guilt and books

I always have a sense of guilt when I give up on a book. There’s a feeling that I should keep pushing through it, that it has something to offer, and possibly even that if a book is boring or not my cup of tea, that it’s completely my fault and I will be a better person if I keep reading it. Lately, though, I’ve had a lot more success with pushing past those feelings and, if a book hasn’t grabbed me by the first 100 pages or so, switching to another one in my pile. Hence my relationship with “The Mechanical.”

I took 4 books on vacation and got through 2 – I really enjoyed “Bellweather Rhapsody” and made it through “The Passenger” with mild interest but not overwhelming enthusiasm. I read a lot, and my annual book goals are usually in the 40’s or 50’s (this year’s goal is 50 books and I just made it halfway). I’ve always been a fast reader. I wasn’t born with many gifts, but that is certainly one of them. However, this will never be a book blog because I’m just not a good critic. I can’t explain why I like something or get fancy with plot structure, character development, metaphors, etc. If I like it, I like it because it started a movie in my head and kept me daydreaming about it even when I was away from it.

I read more from my local library than any other source.

I have a Kindle but our electronic library site is a bit frustrating so if I can’t find a $1 or $2 book deal through any of the websites or blogs that I read, I don’t use it much except when I travel, so I don’t have to lug heavy hardcover tomes on and off planes.

I listen to a lot of books on Audible, too, but I don’t count them in my annual book count because I haven’t technically “read” them.

I picked up “The Mechanical” because it had a prominent blurb from George R.R. Martin at the top and I enjoyed the “Song of Ice and Fire” saga (as well as being a somewhat rabid fan of the HBO series). (Although it must be said that I enjoyed the later books more than the early ones.) I really tried with it and I wish that I could like it because the premise is intriguing – an alternate history of a war between the French and the Dutch, who have created a race of mechanical servants through technology and alchemy. There are all sorts of cool terms in it like Clockmaker’s Guild, Stemwinders, etc but although I tried valiantly, when I got into bed at night, looking at the cover made me want to turn the TV on instead and that’s when I know I have to move on.

I had more guilt when I moved on to a fluffernutter called “While We Were Watching Downton Abbey”, but it was just what I needed – a quick beachy read that I devoured, and then I went back to more robust material with “America’s First Daughter”. I’m almost halfway through it and am finding it fascinating, although it paints a really dubious picture of Thomas Jefferson. I’d love to hear anyone else’s thoughts on it (no spoilers though).

Any book recommendations from my small but loyal cadre of dear readers? Hope you are enjoying your summer reads. xo

flesh wounds

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miss l left foxy at jax’s house and this is what greeted me when i showed up to ride bikes.

A colleague saw the pictures of my duathlon on Instagram, and congratulated me. I demurred and told her about the bike, and was overheard by another colleague. It turns out this colleague’s wife is a cyclist, and had an old road bike she wasn’t using any longer. Long story short, I was able to purchase a great Cannondale for an absolute song. It’s 18 years old, but it’s been completely rebuilt, and looks beautiful.
Last week, during a minor break in the killing heat, Jax got out his road bike and we went for a spin together. Jax has done several triathlons, and in general, is a superior athlete. He picked a 14 mile out-and-back paved bike trail, which was blessedly quite flat and smooth, and he proceeded to push me pretty hard to keep up with him.
My duathlon mph was pretty shoddy, so Jax set a pace that was more aggressive than that. We determined that I could have taken about 10 minutes off my time if I’d been able to keep that pace. At this point, we were clipping along between 15 & 16 mph and I could barely hear him when he spoke to me. I kept abreast of him until we came up on others on the trail, at which point he would move in front so I could draft and catch my breath.
We reached our turnaround point, where the path ran between two small lakes. It was lovely, rather isolated, with the sun setting over the trees, and Jax apparently called back over his shoulder that he was stopping at the next bench. Unfortunately, drafting behind him as I was, I didn’t hear him. And, accustomed to my mountain bike, where the brakes are in a different position on the handlebars, when he slowed to a stop in front of me, my reaction time just wasn’t there.
I shifted to the left to avoid hitting him and lost control. I went down more or less on my right side, with my hand out in front of me. I felt the impact on the outside of my knee, hip, shoulder, and hand, but the crack of my helmeted head hitting the pavement was the stunner.
I lay there for awhile looking up into the sky, turning rose gold with sunset, and evaluating. Jax extricated me from my bike and I came to the conclusion that although my head hurt, and I was bleeding from several scrapes, nothing was broken. There was a rough moment when I thought I might throw up, but after a few moments I recovered enough to turn around and head back.
Seven miles with a bruised hand and blood running from various skin rips and tears isn’t fun, and I felt slow and sorry for myself for the first few minutes. Then, anxious at the impending dusk and the lack of streetlights along the path, Jax said, “You’re going SIX MILES AN HOUR. It’s going to be dark by the time we get back!” and I got mad and upped my pace. Although he raced ahead at 22-23 mph for a mile or two, I held steady at around 19 for the last few miles, and by the time we got back to the car, I was feeling the endorphin rush and more than a little impressed at my wounds, as well as the fact that I hadn’t cried.

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We stopped at the local gas station for celebratory Slurpees and it was the best thing I’d ever tasted.

grace kelly and the beach

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I wouldn’t necessarily say that vacation was “relaxing”, but it was overall a positive and fun experience. It’s not easy being the “new kid” in a big annual family trip, but Jax’s family was overwhelmingly gracious and welcoming, and Miss L and I had a lot of fun.

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The weather was scorching, with heat indexes over 100 on several days and a bathwater ocean. Pelicans circled overhead and I was struck again by the violence of the ocean, compared to the Great Lakes I’m used to. The landscape is almost alien to me, prisoner to the inexorable rhythms of the tides and the battering heat – the coastline is spare and unforgiving, to my eyes, and the neighborhoods are rings of rental houses on stilts – some lovely and gracious, and some mean and small. There were storms some evenings and early mornings, and jagged lightning far out over the ocean; in the afternoons we lay by the pool and I watched swollen, angry thunderheads ebb and flow in the distance. I’m not a swimmer, and the harsh ocean scared me – stung my eyes with salt and bobbed me in the waves like a top, pulling me under and turning me over and reminding me how easily it could take me, if it wanted.

There were 24 family members spread over three beach houses, in-laws and cousins and spouses and children. It was an eclectic group; the youngest was 3 and the oldest was in her 70’s. Among them was a Washington DC attorney, a California psychiatrist, college professors and teachers, a liberal hippie chick and a tattoo artist.  Jax had made sure that we were lucky enough to stay in the grown up, kid-centric beach house with Jax’s sister, a brisk, cheerful, capable gal who looks like a mashup of Grace Kelly and a Lands’ End model, and her family. They were well-traveled, highly educated, thoughtful, interesting people and I instantly liked them. They were funny and gracious and mellow and easy to talk to. Our house had an unobstructed view of the beach and several balconies that reminded me of old-fashioned widow walks, where mournful women might pace and look for their lover’s ghost ships far out on the water.

Our house revolved around the kids; they all got along well and Miss L made fast friends with Grace’s daughter, who is the same age. We had regular meals and snacks with all four food groups represented; Grace Kelly and I cut up fruit and made grilled cheese sandwiches and made sure no one ate too much sugary cereal and that all children were liberally slathered with SPF. We let them stay up too late to go ghost crabbing and play Hearts and mini-golf; we ate too much ice cream and did movie nights with the kids featuring popcorn and Ghostbusters. We looked for sharks’ teeth on the beach and Miss L learned to boogie board. We raided the half-price surf shop for tshirts and spent more time petting their mascot cat. We fell into a routine of beach in the morning, with all the adults either floating in the waves or sitting in their beach chairs in the shallows to keep careful watch on the children with the riptides, and the pool in the afternoon. We shared washer and dryer and dishwasher and grocery shopping duty. The biggest trauma we encountered was when the house elevator became jammed with two of Grace Kelly’s kids in it. (It turns out Grace can calmly jimmy an elevator, slice a peach, and get lunch on the table at the same time.)

It was tiring for me, though, as I felt that I was always on my best behavior, trying to shoulder my share of the cooking and cleaning and keeping watch on the kids. I don’t come from a large, communal family and while I loved the loose bonds that tied the houses – sharing lunches and dinners, all of us watching each the kids, biking over and dropping in – I am strongly introverted, and that village atmosphere can also unnerve me at times, especially when I don’t know anyone very well yet. Plus, I think all couples in a romantic relationship should test their commitment via a ten day vacation and thirteen hours in a minivan with their children. Jax and I made it through, but Miss L and I were both glad to come home to our own house. And miracle of miracles, the cats were so thrilled to be released from their separate imprisonment that they promptly gave each other a bath and fell asleep, all aggression forgotten in the joy of our homecoming.

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oh yeah – and there were rum dums, which, despite their lurid color, were actually quite delicious.

horrible timing 

Is it normal that the prospect of a weeklong beach vacation is currently filling me with sick anxiety? 

Mild agoraphobia runs in my family and although Jax & I and our combined kiddos have a great trip planned, the few days before leaving are filled with errands, long days at work, last minute scrambles, emails, and scribbled lists. The thought of being displaced for a week is difficult and I know most people would think it is crazy to feel like this. And believe me, I completely understand what a first world problem it is to feel anxious about taking a lovely long relaxing vacation and I know many people would love to have this to worry about. I get it and am as exasperated about it as any of you, dear readers.

Once, in my twenties, I had to take a work trip from Atlanta to South Carolina. It was a bad time in my life and working from my apartment made my tendencies more pronounced. I had a tiny, closed off little world that I felt completely safe and protected in, every day, and when I had to leave it, I got off-kilter. I got on the road and was assaulted by horrible anxiety about my cats and whether I’d locked my door, turned off the coffee pot, etc. Over an hour into the trip, I turned around and drove back to Atlanta. Yes, the only way I could combat that anxiety was to lose all of that time and go back to check. After that, if I had to leave for any period of time, I would lock my door and then scratch myself with the door key. If my anxiety started, I would look at the scratch on my wrist and know I had locked up.

Being on an antidepressant has changed me for the better in a myriad of ways, but some things are still a struggle and right now I’m there. 

The major trigger, currently, is that my cats have lapsed back into redirected aggression behavior. The timing couldn’t be worse.


They went from the above pictured calm, peaceful behavior, sleeping contentedly together, to violent, uncontrollable fighting over July 4. I don’t know if it is the result of fireworks and firecrackers, or a neighborhood cat or other animal in the yard. All I know is that Miss L & I came home to Emmett barricaded in my closet, too afraid to come downstairs to eat or use the box, and sporting a new cut on his nose to match the scar from the past serious bout of redirected aggression. He was hoarse from growling and hissing.


Who would have thought that this big gentle fluffbutt could be the aggressor?

They have been on Prozac since the last bout, which took place last winter, and I really thought we’d kicked it. This new setback is devastating. The timing is horrible, for one. They will have to be locked in separate rooms during my trip, and my ex will be checking on them. Thank God for friendly relations with my ex, I don’t think I could trust anyone else in close proximity to help while I’m gone. 

It’s also devastating because I feel like we’ve tried everything. Separations, pet behavior specialist, meds, and there is no long term solution. Keeping them separate and on meds is no life for them and creates immense stress for me. But I can’t imagine rehoming one of them. 


So I’m making my vacation plans with a heavy heart and if I didn’t have Miss L eagerly looking forward to fun in the sun with us, and Jax, who has done so much work to have this be a great trip, and has issues of his own that he has to overcome to go, I would consider canceling. Feeling anxious and out of control is not a good thing for me, but I will just have to get through it and figure things out when we get back.

sentence per picture- up north Independence Day edition 

the water around frankfort is finally warming so that no one’s lips turn blue after swimming.

a few old beautiful things.

after cake and ice cream, we walked the breakwater to the lighthouse in the slanting glare of sunset.

miss l & jax descended the steep dune to swim in the waves fully dressed

of course, then they had to climb back up!

the beautiful glen lakes as seen from pierce stocking in the sleeping bear.

no idea what a chub is but the smokehouse in frankfort’s got them.

Happy 4th to all. xoxo

i’m baaaack – and a tri goddess recap.

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Post Glen Arbor solstice run, feeling happy with endorphins, the scenic overlook and a Leelanau Coffee Roasters coffee in the car waiting for me.

Over many months of slowly getting back to some moderate level of fitness, post-stress fracture, my mantra has been “trust the process”. It’s discouraging and it doesn’t feel good to fight your way back but if you put the time and the miles in, check the boxes, et cetera, at some point it will pay off and you will begin to see some results. To that end, I did the Glen Arbor Solstice 5k two weeks ago and the Tri Goddess Tri duathlon this past weekend, and although my training runs are the same plodding exercises in sweat, fatigue, and irritation as they’ve been for the past year, my event results are starting to get back in line. In fact, I took 50 seconds off my Solstice time from last year, so I approached my duathlon with a bit more confidence than I might have otherwise.

The Tri Goddess Tri is a cool event for several reasons. It’s all female, and feels like a safe environment to ‘tri’ different events (see what I did there?). There’s a sprint tri, a mini tri, and a duathlon and you don’t have to worry that some overly competitive dude bro is going to trample over you in transition reeking of Axe deodorant and testosterone. They move a lot of participants – 500 – around the different events in a pretty organized fashion, the organizers and volunteers are enthusiastic, and the venue is great. Portage Lake / Waterloo recreation area is a beautiful wooded park and on Tri Sunday it booms with music and activity. It’s the kind of event where you pass someone and the person you pass tells you what a great job you are doing and to keep it up. Also, the swag is nice – a nifty finisher medal and a cute t-shirt. (It’s nice to get a stylish race shirt for a change, as I’ve become accustomed to ill-fitting cotton ones that I end up hacking the sleeves & collar off for lawn mowing and pajama purposes.)

The downside, of course, is that there’s a lot of rah-rah and you have to deal with skinny immaculate Real Housewife-looking women calling you ‘Goddess’ all day. “GO GODDESS!” “GODDESSES TO THE STARTING LINE!” They could maybe ease back on THAT throttle a tiny bit.

I hadn’t really planned on the du, but I remembered a week or so ago that I’d actually registered last year, but deferred it. Frugality fought with competitive spirit and my innate cheapness won. Not wanting to waste my already-paid fee, I activated the registration and asked Jax if I could borrow his daughter’s bike. My bike is an ancient Specialized trail monster from the mid-’90’s Stump Jumper / Rock Hopper genre and although it’s fine for tooling around town occasionally, it is not roadworthy. Unfortunately, the bike I borrowed wasn’t a lot better. And I hadn’t been on a bike for months. Still, I thought, how bad could it be?

Jax brought Miss L to see me compete and although I couldn’t find them in the fringe of spectators at the start line, a few seconds into the first leg I heard Miss L yelling “MAMA!!!” and I got a quick glimpse of her on the sidelines. It put the heart into me. I’ve never really been the type to care one way or the other if people come out to watch me do an event. I tend to be of the opinion that my family can see me red-faced and sweaty after any of my other runs, so why should they get out of bed to see it? However, it was undeniably amazing to know that I had a cheering section. Coming into transition, knowing they were at the finish line, gave me such a surge of positive endorphins.

The first run – a mile and a half – was mostly trail, which I am unused to. Still, I finished solidly with a decent pace and was among the first handful into transition. My hubris caught up with me during the 11 mile ride. The borrowed bike was about what you would expect for being owned by a twelve year old. The tires were full, but that’s about it. I never figured out the gears, which went crashing through their paces and sent the chain clicking loudly. I was passed by no fewer than twenty women, all gliding along on very expensive road bikes, and by the time I came back to transition, my legs were dead. You might think this is an exaggeration but unless you’ve extensively trained for it, nothing can really prepare you for how strange it is to try to run after a long bike ride. I took the first few steps out of transition and had a bad moment where my right leg twitched and simply would not move the direction that I told it to.  Although I was smiling when I passed Jax and Miss L, I was struggling on wobbly, unresponsive pins. “You’ve got a lot of people to pass,” Jax the Motivator yelled. He is one of those people who can display staggering honesty at undesirable times and then seem very surprised at the results, bless his heart.

Fortunately for him, I had bigger fish to fry, so I suppressed a snarling expletive and staggered on at a slightly brisker pace up the long gradual uphill out of the park, and I felt every step and every breath. Then a quick stretch on the road, with a blessed aid station where I stopped to chug some Gatorade – I was parched and hadn’t thought to leave a water bottle on my bike or in transition. I wasn’t sure I could get my legs working again and a sweaty 26-year old and I eyed each other warily (I knew everyone’s ages because the organizers insisted on writing them upon us in thick black marker.) Neither of us wanted to take the first step away from the Gatorade, but eventually I realized I was only going to beat her if I started running again. So I plunged back into the woods, onto the winding trails, up and downhill, and focused on the churning legs of the women in front of me. There’s a 52-year old! Whoop – I can pass a 39-year old! And me 43 and all.It’s petty and shallow but in the depths of human misery, odd things keep you going.

My legs regained some semblance of normal motion. I was passed myself by someone going like a bat out of hell, glistening with sweat on her muscled back, and for awhile was all alone on the trail with just the sound of the woods. Then I could hear the music and the announcer; I managed to pass one more goddess before the last lap to the finish where I reunited with my cheering section. Miss L promptly took possession of my race medal and plundered the snacks for the finishers.

I would do the du (haha) again, but not with a sub par bike. My runs were solid and I think I could have placed in my age group if my bike leg hadn’t been so dismal. But, I told Jax, I’m a runner, not a biker, so I’m not going to spend a lot of money on an expensive bike for one duathlon a year. Still, I’m glad I participated, and feel like I’m slowly starting to come back.

mostly about running

I got home from Mexico exhausted and my little one was ill with a stubborn tummy bug; there was lots of cuddling on the couch together for a few days, and it was Tuesday before I got out for a run.

I still haven’t given up on the thought of a June half marathon, but getting my base established and scheduling the long runs is getting increasingly difficult with travel and weekend plans. A couple of weeks ago, I ran with a girlfriend who used to be a solid minute per mile slower than me; this time, though, I was gasping to keep up with her. She yammered happily away and I wheezed.

These things worry me and when I see happy selfies and blog posts from committed runners, I’m tempted to feel bad about myself. Like if I’m not running at the top of my form, if I’m not keeping up, if I can’t run my best then I shouldn’t be running at all. It’s surprising to realize that this used to be my running philosophy and how I measured myself as a runner! All or nothing.

The Tuesday run reminded me of why I run and why I keep coming back to it. The timing wasn’t perfect – it was fit in during my lunch hour. There wasn’t a watch or music or stretching. The sky was blue and the sun was warm and it was spring. I didn’t run fast and I didn’t run all four miles without stopping. But there were red-winged blackbirds in the reeds and my running shoes made satisfying sounds in the damp sand and gravel at the road shoulder. There were tracks in the mud, deer and ducks, and I wound my way the mile and a half or so to the nearby University Botanical Gardens and in a few minutes was all alone with myself in the sunny meadows and woods. The trail went alongside the brown river and I stopped sometimes to look at things; the purple blossoms in the trees, a pile of glossy feathers from an unlucky duck.

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My legs felt strong and I blew my nose in my shirt and was happy to be outside and alone and running, with hawks soaring high above me. I came back to the office bedraggled and blown out and perfectly happy to shower quickly, change back into my work clothes like a costume, and sit at my desk like anyone else, like a superhero in disguise, like a real runner – whatever that is.

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