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Day Off

14 Jun

I’m taking a much-needed day off. I’ll be back on Monday and should have school and life better under control. Look for a book club reflection and (maybe) a movie review!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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Off Topic Thursdays: Running

31 May

It’s time for another Off-Topic Thursday! With the last two months being swimming and biking, I bet you’re not surprised that this month is running! I bet you can guess what next month will focus on. I’ll have to get creative at some point.

I never liked running. In high school, I was a swimmer because it meant you didn’t have to run. Well, it was minimized compared to other sports at least. I felt winded when I ran and it always felt uncomfortable. After I got married and settled into a desk job, I needed something to keep me moving so I started biking and realized that with the swimming I’d done since I was a child, I was 2/3 of the way to a triathlon. The final hurdle was running and I finally had the motivation to do it.

My running started small as my triathlon dreams were small (sprint distances end in a 5K). I was running 1-3 miles 3-5 times a week and feeling good about it. Then I fell. It wasn’t a bad fall and I’m not sure it caused my knee pain but it was there when I started running again at longer distances. I went through a round of physical therapy and came out the other side no better. It was time to try something new.

I found a virtual triathlon coach. He lives about 15 miles from me but we rarely see each other and he trained me for two years all via text and an app called TrainingPeaks. With this coach, I started doing strength exercises and building up my support muscles. Then I started running. I remember the joy of my first 4-mile run. The first year, I topped out at 7 miles in a run. The second year, he coached me to a half marathon.

Husband and I after the Detroit International Half Marathon.

My goal for next year is a Half Ironman Triathlon which ends in a half marathon so we’ve signed up for another one later this summer. I like to do a race per month and that’s involved a few 5Ks so far, mostly fun ones with friends but one race where I ran my PR. I’ve got a few 10Ks and a 5-mile race lined up through the rest of the year, too.

I’ve learned to really enjoy running and racing. I’ve learned that I don’t have to be super fast to still have fun, though it is great to place in your age group. There will always be people faster than me but there are usually people slower than me, too. I have fun right in the middle. I have a lot of friends in the same boat and we enjoy doing these events together. It’s also a great bonding moment for my husband and I. We run together at least twice a week and he always pushes me. I love and hate that.

Survived the snow and both broke an hour! Triple crown winners.

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I think I’ll scale back to 5Ks and 10Ks once I do my Half Ironman. I love this community and the support I’ve felt from it since I started running. One of my goals is to do an event in every county in Michigan’s lower peninsula. Fun little 5Ks will be a great way to accomplish this. I’ve filled in a few more since then, but I’m tracking on a map in my bedroom.

Even if you’re not a runner or have no aspiration to be 5K events are a great way to get out, be active, and enjoy the weather. I sometimes think the people walking with strollers and dogs are having much more fun than me. Even on a rainy day, you can still have a good run. I’m hoping to get out tomorrow for a good one myself.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Holiday!

28 May

For those of us State Side, today is a Federal holiday and there’s no work or school. I’m spending today getting ready for my midterm exam tomorrow and tidying up around the house the things I’ve neglected a bit while I’ve been so busy with school and work. I wish I could say today was set aside for some great reading, but I might be lying to you.

I hope you all have a great holiday and get to squeeze in extra reading. I’m jealous.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Club Reflection: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

10 May

My book club met last week to talk about a book I really enjoyed, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. I wasn’t the only one who’d enjoyed this book via audio and the others who had agreed with me that the narrator was great and she kept us engaged the whole time.

The copy of the book we had contained an interview with Hannah. She talked about how she was inspired by the story of a Danish woman who created an escape route for downed airmen, much like Isabelle. She doesn’t have a personal connection to WWII but this story inspired her to do research about it. She did extensive research and consulted her notes to write almost every scene. She mentions that in one iteration of the novel, Isabelle fell in love with a downed airman. One of our readers thought this was going to happen. One of the men was from Oregon, where we know one of the sisters ends up living. We thought the US setting for the 1995 plotline meant she’d be with him. I wonder if it was the first airman she helped, Torrance. He seemed rather well-developed for a character that disappeared.

The first line of the book is, “If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.” The narrator is making a point that love is ideal and we can be our ideal selves, while war is the reality and the bad side of humanity. It sets a tone early on that the narrator has done something she feels she needs to be forgiven for.

One of the hardest moments for me as a reader, and when my waterworks of tears for the rest of the book started, was when Ari was taken away. A Jewish woman in my group said it was a hard scene to read. She could see the good side of that decision and know that Ari would be raised in the Jewish faith. But she could also see how wrong it was to take him away from a woman who loved and raised him. It’s a hard decision to make and we were all glad we didn’t have to make it.

Beck’s death was a very conflicting time. It was obvious that Beck had a moral compass and knew what was happening was wrong. He was a prisoner, much like Vianne. He was stuck doing something he didn’t want to under the guise of serving his country. He recognized that it was wrong and went so far as to put himself in harm’s way to help Vianne and Ari. It became even more complicated because he clearly had feelings for Vianne despite having a wife and child at home. We were sad when he died, even if he was a German.

The father’s death was another hard moment. A few women in my group said they figured out that he was part of the resistance before he revealed that fact to Isabelle. When she broke into his bookshop, the one room that was under a good lock and key had a printing press. They realized that meant he was printing material and reasoned that it was for the resistance. Good eye, ladies!

Isabelle’s death was clearly an emotional scene. Hannah has said that this was her favorite scene to write. Isabelle had said to Vianne that her life had been enough so we feel that she’s at peace when she passes. However, being reunited with Gaëton so short a time makes us question what more she would have wanted. I had some issues with the relationship between Isabelle and Gaëton. I felt it was very rushed and flat and I felt it was more like lust than love. Some others felt the same but others thought that it was an accurate depiction of a relationship grown out of a time at war. Things happened faster because there was no guarantee of a future. He was in and out of the book so often that I felt you didn’t get attached to him.

Learning who the narrator was and who Julian was were good twists. Many of us thought it was Isabelle. Mainly, it was due to the line on page 384 where the woman says, “Juliette hasn’t existed for a long time.” I thought she was talking about her persona, Juliette, not her sister, Isabelle. Kudos to Hannah for keeping us guessing up to the end!

Learning the truth about Julian made us ask the obvious question, Did Antoine know? We think he did. On page 510, he talks about choosing to see miracles. Vianne questions if this is his way of saying he knows. He’s choosing not to admit or say aloud that Julian isn’t his. Surviving the war is more important than grudges or being angry. He’s rejoicing in the fact that they’re all alive.

The book forced you to ask yourself if you would put yourself in harm’s way to save someone. What if that person was a stranger? Both sisters risked their lives for total strangers in the end which is an amazing feat. The book built a world where those actions seemed necessary, but they were incredibly risky.

It was a great discussion and I was so glad to talk more about this incredible book with fellow readers. Our next book is Paul Beatty’s The Sellout and I’m looking forward to it.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Midwest Literary Walk 2018

8 May

This is my third year going to the Midwest Literary Walk and it was also the 10th Anniversary of the event. I was a bit confused at first because usually there are two authors at one or two of the three stops. This year, each stop had only one author. After going to the event, I think they spent more money per author to get such high-quality speakers. Usually, the authors have some connection to Michigan but this year, none of them did.

The first stop was Will Schwalbe. He was the only one I’d heard of prior to the Walk. My book club read his book, The End Of Your Life Book Club (and discussion) back in 2014 and he’d fallen off my radar since then. Schwalbe was an amazing speaker and he’s a huge crusader for reading. His new book, Books for Living, talks about the role books and reading have played in his life. I bought a copy and added it to my ever-growing shelf.

Will Schwalbe at the Midwest Literary Walk

Schwalbe talked about how books help people. In a world where we’re overconnected, books readjust us. It gives us a single sense of focus. When his mother was going through chemo, books gave them something to talk about that wasn’t her illness. Schwalbe talked about the art of reading; when you’re so engrossed in a world that you don’t even realize you’re turning pages and holding a book. He touted the excellent marriage of reading and napping, of falling asleep mid-book and spending extra time running around the book in your dreams.

The second stop was poet Ada Limón. Normally, I kind of daydream during the poet at these events. I’m not a big fan of poetry because I read too fast to enjoy it. However, Limón had me hooked. She spoke about her life and how it tied into her poetry and how she was able to explore how her emotions affected her work and how her writing changed her emotions. She was very eloquent. My favorite thing she said was that a different person writes the poems and reads the poems. People are always changing and you can’t expect the person who writes the words to be the same one who reads them. She talked about realizing what a poem was really about only when she read it in front of an audience. She reads them to herself when writing because she wants the poems to have the right sound, but she doesn’t read them aloud until they’re finished.

Limón talked a lot about female feelings. She said many writers mistakenly think that no one has felt the way they feel about something and how wrong that is because poetry draws from life. We’re all living and Limón was very open about her life and the things she’d experienced. I was happy to run into her as she was putting her mic away and shake her hand, telling her I’d enjoyed her presentation. Her latest book is Bright Dead Things and she has another coming out this year.

The final stop was another unknown to me, Michael Eric Dyson. He’s written a number of books about race in America and his latest book, Tears We Cannot Stop, has the subtitle ‘A sermon to white America.’ Sermon is an appropriate word! What an amazing speaker. I felt like I was hearing a preacher instead of a Sociology professor. I took very few notes because I was so wrapped up in Dyson’s speech. He had attended the previous two speakers and drew things they’d said in his sermon and used them to emphasize his points. He tailored what he had to say to the (largely white) audience and talked about how we need safe spaces to talk about what it means to be white and how we have to untangle that from what it means to be American. I’d go on, but I’d do a discredit to his message I’m sure.

Overall, it was a great walk. My friend Amy and I finished it up with some good BBQ. I think the only thing lacking for me was a fiction writer. I love hearing about the fiction writing process and that wasn’t there this year. I’m looking forward to going again next year, this event has always blown me away.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Off Topic Thursday: Cycling

26 Apr

I’d almost forgotten it was Off Topic Thursday! My husband had to remind me when I was talking through my weekly posts with him. I’m so excited to share another thing I love outside of books, cycling!

I learned to ride a bike as a kid and my mom always enjoyed scenic rides around the area. When I started a sedentary job, I knew I would fight an uphill battle to stay fit before my wedding. I saw a sign in the office for the corporate Bike MS team and decided to join. That was 2013. I rode 50 miles in one day and raised $250. To get in shape, I found a local easy-going bike club and recruited my husband on a few rides. It’s only grown from there.

Last year was my fifth year of Bike MS and I’ve done three of the four courses offered in Michigan. My husband joined me for my second year and this summer he’ll hit his fifth year. Here’s a picture of us from 2016.

We’ve had a great time riding for Team Ford and I don’t see a reason we’ll stop doing this. If you’re interested in donating toward our 2018 ride (scheduled for July 14-15), you can donate at the link below.

Donated to Bike MS 2018!

Of course, Bike MS isn’t the only reason I cycle. Cycling is a key part of one of my biggest hobbies, triathlons. Most of the time I rode my bike last year, it was alone. I’m anticipating the same this year though my favorite route is closed for construction all summer. I’ll have to find something new.

I love cycling and enjoying nature on a bike. It’s fun to go fast, too! I’m not super fast myself but I do enjoy the ride. My goal for this year is to get faster and be more comfortable on the bike. I got a professional fitting in February so I’m excited to try it out on the road.

Any other cyclist out there? Competitive or recreational? Here’s a picture of my bike (Fuji Gran Fondo). Let me see yours!

Now with pedals and aerobar! #bikenerd

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Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Club Reflection: History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund

19 Apr

My book club met last week to talk about a book I really enjoyed, History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund. The consensus was that we liked the book but it wasn’t what we expected. The title and the first few chapters gave us a different sense of what we would read than the rest of the book delivered. The young protagonist gave the sense at times that this might be a YA novel, but the themes and writing were clearly not YA. Fridlund has said in an interview that she likes writing the YA perspective but that it didn’t mean her books were YA novels.

The structure of the book was somewhat unusual. We know from the first few pages that Paul will die. The story is like a mystery because we’re trying to figure out why and who. Knowing that he’s going to die gave the whole book a sense of foreboding that kept us on our toes. We kept waiting for it to happen and we didn’t know if he’d be attacked in the woods or fall into the water on a canoe trip. It also made Linda seem sinister. She always seemed a little off and while I personally doubted she would hurt Paul, it made me feel like she’d be complicit somehow. In a way, she was. A bit.

The book was split into two sections, Science and Health. The titles seem to come for the Christian Science text, the book of Science and Health. The book also had two plot lines which some of us struggled with (see my review for my personal grievances). We talked about how they were intertwined. The biggest was grappling with action versus inaction. In both cases, there was someone who felt guilty for doing nothing. Linda struggled with feeling that she should have done more to help Paul. Mr. Grierson struggled with convictions for something he didn’t do but thought of doing. They both felt guilty. When Linda is angry after the trail, she wants to lash out at Patra but she can’t. Instead, she thinks of lashing out at Lilly. The two plots also played with the idea of the predator being prey. While Leo seems like an alpha male predator, he also suffers the death of his son. While Lilly is the teenage girl who ends up ‘in trouble,’ she also ruins Mr. Grierson’s reputation and gets him sent off to jail. The punishment in the two plot lines contrasts as well. Both the Gardner’s and Mr. Grierson did nothing wrong. However, Mr. Grierson’s other crimes were dragged up and he ended in jail. The Gardner’s inaction resulted in their son’s death and they didn’t serve any criminal charges. Christian Science convictions of negligence have varied by state, per one of our group members. In another state, it might have ended differently.

Linda’s home life did not prepare her well for the life she experienced with the Gardners. She finally felt loved in their home and she felt like Patra needed her. She was afraid to act against Patra because she didn’t want to be rejected from the first place she felt loved. Linda was an outcast at school and since Tamika left, she hadn’t had a female friend. She was so desperate to be Patra’s friend that at some points, we wondered if there was anything sexual between them, but ultimately decided there must have been just Linda’s lack of understanding. Linda’s relationship with her mother seemed strained as well. After the trial, the emotional turmoil Linda had to go through, her mother wouldn’t comfort her. We debated if they were really related (we don’t understand the beliefs of their commune very well) and if her mother was mentally stable. The anecdote of her living in the shed for a winter doesn’t emphasize sound judgment.

For anyone interested, I do encourage you to look up a bit about Christian Science. There was some confusion in our group about the differences between Christian Science and Scientology. They are quite different!

We’ll meet once more in May before taking a break for the summer. I always miss these fine folks during my summer adventures!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Off Topic Thursday: Swimming

29 Mar

Welcome to yet another Off Topic Thursday! I’ve enjoyed using the last Thursday of the month to delve into things (besides reading, writing, and books) that I enjoy. I hope you’re enjoying it as much as I am.

This month, I wanted to concentrate on something that’s been a part of my life since I was 9: swimming! I swam competitively from age 9 to age 18. I decided not to swim in college but I picked it up again when I started doing triathlons in 2014. Though, wetsuit open water swimming is a bit different from what I was used to.

My secret identity: triathlon girl!

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I love swimming in a triathlon. It’s the one part of the race where I’m confident. I don’t do dry land well. When I did my first triathlon, all the beginner advice I found was to go on the outside for the swim or hang back. Clearly, this advice was not written for someone who used to be a competitive swimmer! I jumped out in front and I continue to post swim splits among the top in my races. However, I fall apart on the rest of it. We’ll get to that in the next few months.

I’ve tried different kinds of swimming, too. Last summer, I tried a 5K swim, something equivalent to a swimming half marathon. It was exhausting and terrible and I hated it and I signed up for another one this year. It was the most physically demanding thing I’ve ever done and I can’t wait to show myself how much I’ve grown and do it again. Besides, I got to meet Rowdy Gains last time! If this means nothing to you, he’s a gold medalist from the 1984 Olympics. He is currently a commentator for the sport. If you’ve watched NBC swimming coverage, you’ve heard his voice.

Just this year, I’ve gotten back to my swimming roots and started Masters swimming. Masters swimming is more like the format many are used to in the Olympics. All four strokes and individual medley races are available at various distances. At some meets, there are team relays. Masters swimming is for anyone over 18 and I swam against a woman in her 60s in my last race. I’ve loved Masters swimming so far. I’ve only had one meet but it went well and I was happy with my times. There were very few other women in my age group so I ended up with some ribbons! I’m signed up for State Meet next month and we’ll see if that goes as well!

I don’t think I’ll ever stop swimming. I plan to do triathlons for a while and when/if that ends, I’ll fall back on just swimming. It’s been a love of mine for a long time and I’m glad to be racing again. It doesn’t hurt that any given Saturday if I do one length butterfly at the gym, someone asks me if I’ve been to the Olympics. Talk about a confidence booster!

Any other swimmers out there? Anyone else in Masters? Until next time, swim on!

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Library Writers’ Group: Rules for Writing

26 Mar

Our writers’ group has seen a lot of people come and go in the time we’ve been together. Because of that, we revisited an old topic in our last meeting that I won’t re-blog about. However, we have a new idea.

Our group is a bit different from others I’ve been a part of in that we do not do critiques. Well, we do, some, but it’s nowhere near the focus of the group. Each month, a different member will present on some topic related to writing. I’ve talked about blogging in the past as well as lit mag publication. Next month, I’ll be talking about cultures in writing. One member had the idea to start a list of ‘rules’ we discover as we go through our material that will help those who are new or miss our meetings.

Here are the first four rules we came up with.

  1. Never use a phrase or clause when a single word will suffice.
  2. Be concise all the time, be precise when necessary.
  3. “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops.” -Stephen King
  4. Beware of colloquialisms and when used, try to contain them to dialogue.

What do you think of these rules? The third is a quote, but I think it serves well as a rule as well. We’ll end up sorting our list by category, but here’s where we start. What else should we consider adding?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Too Many Books?

22 Mar

I rarely feel this way, but I’m starting to feel like I’m reading too many books.

I usually keep it to three books, one print, one audio, and one digital. Recently, I’ve tried to do two audiobooks with one in my car on CD because there are audiobooks I can’t find digitally. Honestly, it’s not my favorite and I’m going to try to get through books only available on CD quickly so I can return to doing them on my phone as much as possible. There’s an extra audiobook in my life right now for that reason.

Every year, I try to read a book in Spanish. I try to start it as close to January 1 as possible and finish as soon as I’m able to. Because they take me a long time to read, I often have to take a break from them before I finish to read a book club selection before the meeting date. While I’m getting close to finishing my Spanish read for the year, I have to put it aside for a book club right now. That gave me an extra print book in my life.

The digital book I’m trying to read is really long and I’ve lost the library hold on it before. Because I didn’t want to be caught with no book to read, I started another. However, when the long book became available again, I got back to it and put the second book aside. I’m about to lose the hold on the long one again so it will be back to the second book. There’s the final extra book in my life right now.

So there are three extra books, doubling my ideal number of three all the way to six. The issue is also that I’ve got a lot of similar genres going on. Both ebooks, one print, and one audio are contemporary fiction and the remaining two are fantasy. I usually have at least one historical fiction book going on which gives me more variety of settings, but no such luck now.

It’s frustrating because I feel like I’m not making progress on any of them. I haven’t finished a book since February 22nd, a month ago. I’m three books behind schedule for my Goodreads challenge! I know I’ll go through a week of finishing a ton of books, but it’s hard to see when that date will come.

Does anyone else read like me? Has anyone else felt this discouragement?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!