Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Kind Of Like Covering Your Eyes But Still Peeking Through Your Fingers

I'm currently immersed in my novel-writing and it is wonderful, yes: fascinating, exciting, affirming. It is also sometimes overwhelming and occasionally scary. Scary because I feel so much about what I'm doing - lots of different emotions to deal with - can I hold them all and keep working? Keep going about the rest of my life?

I now have more compassion for previous times in my life when I stopped working on various projects. I had not yet developed the stamina I have now, the mental/spiritual fortitude to keep going or to stand firm in the face of fear or the tumult of other emotions. And the certainty, learned from experience, that no, I will not actually fall apart, though it might feel that way sometimes. I also didn't have the repertoire of little tricks I now have to just keep going regardless...

While there are frustrations in never feeling I have the time I want, in some ways it is also a... blessing? My moments of creative exertion are hard fought for, carefully guarded, and occasionally thwarted, but they are also short. I barely have time to get itchy and fearful before my timer goes off and I need to take care of the next thing. I tell myself these short intervals are training for someday managing longer ones. (I pray someday there will be longer ones.) Of course these short bits also mean I have to be ready to jump on them when they arrive. Go!

One of my nicknames at home is "one-track Annie". This refers to my ability to never forget what I was going on about in the face of interruptions. I can file away a phrase, an idea, a feeling I need to explore and then come back to it when I need to or when the opportunity presents itself. What can be an irritating conversational habit that I need to guard against (hence the nickname - it wasn't a compliment) is proving essential in moving my story forward. (It's also very handy when parenting small children - they have honed this skill in me to a razor's edge.)

I'll tell you, this writing stuff, it's a trip, for sure.

Composedly (ha!),
Annie


Friday, December 16, 2016

Learning Spanish

I've started learning Spanish again, using online lessons from Duolingo, supplemented by word-of-the-day emails and grammar essays from SpanishDict, and general attempts to read and understand things around me.

I've wanted to learn Spanish for a long time, mostly out of a sense of "this is something I should do" as the U.S. becomes more bilingual - especially after moving to our neighborhood, it just seems the neighborly thing to do, at least if we really want to be part of it. But now that I've started studying it more consistently, and am seeking out material that I can "read"*, I am falling in love with it on its own.

Previous attempts to learn on my own didn't last, but the online classes make a huge difference. I'm forced to write and to listen, and there are all the little behavioral tricks that feel kind of stupid but really do work - collecting points, maintaining daily streaks, moving up levels. Their algorithms note when I've made mistakes and give those words to me again. And because it's just me and a computer I don't mind making mistakes so I just plunge onward. I'd be a bit bored if this were it but that's why I'm supplementing with my own reading and music.

I had a moment the other day that confirmed how I've been doing this. I've been reading books (fiction) by immigrants or the children of immigrants**, stuff written in English but with Spanish words and phrases as well. Nothing you can't get from context or that's essential or that isn't explained in some way, so it's not necessary to understand it. But still, it would be nice to. And there was a sentence in Spanish that I just... understood. There was no cognitive shift of, oh, this is in Spanish so now I'm translating. No, I just read it. And then I realized what had happened and that was so cool.

My goals have now changed around my learning, now I really want to be able to read literature in Spanish, rather than just have grocery store conversation.

And for those of you wondering how am I managing to fit yet another thing in to my day - 1) I study on my lunch break or on the train, and 2) you may have noticed that I'm not on Facebook much anymore.

¡Hasta la vista!
Annie

* I've found bilingual editions of various poets, most awesomely a volume of 20th-century Latin American poetry which gives a really broad range of voices and themes. Children's books are good too, particularly those I already know in English. And I went ahead and got myself a bilingual Bible. Seeking out stuff I would want to read anyway.

** For example: Sandra Cisneros, Junot Díaz, Cristina Henríquez, Esmeralda Santiago. I'm open to suggestions!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

In The Interest Of Full Transparency

Well, gosh, after those admiring comments on my last post, I have to come clean and say that I have NOT managed to soldier on in the face of work needs and plunging temperatures, neither last week not this.

Whenever I post goals or set expectations for myself here, it's always coming from my most aspirational self. What I'm able to do when life doesn't get in the way. (Travel, illness - mine or the kids, work, weather.) Honestly, I usually only manage what I'm hoping for about two weeks of the month.

And this month is no exception. Last week and this one are two of my busiest in my work year, so I've been trading some of my running time in the mornings for writing instead, and just running enough to keep me on an even keel. And then I'll be traveling at the end of the month...

I won't say that the cold and dark and snow/ice doesn't make it an easier decision...

7 degrees was just a wee bit too much this morning,
Annie

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

November Training

I started off the month with higher weekly mileage and a couple of 12 mile runs but then ended up re-evaluating my goals (more writing, less running). The stomach bug proved a useful "reset", making it easier for me to drop back on both the length of my runs and my overall mileage.

(And the combination of cold and dark helps with that as well - I can get myself out when it's cold and I can get myself out when it's dark, but it's awfully hard to face both that early in the morning.)

Looking over my training journal I am happy to see that I have managed to be consistent in rebuilding my strength/speed training over the last two months, managing 1-2 sessions each week. I'm going to need to get faster if I'm going to keep up with my 8-year-old, at least for another year or two (and only over longer distances).

I'll start training more seriously for the Soldier Field 10M at the end of February, I know from past experience I can only stay focused on training for at most three months. I was about to write that serious marathon training will start in June, but who am I kidding? With all the many changes in my schedule that come with summer and then the start of school, I'll be pleased if I can keep my mileage up and get enough long runs in to feel confident that day. An October marathon just hits at the wrong time for me to be able to seriously train for it. And that's okay. This is to raise money for Chicago Lights and for the fun of doing the Chicago Marathon again, not to try to prove anything to myself. At least that's what I'm going to keep telling myself. If I repeat it often enough maybe I'll manage to train that way too.

Training sensibly (or trying to),
Annie

So, a "normal" week for me right now is 24-28 miles, with one long run of 8-10 miles and one workout comprised of hill repeats, a tempo section, or speed intervals. This week is a busy one at work so I cut back to 4 runs, but a couple of those are a bit longer than usual to keep my overall mileage within that range.



Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Dawning Of A New Era

On Thanksgiving, we ran a 5K turkey Trot, and by we, I mean ALL of us. It was the boys' first 5K, and they did great. I was so proud of them both.

We started all together and then D and I took off while The Dude stayed with G. I let D lead the pace though I pulled us back just a bit - he's very fast but doesn't yet have the experience of running longer distances at speed. (He's covered this distance before but only on slow runs with the Dude.) But even though I could tell he was working hard he stayed at it, only taking a few short walk breaks now and then. As we came up to the finish line I gave him permission to go ahead (along with a couple of notes on race finish etiquette) and he took off!


I'd been a bit worried about G as he'd never done anywhere near this distance before, not running, so we looked for them once we turned at the halfway mark. We saw them, G was sprinting ahead and then walking and The Dude was trying to keep up with him on the sprints... G is getting to be quite fast as well. They were both beaming.

And here they are crossing the finish line as well.
It was a beautiful day for it, cold but bright, and a great first family race. I'm hoping we have a new tradition.

And then there's the Ravenswood Run in the spring!

Proud mama,
Annie

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Writing Life

It's been about a year and a half since I started writing more seriously, and I thought I'd give an update on what I've been working on, especially since you all don't see any of it here.

I started one novel and laid it down. (I couldn't see my way forward at the time but have had some ideas since then.)

I then directed much of my attention on poetry, along with more focused journaling (with an eye to using more of it in some way, some day).

And then I surprised myself by starting a new novel (requiring lots of research, alas). So the poetry is stepping back for now.

It's a continuous struggle for time, a tug of war between running and writing. I need both. I'm still trying to figure out what's the minimum I need with both so that I have a better idea of how to flex when things get busy. I suspect my ultra plans will be suspended for a while, again.

Have I mentioned that I'm slow at both? I would find it funny if it wasn't simultaneously so frustrating. My output is severely hampered by my lack of speed, and I have SO MANY things I want to do with both.

Well, I suppose it's the doing that's most important.

One page, one foot in front of the other,
Annie


Saturday, November 19, 2016

Some Words I Have Found Useful

My current non-fiction book is Audre Lorde's Sister Outsider. I'm only a few essays in and have already found some gems I want to print out and pin up for constant remembering...


The quality of light by which we scrutinize our lives has direct bearing upon the product which we live, and upon the changes we hope to bring about through those lives.
As we learn to bear the intimacy of scrutiny and to flourish within it, as we learn to use the products of that scrutiny for power within our living, those fears which rule our lives and form our silences begin to lose their control over us.
What are the words you do not yet have? What do you need to say?
We can learn to work and speak when we are afraid in the same way we have learned to work and speak when we are tired.

And then, from Seth Godin's blog posts of the last week or so:


The memories we rehearse are the ones we live with

...Lots of people have had similar experiences, but none of them are telling themselves quite the same story about it as you are.
Over time, the story is rehearsed... And so the story becomes our memory, the story gets rehearsed ever more, and the story becomes the thing we tell ourselves the next time we need to make a choice.
If your story isn't helping you, work to rehearse a new story instead.
Because it's our narrative that determines who we will become.

Sometimes, the wind is at our back, the resources are easily acquired and good karma increases our ability to do great work.
Sometimes. 
Other times, it feels like we're up against it, that the wind has shifted, that there's not a lot of opportunity or momentum.
It's in those times that, "what are you working on?" becomes a vital question, a lifeline to get us from here to there...
We each have a platform, access to tools, a change we'd like to make in the world around us. We each have a chance to connect, to see, to lead.
And it's not, at least right now, fun or easy. It might not even seem like you've got a shot, or that the wind is too harsh.
Persist. It matters.


It's fun to imagine what we'd do if we had a magic wand...
They stopped making magic wands a millenia ago.
Now that you know that there are no magic wands, a better question is probably:
What do you care enough about that you're prepared to expose yourself to fear, risk and hard work to get?


And today's soundtrack is brought to us by Ms. Sharon Jones, may she rest in peace.

Annie

(My apologies for the messed up fonts... nothing I was doing was making them uniform - in fact, all my efforts were only making it worse. I've given up.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Phooey

I've been sick. No, seriously, some kind of stomach bug that G picked up first and that D and I then succumbed to over the weekend. He's mostly bounced back but I can't seem to shake it - or maybe now I have a sinus infection? Either way I have headaches when I don't usually and a fatigue I can't sleep off (perhaps also because I'm not sleeping well). I'd like to just curl up for a couple of days with romance novels.

Only I have small children who need tending and a job that has entered into another busy time of year and oh, yes, our own holiday/birthday planning that needs attention. And figuring out what I can do in the aftermath of the election.

I am trying to be gentle with myself (and not go on Facebook) and hold on to what gives me strength and peace these days. A lot of Macklemore & Ryan, it seems. And Beyonce. And a new one: Kate Tempest.

Some M&R videos below - clean versions are also available out there (but these hella ain't).

Thrift Shop
Same Love
White Privilege II

"America the brave still fears what we don't know."

Peace -
Annie

Friday, November 11, 2016

What Now

I am upset. I am disappointed, and ashamed. I can't say I am surprised, though, and that saddens me too. I could imagine this day too well in the weeks leading up to this one - especially after Brexit - I just hoped it would be otherwise.

So what now? Continue to move on in the anti-racism and pro-immigration work I have already committed to, at work and in my own life. Learn Spanish, finally. Be more explicit about my own LGBTQ status. Make more visible my support for all who have reason to fear.

And take the long view, as best I can.

Annie

*Jezebel has published a list of "pro-women, pro-immigrant, pro-earth, anti-bigotry organizations" to consider supporting. I will be using it to expand my knowledge and giving.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Albany Park Love

I wasn't going to write about the election. The campaign has made me so tired, so upset. I'm glad it will be over soon (or will it?) and yet I'm also anxious about what will come next.

But I got up and was at my polling place* before they officially opened - there was already a line - and voted. And I thought today might be a good day to share some reflections on our neighborhood, on why I love this place and this city.

We were taking the bus home from D's soccer game earlier this month, and I thought about how both his team and that bus were a mix of language, race, and class. This wasn't a surprise to me, every place I go in my particular corner of the city is like that. And I love it. It's what feels like home. It's what I imagine a city should feel like.

Not that Chicago always does, we keep hearing about how it's one of the most segregated cities in America. Demographically, Chicago is almost equally black, white, and Latinx, but you wouldn't know it from mainstream papers or the TV, and I suspect that many of us who call ourselves white have a hard time really believing it.

But a city should be like the world, yes? In these days of travel and migration, a city should be a jambalaya of cultures, each with its own taste, texture, and bite, but all part of a glorious whole. Not a melting pot - that was an idea only ever meant for European immigrants anyway - but a dim sum of abundance, joyously overflowing. Nature is rich - over 6 billion organisms in a teaspoon of dirt, an acre of land teems with life (yes, even in the city) - so why shouldn't our streets be too?

A few days' stay in a man-made corner of a northern state this summer - comprised of hotels, shopping centers, and chain restaurants, barely a person of color in sight - left me gasping and dizzy until I was back on my streets again, awash in flags, veils, music, and color, breathing it all in, steady in the flow.

This is what makes America great. This is the future I vote for. And this is the future I will work for, whatever the results of this election.

With uncertainty and sadness,
Annie

* This is the pool hall where we vote. Not the best place for voting - it's awkward getting around inside and The Dude was already reporting problems at 6:30 a.m. - but how can you not love it.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Scary Movie Month 2016 - #2

Well, Scary Movie Month is officially over for this year (although we have a couple of movies from Netflix still to watch and return).

No more Buffy - the few nights that were not about the Cubs were all about movies, since I very much wanted to fit a few more in.

Movies watched:

"Christine" (1983 - John Carpenter)
     This was surprisingly good. I mean, it's about a possessed car, I wasn't expecting much. But it turned out to be much more about the car's effect on its owner and how he is changed. Hint: it's totally a metaphor for addiction.

"The Man Who Knew Too Much" (1956 - Alfred Hitchcock)
     This is his remake of his own movie, with James Stewart (being very Jimmy Stewart) and Doris Day. Ooo, so suspenseful. Almost too much so - we had to break it up into two nights for length, and I very nearly didn't want to see the second half since it had had me so much on pins and needles. But I made it through. It is a movie very much of its time in regards to women and Muslims, so that was a little hard at first, but then the action moved back to London and Doris was on more equal footing so I could shut up the internal critic and just allow myself to get sucked in.
     This wasn't my favorite of his movies but they're always worth watching.

"American Werewolf in London" (1981 - John Landis)
     This was my third time watching it and it just keeps getting better and better. I still get scared at the same points but I see more and more with each viewing (how it's put together, what it's drawing from, that sort of thing). And heart-breaking, just like the original wolf man movie (it follows the same structure).

With the kids:

"Young Frankenstein" (1974 - Mel Brooks)
     I love this movie - I just so enjoy the humor and the interplay between the actors - but the kids were not much impressed by it. It's also a bit baudy for their age, I was glad they couldn't follow along entirely.

"The Wolfman" (1941 - George Waggner)
     I don't find this an easy movie to watch (I prefer "American Werewolf in London") - I don't like the Lon Chaney character at the beginning, and there just isn't any way out for the characters. We're meant to identify with the monster - the other characters are all rooting for the person who is the monster as well - and in the end the only possible way is to kill the monster. So then what? Just an ache.

I've had a couple of conversations this month with people who told me they can't watch anything scary. I have conversations like this every year. And what I tell people is that I can barely stand to watch scary things either. I spend a fair bit of this month every year with my hands in front of my eyes, listening for the musical cues to tell me when it's safe to look. But there's so much to these films that it's worth it. Many of the movies we see are excellent compared against anything else you might watch, and as a genre I find it fascinating to think about what each movie is telling us about society's fears at that time. And now that I've seen enough of them I can see the conversations happening in-between various movies, how one will quote another, or amplify it, or argue with it. I find this month more and more rewarding every year. Even when I can't actually look at the screen.

May your dreams be peaceful (not all of mine were this month!) and your nights undisturbed -
Annie

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Maybe Now I Can Sleep

THE CUBS WON THE WORLD SERIES!!!!!

Okay, now I need a week's worth of naps.

Still stunned,
Annie

Thursday, October 27, 2016

What I've Been Getting Up Early For

Well to run, obviously, but why? And why so early, to run quite so far?

Well, I've decided that 2017 is the year for my first ultra - a 50K in fact. The exact date hasn't been set yet, but if this group holds true to form, it will be the second Saturday in April, so April 8, 2017. My official training plan starts next week but I've been preparing to start it over the last two months, increasing my weekly mileage to 30-35 miles per week and getting in a midweek mid-distance run. And working on my core!

I've wanted to run an ultra for a long time - like, ever since I started running, about 18 years ago. And I just kind of figure if not now, then when? Especially since at some point I'd like to do some of the multi-stage events - it will take me a while to work up to those in knowledge needed, not just running.

Then that opens up the fall for me to rejoin the Chicago Lights Marathon Team! It's the 40th anniversary of the Chicago Marathon so charity recruitment has already started. I'm excited to run it again with my team.

I'll be posting more frequently about my training and the whole adventure of going ultra - it'll be a trip, I'm sure. In so many ways.

Stiff and sore today but loving it,
Annie

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

There They Are

I heard them before I saw them. Two geese, honking in the cold early hours. The sound came from below me, so I looked over the railing to the river - all darkness, the trees on the shore seeming to melt into the water, except for the steam rising from the surface.

At first I couldn't see them, and then they honked again and I saw the smear of their bellies reflecting bright against the surface of the water, the steam making space as their bodies slipped through, black shadows indistinguishable from the water except where defined by their edges.

And then they slipped under the bridge and I ran on, looking up at the stars and across to the awakening lights of the city.

Breathlessly,
Annie

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Night People

An unexpected pleasure of running in the early morning are the people I encounter at that time (weekdays). Some are regulars:

  • The older Latina woman, her hair in thick braids, out in all weather, walking with effort but energy and purpose, and greeting everyone she encounters;
  • The sporty/outdoorsy white woman my age with her golden lab, looking like she takes no nonsense from anyone, whom I often see in the park with her friends (and their dogs) but sometimes also on the street on the way;
  • The Italian gentleman walking alongside the park from the other direction - we say hi but he doesn't seem to recognize me if I run into him elsewhere in the neighborhood;
  • My next-door neighbor at the bus stop, waiting for her bus - she doesn't seem to recognize me out of context either or maybe her coffee just hasn't kicked in yet.

Then there are others who I may or may not have seen before but we recognize each other as fellow early morning denizens - waiting for the bus, or on their way to school or work.

There are a few other runners out there that early. The mixed-gender pairs will usually greet me. There's an older gentleman I see closer to sunrise, a very serious runner, who gives me a tight nod. Women in pairs are usually talking to each other and the young women on their own are usually very serious with their gaze fixed firmly ahead, whether or not they wear headphones (and too many of them wear headphones).

Then there are the people at work already. Bus drivers and trash collectors - I wave at them as we pass by. The construction workers for the new Aldi going up. The bakery on the other side of our block is already open, light spilling out into the street and people driving up to grab their coffee and breakfast. There are a few gyms and a dance studio on my longer route and depending on when I pass they may be open, all glass and mirrors and determination. Islands of light at the gas station corners and 7-11s. And the food carts as I head back into Albany Park, on my last blocks before home.

A whole secret world out there in the morning, still and hushed.

Quietly,
Annie

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Keeping Safe In The Wee Hours

I am careful heading out into the dark streets, morning after morning. The dangers are different than those I faced running at night on dark country roads, twenty years ago in Western Massachusetts. There my main fear was getting hit by a car, since I was running on the shoulder of the road (no sidewalks). I still protect against that with shoe lights, and all my running gear has some kind of reflective surface as well, but most of the streets I run on are well lit, even at night, and I make sure to cross at crosswalks. So here it's mostly about protecting myself against other people.

I do all the usual sensible stuff. I don't wear headphones. I don't run in parks when it's dark. I stay where it's well lit, I run on streets that have some traffic passing by and preferably a bus route as well. I avoid areas with too many vacant buildings. I carry my phone. In case of an "in case", I wear an ID wristband.

And I say close attention to my "Spidey-sense". If a stretch doesn't feel right - even if it's a stretch I'm familiar with and run at other times - I don't go there. It's amazing how different a section of street can feel at 5:30 a.m. on a Saturday, rather than on a weekday, when it's already starting to wake up with people by that time. The weekend streets have a very different feel until the sun is closer to rising.

Daylight savings is in a couple of weeks and for once I'm looking forward to it. It's already dark now when we pick up the kids so what does it matter if it's dark an hour earlier - but it will make a difference to me in the morning.

Carefully,
Annie

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Scary Movie Month 2016 - #1

Regardless of whatever else I might want to post about, I would be remiss if I didn't report on this year's Scary Movie Month.

It's been a bit of a slow month this year. Playoff games have gotten in the way (Go Cubs!) and other days we've just been tired. The kids have gotten into it this year, though, so all of their movies have been "scary".

Movies seen:

"Buffy The Vampire Slayer" (original movie 1992 - Joss Whedon)
     A great way to start off the month. There's so much to love about this as long as you keep in mind that it should not be compared with the TV series - they are completely different beasts. One of my favorite details - she knows the vampires are around because she gets wicked cramps.

"Cooties" (2015 - Jonathan Millot)
     Gross. Blood-thirsty zombie children terrorize their teachers. Hard to get excited about children (even zombie children) being killed in gross ways. Peter Jackson got away with this in "Dead Alive" because the zombie babies were so clearly just puppets (I'm not even sure that they died, either.)

"A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors" (1987 - Chuck Russell)
     Okay, I actually liked this. The children of the people who killed Freddy Krueger are being haunted (and killed) by him through their dreams. Creepy and disturbing, but as much for how the children are treated/believed by the adults around them as for the actual haunting. A good horror movie should always make you think about more than just the story being presented, and this one did.

Dawn of the Dead (2004 - Zack Snyder)
     Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, so scary. And so good. I've seen the original and liked it but I thought this one was much more serious and immediate.

"House" (1977 - Nobuhiko Obayashi)
     This was apparently a cult hit in Japan at the time. Schoolgirls go to visit an long-estranged relative and get eaten by the house. Visually there was a lot of interesting stuff going on, so I enjoyed that. Overall it didn't seem to cohere as a story, though I'm sure I lost a lot in translation.

Movies partially seen:

"Scanners" (1981 - David Cronenberg)
     Significant to The Dude because there's a scene where someone's head explodes (from psychic waves) that has been referenced in numerous ways. Once we saw this part, though, it failed to keep our interest, mostly because none of the characters were particularly sympathetic or interesting.

"Monolith Monsters" (1957 - John Sherwood)
     This was a Svengoolie movie. To be honest, I don't know the last time I saw a Svengoolie movie all the way through. The commercials and endless schtick wear me out, and then most of the time The Dude wants to see the opening monologue for Saturday Night Live so we end up switching over then if not just turning it off before. I think I'd be a lot more likely to see these if I could just watch them straight through.

Movies seen with the kids:

"Nightmare Before Christmas" (1993 - David Selick, Tim Burton)
     A perennial favorite. And now the music is stuck in all of our heads.

"ParaNorman" (2012 - Chris Butler)
    A Laika production (they also produced this summer's "Kubo and the Two Strings" which was magnificant). Some great little tributes to classic horror movies which are nice to catch. But mostly, this is a really moving movie. I can't not cry.

"Pirates of the Caribbean" (2003 - Gore Verbinski)
     Surprisingly good, given that the core concept is an amusement park ride. Long, though, and after a while I stopped trying to keep track of what was going on. The kids loved it (except for the one kiss - ewwww!)

"Corpse Bride" (2005 - Tim Burton)
     I liked this (especially the musical/dance numbers), but it's a bit slow to start, and I had to keep pausing to explain certain things to the kids.

"E.T. The Extra-Terrestial" (1982 - Steven Spielberg)
     The kids claimed this was not scary but their behavior belied this. Just as good as the last time I saw it... and the time before...


So how have we been making up for our lack of movies? Buffy! The TV series, that is. We meant to watch our "missing season" (Season 3 - missing because I mostly watched this on  my own during late night colic sessions when D was an infant). But it's been so long since we've seen this that we decided to go ahead and start again from the beginning. It's perfect for those nights when we want to watch something "scary" but don't want to stay up as late or split a movie in half. And well, it's just Buffy. What can I say?

I've also been reading some stuff fitting to the season but I'll write about those another time.

Happy Halloween!
Annie


Thursday, October 13, 2016

Grateful

It was a rough summer.

It was a rough summer, and it's only recently that I feel we've gotten through it, though some things linger on...

Some of it was the usual craziness of scheduling with two kids - and next year we plan to do less of it - and some of it was family drama (not mine) - and that goes on. And other stuff as well.

Oh, and police shootings and coastal floodings and immigrant/Muslim/refugee bashing and heat waves beyond what has been recorded before. Zika in Brazil - no, now Puerto Rico, now Miami. (Oh, and now Haiti is being hit with cholera - yet again.) My head was swimming a lot of the time.

I find it hard to write about the things I sorrow over, or struggle with, or haven't managed to come to a conclusion on, along with all the random scraps of interesting, exciting, curious, even joyous things that come my way. My head is a very busy place, much of the time, and I am always seeking out still more.

At one point in the summer I made a gratitude list, so I would have something to post about. (Except as you know, I didn't.) I reviewed it recently, and while much seems outdated (I did a lot of writing in coffee shops this summer, for example, so there are a number of items related to that), some things remain constant. I thought I might share some of them in the days ahead.

I do want to learn how to write (here, not just in poems) about the things that trouble me, or puzzle me, and some of the connections that I find as I range around the world, via other people's words.

But for right now, I want to share with you one of the things that lifts up my heart, day after day: running in the early morning. To see the sky turn from a clear star-dotted black to a soft velvet deep deep blue (I swear the texture of the sky changes in these moments) and then as it goes through various changes as the sun rises, dependent on cloud cover and where I'm headed... it never fails to astonish and enchant me, invigorate and strengthen me. And I get to experience this over and over again. For this I am grateful.

With a deep love for the world and all that is in it,
Annie

Friday, September 23, 2016

Suckered In

It's possible that it's a bad idea to go to Barnes & Noble on payday when it's also Members' Double-Discount Day.

Somehow these are coming home with me:

I used to have the individual issues but got overwhelmed at how long the series was going on for...
but I've missed it! So this reissue in omnibus form was a nice surprise.*
I'm closing in on the final volumes of the parent series, Fables - so, time to start the spin-off, yes?
Plus she's shooting arrows from horseback.

I have no excuse. It just looks like fun (classic DC female superheros reimagined).
I can justify it - sort of - by knowing that The Dude will read this one too.
I did have a legitimate excuse for going in there - I needed to buy a sports book for a kid's birthday tomorrow. (Not my kid, a friend of his.) And I gave in and got a B&N membership earlier this year because I realized I was just deluding myself to think I don't get that many books and magazines there in a year to make it worthwhile. It's the only bookstore near me at work (and has a pretty good graphic novel and kids' selection). I try to visit my independent bookstores as much as possible but my experience has been that I can't count on finding exactly what I'm looking for - such as the perfect sports book for an eight-year-old. (I found a great one for him, by the way).

Not that I don't have enough to read already...
Annie

* Pumpkin Mommy, there was a Korean manga I used to read that you had recommended... do you remember the name of it? Also, there was a very dream-like one I read, something to do with the moon, possibly a wolf or fox-demon in it too, any idea what that might be? I purged my bookshelves of these a long time ago, before I started my reading journal.

** Oh, it was Crescent Moon. God bless Google.

*** Antique Bakery! That's the Korean one. And apparently there's a movie based on it too. But I can't get it on Netflix and don't need to own it, so I guess I won't be seeing it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Takes My Breath Away

Such an amazing sky this morning. The clouds were moving rapidly as the sun was rising so every time I looked things had changed, layers of layers of different kinds of clouds sliding over each other in every color, no matter where I looked. I was afraid I might trip, all I wanted was to look up and watch the grand show.

At this time in the year all my runs start off in the dark and soon they will return in the dark as well. So I am grateful every day I get to go out and watch the skies change as sunrise approaches. And I am grateful as well, again and again, that I get to go out and run in the mornings. Every day I do I get to go on a journey, exploring the world and seeing what's new. And then I come home to a house slightly stirring, and I look forward to the day and to the next run.

I live a good life,
Annie

Monday, September 12, 2016

Been Seeing This A Lot Lately

And just came across it again, so thought I'd post:

Not everything that is faced can be changed,
but nothing can be changed until it is faced.
~ James Baldwin

I just started reading him last year, first excerpts as reported in Brain Pickings, and then a collection of interviews and most recently Notes of a Native Son. It's a little spooky (and very sad) that so much of what he describes still appears to be exactly the same.

I read a news report this morning that there's a fundraising campaign starting to turn his residence in southern France into an artists' colony. I loved my one visit to southern France and have wanted to go back - that would make an excellent reason.

Busy reading,
Annie

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

More Chicago Wildlife

Last Saturday, on my  run, I saw this animal:


at this park:


and was so floored by seeing a coyote so close, in the middle of a busy neighborhood (and very close to a major intersection), that I had to tell the first person I encountered. Except it was 5:30 in the morning and no one was on the sidewalk but me so I waved at a work crew stopped at the nearest stop sign like a crazy lady, saying "Did you see the coyote?"

It had been stalking one of the black squirrels that live in that park but when I shouted it shook itself and moved away about five feet (so still only 20 feet away from me) and then trotted parallel to me most of the rest of the park. I saw another person in the park cross its path, look at it, do a double-take, then a triple-take, and nearly trip on some broken concrete. After a while the coyote spotted another squirrel and started to stalk it and I continued on and lost sight. For another quarter-mile I kept looking for anyone who might be going that way so I could share the news but everyone I passed had headphones on and was looking very serious so I didn't bother.

Apparently there are LOTS of coyotes living in Chicago (you can Google this) and we just don't see them because unlike suburban or rural coyotes, urban ones have learned to be solely nocturnal, and curl up and hide when people are out. So I just happened to be up early enough that day to get lucky. Also, unlike the stories you hear about coyotes out West preying on pets, Chicago coyotes mostly eat songbirds, squirrels, and rabbits (of which we have a lot this year).

A very cool start to the day.

Breathlessly,
Annie

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Another Year at Pitchfork

Pitchfork (an outdoor music festival in Chicago) started out this year as a somewhat frustrating experience for me. We didn't arrange for a sitter soon enough so ended up bringing the kids with us. We'd brought them before and it had been okay, but never for acts we were especially eager to hear. The Dude had already been to two days of Pitchfork so was fine with heading home with them after a couple of hours, leaving me to enjoy the rest of the day by myself, but it still meant that my attention was fragmented for both the Sun Ra Arkestra and Kemasi Washington, the two bands I had most wanted to see. I didn't even try to see Homme, another band I was interested in. On the other hand, we did get to hang out and watch Woods and that was a great new discovery - I bought the album and we've been grooving on it ever since.

The Blue Stage was just a general frustration - for everyone, they had multiple tech problems this year, it seems they always do but it was worse this year - but it was also more closed in than in the past and had a somewhat claustrophobic feel. It's a smaller field, made smaller this year by the appearance of a fenced-in area for VIP ticket holders. And there's always significant sound bleed-through from the other stages.

Still exploring lots of music from the days I wasn't there, both on The Dude's recommendation and from reading reviews. Empress Of, Moses Sumney, Anderson.paak, Savages.

There's always a moment at these festivals where I am overwhelmed. Not necessarily tired, hungry, or hot, although sometimes these can be contributing factors. Just, overwhelmed. A colleague of mine who is very Myers-Briggs oriented suggested it might be that as an Introvert on the M-B scale I might be getting drained from being around all the people and activity - and it's certainly true that once I have a chance to sit and be with myself (and maybe weep a little if I need to) and assess things, I'm usually good to go again. But I also think it's the need to deal with the difference between my expectations and the reality, and at these festivals there's always a gap. Bands you were excited to see turn out to be meh, or in the wrong setting, or you hate the audience, or you don't even get to see them - while at the same time if you're open to it you can discover/experience something new, different, exciting, expansive that you couldn't have dreamt of finding on your own.

(I think the only time I haven't experienced this was at Bonnaroo in 2007. Maybe because I had no idea what to expect, maybe because since we knew we were there for a long haul we paced ourselves and had our tent to retreat to. Or maybe because I was there with two other people even more I on the M-B scale than myself and they regularly had to pull back to compose themselves.)

It's always worth it though, these festivals. (I do love Pitchfork the best.) I firmly believe in the power of live performance - theater, dance, and especially for me, music - to act on us in some way. Whether through the sound waves, vibrations, intent of the performers, or the concentrated energy of the audience - I think we are moved in ways both obvious and subtle. I love that. And I think this effect is magnified under the open sky.

The summer before college my family went to the south of France for two weeks. While there, we went to two nighttime open air concerts: Oscar Peterson and the Merce Cunningham dance company. Both in spaces that had once been Roman ruins, both under the moon, both magical. And watching FKA twigs in the final Pitchfork performance of the night, with her mesmerizing dance and vocals, I had the sense of being suspended in a web of time, that moment connecting with those evenings and casting forward to other performances and other evenings I haven't known myself to experience yet. And I write this listening to another performer of the weekend - that I hadn't seen - cover Laurie Anderson's "O Superman", a song I haven't listened to since just after college. And thinking on all these connections makes me think of even more...

Just some of the reverberations continuing on from the show.

Swimming in sound -
Annie

Friday, July 1, 2016

Clouds Ahead

The weather's about to change and I'm in a bad mood. The kids are too. Something about the barometer falling, I don't know... I have to keep reminding myself to be patient - with myself too. And to give everything extra time and to go with the flow as much as I can. This is hard... it feels like one of those days where all the things that need to be done grate up against what I'd rather be doing instead.

D's in the same place, all he wants is to do is curl up with Harry Potter (like, upside down under the coffee table - he contorts himself into the oddest positions when he's reading) - and instead all we're doing is making him go to camp. G just wants to stay home with me, period. Can't say I blame them, I have a Neil Gaiman book I'm in the middle of, myself...

Waiting for the sky to clear,
Annie

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Weed Update

Things keep growing, and some of my weed questions have sorted themselves out.

Turns out this... is actually bee balm!


Not my actual plant, I didn't think to take a photo.

And this... is echinacea.

This is my actual plant, though obviously not the same one
I have lots of echinacea, as it turns out.

I still don't know what these are.

Since they appear to be developing flowers I'm giving them a little longer to prove themselves. They behave like weeds, though, so I'm limiting them to just one specimen. I have my eye on you, plant.

And then I thought it's not really fair to just show you weeds, so here are some other photos from my garden. These make me realize that I might need to learn how to take good nature photos.

I have more hostas than I'd think a person should. And they've multiplied from last year.
Handy for filling in bare spots in the front garden.

From here you can't see the pumpkin patch (behind the zebra grass) that plans to take over the world.

Skull island! Corn, beans, and squash (the last two just recently planted).
The wall is made up of slats from a barrel that fell apart.
 I should take a picture of the bench from which I like to survey my domain, book and beer in hand.

The dirt is never coming out from my fingernails,
Annie

Monday, June 27, 2016

Deer, Oh Deer

I was running in the park the other day, early in the morning, when I looked over and saw a deer watching me.

Excuse me?

The parks that I run through are bordered by the Chicago River on one or the other side. The park district is restoring the river bank in that particular stretch, so for two years now the parkland leading up to the river has been fenced off.  I'm sure all manner of wildlife have gotten used to people being safely on the other side of a fence.

Since they can roam freely through the entire city, following the river (and the deer up by the nature center northwest of us are quite tame), while we're bordered in by streets and traffic and bridges and buildings, I imagine to them it might look as if we were the ones in a cage.

Just a bit surprising for that early in the morning.

Deep in the wilds of Chicago,
Annie

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Feeling Better

It's such a pleasure to once again wake up and look forward to running. If anything, I need to hold myself back and not try to add on too much. I am older than I was, after all, and creakier, and without a lot of time of recovery measures, though I have been incorporating more of those back into my routine.

But oh, how lovely to get up and go again.

I think I may be a permanent convert to early morning running. To go out early into the world, see who else is out and about. The quiet of the streets. And then to come home refreshed in spirit and satisfied in body.

On a side note - restoring my Vit D levels seems to have had an effect in areas I wasn't expecting. My decades-long vertigo has receded back to "normal" levels (it had become troublesome last fall/winter, enough so that I finally went to an ENT - we're still investigating), and my shoulder is feeling a lot better as well (after some improvement with physical therapy it had regressed again). Nice to have that unexpected relief.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Random Running Notes

It's the time of year for early morning runs, even for mid-length ones. Too hot otherwise. I've been trimming back my pre-run routine to make it more likely that I'll get up and out in time. Coffee left from the day before - check the weather - teeth - contacts - clothes - let's go.

The sun is fully up by the time I leave but we've had some stormy nights so I still have amazing skies to watch while I run.

I've settled on my races for the rest of the year, or rather, my race. The Hot Chocolate 15K. I've run this a number of years and always had a good time. And knock on wood, if my training continues smoothly I even have a hope of getting close to previous times, if not a PR. And yet it's far enough away and low stress enough that I don't need to fret if hiccups occur.

I've noticed lately that my paces in tempo runs are all over the place. It usually averages out to what I was aiming for but it's never even. Has it always been that way? I suspect so. I warm up slowly so my first mile post-warm up is still slower than I'll get to, and I run on city sidewalks so I can't always manage the traffic (today I noticed I slowed down at each intersection, even if I could run straight across). I'm not sure it matters - I'm trying to keep things even by feel - just something I've noticed. It's probably more important to keep my track repeats even, should I ever get myself to a track again.

Hmm... and now I'm trying to figure out how I can get to a track again...
Annie

Friday, June 10, 2016

Monster Writing

Well, I went to the poetry workshop last night, and it was really good.

The Poetry Foundation offers workshops on a regular basis - it's part of their free adult education offerings. (I attend their monthly Book Club.) Past workshops have been on forms - such as sonnets or eclogues - or on issues such as voice or description. There's a set format to the workshop, which I learned last night:

  • discussion of the form/issue;
  • reading and discussion of poems exemplifying that form/issue;
  • opportunity to write (given a set assignment);
  • sharing your writing - later, via email - either what you wrote in the session as is or after continued work.

I enjoyed the discussion (I also felt it was a step up from the Book Club discussions, perhaps because everyone there last night is a writer) and was excited by the work I got down. Thanks to the constraints set by the assignment, I ended up going in a somewhat different direction than I'd expected - which then provided me with a possible solution to a problem I'd been having with another poem.

So now I have two weeks to work on this before sharing and I may end up getting some feedback on it - I haven't found a writers group to be part of yet so I'm curious about what I might hear, from the facilitator (who also leads the Book Club) if no one else. Feedback is such a tricky thing to negotiate - you really need to find the right people to be your readers - and without being in a writing program I'm not even sure how to find the right people. But I don't have much at the moment that I would even want to have feedback on, so I can afford to take my time and see what comes my way. At least for now.

Looking for the next workshop -
Annie


Thursday, June 9, 2016

We'll See

I'm attending a poetry workshop tonight at the Poetry Foundation, my first ever. I have no idea what to expect. It's on hybrid forms of poetry ("forms that trouble, cross, and blur literary genre boundaries"), inspired by a recent exhibit, "Monster Roster: Existentialist Art in Postwar Chicago" at the Smart Museum. We had homework to prepare in advance: to see the exhibit and take notes on everything that struck us - the art, certainly, but anything else noteworthy we experienced while there.

The exhibit itself was remarkable and I think I will be absorbing it for a while, especially as I've started painting again. I'm nervous about the workshop. I haven't shared any of my recent work and my writing process is so slow (multiple rounds of working and reworking) that I'm sure I wouldn't feel comfortable sharing anything I write tonight, tonight. But I've been wanting to take part in a workshop and everything lined up for this one - the timing (usually their workshops are on Saturday mornings), the topic, the exhibit - so I'm putting on my "big girl pants" and showing up, regardless of what happens.

Venturing out,
Annie

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Soldier Field 10M 2016 Recap

This was a good race, one I enjoyed greatly. Everything about the day seemed to flow. I woke early with my gear already prepared - which meant I had time to deal with some last minute changes without panicking. I forgot my watch at home - which meant I didn't pay overly close attention to my pace and could run based on feel. (This became important since it was a very humid day.) I chose and timed my fuel and hydration well enough that my energy stayed high and I avoided having to take a break during the race. I ended up in a corral somewhat faster than I meant to run (since I was overconfident when I registered for the race) and so I very quickly ended up as "back of the pack" - but that meant I never had to deal with overcrowding, which can be a real problem on that course.

Some little pleasures about the day:

  • Roses in the road dividers so as we ran by I could smell flowers;
  • I walked the long way back to the train and ended up seeing the entry procession for a Hindu wedding - complete with bridegroom entering by horse (and everyone bedecked with embroidery and sequins);
  • The wind that never picked up into a storm but instead gave much needed breezes throughout;
  • A seat on the train both there and back, allowing me to read Ed Roberson's City Eclogues as I traveled above a similar city.

The course, briefly:

I made myself run miles 1-5 easily, breathing through my nose to keep my speed down. It was a humid day and I knew I needed to be careful not to go too fast. We were running on city streets south from the Museum Campus for this stretch, with lots of room. I took walk breaks at every mile and sipped my sports drink.

Gel break at mile 5, shortly after turning onto the lakefront path and heading back north. I put music on at this point - I have a special running mix of more "trance-like" music, also meant to keep me from running too hard - and didn't worry about my breathing at this point anymore.

At mile 7 it began to feel hard. I think I took a couple of extra water breaks in this mile.

At mile 8 I switched to more uptempo music.

There was no clock reading at the 8 mile marker. I had not been tracking my time vigorously but I knew my approximate pace and also knew the time I would need to come under if I was to finish in 2 hours (my "B" goal). I tried to just stay constant at this point.

(My "C" goal was just to finish - I've had to DNF due to humidity before and didn't want to again. So many people walking the last two miles in.)

At mile 9 I saw that if I could bring my pace down to 11:00 for the last mile (and I knew I'd done at least one mile at this pace already), I would be able to make my "A" goal - to finish under 1:55:00. I found a good song and kept replaying it (Queen's "Somebody To Love", the live version from Montreal). I felt strong but was careful still, I knew we'd see the stadium long before we actually entered, and because they were setting up the stage for the Beyonce concert that evening, I knew we'd need to wind through the stadium a bit before hitting the finish line. You don't want to give a final last push only to realize you still have another quarter-mile to go.

And it all worked out, because I finished under 1:55:00, feeling like I'd given it all I could. (I found out later I'd finished in 1:54:10, a 11:25 pace.)

So I was quite pleased, with my planning and with my day. It wasn't until later, when I found out my actual time and pace, that I remembered that I'd run this at a 9:25 pace last year, exactly two minutes per mile faster. And I was still pleased, because I'd run the race the best I could for that day, and it didn't matter what I'd done before.

And there was an odd satisfaction in that as well. I've wondered, what will it be like to race when I start slowing down? Right now I still have hopes of getting back to my previous speed, but I also know that I'm approaching the edge of my being able to improve my times. But this race showed me that it will all be okay - that I'll be able to enjoy competing against myself even as I slow down.

So now I have my eyes set on a 10K in August and one of my favorites - the Hot Chocolate 15K - at the end of October. I think this will all make for a very satisfying race season.

With pleasure,
Annie

Friday, May 27, 2016

This Season's Planting

Most of what we've planted this year has been from seed - because it's fun, and cheaper, and the boys have been planting from seeds with surprising success for years now - I don't think they even think there's another way to do it. (Eat a piece of fruit - save the seed. Will it grow? Let's see. That's how we now have a 5-foot lemon tree in the upstairs study.) Almost everything is coming up nicely which is SO much fun to watch.

Another try at pumpkin (we'll keep better track of it this year - maybe put up a low fence).

Tomato seeds in newspaper planters - those are ready for re-potting this weekend.

Years ago, when I managed a community garden and had my own plot, The Dude used part of it to create his own "Skull Island", and he planted the Native American "three sisters" combination of corn, beans, and squash. He's been wanting to recreate it ever since, and this year he got his chance.

Carrots - that was D's particular request.

I am most interested in herbs, so to add to the thyme from last year, I planted chives in a flower box, cilantro (from seeds collected from our cilantro last year!), and oregano. Unfortunately, no one knew I had planted the oregano in the pot that I did, and the seedlings had been struggling anyway, so I think that was a bust. I have another flower box that isn't working with what's in it either, so I think this weekend I'll do some re-potting overall and also just pick up some oregano plants.

Then on the flower front...

I put in some coreopsis and alyssum in front. (Forgetting that I already had some coreopsis in there. But it could use more.)

Marigolds in the box with the chives. The marigolds were already in there - again, from seed harvested last year - but there was a lot more room so I tucked the chives in there too.

A mix called "Made in the Shade" for our flower box on the side of the garage.

A mix called "Heralds of Spring" for the flower box that D. has claimed. That box is prone to weeds and now it's just a mess of green things - no idea what might be weed and what might be from that mix. We'll wait and see, and next year maybe we'll plant something more recognizable in there.

I had sown forget-me-not seeds in one flower box, and then added in some succulents and moss that I'd started in one place and needed to move. But that box is prone to squirrels getting into it, and now I have to find a new home for my succulents. I don't think the forget-me-not seeds will handle a second replanting. So, the succulents and moss will go into the pot the oregano had been in (and then I can take them inside in the winter), and I'll put oregano plants (and stakes to prevent squirrels) into that window box.

We transplanted a fern from inside that wasn't doing well (we have two other ferns in the garden so I thought, why not?) It hasn't died yet, so...

Then I sowed sunflower seeds a while ago that don't seem to have sprouted, so I'll go ahead and sow some black-eyed-susan vine along that fence as well. And milkweed in one unused corner, and nicotiana and lavender hyssop in another. And we'll just see what comes up.

I'm hoping for some good garden time this weekend. I'll take more photos too and put them up next week. If nothing else I have more shrubs needing identification...

Hoping for some sun,
Annie

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Finally A Race

It feels like I've been waiting a long time for this weekend, for the Soldier Field 10M. I signed up for it at the beginning of March, back when I was hopeful and thought I could actually train for it. By the end of April it was clear that if I ran this (and I wasn't sure that I would), it would be just to cover the distance, with no thought of trying to race it.

By mid-May I'd gotten enough long runs in to know I could run this without it being too painful... then I had to decide if I felt it was worth the bother. (Of getting up early, of changing up my runs during the week, of packet pickup, of changing the Saturday schedule around.) Up until two days ago I had pretty much decided it wasn't. And then, I don't know, I guess I just thought it might be fun to do after all.

BUT. I am treating this as any long run, albeit one with a lot of other people there. It will be hot and likely rainy/stormy, certainly humid, so I need to expect to be out there a long time and to bring adequate fuel/fluids and possibly salt tabs as well. I'll load up my shuffle with good tunes and my favorite running podcast (Afropop International), take plenty of walk breaks right from the start, and overall try to take it easy and enjoy the moments.

And then focus on 5 and 10k races for the foreseeable future.

At least I like the t-shirt -
Annie

Monday, May 23, 2016

My Weeds

Weeding was the activity of this past weekend, I spent about three hours total in the dirt deciding which plants got to stay and which ones did not and then pulling out (or digging out, or cutting low) those that did not meet with my approval.

I enjoy weeding. It's one of the few tasks in the garden where I feel I know what I'm doing. I like getting down low and spending time with my plants at the leaf and stem and root level, getting to know them better. And it's a great excuse to leave the house behind and to be out in the sun and fresh air and green for a while. And then afterwards to feel perfectly justified in sitting on our back bench with a beer and a book for another half hour or so. James Baldwin and Lawrence Ferlinghetti were good companions this weekend.

I used to have a book by Sara Stein on weeds, My Weeds: A Gardener's Botany. I owned it back when I managed a community garden. Somewhere I lost it, or gave it away - time to get another copy.

I finally went around and took photos of those plants that I couldn't figure out - weed or not? - and threw them up on Facebook in the hopes of getting some identification. Some of these I know are weeds but I would like to know what exactly it is. And one of these is echinacea - I just can't remember which one.




This is a pesky one - it's everywhere.
Echinacea?
Or maybe this one is.

I have the feeling this is bittersweet. If so, when we moved in it was already well established. The flowers
and berries are pretty but it was choking our jasmine, so last fall I tried to get it out wherever I could.
I don't mind managing one of these... but not the multiple locations it's springing up.
And last night while leafing through my perennial book I realized this is
bees' balm! I remembered it had pretty flowers later on, and it has a lovely smell.
So this is a keeper - just needs a careful eye (as does my vinca).
What makes it harder to identify some of these is that a number of plants in our yard bloom later than in other locations in our neighborhood, or even in the yard next door (we get less light due to the two-flat next to us). So just comparing what I see here to what I pass when walking about isn't enough. I'm hoping that by documenting them (and making some sketches in my garden journal) I might be able to remember what things are next year at this time, when lots of things are green but not much has yet blossomed.

Reporting from the deep green,
Annie

Monday, May 16, 2016

In The Garden

We've been doing more in the garden this year, as we make it more fully our own. So far we haven't taken anything out (with the exception of an ivy hell-bent on ripping off our siding), but have pushed back in some areas.

The house came with a well-established perennial garden so last year we mostly tried to maintain things and watch how it unfolded over the year. Most of our new planting was done in containers - flower boxes, vegetables, herbs. The one place where we went ahead and ripped stuff out was the area directly next to the house in back. It doesn't get a lot of light and was a tangle of grasses, groundcovers that had migrated from the area below the deck, a small shrub, and one small sorrowful iris patch that bloomed much later than the irises around the neighborhood. Oh, and a lot of weeds. We cleared out a space in the center so we could have a pumpkin patch, which we then did not carefully maintain and ended up with vines growing over everything else, an equally unattractive tangle. We hope to do better with it this year.

What I've done a lot of this year is pruning! When we moved in the shrubs hadn't been thoroughly pruned in some time. I cut things back but didn't get into the undergrowth. Over the winter I did some reading on pruning and saw that you can cut back up to 1/3 of the plant. So as soon as we had some warm days I went in to cut back and to get rid of the dead wood underneath. Since at current count we have 12 shrubs and two very vigorous vines needing the same kind of attention that's a lot of pruning. Plus the two sage bushes that would like to take over that part of the garden.

Everything looks a lot better now - the space is opened up and I can see what's going on. Part of what I see are what look like weeds, or at least from their behavior they're acting that way... but I can't remember what they did last year. I'm pretty sure a couple of these turn out nicely later in late summer - and I'm just as certain that one ends up being ugly and a nuisance to get out. But which is which? I'll just have to keep a careful eye on them all.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Talk About Lemonade

It was earlier this week, and I had not had a good night's sleep, after several nights already of too-short sleep. Bad news at The Dude's work and too much noise in the neighborhood. I woke up feeling grim, and went about the morning routines grimly. Coffee, kids' lunches, breakfast.

And then G came downstairs, much earlier than I expect to see him, trotting down the hall in his Captain America footie pajamas and beaming at me. "I love you, Mama!" he sang out, and I swooped him up and was given a face full of kisses. The sun broke through, briefly.

The day continued with a morning full of mishaps, all stupid little things that together had me wondering at my bad luck and needing to walk away from my desk before I blew up. Not a day for buying lottery tickets. Well, anyway, things got resolved, or at least resolved enough to keep going and I put in Beyonce's "Lemonade" which I had bought two days before and not yet listened to. An explosion of light in my ears and I kept it on all day, its effect kind of like a face full of kisses when you're just expecting rain.

Back to sunshine,
Annie

Friday, May 6, 2016

Learning

I've been studying poetry earnestly since sometime last fall, reading as much as I can across a variety of styles and cultures.

I haven't had much formal education in poetry. I remember reading Ted Hughes, Robert Frost, John Donne, and of course Shakespeare in high school. In college I took a course in 18th century American literature which introduced me to Emily Dickinson. At some point I started reading the Austrian poet Erich Fried.

Somehow while in college I managed to get on the editorial board of a literary journal, The Siren, and so for a couple of years I was reading what my classmates were writing (and had a couple of poems published myself).

And then after college I remember frequenting an independent feminist/LGBT library in Washington, D.C. where I found some African-American women poets: Nikki Giovanni, June Jordan, and Becky Birtha.

Over the years I've kept a binder of poems I've come across that spoke to me - by poets I've named above, and a hodgepodge of others.

I used to feel limited by my lack of formal literary education, but lately - as I've been filling in the gaps (and the internet is great for this) - I've been grateful. It means all my reading is framed through the questions I have about the poems, and not what anyone thinks I ought to know about them. Most of my questions are very basic: What do I like in this poem? What don't I like? Why? And then, what else might be going on around the circumstances of writing this - historically, culturally, personally? What might this poem be responding to? And always with an eye to my own writing.

I'm lucky also to be in Chicago with the excellent Poetry Foundation just a few blocks from me at work. I've been going to their monthly Library Book Club sessions, which allows me to explore a manuscript in some depth, occasionally to hear from the author in person, and to be among other people who are thinking hard about poetry as well. The first time I went I was so excited to be part of an actual serious discussion about literature I could barely contain myself - so different from any of the book groups I've tried to be part of in the past. After a couple of sessions I can now manage to not be overwhelmed with my enthusiasm. And of course their website is a treasure trove of information.

I know my study is paying off when I can read poems and have a sense of what I might do differently, when I can look at an old poem of mine and see not only its shortcomings but also how I might make it better. And I am beginning to feel that I am developing my own voice.

I do not feel adequate to much of what I want to say, but as I study and write I trust I am becoming more so.

Ever curious, ever learning,
Annie

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Writing Life

Longtime readers of my blog will remember that I haven't always written only about running, or even mostly about it. Other regular topics have included my quilting projects, baking, Scary Movie Month, stuff I've read that has made an impression on me, and odds and ends about my day to day life, especially the kids. So it shouldn't be a huge surprise that I've decided to start writing about another topic that I spend a lot of time doing and thinking about. Namely, writing.

Of course, I have already written about this, but only to say that I have been. And I still don't intend to share any details of the content of my writing. That I think needs to stay within the confines of those pages until I'm ready to have constructive feedback on it - and honestly this blog won't be the method I choose for that feedback.

But I do think it will be useful to me, and hopefully interesting to you, for me to share some of my process around writing. So from time to time I will pull back that curtain.

As you may recall, I gave myself a year to explore what form best suited me. I was surprised to find myself not that interested in writing non-fiction or memoir, but rather full of story ideas, and I started a novel.

Lovely, yes? Understandable, yes? Everyone understands novels, even if you don't tend to read them. And it's easy to mark progress - so many words written, so many chapters completed. Even if you have to throw some out and start again from time to time.

However, as I have continued to allow myself to write and read what I want, I have found myself more and more drawn to poetry. Oh, I was not happy when I realized that. There is so very much bad poetry out there.

And people are not generally neutral about poetry, especially anything at all challenging. I've found that they tend to come at it the same way they come at modern/contemporary art or jazz. (Two other art forms I love.) That is, with a lot of distrust, scorn, and dismissal. When not outright hatred.

I don't know why I was so surprised by my return to poetry; I did, after all, write an entire masters thesis using stories, essays, and poetry to explore my topic. My tastes in poetry have changed since then, though (as have my tastes in music and art, for that matter), so it's not just a question of picking up where I had left off. And the world of poetry is also very different from back then. I have so much to learn...

And that thought, while daunting, is also luscious. Mmm, poetry...

Annie

Monday, May 2, 2016

First Time in a Long Time

I ran eight miles on Saturday. This was my longest run since the marathon, last October. So kind of a big deal for me. And the best news was that it ended up not being a big deal at all.

I had my usual tea and a swallowful of leftover coffee before leaving the house, along with a banana and dates. I brought a small bottle of the endurance drink I use (Tailwind) and a gel - both things I've had no use for since last fall. Since I was carrying a bottle I broke out my race vest - again, this has sat on a shelf since the fall. Kind of nice to have it out again.

I started off slow and took walk breaks every half mile, with a sip of Tailwind with each walk break. I've had a bad habit in the past of not refueling soon enough so while this was a relatively short long run, as runs go, I didn't want to make things any harder for myself through anything I could prevent. I did feel kind of slow and stagnant to begin with - I had to remind myself that non-caffeinated runs feel that way to start. (On weekends I start my day with decaf tea because I know I'll be drinking more regular strength coffee than I usually do - at work I switch to decaf coffee.) I also entertained myself by looking at the different parkways as I passed. We'd like to do more with ours and I've been collecting ideas as I'm out and about in the city.

Miles three through five felt more energetic. I took my gel at mile four - Hammer Apple Cinnamon flavor. It was chilled from the air and felt refreshing and really tasty - not words I usually think of with gels. But I like the Hammer brand. At mile five I started to get a little tired so turned on my iPod and was treated to a whole bunch of Prince for the rest of the way. That was also nice. It was a gray, chilly morning and I saw very few people on my route, so it was just me and Prince, hanging out together under the cherry moon. A lot worse ways to spend an early Saturday morning.

I felt pretty good the rest of the way, made sure to stretch thoroughly when I got home and to put my feet up later in the day, and had no soreness the next day. So I think, barring any odd problems, I should be okay with the remaining long runs before the Soldier Field 10M and with the race itself, as long as I keep taking things nice and easy.

With relief,
Annie


Friday, April 29, 2016

What's Next

The weeks of short runs have shown me that I'm quite content to keep doing that for a while, in fact, it sounds like an awfully good plan for this year. I'd like to see if I can get faster so I've been thinking about finding a couple more 5Ks that I can train for, maybe one in late summer and one in late fall.

However, I did sign up for the Soldier Field 10M on Memorial Day weekend back at the beginning of March in a fit of optimism. Back then I was back up to 6 miles in my Saturday long runs... unfortunately I've barely run any farther than that since then.

For several weeks I toyed with the idea of just not doing it so I wouldn't have to worry about those long runs (it's also a drag having to worry about getting back by a certain time so the kids don't wake up The Dude, whether on purpose or through just being very ACTIVE). But as I've been feeling a bit better it just feels a shame to miss it, I do like that race even if I'm not able to race it. So I will make a stab at it after all, starting with a planned 8-miler tomorrow morning.

With lots of walk breaks.

And enough fuel.

And good tunes.

Wish me luck (and no rain) -

Annie