I am a proud Canadian, and yet for years I have been hiding behind the shame and secrecy of my nasty little patriotic faux pas: I can't stand the cold.
I don't skate, play hockey or endorse that my children do, either. I don't ski or toboggan. As a matter of fact, I don't even shovel my own driveway. The Festival of Lights is great when viewed from my seat in a toasty car.
So, taking my cue from a Maury Povich episode on aversion therapy, I decided to make a fool out of myself and jump into the frigid January waters of Lake Erie with the rest of the Polar Bear Dippers.
Canadians declare, "The true north strong and free," like north is a good thing, and I wanted to be there. So I imagined Dr. Phil was right beside me, coaching me every step of the way.
I needed to be grateful, after all. The poor, snow-deprived children in Texas have to make do with symbolic sand and water balls for their charity snowball fights, and their polar dippers are forced to endure 67-degree water.
There was an invitation to be even more crazy and show up in costume, so at the eleventh hour, my polar-dipping companion and I decided to "go big or go home." It was going to be beach day or nothing for us.
Scrambling to purchase a few exclusive items proved to be a cinch, with all the second-hand boutiques that cater to out-of-season special needs.
We were a force to be contended with -- me in my wide-brimmed hat, thick sunglasses and positively atrocious "bathing dress" and my companion in his socks, sandals and colorful jams, complete with the "show cigar."
The moment prior to my chilly baptism into the fold of true Canadiana, I experienced cold feet. I had to draw strength from the life lessons I had learned from "Survivor" and "Fear Factor." High on adrenaline, I took the plunge.
My intervention came swiftly and the reality hit me like a ton of icebergs: I had a bathing suit on in the middle of winter and I was standing in freezing water up to my neck in Lake Erie.
But we had done it. We smiled at one another knowingly, got changed and sampled every delectable chili in the post-dip Chili Cook-Off.
A dip in freezing water on a Sunday morning, followed by a hedonistic binge on chilis with every gas-producing substance known to man -- ah, life is good. Canada is good. Canada is great.
The high was so dramatic that my cohort described the sensation of his skin feeling like one big juicy, tingly ice mint for hours to come. It took me that long to regain proper sensation in my skin, so I had to take his word for it.
I did note that there was an unusual absence of wrinkles because my skin just sucked itself inward to find a heat source. If I could do this every 10 minutes or so, I would put the plastic surgeons out of business.
I felt transformed just as "The Swan" must have. Out of the lake emerged a different woman. There were fewer wrinkles, my gait to get out of the water was much more determined, I had a new T-shirt and I knew that I was a real Canuck.
I still hate the cold, but all because of Oprah, I am able to accept myself and write about it.
I am Canadian and I owe it all to American television. Thanks, guys.
Linda Jones, of Niagara Falls, Ontario, enjoyed her frosty plunge in Lake Erie, but she still hates the cold.