Favorite Finds

Happy Friday, friends of 4-Layer Cake!

I’m starting something new  that I’m planning to keep up every Friday. I’m going to give you my favorite finds of the week. The list consists of recipes to bake over the weekend (including healthy and not-so-healthy), a book to check out, fitness finds, and whatever other random things I think you might find fascinating. Warning: I find a LOT of things to be fascinating.


Healthy Recipe to Try

Blueberry Strawberry Oatmeal Bake from Hungry Girl

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I love Hungry Girl recipes, and oatmeal bakes. Must try!


Indulgent Recipe to Try

Baked Spice Apple Cider Donut Holes from The Cupcake Project



Donut holes that are baked? Yes, please!!


Healthy Masked as Indulgent Recipe

Oven Baked Potato Wedges from Peeled Wellness

Mmmmm don’t those look good? Excited to try the recipe, and excited about finding, a blog about the core of what it means to be well without calorie counting and fad diets.


Fitness Clothing Find

Fit Bottomed Girl’s Limited Edition October Sweatshirt and Tank


Love sweatshirts. Love the message.


Running Motivational Article

Still a Runner, by Elizabeth Comeau, posted on Runner’s World

“Sometimes in running and life, you have to hit the restart button.”

This article sums up where I’m at with my running these days. There is great reflection on calling yourself a runner and what that means to you.

Workout to Try

The Standing Workout for Flat Abs from Women’s Health Magazine


Tried it. Loved it. Super sore.


Favorite E-Book Find

Gluten-Free for Beginners: 30-Day Meal Plan and Guide for Gluten-Free Success
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I am excited about this e-book because my daddy, who has Celiac Disease and is a rebellious gluten eater (and notorious fan of Bud Lite), is in desperate need of some advice. He needs to hear it from someone who has been there, has gone through it, and is succeeding at a healthy, gluten-free life. Enter Kristin Porter, the blogger behind Iowa Girl Eats. Check this book out if you’re new to the gluten-free lifestyle.  Click here to visit Iowa Girl Eats.


I hope some of my favorite finds find their way into your favorite finds. Have a great weekend of baking, eating, working out, and reading! I’ll be doing all of the above 🙂




Things to Keep in Mind for Your First Marathon

Around this time one year ago, I was days away from running my first marathon. I remember the anticipation, the fear and the giddiness I felt knowing that this monster of a race I had spent months training for was almost here.

Though I had run a few half marathons already, I really had no idea what to expect in running 26.2 miles. Looking back now, there were several surprises that came up along the way.

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Becky: “Yeah, we just ran a marathon. Ain’t no thang.” Me: “I can’t get this beer open fast enough.”


The community I trained with last year is getting ready for the Des Moines Marathon again this weekend. After running the Des Moines half in 2013 and the full last year, I am a little sad not being a part of that community again this time. However, I know I’m not in it because I’ve chosen to work toward other goals and have joined other communities that I am just as happy to be a part of. Yet, I will never forget the experience I shared with the IMT Des Moines Marathon Training Group last year.

With that, I compiled a list of things I learned and realized from my marathon that I hope will give some perspective to the folks out there who are completing their first marathon this fall. Making it through training is victory in itself; the actual race is the celebration.

Things I Wish I knew

  1. 26 miles is a great deal longer than 20 miles. This is painfully true. Most plans don’t have you run much farther than 20 miles in training with the reasoning that if you can run 20 miles, then you’re ready to run 26. And while you might be thinking, yeah, what’s six more miles? What’s roughly one more hour of running? Let me tell you, after running 20, six more miles is absolute hell! This is true at least for my experience! Some people have this thing down and maybe they can power through the last six, but that was easily the most painful six miles I’ve ever experienced. If and when you hit that wall, it will take every last bit of you, mentally and physically, to push to the end. Be ready for this! Here are a couple fun lists of 26.2 mantras to use during your marathon:
  2. Anything can happen. You may not have experienced any problems training–no injuries, shortness of breath, or other scary bodily functions. No matter how perfect your training was, Race Day is a completely new world to the body, especially if and when you hit that wall. Conditions are different; there are hundreds of other runners surrounding you, your adrenaline and nerves are in full force, and things just happen.

As an asthmatic, I’ve been surprised how much running has helped my breathing. Not once during my marathon training did I have to use my inhaler, and I eventually quit bringing it with me on runs. Come Race Day at Mile 23, a place my lungs had never been before, I had a full-on asthma/panic attack (I think it was a bit of both, nerves and pain mixed in with lungs crashing), and no inhaler on me.

For another example, Becky, who I ran the marathon with, just went to her second marathon in Chicago last weekend. (You go, girl!) My friend didn’t get to finish because she got a stress fracture in her foot. You just never know what will happen! Do your best to be prepared. Luckily, I pulled through that asthma attack and Becky and I were able to finish our first marathon. But if something happens and you don’t get to cross the finish line, don’t beat yourself up. Like I said earlier, the months of training is victory in itself.

3. You can’t control your body. I spent much of my training time trying to figure out what foods work best for my body before the run, on the run, and after the run. I ate gluten free, dairy free, blah de blah. My diet was clean as could be, but as I’ve said, Race Day is different. Race Day does things to your body you can’t explain. The entire day before the marathon, I was either on the toilet or on the couch with a heating pad. I was miserable with stomach pain.

Nerves and anxiety are literally such a pain. Don’t be surprised if your body does something weird, just try to relax and breathe through it. During Race Week, try doing gentle yoga or meditation to calm your inner stress. You might not even think you’re that anxious about the upcoming race, but your body thinks differently.

Things to Look Forward to

  1. Random strangers become your BFFs. Last year, Becky and I kept running into this older fellow, I believe his name was Mike. It was his first marathon, too. We talked to him a little bit then we passed him, but he caught up with us later after our porta-potty stop. He cheered for us and we cheered for him. There were many people like that. A marathon is a bonding point. All these hundreds, thousands of people are out here after this huge goal. The respect among runners and the comeraderie is what I miss so much about it. Make some friends while you’re out there!
  2. Seeing your family and friends. The cool thing about the actual race is that so many people line the streets to cheer you on, motivation you don’t get during training. My favorite parts of the marathon were the three or four times I spotted my fiance, friends and parents on the street with bright pink signs for me and Becky. Knowing I’d see them again miles later, but not knowing exactly when, was the motivation that kept me going. Becky’s group of friends were so spirited, too; it was so much fun every time we ran into them. Enjoy these moments of the race, and if you can’tfind your personal cheerleaders, there are plenty of strangers who are just as excited to see you, too. Slap high fives whenever you can, and be grateful when kids sit out on their sidewalks to hand you oranges.
  3. Post-race meal. I know, you’ve been thinking about the slices of greasy pizza and giant cupcakes you’re going to devour since you laced up for your first training run. Gosh, there is nothing like eating crap after running a freaking marathon! It’s mostly a mental high, since your stomach is pretty much rocked from the run (maybe that was just me again), but do enjoy whatever it is you decide to reward yourself with. I had Zombie Burger after the race, complete with a S’mores milkshake. It was perfect.
Smores milkshake from Zombie Burger. This is 90% of the reason I ran 26.2 miles.

Smores milkshake from Zombie Burger. This is 90% of the reason I ran 26.2 miles.

Most importantly, you don’t know where your running is going to go once you cross the marathon off your list. You might sign up for another one, like Becky did, and get just as excited as you were the first go around to see if you can do better. Or, you might say, hey, that was a good time, and hang up your running shoes for a while, like I did. I’ve run a couple half marathons since last year’s full, but my heart hasn’t been in it. My goals revolved around running for a long time, but now I know it’s the right time for me to focus on something else. Enjoy the race for what it is–a celebration of how far you’ve come as a runner and as a person. It takes so much effort to get to that finish line, and who knows when you’ll cross another one. Be grateful for every step of those 26.2 miles.

I sure as heck still am.

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To my friends running Des Moines, good luck this weekend! I’ll be thinking of you!


Why I Continue to Read Nicholas Sparks

I will never forget the first time I read The Notebook. I was roughly Allie’s age, a 15-year-old going on my first date, a dreamer and romantic, a love-washed girl.

I hadn’t read books regularly since about fourth grade, and The Notebook sparked me back into reading. Dear Nicholas had so many romantic novels I didn’t know about.


As a teen, I devoured them. A Walk to Remember, easily my favorite movie in junior high, was based on  a novel? By Nicholas Sparks? Read it in a day. Message in a Bottle, the movie of middle-aged love interests my grandma encouraged me to watch, was based on one of Nick’s novels, too? I went back and read these, along with the rest of his early novels. What happened was that Nicholas Sparks turned this movie lover back into a book lover…for good.

I read him through my college years. The Last Song and  Dear John gave me hope when my own romantic flairs were hopeless. When I lived in Florida, The Best of Me and Safe Haven gave me things to talk about with my grandma on the phone. Grandma was always the biggest sap for a good love story, and I loved being able to connect with her on that. Now that I’m engaged, I re-read my favorites, The Notebook and Nights in Rodanthe, from time to time, and think how lucky I am that my own little love story turned out the way it did.


While I can pick out similarities from novel to novel and some things that are cheesy enough to make me cringe, I am always intrigued to see what Nicholas has in store for his characters. He never fails to surprise me in some way.

And the movies! Every movie that has come along with Nick’s novels has been just as sweet and even different enough from the books. Nights in Rodanthe was accidentally left on repeat in the DVD player a couple weekends ago, and I caught Kyle standing up watching it, fully engrossed. He saw that I caught him, and said in his surprised tone, “Good movie!” Men can’t help but love the stories, too. My dad, a total jock in his day, absolutely loves The Notebook and has no shame about it. I know for sure he has seen it more times than I have.


Nicholas Sparks has been with me year after year, inspiring the romantic in me and my own love story, both in real life and in my writing. Many girl’s nights involved going to see the new movie releases. I can’t count how many times Mom and I had Nicholas Sparks movie nights with bowls of ice cream.


The man has been a part of my life, so when he has a new book out, you can bet I’m going to check it out. I wouldn’t say I get giddy for his new releases like I used to. Though, with his new one, See Me, coming out today, it’s more like a refreshing feeling of comfort. Seeing his new book on a bookstore shelf reinforces the bond I had with Grandma, reminds me of the girl’s nights with Mom or friends, and allows me to appreciate the journey I’ve taken from a 15-year-old dreamer, to a 20-something dramatic single girl, now on her way to being a hopelessly-in-love married woman.

(I can’t wait to see how much my fiance makes fun of me for this girly post.)

See Me is available today! What are your thoughts on Nicholas Sparks novels? Love em, hate em? Tell me in the comments below!


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Magical Monday: Banana Cake Recipe

Happy Monday, 4-Layer Cake readers!

Hopefully this post finds you motivated to kick butt this week, but if you’re still struggling to put your work boots/heels on, here’s a few fun things to think about instead. Read on for a delicious cake recipe, your weekly book suggestion, and a new workout to try.


Sweet Recipe

This weekend I whipped up a Chocolate Chunk Banana Snack Cake from one of my favorite dessert blogs, Bakerella. It was so quick and easy to make. If you like banana-flavored anything, this cake is for you. It is very rich in the banana flavor, but the chocolate chunks add a bit of surprising crunch. The chocolate frosting is, of course, nearly impossible to resist not eating before it makes its way to the cake. I took this cake to an Iowa State watch party this weekend for my friend Lindsey’s 25th birthday. While the men watched the Cyclones get their butts beat, five of us girls hid out in the kitchen, forks in cake, happy as can be.

Click here for the recipe!


Workout to Try

While I haven’t been doing much running lately, I’ve found a new fitness DVD that I love. Thanks to this review from Fit Bottomed Girls, I was intrigued to check out 10 Minute Solution’s High Intensity Interval Training workout DVD. This is a great cardio alternative when you don’t have time for a longer run, and it’s a great way to mix up your weekly routine. The DVD includes five 10-minute cardio workouts set up Tabata style. (What the heck is Tabata?) I love it, because even if you only do one of the workouts you are sure to break a sweat and get your heart rate going. There are separate workouts to focus on the upper body, lower body and abs along with a basic 101 workout and a plyometric-type explosion workout.

Book Recommendation

Coming out tomorrow is a new release from my favorite romance writer, Nicholas Sparks. See Me is bound to deliver rich emotion and most likely a few tears. Like most of Sparks’ books, there will be a chance encounter of a man and a woman fated to be together, but their pasts haunt them. I know, sounds familiar already, but gosh, I love a good Nicholas Sparks romance!

Click here for my list of 8 Books to Read this Fall.


Other Writings

My novel is coming along, slowly but surely. I’m gearing up for NaNoWriMo, aka National Novel Writing Month, in November. The idea behind NaNoWriMo is to write a novel, or 50,000 words, in the month of November. I’ve started and quit at least two years now, but I’ll say it again this time…I feel good about this year. If you’re in on this amazing event, leave a comment. Let’s do this together!


Now, this Monday will truly be magical if the Cubs can get a win tonight. Let’s go, Cubbies!!


Did you try any new recipes over the weekend? Have a new workout to share? Falling for a book? Share your favorites in the Comments section below!