Monday, June 26, 2017

Testing a Tutorial: Growing a Plant from an Avocado Seed




You probably have seen the countless pins on Pinterest sharing how to grow an avocado plant from a seed. The tutorials and graphics typically involve a jar and toothpicks. While I am sure that method works, the way I use differs and is much easier, in my opinion. I found it through a Google search and it's also been pinned many times, but it's not as popular, it seems. Perhaps a photo of a plastic bag isn't as pin-worthy? At any rate, I have tested this tutorial many times: Not only do you get to enjoy a delicious avocado, but you can also add to your garden!

How to grow avocado plants:
  • After you eat the avocado, clean the seed completely by rinsing it with water. (The original tutorial said to let the seed sit on a windowsill for two days after rinsing, but I didn't do this. I just let it dry.)
  • Take one paper towel and wet it lightly; it doesn't need to be drenched.
  • Wrap the paper towel around the avocado.
  • Place the seed into a resealable zipper bag. Date the bag with a marker to remember when you did this.
  • Place the bag outside on a patio or on a windowsill where it will get plenty of light.
  • Check on the seed every week to make sure it hasn't dried out or rotted. You might need to replace the wet paper towel at some point. Make sure the paper towel stays moist.
  • In about four to six weeks, unwrap the seed and check whether it has split. If not, wrap it back up and place it back in the bag. Check in another week.
  • When you finally see a little sprout coming out, it's time to plant it.
  • Fill a small pot with soil and place the seed halfway in it with the sprout on top and any roots on the bottom. 
  • Water it daily (Keep the soil moist but not drenched.) and let it continue getting sun. 
  • Enjoy! You won't get avocados from it, but it's nice to look at!


Right now I just have one plant because the previous plants died, one in an unfortunate accident in which it was knocked over and others due to moving or the winter. I only grew one each time but you can certainly do a few at a time and plant them together. One in particular was quite large when it died, so I was sad about it. But luckily it's easy to grow another! I currently am working on growing three more in addition to the one above.

If you do this, let me know how it works for you!


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Best Pool Floats for Summer

** This post contains affiliate links. I make a small commission on purchases made through these links.



If I could change one thing about my home in Chicago, it'd be that it would have a swimming pool. If you have a pool, do you know just how lucky you are? No, really,  do you? The lake isn't exactly conducive to floating on a large tube sometimes, and in fact floats aren't allowed. Some rebels like to bring their floats after the lifeguards go home, but I am not so brave. A girl can dream, right? While I attempt to find a pool to float in this summer, I'll be daydreaming about lounging on one of these floats. (A theme lately on this blog has been wanting to escape on a getaway. Have you noticed?) I've rounded up the most fun pool floats to make those long summer days more entertaining/relaxing.

My picks:
  • Watermelon: The fruit screams summer and it's a unique pool float your friends will want to borrow.
  • Rainbow: Brighten up your day with this fun float.
  • Banana palm leaf rope: Palm prints are a hot trend right now. Plus, this is made to hold two people. Or keep it all to yourself. I won't judge.
  • Pineapple: Who doesn't love pineapples?
  • Pegasus: It's a popular float for good reason.
  • Toucan/tropical bird: Just as fun as the unicorn float, but more colorful.
  • Swan: For the diva among us.
  • Pizza slice: Because yum.
  • Mermaid tail: This is one of my recent favorite pool floats because you can pretend to be a mermaid.
  • Shell: This is another fun sea-themed float.
  • Red lips: A sassy pool float.
  • Cactus: This speaks to the Arizona girl in me.
Which float is your favorite? Will you be lounging on a float this weekend?

 Shop the floats**:

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Father's Day at Arlington Park




When I asked Graham what he wanted to do on his first Father's Day, he said he wanted to go to the racetrack. I already knew he would say that.

We each have a history with horse-racing. My grandparents would take me to the racetrack as a child, and I have fond memories of spending time with them. My grandpa died when I was 14, so those memories are some of the few I can remember vividly.

Graham is from Louisville, Kentucky, home of Churchill Downs, where the greatest two minutes in sports happen. He, too, has memories at the track, and Churchill Downs is one of the most well known race venues in the sport.

We were excited to spend the day together as a family and hopefully create some fond memories for Victoria, but we had no idea what to expect because neither of us had been to Arlington Park. We bought our general admission tickets ($18 each) online to save time and cash, along with a program for the day ($2.50). It took us about 50 minutes to drive from our neighborhood in Chicago to Arlington Heights. I was nervous about having to find parking, but there's actually plenty of free parking, as well as preferred and valet options.

We also didn't know whether we should bring a cooler since all the picnic tables had been reserved. We chose to instead eat ahead of time vs. paying a cooler fee ($5). It was pretty easy to find a free bench on the Apron level to watch the races. (Just don't get up, you'll lose your spot.) And had we brought a cooler, we would have had plenty of room for it in front of our bench seating. We saw many families enjoying their sandwiches, snacks and drinks. A blanket or towel is also not a bad idea to put on the bench, which can get warm in the sun. Luckily we had intermittent shade due to the clouds, and the breeze kept us cool. I was so grateful for that.

Victoria loved cheering on during the races, yelling "Go, horse, go!" It was the most adorable thing ever and was not prompted at all. Arlington Park is a perfect place for kids because they can be as loud as they want. Everyone else is yelling, too! We didn't have any luck with our bets, though we came so close --photo finish close -- many times.

It was simply the most gorgeous day for it. Graham had a great time, and that's all I could have asked for.




Have you been to Arlington Park? 



Tuesday, June 20, 2017

10 Ways to Feel Like You're on Vacation


This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #CraftYourCool #CollectiveBias



Growing up, summer meant visiting my grandparents and extended family, who live in a small fishing town in Mexico. I would spend weeks with them, visiting the beach, soaking in the sunshine and getting my fill of tacos and sopes. Now, summer means plenty of stormy Chicago days and a busy schedule that prevents me from jetting off on a monthlong vacation like a did as a child and teen. But I still want to feel like I'm escaping the day-to-day bustle and relaxing. It seems like everyone I know is on some sort of tropical beach vacation, while I'm stuck in the city, counting down the days until I can get away, too. Luckily, there are many ways to feel like you're on vacation this summer.

Today I'm sharing 10 tips to help you feel like you're on a getaway:


1.  Upgrade your bed linens to give you the feeling of staying at a luxury hotel. One of the things I love about traveling is staying in a hotel that has comfortable bedding. Get that same effect by changing your own bed linens to treat yourself when you can't go on an actual vacation. You can also spray your pillow with a refreshing spray to add an extra relaxing touch.

2. Add a little extra highlight and bronzer to your makeup routine. What I like to do when I'm wearing pool coverups, off-the-shoulder tops, and summer dresses is add a bit of highlight to my shoulders, collar bone and maybe even legs. Add some bronzer to give yourself that just-back-from-vacation look.

3. Light a candle with a tropical or favorite scent. Whether the place you're thinking of is "home" or a country you have never visited, you can pretend you are there through your sense of smell. Light your favorite candle, close your eyes and visualize the location.



4. Dress as if you're on vacation. Wear bright prints, fun accessories, a sun hat, and those cute new sandals you just picked up.

5. Listen to tunes from around the world. Create a playlist inspired by music from around the world. Maybe you want to listen to salsa, merengue, or flamenco music that reminds you of a past or future trip.

6. Pick up some flowers or a plant. Certain plants remind you of places you've been or hope to go. We like to fill our patio and apartment with tropical plants to create a beach paradise vibe that reminds me of Mexico, Hawaii and Costa Rica.




7. Go to a new place in your city. Visit a place you haven't yet been for the feeling of excitement and wonder you get when traveling. It could be checking out a new museum, visiting a cultural center or traveling to a nearby town to see what it has to offer.

8. Try a new restaurant. Perhaps you've never tried Cuban food, or you're craving the Argentinian flavors you had on a memorable trip. Maybe you're missing the flavors of home. Trying a new eatery in your city can help you get a taste of that culture and feel like you're actually in that country.

9. Surround yourself with photos of places you love or want to visit. My home is decorated with canvases of pictures I've taken during our past trips. Looking at them reminds me of the feeling of being there and fills me with gratitude for those memories. I also have trinkets from places like Costa Rica and Mexico on my dresser, where I'll see them every day.


A canvas of a photo I took in Costa Rica hangs in my living room.


10. Head out on a picnic with a friend, your favorite snacks and bottles of the Starbucks® Bottled Dulce de Leche Frappuccino® Coffee Drink. I like to pair my Dulce de Leche Frappuccino® with with sweet pastries from a local bakery because they remind me of my family. We used to get these every summer when I visited them in Mexico.


You can easily find the new flavor of  Starbucks® Bottled Frappuccino® Coffee Drink 13.7 oz Single Serve (not available in a four-pack) at your neighborhood Walmart. It's sold next to the Mocha and Vanilla flavors of Starbucks® Frappucino® Coffee Drinks. Tip: When you buy three ready-to-drink Starbucks® products, you get 35 stars to add to your Starbucks® Rewards! (This is valid only in store and requires receipt verification.)



When I'm feeling that fear of missing out on a vacation, I pack my delicious goodies and my bottled Frappucinos® in my beach bag and head to my neighborhood park, which is next to the lake. Lake Michigan is nothing like the Pacific Ocean, but I like to kick off my sandals, sit on the sand and envision a beach vacation.


The bottle and cap make the Starbucks® Bottled Dulce de Leche Frappuccino® Coffee Drink  super easy to carry and convenient for drinking on the go — no need to pack glasses or cups. I make sure to chill the coffee drink so I can enjoy that refreshing drink right out of the bottle on a humid and hot Chicago day.


The Dulce de Leche Frappucino® helps me shift my mindset from one of missing out on a vacation to a more positive, grateful attitude for these wonderful memories I have of past travel experiences. Once you change that outlook, you'll have a more joyful present, wherever you are.



What do you do to make your days more enjoyable? Have you tried the new flavor? P.S. Don't forget to save these tips to Pinterest!





Monday, June 19, 2017

Celebrating Canada's 150th Anniversary & a Giveaway!






I recently read an article listing Canada, which is honoring its 150th anniversary, as one of the best places to travel in 2017, which sparked my interest in finally setting dates for our trip. Because we can't take a major vacation until winter, we're instead looking at places to explore that aren't too far of a drive from Chicago and have lots of activities to do as a family, especially outdoors. I've written about my desire to go to Toronto, Ontario, on this blog before, but now that trip seems more like a possibility. I'm eyeing an extra-long weekend in September to celebrate our third anniversary, and I can't wait!

I'm finding that the trip is a lot more affordable than I initially thought. Radisson makes it easy to book a Toronto hotel room within our budget. To get the best bang for your travel buck, you can also join Club Carlson, which lets you rack up points that can be easily redeemed for hotel nights. I know this based on personal experience: When I redeemed my Club Carlson points in January I had no trouble at all finding available rooms. I was able to use the rewards at a variety of hotels, including Radisson Blu, Park Inn by Radisson, and Country Inns & Suites By Carlson.

Club Carlson hotel rewards points allowed us to take a family vacation during the dreaded Chicago winter while saving us some cash. We had two of our hotel nights accounted for, which left more in the budget for Orlando and Clearwater, Florida, fun! We stayed at the Radisson Resort Orlando-Celebration in Kissimmee, which was nicely decorated and conveniently located for all the activities we wanted to do on our road trip. We also stayed at a Radisson-Carlson hotel in Atlanta on the drive back, and the room was similarly comfortable, clean and nicely appointed. On this particular trip, we will be staying at the Radisson Hotel Toronto East (shown below).

Radisson Hotel Toronto East


For our Canada road trip, we plan to take advantage of a new Radisson rewards redemption option with Petro-Canada. With just 18,000 points, we can get a Petro-Canada gas card to use on our drive, and we're already on our way there with the points we have left over from our last family road trip. Plus, Radisson has a free interactive map feature on its website where you can visualize your road trip and plan your things to do.



15 places to explore in Ontario:

Our upcoming Canada road trip from Chicago will be an 8-hour drive, which is nothing compared to the distances we have covered in the past. We have a list of family-friendly places to go that reflect our love of the outdoors and family-friendly fun. These attractions are all located either on the drive to Toronto from Chicago, in Toronto or close enough to make a day trip from the Radisson Hotel Toronto East, where we plan to stay.
  1. Point Pelee National Park of Canada: Exploring the trails and seeing the wildlife. It would be a pit stop on the way to Toronto.
  2. Niagara Falls: Taking in the views of the waterfalls on day and night cruises. Victoria was intrigued by photos of the colorfully illuminated falls at night.
  3. Skylon Tower Observation Deck: Getting another view of the falls.
  4. Toronto Botanical Garden: Taking one of the free weekly tours of the grounds. 
  5. Toronto Blue Jays game: Crossing off another MLB ballpark.
  6. CN Tower in Toronto: Checking out the views from the building.
  7. St. Lawrence Market: Strolling and grabbing lunch.
  8. Harbourfront Centre: Admiring the visual arts installations or just walking along the Boardwalk.
  9. Toronto Zoo: Saying hello to our animal friends.
  10. Royal Ontario Museum: Getting lost in the museum that contains more than 6 million specimens, objects and artifacts.
  11. Canada's Wonderland: Riding the amusement rides and eating too much food.
  12. Casa Loma: Touring the majestic castle.
  13. Clifton Hill Skywheel: Riding Canada's largest observation wheel!
  14. Hershey Chocolate World: Treating ourselves to too much chocolate.
I am not sure if we can get to all of these amazing attractions in just one trip, but we will sure try to cross off as many as we can.

We are excited about going on a Niagara Falls boat cruise!

Finding more affordable things to do in Canada this year would be no problem: Canada's parks, historic sites and national monuments are free in 2017 in honor of the country's 150th anniversary. While researching our trip we found more than 40 national parks, monuments and historic sites in Ontario alone. We could easily swap out a stop at one of those free sites if we wanted to save some cash.

To help you plan your own getaway, Radisson is giving away a one-night stay certificate to use on your Canada trip! See details below to enter. You can also save on a two-night stay (12 percent off) with Radisson's Summer Promotion.

Are you a member of Club Carlson? What's your ideal Canada vacation? Use the interactive map feature and let me know where you would go!



Enter the Radisson Giveaway!

 Plan your trip with Radisson.
Victoria was captivated by photos of all the fun offered at Niagara Falls.

One reader will receive a one night stay certificate. The winner will be picked at random on July 7. To be eligible to win, you must:

1. Share my Facebook post.
2. Tag @Radisson.
3. Comment below!





Note: Winner will have 48 hours to claim the prize or another winner will be chosen. Winner will be asked for an email address to send the certificate. Hotel certificate may be used in U.S. or Canada.
Click here to learn how to travel to Canada on its 150th anniversary.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Let's Dabble: Make & Sip Vertical Air Plant Garden

** As a Super Dabbler, I received a Dabble credit for this class. I was a fan of Dabble before becoming an ambassador, and all opinions are always my own.





My latest Dabble adventure was creating an air plant garden at a LeeLee's Garden pop-up class at Hotel Lincoln. I was intrigued by the idea of working with air plants and I love anything garden-related, so this class was calling my name when I saw it on Dabble's calendar.

I loved the venue as soon as I walked into the Hotel Lincoln lobby. It has such quirky decor and a fun vibe. The class was held in the Grant Suite on the second floor.



The instructor was lovely and a pleasure to chat with. We started by talking about air plants and where they are typically found (humid climates like Florida and some parts of California in the U.S.). I was able to select my own piece of cork bark, and I loved my choice! We added fish link to the back for easy hanging on a wall at home. Then it was time to pick four or five air plants, depending on the size of your bark and the size of the air plants. I played around with the placement of the air plants and even switched out some of my choices before it was time to glue them to the bark. Because the glue times some time to fully dry, it's best to keep the air plant garden flat overnight before hanging, as was suggested by the instructor.



Now came the fun part of decorating with moss. I chose purple and a bright green to add in strategic little nooks on the bark. You can bring little items to add if you want, or use what is provided in class. Oh, and I almost forgot: You can bring a beverage to sip on as you create a beautiful air plant garden!
It makes a fun night out for friends or could be a date night for plant-loving couples. It also occurred to me during class that the air plant garden could be a great Father's Day gift for Graham because he loves anything that has to do with flora.

The value of the $45 class is pretty darn good considering you get a large piece of homemade living art to take home and you have two hours to create your masterpiece. 

Considering this air plant garden class or another Dabble class? Remember that you can use code MARETTE10 at checkout to save some cash. Dabble classes are available in Chicago, Austin, St. Louis, Seattle and many other cities. (The list is growing!) Also, if you have ever considered teaching your skill to others, you can sign up to host your own classes.

Dabble With Me: Air Plant Garden Class



Wednesday, June 14, 2017

How to Lose a GoPro


The last photo captured on the lost GoPro.


A year and a half ago, while vacationing in Costa Rica, we lost our GoPro in the Caribbean Sea. We were devastated about losing the footage we had captured at that point in our trip, but we tried to see the positives: Perhaps some kid would find it and get good use out of it; Graham stumbled upon a woman in need of help in the water while looking for it; and we still had the memories of our trip, so sharing video was not entirely necessary. I wrote a blog post about losing it:

Somewhere in the Caribbean Sea off Costa Rica is our GoPro. The ocean took it from us yesterday. We were swimming at Playa Cocles, south of Puerto Viejo, when we decided to take some video of us playing in the waves. The waves were a little more rough than I expected. A big wave knocked me over as I held it using a GoPro stick. I was submerged and pushed forward and then I felt myself being pulled backward. The GoPro was pulled out of my hand and I lost sight of it. Despite searching for almost two hours, we couldn't find it. I was devastated. We had video of our entire trip so far, including riding in front of a boat going 20 mph down the Pacuare river, surrounded by rainforest. We saw howler monkeys, white-faced monkeys, and even crocodiles. I had planned to share that video on this blog, not to mention I constantly look at/watch old photos and videos of our adventures when I'm having a rough day or when I want a look back.

For the next 18 or so months, we wondered if anyone had ever found the GoPro. We figured that if someone would have found it and wanted to be nice enough to return our photos it would have happened that week, month or even year. I think I might have even posted on a group where people search for lost GoPros in hopes of getting it back.

But no, we were totally wrong. It would be a year and a half before someone messaged me on Facebook telling me her boyfriend had found our GoPro.

A YEAR AND A HALF.

When a gal named Jenny messaged me on Facebook last month, I thought maybe the message request was a collaboration opportunity. But the message said:

I've been travelling with my boyfriend in Central America. A week ago my boyfriend was snorkeling by Playa Cocles and guess what - found your GoPro you lost there more than a year ago buried beneath some sand . It's not working anymore, but we have saved your photos/videos if you would like them . I found you through some facebook group where I posted and then someone showed me a blog post where you wrote about losing it.

My first reaction: "OH MY GOD!"

I immediately told Graham, who was in complete shock as well. I re-read the message: ... someone showed me a blog post where you wrote about losing it.

That's when the doubt creeped in. You mean to tell me some random person had read my blog and also happened to be in the same group as the stranger who found my GoPro? It just didn't seem likely. I tried to downplay my excitement as I replied asking what the group was called. When she told me, I searched for the group and requested to join. I wanted to see what happened for myself.

I also asked her to send them via Facebook, because the prospect of clicking on some random link someone send me didn't seem smart or safe. Was it a scam? It couldn't be, right? She seemed disappointed at my lack of excitement, but she sent me a photo. It was the last photo we took. (The top photo on this post.)

That's when I became a believer. This was not some mean-spirited person; this was a kind-hearted soul who wanted to do the right thing and return the photos to their owner. She also sent me more photos from the trip and I was nearly in tears.

The next morning, I was accepted into the group. The group contains more than 100,000 travelers from around the world. I scrolled through recent posts and there we were: Graham and I were shown in photos as part of Jenny's post. She sought advice on finding us and the thread had countless replies from people offering tips and to post the information on other Facebook groups to find us. In one of the comments, someone left a link to my blog post, the one I wrote when we lost the GoPro.

This was part of a screenshot of her post in the group. As you can see below, it had hundreds of likes (and that grew) and many comments.



It was all so incredible.

She posted a request and within hours she had found me. Someone had found my GoPro blog post and shared it with the person who found it. Someone had found a GoPro that had been under the water for more than a year! Someone took the time to send the photos and video to me.

I was beyond grateful that so many people tried to help. It reminded me that you receive what you put out there, and that there is plenty of good in the world, even if it may be hard to believe sometimes.


And so, in honor of one of the craziest stories I have to tell, I'm sharing my tips for losing a GoPro (jokingly -- in case that doesn't come across):

1. Don't use a wrist strap or floating device.

2. Play in rough waves. Repeatedly.

3. Try to take photos of said rough waves.



In what seems like a miracle, I got my GoPro footage back recently via Google Drive. Jenny and her boyfriend are also mailing me the SD card from Panama, but it's still on its way home. It's been a gift to relive those memories of one of my favorite trips to date and I've been sharing videos of our 2016 Costa Rica trip on YouTube. I can't help but smile when I think about this story and I am so grateful to the couple who found the GoPro. I hope it will inspire others to do the right thing when they find a lost but cherished item, or to just be loving and helpful in general to our fellow humans.



Have you ever lost something you cherished on a trip?


In case you need these**:

** These are affiliate links. I make a small commission for purchases made through these links.

GoPro Floating Hand Grip (which we have since purchased)

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Waterproof Housing Floater (We got the GoPro brand one, but this is an alternative.)

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The Lost GoPro Videos:




Monday, June 12, 2017

Father's Day Gifts
for the Outdoors Lover


** This post contains affiliate links. I make a small commission on purchases through these links.




Graham loves the outdoors, so my gifts to him are usually things he could use when we go camping or when we travel. For his first Father's Day, I know he would love nothing more than to spend the day outdoors with us. Sadly, we aren't able to go on an adventure trip this weekend, but he is counting down the days until we can camp this summer. In honor of the day honoring dads, I've rounded up four gifts the nature-loving father would love.

Deuter Backpack: A good camping/hiking backpack will last him years, so it's worth the investment. Any camping or trail lover would get good use out of this. Plus, you can also use it for traveling.

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Stanley Adventure Vacuum Stainless Steel Bottle: Graham could get use out of this for camping and hiking, as well as his day-to-day job since it's outdoors and requires durable gear.

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Blue Ridge Camping Hammock: Graham would love this! We already are hammock lovers, and we've slept in hammocks instead of tents while camping in the Grand Canyon. This hammock looks much more comfortable to sleep in than a regular one, and it helps keep insects away. 

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Black Diamond Storm Headlamp: This is another gift that is handy for daily life, emergencies and outdoors activities.  He can use this while riding his bike (which he hasn't done in a while and misses) at dusk or dawn, while camping, or even when our power goes out at home. A quality headlamp is always appreciated by a nature-loving person.

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What would you gift to an outdoorsy dad? 


Friday, June 9, 2017

How to Start Running


**This post contains affiliate links. I make a small commission on purchases made through these links.


My lack of fitness motivation earlier this year got me thinking about why I started running in the first place. Before 2011 I was not interested in working out or running -- at all. I couldn't finish a mile if my life depended on it. I was not in a good place in my life at all, and I needed to prove to myself that I could set a goal and accomplish it. I was inspired by runner friends and a desire to love myself to start running. It has changed my life!

I've recently started to regain my motivation to train for another half-marathon. This inspired me to share my tips on how to start running.

You just have to start. 

When I began, running felt awful, but I kept going. I didn't invest in fancy new running shoes right away; I just worked with what I had. I searched for a running schedule online and followed it. It was as simple as that.

A key to starting is to establish your why. This is going to push you through the times when you doubt yourself and want to quit.

If I were just starting out now, I'd know about many more resources available than I did back then. I just learned on my own with occasional advice from runner friends. If you want professional advice, I would find training that involves cardio at places such as Orangetheory Fitness, or you can hire a trainer if your budget allows. You can also sign up for group training for races (Mine was only $35 for 12 weeks.). It's much more affordable than one-on-one coaching and you will find new runner friends. If in-person coaching is not in the budget, you can also find free running groups on Meetup.com. In addition, you'll free resources online: Blogs, fitness websites and YouTubers can all offer valuable advice. Search for running form class or workshops in your area (usually at local running shoe stores) if you want advice on proper form.



What you need to get started:

  • A good pair of running shoes. I found that I didn't have any issues when I had the right size and fit of shoe. I consulted a longtime runner who worked at a running store in Phoenix to find the right shoes for me. He's the one who suggested going up half a size when I was having issues with my toenails, and he was so right. I have since always purchased a half size larger in running shoes. Some runners think losing toenails is a badge of courage, but it really shouldn't be happening. Look into insoles as well. 
  • Good running socks. All socks are not made equally. Cheap socks have resulted in blisters for me in the past. Don't make this mistake!
  • Moisture-wicking running clothes. 
  • Sunglasses or hat, lip balm and sunscreen (or weather-appropriate clothing).
  • A hydration system that works for you. I have tried hand-held water bottles, water bottle belts, hydration packs and using the water fountains along my path.
  • Hair ties.
  • If you intend to listen to music, you'll need an armband or Flipbelt to hold your phone, as well as headphones. The key is have the volume at a low level or only wear one earbud, because you need to be able to hear someone calling out "On your left" or whatever else.
  • Headlamp/lights or reflective gear if running at dusk/dawn or night. In any race where you have to run at night and around traffic, you typically run on the opposite side of the street, facing traffic so you can see it.

Websites for runners:


These sites offer information for runners and fitness lovers. 

What websites would you add?

Rules of the road:

The following are little rules, or etiquette tips, that I have learned over the years.
  • Stay to the right. When passing, do so on the left, and say out loud, "On your left" to let the person you are passing know. This is to prevent any accidents or to avoid startling someone. (Also to maintain order in what can be a chaotic world. haha! But really, sometimes running paths can be crowded, and this helps.)
  • Always pay attention to your surroundings, whether it's cyclists, strollers, walkers, golf carts, whatever. Don't just suddenly stop or change directions without looking around. Same goes for people who blow their nose (snot rockets) on the road!
  • On crowded paths or trails, run behind your partner instead of crowding the entire walkway. 
  • If you ask someone to run with you and he or she is a slower runner than you, don't leave him or her in the dust unless you discussed previously that you'd each run at your own paces. It's just rude!
  • Help each other out. Cheer for other runners and help anyone you notice is in trouble. The running community is so wonderful to be a part of.
What tips would you add?

Training tips for a half- or full marathon:

(See the running page on my blog for more training posts.)
  • Combine strength training and yoga/stretching into your plan.
  • Hire a coach or go on group runs if possible.
  • Don't do anything too crazy the week of the race. That means eating irregular foods or trying new workouts.
  • Test out pre-run meals, hydration and energy gels/ chews/products during long runs and do so multiple times.
  • Run in all weather conditions, unless it's completely dangerous (lighting, severe storms, etc.), because it just might rain on race day. (I don't always follow this, but it really is for the best.) 
  • Seek professional advice on the right shoe for you.
  • Don't ignore pains/injuries. Get them checked out and do something about them.
  • Do a test run in your race day outfit, preferably more than once.
  • Don't give up or be too hard on yourself.
  • Add some hill runs/workouts to the mix.

How to find motivation:

Related post: Gaining back motivation to work out
  • Connect with other runners on social media. Follow runners and read running/fitness blogs.
  • Go on group runs or run with a friend.
  • Hire a trainer or coach.
  • Watch YouTube videos on fitness and running.
  • Read running/fitness magazines.
  • Replace your old running shoes.
  • Get some cute new running clothes.
  • Take your kiddo along for a family jog in the running stroller.
  • Schedule time to run. Hire that babysitter and free a block of time.
  • Create a new running playlist. Subscribe to running playlists on Spotify.
  • Create a running vision board or Pinterest board.
  • Participate in workout/fitness challenges.
  • Reward yourself (in moderation/in healthy ways).
  • Set short- and long-term goals.

Hashtags for motivation and connecting with runners:

#fitfluential
#RagnarTraining
#marathontraining
#fitgirl
#halfmarathontraining
#RunChi
#runnerproblems
#running
#MondayMotivation
#SundayRunday

What hashtags do you use?

Best races I have run:

  • Chicago Marathon: This was my second marathon but it's in a city I have grown to love. The crowd was incredible, and I'm talking about both the spectators and the runners.
  • Kentucky Derby Marathon: It was my first marathon. I felt so touched that Graham's family came to watch and support me.
  • Chicago Spring and Fall Half Marathons: The medals are the best I've seen, and again, they are in a great city.
  • Phoenix Half Marathon: The course is gorgeous and it's at a nice time of year in Phoenix.
  • Ragnar Relay: I have run a Ragnar race four times: threes time at the Ragnar Del Sol and once at Ragnar McDowell Mountain. It's an incredibly challenging race, but it's also unforgettable and fun.

Related running posts:

Running favorites:


Garmin Vivosmart HR

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Brooks Adrenaline GTS 17 (various colors, I have purple)

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Flipbelt (various colors)

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What running tips would you add?

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Reasons to Take Photography Class


** This post contains affiliate links. I receive a small commission for purchases through these links.




I've wanted to take a photography class for more than a year, but I kept putting it off. What would I do with this skill? Was it worth the money? Last month finally taught me that it's worth investing in myself. The fact that taking photos makes me happy is reason enough to enroll in a class and practice photography. Monday was the first night of my class, which has only one other student. This makes the class more relaxed and we each get more one-on-one time with the instructor. I asked him about a thousand questions in our first session, which ran longer than scheduled. We walked around a quaint Chicago neighborhood to practice shooting, find areas of light, switch up our angles, play around with our camera settings and ask questions.

What I learned in my first class:
  • It doesn't matter what camera you have (Nikon vs. Canon vs. Sony vs. whatever). We all had different cameras in class, and they each had great features. You can take neat photographs with what you have.
  • In addition to different cameras, each photographer has a unique eye and preferences. What I think looks good might not align with what you like, and that's OK. 
  • I apparently have not been using my camera to its full potential. My instructor showed me how to adjust aperture on my camera in a way that is different than what I've been doing. I also learned to measure the white balance, something I don't think I've ever done! (Maybe during photojournalism in college, but that was so long ago ... )
  • I learned a bit more about why I am getting some blurring with my newest lens. I'll have to work on reducing camera shake as I practice more.
If you're thinking about taking a photography class and need a little boost to do so, here are some reasons to consider enrolling:

  • You want to improve the quality of your blog or social media posts.
  • You want to learn to use natural and/or artificial lighting.
  • Your photos don't turn out as well as you wanted, and you don't know why.
  • You want to eventually pursue it as a side or full-time hustle.
  • You want to turn on auto mode and learn how to actually use your camera.
  • You want to know which camera equipment to invest in.
  • You think photography is fun!
I'm so excited for next week!

Have you considered taking a photography course? What other goals are you working on right now?


The lens I am learning to use**:

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