Thursday, November 30, 2017

November Books

One of my goals for 2017 was to read 17 books. Well, had I known my reading speed (or the fact that the library would quickly become one of my new best friends) I probably would have adjusted that number slightly ;)

In case you missed the recent posts, I blogged about the books I read in January HERE, February HERE, March HERE, April HERE, May HERE, June HERE, July HERE, August HERE, September HERE and October HERE. There were SEVENTY-SIX in the first ten months, so when I add November's SEVEN that brings the total for the year thus far to EIGHTY-THREE! In case you're interested in what I read (and how I'd rate them) or need some suggestions on a book to grab, make sure to give my previous write-ups a quick glance over when you have a minute!

  • The Dorito Effect by Mark Schatzker - Let me start out by saying that I believe I am a fairly health conscious person. The hubby and I are both vegetarians, we try to eat local when possible, we love the environment, etc. When I saw this book I figured I'd pick it up (even though I had ZERO knowledge about it prior to reserving it at the library). I feel like we are pretty well informed when it comes to the cons about meat-eating (health-wise, environmental problems, etc), but I never thought about the ideas this book brings up... Like when we as a society went to mass producing food we lost the FLAVOR due to dilution. Or how adding "natural" flavor can be the exact same chemicals as "artificial" flavor but done in a different mode. Although they talk frequently about chicken and the issue in that market, it translates to all food. I wouldn't say this totally revolutionized the way I think about food, but it will make me think longer and harder when making choices in the future. I would give it an 8 out of 10.

  • The Long Mile Home by Jenna Russell and Scott Helman - If you were around my neck of the woods earlier this year, you may remember that seeing Patriots Day rocked me harder than I was expecting. I have been wanting to read this book, but wasn't sure if I would be able to handle it. I finally decided to pick it up (and figured that if it was "too much" that I could always put it down). This book is very well written (by reporters from The Boston Globe) and follow different people through their experience of the Boston Marathon bombing. It took me longer than I was expecting to read it, but I could only read a couple chapters at a time before getting hit with all the emotions and needing to take a break from it. I appreciate all of the detail given and the different perspectives you understand the experience from. I would give it a 9 out of 10.

  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald - Although I have read this one before (or at least I think I remember reading it in High School), I thought I would grab it again. And not only grab the book, but grab the audiobook. You see, the hubby and I were going to Las Vegas for a couple races (the Rock 'N' Roll 5K and Half Marathon) and I wanted something to listen to on the drive there and back. This is a short book so I figured it'd be perfect length for one way. I really enjoyed the story and seeing how everyone was interconnected. Some of it is a little "old-timey", but I still like it. I would give it a 7 out of 10.

  • Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling - This was another audiobook I grabbed for our Vegas trip (I figured The Great Gatsby on the way there and this one on the way home). I don't know a ton about Mindy (other than she was on The Office), but the hubby and I really liked Amy Schumer's book we listened to a few months ago so I thought we could give this one a try. I was very surprised to find out that Mindy is not just that annoying boy-crazy girl on The Office, but was actually one of the writers for the show (as well as writes and stars in her own show now). I wouldn't say I walked away with some great words of wisdom or deeper understanding of anything profound, but the stories she told were entertaining and I especially appreciated that the audio was read by her. I would give it an 8 out of 10.

  • Wonder by R.J. Palacio - This one was recommended to me by a childhood friend. He didn't really give me much detail, but just asked if I had read it on one of my "motivational/ inspirational" quote posts that I try to share. It had been checked out at the library for a few weeks, but once it became available I grabbed it up. It was a super quick read (maybe because it is actually supposed to be for "tweens"), but I really enjoyed it. I thought the author hit the nail on the head with all of the characters (and human nature). In the end goodness wins and it was a great reminder to be KIND! I saw the book has since been made into a movie (and also has some follow up books as well). Not sure I'll watch the film, but I think this is a great book for anyone to pick up! I would give it a 9 out of 10.

  • Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee - If you read my July Books post, you might remember that the hubby and I listened to the audio book version of To Kill A Mockingbird (the first time I had "read" the book) on our way to San Francisco. I didn't realize that there was a follow-up book, so when the hubby and I had another road trip on the calendar (this time it was Zion National Park for the Thanksgiving holiday), I grabbed the audio book version to give it a listen. Now, let me preface this by saying I gave To Kill A Mockingbird a 10 out of 10. With that said, I would say that this book didn't live up to that standard, but I still really enjoyed it. It was a coming of age story with many of the same characters from To Kill A Mockingbird (set 20 years later when Jean Louise comes back to Maycomb to visit her ailing dad, Atticus). This book is about fallen heroes and disillusionment. Jean Louise realizes through this novel that her dad is not to god she built him to be in her mind and had to do the hard work of coming to terms with her own world views. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed in Atticus and Hank, but do love the woman Jean Louise became. (PS Reese Witherspoon was the one who read the book and she did an amazing job!) I would give it a 9 out of 10.

  • It's A Long Story by Willie Nelson - We needed a second audio book for our way back from Zion and I knew the hubby would enjoy this one so I grabbed it from the library. I have to admit, I didn't know much about Willie Nelson before listening to this book, but from everything I heard, I really like him. I loved hearing about the "behind-the-scenes" details of the music industry, some of his famous friends, etc. I wouldn't say this would be a book I would have normally read, but it kept my attention and gave me a new appreciation for the artist. At the time he wrote this book he was 82 (can you imagine still performing and touring at that age?!). The only parts I felt were a little off were some of the sections where lyrics were included (maybe this was because having lyrics read and not sung sounded a bit strange). I would give it a 7 out of 10.

And with that, my November reading has come to a close. If you have any suggestions on books to grab, let me know! I'm always down to throw them in the ever growing library "for later" queue!

What are you currently reading?

Wednesday, November 29, 2017


If you've been around long enough, you may remember a series I've done the last two years called #12DaysOfCarleesChristmas. You see, I thought I'd spread some extra holiday cheer by offering some fun giveaways.

With the amount of success the series sees, I just had to do it again! This year I started a little earlier than I had last year. I decided to reach out to some of the brands I have had the pleasure of working with in the past to see if they wanted to team up (I even began emailing my contacts as early as October 15th). The response was AMAZING!

I'm stoked to get this party started! These companies came to play... no rinky-dink prizes here, they're the REAL DEAL!

I will be posting the giveaways on the blog and you will enter via a Rafflecopter widget. Each giveaway will run for seven days, with the winner(s) being drawn on the eighth day. The winner(s) will have 24 hours to reply to my congratulation email to claim their prize. All entries will be verified (which means, if you don't complete the entry you'll be disqualified and a new, random winner will be selected in your place). You can enter as many of the giveaways as you'd like, just make sure to do the required action or the entry won't count. Also, the giveaways will only be open to US mailing addresses (international shipping can cost an arm and a leg and customs can be a major pain in the butt headache).

Keeping track of all of the product, entries, posts, social shares, etc is a lot of work, so I hope you forgive me but for the next couple weeks I will only really be sharing giveaway posts and weekly workout recaps on the blog.

Hopefully this is NOT what you are thinking!

I don't want to spill the beans, but know these are all giveaways that if I wasn't hosting myself I'd 150% be entering! I would actually suggest setting a daily alarm on your phone to remind yourself to come back to, that way you don't miss out (some of the entries can be done daily, so I'd recommend entering early and often).

Okay, have I wet your appetite enough?! I'm not trying to pull on your heart strings or play with your emotions, but I want to get the adequate amount of hype for these upcoming days - because, as Linzie says, 'it's gonna be LIT'.


What's the best giveaway prize you've ever won?

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Zion National Park Adventures

Hopefully you know the hubby and I were out of town last week (but let's give a HUGE round of applause for the bloggers who wrote guest posts so you had something to read while I was off-the-grid.... cause they were AWESOMESAUCE!).
We decided we wanted to visit Zion National Park for Thanksgiving a few months back (the hubby had never been and I'd only been for a few hours after the St. George Marathon). Last year we did Yosemite and wanted to do something similar. 

Hard to believe this was already a year ago!

Since campsites within the park fill up SUPER fast, we set an alarm the day the spots became available for the public and made sure to book our site as soon as it opened. (We asked some friends to join us and they booked the site across from us.) {FYI: We stayed at Watchman Campground, which is right inside the South Entrance of the park and LOVED it!}

We splurged and got the annual pass for National Parks! Now to take advantage of it!

If you follow me on Instagram {@CarleeMcDot} and watch my stories, you may have seen some of the adventures we went on... but I still wanted to share them here too. I do want to warn you, this post will be FULL of photos - ENJOY!


We hit the road Tuesday morning by about 5am. The game plan was to meet our friends (who left Monday evening but were staying with family in Vegas that night) in Vegas by 9:30am. Since the Seven Magic Mountains have been on my list of "must do" things for a while now, I made sure that the hubby and I made a quick pit stop to check them out. (The sign says they are only commissioned through May 2018, so if you haven't had a chance to see them, I'd suggest going soon!)

If you know me, you know I love COLOR, so this was right up my alley!

We pulled into Zion National Park around 2:30pm (we lost an hour due to the time change, had stopped for an hour for lunch and had to wait for an hour for our friends to show up before hitting the road, so technically we didn't do too bad with time). For the rest of the afternoon/ evening, we set up camp and hung out with our friends. I did get scolded for being on my skateboard because apparently they're not allowed within the park and since our campground was inside the park they're considered illegal (but for some reason inline skates and gas-powered scooters are totally acceptable). Other than that we spent time chillaxin' with our framily (friends who have become family) and enjoying the beauty around us.

And just in case you were wondering... This skateboard is also a #CarleesTreasure!

Sunset over the Virgin River... not too shabby if I do say so myself!

Wednesday morning the hubby and I decided to hit up some hikes before our friends got up. The park shuttles weren't running yet (they'd be going on Thursday through Saturday), so we got the Adventure Mobile ready and made our way to the trail heads. Originally we wanted to hike Angels Landing, but when we pulled in the parking lot at 6:30am (mind you, the sun doesn't rise until 7:15am) it was full... BOO! We decided to hit up Weeping Rock. While there, we noticed some signs for Hidden Canyon and decided to check it out. We are so glad we got detoured because this hike was AMAZING! It was off the beaten path a bit (I think we maybe saw 3 or 4 people the whole time we were on it) and the views were awesome. At the end there is a bit of a "choose your own adventure" because there is a decent stretch of un-maintained trail before you reach the end - but we had a blast! And on the way back we even saw a bighorn sheep!

Some of the different terrain on the Hidden Canyon Trail

We did all the climbing and traversing we could and finally came to this sign! #TheEnd

On the way back to the campground we figured we'd see if there were any spots open in the Angels Landing parking lot. We thought we saw one so asked the rangers who had closed the lot if we could sneak in. He told us the spot was actually handicapped, but if we could squeeze in to another one a few feet away he'd let us have it. SCORE! (Apparently many folks had been pretty upset due to the traffic congestion, lack of shuttles, construction, etc and were being rude. #EntitledBrats The ranger thanked us for being so nice and let us in. #KindnessForTheWin)


One of the benefits of not having the shuttles running was the traffic on the trails was kept at a minimum (the only people hiking were those who found parking spots before the lots closed and I'd say most trail heads had a max of maybe 20-25 spots). We were able to get to the top of Angels Landing fairly quickly (the last half mile or so where you have to really climb and hold onto chains is where it bottle-necked and slowed down). The views from the top were stunning! I would say it definitely was not as tough/ scary as Half Dome in Yosemite (and with the round trip being a little over 5 miles, I'd say it was much more doable as well). Ryan and I both said this was one of our top three hikes that we did in Zion (but because it's so popular we expected it to be pretty amazing, which is why it didn't take the top spot as our favorite).

The views do NOT suck!

We ended up running the way down (once we got off the chains that is). I don't know about you, but we have found it much easier (and faster - DUH!) to run down a trail. Momentum is helping you out and you don't have to fight gravity to stop yourself as much as if you were just hiking. We were stoked to have been able to fit in Angels Landing even though originally we thought it was going to be a bust with the parking situation! Just reminds you to always be nice to everyone!

Had to snag a couple pictures proving we did it, right?!

After lunch we hit up Canyon Overlook with everyone. The kids had a blast exploring (they thought it felt like Mars) and the views weren't too shabby either. (Not to mention, it was about 2 miles round trip so very doable for everyone with us.)

A pretty flat trail that everyone could enjoy ;)

Hubby was playing around with "portrait mode" on a friend's phone

We capped off the day with one of my favorite things about camping... S'MORES! (Last year, after Halloween, I found some White Chocolate Reese's Peanut Butter Cups {in the shape of pumpkins} on sale and had tried them in my s'mores. They were AMAZEBALLS! Now any time I see them I snag a bag for when we go camping.)


Thursday was Thanksgiving and since we weren't at home for the Oceanside Turkey Trot, we decided to do a little McDot Tofurkey Trot of our own. We threw on our running gear and started the day with a 5K on Watchman Trail. The trail had a lot more elevation than we were expecting (which meant a little more hiking than running), but the views made every step worth it! We even found a trail chair to take a quick break on ;) We are BEYOND BLESSED to be able to enjoy nature the way we do (running/ camping/ hiking/ adventuring) and did our darnedest to stay present and extra thankful on our run.

Not a bad way to start the day!

Some of the trail conditions we were dealing with (PS Doesn't the picture in the middle look like a volcano exploring?!)

Please tell me we are not the only ones who enjoy doing panoramic "magic" ;) 

A rock chair to sit down at so you could enjoy the views!

Once we got back to camp we grabbed breakfast and got everyone ready to head out for some exploring. We ended up tackling the Lower and Middle Emerald Pools and the Grotto. The kids were troopers, especially since by the end of our excursion we had covered about 6 miles. (We even came face to face with some deer on the trails.)

A shot of the middle pool

A couple scenery pictures I snagged along the way

And because the hubby and I can't seem to sit still for too long, once we dropped everyone off at the campsite, we grabbed his bouldering gear and made our way to some nearby rocks so he could get his climb on before dinner.

Some awesome bouldering within a half mile walk from our campsite

Since the hubby and I are vegetarians, traditional Thanksgiving food isn't our jam, but we did make some pretty delicious pasta and "meatballs" while everyone else enjoyed their turkey and gravy. And we ended the evening with Rummikub.

I don't use sauce, but Nutritional Yeast and Trader Joe's Everything But The Bagel Seasoning is a MUST!

Friday morning the hubby and I jumped on the shuttle early to make our way down to The Narrows. With the weather being as cold as it was, we didn't want to hike in (even with the dry suits you can rent), but since the hubby has never seen it, we wanted to at least check them out. Let me tell you, I know for sure we will be back to Zion and hiking The Narrows is definitely on our list of things to do (I was lucky enough to do them with friends last October and it's amazing).

It was pretty chilly but thankfully we packed some warm weather gear

A local friend was planning to come grab us all at 10am Friday morning and give us a little personal tour, but when our friends woke up that morning they were feeling sick. They decided to pack up and head out early - BUMMER! With a now wide-open day in front of us, I flashed my best "please oh please" eyes to the hubby and asked him if he wanted to tackle Observation Point. You see, this hike is 8 miles round trip and considered strenuous (and after all the activity we had done the previous couple days I knew the hubby was a little beat up from the feet up). Originally we were going to put it off until our next visit (because there will be another visit), but my charm worked and the hubby agreed to hit it up with me.

Back in the shuttle line we went (I'll be honest, at first I was a little annoyed at the long line of people, but then I realized I'd much prefer them all to #OptOutside on Black Friday than be in a line at a store buying something they didn't need so my mood and perspective quickly changed). I think we waited maybe 20 minutes, but soon enough we were on our way!

When we jumped off the shuttle at our stop we noticed the crowds hadn't followed us. There were definitely more people than there had been when we went to Hidden Canyon (you follow the same path for the first quarter mile or so), but the "strenuous" classification must have kept folks away. I was even able to meet a sweet follower on the hike (thanks for saying HI, Clara)! It ended up taking us about an hour and a half to get the 4 miles up to Observation Point (we climbed a little over 6,200 feet) with photo and water stops. Once we got to the top we had to take in the views - they were AMAZEBALLS! Remember when I mentioned Angels Landing wasn't our favorite hike... well, that's because this was! Yes, it was longer. Yes, it was tougher. But man oh man, were the views worth every step! It was sort of like you were on top of the world (or at least a plateau above the canyon floor about 7,000 feet above sea level ;)).

The start of the hike and the views from the top!


Similar to Angels Landing, we decided to run down. It took us about half the time (a little under 45 minutes), even with more photo ops and water breaks. It was fun to say hi to all the hikers we had seen on the way up (and we promised them that we weren't ultra athletic, but it was easier to let momentum pull you). Some of the spots were a little hairy to run down (loose rocks, steep cliffs, etc), but we took our time and had a great time. We smiled and chatted about how 3 or 4 years ago we would have never thought about running down a mountain but now we wouldn't have it any other way.

There was a slot canyon on the way down we had to check out

I guess you could say we did our best to #OptOutside on Black Friday (and all of the week leading up to it)... We capped off the evening with some homemade pizza made in the Adventure Mobile and, of course, more s'mores!

Some of the yumminess I was enjoying while camping!

The weather while we were in Zion was pretty amazing. It got down in the high thirties or low forties in the evenings and got up in the seventies during the day. A large chunk of the hikes we were doing were in the shade so we wore pants and a long sleeve or jacket for the majority of the time - but it actually felt like fall (unlike the 90 degree temps we were getting in San Diego over the Thanksgiving week). I'd say we definitely lucked out - it was GORGEOUS! #ThanksMotherNature

Although this was our first time staying in Zion, we both agreed that it would not be our last. In fact, we are already looking at the calendar to see when we should head back next (as well as thinking about where to go for next Thanksgiving). We tackled a lot on this trip, but there is still so much to explore (especially over near the Kolob Canyons).

How did you spend your Thanksgiving holiday?

Monday, November 27, 2017

GUEST POST: The Marathon Naughty and Nice List by Janessa

There are a few things you all should know about me by now. Number 1: I love running. Number 2: I love Christmas. Number 3: I love laughing. When Janessa volunteered to write a blog post and wanted to combine the three I knew I couldn't wait to give it a read. My expectations were definitely exceeded with this one. I'm sure you are gonna love it too (and dare I say I hope this one makes its way to the North Pole)! So, without further ado, let's get right into it!

The Marathon Naughty or Nice List

Hi! I'm Janessa. A wife, mom and runner and I'm super excited to fill in for Carlee! I can't believe it's almost December! That means I have two things on my mind lately, the holidays which are in full swing, and marathon season. Last month I ran the Chicago Marathon and I'll be running my second marathon at the California International Marathon next month.

With Christmas so close, it dawned on me that the marathon, with thousands of people in attendance, is the perfect place for Santa to people-watch and make notes for his Naughty or Nice List. While I know the ultimate decision is up to the big guy himself, here are a few people from the Chicago Marathon who I believe should be added to either the Naughty or Nice list.

Naughty List The jerk in front of me in the porta potty line who let three or four of his friends cut in at the last minute! I had been hydrating like crazy all morning and had already been standing in line for twenty excruciating minutes. My bladder wants Santa to know that there should be extra coal in all of their stockings this year.

Nice List Elvis. His sweet songs kept us running in our Blue Suede Shoes for miles. Elvis should be at every race.

Naughty List Runners who take selfies, send text messages or take walk breaks in the middle of the course. Just like driving, slower traffic should move to the right. My shins did not appreciate all of the sudden and abrupt stopping I had to do to avoid plowing into these people.

Nice List Marathon spectators. They are the best! From their clever signs, to their high-fives and cowbells, they are an amazing source of motivation when things get tough. The high temperatures in Chicago made for less than ideal racing conditions this year, so the following spectators deserve a little extra in their stocking from Santa:

The fire department for bringing these amazing water-spraying fans.

The volunteers who filled these plastic swimming pools and threw water-soaked sponges at us.

And everyone who brought baggies of ice, Jolly Ranchers, pretzels, tissues, beer and tequila shots. Yes, tequila shots.

Naughty List A marathon is a long way to go and runners understand that snot-rockets, spitting and other bodily functions may need to be addressed somewhere in that 26.2 miles. But they can be addressed with manners! At one point during the race, I narrowly jumped over a giant snot-rocket headed right for my legs because the guy in front of me didn't bother to look behind him before letting it fly. He's a definite Naughty Lister.

Nice List And the top spot on the Nice List goes to each and every amazing volunteer, medical personnel, firefighter and police officer who were out there working so hard to keep us all safe!

Congratulations to all of my fellow Chicago Marathon runners! I can't wait to do it again! Happy holidays!

That post was AMAZING, right?! As you remember, I also ran the Chicago Marathon and I couldn't agree more! I may even add Mother Nature to the naughty list if I could... but she probably doesn't need any more coal to stoke her fire! ;) If you'd like to follow Janessa on social media (and why wouldn't you?!), you can follow her on Instagram and Twitter!

Do you think you will make Santa's Naughty or Nice list this year?