What I'm Loving | 12/2/2018

Rusty got to meet Santa yesterday! The shelter we adopted him from does a Santa Paws event each year that’s entirely volunteer run, so all the proceeds go straight to the shelter. It was so sweet to see the volunteers that helped us adopt Rusty and he was quite the hit with Santa, too. We didn’t mention that time he snuck a loaf of bread off the counter — we figured Santa doesn’t need to know everything.

Here’s what else I’m loving lately:

Reading :: After finishing it, I have mixed feelings about the format of The Argonauts. Subject matter would get a 10/10 — there are shockingly few writers who engage with material like this and produce a book that enters the “indie mainstream,” so I think it’s wonderful that Nelson did that. However, the book is almost a stream of consciousness style that made it difficult to fully grasp what was going on. It’s a small book, so I would say if you’re interested, definitely try it! It’s just on the experimental spectrum so be aware. After, I read Something Wicked This Way Comes. We discussed Bradbury in my short story class and despite having heard his name, I had never read his work. The dialogue in this book irked me to no end — lots of staccato-paced ‘whats’ and ‘no!’s — but the book itself was lovely. I tend to not like anything that involves circus imagery, but this book did such a fantastic job of laying scenes out that I didn’t mind. I’m now reading The February House; this is a SUPER NICHE read but I am eating it up. If you enjoy learning about the lives of literary heavy-hitters (which I practically live off of because of life goals) then I would highly recommend. If not, I’d probably say pass because it could get rather dull!

Spare Time :: I’ve been writing and writing and writing. Making something creative a priority is quite difficult, I’m learning, because sometimes the brain just does not want to cooperate. But bad writing is easier to fix than no writing, as they say, so I’m piling up the short stories in the hopes that something sticks.

Etcetera :: I finally made it up to Pegasus Books! It’s the oldest independent bookstore in Berkeley and they do both new and used books of all kinds. It’s an adorable store with a great selection and I always love searching for books in person instead of on the internet. They also do a frequent reader program where if you spend $200 you get $10 off! If you’re in the area, they also have a location in Rockridge and Albany, too. Totally worth the trip!

Taking a Breather

Just a quick update today — in a nutshell, I’m going to be spending time with family this month so I’ll be taking a few posts off!

Normally my obsession with consistency would push me to work anyway, but I honestly can’t wait to take some time with no obligations. I’m juggling a little too much right now and I feel like my thoughts are pulling my brain in a million directions. Considering my main focus these days is writing, these kinds of thought patterns are NOT good for my creative process. 😅

So while I’m off, I’m going to focus on spending time with family, writing without pressure, and reading (I’m grippingly close to my goal of reading fifty-two books this year, but I’m going to have to buckle down to make sure I hit it!). I’ll see y’all back here for a “What I’m Loving” on Sunday because I can’t wait to tell you about the book I’m currently reading, and then I’ll be back for a post on the 16th. I definitely want to do a recap of my favorite books of the year to give everyone last minute gift ideas, so be on the lookout for that in the week before Christmas!

Until then, everyone have a lovely holiday season and please send me any pictures of your pets with Santa/at Christmas tree farms/etc. 🎄

Amanda McDowellComment
What I'm Loving | 11/25/2018

To be honest, the thing I’ve loved the most this week is a four day weekend. We had friends over for dinner on Thursday, put up the tree and enjoyed a lazy/rainy day on Friday, ran errands on Saturday, and now we still have a whole Sunday left. That’s what I call a good weekend.

Here’s what else I’m loving lately:

Reading :: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter: layers! depth! wonder! Seriously, this was a delightful read. It was nuanced — the plot points aren’t in your face, but they’re right there if you look for them. It really came together beautifully and I highly recommend it. Next up, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves: I bought this on a whim on our trip to Powell’s, in all honesty because I thought the author was someone else. It turned out to be quite a happy accident because I thought this was an incredible read. The staff recommendation card at Powell’s said to go into it without knowing a thing, which is what I did, and I wasn’t disappointed. That’s what I recommend you do, too, so I’m not going to say any more. Now I’m on The Argonauts, which, so far, is a quick and heavy read about gender fluidity, the oppression of heteronormativity, and love in a queer and unique relationship. It’s equal parts science, studies, and anecdotes which keeps the pace quick and the subject matter engaging.

Spare Time :: Probably the same as everyone this week. Just cooking and eating in an endless cycle, but we also got our tree put up! It’s never too early for Christmas cheer.

Etcetera :: We saw Bohemian Rhapsody over the weekend which was a delight. I didn’t realize how much I didn’t know about Queen/Freddie Mercury. Their music has been around and popular my entire life, but learning more about their journey as musicians was such a joy. I admire Freddie Mercury for taking his fashion risks and being so open about who he was — and I can imagine that many people feeling oppressed in the time period did, as well. It was a fantastic film.

Climbing Through Fear

(Note: This article focuses on how to power through being terrified out of your mind when you’re bouldering. If you came here looking for a step-by-step/need to know guide, I have one of those too! Check out 5 Things To Know Before Your First Bouldering Comp :) )

My second climbing comp is under my belt..er, waistband of my workout tights, but you get the message. If you had told me a year ago that I would have done anything like this, I would have laughed at you. Competition isn’t in my nature and it tends to make me enjoy things less instead of more. Weirdly though, bouldering competitions have the opposite effect, and it seems that I somehow get exactly what I need out of them.

I was scared to do this one. Battle of the Bay was not at my home gym, and was at a gym that produces some incredible climbers due to their innovative walls. My gym's routes are short, technical, and dynamic. Dogpatch Boulder’s routes are long, technical, and TALL. I don’t lead climb because I can’t be too far from the ground, so bouldering on a taller wall stirred up a lot of anxiety in me.

I wish I could tell you I ignored my fears and had the best climb of my life. I didn’t. There were many times when I let go instead of hanging on, chose not to push myself instead of trying harder and risking a fall. I didn’t rise above every self-doubt and anxious feeling I had, but I did overcome some — and I feel really good about that. I made myself climb some things I would have balked at otherwise. I dropped off the top of the wall even when I was sure I was going to break both of my legs and be rushed to the emergency room. I didn’t and I wasn’t. I let go and everything. was. fine.

I didn’t get to climb everything I wanted to. I ran out of time and wish I could have done more, certainly. But what I was able to accomplish has stuck with me. I still enjoy my shorter walls and technical problems, but I’m not so scared to reach for the top. I still have my fears, but I’m more comfortable facing them.

A year ago I had given up climbing because I was too scared/too depressed/too convinced I’d never get better. But here I am, sad because I can’t get in one last session before the Thanksgiving holiday. Granted, I’m not going to be on an REI catalogue anytime soon, but I’m improving and learning new things with every new day, and that feels amazing. While I wish I could have climbed harder or better or whatever, I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished so far and know next time it’ll be even easier. I think that’s what sports are supposed to be about?

What I'm Loving | 11/18/2018

Short week, woo hoo! Last year I was so bummed about not being with my family on Thanksgiving. I’m bummed this year too, but it feels much less dramatic somehow. We’ll see if that changes the day of, but I’m excited to have some friends over and make a lot of food.

I’m cheating and getting a pre-made turkey from Whole Foods, but I’m cooking everything else myself. Last year my turkey didn’t turn out great, it was a lot of work, and a friend had one from Whole Foods that was SO delicious I decided it would be worth the splurge this year. Some things aren’t worth doing yourself and roasting a turkey might be one of them.

Here’s what I’m loving lately:

Reading :: The Autobiography of Malcolm X was interesting, albeit a bit tedious. Learning about the key events of his life was interesting, but I would’ve preferred it in a shorter format. I’m now working on The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. I love southern gothic literature and this book has been no exception. I’m 75% through it and she keeps added depth and sustenance to her characters that leaves me amazed. Also, she wrote this AT TWENTY THREE, which is amazing but also making me feel a bit behind in life. 😬

Spare Time :: Unfortunately the air quality has only worsened so we’ve been spending ample quality time indoors. Poor Rusty babe is bored out of his mind — every time we get up he runs to the door thinking we’re going on an adventure. You’d think with all this downtime I would have been reading and writing like crazy, but it seems like every day I go to sleep wondering where the time went.

Etcetera :: When is it Christmas decorating time in your house? I know some people who already have their trees up, while others wait until a week or two before. We’re probably going to put our tree up this weekend, but it’s always interesting when other people think is the “right” time.

Managing Screen Time (When You Manage Social Media)

Is Apple’s new “Screen Time” feature throwing anyone else off? I think it’s a great tool — who among us couldn’t spend less time looking at their screens? — but when social media is a big component of your job it makes it so much harder to draw the line.

I manage the Instagram account for the company I work at and a big part of that is answering questions, responding to comments, and engaging with people. While the chitchat and customer service is a lot of fun, it also sends the time I spend looking at my phone through the roof some days.

But regardless of what the screen time is for, an excess of time spent looking at a screen is objectively unhealthy. Whether it’s for work or leisure, anything I can do to cut those numbers is an improvement. It’s baffling to figure out how to do this in my career field but now that I have a literal graph of how much time I’m spending I’m determined to figure it out.

I’m not sure if this is relatable, but most of the time I spend aimlessly staring at my phone is because I’m feeling bored/lazy. Just got home from stressful errands? Let me sit on the couch and stare at my phone for a few minutes before I unpack the groceries. Don’t feel like getting up to do a chore? Just scroll through Instagram for a minute instead! Rather than something I do because I’m learning or enjoying the time, it’s become a crutch for letting myself procrastinate or self-sabotage — and I hate it.

I’m still in the process of figuring it out, but I have been able to shave a few minutes off each week using these tips:

  • Just Leave It Behind! This is the holy grail of all tips for me. Just by leaving my phone out of reach, I pick it up less — who would’ve known? 🙄 Now when I sit down to read, I leave it on the counter. Getting ready in the morning? Leave it on the charger! I don’t know when I started treating my phone like an extension of my hand, but breaking that habit has made the rest of these steps so much more simple.

  • Keep A Magazine Nearby. Like I said before, most of my aimless scrolling comes from procrastinating or laziness. I want to turn that into productivity but I don’t always want to dive in to whatever book I’m reading at the time. I got a trial subscription to The New Yorker, and making sure I have one of those within reach gives me something to flip through that isn’t my phone. I can read a short feature or part of an article, then get up feeling energized instead of drained.

  • Set Downtime. The downtime feature feels like taking a plunge, but I promise it is worth it. I set it to kick in an hour before I go to bed and end around the time I wake up. This stops any aimless late-night scrolling but if I need to look at something I can disable it for 15 minutes. At first I was worried about having hard and fast rules like this, but I have found it helpful — and I’m asleep for the majority of the time it’s disabled, anyway!

Amanda McDowellComment
What I'm Loving | 11/11/2018

One full week of the Daylight Savings Time rollback and has meant one full week of me getting ridiculously tired at 8 PM. It’s the time of year when I increase my daily tea consumption by tenfold just to stay awake ‘til a decent hour.

Yesterday I competed in my second climbing competition and I am so. sore. It wasn’t at my home gym and was at one in the city that is much more difficult. I’ll do a full writeup later — for now I’m going to spend some quality time with the foam roller.

Here’s what else I’m loving lately:

Reading :: The Year of Living Danishly provided a balanced overview of Danish culture. It asked the tough questions to get to the root of their happiness, but also didn’t brush over unpleasantries such as -20C and 2 hours of daylight each winter. The real question is how can anyone be happy in those kinds of conditions? I’m unsure, but the Danes do it well. Next up, Exit West. I had high hopes for this book — Obama personally recommends it, after all. The prose was top tier and beyond striking, with the phrasing of descriptors being awe-inspiring beyond my dreams. I got sucked into the beginning and stayed that way for the first third of the book, but after that things seemed to slow down. I think in part because the beginning was so stellar and I didn’t feel that was followed up on throughout the remainder of the novel. I did, however, think that the book added a unique and holistic perspective to the refugee experience, and the magical realism which came as a noteworthy surprise. I still recommend this one even if just for the phrasing alone, but the end might take a bit of powering through to be satisfying. I moved on to Self Help by Lorrie Moore — NOT a self-help book, but instead a short story collection with instructions on matters such as “How To Be an Other Woman” and “How to Become a Writer”. SUCH a fantastic collection. Ms. Moore’s tone is both refreshing while paying homage to the classic influences of literary tone. I’m now on The Autobiography of Malcolm X which has been on my shelf for so long! I find that autobiographies tend to be a bit slow to start and this is no exception, but I’m interested to see where it leads.

Spare Time :: I had to go away for a conference at the beginning of the week, so I’ve been trying to spend extra time with Rusty since I’ve been back. He has been like velcro but the Camp Fire has made it difficult to get out of the house, so we’ve both been feeling a bit cooped up. We’ve been playing a lot of stairway fetch and utilizing his puzzle toys, but poor boy just wants to go sniff stuff again.

Etcetera :: I finally saw The Hate U Give film adaptation this week — read this book and see this movie. I read the book a few months ago and was blown away. It’s written for a young adult audience and the author did an amazing job of distilling some of the biggest issues facing us today (racism, inherent bias, and the “on both sides” arguments) into digestible prose that doesn’t overwhelm you with the world’s problems. The film adaptation is a bit different from the book, but I believe they did an excellent job making use of the time they were allowed to convey the most important messages. Highly, highly recommend.

Switching To A Natural Deodorant

I’ve been noticing an insurgence of people being more conscious of what goes into their beauty products, myself included. It started with a switch to cruelty-free products like shampoo and makeup, but I didn’t realize it would be SO HARD to find a cruelty-free antiperspirant, too.

My research pointed me to natural deodorant, and I wasn’t excited. You mean I have to actually sweat? I thought, remembering the terrible throes of puberty so long ago. However, once I did more research on how deodorants work (something I’m not too proud to admit I had never considered before) and what harmful ingredients are lurking in that stick I hesitantly started to come around.

In the spirit of November (aka NOT summer, so a good time to start this journey if you’re considering it), I figured it might be nice to do a virtual brain dump of my own experiences from the past couple months of making this transition. Of course, everyone’s mileage may very — I won’t lie to you and try to downplay this as something that isn’t a big change. Sweating feels weird and gross and wrong, but knowing that I’m doing my best to live a healthy and well-balanced life feels good and right.

There will be a detox: I didn’t know about this until after I started, so until I consulted Google I thought I was just some weird, sweaty anomaly. Turns out, this is a totally normal and healthy process for your body to go through. Because antiperspirant physically blocks pores from sweating, most of us have sweat glands that have been repressed for years. Once they’re able to get the pollutants out of your system as sweat glands are designed to do, they’re going to take advantage. Personally, I didn’t think this period was as the hyperbole of internet articles make it out to be, but I assume it’s a little different for everyone. Just rest assured that it’s totally normal to sweat a LOT and you won’t sweat this much forever!

There will be sweat: It’s been about twelve years since I started wearing antiperspirant every day, so the sensation of sweating has been a strange thing for me to get used to. Natural deodorant will keep you from smelling sweaty, but the moisture will still be there — icky, I know. The good news is, once your body gets used to having the ability to sweat you’ll start to perspire a lot less during day-to-day activities. I’ve also read that drinking plenty of water and cutting back on processed foods can help your body feel the need to sweat less, and I think that’s advice we could all stand to follow.

There (might) be blisters: I started out using Schmidt’s deodorant and I loved it — most people agree that theirs is some of the best out there. Unfortunately, Schmidt’s uses a baking soda-based formula and after a few weeks I started to get blisters. This doesn’t happen to everyone, but my skin is too sensitive for the harshness of their full-strength formula. I have heard good things about their sensitive skin version, but I’m liking the Charcoal Magnesium Detox from Primal Pit Paste for now!

You will be healthier: While this whole process can be a hard sell for a lot of people (it was for me — I HATE being sweaty), ultimately this is something that can have a huge impact on your health. While the studies are still conflicting on how dangerous aluminum is to have in your system, I’d rather not take the chance. Antiperspirant works because the aluminum is absorbed into your pores and those pores happen to be right over a cluster of lymph nodes which carry things all through your system. Additionally, just like your health class teacher tried to drive home, sweating is a good thing. It’s how our body regulates temperature and removes toxins, both of which I want to be able to do to the best of my ability. So while it can be a little uncomfortable, it’s worth it to know that I’m doing the best I can to be healthy!

Amanda McDowellComment
What I'm Loving | 11/04/2018

It’s election week! If you haven’t voted early/voted by mail, make a point to get to the polls on Tuesday. Here’s a great guide on what to do if you’re turned away at the polls and a resource on polling places and hours near you. Regardless of political beliefs, it’s important that our voices are heard in the midterms — these are our policy makers, our bill passers, and our local legislators, and they can only work for the people if the people speak up.

Here’s what else I’m loving lately:

Reading :: I think last week’s look at After I Do was as comprehensive as I could be, despite not having it finished at the time of writing. The ending didn’t bring out any revelations that I didn’t expect as a reader, but if you look past its borderline-fluff nature it still holds its own as an interesting read. Next was The Incendiaries — I do not have the words to describe how awestruck I was by this book. The dialogue, premise, and structure are all unique, and every sentence comes together to form a beautiful piece of art. One of my favorites of the year. I’m now working on The Year of Living Danishly. Personally I’ve been feeling burnt out/worn down lately, so this is a little ray of sunshine for me. While the easy answer is “okay I’ll just move to Denmark to be happier” I’m hoping to find some nuggets of happiness I can add to my own life instead of moving across the globe.

Spare Time :: I have been writing and reading and writing and reading. And climbing. Really, not anything too exciting over here — just trying to lean in to the things that make me feel like my best self to combat this fatigue I’m feeling.

Etcetera :: Has anyone tried light therapy for the wintertime? I know Daylight Savings Time JUST happened but the shorter days are already starting to get to me. I already take 100% of the recommended Vitamin D dosage, so it seems like light therapy might be my next step.

Trader Joe's Apple Cider Sangria

Halloween is here (of course you don’t need me to tell you that)! I love seeing everyone’s costumes on Instagram and appreciated all the dressed-up kiddos I saw on my morning dog walk. I’m holding out hope that we’ll have a few trick-or-treaters because I bought more than enough candy for all the kids in the neighborhood.

Last weekend we carved pumpkins with our friend Brandon and I made this delish sangria I wanted to share. Trader Joe’s didn’t have everything the original recipe called for so I improvised and made something on my own that was so soo good. I’m tempted to host another fall/Halloween event so I can make more! I should’ve taken a picture to share, but it comes out the most autumnal honey color. It’s just perfect in every way (including how easy it is!).


  • 2 Cups Trader Joe’s Spiced Cider

  • 1 bottle Charles Shaw Pinot Grigio

  • 1/2 Cup Trader Joe’s Distilled Bourbon

  • 1 Cup Trader Joe’s Mineral Water

  • 1 Apple, Pear, & Lemon, Sliced


Combine, stir, refrigerate, drink. It really is that simple! I left ours to chill for about 3 hours but you could do it for a shorter amount of time in a pinch. This just allows the fruit slices to soak up all the deliciousness so you have a boozy snack at the end, so I do recommend this if you have time to spare.

Amanda McDowellComment