Sunday Randoms – Go See a Doctor, Safety, Pandas and Other Fun Stuff

Running Stuff2

OK, since I jumped back in, I figured I would just continue as long as it lasts … and as I mentioned I had a bunch of drafts going anyway. This is really like a ‘wandering mind’ or ‘thinking out loud’ post, but let’s just roll with it!

Sexual Violence – Must Read Stuff

I have put myself out there pretty strongly in favor of just treating everyone fairly and equally … which apparently makes me a ‘social justice advocate’ and ‘feminist’ and a lot of other terms that I whole-heartedly agree with … but which shouldn’t be needed. I mean, isn’t it all just basic human rights and decency?

Anyway, I am also a big support of Laura and her Run Across America 2015, which is seeking to promote “sexual violence awareness and prevention”. This week she wrote a post called “Sexual Violence”, which was pretty cool but honestly what I thought of as common sense stuff. She said:

As I start to talk more and more about next summer’s Run Across America, I’m realizing that there is some confusion that revolves around exactly what sexual violence is, let alone why it is important to raise awareness. Understanding what sexual violence is, what it looks like, and how it affects the victims is an important first step in this awareness campaign. As I talk about sexual violence over the next 10 months (and hopefully longer), I’d like to make sure we are all on the same page. This is the first step towards a national and global understanding of what it is and why it is so important that we all work together to raise awareness and work towards prevention.

But then the next day she wrote about “Perpetuating the silence?” where she noted that:

Yesterday, after I posted an informative post on what sexual violence is, I watched as my number of blog followers dropped.

And THAT is what surprised me! First off because the basic post is pretty simple and obvious stuff … but also because the whole issue of sexual violence is at the core of why Laura is running across the country and doing her PhD. I mean, how could you even read her blog and not know this? Anyway, check out her posts, they are good stuff.

Foggy Vision1

Fall Safety – Remember YOU Are Responsible

Last month we got the news of a woman in a Central Park crosswalk struck and killed by a racing cyclist. It is a tragic accident but only the latest reminder of how fleeting life can be – and that we must take responsibility for our own safety.

An article from earlier this year talked about how distracted driving is not just responsible for more crashes and fatalities, it is also responsible for more loss of life for runners, pedestrians and cyclists.

The image above is from one morning a week or so ago when it was super-foggy, like National Weather Service fog alert level foggy. I ran (of course), but with headlamp and reflective gear and was super safe … and had no issues. But the next morning it was clear … and I was nearly swiped by someone who wasn’t looking while backing out of the driveway – and to be clear, I was on the opposite side of the street, and ended up well on the grass as his rear wheels nearly went off the road!

But I was alert and present throughout – and could see the potential for danger, and took action in advance and throughout. I never assumed he would see me or behave safely. I assumed I had to stay clear, and as a result all that happened was I uttered a few remarks and he drove off looking at his phone and listening to music and oblivious to the person he nearly seriously injured.

So as the days get shorter and people adjust to their commute being in the dark, take extra time and responsibility to keep yourself safe. Because all I want to read about for all of you is how great your running and health and life is going …

Running Stuff1

Words for Runners to Remember From the T-Rex Runner

Sometimes it hurts having your own words turned around on you, and other times it is the absolute best possible thing. This week Danielle wrote a post called ‘Negative Nancy, Be Gone!’ where she whines discusses how her pessimism has gotten out of hand lately and is worried it might impact her going into her marathon this weekend.

One comment threw her own words back into her face … and they are absolutely perfect:

I’ve never regretted a race I’ve entered – even the one marathon that I did not finish. Every race is a learning experience, whether it feels good or feels bad while you’re out there. Remember, running is a pretty incredible gift that we’ve been given, and it can be taken away at any second, as this week’s events have proven. Celebrate the luxury of running while you have it, and don’t get too bogged down in worrying about the outcome of the race. All you can do it get out there and do the best you can do that day. If your best is a lot of walking, but a finish, then it is what it is. You can do it!

These are things to remember regardless – doesn’t matter if it is for a race, running for fun, or whatever … our ability to go out for a run is a gift, and one we should cherish. It is something I talk about a lot, because I see it around me. For me, approaching 50 years old with the ability to just ‘go for a run’ is a very precious gift, and I take it seriously.

The Luckiest Cyclist EVER?!?

After hearing about the Central Park accident I also came across a video at Buzzfeed that shows a cyclist who should have died two or three times during a terrible course of events … yet ended up helping others instead. Just check out the video:

An Interesting Look at Two Types of Marriage Equality

I love the web comic xkcd, as it often talks about either very technical or very important issues in ways I find both hilarious and engaging. Last week he had one that looked at marriage equality, and used inter-racial marriage as a contrast. I have mentioned that growing up I knew that so-called ‘mixed marriages’ were still rare and somewhat taboo, and this comic puts that in perspective:

Once again xkcd nails the essence of a critical point.

To me this tells a pretty great story. And while I am (obviously) strongly in favor of marriage equality, I have to applaud those who are opposed on moral grounds, because UNLIKE when I was growing up, it is rare to hear about violence committed against gay married couples unlike the violence against mixed-race couples. So I guess that is progress?

Don’t Say No To Panda

And to finish up … there was a great video Jonah Berger (also on Twitter) shared with us at the JMP Discovery conference as part os his talk … and then the subject of Pandas came up with my boys and I searched it out to show them … now it is your turn:

More Tech Fun

There is always something new to talk about, isn’t there? Here is some new stuff I am playing with these last couple of weeks.

New Tech 2

This is the Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4, a great Android tablet – and the Zagg Universal Bluetooth keyboard, which is just awesome and very portable. I always like having Android as well as iOS, and the Tab Pro has excellent performance and plenty of features … though I have hit the ‘phone vs. tablet’ wall a number of times already, which is frustrating after so many years.

New Tech 1

These two will have reviews coming soon – the Garmin vivoSmart and the Wellograph. Each is a fitness band that tracks steps and calories and distance, and reports to your phone via Bluetooth.

The Wellograph is amazingly stylish and has a sapphire crystal screen, and also has a multi-LED system for tracking your pulse in real-time. It allows for activities and a wide number of options. It stores up to four months of data, and the battery is supposed to last a week. And it costs ~$350.

The Garmin vivosmart is the next generation from the vivofit – not only does it track your steps and sync to your phone, it also acts as a smart-watch by reporting notifications (with vibration) from your phone by maintaining a low-power Bluetooth connection. It connects to an ANT+ heart-rate monitor for activity tracking (and real-time display). It costs $169 or $199 with a heart-rate monitor.

Each has pros and cons, and I will get into more detail in the coming weeks.

What great new stuff did YOU read or hear or do this week?

Run-Fessions, Blog-Fessions and Third Quarter Running Summary

IMG_0856.JPG

Happy Friday everyone! (OK, so let’s just agree to NOT discuss how many times I have changed the day in that greeting!?!)

Wait – WHO am I again?!?! Yeah, it has been more than three weeks since my last post. And it might be another three weeks unit my next … or three months … or forever! Who really knows. But I decided I wanted to check back in and share some quick thoughts … so let’s jump right into it!

Runfessions

Run-Fessions

I loved Harold’s Runfessions a couple of Fridays back, so naturally I stole the idea! It is only fair since he stole it himself, citing Michelle who in turn grabbed it from Marcia … whew! Anyway, here are some of MY run-fessions!

I love that top picture! – that was posted by the Wineglass Marathon on their Facebook Page in a post celebrating volunteers … but honestly all I saw was ME! We are a decent ways into the race as I can tell by how saturated my shorts are with sweat, but I am still running happy!

I love running – yeah, I know that is a theme I harp on, but Judith was writing recently about someone who pounded out miles and races and so on … and didn’t even LIKE running, I had to ask – WHY?!? Who the heck would do something they don’t like … find a new exercise!

It is REALLY hard figuring out how to dress for the weather – over the last few weeks we’ve had warm & humid and near-freezing and everything in between. I don’t like being cold, nor do I like feeling like I am overheating! I have done OK, with a couple of days where I wished I wore gloves or wish I had worn shorts instead.

I am not invincible – no, I have not been injured, but after running 8 days straight, including ~32 miles of speed & hills last weekend, I ran 9.75 miles on Monday in my Virratas … oh, boy are they DONE! I really felt it in my legs – nothing injury-like, just general fatigue that went away the next day with the Kinvaras.

Runners are gorgeous – this is non-gender-specific, but this year I saw more runners out and about than ever before, and I loved it. There is the son of a woman we chat with regularly when she is walking her dogs, who visits once or twice a year and is incredibly graceful and speedy (18-minute 5K range fast). There is a young woman who runs after dinner along the route that we drive taking the kids to marching band. There is the cyclist I see most mornings, the two women who moved from walking to running this year, and the various others I see on my weekend runs. They are all gorgeous … you are all gorgeous. WE … are all gorgeous.

Blog Confessiom

Blog-Fessions

While I am at it, how about blog-fessions? I would say that Michele made a blog-fession talking about how she wants to earn an income through blogging. Here are some of mine:

I am still reading ALL of your blogs! – Yes, I barely even comment anymore, but every day (or week, depending on the person) I look forward to reading what is going on with Harold and Suz and Ange and Em and Hollie and Amanda and Lisa and Sara and Sarah and Sara and Sarah (hmm, trend?) and Laura and Laura and Annie and Cori and Megan and Ann and Danielle and Rae and Nicole and Carmyy and Michele and Falyn and Sami and welcome back Olena and … several others in my feed! I don’t always even manage a ‘like’. But you are all awesome and I love what you are doing!

I have NO interest in making ANY money blogging – I don’t say this to counter Michele’s post above … in fact, I have been thinking about a post along the lines of ‘Are You Branding, Blogging or just blogging’. I differentiate them as follows: ‘Branding’ is what Danielle (T-Rex Runner) and Megan (Lyons Share Wellness) are doing, and Michele is doing with her three-prong attack of Paleo, runner, and Mom. Pretty strong brand material, really. Then there are Bloggers, people who have a focused approach and voice, and are trying to make enough money to support their blogs, getting ambassadorships, promoting products, doing giveaways, and so on.. Finally there are ‘bloggers’, people who have a blog and write. Like me. All are valid, but very different approaches. I think it is important to know what you WANT from your blog … I thought I might want to be a ‘Blogger’, but not really.

While I haven’t Published in 3 weeks, I have 7 new drafts – and that isn’t counting this one. I have also deleted several. Bottom line is that I haven’t come to any conclusions about what I am doing with this blog other than it is a lower priority than pretty much everything else in my life, from work and family and home and pets and running and music and so on. It isn’t like ideas dry up, or the process goes away … it is a matter of how I choose to spend time.

Some of the ‘blogging BS’ is more apparent – I feel like I can now see more stuff going on, things like humble-bragging, body-shaming, passive aggressive statements, run-snobbing, link-baiting, and YES, sadly this does occur in some of the blogs in my RSS and WordPress feeds on occasion. I suppose all of us do some of this – sometimes I assume it is pride at accomplishments. My tolerance for these sorts of things has definitely gone down considerably, and I have definitely not been reading as much as before. Let me be a bit more clear – over the last 2.5 years I lost 110lbs and took >33% off my pace – but that fat & slow person from 2012 is *ME*. If I spend time in my blog putting down my former self or speaking disparagingly about my speed or weight, I am putting down (a) me and (b) others who have and continue to struggle with these things. Enough said on THAT.

Not Blogging Has Propogated into More Offline Time – I have come to love my non-blogging time, but at the same time I don’t relax any more than before! I have been on a tech frenzy lately – Galaxy Note 3, Garmin vivoSmart, iPhone 6, Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4, Bluetooth keyboards, iPad synthesizer software (love iPhophet!), and so on. I was also away for business for a week. We’ve also had a lot going on between two birthdays, marching band madness, a newly licensed driver, and busy school year! I am looking forward to getting settled in and figuring out how to allocate some time, between music and writing (NaNoWriMo is beckoning!). My satisfaction with other stuff will dictate how/when/if I return to regular blogging.

Third Quarter Running Summary

So what were my goals? After the end of June I said “From now through the end of September, here is what I would like to do”:
– Keep my weekly volume between 50-60 miles (I honestly think 65-75 is too much and don’t want to do something stupid)
– Hit the track for some speed drills at least once or twice
– Sign up for at least one race this year … regardless of distance.

OK, well, here is the result:
– Not so much – my numerical average is 63 miles/week, but if you take out my ‘non-running vacation’ week the average jumps to 68.
– I basically did just that – I did the local high school track twice. Really, not great … but better than zero.
– OK, my last real chance is the Red Baron Half Marathon in November, let’s hope that happens!

Here are my thoughts on the last three months:

Running

Last time I said “I am running a solid volume and at a pace that feels pretty good to me.” I continue feeling that way – although I probably held my mileage too high this summer, I feel great and have had mostly great runs the whole 3rd quarter. I really didn’t attack anything, just worked to keep up my fitness and endurance, which worked great as I continue to be able to toss off ‘longer than half marathon’ runs regularly all summer.

Racing

Um, yeah. Nothing to report here. My feelings on the Wineglass Marathon were interesting – I decided back in January not to run, when it came to race weekend there is just so much activity here and I know so many people who ran and the weather was just absolutely perfect … I couldn’t help but feel a bit sentimental about not running.

Weight

During the summer the weight falls off me and I need to be extra careful about keeping fueled – and I have been really happy with how I have done. My goal since last year has been to follow my doctor’s orders, which were ‘do NOT lose any more weight’. Balanced with my own desire to not gain weight, I was worried about how it would work. It has been great – and easier than I thought.

Food & Eating

In a word – consistent and confident. My good eating is a habit, as is being careful on rest days. My intake remains great, dominated by fresh whole foods, balanced fruits and veggies and lean meats. I still have little desire for processed foods or packaged sweets. This is great, and I hope it keeps up that way!

Tracking/Tech

I am still loving the Garmin FR-15 and Magennal Echo for tracking runs, as well as the Polar Loop for fitness tracking. I switched to the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 for much of August and September, and found that Android is a total crap platform for fitness. Sync-ing the Loop took ~5x as long on the Note as the iPhone 5, the Echo was wonky and lost connection, and none of the fitness apps were as robust.

I have since moved back to iOS with the iPhone 6, and things went back to perfection immediately. I recently got Garmin’s new vivoSmart, which is a fitness tracker and ‘smartwatch’ that syncs with your phone. It is really cool, but occasionally problematic – which I hope continues improving through updates.

Everything Else

I have been much happier with not blogging than I would have thought. I have felt balanced, and so long as that holds I will not go back to regular blogging. Part of that is everything else is just nuts – work is super-busy and I seem to have doubled my responsibilities and the number of people reporting to me, Lisa’s work schedule has been busy, the kids have a crazy schedule which has made OUR schedules even crazier, and so on.

Lisa and I have made sure to take plenty of ‘us’ time as always, most recently taking a date night to see ‘Gone Girl’. We’d both read the book, but over a year ago so we knew all the basics but some details were sketchy. It was good enough that it made us want to re-read it!

We each also try to get some ‘alone time’ with the boys, which is challenging with their crazy schedules … but we try.

Outlook for 2015

I know it is early yet, but here are my basic thoughts for next year:
– Run more than 2000 miles.
– Maintain my weight and healthy eating habits
– Work on pace improvement.
– Run at least one 5k, a 10k, a half and full marathon.

Will I manage it all? Probably not! I know work will be busy through the whole year, as will Lisa’s work, and we will have Danny going off to college and Chris heading into his senior year. Crazy, eh?

Second Quarter Running Summary

Once again I decided to take my weekly summaries and chart them up. Here they are:

3rd Quarter Miles

Overall I am very pleased with my second quarter. By the numbers:
– Total miles – 821 miles (713 miles Q1, 812 Q2)
– Average weekly miles – 63* (55 Q1, 62 Q2)
– Half-year total – 2346 miles (on track to break 3000 miles)
– Longest run – multiple 23+ mile runs
– Shortest run – 5.25 miles (my ‘oh no, my mojo’ run!)

I have kept up with ‘runs with purpose’ throughout the period, which were mostly brutal hills, but also some speed work. I have hit the track … but I wanted to get in much more speedwork than I did.

Again, considering my goals for the year included staying injury-free, breaking 2000 miles, and running a couple of races … I am doing well on the key item. Which is being injury-free. I have already broken 2000 miles … and well, as the song says two out of three ain’t bad.

Fourth Quarter Goals

From now through the end of the year, here is what I would like to do:
– Break 3000 miles total (as of right now I am already over 2400 … so this is very doable)
– ‘Keep on Keepin’ On’ with the running – last week I ended up with an on-off-on-off-on-off schedule for Monday – Saturday due to birthdays, and it worked great for me. No stress, just running.
– Keep up my ‘runs with purpose’ – especially as it gets cold!
– Sign up for at least one race this year … regardless of distance.

How was your third quarter of running? How is your weather and have you broken out warmer clothes yet? What plans do you have for the rest of the year?

A Race-Free 2014 is Fine by Me, One Year Blog-Aversary, and Other Thoughts

Ultra Signup1

OK, this is NOT a screenshot of yesterday’s ‘Decline’, because I didn’t grab the screen. So instead I went back to the last time I faced this choice with unfortunately the exact same thing swimming in my head – that I had to click decline.

The Can 50 Ultra is on October 11th, which is a huge competition day for my kids and their marching band … one that I refuse to miss. I had it in my head (and on my calendar) as the 12th for some reason. Oh well.

Will 2014 Be ‘Race Free’?

It is interesting – even as I am doing an average of close to 70 miles per week this summer and have done a half dozen runs longer than 20 miles, meaning my training for the ultra was well in hand … I really don’t have any issues letting it go. For the first race that would have been over our vacation I was sad – I had really gotten my hopes up and mentally psyched.

But something has changed this year – early in the year it was simply not convenient or possible to do any of the races I had thought about. Then I decided not to sign up for Wineglass Marathon because of how it falls with respect to Danny & Lisa’s birthdays (right on top of them, again) – and based on how the weekend looks, it was the right thing! Then with our busy summer the half marathon and 5k I wanted to do fell by the wayside,

And while this happened, my weekly running stayed great, my nutrition is excellent (but eating so much is HARD for me!), and overall my fitness and motivation is staying very high. I don’t NEED races right now – they add stress rather than joy. My priority is always ‘family first’, and while running is very important to me … racing is just ‘nice’.

I have one possible race left, and it is after marching band and birthday season … so it is possible. It is a half marathon, and the average temperature the last two years I have run is 25F. Welcome to winter! haha

Hey – You Guys Never Told Me Bloody Nipples Were ‘Hot’!!!

This Friday I posted this on Instagram:

IMG_20140912_071125

Yeah, I had a ‘band aid fail’ – I forgot to grab mine in my bathroom and ended up grabbing a couple of cheapies from the pantry … and one of them held. If you peek below you’ll see I did 10.25 miles on Friday … and I KNEW what I would see about halfway through. Ugh. That happens, no biggie (other than the shower ‘first contact’ fun).

BUT – the funny thing?

When I posted to Instagram, within the first half hour while we were eating breakfast I got a couple of ‘Likes’, so I tapped on ‘notifications’ and saw names I didn’t know …

Turns out both were young women who had ‘recently single’ in their descriptions, who started following me as well.

So … why didn’t all of you younger ladies tell me that bloody nipples made you irresistible to young single women? I have so many questions for you – to the recently engaged … did your engagement hinge on bloody nipples? If you are single, did a lack of bloody nipples factor into it? It all just made me realize how out of touch Lisa and I are with this whole thing – we just thought they looked awful and were sore.

Can’t believe you guys have been holding out this critical information on me … :)

One Year on this Blog

Yesterday (Sept 13th) something happened – the blog turned one year old. I had a ‘welcome’ post, and then a post the same day titled “Everything Clicked … Until it Didn’t, But That Was OK.

That first post was about feeling great after a run … then having real life come colliding in! That happens so often to many of us, and there is nothing we can do – except appreciate the way that our runs help us cope and deal with life, giving us strength and energy to push forward and the mental balance to work through them.

It would be more than two weeks until my next post, and then I slowly got into a routine from there. During the first month I got THREE comments – two from Megan and one from Sarah. Thanks for that critical early support!

Weekly Running Summary

This was a weird week – the weather ranged from cold and foggy to warm and humid and everywhere in between. It has that whole ‘transition to fall’ feel, but nothing in the 40s yet.

So how did I do? Let’s take a look:

Sunday: 7.5 miles on ‘Easy Run’ Day – after my 23.5 miles on Saturday, a casual run was in order!
Monday: 10.5 miles
Tuesday: 9.25
Wednesday: 10.5 miles
Thursday: 9.75 miles
Friday: 10.25 miles after work
Saturday 14.5 miles with hill repeats

Wow … I really didn’t think this was a huge week, but I did 72.25 miles this week . It will be interesting to see how things go while I am on my business trip this week.

‘Programming’ Notes

Oh – I didn’t mention that yet? OK, so this week I am attending a statistics conference – I know, I know, contain your excitement! I am really looking forward to it in several ways – it is just outside of Raleigh NC (in Cary, home of SAS) and the forecast looks pretty great, I have a colleague giving one of the talks, and two old friends neither of whom I have seen in more than 20 years attending and giving papers! Going to be amazing.

At the same time, I think it is clear that my relationship to the blog (and blog world) has changed this summer. I have narrowed my reading, and my writing has started to ‘take the weekends off’ and not always flow according to schedule. At this point I can only see this continuing, so here are two things I am doing:

- I have cut way back on my subscriptions, and my commenting even more. I realized that I had not commented on a few posts that I REALLY wanted to comment on … I was getting bogged down on other things. I will still read all of my faves with email subscriptions to my ‘must reads’, others mostly through Feedly or WordPress. As Judith noted, that makes it work well … unless blogs block it. Sadly, if you block reading without hitting the site, unless you are in my email blog list I will be gone. Sorry. :( I want to do it all … there just isn’t the time.

- I have no plans to blog this week at all.

- Starting next week I am going to try a 2 posts per week routine, and see how that goes. I had planned that when I came back from several days away, but suddenly blasted out a bunch of posts. That really isn’t working for me. I think a Sunday & Wednesday schedule might work … we will see.

Tell me something great from YOUR week?

World Suicide Prevention Week

WORLD%20SUICIDE%20PREVENTION%20DAY-GALLERY1

This week is World Suicide Prevention Week, and September 10th was World Suicide Prevention Day. For good or bad, the recent death of Robin Williams has brought attention to depression and suicide … we can only hope that this attention turns to actual resouces and help – and results!

There are numerous sites that had great articles and info for World Suicide Prevention Day, you can see them here, here, here and the official site.

Over at MTV there was a great article that talked about ‘5 things to know’ … here is the list:

1. Suicide doesn’t have to happen. Often, people who die by suicide were dealing with depression, drug addiction a traumatic event in their lives or a combination of several of these problems. But these things don’t have to lead to suicide. There are so many stories of people who struggled with these issues or situations and felt like they didn’t want to live anymore, but reached out for help and were able to feel better and continue to live a fulfilling life.

2. There are usually warning signs, but they can be hard to spot. Sometimes if feels like a suicide came out of the blue and there was nothing anyone could do. Generally there are warning signs and it’s important to learn them and look out for them so you can help yourself or a friend.

3. No “one thing” causes suicide. Sometimes people get very depressed and have thoughts of suicide after a difficult event, like a break-up or being mistreated or bullied. But it isn’t the break-up, or any traumatic event, that causes the suicide. It’s generally a combination of many factors that can include depression, an anxiety disorder or emotional health conditions. Plenty of people who deal with tough times get sad or even hopeless, but are able to work through it with the help of friends, family or a professional. The important thing is that it is OK to reach out for help no matter what you are going through.

4. There are better ways to talk about suicide. It’s better not to use phrases like “he killed himself” or “she committed suicide” Suicide is generally the result of an illness and it’s more respectful to say that someone “died by suicide” than to make it sound like a crime by using words like “killed” and “committed.” At the same time, it’s important to remember that suicide is preventable and the conditions that contribute to suicide, like depression, are treatable. There’s always hope.

5. Help can help. Some people who feel suicidal are so hopeless that they can’t imagine that friends, family or a mental health professional, can really help them. But counseling and treatment have helped so many people who have felt suicidal or been hopeless. Suicide never has to be the end of the story.

Earlier this year Ann over at Ann’s Running Commentary she talked about ‘Running for a Reason’, and before that she and her daughter raised money for the 24 Hour Walk Out Of the Darkness.

Suicide is preventable, and depression is treatable … and yet often nothing happens because for many it remains a taboo subject. That is tragic, and results in way too many preventable deaths and people miserably suffering in silence. Break that cycle – depression is a disease, and should be treated. Suicide is preventable, and very often comes from untreated or unresolved depression. If you or someone you know is depressed or contemplating suicide, please get the help you need. There is no shame – only hope.

Did you see anything worth sharing for World Suicide Prevention Day? Let us know!

September 11th … Always a Good Day to Reflect

IMG_0820.JPG

For many people, September 11th is our ‘JFK in Dallas’ or ‘Pearl Harbor’ … it is the ‘where were you when’ of our generation. It is very easy to look around our country and world and divide things up as pre/post 9/11 … and some of those are good and others are very bad and others quite sad. But there is a clear impact – we are a country that has now been essentially at war for 13 years, which means kids growing up now have a very different view of the world than kids born in the 80s or 90s or before.

The image above is of a pottery item my older son had made back in 2008. Here is what I wrote about it at the time on an old blog:

A couple of days ago I picked up the pottery my kids made during their two-week drama camp at the end of summer. They made several items, which augmented the singing, dancing and acting work they also did in the class. We only heard about a couple of items, so it was great going through the ‘unveiling’ process and seeing how differently the two boys think. But one thing in particular was fitting – and striking – to see this week.

It is amazing to me the extent that September 11th has become ingrained in the reality for these kids. They were preschoolers when it happened, and we didn’t shield them from it the way many other parents did. This was life, history, happening right before us and to us. I know people who lost family on those planes, and have seen some of the many ways it has changed us as a people and a nation. Yet I was still surprised and touched to see my older son produce a memorial to the event while on summer vacation.

I remember that morning well.

My wife was at the park with Chris while Danny was at half-day preschool. Chris was 3, and Danny was about to turn 5. When she went to the preschool there were people crying and she learned there. We were in Massachusetts, so we were closely tied to events. At my work, the sister-in-law of a coworker was on one of the planes, and I walked through as she got the news … and it was awful.

Where was I? I was at work, and had a colleague visiting from California working on a joint project … and she then got stuck in Massachusetts for more than a week, while her husband and family were justifiably very upset having her stranded across the country. We were looking at data we’d collected and suddenly there was a news flash and we went to the CNN site and saw the second plane hit live … it was surreal.

It is always said that 9/11 is not the day to discuss any of the things that came after – the wars, deaths of hundreds of thousands from those wars, increases in invasive security and loss of many rights in exchange for more protection from threats, an upswing in militarism, decrease in tolerance and respectful discourse, and so on… but neither does any day ever seem to be the right day. But I agree that 9/11 should be kept for the memories of those lost and a time that is gone.

All I know is that day changed all of America … it is another step in the ‘loss of innocence’, and a painful reminder of how fleeting life can be when someone bent on destruction crosses our path. So take a moment today to be thankful for those you love who are around today, those who serve our country in any way, and those who use their time in non-military ways to spread the ways of peace and love and tolerance throughout the world.

The Facebook ’10 Books That Stayed With You’ Meme Post

libraryBooks

This week I got ‘tagged’ on a ’10 Books That Stayed With You’ post, and wanted to quickly

“List 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t take more than a few minutes, and don’t think too hard. They do not have to be the ‘right’ books or great words of literature, just ones that have affected you in some way.”

OK, before I start I admit to peeling four of the books from my ‘Ten Days You’ list of ‘Four Books’ … I mean, why not, it is only three months old, right? And then I found I had been tagged way back in the early days of the blog, and wrote about it here. Interesting that there are similarities and differences in the list.

So here we go!

1. ‘Cat’s Cradle’ by Kurt Vonnegut – this book I would call my all-time favorite. Like most Vonnegut works it is a fairy easy and quick read – deceptively so. I have read this book 20 or more times since around 1980, and I don’t think I have read it the same way twice: it is funny, bitter, sardonic, twisted, anti-government, anti-religion, pro-spirituality, pro-human, both pro- and anti-science, and so more. I cannot recommend it enough.

2. ‘Foundation Trilogy’ by Isaac Asimov – while like so many sci-fi series there is a ton that this trilogy gets wrong, so much that has been changed as technology advances … the human side of the stories and the thrilling chase and mystery aspects are all consistent with what could really happen. It is interesting to juxtapose some of the events of these books with some anti-science movements in our own country today.

3. ‘100 Years of Solitude’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – Getting through this book the first time early in high school is something I still remember (not assigned, just pleasure reading my sophomore English teacher thought I would like) – the sweeping story of a town as it rises and falls, told through the history of a single family, if funny and sad and touching and engaging throughout. It really is an epic piece of modern literature, and I always love stepping back into that world.

4. ‘Star Wars Thrawn Trilogy’ by Timothy Zahn – It was either this or the ‘Jedi Academy’ trilogy by Kevin Anderson, but this is better written, has a better villain and of course introduces Mara Jade. Starting a few years after ‘Return of the Jedi’, it pits an Imperial Grand Admiral against the fledgling New Republic. Even without the Star Wars mythos these are enjoyable books.

5. ‘Night Watch’ by Sergei Lukyanenko – these books by Russian author Sergei Lukyanenko captures great character studies and tales of the human spirit in the context of magic and mystery, all set in post Cold War Moscow. The series has ups and downs, but having just re-read the first couple I was reminded of how well it mixes intriguing storytelling and quality writing.

6. ‘The Plague’ by Albert Camus – Danny is reading ‘The Stranger’ right now, another of my faves, but I love this one more! It is an amazing tale of the human spirit in the face of crushing despair, and a very hopeful and positive take on the essence of existential philosophy.

7. ‘Harry Potter’ series by JK Rowling – I have been flipping back through these recently, re-reading the series for the fourth or fifth time overall. And aside from the epilogue of the final book (that I always hated that) the series has held up well. Sure the books starting with Goblet of Fire could have used tighter editing, but overall they are a great series.

8. ‘Guerrillas’ by V. S. Naipaul – Naipaul was recommended to me by my 11th grade English teacher, Mr. McLellan who called him ‘the best living writer’. This book is not a happy, fun or easy read – yet it is incredibly compelling.

9. ‘Winesburg, Ohio’ by Sherwood Anderson – Anderson (no relation) transports you to a small town just after the turn of the century. While there is a central character, the stories are told through the loneliness and despair that permeates the people of the town and the town itself.

10. ‘Fahrenheit 451′ by Ray Bradbury – although technically dated, the heart of this book is the character study of the interface of people and information and freedom. And it remains interesting because of that – I love looking at the stuff he got wrong about the future, and yet there are things that seemed wrong that are becoming more true with time (The Family, for example).

Tag, You’re It! Either post your list here, on Facebook, or your own blog!

Tunes Tuesday – Pop Music Snobbery

IMG_0815.JPG

I am going to admit something that will be of no surprise to anyone who has known me since high school or college – I am a musical snob. An elitist. Opinionated and condescending and with little time or patience for ‘generic pop trash’ that is foisted on the public by an industry obsessed with making money by manipulating purchases rather than providing quality product. Yikes … did I just say that out loud?

For me music is something I take seriously … think about drinking good coffee, then having a cup of instant coffee; or drinking really good wine then going back to screw-top Riunite or something like that. It isn’t that I inherently dislike pop music – it is that I find most pop music ‘harmonically unsatisfying’ … like comparing your favorite dinner to, well, something like cotton candy.

Here are what I see as my three main roadblocks to enjoying pop music:
– I consider music an entirely audio medium, so anything that is related to visuals (music videos, stage shows, dancing, or an artist’s appearance) is totally lost on me and I consider it inconsequential.
– I don’t care about lyrics. That doesn’t mean I don’t know the words to thousands of songs, just that I really don’t care. I won’t listen to music I don’t like because of lyrics, nor will I turn off music I do like due to the lyrics.
– I need some ‘meat’ to my music. Great pop songs – ‘I Will Always Love You’ popularized by Whitney Houston, ‘Time After Time’ by Cindy Lauper, ‘Borderline’ or ‘Vogue’ by Madonna, tons of Prince stuff, etc – all have more than just a ‘catchy tune’. They are well constructed songs that stand out across the decades. Most pop .. doesn’t – I remember first seeing the ‘California Gurls / Tik Tok’ mashup showing they were essentially the same song (same team wrote them, no surprise), and then more and more and more.

But the reality is that even within the pop music world there is some absolutely incredible music that is made … though honestly when it comes to songs that hit the ‘top of the pops these days’ there is precious little quality or creativity. Which is sad, really – because I know the talent is out there, it just isn’t getting heard.

Going back through the decades it is fairly easy to pluck out top selling songs that are incredibly artistic and inventive and original. I decided to only pick from the pre-sample and pre-auto-tune era, as a simple dividing point (meaning pre-1990). So I decided to do a ‘Top 20′ … but then realized I had 23 so I threaded the rest in with others. Oh well. Enjoy!

1. Bee Gees – How Can You Mend a Broken Heart

The Bee Gees are forever tied to the disco era and therefore dismissed … but they had a bunch of huge hits before Saturday Night Fever, and this song is just amazing. Deep and complex and with a tremendous sense of building urgency.

2. Joni Mitchell – Hejira

Joni Mitchell transitioned from writing songs for others to becoming a master folk singer to a pop star and then … this. She kept progressing musically with alternate tuning structures, using her voice as if it was a jazz saxophone. Yet it remains beautiful and haunting.

3. Stevie Wonder – Overjoyed

Sure I could have plucked from Stevie’s ‘golden era’, songs like ‘I Wish’, ‘Higher Ground’ and so on, but this classic from a decade later reminds us WHY he is more than just a pop star, he is a pure musical genius.

Jazz saxophonist Richie Cole did a great cover version, but the CD is out of print and never was released digitally (I have way too many CDs from the mid-late 80s like that!)

4. Dionne Warwick – Say a Little Prayer

You would never guess that the verse is in 10/4 time and the chorus in 11/4 time, very complex meters for such an accessible song.

Blind Avant-garde multi-saxophonist Roland Kirk did a cover a year later that brought in the civil rights aspects … seriously, check this one out:

5. Elton John – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

Elton John and Stevie Wonder are two of the main reason pop and rock was incredible in the 70s. This isn’t just stuff to listen to and sing, it merits actual study:

And “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”.

6. Neil Diamond – I Am, I Said

Like Joni Mitchell, Neil Diamond started off writing songs for others, including “I’m a Believer” by The Monkees. Soon enough he was singing and performing his own music, like this classic anthem.

8. The Rolling Stones – Under My Thumb

While most people think of Jagger & Richards as the keys to the Stones, every major melody that was a hit in the early years was composed by Brian Jones – including this jazzy syncopated tune with vibes added to the mix.

9. The Cars – Drive

I like the anthemic feel that was their sort of swan song, but it also embodies the modal harmonies from Miles Davis ‘Kind of Blue’.

10. The Police – Darkness

The Police were masters of expanded harmonies, advanced rhythms and other things you simply don’t get in pop music. This is my favorite song of theirs, as there are multiple rhythms playing against each other.

11. The Beatles – Tomorrow Never Knows

Picking a great Beatles song is easy, so I wanted to do something less well known but that shows off their musical creativity and also their studio wizardry.

12. The Yardbirds – Shapes of Things

The same year as the last song, The Yardbirds were advancing ‘hard rock’ in a way that was melodic yet in-your-face. Jeff Beck’s early solo albums would introduce heavy metal before Led Zepplin and others arrived.

13. Mary Ford & Les Paul – How High the Moon

Going back to the #1 song of 1951, this is a reminder of how pop songs were always pop – but at one time there was a genuine requirement to be able to sing and play instruments.

14. Simon & Garfunkel – Scarborough Fair / Canticle

Not an original melody, but shows an amazing example of taking an centuries-old classic and reworking it for the modern era!

15. Bridge over troubled Water

Paul Simon has an incredible library of deceptively complex songs that are memorable and instantly recognizable. With an over-the-top dense production and wearing its heart on its sleeve, this remains an iconic piece of pop art nearly 45 years after release.

16. Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On

Marvin Gaye was an incredible vocalist, and this song just rips at your heart and soul … and much of that has to do with the movement within the harmonic structure. A good song can ‘play you’ emotionally even without words, and that is what happens here – the vocals just add even more pull.

17. Blondie – Rapture

The first bit hit for rap, and the first one to get any play on MTV … and just an insanely catchy song that remains interesting and worth listening to while thousands of other rap songs fall to the wayside.

18. Michael Jackson – Thriller

The reason Thriller works so well (the album as well as the song) has to do with the full orchestration of Quincy Jones as much as the great songs themselves. These are essentially big band songs for the modern day, with pop instrumentation supplanting horn sections. And it completely works.

19. 10cc – I’m Not In Love

It is hard to hear this song and not feel like you are floating on air; like so many on this list, this song brings me back … this one to AM radio and getting ready for school in he 70s.

Also check out this Buzzfeed post about the making of the song.

20. Steely Dan – Peg

Aside from writing great songs, Steely Dan enlisted some of the greatest studio musicians and perfectly crafted their sound while having others playing the instruments. The results were always interesting.

There are many more I could have chosen – I didn’t touch Queen or the people I mentioned before like Madonna or Prince. There is an incredible library of popular music out there – I just got and am listening to an upcoming release by the jazz group ‘Thrasher Dream Trio’ of popular R&B songs such as ‘Where is the love’ and others.

So what are some of your favorite ‘not musically trivial’ pop songs? Or do you just hate me now?