Wednesday, December 17, 2014

I'm Free, but Not Quite Merry

I realize I may be talking an empty room here. I'm afraid I've lost a lot of you out there since I've been so quiet these last few months. My studies kind of took over my time and energy. Related confession: graduate school is a bit more challenging than...er, well everything that came before it. BUT I am happy to brag announce that I made it through my first semester with all A's. Am I proud, you ask? In the words of one Rory Gilmore, "Well, I'm not hiding when I pass a mirror." And if you happen to be wondering if I've been binge watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix since I finished finals, well...maybe.

I have to be honest, despite a tree dropping needles all over my living room, it sure doesn't feel like Christmas time. Last year there was tons of snow, and I was playing Christmas music non-stop. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I think I've caught a bit of the hum-bug. I don't know what's wrong with me. I have put on a handful of Christmas movies and didn't even finish them! I think my problem is that I missed my Christmas craze cue because my nose...no, my entire head...was stuck deep, deep in a book or buried under paper revisions. At least I'm not as bad as these people. I have some baking to do and a few parties to go to the rest of the week, so there is definitely hope for my feliz-navi-face.

And if that doesn't work, Chad and I are heading home soon, which means I will most definitely be flung into the holiday spirit upon arrival at my mom's house where Christmas has thrown up everywhere in the best of ways!

If there is any one else out there struggling like me. I will say that this heartwarming John Lewis Christmas advertisement will momentarily stave off those nasty humbug symptoms. Repeat viewing as needed.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Let Me Tell You About It: A Book Review on Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak

Can you believe it?

IT'S ALLLLIIIIIVE!!

By "it", I mean me, by the way. I am pausing grad. school for just second, to bring you this important message!

My university hosted a Take Back the Night event a few weeks ago, and it was very moving and empowering. If you're not familiar, Take Back the Night is a non-profit foundation that fights against domestic, dating, emotional, and sexual assault and abuse. At the event, some survivors of abuse shared their stories, others read or sang artful pieces. There was supposed to be a public march, too, but the weather was poor that evening. However, we still displayed our posters around the meeting area. I have to share my favorite:



In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I wanted to share a book review that is related. I had to read Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson for my Young Adult Literature course and I think it has a good and authentic message for teenagers (and really people of all ages). The issues covered in this novel are important and REAL. Pass it along if you have a young adult in your life or pick it up yourself!

[This review was adapted from an assignment for my YA course...Also, spoilers are included below]

The summer before freshman year of high school is always memorable. It is the time when 13- and 14-year-olds work to find a rite of passage, to in some way kiss their innocence goodbye. However, for some—teenagers like Melinda Sordino—the loss occurs harder and faster than ever desired.

 Laurie Halse Anderson’s young adult novel Speak is about a teenage girl, Melinda, who is sexually assaulted by an older peer at an end of the summer party. Instinctually, Melinda calls the police after the incident, but does not actually confess the actual offense. Not only does her phone call cause many of her schoolmates to get in to serious trouble, but also leaves Melinda to begin high school without a single friend—aside from a somewhat ridiculous pseudo-friend, Heather—nor a soul who knows the truth about what really happened at the party and her reason for calling the police.

 Alone and depressed, Melinda still manages to navigate the common teenage antics found in a suburban high school setting. Though her internal commentary is witty and cynical, offering up some humor to the reader, it also highlights the cruelty real-world teens experience at the wrath of peers and ignorant adults.

As her grades drop and she begins to cut class more and more, the reader experiences the acuteness of having to co-exist at school and in town with Melinda’s offender, Andy Evans. She watches as he moves on to new victims—her ex-best friends. For almost an entire year, Melinda literally doesn’t speak; it’s as if Andy Evans has taken her voice away with her soul. Page after page, hopelessness builds and a true concern for Melinda’s soul ensues, until eventually Anderson offers a climatic moment for Melinda to finally “speak.”

Year after year, Speak is banned from high school reading lists. Why? Oh, the usual: because the subject matter involves sex. Let’s be clear here. The sex in this book is actually rape, and Anderson’s narrative illustrates what happens when young people—any aged people, really—are firstly, taken advantage of and then, rendered silent by their own society. The fact that this book is repeatedly proscribed only perpetuates the silence that is engendered by our societal ethos.

Although, I wouldn’t rate this a five-star novel based on literary merit, I can’t tout its emotional power enough. For well over a decade, Anderson’s novel has spurred many a wounded individual to speak for themselves. It has removed them from fear and motivated them towards righteous vengeance. For all those readers who were and are in the need of healing, either for they are victims or for they have been infected as offenders, this book is worthy of attention and praise.



Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Happy Banned Book Week!

via Word Painting

I haven't had a lot of time to blog since I started a graduate program about a month ago, but I wanted to be sure to post a reminder that we are currently in the middle of Banned Book Week 2014. So here it is; consider yourself reminded, folks! ;)

I'm currently taking a special topics class on Young Adult Literature, and censorship has particularly been a dominant theme throughout the weeks of discussion (Side note: there are also titles we've already covered on the current ban list). I did not realize how many wonderful books have been challenged over the centuries. Take a look at the info graph from weldonowen below. It lists 22 different titles, ranging in ban categories and years from the mid-1800s to the 2000s.


Check out this list of banned classics. The American Library Association has complimented this compilation with the years, places, and reasons for each title's bans. 

And something for my fellow American readers, take a look at bandbooksweek.org's list of Banned Books That Shaped America.

If you love to read, believe in the power of books, and champion the freedom to read what you so choose, then pick up a title from the vast banned book listopia this week (goodreads is a great place to start in addition to the links I've shared above!). 

"Celebrate your fREADom!"

Friday, September 19, 2014

Runners Tell All: Race Bucket List

It's rather unfortunate that I've only been in graduate school for four weeks now and my poor blog here is being neglected so much. I guess if I'm only going to get around to posting once a month, it might as well be for Amanda and Beka's super awesome Runner's Tell All link-up. 


This month's prompt:

September 21 - Race Bucket List
What races would you love to do if you had the time/money? 

05: Kanawha Trace 50k/25k/10k This is an annual trail run that happens in my own backyard. It's making the list because I've heard it's extremely tough and it's something I just want to do to just do. I could have ran it this year; I had some running buddies try to talk me into it, but I just wasn't feel it. I had different friends running all three distances, and I heard stories ranging from monster hills to the dry heaves. I think I will start out with the 10k and work my way up (literally! This is the mountain state, you know!)

04:  Mississippi River Marathon. Because every one returns to their roots one way or another. I started my running life while I was still living in Mississippi, particularly in the Delta. And that's exactly where this race takes place, right on the river! Plus, I know the people that created and organize it-they're doing good things! In case, you were unaware, not all of us are fatties ;)

03: Walt Disney World Marathon. Because DUH. Who wouldn't want to see Mickey Mouse at the finish line?

02: Blue Ridge Relay You guys. This. is. so. cool. First of all, I'm intrigued by the relay aspect. You run individually, but work as a team, running a couple legs each, covering a 208 mile route. But the route isn't any old route; it winds through Grayson Highlands State Park, the New River, the Blue Ridge Parkway, Grandfather Mountain and Mt. Mitchell (the highest point east of the Mississippi)! If you've never been on the BRP, you haven't seen beauty before! The best part? The race ends in ASHEVILLE, one of my very favorite cities! I'm  seriously going to try to talk my running group into this

01: Marine Corps Marathon This is the big one. Every time I lace up, I've got a special Marine on my mind. I promised my daddy on his last birthday, days before he passed away, that I would keep running in his honor. He has taught me how to be tough in life and I mull over the lessons I learned from him a lot on my runs. I can't think of a more perfect race to represent his memory at!


I know this bucket list will change all the time, as I hopefully mark some of the currently listed races off, and hear about more "must-runs!" Actually, that will probably happen very soon…as in as soon as I start reading everyone else's lists. Join in the fun and link up!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Runners Tell All: Training

I'm very excited to hear from all the different runners out there in the blogosphere today as we link up with Amanda at The Lady Okie Blog and Beka at Sunshine to the Square Inch. And hey, hey there's a running related giveaway, too! Check it out by visiting one of the hosting blogs.


August Prompt:
Training: Favorite Person to Train With/Training Routine/Tips
Give us the scoop on your day-to-day running routine. Are you a social runner or do you like to take it solo? Do you run in the morning or evening? Pass along any handy training tips or advice about making sure you get up in the morning or how to safely run at night.

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I'm going to try to answer all those questions in the prompt, and I'm going to start by bragging about my awesome running group, the Huntington Road Runners! 


There are a lot of aspects I love about this city that we moved to a year ago this upcoming October, but one top reason is that there is a huge, enthusiastic and supportive running community here. In fact, Huntington is often times referred to as "Runnington". I really lucked out for someone who was training for their first half when we got here. 

I spent the whole winter dragging my butt into the cold alone to run my weekly milage. However, I never felt as alone as I did when I was running in my hometown. Here, there is always somebody else pounding pavement, too, and most the time they will give a friendly wave, thumbs up, or "you're doing great!" It is nice encouragement. When I first started running here, I felt like I was a part of something, even if I didn't necessarily know those stranger-runners.

I think it was late Februrary of early March when I worked up the confidence to join in on a group run with Road Runners. Of course, I was worried about not being as good or as fast as the rest of them…I figured they were all really serious. I was pleasantly surprise to get a warm welcome from the members, who were all very diverse in paces and motivations. Some like racing, some just run for fitness, and others are just in the group for a healthy social outlet. I was hooked on the group not only because I felt so welcomed, but also because in this group, I was running routes I  wouldn't necessarily have alone, especially the hills. For me, it really takes the support of someone else working along side, or ahead, or behind me to get me over that challenge. But because I started taking on more challenging routes with these guys, I shaved off something like a whole two minutes off my pace before my first half-marathon this past spring!

Additionally, I met some of my best friends I have in this new place through the group. I especially love running with these gals because they're positive and kind!



Here's the con to running with a group or a partner though. You get freaking spoiled! I run with the Road Runners twice a week, and sometimes a partner another day, but when I have to get out by myself, I struggle. I let myself quit more easily, and time just doesn't seem to pass as quickly. It's not because I don't have anyone to talk to because I honestly hate having a conversation while running-I'm trying to breathe up those dang hills! It's just not having that accountability and camaraderie along with you that makes it a bit tougher alone. However, I do think it's important for me to get in some runs with just myself every now and then. When I began my running journey, I began alone because I felt alone in some burdens I was facing and it was my cathartic way of working through those things…I have to come back to that. 

Everyone is different though! You may be an exclusive group or partner runner or you may be a lone ranger. 

My tips for running with or without others, but especially if you're alone, are:
  1. Someone in the group should bring a phone in case there is an emergency and 911 or family members need to be notified.
  2. Carry protection. It's a sucky truth but sometimes this isn't a nice world we live in. Dogs bite and bad people attack. There are many forms of defense that can be carried while running, but I usually bring along a pepper spray that has a hand strap specifically designed for runners.
  3. Always tell others where you will be running and approximately how long you should be out.
Now that I've spent most the post boasting about my cool running people, I want to move on to my technical preferences in training. Well, actually, I don't know that I prefer these things, but they work for reaching my goals and are compatible with my lifestyle and schedule.

As far as time of the day, I usually run in the early evening, partly because my group runs at 6 p.m. and partly because that's usually when I can squeeze in an hour or two for myself. In the summer that time of the day kind of sucks because it's usually still sunny and quite muggy (where I'm located), but during the cooler months, the conditions are awesome for running. When I can, I do love running in the morning because it makes me feel good the rest of the day. I believe that it's because of endorphins as well as not having to stress about being too tired or busy and then talking myself out of doing a run all together. 

My tips for running at any time of the day are no brainers:

  1. Wear bright and/or reflective clothing so that drivers will be aware that you're out there.
  2. Always hydrate before and after runs, but do some extra water drinking if you have to run during the hottest time of the day-you'll be sweating even more!
The last item I want to touch on concerning my training style is how much I actually train, because I think most people are looking for a magical formula. Unfortunately, there isn't one. It all depends on your goals, personal fitness, and schedule. For me, my goal is usually to finish a race strongly and beat myself. I've been successful in accomplishing those goals by running 3 to 4 times a week (2-3 shorter runs and one longer). When I'm not training for anything in particular but want to maintain, I run 2 to 3 times a week (moderate milage). Some training programs that I've had success with are the Couch to 5k plan, the intermediate level training plan found in Women's Running (from Runner's World), and Hal Higdon's programs. 

My tips for choosing a training formula/schedule are:
  1. Research different plans and methods, so that you know your options and can match them accordingly to who you are as a runner and a person.
  2. Seek out advice from fellow runners or experts (trainers, sports physicians, ect.)
  3. Be flexible. If you're scheduled to run, but your body is telling you it's too tired, it's probably more beneficial to rest. Unless you've just got a case of the lazies, in which case, get your butt out there!
Do you have any tips to add? When, where, and how do you run?


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Book Review: Wild by Cheryl Strayed {No Spoilers}


This book cover had caught my eye every time I'd been in a book store since it debuted on the shelves.  The title kept taking me back to Into the Wild (a title that holds a special place in my heart's shelf). The sub-title: "From Lost to Found on The Pacific Crest Trail" paired with the muddy hiking boot sent me into that same direction, too. In fact, it's been compared to Into the Wild as the female version (similarities, yes, but they each totally stand alone).  I opened up a copy while in Books-a-Million one time and noted that the 311 pages harbored standard, yet still pretty small text for a book about being all alone in the woods. I mean I LOVE the outdoors, but I figured reading about someone else's bird watching can't really be too entertaining. Well, I was like many in this assumption, thinking that the book was all about a young woman (not but a couple years older than myself), who while pretty outstanding for her age and lack of preparation or skill, just hiked a long trail.

However, it's not page after page of the "trees were so green, and the mountains so majestic." While the reader does get a lot of description of the actual trail experience, which is far from unrelieved and is quite vivid and varied, much of the book is a collection pre-Pacific Crest Trail moments that the author revisits on the trail. Many of these moments have to deal with family members, ex-lovers, and personal demons, some of which are still haunting her to the point that she has brought them out into the physical wilderness to do away with them once and for all. 

As an aspiring writer, I am so envious of Strayed's story telling skills. The way she takes the present moment, deviates to a memory, and then neatly brings the reader back is a flawless rendering. I will, however, warn the tender skinned reader against the crude nature of some of the author's composition. Strayed is very raw in describing her emotions, physical desires, and literal actions. I personally loved this. I didn't feel like it was forced for a shock factor or overused. The story is about someone who was tarnished inside and out, physically and metaphorically, and her choice of words, though not always the most socially accepted, were fitting for the imagery she wanted to convey. 

A couple of themes that really hit home with me were number one, human experience-the personal journey that we as people have to embark on and at some point take into our own hands; and number two, the indiffernece of the natural world to our trying to navigate that experience.

I would like to share one of my favorite passages that highlights the latter mentioned theme:

As I hiked, I moaned again and again, as if that would provide some cooling relief, but nothing changed. The sun still stared ruthlessly down on me, not caring one iota whether I lived or died. The parched scrub and scraggly trees still stood indifferently resolute, as they always had and always would.
     I was a pebble. I was a leaf. I was the jagged branch of a tree. I was nothing to them and they were everything to me.

Judging from all the underlining I did, I know I will be coming back to this book again and again for both enjoyment and inspiration. 

P.S. You may have heard that they're taking Strayed's memoir to the big screen later this year. Check out the trailer below, featuring Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Stayed. I think it's going to be a really, really good movie, but of course, I hope that you will read the book before seeing the film!


Have you read Wild? What did you think?

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Back Home from Being at Home

Well, hey! It's been pretty quiet around here. I meant to blog a lot while I was in Mississippi since my mom would only get to be off of work for one of the two weeks I was there, and I figured I would have some down time to write. BUT, after 2 years of my immune system kicking A, it gave out on me while I was on vacation!  Fortunately, it was the second week I was there and not while my mom and I were having fun. So, while I was drinking broth and popping antibiotics, I watched a lot of movies instead of blogging.

Sorry.

On to the next excuse for my inactivity…

Chad and I just moved outside of the city limits where yes, it is gloriously quieter, but technological connections are faulty. In other words, we haven't had any luck getting our Internet installed correctly yet, so I'm typing this up at Chad's office.

Enough excuses; here are some snapshots of what I've been up to the last few weeks.


Drinking Mississippi brews.


Day tripping to the MS Delta to reminisce my college days and Cleveland living. I was able to catch up with a few professors, theatre pals, and some of the old Hey Joe's crew.


 Getting matching in memory of my dad (Buz) tattoos with my mom (her first!)


Coffee-ing and lunch-ing with some of my best friends I haven't seen in a very long time.



Spending some quality time with my very best friend, my mama!

We also took a trip to Oxford to visit William Faulkner's grave (my pictures won't load :{), ate a lot of delicious southern fried food washed down with beer I can't get in WV, celebrated four family birthdays, and watched a lot of HGTV, Criminal Minds, and movies. 

It's weird to be traveling between Mississippi and West Virgina, because I can't decide if I'm coming or leaving home. I miss my family all over again, but it's good to be back with Chad and my kitties, too. I've got a lot to do between getting our new place in order and preparing for graduate school to start in a few weeks. 

Hopefully, the Internet will be working soon and I'll get another post up in the near future.