July 2018 Book Recap

July was a fun month of reading! I read 7 books this month. Some of the books pictured in this stack represent others because I already returned them to the library.

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It had been a while since my last graphic novel. So July started with The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui. It was a beautifully illustrated graphic novel about the author’s family and immigrating from Vietnam. I knew next to nothing about Vietnam before or after the war. Bui does a great job of drawing connections between her childhood, her aspirations as a new mother, and the life her mother and father lived before she was born. The Best We Could Do has a contemplative quality to it and many of the illustrations encourage you to linger and consider their impact.

My next two July reads were the second and third books of the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy by Kevin Kwan. I thought the middle book (China Rich Girlfriend) in the trilogy was better than the conclusion (Rich People Problems). But overall an interesting story that I enjoyed reading! I am looking forward to seeing the movie coming out soon. If you are looking for a late summer pool read, I recommend starting with Crazy Rich Asians, the first book in the trilogy.

After finishing the trilogy I took a little bit of time to decide what my next read would be. At the beginning of the summer I had made a list for myself of books that I wanted to read this summer. I considered a few from the list, but I ended up ordering A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. It was all over bookstagram last summer and it has a very memorable man crying on the cover. I had been thinking about reading it for over a year! It was just the kind of epic 800+ page novel that I needed to dive into. A Little Life is a book that will linger in my mind for a very long time. I fell in love with the four friends (Willem, JB, Malcolm, and Jude) and their journey, struggles and celebrations, through adulthood. Earlier in the summer I read The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne and the characters in A Little Life reminded me a lot of Cyril Avery in different ways.

Maybe my next two reads were dissapointments because the shadow left by A Little Life was so big… I really wanted to like Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Books about books are usually my favorite. I didn’t feel strong connections to Montag or any of the main characters in Fahrenheit 451. I wanted to see more from Clarisse and some of the other minor characters. I followed Bradbury with a new book that has been getting a lot of publicity, Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover. Educated fell flat for me. Similar to Fahrenheit 451, I struggled to connect with any of the individuals. The abuse that Westover faced by her family was terrible, but I was concerned by the lack of analysis she gave to the actions of others. I would have liked to have seen a conclusion that looked back and more clearly articulated the abuses she suffered, rather than leaving it implied, especially related to the risky situations her father put her and her siblings in while working in the junk yard.

Finally, I was happy to end the month with a book that surpassed my expectations. I had my eye on The Power by Naomi Alderman since it was a Book of the Month club pick in October 2017. I purchased a used copy at the Book Barn in Niantic in May. It probably would have sat on myself unread for a while if it wasn’t for Kate McGuire. She told me that her book club in DC was going to read it. I decided to make it my next read in so that we could discuss it when I visited DC. As I said before, The Power pleasantly surprised me! I knew a little bit of the premise before reading, but the execution of the plot was incredible. I loved the themes that Alderman tackled and the way she handled them: patriarchy, human nature, religion, etc. If you like Sci-fi or dystopian fiction, I highly recommend The Power, especially if you like The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and the Hulu TV show.

I have one more month of summer “break” before the fall semester starts. Hopefully I can squeeze in a few more fun reads before it’s back to theology, exegesis, etc!

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2017 Reading Challenge

In 2017 I participated in the Goodreads Reading Challenge and finished 53 books.

I had never done a reading challenge before. I started actively using Goodreads in the second half of 2016. I had seen others post about their progress on 2016 challenges and thought it would be a fun way to push myself to see how much I could read.

At the time that I started the challenge I was still working full time in Alexandria, VA and commuting from Petworth in Washington, DC. I took the metro to work, which gave me at least an hour and a half of uninterrupted reading time each day. Some days, thanks to metro delays, I had up to 3 hours of reading time!

I read 38 books before the beginning of July when I left my full time job and took a month long summer vacation. I started grad school full time in August and my reading for fun slowed immensely. Luckily I managed to finish 3 books during Thanksgiving break and 3 during Christmas break!

My best reading month was January when I finished 13 books. According to my reading challenge, my worst reading months were September and October when I didn’t finish any books. In reality, I was constantly reading for grad school, but I didn’t read the full text of any book.

My first suggestion to anyone who wants to read more: always carry a book with you. I tend to prefer physical books, but I always have at least one book downloaded on the Kindle app on my phone. I only read two books electronically in 2017. Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout I read on my Kindle and Only Child by Rhiannon Navin was an electronic advance reader copy I received through Book of the Month that I read on my laptop.

I listened to one full audiobook in 2017, Hillbilly Elegy. When my parents helped me move from DC to New Haven, CT, we listened to it in the car. I have downloaded some other audio books from the library, but the jury is still undecided on whether audiobooks are my cup of tea.

I read 6 graphic novels and 1 book of poetry. I discovered a passion for graphic novels thanks to this reading challenge. Shout out to DC Public Library for their impressive collection of graphic novels. I hope to continue reading the Paper Girls series and would also like to finish the March series.

My second suggestion to anyone who wants to read more is to read what you enjoy. If I am 100 pages into a book, don’t like the characters and am not invested in the plot, I have no problems with putting it down. I know that I enjoy primarily fiction, 35 books I read this year were fiction. I enjoy family dramas, historical fiction, and science fiction.

I recognize that part of my ability to finish so many books in 2017 is that I am a fast reader. But I also actively chose to spend time reading. This meant I didn’t spend much time listening to podcasts or NPR. I also didn’t go to the movies more than 5 or 6 times all year. I enjoy reading and decided to prioritize it for this year.

My reading challenge for 2018 will be very different than 2017. In 2018, my challenge will be 12 books. I enjoyed seeing the quantity of books that I could finish in 2017, but I’d like to step outside my comfort zone in 2018. I want to work through some classics and I also want to read more of the Bible. Maybe I’ll even catch up on a few episodes of This American Life?

I’m working on a post of my top five books that I read in 2017. I will share it soon. Happy reading!

Book Review: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

First a bit of a backstory, I commute 45 minutes each way to work on the metro. I love to read and almost always carry at least one book with me. When I’m enjoying a book, in particular novels, I can usually finish them in a day or two. Thus I read A LOT of books. I often talk with friends and family trading book recommendations, but sometimes I’ve read so many books in the previous month they all start to blur together. Therefore my goal is to write at least a short book review for each book I read, which I can refer back to later when recommending future books!

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle ZevinStoriedLifeofAJFikry

This book arrived to me via my mother. I’m not sure how she received it or was recommended it. I finished it in early November 2015.

Honestly I didn’t know what to expect at first while reading this book. I was completely surprised by the package that shows up at A.J.’s store! I won’t ruin the surprise for other readers. The relationships throughout the book felt very real to me and I enjoyed the twists and turns in the plot.

One of my favorite characters in the book was Lambiase. I really enjoyed his perspective and his book club he started with fellow police officers. I also recently referenced the book club A.J. started with the women of the island where they read all the books about “wives.” For someone who reads a lot, I thought it was very funny!

I created a new genre in my mental library because of this novel, books about books. I decided that I love books about books, two other examples that I have read are: Mr. Penumbra’s 24 hour bookstore and People of the Book. One that is on my to read list: The Little Paris Bookshop. The author of Fikry compiled a list of the literary references within the book, viewable here.

TL;DR: Great book, definitely worth a read, especially if you like book stores!

100 Miles… According to MapMyRun

Yesterday I reached 100 miles in my training for the Tobacco Trail 11.28.15RunMarathon, well… according to MapMyRun. In reality,  I hit 100 miles a few weeks ago but I don’t always load up the tracking apps for my runs. However, this seems like a fitting time to recap my training thus far and hopefully jumpstart future blogging on my training for my first marathon.

How did I get here? All the way back in April I sent my dad a link for a Disney Marathon. I always told myself that if I ever did a marathon it would be a Disney marathon. In April when I got an email from Disney that registration for their marathon was opening the next day, I forwarded the email to my dad and said, “I’ve been thinking about a goal of doing a marathon within the next year. Would you want to do this race with me? Sign up is tomorrow. And it usually sells out instantly. I know it’s short notice, but I think it would be really fun!” (Yep thanks to Google, I searched and found the exact email I sent to him back in April!). Well my dad, being the bargain hunter that he is, sent back a short message in reply… “How about we do this race instead… http://www.tobaccoroadmarathon.com/.”

Yep,  just a link to the race. I had heard of the Tobacco Road Marathon because my dad and brother ran it for the first time in March 2015. They had both completed several marathons previously and said it was an enjoyable race. According to the tagline on the race website, “Fast, Flat, and Fun!” which sounded pretty similar to their recap of the race. Being the optimist that I am, I replied back to my dad, “Okay that sounds good.” 30 minutes later I received an email confirmation with my race registration. Yes, my dad instantly registered us both for the race. In order to secure the lowest rate of course! Thus concludes the story of me signing up to run my first marathon.

RWBArmy10MilerNow fast forward another 6 months or so. I’ve been training for this race now for the past three months. I’ve trained for several half marathons, but I’m currently on the horizon of running the farthest I’ve ever run! So far my training has been going very well and it has been a great opportunity to see new parts of DC and other cities that I’ve been in during my training.

I am excited to see what the next 14 weeks have in store and where my training will bring me. If you want to follow along with my training logs, please subscribe to my blog along the right hand side. Do you have marathon training tips? Please comment below to share them with me!

National Running Day

Today is National Running Day!

I wasn’t aware of this event, but I am happy to celebrate it now. Many of my friends know about my interests in fitness and that I’m currently training for the Nation’s Tri. But talking with my friends about National Running Day was a great way to spark a new conversation about health and fitness. first half marathon

I will never forget how I felt nearly four years when I started running with the Living Person group at John Carroll University. Running was something I really struggled with during high school. I was the goalie for my school field hockey team and I always dreaded the one time per season that we had to run timed 2 miles. Before high school, I was never interested in running even short distances and could not imagine running a half marathon. All of that changed when I became a part of an inspirational and motivational community, the Living Person. Being friends with Jurell and Craig, the leaders of the Living Person group, allowed me to challenge myself.

My first personal challenge was to run a 5k, the Footprints for Fatima race at John Carroll during Homecoming weekend 2011. I enjoyed that race and decided to take on a bigger challenge, the Peace Race, a 10K in Youngstown, Ohio later that fall. I remember just before Christmas break that semester Jurell and Craig talking about how they were going to try and run their first half marathon in the spring. I thought to myself, jeez I’ve done all these other things I didn’t think I could do. Maybe I can do that too! Sure enough I followed my training plan and March 2012 I ran my first half marathon with my best friend Sarah Castellano by my side every step of the way.

Finishing my first half marathon was a turning point in my health and fitness. I realized that if I put my mind to a goal then I could achieve it – even if it seemed out of reach at first. Incredibly, all of this confidence stemmed from the simple act of running! triathlon finishers

It’s important for me to reflect back on where my fitness journey has brought me over the years, especially now that I’m gearing up for some much bigger personal fitness goals. The Nation’s Tri on September 13th will be a race of many firsts for me: my first Olympic distance triathlon, my first open water swim race, and my first road bike race. Along the way I’m hoping to continue to blog about my training, especially tri-specific training.

My other big personal fitness challenge coming up is still about 9 months away. A few weeks ago after talking with my dad and a lot of personal reflection, I decided to sign up for my first marathon! Next March I’ll be running the Tobacco Trail Marathon in Cary, North Carolina. This race was recently recognized by Runner’s World as one of the 10 best new marathons. My dad and my brother ran the marathon together this year. And next year I will be out there running it with my dad by my side!

I truly believe no matter how big or small your fitness goals seem, if you set up a plan for yourself, have a good support system, national running dayand put in the work, then anyone can achieve their goals. I never dreamed I would run a half marathon before I could barely run a mile. Truthfully some days I still have a hard time running a mile! Personal fitness is something that is continually being improved and is different for everyone. So today for National Running Day, I encourage you just to go out there and RUN!

P.S. if you’re interested in taking a bigger leap and signing up for a triathlon, join me at the Nation’s Tri September 13th. There is a one day sale today in celebration of National Running Day, no code needed!

2015 = Tri New Things!

***I started writing this post last month. Just finished it now.

triathlonfinisherI am declaring 2015 the year of trying new things. This all began on January 4th when I raced the Lifetime Fitness Indoor Tri. Serena, my trainer and friend, had invited all of her friends to join her only a few weeks before. I figured that thanks to her kickass workouts I was in the best shape of my life… So if there was any good time to take the leap into triathlons, I might as well just go for it, rather than overthink it and put it off. Melissa Zinder was the only other girl crazy enough to say yes to Serena!

I’d been thinking about doing a triathlon since fall 2012 when I accompanied Jurell Sison and Craig Sidol to their triathlon in Detroit. I was the photographer/videographer for their race. It was an awesome weekend watching from the sidelines and they both seemed to have a good experience racing their tri. I’d always kept the idea of racing one myself in the back of my mind.

The Lifetime Indoor Tri was a great way to start! I didn’t place a ton of pressure on myself since I hadn’t done any tri specific training. I was able to just enjoy the race. Throughout, I kept thinking “Jeez this is so much easier than running 13.1 miles!”  We did a 10 minute swim, followed by a 30 minute bike, and finished with a 20 minute run. Our first triathlon complete within one hour!

Another great part of the race was meeting people from Team RWB. Serena had joined RWB a few months before. Team RWB is Team Red, White, and Blue and their mission is to enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity. After the race, Serena and I joined the group from RWB for brunch. A lot of the women were triathlon veterans with several races of various distances under their belts. We asked lots of questions and they shared their tips and tricks for racing tri’s in the DC area. Just sharing one meal with some RWB people I could tell what a great community it was. So I joined the next day!

nationstriSerena and I both agreed we wanted to race another triathlon after our postive experience at Lifetime. We both signed up for both the Westfields Sprint Tri (April 26) and the Nations Sprint Tri (September 13). We are now finishing our 5th week of training for the Westfields Sprint. I can’t believe how the time has flown. We’ve been running, biking and swimming indoors until now. With the warmer weather, it will be great to finally spend some time training outside. With only six more weeks until race day, I’m hoping to blog at least once a week with a training update!

If you’d like more information about Team RWB: http://teamrwb.org/

For more information about the various races:

Lifetime Fitness Tri – http://www.lifetimetri.com/

There is another round of indoor tri’s going on between April 11 and May 3. If you’re interested in racing your first tri, this is a great place to start! No need to worry about equipment or open water swim.

Westfields Sprint Tri – http://rev3tri.com/westfields/westfields-news/

Nation’s Tri – http://nationstri.com/

As the leaves change…

This past week I took the FSOT (Foreign Service Officer Test). This was the second time I have taken the test which is the first of many steps to be considered for employment at the Department of State. The first time I took the test was October 2012. I was still a senior at John Carroll. I did not really know what to expect the first time I took the test. I did not study much the first time, in part because I was busy with school commitments. After reading several different blogs on how to study for the test, this time I purchased a few apps in the iTunes App Store that are designed to help students prepare for AP exams. I used an app for AP US History and AP World History and found them to be very helpful.

IFall Leaves felt much more comfortable on the actual test day this time. I was very close to passing the test last time. However the way the hiring process works for the State Department, someone who barely passes the test probably won’t make it very far anyway and it is highly unlikely to be hired. Obivously I hope that I pass the test this time, but we’ll see!

When I was in Lebanon we met with officials from the embassy. Everyone I met there said they had taken the test multiple times, some up to eight times!

The one thing I realized quickly taking the test this time was a weakness of mine was writing the essay. It’s strange because I consider myself to be a good writer. I frequently write emails and reports for work. But writing essays like you do in school is not something that is found in the traditional working world. So moving forward, I am making a commitment to more blogging so that I can continue to improve this unique style of writing which is similar to short essays.

The photo is from a few weeks ago when I took the Megabus from DC to Pittsburgh. The blog title “As the leaves change…” symbolizes the change I am making by committing to blogging!