Currently reading: “The Hours” by Michael Cunningham

Howdy, friends.

This is what I’m reading now:

Hours

I was at the library one day, and they had a display of Pulitzer winners. Even though I am trying to not get any more library books until I make a dent in my nightstand, I had to go look. I took out this book, which I can’t believe I haven’t read yet.

Then I started it last night, and I’m pretty sure I’ve already read it. I’ve done this before (more than once), but at least this time I didn’t buy a book I already have. I’ll keep reading and see if I really have read it … Maybe at 39 my memory is just fading? I already think I’ll need bifocals when I go to the eye doctor tomorrow (and if indeed I do, then you’ll find me drinking away my fleeting youth at the bar on Wednesday night, until I realize I can’t stay awake past 9 p.m.).

Anyway. Here is a review. I’ve never seen the movie, but maybe I’ll rent it after this. (Which reminds me of a well written column by my coworker Jill, which you can read here.)

And I just wanted to give yet another shout out to “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena.” I finished it on Monday while the kids ate breakfast, and I burst into tears on the last page. I don’t remember ever doing that with a book. But the whole story just keeps twisting your heart more and more and by the end, you kind of explode.

Go get it.

And then tell me: What are you reading?

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Wake me up in April

Howdy, friends.

I’ve barely blogged about running lately. It’s hard to write about it when you are barely slogging through and hating the winter.

I still have not nailed down my race plans for the year — still thinking of Fargo, the 50K in Omaha and either the Dizzy Goat or maybe Afton. I need something fun, but it’s hard to look ahead when it’s 20 below outside and all I want to do is sit on my couch in yoga pants and eat cookies.

This winter is killing me.

My motivation, my spirit, my desire to be anything but a fat slug who watches TV and drinks wine all night. I couldn’t even get excited to go run the Frostbite 4, one of my favorite local races. We haven’t gone for a few years, and we should have. It would have been fun and a break from this endless winter.

I’m still managing about 35 miles a week, a spin class or two and some random, super pathetic lunges. But I can’t gin up any joy for a real long run when it’s so cold out — though I know my stress level would come way down if I just went and spent about 3 hours running Saturday and Sunday. The most I’ve managed is 10 on Saturdays. Lame.

Even last week, I was being a crappy mom and a crappy wife and finally put on all my warm clothes and told Philip I was leaving for an hour. About 7 miles later, I was a completely different (nicer) person. I know this about myself, so why do I need to re-learn it like once a week?

This is why treadmill running is so horrible — it’s all the work and none of the joy of actual running. When people say they hate running, they must be talking about treadmills. Because real, outdoor running is nothing but pure joy.

And I need to remember that when it’s so cold out. I have a stack of warm running clothes — balaclavas and hand warmers and giant mittens and tights. And a few friends stupid enough to go out there, too.

I’m writing this as the wind howls and I stare a pile of gear next to my desk at work. Somebody make me go.

Happy running.

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Currently reading: “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena”

Howdy, friends.

This is what I’m reading now:

constellation

Here are reviews from NPR, New York Times and Washington Post.

It’s author Anthony Marra’s first novel. I always like reading first novels.

Here’s a quick recap of it from Booklist:

In this extraordinary first novel, Marra homes in on a people and a region that barely register with most Americans and, in heartrending prose, makes us feel their every misfortune. In rural Chechnya, during the second war, a small group of people struggle to survive in the bleakest of circumstances. A gifted surgeon works tirelessly in a crumbling hospital, hardening her heart so that she can perform her gruesome work. An eight-year-old girl who has already seen too much is being hunted by the government ever since the night her father was abducted by Russian soldiers. An incompetent doctor who longed to be an artist paints portraits of 41 neighbors who were killed by government forces and hangs them in the doorways and trees of his ruined village. And a lonely man, once brutally tortured, turns government informant to obtain the insulin needed by his diabetic father, who, in turn, refuses to speak to him. Marra collapses time, sliding between 1996 and 2004 while also detailing events in a future yet to arrive, giving his searing novel an eerie, prophetic aura. All of the characters are closely tied together in ways that Marra takes his time revealing, even as he beautifully renders the way we long to connect and the lengths we will go to endure. –Joanne Wilkinson

I’m not too far into it, but loving it already.

What are you reading?

 

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On being afraid to be helpful

Here is my column from the Sunday features section:

Every day, I see kids walking to school.

Sometimes there’s a little brother or sister trailing a big kid. Sometimes it’s a few primary grade kids doing the distracted walk that kids do, meandering their way down the sidewalk. Sometimes it’s a kid racing down the block, clearly after the first bell has rung.

I see them all year long — in various stages of appropriate clothing. Kids in ski masks. Kids without mittens. Kids acting self-conscious and way too cool for coats as the leaves start to turn.

I remember sitting at the bus stop in the rain, and I remember walking to kindergarten. So when I see my neighborhood full of walking kids, it makes me feel nostalgic and happy.

But some days, I see a kid and think, man, I should give that kid a ride. Today I watched a boy running to school, obviously late. Another day I watched a boy still seven or eight blocks from the elementary school, head bowed against the wind, making his way there.

I understand why the school district closed school earlier this month when it was so cold. But it brought up a lot of discussion at work — from “What’s wrong with people? We went to school in this weather!” to talks about how kids just don’t have enough warm stuff sometimes. Too many times.

It was all fairly predictable.

But then it turned to giving kids a ride. My co-worker talked about how her son walks to his after-care program with a group of other kids. One day he told her they all got a ride. He’s 8. He couldn’t remember whose parent it was. She grilled him, but he wasn’t sure. All the kids got in the car — and they all lived to tell about it — so she didn’t worry too much, she said.

It made me think about the many times I’ve seen cold kids walking to school, and the many times I’ve wanted to stop. Sometimes when I have both of my own kids in the car, I think, well, they would see I have two kids already, and it isn’t likely I’m out collecting kids to maim, is it? But I know how it would turn out: with a kid running away from me yelling about stranger danger and a visit from the police.

Or that’s where my mind goes, anyway. And that’s just depressing. It’s almost as depressing as the thought of a child who can’t afford mittens.

I hate that we’ve all become so paranoid that those of us with kind hearts can’t even make a gesture for fear of being labeled a creep. And I have to ask myself honestly: What would I tell my own kids?

Don’t get in a stranger’s car? That’s good advice.

We shy away from “don’t talk to strangers” in our house because what if you need one? What if something horrible has happened, and you need help? Plus, most people are nice people.

It’s hard to balance common sense with what feels like more and more stories and commentaries and devices all aimed at keeping kids safe. I want to keep my kids safe, too. But sometimes I also want to just do something nice for someone, and it’s heartbreaking that I can’t.

Or feel like I can’t.

That I’m just plain too afraid to risk it — so I don’t offer the ride.

One time when I was in kindergarten, I had walked home from school (a distance I mapped as being just under a half-mile from my house) and couldn’t get our front door open. My dad worked second shift, so he would be asleep when I got home. I was supposed to walk myself home, come inside our unlocked house and wake him up after I watched “Sesame Street.” I did this every day.

But one day I couldn’t open the door. I was scared and walked down the block again until I found a neighbor outside, Mr. Amato. Sometimes he would fix my bike in the summer. I went to him and told him our door was locked. He walked me back home, opened it for me (it wasn’t locked, but I just couldn’t get it open that day) and all was well.

My son is 5 now. He’ll be in kindergarten this fall. I can see his school from our house. Would I let him walk? I don’t know. We know a lot of our neighbors. I feel like I need to walk around the block and introduce myself, and him, to every single house, so he knows people he could go to for help — and so people know who he is when they see him.

I tell myself that’s part of knowing your neighborhood. But I think it’s really more part of buying into the fear that there’s someone creepy lurking around every corner.

I don’t see myself letting him walk alone. I work at a newspaper. I’ve read too many stories. That said, my dad had a checkered past and heard a lot of stories, too. And what he taught us wasn’t to be terrified. It was to be aware and street smart and independent.

I know he would stop and ask a child if they needed a ride in the cold. Or stop and hand over his gloves or hat or scarf if he saw a cold child. I’ve seen him do that kind of thing.

So how is it the man with the record isn’t afraid to help, and me, the woman with two kids in the car, is?

I don’t have the answer — I don’t want to be a helicopter parent. But it seems like there’s less and less of an alternative that’s allowed.

Jacqueline Palfy Klemond is the local news editor.

Posted in Columns | 1 Comment

Currently Reading: “The Burgess Boys” by Elizabeth Strout

Howdy, friends.

The wind is gusting over 60 miles per hour today, and if I weren’t at work, it would be the perfect day to sit in a cozy chair with a cup of tea and a stack of library books. You know, the kind of thing I did before I had kids.

Now it would be me trying to entertain them. This link is about perfect to describe current snow days.

Moving on!

I just finished my Tracy Chevalier book last night and immediately started “The Burgess Boys” by Elizabeth Strout.

BurgessBoys

Here is a review from the NY Times. And here is one from the Washington Times.

I loved her book “Olive Kitteridge.” Like, it would be one of my top 25 books ever, I think.

So I hope I love this one as much.

Happy reading.

 

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Currently reading: “The Last Runaway” by Tracy Chevalier

Howdy, friends.

This is what I’m reading now:

the-last-runaway_custom-3280c109e959d27ba7c45fbe6777be43288fc501-s6-c30

Here is a review from NPR.

And this is what Booklist had to say:

Honor Bright sailed from England to America in 1850 with her sister, Grace, who is betrothed to a fellow Quaker in Ohio. After Grace’s death, Honor is left in the awkward position of an outsider, searching for her place in an unsettled land of restless change where even the Quakers are different from those she had known at home. She finds solace in writing letters to friends and family in England and in the exquisite quilting skills that tie her to her old life and offer some hope of ties to a new one. Honor’s only true American friend is Belle, the unorthodox milliner who clandestinely aids runaway slaves, even as her rough and charismatic brother, Donovan, hunts them down. Horrified by the realities of slavery, Honor faces the new complexities of the Fugitive Slave Law and the challenges it poses for the Quakers and for her personally. Chevalier (Girl with a Pearl Earring, 2000) offers a cast of strong characters wrestling with thorny personalities, the harsh realities of the frontier, and the legal and moral complexities of American slavery. –Vanessa Bush

I’ve read her other books, including The Girl with a Pearl Earring and Beautiful Creatures, and loved them. I see she has a few more on her site that I haven’t read yet. I’m over halfway through this, and I love it.

Happy reading.

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My latest love affair

Howdy, friends.

So, for Christmas, Philip asked me for some ideas. I sent him a giant list of suggestions. Which he took as a giant list to order … meaning my Christmas was full of killer new running gear.

Of all the stuff, though, these bad boys are my favorite. (Also, I look JUST LIKE this picture from the Nike web site, seriously. Just.)

Screen shot 2014-01-13 at 2.15.15 PM

You can order them here, too.

I never post about running clothes (though I confess to hoarding them and having an absurd amount of gear. And shoes.).

But these. Awesome.

In other random running news: my paper log came in the mail. It’s OK so far. Philip sort of resurrected my electronic log, so there’s that, too. I ran about 36 miles last week, and it was fine.

Happy running.

 

 

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The year in running 2013

Howdy, friends.

In keeping with our December From Hell, we also lost everything on our computer that hadn’t been backed up. And our last back up was at the beginning of November.

I won’t even go into the mess this has created for Philip, who does all of our general bookkeeping and family managing from the computer. Suffice to say he has been stressed out and a one-man IT department for about a week now.

For me, all it really means is I lost the last two months of my running log. I know … who cares. Well, I do. I’ve used an Excel spreadsheet for several years, and I like to compare year over year, to look at old training and times and see if I’m doing the same/more/worse every year. Or look at how many long runs I did, how many speedy runs, etc., just to get an idea of what works and what doesn’t.

Thankfully, I have everything through the 50K I ran — meaning all the training and most of my mileage. A friend of mine needed to look at my log to fill in blanks on his over the holidays, so with his help I also know, I think, my yearly mileage.

So, here are (some) stats from 2013:

Total mileage: 1,386 (down 200 from the year before)

Highest weekly mileage: 61 miles

Highest monthly mileage: 176, in September (so tired that month)

Lowest monthly mileage: 10 (February, for pelvic bone pain, again)

Longest run: 32.8 miles

Number of runs 20 miles or more: 8

Races: 4 (Boston Marathon, a 3K race, DNF at Sioux Falls Marathon, and G.O.A.T.Z. 50K)

Total push-ups logged: 7,291 (not including the 50-100 I do every Monday after spin class)

Overall, it was an OK year. I mean, it was weird, there’s no denying that — a bombing at Boston, falling apart at Sioux Falls, joy in Omaha. I took from Thanksgiving to New Year’s and let myself do whatever. I didn’t run a ton, but didn’t take it completely off (though I did take at least a full week off for a variety of illnesses).

For this year, I’d definitely like to run more mileage. I’d like to run a marathon PR and then go back to Omaha for the 50K — and treat it the same: As a long, long run through the woods where the only goal is to have fun (and maybe not fall so many times). That alone was so joyful to me, and reminded me why I love to run and train, I want to do it again.

But first a marathon PR. I’m looking at May and that means training has already, sort of, begun. Taking the holidays “off” was wonderful for my mental health, I think. I feel ready to train again. Though I look at my log for August and September and remember how for about six weeks I seriously felt like ALL I did was work, run and sleep. It was brutal.

I can’t wait.

(As an aside: I bought a paper log that should be delivered today. I’m too traumatized by not having all my yearly mileage saved!)

Happy running.

Posted in Running, Ultramarathons | 5 Comments

Currently reading: “Methland” by Nick Reding

Howdy, friends.

I just finished “David and Goliath” by Malcolm Gladwell. It was OK — not my favorite by him, but interesting. Here’s a review.

Then next up on my very overdue library pile was “Methland” by Nick Reding.

Methland-9781608192076

I’ve wanted to read it for a while, but you know how it goes — other books get in the way. I finally picked it up and am about halfway through it. Here’s a summary from Publisher’s Weekly:

Using what he calls a “live-in reporting strategy,” Reding’s chronicle of a small-town crystal meth epidemic – about “the death of a way of life as much as… about the birth of a drug” – revolves around tiny Oelwein, Iowa, a 6,000-resident farming town nearly destroyed by the one-two punch of Big Agriculture modernization and skyrocketing meth production. Reding’s wide cast of characters includes a family doctor, the man “in the best possible position from which to observe the meth phenomenon”; an addict who blew up his mother’s house while cooking the stuff; and Lori Arnold (sister of actor Tom Arnold) who, as a teenager, built an extensive and wildly profitable crank empire in Ottumwa, Iowa (not once, but twice). Reding is at his best relating the bizarre, violent and disturbing stories from four years of research; heftier topics like big business and globalization, although fascinating, seem just out of Reding’s weight class. A fascinating read for those with the stomach for it, Reding’s unflinching look at a drug’s rampage through the heartland stands out in an increasingly crowded field.
And a review from the New York Times, and the Washington Post. It’s pretty good, and horrifying and sad. So sad. And probably fairly timely reading for me, considering this news that came out yesterday.
Happy reading.
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Making time for family

Howdy, friends. Here is a sneak peek at my Sunday column:

I’m not big into resolutions for the New Year. It’s not that I’m against making changes – I love change.

It’s more that I recognize my own limitations. I’m super forgetful – I’ll never remember I’m not supposed to eat candy anymore, lose patience with the kids for being kids or put all my laundry away.

I’m writing this on Jan. 3, and I already broke all three of those resolutions, which I informally made quietly to myself a few days ago. I stress-ate candy New Year’s Day, when I worked from home into the night. Then I yelled at Jack, 5, and Viv, 3, Friday morning, when they refused to put their coats on while I loaded all our stuff into the car, late, again, for work and daycare.

And I should just give completely up on laundry.

My parenting style, frankly, is “beleaguered.”

I find it extremely satisfying when other parents tell me that they also fall apart regularly – or overdo things for their kids because nobody has time to wait for a preschooler to try to tie his own shoes. Of course, then we all sit back and say, at what cost? What are we teaching our kids when we do everything for them, because we’re all so late for work or working from home or burdened by other scheduling challenges? We’re raising a generation of infants.

Where’s my fainting couch? It’s all too much to think about. I need help even finding one set of matching mittens in this giant bin of disorganized winter gear. I can’t solve the world’s problems, too.

I’ve heard of people making a different kind of resolution – resolving to add something positive rather than take away something negative. We’ve talked a bit about that, too, in our house, in an informal way. And by informal I mean I’m trying to institute it, but since my husband and I see each other for about 20 minutes a day, I can’t explain to him what I’m doing. So we’re not really all on board.

Here are a few I’d love to try this year:

Family dinner. We always eat together, but it often is me making plates for us, then my husband making his own. By the time he sits down, I’m done. I go clean the kitchen and he finishes eating with the kids. I want us to all sit down, together, and eat and talk. I want dinner to be a time when we relax and enjoy each other (who am I kidding?) instead of a chore. It’s difficult to teach the kids to sit in their seats when we are both getting up and down from the table repeatedly.

Game night. We started doing an occasional movie night this fall. Viv, 3, is finally old enough to sit and watch, and Jack, 5, loves it. We cuddle on the couch in our pajamas, eat popcorn and watch a kid movie. Now, they both can play several games – including a fun bingo game called Zingo. Jack loves Connect Four, Old Maid and War. It will be a fun treat to stay up after bathtime and play games and eat snacks.

Date night. It’s really easy to not make time for your spouse. Blame time or work or finances or plain old neglect. But the most important thing we can give our children is the model of a healthy, loving relationship. And one way to do that is to make time for each other. Philip and I are terrible about this. It’s made doubly difficult by not having any family in the area (no free babysitting!), but there must be a way. We have to find it – I miss my husband.

Those three things aren’t huge commitments. But they matter. They (I hope) can strengthen our family bonds. They give us an opportunity to be together, having fun, being loving. They remind us that we’re all in this because we want to be.

So why is it so difficult?

Philip’s brother gave us a voucher for a fancy hotel night and a gift card to a restaurant last year – a special gift for us to use, and they would provide the babysitting (both gift cards are for the Twin Cities, where they live). We still haven’t used them. It’s been over a year and we’ve been unable to find a single weekend to take for ourselves.

Or unwilling. That’s probably more likely.

In 2014, I want to make the time for the people I love. I won’t be perfect every day. They won’t be, either. Marriage is a daily struggle with someone you love who drives you nuts. Kids dawdle and whine and color on items that aren’t paper. Work invades every minute it can.

But there has to be a way. If you see me, remind me I was going to look for it.

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