May 31, 2015

Pages So Far This Year

In hopes of avoiding a long end-of-year summary post, I've compiled some reviews of the physical books I've been reading so far this year  (I divide my books between audiobooks and physical books).  Major Themes: book club & sci-fi.

Vladimir Nabokov
Book club book. So many reviews have been written on this book.  So, I'll keep it to what I would have told myself if I could have beforehand:  If you *LOVE* language and speak/read French, the linguistic gymnastics in this book may be so enjoyable for you that you will be willing to put up with the odious plot.  I am a little embarrassed to admit that the literary-linguistic crack in this book outweighed the horrific story. (My negative opinion of the story's presentation did change a bit after Reading Lolita In Tehran.) 
By Men or By The Earth
Tyler Coulson
Ordered this book used (out of print) because the idea of a corporate lawyer quitting his job and walking across the country was too close to my fantasies for me to do anything else.  Other reviews commented that he never really *found* what he was searching for, which is true.  But I don't think that makes this book less enjoyable.  I probably liked it partially because I could relate to several of the legal world topics & devices he deployed.  However, I was also entertained and educated about through-hiking the US east-west (for reference, my friends currently doing the PCT found this idea completely abhorrent, and after reading this book, I agree with them).  This is a very honest story of a sometimes mundane adventure of a man and his dog.
Salmon Fishing on the Yemen
Paul Torday
Book club book. Very enjoyable comedy of errors reflecting banalities of government, politics, and every day life.  Light.  Easy.  Funny.  A classic tragi-comedy.
Mote in God's Eye
Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle (1974)
Cheating because I didn't read this one this year, but when I went back to my lists it wasn't on any of the years where it should have been.  Not sure when I read it, could have been 2014 or 2013, definitely after I read Ringworld in 2012.  E & I both enjoyed it and we ordered the rest in the series, so it has some momentum.
Gripping Hand
Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle (1993)
As noted, E and I enjoyed both MIGE and this one was well-received too.  The world and story migrated a bit in the intervening 19 years, and we both agreed that the characters in GH seemed to be more filled out than those in MIGE.
Jennifer Pournelle (Jerry's Daughter 2012)
Anthropologically, the strongest in the MIGE series.  All the races/peoples are so foreign that it's just great to read as a pure observer.  The story was coherent and fun, although it was clear that the writer was not the original author.
Reading Lolita in Tehran
Book Club Book. A mixture of English Literature exploration and the story of Iran from 1979 until the late 1990s as told by an American educated woman who taught literature.  The book focuses primarily on Lolita, Great Gatsby, Pride and Prejudice, and Daisy Miller, but throws in references to other well known works as well.  For me, reading the sections written about books I'd recently read was very entertaining and thought-provoking.  Trying to make sense of the points she was making re: Daisy Miller (which I haven't read) was a bit more meta.  I want to read Daisy Miller now, and yet, my perspective on it is pre-configured.  I would only recommend considering reading this book if you haven't read (and think you may want to read) any of the 4 books mentioned above if you are the kind of person who does not mind seeing the movie before you read the book.  This book was hard work, and it was emotionally draining.  I couldn't help but empathize while reading about the day-to-day lives of women oppressed by a political regime that treats them as second class citizens, which meant I was feeling frustration, anger, futility and sadness throughout the read.  The metaphors built upon other literature were also very mentally difficult -- academically, in terms of "literature" this is probably one of the more difficult books I've ever read.  It did make me appreciate Lolita in a more holistic way than I did before I read it, so that was a positive outcome.  I'm very glad I read this one, but I'm also glad it was a book club book, as I'm not sure I would have enjoyed it as much without knowing there were others reading along to whom I could complain about the difficult stuff.
The Last Time They Met
Anita Shreve
I needed some lighter fare, and Ms. Shreve delivered.  A classic star-crossed lovers tale, told primarily in reverse chronological order, slowly unwinding the mysterious interactions from the final meeting of the lovers to the first.  Well done and very descriptive.  Lazy and slow.
Old Man's War
John Scalzi
A great tale in the Heinlein tradition.  Tight, fast, plot driven, clever, and fun.  Thought provoking.  Immediately upon finishing the book I asked E to order the rest of the series. 
The Martian
Andy Weir
Very, very, light Sci-Fi.  Feel good, fun, enjoyable, and a quick read.
Children of the Sky
Vernor Vinge
I have to give it Vernor Vinge.  The world he built for this book is beyond impressive.  The idea of sentient entities divided into packs vs. singletons vs. chaotic choirs is fun and fascinating.  The plot is good and clever, too.  If I had to do it again, I wouldn't wait so long since reading A Deepness In the Sky and A Fire Upon the Deep before reading this one.  I'd closed both of those out in 2012, and found that I needed to go back to my reviews & wikipedia to refresh and remind myself of the world in order to fully appreciate this one.
The Ghost Brigades
John Scalzi
Book 2 in the Old Man's War world.  If you liked the first, you'll probably like this one as well.
The Last Colony
John Scalzi
Book 3 in the Old Man's War world.  I want more. 
Zoe's Tale
John Scalzi
Book 4 in the Old Man's War world.  The story of Book 3, told contemporaneously with Book 3, but from the point of Zoe, the main characters' daughter.  Bordering on Young Adult in terms of tone and presentation.  

As I was reading this book, Scalzi announced his $3.4 M 10-year book deal.  The NYT Article indicated that E & I are typical Scalzi readers:

While Mr. Scalzi has never had a “No. 1 best seller,” he said, “he backlists like crazy.”

“One of the reactions of people reading a John Scalzi novel is that people go out and buy all the other Scalzi novels,” Mr. Nielsen Hayden said.  

Yup.  We're on that train and very much enjoying the ride, currently.

Gettin' It Done

Pleasanton Ridge -- Exposed climbing, but beautiful.
My clients have been *very* needy the last couple of weeks.  The Monday holiday crammed 5 days into 4 this week.  So, on several days, I worked, fit in short breaks for a workout and meals, and continued to work until 11:30 PM or later.  It's been a long time since I had to do that for several days in a week when I was otherwise at home and not overly scheduled (read -- the late nights of work were *despite* my best efforts, not due to my schedule being too tight or otherwise conflicting with work).

In workout news, I had a great week.  Possibly the best week in at least 8 months.

Mileage:  40.87.
Percentage sub 9:30:  9%.
Walking: less than 10% (unless you count the hiking on Saturday's long run, but I don't, uphill cardio counts by effort, not speed).
Yoga: 75 minutes in the studio on Friday (still sore)
Tabata:  7.  Only 4 more to make-up.

Saturday's day out at the Pleasanton Ridge Trail with a group of local running ladies was too much fun.  I can't believe how lucky I've been with the friendships I've made with local runners thanks to the Internet and social media -- it's definitely one of the best things that's happened to me in the last several years.  

It's not fair that 2 of these ladies are moving from the area and I just barely got to know them.

Most of the trail looked something like this (photos thanks to Cat)
The climb was much more difficult than I expected (this is one of the things that happens when you rely on super organized folks to do all the planning and you just show up -- after getting lost, of course).  So, rather than the planned 12 mile trail run, I watched the time and tried to settle for 9 miles of trail hiking and running where I could.  I left the group at around 4.5 miles to turn back solo because I was worried about getting back in time for my afternoon plans.  Ha ha.  The joke was on me.  I got lost on my way back.  After a few wrong turns, I finally found a single track steep "short cut" detour down an extra hill I'd climbed and back to the main trail.  Thankfully, the way back was primarily downhill, so even with the unexpected detour, I made it back with 9.59 miles total, realizing I could just wait for the 10 mile group and join for brunch.

Trail Run?  Trail Hike? Whatever. It was a great way to get in a good solid cardio workout while spending time with friends.
 On Sunday, I ignored my sore quads to join a different running friend for a mellow 7 miler.  We gabbed the whole way out and back, and afterwards, I felt the long-absent twinge of complete and utter end-of-a-high-mileage-healthy-week good leg and hip exhaustion.

Overall, I'm feeling very good about my slow ramp-up in fitness over the last several weeks.  I've got two upcoming events:

1. Pace a friend at the Seattle Rock 'n Roll half marathon on June 13.
2. The Corrigan Sports Sunnyvale 10-Miler on June 28.

I'm still looking for a few more Summer runs to use as motivation for training, so if you're local and you've got any suggestions, send 'em my way.

May 23, 2015


Vancouver is a breathtakingly beautiful city.

We spent a week there while E attended and spoke at a conference and I worked remotely.  My clients were mellow -- so, I could get out and about to enjoy the city at least a couple of hours each day.  In addition to last weekend's hike, I walked and jogged along the sea wall and through Stanley Park almost every day.

I caught the last day of the Cezanne exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery.
Totem Pole in Stanley Park.

View of Downtown from Stanley Park.

Lions Gate bridge from Stanley Park.
Beaver Creek Lake in Stanley Park.
Baby Ducklings!

Seriously, Baby Ducklings.

Dorkiest hat competition in front of the lighthouse.
After watching the sea planes every day, we decided to take a tour on our last full day.  It was awesome.

Creative use of the GPS watch.

The conference center -- E spent a week trapped, but with amazing views.

Sulfur processing plant.

Lions Gate Bridge from the top.

Gorgeous Views North through the Howe Sound.

Vancouver from the South.
Aerial view of Stanley Park, Downtown, the Harbor, and the Burrard Inlet.
Update: Quick weekly workout summary to keep me honest -

1. total mileage 34.58, quite a bit walking (63%) due (i) getting lost; (ii) battling congestion and a cold that kept threatening to turn into something more serious; (iii) needing to recover from intervals by walking due to (ii); and (iv) choosing to hike with E over scheduled workouts.

2. Total tabatas 3/6  (now 4 behind, gonna need to double up a few more times)

3. Very little core/yoga other than tabatas, but did do some light stretching

4.  Today's long run just wasn't happening.  So I called it at an easy 2 miles, gardened, and did chores and pushed to tomorrow.  Another day.

May 17, 2015

Over 40

Not my age.  Yet.  But trust me, it's looming.  I'm actually kind of looking forward to it.  For now, this number celebrates the first time this year where I managed to get my weekly mileage over 40.  Woo hoo!

A big reason why I managed to get it up there was that E agreed to go on a hike with me today to close out the week.  We're in Vancouver for some work stuff, so this AM we headed out to the Capilano Pacific Trail for a good multi-hour trek.

It starts at the beach in West Vancouver.

English Bay

So Arty.
After a couple of miles that are relatively flat, you start to climb through the woods.

No real drought danger in Vancouver.
At one point, you cross under a road where the overpass, creek, and graffiti make for quite a pretty view.

The trail stops at Keith Road and you have to walk along the road (to the right) until the trail restarts.  E and I failed to read the map correctly and added a nice 0.5 mile detour through the hills of a fancy neighborhood before we figured it out.

Finally, at the top of the climb, you cross the Cleveland Dam.  The views of the reservoir and mountains are gorgeous, but the chain link fence and reflected glare made taking pictures with my phone impossible.

On the other side of the dam, the downspout and river (which runs along the side of the majority of the trail) are also gorgeous, and easier to photograph.

Google promised that there was a Chinese restaurant, a Sushi restaurant, a grocery store and a pizza joint near the dam.  The Chinese restaurant was closed.  The Sushi restaurant was closed.  The grocery store was more of a convenience store.  So, we threw away the dietary restrictions and shared a pizza after 5 plus miles of climbing for our late lunch.  As E's mom suggested, there may need to be an intermittent 48-state geographic limitation on dietary good behavior (Also BC oysters!  There's just no way to say no).

The week was great, workout wise. 41.68 miles including 36% walking/hiking and 14% sub 9:30/mile.  Long run was 9 miles in the mid 11s.  3 mile tempo averaged 9:27/mile - sad, but true that I hadn't strung 3 miles together to average sub 9:30 in a long time, so I was happy with that.  Speedwork was 8X3 minutes in the high 8s and low 9s with walk/jog recovery.  I hit the yoga studio again for another 75 minute heated core and asana class. (Again, I was sore for a few days afterward - it's shocking how many muscles yoga uses that I apparently don't use otherwise.)  And, we fit in 4/6 tabata, so I'll have a couple of make-ups to do this week.

The bar is high with this one, so I'm not sure I'll be able to top it this coming week, but I'll do my best to try, at least on a couple of axes.

May 10, 2015

Keeping House, Housekeeping

This week was remarkable for its peaceful banal normality.  Another 7 days at home without travel.

For the first week in a long time, I don't recall feeling chaotically rushed at any specific point.  I had enough time to think ahead.  To plan.  To get ready.  And, if I'm honest, as a result, I was more present and effective than I ordinarily am in the active moments. 

There was work, of course.  And plenty, but not so much as to overtake the basics of each day's motions and prep for the next day.

The extremely healthy food/drink pattern continued with home-cooked dinners M-Th.  Then, we were the annoying people limiting restaurant choices for Friday and Saturday with very tolerant friends.  Saturday AM, we drove to SF for brunch with folks who flew in from out of town, and both E and I exercised impressive restraint (if I do say so myself) in resisting the delicious smells of chorizo, carnitas, carne asada and other Mexican defiance of modern nutritional abstinence teachings.

We easily fit the stuff that we often scramble to do: Shopping. Gardening. Dishes. Laundry. The second load of laundry revealed a plumbing problem: gurgling toilets, backflowed dirt into bathtubs, standing water in one bathroom.  And of course, there was more laundry to be done as a result of cleaning up.

In a typical week in our life, there would not have been space for this wrinkle.  The ripple effects would have been far and wide.  Instead, we just called the plumber, stayed home and waited for him this afternoon.  Booked travel for several upcoming trips.  Paid bills.  Sorted some of the guest room's detritus into piles to go to Goodwill, the used bookstore, recycling and the trash.  I even fit in Japanese lessons most days in prep for this Fall's trip to Japan.

Perhaps the best part of this week was reading in bed next to E every night before sleep.  This is always on my top ten list of favorite things, but depending on the day, it's a serious contender for first place.  So that was pretty cool.

On the workout front, this feeling like I had "just enough" time treated me quite well.  E and I completed all 6 of the week's tabata workouts in the mornings before we headed out.  My total mileage was a respectable 34.6, for my 2nd highest mileage week this year.

The volume was nice, but I was more pleased that 9% of my mileage was sub 9:30/mile and only 14% was walking.  Yes, these numbers still need some work, but they are better than anything I've posted so far this year, so I'll take them.  If I could hold those percentages and get to 40+ miles/week, I'd be more than thrilled.  The biggest reason why I am happy about the week, fitness wise, is that in addition to the ridiculously healthy eating, I pulled off all three of my target running workouts (in addition to several easy runs):

1.  1 mile w/u; 1 mile @ target half marathon effort (9:28/mile); 1+ mile c/d
2.  8X2:00 @ sub 9/mile (AVG pace 8:52/mile) with 2 minute jogging recovery plus w/u & c/d
3.  10 mile long run (in the heat today)

I even made it  back to the yoga studio for a 75 minute heated asana and core class.  (Yeah, I was sore.)

Nothing miraculous.  Nothing amazing.  But this week was solid.  And I am happy about it.

I hope to continue with this workout pattern, slowly increasing my mileage and improving the quality of my workouts over the next couple of months.  Also, ideally, I'll keep a bit of this calm and relaxed readiness that I've cultivated this week, and be able to take it into busier times in the coming weeks.

May 7, 2015

Dietary Good (Nay Awesome) Behavior

Roasted Beets, Goat Cheese (we just can't shake the cheese habit), and sauteed dandelion greens with shallots and garlic.

This is a typical dinner for us these days.  By the end of this 6 week commitment, I fully expect to have obtained super-human powers of some sort.

May 5, 2015

The Little Things

So (crossing fingers) at the moment we've got a very rare 19 consecutive days at home on the calendar, and we enjoyed seven of them last week.

Gorgeous Flowers from a Colleague
Since we were home, I was able to walk through the door every day and enjoy the beautiful bouquet that was sent to me by a very thoughtful colleague to celebrate the 5th anniversary of my law firm.

E and I started 6 weeks of *very* particular healthy eating (lots of Long Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids with a goal of 25-35% of calories from fat, essentially no alcohol, very limited animal fats and dairy, seafood every other day or so, heavy on the low glycemic index veggies and legumes, with a goal of no more than 35% of calories from carbs, and a general preference for foods that are low on the inflammatory response spectrum).  As of tonight, we'll be one week down with 5 to go.

The hardest thing to give up?  Cheese.  Hands down.  We're still eating small amounts of it, but nothing compared to the approximately 4-8 oz. per day we used to eat.

The best part?  Researching and trying new recipes.  Last night I made a crowd-pleasing dinner of scallops with sauteed leek strips topped with pesto over quinoa for guests.  They didn't even know that they were being fed a super-healthy meal.  Huzzah!

In garden news, the beds are weeded, amended, and the tomatoes are in, as is the watering system (we had to order new parts, patch leaks, add emitters where needed, etc.).  I still need to program the watering system timer and put in eggplants, squash, cucumbers, and any other non-tomato plants, but I should be able to finish that this week.  Then it's my favorite part of the year.  Just waiting, adding supports, and pruning until first fruit.

At the beginning of the season despite all the work, the garden never really looks like much.
When tomatoes drop rotten fruit, the seeds ferment, stay in the soil, and after the rain in the spring, they sprout.  This year, in one particular bed, I had at least 10 volunteers back in March.  I culled and selected the 3 healthiest and now I have 3 tomatoes that are well over a month ahead of the rest of the transplants.  Should be fun to see what varieties they actually are.

Last weekend, I had a friend in town, so in addition to going to the movies and a party, we wore our Cal hats on a walk around the Stanfurd Dish.  It was a great way to get in some hilly miles and catch up.  We even got a Stanfurd professor to document our Cal gear.

We'd hoped for an awesome Pacquiao v. Mayweather fight, but despite the very loud cheering and enthusiasm of the crowd, afterward, we all agreed that it was sadly, a very over-hyped and past-due non-event.  Oh well.  We still got to hang out at a friend's party.

In running/workout news, a couple of weeks ago, thanks to the suggestion of a friend who's an athletic trainer, I started an 8 week Tabata program.  So, 5-6 days a week, E and I get up and, post coffee, we do the 4 minutes of intervals (8 X 20 seconds on 10 seconds off) together before we start our days.  It's been a nice addition to the workout regime to shake things up a bit.  Last week I took an easy recovery week. So, in addition to Tabata, I fit in 17.69 miles, all but one set of 10X1 minute speedwork very easy, including 10ish miles of walking and hiking.

Next Running goal?  Pace a friend at the Seattle Rock 'n Roll Half in 6 weeks.  After that, ideally, I'd like to actually race a half marathon or 10K sometime in June or July.  I'm definitely open to suggestions if any local folks are already registered for races and would like some company.