no hay mal...

The mother of all winters. 49 days at or below zero. Piles of snow taller than people. Polar vortex after polar vortex. Blizzards, deep freezes, and slippery road conditions. Welcome to the Minnesota winter experience.

If you Google "how to survive a Minnesota winter," or "things to do in Minnesota during winter," you will find encouragement to continue to enjoy the outdoor activities so popular in this great state. Hiking, snow shoeing, ice fishing, snowmobiling, and skiing. I have had to refrain from throwing my laptop across the living room at the discovery of these suggestions, as anyone with a small child at home can relate to. Not only would it be impractical to bring a child along on (most of) these adventures, but incredibly dangerous given the weather we have had thus far.

I would be hopeful that spring is coming as the advent of March approaches, but then I hearken back to the previous winter, during which I genuinely thought I would be giving birth during a snowstorm. My due date was June 3rd. Yes. Snowstorms through the month of May made outdoor "spring" sports near impossible. It doesn't give me much hope that the White Witch's spell will end any time soon.

I'm sounding pretty bitter at this point, aren't I? If you could hear me read these paragraphs aloud, though, you would realize that I'm saying them with an incredulous grin at the absurdity of it all. You would hear me chuckle about last year's winter extending all the way into the summer months. You know, taking it all in stride because I'm a Midwesterner, of German and British and Scandinavian stock. But you would also detect the crazy eyes, and you would probably hear my laugh turn slightly maniacal, driven to the brink of insanity by being shut indoors for days on end.

So anyway, the point of this is not to get anyone to feel sorry for me; Minnesota is not the only state surviving this vindictive winter. It is not to ask for advice on how to get through it, because we all do that the same way - one day at a time. It is simply to observe that there is some good to come out of this ridiculous season of my life. There is a saying in Spanish: no hay mal que por bien no venga. There is no bad from which good does not come.

So, in the same way I encourage my young volleyball players to learn from their losses instead of being sad about them, in the same way I appreciate paying for college myself because it helped me learn to be frugal and manage money, I think there is some good and some wisdom to come from this punishing cold.

We are going to appreciate this summer. A lot. Because, dang it, we worked for it.

We are going to spend every waking moment outdoors. We are going to have drinks on patios, and hike, and explore, and eat ice cream, and sit on a bench and take in the sun. And we are going to love every second of that humidity and heat. I am going to buy a pair of $2.50 flip flops from Old Navy and wear them until they have conformed to my feet. And then I will kick off those cheap sandals and feel the blades of grass in between my toes. And it shall be glorious.

You should have seen the people here in the Twin Cities when we had an almost 40° day a few weeks back. Picture the people of Munchkinland after the Wicked Witch of the West was killed. That was us. Doing heel clicks and skipping and patting our neighbors on the back with a wink and a smile.

If 40° can do that to us, imagine what 70° will feel like.

No hay mal que por bien no venga. We can't have the good without the bad. We can't have the sun without the dark. We can't have the warm without the cold. The good will come.

no hay mal que por bien no venga

life is life wherever you go

After my first mission trip to Mexico in 2004 I was in the honeymoon phase of culture shock. I connected with the slower pace of life in Sonora and using Spanish to actually communicate with native speakers made me feel alive. Suddenly everything about America was wrong, and I imagined myself living in a tiny house amidst wide open spaces in Mexico, making my tortillas by hand, toiling in the hot sun (which is a plus for me - I love the hot sun), and hanging my laundry out to dry. I imagined having my coffee on the porch watching the sun rise, and kicking back after a long day of hard word, satisfied with my labor. I wanted nothing more than to be a campesino. 

I spent the remainder of my high school and college years dreaming about exotic destinations, and actually getting the chance to travel abroad. By the end of college I had made it to Mexico a second time, Russia twice, Germany, Ecuador, Panama, and Colombia. It wasn't really until the end of my semester in Ecuador that I had truly cycled through the different stages of culture shock. 

Honeymoon, Frustration, Adjustment, and Acceptance. 

The honeymoon phase lasted a long time for me. On most of my trips I never even made it to frustration. I was too enamored of the new languages, people, and experiences. It was all exciting, and all better than "real life" at home. 

Frustration probably set in the most a few weeks into my semester abroad. I would cry for absolutely no reason during one of my one-on-one Spanish lessons. I would be trying to think of a certain word, or figuring out how to phrase something, and suddenly it all seemed so futile. My profe would be alarmed, wondering what had happened, or if they had said something to upset me. No, I would reply, don't mind me. I just have to cry for a second, but I'm fine, really. Living in another language is exhausting. Also, I just wanted a chocolate chip cookie and a 6 inch roast beef on Italian herbs and cheese from Subway. And a proper bowl of cereal with milk that didn't come from a box. Turns out most of my frustration was centered around food. 

I hit my adjustment stride one sunny Friday afternoon when a group of friends and I had margaritas right after class. We had nowhere to go, and nowhere to be. We were drinking margaritas on a patio at noon in Quito. I felt so content I couldn't bear it. Not to mention I finally felt like my Spanish was getting somewhere. People could understand my jokes, and I didn't have to pay such close attention to understand others. I felt superior to those who were stuck in winter back home, and I felt like I could conquer any situation travel threw at me.

A few weeks before we were to go home, I suddenly knew what acceptance felt like. I loved my home in Quito. I adored my host family, my Spanish professors were witty and helpful, and I had made a great group of friends. I couldn't get lost if I tried in Quito, and I could manage any task I chose to try in Spanish. But I suddenly felt a fondness for home - the midwest - that I had never felt before. I was excited to see my real family, my fiancee, and friends from home. Suddenly the U.S. didn't seem so backwards - just different. 

I finally realized that life - everyday life- is really the same wherever you go. Life is filled with mundane tasks and frustrations no matter where you live. I was in an exotic place far from home, but I still had to study, think about money, and fold my laundry just like at home. The people that surrounded me had to go to work, grocery shop, and take their kids to the park just like at home. It was an empowering feeling, knowing that I could truly live anywhere in the world, and I would adjust. 

Fast forward to the winter of 2013-2014. We're all pretty sure the White Witch is in power, because this is most likely an eternal winter. We're all fed up with the snow and sub zero temperatures, and most of us are planning real or fictional trips to somewhere warm. I keep thinking that somewhere else would be a better place to live. I should just pack up and move to Costa Rica! Why have I chosen this life? Why don't I live on a boat? I should have been a cowboy...or a pirate. 

And then I remember that life is life. Life is life in Costa Rica or Canada, Minnesota or Mexico. What frustrates me in Minnesota might not be the same as what frustrates me in Quito, but there are frustrations all the same. What exhilarates me in Bogotá may not be the same as what exhilarates me in Stillwater, but both places contain things that thrill me, that make me feel alive. 

So lesson learned, bloom where you're planted, and all that jazz. But I'm still planning a trip somewhere warm. 

happy things + odds & ends

I'm not sure if it was our recent trip to the Como Park Conservatory but throughout the past few days my mood has been more lighthearted, and hopeful of the coming spring. I've been doing some experimenting with regards to my bedtime and morning routines to help me start my days on a more positive and productive note.

First of all, I have been sneaking Pippa's dream feed up earlier and earlier each night, with the hope of eventually phasing it out. This helps me actually get into bed with time to read before my head hits the pillow.

Second, I have been practicing setting a mental alarm clock for 6:30 a.m., which is about a half hour before Baby Zero Hour. I remember hearing or reading that it's possible to train yourself to wake up at a certain time just by thinking about it. I'm not sure if it's my husbands alarm + snooze combo that's actually waking me up, or simply my desire to start the day a little earlier that's working, but on Monday and Tuesday I was able to greet the day with a smile at exactly the time I wanted to wake up.  I Googled this very phenomenon, and found this fascinating article. Apparently, routine and intent are essential to a great morning.

Other things that have been making my winter days brighter:

baking cookies

Borrowing some magic from Martha Stewart, but with my own "healthified" substitutions. I substitute one of the sticks of butter with a 1/2 cup of coconut oil, use wheat flour instead of white, and sugar in the raw instead of granulated sugar. Still not healthy by any means, but it makes me feel a little bit better about indulging myself. The texture is just how I like it - soft and chewy.

nature music on youtube 

Flowing streams, ocean waves, and birds chirping are my favorites right now.

chugging water

I don't know if it's the dry winter air or not, but I find myself with more frequent headaches, scratchy throats, and fatigue during the colder months. More water seems to help!

vitamin D

Gummy vitamins, of course.

new books!

Pippa's great grandma got her a Barnes and Noble gift card for Christmas so I could pick up some more Spanish books. Yesterday we picked out three: ¿Eres Mi Mamá?, Frida, and Siempre Te Querré
(Are You My Mother?, Frida - a children's book about the painter Frida Kahlo, and I'll Love You Forever.)

longer days

Has anyone else noticed the slightly later sunset? Less than a month until Daylight Savings and even longer days! Spring is coming, people!

this kid

palm trees in snow

The other day at my Bible study group, I mentioned that the winter blues were starting to get to me, and asked the other ladies what they do to survive the Minnesota winter while cooped up inside with their offspring. I cannot thank them enough for bringing my attention to the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory. 

Throughout winter my general outlook is that of a bear - hibernate. I desire to wrap myself in a fluffy blanket burrito of warmth and fall asleep at the stroke of 7 pm. This instinct is compounded with the addition of a baby bear, mostly because getting her bundled up and packed up for a day on the town takes about a year.  

Fridays are generally a free day for me, and I often end up only seeing the light of day when we take Pablo for a short walk. Because I had been singing the winter blues all week long, I was leaning toward making Friday a cozy day inside again. But something snapped within me. I think it was that Matthew McConaughey advice about wanting to be where you are. So I shut my laptop, stuffed everything we needed for the day in my trusty North Face backpack, and hit the open road. 

In a mere 25 minutes we found ourselves at the absolutely stunning conservatory. How this hidden gem escaped my attention for the 4 years I have lived here in the Twin Cities I will never know. I decided I didn't want to be bogged down my a stroller, so I tied on the Moby wrap in the car because it was still 0° outside. I tucked my little kangaroo in the folds of fabric to keep her warm, then sprinted to the door because I accidentally forgot my gloves. 

You guys, if I had all the money, you know I would be on the next flight to Peru or Costa Rica or Argentina. But as it so happens, I am still clawing my way out of student loan debt, so the Como Park Conservatory is the next best thing. Lush greenery, humid air, and sunshine wrap their arms around you, a safe haven from the harsh Minnesota winter. Tropical plants from every warm part of the world fill the gardens, and the scents of spices rise before you as incense. But enough of painting a word picture. I will let my actual pictures invade your eyeballs.

The nicest girl who happened to be a photography student offered to take some pictures of us.

This girl could not get enough of the greenery and chatted nonstop as we walked through the gardens. 

We bumped into some friends who took this lovely picture of us. 

Checking out the fishies

I miss Ecuador! Take me back!

Spring will come...eventually. Until then, we will definitely be returning to the conservatory for more warmth and green. 

Is there a botanical garden or green house in your area? Where do you escape to in winter?

just want to be here

Well, it finally happened. I thought I could escape and outsmart it this year. I thought I could outrun it, and I thought I could will it away with positive thoughts and good vibes.

But the winter blues have hunted me down like a lion stalking its prey, and they have thrown everything they have at me. If it's not bitterly cold, it's a snowstorm. That is not a complaint, though. That's stone cold reality. Now, as a mostly stay-at-home-parent, this means there is no escape. Most days, the temperature makes it truly unsafe for a baby to be outside for any real length of time. This means no walks, no adventures, and no jaunts about town. Our apartment gets little to no sunlight, and for the love of all that is good and holy, if I have to plan my outfits around wearing snow boots for one more day, I'm going to lose it.

Wow. That was a super negative paragraph. People, don't think I haven't tried my usual positive thinking tricks. I'm well aware how fortunate I am to have a home to be trapped inside, and how awesome it is that I have 2 pairs of warm boots to protect myself from the elements. But somehow those thoughts have not staved off the lethargy, carb cravings, and little desire to do anything but wrap myself in a blanket like a burrito.

The weather affects me. There, I said it. It makes me feel and sound weak. And I hate that. But it takes a mighty strong person to resist the February in Minnesota (or almost anywhere else in the country right now) blues.

I think admitting that helps. I'm trying to be aware of what I am feeling, put a name on the feeling, and let myself feel it.

So now the question remains. How does one get out of the winter funk? Naturally, I turned to the internet for solutions. Some of the suggestions made my brain think in angry emojis. "Try to get some fresh air and be outside." WELL IF I COULD DO THAT THEN I WOULDN'T BE GOOGLING SOLUTIONS FOR THE WINTER BLUES. The rest were pretty standard. In fact, I probably could have written any one of the 50 articles that gave the same 5 pieces of advice: eat healthy, exercise, get outside, buy a light box, take it easy on the caffeine.


Honestly, one of the most helpful pieces of advice came from Matthew McConaughey of all people. He is talking about a piece of advice he got from Jay Leno years ago. What he has to say here is profoundly simple.

Want to be here.

I heard that, and I just thought, "Well, alright then. I want to be here. Even if here is Minnesota in the winter."

My day wasn't automatically perfect after hearing that, but I did notice that I felt a little less anxious and a little more peaceful. I felt a teeny bit more motivated to get off the couch and work out. I enjoyed the scent of my incense a little bit more. My baby's smile was a bit more endearing. I was extra happy to see my husband come home from work.

Ok, winter. I'm here, so this is where I want to be. Do your worst.