Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Book Review :: "The Darlings" by Cristina Alger

The Darlings by Cristina Alger is one of my favorite books I've read in the past few years.  The story centers around a family in crisis.  As we all know, when business and family mix, odds are things will not end well.  This family happens to be a New York City powerhouse that heads up one of the largest investment firms in the city.  Suddenly, the firm is under investigation by the feds and loyalties are tested.

Alger's writing style is superb.  Reading like a cross between a thriller and a soap opera, she only gives you enough to keep the pages turning.  Full of intrigue and odd character connections, I found myself wondering "Who dunnit?" even though it's not a murder mystery.  In reality, the novel is a giant puzzle and you have to piece together the implications between all the relationships.

The best part of the book is it felt real.  Having lived through the 2008 financial crisis, the book feels familiar at every turn.  The characters could easily be profiles we read on the front page of The New York Times.  Incredibly intriguing and too good to put down.

Buy it here:

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Book Review :: Searching for Grace Kelly by Michael Callahan

Michael Callahan's new novel Searching for Grace Kelly follows the lives of three unlikely friends in 1950's New York City attempting to navigate romance, friendships and all the challenges in between.  Laura, Dolly and Vivian encounter very different types of men, turning their ambitions, goals and life perspectives on end.

Callahan paints a beautiful environment with his descriptions of 1950's New York City.  The entire feel of the book is glamorous and lush.  While I felt he tried a little too hard in the first few chapters to set the stage (too much name dropping), it was an education on the time and effective.  

The tone of the book was... quiet.  Don't take that to mean slow or boring.  What I mean is the pace was on point with the movement of drama at the time and it progressed with ease - in a tantalizing way.  Callahan has a way of building suspense without writing a thriller or being overly dramatic.  The novel felt real and accurate.  True to the time and the people is was meant to represent.

And the ending... was shocking.  There's no other word for it but shocking.

Check it out here: 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

What Marriage Equality is Not

Yesterday, in a historic decision, the Supreme Court determined that banning same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, consequently legalizing it throughout the country.

The reactions were... mixed.

This debate is not new to the United States nor is this an issue that will fade quietly into the night.  However, as I scrolled through my social media feeds, I was struck by how misunderstood the concept of marriage equality is.

First, to make this easy, let's answer the question: what is marriage equality?

Marriage Equality means you can't be denied a marriage license from a state based on the gender of either consenting adult or the benefits legally endowed by that license (including being honored by other states).  I can only imagine that laws will be written to reflect the language of Employment Anti-Discrimination Act.  You know, the one that outlines you can't be denied employment or be harassed based on race, creed, national origin, sex, sexual orientation or gender identity.

Simple enough.

So let's talk about what marriage equality is not...

Marriage Equality is not associated with your religion.
This inclusion requirement does not have anything to do with your church, synagogue, temple, mosque, etc.  It does not require your preacher, priest, rabbi, bishop, etc to perform or acknowledge same-sex marriage.  It does not require you to rip out pages of your Torah, Bible, Quran, etc and change your beliefs.

Marriage Equality is not associated with any religion.
Marriage Equality, as governed by the United States of America, has nothing to do with any faith or belief system.  No one is even dictating that someone must be emotionally, psychologically or spiritually "okay" with marriage equality.

What it is saying is if two people of the same gender want to get married, as defined by state laws (remember: state, not church) then they will not be denied the opportunity to file their license and consequently, have all legal rights (remember: legal, not spiritual) associated with that license.

I frequently hear the defense that marriage started with the church and thus, is a religious institution.  Then someone on the side of marriage equality will fire back with an argument about polygamy and other outdated Bible verses regarding selling your wife and eating shellfish.  This argument is never ending and honestly, I don't feel should ever be engaged in.  Your belief system is your belief system.  Congratulations to you for finding a faith in which you can invest your conviction and guide your life.  However, pay me the same respect and leave my belief system alone as well.

"But my belief system is under attack!"

Sorry to tell you, but any religious influence on the definition of Marriage Equality ended when states started accepting officiants ordained online as legally-approved officers of marriage ceremonies.  The church/synagogue/temple/mosque impact on what defines marriage got the boot a while ago.  Marriage, as legally defined, is a contract.  A legal contract that is fulfilled by checking off all the right boxes at the courthouse and paying a fee.

Again, I will reiterate, marriage as defined by your religious faith does not affect nor is effected by changing what is on that checklist or is accepted on the forms you fill out at the courthouse.  Every religion has their own requirements for marriage and the Supreme Court is keeping their hands out of that honey pot.  Continue to have your beautiful ceremonies steeped in tradition.  They are truly beautiful.  Truly.

Marriage Equality is not an attack on anyone or anything...
Marriage Equality is, simply put, legal empowerment.  Unless you're going to engage in a same-sex marriage contract, this, literally, has nothing to do with you.  It does not take anything from or contribute anything to the value of your marriage.  Stop playing the victim.  No one is telling you what to believe or feel.  If you feel societal pressure to change your believes, take that back to your faith group.

...other than States Rights.
Now, this is argument to be had.  But that's a story for another day.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Book Review: "Inferno" by Dan Brown

The fourth of Dan Brown's Robert Langdon fiction, Inferno follows Langdon on an adventure that takes him from Florence to Venice.  However, this time, instead of just figuring out riddles left behind by a crazy scientist, Langdon must also put together the pieces of 36 hours of lost memory.  Centering around the tales of Dante's epic poem Inferno, Langdon must once again save the world from impending doom.

My favorite part of this Langdon adventure is he doesn't immediately have all the answers.  While loyalty and trust are always themes in Brown's novels, this one is unique in Langdon interacting with people he has no recollection meeting.  His puzzle pieces consist primarily of what he's being told by those around him.  The twist at the end is superb!

I still would not rank this one above Angels and Demons or The Da Vinci Code.  However, it is a must read.  Get it here:

Sunday, May 31, 2015

7 Tips for Running a runDisney Race

My goal this year was to run a race.  A real, bonafide race.  And since I love Disney so much, the choice was obvious.  I recently completed the TinkerBell 10k at Disneyland and learned a thing or... seven along the way.  Here are my 7 tips for running a runDisney race.

1.  Hydrate
I know, I know.  You hear this from everyone, but seriously, nothing takes the magic out of the happiest place on earth like dehydration cramps, getting sick or much worse.  Even if it's not hot out, you need to be properly hydrated.  Start daaays before.  Not the day before.  Not two days before.  You should become Flounder that week.

2.  Get into Character
All those people dressed as princesses driving you nuts?  Well, maybe you're too much of a curmudgeon for a Disney run.  Find your inner child, drop the "too cool for school" act and make/buy a costume.  Last minute, I put together my tutu from lightweight fabric and while not a full costume, I'm so glad I looked the part!  Take this opportunity to be silly and fun.  And trust me, if you don't go over the top, your costume won't affect your pace.  Speaking of pace...

3.  Decide: Speed or Experience
When developing your training plan, decide: Are you running for speed or experience?  runDisney races offer a lot - a killer course through the parks, entertainment, a unique experience.  However, you can't PR and stop at every character to take a picture.  Pick one or the other.  Have a game plan.

4.  Arrive Early
The parks are loaded with people.  Give yourself plenty of time to park, walk to the pre-race celebration, use the restroom, stretch, and most importantly, get to your corral.  The corrals are massive and the staff packs people in pretty tightly.  Try to be at the front of your corral.

5.  Outside then Inside
Start the race on the outside of the group, then work your way to the middle.  The beginning of races are usually crowded and slow.  My first mile was over 15 minutes because I couldn't break through the crowd.  If you're running, stick to the outside for the first mile or so until the crowd thins out.  You'll be able to pass the walkers more easily and keep your pace reasonable.  Once you're in stride, move to the middle.  Walkers will (hopefully) stick to the edges, but never to just the left or just the right, so for easier navigation, go right up the middle.

6. Smile!
Disney photographers are everywhere.  Standing at a turn or mile marker.  Sitting on the ground.  Most of the time you won't see them until you see the flash go off - so let those endorphins take over and keep a smile on your face!  ESPECIALLY at the finish line!

7.  Register Early
Sold on doing a race?  Register early.  Sign up for runDisney emails so you're the first to know when registration open.  The TinkerBell 10k filled up in five days after registration opened.  Gotta be quick!

Have you run a race?  What are your tips?

Have fun and good luck!

TinkerBell 10k - aka Wings Earned!

After sixteen weeks of training, race day week finally arrived.  I made the short trip out to California from Arizona and was completely focused on my goal.  I had set a personal goal of completing the 6.2 miles under one hour and fifteen minutes.  That meant I had to run an eleven minute mile.  I was determined to do it.

Two days before the race, I visited the runDisney Expo with my friend to pick up my race packet and explore.  As to be expected, Disney has people moving down to a science.  Picking up my packet was painless and getting through the expo easy.  I couldn't believe the number of people there and the buzz.  Everyone was legitimately excited to be there and run.  Seriously... we're all crazy.

At the expo, I was fortunate to find the missing piece to my race day outfit, which is really what the expo was all about.  I bought this incredibly appropriate shirt for my run.

You can purchase it here, along with many other Disney-themed run apparel (yes, there's Star Wars too!).

Before I knew it, race day was upon me.  With my support crew in tow, we headed to Disneyland at 4:00 am.  I was ready.

I won't give you the mile-by-mile summary but I will tell you, Disney doesn't lie.  Every mile was magical.  The race route was really well planned and there were characters/musicians/supporters at every turn.  It was the most distracted 6.2 miles of my life.  I've said it before and I'll say it again - the race was worth every penny.
And how did I do?  See for yourself!
Not too shabby!  Plus I looked cute and got an AMAZING medal!
I was so happy to complete my first runDisney race.  In fact, I've already agreed to run the January Star Wars Half-Marathon with a friend!  I can't wait!

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Book Review :: "The Paris Wife" by Paula McLain

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain is a historical fiction about the marriage of Ernest and Hadley Hemingway.  The story starts at their first encounter and ends their journey at their last parting.  Told from Hadley's perspective, the reader gets to experience a classic, sweeping romance.  The story is only that much more intriguing if you know how it ends from the beginning.

I can't remember the last time I couldn't put a book down like this.  I was sneaking reads on my breaks and taking the book every where with me.  Knowing that Hadley was Hemingway's first wife made the book all that more intriguing because I was constantly waiting for her breaking point.  McLain did extensive research on the Hemingway's and it truly showed in her writing, which was colorful and engaging.

As a woman of my generation, I didn't necessarily find Hadley to be relatable but, simply, interesting.  I found her thought process to be frustrating, though incredibly historically accurate.  Being of an empowered generation, it is sometimes difficult to look back and relate to the behaviors and thoughts of women before me.  However, I have a deep appreciation for that, despite her time, Hadley still stood up for herself and her happiness in the end.  By the end of the novel, I found I had a great affection for her.  Team Hadley!

I highly recommend this book.  It's a great beach read AND a cozy by the fire book.  Check it out:

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Earning My Wings :: Training Week 13

Week 13 was spent getting back on the horse, working out like a normal person and not a crazy person.
 I went easy on my knees by doing elliptical and cycling workouts.  I also spent more time toning and doing yoga to strengthen up those important muscle groups.
I know everyone is crazy about kettlebells these days.  Don't get me wrong - I do enjoy them and see the virtue in them.  However.  Howeveeeer.  Nothing is better than good ole dumbbells.  I would encourage anyone who is looking to tone up fast to drop the kettlebells and work with dumbbells.  I have found them to be, legitimately, the more effective tool.

That being said, after a great series of workouts, I took a little break in sunny San Diego for some relaxation.  Not a single work out was completed and I'm okay with that.
 My return to real life also brought on the beginning of Tone It Up's Bikini Series.  This is an annual 8 week moderate-to-intense training schedule to tone up your entire body.  Training Week 14 will be full of more details... including a Before picture.  Oh boy.

 Until then... keep moving forward.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Earning My Wings :: Training Weeks 11 & 12


Leading into Week 11, I made an agreement with someone close to me.  I'll do 5k a day running or 10k a day cycling for 14 days straight.  The agreement was made to ramp up our fitness levels and while, due to circumstances beyond their control, they were unable to complete the challenge.  I, however...was not able to either.


Allergies.  Stupid springtime.

So how far did I make it?
10 days.  10 workouts in a row doing either a 5k run/elliptical (have to give those knees a break) or 10k cycle.

I'll be real.  It was exhausting.  I had to be sure to change my diet because I was burning so many calories and I was perpetually sore. body felt great.  I hit a 10:00 mile with great ease and now I really understand why cross training is so important.  I've immediately noticed a change in how running feels.

Unfortunately, Arizona is heating up, which means the pollen is coming out to play.  Ugh!  On day 11, I couldn't walk outside without my eyes watering up and had to take allergies pills, which severely dehydrated me.  Unfortunately, that put a temporary halt to my challenge and I've resumed regular workouts this week.  I'm really glad I did it though!

So what am I most proud of?

Until next week... keep moving forward!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Book Review :: The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

Now I understand.

Now I understand why Ernest Hemingway is considered one of the great American authors.

The Sun Also Rises is beautiful illustrative of the Lost Generation and the morality shifts of a post-World War I world.  Though I still struggle with Hemingway's rambling prose, I enjoyed this allusion to key character points and use of bullfighting as a powerful symbol.  Not going to lie, there were enough layers to this book that I had to pull up Sparknotes to make sure I didn't miss anything.

Outside of being an awesome piece of literature, the story is entertaining.  Who doesn't love a good love triangle and fist fight?!  The main character Jake is wonderfully tragic and you truly do root for him.

If you haven't read The Sun Also Rises yet, I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Earning My Wings :: Training Weeks 9 & 10


The past two weeks have flown by!

My training in Week 9 was in preparation for my first 8k - ever!  I was really intimidated by the distance and the heat.  Arizona's "spring" is really an aggressive jolt into summer and the temperature was rising quickly.

I went out to Glendale for the 5th Annual Kiss Me I'm Irish Run.  I couldn't believe how many people were there!  Over 2500 runners - all waiting to get their morning run done in exchange for free green beer.  The route was diverse, though crowded.  I had to take a few walking breaks but I powered through with a pace I was really proud of.
Completing this 8k has really built up my confidence for my 10k in a few weeks.  The distance doesn't seem so scary anymore, although running in the heat does.  I'm focusing on getting more runs outside done as the temperatures increase to condition myself to that environmental challenge.

In Week 10, I focused on toning my body up.  Lots of weight workouts and short distance runs.  I'm trying to be cognizant of varying my workouts and keeping my body agile.

I also participated in a basketball shoot-out competition at work, during which I tanked in fashion.  Doesn't matter how fit I am - I still suck at basketball.
So what am I most proud of?

Weeks 11 and 12 come with an interesting challenge.  I'll probably double up that post intentionally as it will tell a complete story.  Stay tuned... it's ridiculous...

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Earning My Wings :: Training Week 8

Well, I'm halfway there.

The past week focused on resetting my eating habits and working out... a lot.  I actually did two workouts a day.  Crazy, right?  The reason why may surprise my friends.

I've always been a strong critic of crash diets, slim down plans, "get skinny quick" solutions though I have never actually tried one.  So, deciding not to be a hypocrite and embrace the "Don't knock it until you've rocked it" philosophy, I planned to follow the Tone It Up 5 Day Slim Down.  I chose this specific slim down because I trust Tone It Up and it seemed manageable.

Last Sunday, I did all the prep work, took my measurements and my "Before" picture, and braced myself for the coming week.  Honestly, it seemed really intimidating to completely change the way I eat for a week while adding in an extra workout every day (first thing in the morning).

Here's what I learned...

1.  I really love working out in the morning.  Sure, going to bed at 8:00 PM is difficult, but the benefits of working out first thing in the morning can't be disputed.  I felt more energized, accomplished and after the first two days, it didn't seem optional.  After only two days, it was part of my morning routine.
2.  Eating 5 small meals a day is incredibly manageable.  A little bit of prep work goes a long way.  I'm not talking about cooking all your food on Sunday night and filling up 8,000 tupperware containers.  Really, all you need to do is make a meal plan for the week and get your grocery shopping done.  Half the battle is knowing what you're going to eat first before hunger kicks in and you make poor decisions.  Also helpful - having an alarm to remind you to eat.  I programmed my Jawbone to buzz me when it was time to eat, but you can have your cell phone alert you just as easily.
3.  On the topic of food, you have to really love healthy food to get through a slim down menu.  Like... really love veggies.  Otherwise, you're going to suffer.
4.  Working out twice a day - not nearly as exhausting as you would think!  By the time I was done with work, I was ready to run or do yoga.  Something to shake out the rest of the day.
5. Be very careful with these slim downs!  Tone It Up's plan puts you in the position of a 1000 calorie a day DEFICIT, which is why they don't recommend doing them more than 3 times a year.  By the time Thursday came around, I found that I was slightly impaired.  My thought process was a little fuzzy and my reaction times were way off.  Don't worry - I fixed that with a Snickers.  I'm kidding, of course.  I added more protein than recommended and had just a few carbs to rebalance.

So how did it end up?  You tell me...
Definitely an impact.  I didn't lose a significant amount of weight - which is fine by me.  But I did tone up - losing about an inch off every measurement.  Even better, my eating habits are back on track and I learned a ton about my body.
I'm happy to be back to my normal healthy eating (with some modifications due to lessons learned) and focusing on my running for an 8k on Saturday.

Until next week...

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