Steering Out of the Doldrums

For the last two weeks, I’ve struggled with the late winter doldrums. I’m ready for spring, but Winter. Just. Won’t. Go. In sailing usage, “doldrums” refer to a low-pressure area around the equator where the winds disappear and sailing vessels could be trapped for days or weeks. That sums up my feeling: I’m becalmed, waiting for spring’s energy to blow my life back on course.

I’ve been listless and had trouble mustering enthusiasm for new projects. Consequently, I’ve elevated my knack for wasting time to new heights (that should probably be “new lows”)—

  • Sleeping longer than normal (my body resists getting up in the dark again)
  • Reading mysteries (my go-to escapist read) instead of more challenging literature
  • Researching facial moisturizers (Seriously?!? That might deserve half an hour of my time, not the two hours I actually gave it.)

This is familiar territory, so I go easy on myself when I recognize the pattern. In fact, that’s part of the cure—recognizing and accepting that I’m in the doldrums.

Dissatisfaction and restlessness prod me to analyze where my time actually goes (this is pretty geeky, but it works for me). At first, I neutrally list how I’ve spent my time recently.

That brings to mind a few things I ought to do (wash the kitchen floor, clean the bathrooms). I cross out those—they’re definitely not mood-lifters!

Soon, my mind shifts from chores to daydreaming about what would be fun to do. A fresh little breeze of possibilities stirs. I begin a new list.

For years, I’ve recalibrated my priorities by regularly asking myself: Am I living the life I want to lead? How can I tinker with my free time or refocus my efforts to be sure my work and family commitments are satisfying?

I’m taking a new tack and moving forward again.


Fall Meditation

Every year fall delights me. Nondescript shrubs and trees surprise me with their dazzling colors. The cool air and shorter days are visceral reminders that we are not simply brains attached to keyboards and phones, but human animals subject to the rhythms of nature. Being part of a cycle that has been going on every year for eons restores my perspective. I hope these photos refresh you, too.

The pleasing artistry of primary colors—coreopsis, salvia, and burning bush








The exuberance of neighborhood Halloween decorations











The surprise of seeing three construction workers on a seven-story building across from the hospital cafeteria


The peaceful beauty of a golden tree arching over Minnehaha Creek










Winter will be here soon enough, but for now, I’m immersing myself in everything this fall offers.

Defensive Landscaping

In late April and early May, my mind is abuzz with gardening and landscaping plans. I research plants, dream up color schemes, make lists, haunt garden centers, and chart the hours of sunlight for my new garden—yep, I’m hardcore. In years past when I had a large suburban lot, my focus was on what to do with all that space.

One of our four large gardens in the suburbs

One of our four large gardens in the suburbs







Now that I live in the city and have a very small yard (intentionally), I focus on defensive landscaping—how to create something attractive to camouflage undesirable views, including those of my much closer neighbors’ yards.

  1. Create an inspiring view for my office window.
My current view

My current view









What if I had a silver moon clematis growing on a trellis by the garage?

What if I had a silver moon clematis growing on a trellis by the garage?











  1. Cover up my neighbor’s deteriorating garage.










Maybe a columnar birch would camouflage the neighbor's garage.

Maybe a columnar birch would camouflage the neighbor’s garage.











  1. Add native grasses to screen the view of the alley.
John's new fence adds some privacy.

John’s new fence adds some privacy.







What if we added clumps of feather reed grass along the fence like this?

What if we added clumps of feather reed grass along the fence like this?










In April everything seems possible. By August, it’s all over. But if this year’s plan doesn’t turn out as great I’m picturing, there’s always next year!

Why I Don’t Hate Minnesota Winters

There are lots of reasons to hate Minnesota winters: endless discussions of windchill (Really, people?!? I’m already wearing all the clothes I’ve got. There isn’t more I can do. Stop talking about it. Please!) Crusty black snow clumps on my tires. Slippery-road roulette. Trudging with shoulders hunched and body braced to withstand the wind, to name a few. But I don’t hate our winters. To me, they’re refreshing. Seriously.

Very few aspects of modern life make us aware of our animal nature. The change of seasons pulls us back, reminds us that we’re participating in a cycle that’s bigger and more enduring than the words and images scrolling across our screens or appearing under our clicking fingers.

I’m not some cheery winter sports enthusiast who can’t wait to ski, skate, ice fish, or snowmobile. I don’t do any of those things. I might snowshoe if the sun’s out, the wind’s down, and it isn’t too cold, but otherwise, forget it. I’ll spend as little time outside as possible.

What’s winter’s big attraction?

To me, it’s a time to slow down, renew, and turn back toward health. After the excess of the holidays—too much good food and drink, too many incomplete To Do lists, and general year-end bizzyness, it feels good to do very little. To pull on thick wool socks and silk long johns. Make chili. Binge on Netflix.chili

I feel virtuous exercising. Eating crisp salads and savory vegetable soups have their ascetic charms. I’m restoring my body’s balance.

Winter is also a time to turn inward and refocus. I’m an optimist and like the idea of starting fresh every year. What do I want to do and be? How can I shuck off the stupid stuff I do and spend more time doing what I care about?

Recentering leads to other improvements—reading the books I never get around to (burrowing under an afghan with hot tea . . . or a hot toddy to make a dent in The Brothers Karamazov). Making sense of my sweater shelves.

Winter is also home improvement season. Better to paint the living room in the dead of winter than to waste a sunny June weekend on that. This year, I’m researching landscaping options since our shabby deck may get turned into a patio come spring. Winter is also a good time to tackle big projects like making a quilt. Weeks go by as I complete the many steps.

I do like winter, but by mid-March, my strategies are wearing thin.

Although the sun rises at 6:30 a.m. (at least it does before Daylight Savings Time toys with the clocks), the alley’s nothing but rutted ice. Crusty gray snow piles line the sidewalks and roads. I’m sick of keeping track of gloves and clumping around in boots. Tired of brushing salt dust off my coat. Hot cocoa and crackling fires hold no allure. If I never see a shovel again, it will be too soon.

I’m. Just. Done. But winter isn’t.

Then it’s time to escape. I consider spending ridiculous sums I can’t afford to just see the sun and walk outside without my down coat. Escape to Puerto Vallarta for just $759? SURE!

When reason reasserts itself, I go to the Como Park Conservatory instead. Inside, the air is humid and HOT. Birds are chirping. It smells like dirt and growing. Like life. Tulips, hyacinths, Asiatic lilies, and azaleas are blooming in glorious profusion. The whole world isn’t dead.Como Park

There’s hope. By late March melting icicles begin their steady drip. Water rushes under skim ice on sidewalks, begging to be crunched. Winter will actually end. Maybe by April 1st. April 15th for sure.