Spring definitely has not sprung. But after a long deep-freeze, the thermometer is forecast to kiss 50 within the next few days, maybe even this weekend. As Punxsutawney Phil just reminded us (that rat!), we’ve got at least six more weeks of winter ahead. Still, it’s all relative, and 40s sure feel like 70s after three months of frigid, and maybe we’ll actually see the lawns again (no one will be happier about this than your dog).
So — without rushing into anything (and you might keep an eye on the forecast) — if you’re looking for excuses to do something semi-outdoors, here are 25 possibilities that might help kick your seasonal affective disorder, even if you still have to bundle up a bit:
1. Keys. Tunes. Lake Shore Drive. Windows down. Breathe deeply.
2. Then wash the car.
3. Hit that hot spot you’ve been avoiding all winter because you didn’t want to spend the wait for a table standing out in the cold. Hot Doug’s is hot again (thank you, “No Reservations”), Violet Hour and Le Passage come to mind. For a hearty brunch, we recommend the eggs-cellent Over Easy, 4943 N. Damen.
4. Cubs and Sox pitchers and catchers report for duty next week. Get a jump on them and play catch in the yard. Or try the park at Lakeshore East — it’s sunken, which minimizes wind (making it ideal for Frisbees). OK, a little cornhole in the alley will suffice.
5. Tune up your bike — lube the chain, check the tires, adjust the derailleur. You might even be able to take it for a spin.
6. Four galleries in River North had some great meteorological mojo when they banded together for a free gallery walk this weekend. From 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday, a representative from the Art Dealers Association of Chicago leads a tour of the Melanee Cooper, the Schneider, the Judy A. Saslow and the Ann Nathan galleries. Meet inside the Starbucks at the corner of Chicago and Franklin.
7. Maybe this is a hilarious suggestion given the economy, but hey: Lotsa properties on the market, why not stroll through the open houses in your ’hood — or your desired ’hood?
8. The city-sponsored Neighborhood Sports Fest begins this weekend, with activities planned every few days in a series of parks through March. It kicks off with the first event, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, at Riis Park, 6100 W. Fullerton, featuring bike races and ice skating, plus some kids and indoor activities, too. Free. (312) 742-PLAY.
9. Take a hike! The Winter Walk and Exploration, 1-4 p.m. Sunday, winds through the Eggers Grove Forest Preserve in southeast Chicago. Jessica Canas of the Southeast Environmental Task Force and John Pastirik of the Calumet Ecological Park Association, will lead this guided family walk, winding up with hot Mexican cocoa. Meet at Annunciata Elementary School, 3750 E. 112th. Free. Registration is required, call (773) 646-0436.
10. Hike some sand dunes.
11. The city-sponsored Frozen Fun Fest in Millennium Park may not be so frozen, after all. The event is scheduled to include ice skating, an ice maze, “frozen cornhole” and lots of hot tea and cocoa. Get there early before it all melts. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday. Free.
12. Don’t want to wait in line for the $10 skate rentals at Millennium Park? Try the rinks at these other parks, where rentals are only $5: Daley Bicentennial Park, Grant Park (337 E. Randolph); McKinley Park (2210 W. Pershing Road); Midway Plaisance Park, (E. 59th at Woodlawn); Mt. Greenwood Park (3721 W. 111th); Warren Park (6601 N. Western); West Lawn Park (4233 W. 65th).
13. The air temp may be lovely this weekend, but the lake won’t be a hot tub. Still, more crazy people will be jumping into it at noon Saturday for the Lakeview Polar Bear Club’s eighth annual Celebration of Shrinkage at Oak Street Beach, 1000 N. Lake Shore Drive. Free to participate or watch, and watching is much more fun.
14. Scrub the grill and fire it up. Or, after months by the fireplace, pull the firepit back onto the back porch or deck.
15. Believe it or not, the giant Ferris wheel at Navy Pier will be open this weekend. $6 per person.
17. Another possibly ironically named festival: the Winter Chilly Fest takes place 4-8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Emily Oaks Nature Center, 4650 Brummel St. in Skokie, and includes ice skating on a pond (well, maybe), snowshoeing (or mudshoeing), hayrides and games, plus a chili supper with s’mores. $4; or with dinner it’s $10 adults, $8 kids. (847) 677-7001.
18. It’s still too early to plant your garden, but it’s not too early to re-mulch and rake once the piles of crusty snow have melted.
19. As soon as that towering, arctic ice shelf melts away from your drainpipe, it’s probably a good time to clean that clogged gutter ahead of the spring rains.
20. Sure, the Chicago Botanical Garden is gorgeous in the spring, summer and fall, but do you ever give it any love this time of year? You oughta — the Malott Japanese Garden and the newly renovated Dwarf Conifer Garden are quite striking in the winter. Plus, from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday in the garden’s Burnstein Hall, there’s a free celebration of Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish Festival of Trees.
21. Punxsutawney Phil can stuff it. We saw a robin last week. Watch for more feathered friends heralding the coming spring at the Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary, 4400 N. Lake Shore Drive in the lakefront park. Stroll through the Magic Hedge, which is hometo more than 300 bird species.
22. Experience the coming outdoor months vicariously by attending the Wild Things conference 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday at the Univ. of Illinois-Chicago, Student Center East, 750 S. Halsted. More than 70 seminars and talks cover gardening, bird watching, habitat restoration and more. $15-$45, (847) 328-3910 ext. 21.
23. Farmers markets are a long way off, of course, but the Green City Market is running from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, 2430 N. Cannon. It’s amazing — fresh fruits and veggies in February. How do they do it?
24. The University of Chicago Folk Festival runs all weekend long, indoors at Mandel Hall on the U-of-C campus. But, c’mon, this is folk music. You know there will be some guitars (say GEE-tawrs) and mandolins out on the lawns. Free shows start at 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday in Hutch Commons; paid shows are 8 p.m. Friday, 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 6 p.m. Sunday in Mandel Hall, 1131 E. 57th. $10-25.
25. And when you head outside, don’t forget your poor, stir-crazy dog.