Saturday, December 30, 2017

Year in Review: 2017

Where did 2017 go? It seemed like it flew by. I had a lot of goals for 2017 that I didn't accomplish. I don't know where I put my list, but here's what I can remember:

1. Read 12 books - I only read 10. I was actually ahead of schedule, until I moved to Hawaii at the end of August and basically stopped reading after that.

2. Pull-ups - I know I had some goal for pull-ups, I think it was maybe 5? When I had a pull-up bar hanging in my doorway and I was practicing for a bit every day, I got to the point where I could do 3 or 4 chin ups. Now I can barely do one. I recently started Crossfit, so maybe that will change.

3. Handstand - For awhile now, I've wanted to be able to do a handstand. I would practice intermittently, get slightly better, then regress. I recently learned how to do a tripod headstand, and I'm able to hold that pose for up to 30 seconds, so it's a start. I need to be more consistent with practicing, but it isn't always easy to find a place to get upside down.

My other goals escape me for now; I may update this if I find my list or remember more.

Life Events 2017

Feb-June - Worked in Lynchburg, VA. It was great because I got to live at home, save money, and hang out with my old friends.

March - My 30th birthday
April - Tristan and G's wedding
June - Katherine and Spencer's wedding.

July-August - Time off in Maine and Virginia

End of August - moved to Hawaii
September - December - Started my job on the Big Island of Hawaii
December 1-15 - Two weeks off to explore Oahu and Kauai

Moving to Hawaii was a scary step for me. I hesitated to move so far away from family and friends. I mean, I did it before when I moved to California, but somehow Hawaii seemed more remote. After all, it's a small group of islands in the middle of the Pacific. There isn't exactly anything else close by.

It's different than I thought it would be. In the towns where I live and work, there are no beaches. I live in the middle northern part of the island in Waimea, so it's a 20 minute drive to the coast. I work in Honokaa, and although it's close to the coast, there are cliffs and no accessible beaches except Waipio Valley, which requires either 4WD or a steep hike. I enjoy living near the mountains with cool breezes and less humidity, but I'm over an hour away from either of the islands bigger cities, Hilo and Kona, so getting to Target or a decent grocery store is a bit of a hassle. I also bought an old beat-up island car, which has been less than reliable.

But, I've been able to see and do a lot of things on the island that I wouldn't have been able to find out about without local guidance. I've done a (free!) night swim with Manta Rays, kayaked with spinner dolphins to the Captain Cook monument, saw the active lava flows at Kalapana (like got within 10 feet of hot lava), jumped off of South Point, went to Green Sands Beach, bought lots of produce from the Hilo farmer's market, and rode a horse at the Paniolo stables.

There are still some hikes I want to do, beaches I want to go to, and places I want to see (including the telescope at Mauna Kea!) so I've extended my contract until March. I am starting to get a little bit of island fever, since some things are just hard to get done on an island (like mailing Christmas packages and getting mail), but I want to explore this island a little more before I leave in March. Then my dad and brother are coming to visit for 10 days in March after my contract ends, so I'm super excited about that!

2017 was a great year that went from being totally in my comfort zone (at home in VA with family and friends) to something totally new and different (new job in Hawaii, where I had never been and knew no one- except Cat who works on a different island). I'm thankful for the opportunity to see so many cool places, but I wonder how long I'll have the desire to keep traveling, because I miss everyone back home a lot when I'm gone. I can't wait to see what 2018 holds, because I have no clue where I'll be or what I'll be doing after March!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Summer Reads 2017

I've enjoyed reading a few good books this summer, and thought I'd post a mid-year review!

First up: The Mysteries

The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair – by Joel Dicker

In the first mystery novel I read this summer, a young writer investigates a murder that took place 30 years ago. The victim was a 15 year old girl and the suspect is the writer's friend, a successful professor and writer himself, who apparently had an affair with the girl 30 years earlier. In the small town of Somerset, it seems like everyone has some secrets to hide, and there are many surprises as the author digs up what happened all those years ago. 

This was a page turner, and I liked the book until the end, when there's one big plot twist that's a little too far-fetched. You also have to suspend some disbelief at Harry and Nola's relationship - a 32 year old and a 15 year old falling in love over the course of three months that summer? But it did keep me guessing and I didn't figure out who murdered Nola ahead of time. Rating: 3/5

A Study in Charlotte - by Brittany Cavallaro

This was a young adult novel, and a fast easy read, but I thoroughly enjoyed it! The two main characters are Charlotte Holmes, the great-great-great-granddaughter of Sherlock Holmes, and Jamie Watson, a descendant of John Watson. The two teenagers meet at a prep school and become involved in a murder investigation when they become suspects in the case. There are elements of the classic Sherlock Holmes stories that I loved, but Brittany also manages to create two unique characters that are fun to get to know! 
Rating: 3/5

Everything I Never Told You - by Celeste Ng

"Lydia is dead. But they don't know this yet." So begins this sad story. I thought it would be more of a mystery, but it was mostly about the struggles of a Chinese American family living in small town Ohio. Lydia was the daughter of a white mother who was always trying to stand out, and a Chinese father, who was always trying to fit in. As the favorite child, Lydia experienced undue pressure from both of her parents, and living up to the impossible standards led to a series of events that ultimately resulted in her death.

I found some parts to be an insightful look into racial issues, the struggles of fitting in, standing out, pleasing family, and living up to expectations... but ultimately it just seemed so melancholy and depressing. I couldn't figure out why the the parents couldn't communicate better- with their children and each other- and how they could make so many assumptions about each other, without spending the time to get to know one another's true feelings. In the end, it was a bit frustrating. Rating: 2/5

Ordinary Grace - William Kent Krueger

This is a coming-of-age story along with a mystery. Frank Drum recounts his experiences in the summer of 1961 in New Bremen, Minnesota, when he was 13 years old. That summer, death visited Frank's small town in many forms: Accident, Suicide, Murder. Frank has to grapple with the aftermath of these tragedies, and in the process learns about faith, grief, hope, and responsibility. This isn't a thriller. It's a story about family, brotherhood, wisdom, and the grace of God. There are some beautiful moments, especially between the brothers, Jake and Frank. Rating: 4/5

The Life We Bury - by Allen Eskens

This was probably the most fast-paced out of all the mysteries, but the most straight-forward crime. However, unlike a lot of other thrillers which have some implausible twists, this mystery made sense. Even though I suspected the culprit long before I found out who it was for sure, I still enjoyed reading the book. Joe Talbert, the main character, interviews Carl Iverson, a convicted murderer, and cannot reconcile Carl's heroism in Vietnam with the despicable acts he supposedly committed. I wish Joe and Carl had more interactions in the book, but I really enjoyed seeing Joe and Lila's relationship develop. This book was fun, intense, and I couldn't put it down! 
Rating: 3.5/5

The Silence of the Sea - by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

This book is a top-selling Icelandic crime novel, but I think it may have lost something in translation. The story tends to drag a bit in places, and the dialogue's a little stilted. It's a creepy mystery that vaguely reminded me of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, as the characters begin to disappear off the yacht. The ending could have been better. Rating: 2.5/5

Next: all the other books I've read so far this year

The Little Paris Bookshop - by Nina George

This book looked so cute, but it ended up being sappy and overly dramatic. There were some great quotes about reading, but the book itself lacked personality. I almost didn't finish it. As one reviewer on Goodreads said, "This novel just did not work for me. I thought it was disgustingly sweet, poorly plotted, filled with cliches and bad dialogue, and I could not finish it fast enough." Rating: 2/5

The Nightingale - by Kristin Hannah

The first half of the book was kind of boring and lacked character development. I felt like I didn't really know Isabelle or Vianne at all. About 150 pages in, the sisters get more involved in the war effort, and then the book started getting better. The ending was really sweet and touching. Rating: 2.5/5

The Book Thief - by Markus Zusak

This book, like The Nightingale, takes place during World War II, but rather than focusing on occupied France, the Book Thief is set in Germany and follows the story of a young girl, Liesel, who is growing up under Nazi dominance. I loved Liesel and her friend Rudy and all of their adventures together. I could have done without the parts that were narrated by "Death"; and the way the author separated out some of the text into little blurbs with a heading was just unnecessary. I liked that it was more a coming-of-age story than simply another historical fiction novel about WWII. Rating: 3/5

A Man Called Ove - by Fredrik Backman

This was such a sweet story about a grumpy old man. Ove lives in Sweden, has a short fuse, and is rather set in his ways; but there's so much more once you get to know him. I don't want to give anything else away, but this is a must-read! I loved it. Rating: 5/5

I Still Do

I Still Do (song)

Verse 1
Dark shirt, long sleeves
Your eyes on me
We're with all of our friends at a party
But for us, it's just you and me

Blond hair, blue eyes
Your laugh, your smile
I'm hanging onto every word you say
Because you've captivated me for awhile

You had me hooked from the very first day
Knew it couldn't work, but I just couldn't stay away
Why'do you have to look so good in you navy blue?
You know it makes me want you
And I still do

Verse 2
Still have that shirt I wore when you kissed me
When we were both a little tipsy
How I wish that you even missed me
Like I miss you
Cause I still do

Still have that feeling when I see you
With your crew cut, wearing dark blue
How I wish I could be with you
Like we were then
Can we pretend?

Alternate Chorus (which one is better?)
After all. this. time.
You still have me hooked, like the very first day
I've lost. my. mind.
Knew it couldn't work, but I just couldn't stay away
After all. these. years.
You still look so good in your navy blue
And after all. these. tears.
Why do I still want you?
Cause I still do

After all this time
You're still on my mind

Bridge option 2
I keep seein’ you around town
Having to pretend
I don’t feel the same way now
But I can’t quite forget

I see it in flashes
All the things we did
Now those memories are ashes
But I can’t quite forget…

Alternate verse
Breathe in, breathe out
Don’t go too far now
I’m holding my breath
Feeling your hands
Pulling me close
Don’t let me go

…But you let me go

Friday, May 26, 2017

Wilmington Half Marathon

When I moved back to Virginia in the fall, I wanted to try to do as many half marathons as possible in nearby states. I needed a Delaware race that sounded fun and was within driving distance. I discovered that Delaware is a very small state, with many fewer races than Virginia, so there's not a whole lot of choices. But when I read about the Wilmington Half Marathon, it was everything I wanted!

It's only a 6 hour drive from Virginia, and about a 7 hour drive from Massachusetts, so I thought it would be a great place for me and my parents, sister, and nieces to meet up for a running weekend! I also liked the fact that it started on a riverfront and that part of the race was run through parks and along the river.

My family and I rented a townhouse right on the riverfront across from the Tubman-Garrett park where the races started. My nieces ran the kids run on Saturday afternoon, and then my mom, Leslie, Allison, and Kyle ran the 5k that evening. The only downside was that it was raining on Saturday afternoon, so the kids complained about being cold and didn't want to hang out or do any of the activities at the park. 
Lilli was the only one who really ran. Izzy cried, but was dragged along by Kyle and Allison, and Karsyn cried and had to be carried.

The next morning, Tristan and I ran the half marathon. I walked across the bridge to the start and met Tristan there. I literally left the house at 6:50 and the race started at 7am. It was nice not to have to worry about driving and parking! Tristan, on the other hand, couldn't make it to my house because of the road closures, and couldn't find parking, so she drove back to her hotel and walked half a mile to the start.

We actually started behind everybody else, because we were in line for the port-a-potty when the race started. We were in the back of the pack with a guy that was jumping rope and a guy that was juggling while running the half.

After trying so hard to break 2 hours in the Flying Pirate half and not succeeding, we just wanted to have fun and enjoy this race. And, surprisingly, I LOVED this race! Wilmington is not the best city. There seemed to be a lot of homeless people and run-down areas. But the race course went through 2 parks, along a river (my favorite part), over a suspension bridge, and through some nice neighborhoods. The weather was perfect- cool and breezy after all the rain the day before, and the sun came out at the end. It wasn't flat, but the hills weren't crazy either - and I've found that I actually prefer some rolling hills over a completely flat course.

So I was pleasantly surprised by how pretty and pleasant the race course was, and I think it's been one of my favorite half marathons so far! (Along with See Jane Run and Richmond). Besides having to run for a port-a-potty at mile 7 (only the second time I've had a bathroom "emergency" in 25+ races), the race was pretty uneventful and we kept a pretty steady pace.

Sunday was also Mother's Day, so when we got back to the townhouse, Kyle and Allison and I cooked lunch for my mom and then we rode bikes and went for a walk along the riverfront. All in all, a great weekend!

Official Time: 2:05:11

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Flying Pirate Half Marathon

Tristan and I decided to run the Flying Pirate half after hearing from our friends that they enjoyed it last year. We thought the Outer Banks would be a fun weekend trip too!

We got there Saturday and had time to relax by the beach and the pool. Our hotel was right on the beach! It was warm, but still the off-season, so we had the beach and the pool mostly to ourselves. It was so peaceful.

For dinner, we went to Goombays, which I highly recommend if you're in the Outer Banks! I got the jazzy chicken, which came with a pineapple coconut sauce, fresh salsa, roasted vegetables, and rice, and everything was amazing!

One thing that was nice about the Outer Banks was that it seemed like everyone catered to the runners. At both lunch and dinner, the servers asked us if we were running the next day. And our hotel opened their breakfast bar up early (at like 4am) for the runners, which is the first time I can ever remember that happening at a hotel!

It had rained overnight, and was still damp and drizzling the morning of the race. Luckily Allison was with us and dropped us off at the start with 10 minutes to spare, so we didn't have to wait around in the rain. It completely stopped raining after the first mile, but remained overcast for the rest of the race, which was nice because it was already getting humid.

The race was a smaller one. We ran along the Sound and behind quite neighborhoods. There weren't a lot of crowds, but Allison was waiting for us at several points along the course to cheer us on! Tristan and I probably started out a little too fast and we were already getting tired by mile 4 or 5.

At mile 8 or 9, we ran past the Wright Brother Memorial, which was probably the most memorable sight of the course. At mile 10, the course turned into a packed dirt and/or gravel trail through the woods, with quite a few ups and downs. They were small hills, but at that point in the course they seemed hard!

Tristan and I were still pushing the pace, because we were so close to 2 hours! But with the hills and dirt trails on the final miles of the course, we just weren't able to make it under two. At least we finished strong, feeling like we gave it everything we had! I felt like I was pushing myself hard the entire race, and I honestly don't know where I would have been able to run 37 seconds faster!

So even though we missed a sub-2 again (by what feels like the hundredth time!) we're proud of our effort on what turned out to be a tougher course than we thought!

Official Time: 2:00:37

Monday, February 13, 2017

Love Chocolate Half Marathon

This weekend I ran the Love Chocolate half marathon in Savannah, Georgia! It was a smaller, cheaper race, but I wanted to run a race in Georgia early in the year before it got too hot. I had my favorite running buddy, Tristan, with me, so the miles went by pretty fast. I hadn't run very much in the past two weeks, so I was worried that I would have to stop and walk. But with Tristan by my side, we were able to run the whole way! I always enjoy races much more when I can run with a friend!

We ended up keeping a pretty consistent pace, with an overall average of 9:33 per mile, and finished in 2:06:30. I'll take it!

The day before the race, we explored downtown Savannah. We got coffee and croissants at Cafe M, a cute little french restaurant by the river. We walked along River Street, and stopped in at the outdoor market there, where I bought a canvas for my house. Then we headed over to Forsyth Park, where we walked around and enjoyed the sunshine.

We went on a tour of the Mercer House in the afternoon, which is right by Forsyth Park. It has a pretty interesting history, being that the story Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil was set there. However, the tour itself wasn't that great, because we only saw four rooms and didn't even get to go upstairs.

After lunch, we headed to a wine bar where you can swipe a card and choose your own tastings by the ounce. It was really cool! I've been to a restaurant in California where they did beer tastings by the ounce (Blast 825 Taproom), but this is the first time I'd seen it for wine! We got dinner at Kayak Cafe and headed back to the room for an early night before the race.

After the race, we spent the day at the Tanger Outlets. The Nike Outlet had some great deals and I got a few new running shirts and a pair of pants. There were a lot of other good stores, too.

On Sunday we drove back! I loved Savannah. The weather was gorgeous (albeit a little hot for a February race), and we had fun exploring Savannah and shopping at the outlets.

Official Race Time: 2:06:30

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Books of 2016

Lockdown – Tarah Benner

The fourth book in the Fringe series. These are fast, enjoyable reads about a dystopian future where the earth has been damaged by radiation. I hope the author wraps up the series in another book or two and doesn't drag it out too long, but I'll continue to read as long as I care about Harper and Eli. I also love the supporting characters like Celdon, Sawyer, and especially the other kids from Harper's training class.

Series: 4/5

Moonlight Mile – Dennis Lehane

I picked this book up at a grocery store of all places! I didn't know anything about it, other than what it said on the cover - that Dennis Lehane was the author of Mystic River and Shutter Island (I haven't read either, but I did like the movie Shutter Island). I later learned that this is somewhat of a sequel to Gone, Baby, Gone (I saw that movie a long time ago - all I remember is that it's about a kidnapped kid). This book takes place after the kidnapped girl has grown up, and has suddenly disappeared again. The same detective investigates, and has to deal with how he handled the case the first time. It's an entertaining story, with a few twists and turns along the way. Rating: 3/5

The Husband’s Secret – Lianne Moriarty
Big Little Lies – Lianne Moriarty

I'd heard a lot about Lianne Moriarty's books and I finally read two this year! They were both fun beach books. Both books are written from multiple characters' perspectives, and the lives of the women intersect in various ways. There are a few twists and surprises that make it a fast, fun read. Rating: 3/5
The Glass Castle – Jeannette Walls

This was an interesting memoir about a girl who had a rather unconventional childhood. Her father was a dreamer and an alcoholic who couldn't hold down a job, and her mother was an artistic free spirit who hated to work. The four children grew up in an unstable environment in various dilapidated houses, often without enough to eat. This book reminded me that people can be terrible parents even if they love their kids. And some people don't want to be helped. This excerpt kind of sums up the book:

I think that maybe sometimes people get the lives they want.”
“Are you saying homeless people want to live on the street?” Professor Fuchs asked. “Are you saying they don’t want warm beds and roofs over their heads?”
“Not exactly, I said. I was fumbling for words. “They do. But if some of them were willing to work hard and make compromises, they might not have ideal lives, but they could make ends meet.”
Professor Fuchs walked around from behind her lectern. “What do you know about the lives of the underprivileged?” she asked. She was practically trembling with agitation. “What do you know about the hardships and obstacles that the underclass faces?Rating: 3/5

A Walk in the Woods – Bill Bryson

This was a funny tale about a writer's foray into the world of backpacking when he attempts to hike the Appalachian Trail. I've read another book by a guy who actually finished the hike. While his book was informative, he was prepared and pretty much did everything the right way. Bill made a lot more mistakes and struggled a lot more, which makes his book more humorous. He also did some research on the history of the trail and includes some interesting tidbits. However, the fact remains that he gave up his goal of hiking the entire trail rather easily (but, as he points out, many people start the hike and don't finish). Rating: 3/5

East – Edith Pattou

This book was recommended to me by a staff member at the little bookstore in Maine. It's based on an obscure old fairy tale. It started out pretty good, with a daughter born to a superstitious mother who gets a prediction that her child will perish under ice and snow. However, there is no character development!! The relationship between the girl and the polar bear is never explained or explored or really written about at all! It kind of reads like a news article, just stating the facts. The advice "show, don't tell" should've been applied here. Rating: 2/5

How Not to Travel the World – Lauren Juliff (3/5)
A Thousand New Beginnings – Kristin Addis (2/5)

I read these two books about traveling while I was traveling in Italy (lots of downtime on trains and planes). I liked Lauren's book better because she struggled to overcome her anxiety, did a lot of dumb things, and eventually learned to become a stronger, more competent person due to her adventures around the world. Kristin came across as super confident and popular, always met new people right away, and was adept at fitting into new cultures, even able to bargain for the best prices like a local. I couldn't relate to her, and her book just seemed like a list of all the places she visited. Her pictures were amazing, though!

Present Over Perfect – Shauna Niequist

I normally don't read many Christian self-help type books, but I'd seen this one pop up on the internet a few times and thought I'd give it a shot. After all, who doesn't want to learn about how to live in the present over seeking perfection? Shauna talks a lot about saying no to good opportunities and finding peace in the quiet, but never really addresses how to be present in the moment, other than to say we should sit down in the middle of the mess and realize this is actual life, rather than waiting around for fantastic. She talked about learning to appreciate stillness even though she's an extrovert. (As an introvert, I've always appreciated quiet time away from people). I thought the most poignant part was in the beginning, when Shauna realized she was living a life she hated. That was a good reminder to me to make choices with a big-picture perspective. In the end, Shauna mainly talked about slowing down and that could've been a blog post rather than a book. Rating: 2/5

The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins

This was a pretty good thriller/mystery. Not great, but good. I was intrigued by the idea of a woman witnessing something unusual from the train. It sounded like an Agatha Christie mystery at first. It was more of a thriller and a page-turner. I figured out who the culprit was, but I'd rather have an answer that makes sense than some random twist that doesn't make sense at all. This kept my attention and was a good distraction for my plane ride. Rating: 3/5

Audiobooks - do these count?

Winning Balance – Shawn Johnson 3/5
Wild – Cheryl Strayed 1/5

I listened to these two autobiographies on long car rides. They could not have been more different. I love gymnastics and I follow a bunch of the gymnasts from the past two Olympic teams. I really enjoyed learning about Shawn's story, especially because she didn't take the typical route of an elite gymnast. Her parents wanted her to have a normal life, so she still went to school and trained about half as much as other elite girls her age. When Shawn came on the scene at competitions, no one knew who she was at first! I also liked hearing about her experience on Dancing With the Stars - I didn't realize she competed on the show so soon after the Olympics were over!

Wild was kind of boring, and I probably would've stopped listening - except I had a 12 hour drive and it was something to do. Cheryl was pretty selfish and stupid, both in life and on her hike. The fact that her backpack was so heavy she couldn't lift it to swing it onto her back should've been the first clue to get rid of some junk. Also, shooting up heroin right before the hike probably wasn't the best idea. As for her personal life, she inexplicably left her husband even though he was seemingly the one person who was reliable and genuinely cared for her. 

Overall, I'm slightly disappointed in the books I read this year. Most were average: entertaining or interesting, but nothing captivating or ground-breaking. A few were real duds. I hope to find more 4 and 5 star books in 2017.