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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.Ā 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 šŸ˜€ 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.

 

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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.

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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).

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 neverĀ enjoyĀ 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 didĀ notĀ 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!

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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.

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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 atĀ 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 theĀ oneĀ 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 boosterĀ andĀ 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.

 

Thursday Things

1. I had a lot of free time Saturday afternoon and decided to put it to good use birding. I had low expectations, since it’s early in migration season and I didn’t want to go to Montrose (the most popular location for birding in the city, due to its reputation for attracting all sorts of birds). To my delight, I saw three (kind of) new-to-me birds (one I had seen before, but that was before my eBird tracking days)!

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My first new bird was this fellow, the Hermit Thrush, distant cousin to my favorite bird, the Eastern Bluebird (!!). This was actually the first bird I saw at the park, period, and boy, did that start my birding off on the right note!

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Later, I saw a woodpecker and knew right away it couldn’t be a Downy, based on its size. I assumed it was a Hairy, until it moved and I got a better look at it.

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!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

GUYS. IT’S A YELLOW BELLIED SAPSUCKER. A YELLOW BELLIED SAPSUCKER THAT DID NOT ATTACH ITSELF TO MY PURSE IN A STUNNED STATE. I much preferred seeing this bird in a tree where it belongs. This was the first time I’ve seen a Yellow Bellied Sapsucker in its natural habitat (i.e.: not on me), and I was very excited.

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Towards the end of my birding adventure, I was around a bunch of robins when I heard a distinctly non-robin sound, emanating from a distinctly non-robin bird.

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This is…a sparrow. I keep going back and forth on whether it’s a Song Sparrow or a Fox Sparrow. It was, in my opinion, willfully difficult and refused to cooperate with my desire to take its picture, so I didn’t get any focused shots to know for sure.

I also saw plenty of the usual suspects: the aforementioned American Robins, Northern Cardinals, Black-Capped Chickadees. I managed to catch one chickadee looking for a place to cache its sunflower seed, which I think is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.

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Yay birds!

2. Since I started using Duolingo in January 2016, I’ve weathered a few changes to the platform, most of which didn’t elicit any strong feelings from me one way or the other (save for when it revamped its entire Dutch curriculum, effectively undoing well over half of the work I had done). Last week, Duolingo completely overhauled its lesson structure. Previously, each chapter (Basics, Weather, Sports, Pronouns, etc.) came with five lessons. You could work through each lesson one at a time, or you could attempt to test out of the chapter entirely. Now, each chapter has a level (a “crown”), and each level within that chapter has a seemingly random number of lessons–I’ve seen anything between four and 12 lessons. In order to level up on a chapter (going from two crowns to three crowns, for example), you have to complete all of the lessons. There is no longer an option to test out. The goal of this, according to the email I received from Duolingo explaining the change, was to give me “more to learn” and allow me to “level up skills to tackle harder and harder exercises.”

That’s all well and good in theory, but in my experience thus far, it has been absolutely MISERABLE. Instead of actually learning Dutch or dusting off my past perfect verb skills in Spanish (by which I mean verbs in the past perfect tense–“she had asked,” for example–not that my verb skills were perfect in the past šŸ˜› ), I’m languishing away trying to “level up” on Basics 2, which has drilled me over and over and over again on how to say things like, “I am a woman,” and “He is a man.” These are concepts I had mastered within the first DAYS of learning both Dutch (via Duolingo) and Spanish (via high school). I do not need TWELVE LESSONS teaching me how to say that, or to determine whether I should use “el” or “la” in conjunction with “manzana,” the Spanish word for apple (it’s “la,” for the record, and THAT’S NOT EVEN COMPLICATED. One of the very first things you learn in Spanish is that nouns ending with the letter “a” are feminine, and therefore use “la”!! There are a few exceptions (agua, words ending in -ma), but manzana isn’t one of them!!!!). All of the lessons are hyperfocused on two or three nouns and one verb, and it is painfully boring to get through. It’s made all the more worse by the fact that I can’t test out of anything, so if I want to level up, the only way to do so is to prove to Duolingo that yes, I know the word for apple backwards and forwards in both Spanish and Dutch (because for some reason, that seems to be their noun of choice to teach your first) before I’m allowed to move forward. While it does take a lot less time to get through my daily dose of Duolingo now, it’s so dull that it doesn’t even feel worth it.

3. I have a trip to Punta Cana coming up soon, and I’m dreading it a lot more than I think someone is supposed to dread a trip to an all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean.

I’ve never wanted to go to an all-inclusive resort, and I honestly still don’t want to go to an all-inclusive resort, even though I have a trip to one booked. The whole idea of an all-inclusive in a foreign country (particularly a country with a history of colonialism and slavery) makes me uncomfortable, and I planned to never go to one…until I got invited to a non-negotiable wedding at an all-inclusive.

Moral/self-righteous qualms about this trip are bad enough, but on top of that, I’m also ridiculously anxious about so many aspects of the trip. I’m anxious about traveling to a foreign country and attempting to navigate from the airport to the resort and back again. I’ve furiously Googled how best to do this, and I think I’ve found a decent option, but how are you really supposed to know? I’m anxious about the flight, period. Flying in general makes me anxious, and the longer the flight, the more anxious I feel about it. I’m also so anxious about staying healthy in Punta Cana (not in like the healthy living blogger, omg-must-eat-clean-foods-only-and-exercise-daily sense, but in the want-to-not-get-sick sense). I went to a travel doctor and got anti-malarial medication (which I am, predictably, nervous about taking) along with just-in-case antibiotics (which I’m nervous that I’ll have to take) and a plethora of advice on how to stay healthy while traveling, all of which was totally reasonable but also made me want to go even less than I wanted to go in the first place. I’m terrified of getting a mosquito bite that will lead to terrible diseases, I’m terrified of eating any food that wasn’t prepackaged in the U.S., I’m terrified of drinking anything other than bottled water, and I’m terrified of even considering exposing myself to water in any capacity, including showering, pools, or the ocean. See why I’d rather just stay home?

I know I’m being irrational, especially because, as the travel doctor pointed out, all-inclusives do not want to gain a reputation for being a place where their guests get sick. I’m also basing nearly all of my fears off the time I went to Mexico in college, which, admittedly, was about as far from an all-inclusive resort as you can get. I spent a week in a border town with a other people from my school who had traveled there to learn about immigration, where we slept on the floor of a community center and nearly all (including me) came down with a nasty stomach bug the day after we were required to cook our own dinner. So yeah, not exactly five star accommodations, but certainly enough to scar me for life in the foreign country foodborne and/or waterborne pathogen department.

Anyway, in an effort to not be the most miserable wedding guest of all time, I’m trying to focus on things I am excited for in relation to this trip, particularly:

  • Being somewhere where there is a zero percent chance of snow. That’ll be a nice change of pace.
  • Adding a new stamp to my sad passport.
  • Having time off work for the first time all year
  • Maybe having the chance to add new birds to my life list. If I could see a Ridgway’s Hawk, a hawk that only lives on Hispaniola, I’d be particularly thrilled. Any bird that doesn’t visit this part of North America will suffice, though.
  • Maybe having the chance to speak Spanish. I’ve Googled the living daylights out of the resort, and several people have mentioned that not all of the staff speaks English particularly well. I took Spanish for eight years but have never really needed to use it (even in Mexico). I’d love to put my minor to use!

But if I’m being honest, even trying to focus on the things I’m looking forward to hasn’t done anything to dull the roar of dread I have in regards to the trip :/

Thursday Things

1. Holy smokes you guys, I did it again.

villanovamichigan

*eyes fall out of head*

When I accurately called Villanova as the national champion in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament in 2016, I assumed it was a one time thing. I specifically said, “I expect that this will never happen again at any point in my life. I finished in the 98.7th percentile on ESPN, which I imagine is the best I will ever do….” Little did I know that both of those statements would prove to be false a mere two years later.

I was FLOORED (and a little disappointed, because I had jumped on the Loyola bandwagon) when Michigan and Villanova both ended up in the championship game after the Final Four on Saturday. Never ever in my wildest dreams did I expect to accurately predict both teams in the championship. I only picked Villanova to win it all because that worked out so well for me in 2016. So then to have it happen AGAIN…I truly can’t believe this happened. I finished in the 99.7th percentile on ESPN. I barely miscalled the final score (I underestimated Villanova by four points, and overestimated Michigan by six points). I had five brackets this year, and this one–the one I entered in my family pool, so the only one I really cared about–was my “gut feeling” bracket. I am, as the kids say, SHOOK.

2. I cannot–CAN. NOT.–wait for run commuting season to start. As I mentioned after the marathon last year, run commuting was the biggest game changer I’ve experienced in training, and I miss it. I’m in the depths of half marathon training, with weekday runs in the 5-6 mile range. That’s certainly not the most burdensome distance I could have to do after work, but after weeks and weeks for 3-4 milers, it feels like a big change. Endurance-wise, it’s fine, but time-wise, oof. These long-ish runs are so time consuming for me: someone who averages a 10:00 pace, even with fast finishes, on the best of days. It eats up what feels like my entire night and makes me resent training.

Run commuting, however, solves those problems. I’m able to knock out my commute and my run at once, which saves me the 30 minutes it takes to get home and prevents me from dawdling around the house once I get home before I actually go out for my run. The only thing standing between me and my glorious return to run commuting is the weather. I need either the morning of a run commuting day to be so warm I don’t need a coat or the morning after a run commuting day to be so warm I don’t need a coat, and that hasn’t happened yet. Who would’ve ever guessed I’d be eagerly awaiting warm running weather?! (For the record, I still prefer running in the cold. I just also prefer having a modicum of free time in the evening.)

3. I’ve enjoyed playing Pac Man on Google Maps for April Fools over the past few years, but I think I loved this year’s Where’s Waldo even more than I ever loved playing Pac Man.

whereswaldo

I thought it was particularly fun to play Where’s Waldo for the first time as a grown up, because there’s so much chaos going on in those scenes! It was honestly a bit stressful just looking at it, haha. But I felt like I could appreciate everything going on way more than I ever did as a kid, when I’d get frustrated over not being able to find Waldo in .0001 seconds and quit. I was bound and determined to find Waldo and all of his friends on all six levels of Google Maps Where’s Waldo, and thus spent a lot more time analyzing the pictures and catching all the little details I certainly missed as a kid – like in the fruit level, where there’s a cart spilling apples (I’m sure I didn’t know the phrase “upset the apple cart” when I was little), or in the Olympic Stadium level, where there’s a real horse mixed in with the pommel horses. It was a fun little activity and made me feel like a kid again šŸ™‚

Did you have a favorite childhood game book? I LOVED Magic Eye books, but I was never very at seeing the hidden image in them.
Who did you call to win March Madness this year?

Thursday Things

1. Ladies and gents, this is the moment you’ve waited for!

sproutingflowers

adsflajsfldksjfdslk;fjsd

!!!!!!!!!!!

I was out on my patio yesterday, and even though I had wholly given up on my bulbs ever sprouting, I decided to check my gardenĀ justĀ in case, since we had had a short stretch of warmer weather, after all. To my complete surprise, I discovered TWO sprouting tulips! *celebrates without ceasing*

Granted, I planted 55 bulbs, so at the moment I’m only at a 3 percent success rate. But a 3 percent success rate is better than a 0 percent success rate, which is what I thought I was going to get, so !!!!!!!!!! I’m beyond thrilled, and really hope this is a sign of good things to come for the rest of my garden. Even if it’s not, I at least now haveĀ something, and I’m so, so, SO happy I have something!

2. I was out on my patio yesterday because for the first time in…I’m not even sure. At least two years?…I bailed on a run because I just couldn’t deal.

I mentioned in my Shamrock Shuffle recap that I had felt anxious and stressed going into the race, and part of it was due to the race and the pressure I put on myself to have a good performance, for sure. But that was really just the tip of the stress iceberg. I’ve been dreading this week for quite some time, for reasons I will explain in the next item on my Thursday Things list, and it’s been weighing on me mentally big time. I’ve been a moody, grumpy, weepy mess all week, and when I got home from work, all I felt like I could do was curl up on the couch and cry. My original plan was to curl up on the couch, cry, andĀ thenĀ go tackle the 50 minute tempo run I had on my calendar, but by the time I had gotten through the couch + cry part of the equation, I realized that a run (and all the time it would take to finish the run, stretching, foam rolling, showering, and all that) would likely do more harm than good in the mental health department, so I skipped the running and took a soothing hot shower instead.

Maggie had a great post last week about regretting a workout, and I thought about it a lot yesterday. Most of the time, I do think it’s better to doĀ somethingĀ instead of nothing in the workout department, especially if you’re not in the habit of working out. Excuses pile up quickly, and the next thing you know, it’s been weeks since you broke a sweat. But other times–days like yesterday for me, when I was at my mental health breaking point, or days like two months ago, when my mouth wasn’t healed but not healed enough from my wisdom teeth extraction yet to handle the types of workouts I wanted to do–it truly is better to just rest, give your body and/or mind the time they need to recover, and move on.

3. It’s Holy Week, and this year, I’m going all in. I usually go to church on Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday, but I’m attempting the…quintfecta?…this year: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.

I’ve toyed with the idea of going to every Holy Week service before but never actually gone through with it because it is a commitment. The average Sunday service at my church lasts about an hour. These services range from anywhere between an hour and a half and two and a half hours each. I wanted to make it a priority this year, though, because this is–for real this time–the last Easter in my church as it exists today.

churchinterior

After two years of suspecting that that Easter was the last Easter, this one actually is the last Easter. Half of our property has been sold (ish. I think? I don’t know that they’ve officially closed.). We (most likely) have a temporary space to use for however long it takes to flip the current church building into a combined church/office building (offices for the church, that is, not commercial space): a process I bet will take at least two years, considering at this point, all we have in terms of the renovated space are vague ideas of what we want. We have a target date for our last service in the current building. This is, after years of false starts, actually happening.

Even though I’ve had two years to get used to the idea of all of this, I still expect to cry on Easter, and not just because I’ll be sleep deprived after three consecutive nights of late services. It just makes me sad. Maybe it shouldn’t–we’re not losing the space forever, after all–but it does. I wish things didn’t have to change. I wish things could be like they (apparently) were 10 years ago, with a thriving congregation and a robust budget. I wish I didn’t feel such a profound sense of loss over all of this. I wish I could look forward to Easter like I normally do, rather than dreading it. It’s been a long time coming, but somehow that doesn’t make any of it easier.

Are you doing anything for Easter?
Have you everĀ taken a mental health rest day?

Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8K Race Recap

Another year, another Shuffle.

I went into this year hoping to PR my half marathon in April. After realizing that circumstances would make that somewhere between difficult and impossible, I decided to shift my goal for the half marathon to negative splitting the race. I talked publicly about that, but I did not talk about the fact that I also decided to make the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8K my goal race for the spring.

shamrockshuffle2018-1

I didn’t adjust my training to accommodate my new goal to PR at Shamrock, but I figured the training I was doing to negative split my half marathon in April would be sufficient for an 8K PR. Roughly half of my miles since the end of February have been fast: not 8K PR fast, but much faster than usual. Fast finishing my runs has helped me grow familiar with the discomfort and burning of giving it your all at when you feel you don’t have much more to give, so I thought I’d be in a decent place to PR.

I picked up my packet at packet pick-up on Friday–note that this year, the expo was downgraded to a packet pick-up–and spent most of Saturday unsuccessfully trying to relax. I felt anxious and stressed all day. I knew it was supposed to be “breezy,” on Sunday, which concerned me. I tackled two “breezy” runs the week before, and they were so hard. I knew windy conditions would make my already ambitious goal for the 8K (an 8:15ish overall pace, with 8:45, 8:30, 8:15, 8:00, and 7:45 mile splits) that much more challenging. I was also concerned about the temperature. I’ll sing the praises of running in 20-30 degree temperatures all day, unless that day is a race day with no indoor accommodations. I dread standing around in the cold waiting for a race to start while my hands and feet become progressively number. I know how to dress for a run when it’s 29 degrees with a Real Feel of 17: I do not know how to dress for a race in those conditions, where I know I’ll have to be outside for a decent amount of time before and after the run. On top of all of that, it was also important to me that I get to church for the 11 a.m. service after the race. I knew I’d have time to do it–I expected to be done running certainly by 9:30–but the logistics of getting to church, changing, and not freezing to death in the process stressed me out. The combination of all of those things had me feeling so overwhelmed that I truly wanted nothing more than to hide under my covers, forget the whole thing, and just take a DNS.

I’d rather save my first DNS for a time I actually need it, though, so off I went to Grant Park. It was every bit as windy and cold downtown as I feared (though it felt a little less intense in the park itself, with fewer buildings to whip the wind in every direction). I wore my warmest running jacket, which I LOVE but is way bulkier than I’d like to use for a PR-attempt race, and had throwaway sweatpants on over my tights to keep me warmish in the corral. Just a little before 8:40, my corral was off.

shamrockshuffle2018-2

In an effort to hit my mile splits (knowing my watch wouldn’t provide accurate readings downtown) I attempted to reconfigure my Garmin so I could manually lap it instead of automatically lapping it, but I didn’t really remember how to do that and ended up with no splits at all (WHY you have to choose between one or the other on this stupid, useless, worthless, waste-of-$200 piece of junk I will never understand. My Polar M400 was MORE than happy to automatically lap my miles while allowing me to manually lap the watch at the same time, and it would report both to me on the online portal after I synced my watch.) This obviously did not help the pacing situation one bit. I know I came through the first mile in 8:3x, which was a bit faster than I hoped to start. I figured I’d do my best to hold onto that pace for the next mile anyway to give myself a little cushion in the 8:15ish overall pace department, but who knows whether or not I did. My watch face wasn’t what I expected when I got to the mile two marker (in attempting to lap it, I had somehow changed the display mode *eyeroll emoji*), so I had no clue how fast I had run the second mile. I eventually got my watch face back to what I wanted sometime after the mile two sign, and it read 17:xx then, but I don’t remember how far I was past the mile two sign when I changed that, never mind if it was 17:00 vs. 17:59, so my second mile split is anyone’s guess.

I felt ok going up LaSalle, and got to mile three in 26:xx. I knew I ran a 26:xx 5K during the Shuffle in 2016 (my PR), so I figured I was probably more or less on track to get close to that time again. The wind picked up and I got tired after that point, though, and when I got to the mile four sign and my watch read 34:xx, I knew nothing short of a miracle would get me to the finish line in sevenish minutes.

In the cruelest twist of fate, the wind felt the worst on Mt. Roosevelt, which really felt like kicking me when I was already down. I checked my watch on Columbus and saw that a PR would be impossible. I hoped to at least not have a terrible race, so I kept up my level of effort and crossed the finish line in 42:33.

That turned out to be my second-worst Shuffle time out of the six I’ve run and a full 1:02 off my PR.Ā (For the record: I ran a 26:26 5K split in 2016; I ran a 26:30 5K split this year. To go from being four seconds off PR pace to 1:02 off PR pace shows how badly that last 3K kicked my butt this year.) I’m pretty disappointed in how everything played out, and even though the race itself was fine from an organizational standpoint and all of that, I don’t know how many Shuffles are in my future. I don’t know if I’m jaded or bored or both, but something about these Bank of America events has started to rub me the wrong way–I have very little love lost for the marathon, too–and I’m sure that has an impact on my performance. The weather didn’t help, but I had a bad attitude about the race to begin with, and that probably didn’t set me up for much success. It’s something I’ll certainly need to work on before the marathon, because I would prefer to not have another race at least partially impacted by my lack of patience for my perception of a race’s sense of self-importance.

shamrockshuffle2018-medal