Tips for Surviving Winter in MN

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Some might confuse Minnesota for the South Pole, but there is a distinction between the two: One actually has a population that chooses to live here full time. 

Yes, as we are entering our FIFTH month of winter and after what fees like an eternity of subzero temperatures, I thought it might be helpful to share a few tips of surviving the remaining 2, maybe 3 more months we have to look forward to. 

1. Don’t let the media fool you, Polar Vortex is just another name for Arctic Clipper, and that’s no big deal, is it? I mean, we’ve been living through Arctic Clippers for years. Its an old friend to us in the upper mid-west. Polar Vortex sounds ominous and serious, but don’t be fooled by the media’s attempts to sensationalize, it really is nothing more than a regular old clipper coming down to visit from the north pole.  

2. Snow has many textures, and it’s prudent to learn which are necessary to get off your walkway ASAP, and which can lay there until you actually feel like shoveling. Wet snow is a back breaker, but your back will truly break if you leave it until the next day and it has turned in to a sheet of ice in the overnight subzero temperatures. (We get those a lot, subzero I mean) I recommend shoveling the nasty wet slop before nightfall. My husband’s broken rib agrees. 

3. Sunshine, does not mean it’s warm. In fact, it usually means the opposite. Don’t be tricked in to thinking you are getting a reprieve from the ‘Polar Vortex’. Oh no, it is likely -20 out there, so dress accordingly. Mittens are not optional and no sticking tongues to flagpoles. 

4. In -20 degree temperatures, boiling water really will turn to dust. I can attest to this fact, having actually done it. It was my early years of living here, when I still had enthusiasm and curiosity about the oddities of living in a frozen hell. (I hadn’t realized it was hell, but now I know better) My children were younger, in elementary school and I had read about this amazing phenomenon: If you boil a cup of water, throw it in to the air in -20 deg temps, and it will vaporize. Well, let me save you having to live here, it does. Moving on. 

5. Snot can freeze in your nose. Tear drops will turn to ice. Yes, its not many places that can brag about such amazing feats of nature. When my friend called one year complaining about being so cold (50 deg) and that she had her heating blanket on, I politely informed her that the snot hadn’t frozen in her nose, as had mine, going out to get the mail. Silence, then nervous laughter. There really isn’t a comparison to that, now is there? No, there isn’t. Moving on. 

6. Do not leave unopened bottles of water in your car, and for the love of pete, never carbonated beverages. Not unless you are curious to see the physical results of water expansion up close and personal. All over your car. 

7. Never judge an eskimo. They have polar survival down pat. Fur actually works. New modern materials are a godsend also, but a pair of woolen socks and fur lined boots will keep your little piggies toasty warm, and prevent frostbite. Hate fur? Try living here, then come talk to me. You’ve not seen the damage frostbite can do. Purple/black toes of the dead? Don’t judge until you have live the life. Trust me on this. 

8. Never underestimate the power of wind. There is a vast difference between -20 with no wind, and -20 with wind. I recommend staying inside. There are all kinds of ways to deal with -30 to -50 wind chill, but why? Why not stay inside and just pretend you are living somewhere else? Thats my recommendation, and something I’ve practiced many times over the years. It works. Go with what works. 

9. Forget fashion. I’ve looked at the fashion magazines for winter clothes and I laugh. Heartily. Winter fashion is for southern climates. Up here, with the Arctic Clippers for companionship, its best to be warm. For about 6 months we all resemble the michelin man more than humans, but hey, we live to survive another year. Resign yourself to boots and sweaters. When you make that mental shift, you’ll be so much happier. That, and its a free pass to eat more. 

10. And finally, winter never really ends. Sure there are some years (like last year) when it snowed in May, so it literally felt like winter would never end. But, I’m talking more about a state of mind here. Winter never really leaves your mind, no matter the season. When it finally releases its grip to spring, all the talk is about what an awful winter it was. During summer no matter how nasty, unbearably hot and humid it becomes, (90deg + 80%humidity is not unheard of here) comments always fall to “It could be -20”. All of fall is spent trying to eek just a few more moments of warmth before the world sinks into the sub-zero. One never really escapes winter here, so stock up on vodka and let the party roll. Hey, it works for the Russians, right? 


Muddling Through

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When I woke up this morning, it was actually 28. Mind you, the date on the calendar is April 2, and yet the temp has barely topped 43 degrees for months. This is the life of someone living on the Great Plains of the upper midwest. It is a life of extremes that most cannot quite understand unless they have lived it.

I have many friends who are natives, and love it here. My daughters, who have basically been raised here, love it here. I however, was raised and lived all my life on the west coast of the country, am not a fan. I mean, in all my years on the west coast, I can honestly say I never heard nor saw someone doing this as April approached:

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Yes, that is grilling in the snow. This is a more positive view compared to a couple weeks ago, since we had one of our ‘balmy’ days and the snow had melted enough for us to actually GET to the grill! We decided it was cause for celebration, it was above 32 degrees and so the meat would actually cook!

Yes, Minnesota is land of extremes. Summers are beautiful I won’t lie. They are green, lush and by August, dry. This is the land of lakes, and we have plenty. Ironically, I’m not really a lake person, but I do love the river. While the lakes are silty, murky and have lots of vegetation, the St. Croix is beautiful. By late summer it’s warm, clean and slow running. No slimy weeds in your toes or little fishes like Sunnies to bite at your moles. My girls love to take a gaggle of girls, head to the beach to hang out and tan. One of my favorite family summer traditions is to pack a picnic lunch, and paddle the canoes from Taylors Falls down the river a few miles, ending up where shuttle bus takes us back to the car. It’s a lovely way to spend 4-5 hours on a hot and steamy June day off.

The heat here starts in June and doesn’t really let up until mid-September. While we have -20 in the deepest part of winter (Just for reference, that is cold enough to freeze the snot in your nose. Cold enough to vaporize a cup of hot water thrown in the air) , we reach nearly 100 at times in the summer. It’s a steamy heat due to all the water we have, so with heat index, it is over 100 at times. So, come August, another favorite family summertime tradition is to go up to the North Shore of Lake Superior. It allows us to escape the heat for a brief week. Not only is is cooler up there, but the scenery is breathtaking. Being that far north, you cannot see to the other side of the lake. It reminds this coastal girl of the ocean. It is my guaranteed once a year sanity break from being land bound. That far north, you sit on the slopes of the Iron Range. Tall pines, birch, elevation that produces rivers, streams and fun climbing trails all remind me of my beloved Central Oregon and the high desert around the Three Sisters Mountains. Staring out my window and looking at this:

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makes me pine for summer up north (Grand Marais) where we enjoy this:

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Sigh. When spring consists of snow, snow and more snow, it’s hard to envision and recall the warmth and green of summer. Right now, the forecast is for yet another couple days of cold, with the hope of warming by weekend. Sadly, all that warmth will bring is mud. Lots and lots of mucky, muddy, soggy ground that will result in lots of work to keep clean. Spring brings rain, which on the still frozen ground, results in flooding. Spring water and warmth, brings the mosquitoes, which are big enough to be semi-laughingly be referred to as the state bird. Spring brings the humidity. But at least with the arrival of spring, I know that summer is not far behind.

We had our first snowfall here mid-October. It’s now April 2. I won’t lie, my patience for winter to be over is waning. My fingers itch to be out in the garden. My body is restless to be in something other than turtlenecks and sweaters. My dog yearns to be taken for long walks in the farm fields. It’s a feel of expectation and anticipation. It’s a sense of impatience that grows stronger with each passing day. I know that once the thermometer hits 50, I will go from impatient toe tapping to frenzied activity, so I guess during this transition, I’ll have to settle for muddling through.


Let it SNOW!

Let it SNOW!

I always say that the first snow fall! That childhood joy excitement emerges and it’s just so beautiful that first snow fall. I would prefer not quite as MUCH snow on the first snow fall, because as an adult and NOT a child, it means my husband and I do the labor of shoveling.

But when the sun is shining on the snow, it is just so bright, cheery, and mood lifting. It’s what you envision at Christmas time. I know that Christ was born in a desert, but I cannot help but associate Christmas and snow together.

I’ll be enjoying this snow until February. Then my foot will start tapping in anticipation of spring, which in the arctic tundra, doesn’t come until April.

Still, its gorgeous right now, and no need to think beyond the holidays. For now I’ll just revel in the reason for the season, grateful for home, health and hearth….and snow.