The Book Project

Back in spring of this year, I embarked on a project that has taken me months to complete. That project? Downsizing my book collection.

Anyone that knows me would have a hard time figuring out why I embarked on such a project. After all, I am the girl who routinely received stacks of books for birthdays and Christmas. I am also the girl who frequently proclaimed that I was a minimalist in everything except for coffee mugs and books. I sold over half my mugs in April. It was time to look at the books.

One late spring weekend, I jumped off the fence, made the decision. I may take a while to become ready but once I actually choose, I waste no time. I started taking books off the shelf and stacked them on the floor by my two largest bookshelves.

The project worked as follows First, all books I had purchased or received as gifts within the last year stayed in my collection. I began curating my collection with increased vigor around that time. Second, all of my classics, history books, and books in Spanish stayed. I know the value of all of those. Third, a handful of other books stayed on the shelves like everything by Tolkein and Lewis. Fourth, I would read each book in the series and be willing to part with some of a series but not all. (I am just a tad OCD). Fifth, if I did not love a book, regardless of quality, I would set it aside to donate.

With these parameters in mind, I set to work on what I termed the second round of the purge from personal collection. Yes, I did this once before, four years ago. I purged more than five large reusable bags full of books then. By the time May 2017 rolled around my collection surpassed 600 in number. Even though I eliminated many books from my collection in the first round, I approached this round with increased vigor.

Surprisingly, almost every book I reread during that first month ended up back on my shelf. I started to wonder whether I was being harsh enough in my evaluation and even sometimes if I was wasting my reading time since so many of these books found their way back into my collection.

As the weeks progressed, the stacks on the floor grew smaller while the stacks on or under the bench, the donation spot, grew larger. I relocated a couple stacks of children and young adult books to my classroom when the new school year started. I had held onto these books for that “someday” of having a library in my own house for future children. It took years but I was finally ready to relinquish my hold on that “what if” and put the books to actual use. Sometimes the stacks decreased slowly. Other times I cut them in half by donating an entire series. Why waste time on lackluster prose when the first book is so terrible you find yourself questioning the judgment of your past self.

As I write this entry, one tiny stack of four books remain, the last four books in the O’Malley series by Dee Henderson. Of the three bookshelves I cleared (and one shelf from my large book case) only one is filled to capacity again. One stands completely empty. The third holds barely more than one shelf’s worth. I did not count the books as I donated them. If I had to guess, I would estimate that I have donated around two hundred books. I did not read all of them; my total for 2017 stands right now at a mere 163. (Of course, that is stated with the upmost irony.) That rough estimate includes the couple stacks now inhabiting my classroom library as well as other extended series donated after a disappointing reread of the first book.

At the end of the year, while I have lost the status of owning over 600 books, I have gained so much more. At many times in my life I valued my books too much; I valued my goals too much. This process helped me gain a better perspective on what’s really important.

It also reignited my love of reading, which is always nice.

Hilton Head Jingle Jingle 5k 2017 – Race Recap

Race #139
5k #48
2017 Race #21
2017 5k #5
Hilton Head Jingle Jingle 5k #3

Like I mentioned last year, I planned and executed a dedicated training plan for this race in the hopes that I would make my 5k PR not so much of an anomaly and try to PR. This course could not be better suited for a fast 5k.

A month ago, I “practiced” racing a short race with the TreesGreenville Turkey Day 8k and quickly learned that I need to focus on mental stamina. That came into play in this race.

We arrived with just a little bit longer to wait before the race than I prefer but got settled in and walked over to the new starting location. I saw few people dressed like they intended to race; many people came decked out in all sorts of fantastic holiday costumes like an Elf movie onsie. (That might have been my favorite.)

Hilton Head Jingle Jingle 5k 2017
No Elf onsie in view…just me, almost ready to start

Several times as we lined up, the race director specifically addressed the kids lined up at the front and told them to get back from the front. Some kids took a few steps back but not many. One happened to be standing near me. I smiled and asked her if she could run a mile in 6 minutes, what the race director had just stated. She smiled, shook her head and then tried to get her friend to move back with her.

Hilton Head Jingle Jingle 5k 2017
They moved back … but not that far.

With only a two minute delay, we were off.

Right away I knew that I my 5k racing skills are rusty at best. I knew I took off way too fast but it has been a long time since I have even attempted to hold a 6:50 mile when not on the treadmill. I glanced at my Garmin a few times but the numbers I saw still needed time to adjust. The pace felt fast and I wondered if I would be able to hold on to it.

After about a quarter mile my Garmin had settled down and I saw low 6 numbers as well as one 5:50. No way. I had to slow down or I would crash and burn at the end.

I slowed down a little but the damage had already been done.

Mile 1: 6:33 Way. Too. Fast.

I could feel the pace in the second mile. I could also hear those doubts creep into my mind, the same doubts that led me to walk at the 8k last month. Everything felt so hard but I managed to pass a girl that I had been trailing for a mile. I did not look behind me for the rest of the race but I knew she lurked just behind me.

At various points in the mile I could feel the pace slipping. I kept trying to pick it back up, keep pushing. I spent way too much energy in that first mile and now I paid the price. In the second half of the mile I started to remind myself that it was only 20 minutes of pain and then I would be done. I could do 20 minutes.

It started to turn into what felt like a slog fest with a mile and a quarter left to go. In the back of my mind I knew that my PR chances had flown away. I still tried to push though.

Mile 2: 7:09

After looking at the split, I knew in my head that a PR, thanks to the way too fast first mile, was not totally out of the picture. My body had other things to say about that.

Not only did I spent that last mile fighting the negative mental thoughts telling me to slow down and abandon the attempt, I also started to feel like I actually could not run any faster. I asked my legs for more but I spent too much fuel early in that first mile.

As we got closer, I could hear spectators saying things like “good job, ladies!” I knew that the woman I passed a mile and a half ago had not gone away. I could feel my pace slowing and knew that the PR had slipped away. Enough of my competitive spirit remained that I did not want to be passed by another woman in the last quarter mile of the race.

I kept fighting for that faster pace. I felt like I had nothing left. Several burps felt like they would also bring up things other than air. I knew that the end was in sight though. I could not let up now. Only minutes of pain remained.

As we turned the second to last corner I looked down at my watch and saw it tick over to 21. When I glanced up to find the finish line, I knew that too much distance remained between me and it. I kept pushing though, I knew that woman would love to pass me in the final stretch; I know I would.

With the finish line in sight, I poured on as much of a sprint as I could.

Hilton Head Jingle Jingle 5k 2017
I had no idea she was that close.

Hilton Head Jingle Jingle 5k 2017
I look a lot stronger than I felt. Although, I still see that weak hip and a little bit of collapse. (I need to get better at getting those exercises done.)

As we drew near the line, someone came speeding past me. I had a brief moment of panic when I thought it was that girl that I tried to hold off the whole time. Thankfully, it was just a guy coming out of nowhere.

I watched the clock tick from 21:59 to 22:00 as I had about 10 feet left to run. Unfortunately, I still have just the one race with a sub 22 time.

Mile 3: 7:38 (Yes, I win for the “best” positive splits.)
.1 nubbin: 6:47 Finally near my goal pace for a single tenth of a mile.
Overall time: 22:06

Just after I finished, the woman who had chased me for two miles came up and talked to me a little about chasing me but just not being able to catch me. I thanked her for pushing me. There is no way I would have been even close to that pace if I had not known that she ran just behind me.

We hung out for a little while for the awards. I knew that I had earned something. This time, my second fastest 5k time, is also my course PR. I won my age group last year and knew that I would at least win that this year.

Mom checked for the results but perplexingly, nothing appeared for at least half an hour. Mom kept periodically reloading, in between taking photos of me as I tried to drink my water.
Hilton Head Jingle Jingle 5k 2017 (how I really felt, of course ;))

She reloaded one more time and results appeared. I looked over as soon as she said something and then we both let out a joyful yelp. I managed to snag a place on the podium!

I love that fact. I had no idea that I would since the winning times last year far surpassed my PR. 5 seconds separated me from the woman I passed, a woman in my age group no less.

Even though I did not come close to my original goal, I know that I made significant progress. I pushed past the negative thoughts and kept going even when I felt like giving up and in the end achieved something I did not even consider possible.

Hilton Head Jingle Jingle 5k 2017

I like ending my 2017 racing season on this sort of note. Stay tuned for future goals.

Simple Living Aspirations

Anyone who knows me, knows that I rarely sit and do one thing at a time. While I read, I walk around. While I watch TV, I cross stitch. While I work on school-related things, I listen to podcasts. My grandma once asked me if my hands were ever still. Nope. As I mentioned before, I have a mild obsession with making goals and moving full steam ahead. How do I balance that with an almost equally strong desire to simplify, to cut out the extraneous noise and stress.

I will look at where I have been before looking at how that applies to decisions as I move forward. Most obviously, my desire to achieve has manifested as an obsession with making goals. Without a goal, even a patently obviously unattainable goal, I feel aimless and restless. I am the odd duck motivated by achievement badges that can be collected in obscure stretches of cyberspace for any number of different activities. For example, every year since becoming a member of Goodreads, I have set a reading goal and adjusted it if I surpassed the original goal or if it looked like I wouldn’t be able to complete the goal. I know of no other person on the planet who might care that I met, did not meet, or surpassed my goal.

This tendency is not without a dark side. I have seen myself pursue a worthless, completely unimportant goal at the expense of time spent on things that truly matter. For example, several times I have downloaded games like Mahjong, gotten hooked on passing each level with all three stars, looked up to discover that an hour had passed and only after weeks of this abruptly deleted the app because I could not wean myself from the arbitrary goals. It’s this that usually prompts my simple living aspirations.

I read blog posts about people who have eliminated many distractions and wonder what I could get done if I stopped habitually checking Facebook every time I have a free minute. Simplifying the noise that crowds my mind appeals to me. There comes the dilemma. I still think in terms of “what I could get done.”

How do I balance the two seemingly conflicting desires? How do I select the best of both worlds? How do I eliminate the damaging business of trying to do too much while preserving the deeply personally beneficial drive to experience life to the fullest through that which I accomplish?

Those are questions to which I have no simple answer. (Please pardon the pun. I could no resist.) This is where I believe that my simple living aspiration can be most beneficial. As I move forward, I hope to apply the desire to eliminate all stress to and properly prioritize the choices of how I spend my time. For me, I believe that diligent application of this concept will help eliminate negative stress as well as bring further clarity.

I hope to return to this periodically through the coming year.