Running Update: July 2nd

The year is halfway over!

I’ve done a good job with many of my 2014 “resolutions” (eatin’ less meat, writing more often, and reading tons o’ books), but unfortunately I’ve fallen dramatically behind on my running goals (~100 miles behind!). After two months of consistently running three times a week, my knee started feeling a little twingey, and it got a bit too easy to skip out on a run. Womp. I have been feeling better recently, and although I did run significantly further/more often in June (compared to May), my initial goal of 544 miles in 2014 is probably (realistically) out of reach. But that’s okay. I’ve certainly run more than I did last year, and I (almost always) enjoy it, so I’ll keep at it. I think my new goal will be to run at least as far in the second half of this year as I did in the first, which makes my new target… 336 miles! That’ll only get me from Oberlin to Alfred back to Salamanca, but it’ll still be more than three times as far as I ran in 2013.

running July 2I’m about to cross Chautauqua Lake! This was ~my favorite part of the drive between Oberlin & Alfred.

In other running news, Stephanie and I recently signed up to participate in the Refuse to Abuse 5K race at Safeco Field. This event raises money for the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (a wonderful, thoughtful organization). We participated last year, too, and it was a lot of fun. The course loops around the outside of the stadium, goes up and down some of the ramps and along the concourses inside Safeco, and then finally circles the warning track (on the field!) to finish near third base. My finishing time last year was 25 minutes + 24 seconds. Unless it’s crazy hot/crowded, I should definitely be able to shave at least a minute off of my time this year. I guess I’ll say that my goal is to break 24 minutes, but when I set running goals for myself they don’t really seem to pan out… we’ll see!

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Miles run in 2014: 167.9
Books read in 2014: 43

The Meat I Eat #29, #30, and #31

I have three meat eating incidents to report this week.

Saturday, June 21st, 7:00pm:

The absolute highlight of this past week was going to Danni and Curtis’s wedding. These are two of the kindest, coolest, grooviest people that I know and celebrating their wedding with them was delightful. In addition to all of the lovely people in attendance, there was a wine/beer bar and a taco bar (chicken tacos!) and a sundae bar and a boatload of dancing and laughing and general jubilation… it was one big, wonderful party.

Andrew+Danni WeddingTired, but happy, from so much dancin’.

Tuesday, June 24th, 5:00pm:

On Tuesday, one of our friends invited us over to her condo (which she just BOUGHT, because she’s an ADULT) for drinks/desserts. Before we went over, Stephanie and I swung through Ballard and grabbed a bunch of $1 tacos at El Borracho’s. (I’ve written about going to this place previously.) This time, I made sure to try one of every variety (they have nine different kinds of tacos!); I still think that their carnitas taco (Coca-Cola braised shredded pork) is my favorite, but the cochinitas pibil (orange achiote pork with pickled red onion) was very good, too.

El_Borracho_TacosTacos as far as the eye can see…

Saturday, June 28th, 1:00am:

Finally, last night we went to… Taco Bell! We had an impromptu night out (i.e., deciding to meet up after 10pm), with a couple of our friends at King’s Hardware over in Ballard. We each had some cocktails and then we split a pitcher of cider. It was fun, but it’s been awhile since I’ve been out at a busy bar on a Friday night… there were so many drunk, boisterous, LOUD, happy people! Anyway, Stephanie and I go to Taco Bell maybe once a month (it’s the only fast food place we go to, unless you wanna count Subway), but I usually order all veggie options because it’s easy and they’re sufficiently tasty (crispy potato taco!). But last night I had a hankerin’ for a cheesy gordita crunch (with beef). So I ordered one. And it was glorious.

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Miles run in 2014: 162.8
Books read in 2014: 42

A Book Review: Invisible Beasts by Sharona Muir

1934137804.01._SX450_SY635_SCLZZZZZZZ_Another month, another Early Reviewer book. This time I won Invisible Beasts by Sharona Muir. I was particularly fortunate this month because 752 folks requested this, but only 20 received a book. Lucky me!

I’ve found that it is quite difficult for me to write a review for this book. I finished it more than a week ago, and I’ve been thinking about it on and off since then, but I’m not sure that I quite know what to say. While marketed as a novel, Invisible Beasts certainly seems more like a collection of short stories/essays that have an ongoing theme. However, as the stories progress, the common thread that ties them all together becomes somewhat tenuous. The main idea in these stories is that the protagonist, Sophie, has the (incredibly rare, inherited) ability to see invisible animals. These critters are not particularly uncommon and she encounters them frequently in her daily life. Each chapter of this “novel” reads kind of like a journal entry written by Sophie and serves (nominally) to describe one specific invisible creature. Sometimes she discusses the habits/behaviors of these animals in detail, sometimes she just mentions them briefly as a passing detail of her life.

There are also some very strong environmental/conservationist themes hinted at in these stories. Muir takes the fact that humans are generally terrible at seeing/understanding so much about the world around us and exaggerates/expands this ignorance to include a host of invisible creatures that are equally threatened. While this might seems purely fantastical at first blush, it’s not actually too far-fetched. After all, up until ~350 years ago (before the existence of microorganims were observed/confirmed with early microscopes), most bacteria/viruses/single cell organisms were essentially “invisible”.  One of Muir’s chief points seems to be that there is so much that we’re obviously missing out on; if we don’t reorganize our priorities to emphasize conservation and stewardship and discovery, chances are incredibly high that we’ll miss out on the opportunity to learn something critically important. Case in point, the WWF estimates that over the past 30 years as many as 275 species have been eradicated from this planet EVERY DAY. (For the sake of completeness, their lowest-end estimate claims that a species goes extinct every other day – still an incredibly high rate.) Many of those species were never studied. And never will be. These numbers are haunting.

Early in this book, Sophie claims that she’s writing these entries in an attempt to help her beloved invisible animals; because they are invisible, they have no advocate. However, this self-proclaimed thesis, while admirable, is never revisited and seems largely ignored throughout the rest of the book. Instead of building towards something, the ensuing individual chapters revert to one-off vignettes that are only loosely connected to the preceding entries. While I really enjoyed a lot of the concepts in these stories, it was difficult for me to get over how disjointed the book felt from beginning to end. From chapter to chapter, the voice/style varies A TON, ranging from silly to lyrical to scientifically technical to deeply philosophical, which makes it challenging to view as a cohesive work. Add this to the fact that the overarching ideas are a little inconsistent and the momentum of the book just seems to fade as time goes on… Individually, some of the stories/essays were quite lovely (I particularly enjoyed The Riddle of Invisible Dogs and The Hypnogator) and the quality of the writing remains quite strong throughout, but it was easy to tell that several of these chapters were initially written and published as separate pieces and then stitched together.

I imagine that if I re-read Invisible Beasts and viewed each section as its own separate thing I would enjoy it a lot more… In any case, I’m certainly not unhappy that I read this, but I was hoping to enjoy it more than I did. I give it 3.5 stars (out of 5).

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Miles run in 2014: 159.6
Books read in 2014: 40

The Meat I Eat #28

Friday was Stephanie’s last official day workin’ at UW. She’d stayed on as a post-doc for her graduate advisor after gettin’ her PhD last August, but she’s taking the summer off until she starts her new position at NIST in Boulder, CO in October. To celebrate, we went out and got drinks/snacks at Naked City Brewing up in Greenwood. Naked City has some pretty fancy food… we split an order of french fries with black truffle sea salt, a cup of ginger-carrot soup, and a beet burger. The food was very good, but the portions were small. I also had a Spiced Peaches & Cream Hefeweizen from Laht Neppur Brewing Co. It tasted like peach cobbler. I enjoyed it a lot.

A few of our friends ended up joining us and we hopped over to the bar next door (Bill’s on Greenwood) to catch the end of the hockey game. The food at Bill’s was much more unassuming (and much greasier); I was still hungry, so I ordered their buffalo chicken flat bread pizza (with bacon!). Although it was only eight bucks, it was huge and came with A TON of delicious, salty, tangy, high-quality Roquefort. I was happily surprised. The food+drinks+friends+hockey combined to make for a lovely celebration evening. Hooray!

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Miles run in 2014: 152.0
Books read in 2014: 39

Portland Vacation 2014: Day Three

Today was our last day in Portland. After we woke up and checked out of our hotel, we went and got breakfast at Blue Star Donuts. Stephanie had walked by this place (in the evening, when they were closed) the last time she was in Portland doin’ some job interviews, and she wanted to be sure and check it out during this visit.

The place was pretty cute and fairly busy; there was a consistent line of 8-10 people the whole time we were there. They had a nice selection of ~15 donuts to pick from ranging from traditional old fashioneds to ultra-fancy blueberry+bourbon+basil cake donuts. After we received our donuts, we went across the street to Heart Coffee Roasters to get some coffee to pair with our sweets. Their espresso had some really strong chocolate/fruit notes. It was a little different, but very nice to drink. The donuts, on the other hand, were somewhat lackluster. My cake was pretty greasy, and Stephanie’s frosting was a touch too acidic/metallic. But we ate everything and were happy to have tried some place new.

Andrew Blue Star DonutStephanie Blue Star Donuts

I had dulce de leche hazelnut donut and Steph had one with passion fruit frosting and cocoa nib bits.

Once we finished stuffing our faces, we drove up to Washington Park. This is a massive (400+ acre) public urban park just a few miles southeast of downtown. It contains a zoo, a sprawling arboretum, a forestry museum, a children’s museum, a rose garden, a Japanese garden, and a ton of sports fields/play areas/walking trails. First, we visited the Portland Japanese Garden. Opening in 1967, it has been widely recognized as one of the best, most authentic Japanese gardens in the world (even including gardens in Japan!). I really appreciate traditional Japanese aesthetics, so I was really excited.

Portland_Japanese_GardenThe Upper Pond in the Strolling Pond Garden reflects the vibrant foliage.

This garden was really beautiful and probably my favorite part about our visit to Portland. If you’re ever in the area, I would heartily recommend checking it out. Upon entering, we were immediately afforded an amazing view of Mt. Hood as it seemingly rose up out of the Portland skyline. I think this was my first trip to Portland where visibility was good enough to enable a view of Mt. Hood. It’s quite dramatic.

Anyway, at almost six acres, the garden contains five! different varieties of traditional Japanese gardenscapes. They each have their own aesthetic and section of the grounds, but everything is so artfully arranged that they blend into one another almost seamlessly. Because it was SO sunny today, all of the colors were extra concentrated; everything felt especially fresh and verdant. Although I wish that the average person had a better sense of how they should act in a public garden/space (hot tip: it is NOT okay to squat down in the middle of a narrow, one-way footbridge to take crappy pictures of koi with your camera phone for 60+ seconds while other people are waiting behind you – also, DON’T pick flowers/leaves!), Stephanie and I were able to find lots of little “hidden” benches to sit on and enjoy some fleeting moments of serenity. I would definitely be interested in visiting again – especially during a different season.

Andrew torii Japanese gardenExploring the shadowy paths of the Natural Garden.

After we finished touring the Japanese Garden, we went down to the International Rose Test Garden. The Internet tells me that this garden contains over 7,000 rose bushes of approximately 550 different varieties. “Peak bloom” generally occurs in mid-June, so we lucked out and timed our visit perfectly. There were hundreds of people slowly walking up and down the gently sloped hill between beds of roses. Most people carried cameras, but a few held parasols above their heads to keep themselves cool. The fragrance of sooooo many flowers, combined with the sunshine, created a particularly festive atmosphere. If everyone had been dressed in their best formal wear, it wouldn’t have been to hard to imagine that we were all attending some elaborate garden party. There was even a harpist performing in the amphitheatre!

Stephanie_Rose_1Stephanie with one of her favorites.

Before we returned to Seattle, we stopped and grabbed an early dinner. We found a taqueria with a nice outdoor patio area in the Alphabet District and ate in the sunshine. I got a taco combo plate with one barbacoa taco (my favorite taco fillin’), one carnitas taco, and one pescado taco (meat #27!). These were a little small, but pretty tasty. Traffic wasn’t too bad on our drive north and we made it home safely without incident.

Thanks for the wonderful weekend, Portland!

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Miles run in 2014: 145.5
Books read in 2014: 37