In January Michigan is cold. This week the whole U.S. has had a cold snap, with even the Orange Bowl football game being played in Miami in forty-something degrees fahrenheit (around 10°C). But that's far from normal, whereas here in The North, 0°F (-17°C) is not uncommon this month and next. When Mr. North Wind bottoms it out with some wind chill, staying warm is an art. Out in the country we have a propane gas tank that feeds our forced air furnace ducts that web into the walls of the house, but we try to keep the front half of the house where we live warm with heat from the wood stove, allowing us to turn down the thermostat and save propane. This means the rest of the house is chilly.
If you are truly of The North and love it as I do, this is perfect for bedtime, because where I sleep must be chilled - in fairy tale proportions. So for instance if Hansel and Grethel were sleeping in a cold room, a Grimm might have written something like -
The fire had gone out, and the air became colder every hour that the hands on the clock moved around the face's numbers. The brother and sister huddled together under their shared thin blanket, hoping to catch some heat from each other and fall asleep before morning. But there was one good thing about being too cold to sleep. They were alert to plan their escape.
But that isn't how it was in the wicked witch's cottage. She had fed them and was plumping them up to be eaten. After a supper of pancakes with sugar, milk, apples and nuts they were tucked into a warm bed for a cozy sleep, unaware of their impending doom. See? If they were cold they might have been more wary.
100% wool blankets made by the Orr felt and blanket company of Piqua, Ohio (pronounced pick-wah) could have been a blanket fairy tale children would cover themselves with. When I pull out this old blanket I feel like a child of an old time. Wool has been the warm weave for centuries, unlike microfibers in comforters nowadays, which are very nice and warm but just don't have the same aesthetic. However one blanket is never enough, and I don't put a wool blanket directly on top of the sheet, because it is too itchy and scratchy, even through a sheet. It's better at the foot of the bed in case I wake up freezing and need an extra layer against the frost.
On dark winter nights it is nice to turn pages of Grimm's Household Fairy Tales, illustrated by R ANDRÉ under a warm fleece blanket by the wood stove. Snow-White and Rose-Red welcome a big black bear in out of the cold to warm up by their fire. Evil dwarves and wicked Queens are always stealing or selling, and usually plotting to kill somebody, sometimes to eat them - all pretty scary and grimm.
When it's time for bed there are those uncomfortably Siberian minutes getting undressed, washing my face, brushing teeth, thinking about how cold the sheets will be. This makes me remember sleeping in a three hundred year old stone cottage in the Scottish Highlands outside a village called Lairg on Loch Shin in November 1980. They kept each room's door closed and only heated them as needed. So our bedroom was freezing - more than even I could stand - but there was a heated mattress pad in the bed waiting for us after painfully undressing in the Frigidaire - I mean frigid air.
When one of you goes to bed before the other, or sleeps alone, there must be some strategy for warmth. I don't care for electrically heated pads or blankets. I like a heavy pile of three or four blankets that doesn't move when I do - first the sheet, which needs to be dense weave cotton, no polyester, then a soft cushy fleece, then a heavy cotton quilt, then a flannel blanket and maybe the Orr wool, and if it's any warmer than 60-63°F (15-17°C), I get too hot. Perfect is having your body toasty and your face cool. The heavy blankets feel protective when you've just read grim and scary stories too, I think, but I don't want the story too scary to stick out my foot in case I get too warm.
The Orr felt and blanket company and Pendleton started making blankets in the 19th century, and during World War II both made hundreds of thousands of drab green army blankets for soldiers. I picture them not being able to get quite warm enough under one thin wool army blanket on cold winter nights, and that's no fairy tale.