Tuesday, February 5, 2013


Today I give thanks. I give thanks for central heat. Even as I'm sitting here in my cool basement with my (naked) feet freezing, I can't help but think of how much colder they would be without the furnace chugging away in the background, working to bring the upstairs temperature up to 70 degrees.

Isn't central heat an amazing thing? Think about it. Think about how people had to live for hundreds and thousands of years before central heat. Sure, if you were living in a warm climate, no biggie. But the Inuit? The Russians? The Vikings? No wonder they were grumpy - they were probably freezing their tuckusses off!

I can't imagine living in cold climate with only fire to warm me. Sure, you can heat up a brick to warm your feet, or maybe manage a hot water bottle. You can stoke up the wood in the fireplace to a roaring blaze - but that will heat a limited area for a limited time, and frankly make the rest of the space that's further removed from the fire feel even colder.

So I'm assuming people were cold. It's a big assumption. I don't live in 19th century England or 16th century Minnesota or Siberia at any given time period. I can only guess what it was like, and how one dealt with the vicissitudes of weather sans heat (and AC!). Looking at 19th century British fashion plates, the dresses shown for winter don't look all that much heavier than the summer ones. I suppose they often used wool, that they wore more layers, etc. But were they COLD?

I was reminded again of the blessings of central heat, which I admittedly take for granted, while hawking Girl Scout cookies with my daughter this weekend. We were in the entry vestibule of a grocery store, not even fully outside - although the doors were constantly opening and closing, so it wasn't all that much protection from the elements. And while it was a cold day, especially for Virginia, it was 30 degrees - which was a good 10 degrees warmer than the highs of the previous week.

Still, I froze. Dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved shirt with a wool-blend sweater, followed by my medium-weight Lands' End winter coat, gloves, and a hat. And I was freezing. Granted, I DID stupidly wear my tennis shoes - which, I realized, are actually running shoes, which meant they had just mesh across the toes. Hardly insulated. It was, therefore, mostly the toes that were screaming for warmth.

Three hours we stood there. That's it. Just three hours, and I was fairly warmly dressed, and I was SO DARN COLD. What would it be like to be in England in 1814, when it was so cold for so long that the Thames river froze and people held fairs on it? Would one EVER feel warm? Could fireplaces adequately heat a home? And when you had to travel - how did you stay warm? Even sitting in a carriage I would imagine still to be quite chilly, not to mention being the drivers or footmen who had to ride outside, exposed to everything.

I'm determined in my next novel to write about this cold. I suppose I should look in period sources to see if there is much reference to it, but my modern-day woman who ends up in 1812 is going to notice some major differences. And until last week, I hadn't really thought about the fact that one main one would be heat (I HAD thought about AC).

In fact, isn't it amazing trying to think through all of the changes of the past two hundred years? It's rather mind-boggling to be trying to puzzle out what would strike a time-traveller most. What would be easiest to accept? What most difficult? How do those play into a work of romantic fiction - I want a semblance of reality and probably WILL address the toileting issue, but truthfully, how much do readers want to know about that? And how much will I really be able to learn about toilet habits, anyway? I'm not sure they were the subject of many treatises. (I've already discovered there were special chamber pots ladies' maids could slip under a lady's dress - can you imagine being the maid having to hold the pot while the lady tinkled - or worse?)

It's amazing to think about all the differences in the ability to provide for a general sense of comfort - many great, some probably not so great. Toilets. Running water. Heated water. Central heat. A/C. Maxi pads.

Yeah, there are tons more, but you get the picture.

In the meantime, I'm going up to find some socks. After I take a hot shower. And then head out on errands in my heated horseless carriage to procure ready-made foods of an amazing amount and variety. I might even consider stopping at a restaurant that hands you food through a window.

Can you imagine THAT in 1812?

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