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 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!
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.
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 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.
Somehow even though I’ve been counting down the months until we would move away from Chicago since, oh, 35 months out (what can I say, winter is NOT my favorite thing and there’s a LOT of it up here), this move feels like it snuck on me.
Maybe it’s because we just moved into the current place a year and a half ago. Maybe it’s because I’ve just got so many plates spinning (working and booking and grad schooling and bears*, oh my!) Or maybe it’s that this move isn’t like most of our moves before it, in that we’re going to a place we already know (and have friends waiting for us there) and that we already have a place to live (I’ll get back to that) and that I’ve already got my grad school program lined up to move with me and it has (so far) been a really seamless transition.
In any case, we leave Chicago in 28 days. Exactly 4 weeks from today. As in, 4 weeks from now we will be halfway to our first stop in Missouri and Leena will probably have puked at least once and I’ll already be regretting taking a road trip with cats but it’s too cold to fly with them and we still have to move the car so what can you do anyway except pack them and drive for 4 days straight and hope for the best.
All the same, I’m starting to feel it this week as we begin to experience the “Chicago lasts” before the move. We went to our last (probably, as nothing else is planned) theater show this weekend with the 40th anniversary run of A Christmas Carol at the Goodman Theatre.
It’s a very good production and the adaptation infuses enough humor to balance the more serious bits, and the set pieces are gorgeous. It helps that the Goodman is just around the corner from the Christkindlmarket, which opened this weekend, too. I got my gingerbread and cider fix before the show, though I suspect that was not, in fact, our last visit to that particular place.
It’s not all fun stuff, though. I’m planning for my last day at work, my last day at Shedd, scheduling the last vet visit for the kitties, and just did the last big deep clean before we vacate our current place, too.
Then there are the unknown lasts that are a little weirder, harder to pin down. Like when it snowed two Fridays ago and it occurred to me that it might be the last snow we see here (and how much I hope it doesn’t snow on the day we load the moving truck). It might not be the last one, but you never know.
I do know it won’t be the last time I’m in Chicago, though. While I doubt we will ever live here again (see the aforementioned thing about winter), I have friends here I need to see sometimes. But I am definitely looking forward to being a tourist here and not a resident.
The firsts in San Diego are a little different. We’ll see the house we’re moving into for the first time in about a month, for instance. But moving back to a place? This is the first time we’ve ever done that, and it’s actually really nice. I don’t have to find a new vet, a new dentist, a new mechanic– I’ve already got them all!
And speaking of that new house– we’re also doing a thing we’ve never done and moving into a house we rented sight-unseen. That’s because we’re heading back into military housing (though a VERY different scenario than the last time we lived in it). The thought process (and application process, etc) will be a blog post for another day. But we know where we are going and might actually have our first door-to-door move, with our belongings never going into storage. That would be so good.
So that’s it. A lot of lasts and a lot of firsts and in about a month I get to put my parka into long term storage.
I am SO ready.
*No bears are actually involved in my life currently**, but it seemed the thing to say. Not even the Bears, which will likely be the only one of Chicago’s pro sports teams from my List that I won’t get to see. Cubs, Sox, Hawks, and Bulls– check! But no Bears. Oh, well.
**I feel like I need to stipulate that there are currently no bears because, being a zoo person, particularly who likes working with carnivores***, bears are always an option. And who doesn’t like bears??****
***Bears are omnivores. But you get where I’m going with it. I’m definitely a “lions and tigers and bears” person. And also wolves and sharks and snow leopards. Especially the snow leopards.
****If you don’t like bears, I don’t understand. I mean, have you SEEN a bear?
Early on Sunday morning we were first in line for the Willis (née Sears) Tower Skydeck. The doors opened at 8:00am and by 8:15 we were on the 103rd floor with a couple of other sailors and our families and Jared signed up for 4 more years* in the Navy.
I don’t do well with heights, but Jared wanted something specific to Chicago (and this duty station and that we couldn’t do anywhere else) so the Skydeck was it.
Re-enlistments are a lot like tiny military weddings, except that the military member is re-committing to their branch of service. You’ve got to have three elements: the sailor (in our case), an officer to perform it, and another sailor (also in our case) as witness. They’ll sign the papers, too, and make it all official (once the Navy’s had enough admin time to get it done).
One of the things many non-enlisted/non-military folks might not realize is that the location of the ceremony is wherever the service member chooses. Within reason, anyway. And that means there have been some pretty wild places chosen. We know people who’ve had their ceremonies in the nose cones of submarines while underway, from the yardarms of their ships, on the deck of the USS Constitution, and in their own front yards. It’s just one of those little quirks that makes Navy life interesting. (Last time he re-enlisted was on the USS Missouri in Hawaii, standing under the big guns.)
That also means that, like little weddings, they can get a little pricey if you’re thinking in terms of a big event. I can tell you, though, that there are a lot of ways to make interesting or unique re-enlistment ceremonies happen. The USS Missouri, for instance, didn’t charge us at all, and was able to schedule a morning time slot for us on the day of Jared’s choice (his birthday, five years ago). Many military sites (and even some National Park sites) will work with you on this and they love supporting military members and their families. In the case of the Skydeck, if it hadn’t been a holiday weekend, we could have booked a private deck time for a pretty reasonable rate, but being that they had early hours for Memorial Day weekend, we just made sure we were there first thing.
You can also make it more like a fun picnic event, inviting the whole division to a cookout somewhere for a party to celebrate. I find that a bring-your-own thing to grill works out well because it leaves the most expensive items up to the guests, plus everyone gets to eat what they want.
All of this isn’t to say you can’t have just a simple, quick-and-done thing one day at work, either. Jared’s first was like that, with him extending an extra couple of years on his first enlistment. The ship’s galley (if you’re at sea, and even sometimes on shore duty, if you’ve got galley access) is good about making cake, though. Re-enlistments call for cake!
Anyway, Jared wanted something that was a just-Chicago thing, and it worked out that his mom and my parents were able to come, and the weather held so we could actually see and generally it was fantastic.
Obviously I’m really proud of him for reaching this point in his career, where this enlistment will take him all the way to twenty years and the possibility of full retirement (we shall see what happens in the next couple of years, though… might stay in longer), but can I just take a moment to also be really proud of myself for actually going out there on that platform with him?
As I said, I don’t do heights. This smile is a LIE (or a deep cry for help right before I scurried back to the psychological safety of the not-see-through floor). Anyway, me going out for a photo? That’s love, right there. (And a smidge of my recent efforts to face fears, and to just put myself out there and try things even when I’m scared. Deep, y’all. Deep. Except also really tall. Deep and tall? Deeptall? I’ll stop now.)
Anyway, that is done now. We survived. We had a lovely brunch and then went home and had a lovely nap (while Jared did one of his ridiculous workouts).
I guess we’ll do four more years of this Navy thing then. Here we come, 2021!
*Symbolically. Paperwork is a separate thing. Really, the best metaphor for this whole thing is a like a mini-wedding. Ceremony, paperwork, cake.
It’s been roughly six months since I posted my last entry to this blog. A lot has happened since then that I could have blogged about and just… didn’t. I’ve been busy. This is not an excuse.
I’m not really one for public declarations and sweeping “improvements” for a new year (which, after all, is a pretty arbitrary point in the year that we’ve all just collectively agreed to use as the reset point in our calendar), so I won’t promise to do better this year. In fact, it’s likely I won’t post often in here at all.
There. Is that a reasonable expectation? I hope so. Then again, I’ve come a long way in the last year and I’ve made a peace treaty with Living in Chicago (which isn’t my favorite thing ever but I’m finding things to enjoy anyway). So there may be more I feel like saying this year.
That being said, I intend to post more about my travel (which is, happily, frequent) and about things I’m enjoying at the moment and other things that are on my mind. We’ll see how it goes. I have other personal goals, too, of course, but they are, y’know, personal. I may post about them as they happen. I may not. I will tell you that one of them is to be kinder to myself and part of that is not feeling bad if I don’t hold to a schedule for things like this. It’s okay. Be kind to yourself and allow yourself some grace, too, if you’re reading this.
So welcome to the new year. It already feels better than last year. Do you have any resolutions? Have you picked up an old project again, or are you starting something new?
The other day while out running errands, I wound up at the Ogilvie Transportation Center, which is the Metra hub downtown. I ran my errand, ate some lunch, and headed back toward the station. Along the way, I noticed signs for “Chicago French Market.” Color me intrigued.
Inside I found, not French food (which is what I expected), but a full local market, complete with produce, meat and cheese, little food vendors and, yes, even some macaroons.
They had a seafood counter that reminded me of the famous one in Seattle (though of course much smaller), and little areas with gorgeous chocolates.
There was, after some wandering, a good group of other little shops selling flowers and small trinkets, and international/gourmet dry goods, which I enjoyed pouring over.
All in all it was a very neat place and I’m glad I discovered it. If you want a quick bite with multiple options available, or if you’ve got a little time to spend at the Metra station, you should check it out.
Today is National Doughnut Day in the US, one of our multitudinous holidays celebrating things that are random about mostly involve food. Not ones to pass up an opportunity for a good doughnut, though, we happily participated at a new-found gem: Beavers Donuts + Coffee in the French Market in downtown Chicago. We got a variety to try: from left to right, the June special (Oreo cream), cinnamon, and powdered sugar. So, so good. No-one does mini doughnuts like they do in the midwest. I have to give them credit for that.
Well. J and I have now experienced our first St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago. Maybe next year we’ll check out the south side parade, but for this year we just headed downtown to see the green river and catch the (surprisingly short) downtown parade.
We got there around 10:30 in the morning, so maybe an hour after they dyed the river and it was a vibrant green. Tons of people lined the bridges and sidewalks and riverwalk to get a good view, but it wasn’t difficult to navigate by any means. Until we tried to see the parade.
Turns out the parade is in the park and only about 4 blocks long. I’m not joking. So thousands of people tried to cram into a four block stretch of road to see. We weren’t close enough to do much other than listen, so we retreated toward the train. Along the way we stopped into the Elephant and Castle pub for a snack and a festive beverage. While there, we were surprised by a roving bagpipe band who came into the pub and gave a twenty minute concert, all of two feet from our little table. Win!
Mostly it was just nice to be outside on an early spring-like day. See how excited we were? There was sunshine and the snow’s almost completely gone and I felt like I could really breathe again. We’re definitely still adjusting but the warm weather is helping tremendously.
And I’ve seen flowers. They DO exist! (Pardon the blur of this photo, I was a long way off on my phone but I needed to DOCUMENT.)
Saturday, J and I visited the Field Museum for the first time. We’d intended to go to the aquarium, but that line was around the block, and they share a complex plus it was on my wish list… So there we went! It was, in a word, huge. We spent most of the day there and still didn’t get to really see everything, but we got to most of the exhibits. It’s a really interesting blend of both old and new, with dioramas going back over 100 years, many of which are amazingly accurate, along with very modern interactive exhibits that span everything from natural history to anthropology.
The entrance hall was grand, of course, and I enjoyed getting to see Sue the t-rex in person. I also learned they aren’t sure if she’s actually male or female, but is called “Sue” after the woman who found her. We saw a movie included with our admission about the process of finding fossils and the particular discovery of Sue two decades ago; she is still the most complete t-rex skeleton ever found.
It made me think of the tyrannosaur exhibit we saw nearly a year ago in Sydney, and how much it seems like we know about these extinct animals, and yet how little we really do know, and about how much of that knowledge comes from this specific specimen. It’s mind boggling, really.
We saw so many exhibits that I couldn’t even begin to name them all, but my favorite single item was probably this composite fossil because I’m always fascinated to see things preserved together. Sometimes when you see individual pieces it becomes easy to think of them as single plants or animals, but then you see something like this and you can almost picture the whole little habitat where they lived. We also spent a good bit of time in their collection of Egyptian artifacts, and in the reassembled burial chamber with actual 5000 year old carvings on the wall around us.
I came away with a remarkable perspective on just how everything is related and about our shared history. It’s fascinating to me to see how far humans have come, and how much has changed on our planet of the millennia, and to be able to come face to face with it is pretty amazing.
My other small story for today is about dealing with what seems to be the never-ending snow. Most of it melted this past week and the grass started to show in most places again but then the flurries came back and the ground is covered in snow again. One of the things I’ve done to help make things feel a bit less bleak is to bring the spring inside: I’ve gotten a few bulbs and they’re happily blooming in my kitchen window.
I enjoyed telling you two little stories about the previous week last Tuesday so thought I’d do it again this week.
The first is less a story and more a general thing but I have finally decided to not let the cold win and I’m fighting back by wearing clothes I like (under the heavy coat as needed, of course) and cooking the foods I miss from other places I’ve lived. This includes chilequiles (which are an amazing egg and tortilla dish).
So I clearly picked that one up in California (well, Mexico originally), but then there’s a taste I miss from Hawaii. I can occasionally find this in markets and street fairs, but it’s always made with pork, which I don’t eat. This week I reached the point where I finally decided to try making it at home: (turkey) spam musubi.
I need to marinade a little longer next time I think, but overall it was good. And I cut up a fresh pineapple to have with it and made a cheapy mai tai out of pog (pineapple orange guava) juice and pretended I was back on the island.
My last recipe isn’t one at all: I found a local Filipino market that sells banana lumpia (among many other tasty things) and Oishi ube pillows, which are my favorite ever Filipino snack. Seriously.
So I’ve been fighting the cold with food from warm and sunny and beautiful places and I think it’s helping. I can’t eat the junk all the time, of course, so there will need to be modifications to some (though the chilequiles I made with egg whites and lots of peppers and onion), but it feels good to have tastes I love again.
Now for story time.
Yesterday, J had the day off of work so we went down to the park that runs along the edge of Lake Michigan. It’s only about a mile and a half from where we live, so in warmer weather it’ll make a nice walk, but yesterday was, y’know, still in January, so we drove. We walked along the beach and found some lovely trees and had a really nice time and after about an hour and a half, we decided to head back to the car.
Along the way, we passed the entrance to a section of trail marked as a bird and wildlife preserve, and I stopped to look at some chubby squirrels, all bulked up for the winter, and the fluffy sparrows sitting above them.
As I paused, an older man walked up and started tossing bird seed onto the ground. He smiled at me so I smiled back, and he continued up the trail. I watched the birds and squirrels hop around gathering the seeds a while, then decided to head along the bird trail just for a couple of minutes to see where it went. (J is a very patient guy.)
The older man came back down the trail and pointed to the top of the little rise behind him. “There’s a cardinal!” So we went up the rise to look. He came behind us, and when we got there, he walked right down to the bushes, whistling at all the birds, and tossing seed for them. He had a separate packet of different seed. “Special, for the cardinal.”
There on the snow, a single bright red bird landed. He was surrounded by other birds, mostly brown sparrows, but his red feathers shone so brightly it was no wonder we were all watching him. “The sparrows, they’re greedy and eat everything!” the man said. He shook his head and walked away.
We watched the birds for several more minutes before heading back to the car. The man was long gone. I wonder if he comes every day in the winter to feed the birds, and if he’s got a whole list of them he looks for when he’s there. I wonder how long he’s been coming to the park. And I wonder what it will look like in spring when it’s not covered in snow and ice and mud. I’m ready to find out about spring.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.