Winter and … winter

It doesn’t take the snow here much to disintegrate into oily puddles in the street, and muddy divots in my driveway. Even the snow on the lawns has taken on a grimy tinge where it has not melted completely.

This is not how our snow looks like right now.
Photo by Pixabay on

But while the snow falls, while the trees accumulate a blanket on their shoulders, I live in a fairyland. I live in a place where the cardinals silhouette against the snow and Christmas has reappeared, just for a moment. Because the snow will only last for a minute, and then the gritty winter of Northwest Missouri appears again.

I used to live in a place that, when they had snowy winters, the snow would accumulate six inches at a time and consistently fall weekly through the winter. This wouldn’t happen every year, but in the years that it did, I stared at white lawns, wondering how anything could seem that pristine. Back then, I didn’t drive, so I had to walk and take buses through that weather. It was dangerous; I discovered this after a couple of falls and sliding down the hill. I marveled at the snow anyhow.

Right now we’re at the gritty and cold winter in Northwest Missouri. Fallen leaves and brown grasses stick up through the patchy snow, and I miss the comforting snow of the past couple of days. This, too, is winter; I can’t wait for Spring to start.

After a Hiatus

I’ve been fine …

I’ve just been very busy. That’s something built in to the month of April at a university — finishing class instruction, grading end-of-semester assignments, shepherding interns through the search and sign-up processes. And then there are the plants and the gardens. I think I have over-committed, but as always, it’s how I roll.

Feeling the breezes of Spring

This is the first Spring semester I can say has flown by quickly, even though we had inconvenient snowfall through March and even into April. Today the apple blossoms sway outside my office window and my youngest cat, Chloe, stares out.

Chloe turns 1 today, so perhaps she’s celebrating.

I’ll be celebrating soon. By the end of the week, I will be in full summer mode, where I have about 1/4 of the work I normally have, with a largely open schedule for three months. This means time to blog, to organize my thoughts, and to get past thinking about writing into actually writing.

Winter is behind me. Time to enjoy.

A Green Christmas

Christmas rituals

Every year, my husband and I hold our Christmas rituals dear. Decking the living room with lit garlands, decking the porch as well, setting out the creche that I grew up with, playing Christmas songs, editing the next Christmas romance, watching Christmas movies, turning on the Christmas tree.1

The one ritual we’re missing

Photo by Pixabay on

It hasn’t snowed appreciably here in northwest Missouri, and this means we haven’t celebrated one of our yearly rituals. For 35 years (give or take a few), I have celebrated the first snow. There has been no snow this year, and no snow in the forseeable forecast.

Whether alone or with friends, I have performed the ritual of First Snow:

  • Wait till at least one inch of fresh snow has fallen and it’s night out
  • Gather a bowl full of snow (or, alternatively, sit out in the snow)2
  • Grab a cup of preferred beverage3
  • Drink toasts to various things as your imagination grabs you4
  • Pass the cup around (pre-COVID)5
  • Always begin and end with “To the Snow”
  • When done, dump the last bit of the cup into the snow

First Snow, by its climatological nature, is impromptu. Generally, there’s not more than a few hours of warning. This has meant that anywhere from one (myself) to eight (friends) have met up for it.

But, as far as I know, it’s not happening this year according to the weather forecast. I guess I will have to enjoy my green Christmas


  1. The Christmas tree hides in the parlor. We literally just turn the lights on in the Christmas season. During the worst of COVID, we turned the lights back on all summer.
  2. When I was younger, I sat out in the snow. Not anymore.
  3. This beverage has ranged from blackberry brandy drunk out of a mug in a city park to hot chocolate with brandy on my balcony to plain hot chocolate in my living room.
  4. The later in the round of toasts it is, the stranger and funnier the toasts grow. Especially if the contents of the cup are high-proof. For examples of toasts, click here.
  5. Under COVID, it’s just me and my husband.

Christmas and the Days After

It’s Christmas day, and I’m sitting in the Great Hall at Starved Rock State Park, in front of the fireplace. My husband just snapped a picture of the fireplace and some Christmas decor for us:

Despite my fretting, it has been a good Christmas. I knew pretty much what I was getting before Christmas, because that’s how Richard and I do our shopping. He managed to surprise me with the chocolate in the stocking (given that I’m eating responsibly again, the chocolate should lasr me a long time.

Once Christmas is over, I’m going to need to strategize. January and February are hard for me, particularly because the weather is so bleak and the celebrations are over. I’m more prone to depression at this time. I will have to find things to celebrate and time to celebrate them until springtime comes with its sun.

But in the meantime, Wingless Dreamer wants a headshot of me so they can publish one of my poems. That’s a positive.

Snow. In October.

Snow. In October.

We had flurries last night here in northwest Missouri, just enough to notice, not enough to coat the ground. I wouldn’t complain about that, but we are getting a freezing rain/snow of up to three inches precipitation tomorrow, just in time for Halloween. 

Between the unseasonably warm weather and the snow, we have had about two weeks of autumn. I demand an explanation.

There’s an old adage that cautions against complaining about the weather, but snow. In October. I think this is an extenuating circumstance.

The snow will melt, leaving our lawns drab, sodden leaves and dun grasses. Because this is Missouri, home of the four seasons in one day, we may even see temperatures in the sixties — or, who knows, the seventies — before December. But the damage has been done. November will be a child of winter, not autumn, and we will be tired of snow before the year is out. 

Halloween is Thursday, right smack in the middle of the snow. Maybe I should go as a snowman.

Spring in my Heart

Almost March, and the snow still lies in dirtied drifts on the ground, piled person-high at the edges of parking lots. The wind chills are more often than not in the single digits.  Usually, by now, the snow pack has gone and the days fool one into thinking Spring has come early.  My peas are supposed to be planted on St. Patrick’s Day, and I don’t know if the snow will be gone by then, much less the soil warm enough.

In short, I am sick of winter.  

I want something new. Like many Americans, I think I want a new pretty thing. I replaced my iPhone 6 Plus after three or four years with a refurbished iPhone 8 Plus, and I’m already accustomed to its shiny new look. That’s the problem with new things — we step on the hedonic treadmill, buy shiny new things, and feel happy until that happiness, hedonic happiness, quickly fades.  

I want a new thing for my soul. I want to plant peas on St. Patrick’s Day and watch them grow. I want to see my books progress toward being printed. I want to find a new challenge that absorbs me. 

If I can’t have Spring outside, I would like Spring in my heart.

My Sanctum

As I have mentioned before, one of the things that saves me from severe winter blahs (aka Seasonal Affective Disorder) is my planning for the spring garden. 

I should explain that my garden has rules: everything I plant in it should be, at least in part, edible*. This means that I landscape with edible flowers, herbs, and plants that have been gathered and eaten in American or other cultures. Most of these can’t be found in nurseries or are rather expensive if bought as plants, so I grow them from seed myself in my grow room.**

 Here is a view of my grow room, which is a small basement room that used to be the coal room back when my 100-year-old house was a youngster: 

Not very impressive, is it?

The wires are for all the fluorescent fixtures and the heat pads — and the ancient iPad repurposed for record keeping that you see at your left.  The wall that you can’t see is lined with reflective material that was meant to insulate a garage door. Peel and stick — excellent for increasing the light in this room.

The flats you see are for two sets of items I’m growing — the edible nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant) and a handful of herbs (celery, lovage, yarrow, calamint, perilla, hyssop, alpine basil herb).

Closeup of my first herb flat

I have more to plant — I’m waiting on seeds for my moon garden and more herbs and for some flowers (and for lots of things that will get planted directly in the garden. By the time I’m done, I will have six to eight flats of seedlings to nurture.

Not all of them will survive. Past seedlings have succumbed to damping off disease (which I fight heroically with cinnamon water spray) and watering malfunctions. Some seeds never come up. On the other hand, sometimes they grow faster than I expected, which is why I’m setting the top shelf (that you don’t see) for taller seedlings to reside. I will save the best of the plants that come up for planting come spring.***

Spring comes to me sooner than to most because of my grow room, with its ugly cement floor and worn shelves. Today I sat with my seedlings, thinning them out so that they could grow strong, and feeling, if not happy, a bit less out-of-sorts.

* This year’s exception is the moon garden, which is comprised of white, night-scented flowers, most of which are toxic to deadly if eaten.

** When I say “grow room”, people think I’ve got one of these high-tech setups advertised on eBay where people grow — well, plants that are illegal to possess or use in this state. Mine is not nearly so exciting.

*** This doesn’t count the direct-seeded vegetables. I have to admit that I’m not as good with these because it gets too hot to weed and there are so many weeds. I’m working on using more mulching and earlier morning weeding.


This time of year depresses me — literally — with its dark mornings and uniform bleakness of the terrain. It’s not the deep despair of my bipolar depression, but a constant sense of flatness, of anhedonia, of just wanting to stay in bed. The festivities of Christmas that buoyed up my spirits have long passed; all now is grey.

My psychiatrist has prescribed 1 hour a day in my grow room for light therapy. There’s plenty of light in the small basement room, supplied by eight fluorescent light fixtures. And, although it’s a small room, there’s a table and chair where I can sit and even an old iPad I use to maintain my plant records.

And then there’s the plants. Right now, I have starts of herbs like hyssop and calamint, celery leaf and Asian celery, and my tomatoes and peppers popping out of the ground. For the most part, they’re tiny seedlings with their seed leaves no bigger than a baby mouse’s ear. But they’re alive, and I almost believe I can feel the light of their lives brightening my day.

In the gloom of this season, I will take all the light I can get.

Making Peace with Winter

I’m definitely dealing with the winter blahs.

I’m not depressed-depressed, just feeling bleak. My life matches the outdoors — icy gray, devoid of new growth. I have no new ideas for writing right now, no inspirations, no breakthroughs in getting published.

I need to make peace with this winter. Do I always need to be productive, always striving toward something, always trying to make something blossom in my life? I don’t know; I feel best when I’ve just sent out queries, in love with the potential of my work being brought to a wider audience. I feel worst when I get a rejection — I got another one last night. Thus is the way of winter.

How does one weather winter? By sheltering oneself against the chill and waiting. Maybe this is what I need to do — take a break from writing, from editing, from sending out queries, from calling myself a writer. Maybe I need time to figure out how to reinvent myself again, as that’s been a big part of writing for me — trying to reinvent myself.

Maybe I will become something new come spring, when the ice melts and seeds come bursting out of their shells.

While My Garden Sleeps

While my garden sleeps, I make big plans for it. Each year I learn more about how to make it bigger and more interesting. I have always had what one calls a “green thumb”, although I’ve also had my share of mistakes.

When I was seven years old, my mom’s cousin Dale Hollenbeck brought me all the spindly, sickly plants on his shelves to try to bring back to life. By some mystery, it turned out that I could actually keep them alive. I may not have brought them back to vigor, but I could at least give them a fighting chance at a couple more years.

I didn’t know a lot about gardening, as was evidenced by the time I planted a kidney bean in a peanut butter jar in the pure clay soil of our backyard. By some miracle, the bean came up — well, the stem came up, but the bean itself with its seed leaves remained in the clay. I was left with a botanical mystery — the headless chicken of the plant world, which persisted in its barely animate form.

Perhaps the most important childhood moment for me as a gardener was the discussion I had at age 14 with my neighbor and almost-grandfather, Johnny Belletini. Johnny taught me a small but extremely important lesson — all plants had names, even weeds, and even the weeds could be useful. Most importantly, he taught me about dandelion wine. This led to a very enthusiastic me running back to my house with a dandelion wine recipe in hand and forbidding my parents from mowing the lawn until I picked all the dandelion flowers for wine. (Note: there is nothing forbidding a fourteen-year-old from making dandelion wine in US statute. They just can’t drink it.) My parents and I spent four good years making wine as a result, until I left for college. But I digress.

I didn’t get back into growing plants (or winemaking, for that matter) until after I got my Ph.D., mostly because I had neither the time nor the place to garden. I dabbled in landscaping my wee rental house in Oneonta NY with shade plants because that’s all I had to work with. When I moved to Maryville and bought a house, however, my dreams of gardening blossomed (ahem) again. My taste in gardening developed.

At my first house, I had no basement, no sunny windowsills — and a taste for cottage flowers that would frame my cute little acquisition. I couldn’t find the plants I wanted at the local greenhouse. My father and I built me the world’s smallest greenhouse out of four wooden-framed storm windows, and I started seeds there every year for a while., running a cord out the back door to the chicken house heater that kept it warm. If the electricity went out, an entire crop could be ruined, and that happened at least once.

I live in a bigger house now with my husband, and this house has a full basement. In the room that used to be the coal room, the previous owner fitted it with shelves. We fitted it with shop fluorescents and grow bulbs, and I now have a grow room big enough to handle 12 seed flats.

The gardening theme at this house: Everything I plant needs to have something edible about it except for the moon garden, whose plants tend to be white-flowered, strongly scented, and toxic. Right now, I have the seed flats waiting for seeds at the right planting time. I have some seeds cold-stratifying in the basement refrigerator with some roots that I will plant in the spring. I have a piece of ginger which I hope will sprout so I can plant it for a bigger yield later this year.

As always, I have big plans for the garden as it slumbers in its February torpor.