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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

New Dining Room Furniture!

On Sunday, our new furniture arrived!!  We had a table and buffet custom made by Stowebound Custom Furniture.  Barbra at Stowebound is a blog reader, so hi Barbra!!

I'm so excited.  We've been searching for dining rooms for YEARS and have never found what we really liked.  Finally, we found a couple of pieces from Pottery Barn that we liked, but we were unimpressed with Pottery Barn's quality.  Stowebound made us the table and buffet, designed after the Pottery Barn table and buffet that we liked and we could not be more pleased!  If you are in the PA/MD area - please go check out their stuff, they rock!!

Here are a few photos.  These were taken with my cell phone, so they're not that great.  I'm sure I'll have some better ones once we get things all decorated.

Table & buffet.  The chairs actually came from Pottery Barn (they're called Seagrass)

Nice view of the table.  It has two leaves that are not in it at the moment.

Beautiful Buffet!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Todd's Belize Photography Video

Back in February, Todd presented a slideshow of his photos at the Oregon Ridge Nature Center.  I've got a copy online now, so check it out!

The show illustrates Belize at its best, and features a ton of marine life that you could expect to see if you went to Belize to scuba dive.  It showcases two trips - to Turneffe Island Lodge Resort, Thanksgiving 2008 and on the Belize Aggressor III Labor Day 2010.  You'll also see photos of iguanas, frigate birds and Red Footed Boobies.

The show is about 10 minutes long, but well worth a watch!

Photo Friday: Update in Pictures

My birthday was last week - June 16!  I took not even one photo the whole day,
so I created this awesome photo to illustrate what I did.  Morning run
with Todd (who never runs with me except races - this was a real treat), then cupcakes
made by my awesome coworkers, then lots of cards (one strangely from the groundhog
that I have seen almost every morning on my way into work for the last few weeks), and a
bike chain cleaner gift from Todd, and finally dinner at Baltimore's Woodberry Kitchen. It
was a great day!  My MS Paint skills are terrible, btw.
We're getting dining room furniture this weekend!
We're so excited.  The chairs came in a few weeks ago, and we had them
all lined up in the garage.  Todd finished painting the dining room, so
now the chairs are just waiting for their table!  We've been doing a ton
of work around the house lately, so I'll post some updates once I take
more (and better) pictures.
Todd is also painting the living room, and here is The Bug, who is up
exactly where we told him not to go!!  He can't get down when he climbs the
ladder and ends up scaring us half to death jumping from the top.  Dislike.  You
can see the partially painted living room wall in the background.
Speaking of The Bug, we've started training him to go out on a leash.  He
so much wants to be an outdoor cat, but we don't trust him to be out alone.
So, we got him a leash and harness.  So far, it is working surprisingly well!!
He's having a great time, although he begs to go out ALL THE TIME.
Venturing into the yard.  He's surprisingly tough to photograph while on the leash.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Indonesia Epilogue: The Bite Heard Around the World

I was bitten by a monkey in Indonesia.  This turned out to be an incredibly big deal once I got back to the US, but was decidedly NOT a big deal while I was still in Indonesia. In fact, it ended up being the single biggest event that took place on our three week trip.

The fun started while were still in Bali.  First, a German guy in our hotel suggested that I get rabies shots.  Since I'd heard horrible stories about rabies shots, I didn't want to do this.  Haven't you heard these horror stories of rabies shots?  That you have to get like 20 of them, and they're painful and they're in your abdomen?  So, you can imagine my reluctance at this since, and I'll have to repeat this through the whole story, the monkey did not have rabies.

How do I know the monkey didn't have rabies?  Well, this is not some random wooded area I was walking through.  This was the Ubud Sacred Monkey Forest, a known Bali tourist area.  While Americans might not know about it, there are tons of Australians that go there.  If a monkey were to test positive for rabies in the Sacred Monkey Forest, it would be a news story - at least in Australia and Indonesia.  They haven't.  In fact, no monkey has tested positive for rabies on Bali.  Ever.  That being said, though, there does happen to be a serious rabies problem with dogs in Bali.  Between November 2008 and February 2011, 119 people died from rabies on Bali, exclusively dog bites.  Five of those people were just in January and February.  Had I really given this stronger consideration (and in hindsight, certainly), I would have gotten the rabies vaccination before going to Indonesia when I had the vaccinations for Japanese Encephalitis, Hepatitis, Typhoid, etc.  I actually turned the rabies vaccine down.

I ended up seeing a doctor because if you read about what happens when you have rabies, it is scary.  I mean, this is a SCARY disease, not to be taken lightly at all.  If it wasn't too much trouble to see a doctor, I figured it was better to do so, especially because we were leaving the next day. From the CDC:

The first symptoms of rabies may be very similar to those of the flu including general weakness or discomfort, fever, or headache. These symptoms may last for days.

There may be also discomfort or a prickling or itching sensation at the site of bite, progressing within days to symptoms of cerebral dysfunction, anxiety, confusion, agitation. As the disease progresses, the person may experience delirium, abnormal behavior, hallucinations, and insomnia.

The acute period of disease typically ends after 2 to 10 days. Once clinical signs of rabies appear, the disease is nearly always fatal, and treatment is typically supportive.

Disease prevention includes administration of both passive antibody, through an injection of human immune globulin and a round of injections with rabies vaccine.

Once a person begins to exhibit signs of the disease, survival is rare. To date less than 10 documented cases of human survival from clinical rabies have been reported and only two have not had a history of pre- or postexposure prophylaxis.

The clinic in Indonesia?  Totally clean, nice, wonderful.  Exactly what I would expect of a Patient First or other Urgent Care facility in the US.  If someone has scared you about medical care in other countries, don't worry about it, at least in Bali.  I was the only patient there, and the staff consisted of a nurse and a doctor.  The doctor saw my bite, and said he'd give me a tetanus shot.  I said no, I'd had a tetanus shot, what about rabies?  He kind of shrugged and said he'd start me on the rabies vaccines.

On that day, I received two rabies vaccine shots, one in each arm.  This was designed to jump start my body into producing antibodies to fight the rabies.  He recommended against the immune globulin (which is HRIG if it comes from humans or ERIG if it comes from horses) because it's rare and expensive in Indonesia, and it's the ERIG version, which isn't as good as the HRIG.  And this was a minor bite, a Category II according to the World Health Organization, which does not require RIG, but does require vaccines.  I was then to follow up in the US, with another rabies vaccine in 7 days, and a fourth vaccine in 21 days.  That seemed acceptable to me.  I verified on the WHO site that this was fine, that the "two vaccines on the first day" thing was totally valid when the RIG shots weren't being administered.  Awesome.  I went on with my vacation.  Total cost in Indonesia for two shots, a doctors visit and a wound cleaning: $120 US.

I arrived back in the US the evening of February 12, which was a Saturday.  Monday, February 14, I started dealing with the rabies thing, since that Thursday (the 17th), I would need to get my next rabies vaccine.  First, I called our travel insurance company to put in a claim.  I filled out their paperwork and sent it back, and let them know that I would have more bills coming since my treatment was not complete.

Next, I called Passport Health, who had administered my vaccines before I left for Indonesia.  This is when I got my first taste of classic United States freak out about rabies.  Passport Health had a nurse call me back.  She wanted to find out more information, and had never heard of the "2 vaccines on the first day" thing.  She was surprised I hadn't gotten the HRIG shot, and suggested that I call my county health department to see if they had the HRIG shots in case I needed it.  She then went to check with a doctor.  I called my county's health department.  This ended up being a HUGE HUGE MISTAKE.  I left a message with the woman who was in charge of the rabies hotline or whatever, since she didn't answer.  A few minutes later, Passport Health called back and said that I wouldn't need the HRIG shot because too much time had passed since the bite (it had now been 4 days), and getting the HRIG would actually compromise my immunity at this point.  This totally jived with things I had read on the WHO and CDC websites. I made an appointment to have my third vaccine on February 17, and I thought all was good.

Then, the health department called me back. In the period of time that she'd taken to call me back, the woman at the health department had contacted the state health department, and apparently a bunch of others. She was in a bit of overreaction drama mode, and wanted me to come in and get the HRIG right then.  Back and forth, back and forth, we went, me calling Passport Health, etc.  She finally conferenced in some doctor from somewhere who insisted that I needed the HRIG.  At the end of the day, we left it that we were still checking with health departments or whatever on exactly what I needed to do, and they seriously acted like the doctor in Indonesia had been some sort of witch doctor following some sort of weird medical care.  In their heads, they probably pictured a straw hut and dirty needles, and wondered why I'd ever even venture out of Maryland in the first place, let alone the US.  That is how they were acting anyway.

Later, about 7:00pm, I got a call from my doctors office.  I had offhandedly mentioned to the county health department woman what my doctor's name was, and apparently the health department had taken it upon themselves to call her office without my permission and let them know the situation.  The poor admin at the doctors office had clearly equated my situation with Charla Nash, the women who had been mauled by a chimpanzee and later received a face transplant.  She was almost in tears at my "horrifying situation."  She asked if I wanted to come in right away.  Um, no.  It's Valentine's Day and the end of my first day of work after being gone for 3 weeks, and the end of the day where I spent most of the day feeling stressed out by the health department.  In fact, the health department caused me far more stress than the monkey did.  At last, I agreed to go get the stupid HRIG shot from the health department in the morning, and to go to my doctor in the afternoon to administer them.  You know, because after taking 3 weeks off from work, you want to take off more time to drive around getting shots you don't need.  Again, I remind you, the monkey didn't have rabies.

I went to the health department in the morning and met with the rabies lady.  She had, I kid you not, a file folder filled with printed out emails.  It was about 2 inches thick.  And the emails were all about ME.  Less than 24 hours had passed since I had contacted her.  She gave me 5 of the HRIG vaccines, because apparently it's administered by body weight, so I had to have 5.  I asked how much they were.  She evaded the question and told me that they would bill me later.  Then, she told me that she also felt that the monkey probably was carrying herpes, and therefore I should also get a prescription for Valtrex.  OMG.  I said ok, but I really meant "NO."

That afternoon, I left work early to head to my doctor to get the vaccine.  Apparently, her admin had really upped the urgency on my request, and so my doctor had read up on a million emails and papers that had been sent to her by the health department.  It was clear that she was going to do whatever the health department said.  She gave me the stupid Valtrex prescription (I don't think the monkey had herpes, but whatever), and had her nurse administer the vaccines.  The nurse went out and got a special mega-syringe and administered all five HRIGs in one shot.  Have you gotten a flu shot and had it burn for a second while it goes in?  Yeah, this was that same thing, but it took about a minute for her to squeeze all of that out of that syringe.  Into my butt.  In the end though, once it was over it didn't hurt anymore, and I went to my running store right after (it's in the strip mall next to my doctors office) and ran 4 miles.

Life went on.  I got the vaccine on the 17th from Passport health, and everything was fine.  Except that the health department wouldn't leave me alone.  A few days later, they called and suggested that I needed to get at least two more rabies vaccine shots (instead of the one that I had left) and then two weeks later a test to see if I was fully vaccinated or not.  It seems they were starting to feel like maybe the HRIG wasn't such a good idea.  At this point, though, I'd had enough of the health department and finally just decided to just get my last vaccine as planned and break up with the health department.

In the meantime, each vaccine was $265 from passport health, over $100 more than two vaccines cost in Indonesia.  My doctor charged me $120 to administer the HRIG, and since I am on a high deductible insurance plan, it was not covered.  I kept submitting bills to my travel insurance, and the travel insurance kept making me jump through hoops.  I had to produce more and more paperwork, until I had a file the size of the one at the health department's office.  Oh, and the HRIG shot?  $1650.  Not covered by insurance.  That was a fun bill to open.

In the end, I had $2700 in medical bills from this monkey bite.  The good news is that I've stayed on the travel insurance and done everything they've asked of me.  I've recouped all of it except for the initial 1,050,000 Indonesian Rupiah ($120 USD) bill from the medical clinic there because I have to have an Explanation of Benefits from my health insurance, and my health insurance is still stumbling over itself trying to produce this.  I've made 3 phone calls and sent two letters to them on the matter, and I still don't have an EOB.  I even asked them to just write me a letter saying that they won't cover it.  They are just....  irritating.

I won't truly be in the clear on the rabies situation for two years.  For two years, if I was exposed to rabies, I can still contract it.  So, I have until February 2013 before I know 100% that I don't have rabies.  But, I don't.  Trust me.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Commando or No?

Last month, Charlotte at The Great Fitness Experiment wrote a post about underwear during workouts.  You know what?  It surprises me how many of you wear underwear for your workouts.  For the record, I never wear underwear for running or working out.  Ever.  I honestly didn't think I was strange.

I might have actually worn underwear when I first started working out.  I wore cotton clothing and t-shirts and whatever I had around.  I did invest in a nice sports bra, but beyond that, I dressed how you might expect someone to dress who was just starting out with fitness.  Once I got into running, and definitely once I became involved with my running store peeps, I started getting a lot more workout clothes.  So many, in fact, that I am drowning in them now!  That's when I stopped wearing underwear.

Let's just look at it this way - running shorts are lined with little panties.  They come with their own underwear, which is great because I find that the panties and the shorts work well together - everything stays where it's supposed to.  I've discovered that some ladies wear their running shorts with underwear underneath - even when the shorts are lined...  Huh?  That doesn't make sense to me.  For the record, though, I don't usually wear shorts for running that don't have a lining.  I've tried, and it is uncomfortable.

So, the trick comes in when we talk about tights and winter running pants.  They typically do not have a lining.  What do you do then?  As I stated, I still go commando.  I avoid all visible panty lines, and I don't have to worry about anything going anywhere that it shouldn't go.  I bought some athletic undies once to wear under my winter clothes, but I didn't care for them and they made me look too lumpy.

I guess I'd have to ask why -- why do you wear underwear under running clothes?  Is it a protection thing? Are you worried that someone will know (they won't - unless you post it on your blog like me)?  Don't you chafe?

Thoughts?  Do you wear underwear beneath your running clothes?

Special note:  I debated on what term to use on this post.  Underwear?  Panties?  Underpants?  Undergarment?  Underthings?  For some reason, I love the word 'underpants', although when I picture underpants, I picture this.  So, I went with underwear.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Indonesia Part Ten: Bali to Hong Kong to Maryland

In Part Nine, Todd and I attended a Balinese cremation ceremony, and then I was totally bitten by a monkey.

The day after the monkey bite was the day that we were scheduled to go home.  Our flight was leaving Bali in the afternoon, so we spent the morning relaxing and reading at the pool.  We were suddenly very upset to be leaving, when only a day or two earlier I was ready to be out of there.  If I could have stayed in Bali longer, I totally would have.
Hong Kong

The hotel hired a driver to take us to the airport, which was about a 90 minute drive.  We learned that school gets out in Bali at about 1pm, and the school kids walk home from school in the road.  Hundreds of them, blocking traffic.

At the airport, we learned that we had a 3 hour flight delay.  This depressed me because I could have spent longer at the pool.  We also learned that we would not get our luggage back during our layover in Hong Kong.  So, suddenly we were in the airport trying to pull out clothing and supplies for the night and trying to squeeze them into our already tight carryons.  We were in shorts for the Bali-Hong Kong part of our journey, but we'd have to be dressed for January in Maryland when we left Hong Kong.

The trip to Hong Kong was fairly uneventful, except that there was a guy in first class who wandered around the plane for the entire 5 hours carrying a cup of wine and sloshing it everywhere.  He was clearly drunk and continued stumbling over people and acting like a crazy person.  Then, there we were in Hong Kong.

I had planned the Hong Kong section of our journey carefully.  I decided to save money and not hire a cab or car, but to take the Hong Kong Express train that runs from the airport to downtown.  Yes, there were hotels closer to the airport, but we decided that we wanted to SEE Hong Kong, even if it was just a glimpse out of the window of our hotel.

We found the train easily, got our pre-paid tickets, and headed all high-speed like to downtown Hong Kong, about a 20 minute ride.  Once we reached our station, we got out and went to get on the free Shuttle bus that runs between the hotels.

No bus.

Sadly, it was 11:15pm and the bus only runs until 11:00.  We were told by the people at the information desk that under no circumstances would we be able to walk to our hotel.  We would have to take a cab.  Ordinarily, this would not be an issue, but cabs in Hong Kong only take Hong Kong dollars.  Thankfully, I had bought a drink in the Hong Kong airport on our way to Indonesia.  I'd used US Dollars, and gotten Hong Kong dollars back in change.  It turns out that we had enough money to get us round trip to our hotel!  Awesome!  So, we took what was one of the most frightening 5 minute cab rides ever to the JW Marriott Hong Kong.

The hotel was super shwanky, even more shwanky than the JW Marriott in Jakarta.  We got to our room and proceeded to wander around the room noticing things we hadn't seen in ages.  Wow, a television!!  Ooo, potato chips!  Look, the bathroom is indoors!  We watched the news in order to get caught up - it was afternoon in the US and the protests in Egypt were going on.  We had every news station imaginable from any country, so I switched from the BBC to Fox News to MSNBC to CNN to Al Jazeera at random.  Our room overlooked Hong Kong's Harbor, and quite frankly, I just wanted to sit up all night and watch the lights outside.  We did eventually sleep, though.

Morning came, and we decided to try out the breakfast buffet that was being offered in the hotel.  Now, since we've gotten home, I've tried to describe the awesomeness of the breakfast that we had in Hong Kong, and I just sound silly (Well, they had eggs, and pancakes, and waffles...)  It sounds not so special unless you've just spent 3 weeks in Indonesia.  The buffet had everything you could possibly imagine on it, and we ate like royalty.  YUM to you, JW Marriott Hong Kong.  I have had day dreams about that breakfast for the last 4 months.
Geocaching in Hong Kong

Next came Geocaching.  We managed to find one geocache near our hotel, and we left a travel bug there.  However, once we were done this, it was starting to be about time to head back to the airport, so in the end we saw almost nothing of Hong Kong.  I desperately want to go back and see more of the city, but I don't know when that will happen.

Back at the airport, we bought some candy and souvenirs, then dealt with the ridiculous amount of security that is involved in getting on a Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong to the US.  It was 11 hours to San Francisco, and I ended up spending it next to this guy who clearly had a cold.  He denied it, but he clearly had one.  I'm a germophobe, so I spent the entire flight worrying about getting sick, and I was pleased when he drank so much that he passed out.

Suddenly, we found ourselves in San Francisco!  Finally, I could use my cell phone again, so I called my family and said hello.  I was dreading getting back on a flight, but in the end I was so tired that I slept most of the way from San Francisco to Dulles.

Home again, home again, and it was cold.  Our journey was over, and we were back home -- and totally unable to sleep.  It was 2am Eastern when we finally decided to go to bed -- we sat up and watched all of the episodes of The Office that we'd missed while we were away before going to sleep.

The End...

Well, kind of the end.  Coming up, I'll write a little epilogue where I describe the aftermath of my monkey bite.  Oh yes, the actual monkey bite was just the beginning.  There might be one more post, as well, where I just wrap up this whole trip into one big shiny package.  If you've read my Indonesia blog posts from start to finish, I so appreciate your attention.  This trip was a huge deal for us and I am so excited to share it with you.  

Finally, if you have enjoyed these posts, please consider Liking me on Facebook or Following the blog using the "Follow" button on the right hand menu.

Monday, June 13, 2011

10-Second Book Reviews

The Help
I'd been wanting to read this one for a while, but for some reason I thought it would be too heavy.  It was not!  I loved it!  It's the story of a group of African American women in the south in the 1960s who work for white women as house keepers.  The characters are so likable.  The main character is a white woman who is a budding journalist who meets with the women to write their stories, and expose the south to the rest of the world.

They're making a movie out of this one, and I'm excited for when it comes out. Definitely read this one, it is a page turner.

The Pillars of the Earth
This book was on my "To Read" list for YEARS.  I mean it, YEARS.  It was put on the Oprah book club list in 2007, so I guess that is about when I thought I might read it. I thought that the subject matter sounded dry - a medieval town builds a cathedral.  What it ended up being was sort of an epic novel about the lives of some people in a medieval town over the course of many years.  And, their main goal does happen to be that they're building a cathedral.

This book is LONG.  I was reading it forever, but the pay off was good. I enjoyed it.  There was one character that was truly evil, and I learned to hate him.  Todd and I then watched the Starz mini series of Pillars of the Earth and it was awful.  So - read the book, skip the mini series.

Water for Elephants: A Novel
So, all of my reviews tend to go like this "so, I liked this book, and they're making a movie out of it!"  This one isn't any different.  The movie came out in May, and I haven't seen it yet, but I loved the book.  This was another one that I wasn't sure about the subject matter.  The main character is about to graduate from Veterinary school when his parents die.  He ends up joining the circus.  In the movie, he is played by Edward Cullen.  That's really all you need to know.  And also, this.

My favorite character in the book happens to be Rosie the elephant.  Sara Gruen makes circuses seem fascinating, and it made me almost want to go out and catch Ringling Bros.  Gotta catch the movie next.

The Art of Racing in the Rain
This is another one that can have a totally bizarre summary: A story about car racing. Told from the perspective of a dog.  See?  Sounds weird.

Actually, it's about the dog, but also about his family, and his human happens to race cars for a living.  I thought this was very well written, although the book is a series of downers.  There are just beautiful quotes all over the place, and the dog's perspective is funny and cute.  I started reading this one because we were heading off to Indianapolis and what better book to read when you're going to Indianapolis for a race than one about car racing?  If you are a dog lover, check this one out.  You'll enjoy it.

Something Borrowed
I only read this one because I liked the trailer for the movie that has just come out, starring Jim Halpert, the third wife from Big Love and Goldie Hawn's daughter.  (I don't like naming people by their real names...).  Two best friends, one of course is the "ugly/quiet" one and one is the "pretty/sexy/outgoing" one (same formula as so many other chick lit books) and the ugly/quiet one sleeps with the pretty/sexy ones fiancĂ©.

It was hard to get through.  I was annoyed by the characters, and their immature actions.  Some of it seemed familiar to me, and not in a good way.  I'll check out the movie, but the book wasn't that great.  Skip this one.  Oh, and Jim Halpert totally didn't play the character I thought that he would.  I wonder if the movie has a different ending??

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Cycling Update

Out on the NCR Trail yesterday
So, the biking is going well.  I've been getting out about once a week on the mostly flat NCR trail near my office.  I've been keeping my rides to just under an hour, about 50 minutes a piece, and that's been enough for me to feel confident and get stronger and faster on the bike.

That being said, the NCR trail is FLAT and I am totally not all about going on hills.  I fear hills on the bike.  Even worse though, the NCR trail doesn't have traffic and eventually I'm going to have to get out there and try riding in traffic if I want to get better with hills, and if I want any type of variety.  There just aren't enough places in Maryland to go bike riding that don't have cars.  Riding around cars totally terrifies me.

I think that for now, my next step should be getting cages for my bike pedals so that I can start working my way towards clipless pedals.  I'm really not sure what the progression should be - what should I train myself on first - riding in traffic, riding on hills, or clipless pedals?  I wonder about this all the time, so I've been sticking with the status quo, which is riding on the flat, traffic-less trail with regular pedals.  Eventually, I"ll need to switch it up.

Regardless, I don't run into stationary objects anymore, and I am feeling pretty darned comfortable on the bike, so that is all good news.

Monday, June 6, 2011

10-Second Book Reviews

Here's what I've been reading lately!

Room: A Novel:
This is an incredibly interesting book, about a woman who is kidnapped and held by a man for years.  She has a son to the man, and the entire book is written from the perspective of this little boy.  Imagine living your entire life in a small little room and never seeing the outside or knowing anyone other than your mom.

I really enjoyed this one.  The writing was strange and difficult to get used to.  I almost didn't buy it because of this - I was hurrying through the Kindle sample before getting on an airplane, and I needed to make a decision about whether or not to buy it so that I could read it on the plane.  I'm glad I did - it was so interesting!

Best Friends Forever
Chick lit is my favorite genre, and Jennifer Weiner is my favorite chick lit author.  This one was not her best, but still worth a read.  The story is about two childhood friends, one of whom is shy and quiet and (at least thinks of herself as) ugly/fat.  The other is pretty and outgoing.  The two are best friends, but of course have a big breakup.  In the story, the girls meet again as adults, and try to resolve their troubles with each other.

While it was enjoyable, I kept feeling like I've read it before.  I mean, it was such a formula.  Yes, I love chick lit, but this really just seemed like every other chick lit and didn't really take steps to stand out or be original.  Even within Jennifer Weiner's books, In Her Shoes did a better job of doing the whole fat/ugly vs pretty/outgoing thing.

The Hunger Games
I was at a Christmas party and my friend Erika told me to read this book.  Then, she described it.  It's a young adult novel where it's the future.  The US is destroyed and divided into districts.  Each of the districts sends two children to fight in a battle to the death against the children of the other districts.

It sounded so far-fetched and weird that I wrote it off.  Then, my nephew also recommended it, only a week or two later.  Then, it showed up on sale for the Kindle.  I decided to buy it since I wouldn't be out too much money, and I started reading it on the plane from Dulles to LAX on our trip to Indonesia.  I got so into it so fast that I made sure to buy the second and third books in the series once we landed in LAX, so I'd be sure I'd have them in Indonesia.  Holy crap, great books!  I know they sound weird, and they are, but totally give them a try.  This makes up for when Erika recommended the Twilight books.  (just kidding, Erika!)

The series can be compared to Harry Potter, except darker and a lot more violent.  It can be compared to the Twilight books, except the characters are mature and make decisions that make sense.  They're making a movie series, and I can't wait to see them. I might even re-read the three books.  They were that good.  Definitely pick these up, even though they sound weird.

Whatever You Do, Don't Run: True Tales of a Botswana Safari Guide
This is a collection of short stories told by a guide at a Safari camp in Botswana.  It's so very entertaining.  I loved every minute of it.  The stories were funny and unique, and you learn a lot about what it's like to live and work on Safari in Africa.

The real problem with this book is that it will make you want to take a trip there.  And, since I was in the middle of an expensive long vacation in Asia when I was reading it...  Well, honestly I don't know if that made me more or less likely to want to take a safari.

The Island: A Novel
Back to chick lit.  I've been reading a lot of Elin Hlderbrand lately.  Her novels all take place on the island of Nantucket, so I'm starting to get to really know the island. Her first book that I read was called The Castaways, (see my review) and I liked this one even more than that one.  Two sisters, and their mother and her sister all go to Nantucket for the summer to escape some of their problems.  Working through issues ensues.  Ok,  yeah, it's a formula chick lit, but I liked it.

If you like to read chick lit, give this author a try.  Her writing style really works and her books make excellent beach reads.  It is summer, after all.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Flowers 2011: May

Last time: April 2011
April 30th: The tulips are blooming!  I had a hard time getting out
to take photos because it seemed like it was always raining.  When things would bloom,
it would rain so much on them that they would get brown and mushy soon after.

April 30th: Tulips with Chrysanthemums just starting to come up below them.
Tulips are only supposed to last a few years at most, and these have been blooming for/
about 3 years.  I am wondering if I should replace them in the fall, or just keep letting
them come up until they don't bloom anymore.

May 6th: The first big yard project this year, we put in a new flowerbed on the side
of the house.  See the before.

May 9th: Another photo of the same flowerbed on a more sunny day.  You can see
the azaleas blooming (these were already there).  The new bed is all perennials
and I'm pretty happy about it so far.

May 15th: I actually moved pansies from up where the tulips are down to the mailbox.
The rain has meant that some of these perennials are really huge this year.

May 15th: Where the tulips were, now the Chrysanthemums are really starting to come in.
I also planted Columbine here in April, but they're still pretty small.

May 15th: We put in some little iron fences to hold up the lavender, which gets really big.

May 15th: My favorite flower is Lilac, and so we put in two lilac bushes.  This is
their second  spring blooming and they're starting to get big!  The whole yard smelled like lilacs!
May 15th: This is the third spring for these Azaleas, and they don't seem to be/
getting quite as big as I would like them to be.  Should they grow faster??

May 15th: Roscoe, my neighbor's dog.

May 15th: The butterfly garden isn't looking particularly impressive yet.

May 15th: We put in a bird waterer and a bird feeder in the back yard.

May 15th: I cleaned up this area, and I planted two hostas that were left over
from my shade garden project.  I'm really struggling with this particular flower bed.
It always looks scraggly to me.

May 15th: The Alpine Strawberries that I planted in this/
container last year are looking good!

May 15th: I planted some marigold and Black Eyed Susan vine
in this container.  Last year, I started them indoors.  We'll see how it goes.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Stats as of 31 May 2011

May 2010
51.5 miles
10 hours, 43 minutes
Avg Pace: 12:30/mile
Lehigh Valley Half Marathon (April): 2:33:38 (11:44 per mile)

May 2011
63.8 miles -- 12.3 miles more than in 2010
13 hours, 31 minutes -- 2 hours, 48 minutes longer than in 2010
Avg Pace: 12:43/mile -- 13 seconds slower than in 2010
500 Festival Mini Marathon: 2:34:21 (11:47 per mile)

Year Totals:
220.3 miles at 12:38 per mile

Hooray, I'm finally getting real mileage in for the year!  I feel good about  how many miles I ran, but not as good about the fact that my pace was slower than 2010.  That hasn't happened in a while.  I don't even have a reason as to why that happened, except that we had a really hot May this year, so maybe that had something to do with it.

We're a few weeks into our Marathon training program here in Baltimore, and it's going very well so far.  I have a lot of people who will be running their first full marathons, and a few who are running their second ones.  I'm excited for them!

Like I said in an earlier post, I've stopped all cross training except biking, which I'm trying to do once per week. In the meantime, I'm working on getting myself organized and keeping my house clean.  That part is going very well, too, although I admit I'm behind right at this moment because Todd and I spent Memorial Day in Ocean City (Maryland) and work has been a bit crazy this week.  I want to do a little post on my lists and the house and that sort of thing, so hopefully I can do that later this week.

Biking is going very well also.  It's strange, but apparently being on the bike trainer over the winter really helped my confidence.  I am no longer having fears of running into stationary objects.  This is good.  Todd and I even did a ride in Ocean City on Monday.  Todd a bike rack so that we can fit both of our bikes into the back of our car.  This is a big deal - we no longer have to take two cars to the trail!  Hooray!!  Check it out:

Other than that, I'm just going about my business.  I've got to check up on blogs to see what everyone else has been up to this month...
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