Happiness Is… Getting Creative

The Happiness Project is a book by Gretchen Rubin that is part memoir, part self-help. She created a plan called The Happiness Project, where she chooses one area of her life each month to improve upon to make herself a happier person. Within each area, she comes up with resolutions (small, attainable goals) to complete each month. I read the book last fall and wrote about it here. I have made multiple attempts to create my own Happiness Project, but have not had much success. I believe I have figured out the issue. Each attempt I have made, I chose to start with health and fitness. It seemed like a good place to start and the resolutions were easily quantifiable (i.e. Drink 8 glasses of water each day, be physically active for 30 minutes each day), however, in retrospect, it’s totally uninspiring.

This time around, I am going to begin with the core of my being: Creativity.

The focus of July is to Get Creative. I am hoping to foster more creativity in my life and expand my creative skills.

So, my goals for July are to

Sketch Daily: I am a visual artist, unfortunately, I do not have great skill when it comes to drawing people (a major flaw as a designer of clothing…) This is a necessity in my career and something I have been working on (more or less) for years. However, it does not feel like art when you have to work at it. I need to work at it. So, I am going to sketch every day in July and hopefully develop the skills I need to have in order to further my career.

Start an Etsy shop: There are a lot of people who have their own Etsy shops. Most of which, do not have a Master’s Degree in sewing (not exactly my degree). These people are making money doing things that I am very good at, and I feel like I should cash in on that. I have no idea what to sell in this shop, but that is the focus for the month. Find something I can sell and hopefully start making some more money doing something I already do. If you have any ideas, please feel free to send them my way.

Write a novel: My mother always wanted me to be a writer. I always loved to write. It is by no means my greatest passion in life, but everybody is writing books these days. Most of them are memoirs, but I am not quite ready for that just yet. I have thousands of ideas for novels (or plays, or screenplays, or television shows) floating around in my head. This month, I am going to write one down (at least part of one) and see how it goes.

So, there you have it, My Happiness Project plan for July. I will write on this topic again at the end of the month and let you know how it all went! In the meantime, check out the book as well as her website if you want to read more about The Happiness Project.

Just Beachy: Part II

This is the second part of a list of 100 books that I have compiled of the best beach reads for summer of 2014. The books are in no particular order, but divided into categories. The first half of this list has different categories, but are not higher or lower on the list. For the other 50 books, check out Just Beachy: Part I. In case you did not read it first, here is a refresher on what you are about to read (from the original post):

For me, the most important part of any summer is deciding what books to read. Whether I am heading to the beach, to the lake, to the pool, or sitting around wishing I was at any one of those places, choosing the right book is a very important decision. Now, I could give you MY top ten choices for Best Beach Reads, but I have chosen to do something a bit different. I asked my sounding board what their picks were and combined them with my own as well as the lists from the copious other sites that have released their own versions of this list. I would call it the definitive list of summer beach reads, but as I am the filter through which this information comes to you, I will admit, it may be a bit skewed to what sounds interesting to me personally. But, this is my blog, and you get what you paid for.

If you are into politics (or just want to look smart…):

Seem Smarter

Hard Choices by Hillary Clinton: A memoir focusing on the four years Hillary Clinton served as the Secretary of State under President Barack Obama. We are still two years out from the next presidential election and while no official announcement has been made that she will run for President in 2016, it is widely believed that she will be the democratic candidate. So get ahead of the curve and start preparing now.

Utopia or Bust: A Guide to the Present Crisis by Benjamin Kunkel: A look at Marxist theory from a contemporary standpoint. Given the current state of the economy, this book explores Leftist theories as an alternative to capitalism in its current incarnation and examines how socialist ideas could be implemented in our society.

Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt by Michael Lewis: A small group of Wall Street guys discover that in our post-crash world, the market has become even more corrupt and set out to make things right. The publisher promises an uplifting read within a pretty terrifying topic. This is really happening, happening to us, and these are the guys who are trying to make things right.

Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela: The memoir of the beloved political icon was originally published in 1995. A powerful story of one man’s struggle to make the world a better place.

Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty: A look at Modern economics from a historical perspective and shedding light on the inequalities in today’s society using social and economic patterns to determine where we are headed. He examines how political interference has protected the economy previously and how it might do that again in the future.

Young Money: Inside the Hidden World of Wall Street’s Post-Crash Recruits by Kevin Roose: An insiders look at the young men just starting out on Wall Street. “Roose’s young bankers are exposed to the exhausting workloads, huge bonuses, and recreational drugs that have always characterized Wall Street life. But they experience something new, too: an industry forever changed by the massive financial collapse of 2008. And as they get their Wall Street educations, they face hard questions about morality, prestige, and the value of their work” (amazon.com).

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Always Accepting Applications

I used to work in a restaurant where people would often call and ask if we were hiring. The official answer was, “We are not necessarily hiring, but we are always accepting applications.”

For the past few days, I have been visiting friends in Nashville. Most of the people I see while I am there are paired up, if not married. I am  the anomaly. While I am there I always get asked “have you been seeing anyone?” or “what happened to that one guy you were dating for a while?” I don’t mind these questions. I am not ashamed or saddened by the fact that I am single. What caught me off guard, was one couple asked me if I was seeing anyone and after I said no, the woman turned to her husband and said “She’s a free agent, she has no time for that.” I thought that was odd. This woman seemed to feel the need to defend my single status to her husband. I never realized I needed a defense.

The truth of the matter is, I totally have time to date. Yes, I plan to leave the town in which I am currently living in about a year from now. Yes, a serious relationship would be complicated considering that fact (compounded with my catastrophic and extensive experiences in long distance dating and therefore unwillingness to ever try that again). Yes, I work a lot and have tunnel vision heading toward my goals for the next year. None of this is the reason I am not dating. The reason is: the situation has not come up. I don’t really meet new people. I have no interest in meeting new people. Sure, I would love to have someone to tag along to dinners with friends and their boyfriends (mostly so the boys can talk about dude stuff and I can totally avoid any discussion of baseball whatsoever), but not enough to go looking. If some guy asked me out, I would probably say yes (depending on several variables, of course). I am not looking for anything serious, but I also would not say that I am closed to the idea. I am simply, not looking. I am not necessarily hiring, but I am always accepting applications.

I am not sad, I am not lonely, but don’t try to take my current marital status and turn it into something empowering for single women. My life is not a statement on how a woman does not need a man to be happy. My life is not a statement on how a woman should put her career before her personal life. My life is not a statement. I am simply, single. Why do you need it to be more?

The Last Summer (of You & Me) by Ann Brashares

The Last Summer (of You & Me)

 

The Last Summer (of You & Me) by Ann Brashares is my favorite beach read to date. It has everything I look for in a summer book: beaches, boys,  & besties.

This is the first book published by the bestselling author of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series for adults, so you probably know what to expect as far as writing style and general vibe goes, but the characters are a bit older.

The book focuses on two sisters in the early/mid-twenties spending the summer at their family home on Fire Island (not the Hamptons, but same general area and similar feel). The boy next door has been a friend to the two girls for most of their lives. He has been away for the past few summers, but has moved back to New York the year the book begins. The story is not all fluff, there are some heart wrenching as well as heart warming moments which I can appreciate in summer reads (it can’t be all cavity-inducing romances and torrid summer flings). I think it especially speaks to the wistfulness that our (my?) generation, especially, feels for our childhoods.

I read this book almost five years ago and it has been one of those books that has just stayed with me. The story is beautiful and the writing is excellent, as we have come to expect from Ann Brashares. For a story that is mostly about the bonds of sisterhood, it in no way made me want to vomit as most books like this would. Not that I don’t love my sister, but as a born and raised Mid-Westerner, I don’t want the topic shoved down my throat.

As always, I worry that saying too much will ruin even a fraction of the book and I hate that. So, I’ll end with this: it’s a fantastic book and I think you should read it.

Just Beachy: Part I

Well, tomorrow marks the official First Day of Summer for 2014. For me, the most important part of any summer is deciding what books to read. Whether I am heading to the beach, to the lake, to the pool, or sitting around wishing I was at any one of those places, choosing the right book is a very important decision. Now, I could give you MY top ten choices for Best Beach Reads, but I have chosen to do something a bit different. I asked my sounding board what their picks were and combined them with my own as well as the lists from the copious other sites that have released their own versions of this list. I would call it the definitive list of summer beach reads, but as I am the filter through which this information comes to you, I will admit, it may be a bit skewed to what sounds interesting to me personally. But, this is my blog, and you get what you paid for.

My final list includes 100 Book Recommendations, but 100 books seems like a lot to digest all at once, so I am posting it in two parts. Part I today of the first 50 suggestions and Part II next Friday of the final 50 suggestions. The books are separated into categories for easier navigation and next week will be totally different categories.

Without further ado…

If you want to read what everyone else will be reading:

What Everyone Else Is Reading

The Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham: Michael Cunningham is the same author wrote the book The Hours, so you can imagine the compelling nature of the novel he has crafted. This is the story of two brothers living in New York trying to figure out what life is all about in the midst of heartbreak and tragedy. This may not be a light read, but it will surely be worth the read.

The One & Only by Emily Giffin: You know Emily Giffin is always an excellent choice for the beach. This summer, she takes us to a football town in Texas where thirty-something Shea, begins to questions her life choices.

The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan Jane Gilman: Doesn’t the title alone sound like summer? This is the story of a Russian immigrant who becomes the monarch of an ice cream empire. The book spans her 70 year journey beginning in 1913. This is at the top of my list this summer, it sounds like fun take on a rags-to-riches story and you can’t beat a book about a woman building her fame and fortune on summer’s favorite treat.

The Last Summer of the Camperdowns by Elizabeth Kelly: The story of the young daughter of a dysfunctional political family in the summer of 1972 who witnesses a violent crime and what happens after. It sounds a little intense, but combined with the cast of characters and the raving reviews which promise devastating wit, I’m sold.

Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King: The newest novel by the King himself, the book follows a retired cop haunted by the brutal murder of eight people under the wheels of a stolen Mercedes, as well as, the killer himself who is thirsty for more. It’s Stephen King.

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan: A New York woman, Rachel, spends the summer with her boyfriend at his childhood home in Singapore. Turns out, he is super loaded, and the most eligible bachelor in China. Hijinks ensue.

I am Having So Much Fun Here Without You by Courtney Maum: For starters, this book is set in both Paris and London, so if you have the travel bug and are unfortunately stuck stateside for the summer, this may just be the answer. It tells the story of a man realizing that he is still in love with his wife and trying to make her fall back in love with him. In Paris. And London.

The Arsonist by Sue Miller: Someone starts setting fires to homes in a small town in New England. With the tension building between the locals and the summer residents and the mystery of who is committing the crimes, this one is sure to be a riveting tale while you are summering in your favorite town.

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes: The story of a road trip with a single mom, her daughter, stepson and the millionaire who is driving them. It has been compared to Little Miss Sunshine. Who can beat that?

The Vacationers by Emma Straub: This is THE “It Book” of the summer. It is on every “must read” list, comes up in every search (if you search for any of these other 9 books on Amazon.com, this will be in the top three results). This will be the most read book of the summer. If you don’t want to be left out, be sure to read this one.

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Home is Where?

Home

The Nashville, St. Louis, & Los Angeles skylines

The other day someone asked, “Where is home for you?” I did not really know how to respond. I am currently living in St. Louis, which is also where I was born and raised. I have been back for almost a year, but until then I had been gone for almost 10 years. I no longer know where most places are in the area, in fact, I am not sure I ever knew where things were to begin with. I never really bothered to find out. I had one foot out the door for as long as I can remember. I never got homesick, never wanted to leave camp, never wanted to leave vacations. Maybe St. Louis has never really felt like home to me. Most people who are from here seem to have no aspirations to live anywhere else. I have always wanted to live exactly ANYWHERE else.

After leaving for college, I would come back to St. Louis to visit my family. Once, as I was headed back to school, I said to my mother that I was heading home. She did not like I was already thinking of another place as my home. To me, it was my home. I was living in Nashville, all my stuff was in Nashville, if that was not home, where was?

I lived in Nashville for six years. It is where I rented my first apartment, paid my first bills, bought my first drink, took my first flight without adult supervision. If I am being completely honest, it is where I really grew up. I became an actual adult in Nashville. Plus, most of my favorite places are in Nashville. My favorite restaurants, my favorite stores, my favorite coffee shop, my favorite theaters, my favorite parks, and most of my favorite people. I believe that some part of me will always think of Nashville as home.

I left Nashville for graduate school in Cincinnati in 2010. Cincinnati never really felt like home either. I imagine for many of the same reasons as St. Louis. I never planned to stay there. In fact, I left the day after I turned in my final project. I did not bother to stick around until classes finished, I did not walk at graduation. The day they said I could leave, I packed up the truck and drove away (actually it was a terrible move, but for the sake of the story…). I did live there, I did have a couple of favorite restaurants there (pizza: Adriatico’s, Indian: Krishna), but no favorite stores, theaters, parks (I never once set foot in a park in Cincinnati), and most of my favorite people had moved away or were shortly thereafter moving away. None of us really planned on sticking around, so no one was really concerned about planting roots…

Now I am back in St. Louis. I still, very much, have one foot out the door (maybe one and a half). I know where I am going (Los Angeles) and have a plan for when I am going there (next summer, hopefully). At that point, will Los Angeles become home?

This weekend, I am heading to Nashville. I am so excited. I love this city so much. Whenever people tell me there are going there, I list off a string of places they have to go and what to get there. I think that of all the places I have ever lived, Nashville is the only one that has ever felt like my home. I don’t know if that will always be the case, but it is the only place I have ever felt “homesick” for.

So what constitutes home? I am not totally sure I have found it yet. I have come close, I think, but I have yet to live in a city where I knew I could stay there. Maybe part of me will always be ready to leave wherever I am at the time. Maybe I am not wired to settle down in any one place. Maybe I just have not gotten there yet and home is waiting for me somewhere else.

For today, I am getting ready to go to Nashville for the weekend and a part of me feels like I am heading home.

 

The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars is a film based on the book of the same title by John Green. You can read my recommendation for the book here. This post is about the film.

My first recommendation is that you go on a school night, or during the day, or any time that teenage girls are less likely to be able to get a ride to the movie theatre. I made the choice to go opening weekend and I can honestly say that I have not been in the same room as so many teenager girls since the boys and girls were separated in gym class my freshman year of high school. It was overwhelming, to say the least. And totally irritating when the chick behind me quoted certain lines of the film, most likely to show her friends exactly how well she knows the book (and not so the woman in front of her would spend the better part of two hours contemplating punching her in the face, or at the very least, getting her kicked out of the theatre for being disruptive).

Everyone knows that the book is (almost) always better than the movie. There are many reasons this is true: your favorite scenes may be edited out for time or continuity, the plot may be changed in ways that are detrimental to the story you fell in love with, the actors or technical elements may not live up to the way you imagined them. None of this is true for this film. There were definitely a few scenes missing, but nothing that I felt affected the storytelling. I have never, in all of my copious movie watching experience, seen a film that was more true to the book.

If you have read the book, I highly doubt I need to say any more to convince you to see the movie. If you have not read the book, I certainly don’t want to say anything that will ruin the experience. This is a truly lovely film about kids who fall in love in the face of cancer. If you have heard anything about the film, you probably know to bring tissues. Don’t let that deter you. It is a tear-jerker. It is about teenagers with cancer. I believe that this film will be to teens today what The Notebook was to us ten years ago, and in another decade it may just be that movie we watched when we needed a good cry. For today, it may just give you the catharsis you have been missing since the day you could no longer stomach the never ending tear-fests with the girls in the dorms and decided it was better to cry over real boys than to waste all your tears on ones who never existed.

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with” – Jim Rohn

This is a now famous quote by the motivational speaker, Jim Rohn. Like any quote that has ever been quoted, this notion has sparked much debate, yet I believe that it is true. Whenever I move to a new place or spend time with a new group of people, I see myself starting to act and speak in ways resembling this particular group. Sometimes this is a good thing. Sometimes it is not. I always stay more or less the same person, it is just the side of my personality most visible to the world varies depending on who I am with the most.

I am not really writing this post to argue for or against this idea. I am going to assume it is true and move on to my point. These days, I spend more time with a six month old baby more than any other human. I am pretty sure his personality is not affecting me all that much. The people I work with at my other part time job, rotate so frequently, that there is really no consistency for me to see any changes in myself based on those personalities. I guess I see my family quite a bit and a friend or two, but here in St. Louis, I spend a great deal of time alone. Or with my dog. So, a dog and a baby. Don’t feel sorry for me, the truth is, I like spending a lot of time alone. I am an introvert and need to be alone to recharge. I spend a lot of time with other people, just a tiny bit of time with a whole lot of different people, mostly trying to sell them things.

In the absence of a consistent social group, who do I start to become? Here is the scary part…

OITNB

Promotional image of the cast of Orange is the New Black via Netflix

So, Orange is the New Black Season 2 was released on Netflix last Friday. I finished the entire season by Sunday. I am a pretty hardcore binge watcher when there is a show that catches my attention. While working at a major retail chain on Saturday and Sunday, I noticed that I was feeling very anti-authority. Not something I typically feel. I got irritated with another employee and my initial (mental) reaction was a bit extreme. I had spent most of my weekend with the inmates at Litchfield Penitentiary, and I could feel it affecting me. I notice this whenever I read an entire book in a two-day period or binge-watch entire series on Netflix. I start to become more like the characters in these stories. Not so terrible, or even noticeable, when I watch a ton of How I Met Your Mother or Friends. I may have become a little more stealthy or reticent (or possibly more clumsy and nerdy) when I watched the entire series of Chuck in a few weeks, but no major damage was done. I am well aware of the effect watching the entirety of Gossip Girl over the course of one Christmas vacation did to my behavior (Regina George had nothing on my mean girl demeanor, but I dressed impeccably, so it all evened out). And watching too many British television shows causes me to think in a British accent (I have to fight speaking in it), drink more tea, and get more irritated with my mother for not lying out a salad AND a dinner fork (that was mostly just when I watched the first three series of Downton Abbey in a very lovely weekend). But what about when I watched two seasons of Hannibal in a matter of days? Or House of Cards? Should we, as a new way of watching television becomes more normative, be concerned about the effect these characters are having on our day to day lives? In a world where fictional serial killers have become our heroes, are we walking down a dangerous path?

The effects of Orange is the New Black was only temporary. Gossip Girl, a little less so. Maybe it is just me who is susceptible to this, but I am not going to skip out on watching these amazing feats of storytelling because I may be prone to adopting certain characteristics. Though I may need to rethink exactly how much I watch before I take a break for some good old fashioned sitcoms revolving around 20-somethings who are searching for love in all the wrong places to land somewhere closer to the Brittany we all know and love.

Does this happen to anyone else?

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is one of the most fascinating books I have read in a very long time. I consider myself something of an amateur detective (Meaning that I play a lot of mystery based games, read suspenseful books, and watch detective movies and television shows. I pride myself on being able to solve the mystery long before the creator of the game, book, movie, or television show had intended). Reading this book, I came up with several scenarios as to what happened to Amy (the major female character in the novel), but the truth came to light exactly when Gillian Flynn wrote what had happened.

The novel tells the tale of a husband and wife from their own perspectives in alternating chapters. The wife, Amy, goes missing on the couple’s fifth wedding anniversary. As most cases of missing wives, the husband, Nick, is the prime suspect. I don’t want to say much more because I would hate to ruin even a small piece of the experience of reading this novel for anyone. If you like a good mystery, stories that are mostly shades of grey, and complex characters, this is a must read.

Like the rest of Gillian Flynn’s books I have read so far, this story is dark and twisted. If you don’t like reading stories that will make you uncomfortable, this is not a book for you. If you do, read this immediately.

The film version will be released on October 3rd. Gillian Flynn wrote the screenplay herself and David Fincher directed. The cast is lead by Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike (who you should know if you do not already). My favorite character of the book, Desi, is being played by Neil Patrick Harris. So you can’t beat that. Another fun fact is that the story is set in a town in southern Missouri and the film was shot in Cape Girardeau, not terribly far from where I grew up.

I cannot recommend this book enough. A setting that is familiar (to me), a mystery I could not solve, and a killer team of artists working on the film. Read it. Before October 3rd. Then come talk to me about. You will not regret it.