Cold Weather, Gardenias & Dorothea Lange

The stove is purring along and the pets are aggravating one another. That means that Ivy is aggravating Charlie and Charlie finally gets mad and snaps at her.

Then Ivy pulls her head back a little and stares at Charlie. As if to say: “Well, I don’t know why you have to be snappish. Or get your boxers in a bunch.”

Ivy has been very adventurous this morning.

But then Ivy is always pretty adventurous. She sometimes takes a fancy to something she’s previously ignored and then she’s relentless.

This morning while I was on the floor doing my morning stretches, I turned my head to see her under the bed playing. At first I couldn’t tell what her “toy” was. It was a piece of one of my faux plants.

There is not a better floor for her to play on than this one. Vinyl faux wood. Where she can skate and scoot to her heart’s content. And that she does.

It’s awfully cold, isn’t it, Charlie Ross? Cold for this neck of the woods is below 20 degrees. I think it’s up above 20 now.

The kind of cold where you’d better have the faucet dripping so your pipes don’t freeze.

I’ve been puttering around, cleaning, doing, rearranging. At night of course I read. Then around 9 my eyelids are starting to droop a bit.

Tired from reading. And before that from being on this laptop.

We all go to bed and I turn the lights off and I pet Charlie and sing the little made up song that I’ve been singing to him since Abi died. It seems to comfort him. And me as well.

Last night I made myself a veggie burger in my electric skillet. I love veggie burgers. More than meat burgers actually.

When I go to Sonic next door or somewhere and get a burger, I often don’t eat all that much of the meat. I like the fixings that are on the bun. The mustard, lettuce, tomato, pickles and onions.

I wonder if they’d make me a veggie burger and just leave off the meat? Yeah well, Sonic burgers aren’t that cheap anymore. So I guess I’d feel like I didn’t get my money’s worth if I didn’t get the meat. Whether I eat it all or not.

Ivy is sitting in front of the patio doors, watching this mockingbird.

I don’t think the mockingbird has any idea that there’s a little missus on the other side of the glass. And she would love to meet it up close and personal.

Everything looks so bedraggled outside. The trees leaves that hand over the patio fence, though evergreen, look dull and dry. The only thing that looks pretty on my patio is the gardenia I bought a year ago in a little pot.

Now I have scooted it over in the corner against the patio door till spring.

Above is more recent. Below is before winter took over and the leaves lost their luster.

gardenia plant

I recall bringing it home and expecting, as the nursery promised, that it would flower.

That was last January. I coddled it and fawned over it and nothing happened. I probably should have given it fertilizer, but for some reason I didn’t. And it continued to be on the decline.

Then spring came and I decided to take it outside and see if I could perk it up a little. Thing grew like a weed. Now it’s in one of the bigger pots. I got a few pretty white gardenias over the summer. Hoping for more this year.

Let me see if I can locate a flower in my files. Found one. I guess it had rained when I took this photo.


I’m still waiting on a new patio door. They had a guy come give an estimate, and it was too high. So now the status of my new door is kind of in limbo. If this one completely falls apart and no one is around to do anything I will be fit to be tied.

There have been times in the middle of the night that I’ve let Charlie out and it comes off the track and I can’t lift it back on. And even if I could, something is broken that messes it all up.

The sun is shining, which is deceptive. My metal sun on the fence is swathed in bright light. If you didn’t know better you’d think you could step outside and have a seat and drink a cup of coffee.

But you’d freeze. Oh, I feel for the homeless in this brutal weather. For the people huddling underneath a bridge, wondering how their life got to this point.

What do you do when you stop at a red light and there’s a man with a sign looking for help or food or both? I never have cash on me, as I always pay for things with my debit card.

You wonder what that person’s life might have been like before. Before the bottom fell out or they stopped taking their meds. Or had a family that cared about them.

They say everyone is a just a paycheck or so away from calamity. Scary.

Makes me think about famous photographer Dorothea Lange who took so many famous photos during the Depression.

She was one of the FSA (Farm Security Administration) photographers. 

“Life, for people, begins to crumble on the edges; they don’t realize it.”
Dorothea Lange

Here is a photo of Dorothea Lange, circa 1936.

Dorothea Lange. Dorothea Lange (May 26, 1895 – October 11, 1965) was an American documentary photographer and photojournalist, best known for her Depression-era work for the Farm Security Administration (FSA).

She dared to open a photography studio and wear pants. An early feminist.

She died of esophageal cancer.

Her photos were evocative and haunting. Below are some of the most famous ones I recall.

Here is a wonderful article exploring Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother series.

Portrait of Florence Thompson, aged 32, that was part of Lange’s “Migrant Mother” series.
“You know there are moments such as these when time stands still…”
Dorothea Lange

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  1. Your friends always bring a smile to my face. I am in Iowa and so glad the polar vortex us gone. Wind chills of-50 is unbearble. I sure hope they get you a new door soon..that us so dangerous.

  2. Hi, Brenda,
    If you’re craving a meatless burger, White Castle has one called the Impossible Burger. Also if there is an A&W Rootbeer stand in your neck of the woods, they too have introduced a meatless burger. I’ve tried the White Castle and it’s not bad.
    Brutal weather here in Michigan. I saw on one of the Detroit news broadcasts that there are organizations on patrol to pick up and provide shelter for animals left outside, and places donating kennels for pets that normally stay out (although I cannot imagine that). Warming temps will be here soon. Stay well.

  3. hi brenda
    Love your blog. I keep a stack 5 dollar bills and a bag of Lunchables pre-fab lunches in my car, and that’s what i pass out when i pull up next to homeless at a light. I just can’t sit in my car with someone 3 ft away and pretend i don’t see them. So a 5, and a snack. I feel so sad when I see a young vet standing out there. Even it’s a lie on their sign and they buy liquor-whatever. Won’t look away and ignore. I often wonder when people will finally address this-when they stand out there holding a child?

  4. Today it’s a balmy minus 24 and the windchill is minus 40. The temperature is colder than yesterday morning but yesterday the wind was stronger and the windchill was minus 52. I haven’t been out since Monday afternoon twice to shovel part of the 7 additional inches of snow that fell over night and all during that day before the dark came and the temperature started bottoming out. Thank goodness I was able to get to the stores and stock up on plenty of supplies so I don’t have to leave the house. By Saturday it may be in the 30s and on Sunday and Monday we may get rain! Go figure. This isn’t the first Polar Vortex we’ve faced, though, and it hasn’t been a generation since we experienced this cold of weather. We had a 2 week bout with a Polar Vortex in SE Wisconsin in the winter of 2013-2014. Twenty below zero felt positively warm!

  5. My daughter worked at Sonic throughout high school and college – made a fortune in tips…But I believe you can order a grilled cheese sandwich on Texas toast with no meat – just cheese, lettuce, tomato. I love them fixed like that- add onion to mine, please.

  6. It’s still cold, cold, cold here. Single digits overnight. Then on Sat. up to 40 degrees! Crazy Michigan weather!

    Yes, Lange shot some amazing and poignant images from that time. Some of them just heart-rending, like the ones you show which are some of the most recognized. She was a talented artist. And a brave woman for her time.

    I’m sorry you’re having problems with your patio door. I hope it stays on its track until it gets warmer or they replace it. I wouldn’t like to think of you wrestling with it in the middle of the night at 20 degrees outside.

    Speaking of the homeless, I think the number of people who live on the streets in this country says a lot about this country’s priorities. It’s shameful that we can’t build an economy which takes care of those who aren’t able to provide for themselves adequately. I have tried to keep cash in my wallet so that I have something small to give to people who are essentially begging. The amounts I can afford probably do little to help but I feel that I want those persons to know that someone cares. Some folks feel that those who hold signs and ask for help are frauds and just taking advantage of people who give to them. But I hardly think it’s up to me to make that judgement. Besides, in bitter cold weather like we’re having it would surprise me that a person who wasn’t nearly desperate would stand on the corner asking for money. A few years ago I kept seeing a young girl on one of the corners that I passed on my way to my daughter’s. One day I waved to her and pulled into a nearby parking lot and motioned for her to come to my car. It was cold and I indicated that she should get inside. I greeted her and asked her why she was out on the corner. She explained that she had lost her job. She and her boyfriend were sleeping in a tent because her parents didn’t like him and wouldn’t let him in their house. She was looking for work but hadn’t found anything yet. I gave her some small amount of money and wished her good luck with the job hunting. I asked her name and she told me her name was Annie and I gave her my phone number and said she could call if she tho’t of any way I could further help her. She smiled, got out of the car and I drove on to my daughter’s. She was on the corner a few more times and we always waved at each other. I ran into her three more times in different locations and when she saw me she ran over and hugged me and I hugged her back and inquired about how she was doing. By the third time she had gotten a job and was looking for a place to live with her boyfriend. I told her how happy I was to hear that. Connecting with her was one of the most heart warming experiences I have ever had. I have never seen her again but I think of her quite often. You just never know what a person’s reality is when you see them standing on a street corner with a sign. I never told anyone about this experience because I knew most would judge me for becoming involved. But I do treasure the memory of meeting Annie and I hope she is having a good life.

    So, with that confession, I close. Hope you all stay safe and warm.

  7. And speaking of photographs, your picture of the gardenia is absolutely beautiful. That’s another one of your photos I’d love enlarged and stretched on a canvas, hanging on my wall. Love, love that one, Brenda!

  8. Dorothea Lange is one of my most favorite photographers! I just love her work! I love the photos of Charlie and Ivy…always so sweet (him) and mischievous (her)! Gardenias will not grow where we are, the soil is not right for it. I would get one to put in a pot like you have but we travel so much I’m afraid it would die with no one here to water it. I am satisfied with the things I can put in the ground, but the fragrance of a gardenia bush would be fabulous! Love and hugs!

  9. It is frigidly cold here in IL, which I’m sure you’ve heard. It was -51 with the wind chill factor when I got up this morning! A lot of work places and businesses were closed and mail wasn’t even delivered. I’ve been wearing a heavy fur-lined LL Bean hoodie all day and have a fire going in the fireplace. I have the kitchen faucet on a continuous drip as well as the cabinet doors open to keep the pipes warm, as this is all on an outside wall. Don’t want any burst pipes! I can’t even imagine being homeless in weather like this. There are warming stations all over right now, even out here in our little town, so I hope those who need this kind of help are getting to these warming centers. I always think of the stray animals, too. I even worry about the squirrels…I threw out some apple slices for them today. I saw a couple of squirrels up in the tree eating the apples, so that made me happy.

    Patio doors are a pain in the butt…everyone I know that has one eventually has problems with them coming off the track. Glad we don’t have one in this house.

    I’m not a burger fan either. I maybe eat a hamburger once a year. I do like veggie burgers but it’s hard to find any that don’t either have soy in them (I avoid soy as much as possible since there’s controversy over it being a hormone disruptor and soy is also one of the most highly genetically modified crops, too) or beans, which I can’t digest. I’ve had the Dr Praeger’s veggie burgers…they’re about the “cleanest” ones I can find though they do have soybeans in them. I don’t eat fast food, so I haven’t had a burger from any fast food places.

    Homeless people at stoplights…they’re at almost every stoplight in Chicago. I never give them money, but I do smile at them instead of pretending I don’t see them. I have offered to buy food for homeless people I see on the streets. Only one person ever took me up on that.

  10. We in central WI are braving the cold the best we can. Last night it was -37, with a windchill of -55. It has warmed up today, with a windchill of -35, but we are to get even colder tonight. I have not gone outside for 4 days, Jeff has gone to the store, just a little more than a block from the house, and he said the wind was really wicked.
    Loved the pictures of the pets, Ivy picking through the screen is adorable, and Charlie, well Charlie is always adorable, waiting for Ivy act up…I have seen the photos of Dorothea’s too. They really are heart wrenching. I am so thankful for a warm home, and enough money for food, clothing and most anything I really want. There are so many homeless, with no place to go. It breaks my heart.

  11. I can’t believe you have a gardenia surviving winter in a pot on your patio, Brenda!! That’s awesome, I love gardenias! We are buried under snow and heading down to -10 tonight….it’s been a cold winter around here, I bet I lose a few things in the garden this season.

  12. The gardenias are beautiful. The contrast of the flower and the raindrops is, too. I heard that 200,000 or more feral cats will freeze in Chicago. There are groups finding those they can find to save them from the cold.

  13. In Tennessee and other southern states they have HABITAT FOR HUMANITY STORES ,they have used and new home supplies and construction supplies that people donate when remodeling their homes .I am sure if you have one in your area they would have some doors that are very reasonable .Many of their items are like new .
    You might tell the office manager or tell Nathan to check for a door there !
    They might even have French doors cheaper just a thought.
    We are 19 degrees here today My fur babies are cozy and warm and we are snug as a bug in a rug .
    Mallory is pad trained so when like this we stay inside !
    Got snow yesterday !
    Take care and be safe !
    Love the photos today !

    1. They have to get their supplies from an accepted vendor. Can’t be Habitat For Humanity. The person who does contract work here has to have gone through the paperwork process and be accepted. Nathan doesn’t know how to install it anyway I doubt. He told me he’d never done it before.

  14. Good ti.know apt. Complex is getting your patio door replaced.
    They are in violation of your lease. You are suppose to.have all doors open/close and lock.properly, as weLL as your windows. You could sue and win should damages occur while door doesn’t work.properly and your safety is in question as well. Stay on top of them, don’t let them keep putting it off !

    1. Well, it works most of the time. It’s the times it doesn’t that bother me. They said they have to go through the proper channels to get it okayed and it should be a week or week and a half.

  15. Beautiful photos today and I love the one of Charlie; you just wonder “what is he thinking about?”. I’m not surprised that Ivy Lou is a little fireball and busy little bee. They do keep you on their toes don’t they? The photos by Ms. Lange are poignant and really make you grateful for what you have. Stay warm my friend.

    Carol and Molly

  16. Hi Brenda,
    I have had a gardenia plant in my garden for 2 years now too; it never grew flowers again.
    BTW, I love the way you write!
    Hi to Charlie and Ivy!
    Baby & Merci Kitty

    1. When I finished my post, I thought: I started out with the pets, went to a gardenia and ended with Dorothea Lange. I usually don’t have any idea what I’ll end up writing till it’s done.

  17. I sometimes wonder if our furkids are happy to have a comfy warm place to be when they’re at the Windows or doors looking at the winter weather,weird,I guess,lol.
    N.Y.has quite a bit of snow but not the deathly cold like the middle of the country is getting,brrrrrr:(
    Just another person looking forward to Spring.
    Stay warm!

    1. You and me both. I was just at the office paying my rent. She told me the first estimate for my patio door looks pretty good in hindsight. It was $1400. The second was $4000. Said they’d be using the first guy in the next week or so, thank goodness.

  18. Wish it were 20 degrees here! In Iowa we are in the big polar vortex and the wind chill is 50 below zero! Schools and even businesses are closed; no mail delivery and garbage pickup postponed.

    Those Dorthea Lange photos are haunting. I saw many of them in the Ken Burns documentary on the Dust Bowl (you can watch for free online on I think).

    Miss Ivy looks like a scamp peeking out in your pictures. She always makes me smile.

    Keep warm Brenda!

  19. Brenda I just love how Ivy is marked. Her spots on her back are so unique. Fits her outgoing personality. I love that she gives you smiles constantly with all her antics.

    We are in the extreme cold here. I cannot even begin to tell you how this 50 below stuff feels. I take Buddy out, I have to carry him because his paws will freeze immediatley. I get in my boots, down parka wrap up and walk him out to his spot where he likes to pee in the yard. Right now it is path with all the snow. Even with only being out there a minute with him my face feels sun burnt and the air actually hurts to breath in. It is horrible.

    I feel for all the homeless people in the city that will not go to the shelters. Many of them already have bad health and then to try and survive these extreme weather conditions will probably take their lives over the next few days. That is the sad part.

    I feel so fortunate to have my warm house.
    Stay warm.