I will admit it: these past two days I have, midday, set aside my to-do list (long, long, always incomplete) and crawled into bed for an afternoon nap. I am a bit under-the-weather, but after two days of these shenanigans, I think it’s time to admit that I am under this weather, these continual sub-zero, take-your-breath-away, freeze-your-nose-hairs days.
Oh Minnesota. I love you. I do. I am a huge champion of my adopted state. Don’t come between me and my Land of 10,000 Lakes, because I will always go to bat for this place. I love the people, the social services, my neighbors, the emphasis on family and education, the way things run like a mini-Sweden, all tidy and efficient. I love the cities with their world-class museums and arts, and the country, with its trails and orchards. I love my running paths and parks and shimmering lakes, the geese in the summer. And yes, I even love winter. At least, I don’t mind it. I find it silly when Minnesotans complain about the snow and cold. I want to say People! What did you expect? We do not live in California. This is what we signed up for. Yes, the winters are long, and they are dark, and the snow piles so high we create our own mountain ranges in the Target parking lot. But we wear good gear and we keep the soup pot bubbling at the back of the stove and we stock up on oatmeal and herbal tea and we slick our bodies with the best lotions and we just keep going. That’s what Minnesotans do. We still walk our dogs and play hockey and ski and run. We drive on roads covered in sheets of ice. We plow our way to piano lessons in the worst of blizzards. We are survivors.
But this winter. Oh, this winter. Even the heartiest of folks, we have been brought to our knees. This morning, when I checked the temperature, it was -30 with windchill. Weeks and weeks of this, and we’re all feeling a little crackly around the edges. The kids have played outside twice (twice!) in the past month. My beloved running trails, thoughtfully groomed all through the winter, lay buried in three feet of snow. Even the city workers have thrown in the towel, or the snowplow, as it were.
So, amidst all this, when I’m on the brink of revolting if I have to make another pot of soup, I’ve been keeping a running list of “Things I Love About Minnesota Winters” in my head. Survival tactic, that’s what this is:
*I never have to worry about my groceries spoiling if I leave them too long in the trunk of the car. They could stay for hours. Days! Weeks! So could that banana peel I found frozen in the cupholder in the back of the car. No spoilage in these parts.
*Winter is productive for writerly artists. In the summer we live outside. We shutter the basement, pack away the Legos, stow away the board games, and resist the urge to burn the soup pot. We chase that sun just as long as we can. But in the winter, we do the work. We sit, bottom in chair, and write.
*Winter is a time of gathering. We spend a lot of time together as a family. Totem living, that’s what this is, all stacked on top of one another. But it’s bonding time. We play board games, read stories, play Legos, and bake muffins. We grow close.
*We don’t shop–I save money! I am not much of a shopper anyway. In fact, I would call myself a chronic under-shopper, but still, I can’t knock out five store when it’s ten below. Not with a preschooler in-tow. I haven’t been clothes shopping in three months. Preston finally came to me, pleading for new shoes, after he showed me that his old ones were flapping open at the toe. I went out the next day, sliding my way along the icy roads, braving the knife-like wind, and got him new shoes. Everyone else will have to wait ’til spring.
*It’s beautiful. I will admit, I love the look of winter. The world appears frosted in thick icing. Evergreen trees covered in snow may be my favorite thing, and a fresh snow, even in late February, makes me happy. Seth and I skied the other day through the woods, and it was just like Narnia. I expected at any moment to round the corner and see a lamppost, and perhaps Mr. Tumnus walking toward it, carrying a stack of wrapped parcels. I thought perhaps I’d see the White Witch too. She and I really need to have a heart-to-heart. I could tell her that while I loved this land of always winter and never Christmas, I really hoped that sometime soon, days or weeks from now, Aslan would step his enormous furry paw upon this frozen landscape. He would open his muzzle and breath warm breath, giving our beloved corner of the world the smallest hope of rebirth and renewal.
And that, above all, is what gets me through. Hope. I’ve done this before. Life vibrates deep under this frozen surface, and soon, so soon, I will be first-hand witness to a miracle.
Until then, it’s time to crawl out of bed and make another round of soup.
Friends! Happy New Year! We had such a memorable holiday around here. First, the stomach flu. It was the gift that kept on giving. We even handed it off to Dallin and Janelle’s family, who visited for Christmas. It was like the plague–we all knew it was going to hit us, we just didn’t know when.
It hit me the night before the BIG Christmas program at church, the one I was supposed to direct, the one in which Jackson was to join the tenors and Preston was supposed to sing Silent Night as the gentle , pure, closing number. Well. No one could get out of bed in the morning. Not a single person.
So I pulled on my red Christmas dress and crawled to the church by myself. Seth showed up just in time to help the bass section and we both willed ourselves through the (glorious! Beautiful!) Christmas program. There were angels in the rafters. Violin, piano, gorgeous insights from the speakers, all culminating in the Wexford Carol, which came together through prayer and miracle. That one hour, it made my Christmas. Then Seth and I crawled home and went to bed, for the entire day.
That’s how Christmas rolled. Fancy dinner plans gave way to seltzer water and eggs. But it was still wonderful, full of music and movies, a magical night followed by a magical morning.
In a real-life reenactment of Home Alone, we raced to the airport for a Christmas evening flight to Texas, where we spent the post-holiday celebrations with my family. Cousins played air hockey, we all gained back the five pounds we lost with the stomach flu, Mom and Dad shared memories, Ryan blessed his baby Simon, and we swam and played water volleyball until our hands were wrinkled as raisins. So much laughter. So much admiring of my handsome little nephews.
The fellowship broke up after a few days, but we lingered until the new year. We saw The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and loved it. (So much so, we’re hatching plans for a trip to Iceland!) We rang in the new year with a final dip in the pool, then Seth and Addison headed back to Minnesota via car and the rest of us flew. We were both rescued along the way, Seth and Addison by the State Trooper who gave them a ride when the alternator died, and us from the airport by my amazing friend Diann, who shuttled us home and stocked our fridge with milk and eggs for morning.
We are all home now. Christmas has been boxed up. (My favorite part of the New Year!) We are scheming up goals and lofty travel plans, tidying corners and settling in. Kids are off school today because of the cold. (-33 with wind chill.) We are eating egg rolls and playing Guillotine (thanks Dallin and Janelle!) and trying very hard not to slip on skis and slide across the lake.
We are, all of us, finding our rhythm for the new year. It’s going to be a good one.
I can’t describe how good 16 degrees feels on the skin. Balmy! Downright tropical! I know the whole country has been shivering, but living next to the freezer coil that is Canada, we got some extra special blasts of cold air this past week.
But things are looking up. I’ve stocked up on herbal tea and the most enormous summer sausage from Costco–holiday essentials, you know. Most of the Christmas shopping is done, thanks to Amazon. I even sewed kitchen curtains yesterday. No Christmas card yet–we’ll see when that happens. I’m either in a zen state or my brain is frozen.
Speaking of brain freeze, last weekend Seth and I attended the famous St. Olaf’s Christmas concert. We were late (of course) and parked miles away (of course) and it was -16 outside (of course) as we ran across the campus, and I really did feel my brain freeze, right there inside my skull. But. It was worth it, because inside that auditorium Christmas was happening in the most marvelous and reverent way. Hundreds of singers in choir robes, a true heavenly chorus. It was spectacular. And they let us join in–I sang “All Creatures of Our God and King” at the top of my lungs. About seventy-five percent of the audience wore Scandinavian sweaters, and the whole thing felt so authentically Minnesotan. I felt so happy to live in this gem of a state, even with my brain slowly defrosting.
It’s been all Christmas music around the house, on the piano and violin and Pandora. Mostly choral and classical. We can’t get enough. In the car we are listening to Little House in the Big Woods. This is our third time (for me about the 20th), but for the littles it’s all new, the hunting and cheese making and Christmas of peppermint sticks and mittens. Is there a more perfect children’s book?
I love this time of year. What are you listening to/reading/making?
It is so dark outside! How do I not remember the darkness from winters past? The sun skims the sky in mid morning, giving us a few hours of light before dropping from sight before I’ve even started dinner prep.
We are following the light. Seth works in whatever room catches the morning rays. Asher sits like a cat in patches of sunlight, playing Legos. I mostly drink cups and cups of mint tea, which keeps me warm and keeps me from eating peppermint Joe Joes, which is what I really want.
Seth and Jackson chased the light all the way to Arizona, where the hiked around the Grand Canyon and spent time with Seth’s Grandma Lewis, who is 93. He said the trip was life-changing, reflective, a reminder of priorities. Grandma is the last surviving grandparent for both Seth and I. She is the mother of 12 children and still cracks the best jokes.
Addison is 10! Today! We celebrated this past weekend with a raucous group of football lovers. They even braved the brutal temperatures outside for a game of touch football, playing until their fingers froze. I always vow to be finished with birthday parties, but goodness, how can I deny my son the joy of nine besties chowing on pizza and learning the art of paper football? I cannot. The parties continue. They are their own beam of light.
I interrupt the radio silence on this here blog to bring you an update. It is winter in Minnesota. Seven degrees on my morning jog. Seven! And Addison is still running around without a coat. You would never know he was born in Miami.
We are in the midst of painting the kitchen/living room and tiling the bathrooms. There is a toilet (R.I.P.) sitting on my front porch. Everything else in the house, including all the coats/hats/dirty rags that usually sit in the laundry room, are in the front room. Cold and chaotic is how things run around here.
But this: I took Asher to his little preschool yesterday, and watched him gallop through the door on his stick horse. And I thought:
Oh to be four
And gallop next to your best friend
On a stick horse
I told this anecdote to my sister and she said, “That sounds like the beginning of a Billy Collins poem.” So there you go, Billy Collins. Your first stanza written.
The boys went back to school today. The house was quiet, just Asher and I. (And the professor, working from his office under a tree.) The stack of papers on or next to my desk is about three feet high. There is much to do.
But good golly, all I want to do is hold on to the summer, this magical, magical Summer 2013. The sun-tinted, watermelon-flavored days. Hours on the trampoline, weeks in the Pacific Northwest, nights reading aloud to my long-limbed boys. My perfect, perfect trip to London with Seth.
This summer my garden grew only partially, I wrote very little, the house was nearly always messy, we ate a lot of cold cereal for dinner–and it was fabulous! I didn’t make jam or blog or do a single craft with my kids, and we never, ever cracked our summer math books–and it was awesome! Instead, we swam, a lot. We got good and grubby. We spent so, so much time together.
But the best part of all was family. Family reunions and family gatherings, reminding us of this great, glorious peoples we get to call ours. We played in the shadow of the great Camas paper mill, where my Grandpa Arvidson worked his entire life. We hiked in the foothills of my mom’s childhood, and explored with cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles on the beaches of my childhood. Even in London, walking through Westminster, standing in front of Old Bailey, I could feel the spirit of my people, my great British ancestors.
My yard in the back is covered in leaves. The air snapped yesterday, bringing hints of what’s to come. It’s going to be a fabulous school year. But oh, summer! You have been so good to us. You filled my cup, brim to overflowing, enough to carry me through whatever comes next.