Monday, November 23, 2015

Snow What?

It was the first day of running on snow and ice today. I can't say I was thrilled about this as I got ready but once I got started I enjoyed myself.

Between the music I was listening to  and the intense focus on my footing, there wasn't any room in my head for thoughts of time, pace, or the like. Just noticing the sun on the snow and being grateful it wasn't colder.

I think the only way to approach running on Chicago sidewalks in the winter is to treat them as trail runs. You never know what kind of surface you'll be running on; it can switch from clear and dry to carefully packed down to icy knee-high caverns in the course of one block. It all depends on how the individual property owner maintains their stretch of sidewalk. So I step lightly and quickly and practice "monkey walk" when it looks icy (a technique I learned in kung fu years ago: keeping all joints slightly bent and sinking my center of gravity a bit lower).

And layer, layer, layer.


Thursday, November 5, 2015

Some Leftovers

And, as mentioned, we managed to get in a couple more movies before declaring Scary Movie Month officially over...

House on Haunted Hill (William Castle - 1959, with Vincent Price)
Funny, both of our last two movies centered around a group of people stuck together somewhere - no way in, no way out - and then people start to die... This one was nicely creepy with some scares without being too disturbing.

Identity (James Mangold - 2003, with John Cusazk, Ray Liotta, Amanda Peet)
We watched this based on a recommendation from my aunt, and for the first half hour we were united in thinking that we wouldn't be taking her advice again any time soon! It just didn't seem to make any sense and there were so many characters. And then it started to get a little more interesting... and then a lot more... and then super creepy. And that character count went steadily down... Unlike House on Haunted Hill, however, this one was disturbing and stayed with me into the night (and the next morning). A good one to go out on!

And some scary books this month too!

Nnedi Okorafor's Lagoon

Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Stephen King's 'Salem's Lot

And I'm currently reading Stacia Kane's Sacrificial Magic, Book 4 in her Downside Ghosts Series.

I don't bother finishing books I don't like (unlike movies) so these all get my recommendation.

I'm particularly interested to see what Nnedi Okorafor does next in her adult fiction (prior to this one she wrote for young adults) - I read her Who Fears Death first, and then this one, in opposite order from how they were written, and could quite clearly see that her writing was more sophisticated in the second book. Both books struggled with the pacing, I think, and both had endings that surprised me and tore at my heart and stayed with me. So I'm eager to see how her writing develops if she continues to write for adults.

I've read a sampling of Neil Gaiman's works over the years, mostly some of his graphic novels and then works for children. I find his "allusiveness" in the graphic novels a little overwhelming (this was a new word for me, it means the degree to which he alludes to other sources, in his case mostly fairy tales and myths from a variety of cultures plus classic British literature), which is why I've stayed away from his longer novels. But after reading The Ocean..., which had a very clear writing style and had me believing in his characters, I think I might be interested in reading more.

In between working my way through Stephen King, that is. I have no interest in reading everything by him (unlike my husband who is an SK completist), and in fact take a fair bit of time in deciding which ones I'm willing to read - with the result that everything I do read of his, I love. Plus I love his writing about himself. He is definitely on my list of people I would invite to a dinner party. Except in my experience of dinner parties you never get enough time with each person and I think I would be too intimidated to meet with him one-on-one.

And the Stacia Kane is just spooky sexy fun with some very deep ideas anchoring all the shouting and witchcraft and kissing.

And now into November,

Friday, October 30, 2015

Scary Movie Month 2015

I'm amazed at all we managed to view during Scary Movie Month this year, despite my marathon plans and The Dude's work commitments. Oh yes, and the Cubs were in the playoffs! That probably put the biggest crimp in our movie watching, at least for that week. But truly I'm amazed at how many movies we managed to see (and there are still a couple of nights available to us...)

I think we made such an effort in part because it was a hard month, and it was something we could look forward to together. Plus I didn't have to get up so early in the mornings any more... I'm kind of looking forward to being done with all these late nights, though.

There are so many I'm not feeling compelled to write in detail about all of these. Plus I never like to write too much in case someone wants to watch these --- I would hate to give away any plot-related spoilers. So not reviews so much as random thoughts.

Carrie (Brian de Palma - 1976)
Previously viewed in 2008.
Blood, blood, and more blood. And this time The Dude got surprised and jumped at the end (I was anticipating it). I've been reading a bunch of Stephen King lately, so it was kind of neat to see this movie again. It's short and tight and good.

Ghost in the Shell (Mamoru Oshii - 1995)
Partial viewing.
We liked this... but were tired... and the music was kind of mesmerizing... so we called it off rather than fall asleep on the couch. I'm glad to hear that Scarlett Johansson will be playing the lead in a live-action version of this, perhaps I'll manage to see it all the way through then. Also we couldn't quite follow what was going on... all that mesmerizing music, perhaps.

Sin City (Robert Rodriguez - 2005)
Previously viewed in the theater. Partial viewing.
I like this movie. Really, I do. It just got late and it's got quite a distinctive visual style which can be a little wearying so we only watched two of the three stories (it's composed of overlapping characters). I meant to pick it up again as the last story is my favorite of the three, but in the end other movies competed for our viewing time and won.

Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright - 2004)
Previously viewed in 2005.
What can I say, I love this movie. I wouldn't go so far as to say I would watch it once a month (as The Dude claimed), but certainly once a year. See it!

Monster House (Gil Kenan - 2006)
Previously viewed in 2007. Partial viewing (I was making dinner too).
I wish I could have seen the whole thing! We own it, though, so I suspect I will get other chances. The kids were a little unhappy to realize that it wasn't about a house full of monsters but rather a house that was a monster, they found that way creepier (I concur). They talked about that for a number of days afterwards. This is the first year that we made a point of watching a scary kids movie every week and I think they liked being part of our tradition.

Shadow of a Doubt (Alfred Hitchcock - 1943)
We're working our way through Hitchcock. Again, what can I say... he's a master. I can't think of anything I can complain about (well, the main female character, but she's of a certain type that just sets my teeth on edge so that's not a complaint about the movie). And some seriously scary moments, some subtle... lots of them subtle... and some just grip-the-pillow scary.

Firestarter (Mark Lester - 1984)
Very partial viewing.
The Dude reread this book recently and after watching Carrie I thought it was time to see this. I also recall wanting to see how Drew Barrymore was in it. But it just fell flat, I can't remember why now. After fifteen minutes I decided I would just rather reread the book myself again.

Simpson's Treehouse of Horror I (1990)
In the final days before the marathon and I wanted to get to bed early. This was a treat from years past.

It Came from Outer Space (Jack Arnold - 1953, from a story by Ray Bradbury)
A Svengoolie feature. Partial viewing.
We were enjoying this and I hated to cut it short, but the marathon called... Maybe another time.

Curse of the Were-Rabbit (Steve Box & Nick Park - 2005, voiced by Helena Bonham Carter & Ralph Fiennes)
Previously viewed in 2006.
Post-marathon viewing! It was the day afterwards and I was home with the kids since it was a school holiday. I almost never get to watch the whole movie with them (since I'm always making dinner at that time) but I made a point of it with this one. Good thing, too, since G got a little freaked out. He made it further than D did on his first time watching it, though. This is so fun.

Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson - 2008)
Previously viewed in 2009.
This is beautiful and haunting and your heart breaks multiple times watching it. When you're not being horrified by what you're seeing, of course. One of my favorites and an owner.

The Innkeepers (Ti West - 2011)
Nice haunted house/hotel story! Lots of creeps without being too graphic. We ended up breaking this into two nights which is always dangerous, especially with a quiet movie like this one, but the characters felt so real we wanted to see how they would handle things. We'll make a point of looking up his other work now.

The Cat and the Canary (directed by Elliot Nugent, starring Bob Hope - 1939)
A Svengoolie feature.
I love watching Svengoolie movies (Saturday night special at our house) but often don't make it past the first hour... and it's not the movie or the commentary that kills it for me but the commercials. So I fought to make it all the way through but I wanted to see this one, goshdarnit. Bob Hope was a blast and I wanted to be sure our leading lady didn't die (or get declared insane). And who was behind it all? Made it through, well satisfied, and then crawled up to bed.

All Cheerleaders Die (Lucky McKee & Chris Sivertson - 2013)
Awesome campy teenage witch revenge movie. At the end they hint at a second one to come but that hasn't happened yet. Interesting to see how the world has evolved too... a more contemporary look at rape and violence against women then we usually see in horror movies.

Terror Train (Roger Spottiswood - 1980, with Jamie Lee Curtis & David Copperfield)
Bwahahaha... Classic slasher film, before they got completely formulaic. The Dude picked this one up at our local thrift store so I suspect this will move into regular rotation. But nothing compares to the one that birthed them all... John Carpenter's Halloween.

Dial M for Murder (Alfred Hitchcock - 1954, with Grace Kelly)
Another Hitchcock. We picked this one out thinking my parents (who are with us for part of the month) might like to watch it, but they found other things to do. We enjoyed it nonetheless.

Hotel Transylvania (Genndy Tartakovsky - 2012, voiced by Adam Sandler among others)
Previously viewed in 2013.
Oh, this one is just fun. Fun, fun, fun. A little too hip with their musical sequences (those often don't age well, especially when heavy on the Auto-Tune), but I'll see it again. (And most likely, again, and again, and again.)

The Haunting (Robert Wise - 1963)
The Dude found this truly scary. I didn't, but it was certainly interesting enough. By now I've read enough references to the book this was based on, Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, that I kind of feel I need to read that... except I don't. My love of Stephen King aside I don't ever set out to read scary books, it's just that some of them end up being that way...

Re-Animator (Stuart Gordon - 1985)
Oh, so gross. I covered my face a lot with this one. Apparently a cult classic. But I'd rather just watch Peter Jackson's Dead Alive again.

Vampires (John Carpenter - 1998)
We're also working our way through John Carpenter's movies. I've been reading Stephen King's 'Salem's Lot so I watched this with that in mind (also Buffy: Vampire Slayer, it had a very Buffy feel to it). I wouldn't say this was a must-see, and certainly not in my top-five John Carpenter list, but enjoyable.

We've got two more nights to go and lots and lots of choices...

Spookily yours,

Friday, October 16, 2015

Yes, I Am A Marathoner

Well, I've now run a marathon without sufficient training. This is a new experience for me, and one I don't plan to repeat. But a useful experience, I suspect, especially as I continue to contemplate longer distances.

Here's the overview of the race. My memory does get hazy over the last ten miles. But I ran smoothly for 16 miles, and then started taking extra breaks in order to get more fuel in. Only I found it wasn't so easy to get started again... Still, I was able to keep moving well enough through mile 19, and 20, and 21, I think. I do remember thinking about halfway through mile 18 that, wow, I've just run farther than in any of my training runs, and I'm feeling pretty good.

(A side note: I didn't run with my Garmin and instead just checked my watch from time to time. At the halfway mark I was on course to not only break the 5:00 mark but to smash it.)

I don't know exactly when everything started to hurt and I could no longer run more than a few minutes at a time. As I kept going it became harder and harder and I hurt more and more. The pain wasn't localized, as in my last marathon. It was just everywhere. I wasn't tired, I had energy, it just hurt.

I was frustrated that I couldn't think my way into finding strength, as I know it's possible to do and as I have in the past. In hindsight I see that I hadn't planned for this kind of possibility and so hadn't prepared any strategies.

The last two miles came and I checked in with myself, can I push forward? At this point I still could have finished under 5 hours if I'd been able to run more or less consistently. I wanted to. I so wanted to.

But somewhere near the one mile mark I noticed my leg muscles were beginning to spasm. I decided then not to worry about running and just worry about crossing the finish line. I was walking strong when I was walking --- head up, arms moving --- but I know during that last mile I also started grimacing, it was taking so much from me.

At 800 meters to go I gave up on even trying to run --- I wanted to be able to for the last little stretch in and I needed to save my energy for that.

At 400 meters (when we turn and go up the rise) I looked at my watch and saw it read 5:00 on the nose. All along the course the phrase "run your own race" had been with me, courtesy of The Dude, and at that moment, that day, my race was not going to break five hours. So be it.

At 100 meters (when we make that last turn and the finish line is right ahead) I decided by God I was going to cross it running, and I did, but then stopped as soon as I crossed, my legs spasming, and a volunteer rushed over and put her arm around me and walked with me through the finish chute (I think it's about another quarter mile). She asked if this was my first marathon (no), if it was my first one in this heat (no), and then just walked with me while I got water and put an electrolyte tab in (she had to open the bottle for me), and then picked up the food bag and beer and got my medal and picked up a bag of ice (that was a nice touch, I hadn't seen that before). She asked if I wanted my photo taken - Hell no. By the end of finish chute I assured her I would be okay and she left.

I sat down on the side of the curb at that point (you can't stop while in the finish chute), and drank my beer and looked in my food bag to see if there was anything that looked helpful, and iced one area of my legs and then another until I started feeling a little better. Then I got up and walked, stiffly, slowly, to get my gear bag and then I left the park and started home, stopping by a mini-mart on the way to the train to get some snacks a little more palatable than the ones they were offering and some seltzer .

For all the frustrations I had going into this marathon --- with my training, the last days of taper, some of the details of the day, and definitely with my headspace the day before --- I somehow managed not to be too frustrated by the race itself, at least not in the moment. (Later, sure, but that's no surprise.) In fact, my overwhelming feeling was pride. Pride that I had done it. Pride that I hadn't let these frustrations take away my experience of it. Pride that I'd had a good fueling plan and stuck to it. I had the feeling that I owned this marathon in a way I hadn't my previous ones, that it was mine. I would say this is the first time that I really felt like a marathoner.

So I got my medal engraved and I've bought some commemorative swag. And I don't have anything to prove to myself this season still so I'm taking the time I need to properly recover. I have lots of thoughts and ideas about next year and the year after that but I'm not putting anything down on paper (or here) until I feel completely myself again.

But I am so doing this again.

Still resting,

Saturday, October 10, 2015

So, There's This Race Coming Up...

I've done a lot of thinking thus summer about what I want from this marathon and how it might be different from my previous ones. Both of my official attempts were disappointing in one way or the other, although obviously not enough to keep me from trying again! So I've read my previous marathon reports and looked at my old training logs leading up to them, to see what I struggled with and what I wanted to address. It was interesting to see how my memory of them had shifted over time.

In both cases there was some factor out of my immediate control that impacted me. In 2010, it was the heat. In 2013, it was hitting the wall and then pain in my knee.

But in both I did not have a realistic expectation for my time/pace, and that probably had the biggest negative impact on how I went into the day and in my experience of the event. It took some very focused effort in 2013 to change my thinking halfway through and to start enjoying myself.

I started off this year thinking I had a good chance of meeting my ultimate goal for a marathon (sub-4:25). My first break in training came and went (a week in Ohio at the beginning of July) and with it any realistic hopes of meeting that goal. Just because going on that trip gave me time to think about the big-picture goals for my life --- as trips so often do --- and I realized I didn't want to commit to the training I would need to do this year to reach that time, as I have other goals also taking my attention. I still believe that one day I'll be able to reach it, I just think it will take me more than a summer's worth of training to get there.

I wen through July and August feeling good about my mileage, although not necessarily about my speed. At this point I was doing no speed or tempo workouts, just running 6 days a week with progressively higher mileage. I was also not doing any strength training, in part because of ongoing issues with my shoulder, and in part because of lack of time. I was also barely doing any stretching, again for lack of time. Nearly all my runs were early morning ones and I would come home and immediately have to jump in to getting myself and the kids ready for the day.

Then at the end of August we went to Germany for a week, and when we came back the wheels went completely off the track. I had stayed reasonably active while there, so then came back and jumped right back into my previous training without thinking how I might need to recover from the trip itself. (Trips to see family are many things, but they are never restful.) I had my highest ever mileage week, topped off by my 18 mile long run, then gardened like crazy on my "rest" day, then started right back in... and crashed and burned, unable to run with any energy or for longer than a few miles. I thought I would just need a few days of easy running to recover but it ended up being more like two weeks, and by then it was time to taper.

Once I realized I was in serious shape I decided to act as if I didn't have a marathon coming up. Easy runs at first, more stretching, putting back some easy strength and core training... all the stuff I've not been doing this summer but really needed to have kept up with. And eventually I started feeling more like myself again and thinking I might be able to do this.

But not quickly. And, I think, without any time goal.

Of course I have hopes. I do really want to break 5 hours, since I haven't managed to do it yet and every time I've expected to. Allowing for at least one porta-pottie break (with wait to get in), that would require an average 11:15 pace. And really I'd like to maintain an 11:00 pace. Looking at my long runs, that's not an unrealistic goal. So it's certainly reasonable to hope for that. (Though with the temperatures forecast to be in the mid-70s, that turns an 11:00 pace into... an 11:15 one.)

But weighing against those time goals are three memories. Three good ones, not just the memories of what it's like to run with just a time goal in mind. (It sucks, at least at that distance.)

The first is of the one marathon that was "successful". My birthday challenge from last year. I took lots of walk breaks, going by distance and feel, rather than time. I refueled constantly. And I had no expectations about time. The result? No wall. No pain. I felt amazing during the last six miles. I could have done more. (In retrospect I wish I had, just to have broken that 50K mark for myself.)

The second is from that 2013 marathon, once I gave up on time. I started to really enjoy myself, looking around more and enjoying the sights and sounds of the city turned out to support us. When I hit the wall and had to start walking, I told myself, "Well then, I'm going to walk with pride." I put on some good tunes, gave high fives, smiled at everyone, waved at the kids. Then when I got tired of walking ("Man, it will take me a long time to finish this way!") I just ran when I could, taking in the love and giving it out.

And the last one is a more recent memory. On my last long run I left the house in a downpour, so I didn't have my iPod out for most of the run and it was just me and my thoughts, for hours. Somewhere around mile 15 I thought, "This is a journey." And it was kind of a mind-blowing vision. I know this is a cliche in running circles... and this was definitely fueled by exhaustion... but I had never felt it so clearly before. And I wondered, what would it be like to run the actual marathon with that as my focus.

So, as before, my desire to meet a time goal is warring with my desire to just run this and see what happens (and leave the time goals for shorter distances). My better self knows which one is right for me.

I've counted my carbs and mapped out my fueling. I'm prepared to take as many walk breaks as necessary, especially as it gets hotter. And I'm leaving my Garmin at home and will just wear my kids' Timex. I'll set the timer function so I can have a general idea of the time but otherwise strive to not focus on it. And try to take it all in...

Good travels, friends,

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Changing Lives, One at a Time: Chicago Lights Elam Davies Social Service Center

There's one more program in the Chicago Lights family that I want to talk about here, the Elam Davies Social Service Center.

Chicago Lights Elam Davies Social Service Center (EDSSC) meets basic human needs while working with partner agencies to support persons on their journey toward greater stability and self-sufficiency. Its services include case management, a food pantry, clothing assistance, housing assistance, job-readiness training, street outreach, and support groups. With the exception of the food pantry, there are no geographic boundaries or eligibility requirements. Their goal is to serve all neighbors with dignity and respect.
This program has changed so much in the fifteen years that I've been working for Fourth Church. Back then it primarily addressed the immediate needs of the men and women who came through --- clothing, food, emergency transportation --- and did so out of a couple of dark, cramped rooms of the church basement. They're still in the basement but have now taken over the whole wing, and the space is bright, colorful, and cheerful. And the focus now includes addressing long-term issues of homelessness and poverty, both on an individual basis, and through legal advocacy at the state level. In particular, their case management program works with each guest individually to assist them in addressing their particular needs, from obtaining legal identification to learning how to budget. They also have a street outreach program now, going out to deliver needed basic-care items and to encourage the folks they encounter to come in to the EDSSC for help with housing.

Here's a sampling of what contributions can bring:

  • $25 can provide a birth certificate and new ID card for a guest applying for jobs or housing, or a new outfit for a guest interviewing for multiple job opportunities.
  • $50 can provide 50 sets of hand warmers to distribute to those on the streets in winter, or 40 winter hats, or 8 weeks of fresh produce.
  • $100 can provide 100 pairs of reading glasses, or 4 application fees for single room occupancy apartments, or a month's worth of unlimited public transportation for a guest to find and keep employment.
  • $1000 can provide an apartment application fee, first month's rent, and security deposit for a guest in low-income housing.

It's been amazing to see how this program has changed over the years. They truly are changing lives, one at a time.

In five days time I'll be running 26.2 miles in honor and support of the amazing people --- staff, volunteers, students, and guests --- who are involved with Chicago Lights. You can read about the other programs here and here... you can contribute here (and if you do so know that I will bake something for every pledge of $45 or more)... and you can track me by signing up here (under Anne Ellis, bib 30659).

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Chicago Lights: CLASS and Free Write Programs

Today I want to tell you about two programs of Chicago Lights that I hold especially dear: CLASS (Chicago Lights Academic Success in Schools) and Free Write Jail Arts. Here are brief descriptions from their website:
Chicago Lights Academic Success in Schools (CLASS) supports learning and creative self-expression through fine arts programs for students in under-resourced schools. Throughout the school year professional artists teach drama and dance classes which uncover talents, build self-esteem and confidence, and increase students' desire to apply themselves in school. Courses are offered during the school day and are integral to students’ learning process. The curriculum is closely linked to state standards and includes detailed assessments.
Chicago Lights Free Write Jail Arts and Literacy at Nancy B. Jefferson School (Free Write) provides the only one-to-one literacy tutoring available to more than 400 youth incarcerated in the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. Free Write seeks to reduce recidivism and help students find meaningful pathways to self-expression and further education through daily writing and arts workshops.
Some of you reading this blog may not know that I have an MA in Expressive Therapies with a focus on art. Basically, these are forms of therapy that take the arts --- visual, music, dance, drama, poetry --- as the form of expression, as opposed to traditional psychotherapy. Different therapists and different client groups may rely more or less on speech as well, but all share the conviction that the arts can be used as (or inherently are) healing modalities --- that art can heal.

Although in the end I decided not to work in this field, I fervently believe in the healing power of art. So I was excited when I first came across Chicago Lights and heard about the work of these two programs. Typically, in Chicago an "under-resourced school" also means that it stands in a poor neighborhood - and violence and generational poverty are epidemic in these areas. The youth in the Juvenile Detention Center are also overwhelmingly from these neighborhoods. Living in these places is inherently a traumatic experience, because even if your family is intact, even if you have somehow managed to avoid direct personal contact with any kind of violence, there is no way to avoid witnessing it, to avoid knowing people who have experienced it. And the effects even just of witnessing trauma on the young are well documented. (If you want to learn more about it, I recommend this manual created for people working with children - it's easy to read and thorough.) Art can be a force in addressing this trauma, both directly --- as in the brave writing of the Free Write students --- and indirectly.

And, of course, I think the arts should be a vital part of every students' education. Never mind all the benefits they supposedly confer on kids' abilities to learn other things --- I'm sure that's all true, but I think they are of value to us, just because. (We're sending our kids to a school with an arts focus, so you know I feel seriously about this.) Oh, but these schools, being "under-resourced", are of course lacking in arts programming, as that's usually the first thing to go when resources start getting tight.

So, for all this and more, I am grateful to Chicago Lights for placing the arts front and center in their programming. Their students' lives are richer and more hopeful for doing so.

You can donate to Chicago Lights through my campaign. Right now I'm $375 from my final goal of $1500.00 and amazed and honored by the support people have shown. I have a whole lot of cookies to start baking! (Because of my pledge to bake for anyone donating $45 or more.) And of course most of those will be going to the Sunday Night Supper hosted by Chicago Lights Elam Davies Social Service Center (I'll be writing about them next week) --- most people have wanted their cookies to go to that supper rather than their personal pantries.

With gratitude,