When I lived in California, I thought there was only one kind of poppy. The orange, papery thin petals popped up every spring (which in California is February) and dotted the mountainsides. Along with the purple lupine and yellow mustard, it made for a stunning celebrating of color, one that can only be truly appreciated after a grey colorless winter in the midwest.
This first decade in Chicago, I would travel back to Santa Barbara with a new appreciation for the home town I had left. The clear blue skies, the green winters, and warm winds. And, I definitely dreamed of going back. I didn't really "get" winter, it took me a while (years really) to get the right clothes, and I still don't appreciate seasons. I'll just take the sign of closing the windows that the cooler days have come, thankyouverymuch. I'm most myself barefoot and beach ready, light, airy clothes and tan legs. Outside feeds me, is part of my body. However, we had built our lives in Chicago, and after we left California, real estate began to quickly creep, well, soar, outside of our budget. So, in 2013, after years of looking and saving, we bought our first home in Chicago.
And something changed. With home ownership, I didn't feel the pull to California as strongly. I had a home now, and felt grounded, and I loved our new neighborhood of Rogers Park, it's proximity to the best beaches in Chicago (just an 8 block walk). A home that needed (a lot) of our attention, which, with each project, connected me further to it, as we made it more ours. From the 80s kitchen, the dark fake wood panelling, the overrun and weedy yard, the vines growing up the side of the house, making runways for the mice that camped out in the closets (I scooted around the perimeter of the house on my back in the dirt, sealing every mouse highway that first week- haven't seen a mouse inside since) the terrible bathrooms with fake plastic shower insert and more panelling. We've replaced the roof, ripped out both bathrooms, updated the kitchen, painted, rehabbed the foyer....
But maybe the most meaningful for me is the work we've done in the yard, as this is the place where, in the summer, we basically live. We have a huge lot, large by Chicago standards, with unheard of space between the houses (most just have 3-4 feet of gangway, we have privacy and space from our neighbors-makes for good relationships) Every year, I seed the grass, and try to keep the weeds at bay. The front of the house was super uninviting when we bought it, with a weird pine bush/tree thing and english ivy covering one whole side of the front yard. The weeds grew in the ivy, and it was tangled with them, so we decided to take the entire thing out.
Then we had a blank slate and a new sidewalk, one that was entirely covered before. And with a blank slate comes possibility. Mr. Drake was obsessed with adding only native plants, and after a bit of research, I learned that Illinois had a native poppy, the celandine poppy, which happened to be my favorite color, yellow. Not the orange poppies from the California hillsides, but a beautiful, lovely sunshine yellow. I bought two, told they would take over the area and become ground cover. Along with some native grasses, an oak leaf hydrangea, and a (non native) magnolia tree, we have a pattern of white and yellow blooms I can mark my calendar by: the yellow magnolia right around our anniversary in April, the apple tree blooms white in May, and the yard follows suit, blooming a pretty sunshine yellow to mark mid spring.
Fast forward to last summer. Home bound; travel plans cancelled - nope, just stay put. Livelihoods in jeopardy, graduation cancelled. The beaches were closed, the parks roped off. We had more than enough space to share; Max and his girlfriend unexpectedly home for months. Suddenly our haven housed so much more. The yard, now suddenly the only place we could be outside, took on even more possibilities. Mr Drake and Max became obsessed with their seedlings, planting food for the first time in our garden. They build planters and we got to cook from their harvest, incorporating rosemary into the focaccia, lettuce we had grown ourselves, and chamomile tea from our own blooms.
And it was this time, tuning into the rhythms of our home and yard, that we got to experience the most incredible summer. After the fear of no work subsided, we began to see our good fortune, time and space we wouldn't have had with our family (max would have surely been at a new job or apartment), time we got to know and love his girlfriend, meals made and experimented with our garden harvests, new rhythms and memories created; centering around our home.
What I thought home was changed and held an even deeper meaning as I dialed into the last summer we would all be together. For my sons, Chicago will always be their home, and this house, their strongest memories, especially of a time where we were able to find safety and new connection, personal growth and healing, and growing closer as a family as the uncertainty swirled around us.
The yellow poppies are due to pop up soon, and the awareness that in fact, I can have my poppies in the midwest with it's unrelenting winters and grey days, shows me that Chicago is home too. It may have taken me a long time to appreciate living in the midwest, but this duality, the two homes I've had, just like the two different kids of poppies, shows me that both truths are possible.
Next week, the new poppy design launches!