Cover to Cover: The Girls

The Girls by Emma Cline surprised me in the best way. Set in the late '60s, Cline tells the story of a young girl, Evie, who is drawn into a Manson-like cult through her obsession with an older girl, Suzanne, and her need for attention. The ranch where Suzanne lives orbits around Russell, the leader of the cult, seems- at first- like a shiny beacon of everything Evie has been looking for, but eventually becomes less welcoming and more dangerous.

I was nervous about this book being over-hyped, but Cline did a fantastic job of channeling the restless energy that makes up so much of adolescence and long summers. The Girls is clearly set in the '60s, but the girls in Cline's novel are timeless: Evie spending her early summer days flipping through magazines, nurturing crushes born out of proximity, the strong want of belonging and attention- which eventually is what leads Evie to the ranch.

What I liked: The story was intriguing, but what I remember most about The Girls is that Cline sure can turn a phrase! One of my favorite quotes from The Girls is from Evie when she is noticing the ease boys have in their environments:

I waited to be told what was good about me. [...] All that time I had spent readying myself, the articles that taught me life was really just a waiting room until someone noticed you- the boys had spent that time becoming themselves.
— The Girls

What I didn't like: Sometimes it felt a little too "much ado about nothing." Like Evie/Cline was trying to force a feeling, and it was a little to angsty- even for a woman who still listens to her pop-punk playlist. But then I remember back on my days as a 13-14 year old, and I can remember experiencing those feelings (or forcing them) as well. So I'll leave it to you- did anything feel forced? 

Find Your Flat Road

The Mr. and I have a bike route that we call our jammer, because it's a fairly quick loop but has a good mix of hills and flat roads. (When he reads this, I know he will laugh at my idea of hills.) My favorite section on that ride is a smooth wide road, with fields on both sides- and yes, it's flat. It's too early in the route to be a recovery, but I love it nonetheless, look forward to it every time... and remember it fondly when I'm doing hill repeats. 

I started taking spin classes last year as a way to learn about using power/watts to train. My spin coach... uh and husband... takes the class through a warm up and then tells us to "find your flat road." At first, I thought this was a super easy gear where my legs just spun like a prima ballerina without a care in the world. 

I was wrong. (That happens sometimes.)

Just like in life, you should feel some resistance when you're moving forward, otherwise you can spin out of control. No one wants that. Too much resistance and, well, you're climbing up a hill. Not what we're going for right now.

So I found my flat road. In spin class, on the road, and in life. What's exciting, and maybe not news to any of y'all, is that as I keep moving forward- learning, growing, getting closer to my goals- I get stronger. And my flat road gets a little easier until I add a more resistance. See where I'm going with this? 

It's cool to move through life on a flat road, but adding a little resistance makes you strong. This can look like learning a new language, trying something that makes you a little nervous (like calling your representative) or quite literally adding more resistance to your workouts. 

Back to the jammer, just after the flat road section we turn right and there's a city limits sign. I learned, after being left in the dust several times, that some people sprint to city limit signs. On our last ride, I won the sprint and I like to think it's because I got stronger while I was finding my flat road.

My Ride on the Timber Trail. Or: Always have a backup plan.

My co-worker is heading to New Zealand with her husband for the Christmas break. Jealous is a strong word, but definitely appropriate here. I'm so jealous. My wanderlust is rearing her lovely head, and I've fallen down the rabbit hole that is Erica's Instagram several times. 

My co-worker won't be riding bikes- opting for hikes and postal tours instead- but she wanted to hear about my time on the Timber Trail. Because the weather here in Austin reminds me of our first few days in New Zealand, before the rain, I figured I'd share the story with y'all here. Without further ado, here's my tale about the Timber Trail.

First of all, you should know that I’m lucky to be surrounded by really accomplished and really strong riders. So sometimes it’s easy for me to bite off more than I can chew when it comes to rides, like steep rolling hills through a state park on platform pedals and a steel bike. Or one of my favorite adventurs: 52 mile (83 km) trail ride in New Zealand.

But that’s just what I did.

As New Zealand transitioned into fall this past March, I joined my husband’s cycling club in boxing up our bikes to explore the mystical trails (and vineyards) on the north island. This was the first time I had flown with my bike, not to mention my first time seriously attempting trail riding, but I figured I’d cross that bridge when I got there. And believe me when I say, it was some bridge!

First Stop: Wine and Oysters

After three flights and navigating customs with my bike box, we headed to our home base in Waimarama— after we stopped at a Hawke’s Bay vineyard for wine and oysters. This trip was off to a delicious start! We took advantage of the sunny weather and built up our bikes while we waited for the rest of our crew to make it into town. After everyone made it, some of us stretched our legs by riding down to the beach to watch the full moon rise over the ocean. This wasn’t the last time I wanted to pinch myself.

newzealandbikes.jpg

We made the decision to explore Hawke's Bay and the surrounding areas at our leisure. I’m glad we made that call because the weather was unpredictable and— being from Texas— we were hoping for sunshine on our rides. That being said, I made sure to grab my Search and State jacket, especially because the possibility we’d get rained on was always a strong one.

After we recovered from jet lag, explored the roads of Waimarama, and indulged in plenty of regional wine, we knew it was time to pack our bags and head inland, for the area around Lake Taupo— we’d spend some time melting in the thermal pools before heading to the Timber Trailhead to camp for the night.

Camping at Ngaherenga Campground

Sparkle horse was a champ!

Sparkle horse was a champ!

The thermal pool was as amazing as it sounds, worth the detour if you’re ever in an area with one. We loaded back into the cars as the clouds started crowding out the sun and made it to camp before the rain started.

A word about our camp: We rolled into the Ngaherenga Campground and I don’t think any of us were prepared for the lushness of it all. Bright rays of sun were still streaking out from the rain clouds, spotlighting the rich, deep green flora. Birds (and maybe dinosaurs) were calling out to one another and the only other sound was a family in a camper making dinner. Yes, this would be a fine place to stay the night.

We started setting up our tents as the first sprinkles of rain started falling. My husband and I just finished securing our rain-fly as the deluge started. High-fiving as we zipped up the tent, we started unrolling our sleeping bags and making sandwiches. I thought our stuff was damp because we set up in the rain. That thought didn’t last long: a few drops on my head later, I realized our rain-fly was leaking. All over. Doing what any former girl scout would do, I used the wrappers from our cheese slices to cover the seams of the rain-fly. That should do it! It didn’t. Immediate re-packing of the bags commenced and we dashed for cover in the cars.

Even though I was 90% sure I’d have to snuggle with my Surly overnight, I looked around at our friend’s (waterproof) tents, listened to the sounds of the birds mingling with the heavy rain drops on the leaves and thought, “it’s pretty hard to beat this.” We eventually figured out we could use a horse blanket, conveniently in one of our trucks, to cover our tent. We did that, went in for round 2 of unrolling the sleeping bags, and stayed pretty dry. Sure, we smelled like a barn… but it was a dry barn!

My favorite part of camping is hearing the camp grounds come alive again. The unzipping and zipping of tents, sleepy voices greeting each other, birds letting you know the sun is about to rise— all that and the promise of camp coffee. The rain was gone and it was a clear and bright morning. The perfect morning for heading out to the Timber Trail on the Pureora to Ongarue trail.

Riding the Timber Trail!

This is where I should tell you that I’ve never been mountain biking. I ride road and I commute. So you can imagine the flak I caught for only having road shoes and pedals. But, it’s what I had and what I would use. We packed up our gear, made a plan with our friend who was hiking instead of riding, and ventured out. As we entered the Pureora Forest, we were passed (on the right— which felt real awkward) by a family on full suspension bikes. “Hope you’re still smiling at the end,” one of them called out after seeing our steel frames, sans suspension. I liked challenges— clearly— and felt pretty sure there would be smiles the entire ride.

Look at that smile- Oh to be Young and Naive!

I let the guys with more experience ride ahead, as I did my best to take in the jaw-dropping scenery and ride through the mud caused by the rain. At one point we turned out of the forest and all of a sudden we had a clear view of the forest- having ridden 980m above sea level.

My husband and I regrouped with the guys and we descended back into the forest. I got a crash course in handling— literal at some points. And because my pedals were caked in mud, I managed to stayed clipped in (and on my bike!) on a particularly tight turn. I consider that a win.

The puddles were no joke, and we all did our best to take the same lines in order to avoid rutting out this incredible trail. I was sore, bleeding, and stuck to my bike and yet still having the time of my life. Still smiling… but definitely grumbling a little more than at the start of the day. And then, the first suspension bridge. This. This was the reason I was on my bike. I soft pedaled across looking out— not down! I was grateful for a lot at that moment, but especially grateful no one swayed the bridge as I rolled over.

Onward!

We kept riding, but it was getting tougher and tougher for me. It was humbling to realize that this time I bit off more than I could chew, and I didn’t have the skills or the suspension I needed to get me to Ongarue. Sometimes you want to ride your own bike. Other times, renting a bike with suspension is a wonderful idea. Carefully assess the situation and then find a bike that fits. After some serious gut checks, I made the call to pull out of the trail and wait for everyone else to finish the ride and come get me. We saw a sign for the Black Fern Lodge and I thought that sounded like a pretty darn good place to wait.

Know When to Fold 'Em

One of the guys decided to hang out too. He had just spent the previous two weeks riding all over the South Island, so he was ready for an extended snack break too. We said “see-ya!” to our group and ventured toward the Lodge. And ventured… and kept venturing, until we came to a locked gate that said private land. Coming from Texas, we know not to mess with private land, so we headed back to the road. We figured our friends would take that road to pick us up, not factoring in another entrance. Always factor in the possibility of another entrance.

We ate our snacks, lounged in the sun, and built pebble sculptures all while watching the shadows grow longer and longer. We knew we had a few hours to wait, but as the sun started to set, we started to get pretty nervous. Praying no one had a mechanical issue, or there wasn’t a problem meeting up with our hiking friend, we waited and waited. A couple camping near the road took pity on us and suggested we wait for our friends at the Piropiro campgrounds. All roads passed through Piropiro and it sounded a lot better than the side of the road. Always have a plan B and C, in case your plan A is actually on private land and you don’t have cell service.

Thank Heaven for Murray

The couple dropped us off and told us they had a friend camping there, and he would look out for us if our friends didn’t show up soon. It was dark by this time. We were still in Lycra and I had run out of chocolate covered raisins. Heartened by the fact that we could pick up the trail after a night’s rest— and that we weren’t completely in the middle of nowhere, we kept our positive mental attitude as best we could and started coming up with a game plan.

We noticed someone walking towards us where he stated— it was definitely not a question— that we were cold and hungry. Right on both accounts. Somewhere in New Zealand is a gentle giant named Murray, to whom I will forever be grateful. Without hesitation (well maybe there was some, but I didn’t see it) he and his family welcomed us to their campsite, started a fire, fed us and let me borrow a sweater. If I wasn’t so anxious to be reunited with our group, I would have cried tears of joy.

We ate around the fire, taking turns between telling our story of the day and coming up with plans for finding our friends. We found out that one member of our party had been through the campsite around sunset, looking for the Black Fern Lodge.

Not long after, headlights swept across the campground and settled on my bike. We were found! There were introductions, hugs and hearty “thank-you’s,” all around. We loaded up the bikes and headed down that dusty, windy road to our second camp.It started raining again that night, and we slept under the horse blanket again. Our bikes were rinsed clean of Timber Trail mud when we woke up the next morning, and a dog raced around our tents while sheep looked on. After we packed up, we headed back to the coast and to more familiar roads. I hope to get back to the Timber Trail again. This time with a full suspension bike and a backup plan.

My 5 Favorite Apps for Productivity

My face flushes as my hand searches within my purse. Both the search and my heart beat become a little more frantic as seconds pass. Aside from nine bobby pins and a lipstick I was afraid I'd never see again, my search is fruitless.

My phone is gone forever.

Or. It's still charging on the kitchen counter because I grabbed for the mug of coffee instead of my phone. That scenario happens more often than I'd care to admit.

It's certainly not exciting, but it is embarrassing how worked up I can get when I can't find my phone immediately. For better or worse, this fun-sized piece of technology is an extension of me. (Holler if you hear me!) In addition to helping me keep in touch with the VIPs in my life, it helps to keep me on task and stay organized- thanks to a handful of apps I've downloaded and purchased.

There was a period where I downloaded several productivity apps a week thinking they would be a salve to my ever-growing to-do list. After some trial and error figuring out the apps that increased productivity- and which apps hindered productivity- I've learned a few things. Specifically, when it comes to getting stuff done, you are your own fairy godmother. There are no apps that will do the work for you.

Ugh. I know.

Over time, I've found that there are a handful of apps that do help me keep track of events and to-do's, and basically make my life easier. Without further ado, and in no particular order, I present my favorite productivity apps.

My 5 Favorite Productivity Apps

  •  Fantastical 2: I'm still mourning Sunrise and it took a while to find a calendar app that I liked using as much as I enjoyed Sunrise. Fantastical 2 is intuitive, easy to read and has a clean display. I love that it integrates Reminders and Gmail, two of my most used apps**, and that I can enter tasks or events using their parser feature. For example, I can type "Bike ride with the ladies at 6 pm" and it will schedule my bike ride for 6 pm. Fantastical 2 isn't free, but it is currently 40% at the app store.
  • Trello: Trello helps keep track of the various projects you're working on, and allows you to assign to-do's, make notes, and keep your projects organized. Trello is my online project manager and the app is free- yippee!
  • CapMetro: I'm a big fan of public transportation and am happy that Capital Metro released their app. The app is free and helps you with trip planning, shows you the bus routes and allows you to buy tickets. There's definitely room for improvement, but it does the heavy lifting of figuring out how I'm getting somewhere so I can focus on my work... and not have to mess with traffic.
  • TripIt: When I'm not traveling, this app admittedly gathers dust. But when I'm planning a vacation- whether it's an overnight stay at a B&B or an international adventure- TripIt helps me keep track of the Where & When's of travel. I just forward any confirmation e-mails I receive to my individual TripIt account and it populates my travel. It's free and there's the option to upgrade to a paid account- probably a great idea if you travel a lot for work or pleasure.
  • OverDrive: Oh how I love OverDrive! OverDrive lets you borrow audio books and e-books from your local library. Don't have a library card? Get thee to a library and get one! Then download OverDrive. It's free and you can read the e-books via the app or stream audio books either by downloading them or listening through the app. OverDrive lets me listen to books on my commute- making them more productive and making me a happier woman.

If you've (unsuccessfully) tried several productivity apps- or looked into them and walked away overwhelmed- Mike Vardy has some great tips for figuring out what you need in an app on his blog. He does great work, so even if apps aren't your thing I recommend you still check out his site.

Okay, now it's your turn. Are there any apps out there that I need in my life?

**You may be wondering why I didn't include the Reminders and Gmail apps in this list. I figured you know all about them and I wanted to tell you more about productivity apps you may not have considered. If you weren't wondering, thanks for reading all the way 'till the end!

 

Cover to Cover: Homegoing

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing is the story of two half-sisters in 18th-century Ghana. Effina is married to a wealthy British slaver and lives in a castle, while Esi is imprisoned beneath the very same castle before she is sold into slavery and shipped off to America. They each find out about the other's existence far too late, and Homegoing follows each of Effina and Esi's descendants through the decades. 

Yaa Gyasi gives us a small glimpse of Fante and Asante nations in Ghana as their leaders contend with the British slave trade, colonization and what's best for their villages. The actions of each character having wider implications than I ever would have imagined- reaching all the way to America and her plantations in the South. From 18th-century Ghana to 20th-century Harlem and present day, Gyasi's Homegoing was a visceral read. It brought history alive in a way few things are able to do, although we're seeing some of the ugliest parts of our history play out on the news today. Homegoing is at once hopeful and frightening, and told in such a way that I forgot I was reading fiction.

What I liked: Yaa Gyasi is a wonderful writer. Full stop. She has a talent for bringing to light what makes each character and place unique. And speaking of each character, the character development was fantastic and very well-done! I thought I'd have trouble keeping track of Effina and Esi's family line, but Gyasi left breadcrumbs for me to follow- and she was so cool about it... Just when I was losing the connection, Gyasi was there with a subtle reminder.

 

What I didn't like: The struggles faced in Homegoing are the same struggles so many people are facing today. Despite the Civil Rights Act, I see examples every day- in 2016!- of the hateful and ignorant behavior Homegoing's characters faced. It's disgusting and embarrassing. I didn't like that this story felt so real because for so many people, it isn't a story at all.