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Freeze-fried eggs, the value of Vaseline, the relativity of pain — and other things we've learned from Chicago's deep freeze.

Before the Great Polar Vortex of 2019 is nothing but a memory and a bragging right, let’s take a moment to appreciate the things this time has taught us.

Things like this:

That sandwiching a plastic bag between two layers of socks will keep your feet warm.

That the smoke rising off Lake Michigan is called “arctic sea fog.”

That the strange noises we’ve been hearing on these subzero nights are called “ice quakes.”

And we’ve learned that even in a time of ice quakes and arctic fog, some of us need to go out for coffee or, frankly, go out for anything because we’d rather die of frostbite than cabin fever.

Did it really take the polar vortex to teach us that working from home is overrated? Yes, it did, at the same time it revealed how many people work from home in nightwear they are freakishly proud to display on social media.

We’ve learned that even after the apocalypse there will be an open Starbucks.

Other things we’ve learned:

That in winter’s subzero depths, it helps to repeat “At least the sun is out.”

That in this fathomless cold, the daylight is so piercing it makes snow sparkle and tree branches shine and the sliver of morning moon look etched into the sky. We have also learned that this unsparing light does not enhance the image in the mirror.

We have learned that Vaseline is our best friend.

In these few days — Only a few? The media coverage has made it feel like a century — we’ve learned that the sound of your car starting when it’s 20 below is more beautiful than the sound of wind chimes at the summer shore.

We — one of us, anyway — have also learned that you should not rock the car crazily back and forth on the ice to get out of your curbside parking spot because that could do something very bad to your car, which you’ll realize only when you start smelling gas; and when you smell that unfortunate smell, you’ll tell yourself you’ll think about it tomorrow. Because. You. Have. Got. To. Get Out of the House. Whatever it takes, whatever it costs. Now.

And we’ve learned this:

That it’s fun to say “Chicago is colder than Antarctica!” while ignoring the fact that it’s currently summer in Antarctica, meaning the comparison isn’t that impressive.

It’s also fun to say “Chicago is colder than Mars!” even though most of us have no idea what the temperature is on Mars.

And we’ve learned that just because Chicago is colder than Mars doesn’t mean there’s no global warming. But we already knew that. Didn’t we?

Other things the polar vortex has prompted us to learn:

To do the penguin walk on icy pavement and not to care that it looks ridiculous; being safe always trumps looking ridiculous.

To leave two layers on indoors because getting entirely dressed and undressed is as exhausting as Rollerblading nearly naked on the lakefront when it’s 18 below.

We’ve learned some bozo really did that. Hey. It’s Chicago. There’s always one.

We’ve learned that if you crank your home’s heat up, one room will swelter and the others will stay frozen and your fruitless attempt to heat your porous place will suck up all the money you’d been saving for that vacation somewhere warm.

We’ve learned we should have sealed the windows back in October.

We’ve learned many totally pointless but thrilling things too. Like there’s such a thing as freeze-frying, and you can do it to an egg on the sidewalk!

(Thank you to my Tribune colleagues Stacy St. Clair and Morgan Greene who braved the cold to conduct this newsworthy experiment.)

And we’ve learned — again — that the worst weather brings out the best in many people: The ones who fix the broken water pipes, fight the fires, help the homeless find shelter, shovel the snow for their neighbors.

Now our polar vortex education is coming to a close. We’ll remember some of what we learned. Some things we’ll have to learn all over again.

But this truth we should hold on to:

After 21 below, anything above zero feels like winter in Hawaii. Which just goes to show that pain is relative and suffering always passes, at least when it comes to the weather.

mschmich@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @MarySchmich

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