Sunday, December 25, 2011

Kitties for Christmas

Merry Christmas! I'm in a mood for some snuggly kitties, so here are a few candidates. Vote for your favorite!

1 - Please sir, can I have some more?

2 - Zzzzzzzzz

3 - Kate and Ashley

4 - You wouldn't regift me would you?

5 - Kitty Burrito!

6 - Star eyes

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

New Distance: 15k

Don't go out fast. Don't go out fast. Don't go out fast.

That's what I had told A___ before the race, and here I was doing exactly that. The crowd was surging, and I felt myself surging with it.

Run your own race, I tell myself. Pay no attention that guy in blue surging past you. You can look for him at mile 5.

That's always been my race strategy: ease into the race at the beginning, establish a moderate tempo by halfway through, and then start bearing down around the two-thirds mark. I'd rather let people pass me at the beginning and catch them at the end than attempt to stay ahead throughout the entire race. A better hound than a hare, I suppose.

I should clarify that the aforementioned strategy is my preferred race strategy; however, it does not work for distances like 5k and 10k. In those races, you are balls-to-the-wall from the outset—any dilly-dallying will result in a slower race no matter how hard you push the finish. Consequently, they aren't my preferred races, either. My favorite distance to race is the half marathon: a nice 13.1-mile run that is neither too long, nor too short.

Fifteen kilometers, or about 9 miles, seemed as though it would be similar to the half marathon: a relatively leisurely race that I could start easily and finish fast. However, no race is leisurely if you combine lack of training with a competitive spirit. I had not run adequate mileage prior to this race, and it was about to show . . . especially if I took it out fast.

Ease up! I tried to tell myself as a woman a pink jumpsuit zoomed past me. You don’t want to make this race miserable. Be smart.

I almost managed to take my own advice until the tall guy in gray came up on my left about one-third of the way through the race. For the next two miles, we traded positions: on the uphill climbs, he would move ahead, but as soon as we came to a downhill, I flew past him. That’s another one of my strategies: keep an even tempo on the uphills, lengthen and loosen the stride on the downhills. Basically, fight gravity as little as possible.

We had reached the halfway point in the race, and I wasn’t sure I could keep up with him for the rest of the race, no matter how many downhills remained. Fortunately, that’s the moment he chose to stop at a water station. See ya, sucker!

Results for this race:

Race Length Finishing Time Average Pace Overall Place Gender Place (All Women) Age Group Place (F25-29)
9.3 miles (15k) 1:08:05 7:20/mile 438/4,287 69/2,247 21/611

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Notes from Snow Denver: a Poem

Pools that are short (by three whole yards)

Breath that is shallow, like sucking in shards

Crisp and clean and thin, dry air

Perfectly straight and frizz-free hair

Freezing degrees, an absence of trees

And a delicious meal at the oh-so-Ritzy

Elway's Steakhouse

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Unreliables

You think you know someone, and then suddenly, they do that one little thing that you can’t stand, and you find yourself reevaluating what sort of person they really are. For me, that "one little thing" is unreliability. When someone proves themselves to be unreliable, they become one of the three main classifications of The Unreliables. I will now describe these three main types using an identical scenario which they all treat in a different way.

The Scene

It’s simple: there’s a movie out that you want to see—maybe your favorite actor stars in it, or it’s been getting five-star reviews, or it just looks cool—so you make plans for the weekend to go and see it with a friend

Unreliable #1: Forgetful Frank

This Unreliable is the one you forgive over and over and over again, because you truly believe his memory is somehow faultier than the average human being. As a result, you never ask him to do anything or be anywhere when it’s crucial, but you do keep inviting him because you really do enjoy his company.

In this case, you invite Frank to see the movie just like you always do, but you make sure you have at least one other “definite” friend going with you, because he only makes it to these things about half the time. To increase his odds of coming, you send him reminder texts on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and three times throughout the day on Friday, so that he’ll hopefully manage to remember.

Unreliable #2: Can’t Commit Claudia

This Unreliable is the most frustrating, because she will string you along every time. She doesn’t say yes, because that might prohibit her from doing something cooler that comes along, but she doesn’t say no, because if nothing better does come along, she may as well do whatever you invited her to do. When she does say no at the absolute last minute, however, you aren’t allowed to get angry because she isn’t technically canceling on you.

In this case, you may or may not invite Claudia to see the movie; it depends if you can bear the strain of having to wait until the previews are playing for her to decide if she’ll come. Your decision also depends heavily on how recently she has waited until the last minute to give a lame “I just don’t feel like going out tonight” excuse.

Unreliable #3: Debbie Ditcher

This type of Unreliable is the worst of all. She seems to be perfectly reliable until one day, wham! You’re left stranded somewhere all alone, unable to decide whether what you feel is rage or disappointment.

In this case, you definitely do invite Debbie, because it's so easy to convince yourself, “Oh, that one time was a fluke.” You tell yourself things like, “Her phone merely died—that happens to everyone,” or, “It is awfully noisy in those bars, so maybe she really didn’t hear it ringing all six times I called,” or, “Everyone’s entitled to get a headache at the very moment they’re supposed to meet me somewhere. It happens.” Never mind that her phone dies every single day around 2pm, so she should have planned for that; or that since she knew you were going to call, she could have put her phone in her pocket so she would feel it vibrate against her leg; or that there is a handy little headache-fixer called Aspirin that is sold in drugstores around the world and carried by 90% of women in their purses. Instead, you try to forget how hurt you felt when you were left stranded on that street corner, holding your phone in your hand, knowing that your fun plans had just been ruined. Because it couldn't possibly happen again!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Earning Her Supper

Lately, I have been feeling a little bit down on my running. Since the NYC Triathlon in August, my motivation has been waning and, consequently, my pace has been getting slower and slower.

In an attempt to jump-start my competitive drive, I signed up for a nice short race: a 4.4 mile Turkey Trot. Because it was located in Webster, NY--where I would be spending Thanksgiving with my boyfriend R___ and his family--I figured it would be a reasonably small, casual race. This assumption was completely wrong.

Compared to most other races I have run, the Webster Turkey Trot was a casual affair. There were no pace-based corrals, only one midpoint mile marker, and the start of the race consisted of one man raising a large yellow flag and telling the front line of runners "Go" (prompting the runners behind them to follow, and the runners behind them to follow, etc.). However, the race was chipped (i.e. each runner is timed electronically), we received race T-shirts, and--most significantly--there were 4,800+ runners registered to run. This was clearly not just a neighborhood jog.

Because the start was so disorganized, I did not get up to speed until well into the first mile. I've been running so slowly lately and my internal barometer has been out of whack that I wasn't quite sure what that "speed" was; however, I was determined to break the 8-minutes per mile pace that I've been holding lately.

I felt pretty good on the course--it was reasonably flat, and the sun was warm. Then, we reached the last quarter mile. The path narrowed and veered off of the pavement, and I found myself stumbling and tripping down a slick mud and tree root-covered hill, along with the other hundred people pushing for the finish line. I made it down the hill in one piece, only to be confronted with a muddy grass swamp, at the end of which I could make out the finish line.

Slipping and sliding across the field, I made it to the finish line without falling. However, I was feeling awfully disappointed. Even if I ran at a good clip once I made it out of the crowd at the start line, the end is where I typically shave off an extra few seconds. I can negative split a race much more easily than I can power out of the gate. But now, this perilous mud pit finish ruined my usual strategy. I might not have broken an 8-minute pace.

Then I looked at my watch. 30:36! That couldn't be right. How could I have run 4-and-a-half miles at a sub 7-minute pace?

As it turns out, my watch time was a bit faster than my actual clock time (30:51 on the clock vs. 30:36 on my watch), and the race was slightly shorter than I had thought (4.4 miles in reality vs. 4.5 miles I had thought was the race distance). However, the good news is that when I need to "turn it on" for a race, I can. Average speed: 7:01/mile!

And so, I ate Thanksgiving with an especially thankful heart.

Results for this race:

Race Length Finishing Time Average Pace Overall Place Gender Place (All Women) Age Group Place (F25-29)
4.4 miles 30:51 7:01/mile 268/2,535 44/1,271 8/225

Monday, November 14, 2011

Saturday in DC: A Public Transit Adventure

Anyone who knows me knows what a proponent I am of public transportation. I will gladly tell anyone who asks how thankful I am not to own a car. In the next 5-10 years I don't expect to live anywhere that requires me to own a car, and if I can get away with being car-free for longer than that, I will. My reasons for a carless life are numerous, but one of my strongest arguments in favor of an extensive and user-friendly public transit system is that it enables independence and flexibility in new and unfamiliar places. This point was proven once again on my most recent trip to Washington DC.

I arrived in DC on a Thursday in order to set up for the Society for Neuroscience's 41st annual conference. Exhibits at the conference were not scheduled to open until Sunday, and since we were finished setting up by Saturday afternoon, I was left with the rest of the day free to do as I pleased. After making plans with various friends, here was my route around the city:

  • First, I walked back to my hotel from the conference center.

    Walk 1.1 miles, ~21 minutes

    View Larger Map

  • Then, I walked from my hotel to Union Station, where I met my friend K___ for coffee and a stroll around the city.

    Walk 0.5 miles to Union Station, ~10 minutes; ~3 miles around/across the city in ~2 hours

    View Larger Map

  • Next, K___ put me on a bus that took me up through Georgetown, to a 50m pool I had scouted out in Tenleytown. There I swam laps in a facility nicer than almost any pool I have ever seen, and which also happens to be free to DC residents. My jealous was palpable.

    Bus ride ~40min

    View Larger Map

  • After I finished swimming, I took the bus back to Foggy Bottom. There, I got on the Orange line and took the metro out to Arlington, VA in order to have dinner with my college friends B___ and G___.

    Bus ride, ~40 min in the opposite direction + metro ride, ~22 minutes

    View Larger Map

  • Finally, after ample dinner, drinks and discussion, I took the metro back to my hotel.

    Metro ride orange line to Red line to Union Station + walk to hotel, ~40min

    View Larger Map

    All in all, it was a busy but successful day. Now, imagine if I had had a car! I would have had to deal with the stress of traffic, navigating unfamiliar streets, paying for parking. Instead, I spent less than $10, got some exercise on foot, took a nice bus "tour" of Georgetown, and enjoyed reading my book on the subway. Why can't every city in America be like this?

  • Thursday, November 3, 2011

    Idioms and Idiocy

    I guess if you're a "branding specialist" you have to be both corny and corporate. However, before actually meeting a "branding specialist," I never considered how that particular combination (corny and corporate) would manifest itself in a human being.

    Then, the other day, I attended a presentation about a re-branding or brand-consolidating initiative my company is undertaking, and as I listened, I could not help but be struck by the outrageous number of idioms that crept into the presenter's speech. When I finally regained the presence of mind to write these down (about halfway through the presentation), here is what I came up with:

  • Where the rubber meets the road
  • Don't need to recreate the wheel
  • Everyone's an expert
  • The sizzle and the steak (I personally have no idea what this one means, but he said it more than once, so someone must know!)
  • Very finger-wagging
  • The cart before the horse
  • Roll it out (This is right up there with my all-time least favorite corporate-speak terms; it should be used in reference to pie baking and nothing else)
  • Take the learning and bake it into our process (Not an idiom, but it was such a bad metaphor I had to include it)

    And perhaps the best of all:

  • I'm not going to teach my grandmother to suck eggs

    This last one I had to look up on Wikipedia when I got back to my desk. I invite you to do so now.

    Please consider all of these constituted only half of his presentation, which was maybe a half-hour long at best. I challenge you, reader, to use all of these idioms (and bad metaphors) in a single day. Your achievement earns you . . . my undying admiration. But isn't that worth having?

  • Sunday, October 30, 2011

    Snapshot Book Review: The Adderall Diaries

    The Adderall Diaries: A Memoir of Moods, Masochism, and MurderThe Adderall Diaries: A Memoir of Moods, Masochism, and Murder by Stephen Elliott

    My rating: 1 of 5 stars

    After reading Joseph O'Neill's Netherland and David Eggers' A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, I am so sick of aimless, dissatisfied, self-effacing male protagonists that I gave this book no more than twenty pages before I put it away. I don't think I could recommend it to anyone on any reading level. A shame, because the copy description was compelling. Maybe whoever wrote that blurb could take a stab at writing their own novel using this idea. I'd be willing to give the plot a second chance!

    View all my reviews

    Sunday, October 23, 2011

    Snapshot Book Review: The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

    The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt KidThe Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson

    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    For the number of times I laughed out loud, I desperately want to give this book 5 stars. However, if it's going to be a laugh-out-loud memoir, it needs to be a laugh-out-loud memoir through and through. One hundred percent. And unfortunately, because he wanted to badly to "capture the 1950s," Bryson writes a few less-than-enthralling chapters in a book that is otherwise incredibly captivating. These chapters were so boring that I essentially skipped them.

    "Welcome to Kid World"? An amazing chapter. "The Pursuit of Pleasure"? Spot-on (and therefore hysterical, as "Out and About"). "Boom!" on the other hand (or at least what I read of it), reads as a moderately entertaining history book chapter, as does a good portion of "What, Me Worry?"

    Still, as a whole, this memoir is extremely amusing. Add to that one of the strongest narrative voices in modern comedic literature (a la David Sedaris), and The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid is worth the time, money, and praise it's earned itself and its author.

    View all my reviews

    Saturday, October 22, 2011

    Weekend Rant: Clothes Shopping

    Everyone has their clothes shopping rant. Here's mine:

    I hate clothes shopping. I especially hate shopping for pants or shoes, but really, if the activity involves artistic scrutiny of my own body and removing-and-donning-and-removing attire, I basically detest it.

    The reason I particularly abhor shopping for pants or shoes is because of my size. I am a 5'9" proportionally long-legged girl (woman? lady? they don't have a "young woman's" section in department stores) who has narrow size 11 feet. I would happily provide my my specific pants size, but that fluctuates from 6-10 depending what store I shop at, what style pants I select, and what year year I am shopping. Seriously.

    Now, in truth, 5'9" is not that tall. Yet, I am able to find long-size pants at approximately one out of every 100 stores I visit, and then usually only in a style I don't like or a size I don't need.

    "We sell them online," sales associates often tell me. Well, if I wanted to buy the pants online, I wouldn't be standing in their store asking for the pants, would I? I came to the store to try the pants on and see if I like how they fit. This is not possible online, and it certainly is not possible when I am given a pair of pants that comes to the tops of my ankles. It's not as though the "long" version of the pants merely adds 2" of material to the bottom of the regular size; "long" pants usually have a completely different fit.

    As if that weren't bad enough, stores also seem to assume that not only do women not have long legs, but that their feet do not grow any larger than a size 10. If, by some miracle, I do find a shoe I like in a size 11 it is then either wide enough to fit both of my feet inside or features a 6" heel. Nine out of ten women wearing a shoe size larger than 10 do not need their center of gravity to be higher off the ground than it already is. I, for one do not appreciate being made to look like a wobbly Amazon giantess.

    All of this aside, 5'9" is only 5" taller than the national average. What about women who are 6" or 7" taller? What about women above 6'? Based on my small sampling of extra-tall female friends, these women tend to wear either skirts or leggings, and they either learn to balance on stilt-like shoes, or they settle for flip-flops. Or, in my case, I wear pants to the point of disintegration and, so long as I am not going to work or to a wedding, men's sneakers.

    I guess tall women's options are a) look like a model or b) look like a bum. Frankly, being a model sounds like too much work, so I'm going to put on my sweatpants now and go eat some chocolate to comfort myself after this frustrating day of shopping.

    Next weekend rant? Shopping in one of the most crowded cities on earth.

    Friday, October 14, 2011

    What Canada Does Right

    As an American, I will admit that, on a number of occasions, I too have said something to the effect of, “It’s just Canada—geez, it’s practically the US.” This is likely the result of my having little-to-no knowledge of what Canada has to offer (apart from maple syrup and hockey, of course). Geographically, it is identical to the majority of New England, and it borrows even its languages from other countries (namely the US and France). I’ve been to Niagra Falls and I’ve camped in Toronto, and I can honestly say that these places are no different from any number of spots in the United States.

    However, I am currently visiting Montreal on a work-related trip, and I must say—while this city may resemble other cities I have seen, it does a tremendous job of melding together some of the best of them. To put it into one little phrase, Montreal is pretty much a French Portland.

    “French Portland?” you say. “How could crunchy, laid-back Portland ever be French?” Well, first let me tell you the ways in which Montreal resembles Portland: first, it is probably amongst the most bike-friendly cities I have ever seen. One night I went on a 7-mile run, and I was able to stay on bike paths—true bike paths, which were in no way obstructed by cars—throughout the entire run. Also, as I explored the city, I ran across such an assortment of dyed, sheared, shaved, and teased hair, I had to wonder if there wasn’t a punk rock convention happening nearby (which, I might add, would have been a hilarious compliment to the Human Genetics convention I was attending).

    Now, how could such a city be French? Let’s begin with the fact that everyone here speaks French. The street signs are written in French, the grocery store products are labeled in French . . . yes there is a considerable amount of English, too, but it is all written as “subtitles,” below the French. Every shop owner, hotel concierge, taxi driver, and restaurant server has addressed me first in French. Montreal’s dominant language is clearly French.

    Add to this, the design of the city: the buildings are all old, ornate stone structures; the roads are primarily cobblestone; the shops are tiny and boutique-like; the restaurants and cafes are small and intimate. It’s a wonder visitors can remember they’re not actually in France!

    All of this being said, it’s a shame Montreal isn’t in the US—I’d consider moving here! (At least for a bit.) I love the bicycle-friendly atmosphere, and the city is right on a river, which is wonderful. The language would be somewhat of a barrier, but it would also be good incentive to expand my linguistic repertoire. Instead I’ll just have to check out San Diego . . . they speak Spanish there, right?

    Thursday, October 6, 2011

    Word of the Day


    Pronounced: ker-fuf-ful

    Definition: Disturbance, fuss

    Example Sentence: I might have caused a kerfuffle over nothing!

    Challenge of the day: use this word without anyone in earshot laughing.

    *Acknowledgement: thanks to my swimming friend A___ for inspiring this post.

    Thursday, September 29, 2011

    My Boyfriend Dresses Better Than Me (and other things I've noticed recently)

    You know those things that have been there all along, unnoticed until suddenly--wham!--they hit you out of the blue? I have been experiencing a lot of these lately. For instance:

    The other night--like on so many nights--my boyfriend R___ and I went out to dinner. It was not an extravagant affair; we spent most of the evening hemming and hawing over what we wanted to eat, and then finally at 8pm, we peeled ourselves off of the futon and walked to a restaurant less than two blocks away. When we arrived and sat down, I took a good look at R___. He was wearing approximately the same clothes as he wears to work every day: a striped button-down shirt, navy blue slacks, and sandals (which, when going to work, he substitutes with dress shoes). I, meanwhile, was wearing dirty sneakers, gray sweatpants, and a T-shirt from a basketball camp I attended back in 2000. That is when the full realization came to me: my boyfriend dresses better than I do. I still haven't decided if that's good for him (he dresses very well!) or bad for me (I dress very pooly). Then again, it could also be bad for him (he dates a slob) and good for me (I date a fashionable dude). I haven't decided yet.

    Another realization came to me this morning, on the subway. As often happens, the train i needed to take was operating on a delay, which meant that when it arrived, I and the nearly hundred other commuters waiting on the platform faced the ever-pleasant task of jamming ourselves into an already-overstuffed train. As I mashed myself between suited shoulders and looked for the nearest railing to grip, I made eye contact with a young, petite Asian woman who happened to be pressed up against my chest. She was also looking for something to hold onto, but whereas I merely reached over a few shoulders and took a hold of the metal ceiling rod, she had nothing. Stuck like she was, in the center of the train car, she could not reach from her 5'2" height to grasp any of the surrounding railings. And that's when I realized: on the subway--in spite of how much greasy hair I might have to smell--taller is better.

    One more realization came to me out at dinner the other evening. I ordered miso soup as an appetizer, and when it arrived and I began to slurp it up from my Chinese spoon, I started to think: what was really in this soup? Three or four tiny little cubes of tofu (each smaller than a cube of sugar), three lonely pieces of seaweed, a few chopped pieces of scallion, and a bowlful of broth. I happen to have my own container of miso paste at home (which is what you use to make the broth), and that cost me four or five dollars. If you go to the right bodega, scallions can be fifty cents a bunch, and even tofu is not that expensive. Yet, here I was in this restaurant, drinking down the dregs of a two-dollar cup of soup that probably cost twenty-five cents to make. If my soup was marked up 300%, how much must the restaurant be making on a tuna roll, or shrimp teriyaki, or cabbage stir-fry? Yet going out to eat gives me a destination, even an "event," if you will; it makes me feel as though I accomplished something, simply because I left my apartment. This was what I suddenly realized: when I go out to eat, I'm not really paying for the food; I'm paying for the experience.

    Sunday, September 25, 2011

    Results of the 10k swim

    We did it!
    And I even won an age group award....
    Results for this race:
    Race Length Finishing TimeOverall Place Gender Place (All Women) Age Group Place (F25-29)
    10k 1:36:42 63/240 20/102 4/16

    Now, the question is: will we do it again next year? Will we attempt something even longer?

    Tuesday, September 20, 2011

    Mind Over Matter

    It's been a long time since I worried about merely finishing. In fact, the only other race I can think of about which I felt this uncertain was my 2009 marathon, and even then I felt confident enough after my 20- and 22-mile runs to set myself a goal time. This Saturday, however, I will be quite literally diving into a race I am honestly not sure I can finish: a 10k open water swim.

    For all of you non-swimmers out there, let me explain what "10k" means in terms of distance. Runners will recognize 10k as being 6.2 miles which, in the scheme of running races, is not a terribly long distance. However, think about this distance in terms a pool: The average lap pool is 25 yards long (swimmers refer to this as a "short course" pool), and 1 lap is equivalent to two lengths, or 50 yards. A distance of 10k = 10,000 meters or almost 11,000 yards. Therefore, 10k = 220 laps (440 lengths).

    Now, I am no stranger to swimming long distances. I swam on a club team and on my college team for two years each. At the peak training point in their seasons, both of these teams swam 6 days a week and held "doubles" (i.e. 2 practices a day) on 2-3 of these days. Yet even in our most yardage-heavy practices, the farthest I ever remember swimming in one practice was ~7,500 yards. That is still 50 laps short of what I am about to swim on Saturday.

    And that is simply the distance of the swim. Now consider that in a nice clean, clear pool, swimmers can keep their heads submerged and see everything around them, including lane lines and big bold stripes along the bottom of the pool, which keep them swimming in a straight line. In a lake, river, or ocean (my swim will be in a river), the water is murky, which requires swimmers to lift their heads in order to look in front of them--a practice called "sighting." Swimmers must sight in open water in order to a) make sure they are staying on course, and b) navigate around any foreign obstacles including trash, natural debris, and other swimmers. The choppier the water, the more difficult it is to sight...never mind breathe.

    Now, even if I felt confident that I could swim 10,000 meters (which I don't, since I've swum no more than 5,500 meters at any given time, none of which was in open water), had ample practice sighting (which I don't, since I have only swum in open water about 4 times this summer), and knew for certain that the water would be calm (which I highly doubt, having swum in the Hudson on several previous occasions, none of which were "calm") there is one more crucial factor to consider: temperature.

    A regulation Olympic swimming pool is kept at 77-82 degrees Fahrenheit. As I write this, the Hudson River temperature (at Sandy Hook) is 64-65 F. The last time I swam in water under 70F, I only managed to stay in for 20 minutes and spent the next two hours trying to get rid of the pins-and-needles sensation in my fingers and toes.

    So yes, I am extremely nervous about this race. That being said, I find nothing more exhilarating than attempting something completely new. This year's Olympic-distance triathlon was exactly that: an athletic feat I had never before attempted. What I love best about these new challenges is that apart from completing the race, I can hold absolutely zero expectations. There is no precedent, no prior time to beat. Just crossing the finishing line is goal number one. While I do always set a projected goal time, whatever time I finish will be my PR (personal record), so there is no real way to be disappointed.

    Looking at last year's results and taking into consideration my training, the water temperature, and the race course (most importantly, river current!), I would love to finish this 10k swim in under 2 hours. However, I think 2:15:00 is probably a more realistic goal. Either way, I suppose I can say that as long as I finish, I won't be disappointed.

    ...well, not too disappointed.

    Monday, September 19, 2011

    Snapshot Book Review: One Day

    One DayOne Day by David Nicholls

    My rating: 3 of 5 stars

    An unusually enjoyable romance novel, One Day gives us something more than lust and longing. Nicholls spends equal if not more time on individual character development, as Emma and Dexter spend the majority of their lives apart from one another. This provides a refreshing break from the "yearning to be together" format of most novels in this vein.

    I will admit: I do want to see the movie now!

    View all my reviews

    Tuesday, September 13, 2011

    Snapshot Book Review: The End of Everything

    The End of EverythingThe End of Everything by Megan Abbott

    My rating: 2 of 5 stars

    This book simply tried too hard. Abbott needs more practice with language; she writes like a poet trying to delve into prose. The amount of repetition in this novel makes the prose tiring instead of beautiful, which I am confident is the effect she was striving to achieve. The narrator sometimes strikes a poignant note with her observations and insights, but more often she seems too wise and reflective for her age. The topics covered in this novel are deep and sometimes disturbing in ways that are recognizable (e.g. having a crush on someone else's dad; hating a sibling for taking love and attention away from you); however, The End of Everything doesn't quite hit the right note. Abbott tells too little when we want more of her exquisite details, but then she tells too much when she should hold back and let us wonder.

    View all my reviews

    Friday, September 9, 2011

    Snapshot Book Review: Wuthering Heights

    Wuthering HeightsWuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

    My rating: 2 of 5 stars

    Grading this novel:
    B Grade for being a "classic"
    C Language/Writing style (B+ if just considered within "classic literature")
    B Story concept
    F Mood inspired in reader (i.e. deepening depression and a thirst for redemption that is gradually extinguished until the single decent event of the novel happens in the last 10 pages

    View all my reviews

    Tuesday, August 30, 2011

    Snapshot Book Review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

    Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food LifeAnimal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Once again, Barbara Kingsolver produces another beautiful, thoughtful, intentional book--this time in the form of nonfiction. Just as touching and lyrical as her works of fiction, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is hard to classify; it falls into the categories of memoir, social commentary, lifestyle/self-help, and even food writing. Yet, in her capable hands, the book does not turn preachy or didactic. Kingsolver readily lays out her agenda, which is simply to make people think about their food sources, habits, and choices as they relate to health, practicality, sustainability, and politics; however, she accomplishes this by doing what she does best: telling a story. In this case, it is the story of her family's 1-year foray into "localvorism."

    Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is a definite must-read for anyone interested in health, eating, environment, memoirs, or just a good thought-provoking book.

    View all my reviews

    Sunday, August 28, 2011

    Thinking of the Future

    In a society where your job very much defines who you are, the "who" and the "what" definitions of any one person are nearly interchangeable. I never thought I would have a problem determining "who" and "what" I would be. But I was wrong.

    First, I wanted to be an opera singer. My mom was an opera singer, and at 7 or 8 years of age, my life ambition was to do whatever she did. Plus, the director of the children's choir praised my voice, and in second grade, I even got a solo in my school's Christmas pageant, so it was clearly a logical career path!

    Once I picked up other interests such as playing the flute and swimming, my aspirations to become an opera singer soon gave way to what, for many years, I was sure was my life purpose: to become a writer. An Author. Scribbling away in my notebooks, I was sure that someday soon I would look up at the shelves in our local library and see my name on the spines of books on display. I would sit in bookstores and sign copies. I would visit universities around the country and give readings. Everyone would love and praise me, and my name would be known around the world as synonymous with "literary genius."

    Little did I know that the more formal writing education I had, the harder it would become to get words down on paper. Still, I continued to receive unending praise and support from friends, family, and teachers alike, so I kept persevered, churning out stories and poems and essays and plays. I wrote for classes; I wrote for my friends' amusement; I wrote for the local newspaper; and all of it was worth it, because it was bringing me that much closer to becoming a Real Author.

    Then I reached college. Here was where I realized that plenty of people can write at least passably, but very few of them land book deals, and even fewer are able live off of what they make as a writer. That realization, combined with the simultaneous realization that the people who land book deals aren't necessarily the ones who are any good at writing, ruined any lingering remnants of ambition I had left. Despite what any of my teachers or friends or parents believed, I would never become a true writer.

    While I may have given up the dream of seeing my name on a book jacket, I wasn't ready to give up on my love of language. If I couldn't become an author, I would go into publishing from the opposite angle and become an editor. Although this would mean giving up the glamor and prestige of having my name on a book jacket, my experiences editing my friends' papers and tutoring college peers assured me that being an editor was both something I could be good at and something I would enjoy. And after all, wasn't that the ultimate goal in life: to find a satisfying job that you could do well and that would provide for your immediate needs?

    Then I landed the job. No, it wasn't the exact job I had hoped for, but it gave me a way to support myself in NYC, which, in the 2008 economy, wasn't anything to take lightly. Here was where I learned that the editorial job of my dreams didn't really exist. I had envisioned a job that consisted of reading manuscripts, separating the wheat from the chaff, and then working hand-in-hand with authors to improve their manuscripts to the point of perfection. In reality, these editors, called "acquisitions editors," are forced to meet quotas: to sign X number of books per year amounting to Y dollars in revenue for the company. This reduces what I thought was an artistic, creative process to a money machine--just like every other company-company out there.

    So now I'm stuck back at square one, only with more pragmatic, "adult" concerns like rent and health insurance to worry about.

    What do I want to be when I grow up?

    Wednesday, August 24, 2011

    Snapshot Book Review: Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Stories

    Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: StoriesHateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Stories by Alice Munro

    My rating: 1 of 5 stars

    If this book had been a novel, I would have put it down after the first 50 pages. However, because it is a collection of short stories, I convinced myself that maybe the next story would be more interesting; if I didn't keep reading, I might not be giving Munro a fair chance.

    Alas, I reached the end of the book and felt nothing but relief--relief that it was over. Munro is a lovely writer, with a good command of language, but her choice of subject matter, story development, and characters was uninspiring. With a title like "Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage," I expected at least a little bit of drama or intrigue. Or, if Munro left out suspense, then I expected at least a few stories to make me feel something: anger or sadness or indignation. Instead, what I felt--if anything--was melancholy. But really, I mostly felt bored and restless to "get on with it."

    This summary by one Amazon reviewer gives my impression of the book to a T: "To be fair, I admit [Munro] is a good writer, technically speaking. It's just that she doesn't write about anything interesting. . . . Quick story rundown: a married lady has cancer, urinates in someone's driveway, then kisses their son. The end. Yay, that was neat."

    View all my reviews

    Tuesday, August 23, 2011

    Jersey City Earthquakes (and Other Events Worth Ignoring)

    Okay, so this blog post title may be a bit misleading; the earthquake actually happened in Virginia. However, I experienced it in Jersey City! Yet, at the time, I didn't even realize what was happening. Let me explain.

    My sister A___ and I were sitting on the futon in my living room, watching the movie Precious. It was about an hour-and-a-half before we had to leave to get her to her bus stop in order to return to Pittsburgh, and both of us were a little antsy. Partway through the movie, I noticed that the futon was bouncing up and down. At first I ignored it, assuming A____ was vigorously scratching a bug bite or something. However, when the bouncing persisted, I started to get annoyed. What is she doing? I thought to myself. God, just sit still. After a moment more, I finally said something.

    "What are you doing?"

    "What?" She looked up at me.

    "Could you please quit bouncing, or whatever it is you're doing?"

    "I'm not doing anything!"

    "Well the futon's bouncing around, so...."

    "I thought that was you!"

    I gave her a deadpan look.

    "I'm sitting still."

    "I thought you were bouncing your leg or something."

    "No, I'm sitting still."

    We both sat there for a minute, looking at each other.

    "Oh," she finally said.

    A moment later, the futon stopped bouncing, and we went back to watching the movie, unperturbed.

    About an hour later, as we were leaving for the bus stop, A___'s phone buzzed.

    "It's D___," she said, pressing the mute button. "I'll call him back later."

    We entered the PATH station (New Jersey's equivalent to the NYC subway), and when we emerged half an hour later, her phone was buzzing again.

    "God, he's called me seven times now," A___ said in annoyance.

    "Then you'd better pick up," I replied. "It might be important."

    "He's probably just calling me for something stupid," she said as she held the phone up to her ear. "Like how horny he is or something. Seriously, I bet that's it. Hi honey, what's up? The what? Yeah I'm fine. Did I what? Earthquake? What earthquake?"

    "Oh my god, that's what it was!" I exclaimed, poking her in the shoulder as we maneuvered down the sidewalk, past gawking tourists and irritable commuters. That's what had happened when we were watching the movie!

    The moral of this story might be that boyfriends worry more about their girlfriends' safety than said girlfriends' parents. Or it might be that technology has given us quicker, easier access to loved ones and consequential peace-of-mind...or that it tells us us too much about the world too quickly and therefore causes undue worry. But I think the true lesson here is that humans will ignore and rationalize away everything they can until it interferes directly with their life. Seriously: an earthquake occurred, and rather than recognizing what was happening at that futon-shaking moment, I chalked it up to my little sister being her usual annoying self. However, if the plaster from the ceiling had started falling on our least then I might have admitted that maybe, just maybe, A___ actually wasn't the one shaking that futon.

    Tuesday, August 16, 2011

    NYC Triathlon, Part V: Results

    Not caught up? Read Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.

    A huge thanks to all of my family and friends who woke up at god-awful hours of the morning to come and cheer me on—you made the whole event incredibly special. Extreme gratitude, also, to all of my training buddies, both old and new. Shout-outs go to the Chubs, the Wiley runners, Felix and his cyclists, and everyone else who has pushed and encouraged me both mentally and physically. Finally, a never-ending thanks to G___, the best coach I’ve ever had. I would not have achieved even half of my athletic successes without you.

    Race stats and results:

    Swim1.5 ~1

    Finish Time2:48:14
    Overall Rank1467/???
    Gender Rank90/1051
    Age Group Rank (F25-29)20/219

    Race SectionTimeRateOverall Rank

    Monday, August 15, 2011

    NYC Triathlon, Part IV: The Run

    Not caught up? Read Part I, Part II, and Part III.

    As I trot out of the gate and up the hill to 72nd street, I snap the race belt shut around my waist and try to ignore the new surge of adrenaline pumping through me in order to gauge how my legs are feeling. Are they sore? Cramped? How much energy do I have left? Really, I had been expecting to feel worse by this point. I can tell I am not exactly bounding along like a gazelle, but I don’t feel like I am shuffling at a snail’s pace, either. Plus, I will be passing R___ and my parents soon, so I had better look good!

    As we emerge at the top of the hill, volunteers direct us to run through a small tunnel. “Look out for dabodder!” they shout. “Dabodder! Watch your step?” The what? I wonder, trying to jostle my way between the shoulders of two middle-aged women wearing entirely pink outfits. What am I looking fo—Oh! My right foot sinks into a puddle almost ankle-deep. The water. Shoot! Now my shoe will be squishy for the rest of the race.

    Out on the street, there they are: my own personal cheering section. I actually hear them before I see them: my mom’s operatic hoot combined with R___’s lower pitched holler, and my dad’s shouts mixed in between. When I do finally find them in the crowd, they are holding silly signs on sticks, hoisting them up and down and waving their free hands in excitement.

    As I stride past my R___ and my family down the street, I hear B___’s voice in my head, warning me, Don’t waste all of your energy on 72nd street. You won’t be even a mile into the run and you’ll have shot your legs. Still, stretching out after being hunched over on the bike and running through all of these cheers feels so good! I could do 13 miles, I thought to myself. A half Ironman wouldn’t be that bad.

    But then I hit the park. We haven’t even covered 2 miles of the 6.2-mile course when the muscles in my legs start screaming. You’re not even halfway through, I try to reassure myself. You’re still warming up. You must just be tight, still, from the bike. I choose a woman in front of me wearing a neon yellow vest that reads “Cheer for Alex!” and make my first goal to pick her off. Here we go, Alex.

    By mile 3, I have picked off Alex, a woman in a bikini, three old men running together chatting, and tiny Indian girl who exhausted herself trying to stay ahead of me. The sun is starting to come out, and I am sweating despite my rain-and-Hudson-River-soaked clothes. At the next water station, I grab a cup out of the hand of a volunteer and dump it over my head. We then round a curve at the north end of the park, and in the next instant I see the 110th street pool. Can we just swim the rest of the race? I want to ask the woman next to me. However, she looks intent on the hill ahead of us, so instead I keep my mouth shut and focus on passing her.

    I had intended to pick up my pace at mile 4, but when I finally see the mile marker sign at the side of the road, I feel as though I can barely keep moving my legs, never mind start moving them faster. Then I see J___, a man I had recently met through B___’s triathlon group, walking ahead of me on the inside curb.

    “Come on, J___!” I shout as I jog past. “Come on!” He keeps staring on the road straight ahead of him and shakes his head stiffly. Okay, I console myself, I am not as bad off as him. I have to keep going.

    As we approach mile 5, all of the volunteers and spectators start yelling encouragement. “Keep going!” some of them shout. “You’re almost there! Just a mile left!” I am not almost there, I would have shouted if I had been able to catch my breath. I haven’t even seen the mile 5 sign yet, and a mile away is not ‘almost there.’ The more people who shout it, though, the more I start to second-guess myself. Had I missed the sign? I am consciously reserving the last of my energy for the final mile-long stretch, and if I somehow missed the sign, I know I’ll be kicking myself at the end for not giving it my all. To be safe, I kick my pace up a notch. Now I am running at a pace that I can confidently sustain for half a mile, or maybe a mile, but definitely no more than that. My legs are shrieking in protest. One more mile I tell them. Just one more.

    “Smile wide for mile five!” a man running the opposite direction shouts, and I give him a lackluster grin. Even the muscles in my face feel tired.

    Relax, I tell myself as we approach a downhill. Relax. This part is easy. The downhill is easy. Save it for the end. And then I see it: the mile 5 sign. That means that I now have 1.2 miles to go. How will I ever sustain this pace for another entire mile and then some? Not that I have any alternative. My body is in its top gear, so my options are now to either run it out to the end as hard as I can or to stop completely—and no way am I stopping unless my legs collapsed under me.

    Run. Breathe. Relax. Re-laaaax. It feels like a joke to tell myself to relax when my body is in panic I-need-to-stop mode, but it is the only thought I can get to stick in my head. That and, Just run your race. The rest of the girls are gravy. If you beat them, fine. If you don’t, fine. Just keep running.

    There are the gates. I saw them yesterday, when I was showing my family the finish area. Now I just have to go around the loop by the fountain and . . . where? I come careening around the fountain and hear my name shouted from somewhere in the crowd. My head feels cemented in place, so I toss my hand out in what I hope looks like a wave as I barrel across the street. Perpendicular fences create a sharp left-hand turn, followed by a turn to the right, around a street corner. And then, there is the finish line: a mass of navy blue banners and silver chain-link fences and eyes staring through and over and above.

    “And here comes Allison Goldstein,” comes a voice over the loudspeaker, “making her way to the finish line.” Allison Goldstein. That’s me! Pumping my legs as hard as they will go, I raise my arms. Maybe it’s my imagination, but maybe the crowd really does let out a cheer.

    At 9:43a.m. I cross the finish line.

    Sunday, August 14, 2011

    NYC Triathlon, Part III: The Bike

    Not caught up? Read Part I and Part II.

    The sky is still gray, although the heavier rains seem to have stopped. Wind whips back and forth against my body as I pump my pedals. “On your left!” riders shout as they speed past me. Their rear tires spray mist and grit up into my face.

    Take water now, I commanded myself, even though I am not thirsty and the last thing I want to do release my either of handlebars while swerving around puddles, potholes, and other cyclists. Yet every triathlete I have spoken to has said, “take your water and nutrition on the bike,” and I know their advice is right. My leg muscles might be burning, but I am not breathing hard at all, and I know how difficult it is to swallow anything while running. Now is the time.

    Once I am on a slight downhill slope, I stop pedaling in order to balance more easily. It takes me a few swipes before I manage to snag the water bottle out of its holster, and I have to quickly grab my handlebar to steer around an especially deep-looking puddle before I can let go again and take a hurried swig. As I reach down and jostle to get the bottle back into its cage, I mentally picture A___ pedaling along in front of me, sitting completely upright with both arms completely free. Someday I will be able to do that, I promise myself. For now, I have to be satisfied with managing to take a drink of water without dropping the bottle or toppling over.

    When we reach the highway tollbooths, I squint down at my odometer. Does it say 3? No way; that must be an 8. Oh man, I’ve only gone 8 miles? That means I’m not even close to the halfway-point.

    Finally we reach the turnaround point at 13 miles and start on our way back. A few miles in, I decide to take my “nutrition,” which is a sugar and electrolyte supplement, in this case called Gu. The Gu turns out to be easier to handle than the water. Per my friend B___’s instructions, I had taped the packet to to top of my bike frame with black electrical tape. The perforated line on the packet is right below the tape, so when I reach down and yank, it tears right off. I stick the open end in my mouth, and suck sweet, slimy substance into my mouth. The flavor is chocolaty and sugary, with a guaranteed gross aftertaste. I only manage to swallow about a teaspoon-sized amount before I look over my right shoulder to make sure no one is behind me and chuck it into the bushes.

    After 8 more miles, a tight U-turn and one last steep downhill, we are back at the yellow transition area. I unclip, dismount from my bike, and stumble through squishy muddy grass to get back to my spot in the bike racks. Bike shoes off. Sneakers on. Baseball cap . . . helmet! Take the helmet off first, idiot. I grab my baseball cap and race belt, and I am off again!

    Saturday, August 13, 2011

    NYC Triathlon, Part II: The Swim

    Not caught up? Read Part I.

    R___ and A___ stay with me until we see the first batch of athletes plunge into the water, and then it’s time. I strap my goggles around my head and lick the inside lens of each one before suctioning the cup to my eye. We moved forward in a mass of bodies, and right at the starting line, there they are: my mother, father, and R___, shouting their heads off and waving signs on sticks reading, “Tri ur hardest, Allison!” and “We don’t tri, our daughter does!”

    I’m grinning like a nut until suddenly, I am on the barge and the row of white caps in front of us has disappeared. Nineteen other women and I move to the edge of the barge and sit down on a hard red mat, dangling our legs over the water. A few seconds pass and then “brrrrrrrrr!”—the horn goes off and I launch myself into the water.

    I had intended to get a good strong push off of the barge, but when I shoot my legs out behind of me, my legs make contact with absolutely nothing. With grayish-green water clouding my vision, I feel a quick second of panic before I start clawing my way forward. The water is choppy, with waves either blocking my view or hitting me squarely in the face each time I lift my head. After several mouthfuls of briny water, I decide to breathe exclusively to my left side, to allow the waves to wash over my head instead of hitting me in the mouth. This is when I discover that every 250 meters a “mile marker” sign is attached to the shore-side wall, indicating how far we have swum.

    Soon I have left all of the white-capped swimmers behind, and am now surrounded by purple caps. What’s next? I think. What color was in front of purple? It turns out the next wave is blue. Now I am surrounded by blue-capped swimmers.

    This is awesome, I think. I have never swum so fast! I am over halfway through the swim, and my adrenaline is still pumping. Just don’t leave it all in the water, I tell myself. Calm down, because if you spend all of your energy here, you’ll have nothing left by the time you get to the run.

    I pass athletes doing everything form freestyle to backstroke, breaststroke, side stroke, and even one man in a red cap doing doggy paddle. Suddenly, I glimpse the triangle of orange finishing buoys in sight. I do my best to almost-sprint for the final 200 meters, and then I bump into other athletes at the dock before being gripped and hauled out of the water by a male volunteer. He passes me along up the ramp, with other men gripping my elbow and forearm as my legs stumble and buckle, until I am able to will them to stand.

    I make it out to the path, where I follow a line of other athletes performing the same tip-toe run along the pavement toward the transition areas. By the time I cover the 700 meters of pavement to the transition area, the soles of my feet are on fire. I throw my goggles and cap on the ground beside my bike and unroll my socks onto my feet. Shoot, I realize as I reached for my right biking shoe. I forgot to un-Velcro the straps on my biking shoes. I rip them open as fast as I can and stuff my feet inside. Donning my rain-spotted sunglasses, I smash my ponytail under my helmet and clip the strap under my chin. This is why it pays to be a good swimmer, I congratulate myself as I unrack my bike and wheel it down the empty row. No other women had arrived to claim their bike, and the path is clear straight to the exit. What a mess that would have been!

    The bike path out of transition is actually the same path that the swimmers use to run to the transition areas. Swimmers run on their right, bikers ride on their right, and so long as no one crosses the center line, crisis is averted. The bike path then takes a sharp right turn, followed by a steep hill that cuts directly through a crowd of spectators. At the top, I follow a roundabout, turn left, and am suddenly on my way up the West Side Highway, off to complete the second part of the race.

    Thursday, August 11, 2011

    NYC Triathlon, Part I: Pre-Race

    My morning starts at 3:15.

    I wake to the creaking of floorboards, followed by a buzzing alarm. A___ is already awake, creeping around the kitchen to make coffee.

    “I was afraid you had slept in!” he whispers “Do you want anything for breakfast? Cereal? Toast?”

    I sit up on the air-mattress, rubbing my bleary-eyes and trying to remind myself why I was on the living room floor of A___’s apartment. You slept over. Your gear is in those bags by your feet. Today is race day. I then try to process his request. My mouth feels like it is filled with dryer lint.

    “I’m going to eat my banana,” I decide, reaching for one of my bags. “Then I’ll figure it out.”

    One banana, two slices of jam-covered toast, and three glasses of water later, A___ and I are heading through dark muggy streets toward the subway, our bags slapping against our backs. Stuffed into my bags are everything I will need for the race: sneakers, socks, biking shoes, water, Cliff nutrition bars, Shot Blocks, electrical tape, plastic bags, a race belt, my running bib, a baseball cap, a helmet, and a hand towel. In A___’s bag are his camera and an umbrella. I vaguely wonder whether he had any coffee before we left.

    When we emerge from the subway station at 72nd street, a light rain has begun to fall. I head toward the hoards of athletes emerging from taxis and hurrying along sidewalks, A___ follows behind we make our way down to the transition area.

    The transition area consists of thirty-odd rows arranged across an oblong field that and surrounded by a high metal fence. Each row is comprised of a long metal pole covered in square numbered stickers that correspond to each athlete’s race number. When I had dropped off my bike early Saturday afternoon, individual bicycles had been scattered amid the rows. Now, a growling generator beams light down onto a winking sea of silver, black, red, and yellow metal.

    I make my way through the rows of bikes, racked merely inches away from one another, until I reach mine. Squatting in the dark, I spread my small, faded yellow hand towel on the grass to the left of my front tire. I set my sneakers together at the back of my towel, and my baseball cap and race belt next to them. At the front of the towel, I lay out my biking shoes and socks, along with a bottle of water.

    The rain is harder now, drenching my hair and starting to drip into my eyes. I rip open a plastic shopping bag and lay it over all of my transition materials, tucking the edges around the towel. Then, I set my helmet upside-down on my handlebars, chin strap unhooked, and lay my sunglasses inside.

    A___ and I walk over a mile to reach the swim start, and the rolling gray sky is just starting to lighten when we arrive. I step off of the concrete, into the wet soggy grass to take off my shoes and socks. Then I place them in a bag, inch my way up a hill, and stand in line with other athletes to load my bag into one of several trucks.

    Finally, I am left holding nothing at all. My timing chip is secured around my ankle with its Velcro strap, and my goggles and cap are tucked into the shoulder strap of my swim top. With a tight throat, a churning stomach, and A___ serving as my personal photographer, I make my way down to the starting corrals.

    The corrals are comprised of long metal gates lined up end-to-end to form a long chute parallel to the Hudson River. A single section of fence is set perpendicularly to block off segments of this chute, and each segment is marked with a sign indicating certain age group and color.

    The race is organized by dividing male and female competitors into 5-year age groups. Each age group is then split in half, and each half is assigned to a particular color. My color was white, meaning that I am wearing a white swimming cap and am standing with other 25-29 year-old white-capped women in our designated corral. Meanwhile, A___ stands on the other side of the corral fence, snapping pictures, juggling his umbrella, and assuring me that I am going to be great.

    Twenty minutes before the race is scheduled to start, a 20-minute delay is announced, due to a car that has flipped over on the highway where we are about to bike. At this point, A___ finally says good-bye in order to head back down to the swim exit, where he will set up to take pictures when I emerge from the Hudson River. After he leaves, and I look out onto the churning river, wondering, If the roads are slippery enough to flip a car, what’s going to happen when I ride over them on a wobbly little bike?

    Suddenly, I hear a familiar voice.

    “Allison? Allison?”

    I turn away from the river, and there is R____, virtually standing next to me except for the metal corral fence separating us.

    “R___!” I throw my arms around his neck and give him an awkward, wet hug. As it turned out, he and my parents had arrived in time to find a spot with a clear view of the swim start. Then, when they heard the announcement about the race delay, R___ decided to plunge into the sea of athletes and spectators around the corrals to see if he could find me. In spite of the crowd, A___ had run into R___ and led him to my corral! It was a small miracle!

    Sunday, July 31, 2011

    Snapshot Book Review: Machine of Death

    Machine of Death: A Collection of Stories about People Who Know How They Will DieMachine of Death: A Collection of Stories about People Who Know How They Will Die by Ryan North

    My rating: 3 of 5 stars

    This book has one of the most unique premises and "development stories" that I've found in a long time.

    Book Premise: A machine is exists that can tell, from a sample of blood, how any individual on earth will. It doesn't give you a date or time or even specifics; it just spits words and phrases like DROWNED or CANCER or CHOKED ON A HANDFUL OF POPCORN out onto a slip of paper. These words are always vague and more often than not, ironic. OLD AGE, for example, could mean either dying of natural causes, or shot by a bedridden man in a botched home invasion.

    Book Development:The premise for this book was inspired by a Dinosaur Comic by Ryan North. From January 15 - April 30, 2007, Ryan and his two co-editors Matthew Bernnardo and David Malki welcomed short story contributions based on this premise from anyone in the world. The three editors then chose their favorites from the nearly 700 submissions.

    For fear of spoiling any of the surprises this book contains, I won't go into exactly why I liked any one of the stories. As a collection, however, I thought North, Bernarrdo, and Malki did a find job of choosing 34 unique stories. Some were extremely well-written, some not so much. This is the case in any short story collection, however, and the promise of another new, completely different perspective on the same theme kept me reading avidly.

    Machine of Death will especially appeal to fans sci-fi and dystopia writing, but it can most definitely be appreciated by anyone with a love of suspenseful short stories, surprise endings, and unknown writers.

    View all my reviews

    Tuesday, July 26, 2011

    What's wrong with this sign?

    Sometimes, I have to wonder if everyone outsources their design projects, or if texting and instant messaging are making native English speakers stupider.

    Saturday, July 23, 2011

    Circumnavigating Lady Liberty

    We had stood in line at Battery Park, ridden the ferry, eaten a sandwich, picked up our race caps, stretched our legs, taken team photos, and were now in line with 235 other barefooted, goggle-adorned swimmers, trooping across the liberty island to line up for our race: The NYC SWIM Liberty Island Swim.
    When we reached the railing that ran along the southwest corner of the island, we stopped and were instructed to line up numerically, by the race number scrawled on our caps and arms in black permanent marker. The sky was slowly darkening, and the choppy water rocked the ferry in front of us back and forth. As I found my place in line, a few raindrops pricked my skin. Please, I thought, don't let it rain until the race is over. I personally didn't care about getting wet--I was about to jump into a river, anyway--but with no sun and a relentless breeze, goosebumps had already risen on my arms and legs. If it rained while I was in the water, the sweatshirt and sweatpants I had packed in my bag, which was now sitting exposed at the fenced-in bag check area, would be useless.

    "They'd better hurry up," said a a voice behind me. I turned to find a tall, pale boy looking at me. He had that underdeveloped, bony look that most fifteen-year-old boys have, where their muscles look a slightly soft and misplaced on their bodies, and their facial features are just a bit too big, giving them a somewhat comical appearance. He shook his head.
    "Why are the giving out the timing chips like this, anyway?"

    I looked around until I found what he was referring to: race organizers were walking up and down the line of swimmers, calling out numbers and removing black plastic timing chips one at a time. Other volunteers were trailing behind, passing out velcro strips to attach the chips around our ankles.

    "They should have just given us the chips when we signed in," I agreed. "We had to pick up our caps then, anyway."

    The boy grinned in relief and extended his hand. "Hi, I'm Chris."

    "I'm Allison."

    We continued to stand in line for the next 30 minutes, discussing our swimming backgrounds, the differences between open water and pool swimming, and our expectations for this race.

    "I just don't want it to rain," I told him.

    "Oh, I hope it rains!" he replied. "That'll give me an advantage."

    "Are you trying to win or something?"

    He looked hopeful. "Nah, but I'd love to finish in the top ten."

    Right at that moment, we both heard a woman call out his name. "Chris? Chris G___?" He raised his hand and waved, and the woman came over to him. "Chris, I'm so glad I found you. I have your medal. Is your family here?" He nodded. "Great. I'll just find them and give this to them. Congratulations again."

    As she walked away, I turned back to him with raised eyebrows. "So you really are trying to win this race."

    He shook his head adamantly, explaining that it was just an age-group medal and insisting that the field was too competitive. "There were swimmers from all over the world here to do this race!"

    Sure, sure, I thought, but you would still like to win.

    Finally, we were given the go-ahead to file over the dock and onto the ferry. One by one, we jumped off the side and into the water and treaded together in one huge jumble, bumping and kicking and splashing one another in an effort to stay between the two orange start-line buoys.

    At last, the final swimmer had entered the water and we were ready to go. They gave us the countdown and . . . go! Arms and legs flailed as we pummeled and struck one another in an effort to get to the clear water ahead. My heart surged as I tried to keep from being pushed under by swimmers behind me while avoiding the feet of those in front. Every time I turned to take a breath or raise my head, waves crashed into my face. I couldn't breathe, I couldn't. . . .

    I was clear. I had made it past the old woman in the flowered bathing suit who kept cutting me off and the man in the wetsuit who kept swimming up on top of my legs. The feet of the person ahead of me made a burst of bubbles I could follow, and my arms suddenly felt loose and strong. Stroke, two, three, breathe. Look ahead. Stroke, two, three, breathe.

    I passed four buoys, the northern dock, and then five more buoys. I could only see a few swimmers ahead, their pink caps bobbing above the murky green-gray water. And there it was: the southern dock! There was the finish!

    My arms felt even stronger, and I surged forward, increasing my tempo and pulling with all my might. There was a man ahead to my left; could I catch him? I breathed to my left, keeping him in sight as I decreased the distance between us. How far was it to the finish? Two hundred yards? Five hundred? There was no way I could keep up this pace for five hundred yards. It had to be closer than that.

    My shoulders burned and my lungs ached. I accidentally breathed to my right and was rewarded with a mouthful of salty Hudson River water. But I was almost there.

    With my last few strokes, I cut in front of the man I had been chasing and yanked myself up onto the ladder hanging from the dock. Panting and dripping, I shuffled forward onto the mat and into the corral. I had made it! And it wasn't even raining.

    Results for this race:
    Race Length Finishing TimeOverall Place Gender Place (All Women) Age Group Place (F20-30)
    1.2k 20:24 31/236 15/99 4/19

    Also, for anyone who's interested, my waiting-line buddy Chris finished 14th overall and 4th in his age group (M10-20) with a time of 19:34.

    Next open water swim: the Little Red Lighthouse 10k on September 24, 2011. Stay tuned!

    Wednesday, July 13, 2011

    Things Similar To Giving Birth

    You swear you'll never ever, ever, ever do it again.
    • Sunburns
    • Eating airplane food
    • Popping a pimple
    • Starting a new job
    • A Brazilian Wax
    • Buying cheap shoes
    • Hangovers

    But then, somehow, you forget how bad it was, convince yourself it'll be worth it, and plunge back into the same cycle of swearing that this will be the last time....

    Monday, June 20, 2011

    Snapshot Book Review: The Road

    The RoadThe Road by Cormac McCarthy

    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    This book was extremely well written. For a novel in which virtually nothing happens to further a plot that leads basically from misery to death concerning two characters with almost no backstory, I was actually rather impressed. These reasons--lack of driving plot, lack of conclusive ending, lack of backstory explaining who the characters are or how the world that exists in such ruin came to be--are why I did not like this novel. But that is my personal preference. In spite of those preferences, I must say that tMcCarthy's writing is sparse and yet nearly lyrical in its stark simplicity. Ruin, destruction, destitution, and hopelessness permeate book, and yet the perseverance and loyalty of the father and son traveling through this world gives the reader an odd sense of futile and yet gratifying hope and satisfaction. The Road shows the beauty and preciousness of life and the enduring nature of love in spite of a devastating past and bleak future.

    View all my reviews

    Thursday, June 9, 2011

    The New York Flux

    I love New York City (and the New Jersey boroughs of Hoboken and Jersey City, both of which are pretty much extensions of NYC, in my opinion). I love the energy, I love the diversity, I love the availability, and most of all, I love the people.

    Of course, I don’t love all of the people. I definitely do not love the people who walk four abreast on the sidewalk and glare as if I am in their way as I struggle to haul three gigantic, overflowing bags of laundry past them up the street. I do not love the people who stand outside bodegas, bars, or restaurants and blow cigarette smoke directly into my eyes as I pass by on the sidewalk. I do not love people who allow their children ride hilly-nilly around the street and run into me on their scooters, and I also do not love people who ask me how to do something and then, as I am telling them, act as if they already know the answer.

    Alternatively, I do love people who agree to get up before the sun rises on a Saturday morning to ride bikes or go swimming. (And I especially love those people when they offer to pick me up in their car!) I love people who say, “Yes you can,” and, “I believe in you,” and, “Thank you for working so hard on this.” I love people who selflessly offer to come to my apartment and help me snake my stuffed-up toilet, and people who drive me to Home Depot to pick out supplies to repair a hold in my apartment wall. I love people who are willing to lend me shoe polish, yoga mats, and a whole variety of other odds-and-ends that I am lacking. I love people who love to go on “coffee walks” at work just to be outside and catch up on each other’s lives. I love people who care about the things I care about.

    Living in New York (okay, okay, New Jersey, but like I said, Jersey City counts), I have had the opportunity to meet all of sorts of people from all over: people from Israel, Australia, Italy, Japan, China, Canada, California, Wisconsin, Queens (NY), and Long Branch (NJ)--all of whom are gathered right here in this one spot to live and eat and exercise and smile. Nowhere else in America--or maybe even the world--would this be possible.

    With so many people gathered from so many other cities and states and countries, however, there is an inevitable flux. People come; people go. Some visit for a week, others stay for a year or two or three. Eventually, though, it seems that everyone leaves.

    I am not an exception to this trend. At two-and-a-half years, I have been here longer than some, although probably not most. In that time, I have formed relationships with coworkers and fellow athletes that I would not trade for the world. Yet, I cannot envision myself staying in this place any longer than five years. If I do stay for the full five, most of my friends will have come and gone. At that time, I will follow their examples: taking a week or two to check activities off of my “bucket list,” give away most of my belongings, and say the most lasting farewells that I can.

    I do not look forward to that time, nor do I dread it; I simply know it is coming. Yet selfishly, I hope my time comes earlier rather than later, because I find it easier to wave farewell from the balcony of a ship setting sail than to wave while standing behind, on the shore.