The Secret to Surviving Winter? Embrace it.

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Winter came early here in West Michigan.

That first day felt too early and I was annoyed, especially as I helped my teen driver navigate the icy roads for the first time. But by morning, I awoke to a bright white blanket of snow that hid all of the leaves we still hadn't raked, and the SUN WAS SHINING! It was almost as if Mother Nature sent us a kiss and said, "It's OK, Love. I won't give you more than you can handle right now."

This idea of offering some advice about how to embrace winter has been on my mind for a couple of years now. The other day, a co-worker made a comment about me being one of those "snow-loving winter people," and I knew I needed to set the record straight and share my secrets.

I hate being cold and often am. I even have a condition called Raynaud's, which is a disorder of the blood vessels when blood can't get to the surface of my fingers and toes and they turn pure white. It's painful, it looks gross and I wouldn't wish it on anyone. This Leo has always been a sun-loving, beach-going summer girl—and that won't change!

What helped open my heart to winter? When I moved from Chicago to West Michigan 15 years ago, I noticed something different. Unlike the Detroit suburbs (where I grew up) and Chicago, we actually got snow. Things looked brighter, the roads looked cleaner and people were outside seemingly enjoying winter. Not long after our move, we started a family—and trust me when I say that one does not know true isolation or loneliness until they spend an entire winter inside with premature twins who can't leave the house because it's too dangerous. Fortunately, right outside our door were trails. So any chance I got, I would hop on my cross-country skis for a much-needed break. It was then that I discovered the joy of winter; that if I wanted to get through it—mentally, physically, even spiritually—I needed to embrace it.

Secret No. 2: GET OUTSIDE.
Yes, I too love cozying up by a fire, making soup and drinking red wine. But to truly appreciate those things, you first need to be cold and uncomfortable. You need to move your body as fast as you can until your human body does what it was designed to do, which is what kept your ancestors from dying.

Secret No. 3: GOOD GEAR.
Lucky for you, you aren't a caveman. And for hundreds of years, people have been mastering the making of good clothing and gear. I'll never forget as a kid when one time, our family went up north to cross-country ski. My dad had brought for me a pair of used skis that were supposed to strap to my boots. My MOON BOOTS. If you were born after 1978, you might not know what these are. Basically, they were almost impossible to walk in, let alone ski in. I was miserable and made everyone else miserable. A year later, we went again and this time I had a brand-new pair of skis and boots and it was like I got a second pair of legs. I flew. I loved it. I was hooked! (Thanks for the second chance, Dad.)

Having the right equipment and clothing makes all the difference. When it comes to gear, you're going to have to drop some coin. Do your research. Visit the local shops and talk to the gear heads. Invest in the important stuff. I love this quote from a friend: "There's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing choices."

Just because it's warm and waterproof, doesn't mean it has to be ugly. If you look good, you'll feel more confident when you brave the outdoors. I suggest investing in a quality wicking layer next to your skin and the main outerwear piece, but in the middle, you can have more fun! Athleisure apparel is all the rage and there are options everywhere. One of my lighter-weight coats that I get a ton of compliments on is from Old Navy. I also recently discovered Sierra Trading Post, which is basically a TJ Maxx for outdoorsy people. I picked up some great leggings, a sweater and a vest there recently for less than $75.

Staying social and connected is critical to keeping happy in the winter months. Seek out friends and neighbors who will also embrace winter. We have friends who build hockey ponds in their back yards, host sledding parties and invite us over for winter bonfires. Your activities can be more "adult-like" too. Ask friends to join you at winter festivals, go on a luminary hike or meet up at the dog park. People have a tendency to bond over complaining about winter. Being one of them isn't going to melt the snow.

Adventure doesn't have to feel dangerous. Adventure is leaving your comfort zone and seeking out new experiences. Used to ski, but it's a little too much for you now? Why not snowshoe! Join your kids or grandkids outside at the sledding hill—we've got plenty here in West Michigan! Just like you'd be down to explore and venture out in the summertime, embrace that philosophy during these snowy months.

I bet you'll notice a difference in how often you're smiling.

Written by Jill Carroll, Marketing Manager for West Michigan Woman. 

Photo courtesy of Jill Carroll. 

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