What I’ve been reading, February 2014

Today’s post is brought to you by, Grammerly! I use Grammerly’s plagiarism checker because the only time copying is okay is when you’re stealing my top knot tutorial. Thanks, Grammerly!

The month is winding down (thank goodness…does anyone love February? And this one has been especially brutal), which means it’s time for the most recent installment about what has been flipping through my Kindle lately. Ready? And GO:

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
What it’s about: This is a multi-perspective story that jumps back and forth between past and present. In the past, an Italian small-time hotelier crosses paths with a hauntingly beautiful American actress who bears a secret. They’re together for just over a day before she is torn away from him by a budding director (and Richard Burton, incidentally), but he is never able to fully escape her memory. In the future, that budding director has made a name for himself creating the types of TV shows most of us admit watching with sheepish grins, and his production assistant is ready to quit her soul-sucking job when a handsome wannabe film writer and an elderly Italian man stumble into her office late one night, each with his own mission to reclaim a life he used to think was out of reach.

What I thought: I really admire the way Jess Walter can paint a lifetime in just a few words. She never overwhelms with details, but her writing style is more what I would describe as impressionist — a fleeting glimpse manages to tell you an entire story. And this particular story is packed with truly lovely moments of despair and redemption that captured my attention completely. Highly recommend.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
What it’s about: After the disappearance of Bernadette Fox, a notorious PTA-torturing, impulsive decision-making, revolutionary building-designing wife and mother in Seattle, her daughter sets out to follow a paper trail of emails, notes, and official documents that led up to what made her mysteriously vanish. The resulting compilation results in a story that is equal parts touchingly relatable and laugh-out-loud absurd. But as to whether it leads to Bernadette…well, you’ll have to read to find out.

What I thought: I love love love this book. The character portrayals are so hilariously vivid, and the way the story is laid out is unique without being difficult to follow. It’s an easy read (pick it up for your next vacation), but still whip-smart in a way that keeps you engrossed until the very end.

Wild (From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail) by Cheryl Strayed
What it’s about: At 22, Cheryl Strayed’s life has fallen apart. After the devastating death of her mother, she starts down a self-destructive path of drugs and infidelity that leads to a divorce and depression. In an effort to take control of her life again, Cheryl impulsively decided to hike 1,100 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail — completely alone — for three months.

What I thought: I had mixed feelings about this one. On one hand, it’s a tremendous adventure. I had just started training for my marathon when I started reading it, so in a weird way, I could relate to her physical struggles through inclement weather, constant exhaustion, and near ravenous hunger. I also appreciate a fair amount of self-reflection as much as the next gal. What I didn’t like…is that there isn’t that much of a story here. I feel bad saying that because it was obviously such a huge moment in time for the author, and I’m sure if I had gone through something similar, it would have meant more to me. But the bulk of this book is self-redemption. The trail hiking itself is merely environment, and I guess I had hoped for more of a story there. I think my feelings were entirely personal because I have a hard time relating to and sympathizing with self-destructive people, so in the end, I didn’t really like Cheryl all that much. But it’s still an interesting book about an interesting experience. If you’ve read it, I’d love to know if you’re in the camp of people who wanted to hike the trail after you’d finished, or if it made you swear off hiking ever.

Wool Omnibus Edition by Hugh Howey
What it’s about: You should have known I couldn’t go a whole month without a single science fiction novel. Wool Omnibus Edition is actually a collection of five short stories that Hugh Howey initially released online. As their popularity grew, a publisher purchased the stories, but Hugh apparently put it in his contract that they had to remain available online. I’m only sharing that anecdote because it made me like Howey even more — he loves his fans.

Anyway, the story. It’s set in the (not-too-distant) future, when society lives in an underground silo that stretches 150 stories into the earth. No one is allowed to go outside because some kind of disaster has rendered the planet unlivable — there’s something in the air that eats through just about anything, and the landscape that is visible through a variety of cameras stationed outside the silo is entirely barren and hostile. It’s illegal to even suggest the thought of going outside, and the punishment is that you are “put to cleaning,” meaning you don a special suit designed to let you live outside for a limited time so you can clean the cameras for the rest of the silo’s benefit. Then, without exception, the atmosphere eats through your suit and you die on one of the surrounding hills in full view of the cameras you just cleaned. But, of course, that isn’t the whole story, and the when the silo’s new sheriff steps into the shoes of the most recent cleaning victim, she starts to figure out there’s more to the silo and its origin than meets the eye.

What I thought: You have so many questions from the start of this book, it’s nearly impossible to stop reading. There are so many mysteries to be uncovered about what is really going on, plus enough harrowing moments where lives literally hang in the balance, it’s not the kind of book you casually read. I would recommend this if you’re one of those people who likes books about how we’ve destroyed the planet and have to figure out how to go on. (That should really be its own genre, don’t you think?)

First Shift/Second Shift by Hugh Howey
What it’s about: These two books are the prequels to the Wool series. There’s actually a Third Shift that I haven’t read yet (because my brother hasn’t sent it to me…hint hint). But these books answer a lot of the questions the other five stories leave behind, including what led up to the destruction of the earth and the existence of the silos. Apparently the third book is what really ties them together chronologically, but I’ll let you know for sure when I read it.

What I thought: If you liked the other ones, you will like these. And yes, you should read them in the same order I did. Knowing how things end up actually made these two books easier to follow for me.

What have you been reading?

Marathon Training Update: 18 Miles

I’m not going to lie — I’m in a bit of pain as I write this post.

Saturday’s run was another personal best in terms if distance, an (at times) grueling 18 miles. Now that I’ve crossed into the second half of my training schedule, it’s like play time is over. These runs mean business.

Two days before my run, I attended a class at a new (to me) gym called Revolution in Motion through my ClassPass. The session was designed around movements that strengthen and stretch muscles to help prevent injury. I ended up being the only person to show (7:30 a.m. is early, yo), so the class wound up being a completely personalized session. The trainer gave me a few moves to counteract my plantar faciitis, which has been acting up a bit lately, and gave me a foam incline board to stretch at home. Plus, he was from Queens, so we bantered about our favorite restaurants. All in all, a good experience.

Saturday was D-day. As I mentioned at the outset, this run was not easy. Originally, Diana and I had planned to run on a trail I like in Long Island, but it turns out it hadn’t been plowed at all. Instead, we headed to the Bronx to the start of the West Side Highway Running Path, planning to run nine miles down and back. The first three miles were weirdly uncomfortable (I think I was thrown off by the unsuccessful morning), but then we shook it off and I felt pretty good until mile 12. Then…well, then things took a turn.

Can I just say that realizing you have to run six more miles despite being deeply uncomfortable might be one of the worst feelings ever?

I ended up slogging through (I stopped to walk a couple of times…knowing that I had to start running again is also in the running for one of the worst feelings ever), and finally finished a few minutes after Diana. I then spent most of that evening horizontal before collapsing into bed at 10:00 pm. I party hard, you guys.

I felt equally incapacitated Sunday, but a morning spin class at Revolve Fitness (that I initially regretted deeply upon opening my eyes that morning) turned out to be just the thing to loosen everything up. Who knew?

This morning, I feel pretty much back to normal. I took a core/stretching class before work, and I have to run five miles tonight, but I’m not dreading that nearly as much as I thought I would Saturday night.

It’s almost like I’m getting stronger or something.

Only six more weeks to go!

I’m a fraud.

542964_757901048401_247547036_n

Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing it all wrong.

If, five/ten/fifteen years from now, I’ll look back on every single thing I did in my twenties and think, “Oh, honey.”

Did I take the wrong path? Pursue the wrong friendships? Rent the wrong apartment? Cut the bangs when I should have left well enough alone?

Clearly some of these things are more important than the others.

My dad refers to this fear another way: Sometimes I wonder if I’m a fraud.

It’s not an outlandish notion. I already look back on 21-year-old Justine and 24-year-old Justine and wonder what she was thinking. Who that girl was.

How she could be so certain.

I think (in my infinite, 26-and-a-half-year-old wisdom) that maybe this sensation is how you really know you’re growing up. It doesn’t have anything to do with the size of your 401K or whether or not you own your home or how many gray hairs you plucked out of your skull in the mirror this morning.

It’s the crushing realization that you don’t know anything and you’re not in control. It’s finally understanding (and worse, relating) to people twice your age thinking that youth is wasted on the young.

Anyone who has read my blog in the last month is probably picking up on this theme of existential blog posts. We’re getting kind of heavy on you over here. Apologies. The weird part is, I’m so happy these days. So happy, that maybe I’m looking for problems to solve. That wouldn’t be so unlike me. (See also: I’m terrible at contentment.)

I’m going to move away from this line of posting for a while, I think. But I guess I just want y’all to know it’s not all scones and top knots over here.

Sometimes it’s just me. Figuring it out.

Sigh

{photo by figment art photography}

The post in which I release all of the feelings.

I need to let a few things out.

In the immortal words of white girls everywhere, I’m over it.

I’m over the cold. Do you know how cold this winter has been? No one in New York remembers a winter like this in the last ten years or more.

That’s how cold.

It just keeps snowing, and the temperature keeps not budging above thirty. It’s a sick joke.

Speaking of sick jokes, here’s another one: No matter how cold it gets, I still have to train for a marathon.

That means one to two runs a week in the biting cold, wondering just how many times I can lose feeling in the tip of my nose before it just falls off. It means that at least once a week, I spend hours in literally freezing temperatures wearing various layers of spandex and fleece and telling myself that it’s not that bad.

And let’s talk about those hours. I’m getting tired, y’all. The last month, I’ve been leaving my apartment about half an hour later than normal because, when my alarm goes off at the usual time, my brain just rejects that it is time to get up. My body refuses to swing my legs to the floor and vacate the bed because I’m so dang tired and did I mention it’s cold out there?

Because, oh, another thing: My apartment is freezing. The super keeps playing dumb like we’re imagining that our thermometer says it’s below sixty degrees. Like maybe we won’t notice. But I notice.

And then when we complain, the heaters magically turns on for a few hours. And then it shuts off and we start the song and dance again.

I am tired of this dance and I hate this song.

And you know what else? In an effort to avoid exposing my tired, cold skin to even more frigid air, I foolishly decided taking the bus eight blocks would be smarter than walking this morning after a 7-mile outdoor run. I then sat on said bus for an hour before finally giving up at ninth avenue, meaning I STILL ended up walking five blocks in the cold. I COULD MURDER SOMETHING RIGHT NOW.

Pfffoooo.

My apologies for this spree of negativity. I promise to do better next time.

How to: Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Scones

You guys know my friend Diana, right? (Of Burpee Thursday and Philly Half and Avocado Toast fame?)

So you know that she’s an animal when it comes to working out and has great taste in appetizers. Well, one thing you might not know is that she’s allergic to gluten. (For realsies, not just because it’s trendy.) And while I am not and am, in fact, pro-gluten in most cases, being friends with Diana has made me much more gluten-aware.

It has also exposed me to a whole new way of cooking. Because on top of being super fit and having great hair, Di can also cook like a boss.

One thing I’ve grown especially fond of? Her gluten-free dark chocolate chip scones.

Her recipe is (gently) adapted from the Chocolate Chip Scone recipe in The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook. Last night, I finally tried making them myself.

The problem was, I couldn’t find almond flour. I went to two different stores and they were both out. So I substituted quinoa flour, which meant changing a few other things in the recipe. (Side note: Experimentation in baking is HARD. This is why I never bake.) I’ve included both variations below.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Almond Flour Chocolate Chip Scones

Ingredients:
3 1/2 cups blanched almond flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup grapeseed oil
1/4 cup agave nectar
2 large eggs
1 cup coarsely chopped dark chocolate

1. Preheat the oven to 300°F. Line large baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Combine the almond flour, salt, and baking soda. In a second bowl, whisk together the grapeseed oil, agave nectar, and eggs. Stir the wet ingredients into the almond flour mixture until thoroughly combined, then fold in the chocolate.

3. Form the scones (about 1/2 cup batter each) and place on baking sheet 2 inches apart. You could make the scones smaller, but you’ll probably just end up eating two anyway.

4. Bake for 12 to 17 minutes, until golden brown or a toothpick inserted into the center of a scone comes out clean. Let the scones cool before serving.

Quinoa Flour Chocolate Chip Scones

Ingredients:
3 cups quinoa flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup grapeseed oil
1/3 cup agave nectar
3 large eggs, 1 egg white
1 cup coarsely chopped dark chocolate

Preparation instructions are the same as above, but heat the oven to 350°F and bake about 15-20 minutes until golden brown or a toothpick inserted into the center of a scone comes out clean.

If I’m totally honest, I prefer the almond flour version. The quinoa flour tastes a bit like, well, quinoa. It’s still good and ridiculously hearty, but a bit rice-ier. Both options are incredibly satisfying, though, especially because the dark chocolate makes you feel like you’re eating a cookie. You could also add a tablespoon of flax for some extra fiber, dried cranberries or cherries for tartness, or chopped nuts for a crunchier texture.

Enjoy!

Marathon Training Update: 16 Miles

Marathon training presses on.

Saturday, I set a new personal record for distance: 16 miles.

All in all, it wasn’t that bad. Diana and I were able to schedule the same time to run, so that always helps. (There is nothing lonelier than two hours of solo running.) And for about 90% of the run, I felt pretty great.

Until the final two miles rolled around. Then my hips and knees started feeling tight and sore, and the 30-degree weather I had been ignoring seemed to kick it up a notch.

We crossed the 16-mile mark cold and uncomfortable, but we crossed it.

I’m not feeling too bad about it, though. When I did the 14 miles, I had a similar experience where only the last two were a little painful. Hopefully it’s a trend that continues.

It’s true what everyone says, though, marathon training is a mental game. Diana and I have started this thing where we’ll pretend we’re just starting to run mid-way through a long run. For example, on Saturday’s 16, after four we said (out loud) that we were just going to do two six mile runs real quick. Then at 11, Diana turns to me and says, “Do you want to do a quick five-mile run?”

It sounds corny, but it helps to break up the trek.

We’ve also started experimenting with eating whilst we run. I’ve never done this before (I rarely even stop for water during half-marathons), and it’s a little strange. On Saturday, I ate about four Swedish Fish (two at mile seven, two at mile 12). I don’t love candy on a normal day, but the extra sugar did help. Next long run, I might try one of those sports chews or something. I still can’t get on board with the goos.

Any recommendations from my runner friends?

I’ve got three weeks until the first 20-miler (which I honestly can’t even think about right now) with two 12-mile runs and an 18 in between. BUT, I’m about halfway through with training.

Right now, let’s just focus on these pretty pictures of paris, okay? Okay.

2302cecd1e04bcf6b759998aaf49348c

bd147236fc59715cda2c66557a3be195

160d4f0fce6dcc8147d7af9a5e35f02b

{image sources here, here, and here.)

This is where I am.

773fe0c54d172ece43b650048a3daef6

Well, if nothing else, my post about dealing with disappointment was a great reminder of just how wonderful my support system is. Many of my friends reached out to me, but not just to try to bolster my own confidence. They also shared their own stories of feeling inadequate, increasing my confidence that, you know, sometimes we just feel this way.

In one of these conversations, a friend of mine remarked, “You’ve just accomplished too much before 30.”

That thought struck me for some reason. For pretty much all of my life, I’ve defined myself by my goals, projects, and what I’m working toward. Right up to your early twenties, that path is almost mapped out for you with school, job hunting, starts of serious relationships, etc. After you hit your mid- to late-twenties, though, there isn’t really a map anymore.

Sure, you can start thinking about kids, but you don’t have to. Yes, you can buy a house. But a lot of people also don’t.

Basically, for the first time ever, I don’t really have a five-year plan. Lately, I feel pretty good if I can tell you where I’ll be in a year.

And that’s…weird.

But maybe it’s better to be aware that that’s what’s bothering me. So I can add it to my goal of “letting things go” more. (Yup, only I could make a goal of not relying so much on goals. It’s a sickness.)

Anyway. I just didn’t want my most recent post to be such a downer. You know, in case I get hit by a bus or something before I can update again.

How creepy will it be if I get hit by a bus after writing this? I’m going to be extra careful on my commute home.

I think, mostly, I just want to go back to feeling awesome. Feeling like I know what I’m doing and where I’m going and that I have it all together. Not feel like a fraud in any of those things. Basically, I think I need to reignite the Happiness Project. That’s a goal I can get behind.

The point is, I’m in a better place a couple of days after writing that other post. I know everything will be fine. It pretty much always is.

{image source}