Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Poor Graham.

He's absolutely desperate to get out and ride his bike, but the weather just hasn't been cooperating. He had high hopes for the past weekend but it rained on Saturday and Sunday. I was cold yesterday and it's raining again today. According to our ever-so-accurate weather forecasters it's supposed to warm up in the Chi, and Saturday is supposed to be pretty decent. Hopefully we'll be able to get out and ride our bikes! He can finally get the outdoors action he's been hoping for!

In other news, we're finally deciding what we want to do and where we want to go this summer! We've (well, Graham) have been talking about going camping in the summer all winter. He's really excited to do so, and he brought it up so many times that I started to think he was worried I would turn all prissy on him and demand 800-count bedsheets and a turndown service as part of my "all-inclusive camping vaction." I actually said to him, "You know I'm on board with this, right?"

Graham is a much better camper than I am. I did Girl Scout camps in elementary school and I'm no stranger to sleeping bags, communal bathrooms, and tent camping, but my family never camped when I was growing up. However, that was how Graham spent most of his summers until he starting working at....a Cub Scout Camp. He's a camping pro. He knows how much of what to bring and that you can't very well camp without a game of Uno. Me? Well, I'm satisfied as long as there are s'mores and I can bring a book or two. I'm still learning, but it's fun to go somewhere and not really have to DO anything. There are Disney-esque vacations where you're constantly marching and walking and snapping pictures and smiling next to miserable park workers shoved into character costumes, and then there are nothing vacations. Just walking and enjoying and loving not even being home. Glorious.

One thing I learned in the fall? Not to walk Trail 11 (or was it 9? Whatever. It's the long one.) at Indiana Dunes State Park. Wearing Flip flops. No. Never again. Why? Oh. Because it's a long ass walk BACK to your campsite on the beach. Hot sun, hot sand, and no traction = go ahead and leave me behind.

It's definitely going to be a great summer with all the trips we're talking about taking, and I'm looking forward to all the great things that will come out of it.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

Viewing a portion of a pond within the restored section of the prairie.
A nesting killdeer tries to scare us off near the Welcome Center.

A restored wetland at Midewin.

Last weekend we went on a trip to Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie near Wilmington, Illinois. The trip was part of Science Chicago, which is a series of events with a science flair located around the Chicago area around the year (visits to the National Weather Service, museums, hospitals, Argonne, state parks, forest preserves, etc). We checked out the Welcome Center and the Horticulture Building, which is where seeds are cleaned and stored. We also saw the greenhouses and shade houses, where the rarer seedlings are cared for before being planted in the restored prairie.

Beyond getting a tour, we also went on a short hike through a restored section of the prairie. Additionally, we were able to do some conservation work. We cut out overgrown honeysuckle and piled it up for chipping (to be used on trails) and for fence building. Honeysuckle is an invasive species used by frontier farmers to define property lines. Now it fills in as brush and cuts off necessary sunlight for native grasses and wildflowers. By cutting out the big stuff, we stop the honeysuckle from reestablishing itself, as the park will use controlled burns to keep young invasives from filling in again.

Illinois, the Prairie State, was about 60% prairie at one time. Now very little of that native prairie exists. This park is the first of its kind at the federal level and the largest preserved prairie east of the Mississippi. Much of the land was farm and then, in the 1940's was turned to munitions manufacturing for the war effort. The area eventually became part of the Joliet Army Ammunition Plant. Portions of the park are still being cleaned by the military before they can be restored.

The effort to restore this land to its original condition is expensive and time-consuming. Besides clean-up from the pollution of decades of munitions manufacturing, there is also the needed break-up of water tiles laid by the military and farmers to create usable land out of wetlands. They also need to clear out overgrown and invasive brush and trees and then control these with burns. The site also contains over 300 bunkers built into the ground to store TNT and rail lines used to transport said munitions. The restored wetlands and prairie do and will provide homes for native (and often endangered) wildflowers, birds, and frogs, as well as deer, coyotes, fox, and who knows what else.

There is also a historic and recreation aspect to the park. Hiking and biking trails exist and will be redesigned as the site is restored. Besides the aforementioned bunkers, a number of historic cemeteries exist in the park, as do some Native American sites.

I look forward to visiting and volunteering here in the future, as it is a beautiful and relatively unknown location.

I'm a "Mac-hole".

Graham went to Illinois College...

I went to Mac....
No big deal, except when you consider that the two colleges are just about a mile apart from one another (maybe 2) in the same small town and are small, 4-year, liberal arts colleges serving the greater West Central Illinois area. Or, in Chi-town terms, they're both small schools sitting in a cornfield a half-day's drive from Chicago.

We had great experiences as undergrads. Graham fell in love with the Education Department at IC because of all the hands-on experience he knew he'd receive, and I drooled looking at Mac's course catalog and saw all the literature and English classes they offered. English Lit from 1865 to the Post-Modern Era? Sign me up!

While we went to school in the same town, we didn't see one another except on weekends, or when I would go visit Graham in the Writing Center at IC. Being close gave us someone to lean on in case of emergencies, gave us someone to hang out with, and allowed us to go on more dates than we would have had either of us attended school further south or north, or out of state. It also gave us the opportunity to have a social life beyond always "hanging out with my boyfriend/girlfriend."

The only real issues that arose for us in attending college right down the street from one another was that the schools are major rivals. Basketball and soccer games could get downright dirty, and I remember one baseball game between the two schools that actually ended up with punches being thrown. There's been a long standing rivalry between both colleges that lingers even after students graduate. After you've got your degree it's no longer important who won the Mayor's Cup game (an annual soccer game in which the winning team wins a trophy) but you've still got a decent amount of pride in your alma mater.

Last night, we attended an alumni gathering for Chicago-area IC alums. It was held at D4, an Irish pub downtown. I had never attended an alumni event for anything, not even high school. Because it was free (free food and one free drink! Woo!!!) we decided to go and see if there was anyone in attendance we might know.

While there wasn't anyone there that we knew, we did make some new friends. We spent some time chatting it up with a school psychologist who was there with her boyfriend. It was nice to talk to someone else "in the business", and for me it was nice to talk with someone who felt just as out of place as I did. We also talked with a few IC staff members, one of whom gave me a little crap for attending Mac, but other than that he was pretty cool.

We also got small buttons that have this logo on them:

I guess it's their new admissions and alumni logo....something to do with the "true colors" of the college and the kids they recruit, or some business. I pinned mine to my purse and gave it to Graham later on. Not that I'm not "true blue", but I prefer the scarlet and plaid of MacMurray.

It was a fun evening, and we've found a place to eat lunch next time we want to avoid the craziness of Navy Pier but still eat lunch downtown for more money than we'd pay on the south side. It was good for Graham to reconnect with people who have similar experiences and 4 years at the same school in common. A few years from now we might find ourselves attending alumni events with Mary! Hmm, I'm going to need to drag Graham to a Mac event. Brian? Robyn? You guys up for some alumni-ing sometime soon?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Coming soon...

It's been a busy weekend for the G Family. Saturday was "Husband Appreciation Day" and we spent the day hacking down invasive honeysuckle at Midewin National Prairie Grass Reserve. It was one of many Science Chicago activities offered each month. Graham got wind of the tall grass conservation efforts going on there and signed us up for a day of working, hiking, and learning. We have pictures, but I'll let Graham tell you about that and show you the pictures.

This week is my return to work after a week off. I love having some time to myself and being able to relax. I got to eat lunch with my friend Lisa and her brand new son PJ. The weather was great most of the week and I had a great time running, walking, reading, and lounging.

We're also beginning to take on some spring cleaning projects. We recently got rid of a few small items that we don't need and were just taking up space. Once I go on my summer break I'm going to seriously dig through my closet and shelves to free up some space. I know I've got plenty that I don't need, and Graham would be the first to stand up and say I can get rid of some shoes. :-)

Anyway, Graham will update you soon on the day we spent at Midewin, and I'll update soon with some other photos.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

100 months

Today is April 15th, 2009. Today is our '100-monthiversary'. Now, we really don't celebrate monthiversaries and haven't since we hit the 1-year mark in December 2001. There was no need to. We may have kept going and congratulating one another on hitting 15 months, 25 months, etc., but we never celebrated them after our first year, maybe even our second.

We got engaged the day after our '69 monthiversary'. (Go ahead and make an inappropriate joke here, everybody does!) During his proposal Graham asked if I'd like to spend another 69 months with him (you're still giggling, aren't you?) and I naturally responded yes, and I remember asking him when we'd hit 100 months. I remember he told me, and I promptly forgot. I'm no good with dates like that.

Because I promptly forgot, I didn't think about it. We were engaged in September 2006, April 2009 was light years off my radar at that point. I actually thought about it a few months ago and didn't do the math; I figured it had come and gone. A few weeks ago when I flipped the calendar to April, there it was! Smack dab in the middle was a photo of us with the caption, "100 Month Anniversary!" I turned to Graham and said, "We HAVE to do something!" We don't normally do 'date nights' or nights at the movies (we're closet old people) so I was really excited about the very prospect of having PLANS. I could already hear myself saying, "Oh I'm sorry, but we can't! We have PLANS!" I suggested going to a movie, but Graham in his infinate wisdom (hear that, dear?) suggested dinner out. Whoa. That is HUGE. He knew he had a Chicago Teacher's Union meeting tonight (his favorite activity) and because the meetings usually run long we decided to skip the movie and let someone else make us dinner. Sounds good to me!

At the last minute last night I thought about maybe doing something special to mark the event, but I decided against it. Like I said, we haven't celebrated a monthiversary in years, and even if it will take us another 8 years and 4 months to reach our 200th monthiversary, I didn't think that we would do much aside from our dinner. Graham, however, had other plans. This morning I woke up (at 8:45 no less! On my WEEK OFF! Ugh!) to find Post-It notes all over our bedroom, each with a special message for me. As I walked around I found the notes all over our apartment...literally.....

I'm NOT complaining. It was one of the sweetest, most romantic things he's ever done for me in 8 years and 4 months together. Granted, he's sweet all the time (it was one of the reasons I picked him) but this just takes the cake. I caught a glimpse of my face in the bathroom mirror as I was reading one of many "I love you because..." messages, and it was pure, unadulterated awe.

I'm really, really lucky. And really, unbelievably blessed. I didn't expect it, and I didn't really reciprocate. I got him a card from Hallmark. Not even a mushy, romantic card--a Shoebox variety card. It's clear which one of us got the romance gene in this relationship.

It was pretty perfect for a 100 monthiversary. We didn't do anything out of the ordinary. No stunning pyrotechnic displays of love and affection, and no sonnets spewed from balconies or love notes written in the sky. Today was very 'us'. It was simple, heartfelt, casual, and memorable. I don't care if it's not enough for some--it was perfect for us. We're not celebrating anyone else, just celebrating 100 months of us.

To end, I'd like to leave you with two photos, one from 100 months ago, and one from tonight at P.F. Chang's:
December 15th, 2000

April 15th, 2009

Here's to another 100 months. I have no doubt they'll be as memorable as the first 100.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Exit Buddies!

On Saturday, after a hectic two weeks, Angie and I went out and picked out new residents for our twenty gallon fish tank. The previous tenants were angelfish I had originally bought for my classroom. They grew to be pretty sizeable and can be a bit aggresive, so we couldn't put anything in there even after a few had died.

Now we have six tetras. Three of them will get to be about 3 inches in size, the other three, neon tetras, will only get to be about an inch. They aren't aggresive and like to school, which makes them easy to match up with other fish and more fun to watch.

I have named the three neons blue peep, purple peep, and orange peep, in honor of the Easter season they were purchased in. Angie has yet to name the other three.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter

(Us, Easter afternoon)

Happy Easter! This afternoon we find ourselves getting ready to spend the day with family, and it hit us that this particular Easter is our 9th together. While only our second since we got hitched, we've been dating, engaged, or married for NINE Easters. Wowza. While they haven't all been wonderful (a few years ago I had a lovely fainting incident) we're definitely blessed to have one another and to have had so much time together.

Last night we drove to northwest Indiana to visit my aunt and uncle. The last few years they've started throwing Holy Saturday dinners instead of Easter brunches, perhaps because it's one day that everyone is available. It's always nice to see that side of the family, especially because we don't get together as often as we do with my dad's side. This particular uncle is my mom's brother and only sibling, so she especially loves to visit and spend time with him. He and my aunt are my godparents, and I'm 3 days younger than their oldest.

While we didn't want to leave as early as we did, we had a lot to do today and we also wanted to keep up with a few of our new Easter traditions, mainly watching The Ten Commandments while dying eggs.

Graham dyes an Easter egg

The Ten Commandments, a yearly tradition

Point to my egg. I love egg dying!

We didn't really dye eggs growing up, but Graham and his family have always done it. I was ultra excited last year when we got to dye them. This year we were a little more organized and had everything set up, and I had 2 dozen eggs for us to dye and play with, including the wax crayons and the 'shrinky dink' egg wraps. I think the egg wraps are my favorite things--just submerge for 5 seconds in boiling water and ta da! A decorated egg!

The last few days have been busy, but we still made time to attend Easter and Triduum services. We skipped Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday (mostly because I can't stand the marathon Mass on Saturday) but attended the Good Friday service. That's always one of my favorite services during the entire year because it's so somber, but very simple and true to the reasons we have Mass anyway. This morning's Mass was really lovely, and PACKED! I love seeing a packed house on Easter Sunday.

Today we're going to watch It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown! while waiting for my lemon bars to cool. Then we're picking up my mom and headed to my dad's twin brother's home for Easter dinner. After that, we're heading to Graham's parents to see his sister and parents and eat lamb cake. Today we were talking about which holidays or parties we might like to host once we have a home of our own, and I told Graham that we can't do Easter because I don't have a lamb cake mold. Graham said he'll get me a lamb cake mold when we have our first house because it's not Easter without lamb cake, apparently. (Lamb cake: another Easter tradition that my family wasn't terribly committed to. Some years we had it, most years we didn't, and always from a store or bakery.)

We hope everyone's having a wonderful and blessed day! Happy Easter!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Field Trip!

Holy cow, I am actually writing a post!

Today I led a field trip with my after school group to the Field Museum. We won a grant to explore the museum. The grant covered the bus fee and a box lunch. Admission to the museum is free for local schools, so no problem there.

The purpose of the trip was to explore the Evolving Planet (I think that is the title) exhibit at the museum. That exhibit explains the evolution of life on this planet from its very beginnings to our modern day world. Ninety percent of the artifacts/fossils are authentic and the exhibit does a great job of explaining how life evolved and what forces (both inside and outside the planet) shaped the evolution of the species. The exhibit also highlights the six known mass extinctions (including the current man-made one).

The reason why our students explored this exhibit was to understand how our activities are influencing life on this planet and how important it is for conservation clubs like ours to truly push to make a difference (and why we need everyone's help). Tomorrow at our meeting we will be discussing what we saw and learned and outline things we can continue to do in our community to help create a healthier environment.

And so it begins...

Spring and Summer are our favorite times of year to get out and be active, but when we're home and the game is on, it is a constant battle for control of the remote.

I am a White Sox fan.

Graham is a Cubs fan.

Six games out of the year, this is an issue that causes us to taunt, tease, jeer, and root for the other team to fail. The rest of the season we're pretty much unaware of how 'that other team' is doing. It only becomes a real issue after both teams make it to the playoffs and advance--when it appears that they might actually be facing off in the World Series, that's when it gets vicious 'round these parts.

Thankfully for us, both teams have sucked royally in the last few seasons, so it doesn't seem like they'll be facing off for true superiority anytime soon. Let's face it: last season both teams spelled 'October' c-h-o-k-e.

Still, being die-hard fans of the Cubs and the White Sox is a point of contention for us. While I think Ozzie's antics and rants are funny and true, Graham would rather see Ozzie out on the streets begging for change. While Graham wants to name our sons Addison and Clarke, I'd like to see the streets renamed something more appropriate, like Konerko, Fiske, or Pierzynski.

However, being fans of opposite teams can be entertaining for our family and friends. We've got ourselves "marthing" NLDS and ALDS shirts, and our cake topper at our wedding is still getting compliments:

At least we've got a sense of humor about ourselves! Our team loyalties won't ever be a true issue until they meet in the World Series, and the odds of that are pretty much nil.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Fun weekend

This weekend we had a great opportunity to go downstate to Jacksonville. We both attended college in Jacksonville, Graham at Illinois College and I at MacMurray College. We graduated a few years ago but we still love to return to 'J-Ville' when we can to visit family and friends.

I've found that my memories of Jacksonville and college grow rosier with time, which makes me happy. Jacksonville is a cute town at first glance, but like any town or city it has problems, and sometimes those problems get in the way of the town becoming some place better. However as time passes, I'm finding that my memories are better than things really were, and I'm okay with that. I'd rather have memories that are golden and shining over memories that are tarnished because of some negative experiences.

Anyway, we went down to Jacksonville because Graham had an event in Springfield, and his sister Mary was performing in The Vagina Monologues the same weekend. We figured it was a great time to see everyone again and visit with 'the fam'.

We drove down on Saturday and Graham went to his event at the capitol and my future sister-in-law Robyn picked me up from a Starbucks a few steps away from the capitol. While Graham was at his event, Robyn and I met Mary, Brian, Mom, and Grandma in Jacksonville for lunch. After lunch we went to Robyn's bridal shop--Girls in White Satin--to get fitted for our bridesmaid dresses. We hung out in Robyn's apartment for a few until Graham came back to Jacksonville (after wandering around the Illinois State Museum and losing the car). We checked in, he got lunch, and then I went to see Mary's performance.

Here are some of the more appropriate pictures from the weekend. There were chocolate 'vagina' suckers available for purchase at the show, and I snapped some anatomically correct pictures, but my mom reads this thing, so family friendly it is!

Program with a wrapped sucker.

Mary and I in our hotel room after the show.

I was so proud of Mary. In our family(ies) I'm usually dubbed 'the theatrical one' or 'the performer' because in high school and college I spent more time on stage, in the theater, or singing than I did sleeping and eating combined! (And we all know that sleeping and eating are my two favorite pastimes.) I knew it took a lot of strength for Mary to get up and audition, especially for a show like TVM. I'm so proud that she got out of her comfort zone and did something to challenge herself and others. (If you haven't seen it or read it, The Vagina Monologues can be a difficult one to sit through. Powerful, but unsettling at times.)

All in all, it was a great weekend. We got back this afternoon after driving through some pretty heavy rain. At one point, we couldn't see past the car in front of us! Thank God we got back safely. That was definitely some grace of God leading us through that storm! We won't be doing much traveling between now and summer, and we're okay with that. Sometimes staying put and enjoying the weekend is a beautiful thing.

New Furniture

Two years ago this month, Graham and I began the task of registering for our upcoming wedding. His godmother was throwing us an early shower, almost 6 months before our wedding, and invites were going out. We registered quickly at Bed, Bath, and Beyond just to cross something off our list. Our registry was essentially all kitchen and bath items because we were still apartment hunting and figured that even if we didn't find a place right away it'd be stocked with some essentials. We registered for china out of a book and when we saw it in person we didn't like it at all. Oh goody! Now we got to go to a store with china and pick out a pattern in person! Joy of joys.

I wrongly assumed that once we had to pick another china pattern that Graham would toss the gun to me and say, "Have fun! I'll be in the car." I was really taken back when Graham insisted on having a say in our china. It turned out that picking out china was one of the more time-consuming tasks; our tastes just weren't matching up. Some of my favorites were too floral for Graham and some of his favorites were too plain for me. Eventually we stumbled upon our china and found that it was a good compromise for us. It's not overly feminine and it's just decorative enough that it doesn't look and feel like fancier 'everyday' dishes.

We got plenty of china--more than we registered for, in fact! Not that we're complaining--the way I drop things and stumble around, having those extra place settings will certainly come in handy someday. When we got it, we were so happy, but we didn't have anywhere to put it all. Each piece stayed in the box it came in for over a year because we were afraid of it breaking. Eventually we got around to talking about actually getting a cabinet to store it all and last weekend we drove out to Darvin in Orland Park to look. We ended up really liking two different cabinets and decided to bite the bullet and purchase one. It arrived on Friday and naturally I had to take some pictures (I take photos of everything):

China cabinet shortly after arrival, empty.

China cabinet filled, cleaned, and ready to go.

Close up of glass detail and china.

I'm so excited to finally have it. It feels like we've got our first piece of 'grown up' furniture now. The glass detail is my favorite part. We're hoping that because of the color of the wood and the style of the hardware that when we're ready to purchase a dining room set that we won't have a hard time trying to match it. As long as we get pretty close, we're good! And, I'm glad that we finally have a place to store and display everything; we don't have to worry about a box crashing to the ground anymore!