April 17, 2014

The Best Book I Ever Read

In light of the announcement earlier this week that Donna Tartt has been awarded the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, I'd like to pay homage to the best book I ever read, The Goldfinch.

Nashvillians are lucky to have local bookstore, Parnassus Books, owned by author Ann Patchett. Through Parnassus' author events, I've met David Sedaris, Jen Lancaster and yes, Donna Tartt. Back in October, on the book's pub date, Donna Tartt came to Nashville and read a chapter from The Goldfinch. Having read her previous two books, but never meeting her, I was enamored. And I was hooked. I couldn't wait to read The Goldfinch.

Weighing in at 718 pages, I wouldn't classify it as a quick read. It took me about three weeks. I read the book slowly, reading some passages multiple times. The Columbia University School of Journalism, who announces the awards, described The Goldfinch as a "beautifully written coming-of-age novel with exquisitely drawn characters that follows a grieving boy's entanglement with a small famous painting that has eluded destruction, a book that stimulates the mind and touches the heart."

This is the review I left on Goodreads and Amazon:
Hands-down, best book I've ever read. I gave it the maximum allotted five stars, but my heart gives it 100 stars. My poor, poor bleeding heart. It's going to take awhile to shake this one off. Unfortunately, I'm too emotional about it & completely incapable of writing a proper review. Things I can say: Donna Tartt is one of my favorite authors, this book is the best book I've ever read, & I CANNOT stop thinking about it! If you read & liked her earlier book, The Secret History, this is along the same lines. Read this book!
I still have a hard time putting into words how I feel about this book and why I liked it as much as I did. There's some obvious connections with traumatic events, NYC and a boy losing his mother. But beyond that, this book just touched some deep, dark part of my psyche that no other book has done.

It also did something to me that has never happened before, it made me hate all other books (not really). Every book I picked up after finishing The Goldfinch, I put down after a hundred or so pages. They were all sub par in comparison and I couldn't make myself finish them. The streak seems to be over now, but it lasted for a few months.

Another weird thing that happened was an overwhelming desire to immediately reread The Goldfinch. About two weeks after I finished it, I told John that I wanted to read it again and that no other book has ever done this to me. He said that's what good books do. I had no idea. John does tend to reread a lot of books, so I guess now I understand. I have yet to reread The Goldfinch, but I'm sure I will, especially if they're going to end up making it into a movie.

I was talking to someone this week about this book winning the Pulitzer and how much I loved it and she asked what my other top books are.  Off the top of my head, I answered:

To Kill a Mockingbird
The Glass Castle
The Poisonwood Bible
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Happy reading!

April 14, 2014

Weekend Wrap Up: Pinterest Cake FAIL Edition

I've been a little fixated on cakes lately and I don't know why. There is one in particular that I pinned to my Party On Wayne food board and have been dying to make. When our neighbors invited us over to a cook-out on Saturday night, I said, "I'll bring cake!"

On Friday night, I was making my shopping list and realized that the recipe calls for 6" cake pans and I only have 8" and 9". I took my quandary to the internet and learned that Wilton's has a spreadsheet on their website for how to adapt cake recipes to different sized cake pans. I was to double the recipe, only put 3 1/2 cups of the batter into the pans and make muffins/cupcakes out of the remaining batter. Easy, peasy.

I set out my pre-measured ingredients and started making the cake. Everything was going fine until I added the FOUR CUPS OF FLOUR into the stand mixer. It almost broke the 'ole girl. The next step was folding in egg whites, which is where it all went wrong because there was no room to fold in. So some of the batter was wet and some of it wasn't. I didn't care anymore, as I had developed sudden onset carpel tunnel and just needed to put the cake in the oven and rest my paws.

But the cake came out of the oven and looked kind of like a cake. I was feeling pretty confident. Then, as it cooled, it caved. Literally, the cake caved in on itself. Because it weighed 100 pounds. Because FOUR CUPS OF FLOUR. It was too late to turn back now. I iced that sucker and took it to the cook-out. Y'all, I'm not even kidding when I say it took two hands to carry it. That's how heavy it was.

I had tasted the cupcakes/muffins and they were delicious, so I assumed the cake would be, too. Wrong. While the cake was mostly delicious, it was also mostly not cooked. Whatever, cake.  WHATEVER.

Now that the weather is warmer, my coach wants me to ride outside. I've been riding inside on my trainer all winter, but this was my first time on the roads in about 7 months. Even though I clip-in on my trainer, I had a hard time clipping in and out yesterday. I had to ride around the parking lot a few times before I felt confident enough to get out on the mean streets of Shelby Bottoms. Lana and I rode for a little over an hour. Pretty slow and pretty flat, but man, my quads felt it.

After the ride, I drove to the Maryland Farms Y. My life would be so much easier if the Nashville Y pools would open on Sunday mornings. I did my hour swim and then came back home and ate Thai Kitchen with John. We spent the rest of the day running errands and I worked on clearing out my much neglected DVR.  Y'all, Hannibal is blowing my mind!

April 9, 2014

Race Recap: Oak Barrel Half Marathon

This weekend I ran my fourth half marathon, the Oak Barrel Half in Lynchburg, TN.  I ran this same race last year & it's still one of my favorites.  It's put on by Mach Tenn & they do such a great job.  Coming in at under $50, it's also one of the most affordable half marathons you can run around here.  And look at all this awesome race swag!

The fun part about running the same race two years in a row is the potential to beat your time.  Since running this race last year, I've lost 23 lbs, which has obviously made me faster.  But getting faster has made it hard to pace myself.  Luckily, my friend Polly, a fellow East Nasty, is the 2:30 pace leader for CMM.  Since I was hoping to finish Oak Barrel at/under 2:30, I asked Polly to pace me.  I was shooting for an 11:30 minute mile.

Like everyone, I have a tendency to start races too fast, so I decided to start with Polly & stay at her pace in the beginning.  I ran the first few miles with Polly, Casey & Lana.  It was cold & it took awhile for my legs to warm up, but once I warmed up, our pace felt too slow.  At the first water stop (mile 2.7), I left the group & picked up my pace by about 20-30 seconds.

Mile 1:  11:50
Mile 2:  11:37
Mile 3:  11:50

Whiskey Hill starts at mile 4 & continues for a mile.  I ran it alone & stopped at the water stop at the top to catch my breath & take a gel.  As soon as I started running again, Polly, Casey & Lana were there, so we fell back in stride together.

Mile 4:  11:21
Mile 5:  14:14 (Whiskey Hill)
Mile 6:  11:05

When we passed the marker at mile 6, I felt great & even patted my legs & said, "Good job, body.  Half way there."  Famous last words.  Like one second later, my knee spasmed, which it does sometimes.  I looked down at my Garmin to take a mental note of what mileage I was at so I could tell my coach & the next thing I know I'm on the ground.  I went down like a ton of bricks.  I skidded a little & landed on my hands & knees.  I have no idea what happened.  I didn't trip on anything.  In hindsight, I think my knee buckled & I just went down.

Thankfully Polly, Casey & Lana were with me, or I probably would have put myself out to pasture.  Fueled by adrenaline (& pride), I had them pull me up & I walked for a few steps to make sure all my parts & pieces were in working order, then we took off.

Mile 7:  11:44
Mile 8:  11:25
Mile 9:  12:41

I realized blood was dripping off my hand, so Polly hosed me down with her Camelbak & gave me some toilet paper to stop the bleeding.  Oh, & I dug a big piece of gravel out of my hand with my fingernail.  They wanted me to stop at the next water stop & ask for a band-aid.  I looked at my watch & realized I could still finish in/around 2:30, so I said I'd rather finish bleeding then lose my PR.  Polly was like, 'You're not kidding about the HAM'.  I am never kidding about the HAM.

Mile 10:  11:36
Mile 11:  11:01
Mile 12:  11:41

I honestly didn't feel much pain from the fall, but my knee was weak & kept giving out.  I was terrified I was going to fall again.  Polly & Casey were great & kept encouraging me to keep up the pace, but I fell back.  Once they got pretty far ahead of me, something clicked & I decided if I was going to fall, I was going to fall, but I was going to get that 2:30 finish time.  Also, Yeezus.  I somehow sped up from 11:41 to 10:43 & made it across the finish line without falling.  Probably because, baby, I'm a firework.

Mile 13:  10:43

I was the last one across the finish line, so as I turned the corner to run into the finish chute, I saw Jaime, Polly & my entire family.  It was awesome.  Official finish time, 2:34, beating last year's time of 2:50 & setting a new half marathon PR!

I didn't get back home until later that afternoon.  That's when I saw my knees for the first time.  One knee clearly hit the road head-on & no longer has any skin on it, but the other knee got it worse.  It hit sideways & there's a huge blue/green knot beside my knee cap.  That knee is swollen to double its size.  I didn't have full range of motion on either knee for a few days.  I also have a bunch of bizarre auxiliary injuries like a bruised wrist, forearm, shoulder & collar bone.  Y'all, I am straight busted.

Body malfunctions aside, I still love this race & highly recommend it to anyone used to hills & looking for a fun, challenging race.  Race participation is capped, so you have to register as soon as it goes on sale.  They'll announce it on their FB page, but it's usually in September/October.  If you run with East Nasty &/or can run the 5.8 at Percy, you can run this race.  There's usually a substantial number of East Nasties there, so lots of carpooling & pacing options.  Do it!

Full race photostream here.  Lastly, below is a video of my 5-year old niece, Jessica, doing a cheer for me at my parents' house the night before my race.  Enjoy!

April 7, 2014

Weekend Wrap Up: Oak Barrel Half Edition

This weekend consisted of two things:  running & falling.  That's it.  Happy Monday!  Just kidding.  Well, kind of.  On Saturday, I ran the Oak Barrel Half Marathon in Lynchburg.  I got up at 4am, drank some coffee, drove to Jaime's, & then we set off for Lynchburg.

L to R:  Casey, Polly, me, Melanie, Jaime

I'm going to write a race report later this week, so I'll save the details of the run for that.  A lot of East Nasties ran this race, way more than this picture reflects, but it's hard to find everyone & corral them for a picture.  Lana, my # 1 homegirl, isn't even in this picture & she ran the whole race with me.

I'm glad I got a picture of Casey & Polly because I would possibly still be laying out there on the course if not for them.  I fell somewhere between miles 7 - 8 & they helped me up, cleaned me off, &, most importantly, made me keep going & stay on pace.  I was hurt a lot more than I let on & there's no way I would have finished that fast if I had been by myself.

My family came out to watch me & I saw them as I turned the corner to run into the finish chute.  It's always hilarious to see my nieces standing there as I finish races.  They're still shy, so they look down as I run towards them, totally missing the point of why they're there, haha.

L to R:  Melissa, Julie, me, Marne

My friend Julie is changing jobs & had a happy hour at her house Saturday to celebrate the new opportunities coming her way.  She made these insanely delicious Korean tacos that I failed to document.  But don't worry, I made sure this ridiculous selfie happened.  You're welcome.

Yesterday was a little rough.  When I fell during the race, I landed on my hands & knees.  In addition to my knees being, I believe the medical term is "to' up", my palms are scraped, my right wrist & forearm is bruised & swollen & my neck & shoulders hurt like I was in a car wreck.  It's real awesome.

Anyway, I didn't do anything yesterday but take naps & ice my knees.  John took me to Hattie B's for lunch, I slept all afternoon on the couch & then went to bed without dinner.  As my friend Freya would say, the struggle is real.

Stay tuned for the Oak Barrel race report, coming later this week.

April 4, 2014

Breakfast: My Favorite Meal of the Day

Breakfast, I'm into it.  I'm also a morning person, so it's possible these two things are related.  I believe in two things:  1) eat breakfast & 2) either eat the same thing every morning or rotate through 2-3 set options.  I'm a rotator, mostly because my breakfast needs change depending on whether or not I work-out in the morning.  

I don't want to make this all about calories, but I know, like me, a lot of you track your food on MyFitnessPal.  My daily calorie goal is 1,500 & I use 200 - 300 of that on breakfast.

This is my standard breakfast.  It's good on cold mornings & it keeps me full on days when I forget a mid-morning snack or have a late lunch.  I use whatever berries are at the store that week.  In the winter months, I use jelly instead of fresh fruit.  In the summer, I'm likely to swap the oatmeal for Fage Greek Yogurt.

1 packet Trader Joe's Organic Oats & Flax Instant Oatmeal, 150 calories
1 tbsp Trader Joe's Organic Raw Walnut Halves & Pieces, 75 calories
Fresh strawberries, 9 calories
2 cups coffee (not pictured), 5 calories
Total calories:  239

I love waffles, but quit eating them until recently because I wanted to eat them slathered in butter & syrup.  Turns out, I like them just as much with peanut butter & jelly.  And I only need one waffle, not two.  The grapefruit is a new addition.  I'm into it.  For lower calorie days, I only eat half the grapefruit.

1 Van's Totally Natural Waffle, 75 calories
1 tbsp Skippy Natural Peanut Butter, 95 calories
1 tbsp jelly, 20 calories
1 whole Ruby Red grapefruit, 97 calories
2 cups coffee (not pictured), 5 calories
Total calories:  292

This is my favorite breakfast.  I only eat it once or twice a week & I save it for the mornings where I do a hard work-out.  You know, like a 3-mile run & a 90 minute swim.  Those days.  Do I need cheese AND avocado?  Nope.  Do I do it anyway?  Yep.

There are smarter, lower calorie ways to eat this:  no cheese (DUH); no cheese & only 1/4 avocado; or half a Laughing Cow wedge & 1/4 avocado, which you can mix together & spread on the tortilla (it's really good that way).

1 La Tortilla Factory - Soft Wraps Mini Fiesta, 50 calories
1 egg, 70 calories
1/8 cup, shredded cheese, 55 calories
1/2 avocado, 114 calories
2 cups coffee with splash of Silk Vanilla Almond Milk, 5 calories
Total calories:  294


Let's talk about coffee.  When I first starting using MyFitnessPal, I was using 40 calories a day on half and half.  I needed those 40 calories for other things, like cheese & avocado, so I switched to skim milk.  But the skim milk didn't really doing it for me.  I now use Silk Vanilla Almond Milk.  I don't count it in my calories because it's 90 calories per 1 cup serving & I only use a splash.


Below are two articles I read online this week that spotlight the balance between self acceptance & weight loss.  They're not long & I highly recommend reading both.  The fist article includes this life-changing sentence, "Just refuse to think of life in "fat bad" and "skinny good".

Question, The Frenemy

My friend SKB pointed out this awesome quote from the second article, "People who do manage to keep significant weight off, tend to share common habits:  They weigh themselves regularly, limit variety in their diet, eat breakfast, and exercise roughly one hour every day".

Why Keeping Weight Off, Not Losing It, Is The Real Victory, Vogue

April 2, 2014

March Beauty Favorites

Welcome to the third installment of:  Stuff I Buy At Target!  While January & February focused on moisture, March is more fun because it's almost spring & I can put away the red lipstick & black nail polish.  Yahoo!

I'm a loyal Kiehl's customer for many reasons, but one of them is their recycling rewards program.  You get points for every empty Kiehl's bottle you return to the store.  This Olive Fruit Oil Deeply Repairative Hair Pak was one of my recycling rewards.  That big 8 oz jar is just $25 & has lasted me a year.  I use it once a week.  It heals my hair from all the processing, styling & chlorine.  It's real good.  Trust.

Years ago, I asked my colorist what shampoo & conditioner he used & he said Organix.  I had seen the weird little bottles at Target, but had never tried them.  This was a few years ago when Moroccan oil was all the rage, so I was pumped to find a drugstore version.  I've been using it ever since.

Pro tip:  I recently started using this conditioner as shaving cream for under my arms & it's made a huge difference!  My armpits (sorry) are always raw & bumpy & terrible, but not since I replaced my shaving cream with this.

This Vasanti BrightenUp! Enzymatic Face Rejuvenator was one of the first things I bought from Birchbox last year & I just ran out.  Recently, I had $60 worth of Birchbox points & had decided I'd switch it up & buy the more expensive dr. brandt microdermabrasion skin exfoliant.  I did some serious internet research (read:  Amazon reviews) & realized that these two products do the exact same thing, but one is $34 & one is $78.  Duh.  I re-bought the $34 Vasanti.  I highly recommend it, especially for sensitive skin.

Well, I caved & bought this $10 hand lotion.  I had been warned that it was a tiny bottle, and, surprise, it is.  I love the consistency & scent of this lotion, but it's the same size as a travel shampoo.

Nails!  Okay, so my friend Jaime has two daughters & they like to play Beauty Shop, so Jaime bought this awesome kit from Sephora.  Every time I see her nails, I want the polish, especially the top coats.  I finally went to Sephora & bought this one, but honestly, at $12.50 a pop, if you're going to buy a few, just buy the $55 kit.

I've been using my Demolition top coat over Essie Tart Deco & Essie Mint Candy Apple.  I love it!  Side note:  people that have seen my nails in person have asked if it's hard to remove & it is, but whatever.  I like a challenge.

I'm officially retiring my matte red lip for now.  It just feels too winter & not enough spring.  I'm in the mood for a bright, matte orange lip, but I haven't found one yet.  In the meantime, I'm using this Loreal Colour Riche in Fiery Veil.  It's a sheer orange & has a lot of color for what it is.  It'll do until I find what I want.

I got this other lipstick via Birchbox & love it.  I can't believe I still have any left because it's such a great everyday color.  If I ever run out, I'll definitely purchase another one:  Model Co Party Proof Matte Lipstick.  The color I have is Peony.

Send your bright, matte orange lipstick recs my way!

March 31, 2014

Weekend Wrap Up: Blog Redesign Edition

This weekend was kind of dorky...  I spent both days messing with my blog.  It all started with font.  I  hated the font on my blog & set about looking for other fonts.  After days of futile CSS (I don't even know what that is, but don't I sound smart?) & HTML coding, I surrendered the font battle & decided to refocus my efforts on layout & adding social media buttons.  That, I can do.  HTML, not so much.  Thanks for nothing, Blogger.  I'll probably keep tweaking it because that's what I do, but I like the new layout & design.

On Saturday morning, I went to yoga & then stayed after for weights.  My friend Sarah stayed, too & showed me the weight routine she did with her trainer back in West Virginia.  It's legit.  I've been bored with what I'm doing, so I was eager to learn something new.  Poor Sarah, I can't believe she has the patience to continue trying to teach me things.  After some initial resistance & confusion, I got on board & ended up loving all the new exercises.  I'm real stuck on doing 3 sets of 10 on each muscle/exercise & Sarah's way is to max out, regardless of the reps.  I know that she's right, but my brain does better with set numbers/limits.  I'll get there.  Thanks, Sarah!

From lunch until dinner, I did nothing but futilely try to add custom font to my blog.  Attention companies hiring for web developers, do not hire me.  Ever.  Hunger finally broke me, so John & I walked next door to Korea House.  It was delicious!

Sunday was our last run as Oak Barrel is this week, so we met yesterday for an easy taper run.  We met at Jaime's & ran 6 miles on/around the Richland Park Greenway & then went to Dose.  Y'all, I'm obsessed with this spicy egg on rosemary Parm biscuit.  It's a problem.

Also a problem?  Living down the street from Bobbie's Dairy Dip.  Remind me to tell you about the summer I gained 9 lbs in ice cream weight.  It was 2 years ago & I wish I was kidding.

I had been messing around on my blog all day & skipped lunch.  I broke around 3:30 & the only cure for my ineptitude to do things I have zero training in & should really be paying someone to do for me, was ice cream.  Sweet, sweet, sprinkle-covered ice cream.

So this was my lunch yesterday.  Whatever.  I stand by my choice.  John & I lounged around & watch SNL, ran some errands & then made french fries & grilled out hamburgers.  Hello, spring!


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