Oh Spring, beautiful British Spring, how ignorantly I squandered you and took you for granted before I moved to this frozen tundra they call Chicago.
When I became a British Expat in Chicago, Illinois, I assumed that Christmas would be the season of homesickness.
As it turns out, “The Holidays” are a breeze. Time flies from September to December with something exciting to look forward to in every month; from the over-the-top fun of an American halloween to the excessive foodie indulgence of Thanksgiving, the magnificent colours and flavours of Fall, the relaxed American-style Christmas. I even look forward to the arrival of chilly weather (a welcome break from sweaty August). Awesome.
By comparison, my experience of a Chicago “Spring” (if you can call it that) has often been confined to a subzero, snow-shovelling purgatory. This pre-summer limbo is defined by detoxes, tax returns, pothole repairs and Lenten abstinence or to quote Narnia’s Lucy Pevensie “Always winter, never Christmas. Think of that.”
Surprisingly, what makes this season tough for a British Expat in Chicago like me is NOT the relentless, freeze-your-face-off winds but my #FOMO (fear-of-missing-out) inducing Facebook feed, countless chipper status updates showing the folks back home enjoying the lovely traditions, food and outdoors pursuits that make a British spring so beautiful and unique.
Spring is the only time of year I really miss my country, as opposed to just the people in it. (And Waitrose obviously)
I miss four day Easter weekends spent hiking up muddy hills to old pubs, and quiet morning strolls through bluebell carpeted, ancient woodland.
I miss driving past bright yellow roundabouts bursting with Marie Curie daffodils and the way sunbeams bounce off the new leaves on a beech tree (we lived in The Chilterns).
I miss the novelty of British snow days where an inch of snow makes everyone bunk work in favour of building snowmen.
I miss the excitement of the theme parks and National Trust places reopening, Royal pageantry and the London Marathon.
I miss wandering all-year-round garden centres and planting my flower and veggie seeds straight into the outside ground.
I miss scoffing my way through pancakes and roast lamb and new potatoes and Hot Cross Buns and Mothers’ Day afternoon tea and cake.
I miss supermarket displays of floor-to-ceiling stacked chocolate Easter Eggs in every size and flavour (seriously America, what is with the jelly beans?).
I miss living somewhere where seasonal flora and fauna emerge slowly over the course of weeks, not overnight in full bloom in municipal flowerbeds via the hands of landscapers.
Dammit I even miss the rain and the damp. Umbrellas, macs, fleeces and wellies.
Whilst I love (LOVE) living here in Illinois, February though April can be tough for me.
ANYWAY the good news is, I have created a CURE!
So if you are also in need of some help getting through this meh of a non-season, here are some of my tried-and-tested treats, distractions, activities and to-dos that will ensure you survive the wilderness months and bound happily into yet another amazing, BBQ fueled, sun abundant, firework lit, poolside based, stunning Midwestern summer.
Here’s my list of ten things that help me avoid the Springtime Homesick #FOMO Blues. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments!
1. A Holiday in the Sun
You’re only 5 hours and $500 from the Caribbean, so make the most of it! Mexico, Florida, California and the Southern States are even closer.
Leave January detoxes to the tanned, smug-faced Californians, you’re in the Midwest now and you need dem carbs to survive! Don’t attempt to recreate the comfort food of home, that way only lies further homesickness and an insatiable desire for “the real thing”. Concentrate Chicago specialities, the type of stuff you can’t get in the UK. Nom your way around Eataly, Latinicity or the French Market. Try some of the traditional American Lenten foods.
And BRUNCH. Much like a cup of tea, brunch is the solution to most of life’s little problems. Nothing quite like spending a lazy Sunday at the top of The Hancock Building looking out over a frozen lake whilst working your way through a never-ending plateful of French toast and eggs and waffles and bacon and tea and smoked salmon and pancakes and oysters and (etc etc)…
3. The Blues
Best cure for the Blues is the Blues especially when you live in the home of the Blues. This type of music heals my winter soul in a way nothing else can (for the record, my summer soul requires Carrie Underwood but that’s a whole nother article). Here’s a list of some of the best blues bars in Chicago >>>
4. St Patrick’s Day
I’d happily bet that the scale of Chicago’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations top those of Ireland’s. Midwesterners are damn proud of their heritage
5. Write a Summer Bucket List
Unlike in the UK, Chicago summers come with a date specific season: from Memorial Day (last weekend in May) to Labor Day (first weekend September) BUT unlike in the UK you can actually plan for warm weather (most of the time!).
The upside of living somewhere with a horrible winter is that people here make the most out of every. single. ray. of. sunshine. Rooftop bars, days at the beach, music in the park, festival upon festival upon festival, block parties, fireworks, Route 66 roadtrips… you’ve got TWENTY WEEKENDS to fill with awesomeness. Get planning.
I’m not a fan of going to museums during summer (unless it too stinking hot to be outside) so I get to as many as I can during the wintery months (snow permitting). Remember that these museums are HUGE. Field Museum, Museum of Science and Industry, Children’s Museum or even the Chicago Auto Show at the ginormous McCormick Place.
7. Get Into American Sport
Spring is a great time to start watching American sports, especially American Football (February means the Superbowl) and College Basketball (March Madness). You also have until April to swot up on baseball and ice hockey.
If there is one thing that Brit’s are good at, it’s laughing it off. Laughter boasts your happy vibes and fires up your endorphins.
– Go to a comedy club. Chicago pretty much birthed improv as we know it, the most famous comedy club is Second City
– Join a few British Facebook groups, we’re very good at keeping each other amused!
– Throw a party introducing your American friends to a British tradition: pancake day, Burns Night, The Queens Birthday, St David’s Day, Mothers Day or just invent a festival, hey, they’ll probably never know!
9. Buy Your Summer Clothes
Because many Americans go away somewhere hot during Spring Break (unlike in the UK where we save our hot holidays until August), the shops are typically heaving with bikinis, shorts, sandals etc from January. Inexplicably when it actually is summer, it’s all wooly jumpers and jeans.
If you’ve not yet been to one of the big malls or the outlet malls then now is the time.
Hunker up in your basement (ahhhh how I love American basements), grab a bag of British mini-eggs and Netflix bingewatch your way through a few American series that now have a totally different angle now you actually live here: The West Wing, The Office, Friends, Mad Men… so many storylines make more sense these days.
Get in your basement, have a nice cold pint, and wait for all this to blow over and SUMMER to arrive. How’s that for a slice of fried gold?