Friday, January 31, 2014

Murder Ballads and Old Magic

Jason Jack Miller (@JasonJackMiller on twitter) has graciously provided some more incite into the old magic that he incorporated into his novel Hellbender and its origins. Sisnce I've declared this week Hellbender week, I eagerly agree to pass it along. It's a striking article and it goes a long way to explaining a lot of the magic he wrote into the book. While reading the book, I was intrigued but didn't think much on what it all meant. Now that I have a better knowledge in the history this was grounded in, I have a fuller appreciation of how it was used in the book.

Murder Ballads and Old Magic
Jason Jack Miller

In my novel Hellbender, things aren’t always what they appear to be. It’s set in an Appalachia where serpents can be called forth from rocky crevasses and rattlesnake beads can be used to keep the devil away. Springs can be poisoned from afar, and milk can be ‘blinked’–or tainted by a rival witch. The Appalachians of Hellbender may not be the tallest, but they are the oldest, and as such, contain many nooks where beliefs remained untouched for generations. In some instances, the valleys and ridges blocked modernization so well that the culture of the mountain people could be totally forgotten by the ‘outside’ world. In other words, the mountains have let time stand still.

Where streams carved hollows into the lush Appalachian Plateau, families found shelter from the same kind of persecution that forced their ancestors out of Europe a generation earlier. Many of the first Europeans to settle Appalachia were Germans who picked up stakes when Pennsylvania got just a little too crowded for them. They filtered down through the Shenandoah Valley, trickling westward as rivers like the Potomac and James poked holes in the imposing Allegheny Front, and later, through the Cumberland Gap. They brought fiddle tunes, some of which remain virtually unchanged in Appalachia compared to their counterparts in Europe, melodies that either succumbed to contemporary styles or had been forgotten altogether. The new wave of settlers brought their food culture–no place on earth expresses the German love of deep-frying like Pennsylvania, with its potato chips and funnel cakes, and Southern culture’s chicken fried chicken and hush puppies. Even the log cabin, the butt of many an Appalachia joke, came from Germany and Scandinavia by way of those first Europeans.

Living so far from civilization had its quirks. Laws were less likely to be enforced, or just as easily ignored depending on which side of the law you fell. The Whiskey Rebellion is a prime example of folks thumbing their noses at distant lawmakers. The influence of the Catholic Church diminished in much the same way. It wasn’t until Protestant churches ordained ‘lay pastors’ to venture into the wilderness to tame the savages that religion gained a strong foothold in Appalachia. Not that it mattered to some folks, who were content to rely on the traditional culture of their ancestors, the magic that kept the devil away. The Swiss and German-speaking people of Helvetia, West Virginia, still burn an effigy of Old Man Winter on Fasnacht, a pre-Lenten holiday that falls on the cross-quarter day of Imbolc. It’s a tradition that can be traced back to pre-Roman Europe.

At its most basic, the magic of Appalachia is a response to the dangers of the new landscape. Mountain lions, wolves, bears, snakes, harsh winters, floods and unruly neighbors were just a few of the perils faced by those first settlers. In times of severe famine, or when a cow had been cursed (or had simply just stopped producing milk) an axe could provide magical sustenance. The blade is stuck into a tree and a rag is tied to the end. With the utterance of a few magic words, milk will drip from the threads into a bucket providing the family with nourishment. The magical nature of the axe comes to Appalachia via Scandinavia, most likely as a result of the magical nature of Thor’s Hammer.

From Hellbender: “There’s still plenty of women in these hills who can get a full pail of milk from an ax handle or an old rag. And Mary Lewis was one of them. I seen it done with my own eyes a hundred times.” 

Hair magic is another theme seen in Appalachian folklore. The idea that you could have control over a person if you possessed something that belonged to them is a belief expressed in many different cultures, not just Appalachian. Folklore says if just one of your hairs found its way into a bird’s nest you’d end up insane. So hair clippings and fingernails are buried, and their location is kept a secret by the buriers. It may sound strange, but the same idea is a building block of Roman Catholicism, with the consuming of the body and blood of Christ.

From Hellbender: “She wrapped the hair around her middle finger and made three crosses over Alex’s lips. Inaudible words flowed from Chloe’s mouth to Alex’s ear. Chloe pulled a silver coin out of her pocket, dropped it into the cup and tipped the purple liquid toward Alex’s gasping mouth. “Put the coin in your mouth, but don’t swallow it.”

The ultimate expression of Old World magic comes from a need for the most basic of human necessities–protection, mostly from enemies, especially from the Devil. Of course, the magic needed for such an old foe is an old one and there are none older than the SATOR Square. SATOR Squares have reportedly been found at the ruins of Pompeii, destroyed in 79 A.D. Early Christians considered it a sign of their coming savior. One found in Manchester, England, in the Second Century was taken as proof Christianity had spread at least that far in less than 200 years.
Essentially a multi-directional palindrome, a SATOR Square is placed above a window. The devil becomes confused by the repeated letters. It’s a key piece of the iconography of the Hellbender cover, designed by Hatch Show Print of Nashville, Tennessee.

From Hellbender: “Jamie picked open a pair peanuts then threw the shells into the fire. “SATOR squares? I don’t know. They’re like puzzles I suppose. They’ve been found on the walls of buildings destroyed by Vesuvius at Pompeii. Early Christians say it was a message from God saying their savior was on his way.”

He gestured for Dave’s stick and began drawing rows of letters in the dirt. “Five lines of five letters arranged in a square that form multiple palindromes.”

I tried to read the letters, but it was difficult in the low light. I leaned over to see. It read:


“Some people say the words are nonsense, but when rearranged in a cross they spell out ‘paternoster’ flanked by an ‘A’ and an ‘O’.” Jamie handed Dave back his stick. “Our father and the Alpha and Omega.” Jamie stomped the letters away with his foot.

Silence fell over the camp. By now the crickets were in full swing. Finally, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut anymore. “In my life I’d never seen anything to prove magic was real. Magic would’ve kept my mom around. Would’ve kept Jane alive.”

I’ve witnessed some crazy/scary things in my time here in Appalachia–mountain lion footprints where mountain lions were thought to be extinct, back-to-back comets after 50 years with none, ball lightning, mountaintop removal. Things that have rational, explanations, even if the explanations are unpopular. But I’ve had even more amazing experiences with people I’ve met and friends I’ve made here–making music, drinking wine, paddling wild rivers.

Something’s going on up in the mountains, but it’s not my job to figure it out. Nobody believed me about the mountain lion footprints anyway. Maybe it has something to do with the people. After all, it’s people who end up passing those stories on. And maybe the stories are so hard to believe because of how they went down. Late at night. Middle of nowhere. Not a credible witness in the bunch.

Or maybe it’s the mountains themselves. Over the last three hundred million years they’re the only real constant in this equation. Moses received the Ten Commandments on a mountain. The gods of ancient Greece lived on a mountain, too. So maybe it’s only in the mountains, my Appalachians, that snakes can be called, and protection from the devil can be obtained with a few rows of ancient letters. Doesn’t matter what I believe, those traditions will be here long after I’ve gone.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

3 Silly Questions with Jason Jack Miller

Jason Jack Miller, the Author of Hellbender, The Devil and Preston Black, and The Revelations of Preston Black graciously took some time to answer my three silly questions.

Question 1: First I'd like to say that I love love loved the character of Ben. *Spoiler Alert thanks for not killing him off. End of Spoiler Alert*. And as I said in the book review Pap reminded my of my Grandad so I loved him quite a bit as well. Did you have a favorite character to write/read when you’re rereading/reviewing HELLBENDER other than Henry?  I'm an author myself and when I reread my own book, I'm drawn to rereading certain characters. Who were you drawn to the more you wrote it and read it.

Ben really took on a life of his own. In HELLBENDER, Ben was little more than a supporting character, in there to help move the story along. He ended up getting so many of the good lines, and that really seemed to resonate with people.  After that reception, I knew I had to bring him back for REVELATIONS. In fact, I'm not really sure I had a choice.

I wrote HELLBENDER as my thesis for Seton Hill University's Writing Popular Fiction program, and at the time, Henry represented the way I felt about the mountains and Appalachia. Perhaps I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder about the way I perceived people looking at me and my rural upbringing. So I wanted to show Henry as a responsible, intellectual person of Appalachian origin. And as a result, Ben had most of the fun. (And the good lines.)

Not surprisingly though, I really felt the most drawn to Katy by the time I finished REVELATIONS, She felt the most honest, the realest, and the least like a caricature.

Question 1b: Any chance that some of the other characters from Hellbender might get their own stories like you've done for the character of Preston. I didn't talk much about Preston in my book review but you did a fairly good job setting his character up for his own book which I have not read yet (but I will) Any chance Ben gets a chance to shine or maybe you'll craft Pap's back story. I loved Katie and Chloe as well and I'd really love to hear more about the magic they practice and know. 

Well, since you asked…. My next book, ALL SAINTS, is pretty much a Ben story. It's a weird version of THE WIZARD OF OZ (set in Yucatan, Mexico) that lets Ben deal with his PTSD once and for all.

Ben is also the star of a short story appearing in Despumation Press's premiere issue this February. "Rhythm of War" is a snapshot of Ben and the events surrounding a firefight in Fallujah.

The first two or three books were meant to be read in no particular order. HELLBENDER was my thesis, and was written first. But THE DEVIL AND PRESTON BLACK comes first chronologically. The story lines don't merge until THE REVELATIONS OF PRESTON BLACK. So if I tell you more about ALL SAINTS, I might give away some of what happens in REVELATIONS. Needless to say, Ben does what none of us thought was possible (with regards to an antagonist.). And he does what Preston most certainly couldn't.

You'll see that THE DEVIL AND PRESTON BLACK is almost as much a Katy story as it is a Preston story (No Ben yet. Sorry.) But it also introduces us to this other character who becomes very important later.

My wife, Heidi, introduced me to Madeleine L'Engle and the idea of a linked series, where we follow the events of a family, or group of people, rather than just one person. And so far it seems to be working out pretty well for me.

Question 2: Let's talk about charities for a second. As everyone who has been to this site knows, my favorite is George Mark House.  (I'm very tied to the organization and if you want to know more about why, just hit up the My Son tag on my blog to learn more about what they did for me and my family and what they continue to do for us and other families like us) Here's your opportunity to talk about organizations that make your heart go aflutter and your skin get all goosebumpy with the happies. If you'd like, take a second to talk about a charity or organization that you support or you'd like to mention and why its important to you.

The mountains are near and dear to my heart. For so long, the place where I grew up was more a source of shame than anything else. As a kid, I played in abandoned coal mines and in old coal tipples. The county I grew up in has the distinction of being Pennsylvania's second poorest, and it seemed like no matter where I went, I was reminded of that fact. Add in high unemployment, a "worse than average" health status score, and a suicide rate that was higher than the state average, and you can see why I was reluctant to talk about where I grew up.

But the mountains changed all that. When I started working as a whitewater raft guide I saw a side of these hills that I never could've imagined. I met people who were awed and astonished by the mountains and their beauty. I met business people who saw opportunity where most only saw despair. So when I had a chance to give something back, I chose Friends of the Cheat, a group that, "… supports the preservation of the Cheat Canyon and encourages land use that protects sensitive wildlife habitat."

When I was a guide back in the 90s, the Cheat was a dead river. Acid mine drainage had made it unfishable and undrinkable. But the Friends of the Cheat have done some amazing work in the last twenty years to change that. And their Cheat Fest held each May is a heck of a party!

For ALL SAINTS I'm looking at veterans' charities to work with. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America does some amazing work.

Question 3: This is important! You will be graded! What is your favorite character in the movie The Goonies and why? What that character choice says a lot about you as a person and I WILL judge you accordingly. (For example, if Mouth is your favorite character, I'm not sure we can be friends.) Please note that if you have not seen The Goonies and you don't feel you can register an opinion, I may send you a copy just to remedy this fact. I have done it. You can ask Steven Luna (@stevenluna) if you don't believe me.

Hey Mikey, gotta go to the Bathroom?

You thought I was going to say 'Mouth' for a second, didn't you?

It's weird, because I never really thought of this. But when asked, Mikey was the first one to pop into my head.

Mikey had the unenviable responsibility of being in charge. More than Josh even. Mikey had the plans and the heart, and that's how I see myself—as the one who has to make sure everybody's going to be okay. The one who stays up at night worrying. Sometimes it sucks, being the responsible one, but it must come from being the older brother. (Right now a bunch of people are reading this and wondering who the heck I'm talking about. And I'd remind them that the Goonies question is being answered by 'Jason Miller,' not 'Jason Jack Miller.' Big difference there. Huge, in fact.


Jason Jack Miller knows it’s silly to hold onto the Bohemian ideals of literature, music, and love above all else. But he doesn’t care.

His own adventures paddling wild mountain rivers and playing Nirvana covers for less-than-enthusiastic crowds inspired his Murder Ballads and Whiskey series, published by Raw Dog Screaming Press. The first three books are currently available: The Devil and Preston Black, Hellbender, and The Revelations of Preston Black.  The next installment, All Saints, is due out in 2014.

Hellbender was Jason's thesis novel for Seton Hill University's Writing Popular Fiction Graduate Program, where he is now adjunct faculty. The novel won the Arthur J. Rooney Award for Fiction and is a finalist for the Appalachian Writers Association Book of the Year Award.

His career got its start when he co-authored an outdoor travel guide with his wife in 2006. Since then his work has appeared in newspapers, magazines, literary journals, online, as part of a travel guide app for mobile phones, and in the award-winning writing guide Many Genres, One Craft.

When Jason isn't writing he's on his mountain bike or looking for his next favorite guitar.

He is a member of The Authors Guild, Pennwriters, and International Thriller Writers. He lives just outside of Pittsburgh with his wife, Heidi, and a cat. His blog is Tweet him @jasonjackmiller.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Casting the Movie: Hellbender

It's not as if you didn't see this one coming. If I read a good book that's cinematic and visual, you better bet I'ma dreamcast that sucker to hell and back. I mean I've done it, a few times in fact. So you better bet I've got an all star cast picked out for this one. The book is just calling for some heavy hitters to really go after the material and embody the material the way it was meant to be shown.

So, without further ado:


Henry Jack Collins

Garrett Hedlund plain and simple, with Taylor Kitsch placing in a close second, but really it has to go to Garrett. There's a lot of action but also a lot of introspection involved in the part and I think Garrett could do both pretty easily. I can see him easily rafting down the river and saving drowning swimmers and just as easily unleash a can of woop ass on people who obviously deserved the vengeance coming to them.



This one is taking me awhile to suss out. For some reason, my brain is stuck on Katie Cassidy (when is it not, ha) but maybe it should go to someone younger like AnnaSophia Robb but I'm not completely sold. I need somebody a little softer, with more of a country edge and nobody's screaming at me for the role.  Ashley Benson maybe? I'm willing to leave it up for discussion.


Henry's Dad

I don't quite remember Henry's dad's name, so I apologize for not getting and posting it. But I do think I have figured out who should play him. Well Actually, I have two actors battling it out to the death in my mind for this role. William Sadler and Chris Cooper, but it has to be the grimy Hank Williams-singing version of William Sadler from Shawshank Redemption or the grimy slightly scary Chris Cooper from Adaptation with his two front teeth missing. They have to be on that side of the line of crazy for them to pull off the part. Henry's dad is constantly battling himself and using drink to do it and you know those two guys could do that part justice in a heart beat.


I love Ben. I said it in the book review but I'ma say it again. I love crazy old Ben and all the demons he's fighting in his head and his "for snakes" mentality and his willingness to run headlong into a shitstorm. He's my kind of people.Who better to play him than Ben Foster, who is nothing but masterful in every thing he's done, especially when he's had to play crazy and unhinged. You can't really take your eyes off of him in every movie he's in.  And yes I'm counting Get Over It. And yes I saw Get Over It. Leave me alone.



Katie is another one whose casting I've struggled with in my head. Lucy Hale for some reason resonates with me in the role, but I'm not really set on it. I'll leave this one up to the comments. Help a sister out.


Pap! OMG Pap! How I love him. Yes, if we lived in a just and verdant world, Pap would be played by none other than my grandad, but that ship has sailed. Can we all settle for Hal Holbrook? Is he still working? I think he'd do.  You need somebody very lived in with a well of sadness behind his eyes. Hal Holbrook would work great in that capacity don't you think?


Preston Black

Okay, hear me out, Ethan Peck. No really. First off, he'd be great in the lead capacity if the Preston Black books were to be spun off into their own movies. I haven't read them yet, but I think it works. And besides, I'll look for any excuse ever to cast Ethan Peck in anything. But I really do think t fits.


Charlie Lewis

The choice is really clear once it came to me: Clancy Brown. Who's gonna bring shit-your-pants crazy scary better? Nobody is who. Listen, if I got to run in the woods like a madwoman to escape evil, who better  to be the face of the evil I'm escaping? He's it plain and simple.


Odelia Lewis

Angelica Huston, hands down. As exhibit A, I give you The Witches. Nobody's gonna do justice to a backwoods witch better. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Book Reviews: Hellbender

In the town where I grew up there was the diner close to the intersection of the two county highways. Past the register and around the left corner from the patent leather stools and Formica counter-tops, there was a big table right before the kitchen side entrance. It fit 9 people, 12 if people didn't mind rubbing elbows. Most mornings a great meeting of the minds took place there over the diner's burnt coffee and rubbery omelets.  Ranch hands, oil derricks, WWII vets, retirees waiting for their tee times all congregated there and took turns sitting at the table. In turns, they'd solve all of the world's problems, shoot the shit and tell their most fantastical yarns. Solving the world's problems took 10-15 minutes tops so much of the time was spent with the other two.

On a lazy Saturday or summer morning before the sun rose too high up making things miserable, my dad would take me to the diner and I'd sit at or near that table and watch my dad and sometimes my grandad take court. I heard many a fishing whopper, several hunting stories and every type of story in between, some fantastical, some humorous, some mundane. I always knew the type of company at the table by the type of stories my dad told there. If the people weren't that interesting, he might tell a story from his days herding sheep, he might not. If the company was really good, they'd get the grasshopper story. It wasn't til years later that I found out his trump card, the story he only used  if the company was really raucous and I wasn't around was the 'Spud Howling' story, which I have heard since then and I know for a fact could make grown men blush. My ability to story tell was crafted and honed at or around that table.

Jason Jack Miller's Hellbender tells the story of Henry Collins, a young man trying to carve his own path away from his family and away from the West Virginian Appalachia mountains that raised him and trying to escape the grief of losing his younger sister, whose death was shrouded in mystery and a family curse going back to a generations long feud with the Lewises. As the title (taken from a river rafting term for a bend in the river that's hell to navigate)  implies, this book takes you on a whirlwind journey. The tale whips you through rivers, valleys and forests written in a way that made them both feel familiar and fantastical at the same time. It starts with Henry burying his sister in one of the most beautifully sad first chapters I've ever read. When the main character decides to not wear shoes up the gravel path being the pall bearer for his sister's casket because of the Beatle's Abby Road album cover I knew I was in for something special.

After the funeral, Henry decides to escape the family and what he sees as a petty feud with the Lewises. But the past, in the form of his sister's roommate from college who happens to be Lewis kin named Alex, catches up with him. She's convinced Henry's sister's death was a murder and family happens to be behind it. What happens next is journey filled with old grudges, old magic, and good-old fashioned revenge but told in a new refreshing way.

These pages are filled with a visual poetry that instantly transported me into the laurel hells and incredible country side abound in this book. There were certain passages that I highlighted so I could go back into the beauty being described there. It won't soon leave me and I'm glad not to let it.

Now what does my hometown diner have to do with this book? Well, to me absolutely everything. Every character he crafted in those pages felt like they'd spilled out of that New Mexican diner and right into the Appalachian Valley, like I'd known them and the stories they had to tell my whole life. Henry's cousin Ben, an Afganistan war vet still shaken from battle (and one of my very favorite characters of the book) felt like one of the vets that kept court at the table. The character of Pap, Henry's grandfather and long suffering patriarch of the Collins clan, with a sadness and wisdom in his eyes, felt like my own grandfather. At certain times while reading through pap's story, I saw my grandfather's face and that filled me up with an immense pride and an immense sadness all at once. This is perhaps the highest honor I can bestow upon a character, that reading them brought my own grandad back to me so clearly.

This book is the best of the diner story filled with friends and fantastical yarns all at once. It probably won't save the world, but those folks at the table got tired of doing that after a spell anyway. Telling stories was a lot more fun. This book gets a solid A. 

Now if you'll excuse, I'm off to buy Jason Jack Miller's The Devil and Preston Black and  The Revelations of Preston Black and basically devour everything else the author has ever written. I'll be doing some other stuff regarding this book the whole week so keep it tuned here.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Adventures in Children's TV Programming: Episode 1: Mary Poppins

So, thanks to having a toddler who runs roughshod over everything including our TV and media consumption, I've been watching a lot of children's programming. How much is a lot? I can sing the Chica Show theme song on demand. The Thomas the Train theme song haunts my dreams. I didn't want to, but I think I've had inappropriate thoughts about Sean from Noodle and Doodle (I know! I mean, can I find a more awkward person to be slightly infatuated with? I doubt it).

Said watching and rewatching of my daughter's TV shows and movies have led my husband and myself to ask a lot of questions, questions we shouldn't be asking, but due to boredom have no choice but to ask the audience. Is every episode of Noodle and Doodle actually filmed in the bus? (Answer: No, it's filmed in a studio in Michigan. Who knew? Well we know now, thanks to the Internet on our phones and boredom.) How does Sodor's economy not implode on itself with so many inept engines running amok over the entire  island and causing havoc wherever they go (I still don't have answer for that)? Why are their mice that know how to do hip-hop? I'm never going to get the answer to that one either and it's all your fault Angelina Ballerina. Shut up forever!

So I'm starting this weekly blog series in hopes of answering some of these burning questions.

First on the docket, Mary Poppins. My daughter just recently found movies. In fact it happened over Thanksgiving, in which she became completely enamored with the old school version of Wizard of Oz. She watched it all the damn time and because of that, I have certain quandaries about that movie which I hope to bring up in a future episode of this. But she's moved on to Poppins, thankfully, because even I, a lifelong lover of all things Oz, was starting to get burned out.

Poppins itself brings up a ton of questions in a viewers mind upon multiple rewatches. Why exactly did that one neighbor make a replica of boat on the top of his house and how did the neighbors allow that crap to go down, for starters? I mean, I know there wasn't such a thing as an HOA back in the day, but Cherry Lane seems like a lovely respectable place where the act of creating the replica of ship on the top of your house and your deciding to shoot cannons on the hour to mark the time would not go down without ruffing a couple of feathers. At the very least you've got some uppity pissed off neighbors. And The Banks should be the most pissed off. They have to man their posts, just to make sure their crap isn't destroyed when this guys decides to fire off his cannon to mark the time? I would be so pissed. My  neighbor's kids have gotten a serious talking to for accidentally kicking a soccer ball into the garage door for crying out loud. I'm just saying, and uptight London neighborhood would not let that shit go down.

And, okay, here's a question I'm actually gonna answer, but what the hell is a hottentot? Why does it come up in the movie's vernacular? And now that I've looked that up, why was this movie kinda  racist? Holy crap that's some horrible slang.  And also, when I look up hottentot and Mary Poppins on google why is what shows up at the very top of the google search what shows up? I'm not giving that racist site any free pub here, but that is horrible and why am I so ragey all of the sudden?  I'd take a picture, but even that would make me ragey. Just do a hottentot Mary Poppins search for yourself and see some incredibly racist stuff for yourself if you don't believe me. So much rage at assholes is building in me all the sudden! Gah! That's aggravating. 

Time to skip all that non-sense and back on topic.

Another one is if the chimney sweep business is that overcrowded with people doing the same thing that 30 of you can gather on the roof tops at any given moment, wouldn't they be seen as competition and less like old chums? I mean, how many chimney sweeps would really be working on the same night anyway? Dance routine or no, it's disconcerting.

And why is everything in the cartoon English country side world besotted with Mary Poppins? The only logical explanation is that as their creator, they have to be in full-on worship mode and be enamored with her at all times, because she can destroy it in an instant, or the rain can. And can I just say that it is kind of sad that  this entire world building they did over the course of three songs and a jaunty merry-go-round horse adventure they were on is destroyed because of a rain shower. I mean, please tell me the penguins were able to take refuge somewhere.

But the thing that's got me most flummoxed is this relationship between Burt and Mary Poppins. It's never fully explained ever. Maybe it is in the books, I don't know, but it's all just rather odd. Are they together? Were they together? What with her taking refuge in the clouds and all, was it just too hard to make the long distance thing work? Or was it that she just didn't like that he could never hold down a job? I mean, how exactly would she be able to maintain her cloud-living, tea drinking on the ceiling lifestyle when he was only bringing home coppers from his cap. What was going on their exactly?

I don't really intend on answering these questions, I'm just asking them  and planting them in your mind so you're as confounded by the stuff I have to watch over and over again as I am. You're welcome.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Racing at Andrew's Run and Barely Surviving

Larry the Leftie reappeared as mysteriously as he had left a few months back. I looked down and there he was one day, looking at me forlornly. No one had answers for how he'd mysteriously rematerialized. I have several theories mind you. The first was that he had gotten kidnapped by Tuco, taken to a ramshackle hut in the middle of the desert to hang out with his scary uncle who uses a bell to communicate and have to make the tough trek back home, alone, thinking of several lies to cover his tracks (RIP Breaking Bad. I miss you). But I'm pretty sure that if my left running shoe was actually an underground Meth Kingpin, I'd know by now.

The second theory involves a peyote fueled vision quest, but where would an Adidas shoe even know where to get peyote? The third theory is that he just needed to take some time to find himself and maybe write the great American novel, and when that didn't work out, he decided to come back.

Whatever his reasons for disappearing, his returned was much appreciated, by me anyway. Ralphie is still a bit mad because Larry still won't tell him what happened and they've been really terse with each other for awhile.  I'll put them in couples counseling soon to resolve the issue.

But I need them to work in unison because I had another 5k to run. This time it was for Andrew's Run in Modesto CA. Andrews run was reason for wanting to run a 5k in the first place. The proceeds go directly to George Mark House so you know I was going to support it fully.

Thankfully, the race started at 9 am, which was nice. It takes about an hour to get there from where we live, and not a one of us, baby, grandpa, husband or wife, cherished leaving in the dark of the morning. Leaving out at daybreak made the transition a little smoother. The car ride was spent with me entertaining the baby while my husband argued with his father and with the GPS at differing intervals.

Even though we'd been at the park where the race was being held once before, we still got lost again which led to more arguing with the GPS which is always fun because my husband is arguing with an extremely proper British Lady who ISN'T THERE. I find it amusing every time it happens.

The race  set-up was a little ramshackle. I'm use to several tents and booths you can meander around while waiting for the race to begin, but this race didn't have that sort of set up at all. Some of the organized futzed with the race sign for twenty minutes. Race organizers were using the picnic tables and to be honest, everything looked scatter shot. But we got our bright green, very awesome long sleeve race shirts with the George Mark logo emblazoned on the front, so I was happy as a clam.

We waited at the start line, which was not your typical race line. I looked at fighting nun and said, where's the race clock? We looked around  and determined that a man in cap, and long somewhat disheveled hair was the time keeper. "Mr. Rosso is our timekeeper?" I said incredulously "But he can't even keep Lindsey Weir on the straight and narrow. We're doomed!"

We started the race somewhere in the middle of the pack and based on my pace, we were getting passed left and right. Fighting Nun was trying to get me to pick up the pace and I was just trying to keep it together. I don't know if my sleep deprivation was catching up with me, if the blerch had gained three pounds and hated me or what, but I wanted desperately not be doing what I was doing.

I tried looking at the scenery instead, which was actually very picturesque. Actually, the park and the path  in the park on which we were running would have to be considered my ideal running situation. Since I have started running, I have longed for a wooded, wonderfully shaded path with lots of greenery so I could avoid the sun while having something to look at. The park saw my shaded path with lots of greenery and raised me with a running river so I could listen to the water go by. It was perfect if I wasn't such a crabby mess.

I was always looking for the next marker, telling me how close I was to the finish line. I found it interesting that the markers were chalked onto the walk instead of signs on display. It just felt slapped together as a whole enterprise which is not in and of itself a bad thing, but just worth noting.

And then I had that moment again, where I find my champion, my inspiration to keep going. This time it was in the form of a man with cerebral palsy. He was older than me but only by a few years I'd reckon and his running form was hampered by something, but he kept pushing on. That lasted until I lost sight of him, then my shoe came untied (you'd think it was Larry, trying to make a clean break for it, once and for all, but in a clear sign of mutiny, it was Ralphie).

With about 3/4 of a mile to go I said "I'm Run DMCing it hun." It was all I could get out of my system.

"That's nice dear," my husband who clearly didn't understand what I meant said. "Keep running."

Finally it took a runner passing us to say "Do you know your shoe is untied?" for my husband to get the point.

"Your shoe is untied?"

"Yes, that's what I said a tenth of a mile ago. I"m Run DMCing it, adidas's with no lace's, Walk this Way? Duh."

"Whatever, just finish the race."

We finished the race about twenty seconds off my best time but we still got it done. Bottom line is it was a lovely race despite some foibles and I'll be happy to do it again, provided Larry doesn't disappear again and Ralphy doesn't try to jump ship mid-race. See you there next year.