I want to tell you about Spa World

No, let me back up. I want to tell you about how I’m feeling about my body right now. In doing so, I will also tell you about Spa World.

Or perhaps I should just start with Spa World.

So, my friends and I went to Spa World on Saturday. For the uninitiated, Spa World is a Korean day spa, which is a substantially different thing than our typical western conception of a spa. How is it different? There is a whole lot of nudity. And the nudity is not a big deal. Rather, it’s only a big deal if you make it a big deal – which is strongly discouraged.

When you enter the single-gender locker rooms, you immediately confront a whole lot of naked. After the initial “OMG we’re seeing each other naked” moment with my friends, we embraced it and headed into the bade pool, where jets of water bathed every part of our bodies – and the bodies of other women of all shapes and sizes and colors and degrees of hirsuteness. There were young girls and old grandmas. There were athletic builds and the loose skin of recent pregnancies. There were butts and breasts and bellies. And they were all beautifully normal.

Girls and women in this culture are presented with such a fucked up set of ideas of what normal looks like or feels like. I’m sure it’s the same for men, but I feel like it’s more pronounced for women, as we’re consistently told that we should have flat bellies and large breasts. We’re encouraged to buy shapewear to suppress – or enhance – our curves. The “beautiful baby bump” is celebrated, but not the soft skin and stretch marks that remain after birth. I couldn’t get over how empowering it was to encounter all that normal – to be reminded that a healthy body comes in a variety of shapes, including mine.

There are many other things that can be said about Spa World, but this was the most important part of my experience, and directly relates to a second observation about how I’m feeling about my body these days.

A week ago, I stayed out til late at a club we used to occasionally frequent in Champaign. I was all dolled up in my pseudo costume: a perfectly fitted vintage cocktail dress, big hair, and fabulous makeup. The backless gold dress required better posture than usual, and perhaps that’s why an old acquaintance told me that I looked “confidenter” than he remembered.

This was repeated, albeit entirely differently, on the dance floor at the Black Cat this weekend. Maybe it was the residual Spa World glow. Maybe it was the drinks. Maybe it was the company of my favorite chav. Maybe it was the music. Probably it was a bit of all of these that resulted in feeling fucking radiant – a feeling that apparently did not go unnoticed, judging by Jackie’s concern for my well-being (and mine for hers, as she also looked amazing!).

In short: I feel amazing right now. I have accomplished things this year that I never dreamed of doing – and have done so through a lot of hard work and discipline. I would like to see different numbers on the scale, and I would like to be able to push more weight (including mine allllllll the way to the pull up bar). I would like to be faster and stronger and slimmer – but right now I’m really happy with where I am, with my flavor of normal, with what my body is and can do. And I want to remember this.


Truth and Ethics

This horoscope is particularly timely given that I just completed my UIUC ethics training for the year.  Since I’m a super Capricorn, does that also mean I’m a mega liar?  I hope not.

CAPRICORN (Dec. 22-Jan. 19): In Sue Allison’s theater piece “Lies I’ve Told,” two actors take turns telling each other some classic whoppers. Here are a few: 1. “It would be no trouble at all.” 2. “This will only take a second.” 3. “I didn’t get your message.” 4. “I have no idea how that got here.” 5. “I thought you said ‘the 16th.'” 6. “Would I lie to you?” See if you can avoid fibs like those, Capricorn. I’m not asking you to be a superstar of candor — that’s unrealistic — but I do encourage you to cut back on white lies and casual dishonesties as much as possible. This is a time when you really need to know the whole truth and nothing but. And the best way to work toward that goal is to be forthright yourself. That’s how karma operates.
– Rob Brezsny’s Astrology Newsletter – October 18, 2011

The Half in Full

By 6:15, we were parked in Detroit, listening to music in the car rather than waiting around in the cold. My anxiety was at an all time high when Tina texted me to wish me a good race – this being the first long one I’ve done without her! We braved the cold and headed to the starting line. Shane picked up a coffee and did his best hype man impression, then gave me a huge hug before I headed off to join my wave.

Waiting for the Race

Ready to Go!

As my wave approached the starting line, I put on my music, closed my eyes, and tried to center myself. I said a brief prayer of thanks for that moment, for the months of training that put me there, for the blessing of good health. It’s totally cheesy, but I nearly cried when I heard Lose Yourself as we crossed the starting line.

Mile 0-1: The streets of Detroit are peaceful and quiet. We run west on Fort towards the Ambassador Bridge, twinkling in the half light. My favorite sign read something along the lines of “TIGERS LIONS MARATHONERS DON’T QUIT”. The deep flow of Stacey Pullen‘s Essential Mix was the right choice – Detroit techno on the streets of Detroit.

Mile 2: Around and around we go up to the bridge. I drop my $2 hat and gloves from Target – they’re almost too cute to let go, but too warm to carry with me. I start passing people, the hill training finally paying off as we make the climb.

Running up to the Ambassador Bridge

Mile 3: It’s windy on the bridge. I lost my headband, so my bangs are all up in my grill. There’s no sun to speak of, but that doesn’t diminish the views of Detroit and Windsor. I wave at a passing trucker, who plays an elaborate jingle on his horn.

Mile 4: Canada!

Mile 5: The Windsor waterfront is lovely. I take an espresso gel and pass up the water station. The streets are lined with cheering spectators despite the rain. One family has a table set up in their front yard with water and orange wedges on offer.

Mile 6: I am passed by a cyclist with no legs pedaling one of those lying down bikes. I immediately choke up. We wave at spectators in the riverfront hotels. My energy is starting to flag a bit, and I take my first water.

Mile 7: The tunnel! The tunnel is fast. The tunnel is loud. The tunnel is warm. The tunnel is fun. Our GPS watches lose signal as we race underwater. I make my one really stupid race decision and decide that I want to touch the international border placard – and then spin myself out because I didn’t slow down enough. Fortunately I avoid falling and actually hurting myself – and I pick up the pace to join the 9:44 pace group.

Mile 8: A member of the Canadian Border Patrol doles out high-fives as we exit the tunnel. Another cyclist struggles to hand-pedal up the hill, and I shout out encouragement as I pass him. All smiles through the gates at the border crossing.

Mile 9: It’s cold. It’s raining. We loop past Joe Louis Arena, and I pull up my hood to try to keep some of the rain off my face. No luck. Only 4 miles to go, though, and I’m right where I want to be – or at least I think I am, as I don’t remember seeing a mile marker for a while. I spot our car as we head down Lafayette.

Mile 10: Finally, a sign! I take water when offered, and am delighted to accept a handful of M&Ms from a spirit group. Who needs gels when there are M&Ms?! The road is flat and wide and I’m feeling good as we head up 18th. I pull out the cameraphone to take a picture of Michigan Central Station, but my pocket has changed a setting, so I quickly put it back. The mariachi band just before the next mile marker makes me smile.

Mile 11: The end is feeling near – but still far. We run through Corktown, where folks are sitting on their porches cheering us on. I stick right with the 9:44 pacer. A guy in a pink monster suit shows up from I have no idea where and runs with us for at least two miles. I’ve run out of Stacey Pullen, and switch over to Faithless for the duration of the run.

Mile 12: They’re starting to count it down for those of us finishing the half. I take two cups of water, but miss the Oreos on offer. I pull away from the 9:44 pacer, feeling reserves of energy I didn’t realize I had. My Garmin shows my fastest pace of the race yet as we near the cutaway point and mile 13.

Mile 13: I feel amazing. I feel strong. I feel tired but like I’ve just punched the go button that will get me across the finish line. I spot Shane right where I lined up to join my wave – he yells and cheers and snaps a couple of blurry photos as I run by.

Wave and Whoosh

Mile 13.1: Done in 2:05:50! I feel amazing and exhausted and oh so thankful for the space blanket and the medal and the food and water. I have beat my previous time by 13 minutes, and my goal by 4 minutes.

13.1! Space Blanket! Medal!

I slam a bottle of water, a banana, and half a pumpkin muffin. I get my picture taken with my medal and my space blanket. I slam another banana and a carton of chocolate milk while waiting for Shane to make his way out of the crowds. We hug and kiss and I don’t cry but feel like I want to. I grab another chocolate milk and a muffin for us to share in the car on the way home.

Happy and Relieved

Final stats:
Chip time: 2:05:50
Overall Place: 2538 / 8489
Gender Place: 1067 / 5311
Division Place: 217 / 883
Pace 9:37

Detroit half marathon: TOTALLY BROUGHT.

Prelude to the Half

Since I’m not getting much done in the way of course prep tonight, let me instead tell you about yesterday’s race.

Back in May, before I ran my first half, I was convinced to register for Detroit by a coworker who enthusiastically told me that the Detroit half is his favorite race. Running to Canada and back! Crossing the Ambassador Bridge as the sun comes up over Detroit and Windsor! Racing through the Detroit Windsor tunnel! Sign me up!

And so I spent the summer running home from work on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Every weekend started with a long run, often followed by breakfast at Afternoon Delight.

Saturday Morning

Midwest Runner Girl

Veggie Delight and letter-writing

I was under the weather this last week, and as the race approached, my anxiety grew. I read about the course. I read about nutrition. I tapered my runs. I changed my diet to make sure I was properly fueled. I looked at elevation maps. And then on Saturday, we drove to Detroit so that I could pick up my race packet.


We shared a back seat picnic and spent the afternoon at the DIA. We had cappuccinos at Astro and read the race materials again. I made polenta for dinner and we went to bed early.

Detroit Industry

Race Prep

And then the moment of truth. The alarm went off at 4:30, and by 4:45 I had eaten a bagel, fed the cats, and dressed for success.

Ready to run 13.1


My brother Mark is getting married in a few weeks, capping off a wedding season that has seen our attendance at or involvement in six weddings, two showers, and one reception since May, all but two of those occurring out of state.

Guests of Honor

In my experience, bridal showers are painful as often as they are enjoyable. My sister and I were determined that the shower we cohosted for Mark and Evonne would be different. First of all, no games – especially no games involving toilet paper. Second, it would be a couples’ shower. And third, there would be good food.

Two kinds of cheese fondue and savory snacks – the acorn squash fondue was the biggest hit and yielded nearly twice what we expected, while the Dubliner fondue separated in the saucepan and never quite came back together.

Acorn Squash Fondue

Savory Snacks

Chocolate fondue, sweets and spiked cider. The chocolate fondue was an unmitigated success, and the pound cake was polished off by the end of Sunday’s breakfast. The cider didn’t survive the evening.

The Full Spread

Sweet Snacks

Laughter and party crashers:

Laughing Shane

Party Snacker

A lovely time was had by all.

2/3 Book Challenge: Netherland

A Hole in the Skyline

In the early part of September, The New Yorker published a series of brief interviews with contributors about their experience with 9/11 – both the event and the aftermath. The final question in each essay asked which piece of work to emerge from 9/11 has had the most lasting impact on their lives, perceptions, etc. Several respondents mentioned Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland, so I added it to my list.

Netherland isn’t about 9/11, but it’s constantly there in the background, the hinge-point for the before and after of one man’s life. Which isn’t to say that 9/11 caused the novel’s subsequent events – rather, it was an excuse for a separation, which then sets the narrator adrift in New York, eventually finding himself – literally and figuratively – in a sea of immigrants on the cricket pitch.

In some ways, it’s a story of the American Dream. The narrator, Hans, is befriended by a Trinidadian immigrant named Chuck Ramkissoon, an entrepreneur in staking his claim on America through a series of enterprises, the grandest of which being the foundation of the New York Cricket Club. Chuck believes that America needs cricket, needs to rediscover its first sport, played in New York by Dutch immigrants long before baseball came along. Cricket is civilizing, according to Chuck, simultaneously competitive and uniting. On the cricket field, it doesn’t matter that the players are immigrants of all flavors – or that Hans is the only white man, a Dutch immigrant surrounded by those whose countries his ancestors colonized.

In others, it is about finding connection, finding home. Hans’s wife decamps for England with their son, leaving Hans to shuttle back and forth every few weeks, retracing the steps that led him to New York in the first place. When he is in New York, he lives and breathes cricket, recalling his childhood obsession with the sport, and then, by extension, his Dutch childhood. In the flexible and loosely bound community of cricketers, Hans finds a support network lacking in his personal and professional life – while the friends are only joined by their love of cricket, they feel an obligation to care for each other, as do Hans’s strange collection of neighbors at the Chelsea Hotel.

One respondent to The New Yorker’s 9/11 project wrote that Netherland “seems to capture with great poignancy that powerful sense that a certain kind of world has slipped away.” This summarizes the book better than I possibly can. It’s wonderful and wonderfully written, full of sadness and loss and exploration. I couldn’t put it down and now that I’m finished, I can’t stop thinking about it.

This is the first of at least 15 books that I plan to read in the next year for my friend Mark’s 2/3 Challenge.

Why I Will Be Paying the Bank of America Debit Card Fee

A lot of people are up at arms at the news that Bank of America may be implementing a $5 monthly maintenance fee for debit card use.  They’re talking about changing banks.  On Marketplace yesterday morning, they read a letter from a listener who declared that she would be using her credit card and paying it off every month rather than paying the $5 fee.

On the one hand, I agree with the sentiments.  $60 isn’t a negligible amount.  Debit cards are less expensive for merchants to accept.  If you have bad credit – as I did for many years – the Visa logo on your debit card may be the only way for you to shop any way other than in person.

On the other hand, and for a variety of reasons, I’m a little irritated by these sentiments.  We’ve all gotten so used to “free” checking that we’ve forgotten that monthly maintenance fees used to be standard.  I worked in banking from 2001-2004, and spent much of that time explaining the suite of fees charged for services ranging from using a foreign ATM to getting your checks back in your statement to transferring money by phone.  Cut off times governed by geographic distance restricted when transactions could take place.  Need to make a deposit at a branch at 6pm on a Friday to beat a check to the bank? Sorry.  We accepted these fees as the cost of convenience and of doing business.

Now, I’m not going to defend the actions of Bank of America or any of the other big banks in this era of rampant financial speculation.  They’ve screwed up, and taken our economy down with them.  What I am saying, however, is that we’ve been able to take for granted that banking services are free.  Opening an account? Free, and in some cases, they’ll GIVE you money as long as you keep the account open. Depositing cash into an ATM without using an envelope? Free. Transferring money using a (free) mobile app from your phone? Free. Talking to someone on the phone? Difficult, but free. Writing checks? Free, though you have to buy the checks. Receiving, viewing, and paying bills online? Free. Withdrawing money from ATMs in any state plus a few foreign countries? Free, as long as you use the right ATM.  In the grand scheme of all of the things I’m able to do with my money through my bank, $5 per month in the months that I choose to use my debit card seems pretty minor.

I also understand wanting to keep your money in your community, rather than putting it in a national bank.  I did that for a number of years, banking with AMCORE until I moved to a Champaign, more than an hour away from the closest branch or ATM.  I loved AMCORE, and would have kept my money there if it had been remotely convenient.  I loved it for all the reasons one loves a local business – with the added layer of affection from two and a half years of working there.  In 2010, AMCORE was failed by the Fed, and is now part of Harris Bank.  I worked for Busey Bank for the first year I was in Champaign, and immediately felt the limitations of having my money at a small town – not even regional – bank.  I paid ATM fees at least 50% of the time I needed cash because Busey ATMs weren’t conveniently located in town, much less available out of town.  I switched to National City, then we moved to DC, where there were no National City banks.  We started using ING, but still couldn’t find ATMs.  So, in 2007, we opened a joint account with Bank of America – first to give us an option for depositing cash and checks, then for all of our banking.

So here’s why I’ll be paying the Bank of America debit card fee: the convenience is worth it.  It doesn’t make sense to me to change banks over $60 per year.  We would pay far more than that in foreign ATM fees if we were to change to the local credit union, for example, considering that we’ve been out of town 12 of the last 20 weekends, and taken day trips 4 of the remaining 8.  I don’t have a problem with paying for services I use, and the convenience of using a debit card is FAR GREATER than the cost.

Places I Have Lived: Poplar Grove Rd, Poplar Grove, IL

May 1998 – August 1998

Over the winter of my freshman year of college, my boyfriend and his best friend moved to a farmhouse in Poplar Grove, a one stoplight town about 30 minutes outside of Rockford.  The house and property were owned by his coworkers’ parents, who planned to open a children’s farm and petting zoo on the property in the future, but for the time being just wanted tenants to keep the place occupied and the pipes from freezing.  My boyfriend and his best friend fit the bill, and I spent most weekends there as well, moving in for real after my first year of college wrapped up.

I haven’t spent much time in (other) farmhouses, so I’m not sure how typical a structure it was: three (or four?) bedrooms and an attic upstairs, another bedroom plus several living areas and a big kitchen on the sprawling ground floor.  One and a quarter bathrooms, though we only used the full bath.  A screened in porch and a very creepy basement.  I had my own vaguely technicolor room upstairs that was only ever used for storage; eventually we moved to the downstairs bedroom, leaving Joe with the upstairs to himself.

This was an interesting living situation for a variety of reasons.  We all had to drive at least half an hour to work – that is, when we were all employed.  I had two jobs that summer, but my boyfriend lost his shortly after I moved in, and spent the 4-6 weeks of our cohabitation unemployed, living off my part-time paychecks and credit cards.  I was never officially on the lease, so I paid for my housing by buying groceries and paying other bills.  None of us were particularly interested in housekeeping, cooking, or anything domestic, which I suppose is fairly typical of an 18 year old girl and two 21 year old guys.  We ate a lot of shitty processed food and drank a lot of beer.  We had a few epic parties, and ordered a lot of pizzas from the place down the street – the closest grocery store was also about half an hour away, so this was frequently the best option.

The most notable thing about this house is that we’re fairly sure it was (is?) haunted.  A number of weird things happened in the time that we lived there – things that individually might’ve been ignored, but added up to a vague creepiness.  One of the first times I was there alone, an interior door swung shut and locked.  A group of friends spent the night and later reported all having had the same dream about the attic space.  We once drove up to the house at night and saw the attic lights on, but when we went inside, the house was empty and the lights were off.  We never saw or sensed anything spectral, but these events were enough to make being home alone, especially on stormy dark nights, pretty damned creepy.

The aforementioned parties actually resulted in the end of this domestic bliss.  Our landlords came out early one weekend morning to do some work on the property, and found a bunch of cars parked in the driveway, tents set up in the back yard and the remnants of a bonfire in the fire pit.  We had thought we were being responsible by having friends spend the night rather than driving back into town; they, on the other hand, only saw a liability.  It turned out that they thought we were in our late 20s – as was the case with their son, my boyfriend’s by then former coworker.  I’m reasonably confident they would’ve evicted us on the spot if they could have – I don’t think they were interested in being landlords in the first place – but we stayed there for the duration of the summer, moving out in one quick and insane week at the end of August.

Looking back at this summer from the space of more than a decade, there are a few things that stand out.  I remember my parents’ sharp disapproval when I said that I wouldn’t be moving home; I received a harsh letter from Pop, and it was made clear that I wasn’t welcome at the house, albeit temporarily.  I remember eating disgusting meals of whatever we had on hand – melted cheese sandwiches with ranch dressing, anyone? – while teaching myself HTML on the bank of computers in the office off the kitchen.  At some point we acquired a bunny – perhaps the first of the intended farm menagerie?  – though I don’t recall that we were asked to care for it, nor that any arrangements were made for its care.  It just appeared on our porch one day, and the porch was its domain for the remainder of the summer, though I have no idea who fed it or cared for it or what ultimately happened to it.  I remember the first explorations of sex and sexuality, starting to understand myself as a sexual being.  I remember standing on the screened in porch after my shower, drying my hair in the sunshine, enjoying the fresh air on my skin.  And I remember the frustration and anxiety of not knowing where the guys would be living when our last week in the house was up, while at the same time not wanting to move apart from them and back into the dorms.

Places I Have Lived: McGaw Hall, Rockford College, Rockford, IL

August 1997 – May 1998

My parents had their heart set on me attending Wheaton College. When I wasn’t accepted to Wheaton, I was heartbroken, even though I felt strongly that I wasn’t ready for college. Why I didn’t fall back on my acceptance at Iowa, I don’t know. In retrospect, I regret it – but then my life would be completely and unimaginably different, so those regrets are ultimately futile. My acceptance (or lack thereof) to Wheaton was deferred to the latest announcement date, putting it past the deadline for applying just about anywhere else. I resigned myself to a semester at Rock Valley while applying elsewhere, and filled out an application for Rockford College on a whim.

I was accepted almost immediately and, in the middle of July, received a full scholarship. The one condition was that I had to live on campus for my four years. Fine by me, especially as this news came during a particularly tumultuous time in my relationship with my parents. I exchanged letters with my new roommate, and in mid-August, I moved out of my parents’ house for good, though I’d return for a few weeks here and there over the next few years.

All RC freshman lived in McGaw Hall, inconveniently located at the far end of campus, literally over the river (creek) and through the woods. In my memory, McGaw was a giant high-rise; in reality, I think it was six floors, and I think Mayra and I lived on the third. I know we didn’t live on the second, as the girls that lived below us would complain about Mayra waking them up by coming home from class, putting on Barbie Girl, and dancing around our room.

My First Dorm Room

Our room had two twin beds, two desks, two dressers, two closets with accordion doors, two windows, and two bulletin boards. Whenever we had deadlines, we would compulsively rearrange the furniture. Please note the requisite Beatles and Jim Morrison posters, the psychedelia lifted from my mom’s dorm room, the giant desktop computer, and the desk littered with coffee mugs. The temperature control in the building was terrible – in one room, friends would be freezing, while we kept our windows open through the winter and our floor was hot to the touch.

There was a kitchenette and a tiny laundry room on the floor. The extremely narrow shower stalls made shaving my legs nearly impossible – not that I was inclined to do so very often. We had keyed access to the building, though later in the year they switched to ID readers. This was problematic as I went through literally five IDs in the first few months through no fault of my own. There was an intercom by the exterior door, but friends often couldn’t get through because I was chatting on the RWorld BBS with friends or my boyfriend.

Freshman Friends

I have no idea how my dorm experience compared to others’. I made ramen in the kitchenette and drank a lot of Mountain Dew. I avoided the extremely terrible cafeteria food whenever possible. I made friends with my neighbors – Amanda lived next door, and Kelley down the hall – who would be my roommates in the coming years. My boyfriend spent the night, though in retrospect I have no idea how two of us not-small people fit in a twin bed. Mayra and I both stayed at McGaw until the very last day of move-out week for both Christmas and the end of the school year. It wasn’t always an ideal living situation, but I look back on that year with many, many fond memories.

2/3 Reading Challenge

Coming briskly on the heels of the 12 Books wrap-up is another book club challenge from my friend Mark.  He, like many others, didn’t finish his 12, but did make an earnest effort and felt like the challenge encouraged him to commit to reading – though that hardly seems to be a problem for him!  He has set forward the Two-Thirds Book Challenge:

  • Make a list of books that you would like to read in the next year. It can be as long or as short as you like. Post it somewhere, if moved to.
  • Read 2/3rds of them between now and 30 September 2012.
  • If you like, write about them on your blog, in goodreads, in your journal, or wherever you like. If you so desire, let Mark know where you post your writing and he will compile a sort-of-monthly post here that aggregates them.

I, of course, signed up immediately.  I like challenges that build in a margin of error.  I like having extra motivation to read.  And I like signing up for things.

In the next 12 months, I would like to read 15 books.  I would like that list to include the following 10 titles, plus 5 wild cards to be determined by whatever looks good at the library or sounds appealing on The Diane Rehm Show.


  1. 52 Loaves: One Man’s Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning, and a Perfect Crust by William Alexander – though it is a bit cruel to set out to read about bread while simultaneously restricting it from your diet.
  2. The 4-Hour Work Week: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich by Timothy Ferriss
  3. Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity by Frank Viola
  4. Fair Shares for All: A Memoir of Family and Food by John Haney
  5. In the Land of Invented Languages: Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers, and The Mad Dreamers Who Tried to Build A Perfect Language by Arika Okrent


  1. Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
  2. Netherland by Joseph O’Neill
  3. The Postmistress by Sarah Blake
  4. The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory – yeah, yeah. A little escapist historical fiction never hurt anyone.
  5. Runaway by Alice Munro

With those parameters and a 33% margin of error, I think I can do it. Who’s with me? Or, more accurately, who’s with Mark?