Monday, July 29, 2013

The Secret Race by Tyler Hamilton

This book is actually titled: The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover-ups and Winning at All Costs. As you probably know, my husband is an avid cyclist, and he raced for a couple years while we were in Philly. I went to a couple of his races, and we always headed out to the Philly International Cycling Race every year - we even dragged my folks to it one year! We are pretty avid watchers of the different Tours, and we checked out the Tour of CA when it rolled through San Jose. I find cycling to be exciting, interesting, and fascinating, not just because of our close ties to it. When Lance Armstrong came out with his doping confession, it appeared there were two camps: the avid cyclists who had known all along that Lance had doped, and the rest of the world, who had been touched by his LiveStrong campaign, or his struggle with cancer, who just couldn't believe Lance could have doped. Our family fell strongly in the first category - Alex knew that the cards were stacked against Lance - it's even more obvious when you look at the times to complete some of the stages in the Tour de France - they steadily fell, year after year. Today, the times are back to "normal", so to speak, although it seems likely that doping is still occurring, at least on a smaller scale.
This book is the sort-a autobiography of Tyler Hamilton, a pro cyclist who raced in the Tour year after year. He was on the Postal Team with Lance, and he was there when all the doping began (or at least in the beginning). In this book, he chronicles his childhood, his love of skiing, his eventual injuries, and then his switch to the bike. This guy is insane. Literally, and figuratively. For example, he broke his collarbone or shoulder during a crash in the first parts of the Tour. He decided to continue racing (which is basically NEVER done, since the collarbone/shoulder is pretty important in racing). He was in so much pain that he literally ground down his teeth while riding. But he finished the race. Insane? Yup, pretty much.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It gave me a glimpse into the life of a professional athlete, shed light on some of the doping practices that were prevalent at the end of the 90s, early 00s, and cemented Lance Armstrong in my head as a complete and utter asshole. It was a fascinating look behind the scenes, and now it's obvious that, sometimes, we put too many expectations on our heroes and our athletes. Tyler was a part of the machine - he was a supporting rider (and a damn good one, at that), but he was just that. A supporter. I think sometimes, we forget about the other people who push along our athletes. Like, the runners who are one the team solely to "pull" the hero along. Tyler was part of the team that "pulled" Armstrong to victory, over and over again. It was great to read about his life from his perspective - that of a supporter, not a star.
If you are interested in sports or athletics, this is a great book. Hamilton is honest, incredibly so, and it reminds you that we are all human. In his desperation to keep his job, to keep doing what he loves doing, he compromised his integrity by doping. However, I think it's something to consider that the majority of us might have done the same thing, to keep riding that wave, to stay on the team, to be a part of history. I know I would. It also reminds me that pro athletes are a different breed altogether from the rest of us. The fact that he's able to push mentally through physical pain is an incredible attribute, and one that doping doesn't really aid. He's still an amazing athlete, and there are a lot of lessons I can learn from his life story.
Plus, it makes me miss riding my bike. Can't wait to get back on it!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Parental Weekend Wrap-up

This past weekend, my parents came up to visit. It was a great weekend hanging out with them and I was so glad they got to see our place and the area we live! On Saturday, we hit up Hiller Aviation Museum, and on Sunday we headed to Big Basin to check out the Coastal Redwoods. A great time was had by all!

My Dad knew the lady who used to fly this. It's a skywriting plane! this not the most adorable car?

This helicopter was dropped to a downed pilot in the bomb like tube on the right. The downed pilot could then assemble a fully functional helicopter that could fly for 50 miles!

This is my Dad trying to fly a hovercraft simulator.

This plane was gigantic

This is the cockpit of a 737 (I think...)

This is a circle of redwoods. A giant redwood used to live in the center of it, but it died an decomposed. The nutrients from the giant tree allowed the other trees to grow. The bigger ones are already several centuries old!

My little family.

A big, big tree.

The redwood is growing around an oak tree.

The lighthouse at Pigeon Point

Those are sea lions (I am assuming).

Me and my handsome husband!

Me, Golack and my folks.

Pigeon Point Lighthouse.

I loved these birds.

The California Coastline north of Santa Cruz.

The lighthouse.

Prisoner's Rock

My favorite picture.

Which way do you think the wind was blowing?

Friday, July 12, 2013

Missing Philly Haiku Friday

Sometimes I miss my
old city. The energy
people, excitement.


Like now in my 'hood
An incessant car alarm
always going off.


In Philly, it would
have the tires slashed, windows
broke. Teaches lessons.

But you already knew this, right?

I'm in a prenatal yoga class and one of the members had her last day last week. She found out at the 20 week ultrasound that her baby had severe hydrocephalus (basically, the brain was not developing). She could likely carry the baby to term, but it would not survive once born. She told us all what was happening, in the most brave and unbelievably strong way I had ever seen. She sent a room full of pregnant women into an emotional rollercoaster, but also spoke eloquently about losing a child, and how her relationship with her husband had changed so significantly in such a short time. She told us that she had opted to terminate the pregnancy, and she would appreciate us writing a sentiment of love on a piece of paper. These papers would be cremated with the baby. The whole situation was quite difficult. I think we all felt a bit of "survivor's guilt". Why is my pregnancy going fine when others are having trouble? I think others were reminded of previous pregnancies lost. And I think all of us were amazed at the poise, grace and strength of a woman on the verge of losing her first child. I will hopefully never know what that pain is like, but experiencing it was raw and emotional. It was clear that her situation was her situation, and that she was very adept at making decisions for herself and her family.
At one point, however, I was grateful. I was grateful that we live in California, where there are no restrictions on reproductive medical care for women. I was grateful that this woman would receive good, compassionate care at a hospital. I was grateful that Roe v. Wade happened, and that her husband didn't have to find some back-room, seedy clinic to provide healthcare for her.
I'm disappointed on a daily basis by the slow erosion of women's reproductive rights in this country. It concerns me that many states have passed such restrictive laws that abortion is no longer legal. This disproportionately affects poor women. I am convinced that this overwhelming patriarchy must be stopped. There is no medical reason a woman needs a transvaginal ultrasound to tell her she is carrying a fetus. Trust me, politicians. We know. We also know how to make decisions for ourselves. We know what the right decisions for our families are. We know what our lives are like and what our situations can and cannot handle. We are capable human beings and we can make our own medical decisions for ourselves, thankyouverymuch.
I think I honestly wouldn't have so much trouble with policies trying to reduce the number of abortions if people received comprehensive sex education (and yes, I am talking about discussing it all - vaginal intercourse, anal intercourse, masturbation, oral sex, STDs, reproduction - ALL OF IT - starting with age appropriate material at a young age). If health insurance companies were forced to cover birth control (coming soon...), if birth control was easy to obtain, and (god forbid) even over the counter! I would feel better if abstinence only education was ELIMINATED. I would feel better if there were more programs to support single parents, if we had a wider social safety net. If we could subsidize child care and provide free pre-school. If maternal and paternal leave was more regulated and better. But, as far as I can tell, patriarchal, conservative politicians merely want to restrict women's rights more and more until we are unable to work and forced to reproduce, even when we don't want to.
I may be an idealogue academic with her head in the clouds, but I generally tend to trust people. I trust people to make the decisions that are best for them (or if they make the wrong decision, to live with the consequences). I trust women (yes, even teenagers) to know their life and their situation. And that's where I split with the conservatives. For all the talk about "smaller government", its actually the opposite. It's bigger government with their point of view, and nobody else's. The stark reality is that a fetus really can't live without its mother. That's the fact of mammalian reproduction.  And abortion is a safe, medical option that is legal in this country. I sincerely hope there is something we can do to change these restrictive laws popping up across the country. I certainly don't want to live in a country that considers women second class citizens. I want to live in a country where we value individual rights and opinions. Where people can make their own medical decisions, without the involvement of a politician. The country that our foremothers fought for. That's where I want to live.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Reasons you should go camping this summer

  1. You don't have to bathe for a couple days and honestly, your skin will thank you for it.
  2. You can get as dirty as you want.
  3. You spend the entire day outdoors, so you see the sunrise, the sunset, the emergence of the bats at night, the first starlight. 
  4. You can have a fire and roast marshmallows or weenies. 
  5. You don't have to get up early and you don't really have to go anywhere (unless you want to).
  6. You can see things you've never seen before.
  7. You hear the birds chirping in the morning, and the hoot of the owls at night. You can hear coyotes howling, and the wind blowing through the trees.
  8. Being outdoors resets your brain. In a couple hours, all those voices screaming about all the things you have to do just go away.
  9. Brain reset = lower stress levels.
  10. Camping automatically makes you pay attention more, laugh more, reconnect more. 

Do it! Get out there!

Corn Palace, South Dakota

Mt. Rushmore

Ausable Chasm, NY


St. Lawrence River

Gennessee County Historical Museum, NY

Lake Ontario

Niagara Falls

Our campsite in Geneva State Park, OH

Camping (and drying out) in MI

Deer in CO

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Book Review Wednesday: Historical Fiction by Phillipa Gregory

About a month ago, Alex and I wandered over to the Mountain View Public Library and we got our first library cards since we were kids. I love, love, love to read and I have a serious book problem. I miss the great used book stores in Philly, and some of my most fond memories as a kid were going to the library with my Grandma. The old Oxnard library (which my mom and my grandma called the "new library") had this amazing dollhouse in the kids section. I loved to sit and look at all the delicate miniatures, and dream about how I would play with all my dolls in such a beautiful house. I was also allowed to check out something crazy, like 15 books at a time. Every week during the summer, Grandma would take me there and I would pick out tons of Nancy Drew and Judy Blume. My favorite past time since I was a kid has been reading. I'm really looking forward to taking little Golack to the library when he gets old enough. I hope he finds as much joy from reading and both me and his father have.
Some of the first books I checked out were a couple by Phillipa Gregory, The Other Queen, The Boleyn Inheritance, and The Other Boleyn Girl. In the past couple weeks, I've read these novels based on the court of Henry VIII in Tudor England. I must admit, I was inspired to read these by a visit with Alex's Aunt Carol in Wisconsin last summer. I love to look at people's bookshelves, and Carol had lots of these historical fiction books, and she seems to love them. For me, I love a book that gives me some historical perspective, especially into the daily lives of people living long ago. These books are fascinating on some level. The Other Boleyn Girl follows Mary Boleyn, the sister of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII, who was eventually beheaded after being accused of incest, adultery and witchcraft. Mary was a member of the Tudor Court, and a lover of Henry VIII. She had two children who may or may not have been descendants of Henry VIII. I found this book to be the most tedious of the three that I read, mostly because I think the portrayal of Mary and Anne was incredibly historically inaccurate. Most historians agree that Anne was wrongly accused of incest, witchcraft and adultery, yet she was portrayed in the book as conniving, seeking out anything to get her ahead in the world. It also seems that Mary and Anne were not very close in real life, but the book portrays them as incredibly close throughout their lives. Never the matter, the book is interesting, if only for the glimpse into what life was like back then. I was fascinated by the traditions, the odd way of speaking, the amounts of debauchery everywhere in the court. The politics were interesting, too, although Gregory seems a little light on what policies Henry VIII was actually enacting. If you walk away from the book, just taking the broad brushstrokes, I think it's a quite a fascinating read. It's also quite entertaining and an easy, quick read.
The Boleyn Inheritance follows three women, Anna of Cleves (Henry VIII's fourth wife), Katherine Howard (his fifth wife) and Jane Parker (the wife of George Boleyn - the brother of Anne Boleyn). I found this book to be much more interesting. For one thing, there are three narrators, making things more varied. For another thing, I think this book is much more historically accurate. In the story, Henry seeks a new bride after his third wife dies in childbirth. He's now quite old, impotent and literally rotting. He chooses Anna of Cleves based on a painting, and she is sent to England to become Queen. She arrives and finds Henry to be absolutely gross, but marries him anyway. The marriage lasts maybe 6 months before its annulled due to an inability to consummate the marriage (likely on Henry's part, not Anna's). One of Anna's ladies-in-waiting, Katherine, is chosen as his next wife (she is something like 15 years old). Jane is sent along as a lady in waiting for both Anna and Katherine, and she provides some sort of constant narration throughout the book. Anna is put aside, but not beheaded (thankfully), but Katherine is found to have had relations with several men, including one in King Henry's court, and is beheaded at the Tower, along with Jane. I thought this book was rather well written and fascinating. How could a woman go to marry the King, knowing how insane he was?
The Other Queen takes place during the reign of Elizabeth I (the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn). It follows Mary, Queen of Scots as she is forced to abdicate the Throne of Scotland, and is imprisoned by Elizabeth. This book also has three narrators: Mary, Bess and George (the people who are asked by Elizabeth to imprison Mary). This book was a little bit slower and less interesting than the other two. There are fewer courtly storylines, and mostly it's just about a woman being exiled, treachery, betrayal, and family. I was surprised that my family was always talking about Mary, Queen of Scots, but that she didn't really rule for very long (and she was fiercely Catholic). She was imprisoned for something like 18 years until she was accused of treason and beheaded at the Tower.
If you are looking for interesting, engaging and entertaining historical fiction, then I would say pick up one of these books. Just take them with a grain of salt. It's likely they are not entirely accurate!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Camping in Lassen National Forest

We celebrated the Fourth of July by camping WAY up north in CA. We were very near both the NV and OR border, and, let me tell you, it was amazing, lovely and wonderful. We didn't want to come back home!

Our fantastic campsite

A hare

Eagle Lake

Eagle Lake

Eagle Lake

Me and my husband at Eagle Lake

Spelunking in a Lava Tube Cave

That place was DARK, but so cool and refreshing

Mt. Lassen, the volcano that last exploded 100 years ago.

Mt. Lassen. Yup, that's snow. 

Large pile of sulfur

Stunning, right?

Emerald Lake, a snowmelt lake. We stopped here and ate some snacks.

One volcano rock, perched.

Lake Helen. They landed a helicopter on the banks of this lake to rescue a women who broke her ankle.

Brokeoff Mountain in the background. Some of the original volcano caldera in the foreground. Also, you can see the road we came up. It had no guard rails.

Sulfuric, boiling water stream.

This place is literally called "Bumpass Hell"

More Bumpass


Remaining snow at Bumpass

Lush, beautiful grasses grow above Bumpass


Brokeoff Mountain in the background, Diamond Peak in the foreground. Diamond Peak would have been the center of the original caldera.

Terrace Lake, another snowmelt lake.

Shadow Lake

Alex with his favorite tree

Terrace Lake with Mt. Lassen in the background. 
I was super proud of myself because we camped around 5000 feet and I didn't get altitude sickness at all. We hiked about 6 miles total one day, mostly at 7500 feet, and not once did I get sick or have to stop. I made sure I was super hydrated and we took it slow, but altogether, I was so amazed at what I CAN do, since I focus so much on what I can't do. This area is really stunning. I would highly recommend it for any kind of recreation - camping, hiking, backpacking, swimming, watersports. It was a perfect weekend and a perfect time. I was also really encouraged because I saw lots of folks hiking with their kids (both small and bigger), so I am hopeful this is something we can continue once the kidlet is here!