruction manuals. And as a former writer of them (mine were the good ones! I swear!), I can skim them pretty quickly and grasp the salient parts. This makes me the Goddess of All Things Technical in the house, like programming voice mail and thermostats.

Now we are on even playing ground with our workhorse dial. The field is level. Let the battle begin.

"This is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy."

—Winston Churchill, HarrowSchool, 29 October 1941.

They that go down to the sea in ships. Indeed. That's the local waterway out to the bay. It probably goes without saying that a large portion of people here are into boats or boat sports in some form or fashion. This past Friday, my husband came home from work and asked, "Where's Patience?" "Oh, she's at the sail club having dinner with friends," I replied then cracked up a split second later at how absurd that sounded in reference to a five year old. And yet? It was completely true. I'd take Gramps up on the deep sea fishing expedition invitations but (a) you have to clean your own catch and (b) you have to clean your own catch. If the sharks aren't too bad this year, we're getting a beach membership.

copyright all text and images 2007 Julie Pippert


Sober Briquette said...

I hope retirement finances will allow me to become a snowbird and chase the May around the globe. May here in CT, that is - although I've had the A/C on a couple of days already, as it crept into the 80s. The leaves aren't even out and there is no shade. I'm having hot flashes, aren't I!?

Mary-LUE said...

My friend rarely runs the heat in her Southeastern home, where it does get pretty cold and keeps the air running--at a much lower temp. than 74--in the spring and summer.

I'm a wimp both ways, heat and cold. As much as leaving So-So Cal for less expensive areas sometimes sounds appealing, I don't know how I'd manage the more extreme heat and cold. Oh wait, I used to live in Texas! I know how I'd be: a complaining, miserable wretch.

Lawyer Mama said...

I realize that I don't know where you live. Florida? I went to school in Miami, so I hear you. We also have constant a/c battles in my home (Virginia), but it's not nearly as hot here!

(And I have an advantage. I programmed all the thermostats. Occasionally hubby will take the time to try & change them, but I usually catch him before he's done!) I HATE being hot!

You realize we're backwards though, right? It seems like most of my female friends are the ones freezing and their hubbies the ones complaining about melting.

Bones said...

As a fellow New England expatriate, I can understand the dramatic difference between low 70’s (which are entirely pleasant) and high 70’s feeling oppressive. I can’t sleep above mid 70’s. Anything warmer than 73 or 74 and I feel like I’m inside my own mouth. If I could, I’d sleep with the windows open all winter. I prefer winter when it comes right down to it. Maybe it’s because there are less things to be allergic to.

But the bottom line is upper 70’s is hot. And people can put on more clothes or blankets if they need to warm up. But if you’re hot, you’re hot.

And I’m sorry I’ve been a blog stranger lately. I think things are ironed out on this end, so I’m back.

thailandchani said...

Considering where I'll be for the rest of my life, you'd think I'd be able to tolerate heat much better than I do.

I hate it. Absolutely hate it!

"lose weight", someone said. "You'll be able to tolerate it better."

I lost weight and still don't tolerate it any better.

Without an air conditioner, I'd die!



NotSoSage said...

Oh, this is so funny. This is our house except in reverse.

Every summer I insist that our air conditioner should be set at 26 (Celsius, which is about 79 Fahrenheit) because the city asks people to do that in order to conserve energy (post-Blackout and to help the environment) and every day, Joe lowers the temperature complaining that he can't sleep. We don't talk about it much, we both just check the control now and then and adjust to suit us.

That said, I usually like to be a little warm, but I'm also very susceptible to heat stroke. It's a delicate balance.

But reading this makes me appreciate the seasons here. Yes, it's gets ridiculously hot and humid, but for SIX MONTHS? No, thank you.

slouching mom said...

I think it's so funny that you both keep turning the dial back and forth with no arguments or even words.

Crack me up, you both.

Jon said...

Well it's not so much a question of temperature preference. Truth be told if climate was the only factor I'd set the thermostat at 68. And in the winter the thermostat is set at 64...(IOW it never comes on).

The battle is really more about tolerance and the comfort/cost ratio.

I think the reason we play the thermostat dance in silence is I wish we could lower the temp and she knows we shouldn't...creates a strange sort of balance.

jen said...

oh, the heat. i too would be in your same battle, if only we had A/C.

it IS easier to warm up, every single time.

Julie Pippert said...

SB---that's lovely. I know people who do that. Me? I want my real, postcard style seasons back. I like winter.

But I am LOL about hot flashes. I swear this is my problem. Then I remember, yeah, I've always been a heat wimp.


M-L, I hear you, I do. Half the year I htink, yeah, this place isn't half bad---it's pretty good. Then the other half hits and I'm like, dude, the heat's all that and a hurricane too---no wonder housing is low here, who other than a rocket scientist would choose to live here?

And I am pitiful in the heat.



Ooops have to run...reply more later.

Aliki2006 said...

I like winter, too. And much as I appreciate AC, I would much rather have the windows open then the cold air circulating around. But my husband is such a child of the AC--his mother loves is from Texas and loves it cold in the house, and I'm sure it's in his blood.

Julie Pippert said...

LM, I hear that, usually the men turn the A/C cooler and women warmed...but this I don't get LOL. Anyway as my husband says below, he's all for the cooler temps but likes to conserve. In other words, he is more heat tolerant than I am LOL.


Bones, you just might be on to something. I do prefer cool, and am pretty cold tolerant. I do like winter. And it might very well be because I always feel better, less allergies.

LOL about hot feeling like you are in your own mouth. Yeah, sleep is impossible when you are hot.

No danger in being a stranger now and again. We all have business, life, get busy, go spelunking...whathaveyou.


Chani, I swear if it weren't for the height I'd call myself a descendant of the Neanderthal, LOL, genetically built for the Ice Age and so forth, and just not able to make it in the heat.

And FWIW, I had the exact same experience as you wrt to weight and heat correlation: I've been on both sides of that fence and it didn't make a lick of difference to me.

Anyway gosh how rude!

Yeah you'll be moving to a similar climate. I'd skip arid Arizona and start acclimating somewhere hot and humid. :) You've got about half a dozen really cheap states to choose from, although a couple of them lack some decent housing in the southern parts still.


Sage 79F is one thing when it's oh say 79F outdoors. 79F indoors when it is 100+ outdoors means it is really about 85 inside by feel.

It is so hot and humid here you refrigerate everything (bread spoils in a matter of a couple of days---the preservative laden bread) and can't leave wet clothes in the washer for more than a few hours max. And the bugs really are such that you don't put boxes or bags of food in the pantry. Everything is in glass or plastic containers that seal. Pet food is in cannisters too, and the bowls are on special platforms that have insect repellant.

Some natives laugh at me and my whole bug-and-heat issues. However, their biggest laugh was my freaking panic attack the first time I saw the mosquito trucks. Second biggest laugh was my panic attack when the NASA alarms went off (disaster drill first Thursday of every month). Ha freaking ha ha.

Some of us remember the cold war, okay. And duck and cover drills. And have like a Pavlov dog reaction of total panic and anxiety to air alarm sirens.


SM, I see you rated a reply from my husband! Consider yourself highly honored!


Jen, absolutely! See, great minds agree.


Aliki, I prefer fresh circulating air too (of course...not here, not this time of year, my fresh air tolerance here is about 15 minutes tops).

Okay OMG my husband's family are total A/C hounds too!

They absolutely FREAK OUT that we open the windows. I grew up doing that a was how my family did it---fresh air as much as possible and canned air only when necessary.

But they ONLY use canned air.

I didn't get it at first. They kept asking if we wanted to close the windows, turn on the A/C. His dad kept explaining how A/C works, telling me it's there for a reason: to conditon the air.

I was like, huh?

It finally hit me, LOL.

Christine said...

We live is the frosty cold, wintery land of Western New York, so we have the opposite kind of weather. I used to live in Virginia and I actually miss the hot and humid summer. I know I am crazy. I also loved feeling that wall of wet heat getting off a plane or leaving an air conditioned building. I know I need help!

K said...

I hear you on the savoring the last days before melting, it was in the high 80's today. Of course, my husband and his family think it's never too hot to be outside. They don't sweat, they are complete freaks.

Beautiful picture, we'd kill to live by water.

Queen of the Mayhem said...

I feel your pain! The humidity here is ridiculous! We usually keep the air around 74 and lower it to we can sleep at night. It is sad when you have to use the AC 10 months out of the year! I suppose that is the drawback to life in the lovely deep south! :)

Julie Pippert said...

Christine, I used to gripe and moan anytime the temp hit humidity and upper 70s, or anywhere in the 80s in MA. I have friends who RELISH that weather and are the same through winter. I think each of us has some I don't know genetic thing where we tolerate certain weather better. In short, no, you are not crazy, just a summer person LOL.


Well K, we broke into the 90s today. 85 before 9:30 a.m. SHEESHAW! I swear, I am such a nasty person today. When I briefly lived in Alpharetta and worked in Atlanta...I used to complain bitterly about such heat and humidity. I swore like Scarlett to never, ever do it again. BWAHAHAHA Famous last words.


Queen, yep, that's a drawback. We do the same with the A/C (duh, just wrote a whole post about it LOL) and it really is b/c I can't sleep hot. And I require covers on top. You know, monster protection. ;)

Anyway, it is beautiful here. You know, through the window. LOL

I console myself as one might expect here in Margaritaville, LOL.