Mark this day on the calendar. For five hours straight, the sun shone warmly down on mid-Michigan from a cloudless blue sky. In February.
Phenomenal. Glorious. Magnificent.
Thank you, Lord.
It’s no secret that much of the country has recently experienced a preview of winter. As I type this, my yard is covered in a few inches of snow and the sunlight seeping through the thin haze of clouds has everything glowing. My friends and colleagues in West Michigan are under as much as a foot and a half of snow. And, of course, Upstate New Yorkers are trying to dig out of six feet of it!
Snow like this, especially before Thanksgiving can make people super cranky (adults, anyway–children, it seems, are programmed to be ecstatic about snow any time before Spring Fever sets in in February). Granting that there are major problems when you get the kind of snow that Buffalo has in the past few days, the photos we’re seeing on Twitter and Facebook are generally showing people making the best of things–turning their front doors into refrigerators, shoveling in shorts and sandals, hopping into the hot tub between the drifts.
The nice thing about Buffalo being so bad off is that I’m not hearing much complaining from Michiganders at the moment. Which suits me just fine. Because if there is one thing that doesn’t change anything when it comes to weather, it’s complaining. However, knowing that some people, despite being born and raised in the Midwest, have a hard time with winter, I thought I’d offer the Unofficial Midwesterner’s Guide to Loving Winter (a.k.a., The Top Ten Ways to Get through Winter without Entering the Spiraling Vortex of Self-Pity):
10. Open the Blinds and Turn on the Lights
Look, around the 45th parallel, it gets dark in winter. And I’m not just talking about the sun setting at 5 o’clock. Around the Great Lakes, it is cloudy. Like, almost all the time. Sure, you get the occasional blue sky and brilliant sun, but on most days you need to seek out the light, invite it inside, and supplement with electricity. If you don’t seek out the light, you may find yourself suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (symptoms include depression, extreme self-pity, irritability, and bringing everyone around you down). Older houses like mine tend to have lots of big windows. I face an east window most of the day at my desk, which really helps with my moods. But if you find you just aren’t getting enough natural light, get yourself some of those “sunlight” lights or at least up the wattage in the bulbs around your house. Turn on every light in the room. Get outside on sunny days. Schedule a skylight installation.
9. Get Cozy
My friend Meghan introduced me to the Danish term hygge and I’m so glad she did. It wasn’t really a new concept to me, but I finally had a word to describe how I kind of already felt about winter as a time to enjoy being enclosed–in a house, in a room, in comfy clothes, under a warm blanket, with family and friends, eating lots of comfort food and drinking hot cocoa. Winter’s the time to enjoy being indoors as much as summer’s the time to enjoy being outdoors. It’s a time to layer on body fat and clothing and cuddle together to keep warm. It’s a time for sweet solitude and joyful togetherness.
8. Get Moving
But all this coziness can lead to feeling sluggish. And at some point, you’re going to get Cabin Fever. Not everyone knows this, but I’ve done some firsthand research and found that snow is not toxic. It can be walked upon, trudged through, played with, and even eaten with no ill effects! So get your butt outside and enjoy it! As long as you dress for the cold, endless possibilities are open to you, from walking your dog to making snow angels to skiing to snowshoeing to snowmobiling to surfing for crying out loud! Go places! Just make sure you have a shovel and a warm blanket and a granola bar in the car and that you brake gently, earlier than you would on dry pavement. Winter driving isn’t hard. It’s just different. Load your trunk with sandbags. Get yourself some snow tires and a vehicle with 4-wheel drive. Leave ten minutes earlier.
7. Burn Stuff
Fireplaces, candles, bonfires–winter is the perfect time to burn stuff. It gives off extra light (see #10 above), encourages and adds to hygge (see #9 above), and it gets you moving a little bit (see #8 above) by chopping, stacking, and gathering wood. Also, it smells great and sounds like childhood. Perfect the art of making a great fire, and you’ll be an indispensable part of any gathering in a home built before about 1990, when everyone starting installing gas fireplaces (which, let’s be honest, are a bit like vegan sausage). Fireplace or no, save up your money and go buy yourself a nice Yankee Candle. May I recommend Balsam & Cedar?
6. Make Stuff
Oh, the things you can create when you have months inside! Mosaics, birdhouses, origami animals, paintings, cookies, quilts, hats, paper chains and paper snowflakes, music, novels, poetry, babies, Lego civilizations…the list is endless! That craft or skill you haven’t used in forever? Dust it off! That thing you’ve been wanting to learn for years? Get some library books and start trolling YouTube for tutorials! You can waste your winter grumpily watching TV and complaining about the cold on social media, or you can actually DO something with your time. Make some Christmas gifts. Make a hot meal for an elderly shut in. Make time for reading and prayer and reflection on the big things in life.
5. Feed the Birds
It’s not just for retirees, honestly. If you have a window at home or work, you can put a birdfeeder out there and I have to tell you, there is something about little birds that gives a watcher nothing but positive feelings. And watching squirrels? Hilarious! And sometimes you even get to witness an altercation like this:
For a winter-loving double-whammy you can make a birdfeeder and even make homemade treats for the birds from seeds, nuts, dried fruit, bacon fat, peanut butter and more! (see #6 above)
4. Celebrate Small Victories & Don’t Take It Personally
Did you manage to drag your butt out of bed before the sun rose even though it felt like the middle of the night? Good for you! Did you walk the dog without slipping on ice and bruising your tailbone? Congratulations! Did you look out on a snowy night and think about how beautiful it was before you starting cursing about how much you’d have to shovel in the morning? Gold star! Garrison Keillor is fond of pointing out that winter offers us many opportunities to overcome adversity, and that that makes us better people. I agree with him. Even the little things that winter makes more challenging can shape our character. Do we take those challenges as a normal part of the season that everyone around us is also experiencing? Or do we take it personally, like God has it in for us and is up there laughing at us? As Keillor says, “Winter is not a personal experience.”
3. Share Your Most Harrowing Stories
Let’s face it, if the roads weren’t so bad, we’d have a lot less to talk about in the winter. Everyone loves a good “near-miss” story, the kind where everyone else out on the road is an idiot, but through your incredible driving skills you were able to pull out of a heart-stopping, spinning, skidding death trap and save your family’s life while avoiding the deer and the jack-knifed semi truck. Sure, your shoulders and back are aching as you get out of your car after three hours of white-knuckling it on the highway on the way to your extended family’s Christmas party in Traverse City. But when you make it there, you’re the hero! You’ve won the Iditarod! You’re Robert Peary reaching the North Pole!
2. Seek Out the Beautiful
Every season has its own particular beauty. Spring has colorful bulbs and trees bowed with blossoms. Summer has wildflowers and beaches and amazing sunsets. Autumn dazzles us with red and orange and yellow leaves against a blue sky. In the same way, winter can stop you in your tracks. The sparkling light reflected from each facet of every snowflake. The hypnotic effect of big, lazy clumps of snow falling outside the window. The utter quietness that pervades a snow-filled wood. The shock of a red cardinal against a backdrop of white. The enchantment of your living room decorated for Christmas. When you’ve seen one too many dirty, slushy parking lots, go out and seek the beauty that is out there waiting for you.
And the most surefire way to get through winter with a smile on your face…
1. Choose to Love It
Attitude really is everything. It can mean the difference between success and failure in so many parts of our lives. When we choose to be positive about a situation, we so often find that there was good in it all along but we were blinded to it because we were so busy wishing that things were different. But when you live in the Midwest, winter is reality. It will happen. Sometimes it will happen BIG, like last year’s Polar Vortex and the last few days in New York.
Choosing to love it doesn’t mean we pretend it isn’t a very real trial sometimes. But it does mean that on any given morning, when we have to shovel the driveway and scrape the car windows and leave extra early to get to where we’re going on time, that we can at that moment choose to be miserable or choose to be stalwart, cheerful, and proud that we are a people who drill holes in the frigging ice to go fishing and drive snowmobiles across the Straits of Mackinac to get groceries.
And, most importantly, we laugh at those wimps down south who shut everything down when there’s an inch of snow on the ground.
What if we could go right from January to March? Right from the beautiful snowy newness of the first month of the year to the month when crocuses and daffodils start pushing through the soil? Here are 11 good reasons February should just be skipped altogether.
1. Too cloudy. I have no proof for this, but February seems a lot cloudier than January. If it’s going to be 20 degrees, shouldn’t the sun at least be out? White ground and blue sky look great together. Gray skies just make the snow look kind of dirty.
2. SAD. A large percentage of the population hits the Seasonal Affective Disorder wall in February. See earlier point about clouds. In Michigan we all get even more mopey and downtrodden than normal and the littlest things can drive us to despair. What? The timer on the coffee didn’t go off? I may as well go back to bed for a week.
3. No good holidays. Groundhog Day? Seriously? You do realize that if it just happens to be cloudy on February 2 (see earlier point about clouds) that there will be no shadow–and then spring will still come on the spring equinox. Valentine’s Day? Too much pressure and too much pink. Also, hearts are so ’80s. President’s Day? Just another reason for Art Van Furniture to make irritating commercials.
4. A culinary wasteland. All the indulgent feasting of the holidays (the real holidays) is done. The sudden desire in January for fresh fruits and vegetables in order to start the year off right by eating healthier has worn off, but it’s still too snowy for grilling and eating outside.
5. $$$. You get the heating bill for January and realize that you will now have to set the thermostat at 56 degrees in order to pay your bills.
6. Cabin fever is spreading. Forget the flu; cabin fever is as harmful to the mind as H3N2 is to the body. We’re all getting a little stir-crazy in the north. It’s that time of year people plan vacations they can’t afford and spend untold hours trolling the interwebs for time shares in Florida. We just want to see some green foliage and eat outside again. Is that too much to ask?
7. Supplies are running low. We’re running out of firewood up here. There’s that unsettling feeling in the back of our minds that soon things will get a bit desperate and we’ll be twisting straw together until our hands are raw in order to feed the cookstove like Laura Ingalls in The Long Winter. Okay, maybe we don’t have cookstoves, but we have been forced to buy wood because we’re down to the half rotted wood at the bottom of the pile.
8. We’re getting fatter. Yes, there are treadmills and gyms in Michigan, but what we need is good old-fashioned yard work and ice-free sidewalks so we can get off our big butts and get some exercise. We need to build sheds and trim our trees and mow our lawns and dig in the dirt. We need to take the dog for a walk without fearing that the sight of a squirrel will set off a chain of events that ends with us flat on our backs and in need of weekly chiropractic adjustment for the foreseeable future.
9. We’re desperate for fresh local produce. February just adds yet another month that we have to wait before we can eat real strawberries that taste like strawberries rather than the pitiful excuse for strawberries they ship up from Mexico.
10. It’s getting stuffy in here. Our windows have been closed way too long and despite the fact that we’re keeping up with the laundry and vacuuming regularly, the whole house is starting to smell vaguely of an evil mixture of wet dog, old pillow, and potato skins.
11. Seriously, it’s way too cloudy. I just can’t say that enough.
There you have it, folks–all the valid and compelling reasons we should skip over February entirely and get on to March. So, how can we get this done?