Cuddling Up With Winter

It’s dang cold. Butt-cold, Nathan calls it. Solid weeks of never climbing beyond single-digit degrees Fahrenheit here in icy Saint Paul. But over my many years surviving Minnesota winters, I’ve learned a thing or two and thought I’d share some tips here.

Get outside. I usually walk my fifth-grader to school, a little over a mile away. It’s functional exercise, which is my favorite kind. This morning when the temperature was around zero F, I wore two pairs of yoga pants with a pair of wind pants over top, a zillion layers of shirts, this high-viz light jacket, and a down vest over top.

Thick socks and boots outfitted with these nifty GripOns (thrift store find РYakTrax is another brand, I have no idea how all the brands compare, but these work great), and a hat and neoprene face mask and a hood to top it off. Light gloves with one fingertip cut out for phone use (or all fingerless) under heavier mittens to make a little haven for your hands. Tuck in some earbuds and load up a podcast or music, or enjoy the peace and quiet of your winter walk.

Getting your body outside in the winter is totally worth the time and effort it takes to dress for it. Exercise. Fresh air. Change of scenery. The joy of the unexpected – you never know what you might find, see or hear out there. And along with the extreme cold of days like this, usually comes the gift of sunshine. But even when it’s gray, it’s brighter out there than inside. And if there’s snow, that brightens everything up.

There’s really nothing like walking in woods in the winter. Just make sure you use the facilities before you leave the house, unless you’re a dog, that is.

Cozy up inside. Even though I make a point to get outside every day, winter means spending more time indoors. So we might as well enjoy our living spaces. Make a place for your favorite books, and read them. Get rid of the rest (space is better than clutter). Walk to the library when you want something new.

Open your curtains. Even if it’s not a sunny day, bring in whatever daylight you can. If it is a sunny day, don’t you dare leave those windows covered! You’re not only missing out on light but also heat. And a boatload of cheer.

Snuggle your loved ones. Warmth and oxytocin and all-around happy vibes are yours for the asking if you live with people or pets.

Hydrate. Moisturize. Repeat. We’re using a humidifier for the first time this winter. You can see it on top of my bookshelf in the photo above. Nothing fancy, just an old one I had in the closet for nighttime sleeping comfort when someone was sick. But I think it’s upped the comfort level in our house and lowered the amount of nosebleeds and dry skin we experience.

One of my very favorite purchases I’ve made in recent years is that electric kettle in the leftmost picture above. We use it every day, throughout the day, this time of year – and many spring and fall evenings too. Stock up on herbal tea for comfy evenings at home. Premix instant oats, brown sugar, a bit of salt and whatever dried fruit & nuts appeal to you; scoop some into your breakfast bowl, boil water in the kettle, pour over, eat.

Every time I shower I slather on the lotion afterwards. Shea butter is great for deeper moisturizing – I use it on rough dry heels and chapped lips. I like to mix shea butter and coconut oil (scoop some of each in a glass measuring cup, microwave till they melt, stir together and pour out into a small container) and use that on my face every day. You can add some essential oil if you like to be fancy.

Layer, layer, layer. Long underwear and good socks are worth the investment. Most winter days I wear a tank top, a T-shirt or long underwear top, a pullover hoodie, possibly a thin sweater (wool blend is great), and another sweatshirt or fleece over all that. If I’m moving around, that’s usually enough (we keep the heat around 64 F at home). If I’m sitting still, I add a down vest and possibly a hat or hood. And slippers are a must. Also keep your neck warm! I like flexible clothing like the fleece above with the collar I can fold up or down. Or a scarf or cowl-type thingie.

If you’re lucky enough to have radiators, you probably know how exquisite it feels to get out of the shower and put on clothes you’ve stowed on the radiator. I like to set my shoes upside-down on the radiator before I go outside too. And jammies on the radiator before bed – especially this me-sized blanket sleeper I was lucky enough to find a couple years ago! (It has glow-in-the-dark rocket ships!)

Make indoor activity accessible. Set up a stationary bike or better yet, find a bike trainer (ours was a garage sale find so I don’t have any tips on brands) and you can set up your own bike to be stationary. We set up our smallest bike in the living room, and anybody in the family can jump on and pedal when they feel like it.

We also love exercise balls – first used them to birth and bounce our babies (worked way better than rocking chairs for calming our cranky infants!), but now they are great for a little active sitting. You have to work a bit harder to sit on an exercise ball than on a couch. (They also make nice footrests!)

If you have stairs, run them! Challenge yourself – see how many times you can run up and down without stopping. (I’m at eleven right now!) This can be part of a full-on indoor workout (add some core exercises like planks and pushups), or just something you do now and then throughout the day to warm up and move a little bit.

Find or construct a hangboard and work on your pullups. (I can’t do any!) Nathan made this one (in the middle photo above) from two rock climbing holds he bought, bolted to a board he salvaged from the cabinet shop he worked for.

Mini-trampolines are great for mini-people. And not-so-mini-people, if your floor can handle it (cement basement floor, I’d suggest!). I’m afraid even our smallest family member is getting too heavy to continue using this trampoline on the second floor where we have it now ūüôā

And then there’s all the great winter eating. This post is long enough already but I’ll just say, soups and stews are your friends! Here’s one of my very favorite soup recipes, the closest I could find to the Niskena that I love at Babani’s, a local Kurdish restaurant (but this version is still not as good as theirs, so you should check them out!). I sometimes use fresh onion in place of the dry. And “orange lentils” are I think more commonly called “red lentils.” It’s so easy! And cheap! And good for you! And delicious, hot, creamy, filling.

Oh and keep lots of fresh fruit sitting out in your kitchen. Cheery colors, good-for-you sweetness, easy to grab and eat something good.

Do you live somewhere where winter can be fierce? How do you cope? Share your thoughts in the comments!





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The Dutch Reach

Now here’s a good idea¬†for drivers to avoid “dooring” bicyclists. A simple shift in how you open the door when you park your car. This would be a good habit for everyone¬†who drives or rides in a car to adopt – passengers on the driver’s side can be just as dangerous as drivers in this situation, and you never know when you – or your child – might be a driver-side passenger.

I’ll add that another simple practice I’ve put in place as a driver is to always check over my right shoulder before making a right turn – just as you would normally check over your shoulder when changing lanes – because if there’s a bike lane, you actually are changing lanes, as you need to drive through the bike lane to make your turn.¬†Here’s some more discussion about that.

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The Mortgage Monster

Yesterday our family spent three hours building this:


(The Lego monstrosity, I mean, not the other sculpture – that’s a Tenyoh creation. And while we’re at it, the painting is a Micah Bloom original.)

Now I think this is a pretty amazing creation we made together, but to be perfectly honest, I don’t really like having it featured so prominently in my otherwise minimally-decorated dining room.

But I’m going to have to live with it for a while – roughly 3.5 years according to our current financial forecast. And having it right in front of my face every day was exactly my plan when we sat down to construct it yesterday.

The idea for this¬†Lego masterpiece came from a post at thegracebook. Theirs was a “debt tower” symbolizing¬†student loans and credit card debt as well as¬†a mortgage, while ours only represents our mortgage – each brick/doodad represents $100 of the principal owed on our house loan. So I’m calling it the mortgage monster. Every time we pay off $100 of our mortgage, we remove a brick, until the monster is completely gone.

We paid off a previous mortgage and bought a house for cash back in what feels like another life, in another town, before the housing crash, when our kids were very small. That lower cost of living allowed us to work less than full-time and be home more often with our kids, all four of us together, during those preschool years.

Then we had a big dream to move to Colorado, found work here, rented a house for a year, and then¬†bought a house in 2014. Here the housing market is booming, while housing prices back in Minnesota where we sold our house still hadn’t recovered, so we took a big loss and basically ended up back where we started¬†before we achieved mortgage freedom.

Which, we gratefully acknowledge, is where many people wish they could be – our only debt being our mortgage. But having lived without a mortgage¬†once, I know how freeing it is and am eager to get there again. As much as I love reading early retirement blogs like Mr. Money Mustache and Frugalwoods, our own age/stage in life and earning potential doesn’t put us in a position to¬†anticipate considerably-early retirement (maybe we could fully retire by age 55 or 60), but as soon as we are mortgage-free, we are free to go back to the “semi-retired”¬†life we lived while the kids were small.

Which, just as we experienced the first mortgage-free time around, gives us more freedom to work and play together as a family, commit to some bigger things in our community, try new pursuits, work on interesting projects . . .

All of which we are doing in smaller measure right now even as we live a much more typical American family lifestyle (weekdays, each of us heads off in a different direction between jobs and school) – because while long-term dreams are vital, the present moment is all we are given, and we may as well make the very best of life right this minute!

While I wouldn’t have wished to be working towards paying off a mortgage a second time, I’m finding that this time around is a great opportunity for our kids to be involved in the process. They were babies the first time we paid off our mortgage. Now, we are engaged as a family, and this is some valuable real-life education!


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Who Threw My Cheese?

When we first set up house together – or, more specifically, I moved into the house Nathan had already been living in for a month – I discovered an unopened block of cheese in the fridge that was past its expiration date. I promptly threw it in the trash and went on with my day. Later, Nathan discovered the cheese in the trash (still unopened), retrieved it, maybe wiped it off, and put it back in the fridge.

Which of course prompted one of the first big fights of our marriage. I don’t remember what happened to the cheese. My guess is Nathan ate it and I avoided it.

Now I shop at a discount grocery store where I routinely buy foods past their “enjoy by” date –¬†and enjoy them doubly because they taste fine and I saved money – or maybe triply because I also saved them from a trip to the landfill.

Here’s the latest episode of one of my favorite podcasts that investigates the story¬†of all those dates stamped on food. Enjoy! (By . . . whenever).

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Chicken Update

The chicks in the spring, getting bigger!

The chicks in the spring, getting bigger

Emma and Zack are both hens! We started getting eggs this summer – one or two per day, just right for a boy who likes to have fried eggs most mornings for breakfast and the occasional weekend waffle extravaganza or batch of cookies. But eggs really feel like a bonus, because these girls¬†are so helpful with yard and food waste – any weeds we pull or food that’s gone a little south gets tossed into their enclosed run, and they are happy to pick through it, eat what they want, and then tromp it down into a nice compost-y floor.

The coop in process.

The coop in process.

The completed coop, with attached enclosed run.

The completed coop, with attached enclosed run.

They are sweet backyard companions while I sit with a cup of coffee or Nathan and I have a beer together – their calming clucks, busy scratching, entertaining dust-bathing (in which they carve out a bowl in the dirt, scratch up a cloud of dust and roll around in it, contorting their feathery bodies into impossible shapes, and then doze off intermittently – their ironic way of keeping clean!).

My backyard buddies in my summer breakfast nook.

My backyard buddies in my summer breakfast nook.



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How Buying Two Pairs of Running Shoes and Then Donating One is a Fantastic Deal

In 2012, after I had been running regularly for a few years and began going longer distances, I rewarded myself by going to the store and getting fitted with a brand new pair of running shoes.

Those New Balance Minimus shoes took me through many miles and three years, leaving nanobits of themselves behind me with each step. This year I began to think about replacing them, but couldn’t justify the $80-100¬†that would require, for at least three reasons:¬†I’m not running long distances these days, we’re on a mission to¬†pay off our 15-year mortgage in five years, and buying used is almost always my preference, based on ethical, environmental, and financial reasons.

So I began keeping an eye out for good-enough running shoes whenever I was at the thrift store. A few weeks ago, I found the New Balance 442s pictured, barely-used, for $5. I took about ten runs in them, and while they were not as high-quality as the Minimus shoes, for my purposes they would do.

Then last week, I found these also barely-used Nike Frees, a much better¬†running shoe, for $7. Since¬†I’m aware of the sunk-cost fallacy, I¬†swallowed¬†my loss aversion and bought the shoes. I’ve had several great runs in them already, and they are a significant improvement¬†from the 442s. (Maybe I will get back to longer distances!)

My well-worn Minimus shoes at top, 442s on the left and Frees on the right.

My well-worn Minimus shoes at top, 442s on the left and Frees on the right.

Today I’m gathering up items to donate on my next thrift-store trip. While I just bought the 442s, I am gladly¬†adding them to the donate pile. I don’t have a good use for them, and someone else can now get a great deal on these practically-new shoes.

In the end, I paid $12 in order to get a pair of $90 shoes, and all of that money went to thrift stores that make a difference in their community – one of them being a Habitat for Humanity ReStore – AND now I am re-donating a pair of shoes that will help the thrift store’s bottom line, give another person a good deal on a good pair of shoes, and keep that¬†pair of shoes out of a landfill for a while¬†longer.

None of this is earth-shattering, but it’s these little choices we collectively make all day long, every day, that actually do make a world of difference. And¬†very often these choices integrate a whole list of values – physical health, environmental and social responsibility, frugality and simplicity among them.

I’d love to hear any stories you may have about everyday choices like this. Please share in the comments!

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Multitasking Rubberbands

I knew I was saving those thick rubber bands that sometimes come on produce for a reason! And now I can take “jar opener” off my list of things to buy. Thanks wikihow!

One band around the lid, one band around the jar, one hand on each band, twist and shout!

One band around the lid, one band around the jar, one hand on each band, twist and shout!

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What Can You Do With Produce Stickers?

Hey! Now maybe the kids will stop sticking these on each other! And one less little thing to go in the trash.

simple up

As I continue to look for ways to reduce plastic in my life, one that comes up are those little stickers on our produce.  I avoid stickers when possible by shopping farmers’ markets, but during fall to spring, I still get lots of produce (often with stickers) from the store or food co-op.  When one composts, you need to remove the sticker.

IMG_9564 Produce stickers tell us the country and often the state of origin of the food, which is important if you want to reduce your food miles. ¬†And a 5-digit code that starts with a ‚Äú9‚ÄĚ informs us it is organic.

Last year I began to save my produce stickers as I heard in the book, ‚ÄúPlastic Free‚ÄĚ by Beth Terry, that you can send them to a guy named Barry Snyder at Stickerman Produce Art. ¬†Barry¬†uses the¬†produce stickers¬†to make art. ¬†He‚Äôs a guy from Erie, Colorado, who‚Ķ

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Junk Mail Doodling


DISH¬†sends us mail every week. Maybe because our house still has a DISH¬†dish bolted to¬†its side, left by the last owner. Until I get ambitious enough to remove the dish and hunt down DISH¬†to get off their mailing list, I have decided to¬†entertain myself by playing with their mail. Dishing it out instead of just taking it. (So sorry, I couldn’t resist a terrible pun.)

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A New Chicken Chapter

Here we go again! Now that we own a house, and spring is around the corner, and the girl has been begging for a pet for months, we’re getting¬†back into backyard chickens.

We’ve had hamsters, a mouse, parakeets, a dove, bunnies, a cat, and we even had a dog for a week*.¬†But the animals that have always worked best for our family have been chickens.

Our new chicks (we hope they are hens! - too small to tell yet), Emma and Zack. (We let the kids name them. Zack is a fine name for a hen!)

Our new chicks (we hope they are hens! – too small to tell yet), Emma and Zack. (We let the kids name them. Zack is a fine name for a hen!)

Our very first chickens came to us as tiny hatchlings like these (six days old today), and those particular chickens were easygoing, happy to be picked up and held and played with, PLUS they made food for us.

The boy with Tigerlily and Tigress, our first two hens, in the coop we built from my old dollhouse.

The boy with Tigerlily and Tigress, our first two hens, in the coop we built from my old dollhouse.

Our new¬†little babies have been showered with snuggles from¬†our kids (and us adults!) all weekend long, and we’ll continue to be sure they get lots of interaction with our family so they can hopefully grow up to be enjoyable pets**.

Pets with benefits!

*Sad story of an otherwise sweet dog being overly aggressive towards other dogs and dominating over our youngest child, and me being unwilling to do the training it would take to work with her, and realizing that any dog needs more attention and work Рand, yes, money Рthan I am willing to give. I learned my lesson, and will remain firm no matter how much my daughter begs (pleads, cries, rages . . .) again.

**We are well aware that one or both of these chicks may turn out to be roosters, which we did experience before, as¬†discussed in this previous post. I don’t think we would go the butchering route again if this happens. What will we do if we can’t rehome then? Not sure. Stay tuned . . .

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