Category Archives: seasons

The Longest Day

Michael and I visited “Bloomhenge” (the observatory at the west end of the Bloomingdale Trail) the morning of June 21.

Last night I wrote about my summer solstice melancholy and wondered if Susan Cooper had written a poem to mirror The Shortest Day, a piece I turn to with joy and hope every winter. A cursory online search did not turn anything up, so here’s some noodling, using her first line as a springboard. It’s a draft. . . I have all year to tighten it up!

“The Longest Day”

And so the Longest Day slipped by
No countdowns except 3, 2, 1
I hold my nose and jump
The lake still cold, winter’s loosening hold

Fireflies replace fires
My apple tree is full
A branch grazes the window
Today, I don’t mind the shade

The ice cream truck circles the block again
Children with bare feet and sticky cheeks implore
Just a little more time

The sun will rein
Tomorrow and tomorrow
Abundance does not want a ledger
Languor does not need an accountant

But the shadows keep score
And soon the cicadas will emerge and intone
like a Greek chorus
Summer does not last

I trust the ancestors
They traced the sun
Through fear and famine
White knuckled, cold
Hoping then rejoicing

They built monuments
to remember and remind
Summer may not last
but neither does winter.

Close up of a woman's face. Light complexion. Wet hair. Lake Michigan is behind her, calm and with a reflection of the sun,
A bike ride with friends and a quick dip were a great way to start the summer.

Personal Seasons

White tulips losing their leaves.

The words pounding at me should be released through private journaling, so I will just plug in a few photos from yesterday. Chicago jumped 40 degrees in a blink and I am definitely not complaining, even if some of the tulips are keeling over. The unrelenting chill likely kept them going longer than usual anyway.

Seasons are measured in multiple ways. Astronomical, anchored to the sun. Meteorological, to months. There are benefits to widely used measures of time (see railroads) but I wonder if any places on earth have seasons that fall neatly into quarters.

Er, OK. I should stop right here because I know that the whole concept of a season is location and context specific. Those near the equator have a different dance with the sun than those closer to the pole. Industries have a range of rhythms. We have school years and fiscal years. The baseball season spans ten months, from pitchers and catchers reporting in February to the World Serious in November (too late IMO but no one is asking me).

I have eleven seasons of varying length. The spring bulbs carry me through the two worst ones, between mid-February and mid-May.

  • July 4-Labor Day: Summer, ie don’t need a jacket outside but do need a sweater for inside b/c so many people are inexplicably uncomfortable when it’s above 80 degrees, ie the most glorious time of the year.
  • September: Golden melancholy. Back to school. Still warm but days are shrinking.
  • October: Halloween displays and frantic gardening
Halloween spirits hanging from a fence in front of a building's garden,
October-December: all about the decorations.
  • November 1-Thanksgiving: Ugh now I have to put away the Halloween crap, is it too late for bulbs, where are my gloves, who’s hosting Thanksgiving, is it too early to start putting up lights . . .
  • Thanksgiving to Solstice: All about lights and feasts
  • Solstice to Dec 31: Family, gifts, reflection, belt loosening
  • Jan 1-MLK Day: Yay for Scrabble, fake fire place, cuddly dog and snow

Winter is awesome . . . for a little while. Photos (and shoveling) by Michael Burton

  • Late January to mid/late Feb: I should really take down the Christmas tree but I just want to cry under the covers.
  • Mid/late Feb-March 21: Oh! The first green shoots and snow drops! Now I have a reason to unglue myself from the radiator. In 2020, I spied one Jan 31. This year was the latest–March 6th.
  • Vernal equinox to Mother’s Day: Self aware, hackneyed grousing about Chicago’s pitiful excuse for spring tempered by daily garden pictures.
  • Mother’s Day to July 4th: Spring. Risk of frost is very low. Nights are still sometimes chilly (below 70) but days are long. We made it!

Wait a sec I did not mean to write all this. I was going to rage into my journal but I am glad I noodled with this instead. Nothing earthshattering here (and there are already plenty of memes about this topic) but distracting and relaxing at least.

Once the petals fall and the tree canopy above fills out, the parkway won’t be much to look but. . . it will be summer! Thank you snow drops, crocuses, lilies, daffodils, fritillaria, and tulips for bringing the cheer these last few months.


Releasing the compost is an early spring ritual. We have two bins: we feed one while the other cures? molders? Ideally, when the active one reaches capacity, the resting one is ready to be emptied.

I’m always a bit wary of our home grown black gold. We don’t have enough green and brown garden waste to keep up with the food scraps. Most of the year, red wigglers expedite the process and smooth out imbalances between food and garden waste. Sort of a worm bin/ tumbler hybrid.

The magic slows in winter, especially when the worms die. (sometimes they make it through by huddling in a ball in the middle; the composting process generates heat.). The active bin fills before the resting one has finally digested…. and/or it’s too cold for me to want to deal with it. By February, we are back to putting eggs shells, coffee grounds, and veggie scraps in the landfill. This was less of an issue when we were a three bin family but that’s a story for another day.

speaking of other days I need to just post what I have and then zzzzzz. will come bcaj

Apple Buds

The backroom radiator isn’t just a warm place to lie down and soak in some sun. It’s my season watching perch.

side profile of a dog standing on a radiator looking out of a window with an apple tree in the background

Spring in Chicago is never a smooth ride. Every year I give myself permission to be a bit petulant and shake my fists at the sky. Then I roll my eyes about this predictable response to the predictable unpredictability and settle in to watch the show.

The  bloom cycle of the apple tree is easy to monitor because the branches nearly touch the windows. I’ve been scowling about how doggedly cold it has been and using the bare branches to back me up. We are behind! This has indeed been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad spring.

zoomed in shot of tree bark with a barely perceptible green spot at the tip of a branch.
Today’s view

Well, OK, if I squint and zoom, I can see some buds starting to poke out. But still, shouldn’t they be farther along by now?

I turned to Google… not to hear from the experts, but to mine my own data. It’s a little unsettling that I can search  “April 4 tree” and some very clever code  quickly trawls thousands of my photos for anything that looks like a tree.

And maybe it’s a little odd that I felt confident I’d taken tree pics on past April 4ths. I take *a lot* of plant photos. A few did turn up (the one from 2014 is in the slide show below).

The verdict? We are right on time. April reliably opens with barely there growth and ends in bloom, usually with some snow and cardinal sightings in between. (4/17 edit… it’s 36 degrees, grrrrrr).

In 2014, I took pictures from the same spot nearly every day April-May and then occasionally as the season pressed on. There’s a 10 day gap in the middle of April, probably due to a spring break vacation. There’s also a big time gap after between May and July–jumps from the baby to maggot stage. Wormy apples are still good for applesauce!

Pulling Back the Covers

back yard with red picnic table buried in snow
The picnic table was a great snow gauge

According to my camera, we spent February under a snow blanket. Plush and sturdy for weeks, high thread count, frequently refreshed. Now threadbare.

I’m glad for the gradual melt. The jagged icicle curtain hanging from the gutters fell piece by piece, thunderous but not terrifying. The apple tree below sustained minimal damage.

I’ve been thinking about the joyous thaw towards the end of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. As a kid, I didn’t catch that the story was a Christian allegory. Seasons have always been my religion anyway.

Chicago’s winter-spring (winting? springter?) tends to offer a good test of faith. I have learned to squint for the signs, the reassurances, of warm and lush days ahead. This is the time of year I start scrabbling around the musty leaves left over from fall in search of nodding snowdrops, crocus tips and the knuckles of hellebores.

close up of yellow crocuses and white snowdrops surrounded by dead leaves
From another year, around this time.

Until the first big snow, this winter had been dry and mild. By early January, green tips were starting to dot the sunny spots out back. Too early, even by our seasonal tug-of-war standards. As the snow level rose this month, slowly overtaking our picnic table, I pictured the bulbs being tucked back in. Snug and warm and waiting.

blurry photo of a green shoot emerging from wood chips
Spotted in early January

I’m grateful for the slow melt dripping into the soil instead of running off in a fury to the sewers. Peeling the cover back slowly gives our eyes a chance to adjust.

If you are eager for spring, it’s not too early to look down. Once you find one green blade, more will appear. The muds of March will feel less dreary.

photo of snow and woodchips with small leaves emerging from woodchips
Wild (I think) columbine uncovered yesterday

If you want to remember where and when to look next year, take a picture. It might not be gallery worthy. I have yet to master zooming in on a half inch nub while avoiding my phone’s shadow. But I never regret seeing these blurry artifacts from years past. They give me faith that spring will come.

photo of red tulip leaves just emerging--they look like a baby bird's beak
And if you take enough, you are bound to capture something special. I call this Hungry Baby Tulip Beak.

Fall Back into Momentum: Part 4 (Mood Boosts)

It was raw and gloomy last week, so I haven’t experienced the ballyhooed morning sunshine boost, but I did practice acceptance of minimum expectations while making progress on the Must Dos.* Exterminator came yesterday. Mammogram appt is on Tuesday. The feral cat feeding area has been winterized. Because somehow we are already tangoing with temps in the 20’s. Today I hope to dig in the hundreds of bulbs I impulsively bought (on sale!) because the promise of spring flowers helps drag me through winter.

Click the pic for the Chicago Weather Center’s alarming graphic.  “A wintry weekend’s on tap, more like Jan & Dec—then a windy cold blast hits later Mon/Tues.” Grrr.

This garden task is an example of another important category for the To Do list:

Mental Health: Which projects, while perhaps not-essential, will buoy your spirits? The sky won’t fall if I don’t get these all into the ground, but it will feel less gray if I do. Another example: For better and worse, my level of cheer is tightly linked to the condition our home. If keeping the TP stocked is part of scraping by, keeping the bathroom clean helps preserve my sanity.  When feeling overwhelmed, picking a few spots to hold to high standards allows me to ignore–for now–other messes, literal and figurative. Manicured nails, bright lipstick, seasonal decorations, and blogging also add a bounce to my step. Although frivolous, they help fend off the blues.

Clear surfaces
If we keep these main surfaces clear, I can screen out other clutter, even when it means shoving the clutter from these surfaces somewhere else, such as the small counter under the kitchen window sill or the not-shown hutch behind the table. I am also ignoring our filthy ceiling fan.

Another big bang for the buck mood booster can be to tackle a small, odious project that will make you feel like a bad ass while improving your quality of life. Or as Marie W. wrote: “Will I feel more miserable in the long run if I don’t do the thing??” Congrats to her for last weekend’s deep clean of the cat box area: “including the gross mat that picks up litter.”

Ideally, mood boosting tasks are relatively manageable, like planting 20 instead of 200 bulbs! But in the spirit of forgiveness, if I don’t get them all in, I am just not going to worry. I can always donate what I don’t get to. The ground isn’t going to freeze super soon, is it? Oh, please no! I am not ready.

too many bulbs
What was I thinking? At least I did pack up all of the Halloween decorations. . .

*And bravo to Dena K for taking care of the rain barrels before the freeze. A big job, indeed!

Fall back into Momentum: Part 3

For sundial, shouldn’t it be move 100 miles or so?

Huzza! The latest sunrise of the year, 7:25am, is behind us. Mornings will be a lot easier this week with day breaking before my son’s alarm instead of while he’s biking to school.

After a long night out dancing, where we turned the clock back to the 80’s, I used my extra hour to sleep in. It’s a cold, wet, standard issue November day, so maybe I’m overselling the idea that shifting daylight back to the morning can give a productivity boost. I keep walking past the bag of laundry guarding the front door. If I don’t leave the house, I can avoid taking it to the basement.

OK, I did leave the house to drop Miguel off at a bday party and was even able to find the rain pants with minimal scrambling. Success! I did walk past the laundry, though. Oh well. It is not a crisis.

Which brings me to the main principle of the “F It!” approach to goals for the next less than (eek!) two months. But I am switching the alliteration:

Minimums: This is what I talked about yesterday. What are the most essential tasks and routines required to grind through the next few weeks? What are the lowest standards you can hold yourself to? Maybe it’s OK to eat mac and cheese more frequently than you shower.  Some green beans on the side and spot cleaning  and congrats, you’re doing just fine. Give yourself credit for taking care of the smallest, must mundane chores. As Clare reminds, you can always write them down after the fact and cross them off  with a flourish. Resupplied *and* changed the toilet paper!

changing the TP1
Pardon the gendered language, but this was the image that best captured the TP changing continuum.

Musts: Ugh. These are the critical non-routine tasks and projects that tend to easily slip off the daily radar either because they are dreaded or require a bit of effort (real or perceived). Inaction might not be creating problems now, but has longer term risks. Or maybe they are just really critical for other reasons.

My list is heavy with this category, but I am forcing myself to focus on the ones that are the most important right now, such as: getting a mammogram, keeping a mood journal*, paying the annual life insurance premiums, calling the exterminator, and checking all the smoke alarms and fire extinguishers in the building.  Gah I am soooooo tempted to add more, but these are the big ones. And they are doable.

Cracked Caulk
The current window situation in my office.

Uh-oh, I need to add one more: caulking the baseboards and windows. While the sky won’t fall if I skip this job yet another year, it would help our heating bill fall. And I so very much hate being cold. And I promised Michael I would do it.** And I even bought a power caulk gun. So. . . this is a must. Ugh.

Oh, and I am also likely starting a new job in January–teaching a foundations reading/writing class at Malcolm X College. Yay! But also yikes, I need to prepare for that too. There’s a training in mid-December and so I’m going to try not to overthink it this month.

This can be an overwhelming category.

In a few days, I’ll write about other kinds of goals ranging from modest to monumental, but for now maybe I’ll hide under the covers with some tea and cower at all the musts do the laundry and maybe even put it away and then triumphantly cross those tasks off the list. Alas, we are out of mac and cheese. Cereal for dinner?

* More on this another day.
**A note about my wonderful husband. He takes on more than his share of domestic duties, especially considering that he works full time and I do not. I don’t want to leave any impressions that I do all the housework. And he cooks more than I do. Thank you, Michael!

Fall Back into Momentum: Part 2

muddyshoesPart of my mental health profile is an enduring belief that I am an epic failure, terrible person, and overall waste of carbon. I realize this is not a fair or useful way to look at things. It’s a hard mantra to shake, but I am trying.

I have long brandished my irreducible to do lists as evidence of my dismal performance as a life form. So many unmet goals. So many small tasks that take forever. Why has “remove muddy running shoes from the back steps” been on the agenda for almost a month? Why did this even make it onto a list?? Cleaning them will take less than two minutes. I could probably just run in them a few times and let fresh air and friction shake off the dust.

I know I am not alone. Recently I read a piece about “impossible tasks,” those seemingly small things that are challenging to manage, especially when you struggle with depression. It was helpful to see examples of people’s small things: paying the bills, feeding the cats (yikes, I haven’t fed the cats yet today–BRB), taking a shower. Sometimes just scraping by feels like climbing a mountain.

Before we embark on any goal setting for the next seven weeks, I think it’s important to honor the effort it requires just to get out of bed each day. More on this at the end.

clean clothes
Putting the laundry away is one of my many inexplicable impossible tasks.

In Celebration of Long Lists

I’ve decided that all my goals and to dos are not evidence of failure but rather creativity, ambition, and the good fortune of a rich and interesting life. Take that, Eeyore mindset.

The other night I could not sleep. Sometimes my body just craves an all nighter. Maybe it’s a bi-polar feature (feature is more pleasant than disorder), but I enjoy the  clarity that settles in around 3am and tend to have plenty of energy the next day.

I used the time to scoop up all the reminders scattered around the house, flip through my quasi-bullet journal (more on that another day), and joyously brainstorm all kinds of things I need and want to do in the short, medium, and long term. I used a table with columns for task, time, scope, category, importance, and “do stat??” But I mostly focused on dumping out the tasks, categorizing them (such as home, garden, career, civic engagement), and then using the categories to squeeze out more ideas. Entries range from the frivolous (decorate for the holidays) to the formidable (organize the basement, which includes finding homes for all the holiday decorations). From modest (stop gaining weight) to momentous (run a sub-two hour half marathon).

Early Halloween
Seasonal decorating gives me, and apparently Rusty, great joy. . .packing it up, not so much.

I’m at about over 150 items and could add 20 more right now, but I need to hack at some garden tasks (on the list!) because it looks like the weather is only getting worse. Alas, autumn, we hardly new ye.

A few months ago, I was very depressed. It was bad. I was utterly hopeless. I’m still struggling and muddling and might always.  But I am doing a little better and am sort of excited about having hundreds of things to do and accepting that I don’t have to do them all right now and, in fact, could probably get by with doing very few of them.

Which cycles back to not setting ourselves up for emotional evisceration about all that we do not do. Before you make any huge lists, give yourself some credit for persisting, acknowledge that it takes effort to get to work, keep kids and critters safe and healthy, and do the laundry. Extra credit for putting it away before doing the next load.

So I invite you to bloat up your list if you promise to let it lead more to optimism than feeling overwhelmed. Tomorrow I’ll share how I am picking a few, only a few, modest, medium, ambitious, and must-do items before the solstice.

Fall Back into Momentum: Part 1

steep solstice
Over-dramatization of the harrowing descent into darkness between Chicago’s summer and winter solstices.

When it comes to roller coasters, I am the first to volunteer to stay below and guard the backpacks. I especially fear the lurching, juddering, teetering, oxygen grasping moment before gravity and leaps of faith take over.

But when it comes to Chicago’s seasonal rides, there is one steep crest I look forward to: the end of Daylight Saving Time. This Sunday, we scoop up some morning sunshine to ease the final plunge to the winter solstice. Many folks dread the early nights, but if we are going to ration daylight, I’d rather have it for breakfast. My mood depends on it.

Slide into Solstice Challenge
The scheduling sleight of (clock) hand serves as a wake up call, prompting fervent action on my ever backlogged and bloated to do list before midwinter dormancy takes hold.  As a yoga teacher once explained, our hemisphere’s new year is a terrible time to start ambitious plans. (Getting back into yoga is always on my resolution list. Hasn’t happened this year–yet!) However, there’s something to be said for hitting the holidays with momentum or at least minimal self-flagellation.

Will you join me in using the temporary reprieve from sleepy mornings to tackle some “F it!” goals over the next 2 months? These are not your B-suite SMART ambitions. I’m talking about a tiered approach that gives credit for basic functioning and allows for failure and forgiveness. That balances fun and frivolity with the frustrating and formidable. That perhaps leans on friends and family more than fierce, focused individuality. And that is understanding of those of us who can be frantic procrastinators. There’s nothing like some sunshine and a deadline to force me into high gear. I’ll lay out the plan in my next blog post, which, er, I hope to get to before Sunday.

A less sensationalized representation of Chicago’s annual shifts in daylight taken from which shows how the sun shines around the word.