Notes From a Hired Pen

The Best of My 2015

Is it gauche to do a best of 2015 when it’s already 2016? Oh well. Too late.

I’m not going to categorize or rank, but here are some really great things from 2015:

Ran a one-mile road race. Instead of spending my Sunday summer mornings sweating out long runs to prepare for a marathon, I instead signed up for the Fifth Avenue Mile, and trained to run just that: one mile. I’m so so glad I did. Not only did I kill my goal (I wanted to break seven minutes; I ran 6:32), but I did somewhat freestyle training that involved speedwork suggestions from my coach but also a stadium stairs workout I made up (with some help from an article in Oxygen magazine), weight lifting sessions, and cross training with things like biking and reading a book on the elliptical. The result in the mile was shocking (I walked around New York City in a daze for for the rest of the day), but I also managed to negative split a half marathon by 10 minutes in November when my longest training run since the spring had been eight miles. It was a reminder that being in good shape isn’t just about pounding out miles. Good stuff (as promised, I will have that weight lifting routine for you sometime next week).

Hired cleaning people. I’ve wanted to do this for years but kept saying no and no and no because I didn’t want to pay for it, didn’t know who to hire, and told myself that maybe, finally, after a lifelong cleaning aversion due to cleaning products setting my eczema on fire, I’d suddenly get my act together. Once I hired two wonderful women who had been cleaning my friend’s house, I knew I made the right decision. It’s been such a weight lifted off my shoulders. I think there’s some shame for women if they can’t keep on top of the housework, and I got over that. Running a household by yourself – a household that includes your business – is exhausting. Taking this one very big task off my plate was a relief.

Found Cooking with the New York Times. Everything about this – the newsletter, the app, the instagram, is amazing. When I set out to change my diet, this was where the first place I went. I’d pick up something from the farmer’s market and search through their archives, or see a recipe and go out and get what I needed. I learned six different ways to use eggplant, understood why people swore Brussels sprouts were good, learned that salad doesn’t always need a tomato, and got over my distaste of chicken (hint: pre-packaged lean white meat chicken breasts are bullshit). I hosted Thanksgiving this year, and almost everything from dinner was an NYT recipe. I have printed out so many of their recipes that they new live in a binder in my dining room. Yes I know I could save them into a virtual recipe box, but I tear recipes out of magazines too, and I like being able to get the recipe dirty. This has also forced me to eat more in-season. That’s an easy thing to do in the spring and summer, but I always defaulted back to the grocery store once the Collingswood Farmer’s Market closed. The newsletter keeps local and fresh in my face. I’m doing my best to keep up. I’ve been to the New York Times offices before and hope to go back this spring. I…may ask my editor to take me over to the food folks so I can shake their hands and say thank you.

Gave up alcohol for the month of August. I’ll probably write about this but some point, but going cold turkey for that set period of time completely changed my relationship with booze. More on that (possibly) in a future piece. There’s also a bit about this in my next NYT article, which I believe is running within the week.

Walking. Because I ran less in 2015, I walked more. I stopped driving to do errands within one mile, which mean walking to and from the Acme (which has much better cheeses than Wegmans there I said it). This sounds like such a little thing, but once I started to make that walk to get more feta, walking became my default. Walking to Haddonfield, which is two miles away, is common now, even if it takes a half hour. I’ve also started taking public transit more, which sometimes means taking PATCO home from that walk, or the trolley to West Philadelphia. I’ve used SEPTA regional rail to get to and from my dad’s too. Even though holiday crowds were maddening on my last trip, it’s usually much easier than making that drive (plus I can stop at Reading Terminal Market before I hop on PATCO to take me home, hence more fresh and local). Hiking entered my list of activities too. I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep that up while marathon training, but it’ll be a big part of my regular roster of physical activity when that training is through.

InkwoodNJ. When I saw that an Inkwood was coming to Haddonfield, I thought no way. I can’t be that lucky. I am! This is the sister store of Inkwood in Tampa, which I love and visit every time I’m in town. When I say sister store, I mean that: the locations are run by sisters. This is the kind of independent, local bookstore I’ve dreamed of having close to me, and it’s just two miles away. Expect to hear more about them in 2016. We’re partnering on some book events this spring, and they’ll be handling the selling and shipping of personalized, signed copies of my book for those of you who can’t come to an event. I’m so so glad they’re part of the community.

Amazon Prime. I signed up for this in December of 2014, but I felt its full impact in 2015. Sure, Amazon can be the evil empire, but the shows they produce are breathtaking. Transparent alone is worth the cost. Catastrophe, which was a British show but shown in the U.S. through Prime, was hysterical. Over the summer, I plumbed the depths of their HBO archives, too. Parade’s End was a stand out. The shipping thing is nice, but it’s these two things that really make a prime membership worth it for me.

Road trips. In May, I drove to North Carolina. In July, I drove to Canada. I love that damn car so much. These trips were made infinitely more interesting by cueing up some audiobooks – free via my library! As many many people have written before, there’s just something to hopping in your car and going. These were open ended trips too, which is how I ended up driving the length of the Blue Ridge Parkway as part of my North Carolina trip, and exploring Portsmouth, N.H. on my way home from Canada (if you go, stop here and here). I have another drive coming up shortly, this time to Florida. I’ve done this road trip before, but not solo. I have no idea where I’m going on the way home – but I’ve given myself a week togged there, wherever there is.

French press coffee. Jeez, I sound like such a snob. First I write about local, seasonal eating, taking public transit, loving an independent bookstore and now this. I didn’t pick it up because I wanted to, but because I was forced. For most of my Canada trip, I house sat for some friends. Their place was lovely, but in the middle of nowhere. They made their coffee via a french press. Unless I wanted to drive 20 minutes to Tim Horton’s every morning, I’d need to get my coffee that way too. Sure, it takes extra time, but now that ritual is part of my morning. My regular coffee is from Revolution Roasters right in Collingswood. I’ve been picking up roasted coffee beans wherever I go, too. Right now, I’m on a bag I picked up in Austin, Tx. In a lot of ways, this reminds me of when I switched to non-instant oatmeal. Yes, it takes more time, but it’s time I can afford. The reward in taste is worth it.

Lost 25 pounds. Seems like I’d start with that one, but it’s almost an afterthought after everything else that’s gone on this year. I wrote about that here. I don’t have much more to add except it still feels pretty good.

And now some real categories…

Best non-fiction book I read in 2015: The Lady in Gold by Anne-Marie O’Connor. I watched the movie version too (re-named The Woman in Gold). I think the book’s better, but watching it wasn’t a bad way to spend a few hours the night before a race.

Best fiction book I read in 2015Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver. Yes I’m very late to that party, but I’m so glad I picked up a copy at the Haddonfield Library Booksale. Her Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is worth reading too.

Best podcast added to my listening rosterYou Must Remember ThisI jumped in this summer during their Charles Manson’s Hollywood series, then took MGM stories into the fall. Now I’m catching up on their archives. It’s the perfect running companion.

Best new Instagram follow: Mary Todd Lincoln Coffman, one of the Parnassus Books dogs. A puppy that works in a bookstore. Of course I was smitten.

Best new newsletter sign up: Two Bossy Dames. Their gif game is not just strong but explosive.

Best binge watch of 2015: The Flash. A friend suggested it with this advice: “Hang in there for eight episodes. Then you’ll see.” And I did. It’s the only time I’ve said “HOLY SHIT” while watching Netflix. This was a lot better and much more than I expected from a CW show. Highly recommend. First runner up: Rosemary & Thyme, the most British show I have ever seen. It’s about two middle aged gardeners who solve crime – and make beautiful gardens. Second runners up: Daredevil and Jessica Jones though I maybe the only person who was unimpressed with David Tennant in the role as Killgrave (ducks). The violence took them out of the top spot. I know that’s part of their story, but there’s lightness about The Flash that made it a more enjoyable viewing experience (a lightness that I’m glad Arrow added in their last full season through Brandon Routh).

Best movie I saw in 2015: A tie between Mr. Holmes and Mad Max: Road Fury. Mr. Holmes is a lovely, quiet little film that I highly recommend seeking it out – even if you’re not a Sherlock Holmes fan. I could list all the reasons that Mad Max is on here, but that’s all over the internet already. My take: jaw dropping, on multiple levels. Runners up: Magic Mike XXL (buddy road trip comedy but with strippers) and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (hot people in drop dead gorgeous clothes in beautiful settings, all combined with a snappy wit. I’m sad this didn’t do so well at the box office because I very much want a sequel).

Best race of the year: Fifth Avenue Mile. See above.

My favorite story from 2015: As I said, I love that damn car. I had a hard time writing this and placing it, and was lucky to run across these guidelines for pitching The Guardian. I’m working on a follow up piece for them now. Writing about a new-to-me topic, and selling it to a new-to-me market that’s become a good partner is what put this story on top. I bet most of you would have guessed I’d have picked the story about losing 25 pounds, especially since it got so much attention (and no, I don’t know how the NYT chooses which stories to promote on Facebook, and why they keep doing it, but I am not going to complain!) I’m glad that I wrote it (and I struggled with twin urges to share that experience and to keep it to myself), but there’s just something about writing about my car, and making a point that I never ever though I’d make (i.e. why more people should drive stick shift), and working really well with an editor on the first try that made it my favorite story of the year.

As for 2016…

I don’t really do resolutions, but I would like to break four hours in the marathon (or, B goal, PR), break six minutes in the road mile and maybe do a trail marathon in the fall.

I’ve also picked one word for the year, and that’s “value.” This isn’t necessarily about saving money, but thinking about where I’m putting my dollars and how those dollars best benefit my community (i.e. shopping local) and me (i.e. not buying crap I don’t need).

I’ll be back next week with some strength training. Stay tuned…

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