Saturday, August 15, 2015

Five Terrific End of Summer Reads

Who isn't always looking for a good read?

Look no further for a compelling page turner to get you through the last few weeks of summer. These favorites are listed in no particular order. Since I am quite terrible at summarizing a book without giving away the best parts I've included the descriptions and link to order if you so desire. Thank you to my friends and family who recommended these reads to me.

The Circle by Dave Eggers. 
When Mae Holland is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime. The Circle, run out of a sprawling California campus, links users’ personal emails, social media, banking, and purchasing with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of civility and transparency. As Mae tours the open-plan office spaces, the towering glass dining facilities, the cozy dorms for those who spend nights at work, she is thrilled with the company’s modernity and activity. There are parties that last through the night, there are famous musicians playing on the lawn, there are athletic activities and clubs and brunches, and even an aquarium of rare fish retrieved from the Marianas Trench by the CEO. 

Mae can’t believe her luck, her great fortune to work for the most influential company in the world—even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public. What begins as the captivating story of one woman’s ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge

The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House by Kate Andersen Brower. 
A remarkable history with elements of both In the President’s Secret Service and The Butler, The Residence offers an intimate account of the service staff of the White House, from the Kennedys to the Obamas. America’s First Families are unknowable in many ways. No one has insight into their true character like the people who serve their meals and make their beds every day. Full of stories and details by turns dramatic, humorous, and heartwarming, The Residence reveals daily life in the White House as it is really lived through the voices of the maids, butlers, cooks, florists, doormen, engineers, and others who tend to the needs of the President and First Family.
Combining incredible first-person anecdotes from extensive interviews with scores of White House staff members—many speaking for the first time—with archival research, Kate Andersen Brower tells their story. She reveals the intimacy between the First Family and the people who serve them, as well as tension that has shaken the staff over the decades. From the housekeeper and engineer who fell in love while serving President Reagan to Jackie Kennedy’s private moment of grief with a beloved staffer after her husband’s assassination to the tumultuous days surrounding President Nixon’s resignation and President Clinton’s impeachment battle, The Residence is full of surprising and moving details that illuminate day-to-day life at the White House.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. 
Kirsten Raymonde will never forget the night Arthur Leander, the famous Hollywood actor, had a heart attack on stage during a production of King Lear. That was the night when a devastating flu pandemic arrived in the city, and within weeks, civilization as we know it came to an end.

Twenty years later, Kirsten moves between the settlements of the altered world with a small troupe of actors and musicians. They call themselves The Traveling Symphony, and they have dedicated themselves to keeping the remnants of art and humanity alive. But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who will threaten the tiny band’s existence. And as the story takes off, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, the strange twist of fate that connects them all will be revealed.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson 
On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born, the third child of a wealthy English banker and his wife. She dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in any number of ways. Ursula's world is in turmoil, facing the unspeakable evil of the two greatest wars in history. What power and force can one woman exert over the fate of civilization -- if only she has the chance? 

Wildly inventive, darkly comic, startlingly poignant -- this is Kate Atkinson at her absolute best.

Primates of Park Avenue by Wednesday Martin. 
After marrying a man from the Upper East Side and moving to the neighborhood, Wednesday Martin struggled to fit in. Drawing on her background in anthropology and primatology, she tried looking at her new world through that lens, and suddenly things fell into place. She understood the other mothers’ snobbiness at school drop-off when she compared them to olive baboons. Her obsessional quest for a Hermes Birkin handbag made sense when she realized other females wielded them to establish dominance in their troop. And so she analyzed tribal migration patterns; display rituals; physical adornment, mutilation, and mating practices; extra-pair copulation; and more. Her conclusions are smart, thought-provoking, and hilariously unexpected.

Every city has its Upper East Side, and in Wednesday’s memoir, readers everywhere will recognize the strange cultural codes of powerful social hierarchies and the compelling desire to climb them. They will also see that Upper East Side mothers want the same things for their children that all mothers want—safety, happiness, and success—and not even sky-high penthouses and chauffeured SUVs can protect this ecologically released tribe from the universal experiences of anxiety and loss. When Wednesday’s life turns upside down, she learns how deep the bonds of female friendship really are.

Intelligent, funny, and heartfelt, Primates of Park Avenue lifts a veil on a secret, elite world within a world—the exotic, fascinating, and strangely familiar culture of privileged Manhattan motherhood.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Morning Run

After feeling the after effects of last night's indulgence on chocolate cake and one too many glasses of wine, the gym was calling. I've never been one to jump up at the crack of dawn to drive to the club for a workout. Nor am I one of those dedicated outdoor runners you see jogging every morning. Outdoor running is a struggle for me unless it involves a slight downhill slope, spectacular scenery, nothing in the air that might trigger allergies, and the promise of a favorite coffee shop and a latte at the end of my run. My ideal outdoor run does not play out nearly enough.

Today my incentive was just that scary number on the scale and an urge to run.

I've been a bit delinquent on my running mileage this summer for a number of different reasons. Today was the day to start up again, and I'm so happy that I did. Since the club was absolutely dead this morning, I could take my time to figure out some new Woodway treadmills and look like an idiot with no one watching me.

Once I figured out how to get my laps set to my pace, turned on the built-in TV monitor to the morning news, and adjusted my iPod I was ready to go. My goal: 1 mile. Doable, easy. Let me just say this treadmill is amazing! The belt is like running on a non slippery cushioned surface with some give. I easily passed my 1 mile goal, felt really good at 1.5 miles, and pushed on to 2 miles.

Maybe for some of you non asthmatic runners who aren't allergic to the world around you, 2 miles may seem like nothing. But for me, hopping on a treadmill and running 2 miles just doesn't happen without time spent working up to that 2 mile point.

At just over 2 miles, I felt incredible! An hour later, I still feel incredible. Now I'm trying to figure out how I can somehow figure out how to squeeze in a run on this new treadmill into my workday routine. That will be the challenge.

If you are dickering about whether or not to hit the gym or even go out for a power walk, just do it! Pull on your sneakers, get out there, and give exercising a try. You may even surprise yourself and pull off a 2-mile run. You will feel much better and something as simple as exercise will make your day all the better. Endorphins are always a good thing!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Mt. Fuji Climb Still Awesome

Five years after climbing to the top of Mt. Fuji with my sister Linda and sliding back down, the experience still remains fresh and amazes me. 

To celebrate our 5-year anniversary and continued awe and respect for Mt. Fuji, I want to share one of my favorite blog posts about our incredible climb.


Sisters at our summit of Mt. Fuji

After our day on Mt. Fuji
To my sister Linda who continues to amaze me as much as Fuji, can you even believe that we did this together and somehow made it back down before dark? 

Hopefully this post will inspire you to conquer your own mountain.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Passionate Outrage From Cecil the Lion

Elephant, buffalo, polar bear, mountain lion, rhinoceros, four other bears, and lions (including one named Cecil). Safari Club International records indicate that Twin Cities dentist Walter J. Palmer has killed 43 animals, all with a bow and arrow. By now you've probably heard about the Bloomington, MN dentist who "accidentally" on purpose killed a beloved research lion, Cecil, on private property in Zimbabwe.

I am a bit surprised at the media attention and anger that this story has generated even in Minnesota. Minnesota is a land of hunters. Doing a quick mental count at least a third of my neighbors are avid hunters. I don't condone the annual deer hunts or the duck hunting season especially when the deer hunting season helps thin out Minnesota's rapidly growing deer population. Venison hamburger and steaks as well as pheasant balls are found in some Minnesota kitchens. However I do not understand the desire to kill another living creature. I feel bad when a squirrel runs out in front of my van or I straddle a skunk on the highway. As long as there are legal hunting seasons and big game hunting guides, shooting animals will continue.

However this Twin Cities dentist is on completely different level. Dr. Palmer takes his privilege as a wealthy American hunter to the extreme, paying thousands of dollars for these hunts. Killing 43 animals is exceptional—not in a good way! And unnecessary. Perhaps the rules and limits of hunting and bagging big game will now change with the untimely death of Cecil the lion.

If only the American public would get as outraged about ISIS driving out and killing the Christians in Syria, why fewer than 400 families have donated half of the political campaign contributions for the upcoming 2016 presidential campaigns, or the shoddy deal the world is getting from the Obama administration's Iran Nuclear Pact.