Wednesday, October 28, 2015

What I Read Wednesday

Carry On
I loved Fangirl, so I was excited to read this book. At first, I was bothered by the fact that I was reading a ripoff of a Harry Potter ripoff, essentially, but I was quickly drawn into the continuation of Simon Snow and Baz's story. It was engaging and a quick read. That said, it wasn't a Rainbow Rowell novel that'll stick with me like others have, but I appreciated her telling Simon's story--and I definitely feel like there are a lot of thematic messages tied in that teens need to read.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven
I read this for a co-worker. It was actually less heavy-handed than I thought it would be. Eddie is an old man, an amusement park worker who enjoys his job but feels he missed out on a lot in life. Eddie dies beneath a broken amusement park ride, unsure if he saved a young girl or not. Upon his death, Eddie learns that everyone meets five people in Heaven. It may be people you know, but it may be complete strangers, the connection being that you've impacted a live in some way--whether good or bad. I enjoyed the thematic overture of this book, the idea that we all make ripples in our lives and never know how far they will reach.

Out of My Mind
Melody is a unique girl. She has cerebral palsy, a photographic memory and synesthesia. Oh, and she can't talk. At all. Plagued by people underestimating her whole life, Melody's world changes when her school decides to include the kids from self-contained rooms into regular classrooms. Despite proving herself again and again, Melody's classmates and teachers still assume that she is unintelligent and don't treat her as a normal child. Melody earns the number one spot on the school's quiz team at about the same time that she gets an adaptive device that enables her to "speak." This book was heavy, but good. It is definitely something I feel that everyone should read. Melody and her differently abled classmates are humanized, without a happy fairy tale gloss placed on everything. There were parts of this book that hurt me to read and parts where I could literally feel Melody's frustration.

Bone Gap
Sean and Finn are brothers, abandoned by their mother, who rescue a girl named Roza--or maybe she rescues them. When Roza is kidnapped, Finn is plagued by the fact that he's the only one who believes she was taken against her will, yet he is unable to describe the face of her kidnapper. In the midst of this, Roza is with her kidnapper, yet she's unable to place a grasp on where she is or what will become of her, knowing only that the man wishes to possess her beauty. This was a stunning story of magical realism, done so well that I was often unsure of what was magical and what was not. It was chilling. It was not easy to read at points, yet I could not put it down. It was magic interwoven with real life issues that shouldn't be dismissed.

The Walking Dead Compendium Volume 3 (Walking Dead Compendium Tp)
The latest installment of the Walking Dead graphic novel. Even if you don't like graphic novels, I would encourage reading this if you are a fan of the show. It's grittier and more violent, arguably more realistic, than the show. The thread of the show follows the novels in some elements, in others it veers away, but the overall idea that humans are more fearful than walkers remains.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

What I Read Wednesday

A Child Called It: One Child's Courage to Survive
I've been avoiding this book for years because, well.. a lot of reasons, but someone asked me to preview it to see if it'd be appropriate to teach. The short answer was no. The long answer is that although I try really hard to always believe a victim, Dave Pelzer is not easy to believe in some aspects. Do I believe he was abused? Yes, I believe for him to be removed from his home, things were not good. Do I believe that he maybe exaggerates or that he is struggling with inner demons that are maybe related, maybe not? Yes. Let's just say that this article didn't leave me feeling the best about him.

After You: A Novel
This is the follow up to Me Before You. I love MBY. I felt that it separated itself a little bit from chick lit. I did not feel the same about After You, which is not to say that I didn't enjoy it. I did! It follows Louisa in the time after Will's death, as she struggles to heal, struggles to separate herself from the newspaper stories surrounding Will, struggles to live the life he would have wanted her to live. I felt like parts of this novel were pretty contrived, but like I said, it was still an easy read and I enjoyed the continuation of Louisa's story.

Six of Crows
In terms of YA fantasy, I feel like this author is one of the best. This is the beginning of a new series that takes place in the same world as her Grisha series. Grishas and other creatures fill the pages of this novel, told from alternating points-of-view. You have Kaz, the thief mastermind of a local gang; Inej, known as the Wraith, a slip of a girl remarkably skilled at climbing; Nina, a Grisha who can manipulate and heal; Matthias, a soldier formerly tasked with the job of hunting down and killed Grishas. Together, this crew, plus a few others, are to break into the notorious ice prison and sneak out a man who has figured out how to enhance grisha power. I was very engaged in this story and can't wait for the continuation. The author does an amazing job of bringing fantasy to life!

Fat & Bones: And Other Stories
Farmer Bald dies, leaving behind his son, his wife and a rather motley crew, including a fairy named Bones, an angry tulip, a distinguished poetry loving spider named Leonard, a cat and others. In seven connected tales, the story unfolds following Fat's death in dark and creative ways. This was a quick read, front to back without putting it down, but I loved it. And those of you who love cats (Hi Sarah!) will love the cat in this story.

A Night Divided
Vetting another one for a coworker. With the overnight rise of the Berlin Wall, Gerta finds her mother, her older brother and herself on one side of the wall, while her dad and her other brother are on the other. Living in East Berlin isn't easy, especially when your dad has been labeled a communist, when your neighbors and friends turn against you, but Gerta and her brother are devoted to escaping at any cost. Following her father enacting digging, Gerta and her brother Fritz begin the slow process of tunneling beneath the wall, knowing that if they get caught, it'll be certain death... but is life worth living in the east? This was a very easy read and a good way to introduce students to the history of the Berlin Wall.

What are you reading?

Friday, October 16, 2015

Run Chicago [Chicago Marathon 2015]

Way back a year ago when I started to toy with the idea of running a marathon, I swore I would be one and done. Just to say I had done it. And I did. Then I turned around and signed up for another one, like some sort of lunatic. I know. Who does that? A crazy person, but I really wanted to run the Chicago marathon because it's a historic event, and I've lived in Chicagoland my whole life so what better way to see my city than by running through it?

This meant that the only month I didn't train for a marathon was May and that was because I had just run a marathon. This may come as a surprise to you, but that's actually really tiring. No, I take that back. This summer was great. Sure, I was running 5 days a week, but I didn't have to work. Still, there was an element of already being weary of the runs dictating my life, but I enjoyed it. Then I had to go back to work at the same time that my runs increased mileage wise and also, this has been a really tough school year. EXHAUSTED. My 4AM runs were not effortless. They hurt. I was so tired. I would lie in the dark and want to cry at the thought of getting up to run. I was super excited for taper week, then the morning after my last Saturday run, my body started to fall apart. When I got out of bed on Sunday, it hurt to step on my left foot. I iced it, stayed off of it and by Monday morning, it still hurt. It felt okay when I ran, but walking was pretty painful. I panicked about a possible stress fracture or serious strain (especially because I had just stopped taking Cipro and among other things, that can cause tendonitis), then on Wednesday morning, I stepped out of bed to knotted calves and foot pain all over. Ahh, hello plantar fasciitis flare-up. I skipped my Wednesday run (my last pre-race run) and taped my feet, along with all of my other magic tricks. It got slowly better as the week progressed, but my feet were still not 100% by race day. More than anything, the mental state that I was in drove me nuts. I felt like all of my training was for nothing because my feet and legs would not stop hurting.

All of my taper week stress aside, I trained with much of the same group that I trained with last time, plus some new people. Initially, it felt fragmented because we were all on different plans and different schedules, so I ran alone a lot. Then we got it figured out and started meeting before the actual group runs and that was great. It's rare to meet other people willing to run in the dark on a Saturday!

So, on to the actual race and surrounding events.
Chicago Marathon Expo
I've never been to an expo before a big race, but this was an event in itself. Barb went up with me, which was awesome because we spent a great afternoon together AND her head wasn't in taper fog like mine. The streamlining of the process was incredible. They scan you race ticket, then tell you which booth to go to, at which point your bib and everything is ready to be handed over. Then you get your shirt at the back of the expo and theoretically, you could leave after that... but with hundreds of running related booths to explore, who wants to do that?! I could have easily dropped hundreds of dollars there, but I kept it under $50 and only bought a Many Magnificient Miles shirt and a Goose Island commemorative pint glass. There was this incredibly tempting Northface sweatshirt with the marathon date on the sleeve and in hot pink and orange, but I told myself that I could not buy a $55 sweatshirt. Except that true to form, all I can think about now is how I should have bought that sweatshirt. Figures. After the expo, we went to Tufano's where I had delicious mushroom rigatoni. Oh, and on the way, we got stuck in a parade, which was hilarious. We also drove over part of the course and that was really cool, too. Then I hurried home and went to Luke's baseball game, where his team won the fall ball championship (a mother runner never gets to rest, right?).

Race morning
The night before the race, we took the boys to Shane's parents' house, so I went to bed pretty early. Fortunately, since my alarm was set for 3:30 because the bus was leaving at 4:55 on the dot. So early, but so worth it to ride up with my running group and avoid the nightmare that would be driving into the city on race day. Everyone was pretty subdued on the bus ride up. I mostly just spent my time quietly thinking about the race and willing my feet to stop hurting. We got up there at 5:55, two hours before the race started. It took us a good hour to navigate from the museum campus to go through security checkpoints and finally get near our corral. We staked out an area near the portapotties and watched the sun rise over Lake Shore Drive. It was still pretty cool temperature wise at this point, and I kept reminding myself to embrace the cool because I knew it would be much warmer by the time I finished. As we were in line for the last bathroom break, the National Anthem was sung, signaling that the elites were about to start. This was a very neat moment. After that, we headed into corral J, which seemed so far back yet was somehow not even the last corral.
Miles 1-10
After this, we slowly started shuffling forward bit by agonizing bit, finally crossing the start line at about 8:20. And we were off! They say that Chicago is great because the crowds keep you from going out too fast, but I still felt like I was flying. Side note: the first tunnel is disgusting because every guy in the world stops to pee on the walls and dudes, just because you can pee anywhere you want doesn't mean that you NEED to pee everywhere you want because the river of urine was nasty. I'd been warned by a few people that you can't rely on your GPS early on due to the tunnels and tall buildings, so when my GPS told me I was running 4 minute miles to start with, I figured it would straighten out eventually (spoiler alert: it didn't). The early stages of the race were through the financial district, where it was shady and cool... and the streets were packed with spectators squeezed between the high rises. I was running with my friend Susan at this point and we were laughing over our favorite signs. At mile 2 or 3, I saw my friend Megan and then Sarah shortly afterward, followed by my running coach. In every case, I only saw them because they screamed my name--there are just so many people! I did not see Shane and found out later that he was on the opposite side of the street and only knew he missed me because he ran into Sarah and she told him.
My favorite part of the early race stages was definitely Wrigleyville and Boystown. I loved high-fiving all of the Cubs fan and laughed t the signs that read: "If the Cubs can make the playoffs, you can run a marathon." Boystown was like a party, featuring an all-male baton twirling troupe that made me want to just stop and hang out. After that, we looped back around into Lincoln Park which is very pretty--and which was the start of my first half marathon four years ago. Shortly after this, we ran past a nursing home where all the residents were lined up at the windows waving. This was super cool and I waved the whole way through. At Lincoln Park, I was still feeling pretty strong and hanging with the 4:40 pace group. The female pacer was really engaging, but I lost the group when I stopped for water at mile 10. At this point, my feet and legs were starting to hurt, which was a concern because it was still early in the race. My GPS was also still way off, showing that I was 2 miles ahead of the numbers on the course and not reflecting any sort of pace. At this point, I turned it so it was just a watch because it was stressing me out more than anything. Although I don't rely hugely on my watch, I had also trained in such a way that I was used to making sure I was sticking to my average pace and I couldn't do this. This was slightly frustrating and unnerving.

Miles 11-19
This part of the race is all a blur. At some point, I looked to my right and realized my friend Reggie was running next to me. He and I ended up running together until about mile 17 when we lost each other in the crowd. He was a huge help because we walked water stops together and regrouped, then pushed each other through those huge "hit the wall miles." I knew that Sarah would be joining me at mile 20, so I was chunking the race into the number of miles left until I met Sarah. She reassured me of this at mile 17, which was enough to make me smile.
I also saw Shane and my friend Megan right after mile 17, high-fiving everyone (and almost divorcing my husband on the spot for saying, "You're almost there!"). This was a boost. Shane claims I was somewhere in this crowd.
Shortly after this, I lost Reggie in the crowd and my back started to hurt. Badly. I was out of advil and knew I would have to power through, but it was uncomfortable with every step. It was also starting to get warm. There were workers on the course spraying people down with hoses and wet sponges available, too, but the sun was full on without any shade so you didn't stay cool for long. My favorite neighborhood in this section was definitely Pilsen, a heavily Latino section of the city. It was like a huge party, complete with giant dancing puppets. My back was really hurting at this point, so I ended up on a dirty sidewalk doing a quick yoga pose to try and loosen it. In the midst of this, some woman told me I was beautiful. Chicago really does have the best spectators!

Miles 20-26
By now, my back was really hurting. I was also starting to take all sorts of food from strangers. Pretzels? Swedish fish? Orange slices? If a stranger was handing it out, I was eating it. Sarah jumped in with me shortly after mile 20, and I immediately assured her that I could not finish. She immediately assured me I would finish. At some point, I know we ran through Chinatown and even though everyone swears it's the best race party location, all I remember is this elderly Chinese man trying to cross the street in the middle of the sea of runners. That's it. I don't remember one single other part of Chinatown. My back was really hurting at this time and Sarah was encouraging me by setting minor goals, telling me I was strong and promising me there was a surprise at mile 24. I asked her if the surprise was a stretcher to wheel me off the course, in case you're wondering what sort of joyful company I was at that point in the race. At mile 24, I spotted a woman with a bag of chips and I desperately needed those chips, except that suddenly Barb appeared in front of me cheering! This was a huge surprise and a good boost, and she didn't even care that I got her all wet when I hugged her (Sarah had been dumping a lot of water on me). After this, I literally remember nothing that we ran past except that I hurt and that I was so annoyed with the massive crowds of runners. Someone told me that you can expend a lot of energy dodging and weaving at Chicago and I believe this to be true. By the end, I no longer had that energy and I think I hit a lot of people with my elbows. Sorry, other runners. The course started to get really packed with spectators at this point and right before the 2nd to last turn, they made Sarah peel off the course (we were expecting this). Right after she left, I watched security actually chase and grab a guy who wouldn't leave the course, so that was entertaining. Then all that was left was the hill up Roosevelt (GOD, what sadistic person plans a marathon that ends at a solid uphill at mile 26?). I promised myself I would not walk the hill and even though the wind was blowing directly into my face and everyone around me was walking, I powered up the hill and grimaced at the sign at the top of the hill that said 200m left. I KNEW that was only half a lap around the track, but seriously? It seemed so far away, even after turning to the left and seeing the finish line. I knew from a few peaks at the timer on my watch (the only thing still working) that I was very close to finishing under the 5 hour mark, so I really pushed it into the finish line.
And then I did it, I WAS THERE. The elation I felt at this moment was pretty high--everyone around me was cheering. I will admit that I got a little teary at this moment because the energy was just so high.

The downside to big races became quickly apparent, as I couldn't see the end to the finisher chute. I also couldn't see the medals, which was making me crazy. GIVE ME MY BLING. Finally, I got to the medals and a volunteer put one around my neck along with a congratulations (I cannot say enough about the volunteers at this race--top notch amazing). I got a Gatorade refuel drink, a bag with a bunch of chips in it and some Powerade bars, then I stopped for a beer at the Goose Island table. The only problem here was that I was too tired to put the words, "What type of beer is this?" into a sentence and I knew they had 312 OR an IPA, which I definitely didn't want, so when I said, "What is this?" The woman behind the beer table said, "Uhh... BEER?" Yeah, no kidding, lady. Fortunately the woman next to hear was a more understanding soul and said, "This is the 312" because I couldn't even process a reply. After getting my beer, I saw Reggie and found out that he finished just two minutes ahead of me. Then we began the long walk together to runner reunite, which involves stairs. STAIRS. Every single person went down them sideways, wincing.

Finally, I found Shane and Megan.
After talking for awhile, Shane, Reggie and I began the long walk back to Field Museum to meet our bus to go home. The best part about the aftermath is that it's like an episode of The Walking Dead because NO ONE can walk properly. It was painful and hilarious all at once.

So, that's that. Once again, the true lesson of the marathon is how lucky I am, from my husband and friends spending their Sunday cheering me on, to Sarah giving away her whole Sunday to not only cheer me on but to almost literally carry me for the last six miles of a race, to Barb driving into the city on a busy Sunday just to surprise me. Will I run another marathon? Hmm... yeah, probably. Will I run one this spring? NO. My body and brain need a rest! That said, although it is expensive and crowded and the weather can go any way it wants to in early October, I really, really loved Chicago. I cannot say enough how cool it was to be cheered on by perfect strangers, to have little children standing on the side of the road giving out high fives, to feel pushed through by crowd energy and excitement. Chicago is one heck of a race!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

What I Read Wednesday

Last Wednesday came and went without me noticing because I was getting ready to run a marathon and lost my mind. (Was that subtle? I ran a marathon Sunday. Applaud me.)

Last Bus to Wisdom: A Novel
After Donal's grandma has to have surgery, Donal is shipped off to live with his aunt and uncle in Wisconsin. After arriving, Donal realizes it's not the vacation he thought it might be. His Great-aunt Kate is bossy. Opinionated. Uncaring. However, his great-uncle Herman proves to be worth the trip. A war hero, the calm to Aunt Kate's angry, Herman makes Donal's summer worth saving--especially when Aunt Kate throws Donal out and he ends up on a bus with Herman, riding across the country, hoping to find a better future. There were parts of this story that were a little too perfect, but I loved Donal and Herman and their interactions.

The Admissions: A Novel
I loved this book. It opens with Nora, a mother of three, receiving an ominous phone call that she needs to get to the Golden Gate bridge as soon as possible. Then the novel flashes back to events that lead up to Nora's phone call. Oldest daughter Angela is stretched to the max, desperately trying to get into Harvard to follow her dad's footsteps. Middle daughter Cecily is struggling with Irish dance, which she once loved. And youngest daughter Maya can't read at age eight and oh, Nora blames herself for this. Then there's Gabe, struggling with an intern at work who is threatening to reveal his darkest secret. This is a book that effectively switched perspectives and rolled out an enjoyable, somewhat suspenseful story... one that any of us could probably relate to in some aspect.

The Admissions: A Novel
The last book in the Miss Peregrine trilogy. I loved it! You get more insight into Jacob's history, as well as to that of the peculiar history. I would definitely recommend picking up this trilogy if you haven't.

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood [Amazon was being a hater so pretend there is a link here]
Stan and Charmaine are trying to survive anyway they can. Living in their car, living off of Charmaine's frugal waitressing tips, skipping meals. When an offer to live in the town of Consilience floats toward them, Charmaine begs Stan to make the move, dreaming of her own house and clean bath towels again. The way Consilience works, however, is that you only live in the house six months out of the year (alternating). The rest of the time, you spend in prison. As all good things always turn in dystopian novels, Stan soon discovers there is more to Consilience than meets the eye and is, without Charmaine's knowledge, pulled in to help bring about a change. What I loved about this novel is that it wasn't an immediate good ending. I was left wondering what difference Charmaine and Stan really made and what, if anything, they really learned.

What are you reading?