June 11, 2018

Peachtree week -4

It's getting hotter.

And I'm not slowing down!  Woot!

Last week was 19.6 miles including an 8 mile long run in the low 12s, 3 miles tempo at 10:28, and 4X800; 3X400 (9:02 or faster; and mid 8s).

I also finally got back to my jumprope cross-training routine.

Jumping rope is SO HARD.  But I do love how quickly it kicks my butt and how easy it is to construct a very demanding cross-training workout of 1:30 rope/1:30 calisthenics (For starters, I went with 5 exercises and 15 total minutes -- pushups, scissor kicks, plank knee drives to elbows (cross and exterior), dips, side lunges).

I followed this up with an easy mile jog followed by a walking cooldown and was pleased with the quality of the workout as well as how little time it took.  I was sore for 2 days, which is simultaneously encouraging (yay! getting stronger) and depressing (seriously? 5 exercises plus jumping rope can make me that sore?).

With 3.5 weeks left, I am hopeful that I can continue to improve fitness and finish the Peachtree Road Race comfortably.  In terms of time goals, I'm going to have to wait to see the weather.  The heat and humidity can be brutal and I'm very susceptible to both.

The racing schedule is starting to shape up nicely for the rest of the year (and E's actually on board for quite a few of the events as well, which is a nice benefit due to the shorter races):

7/4/2018 Peachtree Road Race (10K) (With E)
7/28/2018 Crissy Field Parkrun (5K) -- (With E) Happy to make post-race brunch plans!
August -- looking for bay area suggestions if you have them
9/2/2018 Race To The End Of Summer (5K) -- (With E) Happy to host or make post-race brunch! (Thanks to Angela for the discount code)
9/9/2018 SF Giants' Race (10K) -- Happy to make post-race brunch plans!
October/Early November - evaluating options but considering Folsom Blues Half (or 5K) and Run The Parkway Half
Thanksgiving:  Atlanta Track Club Half Marathon (E may do the 5K)
12/2/2018 CIM relay (one or more legs)

June 4, 2018

Summer is Almost Here (Peachtree Week -5)

E and I visited my hometown last weekend and built rockets with the kids at my mom's party. The next day, we set them off.

The kids are almost out of school.

BBQ season has started.

The tomatoes are growing like crazy and have officially overtaken the kale as the tallest plants in the garden.

My todo list for this week includes planting cucumbers, squash, eggplants & peppers.

I am happy, happy, happy.  I love everything about Summer *except* running in the heat.

And, running is definitely getting harder for this high-heat-generating human as the bay area temperatures start to rise.  Being near Sacramento just made it even more difficult.

Last week's hardest effort by far was 2 miles @ 10:52/mile pace, uphill back home from the rocket launch with my (much) younger sister in the 90F heat of my hometown.

Weekly mileage was less than 20, but I fit in a 7 miler followed by some decent strides as well as 2 other easy runs at paces that used to be a little harder, so I'm feeling pretty good.

I'm very much enjoying the scheduled workouts for the 10Ks.  They are easier to fit in, and I'm focused more on improving my speed than I have been in several years, which is a nice change.  Fitness comes in many forms, but being able to hold faster paces is a type of fitness I'd let go over the last few years.  My mantra had become "just get the miles done" because I found that if I had the added stress of a distance and a pace, if I didn't hit both I didn't get the feeling of satisfaction that I craved from my running hobby.

Being able to focus on racing 6.2 miles means more speed and strength work, and all of the results that come from that.  I'd been struggling with whether I was better off registering for the half or the 10K for RNR San Jose, but when I started plotting what the training cycle would look like I did not like the idea of double digit long runs in August or September, so I'll be doing the 10K and decided to pick one or more half-marathons later in the fall.

May 27, 2018

Parkrun PR (Brave Like Gabe)

E and I decided to spend a couple of nights in the city for Memorial Day weekend.

Low light sunset over piers 1.5 - 3.
Friday night, I met an attorney-friend for celebratory drinks because our GDPR nightmare was now just ongoing and not a deadline.  After that, E and I enjoyed a delicious early date night dinner of grilled octopus, burrata salad, and mussels with homemade saffron fettuccine.  We were back in the hotel lounge for a nightcap by 8 and in bed, watching the adorable Lady Bird by 9, pounding sparkling water and water to hydrate for the next day's Crissy Field Parkrun. (Also, my honorary Brave Like Gabe 5K -- when I tried to register, they weren't accepting virtual registrations anymore, so I just made a donation to the organization in general and mentally made a note to run hard to push for people who are sick.)

I love how golden Oakland looks at sunset.

We fell asleep before 11:30 and slept peacefully until the hotel phone randomly woke us up with loud ringing at 3:52 AM.  No one was on the line.  It was bizarre.  Unfortunately, both of us had a difficult time getting back to sleep.

When my alarm went off at 7:05, I reset it for 7:20 and actually fell back asleep and started dreaming before the 7:20 alarm woke me up.  Groggy, we finally got up, did the vitamin taking, teethbrushing, and dressing required before heading up to the lounge for cappuccinos and a light pre-race breakfast.

Love Crissy Field Parkrun!
As I've been slowly increasing my fitness, my goal was to run sub 30.  I lined up towards the back of the pack and fidgeted with my headphones and phone, not quite working everything out by the time I heard "1-2-3 Go!"  So, we were off, and after a couple of minutes, noting that I was averaging 9:22/mile when my goal was 9:39 for the first mile, I decided to try to make the music work.  Eventually, after rebooting my phone, I got my Bluetooth headphones connected, saw 9:46 as the average pace for the lap on my garmin and picked it up.  E stayed with me and matched his pace to mine for that first mile, which was very helpful.

Magritte's Scheherazade
The Magritte exhibit at SF MoMA is one of
my favorite museum exhibits I've ever seen.
I hit the mile at 0.2 seconds faster than my target pace -- a little too close for comfort.  So I tried to pick it up just a little bit and E stayed with me.  Somewhere around 1.5 miles, he waved goodbye and took off (finishing 2m4s ahead of me).  I kept checking my watch, pushing and occasionally passing folks, hitting mile 2 with a 9:36.5 split.

Magritte's Personal Values
Okay.  At this point, I was working hard, but happy with where I was. I felt comfortable that I could probably keep it under 9:39 average and finish sub 30 to meet my goal.  It was a beautiful cool foggy day with views of the Golden Gate bridge and I was consciously practicing gratitude.

One of my favorites.

Except all of a sudden, it became apparent that many of the people I'd passed were using me as a pacer.  The first woman I'd previously passed, passed me and started clipping people off as she headed down the last 3/4 mile to the finish, much stronger than I was.  I'm not gonna lie.  I found it very difficult to be grateful about THAT.

Possibly my absolute favorite.
Honestly, I hadn't raced in such a long time I'd forgotten it was a thing.  I was so used to comparing myself against only myself that I found it shocking that I actually cared what the people around me were doing.

The next woman who tried to pass caused me to dig in and match her, staying just in front of her shoulder for a minute or so, until eventually, she stopped pushing me and I saw that I was close to a guy I'd been trailing for most of the race.  I pushed to pass him and he really didn't like that option.  He tried to surge past me, so I matched.  He dropped back for a few seconds.  He tried to surge again, I matched again.  He dropped back again.  This pattern played out a few more times until the last 10th of a mile where I never saw him again.

Meanwhile, about 4 of the women I'd passed earlier in the race took the opportunity to cleanly and strongly pass me while I was battling with surging dude.  I tried to push as hard as I could, but I couldn't stay with any of them.  My chest was hurting in that "this is uncomfortable, but I can probably keep this up 'til the finish" kind of way.  My legs felt like they probably had more to give, but my cardiovascular system did not.

Finally, I crossed the line and stopped my watch, very happy to see 29:39. My 3rd mile split was 9:29 with the last bit of the 5K at 9:10/mile pace.  All in all, a very well executed negative split race.

Post race dinner splurge.

This is nowhere in contention for the fastest 5K I've ever run.  In fact, it's about 29 seconds per mile slower than my PR marathon pace.  But, I haven't broken 30 in a 5K since I'd done so at Memorial Day Parkrun 2 years ago, and this time is faster than that one, setting a Parkrun course PR for me.

It's the highest percentage age grade race (50.99%) I've posted in about 3 years.  My age grade best is 60.30%, so I feel comfortable that I'm headed in the right direction fitness wise, AND, if I stay on it, I've got plenty of room for improvement within my historic norms.  I just need to continue putting up consistent basic good healthy habits and training.  And, I'm excited to get after it.

May 21, 2018

A Down Week with Paso Robles Wine Tasting

View of Justin Winery from the balcony of our room
E's parents came into town for a few days and I gladly traded miles for time with family.  They spent 2 nights in town, where we squeezed in dinners and lunches between work.  Then, on Thursday, we drove down to Paso Robles to spend two nights in wine country before they continued south to LA and we returned home.
Look closely, the flower buds are just starting for the grape bunches.  So cute!
Mileage for the week was 18.43, but I feel great about it, nonetheless.  I'd been pushing myself for a few weeks and the down week felt right.  Plus, I did manage to squeeze in the best track workout I've done this year (have I mentioned how much I love having the track 0.5 miles from my house!):

4X800/3minRest; 2X400/90sR (9:00; 8:51; 9:01; 9:06; 8:33; 8:53)

E and I are not as hardcore as some folks when it comes to wine-tasting.  It turns out, we're on roughly the same speed as his folks, which was a pleasant surprise.  We've done trips with people who want to hit 15 wineries -- it's just so exhausting and, honestly, not fun for us after the first few.  This trip was gloriously mellow and perfect.

Thursday we toured Justin and did a seated tasting in their special members' only lounge (that you get access to with the tour, even if you aren't a member).  1 winery, dinner out in town, and some post-dinner wine was perfect for us.

Friday, we had a leisurely morning (okay, some were more leisurely than others, I had some client commitments, so I worked while E and his dad hiked), and then we headed out for an olive oil farm tasting.

Kiler Ridge Olive Oil Tasting -- Highly Recommended.
If you've never done olive oil tasting, I highly recommend it.  Extra Virgin Olive Oil doesn't have a legal meaning in the US.  But the folks that take it seriously observe the European rules, and boy can you tell the difference between the Bertolli they start you with and all of the other artisanal options.

From there we quickly snacked on nuts and cheese to fortify ourselves and then toured and tasted at Tablas Creek (also highly recommended) before closing out the day at Brecon Estate (where there are picnic tables and the tasting servers will come to you with your next pour instead of requiring you to stand at the tasting bar).  For dinner we did the 5+ course meal at Justin and all of us agreed that it was amazing.  There are only 6 tables in the restaurant.  The night that we ate there, they only served 3 tables, each seated 30 minutes apart.  There was one server.  One head chef. One sous chef.  It was by far the most intimate meal out I'd ever experienced.

View of the Paso Robles hills from Kiler Ridge.
Overall, it was such a peaceful, lovely experience.  Low-key with lots of time to enjoy conversation with E's folks.  Very different than the last few times we'd gone winetasting.  We were definitely ensconced in the westside of Paso, a good thirty minutes from the town (cell service was very spotty, but the property had wifi), but that meant that the mornings were absolutely nothing but bucolic silence (until the hardcore folks showed up to start their tasting days at 10 AM).

Saturday AM, I took advantage of our location to run 2.25 miles in the vineyards under the fog from the Pacific, fitting in hill repeats on the tractor trails and paved sections wherever I found a good hill on the property (which I had to myself).  I did this workout without any music or phone, just me, the early morning vineyard noise and the fog.  I only had 30 minutes, but I made the most of it, enjoying one of the more satisfying workouts I've done in a long time.

Venus next to the moon on our drive back from town on Thursday after dinner.

Overall, I'd say my biggest emotion about last week was gratitude.  I was so grateful to be healthy and run when I could but not feel any pressure to do more than made sense.  I was even more grateful that E's parents came to us to spend time with us.  And, of course, I was grateful, as always, at just how gorgeous California is, and how lucky I am to be able to live here (and to visit the part of the state where some of my family is from).

May 13, 2018

Just Trying to be My Healthy Self (Peachtree Week -8)

I'm doing all (or most of) the right stuff, running-wise.  This feels great.  Good food.  Lots of sleep.  Reasonable increase in workouts.  Very slow decrease in body mass without too much hunger, but generally trending in the right direction.

It's also slow but steady progress on the fitness increase, which is the higher order goal.  I'm pushing myself pretty hard on pacing on the shorter stuff and I'm seeing some improvement.  But this leaves me wanting more!  This week's mileage was 26.08, with notable workouts including 1.75 miles w/E @ 9:50 pace; 6 medium effort with Jen on Saturday @ 11:27 (including 30 second walk breaks every mile); and 8X400 with 90s rest with the track group, all sub 9 min/mile except 1 @ 9:02 pace, which caused me to take a longer break so I could do the last 3 in the high 8s (last one was 8:29).  I also joined a friend at Cyclebar for a 60 minute ride one day, which was a fascinating experience -- first time I've ever worked out with earplugs.

This is what happens when tatsoi and mustard greens go to seed.
In terms of races -- I've now got 3 on the calendar.  Crissy Field parkrun May 26.  Peachtree Road Race July 4 in ATL in the heat and humidity (much more of a comparison against previous performances than a PR effort).  Pacing a friend at the Giant Race 10K in San Francisco on September 9.  So this leaves me with a choice.  Pick a Fall half and have just that as my one hard effort on the books, or try to find something shorter somewhere in there where I can do a strong effort... suggestions welcome!

Meanwhile, life is proceeding apace, as it does.  Guita keeps growing (she's getting huge!).  The tomatoes in the ground are thriving and the winter garden has completely bolted at this point (except the oh so lovely speckled romaine).  The tomato seedlings are so big that I need to transplant them so they can continue to thrive if I plan on delivering them through early June (which I do).

I am in love with the speckled romaine!  Delicious.  Beautiful.  Continually productive. Heat tolerant (hasn't bolted yet!)
In other news, one of the interesting side effects of quitting Facebook is that I'm reaching out and interacting via text, meals, IRL meetups, runs, etc. with more people than I used to do.  The human need to connect is still there, and I can't satisfy it with an easy FB answer now.  I think, overall, this is definitely one of the biggest improvements in my life since quitting FB.  I've been having text conversations, phone calls, and IRL interactions with folks I care about on a much higher frequency than I did before I opted out.  Of course, I've lost the light interactions with a larger group in exchange and I do miss that sense of knowing what's going on, but I think the decreased processing of those folks and their life is a net positive, even when weighed against the loss of knowledge of what they're up to.

May 6, 2018

Actually Back to Training (Peachtree week -9)

Friends with chickens are the BEST!
I finally hit a 25 mile week for the first time since January.  Even being at home, cooking good meals, and not being too busy with work, it's still been very difficult to safely get the mileage up to a respectable number without injuring myself (which I'm obviously very cautious about given the left leg issues in late '17 and early '18 and right shoulder dislocation in March).  But I finally did it!  And, as always, once you start to get into better shape, being in better shape and working hard felt great.

2 hours to make deviled eggs from scratch
(including homemade aioli)
15 minutes for them to be devoured at a party
Monday and Tuesday I had a visitor in town from New York (one of the string of many who grace our guest room and make us less sad about all the folks who've left the bay area).  She's a faster runner than me, but graciously slowed down and joined me for 2 miles in the mid 11s as her cooldown one day and 3 miles at 11:03 as an easy run for her and an almost medium effort run for me.

Wednesday, I headed out to meet my local running club on the trail.  They've moved things around and the long run is now on Wednesday AM, which is difficult for me, work-wise, driving 20 minutes to do a long run and then driving 20 minutes back afterwards makes the long run *much* longer than doing something on my own.  So, I decided I'd just drive to the closest entrance to the trail they run and jump in when they get there, around mile 2 for them.  My plan was to join the first runner and try to hang on as long as I can, then drop back and hang for at least 1.5 miles, before finally running back to the entrance on the trail solo.  It worked wonderfully.  I did drills and calisthenics 'til the first runner arrived and then I hung on for dear life for a mile in the low-mid 8 minutes/mile.  Yeah, I haven't done that in a while!  I slowed for a recovery mile and then did 10 X 1 min hard/1 min jog for a total workout of 3.27 miles plus 6 targeted calisthenics exercises.

Only about 30 garden beets left to harvest and eat or gift!
They are delicious.
Wednesday PM, Jen was in my neck of the woods for work and I convinced her to come visit instead of sitting in traffic during rush hour.  We headed back out to the trail and did a nice easy chatty 3 miles @ 11:31/mile (much like A, the previous visitor, she also slowed down for me, and I appreciated it).  Another milestone!  I don't think I've done a double workout in any form in years, and *certainly* I haven't done a double day of runs in at least 5 years.

Friday night dinner: camembert risotto and leftover beets and beetgreens.
Thursday afternoon, after a non-stop stressful day of work, I jogged to my new local track and busted out 5X800 with 3 minutes walking recovery (paces: 9:00; 9:12; 9:10; 9:28; 9:18).  I had such mixed feelings about this one.  It was so hard.  And the paces were so slow compared to my historical pacing.  But it felt so good.  It felt fast (because I haven't run fast in so long).  Did I mention it was hard?  Also, the training plan called for 6, but after the 5th interval, I decided I'd pushed myself harder than I had in a long time and I really didn't want to re-injure myself.  Coupled with Wednesday's double, I decided to take it easy.  So I jogged home and logged a total of 4.33 miles.

Good call, too, because my left knee was all twingy that evening while I just walked around the kitchen and cooked.  Clearly, I'd pushed it right to the edge.  I took Friday off completely.

Saturday, I'd hoped to run 9.  My last long run of 7 had been a decent effort in the low 12:00s about 10 days prior and I figured I should be able to do 9 without too much trouble.  Ummm... no.  My left knee was better, but still a little twingy, and, uh, running by effort meant that easy was 13:07/mile average pace.  So, yeah, I modified the plan, did a loop of 3 super slow miles and pushed the long run to Sunday.

And then, today, what do you think happened?  I headed out, feeling pretty good, but a little apprehensive about the knee.  I hit mile 2 at a sub 13/mile pace and started to think seriously about how I was feeling and whether I wanted to be out for that long.  I did a quick mental mileage total and realized I'd be jumping from two weeks of sub 20 to 29+ miles if I executed on my plan.  Also, it was sunny and, per the norm, we've got another guest at the house that I was neglecting.

So, I settled for 3.12 easy @ 12:12, followed by 10 X 30s hard/60s walk; and then a jogging cooldown for a total of 4.81 miles for the day and 25.57 miles for the week.

If I can keep this level of effort up for the full 9 weeks between now and Peachtree, I'll be thrilled.  I don't expect my pacing to improve egregiously, given that it's just going to keep getting hotter.  But, I do hope that if I put in a good late Spring and Summer block, I'll be in decent shape to race a half in the Fall once it cools off, which would be wonderful.

April 27, 2018

Spring Garden Mung Bean Salad

My garden is full of overproducing greens.

The tatsoi has bolted.
After pulling most of the butter lettuce, pulling outer leaves from the red lettuce and speckled romaine daily, freezing all of the remaining spinach, as well as the outer leaves of the mustard, kale & tatsoi, and tossing the brussel sprout plants that grew like crazy but never budded up, I still have an egregious amount of fresh greens to preserve or use before it gets too hot and they die.

Tonight, I looked in the pantry and realized I had some dried mung beans, which as they tend to be on the starchier side for pulses, I decided they would be a good base for a salad made of stuff we had in the garden and in the kitchen.  It was delicious.

The finished product (although E & I both added grated romano on top)
Serves 2:

1/3 lb dried mung beans (I boiled the whole pound, and just refrigerated the remainder of the beans for later use in the week)
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 large shallot, minced
5 large kale leaves, destemmed (save & chop the stems), with kale sliced into 1/2 cm ribbons perpendicular to the stems
1 gigantic stalk of celery from the garden (likely 2 or 3 grocery store stems), chopped
1 tomato, chopped
black pepper
dried ground cumin
3 T butter
2 T lemon juice

1. Cover mung beans with 2X volume of water, add a dash of salt.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cover.  Cook for 20 minutes and immediately remove from heat, rinse in cold water, and drain. Re-rinse with more cold water if they are still steaming to stop them from overcooking.

2. Place butter, 1/2 minced garlic, 1/2 minced shallot, chopped kale stems and celery into a pan (I re-used the mung bean cooking pot).  Heat to medium and sautee until celery and stems start to soften.  Turn off heat and add salt, black pepper, and lemon juice to taste and stir while cooling.

3. In a mixing bowl, place cooled mung beans, chopped kale, tomatoes, the other half of the minced garlic and shallots.

4. Mix the hot butter/kale/celery/garlic/shallot dressing into the mixing bowl and toss.  Add cumin to taste and adjust salt/pepper accordingly.

5. Serve in bowls with forks.  Feel free to grate a dried hard cheese over the top for more fat and protein.


April 23, 2018

Fancy New Track

Look what my city installed 0.5 miles from my front door!
Just as I'm slowly getting back into running, I got the best gift from my city: a brand new track.

I pulled off a pretty good week.  Lots of home-cooked deliciousness.  Several days of shoulder weights -- every day that it gets stronger and feels more stable I feel more comfortable running.  This week included 5 days of running totaling 21.8 miles including a short solo effort at the new track to break it in.

Sunday AM, I jogged over to the new track where I did some drills and then busted out a 9:10 mile followed by 7X100 (26, 25, 24, 24, 24, 24, 24). 

The 9:10 mile was the reality check I needed.  Close to my sub 9 goal in the heat, but making it super obvious that my fitness still needs lots of work if I'm going to hit my 2018 running goal of Very Good on the Cooper Test

But those 24 second 100s (several actually in the 23s, just rounded up)? 

Oh, those were the positive inspiration my Des-winning-Boston-is-the-best-thing soul desired -- they signal my future fitness if I stay on the right track.  I haven't run that fast in a long time, and certainly haven't felt safe running that hard with my shoulder until very recently.  I floated on my cooldown and enjoyed the rest of the day with hopes of improved fitness.  The only race goal I currently have is the Peachtree Road Race, which is unfortunate in its heat and hills and humidity, but a good goal to train for, nonetheless, as finishing requires fitness that will translate well into a good fall effort when I can benefit from cooler temperatures.

It's time to start removing the winter greens and make room for the tomatoes. 
There are approximately 30 beets and at least 3 afternoons of blanching and freezing greens in my future.
In other news, Spring is officially on the hot slide into Summer and the winter greens are bolting.  I froze quite a bit this weekend and will likely put the tomatoes in the ground sometime this week.

I've never seen a cilantro bush before...

April 16, 2018

Sneaking Back Into a Running Regime (and an ode to Des)

I spent my morning watching the Boston Marathon, clapping, cheering, and crying from the time Des started pulling up into second until she crossed the finish line.

Pulling into second place.

Leading in first.  And her lead just kept growing for the rest of the race.
So inspiring.  I've been a huge Des fan ever since 2011.  In fact, I've returned to this picture many times:
This is from the 2011 race where she followed her own race plan and almost
won, taking 2nd by 2 seconds.
I adore what this picture symbolizes.  Follow your own plan.  Even if it means you're trailing the leaders all alone.  Not just relevant to running.

My shoulder is stabilizing (L loaned me her 2 lb and 5 lb hand weights so I don't have to do my PT with canned food or books for weights -- thanks, L!)

It wasn't sexy, but I finally worked my way back to more than 20 miles for the week.

M: 3 easy @ 12:19; 0.37 walk; shoulder weights.

T: 1 w/u @ 12:01; 15X 1min medium/1 min walk; total distance 4.49

W: 1 @ 12; 1 walk; shoulder weights; pushups, dips, etc.

Th: Shoulder weights, stabilization.

F: 6 @ 12:14; 0.21 walk

Sa: 3 @ 11:13; 0.27 walk

Su: 2X(800; 200 jog; 200); 800; 2X100 -- 800s sub 9/mile; 100s mid 7s.  Shoulder weights; core.

And there you have it.  Something to build from on the physical side and a HUGE emotional and spiritual high to take out on my feet from Des's win.

April 14, 2018

Books, YTD

As expected, now that I'm not traveling full time, my book consumption is on the rise.  So far this year, I've physically read 6 books, and listened to a whopping 29! If I keep it up at this rate, I'll get to triple digits for the audiobooks, which will definitely be a first.

Physical books:

Pachinko (A+)
Min Jin Lee
This book has it all.  A multi-generational story rooted in the historical details of Korean immigrants living in Japan from the late 1800s until the 1980s.  At times, I felt like I was sitting in on a history, cultural, and geography lesson due to all of the things I didn't know that I was learning.  And yet, the characters are all so rich and detailed that it was only after the fact that it felt like school.  While reading, it didn't feel like anything other than an impressive character study (with slightly more page time for strong female characters than the interesting men and boys in their lives) which kept me drawn in even during periods of simple life without an obvious plotline to pull me through.  But finally, at the end, I realized that there were multiple lines of story action lying dormant at various points, but all growing and moving interestingly, some ending in tragedy, some in joy, most in that beautiful real-life mixture of the two.  If you have any interest in the history of Japan, the history of Korean immigrants (both in Japan and in general), Japanese culture, Korean culture, or just plain old great storytelling, then I highly recommend this book to you.
Cat's Eye (B+)
Margaret Atwood
Her first book after The Handmaid's Tale.  A portait of time in the feminist experience unlike any I've ever read.  The tale of an artist. A female artist, who ages less than perfectly gracefully.  Who had tumultuous female (and male) relationships.  Exceedingly honest and well done.  Highly recommended. 
The Brass City (B+)
S.A. Chakraborty
Impressive fantasy tale from a first-time author.  Rooted in the djinn mythology and supported by marids (water people), peri (air people), and earth people, it's a gorgeous tale of intermingling cultures and powers, court intrigue, and the associated drama.  One of the best new fantasy books I've read in years. It was written as the first book in a trilogy, which I didn't know when I started it, so the ending was not as satisfying as I'd otherwise want it to be.
Little Fires Everywhere (A+)
Celeste Ng
This book blew me away. I hadn't loved the reviews of her first book, and probably wouldn't have picked this one up on my own, but book club did.  And I was so glad.  Such a gorgeous and nuanced look at high schoolers while I was in high school coupled with mothers dealing with the feminism of that time, not to mention the cultural/racial realities that she deftly dropped into the narrative.  I highly recommend this book to all.  My Mother-In-Law read one chapter in my physical book before I flew out and ordered the kindle version for herself.  It's that addictive, and for good reason.
South and West (B)
Joan Didion
Notes from Joan Didion's travels in the south when she was 19 years old.  Observative almost to a fault.  Surprisingly relevant regional observations that inform cultural regional differences today.  Very enjoyable.
Kingdom of Speech (B)
Tom Wolfe
A find from the Telluride bookstore "Between the Covers" -- this book is recommended to every wannabe linguist.  It follows the history of "Darwanism" as well as the evolutionary conception of  language development and "Chomskyism."  One of the better nonfiction books I've read.  If you care about these things, Mr. Wolfe's dry humor and assessment of the realities of what we know today about the development of language will not disappoint. 


The Entire Harry Bosch Series:
(B average)
Michael Connelly
I'm a sucker for good mysteries.  I also like to return to known characters and styles from authors that I like again and again via a series.  I've already consumed the entire Lincoln Lawyer series (Mickey Haller) and I knew I liked Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch books as light entertaining LA mystery fodder, so I gave the Black Echo a try to see if I wanted to do the whole series. The rest is history -- I put everything I could find in the series on hold in Libby and slowly made my way through them in whatever order they became available, with occasional supplements purchased from Audible where they weren't available on Libby. I've now finished the entire series except City of Bones, which is oddly super popular, so I’m just waiting ‘til it frees up.

The bonus that I didn’t expect when I started this romp is that Bosch is just now starting its 4th season on Amazon and it’s free for Prime members. The TV series is good too. So I’m making my way through season 1, enjoying the clever ways that these stories have been updated to the modern day. This is particularly good, because the last episode of the Magicians for this season just came out and I was needing a new streaming TV show to fill the void while I wait for the latest season of Criminal Minds to be released on Netflix.

The Black Echo (1992)
The Black Ice (1993)
The Concrete Blonde (1994)
The Last Coyote (1995)
Trunk Music (1997)
Angels Flight (1999)
A Darkness More Than Night (2001)
City Of Bones (2002) – holding (10/19 for the single copy, I registered the hold on 1/20 – no idea why this one is so popular)
Lost Light (2003)
The Narrows (2004) (sequel to The Poet)
The Closers (2005)
Echo Park (2006)
The Overlook  (2007)
Nine Dragons (2009) (also featuring Mickey Haller)
The Drop (2011)
The Black Box (2012)
The Burning Room (2014)
The Crossing (2015) (also featuring Mickey Haller)
The Wrong Side Of Goodbye (2016) (also featuring Mickey Haller) – read on paper in 2017
Two Kinds Of Truth (2017) (also featuring Mickey Haller)

The Poet (His first book, prequel to The Narrows, pre-Harry Bosch)

The Late Show (Renee Ballard) (B)
Michael Connelly
Having almost finished everything in the Harry Bosch series, I decided to give his new detective a try.  Harry Bosch is a flawed, complex, and fascinating male character, but Michael has typically done a great job of writing female characters that interact with him, so I was interested to see how he'd portray a female main character.  Renee is fun, impulsive, and very interesting.  Her stubborness and commitment to the job are believable.  And, of course, in classic mystery style, she eventually figures out who is at fault and takes down the big evil.  Much like the Bosch series, Los Angeles is both the backdrop and a character.  Very enjoyable, and I’m looking forward to the next Ballard book, due in October.
The Hate U Give (A+)
Angie Thomas
This was possibly the best YA book I've read, ever.  Star, a 16-year-old African American girl, is so believably thoughtful, smart, and raging with teenage emotions that I couldn't help but fall in love with her, find her maturity and actions inspiring *and also* find her ridiculously immature and annoying at times.  The descriptions of inner city living, racial tensions, racial violence, code-switching, and more, were all excellent treatments of these extremely difficult topics.  First, and foremost, star is a human teenager, and then the layers of race, privilege, educational identity, sexual identity, and more are laid out in a riveting story of love, violence, and activism.
Running With Scissors (B-)
Augusten Bouroughs
A ridiculously crazy over-the-top tale of failed parenting, failed mental illness care, and a boy who somehow manages to surf the chaos.  I wouldn't call it entertaining.  Fascinating, perhaps.  But in a guilty "I shouldn't be watching this" sort of way.  It got a ton of attention when it came out in 2002, but I am doubtful it would garner the same level of praise today. 
Storm Front (The Dresden Files)
 Jim Butcher
Fun adult male wizard fantasy tale (Harry Dresden, professional wizard).  He makes a living as a consultant to help people find lost objects, solve crimes that involve magic, etc.  Perfectly acceptable pulp to recover from Running with Scissors.
Fool Moon (The Dresden Files)
 Jim Butcher
Continuation of the easy wizardous pulp.  But with werewolves.  I learned the terms loups-garous and lycanthropes, and the French origination of the werewolf, which was interesting, and then oddly relevant in my next book…
It (A+)
Stephen King
Several authors and other people I admire had referred to this book as one of their favorites.  But, I’m not one for horror, generally.  So, while I’d wanted to read it, I’d also been putting it off.  After 2 fluffy fantasy wizard tales, I decided I could give it a try. 

This book is a tome.  The audiobook is 44h55m!  And it held my attention for the entire time.  It’s fantastical in the most gripping sense and truly horrific in terms of creating a sense of fear and foreboding in the reader.  It’s also such a truly American story.  Set in Maine (King’s home state) during multiple time periods with the main characters spending much of the narrative in the late 50s as children and then in the mid-80s as adults, it’s a complex woven masterpiece of imagined evil incarnate that honestly portrays the casual sexism and racism of the various periods it describes in the background.  I’m very glad I ventured outside my comfort zone with this one, but I was also very glad when I finished it.
I Can’t Make This Up, Life Lessons (B-)
Kevin Hart
Autobiographical stories from the funny man.  He hustles like no one’s business and deserves all the fame he has achieved.  Realistic, funny, and heartwarming.
The Last Black Unicorn (A+)
Tiffany Hadish
Like the rest of America, I’ve fallen completely in love with Tiffany Hadish. This book is full of real honest accounts of her *very* difficult childhood and early adulthood including time in the foster care system, and an abusive marriage.  Throughout it all, she has maintained a love of comedy and a side-splitting sense of humor that is so authentically unique.  I tweeted to her (first time I’ve ever tweeted at an author) that I think this book should be required reading as part of any American Studies program as she gives voice to experiences that are common in our country, but not usually discussed openly.  Plus, she reads the book out loud and it is nothing short of inspirational (and hilarious).    
How to American
Jimmy O. Yang
Best known now as Jian-Yang on Silicon Valley, Jimmy O. Yang wrote (and read) a very funny account of his experience as an immigrant from Hong Kong who moved to Los Angeles when he was 10, and then his experiences in Beverly Hills, Univeristy of San Diego, Hollywood, and the entertainment industry.
New York 2140
Kim Stanley Robinson
KSR is the author of the brilliant Mars Trilogy: Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars – all of which I adored.  This book is the story of New York after two large “pulses” of ice melting, which have flooded Manhattan and left a Venice-like infrastructure of skyscrapers maintained via scuba repair at the bottom with habitable areas above the water.  The story is a story of finance, kidnapping, actual governance in the face of civil unrest, ephemeral power, tidal fluctuations, legal issues (well researched), children who are treasure hunters, NYC police, and a conservation-oriented streaming star with a blimp named “The Assisted Migration” who broadcasts her adventures in helping to migrate wildlife in the fact of climate change.  KSR is *so* smart.  Reading his science fiction is a fun education as he hides lectures on topics that interest him in fascinating plots.  Very though-provoking on how society may have to change in the face of inevitable higher sea levels.

April 5, 2018

Fairbanks, revisited

The winter garden has been amazing this year. I haven't had to buy lettuce, chives, or dark leafy greens in months.

The week was mellow with an easy workload on the client side, so I gardened, cooked in, did laundry and got ready to head to Alaska. Friday, the night before we flew out, I realized we had gift guanciale (GIFT GUANCIALE, people -- you know you've made good life decisions when you have someone in your life who gifts you home-cured guanciale just because they love you):

Guanciale sautéed with garlic and onions.
In addition to the gift guanciale, I realized I had all the other ingredients for a perfect black lentil salad (fresh greens, garlic, onions, capers, tomatoes, kalamata olives, dijon mustard, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, & black lentils) and I was so excited because normally I would have to put this on the meal plan and shop for at least one of the ingredients in order to enjoy it.  It was a thing of beauty:

We headed to Alaska for the first time in 2.5 years so I could lecture at the University, and so we could visit Arvay and D who live in a dry cabin.  In fairness, it's no longer fully dry, they have  a pump that can push purchased water to the sink, but it's limited with respect to pressure, and the only running water in the cabin goes to the sink, so there's an outhouse and showering and laundry have to be done in town (see the comments to this post for more info).  We stayed in a hotel in town, so we didn't get the full rural dry cabin experience except when we were dinner guests.

One of many perfect views from our snow hikes.
Visiting Fairbanks is always a great way to get a new perspective.  Weather (snow and ice in April!) and permafrost and lack of first world infrastructure make for a very different and much more planned and thoughtful way of day-to-day life.

Virtually untouched trails after a couple of inches of snow.
We spent Easter and the day after snow hiking on the trail system that is adjacent to their property.  And while they may not have all of the modern creature comforts, they do have an abundance of natural riches next door whenever they want to access it.

Does it get any more Alaskan than this?

One day we went to the local feed store just to check out the baby fuzzy ducklings, chickens, and turkeys.  OH! MY! GOODNESS!  I want baby fuzzies!

Beh-Beh Duckies!!!

I've been very fortunate on the book side of things lately, which means Arvay got a good pile from my luggage (we normally ship books back and forth). 

Arvay got a good book score!
I'll compose a full books post soon, but if any of these have been on your maybe list, all of them were great and I recommend them.