The Nightstand, vol. 10 – A few good things that helped me embrace and enjoy the challenges of a young year
“Maybe there’s a hope behind these eyes, waiting until my logic falters.”
It was late February when I had to laugh.
The year was young at that point. It’s still pretty young, but at eight weeks, I realized that I was already staring down a ton of things that were challenging me.
Deanna got sick. I had to train for a half-marathon and didn’t even like running. I adopted a crazy dog. I had a masters’ thesis to write. I had no idea what I wanted to do after grad school. I gave myself an arbitrary challenge of learning to cook a new item every week.
Life, at that point, seemed really difficult.
Then I realized, deep down, I affirmed the value of being challenged. I thought it made you into a better person, gave you better stories, and ultimately, our need to be challenged is what drives us to do stuff like training for a half-marathon. I told myself that it felt like a season of challenges. It was the first time I had been facing so many obvious challenges at once, and I guess I was overdue.
I told myself not to expect relief anytime soon. Perhaps the summer. The more the days that stayed rainy and gray made me look ahead to our June trip to Hawaii as a mental finish line. Until then, I would have to go out in the rain and run, write, cook, and embrace the challenge.
Surprisingly, I liked it. I even enjoyed running. I got stronger, and embracing the challenges changed everything. They didn’t get easier, but there was something to seeing myself get stronger and overcome more and more that was really reinforcing.
The Nightstand is my most consistent series of posts where I highlight things I’ve been loving lately. Usually books, music, restaurants… that sort of thing. This time, I’m calling this list Things To Run To, since four of them (three albums and a podcast) can literally serve that purpose, and because these are the things that colored my life while I learned to embrace challenges and to just run.
Run River North – Drinking From a Salt Pond
Run River North is a band that seems to be doing everything absolutely right. It’s been harder for me to find new music that really connects with me at a deep level during the middle portion of this decade. Part of that is me getting further from 20 and closer to 30. Another part is the decline of the hipster-folk-alternative genre that had its glory days during my high school and college years.
Run River North captures a similar aesthetic while being absolutely sincere. It’s hard not to feel that songs like 29 are connecting with some very familiar thoughts and feelings. Also, I had a chance to see them play in Portland very shortly after this album came out and was thoroughly impressed by their live performance. They’re starting to gain more and more recognition outside of the friend circles through which I was introduced to them. I couldn’t be happier for this band.
It was somewhere around the moment where the bunny says to a jaguar that “bunnies can call each other cute, but when other animals do it, it’s not okay” that you realize this isn’t going to be your typical Disney off-season release.
Zootopia was an animated buffet table of social consciousness, and not in an overbearing way. The film told a good story and used the plot to make some big and complex topics accessible for a young audience. The filmmakers did their part and I hope parents afterwards did not miss the opportunity to have some really good conversations with their kids about race and prejudice and respect after the movie.
Beyond the obvious real-world parallels to racial issues in contemporary society, there were subtle moments that really made me smile. The bunny’s relationship with her well-intentioned but reluctant parents, for instance, is a subtle but extremely relatable dimension I’m glad the film included.
PLACE TO VISIT
I’ll always remember Bend and Smith Rock as the first little family trip we took since we adopted Beignet. Our puppy absolutely loved the hike and the outdoors, even though we discovered on this trip how terrified she gets of heights.
First of all, any trip to Smith Rock likely includes some time in Bend, which is a gateway city to everywhere that I absolutely love. There’s no shortage of great places there to eat and hang out and go exploring.
Then there’s Smith Rock itself. The area is simultaneously well-maintained and authentically wild. You can walk an entire loop around it, alongside the Deschutes, experiencing both long stretches of solitude and running into bold rock climbers along the way. It’s got an aesthetic that can rival places like the Grand Canyon or the Garden of the Gods and base on that, I’d say it’s severely underrated.
The Eugene (Half) Marathon
13.1 miles. I could write on and on and on about how I went from hating to run to completing a half-marathon and wanting to do it again. Actually, I already have.
My first half-marathon experience, though, was pretty much an entirely positive one. Deanna was a fantastic running coach. I dealt with minimal injuries, and I got to a point where I loved how free I felt while on runs. I also realized my pace was going to be much better than I would have anticipated and that was also reinforcement. I developed a taste for GU. I ended training runs feeling like I could run more. I liked making the time to run.
Getting to do my first half in the city where I live was also really cool. Eugene is Tracktown, USA, the birthplace of Nike and the former home turf of running legend Steve Prefontaine. I had no shortage of great running trails to train on and the running spirit is very much alive and well around town.
Born For This by Chris Guillebeau
I’ve given Chris Guillebeau a lot of credit for a long time for truly caring about his readers and making himself as helpful as possible. As interesting as his own life is, he only talks about it as much as it will help his readers. He’s a skilled writer, but always opts for his writing to be as clear as possible to keep his message as accessible as possible.
The timing of his book Born For This comes at an interesting moment for me. I’m getting close to the end of grad school, but I’m considering that my ideal job might be outside the lines of my two masters degrees. Guillebeau’s big idea here is that the thing you were meant to do is where money, joy, and flow intersect and if where you are right now doesn’t offer that, you should definitely consider changing things up.
I’ve also been trying to shift my approach to life from putting my interests first to making other people’s needs a priority. In addition to Born For This, I’ve been reading Guillebeau’s $100 Startup which has helped me realize our world runs on a system of people offering each other help. I look forward to seeing where these ideas lead.
Miike Snow – iii
Before this year, I was definitely aware and familiar with Miike Snow. I thought their music was pretty good but I never would’ve expected to be as into their latest album as I currently am. It’s got a great sound to it.
You’ve probably heard a lot of Genghis Khan, since it’s been getting a lot of well-deserved radio play, but iii makes for a pretty good album from start to finish at a time where those sorts of albums aren’t often made.
I love the light, cool, summery sounds with smooth vocals and light electronic production that runs through the album, reminding me a bit of Islands around 2009. It helps enhance the limited sunlight we get in Eugene by a good deal.
The Splendid Table
Deanna thinks I’m kind of nuts for listening to a food and cooking podcast while I run, and I totally get why she thinks that.
BUT the Splendid Table has been one of my favorites lately and I’ve found myself learning a ton from some really interesting chefs and food writers, from the intricacies of things like avocados and mushroom foraging, to interviews with J. Kenji Lopez Alt about American food cities, to the call-in Q&A segment.
The latter always amuses me most, when people call in with their questions about what to do with “three garbage bins full of lobster claws” they’ve acquired without giving much info about why they have three cans of claws.
I’ll Have What Phil’s Having
I’ll Have What Phil’s Having is my new favorite travel-and-food show. It’s full of heart, gorgeously shot, and streams for free over Amazon Prime. My one gripe is that only six episodes are out there so far.
Phil Rosenthal has my dream job of traveling and eating and making a show about it. I like to pay attention to guys like him, Andrew Zimmern, and Anthony Bourdain, to see how they eventually ended up with that opportunity. In Phil’s case, he created Everybody Loves Raymond, then somehow ended up putting this show together.
Anthony Bourdain does really cool stuff, but he’s also a bit of a curmudgeon, which is confusing to me because if I had his job my excitement would be through the roof. Phil Rosenthal is a little closer to how I imagine I’d be in that sort of role, and he’s got the whimsical personality of a Pixar character.
My favorite episode by far was the Italy episode. It’s the one with the most heart and reminds me of some of the ways I’d love to live my life. Of course, it’s also the Italian episode, so I’m unsurprised by my own bias.
Crater Lake Pepper Infused Vodka
I’m not typically a vodka fan at all. The chemical taste of alcohol is never something I enjoyed. Most flavored vodkas are even worse and kind of tacky.
Bendistillery makes a pepper flavor of their Crater Lake Vodka line that is surprisingly amazing. The fact that I don’t usually like flavored vodka makes me appreciate this even more.
On it’s own, the vodka is really smooth, but with some back-of-the-throat heat that overrides the more chemical flavors most vodkas have. I used some of this vodka in my bloody mary recipe and it gave it an added kick.
Gallant – Ology
Gallant seemingly came from nowhere to become one of the best things to happen to music this year. I am a huge fan of his eclectic R&B crooning over more electronic production that seems to have more influence from the world of indie rock than anything else.
All that makes him sound like a resident of musical no-man’s land, belonging to several genres and no genre at the same time. When you realize this is the guy who collaborated and toured frequently with Sufjan Stevens, it starts to make a lot more sense. The electronic production in particular shows through, while his R&B vocals seem to be more of a Mo-town revival.
Weight in Gold, including a version featuring Seal happens to be his most well known hit and is probably your gateway song into liking Gallant. From there, though, you’ve got Bourbon, Open Up, and Skipping Stones with Jhene Aiko to pay attention to next, or pretty much any track on this album.
I can’t say that the style lends itself much to being a runner’s soundtrack, but I definitely gave this album a few good listens on the way to long training runs.