Category Archives: Weather

A Softer Light: Summer’s Not Over Yet

It’s happening: we’re rapidly losing our long hours of languid summer sunshine. The last few mornings, when the alarm goes off at 6, it’s still sunrise rather than nearly-full daylight. This morning, the sun loomed as a big red ball to the east.

And at day’s end, the light is coming to an abrupt halt much quicker. A month ago, I could wait until 7:30, even 8 PM before heading out for my run, assured of plenty of daylight. Last night, I got home from my run at 7:45 and the front porchlight was already on. (It’s on a timer that automatically adjusts for sunset.)

The other night, leaving work at 5, a coworker commented on the light. “It’s different,” he said, looking at the way the sunlight ducked between the skyscrapers. “Has it always been like this at 5?”

“It’s nearly fall,” I replied. “Not long and it will be dark when we leave.”

I hate the darkness of the winter. I hate leaving the house in the dark and returning home in the dark, when entire workweeks can go by without ever feeling the sun on my face. But in some ways, I’m more focused in winter. When it’s light out, I want to be outside, running or biking or just lounging in the yard with a book. As long as it’s light outside, the day seems full of possibility and promise. There’s no rush to get things done. In winter, I don’t feel as if I’m missing out on the gorgeous, fleeting weather. Another gray, slushy day? I’d rather be inside working, thank you.

But now, as the sunlight softens and falls farther to the horizon earlier in the evening, fall is coming. The free evening concerts at Wing Park are over, the last one rained out. Kids are already back to school, and I just learned I’ll be joining them in a few weeks. We’ve had a few cooler nights when I’ve had to wake in the middle of the night to close the bedroom windows.

Several years ago, the Tribune’s Mary Schmich quoted Mary Oliver’s “The Summer Day” in a column.  I clipped it and stuck it on my fridge, and notice it many mornings as I’m waiting for the coffee to brew. (Schmich quoted it again in a recent column, but I’ll stick with my yellowed, brittle copy.)

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

This summer’s nearly over, but there’s still time for a stroll through the fields or a trip to the farmer’s market. It’s already been a great summer, but let’s go out on a high note.

What’s left on your must-do list for summer? I still have to break 30 minutes in a 5k, and I want to spend more time in the backyard, with wine, after dinner. I may need to invest in some anti-mosquito tiki torches to make that one happen.

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So very cold

The heat is blasting, and so are the humidifiers. We’ve got a sheet of ice caked onto the downstairs bathroom and office windows – but finally, the temperature has broken zero!

Times like this I miss my old radiator-heated apartments where I didn’t have to pay for heat and it was nearly too warm.

We have river!

I noticed last night that the trees across the street have lost enough of their leaves to afford us the river view I love. Sure, all year you can see the gap in the trees where you know the river is. But from now until April or May, we can actually see the water itself, flowing southwards.

It’s especially neat when it freezes over solid. When it’s really cold, steam rises, making night and early morning extra ethereal.

I shall try to get pictures this year, but the phenomenon is rather fleeting and tough to capture.

In other news, we had our first sticking snow yesterday evening, a whirlwind of flakes that stuck to the grass and rooftops. It was very pretty – but it reaffirms the need to pull out the storm windows, shrink wrap the windows, and batten down the hatches for the rapidly-approaching winter.

Midwestern Luck

I spent part of Saturday with squeegee in hand, pushing basement water into the floor drain. It had been quite awhile since we’d had to do that – sealing the tiny, seemingly insignificant hairline foundation crack appears to have helped. Plus, we haven’t had a heavy rain in several weeks.

Friday afternoon on through Sunday, our lovely town got between 8 and 12 inches of rain, depending on which weather report you believe. One broadcaster said that if our deluge had been snow, it could have been up to six feet! That sounds a bit sensationalist, but regardless, we had a ton of rain, and the ground couldn’t absorb it as quickly as it was falling. We awoke to standing water in the yard, and dared each other to check out the basement

But you know what? We’re pretty lucky. Even though we had a bit of basement flooding to clean up, it was nothing compared to other areas downhill, closer to the river, where people had to evacuate and lost possessions or entire rooms or homes. On the northwest side of Chicago, the Chicago River overflowed its banks, sending entire blocks of people scrambling in boats, like Venice or Amsterdam.

And even worse, this same weekend, thousands of Houston and Galveston residents lost everything. Not just some flecks of floor paint or a couple empty cardboard boxes – these people lost their homes, their things, and their peace of mind.

The coastal areas have hurricanes, which, though with some warning, can be absolutely devastating and annihilate entire cities. California has earthquakes, which come with no warning but accomplish the same end. The Midwest really has no equivalent. Sure, in theory an earthquake could strike – and we’ve had a couple very minor ones, centered far enough away as to not cause much shaking. Tornadoes hit with very little warning, but their path is relatively limited, capable of flattening small towns, but never on the scale of New Orleans or Galveston. We get snow storms, but they don’t typically cause much damage, either, and you can stay home for a day or two while the roads are cleared.

Our cleanup only took ab0ut 20 minutes, plus hanging the rug out to dry once the rain finally stopped and opening the window to air things out. I consider myself pretty lucky to live where I do.

Snow?

Supposedly there’s snow lurking in the area. I haven’t seen it. Regardless, it’s cold and drizzly. My heat had been off for a week – but when I got home tonight, the house was a pitiful 54 degrees! Collette whined until I turned the heat on and made a beeline for her favorite floor vent in the dining room.

I felt guilty for not playing storm window-screen swap over the weekend, since May begins in just a couple days, but now it seems perfectly prudent.

I just hope the frost doesn’t kill my growing herd of tulips.

The Outdoors Beckons

Wednesday, it got nice out. I was working from home, and by the time I went out to retrieve the garbage cans just before noon, the sun was shining and it was nearly 70 degrees. I stripped the removeable caulk from the porch windows and opened them wide. The stale winter air started to seep out and though cool, it felt great. I opened all the windows I could (bedroom, kitchen), and Collette went to town investigating the fresh air and singing birds.

The rest of the week, I cracked those same windows and watched the green tulip leaves grow taller and taller. I even slept with the windows cracked and was shocked awake by the birds at 4 AM. We went to a Cubs game one night, and grilled another night. It’s really spring!

I was hosting Bunco Friday night, so all week I was in full spring cleaning mode. Airing everything out helped a bunch, though Friday evening wasn’t warm enough to use the porch as I had optimistically hoped when I offered to host months ago. So things were a bit cozy, but went off without a hitch.

Saturday loomed rainy and the day alternated between sun and showers. I went to Kohl’s and bought a springy new welcome mat and kitchen towels. Then, during a sunny period, I took advantage of hooking the hose up for the season to scrub the cat’s box (note to self: must install utility sink before winter!), then vacuumed out the car and found 93 cents. I even opened up the basement windows to air that out and vacuumed up cobwebs and dust. In full spring mode, I stripped my bed and switched out the fuzzy winter blanket for the lighter summer blanket. Then we invited friends over and grilled again.

I spend most of today outside, potting dianthus (red flowers) for my hanging baskets on the porch, cleaning up more leaves and detritus around the yard, and planting snapdragons and petunias in the front flower beds. The latter may come back to bite me, as it’s still a bit early in the season – a last frost could be looming. But it was good to be outside in the sunshine, and the beds look great – still no tulip flowers, but they’re getting close.

This evening, I decided to de-caulk the rest of the windows and play the great screen-window matching game while putting away the storm windows.

Most of the windows went pretty quickly. At first, I used a flat-head screwdriver to pull up the removeable caulk I couldn’t get with my fingers, but quickly realized I was nicking up the windows. So I switched to a putty knife (genius!) and knocked out the rest of the porch, the office and the back hallway.

The living room window proved far, far more difficult though. It’s very old and leaky, and doesn’t even stay in place when it’s not locked – the top window slips an inch when the bottom is open. But since it’s a nice wood window – with beautiful finish that matches all the downstairs woodwork – I know it will be a more expensive replacement. Since it’s so craptastic, I used a ton of caulk that has proved a bit excessive, as I can’t get it up. The gap was sizable, so I really slathered on the goop which has now taken up permanent residence. I was getting closer after a solid two hours of careful, gentle scraping, but my hand is numb, so I’m taking a break. This is further motivation to replace that window – and if I do it at the same time as ripping out the air conditioner and replacing it with a window, they’ll match.

Overall, it was a very productive weekend.

April 1 is just around the corner!

For some people, spring starts with the appearance of the first tulips (hasn’t happened yet). Others consider Opening Day (which is Monday). More scientific types say spring starts with the spring equinox, which was March 20.

But for me, spring really starts when I can tear the plastic from my windows and let out the stale winter air. Most years, we’ll have a random 60 degree day in mid-March that makes me start picking at the double-sided tape until common sense prevails and I know we’re past the last snow. I usually tell myself April 1.

This year, we haven’t had any of those really warm days yet, and it snowed on Thursday. Tuesday’s forecast is for “Windy and much cooler with partly sunny skies. Northwest winds 16-32 m.p.h. and gusty.” The high will be 48, with a below-freezing low of 29. Next Friday is forecast to be “Blustery, chilly and raw.” Sigh.

Maybe I’ll wait until after I get back from Florida on the 8th.

New fun term: Frost Heave

After a winter of record-nearing (and maybe breaking, if tonight’s forecast of 5-7 inches of “snizzle” comes true) snow, I finally closed the gates across my driveway yesterday. The gates have been ensconced in snow banks since November. Last year, I learned the hard way that keeping them closed during a snow storm made shoveling much more arduous.

So there was much rejoicing when I came up the driveway last night and saw the (almost) clear driveway. Before I even unlocked the back door, I swung the right gate closed, then the left one. But in the center, the latch wouldn’t meet. Puzzled, I looked at the hinges, thinking maybe one had slipped – maybe some oil was in order. Then I noticed that the fence itself was sitting on the driveway, despite the wheels that enable easy swinging.

Apparently, I have discovered (developed?) a frost heave. Essentially, during the numerous freeze/thaw cycles, water permeated a crack, froze (expanded), and pushed the pavement up. I knew I should have patched those asphalt cracks last fall. I bought the goo to do it, but never actually got around to it.

Lesson learned. Now I need to get taller wheels to enable proper gate closing, which probably also means raising the hinges. Fun times.

The thaw

Spring has been teasing us the last couple days. With Daylight Savings last weekend, it’s fully light out when I get home. The air, while still brisk, allows a bit of lingering outside – in the lighter coat, to boot! With 50 degrees today and tomorrow, I expected my household hazards to be centered around the basement.

Luckily, my basement is still bone-dry, despite the melting. Perhaps my basement leakage isn’t as bad as I’ve feared! Maybe I can handle the thaw, and any fixes I make are just icing on the cake!

However, the hint of warmer weather brings another threat. Yes, that’s right – the pink bodega drug house is back in business, with a new dealer leading the charge!

I spent my first summer in this house vaguely aware that something wasn’t quite right with the pink candy shop across the street. It held its grand opening the day I closed on my house. Sure, there were lots of kids around at first, but as the summer wore on, the kids seemed to be replaced by an older crowd. A couple minor burglaries showed up in the police blotter. And it was just plain suspicious. But I was naive, and enjoying my first summer in my house, turned my attentions to other tasks, like destroying all the crabgrass.

Last spring, as soon as it started to warm up, things got bad. It was impossible to deny that active drug deals were happening, and the police knew it, too, and kept an eye on things. One very late night, a car drove by and randomly fired a couple shots two doors down. Finally, on my birthday, a bust at the apartment building next door resulted in five arrests. The rest of the summer was pretty quiet. Winter is never an issue, as the shop lacks proper heat and keeps pretty minimal hours, not opening at all on the coldest days.

But now, some of the original troublemakers have drifted back into the neighborhood and appear ready to resume their apparently lucrative business with a new leader. I can only hope that we can nip this in the bud before it grows.

Now my crocuses, on the other hand – those should be appearing any day now, once the snow finishes melting.

Waiting for spring

On this, yet another day below freezing with flurries, I can’t wait to see what pokes up from the ground in just a few weeks. I planted a bunch of relatively-early blooming bulbs – some crocuses and daffodils, plus more tulips. After last year’s toy-soldier tulips lined up precisely 16 inches apart, I purposely planted chaotically last October, so we’ll see what pops up.

I also learned my lesson last year about squirrels and their love of bulbs…