Winter Musings: Surviving winter a mental battle, as older adults show

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To say this winter has been harsh is an understatement.

My husband and I are tired of shoveling snow, sweeping walkways and throwing ice melt all around while enduring the cold!

I spoke to one of my sisters this morning. She is returning from Florida after two months. She had had it with Pittsburgh winters and became a snowbird. She talked about going next year for three months, and eventually moving to Florida.

I have no thoughts of such a move south, and in fact I will not fly in the winter -- no de-icing a plane for me. Seeing all the multicar pileups on the highways around the Southeast didn't impress me much either this year.

When I was younger, I loved playing in the snow. It was fun building snowmen, having snowball battles and ice skating on the frozen pond in Fox Chapel. Coming inside for some hot chocolate after sustaining frozen feet, cold hands and rosy cheeks that had been numbed by the frigid temperatures was all in a day's play.

As a teenager, I even loved walking from our little town of Sharpsburg to the next one over, Etna, on a blustery, clear winter's night to purchase some pizza with friends. The bitter cold and icy roads were not even on my radar as a problem.

As my children grew, watching them during outdoor hockey practice and ice skating was a pleasure. It was picture perfect to be outside with a slight wind blowing and children laughing.

Winter can leave a different impression now. As I have aged and my grandchildren are all out of state, I do not make snowmen anymore. I have ice skates that were a Christmas gift from my husband years ago, but we never had them sharpened.

I still have snowball battles, but with our dog! I throw snowballs at her when she has to go out for her business, and she quickly scoots to the door to come back in -- she is not a winter dog.

So, how to survive a season such as this? As I lie down with some beautiful Zen music playing on my iPad, I try to unclench my tight jaw and relax my neck, shoulders and back muscles from scrunching from being so cold. (It was 4 degrees outside on the morning I write this.)

My aching bones and cold feet tell me to just wrap myself in a nice, warm blanket with a cup of my favorite hot tea and a good book and forget about the outside activities and frigid, snowy weather.

But one outside task that's helpful is my volunteering for Meals On Wheels. I visit people who are 70, 80 and even 90 years old, and yet they are managing.

I have one gentleman who appears to be financially strapped but remains very friendly, though at times somewhat negative.

I have a lady who shovels her walkway and driveway to make sure it is clear for my delivery to her, and who always greets me with a smile.

I have a pair of sweet 90-year-old ladies, one of whom made some homemade Italian cookies to share with me.

Another dear lady is always up on the latest news of the world. She is not real healthy, but she keeps a positive attitude and is always friendly, even when she is not feeling well.

Such clients remind me that getting through winters like this one is all about attitude, attitude, attitude. I am not 70 yet. My mom lived to be 91, spending all of her life in Pittsburgh. If she and the people I meet through Meals on Wheels can get through tough winters, it is possible for me, too.

I also think that faith, family and friends are the answer.

I have faith there is a loving, caring God who knows my needs and will take care of me.

I have a wonderful husband, fantastic sisters who stayed in town through the winter (the snowbird at least FaceTimed with me on the computer) and terrific nieces who kept me going.

I have great friends who love to get together for lunches, dinners and fun times.

I will survive, and yes, there is a God -- I know, because as I left my home to deliver meals this week, there were birds chirping and singing, even though it was only 7 degrees outside! Spring will come ... eventually.

Carol Oppenlander of Ross, a retired credit union teller, can be reached at

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