Friday, September 1, 2017

What's Kristine Reading? August Edition

   I'm still knitting like crazy trying to finish up gifts for the Holidays, so my reading has been limited, but I'm still keeping up with my book group reads. This month, we read "The Shadow of the Wind" by Carlos Ruiz Zaf√≥n. "Shadow" is the first book in the "Cemetery of Forgotten Books" series, of which there are four. Well, technically, there are three books and a short story right now.  From what I understand, the fourth book is due to be published in 2018.


   ANYWAY, "Shadow" is about a young boy named Daniel Sempere who is being raised by his father (his mother recently died), a bookstore owner. When Daniel is around 10 (? I think), his father takes him to a secret library of rare and, for all intents and purposes, forgotten books (hence, the name of the series). This library is huge with thousands of books. Daniel is told to wander around and select a book - a rite of passage in the Sempere family. The book he selects? "The Shadow of the Wind" by Julian Carax.
   Daniel loves the book, and basically becomes obsessed with finding out more about Carax and his other works (I can totally relate with this feeling). And this is where the story gets interesting - someone has mysteriously destroyed every copy of Carax's books, except for what was stored in the "Cemetery."  Daniel's fixation on discovering what happened to Carax and who has been burning his books, and why, takes Daniel on a multi-year quest filled with unusual characters, intrigue and murder.
  All of this SHOULD be a set-up for a great book. And a lot of people think it's fantastic (I recently saw "Shadow" on a list titled something like "Books You Need to Read Before You Die.").  For me? It was a little slow in many parts which could have been fixed with editing. At almost 500 pages, it was WAY too long. And I'm not afraid of a long book. I read "Gone with the Wind" in a weekend, and I can burn my way though a Harry Potter book in no time. But reading "Shadow" was like pulling teeth for me. Which was annoying because I love the premise of the book and it was very well written. It just needed to be about 100 pages shorter.
 

Friday, August 4, 2017

Knitting for a Cause

   I've been knitting a lot recently. A lot. As in - I didn't finish a book in July because I've been knitting so much. CRAZY, I know. But I'm working on some things for gifts and knitting takes time.  I need to get into audiobooks so I can keep up with my "reading." Oh - and I'm also training for an Ironman. Have I mentioned that? Yeah - Ironman Louisville. It's a long story as to how I ended up doing this race, but I'm in and kind of doing a Couch-to-Ironman program. It's not THAT extreme, as I had been running some, but until recently, I hadn't been to the pool or really on my bike in about nine months. So, I wasn't exactly starting in tip-top shape, but I'm getting there.
   But that's all for a different post. What I want to talk about today is knitting. Specifically, knitting for a cause, or causes. One thing I didn't realize when I first started knitting is that many, many non-profit groups would love some donated knitted items. I frequently see posts out on social media about hospitals needing baby hats or blankets. Since I have a lot of friends who knit or crochet, I wanted to collect information on charities in need, in case anyone wanted to donate something.
  • Oasis Center (www.oasiscenter.org) - My group of knitting friends donated items to them last year. It's an organization that helps at-risk teens, including homeless teens and runaways. They could use hats, scarves and blankets. 
  • Knitted Knockers (www.knittedknockers.org) - This group provides soft, comfortable knit prosthetics for breast cancer survivors.
  • Tennessee Kidney Foundation (www.tennesseekidneyfoundation.org) - Needs hats and fistula sleeves for patients receiving kidney transplants. If anyone has a pattern for a fistula sleeve, please let me know! 
  • Comfort Cases (www.comfortcases.org) - Needs small throw blankets (40" x 60" max) for duffels given to children entering foster care.
  • Local hospitals - In need of hats, socks, booties or blankets for preemies in the NICUs, and also hats for chemotherapy patients.
  • Halos of Hope - (halosforhope.org) Collects and donates hats for chemotherapy patients nationwide. This site has patterns too!!
   And that's just a few. If you google "where can I donate knitted items in Nashville" all sorts of charities pop up. In fact, the organization Knit & Crochet TN (https://knitandcrochettn.org) focuses on creating knitted items for Nashville charities.  If you're involved with an organization that needs items, please let me know! We'll donate to you, too!  Now get knitting! 

  

Monday, July 17, 2017

What's Kristine Reading? Belated June 2017 Edition

   Well, June just kind of snuck by me and I didn't write a review. That's not to say that I haven't been reading - I just haven't been writing about reading. But I have a really good book for this month. It will rip your heart out, but it's good. It's "The Girls Who Went Away" by Ann Fessler.



   This non-fiction book tells the stories of the unmarried girls and women who gave up their children for adoption in the period between the 1945's and 1973. You know - those girls who went to go visit their "out of town aunt" for a few months, and then mysteriously returned. These are the true stories about what really happened after they left town.  
   Let me give you the set up for the book. Ann Fessler, the author and adoptee herself,  interviewed more than 100 women who had given up their newborn babies during the above time period. The time period is important for several reasons. For one, it's post World War II. Unlike the previous Depression Era when people were just trying to get by financially, class and social standing became very important in the post WWII Era. People worked very hard to maintain appearances as being upright, moral Americans. Having a teenage daughter get pregnant just wouldn't do. So, they would ship their daughters off to a home for unwed mothers for a few months, lie to their neighbors about what was going on, and then act as if nothing happened after the girls returned. The end date, 1973, was the year that Roe v. Wade was decided and legalized abortion in the United States.   
   There is no other way to describe this book other than heartbreaking. While the details of the women's story change, the basic facts remain the same: 1) girl gets pregnant,  2) parents ship her off to home for unwed mothers to avoid social scandal, 3) girl is treated horribly at "home" by social workers, employees or members of the church (including withheld medical attention during delivery), 4) girl has baby taken away even if the girl wants to keep the child, and 5) girl told to never speak of it again.
   The aftereffect of this trauma for these women was also consistent, even decades later. Though manifested in different ways, the baby they gave up (or were forced to give up) for adoption haunted them through the rest of their lives. Some could never get over the sense of betrayal from their parents, and would never trust anyone again. Others became overly-protective of their later children because they were always afraid someone would come take them away. But none of them ever forgot about their first child. The one who was taken away from them. It's just tragic.
   It's hard to recommend a book that is so emotionally difficult to read, especially when it's non-fiction, but I highly recommend "The Girls Who Went Away." Just have a box of tissue nearby when you do.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Fargo Half Marathon Race Report

   I did the Fargo Half Marathon about a month ago. Nothing really to report other than it was AMAZING! Seriously. If you're running 50 states - THIS needs to be your North Dakota race. No detail for this race was overlooked. The communication was great. The swag was awesome. The race course had amazing volunteers and was FLAT FLAT FLAT! Sure, it was a little tough to get to Fargo, but I had an awesome travel companion (Hi Janet!), and we had a blast! Plus- the race freakin' had MIKE REILLY as a guest speaker! From Ironman!! They also had Dave McGillivray, who is the RD for the Boston Marathon and is comparably awesome, but being the tri geek I am, I freaked out a bit more about Mike. Oh - and because they know that most people don't know what to do in Fargo after the race, they scheduled a Pub Crawl afterwards where you received a matching medal! I tell you - these Fargo people know how to throw a race! Here are some pics. GO DO IT!

Obligatory pre-race bib pic.

Pre-race.  We started in the Fargodome

MIKE REILLY! 

Banners like this were everywhere.

A bison, natch.

The HUGE finisher's medal.


The matching pub crawl medal and stein.


SWAG!  

   I repeat- if you can, DO THIS RACE! Preferably with friends. It's awesome. Thanks, Fargo!  

   

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

TDOC 5k Race Report

   I am WAY behind on posts, but I've done two really cool races within the past month that you should know about. The first one was the TDOC 5k. Why was this 5k so special? Because TDOC stands for Tennessee Department of Corrections. And we ran at a prison. Just not just ANY prison, but the historic Tennessee State Prison that has been featured in many movies, including The Green Mile. This place has been closed for years because it wasn't fit for human habitation. So, it's not only a prison, but an abandoned prison. Kinda creepy, but cool.
 


   There isn't a whole lot to report about the race, as it was only a 5k, but the experience as a whole was really neat. I picked up my packet the night before when it was rainy, which really gave the prison an ominous vibe. We couldn't go in - it is condemned after all. But I was able to take some photos. You can immediately see why so many movies and shows have used this site for their projects. The building is beautiful. Built in 1898, it was in use until 1992. It had cells for 800 prisoners, but had over 1,400 admitted the first day, so it was overcrowded from the start.
   Anyway, getting back to the race, the next day we met up with some friends and ran the 5k. It was pretty flat. NBD. But afterwards, TDOC gave a walking tour of the grounds and told us a bit of the history of the prison. Our guide was a former guard who worked at the prison when it was functioning. Really interesting. He was a guard during the Pork Chop Riots of 1975 when prisoners got mad because they were served bologna instead of pork chops. Seriously - you can read about it here. He also told us about Death Row and some of the infamous prisoners who were incarcerated there, including James Earl Ray.
   If you live in Nashville, you need to do this race. You get to run in a crazy cool place, learn a bit about Tennessee history AND help raise money for Big Brothers Big Sisters. I'm absolutely doing it next year.








Next up: My recap of the Fargo Half Marathon!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

What's Kristine Reading? May 2017 Edition

   This is going to be a quick recap because it's the last day of the month and the Preds are about to play Game 2 in the Stanley Cup Final in about 45 minutes.  If these books were great, this review would take longer, but they were only so-so.  Therefore, they are only going to receive a so-so review.
   Sticking with last month's theme of getting my books from the 100 Best Books of the Decade (So Far), I picked up #1 "Open City" by Teju Cole and #6 "Skippy Dies" Paul Murray by from my local library. After loving "Just Kids" (#2) last month, I had high expectations for these books.  Maybe too high, though I don't think so.  Let's start with "Open City."


   Mostly based in New York City, this novel is about Julius, a Nigerian immigrant who is studying psychiatry.  While beautifully written, there isn't much of a "story" to this book.  It's about Julius wandering around NYC and thinking about all of the mindless things one thinks about when wandering a city.  Things like bedbugs and Alexander Hamilton.  And that's pretty much the entire book.  He'll go visit a friend every once in a while, and we learn a bit about his background, but for the most part, it's just him wandering and running into people.  However, because the writing was so lovely, the book wasn't as bad as I'm probably making it out to be.  I can understand how it was selected to be on this list.  I wouldn't have placed it as #1, but I can see how it made it to the list.



   Now, the second book, I just don't get.  "Skippy Dies" is reviewed as being really funny.  But as you can tell from the title - Skippy dies!  And Skippy isn't a goldfish or anything.  He's a boy at a boarding school who overdoses.  (Not a spoiler - it's in the title and is told in the first chapter.)  I get dark humor, but I just didn't find this book funny.  Additionally, I didn't like any of the characters.  If you have read any of my past reviews, I need to like at least one person in a book to be able to tolerate it.  I didn't like "Gone Girl" or "The Goldfinch" for similar reasons.  Plus, for heaven's sake, where was the editor for this book?  It was 600 pages and could have been edited down by at least 200.  It would have been a much better read (again like "The Goldfinch." Editing would have helped tremendously).
   However, I do have to say that I'm obviously in the minority here regarding every book I've mentioned in this post.  If you look up any of them on Goodreads, they all have four-five star reviews.  So, read them for yourself and let me know what you think!
   Oh - and GO PREDS!!




Sunday, April 30, 2017

What's Kristine Reading? April 2017 Edition

   I got this month’s book from the “100 Best Books of the Decade – So Far” list.  Y’all know me. I’m a sucker for book lists and feel the need to read every book on them, especially if the list is “Best of” or “Greatest Ever.”  Of course, being me, I typed up the list in Excel and then highlighted the books I have already read. I’m a little ashamed to admit that I have only read 14 of them. So, I immediately reserved a few books on the list at my library, and this was the first book that came in. And that book is “Just Kids” by Patti Smith (the punk rock Patti Smith, not the 80’s band Scandal lead singer Patty Smyth.  Huge difference).


    As usual, I didn’t do any kind of research on this book before I started it. Literally, all I knew was that Patti Smith wrote it. I assumed it has something to do with her roots in rock and roll, but I wasn’t sure. The book starts out with her childhood. You notice right away that Smith is a beautiful writer. Not in the superfluous, “I’m sticking lots of long words in this paragraph to describe this scene” style of writing that many authors have, but in a very tasteful, poetic way. Which makes sense because she started out a poet.
    Since I assumed this book was solely about Smith, I got a little confused when she kept mentioning “Robert.” Who was Robert? A brother? Am I supposed to know who Robert is? Ummm – yes. A quick google search of “Patti Smith” brought up controversial photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, who was Smith’s, for lack of a better term, soul mate. Their relationship is pretty legendary in artistic circles and I had no clue. Again, with the shame...   
   The story really starts to take hold when Smith moves to New York, meets Robert, and starts living in the Chelsea Hotel. The hotel, and those who lived there, fascinated me, and I’m now obsessed with reading the everything ever written about the Chelsea Hotel. If you are unaware, the owner of the Chelsea Hotel would use an artist’s portfolio as a down payment for a room if he thought you had talent. As a result, the hotel became a haven for struggling artists, which attracted other artists. Smith mentioned walking into an accompanying restaurant and Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix were there. This is going to sound a little weird, but it just seemed like such a legitimate time to be an artist or musician. I guess I’m a little burnt out of the music industry right now with so much manufactured crap out there these days. Reading about musicians who turn down record deals because they care about their art was refreshing. Granted, they were poor as dirt, so I suppose you have to take that into consideration.
    While the struggle for Patti and Robert to make it as artists is what moves the book forward, the heart of the story is their relationship. You need to read the book to truly appreciate the depth of their connection. And I highly recommend you do, especially if you have an interest rock, photography and the arts in the late 1960's, but also because Smith’s writing is so damn beautiful you’ll want to cry.
            

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Columbia Half Marathon Race Recap

   What?  What's this?  A race recap?  Yes, I know.  It's been a while.  While I've raced one or two smaller races since the NYC marathon, this is the first one that has been anything longer than six miles (and that six-miler about killed me).  I have no excuse.  Life has been busy, and I haven't been training.  But lo and behold, I found out that I had conference in DC and I don't have Maryland crossed off my 50-state half-marathon list yet, so I signed up for the Columbia Half Marathon.  I wasn't exactly sure how stupid this was because it's been a long time since I have done a race unprepared, but I figured I'd give it a go.


   The race started at 8:15, and Columbia is about an hour from my parent's house in Northern Virginia, where I was staying over the weekend.  I left the house at 6:00, in case I got lost or hit traffic.  You never know what can happen when you're in the DC area.  Fortunately, I got there at 7:00, and was able to park and check in without any issues.  The race started right next to the Columbia Mall, and google didn't have any issues finding the start line.
   However, checking in was when I received my first bit of bad news.  I spoke to a man who had run the race before and stated about the course: "It's not bad the first half - only rolling hills.  It's the second half that has the steep hills.  But you can walk those.  Everyone does."  Umm - what?  And yes, I know this course elevation is widely available on the race site, but who has time to look at that?
   I spent the next hour killing time in my car, and debating on how many layers to wear.  We had a break from the rain, thankfully, but it was 45 degrees and cloudy with a little wind.  But it was supposed to clear up and be 50 and sunny during the race.  Not a huge difference if you're a spectator, but five degrees and sun makes a world a difference when you're running.  I went with the two-layer, long sleeve over the short sleeve combo and was feeling good about my decision until 8:14 when we had a break in the clouds and the sun can shining through.  Oh well, too late to run back to the car to drop of the extra shirt now.  The gun went off and we started to run.
   As I expected, we hit a hill immediately. Nothing too steep, but it went on a while.  After a short recovery, we hit another hill.  And then another.  Again, most of them weren't terrible, but they grinded on for what seemed like forever.  I was really wishing I hadn't spend the little training I HAD done on the treadmill.  The course went on like this for most of the first six miles when we finally had a nice long downhill.  Problem for me is that it was TOO steep (I'm a horrible descender), so I didn't really make up any time there.  Others were flying by me, so I should probably work on this skill!
    We meandered through the neighborhoods of Columbia.  It was a nice course with many of the neighbors coming out of their homes to cheer.  That was fun.  We did have one stretch that was kind of on a highway, but the police and volunteers were out in full-force, so we didn't have any issues with traffic.  Seriously, this was one of the best-supported races I have been to.  They did a great job.
   I was OK physically until about mile eight.  I figured this was when the wheels would start to fall of, and they did.  The second half of the course was harder not because of the steepness of the hills ( I actually think they were about the same as the first half), but you were just so tired and beat down that the hills felt harder.  And yes, I had a to walk more than I would have liked.  Stupid hills.
    The course was mostly a circle, with us returning on the main road back to the starting line.  This was great because, other than one small hill a half-mile out (which was mean), we mainly had a descent back to the finish.  HAZZAH!

Not sure why this is hazy, but this is the race village.

And the finish!  

    This is where I would normally post a photo of my finisher's medal, however, they didn't arrive in time for the race, so they are being mailed to us.  Yes, that's kind of a major faux pax, however, this race was so well-run in every other aspect, that I can overlook that.  If you're in Maryland next year in mid-April, you should check out this race.  There is a 5k too!!

Columbia Half Marathon: 2:13:18








Friday, March 31, 2017

What's Kristine Reading? March Edition

   Wow - this year is flying by. I'm glad I'm not doing the 52 books in 52 weeks challenge because I would be WAY WAY WAY behind.  But I did get a couple books read during March including "Thirteen Reasons Why" by Jay Asher.


   I found out about this book because it's about to be a series on Netflix and it looked interesting.  Plus, I'm a unashamed fan of YA lit, so I thought I'd check it out. 
   The story is a bit dark. It's the story of a high school student, Clay Jensen, who comes home from school one day to find a package with 13 cassette tapes in it. That's right - cassette tapes.  The tapes were recorded by Hannah Baker, a classmate who committed suicide a few weeks prior.  What was on the tapes?  I'm not going to tell you!  But the book contains some mystery and intrigue, and it really made me appreciate the fact that I'm not in high school anymore because it sounds horrible.  It was a good read though. It didn't end the way I thought it was going to, which was kind of disappointing, but still worth the read. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

What's Kristine Reading? February 2017 Edition

      I'm a long-time member and fan of BookBub.com. For those who are unfamiliar with BookBub, they are an online service that scans sites like Amazon, Apple and other booksellers for e-book sales and discount offers, and then they e-mail them to you.  I love this service.  I know I have downloaded a ton of books that I never would have otherwise been exposed to, just because they were free or offered at a deep discount.  Some of them are best-sellers, but most of them are books and authors of which I am unfamiliar.
    As a result of my impulse downloading, I have a lot of books on my iPad.  A lot.  So, every few weeks I step aside from my "assigned" reading from book groups or the Read Harder Challenge and check out one of the free downloads the caught my eye.  Some of the books are duds (and since they are free, I don't really mind), but some of them have been wonderful surprises.  That is the case with this month's book "This is Where I Leave You" by Jonathan Tropper.


   I know I'm probably behind on discovering this book and author, because this book was a NY Times bestseller.  I first became aware of it when it was adapted into a movie a few years ago, which  starred Jason Bateman, Tina Fey and Jane Fonda.  The movie looked interesting and witty, but I'm not really into movies so I never saw it.  But I remembered the movie trailer when BookBub sent me this book title, so I bought it.  And I'm glad I did because I really enjoyed this book.  It's about a VERY dysfunctional family (four adult children in varying stages of relationships) who all return "home" after their father dies.  Upon returning, they learn that it was their father's dying wish for them to sit shiva for seven days.  And so they do, and they are forced to deal with all of the family drama that has been avoided for years.  While this could be a emotionally draining book, it's actually really funny, which is why I enjoyed the book so much.  I liked it so much that I've marked other Johnathan Tropper books in my "want to read" list.  Check it out and let me know how you like it!  

Friday, January 27, 2017

What's Kristine Reading? January 2017 Edition

   My book this month?  Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Sheerly.


   Unless you've been in hiding, you know that this book has been made into a very popular movie that is currently in theaters. I haven't seen it yet, but I really want to. I have a feeling that this movie is going to be one of the rare occasions where I enjoy the movie more than the original book. Both are about a mostly unknown (until recently) group of African-American female mathematicians who worked at NASA and were the human computers behind the space program. The story is interesting and needed to be told, however, I found the book to be a little dry. I wanted to hear more about the personal lives of these women, but it was more on the technical side. I also felt the author jumped around from character to character and I often confused the storylines. Even so, I'm glad I read the book because it exposed me to a side of history of which I was previously unaware, and that's always a good thing.