Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Five Pluses and a Minus

The past couple of weeks have left me Busy! The temperatures are cooling off(?), although we have had a few rather warm days this past weekend. Speaking of this weekend (and last week), I suppose I have a few things to share. Most positive, and one rather bittersweet. So which would you like first-- the good news or the bad news? Let's just get the bad bittersweet out of the way by ripping the band-aid off.

Bittersweet Saturday

Last Saturday, Kipp went to live with his new family. They picked him up around 1:30. He was his normal shy self, so I had to make like I was walking out the door with them before closing it behind him. Luckily, J was there to make the sad occasion better, and served as an excellent comforter. Gigi, Melissa's cat, had known something was about to go down for the past few weeks, so naturally, she sauntered out of Melissa's room as I was gathering myself. In an attempt to lighten the mood a little, I tossed Kipp's remaining tennis ball to her and said, "Fetch." Lo and behold, she started batting it around, which was a good way to stop the tears momentarily.

As sad as I am to have had to say goodbye to little Kippernicus (and 2 days before his first birthday!), I'm extremely grateful for the family that reached out and agreed to rehome him. I couldn't ask for a more loving, welcoming family for him, so I know he will be in good hands. I've already received two update emails from the wife, and it brings tears of joy to my eyes to hear that he's having the time of his life while not being cooped up in his crate for 9+ hours a day.
Goodbye sweetie! You won't be forgotten <3
Goodbyes are hard, but sometimes it's just the right thing to do.

Now that we have that out of the way, let's bring a little more light and life to this post.

Recipe Wins
J and I have been making more of an effort to try new recipes at home. Over the course of the past week and a half, we have made Alton Brown's soft pretzels, subbing whole wheat flour for the all-purpose flour that was called for.
Eat. Me.
Then there was an amazing chicken sausage and kale saute with white beans. By far the favorite, we have plans to make that tomorrow night for dinner as well.

Another notable creation: pumpkin & pecan baked oatmeal. Drool!
I really need to start taking better food pics.
iPhone 6
This new toy will be awaiting my return from work this afternoon. Enough said.

Junior League
Last week marked my first GMM as a Provisional, and the atmosphere was fantastic! It's so great to see so many women gathered based on similar interests of volunteerism. I applied about a month ago for a leadership role for our provisional class event, Kids in the Kitchen, and I am happy to announce that I was selected to co-chair the Active Healthy Lifestyles committee! Tonight is the first of several meetings to take place as the leadership council for this event, and I am super pumped!

Yard Work
You read that right. J and I have been clearing behind his house-- he has a lakefront property, but unfortunately for him, the previous owners did nothing to tame the jungle that was growing back there. It's been an ongoing project for him, but now he has an extra set of hands to help. I keep telling him that he's lucky he found me, because not many girls would voluntarily get scratched up by thorns and vines to help. Most would probably voluntarily give him a number for a professional yard service to call... These past two weekends we have made some great progress! We've burned two piles, and have 3 more that just keep growing. We thinned out some trees to the left of the lake and cut up some fallen trees that were creating a catchall for the dead leaves. So much done already, but so much left to do!
Huge strides of improvement from this already!
I may have to admit that I'm partially in it for the short-term end goal: a fire pit to hopefully be in use this Fall!

Enjoying Fall
What better way to enjoy the lovely weather than with good friends and wine (and nachos). Emily and I went to a local vineyard, King's Family Vineyard, to meet up with some JLC gals the other weekend. Unfortunately, the crowd gets pretty large and we were unable to find our (small) group. Fortunately, we didn't let the wine get warm and found a spot to relax and watch the polo match.
Kicking off the shoes and relaxing.
We may have indulged a bit too much, which resulted in the fabulous(?) idea of ordering nachos at Beer Run.
Nacho game face!
I mean, a plate of nachos requires extreme preparation...

Don't worry, between bike rides around town with J and all that daunting yard work (and gym time each morning), I've offset my Fall appetite... I hope!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Fridays in Fall

TGIF-- Thank Goodness It's Fall Friday! Not that this week has been particularly taxing, but with everyone's anxiety heightened due to Hannah Graham, I think some time to unwind is necessary.

As goes for many bloggers I know, I am usually one to recap recent events. However, I'm flip-flopping this time and instead fast-forwarding to my weekend plans. If I'm being honest, I really couldn't tell you the last time I had a dull weekend. While I enjoy having plans, sometimes a breather is necessary. I can't say this will be that weekend.

Let's have a look-see!

1. The weekend unofficially started 30 minutes ago. My supervisor and I walked down the street during our lunch break to pick up some essentials.

Need another clue?
 Not going to lie, I'm highly tempted to send that picture to J. I was showing him a picture on my phone the other week, and he starts flipping through my photos. Being the cupcake-obsessed person blogger I am, I took a picture of a cupcake from the same bakery, Pearl's that I had gotten the day before as a treat to myself for eating clean during the week. J has heard me mention that I am a bit cupcake obsessed, a huge fan of Pearl's Bake Shoppe, and seriously have to force myself not to go get cupcakes all the time. In fact, up until that day (I think 2 weeks ago), I had not bought a cupcake since Mardi Gras! Yikes-- I was well overdue!
So yeah, J sees the picture and brings up, "Oh, what's this? Those are the cupcakes you were telling me about?" (There was just one cupcake, I swear. But multiple pictures.) I snatched that phone away from him quicker than you can say "icing." I'm an open book, and would gladly let him look at anything on my phone, but not my cupcake! I'm weird. I think/hope He accepts it.
Now, though, I realized I'm ready to share. My obsession must be spread to all the non-Pearl's-believers out there. And besides, they will go really well with plan #2.
 2. Last week, my inbox was graced with the best news ever. Back in June(?), I made the fantastic decision to join The Smuggler's Society which allows me a five finger discount at all major retailers. [Please don't think I'm serious about that statement-- I pay for everything that isn't outright given to me for free. Which is why I don't have any reviews on here-- I don't get free stuff. Womp.] The Smuggler's Society is the oh-so-clever name of the WINE CLUB at my favorite vineyard around Charlottesville (a statement J is surely sick of hearing), Pollak Vineyard. Don't worry, if you want to feel cool too and you live in one of 18 states/districts, I linked up to the wine club page for ya. You're welcome.

Back to that email-- my first wine club order would be ready on Monday, September 15th! As much as I really wanted to make the drive out on Monday, a. I was sick as a dog, b. I forgot, and c. I really wanted J to come with me so we could get free tastings (wine club perk, for the win!). We have plans to make a delicious dinner tonight, so what better pairing than a nice four bottles of wine. After work, we are heading straight to the vineyard since they close at 5 (how rude!).

3. Briefly mentioned, but hopefully not as briefly eaten, I found the following recipe for us to stir up.
Kale with Sausage and White Beans
Courtesy of Simply Recipe, but with the substitution of chicken sausage for regular sausage, and sweet onion for white onion. I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but I love kale. Especially sauteed.

4. This is a bit of a Debbie Downer, but early Saturday afternoon, I am saying goodbye to someonething near and dear to me.
I've mentioned it before, but my current work schedule and daily activities leaves little time for me to care for this dear pup. It's been a few tears weeks in progress, but a few house visits later, and I have found an excellent new family for Kipp/Kippernicus/the Kippster. The husband and wife couple have two high-school daughters, ages 12 and 14, with a house down a private road in the country. So plenty of places for him to run and get out all that puppy energy!

Luckily, they have offered to keep me updated with pictures and let me know how he is doing from time to time. The wife even invited me to visit on occasion, and for all this, I am eternally grateful! Needless to say, no kids pets for me for quite a while!

5. Bouncing back from bittersweet event, J and I have plans to light it up. A fire, that is (without s'mores, sadly)! J's backyard has access to a small lake, and for some time, he has been trying to clear out massive overgrowth to allow for a better view. I barely helped last Sunday before getting beat down by sickness, and now we have quite the large pile to burn (as a controlled fire).

You can see it off to the right, but it's much larger now. And of course with a bonfire, food and beer must be involved, so we are taking a page from Alton Brown.

6. Finally, Sunday is as-of-yet unknown. It could include festive Fall decorating. It could include a closet transition. It could include a polo match at (yet another) winery with some JLC gals. What I do know is that it will round out a fantastic weekend! Keep an eye on my Instagram for updates!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Greatness Born Out of Circumstance

Today is going to be one of those two-fer days. Rare, so don't get used to it, but necessary. I hate to blog on a negative note, and my last post was certainly not the most pleasant topic.

As I may have(?) previously mentioned, I was accepted as a provisional member of the Junior League of Charlottesville at the beginning of August. I happened to receive the official acceptance email in the airport on my trip out to Utah with the boyfriend. Sidenote: let's refer to him as J, shall we? I don't like the disconnect of calling him The Boyfriend or The BF-- just seems rude. I was elated, and immediately texted the lovely Emily, whom I had convinced to apply with me, to see whether or not she was accepted as well. Well duh, who wouldn't love her-- we both had good news to share!

It is through the Junior League that I'm (slowly but surely) able to expand my network, my group of friends, and unite with girls/(young) women of similar interests. It is through my Junior League Provisional Class that I've become acquainted with the wonderful Sarah, whom I just recently found out via Facebook is a fellow blogger. Hello, Sarah!

Sarah mentioned the other day in a post that she just has a feeling that something amazing is about to happen, and she detailed her feelings further in yesterday's post. I was drawn to her positivity, her optimism, and I jumped at the chance to leave an encouraging comment. This got me thinking, I know that feeling. I lived that sensation earlier this year. I have been absent from the blog for a prolonged period of time this year, but I was busy living. Sarah's post sparked a desire for me to share my good fortunate, born from a series of unfortunate events.

2014: The Beginning

At the start of the year, it was no surprise to friends that I was feeling rundown at my job with the biopharmaceutical company. I had a vast territory, "Shenandoah Valley," which ran the length of the state from north to south. And living in the center of this territory in a town that seemingly has plenty of business opportunity, I found myself facing the roadblock that is the University of Virginia Health System. You see, large teaching institutes (and large health systems) tend to have very strict rules and regulations regarding pharmaceutical reps of any kind, so even though they ran the world (Beyonce reference, anyone??) town and surrounding counties, I was able to do highly limited business within about a 45 mile radius of where I lived. Commence long commutes just to get to my first office, and subsequently long commutes home.

As I mentioned earlier in the year, my company announced in November 2013 impending layoffs that would take place after the turn of the year. These took place January 29, 2014. We were told to stay home, on guard for a phone call in which we would learn our fate. On the one hand, no one wants to be laid off. On the other hand, I knew I would burnout sooner rather than later. I was ready for any outcome. Mid-morning I received the call. I would not be returning to work the next day. I would remain on payroll until May 1. I would receive a severance package and career assistance (this is typical for pharma companies, so they tend to have well-strategized severance plans in place to avoid lawsuits and such).

Four days earlier, I had received news that my grandma, the closest of my grandparents (and last living), has passed. It was a one-two punch. I had had time to consider what I would do if I found myself pseudo-unemployed (technically I was still on payroll, so to any onlooking company, I was still "employed"), but it's a different world when you actually find yourself in that predicament. Money was not yet an issue, but it was looking as though it would be for the big ideas I had for my future.

I wanted to go back to school to become a physical therapist. This proved to be more difficult than I thought. Even with my experience in pharmaceutical sales and my educational background in (environmental) science, it didn't translate as well as I'd hoped, and I still needed observational hours at more than one physical therapy clinic in order to have a shot at acceptance. I talked with family members about my future and gathered a few ideas. Being laid off was not in my career plan, but I chose to see it as an opportunity, not a setback.

Entering the Dating Game

Whoever says that dating is not a game is full of horse manure. It's sort of like Monopoly of Risk. You have to invest (yourself), you have to strategize, you are not guaranteed positive outcomes. I was a little hesitant to put myself out in the dating world because, let's face it: with the recent circumstances, it's not like I really had a lot to show for myself. I was a pharmaceutical rep, but I didn't hold that title anymore. I value honesty, so I didn't find it fair to claim to be something I wasn't, and I wasn't about to start any sort of potential relationship by spitting out lies (although, to be fair, it wouldn't have full been a lie).

I did test this out on a couple of occasions, but when I met up with J for our first date, I chose to be forthcoming with my current situation. I mentioned my ideas for my future-- which have since changed (I do feel a little guilty about that, but ideas are not concrete)-- and besides, I do have other desirable qualities. I'm smart, I'm adventurous, I have interests. It was important to me to leave out my bikini competitor alter ego. While, yes, being active and fit and a competitor is a big part of my lifestyle, I didn't want it to define me as a date/potential girlfriend. Several dates (and hikes) later, and we were already getting together travel plans for the near future.

Although I hoped for a decent relationship, I never thought one would rise from the ashes of my failed first career. I knew the end of the pharma gig was the beginning of something better, but I couldn't have imagined all which that turned out to be.

Apps on Apps on Apps, Yo

If you think dating is hard, try getting turned down left and right (or worse, not hearing back) from numerous companies to which you apply. In conversations I had with family members, it became quite obvious that while going back to school is a great idea, there's still value in working and leaving no gaps in employment. Besides, jobs make money, and money pays things like school loans and living expenses. The money I had from the biopharma company would cover things for a while, but not forever, and I would doubtfully qualify for financial aid based on my previous income.

I am very close with my oldest brother, although we are farthest apart in age. We tend to have similar personalities, outlooks, and interests. Oddly enough, he works for a clinical development company-- a company that works with pharmaceutical companies to conduct clinical trials, etc. We spoke at length on multiple occasions about looking into Clinical Research Associate positions, both within his company and others. We concluded that with my experience in pharma sales and my exposure to clinical research terminology and methodology, it could be a good fit.

Flash forward through several turned-away applications and obsessive searches on Indeed and other job search engines, and I was only turning up dead ends. And then, one night at 10pm, my "dream job" appeared. I don't know how I knew, but I knew. Clinical Research Coordinator Trainee. "Trainee"-- that must mean they are open to limited experience. I have translatable experience! That's good right?! University of Virginia-- I've been longing to get a job at the University! Close to home, close to my heart too. Go, Hoos! Department of Radiation Oncology-- Oh my goodness, could you ASK for a more rewarding department to work in?! I've been saying all this time that I really value a job in which you can truly help others. THIS IS IT!

An hour later, at the late hour of 11pm, I had rewritten my entire cover letter. It was risky. I blatantly stated that while I did not have direct experience, I had translatable experience, and I outlined why this mattered. I sent it off to my good friend, Stacy, to proofread, but then I sent in my application anyway before I even got her feedback.

Her feedback was not what I was hoping for. She said what I was thinking--it was risky. Too risky. But it was too late.

International Planning

As I held my breath waiting for word on my job application, it slowly shrank away as it became replaced with thoughts and plans of travel with J. I'd never traveled internationally before. I had always wanted to. I currently had all the necessary resources in which to do so-- time, money, and a wanderlust that had yet to be tapped into. The plans commenced. They got serious. And then I got an email. Requesting an interview!

It was a quick process, but nerve-wracking, as are all interview processes. I met with my supervisor and the department administrator. I sold myself. I'd been selling things-- clothing, meals, pharmaceuticals-- for years. I just needed one good sales pitch to accompany the skills I'd so well marketed in my application. I left questioning the unknown.

Two days later, I was asked to meet with one of the head clinicians in the department. By that Friday, I not only had concrete plans/dates to travel to Costa Rica, but I had a job awaiting my return.

This was just the start of the best year of my life to-date, although if you had asked me on January 29, 2014, I wouldn't have been able to venture a guess that my luck life was just about to turn around for the better. I chose to remain open to opportunity. I chose to remain optimistic. I chose not to put my life on hold because of one setback. And that was my saving grace.

Embracing the New

Over the past several months, I have had the wonderful opportunity to try several new experiences. While I find myself with the occasional daily stresses, setbacks, and discouragements (hey, life isn't perfect 100% of the time), I continue to embrace each and every moment. I fall, I learn, I go on. Thank you, UVa, for taking a chance on me. Thank you, friends and family, for staying encouraging and being my listening ears when the time called for them. Thank you, J, for feeding my adventurous soul. And thank you, Amgen, for setting me free.

Addressing Current Events: Tragedy Strikes

The quaint college town in which I have spent the past 7 years has been making headlines, and not for the usual exciting reasons. Working within the University of Virginia Health System, employees are kept up-to-date on current events that require attention. Lately, I've been anything but at ease. Monday morning, the University Police, and subsequently the University President, issued emails regarding a missing student. Having been last heard from early Saturday morning, Hannah Graham, a second year student, remains missing, and both university and Charlottesville Police are on a high-stress search for her. My supervisor and I have been following the search through a local news source (the same one at which I interned 4 years ago). You can read more about the story here.

It is so sad, but my friends and I have noticed that there's been an uptick in missing young girls over the past four years. This is not the first time Charlottesville has gotten bad press-- most notably, you may recall Morgan Harrington, who went missing during a Metallica concert and who's decayed body subsequently found months later on the outskirts of a farm in a neighboring rural county. That took place during the fall of 2009. The following September (2010), Samantha Clark went missing. 2012: Dashad "Sage" Smith, a transgender teen. Alexis Murphy, a rising Nelson County senior, August 2013. And now, Hannah. I am not one to feed into conspiracies, but I can't help but think that these are somehow linked. And I am not the only one in my group of friends to believe this. It may not be the same person that is responsible, but perhaps a network of abductors? At the end of the day, it comes down to one thing: are we really safe?

I am a big proponent of not living a life of fear, but that being said, I believe that most of us do not take the necessary basic precautions when alone. First thing first, as a young woman, or really as any sex at any age, there is safety in numbers. My roommate, Melissa, and I were talking and we noted that this could have been any one of us back during our days at The University. We went out to parties/bars and drank while underage; we made the (short) walk home alone on more than one occasion; and while we maybe didn't show as much skin, we certainly dressed less for comfort and more for attention. At the time, I was active in the gym, and I distinctly remember thinking, "I'm fit-- I weight train, and I have a background in track & field and cross country. If I was in a position where someone tried to follow me or apprehend me, I could easily outrun them." Such stupid thoughts for such an otherwise smart girl.

One of the reasons this is making headlines is because the University of Virginia is known to be an "Ivy League of the South." Students don't just get in on a whim; they have to earn their spot in their graduating class, and once accepted, you have to continue to prove yourself. It's no easy feat. If she was anything like me, this was the school I had my heart and my academic career set on. I worked for my acceptance. UVa is a school known for the caliber of it's students. We all make poor choices, but all of my fellow Hoos have level heads on their shoulders. I know that's quite the generalization to make, but it is true to a large extent.

Yes, this series of events could happen at any college or university in any city or town in any country. But the fact of the matter is that this happened here, in the heart of Charlottesville, and has been happening for a few years now. I wish for the best-- I sincerely hope that they find Hannah Graham alive. I hope that she is reunited with her friends and her family. I hope that this tragedy has a positive outcome. Unfortunately, that just is not the reality of missing person reports.

It will be interesting to see the changes that are implemented from this occurrence. While there have now been a total of 4 missing young girls between the ages of 17 - 19 over the past 5 years, this is the first in which the young woman was a university student. President Teresa Sullivan has done an excellent job of reaching out to students, alumni, and the community to bring hope to us all and unite us throughout this tragic time. However, I don't foresee this not causing a chain of events leading to heightened awareness and security not only across University Grounds (aka campus) but across the surrounding areas as well.

My heart is with Hannah Graham, her friends, family, and loved ones, and with those who have experienced such an event.

I know not all of my readers are in the (Central) Virginia area, but please take note:
Stay smart, and stay safe.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Catching Up: New Focuses?

My good friend, Emily, is still in Spain with her boyfriend this week-- can you say jealous?!-- so once again, I am in need of a good catch up session.

Last week, my boyfriend was at Lake Anna with his friends from Charlotte. They rented a lake house for the week, and while I managed to get out there for the day Sunday and Wednesday after work, I had plenty of "me" time. Not a bad thing at all, but it's during these quiet times that I start to throw around ideas, reflect on the past several months, and reorganize for the future.

If we were chatting over a glass of wine, a la Emily-Liz catch-up sesh, I'd tell you:

  • I've been in a bit of a fitness rut these past few months. Part of it has to do with the balance of responsibilities, or lack thereof. Part of it has to do with uncertainty. And then another part of it has to do with all these other thoughts floating around in my head that can't quite be summed up in one sentence. Regardless of the reason, I am disappointed with this burnout and am looking for alternate options to get in a good workout.
    Not just interested in the 'bells anymore.
  • As a result of my fitness rut, I am trying to transition to a more active lifestyle outside of the gym. This is much easier said than done, because working out at the gym is so ingrained in me, especially having gone through two back-to-back competition preps last year. I've been known to succumb to the idea, "If it didn't happen in the gym, or if it's not strictly cardio, then it isn't a real workout." This summer-- okay, let's be honest, the boyfriend-- has had me trying all sorts of new things in the great old outdoors, and I'm thinking a change of scenery is in order. Slowly but surely, I would like to replace at least 2-3 days a week of gym workouts with cross-training on different terrain.
    It may be cooling off, but the Supra still has
    a few more weeks of water to see.
  • Financial literacy has been on my mind day-in and day-out as of late. Confession: I finished Robert Kiyosaki's Rich Dad, Poor Dad yesterday and immediately ordered his other book Rich Dad's Guide to Investing. I also referenced his book in my phone appointment with my financial adviser. As much as I'd like to say this disturbs me, I'm actually rather surprised. While I do love my family, I was not raised to understand financial competence. As a child of divorce, I saw the struggle of being a single mom to four children, and I still see it. Investing can be frightening, and many people choose to stay safely away from that fear. However, I have been welcoming this catharsis as I embark on this financial endeavor. 
    Financial fitness book #2
  • I'm ready to invest in myself. I love my job. Love it. But I know that I don't always want to be working for someone else, and I know that I have other talents and knowledge that I can share with others. It has been a long time coming, and with a few well-timed comments from friends who don't even know I've been considering this, I have decided to study and sit for my NASM Certified Personal Trainer exam. I have a few hectic weeks to get through, but I am hoping to register by early- to mid-October.
    Source: NASM
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm out to sleep off this nasty head cold.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

School of Thought: Workout Apparel

When it comes to purchasing workout gear, there are a few schools of thought. For instance there is the less is more principle, where an active athlete will buy fewer quality items at a heftier price tag. Then there is the more is more principle, where someone will buy more items of lesser quality. And then there's me. I subscribe to my own school of bought thought when it comes to the workout gear I wear.

First and foremost, I am a THE bargain hunter. Just ask my roommate who [begin tangent] witnessed me spaz out during a Saturday evening trip to Target upon noticing the 3-pack of pocket tissues in the dollar section were marked down 70% AND on top of that, there was a Cartwheel offer for 20% off items from The One Spot. You do the math. Just kidding, I'll do it for you (because I'm cheap and I'm proud of it...on occasion): $1 * .30 = $0.30 * .8 = $0.24. So basically, that's $0.08 for each individual tissue pack. I scooped up all five that I saw. And then I saw more. So I picked up an armful, which equated to 14 of the 3-packs when all was said and done. I may be considering going back for more since I have a return to make anyway... The allergy-stricken boyfriend will be so happy to know that I will at least have one tissue on me for the next decade few months. [End tangent.]

So yes, I am a bargain hunter each and every time I shop. I couldn't tell you the last time I paid full-price for something. I was going to say my Cannondale, but I even got a discount on that through my brother's affiliation with one of the local bike shops. Connections are key. I am that person that subscribes to store emails just so I can get that initial "Welcome to the Email Family!" discount. Then, unless I truly don't shop at the store, I stay subscribed for a few weeks at the least. Usually, those subscriptions trickle off, and of course there are some stores that I have never shopped at but keep the subscriptions because I constantly do the online window shopping bit. If you don't know what that is, it's when you browse, occasionally adding items to your cart, but usually without an intention of buying a single thing. Sometimes you are swayed. Sometimes you buy things on a whim (but only if the return process is easy-- bonus points if there is free shipping both ways or if there is a brick & mortar store nearby). About 80% of the time you are stricken with buyers remorse, even if the item is necessary. Let me stop a moment to point out that the bf does not like these non-consumers. Putting items in a cart without hitting the "Place Order" button does nothing for sales numbers. Whoops-- I'm a terrible consumer.

Regardless of my online window shopping habit, there are times when I do make a purchase, for whatever reason-- want, need, somewhere in between. After I've racked up a cart full of items (now don't get me wrong, cart-full can be two items or it can be 10), I adjust accordingly. Is there free shipping? Do I have to hit a minimum to get free shipping? What can I add to my cart to send me over that threshold? Have I significantly surpassed the free shipping limit? If so, do I need everything in my cart? Do I already own similar items? What promo codes are going on now? What do you mean there are no promo codes?! (Note: if there are no promo codes available, that significantly decreases my desire to go through with my purchase, and 9 times out of 10 I walk away.)

Clearly, you can see that I over-think everything the online checkout process. There is no stone unturned. Why? Because I've made some regrettable online purchases, especially with workout gear. I've been lured by the hype of an up-and-coming company or trendy apparel only to be disappointed at the quality after having shelled out $20-$25 for A tank top! A tank top that I'm going to SWEAT in! Sure, I do look for certain materials for certain items-- I don't want an all-cotton sports bra or compression leggings-- but that doesn't guarantee that they are actually made well. And to be honest, most of my favorite (i.e., durable, cute, breathable) workout apparel has come from one of the following stores:

  • Target-- C9 for the win! And an honorable mention for the clearance racks.
    C9 sports bras are perfect for my flat chest!
  • Walmart-- ever since they started carrying the Danskin line, I've been pleasantly surprised...and so has my bank account.
    Danskin steals (2013)
  • Old Navy-- the compression gear here is good quality for the price, but I usually wait until sales hit before pulling the trigger. 
  • Aeropotale-- formerly still known as a teenybopper store, they ramped up their active selection by introducing a "Live Love Dream" line full of yoga, active, and lounge wear. Paired with their constant but rotating promo codes, and you can score some major gear here. Bonus points that it's cute since it's marketed towards teens, who clearly know everything about fashion.
I've tried the mass retailers for workout clothing before, such as Dick's Sporting Goods, Sports Authority, and Finish Line, but those are usually hit or miss. That being said, Finish Line tends to have some great deals/clearance items which, in addition to promo codes, can score you Nike, Under Armour, and the likes for mad cheap. About a year and a half ago, I ordered several (yes, several) pairs of running and training shoes there for next to nothing. And they always have promo codes. Always. Forewarning: if you do shop in their clearance section, they charge shipping PER item, but if you factor that into your overall cost, it's still well worth it.
Some Finish Line finds (2013)
And of course there are outlets, TJ Maxx, and Marshalls. Love me some outlets. I don't think I need to elaborate here (although beware of some stores-- cough, Nike, cough-- that don't mark down items but rather carry post-season items.

Let's discuss my ideal price points for individual items before getting into pet peeves. I am willing to spend the following amount for the following items (because once again, I do like decent quality but I also spend a good amount of time staying active, so quantity is nice too):
  • Sports bras: $15
  • Tanks/tops: $10 - $15
  • Shorts: $15
  • Compression capris/tights: $20 - maybe $25 (add a bit more if it's thermal gear)
  • Long-sleeve tops or quarter-zips: $15 - $20
  • Shoes: practically MSRP (I will invest in shoes because those are essentials-- good shoes can make or break ankles a workout.)
Mizunos and Brooks Pure = Foot love (Spring 2013)

And pet peeves:
  • Drawstrings-- why do these exist? The waist is already elastic. I'm not going to be wearing baggy diapers when I run. And compression gear definitely does not need these. Ever.
  • Skewed seams-- I didn't dole out $X just so I can wear a tank who's seam now resides in the middle of my abdomen.
    So many things wrong with tops from this company:
    Skewed seams, poor/skewed screen print, etc.
  • Skewed screen print-- I notice everything. And unless it is intentional, I really don't want to be thinking about how the screen print is 1/2 inch off-center when I'm doing squats.
  • Poor-quality screen print-- Screen print should not fade when you wash your clothing properly (and inside-out). It also should not pill or get linty.
    The company is a culprit of the
    poor screen printing.
  • Poorly sewn seams-- There's nothing worse than trailing threads.
  • Socks with poor elastic-- If I'm wearing ankle socks, I don't want them to slip off my heals during cardio. Talk about disrupting.
There you have it folks. My over-analysis of workout apparel and some tricks of the trade to score some great deals. What it comes down to is really wearing what you're comfortable in that won't hinder your workouts. Too tight? Stay away! Too loose? No way, Jose!

Where do you shop for workout gear? In-store or online? I'm a hefty mix of both. If I buy online, I over-purchase with the intent of returning something(s) that ultimately won't work out.

Any tricks of the trade? I don't have any other secrets to share with you at the moment. 

Pet peeves?

Now go forth and shop.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Catching Up to September

If you're anything like me, you have some of those friends who you don't need to spend a lot of time with, because the time you do spend together is great and rewarding. I'm lucky in that one of my good friends, Emily, actually lives upstairs from me (she and her boyfriend moved in about 6 months after I did), and while we don't necessarily communicate on a daily basis, we do take one evening out of the week to get together and catch up on life. It's a great way for us to share our accomplishments, our plans for the upcoming days, and vent as necessary. We lend each other a different opinion, which is usually just what either one of us needs.

In honor of Emily's and my weekly catch ups, I am compiling a list of tidbits over the last week to bring you up to speed with my life. If we were chatting right now (probably over a glass of wine or a beer), I'd tell you:

  • I cannot believe it's already September! Seriously! Although it does seem like forever ago that I went to Utah, and a lifetime ago that I went to Costa Rica, I'm not quite sure that I'm ready for it to be fall. I've worn my bathing suit(s) several times this summer, but can 2014 please just slow its roll for a minute!

Attempt #2 at wake boarding.
Just call me Store Your Board's newest
(and only) model.
  • I recently came back from one of the most amazing long weekend trips in recent history. The boyfriend and I were able to "celebrate" Labor Day by doing no such labor down in the Outer Banks. It was a bit of an impromptu trip, planned just last Monday, but it was such a great time! I don't know why exactly, because we have traveled a good bit together over the past six months, but I can't stop raving about this one. Maybe it was because we did so much. Maybe it was because there was no hectic airport involved. All I know is that we enjoyed every moment of it-- spending hours on the sound getting up on the SUP, kayaking, and catching some incredible sunsets; attempting to surf in the Atlantic; and constantly snacking and  eating plenty of seafood. We relaxed, we were active as heck, and we enjoyed the light atmosphere.
Jennette's Pier
Snack(s) of champions after all that activity
"West Coast" sunset
I think we brought the contents of the boyfriend's garage down with us. His truck was full to the brim with two surfboards, the SUP, both our road bikes, and our luggage. I'm sure that was a sight to be seen for other drivers! Good thing he owns Store Your Board so he had the proper truck racks to keep it all in place.

  • Last Thursday, we spent the night in Virginia Beach, which meant the boyfriend was able to meet "my other family" aka my best friend's family that has "adopted" me as their second daughter. We spent the evening chatting around in the living room unfortunately watching the Redskins preseason game. (Redskins = meh. Go Giants!)
  • These are quite possibly my last few days with this little guy.
Post-groomer's 2 weeks ago
I have had a huge sense of guilt over keeping Kipp cooped up in the crate all the time while I'm at work. It's been a huge adjustment for us both since I went back to work in May, and I'm having a hard time balancing time with him and active time. I feel like over the past few months my fitness level has dropped, and while I cannot fully attribute it to him, there is an underlying sense of needing to rush home to make sure he goes potty, etc. That being said, I have a family interested in him, and we are working out the meet and greet details for this weekend. Tears have been shed. Tears will be shed. But I know deep down that this guy is way too adorable and deserves more attention than I can give him. It would help if I had a fenced yard instead of living in an apartment complex, but that's not doable right now. Bear with me if I seem a little down next time I update you.

  •  My mom gifted me with a lovely Claddagh ring to replace the one that was stolen while I was in New Orleans back during spring break of 2011. Please excuse the fact that I'm wearing it the incorrect way (although that probably only matters to the wearer of the ring. I'm sure the boyfriend would think it insignificant).
Ooooh. Ahhhh. Jewerly...and kitchen towels.
  • I started reading Rich Dad, Poor Dad while in OBX because I failed to bring a book with me (which turned out to be a good thing). I didn't finish it while I was there, and seeing as I couldn't bring it back with me since it wasn't mine, I ordered a copy for myself before we even left! If you haven't read this book by Robert Kiyosaki-- or his other book Cash Flow Quadrant (which the bf owns and recommends so I'll be reading next...)-- I HIGHLY encourage you to go out and get a copy. Or borrow a copy from the library.

This is a book you will want to have on hand so you can reference it from now til your days' end. No matter what age you are, it's never too late to reassess your finances. This book is all about financial literacy and puts it into layman's terms. Investing shouldn't be hard, but it's necessary if you want to acquire assets. This book distinguished between what we think are assets (cars, houses, etc.) and what actually are assets (investments). Instead of working for money, it promotes how to make your money work for you. I've been sitting on a good bit of money, and I've used my ignorance about investing as an excuse to not do anything with that. Let's just say that since Tuesday, I've been getting things in order, seeking advice, and setting up appointments with financial adviser friends so I can get this show on the road. Robert Kiyosaki also has plenty of resources that can be found on his website.
I dogeared a few pages that stuck out to me.

  •  Although I'm dreading the end of the summer days filled with boating activities, beach activities, and extra-long days, I'm bidding "good riddance" to the humidity that has come raged with it. My hair is ready to actually stay straight (or curled) after the 15-minute walk from my car to my office each morning. Confession: I actually bought a second (cheap) straightener to keep at work in an attempt to combat the inevitable frizz. Although the beach days (at this latitude) may be drawing to an end, there are some planned Fall festivities that are keeping me excited for the months ahead.
Crazy clouds before heading to Carter's Mountain Orchard
last night for their sunset concert series.
What were your favorite trips taken this summer?
I don't think I can honestly choose a favorite! They were all so different, AND I usually don't travel this much. I could get used to this wanderlust!
What are you most excited for this Fall? What are you glad is leaving with the last days of Summer?
Super excited for apple picking, trips to Pollak Vineyard as a member of The Smuggler's Society (their wine club), and some festivals coming up! ...And perhaps some new fall wardrobe staples??
Do you invest your money? What do you do to increase your financial literacy?
I have a 401(K) through my previous employer, and I have both a pension and 403(b) through my current employer. I'm trying to get into the stock market game-- I hear it's risky, but you don't get anywhere without taking risks. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

It's Only Golden Once

I've spent the better part of the weekend aging, despite my efforts to stop the process and live eternally as a 24 year-old youthful goddess. All sarcasm aside, this weekend was full of festivities celebrating not only my roommate's birthday, but mine as well. Short story long, my roommate and I both met our third year of college, as we were pledging a local sorority (that went on to become chartered by a national sorority the next year!) as the only two third-year girls. So obviously, we had to immediately form a bond! As we started to get to know each other better, we realized we have a lot in common-- some of it eerily so. First off, our birthdays are just two days apart-- hers being August 23rd and mine August 25th. We both hail from the Hampton Roads area, and our mom's look like they share all but a couple genes, they are so similar.

When she graduated from VCU grad school, she found a job back up in Charlottesville working for UVa, and we jumped at the chance to be roommates. But back in 2010, when we both turned 21, we quickly realized that we obviously HAD to celebrate together... and always would, even if we were separated by distance for our birthdays. With that came Melizzapalooza 1.0.
Beach themed, of course.
While Melizzapalooza 2.0 was spent apart, we were together in spirit. Then we were reunited for Melizzapalooza 3.0, where we celebrated each other's recent accomplishments.
Grad school > bikini competiton.
This year, and probably for the next few at least, Melizzapalooza has taken a turn for the tame side, as it should. Saturday, we lounged around the apartment during the afternoon drinking wine, watching Easy A, and eating Trader Joe's munchies that her boyfriend brought over. Later in the evening, we went out just after 8pm (yup, we are showing our age) for a couple celebratory drinks. And I seriously do mean a couple. Two. Dos.

Sunday morning was for gathering groceries for the week, then the boyfriend and I made good on a LivingSocial deal I had for a local rock climbing gym. Leave it to me to slam my knee just a few climbs in. While it was certainly uncomfortable, I didn't let that keep me down (literally), so we kept climbing and bouldering for a couple more hours before giving up due to our bruised egos hands. When you're actually trying to follow marked routes, bouldering is hard!

The boyfriend and I lounged around watching Boardwalk Empire for a little while before going on a stroll through his neighborhood. The weather was pretty crappy all weekend, but luckily Sunday did not bring rain like Saturday. And speaking of Boardwalk Empire, I swear I am an expert at calling story lines before they happen. Does this happen to anyone else? There have been several instances where they will introduce a character or a seemingly minute scene will occur and I'll turn to him and say, "X is going to happen," or "I bet they introduced Y for Z reason." Then after waiting with baited breath for a few episodes, my surmises are proven true. It's almost like that commercial for Netflix where the girl has watched over a season without her boyfriend then pretends like she hasn't... except I swear I haven't watched ahead.

Back to birthdays... after a quick nap, I was headed home to get ready for a pre-birthday dinner at a very intimate (in size) restaurant with Melissa, Celia, and Madelyn. Alley Light has been on my list of places to try, mostly because I caught wind that their drinks are to-die-for. The atmosphere is that of a period French restaurant. There are only a few high-top tables and just as many welcoming leather couches, with a vast array of liquors adorning the shelves behind the narrow bar.
Me. Celia, Melissa, and Madelyn
I ordered a Manhattan, and I can honestly say the drinks lived up to the hype. I stopped after only the one because I'm old now my tolerance is marked by the "tipsy" sinus pressure I get between my eyes and the sides of my nose, which crept up as I finished the booze-soaked cherry from the bottom of my glass. We also ordered 7 or 8 different dishes, as this restaurant specializes in French small plates. I loved the food and I loved the company! However, I will admit that this is definitely a pricier restaurant, and aside from a special occasion or needing a place to leisurely catch up over a few drinks and a charcuterie or cheese plate, I probably won't return for a full meal. But still, a lovely time indeed!

One restful night of sleep later, and I was awoken to the fact that it was my GOLDEN birthday yesterday. 25 on the 25th! Melissa made the pre-work morning routine that much more enjoyable by surprising me with a gift bag full of festive Fall items-- a super cute mug for my desk at work, sugar-free salted caramel and pumpkin spice latte syrups, and a pumpkin-scented Yankee Candle. I'd say we are both in the spirit! Also, as many of you already know, my birthday this year was marked by the return of the infamous Starbucks PSL, which thanks to Celia, I will be enjoying several of very soon!

After getting through work with many warm birthday wishes from friends and family, Melissa and I went for a pre-dinner walk. The boyfriend and I had plans to go to a nice, Southern-inspired restaurant, Brookville, which is known for it's obsession with all things bacon. Little did I know when he told me he would pick me up at 7pm that he would surprise me at my door dressed very dapper with a card and flowers in his hands. Okay, okay, I'm swooning. I'll tone it down, but I feel very lucky.
Made with our Utah pictures!
Oh yes, he did well.
After parking, we walked along the Downtown Mall to Brookville... only to find out that it was closed on Mondays! He threw out some suggestions, to which I chose Zocalo (which also happens to be the location of our first date), and upon walking there, it was closed too! Seriously business owners, some of us have Monday birthdays, you know!! Third time was the charm though--we "settled" on Commonwealth restaurant, which if you rewind back through my blog, you will remember I was supposed to work there and even went through training there before I got a full-time job offer. I had not actually had a chance to eat there though, and it was absolutely perfect.

We chose a nice patio table outside to enjoy the beautiful weather-- a perfect Fall preview. To our benefit, it just so happens that Commonwealth offers a four-course tasting menu on Mondays and Tuesdays, so we lucked out and were able to try small plates of many things. At one point, something moving pretty quick along the downtown mall caught my eye. A deer(!!) had run the length of the mall! So I know they say if you see a shooting star, you make a wish and it's good luck. So if I see a deer run along a pedestrian mall on my birthday, that must mean a year of good luck, right?? There really are no heavily or even moderately-wooded areas around the downtown area, so it was a wonder where it came from. We surmised that maybe the deer was along the train tracks and was scared away by an approaching train, so it took off in any direction, which led it where we were.

With several possible after-dinner options, I opted for the low-key one--falling asleep at 10pm on the boyfriend's couch after another riveting episode of Boardwalk Empire. And I wouldn't have it any other way. Thank you to those who made my birthday so special!

Questions for my readers:
What is the average price of a good cocktail in your city? Here in Charlottesville, it ranges anywhere from $8-12 usually. I won't spend any more than that (excluding tax). Sunday's Manhattan was $9, and last night's specialty cocktail "Front Porch" (bourbon, bitters, rhubarb, and cucumber) was $10.

What's the most interesting thing you've seen/done on your birthday? The deer was a good conversation piece and sort of stole my thunder ;-)

What are your telltale "I'm getting old..." signs? The after-drink "tipsy" facial pressure is new for me.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Travel Bug: Utah Edition, Part 1

Don't mind me while I reminisce back to two weeks ago, when my boyfriend and I flew out to the Land of Oz. ...At least that's what Las Vegas was to me--much to look at, much to take in (and yet no gambling, drinking, strippers...or stripping).
We managed to be walking past the Bellagio right before a
fountain performance. Chicago for the win!
How cool is this?! A preview of the second half of our trip.
We spent about five or so hours walking the strip to shake out our legs between our flight and the three-hour drive ahead of us. After an early dinner in downtown Las Vegas, we hit the road for Springdale, UT, where we would be spending the next three nights. I had found a quaint B&B through Trip Advisor, and even though we got in after the staffed hours, we were still given a warm greeting to our Walt Whitman suite. Each room was named after a famous writer, and the rooms were decorated for the time period in which they lived.

Up bright and early the next morning, we awoke to dreary skies-- we had brought the rain with us from Virginia! I swear, every Utahan we met made mention, "Ah, I see you planned your visit during the only time it has rained here this year. We need it though!" So with that, we headed to breakfast at a local cafe (the wife of the B&B owner had her hands full with a young baby, so, presumably, they worked with the cafe to provide their guests with breakfast vouchers instead of cooking).
Me to the bf: "I don't want to alarm you, but
there's a bear behind you..."
After fueling up, we made our way into Zion National Park. Although we were unable to do most of the more alluring hikes for experienced hikers due to expected flash flooding, we did some trailblazing of our own.

First up: free-form rock climbing:
Just kidding!
But in all seriousness, we pulled our oh-so-awesome uber-compact Nissan off to the side of the road when we saw a pretty cool mountainside that we wanted to hike bound up. About an eighth of a mile up, I pointed to a rock outcrop and turning back to the trailing bf, stated, "I'm climbing that!"
See that tall rock structure in the top right corner?
I wasn't entirely serious, but it also didn't seem too terribly far away. (Now is probably a good time to mention that a. it was further away than it looked, and b. keep in mind that it was raining...and started raining harder.) Next thing you know...
I actually did reach that tree...!
The hike down turned out to be more treacherous than we anticipated since the rain picked up, leading to some heavy streams forming along the sandstone mountains. Caution: slippery when wet! I slipped once, catching myself with my hand just barely missing a cactus.

Once back to the car, we played cat and mouse with the weather all day. Luckily, it cleared up enough for a short period of time, during which we decided to do one of the shorter, more novice hikes to the Emerald Pools. Given that this trail was not in danger of flash flooding, it was pretty packed with hikers--mostly families and elders--which unfortunately slowed the pace. The views were phenomenal, so it was still a great experience. Being from the East Coast, there's so much novelty to take in!
I let the bf take the real pictures because I'm just
 so nice
 his camera is light-years better than mine.
And of course, leave it to the rain gods to clear up the skies after we showered up for dinner, getting our hopes up for some dry, epic hiking the following day.
On the way to dinner-- so beautiful!
Our evening backdrop.
We were having such a good time taking in the now-shining mountains that we took probably 2 hours to eat dinner. We found this great tex-mex place we enjoyed so much that we ended up going back there the next night. Our server(s) must have thought we were crazy (or lazy), because we sat around with a mostly finished bowl of chips and guac-- seriously there were maybe 5 chips left-- for an good 45 minutes before we decided to place our meal order. It was just such a different pace for the two of us who are normally go-go-go. I truly enjoyed the company I was with.

And that wasn't the end of the evening. Throughout dinner, we kept checking the ever-changing forecast for the following day. We would look once and it would say 40% chance of rain. Then upon next glance 20%. At one point it said 0%, to which I started rejoicing, and we headed over to the Zion Adventure Company to inquire about hikes for the next day.

So, it turns out the weather forecast was wrong (surprise, surprise), and the rep at the adventure company informs us that no, it is in fact supposed to rain, and flash flooding is likely. With that, our plans to hike The Narrows that day went out the window. After a good fifteen minutes asking for opinions on other possible hikes and a couple hours debating between two, we opted to hike out to Kolob Arch, the second largest free-standing arch, the next day.

Another early morning and a filling breakfast later, we drove out 45 minutes to the northwest entrance to the park and started our hike. Due to the change in elevation, it was quite the brisk morning and took a good hour (and 3 miles) to warm up. Thank goodness we each brought a couple jackets with us for this trip! The hike to the arch was 7-1/2 miles with the first mile and a half declining in elevation to eventually follow along a creek bed. Those first three miles were relatively quick--even with some lulls to take pictures, we knocked them out in an hour. However, the further in we got, the more picturesque the hike became, and while we were keeping up a good clip while we were moving, our photo breaks became longer (and well worth it!).
My pictures do it no justice (the boyfriend's are another story).
The last mile to the arch was a little tricky and not very well marked, but luckily we came across a family of experienced hikers on their way back up the trail, and they had set up little rock "fixtures" to mark the correct route. That last mile had some very hairy sections complete with rock scrambles and creek crossings. We may have missed the cue to cross the creek a few times and had to pave our own way. But alas!
Just in case: "look up."
Hi, my name is Liz and I creepily take pictures
of you taking pictures.
You can see that if you don't know where to look, you might just miss it. Hidden gem! We were lucky that, due to the 45-minute drive out to Kolob, we only shared the trail with a handful of hikers. Having found a log on which to take a break, we sat and ate our 10am lunch (#1) before heading back up the trail.

It was smooth sailing on the way back, with those last couple miles of incline presenting a welcoming challenge. Until it started raining. And by raining, I mean pouring. And by pouring I mean WHY?!?! It just so turned out that it was a spot shower, and we by the time it ended, we had a muddy half-mile in which to dry off a bit. And being that it was Utah, we were each our own personal saunas.

Upon getting back to the car, we took a few minutes to gather ourselves before making the return trip to Springdale. We even stopped at a local grocery store to get some fuel together for the next day, which was definitely THE day to hike The Narrows, a popular slot canyon in Zion National Park.

Flash forward through a shower, a nap, and dinner, we headed back over to Zion Adventure Company, where we rented water shoes, neoprene socks, and hiking sticks. If you ever plan on hiking The Narrows, I strongly encourage you to make the $22 investment into these necessities. While, yes, you could hike the narrows without these, it was infinitely easier and quicker with the right gear. With an early wake-up ahead of us, we called it an early night.

The next morning, the boyfriend and I awoke to darkness at the wee hour of 5(? - 530?). We dressed for the occasion, gathered our gear (and all of our belongings we brought with us: checkout day...) into the car, and drove to a parking spot on the side of the road just inside the park. From there, we took the shuttle (the first of the day) up through the park to the head of The Narrows trail. We may have been some of the first, but we weren't the only ones with the "early bird catches the worm" idea-- the shuttle was decently full!

We hopped off the bus, and away we went. The two of us share in some personality traits, a few being the "need for speed" or lack of dilly-dallying and a desire to accept any hiking challenge. Due to the very wet nature of this hike, I did not bring a camera, which means no pictures for you unfortunately. Once again, I let the real photographer take the pictures. (Note: my boyfriend is not actually a photographer, but he is really good at capturing things on camera. I would say my inability to take decent pictures is due to the lack of a decent camera, but we all know that is only an excuse.)

So I leave you with how we left Springdale and Zion that afternoon:
Just kidding. We left around noon that day-- not the evening-- en route to Park City. But you have to admit the sun setting on the mountains is as alluring as gold. There was so much that we didn't get to do due to the weather, so you better believe we will be back!

Stay tuned for Part 2! Aka I'm tired of typing this, so you surely must be tired of reading this.