Sunday, August 21, 2011

Philadelphia - Home of Liberty Bell, Birthplace of... Will Smith

Of all the big cities in the US, I think Philly is among the last that I had yet to visit. Not anymore! This weekend, I had the absolute HONOR (and DELIGHT!) of attending my first Healthy Living Summit in, where else?

Philadelphia. The land of Liberty Bell. The land of... well, Will Smith.

I wasn't really holding out all that much hope for Philly. I was expecting it to be congested, dirty and kind of ghetto, to be perfectly honest. I'm happy, oh so happy, to admit that I was wrong. Believe it or not, Philly actually turned out to be quite CUTE! Such a good mix of history and big city living- it kind of reminded me of Boston actually (and I LOVE Boston!).

While the Healthy Living Summit (HLS) consumed all of Saturday, I had most of Sunday free to explore the grand city. And explore I did. I started off the morning with some newfound HLS pals at the Reading Terminal Market... TOTALLY reminded me of San Francisco's Embarcadero Center except... holy moly, was this place CHEAP! $0.50 for canteloupe? $0.99 for cherry tomato packs? You know me and my deals...

It was going to be hard to beat THAT kind of start to the day. My HLS pals were catching flights/trains/rides soon after our market excursion so farewells were said and then... Christie took Philly.

I'd already crossed the Rocky steps off my list earlier that morning, when the HLS crew did a 5k that included the Rocky steps...

So next up? The only other "sight" I really wanted to see... the Liberty Bell!

Talk about a buzzkill though- check out this LINE!

There was no way I was waiting around for it. Instead, I circled around to the back of the building in which it is housed and... is that it?

Sure, you may have to squint. But oh well. In any event, I couldn't tell if it was THE Liberty Bell or some other bell that just happened to be in the building. But whatever. A bell's a bell's a bell.

Sigh. Those forefathers are turning in their grave right about now.

Well. I was already in the Old Town Historic area, so I just started wandering around. There's nothing I love more than just wandering around a city, no map and no agenda in mind. Sigh. Today did NOT disappoint. There was just so much HISTORY to drink in! Such a nerd, that I am. And proud of it.

The First Bank of the U.S. (Ahh- where would America be without capitalism today?)

(It's America- gotta emphasize the place where all the money is kept!)

The SECOND Bank of the U.S. (Can't have too many of these in the good ol' USA, I guess...)

The US Postal Service...

Just some plain old touristy gems...

And fasldkjflkdsj!! Cobblestone roads!!!!!

I saved the best for last. These cobblestone roads MADE my DAY!

All in all, such a great day of sightseeing, Philly-style! I was thoroughly impressed with this city. I would totally make a trip back here... if anything, to explore West Philadelphia. I've heard it's got a slightly different feel. Haha- I'm up for the challenge ;) Anything for... well, my one and only:

Great. Now I'm all flustered. Sigh. Must be true...

Saturday, August 20, 2011

My First Healthy Living Summit!

Well. I can safely say that this year's Healthy Living Summit was worth all the hype and all the blood, sweat and tears of getting to Philly. I can't believe it's over!

While I don't live the healthiest of lifestyles, meeting some new friends and attending some panels focused on personal well-being totally has renewed my motivation to lead a healthier lifestyle (primarily by motivating me to get off my butt and exercise more!). I couldn't BELIEVE how nice everyone was! Such a welcoming atmosphere, such a HAPPY PLACE. Must be all those endorphins. ;)

There were so many highlights! I just don't know where to begin.

From listening to some pretty SWEET panels (on social media, on maintaining Realistic and Achievable Wellness)...

To meeting some favorite bloggers (I swear, they were like celebrities to us!)...

To a Sunday morning 5K, complete with the Rocky Steps...

To one of the best breakfasts ever, with Quaker Oatmeal's SNAZZY OATMEAL BAR, complete with an Oatmeal Barista(!!)...

To WINNING one of the raffles (lkdsjflkdsj!!!! I never win anything!!)...

To the sweetest swag bag EVER (thank you, Quaker Oatmeal, one of my new favorite brands!)...

To enjoying some of Philly's nightlife at only one of the BEST restaurants EVER...

To new FRIENDS!!

The Healthy Living Summit just did it RIGHT. #HLS has totally just gained one more humongous fan. Can't wait till next year's!

After all that...

I made it!!

After all the blood, sweat and tears... my flight was only delayed from Cleveland last night! Not cancelled!!

I never thought I'd be so excited for a delayed flight. I guess that's what happens when you're confronted with the worst possibility.

Sigh. Our flight boarded around 10:15 PM, and I was SO EXCITED I could barely stand it. After all the drama of the past 10 hours, the flight itself was pretty uneventful. Which was fine by me... I'd prefer drama on the ground rather than in the air. Duh.

I have never been so happy to see a "Welcome to" sign than I was last night. 11 hours after my journey began that morning, but a Welcome sign all the same.

The Healthy Living Summit (HLS) starts in TEN MINUTES!! Can't wait to check out my schwag BAG!

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Cancelled Flight, A Rental Pickup Truck, and Northeastern Ohio

Now, don't get me wrong. I love the grand home state. Anyone will tell you that. I am the first one to actively proclaim my love for good ol' OH-IO! Maybe I should clarify. I love all things CINCINNATI. And Columbus, to an extent.

I've never actually explored all that much of northeastern Ohio yet. Until today, that is. I was in a small Ohio town this week... certainly a different feel than Chicago, Illinois. But charming Ohio, at its best, if you will.

However, I was sooo ready, set, PUMPED for this weekend. I'd been planning to attend this Healthy Living Summit in Philly for the past couple of months and I had been looking forward to it since before I'd even booked my tickets.

So I arrive at the Canton/Akron airport around 12:30 PM, when my flight to Philly only left at 5:45 PM, because I just carpooled with my co-worker to the airport for his earlier flight. And, let's face it, there were no other flights (earlier OR later) to Philly from Canton/Akron today.

So what happens when a flight to Philly gets cancelled? Well, I am quickly finding out.

After being stuck in the darn Canton/Akron airport for 5 1/2 hours, I find out that the flight is cancelled due to storms in Philly. UGH, this SO would NOT be happening if I were flying Southwest, I know that for a FACT. A few options were available- either get booked on the next flight to Philly tomorrow morning at 7:30 AM, drive an hour to the Cleveland airport and take another Philly flight tonight (hoping and praying that THAT flight isn't cancelled), or DRIVE to Philly (it was only eight hours... if I left around 6 PM, I would arrive around 2 AM, which would be fine by me).

Surprisingly, that third option was actually the first one I was opting for. Okay, so when you're stuck in an airport waiting for delayed/cancelled flights, your bound to make some new friends right? So this one girl, this one guy and I had befriended each other and were starting to make plans to actually rent a car and DRIVE to Philly tonight. The poor guy had to get to New York for WORK tomorrow (God, his life blows).

Considering I didn't even know these people's names... I'm actually kinda glad this option didn't work out. Could've been interesting, could've been disastrous.

I ended up going for the second option. Drive to Cleveland and hope and pray for that flight to come in. The primary reason I wanted to do this, was because I wanted to get to Philly at LEAST tonight, since the Healthy Living Summit starts at like 8 AM tomorrow morning... and I didn't want to miss a SECOND of it.

Sooo... I end up going to the National rental car desk (since it was the ONLY one with no line) and they quickly got me a rental car... and by rental car, I mean rental PICKUP TRUCK.

Ummm. Again, do NOT get me wrong. I have nothing against trucks or anything. However, I can 100% say I, myself, have never driven, nor really CONSIDERED driving, a truck.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. A pickup truck to roadtrip through northeastern Ohio.


Once I got into the truck (God), I immediately Google mapped directions to the Cleveland airport. Considering the directions included SIX highways, I already knew I was going to have to buffer some time for getting lost. You're talking to a girl who has NO sense of direction here.

Thankfully, luck was apparently on my side, and I quickly saw the highways come and go, just as I expected. It was all going like clockwork. Faster than clockwork really... let's just say I am LUCKY I did not get a speeding ticket today.

The whole time I was speeding down those highways, the primary thought running through my mind was: if my driving isn't going to kill me, my parents will. Because, not only was I averaging about 80 mph in 55 mph speed limit areas... but I was all the while thinking about what a terrific blog opportunity this was- and snapping a few pictures along for, well, documentation purposes!

As if it weren't enough that I was driving the hour to the Cleveland airport, I of course, of COURSE, came across a toll road. Which requires stopping. And paying. Even more than I already paid for this darn rental car.

Awesome. I can't even remember the last time I saw a toll booth. Hell, I can't remember the last time I DROVE... big city girl, that I am.

I guess that would explain the slightly maniacal driving habits. And by slightly maniacal, I sure do mean I was passing everyone on the highway. Nothing was stopping me... not even construction zones, BABY! (I wish, oh I WISH, I'd snapped a picture of the construction zone. But that would have 100% resulted in an accident. And please. I'm the picture of responsibility. HA.)

Welll... I guess I was going faster than I expected. I actually got to the Cleveland airport in a little under an hour! Wahooooo!!! Well... until I realized that the rental car place is like out in who knows WHERE. Ugh, it was like a neverending nightmare. I hastily drop off the rental car and hop on the rental car shuttle... and thankfully, it was like my personal valet service. It jetted off as soon as I boarded. Wahooooo!!! Again!

Okay. So I get to the airport, hurry scurry through security once again, basically RUN to my gate... to find out my Philly flight is delayed. And it hasn't left Philly yet, due to storms.

I swear, if this flight gets cancelled, I'm going to cry. Cry.

Screw prepping for the Healthy Living Summit. Screw it. I'm having a Dr. Pepper.

And some cookies.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

It's been a while!

It's been seemingly forever since I posted something! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!

I hate slacking on my blog- it really has become like my baby. The reason for my slacking as of late? (And trust me, I'm not using it as an excuse!)

Chicago on the Cheap

I recently got a delightful little opportunity to blog for ChicagoNow- a magazine-ish type deal that is affiliated with the Chicago Tribune. I honestly probably should do my research before accepting an opportunity like this but... well, quite frankly, it doesn't take much to get me all excited about all things BLOG!

I got this gig after pitching an idea to ChicagoNow regarding a blog focused on one's experience exploring Chicago, one deal at a time. I mean, some of my Maliyacular posts were already focused on deals going on in the city and, quite frankly, who doesn't love an honest-to-goodness deal?

I'm so excited to be doing this! However, Chicago on the Cheap is solely Chicago-focused (obvi). Because I get an oddly natural high of seeing my international (and national!) "following" on the Maliyacular, I will definitely be keeping THIS blog up too! I mean, there's obvi more to my life than just DEALS in Chicago, so you better believe I'll be keep you nicely informed of the REST of my daily shenanigans right here on the Maliyacular.

Just wanted to give you a heads up! And, ever the self-promoter that I am, please do spread the word about Chicago on the Cheap! ;) Shameless, I know.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Insomnia Meets the Jodi Picoult Project

UGH! Waking up in the middle of the night and being unable to fall back asleep is one of my BIGGEST pet peeves. I loooove sleeping- one of my greater values in life, if you will.

So, imagine my surprise (not to mention, general annoyance) when I awoke last night and grabbed my phone to check the time. I normally awaken before my alarm goes off anyway (ever the morning person, that I am), but it's usually around the 5:30/5:45 AM range. Not... the 2:45 AM range.

Sigh. I had been EXHAUSTED the evening before, so I figured falling asleep would be no problem. I guess I was right- because falling asleep WAS no problem. It was more that whole STAYING asleep component...

I lay around for a bit, hoping sleep would come, but, well, that clearly wasn't going to be the case. Seriously, I arose at 2:45 AM like I would have at 6:30 AM anyway... all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Might as well seize the moment, and all that. I guess.

Good thing I have my Jodi Picoult project to keep me entertained, even in the wee hours of the morning! Yup, that's right. I just hopped right outta bed, turned on my light and...

Started reading. I was SO close to the end, so can you really blame me? Come on, now.

Unfortunately, I didn't have the same love for Picture Perfect as I had for House Rules . I actually went into reading Picture Perfect thinking I would fall in LOVE with it right away- it's all about a Hollywood celebrity couple! Hello!

So, without further ado, I present to you my review for...

Picture Perfect

384 pages

The book starts out with this new LAPD officer, Will, finding this young woman, Cassie, on the streets suffering from amnesia. He takes her in and adores her for a few days, until her husband realizes she has been found and comes to "get" her from the police station, all relieved and happy to have her back. The story basically turns into Cassie mapping back her memory, beginning with how she met her husband. She was working on an anthropology project in Tanzania when her location happened to coincide with the set for a Hollywood film starring none other than the king of Hollywood, Alex Rivers. They quickly fall in love and get married and she moves back to his Bel-Air castle with him. (Eee!! Bel-Air! This book totally won points for being located in Bel-Air, solely because it reminded me of... sigh, Will Smith. And The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Hearts and flowerslkjfslkj!) And that's pretty much where the fairytale ends. Without giving too much away (read: Alex Rivers is a D-bag with an extra capital D), you ultimately get glimpses of each individual character's family history to see how/why they ended up playing the life roles that they do.

My favorite part of the book:
How Jodi Picoult presents the awful cycle of abuse/repentance that defines Alex and Cassie's marriage. Depressing, sure. Necessary, yes. Even if you've never been the victim of abuse, you find yourself totally empathizing with Cassie (while simultaneously getting frustrated with her at points!). Picoult's well-developed characters really highlight the feelings and issues related to domestic violence, such that you can truly feel and understand the pain and misery involved (to an extent) in such a situation, even if you have never been a victim of such abuse yourself.

My least favorite part of the book:
I thought the storyline was incredibly farfetched. First, they meet in Tanzania, which, sure, is far-fetched, but I can handle that since we're dealing with Hollywood here. But there comes a point where Cassie has to go to Will's family's Indian reservation and, quite frankly, while I found it interesting to learn more about Indian reservation lifestyles, I just didn't think it flowed all that well. I mean, there was some talk about Will's Indian roots in the beginning, but then it kind of fell to the wayside until MUCH later in the book when Cassie has to flee there. And then it's like Indian reservation overload.

What I learned:
Just what it is like to be stuck in the shoes of a domestic violence victim. There were points in time that I grew SO frustrated with Cassie (hello! Just LEAVE him!). However, based on my very little education (read: Oprah) of the psyche of abuse victims, her actions were so realistic and necessary to bring to light, in order to understand the Godawful nature of domestic violence. Additionally, I learned a bit about the (pretty sad!) conditions of living on an Indian reservation, but I liked the focus on domestic violence much more.

How it ranks on my personal Jodi Picoult Project list...

1. Nineteen Minutes
2. House Rules
3. The Pact
4. My Sister's Keeper
5. Picture Perfect
6. Salem Falls

Oh well. Onto the next one!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Jodi Picoult Project - Book #1: House Rules

Well. That was quick. I picked up House Rules on Sunday evening and, 539 pages and two and a half days later, I'm done! Not too shabby.

That just goes to show how good this book was. Or maybe I was just excited to be starting my Jodi Picoult Project. In any event, I loved this book. I couldn't put it down! And this project was doing exactly what I was hoping it would do- getting me to turn my darn television OFF and pick up a book INSTEAD.

Please see below for my Jodi Picoult Book Review Template. I'm going to try to use this self-created "template" as I review each Jodi Picoult book, so that something, for once, can be standardized on this blog. Please bear in mind that the template will likely continue to evolve, since, well, we're all continuing to evolve, right? Deep, I know.

House Rules

539 pages

The book centers around an eighteen-year-old boy named Jacob, who has Asperger's Syndrome. Jacob is fascinated by crime scene investigations and has historically put together his own faux crime scenes, in hopes that others can try to solve the crime- his inspiration for this practice is his religious viewing of Crimebusters every afternoon at 4:30 PM. Jacob has a social skills tutor named Jess who is found dead in her apartment fairly early on in the book. At first, her boyfriend (who, by the way, is a complete and total D-Bag) is the most plausible suspect. However, Jacob quickly steals THAT spotlight when his mother realizes that Jess' body was found wrapped in a handmade quilt... a handmade quilt that belongs to Jacob. And so, you have the makings of a fine little story. How did Jess die? Did Jacob kill her? If so, why? If not, well, why was his quilt wrapped around her?

My favorite part of the book:
How each chapter is told from the point of view of a different character. There are five main characters in the story (Jacob, his brother Theo, his mom Emma, his lawyer Oliver and the police officer Rich), so I feel like I could have easily gotten lost in the story, since there is so much DETAIL. However, having each chapter told from a different perspective really made me grow that much more attached to each character. More than once did I tear up when reading about how Emma (the mom) deals with her life. Makes me never want to complain about my life again.

My least favorite part of the book:
I don't think I appreciate the legal nature of things as much as other people do, so I found the last parts of the book (ie: the courtroom scenes) more boring than pivotal. But that's just me, because obviously other people drink this stuff UP.

What I learned:
GOD, I learned so much about Asperger's Syndrome. I'd heard about it plenty, but couldn't really pinpoint how it differed from autism. I have to admit, I was already interested in the topic, but I'm pleased to say that I learned a LOT more from the story that was woven here.

How it ranks on my personal Jodi Picoult Project list...

1. Nineteen Minutes
2. House Rules
3. The Pact
4. My Sister's Keeper
5. Salem Falls

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Jodi Picoult Project

As I was running some errands way downtown this weekend (and by way downtown, I mean anywhere south of Lincoln Park), I stumbled upon the main branch of Chicago's public library (the Harold Washington Library). Now, if you know me at all, you know I love all things books. I've been an avid reader since I, well, learned how to read (circa 1987, age 4).

One of my favorite childhood routines would be going to our local public library every Saturday afternoon with my dad. He would read that week's Investor's Business Daily (among other things), while I would park it with the latest Sweet Valley or Babysitter's Club book. So peaceful, so relaxing, so all-in-all delightful.

I figured I'd check out Chicago's esteemed Harold Washington Library, since, well, I was walking right by it. So inside its hallowed halls I went.

And there goes that jaw, dropping away.

I was SHOCKED (not to mention slightly overwhelmed) with its grandeur, just upon initial entrance. I mean, TEN FLOORS of library goodness? Heaven.

Of course, not knowing exactly where to start, I just made myself at home at the front desk, interrogating, excuse me, politely inquiring the library staff about "how this place works". (Sadly, those were my exact words.) The staff gave me a little pamphlet detailing each floor, and off I went on my self-guided tour.

Who knew that a public library would house a mini-MUSEUM? Here, you could find the history of theater, if it so struck your fancy.

Or, heck, screw paying for the Internet at home! Check out the gargantuan nature of one of its computer labs!

Once I reached the seventh floor, I knew I'd quite literally died and gone to heaven. Shelf after shelf of all things Fiction greeted my eager little eyes.

Since I'd come here on a whim, I didn't really have a book in mind. I started out just aimlessly wandering the stacks, happy enough to be drinking in title after title after title. Then, I figured I might as well take a more strategic approach to this and try to focus on finding some book (any book, really!) that I've been thinking of checking out (no pun intended!).

The first author that came to mind was Jodi Picoult. Well, if we're being completely honest here, the first author that actually came to mind was Sophie Kinsella but, who are we kidding, I've already read all HER stuff. Multiple times.

Anyway, so off I trekked, to the P section of this glorious floor. I'd read a few Jodi Picoult books in the past, some of which I loved, some of which I couldn't stand. However, I plucked her name out of the clear blue because she is one of the most prolific authors of which I am aware (I swear, every month she has a new book coming out). Therefore, it didn't surprise me in the least when I finally found the P section and, upon a bit further investigating, stumbled upon...

And this...

Told you she was prolific. Granted, there were multiple copies of several of her works, but whatever. You get the picture. Upon reading the cover flaps of several of the books, I realized that I just couldn't choose! They all sounded so good!

And herein, my friends, is where the Jodi Picoult Project was born. The goal? To read every single Jodi Picoult book, over the course of three months. She has written 20 books total, of which I've read four (I think).

Sure, some of her books have been a total "miss" with me. But overall, I have to say her writing totally resonates with me. Each story is not only well-written, but so well-researched that it makes me want to hug the pages. I love thoroughness. I love feeling like I've actually learned something from her stories, whether it's historical, medical, social, etc.

Since I was a little overstimulated by the neverending array of Picoult books right at my disposal, I finally settled on three books to start my project off.

Sure, why not? Kick off the Project with a bang and all that.

I'm excited! And you KNOW that with each book I complete, YOU, my dear blog readers, will be getting a complete and total book review. You're welcome in advance.

All in all, I have to say, what a delightfully little surprising twist my Saturday afternoon took. I'd forgotten how much I loved the public library. I do hope they survive through the years- they are seriously one of God's finer gifts for the general public.