Getting through this winter

Let’s hear it for winter in Minnesota! It’s that time of the year when we separate the wheat from the chaff. 

You know what I’m saying — the polar vortexes, the beardsicles, the Halloween blizzards: “You know about the Halloween blizzard of ’91, right?”

Yup. There’s nothing we Minnesotans like better than meeting a recent arrival to the state (usually by way of marriage to a native) between the months of May and October. 

“Oh, you just wait,” we chuckle good-naturedly as we recount our favorite wintertime horror stories. 

Actually, I feel sorry for these new residents of our extreme state, probably because I’ve never really felt “at home” in Minnesota, despite living here my entire life. During my long tenure here, when more well-adjusted types would break out their cross-country skis and organize Christmas-tree-farm outings, I could generally be found alone in my drafty house, scowling. 

At least before I had kids. 

Now that I have little ones, I feel an obligation to stifle my true, winter-loathing nature for their sake. So I take them sledding, accompany them to ski lessons, hobble around with them at the local skating rink. Children seem to be immune from the agony of cold weather, so I engage in some magical thinking and pretend it doesn’t bother me either. 

Google “how to survive a Minnesota winter” and you’ll be treated to many articles and blog posts —  advising you to “shift your attitude” to a more winter-positive one, reminding you that “there’s no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing,” and chirpily urging you to take up a winter sport.   

This is actually valid advice. But invariably this stuff is written by true Minnesota believers — people who inherently like living in this climate. I’m not one of these people, and this is why I feel a holy obligation to share my own Minnesota winter survival tips. 

Get some sun/light

I used to think SAD (seasonal affective disorder) was just a made-up condition designed to sell light-therapy boxes. And maybe that’s true, but those light boxes work, man (at least for me). I used to flop around all winter, feeling sluggish and exhausted — until my doctor wrote me a prescription for a little box of indoor sunshine. 

I must admit, I was skeptical. But I tried it out, turning on my blazing light box every morning when I sat down at my desk to work. And it helped! I had more energy; my brain went from fuzzy to clear; I even felt more “positive” about the fact of winter. 

Move around 

Ideally outside. A few years ago — during my Year of the Light Box, in fact — I was so energized I decided to take up winter jogging. I honestly don’t know what possessed me to do this; I hate jogging, and we’ve already established my feelings about winter. 

My only explanation is that “two negatives equal a positive,” because for some reason, running around (slowly) in the frigid cold was somehow enjoyable. It’s not like summer, when every millennial with a sports bra is trotting around Bde Maka Ska. It’s a different breed of outdoor exerciser entirely. Also, it’s quiet. And maybe even a bit picturesque. 

Stay warm 

Remember back in junior high, when it was totally uncool to zip up your winter jacket, no matter how cold it got? (At least, that’s how it was at my school.) 

I must have internalized that “winter gear is totally dorky” attitude, because I spent many years freezing my @$$ off in order to look “cool.” 

I finally got over that idiotic thinking when I realized no one was looking at me anyway. 

And this has ushered in a whole new, wonderful world of winter clothing — ankle-length parkas, balaclavas, knee-high wool socks, as well as my latest purchase, a brand-new pair of Mukluks, acquired last summer in Ely, that iconic bastion of Minnesota outdoorsy-ness. 

I guess maybe I’m turning into one of these Minnesota winter cheerleaders after all. 

Shannon Keough lives in St. Paul with her husband and two children. Send questions or comments to [email protected].