2/5 winter is done…

I have read several people’s facebook entries and blog entries today, many of which are singing praises because January is behind us and winter is on its way out.  Most of these people don’t live here in Minnesota though.  I feel like if I lived in a place where January really was near the end of winter, I’d be rejoicing too.  But here in Minnesota, we have more snowy months ahead than behind us.  Our ice out day(the day when the lakes turn this weird shade of blue and the ice suddenly disappears) is not usually til mid-April. The thought of nearly three more months of snow and ice and cold and bad roads is almost more than I can wrap my mind around.  It’s about this time every year that I have the daily thought of jumping in the car with hubby, the dogs, and the kids and driving to greener pastures and never coming back.  It really is a daily battle for me.  So, I think that will be the first criteria on my list for the new place we are headed.  Winter has to be almost over by the time we tuck January behind us.

New Resident’s Guide to Life on the Tundra: Practical Things You Should Know When You Move to Minnesota

There are some things about living in Minnesota that are really good to know. Moving here is not like moving to a normal place because of the extreme weather. When you move here they should give you a manual. We had no such manual, but thought it might be useful to share what we have learned through experience.

1. You should shovel your roof.  If you don’t religiously shovel your roof, or install a gutter heating system, you will develop ice dams. And those are very bad, very, very bad. They can cause your roof to leak at which point your husband may shout “D*M@  ice!” (not that mine has done this…)

2. When the temperature drops suddenly you may hear loud bangs on your roof.  And I mean LOUD, like someone dropping a heavy box on the roof.  Have no fear.  This is a result of the sheathing freezing and pulling away from the nails that hold it to the roof joists.  That’s right, your roof is freezing off.

3. Snow tires are a very good investment.  If not snow tires, buy tires with aggressive tread. These will prevent your car from entering 180’s on the highway. An event even more frightening when traveling with your 4 children.

4. Your children need to bring their snow pants and boots to school.   They will continue to have outside recess every day unless it gets “too cold” which will be somewhere below 0.   They may even be able to sled during school.  Our kids had to learn the sledding hill rules and then were given a sledding license which allowed them to sled at recess. In the spring, send them to school with their snow pants and mud boots since they will continue to have outside recess during the messy, muddy thaw.

5. Buying snow boots from Target is fine.  Your kids’ feet will be warm because the Target boots are rated to -25 and you will save yourself some money.

6. That siren you hear is not for the firemen to come to the station, it’s the tornado siren.

7. Minnesota has more tornadoes than any other state, they just aren’t usually as deadly.  So, when you hear above mentioned siren please have a plan and act on it.

8. Your water is hard, you need to soften it.

9. Be sure to get your car to the carwash frequently as the road chemicals are apparently bad for it.  But you must do so before the temp drops below 0.  The carwashes close when it gets too cold.  And the lines are REALLY long once the temp comes back up.

10. When you are having dinner guests and they offer to bring a salad, they may actually mean a jello mold consisting of jello and any myriad of ingredients including jello, fruit, nuts, snickers, cottage cheese, vegetables, and occasionally tuna.  Please clarify what they mean so as to prevent any surprises at your door.

11. On Halloween they don’t Trick or Treat til dark.  So tell your kids to wait until the sun goes down or your neighbors may get annoyed and think you are rude.

12. In the summer the sun starts coming up at 4 and it doesn’t get completely dark til 10.  This is great but you may need room darkening curtains to help yourself or your little ones sleep.

13.  In the winter, the sun does not come up…Ok, not really but it feels that way until mid-January when the days start to feel longer and you’re no longer going to work and coming home from work in the dark.

14.  When at a four way stop, the rule is that you wait your turn.  I’m not sure if there are actual laws of right of way governing these intersections, but if there are those clearly don’t matter.  Just wait your turn, you’ll be glad you did.

15.  Put your Christmas lights up in October so you don’t freeze to death doing it in December.  And don’t stick yard ornaments in the ground unless you really like them and realize they will freeze into the ground and be there all winter.  We spent our first winter with candy canes lining our driveway til May.

16.  Last but not least, if you have neighbors who seem to be doing quirky things to their homes that you don’t understand, you may want to watch carefully and do what they do.  Minnesotans know how to make it here on the tundra.

You know you live in Minnesota when 25 degrees is warm…

Sunday morning we began to emerge from those horrid sub-zero temps.  We went to church and I was amazed at how many people were wearing only down vests or wind breakers.  Later that day, I had to bring my daughter to a friend’s house and I decided I would  try only wearing my vest. Heck, if they can do it so can I. BAD IDEA.  Before I made it into my car I was freezing!

Today I worked at the University of Minnesota.  The 8 block walk from my parking lot to my building is usually unbearable, especially when the windchill dips, but at 25 degrees and with no wind, it was not so bad.  On the way out of work I wore my winter hat (which they call a stocking cap here) and my scarf and gloves, but I decided to not put my big furry hood up.  Oh yeah, I’m tough.  I don’t need no stinkin hood.  I was feeling pretty good about myself until I crossed the street and there was a guy in a short-sleeved polo shirt and jeans…Clearly he was thinking spring had arrived.  These Minnesotans are a hardy bunch.  I’m pretty convinced that through some process of natural selection they are genetically programmed to deal with the cold.  See, it’s not my fault I don’t like winter.  I have tropical blood running through my veins! (My dad is from Puerto Rico.)

Minnesota Part 5: Midwest moderation, a blessing and a curse.

This is from a note I wrote on facebook in October 2010.  I wanted it to be part of my blog.  Sorry if this is a repeat for you!

The Midwest has proven to be an unusually nice place to raise a family.  Everything here is pretty moderate (well, except the weather).  Tempers are tame, foul language is kept at bay, the food isn’t spicy, housing is pretty affordable, everyone is generally nice.  But good grief if that doesn’t bore this former east coaster to tears sometimes.

We have, since we moved, here made it a practice to leave the state once a year to keep ourselves sane and remind ourselves that we don’t actually live in Pleasantville.  That there is the real world out there with passionate people willing to speak their minds and tell you how it is. Yes, I actually miss that.   Sometimes life here in the burbs of Minneapolis feels a little like the Truman show.

I got honked at the other day.  It startled me really badly.  No one ever honks their horns.  My heart started racing and I was mad.  I felt ALIVE!  I know it sounds funny, but really, you can’t know unless you have lived it.  Nice isn’t always better.

The kids are becoming fully indoctrinated to the midwest way of life and to the Minnesota nice.  Getting them to speak their minds is a losing battle.  I have stopped trying to fight it.  It’s my own fault.  I moved them here.  I can’t hope to raise straight-forward, vivacious Jersey girls and boy 1,200 miles from the ocean, from New York and from all things “Eye-talian”.  No, if we stay here my kids will grow up nice, mild-tempered Scandinavians (except for their brown hair, though Hannah even has that right) who don’t hug each other when they meet, and think going to the cabin is the best thing this side of heaven.  And I guess that is good, though it feels a bit like a resignation.  There is no risk in it.  Growing up in Minnesota, there is a really good chance you’ll turn out right and decent, though probably not dynamic.  And maybe that is my sorrow.  I kinda want my kids to be effervescent dynamos who say what they mean, mean what they say, and go after what they want.  Or at least I want them to be a part of a culture that teaches them to believe that sometimes it’s ok to do so.

Minnesota Part 4: The winters here are REALLY Cold and REALLY LONG…and did I mention cold and LOOOONNNGGG?

Trouble Spot #3: The winters here are REALLY COLD and REALLY LONG…and did I mention COLD and LOOOOOOONNNNGGG?

You had to know it was coming.  What’s a discussion about Minnesota without a discussion about the weather?  My other two posts about the culture and social climate here in Minnesota could be considered more subjective. People could say that it is particular to my experience, my suburb, my personality.  But when we talk about the winter, there is just no relative notion to it.  The facts of the matter, without injecting my opinion, are that the winters here are REALLY cold.  Now, when I say cold, I am not just talking about normal cold, like it gets into the teens and there is something to talk about cold.  Oh no.  I am talking about bone-chilling, booger-freezing, feels-like-your-exposed-flesh-is-being-stabbed-with-knives kind of cold.  And the winters are LOOOOOONG.  There is no equally dividing twelve months into four seasons here in Minnesota.  I don’t care about the solstices and equinoxes.  Those DO NOT APPLY here. Winter lasts at least November to April, sometimes October to May, and anyone who tells you differently is delusional and is trying to convince themselves, as well as you, of a LIE.

At first, when we decided we were making the move to MN, we’d joke about the weather.   “Oh, it’s gonna be cold,” we’d say and follow it with lighthearted giggling.  WE HAD NO IDEA.   I often ask myself why under the sun did I not ask someone about the weather before we moved here?  Why didn’t I talk with some of the locals we met on our house-hunting trip and ask them to tell me about it?  Well, it’s better I didn’t. Because there is a bit of propaganda that Minnesotans spew in an effort to convince themselves and you that the winter here is really not that bad.  They’ll tell you, “But it only gets THAT cold for two weeks in January.”   Really, that’s great.  So, only for two weeks in January I risk freezing my exposed flesh in 10 to twelve minutes?  It’s only for two weeks that I have to worry about properly dressing for a walk to the mailbox because if I go and slip and can’t get back into my house I could DIE?  Oh, that’s not so bad.

Or, they will say, “But we have such great summers.”  Sure you do, if summer ever arrives. In the years that it gets here, it arrives in July and leaves Sept 1 like clockwork.  I have had at least one summer of the 3 that I have spent here where every time we planned to go to the lake, it was too cold.  My daughter Piper turned 4 that year and if you look at the pictures of us from that day we are wearing SWEATERS in JULY.  And really, summer should last at least from June til September, yet another denial of the equinoxes and solstices.

And my favorite winter lie- “Winter isn’t that bad if you embrace it and do winter stuff.”  Here’s the truth folks:  Winter is STILL THAT BAD.  Just because I get out and ice skate or sled doesn’t make the winter any less bad.  It doesn’t make it warmer or less snowy.  It may improve my experience of it for a brief and fleeting moment, but the fact is that winter will still be brutally cold and horrendously long and any amount of cross country skiing or snow shoeing won’t change that.  The ONLY reason I ice skate or sled is because I can’t do the things I’d rather be doing if it weren’t winter!

Now, I know there are people who love winter.  They wait the long months of spring and “summer” for that first snowfall in October.  And for them, this IS THE PLACE.  They have arrived.  But this was our epiphany experience after traveling to Texas in December.  WE HATE WINTER.  HAAAAAAATTTTTTTEEEEEEEEEE winter.  Why on earth do we live in Minnesota?  As we made the long drive back, we felt the ceiling closing in on us.  Traveling north and seeing the snow pack gradually appear, we felt our freedom being slowly robbed from us.  Freedom from coats and boots and gloves.  Freedom from daily snow shovelling of the sidewalk and the driveway and the ROOF.  The freedom to just go outside without any preparation or special gear and sit on the deck and grill without freezing.  The freedom to garden and run on GRASS, to play ladderball and baseball, and to go on family bike rides.  And yes, while much of the country has experienced a bit more winter in the last month than they are used to, we have been dealing with it since November.  And while our friends in other states will for years talk about that really snowy winter they had in 2010-2011, for us here in Minnesota, this is just how it is.  There is no hope that next year won’t be as bad.  THIS IS WINTER in Minnesota.  GOOD GRIEF-why didn’t I GOOGLE IT?????????????

Minnesota Part 3: Only the grown-ups are weird

Although life in Minnesota has been challenging, there are some very good  things about this place.  After sharing two of the more difficult aspects of living in here, I thought I’d share something positive.  There are rays of sunshine that I will miss when we eventually make our exit.

We have four children.  For the sake of cyberspace let’s call them Natalie (age 11-6th grade), Skyler (age 10-4th grade), Connor (age 8-2nd grade) and Piper (age 5-kindergarten).  And they go to school with really great kids.  The kids here in the western suburbs of Minneapolis are different from the kids out on the east coast.  From the very beginning they have taken our children under their wings, they’ve shown an interest in learning about where we are from (and in hearing us talk funny ;-)), they have been welcoming and for the most part really kind.  (I say for the most part because Natalie and Connor have had minor run-ins with bullies, but nowhere is perfect).

It’s kind of strange being able to say that, given the experience we have had as grown-ups trying to make friends and I am not sure when the transformation from hospitable, friendly child to stoic, insular Minnesotan takes place, but it isn’t before age 11 for sure.

Growing up and going to school in New Jersey, I had a completely different experience than my kids are having here.  My family was middle class without a lot of extra money, so I didn’t have name brand clothes.  My mom shopped at Kmart for me until 5th grade when I threatened to go naked, at which point we started shopping at Fashion Bug, which was still not Macy’s or Brave New World (a super cool surf/ski store with all the clothes the cool kids had).  For whatever reasons, whether it was my clothing, my friends, or the fact that I was smart, the powers that be soon decided that I was not cool. By the time 7th grade hit the lines were drawn in the sand and it became clear that my friends and I were not at the top of the social scaffolding.

Now I’m not saying that these social groups don’t exist here in MN, they certainly do, but the kids just aren’t so mean about it.    There are definitely kids with Uggs and North Face, but there are plenty of kids with Fuggs and Northern Exposure (Kohl’s brand) and no one makes anyone feel bad about it.  There is a sense of midwest practicality that pervades and an economic sensibility.  There is much less a feeling of having to keep up with the Joneses, or to make sure your kids are keeping up with the Joneses kids.

Skyler is in fourth grade.  She has lots of friends who travel and has recently been dropping hints about how she too would like to travel someday.  One of her friends leaves the country for vacation every year at winter break.  When Skyler told her that we have never left the U.S., the little girl didn’t mock her for it (though Skyler can’t BELIEVE that she has never had this opportunity).  Instead, her friend brought ber back a friendship bracelet from Mexico.

Natalie was 8 when we moved here and she probably had the most trouble making the adjustment.  After all, she had lived the longest in Jersey and therefore was the most different from the kids she met here.  Soon after we moved, we realized that people here just aren’t as loud as we are, and I had to coach her (and myself) on toning it down a bit, and on the usefulness of not saying everything that comes to mind.   Her friends still tell her she’s LOUD and crazy, but I am continually awed with the acceptance she finds.  One of her friends, who is very sweet and quiet, told her once, “You are really loud, but I like it.  Life wouldn’t be as interesting without you.”

Maybe that is the up side of the Minnesota Nice.  People may not be outgoing and welcoming, but they are polite and nice, and therefore, so are their kids.  And for the years when friendships don’t need to be to too deep, that works out just fine.  We just need to make sure we get out of here before our children make the transformation, along with their friends,  into grown-ups who are just a little too Minnesotan!

Minnesota Part 2: Minnesotans love Minnesota

Trouble Spot #2: Minnesotans love Minnesota.

This is actually a really good quality and one that I desire for myself and my children. I want us to love the state where we live. It does however create a bit of a cultural conundrum. Because Minnesotans love Minnesota they never leave, and if they do leave, they often come back. This produces a tightly woven community of people held together by shared history and common experiences. Generations of families often live in the same town or within an easy drive of each other. People raise their children alongside friends they’ve had forever. It’s actually a beautiful thing, unless you’re an outsider trying to break in. In which case it feels like an impenetrable fortress.

I don’t fault the Minnesotans for this. By the time you are thirty-something your friendships are fairly well-established. And if you have generations of family surrounding you, along with the friends you’ve had your whole life, you really have no need of new people. And if you have little need of new people, you’re much less likely to open your eyes and really see anyone new who might be around you.

Now mind you, I love people. I enjoy meeting new people, reaching out to people, hearing their stories, understanding where they are coming from, making them a part of my life. So arriving in a place where that is such a monumental task has been really unexpected and difficult to deal with. And three years in, I haven’t made much headway.  There are two people I hang out with on a very regular basis, and then another two that I see at least once a month or every other month. It isn’t that I don’t know anyone else, but I am just talking about those people who I get together with regularly or who I call just to chat. Of those four, three are transplants. There is my friend from Mississippi, my Colombian friend, a friend from New York, and a friend who has lived here since she was five. (She is the closest thing we have to a Minnesota friend. We have joked with her about why she bothers with us and thank her for being a friend to us outsiders). Over and over again I hear the same story from people who are not originally from here. They can’t break in, they can’t make friends. As a result we transplants are drawn to each other. Perhaps our inability to be accepted as a part of this place is like our own little bit of shared history that draws us together, and we create these mini-communities of folks that are not from here.

Because of all this, holidays can be especially hard. As if it isn’t bad enough to be thousands of miles from your actual family, there is no supplementing it with your new-found Minnesota family. When it comes to holidays here, it is all about “Us and Ours”. In our experience, there is little opening of doors to people outside the fold. So, if you can’t come up with other family-less transplants to spend the holidays with, you are on your own. It’s kind of sad to drive past the neighbors’ homes and see the driveways filled with cars, knowing that inside the generations are gathered, telling stories, eating yummy food and wonder, “Couldn’t we just come in for coffee?” It’s a strange feeling to be so surrounded by people and yet to be all alone. I sometimes wind up feeling like a little kid standing outside in the cold and peering in with my nose pressed up against the glass (No, I haven’t ACTUALLY done that 😉 ).