September 18, 2019

The First XC Race of the Season (a Nail Biter!)

I wanted to get this posted last night, but I was physically and mentally exhausted when I got home from the race and I just wanted to not move a muscle. I know I wasn't racing it myself, but I totally felt like I was--I'm sure I take it way too seriously, haha!

(Before I write about this, I'm just going to explain the way I write about the kids on the team. I have always used first initials and I blur faces for privacy. It never occurred to me to ask parents if I could post names/pictures, but from now on, if I do post a child's first name and/or photo, it means that I've gotten permission from his or her parent(s). In the future, I'll just ask the parents at the beginning of the season on the waiver they sign.)

Since this is my first year coaching solo, I felt a little pressure to make sure that the kids did well (in comparison to their own times, I mean). If they were to run and not improve at all from our first practice, I would feel like I was definitely doing something wrong in their training.

I think I've written about this before, but there is a boy on my team named Aaron. This is his fourth (and, sadly, final) year on my team because he'll be moving up to the middle school team next year. When he was in first grade, too young for the team, he would still come to practice with his older brother and do a little running. I could tell he was going to be fast, just like his brother.

When Aaron started running on our team, I began to notice at the races that there was a boy from another school who always seemed to finish very shortly before Aaron. Each race, the two of them got closer and closer to the top finishers. For the last couple of years, Aaron was regularly making the top 10, with this other kid (we'll call him Ferris) just seconds ahead of him.

At the beginning of the season, I like to give each kid a goal to work on for the season--it may be a certain mile time, or running a particular distance without stopping, or running their longest distance to date, etc.

For the last two years, I've given Aaron the goal to "Beat Ferris" in a race. At practices, during speed work, I yell at him that Ferris is right in front of him or right on his heels to get him to go faster. Aaron is competitive, and at races, he really gives it everything he has. Once, he even lost a shoe during a race and still finished in the top 10!

Last year, when he was in fourth grade, I was thrilled to see him run his first sub-7:00 mile (6:58). And then a PR of 6:50. It's interesting to see the difference between the first day of the season and the kids' best races. Aaron's time trial at the first day of the season this year was 7:52 (pretty slow for him, but all the kids are relatively slow after taking time off).

I usually give Aaron more or tougher work than the other kids because I know he can handle it (and he is competitive enough that he wants to put in the work to win). With this being his last season with me, I told him that this is the year he HAS to beat Ferris, or I'm retiring (kidding).

I was nervous for yesterday's race, considering it was the first of the season, and I wanted all the kids to do well. The kids who have never raced before are always a bundle of nerves, too, because they aren't sure what to expect.

I put tags on all the kids (like bibs used to keep track of timing) and we did a warm-up. Then we sat in a circle so I could quickly go over the details of the course and explain race strategy. (I also told Aaron and Harper, our fastest runners, to try to get toward the front of the pack immediately because this is such a large race).

After the kids lined up, the announcer fired the starter pistol, and the kids were off. There were 140 kids in the race, so the beginning is a little chaotic when you're trying to see what is happening.

About a quarter mile in, I saw that Aaron was in about fourth place. With a 1.5 mile race, I was curious to see how he'd do--he tends to do great for a mile, and then starts to slowly break down on longer distances (he really pushes himself to the limit). This year, as his coach, it was my goal to get his endurance built up--more long, easy runs. I hoped it would pay off.

I was standing about half a mile into the race to cheer the kids on as they went by, and as they made the turn toward me, I saw that Aaron was in the lead! There was a kid (Ferris) RIGHT on his heels. I was used to it being the opposite--Ferris in the lead with Aaron just a second or two behind him. I hoped Aaron could hold the lead, but I honestly expected Ferris to pass him before the mile mark.

Since I was cheering on the rest of the team at the half-mile point, I couldn't see anything that was happening. Finally, I ran to the finish line before the kids started to come through. There is a building about 0.15 miles from the finish line, and it blocked my vision of the lead. Seconds later, I saw a white shirt come around the building--it was Aaron! And I was shocked to see that he had a fairly large lead. I thought maybe I missed Ferris going by, but a few seconds later, Ferris rounded the corner.

I was STILL worried that Ferris was going to fly past Aaron at the end (a lot of action happens in that final push to the finish line). I was just praying that Aaron wasn't going to try to turn around to see how close he was or anything like that--I just wanted him to focus on the finish line and run faster than he ever had.

And HE DID IT!! He crossed the finish line in 9:12, and Ferris came across at 9:18. Aaron's finish time of 9:12 meant a mile pace of 6:08--faster than he's ever run. I will be so psyched to see if he can hit sub-6:00 soon. Since this was 1.5 miles, a 5:59 finish for a mile is certainly possible.

This is Aaron with his place card (as they finish, they are given a finish number).

One contribution to his great time was because he mistakenly thought that he was finishing the race about half a mile before the actual finish line. The kids have to run past the finish line once and do a loop and THEN they get to finish. When he saw the finish line, he ran like hell only to realize he wasn't done. He just held on to the lead for dear life, and managed to keep his pace.

I felt SO excited when I saw him win the race--this is my fifth year coaching, and I think we've only come in first at one race before.

Aside from that, all of the kids did really well! I was super impressed with a lot of their times and improvements. Harper (the girl who demonstrated the running parachute in a video a few posts back) placed 4th of 64 girls and 9th overall. She ran 10:08, which is a 6:45/mile pace. Her (self-proclaimed) goal is to beat Aaron this season ;) She is super determined, so she just might do it, too!

One of the boys, who I think has the potential to end up being one the best cross country runners all through school, ran a pace that was FIVE MINUTES faster than his time trial just two months ago. As a whole, I think our team is faster than any previous year. The average pace of the whole team yesterday (there are 11 kids now--one of the girls dropped out several weeks ago) was 8:08/mile. And that was for a mile and a half race! I'm hoping they can keep that up for our next race... this Saturday :)

September 16, 2019

Chicken Fajita Bowls (with homemade fajita seasoning)

Chicken Fajita Bowls (with homemade fajita seasoning)

I LOVE fajitas. It's kind of funny, actually--I hated bell peppers until I was pregnant with Eli, and then craved them all the time. And now they are one of my favorite vegetables. I could eat a ton of onions and bell peppers with this fajita seasoning on its own--it doesn't even need chicken or rice.

But of course, to make a complete meal of it, the chicken and rice with the fajita toppings are amazing. I'm not a huge fan of the flavor of tortillas (I like them, but I like the filling of fajitas the most). So, I like to serve this as a "fajita bowl"--rice topped with chicken, bell peppers, onions, and a delicious homemade fajita seasoning.

Chicken Fajita Bowl

Here is a printer-friendly version of the recipe!

For the seasoning

3 Tbsp. cornstarch
2 Tbsp. chili powder
1 Tbsp. paprika
1 Tbsp. sugar
2 crushed chicken bouillon cubes (or the equivalent of bouillon paste)
1-1/2 tsp. table salt (you may need to add a little more, but taste it first)
1 1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

In a mason jar or Ziploc baggie, combine all ingredients very well. Set aside for now. (This seasoning makes enough for about 3 pounds of meat OR enough to make the fajita bowl recipe twice.)

For the Chicken Fajita Bowl:

1 Tbsp. cooking oil
1-1/2 pounds of raw chicken breasts, trimmed and sliced thin
3-4 medium bell peppers, sliced thin (I use 4--green, red, orange, and yellow when they are on sale)
2 medium onions, sliced thin
Cooked white rice (I like to use Jasmine rice, but plain long grain rice will be just fine) --about 4 cups for 6 servings.
Optional: sour cream, cheese, guacamole, etc.


In a large skillet, heat the oil over high heat. Add the chicken and stir while it browns. When it is just barely cooked through, add all of the veggies and stir well. Lower the heat to medium and put a lid on the skillet. If the skillet is too dry, add a little water--about 1/4 cup--to create steam (try to avoid having the vegetables stick to the bottom so they don't burn).

The vegetables won't take long to cook (I don't like them to be mushy, but you can cook them until the texture is how you like it.)

When the vegetables and meat are done, add 4-5 Tbsp of the fajita seasoning and 3/4 cup of water. Stir over heat until the sauce thickens from the cornstarch (just a minute or two). Stir well so that it's all coated with the sauce, and serve over rice. If you'd like, top with cheese, guacamole, sour cream, etc.

This makes about 6 servings, depending on how big your appetite is ;)  I hope you like it! It's one of my very favorite dinners.

*Note: The seasoning has a little kick to it, but it's not much spicier than store-bought seasoning. Noah's not crazy about spicy food, but he doesn't complain about this.

September 15, 2019

An Update on my 40 Goals by 40 Years Old List (Part 1 of 2)

This is Part 1 of 2. This post was WAY too long with all 40 items. It's still really long, even divided in two! haha.

A little over a year ago, at the ripe old age of 36, I decided to write a list of goals that I wanted to accomplish by the time I'm 40. And naturally, choosing 40 goals seemed appropriate.

At the time, I had nearly four whole years to check them off, and it seemed like it would be no problem at all. Some of the goals are things that I have to work on for a long period of time and others are just a "one-off"--something that I do once and it's done.

Lately, I've been working more toward the goals that are going to take a while, because I now only have two and a half years until I'm 40. WHAT.

Now, I did not say that these are very meaningful goals--some of them are silly and some of them I just wrote on a whim. Some are very important to me. (When you have to come up with 40 goals, you lower your standards, let's face it.)

So, here is my original list. I've crossed off the ones that are completed:
  1. Watch all of Tom Hanks' movies
  2. Read 40 books
  3. Pay off debt (including car and house)
  4. Visit the 48 contiguous United States
  5. Read the Bible cover to cover
  6. Get back to goal weight (133)
  7. Go to a concert (I've never been to one!)
  8. Learn a new skill
  9. Watch Star Wars with Jerry
  10. Handwrite a letter to each of 10 friends
  11. Write letters to Noah and Eli
  12. Watch a documentary to understand something I don't know much about
  13. See a movie at a drive-in movie theater
  14. Complete a saved project on Pinterest
  15. Have my dad teach me to change the oil in my car
  16. Knit something
  17. Crochet something
  18. Leave a very large tip for a server having a bad day
  19. Create a vision board
  20. Build a bat house
  21. Write Jerry a love letter
  22. Read a classic novel
  23. Cook a recipe with ingredients I've never heard of
  24. Make a time capsule with the family
  25. Go fruit picking
  26. Attend a murder mystery dinner
  27. Take a class of any sort
  28. Take each of the kids on a "date"--just the two of us
  29. Do an "Escape the Room" challenge
  30. Try Thai food
  31. Read a book out loud with the family
  32. Grow a vegetable or herb
  33. Learn about (and start) and investment account
  34. Go on a road trip
  35. Go camping
  36. Go to a state fair
  37. Develop one life-changing habit
  38. Commit to a 30-day challenge
  39. Travel abroad
  40. See an orca in its natural habitat

#1. Watch all of Tom Hanks' movies

As far as the first goal, watching all of Tom Hanks' movies, the rule was that I had to start fresh--rewatching the ones I've already seen. (I adore Tom Hanks, which is why I made this goal.) I've colored in the ones that I've watched since starting this goal in April 2018. (I was going to write the date underneath each one, but I gave up on that because I forgot to do it right away.)

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#2. Read 40 books
I've read more books in the past year than I have in over a decade, and that includes three books that were 1,000 pages each! I started this list in January 2018, when I decided to start reading more. I just recently wrote a full post of all these books and my thoughts on them, which you can find here. But here is the list:

  1. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  2. The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
  3. The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman
  4. Running: A Love Story by Jen A. Miller
  5. Coreyography by Corey Feldman
  6. Chasing the Merry Go Round by Kelly Bargabos
  7. The Gender Game (book one) by Bella Forrest
  8. The Gender Secret (book two) by Bella Forrest
  9. Working Stiff by Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell
  10. The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
  11. This Naked Mind by Annie Grace
  12. The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
  13. Vox by Christina Dalcher
  14. The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn
  15. Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris
  16. An Ember in the Ashes (book one) by Sabaa Tahir
  17. A Torch Against the Night (book two) by Sabaa Tahir
  18. Contaminated by Em Garner
  19. Unwasted: My Lush Sobriety by Sacha Z. Scoblic
  20. Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp
  21. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
  22. Call Me Tuesday by Leigh Byrne
  23. Keri: The Early Years by Kat Ward
  24. Into the Water by Paula Hawkins
  25. Mindhunter by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker
  26. The Pillars of the Earth (book one) by Ken Follett
  27. World Without End (book two) by Ken Follett
  28. A Column of Fire (book three) by Ken Follett
  29. Born to Run by Christopher McDougall (I just finished this last night, so I haven't written my thoughts on it yet, but I will write a review soon)

#3: Pay off debt

When I wrote this goal, I was including my car and house. It's very unlikely we will get the house paid off in the next two year, but we paid off our credit card debt and we are starting to pay more onto the Jeep to get it paid off faster. I will be happy to get this paid off, and then the house will be all that's left! (Here is a post about how my family paid off our credit card debt using a zero-sum budgeting system)

Zero balance statement

#4: Visit the 48 contiguous United States

I've currently been to 34 of the Lower 48. I love the idea of taking a train trip to hit up a lot of the ones I've not been to, but Amtrak doesn't have routes that are ideal for the states I need to go to. I might have to do a couple of long road trips in order to get them in. I'm scared of driving through the mountains, though, so I may have to find a train in the west to get some of those states done. Also, there is the problem of Delaware. It's the only state in the east I haven't been to, and it would be such a random trip. I wish I'd gone through there on one of my trips east, but I never had a reason to. (You can read about my traveling on this page.)

  1. Alabama
  2. Arizona
  3. Arkansas
  4. California
  5. Colorado
  6. Connecticut
  7. Delaware
  8. Florida
  9. Georgia
  10. Idaho
  11. Illinois
  12. Indiana
  13. Iowa
  14. Kansas
  15. Kentucky
  16. Louisiana
  17. Maine
  18. Maryland
  19. Massachusetts
  20. Michigan
  21. Minnesota
  22. Mississippi
  23. Missouri
  24. Montana
  25. Nebraska
  26. Nevada
  27. New Hampshire
  28. New Jersey
  29. New Mexico
  30. New York
  31. North Carolina
  32. North Dakota
  33. Ohio
  34. Oklahoma
  35. Oregon
  36. Pennsylvania
  37. Rhode Island
  38. South Carolina
  39. South Dakota
  40. Tennessee
  41. Texas
  42. Utah
  43. Vermont
  44. Virginia
  45. Washington
  46. West Virginia
  47. Wisconsin
  48. Wyoming
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#5. Read the Bible cover-to-cover

This one has been... interesting? I had hoped that reading the Bible would give me more faith; but a lot of it is horrifying. Punishment to dozens of generations beyond one sinner, distinguishing what is clean and unclean (having sores, baldness, and a woman on her period are a few "unclean" examples), and the umpteenth sacrifices ("offerings") of animals without imperfections... I just don't understand it. How does slaughtering an animal make someone "clean"?

Anyway, I'm currently about 3/4 of the way through the book of Numbers (I haven't updated it in the bullet journal yet). I read one chapter a day, and I wish I could say I enjoy it, but I'm still waiting to feel... better? More faithful? I'm not sure what I'm looking for.

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This is an example of what made me question what the heck...?

Bible excerpts

#6. Get back to goal weight

I wrote my goal as 133 when I made the list, but I have since changed it to 144 (the top of my BMI range). I haven't made any progress, but I'm not giving up.

#7. Go to a concert

Well, I blew this one big time. I had bought tickets to see Korn with Jerry a couple of days before our anniversary last month. Korn was super popular when we were in high school, and whenever I listen to it, I think of our dating. It would be the perfect first concert for me!

However, I chickened out. On the day of the concert, I just decided I couldn't do it. I don't even know why I included this item on my list, because I don't think I'd enjoy a concert; I just felt like I should go to one to say I did. I just think I'd be extremely awkward at a concert. Maybe I'll try again.

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#8. Learn a new skill

While making over my house, I learned several new skills--my favorite is woodworking. I'm super proud of this island that I made from scratch!

DIY kitchen island

#9. Watch Star Wars with Jerry

I watched it with him on his birthday last year (and even dressed in a Princess Leia costume) but I hated the movie. At least I finally gave it a shot, though!

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star wars meme

#10. Handwrite a letter to each of 10 friends

Haven't started this one yet. I should make it a point to do one a week.

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#11. Write letters to Noah and Eli

I haven't done this yet, either. I want to really put thought and time into it, so I don't want to rush it. But it's not a difficult goal, so I can do this one soon.

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#12. Watch a documentary to understand something I don't know much about

I've watched lots of documentaries, but none that seem to fit the purpose here. I'm thinking about watching one about the Holocaust; I obviously know what it was, but I'd like to learn more about it.

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#13. See a movie at a drive-in movie theater

Currently, my town is building a drive-in! I'm super excited for it. That will be the one that I attend; I'm not sure when it will be done, but hopefully next summer.

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#14. Complete a saved project on Pinterest

I made a table skirt for a Cinco de Mayo party that I had last year. I love how it turned out!

Cinco de Mayo party

#15. Have my dad teach me to change the oil in my car

A very useful life skill that I still need to do. I currently need an oil change, so perhaps I will do this very soon. Or it may have to wait until next time, depending on my dad's availability.

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You can read the rest of the update in Part 2 (of 2). This post was just way too long!

September 15, 2019

An Update on my 40 Goals by 40 Years Old List (Part 2 of 2)

This is Part 2 of 2. I'm starting with the same intro as the first post, in case you read this and not the first part. Here is Part 1

A little over a year ago, at the ripe old age of 36, I decided to write a list of goals that I wanted to accomplish by the time I'm 40. And naturally, choosing 40 goals seemed appropriate.

At the time, I had nearly four whole years to check them off, and it seemed like it would be no problem at all. Some of the goals are things that I have to work on for a long period of time and others are just a "one-off"--something that I do once and it's done.

Lately, I've been working more toward the goals that are going to take a while, because I now only have two and a half years until I'm 40. WHAT.

Now, I did not say that these are very meaningful goals--some of them are silly and some of them I just wrote on a whim. Some are very important to me. (When you have to come up with 40 goals, you lower your standards, let's face it.)

So, here is my original list. I've crossed off the ones that are completed:
  1. Watch all of Tom Hanks' movies
  2. Read 40 books
  3. Pay off debt (including car and house)
  4. Visit the 48 contiguous United States
  5. Read the Bible cover to cover
  6. Get back to goal weight (133)
  7. Go to a concert (I've never been to one!)
  8. Learn a new skill
  9. Watch Star Wars with Jerry
  10. Handwrite a letter to each of 10 friends
  11. Write letters to Noah and Eli
  12. Watch a documentary to understand something I don't know much about
  13. See a movie at a drive-in movie theater
  14. Complete a saved project on Pinterest
  15. Have my dad teach me to change the oil in my car
  16. Knit something
  17. Crochet something
  18. Leave a very large tip for a server having a bad day
  19. Create a vision board
  20. Build a bat house
  21. Write Jerry a love letter
  22. Read a classic novel
  23. Cook a recipe with ingredients I've never heard of
  24. Make a time capsule with the family
  25. Go fruit picking
  26. Attend a murder mystery dinner
  27. Take a class of any sort
  28. Take each of the kids on a "date"--just the two of us
  29. Do an "Escape the Room" challenge
  30. Try Thai food
  31. Read a book out loud with the family
  32. Grow a vegetable or herb
  33. Learn about (and start) and investment account
  34. Go on a road trip
  35. Go camping
  36. Go to a state fair
  37. Develop one life-changing habit
  38. Commit to a 30-day challenge
  39. Travel abroad
  40. See an orca in its natural habitat

For the update on the first 15 goals, you can read Part 1 of these two posts. Here is the update on goals 16-40...

#16. Knit something

I haven't been knitting or crocheting much. I do have a hat that I started knitting about eight years ago, so maybe I'll finally finish that! (It's made with sock yarn and done on tiny needles, so it is taking forever. Also, I only work on it about once a year, haha.

knitting a hat

#17. Crochet something

I've made a few simple things. The most useful are these dish scrubbers that I started making years ago. When we redecorated, I wanted new ones to match the kitchen, so I ditched the old ones and made these instead. I need to make a few more.

crocheted dish scrubber

I also crocheted this Swiffer cover for my friend Emily...

swiffer cover

#18. Leave a very large tip for a server having a bad day

I've been waiting for a good opportunity to present itself for this one. I've left good tips here and there (even a couple of 100% tips) but those were on smaller tabs. When I say "large", I mean that I want it to be memorably large. And when the server really looks like he or she needs it.

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#19. Create a vision board

I have attempted this SO many times I've lost count. I think that I'm just being too perfectionist about it. I need to just start slapping some things on a poster board and stop worrying about making it perfect.

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#20. Build a bat house

I printed off the plans for this, and I'm excited to make it. I thought it would be rather small and cheap, but the plans that I printed are going to be more costly than I anticipated. I will do this soon, though. I'm looking forward to it!

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#21. Write Jerry a love letter

I can't remember the circumstances around this, but it wasn't that long ago. I handwrote a letter to Jerry telling him all the things he does that I am grateful for and why I love him. 

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#22. Read a classic novel

I read The Catcher in the Rye, and didn't love it. You can read my thoughts on this post. 

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#23. Cook a recipe with ingredients I've never heard of

I haven't done this yet, either. I'll need to scour Pinterest and find something appropriate.

#24. Make a time capsule with the family

This is something the whole family will have to set aside time for. We need time to think about what to bury and gather it all together. Also, we need to pick a good location. 

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#25. Go fruit picking

In May 2018, I went strawberry picking with my friend Emily. We had so much fun! We picked a ton of strawberries and then came to my house and made homemade jam and finished off with homemade strawberry margaritas. 

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strawberry picking

#26. Attend a murder mystery dinner

I know what one I want to go to (it takes place on a train). I'd like to go with another couple, and since it's pretty expensive, we may have a hard time finding someone to go with us. But we'll do it.

#27. Take a class of any sort

Haven't done this one yet, either. I'm not even sure what type of class I'd want to take. 

#28. Take each of the kids on a "date"--just the two of us

While I've gone out with the kids here and there, I haven't set aside time for a real "date" with them--to plan it out in advance, dress nicely, and spend some time together.

#29. Do an "Escape the Room" challenge

I did this in Kansas City with my girlfriends (Andrea, Caitlin, and Bonnie) and we had SO MUCH FUN. It was a huge rush! We finished in 59:59, with just one second to spare!

Escape Room in Kansas City

#30. Try Thai food

One day. Still haven't had the opportunity present itself.

#31. Read a book out loud with the family

My kids are SO not going to be excited about this, but hopefully they will secretly like it. Or, at least they'll be able to make fun of it when they are older. ("Remember when mom made us all sit down and read a book out loud together?" with an eye roll).

#32. Grow a vegetable or herb

I'm horrible at growing anything (just look at my bare fruit trees), but I think that next year I'll try a small raised garden with just a couple of things in it--maybe some bell peppers, or tomatoes and basil. 

#33. Learn about (and start) and investment account

I have every intention of doing this, and it's just one of those things that keeps getting put on the back burner. I need to make an appointment with our tax guy (who is also a financial advisor) to see what he thinks we should do. (I believe he and his wife read my blog, so hi guys!)

#34. Go on a road trip

I will definitely have to do this in order to get to all the states that I need to hit up. I will probably do this one down south (Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Arkansas). Time is running out! I need to plan this out.

#35. Go camping

I am NOT a camper. I hate bugs and not having a real shower and comfy bed. But, I want to have an authentic camping experience with the kids for memories. It'll probably only be for one night. Or maybe two ;)  Here is a picture from camping with my friend Shannon when I was a young teen. This was after my family went "fancy" and got a camper instead of this huge, heavy canvas tent that we used to use!

camping when I was a young teen

#36. Go to a state fair

I will have to look this up--I don't know anything about state fairs. The only one I had the opportunity to go to was in Minnesota when I was visiting my brother, but I was outvoted, haha. 

#37. Develop one life-changing habit
I'm not sure if this really "counts", because it was mainly a one-year challenge and I didn't intend for it to be a lifetime habit. But quitting drinking definitely feels like a life-changing habit. Even if I decide to drink again after the year is up, giving it up for this long has changed my life for sure.

Reading the book "Unwasted"

#38. Commit to a 30-day challenge

I'm always committing, but never following through. I will mark this complete when I follow through 100% on a challenge. 

#39. Travel abroad

This may not happen. I would have to do a lot of traveling in the next couple of years in order to get in all the places I plan on going. I will try to make it work out, but I'm not counting on it.

#40. See an orca in its natural habitat

When I go out to the Pacific Northwest again, I'm going to make it a point to go up to Seattle and go on a whale tour. The school bully in elementary school called me "Shamu" (the killer whale from Sea World) and of course it was mean back then. But I have since come to love orcas and they make me feel happy and not sad; it would be awesome to see one in the ocean.

This is when I was given the nickname "Shamu" by a mean boy named Richard. I don't remember disliking how I looked until he brought it to my attention. Interestingly, he apologized when I was 18 years old and a cashier at a grocery store. He came through my line, and I felt like I was choking. I was so nervous. And then he did the completely unexpected... he said something like, "I know that I was really mean to you when we were kids, and I just wanted to tell you that I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said the things I did."

It was then that my thoughts on orcas changed :)  Even bullies can change.

Fourth grade school photo

Please don't turn that horrible picture of me into a meme, hahahaha!

Anyway, here it is! A year and a half into my 40 Goals by 40 Years Old List, and I'm pretty happy with where I'm at. I've been doing the things that will take a while (like watching the Tom Hanks films, reading books, and reading the Bible). It's the travel ones that will be tough!

September 14, 2019

Adjusting to a New Fall Schedule (and a Cool New Planner)

Well, so much for blogging every day in September! But, I'm not giving up. I missed three days, so I'm going to try to do an additional three posts at some point (probably something simple like recipes or a short list or a running report or something).

I found that once I skipped one day, it was so easy to skip again and again. The first day was simply because I was completely exhausted after a long day. All I wanted to do was get in my pajamas and watch a show with Jerry.

This school year is the most difficult/stressful for me so far. Jerry's been working a straight day shift--he pushed for years for the plant that he works at to stop doing swing shift and to switch to straight shifts. They FINALLY agreed to do it on a trial basis this year. Unfortunately, Jerry wound up with a straight day shift. Since the shifts are 12 hours long, he leaves for work before any of us are awake and then he doesn't get home until 6:30 pm.

This is stressful for me now that Noah is going to school at the community college. There is no busing which means I have to drive him there/back. I do carpool with another mom, which is helpful, but regardless of who is driving, I still have to drive him to the spot where we meet in the mornings.

After school, I either pick him and his friend up and drive them home or his friend's mom does if it's her turn. Three days a week, I coach cross country practice (and now it'll be four days most weeks because we have races starting Tuesday). I hold practices from 6-7 pm so that I'm home right after Jerry gets home and showered and we can at least spend a little time together.

Eli is playing fall baseball, so I have to drive him to practice. He has double header games on Sundays (and tomorrow, he may be playing three games!). Since Jerry is working, I'll be there an hour before the games start until the last game ends. Thankfully, I love watching baseball!

On the days that I drive Noah to school, I usually get home at about 8:15 AM and then I have to leave to pick him up at 1:45 PM. So, despite what it may sound like, I really don't have as much time to myself during the day as one would think.

I spend that time blogging (if I'm going to--sometimes I'll begin to write a post and then work on it a little each day because I don't have enough time to finish it), cleaning the house, meal planning and/or grocery shopping, running errands (which reminds me, my car needs an oil change), and if I have time, I like to do something I enjoy (lately, this has been working on home projects).

Sometime during the day, I cook dinner. It could be at 3:30 pm or 7:30 pm or anywhere in between. Just whenever it fits in.

In the evenings, I like to chill with Jerry, even if we're just sitting and talking (or feeding the squirrels, which has become a favorite pastime in our house, haha). So, anything that I need to get done will wait until the next day.

Things were much smoother when Jerry worked swing shift (and if he was to have a straight night shift, it would be even better); every four weeks, he switched from days to nights and vice versa. (There is a chance he could switch over in the future, but as of right now, he needs to stay on his shift)

Being on night shift is much more convenient for family life. He gets home in the morning with enough time to hang out with the kids before school (and drive them to school sometimes). Then he sleeps during the day and wakes up just as they are getting done with school (so he could pick up Noah sometimes, too).

Then he could spend time with us before going to work. Usually, the time when the kids and I are all here at the same time is between 3:30 and 5:00, so I would cook dinner at 4:00 and we could all eat together. Then it's baseball, cross country, work, and whatever else.

Jerry says that he got more sleep when he was on nights and he misses the nights when he had a day off work. He stayed on his same sleep schedule, so even though he wasn't working that day, he would say up all night at home. He used that time as fun time to himself--playing video games, watching movies, etc.--while the rest of us slept.

Anyway, I've had a really tough time adjusting to this school year. Consequently, I stopped my 3-3-3 running schedule after only three weeks--I was so sure I was going to stick with it. I'm not giving up, though! I bought a planner (not like a bullet journal--I needed something easy and fast so that it would keep my schedule organized but not take much time to work on).

I absolutely LOVE the one I ended up buying on Amazon. It's everything that I need it to be without taking much time to plan things. On Sunday nights, I can spent about 20 minutes filling in the schedule for the entire week. It literally only took me about 15 minutes to fill this weekly page in:

Here are some other pages. At the beginning of the book, there are some goal prompts, so I filled out what I wanted to. I still want to do the vision board pages, but I need to set aside some time for that. I've tried to make a vision board so many times but I get overwhelmed!

And there is a monthly spread (the one I made for September is a mess, so I'm not even going to share it, haha. I was a little too ambitious! I like on the far left, how it gives you a prompt for Habits to Adopt, Skills to Learn, Things to Avoid, Places to Go, and People to See.

I love that you fill in the month and year yourself rather than having it all filled in for you.

In the back, there are some regular dotted pages for notes or whatever. I listed the cleaning list I made (and haven't been following very well) and a page for blog post ideas.

This particular planner is the Clever Fox Planner, which I bought on Amazon (affiliate link). There are lots of different colors, but of course I chose orange--my favorite.

Anyway, this is MUCH easier for me to use than a blank bullet journal. While I love how a bullet journal looks, it takes up so much time in itself to use as a planner; I like that this is basically a fill-in-the-blank planner and that it focuses on goals (something I love to list out anyways).

I'm going to schedule my runs into my week just like I would any other appointment, and make it a non-negotiable part of my day. By the end of 2019, I should be back to running three days a week as a habit. And then maybe I can start to think about some goals to try next year (as far as running goes, I mean).

I also need to do better meal planning. I got really good at this when I first started our budget to get out of debt in 2017. It felt like it took forever, but I'd spend once a week planning out our meals and then I'd grocery shop on Friday for just that week. We saved a ton of money doing it that way. Somewhere along the way, I started rushing the planning part and then my grocery list wasn't accurate and I'd wind up having to go to the store a couple of times a week to get things I'd forgotten.

Now, again, I need to schedule in my meal planning and my grocery shopping. I'd also like to spend a couple of hours after grocery shopping to prep as much of the food as possible to make it easy to throw together when it's time. I used to love cooking, but now it's definitely a chore--so the more I can prep ahead of time, the better.

I also need to reconfigure our budget to continue to stay out of debt. Eli just got braces ($1,000 down payment and $200 per month for a really long time--grand total of about $5,500). The orthodontist said Noah can choose to get them now or wait a little while (a year or so) to see what happens as he grows. He doesn't have structural problems with his jaw like Eli does, so it's not urgent. Regardless, we will probably be getting his braces on next year ($5,500). Isn't it insane how much braces cost?!

Also, Eli is taking a class trip to Washington D.C. and Jerry is chaperoning. Those payments are $100 a month for Eli and $140 for Jerry until March.

Finally, with Noah driving, we are going to incur some big costs. Thankfully, we don't have to add him to our car insurance now (only when he gets his license next July) but to add a teenager to car insurance is insanely expensive.

So, all of this is to say that we need to re-budget everything to fit in the extra expenses (the amount of excess nearly adds up to a house payment!)

The positive in all of it is that we finished paying off our credit card debt ($14,000!) a year ago. I can't imagine trying to pay off debt AND come up with money for these extra expenses! I'm so grateful for my bipolar diagnosis which led me to the correct medication which helped me to become mentally stable enough to focus on and finish the important things.

Well, today is Jerry's birthday (he's at work now) so I'd like to figure out what to make for dinner tonight. See? Meal planning ahead of time would have been very handy today ;)

By the way, the winners of the mug giveaway are:

Laura W ("you say crazy cat lady like it's a bad thing" mug); and
Denise E ("dress for the job you want" mug)

I've sent each of you an email, so please respond with your shipping address.

I like doing giveaways--I'll have to think of some more fun things to give away!

September 10, 2019

The Best Cross Country Practice Ever

Hardcore speed work today.

I wish I could say that I am referring to my own speed work today (I haven't done speed work in FOREVER), but I am actually referring to my cross country kids. I cannot even describe how proud I am right now as a coach!

I've been having a hard time getting them to run faster at practice (we do a long easy run day, a short tempo run day, and a speed-work-at-the-track day each week). The tempo runs have been even slower than the easy runs lately, and it's been driving me crazy!

Our first race is next Tuesday, and I really wanted to get the kids moving FAST at least once before then. So, today I gave them a choice--a timed mile or 100-meter sprints. The kids all hate the timed mile (because it's so hard!) so they chose sprints (I was laughing inside because I knew they'd regret that decision--not to mention hate me--by the end of practice, haha).

The incentives that you guys have donated from Amazon have been so so so helpful, and today was the best. To earn the awards (socks, headbands, running jewelry, wrist bands, wrist water bottles, shoelaces, key chains, and all sorts of goodies) they have to use a point system that I made.

They earn points for:

  • Two points for giving their best effort at practice
  • One point for each mile run
  • Five points for each consecutive mile run (no walking, no stopping)
  • Five points for hitting their goal at practice (I give each of them a personal goal based on their abilities for each practice)
  • Points for milestones like: 30 cumulative miles, 40 cumulative miles, etc.; running a personal best at a time trial or race; and any "bonus" points I come up with to motivate them on something that is particularly tough.

I keep a balance of their points earned, and then at each practice, they can "spend" their points on the awards (I've given each award a points value).

So, today I told them that they will do 12 x 100 meters with a 100-meter walk to recover in between. I said they would get two points for each sprint that they did their best on (I stayed at the "finish line" and yelled--so much that I lost my voice!--to keep them going strong. I also kept a tally of each sprint for each kid.) I want them to really work on perfecting that last kick of the races, where they need to give it everything they have.

I explained how running is 90% mental, and I demonstrated that to them by the fact that each and every kid did 13 or more sprints (when they only had to do 12).

Before they started, I told them that after running three sprints, they were going to wish they picked the timed mile; after six, they were going to want to quit; after nine, they were going to hate me; and after 12, they were going to want to quit cross country altogether. Haha!

After the 12th sprint for each of them, I pushed them to do one more. I told them they have to dig deep to find that even though they want to quit, they have just a little more in them to push hard and do more than what they think they can do.

I also told them that if they do more than 12, they could pick one prize for "free" (not having to use their points on it).

All the kids were drenched in sweat (and from pouring water on themselves) by the end of practice, and I loved it! I think today was my favorite practice I've ever done. I feel like I really got through to them.

As I yelled during their sprints, I was telling them things to keep them focused--don't look around, don't talk, DO NOT SLOW DOWN BEFORE THE FINISH LINE (always a problem at races--they tend to slow their pace just steps from the finish line and get passed at the last split-second), pass the person in front of them, focus on a spot straight ahead and don't think about anything except cross that finish line.

Sometimes, coaching fourth and fifth graders feels less like coaching and more like babysitting; but today I felt like a genuine coach, and it was great!

The kids were thrilled to choose their awards after finishing their sprints. I can't thank you guys enough for sending them! I know I've said it several times, I want you to know that I genuinely mean it and I am so touched by the generous people in this world. You are making a big difference for these kids! I'm so excited each time I hear one of the kids say that they "love cross country". Cross country is running--not exactly a "fun" sport--so getting them to love it is a challenge ;)

Anyway, I don't have any pictures for today's post, so here's an old favorite of me coaching (in 2017). When I was thinner and in better shape ;)  I had told the kids that if they did extra intervals, they could each pour a cup of cold water on my head!

September 09, 2019

My Reading List and Thoughts on the Last 29(!) Books I've Read

I was planning to write an update on my 40 Goals by 40 Years Old List (one of the goals was to read 40 books), and once I got started, it was getting longer and longer as I listed the books. Then I decided that I'd better just make this its own post. Here, I can list the books I've read since I started this reading goal as well as share my thoughts on each one.

Because of this goal I've made to read 40 books before I turn 40, I've read more books in the past year than I have in over a decade, and that includes three books that were about 1,000 pages each! I started this list in January 2018, when I decided to start reading more.

Here is what I've read (links are affiliate links to Amazon):

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

I didn't care for this book. Going into it, I actually didn't know anything about it except that it was a controversial read for school-age kids (which is what drew me in, honestly). I read it to count it as my goal of reading a classic novel, and I was excited to read it; but I just didn't find it very interesting. I wish I knew what all the fuss was about, because I wanted to like it!

The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

I was torn about what to think about this book. On one hand, I appreciate how the authors were trying to put clever twists in there; on the other hand, I guessed the big reveal from the very beginning. As soon as I'd decided that I was right, I was looking for all the clues to confirm my suspicions.

The description of the book strongly emphasizes to assume nothing, that nothing is as it seems. And I think that's why I was clued in right away. So, I will admit that it's a bit clever but I would have liked it more if I'd have been completely taken off-guard. That said, I read the book very quickly (two days), so I was definitely intrigued.

The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman

I LOVED this book! I think it's a must-read for just about anyone. There are versions for kids, parents, siblings, partners, etc. This will completely change your relationships (for the better) and help you understand the people you love and why they react the way they do to your way of showing you love them. I wrote more in depth about my thoughts on it in this blog post.

Running: A Love Story by Jen A. Miller

This was only mildly interesting to me because I couldn't relate to the author very much other than her love/hate relationship with running. A large part of the book is about bad/unhealthy romantic relationships she has--so I didn't enjoy it as much as I hoped to. If the book had focused more on the running aspect, I'm sure I would have liked it much more.

Coreyography by Corey Feldman

I'm a sucker for a clever play on words, so I loved that this book was called Coreyography (it's an autobiography of Corey Feldman). However, the title makes the book sound kind of ridiculous, and I could understand why it would turn people off.


I think this is in the top three memoirs I've ever read. And I LOVE memoirs! I knew next to nothing about Corey Feldman when I started reading this, and I was never a fan of his (I didn't *dislike* him; I just didn't know who he was or watch his movies). When Jerry and I took the kids to Boston, we watched Stand By Me and I loved it! I was interested enough to look up the actors which is how I came across Corey's memoir.

It was absolutely fascinating to read. I don't enjoy many celebrity memoirs because they tend to focus on their fame and a lot of them are the typical rags-to-riches stories. Coreyography was very different because his focus was more on his personal thoughts and feelings about what was happening in his life rather than the details of the events. I liked that he was humble and didn't drop names just to show his fame.

It's an emotional book and I felt so bad for his lost and confusing childhood. He still holds a lot of resentment toward the whole Hollywood fame scene and when reading his memoir, it's very clear why he feels that way. It certainly changed my viewpoint of it. If you enjoy reading memoirs, this one is a must-read--whether you know who he is or not!

Chasing the Merry Go Round by Kelly Bargabos

This book was sent to me to review on my blog. As I state for any review, I am 100% honest when I review products, so if I don't love something, I will let the company (or in this case, publicist) know that I didn't care for it, and I ask if they would prefer that I don't review it or that I post my honest opinion. In this case, they suggested that I just not post a review.

My main complaint was that it was repetitive--I felt like I was reading the same things again and again. However, I LOVED that I could relate so much to the author about hyperempathy. I had no idea that hyperempathy was even a thing, but the way she described it was like turning on a lightbulb for me. While empathy is a great quality, having too much of a good thing is a burden. More than a burden.

I carry around others' feelings inside me to the point that it causes me severe anxiety and depression. I can walk into a crowded room and it's like I have a sixth sense--I can tell what people are feeling and I can read between the lines as clearly as if it was a book in front of my eyes. When someone is unhappy, I *feel* that and carry it inside of me and I want so badly to fix it and make them happy. While most people can let things go after a little (or long) while, I can't do that until it's all better.

Anyway, the author described hyperempathy so well that I was relieved that others have this same issue. I thought I was just plain crazy (well, crazier than I already am). So, while I didn't love the book, I did love reading about this problem.

The Gender Game (book one) by Bella Forrest -and-
The Gender Secret (book two) by Bella Forrest

I was drawn into this series because it was described as being for fans of The Hunger Games and Divergent. And honestly, it was fairly accurate. The Hunger Games is one of my favorite books of all time! And I admit, I am a sucker for a popular young adult series. They are easy and fast reads, even for me, and I really like the dystopian factor.

The Gender Game wasn't as good as The Hunger Games, in my opinion, but I did like the plot--The Gender Game is a dystopian novel where two cities are divided by a toxic river. One side is called Patrus, where men rule the city and females (women who choose to marry) must completely submit to their husband's demands and the city's rules; the other side is called Matrus, where the females are in charge and they remove any male children who they think show "undesirable" traits. By "remove" it is implied that they are sent to work in the mines, and their families may not see them again.

Anyway, like The Hunger Games and Divergent, the lead character is a female teen who has a mission to make life better for all. I liked The Gender Game enough to read the sequel immediately, but it was after that book that I decided to move on.

Working Stiff by Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell

I have always been fascinated with forensics, and in middle school, I was sure that I wanted to be a forensic pathologist someday (when I learned just how much school was involved, I opted not to go through with it). But I have always been fascinated with death--causes of death, exactly what happens to the body through different types of death, and what you can learn from a dead body. Anatomy was always my favorite subject, and I remember buying anatomy coloring books (meant for college students) when I was in elementary school because I liked it so much.

I read (and loved!) the book Stiff by Mary Roach years ago, which describes what happens to your body when you die by different methods. When I was in Powell's bookstore in Portland a couple of years ago, I came across Working Stiff and it looked similar. Working Stiff is a memoir of a chief medical examiner (forensic pathologist) in NYC. I bought it, and then it sat on my shelf for a while before I read it.

It was a great book! I thought it would be very much like Stiff, but the writing style was completely different and the book felt like more of a conversation with a friend than the informative Stiff. The author writes about different cases she's worked on, even including how she went about identifying the bodies from the World Trade Center devastation. Reading about that was very interesting, and I actually enjoyed this more than I did Stiff.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

My sister recommended that I read this book, and as soon as I saw that it was about life in rural Alaska, I was excited to get started on it. I've never had much interest in traveling, even to other parts of the world. I'm not a fan of beachy places or "heading south" for the winter. While Alaska is part of the United States, making it not very exotic, it's the one place I've always had a desire to visit someday. I have no idea where this desire came from, but I hope to go there one day.

While the plot centers around a disfunctional family who moves to a remote town in Alaska, I was mostly interested in the descriptions of what it's like to live in remote Alaska. About halfway through, I sort of lost interest in the slow-moving plot, and then it really lost my interest with the cheesy (predictable) ending.

This Naked Mind by Annie Grace

I read this in February of this year, after I made the decision to quit drinking for a year (still going strong--today is Day 252!). I wanted to like this book because it was so highly recommended by so many people, but I found it to be very preachy, particularly in the second half, and also repetitive. I did learn a few things and it confirmed that I'd really like to quit drinking for a year just to see what happens, but it was the preachiness that lost me.

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

As you know, I have a soft spot in my heart for mental illness/health. This book is about a woman who, seemingly out of nowhere, shoots her husband five times in the face and then just goes completely silent, refusing to speak a word. She is institutionalized and a criminal psychotherapist is determined to find out her story and what happened. If you like psychological thrillers with twists and turns, you'd probably like this book. I enjoyed it!

Vox by Christina Dalcher

This book caught my eye because of its dystopian-fiction genre, and I thought the plot was unique. By law, women are only allowed to speak 100 words per day--and it is enforced by a wristband that counts down their words and will deliver a series of shocks to their bodies if they go over 100 words.

Throughout the day, the counter keeps track of the number of words spoken and the number reduces with each word. The wristbands are even put on female children, who are taught that they need to speak as little as possible.

Women aren't allowed to hold jobs or read or write. Their voices are taken away with ridiculous laws. The protagonist is a woman who (obviously) hates the law and is given an opportunity to do some work for the government; in return, she'll be allowed some privileges. She uses this to try to change the law and give women voices again.

I really enjoyed this book until the very end, when I felt like the ending was anticlimactic and finished abruptly. It was almost as if the author was given two hours to write the ending, and that's what was thrown together. Other than that, though, I really liked the book!

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

A mystery/thriller book that I really enjoyed because I love anything having to do with mental illness. I won't get into the plot too much, because I don't want to spoil anything, but I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone who likes thrillers and plot twists.

Contaminated by Em Garner

I was just about to publish this list when I realized that I left this book off--I had forgotten about it! This is another dystopian teen thriller/sci-fi novel (with a female protagonist). A diet company's product caused some sort of virus in people that turned them into an odd zombie-like state. Odd, but interesting and a fun read!

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

I really liked this book, which is interesting because I couldn't relate to it at all. It's not a spoiler in saying that this is about a relationship that seems perfect on the outside but is abusive in many ways in secret. It made me angry, frustrated, and anxious--but in a way that makes a book worth reading. Like watching a scary movie, I love feeling nervous and wondering what's going to happen next! This was a good one. I'm not sure what else to say about it.

An Ember in the Ashes (book one) by Sabaa Tahir
A Torch Against the Night (book two) by Sabaa Tahir

This series (there is a third book, but I haven't read it because it wasn't yet available when I finished the second book) was recommended to me by my friend Sarah, who is a middle school science teacher. She said it was a very popular book with her students, and since I love young adult dystopian novels, I gave it a try. I really liked this! I don't feel that it was too "young adult" as I think that adults would enjoy it just as much. It was definitely a page-turner for me, and I flew through it; then immediately started the next one.

Unwasted: My Lush Sobriety by Sacha Z. Scoblic

I've always been fascinated with addiction (I'm pretty sure I've watched every episode of Intervention!) but I was especially interested in reading memoirs of people who'd quit drinking once I made the decision to quit drinking for a year--and that is how I came across this book.

I loved the descriptive writing style of this book! It was very raw and honest. I liked reading her descriptions of how she used to romanticize alcohol, because I think that's something that so many people do (I certainly did, which was the hardest part about quitting drinking).

The only thing I didn't like about this book was that between chapters, she writes several pages about relapse fantasies, some of which are very "out there". I skimmed those as I found it odd and uninteresting--kind of like reading about someone someone else's dream.

Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp

I really loved this memoir of becoming sober as well. While I couldn't relate to her story nearly as much as others that I've read, I liked reading her thoughts when she was in the depths of her alcoholism. I read about the lies she told herself and others, and how she was able to manipulate people and situations.

It was interested to read about how she had every intention of cutting down or quitting but how it would just not work. It reminded me a lot of food addiction, actually--the promises to yourself about "doing good" the next day, and then it doesn't happen, and the shame you feel for it, etc.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

Holy smokes. I thought that marathons were tough. And then I learned about ultramarathons, and I thought those were beyond tough. And then I learned about the CRAZY 3100-mile foot race in NYC, and my mind nearly exploded.

And THEN... I read Into Thin Air, and I was taken to a whole other dimension of crazy people doing crazy things with their bodies. "Climbing Mt. Everest" seemed cliché to me as far as life goals (even the "scary" movies about it make it look--well, at least do-able), and I now I know that it's because I didn't know anything about just how hard it actually is.

After reading this book, you could not pay me enough money to attempt it--not a million dollars, not 10 millions dollars. I do not understand why anyone would have the desire to do it! That said, this book was fascinating to read. It made me appreciate mountain climbing a million times more than before. But I also realized just how commercialized it is now (and has become, especially since the publication of this book), and it's kind of sad that it's not as respected as it once was.

This book took a while to get into--at first, I was wondering why it got such good reviews, because I was bored. But once you get to the action, it's fascinating and well worth the read.

Call Me Tuesday by Leigh Byrne

Confession: I have a morbid fascination with reading memoirs about childhood abuse and how the authors overcome horrible upbringings. I think this all started when I read A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer after seeing him on Oprah. I (thankfully) didn't experience any abuse when I was a child, and when I first learned of things like this happening to real kids, it was horrifying. And ever since then, I am pulled toward these memoirs.

Keri: The Early Years by Kat Ward

Another book like the above. A childhood abuse story (this one has several parts; I only read the first one, and then I needed something else to read that was lighter and fun. Maybe someday I'll read the others.

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

Way way way too many things happening in this book. I’m still not even sure about what I read. Too many characters to keep track of, too many points of view, too many sub-plots. Certainly, way too many unnecessary bits that I thought would be important later on, only to find out they just didn’t fit in. There was no climax or even a big reveal at the end. And at the end, half of the sub-plots were never resolved, so I have no idea what happened. This was given good reviews on Goodreads, so I am in the minority on this one.

Mindhunter by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker

I was browsing through my library's digital website one night trying to find a book to read, and this one caught my eye. I love true crime and this was a memoir of an FBI agent who worked in forensics (serial killers, in particular). True crime + memoir = great read for me!

Coincidentally, when I was about halfway through the book, Jerry and I started watching a show on TV called Mindhunter. I didn't realize it until I kept seeing the similarities between the book and the show that the show is actually based on the book. Once I realized that, I was very excited to keep reading and keep watching. I didn't want to watch the show further than I'd read, so I was reading the book quickly in order to stay ahead. Jerry didn't read the book, but he really loves the show.

Anyway, if you're into true crime, this is a must-read memoir!

The Pillars of the Earth (book one) by Ken Follett
World Without End (book two) by Ken Follett
A Column of Fire (book three) by Ken Follett

I saved my very favorites for last. I LOVE The Pillars of the Earth and its sequel World Without End. (I did not care for A Column of Fire, however--so the following is about the first two). I actually read these books way back in 2009 or 2010-ish (when Oprah featured The Pillars of the Earth in her book club).

It took me about a year to read The Pillars because it was a very intimidating 1,000+ pages and I'm a slow reader. Also, my kids were very little and I just didn't have much time for reading. However, once I finished Pillars, I loved it so much that I actually flew through World Without End in just three weeks. I neglected my housework, the work I was doing for a gynecologist from home, and probably even my kids in order to glue my eyes to the pages of World Without End.

These books have a little of everything: drama, romance, war, thrill, history, violence... and I felt all the emotions: happy, angry, sad, hopeful, fascinated, romantic, thrilled, and just plain struck to the core of my being from reading these books. I was so sad to finish reading them a few weeks ago that I haven't been able to get interested in any other books (although I'm slogging through Born to Run right now).

The Pillars takes place in the 1100's and I adored reading about what life was like back then from the viewpoints of all classes of people (not just the royalty that a lot of historical books are written about). It made me want to wear cloaks and drink watered ale and eat loaves of bread and meager stew for breakfast lunch and dinner. I wanted to visit cathedrals to study the structure and awe at the building materials. It made me want to attend mass at a monastery as well as a fleece fair to check out the latest wool.

Read these books (or at least The Pillars of the Earth). You won't be sorry! The once-intimidating 1,000+ pages just weren't enough.

Finally, I'm currently reading Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. I have been wanting to read this for nearly a decade, because it's basically a right of passage for anyone who calls himself a runner. I've attempted it several times, but just wasn't able to get interested. However, there is something different about reading it on my Kindle that is actually making me look forward to reading it. Nothing like The Pillars, but it's been a good read so far. I think I'll actually finish it this time! It's helping me get excited about running again (which is why I chose now to read it).

I can't write about books now without raving about my Kindle Paperwhite. I've written about it before, but I love it so much that I need to write about it again. For years, my sister talked about the Kindle Paperwhite and that I should get one; but I didn't understand what the big deal was. I have an iPad Mini, and I can download books there to read. Also, I was old-fashioned and just liked having the actual hard copy of a book to hold. I look at the computer screen way more than I want to, and I see my phone's screen several times a day. The last thing I wanted was another screen to look at!

However, borrowing actual books from the library has actually become much less convenient than "checking out" electronic books from the library. With ebooks, I can have it instantly; I don't have to wait for the library to open, drive there, check it out, and then remember to return it on time. So, I started downloading books to my iPad Mini.

This worked out fine with the exception of a couple of things: 1) The iPad Mini is heavy. It doesn't seem like it would be a big deal, but my hands and wrists were hurting so badly from carpal tunnel syndrome that I hated holding anything heavy. 2) I couldn't see the screen in the daylight, so reading outside was nearly impossible. It's like my phone--the glare just makes it hard to see.

My sister mentioned the Kindle Paperwhite again, so I started looking into it to see what was so "special" about it versus my iPad Mini. I ended up getting a really good deal on it, so I bought it and I hoped it would solve those issues for me.

It FAR succeeded my expectations! I am a true convert--I much prefer ebooks to hard copies now. My Kindle Paperwhite is actually LIGHTER and SMALLER than the paperback version of most books. I can hold it up while I'm lying in bed on my back and my hands don't get painful or numb.

Also, you know how when you're reading a book and you're at the beginning or end of it, where there is a period of time that it's awkward to hold? One side has a few hundred pages and the other has a dozen, and it just feels uncomfortable to hold.

And the best part is that I can use it outside and see it just as well as I can see a paperback! The background of it actually makes it look like you're reading a paperback book.

I can download books from my library and have them sent to my Kindle immediately, so there is no need to purchase books in order to read on it (assuming your library system has a digital library). Also, if you are an Amazon Prime member, you can get Amazon's "First Reads" for FREE--each month, you are able to choose from about 5-6 books (early access) and download one for free to keep! You don't have to pay for this if you already have Amazon Prime.

The Kindle Paperwhite that I have is the 10th generation and holds 8 gigs of storage--that equates to roughly 6,000 books! I will never even come close to filling it up in my lifetime.

Anyway, I know I am raving on and on, and I sound like a huge commercial for the Kindle Paperwhite... but I promise you that I am not promoting it for any reason other than that I love love love mine. (If you buy one through my link, then I may get an affiliate percentage, but that is not at all the reason I am promoting it. However, if you're going to buy one anyway, it'd be awesome if you chose to use my link: Kindle Paperwhite 10th Edition)

If it wasn't for the Kindle Paperwhite, I most certainly would not have read 27 books since January 2018. That may not sound like a lot to some of you, but I was averaging probably one book a YEAR until I made this goal to read more.

And some of these books have gotten me excited to read more. (Oh! I also love how small my Kindle Paperwhite is--it fits inside my very small purse, so I can bring it to doctors' waiting rooms, therapy appointment waits, etc.) Just yesterday, I brought it to Eli's baseball game to read while his team warmed up.

For my birthday, Jerry bought me the cutest cover ever for my Kindle. Isn't it perfect for me? (Here is the link for that as well--there are lots of designs, not just the cats)

SOOOOO, I know this was an uber long post, but if I wait until there are 40 books on my list, it's going to be even longer. Have you all read anything good lately? Do you use a Kindle Paperwhite? Most importantly...

What are your top three very favorite books?

(Also, if you're interested, you're can find me on Goodreads here. I don't keep up with it like I'd like to, though.)

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