Craziness & Calm

Happy Wednesday! This week has been CRAZY — I came back to Oakland on Saturday and we started moving on Monday, so I’ve barely had time to breathe. 

However, I did want to take a moment to pop in for a minute and talk about finding calm amongst the craziness. Things can get downright HECTIC at times, and I’m the worst about projecting my internal feelings...especially when I’m moving a sectional up a flight of stairs. 😅 

But, one good thing about the craziness is that is also makes you really appreciate the calm. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed washing my hair more than I did on Monday night, and I’ve definitely never appreciated my bed more than I did after moving it up TWO flights of stairs. 

Later on, I’ll share my moving organization tips and some more substantial details; for now, appreciate calm in your own craziness — I’m going to unpack all that I can and take a wonderful nap. 😂

Amanda McDowell
What I'm Loving | 4/15/2018

Flying alone has made me so appreciative to have Harley as my travel buddy. From having to bring your luggage everywhere to wrestling with the overhead bins at 5'3", it's so nice to have a helpful pal.

Being home was wonderful, though. I'm so happy I was able to make the trip, despite the timing being crazy with our move — it was so worth it to see my family and my sweet niece! I was formerly the youngest, so spending time with a kiddo is a new experience. I never knew there were so many ways to play with blocks!

Here's what I'm loving lately:

Reading :: Alias Grace was wonderful. I finished it on the plane to Chattanooga, and I was so enthralled that the flight absolutely flew by. I'm now working on Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward, who you might know from her other title Sing, Unburied, Sing. I haven't actually read Sing yet (Salvage the Bones was much cheaper!) but this is one of her older titles I'm excited to dig into.

Listening :: I'm not sure if the songs from Mickey Mouse Clubhouse count, but that's what I've heard the most of this week. 😅 On the plane, I listened to a lot of my saved songs on Spotify — I'm not much into making playlists, but I think I might start so I can organize my saved music a bit better. Right now it's just a random mix of everything I like, which is a bit scattered.

Spare Time :: Family time! Being home has (mostly) been a work-free trip, and it's been great to unplug and just enjoy my family's company. 

Style :: I ordered this dress from Backcountry, and it is a WINNER. The perfect t-shirt material, slouchy enough to be comfy but structured enough to where I can dress it up if need be. Would recommend! Now I'm off to find area rugs so we can prepare our home for pup! 

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One Year of Blogging / WEBSITE REDESIGN!

I've been blogging for an entire year...can you believe it?

While I definitely haven't gotten any crazy sponsorship opportunities or been on those amazing vacations bloggers always seem to find themselves on, I am so glad I started my own little slice of the internet. While that stuff would be incredible (I AM OPEN, brands), chronicling my life, having a creative outlet, and getting to connect with people I otherwise wouldn't have has been a dream, and I'm so happy I conquered my fears a year ago.

This time last year we were still in Chattanooga, thinking we were moving to Denver, and figuring out how we were getting across the country. We wound up even further across the country, and now we're getting ready to move again (though just a few miles away!). Almost nothing has gone as planned, but we've experienced an abundance of events in such a short time. If I ever start to feel like we're wasting our lives at home, I remind myself of everything that's happened in the past year and I get humbled quite quickly. 😂

When I started blogging, I didn't know if I'd enjoy it or stick with it — I just wanted to try it out. Looking back, I'm so thankful that I have a record of things we've done and thought's I've had. I've grown as a writer, grown in my career, pushed myself to be a better photographer, and learned a bit about websites along the way — I'd call that an all-around win. 

In the beginning, I never mentioned it to anyone because I was terrified of bringing attention to myself or being judged. Then I realized that there is so much clutter on the internet—no one is even paying attention! I'm so grateful that I stopped letting fear hold me back and that I have this little hobby one year later. I've even had a few people ask me about how they could start a blog themselves, which makes my day every time.

If you're on the fence about blogging, I would 100% say just try it! Of course, don't have crazy plans to land a million dollar sponsorship in your first year or something like that, but if you're seeking a creative outlet that you can make your own, it's worth giving it a shot. Worst case scenario, you decide it isn't for you, and best case, you find something you really love. After our move, I'm thinking of writing a more in-depth post about getting started, how to think of ideas, etc.—so if there are any questions you'd like me to answer, fire away!

AND FINALLY, I am so excited to debut my redesigned site! If you noticed my post on Sunday was late, that's because we were experiencing some downtime that I didn't know would happen...whoops. But you learn as you go, and now that the redesign is live I am absolutely thrilled. This was kind of my anniversary present to myself, and I really think that spending hours looking at font combinations has paid off. Please take a look around—and tell me if anything isn't working! The individual posts don't appear too different, but you can visit my new landing page (still at and see what's new. Let me know what you think!

Amanda McDowell
What I'm Loving | 4/08/2018

Holy heck the rain has been intense the past few days! When people said that San Francisco had a rainy season they were not kidding. It’s been nice though — as we’re preparing for our move and embracing life’s craziness, the rain is a good reminder to slow it down a bit. And with flowers like these, who can complain?

I also get to make a quick trip to see my family this week (hopefully sans-flu!). I’m so excited to see everyone since I spent my last trip in bed. It will be Harley’s first time alone with Bird for any length of time, so hopefully, she behaves for #1 cat dad. 😅

Here's what I'm loving lately:

Reading :: Alias Grace is such an interesting read! The character development is detailed and layered, with the overall story arc weaving through. So excited to continue through it!

Listening :: I feel like of all the “coming of age songs” from my generation, Electric Feel by MGMT has been one of the most popular. While I’ve grown a bit tired of the original, I recently found a cover of it by Coast Modern that I am loving. 

Spare Time :: Hunting down movie boxes (mostly kidding!). That did take up far more time than I anticipated, but mostly I’ve been prepping for my trip home this week. We’re planning on moving right after I get back, so it’s about to be a whirlwind again. Bird is thrilled at all the boxes, though!

Style :: I’ve been a fan of Backcountry for as long as I’ve been a fan of outdoor apparel (aka forever). They’ve now released their own line, and I’m so excited to try it out. I ordered this dress and they’re currently doing 20% off of a full priced item! 

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Amanda McDowell
How To: Managing Your Inbox As A Writer

Regardless of the industry you're in, email overwhelm is something everyone is familiar with. Whether you're on too many email threads, subscribed to newsletters, or work in an office where “reply all” is customary, it's normal to wish people could only reach you by carrier pigeon at times.

As a freelance writer, you don't get domain emails for clients that you work with — meaning if you didn't differentiate a dedicated work email when you first started, everything is lumped together into one messy Gmail inbox (guilty ✋).

However, now that I'm getting the hang of things, I've actually come up with a system that works really well for me. I'm by no means an expert, but if you're looking for some tips for inbox management (writer or not!), these might help:

ONE: Start with everything in the same place.

This might be counterintuitive to everything you've read, but personally, I hate when auto filters move things around. It makes me feel like things are sneaking up on me and I'm always worried something is slipping through the cracks. I prefer to have a big picture overview of everything that's going on and what needs to get done, so I keep everything routed to my main inbox at first. From there, my action on the message is either delete (unnecessary), filter (no response necessary) or mark it unread (to respond). A caveat to this is the promotions and social filter, but more on that next...

TWO: Become BFFs with your unsubscribe button.

I know it can be hard to part with that random newsletter that includes cute dog pictures or that one store marketing list that occasionally has really great sales, but think of guarding your inbox as guarding your time. I do enjoy the Social and Promotion filters Gmail offers because it allows me to consume the newsletters I do care about on my own time instead of their content calendar schedule. If it brings you joy, stay on the mailing list—just don't accidentally waste hours paging through 5% off sales you'll never buy from!

THREE: Folders, folders, folders.

This is a bit tedious, but I create a folder for every client I work with. This is the easiest way to keep track of every communication, when invoices were sent, etc., while allowing me to filter everything out of my main inbox. Additionally, I create personal folders for things such as order confirmations, flight itineraries, etc. so those are out of the inbox as well. For a while, I had a few lingering messages that didn't fit into any of these buckets, but then I created an “Etcetera” folder for all of those, too 😂. Once I read/reply to the message, I just drag it into its folder so it's out of my main page!

FOUR: Don't be reactive.

I guess this is a “productivity hack” or whatever, but for me, it's just hard to switch focus when I'm writing. If I'm in the middle of an article and I get an email concerning another client, taking the time to read it and formulate a response can totally throw me off. If something looks important I'll read it immediately, but otherwise, I wait until I'm between tasks and check what's come in. This way I'm able to take my time, process my thoughts, and manage my workflow much better than if I immediately fired off a one-liner to everything that came my way!

Amanda McDowell
What I'm Loving | 4/01/2018

It's a great weekend to not go to a single open house, because WE HAVE FOUND ONE. We had the most serendipitous experience with a town house that checks (most of) our boxes and the kindest landlord. Kitchen space and full-length windows make up for the fact that it's not the closest to the train, and it is a stone's throw away from our preferred climbing gym. That also means puppy (or adult dog!) is closer than ever, and I can barely contain my excitement.

Here's what (else) I'm loving lately:

Reading :: I'm ashamed to admit that I've given up on The Waves. I think I'll pick it back up eventually, but I just wasn't excited about it and it started to feel like a chore...can't win 'em all! I switched to Alias Grace because the reviews raved about how they couldn't put it down, and things are going much better.

Listening :: Is anyone else obsessed with the Queer Eye reboot on Netflix? I'm not a "binge watcher", but watched every episode in about two days because it's just that good. After I followed all of them on Twitter, I found out that Jonathan (grooming) has a podcast called Getting Curious. He covers everything from gun control to what it's like to be on MTV, and he always interviews an expert to get the full scoop. The episodes are a quick and informative, my two favorite things!

Spare Time :: Fun stuff! We've actually been out and about a lot this week — a friend is in town for work, we went to see A Wrinkle In Time finally, and yesterday we went bike shopping for my new bike (!!!). 

Style :: Dog stuff, dog stuff, and dog stuff. I've been trying to avoid shelter websites since it's still a little too soon, but I have been looking at everything from leashes to jackets to beds. Thankfully, I've been working on marketing for an amazing pet products company (Wildebeest) which makes quality gear right here in SF, so I have a go-to for the majority of our things.

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Amanda McDowell
Learning Lightroom (& Photoshop)

When it comes to hobbies, I would definitely consider myself a "bootstrapper" when I'm starting something new.

When I first started blogging, I was on a free plan (Wordpress advertisements and all) and I still haven't invested in an actual calligraphy set (although that's mostly because I've barely made time to do faux calligraphy with what I have). When I first started photography, I got an economy-end DSLR (not that the Nikon D3400 isn't a great starter body—I've been thrilled with it) and made do with Apple's inherent photo-editing software.

Now, I've forked over the extra $10 a month for the Lightroom + Photoshop package and I am ecstatic. While the iPhoto editor does have a lot of features, Lightroom gives you so much more control over color compositions, pixel-edits, and overall creative freedom that the built-in software lacks. It also has a cool cloud feature so you can edit pictures and push to Instagram right from your phone!

One thing I have to say about my camera is that it takes wonderfully balanced photos if the shots are set up properly. I've taken photos in the past that I've barely touched with an editor, simply because they didn't need it. However, with Lightroom, I now have the freedom to balance out those "almost-perfect" shots that I took in a hurry/in less-than-ideal lighting/etc.

I'm still learning about all of the features and how to achieve the appearance I want because the possibilities are really endless. I'm learning more about the specific tools and options, but I also want to learn how to correct and balance photos overall. I'm worried that I'll quickly become reliant on the pre-set auto edits, and that's the last thing I want! I've watched a few tutorials but most of them have been a lot of fluff without any usable content—so if you have any recommendations, shoot them my way!

What I'm Loving | 3/25/2018

Aren't Bird's toe beans the cutest? Because the rain has kept me from trying out my new lens in regular settings I've been taking advantage of the fact that I have a default cat model. We're certainly going a bit stir crazy with the weather, but next week is supposed to be much nicer and much warmer.

Here’s what I’m loving lately:

Reading ::  The Waves is interesting so far. Not your typical novel but I don't hate it. Keeping track of the characters is difficult when I'm reading before bed, but I've adapted.

Listening :: Random Spotify find: Laundry Day. I suppose the Release Radar isn't all bad.

Spare Time :: Ice skating! Harley decided to start playing again, which means I get to go to the ice rink and have fun while he actually works on skills. It's great!

Style :: The REI Garage Sale is one of the most exciting Saturday morning events I've ever experienced. From ridiculous return reasons to the thrill of thrifting, it just doesn't get much better than that. I also found this Burton fleece pullover, which is comparable to the Patagonia I've had my eye on forever! I've worn it 5 out of 7 days...well worth the (75% off) purchase. 😂

Golden State Spring

Happy (belated) First Day of Spring!

While we're coming up on a year here (woah!), this will be my first time experiencing spring in California. Though we've had a lot going on as of late, my hope is that we can still find the time to take a few spring adventures. Tahoe just got a huge snowfall, so the intent is to do an overnight trip up there while there's still skiing to be had. I also got a new camera lens but it's been raining nearly every day — I'm hoping to use spring to make up for lost time!

In addition to fun stuff, spring feels like prime time to evaluate where energy is being focused and make sure everything in life is on the right track. While being busy has led to a lot of things I care about slipping through the cracks (like calligraphy — whoops 🙄) it's also opened up new doors for my career. I'm excited about the opportunities I've received, but because I have a hard time saying no it's been easy to lose myself in the process.

When I think about my long-term life goals, I want my short-term actions to line up and spring is the perfect time for self-checks like this! Now that I know what my problem is (not saying no) I can work on a solution (saying yes only to valuable tasks). Sometimes that means saying no to lesser opportunities to make space in life for better things to come along!

In the spirit of spring, taking time to think about growth and intention is the prime way to kick off the season. We're nearly 4 months into 2018 (double woah!), so checking up on those resolutions and taking time to make sure your actions and goals are aligned is the perfect activity for waiting out those April showers. While it's never a bad time to focus on self-improvement, spring just seems like such a natural time to make sure everything is in check! ☺️

What I'm Loving | 3/18/2018

House hunting and work and chores, oh my!

Really though, this has been an all work and no play kind of week. We went climbing on Wednesday, but aside from that, it's been open houses, finding houses to tour, and doing our regular life stuff. We did take to the city for St. Patrick's Day after an open house yesterday — it was nice to just have fun for a few hours!

Here’s what I’m loving lately:

Reading :: I'm glad I took the time to read This is the Story of a Happy Marriage. I haven't had as much time to devote to reading lately, so the (almost) 3 weeks I spent on it is no reflection of the quality! If you're looking for nonfiction or short stories, I'd highly recommend. I'm moving on to The Waves, which will be my first full volume by Virginia Woolf.

Listening :: I've had a hit-or-miss Discover Weekly lately (mostly misses), but this week I enjoyed what the Spotify algorithm provided for me. I also really liked last week's #tbt playlist for International Women's Day! Vintage lady jams rock.

Spare Time :: This week has been a lot of house hunting, which is not as fun as they make it look on the show. We have a Slack channel, a spreadsheet, and a GCal of tours...and it's still confusing which place is which!

Style :: My beloved off-brand climbing shoes are falling apart 😔. They're not totally dead yet, but I'm about to begin the research process so I know what to buy when they finally give out on me. I've had them for about 4 years and I bought them used, so I really can't complain — and I'm excited for a snazzy new pair soon!