Thursday Things

1. I haven’t even started my seemingly endless upcoming travels, and I’m already stressing about travel plans for next year.

For years and years, I’ve dreamed of visiting the Netherlands. I’m half Dutch, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned plenty of times before, and having been born and raised in the excessively Dutch culture that is West Michigan, I’ve always had a bit of an interest in the Netherlands. In 2014 or 2015, I believe, I decided that I was an adult, darn it, and if I wanted to go to the Netherlands, I could make that happen. Since I’m particularly interested in seeing the tulips while they’re blooming in the Netherlands, that meant I really could only travel at the end of April. Initially, I planned to go in April 2017 (i.e.: like right now), but then conflict after conflict after conflict came up, so by Thanksgiving of last year, I had already decided to delay my trip until April 2018.

Then, when I got home from work on Monday, I discovered a save the date for a wedding. I had suspected I’d be invited, and had heard a few months ago from the bride’s sister that the couple was planning on a destination wedding. I had forgotten all of that information until I saw the save the date, which announced that the wedding would take place in Punta Cana on…April 20, 2018, which you may notice is “like right now” in 2018.

Needless to say, that put a monkey wrench in my Netherlands plan. On the wedding attendance continuum of “required” to “you only invited me because I asked about how wedding planning was going as a way of making conversation, which you quite mistakenly took as me having any interest whatsoever in flying across the country to see you marry someone I’ve never met,” I’d put this particular event at, “recommended, but not required.” So while I’m not certainly going, I expect that I’ll be going, unless something dramatic happens between now and then. This leaves me with two options: getting a whole lotta passport stamps in April of 2018, or delaying my Netherlands trip by another year, again

I’m definitely leaning towards the “getting a whole lotta passport stamps” option at the moment. I’m tired of putting off visiting the Netherlands, and the more I put it off, the less I believe I’m ever going to actually go through with it when it’s still reasonably easy to do so. I’m not sure I’m particularly interested in traveling to multiple countries over the course of three weeks (because my ideal Netherlands itinerary also includes a couple days in London and traveling to London by train, which would cross Belgium and France off my list of countries I’ve been in as well), but I don’t think I’m 100% opposed to it, either (except for the hours and hours of flying that all of this will entail, but I’m always 100% opposed to flying, given that my happy place is, “anywhere where there is solid ground under my feet, or very easily accessible by my feet.” Haha.). We’ll see how everything shakes out, I guess.

2. Speaking of weddings, I have a wedding in two weeks that’s a destination for me, but not for the couple, since they’re getting married where they live. This wedding is for family, and close family at that, so it definitely lands on the “required” end of the wedding attendance continuum. Anyway, the issue is not that I have to go to this wedding. The issue is that I don’t have a dress to wear to this wedding, nor do I have time to get a dress between now and two weeks from now.

I initially planned on doing Rent the Runway like the good blogger I am, until I realized that Rent the Runway isn’t even half as cheap as I was led to believe (I expected Rent the Runway to be, like, a $30 experience, so when I found out the absolute least amount of money I could spend for an eight day rental [which I have to do, since I’ll be out of town for the wedding for four days] was nearly $70 once you included shipping, insurance, etc., AND the only dress I really liked only came in one size, I became severely uninterested), and further talked myself out of it by remembering every harrowing dressing room experience of my past, when I’ve pulled a dress off a hanger that claimed to be my size only to find it 1) didn’t fit, period or 2) didn’t fit well.

So now I don’t know what to do. I could wear a dress I already own, obviously, and realistically that’s probably what will end up happening, since I didn’t bother to seriously think about any of this until Monday. But I don’t have any dresses that I feel are wedding appropriate. I did this exact same thing the last time I went to a wedding, and ended up wearing a dress I bought from Old Navy like four years ago that got the job done, but it’s like 100% cotton, and I felt so underdressed compared to everyone else. That’s really all I own in the dress department, other than super fancy dresses that would definitely be over the top for a wedding that recommended cocktail attire. I suppose this should be a lesson to me that I should have a cocktail-y wedding appropriate dress on hand for these (or similar) occasions, but man, even the shame of feeling underdressed isn’t enough to make me want to go not just clothes shopping but dress shopping, which is the very worst kind of shopping as far as I’m concerned.

3. My health woes continue, and to say I’m frustrated would be quite the understatement.

To recap, a timeline:

  • Feb. 25: Acquire sore throat, swollen lymph nodes in neck, and white streaks on tonsils.
  • Feb. 27: Go to doctor for aforementioned symptoms, leave with a diagnosis of, “Close enough to strep to call it strep,” get prescription for azithromycin (five days).
  • March 3: Notice recurring cyst has flared up on leg for the first time in five and a half years. Get annoyed, and increasingly uncomfortable throughout the day. Take last dose of azithromycin.
  • March 4: Notice said cyst has caused substantial swelling in the area. Panic. Visit urgent care. Leave with diagnosis of infected cyst and instructions to follow up with a general surgeon for removal. Get prescription for clindamycin (seven days).
  • March 7: Visit general surgeon. Learn that what I had been calling a cyst is not actually a cyst. Leave with diagnosis of, “Maybe MRSA, maybe an ingrown hair, maybe hidradenitis,” and instructions to return if/when it flares up again.
  • March 12: Take last dose of clindamycin, praise the Lord on high that I’m finally done with 11 straight days of antibiotics.
  • March 25: Notice throat feels off, though not quite sore.
  • March 30: Upgrade self-diagnosis of throat from “off” to “sore.”
  • April 7: Visit doctor re: sore throat. Get swabbed six ways from Sunday (ok, fine, twice.) Get a negative rapid strep A result. Have second swab sent off to the lab for further investigation. Get prescription of azithromycin with instructions to wait to fill it until lab results have come back.
  • April 10: All lab results return negative. Still have sore throat. Instructed to take azithromycin anyway (five days).
  • April 11: Begin taking azithromycin. Sore throat heals within hours.
  • April 13: Notice recurring not-cyst has flared once again. Use critical thinking skills acquired from liberal arts education/life in general to think there’s no way it’s just coincidental that this not-cyst, which hadn’t bothered me once since 2011, has now appeared twice in six weeks, both times while on a course of azithromycin. Email doctor with my hypothesis.
  • April 13, approximately two seconds after sending email: Discover doctor is on vacation until April 24, because of course she is.
  • April 15: Take last dose of azithromycin. Praise the Lord on high again, because this round of azithromycin was meaner than the first and consistently left me with crushing nausea for 15-20 minutes about 90 minutes after each dose.
  • April 17: Have nothing to do at work. Set about self-diagnosing with MRSA. Panic.  Call the surgeon, only to learn that the surgeon, who only works on Tuesdays, has no openings on April 18, due to his vacation the previous week. Am told to schedule an appointment for April 25, even though I know from past experience that the not-cyst will long since have healed by that point, meaning there will be nothing available to culture. Schedule appointment anyway.
  • April 17, approximately an hour later: Text my long-suffering mother. Decide to see if I can get in to my doctor’s practice and see a different doctor. Call doctor’s practice. Learn that the office is super booked due to my doctor being out. Manage to sneak in a 4:30 appointment with a different doctor the following day.
  • April 18: Visit different doctor. Recount the entire timeline to him. Doctor expresses doubt over hidradenitis theory and also doubts that a culture will show anything, due to a lack of culturable material coming from what has now been labeled as a boil (culturable material meaning pus. Attractive, I know.). Takes a culture anyway. Asks if I’ve seen a dermatologist about this (no). Asks if I could go see the dermatologist upstairs about it right now (ok, but only if they’re in network, and I do need to be somewhere at 6:30). Learns the dermatologist can see me immediately. Sends me upstairs.
  • April 18, two minutes later: Visit dermatologist. Recount entire timeline to 1) medical assistant 2) physician’s assistant 3) dermatologist. Mentally note how both the PA and dermatologist are significantly less socially awkward than my current dermatologist and file away that information for my annual skin check next year. Learn roughly no new information re: the boil, other than that it exists (duh) and does not appear to be culturable at the moment (also duh). Dermatologist says it could be MRSA, based on how my endless rounds of antibiotics earlier hadn’t prevented this, threatens me with sulfa oral antibiotics that “will be really hard on your stomach.” Throws minor temper tantrum (me, not the dermatologist). Dermatologist backs off oral antibiotic and suggests topical antibiotics and surgical-grade hand/body wash instead. Leave with instructions to return to dermatologist upon recurrence, with assurance that they will see me that day, no matter what, unless it’s a Friday because they close early on Fridays or a Saturday or a Sunday.

Here is an itemized list of the various things that bother me (and by “bother” I mean “make me want to tear my hair out and sob with frustration”):

  1. No one seems to see what to me is an obvious pattern here: sore throat -> azithromycin -> boil -> inconclusive non-diagnoses. This boil situation has happened, on and off, since I was like 10 (though it’s been entirely “off” since I was 20, at least until the past six weeks). I don’t know how ANYONE, never mind a trained medical professional, never mind MULTIPLE trained medical professionals, could hear me say, “Both times in the past six weeks that I’ve taken azithromycin, this boil has appeared, when it hadn’t appeared once in the past six years,” and not think to themselves, “I wonder if there’s some sort of connection here?” There has to be. I don’t see any way that there could not be. Nothing in life is that coincidental.
  2. If this is, indeed, MRSA, why has no one tested me for MRSA? From the exhaustive Googling I’ve done, I’ve learned that one in three people are carriers of staphylococcus aureus, the SA of MRSA (the MR coming from methicillin resistant), and that one to two in 100 people are carriers of MRSA. It lives, innocuously for the most part, in your nose (who knew!), but since you’re carrying it around at all times, it could lead to infection. Finding out if you’re a carrier is a simple as sticking a q-tip up someone’s nose and sending that off to a lab to see what happens. I’ve now had three q-tips stuck down my throat and one stuck in an open wound over the course of six weeks, so I don’t understand, especially when MRSA has now come up twice from two different doctors as a possibility, no one has bothered to even try to culture that, and instead are all up in arms over the lack of culturable material coming (or rather, not coming) from the boil.
  3. If this is, indeed, MRSA, why is no one taking it more seriously? Has the media completely blown the threat of MRSA wildly out of proportion, and it is, in fact, not the death sentence the news would have you believe?
  4. If this is, indeed, MRSA, why did it come back after I took a full course of clindamycin, which is one of the antibiotics to which MRSA is supposedly not resistant? The dermatologist’s theory that it could be MRSA came from the fact that I’ve taken all of these antibiotics–which, presumably, should be killing bacteria–and still got this boil. That’s all well and good, but 1) it’s not like all antibiotics are supposed to kill MRSA in the first place (like, for example, azithromycin, which is not indicated for MRSA treatment) and 2) it’s not like I was taking an antibiotic to which MRSA has known resistance, i.e.: methicillin. I don’t understand the thought process that goes, “You took a drug that doesn’t kill MRSA twice and now have a boil, therefore, it’s probably MRSA.” Of course, this doesn’t include the clindamycin episode, but everything did seem to go away after clindamycin. It didn’t come back until I took azithromycin again.
  5. And finally, perhaps my biggest frustration of all: why am I even getting these sore throats in the first place? I’ve had plenty of sore throats in my life, but every time I’ve ever had one, they’ve also been accompanied by a host of other issues: coughing, congestion, a fever, achiness, general malaise: your usual upper respiratory cold/flu lineup. I’ve never, until about two months ago, had a sore throat but otherwise felt completely fine. Now this has happened twice in six weeks. I firmly believe that the boil situation is 100% related to the azithromycin (though how, exactly, I haven’t figured out, unless the azithromycin throws off the balance of my body’s natural bacterial flora, allowing normally overpowered bacteria to prosper and cause infection…like, perhaps, staph and/or MRSA living in my nose. But that’s a theory that’s not even backed up by Google research, never mind an actual medical opinion, so I fully understand that I could be totally off in my understanding of how natural bacteria flora work. Further research is needed.), thus making the real issue my recurrent, unexplained sore throats, with the boil/skin infection being a secondary issue that arises due to the antibiotics I’ve taken for the primary issue.

It’s just all really, really aggravating. I’m throwing hundreds of dollars at all sorts of doctors, constantly having to leave work to go to appointments, and I feel like I’m not getting any answers or solutions out of any of this.

Gold star to you if you made it through this 2,400 word, picture-free missive.

Is cotton wedding appropriate? Please say yes.
Why is healthcare SO HARD? That’s a rhetorical question, but feel free to answer if you can.

 

Thursday Things

1. Has anyone else seen this video?

I watched it on Sunday, and I have Thoughts that you, my poor, semi-captive audience, will now be subjected to.

In case you haven’t seen it, the basic premise of this video is that the girl, Michelle, has never run more than three miles at most at once. She (or BuzzFeed?) decides she wants to train for a marathon in 10 weeks. BuzzFeed hooks her up with a personal trainer, and 10 weeks later, she runs, **SPOILERS AHEAD** and finishes the L.A. Marathon, BQing by five minutes in the process, which, if you follow BQing, should be more than enough to get her an entry in 2018, should she want one.

Thought #1: I did not, for one second, actually think she’d make it through training. I was FLOORED that she not only made it through training without getting injured, but also made it through the entire marathon without blowing up. I mean, for goodness’ sake, she BQed! Most runners I know who’ve been doing this running thing for a very long time have never BQed!

Thought #2: I think this video is problematic on SO MANY LEVELS. I could write a thesis, I could do a dissertation, on the many ways in which I find this video problematic. Behold:

Problem #1: The implication that 10 weeks is a sufficient amount of time to train for a marathon.
I take so much issue with that implication, I’m personally offended by it. While I don’t think there’s anything magical about training for a marathon in 18 weeks like I’ve done over the past four marathon seasons (with the arguable exception of last year, when I ran a marathon during week 15 of Chicago Marathon training), I think those eight weeks you’re losing are pretty damn significant. Which eight weeks are you going to shave off? Your cutback weeks (of which there are only five, plus taper, to begin with during an 18 week program)? The first eight weeks of building? The final eight weeks of your highest mileage plus taper? If I took a serious, critical look at my marathon training schedule, I would feel comfortable skipping the first three weeks IF–gigantic, neon sign, IF–I had a really, really solid base going into marathon training and knew that I could easily do a nine mile run. Heck, I would say that I have a solid base right now, at this exact moment in time, since I’ve been half marathon training since the end of January, and I STILL wouldn’t feel comfortable signing up for Grandma’s Marathon (which is just about 10 weeks from now).

Problem #2: The implication that 10 weeks is a sufficient amount of time for train for a marathon if the longest distance you have previously run in your life, ever, is “Maybe 3 miles?”
Not “three miles a day,” not “three miles as my long run,” three miles, ever, period, MAYBE. Every year at the start of marathon training, CARA says something along the lines of, “If you’re not doing 20 or so miles per week right now, and/or your long run isn’t at least six miles, you should probably seriously ask yourself what you’re doing here, because we really don’t think you’re ready to be here.” Now, I know CARA isn’t the final word when it comes to training, but I think that’s pretty solid advice. If you’re not running at all, if you sit down in an interview at the start of your training and say, “Running is just one of those things I’ve always avoided,” maybe, JUST MAYBE, you’re 1) not ready to run a marathon at all 2) aren’t ready to get ready for a marathon in two and a half months.

Problem #3: The implication, put forth by before and after pictures, in addition to before (but no after) body stats about weight and percent body fat, that you need to run a marathon to get in shape, or that marathon training even is a good way to try to get in shape.
The before and after pictures in this video might just be the most mind-boggling part of all, because somehow, this girl started marathon training with a normal body and normal skin tone and came out bronzed, with nary a rogue, running-gear induced tan line to be seen, with a flatter stomach, and most bizarrely of all, bigger arm muscles (?!) than she started with. I’m no body building expert, but to my understanding, it does not involve the hours upon hours of steady state cardio that marathon training almost always entails. I would think running a marathon would actually be a terrible way to try to lean out, given how common it is to gain, rather than lose, weight during marathon training. Running a marathon is a great way to lower your resting heart rate, but it is hardly the best way to go about losing weight, especially when you consider how much more you need to eat to fuel your training, and how many of those calories need to come from carbohydrates. In the article accompanying the video, Michelle says she could “could eat (within reason) whatever I wanted and didn’t gain weight!” which is both such an enormous misconception and so enormously false that it makes me want to scream. Marathon training is NOT a license to eat whatever you damn well please without any consequences, even though everyone who hasn’t ever run a marathon seems to believe that, and, in fact, it’s that very misconception that is the reason why so many people GAIN weight during marathon training. And look, if you decided to marathon train for the sake of your bucket list or whatever, fine. Eat whatever you want during marathon training. I certainly do, because I’m not in it to lose weight. But don’t tell people they can eat anything (within reason, not bothering to specify what counts as “within reason”) in the same breath that you tell them marathon training will help you get skinny, because those two things are completely incompatible with each other, and anyone who knows anything about marathoning will tell you that. This might have been my biggest point of outrage with the entire video/article.

Problem #4: The implication that if this girl can go out and run a marathon on next to no training, so can you, BuzzFeed Video watcher! And you can qualify for Boston while you’re at it!
The video starts out with Michelle’s coach, Erik Steffens, mentioning that he ran the L.A. Marathon a couple years ago and BQed on his first try. While this does check out on Athlinks, what he fails to mention is that (also according to Athlinks), he was a DII collegiate runner, so it’s not like his L.A. Marathon, despite being his first marathon, was his first rodeo. So, if you were to watch this video with no background and no research, you’d walk away thinking that it’s totally reasonable that you, too, could go out and run a marathon AND qualify for Boston in the process. After all, 100% of the people in the video did it! Why can’t you?

To the video’s credit, it does acknowledge that only 10.4% of runners qualify for Boston. What it doesn’t acknowledge is that most of those Boston qualifiers either 1) worked their asses off to BQ, some for years or 2) Have no trouble BQing on a regular basis because they’re already in the upper echelons of running to begin with–elites, local elites, etc.–because they either have a ton of natural talent, or they have been training at a high level for years, or, quite often, have both a ton of natural talent AND have been training at a high level for years. If you don’t know anything about Boston qualifying, I don’t know how you’d walk away from this video not thinking BQing is a routine thing everyone eventually does at some point during their running career.

Problem #5: The implication that any of this was a good idea.
I don’t know why anyone thought this was something necessary to pursue. It’s not like the L.A. Marathon is the only marathon in the world, or even the only marathon in California for that matter, that you could start training for in the beginning of January. I don’t know why training for a marathon in 10 weeks seemed like a better idea than training for a marathon in 16 weeks (San Luis Obispo), 17 weeks (U.S. Bank OC Marathon), or 20 weeks (Mountains 2 Beach), if you’re looking for other marathons that you could get to in about three and a half hours from Los Angeles. Is training for a marathon in 10 weeks challenging? Absolutely. But so is training for a marathon in 16 weeks, or 18 weeks, or 20 weeks, or any longer length of time.

Thought #3: Look, I think it’s great that Michelle could bust out a BQ in 10 weeks. I’m super impressed and definitely wish I could do that, too. But I also think BuzzFeed has a responsibility to, at the very LEAST, be more clear about Michelle’s baseline fitness (she was a professional cyclist for nine months in 2015) AND to point out that what she did is neither smart nor safe for someone whose fitness isn’t high enough to join a professional cycling team. She ran six days per week logging 45-70 miles per week, which, if you started from scratch, is just BEGGING for injury. I’m, admittedly, pretty cautious about mileage (both for the sake of my body and my mind, neither of which like running more than three days per week), but I’ll be honest: I watched this entire video waiting for her to get hurt, and I couldn’t believe it when she didn’t. This video was obviously meant to inspire people to go after crazy fitness goals, and while I don’t think that’s inherently a bad thing, you ABSOLUTELY need to put a disclaimer on that if the person you’re using as your guinea pig to achieve a crazy fitness goal is already crazy fit to begin with.

/endrant

2. I’ve started taking pictures with my new camera!

easterlily

And, after a whopping 10 minutes of taking pictures with said new camera, I already want a macro lens. Haha. Even in my point and shoot days, I was always drawn to macro photography: super closeups of flowers, leaves, and the like. You can fake macro photography with a point and shoot, or even decently well with an iPhone, but as I quickly learned on Tuesday, if I want to replicate that with my SLR, I’m either going to need to adjust my shooting expectations, or I’m going to need a macro lens.

I also realized on Tuesday just how much I have to learn about my camera to make the most of it. This isn’t the first time I’ve ever used an SLR, but it’s the first time I’ve ever had one to use whenever and however I want, and as I was taking pictures on Tuesday, I realized I don’t really know what I’m doing, in no small part because while I recognize a decent number of photography terms (f-stop, aperture, etc.), I don’t really know what they mean or how to make the most of them. I imagine educating myself will help dramatically, so I’m going to need to carve out some time to revisit that photography book I mentioned in my last post, or, at the very least, actually read the manual that came with my camera 😛

3. While we’re (sort of) on the topic of plants:

terrariumapril

Look! The cacti in my terrarium are growing baby cacti! I’m hoping that’s a good thing…? Haha. At the very least, they don’t appear to be dying, so I consider that a victory.

Thursday Things

1. The bird identifying saga continues.

After I got off the CTA on the way home from the Shamrock Shuffle last Sunday, I saw a dead bird on the sidewalk 😦 This, obviously, was a distressing situation, since dead birdies make me so sad, until approximately .02 seconds after I registered that I saw a generic dead bird and realized that it was, in fact, the same sort of bird that has alluded all my attempts at identification!

The bird, being dead, clearly had no qualms about me getting close to it for further inspection, nor did it fly away or even move when I took pictures of it to use to help me in my interminable quest to figure out just what kind of bird I’ve been seeing around town since, again, it was dead.

I uploaded my picture to Merlin, telling it that I had seen it in Chicago that day, and it in turn told me that I had seen a Golden-crowned Kinglet.

Now, if you click through on that link, I would be willing to bet that the first thing you’ll notice about the Golden-crowned Kinglet is the UNMISTAKABLE bright yellow stripe down the middle of its head. While I will admit that I saw my first three un-IDed birds while I was running and they were flying and the dead bird was lying on its back, meaning the top of its head was hidden from my sight, I have a hard time believing that I somehow missed that gigantic of an identifier four times in a row. I mean, that yellow is not subtle. It’s not some tiny mark that barely distinguishes this bird from another bird. Missing that yellow streak four times in a row would be like missing the red breast on a robin.

I know that some birds look different in the winter than the spring (though you’d think, it now being April, that birds would start putting on their mating feathers any day now), but I thus far have not found any evidence that Golden-crowned kinglets ever lose their yellow, nor have I found evidence that females lack the distinctive yellow stripe that makes these birds what they are.

But everything else is right! The wing markings on my bird look JUST like those on a Golden-crowned kinglet, with a black horizontal stripe and yellow edges to the wing feathers. It was about the right size, and, despite never hearing of these birds before, they do apparently come to Chicago during the spring and fall, so it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that that’s what I saw.

birdwing

(Cropped to minimize trauma and maximize visibility of yellowness on the wing feathers/markings in general)

Nevertheless, I remain (semi) unconvinced. I have not seen any yellow stripes. The pictures I’ve seen online don’t show nearly as white of a belly as the ones I’ve seen on my birds. Golden-crowned kinglets apparently like to hang out in conifers, and I don’t think I could tell you where to find the nearest evergreen if my life depended on it (seriously. I didn’t realize this until I started trying to think of where I had seen conifers in Chicago and realized I couldn’t come up with a single one). My mom says I should just say that I saw a kinglet and be done with it. I’m not opposed to saying that these are kinglets, especially after I learned that kinglets like to cuddle to stay warm, which I think is the cutest detail ever. I just want to be convinced, you know? And I’m not, so thus my search continues, albeit less enthusiastically than before.

2. In other life goal news, I bought an SLR!

dslr

I’ve wanted an SLR for the better part of the past decade. I’ve had a passing interest in photography since high school, and got a book on digital photography for Christmas at some point during my high school career. It became quite clear to me after reading that book that if I really wanted to take good pictures, I’d need an SLR. As a high school student, however, I was working with an $80/month allowance to cover all of my personal expenses, so obviously an SLR was not exactly within reach.

When I went to Scotland in 2011, my biggest regret from that whole trip was that I only had a point and shoot to work with in the picture taking department, so I made more of an effort to save to buy an SLR. Then, a year later, I got an iPhone, stopped using my point and shoot entirely, and decided that I probably wouldn’t ever really need a better camera, anyway.

After many, many photos that did not turn out even close to how I had hoped they would turn out courtesy of my iPhone camera, and after many, many vacations (i.e.: all of them) I spent bemoaning the fact that I was basically working with a point and shoot that could also make phone calls, I decided it was time to buckle down and save for an SLR. I finally got one last week, and I couldn’t be more excited!

I haven’t actually used it yet, but I’m really looking forward to flowers starting to bloom and to some upcoming trips I have planned to give me some opportunities to try out my new toy. I don’t plan on carrying my SLR with me at all times, so I’ll certainly still use my iPhone, but I’m so happy to finally have a decent camera.

On a related note, I’m now in the market for a camera bag, so if anyone has recommendations, I’m all ears. I’m particularly looking for a bag that will protect my camera without screaming, “Look, world! I’m carrying hundreds and hundreds of dollars of technology on my person RIGHT NOW!”

3. I have a sore throat again. 😡 My throat started feeling…off the Sunday before Shamrock (so not this past Sunday, but the Sunday before that), but I definitely wouldn’t have called it sore. It just felt not normal. By Thursday (a week ago), it had progressed to what I would call sore, so I took a quick peek at my tonsils and was distressed to see white spots on them again (though, fortunately, nothing like what I had in February).

The white spots are mostly gone now, but my throat still hurts (sometimes), and I don’t know what to make of it. As long as I constantly drink water, it feels fine, but if I go a couple of hours without any water, it really bothers me. My lymph nodes aren’t swollen like last time, nor is my resting heart rate noticeably elevated like last time, which I hope is a good thing?

What is really bugging me, though, is my wisdom tooth, which, probably not coincidentally, also really bugged me the last time I had a sore throat. My MD from the Google School of Medicine didn’t cover dental ailments, since I’ve primarily followed the orthopedist/sports doctor/gastroenterologist track of study, not the dental track. Now, since my MD is primarily from reading Wikipedia articles and looking at anatomy diagrams I find from Google Image searches, I, obviously, don’t really know what I’m talking about, despite what I’d like to believe. BUT. Considering that your tonsils exist as one of your first lines of defense against disease, and considering that your tonsils are pretty darn close to your wisdom teeth, it doesn’t seem like that huge of a jump to wonder if there’s a connection between my wisdom tooth irritation and my recurring sore throat/tonsil speckliness. Of course, if my wisdom tooth is truly causing that my trouble, then I imagine the only permanent solution is extraction, which I will anticipate I have time for around…January. Though I suppose if it’s a major problem, I’ll be forced to make time for it rather than waiting for my training schedule to accommodate the week or so off I would expect wisdom tooth extraction would require. Life is hard.

Have you had your wisdom teeth taken out?
Can someone PLEASE tell me what bird looks exactly like a Golden-crowned kinglet without the golden??

Thursday Things

1. For the first time in five years, I’m not going to Lollapalooza.

I have mixed feelings about not attending this year. If I’m being completely honest, I didn’t have a great time last year. It was fine, but $120 was a good amount of money to spend for just a fine time. I only saw three acts, and I really only enjoyed one of them. I didn’t regret going, necessarily, but I did leave wondering if I would want to go again in 2017.

I hemmed and hawed about whether or not I should go this year until finally deciding I’d wait to see the lineup and then make my decision. While the lineup on the whole wasn’t terrible, I wasn’t particularly invested in any particular day. I thought Saturday looked the best of the four options, but considering that I haven’t gotten through the system fast enough to get Saturday tickets since 2013, I didn’t have very high hopes that I’d get them this year. I actually got past standby much quicker this year than ever before, but once I got to the page where you selected which day you wanted to go, I never got beyond a “Searching for tickets” screen. Lolla announced that Saturday had sold out before any of my “Searching for tickets” screens went anywhere, so that was that.

I’m sad to see my Lolla streak come to an end, but it was getting to the point where it just wasn’t worth it anymore. One Day Passes cost $90 in 2013, but have gone up $10 every year (until this year, when they were still $120 like last year, but with a $15 “fee” – so really, they went up to $135 from $120), and it’s not like you’re getting anything better or different for your extra money. The place is still crawling with teenagers. The food is still expensive. The weather is still iffy. The acts have usually been there two or three years ago. It felt dumb to pay $45 more than I did in 2013 for what would essentially be the same experience, just without the novelty of being there for the first time.

2. Besides, the #1 act I really wanted to see at Lolla, Andrew McMahon and the Wilderness was 1) playing on Friday, when I couldn’t possibly go due to an early morning long run the next day and 2) was on my calendar for this past Friday anyway.

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Apologies, as always, for my iPhone’s terrible photo quality.

I saw Andrew McMahon and the Wilderness last summer as an opener for Panic! at the Disco (and Weezer, who I did not stick around to see, since it was a Sunday night and I was far, far away in Tinley Park), but this past Friday at House of Blues, he was the main event! Andrew McMachon was the frontman of Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin, which is how I became familiar with him, but he’s been performing in this current iteration for a few years now, and I’m a big fan of his recent albums.

(Which is not to say that Dark Blue wasn’t the highlight of the show for me, because it definitely was, because I will forever hold a special place in my heart for the angsty emo music of my high school years. But now that I’m slightly less angsty on a slightly less regular basis, I don’t need lines like, “Have you ever felt alone in a crowded room?” to speak directly to my soul anymore. Haha.)

The show itself was great, but I was reminded of how much I absolutely LOATHE the main act:everything else ratio of concerts. The first opening act started at 7:30, but Andrew McMahon didn’t go on until 9:30, and then played for about an hour and a half, including his encore. That’s a perfectly reasonable amount of time for a main act, I’d say, but that also means that of the three and a half hours of concert time, over half of that was spent either openers or turning over the stage between bands. I know this is part of how these sorts of things work, but it just drives me crazy every time. I guess this is really why I put up with the ridiculous prices of Lollapalooza. At festivals, there isn’t any down time between acts, and if you don’t want to see a particular act, you can go do something else in the mean time instead of having to defend your square foot of personal space.

3. I am, once again, having birding problems.

Two weeks ago, I went for a run on a Monday afternoon. It had snowed that day, and as I was running, I saw a little bird on the edge of the sidewalk, highlighted by its contrast against the snow. I assumed it was a house finch/sparrow by its size and coloring, but when I got closer and it flew into a nearby bush, I could immediately tell that it was not a house finch/sparrow, because it had a white belly. I thought I had once again spotted a brown creeper, and was very excited by this sighting.

Then, two days later, I was running along the same road, and I saw the bird again, in the exact same place as Monday. This time, I got a closer look at it, and upon further investigation, decided that it was not a brown creeper at all, as it lacked the brown creeper’s distinctive tail, and also seemed to be MUCH bigger than the brown creeper (who I remembered being quite tiny, because that was one of the primary characteristics I noticed about it.). After returning home, I pulled up the Merlin Bird ID app, aka my favorite app of all time, and to my great dismay, could not find a bird that looked like the bird I saw 😦

This past Saturday, I was one of what seemed like maybe a dozen people stupid enough to not let 40 degrees and rain deter me from my long run. While running along the empty Lakefront Trail, I saw a bird that I thought looked similar to the ones I had seen two weeks ago: relatively small, with flecked brown backs/wings and white bellies and a distinctive black stripe on their heads. I debated taking pictures of them, but given the rain situation, didn’t feel particularly inclined to take my phone out. I figured I’d remember enough details to tell Merlin and have it identify my bird. But once again, I could not!

I’m now on a quest to figure out what birds I’ve seen, because this is driving me crazy. And mark my words, if I see them again, I am most definitely taking a picture this time!

Have you been to Lollapalooza? Are you going this year?
Have you been to any concerts or other shows recently?

Goals for 2017: March Check-In

While I prefer to wait until a month has actually finished to recap how I’m doing on my annual goals, unless something very dramatic happens, I expect to have a race recap to publish next Tuesday. As a result, this month’s recap is coming to you a few days early!

Goal #1: Publish at least one freelance piece
The good news: I pitched an essay! The bad news: I never heard back, and I’m almost positive it’s because I pitched it incorrectly.

I follow a few writers on Twitter, most of which were cultivated in the Thought Catalog/BuzzFeed bubble and have since gone on to write for bigger publications. Every now and again, these writers–or, more often, writers they follow–will put out a call for pitches, and those calls will end up on my feed, either because the person I follow tweeted it out, or because someone I follow favorited a tweet asking for pitches/freelancers. That chain of events led me to a site that seemed more than eager to accept freelancing work. Low hanging fruit! Hooray!

The site had several categories in which it accepts pitches. I felt most qualified to write an essay rather than a reported piece, so I read the paragraph about how to pitch an essay and set about writing one. I wrote my essay, revised my essay, carefully crafted my pitch email, and sent it off into the void a week ago today.

I don’t know what I actually expected from my pitch. Part of me felt like it fit perfectly into what the site wanted out of essays, but part of me also felt that all the essays I had seen published on that site came from Established Writers Who Mainly Live in New York City, i.e.: not me. I also worried that my essay, clocking in at 800 words, might be a bit too short, given that the essay guidelines had suggested 1000ish (as opposed to 2000ish, which is what I hung my hope on: that they preferred shorter essays to longer essays).

When 24 hours (admittedly, not much time) had come and gone without so much as an acknowledgement of receipt, I went back to look at the pitching guidelines. This time, I bothered to read the introductory paragraph about pitching the website, which specifically stated that the site did not accept pieces on spec (that is, fully written pieces), and only accepted idea pitches. I, naturally, had sent in my entire essay.

I’ll chalk this up as a learning experience, and in the future, be a bit more careful to actually read all of the a publication’s pitching guidelines, not just the ones I think apply to me. I am a bit frustrated with myself for screwing up my pitch, particularly since I channeled a fair amount of effort into my essay. I’m also discouraged by this process in general. I never expected freelancing to be easy, but it does bother me that I don’t feel like I’m part of the writing “in-crowd,” and as a result, have a lot more hurdles to clear to prove my worthiness as a writer, despite spending the first 3.75 years of my post-college life writing professionally (but not for the “right” publication that could put me on anyone’s radar). I feel stuck in the classic job hunt catch-22 of needing experience to get a job, but needing a job to get experience, except that I do have experience–it just feels like my experience doesn’t count because no one has heard of it. Of course, whining rather than working never got anyone anywhere, so forward we move onto April, I suppose.

Goal #2: Get rid of 50 things
I went on a tear a couple weekends ago and bumped my current total up from 30 to 47! Woohoo! I’ve cleaned out a good amount of clutter from my floor, which makes me really happy. I still have a LONG way to go to having a neat and tidy living space, but every little bit of progress in this department makes me happy.

Goal #3: Finish Dutch on Duolingo
Five more lessons down, 14 to go! I particularly enjoyed the Maps lesson this month. I happened to be reviewing countries in Spanish at the same time as I worked my way through the Maps lesson in Dutch (which primarily taught me the names of other countries), and it made me feel very cosmopolitan 😛

Goal #4: Stay healthy and out of PT
For the past two weeks or so, I’ve had some pain in the ball of my foot. I mostly feel it when I’m walking (or otherwise moving on my feet), particularly if I’m doing so in shoes without much cushioning. It hasn’t gotten worse on the 0-10 pain scale, though it does happen a little more often now than when it started. Because it usually goes away the more I move, I feel fairly confident that my issue is soft tissue related rather than a first metatarsal stress fracture (that, and the internet told me that you are MUCH more likely to stress fracture your second or third metatarsals, because they’re smaller, thinner, and weaker than your first metatarsal). I don’t think it’s plantar fasciitis since I don’t have any pain anywhere else in my foot, BUT your plantar fascia does attach to your metatarsals right where I’m having pain and this is the same foot I’ve had minor brushes with possible plantar fasciitis in before, so it wouldn’t surprise me if my plantar fascia is somehow related to all of this. Or maybe I have some sort of tendonitis? I could, of course, go to the podiatrist and ask, but since it’s not bothering me enough to affect my running at this point, I feel fairly unmotivated to go pay yet another visit to my podiatrist.

On a very likely related note, my Achilles on the same foot that now hurts had been bothering me after exercise for a few weeks. I started doing heel lifts on a stair after running, and that cleared up my pain almost instantly. Since weak calves can also contribute to plantar fasciitis in addition to Achilles issues, I imagine all of this is somehow connected, and am hopeful that keeping up my heel lift regimen will, eventually, help alleviate my current foot woe.

In more specific news related to this goal:

– Strength train once per week, minimally, during running season: Check!
– Stretch after every run: Not check. I was really rushed after a couple of runs and really only had time to shower before I needed to be elsewhere, so I skipped a few days of stretching. Oops 😦
– Foam roll after every run, even if that means with a Moji rather than a full-blown foam roller: I accomplished this exactly one time. Fail again. I do have another opportunity to foam roll after I run tomorrow, though, so maybe I’ll get two foam rolling sessions in this month!
– Do at least three PT exercises twice per week: I’m sure I didn’t accomplish this, but I couldn’t tell you how often I did or did not do PT exercises. I’m sure I didn’t on the days I skipped stretching after running. I don’t remember doing any before dance like sometimes. This is really something I should start logging so I can keep track of what exercises I do and how often I do them.

Thursday Things

1. It’s Chicago Flower and Garden Show time!

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Hooray!

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I went to the Chicago Flower and Garden Show with my mom for the first time last year and really enjoyed it. She wasn’t able to come along this year, but that didn’t stop me from visiting.

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I particularly liked the tulip and hyacinth displays, just like last year, but my FAR and away favorite part of the show this year was the brand new butterfly garden!

The garden–which was more of a mesh tent surrounded by tables than a garden, at least compared to the other gardens at the show–gave out free seeds for plants that attract butterflies and had monarchs emerging from chrysalises. But the best part in my opinion was inside the mesh tent itself, where for $2, you could walk in with a foam paintbrush dipped in orange Powerade (a butterfly’s flavor of choice, I learned, since they enjoy citrus) and feed the butterflies!

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These are painted ladies. There was a monarch in the tent, but it was tired and didn’t want to socialize, so it hung out with the (human) lady associated with the group that organized that particular garden.

I eventually coaxed the butterflies off the paintbrush and onto my finger, which you’ll have to imagine, since my hand was obviously too occupied for me to use it to take pictures. HOWEVER. The #1 highlight of my time in the butterfly tent, without question, was when I was just standing around minding my own business, feeding the butterflies on my paintbrush, when another butterfly, apropos of absolutely nothing (other than the fact that I was standing there) landed on my FACE. On my EYEBROW, to be specific. As you may or may not recall, this is the second time in two years a butterfly has landed on me without being bribed with Powerade or other sweet treats to do so, which further confirms my suspicion that I am a fairy princess.

The Chicago Flower and Garden Show runs through this weekend, and if you’re at all interested in flowers, I definitely recommend going. It’s not terribly expensive, and the displays are so pretty. It always gets me pumped for gardening later on in the year!

2. I finally, finally made it to the Museum of Science and Industry this weekend (well, Monday, technically, but I took PTO on Monday, so it was still the weekend as far as I was concerned 😛 ). I last visited MSI during the summer of 2002, so while some things have stayed the same (like the train by where you buy tickets), a LOT has changed from what I remember seeing on my last visit.

One of the special exhibits right now is Brick by Brick, which features recreations of architectural wonders (the Golden Gate Bridge, Fallingwater, a variety of skyscrapers and Cinderella’s Castle among them) built using Legos. I’ve thought gigantic Lego creations were pretty cool since the first time I visited a Lego store–which, now that I think about it, was probably right around the same time as my last trip to MSI–and I’ve thought architecture was pretty cool since, like, ever, so I was really fascinated by this exhibit.

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Right outside Brick by Brick is a huge model train set that travels from Chicago to Seattle–it’s like it was built with me in mind! Travel by rail, Chicago, Seattle: all of my favorite things. I liked the model of Chicago, but I did find it a little strange that the model isn’t accurate (like putting the Daily News Building and Union Station immediately across the street from each other, when in fact Ogilvie and the Daily News Building are immediately across the street from each other, or putting El tracks next to the Sears (Willis) Tower, when in fact the El is a block away). But regardless, it was still pretty cool.

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I have no recollection of ever seeing the genetics exhibit before, but I knew they had baby chicks there, and those were probably my favorite part of the whole museum. They were SO CUTE! So fluffy! So tiny! So perfect! I loved it.

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3. And, while we’re on the topic of “Things I Had Not Done/Experienced in Chicago,” I had a particularly bizarre experience last Tuesday that seems like something that could really only happen here.

As you may or may not know/recall, last Tuesday, Chicago got slammed with lake effect snow. It was cold. It was gross. It was lame. But, fortunately, it was also before March 31, which meant the heat lamps were still on on CTA platforms. On my way home from dance, I huddled under one and noticed a pigeon to my right had the same idea.

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It always amuses me when I see pigeons under heat lamps. Obviously they’re cold just like the rest of us, and even though they’re dirty, flying rats, etc., I think seeing them react to the cold just like people react to the cold “humanizes” them a bit, if you will. So, entertained by this annoyed pigeon, I opened the camera on my phone and took a picture of him. I continued reading whatever article I had pulled up, and noticed the pigeon had decided he was no longer happy where he stood. He took flight, headed in my direction, and flew right into my backpack!

NEVER in 26 and a half years of existence, have I EVER had a bird FLY INTO ME. In fact, I presumed this was a thing that COULD NOT happen, at least to birds that have the ability to fly, given that they have 1) eyes 2) wings and 3) the ability to change direction quickly, should something get in its way. I have had played many a game of Chicken with pigeons before, daring them to stay in my way as I continued moving straight forward, and I have ALWAYS won. In fact, I didn’t even consider the possibility that I could lose. I have a clear size advantage, and figured that’d always be enough to push me over the edge.

Apparently not.

Have you ever visited the Museum of Science and Industry?
Do you garden?

A Good Night’s Sleep

For as long as I can remember, I have been extremely protective of my sleep. I never pulled an all-nighter in school, and to this day I try to make a point of going to bed on time. I do this both for my own sake and for the sake of others. When I don’t get enough sleep, especially when I don’t get enough sleep over consecutive nights, not only do I have a hard time focusing and staying motivated, but I also get extremely cranky. The speed at which my internal Patience-o-Meter goes from “Understanding and Forgiving” to “DO NOT CROSS ME” is directly related to how much I slept the night before, and if I’m tired, it’s bad news for everyone involved. On top of all of that, I’m also significantly more prone to anxious moments when I’m not well-rested, particularly to ruminating to the point of nearly giving myself a panic attack. If all of those things aren’t enough reasons to make an effort to get enough sleep, I don’t know what would be.

Except, perhaps, for the added benefits a good night of sleep has on athletic performance as well.

At the beginning of marathon season each year, my group leaders ask those of us who’ve run marathons before to share some advice with those training for their first go at 26.2. When it’s my turn to share, I like to tell the newbies–and, let’s be honest, remind myself–that marathon training is not just an 18-week exercise program. It’s a lifestyle program. If you want to have a good race, you need to live your life throughout training in a way that will maximize your chances for success on race day. You need to do your workouts, or modify them if you’re hurting, you need to eat healthfully to give your body fuel for the run and the nutrients it needs to repair afterwards, you need to wear good shoes when you’re on your feet, and you need to make sure you get enough sleep, particularly as your mileage gets higher. I’m an especially big advocate for getting as much sleep as possible during taper and the week leading up to race day. A study published in Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise last year found that several nights of good sleep in a row can help diminish the effects of a bad night of sleep the night before a race, in fact. I’ve had plenty of pre-race restless nights over the years, so I, for one, find it really comforting to know that the sleep I get the week before can help make up for the sleep I miss the night before!

Training for fall marathons in particular can lead to some sleep challenges. Training for those marathons takes place during the summer, when we get the most daylight. I don’t know about you, but I find it nearly impossible to sleep when the sun is up (and, conversely, to get up when the sun is down). Even though I have blinds on my windows, as soon as light starts filtering through, I’m up for the day. While this is nice if I planned to run in the morning, it can also be a big hassle when trying to go to bed early enough to accommodate an even earlier alarm.

During marathon season, I usually try to call it a night around 8:30 when I have a long run the following morning. In June and July especially, this can be really tricky. Daylight lasts beyond 8:00 during those months, and, if you’ve been following this blog for any period of time, you may recall that my neighbors view all summer weekend nights as permission to play their music as loud as possible, regardless of when the sun sets. On top of all of that it is, obviously, a lot warmer both in my house and outside during the summer than during the winter, which can make sleep even harder to come by. Over the years, I’ve come up with a few ways to handle these obstacles to make it easier to get shut-eye before a long run:

Use a noise-cancelling app
There are a variety of noise-cancelling apps that you can download for free on the App Store. I personally use Sleep Pillow. These apps allow you to choose from a variety of sounds that you may find calming–I’m a big fan of rain sounds–to help drown out the drunken antics of your middle aged neighbors (or just to lull you to sleep, if you don’t live in my house 😉 ).

Maintain a comfortable temperature
I don’t like to pay an arm and a leg for electricity any more than the next guy, and I try to keep the air conditioning off in my house as much as possible. However, there are times where the higher bill is worth it, and nights during marathon season are one of those times. Blackout blinds can help keep the bedroom insulated all year round, but if you constantly suffer from night time overheating, you may want to consider investing in
breathable sheets or a cooling mattress. I have a difficult time sleeping without something covering me, so I like to keep the house cool enough that I won’t wake up drenched in sweat if I’m still burrowed under my blankets. I have a difficult time sleeping without something covering me, so I like to keep the house cool enough that I won’t wake up drenched in sweat if I’m still burrowed under my blankets. Speaking of blankets…

Create a cocoon
Hygge is the coolest trend these days, it seems, but I’m pretty sure I’ve been practicing this in my sleeping habits well before it crossed the Atlantic Ocean. I get my best sleep when I’m as cozy as possible. Cool temperatures help make this comfortable, but I’ve found that what I sleep on also makes a difference. I sleep with two pillows under my head, one pushed up against the wall for extra burrow-ability, and have a mattress pad on top of my mattress for added softness. If you’ve never used them, or haven’t replaced yours in over 5 years, you’d be amazed by what a difference a decent topper and great pillow can make to your quality of sleep. I like to cozy up with the stuffed doll I’ve had since I was two (#noshame), and usually within a few moments, I’m drifting off to Dreamland.

Everyone has their own preferences for creating the perfect sleep environment, but regardless of what makes you most comfortable, getting enough sleep can make a big difference in your day. Interested in learning more? Casper created this helpful infographic with lots of great stats about the benefits of getting enough sleep, particularly for athletes.

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How much sleep do you get each night? I usually average in the low 7:00 range, somewhere between 7:15-7:30, according to my Fitbit weekly stats.
What do you do to help yourself get a good night of sleep?