By the Numbers: August 2013

Books

Total read since January: 26
(target is 36 by December, to be on track I should have read 24 books by now)

Only three books this month and none knocked my socks off. Here they are in order of most to least favorite:

  • Under the Empyrean Sky — I really wanted to love this book. I like the author. I like the genre. I like the concept of a post-apocalyptic world overrun with and built around GMO corn. But this book fell short of “love.” It was good. I liked it. It was just a little too “YA” for me. Too much boy growing up angst — anger at his dad, anger at the town bully, anger when he (inevitably) loses his girl, general anger at life, etc. Not enough about the world the story is set in. It left me with too many questions about the people, the classes, the politics, the history, the setting… But don’t listen to me. If you are intrigued by the official book blurb description, you should read the book. I’ll probably read the sequel. I’m interested enough to see where he goes with this.
  • Out of the Deep I Cry — Russ and Clare solve another mystery in Millers Kill, NY. Yes, I am still reading these books. Yes, it is presumably for my Mystery Fiction final project. But, yes, I admit I am sucked into the story and the budding romance and actually WANT to keep reading these, even after I finish my project. Trashy romance / mystery novel? Yeah, kinda. Well written with thoughtful characterization and plotting? Yes! New guilty pleasure reading? Maybe…
  • The Skull Beneath the Skin — This is the last novel I had to read for my Mystery Fiction class. It was a slog. So much description. So much gothic moodiness. So much drama. I mean, the client was an actress, but still. Blech. Not my favorite book from this class. I struggled to finish it. But, I did it! And now I just need to finish the last online module and my final project, take the final exam, and I’m done! (That still sounds like a lot of stuff… the slog continues…)

My goal for next month is to write deeper and more critical book reviews, ideally closer to when I actually finish reading the book.

Writing

My blog posts this month were almost exclusively about swimming. I am not sure that counts as “writing.” As much as my mom loves me, I’m pretty sure even she is bored silly by blog posts about swimming workouts. So, I am going to attempt to write about other stuff (in addition to the swimming workouts) next month.

I would drop the swimming posts, but it’s part of who I am and what I think about. Also, I want to be a resource for people who want to do lap swimming for a workout but have trouble coming up with workouts, or staying motivated. Ideally, I want to inspire people like me who had no idea they could still swim competitively after college that they can and should because it’s so much fun! Really!

Outside of the blog, I made some slow progress on the writing project this month. And by slow, I mean I only added 2k words. Sigh.

Still, I did some planning and thinking and plotting. I am starting a new writing class in September — Developing the Novel. I’m hoping that will help me carve out more of my free time to FINISH THIS DRAFT by the end of this year.

Swimming

My US Masters Swimming FLOG (Fitness Log) says I swam:

  • 21 of 31 days (target was ~20 days)
  • 39.94 miles (target was ~30 miles)

NEW RECORD for both number of days and number of miles in one month! Since pretty much the only thing I have been posting on this blog this month has been swimming workouts, you probably already heard enough about my swimming. So, I’m just going to celebrate this little achievement, and post this impressive chart of my yards / month that really shows how far I’ve come since January (and how lazy I was April thru June).

For those of you totally bored by my swimming workout posts… sorry. I don’t think they’re going away. Maybe just skip them? I’ll try harder to post other stuff besides swimming. Promise. Although, if you are sick of my swimming updates, you’re probably not even reading this section. Oh well.

Movies

This may be a first. No movies in August. I got a movie from Netflix in the first week of August that is still sitting, unopened, in the living room. I just haven’t been in the mood to watch a movie.

However, I did stumble upon one bit of amazingness that I can’t believe I am just now finding out about… The Lizzie Bennet Diaries! In the last 24hrs I’ve watched all 100 episodes. It’s AMAZING! I love it. They did such a good job adapting Pride and Prejudice to modern day. And the actors / actresses in it are fantastic. If you like Jane Austen, you should go watch this right now. Just be warned, you will get completely sucked in.

Next month: September… Back to school! My favorite time of year! (even though I am no longer in school…) And, even though it’s fall everywhere else in the country, it’s now finally “summer” in San Francisco. Yippee? (I miss real fall…)

By the Numbers: July 2013

Books

Total read since January: 23
(target is 36 by December, to be on track I should have read 21 books by now)

Vacation time means more reading time for me. I only finished two books during my vacation. Then I finished one more on the plane ride home. But, even outside of vacation, I’ve been reading like crazy this month, and I’m finally caught up (actually, a little ahead) of where I should be to meet my 36 books target for this year. Of course, my “to-read” pile just keeps growing because I am always finding or receiving recommendations for awesome books out there that I want to read.

Here are the (six!) books I read this month, stack ranked by how much I liked them, from most to least favorite:

  • Swim: Why We Love the Water — LOVED this book. So many fun facts about the history of swimming and swimmers. Made me feel proud to be a swimmer, and made me want to go swim laps. Highly recommend this to anyone who loves the water and loves to swim.
  • Where’d You Go Bernadette — This book cracked me up. Having lived in Seattle and worked for Microsoft, I can vouch for the fact that Maria Semple has Seattle and Microsoft nailed. One of my favorite parts is the transcript of the TED Talk. So perfect. I really enjoyed this book. It made me miss the city I think of as “home” (even though I grew up in the Midwest). Highly recommend this to anyone who has ever lived in Seattle and/or worked in technology (even though the book really isn’t about working in technology at all). Think Gilmore Girls, but set in Seattle.
  • A Murder is Announced — Read this one for my UCBx Mystery Fiction class, but I actually enjoyed it. It’s very British and amusing, if not laugh-out-loud-funny. It’s sort of a comedy-mystery. I kept thinking I had the mystery solved, but then something else would happen and I would change my mind. Definitely kept me guessing (and engaged) through the end.
  • A Fountain Filled with Blood — Read this one for my UCBx Mystery Fiction class final project. I liked the first book in the series (the one I read last month) better, but this one was still good. The story was fast paced and takes place in the Adirondacks where I was on vacation this month. My only (small) complaint is that the main character, Clare, was a bit more inconsistent in this book than she was in the first book. In this book she constantly flips from being responsible to irresponsible, and takes some actions that seem out of character based on what we know of her background. I hope this improves as the series continues, because I like her character in general, and I am drawn in my this will they / won’t they relationship developing as a (major) subplot. 
  • Island of the Sequined Love Nun — Was less than impressed with this one by Christopher Moore. No matter how many Christopher Moore books I read, I still think the first one I read by him (A Dirty Job) was the best. Maybe his brand of humor / writing style has diminishing returns?
  • Unfamiliar Fishes — Originally bought this for my mom because she lived in Hawaii and loves it there and also enjoys history. She read it and passed it back to me to read and it sat on my shelf for years. Brought it with on vacation and had a hard time getting into it. The text seemed to ramble without purpose and periodically repeat bits. It was almost as though it was a series of essays that were strung together into a book. I finally finished it, and then left it in the Adirondacks for future campers to enjoy.

I was hoping to be able to tackle more of my non-fiction selections while on vacation. It’s harder for me to read non-fiction in the start / stop way I have to read while I’m working. I only get about thirty minutes of reading time on the bus, and the rest of my reading time happens on the weekend. It’s much easier for me to devour novels on the weekend than meaty non-fiction. Plus, novels are more of an escape worthy of weekend downtime.

Writing

I haven’t been keeping up the blog this month, mostly due to “no screens” time during vacation. But also because I’ve had a lot on my mind that hasn’t been post-worthy. But, I have been doing a tiny bit of writing. I dusted off one of my two unfinished novels (finally) and started (slowly) working on it again.

The one I picked (I need a good working title…) had just over 16k words already typed up. I also had a few scenes scribbled in a notebook. After re-reading what I wrote I immediately decided that 1) this is utter rubbish writing, but maybe a decent story, and 2) it probably needs to be written in first person. The annoying thing is that I remember I started writing this in first person, then painstakingly changed it to third person, and now I’m having to go back to my original, first person narration.

This month I edited all the existing text, added the handwritten stuff, and then added a few “new” scenes. I now have just over 20k words. There are about 100k words in a novel (unless you’re George R.R. Martin, then it’s between 300k and 450k per novel…). So, at this rate, this may take me a while. But, my goal is just to ignore the “this is complete crap” voice and finish the story. I can always make it better later. Or just leave it gathering virtual dust on my hard drive. But I’m going to finish it.

Swimming

My US Masters Swimming FLOG (Fitness Log) says I swam:

  • 20 of 31 days (target was ~20 days)
  • 35.18 miles (target was ~30 miles)

Woo hoo! I did it! I finally hit my target for both number of days and miles! Yay! I owe all this to vacationing somewhere that I could easily swim daily and a little change of routine that increased my motivation to get out of bed in the morning.

This month I got to spend a week swimming around in a lake in the Adirondacks. On my first day at the lake I swam across and back a total of five times — not all in a row, but total for the day. That was the most I swam across and back for the whole vacation, but I did that trip at least once a day, and usually more, sometimes with friends, sometimes with small children, always with someone in a boat patiently accompanying me.

When I returned from vacation I decided to capitalize on my adaptation to East-coast time and get up early to swim in the outdoor pool instead of going to the gym. I LOVE swimming in that pool. It is so much more motivating the swimming in that dinky little three lane pool in the basement of Equinox with five other splashing humans and a sporadically working time-clock.

Because of this, I am planning on canceling my gym membership and buying a bulk pass to the outdoor pool instead. I may regret this decision come winter, but it doesn’t really get too cold here in the winter. Mornings now, in the middle of summer are in the mid 50s and overcast. I expect it will be a bit colder, maybe mid 40s in December / January, but the pool is always the same temperature. Besides, we have yoga classes and a weight room in our office, so I’m really just using the gym for the pool at this point (not that I’m using the office facilities, either… but I could…).

I need to step up my training in preparation for the fall racing season. Anything I can do to make that a more enjoyable experience is going to help me swim more — and faster. As you can see from this month’s stats, I am definitely finding the outdoor pool more motivating.

Movies

Not a big month for movies. Possibly recovering from last month’s movie watching binge. More likely, my movie watching time was allocated to swimming, reading, and writing. Here’s what we watched:

  • Anchorman — Confession: neither of us had ever seen this movie before. Apparently it is a bit of a “classic”? It was okay. Some parts were funny, and, really, Steve Carrell was the best of all the characters. Is this the movie where that whole “mic drop” thing started (Vince Vaughn at the end, reporting at the zoo)? or does that pre-date even this movie? Answer here?
  • Pitch Perfect — If you’ve been keeping up with my blog(s), or know me IRL, you know I am a sucker for feel-good “team” movies like Bring It On, Stick It, and Dil Bole Hadippa — especially ones with a strong, sassy female lead. So it should come as no surprise to you that I loved this movie. (Slightly more surprising was that hubby also liked it…)

There you have it — an extremely long post all about July to make up for my lack of blogging. I can’t believe that tomorrow starts AUGUST! It’s almost back to school time (my second-favorite time of year)!

By the Numbers: June 2013

Books

Total read since January: 17
(target is 36 by December, to be on track I should have read 18 books by now)

I’m almost caught up to my 3 books per month reading goal! I read two mysteries, some science fiction, some fantasy, and some historical fiction… basically, a little of everything except non-fiction, but I have a few non-fiction titles lined up for vacation next month…

I really liked all the books I read this month… except one. I wanted to try to rank them in order of preference, but it’s so hard to do. If I were forced to stack rank them, here’s what I’d say:

  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman — I had big expectations for this one, and it completely lived up to my expectations. If you’ve never read anything by Neil Gaiman and you want an introduction into his books and the worlds he creates, start with this one. This is basically a book about childhood for adults. If it doesn’t make you remember what it was like to be young and believe in magic and monsters, then you are a cold-hearted person and I have no idea why you are reading my blog.
  • Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein — This may be tied with “Ocean” for the best book I read this month. I’m usually not a big fan of historical fiction, but this story just grabbed me and I couldn’t stop reading. I loved the characters and the story. The only annoying bit was something that was my own fault for reading reviews before I read the book. From what I’d read I was expecting some sort of major plot twist or something. Lots of people referred to how the main character “lies.” So I kept waiting and trying to anticipate (figure out) what would happen. So when the ending came, I had this feeling of, “that’s it? really?” Not a solid sense of closure to the story. I guess some of the stuff I guessed was going to happen was more of a surprise to others reading the story? Regardless, this is a really well written book and I highly recommend it. My advice though, just go into it and get absorbed by the story without expectations.
  • Thousandth Night by Alastair Reynolds — Technically, I think this is more of a novella, and I think it should have been paired with a second novella (Minla’s Flowers), but my Kindle version only had the one story. Still, Alastair Reynolds is quickly becoming a new favorite science fiction author. This story played with some of the concepts he explored more in Blue Remembered Earth, and featured a little mystery plot that kept things moving as we learned more about this world and this species of space travelers. I really enjoyed it and can’t wait to read more by Mr. Reynolds.
  • In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming — This one may be tied with Thousandth Night, it’s hard to say which I liked more. I read this for a project I’m doing for my mystery fiction class. However, I got to pick the topic and the book for my project. I had narrowed my (self-selected) choices down to three, downloaded the samples for Kindle, and ultimately picked this one. I am so glad I did. This is the first mystery I’ve read for my mystery fiction class that I actually liked. I am excited to read more in the series. It’s an odd choice for me, since it’s a mystery (I don’t usually read mysteries) and one of the main characters is a Episcopalian priest (female, but still, a priest…). I’m not religious. But I do like fiction that features a tension between believers and non-believers (like Contact and The Sparrow). And both the main characters have military backgrounds, which ranks up there with boarding schools as another feature I enjoy in my fiction.
  • Indemnity Only by Sara Paretsky — This one I read for my mystery fiction class, and despite the fact that I generally liked the main character and liked the fact it was set in Chicago (my home town), I didn’t really like the book. Sure, it is a mystery and has a lot of action and a “who-done-it” plot that makes you want to keep reading to figure out what happened. However, I felt like the book moved unnecessarily slowly. There was a lot of “activity” that didn’t really result in much resolution, or wasn’t really critical to the development of the plot. The author makes a point of describing the main character’s clothes, what she had for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, how she slept, her exercise habits, etc., etc. It got really tiresome. So tiresome that I think it distracted from the story and left me thinking, “meh. it was okay.” Maybe I’m just not a mystery fan.

So many good books this month! If you want a sneak peak at the books I finally decided to bring with me on vacation, you can check it out here.

Writing

Big month for blog posts (6)… not much (any?) fiction writing this month, though. Writers write. But I haven’t been writing. I’ve been working. And reading. And, apparently watching a lot of movies this month, as you will soon see…

Swimming

My US Masters Swimming FLOG (Fitness Log) says I swam:

  • 12 of 30 days (target was ~20 days)
  • 19 miles (target was ~30 miles)

Yes, I remember saying in my last “by the numbers” post that I was determined to get 20 days in the pool this month. So, I only swam 12 days (3 days/wk instead of 5 days/wk). I’ve been struggling to get back on the getting up early in the morning schedule. I am also dreading swimming in the dinky three lane pool at the gym and would much rather swim outside. Unfortunately, swimming outside means waking up even earlier because the lap swim hours are 5:30am to 7:00am on weekdays. That’s early. Still, the weather has been so nice, even at 5:30am, that I can’t bear to swim inside. The last few weekday swims have been at the outdoor pool and they have been marvelous. Totally worth waking up early. If only I could remember that feeling when the alarm goes off….

Movies

I don’t even feel like talking about movies this month. We watched a lot of movies this month. Here’s what we watched with “Twitter-style” (140 character) reviews:

  • The Heat — Screening for Twitter employees. Really liked it. Wasn’t expecting to. Funny with strong feminist themes.
  • Double Indemnity — Watched for class. Didn’t like it. Don’t get why this is a “classic” that people love. Lame characters. Lame plot. I don’t like insurance.
  • If…. — Watched because I read it was one of Neil Gaiman’s favorite movies. British boys boarding school. Didn’t get it. Greg really liked it.
  • Cloud Atlas — Pleasantly surprised at how they turned this book into a movie. However, if you didn’t read the book you may not get the movie.
  • Robot & Frank — Cute movie.
  • Despicable Me — Really cute movie. I ❤ Minions. Looking forward to the sequel.
  • Beautiful Creatures — Terrible movie. The book was okay, but this movie was terrible.
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild — Cute movie. Artsy. Greg liked it more than me, go figure.

And that was June… A bit of a lull on progress towards most of my goals, but I did start to catch up on my reading… Next month, vacation! And hopefully a little more productivity outside of work…

By the Numbers: May 2013

Birthday Month Recap!

Books

Total read: 11 of 36 (target was ~15)

Only read / finished two books this month, both for my Mystery Fiction class:

  • Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore — This book is a geeky book lover’s dream. The author used to work at Twitter. He almost perfectly captures the Bay Area tech scene as it might be viewed by someone who lives here but isn’t working in technology. This is one of those books that I wanted to hug after I finished it. I read it on my Kindle, so I hugged my Kindle instead.
  • Bones and Silence — Apparently this book is one in a series. I’m not entirely sure why my professor picked this one, which I think is #11 in the series. It worked well as a stand-alone book, but it took me a while to get into it. It’s English, and the author uses a lot of English police / detective slang that took me a while to figure out.
  • The Maltese Falcon — This one is a classic. I think I’ve seen the movie at some point, it was one of my dad’s favorites. But I didn’t remember the story. The story takes place in San Francisco, and that part is really cool. The story was good, and kept me engaged, but I wasn’t really a big fan of any of the characters.

Neither of these are books I would have read if they weren’t on my class syllabus. I’m not sure that mystery fiction is my thing. I used to love mystery stories when I was a kid. But so far, the ones I’ve had to read for class haven’t really grabbed me. I have two or three more books I have to read for this class (sometime between now and October). We’ll see if I change my mind as I read more mysteries and learn more about the genre.

Writing

This hasn’t been a big blogging month, or a big writing month. I meant to do revisions on my “Bridge Beat” story (the one that started off as a class exercise). I’ve decided I need to expand on it. But, I’ve been busy with work and birthday month activities, etc. So, I’ve been putting it off. Time to get back on it.

Swimming

My US Masters Swimming FLOG (Fitness Log) says I swam:

  • 15 of 31 days (target was ~20 days)
  • 24.21 miles (target was ~30 miles)

Second month in a row that I’ve felt like I’ve been slacking off a bit and not getting in my swimming workouts. I averaged about three workouts a week, which isn’t terrible, but I am going to need to step it up a bit (and possibly add in some strength training) if I am going to be in tip top shape by short course meters season this fall.

For starters, in June I want to swim at least 20 days out of the month. That’s been my goal since January, and I don’t think I’ve hit it once yet. This month I will.

I swam in my first open water race this month! Open water racing is to pool racing as cross country running is to running track. It feels a bit as though I’ve been “set free” in the wild to run an obstacle course using skills I’ve honed in the pool for decades. Sort of like only ever running on a treadmill and then running outside in the woods for the first time. Empowering. I am not a hamster.

Movies

We kept Netflix busy this month, averaging about one DVD per week. Plus, we actually saw a movie in the movie theater this month! In 3D! Shocking, I know. As you will soon see, the majority of the movies we watched this month fit with a theme that could be summed up as “good guys going rogue to beat the bad guys…”

This month’s movies were:

  • Silver Linings Playbook — I did not read the book. I saw that the movie got some awards or something, and that it had Hunger Games chick in it, so I rented it and hoped it wasn’t a completely dopey RomCom. At first it seemed like it was going to be a RomCom, but then it redeemed itself and turned out to be an entertaining drama. Greg even enjoyed it, which is saying something.
  • Django Unchained — somehow I hadn’t heard about this movie until I saw a trailer for it on another movie we got from Netflix. I really enjoyed it. The slavery parts were really hard for me to watch. I hate that we treated people that way. And the ending was SUPER cheesy. But, it is a Quentin Tarantino flick, so that shouldn’t be a shocker.
  • No Direction Home: Bob Dylan (part 2) — last month we watched (or re-watched, depending on who you’re talking to), part one of this documentary. This month we watched the second half, strangely enough, on Bob Dylan’s birthday! Weird. This month has been full of weird coincidences like that. I think Bob Dylan is an artistic genius and this documentary has a ton of great interviews and old footage. For someone who wasn’t even born yet, it helps put a lot of that music and surrounding drama into historical context.
  • Gangster Squad — I have no idea why we picked this movie. I think we saw a trailer on another movie we watched and Greg said we should add it to the list. It was not great, but entertaining enough, and better than I thought it was going to be. Watch it if you like good guys going rogue to stop the bad guys.
  • Star Trek Into Darkness — You have to see this if you like “Space, the final frontier.” It is a really good movie. And not just because brimming with hotties. I love space. The effects in this movie are so good. We saw it in 3D which made it even better. Just go watch it, and then come home and stream the next movie on my list this month…
  • Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan (streaming) — I was a little too young to have seen this when it came out, but it is available to stream right now on Netflix, and since we just saw the newest Star Trek movie, which featured Sherlock Khan, I figured we needed to watch this one. It was surprisingly good! And after watching this, the newest Star Trek made so much more sense.
  • This is the End — we got to watch a special screening of this movie for Twitter employees and their +1 guests. Don’t expect anything deep from this movie. It’s basically a stoner flick. It’s funny, and gross, and has a star studded cast (Emma Watson! With an ax!). My favorite part (besides Emma Watson, who is basically the only female in the movie, btw) was the ending, but since I can’t spoil it for you, you’ll have to see it for yourselves.

And there goes another birthday month. I’m pretty satisfied with this one. Can’t wait to see what awesomeness my 36th year has in store for me.

By the Numbers: April 2013

Books

Total read: 8 of 36 (target was ~12)

  • Sassinak (re-read) — This is one of my favorite books, but it’s been in a box for years along with all my other books. I finally unpacked those boxes a few months ago when we moved into this apartment, and I immediately wanted to re-read this, but didn’t have time. Then I found out they released it on Kindle and that was it. I had to buy it and re-read it. I have to say, I still love this story. Sassinak may be the best heroine ever. She would definitely make a “top five fictional heroine (from a book)” list were I to put one together… (future blog post idea!)
  • Beautiful Creatures — basically I read this because I saw the preview for the movie and decided I had to read the book first. I will say it was much better than the Twilight series (which I didn’t like), but not as good as some of the other YA fantasy / sci-fi that I’ve read recently. I’m not sure it’s worth continuing in the series. I am just not that interested in what happens next.

I have also been reading lots of short stories for my writing class, and I purchased quite a few new books for my Kindle this month that have now been added to my rapidly growing “to read” pile. Besides Sassinak, I purchased:

All this focus on short stories in my writing class must be paying off… I think I might finally be learning to enjoy / appreciate short stories… Hard to believe I purchased TWO volumes of short stories this month…

Writing

Only three blog posts, but lots of progress on other writing fronts… You might be interested to know that I took that writing exercise that I posted here and turned it into a short story. I submitted it to my workshop class and got some great feedback. I’m making revisions now and will find a way to publish / post / share with anyone interested once it’s complete. Everyone in my class seems to think it should be a novel, but I’m trying very hard to cram it into a box labeled “short story” because I can’t see a full novel story arch here…

I also completed another “just for fun” exercise for class which I think I will post here today or tomorrow, just for fun…

Swimming

My US Masters Swimming FLOG (Fitness Log) says I swam:

  • 13 of 30 days (target was ~20 days)
  • 21.14 miles (target was ~30 miles)

I was a bit of a swimming slacker this month. I intended to only take one week off after the Pacific Masters SCY Championships. One week turned into two. Then when I tried to go back, forces conspired against me. So, I swam just over half the number of days I intended to swim this month. However, I seriously kicked up my mileage and am not trying to swim 2800 – 3200 yards (1.7 – 1.9 miles) per session (this takes me about an hour).

I only had one race this month. You can check out my race times on the US Masters Swimming website here. But if you’re lazy and you just want to see my times / events from the Pacific Short Course Yards (SCY) Championship swim meet I participated in this month, see below:

Date Event Time Age Group Place
 2013-04-05  50 Breast 38.27 2
 2013-04-05  100 Breast  1:20.59 2
 2013-04-05  200 Breast  2:51.81 2
 2013-04-05  100 IM  1:17.11 2

As of right now, I have the 16th fastest time in my age group (35-39) for the 200 yard breast stroke, and I have the 25th fastest time in my age group for the 100 breast stroke. Not bad for about three months of training. Of course, the Nationals are next weekend and I’ll probably slip a bit in the rankings before they finalize the 2013 SCY season best times at the end of May. Until then, I will enjoy the fact that I achieved two of my three swimming goals for this season (Nationals qualifying times and top twenty times). Next year I’ll get that stretch goal — top ten times here I come!

Besides all my “season best” swims this month, I did achieve one additional swimming milestone… as of today’s practice, I have swum just over 100 miles since January first! Yay me!

Movies

We averaged about one movie and two TV show episodes a week this month… that means we probably watched almost four hours a week of entertainment. Not bad. Still WAY below the national average…

The movies of April:

  • Total Recall (the new one) — People told us this wasn’t as good as the original, but I actually liked it better than the orignal. The conclusion I came to was that action / sci-fi movies really benefit from a special effects refresh… and better acting… 
  • Argo — How did I miss this one when it came out? This movie was so good. I absolutely loved it. And now that I’m thinking about it, I want to watch it again.
  • The Hobbit — I really liked Lord of the Rings, but this… this was SLOW, almost nothing happens, and it made me think of this addendum to the submission guidelines for an online sci-fi / fantasy magazine that I read recently:

Stories that start in an inn are usually out.

Ditto for stories that start with a group of strangers meeting at an inn.

Ditto for stories that start with a group of strangers meeting at an inn and being hired to do a job by a mysterious individual who is clearly a sorcerer (or vampire, or sorcerer/vampire).

Double ditto for stories that start with a group of strangers meeting at an inn and being hired to do a job by a mysterious man who is clearly a sorcerer (or vampire, or sorcerer/vampire) who then turns on the very adventurers he/she/it hired only to be thwarted by the one dwarf in the party.  In fact, toss us a dwarf curveball.  So far we’ve never seen a story with a dwarf character where that character doesn’t kick ass from beginning to end.

  • No Direction Home: Bob Dylan (part 1) — Greg says we watched this already, but I don’t remember watching it. So we watched it (again?). I love Bob Dylan. He is so full of shit. And he is such a talented artist. Watching this I was struck by the similarities between being a musician / artist in “the Village” when he was up and coming, and the start-up scene in Silicon Valley today. He was like the Mark Zuckerburg of his age / industry. So many parallels… someone should write about that…

Besides movies, we’ve been enjoying Sunday night Game of Thrones, season 3, episodes on HBOGo (thanks, @MagMarCat!) and we finally finished season three (the final season) of Lie to Me on Netflix. We really liked Lie to Me and are very sad it’s over. At least we have Game of Thrones

And that was April…

And tomorrow is the first day of the best month of the year… my birthday month!

By the Numbers: March 2013

Books

Total read: 6 of 36 (target was ~9)

I haven’t had much time to read anything that wasn’t assigned for my writing classes (mostly short stories). In March I finished:

  • Blue Remembered Earth — Space odyssey that is part mystery, part family drama, part environmental politics, part technology politics, and part adventure quest. The multiple “themes” at work here remind me a little of Frank Herbert and Dune. The Descrutinized Zone and the hacker / maker culture reminds me of Cory Doctorow and Little Brother.
  • Little Brother — Read almost all of this in one sitting. Definitely YA and definitely geeky, but in a good way. Doctorow is ever the activist, and his writing is very “message-y.” I wonder how this book actually goes over with teens (if they love it or if they find it too preachy). Even though I agree with his ideals, I worry that this is more propaganda than literature. Still… if you are a fan of freedom of speech, technology (esp. Linux), and security, you should check out this book.

I also noticed that Amazon (finally) added one of my all-time favorite Sci-Fi novels (Sassinak) to Kindle. So I had to buy it and start re-reading. Anne McCaffrey rocks.

Writing

Most of my writing this month has been part of one of my two writing classes. This was the month where my two classes overlap. So I’ve been writing all sorts of exercises and impressions of stories I’ve read, and working on my own stuff. It’s been a good month for producing content.

On Tuesday I turn in my final “portfolio” from my Craft of Writing Workshop. It will include two poems, one short story, and one personal essay. After that, I get to focus 100% on short stories (fiction) for another month plus. I’ve determined that it’s way easier for me to write fiction than to write personal essays or poetry. Most of the people in my class found writing non-fiction easier, which surprised me.

As much as I prefer writing fiction to writing non-fiction, I seem to be keeping up with the blogging. I posted six times this month (if you include this post). I seem to keep coming up with new ideas for blog posts, I just never seem to have time to write them. Maybe next month I’ll finally get around to those “learning to code” posts I promised.

Swimming

My US Masters Swimming FLOG (Fitness Log) says I swam:

  • 20 of 31 days (target was ~20 days)
  • 29.09 miles (target was ~30 miles)

That includes three swim meets this month where I swam US Masters Swimming Nationals qualifying times in all three breaststroke events. You can check out my race times on the US Masters Swimming website here. But if you’re lazy and you just want to see my times / events from the various swim meets I participated in this month, see below:

 Date  Event  Time  Age Group Place
3/10/13 (CAL)  50 Free 32.92 4
3/10/13 (CAL)  50 Breast 38.79 2
3/23/13 (USF)  50 Breast 38.16 1
3/10/13 (CAL)  100 Breast  1:21.65 2
3/16/13 (RINC)  100 Breast  1:22.28 2
3/23/13 (USF)  100 Breast  1:21.57 1
3/16/13 (RINC)  200 Breast  2:55.23 1
3/23/13 (USF)  100 IM  DQ  —

The two events I swam that weren’t breaststroke were disappointing. I almost missed the wall on the flip turn in my 50 free sprint at the CAL Masters meet, and then I got disqualified in my 100 IM at the USF Masters meet. The DQ was a stupid mistake. I thought backstroke turns were legal going from back to breast, but they’re not. Oops. I am now practicing touch turns in preparation for the Pacific Masters Short Course Yards Championship meet next weekend. I’m swimming all three breaststroke events and the 100 IM. It’s a two day meet. So, that’s actually a reasonable number of races — two on each day.

Movies

In addition to my usual busy schedule, Greg was out of town for a week this month and I was sick. So this ended up being a big movie watching month.

  • Total Recall — The original. I hadn’t ever seen it and Greg hadn’t seen it recently. Hello totally 80s! We’ve come such a long way in both special effects and… acting!
  • Ted — Funny. Mostly. A nice evening distraction. Also, I’m a sucker for Mila Kunis. Pretty sure she plays the same part in every movie, though…
  • Anna Karenina — Started watching this with Greg who lasted about 10 min and kept saying “is this a musical?” It’s not a musical, but it is “interpretive” in a way. Greg couldn’t handle “Anna” and her hysterical screeching. I watched to get a “Cliff’s Notes” version of the story and to admire what the Russian classics do with character and narrative. Also because I’m a sucker for Keira Knightly… who also pretty much plays the same part in every movie… huh.
  • Pretty in Pink — saw that Netflix added this to Instant and couldn’t resist re-watching. This was one of my absolute favorite movies as a teen. This was for me what War Games was for Greg. Now they are both on streaming, so we’re both happy.
  • First Position — Ballet documentary? Yes please. Of course. Watched this the night before my USF Masters swim meet to get a little inspiring athletic kick-ass drama.
  • LOL — I could just say I’m a sucker for Miley Cyrus and leave it at that, but that’s embarrassing… true, but embarrassing. Miley Cyrus may have been the hook, but this movie surprised me a bit… better than I expected. I will admit, the emo-boy love interests all kinda looked alike, but whatever.
  • Mona Lisa Smile — I remembered liking this one and was looking for something to watch while I was sick. Also I’ve been thinking a lot about gender issues / sexism lately. There are aspects of this movie I really like, especially the part where the teacher has to realize that part of feminism is that everyone gets to choose what’s right for them. Sheryl Sandberg, as inspirational as she is to many, takes a lot of flack for making a similar mistake… (Also, I’m a sucker for Julia Stiles…)

It’s not a goal of mine to watch movies, so you may wonder why I even bother including them in my monthly “by the numbers” post. I think it’s interesting to review the list of movies I watched in monthly snapshots. Movies are like little drama snacks for me. When I don’t have time to read a book, I watch a movie. Particular movies appeal to me more than others depending on my mood. I’ve been known to use both movies and music to “balance my brain chemicals” when I’m in a mad / sad / bad / whatever mood.

I definitely think these particular movies give some additional insight into my state of mind this month. Maybe the streaming ones more so than the ones I watched with Greg, but they all have some common threads. It would be an interesting exercise to trace the emotional / character / narrative links back to Pretty in Pink… maybe some other day.

By the Numbers: February 2013

Books

Total read: 4 of 36 (target was ~6)

I know February is a short month and all, but it seems like this February went by at an unbelievably fast pace. It went by so fast, in fact, that I didn’t have enough spare time to finish *any* books this month. I find this particularly hard to believe, but I’ve actually been slowly chewing my way through Blue Remembered Earth for an entire month. Yikes!

It’s not that I don’t want to finish it — far from it. I’m really enjoying the book. It’s long, but not long enough to justify an entire month of casual reading for me. Even though I haven’t finished it yet, I will say that I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys science fiction adventures with political / social sub plots. I have been thinking of it as “Dune crossed with Little Brother / Homeland…” Which isn’t entirely fair because I haven’t actually read either of those books by Cory Doctorow (yet). I have heard him speak a few times and have a general idea (from Greg) about his novels.

Writing

My writing class that started at the very end of January has been occupying almost all the free time I’ve had outside of swimming and work. And, if you remember, I have a second writing class that starts this month and overlaps briefly with the one I’m currently taking. I am just beginning to freak out about that.

I did more writing than blogging this month (only 3 blog posts!), mostly due to free time and my writing class. I wrote two poems for a class assignment — the first time I’ve written poetry since high school. I also attempted to write a short story.

I say “attempted” because the process was messy and I’m not entirely pleased with the result. I wrote two different versions of the same scene that I was attempting to turn into a short story. But then I realized the story would have to be longer than I intended, and I had no ideas about how to make it shorter. So, I abandoned both versions to my “drafts” folder and pulled out something I’d written previously but never submitted to polish up for class. I need a lot more short story practice. Lucky for me, we’re working on short stories for the next two weeks in class.

Swimming

I didn’t compete in any swim meets this month, but I did hit it hard in the pool. My US Masters Swimming FLOG (Fitness Log) says I swam:

  • 18 of 28 days (target was ~20 days)
  • 27.13 miles (target was ~30 miles)

I surprised myself by swimming a couple of sets at times / pace faster than I though I would be able to swim. I’ve had several people at the pool that I don’t know comment to me about how fast I am. Compared to the competitive swimmers, I’m not that fast yet, and I know how far I have to go before I’ll admit to being “fast.” However, to regular lap swimmers that just swim for fitness or as practice for a triathlon they’re training for, I probably do appear to be “fast.”

Sometimes I will admit I am the fastest person in the pool at my gym (including the guys). But there are two women (both appear to be younger than me, and significantly taller), that are faster than me — except in breaststroke. I don’t think there is anyone that I’ve seen at the gym that’s faster than me at breaststroke.

You might think this would make me feel good, or confident. However, I don’t get any great joy from swimming faster than and/or intimidating a bunch of casual lap swimmers. At the same time, I worry I won’t get substantially faster unless I have someone faster to compete with and to push me. So, I’m beginning to seriously consider joining a masters swim team in the summer or fall. We’ll see how this season goes and how I perform at the meets coming up in March. I’ll decide after that.

Movies

I spent some of my book reading time watching movies. This month we watched:

  • Celeste and Jesse Forever – Disappointing. I was expecting this would be funnier. 
  • Perks of Being a Wallflower – This was better than the book. Emma Watson was fantastic in this. We were probably almost 30 min into the movie before I realized she was speaking with an (flawless) American accent.
  • the entire first season of House of Cards – This was way better than I expected. I had only 3 gripes with the first season: 1) Francis has terrible rowing form making him less believable as an ex-rower (#CoxswainProblems), 2) I noted one plot loophole that didn’t quite tie out (but I’m now having a hard time remembering what it was…), 3) The last episode was frustrating for many reasons that I won’t get into here so I don’t spoil it for those that haven’t watched yet…

And that’s February 2013…