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How Do You Decide What To Read?

It’s no secret that I read a lot. I read on the train, I read before bed, and I’ve more or less stuck with my resolution to read every day. If you keep up with my What I’m Loving series, you’ll know that I also try to maintain a good bit of variety and expand my horizons.

Fiction has always been my first love — from Little House On The Prairie to now, I’ve always been searching for a way to be transported to another place and time, understand another character, and hopefully learn something new about the world along the way. As I’ve grown, I’ve also found a love for non-fiction, memoirs, and historical fiction. I don’t think I’ll ever love poetry, but everything else is more or less fair game.

Even though I’m not genre-biased, there are a lot of books with a synopsis that doesn’t draw me in. You may not be able to judge a book by its cover, but you can judge it by what words the author uses to describe it and thousands of Amazon reviews. While taking a chance has led me to a lot of books that were surprisingly enjoyable, I’ve still started a few that I just cannot get into for one reason or another.

Even if I’m not feeling a piece, I have a hard time “giving up” on a book—subconsciously I’ll be looking for anything to do other than read, but I still won’t set it down and move on for good (I can’t be the only one!). Vetting things thoroughly from the start helps me to not be disappointed, but unfortunately also leads to a time-consuming search every. single. time I’m looking for a new book to read.

So I’m curious — how do you decide what to read? Is there a better/more efficient way that I’m missing out on? Does anybody have any go-to “#bookstagrams” or review sites they’d recommend? If so pleasepleaseplease let me know — or just share some of your personal faves!

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!

The Importance of Information

I've tried to draft this post so many times in the past, but each time it seemed to fall flat. Balancing opinions with insights is a difficult thing to do, and the last thing I wanted to do was dilute the point. I want to express my love of information, not as a cynic, but as someone hopeful that everyone will take a bit of time today to learn something new.

For as long as I can remember, I've loved history. My parents took me to Colonial Williamsburg as a girl and I was in heaven. I read and re-read the Little House on the Prarie books and imagined my life as an early western settler. I've watched documentaries about the history of Christmas, how the Federal Reserve system came to be, and how the Hoover Dam was built, all for fun.

Out of that love of history came a love of politics. As I got older, I began to think about the complexities of a newly-founded colony seceding from England, about why the electoral college exists, and how in the world the Vietnam War took so long to end. Questions like these come naturally as you start to ponder things, and opinions are sure to follow.

We all know what opinions are like, and I'm not here to talk about mine (I've got Twitter for that). However, the importance of having an opinion in the first place is something I do want to discuss. This is a hard world, and a scary world, and an absolutely terrifying political climate no matter what side of the aisle you find yourself on. Having that knowledge isn't fun, but it is SO important.

I'll be the first to tell you that keeping up with the news exhausts me. I feel too much empathy and too much anxiety to possibly read every headline, and I understand how people become complacent. However, staying informed is too important of a privilege to sacrifice to stress. We can learn so much about nearly anything we want to, yet so few of us take the time to learn about the current state of the world. We can connect with friends from elementary school via social media, but we don't take the time to connect with our elected officials who decide how we live our lives.

So I urge you, no matter your party affiliation, learn what's going on. I promise that ethical journalism is still out there; take the time to read it. Learn the bills your Congressional representatives are sponsoring, and send them an email if you disagree. Mail off that voter registration card and exercise that right, both in election years AND in mid-terms (because the mid-term elections are just as influential). Read from different sources, credible sources. Listen to NPR. They're an industry standard for a reason (I recommend the Up First podcast!). America is a place where every voice can be heard — but if you're going to talk, know what you're about to say.

Speaking of voices being heard, America isn't a place where every voice is heard at the same volume. If you're a person of privilege who doesn't comprehend that, expand your horizons and learn why. If you don't understand why a movie with an African American cast is significant, watch the movie. If you're open to learning, you'll learn. If you don't know why women march, what Black Lives Matter represents, or why people are concerned about the business of private prisons, just learn. Don't let an article tell you what those things mean or why people do what they do. Go out and learn it yourself.

Basically, I'm rehashing the syllabus from Scientific Writing 1010, which coincidentally is the class that made me cry the most during college. However, the sentiment remains: do your own research, find your own sources, and come to your own conclusion. Unlike my scientific writing professor, I'd rather not read a 500-page paper about anyone's conclusions — but I still want to encourage others to have their own.

The fact that we can learn, access information, and then use that information to influence how our country operates is incredible. We're so lucky that those before us have fought for our right to representation, our right to vote, and our right to learn. We're also lucky that those around us are fighting for even more rights and freedoms for the generations to come. Coming from the south, moving to the west, and being exposed to a wide variety of people along the way, I do believe that most discord could be solved with a bit of education and an open mind.

So I urge you to learn about something you don't understand today — whether political or not. This is a huge year for elections, find out when yours is. Let your voice be heard, and stay quiet while those you haven't listened to are speaking. Knowledge is uncomfortable but knowledge is power, and the importance of remaining informed in the information age cannot be overstated.

What I'm Loving | 03/11/2018

One really fun thing about living in California is getting to rediscover it every time someone comes to visit.

Harley's family spent the week here (it was his dad's first time!), so we got to play tour guide for a few days. We went to Alcatraz and Big Basin State Park — both firsts for us — in addition to showing off some local favorites.

There's a lot to enjoy about Oakland, but it's easy to become jaded in reference to San Francisco and the Bay Area as a whole. Expensive, gentrified, and over-crowded, there's a lot to dislike about it when you start to look...but then you stand inside of a giant redwood or get a glimpse of the Golden Gate over the city and it really is hard to hate it. There are issues with infrastructure, housing, and racial tension that are far too serious to glaze over, but overall, Northern California is a cool place to be.

Here's what I'm loving lately:

Reading :: I'm still working on This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, and it's so much more interesting than I had expected! I'm not typically invested in volumes of short stories, but this one is different. Most of the stories within the book were written as standalone essays for papers or publications, so they have an independent feel while still fitting into the book as a whole.

Listening :: We scored pre-sale tickets to Childish Gambino, and although the show isn't until September I've been revisiting some of his older albums out of excitement. I also discovered Jack Johnson released a new album last year, and it is so good! I saw Jack Johnson at Bonnaroo ages ago and I've always had a soft spot for his songs.

Spare Time :: I might just have to change this section to movies since that's about all we've done in our spare time! We've seen Black Panther and I, Tonya — both SO good. The director of Black Panther is from Oakland, and part of the film takes place here. The entire theater cheered when it came on screen, which was such a fun experience! I, Tonya was...unique...but I enjoyed it quite a bit. It felt raw and real, which you don't get from a lot of movies, and the soundtrack was great!

Style :: I mentioned my quest for sustainable leggings and it has been a resounding success! I got these from Onzie and these from Prana (both on a very steep discount from Backcountry, of course), and I love them both! Onzie is an LA-based company that still does their dyeing, manufacturing, and sewing in Venice Beach, and Prana makes their sustainable clothing mission a part of everything they do. It feels great to make a difference, no matter how small — and I love these leggings!

Finding Savings With DIY Recipes

I know we've talked about how much I've come to enjoy cooking, and it's become a great hobby both out of interest and the necessity of saving money.

Now that I'm more comfortable in the kitchen, I've made it my mission to learn how to prepare at-home versions of ingredients I'd usually buy. The savings are small (typically a dollar or two per serving), but for ingredients or pre-packaged items you use often it really helps cut down on the grocery bill.

There are also quite a few things that aren't cheaper to make at home (marinara sauce) or too stressful (bread) in which case, I'd vote that they're not worth the effort. These recipes, on the other hand, are me-tested (aka foolproof) and will provide a lot of savings in the long run!

Freezer Garlic Bread // I've made this so many times. While buying all the full-priced ingredients won't save you a ton itself, if you can get french bread or butter at a discount you can drive that cost per serving way down. This also has the benefit of being 1) not full of preservatives, and 2) just as convenient as the store-bought version.

Black & Refried Beans // I wouldn't go through the trouble to make my own beans without the Instant Pot, but since I have it, it's a no-brainer. A can of black or refried beans is typically $.99, whereas I can get a HUGE bag of dried beans for $5. I get ~15 cans/bag — not gigantic savings, but as much as I use these for ingredients it quickly adds up. I just make a giant batch and freeze them in individual mason jars for maximum convenience.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough // You can thank my wonderful grandmother for this tip — did you know you can freeze cookie dough? It's so easy to bring together, and then you just roll it into a log, wrap it in saran wrap, and cut off slices when you're ready to use! It's so much better than storebought, and the simple ingredient list makes it inexpensive to throw together, too.

Potato Skins // We sometimes do this thing called "appetizer dinner", which is exactly what it sounds like and usually features a ton of frozen foods. I decided to see what I could home make from our usual list, and these came out SO much better than the TGIFridays version. Potatoes are so cheap that paying $10 for their tiny boxes seemed ridiculous...and since you scoop out the middles, you get mashed potatoes, too! They are time-consuming and there's no way to sugar coat that, but most of the preparation is hands-off — perfect for a day you're just hanging around the house anyway.

Freezer Pizza Bagels // Stemmed from the same homemade appetizer venture and my love of bagel bites! These are AMAZING. For real authenticity, you could use mini bagels and still save — I just used full sized because they were on sale. Bagel Bites are both tiny and expensive, whereas the cost of this recipe is ~$6 for 12 full-sized bagels halves!

Chicken Fried Rice // If you're anything like me, the only time you order takeout is when you're craving it so badly you can't stand it...enter this chicken fried rice. Better than takeout isn't an exaggeration here. I haven't done the total price per recipe, but I use 1 chicken breast, a bag of frozen mixed veggies (~$2) and rice prepared from dried in my Instant it comes out to be pretty darn cheap. Also, I was too frugal to buy the sesame oil the first time around — it's fine without it but if you catch it on sale it does add a great depth of flavor!

What I'm Loving | 03/04/2018

I know I mentioned in my last post that spring doesn't start until March 20th, but in my mind, the first day of March is the first day of spring!

It's still been uncharacteristically cold and rainy here, but having a gym membership has kept the weather from getting me too down! I still love my at-home yoga practice, but I'm also climbing and trying new classes which I enjoy. (I tried boxing this week! Can you imagine me, boxing? I couldn't either, but it was actually really fun!)

Here's what else I'm loving lately:

Reading :: The Joy Luck Club was beautifully written. In the beginning, I was worried that it might be difficult to keep the characters straight — and it was. However, since the book is told from multiple perspectives that's almost a given. I did love all the cultural elements the author incorporated, and I feel like I learned quite a bit regardless. Now I'm on to This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett. She's a delightful author so I'm excited to learn more about her life.

Listening :: The Up First Podcast by NPR is exactly what I've been needing in my life. I think it's so important to keep up with the news, but it's also exhausting. This is a digestible format without the sensationalism you get from typical news networks, so it's a much less stressful way to stay informed.

Spare Time :: Movies! We went to see The Post before it left theaters, and I absolutely recommend it (both for Meryl Streep and the historical significance). Of course, I'm a sucker for anything about journalism so I'm not an unbiased reviewer, but I think the professional critics also rated it favorably. We also watched Evan Almighty on Netflix, and I forgot what a delight that movie was!

Style :: I have been a Patagonia fan for a long time — the style and quality can't be beat. Lately, I've also been inspired by their sustainability efforts and commitment to ethical clothing manufacturing, which is something you don't hear a lot about. I love a great sale at H&M as much as the next gal, but between factory collapses and a lack of livable wages, I've started to wonder if there's a better way. While I can't afford a Patagonia-sponsored wardrobe, I did some research and was shocked at the many small, high-quality brands I've found. To test the waters, I've ordered 2 pairs of workout pants from 2 sustainably-focused brands...will report back!

Preparing for a Busy Season

The first day of spring isn't technically until March 20th, but I can already tell it's going to be a chaotic season. PreparingforaBusySeason

Between work, house hunting, family visiting, and a trip home, my planner is rapidly filling up with to-dos and save-the-dates. When I was younger, I feel like I was able to work through crazy seasons of my life, but now that I'm older (a.k.a. now that I take better care of myself) I find it to be a lot harder. When I was in college, I had a few semesters where I took 20 credit hours in addition to having a job and a social life — now I start to panic a bit if I have too many plans in a week!

When you're in a time of chaos, it's all you can do to stop and take a breath. When you're preparing for a time of chaos, it's hard to know where to begin because the craziness hasn't quite happened yet. I have to feel like I have a handle on things for my own sanity, so this is how I handle chaos that's on the horizon:

Cut Out What You Can // There are only so many hours in a day, and chasing down spare time is exhausting. Instead of constantly playing catch up, try to find things in your schedule that you can preemptively cut down on. Personally, de-cluttering my social media and banning myself from my Facebook newsfeed has given me so many extra “open minutes” throughout the day that I never knew I was losing! Whether you need to take a break from the timeline, unsubscribe from emails that aren't serving you, or spend TV time multitasking, busy seasons are the perfect time to shed whatever doesn't best serve you in the long run!

Be Thankful // Yikes, this is a hard one. I'm incredibly grateful that I get to work from home and do work that I'm excited about, but there isn't a job in the world that doesn't have its own stressors. Especially when I get overwhelmed, I start obsessively going over my list of everything I “have” to do...but then I remind myself to reframe it as what I GET to do. In my experience, the craziest times in our lives are the ones that advance it the most, so it's good to try and keep that progress in perspective.

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare // It's not always easy to prepare when you don't know what your schedule is going to be like, but taking small steps can still go a long way. I have a bad way of compounding stress — like if I'm overwhelmed and then remember I have a ton of laundry to do, things can go from stress to meltdown real quick (especially depending on how tired I am, ha!). To deal with that, if I know I'm going to have a crazy few days, I try to knock out those quicker tasks in advance. It might not tackle the reason I feel overwhelmed, but it at least gives me one less thing to worry over.

BREATHE // Taking time to breathe is impossible for me sometimes. When I get worked up and lose perspective, it's unbelievable how difficult it is to calm my thoughts. My Apple Watch has literally given up on sending me those "take a minute to breathe" reminders that come built into the software😳. But still, I try to persevere and remind myself to chill as often as I'm able. If there's one thing I know, it's that things are never as bad as they seem to be in a moment of panic!

Whether you're busy with work, school, or a million little things, a little perspective and preparation go a long way! Also, if you have any tips on how to keep calm during craziness, that would be great😅