I am a California girl through and through, but it took moving to Chicago for graduate school to realize that fact. Every winter (there were four, and I counted) I lamented, "What the hell am I doing here?" Growing up in the City of Angels, I attended high school just a few blocks away from the beach where they filmed Baywatch. Sun, sand, and beautiful weather were all things I took for granted. Up until my 21st birthday, my version of “cold” was 51 degrees and a touch of rain.
Nothing could prepare me for what Chicago had in store—not warnings about the “Windy City” or “the Hawk,” not the “good coat” my mom sent me off with—nothing. You can only know winter in Chicago through lived experience. You need to actually experience, for example, the kind of cold that literally takes your breath away, or wind that feels like it’s slicing at your cheeks. When I saw people on the news fighting over parking spaces after a snowstorm, I thought they were crazy. And then when it took me two hours of back-breaking labor to dig my car out of four feet of snow, I realized that I, too, would murder anyone who parked in my space.
There were many lessons to be learned in order to brave those grueling months from October to May (yes, it snowed every April I was there). To wit: Speed-walking to your destination is better than waiting outside for public transportation; there are actual secret passageways at the University of Chicago that allow you to walk across the entire campus without ever going outside; and you need an arsenal of wintertime weapons to survive. Hat? Check. Cashmere-lined gloves? Check. Tube of Vaseline for my lips? Check. Hand Lotion? Triple check. My weapon of choice: L’Occitane Shea Butter Hand Cream. It fit right in my pocket, and the little metal tube wasn't just cute, it also allowed me to squeeze every bit of moisturizing goodness out of it. Rubbing it into my frozen fingers was a soothing treat, and the scent was aroma-therapeutic. To say that I used it incessantly would be an understatement. I was addicted.
More than a decade later, living in another city also known for its chilly winters (though New York feels balmy in comparison), I am still a diehard fan. So Mom, friends, if you’re reading this, you know what to put in my stocking this Christmas.
Norell Giancana is a freelance writer, editor, and producer—and a newly minted Ph.D. in sociology. She is obsessed with Instagram but due to paranoia keeps her account private. Check out her web series “The Artist’s Way” on BET.com.