This is the time of year when you see photos of "polar bear" people jumping into a stream, lake, river or ocean in sub-freezing temperatures.

Don't look for me in any of those pictures. The only way I would jump in water in the middle of winter was if my parka was on fire.

As a matter of fact, my blood has thinned out so much that I can't watch more than 5 minutes of figure skating or hockey without the sight of all that ice making my teeth start to chatter.

If I see a group of kids walking to school in T-shirts and shorts on a 10-degree day, I have to turn my car around and go back home to put on two more sweaters.

Of course, this was not the case when I was kid. I would stay outdoors on winter days so long and my face would get so red from the cold that it looked like my neck was blowing up a maroon balloon.

There were several factors that enabled me to withstand the cold much better in my youth. First on that list would have to be long johns.

Actually, long johns had two meanings, and I was fond of them in either definition. One was an elongated dessert of doughnut dough topped with white icing and coconut.

The other version of long johns was not nearly as tasty, but was far more valuable in the winter months - long-sleeved top and tights-like bottoms made out of thermal material.

Worn under heavy corduroy pants and several layers of shirts, sweatshirts and jackets, these long johns were ideal in keeping me relatively toasty for hours in snow, ice and slush.

The baked goods long johns were much tastier, but they would not have kept me as warm as the thermal long johns did. They would not have even been good ear muffs because the shredded coconut would have gotten in my ears.

While I haven't been a big hat or cap guy for many years, I wouldn't have been able to keep warm in childhood without a woolen cap that could be rolled down like a window blind the colder the weather.

I had two such blue wool caps. One would work for everyday situations. When it was rolled up, it covered my crew cut. When it was unfurled, it prevented my ears from freezing and possibly falling off.

The second one was a ski mask that was reserved for the coldest of the cold days. It had two advantages.

The first was that it looked pretty cool. I could imagine myself as a masked superhero, although I don't know what my super power would have been, except, perhaps, to somehow find and slip on every patch of ice in the neighborhood.

I would have called myself the Skid Kid if I had thought of that name then instead of 50 years later.

The second benefit from the ski mask was that it did keep my facial freckles from freezing.

However, it did have its downside. On really cold days, the vapor from my breath would crystalize and accumulate on the ski mask, eventually forming icy stalactites.

There were days when I resembled a walrus with two icicles hanging down from the woolen mask.

While wool was effective as head and face wear, it left a lot to be desired when it was used as hand wear.

As was the case with most kids, I started out my cold weather play time with mittens. I was not a big fan of the fact that my hands now resembled lobster claws with just a thumb and a pocket for the four fingers on each.

These woolen "claws" were very inefficient when used to make snowballs. I could never make a really round snowball when I was wearing mittens.

When the snow was light and dry, mitten-made snowballs tended to disintegrate into small puffs.

When the snow was wetter and heavier, the snowballs were much better. However, mittens had a bad habit of sticking to such snowballs when I threw them. Often, my mittens flew farther than the snowballs.

Woolen gloves were an improvement over the mittens, but not much of one. The problem was that after one or two snowballs made with heavy snow, the gloves would be soaked and tend to make my hands colder rather than keeping them warm.

This made the worst part of playing in the cold and snow even worse. Black, buckled boots were the footwear of choice in our neighborhood. These rubber boots slipped over our shoes and were secured easily by closing three or four buckles.

The problem was that the buckles would become frozen shut after hours in the snow. This was made worse by the fact that my fingers were frozen because of the soaked woolen gloves.

Trying to open those icy buckles with frozen fingers was like trying to pick up a quarter while wearing a baseball glove.

The lifesaver in this situation was the big, coal-heated radiator in our kitchen. My brothers and I would place our gloves and socks on the radiator to thaw out, and ourselves next to the radiator to thaw out.

That's why when it gets as cold as it has been, I stay indoors. I sit around in my long johns eating long johns and drinking hot chocolate next to a portable heater.

(Walt Kozlowski, a freelance writer from Mount Carmel, composes "Walt's Way" for each Sunday edition.)