Why spring is my favorite season

It’s the first day of spring! Good-bye winter! See ya next year! I love spring so much I thought I’d share with, with the help of some maybe relevant/maybe ridiculous gifs. Enjoy! And happy spring!

200w_d

Continue reading “Why spring is my favorite season”

Advertisements

The path to success isn’t a straight line–but just keep walking anyway.

img_8465It may come as a surprise because of how much I love working from home, but I actually love working in the city too.

(In fact, I’ve written about both of these things before: Check out my blog posts on commuting and working from home!)

It was my dream since my high school days to work (and live, but we’ll call this close enough) in Chicago, and the fact that somehow my crazy path through life made that a reality is crazy and amazing to me!

img_0951

Why Chicago? Maybe because for kids in the Midwest, Chicago is our “big city,” and it seemed like a close-enough-yet-far-away goal that somehow embodied glitz, glamour, and the hope of something more. To me, it was liked the Emerald City that was promising heart, brains, and courage if I could just get there.

Getting there was a bit of a winding path on the yellow brick road.

img_1523
The day of Master’s Degree graduation at NIU!

I went from going to college in Michigan (in one of my favorite cities, Grand Rapids!), to an unpaid magazine internship in Seattle (and Starbucks barista! ), to fundraiser in middle of nowhere Illinois, to grad school, to where I am today—working as a (copy)writer in Chicago for almost FOUR years now.

img_0313
Visiting Grand Rapids, MI, where I went to college!

I can’t believe it’s already been four years. I still find myself referring to my time in Illinois as being “about 5 years,” but in fact I have lived now in Illinois for almost TEN years. This is…astonishing. Am I local yet? At what point does Illinois become more my home than Michigan? (Answer: never! Michigander for life!)

img_8381
Moments like this on Mackinac Island are why I love Michigan so much!

Sometimes I still feel in awe when I walk to get coffee at one of a dozen coffee shops nearby my work, or take amazing photos of the architecture, river, or skyline around me on my lunch walks. 

IMG_4590

Will it ever get old? Maybe. But for now I am still reminded daily that even though it took me a while to get here, with a few stops along the way, I am living the dream I had for myself “when I grow up.” I think it’s important to look around and realize–“I’m here, I did this,” and to feel proud of what you’ve accomplished. 

image1 (1)
I definitely have more dreams to fulfill down the road— writing a book, maybe freelancing, maybe opening a coffee shop someday— but isn’t it amazing to feel like your dreams are possible? That nothing is really out of reach, but maybe just a step or two away?

I hope you find the inspiration and motivation to keep going and working towards your dreams today. Just remember that maybe they are one or two jobs away from where you are at now, or a move or two in your future. But that doesn’t mean they can’t happen, or that you shouldn’t keep taking steps towards them, today.

person holding white pen near white poster
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Cheers to making dreams come true–one step at a time!

 

2019 Oscar movie predictions and reviews!

two white and red admission tickets
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

For the past few years it’s been a fun goal for my boyfriend and I to try and watch at least all of the Oscar nominated best picture movies between the time the nominations are announced and the night of the Oscars. If we are able to squeeze in some of the other nominated movies from categories like animated best picture, shorts, supporting actor/actress, etc.–even better. But the goal is always at least the 8-12 best picture movies. One year we successfully completed this goal, and it made watching the Oscars really riveting! You feel like you have some actual skin in the game ( I think that’s a sports metaphor?).

Last year we managed to watch all but one (sorry Phantom Thread!), and it looks like this year will be the same (Sorry Vice!).

This year, my initial impression was that the best picture category seemed a bit weak. With only 8 nominees in total, the crop of best pictures feels like there were some compromises made in order to include a few “popular” movies once the idea for a separate popular movie category was scrapped, and that the rest of the category seems to be peppered with some obscure choices, rather than a tight-neck race of strong contenders vying for the trophy, as it has been in years past.

Was 2018 a weak year for strong, dramatic, impressive movies? Frankly, the animated best picture category seems to be more of a stand-out race this year than motion picture. Spiderman Into the SpiderVerse should take the title, no contest, but it’s not against a bunch of obscure foreign films like some years when Pixar or Disney sweep this category. It’s in good company along with Wreck-it Ralph 2, which was arguably incredibly clever and entertaining, Incredible  2, which had an invigorating and empowering plot, Isle of Dogs, which was unique and visually stunning, and Mirai, which I did not see, but has a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes and is called “deeply  resonant.” It’s one of those categories where you could honestly see any of them winning in a normal year.

Some years, that’s how the best picture category feels. But this year? I don’t really feel that way. This year before we even finished watching all of the films I had more or less resigned myself to “voting” for Roma to sweep this and many other categories, simply on the hype alone. However, after we finished watching 7/8 of the nominees I think there are some definite strong contenders in the group, and some have just suffered from poor marketing that have left their name and reputation not as wide spread as others.

So, is Roma worth the hype? Who else might be a good bet for best picture? Read below for my thoughts on the 8 best picture nominees and my predictions for the other major Oscar categories!

Best picture nominee reviews

Bohemian Rhapsody: I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about this movie. It felt like one of those big budget blockbusters that would be a lot of glitz and glamour but not a lot of impact. I also don’t know a lot about Queen, so would I even know what was going on, or care? The answer is yes, I in fact cared a lot! This movie does a great job of telling a story that spans man years in a way that doesn’t feel too long, or too broad. While you might not be personally invested in the characters in the same way you would in a smaller-scale biopic, you do learn about their lives and the stories behind their music in a way that provides insight and understanding. The music is fantastic to hear and see come to life, and the movie if packed with cinematic moments that make you appreciate why it is also nominated for film editing, sound editing and sound mixing. If nothing else, go see this movie for Rami Malek’s performance. He’s stunning.

Will it win best picture:  I don’t think so. While the movie is really good, I think Rami Malek is the highlight of the film, and the sound editing and mixing really take the spotlight too. It feels like this wouldn’t have gotten a best picture nomination in a year when there were stronger contenders.

Black Panther: It’s hard to even believe that Black Panther came out in 2018. This movie felt like it should have been part of last year’s Oscars because it was released in February. But now, a year later, we re-watched this to refresh out memories on why this movie is so great. Is it because it actually works as a completely stand-alone movie within the Marvel cinematic universe? I think partially, yes. So many of the Marvel movies depend upon each other to pack the biggest punch. Not so with Black Panther. It holds up all on its own and delivers hit after hit of emotional resonance and cinematic wonder. It could also be because this movie presents a whole new world to us by showing us Wakanda, and it is quite a world indeed. Not only is it visually stunning, but the themes of this movie really make you think about the parallels to our own world and the questions that arise about sharing resources and helping people from countries that aren’t you own. If you want to enjoy this movie for the eye candy, you can. If you want to enjoy this movie for the deeper connections and themes, you can do that too. And if you’re just a really big Marvel fan, you won’t be disappointed. It’s easy to see why this was one of the biggest movies of 2018.

Will it win best picture?: Man, I think the internet might explode if this wins best picture (in a good way). I’m not sure. I don’t think it will, but then again IT MIGHT. If it wins, I think it would be an upset for a “comic book movie” and a “popular movie” to win, but I also think it’s gotten so much positive attention and accolades that it wouldn’t be completely out of left field. I give this my long shot award for chance to win. Black Panther has 6 other nominations and I can see it winning 1 or more of those, especially production design.

BlacKkKlansman:  I wasn’t sure what to think about this movie at first, because I wasn’t too sure what exactly it was about (despite reading the summary about 10 times)– but I ended up loving it! It reminded me a little bit of having the same vibe/story-telling structure as Spotlight. Instead of journalists it is cops, but in terms of learning about a historical and true event and seeing it unfold through characters as they uncover facts and solve a “mystery” of sorts, it felt very similar. I thought this movie was done really well, and the film editing is something that stood out as well.  I definitely recommend checking this movie out. It’s got funny moments in equal parts to the serious, moving moments, and it’s incredibly well done.

Will it win best picture? This is definitely one of the strongest movies up for best picture in my opinion. However, since it is also up for Best Adapted Screenplay, I can see it winning for Adapted Screenplay instead. I think this is a strong contender for winning one of these 2 categories, if not both.

A Star is Born:   I saw this movie before the Oscar nominations were released and knew without a doubt it was going to be nominated for best picture. It has all of those best picture qualities you want: crowd pleasing musical numbers that you can’t help but want to sing along to; gut-wrenching emotional blows; memorable lines that are quote-worthy and stick with you days later; and great performances by the two leads who very much deserve their best actor and actress nominations. If the movie had flaws, it was a bit too long in the second half, that somehow didn’t match the fast paced feeling of Allie’s rise to stardom we see in the first 60 minutes. I thought for sure this movie would get Bradley Cooper a nomination for best director, so it is somewhat surprising that it did not.

Will it win best picture?  Despite this being a crowd-pleasing blockbuster, I think the fact that Bradley Cooper didn’t get a director nomination does not bode well for the film’s power to take the top award. I think best case scenario is that either Lady Gaga or Bradley Cooper will take best actor/actress for their undoubtedly strong performances here.

Roma: I went into this viewing knowing this film had a huge amount of hype, but also with a pretty big chip on my shoulder against foreign films AND black and white movies. I know, I know, I’m the worst film critic ever to admit that.  But, I’m happy to admit that I was proven so wrong, and this movie lives. up. to. the. hype!

Two things: You have to go into this movie with the right mindset. It’s a “slice of life” movie, as one might say, so it’s not going to be action-packed or have your natural bell curve of rising action leading to a climax. The second thing is that while some movies have good cinematography, really this movie IS its cinematography. I felt like the way this movie was filmed is why it was so moving and impactful. Watching the camera pan across a scene and take in all the small details was fascinating and you couldn’t turn around. It made it feel like you were peering in through the window into someone else’s life, rather than watching a polished Hollywood blockbuster.

Watch this movie, and take it all in. Also, notice that there actually is no score. All of the sounds you here are made up of background sounds that are our real-life score: the sounds of rain falling, of dishes clattering in the sink, of a mop on the tile, of dogs barking. This just adds to the realistic feeling that this is almost like a documentary.

Will this win best picture?  It might. It certainly has the hype and the attention. Alfonso Curan could certainly grab Oscars for director and cinematography. Given that they re-created entire blocks of 1970’s Mexico City for the movie, it wouldn’t be a surprise if they took Production Design, too. If they don’t win best picture, they will surely win best foreign film. It’s not out of the realm of possibility for them to take both, though. I’ve got my money on them sweeping a lot of categories this year. Final answer: yes. 

The Green Book: I enjoyed this movie so much! Things that surprised me about this movie: how funny it was; that it was a Christmas movie. Things that did not surprise me about this movie: how amazing Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen are. They completely embody their characters in the way that makes you forget there is an actor behind the role–they become the people they are portraying. Considering how many roles Mahershala has been in lately that are memorable, and how many memorable roles Viggo has had in his career, too (sup, Aragorn!), this is all the more impressive to forget who they really are.

Will this win best picture?  This is my favorite movie we’ve watched so far in terms of total watch-ability and overall enjoyment. I don’t think it’s the best from a cinematography stand point or an overall film-making perspective, though, so I don’t think it will win best picture. I do think it’s the 2 strongest acting performances from best actor and supporting actor, and I wouldn’t be surprised if both men take those Oscar’s in their respective categories. This could take best original screenplay.

The Favorite: Ah, a period drama. I was worried this would be boring and predictable. Not so! This movie had witty dialogue and unexpected twists that kept me engaged the whole time. The costumes were also jaw dropping (although not entirely historically accurate, but I’m fine with it. Obsessed with the polka dots !), and the production design had me saying “omg look at that ceiling” once every five minutes. Definitely add this to your to watch list.

Will it win best picture? With a great script and three solid actresses working more as an ensemble then supporting / lead, this film is super strong but I don’t think it has enough oomph to overcome some of the other heavy hitter contenders in the category. I suspect it make take best original screenplay and production design, though!

Vice: Alas, we did not manage to see this one! It did not come out on digital before the Oscars, and we couldn’t squeeze in a movie theater viewing in time.

Will this win best picture?  My prediction is no, based only on what I’ve read about the odds, so if it does, I’ll definitely be sad we didn’t make time for it! I’ve heard Amy Adams carries this movie, so I wouldn’t be surprised if she won for supporting actress.

 

Bonus review:

Quiet place: This movie is only up for one award–Sound editing–but we decided to throw it into the mix because I’ve been wanting to see it, it had a lot of hype, and frankly it seemed like a better Friday night movie than some of the other Best Picture choices. Overall, I thought this was pretty good. I enjoyed the concept of this movie and the artistic direction of it maybe a little bit more than the experience of watching it, but it was still enjoyable. It was a good length–just about 1.5 hours. But frankly, I’m relieved we watched this in our home where we could talk through the silence and make comments about what was going on. If we really had to sit through 90 minutes of silence in a movie theater, I might have lost my mind a little bit. This movie feels a lot like a classic horror movie in the way that it is hyper-localized–one family, one monster, and a tight time frame (once you move past the set up of a year earlier). What made it less scary for me is that you see the monster in it’s entirety almost right away. That removed a lot of the scary unknown factor in my mind. Emily Blunt was wonderful, and the real standout for me was Millicent Simmonds, the young girl who played their deaf-since-birth daughter. I thought she stole the show, and was surprised to find out that the actress is also deaf, which I thought said a lot about their casting, and lent a lot of authenticity to the dynamics of the movie. This movie is definitely worth a watch!

14 things I love right now

white black and red person carrying heart illustration in brown envelope
Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

In honor of Valentine’s Day next week, let’s talk about the things I’m loving right now!

(Subtle reminder for the procrastinators out there:  yes, I did say Valentine’s Day is in one week! I assume you’ve already ordered your flowers and picked out a witty card, but if not–hop on it! Your mom would love a card too, while you’re at it. In fact, here’s a whole guide to the best Valentine’s gifts for everyone in your life if you need some inspiration!)

It can be easy to let the mid-winter gloom take over and think that there’s nothing good going on in the world right now. Snow everywhere! Cold forever! The world has so many problems! All of these things are true—and yet, we must carry on. I find it helps to remember the little things in life that I love, and that make me happy.  Those little things may seem insignificant in the big picture, but they add up to a better, happier life–and that’s something, right?

In that spirit, I thought it would be fun to take a look at 14 things I’m loving right now. This may be silly and little or big and meaningful. Either way, they help make my life better and remind me that my life is full and special, even on days when the most exciting thing that happens is getting my morning coffee.

14 things I love right now!

  1. Starbucks dark roast coffee:
    white cup filled by coffee
    Photo by Jonas Mohamadi on Pexels.com

    I love coffee, this is an established fact. And there’s nothing I like more then a freshly brewed cup of dark roast. I prefer the richer, bolder flavors of dark roast, and it really just makes me incredibly happy to swing by Starbucks as part of (almost daily) routine and get this delightfully-smelling and deliciously-tasting elixir. For $2.50, I can’t name anything else that makes me this happy!

  2. Nightly Tea time:
    adult beverage breakfast celebration
    Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

    I’ve recently gotten pretty deep into tea. This is new for me because, well, see #1–I’m a coffee connoisseur. However, the recent purchase of an electric tea kettle has made tea time very convenient, and it’s become a bit of a nightly tradition for me. I’ve also started finding some really great tea flavors–Green Chai! Ginger lemon! Honey turmeric! My all-time favorite is a seasonal flavor called Ginger Snappish from Bigelow, and I swear it tastes like a vanilla gingerbread cookie. It’s phenomenal, and I can’t find it in the stores anymore, but they have it on Amazon! I might need to stock up. If you have any really amazing tea flavors, let me know!

  3. Quick-dry nail polish:
    red and white manicure with love print
    Photo by Designecologist on Pexels.com

    I love painting my nails. I do it almost every week, if I don’t have a no-chip manicure on already. But what I can’t honestly stand is how long it takes nail polish to dry. Between the 45 minutes it takes me to paint my nails, and the seemingly 1.5-2 hours it takes my nails to dry, it’s like I need to carve out 3 hours of my day just to paint my nails! Ridiculous! Okay, I don’t actually mind, because I usually watch a bunch of T.V. shows while I do this, so it’s not like the worst thing in the world. But, long story short, I don’t always have that kind of time, which is why Quick dry nail polish is amazing. I only just discovered this exists about a year ago, and I’m pretty sure my good friend Sandi is the one who tipped me off to it, so thanks Sandi! You changed my life! I really like Sally Hansen’s Insta-Dry brand, because it’s inexpensive (I think bottles at the drug store run about $3 or $4), and works really well! My nails are usually dry to the touch within minutes, and completely dry within 30-45 minutes. It’s great!

  4. Writing letters:
    person holding handwritten letter
    Photo by Bryan Schneider on Pexels.com

    Guys, this is one of my 2019 “new things goals”, aka New Year’s resolutions, and I’ve ACTUALLY BEEN DOING IT! I’ve been writing one letter a week so far this year, and it’s been so much fun! I’ve gotten 2 letters in return (and one Facebook message!), which honestly I didn’t even expect at all, so that’s been a fun bonus. So far my major takeaways are: 1) It’s fun to write by hand. I almost never write by hand anymore! I feel like it uses a different part of my brain. and 2) It makes me feel good to be engaging in a form of communication that is literally the opposite of instant gratification. I wrote my room mate from college a letter and asked her questions. Two weeks later, I got a letter back AND SHE ANSWERED THEM. This is insane. People used to do this all the time. Now we just text each other, and find things out immediately. It’s honestly refreshing to have to wait (my questions weren’t pressing, obviously.) This is good for me because frankly, patience is not one of my strongest virtues. If you haven’t written a letter (by hand!) in a while, I highly encourage you to do so! I bet your grandma/mom/sister/BFF in another state would really love it.

  5.  Buying magazines at the grocery store:
    close up of coffee cup on table
    Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

    This is a weird one, I guess, but buying a magazine at the checkout lane at the grocery store is one of my simple pleasures in life. I love it! I feel a rush of adrenaline when I impulsively grab one and throw it on the conveyor belt that seems equivalent to trying to sneak a full size Snickers into the cart when your mom isn’t looking. I know I don’t NEED another Cooking Light magazine, but I WANT one. I love getting home and sitting on the couch and ripping out the recipes I want to try. It feels inspirational, and wholesome. I could subscribe and save money, I know, but honestly then it becomes an obligation where you have to read it each month. Choosing to pick one up now and then feels much more like a treat. In any case, I’ve been cooking from these recipes a lot more lately, and that’s been fun too!

  6. My cats! img_1969Obviously I always love my cats, so saying I love them RIGHT NOW is a little bit of a cheat, but I couldn’t not include them here! If you don’t have pets, then it may be hard to explain, but pets truly make your life roughly 1 million times better.  If you feel lonely–they are there for you. If you are having a bad day–they can jump up on your lap and soon all you’re focused on is their purring and adorable face. If you need something to talk about–you can invent approximately 500 weird nicknames for them, and invent elaborate stories about what they do during the day when you’re gone (see my post on weird things cat owners do for more on this!) Pets are the best and provide so much love!

7. Listening to podcasts while working out, cooking, cleaning and commuting:

app earbuds earphones google play music
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

If you saw my post a couple of months ago on 5 podcasts I recommend, you know that 2018 was the year of podcasts for me–and 2019 has proved to be no different so far! I feel like my listening habits lately have been 80 percent podcasts and 20 percent music, so I have been consuming a LOT of podcast content lately! Listening to podcasts while doing tasks that are maybe less than enjoyable (see above: cleaning, working out, etc), makes the time SO MUCH BETTER. It engages my mind in a way that music doesn’t. In fact, sometimes I even find myself actually looking forward to those activities so I can keep listening.

8. Playing Super Mario Party on Nintento Switch:

macro photography of mario and luigi plastic toy
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Mario Party is the besssst! We recently got this game for the Switch and it is my current favorite thing to play when we want to “do” something but also, not leave the couch. Win-Win.

9. Cheese!

sliced cheese and knife
Photo by Monserrat Solis on Pexels.com

I have two fun facts for you about cheese that will convince you to grab some cheese and crackers as your afternoon snack today! 1): “Cheese contains an amino acid called tyrosine that, when broken down in our bodies, makes us feel content. The fats in cheese also encourage our brains to produce dopamine, a natural feel-good chemical released in our brains’ “reward centres”. AKA, cheese makes you happy! It’s science! 2) ” The combination of protein and fat is incredibly satiating and will help to keep your appetite at bay for hours; once you’ve gobbled it all up, the protein in cheese can also slow down the absorption of carbs eaten at the same meal (or snack), making for a slower energy release.” And cheese is good for you! More science! (Read all 7 reasons why cheese is good for you on Hello Giggles )

10. Afternoon walks: I love going for an afternoon walk before or after lunch. I try to do this every day–at work, at home, wherever. Even if it’s only 5-10 minutes. The fresh air perks me up, the exercise clears my head, and the break from work/life gives me a chance to do things like call my mom, listen to music, or just let my mind wander. I highly recommend this habit! It’s truly part of my day I LOVE!

11. Tinted chap stick:

Here’s a picture of me wearing said tinted chapstick. Plus, a llama!

I’m obsessed with my tinted chap stick because it let’s me look more put together than I actually am when I’m bopping around town running errands. Somehow a swipe of color on your lips makes you look like you’re trying? Magical! More casual than actual lipstick? Even better! I like the Burt’s Bees Lip Shimmer which isn’t too intense and only $3!

12. Trader Joe’s: I know I’m way behind the times on TJ’s here, but we recently started working this into our regular grocery store rotation, and it really has brought life into our meal and grocery routine. Some key favorites 1) Mandarin orange chicken, frozen pot stickers, frozen fried rice–where have you been all my life? This is now a favorite “oh crap what do we have for dinner?” meal, and is amazing to pull out of the freezer. Honestly, just as good as takeout. 2) Peanut butter granola: this is amazing as cereal and in yogurt, and is my new favorite thing. I did just find a giant bag of similar product at Costco, so we’ll see how it compares. 3) Rye pretzel rods– YUM. Rye bread but as a pretzel! 4) Dark chocolate peanut butter cups. Enough said.

13. My apple watch:I love my apple watch. I love telling time with it ( who knew?) I love that it monitors my heart rate. I love that I can see notifications without having to have my phone near by. I love planning what color band I’m going to buy next for it.  (Hibiscus, in case you were wondering.) I feel totally naked without it!)

14. Planet fitness: I just joined in December and this place is GREAT. Here’s what I LOVE about it: They are massive. Huge. 30 treadmills. 30 elliptical. no need to ever stand or sit or be near anyone. (Anyone else feel like they just wish they could work out at a gym, but like, alone? This is almost as good). Their color scheme is purple, which I’m really into. They actually seem to live up their no judgement philosophy. Everyone comes here. Old, young, fit, not so fit, trendy, not trendy, average and everything in between. I’ve never been around a group of such normal looking people. It feels relaxing and yet motivating, and I’m a big fan. Plus, they are open 24/7, which means I don’t have to work around their schedule to find time to work out.  I also like that as a Black Card member (not an ad but if you’re curious here’s a link), I can go to any location! Super convenient. Also, I can bring a guest anytime, so if you want to be my workout buddy or just come check it out for yourself, let me know and feel free to tag along.

BONUS number 15: Couldn’t be a list of things I love or that make my life better and happier without mentioning Jeff! My partner in all the great adventures of life, and even the totally everyday adventures of life, too. We make a great team, and I love you!

Okay, enough cheese (except for you know, actual cheese. In which case, revisit #9 on my list!)

I highly encourage you to come up with your own list of things you love! It’s a useful exercise, and you may realize you have a lot more to love than you thought. Let me know in the comments what things YOU are loving right now!

 

Valentine’s Day Gift Guide for everyone!

I’ve always loved Valentine’s Day. When I was a little kid in elementary school I loved picking JUST THE RIGHT box of perforated valentine’s day cards to pass out to my classmates (obviously they had to be funny and cute but not TOO romantic, right? It was a fine balance each year to find.) In high school and college, I loved wearing pink to class and making cupcakes and swapping candy and cards with my best friends. Even when I was single, I loved Valentine’s Day because I’ve always LOVED LOVE! I love an excuse to tell my friends how much they mean to me, and frankly any holiday I can send cards or buy gifts makes me happy.

If you’re in the camp that thinks Valentine’s Day is only for couples, think again, my friend!  I think it’s fun to use this day to tell the people in your life how much they matter to you! Whether that’s your best friend, the coworker who makes your days brighter, or your mom–they will be so happy you thought of them! I’ve got some fun gift ideas to help make this the best Valentine’s Day ever for everyone in life.

And if you are in the paired-off romantic bliss side of V-Day, I’ve got some gift ideas for you, too. You don’t always have to give each other chocolates and flowers–although those are nice standbys, too.

Oh, and if you just want to show yourself some love–I’m on board with that, too. Treat yo self!

vday gift guide _2Here are my unique and fun Valentine’s Day gift ideas for everyone in your life!

 

1.)cat pin This literary cat pin is made for your book club besties. Who doesn’t love cats and books, and better yet, collectible pins? Didn’t you hear that collecting pins is cool again?

2.) very busy plannerThis sassy planner that is perfect for your work friend. It’s pink, it gives off just the right vibe, and it will help them stay on top of all of your upcoming coffee dates. Win-Win, right?

3.)bracelet This rose gold knotted bracelet is the perfect simple gift for your best friend or the special woman in your life to symbolize their ties to you and how strong your bond is! Plus, it’s super cute and affordable.

4.) lego picnicThis Lego Valentine’s Day bee is the perfect interaction gift for the little loves in your life–whether that’s your own kids, your nieces and nephew, or the kid you nanny! Or, if you’re a kid at heart, this Valentine’s Day Picnic set is a fun gift to do together.

5.)kate spade scarf This Kate Spade heart scarf will make you the best dressed one at the Valentine’s Day party! Perfect for a little treat for yourself, or surprise your mom. She’ll be so happy you remembered her on Valentine’s Day!

6.)kate spade earringsSince we’re already adding things to our Kate Spade shopping cart, these Romantic Rock Studs are gorgeous, affordable, and would make the perfect gift for the woman in your life this Valentine’s Day.

img_4565

(Unless you should be buying her a different kind of rock, of course, in which case I’d recommend this store for gorgeous rings, and this article for tips on what to buy!)

7.) heart shaped pastaThis heart shaped pasta would make a fun low-key gift for a new boyfriend or girlfriend–bonus, you can cook it together! throw in a bottle of wine or, yes, some chocolate or flowers, and you get bonus for creative and thoughtfulness. You’re welcome.

8.) pun spoonsIn a more serious relationship? Pair #7 with these adorable love punny serving spoons for a cute cooking themed gift that your S.O will be so happy with they won’t even mind cooking you dinner!

9) question cardsThese conversation cards make a fun and silly gift for newlyweds or even couples that have been together awhile and want to spice up the dinner conversations a bit!

10.)date nights Or, use these Date Cards as the perfect gift so you never have to ask each other what you want to do on a Friday night again!

10.) wine vdaySingle and ready to mingle with a bottle of Merlot? This wine glass is the perfect gift from you to you this year. Better yet, get one for each of your single gal pals and make it a wine and Netflix night together.

11.) parks and recThis Parks & Rec-inspired framed print is perfect when there’s nothing else to say but “I love you and I like you.”

 

I hope these fun and silly gift ideas helped inspire you this Valentine’s Day to show love to everyone in your life that’s important to you! Hopefully I made your shopping a little easier, too.

Let me know how you’re celebrating Valentine’s Day this year, too. Will you be going out somewhere nice, or celebrating at home with Pizza + Netflix? Both sound great to me!

 

Costco shopping tips & tricks!

636158851650940288419774780_15235Recently we renewed our Costco membership after officially being members for a whole year! It’s flown by, and we still somewhat feel like newbies, but we’ve learned a lot in the past year, and I think it’s safe to say we know the lay of the land enough now that we have our favorite items, and maybe even a piece of advice or two to share.

If you’ve never been to Costco, or even if you’re an avid fan, hopefully you can learn a thing or two from my observations, tips and tricks after my first year as a Costco shopper!

My Costco Trips & Tricks

  1. Start at the food court.
    the-price-has-never-changed-1514996325
    Classic Costco Hot dog makes a great pre-shopping dinner!

    Our favorite plan is to go to Costco around dinner time and start at the food court to have a $1.50 hot dog (a classic), or my latest favorite–a cup of chili! The pizza is also good, and they even have salads, frozen yogurt, and seasonal items, too! You can’t beat dinner for $1.50, honestly. Plus. then you aren’t shopping hungry and are less likely to lose steam wandering through this giant warehouse. Don’t forget that Costco is a literal warehouse! You need to keep your stamina up.

  2. Bring a water bottle, coffee, or some other beverage to bring with you in your cart.
    woman holding blue plastic bottle
    How you’ll feel when you remember to bring water with you.  Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

    See my previous point about Costco being huge. You’re going to be in there for an hour, or more. Not to mention all of the samples you’ll probably be trying. You’re going to get thirsty, and you’ll be very grateful for that water bottle when the only other beverage options are the muscle milk they’re sampling in Aisle 10.

  3. Check the hours.
    selective focus photography of closed signage
    Don’t get caught unaware when Costco closes early! Check those hours! Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com

    One of our first trips to Costco, we didn’t realize they close early (REALLY early) on Fridays, and we were wandering around, taking our sweet time, rather than actually getting what we needed right away. We got gently escorted to the check out lanes before we had time to finish shopping because we wasted so much time looking at stuff we didn’t even need. Don’t make this rookie move! Make sure you know how much time you have before you start shopping!

  4. Start with somewhat of a game plan.
    person holding pen point on blueprint
    I’m not saying you have to memorize the floor plan But it might help? Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

    This goes back to meal planning 101, but Costco shopping is a little bit different–at least for us! We don’t typically shop at Costco for specific meal items, but rather for the items we want to stock up on that we use a lot in our weekly meals, and want to have on hand.  It can be easy to get overwhelmed by the scope and size of the store, so it’s good to have some guidance as you walk through the aisles. Here are some of the staples we tend to pick up regularly:

    • Spaghetti sauce: Get yourself a three pack and be set for a month’s worth of spaghetti night!
    • Noodles: These come in big packs of individually wrapped packages or boxes, so you can put 1 or 2 in your pantry or cupboard and stick the rest in the basement, or wherever you store your bulk items. Really convenient!
    • Sauces and condiments: Get your mayo, ketchup, BBQ sauce, mustard, salsa or any other pantry stable condiments and buy one for now and one for later. Next time you’re in the middle of cooking or about to sit down to eat and you realize you’re out of mustard, you can just grab one from the pantry and keep on movin’.
    • Chips, crackers and other snacks: Most of these do come in big bags that might seem more apt for parties (which they are definitely great for), but a big bag of tortilla chips will keep in your pantry for 2+ weeks if you seal it up tight, and the big bags of chips or popcorn are great for portioning out for lunches, too. Costco also has great big boxes of individually wrapped bags perfect for lunches if you’re into snack-sized options.
    • Canned chicken, canned soup, or other canned goods:  Costco canned chicken was such a surprise winner for us. They sampled it one day as a dip with salsa and shredded cheddar cheese, and that is now one of our go to party dips! We also like to use the canned chicken as a fast cheat for any meal using shredded chicken. Definitely good to have around.
    • Zip lock bags, aluminum foil, parchment paper: These are things you always need, so might as well stock up.
  5. Don’t skip the wine aisle!
    photo of wine bottles in a row
    Costco’s wine aisle might not look this fancy, but they’ve got hidden gems, for sure. Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

    Costco wines are a great buy. We like to pick out 1 or 2 bottles each trip that just look fun and are under $10. Sometimes they have a real steal for $4.99 that has a wine advocate rating of 95 or higher! What a deal! We’ve also found wines we love for $4-5 cheaper at Costco than at regular grocery stores or liquor stores.

  6. If you see something cool that you want, just buy it.
    img_2450
    This gingerbread house kit we found at Costco shortly after Halloween, but I knew I wanted it and it might not be there long, so I bought it! I’m so glad I did. Look how…totally average it turned out?

    While Costco has their main products all the time (canned chicken probably isn’t going anywhere), their featured items or seasonal products don’t stick around. If you like something, it may not be there next month, or even next week. Hesitation is not the name of the game. We’ve made this mistake several times.

  7. Don’t neglect the fresh produce! While you may not think of Costco as being the place you want to buy your fresh produce, or you think to yourself ” I don’t need 500 cucumbers,” you will be pleasantly surprised. I have found that their fresh produce is good quality, and not as BULK as you might think. Their bags of lettuce mix are large, but not excessive. You can get fresh fruit and veggies for your weekly groceries here and won’t be left with excess as long as you plan ahead to incorporate them into your daily meal plans ( or if you have a large family).
  8. Get fresh bread and pastries and freeze the extras! Costco french bread is one of our favorite items that we consistently buy every single time. They come packages with 2 loaves together, and they are usually still warm when you pick them up (insert heart eye emoji here).  I slice both loaves up as soon as we get home and freeze them in zip lock bags. Any time we want fresh bread or garlic bread, I just pull out some pieces and voila! It’s so nice always have bread around, and never having to worry about it going stale or moldy. I do the same thing with their croissants, as well. I wrap them up individually and freeze them so I can pull one out whenever I want. Don’t forget to explore the rest of the bakery section, too. Costco cakes are amazing and great for parties!
  9. Check out their prepared food section. Costco has a pretty impressive prepared food section in both small and large quantities. So whether you’re feeding your family for dinner or feeding a large crowd, check out their options like mac and cheese, chicken salad, or fajitas! Recently we got the chicken street taco kit and it was so delicious. Not having to do any of the prep work for dinner was pretty great, too.
  10. Try the spinach and artichoke dip. It’s amazing. 
  11. You can get stamps at the cashier. Very convenient! I bought all of my Christmas Card stamps here.
  12. Explore the Costco Print Center.
    img_2308
    The back of our Christmas card this year, featuring our cats!

    Speaking of Christmas cards, we had ours printed using the Costco Print Center, and I can’t say enough good things about it! It was super affordable (1/3 the cost of what I was going to pay from a comparable online printing website), and came out beautifully! They offer all kinds of printing services, so definitely check them out if you need to print pictures, calendars, invitations, etc.

  13. Check out Costco Travel when you’re planning a vacation.
    img_6109
    Our rental car in New Hampshire, thanks to Costco Travel!

    We’ve used their car rental services twice and it’s really nice. We’ve gotten good deals, and they let you change your reservation or cancel with no ramifications.

Those are my tips, tricks, and recommendations about shopping at Costco after my first year of being a member. We’ve really enjoyed shopping their and would love to hear if you have any other tips for us!

Do you shop at Costco? What’s your favorite thing to buy there? Let me know in the comments!

 

11 weird things cat owners do

Happy 2019, dear readers! I hope the first part of your year is starting off right. Whether that means doubling up your efforts to eat more bananas and squeeze an extra walk in before dinner, or work really hard to binge watch all of Game of Thrones before the new (and final!) season airs in April–I commend you for your efforts and wish you the best of luck on your journey!

For me, I had a whirlwind holiday season hosting my family for Christmas, followed almost immediately by a jam-packed vacation to California at the happiest place on Earth–Disneyland! It has been a fun and magical couple of weeks, but I am exhausted already, and it’s only 9 days into the new year. Phew.

I thought we’d ease our way back into the year with a nice, light post. No hard-hitting or emotional content today. Just a fun, frivolous post full of cat pictures. That’s what you came here for, right?

If you’re a pet owner and anything like me, 75 percent of the photos on your phone or camera are probably of your pets something cute—am I right?

Of course I am. Because our pets are adorable, perfect creatures.  (Except, of course, when they are total pests. But we love them anyway.)

But taking 100 photos of our cats each day is not the only weird habit we have as a cat owner, is it?

NOPE. Not by a long shot.

Here are 11 weird things cat owners do!

1.Make them wear silly hats for festive occasions.

2. Catch them in the act of stretching and make a really big deal out of it. “AREN’T YOU SO CUTE! Look at you! I’ve got to take a picture! Don’t move!”

 

 

3. Get them weird cat toys shaped like dead animals and then strategically place them around the house until they show interest. Get sad when they don’t really care about the fake dead weasel. 

4. But get SO EXCITED when they love the fish taco cat nip toy! Seriously, they make the weirdest/most fun cat toys.

 

 

5. Sneak around and discretely snap a photo when the cats do something cute so they don’t get startled and run away.

6. Insist on selfie time every time a cat is on your lap.

 

7. Make your cat be a part of your fancy family photos. Obviously. 

8. Try and get your cat to be in your Instagram stories/videos/pictures because let’s be honest they’re more interesting than anything I’m saying, right?

9. Put your cats on your Christmas card. Not once. Not twice. But THREE times!

10. Get really excited when your cats want to hang out with each other. Tell them they are SO CUTE and SO COZY!

11. Be so excited for life and make your boyfriend take your picture when you cat honors you with his presence by sitting on you. Honestly, life complete.

 

In retrospect, most of these weird things do in fact involve taking weird pictures of my cats. But when you have cats this cute, how can you not?

What silly or weird things do you do as a pet owner? If you make your own homemade dog biscuits, or buy you and your cat matching vests—I love it. Please let me know in the comments below so we can share our favorite cat vest stores on Etsy.

Until next time, friends.

2019 new things! (and 2018 recap)

 

abstract art blur bokeh
Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

It’s time again to reflect on the past 365 days and plan ahead for the next cycle around the sun. Readers of this blog know I like to frame my New Year’s Resolutions as a list of new things to try, because this invites more adventure and excitement instead of a list of obligations.  I encourage you to try this approach if you don’t like resolutions, or haven’t had any luck with them in the past! It’s a fun way to take on the year with goals in mind.

Before we dive in to our list of 2019 new things, let’s take a quick look at how we did in 2018!

  1. Try to live more in the here and now.  This is a hard one to judge, as it involves a lot of self introspection. I’d say it’s still a work in progress, so we won’t count this as a completed item. 
  2. To cook more with ingredients I don’t use that often. I definitely think I kicked of 2018 with a bang in this regard! I tried several shrimp recipes that have become favorites (pesto shrimp! yum!), and even some tofu  stir-fry recipes, and other fish recipes. Still some room for improvement here, but we’ve made a good start. 
    Baked fish and chips I made the first week of January in 2018. Kicked the year off right!

    Tofu stir fry I made the second week of January in 2018.
  3. To look into self-publishing. Haven’t done much with this, and frankly it hasn’t been much of a priority. We’ll shelve this for the future. 
  4. Buy a pair of ice skates (moderately priced, nothing crazy), and go ice skating!  I got a pair of iced skates for Christmas, so this goal is in reach! I just need to get the skates sharpened and have the weather actually get a bit colder so I can take them for a spin outside! If this doesn’t happen in the next week, it will soon. 

    Showing off my fancy new skates on Christmas Day 2018!
  5. Explore more of Winfield of the Winfield parks We’ve definitely done this! One park is very close to us and has a great hill for sledding, too! 
  6. Take a class at the Winfield park district, fitness or otherwise. I did not take a class at the park district, but I did take a succulent design class at the Arboretum in February with Sarah, and a pizza making class in May with Jeff, so I’m going to count this as a win!

    Sarah and I showing off our succulents!
  7. Travel somewhere new. Yes! We traveled to New Hampshire over the summer and it was marvelous

    New Hampshire was so scenic!
  8. Drink more water!  I’ve been trying hard to do this, especially at work. Let’s keep this up in 2019. 
  9. Go to these restaurants that I’ve been wanting to try: I’m giving myself this one because I did pretty good with going to new restaurants this year. Here are the restaurants I wanted to try in 2018: Flight 112 in Elmhurst: Sadly this restaurant closed before I had the chance to go, which makes me very sad!  The rooftop bar at Craftsman in Naperville:— we’ve been here a few times now and I love it! We’re actually going here for New Year’s Eve, too., Maciano’s for a sit down dinner :Yes! We’ve been here twice and it is super delicious. Definitely a favorite cozy dinner place., Mason Sebika– this is still an outstanding one, but overall I’d say I did good on this goal. 

    The view from the rooftop of the Craftsman in Naperville.
  10. Write a poem a day in April for national poetry month.  I did this! It was so much fun! I completed this challenge via Twitter and blogged some of the highlights here if you want to check it out. It was maybe one of the most fun things I did this year in terms of writing. 

Total: 8/10! Hey that’s pretty good! How did you do on your 2018 goals or lists of new things to try?

2019 List of New Things

teal fujifilm instax mini camera near white ceramic mug
Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com
  1. Write a letter every week. I recently picked up this great book that is on Oprah’s list of her favorite things, and it includes 52 letters with a different prompt for each week. The goal is to write a letter each week to a different person (I guess duplicate recipients could be allowed, too) to help stay connected, and really just inspire you to write and send letters! I LOVE this idea. I bought the book. I’m going to send the letters! So get ready, friends and family, 52 of you are getting a letter from me in 2019!
  2.  Read 50 books. I’m setting my Good Reads goal at 50 books this year, and hoping I can meet this. I used some gift cards I got for Christmas to purchase a handful of books that have been on my wish list for a while, so I’m very excited to dive in right away!
  3. Watch all of the academy award nominated best picture films. We get pretty close each year so I’m adding it to the list so I can check this off, and blog about it!
  4. Bake tiramisu. A favorite dessert around here, so why not try baking it? This Betty Crocker recipe seems simple enough to try, and it even includes a couple of suggestions to lighten up the recipe, if that’s your thing.
  5. Visit the writer’s museum in Chicago. I’ve been wanting to visit this museum so by putting it on the list let’s make it happen!
  6. Have a phone-free day. I admit I’m a little too connected. This seems like a good challenge to take. ( I think the hardest part of this for me would be not taking pictures, so it would be fun to combine this with a fun challenge of using a disposable camera, or actually buying this Polaroid camera and taking old school photos for a day!) These are two interesting articles about a day without a cell phone from two very different sources that inspired me: Living one day without a phone | Benefits of Not Using a Cell Phone
  7. Try whirly ball. This looks so fun! We drive by a Whirly Ball place all the time, so this just needs to happen. This could be a fun birthday party activity!
  8. Go to a trampoline park. Again, this just looks too fun to not try. I need to find a Groupon and make this a girl’s night activity. There’s a bunch of local locations, and most are open late and fun themes like “neon night”, too! Who’s down?
  9. Go camping. I haven’t been camping in years, and I think an overnight camping trip would be a lot of fun. Somewhere nearby with good places to hike, and see stars, and have a campfire–like Starved Rock, Indiana Dunes, or even somewhere near New Buffalo, Michigan. Nothing too fancy, or too rustic! Sounds like a good late summer plan.
  10. Try a new craft. I like crafts, and I’ve tried a few new ones over the past few years (cross-stitch, pottery, the paint-and-drink craze), but there are so many other types of crafts and craft kits you can get at places like Joanne’s and Michael’s, and it seems like a great activity to grow some new brain cells. I love this blog post of One Afternoon Craft Ideas!

 

Other things I’m looking forward to in 2019:

  • Traveling to Las Vegas! I haven’t been since I was a kid, and there’s so much more to explore and experience!
  • Visiting Boston and Massachusetts. I’ve never been, and I’m so excited to see the culture, the food, the beer and more of the east coast!
  • Disneyland at Christmas-time! This trip is happening NEXT week, but it’s in 2019 so it counts! I can’t wait to experience this magical place in all it’s Christmassy glory.
  • So many good movies and TV shows coming out in 2019! Toy story 4! Game of Thrones! The finale of Avengers! Frozen 2! See even more exciting things coming out here.
  • We’re planning on attending at least one day of Chicago’s Comic and Entertainment Expo (C2E2) this March and I’m so excited! There’s so many fun people already on tap to attend, and I’m looking forward to seeing what panels and events will be on the schedule.

 

Do you make New Year’s Resolutions or a list of new things to try each year? Let me know in the comments what’s on your list, or what you’re excited for in 2019!

Happy New Year to you all and see you in 2019!

alcohol alcoholic beverage celebrate
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

5 Podcasts to kick off the new year

person holding black smartphone
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Recently, I’ve drank the Podcast Kool-Aid, and let me tell you friends–it is delicious. Because I spend a lot of time commuting, I found that I was listening to a lot of music, and although it might be hard to believe, I was getting sick of it. If you can’t fathom getting sick of music, then you haven’t listened to it all day at work and then two hours on the train. There’s just simply only so many times you can listen to your “Fresh and Chill” playlist on Spotify before you’re ready to listen’ to silence instead.

But, rather than silence, I found a great alternative–Podcasts! I started scrolling through the featured Podcasts in Spotify and through that jumping off point I’ve since added several Podcasts to my listening repertoire that I listen to weekly, and some that I dive in and out of when I need something new.

So, what’s the deal with Podcasts anyway?

black recordering microphone
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

You may not think that Podcasts are for you, but I assure you that there’s one out there for you. Every Podcast is set up  a little differently. Some are very formulaic with the same segments each episode and an almost performance like quality to them. Others are more conversational and have an improvisation-type feel to them, like you are eavesdropping into a conversation between a group of friends. Of course, there’s a whole sub-genre of audio-dramas, too, where each episode of the podcast tells part of a story with different characters, voices, and sound effects! Honestly, you can explore so many different avenues in the podcasting world and find something that works for you.

There are podcasts on almost every topic in every niche, too. Literary podcasts, sports podcasts, cooking podcasts, reality TV podcasts, cold case detective podcasts, podcasts recapping your favorite movies—search for whatever you can think of and it probably exists.

Ready to dive in? Great! All of these podcasts can be found on Spotify.

5 podcast recommendations to kick off the new year

1.) Binge Mode

binge mode

Mallory Rubin and Jason Concepcion from the Ringer Podcast Network put on this Daily-ish/sometimes-weekly podcast that tackles different fandoms in a bingey type fashion. The duo takes on different areas of literary or film, such as Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, or the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They cover the plots, major themes and connections, and their insights. For the past 6 months they’ve been covering the Harry Potter books and movies, and they do a fantastic job of making connections between each books, the movies, and even the new Fantastic Beasts films, too. I feel like Mal and Jason have become close friends after listening to them for almost 6 months, and this is definitely my favorite podcast. It’s intelligent, but approachable, and it’s been great to relive these different areas of literature and movies.

2.) The Bachelor Party

bachelor

Juliet Litman, another Ringer Podcast network pro, discusses all things Bachelor Nation on a weekly basis during the “on-season” of the Bachelor and Bachelorette, and every two weeks during the off-season between shows. Juliet dissects the episodes after they aired, any juicy news in the Bachelor Nation world, and any fan theories or rumors that are floating around. She often has guests on from previous seasons of the Bachelor, or guests from other podcasts to help her go over that day’s news. If you like reality T.V., and especially if you like the Bachelor, I definitely recommend giving The Bachelor Party a listen. Juliet will start up her weekly podcasts again soon once the new season of the Bachelor begins on January 6.

3.) The Bright Sessions

TBS_S4_LogoiTUNES

This is my first audio drama that I’ve listened to and so far I’ve really been enjoying it! It is written, produced and performed by Lauren Shippen and has different guest stars in every episode. One benefit to this podcast is that the episodes are only 10-15 minutes, so it’s really easy to dive in and get a taste without too much commitment. The basic plot of this audio drama is that Dr. Bright is a therapist for the “strange and unusual,”–think along the lines of the X-Men and the school that Dr. Xavier runs. Patients have unexplained powers they don’t understand and can’t control. Each episode is another session with Dr. Bright. It’s fascinating and definitely makes you want to keep listening to multiple sessions in one listen.

4.) The Rewatchables

1200x630bb

This is another podcast from the Ringer network (guys, I know I’m in a bit of a monopoly here, but the Ringer network makes good content!), hosted by Bill Simmons and a rotating cast of other hosts from the Ringer. The focus of the podcast is discussing movies that the deem to be “Rewatchable,” and what makes them so. Some examples of movies you can find episodes on are “Wedding Crashers,” “Die Hard,” “Forest Gump,” and “The Social Network,” for example. I’ve really enjoyed this podcast because it allows me to revisit some of my favorite movies and discuss what makes them so good that you want to watch them over and over. This podcast only seems to come out once a month, so it’s a good filler in between other Podcast episodes–and there’s plenty of backlog to binge to get you started.

5). Potterless

122174

Okay, so yes there’s two Harry Potter podcast recommendations on here, but just be surprised it wasn’t more! Potterless is a more carefree and frivolous podcast, and it’s one of the first ones I listened to that really got me into this world of podcasts. The description from Spotify reads: “Potterless joins Mike Schubert, a 25-year-old man reading the Harry Potter series for the first time, as he sits down with different HP fanatics each episode to poke fun at plot holes, make painfully incorrect predictions, and rant about how Quidditch is the worst sport ever invented.” If you’re also reading Harry Potter for the first time, this is a great podcast to follow because Mike is unspoiled and experiencing the world and all of the twists and turns for the first time. That’s part of what makes listening so fun–to hear his reactions and usually-wrong predictions. However, one note of caution, the further you get in the series, the harder it can be to hear him pick fun at things if you are a big HP fan. He definitely does it less the more he gets into it, because he does grow to like the books, too, but it can feel a little bit like someone making fun of your own child. BUT, it’s a funny and silly podcast that I definitely recommend for even the most casual HP fans.

Those are my top 5 podcast recommendations to help you kick off the new year. Do you have any great podcasts that I should start listening to? I’d love to add some new ones to my playlist!

 

My top 8 books of 2018

‘Tis the season for year-end “best of ” lists, so I thought a fun way to hop on the bandwagon with one of my own would be to take a look back at my favorite books from this past year!

Thanks to Good Reads, I keep pretty good track of all of the books I read, and I try to rate and review them, too.

year in books.PNGGood Reads also challenges you to select a number of books to ready each year and then tracks your progress. The past 2 years I’ve far exceeded my goal, thanks to commuting and ample reading time, so I got over-eager and bumped my goal up to 80 books this year, from 50 last year. I’m not sure what I was thinking 80 books in a year? That’s roughly 6.5 books a month, or a 1.5 books a week. Even for me that is slightly ambitious. I guess seeing it broken up like that it’s not impossible, but what I didn’t factor in to my goal last year was my discovery of podcasts, which I now listen to sometimes instead of reading (don’t worry, blog post to come on my favs!), and also that I work from home some days, which cuts into my reading time on the train.

So needless to say I’ve only read 44 books this year. OBVIOUSLY THAT’S STILL A LOT OF BOOKS! I’m not disappointed in myself. I mean come on, that’s still a healthy and robust 3.5 books a month, on average. It’s just well below my goal. So next year perhaps I’ll set the bar a bit lower on my reading goal so I know I can beat it. 35 sounds good 🙂

So anyway, during the past year, I’ve read some great stuff, some not-so-great-stuff, and some pretty-darn-okay stuff! This list is going to be my top 8 favorite books from those 44 that I have read in the past year—not all of them necessarily came out in 2018, though.

Hopefully this will give you some interesting reading ideas for yourself or even gift ideas for the book worms in your life!

My top 8 good reads from 2018

Bringing_Down_the_House_book_cover

  1. Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions by Ben Mezrich

Do you like big budget Hollwood heist movies? Is “21” your favorite movie from 2008? Then give this book a try. It’s non-fiction, but this isn’t your dry homework assignment type of non-fiction account. It’s narrative non-fiction at its best and feels more like reading the script for a movie than real-life accounts. Rumors abound at some of the truthfulness of certain aspects, but take it with a grain of salt and enjoy.

Here’s the summary from GoodReads:  “An exclusive blackjack club came up with a system to take the world. Us most sophisticated casinos for all they were worth. In two years, this ring of card savants earned more than three million dollars. Filled with tense action and incredibly close calls, this is a real-life adventure that could have stepped straight out of a Hollywood film.”

My review: So good! Reads like fiction. Five stars.

i_ll_be_gone_in_the_dark.jpg.size-custom-crop.0x650

2. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara

I’ve never really been into the true crime genre before, but this book as fascinating to me on two levels: 1) that it was left unfinished due to the unfortunate and untimely death of the author and 2) that this case , at the time of publishing, was still open. It has since been closed thanks in part due to the investigating of Michelle and largely due to DNA matching that was not available previously.

This book reads part like your favorite cop-drama, and part like a behind the scene’s investigator notebook, complete with lists, author’s notes, editor’s notes, and chapters that just end with no conclusions. It’s morbid, fascinating, and you can’t look away. I’m wondering/hoping if the book will be updated with an epilogue now that the case is closed.

Here’s the summary from GoodReads: “A masterful true crime account of the Golden State Killer—the elusive serial rapist turned murderer who terrorized California for over a decade—from Michelle McNamara, the gifted journalist who died tragically while investigating the case.”

My Review: 4 stars (no comment left).

5_bachelor_nation

3. Bachelor Nation: Inside the World of America’s Favorite Guilty Pleasure By Amy Kaufman

If you love reality TV and/or the Bachelor, run, don’t walk to Amazon and get yourself this book. I’m obsessed with anything that reveals behind the scenes secrets, and this book gives you as close to as a behind-the-camera view of the Bachelor Nation world as you can get without signing up for the show yourself. Author Amy Kaufman interviewed numerous former contestants and producers to get lots of juicy insider scoop, but the book goes beyond just spilling tea–it also discusses WHY people love this show so much and delves into the psychology of reality television, too. I found it delightfully satisfying.

Here’s the GoodRead’s summary: “The first definitive, unauthorized, behind-the-scenes cultural history of the Bachelor franchise, America’s favorite guilty pleasure.[…] Kaufman also explores what our fascination means, culturally: what the show says about the way we view so-called ideal suitors, our subconscious yearning for fairy-tale romance, and how this enduring television show has shaped society’s feelings about love, marriage, and feminism by appealing to a marriage plot that’s as old as Jane Austen”

My review:  Five stars. Part inside scoop of our favorite guilty pleasure, part sociological study, I loved reading this book from both a fan and academic perspective. Highly recommend reading this book if you’re a bachelor fan— or if you’re super confused why on earth anyone would ever watch the bachelor!  

potter18n-2-web

4. Harry, a History: The True Story of a Boy Wizard, His Fans, and Life Inside the Harry Potter Phenomenon by Melissa Anelli

Do you love Harry Potter? Are you over the age of 18? You’ll probably like this book. Much like the Bachelor Nation book, it takes a deeper look at the culture of Harry Potter and WHY it has been so successful and so enduring. It’s been more than 20 years since the first Harry Potter books were published and the culture surrounding these books, movies, and pop culture in general has not died down, at all. It’s kind of wild to think about. I’ve grown up and continued to enjoy  these books and this world for the past 19 years of my own life and there continues to be more added to the universe all the time with the new Fantastic Beasts movies. If you were unsure of the validity of the Harry Potter world as an area of academic study  or pop culture relevance, this book should give you an interest read. If you already knew Harry Potter was king, you’ll love diving deep into great read as well.

Here’s the GoodRead’s Summary: “….The Harry Potter books are a triumph of the imagination that did far more than break sales records for all time. They restored the world’s sense of wonder and took on a magical life of their own. Now the series has ended, but the story is not over. With remembrances from J.K. Rowling’s editors, agents, publicists, fans and Rowling herself, Melissa Anelli takes us on a personal journey through every aspect of the Harry Potter phenomenon–from his very first spell to his lasting impact on the way we live the dream.”

My review:  Five stars. Such a great book about the hey day of Harry Potter and the fan phenomenon that followed the release of the books and movies. This made me really nostalgic for that time!

the-outsider-1076171

5. The Outsider by Stephen King

This is the first book I’ve read by Stephen King, and I picked it up because it called out to me with it’s intriguing cover art from the airport bookstore while we were traveling from New Hampshire. This is a HUGE book, so I decided not to pick it up and lug it through the airport, but bought it later when we returned home. One of the appeals of this book was its length, because it actually took me awhile to read, which was nice. This book started off a little slow and very weird, but it definitely made up for as it went along and the twists and turns started coming fast.  I enjoyed this book because it was a lot like a standard cop thriller, but with supernatural twists to it. It was a good way to ease into Stephen King. It wasn’t TOO intense or too scary.

Here is the GoodRead’s Summary:

“An eleven-year-old boy’s violated corpse is found in a town park. Eyewitnesses and fingerprints point unmistakably to one of Flint City’s most popular citizens. He is Terry Maitland, Little League coach, English teacher, husband, and father of two girls. Detective Ralph Anderson, whose son Maitland once coached, orders a quick and very public arrest. Maitland has an alibi, but Anderson and the district attorney soon add DNA evidence to go with the fingerprints and witnesses. Their case seems ironclad.

As the investigation expands and horrifying answers begin to emerge, King’s propulsive story kicks into high gear, generating strong tension and almost unbearable suspense. Terry Maitland seems like a nice guy, but is he wearing another face? When the answer comes, it will shock you as only Stephen King can. ”

My review: Four stars. Not at all what I expected, but I’ve never read Stephen king before. I really liked it. A good detective/ police procedural with just a twist of supernatural!

The-Atomic-City-Girls-cover

6. The Atomic City Girls by Janet Beard

I think my mom might have recommended this book to me, and it was a quick and great read! I love historical fiction, so if you do as well, you will enjoy this book. I was fascinated because I did not know much of anything about this part of history ( The Manhattan project) or the role that women played in it.  Of course there is romance and lots of relationship drama to move the plot along as well, but to be honest that was not as interesting to me as the history.

Here is the GoodRead’s summary: In the bestselling tradition of Hidden Figures and The Wives of Los Alamos, comes a riveting novel of the everyday women who worked on the Manhattan Project during World War II

“What you see here, what you hear here, what you do here, let it stay here.”

My Review:  Five stars. So good! I flew this and loved learning about a part of history I was unaware of. The real photos in the book from this time added a lot to make this feel very engrossing. Highly suggest this book if you like historical fiction!

LARDEVI01-2

7. The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

I’ve been trying to read this book for years–literally, years. For some reason I was never able to get all the way through it. I guess I’m finally “old” enough to appreciate the slightly duller parts, because I finally finished this, and absolutely loved it. I have always love anything about the World’s Fair, so those aspects of the book are just fascinating–if you live in the Chicago area, it’s just so cool to learn more about how this city was shaped by this event. The serial killer plotline, so to speak, has its own layer of fascination, and the two are so intertwined that it definitely reads like a novel at some parts, but it can be a bit of a slog at other times, so this is not a “light” read by any means. Definitely don’t give this to your teenager unless they are in the mold of Hermione Granger. I loved all of the history and learning more about the place I love in now, so I definitely recommend it if you’re one of the few left who haven’t read this yet (no judgement).

Here’s the GoodRead’s Summary: Erik Larson’s gifts as a storyteller are magnificently displayed in this rich narrative of the master builder, the killer, and the great fair that obsessed them both.[…]The Devil in the White City draws the reader into a time of magic and majesty, made all the more appealing by a supporting cast of real-life characters, including Buffalo Bill, Theodore Dreiser, Susan B. Anthony, Thomas Edison, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, and others. In this book the smoke, romance, and mystery of the Gilded Age come alive as never before.

My Review:  Five Stars. Finally finished this book after three times of starting this book. I really enjoyed this! Such a good read and I recommend it to anyone who likes history and The macabre! Can’t wait for the movie!

SimonVS_quote_NEW

8. Simon vs. The Homo Sapien Agenda by Becky Albertelli

I picked this book up after we watched the movie “Love, Simon” and were frankly blown away by how good of a movie it was, both in terms of emotional resonance and artistic cinematography. This movie is extremely relatable for anyone who was a teenager ever, or went to high school ever (so, everyone).

Once I found out the movie was based on a book, I knew I had to read it. The fact that it was a young adult novel did not deter me. I love YA fiction! The book differs a bit from the movie, but was just as good. It’s actually the first book in a sort-of-triology. It’s not a chronological triology, but more of 3 books that exist in the same universe type of triology. I highly recommend this book and the others in the triology to any teenagers in your life, or for yourself if you’re a fan of YA lit.

Here’s the GoodRead’s Summary:

Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight.[…]
With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.

My review: A quick and excellent read! I saw the movie too and I liked the movie a bit more, but the book is still very good as well and I think they did it justice in the movie!

 

Those are 8 of my top Good Reads from 2018–I hope you enjoyed skimming through and maybe finding a new book to add to your to-read list for the near year!

Wondering how to pick your next book? See my tips on choosing your next Good Read!

Feel free to recommend a book to me in the comments!