The State Of The Backyard: An End-Of-Summer Update

Earlier this year, between about April and July, we were making some pretty good headway on the backyard. (You can check out the original “State Of The Backyard” post here, and the various progress-related posts in this category.) But then for the latter half of summer, the backyard efforts went completely off the rails — partially due to some busy work-related stuff going on (as explained in this post), but let’s face it, there was also some laziness involved.

The result was that, by the time October rolled around, those pretty Petunia-filled flower boxes we’d added on the garage were looking pretty dead:

Window Box With Dead Flowers

But if you look closely at the photo above, you may notice something interesting — the petunias actually escaped from the window box, and started growing amongst the weeds on the ground below it. And as sad as it was that we let them go so badly that they all died, I thought this was kind of funny and impressive. Like they said on Jurassic Park, life will find a way!

Here’s a closeup of those brave petunias that would not be contained by an inhospitable flower box, all pretty in their red and white splendor:

The Escaped Petunias

Meanwhile, on the other side of the yard, there’s that flower bed that we weeded in preparation for some partially-thought-out plan of eventually planting something there. (Details on that can be found here, including how we had the assistance of a certain little garden helper who learned to say “diwt” in the process.) Two updates on this little patch of the yard are in order:

  1. That bush I trimmed back so severely that I feared I killed it came back just fine, covered with its little yellow flowers just like before.
  2. We never did end up planting anything else there.

And due to not mulching the area or keeping it weeded, by the end of summer it looked like this:

Overgrown Flowerbed

Interestingly, though, some of the plants that showed up there looked suspiciously like flowers. I have no idea what these are, or where they came from (especially considering that we dug up this patch of dirt pretty well and sifted out a lot of roots and whatnot), but they look like the type of plant that could make you say, “yep, these are totally here on purpose.”

White Flowers

So in conclusion, we’ve been neglecting the backyard pretty badly and it’s been growing flowery things in unexpected places anyway.

It’s pretty much winter now — we’ve had our first dusting of snow already here in Chicago — so no more progress on the backyard will be happening until next spring at the earliest. And as much fun as it was planting flowers and such, for next year it would be really nice to focus on improvements that would make it easier and more comfortable to enjoy our outdoor space. Like a patio and some outdoor furniture, rather than just setting up a couple of folding chairs in the middle of the lawn.

It sounds like a major expense and undertaking, but we were able to swing one big serious improvement this year when we had the new privacy fence installed in back, so it may not be completely out of the question. We’ll just have to see what’s in the cards (and the budget) for next year!

Pumpkin Patch Trip: Our Visit To County Line Orchard

Last year, we took our first trip to a pumpkin patch with Lillian, who was almost exactly one year old at the time — for a trip down memory lane, you can check out that post here. This year, we continued the pumpkin patch tradition, though we picked a different one than last time just for the sake of trying something new. This year’s destination was County Line Orchard in Hobart, Indiana, about an hour away from us.

County Line Orchard Barn

That main barn-looking building had lots of goodies for sale inside, and on a whole County Line Orchard is definitely more of an apple orchard than a pumpkin patch (despite what the title of this post may suggest). There were huge fields of apple trees to go apple picking in, and they had about 20 varieties of apples to choose from, though we didn’t end up picking any — we were mainly there to check out the pumpkin patch and petting zoo.

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Autumn Adventures

There are a few weeks in autumn that seem to go by in a whirlwind of things to do — Lillian’s birthday, Halloween, gorgeous fall colors to see, pumpkin patches to visit. It was the same feeling last year (which I wrote about here), and this year it was even more chaotic after some problems came up at the new job that had me working overtime in the code mines for the better part of two weeks.

Happily, things have settled back down again — and in between we even managed to get out and partake in that laundry list of autumn adventurey things! So for today’s post, here is a photo-filled recap of some of the highlights.

Red Autumn Leaves

We drove around to our local forest preserves to check out the changing colors of the leaves (or as Lillian put it, “bye-bye green”), and the lovely red of the tree shown above is probably one of the most stunning examples we found. It’s all so fleeting though — a week goes by, it seems, and all the trees are bare.

Lillian’s second birthday rolled around on October 24th, and after last year’s cupcakes (which were perfect for a one-year-old to smash and eat) I actually attempted to bake a proper birthday cake this time. It was pretty simple, just a round cake with sprinkles and a big “2” written in frosting along with some birthday candles. Here’s what it looked like all lit up as we were singing “Happy Birthday”:  Continue reading

A Collection Of Random Toddler Stories

Later this week, Lillian will be turning two years old! It’s hard to believe how time has been flying by so fast — and since it’s been so long since I did a “general update” kind of post, for today I thought it would be fun to share a backlog of random toddler stories that has been building up over the past few months.

Toddler Riding Rocking Lion

(Riding the rocking lion in our messy living room, July 2013.)

Longtime readers may remember the rocking lion we got from the raffle at our first neighborhood block party the summer before Lillian was born — and as the photo above shows, she’s finally gotten big enough to enjoy it! She loves rocking back and forth while saying “wheee!” for short bursts of a minute or two at a time.  Continue reading

Switching Jobs Again

A little over a year ago, in July of 2012, I started a new job. I don’t think I blogged about this big life change specifically, other than to mention it briefly at the end of this post, but the job was a big step forward for me career-wise. From the salary to the way it utilized my skill set, it was “serious” in a way that my previous job at the time just kind of wasn’t.

The company was small but well-established — one of those good, old-fashioned, locally-owned family businesses. There were about 15 employees total, all of whom were great people, and the owner took a lot of pride in investing back into the community and putting on events for other local businesses in the area. The only oddity was that it was located so far out in the west suburbs that I had to drive past a horse farm in order to get there.

Far Suburban Horse Farm

(This is actually a different horse farm in the same general area, but it works here for illustrative purposes.)

But despite being located so far out, it actually seemed like the commute wouldn’t be so terrible. When I drove out there for the interview, it was about 40 minutes from our house, which wasn’t bad at all — even a slight improvement, since I was commuting by train at the time, and that usually worked out to about an hour once you figured in the walking and waiting involved.

Unfortunately, I realized only after starting the job how much worse it got during the evening rush. That 40 minutes turned into an hour on a good day, and could balloon into an hour and a half or more, depending on the completely random and unpredictable whims of the traffic gods.

Ever since Lillian started going to daycare, Joe and I have been staggering our schedules so that one of us can drop her off and the other can pick her up, and since Joe’s job lends itself better to a later schedule, I’ve always been the one in charge of pickup. And with the possibility of late fees and generally alienating the awesome art-class-teaching Santa-party-throwing daycare where Lillian is very happy, the evening commute became a huge source of stress.

On a typical day, I would get into the car after work and drive off, nervously listening for the next traffic report on the radio. Some days, it would be (comparatively) smooth sailing. Other days it would be randomly, inexplicably slower. And some days there would be something ridiculous to report, like “there seems to be a satellite dish in the road,” or “there’s a big geyser of water shooting up on the side of the highway and everyone is slowing down to stare at it,” and I would scream profanities at the traffic guys on the radio, which is kind of unlike me.** As the weeks and months wore on, it became clearer and clearer that the situation wasn’t really working out.

** Normally when I talk to the radio, I try to use a calm and dignified tone of voice.

To his credit, my boss made every effort to let me adjust my schedule and work remotely on certain days — and those adjustments did help the situation somewhat, even if they couldn’t completely fix the underlying problem. And despite the commuting-related stresses, I was happy enough in all the other aspects of the job that I wasn’t actively sending out resumes.

And then it so happened that one day, while sitting in traffic, a consulting firm that I’d been in contact with a few years earlier called up to ask if I’d be interested in a career opportunity. The position was at a Fortune 500 company, and it would mean a significant pay increase. It was also located downtown, in the heart of the Loop, only a block from a CTA train that could get me there and back while bypassing the car-based traffic grind. It seemed like a sign.

Not that it was a sure thing by any stretch. The hiring process stretched on for months, and the interviews — both over the phone and in person — were by far the most intense I’ve ever been through. There was an endless stream of brutally demanding technical questions, and writing code on a white board in front of several people came into play at one point. There were several times along the way where I was certain that I wouldn’t get it. But then I got the call with the good news, and after yet another delay, I got an official start date and put in my two weeks notice.

In The City

(Talk about a change in scenery.)

I started the new job a little over a week ago, and so far it seems to be going pretty well, although I’m still settling in to the new routine. Some random thoughts on the transition:

  • The department I work in now is about ten times larger than the entire company I came from, and it’s hard not to feel a little ambivalent about moving from a small local “Main Street” business to a big scary multi-billion-dollar corporation. It wasn’t an easy decision, but in the long run I think it’ll be the right move, both financially and for the longer-term growth opportunities.
  • Working for a big scary multi-billion-dollar corporation may have its perks, but “overall stress reduction” unfortunately does not seem to be one of them. So much going on! So many people to answer to! So many big important problems that need to be solved yesterday! Luckily I enjoy the work to an almost insane degree — and the commute is a lot more relaxing, which is nice, because…
  • I don’t think I’ve read a real, honest-to-goodness book in over a year. I used to read ebooks constantly during my commute when I used to take the train, but spending those 2+ hours behind the wheel instead, the time just sort of got sucked down a black hole. Needless to say I’ve been enjoying dusting off my long-neglected Kindle app on the train over these past few days!

So anyway, that’s the scoop on the latest big thing that’s been going on around here lately. Between stressing over the interviews, wrapping things up at the old job, and starting at the new one, it seems like all my extracurricular activities got put on the back burner a bit. I know postings have been super slow here on this blog, and the yard that we were making such good progress on for a while there is looking a bit… abandoned, to say the least.

But as the dust settles, I’m hoping to get back into the swing of things. If all goes well, expect a slew of belated bloggings about our various toddler-related adventures lately, as well as updates on a couple of home improvement endeavors we’ve been chipping away at!