Note:

This blog is now retired. My new site is at: Predictably Irrational.

Friday, December 31, 2010

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson

This is the last novel in Larsson's Millennium Trilogy although I believe there will actually be a fourth novel. Larsson died while writing the fourth novel so I would guess that there will be a fourth, which will be something I would look forward to reading.

The series of novels really flowed well together. This last one chronicles Lisbeth's recovery from three gunshot wounds, one in her head, by her half-brother, a Goliath of a man who buried her alive.

What is truly amazing about this particular novel is the legal case that builds up against Lisbeth's violators: a child-porn sicko psychiatrist (Telaborian), the "Section" of secret police that did what they could to 'put away' Lisbeth, to cover up their alliance with the ex-Soviet spy, and Lisbeth's father, Zalachenko.

The readers know the story. We know that Mikael Blomkvist, one of the main characters throughout the series, investigates and discovers the truth behind Lisbeth's tormented life: she watched her mother get beat into a vegetative state by Zalachenko, she set Zalachenko on fire (he survived), Zalachenko was a protected Russian ex-spy by SAPO, Lisbeth was sent to a psychiatric ward (at age 12), she was sexually and physically abused by a pedophile psychiatrist working with SAPO.

SAPO, well, the "Section" of SAPO that was protecting Zalachenko, started to conspire once again to protect Zalachenko's involvement with them, especially since they operated outside of the legal means that Sweden has in place. So in this novel, the case against the Section builds, as well as the case the Section has against Lisbeth.

It is fascinating because for most of the novel, I was so worried about Lisbeth going back to Teleborian. But the reader KNOWS that Lisbeth has many allies: Blomkvist has made sure that many important people know what is taking place. So it's very interesting to see the parallels between what the Section is trying to do and what Blomkvist is doing.

There is a lot of action, tension, and relief. When the trial comes into play, I wanted to scream with vengeance...the build up is written brilliantly. An amazing feat since the reader pretty much has the case laid out before the trial...so we know what is going to happen...and to be able to bring that kind of excitement out in a novel, vs. seeing it in a movie, is pretty brilliant.

Lisbeth is one of the most amazing characters ever created. I love how brilliant she is...this non-emotional person (she has asperger's) who kicks ass at, not only hacking computers, but actually kicking ass. She is a character outlined as being about 4'11" and 80-something pounds, full of tattoos and piercings...but a doll-like look...yet she has the ingenuity of a Russian spy, getting out of precarious situations with her lithe, scheming skills.

I will miss these characters but hopefully, Larsson's legacy isn't over.

The story behind this series is pretty amazing too. The first novel is actually titled (in Sweden) as Men Who Hate Women and throughout the novel, we meet men who do hate women. They think of them as second-class citizens with no intelligence. If they have sex with more than one man, or with a woman, they are essentially whores. The fascinating thing is that Larsson creates only strong women characters - every single woman he introduces in the books are smart and physically adept, despite the fact that they may be surrounded by misogynists.

And one more tidbit: the character Lisbeth was named after a girl that Larsson (in real life) witnessed get gang-raped. It seemed to do something to him that made him write such amazing women characters. Shame that I couldn't know of him while he was alive but I am proud for his legacy to live on...

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Book Challenges

I love reading books but I especially love doing it as a "challenge". You know, like, how many can I read in a month, or how many can I check off a list. I prefer the latter as there's no way to tell how long it will take me to read a book. I like to take my time and absorb the story line.

I will continue the Harry Potter Challenge. I don't know if I'll make the July part two movie timeline but I do plan to attempt to get through book two in hopes of getting to book three, and then hopefully, it will be more appealing to me and I won't stop until the end. :)

Another book challenge I created on my own is to read the winners of the 2010 National Book Foundation. Those winners are the following:
Fiction: Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon
Non-Fiction: Just Kids by Patti Smith
Young People Literature: MockingBird by Kathryn Erskine

There is a winner for Poetry - Lighthead by Terrance Hayes. This is on my optional list as I am not a big fan of poetry. I mean, I like _some_of it but to read an entire book on poetry is not very appealing.

I am eyeing some other book prize winners to add to my challenge but for now, this is my goal for 2011.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Gift Giving

I hope everyone has enjoyed their Christmas this year. I know we did. The girls were up at 6:01 - I told them they couldn't go downstairs until after 6AM. I actually woke up at 6:30, without thinking it was 6:30, since it seemed that 10 minutes before, it was 5:30 and I knew I had time before the girls went amok.

As I came down the stairs, they were surrounded by Santa's gifts and both excitedly told me what they had received...of course, at the same time.

Every Christmas I think back to when I was a kid. It is vastly different now. The concept of "instant gratification" seems to be more prevalent in the world I live in. Kids want a bike? Run to Walmart, or in many cases - the high-end bike store, and get the bike. It doesn't have to be a birthday or Christmas gift - just any old day of the week.

The same goes for most things: "I need jeans and a t-shirt" - head to Tar-jay and ta-da! It's yours. A new phone? Hey, the contract is up, we can get new phones for cheap.

So what do we save for the Christmas and birthdays? It's the same stuff, essentially, just more of it at once.

When I was a kid, I remembered getting my 10 speed bike. I wanted it all year. And when I got it on Christmas Day, I was the happiest kid in the 'hood. My feet couldn't even reach the pedals but I rode that bitch like it was MINE...cuz it was...finally.

I also got an organ one year. Yes. Laugh as you must. I was 'forced' to take organ lessons as a child. The image you see on the right is the type of organ I played on. I practiced at a neighbor's house and then one year, I got one for Christmas. It wasn't much of a surprise since my mom told me. One thing my mother cannot do is keep a secret and I almost always knew what big gifts I was getting for my birthday or Christmas. I LOVE surprises, so in my old age, I beg my children not to tell me what I am getting.

Anyway, again, I got the big gift one or two times a year. Not Wednesday. Not Thursday. But Christmas Day. Or my birthday.

Our Christmases have gotten less expensive over the years. One reason was that we were buying crap and the kids just discarded them without care after day one. I also was turned off by attending birthday parties and seeing the kids open one present, toss it aside, and open another without consideration of the value of the gift or the value of the 'idea' of giving. I toned down our birthday parties too, which many friends find cruel. If you knew how much crap we shovel out of their rooms...even NOW after toning down...you wouldn't think it was cruel.

Anyway, I'm far from banning materialism in this household but I am very thankful that my kids do appreciate the gift -- even when there are socks and undies -- and appreciate the gift-givers. It is the one time of the year that CJ and MiMi actually get along and say THANK YOU to one another. And for me, that's enough of a "big gift" to wait all year for.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Came Early

I outlined my Christmas list earlier this month...both of them...and I can now cross three things off my list.

First: Tim fixed the GPS in my car. So far, so good. I no longer feel like punching it. It may take awhile, but I am learning to rebuild trust in her.

Second: my good friend Elizabeth loaned me her copy of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. I will probably be close to done by Christmas Day. She was right: the books gets better and better.

Third: Tim found an adapter that works with my iTouch. It's what he uses to charge his phone and it works for my iTouch too. Now, I don't have to feel like a miser when I use it before I go to sleep at night, trying to figure out what I can read/play/do and what I can save for my morning wake-up call.

Merry Christmas to me!!!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Spirit of Christmas

And it's not what you think...

Do not watch this video if you are religious, fear blasphemy, or faint at the drop of the f-bomb. If you are not familiar with South Park and are easily offended by The Simpson's (yes, the cartoon series), I recommend you skip this post all together.

This is one of my favorite South Park toons. If I remember correctly, it was one of the original 'episodes' of South Park, created as a video Christmas card. If you haven't seen it (and you've read this far with my warning above), then it is a must watch. If you have seen it, like me, it had to be years ago...so walk down memory lane with me and watch it again.

Here's the English version:


And for my Russian fans:

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson

This is the second novel within the Millennium Trilogy. I've got one more to go. I don't know if I can wait until Santa Claus brings it to me...

The novel continues with Lisbeth Salander, one of the baddest motherfuckers out there. In the previous novel, while we meet Lisbeth, the novel concentrates on Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist who solves the disappearance of a woman with the help of Salander. This time, it's mainly Salander.

***SPOILER BEGINS NOW***
Continuing from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Lisbeth is as heartbroken as a character like Lisbeth can be...but she is also filthy rich. She vanishes from Sweden and travels the world.

After saving a battered woman in Grenada by killing her abusive husband, Lisbeth returns to Sweden and builds her anonymous life. But unfortunately, she can't stay out of trouble and becomes involved in a triple murder. Not just involved, but is the main suspect and the hunt is on by the entire country for her.

The great thing about Larsson's story-telling is the build-up of the mystery of the crime. Lisbeth visits two of the victims and the next day, we learn that the people she met with are dead. We also learn that Bjurman, the rapist who was Lisbeth's guardian, is also dead...after Lisbeth had already decided she needed to pay him a visit.

For several chapters, we no longer 'hear' Lisbeth's side of the story. Instead, we read how the police get involved, how the magazine Millenium gets involved, Mikael, and Milton Security. All evidence points to Lisbeth but after reading so much about Lisbeth, it's just not easy to believe. The mystery continues and finally, Lisbeth enters the novel again.

Of course, she is innocent but does her own investigation. She manages to elude everyone. And the climactic end? Wow. It's like a Bruce Willis movie, only it's a 4'11" 90 pound soaking wet gal who plays that role.

I can see how Larsson's writing style could annoy the impatient reader. It may be in the translation too, but Larsson writes a lot of details. I love it. I find it endearing.

What is really cool is the geek factor: Lisbeth is a top-notch hacker and Larsson infuses a lot of techie jargon. Sure, it's a stretch sometimes but a stretch I love reading about.

I will hold off on watching any of the movies. I have a wonderful image of Lisbeth in my mind which didn't match up with the 'dragon tattoo' movie...which I did see. It managed to hose my image of Mikael but hopefully I can get it back in book three.

Trust Us, We Know What We Are Doing

The hubbub over the TSA pat downs and screenings make me angry. Angry that we are taking this. Angry that anyone thinks these muggles have the aptitude to determine what is a bomb. Angry that no one seems to think that the loss of logic and rationale has come into play and that all are created equal. It's the laziest form of regulation: we don't have the intel to figure out who might be dangerous, so we will pat you old ladies and you young ladies (hehehe) because we are sheep and can't do any better.

This is the guy looking through your bags. I retrieved this picture straight from the TSA website. While I don't normally judge a book by its cover, the very fact that I have personally interacted with TSA agents in the past leads me to stereotype these folks as this picture summarizes.

I will be honest. I have no idea what type of training they go through *but* I find it very very very very difficult to believe that these are people who would be EOD-worthy. Call me a little jaded: both my dad was a "bomb-dumper" and my husband was a security policeman while they were in the military.

OK. I have a little bit of an idea, based on TSA job qualifications for a Transportation Security Officer...it's lengthy but I read through it and it certainly doesn't make me feel like changing my stereotype.

First, the job description:
You will perform a variety of duties related to providing security and protection of air travelers, airports and aircraft. As a TSO, you may be required to perform passenger screening, baggage screening or both. You are expected to perform all of these duties in a courteous and professional manner. The principal duties and responsibilities include the following:

* Perform security screening:
o Of persons, including tasks such as: hand-wanding (which includes the requirement to reach and wand the individual from the floor to over head), pat-down searches, and monitoring walk-through metal detector screening equipment

o Of property, including the operation of x-ray machines to identify dangerous objects in baggage, cargo and on passengers; and preventing those objects from being transported onto aircraft

* Control entry and exit points
* Continuously improve security screening processes and personal performance through training and development
Qualifications required:
* Have reached his/her 18th birthday at the time of application submission;
* Be proficient in English (e.g., reading, writing, speaking, and listening);
* Have a high school diploma, GED or equivalent; OR
* Have at least one year of full-time work experience in security work, aviation screener work, or X-ray technician work.
For those considered for evaluation:
Applicants who meet the minimum qualifications may be invited to take the computerized Screener Assessment Battery. These tests evaluate English proficiency, and the aptitude for x-ray interpretation.

If you pass the computerized Screener Assessment Battery, you will be eligible to be scheduled for additional assessments. Additional assessments include: (1) a color vision test; (2) a job-related medical evaluation; (3) a drug test; and (4) a structured interview.

In addition you may undergo a personal interview. If you successfully pass each of the above assessments, you will be considered further for employment. Preference will also be afforded to veterans (under Title V and ATSA) when candidates are referred for consideration and in the selection process.

However, if you *don't* pass the first time, not to worry!
If you take the computerized Screener Assessment Battery and do not pass, you must wait six (6) months before you can be tested again. Also, if you fail any of the other assessments, you cannot be re-assessed for a TSO position for a minimum of six (6) months after the date you failed.

Did they copy that verbatim for how to retest for your driver's license?

Don't get me wrong. I don't want any plane to go boom. And that's what becomes the frustrating argument FOR the TSA methods: they are securing the airways. PUHLEEZE motherfuckers? You think these guys, who have ogled me and flirted with me, or who have treated me with an elitist attitude of power, are the people saving us from planes blowing up?

Doug Stanhope, one of my favorite comedians (he's coming to Raleigh, but perhaps I shouldn't see him since I recently saw Giraldo and Schimmel and look where they are now...) wrote this on his website, which inspired me to write my own TSA musing that has been simmering in my head for some time now. A few of my favorite quotes from his post:
Some Job Corps airport chump watching the x-ray images, getting a weeping erection staring at the images of your naked youngster? The idea that over a course of time these screenings could make your child look like a bullfrog with his new neck cancer? Or simply settle for the out-right humiliation of watching him be molested right in front of you while the other TSA goons shove you in the chest and direct you where to stand?
Either way, remember - and remember this clearly - that to quietly accept the current TSA rules without protest is exactly the same as saying "It's perfectly okay with me for the government to ogle or fondle my child's sexual organs as well as rape my grandmother."

When Parents Text

I found this site yesterday from my Huffington Post email. While I don't consider myself the type of "parent" they are typecasting, I can see where I send some funny text messages -- whether intentional or not -- to my kids (including Tim).

Here are a few of my favorites:




While on the site, check out the "Our Favorites" section and the original "Tacos for Dinner".

Enjoy!

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Christmas Carol

Every year, the family and I go see Theatre in the Park's rendition of A Christmas Carol. This is Ira David Wood III's (a favorite Raleigh "celebrity") vision of Charles Dickens' classic novel.

This year, Ira David Wood III, would not be playing the role of Scrooge, the first time in its 35 year history. In November, IDWIII had open heart surgery. While we all love all the folks who put out this great show, IDWIII is the heart and soul of the production.

Instead, his son, the IV, stood in for him this year. And I must say, he was spot on. It was very difficult to distinguish him from his father: his mannerisms, his tone of voice, his enunciation of words - a brilliant copycat of his dad. If I wanted to point out a flaw it would only that he didn't attempt to put a bit of his own flair into the role. But I think this hometown would have had issues with it.

Nonetheless, the play is a wonderful tradition for us. IDWIII's production of this story is funny. Every year, there is some poke at something going on in the world...this year, bed bugs.

Sure. Some of the one-liners are repeats from the years before, but it's still a wonderful, fun show to watch and experience.

My co-worker mentioned that he knew a few of the musicians, specifically the bass guitar player. So I took MiMi with me and walked over to the pit (where the musicians play) and found two guitar players. I asked "which one of you is the bass player?" where two sets of curious eyes looked up at me and one man pointing to the other, while the other pointing to himself. We had a nice chat about how long they have been doing the show (about 20-some-odd years) and how well he knew my co-worker. I can't tell you how 'christmas spirity' that whole interaction was for me.

My other disappointment was not seeing IDWIII's daughter, Evan Rachel Wood. She was co-director of the production and I fully expected to see her SOMEWHERE...but alas, no luck. However, Ira David Wood III *did* walk across the stage during one part of the show, while his son stared at him in a weird, alternate world kind of way.

The very nice surprise was when the actors came to bow...and when Ira David Wood the IV came out? Without makeup? Wow. Or perhaps...YUMMMMMM...

Don't Do Me Any Favors

The other day, while at volleyball practice, Tim and I decided to go out for a snack run. We hit Food Lion, a grocery chain mainly on the East Coast (headquartered in NC) because I remembered a promotion there, from my visit to it a day or two prior, for buy one get one free M&Ms. Ever since NOT purchasing them the day I saw the promotion, I couldn't stop thinking about grabbing a bag of Christmas decorated, peanut M&Ms.

We stopped at one and picked up two bags of M&Ms (peanut and peanut butter), along with a bag of twizzlers and pistachios.

We hit the self-checkout and noticed that our bags of M&Ms were not ringing up as BOGO free. We hit the HELP button, since we couldn't cancel the transaction, and for about 2 minutes, no one indicated they were even paying attention to us.

So...a bit annoyed...we head to the checkout line (non-self-checkout). Again, our M&Ms ring up differently and *still* not BOGOF. We mention it to the lady, who explains that it took $1.80 off. We remind her that the bag is 4.29 each...and that 1.80 does not equal 4.29.

She calls on another person to come over and discuss this with us. THAT person also states "it took 1.80 off". Um...that is NOT equal to BOGOF. I am baffled that they are justifying the 1.80.

So the 'another person' looks at us and says "is there a sign?" Jeezuz. There were signs everywhere! Right next to the register was a sign for the promotion. I point it out. Guess what she said? That is for the *holiday* version of M&Ms.

Arrrrgghhh. I tell the 'another person' 'come with me; i will show you the signs'. So I escort her to the candy aisle, and right there is the sign that says "Buy one, get one free M&Ms". She then says "that sign is under _these_ M&Ms".

I wanted to say WTF?! ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME? YOU ARE A FRICKING MORON!!

Instead, I said "Um, it doesn't say a specific M&M type. You will have to honor this promotion."

"Let me get my manager".

I wait at the register while she shuffles along looking for the store manager. Who the fuck was she anyway? I thought I was already dealing with the manager?

We had another idiotic conversation with the cashier, who was saying 'yeah, sometimes the position of the signs throws people off...that's our fault' implying that, indeed, where the sign is located is where the promotion applies. WHICH IS FUCKING INSANE?

I told MiMi: this is a user experience problem: they expect the user to figure out how to shop according to their rules.

Finally, the 'another' person comes to the register and she says the following: "I just talked to my manager and I am going to do this for you this time..." This is when Tim blew a gasket and told her "you aren't doing me a favor...i just want to pay for this for the price it's supposed to be".

In the end, we had a bit of an exchange of words: she justifying that she is doing us a favor by honoring the BOGOF, Tim telling her he wasn't interested in anything she had to say and that she was NOT doing us a favor.

Eventually, she made eye contact with me to tell me that it was actually taking the price off for BOGOF...by taking a 1.80 off each bag. The math didn't add up and I was just keeping it together so I could have my M&Ms.

But we had frazzled her so much that we were charged $7.xx for our entire order. Tim challenged her:
did you ring up the twizzlers?
Yes.
Did you ring up the pistachios?
Yes.
The pistachios are nearly $6.00; the twizzlers and M&Ms are $2?
That's how it's ringing up after the discount.
< sarcastic laughter > OK.

So grocery chains, listen to me:
1. It's not worth fighting with the customer over a 4.00 bag of anything.
2. Don't get anal retentive about your signage. Either honor everything or say so on the sign. ONLY THE YELLOW BAGS OF M&Ms are BOGOF. FWIW, they are not...the other Food Lions allow a customer to pick any M&M bag...
3. If you have BOGOF, make it look like that on the receipt. Why do you expect customers to figure out the math? It was only lucky that we had a few items. If I had my weekly cart full of food, I would have missed this completely.

Did I ever mention the other great customer service I had several years ago? From KFC?

It was a picnic day at CJ's elementary school. We picked up chicken for our meal. We got one of those big family meal specials: chicken, cake and soda - a humongous 32 oz jug of coke. I asked the KFC attendant if I could have three cups to pour the coke into. She said no, they don't do that and shut the window.

Oh yeah. And this KFC, located on Duraleigh, has at least twice this year (with me) NOT HAD CHICKEN. And were fine letting me know that there was no more chicken to serve. Period. Done. No 'we will have some finished in 10 minutes'...nothing. Kaput.

Yes, I have written to KFC about these incidents, never expecting anything in return. The place is still a piece of shit and I have received no apologies.

Guess it's time to write my friendly, neighborhood Food Lion.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Age of Reason

I have mentioned before that I volunteer for a teen writing club. I am mainly the substitute now but I have made friends with a few of the teens who have been with the club for a while.

I try to keep up with Danny, Ezra and Olivia. I love reading their stories, songs and poems and especially, their blogs. They amaze me. And they give me hope. They inspire me.

I can blow off the conservative view for the most part...but when Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Fox News, and all the right-wing bullshit that I HATE gets quoted, applauded, and revered by other americans (disappointingly, by people I know), I think "what the fuck is wrong with our nation?" That is BULLSHIT and any intelligent person can see that what they say or do is WRONG. It leaves me bewildered.

But then I read this and I am thankful and hopeful that there are intelligent folks out there - the wave of our future - who are putting things into perspective. Thank you Ezra, for posting this article:
http://liberalrocker.blogspot.com/2010/12/aaron-sorkin-on-sarah-palin.html

Jolly Elf Trail Run Race Report

WE DID IT! CJ and I got our last qualifying race of the Grand Prix series in this morning. IT. WAS. COLD. Despite chilly temps for our last two races, this one was by far the coldest we have felt.

This time, I pre-registered, so race t-shirt was in. HOWEVER...more insanity with race set up. Let me complain and get it over with: we got to the race start, where there are lots of booths and such set up. I saw chip pick up but nothing with bibs or shirts. So I asked 'where do we pick up our bibs?' They pointed in the direction that was a good 4th of a mile away from the start. Seriously? So bib pick up is way the fuck over there and the start is way the fuck over here...

Now that I have my complaint out of the way...this was such a fun run! And despite the fact that our time (somewhere in the 9:32 mn/mile range...29-something) does not reflect how quickly we felt we were running, CJ and I found this to be one of our favorite races of the season.

The race weaved through Bond Park, which has a mixture of asphalt trails, but mostly the trails are through the wooded areas. I thought we would be falling down a lot (as I did a few weeks ago, during a lunch run with $Bill and Nancy) but we had no issues running through the woods. The worst part would be the "stairs" towards the end of the race: big long gaps, with wooden "steps" that went straight up. I almost started walking them but CJ was running past everyone who did walk...so I thought 'if she can run it, so can I'.

She did awesome. And when the finish came into view, it was a straight-away run toward it...and so she took off...and I tried my best to keep up...which I did pretty well.

We waited a bit to see the results, just to see how we did in this race, as well as in the series. Despite the fact that both of us were in fourth place within our age group for the entire series (I just found this out this morning, since I paid zero attention to my own placement since I was concentrating on CJ), we were outrun by the first three folks jockeying for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place. So we are done for the season, with no prize, other than t-shirts and a satisfaction that we ran six races in three months and almost placed. :)

I had left CJ in the car to check out the results...I did walk away with prizes: candy, sausage-and-egg biscuits, and krispy kreme chocolate donuts. They had more food than people eating so they were like "take it with you!" So I did which made CJ and the rest of the family very happy.

The coolest thing was when CJ and I were looking for the bib pick up and I turned around and right smack in front of me was one of my FB pals Pauline. She had contacted me earlier in the week to give CJ her Turkey Trot shirt, since I whined about the fact that I was unable to get one for her. Seriously - was that kismet or what? Pauline said she was just getting her phone out to call me and there we were, staring at each other. CJ got her shirt and Pauline cinched her second place age group win. It was a great day for all.

Wait - There's More!

When I originally had this blog post written in my head, I had all of my christmas wish items outlined. But since I didn't write the original blog post when I had it in my head, I have forgotten more things.

So...two things I forgot to add to the original list:

* a big purse - those big ass hobo looking types...I like those even though I can't find a damn thing in any purse I use now, and end up getting so irritated that I have to figure out a mantra to keep me calm when I have to rummage through my purse. Now, I just need a bigger purse to annoy me more.

* scarves - this is on CJ's list too. She's been wearing them lately. I like the way it looks. I want to be like her.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

I Forgot One Thing...

I forgot to add to my christmas wish list an AC adapter for my iPod touch.

Monday, December 06, 2010

What I Want for Christmas

Look what happens when you get old...your Christmas list vastly changes:

* new speakers for my car
* fix my GPS or get me a new one before I punch out the one that doesn't seem to work anymore
* running shoes
* cool bumper stickers
* The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
* running socks
* running pants
* sports bras
* make up/nail polish as stocking stuffers

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Jingle Bell 5K Race Report

This was me and CJ's sixth race in the Second Empire Grand Prix series.

The morning started out pretty cold, 33 degrees, despite a 10:30 start time. I layered: tights, with running pants over tights; long (cotton) socks over my tights to keep those tucked in and not a single piece of skin showing. Then I had my running tank, an old wick long-sleeve shirt with another one over it, then my fleece jacket. I put gloves in the pocket for later and added a beanie cap on top of my head. The whole time I layered my clothing, I mumbled how I need to forget that my body temp changed in any way. I'm still the same person I was a year ago.

CJ's BFF "R" was staying the night, so she joined us for our morning adventure to the race. No, she wasn't running it. But we all got in the car and headed for Saint Mary's School, where the race would take place.

It was, surprisingly, crowded. Tim decided to drop CJ and I off in front of the school, since I still had to get us registered. As he pulled over, a volunteer was frantically waving us away, thinking we were going into the school.

This would be the first of my bah humbug attitude.

I got out of the car and tried to, as politely as I can be when I get annoyed, that we were not going into the school. Let's just say that this went incessantly too long for her to speak to me and, while I was not overly gruff, I was tense...

So CJ and I are in a building to register. I learned the sometimes overly-complicated process from the Free to Breath race.

The registration forms are on a table, with a big sign that has the fees listed for each race, and who to write the check to. Because I am a participant, I don't bring my purse but one check to write the amount for me and CJ.

The registration fee states $25 for the 5K. I write the check out for $50 and get in line to get our bib and chip.

CJ is first and they give her everything, including her shirt. The only thing CJ gives a crap about with these races? She wants the shirt. I didn't pre-register for the Turkey Trot, so she didn't get her shirt right away for that race...and was none-too-happy with mom about the fact that I didn't pre-register for this one.

But it looks like I am off the hook when they hand her a shirt. Then they get my check for $50 and the woman looks confused. She starts talking to the folks around her and now, bah humbug attitude # 2 hits me.

I find out that the shirt is $5 extra, over the registration fee. So it should be $60 for two fees and two shirts. They all stare at me like "What do we do?" And I just glare back like, are fricking kidding me?

And I bit my tongue so hard that it bled (exaggeration). Perhaps the christmas spirit _was_ in me because I didn't want to start bitching at volunteers with elf outfits on...but what I wanted to say was "You're stupid sign says $25. Why don't you add $5 for a t-shirt?" They took the shirt out of CJ's hands and put it back. Fucking assholes. I would have donated more money if they had just given it to her.

We make it to the start, hoping to find Tim and the gang so I can get him to get her a shirt before they run out. I noticed that, over the course of the morning, maybe due to my anger issues, I was quite warm. Hmmm...I think I overdressed, I think to myself. Fortunately, we see Tim and I hand over my jacket and Tim directs him to find her a shirt.

The race is on and it takes a good few minutes for us to cross the timing mat. It was a very slow start but once we got a brisk pace, I asked CJ if it was too fast or too slow. She said it was fine. This surprised me because it did feel fast, for what we have been doing these past races.

CJ turned to me about 3/4 mile into the race and said "Hey, isn't that Frank?" and I look ahead and sure enough, there's my ex-running buddy Frank. I thought "man, he's taking it slow today" because while we were running briskly, we were not running that fast. I would later learn that he was way behind us in the beginning and then ended up running around 26 minutes.

The route was awesome. It's the same route that the old Second Empire 5K used to have, which is rolling but not that hilly. One funny memory of this route was the time $Bill, Tim and I were running the Second Empire 5K years ago...we ran like a bat out of hell and the first mile split was called out to us and the guy said something like "7:50" and I remember we all reacted like "WTF? We don't run that fast!" It ended up being my PR race for a long time...

Anyway, towards the end, I could hear CJ starting to get really tired. I didn't want to say anything because when I do, she gets upset. I just wanted her to keep going without me disrupting it and then if she felt like she needed to walk, I would let her know that we were a 1/4 mile away.

When we turned the corner to the finish, I finally said to her "Look, the finish is right there" and then she took off. I kept up for a bit but at some point, I just couldn't get my legs to sprint as fast as she could. I noticed the official clock and just turned to 29, so I was a little disappointed that we didn't beat 29 minutes, as fast as it felt to me.

I found out that we were several seconds behind the timer because our chip time was 28:35 (my watch was 28:34). Woo-hoo! I was so proud of her...again.

Afterward, we headed to Krispy Kreme for a donut celebration. She's still in 4th place in the series and overall, it doesn't look like she is going to place. The three girls in front of her are just faster. But regardless, she's trying and being competitive about it.

And she's getting the shirts, which we were able to get after the race.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

I have been wanting to read this book from the moment I first saw the cover. Do I have to say why?

I decided to finally tackle it and after seeing that I placed 900-and-something on the Wake County library waiting list, I decided to purchase it for myself. I couldn't read it right away due to other book-reading obligations, so Tim gave it a try but gave up after about 100 pages. I heard from a couple of other friends that they had a hard time getting into it, so I was concerned, since the novel is over 600 pages.

Fortunately for me, I had no problem getting into it. After reading The Secret History, nothing seemed that long-winded. I enjoyed every bit of the article and found it pertinent in learning about all the personalities involved.

Lisbeth Salander is, in fact, the girl with the dragon tattoo. In the novel, she has several tattoos (and piercings), one being a dragon over her shoulder. Coincidentally, this was my first dragon, before covering the rest of my torso with a bigger dragon. In the movie, which I watched after I finished the novel, Lisbeth has a much bigger, gray-washed (like mine) tattoo covering her back...not quite as nice as mine, but pretty damn cool, nonetheless.

Okay, back to the book...

Lisbeth is a 24 year old anti-social ward of the government of Sweden. This means she has a guardian that watches over her financial situation, to assess whether she is capable of taking care of herself on her own. She has been a problem "child" from years before, and while she strikes a kinship with her guardian, she soon finds herself in the hands of a new guardian, after the previous one becomes an invalid due to a stroke.

This is a very cruel and obscene relationship. And this is what the gist of this novel is about: not only Lisbeth's horrific encounters with her new guardian, but how women, in general, are abused in Sweden. Each section of parts of the novel includes a quote regarding the statistics of abuse that happens to women in Sweden.

In fact, the novel's title in Sweden is translated to: Men Who Hate Women.

Ironic as Stieg Larsson does an amazing job writing about strong women, despite the center being vicious crimes against women.

Lisbeth is strong woman #1. A tough cookie who can hack any computer anywhere and has a photogenic memory. She works for a security firm and can find everything and anything on any person.

The main female victim is Harriet Vanger, a 16 year old girl who disappeared in 1966. Her rich, industrialist uncle Henrik hires Mikael Blomkvist, a financial reporter recently convicted of libel, to investigate her disappearance...under the guise of writing a biography of the famous (or infamous) Vanger family. Mikael is chosen by Henrik because Henrik knew of Mikael's father and because he had read previous work from Mikael and found him to be a good researcher. No one, in over 40 years, has been able to solve the mystery of Harriet's disappearance and assumed murder.

Mikael moves to the small 'rural' town of Hedestat, where most of the Vanger family reside and soon discovers how messed up the Vanger family really is, as Henrik had already told of. Lisbeth joins the force and eventually, a series of sexual abuse, rape, torture and murder of several women come into play, relating to the disappearance of Harriet.

It's a great mystery with a lot of insight to different characters. For me, it was like a really great movie as I tried to figure out who the killer was. Of course, one of my predictions ends up being the right one but certainly, I had no idea how the novel would end.

I loved it and had Tim buy me the next one, The Girl Who Played with Fire. I am debating on whether I attempt to finish HP's Chamber of Secrets or just start on this one.

As I mentioned earlier, I watched the movie last night with Tim. The movie was really good but definitely a lot of departures from the novel. And despite a lengthy novel, there is so much more to attain within the book than what the movie presented, which was a bit disappointing. None of the actors in the roles matched my image of the characters from the novel. I think that's OK. I don't think I will lose those images, as Robert Pattinson did to my beautiful image of Edward Cullen.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Inside-Out Sports Thanksgiving Turkey Trot 8K Race Report

What better way than to start Thanksgiving Day than running an 8K?

I haven't done this often but when I do, it feels damn good.

As a person who prefers to get out of bed when I feel like it (which anytime after 7:30 works best for me...which is a dilemma during the work week), waking up early for a thanksgiving race is not all that hard. Years ago, Tim and I and a bunch of pals got up early for this race when it was held at Ridgewood (note: that race is still there but no longer with the "Inside-Out Sports" sponsor).

Last year, I ran this race as part of the grand prix series. This year, I ran it as part of the series but with CJ, who I am helping to compete and hopefully place in the top three of her age group.

An 8K is a hair under five miles. That is a lot of miles, especially for a 12 year old who hasn't run more than a 5K. I can't tell you how many people gaped at me when I mentioned that CJ and I were running an 8K: "how can she handle that?", "that's a lot of miles for her", "really?" It was astounding, to be honest, the skepticism that folks had about her doing this race. LOTS of kids run these races younger than her. And you know what happens when they get tired of running? They *walk*.

It was a chilly morning, far from the 60s that the never-spot-on-weather reports first predicted. I dressed in my running skirt and long sleeve shirt with a jacket. I had overdressed the previous Saturday for my long run and was burning up at the end...I decided not to make the same mistake. But I probably would have functioned just fine with a little bit more clothing. Nonetheless, I survived as the new warm-blooded me and did not complain one iota about being cold. My BFF Frank even commented about my lack of overdressing for the weather.

Frank was the only BFF I saw before the race. Did not see $Bill anywhere and Frank stated he looked all over for him before we met up with him. Finally, we were off to run.

The route is actually really nice, for a person like me who is anti-Cary. To be frank, I would rather run Ridgewood and support that neighborhood but this one happens to be part of the grand prix series so technically, I have no choice.

But it is actually nice, even though the route takes us through the neighborhood that espouses elitism. Mansions, or "little castles", as CJ described some of them, in awe, as we ran past them. I guess one way for me to be less judgmental is to say 'this would be the only way to see this side of Cary; to run through it in a race'. But the holiday spirit is in me on Thanksgiving, and I can pass some judgment aside and actually feel warmth towards the people that live in the neighborhood...who come out and cheer the runners on.

CJ did great. She was jovial awhile, as we find a pattern of laughing at the runner antics around us. But despite me enjoying the route (it is much easier to run these races at pace that isn't me competing with myself), it is still a not-so-easy race route. At one point, it is a long mile or so of roadway that is not in the neighborhood, so it can be classified boring to someone like CJ. To me, it's a long, nice downhill-like path in which I can increase my speed and feel easy about it.

I could hear her breathing and, unlike me, her cheeks become noticeably red when she exerts herself. This comes from the howlie side of the family... So I tell her "You know you can run 3.1 miles, so let's run that much before we take a walk break."

The first mile went fast; the second felt long. I am sure, if you are counting the miles, the third mile would feel long too. We finally reached mile marker three and CJ and I had our first walk break.

It was bad timing, IMO, because we were going downhill. I explained this to her, that the best walk breaks occur at the worst parts of a route but she ignored me and continued walking. My problem is curtailing my competitiveness for her. People are now passing us. People *I* think she should be ahead of. We walk. And I am thinking "how long before she starts running????" So I say to her "whenever you are ready" and she sighs with frustration. I try to emphasize that I am not pushing her but that I would not be the one starting to run, that I would let her determine it.

More walking. I am getting antsy. And then, regrettably, after two young girls pass, I say "there goes your competition".

I wish I could take that back.

So she sighs and starts back to running. We pass everyone that passed us easily. She is going faster and now I think, uh-oh, I've pissed her off and she is getting irrational and is running faster...and we still have almost two miles to go. I feel so bad and slower my tempo in hopes that she will match me, but she's a step ahead of me. I run no faster and let her do her thing. The one advantage I have is that I know what it's like to be frustrated with a run. :)

I start analyzing the route ahead of us and point out milestones, based on what I think are good spots to walk vs. run. So we run to a point that goes up, stop and walk until I see flat or a slope.

Coincidentally, as we approach the four mile mark, we are walking, and I say "at that mile marker, we start running"...to which a fellow runner looks at me and says "no, there's only a half mile left"...mistaken my "mile marker" as saying there is a mile left. I look at her with puzzlement and her friend whispers something to her and she moans "oh...another mile???!!" I said to her "I did that same thing last year!" referring to the fact that, in my unsorted brain, I had thought I was finishing the race in four miles, only to see, upon HITTING four miles, the error of my way. It was one of the most disheartening things to happen during a race and I thought about, how one year later, how very different I was running the same race.

After we passed the four mile mark, we took a nice long walk break. I told her "we have less than a mile left now...it's not much...so take as long as you need to walk but once we start running, we should continue to the end. Run a comfortable pace first and then when we get to the half mile mark, pick it up. Once you see the finish, sprint to the end"

Towards the end, which took forever, CJ was really struggling. I knew it was hard. She had never ran this many miles and I know she was just looking for this to end. But she did as I recommended and I purposely made the pace up until the 1/2 mile mark much slower than comfortable. I doubt that it felt that way for CJ.

At the 1/2 mile mark, I picked it up a little, but once I knew we were close to the end, I picked it up more. There was no real sprint from CJ at the end; we went faster but not sprinting and I made sure that CJ crossed the finish first.

She refused a hug from me at the end. :) That was OK. I told her earlier in the race that it was OK to be mad at me. I do that too. :)

She walked off, back towards the car and I thought it was probably best if we left instead of my usual banter with my BFFs after the race. I figured they would understand later.

She was still emanating irritation at me and I left her alone. Congratulations and words from her cheesy mom about how proud of her I am could wait. But I wondered what I could treat her too, for a job well done? What else? She's a sucker for Starbucks, of course! She nodded with a less irritable attitude when I mentioned this.

And who do I see at the evil empire of Starbucks but $Bill! He asked how we did and I told him the clock had 56 minutes. Great job CJ! he says, which made me very happy. He is such an enthusiastic supporter for all and to target CJ with it, was a wonderful thing for her to hear.

We find out that we were probably feet apart at the starting line, but with so many people, and apparently me being so short, he couldn't see us. Bill said he did it in about 41 minutes, which is pretty amazing since it was just two weeks ago that he did an Ironman (~13 hours of swimming, biking and running...incredible).

Anyway, the coffee perked her up and all was well again. When we got home, Tim was enthusiastic "How did you do?!" "I did horrible!" she said, which surprised me. I told her she did awesome.

Later that night, when it was just me and her, I asked her what she thought of the race. She said she felt like she did so bad. I told her she shouldn't, that five miles is a lot for anyone and that for her first long distance race, she did incredible. I also told her that I tended to have this very bad habit of analyzing how badly I do at races, even if I made a PR or a decent time. She should not follow in her mother's footsteps and focus on the positives.

Then one of the many animals we had got involved somehow and broke the tender moment, as CJ said to them. And like that, we were done with the race report.

I am proud of her. One day, she will be the person running the other way, on her way to a fast finish, as I wave proudly at her yelling "Go CJ Go! Run for your donuts!"

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Headstrong

Yesterday, CJ and I picked MiMi up from school and this is the story she told us:
There was this boy who came up to me and sang "ABCDEFG! MIMI IS MY ENEMY. STICK A PISTOL UP HER NOSE, PULL THE TRIGGER, SEE IT BLOW! ABCDEFG! MIMI IS MY ENEMY!
Huh, I thought...and before I could say anything she said,
"So I pinned him against the wall and sang the same thing back to him."

Florence...

We watched this past weekend's SNL last night and I fell in love. Well, I've already been in love with Anne Hathaway. She is an adorable, gifted actress, IMO.

But the special guest artist was Florence and the Machine and I was like: who the heck is that?

But once she sang, I remembered.

I first heard/saw Florence on the MTV Awards and I thought: seriously? The youth of America digs this? It's *so* not what I consider popular music. And I loved it.

The SNL performance of Dog Days are Over is so amazing. Her backup dancers are 'dressed' so that they contrast to her colorful red hair. It is quite artistic, as in a beautiful moving painting. They look like they are in a different film type (sepia) than her...and of course, she sounds incredible. And those legs of hers? I want them...



Her second performance is just as beautiful, if not more subdued:

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Clubbin' It

Yesterday was "Club" day at CJ's volleyball club. That entails: uniform fitting and giving out practice shirts. This was the most exciting aspects for CJ, with regard to Club Day.

The other parts of Club Day, that Tim and I were fascinated by were jump 'testing' and core & strength training. These people mean business!

CJ got there with her statuesque BFF "R" (who is actually 5' 10 *1/2*"; I'd been telling folks she is 5'10" and started thinking 'that can't be right!' but R's mom confirmed it for me yesterday). R had her birthday the night before and had the Harry-Potter-movie@midnight sleepover. We got there a bit later, in tow with laptops, crayons, books, coloring book...and that was just my stash.

We got there in time to see CJ and R to see how high their reach is, how high they can jump straight up, and then how to run and jump. I couldn't see the actual number of far up CJ could jump (they use a vertex device to measure this) but it looked impressive for my 'little' girl.

The vertex is a pole like thing that has a bunch of metal flags that rotate. The idea is to jump as high as possible to push the flags out of the way. Once you can no longer reach a flag, you have the maximum height that you can jump (thus far).

I would later find out it was 8'11".

But R was next, and remember, she is 5'10 1/2". The vertex 'measurer' moved most of the flags aside. I mean, I thought "seriously"? You expect her to jump higher than that? And she did - whole lot higher. In the end, she had maybe six flags left standing. I don't know what that measured up to but it is *a lot*.

The teams then ended up in a core/strength session with an outfit from Greensboro. For those of us who have done Interval Training at work, this is almost exactly what they did yesterday...all the variations of it. I was so psyched to think that I have endured such painful-but-satisfying workouts, and now my daughter was going through it.

They did awesome - the girls and the trainers. I am just so fricking amazed at the entire program: the amount of cross-training and nutritional counseling that comes with this. They mean to win. :)

And CJ has improved ten fold from day one of tryouts. She has gone back to the gym for another tryout date for the girls that missed the original tryouts as a representative of the team.

Then last weekend we were there for "open" gym time for her team. I was just amazed at her playing ability. She has one of the most picture perfect run-n-jump forms ever. And yes, I am biased but I am also one of the most critical. :)

Last night, CJ was busy reviewing the 'cheat sheet' that the trainers gave her and wrote out her game plan. She told Tim and I "i have to drink more water". Um, duh. We have been telling her that for ages but, as usual, it has to come from a source that is not her parent.

She asked me how long it was to walk to the bridge (a landmark in our hood) and back. I measured it out and it ended up a 1/4 mile to, which ends up being a 1/2 mile. She was outlining her cross-training plan at home.

Wow. This volleyball thing was my thing: pushing her to play. Doing the grunt work in getting her in clinics and eventually, the club. She did so very robotic-ally. There were very few times that I thought "am i being pushy about this?" I emphasize "few times" as I as okay with being a pushy mom about this as Tim and I believe it is a vital to young people to be involved in sports; girls more so, IMHO.

But I can give up the reigns and hand over this to CJ. She earned it and she now owns it. Volleyball is her thing and I am just there to support her.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Good Times, Good Times

Today I made it to a run with $bill and Frank. It's been a loong time since I've run with $bill and Frank dumped me from calling him my "running buddy"...even though are entire friendship has been based and formed from the years we ran together.

Last week, my workplace (and Frank and $Bill's) sent out a notice about registering for the American Tobacco Marathon and Half Marathon. What a coincidence, I thought, because I had just had a conversation with a co-worker (and fast runner) about marathons. I told him I wasn't ready and he said that when I am, I should consider the American Tobacco Marathon. I considered it for a second. :) But I did find it eerily coincidental...

$Bill then emailed me and said something to the effect of 'you are doing this and you are going to beat two hours. i will pace you.' Well how could I turn that down? So I am signed up for the half marathon, along with $Bill and two, possibly three, new training mates: Laura, Nancy and Jan.

Sidenote: Jan ran with us today, which was a very pleasant surprise as I had no idea she was informed of our meeting. We started off and Laura said 'jan, you should do the half in march' and we were like 'yeah, you should do it' to which she shrugged nonchalantly 'okay...you twisted my arm'. How easy was that?

Frank has to be different and instead, will go with the full marathon. This is always good for me, as it continues to remind me of how much harder training is for 26.2 miles. The talk of 2 mile repeats today spun in my head and a relief that I would not have to endure such training.

Anyway, we ran four miles in Umstead. The first two were a bear and only Bill would know how hard it would be for me...he said afterward 'i didn't hear you talking.' It's a two mile out and back and the back is my runner's high route. I wouldn't say I had the runner's high this round but I felt pretty good.

When we were done, Frank and the girls headed for more miles on Black Creek while Bill and I took to a bike trail at Lake Crabtree. We did two more miles and it was just really nice. The lake on one side and nothing but trees on the other, with leaves all over the place.

It didn't feel like it had been that long since I ran with them but it has been. I look forward to getting back into that similar routine we've had in the past, this time with new running pals.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Thank you, me. I finally finished this tome. It really doesn't look so daunting - I've read many books with as many pages (this particular copy: 524), if not more. But the font is teeny-tiny and because of that, it can fit a lot of words on a single page.

I wasn't too sure about this one. The beginning was s-l-o-w. I learned more Greek than I ever cared to know. This isn't like Greek mythology. It is literal Greek, the language. Yes, there is Greek mythology, as well as Latin (the language) and other references to the "Classics" but it never was educational to me, more presumptuous.

It picked up at the halfway point and became pretty interesting to me. I couldn't wait to get to it and see what was going on. But after finishing it? I don't know what to make of it. Did I like it? I don't know yet. I can't stop thinking about it, revisiting the story time and time again in my head. However, I am quite relieved that I am done with it.

The Secret History is about a group of students at a small town college in Vermont. Richard is the 'voice' heard, recounting this story. The opener is about a friend who has been murdered, and the story then goes back in time, to when Richard first meets the group of students: twins Camilla and Charles, Henry, Francis, and Edmund, aka Bunny. All of the students come from some kind of wealth, except for Richard, although he covers his blue collar roots with lies of grandeur.

These group of students are studying Greek under the mysterious and eccentric professor, Julian. Julian seems to be too good to be true. His background has him connected with nearly every major figure in real life history, and he comes across as the most collected, genuine human being ever in the world. A real life Socrates, of sorts. At the end, however, Richard explains that this may have been his own lie, his own fantasy to make Julian out to be better than he was. Course, this comes at nearly page 515...and it wasn't like "surprise!" but more like "Bobby Ewing never died; it was just a dream".

There is *a lot* of describing everything: the actual studies of Greek; how much time is spent sleeping, drinking, walking to another office. It is just filled to the hilt with nonsensical "stuff". The meat of the novel is supposed to center on an 'accidental' murder that all but Bunny and Richard being involved in...then the eventual discovery by Bunny as to who was responsible. It doesn't come right out but implies that the 'who-did-its' are being blackmailed by Bunny. It is not clear if this is really true or just a naive thought from the group that Bunny would talk unless they lavished him with clothes, food, drink and expensive trips.

In fact, once the plan to murder Bunny starts being discussed, me, the reader, is wondering why they just stop paying for everything and having a sit-down with him to find out if he would really tell. The group, except for Richard, have been a tightly-knit group for some time. It seemed overly dramatic for the idea of murder to take place...but it's a novel...and I let reality go.

In the (looooong) end, Bunny indeed is murdered and the rest of the novel focuses on the breakdown of the group and what becomes of each of them. It isn't a happy ending. It isn't even actually sad, per se. This quote at the end, but the dreamy ghost of Henry sums up, in a way, how the book felt to me. Richard speaks to Henry (who is dead) in his dream:
"Are you happy here?" I said at last.
He considered this for a moment. "Not particularly," he said. "But you're not very happy where you are, either."

Despite all of this, it is well-written, IMO. I am amazed at her writing style. It would not prevent me from picking up another one of her novels. Her style is poetic and again, to my naive eye, "classic" in the sense of Jane Eyre. Beautiful words. Just way to many of them.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Lost Goodbye

This past Friday, a friend of mine, David Ostiguy, passed away. I love how his wife informed friends and family, through CaringBridge:
It is with deep sadness and grief to inform you of the passing of David Ostiguy around 5pm last night. It was as he wanted - away from home with me by his side.
It is beautiful and poetic.

David had a rare form of cancer called sarcoma. When I knew of David, I had just moved into an area of work that he also worked in. He had sent an email out explaining that he was about to undergo a second amputation surgery on his right arm. His cancer had apparently had not been entirely removed and the next step was to amputate at the elbow. He explained the process and asked that no one would focus on it upon his return; to treat him as we would have any other time.

Over the next several months, I would see Dave in my running circles. He was faster than me so it was usually a "hey" in passing. In 2008, we were both training for the City of Oaks Half Marathon.

I remember one run I had in Umstead. It was a sluggish one for me and as I passed through the gate into Umstead (from Old Reedy Creek), I saw Dave tying his shoes. We gave each other a nod and hello and I went on my 'merry' way. As I approached Airport Overlook, I heard gravel kicking up behind me and I turned to see David, running up to me. He asked if he could run with me for a bit because he was having a hard time with the heat. I thought "you have no idea how bad I am doing too" but instead I said "sure!" Because the fact was, I was privileged to have him run along with me.

That's as far as our social interaction went: our shared love of running. But we worked in similar circles, so we ended up attending the same meetings. He was intelligent and always forthcoming with his take on things. I respected him for that and it had nothing to do with him being sick.

And he never, ever looked sick. It is incredible that he suffered as much as he did, especially in the past year when his cancer spread to his spine, then to his lungs and liver.

It was actually looking like he had it beat. Last year, he had a new prosthetic created for his mountain bike. He posted those pictures proudly on Facebook and he looked amazing.

It would be soon after that I got word that he had to have his entire arm amputated. And then the news would get worse.

Leilani, David's wife, would write many of the entries on their CaringBridge site. I have never met her but I feel she is a wonderful person through her beautiful and loving entries. She shared their life with "us", their determination of living life to the fullest. It was inspirational. And the last sentence or two would bring the grim news: tests were not improving. It was one entry she posted in August that caught me off-guard, along with news of a cancer death from a distant acquaintance that I wrote this.

I had just learned on Thursday that David was no longer at work; that this was it. He was going to continue to go to work until he couldn't and 'couldn't' had finally arrived. It seemed impossible, since it felt like I had just seen him in a meeting...but my days have been unbelievably jammed that it never occurred to me that I hadn't actually seen him in awhile. And I felt awful. I wrote him an email via Facebook Thursday to tell him my memory of the run at Umstead. I cried as I wrote it, thinking that, not only would I never see him alive again, I was writing what could be the last thing ever to him. Ever. It's a sad and scary thing to realize.

And then...Friday, an announcement from David's manager that he had passed away.

Cancer sucks.

Rick Evans, a good friend and co-worker of David's, has helped set up a research fund in David's honor. David's cancer is a rare form that preys primarily on children. The research fund will go through Duke's pediatric area, where the experts happen to work. Donations can be made to "Duke University Pediatric Sarcoma Research Fund" at:

Daniel S. Wechsler, MD, PhD
Chief, Pediatric Hematology-Oncology
Associate Professor of Pediatrics
Duke University Medical Center
397 Hanes House
DUMC Box 102382
Durham, NC 27710

Monday, November 08, 2010

If I Am Not Running It...

...I might as well volunteer for it. This year I volunteered a second time for the same spot I monitored last year, for the City of Oaks Marathon and Half Marathon.

It's the best spot: about three miles into the race, right in front of the State Capitol. Two cops block other ends of my area, so I can at least feel pretty secure. And my spot is not a busy area but one of the best spots to see all the runners in the race. Being so early in the race, there will be no runners dropping out at this time and their spirits are still high.

I didn't have to stop anyone from entering the intersection. A couple of folks passed by with their dogs, wondering or watching and at least two other folks were there to cheer the runners on.

I felt pretty good in the cold and wind of a Sunday early morning, after getting a little too much alcohol in my system the very night before. Well. At least I wasn't running it...

This year I took some pictures:
This is what it looks like when you are in the front of the pack - you have police cars blazing the trail for you.

And a bicyclist too! What treatment!

And here they are, up close:

It is eerily quiet when they pass by. You can hear their footsteps and their breathing. It's as mesmerizing to see them, as they look effortless but in full concentration mode of their run. I cheer for them but it's as if they can't see me. What is fascinating is that they are all competitors of each other - each is a threat to the other for first place - yet they run together, pacing each other. It truly is a beautiful thing. BTW, this pack is running at an approximately 5 minute per mile pace. That is INCREDIBLE.

And then a solo runner.

This is what I would see in the first few minutes: a small group of six or less, then one solo runner.

The first person I recognize is Derek Fenton. He's not hard to miss with all his tattoos *and* he happens to be a co-worker.

I then see my friend Ryan, who seems to be well in an early pack and he looks at ease. I see Rich shortly after Ryan. I am ecstatic at seeing people I recognize.

It is cold and windy. I am not wearing gloves, nor am I wearing a jacket. Not that I am freezing either (my blood has warmed in the past year) but my hands start getting numb from clapping so much in the cold. At some point, a runner gives me her packets of hand warmers and I feel relief. The irony being that they are probably starting to burn up now.

The middle of the pack comes in and they are a happy bunch.

They are thanking *me* for coming out there. And while I am an 'all about me' kind of gal, it was wrong to thank me. I would respond with "no, thank YOU for running today!" I told groups often that THEY were inspiring me. Or 'what a way to start the day!' Every smile, every nod my way, or thank you was such a privilege to receive.

I got a hug from my buddy Charles. That really brightened up my morning. And then I saw my (ex) running buddy Frank - he looked amazing:

Here's a shot of a couple of runners who had to get a picture in front of the State Capitol. Love the tights:

And then the end of the pack...they also get a couple of cars to follow them:

One of the cars has the Lieutenant who is just as inspiring about having our city host this race...she releases me from duty and I take a parting shot of my intersection:

I'll be here again next year...that's if I am not running it.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Free to Breath 5K Race Report

I did this race last year and liked the course. The second mile is entirely downhill, so one can make an amazing mile with that leg.

I remember doing that race all by my lonesome. No running buddies, no family members. Just me, myself and I. This year, I had CJ. Let me tell you: it is a lot of fun running with her, as there is no pressure that I put on myself *and* I have someone (family) running with me.

Earlier in the morning, I had walked Dumb and Dumber (aka Ricky and Lucy) and it felt really nice outside. I told CJ that it wasn't that bad outside. Well, it was when we got to Centennial Park. The wind was whipping us around and just chilling us to the bone.

We had to get there by 9 to register. I hadn't pre-registered so I had until 9 to register for the race. One of my pet peeves about race organizations? The micro-managing.

There's a big sign that says "Race Day Registration". I get in that line only to have someone say 'if you are registering, you have to got to _that_ table and fill out a form, then get in this line'.

Fine.

We go to the table and fill out the little registration form, then get back in the line.

"Are you recreational or competitive?"
Competitive.
"You have to go into _that_ line."
Sigh.
They hand out the shirts and our bib numbers and then? "Go to _that_ line for your chip."

Seriously. That is a little much and not the least bit annoying.

CJ is freezing. I'm not as cold as her but I used to be. This year, my blood has warmed up a bit and I can handle the cold better than I ever had before. Too bad I don't run with $Bill and Frank as much, or they would be running agog at the sight of me in cold weather. :)

Anyhoo. We line up but I notice no one is lining up. WTF? Then I overhear someone say the race starts at 9:30. Duh. I knew that. Just forgot since I was rushing to get there to register.

So we walked back to the car and sat in the heat for a bit. I took a picture of CJ just soaking in the heat from a vent only to have her DEMAND that I not send it to facebook. Geez.

Next, we make it to the start line and I see Frank and we chat a bit. And then we are off. The first mile we hit around 9:52. It is entirely uphill so I thought that wasn't too bad but CJ was breathing pretty hard. I told her that we would soon be going down.

I really felt like I didn't push her very hard during the Autism run; maybe even went a little too easy. So I wanted to push a bit more but man, it is difficult to assess how far to go.

When we made it to the downhill part, I told her that this would be a good spot to really push the pace and make up a lot of time. But I couldn't get her to go very much faster and I could see in her face that we were hitting her max. I felt like it was a trot, though and I tried really hard to balance the trot to a pace.

Passing the second mile mark I heard the time called out at 16:50-something. I knew that it was a short mile because there was no way we had increased our pace that much. It wasn't until we turned back into Centennial Campus that my watch even dinged for the second mile and then, at that point, there was a sign that said we had a 1/2 mile to go.

No one was turning left at the spot that I remembered running last year...we were all directed straight to the finish. At the three mile mark, the guy yelled out 26-something so I just told CJ to book it to the finish, even though she was dying. But she booked FAST so she had a lot in the tank as I booked to keep up with her. We finished in the 26s but we were a good 1/2 mile from 3.1 miles.

I didn't care as it worked out well for CJ. :)

Afterward, I treated her to two Krispy Kreme donuts and I stopped at Oakwood Cafe for eggs, grits and bacon. It was there that I found out, after much questioning, that CJ was not happy with me and felt that I was running too fast.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Insanity

I truly enjoyed President Barack Obama's appearance on the Jon Stewart show this past week. I have to say I was extremely impressed and inspired by this particular interview. If you haven't seen it, you should. You can see it here.

Unfortunately, it didn't help this "balance of power" that was on the plate for this past election. It truly felt like today was like the day after dubya was elected for the second time. I remember that day clearly, listening to WKNC 88.1 play "Imagine", A Perfect Circle's version of John Lennon's beautiful ballad. It was 100% appropriate for one of the worst political events to occur in my lifetime.

I certainly wouldn't consider today, the day after the elections, one of the worst days...just disheartening. Just when I am led to believe that our country actually has some intelligence, an allegiance to making this nation *not* divided by rich, white, homophobic-but-god-fearing men (with their stereotypical women and children who choose to follow rather than think for themselves) who judge people of any class below their own, I am dealt a slap in the face by the overall votes across the country.

But Alas! Technology. On top of finding out the nation sucks, there is the awful recognition of which of your facebook friends actually think wrongly too.

Belated Halloween Post

This year was our second year joining the neighborhood Halloween Parade. Last year, I was surprised at how nice it really was.

There is a city police escort for the parade, which covers just a few blocks of the neighborhood and ends in a cul-de-sac with hot dogs and chips galore. Based on the location this year, it appears that it covers various areas of our neighborhood.

After the Halloween parade and picnic, it's time to go trick-or-treating.

At one of the first few houses, CJ comes running down to me laughing:
The lady who just gave me candy...she's really old. These two kids were dressed as Jesse and Woody [from Toy Story] and the old lady said 'Oh look! Two little mexicans!'

Which I had already started laughing that the old lady was so out of touch with contemporary fictional characters...but that was not it:
But those two kids *are* Mexican and their mom did not look very happy about her comment!

Friday, October 29, 2010

I Love Volleyball!

Yesterday I received a call from CJ's new VB coach about the paperwork coming my way. She mentioned that there was a supplemental tryout for girls who couldn't make the initial days and that she would love CJ to come out and represent the team, practice with them, and also, it provides an opportunity to get to know the coaches.

It was a last minute decision but all of us, as tired as we were (and we are all pretty exhausted this week), we headed out for more volleyball.

After fighting quitting time traffic, we made it with two minutes to spare and CJ was back out on the VB floor, ready to play. It was really nice to be there without the stress of "will she make the team?"

MiMi was very resistant about going. She had complained about her legs hurting (each leg, a different area) only to do flips, roll around, and jump up-and-down in between the times she complained. I told her to bring a blanket and pillow and she could take a nap. This was a ruse on my part.

When we got there, we sat at the bleachers and MiMi immediately asked "where are you going to set up my bed so I can take a nap?" I set up a really comfy place on the bleachers...she was lying there reading a book as though it were her own bed...

There were a good four different groups of girls out there: CJ's age group; a 14 year old group; some high school girls? and some even older looking girls (college?). The high school girls? (or maybe they were college) were freaking insane. I was so caught up in watching them practice. There were only four on each side and they played AMAZINGLY. I gasped at every ball they got to, the blocks they did, everything. I was just mesmerized by the quality of their game. The coaching was amazing - he had them constantly moving. It's a wonderful sight to see a coach not only working someone hard, but motivating them at the same time.

I looked over at CJ's much younger group and thought: that's what they are going to be doing in a few years. But even though they are young, they had the same determination that the older girls had. They are like young fawns learning how to walk on those stickly legs but they are going to get there.

And at the end? I saw CJ hit a beautiful angled ball across the net. WTF? Was that just my girl? I saw some of the other girls high five her and when she came back for a drink of water, I said "nice hit" and got a shy grin of appreciation from her.

Later, she would tell me it was out but I told her it didn't matter. She looked picture perfect: her legs were behind her as she jumped high enough that I could see the top of her head over the net. I asked her "did that feel good?" and she nodded with that cheshire grin of hers.

MiMi got over the nap time as Tim and I took her to a very remote area of the gym and bumped the ball to her. I see that she will be my next volleyball star as she did excellent for 7. CJ and her gal pals had played with her previously so she apparently has had good teachers. MiMi ended the evening with "I didn't want to go but I am so glad I did because I got to play volleyball".

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Unseen by Alexandra Sokoloff

This was the book club choice for October, fitting for the Halloween season.

Alexandra Sokoloff is a local author who wrote one spooky story, The Harrowing.

The Unseen is set in the triangle, basing the storyline on Dr. J.B. Rhine, who coined the term "ESP", who headed a parapsychology department for Duke University; it is no longer affiliated with Duke.

Two psychologists, Laurel and Brendan, from Duke go through the old Rhine lab files, housed in the basement of Duke University. They eventually learn about poltergeist field tests done at a home called "Folger".

Brendan convinces Laurel that they should recreate this mysterious research, in which the original participants died or ended up mentally unstable. Laurel agrees, while being very skeptical of Brendan's intentions.

Two Duke students, the cocky, rich kid Tyler and his equally elitist cohort Katrina, join the psychologists in the Folger house; the goal to live in it for three weeks and record any paranormal activity that occurs.

And indeed it occurs. After a slow, mounting storyline to get to the excitement of the 'things that go bump in the night', the fun begins. Sokoloff makes us wonder, through the eyes of Dr. Laurel, whether any of the initial activity is faked. Is Dr. Brendan behind it? Or is it Tyler? Or is it, in fact, all three of them trying to run a test against Laurel (who happens to have her own abilities).

While I enjoyed Alexandra's writing style - she absolutely writes so vividly that I enter her world with detailed walkthroughs of the house, the university, the trees, everything - I did not get very spooked by the story. I don't know what happened.

The Harrowing scared the crap out of me; The Price had its moments too. But even with genuine paranormal activity (in the novel), I just didn't get spooked. There were some promising parts: seeing the dark figure in the garden, the pastor's visit - that was pretty creepy. But there were also unanswered questions: who was the person that pretty much raped Laurel in the middle of the night? Why did Tyler call Dr. Laurel "sugar", when the nickname was created by him for someone he wanted to seduce...but then ends up calling Katrina that name throughout?

Is there more to Uncle Morgan and the Folger Experiment? He was there in Laurel's visions. If he knew how things were going to end up, why didn't he just say so instead of "Pay attention?"

It seemed to end abruptly; would there be a follow-up? I hope so. I enjoyed the book as a good novel vs. a scary one.

A New Game

A few weeks ago, out of annoyance and frustration, I created a new game within the car, which led to the demise of the classic game "Punch Buggy, No Punch Back".

I hate that game. Inevitably, the punches end up being harder than they should...and that's on me. Imagine if you are 12 or 7 and that boney arm gets jabbed.

But on top of the punch is the sheer excitement, or panic, of trying to be the first one to get that punch in upon first sight of a VW bug. It is frenzied and chaotic and it was like that when I called an end to this game.

Our trip to Wilmington a few weeks ago ended that game, when MiMi and CJ tried their disorganized way of getting to the other first and then? CJ punched MiMi in the mouth. Lots of tears, a stunned apology, and a lot of yelling from MOI about how dumb the game was in the first place.

About 10 minutes later, in my irritable mood, said, no, DEMANDED that the game cease and now, we can only cluck when we see a VW bug. I don't know where that came from and soon after, we all broke out in laughter; me in tears. "Cluck"? For a bug?

But weeks later, it has continued. And it still cracks the hell out of me when I hear someone do it.

And I have since made the game even more fun: a nickel for every cluck at a bug. MiMi has set aside a cluck jar for just that reason.

I haven't ruled out the fact that, in some twisted way, these girls will still manage to turn it into a chaotic mess of a game. But for now, CLUCK CLUCK.

Monday, October 25, 2010

I Would Like to Thank the Academy...

That is how I felt after CJ made it on to a volleyball team. I was on cloud 9. I told her that I thought I was happier than she was, and she was pretty darn happy.

I was so thrilled for CJ because she had worked so hard to earn a spot.

After not making the middle school volleyball team, I looked into club volleyball and mentioned it to her. She was determined to do this, as vengeance against the middle school VB coach.

As I mentioned, CJ loved NC Elite; yesterday was the second and last day of tryouts. This time, there were only the 13 year old age bracket trying out, so there far less girls at tryout...but still a lot: 29. I counted so I could figure out if CJ had a chance to get on a team. Two teams of 10 players each still left nine girls out...although some would be 'trying out' for VolleyU.

I knew her BFF had already had an offer. Her BFF, "R", is 5'10". You read correctly, R is 12 years old and 5'10". Her mom is just as tall and CJ and I look like midgets standing next to them. I get neck pains talking to them.

I prepared CJ for this...it was possible that R would get on but she would not. And I gave her a scenario to decide upon: Elite does not offer you a spot on the team, but United does. She said 'well i guess i would just take the spot at United'. And yes, her tone was less than enthusiastic.

CJ has worked very hard the past couple of weeks. Every day she has been practicing her volleyball skills. On her own. I get home from work and she will run from the backyard to greet me, breathless, with her volleyball in hand.

Yesterday, Tim worked with her more on her serves, hits and sets. At the tryouts, she worked hard honing the techniques that the coaches explained to them/her. It was hard to watch: seeing any mistakes/failures and cringing, but going bonkers when she hit something just right. We were clapping on the sidelines. So much for trying to stay out of the picture...

As 5:30 approached yesterday afternoon, I wanted to know what was going on. Tim loved what he was seeing, in terms of the coaching, the attitude of the coaches *and* the girls trying out and he was pretty set on having CJ go here. They are impressive, to say the least. But that meant considering VolleyU and foregoing any idea of a team at United. We would let CJ decide.

Then I saw the coach for the 13 year old regional team pull a girl aside. She introduced herself, then another coach, and started talking to the girl who ended up beaming with a smile. OMG. She is making that girl an offer! I say to Tim, jabbing him in the side to show him what I was seeing.

I was so jealous. I watched the beaming girl walk back into the play of games and just thought about how excited she feels...when suddenly R's mom is slapping me on the arm. My initial reaction is: they must have pulled R aside to tell her and I look over and became dazed and confused...the coach had pulled CJ aside and was doing the same thing: introducing herself, the other coach, and talking.

I didn't want to get excited. Maybe she is telling her something else. CJ could be a great poker player as she never beamed, but looked pleased as pie that only Tim and I could see. And then she went back onto the courts.

I went to R's mom: do you know what she said??? What did she say to the first girl (since R's mom was within earshot of the conversation with the first girl)? "She made that girl an offer!" OMG. Did she make CJ an offer too????

I was so excited but I also didn't want to be disappointed. Did I mention that this is about me and not CJ??? :)

They finally broke and CJ came over and said "they made me an offer on the regional team." Just like that. No screaming, jumping up and down, nothing. Just a gentle smile of happiness.

Of course, she reminded me that I now owe her volleyball shoes because she made a team. It was something I said a year ago, as the "carrot" to get her to try out for the middle school VB team, then club VB.

This morning, she came in to say good morning (as I lay finishing up my spooky book club choice). I asked if she slept well and she said yes, but then said not really. She said Saturday night she couldn't sleep because she was so excited about going back to NC Elite tryouts. And then last night was excited because she would see R tomorrow and they would be excited about being on the team together.

During tryouts, the girls had been working hard on drills. They are all focused. There is no giggling, standing around gossiping. Every one of these girls are true, serious athletes, hungering to do the drill correctly. If they fail, they start over and try again. No tears, no stomping of feet (as I do), no moping. Just determination do try again and hope to do better. It was truly amazing and inspirational.

R and CJ were separated early on into different groups. These are not chosen groups, it's just how they became dispersed 'naturally'. There is no time for either one of them to chat and hang out during tryouts...but at one point, as R hustled back to her court to work on the next set of drills, she patted CJ on the back as she passed her by. I almost cried. It was such a tender thing for her to do...CJ was in the midst of her drill when R did it. It was like "good work/you are doing great/you're my BFF/we are working hard" all in that one pat.

I'm gonna need to bring some tissues to these games...