Friday, September 19, 2014

Book review: Ash

Ash by Malinda Lo

Description from Goodreads (below) can be found here along with other reviews. Add me on Goodreads!

Cinderella retold

In the wake of her father's death, Ash is left at the mercy of her cruel stepmother. Consumed with grief, her only joy comes by the light of the dying hearth fire, rereading the fairy tales her mother once told her. In her dreams, someday the fairies will steal her away, as they are said to do. When she meets the dark and dangerous fairy Sidhean, she believes that her wish may be granted.

The day that Ash meets Kaisa, the King's Huntress, her heart begins to change. Instead of chasing fairies, Ash learns to hunt with Kaisa. Though their friendship is as delicate as a new bloom, it reawakens Ash's capacity for love-and her desire to live. But Sidhean has already claimed Ash for his own, and she must make a choice between fairy tale dreams and true love.

Entrancing, empowering, and romantic, Ash is about the connection between life and love, and solitude and death, where transformation can come from even the deepest grief.

I love retellings of fairy tales. In fact, when I was reading Ash, I was also reading Cinder -- two vastly different retellings of Cinderella.

Ash is much closer to the original Cinderella. Ash is young when her mother dies, and soon after, her father remarries. But, as with the traditional fairy tale, he soon passes too, and Ash is left with a cruel stepmother who blames her and her father for the crippling debt she’s left with. So (no surprises here), she forces Ash to become her servant.

I liked Ash a lot. It takes the traditional tale of Cinderella and infuses it with a lot more fairy magic. It also focuses a lot on the King’s huntsmen -- and, in particular, Ash’s relationship with the King’s Huntress. The tone of the book is mystical, and it adds a lot to the traditional story. The Goodreads summary calls it “Entrancing, empowering, and romantic,” and I definitely agree!

I liked that Ash was Cinderella, but not -- Ash runs with fairies, and (a bit of a spoiler) doesn’t fall for the prince and live happily ever after. Ash brings a bit of diversity to the world of YA, and it’s really well done. I gave Ash four stars. 

Have any of you read Ash? What did you think?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Gym Pact App Review

Hello friends!

Have you all heard of the app Pact / Gym Pact? A few months ago, everyone was talking about it! I recently started using it and wanted to put my thoughts out there for anyone who is interested in trying it out.

When the app first came out, it was called Gym Pact, but I think they're rebranding to just call it Pact. Using this app, you set a goal for yourself for healthy behaviors you want to practice through the week: a certain number of times you want to work out, a certain number of days you want to log what you eat, or a number of veggies you want to eat throughout the week.

If you miss your goal, you pay up. When you make your "pact," you choose how much you want to pay for each day you miss. The lowest option is $5/day missed. So if I say I want to work out four times a week and then only do twice, that's $10 I have to pay up.

If you hit your goal, you get paid!

When Pact was all the rage a few months ago, I was hesitant to sign up. When I was training for big races, I wanted to be able to take rest days when I needed to and not worry about my Pact. But I recently signed up, thinking I could make money off something I should doing anyway.

So far, I really like using Pact! I have made pacts to work out and to log my food.

When I work out, I either use RunKeeper, which syncs with Pact to record my workout, or the motion tracker built in to Pact. One thing I didn't notice immediately is that the motion tracker is literally tracking your motion so if your phone doesn't move enough, even though you might be working out, it won't count. It also draaaains your battery. So mostly I've used RunKeeper and then synced my workouts. There's also another option to use GPS to identify your gym and show that you're there for long enough, but I haven't used that option.

For logging your food, Pact syncs with MyFitnessPal, which I've used before, so that's super easy. You do have to log three meals and at least 1200 calories, but that hasn't been a problem for me.

I haven't used Pact to count my veggies yet. From what I can tell, you take a picture of yourself eating fruits/veggies and other users vote on whether your picture is legit.

You don't make TONS of money using Pact. In the first week I used it, I made $1.25, the second week $1.28. I think you have to earn at least $10 before you can get paid. But it has been a good motivator for me to move my body since I'm not training for a race right now. I've returned to my days of walking during my lunch breaks (if you remember that, you've been here a LONG time!) and that counts toward my Pact!

Do any of you use Pact? What do you think?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Hiking Mt. St. Helens

Climbing Mt. St. Helens was kind of like running my marathon. Or what I imagine having a baby is like. If you remembered how difficult it was or remembered the pain, you would never do it again.

But, with over three months having passed since we climbed, the pain is a fuzzy part of the overall happy memory.

I already wrote about the surprise that waited for me at the top of the mountain, but I wanted to talk about the climb a little bit, just in case someone else has been talked into climbing and wants to know what they’ve gotten themselves into.

I’m here for you, friend.

So, here’s the climbing part of the story.

Originally, Pat and I had wanted to climb in the summer when there would be less, if any, snow, but due to his summer school schedule, we climbed May 22.

If all this is too long -- if you just want a summary -- it’s this: if you’re a super experienced hiker, you can do this hike without too much difficulty. If not, it will be very challenging. My two biggest tips are wear sunscreen and wear sunglasses. Me and Pat learned the hard way.


To hike Mt. St. Helens, you have to buy a permit. They sell out pretty quickly for weekends and holidays, but we didn’t have any issue with buying them for a random Thursday. Still, we purchased our tickets in February to hike in May.

I didn’t hike regularly in preparation -- hard to hike in Kansas -- but it was only a couple weeks after my marathon, so I knew that my legs were in great shape. It was the altitude that would get me.

Pat was the reverse. Since he had been living in Denver and hiking regularly in the previous months, the altitude didn’t bother him as much, but he wasn’t in marathon shape. So we had different challenges.

I googled info about the hike every now and then, but usually, it freaked me out more than anything, so I stopped and just trusted that Pat knew what he was doing. He had read that it would take 10 hours, but I knew we were pretty inexperienced and I’m pretty slow and it might take us longer. We planned to sleep at the base of the trail the night before and start early in the morning.

We bought hiking boots and socks and broke them in over the weekend that I visited Pat in Denver. The rest of our gear -- tent, sleeping bags, backpack, waterproof pants, etc. -- we bought the week of in Oregon.

We each carried about three normal water bottles, a camelbak type water bottle, a powerade or gatorade (I forget which), three sandwiches between us, trail mix, and a couple mini granola bars.

We both also had trekking poles, which were lifesavers. Seriously. We saw some people with skis or snowshoes, too.

We started out with too many layers. I had shorts, yoga pants, and swishy water proof pants, a tech shirt from my marathon, a running and a waterproof jacket. I stripped out of both jackets and the yoga pants before we even made it to the mountain. Ha. During the hike, there were times I put the waterproof jacket back on, but that was it -- the yoga pants and running jacket stayed in my bag.

The Hike

We camped at Marble Mountain and hiked up whatever trail we found from there. The first section is through forest and is fairly easy. The trail is clear and easy to follow.

After the forest section, there’s a lot of rocky path. It starts out pretty easy to see and follow the trail, but the difficulty does get more and more difficult as you go on. We lost the trail more than once in this section as it isn’t very clearly marked. There are neon flags every once in a while, but we mostly tried to find our own way and followed others we could see ahead of us.

(BTW, I was right -- I am really slow. We got passed by every person on the mountain. No exaggeration.)

There was one point I almost fell off a cliff-ish part. No joke. I was bouldering and the rocks under my feet slid. I ended up pretty much flat on my stomach and unable to find a way out for a few minutes. I also kicked a basketball sized boulder down the mountain. It was pretty scary.

The lesson here was that if it got too difficult to see the path, we probably should look for a different path -- usually there was a good way through the boulders and a not-so-good way. After that, we were more careful to try to follow the actual path.
You can see the boulders behind Pat!
In addition to the big boulders, there’s also a nice mix of rocks and ash in places. I would imagine that’s what’s under the snow, if you ever did a summer hike. It’s slippery.
Eventually, we started hitting more and more snow. At first, it was alongside the path through the boulders and we could choose between rocks or snow. But, as the rocks got steeper and the path became less clear, we switched exclusively to snow and only used the boulders for resting breaks. The boulders became increasingly few and far between as we continued until finally, there was about an hour at the top when there weren’t any -- just snow.
Still some boulders here! (Obvi)
This was the really, really difficult part of the hike -- the snow.

It was difficult physically. It’s slippery. We tried to follow in other people’s steps, which worked really well, but when there weren’t any, we had to kick in a new hole for each step.

But it was difficult mentally, too. It’s very difficult to judge distance when all you see is snow. We kept thinking we were almost there and then it would be a false summit (where it looks like it’s the top, but it’s just a ridge) or would find out that what looked like a short distance was not short at all.

We definitely used the boulders for breaks, but also as mini goals -- we can stop to rest when we get to that boulder. When there weren’t boulders (or when we couldn’t make it to one) we would take standing breaks -- just standing still for a minute until we caught our breath, then moving on.

I was right that my legs were strong, but the altitude really got to me. I had a headache and got dizzy a couple times. And Pat started getting sore legs earlier than he would have liked. So I was resting a lot to catch my breath and he was resting a lot to help his tired legs.

We finally reached a point where there were no more boulders -- only snow. It didn’t seem like we had far to go, and we saw some people on their way down already. (Including a family with several teens and pre-teens, which is why I’d say it’s probably not the hardest hike in the world if you’re hiking regularly.)

One man, on his way up and standing near us, asked a man on his way down how much farther we had still. He said about an hour. It’s a good thing I didn’t hear him because I might have given up. Pat heard, though. But Pat had some extra motivation to get us to the top.

We did finally make it to the top. It was very challenging. I kept wondering -- and still wonder -- if it was harder than my marathon. I think, alone, it might have been. But since Pat was with me and I ran the marathon alone, I think the marathon might have been harder? I don’t know. I think there were points we each thought we couldn’t do it and were ready to give up -- but it was never at the same time. So we didn’t give up and we made it to the top.

Now, for the way down…

A lot of people do what’s called “glissading” to get down -- basically, sledding on your butt. I was scared about this from the beginning -- HOW DO YOU KNOW YOU’RE NOT ABOUT TO SLED OFF A CLIFF???? and also I read that glissading was how most people were injured (which is why I stopped reading things and decided to just trust Pat).
We glissaded a little bit, but I was still scared and Pat’s pants weren’t really slick enough, so we didn’t do much. Which, I think, is part of the reason our hike was so much longer than other hikers’ -- if you glissade down, you’re a lot faster. What we had to do was sliiiiide one foot forward for a little until we were either doing the splits or until we could stop ourselves. It was a pain in the butt and we both fell a lot and it wasn’t easy on our ankles or knees, but we made it down.

We got a little lost between the boulders and the forest and tried three paths before we found the right one. With how tired we were, the forest seemed endless, but we made it out.

So that’s it! That was our Mt. St. Helens hike. I would imagine a summer hike or a hike on a different path would be verrry different, but I did want to put this out there in case someone who is thinking of doing the hike finds it.

What’s the most challenging physical activity you’ve ever completed? Is the pain fuzzy now in your memory?

Friday, September 12, 2014

Book review: The Center of Everything

The Center of Everything by Laura Moriarty

Description from Goodreads (below) can be found here along with other reviews. Add me on Goodreads!

In Laura Moriarty's extraordinary first novel, a young girl tries to make sense of an unruly world spinning around her. Growing up with a single mother who is chronically out of work and dating a married man, 10-year old Evelyn Bucknow learns early how to fend for herself.

Offering an affecting portrayal of a troubled mother/daughter relationship, one in which the daughter is very often expected to play the role of the adult, the novel also gives readers a searing rendering of the claustrophobia of small town midwestern life, as seen through the eyes of a teenage girl. Evelyn must come to terms with the heartbreaking lesson of first love -- that not all loves are meant to be -- and determine who she is and who she wants to be. Stuck in the middle of Kansas, between best friends, and in the midst of her mother's love, Evelyn finds herself . . . inThe Center of Everything.

The University of Kansas (my alma mater and previous employer) started a program called the Common Book. Each year, they select a book they ask the incoming class to read. They bring the author to campus and hold discussions on the book and no one reads it and the events are awkward and it’s generally a great time.

This year, they selected The Center of Everything, which, compared to previous books, I think they actually have a good chance of people reading. I read it, anyway.

The Center of Everything Takes place in Kansas in the 80s. It covers a lot of time -- the main character, Evelyn, is in grade school when the book starts. It ends when she is graduating high school. So it’s maybe not as detailed about the ins and outs of everyday life as books that cover a shorter span of time.

Personally, I thought that was kind of cool -- we got to see Evelyn grow up a lot because it was broader. There are several overarching struggles Evelyn has in this book: her relationship with her mother, who is a single mom. Evelyn’s father has never been in the picture, and as Evelyn grows up, she starts to realize what that means and what others think of her mom because of it. Her relationship with religion is also a huge topic. This is Kansas, after all, and we get to see Evelyn find a place in religion, but then see how that shifts as she grows and changes. There are a few more overarching topics we see her grapple with over the years, but I don’t want to give too much away.

And of course, there is a boy. He’s a boy she thinks is perfect; but a boy who also shows what her life could have been if she’d been prettier, or if she’d skipped school more, or if she’d just made different decisions.

The first half of this book -- the younger years -- was good, but it was a little more work for me to get through. Once Evelyn got to high school, though, I really enjoyed her story. I gave it three stars.

Have any of you read The Center of Everything? What did you think?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

One book, one movie, one song, forever and evah

The lovely Miss Whitney has kindly been posting topics for bloggers like me who have been in serious sluuuumps to inspire us to blog every day in September.

And while that is clearly not a thing that is happening in my life, I wanted to join in today because, duh, I really liked the prompt.

If you had to pick one book to read forever, one movie to watch forever, and one song to listen to, what would you pick?

This one is probably the hardest for me. I love reading and can not imagine stopping reading new books and learning and discovering. Luckily, though, I am a re-reader -- I find joy in reading books I've already read and have about read certain books probably more than ten times (ahem, Harry Potters and Sarah Dessens...)

But only ONE BOOK, forever and ever amen? my goodness that's hard. I think I'd have to pick This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen

I read this book for the first time before I'd ever been even close to loving a boy, but I've always loved its message about love. It's such a hopeful book. It also says a lot about risk and not being afraid, which are constant challenges for me.

(FYI, other contenders were The Truth about Forever by Sarah Dessen, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix)

This one is a lot easier. There's really only two choices here: You've Got Mail and Love Actually. (Both have similar messages to This Lullaby, now that I think about it...) In the end, I think I'd pick Love Actually. I just can't give it up. And yes, I watch it year round, even though it's technically a Christmas movie.

Picking a song was probably the easiest choice for me. I know a lot of you probably think I'd go for Call Me Al like Sar did, because I do love that song and I've said before in blog-land that it's a song that makes all my friends think of me. (It's my ringtone!)

But there's a song even nearer and dearer to my heart -- Springsteen by Eric Church.

Just like he sings about, this song takes me back to awesome times in my life. To two stepping with college friends, to late night drives with Pat. It's the one song I never ever skip when it comes up on shuffle. Love love love.

What would you all pick?


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