Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A Little On the Bookish Side

Hi, hello, and happy new month! I'll put this out here right now: this is a book post. So if you're not into book posts, you're off the hook for this one—I'll see you back here tomorrow or whenever I decide to post next.

In an attempt to make myself get through some of the books that I've been saying "it's on my list!" or "I've been meaning to read that!" about forever, I roped myself into a few book challenges for this summer. Luckily, they overlap—even though as I write this on Tuesday afternoon I haven't even technically started the Literary Ladies book challenge yet. But anyway. (Tuesday evening update: Started.)
The Blonder Side of Life
The other summer challenge I joined is the Bookish Side of Life challenge, hosted by the sweet Kels who lives on the Blonder Side of Life. A few weeks back, Kels asked us to set a personal goal number of books to be read in the months of June, July, and August. As I was about to slip behind on my personal goal to read 30 books in 2015 (I'm a slow reader guys, gimme a break), I jumped at the chance.

I placed a conservative bet on myself and said 10 sounded like a nice, round, attainable number. After one month, here's how I'm doing, what I've read, and what's up next:

June Reads*

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Kristen recommended this after she read it, and was kind enough to share her audiobook with me. I listened to most of this book during my 17-hour round-trip drive to West Virginia. It was my first ever audiobook! I was hesitant to try the format (I love the act of reading so much) but I think it's a good option for me when I just want to hear a good story. I'll save the delicious experience of reading for those stories I really, really look forward to though.

The narration was dry, and the content was dense. But, this book had a lot of really wonderful anecdotes and principles that we could all stand to incorporate into our lives a bit more. I don't think I would have gotten through it if it weren't for the audiobook (I don't love reading non-fiction), but I'm glad I gave it a listen.

Recommend? — Yes, but probably just the audiobook.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
I honestly can't remember if I started this book before, but I think I had. Good thing I forget all narrative details about 30 seconds after I attain them. I don't know what that's about, guys. Anyway, I gave this a listen on audiobook too, after discovering my library had a pretty decent selection of audiobooks. I love music, but in the mornings I prefer podcasts or, now, audiobooks. This was a good morning listen, and I got through it pretty quickly.

I don't really have anything profound to say about this book. I liked it; it was heartwarming and heartbreaking in parts; it was a well-told story. It didn't change my life or make me feel like I needed to read more Mitch Albom right away. But it was good, and even though it didn't excite me one way or the other, I'm glad I finally scratched it off the list.

Recommend? — Sure, why not? If you like a good fiction narrative, you'll probably enjoy this.

The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick
My library had this in audiobook format too, so I grabbed it as soon as I finished Albom. And then it took me embarrassingly long to put two and two together. This author wrote Silver Linings Playbook, which I didn't realize was a book, but whose movie adaptation I love. Like, love. I don't know if I loved this one, but I thought it was great.

It's pretty quirky, and I've read mixed reviews and heard a pretty split opinion about it. It's strange in parts, and also heartbreaking in others, and something about hearing it narrated (in well-employed different voices as well) might have made it more emotional for me. It won't be for everybody, I don't think, and some parts were a little dragged out, but it was easy and I didn't have to think very hard and it was enjoyable.

Recommend? — Not urgently, but sure. Give it a read/listen!

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
I've read this before, at least twice. And I've studied it, so I remembered a bit of this, but the details and specifics had escaped me. I have a paperback copy so this is what I'd been working on before bed and such. Now, I remembered the majority of the major plot lines—like, in the way that you know before seeing it that Batman is about a caped vigilante in Gotham city—but I haven't read this as an adult. Seeing things through adult eyes and especially with the lens of what's going on in the world today, I was ready to have a very new reading experience with this book.

If you haven't read it, read it. If you haven't read it as an adult, read it. This book is beyond a masterpiece. It is over 50 years old and is set almost a century ago, and it is still profoundly relevant in America. It is funny in places and in ways you would never expect. It is so elegantly written and yet completely lacking in pretense. The first page is one I've read dozens of times because—well, I can't really express why. The first sentence and the second paragraph just...affect me somehow. That might be because I'm strange and dramatic, but I'm more inclined to chalk it up to Harper Lee's genius.

Recommend? — Yes. Unequivocally, yes. Sometimes, the classics are classics for a reason.
(P.S., Gregory Peck's portrayal of Atticus Finch earned the AFI's #1 spot on the top 100 movie heroes of the 20th century. #FunFact)

I'll add that I spent a good part of this month reading, editing, and editing again a novel that I won't list here, but that deserves to be mentioned, I think. A friend of mine has been nursing this manuscript for a few years and I finally—finally!—convinced him to share it with me and utilize my literary fiction editing services. We're bringing it up to snuff and hopefully it will be available as an ebook for any of you interested (it is a really, really good story) in the next couple of months!

*I counted only the books that I started and finished in the month of June, so May holdovers aren't listed.

Up Next...
I'm diving right into my Literary Ladies book list, which you can find here!

Have you read any of these? If so, what's your take? 
If not, what's on your 2015 summer reading list?

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

And So it Begins

There's something I need you guys to know about me: I make a big deal out of little things. I remember more "anniversaries" than most people would find normal. I mark occasions that seem meaningless to others, and celebrate them—or at least acknowledge them—in my own way.

This has never been more true than in my running career. (Which started on December 26, 2013, and no, I didn't have to look that date up.) So even though I've been thinking about the marathon and talking about it for more than six months, it is only now that I can officially say it's official.

I'm registered for the City of Oaks Marathon this November. I've put my money on the damn thing; it's for real now. And as of yesterday, I am following a marathon training plan and can say without hesitation, I am training to run my first marathon.

For those who don't know, a marathon is 26.2 miles. Training for the marathon is probably going to be the single most physically challenging experience of my life to date. My daily routine, eating habits, hydrating habits, running recovery, cross-training, and rest time will all change dramatically over the next 18 weeks. I will run more miles in some weeks than I've run in some months. 

In part, I know what to expect. I am friends with marathoners, and have been doing research since the day this thought first entered my head. I've picked people's brains, learned my body, and even gone halfway there three times. I've been preparing for training since mid-May. But this is about to be a whole 'nother kettle of fish, as my mother would say.

Here's my 18-week training plan for the marathon:
Now I know I'm a novice, but I'm going in with a few ground rules I've set for myself:

1. Stick to the training program. I mean, duh, right? This one's obvious. The marathon is a completely different beast than the half, and I need the guidance of this training plan to feel confident—let alone capable—on race day. I will not promise that all runs will be done on these exact days, as I do have weather, work, and a social calendar to factor in. But by Sunday evening, all these weekly prescribed miles need to be run.

2. Take yoga class every week. I do yoga most mornings before work, as you know if you read my Sunday Sweats posts. I take class on Tuesdays, and it's a much different practice than my 10-20 minute pre-work workout. Those short practices are incredibly valuable, but my 75-minute guided practice is where a lot of the healing from my long run happens. Keeping this in the rotation shouldn't be a problem, thankfully.

3. Don't be stupid. I'll be doing the majority of my training in the height of a New Jersey summer. For those of you who have never experienced the Garden State in July, let me brief you: 100º and 85%+ humidity is not a rarity on a July day. Even after sundown the temps can stay in the upper 80s—just last week I set out around 8 p.m. and the temperature was 85º. This will add an extra layer of challenge to the distances I'll be running for the first time in my life. I need to be smart about nutrition, hydration, dress, and recovery.

4. Don't be cocky. I have this bad habit of sometimes comparing myself to other people, like a lot of us do. Sometimes I look at runners like my cohost Tracy and think I can push my body to the places she sends hers. Sometimes, I can. A lot of times, I can't. And pushing myself into a place where I may become injured or overtired or burnt out isn't a part of the training plan. There's a fine line between pushing your mental limits and being an idiot, and I need to get real comfy in that space. We do not have time for a physical setback.

5. Don't stop. I'm going to place an unwinnable bet here at the beginning: I'm going to say "I can't do this" (or some variation) roughly 876 times over the next couple months. Sitting here with a clear head, I know that I can. I also know that it will take every ounce of physical strength I have sometimes, and every ounce of mental strength other times. I know I will want to quit on some of these runs, and I'll convince myself that this was the dumbest idea I've ever had. Who trains for a marathon after a year and a half of running? Apparently, I do. Because I can, no matter how many times over the next 18 weeks I try to convince myself of the opposite.

I can't be clear enough about this: I honestly have no idea how these next 18 weeks are going to look and feel. With my plan and mental preparation, I feel as prepared as I possibly can be, but that says nothing of all the loops I'm about to be thrown for. Here we go, I guess...

Marathoners, what is your best piece of advice for marathon training?
What should I watch out for?

As for the rest of you, what are you training for right now? Or how's your current fitness plan going? What are your recent wins/losses? Just because I'm talking marathon doesn't mean all goals of all sizes aren't welcome here. We want to hear about whatever's on your radar! Grab a button and link up below.

And hey, don't forget to hop around to some of the other fantastic bloggers linking up today and say hi, or offer a high five or some words of wisdom or support. Never underestimate the effect a virtual friend's encouragement can have! Let's make this the best fitness community on the blogosphere.  :)

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sunday Sweats Vol. 26

June 22–28

This week marks the last one where I'm not "officially" in marathon training—meaning, I'm in marathon mode, but my mileage is still a bit moveable as I'm not yet following my training plan. I'm real big on official and unofficial delineations, if you couldn't yet tell. ;)

Monday: 4.01 mile run (9:58 pace) + free flow (22 minutes)
Whooo, this was a hot one. Even at 8 p.m. with the sun well hidden behind the trees and up-mountain houses. I broke a 10 minute pace by the skin of my teeth, but at least I didn't stop every time my (excessively sweating) body asked me to. #demandmore, right Trace?

I did the smart thing and got my heart really pumping before bed with some challenging poses, because smart. I tackled arm balances, headstand/balance transitions, and holding handstand. It gets longer and stronger every time! (Note: significant difference in my handstand practice when I'm thoroughly warmed up and have inverted previously in the practice—just FYI for anyone working on this too.) :)

Tuesday: studio yoga class (75 minutes)
I've mentioned that I prefer traditional vinyasa flow yoga over hot, because I just really have no need to turn the heat up, and I honestly find some hot yogis theorizing (ahem, pontificating) kind of silly (not that I'm judging, I just don't align in that thinking). So I take Donna's non-hot class and still work up plenty of a sweat, because vinyasa ain't easy. Tonight, our small class brought the temp of our huge studio to well over 100 degrees. It was in the 90s outside and SO humid—we were waiting for insane thunderstorms all damn day—and I was literally dripping sweat the whole class. (One at a time, fellas.) I love when people say they don't see any exercise benefit of yoga...

Wednesday: Hatha hip yoga (14 min) + 3 mile run (9:26 pace)
YouTube recommended this yogi for me, so I gave it a try. It wasn't really anything special, but a good pre- or post-run stretch that I'll probably come back to over the next few months as I train.

My pace doesn't show it really, but this felt pretty challenging. I ran a brand new, never-before-touched route, because I'm going to need to expand my routes a bit as I build to the high teens and 20s for those long runs. Maybe not knowing what to expect made it feel more laborious? That, and the fact that I think I ate too close to setting out, because I got a left side stitch like a minute in that lessened a little bit but refused to quit the whole run. Can't win 'em all, but I'm on a good streak *knock on wood* so I'm not complaining.

Thursday: low back & hip yoga (14 min)
This weekend I'm going to spend a LOT of time standing—on hard grass, on asphalt—which means hell for my back if I don't pay attention. I haven't done this particular low back video in a long time, but it's a good one! And I'm trying to beat the potential back pain before it reaches me.

Friday: nada
Real talk, I was going to run 6 miles today before I left for another out-of-town weekend, but I spent too much time celebrating the SCOTUS decision and excitedly shrieking with friends and I ran out of time to run before I had to leave (and my timetable was immovable), and I don't even care. Love won.

Saturday: nope
I walked a good bit yesterday and today, and stood for several hours for both nights of my annual tradition of seeing Dave Matthews Band's two shows this weekend. Buutttt that's about it.

Sunday: nothing
We got drenched during last night's tailgate and concert (we stood in the rain from 3:30 to about 11:30 p.m.) and my body just ached today from the last two nights. Then I had to drive home from Philly. And as I type this it's 7:52 and I just woke up from a nap I accidentally took while watching House of Cards. Tomorrow, the madness begins.

Weekly Totals
Running: 7.01 miles
Yoga: 125 minutes

Don't forget, this Tuesday is the next Training for Tuesday linkup with my amazing cohost Tracy and myself! Get the scoop on it and grab your button here. We can't wait to see your posts!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Minimalish: A 30-day Challenge

Some time ago, in some place in the magical Internet land (I think it was Reddit...), I found a 30-day minimalism challenge. And I've been sitting on this link for a long time, waiting for "the right time" to take the challenge. Lucky for you and for this blog, that time has come!

Over the month of July, I'll be taking one of these items per day on. Now, I'm not exactly a minimalist in as much as I only own 100 things or have a capsule wardrobe or have no decorative elements to my home. But I am "minimalish," I like to put it, in as much as I don't own anything I don't have use for, need, or treasure tremendously. I like to declutter all areas of my life—belongings, wardrobe, cyber world—frequently, but I'm certain there's more I can be doing to get rid of the excess and more deeply appreciate the things I value most.

That's where this challenge comes in.

Now, I know that July has 31 days and this challenge has only 30 items, but a) I don't feel like waiting until September and b) I will be traveling some in July, so at least one day this month will not be conducive to tackling an item on this list.

As well, I'll be doing these out of order, because it's a busy month! I have some of these items already "assigned" to certain days, and other days I will just pick something off the list and attempt to do it that day.

What do I hope to get out of this?

Well, I hope this challenge will help me in my mission of minimalish. The goal of minimalism—for me, and others, but I'll only speak for myself here—is to remove distractions so that the things that are important in life are able to shine. So that I can worry less about things that don't matter and think and ponder more on the things that do.

In this challenge, I hope to just further that personal goal a little bit more, and hopefully find some areas of my life that can be a little bit less cluttered, disjointed, or conflicted.

The 30-day Minimalism Challenge

chart via
  1. Stay offline for one day
  2. Meditate for 15 minutes
  3. Declutter your digital life
  4. No-complaint day
  5. Identify your three to six main priorities
  6. Follow a morning ritual
  7. Streamline you reading list
  8. Learn to enjoy solitude
  9. Downsize your beauty collection
  10. No email or social media until lunch
  11. Evaluate your commitments
  12. Define your goals for the year
  13. Clean out your closet
  14. Take a step toward learning a new skill
  15. Examine your daily habits
  16. Don't buy anything for 24 hours
  17. Practice single-tasking
  18. Unfollow and unfriend
  19. Go for a walk and practice mindfulness
  20. No TV all day, read instead
  21. Journal for 20 minutes
  22. Create a relaxing bedtime routine
  23. Go bare-faced
  24. Practice gratitude
  25. Leave a whole day unplanned
  26. Identify your stress triggers
  27. Clear our your junk drawer
  28. Let go of a goal
  29. Turn off notifications
  30. Evaluate your last five purchases
Before I even start, I can see some that are going to be really challenging (particularly #10...) and some that are kind of already done (#s 5, 6, 8, 13, 22, 28). I'm going to do my best to complete them anyway. It doesn't hurt to give the closet an extra sweep, and check in and make sure I'm not still holding onto goals I don't really have any attachment to anymore. (Side note, I did this a few months ago and hacked four or five goals off my 2015 list, because I had only written them for the sake of filling space, and they didn't actually help my personal intentions. It felt awesome.)

I'll be keeping track, of course, and will update this post after the end of the month. Let's see if this works! 
Does anyone feel like joining me?

Thursday, June 25, 2015

People Don't Change

"People don't change." Agree or disagree?

I often hear people condemn others I or they have known like this: "People don't change." This is usually used to say an addict will always use, a cheater will always cheat, an alcoholic will always drink. A privileged person will never learn compassion, an airhead will never find grounding, a misanthrope will never find kindreds. It's fancified in idioms casually offered in conversation: You can't teach an old dog new tricks. A leopard won't change his spots.

"People don't change." But...of course they do; what a ridiculous thing to say. I have a feeling a lot of people who say this mean either a) someone hasn't changed enough for my liking/I haven't seen change I want to see (probably just not a person for you then—people shouldn't be tofu); or b) I don't have to/shouldn't be expected to change, so just be happy with what I am and don't expect any growth or learning or evolution to take place here.

Of course people change. It's such a thoughtless expression, I think, and one that is just kind of an echo or refrain that the singers spend little (or no) time really considering before proclaiming. It's like saying the mountains don't change.

Hear me out. Over the years, weather, forest fires, floods, and human hikers and campers leave their influence all over the mountain, changing its look, terrain, makeup. Sure, the mountain is still the mountain though. And the person is still the person. But that doesn't mean change isn't taking place, or can't take place, or that we're doomed to remain as we began.

Some things about me that remain unchanged: I was born on March 29, 1989. I am a female. I have parents and siblings; I am the middle one. I am highly sensitive. I am on the short and petite side. I am just slightly more extroverted than introverted. I like to read. I like to write. I like to make people feel good and happy. I feel others' hurt tremendously, and my own much more deeply than I would like.

These things may seem trivial, but they're not. They make me me, the person. They are my mountain.

But there is so, so much else about me that is new. That has changed. That has evolved. That has become part of my current personality over the course of years of influence and experience. That alters the way I talk to people, think about people, regard people. Regard myself. I have changed in mannerisms, how I spend my time. How I spend my money. How I hope to spend my life. The people and influences I spend my time with. How I feel about my path in life, and what I think that path is. My purpose, my intentions, my desires.

All these things change, and by them doing so, I change. Alyssa, the person, the mountain, remains, but the terrain doesn't. I think that's an important point to make, in that it proves that a person is changing rather than becoming a new person. (Is that what people who say "People don't change" mean? Are they really objecting to the fact that a person can't become a brand new one on someone's whim?) I am still some foundational pieces of who I've been for the majority of my 26 years. But without even making a sweeping declaration or facing down the barrel of a gun and realizing a need to change, I did. Because that's what life is. A constant rotation of thoughts, of knowledge, of experiences, that all have the power to alter you deeply and profoundly. Maybe the difference is willingness to give into that power.

I don't hold myself up as the only example. I've seen alcoholics and addicts become sober. I've seen the inverse, too. I've seen absent parents become involved ones. I've seen wrongdoers seek redemption. I've seen cheaters commit for life. I've seen flunkies in grad caps and gowns. I've seen plenty of people change for the better, and for the worse. I've seen people change their minds in important and meaningful ways on important and meaningful issues as they catch up to a level of education and experience they once couldn't fathom.

Life should be marked by a constant series of changes and tweaks, because there's no end-point. Or there shouldn't be. You don't change until you become what you should've been and then call it a day. Think of all the kitchens that would still be filled with mustard-yellow or avocado-green appliances if that were the case! No, you keep changing with the world around you. Or, as the expressions go, you get left behind. And that's an important distinction to make too: People can change. Some people just won't, or are afraid to, or don't know how to. Don't make all people suffer from this criticism because of one person on your journey who refused to participate in this beautiful act of growth.

So can we please stop reducing people to an idiom, or dismissing effort and thought and analysis with a simple, "People don't change"? It's lazy, and it's untrue. And it's a way of allowing yourself to hold onto a grudge that doesn't serve you. It's a way to let yourself off the hook of finding space in your heart to forgive someone, or of hearing an apology or explanation, of looking past something painful to the potential of something better just ahead of it. People can change. And if they're trying to, let them.

And if you really don't believe that people can change, let me ask: Haven't you ever changed, even just once? If you haven't, I really, really recommend it.


This word salad brought to you by some really jumbly thoughts in my head, and a podcast 
I was listening to the other morning—I can't remember which—that held this maxim as truth.