Puzzles are good for you!

Jigsaw puzzles are a great learning tool for kids, from preschool age on up. They help to build fine motor skills, reasoning, patience, hand-eye coordination, problem solving, memory, shape and pattern recognition, and organizational skills. When my daughter started attending preschool at age 3 she got really into puzzles, and we have enjoyed doing them ever since, working our way up from 25- to 100- to 200-piece projects.

This is our puzzle corner of the "activity closet." Ravensburger are especially good!

It occurs to me that jigsaw puzzles probably offer the same benefits for grown ups as for little kids. I have done two larger jigsaws this week with family and found them to be deeply satisfying. For example, doing a puzzle is much better than fiddling with my smartphone because there are dimensions. Also it's lovely to have someone do a puzzle with you. You can give each other little assignments: "You work on the penguin and I'll do the turkey," or "Let me know if you find pieces of this orange guy." It's a way to be together that's simpler than face-to-face conversation and a relief from the ubiquitous screen time.

Christmas Day diversion: "Alexander the Great Enthroned at Persepolis," a Springbok puzzle, 500 pieces (the actual manuscript folio is housed at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore)

Boxing Day diversion: "Birds of the World," a Cobble Hill puzzle, 400 pieces (Cobble Hill puzzles have very large pieces grading to very small pieces so young and experienced can both partake)

The Springbok puzzle of Alexander happened to be from the 70s or 80s, and the box contained a useful brochure on how to host a PUZZLE PARTY. I hope if you click on each image you can get more detail, because the suggestions are very useful.

On Christmas Day I reminisced with my elder relation about the REAL puzzle parties back in the day. I remember observing the very particular gestures of the women as they chatted (women seemed to be the main jigsaw champs). She would confidently pick up a piece, try it out in a few ways, then if it didn't match, toss it down without breaking focus and move on to another likely piece. It was that singular trying-it-out-while-talking-about-something-else motion that I found myself making again and again some 30 years later. It felt right. I want to have a puzzle party!

What are your jigsaw experiences? Isn't the yellow puzzle brochure full of great puzzle party ideas?

Running Recap 2014, Goals 2015

It was a good running year. I wasn't as fast as last year, but I was consistent. This is my second year of weekly long runs (generally 10-12 miles long), and I think it is paying off in overall endurance. It was also my first year of winter running outdoors and that really freed up my training and versatility during the early, cold, dark months of the year.

Here are a few notes about this year...

My first goal was also the biggest single event—a half marathon in May. I felt a lot stronger and better prepared this time, but the middle of the race was still a crazy, long slog. Next time I'm seriously considering bringing my iPod. I'm not sure how I feel about music during a race (is it cheating?). I think bringing my iPod would make the race more bearable and probably improve my time. I'm probably going to have to try it just to see if that's true!

I did all of my "usual" shorter races this year, four 5ks, a 4-miler and a 3-miler. In the 5ks I came in either 2nd or 3rd woman in 100% of them, so that's good. I was defending two firsts though and didn't make either one. There were some speedy women in the field this year, and I was happy with my times and efforts despite not WINNING and all.

I enjoyed my longest streak so far, during which I ran every day from Memorial Day to July 4. Even though many of those days I only ran 1 mile, it made June one of my highest mileage months of the year. My highest mileage ever was in November, when I set the goal of running 100 miles in one month. I succeeded.

November 2014 mileage: 100.69 miles. YAY!

For general fitness, I run with a group every Tuesday morning, try to lift weights once a week, do 2-mile fun runs every other week in the summer, try to run 4 miles of hills every Thursday morning, go to SPIN class on Fridays, and get in my Sunday long run every week. I add things when I can, but try hard not to drop things because it makes me grumpy.

I love running so much. I can't really explain it. I love that it's possible. If I set a goal for myself, I can work toward that goal slowly but surely, and many times I will be successful. I'm probably never going to write a novel, never going to have a big beautiful house near the ocean, maybe never even travel in Europe again, but I can run. I can run far, I can run long, I can run faster, and that possibility feels great.

Also I should probably note that I have become obsessed with ultrarunning recently—running a distance longer than a marathon, often on trails. This might be something I'm going to work up to as I just can't shake the idea, crazy as it sounds.

Set goals for success! Here's what I have in mind for 2015

2015 Goals:

Continue with usual shorter races (four 5ks and two holiday runs)
Try a new distance: 10k? 50k?
More snowshoeing in the winter months
More fun runs in summer months

Half Marathon (probably the same one in May)
Streak from Memorial Day-July 4
November Pile on the Miles
Get a couple of 100+ mile months
Learn more about using heart monitor
Try some trail running, get more confident on hills
change hydration system (handheld? I still hate my waistpack)
pay more attention to nutrition, both while running and with everyday food

This book, Believe Training Journal by Lauren Fleshman and Roisin McGettigan-Dumas, is going to help me!

It's a handsome training journal with tons of tips co-written by one of my running idols, Lauren Fleshman. She even signed it!!

Have you started thinking about 2015? Any goals already in mind?