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Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Belated Giving of Thanks

I'm a little late posting this, but really, it is still that time of year: the time to be grateful, to express gratitude, to offer thanks. I might not have any turkey to go with it anymore (that's right, no more leftovers), but I do have twinkling Christmas lights to keep me company. So in no particular order, here are a few thank-yous that I should say more often:
  1. Thanks Coach Josh, for making me faster. I never thought I would ever enjoy speed intervals, and while I'm not sure I'd claim to enjoy them, plain old runs do seem sort of boring now.
  2. Thanks Gotham City Runners for making this running season so much fun. You guys are a wonderful, supportive group, and races just aren't the same without you. (Fingers crossed for April Fool's Day!)
  3. Thanks mom and dad, for your continuous love and support. A girl couldn't ask for better parents.
  4. Thanks Ryan for always picking me up when I'm down and cheering me on when I'm up. I know I can always depend on you, and that means the world.
  5. Thanks Klock family for your endless generosity and willingness to have me around. I don't think any other group of people will make me laugh as hard as you all do.
  6. Thanks Tyrone, for being my number one work confident. I'm not sure what I'm going to do when you finally go off and follow the job of your dreams! But you deserve it, so get out of here.
  7. Thanks Mark for always having adorable pictures and even more adorable stories of your kids handy to supplement long and potentially boring runs. It's quite the luxury to be a vicarious parent!
  8. Thanks [Work] Josh, for finding lost things, fixing broken stuff, and scavenging the rest. And of course for your tireless enthusiasm. No one loves the Pittsburgh Triathlon like you!
  9. Thanks body, for not breaking down on me during marathon training. It's such a relief to get through a running season with no injuries.
  10. Thanks Ellen and Nick, for making every day at work a lot more fun.
  11. Thanks Emily, for always having an open heart and an open home. Although we're both far away and super busy, it's good to know that some friendships are made to last.
  12. Thanks Kelly 1 for always making time for me when I'm in the 'burgh. And, of course, for being my #1 Excel consultant. I know you're busy and important, so I really appreciate it!
  13. Thanks Adrian and Esther for staying in contact despite oceans between us. Hopefully I will see both of you sooner than later!
  14. Thanks James and Tiffanie for picking up where Adrian and Esther left off. I'd never swim at all if it weren't for the two of you! (And I'd never have such entertaining email exchanges to look forward to when I go away either.)
  15. Thanks Jersey City Writers for kicking my butt into gear this year! I've produced more writing in 2013 than I have since it was required of me in college, and I couldn't have done it without all of you.
I'm sure I forgot a great number of other items, but this was delayed long enough. So a big "sorry" and extra-big "thank-you" to anyone/anything I missed! 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Snapshot Book Review: Sisterland

SisterlandSisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love Sittenfeld's writing, so I was going to read this book no matter what. However, reading the cover copy and learning it would be about psychic twins gave me pause. This didn't sound like Sittenfeld's sort of subject matter--nor my sort of subject matter--but I love this author, so I had to give it a go.

Ultimately, it wasn't really a book about psychic abilities at all. In fact, I have to wonder why that was even really included at all. Surely there could have been another sort of conflict that could cause such tension between Kate and her husband Jeremy and Kate's sister Violet. However, the book was ultimately a wonderful read about family dynamics and loyalties, as well as a look into how we deal with choices we make that we cannot even explain to ourselves.

I wish more time had been given to the fallout from the ultimate act--the "earthquake" so to speak (no spoilers!)--but I think it was also valuable to develop all of the characters' nuanced relationships with one another, as well. Sittenfeld is good at making you feel a certain way about characters, even if it's not a good feeling, and that, I think, is what makes her writing so authentic. I didn't like Violet, but as someone who doesn't always like my own sister, either, I could absolutely identify with Kate's emotions and actions toward her. And while I'm not married, I am dating someone as smart and wonderful and level-headed as Jeremy, and I could recognize how difficult it can feel to come up against that at times, as Kate does, knowing that she's being irrational but also being unable to feel or act any other way.

All in all, not my favorite book Sittenfeld has written, but still a solid read from an excellent writer.

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Monday, December 2, 2013

Trotting for Turkey

So I have half of a Thanks-Giving post written, but in the meantime, I'll post something else I'm thankful for: finishing the Prospect Park Turkey Trot in a respectable time!

In fact, as this is only the 3rd time I've ever race 5 miles, my time was actually a PR (Personal Record). However, based on my (much faster) 5k PR this past August, I'm convinced that I can run a faster 5 mile race. Still, coming off of a lazy marathon recovery, I can't really complain too bitterly.

Plus, we got gloves and a turkey-shaped finisher medal as our race swag. PLUS hot chocolate at the end of the race. So yeah, no complaints.

Results of this race:

Race Length
Finishing Time
Average Pace
Overall Place
Gender Place
Age Group Place
(F25-29)
5 miles
34:31
6:54/mile
72/ 2,227
8/ TBD
2/267

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Snapshot Book Review: Nine Inches

Nine Inches: StoriesNine Inches: Stories by Tom Perrotta
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love Tom Perrotta. I love the honesty and vulnerability of his writing, the way he writes about people you could know, or might know, or do know. His characters are always recognizable and relatable without relying on stereotypes or tropes.

This collection of short stories falls right in line with his other work, each story told from the perspective of characters who could easily live in the same town, eat at the same diners, send their children to the same schools as any of us. And the stories play off of one another. The high school student narrator "The Test Taker" serves as a perfect foil to the overweight and under-appreciated math teacher who narrates "Grade My Teacher." A disenfranchised Little League Umpire, a defeated pizza deliver boy, an injured football player, a divorced neighbor, a meddlesome old mother, a beginner guitar player, and a high school prom chaperone round out the list of narrators, each one just as frustrated with life as the next. And yet, each story concludes on a hopeful note; not necessarily with a "happy ending," but with the very human sense that something is still in store for these characters, that their story is not quite over. Just like life, really. Like you, and me, and all the people we know.

When one of our stories concludes, another is just beginning.

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Monday, November 4, 2013

NYC Marathon: (A Much Better) Part 2

As you may or may not have read in Part 1, I had a rough start to the NYC Marathon. A good bit of that was my fault, but knowing that didn't help very much when I was standing on the Verrazano Bridge, shivering and wondering what I had been thinking in choosing to run such a crowded, well-known race.

I'm used to running smaller, more obscure races that no one knows about unless I happen to mention them. Now, I had all these people at work and in my writing group and at my pool coming up to me and asking if I was excited, what my goal time was . . . all sorts of questions. While I certainly know that they're just trying to be supportive, it felt like more and more pressure! What if I didn't make my goal time or something terrible happened and I didn't even finish. I would have to tell all these people! Never mind my coach, who clearly had a goal time in mind, even if he hadn't told me what it was. Heck, I had a goal time in mind, and disappointing myself was the worst feeling of all. But I also tend to have high expectations, so disappointing myself was also a very likely possibility. (More great planning on my part, I know.)

To make what's already a long story . . . less long, I'll just say that the race started, and I ran. Here's an approximation of what I recall thinking along various miles of the course:

Miles 1-2: I cannot believe I'm going to have to do mental math at every mile. I passed mile 1 at 11:45, so minus the 3-ish minutes it too me to cross the start line. . . . The clock did say 11:45, right? And not 12:45? Guys are so lucky, being able to just pee off this bridge. Ew it's on the ground! I'm stepping in it! I think it splashed my calf! Oh my god, if I see another obviously uninjured person walking, I might punch them. Seriously, if you wanted to walk the race, you should have started in the last wave, not up here with all of us.

Miles 3-7: Geez there are a lot of Hispanic people in Brooklyn. And I thought this would be one of the emptier sections of the route. I should not have brought my iPod. Oh look, there's . . . what's her name? E__'s friend? Argh! "Hey green hat girl!" She didn't hear me. Oh well. Yikes! Sewer grate! Why do people insist on running in pairs? It's hard enough to dodge around all the single runners. This should be outlawed. Oh look it's Ju___ and Ma___! Hi guys!

Miles 7-8: Okay, somewhere in here I'm supposed to see R___ and my aunt. What was the name of the cross-street I gave them? Degraw? Delancey? I knew I should have memorized the directions I wrote them better. It was something with a D. . . . If my Garmin was working, I know it's at mile 7.8. Grrr. Okay, it's almost mile 8; I think I'm supposed to skip this water stop. Oh look there they are! Oh my gosh, my aunt has her camera out! Hi!

Miles 9-12: Am I running fast enough? I don't think I'm down to 7:30s yet. Was I even supposed to run 7:30s to make my the half marathon time J___ set for me? What's 1:38 divided by 13? I guess if you times it by 60 and add 38. . . . I can't do this. My half marathon PR was basically 1:30 and that was sub-7s, so my splits for this must be slower than 7:30 per mile, because 8 minutes divided by 13 is not 30 seconds a mile. Or something. Shoot the Gu! Well, guess I can just take it now. Where's the next water stop? Oh ew, this stuff is so disgusting. After this race I must find an alternative. Ugh, it's so slimy in my mouth. Swallow, swallow. . . .

Mile 13: Oh no. I think I'm getting my period. Yep, this is definitely happening. Well, at least I feel better about almost crying this morning.

Miles 14-15: That guy said "Mile 15" back at the water station, but I didn't see a mile marker or a clock. Did I just miss them? I wonder if E___ made it out here in time to see me. It would be a miracle if I can spot her among all these people. I don't remember this section being so crowded when I cheered before! Oh look, there's the 15 mile marker. I knew I didn't miss it. Lord this bridge is long. And cold. And windy. Is the sun really not going to come out for the rest of the race?

Mile 16: Holy crap that is a lot of people. Please, please don't let blood drip down my leg. Please.

Mile 17-18: So this is when I'm supposed to hit the wall, right? I feel pretty okay. Shoot that was a mile marker, wasn't it. Guess I'll just do my minute of "pickup" now. I wonder if J___ knows how hard it is to estimate a minute without a watch. There's that lady in the long-sleeved purple shirt again! Am I just going to keep passing her every time I do this pickup minute? Whatever, I'll get her in the end. Re___'s supposed to be somewhere along here . . . there she is! I cannot believe she made me a sign! Oh my gosh and there's Mi___! I totally forgot she lives in NYC. Somehow I associated her with DC, but that's just because she ran the Marine Corps Marathon. Oh wow and there's Ma___! That guy must be her boyfriend. How cool that they came all the way down from CT for this!

Mile 19: R___ and Aunt B___ will be at 117th. 117th . . . 117th . . . 117th . . . just get to 117th. . . . There they are! They made it!  Oops, I'm supposed to get water here. Or was it Gatorade? Whatever, I'm already past that. Oh, oh, oh! I got it in my eye! Is my contact still there? I'm blind! Okay, no I'm not. Blink it back. There you go. God it's cold.

Mile 20: The Bronx isn't so empty. There are people up here. GCR is supposed to be up here, I think. I hope I didn't pass them. Why didn't I read that email more closely?

Mile 21: Another bridge. G*!$@&^it. Why am I doing this? Whose idea was this, anyway? What a terrible idea. Hey look, it's T__! I can't believe he's here! Come on, try to smile. He knows you're tired.

Mile 22: There are R___ and Aunt B___! Sheesh, she's still go her camera. You have to smile. Now. You're supposed to be having fun. That's what R___ told you last night: have fun. Fun, fun, fun.

Mile 23-25: Oh my God my legs hurt. I swear they did not hurt like this last time. Are they even moving very fast? Why are people passing me? This is supposed to be my glory time! I'm supposed to be passing other people! What is wrong with me? Don't walk. Walking is not allowed. If you walk, you'll never start running again. It's almost over. Just a few more miles. You can do this. You could run 4 miles in your sleep. Just 4 more. Come on.

Mile 25-26: Okay, you can pick it up for one mile. One. Single. Mile. Look at all these people cheering. This is supposed to be motivating. I don't even care. I'm not smiling for them. It hurts so bad. Why can't I go any faster? Where are my legs? Why does this hurt so much?

Mile .2: Is that the finish line? No, that can't be it. There'll be an arch and stuff. But I thought it was at the top of this hill! Why are we still running? Oh my god, that girl just flew by you. You suck. You aren't even moving your legs. There it is. Right there. You're almost there. 3:21-something. God you're the worst. Not even close to 3:15. Whatever, it'll be a PR as long as you don't stop. Just get there.

Nothing like self pep talks, huh? I swear, those last 6 miles are nothing but mental. The sidelines could have been completely empty, and I wouldn't even have cared. It was just me, the road, and the pain. But I made it.

As it turns out, I don't care much about crowds. Seeing people I know is important; knowing that R___ and my aunt would be at specific miles looking for me was really helpful, because it gave me something to look forward to, to "run toward." And seeing other people along the way was a real boost, too. But big generic crowds? By the end I barely noticed them.

And no, I didn't make my "secret" goal of a 3:15 marathon, but I did get a personal best, beating my 2009 marathon time by about 2 minutes. Apparently I also fell into the 60-second window of time my coach J___ predicted for me, so I can't really be ashamed of my race . . .  at all.

I'll just have to put in more work before the next race.

For whoever is interested, here are the race results:

Winning Times
Male Overall: 2:08:24
Female Overall: 2:25:07
Female 25-29 (my age group: 2:44:19

My Results

Race Length
Finishing Time
Average Pace
Overall Place
Gender Place
Age Group Place
(F25-29)
26.2 miles
3:18:53
7:36/mile
2,537/ TBD
240/ TBD
67/2,974

Here are my splits (which I have to admit are amazingly consistent):

5k
10k
15k
13.1
25k
30k
35k
40k
 0:23:57
 0:46:41
 1:09:51 
 1:38:25
 1:57:14 
 2:20:28 
 2:44:53
 3:08:36 

NYC Marathon: (A Miserable) Part 1

I did not have the greatest start to the NYC marathon--most of which was my own fault.

The day before the marathon, I picked up my aunt from the Port Authority bus station around noon (she was coming in to cheer me on!), and we walked around New York City for, oh . . . the next three or four hours. She wanted to see the High Line, which seemed like a very reasonable request, except that I didn't remember it being quite so long. Midway along the walk, she kindly offered to stop, but we had to walk to the end because I needed to return a library book to a library I had scouted out that was located down by 9th street. Of course, the library I had so brilliantly chosen wasn't at 9th street and 11th Ave; it was at 9th street and 6th Ave, so we had to walk almost an entire mile in addition to having just walked about 3 miles. Then, I thought we could easily stop by and see R___, who was eating lunch in the area, but it turned out that he was much farther east than I had anticipated, so we ended up walking all the way over to 2nd Ave--another mile--on top of everything. By the time we got home, no thanks to my poor planning, we had probably walked about 6 miles. After which I stood at the stove for an hour-and-a-half, cooking dinner.

All in all, probably not the best-thought-out plan for the day before a marathon.

The race day itself started out as expected. I had laid out all of my clothing and gear the night before, so I had no problem downing my breakfast; greasing up my legs, chest, and armpits; donning my outfit (plus all of my keep-warm throwaway clothing for the start); collecting my packed bag (complete with freshly charged watch and iPod); and heading out the door right on time. The PATH train also came on time--thank goodness--and before I knew it, I was at the Staten Island Ferry terminal, ready to board the 6:45AM ferry.

That's when I went to turn on my watch.

For those who have not read my blog in the past, I purchased my first GPS Garmin watch a few short months ago. Since then, I have yet to run a race where it has not malfunctioned in some way. At the Bronx 10-miler, it died completely midway through the race. At the Staten Island Half, it lost satellite reception about 8 miles into the race and never recovered. So really, I should have known better than to wear this fickle contraption for a race as important as the NYC Marathon. But it just worked so well during the weeks when I run regular workouts, that I keep thinking, "Nah, it'll be fine. Those two other times were just flukes." Not so.

I am 100% positive that when I unhooked my watch from its charger that morning, the display showed the battery as being fully charged (i.e. a solid, unblinking 4 bars in that little rectangular battery shape). In an effort to preserve the battery as much as possible, I turned the watch off completely, intending to turn it back on when I had finished being underground (so that it wound't drain itself during that part of the trip, looking for satellite reception). Therefore, imagine my surprise when, standing in the ferry terminal, I went to push the "on" button and nothing happened. Not a beep, not a flicker--nothing.

I'm embarrassed to say that my first instinct was to cry. Seriously? On the most important day when I needed this thing to work, it wasn't even going to turn on? Now, not only would I not know my pace per mile, I wouldn't be able to clock my own running time or even know what time of day it was! (That last part was not entirely true: I had my iPod with me, so I could check the time on that device. But doing so involved pushing a button to get the display to turn on, whereas glancing down at my wrist would have been so much easier. That was the point of having a watch in the first place!)

On top of the watch malfunction, I was feeling weird hungry/nervous flutters in my stomach. I hadn't eaten a ton at dinner, because I usually snack well into the night. However, since I also didn't stay up as late as I usually do, I didn't have as much time to snack . . . so now I was feeling a little empty. I got out the almonds I had brought with me and tried to eat some, but they tasted like cardboard and I wasn't sure my stomach actually wanted those, anyway. I unwrapped a Cliff Bar and took a few bites, trying to talk myself down from full-blown panic, when something finally went my way. I heard my name.

"Allison?"

Emerging from the sea of people was H___, another GCR runner whom I hadn't seen in weeks. I had heard that she was injured and wasn't even sure if she'd be running the marathon at all, but there she was, smiling up at me from under her a brown-and-white beanie.

H___ was my saving grace for the rest of the morning. Without her, no matter how many times I told myself, "You still have your legs. You don't need a watch to run a good race. It's not raining. You're going to be fine," I am certain I would have been fixated on my stupid watch failure and remained miserable right up until the moment the race started. However, despite her plan to run this race on a stress fracture, H___ was in great spirits and we chatted all the way up until we found the rest of our group at the waiting area on Staten Island.

That's when my next problem arose: I couldn't poop.

To any non-runners reading this, I don't think there is any feeling--apart from cramping--that is worse than running a long distance while having to poop. I had this problem during my first marathon, and I somehow miraculously held it in from mile 16 all the way to the finish. To this day, I'm still not sure how I accomplished that feat, and I was fairly certain that if I encountered the same issue during the NYC marathon, I wasn't going to make it; I would have had to stop. And for me, stopping is one of the worst possible things to do during a long-distance race. Not only is it demoralizing, because I know I'm losing a ton of time, but my legs also lock up and make getting started running again next to impossible.

In any case, my plan was to go to the bathroom in the waiting area and then take an Imodium to feel safe for the rest of the race (which is a trick I learned from H___, ironically enough!). However, as gross as this sounds, I simply could not poop. Finally I just took the Imodium and hoped for the best.

Spoiler alert: I didn't have to poop on the race route. I did, however, really need to pee--starting at about 9:20, which is before we even crossed the starting line. I had already peed twice in the previous hour, so how I could possibly needed to go again is beyond my comprehension. Nerves? Too much water the night before? Who knows. In any event, this also worked itself out, because by mile 20, all I could feel was the pain in my legs; there were no thoughts of my bladder. Unfortunately, that did not lessen my panic at the starting line, where I was shivering and worrying in equal measure. Was I going to have to clench my bladder for the entire 3+ hours? And I was going to be drinking even more liquid, too!

More on the actual race, in Part 2. . . .

Monday, October 21, 2013

Snapshot Book Review: The Girl With All the Gifts

The Girl With All The GiftsThe Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I LOVED the first 1/4 - 1/3 of this book. Telling a zombie story from the perspective of a sympathetic child zombie--Melanie--was pure genius, and the mix of tension and horror surrounding her captivity sucked me right in. Based on those first several chapters, I thought this was definitely going to be my new "recommend to everyone" book.

Then, the junkers (a great term for a type of character that never amounts to very much) invade the military base, the main characters escape together . . . and the story evolves into a much more typical zombie story, the only difference being that they have the sympathetic zombie child still in tow. Carey does a good job at developing the various characters' relationships with Melanie, but once the perspective shifted from what Melanie was experiencing to what the more "stock" adult characters were experiencing (each chapter is told from a different character's perspective), I frankly got bored. A few of the fight-or-flee scenes are invigorating, but the entire middle section is just a lot of "traveling toward home" (appropriately named Beacon), which even the least savvy reader can deduce is no longer there anymore. It's a zombie movie--we know they're going to be lacking supplies and fighting off the zombies at night. We know there's going to be tension between the heartless scientists who insists everything she does is "for the greater good," the psychologist/teacher who feels responsible for Melanie, and the Sergeant General who adheres at all times to his duty of keeping everyone alive. These are predictable characters, whose actions and fates are predictable and therefore make the duration of the book considerably less exciting.

The one character I couldn't figure out was Gallagher. He is the least stereotypical character in the mix--Carey takes pains to develop his childhood backstory to explain why he is in the military at all--but he never really does much of anything. I could easily see another book being dedicated to him and his experiences during this time in "history," but I don't really understand why he had to come along on this particular ride.

All in all, this book was built from an excellent premise, will no doubt be loved by many, and will almost certainly be made into an entertaining movie. Thank you, Carey, for giving us something other than a traditional zombie story . . . at least for the first third of the book.



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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Giving the "Coach Thing" a Shot

Almost exactly one year ago, I met Josh, the coach of Gotham City Runners. Our introduction was purely serendipitous: I was training for the NYC Marathon and was sick of running the same boring routes around Central Park, so I emailed a former coworker, M___, who I knew also trained for marathons and happened to live in Manhattan, to ask if she had any suggestions for alternative routes. She said that she ran with this group of really nice people, and  they were meeting up in the Bronx to run in Palisades Park, and did I want to come? I had--literally--never done a long run with other people before, but I figured "why not?" And so I went.

As it turned out, M___ never showed up to that run at all. However, Josh and the other runners were very inclusive, and they invited me to join their other long runs, since many members of the team were training for the same race I was. I ran one or two more times with the group, and then Hurricane Sandy hit, and that was that.

Fast forward to May of this year. I had just PRed in the Long Branch Half Marathon, and I messaged Josh to hear how the full marathon had gone for his runners. He told me their results and asked how I had done. Proudly, I told him my time of 1:32:42. After congratulating me, he wrote (and I quote), "You could totally torque it down and compete." He went on to say that if I worked with him, I could probably drop 6 minutes off of my half marathon time. Six minutes! That's basically 30 seconds per mile, and I was already running close to 7-minute miles. My initial reaction was, "Yeah right." But told him I'd think about it, and I did. Ultimately I figured I'd give it a shot. Why not try working with a coach? What could it hurt? I'd give it 6 months to a year, and if I hated it or didn't get any faster, then I could just quit. Otherwise, I'd get faster, and who wouldn't want that?

Now, as of Sunday, October 13th, I am proud to say that I not only PRed in the Staten Island Half Marathon, but I dropped almost 3 minutes off of my Long Branch time. I ran the race at a sub-7min/mile pace, which I never thought I would do, ever, in my whole life. And what's more, I placed 3rd in my age group and 6th out of every woman who ran the race!

So a big thanks to Josh  and all of the pain and suffering he's put me through. (Just kidding; I actually sort of like structured workouts now . . . even if they do tend to hurt.) And a second thanks to the team of welcoming, supportive, enthusiastic runners he coaches. I'm grateful to be a part of Gotham City Runners!

A note on the results from this race: While I "officially" came in 2nd in the F25-29 age group, I technically placed 3rd. The top finisher in my age group placed 2nd for all women, so she was removed from the age group award winners. But hey, I'll take 3rd, too. Gladly!

Race Length
Finishing Time
Average Pace
Overall Place
Gender Place
Age Group Place (F25-29)
13.1 miles
1:29:50
6:52/mile
221/6,801
6/2,969
3/734

Monday, October 14, 2013

Snapshot Book Review: Wild

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest TrailWild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Some parts of this book I really, really liked. Some parts, I really, really didn't. But as the author of Dear Sugar, I have to admit that I expected something more.

The beginning portion about her mother's death was beautiful. It is exactly how a daughter feels when her mother dies--and my mother hasn't even died yet. I cried, and my heart hurt, and I was thrilled that I was already having such a strong reaction to this memoir. It felt like a promise of a heartfelt, engaging book.

Then, she leaves her husband. This part I simply didn't understand. However, as this is a memoir, I'm glad she didn't pull a James Frey move and vilify her husband, just to fit the narrative.

Moving on, she starts out her trek with a pack so enormous that she literally cannot even lift it--hence the name "Monster." I appreciate the eventual metaphor of this: she eventually learns to carry her burdens and even grows attached to them (in one part, she is nervous about being so far away from her pack). However, it does seem a little ridiculous for her to have been so naive, and she goes to such pains to spell out exactly what she bought to take with her, I expected more scenes where she becomes attached to those items or gets rid of some of them. I just expected the limitedness of her life to be shown with more purpose. All we really ever see are her water purification pump, her tent, her better-than-milk mix, a few articles of clothing, and those blasted boots.

As might be expected about a memoir that follows a woman hiking along along a mountain range, some of the narrative became monotonous. What actually bored me the most were the descriptions of the terrain. I wanted just enough to understand the trials and tribulations (or the beauty and respite), and then I wanted the narrative to move along. This happened sometimes, but not always. Not even most times.

Apart from the beginning portion about her mother, my favorite parts of this book were the parts that included other people. Strayed distills characters to their essences, and she is blunt about her feelings about them. This is a true talent, and one that lends itself well to the memoir genre.

And finally, I must end with some quotes that I absolutely, positively related to:

"I only wanted it to be eleven o'clock so he'd leave with me and I could stop wondering whether I was a babe or a gargoyle and whether he was looking at me or he thought I was looking at him." This could have come straight out of a young adult novel! And yet even in my twenties, I oftentimes feel this way....

"There were pleasant mornings . . . ten-mile stretches that I'd glide right over while barely feeling a thing. . . . But there would always come a point . . . when I didn't love it anymore, when it was monotonous and hard and my mind shifted into a primal gear that was void of anything but forward motion. . . ." This one I spliced to fit my activity: marathon training. Before this quote she says that the PCT had gotten easier but that didn't mean it was easy. This is precisely how it feels to run.



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Monday, October 7, 2013

Birdies Crowing: An Adventure with iMovie & Pigeons

First, I bird-sat. (Bird-watched? That sounds misleading. But "bird-sat" sounds like I literally sat on them. Okay, so I pet-sat some birds.)

Then I took a rainy afternoon to learn how to use iMovie '08. (Sort of. Don't call me an expert yet.)

Here is the result. Happy viewing.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Snapshot Book Review: Don't Worry, It Gets Worse

Don't Worry, It Gets Worse: One Twentysomething's (Mostly Failed) Attempts at AdulthoodDon't Worry, It Gets Worse: One Twentysomething's (Mostly Failed) Attempts at Adulthood by Alida Nugent
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really, really wanted to like this book. After all, I--also being a twenty-something graduate of a liberal arts college who lives in NYC (okay, okay, I live in NJ, but my neighborhood is more of a Manhattan suburb than Staten Island will ever be)--am essentially just like Nugent!

However, as it turns out, I'm really nothing at all like Nugent. Firstly, we have entirely different priorities: I'm an athlete and she's . . . an alcoholic? I like nice boys and she . . . well, she doesn't, at least not yet. I'm fiscally responsible; she definitely is not. These are just a few of the easy comparisons I can make off the top of my head that kept me from reading this book and thinking, "Right on, girl!"

Then, there's her overwhelming snarkiness. If I had been her editor for this book, I'd have started by explaining that there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. I then would have forced her to circle her favorite, most effective jokes and then cross out half of those and then rewrite the book using only the remaining circled jokes. And maybe read Me Talk Pretty One Day for good measure.

However, I can't say I completely hated this book, either, primarily because her depiction of being a twenty-something living specifically in NYC is so accurate. For other NYC-dwellers out there, here are a few comments I found absolutely true (and hilarious):

New York is motivated by not just moving toward something but also moving toward something int he fastest manner possible.

Tip for Saving: Shave off half of your electric bill by going to bed at a reasonable hour instead of staying up till 3 a.m. to stare at cats and people you hate on Facebook.

[In New York] there is the prominent smell of both fuel and garbage, which seems to have a miragelike presence in the summer, but the moment you walk by a bakery, you remember what it is like not to live in a place constantly surrounded by carcinogenic fumes.

Here, people are more attractive than I ever thought people could be in person.

Tip for Saving: Save some money on razors by . . . BAHAHAHA, I know you've had the same razor for eighty-four years.


That last comment just cracks me up. Anyway, if you don't mind an overdose of sarcasm and mean and self-deprecating jokes, and you happen to be a twenty-something female living in NYC, and you happen to be in an airport bookstore desperate for something quick to read, this might be a book worth snagging. One of its particularly big perks is the fact that it is so slim. Had it been much longer than 188 pages, I probably wouldn't have finished it. But these days, it's hard to find any book under 200 pages long. So hats off to Nugent for that!

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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Snapshot Book Review: Chasing Chaos

Chasing Chaos: My Decade In and Out of Humanitarian AidChasing Chaos: My Decade In and Out of Humanitarian Aid by Jessica Alexander
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For what it was, this book did an admirable. I remained interested in Jessica's personal story, the explanations of how humanitarian aid functions, and the descriptions of what was going on the wider world throughout the book. (Well, at least until the last chapter or so.) Unfortunately, the book couldn't quite figure out what genre it wanted to fit into--it wasn't quite travel writing, it wasn't quite journalism, and it wasn't quite a memoir--and as a result, the writing itself suffered.

I'm glad Jessica didn't write this strictly as a memoir, because I feel it might quickly have devolved into an Eat, Pray, Love wannabe, starting with a "lost self" and ending with a "found self." I think her exploration into the world of humanitarian aid was very frank and informative, and even more so because she didn't attempt to offer any real answers. Some readers will likely find this depressing and pointless (why point out the shortcomings if she doesn't have any suggestions for solutions?), but I thought that it made her analysis of the whole system much more believable. It's very fair to point out existing problems, even if there are no easy solutions to offer.

I would have loved to give this book five stars, but first I had to dock one star for the writing itself (it wasn't seamless or gripping or even mature enough for a five star review), and then I had to dock a second star for pacing. I can appreciate that time in these camps passes rather slowly despite all of the chaos that's swirling around, and I can appreciate wanting to pace those portions of the book somewhat similarly, for effect. If that were the case, though, other portions of the book needed to be condensed and zipped through much more quickly. Because as readers, we need a sense of urgency to get to the end. And then, when the end is nothing more than extremely bogged-down explanations of factual information that we already surmised earlier in the book . . . well, her editor should have demanded some changes.

All in all, however, Chasing Chaos was a worthwhile book for anyone interested in learning more about the life of a humanitarian aid worker.

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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Garmin in the Bronx

Yes, my running friends, I did it: For better or for worse, I finally succumbed to the world of high-tech running gear and bought myself a GPS watch.

So far, I'm not entirely sure whether it was for better or for worse.

When it comes to high-tech gadgets, I'm not quite on the cutting-edge. I didn't get my first cell phone until 2008, and I still don't have a cell phone that can talk to me, or give me directions, or check my email, or just about anything other than send texts and make phone calls. The most complicated software on my computer is probably iMovie, and that program came pre-installed on the computer when I bought it. I've never owned an iPad or a gaming system, and technically I don't even own a TV; the 48" screen in my living room belongs to my boyfriend.

So when I purchased this GPS watch--which, by the way, is a Garmin 210, as shown in the picture--I was hoping against hope that it would be intuitive and user-friendly and do just what I needed it to do without almost any thought on my part at all.

Which, it does. Sort of.

My first clue that this must be an easy device to use was the owner's manual. It has--literally--eleven 5" x 5" pages. Once you read through the "getting set up" instructions, there really isn't that much more left to read. Which, to me, implies, "Just start using the darned thing."

My first few runs were awesome. This thing told me my real-time running pace and showed my per-mile split times afterward! Gone were the days of guessing whether I had just run for three minutes at a 6:45/mile pace the way my coach had asked me to, or at a 7:30/mile pace like I felt like I must have run. No longer would I have to assume that I "must have run farther" than the mapmyrun told me I had, since "there was no way" I was running as slow as 8:45/mile. Now I had a machine that would keep track of all of this for me! Easy-access data!

The watch really is cool, because it lets you program workouts. You want to run 6x3:00 at 7:15 pace with a 1:30 recover jog between each? No problem! Punch a few buttons and then the watch will magically beep when it's time to change intervals. And what's more--it will keep track of how fast you ran during those intervals, too!

The trouble arose not when I was programming my first interval workout, but when I went to program my second one. Silly me, I didn't realize that there were three options on the "Turn Interval On" screen: Yes, No, and Set. I never got to that Set option, so I just got frustrated and finally ran the workout without any help from my watch. I'm used to doing this, so there it didn't cause me any real problems. The real problems would wait until I really cared about the data.

The real problems arose when I went to run a race.

Since I got this watch, I have only run workouts; no races. Therefore, I was super excited to use it for the Bronx 10 Miler, coming up on Sunday, September 29th. Finally, I'd know for sure what I had only assumed to be true about my running style: that I started races out slow and got faster as the miles progressed. My splits provided by the races themselves have indicated this trend, but I would finally get a mile-by-mile breakdown. I was stoked!

The day of the race, I connected my Garmin to the satellites well in advance of the starting gun. The last thing I wanted was that stupid "connecting to satellites" bar to be halfway full when the gun went off. However, when the gun finally did go off and I pushed "start," I got a message that said something like, "Warmup will continue until lap is pressed." What? This wasn't a warmup. This was the race!

However, since this was the race, I didn't have the time to mess around with a stupid piece of equipment. I had running to do! So I just ignored it for the duration of the race, basing my pace approximations on the race clocks throughout the course.

The race went well. While I think that touting it as a "flat course" was severely misleading--I would described it as "rolling hills"--I still managed to run in my usual style, getting passed at the beginning and then burning by other runners at the end. The race splits bear that out: I ran the first 5 miles in 35:25 and the second 5 in 33:55. And I know I was cruising at the end, because I finally managed to pass the green-shirt-wearing guy I had been following the entire race in the last mile!

However, I'll never know exactly how fast or slow I started out, because my watch didn't capture a single split . . . unless you could the 10 mile time a split. It counted the whole thing as a warm-up and fed back a single finishing time of 1:09:27.

Guess that's what happens when you put too much stock in electronic devices! Nevertheless, I am still stoked to have run a personal best time, even if I've only ever run one other 10 mile race. My goal was to finish under 70 minutes, and I did it. What's more I somehow finished 5th in my age group. How about that?

A note on the results from this race: While officially came in 5th in the F25-29 age group, I technically placed 7th. The top two finishers in my age group placed in the top 3 finishers for all women, and so they were removed from the age group award winners.

Race Length
Finishing Time
Average Pace
Overall Place
Gender Place
Age Group Place (F25-29)
10 miles
1:09:21
6:57/mile
324/6,545
16/2,851
7/723

Friday, September 20, 2013

Speedos, Scooters, and Swimming at Seven A.M.

There aren't many reasons I'll get up before 6 a.m. on a weekday. With a 30-minute commute, there actually aren't many reasons I'll get up before 7 a.m., either. However, one of the only times I can swim during the week is between 7 and 8 a.m., so--at the expense of my later-day energy levels--I tend to get up before 6 a.m. at least two days a week.

Today was one of those days. After sneaking around the apartment like a bandit--to avoid waking up R___ or the two doves we're bird-sitting (who, I'm pretty sure, were awake and watching me the whole time)--I finally made it out the door in semi-matching work-appropriate attire and with all my essential swimming gear in one bag. Now that the sun rises later in the day, on these pre-6 a.m. days I'm forced to navigate my way down three flights of stairs using my tiny cell phone screen as a flashlight.

Miraculously, amid my rushing and fumbling to get out the door, I remembered to pick up the Netflix envelop, so once I got out onto the street, I headed toward the mailbox. I was just about to slip my envelope into the slot when I saw him. Running toward me was a gigantic, glistening black man wearing nothing more than sneakers, headphones, and . . . a bright orange Speedo.

That was my first bizarre sight of the morning, but it would not be my last. No more than two blocks farther up the street, another man was standing outside a bodega, wearing a Giants jersey. As I came closer, I noticed that he appeared to be talking to someone. There was a women standing in front of him, so at first I thought he was talking to her . . . until she walked away and he was left gesturing at empty air. Maybe he's on his cell phone, I thought . Sure his hands are all over the place, but maybe he's wearing one of those earphone contraptions where you don't need any hands. Alas, as I hurried past him, I detected no cell phone. Instead, his rambling recollections of "beating that n---'s head in" and some woman who "ain't tellin' him nothin'" floated after me down the street.

I made it to the city without further incident. I swam, the sun rose, and I figured my day would now continue fairly normally: I would join the teeming hoards of people in varying degrees of work dress, hurrying to our various destinations with little regard for cars, cyclists, or other pedestrians. However, eventful morning was not quite complete. As I walked up 25th street, on my way back to the PATH train, I was passed by not three, not five, but seven children under the age of four wearing helmets and riding brightly colored scooters down the sidewalk in the opposite direction. Two or three parents trailed slowly behind. Was it Scooter-Your-Child-To-Work Day? Had I missed the ad for the New York City Child Scooter Convention? Or was this just the newest parenting fad, doomed to terrorize pedestrians and drivers everywhere until someone files a lawsuit?

The good news is that I'm getting up at about the same time tomorrow morning (this time to go running). The great news is it's a Saturday. So perhaps I'll have even more exciting sights to report after that!

Friday, September 13, 2013

I Almost Interrupted That Meeting

I was in the kitchen at my office today, boiling some water for tea, when a colleague of mine came in for a glass of water. This man is not someone I see on a regular basis, since he's pretty high in the pecking order. Incidentally, however, we had just attended a meeting together the day before. He kept giving me these odd glances, and since I had nothing better to do other than watch the kettle boil (or, so far, not boil), I smiled congenially and wished him good morning.

"You know, I have to tell you," he began. "In that meeting the other day?"

My heart began to race as I backtracked to every single thing I could have been caught doing during the meeting. I managed to stay fully awake at this one, so he couldn't have caught me sleeping. Could he have seen me doodling instead of taking notes?

"I seriously almost stopped the meeting several times--"

Oh my god! Was I slurping my tea too noisily? Did he notice when I spilled some on my blouse? Maybe it wasn't me; maybe it was someone else. Why was he smiling?

"--to say how great your new haircut looks. Really, it looks fantastic."

I think my heart just about stopped. So I did the only thing I could: I smiled. And blushed a little. And then, finally, said, "Thank you."

Snapshot Book Review: Night Terrors: Sex, Dating, Puberty, and Other Alarming Things

Night Terrors: Sex, Dating, Puberty, and Other Alarming ThingsNight Terrors: Sex, Dating, Puberty, and Other Alarming Things by Ashley Cardiff
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I hope that everyone on Goodreads knows that 2 stars means "it was ok," because if I saw a 2-star review on, say, Amazon, I would think that the reviewer didn't like the product. However, this book was literally "ok." But actually, now that I've written that, I'll change my review to 3 stars. Because I really don't think that people read the alt text when making their star rating choices.

As I read the first few chapters--which, really, are essays-- of Night Terrors, I had high expectations for the book. Cardiff's writing style (and choice of topic) reminded me very much of the books I've read by Chelsea Handler: Are You There Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea, My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One-Night Stands, etc. I was amused and horrified in due course, just as I expected to be. And throughout the book, it's fun--especially as a New Yorker--to recognize so much of what she writes as being so darned true. For example:

"We were both in New York City in our early twenties, self-obsessed and pursuing stupid dreams without ever really stopping to ask why w needed to be in New York and paying New York rents to do so, but the city has a crafty way of distracting you from ever wondering that because it's too busy throwing insane situations like this exact one in your face."

"I think people who try to punish kids for masturbating are insane, imposing no small amount of guilt on their children unnecessarily and also stupid because trying to keep kids from masturbating is like trying to play Whac-A-Mole with your hands tied behind your back."

"I don't know about you, but I have worked many shitty desk jobs in which I go into the office at nine a.m., rotely answer forty emails of varying inconsequence, plug data into multiple templates no one will ever look at, highlight dubiously relevant information in a one-hundred-and-fifty-page document no one will ever read, chew a bag lunch at my desk in a joyless bovine way, get yelled at for doing my job with suspicious competence and then spend an hour mailing things to people they may never look at."

Those sorts of "aha" moments are the gems of this book. However, Cardiff moves from writing amusing personal stories in the first half of the book to write longer and longer diatribes on various "hot button" social issues (e.g. gay tolerance, abortion, etc.). Here, she veers away from the entertainment factor that is the point of these sorts of books and spends most of her time defending herself on these issues while simultaneously chastising people who don't happen to agree with her point of view.

Nevertheless, I did enjoy at least part of this book, and I think Cardiff and Handler should hook up and work on a joint project of some sort. (And by hook up, I mean that in the least sexual way possible....)

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Break In Routine


When I get home from work, I have a pretty standard routine.

I come in the door, say hi to R___ (who is usually seated in the living room at his computer), toss any mail I have collected onto the end table by the door, go into the bedroom, and throw my keys in their little ceramic bowl. Then I put my backpack down, unload my wallet and book from the front pouch, and put them in their respective places (the wallet goes by my keys and the book goes on a stack near the mail). Next I unload the larger section of my backpack. If I've gone food shopping, I put those items away first, particularly if there is anything that needs to be refrigerated of frozen. If I went swimming, I take my wet suit and towel into the bathroom and hang them up on the middle two wall hooks, between our towels. If I've brought home my dirty running clothes, I dump them from their plastic bag into the hamper by the bedroom door. Finally, I plug in my iPod (if it's lost its charge) in the living room, remove my shoes and put them in the shoe rack on the back of the bedroom door, and--if I'm home for the evening--change into pajamas.

As you may have determined from the specificity of this routine, I am slightly OCD about it. Putting away everything in its rightful place when I get home comforts me, and I hate being interrupted until I have reached the pajama-wearing stage. When R___ and I first started living together, he simply did not understand. I would walk in the door, and he would immediately accost me with hugs and chatter. Under almost any other circumstance, I like hugs and chatter; however, if it impinges on my Arriving Home Routine, I get anxious and frustrated and usually snap at him until he goes away and lets me finish putting things where they belong.

Sometime this past spring--almost three years since we first moved in together--R___ finally figured it out. He started saying "hello" when I walked in the door from his position in the living room, and then not moving from his chair until I was finally clad in T-shirt and boxer shorts. At first I just assumed he was preoccupied when I arrived home, and braced myself the next day for his inevitable interruption. But it never came. Eventually, I relaxed into my routine and began to approach him after I had finished everything I needed to do.

Yesterday, I arrived home and began my routine as usual. R___ and I said hello, I put the mail on its end table, and I tossed my keys into their bowl. Once my wallet and book were in their proper places, I put the half and half I had bought for R___ in the fridge, and the bags of coffee and Oreos onto the designated snack shelf. Then I went into the bathroom to hang up my swimming gear, and finally returned to the bedroom to retrieve the final item, my iPod, from my backpack. As I was straightening up, iPod in hand, I noticed an orange shape in my peripheral vision. Hmmm, I thought. That's odd. I don't remember hanging anything in that spot on the wall. There used to be a calendar there, but I took it down a while ago.... I turned toward the wall, and low and behold, there was an orange Post-It stuck to the surface!

"5 Reasons Why I Love My Swan*," it read.  "#2: She's super inspiring."

Putting down my iPod, I peeled the Post-It off of the wall and took it into the living room. R___ was already turned toward me, suppressing a grin.

"What's this?" I asked. "Where's number one?"

"You'll have to find it. They're not in a particular order; I just put the five reasons at the top so you knew how many to look for."

I glanced around the living room until I saw another orange square stuck to the black television screen.

"Oooh!" I raced over.

"5 Reasons Why I Love My Swan. #4: She's amazingly supportive."

Suffice to say, I spent the next few minutes on one of the most fun, spontaneous scavenger hunts ever. And all before I plugged in my iPod or even took off my shoes. 

Sometimes a break in routine is totally worth it.

*Every couple has weird nicknames for one another. This happens to be mine.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Snapshot Book Review: The Silver Linings Playbook

The Silver Linings PlaybookThe Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I am about to say this for what I think is the very first time: I liked the movie better.

Granted, I did see the movie first, but in the past, that hasn't proven to sway my liking one way or the other. I saw the film adaptations of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Girl Interrupted, and The Princess Bride before I read them, and I liked all of those books just fine.

I really did like the movie. I thought Jennifer Lawrence (Tiffany) and Bradley Cooper (Pat) had great chemistry onscreen, Robert De Niro did a great job playing the emotionally absent, and the supporting characters were nuanced enough to avoid falling into stereotypes (the brother, the therapist, the football fans, etc.).

However, the book really let me down. In no particular order, here are my grievances:

--I found the ending to the book to be--literally--incredible because the romance itself, from a reader's standpoint, never blossomed in the first place. We were essentially told that Tiffany was in love with Pat, but Quick never offered any details to persuade me that her love was genuine . . . or that Pat felt anything in return. That he comes to also fall in love with her in the very last scene of the book feels contrived and simply too neat and tidy for what should otherwise have been a relationship fraught with deception and mistrust.

--The relationship between Pat's father, mother, and Pat himself is never really explored. Their issues are laid out there for the reader to see (the emotionally absent, temermental husband doesn't appreciate the soft-hearted caretaking wife, nor is he capable of connecting with his mentally unstable son), but these issues never seem to serve any purpose other than to give us a sense of Pat's home life. The mother stands up to the father at one point, but to what end? Eventually things slide back to the way they were, with little change on the father's part other than that he eats the occasional meal at the table with his family and leaves the sports sections on the stairs for Pat to read (which I guess is supposed to prove he is trying to "meaningfully connect" with his son). The father remains superstitious about the Eagles throughout the novel, and unlike in the movie, it seems that all Eagles fans are equally superstitious in the book. Therefore, what was the point?

--Pat's relationship with his therapist never really comes to any sort of meaningful conclusion, either. In the movie, you can see his progress through his sessions with the Cliff, but in the book, these sessions seem to serve more as interludes to tell us more about Pat than they do as devices to further any character or plot development.

So, in short, this is one of those rare books I'd recommend skipping and watching the movie instead.

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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A Reason to Stay for the Raffle

"Ugh, do we have to?" My sister's hands were on her hips, and she was giving me a look that said Seriously, you are so annoying.

"Come on, why not?" I wiped a few strands of sweaty hair out of my eyes and looked imploringly at my parents. "It's free, and you don't know what they might be giving away."

Both my mom and my dad shrugged and looked at my sister. Rolling her eyes and sighing dramatically, Amy followed me as I led the family toward the bleachers where the raffle and awards ceremony were to be held in about twenty minutes.

Amy and I had just finished running the Gatorade Steelers 5k--a Pittsburgh race, with a surprisingly flat out-and-back course that began outside Heinz Field, followed along the Allegheny River, and then finished back inside the stadium. It was definitely one of the more memorable race finishes: as you burst out of the tunnel and into the stadium, you could almost imagine you were a famous football player, sprinting toward the crowd way up in the stands.

I had told my family that I just wanted to stay for the raffle (which was free to all the race participants), but the truth was that I had a sneaking suspicion that I might have earned an age group prize. Because the course was out-and-back, as I got closer to the turnaround point, I could see the faster runners flying past me the opposite direction. Once I saw the first woman, I started keeping count. It's surprisingly difficult to pay attention and mentally keep a running tally while your legs are burning and your chest feels like it's going to explode, but if my count was anything close to accurate, there were only about 10 women in front of me when I reached the turnaround, and I passed 2 of them on the way to the finish. So assuming all of those women weren't between the ages of 25-29, I figured had a pretty decent chance of coming in at least 3rd in my age group.

The whole raffle/awards ceremony of course started late, as these things tend to do, and it seemed to drag on and on. The raffle winners had to be present to win, so that process took much longer than it probably should have, since so many of the people whose names were drawn had apparently left the premises. (Although one girl, whose name was announced along with her city of residence--Baltimore--was booed so severely that she may have been present but afraid to show her face!) Some of the winners also didn't shout loudly enough to indicate they were present and trying to reach the stage, so that didn't help.

"Don't worry," my mom told me, "if they call your name, there won't be any question where you are in this crowd." Did I mention that my mom used to sing opera?

They're not going to call our names, I could see my sister thinking, even as she remained crouched over her iPod. We're not going to win anything, and we'll have wasted two hours of our time.

The event dragged on, and I could see my sister getting more and more annoyed.

"Maybe we should just leave," I acquiesced. If all this waiting turned out to be for nothing, then not only would my sister be supremely annoyed, but I'd also be disappointed, but too embarrassed to even tell my family why.

"I'm ready when you are," Amy agreed.

Still, I stayed seated. They were finally announcing first, second, and third places for the Age Group divisions, so it wouldn't be too long now. Finally, my age group was called.

"In third place, for the female division ages 25-29...." The announcer said a name and a time, and for the first time during the whole ceremony, Amy looked up from playing Candy Crush.

"Hey, what was your time again?"

The announcer continued. "In second place, with a time of...."

Amy nudged me with her elbow. "Didn't you run faster than that?"

I grinned.

"And in first place with a time of 19:20...."

Man, you should have heard my mom holler.



A note about the official results of this race:
In spite of receiving the first place 25-29 age group trophy--which was quite thrilling, I must admit, and came with Steelers tickets!-- I'm still not positive that I actually won my age group. The first three 25-29 finishers placed first, second, and third overall for all women, so I understand if they were taken out of the running. However, I finished fifth. Therefore, something must have happened with the fourth place finisher . . . or else she's going to be pretty unhappy at having been forgotten. I know I would be if I were her!


Race Length
Finishing Time
Average Pace
Overall Place
Gender Place
Age Group Place (F25-29)
5k
19:20
6:13/mile
78/3,318
7/1,805
5/313

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Snapshot Book Review: Good Kings Bad Kings

Good Kings Bad KingsGood Kings Bad Kings by Susan Nussbaum
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

To summarize this book as best I can, it is essentially a new, modern version of Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Primary differences are: It's written from a variety of perspectives (rather than just one.
2. The institutionalized characters are adolescent "crips" (i.e. physically and sometimes mentally handicapped) rather than mentally handicapped adults.

However, just like Kesey's novel, Good Kings Bad Kings looks at an institution that, on the surface, is meant for good, and goes inside the walls, looking at it from the perspectives of not only "inmates," but also staff who work there and witness injustices yet feel powerless to prevent them.

While Nussbaum does a fantastic job of capturing the voices of lower class children and adults both with and without learning disabilities, I was especially impressed with her decision to include chapters written from the perspective Michelle, a female recruiter whose job it is to fill beds at ILLC, an institution for juveniles with disabilities. Michelle's chapters demonstrate that strictly vilifying everyone involved in running these sorts of institutions isn't quite fair . . . or accurate. She is just a middle-to-lowerclass woman trying to make it through life without always having to scrape the bottom of her piggybank to make ends meet. She doesn't necessarily set out to lock away perfect normal young people; she just wants to do her job and get praise and approval from her boss--like any of us. Michelle's chapters bring very necessary balance to this novel, making it more than just a captor-captive story.

Well done, Susan Nussbaum. I look forward to reading whatever you write next.



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Friday, August 2, 2013

Snapshot Book Review: Speak

SpeakSpeak by Laurie Halse Anderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anderson does a great job capturing the internal voice of 9th grade Melinda. I especially love the way she does dialogue and makes up nicknames for the other characters. For instance, there's a teacher she refers to as Mr. Neck. If she and Mr. Neck were conversing, it would go something like:

Mr. Neck: What are you doing in here?

Me: Nothing

Mr. Neck: Doesn't look like nothing.

Me:

Leaving that blank in lieu of writing something like "I don't respond" is brilliant, especially in a book where the point is that Melinda cannot seem to speak up for herself.

I will admit, from the outset I did know what the Big Secret was, but because it was so predictable, I'm glad that Anderson didn't drag out the process of revealing it. She gets it into the first half of the book without too much fanfare, and we the readers are left to focus on what really matters: Melinda's coping mechanisms; her relationships with fellow students, former friends, and teachers; her family dynamic; etc. I also really like the fact that while there is clearly a romantic interest between Melinda and her lab partner, it doesn't ever blossom into a full subplot and, consequently, threaten to take over the focus of the novel.

The ending, too, was predictable (you know there's another confrontation coming between her and IT), but I don't think it could have ended any other way.

Now, I really just want to see the art teacher's mural. Come on fan fiction artists!

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Monday, July 22, 2013

Race Strategy: Don't Drown

Leading up to the Governors Island Swim, I was decidedly nervous. Before this race, I don't think I had ever under trained for anything. Overtrained, yes. Slept inadequately, yes. Eaten the wrong foods, drunk the wrong drinks, or failed to eat or drink anything at all, yes. But I had never gone into a race knowing for certain that I had not put in the appropriate amount of work. Until Sunday.

To give you a more complete picture of my lack of preparation, in the month leading up to the race, I completed no more than five swims, each consisting of 2,500 yards or less. The race around the island would be 2 miles--or 3,520 yards--long. Furthermore, all of my "training" was done in a 25-yard chlorinated pool whereas these 2 miles would be swum in the salty, murky, turbulent waters of the East River.

But never mind all that.

Fortunately for me, instead of making me panic, nervousness makes me talk. And because I knew how poorly prepared I was, I started talking at least before the race. "Boy I sure hope I don't drown," was my favorite mantra, even though I knew full well that, as a lifelong swimmer, my chances of drowning were about slim-to-none. I just needed to remind myself (and everyone around me) that I wasn't prepared to race this swim, so merely finishing should be achievement enough.

Meaning, shut up and swim.

By the time I stood, burning the soles of my feet on the concrete sidewalk leading up to the starting dock, I had successfully managed to quash my competitive spirit. I wasn't ready for this race. I wouldn't be winning any awards. And frankly, I should be satisfied if I could get to the finish without too much trouble. And I was pretty happy with that outlook.

That is, until I hit the water.

What I like best about open water swimming is how it can become a bit hypnotic. With no walls, no flip turns, and no lane lines, you fall into this rhythm of stroking, breathing, and sighting that makes swimming seem easier than it ever feels in a pool. Sure, the waves tossing your body around like a rag doll and occasionally smashing you right in the face when you were about to take a breath. But you can ignore most of that, eventually, and just count. One, two three, breathe. One, two three, head up.

The start, however, is this whole other scenario. First you're in line, waiting and waiting, and then suddenly your feet are at the edge and some guy is screaming and waving his arms frantically, indicating that you need to jump in! Now! You launch yourself into midair, and when your sweaty body hits the water, your heart rate goes through the roof. You can't see a thing, and you come up sputtering, trying to get your body horizontal, looking around wildly for any feet that might be aimed directly at your head. Race organizers might call this a "staggered start," but there's nothing staggered about taking ten strokes and finding yourself forced to swim overtop two six-foot men in wetsuits, an old guy doing breaststroke, and a skinny lady whose zig-zagging elbows indicate that she probably never raced competitively before.

God I love open water swimming.

Long story short, I finished the race without too much trouble. The worst part was probably the fact that I couldn't see the final "finishing line" dock in time, so I didn't finish with an "empty tank." Swimmers were already lounging around on the grass beyond the finish chute by the time I got there, but not too many, so I figured I might not have finished at the very front of the pack, but at least I wasn't last!

Here's how the race panned out:


Race Length Finishing TimeOverall Place Gender Place (All Women) Age Group Place (F20-30)
2 miles 39:23 31/210 14/82 4/19

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Snapshot Book Review: The Elegance of the Hedgehog

The Elegance of the HedgehogThe Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Honestly, this book made me feel smart to be reading it. It started out on the very first page using vocabulary words I--a decidedly voracious reader--didn't recognize, and persisted in this style until the end. However, being the persistent and somewhat proud English major I am, I returned the book to the library when it was due and then checked it out again.

Honestly, I have to say that I didn't like the primary narrator, Renée. She seemed stuck up, self-absorbed by her own refinement in spite of her lowly societal class as a concierge in an apartment building, and therefore pretty boring. What really kept me reading were the chapters by Paloma, the twelve-year-old genius who decides at the very beginning of the book to kill herself on her 13th birthday and then spends the rest of the book writing observations about the world that will convince her otherwise. Maybe it's because I could relate to her scorn of the world around her--I was a fairly mature twelve-year-old myself--but even when I did not agree with her condescension, I understood and respected it. The difference between Paloma and Renée is that Paloma's observations seemed fresh and genuine, while Renée's seemed tired and repetitive.

Nevertheless, I did become increasingly engaged as both characters began to interact with the new Japanese tenant, Ozu. And then, just as I finally felt as though I had overcome the stodgy vocabulary and was actually enjoying the narrative, the book comes to an abrupt and disappointing end! (I won't reveal it here, because if I had known how the book would end, I'd never have persisted past the first chapter. So I don't want to ruin anyone else's experience with an unwanted spoiler.)

If I had to do it over again, I probably wouldn't read this book. However, having successfully finished it, I feel as though I have finally read something scholarly for perhaps the first or second time since graduating from college, and I won't complain about that!

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Saturday, May 11, 2013

Snapshot Book Review: Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls

Let's Explore Diabetes with OwlsLet's Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I love Sedaris, and I think he's a brilliant comedic writer, but this book is not his best. There are some absolutely hysterical and spot-on pieces, such as "Standing By," "#2 to Go," and "Mind the Gap." However, other chapters felt a bit misguided, rambling even, and I was horrified to read "Understanding Understanding Owls" and realize that I must have read that story before. I have terrible recall, so hopefully I didn't read it in another of his books, but I was still upset by my desire to skip that chapter when I have read his entire book Me Talk Pretty One Day may times over and laughed anew at each vignette.

Fans new to Sedaris, here is my advice: skip this book and go back and read Me Talk Pretty One Day or When Engulfed in Flames. Also, if you ever have the chance to hear him live, definitely grab that opportunity. Sedaris is a fantastic reader of his own work.

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Monday, May 6, 2013

Long Branch Half: A Little Bragging, a Little Humility

So I know it's been a while since I last posted anything, but I feel the need to share my latest achievement: a new personal best time in the half marathon!

I offer my utmost thanks to my friend T___, who helped me speed train on Tuesdays, and to J___ (a.k.a. Speedy Sasquatch), who graciously invited me along on more adventurous and inspiring long runs than I ever would have taken myself. I would also like to thank the broad-shouldered man wearing the bright yellow tank top, who I used as my "wind shield" for the first 7 miles of the race. I wouldn't have PRed without any of you!

Also, while I am very proud of my 7:04 average pace and 4th place age group finish (out of 649 25-29 year-old women), I am well aware that I am not--and likely will never be--a contender for first place in this caliber of race. The woman who took first place in my age group finished almost a full ten minutes before me! Even the woman who finished one place ahead of me (3rd), was nearly two whole minutes faster. That averages out to almost 10 seconds per mile!

Nevertheless, I'm happy with my run. Here are the results:

Race LengthFinishing TimeAverage PaceOverall PlaceGender PlaceAge Group Place (F25-29)
13.1 miles1:32:427:04/mile91/5,34815/3,3524/649

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Snapshot Book Review: Sharp Objects

Sharp ObjectsSharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I (like many people, I am sure) sought this book out after finishing Gone Girl. I wanted to see if Flynn's other writing could live up to that bestselling novel and, if so, immediately devour it. Devour it I did.

Did this book shock me (in a good way!) as much as Gone Girl did? No. Did it live up to the writing in that book? Definitely, definitely yes.

This is one of those books that achieves success with the unlikable narrator. Camille is a really miserable person. You almost want to feel sorry for her, except she makes all these bad choices like sleeping with men and drinking to avoid, well, life, that you sort of despise her the way you despise a friend you pity.

Then, her mother, father, sister, and essentially every other person in Wind Gap is equally miserable, weird, shallow, or just plain awful. The closest we get to a likable character is Camille's mentor Curry, who is essentially absent the entire novel. Yet, I was compelled to keep reading, and not just by the murder mystery, which I admittedly solved earlier than the characters in the novel did. They might have been miserable people, but they were complex miserable people, and that is what marks the difference between Flynn's novels and so many others.

With two down and one to go, I'm excited to read Dark Places. I'm sure I will not be disapointed.

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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Snapshot Book Review: Salvage the Bones

Salvage the BonesSalvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

To my own surprise, this is the first book I have read about Hurricane Katrina. Although, to call it "a book about hurricane Katrina" would be doing it a disservice, as it is about much more than that. I would be much more inclined to say that it is a book about the impoverished culture of Bois Sauvage, or a book about dog fighting, or a book about family dynamics. It's about a girl and her brothers, or a boy and his dog. It's about the theme of birth, and about the theme of destruction, the promise of life and the struggle against death.

The character I both loved and hated the most was Skeetah's dog China; Ward does an excellent job describing both the savagery and the beauty of such a dog, as well as the loyalty that can develop between dog and master.

My main issue with Ward's writing is that she loves similes and metaphors just a little too much. It's beautiful writing, I will not deny her that. However, while I was captivated by her most poignant and perfectly placed literary devices, she often took me out of "the moment" with an overabundance of "his back was like a reed" and "her stomach protruded like a melon." What's most striking of all is that the metaphors and similes were usually not trite! There were just too many of them clogging up the progress of the story.

All in all, though, I am not sorry at all to have read Salvage the Bones. I can imagine it becoming a historical text, used as a literary reference to Hurricane Katrina, for years to come.

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