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Margaret's Musings: Ahhhhhh, springtime!! Can summer be far behind?

As someone self-diagnosed as suffering from SAD, or seasonal affect disorder, I find the arrival of spring and longer daylight hours like being delivered from a truly dark period. All the Vitamin D and time spent sitting in front of a light box could not minimize the darkness this year.

When it was announced that we had apparently set a record for the number of consecutive days that the temperature dropped to zero sometime within each 24 period, I knew it wasn't my imagination it was a long winter.

Years ago, a friend made the comment after moving from Toronto to San Francisco that she had no idea how much of her life was dedicated to simply surviving the Canadian winters.

Think about it. Make a list of what we do, whether preparing our homes, our selves, our vehicles or our children to weather the elements... Then think about what you would do with that extra time.

Which is why, now that spring has arrived, we can stop spending so much time just surviving and move into the three months where no measureable snow will fall. Then, if you add May, September and October as possible good weather months, we are good to go and explore what living here has to offer. (I know there are those of you who truly enjoy winter and all that it has to offer. I just don't happen to be among you.)

Once again, a reminder is in order that we are truly blessed to live in this location. You would be hard pressed to final another area, anywhere in the nation or the world, for that matter, that offers what we have at our fingertips or within an hour's drive, much of it low-cost or free.

Name your interest, from world-class art museums to hikes on nature trails and nearly everything in between.

This weekend the 26th annual Art in Bloom exhibit is at the Minneapolis Institute of Art; admission is free.

Bike trails surround us: the Red Cedar in Menomonie, the Cannon Valley in Red Wing or Gateway State Trail from St. Paul to north of Stillwater.

Closer to home, some of the most frequent requests at the Hudson Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau are for winery tours, cheese factory tours, fishing, camping, orchards and farmer's markets, all of which we have within an hour's drive.

The Phipps Center for the Arts is close and offers free art exhibits. Hudson's Lakefront Park and adjoining trail are within walking distance for many.

This time of year, visits to local nurseries and greenhouses are free and can boost your spirits just by breathing the moist air and seeing the colorful blooms. For a small fee of $7 and a longer jaunt in the car you could visit the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.

Staying close to home, an inner earth experience can be had at the Crystal Cave in Spring Valley; admission for adults is $10.50; students from $6.30 to $8.50, depending on age.

If you just want to be outside, I recommend Homestead Parklands, Willow River State Park and Lake Elmo Park Preserve. They all have the same annual fee, $25. Willow River State Park offers 2,891 acres filled with trails, campgrounds, a playground, fishing, a nature center, disc golf and picnic grounds for a daily fee of $7.

Lake Elmo Park Preserve on the Minnesota side offers 2,165 acres with trails, campgrounds, a fishing pier, playground, swimming area, equestrian trails and camping. The daily fee is $5. This is one of my favorite wintertime places because in addition to the ski trails, park staff keep one asphalt trail snow- and ice-free for those of us who prefer to walk.

The gem is the day park, Homestead Parklands on Perch Lake. The daily fee is $5. It is relatively new as parks go, but it has preserved a historic park area that has been a popular spot for generations. In addition to wonderful trails and beautiful restored prairie, the park offers a playground, swimming beach, picnic areas, fishing pier and canoe rental. The lake is motor free so not only is it beautiful it is quiet as well.

A slight drive down the Minnesota side of the St. Croix will put you at the St. Croix Valley Carpenter Nature Center, which offers free admission, new exhibits in the visitor's center and hiking trails on over 400 acres.

While the Wisconsin Tourist Center is closed, a visit to the Hudson Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau, or a quick Internet search, will give you a host of ideas for all ages, interests and budgets. From the Science Museum in St. Paul to the Bass Lake Cheese Factory, we have it all within a short drive.

Don't forget our very own Octagon House or the New Richmond Heritage Center for museums where local history comes alive.

You would be hard-pressed to convince me that anywhere else offers the quality of life we live every day in the Hudson area, especially now that spring has arrived!