Let me start with a confession. I hate winter. I mean, I really hate it. If there was a 12-step therapy group for winter haters, I’d be at every meeting.
Winter isn’t for everyone. But warm winter gear (and a sense of humor) can get you through it.
I hate the way the cold seeps through my bones. I resent the long darkness that means the sun hasn’t yet risen when you leave for work and has already set by the time you leave the office. I loathe scraping ice from the windshield and waiting 20 minutes for the car to warm up before going anywhere.
I detest the shivers, the shakes, the way the air hurts my face. Why, I continually ask myself, do I live in a place where the air hurts my face?
The answer is simple, of course. My family is here; my job is here. Leaving is unthinkable. Still, the dread of winter settles in usually in early October, because I know the days of sunshine are ending. And now they have.
About 20 million people in the U.S. say winter puts them in a bad mood, according to the National Institutes of Health. Psychologists call this phenomenon being “seasonally affected.” Some medical experts consider it a temporary physiological change in body rhythms and internal chemistry due to more than just mood fluctuations during the holidays.
Other experts credit the reduced exposure to sunlight during these cold months. Sunlight is a source of natural energy for our minds and our bodies, so it makes sense that less light causes us to feel less happy.
Whatever. The struggle, my friends, is real.
Thanks to an unusually warm fall this year, winter took its time getting here. But December has come, our first snow has fallen (and melted by a winter rain, which by the way is the worst). Winter has arrived.
I admit, I cringe when I’m around people who love winter and try to persuade me to love it, too. Believe me, I get it: You love hot cocoa and snow angels. Everybody does. You know what’s better, though? Beaches, pontoon rides and Moscow Mules.
Still, you’ll see me outside. I brave the cold every year to see Wausau’s holiday parade. I trek the trails. And I’ve found coping mechanisms and life hacks that get me through even the longest Wisconsin winters. So, in that spirit, here are my best suggestions to help you survive and even thrive in the cold, cold months ahead.
1. Find a winter activity you enjoy and schedule a lot of it.
Darren and Shereen Siewert on the trails: Make a point to schedule outdoor exercise. You might be surprised at how fun it can be.
Research shows that simply anticipating something you like makes you happier, so this is a practical way to put that into action. I love snowshoeing, so this winter I’m making it a point to hit the trails with my husband, Darren, every other weekend. It’s something I can do only in winter and I find myself smiling when I do it.
For those who like bicycling in summer, consider investing in a fat bike that can travel through all kinds of snowy weather to make winter riding not just bearable, but fun. My husband has one. He even uses it.
Maybe you love skiing or making snowmen or ice fishing—whatever it is, find something (anything!) that you can commit to doing it. (And by the way, the candlelight snowshoe hikes on Rib Mountain and at the Robert W. Monk Gardens are incredible.) Pick up City Pages’ annual Holiday and Winter Book and check our website for upcoming events.
2. Treat yourself to some seasonal luxuries.
We all know that stuff doesn’t necessarily make you happier. But having a few small winter-specific luxuries to keep you warmer and cozier can mean the difference between an insufferable season and one you can tolerate. Colorful socks and thick, fluffy scarves are two of my indulgences. Flannel sheets, warm pajamas and fabulous slippers are also special treats to enjoy on the coldest days.
3. You don’t have to ski to enjoy Granite Peak.
Even if skiing and snowboarding aren’t for you, Granite Peak’s beautiful chalet is a great spot to hang out and soak in the spirit of winter. (Don’t worry, plenty of other non-skiers are there, too). The historic chalet hosts live music inside around the fireplace. Outside, the south-facing, sun-drenched patio has fire features, heaters, food and drinks. Sip a cocktail, nibble on snacks, and enjoy the outdoors without the exercise. Plus, you’re surrounded by a crowd that does love winter, which brings us to the next point…
4. Spend time with people who loves winter.
Tons of studies show that the emotions of those around us affect us in good and bad ways. If your friends are happier, you’re more likely to feel optimistic and positive yourself. So if you know someone who loves winter, spend time with him or her and hope their joy is contagious—it can help you dread the season less.
5. Dress seriously for the cold.
Appropriate headwear is serious business.
Many people hate winter simply because they’re cold all the time. If this sounds like you, it’s time to re-examine your wardrobe and make sure you’re appropriately dressed. As outdoor enthusiasts love to say, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear.
Keep your hands, feet and head warm. That means buying the best thermal boots you can afford, rather than teetering around in slippery heels and dress shoes. This is Wisconsin—no one will think worse of you if you forego the heels for a pair of Sorels. And having a stash of thick hats, socks, and gloves on hand is a must. Long underwear can also work warming wonders.
6. Embrace what comes only in this season.
Even though winter may not seem so terrific, it brings with it many wonderful things. The joy of the holiday season carries throughout the winter. Many television shows run only between late-fall and early-spring. Professional, college and high school basketball is played November to March. And those are all very good things.
And hey, sledding, snowball fights, snowmen, hot chocolate, and roaring fires just don’t happen in August. Keep a positive attitude about these precious, fleeting winter things, and the cold months will fly by.
7. Learn something new.
This doesn’t seem winter-themed per se, but here’s my reasoning: Winter is when a lot of people lock themselves up in their houses and apartments. We have all this free time, then fill it watching Netflix or scrolling through Facebook. Now, that’s a shame. Take this time to learn something productive and mind-expanding instead!
Learn to knit, take a painting class, make your own jewelry, take up the guitar. Whatever it is, it beats wasting the days away in a funk. I promise.
On the productive side, you’ll have a good excuse to spend time indoors with some home improvement projects. Read up on interior design and DIY fixes. Paint your walls with warm, vibrant colors. Change a sterile, white kitchen into a sunny, yellow retreat or transform a drab, beige living room into an inviting, verdant haven. Hang colorful artwork. Fix that sticky door. A few finishing touches can really help you cope with the winter blahs.
8. Cook up some warm, comforting recipes.
Slaving over a stew on a hot summer day is a terrible idea, but it’s a perfectly cozy way to spend a few hours in the winter. Oh, and winter is also a great time to dig out the crock pot for comfort meals that you throw together in the morning, then enjoy with the family after a long day at work. Your kitchen will smell amazing and you can have delicious leftovers for lunch the next day, too.
Just don’t cave in to the immediate gratification of comfort foods loaded with fat and calories, or you’ll have a whole new reason to feel bad about winter.
9. Take in some culture.
Honestly, when is the last time you stepped foot in a museum? Wausau has several, and guess what? They’re fantastic. Now’s the perfect time to take a few hours to stroll through the Yawkey House Museum and Woodson History Center, or the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum and Center for the Visual Arts.
The Grand Theater has 18 shows between now and late March. You’ll find several other nationally touring shows about an hour away, at the Lucille Tack Center in Spencer, Campanile Center in Minocqua, and Nicolet College in Rhinelander. Check our event calendar for the latest listings.
10. Check out a winter festival.
Shereen Siewert/City Pages
Fish Creek Winter Festival
Spin the wheel of destiny at the Fish Creek Winter Festival, an annual event that even the staunchest winter haters can enjoy.
Wausau has its own Winter Fest (Jan. 28) with plenty of fun for kids and families. Willow Springs Garden just north of town has two big events coming: its Christmas Festival Dec. 3–4 and Winter Festival Jan. 28–29.
But for some extra adult excitement, there are plenty of winter happenings just a short drive from central Wisconsin.
Fish Creek in Door County hosts an annual winter festival in early February (Feb. 3-5 this year) that’s a total hoot. This wacky event has a fun run, candlelight cross country skiing, a fabulous fireworks show, and winter-themed carnival games under a heated tent. Plus, there’s ice kickball, a fiddle stumpf contest and showshoe dancing that will have you in stitches.
Bayfield, Madison, Cedarburg, Beloit, Phillips and Wisconsin Dells all hold fabulous winter celebrations, too. Google “winter festivals in Wisconsin” and you’ll find a plethora of choices.
11. Defrost date night.
Shereen Siewert/City Pages
A fire pit in winter = awesome.
Sure, date night is great in the summer. Who doesn’t love a picnic, a romantic boat ride or a walk through the park? But when the weather outside is frightful, it can be tempting to forego adventure in favor of a fish fry or a movie. So try some creative wintery romance. A few ideas:
Have a picnic, winter style Grab the blanket, fill up the picnic basket with your favorites from the local market and spread it all out in front of the fireplace (or in a room lit by candles). Include a thermos of hot chocolate with a little Bailey’s added in to toast your winter-inspired picnic. You won’t be sorry.
Snuggle around that fire pit I love an outdoor wood fire on a cold winter’s eve. There’s no reason to let your backyard fire feature languish during this season. Plus, nightfall comes by five or six o’clock. How about a romantic dinner of roasted hot dogs and marshmallows?
Recharge with an unplugged weekend If you have the opportunity to get away, do it. A romantic getaway less than a few hours away (to minimize winter drive time) can be found at a fraction of summer prices all around Wisconsin. Leave your devices off and in your suitcase for a totally enjoyable and memorable getaway.
12. Check out these easy household hacks to make the season seem easier.
• At night, or anytime your car is parked, cover the windshield wipers with old socks so ice and snow won’t build up on them.
• After taking off wet boots and shoes, stuff newspaper inside to absorb moisture quickly.
• Install foam cutouts behind outlet covers on exterior walls to reduce drafts. It really is amazing how much cold air seeps in this way.
• Make your own hand warmers with re-sealable plastic bags and ice melt pellets.
• Pre-warm your bed with a hot water bottle or electric blanket, and stick your pajamas in the bed to get them toasty.
• Reverse ceiling fans to push down the warm air above.
• Use a disposable razor to get rid of sweater pills.
• Spray snow shovels with nonstick cooking spray or WD-40 before using, so the snow doesn’t stick.
• Keep moisture in the air with a teakettle or saucepan of water simmering on the range or wood stove. Add mulling spices for a lovely holiday scent.
• Skewer a dryer sheet to the bristles of a hairbrush and leave it on to get rid of static while brushing.
• Place tin foil behind radiator or heating vents to help reflect heat back into the room.
• Invest in car window de-icing treatments! All those times you just scraped and swore only made you hate winter more, right? You also can prevent minor ice and frost by wiping the windows with a solution of three parts vinegar to one part water.
• A chalkboard eraser works wonders to combat foggy windows. Keep one in your glove compartment. You can prevent the fog in the first place by cracking the window open when you park, to let out the warm, moist air.