I’ve moved…

Hi! I’ve moved to a new web domain. You can find me at http://withlove-rachel.com

Thanks, and hope to see you there!

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Slainte, Dublin!

St. Patrick’s Day for me used to mean green beer, Irish car bomb shots, and walking home barefoot.
This year, not so much. 
But I do promise to drink a pint as I reflect on  the patron saint who brought Christianity to Ireland,  my own Irish heritage, and the beautiful town that was so good to me last Summer.
Here are some of the lovely sights of Dublin in June 2012:

Heh heh. That last one always gets the 13 year old in me.
Dublin, I will return to you, I promise.
Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

Rachel in Aliceland

Hello, lovelies!

So, one of the best things about my job as a Composition professor is that I get to assign whatever book I choose, and I choose to assign Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Saw There.

Suffice it to say that I love all things Wonderland, and what makes my job awesome is that I get to talk about the stories all day with students who are equally as excited.
So for this week’s Friday faves, I’m bringing to you some of my favorite Alice inspired items.
Now, while I think the Disney adaptation is cute, I’m not as in to the cartoony stuff. Anyone who has actually gone through the book knows that Tenniel’s illustrations are whimsical and imaginative enough, and I prefer items that remain true to the original Victorian sketches. So here are some of my favorites:
1. Whittard Chelsea’s fine bone china collection.
I have this mug (and a couple of others) and I absolutely adore it. I bought them last Summer in Covent garden, and I so wish I bough this set as well (I didn’t know how to get it home and couldn’t justify the price of shipping).
2. Babble Red Wine from Medocino, California.
The bottle’s label features the creatures from The Caucus Race chapter, and the back of the label describes the joy in using made up words to describe a wine. Perfect!
It’s also incredibly tasty, and only $6.99 at Trader Joe’s!
3. Salvador Dali’s paintings of each of the chapters of Alice in Wonderland.
Advice from a Caterpillar
Mad Tea Party
Salvador Dali is one of my all time favorite artists, and I am in love with all 12 of these. If I suddenly had millions of dollars, I would buy them all. 
4. Pocket Watch necklaces.
This beauty gets regular rotation in my accessories, and since they are trendy again, you can find them all over the place. I got mine at Oh Hello Friend. 
Looking at them makes my mouth water.
And of course, any real enthusiast of the original stories must own this edition of them. This is the text that I assign my students, and it has so many mind-blowing tidbits that will change the way you think of Alice in Wonderland. I mean, it even calls itself the Definitive Edition, and it really is! It’s a must have for any Carroll scholar!
I can’t get enough of it. Are there any other Alice-inspired lovely items that I should know about?

I’ve been in a pretty sassy mood today, which means that it is the perfect time for another edition of:

1. Sorry I’m not sorry for judging girls who wear Uggs. I will admit, I had a pair, back when I was in college. In 2003. When I was rocking the whole “beach bum” (emphasis on bum) look. People told me then that they were hideous, and they were right.

That was 10 years ago. If you are still wearing them today, you truly have no excuse. You look stupid, especially if you wear them with shorts or a skirt. They make your legs look fat even. Don’t tell me they are comfy, because so are house slippers. Just stop.

2. Sorry I’m not sorry for polishing off that bottle of wine on a week night. It was delicious and I needed that.

3. Sorry I’m not sorry for cursing my Fed Ex delivery man this morning. He was long gone and didn’t hear me, but I wish he had.

He was not as nice as the guy in this picture seems. 
Look, if a package requires a signature and you ring the bell, wait a few seconds after ringing it. If I am at home, that means that I am most likely not wearing pants. I want to save you the awkward moment of me answering the door pantless, so I need a few seconds to pull some on before running to the door. I pulled on a pair of scrubs! No buttons, zippers, nothing– it took me like 3 seconds, and then I ran to the door. When I opened it, you were already driving down the street, leaving me with a door sticker that says I have to wait until tomorrow.
Damn you!
4. Sorry I’m not sorry for rolling my eyes at all of this new pope selection drama. I totally respect Catholics and get that this is a big deal, but why all of the black smoke-white smoke nonsense? Why the secretive deliberations?
No one can deny that a lot of the church’s problems stem from clothing in secrecy what goes on behind closed doors, so why don’t they use this opportunity to modernize a little and make the process more transparent? I’d prefer if members of the church had a say in who their leader was, rather than sitting around watching smoke come out of a chimney as others decide for them.
So there. I’m not sorry. A thug never apologizes.

Monogram Madness!

One night, I was sitting around drinking wine and I thought to myself, 

Classy broads have monogrammed stuff . I fancy myself a classy broad. I need my initials on things. My initials are awesome.

So I went shopping on Etsy. It wouldn’t be the first time that I engaged in drinking and shopping. And I am sure that I am not the only one who does this… right?

Fortunately, sober me is often even more pleased with my purchases. So check out a couple of awesome monogrammed things you can get on Etsy:

This monogrammed clutch is available for only $24.00 from Shop Modern Monograms. It’s completely customizable– you pick the color of the purse, the monogram style, and thread color. The gold chain is detachable, and the purse is lined with printed fabric. Cute, right?

This is my new favorite. This pretty monogrammed necklace is available from Emma at Sincerely Me.

My birthday is coming up. These coasters would make a great gift:

And you can further encourage my tipsy shopping with these wine glasses!
Because I’m a classy broad like that!

High Five for Friday

It’s Friday! And away we go with 5 things I am loving this week:

1. The color Mint.

I am seeing it everywhere this spring, and I am smitten.

all via Pinterest.

2. Sriracha sauce. 

Ohh, famed rooster sauce. We both came out of Rosemead, California in the 1980s. Maybe that is why I love you in almost everything. Your garlicky heat takes any plain meal and makes it spectacular. Take for instance the bland lentil soup I just ate. It was SO dull that I almost threw it out, until you came along and saved my taste buds. Remember that time I put you on a bagel with cream cheese and it was nothing short of a revelation? To be fair, you’re always at the top of my list, but since minutes ago you rescued my dinner, I am giving you a shout out.

3. Anne Hathaway. And Jennifer Lawrence. And what THIS article has to say about women’s feelings on both of them.

Here’s an excerpt:

We liked Anne, basically, when she behaved exactly the way a lot of us would if we were one of the most well-known celebrities in the world.
We hate her, in short, because we know, deep in our hearts, that if we were as famous, we’d act exactly the same.
We like to believe we wouldn’t. It’s much nicer to believe that we’d be just like Jennifer Lawrence, laughing about how dieting sucks and falling on the stairs without really worrying about it. Being awesome, basically. We like to believe that we would spend every second of every day being effortlessly off-the-cuff cool and funny, just like Jennifer Lawrence.
We wouldn’t.

This.  Yes. I love to think I’d be as cool and witty as Jennifer Lawrence, but really, I’d be more awkward than Anne. So would all of us.
I didn’t know that there was so much hatred out there for Anne Hathaway.
I, for one, love her. And even if you don’t, realize your own inner geeky awkward goddess and embrace her!

4. Revlon Just Bitten Kissable Balm Stain.

I don’t like the feel of lipstick and I am no good at putting it on and keeping it on. I love the way this lip stain/balm has lasting, subtle color AND it feels like a lip balm, rather than lip stick. “Darling” and “Lovesick” are my favorites. 

5. Neil DeGrasse Tyson. 
Did you see him on The Daily Show?
I won’t pretend that I understand any astrophysics. But I love how he has become a pop culture icon with the younger kids (or at least a great meme!). I love his unabashed love of science, the way he gets so excited while talking about it that his arms flail and he giggles uncontrollably. It makes me happy.
Neil, I fucking love science too.
You’ve heard the song: California dreaming, on such a winter’s day…  but what about when you ARE in California, on a dreary Thursday morning mostly spent in the car, crawling through traffic on the freeway; what do you dream of?
Why, London.
I last visited London in July of 2012, and I already feel like it has been too long…

July 2012
If I could teleport to London today, I’d spend the late morning strolling through Hyde Park, pretending I was Kate Middleton.
image via

I’d relish in the ability to make it across town in minutes thanks to the Tube– a pleasant change from the hours spent behind the wheel in L.A. traffic.

I’d go shopping in Covent Gardens and finally buy that Burberry wallet I wished I could afford last summer.

I’d have afternoon tea at Fortnum and Mason’s Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon.
I’d ride The Eye again– despite my fear of heights, I just can’t get enough of it.
I’d catch another show on The West End, because who doesn’t love the theatre?
Sigh. Oh London.
As much as I love my home, I long to visit you again soon…

Sweet Charity

I often post about the fashions, recipes, books, and locations that I love, but today I’d like to share with you some of the causes that I love. 
It’s very important to me to recognize how fortunate I am, and that giving even just a small amount of money or time adds up to make a difference.
Here are some causes that I love:
Food on Foot is a non-profit organization that feeds the homeless and hungry in Los Angeles. They not only provide nutritious meals, they offer clothing, blankets, and employment assistance. They are a unique organization in that they also inspire/require hard work, self-reflection, and random acts of kindness. They’re not about just giving food to those without it; they instead look to help those who are struggling to get on their feet and become productive members of society. I’ve been a member since August of 2011, and I wrote about my first experience with them here, back when this blog went by a different name. 
It really is an inspiring and unique organization.

I was introduced to Xela Aid by one of my mentors in grad school (now my boss!). Xela Aid works with a village in Guatemala, to help the people of the village break through the cycle of poverty by providing health care and education opportunities, among other things. I have gone on volunteer trips twice, and plan to go again next summer. It truly is a life changing experience, and you can read a little bit about my experience here. 
Kiva works on the concept of a microfinance– or lending to low-income people or those without access to banking.  When you give money to Kiva, you’re technically an investor, since those who receive the loans pay them back. You could keep the returned cash, or (preferably) reinvest it in another cause. You get updates about the person you are investing in, and you can see how your loan, no matter how small, helps him or her to climb out of poverty and become financially independent. Many of the loans go to impoverished nations and to small businesses; for example, I just reinvested my balance to a Georgian woman who is starting a bakery; before that a woman in Ghana who makes Kenkey borrowed money for dough, and before that, I lent to a Ugandan woman who was opening a pub. It is so easy to give to, and I really love the idea of supporting women in their business ventures around the world.
If you’re interested, here’s an invite code– they say you and I will both get an extra $25 to invest!
Now, this cause isn’t about helping the less fortunate; in fact, most of their listeners are fairly comfortable Los Angelinos. KCRW is one of our NPR affiliates, and I really love NPR. It’s important to me that we have quality journalism, and I especially love what KCRW does for the community. Their music programming is excellent–as in not just good, but seriously influential and eclectic, and just wonderful. Even if you’re not in the Los Angeles area, you can listen online. I promise that it makes for great office music. 
Also, the local reporting on KCRW is unparalleled. And the book clubs, film screenings, art walks, and concerts that they produce are so cool that I almost feel unworthy. That station is where I turn to for all things news and culture, and it’s listener supported. 
I love it so much that I accidentally made two ongoing donations during a pledge drive!
I’d love to hear about the organizations that you are involved with, or how you like to give back, in your community or internationally!

Maybe it’s because I LOVE sailing, or because my Sperry Topsiders are some of my favorite shoes, or because I dream of living the lifestyle of a Kennedy, but I love me some Nautical looks.

Nautical looks are always fresh and classic, and perfect for the first days of Spring. On blustery days in March, these looks make me dream of hopping on a sail boat and letting the winds carry me away…
BTW, today I am linking up with the lovely Elena at D.C. in Style and you should head over to her lovely blog! I am also linking up at GFC blog hop!
P.S. Want more zaniness from yours truly? Follow me on Instagram or Twitter!

For anyone just tuning in (hi new followers!), I am training for my first ever marathon–this June in San Francisco.

Weeks 5 and 6 were supposed to be pretty standard, distance lengthening weeks, with the longer Saturday run being 6 and 8 miles, respectively.

But it has not been an easy few weeks.

During weeks 3 and 4, I had been having some obnoxious stomach pain, and not just while running. I kept thinking it would go away, or that it was from eating something too spicy (I eat a lot of spicy food) but it kept worsening until it made it too difficult to run. I found myself having to stop in the middle of runs and refrain from doubling over, as it felt like my stomach was a bubbling cauldron of poison. The more I ran, the more it felt like I was going to vomit bile. I was popping Tums all day, but to no avail. Not fun!

Fortunately, my doctor it also my loving boyfriend, and he put me on Omeprazole, which is the same thing as Prilosec. Thanks to horrible marketing, I associated Prilosec with big fat rednecks who want to eat more chili dogs without heart burn– that’s not at all what my problem is!

This is not me.

But Omeprazole is also what doctors use to treat stomach ulcers and gastritis, which are more likely the cause of my pain.

So without the stomach pain, running felt enjoyable again, and I was like, let’s do this! On my weekday shorter runs (4 miles) I was feeling great, but then, on a Saturday in Chinatown, I sprained my ankle.

Nooo! It was only a minor sprain, fortunately, but it did sideline me from running for 10 days.

Sigh.
So this week, on what is actually my 7th week of training, I jumped back into week 6. I ran a little slower and more gingerly on my ankle at first. Yesterday, on Saturday, I went out for the 8 mile run.
I was nervous at first– after all, it had been a couple of weeks since I had run 6 miles, and that was a lousy 6 miles thanks to the stomach issues. My ankle still needed bracing, and I was tired and sore from a strength training work the day before.

But I did it. I ran 4 miles up the coast to Sunset Beach and back, only stopping at the half way point to adjust that ankle brace. I still ran slower than I’d like, but I did it. I completed the full 8 miles without stopping or slowing down.

I took this picture minutes after I finished, around 5:30 p.m. at Huntington Beach.

Now that’s what I call a congratulatory sunset! Thanks sky, I am proud of me too.
Last night I was pretty sore, and I can still feel it a little bit today. I have a 3 mile easy run later today, which will hopefully help shake off some of the soreness. And while it hurts to go up and down the stairs, it is totally worth it. I have to remind myself that that pain is just weakness leaving the body. And every week as I get a little bit stronger, and run a little harder, I realize that I can do this.

High Five for Friday

Here’s a round up of this week’s faves. It was hard to pick just five, but this is what is rocking my world today:
1. Chocolate Cheddar Cheese.
What the what?! Chocolate AND cheese in one bite? I will admit I was a little skeptical at first. Cheese is a staple in my diet, and while I did chocolate, I wasn’t sure if they would go together. But the result is a party on your tongue: the cheddar isn’t too sharp and the chocolate isn’t too sweet, so you get a nice creamy treat. I’ll say that I couldn’t eat mass quantities of it in one sitting (which isn’t the case for me and cheese. It normally take a lot of discipline to not mow through a whole brick of cheese), but it’s a lovely treat.
2. Having myself and my books under the same roof. I have had boxes and boxes and boxes of books (remember that I have a B.A. and an M.A. in English!) in storage since I last lived with an ex boyfriend, years ago. Now that I have settled in with a great man and don’t plan on going anywhere, it was time to unpack all of those boxes.
Here’s a horribly lit picture of one of the many shelves of my books. Notice my badass Katana displayed on top! Don’t mess with this girl!
Unpacking them ended up being a highly emotional experience– a combination of reuniting with old friends and rediscovering a huge part of my identity that I had sorely missed. There were lots of joyful and sentimental tears that day.
3. This soap was part of my Glossybox. 
How can you not feel luxurious after using a fancy perfumed hand soap like this?! I never thought soap would make me feel so special, but it does. 
Oh, and if you’re interested in Glossybox, it would be wonderful if you used this link to do so. 😉
4. Speaking of online monthly subscriptions (of which I have too many), have you heard of Adore Me? They sell lingerie sets. I’ve been wanting to get in the habit of wearing bra and panty sets that actually match, but that’s not often easy for me to do– I am a natural 36 DD/DDD (You can roll your eyes if you want, but it can kind of suck sometimes). It is hard to find a pretty bra that fits, and even harder to find one that is affordable. But Adore Me has pretty styles for busty women, with panties to match!
5. Maxi Skirts!
It’s (unofficially) Spring, and 80 degrees today, which means it’s the perfect time to bust out maxi skirts. I saw this hi-low one on sale yesterday at Target, and I am wearing it right now.
The best part about maxi skirts? It’s okay if your legs are still a ghostly shade of white!
Check out some other Friday 5’s over here:

Photobucket

You know how I love a good semi- homemade meal with Trader Joes‘ products, and so I thought I’d share tonight’s dinner: Fettuccine with Mushrooms and Broccoli.

If Fettuccine Alfredo is your guilty pleasure, then this one is for you. It’s satisfying and flavorful, but guilt free. I make this for myself on nights when Cliff works, because:

1. Cliff doesn’t eat carbs,
2. I eat the whole thing, and at about 550 calories, who cares? This could make a good side dish, though,
3. Broccoli makes me gassy. It’s best if I eat this on a night when I am sleeping alone.
Here’s what you need:
Trader Joe’s Broccoli Florets
Frozen Fettuccine and Mushrooms
Parmesan Cheese
Plenty of Sriracha sauce. 
I like to cook everything in one pan, so in a large skillet, I saute the broccoli for a few moments before adding a few tablespoons of water, cover, and let steam for about 4 minutes or so.
Then, add the fettuccine. It comes in noodle nests with small chunks of frozen sauce. Doesn’t sound appetizing, but freezing it that way keeps the food from getting too mushy.
Cover and simmer until the nests defrost but before the sauce begins boiling.
Add lots of Parmesan and as much Sriracha as you can handle. 
Voila! 10 minutes and you’ve got a nutritious, decadent, guilt free dinner. Since the whole bowl is only 550 calories, grab a glass of wine, or 2 or 3…
Also, linking up over here:
Aloha Friday Blog Hop
Hello you beautiful people!
This week’s “Currently” theme is
Visiting – Working- Creating- Loving- Missing
Visiting:  Amazon. com too often. I should be saving up money and paying off credit cards. But. As a new-ish blogger, I am realizing that a good DSLR camera is something I need really want. All of my Instagram pics are great and all, but I really want to expand my photography capabilities. 
Totally necessary and reasonable, right?!
I am also debating doing the Jillian Michael’s 30 Day Shred so that I can look hot, hot, hot on my birthday (actually less than 30 days away). It’s on Amazon Instant Video, which is an added plus. 
Working: Not very hard, apparently, since I am typing this in my office. I could grade the papers that students just turned in, but ehhh… 
Creating: A plan for how to afford that camera AND pay off my taxes. 
Loving: A lot, obviously. I am always With Love, after all. But right now I am loving that today it is sunny and 80 degrees, and I am loving this Crimson Blossom tea that I have been drinking lately. 
Missing: That feeling of being excited about travel plans. As soon as I pay off a bunch of bills I can start thinking about travelling again, but for now the only trip on the horizon is a weekend road trip to Sacramento– fun, but hardly exotic.
What’s currently going on with you? You can read more of what people are currently up to here:
HK

Sorry I’m Not Sorry!

On Season 3, Nancy on Weeds learned–

And I am also gangsta like that. 
So, Sorry I’m not sorry for…
*Sleeping in late. I only teach on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and so for the rest of the week, I don’t see the need to wake up early. Most of my peers have started their day or are in an office by the time I wake up on a Wednesday morning, and I like it that way. 
*Being a stickler for grammar. For one, I am an English professor, so of course I notice when people make dumb mistakes. But also, it isn’t hard, people. You sound stupid when you can’t tell the difference between ‘your’ and ‘you’re,’ or when you throw in apostrophes any time you see an ‘S.’
This just hurts!
* Being that person who talks about how good her morning run felt. I am training for a marathon in June; if my talking about it makes you feel lazy, that’s your problem.
*Pinning some of my own recipes and blog posts on Pinterest. I want to share the wealth of my awesomeness, you know? And if I don’t get the word out, who will?
* Reminding people across the rest of the country that here in Huntington Beach, CA, it’s a gorgeous 75 degrees today. 
* Spoiling myself with monthly massages at Massage Envy. If you don’t do this too, what’s wrong with you?! It’s affordable and luxurious, and every woman should have at least one monthly massage by someone who knows what he/she is doing!
* Looking forward to watching episodes of Real Housewives that are saved on my DVR. Yes, I should be reading or watching something with more substance. But my man will be at work tonight, and you know what? Those shows entertain me. It’s a not- so- guilty guilty pleasure. 
Join in the fun and share why you are Sorry You’re Not Sorry!

Oh, Pinterest. You’re such a great idea, and I have many boards dedicated to ideas for our upcoming home remodel, but sometimes you make me wonder.

I saw this cartoon and had a good laugh:

Many women who use you have been inspired to organize their homes and cook a new recipe, and that’s not really a bad thing, if that’s what they’re in to. You’ve tapped into the competitive nature of many women who use you; I would be willing to bet that most of the projects women try are more inspired by the “oohs” and “awwws” they hope to receive from women than by men. And that’s cool, whatever makes them happy and keeps them busy. I consider myself a third wave feminist like that.

But then I find other popular pins that really make me wonder, Pinterest. I’m not blaming this on you, by any means. I am just sad that your vast popularity encourages and allows women to share these offensive ideas without any critical thinking. Perhaps you’re just bringing to light attitudes that I was blissfully unaware still exist.

Like this one, for example:

Pinterest, why do women choose to identify themselves as trivial, vacuous, and inferior? Why would they say, and then re-say over and over by repinning, that this is what it means to be a woman? The last time I checked, I have a vagina, and I identify myself as a woman, but I would not use any of these sentences to describe why I am a woman. I mean, this is just insulting! To say that being a woman means you are inherently incapable of math calculations? Why encourage this stereotype, when it’s really just that, a stereotype, and one that has kept women from many of the high paying, well-respected professions that they would be perfectly capable of?
Look, I know I make bone-headed mistakes like pushing a door that says “Pull.” But that’s because I was absent- minded at that moment, and not because I have a vagina. My boyfriend sometimes makes that mistake at doors, and I assure you, he is not a woman. 
Then there is this. This has been repinned hundreds of times with the caption “Best advice ever.”

Pinterest, why are women spreading THIS as the “best advice ever?” Surely you agree with me that this is ludicrous, right?
I mean, I maybe understand the sentiment about advising that a woman doesn’t go around talking shit about her husband; I’ll agree to that. But shouldn’t everyone be able to talk to a family member, close friend, or therapist about problems they may have with their significant other? Is this pin suggesting that if a husband displays troubling behavior, a woman should just zip it and deal? If a husband drinks to excess, gambles away their money, or cheats, should a woman keep that to herself for fear of ever speaking ill of her husband??

Now, open communication is (I think) the most important trait of a healthy relationship, and sure, a couple should talk out their problems. But to say that the best advice ever is to never “talk bad” about a husband ever, to anyone, is harmful (not to mention unrealistic).

And it hurts my heart, Pinterest, to see that women are the ones spreading this and encouraging one another to believe that this is the most important part of being a good wife.

Pinterest, I want to emphasize that I don’t blame this on you. I have learned many great tips and ideas from other women who use your site. But I am afraid of these women, these ones who are afraid of their own womanhood and capabilities and intelligence, and choose to perpetuate negative stereotypes and behaviors.

It’s so paradoxical how clever websites like yourself can somehow manage to drive the women’s movement back by several decades…

So judging from what I am reading on the internets, people are pretty bummed that it is Monday. This makes me sad for all of the people, because Mondays don’t have to be so sucky. In fact, my Monday has been pretty legit so far.

1. I decided that I have given my ankle a full 9 days to recover, and  I feel like that was generous of me. So today I went out for the first run in 10 days.
My ankle didn’t feel 100% so I wrapped it, and took it easy while running. I got in a 4 mile run this morning, and it felt great. It doesn’t hurt that it is a glorious day out; when I ran it was sunny, clear, and 65 degrees. Niiiiccce.

2. I got to wake up to my man this morning. You’re probably rolling your eyes or thinking, well duh, you live together, but my man is a hospitalist that works over night, keeping people in the ICU alive. He normally only works a few nights a week, but right now he’s maxing out his shifts for this quarter, which means that he worked for the past 8 nights straight. With a lot of shifts, his sleep schedule gets out of whack, and he often watches movies or reads while I sleep. But after yesterday’s festivities, he was wiped out and we slept on the same schedule, in the same bed. Yaayyy! I love waking up to see him sleeping next to me. 

3. I teach Tuesdays and Thursdays, so coming into the office today is no biggie– I just prep for classes, grade, and blog. And today, as I rolled onto campus, I saw that along with the usual gourmet food trucks (yeah, we’re spoiled) there was an addition to the round-up : Crepes Bonaparte!

After that 4 mile run, I was starving. I’m not gonna lie– I ate 2 crepes. And they were delicious. One was chicken, blue cheese, spinach, and raspberry dressing, the other was a simple ham and mozzarella. It’s okay to be jealous; I would be.

4. I am out of the loop when it comes to Oscar’s talk because I missed them. Instead, we went down to San Diego for my man’s sister’s birthday. Everyone wore funky wigs, and it was an awesome time. I have been smiling all day when remembering the day…

 I was trying to make a kissy face but couldn’t stop laughing!
 Um, hello boobs! Thanks for making me look like I am 200 lbs when I turn to the side!

 yummm…

We had amazing food, the whole family was there, and even kids got into the festivities!
While buying wigs at Party City, I was equally amused and freaked out by this mask:



5. I am wearing this grey and bright yellow sweater that I got on clearance at Target for 10 bucks. I love a good deal, and how can you NOT be in a good mood when you’ve got sunny yellow striped across your chest?!

 And goofy faces when you’re taking a self portrait are the best!



But seriously, I hope that everyone else is having as great of a Monday as I am. Remember, Mondays are only as great as you make them out to be!

I’m linking up with the GFC Collective you should too!

Friday Faves

Friday Faves

Here’s a round up of some of my favorite things this week.
I am also linking up with That Friday Blog Hop and you should too!
1. All of the bright yellow in the Prabal Gurung for Target collection.
I mean, it’s Spring now, right? At least all of the florals and yellows in the collection let me feel like it is.  How can you not feel happy when wearing these pieces?
2. Griffone Primitivo Zinfandel 
Image via 
For all of $4 at Trader Joe’s, you really can’t beat that. It has a cherry, jam-y character, and it’s great with BBQ or Italian food. And even if it isn’t for you, then big deal, you spent $4. Marinate your steak with it.
This came in this month’s Birchbox. I didn’t have that high of expectations, but it left my skin ridiculously soft and glowing. I have not yet found an exfoliator that worked this well.
4. E.L.F. cosmetics.  The liquid eyeliner is my favorite, and yes, it really is $1. ONE DOLLAR. I stock up on them when I go to Target. Not all of their products are available in drug stores, but you can get some great products online. Like:
Personal Blend Foundation and Mineral glow (it’s just as good as Bare Essentials, I swear!)
Shimmer Palette
Long lasting eye shadows
Really, just like the wine above, if you get something in a color that you don’t like, it really doesn’t matter because it was still half the price of some Loreal stuff you’d get at CVS.
5. This Harlem Shake video on the campus where I teach:

                                  

What about you? What blows YOUR skirt up these days?
Have a lovely Weekend!

Last night I finally got around to watching the most recent episode of Downton Abbey. That means I spent three days of having to interrupt people with “No no no! I haven’t seen it yet! Stop!” to avoid spoilers. (BTW, thanks a lot, New York Times. You’d think they’d avoid giving spoilers in a headline in the Monday edition!)

You see, the real problem is that when it comes to good television, I am over-committed on Sunday nights. I don’t even watch that much T.V., but now my two obsessions, Downton Abbey and The Walking Dead are both airing new episodes on Sundays. And you have to know that when I say obsessed, I mean it– watching an episode means no phone, no laptop or tablet, lights dimmed, wrapped in a blankie with snacks and drinks within reach. When I watch an episode, it is one of the few moments of the week when I am not multi-tasking. So amen for DVR, because I would not want to have to make a choice between the two.

But when it comes to choosing between The Walking Dead and Downton Abbey, I’d bet that most people could pick a side rather quickly and easily– shooting zombies or debating the financial future of your estate? Scavenging for food, or having your servant dress you for dinner?  I mean, you couldn’t get further from the zombie apocalypse than a British period drama set in Yorkshire, right?

Hmmm.

I admit that I have eclectic taste, but maybe in some ways, the shows aren’t all that different from each other…

You Can’t Get Too Attached to the Characters

Both shows are in their third season, and in both, the writers are not afraid to kill off main characters. Remember the last two episodes of season 2 of The Walking Dead? I still miss Dale. And just when you thought the gang had mastered their skull crushing skills and could clear the prison of zombies, No! As Chris Hardwick says, “Noo, nootttt T-Dog!!!”
The same thing goes in Merry ol’ England. Cybill pulled through the labor and the baby was beautiful and we all breathed a sigh of relief, until nope, Eclampsia. The village doctor was right, and like that, she dies in front of everyone.
You thought things were turning around in Downton, with Mary’s pregnancy and the new plans to modernize? Too bad, Matthew’s gone now.

The producers of both shows are not at all afraid to change the opening credits. You can become attached to characters all you want, but there’s a good chance that they will die in the next episodes. Even though this leaves me cursing my TV, I have to admit that it increases the drama and keeps me coming back for more.

It’s a Very Different World Out There, and Characters are Trying to Find Where They Fit Into It.
To say that Georgia is now a different place post Zombie Apocalypse is a stupid understatement, but as far as world changing events go (real or hypothetical) I think it’s fair to say that World War I was a close second.
During the war, the characters of Downton found themselves having to quickly adapt and even reinvent themselves; a footman becomes a medic on the front lines, a daughter of a lord becomes a nurse, and Downton Abbey even becomes a convalescent home. Men who had once never mingled with one another because of class find themselves fighting together on the front lines, and characters at home struggle with finding ways to contribute and prove their patriotism. And the war was just the beginning of things; once that’s over, the world markets fall into turmoil and noble estates find themselves in financial ruin. The characters all ask of themselves and others, should we accept change or should we resist and uphold tradition? Can Cybill really marry a chauffeur?! Overhaul the business model of Downton?! With telephones and electricity, it’s a confusing new world, and no one is quite certain where they fit in.

Now obviously the changes are more stark in Georgia, and characters are just hoping to survive one day to the next there. But the Zombie apocalypse means that characters get to virtually reinvent themselves, and their contributions to the group define who they are. They have serious roles to fill within the group, whether it is standing guard or preparing food for everyone. It doesn’t matter how squeamish or weak a character was pre-apocalypse; even little Beth (Hershel’s daughter) is now a pretty good shot. Maggie has no problem  stabbing a zombie in the skull. The wimpy pizza guy is now a man who kills zombies with their own bones. And the little kid shot his mother for christ’s sake! Every character discovers a time and a place when they need to step up, whether they are prepared to or not.

A New World Means New Rules
As the characters try to negotiate their changing worlds, their ethics come into question in ways they never thought possible. Before the zombie apocalypse, it was pretty clear that one should never kill another human. Then the walkers came about, and their humanity was questioned, but it became pretty clear that the only acceptable course of action was to destroy by any means possible the brain of the walking dead. Gross, but understandable. Crushing a skull might feel wrong at first, but you get used to it. But then when the living become problematic, that’s when it gets tricky. Those strange guys in the bar looking for a place to stay, do you help them out or kill them? That injured kid, do you kill him or set him free and risk others finding you? Your best friend trying to usurp your power, does he deserve to live? Is it okay to shoot your mom after a messy emergency c-section? In the zombie apocalypse, the dead are easy to kill (again); it’s the living that really make you question what’s right and wrong.
Things aren’t as bloody in Downton Abbey, but morality can still be a little messy. A former prostitute working as a house maid for Mrs. Crawley?! We can’t allow that, can we? Or if we do, what then? And to christen the first granddaughter as catholic? And house a political refugee from Ireland? The Crawleys find themselves having to make all kinds of allowances that a few years prior would have been unthinkable, but things are changing…
Class is Everything and Nothing
This is a central theme in Downton Abbey; the upstairs/downstairs dichotomy is the most striking feature to a 21st century audience. And yet, those class lines aren’t always as solid as first glance would have you think. Think of Lord Grantham and Mister Bates; comrades in the South African war who trust each other with their lives; because of class Bates serves as Grantham’s valet rather than dinner guest. But they are more intimate with one another than dinner companions. They confide in and give each other advice, and the Crawleys are far more invested in Bates’ conviction and sentence than one would expect of an employer/ employee relationship. Mary listens to and confides in Ana more than any of her sisters. Then there is Tom Branson, the chauffeur who marries Cybill and becomes part of the family, rather than their staff. Serving him may be weird at first, but even Mrs. Hughes remarks on the way that he has transitioned so nicely into his new position. Class is there, but its arbitrary nature becomes more and more apparent to all involved. 
Zombies, however, are the great equalizer. They are equal opportunity biters and attack indiscriminately on the poor and the rich. Characters who may have never interacted before the outbreak now rely on one another to stay alive. Think of Andrea, the attorney, and Derryl, the redneck. Unless she was defending him in court, she would have no interaction with him. For all we know, the Governor was a high school gym teacher before the outbreak, and now he runs Woodbury with an iron fist. The longer they have been in the new world, the less anyone cares about what position any others had before the outbreak; if you are good with weapons, that is all that matters.
Beware of Outsiders, and Above All, Protect the Family
In both shows, the core families are very suspicious and guarded of outsiders attempting to infiltrate. Matthew and Isabel Crawley were only welcomed at arm’s length into the family thanks to law, and it took the family quite some time to warm up to them. Branson has only barely earned acceptance into the family. The Dowager countess (and Mary too, for that matter) let all outsiders know that they are under scrutiny and not yet welcome. Even downstairs, the staff, though friendly, are not quick to warm up to new comers. Newcomers upstairs and downstairs have to await approval before being officially welcomed. 
Now, earning the dowager countess’s approval is NOT a position I would ever want to be in, and to be honest, I don’t know who is scarier to an outsider, her or Rick Grimes. But Rick is not about to let anyone just walk up and join the group either. People have died trying to do so. Those who have been let in, like Michonne, are not trusted and only permitted to stay on a temporary basis. Even the governor doesn’t let people just wander into Woodbury. Outsiders are the biggest security risk.
But.
In both families, once in, you have the full protection of the others. You might even find the Dowager Countess sticking up for you. The Crawleys will do anything to make sure that no scandal or gossip falls on any member of their household. In The Walking Dead,  your family will put their lives on the line to come rescue you. They will shoot anyone who tries to hurt you. The families in both shows are not big, but they stick together and defend the honor and safety of all.
Also. Oddly enough, several actors on The Walking Dead are British, so, maybe that’s the real common thread here.
So for some the choice between one show or the other is clear, but if you’re a strange one like me who enjoys both equally, it’s for good reason. Shows that put morality into question, while reaffirming what is most important–family– are few and far between. It’s only unfortunate that they happen to air on Sunday nights. And could the characters of Downton survive a zombie apocalypse? I think the downstairs crew would get on just fine, and the dowager countess’s walking stick may become very useful…

Since I have to take about a week off from running thanks to a minor ankle sprain, I had to find some sort of work out to keep me on a fitness routine. I know myself, and I know that one week off from working out can lead to a very slippery slope that ends in cupcakes and self loathing.

 A bad ankle rules out a lot of possibilities, but when looking through my Amazon Instant videos, I remembered that the Ballet Beautiful work out involves relatively little ankle strain.

I know that sounds counter-intuitive; when I think of ballet I think of it being all about strong ankles and being en pointe, but this workout is more of a mat workout, with a lot of pilates-esque moves to strengthen your core and limbs.

Ballet Beautiful is a workout system created by Mary Helen Bowers, Natalie Portman’s trainer for Black Swan. We all know ballet dancers have graceful muscle tone, and I wanted to see if this video would deliver on the promise that it transforms your body. That, and I love the convenience of workouts that are available on Instant Video on Amazon. Anyway, there’s a whole Ballet Beautiful series, and classes that you can buy online, but this is just a review of the workout that you can buy on Amazon.

As I said, there is very little ankle strain involved. The first section is a bridge series– you know, that move that was in all of the 80s aerobics videos where you lie on your back and thrust your hips in the air?

 She has you do a lot of these, with various modifications to work different muscles. With my bad ankle, I was relieved to hear that it was perfectly acceptable to do them flat footed or in demi pointe.

With each of the series, you do 4 reps of 8 counts of each movement, much as you would in a dance class. In many of the exercises, she has you pause on the last count and do 4 more reps of 8 counts in a smaller, more pulsing movement– this would seem familiar if you ever took dance classes, and it definitely pushes your muscles when they are fatigued.

The next series, the abs series, really kicks my butt. She’s basically having you do crunches, but I discovered that by focusing on maintaining a long, elegant neck, keeping my shoulders down and my toes pointed, that the crunches became that much harder and more effective for me.

The inner and outer thigh series are very similar to most pilates workouts. They’re challenging, but doable.

The arm series follows, and that is my least favorite part of the workout. Sitting on the floor, you do “ballet push backs,” where you push the air behind your back with your arms over and over. My triceps and shoulders were definitely feeling the burn, but it also felt awkward. You do several sets of them, and to be honest, I started feeling bored. The muscle fatigue was good, but it’s not my favorite upper body workout.

The last few minutes are a standing series, and this part I often skip over. I don’t really get much out of it, and it’s too short to really feel any substantial cardio. It’s a nice cool down for all of your muscles, but if you’re short on time, skip it.

Even though I skip the last portion, I do really like this workout. It leaves me incredibly sore the next morning, especially in my abs and butt. I like Mary Helen’s guidance and encouragement, and it helps that she sighs and grimaces during the last few counts of most exercises too. The music is all classical piano, as if you were in an actual ballet class, which I find relaxing.  But more importantly, it makes me focus more on my posture and keeping my movements graceful.

As I watch Mary Helen, I know I will never look THAT graceful, but it’s a nice compliment to the huffing and puffing of a long run on other days of the week.
Most workouts make me feel like a bad ass, and I love that, but this one makes me feel, well, pretty.

I have lived my whole life in Southern California, and until yesterday, I had never visited the famed Chinatown. I’ve seen the movie and driven past it, but never walked around the neighborhood.

So when Cliff’s cousin suggested we all make a day of it for Saturday’s Chinese New Year parade, I was completely on board.

We started the day by meeting up at Union Station.

 It really is one of the world’s most beautiful train stations, and if you ever get the chance to, I  suggest dining at Traxx, or at least having a drink in the famous bar. We stopped into the bar for a scotch, then set out for lunch and the parade.

Since Olvera street is also so close by, we decided to stop in for some Mexican food. If fajitas and margaritas on a patio on a balmy February afternoon in L.A. isn’t your idea of a great Saturday afternoon, then… I don’t know what to tell you. Because it was wonderful.

We figured at some point we should catch the parade, so we walked a couple of blocks over to where the parade route ends.

While scurrying across the street after the light changed, I caught the edge of my foot on a crack in the pavement and twisted my ankle sharply. Maybe it had something to do with the margaritas? All I know is that it hurt, but I limped along the rest of the day and refused to hold the group back.

Since we were in the middle of Chinatown, we thought it was the only time appropriate to buy hats and parasols. Now, I know the hats are technically Vietnamese and not Chinese (a woman at the beer garden made this very clear to Cliff. He asked if they were offensive. “Offensive? Yes.” Was her reply. D’oh. But they did protect us from the sun, and they were selling them on every corner, so…).

We ended up finding a beer garden (I had to bow out of the drinking by that point) where local bands were playing.

We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around Chinatown, sampling some of what the food trucks had to offer, dancing with little girls with parasols.

When we got home, I discovered that my ankle was in worse shape than I let on; it was swollen the size of a softball, and I soon wasn’t able to put much weight on it. 

It doesn’t look to be a sprain, but unfortunately it looks like it might set me back about a week in my marathon training. D’oh!

Nonetheless, Chinatown did not disappoint. I may be biased, but Los Angeles really is one of the most unique, eclectic, exciting, wonderful cities in the world.

Also, you can now Follow my blog with Bloglovin !

Also linking up here!
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Cookies Fit For a Princess

Lemon Lavender Shortbread Biscuits

Now I know that I am trying to cut back on desserts, but when I learned of lavender biscuits, and heard that Kate Middleton uses them as a remedy to cure morning sickness, I just had to try these. Lavender in cookie? And lavender in cookies for a princess? Yes, please. So I got this recipe from Helena at A Diary of Lovely , which is no surprise since just about everything that girl does is indeed lovely.

On this side of the pond, in Orange County, to be exact, citrus fruits are in full effect right now, and if you live here you surely have a neighbor happy to unload some lemons or oranges on you (BTW, please come take some of our oranges!). One of the tutors who works in my writing center brought in some ginormous lemons for us to take, but apparently when you leave fruit in the break room, this is what you end up with:

HAHA! I felt very guilty cutting into one of these. The content one in the center went into these cookies, in case you’re wondering.

Back to princess cookies. They are incredibly easy to make, and I was pleased to see that they don’t call for too much sugar. You also make them all in a food processor, which saves a lot of clean up time.

Here’s what you need:

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons grated lemon zest + 2 tablespoons juice from 1-2 lemons
  • 2 teaspoons dried lavender
  • 1-3/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 12 tablespoons (1-1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract


In a food processor, process the sugar, lemon zest and lavender until the sugar looks damp and the zest and lavender are fully incorporated, about 30 seconds. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt, then add to the sugar mixture; pulse to combine, about (10) 1-second pulses.

Scatter the butter pieces over and pulse until the mixture resembles fine cornmeal, about (15) 1-second pulses. In a measuring cup, beat together the lemon juice, egg yolk and vanilla. With the machine running, add the juice mixture in a slow stream (should take about 10 seconds) and continue processing until the dough forms into a ball, 10 to 15 seconds longer.

Turn the dough and any dry bits onto a clean work surface and gently gather into a ball. Working quickly, roll the dough into a cylinder about 12″ long and 1-1/2″ in diameter. Center the dough on a piece of parchment or plastic wrap and wrap tightly, twisting the ends together to seal. Chill the dough until firm and cold, about 45 minutes in the freezer or 2 hours in the refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or spray them with nonstick cooking spray.

Remove the dough log from its wrapper and use a sharp knife to slice the dough into 3/8″ thick rounds. Place the rounds on the prepared baking sheets, spacing them 1″ apart. Bake until the centers of the cookies just begin to color and the edges are golden brown, about 10-12 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through the baking time. Cool on sheets about 5 minutes, then transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Makes approximately 4 dozen.

Now, you will want to watch these cookies closely, as they go from golden to over-crisped (read: burnt) very quickly. I had to throw out a first batch that um, crisped within 10 minutes, so if you’re cookies are on the smaller side, they probably only need about 8 minutes or so.

If you were to wear a tiara while eating these, I wouldn’t judge you.

Back in December I discovered Coursera, a website that partners with major universities around the world to produce MOOCs, or Massive Online Open Courses. I was so excited by the course offerings that I ended up enrolling in several, and possibly over committing myself to these lectures and readings for the next couple of months. It’s okay though, because all of the courses are free, and I don’t have any real need for a completion certificate, other than to maybe post it on the refrigerator door.

The courses are much more like auditing a large lecture at any university. Some of the lectures are recorded from actual class meetings at that campus, and some are recorded separately for the MOOC.

Right now I am enrolled in three courses– Science From Super Heroes to Global Warming from UC Irvine, Introduction to Philosophy from University of Edinburgh, and The Modern and The Post- Modern from Wesleyan University. The first two seem so far to be freshmen level or 100 level courses, and the one about Modern/Post-Modern just began this week, so I don’t have much of an impression just yet. I was especially interested in these introductory level courses though, for several reasons: one being that I thought it would be fun to go back and brush up on and revisit concepts I learned over a decade ago, but also because I happen to teach introductory level courses at a four year university. These courses are the equivalent of what my English 101 students are attending before and after my class, so I thought it would be interesting to see what they cover and how they are taught.

So tonight as I was listening to the lecture for the science class, which actually happens to focus more on scientific thinking, sort of a critical thinking in the sciences type of class, the professor emphasized the importance of the scientific community in understanding science. He asked the students (this one was taped form an actual lecture) about pop culture representations of scientists, and the class described the classic mad scientist who works alone in his basement laboratory.

 The professor went on to describe how this is the exact opposite of an actual scientist, explaining that real scientists collaborate, peer review, meet for conferences, talk over a beer, and consider themselves part of a community. The loner mad scientist is simply not the way that scientific discovery happens.

Funny– I have that Same. Exact. Discussion with my writing students, except that we substitute “mad scientist” for “brooding writer who cranks out novels overnight and would be gravely insulted if anyone read a word of his/her masterpiece before it was finished.” 
Writers, we discuss, are normal, often sociable people who share their work with one another and give and receive suggestions. They bounce ideas off of one another, often talking over a beer. They feel self-conscious about sharing unfinished work, but know that no writer is just struck by divine inspiration and gets it right in one try. That brooding loner writer is simply not the one who gets published. 

The first lecture of this Intro to Philosophy class is also emphasizing conversation and community. And it got me thinking– we, myself, these other professors, and every other professor who brings this up in classes, feel the need to spend time convincing our students that those in our field actually have people to talk to, actually have lives, and have to be good “team players” to cut it in the field. We spend this time trying to debunk these deep seated myths that those who excel in academia must have lonely, unfulfilled lives, and it’s left me wondering why we have these myths to begin with.

For one, we do have this cultural emphasis on the individual, that those who achieve greatness did so completely by their own talent, intelligence, skill, and nothing else. We don’t like it when a Nobel Prize is split between people because there needs to be one individual winner. We also like to think this way because  it is easier to think they have some gift that we don’t, and so we don’t need to feel bad about ourselves for not achieving the same thing. They are just different from the rest of us, and there is nothing we can do about that. In many cases, because they are so inherently different, they must not lead lives that resemble our own. In fact, they must live in our worst nightmare: loneliness.

And that leads into the anti-intellectualism that is so pervasive in our culture. On the school yard, mediocrity and conformity are the way to avoid a wedgie, and even into adulthood, intellectuals still sometimes have to make apologies for who they are. Think about the last time you maybe had to down play your interest in a subject that others might not find “cool.” Think about why “The Big Bang Theory” is one of the most popular comedies. As a culture, we like to distance ourselves from and laugh at intellectuals, not because they are rude or particularly funny. It is because they make us feel bad about ourselves.

So I suppose it isn’t a surprise that in first year college courses, instructors feel the need to break these widespread stereotypes, to show that not only do intellectuals play well with others, but that one must be able to do so in order to succeed.

I hope that this emphasis on collaboration and the overall “coolness” of excelling in academic endeavors becomes more of the cultural norm, and less of a pathetic cry from professors that “We have friends, really, we do!”

Gettin’ My Run On: Week 3

This week marked the third week of my 20 week marathon training plan, and it was not my best week.

This week one of the mid-week shorter runs lengthened to 4 miles. I’ve actually lengthened a couple of 3 mile runs to 4 miles in the past couple of weeks, but this Wednesday when the training plan actually demanded this, that run sucked. It was hot (70 degrees or so and really sunny) and I had heartburn from the coffee I had an hour before. I was slow and miserable.

I was supposed to cross train on Thursday, which I did not. Actually, I tried by starting a yoga workout in my living room after work, but after about 20 minutes I was too hungry, feeling weak and distracted. So a 50 minute yoga work out turned in to a 20 minute half-assed workout, so I couldn’t count it as a full cross train workout.

I didn’t do anything Friday, either– except going to Canters deli in Hollywood and then drinking more wine than I should. B T Dubs, Canters is ridiculously good.

So Saturday, thanks to the late night and over doing it on wine, I had zero energy. I was supposed to run 6 miles, but I honestly couldn’t get off the couch. Like really; I slept something like 14 hours and did nothing but watch movies.

I was supposed to run an easy 3 miles today, but instead I ran yesterday’s 6 miles. I was amped and excited to finally get in this run. Unfortunately, it was just as warm out as Wednesday (maybe I need to rethink these noon runs), and the ginormous breakfast burrito I had that morning was still sitting heavy in my stomach. From miles 2.5 on, I alternated between trying to keep that burrito down and walking through some stomach cramps. I pushed on as best I could, until about mile 4.5 when I formed a painful blister on the bridge of my foot (ouch!) and had to walk every other block or so.

So it was a discouraging week, to say the least.

But this is a good thing! Without set backs and disappointment, I wouldn’t have the drive to do better next week, or to appreciate a really good run. I wanted to beat myself up today over such a dismal run, but I realized, Hey. I finished the 6 miles; even if I had to walk parts, I still went the distance. I still got my heart rate up and burned calories, and I did a whole lot more than most people did on Superbowl Sunday. 


And that is what I need to keep reminding myself during training: that the failures are still small triumphs in their own way, and that if it was easy, it wouldn’t be worth doing.

Also I need to remind myself to run closer to the shore when it’s hot and to not eat breakfast burritos before a long run.

Love Your Heart Month

Happy February, everyone!

I know that just about every month has some “raising awareness” cause attached to it, and February is no exception. In fact, February has a cause that is, well, close to my heart. (Sorry, I had to.)  February is Go Red For Women month, a month about raising awareness and prevention of heart disease. What many people don’t know is that Heart disease is the #1 killer of women, causing 1 in 3 deaths each year. Think about the for a second. Think about all of the pink merchandise you’ve bought in October, or maybe that run/walk 5k you did for the Susan G. Kommen foundation. Now realize that heart disease is more deadly than all forms of cancer.




But the great news is that we have the power to prevent heart disease with a healthy lifestyle. So for the month of February, I encourage all of the women in my life, and all of the men who care about women in their lives, to use these 28 days to develop at least one healthy habit. Go for a walk with girlfriends to catch up. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Take a yoga class with me.When you see a friend or family member making a healthier decision, let them know how proud you are.  I’ll be posting more updates in my blog about my marathon training, and I want to hear about the ladies in my life making and achieving their fitness goals, no matter how big or small.



Also, wear red on February 10th with me!

For more facts, tips, and how to get involved, visit here:
http://www.goredforwomen.org/


Let’s Go Shopping!

The first week of a semester is always an awkward one for an instructor– it’s hard to get back into the groove, there’s no grading to be done, but you feel like you should be doing something, and you still don’t know what to expect the next few months are going to really look like.

So I cope with all of this uncertainty by shopping online. It gives me a sense of control in an world of uncertainty.
So here are my favorite purchases of this week. Believe it or not, ALL ARE UNDER $20. Because I am awesome like that.
You can find these adorable Oxfords (love the turquoise sole!) at Target. I’d been sort of avoiding the Oxford reemergence, and now that I have jumped on board, I needed something with a little pop of uniqueness.  
I love them with tights, a black skirt, and this top, also from Target:
I have this skirt in Teal already, and I love, love, love it. It is so versatile, and only $12.50. Whaaaat?!
Also at Forever 21:
I’ve been feeling inspired by Downton Abbey, and though it isn’t exactly something Lady Mary might wear, it adds a little sparkle and elegance to my day.
But then for when I am feeling like more of a badass, I heart this bracelet, available on Etsy from Layered With Love.
Almost as therapeutic as yoga, I tell you. 

Today marked the first day of teaching for me for the Spring semester.

All weekend I could not drum up enthusiasm for another 16 weeks of teaching, but when I walked into the first class this morning, full of cheerfully anxious students, all of that apathy melted away and I was once again excited to teach. Each section had students eagerly asking questions, grinning at the textbook selection, and exchanging email addresses with one another– the kind of first day I live for.

During my office hours I took an obligatory first day of school self portrait. Today’s is on the right; the one on the left is me, 5 1/2 years ago, as a grad student about to teach my first ever class.

I swear I am not wearing the same thing. Also, I feel like I make the strangest faces in self-portraits. I never know if I should smile, look serious, make duck lips…

 

So I was feeling all jazzed about a successful first day, and then I made the mistake of looking at Ratemyprofessor.com.

I don’t know what I was thinking. Maybe I was riding that high and wanted to read the praise from my former students, as the reviews are usually complimentary. But then I saw the newest one, one that is so odd and so unsettling that I can’t get it out of my head.

Now, I know that disgruntled students unhappy with a low grade often take it out on an instructor, so I want to point out that this was from a remedial class where the students did not receive grades– only pass or fail, with most of my students passing.

Anyway, this is what the review says:

“decent professor but very annoying. she isn’t horrible but she isn’t great, and she is definitely NOT hot. Take her if all else fails”


Soooo… the part about being annoying doesn’t bother me that much, but the student never says WHY. Notice how the review is very non-committal: decent  but annoying; isn’t horrible but isn’t great. 

What is this student’s point and his/her motivation?

I understand the students who write comments like This professor doesn’t explain anything and is super hard or this was my favorite professor ever! because those have, like, a point. They’re communicating to future students what they need to know. So the whole not-bad-not-good-meh  stance confuses me. Why take the time and effort to even voice an opinion if you don’t actually have one?

Ah, but he or she clearly does, as I am sure you have noticed:  “[A]nd she is definitely NOT hot.”  Ummmm WTF? If you’re unfamiliar with ratemyprofessor.com, students have the option to add a little chili pepper next to a professor’s name to denote that he/she is “hot.” A previous student had done so, so my guess is that this comment is in response to that.

But why? Why is this the only definitive statement the commentor cares to make? Is this student a male who was feeling grossly disappointed after expecting someone “hot” from previous reviews? A female who feels threatened and wants to cut me down by attacking my looks? A student who thinks that I think I am “hot” and wants me to see that that is definitely not the case? And still…why?

I want to emphasize here that the chili pepper question for professor rankings really, really bothers me. It creeps me out to no end to read that 18 year olds have pegged me as “hot.” No. Ew.

It’s not only creepy, but incredibly demeaning. In academia, one busts his/her intellectual ass for several years, only to have a public ranking system list you as “hot or not” in an intellectual field? Really?!

And  regardless of my disgust at this “hotness” ranking, and lack of desire to be called “hot” by students, the fact that an anonymous person took the time out of his or her day JUST to declare online that I am NOT hot is incredibly disturbing. Here’s what I keep asking myself:

1. Is that really ALL that he or she got out of a 16 week semester of my class?

2. Did this student spend those weeks analyzing my imperfections to come to this conclusion that he/she needed to share with the world? I get that students are looking at me in class, but how do I not feel extra self-conscious after this?

3. Again, what is this student’s motivation? Is he or she that angry with me or my looks that he/she felt the need to post this? Is this student just boiling with negativity and  also criticizing others behind the mask of anonymity? Does this person need psychiatric help for deeper issues?

I don’t know what to make of the ratemyprofessor.com post, but I do know that I am sickened by the growing trend of cowards who post anonymous, hurtful comments around the internet. I am sad for people who feel that they can only feel better about themselves by doing so, and I hope that they someday get the professional help that they surely need.

And unfortunately for them, I still love teaching.

Sunday at the Swap Meet

I cannot bring myself to spend a lot of money on sunglasses. And by a lot of money, I mean like, more than $20. Whether they cost me $5 or $120, I will eventually scratch, break, or lose them, so I prefer the $5 variety. I often buy them from some vendors who come onto my campus a few times a semester, but since I scratched my last pair, I couldn’t wait until then.

So I made my first trip to the Huntington Beach Swap Meet. Every Saturday and Sunday, vendors come to the parking lot at Golden West College. It becomes a giant outdoor market where vendors sell everything from items they picked up at a yard sale or thrift store, to vendors selling surplus items, ethnic foods and candies, to electronics and mattresses. Some items I am sure “fell off the back of the truck,” but I don’t see the point in asking questions. I’d say that there you can find everything but the kitchen sink, but I did actually see a kitchen sink for sale.

So I went with $40 in my pocket and a plan to get three pairs of sunglasses and whatever else I fancied with the remaining $25. I wandered through the aisles for a couple of hours, listening to the families shout to one another in Spanish, Vietnamese and Tagalog and dodging children rushing through on scooters. Some stands blasted mariachi music, while the aroma of bbq pork wafted from food trucks, and tables included Sriracha and jars of onions and cilantro among their condiments.

All in all, I spent $38; here’s what I bought:

The 3 pairs of sunglasses I needed, a new straw fedora for beach days, a Stila lip stick, a Philosophy lip gloss, Kate Spade earrings, and an orchid.

The earrings were a real steal; at only $5, I kinda feel like I ripped them off. Here’s a better close up:

I think that they are from several seasons ago, and they gave me a very Downton Abbey feel, which I am obsessed with these days.

The orchid is gorgeous too. I’ve never had one, and since they are notoriously difficult to care for, I am excited about the challenge.

All in all, for under $40 I think I did well. Braving the chaos was well worth it, and I may go back next weekend for more plants.
XO, Rachel

It’s 10 o’clock on Sunday night, do you know what that means? It means that Monday, the first Monday fo the new semester, is almost here. Uggghhhh. I am NOT ready for a new semester to begin.

Fortunately, tomorrow morning I will at least have a lovely treat waiting for me!

This weekend, I baked Andie @ canyoustayfordinner.com‘s banana bread cupcakes with cream cheese frosting. She is right; nothing beats cream cheese frosting! Aaaannnd, these are low sugar and low fat! For reals!


You can find her recipe here.

Since I’ve been running regularly, I’ve been craving carbs and sweets like whoa. Since I am running I can afford to treat myself now and then, but I don’t want to undo an entire run with one dessert. So I experimented with substituting some ingredients from Andie’s recipe to cut down on sugar and fat. Here’s what I did:

Banana Cupcakes
makes 1 dozen
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
5 Tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon of Splenda Brown sugar blend (it’s not exactly sugar free, but a drastic reduction in sugar)
2 eggs
1 ¼ cups mashed very ripe bananas (2 very large bananas or 3 small)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup vegetable oil and 1/4 cup of organic applesauce. I’ve tried substituting all of the oil with applesauce, but the consistency wasn’t right. So half of the oil that the recipe calls for mixed with applesauce that has no sugar added to it does the trick (the recipe originally called for 1/2 cup of veggie oil).  
For the frosting:
4 ounces lite cream cheese, softened
½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2 cups confectioner’s sugar, made from Splenda. To make powdered sugar from Splenda, simply add 1 tsp cornstarch for every cup of splenda, and blend in a food processor on high for a few minutes, until the sweetener has the consistency of the powdered sugar you’re used to seeing come out of a box.
To make the cupcakes: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a standard 12-cup muffin pan with paper cupcake liners. In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.
In a small bowl, whisk the sugar, eggs, mashed banana, vanilla, and oil. Add this wet mixture to the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan; each cup should be about three-quarters full.
Bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into one of the cupcakes comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached, about 15 to 18 minutes. Let the cupcakes cool in the pan for two minutes before removing and allowing them to cool completely on a wire rack.
Make the frosting: Beat the cream cheese in a large bowl until smooth. Add sugar and beat for 3 minutes on high speed until the sugar is fully incorporated and the mixture is silky. Add lemon juice and beat for one additional minute. 


Talk about a guilt-free snack! The original recipe, with real sugar and oil made each cupcake only about 250 calories each; the reduction of sugar and oil DRASTICALLY reduces the calories, though, to be honest, I haven’t done the math. 

When they’re this good AND low in sugar, who cares?! I say have two!

January Birch Box

A couple of months ago I heard about BirchBox from another blogger. Basically, you sign up for a monthly subscription, and each month they send out a box of assorted beauty samples. Whhaaa?! I love, love LOVE samples, especially the deluxe sized ones, because they usually last quite awhile, and my cheap ass HATES how the good stuff is always expensive.

So yesterday I finally received my January box.

The samples are:

Juicy Couture: Viva la Juicy

Model Co SHINE Ultra Lip Gloss — a full sized tube!

Number 4 Clarifying Shampoo

Claudalie Vinexpert Radiance Day Cream SPF 15

and two small packets of  100% Pure Nourishing Cream

Now the shampoo was the biggest sample, but unfortunately I can’t use it since I have Keratin in my hair, so I gave it to a friend.

I really dig the color and texture of the gloss (not too sticky, as far as shiny glosses go).

 The radiance day cream was nice, and my skin feels extra soft, but I am unimpressed with the SPF 15– I don’t trust anything under 30.

I haven’t tried the lotion packets; to be honest, they’re apple scented, and I’m just not feeling apple as a scent this week.

The Juicy perfume was a good sized sample, and I can dig the fragrance. I have about a zillion bottles and sample vials of perfumes, and Juicy doesn’t make my top 5, but it’s a nice one to add to the collection, to keep things fresh when I want some variety.

All in all, I am pleased with the Birchbox subscription so far. It’s a great monthly treat for only 10 bucks, and I love surprises.

If you’re into it, use my link for a referral, please!!

https://www.birchbox.com?raf=k8g66



XO, Rachel

Last week I began tackling one of my ultimate bucket list items: running a marathon.

The plan is to run the San Francisco marathon on June 16th. I found this training schedule somewhere online (I honestly forget which site), and so this is what my next 5 1/2 months are going to look like:

Week
Monday
Tuesday
Wednesday
Thursday
Friday
Saturday
Sunday
1
3 mi
Rest
3 mi
CT
Rest
4 mi
3 mi EZ
2
3 miles
Rest
3 mi
Rest
CT or Rest
5 mi
3 mi EZ
3
3 mi
Rest
4 mi
CT
CT or Rest
6 mi
3 mi EZ
4
3 mi
Rest
4 mi
Rest
CT or Rest
4 mi
3 mi EZ
5
4 mi
Rest
4 mi
CT
CT or Rest
6 mi
3 mi EZ
6
4 mil
Rest
4 mi
CT
CT or Rest
8 mi
3 mi EZ
7
4 mi
Rest
4 mi
CT
CT or Rest
10 mi
3 mi EZ
8
4 mi
Rest
4 mi
CT
CT or Rest
8 mi
3 mi EZ
9
4 mi
Rest
4 mi
CT
CT or Rest
12 mi
Rest
10
4 mi
4 mi EZ
4 mi
Rest
CT or Rest
10 mi
3 mi EZ
11
4 mi
Rest
4 mi
CT
CT or Rest
14 mi
3 mi EZ
12
5 mi
Rest
5 mi
CT
CT or Rest
10 mi
3 mi EZ
13
4 mi
Rest
5 mi
CT
CT or Rest
16 mi
3 mi EZ
14
4 mi
Rest
5 mi
CT
CT or Rest
12 mi
3 mi EZ
15
4 mi
Rest
5 mi
CT
CT or Rest
18 mi
Rest
16
5 mi
3 mi EZ
6 mi
Rest
CT or Rest
12 mi
3 mi EZ
17
4 mi
Rest
6 mi
CT
CT or Rest
20 mi
3 mi EZ
18
4 mi
Rest
4 mi
CT
CT or Rest
12 mi
3 mi EZ
19
3 mi
Rest
3 mi
20 minutes
CT or Rest
8 mi
3 mi EZ
20
2 mi
Rest
Rest Day
20 minutes
20 minutes
Race Day!
Rest Day!

Most Tuesdays and Thursdays are devoted to yoga, and Friday cross training is going to be a mixture of activities to keep me interested. So far those include: Ballet Beautiful workouts, rock wall climbing (later this spring) kayaking, and hiking.

What I love about having this schedule is that so far it is keeping me disciplined. On those days when I just don’t wanna… I look at the schedule (it’s on the fridge now) and realize that I have to, or I will fall behind and not complete this marathon.

I’m also fortunate enough to live a mile and a half from the beach, which means that many of the runs are along the strand of Huntington Beach. Running is a lot easier when there is a cool ocean breeze, and beautiful sunsets, playful doggies, and hot surfers to look at.

When it comes to the longer Saturday runs, I run along the beach, heading north. From Huntington Beach you can see the skyline of downtown Long Beach, and each week my run will take me a little closer to Long Beach. Having a fun destination, and an incredibly scenic route, makes the goal of completing these long runs even more satisfying.

So wish me luck! I will keep you updated about my training, and hopefully in doing so motivate someone else to go all the way!

XO, Rachel

Margarita Cupcakes!

This weekend we celebrated my girl Emily’s birthday with a slumber party in her aunt’s cabin in the woods. A fabulous time was had by all, but before all that, I scratched my head wondering what could be the perfect treat to bring that would celebrate such a fun, sexy girl as Em.

Well, margarita cupcakes, of course!

Now, there are some wonderful recipes for vegan margarita cupcakes, but these are not that. These are the easy-breezy kind you can make with that box of cake mix in the back of your pantry.

 They’re great for when you’re short on time but want to bring something unexpected and more…adult. I myself am sort of over the whole cupcake craze, but add tequila to any dessert and I am on board.

So here’s what I did. I followed the same ol’ directions on the back of a box of vanilla cake mix, except that instead of the water, I poured in the same amount of Skinny Girl Margarita (my personal fav; I like that it isn’t too sweet, which makes for a great balance with the cupcakes). I added a little lime zest for added flavor, and baked them just like Betty Crocker instructed me to do.

But here’s my naughty little twist: before frosting them, I dipped each one into a cup of margarita, so that the cupcakes would absorb a little more booze.

For the frosting, I made a regular old butter cream (1 stick of butter, 1 box of powdered sugar, 1/4 tsp of vanilla extract, about 3/4 cup of milk or cream) and added lime zest and the juice of about 2 limes.

On each cupcake I sprinkled a teensy bit of salt, and then garnished with a small lime wedge.

Who knew cupcakes could be so sexy?

I would love, love, love to hear about some of your favorite fun treats for Girls’ Night In!

XO, Rachel

Zucchini Pizzas

Piiiizzzzaaaaa!

Pizza is by far my favorite food.
When it comes to pizza, a lot of words and phrases come to mind, everything from scrumptious to saliva-inducing to sexy.
Self-control is not one of them.

But here is a delicious alternative, one that is high in vitamins and low in carbs, and so easy to make that you’ll have more time to watch Real Housewives or something.

Zucchini pizza!

 Here’s what you do:

  • Pre-heat your oven to 450
  • Cut medium to large zucchini in half or in strips 
  • Dip them in some egg white
  • coat them with a mixture of panko crumbs, parmesan cheese, and oregano
  • Bake for 20 minutes
  • Cover with your favorite toppings. I used an amazing smoked mozzarella from Trader Joes for mine.
  • Bake for another 5 or so minutes, until toppings are all bubbly and melty

Enjoy. I suggest pairing it with a good Zinfandel. My newest fav is Griffon Italian Zin from, you guessed it, Trader Joes.

They make a great meal with some Minestrone soup, or cut into smaller pieces for appetizers next time you’re entertaining. This should definitely please any of your low-carb or gluten-free friends. Or really anyone who wants something light, healthy, and AWESOME!

XO, Rachel

Anyone want to buy me this dress? Or really, any dress on ModCloth.com. I know where I will be blowing my cash once I am done with taxes!

Hi all,

Please visit my new page at

Withlove-rachel.com

Thanks!

FYI

This mascara has truly changed my life.
For the most part, I find that cheap make up works just as well as the fancy stuff, but this mascara actually delivers. I’ve had friends notice and compliment me on my lashes since I’ve started using it. The bummer is that it is around $23 a tube… but then again, lash extensions are over 100 a treatment, so…

Scenes from a Road Trip

So for the first weekend of January, we decided to go on a hiking trip through the national parks in Utah.
 We started in Zion and hiked the first two days. Being January and all, the hikes were far different than what most Summer vacationers experience. Here’s Cliff walking on the frozen over Emerald Pool. Notice the giant icicles hanging from the canyon wall?
Our first big hike was Angel’s Landing. We tried the first day, but couldn’t get far due to ice.
 After renting shoe spikes, we tried again the second day, only to have me freak out on the last ridge. What can I say, I am afraid of heights! This hike is not for the faint of heart; the part where I freaked out has sheer 1000 ft drops on either side. Here’s a pic looking up from the ground; as you can see, that’s a long fall…

That’s me at the point where I chickened out. You can kind of see how high up we are…
Thinking about it gives me anxiety, so here’s a sweet deer grazing in the woods that I saw that day…
So after 3 days, we packed up and move on to Bryce Canyon, where we came down with nasty colds. The hiking trip then turned into just a plain ol’, fun road trip. Maybe not as healthy as a week of intense hiking, but we still had some amazing adventures.
This is Bryce:

The picture quality isn’t so good because it was effing cold, and taking off my glove to touch my phone’s screen took a lot of effort. 
So we drove along Utah State Roads 24 and 95, pulling over often to take in the views. That route also closely follows the route that John Wesley Powell, the explorer, took, which was pretty cool. We were pretty much the only people on the road. At one point, we drove just under 100 miles without seeing a single soul on the road!
We drove down to Capital Reef National Park, which we had never heard of. 
We got the park pretty much to ourselves; really, we passed 3 guys leaving and never saw anyone else. 
It was awesome.

These parts of Utah really are desolate. We learned from road side information stands that this was the last part of the continental U.S. to be mapped. I can only imagine explorers looking down into what appears to be a vast wasteland and saying “Oh HELL no!”
But only to discover all sorts of canyons and rock formations that are unlike any other place on Earth.

This view from inside the car, coming up on Monument Valley, made me want to indulge in a marathon of old Westerns.
 We finally made our way down to Sedona, AZ, just in time for sunset and margaritas.
From Sedona we made our way back home, stopping in the small town of Salome to see Cliff’s dad. The drive from Sedona to L.A. wasn’t as picturesque, at least not after what we’d taken in all week.
Noted:
Desert Air in the winter is not pleasant for the respiratory system. I hope I never take for granted the soothing, humid air of a beach climate.
Hanksville, UT is not really a town, more of a wide spot in the road. Don’t ever stay the night there. Worse, don’t bother trying to find food.
Germans really dig our national parks. Most people we came across in any of the parks were foreigners, and most were German.

Dispatch From Utah

Greetings from Bryce Canyon, where the boyfriend and I are holed up in a hotel room with nasty colds!

Fortunately we got out for a little while yesterday to experience the grandeur of the park. The snow dusted Hoodoos and pines are breath taking, and January really is a magnificent time to visit the park. If you take to some of the trails, you will share them with only a half- dozen or so German tourists.

We wanted to hike the trails down into the canyon, but a few minutes of walking uphill left the bf doubled over in coughing fits. The ole bronchitis– ain’t nobody got time for that!!

I’ll share more stories later about adventures in Zion.

A couple of days ago, when the nasty colds first kicked in, we decided to go into town to buy a humidifier, since the dry, heated air of the cabin in Zion was wrecking havoc on our throats. We found a super-sized Walmart on the outskirts of Hurricane, UT, and as we wandered through the aisles, we saw three young girls  dressed in full on Sister Wives Prairie garb, with pastel dresses to their necks and elaborate french braids. For reals!!
It was as if I had just discovered the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy raiding my liquor cabinet. I HAD to see more of them. So we tried our best to trail them inconspicuously, and caught up with them in the pharmacy section; while we evaluated cough drops, they met up with Mother (that’s what they called her) who was looking at travel sized medicines.
Curioser and curioser.

I so wanted to snap a picture, but I felt it wrong. So instead, here’s a picture from the internets that is extremely close to how they looked:

Two of them were quite young, maybe 7-9 years old!
Also, do you remember Scrunchies? Well, people use them here in Utah. I hadn’t seen one in LA or OC since 1998. But the scrunchie is alive and thriving in Utah. Good to know. 

Cinnamon Roasted Almonds

Because it’s the beginning of the year and peeps be all like, “I’m gonna lose weight, I swear,” here’s my favorite healthy snack.
I too need to shed some El- Bees from all of those holiday treats. As I am going to be hiking a lot and then beginning marathon training, it’s important that snacks be filling and protein-rich. And tasty, of course.

I made this for relatives for Thanksgiving, and ended up snacking on them the whole week. I had two Thanksgiving dinners and a wedding, and somehow managed to lose 1.5 pounds. Now I am not saying that these almonds are magical or anything, but they do fill you up and keep you from eating what you shouldn’t. They have plenty of lean protein, lots of fiber, and are anti-oxidant rich.

Plus, they’re sugar free!!

So here’s how to get started. You need:
A bag of raw almonds (which you can get from Trader Joes)
About two egg whites
A cup and a half of Splenda
A tablespoon of ground cinnamon (though I tend to add more myself)

Turn on your oven to about 275.
Then whisk the egg whites with just a splash of water, and then coat the almonds with the egg whites until they’re all good and sticky.
In another bowl, blend the sugar and cinnamon, and then blend them into the almonds.
I line a cake pan with parchment paper to save clean up time, and then spread the sugary almonds evenly in the pan. 
Bake them for about 10 minutes, then stir them up, then bake another 10-15 until they’re all roasty. Your kitchen will smell ah-ma-zing, and that’s when you know they’re ready.
Once they’re cool, store them in a container to snack away.
Now, because they’re made with Splenda, the sugar coating might not caramelize quite the way you may be used to from sugared almonds you get at say, the fair. But, you are saving yourself TONS of empty calories, and the almonds still get a nice cinnamon-sweet coating that I promise you is delicious. A handful of these bad boys should leave your tummy full and your sweet tooth satisfied. 

Oh, 2012…

One of my favorite things about New Year’s Eve is that it forces you, if at least momentarily, to reflect on the year you are finishing. Some years I have cringed at the memories I was leaving behind (ugh, 2009 and 2010) but this is one of those years where I can’t help but grin as I think back. I don’t mean to brag, especially since I know a lot of people who had a tough year, but as far as I am concerned, 2012 was effing awesome.

I don’t want to bore anyone by listing the year month by month or anything, so here’s a sort of random compiling of categories to help me remember this year:

New skills I learned (or at least tried):
 Sailing– took classes at a community college and learned some fundamentals on small Lido boats; saw how it all works on a 50 ft boat in May off the coast of Mallorca. Planning to continue my sailing education.

Cheese making– I feel I have mastered making mozzarella and goat cheese. The cheddar, parmesean, and gouda I tried really sucked, but now with more kitchen space and better equipment, I plan to try again this winter.

Gardening– I have several hanging and potted plants on the balcony. Some have died and been replaced, some are still going strong. At the moment they are all living and thriving, but I want to learn more about how to keep that happening, and how to start a vegetable garden in the back yard.

Teaching a writing course that included more literary analysis– I feel like that went better than expected. I copied my colleague Beth and started assigning Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Saw There in my English 101 courses, and since I did, the classes and assignments are so much more fun. At a time when I was feeling discouraged and burned out about teaching, it’s shown me just how awesome my job can be.

Teaching an Upper-Division Course: When Beth and I got the opportunity to co-teach a course for undergrads and grad students who work in our writing center, I was equal parts thrilled and terrified. It ended up being such a positive experience, though.

New Year’s Resolution, and did I keep it:
 To make my bed every day. In the parts of the year where I lived alone, yes. But once I moved in with Cliff it became nearly impossible since he’s usually in bed when I am leaving for work.

Favorite television show:
Hands down, The Walking Dead. I am obsessed. So obsessed that Cliff bought me a Katana for Christmas.

Road Trips:
Joshua Tree in March, Phoenix/ Tempe in November, Bakersfield in December

Best Meals:
Beef Tartare in Paris
Traditional Mayan food in Xela, Guatemala
The yogurt, fruit, granola and honey breakfast we kept ordering at Hotel Modelo in Xela, Guatemala
Christmas Eve tamales
Cedar Plank salmon that Cliff and I grilled up
Filet Mignon with bleu cheese crust at Ruth’s Chris

Best drink:
ginger margaritas at Rip Jack Inn in Costa Rica

Books read:
Middlesex, The Hunger Games trilogy, Just Kids, Big Sur, Lamb, Medium Raw, The End of Something, A Moveable Feast, Love in the Time of Cholera, The Paris Wife

Books I started, didn’t finish, but will come back to:
Lady Chatterly’s Lover, Bitter Fruit, and Blindness

Scariest moment:
Zip lining in Costa Rica and braking too early so that I was stuck on the line and had to pull myself long to the platform. I actually still have nightmares about zip lining.
Moment that should have been scary but really wasn’t:
Falling out of the raft and being swept down the rapids (also in Costa Rica)

Memories that will ALWAYS make me smile:
-playing hop scotch and “Salta!” with the preschoolers in Guatemala, and little Roxanna Michaela showing me the stash of chalk she had hidden in the folds of her traditional skirt.

-finding Shakespeare and Co. in Paris in the pouring rain– we got lost and combed the streets for hours looking for it

-The cats that hung out on the bar in Costa Rica
-The bartender at The Liberty Bounds pub in London who was excited that I was from Huntington Beach. He said that when he was younger, he and his friends would practice their California surfer accent, much the way I’ve tried a British accent.
-Cliff presenting me with a leopard print key to his house
– Getting hammered with my brother at The Bruery’s St. Patrick’s Day bash
-Dinners with my family

Biggest Physical Accomplishment:
Hiking to the summit of Mount Baldy

Memory that makes me Proud of Myself:
Making friends with strangers in Dublin. I had always been afraid of traveling alone, but when I got to Dublin I discovered that I wasn’t staying with a friend and had to experience the city on my own. I cried for a short while, but then I got myself a bus pass and a map, and went exploring. I chatted with all sorts of people and surprised myself with what a good time I could have. A few times I found myself lost outside of the city due to my poor understanding of the bus table, but it all worked out, and I always found my way, eventually.

Places I traveled to (internationally):
Costa Rica (Arenal and then Playa Grande), Amsterdam (for a few hours– enough time to visit coffee shops & the red light district, and to get some pommes frites), Mallorca, Guatemala (Xela, Lake Atitlan, and Antigua), Dublin, London, and Paris.

Things I kind of Sucked at:
-Keeping some plants alive
-Saving money
-Speaking Spanish
-Zip Lining
-Tying bowline knots
– Not dwelling on negativity when I should know better
– Keeping up with everyone in Vegas. I am not the drinker I used to be!

The Best Change of 2012:
Every day I come home to my best friend.

Resolutions for 2013:
Do more yoga
Stay in better communication with friends and family
Write more

2013, you’ve got a lot of awesomeness to compete with, but I have faith in you.
I can already tell that this year is going to be amazing, and we’ll be ringing it in at the W Hotel in Hollywood tonight.
CAN’T WAIT!
Cheers, everyone!

Cookies and Swords!

So my mom brought me a tin of my FAVORITE Christmas cookies, of which I have been guilty of having more than a couple. In fact, there is now only one left, and that lone cookie reminds me that Christmas is now over.

Believe it or not, Christmas has not really been my favorite time of year. It reminds me of hard times my family has gone through, of depression and loss and feeling inadequate for not having money to spend it the way television insists we do. It can seem so forced and artificial, and the materialism of the holiday has left me feeling just as discouraged as Charlie Brown.

But I have been coming around, and have developed a new appreciation for Christmas. Part of it has to do with having someone special to share it all with (I don’t blame you for gagging right about now). Cliff and I put up lights and decorations, and this was our first Christmas together.

My friend Emily gave me this chandelier ornament! How fabulous!

We even put up lights, which was a big deal for me since I grew up in a condo that didn’t allow us to put up outdoor lights, and since then I have lived in apartments/ houses where I could only put lights in windows. We even bought a snowman lawn thingy that we put up on the balcony.

On Christmas Eve, my mom and Grandpa came over for dinner. I loved playing hostess, and I cooked up tamales (bought ’em, didn’t make them myself. No way.) and other yummy sides, and we all drank wine and talked late into the night. It really was wonderful. My grandpa and Cliff are like new BFFs.
 Here’s the cheese plate from that night– I made the mozzarella myself, and chopped some rosemary from my garden to sprinkle on top. Yummers!

Christmas day we slept in, I made french toast and eggs, and we got to opening presents. I still can’t believe my man got me this:

That’s right, a friggin KATANA! The picture doesn’t do it justice; it really is gorgeous. I am actually a little afraid of it– that bad boy can do some serious damage. I am determined to learn more about it, if not at least from watching YouTube videos.

After a day of being lazy and making plans for our January vacay, on the night after Christmas we went to Ruth’s Chris for dinner with my man’s sister and cousin. What’s better than amazing steaks, (hello, they melt a pat of butter on each one!) good wine, and raunchy conversation? Nothing, I say!

And finally, last night, I met Cliff’s aunt when she hosted dinner at her house. She is a fun woman, and another night of great food, wine, and conversation rounded out the week perfectly.

Even if Christmas itself can be lame at times, the wonderful thing about it is that it gets you at a dinner table with family and friends– I didn’t even get into the fun girls’ night out I had before Christmas, or the post-Christmas beers I had with other friends! But it’s all about spending time with the people who matter most. This year I was blessed to get to include Cliff in my family time, and to be included in his. And really, that is better than any Christmas gift, even if it is a badass sword.

I know it’s December now, BUT, this is a good reminder as the warm fuzzies that we felt around Thanksgiving give way to stress and frustration in those few weeks before Christmas.

 I believe in counting my blessings every chance I get, so I decided to make the entire month of November a month of Thanksgiving. If December gets to be a whole month of Christmas, then why can’t Thanksgiving stake its claim on an entire month?

So on Facebook, each day for the month I posted something that I am thankful for. Here’s the list, directly quoted from Facebook, starting with November 1st and moving down to the 30th:

1. I know I did this last year, and so I am sorry for the repeats, but in the month of November I like to post everyday one thing that I am thankful for. (The posting on Facebook helps keep me accountable, and plus, I like spreading positive energy.) So today, I am thankful for my flexible work schedule that lets me sleep in a couple of days a week. 🙂

2. Today I am thankful for the cozy home I live in. Every day when I pull into the driveway, I get warm fuzzies.

3. Today I am thankful for the people who work all of those unsexy jobs that make sure that we have power, running water, trash pickup, gas, etc.

4. Today I am thankful that I get to have dinner with my awesome family every Sunday night. ♥

5. Today I am thankful that my “hard day” of the week consists of 12 hours of talking about writing, teaching writing, and Alice in Wonderland. I am blessed to have a job that I truly love.

6. Today I am thankful for those brave women of the suffrage movement, and today I am proud to exercise my right that they fought so hard for.

7. Today I am thankful for Facebook’s “hide” feature– it is really preserving my sanity today. While I welcome political discourse and love that I see a variety of opinions expressed on FB, I have no time for hurtful comments and logical fallacies. Sorry.

8. Today I am thankful for my international students. Not only does their hard work inspire me, but their questions and perspectives challenge me to reconsider, well, just about everything.

9. Today I am thankful that I was raised by such a strong, independent woman. Love you, Michelle Murphree!

10. Today I am thankful that I get to drive the car I always wanted, a black Mini Cooper. She may not always get along with my wallet, but I love love love that car.

11. Today I am thankful for all of the brave men and women, past and present, who have served our country. Thank you, vets, for keeping us safe!

12. Today I am thankful for my good health, and to show my body gratitude, I’m going to treat it to some yoga. 🙂

13. Today I am thankful that I can watch my favorite shows whenever I want on DVR.

14. Tonight I am very thankful to have a belly full of nutritious food. I know that I am often guilty of taking that for granted.

15. Today I am thankful to have a dishwasher. Seriously, how I lived in an apartment so long without one is beyond me.

16. Today I am thankful for hardships that I have endured that make me emphatic to others.

17. Today I am thankful for lazy, rainy Saturday afternoons spent with college football, sweat pants, and my man.

18. Today I am thankful for my loving, hilarious, inspiring grandpa.

19. Today I am thankful for the quality education I received, and thankful that many more will since we passed prop 30.

20. Today I am thankful to have such an awesome brother who I can always count on to make me laugh and teach me something new.

21. Today I am thankful that Cliff insists on having a maid service come a couple times a month to clean. It’s okay to feel a little spoiled now and then.

22. Today I am thankful that I get to spend this holiday with the people that I love all under one roof! I truly am so blessed! I hope all of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving! ♥

23. Today I am thankful for my second family, the Fornwalts. We make a pretty fun group!

24. tonight I am thankful for heartfelt toasts and opportunities to dress your best! Cheers to Harry and Claudia!

25. Tonight I am thankful that the Zombie Apocalypse has not yet happened.

26. Today I am thankful for my co- Writing Center Supervisor, Beth Saur. I think we make a pretty awesome team.

27. Today I am thankful for a well stocked medicine cabinet and a pharmacy down the street. Suck it, flu!

28. Today I am thankful for news sources like PBS, NPR, BBC World News, and The New York Times that report the important stories in a credible manner.

29. As this month winds down, I am thankful for all of YOU, Facebook friends. Thank you for being a friend… (I’ve traveled down the road and back again; your heart is true, you’re a pal and a confidant…)

30. And last, but certainly not least, I am thankful to have the best boyfriend in the world, Cliff I am so blessed to be in love with my best friend. Thanks everyone, for putting up with my month of thanksgiving! Love you all!


As you can see, I have A LOT to be thankful for! 

I am not kidding when I say that I am blind as a bat– -6.5 in one eye, -6.75 in the other. I’ve been wearing contacts since I was about 14 or 15, and my only pair of glasses were from that time. Needless to say, they were hideous. With some prodding by the boyfriend, I finally got a pair from this century, and I am starting to dig them.

I still have that middle school mentality that glasses look ugly and nerdy, and I am trying to get past the flashbacks of pubescent humiliation that I associate with specs. I now notice everyone’s glasses, and I am thinking about getting a few more pairs. I would love to hear what styles you are digging right now. Remember, I am new to this!

Speaking of being the newbie, I am still trying to understand the ins and outs of Instagram? Whaat, you say? Didn’t everyone master that in 2011? Well for one, I am not good at the whole hipster thing (don’t let the awesome eye wear fool you), and two, I am a Droid girl, not an iPhone user, so it’s all new to me. I am realizing that I just might not be too cool for Instagram like I thought. If anyone has tips, please share!

She Uses Vaseline…

I friggin’ love Vaseline. I keep tubs of it all around, especially in my night stand. If you’re already thinking about teenage masturbation jokes, save it; my boyfriend has beaten you to that one a hundred times over.

Seriously though, there is a lot of magic going on in that gooey tub. Here are some of my favorite things you can do with it:

  • Got dry skin? Vaseline has an app for that. Rub it in to your cuticles to avoid hangnails. Rub it into your elbows to avoid elephant skin. Rub it anywhere you have recently shaved– this also helps prevent ingrown hairs!
  • Extend your pedicure by coating your feet in it, then slipping on some socks for at least 30 minutes. The more often you do it, the less you’ll need that callus remover that they always charge you $5 for.
  • Dab a q-tip into it and use it as a make-up eraser
  • Apply it underneath eye shadow or on the apples of your cheeks for a glowy, dewy look
  • Use it as a nightly eye cream. Legend has it that it helps your lashes grow longer. I can’t confirm this, but I can confirm that it works just as well for me as expensive eye creams and keeping the area around my eyes soft.
  • Rub some on older shoes or a handbag to make them look brand new
  • You can use it on the ends of your hair to hide split ends, or in place of hair wax/goop/product to create a choppy or piece-y look if you’re going for that
  • It makes one of the best lip balms, especially when your lips are already chapped. Or rub some on, then scrub your lips with a toothbrush to exfoliate.
  • I recently learned that if you apply it to the skin before applying perfume, it makes the perfume last longer (!)
  • Puff up from eating too much salt and can’t get a ring off? Vaseline will help that bad boy slip right off.
Those are mostly beauty-related, but you can also do things like keep your jack-o-lantern from rotting so quickly, for getting gum off the bottom of a table, and keeping your car battery from corroding. 
Not gonna, lie, I learned those last three from googling it. But seriously, Vaseline is one of my favorite things for good reason. 
And in case I got the Flaming Lips song stuck in your head, here you go:

Reflections on the Elections

On Wednesday night of this week, I came home to the boyfriend watching PBS News Hour loudly on the television. “Noooo mooore neeeewwwsss,” I whined, “I am soo sick of hearing about the damn election!” He was a little taken aback, especially because I normally love to discuss politics and current events.

 

It’s just that throughout that day I made the mistake of spending too much time on Facebook and Twitter, which meant having to hear some pretty ugly comments from Romney supporters. The hurtful comments about immigrants and people who receive government assistance were a little too much for me, coupled by plenty of idiotic remarks about the country spiraling into Socialism and the need to stock up on guns and ammo. Sigh.

 

So I want to back up a little to that night before, and remember why I was so happy when I woke up on Wednesday morning. That night the boyfriend, his cousin, and I gathered in the living room with pizza and wine to watch the drama unfold. None of us wanted to jinx it by even saying it, but we were all a little nervous about what the outcome would be. We masked our anxieties by over-analyzing every prediction and analysis made on tv, comparing different news coverages, laughing at Brian Williams’ snarky commentary,, and reading aloud witticisms from the internets. Anything to distract ourselves from admitting what was really at stake that evening.

 

And then it happened, just as we were all in the kitchen serving up pizza: NBC called Ohio, the last swing state that Obama needed to win in order to clench the election. We cheered, but with apprehension: was this going to be a repeat of 2000? It was still close; had they made this call too early? We flipped to Fox news and watched Karl Rove and the anchors in the midst of a full-blown meltdown and knew it had to be true.

 

Barak Obama would be the Commander in Chief for 4 more years.

 

In many ways, I think this election was more important than 4 years ago, at least to me. In 2008, coming out of the Bush era and hearing this idealistic black man talk about hope and change, it was easy to get on board. Of course people wanted change. Of course people were hopeful. The fact that we could be electing our first Black president made it even more cool, and things sucked so hard under Bush, that why not, right? We were going to make the country cool again.

 

But by 2012 there was so much pessimism, and with a nation so polarized that polls showed candidates neck in neck, I wondered about what it would say about us as a nation if Romney won. Not because I dislike Romney or what his party stands for (though I do), but because of what it would say about us as a culture. If 4 years ago we were swept up in a tide of optimism, with people chanting “yes we can!” only to completely change our minds 4 years later because change hadn’t come over night, what would that say about our patience? About our fortitude? About our desires, our work ethic, our courage, our innovative spirit, our acceptance of others, our willingness to adapt to change? Could Americans be so short sighted and focused on instant gratification that they would choose the status quo, the establishment, the rich white guy who “knows what is best for us” (gag)?

 

Fortunately, the answer was no. In 2012, the majority stood up to the fear and rhetoric and pessimism, and they said Yes. Yes we can, yes we will, yes we believe. The kind of change that politicians talk about won’t happen overnight, but that night, there was a change in the American landscape. And it makes me want to give all of America a big hug.

On Wednesday night of this week, I came home to the boyfriend watching PBS News Hour loudly on the television. “Noooo mooore neeeewwwsss,” I whined, “I am soo sick of hearing about the damn election!” He was a little taken aback, especially because I normally love to discuss politics and current events.

 It’s just that throughout that day I made the mistake of spending too much time on Facebook and Twitter, which meant having to hear some pretty ugly comments from Romney supporters. The hurtful comments about immigrants and people who receive government assistance were a little too much for me, coupled by plenty of idiotic remarks about the country spiraling into Socialism and the need to stock up on guns and ammo. Sigh.

 So I want to back up a little to that night before, and remember why I was so happy when I woke up on Wednesday morning. That night the boyfriend, his cousin, and I gathered in the living room with pizza and wine to watch the drama unfold. None of us wanted to jinx it by even saying it, but we were all a little nervous about what the outcome would be. We masked our anxieties by over-analyzing every prediction and analysis made on tv, comparing different news coverages, laughing at Brian Williams’ snarky commentary,, and reading aloud witticisms from the internets. Anything to distract ourselves from admitting what was really at stake that evening.

 And then it happened, just as we were all in the kitchen serving up pizza: NBC called Ohio, the last swing state that Obama needed to win in order to clench the election. We cheered, but with apprehension: was this going to be a repeat of 2000? It was still close; had they made this call too early? We flipped to Fox news and watched Karl Rove and the anchors in the midst of a full-blown meltdown and knew it had to be true.

Barak Obama would be the Commander in Chief for 4 more years.

 In many ways, I think this election was more important than 4 years ago, at least to me. In 2008, coming out of the Bush era and hearing this idealistic black man talk about hope and change, it was easy to get on board. Of course people wanted change. Of course people were hopeful. The fact that we could be electing our first Black president made it even more cool, and things sucked so hard under Bush, that why not, right? We were going to make the country cool again.

 But by 2012 there was so much pessimism, and with a nation so polarized that polls showed candidates neck in neck, I wondered about what it would say about us as a nation if Romney won. Not because I dislike Romney or what his party stands for (though I do), but because of what it would say about us as a culture. If 4 years ago we were swept up in a tide of optimism, with people chanting “yes we can!” only to completely change our minds 4 years later because change hadn’t come over night, what would that say about our patience? About our fortitude? About our desires, our work ethic, our courage, our innovative spirit, our acceptance of others, our willingness to adapt to change? Could Americans be so short sighted and focused on instant gratification that they would choose the status quo, the establishment, the rich white guy who “knows what is best for us” (gag)?

 Fortunately, the answer was no. In 2012, the majority stood up to the fear and rhetoric and pessimism, and they said Yes. Yes we can, yes we will, yes we believe. The kind of change that politicians talk about won’t happen overnight, but that night, there was a change in the American landscape. And it makes me want to give all of America a big hug.

Up and Away!

After running from Zombies a couple of weekends ago, the boyfriend and I were still hungry for more adventure, so this past weekend we decided to wake up early and climb a mountain.

You have no idea how much fun that is to say.
So we loaded up out camelbacks, laced up our boots, and drove to Mt. Baldy, which is just north of Upland, CA, or about an hour and a half away from us in Huntington Beach. The boyfriend had done the hike before, but this was my first time attempting it.
So we drove through the charming Mount Baldy Village and parked at Manker Flats, near where the ski lift begins. Some people take the lift up to the Baldy Lodge and begin hiking from there, but they’re cheating. It does take about 1200 feet of elevation off of your hike, thus saving a lot of time, but still. Some hardcore hikers climb straight up just below the lift, but I’m too much of a sissy to do that (it’s incredibly steep and technical). We went up the long way, taking the service road up the east face of the mountain to the Baldy lodge, and then hiked up using the Devil’s Backbone trail.
For much of the hike, I’d say the trail is about moderate to sometimes strenuous. Then you get higher and you see why the trail is called Devil’s Backbone: you walk along the ridge between two peaks, as though you are crossing over a gigantic spine, with some dizzying drops to either side of you.
Once crossing a couple of ridges like this one, you walk along the inside rim of the Baldy Bowl, where the mountain curves in and the trail narrows considerably, leaving you with very little space between the mountain and a shear drop to your left. You may remember that I hate heights and so there were some sweaty palms on this girl.
Once you survive these tests of courage, you find the trail becomes easier and you see the last climb up to the summit. It is a barren, windswept hill with gentle switchbacks, and as you look at it from the bottom you think, Sweet, just climb this hill and I’m at the top!  But it’s not just a hill; it’s closer to a mile. And it’s steeper than it looked. And you’re now at close to 10k feet, where the air is thinner. Those switchbacks are not gentle. The climb is far more gravely than you thought. That last mile really puts hikers to the test, and many stop at the base of it, forsaking the summit.
Not us, though. We pushed on, stopping every 10 yards or so to catch our breaths, until those last steps landed upon the hard rock at the summit. And holy hell, it was hard. But.
There are few things as exhilarating as stepping foot on the summit of a mountain, ripping off your backpack, throwing out your arms as you take in the views all around you and say to yourself  I HAVE CLIMBED A MOUNTAIN!
After eating sandwiches and taking pictures, we strapped on our packs and made our way down the mountain. That last mile that kicked our butts coming up was no more forgiving going down. The steepness paired with the loose gravel meant having to tread very slowly and gingerly. I’ve heard of people going up without proper shoes, and I can’t imagine how they didn’t slip on some gravel and plunge to their deaths. Hell, I felt ill-equipped by not having poles.
The rest of the way down felt like a breeze until my toes first insisted, then begged, then screamed to not go down any more steep hills. By the time I got home I had a couple of bloody toes and had to wear flip flops for the next two days.
All in all, the round trip of 13.6 miles and just under 4000 ft of elevation took us about 7 1/2 to 8 hours, including frequent breaks and resting at the summit. It was a serious leg burning work out, and I could barely get out of bed the next morning, but it was so worth it.
Next up is the Mt. Wilson trail, which has the telescope and museum (squee!) at the summit, and then we’re coming back to Baldy to take on an even more difficult trail to the top.
 

After running from Zombies a couple of weekends ago, the boyfriend and I were still hungry for more adventure, so this past weekend we decided to wake up early and climb a mountain.

You have no idea how much fun that is to say.
So we loaded up out camelbacks, laced up our boots, and drove to Mt. Baldy, which is just north of Upland, CA, or about an hour and a half away from us in Huntington Beach. The boyfriend had done the hike before, but this was my first time attempting it.
So we drove through the charming Mount Baldy Village and parked at Manker Flats, near where the ski lift begins. Some people take the lift up to the Baldy Lodge and begin hiking from there, but they’re cheating. It does take about 1200 feet of elevation off of your hike, thus saving a lot of time, but still. Some hardcore hikers climb straight up just below the lift, but I’m too much of a sissy to do that (it’s incredibly steep and technical). We went up the long way, taking the service road up the east face of the mountain to the Baldy lodge, and then hiked up using the Devil’s Backbone trail. 
For much of the hike, I’d say the trail is about moderate to sometimes strenuous. Then you get higher and you see why the trail is called Devil’s Backbone: you walk along the ridge between two peaks, as though you are crossing over a gigantic spine, with some dizzying drops to either side of you.

Once crossing a couple of ridges like this one, you walk along the inside rim of the Baldy Bowl, where the mountain curves in and the trail narrows considerably, leaving you with very little space between the mountain and a shear drop to your left. You may remember that I hate heights and so there were some sweaty palms on this girl.
Once you survive these tests of courage, you find the trail becomes easier and you see the last climb up to the summit. It is a barren, windswept hill with gentle switchbacks, and as you look at it from the bottom you think, Sweet, just climb this hill and I’m at the top!  But it’s not just a hill; it’s closer to a mile. And it’s steeper than it looked. And you’re now at close to 10k feet, where the air is thinner. Those switchbacks are not gentle. The climb is far more gravely than you thought. That last mile really puts hikers to the test, and many stop at the base of it, forsaking the summit.
Not us, though. We pushed on, stopping every 10 yards or so to catch our breaths, until those last steps landed upon the hard rock at the summit. And holy hell, it was hard. But. 

There are few things as exhilarating as stepping foot on the summit of a mountain, ripping off your backpack, throwing out your arms as you take in the views all around you and say to yourself  I HAVE CLIMBED A MOUNTAIN!
After eating sandwiches and taking pictures, we strapped on our packs and made our way down the mountain. That last mile that kicked our butts coming up was no more forgiving going down. The steepness paired with the loose gravel meant having to tread very slowly and gingerly. I’ve heard of people going up without proper shoes, and I can’t imagine how they didn’t slip on some gravel and plunge to their deaths. Hell, I felt ill-equipped by not having poles. 
The rest of the way down felt like a breeze until my toes first insisted, then begged, then screamed to not go down any more steep hills. By the time I got home I had a couple of bloody toes and had to wear flip flops for the next two days. 
All in all, the round trip of 13.6 miles and just under 4000 ft of elevation took us about 7 1/2 to 8 hours, including frequent breaks and resting at the summit. It was a serious leg burning work out, and I could barely get out of bed the next morning, but it was so worth it. 
Next up is the Mt. Wilson trail, which has the telescope and museum (squee!) at the summit, and then we’re coming back to Baldy to take on an even more difficult trail to the top. 

I like to think that I am a coordinated person with cat-like reflexes, but this year I’ve sustained a few injuries. I have two scars from rope burns on the inside of my right arm, the lighter, smaller one from rappelling down a waterfall and the bigger “V” shaped one from zip lining; both happened in Costa Rica in March, I believe on the same day. For a few weeks my left arm wasn’t of much use from injuring my rotator cuff while sailing in Palma de Mallorca, Spain. Then a couple of months ago I fell off my bike when riding home from a local brewery with friends one night, and I fractured one of my ribs.

Very minor inconveniences, if you ask me. All of them were totally worth it.
Last weekend the boyfriend and I ran in a Zombie infested 5k mud run. Surprisingly I don’t have any injuries beyond a lightly skinned knee from crawling in under barbed wire. No pics either, because we were both too muddy to handle a phone. If you’ve ever wondered, sprinting from and dodging zombies through mud is not easy. Throw in some walls to hop over, electric fences to slide under, and muddy hills to climb up/slide down, and you’ve got a serious full body work out– not to mention an AWESOME Sunday morning!

I like to think that I am a coordinated person with cat-like reflexes, but this year I’ve sustained a few injuries. I have two scars from rope burns on the inside of my right arm, the lighter, smaller one from rappelling down a waterfall and the bigger “V” shaped one from zip lining; both happened in Costa Rica in March, I believe on the same day. For a few weeks my left arm wasn’t of much use from injuring my rotator cuff while sailing in Palma de Mallorca, Spain. Then a couple of months ago I fell off my bike when riding home from a local brewery with friends one night, and I fractured one of my ribs.

Very minor inconveniences, if you ask me. All of them were totally worth it. 
Last weekend the boyfriend and I ran in a Zombie infested 5k mud run. Surprisingly I don’t have any injuries beyond a lightly skinned knee from crawling under barbed wire. No pics either, because we were both too muddy to handle a phone. If you’ve ever wondered, sprinting from and dodging zombies through mud is not easy. Throw in some walls to hop over, electric fences to slide under, and muddy hills to climb up/slide down, and you’ve got a serious full body work out– not to mention an AWESOME Sunday morning!

It’s been a week since I returned home from Guatemala, and it feels about right to take a week to absorb, process, and reflect on the entire experience.

 Spoiler alert: It was awesome and life-changing and challenging and inspiring.

 I’ve been on this trip before, in 2008, so one would assume that a second time around the same place with some of the same people wouldn’t be as deserving of so many superlatives. I traveled to Guatemala with an organization called Xela Aid, an organization founded 20 years ago when volunteers set up medical clinics in the fields of San Martin, a village in the Guatemalan highlands. During that time, Guatemala was engaged in what is now called the “Internal Armed Conflict,” and people already living in impoverished areas were facing a bloody civil war. Today, that violence has ended, and Xela Aid has constructed a health clinic and study center in San Martin Chiquito.
 

  Volunteers with Xela Aid travel to San Martin Chiquito to help in various ways; some trips are medical aid trips, and ours was education-centered. The village has four education centers: La Guardaria, which is like a preschool/ daycare, Primeria, which is like an elementary school, Basico, which is sort of like junior high, and the study center, located inside the clinic, which is for Primeria kids to engage in extra-curricular activities, receive help in their studies, and to encourage their Spanish and Mam fluency.

An important detail to know about Guatemala is that while Spanish is the official language, there are 21 different Mayan languages spoken throughout the nation; in San Martin, the Mayan language is Mam. In order to earn an education and conduct business throughout Guatemala, it is important to know Spanish. However, by emphasizing Spanish-only education, you risk a language dying out within generations. Thus, the study center and Basico have lessons in both Spanish and Mam, which I think is really, really awesome.

  Each morning for the week I (along with two Sarahs, Amber, and Coraline) worked with the youngest kids at La Guardaria. Let me just say, teaching preschoolers is hard work. Teaching preschoolers when you don’t speak the same language as them is ridiculously challenging. I have been working on my Spanish little by little, and had a Spanish tutor there, but nothing describes futility like when you’re trying to figure out why one little girl is crying (asking “Que pasa?” works, but it doesn’t help when you can’t understand the answer) or trying to keep two little boys from running around and pushing the other kids (“Sea sympatico!” isn’t as articulate as I needed it to be).
 Some things are universal, though. Namely, sidewalk chalk and bubbles!
 

Also, birthday cake.

 
 That picture never fails to make me grin.

 In the afternoons some of us helped Terry give his presentation on first aid to the Basico kids. Terry is an awesome ER nurse in Long Beach, and don’t believe him when he says his Spanish is awful. He put together first aid kits for the classes, and gave a presentation on basic first aid. If my Spanish didn’t quite work when trying to communicate at preschool-level vocabulary, you can bet that I wasn’t as useful as I’d like to be when teaching young teenagers how to tie a sling. Somehow it worked though, or at least I hope. They might end up treating cuts and burns with a sling, but at least those kids know how to tie them! The timing worked out well, since San Martin had an earthquake drill at the Primeria and some sort of municipal center that week. They may not have been as over-organized as the drills like the Great California Shake Out we have here, but I was impressed with their potato sack/ broom handle stretchers. Hey, when it comes to saving lives, whatever works, right? Their resourcefulness is one of my favorite traits about the people in Guatemala.

On one of the evenings, our group was lucky to have a local speaker come and give a lecture about the history of Guatemala and the Mayan people. I’d known already that it was pretty awful, but I learned even more about what a dark history they have had, and even typing about it makes me want to cry. So instead, if you’re interested (and prepared to become very angry) I suggest reading Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala.

A fter learning about the plight of Mayan people, I think we all felt especially honored to hike with the kids from Basico to Laguna Chicabal, which is a sacred lake in the crater of a volcano. In fact, it is the center of the Mam-Mayan Cosmovision, which if you ask me, is seriously legit. Some of the kids were so excited to take us there, even offering a hand when the trail got steep or slippery. Walking the final stretch to the lake hand in hand with Katya is one of those memories that I know will forever mean to me more than I can describe. Her patience, friendliness, and generosity were so inspiring to me, and it was just so amazing to get to experience this lake that has so much meaning.
 This is us as we got to the lake (note that the hike wasn’t exactly an easy one):

That’s a cool picture of some kids sitting on a tree that grows over the lake. It was foggy that day, which added a nice mystique to a sacred lake. 🙂

 On Saturday, the kids from the study center met us at the zoo, and we had a picnic and played games. I looked at animals with a girl named Juana, who read all the signs to me, since she could tell my Spanish wasn’t so great and assumed I couldn’t read the signs either. 🙂 The sad part about that is that it might also be indicative of the low levels of adult literacy that the kids are accustomed to…

 But here is Juana, on a slide:

Hehe!

We spent our last few days in Guatemala at Lake Atitlan, which really is a beautiful, beautiful place.

 
That’s Terry, and yes, those are bags of coffee on his head.

 I’ve left out so many of the fun details and stories that come to mind when I think of that trip. I realize, though, that I run the risk of too many “You had to be there” moments, and yeah, you really had to be there. So you should go some time. But really, I understand that I was incredibly lucky to get to have this experience, and because of it, the one thing that I wish for people who know me is that some of you learn more about the history of the Guatemala and its wonderful people, or that you find a way to help out other people who don’t share the same fortune as you do. Or maybe just show some compassion, in general, to anyone. Compassion and understanding lead to some of the most beautiful moments in life.

 *To be clear, I actually really admire Anthony Bourdain. It’s just that this experience was legit and made me feel cool like that.

There is nothing that I can say about the horrible events at the Boston marathon yesterday that hasn’t already been said or will in any way make it easier to process. That is just the thing, how do you process such an event?

This post is more for future me, who will maybe some day be able to process this. This is especially for future me who in exactly 2 months will cross my first marathon finish line. That finish line has been on my mind for several months; every time I want to give up, I think about how it will feel on June 16th to cross that line and know that my hard work paid off. Knowing that others share that same dream and motivation is what establishes such a strong community and bond among runners.

So to think that someone would deliberately hurt people at the very place that symbolizes human strength and spirit, to target those who have sacrificed so much for so many months, and those who came to support and congratulate their loved ones for the hard work… it’s just too much.

June 16th is going to be a bittersweet day, and as I cross that finish line, those whose lives were destroyed by that same dream will definitely be on my mind.

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As you drive up the 101 past Morrow Bay and through the hills to San Luis Obispo, you will spot one of my favorite landmarks: The Madonna Inn. 

As a child I was fascinated by the building and begged my grandparents to let us stop there. They always chuckled and kept driving as I watched the pink gingerbread house– named after my favorite pop star!– fade into the highway.

But now that I am a grown woman, I am free to stop in whenever I want.
The Madonna Inn has been around since 1958. The history states that the original owner is quoted as having said, “I want people to come in with a smile and leave with a smile. It’s fun.” And you can’t help but smile inside this place.
It’s… pink. Aggressively pink. Awesomely, aggressively, pink.
I’ve never stayed overnight; the bar itself is plenty for me. 
I mean, where else can you find a pink bar?!


(The sweet potato fries are really good, too. I am usually disappointed by sweet potato fries, but Madonna Inn fries are just as awesome as the pink bar.)
And then there is the dining room…
But the most famous sight of all is the men’s restroom. I asked C to go in and take a picture for me, but he instead took video that was not appropriate for this bar, so here’s proof from the internet of the famous waterfall urinal:

The rooms are equally awesome; each has its own theme. The Madonna Inn’s website has a grid of different room amenities–proof that I am not making this up. Here are some pictures from their site of some of the rooms:

If you enjoy kitsch, pink, gooey desserts smothered in frosting and sprinkles, and watching old couples dancing cheek to cheek (and if you don’t, I probably don’t want to know you), then you MUST stop in and check out the Madonna Inn. 
* all photos, unless otherwise noted, are from my Galaxy S III. Follow me on Instagram for more!

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Saturday, April 13th was my birthday and well, you know what that means! 
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Even though I don’t like getting older, I still celebrate BIG. Including using the line “It’s My Birthday Week” at least a thousand times. (HA, ya my husband LOVES that)
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Remember how a couple of weeks ago I was so excited about the deep fried pickles I had in a pub in Big Sur?

Well I have been craving them since. But since I am no longer on vacation, I can’t indulge in every fried food craving I get (believe me, that’s all I’d eat).  Enter Pinterest, where a quick search of “fried pickles” brought me dozens of recipes. What I concocted is my combination of a few recipes, with my favorite secret weapon added in.

Here’s what you need:

  • Pickle chips, either the classic sandwich kind of bread and butter pickles. I experimented with both, and they each tasted good to me; just depends on your taste.
  • About 3/4 cup of wheat flower
  • about 1 1/2 cups of Panko bread crumbs
  • 2 egg whites
  • your favorite hot sauce
  • Parmesan cheese, if you’re feeling it
  • And probably my newest favorite ingredient, this:
If you can get your hands on this smoke seasoning, do it! It adds an incredible smoky spice that isn’t overwhelming and is phenomenal when mixed in with the bread crumbs in this recipe.
So here’s what you do:
Preheat your oven to broil, and spray non-stick cooking spray on wire racks, then put them on top of a baking sheet.
Whisk some egg whites together, and add in your favorite hot sauce (for these I like Frank’s Hot Sauce) and some salt and pepper.
In a shallow bowl, mix the bread crumbs with the smoke seasoning and the Parmesan cheese, and set up another shallow bowl with some flour.
Then dredge each pickle through flour, dip into the egg mixture, then coat with the bread crumb mixture. Place the coated pickles on the wire rack, and broil for about 3 minutes, then flip them over and broil about 3 more minutes.

Voila! A guilt-free snack that is perfect for summer BBQs and lazy weekend afternoons. They’re great dipped in ranch dressing (TJ’s had a low fat Parmesan ranch dressing that is good, or you can also make a healthy concoction of your own from greek yogurt and your favorite seasonings). 

And yes, I totally double dipped this bad boy!

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When I first started running as a chubby teenager trying to shed some pounds, I liked how running required the least amount of equipment. After all, running is the most basic of human activities, so you should be able to just lace up some good shoes, take a water bottle with you, and just go.

I continued running off and on in my 20s, and that remained the case. Throughout that decade, how I listened to music along the way evolved; first I clipped an ipod to my waistband, then it got smaller and the shuffle clipped to my shirt, then it got bigger again as my phone became a part of it, and I banded my phone to my arm. Other than that though, equipment never really changed as I would run on average 3-4 miles to keep in shape.

But now that I am training for my first marathon, I am realizing that it requires a lot more gear. Without investing in the following, I would not be able to run more than 10 miles:

A good sports bra.

I have big boobs, so proper support while running has always been an issue. Since they don’t make many sports bras that can really hold my ta-tas securely in place, I used to wear a cotton underwire bra underneath a medium- support sports bra. But after running several miles, that Ian issue. The bra underneath began to rub and dig in painfully underneath my breasts, to the point where it left huge blisters and even rubbed the skin raw. A blister between the boobs is not something anyone should ever experience. It also rubbed painfully deep grooves into my shoulders. I learned the hard way that investing more money into a very supportive sports bra is the only way to go.

Running socks.
I used to think socks were socks, and I just wore plain Hanes white cotton socks while running. Like the boob situation, I had to learn from painful blisters that not all socks are the same.

I use these and have not had any foot blisters since. I was resistant at first because they’re pretty pricey for socks, but, my tootsies are so happy I did.
Water.
When I used to run shorter distances I would either drink water just after a run, strategically hide a water bottle,  or carry a bottle with me. None of those work when you’re running 15 miles. For me, the most comfortable device is one of these waist packs.
I like this one with the two bottles; they sit at about where your kidneys are and the curve of the pack and the bottles make them pretty comfortable. I should be upgrading soon to one of the 4 bottle belts, but since my run takes me through state and city beaches, there are water fountains every 1/4 mile, so I usually just refill my bottles during the run. Something about the 4 bottle belt reminds me too much of Duff Man from The Simpsons:
Snacks.
When I realized that you need to consume something during a long run, at first I was like, whaaa? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose? But I quickly learned after running more than 10 miles that yes, you need to refuel at some point. For instance, according to my run keeper app, my run yesterday burned 1800+ calories. You need something along the way to keep your potassium and electrolyte levels up. So far I use these:
They’re a strip of gummy chews that you can break off and chew very quickly. I like the texture and the flavor of them, but I haven’t tried many other products, so I am open to suggestions. I also bring along with me a packet of iodized salt (you know those little packets you can find at fast food restaurants) for a salt lick,  and I add just a little (less than half) of a small bottle of zero-calorie Powerade to my water. 
Body Glide.
Okay, so I was a little embarrassed at first about buying this. I chalked it up to having fat thighs and hoped that several weeks of training would eliminate my need for this. It doesn’t work that way. Everyone, even skinny people, chafe from running long distances. Sweaty skin rubbing against sweaty skin = chafing, and it doesn’t mean you’re fat if you experience it. 
A flashlight headband
Does it look dorky? Yes. But is it a good idea? Absolutely. Running on streets during the day is dangerous enough as it is, but at night, you’re just asking to get hit by a car or to trip on uneven road. Safety first, yo.
I am learning so much as I go about what it takes to make it to 26.2 miles. Are there other products that I should know about? Has anything worked well for you?

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High Five for Friday

I am one of those annoying people who doesn’t work Fridays. I can feel your scorn through the screen, and it’s cool; I understand.
However, this week has been a busy one, and so I am really looking forward to the weekend…filled with grading papers.

But still, there are a few things that made me smile this week…

1. My indoor succulent garden.

I still need to find a new pot for the aloe, but I love these happy little succulents on the table behind the couch. I like knowing that I can at least keep these guys alive– and if I can’t, well, then that makes me less nurturing than the desert, which will be pretty sad…
2. Philosophy’s Help Me night cream.
This small tube may be a little bit expensive, but it does wonders. As I am now in my 30s, I worry about fine lines and sun damage. Also, because I take BC pills, I sometimes get dark spots from “pregnancy mask” that  I am paranoid will look like a mustache! This night cream has faded those dark spots and smoothed out my skin. 
3. Fun with Amazon product reviews. If you want to laugh until you cry, read the reviews on these ridiculous pens:
4. My April Birch Box arriving yesterday.
Yes that glass of wine with it was totally necessary. Birch Box totally nailed it this month; I have been looking for a new eye cream and a good SPF day moisturizer, and I can’t wait to try these out. The body gel smells wonderful, and the gluten-free macaroons were a pleasant surprise. I can’t use the shampoo (Keratin, remember) but I am sure one of my girlfriends will be happy to take those samples off my hands. 
5. This gif. For some reason I can’t stop watching it, and I dare you to not smile at this:
Hehehe!
And here’s something to get your booty shakin’ into the weekend:

Happy Friday!  
And since it’s Friday and we all love Fridays, we thought it would be fun to offer a fabulous giveaway!
I’ve teamed up with a few lovely ladies to offer you a $75 PayPal Cash Giveaway! 
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Big Sur, California

If you live in California and buy a new car, the only real way to celebrate and to break it in is to take to the winding roads of Highway 1 on the central coast.

As you snake above the sea cliffs, you might find yourself imagining you are racing through Monte Carlo; even better is when you remember where you are and what lies ahead.

As you twist along the rocky coast, North of San Simeon and South of Carmel you will find yourself in Big Sur, one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

Last week C and I did just that, to break in the Tesla and visit one of my favorite escapes. We set out to test the range and availability of charging stations, and fortunately found ourselves in good supply of electricity when needed.

As much as I hate to use the tired cliche, Big Sur truly is like no place on the planet. It is where the Redwood Forrest meats the Pacific Ocean, where the mountains really have crumbled to the sea. It is where the Beat Poets shared rowdy nights of drinking and found inspiration in the roaring of the sea, where Hunter S. Thompson and Henry Miller found much needed solitude. It is where you go to breathe, to really breathe, and the air has a delicious woodsy, salty, fogginess that simultaneously envelopes and invigorates you.

One of the southern most parks, Julia Pfeiffer Burns park, holds what is probably the most iconic view of Big Sur:

McWay Falls

There are many places to stay; we found that Big Sur campgrounds/RV park/ cabins fit our needs. (RV parks are a perfect place to recharge an electric car!) Here we cozied up in a small cabin nestled among the redwoods.


To the north, you can find the Point Lobos nature reserve, where you can spot otters frolicking in the sea (though you might need binoculars to see them).


Andrew Molera State Park has one of my all time favorite hikes. You can begin by taking a flat path across a creek, through a meadow to the sea shore. (A pair of fawns seemed to find that trail as lovely as we did.)


Once you reach the shore, you can hike for several miles through the bluffs and enjoy spectacular views. If you make a little detour off to the Spring Trail that will take you along a spring at the bottom of a canyon. If you discover a massive piling of driftwood that looks like this, climb over it. Trust me.

Once you get past it, you will find yourself alone on a secluded beach, where the crimson rocks from the mountains above have eroded onto the sand to create patches of purple sand, the likes of which can only be found in Big Sur.

After a long day of hiking (and it will be long if you complete that loop) the famed Nepenthe restaurant is a wonderful place to refuel and enjoy a glass of wine on the panoramic deck that overlooks the ocean. The fog had rolled in by the time we were dining, so rather than watching the sun dip into the Pacific, we watched the thick whipped cream of the clouds lick the cliffs below us–which in my opinion was an even more impressive view.

Just across the highway from Nepenthe is the Henry Miller Memorial Library, a beautiful garden/bookstore/homage to the bohemian lifestyle Big Sur has become known for. It is the perfect place to read, contemplate, and/or enjoy a cup of tea, where books hang from the ceiling and a fat, indifferent cat named Theo “does as he pleases.”

Contented sigh…

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