Winter in Minnesota: happy feet

The national acrimony is crackling like static in the air, even when the radio is off and the news app is closed. Add that to pandemic-generated angst, and our regularly scheduled (and unscheduled) individual and familial concerns, and whew.

So I’m taking a break and focusing on one of my favorite things: winter in Minnesota!

sky and branches

A few weeks ago, after I wrote about Leo’s and my very brave first run in 1-degree-Fahrenheit conditions, I heard from my college adviser and winter mentor Gene Bakko. He told me that those of us who live on this cold, windswept prairie I now call home do have some bragging rights. In fact, when he was in graduate school studying how animals adapt to their environments, his professor, Jim Underhill, declared:

The two most severe climates on planet earth to which an organism would have to adapt/evolve are outer Siberia and the Red River Valley in North America.

(This is serious insider information — you’re not going to hear this from job recruiters or the convention & visitors bureau!)

Now let’s be clear. We’re talking about the Red River Valley of the North, not the Red River Valley of the folk song from elementary school music class, which, disappointingly, turned out to be referencing a river in Texas.

The Red River of the North is our quirky river that forms the border between Minnesota and North Dakota as it runs northward from Breckenridge, Minnesota, to Lake Winnipeg in Canada. (I’ll share more of the river’s quirkiness later … probably when we experience the dreaded spring melt.)

And, full disclosure, the valley isn’t much of a valley either. It’s an ancient lakebed with a leftover river scratched in.

Still, our Red River Valley has some claims to fame, including that it is regarded as one the two most severe climates on earth.

What about Antarctica? you might ask. Or the Sahara?

Bakko explains there are places in the world that get hotter or colder than here but nowhere that gets as hot and as cold as here. “In other words,” he wrote, “animals have to adapt to both extremes, not just one.”

Can I get an “Uff dah”? Because of course this goes for us human animals as well. Sure, we escape into our burrows, a.k.a. houses, but you still have to go out to check the traps now and then. (Just kidding.)

This discussion got me thinking about how my animals — I mean family — have been adapting to winter in our new environment. After 19 years in more temperate Washington state, a Red River Valley winter does take some re-getting used to.

Looking around our burrow, I noticed a lot of acquisitions related to feet. Hence, today I am sharing Minnesota Adaptations: the Foot Edition.

May it help you stay comfy and safe wherever you might be!

(Note: I’m not getting kickbacks or anything on these products. I wouldn’t even name the names, except I like them.)

shoe with Yaktrax


These traction devices for your shoes wrap over the sole and are held in place by a Velcro strap. They have little spikes across the ball and the heel of the foot, somewhat like the studded tires we had in Washington and which, ironically, are illegal in Minnesota. These footwear add-ons are not in-fall-ible (haha), but they give me some confidence on the snow-packed and/or icy streets and sidewalks I run with Leo. As Gene Bakko reminded me: “There’s no such thing as bad weather — only bad clothing!”

Leo with Musher's Secret

Musher’s Secret

Speaking of Leo … Who knew those fluffy paws would collect all that snow and pack it into ice balls? Who knew those ice balls would send Leo on strike, plopping down in a snowbank until he and I could pick and melt them out? I queried a local running group on Facebook, and they recommended Musher’s Secret, a waxy product that I rub on Leo’s paw pads and between his toes before runs in fresh snow. It (usually) works! And Leo gets a foot massage out of the deal. Nice.


RockDove Slippers

In Washington I (mostly) got away with flipflops inside all year round, but that doesn’t cut it in Minnesota—at least not in our house. I went on a bit of a quest, and a couple of shipping returns later we are all outfitted in RockDove slippers. They’re fluffy and warm, have memory foam and a no-skid sole and—get this—are machine washable!

lotions & potions

Lotions & potions

It’s dry here in winter … as in get-shocked-when-you-give-your-sweetie-a-kiss dry. Yowch. For some of us that means hands and feet get really, really dry. One day on an errand to the local drug store, I happened on “No-Crack Super Hand Cream” and O’Keeffe’s “Foot Cream for extremely dry, cracked feet.” What could be better? I’ve been using them every night for a month or so, and boy do they work. Note: I usually vet all of my products through Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Guide, but I gave myself a pass this time. Desperate times, don’tcha know. (Just checked and found that EWG rated O’Keeffe’s a “2” — yes!)

Last but not least, the Lemon Coconut Foot Scrub. I made a few batches of this at Christmas and have gotten some happy-feet feedback. It feels good, smells fantastic and holds in the moisture. Here’s the recipe from Living Well Spending Less, if you’d like to give it a try.

Here’s to happy feet, wherever you are!

two species' feet

2 thoughts on “Winter in Minnesota: happy feet

  1. I am recovering today from a power outage yesterday from midnight to 8pm It was an interesting day with the sun shining most of the afternoon and the electric company consistently changing the power -on time to later and later times.
    Finally, after believing they would be changing it again because 7:30 pm , the time I expected, had passed and I was bundled up and covered up with a blanket while sitting in the dark living room with candles flickering and holding a flashlight to read. My shock came out as a shriek, and I do mean a shriek. I jumped up and ran around the house, checking everything powered by electricity and then I heard it—the furnace came on and I knew in a few minutes I would be warm .again.
    I loved your story about MN winter but I have to admit, I do not like to be cold ( and I grew up in Buffalo NY!) but that was a long time ago. I do like snow but I can’t get one without the other. thanks carolann

    1. I’m glad your power is back, Carolann! We really do spend much of our lives avoiding the cold, right? Whether in NY, MN or WA/OR!
      Take care,

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