23 September 2016

Book Reviews: Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks and an Emmanuelle de Maupassant Short Story

After you've read something, please consider leaving a line or two on Goodreads and Amazon. The authors appreciate it!

Here are my reviews as they appear on Goodreads.

BirdsongBirdsong by Sebastian Faulks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was swept up in this book from the moment I started it. I didn’t know that much about it but a trusted source recommended it. I jumped in with both feet and got lost in it. It’s sensual and romantic, then heartbreakingly depressing as the story moves from a love affair in a French town to the battlefields of World War I. The writing pulls you along and you struggle with the hero every step of the way.

Stephen Wraysford is the hero but he’s a bit of an anti-hero. He’s young and passionate. He’s weird and quiet. He loses his passion throughout the war but works hard to do his job, and job that would be difficult for most people to fathom performing unless they were there themselves. The author writes with such emotion and leads you to believe that he really was there on the battlefields and in the trenches. The dramatic tension is amped up by anyone who knows World War I history. The reader who knows which battles are coming up will be struck with a particular horror, knowing the ending before the characters do.

I had a problem with the end of the book that keeps me from giving it five stars. And I really wanted to give it five stars. Not the ending itself; I’m satisfied with how the plot tied itself up. But the last couple of paragraphs. The point-of-view changed to a character that I don’t feel deserved it.

For me, this was a summer read for lazy afternoons in the hot sun, but it’s definitely worth reading anytime. Love, war, and history, it will appeal to many.

Because BeardsBecause Beards by Kacey Shea
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received an ARC of Emmanuelle de Maupassant's story in this anthology. Ms. de Maupassant story, "Highland Pursuits," is delightful. She injects so much personality into her characters and settings and I love her combination of erotica with playful humor. I love reading how much her characters enjoy each others' company. And the story, of course, has some very steamy, satisfying moments.

I fully plan to buy the book and read the entire anthology when it comes out because it features some of my favorite erotica authors.

View all my reviews

19 September 2016

Nineteen Miles

Today I ran nineteen miles. (I ran and am writing this on Sunday, but posting it Monday. I'm too tired to think into the future and change the tenses to match when this will be published and read.) It's my longest run to date. It was a lot harder than my seventeen-mile run two weeks ago. When I left early in the morning I was thinking a full marathon will be difficult but I can definitely get it done. By the time I hit mile eighteen I began to question that. I couldn't tell if I was hitting the wall or if I was simply hungry or thirsty. I cursed myself for choosing a route that had an uphill for miles fifteen through seventeen. When I checked my stats later, though, mile fifteen was one of my fastest; I don't know what came over me. I have a twenty-mile run in two weeks. I guess I'll see what happens when I keep ploughing on for one more mile.

The Marine Corps monument (pictured), also known as the Iwo Jima monument, is eleven and a half miles from our house. This is the second long run that I've passed it. It's the finish line for the marathon. It's an inspiration. I like stopping for a moment when I get to it to have my snack and contemplate what others have done and why I'm out doing this.

I've mentioned before that I'm raising money for Soldier On, an organization that provides services for homeless veterans. I need your help, guys. I'm six weeks out from my marathon and I'm going to start annoying everyone to donate. Click here to do so. Thinking about helping this great organization has been helping me through the tough miles. Thank you so much for helping me.

16 September 2016

Back-to-School Edition

Ahem.

We moved to the Washington, D.C., area. We are still surrounded by boxes but the place looks a little more put together every day as each box goes out. Mike started his job. Muffin has started school. I've started two volunteer jobs and a part-time job.

I'm still marathon training, slowly but surely. I have to run nineteen miles this weekend, my longest run ever. I ran seventeen miles two weeks ago and I have no reason to believe I can't complete a marathon in, what, seven weeks? Six weeks? I'm measuring my time by days between long runs right now. Nineteen miles, ten miles, twenty miles, ten miles, etc., for the next few weekends. It looks like the heat has broken, so that's something. There were many miserable miles run this summer by me and others and I'm ready for some cooler weather. You can still contribute to my fundraising for Soldier On, if you'd like. Click here.

Muffin has been in public school in Virginia for all of two weeks and we are dealing with a kind of culture shock. I feel like we have to be on top of everything to keep politics, gender stereotypes, and helicopter parenting at bay. I feel like we are definitely the weird parents with the weird kid because I don't care that Muffin pokes around in the dirt at the bus stop (other parents don't let their kids play before school) but I'm concerned about political parties handing out leaflets on school grounds. (I posted about my encounter with that on Facebook -- in the near future I'll modify it for posting here.)

I've got an idea for NaNoWriMo this year, too. I'm researching and planning right now. More to come on that later, as the event grows closer. It starts two days after my marathon. I'm a sucker for long, slow, arduous tasks, apparently.

And that's about it for now. How are you doing?

29 July 2016

Book Review: Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell

After you've read something, please consider leaving a line or two on Goodreads and Amazon. The authors appreciate it!

Here's my review as it appears on Goodreads.

Assassination VacationAssassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the first Sarah Vowell book I ever read and while I've read all her others, I've come back to this one several times to reread. We move in and out of the Washington, D.C., area every few years and I usually read it when we're heading back there in anticipation of seeing some of my favorite monuments and hearing some of my favorite stories. I of course had to read it again this summer since I'll be starting a job as a tour guide with our next move there this fall. I wanted to refresh my memory of the funny and interesting observations Ms. Vowell shares.

Assassination Vacation gives us a look at the assassinations of three presidents -- Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley. Students don't learn much about he presidencies of Garfield and McKinley these days but they are definitely worth a look. At the time she was writing, Ms. Vowell makes comparisons to the McKinley and Bush administrations. I'd make similar comparisons to a possible Trump administration this year.

Ms. Vowell makes American history accessible and points out how American history and politics have always been mired in scandal and downright silliness. I love how she goes into the lives of the assassins as well. Everyone knows John Wilkes Booth, but Guiteau and Czolgosz rarely get much mention. Ms. Vowell points out that many people were relieved to hear that Czolgosz had a foreign name because it made them assume a foreigner had shot the president. But Czolgosz was an American citizen, born in the Midwest to immigrant parents. Sound familiar to the fears one of our presidential candidates is helping to fester this year?

I do not want a presidential assassination. But I think it's worth learning about what drove others to do it in the past and take a look at the atmosphere of politics and the entire country surrounding those events. I recommend this book to anyone who has even a passing interest in American history, politics, or current events.

View all my reviews


  • And, yes, I'm really going to be a tour guide in Washington! I'll be with City Running Tours. I'm so excited. I'll share more details once I'm down there getting started.

26 July 2016

You Don't Really Train for a Marathon Alone

I'm not going to lie. Running has been difficult the last few weeks. It's hot. It's humid. It's downright Bamako out. Friends in the Northeast, friends in Texas, friends in London -- we are all struggling to run right now. I guess that's how the summer is for everyone who's insane enough to train for a marathon through these months. We accept it because we got ourselves into this and we'll get ourselves out.

On Saturday morning I snapped this picture just before starting a thirteen-mile run. I wanted to remember appreciating the beautiful scenery when the miles go tough. Sunrise on the beach. Early morning surfers. Folks out for a stroll with their coffees.

The beautiful scenery barely pulled me through the first mile. My friends did, though. I met up with Running While Mommy and a few others. We were all running different distances but stayed together for a few miles. I would have given up much sooner if it hadn't been for my friends. I wanted to think of my goal. I wanted to think of all the people who have things so much harder than I do but perform amazing tasks every day anyway. I wanted to enjoy the beachfront. But I couldn't. I was too hot and too tired. My mind was a blank. But I had footsteps beside me and as long as I was accompanied by another runner I was going to keep going. Slowly but surely.

Since we all ran different distances we finished at different times. We caught up with each other by group text later in the day. Everyone was happy to have the motivation of meeting other people to get the run done. We were happy to have the run finished for the weekend. We probably all would have either skipped it or run shorter if we'd been on our own. It felt good to check in with my support system like that.

What made me feel great all over again was when the official Marine Corps Marathon account liked my image (to the right) on Instagram yesterday. It's a screenshot of the alarm on my phone going off at five in the morning with a caption of how I'm meeting my friends for the long run on what was the hottest day of the year so far. That little thing, that "like" from the organization that's putting on the marathon boosted my spirits immensely. It made me feel like I'm part of something big and they are recognizing every mile that the runners are putting into their training.

The marathon is less than a hundred days from now. My daily runs aren't as long as I'd like them to be, but I'm getting out there and doing something almost every day. And I'm confident that as long as I complete the long run each week I'll be able to complete the marathon.

Remember to check out my page for making a donation to Soldier On: Click here. Thank you to everyone who's donated so far to help me raise money to support homeless veterans.

20 July 2016

Give Girls the Opportunities to Play Whatever They Want

Yesterday I got together with an old friend, Vicky from The Mummy Chronicles. We've known each other since high school, long before blogging was a thing. We've kept in touch over the years but living in different states and different countries has made it difficult to see each other in person. Every time we see each other, though, it's like no time has passed. She's one of the few people from back then that I still keep in touch with regularly.

Our children met for the first time yesterday. The kids hit it off. A morning at the beach followed by lunch and backyard play, then ice cream, is a universally good day in the realm of kids. It was so nice that the kids are old enough to play together without needing adults, leaving plenty of time for Vicky and me to talk and catch up. When we noticed the kids were playing some sort of fighting game with a toy gun, a sword, and frisbee that doubled as a shield and a helmet I turned to Vicky and said she must have the same problem I do sometimes.

All our kids, four in total, are girls. And Vicky and I have both received comments, if not outright criticism, from other parents about having girls who play "boy" games.

This needs to stop. There is absolutely no reason for toys and games to be gendered. Saying that certain toys and games, such as "army" or "police," are boy games, is an insult to any woman who is in the military or in law enforcement and to any girl who has a parent or someone else close to them in those fields. Someone is really going to tell my daughter that she can't be in the military or be a cop like her father? Because by referring to those games as something only boys can play, that's exactly what girls hear. That's it's something they can't do.

I think a lot of parents don't even realize the content of their comments until someone else calls them on it. Or maybe they assume girls and boys grow out of these things and the careers they choose later in life have nothing to do with the games they play as children. What I see, though, is parents who are my age and younger, who grew up in the post-feminist movement, imposing gender stereotypes even more strictly than my parents' generation did. Look at those insipid Dick and Jane books. Jane may be wearing a pretty dress but she is playing the same games as Dick, with cars, in mud, and all that. Today, when I browse parenting boards, I see far too many posts from mothers talking about cars being a boys' toy. Why are we regressing? Some girls like princesses and that's fine. But are we really giving all our kids all the play options available or are we limiting them to what adults think are gender appropriate?

I'm going to throw this out here to think about: We need more female police officers right now. Which means we need to encourage young women to think of this as a career. Which means we need to let girls pretend to be cops when they play. There's been talk of police departments wanting to have more racially diverse forces to better reflect the communities they serve. We definitely need that. Let's work on gender diversity on those forces, too, since women make up half the population of this country.

We should be thrilled that they are playing outside in fresh air while the adults relax and talk, not worrying too much about the content of the game as long as no one is getting seriously injured. Parenting is hard. Why do other parents want to make it harder with gender stereotypes? There are so many battles to fight. I'm so tired of this one.

18 July 2016

I Want to Give Back. And I Need Your Help.

I had a mild cold and the weather was so hot and humid I put off my long run until something gave in. Fortunately after two days of rest, my sore throat and exhaustion cleared up. The weather, however, remained oppressive but I had no choice. This morning I was determined to do the long run. Only eleven miles, I said to myself. I'd done twelve milers the two weeks in a row before so eleven was practically an off week.

Mike had had a lot of our outdoor gear shipped from Bamako ahead of our main shipment so I sweated in the shed yesterday pouring through boxes for my CamelBak. I hate running with water (I don't like carrying stuff) but I knew it would be a necessity. This morning I geared up, forced a smile for this photo, and took off.

The water sloshed. I'd forgotten to press all the air out of the bladder. I also wondered if it had something to do with the ice cubes, too. I didn't want to stop and undo it all to press out the water on the road. I sucked it up and hoped the sloshing would stop bothering me.

For the most part the sloshing did stop bothering me. I had a lot on my mind. The heat. The traffic. Where it would be best to adjust the route to make it eleven miles instead of twelve. Muffin's upcoming birthday party plans. Our upcoming move. The constant sloshing mostly became background noise and my need for the water far outweighed my annoyance at the sound it made.

As I the miles wore on and I became more tired, the noise bothered me more. Then I passed a building with the flag at half-staff. And another. And I remembered that far more horrible things are happening in the world and my life wasn't so bad if I was on a voluntary run with water sloshing on my back. I sucked it up, ignored the water, and finished that eleven miles.

I'm giving back to those who have endured things more difficult than I have. I want to say "Thank you" for their sacrifices and hard work. I'm using my training for the Army Ten Miler and the Marine Corps Marathon to raise money for Soldier On. Soldier On helps homeless veterans by providing temporary housing and transitional services, eventually leading to permanent homes. I'm asking for your help. I have a fundraising goal of $2,500 by October 30, the date of the marathon. Every little bit helps. With all the headlines in the news lately it's easy to forget that other groups are struggling as well. This is something I can do to help. So can you. Visit my CrowdRise page to donate. I'll be paying the CrowdRise user fee myself so that all of the donated money will go to Soldier On. And please share.

Thank you so much.

01 July 2016

Book Review: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

After you've read something, please consider leaving a line or two on Goodreads and Amazon. The authors appreciate it!

Here's my review as it appears on Goodreads.

What I Talk About When I Talk About RunningWhat I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve never read a Murakami novel before so I had no idea what to expect from his running memoir. I’d seen it on the bookshelf of a number of runners so as I started training for my first marathon a few weeks ago, I picked up the book as well.

I loved most of it. I found his philosophy with both running and writing to be similar to mine. There are many things that someone who’s not an endurance athlete can’t understand so maybe this book speaks to a narrow audience. But I’m glad to be a member of that audience. I found myself nodding along. I’d read a free sample on my Kindle, then found a used paperback to buy so I could underline passages and make notes in the margin. I loved this book so much I penciled it up.

Now that I’ve seen this glimpse into his mind I want to try his novels, too.

I would not say this is “equal parts training log, travelogue, and reminiscence,” as the book description does. It includes all those things, but not in equal parts. It’s a series of essays that he wrote, mostly during his training for the 2005 New York City Marathon, but the memories take him to other races and other periods of his life, and on a whirlwind tour of his stomping grounds across Hawaii, Boston, Greece, and Japan.


View all my reviews

28 June 2016

Screw the Laundry

My friend shared this image on Facebook recently. I love her but I couldn’t disagree more. Yes, I’m a mom and one of the ways I take care of my family is by doing laundry. But I get absolutely no sense of satisfaction or accomplishment over having an empty laundry basket.

A full laundry basket means we have been running, swimming, biking, gardening, baking, painting, fixing motorcycles, eating chocolate ice cream, and puking with excitement. An empty basket means I probably went without a much-needed nap in order to fold laundry instead.

I know it’s a joke and I’m not saying it isn’t right to feel a sense of accomplishment over getting chores done. I can’t help but think, though, that jokes like these continue to drive home the implication that women need to do all the chores. Regardless of if they work full-time, regardless of their other activities, a mother’s job is to not only get that fucking laundry done but to be elated about it.

If the best five seconds of the week is the moment all the laundry is done, then is the worst five seconds the moment new dirty laundry appears? Because most weeks I wish dirty laundry was the worst of my problems.

Sometimes the best five seconds of my week is a moment I have with Muffin. Sometimes it’s a moment I have with Mike. Sometimes it’s a moment I have alone. It will never be the moment the laundry is done.

06 June 2016

Quiet Support


After a chat with Muffin about the very few times it's
appropriate to write in a book, I found this heart penciled
in the margin of my Murakami paperback.
It’s Monday morning. I’ve run. I’ve had my smoothie (greenish). I'm sitting down at my laptop to write.

I’m not here to be your cheerleader and tell you how amazing I feel. I don’t care if you drink smoothies or not. I happen to like them and adding a few leaves of spinach isn’t too bad. The truth is, my motivation is personal and yours is, too.

I started reading Haruki Murakami’s memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, this week. I pretty much want to underline every sentence, there’s so much of it that I relate to. If you really need motivation for this morning, go read this book. (I’ll be writing a more formal review of it once I’m finished.) “Writing novels and running full marathons are very much alike. Basically a writer has a quiet, inner motivation, and doesn’t seek validation in the outwardly visible.”

This is why I keep my daily mileage on Strava, where everyone who’s there is because they are interested in that, rather than Facebook. This is why I don’t post my daily word counts to Twitter and rarely use the #amwriting tag. (If I really am writing, I’m not on Twitter.) I support my followers and those whom I follow in their running and writing endeavors. I know several people training for races and working on writing projects this year and I’ve got your backs. I do pay attention to what you're up to.

I’ve been drinking my smoothie every day for a week but I’ve forgotten to do my plank most days. I've done all the running I've needed to do. I've written some days and some days I haven't. The world has continued to turn despite my not following a plan and not documenting every moment of it for public consumption.

I'm only accountable to myself.

(I stared at this post for hours once I finished writing it without a title idea.)

LinkWithin

Related Posts with Thumbnails