29 July 2016

Book Review: Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell

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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.

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  • 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.


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