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Running Inspiration

I’m in the high miles, tired legs, growling stomach, ‘do I really need to run again today’, time of marathon training. And honestly? I’m kind of loving it. Yes, its hard to keep rolling out of bed at 5:00 a.m. But also, yes, I love hearing the call to prayer and the hundreds of voices that sound out in chorus from the three mosques that surround our house. All these men, seeking God in community, while I pull on my running clothes and get ready to pursue a crazy dream, in solitude, and essentially, alone. I will most likely not see another female running, unless she is inside the barbed wire fences of the French or American military bases. If I do see other, male, runners, they will most likely pass me, literally leaving me in their desert dust.

On the mornings when it is harder to get out of bed, when I wonder why the heck am I doing this, in this country, preparing for this race, asking people to fund this project…when my legs feel like bricks, when the miles tick by too slowly, when the funds come in at a trickle (you can help change that!!)…I need motivation.

This training is not being done with my sisters, urging my nephew along. I’m not training in shorts and a t-shirt. I’m not training in the woods or near green grass. I can’t rely on things like that to push me along.

Then I remember these kids from the blind school who came to the track to race, inspired by the Kenyan World Record holder for the visually impaired, Henry Wanyoike.

And I remember these girls, with Girls Run 2, the only all-girls running club in Djibouti, which also has the goal of keeping girls in school.

I don’t need reminders of why I’m doing this. I know why. I love running. I care about Somalis. I believe in the power of education. A Somali proverb says, “Aqoonta waa iftiin.” Knowledge is light. A Somali educator at the university where my husband first taught, told us one reason education is so powerful in Somaliland is that it keeps young people out of trouble. It keeps them motivated for their future. It gives them hope and purpose and goals. So, no I don’t need reminders for why I’m doing this.

I need motivation from books and podcasts, I need to feel like I’m not alone. I need to hear from other runners who talk about the pain in their legs but with the kind of awe and respect that sounds slightly nuts to non-runners. Reading books about runners surmounting ridiculous challenges and the love-hate that turns into joy-pride at the end of it.

Where do I turn in those moments?


It Takes a School by Jonathan Starr

About a school in Somaliland. Not running, but a school. Education. What this race is all about. I haven’t finished it yet, but so far, I love it.

What I Talk about When I Talk about Running by Haruki Murakami (read it twice, listened to the audio book once, its in my ‘holds’ list from the Kindle library. again.)

“Its precisely because of the pain, precisely because we want to overcome that pain, that we can get the feeling, through this process, of really being alive – or at least a partial sense of it. Your quality of experience is not based on standards such as time or ranking but on finally awakening to an awareness of the fluidity within action itself.”

And: “What exactly do I think about when I’m running? I don’t have a clue.” Right on.

The Long Run by Catriona Menzies-Pike

I loved this. I had just read Running, a Love Story, which was okay, as is Rachel Toor’s Personal Record, a love affair with running. But these left me wanting more running. More history. Running is already fairly narcissistic, writing about it even more so. The Long Run provided exactly what I was looking for – a book structured around a woman becoming a runner but loaded with fascinating historical information and stories of women running throughout history.

My Year of Running Dangerously by Tom Foreman

I enjoyed this for the unique aspect of the father-daughter relationship that Foreman focuses on. I’ve done a few runs with my kids, too, and it made me kinda teary in a few moments.

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner by Alan Sillitoe

Fiction. Fiction! I know, I just don’t read much. But, voila. Fiction.

The Perfect Mile by Neal Bascomb

The quest to break the 4:00 mile. Amazing.

The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances by The Oatmeal

Light reading, silly. Helps me not take it all too seriously.

Run Fast. Eat Slow. by Shalane Flanagan and Elyse Kopecky

Because, I’ll say it again, I peed in a port-a-potty next to the port-a-potty in which she peed. I peed faster. She ran faster.

The recipes in the cookbook? Awesome. The attitude behind the food? Love it.

Pre by Tom Jordan

About Steve Prefontaine, ‘America’s greatest running legend.’

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

This is probably my favorite book, if forced to pick. Or at least in my top five. Running plays a minor role in the story but you can’t read it and not feel inspired to persevere.

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall (of course, right?!)

I tried my own barefoot experiment after reading this. Djibouti with heat so hot roads melt, streets littered with everything from condoms to syringes to shattered glass to thorns to camel poop, wasn’t such a great location for the experiment. It lasted for a few runs, then morphed into affecting my shoe choices. I now alternate between shoes with a low heel-to-toe differential and a more supportive shoe and for that, I’m grateful.

Once a Runner by John L. Parker, Jr.

Fiction. Again! What?! That’s right, the runner’s cult classic.

Runners World Magazine (including my own stories, pretty cool!)

And right now I’m reading The Way of the Runner by Adhanarand Finn, author of Running with the Kenyans. (another good book) Haven’t finished this new one yet.



Another Mother Runner

Ali On the Run

Personal Best

Sometimes I find it hard to relate with runners in the United States. They think women have totally overcome hecklers warning us our uterus will fall out if we keep running. They think an 80-degree days means it is too hot to run. They are terrified of coming in last (done it) or being the only person of their gender (been there). Maybe it is time to find (start?!) a global running podcast or website…what am I saying? I think I’ve fried my brain on too many long runs.

What inspires you to run? And run and run and run?

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The Bookshelf: All Our Waves are Water, a Review

(I received a free copy of this book)

I first read Jaimal Yogis’s work in his book The Fear Project: What Our Most Primal Emotion Taught Me About Survival, Success, Surfing . . . and Love. Fear is a common theme in my own writing – feeling it, describing it, facing it, overcoming it, living with it…so I was curious about his perspective on fear, through the lens of surfing. It was a beautiful and challenging exploration of living with fear, but not bending to it. Here is just one quote, of many, that I wrote down:

“If we can understand fear rather than demonize it, reframe fear as a natural part of our biology rather than avoiding and repressing it, stretch our comfort zones just a little every day and walk peacefully and courageously into those scary memories of embarrassment and trauma, we will gradually learn to transform fear into focus and compassionate action, and our sons’ and daughters’ world can be better than the one we live in. Will we collectively freeze, fight, and stagnate? Or will we learn and act?”

When Jaimal contacted me to review his newest book, All Our Waves Are Water, I was eager for the book to get all the way to Djibouti. I’m not a surfer, but a runner, so a fellow athlete. I’m not Buddhist but I seek to uncover the holy and the Divine in daily life and the exploration of all faiths intrigues me. I am a lover of water. I grew up in Minnesota, land of 10,000 lakes. I’ve lived 15 years within a mile or two of the ocean. So – sport, faith, water, book. So many of the things I love, yes, this would be a great book for me to read and review.

I read it in two days, even during the holiday season.

Jaimal had a significant challenge on his hands in writing this book. Faith, especially the mystical aspects of it, is one of the hardest things to describe in words without sounding, well, not quite sane. And to get non-surfers to understand and appreciate the thrill, terror, and irresistible pull of a wave without sounding condescending, redundant, or confusing, must have felt daunting. I’ll admit I didn’t quite grasp all the surfing scenes, or quite understand some of his more deeply experienced religious moments. But that works in this book. Faith is embracing mystery. The surfer’s high, or low, like the runner’s high or low, is intangible. Writers throw words at meditation or the ocean or God and they are our attempts to name the unnamable. I didn’t mind that I couldn’t exactly picture what he described and instead, I imposed my own mystical faith experiences and sport experience over his, and felt a sort of kinship.

The book is poetic, especially when he writes about the water and describes waves. It is a story about friendship and love and faith and surfing around the world. But ultimately, it is a story about Jaimal’s search, which is the search of so many of us. Through nations, girlfriends, friends, studying, working, yoga, meditation, and surfing, Jaimal takes the reader along on his search for self and for grace.

He finds both, even while acknowledging that every day presents a fresh opportunity to search yet deeper. But grace and his sense of identity are not actually in the waves, or the water, not in his work, not in his romantic relationships, not in the experiences he had of traveling all over the world, not in the yoga meditation or retreats. At least not in any of these things exclusively or eternally. He finds himself and uncovers grace in daily life.

The holy in the ordinary, grace in the mundane, self where you are.

After a rather shocking experience, he writes, “…had given me a gift. He’d made me recall briefly that nothing beats spring pasta on a Tuesday with your girlfriend, the sensation of breath in your lungs, a walk on the dunes after dinner, the full moon sinking behind the city.”

I finished the book and wanted to do two things: run to the ocean and dip my fingers in, to taste the salty water that so perfectly accompanies the book, and to be more faithful in practicing meditation. A book that calls the reader to experience nature with joy and to sit quietly, exploring the soul, is a good book. Even if you miss some of the the surfing nuances or don’t follow the same specific faith ideas, there are depths of beauty and honesty to enjoy in All Our Waves Are Water.

And more of Jaimal Yogis’s work here

The Bookshelf: The Geography of Madness

A book about penis thieves, voodoo death, and the search for the meaning of the world’s strangest syndromes?

Yes, please!

A book about which Elizabeth Gilbert says, “Frank Bures has some of the widest (and wildest) curiosities of any writer out there. This is a man who truly wants to know the world, in all its strange and beautiful variations. He is fearless in his reporting, generous in his spirit, and brilliant in his prose. I would follow him anywhere.”


A book by Frank Bures who has written for Harpers, Outside, Poets and Writers, and so much more?


And, a book by a fellow Minnesota, friend, and someone who has been to, and written about, Djibouti?


I just got my copy and am already several chapters in. In fact, here’s a confession, my family had a movie party last night. The new Star Wars (we have no movie theater in Djibouti so are just getting to watch it now) and about thirty friends, on our roof. We showed it on the side of our house with the sounds of Djibouti in the background: the call to prayer, dogs snarling, a woman beating laxoox batter for the next morning’s breakfast. But what did I do? I curled up in a corner and read The Geography of Madness.

Instead of watching Star Wars, people!

No one who knows me is surprised by this but still, that’s what a fun book it is.

The Geography of Madness is about Frank’s journey to understand the inexplicable, to untangle the web of culture and belief and behavior. It is funny and insightful and filled with a contagious curiosity.

So many Djibouti Jones readers are expatriates or travelers and I know you will appreciate Frank’s stories. They make you look at yourself and your surroundings, whether familiar or foreign, and begin asking questions about what is ‘normal’ and why.

You can buy his book on Amazon (click the image above) and check out Frank’s website for other essays here.

7 Books to Read Out Loud

read out loud

I had certain books I wanted my kids to read as they were growing up, my favorites of course, but they wouldn’t comply. They wouldn’t read the books I recommended or put on their pillows or talked about. I’m not exactly sure why not. But, I get to choose the books I read out loud to them and we didn’t stop with Dr. Seuss. Even after they could read on their own, we kept reading out loud.

Still, with two in high school, we read out loud. I can think of no better way to get teenagers to sit close and lean in than to read out loud together. Inevitably, the books I loved and wanted them to love became the books they started reading in secret, to find out what happened before I could read to those parts. I had to hide the books we were reading together or they would get too far ahead. Turns out they did love the books I loved, I just had to jump start the journey.

Here are seven of our favorites middle-grade out loud books.

  1. Lord of the Flies by William Golding

This book led to deep questions about morality, power, authority, leadership, character. We read it every morning while waiting for the bus during a snowy Minnesota winter. I don’t, however, recommend reading about Simon’s death seconds before the bus arrives!

  1. This Island Isn’t Big Enough for the Four of Us! by Gery Greer and Bob Ruddick

This book was all about laughing together. It was my favorite book as a kid and I still love it, I wore off the cover and could probably finish almost any sentence. Two boys on the verge of junior high are off for a boys-only adventure on a ‘wild and uninhabited’ island. Except they find two girls, also on the verge of junior high, have already arrived on the island. What follows is creative, clean, prankster fun.

  1. The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Steward

This book, the first in a series (I’m a big fan of quality series) was one the kids stole from me to find out what was going to happen. Fun, funny, creative, and smart.

  1. Number the Stars by Lowis Lowry

We also read this book while waiting for the bus on those dark snowy days and had lively discussions about history and bravery and World War 2.

  1. The Giver (Giver Quartet) by Lowis Lowry

I love getting my kids hooked on an author who will always deliver and Lowry is one of those. This book really got us all thinking about right and wrong, making choices, and memory.

  1. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

Again, I love a good series. We read all seven of these after dinner while waiting for daddy to come home from work. We still listen to them on audiotape and learn something new every time. Gripping story-telling, brilliant imagination, and lots of fun character.

  1. The Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine l’Engle

This book led to talking about science, magic, faith, and courage.

Really, any book will do. Grab Harry Potter and read it together, grab Treasure Island or Pride and Prejudice. Reading out loud means if something seems over a kid’s head you can talk about it right there. Some books read smoother than others and when I find myself tangling my tongue or simply annoyed by a certain writing style, I get to set that book aside and choose a new one.

Other out loud favorites?

The Bookshelf: Somalia, Afghanistan, Savannah, Study Habits, and the Body

The Bookshelf Image

A few weeks ago I sat down with a friend and we each scanned our Kindle libraries on our iPhones. Every time we came to a book we either loved or hated, we called out, “Oh, you’ve got to read this one, you’ll love it.” Or, “You’ll hate this one. Some parts were okay, but you’ll still hate it.”

I left with a list of about fifteen new books to look up.

Now that my family is back in Djibouti after five weeks in Minnesota, I wanted to get back into talking about books and recommending books or un-recommending books.

So, here’s what I’m reading this week:

Me Against My Brother by Scott Peterson

I’ve read this before, read it when we lived in Kenya after evacuating from Somaliland. The tagline is: At war in Somalia, Sudan, and Rwanda. I’m reading this time as research for another project and probably won’t read the Sudan and Rwanda parts again. It isn’t by any means a happy book, as you can probably guess by the skulls on the cover. But it is an immensely important book, relevant both to the countries and times it is specifically about but also to our current age of ongoing war and conflict. Peterson pinpoints some of the major US policy errors and calls for the value of understanding the local contexts before storming in with weapons and big ideas. For anyone interested in American foreign policy or in the historical events of war in these three countries, I highly recommend this book.

Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown

I’m reading this as a recommendation by a high school teacher who is a good friend of our family. I’m only on chapter three right now but so far it is excellent. A well-researched look at what kinds of study habits work well and what kind don’t. Unfortunately, the ones that don’t work as well are the most commonly employed by students, teachers, and parents. Learning is supposed to be hard work, when it is hard, we learn better. But many of us take the easy way out and fool ourselves into thinking we’ve learned something. With two teenagers studying far away from me and as I’m trying to figure out how to motivate them and help them develop good, quality study habits, this book is really helpful.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story by John Berendt

I hate to say it but I am not loving this book. I feel like I’m ‘supposed’ to love it but I’m not even sure I will finish it. One friend said she hated it because she just doesn’t enjoy books about the south. I don’t think that’s my issue with it and I’m trying to figure out what really is bugging me. There is kind of a murder story but it doesn’t show up until the middle of the book. It reads more like a series of New Yorker profiles, pasted together in chapter after chapter, linked only because the people live in the same town of Savannah. The writing is, of course, beautiful, the characters richly drawn. But even after the murder, I’m just not convinced of why I’m supposed to care about these people or be interested in their personal foibles.

The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan by Jenny Norberg

A journalists stumbles upon the hidden (to the outside world) world of girls who have been dressed up and passed off as boys by their families in Afghanistan. This means the girls can go to school, play football (soccer), and that families who maybe only had daughters now have the honor of being the parents of ‘sons.’ Fascinating. So far, I love this book. Of course, it hits on several topics that I already am interested in like girls in Muslim countries, Afghanistan, gender topics, a journalist learning about a world long unknown to outsiders…There are huge topics raised in here of human rights, women’s rights, gender appropriation…I highly recommend this.

The 4 Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat Loss, Incredible Sex and Becoming Superhuman by Tim Ferriss

Is this really a mega best seller? Why, oh why? I heard a Longform podcast interview with Ferriss and thought I’d at least check out one of his books. Hated it. Sorry to say, but he sounds kind of pompous. The writing isn’t great, the suggestions quite ridiculous. He says he poo-poos gluten free diets or any kind of ‘diet’ and then essentially lists out a gluten free and carb free diet. Sure, he says he only exercises four hours per month but he spends hours organizing his sleep, food, ice baths…it seems like a life of obsessive compulsive disorder ramped up like ten notches. He seems to think he can cover exercise, diet, and sex in one book and has all the solutions to everything, including how to reach a 15-minute female orgasm. I pretty much tossed the book aside after a few chapters. Though, I will say that he has me wanting to buy a kettle ball. So. There’s that.

What are you reading?