How we’re beating the heat this summer

I am a Northwest native.

Well, not technically. My family has been in the northwest only as far back as the early 1900s–but most of them came from northern Europe, and I’m guessing that they stopped wandering and settled in here because  when they got to this land of grey sky, green trees, and cool temperatures, it felt like home.

This (sorta) Old Life: history book

James Oakes, my great-great grandfather, was one of the early settlers in Whatcom County, Washington.

I grew up in a Seattle suburb (Burien), and after college I moved south all the way to Portland, which is really not all that different from Seattle, except:  It is about 5-10 degrees warmer on most summer days.

When I was growing up, 75 was a very warm day. If it got into the 80s, it was sweltering.

This (sorta) Old Life: rita as a young girl

Obviously it wasn’t too hot for a little lawn-mowing on this summer day. I bet Cane wishes I was still a lawn-mower–and in a dress, no less. (And hey, nice job on the bangs, Mom!)

So right now, I am DYING. We’ve been in the high 80s/low 90s since Thursday, and look at what’s still to come:


And it’s flipping JUNE. It’s not supposed to be this hot here ever, but especially not in June (aka: Juneuary).

This (sorta) Old Life: June rain

The view outside our window just a week or so ago. This is how it’s supposed to be this time of year.

For years I’ve said, “You can’t really count on summer here until after the 4th of July.” When my kids were little I wanted to dress them up in those cute summer red/white/blue outfits that are in all the stores for our annual 4th of July parade, but I never could because they would have shivered to death.

This (sorta) Old Life: kids 4th of July

Notice the long sleeve t-shirt. The girl in the background wearing jeans. The SWEATSHIRT. (Then maybe you won’t notice those super-cool bike helmets my kids are wearing. Kinda the equivalent of a really bad bang job. There must be a “make your cute kids look goofy by messing with their heads” gene that my mom passed on to me.) This was one of our nicer July 4th parades. See the shadows on the pavement? That means sun. We didn’t get shadows every year.

And, I’m going to admit it straight out: I am horrible when the weather is this hot. I whine. I complain.

I get very, very cranky.

This (sorta) Old Life:  Heatwave Rita

The heat triggers my migraines, which have been off the damn charts the past two weeks. When I saw the extended forecast last week, I started feeling just a wee bit frantic and panicky about the whole thing.

I know that we have it better than most of the US. I know I shouldn’t complain when others have weeks of 100+ and so many endured horrible draughts last summer, but here’s the thing we don’t have that people in those other parts of the country do:  We have no AC.

I never knew anyone who had AC when I was growing up. No one needed it. Those few days that got to the mid-80s were scorchers, for sure, but we’d just fill up a wading pool with water and hang out in it and it was all good. Or we’d go to the beach.

This (sorta) Old Life: heat wave

See all that blue on the left? That’s what home means to me. See that little tiny strip of blue projected for 2040? That’s in the mountains. That’s what climate change looks like, y’all.

Although I love our split-entry house like I never thought I would, I’ve come close to hating it during the past two summers. Heat rises (basic science), and all the main living areas are on the second level. Our kitchen faces west, which means that cooking dinner in there is torture on hot days.

This (sorta) Old Life:  split-entry kitchen

I LOVE those windows and their second-story view most of the time–but I curse them during a heat wave.

The only saving grace is our downstairs family room. (Which is coming along so, so nicely. Except for my little experiment with orange paint. That hasn’t gone so swell.)

This (sorta) Old Life: family room brick fireplace

I’m liking the IDEA of the orange fireplace. Just not those particular shades of orange. I got this done early on the first morning of warmer weather. By mid-day, we realized we needed to get some new window coverings installed immediately.

The past two summers, I have fought the heat. I have tried to ignore it, going about my life as if it weren’t 100 degrees. I have raged at it. I have whimpered. I have pouted. I have left and gone to the coast.

This (sorta) Old Life: Rita at the coast

We were at the coast just last week. Note that I am wearing a coat. And my eyes are closed because the wind is blowing. That’s how it should be!

None of these have been particularly effective ways of dealing with it. I mean, I can’t just up and go to the beach every time I get too hot.

So this summer, I am trying a different tactic:  surrender.

Just as I would never blithely go on my usual merry way if we were facing extreme weather on the opposite end of the heat spectrum, I’ve realized I can’t do the same with hot temps.

Rather than throwing a fit, I’m channeling my inner Laura Ingalls Wilder. Those ancestors of mine were pioneers and immigrants. They were farmers and fishermen. (Well, one was a dentist. But still:  They all had grit.)


Obviously, these guys aren’t whining in the face of a hot day (although Mary and Carrie do look a little strained). (image via

It’s not life as usual when we hit temps over 90. That kind of heat–that’s like locusts have descended, the crops are going to die, Pa’s sick, and there are real natives at the door who would much prefer that I find some other land to squat on. (OK, so the heat tends to make me exaggerate a little. Everything seems amplified when it’s way too hot out.)

The point is, one can’t just sit around wringing one’s hands in such a situation. One. must. deal.

Here’s our game plan for doing just that:

1. We adjust our schedule.

Normally, I spend my mornings writing. That’s my best time to do it, but I’ve realized that when the weather is hot, I need to shift that to a later time of day.

If we want to do anything that requires much physical movement or that will heat up the kitchen, we do that in the morning.

This (sorta) Old Life: Rita painting family room brick fireplace

I was hitting the bricks by 7:30 AM last Friday.

Usually, we don’t do much of any work after dinner, but we’re realizing that during heat-wave weather, that’s some of the only time we can get things done. We installed the new family room blinds at about 9:00 pm the other day. Even then, it was sweaty work. (And can I tell you how happy I am to be done with the soul-sucking plastic mini-blinds we lived with for two years in here!)

This (sorta) Old Life:  Family room window blinds

These are honeycomb window shades bought off the shelf at Lowe’s. They aren’t the most exciting window coverings, but they fit without cutting, they were easy to install, their purchase price didn’t require us to sell a child, they will be easy to keep clean, and they’ll be up at the top of the window most of the time, where we won’t see them anyway. We LOVE them.

We also stay up later and plan on an afternoon nap. Migraines have been making that almost mandatory for me, and we both realized that perhaps that’s a healthier schedule during times of extra-warm weather.

2. We find air-conditioning elsewhere.

Once it gets too hot to be at home, we often hit the road to find a coffeeshop that has AC. That’s a great place to work on writing or pay bills or do research (aka, dinking around on the internets). Another (free) option for getting the same kind of work done:  The library.

Afternoons are also the time we’ll do any shopping we need to do, as most stores have AC. Home Depot was a good place to be last Friday.

And if all else fails, we can always go to a movie (where Grace and I spent some of Saturday afternoon in blessed, dark coolness).


Totally inappropriate language, but this is our kinda chick flick. See how Sandra Bullock looks a little crazed and like she’s ripped her clothes off because it’s just too hot? More what I wish Heat Wave Rita looks like. (See above for what I really look like.)

3. We plan food differently.

Cooking dinner is just plain out of the question, and even grilling on our back deck is ridiculous when it’s over 90. (It, too, faces the afternoon sun.) Our solution is to prepare food in the morning that we can eat all day.

Grilled meat (because we don’t want to heat the kitchen any more than necessary) can be eaten cold in a salad. We stock up on lunch meat and bread/crackers, cut up plenty of fruit and vegetables, grate cheese, and make rice or pasta that can be eaten cold or heated in the microwave.

This (sorta) Old Life: fruit

We keep bowls of cut-up fruit in the fridge. Or, we try to. We do have 3 teens in the house.

4. We’re looking for the bright side of these very bright days.

Heat like this forces us to slow down. Rather than fight it, we’re trying to embrace it. When the weather is cooler, we can get too caught up in our household shoulds. These warm afternoons and early evenings force us to abandon them.

Instead of gnashing our teeth and wailing (or whimpering or bitching), we’re trying to embrace these days as the opportunity they are to enjoy some guilt-free pleasures–such as taking naps, going to the river, hanging out and doing nothing.

This (sorta) Old Life: wicker chair

This is a very comfortable spot to do nothing in.

Truth is, we know we have it way better than my pioneer ancestors–and many other people today. 

We are so lucky that we don’t have to work in this heat. We don’t have to harvest crops or build high-rises or direct traffic with the sun beating down on us. We have plenty of food and the means to preserve it, and even though our house is very uncomfortably warm, we’re not in danger of dying here.

Keeping this positive perspective in the forefront of my mind is my best heat-beating strategy. 

This (sorta) Old Life: flowers on deck

Appreciating the small things helps, too.

But enough about us…

How are you doing with the weather in your neck of the woods? If you’re a pro at dealing with heat and have some tips to share, we’d love to hear ’em. Please share–you know we love hearing from you.

Oh, and one more thing:

I never used Google Reader myself, but I know that it’s gone as of today. If you’d like an easy way to follow all your blogs, many have recommended Bloglovin’. I sorta hate the name of it, but that’s a dumb reason not to use it. I’ve followed a few blogs with it because it was their only good option for following, and I’ve liked it. I get email notifications every day with new posts, which works well for me.

If you’re looking for a way to follow us, here’s a link that can help you do so with Bloglovin’:
Follow my blog with Bloglovin

UPDATE:  Last night we tried one more idea:

This (sorta) Old Life: sleeping under the stars

As you can see, the sun is your alarm clock when you sleep outside.

Sleeping outside on our deck was great! Like camping, only better–inflatable mattress, inside toilet that flushes. Snuggling under the stars is a definite upside to heat wave!