Currently reading: “The Panopticon” by Jenni Fagan

Howdy, friends.

This is what I’m reading now:

panopticon

Here and here are reviews from the New York Times.

And here is one from NPR.

And here is what Booklist had to say:

Anais Hendricks, the tough, fiery 15-year-old at the center of Fagan’s first novel, has grown up in the foster care system in England. Abandoned by her mother, who gave birth to her in a mental institution, Anais has been bounced around ever since the murder of Theresa, a compassionate prostitute and the only mother figure Anais has ever known. Anais is brought to the Panopticon, a halfway house for truant teens, after she’s accused of brutally beating a police officer and leaving her in a coma. Anais, who was hopped up on drugs at the time, can’t remember whether she’s guilty or not. The police are gunning for her, determined to send Anais to juvenile detention until she’s 18. At the Panopticon, Anais is convinced she’s being watched as part of a sinister experiment, the purpose of which, she believes, is to try to bring her down and all but eradicate her from society. Told in Anais’ raw voice, Fagan’s novel peers into the world inhabited by forgotten children, and, in Anais, gives us a heartbreakingly intelligent and sensitive heroine wrapped in an impossibly impenetrable exterior. Readers won’t be able to tear themselves away from this transcendent debut. –Kristine Huntley

 

And a thank you to the reader to alerted me to this and the blogger who heeded my lawyer’s advice and took down her post where she plagiarized my site. You should be ashamed of yourself and embarrassed.

Happy reading. And original writing.

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Currently reading: “Black Moon” by Kenneth Calhoun

Howdy, friends.

I always tell myself, “No more post-Apocalyptic fiction!” But then, there I am, reading it again.

I’m about 75 pages into “Black Moon” right now. So far, I dig it.

moon

Before this, I read “Tell the Wolves I’m Home” by Carol Rifka Brunt. And it was amazing.

RifkaBrunt_Tell-the-Wolves

NPR review here for “Wolves” and “Moon.”

So that’s where I am right now. I’m making excellent progress on my book a week goal for the year, despite “Goldfinch” being so long.

Happy reading.

 

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Currently reading: “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt

Howdy, friends.

Last night I powered through the rest of “Three Graves Full,” and didn’t love it. I confess to skimming it — it just didn’t grab me, but I can’t completely quit reading a book. I feel too guilty and like to give authors a chance. I’ve read a lot of books that took me halfway through to be utterly consumed, and then been grateful I stuck with it. This book wasn’t one of them, but that’s OK.

Next up is “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt.

Tartt

I’ve loved Donna Tartt since her first book, “The Secret History,” which I read while working briefly in a bookstore on a winter break from college. One of the employees recommended it to me, and I was absolutely, utterly hooked immediately. It helped that I had just taken some Classics classes and felt pretty pleased with myself.

My sister also read it and loved it.

So it was sad to have to wait several years for her second book, “The Little Friend.” It was also amazing, and there is a scene in a watertower that is so vivid it still sticks with me. I love that.

(Here is a review of her first book, and here is one of her second.)

I’ve been forcing myself to finish my stack of library books before I read her latest, “The Goldfinch.” I even bought it — which is very rare for me. But she’s an author I like to see on my bookshelf. And by that I mean the wall of books in our basement. Swoon.

Here’s what Booklist says about “The Goldfinch”:

Cataclysmic loss and rupture with criminal intent visited upon the young have been Tartt’s epic subjects as she creates one captivating and capacious novel a decade, from The Secret History (1992) to The Little Friend (2002) to this feverish saga. In the wake of his nefarious father’s abandonment, Theo, a smart, 13-year-old Manhattanite, is extremely close to his vivacious mother—until an act of terrorism catapults him into a dizzying world bereft of gravity, certainty, or love. Tartt writes from Theo’s point of view with fierce exactitude and magnetic emotion as, stricken with grief and post-traumatic stress syndrome, he seeks sanctuary with a troubled Park Avenue family and, in Greenwich Village, with a kind and gifted restorer of antique furniture. Fate then delivers Theo to utterly alien Las Vegas, where he meets young outlaw Boris. As Theo becomes a complexly damaged adult, Tartt, in a boa constrictor-like plot, pulls him deeply into the shadow lands of art, lashed to seventeenth-century Dutch artist Carel Fabritius and his exquisite if sinister painting, The Goldfinch. Drenched in sensory detail, infused with Theo’s churning thoughts and feelings, sparked by nimble dialogue, and propelled by escalating cosmic angst and thriller action, Tartt’s trenchant, defiant, engrossing, and rocketing novel conducts a grand inquiry into the mystery and sorrow of survival, beauty and obsession, and the promise of art. –Donna Seaman

And here is a story and a review from the New York Times, and an interview with her.

If you haven’t read her books, you should. You should go out right now and get “The Secret History.” I promise.

Happy reading.

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Currently reading: “Three Graves Full” by Jamie Mason

Howdy, friends.

This is what I’m reading now:

graves

I picked it up because I liked the cover. I’m so shallow.

But I am not loving it. I’m just over halfway through, and the story is OK so far — but the writing is a little forced in places. There are some parts where it just stinks of trying too hard. SO many paragraphs end with little alliterative phrases that make me want to scream: “… stumbled back into the house on widow-weighted feet,” and “… yawned a halt to the pavement’s progress.”

I don’t know why it’s making me so nuts. But it is.

Here is a review from Booklist:

First-novelist Mason hooks the reader with her first sentence, “There is very little peace for a man with a body buried in his backyard.” Mild-mannered widower Jason Getty is responsible for burying one body, but he’s shocked when two others are discovered in his yard and found to be the work of the home’s previous owner, Boyd Montgomery, who came upon his wife, Katielynn, in bed with Reid Reynolds three years earlier, just weeks before Reynolds was to marry his childhood sweetheart, Leah Tamblin. Getty, on tenterhooks, is massively relieved when police wrap up the latter two murders, until persistent detective Tim Bayard finds blood traces in Getty’s house that point to a third crime. As Getty prepares a cover-up, Tamblin comes looking for answers and resolution, and what seemed a closed murder case opens up again. Ratcheting up suspense is one thing, and Mason manages it masterfully, particularly as it concerns Getty’s fate. But portraying characters so well and so thoroughly, examining and explaining their motives even for murder, requires a level of skill that is rare, marking this as an astonishingly accomplished debut and Mason as a writer to watch very closely. –Michele Leber

So maybe I’ll keep going. I rarely quit a book, anyway. Here‘s another review. And here is the author’s web site.

Happy reading.

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Winter run

Howdy, friends.

Last week, a few of us were emailing back and forth, trying to figure out the last miserable part of the weekend, so we could go for a long run and not be beaten down by the weather.

Of course, this winter, that moment doesn’t exist.

So the best we could hope for was a tailwind and a little daylight. And in the hopes of regaining some joy in our lives, a little gravel and country scenery.

To that end, we decided to waste a ridiculous amount of time dropping one car off, driving another one 12 miles north to Baltic, and then running south, with a tailwind the whole way.

It was so, so worth it.

We saw three or four cars the entire way and ran in a gentle snow and bitter cold. But with a tailwind, it didn’t feel cold at all. Until the last half mile, where we turned into the wind to get to the car. It was honestly kind of miserable. I was so cold in the wind that my teeth started to hurt and I realized my face was so frozen I was drooling on myself.

Running is so sexy.

This is what we looked like. I had to crop half my face out because it was more of a grimace than a smile, since I was frozen:

Me, Christine and Chris, winter idiots

Me, Christine and Chris, winter idiots

We ran just under 12 miles, which was just fine. I have finally learned to put my hair in two braids instead of a ponytail — my balaclava basically turns it into one giant knot on long runs.

After this, and the next hour of getting cars and getting home, I took the world’s longest and hottest shower. For the first time, my feet really hurt, and when I looked at them, there were huge weird white spots on the bottom of them. I think it was from sitting in wet socks for so long. It went away shortly after and was fine, but it was weird. I usually get Raynaud‘s in my hands, but I never have in my feet.

I wimped out on Sunday and didn’t run — instead we took the kids to see “Frozen,” and then Viv and I took a 2-hour nap together. It was worth it.

Happy running.

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February photos

Howdy, friends.

Here are just  few treats from this month:

Vivcraft1

We stumbled across a craft at the library one day. It was making little trains out of candy, which the kids loved. And let’s face it, I love those little wafer cookies SO much. Yum.

Jackcraft1

Jack was very proud of his train. And then, of course, we got a giant stack of library books.

On this visit, Jack also learned how to go ask the librarian for some help. He wanted a DVD, but it looked too old for him (read: Mom thought it looked violent), so he took it to the children’s librarian, who helped show him it was rated for kids older than 7.

So we put it back and chose something else. That ended up being “Sid the Science Kid,” which is awesome. Where have I been? This show is great!

That then inspired some science experiments at our house — including the very complex: What happens to this cup of water if we leave it outside over night?

It freezes.

And then: What happens if we put it in the freezer?

It stays frozen.

And then: What if we run hot water over it?

It melts.

See? Science is awesome. I tried to get them to leave it on the counter and we could check it every hour and see how much it melted — I seriously had imagined graph paper and lab coats and all manner of nerdery. But they didn’t buy it.

In other weekend fun, Jack and Philip ran an errand one day, and Viv and I stayed home and cleaned together. She LOVES to clean, which is how I know she is my daughter. I gave her a little spray bottle of water, and she wiped down all my kitchen cupboards. And then she cleaned her disgusting food-encrusted booster seat.

Jack has learned to vacuum, with some help. And he makes his bed now every day.

I think I’m really loving this age.

Vivclean1

Also: we cleaned every Saturday, top to bottom, because my mother kept a spotless home. I don’t have the same commitment to sparkle that she does, but I do get really cranky when the house is too messy. I just like it how I like it: Beds made. All counters clean. Chairs pushed in. Cupboard doors closed. Everything off the floors. Curtains open. Blinds open. Shoes all put away. Floors swept.

And that’s just what I do before I leave for work. No wonder I’m so tired all the time.

Happy running.

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Tiny little running update

Howdy, friends.

It’s still miserably cold here on the prairie. Normally winter doesn’t bother me — I love my snow boots, my running tights, my 10,000 colorful knitted winter hats, all of it.

Sledding, snowshoeing, hot chocolate.

This year seems endless, and another cold snap this week — with windchills well below zero and some high temperatures not even above zero — isn’t helping my motivation.

I know. You’ve heard it all before.

It’s weeks like this when I really understand folks who don’t exercise. It’s not easy to get up every day. To figure out what to do based on the weather, your work schedule, your kids’ schedules, your spouse’s job.

Especially  when you just want to eat Girl Scout cookies (7 boxes so far, just for me) and lay on the couch.

I was really happy last week for a tiny warming up and the ability to do mid-distance runs — 9 miles on Saturday, 11.5 on Sunday. That gave me 39 for week (why didn’t I just run 10 on Saturday like I planned?). And my normal spin class and other running.

Monday I ran 5 miles, did push-ups, taught spin class.

But yesterday … I just couldn’t motivate. I had all my gear. I had a friend at work bugging me to go with him to the gym. Instead … I walked to the library over my lunch break.

I tell myself a little walk outside is good, too, and sometimes it is. And since I’m still undecided about spring races, what’s the point in being a nut when it’s so miserable out?

The point is habit, of course. I took yesterday off. I can’t take 2 days off in a row. That’s how the long slide into laziness begins. I know this about myself. So today I have to run or lift or take a spin class or do something. Something beyond a walk. It’s always more difficult for me when I don’t have specific plans to meet a friend to run. Just making myself go is a challenge — but I try really hard to not let others down.

How are you staying motivated this winter?

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Currently reading: “Transatlantic” by Colum McCann

Howdy, friends.

Here’s what I’m reading now:

transatlantic

Here is the author’s web site.

And a review from the New York Times.

And here is a review of one of his other books, “Let the Great World Spin,” that is one of the best I’ve ever read.

And here is what Booklist had to say:

In 1919, British aviators Alcock and Brown made the first nonstop transatlantic flight, from Newfoundland to Ireland. McCann, in his first novel since the National Book Award–winning Let the Great World Spin (2009), imagines a letter handed to Brown by a young photographer, written by her mother, Emily, a local reporter covering the flight, to be delivered upon their landing to a family in Cork. Years earlier, while on a speaking tour in Ireland with the mission to raise money for the abolitionist movement, Frederick Douglass forms a bond with young Isabel, the daughter of his host family in Cork. Lily, a young servant, emboldened by Douglass’ visit, sets out for America, in the hope of a better life. About a century and a half later, former Senate majority leader George Mitchell is coaxed out of retirement to broker talks between the various factions, with the intention of getting a peace agreement by Good Friday. At the tennis club, he meets a woman in her nineties who, years earlier, had lost her grandson to the Troubles. It is Lily and her offspring’s stories—set across different times and in many different places—that ultimately tie everything together, as McCann creates complex, vivid characters (historical and otherwise) while expertly mixing fact and fancy to create this emotionally involving and eminently memorable novel.  –Ben Segedin

Before this, I mowed through “The Orphan Train” for book club this week. It was a good, fast read. Fast enough I finished it in two days (partly because I woke up to snow on Monday and couldn’t face it — so I enjoyed two hours of reading on my couch with the cup of coffee before the sun came up).

It’s been a good winter of reading for me.

What are you reading?

 

 

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Running: Why I’m not taking a shower

If you see me in the afternoon at work, chances are my hair is in a ponytail.

And most of my makeup is gone.

It’s all because I have a secret.

A dirty little secret: When I go for a run at lunch, I often don’t take a shower when I’m done.

This topic has spawned disgust with my best friend (who would rather die than not have perfect hair at work), solidarity from my sister (who looks great in a ponytail) and, surprisingly no comment from my coworkers, who have had to sit near me for 13 funk-filled years as I return to my desk, glowing and happy from an outdoor run – with a little extra deodorant.

When people ask me how I find time to exercise regularly, I try to be honest: I cut out some things that might be really important to other people. Like sleep – a few days a week, I get up when the clock still flashes the 4 o’clock hour and head out for a run. I’m lucky to be able to grab a nap sometimes on the weekend – when the week catches up with me and I collapse and my husband tells me to go sleep for an hour.

And during the week, when sometimes the only option I have to run is at lunch, I skip the shower. I’d rather go 7 miles and look sort of horrible all afternoon than only get in 5. When it comes down to it, I’d generally rather feel good than look good – which is also why I hate high-heeled shoes. It’s not that I embrace the frump – I wear nice clothes to work (OK, sometimes that means dark jeans), earrings, all that stuff. But you’d be surprised how far a little deodorant and lip gloss can go at 2 p.m. on a Tuesday.

Don’t get me wrong – when I teach spin classes, I sweat so much, I have to shower before I return to work. And in the summer, there’s no way around it, either. But spring, fall, dead of winter? Come on. If I run outside, and I do most of the winter, I sweat but it isn’t as … horrifying as the crust that forms mid-July.

I know this really grosses some people out. When I catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror, sometimes it’s true that I look slightly disheveled. But then I tell myself that if you’re in shape, you look better anyway, so it all balances out.

Everyone finds a place to cut corners in their life – I rarely get all my laundry put away, wear the same earrings all the time instead of planning them with each outfit and keep a ponytail holder around my wrist to combat the inevitable bad hair day related to parenting, running or just not having my own personal hairstylist.

I try to plan my work outfits to look OK with a little grime on the days I know I have to run at lunch. It would definitely be harder if I had to wear a business suit every day – but not impossible. I have a friend who told me when you feel intimidated before a work meeting, put on some lipstick and comb your hair. It’s the same thing after a run at lunch.

Being in shape, defining myself as a runner, makes me feel good about myself. Great, actually. And I really think when you feel good – not just about yourself, but in general from enjoying fresh air and the friendship that can come with a run at lunch — you probably look OK, too.

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Oh, the mommy wars

Howdy, friends.

Like about a hundred million other people, I saw this posted on Facebook this week.

Then I saw this today.

I like the second one WAY better. Especially this part:

Being a mom doesn’t make you into some separate class of hero fembot who never yells at her family and is the ideal worker. Whether you work or not, you are still going to be pretty much the same person you were before you had kids. You probably have less time, sure. But when I had a staff job before I had kids, I ate lunch at my desk and rarely went out for coffee, too.

First off, I hate the mommy wars. I don’t have time to spend it debating who is a better mom. And I’m not going to say we’re all doing great — because sometimes we aren’t. But we’re probably all really trying, usually, and sometimes good enough is good enough.

I ran with a girlfriend this morning who was talking about how bad she felt one day when she forgot her daughter’s shoes, and her kindergartner had to wear her snow boots all day. She feels horrible about it — ALL probably working-mom guilt — and kept beating herself up for why she forgot. And then she said, “But I remembered 25 other things that morning!”

Exactly.

Parenting is tough — whether you’re home all day or at a job all day.

I never wanted kids. And then I thought, well, when I do have them, I want to work and have a stay at home husband. My husband works 3 days a week, so, in some ways, I do have that. And I kind of hate it. Not enough for me to stay at home, but you know.

I was not loving the working mom life on Monday, when I was faced with the daycare call of a sick kid, and the work life reality of having zero backup at work … how long could they keep my daughter dosed with ibuprofen before I had to come get her? I felt really good about myself leaving a sick kid all day, just so I could try to make it to a meeting I have at the end of every day.

Finally, I just couldn’t take it, and was able to leave a little early (I should note: ALL this pressure was from myself — my employer was fine when I busted in and said I had to go).

We spent the evening at an urgent care, and got a diagnosis of pneumonia. Sorry I left you at daycare for 6 hours with pneumonia. I did the same thing to your brother once, so you know, you’re even and can bond about it in therapy one day.

And while I agree, NO parent wants a sick kid, I will also agree that when Viv came to lay on the couch with me Monday night — way past her bedtime but still buzzing from a nebulizer treatment — I just moved the blanket over and scooted over and held her while we watched the Olympics together for a while. And yes, I did love those extra snuggles.

Not because I’m full of guilt for working — but because it feels good to know that a cuddle sometimes just helps, you know? (Not good enough to enlist professional cuddlers, however.)

We spent about an hour at urgent care. Another hour at the pharmacy. An hour at home eating dinner an hour later than usual, and silently thanking the dog for not peeing in the house after being cooped up two extra hours. And then a bedtime that was 3 hours later than usual.

The next day I got up and went to work, just like anybody else.

It doesn’t make me a superhero. I’m so far from perfect, as a parent and as a boss and as a coworker and wife. Some days I feel like I’m barely hanging on. The other day Viv sighed loudly and said, “Why do I always have so much stuff to do?” And it made me laugh and cry at the same time.

Why indeed.

Is it sad that I have an eye doctor appointment today and am REALLY excited to sit in the waiting room and maybe read a People magazine? I might even go early. And if I’m there and see a stay-at-home mom dragging her brood to the eye doctor, which sounds like hell on earth to me (and I say this after spending an hour at the pharmacy, where when they wanted to know my last name, I almost said “Postal. P-O-S-T-A-L. Give me my freaking prescription! No, the kids do not want a sucker. It’s 6:30 p.m. and they need dinner!), I promise to smile at her and take whatever sticky random toy her kid might try to hand a stranger.

Because being a mom is freaking exhausting. Who has time to fight each other?

Happy running.

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