Monthly Archives: August 2012

Summer Reads

One of my goals for the year was to read a book every month, and I’m stoked to say I’ve kept up with that goal. Along with all of the magazines I read, I’ve been taking the time for myself to get lost in someone else’s world, someone’s else’s writing, and boy, it feels good. There really is nothing like curling up with a good book. Yes, I have my Kindle and I use it sometimes, but I also have a big ol’ bookshelf that I love to pull from (and add to!). I still love the smell of paper and the feel of a book as it starts to be gently used.

Not that I just went off on a tangent or anything…

So this summer, I’ve been lucky with every book I’ve decided to dive into. Each one was a winner! At least, it was in my opinion. Instead of reviewing each one in a separate post, I’ve decided to give you a brief glimpse into what I’m reading. I’m not going to give away too much of the plot, so I promise no spoilers here!

The Book Thief 

This Markus Zusak read is based in Germany during World War II, so I immediately knew I was going to love it. I’m a huge sucker for anything based in that time period (another great read if you haven’t picked it up – Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand). The story follows the life of Liesel Meminger, a young girl who’s put into a new home with foster parents in the beginning of the novel because her mother can’t care for her anymore – we later find out this is because she’s Jewish.

The most interesting part of The Book Thief, and what kept me enraptured in the story, is that it’s completely narrated by Death. It was such a unique, captivating approach for the author to take, and I think he pulled it off flawlessly. Death encounters Liesel many times throughout the book and there are multiple incidents that weave the entire story together. We get to know Liesel, the youngster who – you guessed it – steals books and is obsessed with words. I fell in love with her sidekick, Rudy, and the eventual Jew Liesel’s family protects, Max. Liesel’s foster parents are equally engaging, as are the secondary characters sprinkled throughout the book. Zusak did such an incredible job portraying their emotions, making me feel exactly what they were feeling, that when traumatic events happened I was quite literally sobbing as I turned the page.

Where We Belong

Emily Giffin is the famous author behind Something Borrowed (which I still haven’t read), a novel that was turned into a film recently and starred Kate Hudson and Ginnifer Goodwin. But I digress. Where We Belong is a book I read early this summer because a preview copy was sent to me for work. I had never read anything by Giffin before, but thought, “What the heck? It’s summer and I could go for a light-hearted beach read.” It was a bonus that, as you can see above, I got to meet Giffin to chat about her new novel and snag her John Hancock.

The story is centered around Marian Caldwell, a television producer in New York City who seems to have everything she could’ve ever wanted in life: she’s working for a fairly successful TV show, dating the super-attractive boss of the company and well, living the dream in the city that never sleeps. Everything’s perfect, until 18-year-old Kirby Rose shows up. Turns out Kirby is the long-lost daughter Marian gave up for adoption long ago.

Yes, the story line sounds a bit cheesy, and I was hesitant going into it. It all sounded too predictable. And while it definitely wasn’t a mind-blowing read, Giffin did a great job of storytelling and kept me rooting for both characters. I never felt like Kirby or Marian was the bad guy, or even the boy who got Marian pregnant all those years ago. I felt like they were all extremely relatable characters, and in the end, I was just rooting for each of them to end up happy. This is definitely a beach read that will remind you of just how strong family ties can be, and how important the people you love really are.

Drop Dead Healthy

If any of you read Julie’s blog, you’ll notice that she’s also read a few of these books during her monthly book club. I follow her blog regularly, and whenever a book is chosen, I usually add it to my “To Read” board on Pinterest so I eventually circle around to it. I always mean to read it at the same time as everyone else, but somehow that hasn’t worked out yet. I came this close with this month’s read (you’ll find out what it is at the bottom of this post), but am only partially finished now and it’s the end of the month. There’s always next time!

Anyway, I say all that because this title by A.J. Jacobs was a PBFingers book club read. Boy oh boy, was it funny. As a blogger who likes to focus on healthy living, and an editor who works at FITNESS, I was excited to dive into a book that has the author spending two years trying to be the healthiest man in the world. We learn about his experiences with fitness and nutrition experts, a whole variety of workouts, different diets and anything else you can think of, all in the name of being healthy. 

Fortunately for me, I met Jacobs before reading this book (another perk of my job – Jacobs was a guest speaker at FITNESS’ Blogger Meet & Tweet!). So I was really able to integrate his voice and personality into the book on a whole other level. But honestly, even if I hadn’t met him, I still would’ve loved it. I fully believe that there’s an overwhelming amount of information readily available for people to take in about being healthy, but it’s difficult to sift through it all. I loved the journey that Jacobs took us on, and I thoroughly enjoyed the “character” of his wife. I can only imagine what life would be like if Dustin tried to do the same thing – I give her major props for putting up with it all!

In the end, this was a very educational read and extremely entertaining. See, Mom was right again – learning is fun!

Love the One You’re With

Last but not least, I recently finished another Giffin novel. What can I say – Where We Belong got me hooked! This one addresses the classic “what if?” question so many of us have dangling in the back of our heads, especially if we end up marrying someone who wasn’t our first love. That’s what the main character, Ellen, is dealing with about a year into her marriage with Andy. They’re basically the perfect couple, but a random run-in with Leo, “the one that got away,” sends her into a tailspin, and she questions the decisions she’s made as secrets start to reveal themselves.

Again, Giffin made her characters extremely relatable. I didn’t hate any of them, but I was definitely pulling for Ellen and Andy to work things out. There was a soft spot in my heart for Leo, and by the end, I was rooting for his happiness, too. So clearly Giffin is really good at making me root for the warm-fuzzy endings. She just does a great job of reminding me about important life lessons that tend to be thrown into life’s background when things get busy.

And those are the books I tackled this summer. Pretty varied as far as topics go, but each one had its own enjoyable story line. I’m about halfway through Gone Girl now, which is a definite page-turner and seems to be the big book this summer. Of course I saved it for last!

What books did you crack into this season? Any I should check out? 

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Skin Cancer Scare

Back in February, one of my favorite bloggers, Alyssa, was diagnosed with skin cancer. She thought she had been a “smart” tanner and in the end, had to have multiple surgeries to get it all out. Luckily, she’s OK now. But that’s not always the case.

I was even more lucky – I only had a scare. But it was enough to knock some sense into me.

Embrace the pale. And the shade. And Steve.

Before I get into what happened, let me give you a bit of a back story. I’ve never been a tanner. Fortunately, my mom never allowed me to go to a tanning bed, even when I was sixteen and all of my friends were doing it. Some did it to prep for “super important” events like the prom, others because they said it helped with acne (which I had severe problems with), and some just went because it relaxed them.

Mom always said, “hell no.” For that, I’m extremely grateful. And I was a good kid, so I never went behind her back. After all, don’t ya think she’d catch on to the tan look after a bit?

Oh Momma, you so smart.

But that doesn’t mean I was smart.

I played sports all year round and was in the sun for most of the day. Soccer consumed my life all summer and fall, and softball in the spring. Except for when I was at soccer camp and outside training for eight-plus hours a day, I don’t remember putting sunscreen on once. Not for regular practice, not for games, nothing. I didn’t get burns, so I never thought about it.

DUMB.

When I went to the beach, I’d put on sunscreen, but only after I’d already been out for a few hours. After all, I wanted at least a little bit of a tan. I didn’t go in the tanning bed, so I was being smart.

WRONG.

At the beach, NOT wearing sunscreen.

Once I went to college and got involved with Colleges Against Cancer, I started being smarter. I wore sunscreen when I knew I’d be outside for most of the day, and I even bought moisturizer that had SPF built in. But when people told me I should be wearing sunscreen every single day, I thought, “Come on, seriously? That’s a little much.”

I astound myself with my stupidity sometimes.

I even felt like a hypocrite. Here I was, passionately fighting cancer and yet I was sabotaging myself by not taking such a small step. It was that silly notion many of us have in the back of our minds. You know the one I’m talking about: that little voice that says we’re invincible. It won’t happen to us.

So when I graduated college, I vowed that I would be better. I started putting on SPF every single day. I researched and tried different products until I found ones that I really liked and didn’t feel gross on my acne-prone skin. Because if I felt like I was clogging my pores, there was no way I would put it on, willingly, every day. So I put in the work. And I felt really good about myself.

Embracing the pale and rockin’ my dance skills.

When I read Alyssa’s post, I knew I needed to get a skin check. I don’t have many freckles, but there was one that stood out. I still didn’t think it was anything life-altering, but I hadn’t gotten a skin check in a long time, so I told myself it was better to just get it over with.

I put it off until August. I wasn’t scared and I didn’t believe anything was wrong – I just let life get in the way. I told myself I was too busy, work was more important, I didn’t want to waste my time in a doctor’s office, etc.

But isn’t an hour in a doctor’s office a pretty measly amount of time if it’s going to save your life? Oh, right.

So I found myself at a new-to-me dermatologist’s office, in one of those paper-thin robes that nobody is ever comfortable in, ready for my full-body skin check. My derm said my skin looked great, but that it was clear I didn’t always wear sunscreen all the time. I explained my history and was secretly proud of my recent efforts. He acted content, until he saw the little mole on my right arm. He circled it with an ugly green marker, burrowed his frow and said, “That doesn’t look good at all.”

Gulp.

“You don’t have very many freckles and moles, which is why this concerns me. It really stands out. It’s darker than all the others you have, it has multiple shades and it has an irregular border – see how it’s shaped more like a star, not a circle?”

I silently nodded my head, terrified he was going to tell me I was dying.

“I don’t think it’s melanoma, but let’s take it out for a biopsy…just in case.”

Did you know that it can take a week before you find out the results of a biopsy? Talk about the longest. week. ever.

Luckily, my test came back negative. My dermatologist said everything came back normal, but again reminded me about the sunscreen. You can bet your bottom dollar I’ve been wearing it. Especially when I was outside all day on Saturday with Dustin’s family and friends.

This is Aaron. We’re friends. I wear sunscreen. I hope he does, too.

So no, this isn’t a scary story where I found out I have cancer. I’m lucky that I don’t. But it was a scary-as-hell situation to be in. I’ve had cancer invade my life way too many times already. And I hate the damn thing. Please just do the little things that might prevent it. I can’t help but think about all of the times I screwed myself over when I was younger, and now I just pray that it never comes back to haunt me.

I know this video is really popular, but it really resonates. If you haven’t seen it yet, take the time to watch.

Checking Out Chobani SoHo

I’m a big fan of Greek yogurt. Like, a really big fan. I have some every single day, either as a snack or mixed into a meal. It’s one of those foods that’s easy for me to grab when I’m scurrying around like a mad woman, and I know that I’m still putting something in my body that’s really good for me.

So when I heard that one of my all-time favorite Greek yogurt companies had opened up a yogurt bar in SoHo, I was just a tad excited. As in, I couldn’t wait to make the hour-long trek from Astoria down to SoHo so I could get my hands on some of the delicious goodness.

Lucky for me, Chobani was kind enough to extend me an invitation to a recent blogger event to test out all of their creations. I even got to bring along this fun girl I know:

That’s Chloe. She was an ASME intern (like me!) at Parents for the summer and I was her mentor. I shared what little knowledge I have about the magazine industry with her, and she sang my praises. Sounds like a win to me.

Once at Chobani SoHo, we learned about the different sweet and savory combos they make, the history of Chobani, where and how it’s made and then taste-tested it all. While I wasn’t a huge fan of the savory flavors, the sweet ones were a major hit.

Out of the nine yogurt creations, I narrowed it down to a top three. Drum roll, please…

1.) Fig + Walnut: Turkish Figs, Walnuts and Honey.

I blame it on my obsession with figs. This was unbelievably delicious.

2.) Peanut Butter + Jelly: Peanut Butter, Jelly, Grapes and Peanuts

Come on, are you seriously wondering why? It has PEANUT BUTTER.

3.) Pistachio + Chocolate: Pistachios, Dark Chocolate, Honey, Oranges and Mint Leaves

I wasn’t sure how I would feel about this when it was delivered, but it was OMG-fantastic. I seriously considered moving it up the list, but couldn’t cheat on pb like that. It’s already upset about the #2 spot.

Even though those are my top three, I really liked the majority of them. The only one I strongly didn’t like was the Plain Chobani + Olive Oil. But if you are a fan of more savory dishes, this may be right up your alley.

So whenever I’m down in SoHo, I know I’ll be making a stop here. It’s only $3.50-$3.75 for one of these tasty treats, and if you bring the glass container that it’s served in (after you’ve gone once, of course), then you get 50 cents knocked off. Not too shabby.

Have you been to Chobani SoHo yet? Do you have a favorite Greek flavor? If someone finds the Chobani Vanilla Chocolate Chunk, BUY ME SOME. I can’t find it and seriously want to try it.

{Disclaimer: I was invited to this event free of charge, but was not required to write about my experiences. All opinions are my own.}

Hiking Hawk Mountain

Last month, I went on my first legitimate hiking trip. Although I would definitely classify myself as an outdoor girl – I love biking, running, camping and anything that requires me to be on or in the water – I had never gone on a trip that required any form of hiking gear and athletic clothing. My older brother, Justin, was determined to change that.

So at the end of July, I packed up my bags (again) and caught a bus to Philadelphia. No, we didn’t hike in Philly – although I must say, we spent Sunday at Wissahickon park and it was amazing! Never would have known I was in Philly if I hadn’t, ya know, actually known I was in Philly.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

After a leisurely Saturday morning, Justin and I drove about 1.5 hours outside of the city until we hit Hawk Mountain. We knew it would only be a day-hike (no overnighters quite yet), so Justin brought his pack with water, snacks, lunch and hiking poles. The trip was about four miles in total and went in a loop, which I loved way more than an out and back.

Including stops for photo ops and our lunch break, we spent about three hours out on the trails. It was so much fun! The views were amazing and I loved the constantly changing scenery. I was also fond of the fact that the terrain changed quite a bit – we used our poles most of the time to keep my less-than-sturdy ankles from rolling, but at one point we had to ditch them because it was a straight-up rock scramble. I felt like a kid all over again.

The changes kept me distracted easily, too. I never felt like I was out there to work out; I was just spending time with my brother, catching up on life and being outdoors. I’m sure it would be different on a more difficult trail (and if I were the one carrying a pack), but this was definitely fun.

I didn’t mind spotting an owl at the top, either.

Juuuuust kidding. That’s totally a fake owl. But this butterfly is real!

So what gear did I need? For this hike, not much. Other than moisture-wicking workout clothes and a Sparkly Soul headband, I had:

  • Sunglasses
  • A Camelbak filter water bottle
  • Gatorade
  • Snacks – we packed granola bars
  • Hiking boots – I have these
  • Hiking poles (my brother’s)
  • Hiking pack – my brother’s a regular hiker, so he had a great one, but for a day trip like this, a backpack would have been fine. It was just to pack extra layers (in case it got cold or rained) and the stuff mentioned above.

Obviously you would need more stuff for an overnight trip, but I’ll go into that whenever I decide to go on one. We lucked out with great weather, so we never needed any of the extra gear we packed, but it’s always a good idea to have it on hand.

It was really nice to immerse myself in nature again, and spend time with my brother. Between my busy work hours and his crazy medical school schedule, we don’t get the opportunity to hang out super often. Next time he’s coming my way and we’ll hit up a few trails nearby!

What about you? Any favorite beginner hiking trails I should hit up before the weather turns cold?