Must. Not. Fiddle. With. Tinsel.

Sing it with me now: “It’s the most difficult (for productivity) time of the year.”

Ah, working from home in December. When I struggle to resurface from the deepest sleep and the desire to stay in PJ’s is stronger than ever.  When I want to eat peanut butter all day and bake all night. When I itch to finish the house projects on 2015’s docket.

And when all I want to do is decorate! It’s not just for my pleasure, of course. It’s a civic duty.

Frank Lopez keeps the bar (and electricity bills?) high in Logan Square

I’ve been running in the evening this week, in part because of the waking up problem, but mostly to enjoy the neighborhood’s evolving light-show. Tis the season of bright vs night. It’s easy to imagine the relief of the ancients each time the sun started climbing again. My mood follows that arc as well, so the winter solstice means more to me than Christmas, which we celebrate more as a matter of tradition than religion.

Early last week, I carefully unpacked and organized our winter holiday arsenal. Checked the lights. Smiled at recent thrift store scores and the memory of dumpster diving a tangled heap of red garlands earlier this year.  I wanted to be ready upon return from visiting my parents. A late Thanksgiving plus travel>>>sense of festive urgency.

Less than 12 hours after our plane landed, Michael and Miguel set off to find a tree while I rounded up the last scarecrows and started untangling the garland heap for the front fence. Gotta do our part for the block. One neighbor already draped their entire house with some sort of delicate gauze of tiny, cascading, shimmering, green lights. I’m not sure I like the look, but it’s an impressive rebuke to December’s darkness.

2015tree

My efforts to contribute to the festive atmosphere would be no problem, but for my pesky perfectionism.  I don’t mean my Mom’s brisk perfection, which produces loveliness on the first go without stealing time from her other projects. I don’t aspire to magazine level seasonal makeovers with coherent themes and color schemes.

I simply crave symmetry. No askew painting is safe from my nudges. Perfectly matched seams make me swoon. Lack of parallelism is my cruciatus curse.

Be-still my heart!
See the black hole towards the bottom left?
See the black hole towards bottom left?

Michael and Miguel brought home a gorgeous, magazine worthy tree. Once it finished fluffing out like a swan, I approached  it respectfully with lights and a plan. Taking a page from Mom’s playbook, I strung lights outside *and* around the trunk. No more shadows for those shrinking violet ornaments! But my calculations were a little off, so I punted the excess of Strand Three over the top. The clock was ticking, my stamina waning, and my purported value of not letting perfection be the enemy of the good asserting itself. By tinsel time, things had taken a decidedly haphazard turn.

This morning, Michael bounded into the kitchen. “The tree looks great!!!”

But I’ve analyzed the photos. There’s a dark spot in the lower right. And the tinsel! Ow, my eyes. I should really redo it before we add anything else. Maybe uncrowd some of the ornaments Miguel hung last night? Shhhh, don’t tell him.

The tinsel--so meandering! And is that a red ornament behind another red one?!
The tinsel–so meandering! And is that a red ornament behind another red one?!

Gah! I must resist. I have work responsibilities. Oh no! The ornaments on the little gold tree (dollar store score last January) in the back room are not balanced. And I haven’t finished the lights and garlands out front. I need a runner for the dining room radiator. Not all the windows have been cleaned and time is running out before it’s too cold. The bathrooms could use a scrub down. . . .

I think this needs to be a work from a coffee shop kind of day!

Last Three Innings

Thoughts during what I hope are not the last three innings of the season. But if they are the last, this won’t feel like 84 or 89 or 98 or 03.

I’m 43 and all that means is that

Foul by 15 feet

I’m a little older which doesn’t mean I finally realize *it’s just a game.* I’ve always known that.

If tonight is the end of the season, or even if we go all the way, the end will mean the one thing I have learned the end of baseball season means: The end of summer.

Miguel’s birthday is tomorrow. On 10/22, 2006, we spent the night in the hospital with him in a bundle and Jennifer, his birth mom, recovering in a squeaky uncomfortable bed. So many stories live in that night.

Schwarber gets the walk. The Cubs desperately need a long ball.

But one of the stories is that Detroit was playing for their league.

Inning over. Cubs don’t score. We move to inning seven.

Michael is from Detroit. We considered Detroit as a name for our hypothetical son. A girl would have been Quetzal—a beautiful bird and an awesome scrabble word. It all happened so fast. We chose Miguel Burton Kilgore. Jennifer was surprised.

We found out that we had been picked by Jennifer and Robert as prospective birth parents when the baby was due in two weeks. Before we could meet, Jennifer went into labor.

Murphy just missed another home run but at least it was not a home run. Mets outhitting the Cubs 9-4. Just one of them things (ron) This inning belongs to Strop. The wind is still blowing out. Strop really needs a strike out here

Jennifer had wanted us to be there, but she went into labor early before we could meet. The social worker asked us to wait for the call. What the hell do you bring to a woman who is having a baby and may or may not want to ask another family to be his parents, and who may or may not want us to be those people.

Our garden was already asleep. I printed out pictures of flowers and secured them to pipe cleaners

Now the bags are loaded. Basio is going to the mound. Strop trying to keep the Cubs within five (why does ron say strope and pat strop—who is correct?)

We brought Jennifer a bouquet of photo flowers, printed on the high quality setting. It’s a long but amazing story, those next 48 hours.

I don’t remember what happened with Detroit. Michael probably does. But that night, in a small room, baseball was on, and Jennifer showed us how to feed and change Miguel. She explained the sludge and assured us that not all diapers would be like that. “It’s Ok, I didn’t know what I was doing with my first child either.”

Mets don’t score. They lead 6-1. Eddie Vetter for the stretch. “We want more baseball!!!”

Hey, he sounds good. Fuck, now I am going to start crying. Come back and win the game!!!! Because that circles to the point. The end of baseball means the end of summer.

One of the great things about having an October baby is that you get to cuddle him and swaddle him and keep him off cold floors and then hell yeah April comes and baseball is back and your baby has left the 4th trimester and wow—that first summer was amazing.

It is easy for me to say this because I was not pregnant in summer. I can’t imagine being pregnant, let alone in late summer.

Cubs with only 4 hits in the game. They’ve managed only 5 hits in each of their first three games.

(writers block while the cubs go quietly 1-2-3)

I don’t want to back space, because we can’t back space life. And while writing is not life and baseball is not life, we don’t backspace baseball so I won’t backspace this.

But I paused because I want to explain that I had no sadness, no hint of a sniffle, no anything that has a whiff of a no about not carrying a child. But how do you say that? That will have to do.

If the Cubs lose tonight, I will have no sadness except for the end of summer and also for the feelings of the players. For the past 8 months, I have enjoyed this team. I have dragged my radio around the house and garden during puttering times. When I left my radio in the rain, I bought another (returned because it could not grab 780am) and another (ditto) and finally went online and did a bunch of research and ordered something that can actually grab the station. WTF? I’m missing WGN and 720.

Access to the Cubs is one of the reasons I was a south side Cubs fan. Om the radio, on the teevee, latch key kid. Lee Smith, shadow line. Jodee, Jodee Davis! My favorite animal was the penguin after Ron Cey. I sent him a fan letter and got a “signed” photo back.

I wrote a cheesy book of poems the fall of Steve Garvey, illustrated with clippings I had kept under the bed. When I taught grade seven writing, I used to trot the collection out to encourage, uh, expression and lack of self-censorship.

Television showing fans with blank stares and confusion.

Easy for me to say, chin up. . .

Daniel Murphy has just hit a home run. Has just set a record. Mets have opened up a commanding 8-1 lead. I can’t believe it.

I don’t believe in much except for the amazing story of how Miguel came into our lives, but maybe this series was not meant to be about the Cubs. Maybe it was meant to be about Daniel Murphy.

And guess what, if we lose tonight, I will root for the Mets. Summer will be over, and I probably won’t watch (need to catch up on garden work), but my philosophy is that you keep the love in the family. I am happy for the White Sox unless they play us. Hands up for the Midwest over the coasts. And for the love of all things elegant, National League forever. Screw the Yankees, et al (except the White Sox)!

Soler has the leadoff double. Cubs have yet to have a big inning in this series.

Long home run for Kris Bryant. Cubs now trail by a score of 8-3.

(pee break and husband convo interlude)

Bottom of the ninth. Not feeling optimistic about the game. Less than five months until spring training.

Two down

I hope you get a standing ovation. I hope you take the field. Let the Mets have their moment, but not without yours.

Left handed pitcher, right handed batter.

Pat talking about all the great teams that did not make it this far.

2-2, inside to Montero.

Joe Maddon is in the first year of a five year agreement. A lot of tremendous young players.

Pat is using contorted math to imagine a win.

Fowler at the plate. Montero will not be held. Fowler trying to give it a good at bat, right up until the end. Soler on deck. High ball three. Dexter really battling, trying to keep the Cubs going. No one wants to be the last out. Fowler really grinding. Fouled away again.

Delayed fucking call. And the New York Mets win the National League Pennant. And it’s stupid, but I am crying. I know it’s just a game.

When Life Gives You Rats

Before
Before

I should make this brief,* because at least 20 plants are waiting in buckets of water to be transplanted to. . . not sure yet.** This is an invitation for friends to grab some of the phlox, goldenrod, aster, joe pye, hyssop and penstemon that have been lighting up the raised bed in our back yard for the last five or so years.***

Last night twilight slipped into the firefly hour while I pried deep roots from the tangle of plants I’ve been meaning to divide for the last few years. I tried to avoid stepping on the bed, but sometimes side angle shoveling can’t do the job. Then I  balanced on the narrow wooden edge with one foot while the other stomped down the blade. Anything to avoid both feet on the soil.
IMAG3810
Rat burrow, upper left. Hence, balancing on edge of bed, far left.

The rats are back. They have been burrowing in the bed like they did some years ago, maybe it was five years ago, because that’s when I replaced the vegetable garden with the perennials I pulled last night. We won the previous battle with copious amounts of poison and chicken wire, with some rat zapper traps for good measure. Let me tell you, there is something horrifying about finding a dead rat so big that it couldn’t get its full body into the zapper (shuddering at the memory). I’ve got more war stories about that era, but the plants are waiting, and it is going to be hot this weekend so I need to get them in now, and I have other paid job type work to do.

IMAG4382
After

This time around, I’m looking into the feral cat program through Tree House. I have heard great things about it being a long term solution to rats and critters–not so much by killing them but by scaring them away. But I am also looking at this as a chance to rethink the garden layout in general. We’ve had years to collect data on how we use it and how we wish it worked better. The trees have grown so much that our mostly sunny space has become mostly shady. Maybe it’s time to give into the shade and add a privacy screen so we don’t have to look at the alley fence I am always complaining about (doesn’t mean I’ll stop planting along it).

So now I am a little excited for change. Input on our garden design reboot is most welcome. Now, it’s time to keep rebooting the rats out of here!!
*my version of brief🙂
**some along the fence, of course
***Here’s something I wrote four July’s ago about this spot. I’m so grateful I am not depressed anymore, and for the friends who keep coming for for dinner, rats be damned. Garden Half Full

It’s Not About Time

After Sunday’s pleasant 11.4 mile run, I’m finally on schedule with training for the Chicago Marathon. At least on paper. I should have entered week 5 of the 18 week plan with more base miles and fewer pounds, but so long as I can muster through the Long Slow Runs (LSRs), I’m not going to stress out.

This year’s aspirations are all about what happens before race day. Tackling the following long festering, pestering issues is more important than tackling a personal best on October 11.

    1. Breathing. You don’t know what you don’t know. The first time I used an inhaler, it felt like a performance enhancing drug. But I still struggle to consistently get a full gulp of air. Might pranayama before runs help?
    2. (NSF-PAT-DA-PAP)*Period Poops. Too many runs have been cut short by a sudden, knee buckling need to deliver a poop baby.  Inevitably, a few hours later, I get my  period. Since I get my period every three weeks, this really stinks. If I can’t eliminate this problem, can I better work around it?

      Losing 10 pounds suddenly seems very daunting.
    3. The Big Ten. It’s always a bummer when my doctor heartily agrees I should lose weight. “But I’m strong?” I whimpered as her finger climbed up the BMI graph, where I straddle the line between  healthy and overweight. Although she affirmed that BMI has limitations, she didn’t totally let me off the hook. Can I lose 10 pounds before mid-October while enjoying the late nights of summer?**
    4. Grit. Ah, the buzzword of education. Our kids need to toughen up! Tenacity wins the day! I’m not sure I am on board with sandpaper-based pedagogy for little ones (and too many little ones need grit just to get by outside of school), but I know I can up my brain game when it comes to physical exertion.
    5. Wooziness (unless collapsing is truly justified). Sometimes I almost pass out after running “hard.” At least two of my races have involved medical tents to get my bearings. Is it low blood sugar? Low blood pressure? Low grit? Should I strive to cross the line as a desiccated potato chip?***
    6. Preventative maintenance. I am ever grateful to start each day with no chronic pain or injuries, and I want to keep it that way.  How about trying all those “5 key moves to protect your knees” articles I’ve bookmarked?
    7. Noodles. Doing push-ups and crunches every other week is not enough to build the core and upper body  strength so critical to running form and carrying groceries.
    8. Gear. Running requires very little stuff. But I don’t have enough grit to run barefoot, or backwoods knowledge to dead reckon distance and pace. Will I ever get my Garmin to lock in to a GPS signal? Hack in an extender for my water belt? Three years after first writing about my belt, it still pops off when I bend. (See number 3.)wpid-CameraZOOM-20130904123352092.jpg
    9. Compliance.I need to refer to each week’s Training Plan for more than LSR distances. Refer back to this list to keep priorities in mind.  Follow some guidelines. Follow through! For better, and often quite worse, I’ve never had to worry about hobgoblins and foolish consistency.
    10. Blogging. I don’t care that these posts are tiny drops in an ocean of blogs about marathon training. They keep my inner writer warmed-up in case I ever tackle something bigger and harder. And I enjoy it.

*Not Suitable for People Averse to Discussions About Periods and Poop. Also, be grateful that I opted to avoid visuals. I would like to unsee the images called up when searching poop baby.
**I’m not bumming bout the bod. This is more about staying ahead of things before I hit menopause and sneaking a few seconds off my pace.
***The 1982 Marathon is famous for the Duel in the Sun between Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley. Great story. Here’s a quote from an article about it: “You pushed me harder than anybody’s ever pushed me in my life,’’ said Salazar, who had Beardsley join him on the award stand before he went to the medical tent, where six bags of saline fluids were pumped into a desiccated body that the attending physician likened to a potato chip.”

This fence is my fence, this fence is your fence. . . .

IMAG4125Repetitious whiny pants alert: If you don’t want to hear me vent again about parkway pillaging, stop now.

****

No one is making me dig my heart into a slab of clay at the corner of Kimball and McLean. When someone yanks out an allium bulb, or the City piles it with construction debris, I keep mantras running through my head: Give freely. It’s about the process. Practice letting go. This is public space. This land is my land, this land is your land.

But sometimes, these self-soothing thoughts are interrupted by drunk 20-somethings in quasi-edgy clothes, swaying down Kimball, shrieking with glee as they rip off the tops of cup plants.

This evening, I did a bit of weeding in “El Jardin de McLean.” I was wrapping up and taking pictures of new blooms and surprise patches of color when four young adults stumbled across McLean.

IMAG4056They are loud. They approach the fence. I figure they are going to check things out. Lots of people do. No. They are tearing the heads off the cup plants, which actually takes some effort. The stalk is fibrous, like celery; it’s a stringy, uneven mess if you try to break it apart by hand. Maybe their biceps are booze-powered.

By the time I make it around the corner, they are about 10 yards away. “What are you doing??!!” I yell. They look back at me with no shame. Instead, they start running in a conspiratorial way, like they have been busted by the dorky principal in a Disney sitcom for something they don’t really think is all that wrong. They continue to grab at plants and toss flowers on the ground. “What the fuck is WRONG with you??!!” I continue. As they scurry into the dusk, I send my final volley with an extra dose of disgust: “What kind of people ARE you?”

IMAG4053At least the woman with the shiny red vintage cruiser sort of apologized earlier this week for taking scissors to the rattle snake master and blazing stars—plants like tulips that don’t produce many blooms. One and done and all that.

My neighbor Joe buzzed my apartment. “Gin, I think someone is cutting the flowers!” He is protective of the garden, as are all the neighbors.

No time to grab keys or put on shoes. I hastily propped doors open so I would not get locked out and padded down the block in bare feet and PJ’s. “What are you doing?” A young woman who was stooped over the coneflowers with liatrus leaves in one hand and scissors in the other looked up calmly.

“Oh, I press flowers, and make decorations. . .I’m sorry. . . .”IMAG4055

But it wasn’t a robust apology, and she kept trying to explain about the pressed flowers thing and I wanted to scream “then grow your own damn flowers!!!” but instead just explained that the garden takes a lot of work and that the native plants help the soil and the butterflies, blah, blah, blah. . .and we left it at that.

Last night I noticed that half of the nodding onions have been beheaded. Cleanly. Every other one. Sort of like someone was trying to be inconspicuous and moderately thoughtful. I also noticed some butterfly weed has been snipped. Those blooms would likely only be of interest to a flower presser. It reminded me of a time I was broken into and it took me a few days to discover all the things that had been taken. The biggest blow was my great-uncle’s Zeiss Icon SLR camera, something I prized dearly.

But I survived, and these plants will survive, or they won’t, and it won’t really matter that much. This is not “my land,” it is our land. Who am I to say what should be in these forgotten strips of soil? And it does look raggedy right now.

As I stared down the block, I gut-checked. Should I quit, just give up?? Nah. . . just keep planting. Next time I am going to say: “Hey, when are you free to help weed?”

IMAG4058

3-1-2. . . Go!

Imagine that speed, not shoddy camera work, caused the blur. That is not me BTW. I dont blur. . .yet.
Imagine that speed, not shoddy camera work, caused the blur. That is not me on the track, btw. I don’t blur. . .yet.

After yesterday morning’s speedwork with the bad ass folks from ThreeRunTwo,  I predicted I was either going to take on the world or need a nap by noon.

My first sighting of this Logan Square-based running group was a few years ago at Dunlays. While we and a dozen other budget-minded families wrapped up a kids-eat-free-before-six dinner, the front of the restaurant began to fill with neon-footed, mango-calved, young (ish? er?) adults. Their conversations about upcoming races, goals for the evening’s paces and other serious sounding running topics drowned out the complaints of children impatient for parents to finish their last glasses of wine.*

By the time we rolled out, the bar was holding more water than beer bottles. A woman about my height who looked like she could lap me in minutes explained that they were going to do a long group run and circle back for drinks. My kind of people! But I concluded they were out of my league because they seemed to be engaged in more rigorous work than I was up for. By the time they were leaving Dunlays, I was already thinking about
bed.

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.
Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers dear friends from the swift completion of their appointed rounds runs.

Running magazines often suggest joining a group to improve speed, skill, stamina, and your social network. I am lucky to already have dear running friends with kids of the same age who will meet wait for me on the darkest, coldest, January mornings. But sometimes talking undermines training. Pausing by a garden disrupts pace. Tight schedules keep outings short. Some might call these “junk miles” because they lack specific performance goals. I call them joy miles, because I share them with friends I can share anything with.**

This summer, performance is more on my mind. The Chicago Marathon is only three months away. My first try in 2012 was about completing. 2013 was about suffering. Both took about five hours, which is not *terrible* considering how little I trained. Not counting long runs, weekly mileage stayed below 10; cross training was limited to short bike rides for errands; stretching involved an occasional downward dog. My longest run was 17 miles.

My son gave me a boost towards the end of my first marathon.
My son gave me a boost towards the end of my first marathon. “Wear something to make you easy to find,” they said. Wishing I had not been *that* easy to spot.

A decent baseline of fitness and perhaps lack of judgement have always allowed me to muster through physical challenges for which I am ill-prepared. Back in the long distance bike-camping/caper days, my recruiting slogan was “If you can ride ten miles, you can do a century!”*** I am not sure Lisa P. has ever quite forgiven me.

What would my running times look like if I actually followed a training plan, put in the miles, ate well, lost some weight, did some yoga, pushed my push ups into the double digits (or at least past three)–in other words, really tried?

Thanks, Nico (white hat), for getting me oriented.
Thanks, Nico (white hat), for getting me oriented.

When I learned that ThreeRunTwo was organizing a speedwork session a mere two miles from my house, I decided to overcome my nervousness about 1) meeting new people and 2) running poorly in front of new people.

The night before, I slept in my running clothes to increase the odds of getting out the door on time. After a brisk bike ride on near empty streets, I pulled up to the relatively new, bouncy track at Westinghouse High School. It was already dotted with people stretching, jogging, and sprinting. Per the event instructions, I found Nico, who explained the workout: 200m at 5k pace (25x) with a 60 second recovery between intervals.**** I was secretly thrilled that I finally know what that means. I ended up running mostly by myself, since I am not as fast on the sprints, but everyone was friendly and supportive. Towards the end, someone yelled “You’re working hard!” I’m trying, I gasped back. “You’re not trying, you’re doing!” was the encouraging retort.

I didn’t make it to 25 intervals because I had to return in time for Michael to go for his own run. But I worked a helluva lot harder than usual! I confess to napping instead of conquering the world. At least I am a little bit closer to conquering the marathon. (And, if you feel like helping me conquer my fundraising goals for Girls  on the Run, you can donate here. Thanks!)

__________

*Which means we really aren’t so budget-minded after all. Hook me with free dinner for the kid, reel me in with the price of booze.

**In fairness, I am usually the one slowing us down with chatter. We also do long runs together to prepare for races, though not as often or as long as we would like. If I can sneak in some extra work on the side, maybe I will finally beat Clare and Megan!

***Here is a piece my now husband wrote about a hungry, 110 mile, with camping gear, bicycle journey from Starved Rock back to Chicago.

****run 200 meters at your current 5k speed (about 9.5 min/mile for me) and stop/walk for 60 seconds. Repeat 24 times.

New Training Partner

I've added the Bloomingdale Trail to my treasured running partners.
I’ve added the Bloomingdale Trail to my team of treasured running partners.

When the skies exploded Monday morning, each burst more intense than the last, like the final moments of fireworks on the 4th of July, I was glad to be on the Bloomingdale Trail. I had flipped off the forecast to finally kick off training for the Chicago Marathon. After a week of skipping runs due to laziness, busyness, and/or weather, I was overdue.*

I’ve always wanted to use the lakefront for training, but am not keen on adding a 12 mile round trip bicycle ride to 12 mile runs. In accordance with my hyper-local lifestyle, I stick to neighborhood sidewalks and parks. Nothing wrong with that, especially since so many Logan Square sidewalks flank grand boulevards and Humboldt Park and Palmer Square are no ordinary parks. But something about a trail elevates my effort. And, as of last Saturday, there’s an elevated trail a mere 12 minute (round trip) walk away.

Palmer Square is nice, by a 1/2 mile loop isn't the same as 5 1/2 mile.
Palmer Square is nice, but a 1/2 mile loop isn’t the same as a 5 1/2 mile there-and-back.

Almost 3 miles long, the Bloomingdale Trail is nearly perfect for a 10k run. The distance from my house to Drake, to the west end, to the east end, and back to Spaulding–with some forays into parks for water–was 6.08 miles. Only need to do four more round trips and I will be marathon ready. I could not be more thrilled about my new training partner:

mmmm, Juneberries. remember to leave some for the birds
mmmm, Juneberries. remember to leave some for the birds
  • No intersections: no excuse need to stop every 1/4 mile
  • No cars: no cars.
  • Blue running track: a boost for flagging energy
  • Access ramps: hill work. not easy to find in Chicago
  • Floating above the streets: cleaner air, real or perceived, and fewer puddles
  • Creative land and hardscaping: lots to notice.
  • Juneberries: mid-run snack
  • Fellow runners: motivation. I can’t keep up with half of the folks I’ve seen flashing by.
  • The Bloomingdale Trail as a whole: inspiration. A marathon is a nothing compared to the herculean efforts that pulled this project across the finish starting line.
  • Did I mention no cars and intersections?

However, there are intersection-type situations at the access points and overlooks, which means potential for conflict. Folks need to learn how to safely cross lanes and merge. Moving the garbage cans a smidge would help with sightlines. A few trees and shrubs are encroaching on the running strip. It would be nice to know where to find water fountains, especially those in access parks. Maybe more street signs to help with overall orientation?  Improved crossings of nearby arterials to improve access (cough, looking at you, Armitage)?

streets puddles
Water, water everywhere. The puddling on the trail was nothing compared to what we see at intersections after every heavy rain. And, the trail is not the only place where foliage is elbowing into “our” space.

Yes, there is work left to do on the trail, and much to dream and scheme about. But it is also wonderful just the way it is. Judging by the number of fellow runners laughing through sheets of rain, I am not alone. I’ve got a good four months of hard training ahead to see how it all evolves.

*My first two marathon times hovered around the five hour mark, reflecting a shameful lack of training. I drew more upon confidence from surviving longish distance bike-camping capers than miles of running. This year I *intend* to do better. If you are interested in supporting my fund-raising efforts on behalf of Girls on the Run, please click here. Thanks!

My son, (blue shirt) loves rollerblading up here and has promised to help me train.
My son (blue shirt) loves rollerblading up here and has promised to help me train. And the burbling water spigot has been fixed. The trail is getting better every day!

Weeks 5 & 6: Alliterated Plants

mysterybulb_beforeafterMichael missed our dog while we were on vacation. I missed him too, but confess to missing the garden a little bit more. The landscape changes quickly this time of the year, working longer days, fueled by stronger light. April showers *and* solar powers make May flowers. While I was gone, bleeding hearts peeked, wild geranium puffed, apple buds expanded, raspberry leaves exploded, and daffodils popped. No complaints though; the trip south to St. Louis was a lovely prelude to the next stages of our spring. And, the Rattlesnake Master, which I feared had been destroyed, proudly welcomed me home with two babies. Perseverance! These pictures aren’t great, but they help me remember what is coming up when.

IMAG2176IMAG2201IMAG2479IMAG2498IMAG2471IMAG2484

Week Four: Winter Redux

No warm up in sight
This year, I am planting peas
Touching the earth helpswelcome
Late March in Chicago. On Friday, while resisting the lure of the thermostat’s up button, I invited friends to compose brrrkus about this soul chilling, mood numbing time of the year–see end of post.  I’ve also carried on with the gardening. Each seed planted is a down payment on greener, warmer days. Miguel direct sowed a riot of spinach and lettuce near the apple tree.
planting
I set up a container of arugula and radishes on our porch, and planted peas along the fence for the first time.
Tested the viability of some old beet (below) and spinach seeds by laying them in a sunny spot, swaddled in  damp paper towels and a plastic bag.
beet
Added ten more jugs of flower and vege seeds, inc the beets and spinach, to the “winter sowing” collection I started on January 23rd.
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weekfour_stackMore brrrkus
Tantalizing sun,

Is it possibly warm out?
Nope, that snow’s still there.
–Chiayu

First day of 40
Kids would not put on jackets
Now 40 feels cold

–Julie

sunshine spills from sky
my breath steams in the cold air
cold toes, warm heart, smiles

–Jane

Spring’s tease. Deep blue sky
Brown branch, tinge of green, but cold
A beautiful day.

–Cathy

In five short months,
We’ll yearn for sweater weather.
Trying for perspective.
–Christy

Buds in the garden
Asparagus for dinner
Dammit it is spring

–Julie

Week Three: Hard, Blank Slate

The good news: last week, contractors scooped up most of the gravel left over from the recent sewer work on Kimball Avenue. The bad news: they also scraped off the top layer of the parkway, leaving behind crusty, compacted soil and myriad plants in unknown condition.I’ve been working the sunny corner of McLean and Kimball for a few years, planting mostly natives and spring bulbs, adding a layer of leaves each fall, and adding the little mulch my purse is willing to spare. Chicago’s notorious clay soil was slowly loosening up. Now I feel back to square one. Forget about tilling. This stuff needs a jackhammer! 2014-08-02 18.27.27Tending public spaces can be a Sisyphean project. Last year, another section of parkway was dug up for water main work. The year before, the City planted a tree, thereby compromising my long term vision of a rustling spot of prairie.* And, it takes just a few greedy, meany fingers to pick or destroy the one and done blooms.**

The Penstemon was glorious last year, despite the shitty soil. I see new new growth. Just needs a dusting off.

It’s not like I don’t have enough work to do in our own back yard, or even the parkway in front of our house. Nor should I spend as much time as I do gardening in general. But I love being outside and talking to appreciative neighbors and passersby who often express interest in learning about the benefits of native plants. The garden adds color and texture to a busy, high visibility corner in an area dominated by parking.  It is a sign-post, guiding us down Kimball and around the corner to our home.

The four Prairie Smokes did not thrive last year. Might do some spot soil TLC.
The four Prairie Smokes did not thrive last year.  Maybe I should at least do some spot soil TLC.

The good news: the deed was done before much was coming up. I was going to take out the tall asters anyway, because they don’t look good next to the tree. I planned to pry off the groundcover of strawberries, because  construction debris and heavy traffic is probably not the best growing medium for edibles. The Mystery Grass and Sedum near the street were untouched. Plenty of tulips are drilling though the rubble. Coneflowers are easy to replace. I’ve been meaning to transplant the Baptisia that is cramped and hidden in my back  yard. It deserves a larger stage and audience. I mostly mourn the Rattlesnake Master, but maybe it will come back.

the witness

But  sorry to say, I am not going to drop big bucks for a thick layer of compost and mulch. Who knows what the City has in plan for the future. Well, maayyybe if we get a nice tax return. . . .just don’t tell my husband.So many possibilities!

*I am embarrassed that I am mad about that tree, a Sweetgum apparently, and have even considered cutting it down. But I won’t. It is a gift that will persist if we move (not any time soon), or I lose energy for gardening near it.

**I am also a little embarrassed about how territorial I got about the flowers, especially the Allium. Some were likely picked by kids for their moms (at least that’s what the kids I once chased down said:), some by squirrels. Some were probably stepped on. It is the *public* way after all. My solution was to plant a whole bunch of bulbs in our back yard so I don’t cling to what grows out front.

The day after I put up this sign, I found an upended tulip on the ground in front of it. There won;t be a sign this year, and I won't stress about what happens.
The day after I put up this sign, I found an upended tulip on the ground in front of it. There won’t be a sign this year, and I won’t stress about what happens.