Monthly Archives: July 2015

When Life Gives You Rats


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.
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 water now, and I have other paid job type work to do.


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. . . .


Repetitious 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.


They 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 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?”


At 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. . . .”


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 dang 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?”


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

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.