Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

How I deal with some of winter’s challenges here in Minnesota January 8, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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AFTER LIVING IN MINNESOTA my entire life, I’m still learning how to best handle these sometimes brutal winters.

I’m not talking big stuff here. But the little stuff that, on a daily basis, can prove bothersome.

Take skin. Dry winter air and cold tend to dry out skin, causing itchiness. About six weeks ago, I was dealing with a break-out (no, not pimples) on my face and elsewhere caused by, I suspect, stress and the changing climate.

That’s when I experienced an ah-ha moment. Consider switching soap brands and washing my face less often.

Now you would think this easy. But for someone who has used Dial soap her entire life because that’s what she grew up with, this seemed almost traitorous. I know. Sounds silly. But I have fond memories of Aunt Dorothy soaping my feet with a Dial lathered washcloth in Grandpa’s pink tiled bathroom. We had no bathroom at home and bathed in a galvanized tub heaved onto the red-and-white checked kitchen linoleum tile every Saturday night. Bathing in a real bathtub in an authentic bathroom impressed upon my memory.

I pushed aside those gold bar memories and purchased a moisturizing soap. Guess what? It’s helped. Why did it take me decades to figure this out? Brand loyalty blinded me.

Winter necessities: lotion and Chap Stick.

Winter necessities: lotion and ChapStick.

Other moisturizers, like ChapStick and lotion, remain staples in my winter arsenal. I had no problem ditching the gel-like Corn Huskers lotion of my youth. It never worked on youthful hands cracked and bleeding from mixing milk replacer in buckets of steaming hot water and then not drying them properly before venturing to the calf barn.

Staying warm in a Minnesota winter, especially during this recent cold snap, can also be challenging. I live in an old house, which chills down, requiring creative ways to add warmth without cranking up the thermostat.

Warm throws top magazines.

Warm throws top corralled magazines in my living room.

Thick flannel sheets replaced summer-weight cotton in November. Fleece and wool throws fill a box next to the sofa and are tossed onto laps on chilly evenings or during the day when I’m writing in my home office.

Fuzzy slipper socks keep my feet warm.

Fuzzy slipper socks keep my feet warm.

Just this year I determined that slipper socks slipped over regular socks keep my whole body warmer. I do layers. Sweatshirt or sweater over flannel shirt, fashion be damned.

But there’s one problem I haven’t resolved. On frigid mornings like those this week with outdoor temps dipping into single and double digits below zero degrees Fahrenheit, I wake up with a profound headache. My back and neck muscles clamp around bone. Achy. Tight. It feels as if I have clenched my teeth all night and perhaps I have.

A soothing hot shower and two Ibuprofen usually resolve the situation.

But I’d rather prevent the problem. What’s the cause and what’s the solution? Wearing a stocking cap to bed?

Given the shortage of sunshine during our long Minnesota winters, vitamin D was suggested by my doctor. Yes, I'm low on the vitamin, as most Minnesotans likely are.

Given the shortage of sunshine during our long Minnesota winters, vitamin D was suggested by my doctor. Yes, I’m low on the vitamin, as most Minnesotans likely are.

IF YOU LIVE IN A COLD WEATHER state like Minnesota, how do you stay warm during the winter, deal with skin issues and more? I’d like to hear.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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48 Responses to “How I deal with some of winter’s challenges here in Minnesota”

  1. KerryCan Says:

    I bought a big old down comforter from LLBean and a flannel cover–it wasn’t cheap but, I’m not kidding, it was such a great investment. Very warm but light as air . . . it makes all the difference in the world!

  2. Dan Traun Says:

    Vent the dryer exhaust back into the house – you actually look forward to doing laundry.

  3. Beth Ann Says:

    It must be the day of posts of how to cope with the winter cold!!! Dianna did a similar post here with a couple of tips!!! Great ideas from both of you today!!! Thanks! http://thesedaysofmine.com/2015/01/08/helpful-wintertime-hints/

  4. Barb Says:

    Coconut Oil – it’s my ‘go to’ for harsh winters – and I ended up liking it so much I use it year round. I use it for full body moisturizing (including my face), for a shaving lotion, for make-up removal, for everything that is skin related!

    Coconut oil is easy in the summer – it liquifies at 85 degrees so it pliable in the summer. Winters can be more challenging – you have to dig to get it out of the jar – but it melts immediately upon contact with your skin. I carve a chunk out and rub in on my arms, legs, face as it is melting – then go back and rub the oil in. It works wonders! And it’s natural and non-toxic. I keep a jar in my shower to use as a shaving creme, and to moisturize after every bath or shower.

    I just wish I’d have known about coconut oil years and years ago! One jar lasts a very long time.

  5. It was nine degrees overnight here in central Virginia. These temps throw us all into a tizzy. I have nothing to offer you, Audrey, except I am in layers and layers. Oh yes, UGGs brand slippers. Oh my goodness, they are worth every cent.

    • I’m getting some good ideas here this morning. Thanks for the UGGs brand slippers suggestion. As I type this response, the temp sits at a balmy five degrees. The house doesn’t feel any warmer, though. My husband noted that the wind this a.m. in the southwestern corner of Minnesota was gusting at 35 mph. You know what that means when combined with the snow falling there. Blizzard.

  6. OOH I’M GOING TO HAVE TO TRY THAT!!!! I’m nursing a 4 day headache right now. My sinuses are irritated and putting pressure on my eyes. I think a lot of it is due to the air being dry from the heat being on. Hope you are feeling better soon.

    • A four-day headache would be horrible. My headache was only temporary. Gone after the hot shower and Ibuprofen. Last night I wrapped a scarf around my neck before climbing into bed. That didn’t last long, though, as I got too hot.

  7. Marneymae Says:

    Moisturizer: extra virgin olive oil
    And i make a salve for my face using coconut oil & jojoba oil (with a couple essential oils mixed in)
    Warmies through the night: hot water bottle wrapped in two pillowcases set into the bed before getting into it, and wearing a loose, (non-itch) wool cap while sleeping.
    (Fashion long gone out the window.)
    Around the home: inside slippers, non-itch wool scarf, loose non-itch wool cap.
    When it’s really drafty, wrapping a fleece blanket around my waist like a skirt. Sometimes this is worn out into the world under my coat if its below zero windchills.

  8. jhc1218 Says:

    For dry cracked hands and feet: Aquaphor applied thickly right before bed and covered with cotton socks. Meghan thought it was quite funny to wear socks on her hands all night, but they looked much better this morning.
    Coconut oil works great for general moisturizer. I haven’t used “soap” on my face for years – but use Cetaphil which is a gentle cleanser Soap is too harsh and strips the natural oils from your skin. Katherine’s dermatologist told us to not use soap on any of her body since she has such sensitive skin and mild eczema.
    To keep warm we use extra blankets and I finally invested in fleece lined leggings.
    Also we use a humidifier in the bedrooms.

  9. westerner54 Says:

    We use a humidifier in the bedroom in the winter, and it’s helped my sinuses immensely. And I’ve started wearing those half gloves all the time because my hands never seem to get warm. Like reading all of these ideas: it seems to help knowing that so many of us are fighting the same battle!

  10. cheryl schrader Says:

    We have invested in a heated mattress pad. Ours has six zones and it is probably the best investment we have made in a long time. I highly recommend it especially if one has cold feet as we do.

  11. Littlesundog Says:

    I moved to Oklahoma from Nebraska 25 years ago, and I think I could have moved even further south! Though not nearly as bitter and frigid as you suffer up there, it can get downright cold in these parts, like it is this week. My skin is sensitive and prone to extreme dryness, chaffing, chapping and occasional bleeding (knuckles especially). I try to use natural and organic products when possible. I use coconut oil in the warmer months as it is light and covers well. This time of year I like the moisturizing lotion from Tropical Traditions: http://www.tropicaltraditions.com/organic_moisturizing_lotions.htm. It’s not so heavy it’s greasy, but it covers well and stays with me all day. I have not had skin issues all winter. My only gripe is the containers the lotion comes in. Since coconut oil solidifies at temps less that 80 degrees, it can be difficult to squeeze from a container.

    I came by your blog through Cecilia’s blog. I love your common sense, wit, clever ideas and thoughts. Keep shining, my friend! 🙂

  12. I have had the down comforter on the bed here since October. I usually wake up with a “body ache” due to being cold and curling my body into a ball. I use a lot of products with oatmeal, shea butter and coconut here for the dry skin. Another thing I do for dry skin is take L-Lysine – an amino acid that helps with skin and lip health.

    I read an article recently that stated about 70% of the population is deficient in Vitamin D. I have sun here 360 days a year, but I wear sunblock. I love D3 too. When I am not feeling well I up the Vitamin D.

    Stay Warm and Stay Hydrated too 🙂

    • I think that’s what I do, too, curl up when I sleep to stay warm. Or hunch my shoulders. It’s instinctive.

      Stay hydrated is more good advice. I need to seriously work on that one.

      Thanks for the great tips. Lots of good advice here today from you wonderful readers.

  13. Virginia Updegrove Says:

    Living in Arizona we don’t often encounter your temperatures, but when I
    Lived in Alaska we did. The humidifier is an excellent suggestion. We had one that was placed in the hall upstairs that really helped. It was larger than the smaller ones you can get at a drug store, but those with a spoon of Vicks really helps in the bedroom. Keep it on. Your house is super dry. Remember years ago when people always had a pot if water on the stove? Same thing. I actually have a down comforter that is too warm for here. King size. If you want it I’ll send it to you. I’m scaling down and cleaning out the closets. Your story just keeps reminding me of the immigrants and what they encounted when they came to Minnesota. A Swede yes, but I’ll send my comforter to warm a German. (:

    • Virginia, you are just the sweetest to offer a King size down comforter. But my bed is only a full size, meaning it would be too big. Thank you for the offer. I bet someone in Minnesota could use it, though. Would you be willing to ship to anyone in need?

      I’ll have to consider the humidifier. We had one years ago…

      Yes, those pioneers were a hardy bunch, weren’t they?

  14. hotlyspiced Says:

    I love the socks! When I had to wear those strangling stockings for four weeks, they took all the moisture out of the skin on my legs. When I was finally able to remove them, my legs were scaly and itchy. I spent the next week rubbing coconut oil into my legs every night and it worked really well. It’s a fantastic totally natural product with no additives and also has a tropical scent! Good luck trying to survive your harsh winter. And I take Vit D and I live in a sunny city! xx

  15. Chris Says:

    All these are great ideas, especially the coconut oil…and you can cook with it as well. Google coconut oil and you will be astounded at all of it’s useful properties. And I would definitely get a very good down comforter…they are worth every penny! I have an electric blanket that I turn on about 1/2 hr. before bedtime so I can crawl into an already warm bed, then turn it off when I get in and then the comforter takes over. 2 wiener dogs in the bed help a lot too! 🙂
    Yes, harsh soap and a really hot shower are the worst things for dry, winter skin.
    It also sounds like your old house could use some new thermal pane windows and maybe some higher efficiency insulation shot in the attic, if you have one.
    It’s miserable to be cold! Take care…stay warm!

    • Another coconut oil endorsement…thank you for suggesting that, too.

      Since I can’t use Virginia’s down comforter because it’s king-size and my bed is full, Virginia and I have decided to give it away. Watch for a post on the give-away next week.

      You’re right about the hot shower. Shouldn’t do it. But some mornings, it’s what I need to loosen the muscles.

      Most of the windows in my house have been replaced with thermals and I believe the attic insulation is good. Having a partial crawl space rather than a full basement and a duct work system that wasn’t the best planned, contribute to some of the cold issues. I think when the temps are this cold, most houses just don’t feel warm enough. Now I’m out to shovel snow before windchills become unbearable.

  16. Thread crazy Says:

    Ok Audrey, while we may not get quite as cold as you do in Minnesota, we do get the dry itchy skin, along with headaches and body aches from cold temps. So here’s what we’ve found that helps. Years ago, our doctor told us to use Dove bar soap for dry skin; works great at helping to retain moisture. Then I found a product made by Eucerin, Skin Calming-Dry Skin Liquid soap, which you can use in the shower and it works wonder. I mix it with regular bar soap. Also found a heavy cream made by Clinque which STOPs the dry flaky skin. It’s alittle pricy at $25 for large jar, but it lasts a long time and again works great. For the dry cracked heels, try CORONA. You can pick it up at your local feed store. Its used also on animals for cracked hooves, skin cracks and sores, etc. Believe me it works! Again, recommended by a doctor many years ago. Finally, for the headaches and backaches, etc., I love my bed buddy. It can be used hot by warming in microwave or COLD from freezer. Buy one or make your own – take a heavy tube sock (or sew your own tube) fill it with rice about 2/3-3/4 way full, and sew shut. Throw in microwave for 1-2 minutes, and oo-la-la! I’ve not tried the coconut oil myself, but I’ve got some in the pantry and think i’ll try it also. Great post.

    • Thanks for all these great, detailed tips. My new soap of choice is Olay ultra moisture with shea butter. I like it.

      I’m laughing at the CORONA. But, hey, whatever works.

      Mostly, the bed buddy sounds perfect. Any specific type of rice? Instant? Regular? Wild? Just kidding on the wild.

  17. Chris Says:

    Well hopefully shoveling that snow will warm you up! 🙂 Do you have a woodstove? That might be another consideration. We put in a high efficiency one a few years ago and cannot tell you what a difference that made in keeping our house warm. If it’s a good one, you don’t even need to use a lot of wood. They are wonderful! They’ve come a long way from the old wood eating, smoke producing ones of yesteryear!
    Stay warm and btw, I am also a regular member of the Fellowship that visited your blog today! 🙂

    • Happy to have another member of the Fellowship stopping by with advice. Welcome.

      No woodstove here. And, yes, shoveling snow definitely warmed me up. Only had to do ours today and not the neighbor’s too.

      • Thread crazy Says:

        Only use regular rice, not instant. Plus you don’t need most expensive type either, just house brand will do. The best thing about the bed buddy is it conforms to you body, it can be wrapped around your neck, feet, wherever. Once ool, just reheat. I never heat my bed buddy more than 2 minutes, just depends on individual microwave. If heated too long it can burn your skin. Fyi…I place mine in another tube sock as when it gets dirty, easy to take off and clean.

      • Thanks for the further explanation.

  18. Jackie Says:

    I bet you could hardly wait to hear a comment from your winter loving friend 🙂 As I sit in my chair, next to the fireplace (which is switched off) with my bare feet, I want you to know that I suffer from dry skin and chapped lips as well. I must have a tube of chapstick every 10 feet in the house. I have about as many bottles of lotion too. I actually wore a coat today as I walked 2 blocks outside from the parking lot to work this morning, it wasnt too bad. I’m sorry to hear about your headaches in the morning, hope that doesnt continue….ugh, stay warm!

  19. Lanae Says:

    Unlike my sister I’m usually warm. I sleep with only one blanket which is often kicked off. Walk around in bare feet. Wear a summery short sleeved shirt. I do have problems with keeping my hands moist, being a florist I’m always working in water. I do not repeat do not like this weather.

    • As I sit here layered in a flannel shirt and zip up sweatshirt with a fleece throw on my lap, I wonder how you manage with one blanket, bare feet and a short-sleeved shirt. I would be frozen by now. But, hey, however you are comfortable.

  20. Kathleen Ahern Says:

    BRRR! Stay warm and hydrated, Audrey! Regarding “what to use/apply” – no matter the season – I’ve become very passionate about toxins, especially after my diagnosis that came as a result of an environmental toxin. Please check your products to make sure they don’t contain paraben – a known carcinogen, that is still allowed in products – most of which are cosmetic/beauty, etc. It is one of just MANY horrible things added to products that are advertised and seen as “all American” and “good for you”. It has been linked to breast cancer and a variety of other fatty tumorous conditions.

    Unfortunately, there is not a legal requirement that all ingredients be listed in “non-food” products, yet our skin is the how most toxins enter our bodies. I stick with 100% organic – it costs more but I don’t feel I can afford to not do what is truly healthy. And yes, that includes coconut oil – an amazing product! It’s also antiviral and antibacterial. It is our go-to oil when we need a bit for cooking too. I realize I’m on a soapbox here -but as women, the marketing that is done to us is deliberate and far more unhealthy than most realize. Companies are profiting from using substances that poison our systems, pollute our bodies and negatively impact our health. Enough said – take care of yourself!

  21. A zippered fleece jacket is warmer than a sweatshirt, because it fits closer to the body and because its high neck keeps in the warmth. Wish I’d learned this 50 years ago!


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