Wednesday, April 30, 2014

From the Land of Ma'am: Hiking Stone Mountain

And here I am with another hiking post. ;)  Doing these blog posts is a good way for me to capture the fun, positive memories of my time in NC, so hopefully you don't mind all these photo heavy posts.  Plus I have done a whole lot of complaining about living here, so maybe it's refreshing for you readers to read about some of the things I like about NC!  One of those things is definitely all the areas you can hike!

I was supposed to go to the Whitewater Center with a friend on Saturday but she ended up having to work so I figured I would save that for a week day when it'd be more quiet there and instead I went hiking at Stone Mountain State Park, which is about 90 minutes from Charlotte. I got there at 8:30 and there were only 2 other cars in the parking lot so I mostly had the trail to myself which was nice!

Early on in the hike there were great look-out spots which was nice.  As you can see, it was a gorgeous days.  Temps were in the 50s when I started and up to the 80s by the finish so I am glad I got an early start!

I climbed to the summit first which was strenuous but the switch-backs made it easier than if I would have had to climb stairs.  There were stairs on the other side of the summit so I am glad I went the direction I did!

I hiked a couple of trails off the main trail so got lots of different views of the horizon.  I will spare you the many, many pictures of the horizon that I took, but here is one of them.

About 2/3 of the way through the trail, you got a view of Stone Mountain itself.

And then I hit the "falls" part of the trail.  I love trails that go by water as the sound and views of rushing water are so peaceful.

I did have some mishaps on this hike.  First, I fell and slid  down some rocks when trying to get a picture of one of the small waterfalls.  Ouch.  The rocks did not look wet so this fall took me by surprise!  I had the hardest time climbing back up as the rocks were so slippery. 

My second mishap was when I was crossing a stream.  In hindsight I should have realized there were far to many rocks to step on and I should have taken off my socks and shoes.  But I didn't which means I stepped into water up to my ankle on both feet.  Hiking with wet socks/shoes is not ideal but it was towards the end of my hike so wasn't a big deal!

After about 3.5 hours of hiking, I got to the main attraction, which is the main waterfall.  I sat on some rocks at the base of the waterfall and had my lunch. After about 9 miles of hiking, I was ravenous!

Speaking of lunch, this is what I have been eating on my last two hikes, along with a tuna sandwich that I made at home.  These gopicnic meals are awesome as you get lots of different snacks like trail mix and crackers with some kind of spread.  I liked the first box I tried better as it had hummus with my favorite GF crackers.  I got these on sales at Target for $3.50 each which I think is reasonable.  It'd be a great little snack to bring on a long plane ride, so I will definitely be buying these in the future.

After resting for a bit, it was time to head back to the parking lot - which was located at the top of the falls...  which means I had what felt like 1,000 stairs to climb.  They just kept going and going and going.  My legs were already tired from hiking 9 miles so I was really ready to be done with the stairs when I got to the summit.

Luckily there were views of the waterfall along some parts of the staircases.

Finally, I reached the top and was awarded with this beautiful view.

Exhausted and happy to be safely back to the car!
There was another trail I was hoping to do from a different parking lot in the park but I opted not to do this since I had wet feet/shoes!  So I hit the road and got back to Charlotte in time to read a little Jane Eyre on my patio.  In my bathing suit since it was 80 degrees.  :)

I'm so glad I'm getting a chance to explore more of NC before I leave.  When I was doing this hike I was thinking about how a year ago, I would have been getting up and settling in for 6-8 hours of CFA studying.  Boy am I glad that phase is behind me.  It's been fun to explore all these hiking trails - I only wish I hadn't been in the boot all summer for that stress fracture as I think being able to do hikes like these on the weekends would have made living in Charlotte more tolerable, but oh well!  

If you found out you were leaving the area where you live, what would make your 'bucket list' of things to do/see?  I have a couple more hikes I want to do, and a couple of restaurants I want to eat at before I leave Charlotte.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Currently - April Edition

Wow, April is almost over!  Here's where my head is currently!

Reading:  Jane Eyre.  I don't read many classics but since I have all of this time off, I figured now was the time to tackle this book.  Plus, it is one of my mom's favorite books!  It's long (500+ pages) and I'm having trouble concentrating on reading these days so it is taking me awhile to get through it.

Loving:  the warm spring weather we've had lately.  It was 85 here this weekend so I actually went out boating with friends on Sunday.  Crazy to be on the lake is April as there is still ice on my parents' lake!

Thinking: about my move logistics.  It's a little tricky this time around since my belongings will go into storage until I can move into my new place on May 30th so I have to figure out how much clothes to pack into my car and what can be boxed up for delivery when I move in.  Decisions, decisions.  I'm also thinking lots about the drive back and where we'll stop and what snacks I should bring and blah blah blah.  I am probably annoying my mom with all the text messages about my planning process!

Feeling: so relieved that I have found my way home.  It still hasn't fully hit me yet I think because I am still here in Charlotte.  I think it will fully hit me when I leave Charlotte for good and arrive in Minneapolis in May.

Anticipating:  my move!!  My move trumps everything.Along with that move home, I'm anticipating spending Memorial Day weekend at the lake cabin and FINALLY meeting my niece Evelyn.  I have never gone this long without meeting a niece or nephew (she will be about 4 months when I meet her).

Watching:  very little TV these days because my two favorite shoes are done - one for good (HIMYM), one until next season (Parenthood).

Sad:  that my time with my employer came to such an abrupt halt.  I had a feeling that would be the case but it was surreal to have just a matter of hours to say my goodbyes to everyone.

Working: out pretty much every day, sometimes twice a day.  I start my new job on 5/27 so I clearly have a lot of time on my hands and working out is free and keeps me busy/sane.  I reached my 30 workouts in 30 days goal yesterday.  I'm proud of myself for achieving that because the first half of the month was hectic with lots of work travel and travel for interviews and such.

Grateful:  that I found a unit in my old building.  Having a place lined up to rent that I know I will LOVE is a HUGE relief. 

Listening: to Ingrid Michaelson's new album.  I love her music so much.

Wishing:  that my body would let me sleep in.  I have been going to bed later but I still wake up at 5:30-6 am and most days I wake up a couple of hours before that and have a hard time falling back to sleep.  It's annoying to say the least as this is a time when I should be sleeping in until 7!

What are you currently reading, anticipating, and loving?

Monday, April 28, 2014

Dream Come True

So on Friday, I mentioned that in the middle of my hike, I coordinated a big aspect of my move.  That big aspect was finding a condo to rent.  I am over-the-moon happy to announce that I was able to secure a unit in the building I lived in before moving to Charlotte!!!  I'm excited to tell you all about it and will be sprinkling in photos of my neighborhood along the way!

Lower St. Anthony Falls, September 2013

The rental market in Minneapolis is very active right now and the area I was looking to rent is highly sought after so I was really feeling stressed that I wouldn't find an apartment as fast as I was hoping.  Two units from my old building had come on the market as rentals but were snatched up before I had a chance to even talk to the landlord so I was starting to feel like it was unlikely I'd get a unit in that building.  Plus it's an owner-occupied building and the HOA really limits the # of units that can be rented, so I wasn't sure another one would become available... which is why I moved extremely fast when I saw a unit posted on craigslist on Wednesday morning.  When I got in touch with the leasing agent (in the middle of my hike) she had already heard from 4 other people who were very interested so I decided to act fast and ended up signing a lease sight unseen.

First Avenue Bridge, September 2013
Obviously renting an apartment having never seen it is not optimal, but it's the way it had to go.  I know the building so well so I felt comfortable renting it without seeing it.  Plus they are replacing all of the carpet and painting it before I move in so I know that I won't have any issues cosmetically.  Luckily a former coworker's daughter lives in the building so she went to see it on Thursday night and gave it two thumbs up and the leasing agent sent me a bunch of photos after showing it to her so I feel great about my decision to rent it.

Stone Arch Bride, September 2013

The funny thing is that the unit is actually on the same floor as my last unit, except this time I will have a river view which I am SUPER excited about.  I can't even tell you how excited I am to return to my old neighborhood.  I may be biased but I think it is one of the most beautiful areas of Minneapolis, and these photos sprinkled throughout this post that I took while walking through this neighborhood in September are proof of that!

Hennepin Avenue bridge with a view of the downtown skyline, September 2013.  My building is the brown one that is sort of the second from the left.

The last couple of weeks feel like a dream come true.  I've found way back to Minneapolis.  I'm excited about my new job.  I found an apartment I know I will love.  After having a string of shitty things happen to me in 2013, it's amazing to have a string of wonderful things happening to me in 2014. For the first time in a very long time, I can utter the words life is good.

It's finally starting to sink in that I am actually coming home!!!I'm closing out this post with the photo the leasing agent sent me of the view from my balcony!  I'm so in love with my new home!


Friday, April 25, 2014

From the Land of Ma'am: Hiking at South Mountain

Happy Friday!  I guess every day is like Friday for me right now...  don't hate me for saying that...  But in my defense, I really feel like I have earned every hour of this time off! I know that I will never have 5 weeks off again until I retire, which is like a bajillion years away, so I am trying to balance being productive/handling moving-related tasks with enjoying my time off.

Wednesday was an 'enjoying my time off' kind of day (but I also handled a huge move-related task which I'll talk about next week) as I went hiking at South Mountain State Park.  Shortly before I moved to Charlotte, a coworker who had lived here for 18 months gave me a list of hikes to check out.  But a week after I arrived here, I found out about my stress fracture and was not able to do much of anything.  But I held onto that scratched out list of hikes - just in case.  And luckily I am getting a chance to do some of them!  I started with the South Mountain hike because it was only 80-90 minutes from Charlotte so a very easy day trip for me.

The night before the hike, I was video chatting with my sister and told her how I was going hiking the next day.  She said - 'by yourself?' and I said of course.  She then asked if we had rattle snakes or other snakes in NC as that is something she has fears of encountering while hiking on her own and I was very dismissive and said, 'nah, I have never seen any on my other hikes.'

So imagine my anxiety when the first thing I see at the trail head is a sign warning hikers about the presence of rattle and copper head snakes.  #cuepanicattack

I am deathly afraid of snakes.  I couldn't even bring myself to read what the small print of this sign said because the pictures TERRIFIED ME.

But I gave myself a little pep talk and told myself that snakes would hear me and stay away.  I did a lot of random clapping and a little bit of singing to try to make all the snakes aware of my presence.  I didn't see any snakes, thank God, so I guess it worked (and made me look like a crazy lady probably).

The views along the trail were gorgeous and worth all the snake-anxiety.  I did 2 different trails - the first led to a waterfall and the views along the way were gorgeous.

Proof that I actually did this hike and did not steal these photos from the internet
 The first trail was not too tough, but there were a lot of stairs in one section so my legs definitely got a workout!

I tried to stop along the way as much as possible to soak in all the beauty.  Chances are I will never come back to this park so I took a lot of photos to capture this experience!

After completing the popular waterfalls hike, I did a more strenuous hike to a lookout area.  The terrain of this hike was more rough and steep, but the view at the end was worth it!!

I got to that look out point around lunch and ended up arriving there at the same time as this small group of 5 people who were all retired.  I sat down and ate the lunch I had packed and had a really good time conversing with them.  They gave me recommendations for other hikes to do in the area and we talked about things like the books Wild by Cheryl Strayed and Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer.  It was nice to have some social interaction.  But then they told me about a 5 foot long rattle snake they saw on a hike they did last spring and I almost had to plug my ears.  One of the women wanted to show me a picture but I managed to avoid having to look at photos of this monstrous snake. 

After that I headed back down the trail to my car as I had to get back Charlotte to attend to some business related to my move...  I'll share the details of that with you next week!

Have a great weekend, everyone!  I'm going to the National Whitewater Center tomorrow - not to white water raft (not my thing) but instead to do some of their ropes courses and zip lines with a former coworker.  It's another thing on my Charlotte bucket list!

Are you afraid of snakes?  I'm irrationally terrified of them.  I know this makes me a bit of a wimp but I am OK with that.  I basically can't handle any creatures like snakes, spiders, mice, rats, you name it. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

5 Weeks

Well, the week started off interesting for me.  I went into the office on Monday for the first time since submitting my reservation over the phone on Thursday evening.  I had a lot of anxiety over how things were going to play out as my new employer is a direct competitor of my current employer so I knew there might be some people who wouldn't be thrilled about the choice to change jobs.

Luckily, everyone was really kind and understanding about it because they realize that the reason I sought out new employment was because living in Charlotte was never going to work long term.  I certainly never made it a secret that I missed Minneapolis, so people were not all that surprised that I had resigned.

Going into the week, I thought I would maybe finish out the week and be done after that, but shortly after my boss got in he basically said that HR had decided that it was going to be my last day and I was free to leave...  Hearing that was...  surreal.  I've been with my current employer for about 10 years total and have worked in my current division for about 5.5 years so it felt weird to have my time there come to such an abrupt halt.  Luckily I was able to send out an email to all the people I worked with to let them know it was my last day. I provided my contact information and really do hope that I will keep in touch with many of them.  While I am excited to leave Charlotte and start my new job, I am sad to walk away from all of these relationships I have developed over the years but I think/hope I will keep in touch with the people I became closest to over the years.

As expected, my non-compete was enforced which means I will be paid for the next 30 days.  This is a best-case scenario for me as it gives me time to find a moving company, find an apartment, and do the 1,000+ mile drive back to Minneapolis.  Yes, this time I will be driving instead of flying because it looks like I will need to store my belongings for awhile until I can find an apartment in Minneapolis.  Driving makes the most sense since I will need to have enough clothes to get me through the 1-2 months that it will take me to find an apartment (please God let it be closer to 1 month, I don't want to inconvenience the aunt and uncle I'll be staying with for longer than necessary).

Also, I will continue to be covered by my health insurance until 5/21 and my new policy at my new company should start on 6/1 which means I won't have to cobra out or find temporary insurance.  This is a HUGE relief for me as having health insurance is essential due to the # of drugs I'm on for my RA.

So all of this means that I will have 5 weeks off between jobs.  5 weeks.  You guys, I've never had this much time off as a working professional.  I clearly have a lot to do related to my move but I also want to try to enjoy this time off as much as possible because I know that I will be VERY busy when I start my new job.  My body has basically been through a string of stressful events since last January between the move, the CFA, figuring out my health issues, my crazy work travel schedule, and finding a job.  That stress has manifested itself in many nights of poor sleep and a general feeling of exhaustion so I am hoping to wipe the slate clean over the next 5 weeks so I can start my new job feeling calm and well-rested.

I've had several people ask me if I plan to take a vacation during my time off and the answer is no.  Or not really.  I am thinking about doing a 2-3 day trip to Asheville next week if the weather cooperates as I'd like to do some hiking and visit the gardens of the Biltmore, but besides that, I will be spending these 5 weeks focusing on the move and finding a new home.

I'm hoping to have some clarity by the end of this week as to how soon I will have my belongings moved and put into storage but right now it's looking like that might happen in about 2 weeks.  So in the mean time, I'll be refreshing craigslist and other apartment search websites about 100 times a day, hoping and praying a unit in my old building becomes available...

Have you ever had an unexpected amount of time off from work?  I know I will stay busy during these 5 weeks but it's still very surreal that I am not working right now!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Easter in East Tennessee

Well now that I've shared the big news about my move home, it's time to move on to other matters, such as my Easter recap!!  My brother and his family decided to spend their Easter/spring break in the Gatlinburg, TN area so I was thrilled when I discovered it was less than 4 hours away from me.  I drove up after my presentation on Friday in Charleston and arrived just minutes after my brother and his family arrived. 

Friday night was a low key night - we got take out and everyone except me played in the pool (lame I know but I wasn't feeling like getting all chlorinated that night).  I collapsed into bed that night after a long, exhausting week and was woken the next morning by my nephew Kolin crawling into bed to wake me - best way to wake up ever! 

Anna loved walking around in my shoes, which she called slippers!

Saturday morning selfie with Kolin
After eating breakfast in our room, we set out to explore the area.  My sister-in-law said the one way I could contribute to the weekend was by finding something fun for us to do on Saturday.  Thanks to my trusty friend,, I found out about the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.  It's a 6-mile winding road through a part of the Smoky Mountain National Park which was not too far from the condo where we were staying.  If you are ever in the Gatlinburg area, I highly recommend it!

Kolin was a bit tentative about this mountain road as it was pretty steep and curvy and there was a steep drop off on the edge.  He looks scared in this photo but how beautiful is the view?

He eventually warmed up to the mountains and had fun walking along some of the trails you could take from the road!
This road is perfect for a family with small children because the views from the car are very pretty, but there are points where you can stop along the away and take short walks to get closer to the waterfalls.  It's great for adults, too, as there are several hikes to different waterfalls that are 3-6 miles round trip.
Anna & I by one of the waterfall areas.

Another Saturday selfie with my little explorer.
The sights were so gorgeous.  Of course pictures don't do it justice.
 After we completed the motor trail, we headed into downtown Gatlinburg for some lunch. 

Anna was all smiles and sat really well during lunch.
After lunch, Kolin, my brother Chad and I decided to take the chair lifts up to the top of the mountain.  I did not think Kolin would be game for this but he was super brave and was not at all scared!

Skylift selfie on the way to the top.

The views at the top were gorgeous.  I heart the mountains.
After that, we headed back to the condo to do some swimming at the pool and this time, I donned my suit and joined in on the fun.  Unfortunately I don't have any pool pictures, but suffice it to say that we had a great time.  Both kids are such fishes so it was fun to play in the water with them.  We made dinner in the room on Saturday night (and by we, I mean my brother) and called it an early night.

On Sunday, we got up bright an early because my brother and I decided to do one of the hikes off the trail we'd drive the day before.  So we went to 8 am mass and hiked up to Grotto Falls after Easter mass.  We got there early so did not see many hikers on our way up, but we did on our way down so I am glad we started when we did as we were moving faster than most of the other hikers.

Grotto Falls was so beautiful and peaceful
After our hike, we headed back to our room, had Easter dinner, and then I hit the road for my return to Charlotte.  All in all it was a wonderful weekend and it was so great to spend time with family in such a beautiful setting.  I just love the mountains so much and never tire of hiking!  I would definitely return to this area again.  Gatlinburg itself is extremely touristy and not an area I am crazy about, but the Smoky Mountains are gorgeous and there is so much hiking to do in the area!

And - I checked another state off my list, bringing the total # of states visited to 31!

If you celebrate Easter, what did you do? If you don't celebrate Easter, how did you spend this past weekend?

Monday, April 21, 2014


I'm coming home, I'm coming home
Tell the world that I'm coming home
Let the rain wash away all the pain of yesterday
I know my kingdom awaits and they've forgiven my mistakes
I'm coming home, I'm coming home
Tell the world that I'm coming home
~ J.Cole 

I can't believe I'm actually writing this post - a post that will tell you all about how I have found a path home.  It's a post that's honestly been something I have anticipated writing from the day I moved to Charlotte.  I've spent so much time counting down the months, weeks, and days of my one year commitment to Charlotte and there was times when I seriously questioned how I'd ever find my way back home.  But I did.

The last 2 weeks have been very stressful for me.  I've tried to be like a duck - calm on the surface but paddling like mad underneath and thank goodness I have had running and other forms of exercise to use as my outlet, but yikes.  I would not want to relive the last 2 weeks.  I flew 6 times, covering 5,500 miles in the span of 8 days.  I had 2 sets of interviews with 2 companies and when I say sets of interviews, I mean 5-6 hour blocks of solid interviews with no breaks.  It was exhausting.

But none of that matters now because I got the best news on Wednesday night - the company I was most interested in offered me a position that is essentially the same as what I am doing right now - which I am thrilled about because I really love my job, I just don't like Charlotte.  I resigned on Thursday evening and was pleasantly surprised by how well the conversation with my boss went.  Unfortunately it had to be over the phone as we were both traveling, but c'est la vie.

At this point, I have more questions than answers as my boss wasn't sure what would happen with my non-compete so I am hoping that I get more clarity today.  I gave a tentative start day of May 27th to my new employer so I will most likely move around mid-May.  

My head is spinning with all the details that must be attended to, like finding a moving company and most importantly, finding an apartment to rent which is already proving to be a frustrating experience but I am trying to trust that it will all work out.  

I'm excited but mostly this all feels surreal.  I've wanted to move home so badly since the day I arrived in Charlotte, it's kind of hard to believe that it's actually happening.  Plus I am honestly still in a haze of exhaustion from the interview process and the travel for those interviews on top of traveling for 2 conferences for work.  I think when I get caught up on sleep and know when my last day at my current job will be, the fact that I am moving home will start to set in.   

But bottom line, this was the very best news I could have received.  While it's bittersweet to leave a company where I've spent 10 years building relationships, I am very excited about the company I am joining and the growth opportunities there.  I have my work cut out for me when I start as they have high expectations for what I can bring to the table, but I intend to prove to them from day one that they made the right choice by hiring me!

In closing, can I just say how great it is to have a post to share with some good news for a change?  I am hopeful that the tide is changing and that 2014 is going to be a wonderful year for me!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Feeling Good in Your Neighborhood

I've been thinking lately about where I want to live when I do in fact move back to Minneapolis.  I hate to jump the gun, jinx myself, and do a post about what I'm looking for in an apartment but it's something I've been thinking about a lot lately.  Ideally, I would love to just move back into the place I was living in before but that is not possible as it was an owner-occupied building so I need that tenant to move out, or for another unit in the building to open up and so far I have only seen one unit up for rent so I don't know if I have a good chance of moving back into that building...

So I've started to think about where exactly I would live if I couldn't live there... which calls to question - what do I value in a neighborhood?  Here's my priority list:

1.  Safety first.  This is an obvious one but bears mentioning as rent certainly differs depending on the neighborhood that you live in.  As a single person who lives alone, a safe neighborhood where I feel comfortable walking at night is my top priority.

2.  Apartment features.  There are certain in-unit features that I won't budge on.  I need covered parking (hello, winter is awful here), central air (it's a little known fact that Minneapolis is actually quite hot/humid in the summer), and in-unit laundry. 

3.  Walking distance to work or walkable distance to public transportation.  Ideally, I would like to be able to continue to walk to work - however, I might not be able to find an apartment walking distance from work in the price range I am trying to stay within, so I would also be willing to live in a place where I could walk to a bus stop and take a short bus ride to work.  I know rents are higher for places that are closer to the downtown area but that also means I drive less which can mean saving up to $100-150/month on gas.  You also save on wear and tear on your vehicle which is more difficult to quantify but for example, I get my oil changed about twice a year now as opposed to around 4 times, and putting on less miles means my car will last even longer (I've had it for 11 years and plan to get at least 4 more years out of it!).

4.  Walking distance to grocery stores, coffee shops, and restaurants.  I value a pedestrian lifestyle so being able to walk to all of these places is important.  And by the way, I consider a grocery store walking distance away if it's within a mile. Did you know there is a website called "Walk Score"?  It's pretty cool as it rates the address and ideally I'd like something in the 90s, but could compromise and accept a place in the 80s.  But I really want to be able to do most things on foot if at all possible.

5.  Close to running trails.  I know that I will have to most likely drive to where my running club meets, but on the days when I am not running with the group, I want to be able to walk out my door and have access to a running path that is safe and scenic.  Luckily in Minneapolis there are lots of places with great running path options, from the chain of lakes area to the Mississippi river.

Of course, my old condo in Minneapolis had all of these features.  The neighborhood was safe, the condo had all the features I was looking for, it was a 0.75 mile walk to work, the grocery store was 0.75 miles away, there were 2 coffee shops within 2 blocks, and several restaurants were walking distance away and  I could walk to the light rail which got me to the airport for the bargain price of about $1.75-2.75.  (it got a score of 92 for walkability which is classified as walkers paradise).  Oh, and the condo building was ON the Mississippi River.

Le sigh.  If only I could just click some ruby shoes together and be transported back to my old condo with all my belonging moved in and put away that would be so fabulous.  But, since that's not an option, here's hoping that when I do move home, I can find a place that has the 5 attributes that I value most.

When looking for an apartment or home, what mattered/matters most to you?  My list can be summed up by saying, "location, location, location."  If you live in the US,  have you looked up the walk score of where you currently live?  My place in Charlotte gets a rating of 82, but that actually seems high to me because besides being walking distance to work, there's not much around me in terms of restaurants, coffee shops, and grocery stores.

Friday, April 11, 2014

5 Things Friday

Woo hip, it's Friday!  This week flew by and was really intense for me but I'm still really happy to see it come to an end!  Here are 5 things on my mind today.

1.  For those of you who read my review of Confessions of a Paris Party Girl on Wednesday, you should know that the Kindle version of the book is on sale for $0.99!  I'm not being compensated in any way for telling you this.  I just love a good deal so thought I would let you know.  It would be a really fun vacation or summer read.

2.  This was a very intense week for me but I am proud of the fact that I still found a way to work out every day.  I am joining Nilsa and am trying to do 30 workouts in 30 days and so far I am on track as I've done 11 workouts in 10 days and I will do 2 tonight (spin class and a deep stretch yoga class) so will have 13 workouts in 11 days after today.  That will allow me to take 1-2 rest days later this month. It's been great to have this challenge to motivate me to find time to work out no matter how busy I am. 

3.  My brother and his family decided to spend Easter in the Gatlinburg, TN area which is just under 4 hours away from me, so I will get to spend Easter with them!  I am SO EXCITED!  I haven't seen them since August and miss them all so much so I can't wait for a weekend full of quality time in a beautiful area.  Plus I'll get to add another state to the list of state I've visited!

4.  I'm also excited that I am flying home tomorrow for a short weekend trip.  I come back on Monday night so it will be a quick trip but I am excited to see some family and friends.  I'm looking forward to doing my long run tomorrow on one of my favorite running paths in Minneapolis.

5. Even though I don't have a job offer, I can't help but look at apartment listings to get an idea of where I might live.  I hope I am not jinxing myself by doing this!  I haven't emailed anyone about listings, of course, since I don't know when I'll be moving but it's nice to get an idea of what is out there.  It's making me think about what area of the city I want to live so stay tuned for a post next week about what I look for when I'm looking for a new place to live!

What's on your mind today?  Have a wonderful weekend everyone!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

France Book Tours Review: Confessions of a Paris Party Girl


Wine, romance, and French bureaucracy – the ups and downs of an American’s life in Paris. This laugh-out-loud memoir is almost too funny to be true!

Drinking too much bubbly. Meeting sappy Frenchmen who have girlfriends or are creeps or both. Encountering problème after problème with French bureaucracy. When newly-single party girl Vicki moved to Paris, she was hoping to taste wine, stuff her face with croissants, and maybe fall in love. 

In her first book, this long-time blogger and semi-professional drinker recounts the ups and downs of her life in Paris. Full of sass, shamefully honest admissions, and situations that seem too absurd to be true, Vicki makes you feel as if you’re stumbling along the cobblestones with her. 

Will she find love? Will she learn to consume reasonable amounts of alcohol? Will the French administration ever cut her a break?

My Review:

OK this book was just plain fun for me to read.  You all know that I am a total Francophile so any book that is set in Paris is sure to be a hit with me, but I especially liked this one.  She has a fun writing style that made me laugh and smile quite a bit and I could totally relate to some of the frustrating aspects of living in Paris - like how stores often times won't accept big bills (like a 50 euro note) or how confusing their floor numbering system is (the 1st floor is often up a level).

Reading this book gave me a look at what life would have been like if I had moved to Paris and fallen in love, so it was a nice little virtual escape for me.  Also in general the author is just very likeable and witty and I feel like we would hit it off and have a great wine or coffee date if we were to ever met as we both clearly love Paris - AND we are both math majors!

I recommend this for other Francophiles or anyone who wants a light, fun read that provides a little virtual escape.

Vicki Lesage is an IT Director by day, writer by night.  And a full-time nerd. She loves fondue, wine, math, and zombies. 

She lives in Paris with her French husband and rambunctious son.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

One Year

It's April 8th.

Do you know what that means?  That means that I survived my year in Charlotte and it means that if I was to find a job opportunity, I can now resign with no financial ramifications. I think back on the weekend that I moved to Charlotte, the endless tears that ran down my face when Phil dropped me off at the airport, the I'm-crying-so-hard-I-can't-talk conversations with my mom and Phil, the awful feeling when it really hit me that I was actually going to have to live in a place I didn't want to live, and I almost feel all the anguish all over again.There were certainly times that I questioned how I'd get through the year in one piece, but 365 days later, I'm still standing.
Am I the same person I was a year ago?  Absolutely not.  I am sure that friends and family who spend a decent amount of time around me would say I am quieter and more reserved.  I'm weary and less likely to laugh.  I feel like I've been in a holding pattern for the last year of my life and I've lost my sense of permanence, which is bound to wear on a person. 

My mind feels like it's always turning, obsessing over questions like: when will I move?  Will my company enforce my non-compete?  Will I get a relocation package?  How will I handled the gap in health insurance (going without is no longer an option thanks to my $2,500/month RA drug)? Where will I live when I move?  How much will the move cost me if I don't get a relocation package?  Have I saved enough?  Will I easily find a rheumatologist that I like? ... and the questions go on and on.  And thinking through all these questions is exhausting.  Not having answers to critical questions is difficult.  Not knowing where I will be living 1 or 3 or 6 months from now is an awful feeling for a planner like me.

When I look back on the past year, I see it as a year of survival.  A year of doing what I needed to do to make it through each week or month.  I know there are people who can go through difficult things and thrive in those situations, but I can't say that was the case for me.  I did not thrive in Charlotte.  And I'll never look back on this year and be thankful that I was moved to Charlotte - of that I am certain.  Yes, I've had great adventures, saw new places, visited familiar faces, but I'd give back all of those experiences to forgo the disruption of this move and be right back where I was in Minneapolis where I had built a life I loved.

While I am not the person I was before I found out about this move, I feel confident that I'll find her again.  I don't know how long it will take, but with time, I'll get back to being that happy, confident, positive person.  Living in a city I love, being surrounded by people who care about me, and being able to run will certainly help.

I have hit my year mark, but I am in Charlotte indefinitely until I can find a job back home.  So while hitting this milestone was an accomplishment, I still have a ways to go and until I have a job offer in hand, I won't really feel a true sense of relief that I can put this all behind me.  But I am hopeful that I will have a one-way ticket out of here in the near future.  It scares me to have hope because it opens myself up to disappointment if things don't turn out the way I'd like, but I'm still holding onto hope.

It's been a tough year, and while it's changed me and left a mark that will be tough to reverse, I still think the words from John Mayer's song, Heart of Life, hold true.

Pain throws your heart to the ground
Love turns the whole thing around
No it won't all go the way it should
But I know the heart of life is good

Monday, April 7, 2014

Variety is the Spice of (an Active) Life

First things first, I can't talk about being active without sharing the good news from my appointment with my rhuem last week!  She gave me the OK to train for a half marathon with the caveat that I have to stop training if I have any joint flare ups.  I have my sights set on a trail half in Berkeley in the fall so that is what I will start training for.  It's a ways off but I will start to increase my long runs so that I will be more than ready when race day comes!  I might do a road half before or after that trail half but I need some clarity on where I'll be living this summer/fall before making that decision.

Back in my pre-RA days, I was pretty active.  Actually I'd say I was really active but if you added up the time I spent exercising, running would have accounted for the majority of the time.  I ran with my running club 3 days a week and did one recovery run on my own which meant I had 2 tough workouts that focused on things like speed work, hills, tempo runs, etc, a recovery run that was basically what I would refer to as 'junk miles' and then a long run that was ran at a conversational pace.  I tried to work in some cross training during marathon training but if I am totally honest, I sort of schlepped my way through cross training activities and would do things like bike for 30 minutes at a steady pace. 

Part of the reason my cross training fell under the 'meh' category is because I did not have a gym membership.  My condo in Minneapolis had such a nice gym, I just couldn't justify the expense.  I also have a gym at my apartment building here in Charlotte but it's not nearly as nice as my Minneapolis one and has way less equipment.  So when I got out of the boot for good last fall, I decided to join a gym, which has turned out to be the best decision.

These days, as much as I'd like to be running even more miles than I am, the reality of the situation is that it's just not wise to do so.  My joints are still recovering and I have to be careful about how much time I spend running as running is high impact which means it's hard on my joints.  So I have been forced to find other cross training activities to fill my calendar.

But it turns out that being forced to try other things has ended up being the best thing for me and I feel more fulfilled by my exercise routine than I have in years.  Sure it helps that I am able to run 3 times a week, but I'm no longer slogging through the cross training activities that I do on the other days - I'm actually really enjoying them (for the most part).  So how am I keeping myself busy?

1.  Strength training.  This was something that was sorely lacking in my workout schedule in the past but now that I have a gym membership, I have been taking strength training class, my favorite of which is Body Pump.  Rome wasn't built in a day so it's definitely going to take awhile before I start to really notice a difference in muscle tone, but I can tell I am getting stronger and overall I feel more lean.

2.  Spinning.  OK, I am not even going to pretend that I like spin.  I don't.  And I know that some people would tell me that if I don't enjoy it, I shouldn't do it, but it's a good way for me to get a 4th day of cardio. I burn a lot of calories, sweat my face off, and am always glad I took the class after the fact.  But during the class when the instructor is telling me to accelerate when I'm in gear 18?  I want to punch her.  And quit.  Or both.  But spinning does push me out of my comfort zone which is why I keep going back.

3.  Deep Stretching.  I snagged a deal on 5 classes for $29 at a local yoga studio and have been taking a deep stretch class there.  I wish I could take a traditional yoga class but my upper body joints just can't handle things like downward facing dog, or the transition from DFD to high plank down to low plank to blah blah blah.  The yogis out there know what I mean.  But deep stretch has been great and I have been trying to go once a week.

On any given week, I usually run 3 days, try to take a spin class (this doesn't always happen), take 2 body pump or total strength classes, and go to a deep stretch class.  I usually take one full rest day so workout about 6 days a week on average which works well for me.  One of Nilsa's goals for April is to get in 30 workouts in 30 days and I am going to try to do the same.  That will mean doubling up 1-2 days a week to account for rest days or days when it's just not possible to fit in a workout (which will be the case a couple of days this month due to a crazy work travel schedule).  The challenge is also making me think about how to fit workouts into days that I usually would have written off as a rest day in the past due to work travel.

In closing, I'll say that I really can't explain how great it is to be back to running and able to do other things like strength training.  I feel like I'm constantly gushing about it to Amber because I vented to her about not being able to active for so long - I bet she likes the gushing better than venting.  ;) Being so limited for so long was very very hard on me, especially those 4 months I spent in a boot when I wasn't able to do anything.  Life is super stressy lately, but all these work outs are helping me stay sane!

What do you do to stay active?  Is there a lot of variety to your fitness routine or do you tend to gravitate towards one activity?  Are there activities you aren't currently doing that you'd like to try?  I would like to fit in some swimming and try a zumba or other dance-style class as they sound so fun.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

France Book Tours Review: The Collector of Dying Breaths


From one of America’s most imaginative storytellers comes a passionate tale of love and treachery, spanning the days of Catherine de Medici’s court to the twenty-first century and starring a woman drawn back, time and again, to the past.
In 1533, an Italian orphan with an uncanny knack for creating fragrance is plucked from poverty to become Catherine de Medici’s perfumer. To repay his debt, over the years René le Florentine is occasionally called upon to put his vast knowledge to a darker purpose: the creation of deadly poisons used to dispatch the Queen’s rivals.

But it’s René’s other passion—a desire to reanimate a human breath, to bring back the lives of the two people whose deaths have devastated him—that incites a dangerous treasure hunt five centuries later. That’s when Jac L’Etoile—suffering from a heartache of her own—becomes obsessed with the possibility of unlocking Rene’s secret to immortality.

Soon Jac’s search reconnects her with Griffin North, a man she’s loved her entire life. Together they confront an eccentric heiress whose art collection rivals many museums and who is determined to keep her treasures close at hand, not just in this life but in her next.

Set in the forest of Fontainebleau, crisscrossing the lines between the past and the present, M.J. Rose has written a mesmerizing tale of passion and obsession. This is a gothic tale perfect for fans of Anne Rice, Deborah Harkness, and Diana Galbadon.

My review:

This was an enjoyable read for me.  I'm a big fan of books where the time frame changes throughout the book, so I liked this book because it switched from the reign of Catherine de Medici's in the 1500s to modern times.  There is an element of mystery to book as the modern-day character, Jac, who hails from a family of perfume makers, is trying to figure out how to make a scent using the last breath of various people in the past that was captured and sealed in a bottle.  While she is researching this conquest, she is also trying to figure out if it's a puzzle that is safe to be solved and whether her brother's work on it might have led to his untimely death.

If you like gothic tales, tales set in France, or mysteries, you would enjoy this book.
About the author:
M.J. Rose, is the international bestselling author of 13 novels;Lip Service, In Fidelity, Flesh Tones, Sheet Music, Lying in Bed, The Halo Effect, The Delilah Complex, The Venus Fix,The Reincarnationist, The Memorist, The Hypnotist, The Book of Lost Fragrances, and Seduction.
Rose is also the co-author with Angela Adair Hoy of How to Publish and Promote Online and with Randy Susan Meyers of What to Do Before Your Book Lauch.

She is a founding member and board member of International Thriller Writers and the founder of the first marketing company for authors: She runs the popular blog; Buzz, Balls & Hype.

Getting published has been an adventure for Rose who self-published Lip Service late in 1998 after several traditional publishers turned it down. Editors had loved it, but didn’t know how to position it or market it since it didn’t fit into any one genre.

Frustrated, but curious and convinced that there was a readership for her work, she set up a web site where readers could download her book for $9.95 and began to seriously market the novel on the Internet.

After selling over 2500 copies (in both electronic and trade paper format) Lip Service became the first e-book and the first self-published novel chosen by the LiteraryGuild/Doubleday Book Club as well as being the first e-book to go on to be published by a mainstream New York publishing house.

Rose has been profiled in Time magazine, Forbes, The New York Times, Business 2.0, Working Woman, Newsweek and New York Magazine.

Rose has appeared on The Today Show, Fox News, The Jim Lehrer NewsHour, and features on her have appeared in dozens of magazines and newspapers in the U.S. and abroad, including USAToday, Stern, L’Official, Poets and Writers and Publishers Weekly.

Rose graduated from Syracuse University and spent the ’80s in advertising. She was the Creative Director of Rosenfeld Sirowitz and Lawson and she has a commercial in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC.

She lives in Connecticut with Doug Scofield, a composer, and their very spoiled dog, Winka.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

From the Land of Ma'am: Days Two and Three in Savannah

Happy Wednesday!!  This week has been an intense one for me, so I am distracting myself by doing another reflection post on my trip to Savannah. 

On Saturday morning I was up bright and early so I could start the day with a run.  Since I didn't know Savannah well, I contacted a local running club and asked if I could run with them.  People used to do this with my running club when I lived in Minneapolis so I decided to give it a shot.  Best.  Idea.  Ever.  The group was super friendly and I ended up running 6 miles with a couple that ran the same pace as me.  It was nice to not have to worry about a route and the miles flew by since we were busy chatting. 

All smiles after my 6 miles!
I worked up quite an appetite after that run, so I showered and headed out to brunch at a restaurant recommended by the couple whose home I was staying in.  I had a delicious ham and cheese omelet.  I was definitely in the clean plate club that morning.

After brunch, I did some more walking, checked out the farmer's market in Forsyth park, and popped into some stores, including a store owned by a friend of Nilsa's.  One thing I loved about Savannah was all the cute little shops and boutiques.

After all that walking, I felt I had earned a fun drink and some reading time so I went to a cute coffee shop, did some reading, and sipped on a delicious mocha.

After relaxing for awhile, I headed to one of the squares to do a walking tour of Savannah.  I had done some research on and Savannah Dan was highly recommended.  He lived up to his recommendations as he was very interesting and entertaining.  I learned so much about Savannah and the state of Georgia.  For instance, Catholics and Jews were both banned from Georgia when the colony was initially established!

Savannah Dan sure can rock the seersucker suit and bow tie look
Dan also pointed out some of the areas that were featured in the film, Forrest Gump.  Like this steeple is the steeple that the feather floats by in the opening scene.

After the walking tour I went to mass at the Cathedral.  Obviously they eventually reversed that "no Catholics" rule.  Ha.  But I will tell you - I have learned that Catholicism is NOT popular in the south!  The Cathedral was very beautiful, even more so inside but I didn't take any photos as I feel weird taking pictures inside churches...

After church, I freshened up and headed to dinner at Cha Bella, which is a farm to table restaurant.  Almost the entire menu was GF, so that was nice.  I started off with a caprese salad for an appetizer which had some yummy bacon on it and a great balsamic reduction.

My main course was chicken rolatini - it was chicken wrapped in bacon with carmelized onions in the middle and it came with some smoked gouda grits and roasted root vegetables.  It was delicious.

I headed back to my accommodations after dinner.  The host couple was having a small dinner party and they had just finished eating when I got back.  They invited me to sit with them for a bit and I figured - why not!  It was nice to finish the evening with some conversations with new people.

On Sunday I headed out to the Tybee Island area.  My first stop was at Fort Pulaski, which is an old Civil War fort.  I toured the fort area, which was really neat.  It was chillier and SUPER windy, so my visit was shorter than it would have been otherwise, but I am still glad I went.  It was neat to see something that was established back in the 1770s!  And it was cool seeing the big cannons.

My last stop was the beach at Tybee Island.  It was about 55 degrees and super windy so not exactly prime beach weather, but I was bound and determined to go!  I rarely get to see the ocean so it's always such a treat for me.  The sand dunes provided some protection from the wind so it wasn't as cold down there as I thought it would be.

I sat in the swing, rocked back and forth, read my book, and let the sound of the crashing ocean waves soothe my soul.

So there you have it.  Another wonderful weekend getaway.  I've been struggling with quite a bit of stress and anxiety lately related to work and my job search but luckily I was mostly able to leave that stress and anxiety in Charlotte.  I felt such a sense of peace and contentment on this trip and I only wish that I could bottle up those feelings for the inevitable days when I get the Charlotte Sads.  But luckily I have lots of pictures on my phone to look at when I need a reminder of the peace and beauty of Savannah.

And - I got to add another state to the list of states I've visited as prior to this trip, I'd only been in the Atlanta airport which doesn't count as visiting the state.  So this trip brings the total # of states I've visited to 29!

In closing I will say that I have loved taking these trips and I really have tried to make the most of my time in North Carolina, but I sincerely hope that this is my last adventure in the south.  It's not that I don't want to see more; I'm just ready for this chapter to come to a close.  I'm thankful for the adventures I've had but I'd trade them all in to be home around family and friends.  I think it's probably easy to read these posts or see my photos on Facebook and think "I wish I could take those trips" but I think what people sometimes fail to think about is that while they may be envious of the trips I've taken and the fun things I've done, I don't think they would be or should be envious of the experience I've had over the past year...   But my fingers and toes are crossed and I'm really hoping that God answers my prayers and that a one-way trip back to Minnesota is on the horizon for me.