national parking

Indiana Dunes National Park!

It’s official! One of my favorite places to visit while we lived in Chicago, Indiana Dunes, is now the US’s newest National Park!!

Indiana Dunes, June 2015
Photo by Joanna Volavka

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore became Indiana Dunes National Park this month, becoming only the 61st place with that designation in the country. So cool! While the designation doesn’t really fundamentally change much about the park or how it operates (it has been national land since the 1960s and has been a park for over 100 years), it does provide a boost for marketing, while also becoming the first national park in Indiana. So congratulations, Indiana residents!

Indiana Dunes, June 2015
Photo by Joanna Volavka

But there are still some cool things to know now that it’s an official National Park! First, according to National Geographic, this 15 mile lakeshore gets about the same number of annual visitors as Mount Rushmore. It’s also the closest thing to a beach that most folks in Chicago are going to experience, and has some legit massive dunes.

Indiana Dunes, June 2015
Photo by Joanna Volavka

The dunes are soft sand, and offer a buffer against the storms from the lake to the wetlands surrounding the area. You can hike through the marsh trails (and be sure to note which areas are part of the Indiana Dunes State Park, managed separately from the National Park spaces since regulations are different) or across the dunes. Just be prepared for a workout– the dunes are steep and hiking through sand is no joke!

Indiana Dunes, June 2015
Photo by Joanna Volavka

Indiana Dunes was one of our favorite escapes from Chicago. We could get there in just over an hour from home, but it felt like a whole world away. The Chicago skyline was distantly visible on clear days, but in the other directions it was just sand and water and trees. And while the beaches weren’t like being by the ocean, if I closed my eyes on a warm day and pretended…it was close enough to get by.

Disney, Travel

SoCal, January 2016

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Before I had a chance to write about last January’s trip to Southern California, I made another trip out there! Last Tuesday I flew back to Chicago with sand on my toes and tan lines on my shoulders, after a glorious week on the west coast.

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It was what I used to consider “chilly” out most of the time, with highs in the mid-70s (23-24 C) and sunny… so I went to the beach! The locals thought I was ridiculous, but compared to the -5 degrees it had been just days before in Chicago, 75 felt amazing. We went to Coronado and hung out in front of the Del (Hotel del Coronado) on the golden shore for an entire day. I can’t even describe what it was like to not only not be wearing two layers of fleece, but to be in a bathing suit!

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We stopped by one of our favorite local taco places, and even though they’d redecorated, they still had really good food. I got fish tacos at another place, and just generally ate a lot of stuff in tortillas.

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Not only did I get to have amazing fish tacos and other local favorite foods, I got to spend a day at Disneyland with my dear friend, sans children! We’ve never been able to go together and do rides (or avoid princess meet and greets), so it was really a blast. And yes, it was actually chilly that day. Hence the sweaters.

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The first stop? Star Wars Launch Bay, which is where the old “Home of Tomorrow” exhibit used to be. And I got to hug Chewie! Whoo!

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Here’s a thing I’d never done before: we stood in the exact middle of Disneyland! It’s marked with a simple metal tack, right at the back of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, and no-one else knew why we were standing there, taking photos of a spot on the ground. Ha.

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I even rode the carousel and took my customary carouselfie. Don’t judge. You think it’s cute. Notice how the horse and I have the same expression. That’s the trick: to find a horse with a really good facial expression. One day I’ll have enough of these to make a full gallery. You’re welcome, world.

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Anyway, I was stoked to get to see the castle decorated for the park’s 60th anniversary and all of the Diamond Celebration stuff, including the new parade called Paint the Night! (Click here if you want to watch the full parade. It’s less than 14 minutes and beautiful.) I also finally got the Disneyland “You Are Here” Starbucks cup! It was sold out every time I tried to get it before we moved away from California, but now it lives happily in my cabinet (along with the Diamond Celebration one..).

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I really can’t get enough beach time. Ever.

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I’ve barely skimmed the surface of what was an amazing week, but really what made it so great was spending time with some people I love. Sunshine and warm weather and beaches didn’t hurt. I’m thinking this end-of-January thing might be becoming tradition, and I’m not in the least bit sad about it.

Joanna problems, Two for Tuesday

Two for a Tuesday

Well, look at that! I managed to not wait three months to update the blog again. Amazing! For this (I would say “lovely” but it’s snowing again and about 13 degrees outside so it’s just “this”) Tuesday, I’ve got two small stories for you from the last week. We’ll start with what happened today so everyone can end this adventure on a high note.

Winter and I are not friends. The fact that I have two actual friends named Summer is purely coincidental and amusing, but the point remains that I have no friends named Winter, seasonally-based or otherwise. In an effort to make Winter in Chicago (which is a brand new experience and providing a whole host of other “entertainment” including frozen windows and slogging through brownish-gray “snow”) more bearable, I am trying to embrace a few winter traditions. Last night I made hot apple cider in my percolator so that the house would smell wonderfully like apples and cinnamon and cloves and allspice with the ADDED BONUS of hot cider. Win-win, right? It was lovely sitting in front of the fire with a big, steaming mug of cider.

Today I set the percolator on the counter with the basket full of still-damp spices (cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, and whole allspice) exposed for drying and then disposing. I did the daily kitchen-floor-sweeping (who on earth thinks it’s a good idea to put a back door directly into a kitchen??) and set the broom against the counter….where it slid and knocked into the percolator which knocked into other things which all went bouncing across the white tile of the freshly-cleaned kitchen floor in a veritable explosion of drippy spices. Between the cloves and allspice and remnants of cinnamon-infused apple drips, it looked like an army of incontinent rabbits had just charged through the place. You’re welcome for THAT image.

So now the floor is swept (again) and steam-mopped (again) and the kitchen rug is in the washing machine (again) and I’m going to try and eat lunch at some point, I suppose.

In the meantime, here’s the other story. Snow walking away from Outback

Yesterday I had an appointment downtown and on the drive back home I noticed a park. I’ve done this drive a few times, but it’s the first time I’ve been confident enough in where I was to notice things other than traffic, street signs, etc. The park was buried in snow, but the roads were clear (thank you, infrastructure) so I detoured.

Lake Michigan snow beach trees

And found myself looking at water through the trees. So out of the car I trudged and toward the water because, after all, a determined Jo will eventually find her way to a beach. And oh what a beach I found.

Lake Michigan snow beach

The ice floating on the water, the snow piled up in banks like sand dunes… It was pretty for about five minutes. Then I trudged my way back to Harriet (Jones, Subaru Outback) and headed home as the flakes got bigger and more accumulation announced itself.

Lake Michigan, snow stripes on trees

I do think it’s interesting the way snow sticks to trees in patterns depending on the wind and the shapes of the branches and things. I don’t think that Winter and I will ever be friends, but we might be able to find a truce. As long as there aren’t any more incontinent rabbits wreaking havoc in my kitchen.