Sunday, July 31, 2011

Even more books... the rest of the Hunger Games series



Catching Fire and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

As you might recall, I took The Hunger Games (book 1 of the series) with me to Yosemite and I really liked it.  E and I both did.  I'm thinking Addie is not quite old enough for it yet but she will be soon; I was happy to find another good series of kids' books.

Immediately after finishing THG I dove into Catching Fire.  It was entertaining, but it felt like a transition to something larger.  I was cool to hang in there and see where it was going.  Unfortunately, I wasn't really that pleased with the final book.

Let me shorthand my review of the series for ya:

HUnger Games Jul 31, 2011 9-09 AM 2560x5120


Book I was good, Book II felt like it was building to something exciting, and then Book III was kind of a letdown.

No, I didn't put on makeup or brush my hair before I took those pics.  Suck it, haters.

Anyhoo...

Catching Fire was a continuation of many of the themes that the first book set up.  Where the first book was more of a hunter/hunted situation, the second book was a survival-of-the-group/riddle thing.  Cool.  I felt like it was a slightly different take on the same thing and though I didn't love it as much as the first one, it was enjoyable and I was still hooked.

Mockingjay had the potential to be really great, but a lot of it was slow and then the end just didn't pan out.  It's not that I mind what happened so much, but I felt like it should have ended with a much bigger showdown between good and evil.  That's about all I can say without spoiling things for everyone.

I still highly recommend the first book and I genuinely liked the second.  The thing is, you're going to read the first one and want to keep reading the rest.  I did.  I just would have liked for the series to finish on a stronger note.

My recommendation: You're going to read these two anyway if you read the first book.  So go ahead, but don't blame me when you finish the last one and it's kind of meh.




Saturday, July 30, 2011

Nineteen miles, seven hours later


DONE!

Holy Pete. 19 miles.  I did that today.  It took me a long time, but I ran 19 miles.  This is a seriously good day.  I couldn't write about it right when I got home because I was too tired to lift my arms the three inches to my laptop keyboard.  After a nap I'm feeling a little better... but still kinda wrecked.

I met my friends Bill and Dave in a dark parking lot this morning at 5:00 AM, what is now becoming our standard time to beat the bikers and the heat.  If I have company, it doesn't freak me out to run in the dark.  I am grateful for the first half hour or so, because for whatever reason anything we do before the sun comes up doesn't feel like it happened since a) I can't see it and b) I'm still half asleep.  (I did miss Kel's usual chattiness, though!  I never realized how much she talks us through the first bit of our run.)  We took one of our usual routes along Lake Natoma and then pushed on up the hill toward Folsom Lake, then slowly but surely backtracked to our cars .

Just to give you an idea of how much of a climb this run is, here's the elevation chart:



According to my Garmin there's an elevation gain of 780 feet on the first half of the route.  All I know is it feels like running up the face of El Capitan.  Or at least that's what I imagine.  I might be exaggerating.  Slightly.  Bill turned around at mile 8 or so to do a speedy finish with another friend, but Dave and I forged on and he did the rest of the run with me.  I was pleased as punch to get to the levee road and turn around near Beals Point, and not just because I got to eat more beans.

On that note... Last night I was forward-thinking enough to pre-make my oatmeal for today, and I was thankful I did.  Last week I ran on an empty stomach and it was much harder.  I downed a Gu at mile 5-ish, but Gus have been kind of an exercise in gaggery for me lately, so I also tried sport beans again today.  It had been a while but they worked out great, and who doesn't love jellybeans?  Much easier to get down and stay fueled. I noticed today I'm drinking way more water during the run than I was in early summer--even if it seems cooler my body must be losing a lot through sweat.  I was a salty, sopping crust-bag by the time we were finished.  Sexy, I know.

Today we took the same approach as last week, and what I am sure will be my plan of attack for NorCal in September.  In order to practice walking the aid stations we took walk breaks every two miles or so.  Near the end I needed them more, but I am convinced the walk breaks are why I am not feeling injured right now.  Much easier on the body, and they don't take that much off my time.

I'm grateful for a few things, post-run:

1.  I am happy my hip/knee/IT band have not bothered me one bit in about three weeks.
2.  The weather today was originally supposed to be really hot, and it ended up being awesome.
3.  I am grateful for running buddies who don't mind taking it slow.  (My normal = other people's slow.)
4.  My body seems to be adapting to this long long run thing and taking a beating a little better each week.
5.  I'm figuring out more each week about what works best for me in the departments of eating, drinking and sleeping.

I did have one little mishap but it was beyond my control.  At mile 16 or so I got some migraine aura.  It has only happened on one other run, and that was last spring (on a 9 mile run, which sounds like a lovely little vacation right about now).  You can see an explanation/illustration of what migraine aura is here.  Since I know what it is, it's not scary like it used to be.  Well, not in the worry-sense.  Miles 16-18 are not a great time to have a giant zig-zaggy crescent in your field of vision.  It was annoying and I think it made me feel a little more tired than I should have by then.

We started out this morning a little faster than I meant to, but not resulting in any pain.  I know I paid for it a little bit on the tail end of the run, but my eye drama was affecting me by then too.  One thing about a challenge like the eye thing is it makes me feel more confident that I can actually get through 26.2 miles, even with some issues.  I keep thinking to myself things like well, now I know that I can run even if I have migraine aura.  Each week there's a new surprise, but it's making me trust my abilities more and more.

Here are my splits:




As you can see, I'm not fast but I'm gettin' it done.

I am immensely proud of myself.  My previous longest run was 16.44 miles last week.  19 was a huge leap, and I'm excited to keep building (slowly) in the weeks to come before my race.  I've got a 21 and a 23 miler planned before the big day with some 17s in between.  (Next week is a step back to 17 and I'm happy about that!)

As with my last long run I'm still having some tightness in my right hamstring, but nothing injury-feeling.  I figure with that kind of a climb, one or the other of my hamstrings would have to be yelling at me.  The weather was perfection--the sunrise over Lake Natoma made the lake glow a periwinkle blue against the backdrop of the orange sky.  We saw baby quail and turkeys and bunnies... even a few scary vulture lookin' things that made me nearly jump out of my socks.

I'm feelin' good, Internet.  Well, I'm feelin' tired, tired, and hungry.  But good.  Proud.  (And did I say tired?)









Friday, July 29, 2011

Most Awesome & Cool New Doodad

You guys.

I forgot to write about this thing I got in Yosemite. I was eyein' 'em on the counter at the Camp Curry store.  I didn't buy one though, just thought about it.  Hoped it would glance my way.  Mentioned it in conversation 800 times.  Daydreamed about our future together.  And then like magic E's Aunt picked one up for me.  Yay!

We didn't know its name in Yosemite.  Ad called it the spnife or something.  I'm disappointed to learn that it's just called "spork" by the company that makes it.  Boo.  Doesn't spork conjure images of the cafeteria lines in elementary school?  It needs a cool name like Scepter of Nutritional Preparation and Delivery.  Spork?  That's all about little cellophane packages with a too-short straw, a wisp of a napkin and a useless utensil.  This is better.

But anyway, the real name of this thing is the Spork by Light My Fire.

Spoon on one end.  Fork on another.  Serrated edge on a tine of the fork for slicin'.
Close up on the awesome that is the serrated edge.

But PDawg, you say. Surely only a simpleton would be this excited over one lowly utensil.

You may be correct, Dear Reader.  But I have an affinity for lunch accoutrements that is second only to my obsession with office supplies:  Tupperware.  Insulated mugs.  Reusable water bottles.  Insulated carriers with retro patterns.  Notes on napkins.  Cookies.  Ice packs.  Weird utensils?  GIMME.

Plastic utensils never seem to be around when you need 'em.  I try to keep them in my desk but I'm often caught eating yogurt with a fork or meatloaf with a spoon.  I'm hoping this year I can tuck this little number into my lunch bag and all my eating dreams will come true.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Fun with text messages

So when I'm not using my iPhone as a mirror to check the back of my french braid,


I might actually use it to you know, communicate.

But the weirdest thing is happening this summer.  Every year my teaching partner and I give our our phone numbers to students so they can call if they have questions about the summer work.  Fine.  Nobody has ever abused the privilege and I usually get a handful of timid calls about spacing or formatting or whatever.  I figure that AP kids can be trusted to call if they need help.

This year they've been texting, though.  Is it just me, or is that weird?

I got this one a few days ago.  Since it was a kid I'd had in a dance class a few years ago, I just responded, shrugged it off and moved on.


I'm going to go ahead and say if there would have been such a thing as texting when I was in high school and I would have been brave enough to send a text to a teacher who had not specifically told us to do so (I wouldn't), you bet your SWEET BIPPY I would have edited that thing within an inch of its life.  "yor"? "i"? "ap" in lower case letters? "suppoed"? It just made me smile because it seemed strange.  I don't want people to start editing my texts so I didn't say anything.  But I thought: Kids these days.  Scheez.

Then I got this one:


1.  How about introducing yourself, Genius?
2.  DO I LOOK LIKE MY MIDDLE NAME IS GOOGLE?  Look it up.
3.  How about you remember the fact that you texted me in the first place, hmm?

I have no idea who this was, and I didn't get a response.  Oh, high schoolers.  You are funny.

Let's just assume that if you text someone for the first time, you might want to let them know who you are, ESPECIALLY IF THAT PERSON IS ABOUT TO BE YOUR AP ENGLISH TEACHER.

Angry Bullock does not approve.

I did have this grin-worthy text exchange with Gluten-free E today:


So it's not a total loss.






The naan is gone

The naan I made yesterday was sososososo good.  And cheap.  Naan is a flatbread with a multitude of uses.  It's kind of like a thicker soft tortilla.  Kind of pillowy and bread-like.  The kids loved it. I can see us using it for meals or snacks (if we can manage not to eat all of it as it finishes cooking). We just finished it up this morning for breakfast with melted butter and cinnamon sugar.  Yum.

Here's the recipe, from Budget Bytes:

(I love that this recipe costs only $1.27 total to make, or 16¢ a naan!)

image source

INGREDIENTS
2 tsp dry active yeast
1 tsp sugar
1/2 cup water
2.5-3 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup plain greek yogurt
1 large egg
STEP 1: In a small bowl, combine the yeast, sugar and water. Stir to dissolve then let sit for a few minutes or until it is frothy on top. At that point, stir in the oil, yogurt and egg until evenly combined.

STEP 2: In a medium sized bowl, combine 1 cup of the flour with the salt. Next, add the bowl of wet ingredients to the flour/salt mixture and stir until well combined. Continue adding flour a half cup at a time until you can no longer stir it with a spoon (about 1 to 1.5 cups later).

STEP 3: At that point, turn the ball of dough out onto a well floured counter top. Knead the ball of dough for about 3 minutes, adding flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking. I ended up using about 3 cups of flour total. The dough should be smooth and very soft but not sticky.

STEP 4: Loosely cover the dough and let it rise until double in size (about 45 minutes). After it rises, gently flatten the dough and cut it into 8 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a small ball by stretching the dough back under itself until the top is smooth and round.

STEP 5: Heat a large, heavy bottomed skillet over medium heat and spray lightly with non-stick spray. Working with one ball at a time, roll it out until it is about 1/4 inch thick or approximately 6 inches in diameter. Place the rolled out dough onto the hot skillet and cook until the under side is golden brown and large bubbles have formed on the surface. Flip the dough and cook the other side until golden brown as well. Serve plain or brushed with melted butter and sprinkled with herbs!

TIPS: For the most bubbles, don't roll out the ball of dough until just before it is ready to be placed in the skillet. I experimented with different skillet temperatures and found that a medium heat produces the most bubbles in the dough and does not burn the surface.
Go check out Budget Bytes.  (I found it through Elise's blog.)  Great blog with a per-serving breakdown of the meal's costs.  I just added it to my Reader.



Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Things I decided on Monday & Tuesday:

1) I'm going to make some naan.
2) I should have done some laundry by now, but it can wait.
3) I need to see the ocean before school starts.
4) I am going to swim as much as I can before August 15.  Not in the ocean though.
5) Nacho cheese Doritos + hummus = heartburn.
6) My uterus can suck it.
7) I have three weeks to finish two books.
8) I'm putting my classroom desks into groups this fall.  See PDawg try something new.
9) Running without an iPod isn't that bad.  It's just quiet.
10) I am not going to color or cut my hair before school.  I straightened it and I discovered it's not actually that gross.  Who knew.


hair

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Frappucchinism is Deadly Sin #8




What is it about having a free thing that makes me go a little nuts?  Starbucks managed to bring out my inner glutton today.  I've been suckered (not really) into registering my gift cards so I rack up points.  Do you know about this?  If you earn enough points you get a *ahem* gold card?  And then if you keep using the gold card you get a free drink every 15 drinks?  Plus things like soy, flavored syrup, etc, for free anytime you use the card?  I know, I know.  But I figure:

1) Let's be honest.  I'm already giving my money to Starbucks.
2) Why NOT get free soy milk, you know?
3) Everybody loves a free drink.

I also totally like that there's an iPhone app so I can see how much is on my card before I go in to the store.  I can see how many drinks I've earned toward my 15.  No more guessing.  It has helped me avoid the thing where I have twelve cards in my wallet and they all have 16 cents on them.  Now when I get a card I just enter it and toss it.  I only keep the one card.  And actually, I just learned this week that I can pay with the app.  I don't even need the card.  Damn you, Starbucks.  You won.

So today I took my lil' free coupon in--and it's good for a free drink of any size.  Of course this means I order a vat of diabetes venti mocha frappuccino.  Don't worry, I'm not drinking those regularly when it's on my dime. Normally it's iced coffee or a soy latte but something about just knowing I'm not going to pay for it makes me want to go buck wild and max out on calories and sheer volume.

I am both amused and sickened by my own behavior.  But the fact that I essentially drank a milkshake at 8:00 AM?  WINNING.







Sunday, July 24, 2011

Who put Fatty in charge?

Some "people" at my house feel like they need to fight over the laptop lately.  I feel guilty every time I want to write and I have to lob Fatty or CrazyClaws McGee off the top.

mine


Apparently it's an expensive cat bed and I was unaware.  Silly me.

After we got back from Yosemite I checked for pics on the website for the Half Marathon that wasn't.  At least I made the cut this time (unlike my first race when none of the race photographers caught me and my family missed my finish).  The pic below was taken right before the finish line when I just wanted to die be done.  Plus I really just wanted to know if my Garmin was really off by a mile or if somebody did a giant oops.  You know now which one it was

Please enjoy my ninja night-running threads and my this is not 13.1 miles face:

Screen shot 2011-07-22 at 10.53.14 PM


At 3:30 this morning I heard the alarm that meant it was time to get moving--today is going to be hot again, so we started our long run at 5:00 AM.  Getting there by 5:00 means leaving town by 4:30... yeesh.   But we did 16 miles again and I felt way better than I did a few weeks ago when I did that for the first time.  Next week I'm up to 19 miles.  I'm kinda scared, but I think it's going to be okay.  It's all kind of blending together at this point, anyway.

My priorities today are food, sleep, and then movies.  E and I tried to go out last night but Hanko worked himself into a post-vacation frenzy that ended in puke.  He seems to be better today.  I'm hopeful we can make it out.  Food is taken care of already.  That means it's time to sleep.  Seeya.


Saturday, July 23, 2011

And two more books: Major P and Hunger Games

This has been the summer of reading.

This is a good thing.

I have two more books to review.

One of them is not a good thing, it's kind of meh.  I guess they can't all be winners.


Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

I'll be straight with you.  This book just wasn't for me.  After reading it I'm having a hard time understanding its Amazon.com rating and the kind of rave reviews I read of it before buying it for my Kindle.  I rely a lot on those customers who bought this item also bought recommendations, and this time they didn't work for me.

This isn't a bad book.  I'm sure people like it.  But I don't think this is a book that will be remembered.  It's certainly not a book that hooked me from the start.  I had a hard time starting it--I kept reading it for a while and then abandoning it for other titles.  For a long time I blamed that on my own failure to focus at the beginning of books (when I read Cutting for Stone I had the same issue, but it turned out to be wonderful).  I think this was about the book, though.  It was well written, it included many little English details that should have been charming... but I was bored by it.

So why was it so boring?  As I said, it was well written.  It was methodically paced, but I didn't connect to the characters.  I found absolutely none of them to be likable.  And that's fine, if we're reading The Stranger or some book where I'm supposed to feel disconnected.  I got the impression that this wasn't one of those books.  I thought the characters were one-dimensional and annoying.  The two major sources of conflict were an estate issue (yawn!) and a multi-cultural romance (gasp!).  The romance would have had potential to hold my interest if this wasn't supposed to be a modern novel.  But it was modern; it wasn't set in the 1950's.  I had a hard time understanding a society that fixated on a harmless relationship between two British citizens of differing skin colors.  I'd like to give people more credit than that.

My recommendation:  Skip this one.  It was a chore to finish.




The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Forewarned is forearmed: this is a kids' book.  Well, young adult fiction to be specific.  Not that it matters.  I liked it a lot.

I bought this book for the Kindle right before we left for Yosemite because it was only about $4.50.  A lot of my freshmen read this series and I've heard good things from our librarian about it.  I decided that for $4 I could check it out, and I knew E would read it too since all he has to hear is "post-apocalyptic" and he's in.  We both really enjoyed it.  I'm halfway through book #2 (Catching Fire) and he's on book #3 (Mockingjay).  I'm sure I'll post reviews of those shortly, too.

As I said, I really enjoyed The Hunger Games.  Yes, it's a book for kids, but it's a pretty good page-turner and adventure story.  I like that it was simple but it enjoyed so many (pardon me for going English teacher on you) teachable literary elements.  A few years ago I taught a class about the Hero's journey at summer program for junior high kids.  I could so see using this book with that crew.  It would also dovetail so nicely with books and short stories I already teach in the 9th grade--things like Ayn Rand's Anthem or The Most Dangerous Game and The Lottery.  It got my mind spinning and I'm sure I'll be working it into something for 9th graders by way of extra credit or some kind of sci-fi/ post-apocalyptic... thing.  I don't know what.  But I can see kids reading this and getting hooked on the genre and maybe picking up The Stand or working their way to literature like The Road.  This is the kind of book that shows a kid that reading is fun and doesn't feel like work.

That's how we hook 'em. :)

But anyway, as an adult I enjoyed it too.  As a purely let's-see-what-happens-next adventure, it was fun.  Collins has a good imagination, and it's familiar enough to be comfortable, but suspenseful enough to make the reader want to keep going.  I could not put it down and basically I read it over a few hours.  It is written well, unlike a few other (I'm looking at you, Twilight) young adult series.

Yes to Hunger Games.  I mean, the book--the actual Hunger Games are kind of grim and I'd rather not.  Yes to reading The Hunger Games.

My recommendation:  Read this.  It's quick, easy and fun.  Buy it for an older kid in your life too.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Yosemite | July 2011

Yosemite1
Ro-Dad-yoIMG_4180monopoly
bridalveil
IMG_4191weirdos
IMG_8747
elcap
Yofalls
IMG_8762
IMG_4229


Yosemite never disappoints, and even though we had a much smaller group than last year we put away our fair share of junk foods and made our way though all of the regular spots: the Nature Center at Happy Isles, the restaurants in Camp Curry, the big store at the Village, rocks (for climbing) on the Yosemite Falls trail, bus stops all over.

As the kids get older, our circle of exploration expands and the work level of this vacation goes down.  They're so easy and so willing to try new things each year.  The best thing about being a parent, hands down, is seeing things through my kids' eyes.  They're such a fun age.  Roo, especially, was a beast on the bike this year.  Both kids enjoyed the Junior Ranger program again and took advantage of the wide variety of ice cream bars available in the camp stores.

E and I made it away for just a few minutes to check out the view from the meadow and Bridalveil falls.  We didn't hike a lot this trip, but we were content to read our hearts out and basically just sit back and laugh with our two hilarious monkeys.

Man, this is a fun little family we've made.



Quote of the Day: genius fish


I was just thinking about this quote and I found it in my phone from Spring Semester.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Hair trick. Why didn't I know about this when I was dancing?

Recently my sister Lis told me about a secret she learned from the girls in her husband's academy.  The sock bun.  Basically it's an easy trick to make a big, beautiful, secure chignon (doesn't it sound prettier in French?) by hiding a rolled up sock inside.  Yep, a sock.

You can bet I had all kinds of puns ready for the title of this post.  But I just couldn't bring myself to commit to them.  Anyway, I've been doing this with my hair lately and it's the bees knees.

Here's a video tutorial from Youtube, since I'm too self-conscious to film one myself. This is exactly how I do it.



Anyone who has been a dancer knows there's nothing like a power bun.



Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Another food post... shrimp!

photo via Pinterest and this site
I'm in kind of a food mood this week.  While I'm at it, here's another recipe I love.

(Have you figured out yet that I'm just using my blog for my personal bookmark folder so I can find all this in a pinch?)

I love to make these and bring them to parties because pretty much everyone loves shrimp.  There's also the wow factor of the little wonton cups and let's face it--I take these to other people's houses so I can eat half the pan without anyone noticing.  They're that good.

My mom introduced me to these, and they are a straight-up non-altered Pampered Chef recipe.  Gotta love Pampered Chef... most of those sell-out-of-your-house-at-guilt-inducing-parties companies send me running for the hills, but darn if I don't actually use my mini muffin pan, egg slicer, garlic press, chopper, pizza stone, cookie scoop and server... drat, that's a lot.  I still won't go to the parties because they set my inner introvert on fire, but I have many a PC gizmo and I am fond of the easy recipes.

So here it is, y'all.

Shrimp Wonton Cups
original recipe can be found here

Ingredients:
24 square wonton wrappers
1 tbsp butter, melted
10 oz shelled, deveined, cooked medium shrimp, divided (set 24 aside)
4 oz  cream cheese, softened
1 garlic clove, pressed
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 green onions with tops, finely chopped
1/3 cup grated carrot
4 oz shredded mozzarella cheese (about 1 cup)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Lightly spray Deluxe Mini-Muffin Pan with nonstick cooking spray. Brush one side of wontons with butter. Press wontons, buttered side up, into wells of pan. Bake 8 minutes or until edges turn light golden brown. Remove pan from oven.
  2. Reserve 24 shrimp; chop remaining shrimp. In large bowl, whisk cream cheese, garlic and Worcestershire sauce until well blended. Add chopped shrimp, green onions, carrot and mozzarella cheese; mix well.
  3. Fill each wonton cup with about 1 tbsp of the cream cheese mixture; top with a reserved shrimp. Bake 5 minutes or until wontons are golden brown and filling is bubbly.

Yield: 24 appetizers







Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Pesto

I'm still over-the-moon excited about all the things growing in my backyard this year.  It hasn't been quite hot enough for the tomatoes yet--just a few here and there--but my basil is growing like nobody's business.  I've been making pesto to use for pizza.  After many test pizzas I've decided that the pesto/goat cheese combo is the clear winner.  There's something so fresh and tangy about it.  I was not a pesto or a goat cheese eater until E's allergies forced us into new food choices, but now I'm in love.

So while we're all waiting for our tomatoes to ripen, here's my pesto recipe.  It's adapted from this recipe.

Pesto

2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves
1 cup olive oil
1 cup grated parmesan or pecorino cheese
1/2 cup raw almonds*
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 teaspoon salt
1 dash nutmeg

*original recipe calls for pine nuts, but E can't have those and we always have almonds

Pulse basil, cheese, nuts, garlic, sat and nutmeg in food processor, adding oil until desired consistency.  May have to add slightly more or less oil.  Use or refrigerate.






Monday, July 18, 2011

Read. Run. Read. Read. Run.

Okay, I'm not quite so angry anymore.  No sense in hanging on to that kind of frustration.  Time to set my sights on 26.2 in September.

I decided I'd start the day and the week off right.  I had a good run this morning: 7 miles.  I pushed it a little longer on distance since I'm not sure what the rest of the week is going to look like.  But I took it really, really easy.  One of my frustrations with myself during the race was that I wasn't keeping my heart rate low enough, so I deliberately ran a really easy run today and kept my average HR about 80%.  That's comfy run territory.

Making today's run all the more enjoyable was another audiobook I put on my iPhone--another one that's been sitting on our computer for years that I never listened too.  Back when I downloaded it, we had an Audible membership--and I'm considering it again now that I'm plowing through the audiobooks while I run.  But first I have to "use up" what we already have.  Anyway, the book is The Birth of Venus, historical fiction set in 15th century Florence.  You know, de Medicis and all that jazz.  I remember downloading it when I was reading (and loving) The Other Boleyn Girl.  It's along those same lines, or those of Girl with A Pearl Earring.  At any rate it's entertaining and certainly less complicated than Anna Karenina, so it's exactly what I was craving.

I had a beezy of a time getting myself out of bed and out the door, but it paid off.  This morning was one of those idyllic mornings of quiet calm and perfect temperatures.  I saw the wild turkey around the corner with her six young poults (I had to look that up!).  I was glad to see that they're all still alive.  I also saw several rabbits, a host of geese, two orange and two black cats that I'm beginning to recognize on my regular route.  (Alert the presses:  I'm becoming my grandfather.  You're welcome for the wildlife update.  You'll know I've crossed completely over when I start naming them things like Mr. Peanut.)

And in the same category of general bookishness, I made it about halfway through my other book, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand last night.  I feel like I should finish it up so it stops hanging over my head.  Oh, and I downloaded The Hunger Games because I've been wanting to read it, and it is only $4.69 for the Kindle right now.  See?  Crazy.  I think I might be well into the throes of a serious book addiction.  I can't read fast enough, or frankly, enough, lately.  I feel like I'm 12 years old again.  It won't last long, though.  I've got a day of house-cleaning and grocery shopping ahead.

Peace.









Sunday, July 17, 2011

Davis Moonlight "Half" Marathon 7.16.11

Welp.  Write that one down as an EPIC fail.  I don't even like the phrase epic fail and I can't think of another appropriate one.  For once, the fail was not on my part.

IMG_8740
Pre-race.  What is this pose I'm doing?  Good Lord, I'm a nerd.
Last night I ran the Davis Moonlight Half Marathon.  Or, I thought I was going to run a half marathon.  I certainly paid for a half marathon.  I brought my half marathon game.  But all participants were misdirected between miles 6 and 7 and the course came up almost a full mile short.  What I didn't know what that the word half in the race title had invisible quotation marks around it.  Official times are posted today under this banner:


Really? 12.2 miles?  That's no half marathon.

I realized at mile 7 that the signs were wrong.  A couple of older guys were with me and they agreed that the signs were off, too.  I hoped that it would adjust itself as the course went on, or that we'd skip a marker somewhere and correct it.  It was a loop course, and I knew there was a slightly longer portion on the second loop.  I just waited.  But after a while I noticed that every sign I passed was a full mile ahead of what my Garmin was showing.  That messed with my head a lot because I didn't know if I had to save up one more mile of energy or not.  I could hear people talking about the screw-up all the way to the finish.  At the mile 13 marker, we asked the guys how much longer (since we knew it was only 12).  They said "just three blocks."  Oh, man.

Now I'm not naive enough to think that every race is going to come out exactly as advertised.  But a mile?  That's too much to be off.  Clearly the race organizers recognize this, since the results are posted that way.

I was racing against my own time from last fall, (2:30) using the Garmin's virtual partner setting.  I didn't feel like I had to beat it, but it was nice to see where I had paced myself then so I could make comparisons.  Last October I was about an 11:29 min/mile average.  I held steady at about 11:10 min/mile, so if I'd been able to run a full course I would have PR'ed by about 4 minutes.  But since I wasn't able to run the full distance,  I didn't.  This is my official result:


It's hard to see, but it says 2:16:25 for 12.2 miles.  That's really good for me judging by my average pace, but I feel like I got screwed over.  I suppose I have to just be proud of my average pace and the fact that I did it.  How disappointing, though.  I would have finished at about 2:26, a new PR. :(

I wouldn't run this race again.  While Davis is beautiful and I enjoyed running through all the parks and trails, there were so many things that were not organized well.  It was crowded.  The 5K, 10K and Half all started at the same time and they were screaming at everyone where to go.  There was inadequate parking and we got kicked out of a nearby hotel's lot.  Packet pickup was easy, but a woman literally just threw my T shirt at me and there wasn't any free stuff to be had.  The email from the race director (the same one that said the course was USATF certified) said there'd be a beer garden and all kinds of stuff at the finish line.  All we saw was one line for what looked like a pretty weak food table.  We just took off, feeling kind of upset that we didn't get to do the full race.


In the plus column, I had NO PAIN, I had a great per-mile average (for me), the medal is cute and the t shirt is decent.  Oh, and I got a free glow-stick.  Whoop-de-doo.

On a personal level, this race was hard.  I was all spun up.  The heat and my nerves got to me for the first half and I could not control my heart rate.  My average HR for the race was 181 BPM, which is SO high (for me that's about 96% of my max HR, or essentially how high my HR is when we do speed work).  I was really feeling it, too.  I think I drank too much water over the first half.  I kept trying to walk to bring my heart rate down, but then once I'd start to run and it would go back up.  I eventually decided that if I could keep my pace up, I'd just do intervals.  Once I started the second loop I was able to calm myself a bit and it cooled off, but my stomach started to hurt.  I felt pretty throwuppy for most of the second loop.  I kept going and figured if I barf, I barf, but I never did.  My speed work did come in handy--I knew I could push harder when I was running hard.

At about mile 5, I heard my name and I spun around to see a former curriculum specialist from my school running with another teacher.  That was fun.  I told Kel to take off ahead of me, so I didn't see her after about mile 2ish, but that was okay.  I wanted to see if I could pace myself (and I did).

Running a night race was different.  The first half was too hot; the second half was very dark.  Even though temperatures were cooler yesterday, the first half portions of the race that ran along Hwy 80 were stuffy and almost unbearable.  I couldn't imagine what that first loop would have been like if temps had really been up where they normally are in July.  I was a nervous wreck all day yesterday waiting for the race and (of course) over-thinking my food choices.  I think I did okay, but having three meals pre-race might have contributed to my stomach issues.  Who knows.  I think I'm just more used to running in the morning.

I'm mad.  I'm mad that I paid for this.  I'm mad that I put my best effort forward for something that won't count.  This feels like scoring a personal best on the SAT only to find out that your score is invalid because there were not enough questions.  I could have gone out with my friends to run 12.2 miles and it would have been way more fun and way less pressure.

Grr, grr, angry grr.






Friday, July 15, 2011

So we're doing this now?

Warning: cat post.  I'm sorry.  I can't help myself. I'll understand if you want to close out the window and we'll just meet up again tomorrow.

Cookie the wonder cat is settling into our house nicely.  She's a little, um, different (much more prone to wild animal behavior, which is probably a result of her pre-car engine ride life) but she is sweet and she's entirely bonded to Twinkle.

The two of them are spending most of the day lounging around and staring out windows.  Seems like a pretty good existence, until the occasional day when temps reach over 100 degrees and then they have to act like they just might die.

Lately, though, I'm beginning to see through the ruse of the serene kitten act.



For one, Twinkle is weirdly obsessed with having her stomach rubbed.  All we have to do is look at her and she wil drop to the floor and stretch out, demanding.  When E comes home she comes to the front door to greet him with her ever-growing belly.



And last night, just as I was about to fall asleep I heard a ticking against the screen door.  The curtains were closed but the door was open to the screen, so I pulled the drapes back to see what was up.  I was a bit hunched over and I didn't see anything happening on the floor near the screen (where Cookie usually hangs out).  I started to wonder if there was a cat outside, so I flipped on the light.  Nothing.  Then I stepped back to turn around and my eyes found one little Cookie monster all the way at the top of the screen, hanging on for dear life.

I couldn't grab a camera fast enough, but lucky for me she repeated the pose this morning as she chased a fly up the front window.



*sigh*






Thursday, July 14, 2011

Choose to listen

via Pinterest

The last year has been an effort toward positivity, toward finding joy in the moment.  I've tried to focus less on where I'm going so I can enjoy where I am.  Already my thirties have been such an awakening to the fact that I'm never going to reach a magical finish line where everything will permanently settle into perfection.  To that end, I've had to redefine my attitude--I don't want to spend the next part of my life waiting for something that never arrives--I'd rather be happy here.  I seem to only remember sporadically, though, so last night I went searching through my own archives to remind myself of what I already know.

Often my therapist will ask a series of questions that lead me back around to a discovery about some truth I already possess, some capability I have laying dormant that will serve me in the situation at hand.  I like the idea that all of the skills I need are within me already.  If I close my eyes and listen to my heart, I don't need a black feather to fly.

This is for me more than anybody, but here's what I already know to be true:

It's easy to make an opportunity out of a threat.  Nervousness, anticipation and excitement all feel the same.

The I'll-be-happy-when-s never bring anything but fatigue and frustration.  Joy can be found anywhere.

Mondays are a new opportunity to start fresh.  Whatever didn't work out the week before is over and you get a do-over.

Real life is what matters.  (As Anna Quindlen says, "don't ever confuse the two, your life and your work.")  The people in your real life matter more, too.

Carrying over the remainder of stress from work to home will kill your peace and steal you away from your family even when you're standing in front of them.

Leave open time in your calendar for things to happen or for nothing to happen.

Nothing wonderful lasts forever.  Nothing horrible lasts forever.  The bad makes you appreciate the good when it comes.

Extra sleep can fix a mood, a day, or a body better than most medicines.

The hardest thing about running is just getting out the door.

Sometimes anxiety is just the avoidance of anger.  It's okay to get mad.  Feel and be done with it.

People are not black and white--most of us live in the grey and it's not reasonable to hold a line with them.  Accept the imperfection and be grateful that people do that for you.

Forgive and forgive and forgive and hopefully someone will show you the same kindness.

Go for a walk.  Get outside.  Be alone.  Be thankful.  Breathe.





Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Joining the revolution

It's been a long time since Hutch mentioned the revolution, but today my excitement could only be conveyed by one exuberant


jazz_hand


My new (old) replacement Garmin came!  Waaaaahooodles!

I was just starting to get a bit pouty about having to run all the time without knowing my pace and heart rate simultaneously... you know, like all those mortals since, um, you know, the dawn of time-ish.  Running without knowing your stats is so 64 A.D.*

I was also starting to get the pit sweats about trying to run my third half marathon this weekend without some kind of time-keeping device. Since it's a night race I can't even drag around my sundial.

I'm so tempted to go out and run right now just so I can high-five myself all the way across town for being so aware of my own sloth-like pace, but alas we *cough, cough* have to go to Leatherby's tonight for family ice cream night to celebrate my sister Lis' promotion.  *sigh*

*Of course back then, they only had one pace, right?  Fast enough.  If you weren't, you got eaten by a bear or an alligator or Jimbo The Crazy Gaul.



Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Adjust those expectations

Step one: Head out to Kohl's for kid shorts, Spongebob underpants* and school backpacks.  Decide you need Starbucks first. Make a detour.

Step two: Drive to Kohl's for real.  Go inside.  Realize at about women's dresses that you forgot your 30% off coupon.  Pack the kids in the car and drive home.  (30% is worth it, right?)

Step three:  Find coupon.  Drive to Kohl's again.  Shop for an hour and half, including two sessions in the dressing room with your decision-phobic daughter.  Proceed to register with all yer loot.  Proudly stack the fruit of your bargain-hunting labor upon the counter.  Top proudly with 30% off coupon.

Step four:  Watch the girl at the register blink vacantly at you as she tells you that your coupon isn't good until TOMORROW.

Step five: Leave, dejected.


Expect great things?  Maybe adjust those expectations a bit.

I put all the stuff on hold, but for the love of summer and Sloughouse corn, what's the matter with me?

*For Henry.  Get serious, people.






Monday, July 11, 2011

Mumford Monday (Sigh no more)

It's a Mumford kind of day, isn't it?  I'm pretty sure every man needs a little more banjo in his life.  More banjo, less sighing.

Today was very summery, very free of responsibility or obligation.  I had zero interest in waking up for a 5:00 AM run but I knew if I did it I'd be glad it was over and I was home before E had to leave for work.  Today was a day of slogging it out to an Adam Corolla podcast just so it was off my mind and off my to-do list.  Some days that is the best I can hope for.  I also know if I start off running on a Monday, I'm more likely to follow through with it on Tuesday, Wednesday, etc.  (Less likely to let it get away from me and turn into a big worry monster by about Thursday afternoon.)  I have a race this weekend, anyway, so I want to get in some solid miles in time to rest beforehand.

I did not--repeat did not--do my 17 mile run this week.  I didn't do my anything run because I was so enamored with reading and being lazy on Sunday after my bad Saturday anxiety.  I decided to just write it off and start fresh today.  I'm glad I did rather than stressing and worrying and having a horrible long run just because I felt like I had to.  I'll put in good miles this week and I'll be okay.

I miss my Garmin.  Just thought I'd throw that out there.

I read all day.  Literally, all the livelong day.  It was glorious, like the days when I'd go on a family vacation and bring a backpack full of books I'd read before the week was over.  I'd stick my nose in those books any time we'd hop in the car or sit in folding chairs by the campfire and I'd just read, read, read.  I also remember something about summer charts at the local library where we kept track of how many books (or was it pages?) we read before school started again.  I don't actually recall what (if anything) the prize was, or the goal, but I remember that filling up the chart with finished books was a good thing.  (Who is surprised?  Books and charts?  Yeah, it was a sure thing for me.)  I'm beginning to get that kind of nerd pride about my little books tab at the top of the ol' blog.

Speaking of reading memories, I have to also go on record as saying the year my elementary school class took weekly walks to the public library has to be just about one of the best years of school I can remember.  Not only did we get to spend a good portion of each Thursday walking, we got to check out books every single week.  It's kind of amazing what that kind of access can do for a kid, even one who has a lot of books.  Yes, this was before an ill-planned history research paper my junior year left me with a $200 fine and a temporary irrational fear of libraries.  My beginnings were benign enough.

Since was cooler than it has been, I just built myself a nest of blankets and snacks, adorned with cats here and there.  I hate reading a have-to, but I love me some free choice reading.  It's like the days of SSR, laying on the floor under my elementary school desk.  The minutes just fly.  I had to remind myself to get up to use the bathroom.  Seriously, I was that into my book.

The most important decision of the moment is what I'll read next.  Suite Francaise, which I borrowed from my teaching partner, or Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, which I'd been sem-reading-but-not-really-getting-into since the beginning of summer.  Suite is a book, Major P is on my Kindle.  Like I said, decisions.


which_book














Book review: Unbroken



Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Two book reviews in two days?  Three in one week?  Who am I?  I'm an English teacher set loose, that's who.  Reading for fun is such a delicious treat.  I started this book yesterday and I'm proud to say that I spent the entire day after my run lounging around so I could finish it today.  Not since the final Harry Potter have I made a one-or-two-day feast out of a book.  It feels like being eleven again, trying to fill the long summer days with words.

Don't worry, the blog isn't going to become all reviews, all the time.  This review couldn't wait, though.  Unbroken is that good.

As usual I'm late to the party.  People all around me have been talking it up--even Grandpa Ed read it before I did.  But I'm hoping I'm not the last one to said party so I can convince you to read this book.

Unbroken is the true-life story of
a man who lived through a series of catastrophes almost too incredible to be believed. In evocative, immediate descriptions, Hillenbrand unfurls the story of Louie Zamperini--a juvenile delinquent-turned-Olympic runner-turned-Army hero. During a routine search mission over the Pacific, Louie’s plane crashed into the ocean, and what happened to him over the next three years of his life is a story that will keep you glued to the pages, eagerly awaiting the next turn in the story and fearing it at the same time. You’ll cheer for the man who somehow maintained his selfhood and humanity despite the monumental degradations he suffered, and you’ll want to share this book with everyone you know. --Juliet Disparte (Amazon.com)
I won't give away much of the narrative because a major part of the enjoyment of this book comes from the fact that as you read it you're thinking how did this actually happen to a real person?

Hillenbrand is the same woman who wrote Seabiscuit, which I have not read.  I enjoyed her style of writing here, though, and I also found it easy to digest.  I wasn't distracted by her writing at all--which is nice--it just faded away as I got caught up in the story.  I also have to say that this book is paced to perfection.  I can't remember a "dead" part of the story or a chapter where too much was lost in description.  Hillenbrand guides us through the many things that happened to Zamperini (and there are too many to even imagine) without losing us or losing the sense of momentum that drives the story.  This would make a great movie and I am sure it will be one, but I am sad that so much of it will be lost when trimming it down to two-ish hours.  After reading it, I'd like to see Lou Zamp, the miniseries.

I'll confess that a lot of page-turners make me feel slightly guilty, like I'm reading trash and I should go back to more literary fare.  But this book holds up well in the writing and the research.  It was still captivating.  I loved every second of being in this world.  I LOVED THIS BOOK TO PIECES.

My recommendation:  Move it to the top of your list.  Read it right now; don't wait! You will love it.



Sunday, July 10, 2011

Book review: Living Out Loud


I know, I just posted a review of Anna Karenina... can you tell I was yearning to tear through something a little more palatable the second I finished it?

Living Out Loud is a collection of essays from Anna Quindlen, published in 1988 as a compilation of her "Life in the 30's" column for the New York Times.  After I read the graduation speech on perfection, K gave me A Short Guide to a Happy Life (which I love) and a few weeks later, her spare copy of Living Out Loud.

This book is in many ways, anachronistic.  Already some of the references to the zeitgeist of the 80's are dated.  But it holds up well in the sense that the meat of her writing is about the very things one still encounters as a 30-something mom, now: growing up, parenting, being pregnant, managing a house, working, sex, living, dying.  Really, it didn't matter that some of the newsy references were unfamiliar--I just looked them up.  Her writing spoke in a way to the same part of me that a good blog post does.

And that's why this was an important book for me.  A few chapters in to it I told K that it was like finding a blog that existed before there was such a thing as a blog.  When I applied to Masters' programs, I struggled with choosing my focus in either fiction or creative nonfiction.  My exposure to nonfiction is much more limited (or has been, until recent years) because I have spent half of my life studying novels and plays.  I didn't know such a thing as Anna Quindlen's column existed, honestly.  At least it wasn't something I was searching out or flipping through on our coffee table when I was in high school and college.  But somehow I found my way to loving exactly what she does, but through blogs and then to columns and books.

I'm interested in the fact that good writing is good writing, and with technology it's transcending form.  We're not limited to books, nor is a blog by its very definition shoddy writing.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book and it was a quick read, the kind of thing one could read a little at a time.  After reading a few things she's done I'm looking forward to picking up some of her novels to see if I enjoy them too.

My recommendation: A good read for women, especially moms.










Saturday, July 09, 2011

Best pie EVER: Creamy Fresh Fruit Pie


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Creamy Fresh Fruit Pie
recipe from Creme de Colorado, Denver Junior League Cookbook, 1987

1 9-inch pastry shell
8 oz cream cheese, softened
3/4-1 cup sugar, depending on sweetness of fruit
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups heavy cream, whipped
2 cups seasonal fruit (glaze optional)

6-8 servings

1.  Bake and cool pastry shell.  Set aside.
2.  In a small bowl, cream together cream cheese, sugar and vanilla.
3.  Fold in whipped cream.  Spread into baked pastry shell.
4.  Cover and refrigerate. (May be made one day in advance.)
5.  Just before serving, cover the top with fruit.

You're welcome, America.












My Crazies would look better in Givenchy.

I had a panic attack last night.  Yep.  That was fun.  It's been a while, and every time there's a break I believe I'm done with that whole thing.  Every time I appear to be wrong.

No, I'm not having the Crazies all the time as I was a few years ago, but after dinner with some friends I wound myself into such a frenzy that I couldn't sleep.  As it is, from time to time, last night was bad because the heavy dread and cold didn't seem to come from anywhere.  There was no awful thing I could pin it on--rather, it was a thread of apprehension that began winding through my mind in the morning and by evening I was fighting a tingly spine and heavy arms.  Anxiety is a bitch.  Holly Golightly was right about the mean reds.

Of course I know a few things contributed, set the stage for a slam-bang crazy show.  I didn't get to bed the night before until 2:00 AM.  I am nothing if not a regular sleep-needer.  I had a frustrating week that left me feeling defeated.  I didn't run enough.  A few relationship-y things are eating at me because I haven't figured out the right way to address them yet.  My house and chores got away from me, so things are cluttered and need doing by me.

Not that a cluttered house makes me nuts... it's just one more stress in my basket, one more thing to take care of.  I saw my work friends last night which was lovely, but as we talked of school that cord of worry from the end of the year began to tighten itself around my innards.  I'd managed to lay it down for most of June.  As we talked of challenges at work, I picked it back up and let it twist inside of me again.  Then of course I started to worry about the schedule for today: that I wasn't going to have enough time to run/clean/cook/get to where we're supposed to be at noon.

So I bailed on my run for today.  Extra credit to you if you already figured that out because I'm blogging on my couch and not out on the trail.  I'm sad and I feel like I let my running friends down, but something had to give.  By the time I recognized the anxiety in myself, tried to acknowledge its source, I was so far into it and I couldn't do much but wait it out.