Winter survival plan

Minneapolitans share ideas for the months ahead

Lowry Hill East resident David Wood is walking every day, preferably twice per day, throughout the “pan-damn-ic,” as he calls it. Photo by Isaiah Rustad

David Wood’s partner died on Aug. 30, their 47th anniversary, of Parkinson’s and COVID-19. Wood wrote Brian Mulhern’s obituary, describing his place in the Vietnam War resistance, the Twin Cities co-op movement, and the first generation of gay men living openly. He also wrote a personal “2020 winter pan-damn-ic surviving and thriving plan.” 

“Of course it has chocolate on it,” he said. 

A counselor who specializes in grief, Wood is among the local residents, parents and business owners who shared their plans for making it through the winter with the Southwest Journal. 

Included in Wood’s plan: 

— Order a non-fogging face mask. 

— Listen to loud, raucous music. Preferably dance to it. 

— Buy flowers, whenever needed. (Red tulips are a winter favorite.)

— Do something for someone else. (Perhaps give away half of the tulips.)

“My favorite thing on the list actually is a new personal rule,” Wood said. “Because exercise is the only guaranteed antidepressant with no negative side effects, I am not allowed to whine unless I first at least walk around the block.”

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Rachel Peterson draws inspiration from her former residence above the Arctic Circle in Norway, which completely loses sunshine for two months during winter. The town of Tromsø takes advantage of the dark to hold an annual film festival, in past years creating a town square movie screen out of snow for viewers on wool sitting pads and reindeer pelts.

To keep warm, she recommends a wool base layer on the skin, wool sweater, down jacket, wool blanket and a couple pairs of wool socks with hand warmers stuffed in the boots. She’s accustomed to a “non-attitude” that accepts winter. 

“Especially the Norwegians I know the best in the Arctic, it’s just how it always is. There is no willing the sun to come back earlier,” she said. “This winter feels different for me because of the pandemically defined rules that we don’t go into other people’s homes. … There is a mental health crisis happening for all ages.”

Peterson suggests connecting through lantern walks, weekly phone calls with Grandma and distanced coffee chats on the front steps. More ideas are generated on her public Facebook group, The Minnesota Winter Dugnad

Commissioned to write a COVID Response Toolkit for Hennepin County with winter strategies, Seward resident Max Musicant said that adults should rediscover the fun in sledding and making snowmen. 

“This is going to be the year of campfires,” he said. “[We’re] encouraging people to have those campfires in their front yard, which opens them up for more serendipity and more social interactions with neighbors that could be walking around.”

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Mental health is a major part of Windom resident Louisa Hext’s work as a mediator. But the last six months have been a struggle. 

“I didn’t get a hug for two weeks after my mum died,” said Hext, who was sheltering in place when her mother died overseas in May. “My first hug that I got was from a neighbor that I knew, with a mask.”

As part of The Forgiveness Project, she recently joined a call with Bjørn Ihler, who narrowly survived the 2011 attacks on Utøya island in Norway and went on to work against extremism and hatred. In a divisive time, Hext finds solace in the stories of people like Ihler who respond to tragedy without vengeance. 

“There are other ways to respond to our isolation and our loneliness, instead of getting really upset and rageful and making it about politics and all the things we could get angry about,” she said. “There are the people that smile behind their masks.” 

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“Just move,” said Heather Corndorf of the mXe fitness studio in Linden Hills, who recently started a virtual “Recess” class for kids.

“How do you move up and down the stairs? Can you walk … instead of drive? Can you find joy in doing the laundry?” she said. “In Minneapolis, we are still blessed with so many talented fitness and movement professionals. And to support local businesses here and to do virtual classes … it’s not the same, but it’s important to help those businesses, but also to help yourself.”

Corndorf took the recent step of dropping her business’s social media activity, realizing it was draining her energy and taking up too much time. Instead she’s cooking new meals, reading up on plants and talking on the phone. 

“It’s like waking up. Where have I been?” she said. “Whatever that thing is that has been itching the back of your head for years — ‘One day, when I retire I’m going to do this’ — do it. Learn about it now.”

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After an exposure to COVID, Darnell Dixon’s family is experiencing an intense period of quarantine.

“We’re in the house and in nature,” Dixon said. “Pinterest is my best friend.”

They’re taking multiple walks per day in Kingfield with a 14-month-old in a carrier, a 3-year-old bundled as much as possible, and a foster puppy. They’re making dump dinners like taco soup with the help of her daughter. And as chair of the Minneapolis Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) Parents Council, Dixon is planning free virtual music classes and speaker events for parents. 

In the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing, Dixon and another parent created a quarterly activity packet on Twin Cities cultures; a Native American packet features a link to “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” spoken in the Dakota language, coloring pages and a map suggesting visits to places like Bdote near Fort Snelling. 

“I just keep thinking to myself on the hard days that this is only a period in life,” she said. “There is value too in being able to soak up your children’s time, and your partner’s.” 

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As the dining shut-down extends until at least Dec. 18, Icehouse is looking at a livestream concert series where tickets come with takeout. A virtual concert last spring drew 2,000 people. But it’s no comparison to a live concert drawing 300 people in-house, said owner Brian Liebeck, and takeout business is about 30% of normal operations. 

While patio dining is closed, The Lynhall is focusing on to-go kits like Afternoon Tea. The restaurant will fill 1,000 Thanksgiving meal orders. And they’re offering cocoa and cookies to pair with Nolan Mains’ free horse and carriage rides, offered from 4-7 p.m every Friday and Saturday through December at 50th & France. 

Photo by Isaiah Rustad

Nevertheless, founder Anne Spaeth said margins are slimmer due to lower alcohol sales and third-party delivery services that take a share of profits and tips. 

Neil Holman, co-owner of Zumbro Cafe, said they’ve found a rhythm with takeout, but even with a skeleton crew, the sales aren’t comparable to normal dine-in service. 

“It’s allowing us to tread water,” he said. “We’ve just got to take a breath and take it one day at a time.”

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Along with exercise, personal connection and the outdoors (the phrase “no bad weather, only bad clothing” came up frequently), Minneapolitans repeated a theme of gratitude. 

“You just have to be grateful for the moment,” said Hext, who is thankful for Minnesota’s state parks.

Dixon is thankful for ECFE and virtual library storytimes. Holman is thankful for regulars who have delivered baskets of goodies to new neighbors. Wood is thankful for the internet, which allows the annual family reunion to become more frequent over Zoom.

“Someone told me it’s impossible to feel gratitude and depression at the same time, and I believe that to be true,” Wood said. “We always have choices. If I’m feeling depressed because of COVID, I ask myself, what’s one thing I could do to make myself feel 10% better? … So often we’re looking for one thing that’s going to make [us] feel great. That isn’t always possible, but we can always do something that will improve our situation.”