Friday, August 29, 2014

Recommended Read - Last Train to Paris by Michele Zackheim

Last Train to ParisLast Train to Paris by Michele Zackheim
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Witness the atrocities of World War 2 as told by an American journalist of Jewish descent. With sweeping tales of hardship intermingled with hope and love comes this incredibly strong heroine determined to tell the true story of the war. I loved the intense feel of this story, and the believable characters who played their parts in the unraveling of Europe during the Nazi takeover and occupation. I cried out for their losses, reveled in their celebrations, and felt like I was witnessing events first hand. This is a stunning novel that is definitely a must-read for anyone who enjoys strong female characters and harsh looks at past realities.

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Recommended Read - North of Boston by Elizabeth Elo

North of BostonNorth of Boston by Elisabeth Elo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a fast, gritty thriller with an interesting female protagonist. It touches on murder, spies, government agencies, domestic violence, and alcohol and drug addiction all while spinning a web of mystery around a boating accident with unusual circumstances. While I loved the main story, I did sometimes stumble over the unusual names and wished a couple of parts had been a little less predictable, while other parts could have been left out since they didn't seem to play much of a role in the grand scheme of the story. However, overall this was a solid read!

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Recommended Read - Pirates of Financial Freedom by Joey Fehrman

Pirates Of Financial FreedomPirates Of Financial Freedom by Joey Fehrman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Arrr" you looking for a new kind of financial novel? Does sifting through boring textbooks with little entertainment value make you want to walk the plank? Want to add some adventure to your financial life? Then this is the book for you!

Pirates of Financial Freedom is a short and sweet little financial novel packed with information. If you can get through the cheesiness (yes, complete with pirate talk and superfluous romance) you will find a treasure trove of valuable financial information, great for teens and young adults. Older adults will still find some of the advice helpful, though some really only applies to those of us who haven't already forged a financial path (for better or worse).

I actually ended up reading through this book twice in a row - once for the entertainment value, and then the second time for the financial knowledge.

This book would be a great gift for high school graduates!

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Recommended Read: Mouch & Company - The Dream Psychic by Bob Dixon

Mouch and Company: The Dream PsychicMouch and Company: The Dream Psychic by Bob Dixon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Without any offense to either author, I feel this book is like the "Harry Potter" of physic realms! :) There's loony bins and sock puppets and invisible friends who can knock people over for you - what's not to love? Throw in an academy for kids with psychic abilities, an intriguing villain, and some rather trippy dreams and you have the recipe for this fun story. It was fast-paced enough that I could read it while working out on the treadmill - not many books can say that! ;) I enjoyed the fresh, interesting characters and would read more by this author.

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Recommended Read: Poisoned by Steve Shukis

Chicago PoisonerChicago Poisoner by Steve Shukis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When you read a biographical tale, you run the risk of being bored out of your mind by the various facts and figures and numerous page notes. Not so with this amazing read about a man who was accused of poisoning almost an entire family!

I loved that in the beginning, you were receiving certain information that made it seem probable and despicable, but by the middle and end you found yourself doubting everything!

There were twists and turns, incredible characters, and a glimpse at a period of time in Chicago where corruption held its place in society.

Even if you don't usually read non-fiction, you should definitely check this one out!

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Gone Reading - A Bookish Gift Delight!

Remember a couple of weeks ago when I mentioned that I had received a wonderful package from the folks at Gone Reading? Well, I've finally found the time to review their products and tell you more about them!

First of all, they are an online store dedicated to great bookish gifts - everything from tshirts to book lights to themed sets (for example, if you have an Edgar Allen Poe fan in your life, there is a set for that!). They sent me three amazing items: a t-shirt, a reading journal, and a floating bookshelf.

As a travel agent, of course I LOVE beach themed items, so when you can combine a beach theme AND books I'm one happy gal! They sent me the following shirt that is definitely something I'll be wearing on my next cruise, which you can find here.

The floating bookshelf was something I had been secretly coveting for years on places such as Etsy and Ebay, so I couldn't wait to try one out! The one they sent me can be found here. My advice? Buy more than one! These are sooo cool, fun, and look great in any room! Plus, for those of us (like me) that live in a smaller amount of square footage, these don't take up valuable floor space unlike traditional bookcases. I think this is one thing that will stay on my gift list year round!

Finally, they sent me this reading journal. I wasn't sure if I would like something like a reading journal, since I keep most of my reviews in a small wirebound notebook before I post them on Goodreads and this blog. Boy was I surprised at how cool the journal really was! Since the pictures on the website don't do it nearly enough justice, here are some of the fun things that can be found inside of the reading journal:

The last pic is of my personal favorite feature - book lists! They have everything from books Oprah has had in her book club, to prize winners over the years, to favorites in each genre.

Look - if you love books, or know someone who does, this should be your first stop when purchasing a bookish gift! Hands down, these items were well-made and wonderful, and priced affordably.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Depression and Suicide: Reflecting on Robin Williams

I've been watching the back and forth of the various voices out there who have weighed in on Robin Williams' untimely and truly sad death. I've stayed silent, processing each side. And frankly, I feel THIS ARTICLE (well ok, technically it was an original post and then a response) is probably the most comprehensive way to describe how I feel about this situation.
Contrary to critics, it doesn't blame the deceased or say that depression is "curable" or anything like that. In fact, it points to the fact that depression and suicidal tendencies are at their very core incredibly deep rooted, multi-symptomatic and multi-causal, difficult things to deal with. But even at the very end, there is a choice, and I would hope to God and all things holy in this world that my family and friends, as well as my own self, would choose to try and find life the acceptable route to take! There is always someone out there who loves you, someone who appreciates having you around and would miss you when you were gone, even if you feel like there isn't.
Our job as human beings is to try and spread joy and happiness, rather than perpetuate the myth that we are all unhappy. Yes, life is hard. Yes, it's unfair. Yes, sometimes it just flat out sucks! But I have to believe that there is something more, something to strive for, even if I feel like everything is working against me.
Before you say I don't understand - trust me, I do. I do in a big way. Every day is a challenge and another pink pill (or two) along with various other therapies. I've been at rock bottom before, where I just couldn't see the light or the reason for life. But the fact was that I could tell there were some people who cared - not a whole lot of them, and some of them for the wrong reasons - and I knew that if I hadn't been taken out of this world via the hand of God, then I really had no right to do it to myself. Even though I wanted to. BADLY. I wanted the pain to end, the darkness to fade. And honestly? I wanted people to realize that maybe I was someone special that they should have cared more about. That was selfish of me, but perhaps even more indicative of the people I was surrounding myself with who weren't spreading joy and happiness or who saw me as a dispensable part of their lives - and guess what?
I made new friends. I found a small piece of happiness every day, even though some days that was something like junk food (yep, I'm a binge eater when I'm depressed - yet another side effect that many people don't talk about) or the fact that I hadn't punched anyone in the face (hey, sometimes people deserve a good punch in the face!).
Oh, and I don't think you have to be religious to avoid suicide. In fact, at the point in my life where I was the most suicidal, I also considered myself to be religious and attended religious services frequently (and even did a few stints at Christian summer camps as a junior and senior counselor). One of my most religious friends committed suicide. I know plenty of atheists who have found ways to make the choice to live. Either way, it's a spiritual thing as well as a mental and emotional thing - it's too complicated to confine to the worldly plane, so I think even atheists can agree there is a component that sits in your soul.
So, this message goes out to all of YOU - those who struggle, and those who don't but love someone who does. Let's promise to be a better support system and spread joy and happiness as much as possible. We can't go back in time and undo the suicides that have already happened, but we CAN be an ACTIVE part of suicide prevention - for ourselves, and for others. Let's make the choice.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

21 Day Fix Day 11: Results!

We finally reached the halfway point! For us, this is pretty much the end - we have one last day of meals planned for tomorrow but otherwise are out of menus. And we are definitely going to continue the workouts!

So, how did we do? Keep in mind that we followed the eating plan 100%, but added in a rest day every third day for the workouts to make sure my pain didn't get too unmanageable. I take it back - I think one of the days we got one of the measurements wrong and ended up having extra blue and one short orange, but otherwise we were spot on. :)

First, our measurements didn't really change, so I'm not going to bother with them. They weren't up, they weren't really that much down, but we weren't expecting them to change much in 11 days.

How did our body fat fare? Mine didn't change. Again, no biggie since it was 11 days. But my husband, being a man, thus having an easier time burning fat, managed to lose 2% body fat! Pretty impressive.

Finally, our weight. Keep in mind we only did this for 11 days. I managed to lose 1.5 lbs, while Chris was able to lose 3! Not bad for 11 days. Sure, I needed to lose fat more than he did, but he has always been naturally thinner and so it just figures he'd lose twice as much! ;)

What do these results show about this program? It DOES work - and it does it in a slow yet reasonably safe way. Most likely, you won't lose massive amounts of weight in the first 21 days and will have to cycle through the program several times. Additionally, at some point you will have to up your calories because you can't keep on such a strict regimen long term without damage to your body (NO, I'm not a doctor. And no, I'm not a nutritionist, or dietitian, or nurse, or anything like that. So I can't give you any medical mumbo jumbo, just plain talk).

Will we do it again? Probably. We will see how the week off goes while Chris is in India. In the mean time, we plan to adapt the diet slightly to include more of the foods we like, but in smaller portions and less often. And the workouts are staying - as much as I can't believe I'm saying this, we are actually starting to ENJOY working out!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

21 Day Fix Day 10: The Groove

Now that we've decided to end early, I found my groove! ;) Actually, I still feel like this is a bit too restrictive, but the food today did work out nicely.

We had leftover meatloaf for lunch with our new favorite salad, which includes a chopped pear and some sunflower seeds with an oil and vinegar dressing.

Then I headed to the dentist for some unpleasant work - I have some mostly hereditary gum disease, and needed scaling and planing done (google it if you're interested, it's not great). That was a 3 hour dental visit!

I was worried how dinner would work, because I knew I needed something soft and easy. We had a version of mac and cheese planned - and it worked out WONDERFULLY! The sauce was a mix of a small amount of cheese and some boiled/pureed cauliflower with seasonings. I just wish we could have had more! We mixed in some leftover ham that we had in our freezer.

Then our dessert/snack was just as good - it was ricotta mixed with some cinnamon, a tsp of sugar, and a splash of vanilla extract then topped with strawberries. It was pretty darn close in taste to cheesecake!

Our workout today was the only disappointment - it was Yoga. Not really my thing, since I have terrible balance and little coordination. Plus, I was kind of in the mood for something more energetic. That being said, we both agreed it would be the perfect workout for our rest days! So now we will have every third day be Yoga, assuming I don't fall over and hurt myself during one of the sessions.

Tomorrow we'll see how 11 days of the program did for our weights and measurements! I'm not expecting a big change in either, but a move in the right direction is still a good thing.

Monday, August 4, 2014

21 Day Fix Day 9: Cutting it short

Today was another tough day. I wasn't feeling well again, and totally forgot last night to lay out the pot roast. That wouldn't have been too terrible, but I didn't remember that it was on the menu so that means I didn't get it into the crock pot until 2:30pm! Yipes! I put it on high, which I hate doing. It dries it out too much for my liking.

Meanwhile, lunch didn't sound good - egg salad using the dressing we made last week - so I modified, but still didn't get enough to eat. I ended up using up my snacks well before the pot roast would be done because of how late I started the pot roast.

Then the cravings really hit. I was sweating, cranky, tired, hungry... and full of reasons why I just didn't want to do this anymore!

I couldn't trust myself to leave the house - and that made me worried because I started my training for my new job last week, and sometime this week I'll start working outside the home (the training is online) - and mostly at grocery stores surrounded by food. This eating plan really requires access to a refrigerator and/or microwave (all that darn fresh produce) - you can't really just grab something while you are out, or throw together a sandwich.

By the time Chris came home, I was already kinda yuck... but then he confirmed that his work is sending him to India - and he leaves Saturday! It requires two days of flying there, two days of flying back, and while he is there he'll be working around the clock and eating what he can when he can.

After much discussion, we decided that we will be ending the official eating plan on Day 12, which is when my menu runs out. At that time, we will switch to a more modified version where we will eat the regular things we like, but categorize them and portion them with the container measurements as much as possible. :) Meanwhile, he'll just be getting exercise while working and plans to walk around the airports when he is there, but I'm going to keep up the 21 Day Fix workouts along with my personal training.

When he gets back, we'll see about going back to a stricter 21 Day Fix plan again. The hard part is that with his work, he travels a lot (more than I do as a travel agent!) and that can make it difficult to work out and follow a meal plan, especially this one that requires so darn much prep work!

What does this mean for results? It's hard to give a truly accurate picture when you can only follow the plan halfway (well, a little less than), but we both plan to weigh in and measure on Wednesday since that is when I have personal training before running out of meal plans and where I got my initial weights and measures. That will at least show whether or not the plan was starting to work, it just might not be very impressive yet.

Needless to say, I'm disappointed yet relieved all at once. I feel like this has been extremely difficult for me, food wise. But that is an area that I always struggle with, and probably always will.

But I'm not going to throw this all away - I'm going to work hard to find a good moderation and try to keep working on my weight loss journey. Who knows - maybe when Chris gets back he'll have three weeks home in a row and we can give this another try!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

21 Day Fix Day 8: The Mystery of "Dirty 30"

All week long, we have been looking forward to the workout today - not necessarily because we like to work out (though I must admit, we are definitely getting to like it more and have made it a much more regular part of our routine) but because this whole time we have wondered what the heck the "Dirty 30" workout would entail!

Our guess was that it would be some kind of ab workout, since there wasn't anything labeled that would be abs only.


The workout today was definitely one of the harder ones - it was a full body toning/muscle workout. We are very thankful that tomorrow is a rest day - boy are we sore after that one! But we also agreed that we are both feeling stronger, regardless of whether or not we have lost weight. While the food has been 50/50 successful, the workouts - while hard - have been something that I could see us doing long term.

Speaking of food, today we planned on quesadillas for lunch and some Mediterranean pasta for dinner. However, when we got closer to dinner, the thought of tuna made me feel queasy (sometimes it does that to me - it's the only seafood I eat, and even then I usually have to WANT to eat it) so we swapped for a different day that was grilled chicken with a green bean salad and sweet potato fries since the counts worked for what we needed.

Sadly, tonight's dinner didn't work out as planned, and this was the first time that I feel the 21 Day Fix eating plan wasn't sufficient. How do you plan ahead for a meal that goes wrong? You don't want to buy a bunch of extra produce that you might have to throw away, and we can't just fall back on what we used to do - either order a pizza or make sandwiches!

Yes, pizza is listed on the restaurant list - you can have I believe one slice, but it counts for 2 yellow and 1 red or blue, etc. But then the problem is that suddenly you have the rest of a pizza sitting in your fridge, and trust me as a binge eater I would literally hear that "calling" to me to eat it, leading to a binge!

So, both Chris and I choked down what we could of chicken that was dry and didn't hit the spot, burnt green beans (the green bean salad called for stir frying the green beans) and sweet potato fries that were undercooked and mushy. Then I had some deli meat (to help supplement my red shortage) thinking I could always pop out and buy another container, and some mint tea. Chris boiled a couple of eggs for himself.

I have a feeling we are both going to be hungry tonight while we try to sleep, and very hungry when we wake up! If I could change something about this plan, I'd work in some kind of contingency for when meals go awry.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

21 Day Fix Day 7: Almost to the breaking point

Throughout this plan, both my husband and I have been battling some food demons. Let's face it - our bodies are in a little bit of shock, getting rid of so many junk foods and adding so many natural foods all at once!

It also doesn't help that I tend to struggle with intense food cravings and periods of binge eating. Chris has fewer problems with those issues, but even he isn't immune to these feelings.

Today started off well enough, but I began having some stomach cramping around lunchtime. Eating made it worse; I tried resting but no real help there. So I forged ahead with the workout, and surprisingly it did help! I think I just ate some strawberries that weren't fresh enough - by Day 6, the things we hadn't run out of were a little questionable (at least, the softer things like berries). Chris had said his tummy was a little off the day before, so I think that's all it was. A little mint tea with a bit of honey helped, too!

But then Chris did a naughty thing - don't worry, this is safe to read lol! - he mentioned one of my trigger foods. OUCH! So of course, in my OCD, food craving, binge eating brain, I started wishing I had some.

Wishing is one thing, but then we had to run errands, and of course suddenly I was surrounded by LOTS of my triggers - what can I say, some gals have a thing for shoes, I have a thing for food! And kittens...

Not only that, but one of the items we wanted to buy got sold out literally right before we purchased it, so we had to go to a couple of other stores to find it. By then, it was past 6pm, and even though I had eaten my snack of peanuts and an orange, I was getting VERY hungry!

I became like I imagine most addicts become - I was irritable, shaky, and desperately wanting to cheat on this diet. It's amazing how quickly I wanted to throw all of my hard work out of the window!

The good news? Chris made sure I didn't cheat. We got home, made our dinner, and even though that means we didn't get around to eating dinner until 8pm (yeah, that means we're staying up later and gonna have to sleep in a bit tomorrow) we stuck with the program!

One thing that is helping both of us right now is that we keep reminding ourselves that it's only for 21 days. What does that mean for the long term sustainability of this program? I'm not sure. We tried broaching on the subject once I was safely full and not crazy anymore, but then it got a little overwhelming and for right now we want to take it a day at a time. I think we will most likely keep many of the elements, but might add back in some of our favorites (like butter).

So for those of you following along - STAY STRONG! And definitely do this with a partner - a friend, a spouse, a sibling, a parent, whatever. It will help you when you get into a weak place and want to cheat (hopefully).

Oh - and I didn't get a chance to scan my menus for this week, since I'm not sure if any of you are bothering with them (and honestly, you might have better luck on this plan if you make your own meal plans with the foods you like). But if you truly want them, let me know and I'll try to get them posted tomorrow.

Friday, August 1, 2014

21 Day Fix Day 6: Winging It

Today was the day I was dreading for the first few days - Day 6, which I didn't fully meal plan for! Since I wasn't very familiar with the plan when I was first starting out, I decided that I would fully plan 5 days and then the 6th day I just planned the breakfast and part of lunch. 

Guess what? Winging it wasn't so bad! We both were able to find leftover foods that fit the categories we needed to fill. 

That also means that I had to do grocery shopping again. Chris and I managed to finish our next 6 days of menus last night, so I had a list ready to go this morning. Even though our menu planned had meals with leftovers (and in my opinion, were better planned), I actually ended up spending MORE!!

But before you start chucking this plan out the window for being too pricey - it was partially because Baker's had a TON of produce on sale this week, so I bought several items not on our list! That includes a big bag of grapes, some fresh broccoli, a loaf of Udi's bread that was on clearance, and hormone free chicken breasts because they only ended up being a couple of dollars more expensive than regular chicken breasts. Final cost was just over $156. 

There's also one other factor that needs to be weighed when I look at that grocery price - before this eating program, we ate out a minimum of once per week, sometimes more. That probably factored in not just money at restaurants, but various delivery fees OR gas/mileage to get to/from the restaurants. 

So really, I think so far I can swallow the costs so far. It's not great that I haven't had a regular paycheck in a few weeks, but on the bright side today I started my NEW part time day job so soon that won't be a problem!