My Work-Out Must-Haves

Friday, February 15, 2019

I suppose it feels somewhat laughable for me to write a post like this, given that I am 34 years old & only just started working out, but you know what? I've been working damn hard on that Harness Cycle grind, & I feel good about it, & I want to share with you some of the products I love most to help me make it through.

7/8-Length Workout Leggings

I love the length of these pants, which are longer than capris but shorter than full-length leggings. I guess you could also call them "ankle-length." My favorite pairs, so far, come from Target & Old Navy, but I'd like to invest in some higher-end pieces, now that I know I want to stick with riding. I recently ordered my first pair from Girlfriend Collective - they're made out of recycled plastic water bottle, & I adore them. (Get $10 off with my referral code, if you're interested.)

Shimano Shoes & Clips

At my studio, the shoes are the most important piece of equipment, aside from the bike you're on. Some studios let you ride in your street shoes, though I can't speak to how you secure yourself on the bike; at Harness, we wear special shoes with devices on the bottom that clip right onto the bikes' pedals. I'd been renting them from the studio, but my mom bought me a pair in July. I'm a real rider now!

Water Bottle

I like a water bottle I can squeeze, not one I have to drink out of with care - which is what I need when I'm on the go, drinking as I ride. I own a bunch of fancy water bottles, including a S'well that I love, but my go-to water bottle is a plain old plastic squeeze bottle. This isn't the one I have, but mine is close to it. 

Sturdy Hair Ties

Duh, right? But no, really, these matter way more than you might think. If I put my hair up in a weak hair tie, it's likely to flop out while I ride. Then, I have to disengage from class to try to put my hair in place... it slows everything down. I usually use not one but two of these thick Goody elastics, & you'll almost always find me with a few of them on my wrist. Luckily, my studio offers them for free for the days when I forget.

Manda Bees Headbeads

I discovered these headbands when I received one for free in a swag bag at a Harness Cycle event - & now I'm a total devotee! I've ordered a few more since then, & this one is next on my to-buy list. I never ride without one. I am the sweatiest human alive, & these are the only headbands I've tried that have successfully kept all the sweat out of my eyes. In a completely non-scientific estimate, I'd say that when I'm wearing one of these headbands, I use my hand towel 50% less than when I ride without.

Champion Sports Bras 

Until I found these bras, I was the girl wearing a regular bra under a sports bra whenever I tried to work out - & honestly, it was at least a quarter of the reason I hated working out as much as I did. That shit is uncomfortable - & still barely held in the girls! I love this adjustable, front-zip option from Champion (sold at Target), which keeps my ladies firmly in place & is easy to get on & off.

Tell me: What are your work-out must haves? 

Things I Love Right Now (Pt. XII)

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

It's been a little while since I've done one of these, but I've amassed enough stuff worth sharing that I thought it was time for another. Here are 10 things on my heart-eyes list these days. How about you?
  1. Rae Dunn Weekly Desk PadI snagged this pad at Marshall's for a whopping $5, & even though I have a real, monthly planner that I love, this little calendar pad helps me get/stay more organized than ever. I like that the squares are big & undated, & it has a "To-Do" section along the right-hand side.
  2. White Cedar hemp oilI'd never tried CBD oil or hemp oil, so when White Cedar reached out, I jumped at the chance to try their organic hemp oil extract for pain & stress relief. It has a "cinnamint" flavor but still has an aftertaste of cannabis; I think it works best when taken with food or water. And it works! My knee pain & some other aches & pains feel significantly better since I started using this daily. 
  3. Redbook: Am I embarrassed by this one? OK, fine, yes, a little. Actually, I've loved Redbook magazine since I was, like, 11, & now I'm of the age to actually like Redbook magazine, so I finally subscribed - yes, to the paper version - & man, it's better than ever.
  4. Kindle PaperwhiteThis certainly isn't a new love, but lately, I've been using my Kindle more than ever. I still read plenty of paper books, of course, but because I do most of my reading in bed before I fall asleep, I like to be able to read on my Kindle, no reading lights or lamps needed.
  5. Spotify's Leo playlistI discovered this playlist when fellow Leo & Cleveland blogger Shibani of Bombay Taxi. I'm sometimes a little embarrassed to be a Leo because all of the descriptions of us are so freaking insulting, but Lizzo, TLC, Janelle MonĂ¡e? Yessss, ladies. Roar. (Find your astrological sign's playlist here.)
  6. AAAAre you an AAA member? Honestly, they've saved my broke-down butt so many times that I'll never not be a member again. Most recently, they jumped my car from dead in the driveway, my (AAA) battery sucked dry by the polar vortex.
  7. Archer Farms Sweet Cajun Trail MixI love this stuff so that much that I can't buy it too often. If I do, I will eat the entire bag in one sitting, & it is decidedly not healthy enough for that to happen on any kind of regular basis.
  8. The ResidentI started watching this Fox medical drama right after I blogged about my love of medical dramas. This seems to be the only current one I wasn't watching - & now I am! It took me a little bit longer to get into this one because the first scene is so galling, but I've come to really like it, especially with Matt Czuchry in the lead.
  9. Girlfriend Collective workout wear: I keep seeing Instagram ads for this slow-fashion brand whose workout wear is made of recycled plastic bottles, but basically everything is sold out because... slow fashion, man. I got lucky when I found their Topanga bra & high-rise compression leggings in my size, in the same color, available at the same time... so yes, I did order a matching set of workout gear. It feels like a dream, & I look damn in it good, body issues be damned. (You can get $10 off with my referral code, if you're interested.)
  10. Feminist Book Club: I signed up for three-months of this book club started by feminist extraordinaire Renee Powers. Each month, I receive a (hand-collaged!) box that includes a book & goodies from women-owned businesses. I've only been able to join one of the monthly book club video calls, but I look forward to more. This month's book is F-Bomb. Have you read it?
Tell me: What are you loving right now? 

Disclaimer: I received free product from White Cedar Naturals in exchange for my honest opinion. I chose to share it here because I really do like it that much!

For Black History Month & Beyond: 15 of My Favorite Books (So Far) by Black Authors

Monday, February 11, 2019

I wondered if it was appropriate for me to create a list like this at all. Who am I, a white, Jewish woman, to share my list of favorite books written by black authors? Those lists, I first thought, should come from black readers.

And then I re-thought. It should, in large part, be the work of white people to encourage other white people to try to learn & expand & to act as better allies. I am certainly not a perfect ally (none of us is, that's how this works), but I continue to try to put in the work, to learn as much as I can, & to be outspoken in ways that use my privilege for good.

One of those ways is by reading as many books as I can written by authors of color. I haven't done what some people have done, which is to drop white men - or white people altogether - from my TBR list entirely; I still want to read perspectives of the world, & sometimes, those come from white people, too. (And, look, I've gotta work on my Harry Potter re-read.) But I keep an ongoing list of books I want to read by authors of color, & I make an effort to prioritize them. 

The same is true of books by authors of other minorities (& overlapping minority identities): Asian writers, LGBTQ writers, Latinx writers, Jewish writers, etc., & overall, I do find that most of the books I read are written by women. 

I think this practice help me to better understand others & to be more aware of & empathetic to stories different than my own. I think this practice is important, & if you're an avid reader like I am, I hope it's one you practice, too - or that I can help you start. 

Before I begin, a note: I don't read a lot of classics, so some of the books that should probably appear on a list like this simply don't. I haven't read them, except for a few in high school (The Color PurpleTheir Eyes Were Watching GodInvisible Man) that I don't really remember. Maybe I should read more of them, though, so if you have recommendations, please leave a comment!

Without further ado, 15 of my favorite books written by black authors.

1. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter lives in an all-black neighborhood ruled by gangs but attends an all-white prep school, leading her to feel like she lives two lives. When cops shoot her best friend, Starr is the only witness - leading to national attend, local unrest, & inner & outer turmoil for Starr herself.

2. Barracoon by Zora Neale Hurston

Hurston spent time interviewing Cudjo Lewis, the last known survivor of the Atlantic slave trade between Africa and the U.S. Taken from his home in West Africa, Cudjo was a slave in Alabama until he was freed at the end of the Civil War & helped found Africatown, AL.

3. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

In telling couple Ifemelu & Obinze, Adichie weaves an incredible story about blackness (African, American, & otherwise), life as an immigrant, the challenges of poverty & wealth - & the struggles unique to each of those elements that are universal, relatable, & human.

4. You Can't Touch My Hair by Phoebe Robinson

Robinson, the co-host of the 2 Dope Queens podcast (a Cleveland native!), has a way with analogies, using hilarious & unexpected pop culture references to discuss important issues like racism, feminism, etc.

5. The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya

Wamariya left Rwanda at age 6, accompanied on by her older sister, staying in multiple refugee camps & in the homes of kind strangers to survive. Now a Yale grad & activist, Wamariya tells her story with grace & power, humanizing refugees & displaced people worldwide. 

6. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

The Daily Show host's memoir is both fascinating & informative while still retaining his signature wit & insight as he tells of growing up biracial in South Africa during & immediately following apartheid.

7. Rest in Power by Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin

It's been nearly seven years since 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot walking home from a 7-11, Skittles & an iced tea in his hoodie pocket. His parents' memoir is a painful, powerful look at the case, a testimony to race & racism in America. No justice, no peace.

8. Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert

Suzette (Little) is black, Jewish, & bisexual, & Lionel (a.k.a. Lion), who is white, Jewish, & bipolar. Their parents aren't married, but the four of them have been a family since the two kids were young; they consider one another brother & sister, & they are best friends. This is a beautiful story of family & identity, & a fairly easy/compelling read.

9. Writing My Wrongs by Shaka Senghor

Senghor, who became a crack dealer at age 14, committed murder at age 19 just months after being shot himself (& likely suffering serious PTSD). He spent nearly two decades in prison, eventually relying on faith & writing to help him evolve into a peace-loving, justice-minded activist who now works to better the community where he grew up.

10. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

This book should be a must-read for anyone who wants to better understand racial tension in America, whether you're a POC living that reality every day or a white person who seeks deeper understanding in order to become a better ally. Coates' writing - a memoir & social commentary in the form of a letter to his son - is a work of art.

11. Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

This book is heavy, but each of the short stories within it is compelling and darkly powerful. Gay weaves the fictional stories of women who society deem problematic but who readers - presumably a lot of so-called difficult women themselves - will see as complex, thoughtful, & multitudinous.

12. The March series by John Robert Lewis

 Congressman John Lewis is a giant for social justice, a civil rights legend who has been putting his values into action for decades by working to desegregate the South &, in turn, the nation. This series is a fascinating way to read his personal story & to better understand the early civil rights era. 

13. The Mothers by Brit Bennett

Told from the third-person perspective of an older church-going woman, this novel tells the story of teenage church member Nadia, whose mother recently died by suicide; her boyfriend, Luke, the preacher's son; & her best friend, Aubrey, who becomes close to Luke, too. The book, which follows them into adulthood, is one of the most agonizingly, exquisitely human stories I've ever read.

14. The Heart of a Woman by Maya Angelou

This memoir by the indomitable Angelou focuses primarily on her relationship with a South African civil rights activist who tried to mold her into the perfect African (rather than African-American) wife. Her spirit, work ethic, & sense of justice are all on display as she struggles to be the perfect wife while remaining an activist, writer, an independent woman.

15. This Is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare by Gabourey Sidibe

Sidibe, perhaps best known for her role as Precious in the movie of the same name, writes her memoir in a chill, down-to-earth, hilarious voice that sounds like her own. She hits on serious topics, like depression, body image, domestic abuse, & race, but she also tells funny stories from her own life & dispenses advice on funnier subjects, like dating & her job as a phone sex operator.

What are your favorite books by black authors? What should I add to my TBR list? 

When the Universe Has Other Plans for You, Like a Busted Knee

Friday, February 8, 2019

I knew as it was happening: "This is about the be bad." Mike & I were leaving Sauced Taproom & Kitchen in Lakewood, where we'd just had a lovely (& delicious!) date night. We were barely a few steps out the door when I hit a patch of ice... & down I went.

I landed directly on my kneecap &, like, bounced. It was the most sudden & excruciating pain I have experienced, surpassing even the pain of the time I broke my tailbone while sledding. (No, I wasn't a little kid when that happened; I was 21, lol, ughhhh.) So there I am on a street corner in downtown Lakewood, sobbing & screaming & trying to breathe & feeling confident that I have shattered my goddamn knee bones. I genuinely thought I was going to barf on the sidewalk with all of Panera watching on.

I didn't go to the hospital. Instead, Mike helped me hobble home, literally crawling up the front stairs to our apartment, & we did all the right things: Advil, ice, elevation... The next day, a friend brought my crutches, which we were a lifesaver. It continued to be the most painful injury of my life, though, which had me really worried. Still, I didn't think anything was broken - I hadn't heard a pop or snap when I fell - so I didn't get it checked out.

It took me nearly a week to go to urgent care, which I finally did because, once the swelling went down & the scrapes stopped hurting so badly, something felt off in my knee. It was weight-bearing but wobbly, kind of floaty & loose. It made strange noises. It was still swollen.

An X-ray showed that I hadn't broken, dislocated, or fractured anything, thank goodness - but it couldn't show what an MRI might, like a tear or a bone bruise. I was diagnosed as likely having a severe bone bruise with some fluid under the knee & told to continue what I was doing - Advil, ice, elevation - but to stop walking on it, if possible.  I started wearing an ACE bandage to compress it & keep things from wobbling & floating because the PA told me that by walking on it like I had been, I was making the swelling worse & keeping it from fully healing.

And, of course, I was told that I couldn't go back to spinning until I was fully healed & my knee felt "normal."

It still doesn't.

It's been weeks since I completed a Harness Cycle class. My quest for 10 classes, which should've wrapped up in early February, has been put on hold indefinitely - & it's killing me. I miss riding so much - and I forgot to cancel my auto-subscription, so I'm paying for a bunch of classes I can't even go to. I feel out of shape & lazy & I just want to keep riding.

My knee feels a lot better than it did the day I went to urgent care - the ACE bandage definitely helped - but it's still not normal, still not quite right. I can walk a lot better, but I still can't ride. I was told that if it didn't feel healed by the end of this week, I should come in for an MRI - but honestly, I'm having a hard time determining what's going on, what's healing toward normal, what's actually off, etc.

I was so proud of myself for working toward 100 classes. I was getting there, I was doing it, I felt invincible & strong. Because I've never been an athlete, I've also never experienced the agony of a workout that keeps me benched from the "sport" I love - & man, it really sucks.

I know that heath comes first, & in this case, the health of my knee has to come ahead of the healthy benefits of riding. I have to take care of myself. I'm 34, & I can't make my knee worse or I'll end up with a lifetime of knee issues (please, universe, no). I have to rest - but all I want is to start riding again, & when I can, it's going to make class 100 even sweeter.

I'm comin' for ya, 100. Wait for me.

My Solo Weekend at a Cabin in Pennsylvania

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

One of my goals for the new year was to book a solo trip someplace. While I'd still like to take a week-long solo vacation - like, someplace warm, or exciting, or on my to-visit list, or all three - I settled, in January, for a weekend-long solo trip that I designed as a writing retreat. It also turned into a bit of a reading retreat, a budgeting retreat, & a trying-to-watch-Top-Chef-on-bad-wifi retreat, among other things, but writing was my chief goal, & write I did.

To find a place to stay, I did a search for cabins on AirBnB & narrowed it down to places within a two-hour drive of Cleveland. I looked into spots near Columbus, Toledo, & Detroit before ultimately settling on No. 8 Schoolhouse, a four-bed tiny house just outside New Wilmington, PA. It's styled like a schoolhouse, although, to my knowledge, it was never an actual schoolhouse - but hey, seemed cool enough for me.

No. 8 Schoolhouse is attached to another AirBnB rental, Bridge House, which is a small cabin located inside a converted covered bridge! Longtime readers may recall my obsession with abiding love of covered bridges, & of course, I wish I'd realized this upon booking - but staying in a faux schoolhouse was the next best thing, & I did at least get to see the covered bridge cabin. I'd love to go back to stay in it.

See it there on the left? A creek runs beneath it. Real covered bridge, guys.

The week before my trip, I fell on the ice & badly injured my right knee so badly that I spent a couple of days on crutches. With snow falling as I hit the road, I worried I might have trouble hobbling around on my own in PA. Luckily, the roads were clear, the driveway shoveled, & my trusty Sorel boots didn't fail me. Because I didn't do much all weekend, I actually got to rest my knee quite a bit.

New Wilmington is just a 90-minute drive from the CLE, & most of the trip is a straight shot down the turnpike. No. 8 Schoolhouse is located on PA-208, a main highway that runs through a few small towns, so although the cabin feels secluded, it's actually very close to civilization, including a BP, a Rite Aid, a coffee shop, a brewery, & a few restaurants & bars.

The layout of the cabin was really interesting: The first floor featured a large combined bedroom/living room space, heated by an electric fireplace, with a small kitchen, pantry, & bathroom just off the back. Up a few stairs was a mezzanine-level landing with a large, wooden desk & a lamp - then up the stairs was the second floor, which included two twin beds & a large closet. There was a Harry Potter-style "room" beneath the stairs, just tall enough to sit up in, with a full-sized mattress on the floor for cozy, glamping-style sleeping quarters.

None of the windows had curtains, which felt somewhat alarming until I realized that the cabin was enclosed by fencing around the front & a creek & large hill out back. Someone would have to try really hard to look through the windows, & it was so quiet out there that I probably would've heard them crashing around through the snow & trees. There was also a colorful treehouse out back, plus a lovely sitting space that I couldn't enjoy, given the weather.

The best part, though, was a small, open-air chapel located on the rental grounds. It's open to the public, but it'd be hard to find or know about unless you were actually staying. Yeah, yeah, I'm Jewish, & yes, I felt more than a little uncomfortable, at first, walking into a place so, well, Jesusy. Upon entering, though, I felt completely at peace. It's such a cool space, so serene & still, & it's filled with tchotchkes & crosses & knick-knacks & photos & messages of love, peace, & goodwill. It was especially beautiful in the snow, with the creek rushing out back & hoofbeats out front.

Oh, right, the horses. I haven't mentioned that yet. New Wilmington is a heavily Amish area. To my delight, I woke up Saturday morning to the sound of a horse & buggy clip-clopping down the street outside the cabin! Many more passed throughout the day.

I even got up close(ish) to a horse who was tied up in a "horses only" parking spot behind the Rite Aid, & I spotted quite a few Amish folks in the downtown area. There was even a guide to local Amish businesses available in the cabin - none of them open Sundays, of course.

I saw the horse & buggy - & that cool mural - behind Mugsie's, coffee shop less than a mile away where I spent much of Saturday afternoon. It would've been a nice walk, but because of my knee & the falling snow, I drove instead. I ordered a breakfast sandwich & a cinnamon soy latte, both delicious, & settled in for some writing.

At some point, I started chatting with the man next to me, also hunched over a laptop. He was a local Presbyterian pastor, married to another local Presbyterian pastor, & he was one of the more interesting people I've met in a long time. We talked for nearly an hour, then exchanged emails; I told him Mike & I would love to take them to dinner next time they make it out to Cleveland.

I spent the rest of my time in the cabin, reading, writing, napping, & trying without much success to watch TV on my iPad throughout. I brought food with me, mostly charcuterie items, plus an oven pizza for Saturday night - & a six-pack of Dortmunder, of course.

I did a lot of writing, of course, though not as much as I'd hoped, & on completely different topics than I'd planned. I wanted to write a few essays for a book I've long been considering, but, well... I didn't write a single one of those. I did, however, write a few blog posts, two essays to submit elsewhere, & an application for Amtrak's #AmtrakTakeMeThere social media "residency." Fingers crossed for that one!

By the end of the weekend, I missed home but could've stayed in semi-seclusion like that for a few more days, quite honestly. I'm already planning when & how I can get back to No. 8 Schoolhouse - maybe the covered bridge cabin! - again very soon. And, uh, next time I swear I'll do some actual writing.

6 Small Goals for February

Monday, February 4, 2019

Mannn, January was brutal. From the stomach flu to a burst pipe to credit card theft to a knee injury to my car breaking down, I would not say that January 2019 was my all-time favorite month - & I'm sincerely hoping the universe will be a little better to me in February.

In keeping with this sentiment, let's get this out of the way: I bombed at my January goals. I could make excuses, but for the most part, I just lost sight of my goals entirely (or, in the case of my Harness goal, actually couldn't complete them because of my new injury). Herrrre we go:
  1. Search for a new therapist. No. Again no. I have come out of December's depressive episode, though, so frankly (& blessedly), this feels slightly less pressing than before.
  2. Color my hair. I didn't do this in January, but I did it on February, right before this post went live, so I'm counting it here.(It doesn't look great.)
  3. Clean out my car. Sort of. I threw away alllll kinds of crap that was piling up in there, which felt great - but I haven't yet vacuumed it or gotten it detailed, which is what I really want/need.
  4. Hit 92 Harness rides. This one actually isn't my fault. I was desperate to go to more classes & kept signing up then canceling when I re-realized, every time, that my knee wasn't yet ready. I finished up at 91, which is OK with me, but I'm desperate to get back. Eight to go until 100!
  5. Help my mom get rid of stuff. Completed! I had a nice, chill weekend at my mom's, & I helped her package up four boxes for Goodwill.
  6. Cook once a week. lol nope. I brought groceries with me to my solo writing retreat in Pennsylvania, though (more on that later) & brought an oven pizza. Does that count?
Honestly... I'm not in the mood to come up with February goals. I feel fairly unmotivated, if last month's lack of accomplishments tells you anything - but I guess that's the time when we need goals most, right? Woof.
  1. Heal. The doctor told me to stay off my knee, even though it's technically weight-bearing, because I was making it worse by walking on it. Now I'm going to try to do all the right things: rest, ice, elevate, etc. Fingers crossed.
  2. Complete a modified no-spend month. This is an effort to spend less, save more, & eat better. I'll still buy my weekday lattes (sometimes the only way I get out of the house) & will still spend money on experiences, like a few drinks or meals with friends/for date night. What I won't do is buy anything frivolous: clothes or makeup, random Target trips, food delivery, etc.
  3. Sort out my medications. I've been having some issues with the medicine my neurologist prescribed me for my sleep disorder. I'd like to get it on the right track so I can move forward.
  4. Take down the Christmas tree. Yep, it's still up. I'm embarrassed to say that here, so it had better be down by March!
  5. Eat better. Like, seriously, seriously, I have to eat better. I'm inspired by everyone who's doing Whole30, Keto, etc., in the new year, & I've got to find something that works for me.
  6. Get my airbags replaced. My car's airbags were recalled, & I can get them replaced for free if I reach out to a dealership. This is important - & dangerous - so I need to make it a priority. 
Tell me: What are your February goals? How did you do in January? 

What I Read in January

Friday, February 1, 2019

Whatcha readin', friends? I had a pretty good reading month in January, finishing 10 books - all of them good ones. Seems like my reading year is off to a pretty good start! 

Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney

This book begins inside Amber's head; she's in a coma & can't recall how she got there, but she suspects her husband had something to do with it. While I'm annoyed that female-driven psychological thrillers always seem to feature unreliable female narrators, I really enjoyed this story, & I couldn't figure out what was going to happen next. Sure, it was far-fetched - but it kept me hanging on until the end. ★★★★☆

Pointe by Brandy Colbert

I loved Colbert's other two books, Little & Lion & Finding Yvonne, so it's no surprise that I loved this one, too. Theo is an accomplished, up-and-coming ballerina, but she's also a recovering anorexic - & now she's dealing with the shocking return of her best friend, who was presumed dead four years ago. As she comes to terms with what happened to him while he was away, she also has to come to terms with what happened to her before he left - & try to make things right for them both. ★★★★☆

My Not-So-Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella

This was my first Kinsella novel, as the popular Shopaholic series never appealed to me, but this one-off read was exactly the sort of frivolous read I'd been looking for. Katie has moved from her family's farm to the big city, working a low-level job at a big-time branding firm in London. Her boss is a nightmare - & when said boss fires her, she has to return to the farm to figure things out. So what happens when former Nightmare Boss unexpectedly shows up at the farm?! ★★★★☆

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

I can't remember when I first read this book, but it had been long enough that I knew I wanted to read it again. Charlie is a freshman, an oddball, a quiet kid whose only real friend committed suicide. He becomes close with Sam & Patrick, upperclassmen who introduce him to drugs, sex, & true, meaningful friendships. - & ultimately help him uncover some vital truths about life & about himself. I remembered most of this story, but it still had the same magic I'd remembered - & now I love it more than ever. ★★★★

Barracoon: The Last "Black Cargo" by Zora Neale Hurston

This book will stay with me for a long time. Hurston spent time interviewing Cudjo Lewis, the last known survivor of the Atlantic slave trade between Africa and the U.S. Taken from his home in West Africa, Cudjo (originally Oluale Kossula) was a slave in Alabama until he was freed at the end of the Civil War & went on to help found Africatown, AL. The story was fascinating, & Hurston transcribed Lewis's words in his own dialect, which I had to read very slowly to be sure it sunk in. Take your time with this one & give it the attention it deserves. ★★★★

No Exit by Taylor Adams

So many folks raved about this one that I had to get my hands on it. Five people are stranded at a rest stop during a snowstorm (& I, coincidentally, read it while snowed in - at home, fortunately). Darby discovers that one of the others is a kidnapper, but with no access to weapons, law enforcement, or cell service, she has no idea what to do. Still, a little girl's life depends on her ability to do something. This book was way over-the-top & some parts made me really uncomfortable, but it was a solid read. ★★★★☆

To Be Honest by Maggie Ann Martin

This book was a recommendation on a list of body-positive YA books, & it was an easy, enjoyable read. Savannah's big sister & best friend has just left for college, leaving Savannah alone with her newly body-obsessed mom. Fresh off a stint on a weight-loss TV show, her mom takes her body issues out on overweight Savannah, destroying their relationship - & her own health - in the process. It also involves a very cute, believable teenage love story along the way. ★★★★☆

You Have the Right to Remain Fat by Virgie Tovar

I expected this one, written by a noted & fat activist, to be more memoir than nonfiction commentary on the world at large, but given Tovar's background as a researcher & academic, I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised. It was still a great read, delving deep into the ways society demonizes fat & just how entrenched those beliefs are, both in our culture & in ourselves. This one definitely got me thinking - & even if the book doens't interest you, I'd encourage you to watch Tovar's TEDx Talk on the topic. ★★★★☆

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot 

This book had never appealed to me in the past, but when my book club chose it, I started in... & was surprised by how rapt I was the entire way through. Skloot did an incredible job reporting Lacks' story while making it accessible & human, digging in deep with Lacks's daughter, Deborah, who had historically not trusted reporters, Johns Hopkins, or anyone else looking into her mother's medical history. The story is fascinating, important, & ongoing. ★★★★★

The Undertaker's Daughter by Sara Blaedel

My favorite Nordic noir author is back with a brand new series, & I'm so excited about it. This one features Ilka, a fortysomething Danish photographer whose estranged father has died & left to her his funeral home business... in Wisconsin. She travels to the U.S. to try to offload the practice, but instead becomes both attached to the job & part of an ongoing murder investigation. A great, smooth read for Blaedel, as always. ★★★★★

Tell me what you're reading, then add me on Goodreads to keep in touch & see what I've read in months past. You can also follow my bookstagram account!

My "What I Read in..." posts include Amazon affiliate links to the titles I discuss. If you buy a book using one of these links, I will receive a small percentage of commission. Please don't feel any obligation to use these links, but if you do, it will help me buy more books.

A Thank-You to the Good Guys: How "The Bachelor" Got Me Thinking about College

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

You know by now that I'm a big fan of The Bachelor franchise of shows, & this week's episode did something the shows have never really done before: address sexual assault. One of the contestants, Caelynn Miller-Keyes, got emotional as she told the bachelor, Colton Underwood, about her rape. I was glad to see the show give Caelynn's story the time & seriousness is deserved, & like everyone else watching, I was absolutely devastated by her story.

It's a story that is horrifying, heartbreaking, & all too familiar: Caelynn & her friends we drugged & assaulted at a fraternity house, where she was raped on a couch while onlookers cheered for her abuser.

As I listened to Caelynn's story, I cried - not just for her & her friends but for the fact that this happens, period, to women the world over. And that it happens so often that it is no longer surprising, despite the fact that it is never any less horrifying.

In fact, it's become so unsurprising that I found myself thinking back with surprise about the fact that I was not sexually assaulted in college.

As a sorority girl at Ohio University, nearly all of my male friends were fraternity brothers. My sorority sisters & I spent tons of time at one fraternity house in particular, where one of the brothers was my friend's longtime boyfriend from high school. Soon, we were friends with nearly all of the brothers, & we went to lots of parties there, plus lots of just-hanging-out nights, both at the fraternity house & at the off-campus houses where some of the guys lived.

They were our friends - & they were also our protectors. When we got drunk or passed out or didn't totally remember the evening (note: I do not drink like this anymore), they let us sleep on couches or they slept on couches or kicked creepy dudes out of parties or walked us home. They took care of us - without taking advantage of us.

I remember one time, in particular, when a sketchy guy from one of my classes showed up at a party at the fraternity house, uninvited; he'd heard me tell someone else I'd be there. When I mentioned it to one of my sisters, she told one of the brothers, who very quickly asked the guy to leave - even though he barely knew me. He was polite but firm, just a, "Bro, you need to leave," kind of thing. And just like that, everything was OK again.

There was another time, when my little sister got too drunk at the frat house (ah, Greek life), & I knew I needed to get her home. I couldn't manage her myself & couldn't get a hold of our designated "sober sister," so the guys tracked down their sober brother, who picked up my little, buckled her into his car, & drove us both home. He helped me get her into her dorm room, then left - nothing but helpful & kind.

But every time I read or hear a story about college experiences like Caelynn's, I think: My friends & I were so lucky - but it so easily could've gone another way. And for so many women, it does.

I just keep asking myself: How did we know so many good men when so many are so not? I feel so thankful that they were good men, who took care of us rather than hurt us - but it turns my stomach to know that so many women haven't had that college experience. And how backwards is it that I feel surprised to have had such supportive, kind male friends? That should be the norm - but we all know it's not.

It's been nearly 15 years since my time at OU, & I don't know most of those guys anymore, even on Facebook - but I still think about them a lot. In an era of #metoo & #timesup, I wish I could thank them for the way they treated us, & especially for the way they didn't treat us. Because of them, I got to grow up trusting men - & that's a right that so many women are simply not afforded.

Good men, rise up - & please know that your goodness is not going unnoticed. Thank you.

If you are struggling in the aftermath of a sexual assault, please know that you are not alone. Contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

My Last-Minute Luxury Vacation in Miami, FL

Monday, January 28, 2019

I am not a fancy-vacation kinda gal.

Sure, Mike & I stayed in a luxury hotel while we were on our honeymoon in Costa Rica - but we were on our honeymoon! Aside from that, I usually go the AirBnB route, or the timeshare route, or the Marriott-level-hotel route, or even the crashing-with-a-friend route. I love to travel, but I'm pretty chill about my travel needs.

But when my friend Rebecca asked me if I'd join her in Miami Beach, FL, for a few days following her dad's death, of course I said yes. She takes a solo trip every year, but this year, she didn't feel like being alone - so I booked flights, requested a few days off work, & off to Miami I went.

Rebecca & I met in 2007, when we were both fellows in a legislative assistant program for recent college grads. (That's also the year I started this blog - & she made many an early appearance!) We shared an office space & became fast friends, despite our many differences. 

Becca is now a restructuring lawyer in Manhattan, where she's from, while I still work for the organization that first hired us all those years ago - but here in Cleveland, of course. She was one of my bridesmaids & is one of my very best friends; I'll take any opportunity to spend time with her.

Rebecca booked us a room at the St. Regis Bal Harbour, where she found a great deal on an extremely large room - like, far larger than her Brooklyn apartment. And man, was everything glitzy. It was like Ivana Trump's personality, all played out in a hotel lobby. Check all those mirrors!

Let's be honest: The St. Regis Bal Harbour was not as great as it could've been. It was overly technology-ridden, but with technology that didn't always work (lookin' at you, wacky bathroom lights that we never figured out how to turn off). The service was good but not great, especially not given the cost of staying at the hotel.

And the food costs were outrageous: Our first meal there, at the pool bar, cost me $85 for a calamari appetizer, a small vegetarian salad, & a single cocktail. It was decent food, but not $85 decent.

Good thing the view were as gorgeous as they were! Our room had a large, shaded balcony overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. We didn't spend as much time out there as we might've liked, in part because it was a bit chilly in the shade. Still, it was nice to hang there for a bit, to catch up, to relax, & to catch our final views of the ocean on our last day, before we left.

During our stay, we had private beach access with beach chairs & service (though the service was not always present), just a few short steps outside of our hotel. We both brought Kindles, earbuds, magazines, & books to keep us busy - & by "busy," I mean "totally relaxed." We ordered skinny cocktails (a margarita for her, a caipiroska for me) & chips & guacamole to be delivered to us at our beach chairs, & let me tell you: Nothing is more glorious than that kind of service!

We never did hit up the pool. Because the weather was so inconsistent, we chose to spend our time at the beach & just suck it up, bundling up as needed. If you're going to be near the beach, be at the beach, right?! Truth be told, I like the beach far better in less-than-hot weather. It's far less sweaty!

The weather was great on our first day there but slightly chillier on our second. As the sun moved behind the clouds on day two, we noticed that we were the only people left on the beach who weren't Orthodox Jews - but we realized that, frankly, if you have to dress that modestly at the beach (arms & legs covered, wearing long skirts), then chillier-than-usual weather is probably the best time to be there! As for us? We slid into workout pants & cardigans to keep us warm & stayed out until we couldn't take it anymore.

And yes, I got sunburned even on that very overcast day.

So what did we do while there? Honestly, not much. We spent a few hours at the beach each day. We found a Starbucks within walking distance & had a social justice conversation over lattes. We walked the footpath near the beach, which passes various rental properties - commercial & residential - & where you can spot a lot of cute dogs out for their daily walk.

We also left our hotel a few times to check out other hotels Rebecca had stayed at & liked in years past, including dinner at the Ritz Carlton Bal Harbour & lunch at the Four Seasons Surfside. We had delicious meals at both - for less than we spent at that pool bar! The Four Seasons was especially lovely, with a much more understated vibe - & some seriously delicious food.

Two night, we went out for with Rebecca's law school friends who live in the area. Both times, we took long Lyft rides to get to them, but the meals & the company (not to mention the weather) were very much worth it. No photos, but one night we ate at Yardbird, where Becca & I split the chicken & waffles: Vermont sharp cheddar cheese waffle topped with three pieces of fried chicken, honey hot sauce, chilled spiced watermelon, & bourbon maple syrup. Damn.

I always get so nervous about meeting friends of friends - but I almost always turn out to love them. I'm pretty extroverted, so it's usually easy for me to chat with new people - & really, what's the likelihood that you won't like the people your best friends love?!

We barely remembered to take any photos of ourselves or one another until the last day of the trip, when we grabbed free coffees & a light breakfast together at the hotel cafe (where the food was less expensive & much tastier than at the pool bar where we had our earlier $85 meal).

I didn't dig into any of the flavored croissants you see below, but aren't they gorgeous?! And that watermelon juice was to die for.

In all, it was a really lovely time spent with one of my favorite people in the world - one of those trips where, like I said, we didn't actually do much, but the people you can do that with are the best kind of people. We spent a lot of time walking, talking, resting, relaxing, &, of course, eating (& clearing out our wallets in the process); I hope it was as rejuvenating for Rebecca as it was for me, given that she needed it so much more than I did.

I'd been worried about taking the time off work, especially because I'd just taken some time off for the holidays, followed by a couple sick days for a bout of the stomach flu. It was one of those times when I thought, "Should I really be doing this?" but ultimately, I decided I didn't want to leave a loved one hanging, even if it meant taking a hit at work. Luckily, my boss was very cool about it, & it was totally worth it.

Life's short, friends. When you can, live it up - & try to do it with the people you love most, in the places with the most sun.

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