Monday, March 31, 2008

Redux: The 10 Miler

Click over to my "Down the Shore with Jen" blog for a post about the 10 miler I ran this weekend. Not quite the marathon, but I'm getting there!

Digg this

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Book 42 of 52: The Importance of Music to Girls by Lavinia Greenlaw

I can't believe I'm writing this post now. I just got home from the Ocean Drive 10 Miler, and I'm beat. But since I had matt pond PA in my head the whole time, I might as well give it a go.

The Importance of Music to Girlsis a story about growing up, and how music wound its way through Lavinia Greenlaw's coming of age. She starts standing on her father's shoes while he waltzed, and ends talking music with an ex while taking her baby daughter home from the hospital.

It's a colorful journey, especially her escapades in disco and punk.

Disco: "The disco evening began with a whole other evening's worth of getting ready. Three or four girls would congregate in someone's bedroom and become hysterical. They milled about in a vortex of skirts, tops, shoes, tights, mascara, foundation, eyeliner, nail polish...The air was weighed down by our perfumes, which claimed to smell of melon or apple or peach. They were as ripe as we were...Makeup was all about the eyes, three shades plus liner, three coats of mascara. Hair was blown dry and tonged into flicks when lacquered to toughness with extra-hold hairspray that smelled like a bag of cheap sweets."

Punk: "We traveled to London to buy synthetic, metallic, graphic that on the King's Road, and to peer through the windows of Vivienne Westwood's shop, Sex. In the spirit of appropriation, and do-it-yourself, I was constantly on the lookout for something that could be cut up, ripped apart, dyed, bleached, and pinned back together. I didn't want to add up."

Greenlaw is also a poet, which you can see in these descriptions. The only problem I had with the book is that it was very slow at the star. I get that memories from childhood could never be as vivid as the ones I typed above, but it's too poetic and even stuffy. I thought I'd have to back out the review at first, but I pushed through, and was glad I did. I stayed up far too late last night finishing the book -- that's how different it is from start to end.

It also reminded me of book 29 of 50, Andy Merrifield's The Wisdom of Donkeys: Finding Tranquility in a Chaotic World. His memoir was poetic, and didn't travel in such a straight, crisp line. I didn't know he was married until the end of the book, but it didn't matter. That's because he wasn't just writing a "here is my life" memoir (which is what I'd call Trish Ryan's, He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, book 35 of 52), but a beautiful story. In the same way, it didn't bother me so much that Greenlaw doesn't tell us exactly why her father left her mother, or exactly what happened to her friend who attempted suicide. Neither book includes all the parts -- just the ones that are the most vivid.

This connection between music and growing up is a great topic. If you turn to your memory right now and think about some crucial moment, there's always some sort of music to go with it, right? What about every time you fell in love, had a crush or broke up with someone? There's some song that is attached to it, and even if the event has long passed, hearing that song on the radio probably brings back the memory. The one that came to me last night was discovering Ari Hest. I had just gotten dumped by someone who I found out later used me as a rebound, and I was obviously upset. But a few nights later, I still drug myself to some sort of chi chi party designed to get women to buy designer jeans I could never afford. The shop gave us a goodie bag full of crap -- a trucker hat, an out of fashion t-shirt...things like that. But they also tossed in a live Ari Hest EP. I'd never heard of the guy, but I put the CD on while in the parking lot (this was before my iPod ruled my music life). When I heard "A Fond Farewell," I started crying. It hit that moment in my life so perfectly that I couldn't even get out of the parking lot. Instead, I pulled away from the store, parked in another spot, put my head on the steering wheel and sobbed. This one's a double whammy because I shared this EP with an acquaintance who then became a friend who then, years later, turned into the icky ex (and is the reason why I gag every time I hear the Goo Goo dolls). So I still get a shiver every time that Ari Hest song comes up on the iPod.

I've attached music to running, too, as do a lot of people judging on how many headphones I saw at the Ocean Drive Marathon/10 Miler today. I used to do the typical "upbeat" mix for running, but as my long runs passed four miles, the mixes didn't work. I turned back to albums, which makes sense considering that's what I write to -- not a mix or a greatest hits, but albums. I listened to Guster's Portland: Live on Ice over 20 times in the month that I finished my book, so that album will always equal Jersey shore. I've been a fan of matt pond PA for some time, but I rediscovered his earlier album Emblems and cycled through that and Several Arrows Later on long runs leading up to today's race. I thought about bringing my iPod along today, but I always get mixed up in the earbuds or iPod when I try running with it outside. I also wanted to talk to anyone willing to talk, and to enjoy the scenery as much as I could. Turns out I didn't need the iPod after all: Emblems played in my head through most of the run, interrupted only once, and very rudely, but "The Good Ship Lollipop" at mile eight. I don't know why, either.

I think I had more to say about this book -- probably about when I stopped listening to top 40 and started getting into music. I even wrote part of this review in my head last night after I finished reading it, but the 10 miles drained my brain. So I'll leave you with this picture, taken at the post-race part at La Costa in Sea Isle City, NJ.

I'll post more about the run when I have the pictures my mom took, and my official time. But I know now that I'll do a marathon. Not this one (too windy), but somewhere down the line, my "finisher" medal will be for 26.2 instead of 10.


Digg this

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Weekend Wandering: Nonrunner's Marathon Guide for Women

In honor of my decision to run a marathon, and in honor of this weekend's Ocean Drive Marathon (though I'm only running the 10 mile portion tomorrow), I present Dawn Dais' very funny video about The Nonrunner's Marathon Guide for Women: Get Off Your Butt and On with Your Training:

I like her attitude! With that I'm heading down the shore. Hope the winds aren't too bad tomorrow!

Read more at and

Digg this

Friday, March 28, 2008

Ask and Yee Shall Receive

These are the summer beach reading candidates. And you thought I was kidding ;-)

Digg this

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Book 41 of 52: First Marathons: Personal Encounters with the 26.2-Mile Monster

Alright, I'm going to say it, so now I'm beholden to it: I'm going to run a marathon.

The funny thing is that I hadn't made this plan when I picked up First Marathonsby Gail Waesche Kislevitz. I read it on the recommendation of Liz Claman, anchor of Fox Business. But I'll get to how I ended up running through Palisades Park with a TV anchor in a minute.

I was never a runner. My high school boyfriend was captain of the cross country team, and I thought he was insane. Running 10 miles? For fun?! That's crazy! I played sports, sure, but I wasn't into running for running's sake. Us soccer players laughed at the field hockey players as they did laps around and around the sports complex. We ran enough as it was, thank you very much.

I started running because I hated it. The entire set up was for comic effect: I pitched an article to a magazine where I said I hated running but would train with a running coach and see how it went. "For any serious runner, a 5K is nothing – 3.1 miles of a hop, skip, jump and a finish line. But for me, who has loathed running since she could lace up, the idea that I enjoy training, look forward to it even – well, it’s as if I woke up one morning and decided to become an accountant," I wrote in the query letter.

Apparently, someone thought it was a good idea because I got the assignment and set off on a what I consider a difficult 5k training program. Like I predicted, I hated it at first. I wasn't even in love with it by the end of training, but placing second in my age group in that 5k sure was something. I cried at the end of the race, and I cried when I realized I had won something. And I'm not even a big crier.

I fell in and out of love with running after that. Without a written our regimine, I had a tough time sticking with it. I was also in the middle of that horrible relationship I've mentioned on the blog before, and just not living a healthy lifestyle. It's not easy to get up and go running on Sunday morning when you've been up late boozing the night before.

I picked running back up about a year ago, partly to get back in shape, partly as a reaction to that breakup. I used running as an escape, as a way to burn through my anger and frustration and hurt. I had to quit again during the summer because I was writing my book, and to write the book and try to run was just too much. It was heartbreaking. I didn't want to give up, but I had to pick one or the other, and the book won (which worked out anyway).

I'm not sure why this last go round with running clicked, but I've been on point since the beginning of January, and I'm running a 10 mile race on Sunday. I'd been toying with the idea of a marathon but thought it seemed too crazy. 26.2 miles? Who's nutty enough to do that.

Liz Claman is. I won't go into the specifics because the article's not out yet, but in the half hour I had to interview her on the phone, the thing we talked most about was running. She had run a marathon, and she said I sounded like I should too. When the deadline of that article got pushed back by two months, I took a chance and asked if I could go running with her.

So there I was in February, running Palisades Park with Claman, who is one of the most positive people I've ever met. She kept raving about First Marathons, and told me some of the stories of the runners. She even showed me her copy when we got back to her house, and I ordered it online when I got home. I've been reading it on and off since then (the essays are short, which is why I could do that).

This book, which recounts people's experiences with their first marathons, didn't exactly convince me. I convinced myself. The race I'm running Sunday is the 10 mile portion of the Ocean Drive Marathon. The 10 milers start with the marathoners, and I know what's going to happen when I reaach 10 miles. Well, first, I'll be tired since I've never run 10 miles before (seven is the longest I've gone). But I'll see those marathoners going on for another 16.2 miles and I know I'll wish I could be with them. So that made up my mind. My goal now is the Philadelphia Marathon on November 23. That gives me plenty of time to get ready, and stay in shape, because I have to tell you, nothing has gotten me into shape like running. When I changed out of my PJs this morning, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and wondered who had stolen my midsection and replaced it with six pack abs. And I don't even do that much ab work. It might not be the easiest way to get in shape, but it's a hell of a lot more effective than any sort of "easy 6 week plan" you'll find in a woman's magazine, and a lot less complicated with much better results. And I could write for pages about the mental benefits. I solve writing problems when I'm out on the road, and sometimes I'm not even really thinking about it when the answer comes into my head.

Anyway, the stories in this book are about as different as every runner. I was surprised about how many people seem to pick up marathoning after the age of 30 and 40, but those were some of the best stories in the book (I especially liked those about people who quit smoking through running). Some people said flat out that they hated it and would never do it again. Others said how it completely changed their lives. I wouldn't go so far as to say running saved my life, but it's made it a thousand times better.

Here's a few quotes:

"After running a few marathons I can explain to people why I run. It calms me. I can't imagine not having it in my life. It helps me to sort through things. It's like stepping outside myself and getting a better perspective of who I am." Kim Ahrens

"Running the marathon reconfirmed that I can accomplish anything in life if it is within my grasp. I have the courage and the power and the drive to make it happen." Bill Begg

"Running can be a person's wake-up call to recharge the batteries that have been left dormant." Wayne Gibbons

"I am not the same person I was when I started to run. I now know I have the stamina and the perseverance to do whatever I have to do in life. It gave me the relief I needed to know that my life would turn out fine." Shan Worthington

I'm not the same person I was when I started to run, either. And that's a very good thing.

For another excellent blog about running and writing, check out Abra Goes.

On another note entirely, the idea to go running with Claman came as a reaction to reading James B. Stewart's Follow the Story: How to Write Successful Nonfiction, which was book 27 of 52 in this series. I could have written the article from that half hour phone call, but I wanted something more for the piece, which is why I spent my Sunday driving to and from Central Jersey. It's one of the many ways that I think this blog, like running, has changed how I work and how I live -- for the better, of course!

Digg this

Now it's time for MY book!

I have been waiting for this all day. I even got faked out once -- the UPS man brought a package, but it came via FedEx.

However it came, it's here! My book about the Jersey Shore!


I thought I was going to cry, but I was too busy jumping up and down. I can't even believe that it's finally here, sitting next to me on my desk. I think I'm going to sleep with it tucked under my pillow tonight.

To learn more about this book, you can check out my shore website at, and my shore blog at


Digg this

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Survey: What Makes a Good Beach Read?

For the second year in a row, I'm writing a beach reads round up for the Philadelphia Inquirer (check out last year's article here).

These are always fun but tough to write. You've only got a sliver of space to cover the gamut of what will be available this summer to accompany you and your beach chair. I just sent an email out to my book PR contacts. Last year when I did this, I found about 40 books on my doorstep within two days. I feel like I should tip my UPS man now instead of at the holidays.

So here's my question for you: What makes a good beach book? And what have been your absolute favorite summertime reads?

And if you're looking for suggestions right now, most of the books I put in last year's article are in paperback now, or soon will be:

The Department of Lost & Found: A Novelby Allison Winn Scotch
Black Hats: A Novel of Wyatt Earp and Al Caponeby Patrick Culhane
Mr. Dixon Disappears: A Mobile Library Mystery (Mobile Library)by Ian Sansom
French By Heart: An American Family's Adventures in La Belle Franceby Rebecca S. Ramsey
The Clarks of Cooperstownby Nicholas Fox Weber
Rules for Saying Goodbye: A Novelby Katherine Taylor

Digg this

Report: Amy Hill Hearth Signing

Last night, Amy Hill Hearth, author of "Strong Medicine" Speaks: A Native American Elder Has Her Say(book 31 of 52) and Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years(book 32 of 52), spoke at the Barnes and Noble in Philadelphia's Rittenhouse Square. I saw about the last ten minutes. I had planned on getting there early to say hello before the talk, meet Strong Medicine, settle in and enjoy, but my plumbing had other plans.

Have you ever had one of those days you wish you could redo? That was yesterday -- at least the first part. My toilet backed up, and after 20 minutes of plunging, I went downstairs to get my keys and head to the hardware store. That's when I saw where the water was draining: through my dining rooms ceiling. I ran to the basement to shut off the water and saw it was coming down the wall and into the basement, too.

Panic? You could say that. I just bought my house in May, and aside from a broken washer, nothing much has gone wrong. I ran to my neighbor's house, and he came over to take a look. He works for a local contractor (sometimes -- he's retired), a local contractor who also happens to be friends with the person next door. Together, the three of us cleaned up the mess, called the contractor who then called a plumber, who then told me to sit tight.

Which I did, in my house with no water, mentally tallying how much this was going to cost me. As I've mentioned before, I'm not exactly rich. Freelance writing has been going well, and I was just starting to pull ahead when this happened. After the events of this weekend, I was already drained. So I put my head on my desk and cried before I straightened up, blew through four press releases I needed to write, and started in on a last minute assignment about the Jersey Shore.

Right around dinner time, the local contractor and neighbor came in with the plumber on the phone. At first, they thought they'd have to take a chunk of the dining room ceiling down. But then they tried plunging the toilet and the bath tub at the same time. Voila. All systems go. They did put a small hole in the ceiling to let the water drain and everything dry faster. My father, who used to be a carpenter and still works for a general contractor, is coming over to patch and seal it in the next week or so.

Total cost to Jen so far: zero. Well, two free copies of my book for my neighbor and the contractor, to be paid when it's published.

An amazing thing happened at that point: Once I realized that crisis had been averted and that I wasn't going to need to tear up my house, I didn't feel good. I felt great, amazing even. It was about 7pm, and Amy was speaking at 7:30. So I very quickly washed up, threw on jeans and t-shirt, put my hair in a messy bun, and ran out the door. I caught the 7:20 PATCO train into Philadelphia, for once not carrying a book with me -- there was no time. Once I got out of the PATCO station, I ran to the Barnes and Noble. I was surprised at how easy the running came -- yes, I run a lot, but this was a "dash through the city" in jeans, "casual" sneakers and a trench coat.

I made it for the last ten minutes, popping up in the back of the room and trying not to breathe too loudly. I got to talk to Amy, talk to some of the tribe members and meet Strong Medicine. I wish the article that I'd written about Amy had already come out, but, well, the world's not perfect.

I should have been exhausted after the ordeal, but I felt electrified. So I went to the Black Sheep, my favorite bar in Philadelphia, got a beer and the mac & cheese and had a spirited conversation with three lab scientists from Drexel and Penn. It was half way through beer two that I started to flag, so I swapped numbers with the guys and headed home. I landed my favorite seat on the PATCO train -- the very back seat of the very back car, and watched the track snake behind the train the whole ride home.

I'm still tired, yes, and my disheveled dining room and the hole in my ceiling is not pretty, but my house is whole. Even after my health scare this weekend, I am whole. And that's something to feel good about.

Back to Amy: if you weren't able to see her last night, she'll be signing with me at Cape May Harbor Fest on June 21 in Cape May. Maybe I should say I'll be signing with her! She's the best seller!

Digg this

Monday, March 24, 2008

Book 40 of 52: Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan

I've been meaning to read this book for some time, almost since it came out. It's been recommended to by about a dozen people, but whether because of a surplus of assignments or lack of time, I've never been able to get to The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Mealsby Michael Pollan.

It's always interesting, at least to me, when a book hits me at the right time. The Omnivore's Dilemmais probably the most exact timing of a book colliding with an event in my life. The event in question is the wedding I was at this weekend where I passed out during the ceremony, something that I believe had a lot to do with nutrition. But I'll get to that in a minute. First a capsule about the book.

The Omnivore's Dilemmais about food and just about every aspect of how the light of the sun is turned into food for us to eat, for better or for worse, from the fast food meal you eat while driving down the highway to something you create by hunting and gathering. I never understood the complete impact of industrial raised corn until I read this book, from how much oil it takes to grow it to how its cheapness gave rise to processed food to how its changed how we feed animals that eventually end up in the supermarket. Pollan also shines a spotlight on how "organic" has gone industrial. Even though that beef may be labeled "organic," the cow it came from wasn't necessarily treated any better than a non-organic cow -- it was just fed organically raised corn. It reminded me of my tour of a New Jersey cranberry farm whose owner said they weren't organic because the government definition of the term didn't fit what they believed farming to be. It's amazing how much you can get away with under that "organic" label, including using a lot of the processed foods that are so bad for you (for a supermarket guide to food labeling, check out Kimberly Lord Stewart's Eating Between the Lines: The Supermarket Shopper's Guide to the Truth Behind Food Labels).

There's a lot about the way animals are treated in the big food business machine -- he goes as far as the factory PR teams would let him, and, let me tell you, it ain't pretty. But he also visits a farm where animals are humanely treated and even kills chickens himself. He writes at length about vegetarianism, though the most interesting parts of the book were probably at the end where he learns to be a hunter and gatherer, and, boy, do I wish I could have sat down at that hunted and gathered meal.

There is so much information in this book that it's hard to process in a review, especially because I'm still not feeling well, and I'm jetlagged. So I'll give you two sample quotes:

"The twentieth-century prestige of technology and convenience combined with advances in marketing to push aside to make shelf space for margarine, replace fruit juice with juice drinks and then entirely juice-free drinks like Tang, cheese with Cheez Whiz and whipped cream with Cool Whip."

"But as productive as the corn plant is, finally it is a set of human choices that have made these molecules quite as cheap as they have become: a quarter century of farm policies designed to encourage the overpopulation of this crop and hardly any other. Very simply, we subsidize high-fructose corn syrup in this country, but not carrots. While the surgeon general is raising alarms over the epidemic of obesity, the president is signing farm bills designed to keep the river of cheap corn flowing, guaranteeing that the cheapest calories in the supermarket will continue to be the unhealthiest."

So how does this relate to me passing out at a wedding? Because it's part of my food story.

I grew up not knowing what organic was. I didn't even know what "real" mashed potatoes tasted like because my dad preferred the kind that came from a packaged mix. My favorite meal was hot dogs and mac & cheese, though most meals were far from instant: roasted chicken, spaghetti and meatballs (always followed up by a piece of white bread slathered in margarine). I wasn't a fat kid, though. I played sports year round, and I ate what was on the plate.

When I went to college and stopped playing sports, I gained the typical freshman 15. And while I've had lots of issues with my weight, I didn't think my concerns were out of the normal range of female body anxiety. I didn't go on any crazy diets, though for one stretch I tried to curb hunger cravings with coffee. After that didn't work, I went back to my regular eating habits.

That all changed in 2005 when I was given an assignment to go through a fitness bootcamp and write about it. What a great way to get into shape! I thought. I didn't realize that the boot camp came with a meal plan that required I throw out just about everything in my cabinet, mostly processed foods that had made eating quick, easy and something I didn't think about. But now that I couldn't rely on those fall back foods and had to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, I started paying better attention to what I ate. It opened an entirely new world to me, one where I actually thought about what I was eating in terms of health and balanced diet.

The more I learned about nutrition and how the body works, the more I invested time, energy and money into my food. In the summer of 2006, I discovered the Collingswood Farmer's Market, which let me buy fresh and local Jersey fruits and vegetables from May through November. My meals become simpler, focusing on the food instead of what was added to make it taste good. I think the best way to eat asparagus is when it's roasted in nothing but olive oil and a little bit of salt and pepper (my mom used to nuke it into mush and then top it with Velveeta cheese). There's no need to add sugar to strawberries picked from a local farm. There is when it's a strawberry trucked in from California.

As I've mentioned on this blog before, I'm a distance runner, which is another part of my life that's changed what I eat. When I started that bootcamp, a friend who's a professional biker helped me re figure my shopping list and said "eventually, you'll start to see food as fuel." That might sound like an oversimplified statement, but I get it now. I have to make sure I'm getting the most bang for my buck food wise, and see food as not the enemy but my friend. Diet books might tell you otherwise, but we need sugar, carbs, fat and calories to live and live well. The trick is getting through all the marketing babble to see where exactly those sugar, carbs, fat and calories should come from. The more I trained, and the further I ran, the more good stuff I added back into my diets: fats are my friend. Carbs are good. And the sweetest tasting stuff comes from a perfect piece of fruit.

This weekend, I was in Arizona to be in of my friends' wedding. If you've ever been part of or planned a wedding, especially a big wedding, you know how stressful and time consuming such an activity can be, especially in the days before the ceremony, so food came in the fast variety.

Here's what I typically eat in a day:

Breakfast: Oatmeal (the non-instant kind) with cherries and a glass of milk
Snack 1: Banana with a handful of almonds
Lunch: Salad of mixed greens, tomato, onion, olives, feta cheese, roasted red peppers and vinaigrette with whole wheat English muffin topped with peanut butter
Snack 2: Apple with string cheese
Dinner: Whole wheat pasta tossed in olive oil, garlic and basil cherry tomatoes and white beans.
Snack 3: Whole grain pretzels with dark chocolate and raisins

Here's what I ate my first full day in Arizona:

Breakfast: 1 serving lowfat yogurt
Lunch: 2 bean burritos from Taco Bell with a Dr. Pepper
Dinner: Nacho appetizer from rehearsal dinner

The Arizona meal is more like what I used to eat, yet when I tried to live like that again this weekend, I ended up, um, a little blocked up, so much so that the next day (the day of the wedding) my stomach hurt so much that I didn't want to eat for fear of getting sick during the wedding (and I want to say right now that I do not blame the bride for any of this. She kept asking me if I wanted to stop at the grocery store and get something healthy because she knows about how I eat and that I'm training for a race, but I didn't want to cause her more stress and declined. This is entirely my fault.)

What I didn't realize was how much hydration I wasn't getting from those fruits and vegetables, and that my body wasn't used to those kinds of processed foods anymore. Combine that with throwing Jersey girl into the desert for a half hour wedding ceremony in the full Arizona sun, and you've got one bridesmaid passing out at the end of the ceremony. Fortunately, I made it to a chair before I lost consciousness. It is probably one of the most mortifying and terrifying moments of my life. From what the other bridesmaids told me, I turned yellow and my lips turned blue. I never quite recovered during the reception and almost took up an offer to go to the hospital for an IV drip. I still feel sick.

What could I have done differently? Well, I could have eaten better and sucked down more water, obviously. But eating well is difficult and expensive. When the options were getting that Taco Bell while on the road or stopping to get food to prepare a meal -- which is cheaper and easier? Taco Bell. That's because eating right in our on-the-go society is hard.

It took me three years to get myself to where I am today, and I'm probably a better candidate than most people to completely change how I eat. I don't have to feed an entire family. I've never been overweight nor have I learned that the only way to being slim is through low cal and light. I work at home, so I'm close to my kitchen all day and can have all my food options (and oven) available all day long. I'm by no means wealthy, but I'm not poverty stricken. I'm a runner, so I burn a lot of calories and am on a constant quest to replace what I lose. I'm a journalist and therefore inquisitive by nature, so I was open to the suggestion that everything food marketers told me was wrong -- and, from time to time, I'm paid to write about just that. I think it's fitting the first thing I was given to eat after passing out wasn't Gatorade but grapes. Why? Because that's one of the best things nature could have provided me -- these perfect portable packets of sugar and water.

After reading The Omnivore's Dilemma, which I just finished 48 hours after the passing out incident, I'm going to alter my diet again. For the first time since grade school, I'm going back to full fat milk and cutting out anything made "no fat" through artificial ingredients. I'm never going to buy non-grass fed beef. Ever. I'm not a big meat eater, but I need the protein kick every now and again, so I'll be headed to the butcher the next town over and finding out where he gets his meat. After the farmer's market opens up in Collingswood this year, I'll be getting my meat from the farmer there.

I can't be a perfect eater, though. I don't know how to can and preserve fruits and vegetables, so in the off season, a lot of my produce will come from California, and while I don't like that, I need to keep eating a variety of fruits and vegetables. And I don't think Pollan would slap me on the wrists for that. What it comes down to is balance. What choices can I put into my life without it becoming obscenely impractical? And if that means spending a little more money on my food, then I'll have to work it into my already tight budget. Because, after all, what's more precious than our health?

I'm sorry if this is coming off a little preachy, and I'm not condemning anyone who is overweight or ate like I once did. But the declining health of our country is something I'm passionate about, not just because I'm someone who has to purchase my own health insurance and am one of many who carry the financial burden of a broken health care system trying to treat the side effects of obesity, but because I believe people have a right to know what they're eating, even if food companies make it difficult to see through the marketing spin. I also spent my extra time in the airport before my flight back home walking laps around the Phoenix airport in hopes of, um, unblocking myself. The information from The Omnivore's Dilemmawas fresh on my mind, and when looking through that lens, what I was saw was almost horrifying. There are a lot of overweight people in this country, and an airport is a great place to see why. Almost every single available food option was unhealthy (I had a tough time finding fruit and had to settle on orange juice). And the food that was available was perfectly marketed to the traveler: quick, easy and filling for all the wrong reasons.

I did manage to find a store selling a trail mix of nuts, raisins and chocolate. I that mixed with the pretzels the airline provided. Paired with some more orange juice, it was the best meal I ate on the entire trip, and the first thing that made me feel close to normal again. When I finally got home in time for Easter dessert, my sister presented me with some sort of strawberry short cake that was about as low cal -- and bland -- as it could possibly be even though it was low on Weight Watcher points. I couldn't help by think about Pollan's comments on Cool Whip (she used 'lite' Cool Whip) and wish it were made with real whipped cream. My sister almost smacked me when I made the announcement that I was going back to full fat milk. She doesn't see how someone so health conscious could make that choice. And I couldn't see how someone so healthy conscious could not.

It's not often that I'm going to implore you to read a book, but I will with this one. It's an eye opener, and it's also entertaining. Pollan tells the story from his perspective, which is at times hilarious. My hope is that whoever reads it (and a lot of people have given that it was a best seller and a National Book Critic Circle finalist) will have a better picture behind the labeling of food and make more informed choices. Even if you don't go whole hog, a few changes could make a big difference.

Anyway, that's enough passioned writing for the day. Here's a picture of me at the wedding with the maid of honor (I'm on the right).

It was a lovely ceremony and reception -- something meant to be written up in a bridal magazine. I just wish I'd have taken up the bride's offer to stop for healthy food so I could have enjoyed the party.

Digg this

Observation: Hair Covers

I love airport bookstores. They're like Cliff Notes of the book publishing industry, and I'm always fascinated about what books they stock.

I spent a lot of time in the Phoenix International Airport yesterday, and my tour of the Borders therein showed me something: Hair, especially hair on the back of the head, is big in book covers:

I have no idea why. Maybe it's the jet lag, but I can't figure out why this is a hot trend. I'm guessing a back of the head book hit big somewhere along the line. Even John Grisham's on the bandwagon:

So what's with all the hair? I think it's important to note that I didn't see the Allison Winn Scotch cover in the bookstore, but on her blog when she noted that the cover changed for the paperback version of the book (the original cover, which I loved, is here).

So, tell me what you think: what's with all the hair?

Digg this

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Here I Go Again...

I'm off to Arizona for my friend Nicole's wedding, and these are the three books I'm bringing in my carry on bag. Yes, I'm putting two more in my suitcase. Yes, I'm weird. But I'm not sure what I want to read, and I just got three more review assignments this afternoon. Plus, I can't just carry on a bag like I usually do since I'm carrying on the bridesmaids dress, so I have the extra space to stash and extra paperback or two.

And if you happen to be in the Philadelphia International Airport tomorrow morning and see someone dressed liked this, remember, it might be a certain book reviewer and blogger crossing your path ;-)

And if you also happen to love the Jersey shore, check out my new shore website at

Digg this

Monday, March 17, 2008

Interview: Amy Hill Hearth

Check out my Down the Shore with Jen blog for a Q&A with Amy Hill Hearth, who wrote books 30 of 52 and 31 of 52 in this series. It's the first time I've had a Peabody award winner on the shore blog. Exciting stuff!

The direct link to that Q&A is here. Perfect timing as "Strong Medicine" Speaks: A Native American Elder Has Her Saygoes on sale tomorrow.

Digg this

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Book 39 of 52: Dogface by Jeff Garigliano

One of the questions I'm asked about in reference to this blog is "how do you read so fast?" I don't think it's a matter of speed -- I think it's a matter of options. I don't have cable. My DVD collection is limited and there's only so much reality TV and PBS a gal can take, so I read at night.

Most Sundays, though, I'm at my mom's house, which is stocked with full cable and a working washer (unlike mine, which conked out a few months ago). So I spend most of the day doing laundry and watching a Law & Order marathon. But I was so into Jeff Garigliano's Dogface tonight that I sat at the kitchen table and read the second half of the book straight through, stopping only to change the wash.

I could say that Dogfaceis about the summer camp from hell, but that would be an understatement -- it's a "reform" camp run by con artists: a husband good enough at preying on parents' fears that their children will be the next one to shoot up a school that he gets $17,000 per child per six week session; a wife who's very good at spending his money; and her brother, who's very good at beating kids.

This is a finely crafted novel. The foreshadowing is on point, and one of the big reasons I kept reading tonight instead of flipping on the TV was to see what really happened in those soundproof music rooms that made a kid deaf in one ear. The descriptions are perfect, too -- I could see the camp. Garigliano's passages of sleeping in sweat-soaked beds reminded me of the first summer in my last apartment before I got an air conditioner. I thought I would go nuts sleeping in that heat, and I almost did. My mom and I installed a fresh-from-Home-Depot AC unit in my room in a thunderstorm because I thought I was going to lose my mind. I can't even imagine what it was like for these kids (even if they are fictional).

A passage:

"The humidity must do something to bring out the mosquitoes, because they swarm pretty quickly. Liz can feel them on her face, hear them flitting by her ears. Bugs are everywhere on the property -- moths, mantises, spiders the size of mice. The whole place is like empire of the insects. The beams in the cabin above her bunk are pitted with termite damage that looks like old acne, and there are two spots on the perimeter lap where the midges always gather in furious, flitting clouds that blur the air. Liz has to remember to hold her breath each time they pass, or else she inhales big, bitter mouthfuls of them."

Now that's some fine writing. Gross, but fine writing.

The one thing this book is not is a young adult novel. I was sent Dogface because I interviewed Garigliano for that article I'm writing on whether or not guys read. It's one of the few times I've interviewed an author before reading what he or she wrote, but that was how the timing worked.

In any case, he said that this book was rejected by too many publishers to count, though they said they would have bought it if he cleaned it up and made it young adult appropriate. What a tragedy that would have been -- to take out all the rough stuff (prostitutes, QVC) would have made it just another "camp sucks" novel, and maybe then the novel would have sucked too (I'm not surprised that MacAdam Cage picked up the book. They take risks with mixed results. Some are hits, others misses, but always different.)

I kept thinking back to book 3 of 52, Jake Wizner's Spanking Shakespeare while reading Dogface. That was a novel I thought straddled the young adult/adult line (lots of references to pot and sex). What tipped the scales? Maybe the violence in Dogfacemade it unaccepted on YA terms to a lot of publishers. In any case, I'm glad Garigliano held his ground...and that my parents never sent me away to summer camp.

Digg this

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Weekend Wandering: The Irish Devil

I'm not a mystery or thriller reader, but given the weekend, I figured that this trailer for Diane Whiteside's The Irish Devil was fitting.

Alright, enough of that scary stuff. Here's my younger brother's video of St. Patrick's Day. It has nothing to do with books, but it's fun. Oh, are a fond yet distant memory.

Digg this

Friday, March 14, 2008

Review: A Short History of the American Stomach by Frederick Kaufman

My review of book 28 of 52, Frederick Kaufman's A Short History of the American Stomach ran in the St. Pete Times on March 9. A sample:

"From that starting point, you would expect a runup to today's culture of the Food Network and diet books on every corner, but Kaufman meanders his way to the present without hitting a lot of major milestones. He goes on ad nauseam about Puritan vomiting habits but spends a scant few pages on kosher foods, and even fewer on why people choose to be vegetarian. He writes about oyster genetics and Emeril, but little about why so many Americans eat themselves to death and others starve themselves."

Read the complete review here.

Digg this

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Redux: Follow the Publication

In January, I reviewed James B. Stewart's Follow the Story: How to Write Successful Nonfiction, which was book 27 of 52. In that post, I wrote about the slump I hit right after I mailed my manuscriptover to my publisher and how Jack Wright, editor and publisher of Exit Zero and Cool Cape May (who also put in time as Executive Editor of Gear, US Weekly and Men's Journal), gave me a professional beating when I turned in the first draft of an essay that was to be published in the 2008 edition of Cool Cape May, an incredibly helpful guide book about, well, Cape May.

Not all was lost -- Jack helped me inject life back into my writing, and I've been merrily trucking along ever since.

I write about this now because I got a copy of the finished Cool Cape May today, and it's beautiful:

Best beat down I ever got.

I won't bore you with the details here. For that, click on over to my Down the Shore with Jen blog. The direct link is here.

Digg this