I love winter in Chicago.
The lake is alternately stormy and calm with well chilled water laying down ice over the churned-up sand. At the lake’s coldest edge, the sun, low in the sky, sends sparkles over the waves licking the coast.
The parks are full of long blue shadows over crunchy snow; the many winding, footpaths tell the daily story of the city’s inhabitants. They bring textures to the once softly fallen snow that is chaotic yet rhythmic in the meanderings.
Like sounds now muffled, colors are muted and subtle, making me draw my breath deeper as if to clarify my vision into the shadows of tall grasses, and trees. In the shades of blues and lavenders, I feel a peaceful familiarity that tells me: This is January.
The lush, quietude can be fleeting. I must stay in the calm and vigilant to avoid being wrenched from my reverie back to a busy reality.
It’s time to get January projects done.
What makes a good January project?
- Nothing arduous.
- Something leisurely and pleasurable.
- Tackling an entire New Year’s To-Do List of goals and aspirations is not a good January project.
- An activity with a well-defined beginning, middle, and end is suitable.
- Something that can be completed in a few minutes or a few hours.
- The task should be nourishing.
Well into the pandemic I started a farm in my living room. I wanted to grow my own greens and herbs and tomatoes. I set up a Tower Garden with its 20-gallon water tank, pump, trellis and 4 vertical grow lights (elliethompson.towergarden.com) and proceeded to set up seeds to grow.
Seeds carry all the potential for the plant within. Yet nothing will come of all of that magical DNA without moisture, conducive temperature, oxygen and earth. The seed takes in water and then quietly, invisibly, mysteriously inside, the work begins. The cells start to divide, and all systems ramp up, wake up. Next, when there is sufficient cell growth, energy and momentum, the root bursts through the seed casing and seeks an anchor in the earth. (The earth could be a soggy paper towel, rock wool (which I use) or soil).
Next, the stem starts to grow, fighting against gravity, towards the sun, and then, with two leaves, like punching gloves, the sprout pushes through, emerging triumphant. With the leaves bathed in light, the plant can now make its own food through photosynthesis and start putting out more roots and its second set of leaves. At that point, with the roots coming through the bottom of the rock wool cubes, and two sets of nice green leaves growing through the top, I place the seedlings into the Tower Garden. With mineral solutions added to the water, the roots are bathed for 5 minutes every 45 minutes by falling water pumped up to the top of the garden. The grow lights are on 15 hours a day. In another few weeks there are green leaves large enough for a salad, and a few herbs to sprinkle over dinner. In 3 to 4 months there are tomatoes and cucumbers and peppers to pick.
Starting seedlings is a good January project.
Ideas are like seeds. They need time to warm up, soak in inspiration, and when they are ready, burst forth, with or without gloves on. January projects provide a medium for ideas to take root. The creative cross-training the projects provide brings inspiration from new sources.
My January projects are easily completed and provide satisfaction at the end.
My favorites include:
- Taking a day off from work with no agenda, no to do list, just see what happens- extra credit if my phone is turned off.
- Cleaning out a closet
- Going to the hardware store to pick up all the little bits I’ve been meaning to have on hand.
- Baking bread
- Walking on the beach
- Riding my bike somewhere new
- Writing a blog post
- Designing a new collection, or just thinking about it while I drink a cup of tea.
- Reading the magazines that have piled up all year
- Making a list of things to accomplish later
- Making a list of things already done.
- Making a list of things I am thankful for
- Writing a story or a poem
January is nearly over now; I think it served me well.