early onset

It’s November 19and I already have the winter blues.

Typically November is one of my favorite months – I love running in November (turkey trots!), putting the yard to bed for winter, the whole harvest vibe. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays because it has most of the joy of Christmas without the additional stress and conspicuous consumption. I love the gradually deepening darkness and the bare trees. And in one fell swoop, November was taken away and we were thrust into February. Last week we got six inches of snow and it was in the single digits at night and there was a snow day at Miss L’s school. This week, it’s still unseasonably cold and there is lingering snow and the sidewalks and streets are treacherous with leftover ice.

We have deer in our village, and a six-point buck strolls casually through the backyard. I’ve been reading lots of reports of coyote sightings, too, and one of the neighbors stopped by this weekend to tell Brandon that she saw three of them sitting in our front yard. It feels like a book chapter in which the river freezes in a brutal winter and wolves cross the ice to raid the townsfolk’s farms and livestock.

I’m not sure if the two are related, but I’ve been struggling with my mood for the past week, too. I’m on a low dose of a very effective antidepressant but every now and then – like something buried far beneath the surface that sometimes moves and catches a glinting reflection of daylight to remind me it’s still there – I have a whisper of that old feeling, the old “what happens when the other shoe drops” feeling. Some of it is hormonal and some of it is that I just haven’t been very active since the Savannah half, so I need to get back to regular runs and long walks and lunchtime elliptical sessions with my book. I’m trying to seek out opportunities for hygge & Brandon is fully on board with fires at night and scented candles and yummy dinners. I’m knitting a lot, just finished up L’s fingerless chunky mitts and a new flat hat for her in black; still trucking with my sweater knitting and about to cast on for a new hot water bottle cover. And I am drinking a lot of tea – Constant Comment, Sleepytime, a yaupon tea that I bought in Savannah – and have new pink heels for work.

But I can’t help but feel that I’m raiding my midwinter emergency kit way too early this year.

show us your books! october reads

There’s no bad season for reading, but we are fast approaching what I consider to be THE BEST SEASON for reading – when you can do it in front of a fireplace, with a blankie, and your choice of beverage.

To support my claim that this time is nigh upon us, I present two pieces of evidence:

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Submission 1: First Snow (in southeast Michigan at least)

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Submission 2: Happy Cat Feet from Nap-Drunk Cat During First Snow Fall

And now on to the books!

I didn’t get as much reading done this month as I usually do, but that’s primarily because I started the month with a nonfiction selection (which usually takes me a bit longer).

The Castle on Sunset: Life, Death, Love, Art, and Scandal at Hollywood’s Chateau Marmont by Shawn Levy was, if you are interested in old Hollywood, an interesting history of one of the most famous hotels in the US. I’ve listened to all of Karina Longworth’s “You Must Remember This” podcast (which I can highly recommend) so this book was a fun read, apart from where it occasionally bogged down in (albeit necessary) details about real estate and construction.

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Knitlandia & A Stash of One’s Own, both by Clara Parkes, were, as the titles may suggest, books about knitting – the first, Ms Parkes’ personal essays about her travels for knitting (as someone who has written six books about it and also founded a popular online knitting magazine). I liked Knitlandia and I loved the descriptions of the conventions and fiber festivals, as well as her love of finding a good bowl of pho wherever she travels. Reading these probably did nothing to speed up my overall reading for the month because I kept wanting to pick up knitting projects while I was reading.

I continue to devour The Ruth Galloway Series by Elly Griffiths and this month rampaged up through #8. The character continues to develop and the cast of friends, family, and colleagues expands and deepens – I keep reading not just for the cool mystery themes (plots and subplots include druids, King Arthur’s remains, threats made against women priests, excavated WWII planes, Victorian child killers and visions of the Virgin Mary, among others – and let’s not forget the most captivating subplot of all – Ruth’s relationship with DCI Nelson and the child they had out of wedlock). I still have not gotten bored or slowed down and every one I read just makes me want to read the next.

Lastly, my favorite read of October was The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman. I read the His Dark Materials trilogy years ago and really enjoyed it (didn’t love the Daniel Craig / Nicole Kidman film so much, but I see they’re making another go of it on HBO). I liked Dust even better. I found Malcolm, the main character, to be endearing and the plot was quick moving and adventurous – as a prequel to the Golden Compass, it answered questions from Dark Materials and seeing many of the characters before the dark clouds of Dark Materials begin to form was fun – like old friends. I picked up the second in the trilogy in hard cover at one of my fave bookshops – Horizon Books – when I was on holiday up there at my folks’ house, but haven’t cracked it yet. I would guess, though, that it will show up in my next installment of Show Us Your Books.

As one last note, on the topic of books and bookstores, my one regret about my Savannah trip was missing out when Brandon and his dad went to a bookshop near our flat – E Shaver Books. It looked so charming from the outside but I was simply too tired to walk there. There are apparently three resident cats!! Which hearkens me to my favorite used bookstore of all time, The Haunted Bookshop of Iowa City, where I got to pet the two resident cat managers (one of whom was NOT thrilled by the attention).

Until next time, I look forward to checking out the recommendations from others in the meetup, and feel free to comment with your favorite recent reads!

Life According to Steph

 

savannah + rock & roll half marathon recap!

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It’s taken me a bit longer than I anticipated to get this post pulled together so thanks for your patience! It just means we were having a really awesome time on our trip and then had to quickly throw ourselves back into real life to finish out this week strong.

We front-loaded the weekend with the half marathon, so as soon as we were off the plane, Brandon’s sister picked us up and we were off to the expo (I was thrilled to note when I got my bib that Brandon had personalized it!) Brandon’s sis is one of the good ones, for sure. She’s an Ali McGraw, willowy, athletic Vineyard Vines / Northern by birth but Southern by choice who puts in minimum sixty hour work weeks and yet still finds the time to play competitive tennis, do Pilates, be the integral glue for a big Southern family and train for her first half. AND plan a perfect weekend trip for us.

She found us a beautiful flat almost right on Lafayette Square, just behind Flannery O’Connor’s childhood home, and everything, including race start and end, were within walking distance. The race route went right past our corner and we could have stood in the bay window to watch it. The morning started out cold, at least for Savannah – in the 50’s – and we bundled up in throwaway fleeces & sweatshirts after eating our toast & getting hydrated.

The route was flat and lovely – taking us through a lot of the city that we wouldn’t see as tourists as well as through the historic areas. And of course, there were runners in costume – several Elvises and a Tommy Lee, running shirtless in black jeans and a flowing black wig, twirling drumsticks. I ran the first 5 or 6 miles with Brandon and his sister, keeping a slow, steady pace (12’s) and walking through aid stations. I never would have known it was her first half – she was a champ! Then when we ran past our flat, their parents came out to hug and cheer them on and I lost them in the scrum. I didn’t want to stop because I knew that if I did I would have a harder time getting started again, so I popped in my headphones and powered on.  I felt strong and ran the next few miles between 11.15 and 10.42 (mile 10 was my quickest at 10.42) and then hit the wall at mile 11, gradually slowing down – 11.37, 11.40, 11.45.

Official Event Results:   2:32:52
Garmin time: 2:33 (11.37)

I felt great throughout, probably due to a very relaxed first six miles, and never had a moment during the race where I felt like I was suffering, even in the last 2 miles. I really enjoyed running with Brandon and his sister (who finished strong about ten minutes behind me, with Brandon running with her) but I think if I’d run my own race, I could have thrashed my A2 Half time (although it’s not a great comparison because the elevations are so different and there was nothing equivalent to the Arb Hill in Savannah).

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The rest of our trip was spent sightseeing, napping, eating, and watching (and nastily critiquing) Hallmark Christmas movies on the only channel we reliably got other than sports networks. I found a local yarn shop and made some purchases; I highly recommend The Frayed Knot if you’re in Savannah and need yarn!

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We took the riverboat tour on a bright, sunny afternoon, and shopped at Black Dog for souvenirs; we toured the Owens-Thomas House & Slave Quarters, which was excellent; and we celebrated Brandon’s parents’ 50th wedding anniversary with dinner at Elizabeth on 37th. This is a fabulous restaurant in an old Thomas Square mansion, and we found out halfway through the meal that our server is actually the owner (and a Nobel Peace Prize nominee).

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I fell in love with the lush green elegance and history of the city, the fountains and ghosts and Spanish moss, and cannot wait to go back.

 

 

 

 

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Brandon’s jack o’ lantern!

Last week was pretty rough, with a very sick Miss L (asthmatic bronchitis + early strep signs), parent teacher conferences (she rocked it – way to go Miss L), nonstop requests at work, and a meltdown from me when Miss L’s poor tummy couldn’t handle her first double dose of antibiotics. She’s feeling better this week and as a result, I’m feeling better, but last week brought back a lot of bad memories about how out of control and inadequate I often felt in her first years of life. I have a much healthier outlook now than I did then, but last week brought back shades of those feelings and the times when I really just hated myself for not being able to handle things better, control my emotions, keep her well…lots of mom guilt and anxiety back then. I’m glad I am mostly past that, with some exceptions.

this tree down the street wins my ‘best foliage on the block’ award

But the weekend was better and this week, has been, too, so far. We are preparing for our long weekend in Savannah but of course that means – Rock & Roll Half Marathon! I’d really been hoping for a strong run and to show improvement over my Crim & A2 Half times. However, it may not be in the cards. On my last long run, I noticed pulling in my calf muscle; I thought it was just a cramp, but it never resolved, and even after a week off, it cropped up again last week. I haven’t run since and these are echoes of the A2 Half – a minor injury in the last weeks of training, followed by a couple of weeks off to try to hastily heal it, then a sub-par performance. I might try to run today or tomorrow just to test it, but it it’s still bothersome, then my half will just be “for fun” with a lot of walking mixed in. This is disappointing and maybe I’m just not cut out for the half, and should focus on shorter distances. We’ll see after this weekend.

I hope you are all looking forward to a cozy Samhain. We are now midway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice, and the darkness of the season is descending. The weather in SE Michigan doesn’t look promising for our Halloween, with rain and cold, but since last year was so lovely we’re probably due.

Be well and enjoy your week – I will be back with the final 20 Days of Horror update (spoiler – I doubt we’ll actually hit 20) and of course next week, Savannah recap!

obligatory cat pic – emmett napping with me

you don’t just pull someone’s skull apart without a little lower-arm strength: 20 days of horror update

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Although it feels as though we’ve been watching horror movies for an entire year already, we’re only half done with 20 Days of Horror. We got a bit bogged down in two of the infamous Hammer productions, Twins of Evil and the Brides of Dracula, both starring Peter Cushing. These are Brandon’s faves, excellent campy old school horror, the equivalent of a spaghetti Western.
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But now I’ve insisted that we return to the era nearest and dearest to my own heart – the ‘80’s slasher franchises.
Today’s installment is the only Halloween selection NOT to feature Michael Myers and is honestly a pretty sad specimen – except for the omnipresent Silver Shamrock jingle. John Carpenter’s intent was to make a different Halloween-themed movie each year, but after this one flopped, Michael was reinvigorated for future contributions, and aren’t we all glad.
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Halloween III: Season of the Witch is overly long and has a lot of great snarkable moments. I can easily see that it was inspiration for at least some aspects of Stranger Things. There are also some cool references, such as the glimpses of the original Halloween – which is one of my all time favorite scary movies. Jamie Lee Curtis provided the voice for the telephone operator as well as the voice over the intercom in the curfew announcements. Just be warned if you watch this extremely odd contribution to the Halloween franchise, that, in addition to no Michael Myers, there’s only a fleeting reference to a witch quite near the end. No actual witch. Suffice it to say that the plot does not hold together very well. From IMDb:
“During a panel at 2013’s 35 Years of Terror Halloween convention in Pasadena, CA, Tommy Lee Wallace was asked by the moderator to explain, as the sole credited screenwriter, the connection between Stonehenge, Ireland, robots, and laser beams that both melt flesh and produce/conjure bugs and snakes from a human body. Wallace’s entire response was “It’s magic, man.””
10. Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
9. The Brides of Dracula (1960)
8. Twins of Evil (1971)
7. Black Christmas (1974)
6. Season of the Witch (1972)
5. The Visit (2015)
4. Amityville Horror (1979)
3. C.H.U.D (1984)
2. The Changeling (1980)
1. Village of the Damned (1960)

a chilling tale for halloween

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My folks live in an old farmhouse in a very small town in a county with just one stoplight. We frequently kid them that it MUST be haunted and my mom doesn’t dispute this but my dad just rolls his eyes.

Last weekend, we had a bit of a chilling night in that old farmhouse; presented for your Halloween pleasure…

L and I usually sleep in the same room, which has a double bed and a small twin bed. The house is heavy and solid and comforting, and I always sleep well. However, that night, several hours into my REM cycle, I was jolted awake when Miss L sat bolt upright in bed, saying repeatedly and insistently, “What? What? What?” Not panicked, but urgently. I was sleep-muddled and mumbled, “Who are you talking to? Go back to sleep,” to which she responded, at a somewhat louder volume, “WHAT?”

And, undeniably, a small, somewhat curious, mild voice whispered back, from somewhere in the room, “What?

Miss L immediately lay back down and went back to sleep. I, however, was rigid in my bed with my hair standing on end. My heart was pounding. I must be half asleep, I told myself. She said it, just very quietly, it was L, not anyone else…or anything. I didn’t really believe this, but I managed to rationalize myself back to sleep.

Until a few hours later, when I was roused – gradually, not all at once – from slumber by Miss L’s quiet murmuring from the bed across the room.

“What are you doing?” I groggily hissed.

“Asking a question,” L replied.

“I’m sleeping! To whom are you asking this question??” I said.

“Not you,” L said, and in the chilly silence that followed, in which my hair stood up again, L subsided back into sleep.

The next morning, she remembered nothing of the conversations, and because my mind can’t actually grasp that I heard something else whisper that one single word, I’ve convinced myself that it was her, or my own sleep-befuddled brain. Or that my 20 Days of Horror, or Marianne on Netflix have caught up with me and are playing tricks.

Did my sleep-talking daughter commune with a ghost? We’ll never know. But I also don’t know that my sleep in that old farmhouse will be as blissfully untroubled as it has been.

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leaf peepers

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Miss L and I blew this downstate pop stand and headed up north on Thursday night. My folks live up there and we love visiting them at any time of year, but fall is especially magical. On Friday, while my mom worked her gig at a local historical museum, my dad took us into Traverse City for an emergency yarn run (mitts for Miss L) and shopping at one of our favorite bookstores, Horizon Books on Front Street. I picked up the new Philip Pullman (wait for it – Show Us Your Books!). It felt very conspiratorial as the streets were still bustling with folks in Friday work mode while we played hooky; but there was the indisputable growing excitement of TGIF and the inevitable WEEKEND right around the corner.

Saturday was one of those spectacular autumn days with a cerulean blue sky, and you don’t know how to dress because it’s so warm in the sun, but chilly in the shade, or on the lakeshore with the wind. We went to Arcadia and walked the new marsh boardwalk, and then up the Baldy Dune overlook, with Lake Michigan turquoise below and the Frankfort Light in the distance. The weather is syrupy and golden-honey now but very soon will show its teeth, with the gales of November and the immense black winter laying heavily down along the shore.

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Miss L and I made my dad stop for pumpkins at a roadside stand; it was full of bushels of apples and squash and the scent of cider. I wanted one of every kind of squash – acorn, butternut, spaghetti , delicata – but we just left with two four-dollar pumpkins. Miss L and I sat on the back deck in that rare sunshine and carved them into jack o’lanterns to leave with my folks to scare all the evil Halloween spirits from their old farmhouse.

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We drove downstate on Sunday, in lines of leaf peeper traffic, and took a few short detours for some color touring of our own. Highway 115 between Thompsonville and Cadillac was at or slightly past peak. Hurry if you want to see color, as the rain is coming in again and will likely take all those bits of sunshine with it.

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