Monday, November 17, 2014

Book Review: Yes Please

I love me some Amy Poehler. In my head, we are BFFs who haven't had the good fortune of meeting yet. So when I found out in June that she had a book coming out, I pre-ordered it immediately. (I'd just finished NPH's book when I got this in the mail, so clearly November is celebrity autobiography month for me.)

The foreword to this book is all about how much she hated writing it. Sadly, it showed. I found this book to be a bit underwhelming. I really wish I had a better review, but I didn't feel that I learned much about her in this book. I didn't expect her to delve into the details of her divorce or tell us her most embarrassing secrets, but I didn't walk away knowing anything new about her. Specifically, I wish there would've been more about the development of her career. Sure, she talked about UCB, SNL and Parks and Rec, but it all seemed very rushed and glossed-over with just one chapter apiece on each of those topics. It was clear that she didn't really want to write the book and that she didn't really want to reveal too much about her life. That's understandable, but if you do decide to go down the road of writing that undesired book, you have to commit. She never committed, and so it all just seems like fluff.

There were a few good parts, though. I loved the chapters about her childhood. They were heartfelt and funny. She has some really great stories about the shenanigans she used to get into with her friends, like handcuffing themselves together at school one day. I also loved when she talked about the birth of her oldest son. It was the only time I cracked up reading this book because it was just so honest and sweet and silly all at the same time. She writes about watching the moon with her sons and her idea of time travel. These chapters are wonderful, and I wish there were more like them.

Overall, I'm really bummed that I didn't love this book, but I still love Amy. C-

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

#20: Be Part of a Flash Mob

In the summer of 2013, I heard about an intriguing event. People from all over the city dressed all in white, converged on a previously undisclosed location, and set up a giant dinner party. It's called Dîner en Blanc. It started over 25 years ago in, of course, Paris, and now it has off-shoots all over the world. I love to dress up and go to fancy dinner parties, and I love big, public flash mobs a la Improv Everywhere, so this seemed like the perfect event for me. I put my name on the waiting list and signed up for tickets for the 2014 event.

These are the rules: You must wear all white from head to toe. Dress to impress. You must bring a table, white tablecloth, and white chairs. You must provide a multi-course meal for yourself. You must bring all of your own place settings, and it must all be real. No paper or plastic allowed! Fresh flowers are encouraged, and candles are mandatory. Oh, and it all must be portable.

On August 21, 2014, the weather was hot and muggy. The forecast called for a 100% chance of storms all day. I thought we were doomed. The night before, I'd set up a nice picnic of bruschetta, fancy cheeses, prosciutto and salami, fruit, nuts, and baguettes with cake for dessert. We had pre-ordered wine to pick up at the venue. I bought ponchos (clear or white only!) on my lunch break, and hoped for the best. At 5:00, I changed into my white dress, put on some red lipstick, and walked over to a miraculously dry Daley Plaza.

From Daley Plaza, nearly 200 white-clad strangers boarded the brown line hauling picnic baskets and table settings. We got off the el and were told to get on a bus. However, loading that many people onto a bus that only comes every 20 minutes is a logistical nightmare. Still not knowing our final destination, we began to walk. This was my favorite part of the night because there were a lot of people out on the streets who were very confused by this white mob walking by. A few even stopped us to ask what was going on.

Finally, we arrived at our destination: the Nature Boardwalk at South Pond in Lincoln Park. We picked up the table and chairs we'd rented (also a logistical nightmare), and set them up along the boardwalk. Adam picked up the wine we'd purchased (before they ran out).



There were over 1,000 people at the event, and this is what it looked like from above.

Soon, everyone started to wave their napkins around their heads, signaling the start of dinner. We ate and drank, and before we knew it, it was time for dessert. We took out the sparklers that were included in our goodie bags, lit them from our candles, and marked the end of the meal.

This is the first time Adam has lit a sparkler since his childhood. He is absolutely terrified of them, so I was proud that he got in the spirit with me.

A DJ was set up on the bridge for dancing. There were a couple of photo booths, too. We walked around, snapped a few shots in the photo booth, and then decided to head home.



Overall, Dîner en Blanc was a really cool experience that was logistically horrible. I just think that this location was a bad choice and also that there were too many people. Ideally, the location would be walking distance from a train (buses are too unreliable) and in a large, open space that doesn't require a lot of walking around to pick things up and can more easily accommodate that many people. Once we were at the location and all set up, we had a lovely time. It was a really neat, unique experience that I'm glad I participated in, but I don't think I'll do it again next year.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Book Report: Choose Your Own Autobiography

I am a huge Neil Patrick Harris fan. I am firmly convinced that we could be best friends if only we had the chance to meet. I think he's a brilliant actor and a fearless host. He can sing, he can dance, he can do magic, he can raise twins, and make it all look easy. It turns out he can write, too!

The structure of this book is brilliant. It's formatted like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, and it's written in second-person narrative. I found the style very engaging and playful. You really get a feel for Neil's sense of humor with this format.

I really enjoyed hearing his behind-the-scenes stories about the various projects he's been involved in over the years. I most enjoyed the chapters focused on his Broadway experiences, particularly the chapter about his role in Proof opposite Anne Heche. Make sure you don't miss that one, folks. It's a doozy. It was also neat to hear him talk about Hedwig because I got to see him in the role this summer.

I expected the book to be funny and insightful, but I didn't expect it to be so frank and heartfelt. He spoke very honestly about his journey of discovering he was gay, coming to terms with his sexuality, and coming out to the public. He talks about some professional failings and the difficulties he and his husband faced when trying to have their children. It wasn't a tell-all, but he did show a little vulnerability, which I appreciated.

I would highly recommend this book. It's entertaining and well-written. Because of the format, it's one that you can enjoy over and over again. I know I will! A

Thursday, November 6, 2014

2014 Marine Corps Marathon Race Report

My weekend started early Saturday morning when we flew into Washington, D.C. In case you're wondering, this is what it looks like when marathoners fly.

That's 5 gels, primer and eye makeup remover in my liquids bag. Just the essentials.

Once we arrived, we checked into our hotel and then set off to the expo. We were greeted with a 45-minute line to get into the building. It was hot outside, and I hadn't eaten. Uh oh. Once we got inside, I picked up my bib, followed by the world's ugliest race shirt. I attempted to buy a better shirt, but the selection was already extremely picked-over, and it seemed that everything for women was either pink, had flowers on it, or was "unisex" (a.k.a. for men). The combination of all these factors led to me having a bit of a breakdown. Not a good way to start the weekend. I salvaged the evening with a great Italian dinner at Il Canale in Georgetown. Then it was off to bed at an early hour.


If carbo-loading were the hardest part of running a marathon, I'd qualify for Boston every year.

My alarm went off at 5am Sunday morning. I got dressed, ate a bowl of raisin bran and two cherry Pop-Tarts, and headed to the metro. Once arriving to the Pentagon (the site of the start line), I used the bathroom. I met three women in line, and we decided to start the race together. It was nice to have people there to help calm my nerves a bit.

New friends at the start line!

Before too long, we saw a few Ospreys fly overhead, heard the howitzer fire, and the race was underway!

The aforementioned Ospreys

Miles 1-4: Whoa. There are hills here. Coming from pancake-flat Chicago, I was not prepared for hills right off the bat. The one monster hill of the course was right at mile 3, so I was thrilled when I conquered that. Because I was running with people, we started out a lot slower than I would've preferred.

Miles 5-6: We crossed the bridge to go from Virginia into DC and ran through Georgetown and right by the Watergate. I figured my girl Ruth Bader Ginsburg would be out there cheering me on, but I must have missed her. I did get to see Adam and my in-laws just before mile 6, which was great.

Miles 7-10: This was my favorite part of the race. It was an out-and-back through a beautiful, serene wooded area. The fall colors were in peak form, and there weren't many spectators, so it was truly a moment for the runners. I got to see Adam again at mile 9.5, and he snapped this picture.

I look so beautiful when I run.

Miles 11-12: After emerging from the woods, we ran under the Kennedy Center and past the Lincoln Memorial. The crowds there were huge, and a big marching band was playing the Marines' Hymn, which was a great moment.

Miles 13-16: This section was out on a peninsula with very few spectators. There were, however, tons of signs that people had set up along the route. I really felt the military presence out here because there was a stretch covered in signs for fallen soldiers. It was a great reminder that a lot of things are harder than running a marathon.

Miles 17-20: This is when things started to get tough. It was a warm day, with temperatures in the mid-60s and not a single cloud in the sky. This was the section of the race I was most looking forward to because it wound around the National Mall. I also knew I would see Adam again here twice. But I couldn't hold on. I stopped to walk for the first time ever in a marathon. I saw Adam at mile 17.5 and could barely muster a wave. I walked on and off for a little while. I started running around mile 19, and all of a sudden, my cousin T was running next to me!

"What are you doing here?!"

She wins the Cousin of the Year award.

She lives in DC and came out to cheer me on. She's a runner, too, so she recognized that I was struggling and figured she'd come lend me some support. She could only run for about mile, but it was a game changer.

Mile 21: Every marathon has a cut-off time for finishing. In the Marine Corps Marathon, the big thing is to "beat the bridge." If you don't cross the river back into Virginia by a certain time, the bus will come pick you up and you won't finish the race. Mile 21 is The Bridge. Boy, is that bridge tough. First of all, there are no spectators. Secondly, there's no shade. Thirdly, there's no water. These three factors led to me taking a couple more walk breaks. Mentally, the first half of the Mall (pre-cousin T) and the bridge were the hardest parts of my race.

Miles 22-25: Once we got off that God-forsaken bridge, I knew I was going to finish. I chugged two cups of Gatorade, dumped a cup of water over my head, took my final gel, and put my nose to the grindstone. I was pleasantly surprised by the amazing crowds in Crystal City. I really thought it would be abandoned, so I was thrilled to see so much support. I did take a few more walk breaks, but I was feeling a lot better mentally.

Mile 26: I knew that thanks to my multiple walk breaks, I wasn't going to achieve my goal of sub-4:40, but I was pretty sure I could still PR. I kept running, and sprinted that last .2 up a big hill. (Why is the finish line at the top of a hill? Not cool.)

In front of the Marine Corps War Memorial just past the finish line. This would be a really cool spot for the finish line, guys, if it wasn't at the top of a hill.

I crossed the finish line in 4:58:35, just 7 seconds off of my time from last year. Obviously, it was disappointing to not PR. My biggest goal was to run sub-4:40, but I figured pretty on in the race that wouldn't happen. However, like I said earlier, I really didn't think PRing would be a problem. It was a very achievable goal for me, so I'm bummed I didn't hit it. I am glad I still came in under 5 hours, though.

The most disappointing thing about my race was that most of my failure was mental. Physically, I felt pretty good. When I stopped to walk, it wasn't because my body needed it; it was my mind. People are often surprised to hear that about marathon running. Sure, it's a tough physical challenge, but I'd say it's at least a 50/50 split between the physical and mental. 5 hours is a long time to be alone with your own thoughts. I think that my foot injury the last few weeks really psyched me out. I didn't feel confident in my training because I had to deviate from the program at the end. People kept telling me that it didn't matter, that I'd already put the work in. I didn't believe them, though, and that was a big hurdle to climb over mentally. I am disappointed that I couldn't conquer those demons as well as I'd hoped.

I am proud of myself, though. I put in a solid 4 months of training, raised over $1,000 for the USO, and finished my second marathon. Now, on to the next challenge!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Marine Corps Marathon Training: Weeks 17-20

Week 17: I started the week off discovering a bit of pain in the ball of my foot. Super cool. I was supposed to do a 5-mile run on Tuesday, but it turned into 3 because of the discomfort. That was my last run of the week. I stuck to the elliptical in order to get my miles in in a low-impact way. On Sunday, instead of running 18 miles outside in the gorgeous fall weather, I did 11 miles on the elliptical and took a 3.5-mile walk with Adam.

Week 18: This week was the start of my taper, but I couldn't enjoy it because I was still freaked out about my foot pain. I went to the podiatrist on Tuesday. He took x-rays and informed me that I didn't have a stress fracture. Phew! Unfortunately, I have sesamoiditis due to my flat feet, bunions, and the repeated pounding of long-distance running on the sesamoids. Basically, the soft tissue underneath my big toe is inflamed. The only real cure is rest and proper footwear (orthotics and no heels). I stuck to the elliptical to get my miles in, and on Thursday, I tried acupuncture. I was skeptical, but my foot felt so much better on Friday morning! I even ran a little bit on Sunday! Also on Sunday, I cheered my teammates on during the Chicago Marathon. Watching the city come alive to cheer everyone on really inspired me to work hard for the final two weeks.

Week 19: Back to the elliptical. I broke up the monotony a bit with a swim, which was nice. I got another round of acupuncture, too. I can't tell if it helped more than just resting, but I figure it couldn't hurt. The highlight of my week, though, was a 5-mile run with my BFF L through downtown Saint Louis on Saturday morning. It felt great to get back to the pavement. The weather was gorgeous, it was L's birthday, and my foot felt pretty good even without Advil!

Week 20: Lots of rest, lots of carbs, and a 26.2 mile jaunt through Washington, DC. I'll be back soon with a full recap!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Lately I'm Loving: How Did This Get Made?

Last weekend, Adam and I took a road trip to visit my BFF for her birthday. Because we were in the car for 10 hours over the course of the weekend, we needed to entertain ourselves. We decided podcasts would help pass the time quickly, and that's how we discovered How Did This Get Made?

HDTGM is a podcast about terrible movies, and they explore the question that all viewers ask themselves: How did this get made? I particularly enjoyed the episode about The Room. I have written about my affinity for The Room before, and it was great to hear the interpretations other people have of this horrible, horrible film. I also laughed hysterically at the episode about the Lifetime movie Liz & Dick, starring Lindsay Lohan and a bunch of amazingly bad wigs.

They always have hilarious special guest stars like Retta, Kristen Schaal, Patton Oswalt, and Adam Scott. The show is so funny that it makes me want to go back and watch these awful movies. Anything that actually makes you want to watch Spice World is a winner in my book.

What are your favorite podcasts?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Book Review: Marathon Woman

Because my life seems to revolve around marathon running right now, it's only fitting that my reading list also reflects that particular hobby.

I first heard of Kathrine Switzer last year when I watched PBS's Makers documentary about the history of feminism and the women's rights movement. In 1964, she registered for the Boston Marathon as K.V. Switzer and became the first woman to ever officially run the storied race. A few miles in, the race director came running out onto the course, yelling at her to "get out of [his] race." He tried to physically rip the numbered bib off of her and instead received a well-timed shove from Switzer's then-boyfriend. Switzer finished the race and found a passion in advocating for women runners and athletes.

Her book follows her life from her childhood to the 1984 Olympics, the first to feature the women's marathon as an event. The thing I liked most about this book was seeing the evolution of road racing. When Switzer ran the Boston Marathon in 1967, there were no water stops on the course. If you wanted to drink water, you had to bring your own crew of people to give it to you. This was the norm in races. She talks about a series of women-only races she organized in the '70s that was the first to give medals to all finishers. There were no watches or timing chips; you got your official time from a person who watched you cross the finish line and wrote down your time with your bib number. Not only were there no sweat-wicking fabrics, there weren't even running clothes designed for women.

It's one thing to take technological and scientific advantages for granted, but the biggest reminder from this book was never to take running itself for granted. As a woman who runs with other women on a regular basis, it's crazy to think that just 50 years ago, people legitimately thought that a woman's uterus would fall out if she ran long distances. No one has ever tried to throw me out of a race or run me off the road or dissuade me from tackling my goals simply because of my sex, and I have Kathrine Switzer to thank for that.

If you are at all interested in running, I highly recommend this book. A