By the Numbers: March 2014

This has been just hanging out in my drafts folder for a while, but I never posted it. I also never really finished writing it… At this point it’s almost time for my April “By the Numbers” post, so I think I’ll just let you have it as I found it….

_____________________

And just like that, 25% of the year is gone.

Books

Total read so far this year: 5
(target = 36 total in 2014)

I finished two books this month.

Writing

I am pretty sure I did no writing this month. This has been a month full of distractions. I need to find a way to get back to writing every day, but I already know that April is going to be just as crazy as March. So, I’m not going to make any promises about April.

I will make promises about May. May is where I draw the line. Spring swim season will be over and life will (hopefully) have settled back to something nearing normal again. May is the half-year anniversary of NaNoWriMo, it’s also my birthday month, so it’s the perfect time to get back into the writing.

Of course, I could maybe try to get some words written in April… you know, a head start on May wouldn’t hurt….

Swimming

This month I swam:

  • Total through 3/31: 85.3 miles (42 swimming days)
  • 2014 goal: 400 miles (~21% of goal)

I didn’t swim as much this month as I should have and it showed in my performance at the Championship meet this past weekend. I’m grumpy about my performance in my breaststroke events. I did make some nice improvements in 200 IM and 200 fly, but I was way off personal best times in my main events and that was disappointing.

The cutoff to register for Nationals fell before the Championship races. So, I registered, and I’m glad I did. I really need that extra month of training so I can have one last shot at getting below 1:20 on my 100 breast and below 2:50 on my 200 breast.

One of the main reasons I didn’t practice as much this month was because I started coaching a high school team. Their season is almost over (it was almost over when I started), and it isn’t a very big team, but the swimmers are really nice and it’s fun to be coaching again.

 

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By the Numbers: February 2014

Wait. What happened? February is over already? I mean, I know it’s a short month and everything, but the last 28 days went by way too fast!

Books

Total read so far this year: 3
(target = 36 total in 2014)

I didn’t finish ANY books this month. Zero. I started and abandoned several that I just couldn’t get into. I am currently trying to get into a new book. I bought a bunch of books that I thought I’d want to read. I had a really good recommendation for a non-fiction book. I just can’t get into my reading zone. I really want to curl up and spend an entire day reading. But this month has been so overflowing with “things to do” that I haven’t been able to sit down and read long enough for anything to grab me.

Reading, like swimming, settles me and calms me. And, with all the activity this month, whenever I’m not asleep or in the pool my brain churns and whirs out of control. I need a good book. I need a book that will grab me by the shoulders and force me into a chair and keep me turning pages, sucking me into the story. I also need about two solid hours with nothing to do and where I’m not about to fall asleep so I can give a book a chance.

Writing

I re-shelved “Empire” temporarily and dove back into “Falling” my 2013 NaNoWriMo story. This month I re-read most of it, revised the beginning bits, and started filling in the plot holes. Total word count is still pretty much the same, but I feel like I’m making progress.

I tried explaining this story to someone and it came out sounding all weird, prompting the response, “Interesting…” I think I’m going to have to stop trying to explain this story to people until I’m done. At this point it’s easier for me to explain what it’s not rather than what it is, and after you rule out most of what it’s not you are left wondering what’s left for it to be.

Still. Something about this story is grabbing me and holding my attention the way that none of the books I’ve started and abandoned this month could. Sometimes I think I go through phases. When I’m primed to be writing, everything I read frustrates me because it’s just not right. Then, when all I want to do is read, it’s almost impossible to get any writing done.

Swimming

This month I swam:

  • Total through 2/28: 55.5 miles (28 swimming days)
  • 2014 goal: 400 miles (~14% of goal)

This was a much better month for swimming. I only had one meet this month. I did pretty well and beat my seed times, but didn’t really swim any personal bests. I did swim a Nationals qualifying time in my 100 breaststroke. So, I can check that one off the list! Once again I just missed a qualifying time in the 50 breaststroke by a few tenths of a second.

I have two meets in March. I’m hoping to hit my qualifying time for the 50 in one and for the 200 in the other. If I can get any other qualifying times, that would be great (like maybe 200 IM…). But, mostly I’m just hoping to swim some personal bests in 50 and/or 100 free, and keep dropping time on my breaststroke events.

US Masters Swimming Nationals is near-by this year. So, as long as I qualify, I’ll probably compete. That gives me at least another two months to get to peak performance.

The preliminary listing for “Top Ten Times” in short course meters (fall season 2013) are posted. I ended up #7 in the nation in my age group for 200 breaststroke (out of 23 people who competed in that event during that season). Only 10 people in my age group competed in the 200 fly during the SCM season, so I ended up #6 in 200 fly. That’s two top ten times for my swimmer brag page on USMS! Go me!

Pop Culture of the Month

SHERLOCK!!! I finally got to watch season 2 of BBC’s Sherlock, and it was over way too soon. But so good! Can’t wait for season 3!

 

February was too short (as usual) and went by too fast, but at least it was better than January! Can’t wait to see what March brings…

By the Numbers: January 2014

Let it be known, for the record, that 2014 and I did not get off to a good start. I almost don’t even want to recap January, because January and I didn’t get along so well. Needless to say, I’m really glad that January is over, and I’m hoping for a New Year “re-boot” with the Lunar New Year.

Books

Total read so far this year: 3
(target = 36 total in 2014)

I didn’t write a long blog post about books this month. I haven’t felt much like writing anything (more on that in the next section). I did read three books, even though, for a while there, I thought I wouldn’t get through any books this month. I kept picking up books, starting them, getting bored, and putting them down.

The first book I finished (but not the first I started) was The Circle by Dave Eggers. I read it for a book club at work, but then didn’t get to go to the book club because I was sick. The book is about “the horrors” of living in a world with social media. The company in the book appears to be a poorly disguised version of Google. And, the entire thing comes off like a luddite hipster rant about the evils of technology. I have a lot of thoughts on that one, but they probably deserve their own post… one that I should have written when I didn’t go to that book club.

The next book I finished was Molly Fyde and the Parsona Rescue by Hugh Howey. I’d started this shortly after the New Year, but got bogged down in the middle. I still haven’t read the series he’s become famous for (Wool). Eventually I will, but when I found out that his first series was a space opera featuring a sassy heroine who gets kicked out of her space fleet military academy, I knew I had to read that first. The story and the writing are a little rough, but overall I enjoyed it enough that I’ll probably pick up the others in the series. I think this was his first novel, so I imagine the writing gets better…

And then, last weekend, I finally finished Dare Me by Megan Abbott. I started this on New Year’s Eve and thought it would be a quick, fun read. Nope. This book just dragged on and on for me. Her descriptions of teenage girls are vivid and realistic. Her ability to get into the mind of these high school cheerleaders and write believably from their perspective is impressive. Still… something just didn’t click for me. I don’t think I ever really cared about the characters or their story. Or maybe I’m just not a fan of contemporary / realistic YA.

Overall, January was a disappointing reading month for me, if only because I didn’t read anything I really LOVED this month. It’s like I keep sampling all the chocolates in the box and, even though they’re chocolate, and what’s not to like about chocolate, they just aren’t satisfying my sweet tooth. I just can’t find my favorite flavor combination.

This last week I started craving real, paper books. I still love my Kindle, but I think I’m going to change it up and read some paperback books in February. I have a bunch in my TBR pile on the bookcase. So, maybe I’ll give my Kindle a rest this month…

Writing

Gah! I am embarrassed to say that I think I went backwards this month. I did almost no writing, and then, when I did squeeze in some writing time, I decided to pull an entire section of my draft out because it felt like a massive backstory dump. And then I got hung up in the middle of my story and completely stalled for weeks because I just didn’t know what needed to happen to bridge from point A to point B in the plot. In the end, I think I had a net increase of about 1000 words. Pitiful.

I keep asking myself if I just want to ditch this story and move on, but I still think there’s something there. I just need to finish this first (really bad) draft so I can start getting to work on fixing it. The problem is, I want to write it perfect the first time (impossible), which causes me to stall when I am unsure of the exact, perfect way forward. Sigh.

Swimming

This month I swam:

  • 12 of 31 days (target was ~18 days)
  • 24.3 miles (target was ~36 miles)

I couldn’t swim for the first 10 days of January because I got an ear infection on New Year’s Eve and had to take the anti-bacteria drops for the full cycle to get rid of the funk. Oddly enough, it didn’t really hurt at all. But apparently I had some serious junk up in there.

My first day back in the pool this year was the Santa Rosa Flower Power Swim Meet. I had signed up to swim all the 200s except 200 back. I ended up dropping time on my 200 free (my first race of the day), but swam horribly in all my other events. I tried hard to tell myself it didn’t matter, and it was completely understandable because I’d been out of the water for two weeks. But I couldn’t make myself listen.

Then, after that first race and about a week of training, I came down with a cold that kept me out of the water for several days leading up to my second meet of the year, the Fog City Quadrathon. After having been out of the pool for most of the week, I got one practice in the day before the race. Somehow I managed to beat all my seed times and swim personal bests in all four of the freestyle events in the meet, even though I was still congested. This renewed some of my hope for this racing season.

I’ve had too few practices this month, and most of them felt slow and crummy. The last two have felt really good, though. Today’s practice (technically a February swim) was particularly good, though I had to cut it short before I was really ready to get out of the pool.

Next weekend I have my third meet of the year, and my first chance to drop some time in my 100 breaststroke. At this point, I’m just hoping I can stay healthy and keep swimming strong practices through the rest of the season.

Pop Culture of the Month

I bought two new albums at the tail end of December, one of which I’ve been listening to almost every time I have a chance this month: My Head is an Animal by Of Monsters and Men. I’m not sure why I like it so much. The story teller in me especially loves this video:

We watched five good but not great movies, and two fabulous, lovable, perfect episodes of BBC’s Sherlock, Season 3. I’m excited and sad to watch the final episode of this season tomorrow. I hate the long wait between new seasons of Sherlock!

So there you have it. January. Done. Here’s to the Year of the Horse!

By the Numbers: December 2013

Books

Total read since January: 39
(target is 36 total in 2013 — to be on track I should have read 36 books by now)

I’ve been devouring books this month — maybe to make up for the lack of reading time last month… I’ve already posted about the first three of these, so I’m just going to provide a link to my Goodreads reviews for those and be done with it.

Here is a summary of the books I finished in December:

  • Suddenly Royal — Four stars. See the review on Goodreads (linked) or read my “What? Me? Read Romance?” post for more thoughts.
  • Night of Cake & Puppets — Five stars (novella length). See the review on Goodreads (linked) or read my “What? Me? Read Romance?” post for more thoughts.
  • Eleanor & Park — Five stars and one of my “best of” 2013 books. See the review on Goodreads (linked) or read my “What? Me? Read Romance?” post for more thoughts.
  • These Broken Stars — Finally! A YA Space Opera! Yes! Where are the others like this one? Give me more! Actually, there is another coming by this author that takes place in this world, but not about these characters. Some reviewers have been lamenting that, but I’m more than okay with stand-alone books. Seems like everything these days has to be a series. I found this one on a Huffington Post list of best YA of 2013, where I realized that I hadn’t read most of the list. This book was selected as “best overall” and after reading it, I’m only a little surprised. The heroine started off kick-ass and then got a little annoying through the middle, but recovered by the end. The hero is definitely cut from the tall, dark, and handsome romance hero cloth. Even if these weren’t my favorite characters, the plot is solid and unique — something I appreciate. It’s not the best overall YA I read this year (that distinction goes to Eleanor & Park), but it is the best YA Sci Fi that I read this year (Blue Remembered Earth is still better for overall Sci Fi space opera).
  • Legend — I had high hopes for this one. It’s set in a post-apocalyptic world where the West Coast has separated from the rest of the United States. Right from the start the tension is high and the action is packed. I definitely wanted to keep reading to see what happened next. Unfortunately, I kept getting disappointed by two things. First, the two main characters (each chapter alternates perspectives between the two) are way too similar. In order for this to work they needed distinct voices / personalities, but they kept thinking and doing the exact same thing as the other one did in the previous chapter. Second, the plot stands on slightly shaky ground. I won’t give more away, but the premise for why the baddies are doing the bad stuff didn’t have enough weight for me. Then again, this is YA, and I may be getting burnt out on this genre… Overall, it was good enough and I liked it, but I am not chasing down the rest of the series, yet.

Writing

I didn’t do much writing this month. I am taking a post-NaNoWriMo break and relaxing for the holidays. I posted a bunch of end of the year summaries (books, music, feminism, and movies) on this blog. And I did a tiny bit of editing on the first 7500 words of my NaNoWriMo novel. Now I’m gearing up for next year, which I anticipate will be a big writing year for me.

Swimming

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

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

The first week of December was ridiculously cold in the Bay Area and made swimming outside challenging. I opted for a cross-training workout on days when the temps dropped below 40 degrees (F). Luckily, we found a place to stay on our vacation that has an indoor lap pool. So I was able to swim as much as I wanted over vacation.

I’ve mostly been taking it easy for the last two months. Spring racing season starts next month and I am going to have to seriously step up my training (and rein-in my non-stop noshing) to make sure I’m in tip top shape for USMS Nationals in May. Oh boy!

Movies

Here’s what we watched this month…

  • Bounty Killer — this will either become a cult classic, or it will fade into the sunset. One of my high school friends co-wrote and co-produced this movie. So, I mostly watched it for that. But if you like cheesy, Mad Max, post-apocalyptic stories featuring bounty hunters and an anti-corporation theme, check this one out — bonus: it’s available on Netflix instant streaming.
  • Red 2 — I am definitely not the target demographic for this movie. But, I really like Helen Mirren, and I surprisingly enjoyed the first movie, so I thought I’d check out the sequel. This movie has no real plot. It’s the weakest excuse ever to throw these actors and actresses together and let them play action heroes. It almost seems like the actors know that too. Basically, don’t go rent this one unless you are actually in the target demographic, you just can’t possibly miss a movie featuring this “star-studded” ensemble cast, and/or you have absolutely nothing else better to do.
  • Love Actually — this was the year that I *finally* watched Love Actually. I know. I can’t believe that I managed to live this long without watching it, either. But I did. And it was cute. And I can see why it’s a holiday favorite. And it has Alan Rickman in it. I liked it and it made me smile, but I didn’t *love* it.
  • Done the Impossible — documentary of how the fans of the TV show Firefly (one of my all-time-favorite TV shows) saved the series
  • The Killing — We watched the first four episodes of season one because I saw this on someone’s “best of 2013” list and it looked interesting. I love that it’s set in Seattle, but I’m not really totally into it yet.
  • The World’s End — British humor, pub crawl, aliens… I expected this to be funnier than it was… it was funny, and weird, and I liked it… I think I just over-hyped it in my head before watching.

And that, readers, is one year of monthly “By the Numbers” posts completed. If you’re interested, check out my 2013 summary post and my 2014 preview post

Happy New Year!

By the Numbers: 2013 summary

Let’s take a look at how I did compared to what I wanted to accomplish in the areas of reading, writing, and swimming in 2013…

Books

I have an annual goal of reading at least 36 books (or about 3 books a month, on average).

This year (so far) I’ve read a total of 39 books! Most were fiction. Only 6 of the 39 were non-ficiton. But only 10 of the 33 fiction books could be considered “young adult” fiction.

If you’re interested, I wrote reviews for each of them on Goodreads — you can find links to my reviews by checking out the Reading page on this blog.

Writing

This year I wanted to “create” as well as “consume” content. To that end:

  • I wrote 60 blog posts (on average that’s more than one post per week).
  • I added about 15k words to a novel I started back in 2009.
  • I “won” NaNoWriMo 2013 by writing a first draft of a novel that is currently just over 51k words.
  • I wrote countless short stories, essays, exercises, and even a few poems, for my UC Berkeley Extension classes.
  • I completed four UC Berkeley Extension classes (9 credits).

I’d call that a success. 🙂

Swimming

I started off this year hoping to compete in my first US Masters Swimming races and swim about 250 miles, total, for the year (about one mile 5x per week on average, with 2 weeks off for vacation). I had some swimming goal times for breaststroke, and I wanted to at least swim US Masters Nationals Qualifying times in the three breaststroke events. To that end:

  • I swam approximately 47,500 yrds (~353 miles) this year on a total of 200 days (just over 1.75 miles /day). That pencils out to more miles, over fewer days than I’d planned.
  • My best SCY yards times for breaststroke were: 2:51.81 in the 200, 1:20.59 in the 100, and 38.16 in the 50 (these beat my original goal times for the year of 2:58.03, 1:23.32, and 38.22, respectively).
  • I finished #20 in the Nation for the 35-39 age group in 200 yard breaststroke!
  • I created a Swimming page on my blog and posted a few sample workouts and some info for “unattached” US Masters swimmers.

Not bad for my first year back in competitive swimming, and with training just over 50% of the days in 2013… Can’t wait to see what I can do next year!

Other Cool Stuff

In case you aren’t following me on Twitter, here is my “Year on Twitter” according to Vizify:

And if you missed it, check out what I plan do do in 2014

By the Numbers: looking ahead to 2014

For my “By the Numbers” posts next year (I think I’ll keep the monthly posts, they were by far the most popular posts on my blog this year), I’m going to stick with the same general categories: Reading, Writing, Swimming. But, I think I’m going to drop the Movies category. Instead I’m just going to add a “Pop Culture of the Month” section at the end. This way I can talk about movies or music or tweets or You Tube videos, or whatever happened to be the thing that tickled my pop culture funny bone most that month.

Last year I made a big fuss about saying how I didn’t like the idea of New Year’s “resolutions” but just had some “intentions” for 2013. That actually worked out really well for me. I accomplished pretty much everything I set out to do (as you’ll see in a future 2013 wrap-up post). Since we’re down to the last few days of 2013, I think it’s about time I set some “intentions” for 2014.

Here are some of the things I’d like to do in 2014:

Reading

Next year, as usual, I want to read at least 36 books, total. That’s about 3 books / month on average. These can be anything, fiction or non-fiction, genre, young adult, literary, whatever. I need to balance reading stuff in the genre I’m writing in (to see what’s selling and why) vs. reading stuff in other genres (so that my writing doesn’t sound like everyone else out there).

In addition to just reading, I want to: 1) write more thoughtful / longer reviews (similar the one I did for those romance books I read recently), and 2) when I read a book in my genre, write something thoughtful to the author about the book.

That second thing isn’t something I’d ever thought of doing before, but I saw it suggested in a blog post (the one I link to below), and it’s something I never thought of doing before. On the one hand it feels intrusive and slightly fangirlish to write to an author. On the other hand, if the tables were turned, I’d love to hear from people who loved my book. As a society, we don’t provide positive feedback enough, in general. We are so quick to turn critical and snarky. I like the idea of making a concerted effort to tell people when they create things I like and provide some specifics about why I like it.

Writing

The folks over at Foreword Literary Agency had a nice post about goal setting for writers. Last year I didn’t set specific / measurable goals for writing. I just wanted to be a “creator” as much as I am a “consumer” of content. This made everything fair game — blog posts, novel writing, short stories, in-class exercises and assignments, etc. And it also made this goal impossible to measure. This year I’m going to be slightly more focused.

  • I’d like to post at least twice a month on this blog — one “By the Numbers” month summary and one longer book / reading related post, in addition to whatever else I decide I’d like to post about.
  • I plan to finish my Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Writing from UC Berkeley Extension (one more class!) — bonus points for graduating with “distinction” (4.0 GPA)
  • I’d like to complete two submittable manuscripts (“Empire” and “Falling”), and finish two new first drafts (“MPiS” and whatever I decide to write for NaNoWriMo 2014). In order to do this, I’m going to shoot for writing about 20k net new words per month (this is just over 5k words per week, or less than 1k words per day, and would result in 240k new words in 2014, or about 3 full length novels). I created a Writing page to track progress.

Now, you’re probably looking at that and thinking I’m absolutely nuts. Well, if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you should already know that. And if you’re new here, get used to it. 🙂

I’ll admit that it’s a little ambitious. However, this is my main outside of work activity. And I’ve already decided, 2014 is the year I get serious about this stuff. 2014 is also the year where I’m going to start getting comfortable with the idea of calling myself a writer. I may not be a *professional* writer (I’m a professional supply chain geek). But, I’m still a writer.

Swimming

I set the bar pretty low last year and then I tried to raise it part way through the year. This year I’m going to be slightly more ambitious.

  • Training: 18x per month (about 5x per week on average) and about 36 miles per month (2 miles per session) — that would mean 432 miles in 2014, but I’ll set my Nike Go The Distance challenge goal at 400 miles.
  • Breaststroke SCY Times: < 2:48 in the 200, < 1:20 in the 100, and < :38 in the 50 (2014 USMS Nationals SCY qualifying times for my age group are: 2:59.02, 1:24.30, 38.34, respectively)
  • Freestyle SCY Times: < 2:44 in the 200, < 1:10 in the 100, and < :30 in the 50 (2014 USMS Nationals SCY qualifying times for my age group are: 2:19.85, 1:05.50, 29.70, respectively)
  • Record SCY times for 200 fly, 200 IM, and 200 back (2014 USMS Nationals SCY qualifying times for my age group are: 2:57.84, 2:39.81, 2:59.02, respectively)
  • Mix in some dryland training (resistance, yoga, stretching, etc.) to try to prevent injuries
  • Cross train cardio once per week (long walk, erg, kayak, etc.)

I’m planning on tracking my training offline in 2014. This year I used the USMS online training log. It’s cool, but it makes it hard to flip around and see what workouts I did when, and I don’t like how they calculate miles. I think their yards to miles conversion is skewed in Nike’s favor (since this is the official tracker for their Go the Distance challenge). So I’m going old-school and tracking my workouts / yards / mileage in a Moleskine weekly calendar. (Of course this may only be an excuse to buy a paper calendar even though all my appointment details live online.)

I want to focus mostly on the middle distance events in 2014. I’m kicking off the year by swimming almost exclusively 200s in my first short course yards (SCY) meet of 2014. Not many Pacific Masters swimmers seem to like the 200 yard events. They gravitate more toward the sprints. I’m not naturally a sprinter, but I have great endurance. So, I think this may be a sweet spot for me. Especially as I get older and the competition thins out.

It would be nice to get a top ten time in my age group for 200 yrd breaststroke, but the number ten time this year was a 2:41, and I don’t know if it’s realistic for me to think I can drop ten seconds off my current best 200 time. Plus, it’s really hard to set goals that involve measuring myself against other people’s performance. So, I’m going to shoot for dropping five seconds off my current best time in 2014. Who knows, maybe that time will land me in the top fifteen in my age group in 2014… (I was #20 in 2013).

I’m playing the long game here. First, I want to live past 55 (how old my dad was when he died). Then, I want to set records when I’m in the 60+ age group (note for 2037 goals…). Basically, I want to be like this lady (92 yr old world record holder) when I grow up. So, the best thing I can do right now is be consistent with my training, develop my base fitness level, and not get injured.

Oh yeah… and all this is on top of all the stuff I plan to accomplish at work next year… I have a feeling that 2014 is going to be another busy year…

Happy New Year! Best wishes for a happy and healthy year!

By the Numbers: November 2013

Books

Total read since January: 34
(target is 36 total in 2013 — to be on track I should have read 33 books by now)

I read only one book this month: Fangirl. I started it on the bus after work on a Friday and stayed up until the wee hours of the morning finishing it. It’s true that I was starved for a story because I was participating in NaNoWriMo and I’d been devoting all my outside of work free time to writing. But this is also one of those books that you’ll want to devour in one sitting. The characters are well crafted and the romance is really well done. The plot is very “new adult,” focusing on the classic transition to adulthood — going off to college — and all the drama that can contain for someone not so keen on leaving home.

Theme-wise, I found it fitting that I chose to finally read this book (that I’d been hearing so much about) smack in the middle of NaNoWriMo because the main character in the book is a writer, and most of the story revolves around her writing lots and lots of words. For additional inspiration points, the author wrote most of this book during NaNoWriMo. In my world, this makes this pretty much the perfect thing to read for inspiration during NaNoWriMo.

Even though I read only one book this month, I’ve been buying books like crazy. Several hundred (it feels like…) books on my “to read” list ended up with their Amazon Kindle versions on sale this month. So, I’ve used up the last of my birthday gift card buying ALL THE BOOKS. I have a two week vacation at the end of December and I plan to get some serious reading time in. Here are some of the titles I bought this month:

  1. Suddenly Royal (a little sugary “new adult” romance never hurt anyone…)
  2. Three Parts Dead (urban fantasy, weird combo of demons and lawyers…)
  3. The Book Thief (have to read it before I see the movie)
  4. The Amulet of Samarkand (magicians in London? sound familiar to anyone else?)
  5. Legend (I have ridiculously high hopes for this book, it hits all my buttons: dystopia, military, heroine, Western US States break off from the country to form The Republic…)
  6. Outlander (the girls at my last job could not stop talking about this time travel Highlander romance… +1 for ginger beards)
  7. The 5th Wave (alien invasion, sci-fi fiction)
  8. Lean In (it was on sale… I’m extremely skeptical, but decided to see what all the hype is about)
  9. Leviathan (steampunk, WW1-era fiction)

I won’t even get into my whole TBR pile (virtual and/or physical) in this post because it’s grown so large I am sure I have enough books right now to meet my 2014 reading goal and still have some left over.

Writing

This has been a HUGE month for writing. I finished my second-to-last UC Berkeley Extension program class (Developing the Novel), I found an awesome writing group, and I participated in NaNoWriMo. I probably wrote more words this month that I had for the entire year leading up to November.

I spent most of the month behind on my word count and actually only wrote on 21 of the 30 days this month (~2,381 words per day on average). Going in to the last 3 days of the month I had about 11k words left to write to “win” NaNoWriMo. I made it across the finish line, but didn’t really get to a full resolution on the story. I have quite a bit more work to do to fix it up. More world-building, more plotting, more characterization, some continuity editing, and crafting a satisfying ending — all that plus just general editing… As I said, a LOT of work still…

But, I like the bones of this story. And I am slightly in awe of the fact that I basically pulled this completely out of my ass. I had a rough idea for some characters and a world and a kind-of, sort-of plot when I started. But no outline, no details, and each time I sat down to write I had no idea what was going to happen. New characters appeared out of nowhere, new ideas, a slightly more concrete plot, drama… And I “finished” something. Or at least got it to the point where I can see the finish line. Which feels pretty good.

The story I “won” NaNoWriMo with back in 2007 was a crazy hodgepodge of about four or five different story ideas I had, all mashed together. I basically sat down and said: what would happen if I tried to connect all these different characters / scenarios into one story? And I did that. I went back and read it earlier this year and it’s not terrible. It’s a hot mess with no clear main character and a plot supported by some very hazy details, but there are some nuggets of goodness in there. Maybe 2014 will be the year of novel editing… until November 2014, at least, because the novel writing fever in November is excellent for creating new things.

Swimming

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

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

My original swimming goal for this year was 250 miles and I’m now at just over 300 miles for the year. I have a slim chance of making it to 350 miles by the end of the year depending on how many miles I can squeeze into December.

I meant to get more swimming days in this month but this turned out to not be a good month for swimming. I got sick early in November and was out of the pool for a week. Then I took it easy when I got back in. Then the pool was closed for three days over Thanksgiving. I’m REALLY looking forward to getting back in the swimming groove in December. I signed up for my first race of 2014: the Santa Rosa Flower Power meet. So it’s time to put the training into high gear so I’m ready for Nationals in May.

Movies

Not a big month for movies… pretty much all free time spent writing.

  • Francis Ha — wasn’t sure about this movie at first and almost bailed on it a couple times, but needed a break from writing and got excited when I saw it was on streaming on Netflix. ended up being a good movie. nice evolution from uncomfortably awkward to heartwarming and rewarding, yet still quirky.
  • Epic — Pixar movie. Had this for weeks before I finally watched it on Thanksgiving. Cuter movie than I expected. Great wilderness scenes that sort of overwhelmed the plot. But it was cute and surprising. I liked it.
  • Hunger Games — re-watched this on Netflix streaming so it was fresh in my mind when I went to see the sequel. Forgot how good this movie is.
  • Catching Fire — A movie in the movie theater! This was an excellent follow-up movie, except for the ending. I know that’s pretty much how the book ends, but it’s still got a little “middle movie syndrome” with the whole non-ending, ending… but overall I can’t complain. And that thing that Jennifer Lawrence does with her face when she’s processing the destruction of District 12… that’s some good acting.

Today is the first day of December… is it really the last month of the year already? Wow.
Almost time to check in on how I did against my personal goals for this year, and set some new ones for next year… And, I should probably do a “best of” post (at least for books) because everyone else is doing it. 🙂

Happy holidays, blogverse!

By the Numbers: October 2013

Books

Total read since January: 33
(target is 36 by December, to be on track I should have read 24 books by now)

Big reading month! I am just three books away from hitting my goal for the year and I have two more months! Probably a good thing, too. I don’t think I’ll be doing much reading next month… November is for writing! Anyway, here’s what I read:

  • Outlining Your Novel — I forgot I’d purchased this one. Then one day I decided I needed an outline for my work in progress project and dug this up on my Kindle. If you are working on a writing project that is feeling like it’s getting a little complicated, or if you are not quite sure where you are going with your story, I highly recommend checking out this book. Even if you are devoted to the “pantser” camp… you may just discover (as I did) that life on the other side really isn’t that different — it’s really just organized notes, not a soulless, Roman Numeral dotted doc that you must then follow mindlessly. The author of this book has some excellent advice that you can put to use immediately. (Longer review on Goodreads…)
  • Booby Trap — My manager at my previous job is a breast cancer survivor and she wrote and published this book about her experience. She wrote most of it while she was undergoing treatment, and based this book on blog posts she was writing for her friends and family. The book provides an inside scoop about the breast cancer experience and manages to be light hearted and even funny. I recommend it if you or someone you know is going through something similar. Or if you’re just curious. I’ve always had a lot of respect for Allison, and knowing more about what she went through and how she handled it (I could totally picture her and her husband and kids while I was reading this) just added to that respect.
  • The Great Gatsby — re-read this for the first time since high school. I remember loving this book in high school, so much so that I kept my copy of the book (instead of returning it to the school at the end of the class). I’m now tempted to go dig up the paper I wrote about this book in high school so that I can see what “deep thoughts” I had as a teenager about this book.
  • The Girl of Fire and Thorns — I had been thinking about getting this one for a while and it ended up on a Kindle Daily Deal, so I pounced on it. I think I tore through it in a weekend. The story is a bit of a twist on your average epic heroine fantasy adventure. The heroine, for one, is not your typical heroine. She’s very devout, and pretty much eats her feelings. But she’s “chosen” so you know there’s gonna be an adventure. There is also some romance, but no love triangle (thank you! so sick of the damn love triangles!). One of the main dudes in the story has a mustache (also different!). The book is flavored with all sorts of things that aren’t quite what you’d expect that make this feel like a “new” story, instead of the old same thing. If you enjoy feisty ladies going on adventures and saving the world, you should check this out.
  • The Shambling Guide to New York City — This one was kind of a surprise. I stumbled on this author based on a recommendation somewhere on the interwebs. I think she might have won a best first novel award or something. I thought her book looked interesting, and it was reasonably priced on Kindle, so I took a chance. I ended up devouring this book. It’s a fast, fun read along the lines of Christopher Moore (especially his novel A Dirty Job, which is my favorite of the ones I’ve read). If you like books and TV shows about monsters living among us, you should definitely check out this book.

I feel a little bad that I was kind of stingy with the stars this month in my Goodreads reviews. I’ve been taking a UC Berkeley Extension class called “Developing the Novel” and working on my own thing, plus workshoping my classmates’ work. So, I’m a little more critical than usual of writing and story craft. These were all good books, but all got three stars because I was being picky about the writing, character development, and/or the plot structure. At the same time, since I know how hard it is to do those things really well, I don’t want to criticize.

Writing

I didn’t blog this month. That was kind of on purpose. I didn’t have much to say. There is a lot going on and I needed a break. I did finish my Mystery Fiction class, and I wrote a bunch on my chosen work in progress project for my Developing the Novel class. I got into a pretty good groove of writing almost daily for the past couple of weeks. I discovered Scrivener which is a software program for writers (fiction and non-fiction), and has this awesome little progress bar that shows how you are progressing to your daily word count goal. I love it. But I have a feeling there won’t be too much blogging for the rest of this year. I’m going to focus on finishing up my work in process project. I’ll blog if I feel the urge, but otherwise things may be a little quiet around here until January.

Swimming

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

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

This month was part taper and part recovery with one big, 2-day race in the middle. I’ve already blown past my goal of 250 miles for this year. As of today I’m at 285 miles for the year. I am hoping to get to 340 miles for the year. That would be an average of about a mile a day for 365 days with about two weeks off. I have no races for the rest of the year, just training and getting psyched for the spring short course yards racing season that kicks off in January.

Movies

Oh the movies this month… I think we got four really good movies from Netflix this month. I expected one or two to be good, but was totally impressed with (at least aspects of) all four. Unfortunately, I’ve spent so long writing the other bits that it’s getting late. I’ll keep this brief…

  • Much Ado About Nothing — Just watch this. Shakespeare’s words in a modern day setting. It’s so good. And I’m not just saying that because Joss Whedon made this.
  • The Great Gatsby — The update. The Leo version. Great soundtrack. Too much “old boy.” And what is it about Tobey Maguire that I find so annoying? Leo is actually really good in this. So is Carey Mulligan.
  • Galaxy Quest — OMG. How did I miss this? SO GOOD. It’s like an inside joke for sci fi fans. And Alan Rickman is amazing. Also, Tim Allen is really good in this. Hell, the whole cast is great. If you haven’t seen this movie, just go watch it.
  • Iron Man 3 — So, I loved the first Iron Man movie. The second was meh. The Avengers was great. Thor and Captain America were both terrible. I’m kind of getting sick of super heros. I had no idea what to expect here. I watched it out of loyalty to the franchise and because of Robert Downey Jr. So I was totally unprepared to really like this movie. It’s a good movie. I was amazed. And, spoiler, they don’t do the damsel in distress thing. I mean, they trick you into thinking that they are going that way, and then they don’t! Hurrah! I still don’t think it would pass the Bechdel Test, but… I’ll give them credit for progress.

Tomorrow starts my second most favorite month of the year… NOVEMBER!!! November is exactly half-way to my birthday month, and it’s the first real month where the weather gets colder (relatively speaking… it is California…) and it feels like you should be cozying up with a book and a mug of tea next to the fire. Or, writing a novel, because November is also NaNoWriMo. So there’s that. I can’t wait!

By the Numbers: September 2013

Books

Total read since January: 28
(target is 36 by December, to be on track I should have read 24 books by now)

I didn’t have much time to read this month. I only finished two books. But I started (and nearly finished) two more — see the Goodreads “currently reading” box in the side bar for a preview of what’s coming next month…

  • Crown of Midnight — worthy sequel to Throne of Glass… but feels a bit like a “middle book”… still, I really like this world and these characters, so I devoured this one and am eagerly awaiting the next one in the series. When I have more time I may go back and re-read the first one and then this one and try to write something more thoughtful later. There are many references to events in the first book which I barely remembered, and it relies heavily on knowledge of what happened in the first novel to understand what’s going on in this one.
  • Silent Harmony — super fast, fun read… talented and ambitious “underdog” heroine + boarding school + horses… definitely a literature niche that appeals to many young women and girls — and I would definitely recommend this to anyone that likes that combination. The mystery aspect was mostly well done and kept me guessing about “who done it” until the end. Though, if I knew more about horses and horse culture politics I might have had a better idea from the hints provided. I only gave it two stars because I’m several years past my horses + boarding school phase. However, I can see how this would be a 3-4 star book for someone who is still really drawn to that stuff.

Writing

I’ve been working on “developing the novel” this month and, besides the swimming workout posts, managed to write four blog posts in September. I was trying to match the swimming workout posts one for one so that anyone who doesn’t like to read about my swimming workouts would still have something to read on my blog.

I started having a bit of a “blog crisis” over the weekend… these are the periodical events that cause me to kill my blog and hide under a social media rock for a while. Not sure exactly what’s behind this one, but for now I’m resisting the urge to retreat into my shell.

Swimming

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

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

Last month of the “training” phase of my workout plan. I hit it hard and am looking forward to taper and a big race and a little rest in October before jumping back into the training phase and starting prep for the spring racing season.

Movies

Three movies this month! I am still not in much of a movie watching mood. But since Greg broke his foot and has been in a cast, movie watching picked back up again in September. The movies we watched this month were:

  • Winter’s Bone — resisted watching this for a while because I wasn’t sure I would like it, but boy was I wrong! This was a really good movie — possibly the best movie we watched all year. Definitely the best movie from this month. After watching this I went and added all the “2013 Oscar buzz” movies to my queue so I won’t be the last to watch the good movies this year.
  • Spy Game — this is an older movie that Greg added to the queue (I am getting sick of Netflix and movies, and he’s the one with the cast on his leg, so I let him pick). Again I was pleasantly surprised. It’s a spy movie and it has Robert Redford and Brad Pitt, so I wasn’t expecting much. But, it’s a really well done spy movie… not a special effects, blow things up, ooh look at all my awesome technology spy movie. A nice change of pace.
  • Kings of Summer — I thought this was going to be good. I missed the free screening at work, and the trailer looked promising. It was okay. Some parts were really funny. Some parts were really thoughtful. But I lost count after the third “bonding montage” of the boys in the woods. And Greg was frustrated because he didn’t find it at all realistic that they would have been able to build this cabin in the woods in such a short period of time and with nothing but bikes to haul stuff to the construction site. But… the funny parts were funny… oh well.

Seriously cannot believe it’s October already! This year is going by so quickly.

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…)