One Minnetonka couple has come up with a coping mechanism for getting through this unusually cold winter: Pretend it's not there.
Susan Sobelson, 64, and Judy Ingram, 73, visited the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory at Como Park Zoo and Conservatory Thursday where they pretended to be on an island far the arctic climate outside.
"Everybody we know is either going to or coming from an island ... our big goal was to come to St. Paul," Sobelson said. "It's such a feast for the senses. I love the humidity -- it's very rejuvenating."
Ingram said the pretending works out well, "except I'm carrying my coat and wool hat."
The two have become experienced pretenders. In January, they had a party with friends where they pretended to be in Hawaii -- they turned up the heat in the house, ate coconut and pineapple and listened to Hawaiian music.
With the seemingly endless string of subzero days, the conservatory has become more crowded on weekdays than usual, according to Matt Reinartz, Como Park Zoo and Conservatory spokesman.
"I think people are actually taking lunch breaks and coming over here on their lunch breaks," he said. "You'll see folks sitting on the benches reading a book, and you can just tell they're trying to beat these winter blahs and coming in some place warm."
Inside the glass-walled atrium, it's warm and humid and filled with tropical plants. The gardens have names like the Palm Dome, Fern Room and there's a Sunken Garden filled with flowers. In the Tropical Encounters area, birds fly freely overhead.
"It lets you be OK with not going to an island," Ingram said. "It's really easy to start feeling sorry for yourself, but when you come here, you can't."
This year, the zoo created Twitter hashtags for people coming to the conservatory as an escape: #EscapeTheCold and #ItsAlwaysWarmInsideTheConservatory, Reinartz said.
Children on school field trips and seniors on a trip from their community housing also were visiting the conservatory.
Alice Lucke was there with Village Shores Senior Community in Richfield. She sat on a bench, drawing flowers in the garden with a slight smile on her face.
"It forces you to look a little more closely at them," she said. "I am just drinking it all in and have just been amazed."
Angela Lais, 31, of St. Paul, pretended she was in Costa Rica while visiting the conservatory, even though she just came back from a trip to Costa Rica, where her mother is from.
"It's the smell that you miss -- that green, the earth. It gets so cold and dry and you can't smell anything," Lais said.
Her friend put it bluntly: "I'm here because I'm absolutely nature-deprived," said Michelle Helsing, 43, who drove from Albertville, Minn., to St. Paul. "I was pretending a little bit that I'm going to a tropical place. You find yourself getting creative with anything that's mood-enhancing -- it's been a long winter."
Visitors agreed: they are ready for spring. While the Sunken Garden features the winter flower show through March 16, the spring flower show is right around the corner -- it begins March 22 -- bringing in 10,000 tulips, along with lilies, hyacinth, hydrangea, crocus, daffodils, iris, freesia, and calla.