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!

garden2018-wildflowerseaten

*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.

garden2018-wildflowers

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.

Advertisements

Thursday Things

1. I went to my first-ever Crosstown Classic game on Saturday!

crosstownclassicmarquee

It…was maybe not a beautiful day for baseball.

tarponwrigleyfield

Womp.

The same friends who got married in Punta Cana have family with Cubs season tickets, and when they asked if I wanted to go to the game on Saturday, I immediately said yes. The Crosstown Classic! How could I say no!

So off I went to Wrigley Field on Saturday afternoon, bundled up in two pairs of Cuddl Duds, a pair of jeans, a cami, a short sleeve shirt, a long sleeve shirt, a sweatshirt, and a fleece, along with a drawstring bag stuffed with my winter hat, gloves, a blanket, garbage bags (to serve as ponchos), my raincoat, plastic bags for phones, a dry pair of socks, and sunglasses (#optimism). You know, your standard mid-May apparel in Chicago.

Minutes after we sat down for the 1:20 scheduled start, the video boards told us that thunderstorm activity would arrive between 1:30 and 1:45 and the start of the game would be delayed. So we waited. And waited. And got hot chocolate, only to wait some more.

Finally around 2:15, it actually started to rain. We’ll overlook the fact that the game should’ve started an hour earlier, meaning we could’ve gotten in an hour of rain-free baseball, but whatever. Fortunately, once it started raining, it could stop raining, but not before the long-promised thunderstorm made an appearance.

wrigleythunderstorm

Sigh.

The game eventually started at 3:35, and we made it through a whopping three innings before deciding we that had put in our three hours of baseball, even though the Cubs and White Sox hadn’t, and would rather watch the game inside, where we could presumably feel our toes again.

While it perhaps was not the baseball experience I hoped for, I did have a lot more fun than expected, though I’m looking forward to games later this season where I hopefully won’t have to waddle out on numb feet 😛

2. I read this article, “The Case for Having a Hobby,” in the New York Times last week, and really enjoyed it. I had been musing about my own hobbies the day before I ran across the article, and found that I had experienced a lot of what the article mentioned in my own life.

I feel like I’ve really settled into my hobby groove over the past few years. I love gardening. I love bird watching. (I love that you all believe me when I say I’m 27, despite having the hobbies of a retiree 😛 ). They both bring me so much joy, and I think they bring me so much joy because I do them purely for fun. Yes, there are measures of success in both (did my plants grow and survive like they’re supposed to? Did I see any birds?), but they’re both so low stakes. If my plants die a premature death, it doesn’t matter. If I go out looking for birds at the height of migration season and only see one pigeon, it doesn’t matter. I enjoy “succeeding” at both, but I also enjoy the process. I like going to the park with no idea what kind of birds may or may not be there. I like deciding which flowers or vegetables to plant, and I like tending to them after they’re in the ground. I don’t have to do x, y, and z to get enjoyment out of them: they make me happy and enrich my life, period. I’m glad I’ve found some that I enjoy and will hopefully be able to do for a long time!

3. Years ago, I bought a RED Card at Steppenwolf, which I will continue to recommend for anyone under the age of 30 with even the slightest interest in theater. It’s an absurdly good deal and easily the best way to see amazing shows for next to nothing.

I haven’t cashed in any of my RED Card credits in years, but when I saw that Rainn Wilson, aka Dwight Schrute from The Office, was starring in The Doppelganger, I had to go. It’s also directed by Tina Landau, who’s currently up for a Tony for directing SpongeBob SquarePants (which, according to every review I’ve read, isn’t even half as ridiculous as you’d assume), in case Rainn Wilson isn’t enough of a draw. So, off I went to Steppenwolf last Wednesday for The Doppelganger.

But this is not about why you should get a RED Card (even though you should), nor is it about why you should see The Doppelganger (because it was phenomenal). No, this is about me (of course it is).

I’d seen several ads on Facebook for The Doppelganger, and in them, I always thought one actress looked familiar. For awhile, I thought maybe she had also been in Plantation!, a Lookingglass production I saw earlier this year. But there didn’t appear to be anyone in The Doppelganger that was also in Plantation! (which makes sense, since the shows overlapped for nearly three weeks in April), so I figured the actress from The Doppelganger just had one of those faces. Then I arrived at Steppenwolf, started looking through my program, and my jaw hit the floor. I did indeed know the actress, but not from a show.

I KNEW HER BECAUSE SHE WAS IN MY DANCE CLASS.

I could NOT believe it. I mean, I could. Most people are shy during their first go-around at dance, and she’s one of very, very few who wasn’t. She even volunteered to do a solo, which no one ever does in their first session. I would assume someone who’s chosen acting as a profession wouldn’t be particularly shy about performing. I did some digging through the archives, and sure enough, the actress and the girl in my dance class were definitely the same person. And she wasn’t just in The Doppelganger. She’s a freaking STEPPENWOLF ENSEMBLE MEMBER. WHAT.

It’s nice to know at least one of us has gone on to accomplish big things. I’ll still be listening to Broadway soundtracks at my desk job, pretending I have even a drop of talent in the singing or acting department, if anyone needs me.

Have you been to any baseball games this year?

Thursday Things

1. Behold, the saddest tulip garden of all time.

tulip1

Sigh.

As I assume you all spend your days waiting with bated breath for my latest gardening update, I’m happy (?) to fill you in on the latest goings-on with my bathtub. “Pathetic” is the word I’d use to sum up the situation.

Out of the 55 bulbs I planted last November, exactly three (3) sprouted: a 5 percent success rate. Out of the three that sprouted, exactly one (1) actually grew into a tulip: a 1 percent “success” rate.

Why the quotation marks, you ask? Because this tulip, despite producing a flower, did not even come close to producing the flower I expected it to produce. I ordered four varieties of tulips: one white, one pink, one purple and white, and one pink and white. Do you, dear reader, see any of those colors in my solitary, lonely tulip?

tulip2

Sigh x2.

On top of that, the flower lasted exactly six (6) days, thanks to this BS “spring” of ours, where apparently even suggesting that it should be in the 60s amounts to blasphemy as far as the atmosphere is concerned. This entire experiment has been an enormous bust, which was disappointing at first but at this point is so ridiculous it’s just laughable. Needless to say, I don’t expect to plant bulbs again any time soon – at least not before I have a real garden with real ground to put them in.

2. Having been cursed with a crushing sense of loyalty to just about anything with which I aligned myself at any point, I found myself back in Kenosha this weekend, doing something I swore I would never do again: working at the Wisconsin Marathon.

kenosha

This was my fifth Wisconsin Marathon, but it was the first one (for me) that wasn’t freezing cold and/or terribly windy. I felt bad for the runners, because it certainly wasn’t friendly weather for running a half marathon or marathon (especially a marathon), but it was nice to wear shorts and short sleeves instead of four layers for a change.

3. My biggest concern about working the Wisconsin Marathon this year was that it took place on Global Big Day, the…uh, big day…in birding. The point of Global Big Day is to count as many birds as you can throughout the course of the day, so obviously having to spend a fair part of my day working a race did not help in my pursuit to count ALL OF THE BIRDS.

I did take a couple bird watching breaks throughout the race and was pleasantly surprised by everything I saw! For one thing, the lake (and air over the lake) was absolutely crawling with Caspian Terns, which were new to me. As I walked along the water in the afternoon, I saw little birds flitting around the trees, which I eventually identified as Palm Warblers: also new to me. I saw a male Myrtle’s Yellow-Rumped Warbler, too. I saw a bunch of females at the Morton Arboretum in October, but I had never seen a male before, so that was kind of new.

I was dead tired when I finally got home around 6:30 Saturday evening, but it was Global Big Day, darn it, and even though I had to sacrifice my hopes and dreams of spending the entire day at Montrose bird watching, I was not going to sacrifice my opportunity to go bird watching at the bird-full park where I saw several migrants in April! So I drug myself to the park, sans SLR (a decision I would regret almost immediately), and OMG. Best decision of my day.

Things started off on a good note when I saw another new-to-me thrush, the Swainson’s Thrush, the taller, skinnier cousin of the Hermit Thrush I saw in April. I then saw a non-House Sparrow, which is always a reason to celebrate, and also saw three more Palm Warblers.

BUT THEN. I was in the process of desperately trying to confirm if the birds in an evergreen tree were Grey Catbirds when another bird in a neighboring tree came to my attention. It was BRIGHT orange, and I instantly knew what it was: A BALTIMORE ORIOLE.

I CAN. NOT. emphasize enough how big of a deal this was for me. Every spring, my mom and grandma have an unofficial competition to see who can get the first Ruby-throated Hummingbird, first Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and/or first Baltimore Oriole to visit. The hummingbirds are a guarantee. They show up at the feeders every year and hang around all summer. The Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are maybe not guarantees, but they’re like 95 percent sure to show up at least once in May. The orioles usually show up, but are much more hit or miss than the grosbeaks. They’re not Indigo Bunting-rare, but they’re close. Since you can’t really count on orioles showing up at my parents’ house (or my grandma’s house), I can’t remember the last time I saw one. I’m nearly certain I haven’t seen one since 2012, possibly even longer. I have most definitely never seen one in Chicago before, and on Saturday, I didn’t just see one: I saw THREE!

This is the first migration season I’ve been through since I began regularly tracking what birds I see, and it is blowing my mind how many species I’ve seen in the past month. It’s amazing to witness and seriously so much fun to go outside and never know who you’ll encounter. I actually had a hard time running on Monday because I kept seeing so many birds I wanted to ID! Spring migration season hasn’t even ended yet and I’m already looking forward to late August/early September when it starts all over again 🙂

What annual flowers should I plant this year? After this bulb debacle, I’m in the market for something that’s going to flourish and am happy to take any and all recommendations. I think I’m going flower shopping this weekend, so I’m all ears!

Thursday Things

1. The day I dreaded most in the surprisingly drawn out saga that constitutes my church drama (which you can catch up on from the beginning and with the most recent update I posted) came on Sunday: the last day in our current building.

nave

The plan moving forward (to my understanding) is to close on the sale of our office building, figure out how to fit everything we’re losing from the office building into the church building, and then renovate the church building to accommodate the office space we’ve lost. Even though none of those things have happened yet, Sunday was the last day in the current (former, now) space. As of this coming Sunday, we’ll be meeting in a different church’s building until who knows when.

sanctuary1

Sunday was hard, to be generous. After the regular church service, we had an open house for a few hours where anyone could come and go to see just about any space in both of the buildings. (The office building – YIKES. We didn’t need the majority of the space in that structure, and boy, did it show. The rooms in the top floor were literally falling apart.) However, one of the spaces in our office building was our chapel, which was the original church building (they built the office building around it). Selling the office building also means selling that space, which was particularly sad.

chapel

RIP, little chapel. March 1, 1927-April 29, 2018 😦 We had a short service to deconsecrate the chapel, and it broke my heart.

Part of me feels like it’s ridiculous that I would get so worked up over two buildings and their interiors. At the end of the day, the people inside the building are what really make up the church, and I know we’re lucky that we’re not being dissolved entirely and scattered among other congregations.

But it was so much more than “just” a building to me. It was a legacy, the tangible legacy of what literally 131 years worth of people had created and entrusted to our care. There were memorials all around the building to these people and their families: the baptismal font dedicated to the memory of a toddler who died before she reached her third birthday in the early 1900s. The alter given in memory of a man who died on Good Friday, April 18, in 1919. The pew that used to belong to “The Misses Gustafson.” These were real people who lived real lives, and part of those real lives played out in the same pews I sat in every Sunday, surrounded by the same stained glass windows I admired every Sunday. These were real people who gave real money, and real blood, and real sweat, and real tears to create something that would last. These were real people who made real investments in this space, and you better believe that I feel a very real responsibility to honor those investments, those tears, that sweat, that blood, that money, those lives. The people who came before me are not just names on a plaque. They’re humans: humans who deserved so much better for what they put into my church than they’re getting. And even though everything my church has come to is not my fault at all–I didn’t make decisions that drove people away; I didn’t withhold my money from the offering plate out of spite–I feel so freaking responsible. Because I was there at the end. I feel like I should’ve done more, should’ve fought harder, prayed harder, I-don’t-know-what harder–done anything harder to keep this from happening. Standing in the chapel during the deconsecration service, I felt like I needed to apologize to the building itself for letting it down. I felt like I, personally, had let 131 years worth of people down, and that’s not a particularly fun way to feel.

sanctuary2

2. Because the whole church thing clearly wasn’t enough trauma for one day, I went directly from church to Avengers: Infinity War, and folks, I have some Thoughts on that movie.

First, my spoiler-free take: I do not, for one iota of a second, believe that the things that happened in the last 15 minutes or so of the movie were it. I firmly believe that Marvel is taking us for a ride (a ride I do not appreciate, for the record), and will continue to believe that until the untitled Avengers 4 movie next year proves otherwise.

Second, my spoiler-full take, presented to you in white text in case you haven’t seen the movie yet and don’t want anything spoiled: there is no way–NO. WAY.–everyone killed off in this movie is going to stay dead. Absolutely not. It’s not even possible, based on the currently announced upcoming movies, unless the Spider-Man sequel and Guardians 3 are both prequels to Infinity War, because obviously you can’t have a Spider-Man movie if Spider-Man is dead, and you can’t have a GotG 3 if ALL OF THE GUARDIANS EXCEPT ROCKET ARE DEAD. I also cannot FATHOM a world in which DISNEY, the profit-hungry media company to end all profit-hungry media companies, allows Marvel to kill off Black Panther permanently. That’d be as stupid from a revenue standpoint as tearing down Disney World just because they felt like it. Black Panther made $1.3 BILLION at the box office. You genuinely think Disney is going to let this be the end of Black Panther? You think they’re only going to cash in on that twice–twice within two months? Maybe that was their original intent, but there’s no way after the success Black Panther had that they’ll let something like that happen. So while yes, the movie was emotionally draining, I left the theater FAR more annoyed than sad, because I do not like this game Marvel’s playing with all of our emotions. While the friends I attended the movie with spent the majority of the credits reeling from the carnage, I spent the credits emphatically stating, for the record, that I don’t believe a single one of the deaths at the end of the movie were permanent. I believe all the people who died for real–Heimdall, Gamora, and Loki–are dead for good. Vision, too. Maybe Gamora isn’t if she somehow survived being thrown off a cliff, but I don’t think Thanos would’ve been allowed to get the Soul Stone if she hadn’t actually died, so I believe she’s dead. All of those deaths were real deaths. The ones from Thanos snapping his fingers, though? I don’t think those were real, or at the very least, that they’re not reversible via some sort of Time Stone/Soul Stone/Reality Stone finagling. I think everyone who dissolved into dust will be back by the end of Avengers 4.

/endspoilers

3. A word to the wise: if you find yourself in a position where you could potentially get sunburn on your head, I highly recommend doing everything to avoid such a fate. As I learned the hard way at the end of last week, those scorched skin cells on your scalp remove themselves from your body in the form of enough dandruff to make you not want to show yourself in public for days on end, which is a wildly unpleasant experience. So, don’t be like me! Wear a hat, put your hair in a ponytail, don’t forget to put sunscreen on your part – just don’t let your scalp get burned.

Have you seen Infinity War? I want to know everyone’s opinions! I swear, I’ve done nothing with my free time this week but read Infinity War theory articles.

Thursday Things

1. As I assume you can tell from Tuesday’s post, I survived my trip to Punta Cana, despite my laundry list of anxieties and moral misgivings surrounding the trip. In what should come as a surprise to no one, I enjoyed myself significantly more than I expected and found myself feeling disappointed upon arriving home Sunday evening rather than the relief I expected to feel. Woe is me.

2. GUYS. I ADDED SO MANY BIRDS TO MY LIFE LIST. IT WAS AWESOME. For starters, there was a small pond near my room that was home to four American Flamingos and a whole flock of domestic Muscovy Ducks, easily the most…interesting…ducks I’ve ever seen.

excellence el carmen, punta cana

The flamingos were something else. They were extremely cliquey, for one thing. Three of them always hung out with each other, while the fourth was always by itself. It made me really sad! They were a lot of fun to watch, though. At one point, I even saw them using one of the outdoor showers they had at the resort for rinsing off sand, which was probably one of the funniest things I’ve ever witnessed, at least from a bird standpoint.

excellence el carmen, punta cana, excellence resorts, excellence el carmen main building, excellence el carmen food truck, excellence el carmen grounds

I have a sneaking suspicion both of those species were brought in to live at the resort specifically. It’s possible that the flamingos just decided to make it their home, since they’re native to the Dominican Republic, but the ducks primarily live in South America. (I also saw a staff member feeding them at the same time every day, which contributes to my suspicions that they’re stocked at the resort.) The pond also had several other visitors at various times during the day, including a Great Egret, a Snowy Egret, and a Green Heron. Since those birds came and went (and are all native to the Dominican Republic), I imagine those were “real” sightings, not ones facilitated by the resort.

There were a bunch of Greater Antillean Grackles on the grounds. That didn’t seem so special to me until I learned that they only live in Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, and Puerto Rico, meaning this was a bird I could only add to my life list by being on one of those four islands. Score!

greaterantilleangrackle

I also saw Northern Mockingbirds, Hispaniolan Woodpeckers (another AWESOME find, since they live exclusively on Hispaniola), and a Brown Pelican soaring over and occasionally floating in the ocean. Additionally, there were a TON of these one birds that I couldn’t identify for the life of me. They reminded me of barn swallows, but I’m 99.99 percent sure they weren’t. I did eventually ask a staff member, but he didn’t know. Oh well. There were multiple other birds I couldn’t get a good enough look at to identify, either. I didn’t bring my SLR to Punta Cana because it seemed totally unnecessary, but after discovering how many birds were on the resort, I seriously regretted that decision. Thus, you will be subjected to my iPhone photo of a mockingbird.

northernmockingbird

3. I bartered for the first time in my life on Saturday (in Spanish, no less!). I wanted to buy something from one of the beach vendors, even if it was just a corny touristy bracelet I’d never wear. The vendor I waved over ended up having a bunch of jewelry made with larimar, a blue stone that you can only find in the Dominican Republic–or at least he said it was made with larimar. He could’ve been lying, I guess, because I’m no geologist and wouldn’t know the difference. I also stock my jewelry collection with whatever I can find for $5 or less at Old Navy, so I’m not exactly particular about quality or value. Anyway, I thought the necklaces were pretty, so I said that’s what I wanted, and he told me it was $40. I said I only had $20, so back and forth we went until we settled on $30. I don’t know if that was a good deal or not, but honestly, I was much more excited to be bartering and to finally be speaking Spanish beyond “hola” and “gracias.” (Though the whole deal certainly could’ve gone down in English. I started speaking Spanish to the vendor when we bartered, but he had initiated the conversation in English.) I had also brought cash to Punta Cana to assuage my guilt about patronizing an all-inclusive via tipping and spending, so the whole money piece of the equation was irrelevant to me.

4. Before I left for Punta Cana, I had it in my head that I would only speak Spanish for the duration of the trip. In deciding this, I neglected to consider two major barriers to that goal: first, that my exposure to Dominican Spanish prior to this trip was nonexistent. Second, that everyone would begin speaking to me in English, which did not do much to put me in a Spanish speaking mindset.

On my last day at the resort, a bellboy came to pick up the luggage. He asked where home was and if it was as warm there as it was in Punta Cana. I knew the weather was decent-ish in Chicago by Sunday, but I certainly didn’t know how to convert 60 from Fahrenheit to Celsius on the fly, so I did my best to communicate the conditions in Chicago on Thursday (the day I left): “No, it’s not warm at all. Hay nieve.”

That was all it took! We then carried on a conversation about the weather in Spanish all the way back to the main building! I was SO HAPPY. He told me about Dominican weather and I confirmed that no, it was definitely not still supposed to be snowing this time of year. We talked about how it’s green in the Dominican Republic while everything is still (mostly) brown in Chicago, and then he told me my Spanish was excellent, which is most definitely a generous assessment of my ability to speak the language, but I appreciated it nevertheless. It was just the very best way to finish the trip 😀 Didn’t get that Spanish minor for nothing, darn it!

5. I got the stupidest sunburn on this trip. Between my family history of skin cancer and my general crushing fear of any and all medical ailments, I’m about as strict as they come when it comes to sunscreen application. Given that the vast majority of my skin had been sheathed under layers and layers of clothes for the past five months, I was particularly adamant about not going outside without sunscreen while in Punta Cana. I even put it on on the plane during our descent, since I knew we’d be let out onto the tarmac, not a jet bridge. I did so well avoiding UV rays until Saturday afternoon, when I forgot to put sunscreen on the back of my left hand and the front of my right shoulder. *facepalm* I also got burnt on my scalp, because I had my hair pulled back in a ponytail and assumed that would be enough protection. It probably would’ve been if I had pulled it back in a normal ponytail (you know, the kind you get when you flip your head over and then pull your hair back), but I had pulled it back from having it down and forgot that I had done it that way, so my part was still exposed. Fail.

 

Excellence El Carmen

I traveled to Punta Cana last weekend(ish – Thursday through Sunday) for a friend’s wedding, and it was easily one of the most luxurious, unforgettable trips I’ve ever had. I plan to talk all about the things I did and experienced later this week, but today, I want to focus on the resort itself. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I was quite anxious about this trip in general and Googled the living daylights out of the resort, so I figured I’d dedicate an entire post to the resort itself in case any other anxious travelers find themselves in my position in the future.

If you’ve spent more than a hot minute on this blog, it should go without saying that I am not even remotely close to being an influencer (I don’t even have Instagram, for goodness’s sake), so this trip was most certainly not paid for by the resort or any travel agency. No one asked or expected me to write this, and all opinions are most definitely my own.

excellence el carmen, punta cana, punta cana resorts, excellence resorts, las olas, dominican republic, all inclusive dominican republic, all inclusive dr

Excellence El Carmen is located along the Uvero Alto beach, which is on the northern end of the (surprisingly-to-me) gigantic area that constitutes Punta Cana. Excellence El Carmen is a literal marathon away from the Punta Cana International Airport (really: it’s 42 kilometers from door to door), so you will certainly need some form of transportation to get there. I used Island Sun for my transportation, and it was a seamless experience. The company provided extremely specific directions on how to find them at the airport and also handled all of the scheduling for the return trip to the airport on Sunday based on my flight information.

When you arrive at the resort, you’re ushered to the bellboy stand outside the main door, where you’re immediately handed a glass of champagne and a cold towel. The bellboys tag your luggage and hold it for you while you check in. After that’s all taken care of, they escort you to your room with your luggage in tow.

I stayed in Building 11 in a Suite (I think? I know I was booked for a Junior Suite, but then some sort of upgrade was mentioned at check-in, so I think I ended up a Suite, not a Junior Suite) with a Pool View, one of the lowest level of suites available at the resort. Even though this was the bottom tier of amenities as far as the resort’s offerings go, it was far and away the fanciest hotel room I’ve ever had. Upon arriving in the room, the bellboy provided a brief tour of the space (because when your hotel room is 800 square feet, a tour isn’t unreasonable).

 

The room featured three separate spaces: a bathroom area, a sitting area, and a sleeping area. The bathroom area included two sinks, a separate room for the toilet (which, with its concrete walls and glass door, was not exactly soundproof), a rain shower that had both a rain shower head (“shower head,” really – it took up most of the ceiling of the shower stall) and a handheld shower wand, though you could only use one or the other, and a Jacuzzi enclosed on two sides with glass, allowing you to look out over the pool or your balcony if you so chose. The Jacuzzi enclosure also came with blinds if you wanted a bit more privacy. The bathroom area also had an abundance of amenities, including a scale, slippers, shower gel, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, a bar of soap, toothpaste, a shaving kit, and certainly other things I’m forgetting. All of our toiletries were Excellence brand, though if you stay in an Excellence Club room, you get Acqua di Parma toiletries instead (more on the Excellence Club later).

excellence el carmen, punta cana, punta cana resorts, excellence resorts, dominican republic, all inclusive dominican republic, all inclusive dr, junior suite pool view, suite pool view, excellence el carmen junior suite pool view, excellence el carmen suite pool view, excellence el carmen junior suite bathroom

Just outside the bathroom was a closet for returning room service dishes along with another walk-in closet where you could hang up more clothes than I would ever consider bringing on vacation. The closet also contained robes that you were allowed to use for the duration of your stay (which I most definitely did) and a safe.

The sitting area featured a couch, a chair, a long desk, a coffee maker with an assortment of coffees and teas, and the mini bar. The mini bar, which is supposed to be restocked daily (though mine was not restocked on Saturday – but since I left Sunday, it didn’t bother me), contained four bottles of water, Coke, Fanta, Canada Dry, Presidente (the primary beer at the resort), and orange juice, along with Oreos (*insert heart-eyed emoji here*), peanuts, and crackers. In the booze department, there were three full sized bottles of Johnnie Walker Red, Stoli, and a rum whose brand I don’t remember. There were also two additional bottles of water by the coffee maker. The water in the restaurants and ice that came from the restaurants and bars was safe to drink, the water in the rooms, though treated, was not potable, and the resort recommended sticking to bottled water in your room. I, being the hypochondriac that I am, refused to drink the water at the restaurants, though everyone else I knew there did and no one seemed to have any issues. There was also a balcony off the sitting area that included a small table and chairs and two large sunbeds: one on the balcony itself and one in a nook next to the Jacuzzi (but still separated from the Jacuzzi, due to the aforementioned glass enclosure).

excellence el carmen, punta cana, punta cana resorts, excellence resorts, dominican republic, all inclusive dominican republic, all inclusive dr, junior suite pool view, suite pool view, excellence el carmen junior suite pool view, excellence el carmen suite pool view, excellence el carmen junior suite sitting area, excellence el carmen suite sitting area, excellence el carmen living area, excellence el carmen suite living area

The sleeping area had a gigantic four poster bed, another closet, another desk, and more pillows than you could shake a stick at. I’m a princess about my sleeping accommodations, but I didn’t have a single complaint about the bed or pillows. I was perfectly comfortable, but if I hadn’t been, the resort offered a pillow menu with several different types of pillows you could request (including latex, my favorite!). The only unfortunate part of the sleeping area was that it was the one part of the room that didn’t have any vents (as far as I saw), which meant that while the bathroom and sitting area stayed perfectly cool, the sleeping area did have a tendency to get a bit warm.

excellence el carmen, punta cana, punta cana resorts, excellence resorts, dominican republic, all inclusive dominican republic, all inclusive dr, junior suite pool view, suite pool view, excellence el carmen junior suite pool view, excellence el carmen suite pool view, excellence el carmen sleeping area, excellence el carmen bedroom, excellence el carmen junior suite sleeping area, excellence el carmen suite sleeping area, excellence el carmen junior suite bedroom, excellence el carmen suite bedroom

As the name of my suite suggests, I could see two pools directly outside my balcony. While I never spent a full day in my room, neither pool seemed to get much action. The area of the resort around Building 11 wasn’t particularly on the main drag, but I really liked the location. It was easy to access the main building with the majority of the restaurants, it felt quiet and peaceful, and the gardens in the area were stunning. I particularly enjoyed being able to see the pond from my room, which attracted several different species of birds throughout the day.

There is no shortage of places to eat or drink at Excellence El Carmen. The vast majority of food offerings are within the main building, though you’ll need to walk outside to access all of them (aside from Martini Bar, which is located near the lobby, and Sports Bar, which is just off to the side from Martini Bar and accessible from both the inside and outside). The restaurants offer a variety of styles, including sushi/hibachi (Spice), French (Chez Isabelle), tapas (Flavor Market), Indian (Basmati), Mexican (Agave) and a steakhouse (The Grill). Kitchen House, the buffet, put both buffets I’ve been to in Las Vegas (one at the Flamingo; one at MGM) to shame. Everything you could dream of and more was available at Kitchen House. The main building also contained my favorite place, Aroma. While technically a coffee shop, Aroma also served all sorts of sweets: cookies (including meringues and macarons *more heart-eyed emojis*), quick breads, eclairs, a ton of different flavors of ice cream, and gorgeous (and delicious) cupcakes.

excellence el carmen, punta cana, punta cana resorts, excellence resorts, dominican republic, all inclusive dominican republic, all inclusive dr, aroma, excellence el carmen aroma, chocolate bread, chocolate cupcake, gourmet cupcake

I imagine the way I felt about Aroma is how most people at all-inclusives feel about the bar. The fact that I could just waltz in there, take as much dessert as I want (they even had to go containers!), including desserts like macarons that usually cost an arm and a leg, come back as often as I wanted, and not pay a penny for it was MIND BLOWING.

The building that contained the swim-up bar at the main pool (the only swim-up bar at the resort) also had two restaurants, Oregano and Lobster House, and there was a kind of ish restaurant on the beach itself called Las Olas. I’d consider it to be more like a concession stand you’d find at an arena or stadium than a restaurant, but, that being said, the pizza I got at Las Olas was delicious. In terms of bars, you really weren’t hard pressed to find one anywhere. Las Olas had a bar, there was a swim-up bar in the main pool, there was another bar on the way back from the beach to the main building, there was a bar by the pools near my room, there was a bar on the land side of the building containing the swim up bar: if you wanted alcohol, it was easily accessible. There were also two bars near the beach reserved for those staying in Excellence Club rooms.

The beach itself was pristine. The northernmost and southernmost section were reserved for the Excellence Club, but there was ample space on the beach for non-Excellence Club guests as well. Several vendors not associated with the resort wandered up and down the beach with a variety of wares to sell, but I didn’t find any of them to be aggressive, pushy, or annoying. If you said you weren’t interested, they’d leave you alone, and that was that. The main pool is just off the beach, and while several other wedding guests felt that the water was too warm, I thought it was the perfect temperature. I do not like feeling cold even for the tiniest sliver of a second when I get in water, so I was all about the warm pool.

excellence el carmen, punta cana, punta cana resorts, excellence resorts, dominican republic, all inclusive dominican republic, all inclusive dr, dominican republic beach, punta cana beach, uvero alto, uvero alto beach, excellence el carmen beach, palm trees, atlantic ocean, caribbean sea

If the beach and/or pool and/or sitting in your room weren’t your thing, there was more than enough to do at the resort. Each night, housekeeping would come by to provide turn-down service some time between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. (which did mean that I didn’t get turn-down service the first night, when I crashed at 9 p.m. like the 87 year old I am.). Turn-down service entailed putting your slippers by the side of your bed (yesssssssss), general tidying up of the room, turning down the covers (obviously), a small piece of chocolate on your pillow (double yesssssssss), a coupon to the spa for the next day, and a two-sided sheet of paper that outlined the various things you could do the following day, including fitness classes (of which I had grand aspirations to attend two, and ended up attending zero), activities, the restaurant hours, and the nightly entertainment. The morning and afternoon were packed with activities like archery, horse shoes, beach volleyball, Spanish classes, dance classes, and a ton of other offerings, so if you wanted to do something, you certainly had the chance. There was one main themed show at 9:30 every night (themes on the nights I was there were Disco Fever, Broadway, and Circus. Burlesque was on the docket for Sunday evening, but I left at noon on Sunday.) along with some other sort of entertainment earlier in the evening (music, a fire show) and later night entertainment as well, including karaoke and a discotheque. As I mentioned, I’m 87 years old, so I barely engaged in any of the evening activities, but I did do archery on Saturday and had a lot of fun!

While I did not stay in an Excellence Club room, other guests at the wedding did, so I had a little peek into what the Excellence Club entailed. From what I gathered, it seemed like staying in an Excellence Club room came with lots of small upgrades that, when taken together, feel like a big upgrade. They had better toiletries. They had more and better liquor (Johnnie Walker Black instead of Red, aged rum instead of non-aged rum, Absolut instead of Stoli, Bombay Sapphire instead of no gin at all). They had access to more bars, an additional restaurant, and a lounge. They got petit fours delivered to their room. They had better views. Personally, I thought staying in a non-Excellence Club room was just fine, but I suppose if you really, really wanted to go all out, perhaps the upgrade would be worth it.

I also want to note that I had read many reviews critiquing the staff’s ability to speak English, and I could not disagree with those assessments more. I don’t know what kind of turnover has taken place since those reviews were written, but every single staff member that I interacted with spoke wonderful English, and I didn’t feel like there was a language barrier at all. I was actually a little bummed, because the reviews made me think I would need to draw heavily on my Spanish to communicate with the staff (which I really looked forward to!). Every staff member I encountered spoke English much, much better than I speak Spanish.

This was my first time at an all-inclusive, so I really don’t have anything to compare it to. Regardless, I was beyond impressed by the whole experience and would certainly recommend the resort to anyone considering a trip to Punta Cana.

excellenceelcarmen-beach2

Thursday Things

1. After the shortest tease of warm weather ever last Thursday, the depths of March returned with a vengeance in Chicago on Saturday, with cold temperatures, high winds, and a prolonged mist that made it feel like you were living in a cloud, but not in a good way.

I knew the bad weather was coming, because AccuWeather was more than happy to alert me to the future miserty in the form of weather advisories. The threats of 10-16 foot waves and 50 mph wind gusts along the lake made me particularly concerned about the 12 miler I had planned for Saturday morning. While I never enjoy missing a long run, I especially didn’t want to miss this long run due to the fact that it was my last opportunity to get in a long run before my half marathon. After some deliberation, I decided to do what easily makes my top five most questionable running decisions: I went for my 12 mile long run when I got home from work.

I’ve never run more than 10 miles after work, and I haven’t run 10 miles after work since late last marathon season. I never work out on Fridays, period, never mind run on Fridays. I’ve never attempted a double digit long run on no rest, no carb loading, and after a full day of work (not to mention that this was the whopping second double digit run I had scheduled since Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas five months ago). But I was bound and determined to get those stupid 12 miles on my legs, so off I went.

It really didn’t start out as terrible as I expected. I think part of me thought this was just another weekday run, and I’d certainly turn around at the three mile mark for a nice out-and-back six miler. But I didn’t. I kept chugging along. Things were fine until right around mile eight, when suddenly my marathoning self kicked in. “Only four more miles! That’s nothing!” I thought to myself foolishly, as my legs became progressively more tired, my stomach became progressively more annoyed that I was doing this to it and delaying dinner so dramatically, and my feet became progressively more fed up with this hare-brained endeavor of mine. I most certainly did not fast finish those 12 miles, but I did finish them. I’m proud of myself for doing it, but I’ll be perfectly happy to never again do a long run on an hour’s notice on a Friday afternoon, thanks.

2. One surprising aspect of that Friday afternoon run, though, was that the bird watching was fantastic! Maybe it was the weather, maybe it was the fact that barely anyone else was stupid enough to be logging a run when I was, or maybe it was both, but I saw two brand new birds on my run! I wasn’t able to identify the one, but the other (of which I saw three total!) was a Golden Crowned Kinglet!

goldencrownedkinglet-2

I obviously did not bring my SLR along with me on my run, so you’ll have to tolerate my iPhone photography. I know it blends in pretty well with the grass, hence the cheesy red circles to help you see the bird.

goldencrownedkinglet-1

I’ve heard of Golden Crowned Kinglets, but I’ve never seen one for sure, and I’ve definitely never seen one alive (I may have seen a dead one last year – I wasn’t able to get a positive ID on it). They’re so teeny tiny! Much smaller than I expected. This one was also not shy at all. He was wholly undisturbed by my presence as he rooted around in the dead sod, trying to find some bugs for his supper. It was very exciting!

3. Since I did my long run on Friday evening, I had all day Saturday to spend as I pleased. My week had been full of anxiety and stress, so I decided to try to unwind with a nice warm bath, using a bath bomb I got for Christmas. I’ve used bath salts before (like, the kind you put in your bath. Not the drug kind, haha) and had no adverse reactions at all, so I wasn’t in the least bit worried about using a bath bomb.

I got giddy when I dropped the bomb in the water and it started fizzing all over the place. It made the water pretty and pink and even a little shiny, which I thought was so cool. I swirled my arms around the shininess, admiring how pretty it was…until I pulled my arm out of the water and saw it completely covered in a rash.

For the past 10 years, every now and again and completely unpredictably, I’ve gotten rashes on the backs of my hands and wrists or the tops of my thighs when I’m anxious. I have absolutely no idea what triggers it, because I get anxious a lot more than I get this rash, but I know what it looks like and sometimes, it’s a useful visual clue to me to know that what I’m feeling is anxiety and not something I need to worry about. In this case, the rash looked the same, except it completely covered both of my arms exactly up to the point where they had been in the water. It took me all of .00001 seconds to determine that something about this bath bomb and my skin were NOT getting along, and I should probably get out ASAP.

As soon as my arms dried off, the rash went away from everywhere but my hands, which seemed promising. I was, however, completely freaking out by this point that I had accidentally discovered that I have a severe allergy to who knows what the one time I’m home alone (of course), and what on earth was I going to do if things got worse?? Of course, now that I was anxious, I didn’t know if the persisting rash on my hands was due to anxiety or the bath bomb, which just made matters worse. I took a Zyrtec to calm both my skin and my mind (not that Zyrtec has any anti-anxiety purposes, at least not as far as I know, but knowing I was treating the reaction made me feel more comfortable with the situation).

I don’t know what is going on with my body lately. For years and years my only known allergy was penicillin, and now in the past four months alone, I’ve had an allergic reaction to a TdAP booster and a bath bomb. I already planned to see an allergist sometime in the next couple of months as a result of what happened after my TdAP, but now I’m even more motivated to get into one quickly. I’m not a fan of these surprise allergic reactions in the least, and would love to get some insight on what’s caused these things to happen and what to avoid moving forward to keep them from happening again.

Have you seen any exciting migratory birds yet this season? She asked, allowing herself to continue believing that anyone else remotely close to her age watches birds, as if this is not a hobby primarily associated with senior citizens.