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Posts Tagged ‘running’

Happy July, y’all. I can’t believe we’re here. We always seem to wait forever for summer in New England (certainly this spring dragged, for several reasons), and then when it’s here, it feels rich and fleeting. The trees are lush, the roses and daylilies are showing off, and I’m cranking up the country music on my morning runs. Though, really, I’ve been doing that for months.

I was raised on country music, as you may know (or assume) if you know that I grew up in West Texas. My hometown had a half-dozen country radio stations, and my parents had a stack of George Strait cassettes that we nearly wore out on our long summer road trips. (I shocked a colleague at Harvard, years later, by telling him – and I am still confident in this assertion – that I could probably sing, on demand, at least 50 of George’s 60 number one hits.)

George was and is the king of country as far as my family is concerned, and I love a lot of his male compatriots: Alan Jackson, Brooks and Dunn, Randy Travis, the guys who sang in Alabama and Diamond Rio. I have a soft spot for Brad Paisley (especially “She’s Everything”) and I still adore Garth Brooks. But this year, I’ve been spending my miles mostly listening to the women of country music.

I loved them all as a child and teenager: Reba, Martina, Trisha, Shania, the women of the Dixie Chicks (now the Chicks) and SheDAISY. I marveled at LeAnn Rimes (what a prodigy!) and based my high school graduation speech around Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance.” I can still sing you most of Faith Hill’s hits from that era, and Deana Carter’s dreamy debut album takes me right back to middle school.

I’ve never stopped loving country music, but I did stop listening to it for a while. I grew older, my tastes expanded to include folk music and Broadway show tunes and so much Christian pop music (bless it), as well as jazz and big band and the classical stuff we sang in choir. I left Texas, stopped driving to work (and thus listening to the radio as often), and married a fellow Texan who was a real snob about country music.

With all that, I’ve been on hiatus from these ladies for a decade or so. But I’ve been tiptoeing back: I heard the Highwomen at Newport Folk 2019 and fell completely in love. Last spring, I loved Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Songs from Home” on Instagram during quarantine, and a few weeks in, I went down a Jo Dee Messina rabbit hole. This winter, in the depths of job-hunt woes and loneliness, I rediscovered Martina McBride. And since then, I have been pounding down the harbor walk singing along to classics like “Heads Carolina, Tails California” and “Take Me As I Am” and “She’s in Love with the Boy” and “Independence Day.”

These songs are a particular brand of badass feminism: it wears mascara and uses (a lot) of hairspray, and it doesn’t let a man (or anyone else) tell it what to do. It celebrates grit (“I’m a Survivor”) and individuality (“Wild One”), and it champions both true romance (“Perfect Love,” “We Danced Anyway,” “Wild Angels”) and the need to leave sometimes (“Ready to Run,” “Consider Me Gone”). There are power ballads and tender love songs; there are girl-power anthems and some good old-fashioned honky-tonk. These songs reconnect me to the teenager I was, but they are helping me shape and discover the woman I am now.

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We’re halfway through April (how?) and the job hunt slog continues, while the neighborhood is starting to bloom. Here’s what I have been reading:

All Creatures Great and Small, James Herriot
I read these books as a teenager (my dad loves them), but the charming new TV series inspired me to pick Herriot’s memoirs back up. I adored his dry wit and vivid descriptions of the Yorkshire Dales and their people, and I loved re-meeting characters from the TV show, like Tristan and Mrs. Pumphrey. Warm and comforting.

Flygirl, Sherri L. Smith
Ida Mae Jones longs to be a pilot like her daddy, but as a Black woman, she knows it’s a long shot. But when her brother gets sent to serve as a medic in the Philippines, Ida Mae decides to join the WASP. The catch? She’ll have to pass for white–a choice not only heartbreaking, but dangerous. I loved this YA novel with a brave heroine who’s determined to fly and struggles to find her place. Recommended by Anne (as part of a great list).

Marathon Woman: Running the Race to Revolutionize Women’s Sports, Kathrine Switzer
Switzer made history in 1967 with her Boston Marathon run–but that was only the beginning of her journey in racing, sports reporting and organizing for women’s sports. Her memoir is engaging, relatable, often funny and inspiring. I especially loved reading about the history of modern marathons like Boston and New York, and watching Switzer’s confidence grow.

The Cake Therapist, Judith Fertig
Claire “Neely” O’Neil opens a cake shop in her Ohio hometown after leaving her cheating football-star husband. But she’s dealing with not just the usual new-business-owner snags, but a mystery involving an antique ring and several local families. Both the plot and the characters were so-so. Delicious food descriptions, though.

Home Made: A Story of Grief, Groceries, Showing Up–and What We Make When We Make Dinner, Liz Hauck
Hauck and her dad had planned to start a cooking program for teens in a group home run by the agency he worked for. After his death at age 57, she decided to do it without him. This memoir chronicles her three years of cooking with and for a rotating cast of teenage boys dealing with all kinds of trauma and challenges. It’s vivid, moving and often funny. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 8).

My Inner Sky: On Embracing Day, Night, and All the Times In Between, Mari Andrew
I enjoy Mari’s whimsical illustrations and musings on life, love, travel and grief. This essay collection digs deeper into all those themes–plus loneliness, transitions, unexpected joys and more. So apt for right now.

The Secret Keeper of Jaipur, Alka Joshi
This sequel to Joshi’s The Henna Artist picks up with her main characters, Lakshmi (the artist) and Malik (her young protege), eight years later. Malik is apprenticing at a prestigious construction firm in Jaipur while Lakshmi runs a healing garden in Shimla. When the firm’s shiny new cinema suffers a collapse on opening night, Malik smells a rat and begins to investigate, digging up old and new secrets. Joshi’s storytelling is engaging, but I didn’t like this book as well as its predecessor. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 22).

Most links are to Trident and Brookline Booksmith, my perennial local faves. Shop indie!

What are you reading?

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I get up, journal and eat, then head out the door. Music pumping, breezes blowing; I greet the day, the weather, my own thoughts, whatever they all might have for me. 

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Hello, friends. It’s February, which is always a long month, even though it’s a short one. (See also: endless pandemic fatigue, etc.)

We’ve had some snow and will have more, and I keep thinking of E.B. White’s words about cold weather: “firm, business-like cold that stalked in and took charge […] as a brisk housewife might take charge of someone else’s kitchen in an emergency.” My kitchen, thank goodness, is full of tea and flowers, but I can see White’s point.

Last week, my friend Anne Bogel shared, as she does every winter, the surprising daily things that are saving her life right now. (This year, it’s laundry.) I am a whole week behind in sharing my own winter lifesavers, but I wanted to do it because I believe the practice is important, even in this pandemic year.

I am still job hunting, still missing my people, still spending a lot of time alone in my apartment. But here are the things getting me through these midwinter days:

  • Strong black tea, forever and always. I mostly drink MEM teas from Somerville, but have also been enjoying David’s Cream of Earl Grey lately.
  • Clementines by the handful (I say this every winter) – tart, sweet and cheery.
  • Nina’s writing class on Tuesday mornings – best Zoom of all, by far.
  • Daffodils! So cheerful and bright. Spotted at the florist and at Trader Joe’s.
  • Mini peanut-butter-filled pretzels, also from Trader Joe’s.
  • Morning runs and daily walks in the neighborhood, even when it’s frigid. (I’m still aiming to leave the house at least twice a day.)
  • Some really good books: New Yorkers by Craig Taylor, Wintering by Katherine May, A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow by Laura Taylor Namey.
  • Good pens and my Wingardium Leviosa Moleskine journal.
  • Vitamin D pills, my happy lamp, and (best of all) real sunshine, some days.
  • Daily check-ins with my guy, my friend Allison in California, and a couple of other dear ones.
  • Martina McBride, whose music I have loved for years – but I’m rediscovering her badass-women anthems and sweet love songs, and they are saving me.
  • Yoga – on Zoom for now, and maybe back in the studio soon.
  • The knowledge that we have a competent administration in Washington working to combat this virus and other problems.

What’s saving your life these days? I’d love to know.

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One of the (many) hard things about this past year: so much of it has felt exactly the same.

I love a good routine (and especially a good rhythm). I went to the same coffee shop (hello Darwin’s!) nearly every day for five years when I worked at Harvard. I run almost the same path through my beloved Eastie every morning. Even my nightly (very simple) skincare routine can be soothing in its familiarity.

But: the past 10+ months have held a severely limited orbit of people and places. With the arrival of a new year and no changes (except horrifying ones, like more COVID-19 deaths, and the attempted coup in D.C. on Jan. 6), I have been seriously craving some newness in my days.

I read somewhere that human beings need a mix of novelty and routine in their lives, which struck me as utterly true: the ratio is different for everyone, but most of us need a balance of some kind between comfort and adventure. Since a pandemic winter prevents me from seeking out some of my more typical adventures (I miss you, New York weekends), I’ve been trying to search for novelty in smaller ways.

Last week, I brought home anemones from the florist instead of daffodils or tulips, and their bright reds and purples (see above) made me so happy. I met a friend for a walk at the arboretum a few weeks ago – I hadn’t been there in years. We got lost trying to find each other, but even that newness was interesting, and good for my brain.

My guy and I have tried a couple of new recipes lately: fish tacos, a one-pot stew from Real Simple, cranberry-lemon scones. And last weekend, I drove over to his place and went for a run along his section of the river, instead of my usual harbor/greenway loop. Much of it felt reassuringly familiar – blue skies, pounding feet, beating heart – but there were new trees and paths to see and navigate, and it helped a bit. A change is, sometimes, as good as a rest.

How are you creating (or finding) novelty in these same-same days?

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It’s been such a strange year that I almost decided to skip this annual blogging tradition. But – why not? – we can still take stock, even at the end of all these months of isolation. So here we go. In 2020 I have:

  • run probably hundreds of miles through my neighborhood of East Boston
  • gone through three pairs of On Running shoes
  • taken dozens of yoga classes, in the park and via Zoom (and, briefly, in the lovely studio at The Point)
  • gone on so many bike rides with my guy
  • participated in my first protest rides
  • walked with my friend Marisa a few times a month, keeping each other sane while trading news of work and books and life
  • survived divorce court (back in January)
  • worked on campus for two and a half months, worked from home for two months, then been furloughed and eventually laid off
  • covered Berklee’s Dancing with the Stars event, pre-quarantine (so much fun)
  • driven up to Gloucester for a sweet birthday weekend with my guy
  • celebrated a cozy, quiet Thanksgiving, just the two of us
  • spent some time hanging with Chloe, my friends’ kitty
  • read about 220 books
  • adjusted to reading and reviewing ebooks for Shelf Awareness
  • taken Nina Badzin’s wonderful ModernWell writing class
  • drafted a novel during NaNoWriMo
  • tended herbs, geraniums, paperwhites, a fern and an amaryllis
  • sung in a virtual Christmas choir
  • made and delivered numerous lasagnas for my neighbors
  • filled up several journals
  • enjoyed a cozy, sweet Christmas
  • looked ahead to 2021 with tentative hope

Happy New Year, friends. Here’s hoping it brings more light.

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We had 13 (!) inches of snow here in Boston last Thursday, and I left the house exactly twice: once to shovel out my own front steps and walk, and once to shovel a friend’s front steps (I’m checking their mail and feeding their fish while they’re away). It was blowing and swirling – decidedly not a day for running. But since the storm passed, I’ve been loving the season’s first taste of winter running.

I became a runner right around this time three years ago, when it got too cold to walk for long on my beloved river trail. I’ve slowly been learning about, and buying, the right gear: fleece-lined running tights, a few warm headbands, snow spikes for when the trails are really dicey. Sometimes I have to talk myself into bundling up and heading out into the cold. But often, once I’m out there, I’m surprised again by how much I love it.

Running in the cold is an invigorating challenge: I have to keep moving to keep my body warm, and the resulting heat and motion feels satisfying. The road feels different under my feet when I’m dealing with snow and ice, though I love how the snow spikes take away some of my worries about slipping on ice or slush. I love the pure, sharp contrast of white and blue and green, and the cold air in my nose and lungs. And these days, I’m listening to Christmas music while I run (or dash?) through the snow.

There will be plenty of gray days this winter, and we’re expecting rain later this week. But for now, I’m grateful for these crisp, clear, snowy winter days, and the chance to get out and run.

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Here we are, at the end of a month of running posts – I did it, even though I wasn’t always sure I could come up with anything new to say. Since today also happens to be Halloween, I’m sharing a photo of the only 5K I have ever (yet) run in costume and talking about my love of Diana Prince, aka Wonder Woman.

I wasn’t a comic-book reader as a child, and I am a little bit younger than the target audience of Lynda Carter’s iconic show. But I have a long history of loving badass heroines, and the 2017 Wonder Woman film captured my imagination. I loved Gal Gadot’s portrayal of courage, humanity, compassion and strength (not to mention the fact that she can fight evil and dance in the falling snow with equal grace). Since then, I’ve come to identify deeply with the character, who is both fierce and tender, committed to justice and just as committed to preventing needless violence.

As a runner, I’ve had to dig deep to find my physical strength on the days when getting out there (or getting through it) is a real struggle. But my association with Wonder Woman is more about that mental toughness I’ve found partly through running: the grit it takes to keep going, the grace to breathe through a tough situation and make it through.

The annual East “Booston” costume 5K went virtual this year, so I didn’t pull out my Wonder Woman outfit to run the race (though I did participate). But I wear a red leather wrap bracelet with the WW logo every single day. And though she’s perhaps not a runner in the modern sense, Diana is definitely one of my heroes in running and life.

Thanks for sticking with me through a month of #run31 posts, friends. It’s been fun. If you’re celebrating, happy Halloween. And if you live in the U.S. and you haven’t yet, please vote.

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Since I became a runner, I have actively tried to keep running from becoming something else I obsess about. This is why I (usually) don’t track my pace or mileage, why I don’t do a lot of races, why I don’t post any running stats on social media. (Besides, I’d rather look at photos of flowers or fall leaves or the harbor where I run, and the mere act of posting is often enough for me to say: I’m here. I did it. Let’s keep going.)

But running, like any new skill, offers chances to improve, ways to challenge myself, goals to set and (hopefully) meet. Sometimes I urge myself to increase the ratio of run/walk times on my runs: to keep going for longer before taking a break to walk. On the rare occasion I do a 5K, it’s fun to see if I can beat my previous times. And I’ve got a short list of races I’d like to run someday. (Top of the list: the Oxford Half, in my favorite city.)

For now, this goal-ish approach to running is working for me. The goal is mostly to get out there five or six times a week, to sweat, to move, to enjoy it. As long as I’m meeting those goals, the other ones are secondary. Running is low-pressure and high-reward. And, in this instance, that’s just the way I like it.

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When I started running, as previously mentioned, I didn’t tell anyone about it for a little while. This was mostly because I wasn’t sure it would stick. But even after I’d become a dedicated runner, I didn’t write about it here on the blog, or even talk to friends about it, much. Running felt, in those early days, both precious and precarious: something new and tentative that was all mine.

Fast forward three years and here I am spending a whole month writing about running (and if you’ve stuck with me this long, thank you). I post photos from my runs on Instagram all the time (though that is also because I’m a flower fiend and a fall-leaf fanatic). But even while I share bits of my running with the world, I mostly run alone.

I could run with other folks if I wanted to: there’s a run club or two in my neighborhood, and I can see the appeal of running in community. I do enjoy the occasional buddy run with a friend or 5K with a crowd, and my guy and I have put in a few miles together. But mostly, running is a solitary pursuit for me. I like being alone with my thoughts, my music, the wind on my face and whatever pace I feel like setting that day.

Since my divorce and the pandemic, I’ve spent more time alone than I previously ever had, and sometimes it gets to me. Sometimes solitude and loneliness blur together until I can’t tell one from the other. Some days I find myself desperate for real, in-person connection. (Thank goodness for park yoga and walks with girlfriends and, most especially, time with my guy.)

Even with an abundance of solitude, though, I still like running alone. There’s something soul-nourishing about setting out for a few solo miles, where I’m out in the world but I belong only to myself. Running has become a form of meditation and self-care in addition to exercise. And mostly, it’s something I relish doing by myself, for myself.

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