Saturday, June 29

Adventures in Fashion: Little Black Bag (review & coupon!)

One of my dearest friends will be married next month. My dilemma? I needed shoes to wear with the dress I already have. I have ballerina flats like whoa, but the sandals I have aren't in good enough shape to pull off with a fancier dress.

I was hunting for a fresh, fun pair in a coral color to pop from my dress, which is more demure because I'm merely a reader for this small, intimate wedding, but I didn't want anything crazy. And they had to be flat. Because I'm 6'0" and already taller than my boyfriend (and almost everyone else).

Enter Little Black Bag. I had heard about this shopping site through yet another shopping site (one of the Internet's versions of Pandora's Box). Brands include BCBG, Steve Madden, Betsey Johnson, Nila Anthony, Deux Lux, Big Buddha, Coconuts, Penny Loves Kenny, Charlotte Ronson, and Chinese Laundry, among others.

What's cool about LBB is that you browse all the wares on their site and get to purchase one chic, designer item--purse, shoes, jewelry, makeup--and then you receive two additional mystery items in your "bag."

Once you check out, you learn what your mystery items are, but the fun isn't over. You can trade any of your items with other LBB buyers. People will propose trades and you can accept or reject. Ultimately, you choose what items you'd like to have (no one can take something from your bag without your permission) and you click "buy my bag" when you're pleased with your selections.

So when I found some cute coral colored flat sandals at a great price, I bought them and got my mystery items. I went into the trading site and ended up keeping all my original items, even though some of the trades people offered were pretty cool.

Here's what I received when I got my box today:
My first Little Black Bag order
I got my Penny Loves Kenny sandals, some skyn Iceland makeup removal wipes, and a pair of All the Rage earrings. I see the wipes and earrings as a bonus because I really just wanted shoes, but these extras came at no real extra cost. I'm happy to try new things too.

So what did I pay? $32 including shipping. I say LBB FTW...

Also, my package arrived pretty quickly. The whole transaction, from purchase and trade to shipping to delivery took exactly one full week.

Have you tried Little Black Bag? My readers who use this link will receive 25% off their first order! (Discount will be automatically applied at checkout.)

No Race

It's difficult when circumstances conspire against you in so many ways that you cannot do even one little joyful thing that you want to do.

For me, that was running my race today. I didn't get to do it.

I'll spare you the details, but the heart of the matter is that stress is wearing me down. I've been really sick and not sleeping because of the stress in my life lately and that's just not okay.

So I'm resting today. 100%. It's a completely unplanned, nowhere to go, no obligations, nap if I want to, go for a walk, garden for hours, lay in the yard with my dog kind of day.

The hardest part is to not label this as a failure... because that's what it feels like to my type A, overachiever, go big or go home mind. I'm trying to reframe it as doing what I need to do to prevent an even bigger failure later in life. A give some to get more kind of trade... paying it forward.

This is not to say that I wasn't totally pissed when I woke up and it was an non-humid, sunny 63ยบ day (perfect racing weather, a rarity here in western PA). I was. But I'm trying to enjoy that in other ways now. Trying...

Tuesday, June 25

Adventures in Hydration: Ignite Naturals IN Refresh Electrolyte Drink (review)

This month I was delighted to have the opportunity to try out Ignite Naturals IN Refresh Electrolyte Drink mix. I sampled the Dragonfruit lemon lime mix.

I learned about Ignite Naturals on Twitter. Their approach to active hydration is different than most other sport drinks. Some sport drinks are sugary or salty to the taste and contain food coloring and other unnatural ingredients (e.g., Gatorade*, which includes long explanations for use of food coloring, sodium, and isomaltulose in the FAQ for the product). Other sport drinks created with tablets are more balanced when it comes to sugar and sodium and contain natural flavors and colors, but the ingredient list reads like a chemistry textbook (e.g., Nuun*).

IN Refresh ingredients are simple, non-GMO, whole foods.
So I started my trial with a small glass of Dragonfruit lemon lime.

Whoa! Flavor!

The directions indicate one level scoop (about a teaspoon) for 6-8 oz. of water. That, my friends, produces a rich, bright, tasty beverage. 
Scoop & mix from Ignite Naturals and my resulting beverage.
The flavor is sweet, but it doesn't taste like a sweetener or sugar. It's more fruity than anything, which I really enjoyed. My tastebuds were dancing freestyle.

I tried the drink mix in water several more times, experimenting with more water (up to 16 oz.) to experience the diluted flavor (which I associate more with drinks like Nuun). My personal preference is to mix one scoop into a 12 oz. glass of water. That hit the perfect level of saturation for me. Not too sweet, not too dilute.

In other experiments, I mixed the drink powder with other liquids. (Bold, I know!) Since the ingredients include freeze dried organic coconut water, it seemed like an obvious choice was coconut water.
Let the chemistry begin!
I mixed one scoop of the mix with 8 oz. of coconut water. The result? Spectacular. Coconut water is not my favorite on its own, but I usually don't regret mixing it with other things. It tasted like the IN Refresh Electrolyte mix was made for coconut water, really. The thicker feel of coconut water combined with the fruity taste of Dragonfruit lemon lime made me smile on even the hottest afternoon.

I also tried mixing the powder with coconut milk (nah), in a banana coconut-milkshake (okay), and orange juice (meh--the OJ overpowered it).

But what about the actual hydration component of this drink?

I don't let myself get dehydrated on purpose, so I just incorporated this mix into my daily routine of water, water, protein shake, water, and more water. :) I almost ALWAYS need to drink water while I am running. I am one of those people who sweats just thinking about sweating, so I need to replenish my fluids pretty quickly. (I'm also a "salty sweater," meaning after a really sweaty workout I get little salt crystals on my forehead and temples. Sexy, I know.) So my IN Refresh mix came along for a few runs too. It felt a little too high-maintenance for a run because of having to make sure the mix was, well, mixed. (Some powder does separate in the solution.) I would say that it helped me recover from my workouts best of all. I didn't feel like I needed to chug it in order to rehydrate and I felt better sooner, even in humid, hot weather.

So let's break it down...


  • Made from 100% plant-based, natural, non-GMO food
  • Ingredients list is readable (not chem class all over again)
  • Sweet, not sugary/sweetener, taste
  • Fruity, tastebud dance-provoking taste
  • Serious electrolyte recharge for post-workout
  • Makes coconut water a worthwhile beverage
  • 1% of Ignite Naturals sales go to
  • Some of the powder separates and sits at the bottom of the glass after mixing. (I just kept my spoon in my glass, but it was a little weird to see a little bit of mix at the bottom of my glass. Also makes this drink higher maintenance for running or other activities for which you might bring along a beverage.)
  • "Pepper" in the glass. I let several friends try the mix and they all brought up the little black specks floating in the mix and sticking to the sides of the glass. I'm sure they're from the food ingredients, but it's worth mentioning since several friends told me about it.
  • The canister for the powder is too large. It arrived with 30 servings, less than half full. Proper packaging is important for shipping, marketing, etc., but the canister seemed like it could've contained 90 servings, not 30, so psychologically it was a "glass-half-empty" feeling. (Also, smaller canisters would mean less packaging, which could result in savings for the company.)

Overall reaction: I'd encourage you to try Ignite Naturals if you're looking for an all-natural solution to your hydration needs. IN Refresh comes in four flavors: Dragonfruit lemon lime, Tangerine passion fruit, Blueberry, and Prickly pear.

*Don't get me wrong--I drink Gatorade at races and I love Nuun. I am just pointing out the differences between these popular drinks and the Ignite Naturals drink mix I'm reviewing. 

Monday, June 24

Adventures in Nutrition: eMeals to the Rescue (review)

Once upon a time, there was a GroupOn deal for a year's worth of dinner recipes curated by a website called eMeals. Grammarissa's struggle with what to make for dinner after running through the same tired recipes led her to buy the GroupOn deal for $29. Thus begins our story.

Grammarissa began her eMeals repertoire with the Classic recipes program (very American meat-and-potatoes stuff), but before long she tried the Clean Eating recipes and noticed how the lower fat and more natural approach to cooking was changing her outlook on making dinner. Even boyfriend noticed, and that's saying something because he doesn't usually notice much about food except when there isn't any sauce at a meal.

eMeals continued to deliver Clean Eating recipes to Grammarissa's inbox every Wednesday through stormy weather--both literal and metaphorical--and even when she didn't feel like cooking, there was usually some simple recipe she could extract from the eMeals plan for the week and put together. Best of all, when she lost her job and feared she couldn't afford to keep up the natural, good, clean approach to her nutrition, Grammarissa studied her finances over the last few months (during which she had been shopping with eMeals lists for recipes) and found that eating well was NOT out of the budget.

Now, as Grammarissa tries to wade her way through dairy- and gluten-free weeks of the Arbonne Fit Kit, the Clean Eating recipes are good, but grains pose some problem. She looked to to see if there was a gluten free offering and--alas!--there is a recipe set dedicated to this special diet request. Billed as "variety without the guesswork," the Gluten Free plan is Grammarissa's newest subscription. To be honest, she's not sure why she didn't think of this before... of course eMeals has a gluten free choice... eMeals is awesome.

If you, dear readers, should decide to give eMeals a try, please use this link (or the one in my sidebar):


And I'll get a referral credit for bringing my friends along! :)

eMeals also offers breakfast and lunch meal plans, so it's plausible that your entire diet could be planned through eMeals, if you like!

And if, after this happy story, you needed another reason to try eMeals, I'll give you the story of a friend I turned on to eMeals. She and her husband follow the Paleo Plan. Within weeks of starting, she emailed me to thank me for sharing eMeals with her and wrote a laundry list of things she learned thanks to the recipe instructions and feeling brave enough to try new things (like making marinade and curry paste from scratch). The last line of her email? "Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Serious reduction in stress and increase in happiness. Thank you!"

Saturday, June 22

Summer Garden Progress!

My whole garden!
It's tough to get a garden up to speed with wishy-washy weather and frost lasting through the first week of June, but, at last, summer is here and my garden is thriving!

My meager beginnings indoors with grow lamps and seed pods have led to healthy seedlings and, now, healthy vegetable plants and flowers. This is my favorite time because I get to care for the plants until they burst into color with fruit and flowers.

Last year I didn't really know what I was doing. I bought some seeds and dirt and hoped for the best. The funniest thing that happened was that my labels washed away... I didn't know what any of my seedlings were! I called it my secret garden because I really didn't know what was what...

Makeshift set up
I've come a long way this year. In February I took a short course with a local non-profit, Grow Pittsburgh, to learn some gardening basics. I was more excited than ever to have a garden after that class. Spring couldn't come soon enough!

I planted my original seedlings in April. I didn't have much success, unfortunately. I think the location in my house was too dry and that I used poor soil. So I started a second batch later on. These were much more successful.

Meager beginnings
I've still had attrition, even while hardening off the seedlings... which was sad because so many of them were doing well! But it happens. Not all seedlings are strong enough. It's a really brutal version of evolution's favorite game, Survival of the Fittest.

I know I didn't do everything perfectly. I definitely fried a few seedlings accidentally. :( I also got carried away with potting things as an in-between stage before planting them because the frost here didn't stop until early June. So some plants probably died just from the trauma of moving them too much. My fault. Ah, living and learning, again.

Nevertheless, I have some really beautiful plants right now. The garden itself looks marvelous. The individual plants are making me really excited about what produce I'll get this summer. Here are some more photos...
Itty bitty cucumber plants 
Broccoli... maybe. If it doesn't bolt. Again.
A forest of heirloom tomato plants!
Spinach! Popeye would be proud.

Tuesday, June 18

Watching Geese Form a V

I peeked out the window when I fed my dog a few minutes ago and saw this:
The encroachment.
This year's gaggle of geese are bolder than before (at least at this time of year...). They've been creeping up into my yard closer to the house, despite my dog leaving her "scent" wherever she pleases.

I decided to go out on the porch to take some pictures. Instead, I got to watch these geese communicate in a way I never noticed before!

Shortly after I stepped out onto the porch (which is about ten feet above level ground), the geese began moving back towards the pond. They didn't like me standing on the porch. I think they associate my presence with my dog... barking at them.
Bird body language? I think so.
I noticed a few geese lifting their heads up at a severe angle--really nodding upwards--at all the other geese. I guessed that they were leaders and that they were saying something to the others.

This next photo is from a different day, but it's a better shot of what I saw the leader geese doing with their heads. Look at the fella on the left.
The goose on the far left is *clearly* calling the shots.
So the geese congregated, as geese are wont to do, and they hurried down towards the pond with their friends and family.
Grouping together near the other geese (and ducks).
I thought that was it. They'd be down by the pond for the night with all the other waterfowls and that was okay by me. But then something else happened...
Whoa! Suddenly all white bellies!
They did a complete about-face and were facing me. I was a little freaked out because I knew that my presence had sent them packing for the evening. Were they going to hiss at me? Fly at me? (Or was I really going too far by inserting myself into the equation?)
The Army couldn't have put together a better battalion.
As quickly as they had turned around they were forming a V. I knew that meant flying, and I was instantly impressed. I had just witnessed bird communication at its finest. These geese had first retreated and then decided to form up to fly! I don't know if you've ever seen geese run, but they can really move it. They weren't running in this case, but you could tell who the slow ones were.
Eat your heart out, Mighty Ducks.
Before I could snap another picture of them shaping up, they were airborne. I was kicking myself for leaving my camera zoomed in. (D'oh.) But you can see that they are in shape and ready to fly in that oh-so-familiar migratory V we see in the sky. Something like this:
Migrating? Probably not. But evolution persists.
Later this year I know I'll be able to count on the Goose Family Reunion, as I have in several past years. My yard usually looks like this:
At last count, there were a bajillion geese at the Goose
Family Reunion. And one white duck.

My Oomph is Waning

I'm staying busy. I'm still (yes, still) looking for a job, but I can feel my enthusiasm waning. Why is my "oomph" now more like "uh"?

Sometimes it's really hard to wake up and do the same damn thing you did yesterday--work part time and search for a job--ad infinitum. I have no specified termination point for this blip of unemployment (and its accouterment of melancholy uncertainty) and, therefore, it's frustratingly difficult, nigh impossible, to plan... ANYTHING.

Vacation? Ha, definitely not happening. Unless I have a willing, unbeknownst-to-me benefactor to pay for said vacation. (If you are said benefactor, feel free to get in touch with me about this vacation we need to plan.)

Moving? Better get a job first. Or get said job to pay for relocation. There is no room in the budget for a security deposit.

Buying anything valuable? Nope. If I can't pay for it with what I've got, I can't afford it. (This includes a better functioning cell phone and tires.)

There are a host of other things I can't plan or count on, mostly because I have to wake up, work part time, and search for a job every. single. day. Until I get a job, at which point Life can resume and I will once again feel whole and like a contributing person of The World.

So for days like today when I feel like sobbing for... all of the above, I try to put myself back together with this:
via BuzzFeed

Thursday, June 13

Grammarissa in Glamour Magazine

You read that right. I'm in the June issue of Glamour!

My feedback is, anyway. :-D If you haven't read this article, find page 168 in the April 2013 issue. It's worth a read. (The article is not available online.)

Friday, June 7

Adventures with Injinji: Running Toe Socks 2.0 (review)

Okay, Injinji fans. If you loved the original running toe sock (read my first review), you are going to love Run 2.0.

I've had my original weight no-show and crew toe socks in the mix with my other running socks and I noticed myself grabbing my Injinji socks more and more often. You know exactly what I mean--it's like  those two or three favorite shirts you always gravitate towards in your closet no matter what. Whether it's subliminal or conscious, the fact is we develop preferences. I recognized that I preferred to run in my Injinji toe socks, so I bought two pairs of the Run 2.0 when I learned they were available.
As in my original review, I bought a pair of crew socks (purple) and a pair of no-shows (blue). Initial impression: I'm thrilled with the vibrant colors! Aesthetics aside, the tight knit I had come to expect from Injinji was taken to another level with the arch-hugging support, and the more open mesh-like knit on the top of the foot. 

For this review, I ran in each pair of socks twice (and washed them each twice). I'm delighted to report that both pairs have less pilling than my original running toe socks. I think the changes in knit might be the difference. (Again, I follow the instructions for washing/drying with all my running apparel; all my socks are washed in a mesh "delicates" bag.)

The named difference between the crew and the no-show is obvious with the height of the sock on the calf, but the invisible--but felt--difference is the weight of the knit. The no-show socks are original weight and the crew socks are "mid weight." The website says this design is "perfect for those who prefer 'more of a sock' for long runs and demanding workouts." You won't be able to tell the difference until you put on the socks and actually walk in them.
The mid weight really is a little cushier. I wore them on a seven mile run on a cooler evening in May. No issues with moisture management or slippage, as usual with my Injinji socks, but when my run was over I noticed my feet didn't have that feeling of being beaten. You know the feeling--it's like the soles of your feet were just pounded with cement blocks over and over again. If you're not a cushiony shoe person but still want to alleviate a little stress with sock padding, I'd say the mid weight is a pretty good choice. Again: make sure you follow their sizing guide to make sure you get the right fit!

If you haven't checked out Injinji yet, I urge you to do so. I've found their socks to be a great addition to my running wardrobe. The colors are cheerful (they do have neutrals, if color isn't your thing) and the design is great. They *only* make socks, so they're not trying to be a mega company making all things--it's a specialty. I never knew socks could be a specialty... and I certainly didn't think it would be toe socks for running!

New neighbor!

Yesterday I had a great reason to be late for work: there was a red-headed woodpecker on my porch!

Rain poured on my house, making his initial hammering sounds seem faint, but when he hammered his little beak into a wooden beam on my porch, I definitely heard him!

I immediately stopped what I was doing and ran to get my camera. I knew he was on my porch. I'm really lucky that my porch is just outside my bedroom window and that it's the same level as my window.

The woodpecker is a little too big for this feeder (usually the biggest birds that fit here are cardinals, bluejays, and nuthatches), but he slid himself under the shield and snacked on some seeds.

This second photo is kind of hilarious because there are other birds--my usual neighbors--trying to fly up into the feeder, only to be greeted by this huge woodpecker. Here you'll see a gathering of a few house finches and a chickadee.

I really enjoyed watching the woodpecker on my porch. The drama that unfolds between the birds that live in my yard is astounding. The summer addition of a red-headed woodpecker should be interesting, provided I keep supplying the food he likes.

Tuesday, June 4

Donate Your Gently Used Running Bras!

Dear Ladies,

We all know the statistics: most of us are wearing the wrong size bra, a bra that is too old, or a bra that doesn't support us like it should. The same rules apply for athletic or sports bras... Only it's worse because sizing and support mistakes can actually hurt us.

My friend Wendy at OneToughMotherRunner (hilariously) outlines her criteria for a running bra:

My absolute number one factor in a sports bra is NO BOUNCE! 
I have good reasons for this.
First, it’s uncomfortable. It just hurts – both during exercise and afterwards.
Second, people give you funny looks. The only reasons I want people to stare at me while I’m exercising is because they are 1) amazed at my perfect running form, 2) stunned by my speed (ha! unlikely!), or 3) they think I am so gorgeous they just can’t take their eyes off of me (also unlikely – especially when I’m running!).
Third, if you don’t wear a supportive sports bra during vigorous activity, you can potentially damage your chest ligaments. And finally, unrestrained movement can lead to sagging over time. 
Sagging?  NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!
Wendy's humor points out many issues with running bras, but imagine not having a running bra at all...

Many young women in the world don't have access to these specialty items of clothing like we do.

Enter Gabby Grebski with Girls Gotta Run Foundation: Gabby founded this organization to help
young women in impoverished Ethiopia overcome their poverty through running. One of the things these young ladies need most is running clothing and, especially, running bras.

Enter Oiselle: teamed up with Gabby and the Foundation, Oiselle is collecting *gently* used running bras in the month of June! And, just in case you needed more of a reason to give your current bras away, if you include a note with your email address when you mail your bras to Oiselle HQ, you will receive a coupon for 15% off a new Oiselle sports bra! Oiselle just launched their latest bras in March 2013 and they are all made in the USA!

What are you waiting for? It's time to part ways with your bras for a better cause. Send your gently used bras to Oiselle Running, 7109 Woodlawn Ave. NE, Seattle, WA, 98115. 

Monday, June 3

The Vessels of Our Lives

My collection of drink vessels. (That
handsome fella in the back is Jasper.)
This weekend it became apparent to me that I've got a nice little routine with the water bottles I use. There's the red one with the sport top for the gym and the metal one with the straw sipper I take to my part-time gig. But I also have a few other drink vessels that have recently become prevalent in the mix because I'm working my way through the Arbonne Fit Kit. I have my glass water cylinder with the tight-sealing top that I take in the car to drink my fizzy sticks this morning. And, my favorite, I have my blender cup that I use at least twice daily now to mix up protein shakes.

I'm washing these bottles by hand basically every single day. Tonight I was thinking about how much water I've filtered for myself to drink and how many plastic bottles I *haven't* used by instead using these bottles. I've easily saved a dozen bottles a week (if I used one to two new bottles each day).

If you've heard it once, you've heard it a million times: plastic bottle waste makes for icky statistics. The "reduce, reuse, recycle" mantra begins with reducing the things we have... so it's better to fill your own bottle than take that new one from the vending machine. But sometimes the convenience is unavoidable. So the next time you get a bottle of water, try reusing it several times before recycling it--make that bottle live its life! Or upcycle it to make the bottle live a different life. The environment will thank you. So do I. Right here: thank you.

Besides, if you're into DIY projects like I am, it's actually pretty inspiring to see what people are doing with reusable and upcyclable materials these days!

Saturday, June 1

Day 1: Arbonne Feeling Fit Kit

I decided to start my Arbonne Feeling Fit Kit today, June 1st. It's well after my half marathon so I'm
physically recovered, I'm moving through some new things in life as far as jobs and trying to find one that's really for me, and I think the availability of produce (and my general excitement about that so early in the summer) will help me sustain me as I start this program.

My decision to try this kit came through several conversations, some of them via Skype, with Becki at Yes, Becki sells Arbonne (and I bought my Fit Kit from her), but she had completed her own Fit Kit and shared her results. This lady works hard for what she has (as she notes in her "Weight Loss" section on her blog) and I admire that about her. But my reasons for trying this aren't about weight loss. Many of you who know me in real life would probably slap me if I said that was why I was doing this. So trust me when I say that it is not.

I've had some... let's put it politely shall we?... discomfort after eating in the last few months and I don't know why. I'm trying to figure out what's making me miserable. A sensitivity? A potential allergy? This is a good way to do it and it's also a good way to really jumpstart a healthier way of eating--cut sugar, gluten and dairy, but eat lean protein, eat more veggies, and eat healthy fats. That's what this is about.

I admit that giving up dairy will be the most difficult. I love milk and I love yogurt. In fact, yogurt is a regular part of my diet... I'm fairly certain that dairy is not the culprit in my gastrointestinal grudge. But I am going to try my best to cut it out to see my body's reaction.

But I am weighing myself and measuring key points on my body to monitor changes. I'm going to be working out like usual (hopefully on a regular schedule after this sinus cold thing hits the road), so I want to make sure nothing unexpected happens.

I'll let you know what I learn and, when June is over and I've completed the Fit Kit, I'll report back on my thoughts about the Arbonne products I used during the month.

In the meantime, cheers to summer!