When I was a kid, growing up in Duluth, we lived by rules:
1.) No more than one hour of TV a day, and never before dinner. (And absolutely never during dinner.)
2.) Come home when the church bells ring.
3.) And every day, no matter the weather, go outside for at least an hour.
I suspect that last rule was as much for my mother's benefit as it was for ours; with ten kids, I'm sure she needed a daily hour of peace.
It wasn't so hard to follow in the summer, when we pretty much lived outside anyway, riding our bikes (or trikes) or wandering through the ravine up at Old Main, jumping from rock to rock, or playing Red Rover in the church yard with the 30 or 40 or 100 other Catholic kids in the neighborhood.
But in the winter? Oh, the winter. That was harder. Winter comes early in Duluth, and it hangs on grimly, from November until April.
If the weather wasn't too brutal, we could find things to do.
We'd build snowmen. (Actually, neither of these was my creation.)
Or go ice skating over at Longview.
Or make up games involving snow--usually, throwing it at each other.
On the really, really, really cold days, what I remember most, though, is standing outside shivering and then poking my head back in the house repeatedly and asking, pathetically, "Is it time to come in yet?"
We did not have good winter clothes, at least not the first few winters we lived there. My family had moved to Duluth from Missouri, and northern Minnesota winters, with their -40 nights and -10 days were something of a surprise. For the first few winters, we girls often wore skirts. Skirts and tights. No wonder my poor legs were chapped and red half of the year.
The other outerwear wasn't much better. There was no Gore-Tex in those days, no cheap warm stuff, no waterproof this and wicking-away-moisture that. I remember soggy mittens that stuck to snowmen and soaked our fingers; skimpy coats that were missing buttons--hand-me-downs from older sisters; hard, cold rubber boots that froze stiffly, and thin cotton socks that slid down under my heels.
Take a look at the two pictures of me. See me, next to my tricycle, in my turquoise summer capri pants? Then look closely at the picture of me by the snowmen. The same pants. I remember clearly that cold, exposed gap of skin between the bottom of my pants and the top of my boots. Brrrrrr.
I do love this picture. Look at my older sisters in the background, all wearing their dresses and tights to go out and play in the snow.
But well-dressed or not, out we went. We needed sunshine, my mother said, and exercise, and fresh air. We needed Vitamin D.
And she was right. Most people do not get enough Vitamin D, which, as it turns out, is quite important and does all sorts of wonderful things--allows our bodies to absorb calcium and keep our bones sturdy; slows the effects of arthritis; prevents certain cancers. And the easiest way, of course, to get Vitamin D is simply by being out in the sunshine and absorbing it through our skin.
I'm not sure my mother actually knew any of this way back when; it might just be that she feared for her sanity if she was cooped up in the house with ten rammy children from November to March. And, truth be told, the weak northern winter sunlight might not be enough to give you your daily dose of Vitamin D anyway.
In any case, those early years helped form me; I now usually like being outside in all kinds of weather, and a day when I don't get my noontime walk or, worse, get out of the house at all feels wrong and cramped and pale and unhealthy.
I probably do get enough Vitamin D. But there's another important vitamin that I am sure I do not get enough of, and one that really only another trip to Ireland can help me with ...
Ahhhhh. The all-important Vitamin G.
28 minutes ago