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.
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
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.
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?
(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?
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?**
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.
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?***
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?
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.
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.)
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.
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.”
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 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?”
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 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?”
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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:
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)?
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!
Michael 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.
No warm up in sight
This year, I am planting peas
Touching the earth helps
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.
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.
Added ten more jugs of flower and vege seeds, inc the beets and spinach, to the “winter sowing” collection I started on January 23rd.
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
sunshine spills from sky
my breath steams in the cold air
cold toes, warm heart, smiles
Spring’s tease. Deep blue sky
Brown branch, tinge of green, but cold
A beautiful day.
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
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! Tending 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.**
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 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.
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.
Every fall, I vow to borrow Karen’s leaf shredder to create fluffy, nutritious mulch for all my garden beds. Every fall, time speeds up. Before a late season rain, I end up frantically dumping out bags of leaves scavenged from the alley; everything needs to be tucked in tightly so the neighbors don’t complain about the leaves they just raked blowing back into their yards. This means that, every spring, I have to pry off slimy blankets to make it easier for little plants to emerge. I’m not sure if these annual rituals do any good, but they are pleasant bookends to the growing season.
Last Thursday, friends started sharing links to giddy five day forecasts, crowding out the pictures of home thermometers registering single digits. “The thaw is coming, the thaw is coming!” Tom Skilling was Paul Revere; social media the horse. I was unmoved. Barring a true heatwave, the shellacked snow pack would melt slowly—a good thing for the soil, watershed, and sewers, but a bummer for those counting the days until the flowers return. And it’s hard for me to get excited about 40 degree weather.The arctic grip did loosen Friday afternoon, as promised, and I grudgingly admitted that a sunny 45 is indeed better than a windy 15. But I was still moping about the bulbs, couldn’t imagine anything green emerging from the long buried muck for at least a few days–and that was assuming the “warm up” would hold.
Less than 24 hours later, I was jumping up and down on the sunny corner of Kimball and McLean. “Miguel! Miguel!!!! Look!! Crocuses!!!” We had to bend and squint to see the pointy green fingernails clawing towards the sun. I ran around, searching for more in the narrow sliver of earth now visible between the sidewalk’s edge and still formidable pile of snow. Nothing, but no matter. A day later, I spied the orange tulips that honor (and draw nutrients from) Bug, Miguel’s beloved goldfish. The earth has opened, I am giddy, and the show has just begun.
I planted snowdrops for the first time last fall, excited for something to bloom before the crocuses. Do I remove the snow to see what is below, or wait it out?