My wife and I are approaching our 13th wedding anniversary this spring, and thus far we’ve avoided succumbing to that traditional wrecker of marriages – the thermostat.
I like a cooler house. She likes a warmer one. Like Congress, it’s unlikely we’ll ever reach a compromise. So we remain content to sneak around the house raising or lowering the temperature whenever we can and then disavowing any knowledge of it. The kids, after all, are tall enough now to reach the thermostat. Maybe they did it.
So I appreciated a New York Times op-ed by Ken Iglunas, who recently experimented with lowering the thermostat in his rambling Nebraska house as far as it would go – 45 degrees – and then living that way.
He’s single, by the way.
And he doesn’t encourage us to go to his extremes. But he does want us to ponder how the environment might be helped – less fracking for natural gas, fewer greenhouse gas emissions –if we all set the thermostat a little lower. Not to mention research that shows higher indoor temperatures might also contribute to obesity.
There’s also another, less scientific argument to be made for shivering now and then: A little discomfort is good for the soul.
No matter how good our standard of living, many of us – and I include myself – are continually in pursuit of goods and services that make our lives ever easier. It’s like we have not only a survival instinct built into our DNA but also a compulsion to exert ourselves as little as possible. Lacking the real, sustained threats that still plague hundreds of millions of people around the globe, discomfort and inconvenience becomes our enemy.
So we hunt relentlessly for the parking spot closest to the door, complain that our warp-speed Internet connection is too slow and lunge for pre-packaged food in the grocery aisles.
Which is why I’m grateful for Fritz, the miniature schnauzer puppy we brought home on Dec. 20.
In theory, getting a puppy at the holidays, when my wife and I would be home more to train it, made sense. What I didn’t consider was how often you need to take a dog outside when you’re house-training him and how cold it can get this time of year, even in North Carolina.
Pre-December 20, I slept as late as possible and spent as little time as possible outside. For now, at least, my sleeping-in days are over. No matter what time you put Fritz to bed, he’ll be up at 6:45, or 7 at the latest, needing to go outside, where there’s a good chance it’s raining or freezing or both. And you must stay out there with him the whole time to make sure he does what he’s supposed to do. This winter has taken on a surreal quality where I start and finish all my days shivering in the dark and repeating in as manly a voice as possible, “Potty, Fritz. Potty.”
This way of life is neither comfortable nor convenient, and yet I have become well-acquainted with how stunningly bright the stars are on a winter’s night. I’ve found, too, that I feel sharper, like I’ve recovered an edge and a focus I’d lost a bit over the past couple years. It’s how I felt when the kids were really young, and you could sit around thinking about doing something or actually do it – because there wasn’t ever time for both.
We’re made to test ourselves, not to take it easy for very long, to journey out of comfort zones in ways both small and large. In the grand scheme, Fritz is a small test. A nine-pound test to be exact. But that’s apparently what I need now.
And my wife is getting into the spirit too. The average nighttime bedroom temperature in the U.S. is 68 degrees. With her permission, we’ve been setting our thermostat at 62. And she’s ok with that, until she wakes up.