Wednesday, May 20, 2015

What I Read Wednesday

I didn't get much reading done this week… May is so busy!

The Walls Around Us
This is one of those books that gets inside of your head. Ori and Violet are prima ballerinas, the only difference between the two is Ori's natural talent. Violet is precise and perfect in her actions, but she cannot hold a candle next to Ori. Until Ori gets sent to a juvenile detention center for the brutal murder of two other ballerinas, while Violet takes her place as the ballet star. In the midst of this, you have Amber who is Ori's roommate at the juvenile detention center. She possibly killed her stepfather, or maybe she just thought about it--everything in this book has two sides. Then, all of the girls at the detention center die, but the ghosts of what they've left behind still haunt the ruined walls. The ending of the book went a place that I didn't envision. This is one that is hard to describe or review, but it was well crafted.

So You've Been Publicly Shamed
For a book about public shaming, parts of this book were pretty boring. That said, it definitely helped me look at things in a new light--like the public shaming of Justine Sacco, who made an ill-worded tweet about going to Africa and not having to worry about getting AIDs because she's white. Her defense was that she was mocking white privilege and foolishness and her less than 200 followers would have understood. Unfortunately, it was picked up and retweeted by someone with thousands of followers and blown way out of context. At the very least, it was good lesson in the staying power of your words and pictures. In that aspect, this book should be required reading for every teenager.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

What I Read Wednesday

The Girl from Felony Bay (Felony Bay Mysteries)
Abbey Force's father is in a coma, accused of a crime she knows he didn't commit. In the midst of it, Abbey is forced to live with her aunt and uncle while watching her family's plantation handed over to new owners. The daughter of the new owner, Bee Force (no relation--except that Abbey's family may have kept Bee's as slaves a hundred years ago), forges a relationship with Abbey and together, they set out to prove that something strange is going on in Felony Bay and that Abbey's dad is not guilty of the crime he committed. This was an engaging read, perfect for younger middle level readers.

Denton Little's Deathdate
Sometimes I start reading books and don't realize they are part of a series. This was one of those times. Denton lives in a world that is not too dissimilar from our own, except that in Denton's world, everyone knows the day they will die. They don't know the exact time or the cause, but they know that is when they will die. In this case, your funeral is celebrated the day before your deathdate, while your family spends the next day with you, in what is called your sitting. The very concept of this stressed me out, just the thought of knowing when I'm going to die and that every day brings you one day closer. In Denton's case, his death date is the same day as prom, which is a little distressing for a high school student. As Denton enters his last few hours, he sets out to experience everything that he can in the few hours before his short life ends. I enjoyed the concept of this book and found it a pretty interesting story, though I'm still not sure how I feel about the ending. I'll need to read the next book to make that decision!

The Wonder Garden
I love books where it seems like a bunch of unrelated stories and events all tie together in the second half. This is what this book set out to do, but it fell short for me. The writing was strong, the stories compelling, but there were so many different people who the author was trying to tie together, that I would lose track and spend half of it trying to figure out who was who. The stories themselves were fascinating, like I said, and as a short story book, I would've loved it... but it seemed like she was trying to do more than that.

The Last Time We Say Goodbye
This was on the recommendation of Becky, and it was a good one. Lex's brother Tyler committed suicide, leaving Lex to try and pick up the pieces. Throughout this all, Lex is haunted because she is pretty sure she sees Tyler's ghosts and wonders if she's losing her mind. She distances herself from her friends and starts to slip in school, all over the thought of the last time she spoke to or saw Tyler. In the end, the story behind their last goodbye was heartbreaking. For a YA novel, I felt like this left out the drama and instead painted a realistic picture of what suicide does to those left behind.

What are you reading?

Friday, May 8, 2015

Golden Tote April

I've talked about Golden Tote in previous blog posts, but in case you're new or have forgotten, here is the run down.

It is not a monthly clothing subscription, although clothes are updated once a month. You may choose a $49 tote with one chosen item and one surprise, or a $149 tote with two chosen items and typically four surprises. If you buy a $149 tote, shipping is free. The value of the clothes total above the amount you've paid. It is all or nothing, you cannot just return individual pieces. However, there is an excellent Facebook group where you can offload unwanted items. I've had success with this!

Here is what I received in April:

My first and favorite--the easy sundress. Although it is has a loose fitting design, it's still completely flattering. Short enough to make a fun summer dress, but not too short to make me feel uncomfortable. I wore this out to dinner recently and got so many compliments!
easy sundress

Next up, yellow skinnies paired with a Hem and Thread top that was one of my surprise items. I love this combination! Very springy and feminine.
yellow skinnies

The yellow (and other color skinnies) are still in stock on the Golden Tote website, either in a tote or through the boutique. I have several colors and love them all!

Boyfriend shorts with the surprise gauzy Very J sleeveless top. I am not a huge shorts person, but these looked so cute on the website. I am glad I went for them. They are super soft and just the right length. The pockets can be tucked in or pulled out, depending on the style you like. The Very J top is super soft, too, and will be perfect for the beach this summer.

shorts yellow

And last, a Kika surprise dress with the drape front ties. This is obviously not work appropriate, but I love it. I was a little confused on how to tie it, so I looked it up online. I didn't like how it looked on me like that and will need to work on the tie, but the ties in the back looked cute, too.

kika me

kika model
Check out the price! I'm pretty excited about that because it shows was a good deal Golden Tote is. The cost of that dress alone is over half my tote cost, so I definitely feel like I got a good deal.

I did have one dress that didn't work because it was too boxy in the shoulders, but that's the beauty of the Facebook trading group.

The May tote releases Monday, May 11th and 9AMPST. However, there are still many items left from April and you can a tote at any time. Overall, I am definitely pleased with my April tote. I've bought and traded a few items off the Facebook page this month, too. I'm super excited to refresh my spring wardrobe!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

What I Read Wednesday

The Young World
Hopefully I remember that this is part one of a trilogy when the other parts are released. In this dystopian world, teenagers are the only survivors of a disease that kills both the young and old with no discrimination. The remaining teens are seemingly immune until they turn 18, then the sickness hits fast and furious. The majority of this novel takes place in New York City, until five of the survivors set out on a road trip (fraught with disaster and danger, as dystopian worlds tend to be) to find what they think might be the cure--or at least an answer. The narration bounces mainly back and forth between Jefferson and Donna. I found Donna's character a little under-developed, but Jefferson was interesting. Overall, I enjoyed this one and look forward to the rest of the trilogy.

I am trying to find books for a novel study we're doing next year, which is not as easy as it sounds. Since most of our curriculum focuses on wars, I chose this one because VietNam is going on in the background of the story. I really enjoyed it. Holling Hoodhood is in 7th grade. He is neither a Catholic, nor Jewish, so when the rest of his classmates leave for religious study on Wednesday afternoon, Holling is stuck behind. With his English teacher, who he is pretty sure hates him, especially when she makes him read Shakespeare. I loved the storyline in this novel and the richness of characters, especially Holling as he navigates through 7th grade.

This was a book that made me feel insanely naive. I knew about the link between opiates and heroin use and that the majority of users are rich, white kids. I did not, however, know how widespread and rampant it is and what a complex system is behind the force of black tar heroin within this country. The true eye opener was the mention of the influx of college students from my university driving to Indianapolis to buy heroin, at the same time that I was in college. Obviously I was in a heroin-free bubble, but it just makes you realize what a huge epidemic this is. With recent news that a small Indiana town is facing an HIV epidemic, due to its already existing heroin epidemic, it felt like I needed to know more. This was written like a story and drew me in, the way big pharmacy refused to acknowledge how addictive opiates are and took decades to make it more difficult to inject them, the way doctors just threw pain pills at people like candy, how hard it is to break down a system that just keeps sending in new suppliers and how the silence of parents contributed. This was, honestly, a scary and brave book. He took a lot of brave risks in the names he named here, and it is a book that needs to be read by everyone.

What are you reading?

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Big One

This is going to be long. You might actually feel like you’ve run a marathon by the time you finish reading.
I always swore I would never run a marathon. First of all, I really like my toenails. (spoiler alert: my toenails are all still intact.) Second of all, that is a really, really long time to run. I love half marathons because the training isn’t too intensive, but you still feel a sense of accomplishment. Except that my last half time was 2:06, which made me feel the push shoot for a sub-2. And THAT definitely seemed intensive.
Then my good friend Barb ran a marathon, and I absolutely loved watching her embrace the training. Shortly thereafter, Shane and I spent a whole day wine tasting, I broached the subject with him, then we got home and I registered for a marathon. It should probably be said that making decisions after a day of wine tasting is not highly recommended.
I also signed up for a training program through our local Fleet Feet. This made Shane feel better because I wouldn’t be running eleven billion miles on my own, and it made me feel better because I am sometimes REALLY bad at the mental part of running. If I’m out there alone and tired, I will walk and I will struggle to get started running again. I knew that a group would hopefully help with this.

As a side note before I actually start talking about race day, if you’re considering something like this and you have a training program or group near you, sign up! In many ways, this made all the difference for me. I learned a lot about running slow to build slow twitch muscles and how to run down hills and in talking to other people, I was able to figure out how to fuel. I was amazed at how the long runs were not the easiest thing I’d ever done, but they weren’t as hard as I thought and my body definitely didn’t feel as beat up as I thought. Plus, I trained in zero temperatures and once during a whiteout--both situations would fall under “misery loves company.” Was I tired about a month before the race? GOOD GOD, YES. My training plan was killing me, but I was doing it, and there’s definitely something to be said for the strength of the program and the plan.

So, my plan for race day was to run most--if not all--of the race with another girl in my group. We’d done all the training runs together and had the same goal pace of 11 mi/mi. The thought of having someone by my side through the race honestly made it much less stressful. So much less stressful that aside from the weather and my randomly sore muscles, I wasn’t really worried about much. My muscles were straightened out by race day, so my only fear was the weather. While the day promised to be sunny and perfect temps for running, it also showed winds of 15mph with gusts of 30mph. Ever since running a half with 50mph wind gusts and coming out of it with a horrible foot injury, I am not a fan of the wind--especially because I knew that this course, like that half course, would be wide open and mostly fields. Still, I told myself I would handle whatever came on race day.

It seemed like race day would never get here, then suddenly, here it was. I warmed up with my group, hugged my dad, then it was time to start. The beginning miles were pretty fun. I’m running a marathon! I have someone by my side! These rolling hills will not be fun on the return, but they’re so fun now! WHEEE. At about mile 4, I heard a loud spectator up ahead. With such a small course and field (only 62 people finished the full), spectators were few and far between and this one seemed extra enthusiastic. A few feet later, I realized I recognized the voice and saw Barb and her daughter. It was exciting to see the first of many familiar faces along the course, and this truly did help. Shortly after, my running coach and two of the mentors (both of whom had just run their marathons) drove past, honking the horn and cheering. I should mention that it was such a small course that spectators could drive on the course--and other random people. At one point, I was passed by a delivery truck, another time by a tractor.

At mile 6, we passed a whole bunch of cows standing in front of the fence spectating. It was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen--just standing there calmly watching the runners.

Shortly after this, the girl running with me admitted that her stomach hurt. I offered her a Hammer electrolyte pill that has ginger for anti-nausea, but she said that she didn’t feel like she could put anything in her body without losing it. At mile 8, she dry heaved once, shortly after we turned onto the gravel. At mile 10, she said she couldn’t do it because the pain in her stomach was so intense and she turned to head back to the last water stop.

I had to do some quick mental adjusting here. I’d planned on running the race with someone by my side, and now I was facing 16 miles alone. This definitely through me for a loop. I was also struggling with the wind, though I seemed to be mostly maintaining my pace. The gravel was not the easiest surface, especially with the wind. Still, I was feeling pretty good, especially because everyone kept assuring me that the wind would be at my back on the return trip. This was a huge help.

At the turn around point, I saw Barb, my family, and two of my coworkers. Again, this was such a huge mood booster, even though the thought of 13 more miles was starting to get daunting. I headed toward the river for the official turn around point and saw my running coach and mentors standing at the turn around point by my parents and Tommy. Tommy was shouting, MAMA, and my coach laughed and yelled, “Marathon mama!” I high fived everyone, turned around and thought, “Okay, this is the part where the wind will be at my back.” I had to run west for awhile, so I didn’t notice the wind. Then I turned north, still on gravel, and realized… the wind switched. THE WIND SWITCHED.

I walked for the first time because I needed to seriously regroup and consider that I was running into a gusting wind and on gravel and still had 11 miles left and could I do this? At the end of the gravel (mile 16), my cheering section was there, and I stopped to refill my water bottle.

I was miserable this point, but that’s my dad walking behind me. He walked out on the gravel road to meet me as I ran past and to offer encouragement.
Barb came over and told me I was doing good and looked so strong, and I don’t remember what I said, but it was probably a huge whine. I’d thought that asphalt would feel so much better after the gravel, but the gravel to asphalt adjustment was actually really tough. My gait changed, so my legs seized up around mile 18 and this was probably a huge low point. Shane was driving next to me, shouting encouragement and asking what I needed. I screamed at him that I needed him to leave me alone. Then he drove ahead, and I instantly regretted it and convinced myself he wouldn’t stop. I started walking angrily, so he stopped, then when I caught up with him, I used the stick to roll out my legs and took aspirin. The roller felt better, but then I turned into the wind, and it was seriously unrelenting. I also realized around this time that I didn’t remember taking any kind of gel or anything since mile 13, which was probably part of what was going on with me. The other part was most definitely mental. I was mad and sad and tired. I saw my pace slipping away, and I could not make myself push any harder than I already felt I was. Luke ran part of mile 19 with me, and this was such a huge help. We walked up a big hill, and he held my hand and said he was so proud of me and that no other mom in our neighborhood could do what I was doing.
Then we ran some more, until Tommy insisted on a turn. Although my parents and Shane and kids stuck near me at all times, never more than half a mile ahead, there were a lot of long, lonely miles in the middle of the race where I didn't see any runners in front of me or behind me and that definitely played with my head somewhat.

At mile 20, a shadow fell over my head and I looked up and saw a bald eagle. Except that bald eagles aren’t exactly all over the place in Indiana, so my next thought was, “Oh my God, I’m hallucinating and thinking that seagulls are bald eagles.” There was a woman and her son at the end of their driveway cheering, despite the fact that the runners in front of or behind me weren’t even visible. I thanked them profusely for still being out there, and the woman said, “Did you see the bald eagles?” Then I almost hugged her because I wasn’t hallucinating and turned to watch two bald eagles soar across the sky and dive over and over into a pond to catch fish. From mile 20, I felt a little better. My mom shouted that my pace and form looked better. Mainly, the aspirin kicked in, but also, I regained perspective. Mainly, that if I wasn’t out there running this race, I would miss things like the cows lined up at a fence or the bald eagles soaring like the wind was hardly even a thing.

The next few miles were on rolling hills and into the wind. I gave up running the hills, but I would start running as soon as I got to the top. There was a girl in black in front of me who just kept steadily making her way up the hills with her head down, and I wanted so badly to catch her, but I couldn’t. She was making me irrationally angry because she just kept running at this slow, steady pace, and I couldn’t. I passed one guy who looked like he was hurting and told him he was doing a good job. He breathed out, “This is really tough.” I know, dude. Then I saw Barb and Emily for the last time, gave out hugs and tried so hard to dig deep and find the will to finish. I was still walking hills, but running the rest and realizing that I would be mostly into the wind for the last two miles. Of course! I passed a guy doubled over, dry heaving and comforted myself by thinking that I was doing better than him. When I was almost to mile 24, I looked up and saw someone coming at me over a hill. I realized it was my running coach and shouted, “I was just thinking… what dumbass is running the course backward?!” He laughed, pointed at himself, and told me he was there to run me in. I am pretty sure I told him I couldn’t do it, and he told me I could. Then he pushed me to a 10:15 pace and I shouted at him, but I was running it. At mile 25, he told me there were even some people I could pick off ahead of me. I told him that simply wasn’t possible because I was too tired, and I may have asked him for a piggy-back ride. We passed two people, then he told me to look down because we were at mile 26. I can’t even tell you how difficult it was to conceptualize running .2, but he assured me that the finish line was just around the corner. Then he nodded his head at the girl in black, and we passed her. I was pretty proud of finally passing this poor girl who became my arch-nemesis starting at mile 22.

Tommy and my dad were standing just around the corner from the finish line, and I told Tommy to jump in and run with me. He took off sprinting, but then he fell back next to me, and the finish line was in it! The race director said, “Bib 501, you’re a marathoner!” and my family and friends were cheering, and it was all kind of a crazy blur because omg, I DID IT.

I don’t know those people, but they were clapping for me and it was very appreciated!
Then my coach asked if I’d be signing up for the fall program. Runners are crazy (but awesome). I hugged my friends and family, while my mom forced me into a jacket so I wouldn’t get cold. Because Tommy crossed the finish line with me, they very nicely gave him a medal, too, and an extra for Luke who ran the middle with me (I love small races). The boys were both so proud of their medals--Luke even wore his to school on Monday.

I realize this is so long, but I am pretty happy--and proud of myself. Four years ago yesterday, I started my journey with Couch to 5k. I remember thinking that I could never run for thirty minutes straight. And now? I ran a marathon. Sure, it took me five hours and parts of it were lonely and mind-breaking, but I did it. Four days later, I feel great. I was able to take the stairs at work on Tuesday and yesterday, I ran three miles. It is absolutely amazing and inspiring what your body can do. Above my own self-pride is how incredibly grateful I am to have the people who surround me. To Shane and Luke and Tommy supporting me through this whole training, my parents being there the whole race, Barb and Emily staying as long as they could to cheer me on, my coworkers Megan and Celeste for spending their whole Sunday cheering me on, my running group, Shelli being at the finish line and coming out to eat afterward, Keli taking a picture of her kids with a sign, Sarah texting her support to Barb to offer up along the way, all the supportive messages and texts received… it feels like running a marathon was more than just a marathon, but rather, a chance to find out how very loved and how very lucky I am. It might not have been the day I wanted, in terms of the weather and running alone, but it exceeded my expectations in ways I could never have dreamed.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

What I Read Wednesday

I definitely needed some easy, turn off my brain books this week.

I Was Here
Cody's best friend Meg is found dead in a hotel room, an apparent suicide by way of drinking cleaner. Meg's parents ask Cody to go to Meg's college and pack up her belongings, where Cody discovers there was an entire side to Meg that she never knew. What follows is a journey to find out exactly what led Meg to die in that hotel room and how and why Cody never really knew her best friend the way she thought she did. I enjoyed this story. It had some pretty strong themes about depression and not sweeping it under the rug or being afraid to talk about it, which I think every young adult (and adult, really) needs to consider.

Crash and Burn
Steven Crashinsky, mostly known as Crash, gains fame when he stops classmate David Burnett (or Burn) from blowing up the school. This story is told from Steven's point-of-view as he writes a tell all book about what David said to him the day he attempted to blow up the school. It fluctuates between the past and the present. I enjoyed this book, which could be heavy at times. The character of Steven annoyed me because he was so over the top that he sometimes came across as a teenage Wolf of Wall Street. I believe the author was trying to portray him as a flippant rich kid, which he did well, but it was a little too much at times. Still, I was drawn into Crash and how his life intersected with David's from elementary school, up to the fateful day that David showed up at school with an explosive timer strapped to his belt.

Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie
Steven plays drums in the jazz band and is writing a journal for English. Only, in the midst of complaining about having to write his journal entries, his little brother is diagnosed with leukemia and the journal becomes a way for Steven to cope. Watching Steven try to navigate between being a teenage boy, a parent to his parents and a caring big brother is engaging. While this book was a little too glossy for me, it still was a good, easy read.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

What I Read Wednesday

I really need to read a book that grabs me. Everything has been pretty okay lately. Not bad, just not fabulous.

I Refuse: A Novel
Jim and Tommy were childhood friends, even after Tommy was separated from his sisters following the disappearance of his abusive father. They drift apart after one night and remain separated, until years later when Tommy--in a luxury car--drives past Jim fishing on the bridge. This book was just really honestly pretty depressing. I don't know if either man ever found happiness.

All the Rage
This book was pretty good, but it was a very heavy topic and I shouldn't have finished reading it right before bed. Romy is raped by Kellan Turner, who happens to be the golden boy sheriff's son. As a result, no one believes her, and she spends the aftermath with insults and brutal bullying hurled her away by both girls and boys alike. Romy tries to hide behind her red nails and her red lipstick, until a former friend of Romy's disappears after a party. Then Romy is faced to meet everyone head on. There was a lot frustrating about this book. The way the adults seemed to ignore the derision being thrown at Romy, the way Romy would make decisions without thinking, but it was powerful.

Vanishing Girls
I love psychological thrillers, although this one was not overly surprising in that the ending seemed pretty clear from the beginning. That said, this book still set my teeth on edge. Dara and Nick are sisters. Dara is the wild one, Nick is the good one, until the night that Nick crashes the car with Dara in the passenger seat. Nick is relatively unscathed, but Dara ends up in the ICU with a long road to recovery. After this, Dara won't talk to Nick and Nick spends the summer trying to win back her sister's good graces, only to bet with constant silence. In the midst of this, a nine-year-old girl disappears and Nick devotes herself to the rescue efforts, finding a connection between the girl's older sister and her sister. Although the tie-in with the little girl threw me, I really did like this book. It kept me hooked!

A Fall of Marigolds
This book bounces between Clara in September 1911 and Taryn in September 2011. Clara lost a man she thought she might love in a business fire, while Taryn lost her husband in the World Trade Center. The two women are tied together by a piece of fabric and unbelievable emotional struggles. I enjoyed their stories, but I felt like the balance between the two women's stories was off--the first half was heavy on Clara, while the second half was heavy on Taryn, but I felt like I wanted more of each. Otherwise, this book was interesting and I actually learned quite a bit about Ellis Island that I didn't previously know.

The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things
Sage is the queen of bright and shiny things. A bright, bubbly girl, she leaves post-it notes on the lockers of her fellow classmates--sometimes a compliment on shoes, or hair, or a smile. Sage tries hard to be the perfect girl, otherwise she's afraid her other self, Shadow Sage, will come to the surface. In the midst of this, Sage meets and falls in love with Shane, who has his own shadows to hide. Although this was one of those YA books where the characters talked like Dawson's Creek characters, it was still an easy to read, engaging story.

What are you reading?