Thursday Things

1. Continuing my now well-established Fourth of July tradition, I went to the Cubs game last week to celebrate the Fourth!

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I didn’t necessarily plan on continuing the tradition this year, but once I found out the Cubs were playing the Tigers on the Fourth, going to the game became non-negotiable. My favorite team playing my other favorite team in Wrigley Field on the Fourth of July? I was not going to miss that. My dad and brother came in from Michigan to go to the game too, since they’re Tigers fans, and that made the whole experience extra special.

I’ve gone to three Cubs games this year and have experienced what feels like the entire range of weather possibilities, from cold and windy and rainy and thunderstormyΒ  to perfect to boiling hot and humid on the Fourth. I’m not entirely sure which was more miserable: the game against the White Sox or the game against the Tigers. I’m inclined to say the game against the Tigers, though. Even though the weather was horrific for the White Sox game, at least you could bundle up against the elements. There was no escaping the crushing heat and humidity on Wednesday. We had seats in the shade two rows from the very top of the stadium, but the air was stagnant and oppressive, even though we weren’t in the sun. I spent most of the fourth inning in the air conditioned Cubs store and ended up getting a baggie of ice from outside the first aid station to help keep me comfortable. It actually made a big difference, which was a nice surprise.

The Cubs won, so at least all the sweating was worth it.

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2. One of my friends is getting married in October, and her maids of honor organized a whole bachelorette party extravaganza for this past weekend. I was happy to attend what I could, especially since it gave me the chance to cross a couple longstanding items off my Chicago bucket list. Up first: a late morning/early afternoon in the Playpen.

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The Playpen, for the non-Chicagoans out there, is the area off Ohio Street beach where a bunch of boats anchor for the day during the summer. It has a reputation for being where you go to party on the lake–assuming, of course, you have a way of getting there in the first place (i.e.: access to a boat).

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I suppose the only reason I had any interest in spending any time in the Playpen was due to the fact that I thought it would never happen. I don’t know anyone with a boat and I most certainly don’t own a boat. I don’t even like being on boats, which made the chances of me ever getting in the Playpen seem that much more remote.

But then the maids of honor rented a yacht for the party on Saturday, and when we got on the boat, the captain said she’d take us to the Playpen for the duration of our rental, so off we went!

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Like I said, I don’t like being on boats, mostly because I don’t like being on or in water unless it’s 1) warm and 2) easy to escape, and being on a boat presents the possibility of having to be in water that is neither of those things. After an enjoyable-as-always panic attack that lasted until we got on the other side of the break walls, I finally calmed down enough to enjoy myself. I did not enjoy myself by going into the water (see aforementioned requirements for water I like to be in), but rather pretended I was the group’s lifeguard and “supervised” from the boat while everyone else floated around.

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I also played with my iPhone Photos filters, as one does. If you look closely, you can see the moon about an inch to the left of the Building FKA the John Hancock Center.

3. The bachelorette party continued on for the remainder of Saturday (and into Sunday morning), but I begged off at 11 p.m., pleading my long run from that morning and my long-since depleted supply of interest in interacting with other humans. I went through my normal Sunday morning routine while the rest of the party attendees recovered from their hangovers, and met up with everyone that afternoon for another bucket list item: afternoon tea at the Drake.

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Oh, you guys, it was so fancy. SO FANCY. I loved it! I had afternoon tea when I went to Scotland seven years ago, so I kinda sorta had an idea of what to expect, but this was still way fancier than I anticipated. There were all sorts of delicious treats: scones, bread, tiny little sandwiches, an impressive assortment of desserts. And then there was the tea itself, of course, which was also just so delightful. The whole experience was wonderful, and I highly recommend it! (Even if I did have to basically be rolled out of the Drake, since I was so full afterwards.)

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Have you ever had afternoon tea?
How did you celebrate the Fourth?

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Thursday Things

1. It’s been quite some time since my last Thursday Things post! I suppose having forty thousand (or, you know, four) West Coast trip-related blog posts to get up will do that to one’s blogging schedule. But now that that’s all taken care of (…and the trip has been over for just shy of a month), back to your regularly scheduled programming!

2. My gym normally switches up the music pretty regularly, but for the past two weeks, its been on a serious Hits of the 2000s kick, and oh man. ALL OF THE NOSTALGIA. I’ve heard so many songs I haven’t heard in ages (Listen to Your Heart, Every Time We Touch, Damaged, It’s Not Over, among others), and since I was in high school during the mid-late 2000s, it has obviously stirred up some of those memories. It stirred them up so much, in fact, that over the weekend I dug up the DVD I have from homecoming my senior year to reminisce.

Some background: homecoming at my high school was not the football game/semiformal dance affair it is at most high schools. For one thing, we had homecoming in February, so our the sporting event associated with homecoming was a basketball game. We had a dance, but it was a jeans-and-a-t-shirt sort of affair, not a dresses and button-up shirts type of occasion. We built floats, but they were tiny and never designed to be in a parade (according to my brother, who was in high school more recently than I was, they stopped doing floats after his freshman year). While the floats were a big deal, and the inter-class competition mattered, the big event of homecoming was a lip sync contest held the Friday night before the basketball game (the basketball game was on a Saturday back then, though I think that’s changed now, too.). The DVD from my senior year is of the lip sync contest.

It has literally been 10 years (almost 10.5 years) since the contest, and I still got angry and defensive when the juniors explicitly made fun of my class during their performance. I still got giddy and excited when the boy band portion of my class’s routine came on (our sophomore year, part of our contest routine involved five guys lip syncing to Bye Bye Bye, and every year after that they did a different N*Sync song during the contest. This is what the juniors explicitly made fun of, because they’re low lives with no creativity, OBVIOUSLY.). I still got annoyed at the popular people being front and center in every class’s routine, not just ours. The whole thing proved to be much more of an emotional roller coaster than I anticipated πŸ˜›

3. Speaking of high school: I went to the eye doctor the other week for my annual checkup/contact reorder. I only had a few contacts left in my supply, so when I made my appointment, I took the first one I could find that fit my schedule, without any consideration for which doctor I’d see.

The doctor I ended up seeing was not the same one I saw last year, and when she sat down in the room to do my exam, we reviewed the contacts I had been wearing (Acuvue Oasys). She commented on how the Oasys had come out “when we were in high school,” and then told me that since my last appointment, a new kind of Acuvue contact had come out (the Acuvue Vita), which were made to last a month rather than two weeks like the Oasys.

I’m sorry. When WE were in high school? Not when I was in high school, but when we–suggesting we are peers–were in high school??

I looked her up after the appointment, and sure enough, she graduated from optometry school in 2015, which means she most likely graduated from college in 2011, which means she most likely graduated from high school in 2007. I graduated from high school in 2008, so yep, it was when “we” were in high school.

I suppose it shouldn’t really surprise me that my peers are medical professionals–I’ve been out of college for six years now, which isn’t enough time to be a full blown, non-resident MD but is plenty of time to be a different kind of medical professional–but man, I do NOT feel old enough to have my peers as medical professionals! The idea that any part of my well-being could be in the perfectly qualified hands of someone my age is so bizarre. How are we old enough for this?? And more importantly, how are people younger than us old enough for this?? I thought the grownups were supposed to be doing that kind of stuff, not us!

 

Traveling on the Coast Starlight Train

As I mentioned in my Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle recap, I’ve wanted to run Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle for the past year. When I found out I’d need to be in San Diego the week before Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle, I briefly worried that would thwart my plans, particularly since the idea of flying Chicago to San Diego to Chicago to Seattle to Chicago in the space of roughly a week did not appeal to me. The idea of flying from San Diego to Seattle was moderately more appealing, but flying isn’t my favorite mode of travel and I wasn’t exactly thrilled at the idea of adding another flight to my trip. In thinking about this, it occurred to me that one can travel up the entire West Coast via Amtrak, and thus the last piece of my epic West Coast trip fell into place.

After I wrapped up work on Wednesday, I hopped on the California Surfliner from San Diego to Los Angeles. The trip lasts about two and a half hours, and BOY do I recommend making this trip on the 6:43 p.m. train in early June. Doing so gets you to the coast right as the sun is setting over the Pacific, and that was a beautiful thing to witness.

I spent the night in Los Angeles, and then the real part of the trip began: my journey from Los Angeles to Seattle on the Coast Starlight train!

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(Side note: I could not get over how beautiful Los Angeles Union Station was. I could’ve spent hours just staring at it.)

Long time readers may recall that I made a similar journey two years ago when I took the City of New Orleans train from Chicago to New Orleans. This ride was a bit longer–scheduled to be 30, ended up being 35 for reasons I’ll get into later–so instead of taking coach, I decided to ride in style in a bedroom. Now, I will admit that traveling in the sleeper car with a bedroom reservation is not the most economical way to go, but it was MORE than worth the splurge. The bedroom came furnished with a couch/bench that folded down into a bed, an upper bunk, a separate seat, a fold-down table, a toilet and shower (WHAT) in each compartment–this proved to be far handier than I had hoped it would be, given the stomach bug situation–a sink, REAL TOWELS, and in-room controls for the temperature, lighting, and audio announcements. On top of that, all your meals in the dining car are included in your fare: in this case, two lunches, two dinners, and one breakfast. The food in the dining car was actually really delicious–airplane food this was not–and also not particularly cheap, so that was an amazing added benefit. On top of all of that, the car also had an attendant assigned to it, who was happy to help with whatever you could need during your trip: turning down the bed, providing you with hot coffee, getting you extra blankets.

It was unreal. I had no problems traveling in coach before, but this was on a totally different level. Also, while I would not particularly recommend traveling on a long haul train the day you come down with a stomach bug, if you do happen to come down with a stomach bug the day you’re scheduled to leave, at least a bedroom allows you relative privacy and comfort compared to a coach seat πŸ˜›

Onto the journey!

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The train leaves Los Angeles Union Station at 10:10 a.m. Breakfast is not provided, so you’ll either need to eat beforehand or bring food with you on the train, which is what I did. If you keep your eyes peeled as you leave the station, you’ll be able to see Dodger Stadium up on a hill! You head through the hills and into the valley, stopping in Van Nuys, Simi Valley, and Oxnard before the main event: the Pacific Ocean.

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I had heard that this was one of the most scenic train rides in the country, and the rumors were correct. From Oxnard until just south of Santa Maria, the train tracks hug the coast line, giving you uninterrupted views of the oceans and beaches. It was stunning.

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When the train stopped in Santa Barbara, two volunteers associated with the National Park Service got on the train as part of Amtrak’s Trails & Rails program. From Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo, they gave a talk in the lounge car about the areas we passed through. I missed the majority of their talk due to my lunch seating time, but I caught the tail end and found it very interesting!

Another cool part about this portion of the trip is that you go through Vandenberg Air Force Base. Obviously you can’t normally travel directly through an Air Force base, but since since the tracks do, you can see features of the base, including SpaceX launch pads. The terrain is relatively untouched compared to the other parts of the coast as well, and it was cool to see the uninterrupted landscape.

We stopped in San Luis Obispo for about ten minutes, which was plenty of time to get out and stretch your legs, and then headed further into the Central Coast area.

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I was disappointed to only spend a few hours right along the Pacific until I realized how beautiful the rest of the landscape of the West Coast is as well. Prior to this trip, my only experience with California was limited to a weekend in San Francisco. I had no idea how much the terrain changed as you headed north, nor did I have any idea how so many different kinds of landscapes could be equally beautiful.

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We spent awhile in San Jose, though I was eating dinner at the time and didn’t have a chance to get off the train, and then continued north to Oakland as the sun set on the first day of travel.

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I didn’t get the best sleep of my life on the train, but again, I had extenuating circumstances that made the entire trip less pleasant than it should’ve been. I was in bed and asleep-ish through the rest of the train’s California stops: Emeryville, Martinez, Davis, Sacramento, Chico, Redding, and Dunsmuir.

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Northern California at sunrise.

If you’d like, you can ask your car’s attendant to come knock on your door at a particular time to wake you up in the morning. This ended up being more important on my trip than it will hopefully be for most people taking this trip, because my train made its last stop in Klamath Falls, Oregon around 8:30 or 9:00 in the morning. About a week and a half before my trip, a tunnel between Klamath Falls and Eugene partially collapsed during maintenance. No one was hurt, but it did make the tracks impassible. Because of this, we all had to get off the train and onto a bus that drove us three hours from Klamath Falls to Eugene. While it definitely was a bummer to have the train trip interrupted like that, the bus ride was stunning. The vast majority of the ride was through National Forests and Parks, and it was absolutely beautiful. I even saw a BALD EAGLE hanging out by a lake. Amazing!

We arrived in Eugene around 12:30 p.m., and then had five free hours to do whatever we wanted in Eugene. We couldn’t head north until the train that travels from Seattle to Los Angeles arrived, and it wouldn’t get into Eugene until around 5:30. Had I felt not-terrible, this would’ve been an awesome opportunity to make a pilgrimage to Hayward Field, a mere 1.5 miles from the train station, or if I was feeling really adventurous, to Pre’s Rock, 2.5 miles from the station. Alas, I was unable to wander too far from a bathroom (and feeling too sorry for myself to want to wander anyway), so I spent most of those five hours in the train station. I have to admit that I’m especially disappointed that I wasn’t able to go to Hayward Field, 1) because it would’ve been my last chance to see it as-is before the planned renovations that will dramatically alter the historic venue and 2) because the NCAA Track & Field Championships were going onΒ right then, and it would’ve been really cool to see some of that. Curse you, stomach bug!!

By the time the southbound train arrived in Eugene, the VAST majority of the passengers who had been on the northbound train with me had given up the ghost and found some other way to get to their final destination. In all, only 16 of us got on the train in Eugene to continue north to Seattle, and nearly all of us were sleeper car patrons. That made for a very different vibe for the second leg of the trip. There were no seating times for dinner that night – anyone could go whenever they wanted. In fact, everyone on the train went at the same time! We watched the Oregon countryside pass by (I saw an osprey at one point during dinner!), and eventually we arrived in the last major city we encountered with daylight: Portland.

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After making it through Portland, I laid down and took a bit of a nap while we continued north to Seattle. We pulled into King Street Station (also gorgeous) just after midnight, and the trip was complete.

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While I, once again, would perhaps not recommend making this trip with a stomach bug, assuming you are in good digestive health, I CANNOT recommend this trip enough. It was a truly amazing way to see the West Coast. I loved watching the landscape evolve from Southern California to the Pacific Northwest and seeing all the different ways nature can be beautiful. Making the trip in a sleeper car was a particular treat. I loved getting to chat with new people at each meal, and it was nice to have space to spread out and relax. I really think Amtrak is an amazing way to travel, and traveling on the Coast Starlight is a trip I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

 

San Diego

I spent the first weekend of June (plus half of the first week of June) in San Diego for Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego and work, and it was amazing. It took me all of about two waking hours in San Diego to want to move there immediately and question why on earth anyone would choose to live in Chicago when places like San Diego exist!

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I mean, for goodness sake, they have PURPLE TREES. If that’s not heavenly, I don’t know what is. (I realize they’re only purple during part of the year, but still.)

For the first few nights of my trip to San Diego, I stayed in Little Italy, since that made the most sense for Rock ‘n’ Roll. I’ve spent time in Chicago’s Little Italy, and while I find that neighborhood delightful, it doesn’t hold a candle to San Diego’s Little Italy, in my opinion. There were so many Italian restaurants on India Street (super convenient for pre-race carb loading), and even though it wasn’t Chicago’s Little Italy, there was a nice little reminder of Chicago on a lamppost:

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Rizzo! ❀ (And right outside Davanti Enoteca of all places: a Chicago-based restaurant!).

While I enjoyed Little Italy, my favorite part of being in San Diego was walking along the Embarcadero. This is how I got from my hotel to the expo on Saturday, and pretty much the only way I wanted to get around from that point forward.

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The U.S.S. Midway is much more impressive in person than this picture suggests.

In an effort to stay on my feet after the race on Sunday to stave off as much post-race soreness as possible, I went to the Maritime Museum of San Diego, which is just a little bit north of the U.S.S. Midway. The museum has close to a dozen historic ships that you can tour, including the main ship, the Berkeley, the inside of which features all sorts of exhibits on everything you can think of related to boats.

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The Berkeley was originally a ferry on the San Francisco Bay, and the upper deck still looks like a ferry boat. It was beautiful inside!

Other highlights of the museum’s fleet included the Medea, a steam yacht that built initially as a private yacht for a British Army officer and later as part of the French Navy (and, later yet, the Royal Navy as well).

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The museum also had a replica of the San Salvador, the ship Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo used when he discovered San Diego Bay.

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I was particularly fascinated by the museum’s submarine collection. In what I cannot imagine would come as a surprise to any of you, I’ve never been on a submarine before, so the chance to go on two different ones–the U.S.S. Dolphin and the former Soviet Union’s B-39 was really something.

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I didn’t have any work-related duties on Monday until the evening, so I spent the day in Coronado, taking a ferry across the bay and a free shuttle bus (since it’s summer) across the peninsula to get to the Pacific Ocean!

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Having dipped my toes in the Atlantic while in Punta Cana in April, I wanted to make sure I put my feet in the Pacific as well so I could say I’ve been in both the Pacific and Atlantic in one year. Important things, obviously πŸ˜› It was really nice to walk along the water hunting for sand dollars and other pretty shells along the water’s edge. I also saw some crabs in tide pools, which was a first for me.

Due to my work obligations, I didn’t get to see much of the city for the remainder of my stay, but I’m so glad I came out early and got some sightseeing in. I absolutely loved San Diego and can’t wait to go back.

 

Thursday Things

1. I went to another Cubs game last Wednesday!

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It was a much more beautiful day for baseball compared to two weeks ago.

I went to the game because the Cubs were playing the Indians, and the group of people I went with wanted to see that game in particular. Fine by me: it was the perfect excuse to wear my World Series Champions shirt (not that any Cubs game is a bad time to wear that shirt, of course, but it felt especially appropriate for a game against Cleveland).

It was also apparently Star Wars Night at Wrigley, so we got to see Clark the Cub dressed up in his Jedi best.

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I enjoy baseball games, but I’ll admit that I’m not always all that great about following every single play and tend to lose track of what’s going on, especially when “what’s going on” is mostly nothing, as was the case with the game on Wednesday. At the top of the seventh inning, the Indians fan in the group (insanely, defying all reason) noted the scoreboard and remarked on how he had never been to a game before where one of the teams hadn’t gotten a single hit. And wouldn’t you know it, on the pitch thrown out immediately after he said that, the Cubs got their first hit of the game. One of the cardinal rules of baseball is that you do not talk about a no-hitter during a no-hitter, period, and it boggled my mind 1) that the Indians fan in the group mentioned the no-hitter, since it was the Indians pitcher who stood to pitch a no-hitter, not Jon Lester and 2) that it took all of 10 seconds for the game to no longer be a no-hitter after he said that. I have varying levels of faith in superstitions surrounding sports (usually guided entirely by how important the game is–I’m much more likely to be superstitious about things during a playoff game than I am during a regular season game), and even though I knew it was inappropriate to talk about a no-hitter during a no-hitter, I certainly didn’t expect anything to actually happen. And even though I’m a Cubs fan, I have to admit I was a little disappointed that the Cubs got a hit at that point. It would’ve been cool to say I saw a no-hitter, even if it was at the expense of the team I wanted to win.

 

2. WHAT is going on with the weather around here these days?! Holy smokes. I got home from Michigan two Sundays ago and was woefully underdressed in my light jacket, since it was only 46 degrees outside (on May 21!). Then this past Sunday, I barely wanted to move because it was 97 degrees outside (on May 27!) and too hot to function. And on top of that radical swing in the temperature, this was what AccuWeather had for Wednesday’s forecast earlier this week:

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Ah yes, a tropical rainstorm. Just what I expect…in Chicago…in May o.O

I’ve lived in the Midwest my entire life, and I can’t remember a single time where the weather has been so nuts – and not just this past week, but this entire spring in general (remember how there was snow on the ground on April 19?). “Spring” really feels like a misnomer for this entire season. We’ve had late winter and the depths of summer, but nothing in between (i.e.: spring), it feels like.

On the bright side, for the first time in…ever?…I made some logical choices about my first few runs in the heat this year, including getting up way earlier than I wanted on Saturday to get in a turtle-slow 12 miler, getting up early again on Monday to do another turtle-pace four miler, and going into all of these runs with a single goal: to finish without incident. I ran my 12 miler at an 11:30 overall pace with a couple 12:00+ miles tossed in, which is usually enough to send me into a spiral of despair and self-pity. I didn’t beat myself up about it at all on Saturday, though. Here’s hoping I can keep that kind of self-compassion up during marathon season.

3. Speaking of marathon season: I can’t believe that training starts next week. I guess that means I need to come up with some sort of goal for the season. Or go into the year just hoping for the best and seeing what happens? I don’t really expect to top my picture-perfect marathon next year (unless I somehow feel amazing for the whole race AND manage to take like 15+ minutes off my time), and I’m not sure I even want to. I had such an amazing race in 2017–which I know is the exception, not the rule, when it comes to this sort of thing–that I’m hesitant to hope for much of anything in 2018. Though, low expectations are what led to such a good day for me in 2017, so maybe I’m doing this right, haha.

 

Thursday Things

1. I spent last weekend in Michigan for my brother’s college graduation. My brother is the youngest person on that side of the family, which means after 12 years of high school and college graduations among my siblings, me, and my cousins (2006, 2008, 2009 (x2), 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014 (x2), 2017, 2018), I’ve heard Pomp and Circumstance for the last time for awhile.

My family spent plenty of time over the weekend reminiscing about all the other graduations, of which I proudly claim the title of Most Memorable (my college graduation was supposed to be outside, but as soon as we started processing into the stadium, it started to storm, causing all sorts of chaos. We ended up graduating in the basketball arena instead.). It was a bit jarring to realize that whole debacle went down six years ago. It both does and doesn’t feel like I’ve been out of college for six years. The past six years have gone by much faster than the four years of college did, which I’m sure contributes to that feeling. I suppose that’s adulthood for you–the whole days-are-long-years-are-short thing. Although the days never feel that long when I need or want them to feel long… (I’m looking at you, Saturdays and Sundays).

2. My grandma has had incredible success in the bird department this spring, so I went to her house while I was home to see who I could find. Boy, did I have a bunch of luck! She’s had a Baltimore Oriole couple for two weeks now, which likely means they’re nesting in the area. She has a special feeder designed especially for orioles (it’s orange and comes with little trays for grape jelly, which they love), and both the male and female came by for lunch while I was there.

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^^ That’s the male, enjoying the grape jelly.

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^^ And that’s the female, surveying the yard from the roof in the rain.

Since I knew she had orioles, that’s all I really hoped/expected to see. Imagine my delight, then, when a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak stopped by for some seeds!

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*heart-eyed emoji*

I also saw so many birds when I went for my run Saturday morning. I did 11 miles through forests, wetlands, fields, and neighborhoods (well, along the side of the roads that run through forests, wetlands, fields, and neighborhoods), and it was incredible to see the variety among the three different types of environments. The wetlands, for example, were teeming with Red-winged Blackbirds, but in the neighborhoods, there wasn’t a Red-winged Blackbird to be seen. Instead, there were Mourning Doves and American Robins all over the place. It really caught my attention because I didn’t have to cover much ground to go from one environment to the other–turning a corner could take me away from the wetlands to a neighborhood, for example–but the contrast was still there. My big find on the run, though, was a Red-headed Woodpecker. I’ve only seen those a handful of times ever, so that was a definite highlight for me.

3. I have a loved one who developed some health issues earlier this year, and man, if I thought I got anxious about my own health, it is nothing compared to how I feel when the health of someone I care about is involved. I thought I started to see the light at the end of the tunnel this week, but it turns out that the light I saw was coming from a skylight dug into the roof of the tunnel, if you will, and the tunnel itself is much longer, and, in fact, not even the tunnel I thought I was in in the first place (incidental findings that reveal a completely different issue than the original one will do that). And, of course, the new tunnel is either absolutely terrible or absolutely nothing at all: no middle ground. I’ve been a mess all week and don’t see any light at the end of that tunnel until who knows when. It hasn’t been the most fun week of my life, to say the least, and I’d appreciate whatever spare good vibes/thoughts/prayers you have, not just for me but for everyone involved in this whole situation.

In Which I Declare War on Squirrelkind

I had grand plans for today’s blog post, dear reader. I planted my garden on Mother’s Day, and though I considered writing about it in my most recent Thursday Things, I thought, “No! I have so much to say that I shall dedicate an entire blog post to this, my pride and joy!” I planned to enthrall you with the true story of why my tulips didn’t grow, impress you with the environmental consciousness and thoughtfulness that guided my planting this year, entertain you with self-deprecation and wit.

Alas! No good deed goes unpunished, and instead I come to you today with a tragically different tale.

Gaze upon the destruction foisted upon my poor garden!

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*grumbles forever*

But first, some context.

In my ongoing effort to convince the birds to come to me rather than me going to them, I decided to focus my garden this year around bird-friendly practices. Specifically, I wanted to dedicate at least part, if not all, of the bathtub to native plants, under the premise that native plants would attract native bugs, which in turn would attract native birds. Plus, native plants are good for the ecosystem, help the bees and butterflies, etc. etc. I’m sure the Sierra Club will show up at my door any day now to recognize my outstanding environmental consciousness.

Anyway, the idea was foolproof! It was also a bit foolish, admittedly–well, maybe not so much foolish at it was ironic–being that I am a renter and decided the best use of my time and energy in the gardening department this year would be spent on perennials. The “planting seeds in a garden you never get to see” line from Hamilton came to mind as I put my plants in the ground, but leaving behind a legacy of Illinois-friendly plants is about as much as I could hope for in this little rented patio of mine, so I was at peace with my decision.

I spent time researching native plants that could handle low sunlight and brought my list to Gethsemane Garden Center in Andersonville, which, holy cow, was far and away the best place I’ve gone yet to buy plants. They have EVERYTHING you can dream of and more. If you want to garden in Chicago, you should go to Gethsemane Garden Center. It was so organized, the employees were so helpful, and the whole experience of buying plants there was delightful. There, I found sedge, Virginia Bluebells, Jack-in-the-Pulpits, and phlox. I figured two sedge plants, two Jack-in-the-Pulipits, two phlox plants, and one Virginia Bluebell would nicely fill my bathtub, so I brought them home, planted them, and patted myself on the back for caring so much about the environment.

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Because I have no self-control when it comes to plant purchasing, I also bought a tomato plant, a basil plant, an African Daisy, a petunia, and more begonias than you can shake a stick at. I was especially proud of my begonia display. This was the first time in four summers of gardening that I managed to coordinate the flower colors, pot colors, and plant sizes in a way I found particularly visually appealing, and I looked forward to watching the plants grow and fill the patio with color as time went on.

garden2018-begonias

When I came home last Thursday, I saw a hole in the dirt in my petunia pot and dirt all over the surrounding area. I immediately suspected a squirrel had come to call, and checked on other plants to see what else had happened. I didn’t see too much destruction, though I did notice that one of my white begonias no longer had any flowers and had the distinct look of something that had been eaten. I started researching how to keep squirrels away from begonias.

Friday morning as I got ready for work, I heard noise in the back patio and went to the window to investigate. There I saw not one, not two, not three, not four, but FIVE squirrels having their way with my entire garden area: romping through the bathtub, treating my tomato cage as their own personal jungle gym, demonstrating their powerful leg strength by jumping the two feet or so from a ledge to my begonias, where they helped themselves to a delicious breakfast of freshly-planted flowers.

I. Was. Furious.

I yelled at them from the window, which filled them with so much fear that they bothered to glance in my direction before resuming their destruction. I then pounded on the window, which produced the same lackluster results. I finally stormed outside, armed with red pepper flakes (given that I had no cayenne, the recommended squirrel deterrent, in my house). They scurried into a dark corner behind one of the houses that backs up to the patio while I seasoned my plants with reckless abandon. Take that, rodents!

I went back inside to resume getting ready for work, and when I checked the window a few minutes later, there they all were again, utterly unfazed by the red pepper and wholly unconcerned by my wrath. In a fit of rage, I trimmed off some of my own hair, since the internet also said that could frighten them away, grabbed the chili powder from my spice cabinet, and went outside again. I was now 20 minutes late for work, had a vaguely awkward haircut (though I at least had the sense to trim bottom layers rather than something more obviously) and was so frustrated I wanted to cry. I was also worried: I had to go straight from work to Michigan, and wouldn’t return to my apartment until Sunday. Who would fight off the squirrels in the mean time?

Nothing and no one, apparently.

garden2018-begoniaseaten

I came home Sunday to a ravaged garden. My Virginia Bluebell had been eaten entirely, as had one of my phlox plants. The other phlox had been completely stripped of all its flowers, leaving nothing but sad stems where a beautiful plant had once been. The squirrels also helped themselves to nearly all of my begonias, as you can see in the picture above, which shows the same two plants from the previous picture post-squirrel feast.

I don’t know what to do at this point. I think (hope, pray) most of my plants will grow back over time, but waiting to find out makes me nervous: what if it’s July and they haven’t regrown? It’ll be too late to plant anything at that point. On the other hand, I’m also not interested in dropping a bunch of money on new plants, only to bring the squirrels back for more meals. I could try other squirrel-deterring methods, but when recounting this tale to my mom and grandma over the weekend, both warned me that their success with supposedly fail-proof critter deterrents has been spotty. I did buy cayenne at Jewel this weekend, though, and will happily sprinkle the entire jar on my plants if it’ll keep those stupid creatures away.

I’m not entirely sure where these squirrels came from, but I strongly suspect that they are last year’s babies returning to their former home. The hole that allowed them to get into the garage last year has been sealed, so they don’t seem to have any good reason to hang around, other than, you know, the smorgasbord of flowers I’ve provided for them to eat at their leisure, apparently.

I’m a bit discouraged by this turn of events and have extremely low hopes for my garden this year as a result. I’m particularly disappointed at the native plant situation, because I really did want to attract birds to my patio. But, such is the plight of gardening, I suppose. Nature will have its way!

Oh, and as for the tulips (and daffodils and crocuses)? All of the bulbs rotted, save for the one that produced a flower. All 54 of them. I dug them up before planting my native plants, and they were all squishy, oozy, and generally revolting. I don’t know exactly what caused that, either, but it was likely due to fungi, bacteria, poor drainage, or some combination of the above. Really batting 1.000 in the gardening department in 2018 over here *eye roll emoji*

Have you ever successfully deterred squirrels from your garden? Please, give me your insight. I’m all ears.