Monday, November 28, 2016

Hello Southern Winter

It feels like I have to relearn how to survive winter every year. In Arkansas (and Texas before that) we get cold weather for a relatively short period every year - Late November/December through March, maybe, and then it is spring and even if it is sometimes cold, the sun is out most of the time - that by this time of it year it has been almost nine months since I was truly cold. That means I have had almost enough time to have had a baby since I last had to layer on a daily basis.

Cold enough for the hat, mostly

Now I have to rediscover scarves - they aren't just for occasional decoration, they actually keep my neck warm! - and remember to wear slippers and socks around the house. (And let me tell you, after almost nine months of wearing Chaccos and no socks, my feet are not thrilled to be back in shoes for anything other than running and tennis.) I have to remember where we keep the thermostat so that everyone is mostly happy, and the heater isn't running all the time. Malcolm demands footie pajamas and a space heater in his room at night. I will probably start drinking a lot more tea. When running, I have to remember to check the weather conditions before I go out, to make sure I won't catch hypothermia, instead of to decide how much water to take for a three mile run. There is always a sort of calculation going on when it is cold - is it actually cold enough for the hat? Will it warm up so much that I will be sweating as soon as I am moving, or is it really windy, so that no matter how much I work, I will always be cold? The summer is just hot. After about 70, you just know you are going to be sweating, and while you might check the humidity, there isn't anything you can do to make it better, except stay inside on a treadmill. *shudder*

I can hear all my northern friends laughing and rolling their eyes at me, and I suppose it is their turn. After all, I do the same every summer when they start moaning about how hot it is. And don't get me wrong - I don't dislike this weather, I just have to become reacquainted with it. Now, I think I need a cup of tea!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Soaring Wings Half Marathon Race Report

After the last week, it seems a bit odd to be writing up a report for a race that feels like it happened in another world; I honestly don't have much to say about anything right now, but I will try.

I prepared my clothes the night before, since I had to get up around 5 a.m. to have time to eat something and drive to Conway and have time to use the restroom. For you non-runners out there, this is a very important part of race day - almost any book or column about racing will have something to say about it. Anyway, I didn't want to forget anything important, so I laid out my clothes, pinned my bib on my shirt, packed my bag with extra clothes, a towel to sit on after the race, energy gels, water, and phone, and tried to go to bed early. I was less than successful at that - I was already having trouble falling asleep, and then Benjamin, on a business trip, called in a bit of a panic and needing help contacting his hotel, since his plane had landed very late. Of course I couldn't sleep until I knew he arrived safely, so I got to bed about an hour and half after I intended. 

Compared to the Little Rock Half in March, this race was quite a bit smaller and far less intimidating, at least as far as the number of people went. The course was quite a bit hillier than Little Rock though, and given my times while training, I was just hoping to stay close to my previous time. I also planned to run with my heart monitor on, to keep me from going out too fast or not pushing hard enough later, but when I tried to pair it with my watch, I got a message saying its battery was dead! Great timing! If only it had died on my last training run the day before! I had to stuff it in my waist pouch, along with my phone; in retrospect, I probably had time to run back to my car and drop it off, but I wasn't going to risk missing the start, or wasting my energy. I started out with a pace group that was right about where I thought I would be, and was able to stay with them for a while, but the leader was going a bit faster than his stated pace, and I quickly fell behind. After a couple of miles, I just tried to keep myself going at a steady pace even with the hills. I had to stop and use a toilet at mile 4 - something I managed to avoid in my previous half - and that dropped me even farther behind that pace group. After the pit stop though, I was more comfortable and was able to make up some of the time I lost. 

Around mile seven, my left leg started to ache in the knee and hip, something that was new - usually it is my right hip complaining. It wasn't so bad I couldn't run, but it was definitely an unwelcome distraction. Eventually, I decided it must be from the slant of the road - we were running on the right side of the road for much of the race, which had a slight but definite angle to it, and I think it was enough to throw off my alignment. I tried running a bit more towards the middle, but there were a lot of stretches where we were supposed to stay in a lane about the width of a sidewalk. 

When we reached the split for the marathoners to head off in another direction, I was once again grateful that I was not going with them. My hip and knee hurt, my stomach roiled at the thought of any more gels or sugary chews, and while I was having a certain amount of fun (if deliberately torturing oneself can be called fun), I was ready to be done. I had some kick left in me, and picked up my speed a bit in the last mile or two - I accidentally started my charge a little too soon when I got excited on a downhill that was a little farther away from the end than I thought and had to keep pushing when it leveled out. 

In the end, I finished only about two minutes behind my previous time, and given that my watch said I had run 13.4 miles, instead of 13.1, maybe I actually ran about the same. (Yes, I know, watches are not as accurate as whatever devices used to measure courses, but race directors have been known to make mistakes about length.) Anyway, not as slow as I feared I could be, and given the hills, quite good.

I have already signed up for the 2017 Little Rock Half Marathon, and am looking forward to running it again, but I am reconsidering my plans to run a full marathon next year. I'd like to say I have done it, and I know I can do it, but I am not sure I really want to right now. Two hours of running seems like enough, and given my (lack of) speed a marathon would take me around 4 1/2 hours. Maybe for my 40th birthday in a few years, or my 45th. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

One week to go until race day

I have one week left until my second half marathon. On the one hand, I am not too nervous this time, because I have already run one and I have done all (or almost all) the training my plan calls for. On the other hand, all that training has been in hot, humid weather, and has seemed really slow and slogging. So, my expectations are teetering between high - I'd like to get a nice PR and improve my time - and low - I don't feel speedy, and have a feeling that the course will be a slower one than the Little Rock course.

Not that it matters, really. I am running for fun, right? And it is only my second attempt at this distance, so, as long as I finish even close to my previous time, and don't get injured, I am going to try to have a good time.

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Wrong Shoes

Those of you who know my wardrobe well enough, or just have a thing for tennis shoes, will note that the shoes on my feet in this picture are my tennis shoes. And when I say tennis shoes, I don't mean that in a generic sense - I mean that they are the court shoes I wear when playing tennis. Those of you who both play tennis and run will be aware of the differences in feel of tennis shoes and running shoes - for those of you who are not, tennis shoes tend to be stiffer and heavier than running shoes, since they are built to support you as you move from side to side with quick stop and go motions - and you would probably not voluntarily wear the former while doing the latter or vice versa. But that is exactly what I did this morning.

This morning my training plan had me scheduled for a session of interval torture - 10 minutes of warm up followed by 8 speed intervals with cool downs in between, followed by a 10 minute cool down. Not my favorite workout, but slightly better than hill repeats, since at least the intervals are flat. Anyway, throughout that 10 minute warm up, something just felt off, but I was listening to my book (The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin  - you should totally follow that link and read the first book in the series and then come back to this one) so I wasn't really paying too much attention. I just chalked it up to my cold and 3C (cat, chinchilla, child) caused lack of sleep. It wasn't until I was partway through my second interval that I looked down and my shoes and said "Hey, those are my f*%^ing tennis shoes!"

I was sort of surprised I hadn't noticed when I was trying to tie my laces, because that took longer than normal, thanks to Sabetha's interference. I guess I was more focused on stopping her attacks on the laces and my fingers to notice that they were the wrong shoes. I should also have noticed that my Road ID was not on the laces, but I didn't notice that either.

I don't think I did any lasting damage to my shoes or my feet, but I am totally going to use the shoes as an excuse for why my intervals weren't faster!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Dinner for your weekend: Chicken Enchilada Casserole

Tex-Mex is one of my favorite types of food; when Benjamin and I lived in Austin, we were in heaven, calling it our Golden Age of Tex-Mex and mourning its eventual loss, even as we took full advantage. When we first moved to Arkansas, the lack of really good Tex-Mex was a huge disappointment - I mean, Arkansas is right next door to Texas, surely something should have rubbed off! I once tried to order enchiladas with a verde sauce - usually made with tomatillos - and instead got enchiladas topped with nothing but ground up jalapenos! And Benjamin has been constantly disappointed when he tries to order something spicy, only to be "reassured" by the waiter that the dish isn't really too spicy. 

Lately, the options for good Tex-Mex in Little Rock have improved quite a bit with the opening of Local Lime, Chuy's (an Austin original that is welcome here in Little Rock, but one which we never went to in Austin - not dive-y enough, with long wait times), Heights Taco and Tamales, and The Fold. We don't eat out that often anymore though, and my craving for Tex-Mex occurs far more frequently than our trips to restaurants. What to do? Make my own, of course. We have several good cookbooks for Tex-Mex and more authentic Mexican food, we have various taco and taco salad recipes, and we have Chicken Enchilada Casserole.

This is a family recipe that my dad passed along to me when I first moved into an apartment of my own, and one that I don't remember liking all that much as a child - casseroles being a problem because the good stuff (chicken, cheese, tortillas) is all mixed up with more dubious stuff (onions, canned tomatoes, sauce). But now, I love casseroles, and this one in particular, precisely because everything is all mixed up and the flavors can meld and intensify. I have made a few modifications, because the recipe is originally from a 1976 issue of Diabetes Forecast magazine, and needed a little simplification and spicing up, but it is still pretty healthy, easy to make, and easy to scale up. I imagine it would be easy to freeze in individual portions, if you like that sort of thing (I might, but there are never enough left overs in our house).

So, for your dining pleasure, I give you Chicken Enchilada Casserole:

1 tablespoon oil
1 large onion, peeled and diced* 
1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons chili powder (I use 1 3/4 tsp regular, and 1/4 tsp chipotle for more spice)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 can diced tomatoes**
2 cups cooked chicken, chopped*** (approximately 2 chicken breasts. I simmer mine in some lightly salted water until cooked through, then let cool and chop)
1/2 cup chicken stock
6-9 corn tortillas, cut in quarters
1 1/2 cups (or more) grated pepper jack cheese**** (the original calls for sharp cheddar - use whatever you prefer)
Sour cream and avocados

1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Get out a medium (2-3 qt) casserole dish.
2) Heat the oil in the skillet and add the onion and garlic. Saute until tender - do not allow to brown. Add the salt, chili powder(s), cumin, and oregano and mix well. Add the tomatoes, chicken, and chicken stock, mix well, and cook for 5 to 10 minutes on low heat.
3) In the casserole dish, layer the chicken mixture, tortillas, and grated cheese, repeating until you have used all the ingredients. You should end up with a cheese layer on top.
4) Cover and bake for 25-30 minutes until bubbling and the cheese is melted. If you prefer, remove the cover and broil for a couple of minutes to brown the cheese. 

My dad always serves this with extra flour tortillas for sopping up the sauce. We like to top it with sour cream and avocados, if they are on hand.

* Our go-to Mexican cookbook always recommends white onions in its dishes, but we usually just use yellow for this one
** Do NOT use the canned ones with herbs and spices already added - just plain. The original calls for three medium tomatoes, and if you have flavorful, ripe ones go ahead and use them instead. I use canned for convenience.
***  For mine, I usually use two chicken breasts that I have simmered in some lightly salted water until cooked through, then let cool and chop. My dad microwaves his, and I think you could use a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken too, if you wanted.
**** The original calls for sharp cheddar, but I never use cheddar for Tex-Mex these days - use whatever you prefer or can find. To save time, you could also use a Mexican blend of prepackaged, shredded cheese.

Friday, September 9, 2016

An unintended hike

Over Labor Day weekend, after all the tennis was over and the cobbler had yet to be eaten, we decided to go for a family walk at one of my favorite trails - Two Rivers Park. During my half marathon training, I did most of my runs in the park, and I have missed it over the summer. The paved trail has loops of various lengths that make it perfect for running, bike riding, and taking a not-too-long family stroll. On Sunday, we set out to take one of the latter, with Malcolm riding his bike.

Before the hike, all smiles and no bug bites
Shortly after crossing the bridge onto the trail proper, we took a diversion down a dirt trail to see the river. Then, in a spirit of adventure we later rued, we decided to follow a dirt trail off into the woods, parallel to the paved trail. At first, it wasn't bad at all. Malcolm could ride his bike, the trail seemed clear and well-maintained, and it was fun to be in the woods.

The trail is straight through there - see it?
Then we hit the first of the downed trees. Malcolm climbed over, Benjamin carried the bike. Malcolm started riding again - he was having a fabulous time. Then we hit more downed trees, covered with vines, and I scared a couple of large black snakes (I don't know what they were, but I fervently hoped at the time that they were just king snakes or rat snakes, and not water moccasins). The mosquitoes, ticks, and fire ants made their presences known.

At least we can see the trail again!

And the trail just kept going. I thought I knew where it came out, and it seemed that we had been walking for a very long time - longer than I thought possible on that narrow spit of land. We weren't lost, not really - we always had the trail and could have turned around if the trail ended completely - but we had no idea how much longer we were going to be there, and we had a potluck to get to! Eventually, the trail widened out into a clear track, there were no more fallen trees, and we found a picnic table. This, we figured, had to mean we were close to the paved trail at last. We stopped to pick the burrs off our socks, then set off, renewed. Only to discover that we were on the horseback riding trail that crosses the park, and it wound around for quite a while. Well, OK, it wasn't that long, but we were all getting tired and hot and thirsty and I figured we had walked at least three miles by that point (we had water, but it was only supposed to be a mile hike).

Finally, we came to the spot where I thought we had to emerge - I was right, just a little off on the distance - and made it back to the paved path, and eventually back to the car. Malcolm was getting tired, but he never complained. The entire time we were bushwhacking, he kept saying "Nothing can stop the Riders!" and charging ahead. I was amazed at how well he handled the whole adventure - I certainly wouldn't have been that good about such a thing, considering how much I whined about walking on the boardwalk path when hiking!

It is too bad that the city has not kept that trail cleared, because it could be a very nice hiking/biking trail if they did. Just take some bug spray!

Friday, September 2, 2016

A cobbler for Labor Day

Peaches and blackberries. Didn't take a picture fast enough...

I have made this cobbler at least four or five times already this summer. Until this summer, I would not have described myself as a cobbler-baking type of person, really. Apple crisp, apple crostata, berry crumble - yes, enthusiastically yes. But traditional cobbler just seemed too much work for a casual summer dessert. You have some berries, maybe a couple of kinds, but not so many that you can make a pie (never mind the fact that it is far too hot and humid to be rolling out pie crust) and you need something to do with them. This, friends, this is it. 

My friend Mina first recommended it to me back in May or June, when I invited her to bring her kids along with Malcolm and I to pick berries. They couldn't come, but she said I needed to make this recipe. That it was so simple and so good. And she was right. I have made it with blueberries and blackberries and raspberries, peaches and blueberries, and yesterday, with blackberries and peaches. I bet it would be good with plums, or strawberries and raspberries. And Malcolm loves to help make it, because it is so simple. He mixes the batter as I add ingredients, and helps sprinkle the berries on top. 

It is a Pioneer Woman recipe, and here is the original, Blackberry Cobbler #1. I made a couple of changes, but nothing too drastic. I hope you have time to give it a try this Labor Day weekend!

Blackberry Cobbler #1 (with adaptations by Hope)

1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup sugar + 1/4 cup for sprinkling on top (I only use 1 TBSP)
1 cup self-rising flour or 1 cup all purpose flour + 1 1/2 tsp baking powder and 1 tsp salt
1 cup milk
2 cups blackberries or a mix of berries and stone fruits

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter a baking dish (the original recipe doesn't specify a size; I use a Pyrex pie plate).

Melt butter. Combine 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup flour in a medium mixing bowl. Whisk in the milk and mix well. Pour in the melted butter and whisk until smooth.

Pour the batter into the baking dish. Sprinkle the fruit evenly over the top. Sprinkle the entire thing with 1 Tbps sugar (or more, if you want it really sweet).

Bake for 1 hour, until golden and bubbly. (The original suggests adding another tsp of sugar over the top 10 minutes before it is finished. I have never done this; it is sweet enough as is for me.) Let cool a bit, then serve. Top with ice cream or whipped cream, if you like (yes!).

Monday, August 29, 2016

Running in the summer, in Arkansas

Here I am - proof of life!

What you probably can't tell from this picture is that it was in the mid-80s, with about the same level of humidity. I was dripping wet, literally. Not a dry spot on me. That is how most of my runs have been this summer. For a week or two, it wasn't blazing hot, but it was raining non-stop, and I got just as wet. Can I tell you something? I am so over summer. At the beginning of the summer, I was all proud of myself for running in the heat, playing tennis in the heat - it made me feel, well, superior. I was out doing, when so many people were inside, sitting. Now? I am just tired of being so damn wet, of my clothes needing to be wrung out after a run or a tennis match. I can still handle it, but the feeling of superiority has been replaced by a sigh of resignation. If I want to do the things I love, I have to endure.

Thank goodness fall is coming. Oh, true fall in Arkansas is still a ways off, but there is a hint of a cool breeze in the mornings now. The temperatures at only in the low 90s during the day, and it isn't quite warm enough for the pool some days. (That in itself could be an entire blog post - when I was a kid, any day the pool was open was a day warm enough to go swimming. Now, it has to be at least 85 for me to feel the need to get in.)

Anyway, I have been running in the summer in Arkansas so often because I signed up for my second half-marathon at the end of October, and I need to be prepared! I almost signed up for three halfs in a month, but reason kicked in and settled on one. My hope is that all this heat training will make the fall weather seem so glorious and easy to run it that I can break my PR from the spring. So, c'mon Fall!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Malcolm is Four!

Happy birthday to my wonderful, goofy, creative, smart Malcolm.

You have grown so much in the last year, and I can't wait to see what comes next.

I am so grateful that I get to share all my favorite things about this world with you, like blueberries, gardening, bird watching, books, and tennis (although we don't always share a fashion sense).

Never stop sparkling, little super hero!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Back to blogging, with book reviews

I have been trying to read more lately, and spend less time on computer games and Facebook. I also challenged myself to read more books by women and minorities; so far, 15 of the 21 books I have read so far this year are by women. Anyway, here are short reviews of two books I have recently finished.

Cold Magic (Spiritwalker, #1)Cold Magic by Kate Elliott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is closer to a 3.5 for me. I enjoyed it enough that I want to read the rest of the trilogy, but there were some things - stylistically and plot-wise - that kept me from truly loving it. Initially, I had a hard time getting into the story, since the beginning was a bit slow - I tend to prefer a quick start. A large portion of the middle of the book is occupied with Cat and Anduvai traveling up and then back down the length of the country, seemingly to no great purpose - I mean, important plot things happen, but they start and end in the same place with lots of running around in between. And as much as I liked the mash up of cultures, I was often distracted by them, enough that I would get thrown out of the story for a bit. I am not entirely sure why this particular brand of alternate history/fantasy should do that, since I have read plenty of books set in alternate versions of our world, but somehow, the redrawn map of Europe, combined with actual bits of ancient Roman and African history, and magic, was just a bit too much.

As I said though, I do want to read the rest of the series. I like Cat and Bee, and I am interested to see where they go next.

His Majesty's Dragon (Temeraire, #1)His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this, and read it in two days. It is like Master and Commander, but with dragons. Napoleon and Britain are at war, and both use dragons as their aerial power. When William Lawrence, a British Navy captain, captures a dragon egg from a French ship, he is dismayed to have it hatch and pick him as his companion, because the aerial corps are looked down upon by society and especially the Navy. But he is a man of honor and duty, so he does what he must to keep the dragon safe and help his country in the war. Along the way, he forges a friendship and partnership with the dragon, Temeraire, that changes his views of society and duty. While I did find Laurence a little stuffy at times, given the setting I suppose that is forgivable. And the dragons are pretty cool. Too bad it wasn't illustrated, in full color! I will be reading the rest of the series.

View all my reviews

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Easter weekend - egg hunting and hiking a mountain

This past weekend we crammed a lot of activity into one Saturday. Malcolm got to go on an egg hunt at our church. He had been anticipating it for weeks, and it did not disappoint.

There were dozens and dozens of candy-filled plastic eggs scattered around, just waiting for some hot little hands to grab them up. Malcolm got his fair share, and then some. He will probably still be eating them in May. He also got to meet the Easter Bunny. That hug is a big improvement over this time last year, when he saw a person in a kangaroo outfit somewhere, and edged away with a panic-stricken whimper.

In addition to being Easter weekend, it was also the last of spring break. Since I was out of town the first weekend, and Benjamin had been busy all week trying to catch up/get ahead with work, we hadn't had much chance to do something really fun. Saturday was a glorious spring day, with blue skies, warm sun (but not too hot, yet), and gentle breezes. We had to head outside.

Pinnacle Mountain, from the parking lot
So naturally, we decided to climb Pinnacle Mountain. It is a large and steep hill just outside of Little Rock, on the edge of the river. Now, I know some of you are from places with real mountains, and would scoff at calling this hill a mountain, but hey, this is Arkansas. We don't have volcanoes or young mountains - ours are all old and short. Pinnacle is one of those places that attracts both serious hikers (one time we were there, an older man in spandex was climbing it, repeatedly - he passed us three times while we were there) and casual "Hey it's nice out, lets do something outside" hikers, the ones who show up in flip flops with one tiny bottle of water between them. And since Saturday was such a nice day, it seemed like all of Little Rock was there to enjoy it.

Lately, Malcolm has been asking to go hiking, which has meant tromping through the woody areas of our hill - he and Benjamin found a deer antler on one such adventure walk. He is really getting into it, which is great, since we love hiking too. We figured that his enthusiasm meant he might be big enough to tackle a real hike. And he was.

The top
He hiked the entire way to the top of the mountain, almost a mile of just climbing, only stopping a couple of times for water. In fact, he did better than a number of the adults we passed, never complaining about the rocks or the climb at all.

He did get a ride most of the way down the hill, passed between Benjamin and myself, but by that point, he'd earned it. And I know there were some other hikers who probably wished for a ride down!

Monday, March 7, 2016

Race Report: Little Rock Half-Marathon

So, as I may have mentioned a few (hundred) times, I have been training for a half-marathon since November. Yesterday, I finally ran that marathon, and not only did I survive it, I crushed my personal goals. I finished with a time of 2:08:53 - when I first started training, I was hoping just to break 2:30. As it became clear over the weeks that I would be able to make that time fairly easily, I began to wonder if 2:20 was realistic. Then, a few weeks ago, I ran around 2:15 on my one race-length long run, and repeating that time during the actual event became my goal. Well, I made that for sure!
Approximately 6:30 race morning. I have already been awake for 2.5 hours...
I used the "Finish It" plan from the Another Mother Runner book, Train Like a Mother, and I give a lot of credit to that excellent training plan for preparing me so well. Yes, I had to do the work, and trust me, I did! But it really helped to have such an organized and easy-to-follow plan.  I only missed or skipped a few workouts (although I do admit to using tennis as both a "fun workout" and as cross-training. What? It works!) In hindsight, more strength work might have been a good idea, but that is why you race again, right? To fix stuff and get better!

Anyway, the race itself. I woke up a number of times, exactly one hour apart, during the middle of the night, in anticipation. I wasn't worried that I would sleep through my alarm - I am far too light a sleeper for that to ever happen - but I was keyed up. The final time I woke up was around 3:50 - a full hour before my alarm. I lay in bed for a while, trying to will myself to get just a little more sleep, but gave up around 4:30. In the end, that was fine - it gave me time to do a few sun salutations to stretch out, make and eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, drink a cup of tea, use the bathroom, get dressed, and out the door by 5:20. I wanted to leave that early because I was worried about parking and getting to my proper corral on time. I really didn't need to worry. I found a good parking spot almost immediately and decided to walk over to the convention center to stay warm and find a bathroom until it was time to head to the starting area. 

This is when I started to wish that I had a running buddy. There were so many people there, and most of them were in pairs or groups, chatting and planning and finding ways to stave off nerves. I did see people I knew, and I said hi, but I didn't come with anyone, and wouldn't be running with anyone. I didn't even have my iPod, since the race instructions discouraged using them. I almost always run by myself, and I often turn off the iPod part way through a long run, so it wasn't as if this was a new experience, but a race is a different sort of event than a solo training run. It would have been nice to have someone there to share it with, this big new experience. As Winnie the Pooh says, "It's so much friendlier with two."

Eventually, everyone else at the convention center with the same ideas as me started heading for the doors, so I did too. We were divided up into starting corrals, to make it easier to actually start running, once we hit the starting line. I intended to try to stay with the pacers who were leading the 4:25/2:12 group, but that idea fell by the wayside as they got started at a faster pace than I was wanting to go right then. So I stuck with the pacer on my watch, trying to keep from going out too fast. Mostly, that was my whole strategy - stick with the pace I had on my last training run for the first half or 2/3s of the race, then try to pick up my pace near the end. 

Slightly crazed race smile, check. Photo by Charlee Hinton
And that is what I did. I am not going to bore anyone with my mile splits (although I will, if you ask), but basically, I kept a steady pace for the first half, and then started going just a little faster every mile after that. I was almost sprinting by the end. I was also incredibly happy that, when we reached the point around mile 12 where the marathon course split off from the half marathon course, I was not going to have to run another 13 miles! 

The weather this year was just about perfect - not too cold, not too hot, not windy, not rainy. I could have used sunglasses, but compared to past years when it has been sleeting or thundering, that is a pretty good complaint to have. 

Overall, a good race. There were lots of aid stations with water and Gatorade (and porta-potties). There were also quite a few informal aid stations handing out beer in tiny cups, and some with donuts or candy. I snagged a peppermint from a police officer somewhere around mile 7 or 8, but avoided the beer and donuts (the former with no pangs - even if I did like beer, 7 AM is too early for me - and the latter with a bit of regret, although I knew my stomach thanked me). Around mile 12 there was a gauntlet of people handing out beads and lipstick - in case you wanted to get fancied up before hitting the finish line. This, I didn't like. I was trying to pick up speed at this point, and I kept having to dodge people who really wanted me to have beads, not to mention the discarded tubes of lipstick. 

Now that I am done, I am already plotting out my next race. There are several 5K and 10K races that I have run in the past coming up, but I kind of want to do another half. Not really soon, but maybe in the fall. I want to see if I can get faster!

And I want another medal!

Friday, February 26, 2016

Betty Jean Van Dyke, 1922-2016

My grandmother, Betty Jean Siefer Van Dyke, passed away last night. She was ready, and it was peaceful. In memoriam, here is a blog I posted for her 90th birthday, slightly updated.

Here are a few pictures - from her wedding day to my grandfather, and from recent years.

Engagement, Spring 1943
She grew up on a farm in Nebraska during the Great Depression and went to college at Hastings College, where she met my grandfather. She left after two years to teach - during the war they needed teachers and she needed money.

Wedding Day, May 14, 1944
After the war, she and my grandfather raised three children. When my mom (the eldest) was in high school, Grandma went back to college to finish her BA, then went for her masters while teaching elementary school. Eventually, she was a reading specialist (like my mother) and taught for 20 years. She is the daughter of a school teacher, her daughter was a  teacher and librarian, and my cousin is a teacher. Who knows what the next generation will bring (now at six), but I bet a teacher and/or librarian will be among them!

Beating my mother at Yahtzee. But she had help!

After she and my grandfather retired, they spent many years traveling the world, having adventures hiking and bird watching. She even hiked the Grand Canyon in her 60s, twice, and floated down the Colorado multiple times as well!

She was always stylish!

When each of us grand kids was old enough, we got to spend a week with Grandma and Grandpa, alone, doing fun things with them. On my trip, we rode the steam train up to the Grand Canyon and went on hikes around Sedona, where they lived. It was a wonderful gift of time and love.

With Grandpa and my mom at my college graduation in 2001
I am so grateful that Malcolm got to meet her and she him; I am hopeful that he will be able to remember her when he is grown. Grandpa and Grandma's hiking backpacks with all the patches from their many adventures hang in his room, and he is carrying on their love of birds whenever we fill the bird feeders and spend time just watching out the window.

Goodbye Grandma Betty! Thank you for all the love and support you gave me over the years - I am so blessed to have known you.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Starting my taper

Yesterday afternoon I ran my last long training run before next month's half-marathon - 13.1 miles. My first time running that far all in one day. I didn't exactly have to, since my training plan gave me some wiggle room by suggesting 11-13 miles, but I wanted to. I am (finally?) learning that I do much better in a competition situation if I have already proven I can do it, whatever it is. In tennis, that means I have more confidence coming back from being down in a game or a set now that I have done precisely that several times; I know it can be done, that I have done it, and that takes away some of the nerves. In running, it means that I feel better about running a distance in a race when I have done it at least once in practice and have a baseline PR to shoot for. The first time I ran a race as an adult (ie not in junior high track), it was a 5K, and I hadn't really run that far yet, and never outdoors in the weather conditions that we had on race day. That meant I was miserable during the last half of the race, because the high humidity and temperature were nothing like the gym, and while I knew I could finish, I wasn't able to stay as strong as I wanted to all the way to the end. So, now that I have run 13.1 miles, in weather that could very well be the way it will be on race day, I feel pretty good.

Not from my 13.1 run yesterday - I wasn't smiling that much at the end!

Now I start to taper, which means progressively less running for the next few weeks, so that my legs are fresher for the start of the race. I hope I don't get too grouchy now that I am running less!

All this is the long way to say that I am still fundraising for brain cancer research, and you can still contribute. I am running with team #NotToday, which was set up by my friends Charlee and Jeremy Hinton as a way to make a difference after Jeremy was diagnosed with a glioblastoma multiforme brain tumor in April 2014. You can find more information and donate here. Just make sure to use the blue and yellow "Make a Donation" button so your donation goes to our team.

Thank you!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Books and brownies

Whoops. So much for my unannounced resolution of writing more blogs this year. Guess I can start that now?

Following on the heels of my previous post, I have come up with an aspirational plan for my reading this year: To make as many as possible of the books I read this year be by authors who are not white males. I want to read more books by women, more foreign fiction and poetry, more works by people of color - more that make me see outside my normal bubble. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with reading books by western white males - I certainly have my eyes on several upcoming books by favorite authors of that ilk - but I don't want to get stuck in a rut. I think I do a fair job of this normally, but I want it to be intentional, I want to notice that I am doing it. It shouldn't be too hard - just by cruising through my Goodreads to read list for a few minutes, I can easily come up with a year's worth of books to keep me reading. I will try to post some of what I read here - remind me if I don't!

And I promised brownies, didn't I? If you have been with me for any length of time, you know I love baking. I like trying new things, but there are days when I want something easy, something quick, and something I know everyone in the house will eat. Today was one of those days. I needed to bake something, since there was a serious lack of proper dessert items in the house, but couldn't muster the mental energy to find and try something new. When I asked Malcolm what to make, he wanted brownies. I used to dread trying to make brownies, since it seemed to require big chunks of baking chocolate and lots of stirring and mixing. I am not sure what recipe I was looking at, but I remember brownies being too much work. Then I found my current recipe from The Good Housekeeping Cookbook; it is almost as easy as making brownies from a box mix, and much better tasting. I thought I would share, in case you too are in need of a quick, easy brownie recipe.

Cocoa Brownies
Prep: 10 minutes (perhaps more, if baking with small children)  Bake: 25 minutes

1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter (1 stick) (You can also substitute coconut oil 1:1 for butter. I used half and half this time and it made the brownies just a little nutty, in a good way)
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup walnuts (4 ounces) coarsely chopped (optional - I never add them, since we are in the "no nuts in brownies" camp, but I am sure they would be good, if you like that sort of thing)
Sprinkles (Malcolm's addition to the recipe, also optional. They do make regular brownies festive)

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease 9-inch square baking pan (this always seems too large, but always seems to be just right in the end. I bet you could try an 8-inch pan too). In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt.
2. In 3-quart saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Remove from heat and stir in sugar. Stir in eggs, one at a time, until well blended; add vanilla. Stir in walnuts, if using. Top with sprinkles, if using.
3. Bake until toothpick inserted 2 inches from center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. (It has always been exactly 25 minutes in my oven). Cool pan completely on wire rack; don't cut them yet. Just don't do it.
4. When cool, cut into as many pieces as you want. (The recipe suggests 16, I usually go for 20, but then I am trying to keep a three year old and a brownie obsessed grandmother from eating too large of pieces).

Monday, January 4, 2016

Favorite Books of 2015

It is the new year, and I guess that means it is time for lists and reviews of the year just past. For me, the first and most important list is the one of all the books I have read. Officially, on Goodreads, I managed 70 books. That is about half of my pre-parenthood high year, and feels low, but unofficially, I read hundreds of books to Malcolm. That is not an exaggeration - I am keeping a list of all the books we read together, and it is over 600 books! One of these days I will get them all on my list of books too. Benjamin laughs at my attempts to quantify my life, but I can't help it.

But I digress. What I really wanted to do was share some of my favorite books of the past year with you, because they are all so good you should read them too! I am specifically using "favorite" and not "best," because this is a completely subjective list, and apart from the first one, I am not ranking any of them.

Favorite overall: Ancillary Justice (and the sequels Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy) by Ann Leckie. I cannot adequately express how much I love this series. The world is at once familiar and completely foreign - there is an empire that spans thousands of years and wide swathes of space, the people are human, but gender is not really a thing, the default pronoun is "she" or "her," and the antagonist is thousands of clones of the same person. I know it is challenging - I suggested it for my book group, and the one other woman who reads everything gave up on it - but it is also amazingly good and fun and engrossing.

Other favorite fiction:
Lock In by John Scalzi - set in the near future after a flu/polio type virus has swept the world and millions of people are trapped in their own bodies. There is a mystery, possibly a conspiracy, and robots! It isn't at all dystopian or dreary or bleak - Scalzi is great at writing realistic characters who have a sense of humor and make their way through without getting too mopey or obnoxious. I listened to the Audible version of this, both the Wil Wheaton version and the Amber Benson version, and I highly recommend either narrator. Oh yeah, the gender of the main character is never mentioned, so they can be read as male or female without any difficulty.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel - another book set in the near future where a virus has ravaged the earth. This time, things are somewhat dystopian, since 99% of the population died, but it really isn't as bleak as that sounds. The book switches back and forth between pre-collapse views of a famous actor and his associates, and the post-collapse life lived by a troupe of traveling actors and musicians. It is about survival, and hope and the ways humans learn to cope and thrive even in darkness.

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor - Uh, set in a post-nuclear-holocaust Africa... I promise I read good books that were not set after apocalypses, but these really are the most interesting ones. This one has a chosen one, who is a girl who wants to learn magic and become all the things she is not supposed to, according to her society. There is friendship, love, magic, heartbreak, redemption. Good stuff.

Embassytown by China Mieville - Hey, not set in a post-apocalyptic world! Just set on a strange planet where the humans are definitely not the dominant species and language holds all sorts of power. I am at a loss to explain this one, as I am with most Mieville, because it is so strange and so wonderful. It made an interesting pairing with another book I was reading at the same time, The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin. In fact, the best description I can give is that it is Mieville doing his version of a Le Guin novel.

The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton - yes, this is a picture book, but it is so good! I bought it for myself, and honestly never considered that it was a kids book until I got it in the car and Malcolm demanded to look at it on the way home. Now, everyone in the house loves it and enjoys reading it at bedtime. Princess Pinecone is a warrior who wants a real warrior's horse for her birthday. Her parents try, but they don't get it quite right.

Favorite Non-Fiction: I didn't read as much non-fiction this year as I have in some other years, but I did read some that was worth passing on.
It's What I Do: A photographer's life of love and war by Lynsey Addario - a memoir of her career as a photojournalist.

On the Move by Oliver Sacks - I finished reading this the day before he died. His memoir of his career, from the outside, as it were, instead of through his case studies.

Baking Chez Moi by Dorie Greenspan - One of the best baking cookbooks I have ever seen and used. Greenspan is endlessly supportive and practical and her recipes are all fantastic. I don't mean that they all taste good, although they do; no, I mean they are all detailed, well-tested, and easy to follow, even when you are making something tricky or difficult. It is a model for how all cookbooks should be written. I am working my way through all the recipes, such an onerous chore (ha!).

There are, of course, more books I could recommend, but I don't want to try your patience. Let me know what your favorites were, so I can add them to my never-ending to-read pile on Goodreads! I promise to move them to the top of the virtual pile!