11 Feel-Good Books That Will Warm Your Heart

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

When I think about the times in my life when my anxiety & depression were at their worst, I spot something else those periods of time have in common: I was not reading any books. These days, reading is my favorite go-to for an escape from the real world, & it's probably no coincidence that my anxiety has been much more well-controlled than usual in the time since I recommitted to regular reading.

Studies have shown that reading does, in fact, reduce anxiety.

Reducing anxiety is good for your health.

What's good for your health is good for your body.

And what's good for your body is good for you!

February 2nd is National Wear Red Day in the U.S., a day devoted to women's heart health & to overall wellness. In anticipation of this educational day, I'm one of a few Cleveland bloggers partnering with the American Heart Associationto talk about preventing heart disease, the number-one killer of American women. The AHA's Go Red For Women® movement aims to provide women with the tools & resources to reduce their risk for heart disease & stroke.

Anxiety & stress can cause high blood pressure, asthma, ulcers, bowel issues, & migraines, & can have other negative effects on the body. Stress can also lead us to seek unhealthy ways of coping, including drinking, smoking, & doing drugs - all of which are, of course, not good for the heart or body. In short, reducing stress can reduce your risk of heart disease & other ailments, contributing to your overall health & wellness.

So let's talk about my favorite healthy way to relax my mind & body: reading!

In partnership with the Cleveland American Heart Association, I've curated a list of some of my favorite feel-good reads that will warm your heart (in the proverbial way, of course) & help you chill out. So go read a book - it's good for your heart!


To Motivate a Positive Outlook...

Year of Yes by Shonda Rimes
Sure, "No" is a complete sentence - but are you saying "no" to too many things? Are you saying "yes" enough? Grey's Anatomy creator & all-around media powerhouse Shonda Rimes (a perpetual naysayer, apparently) shares her experiences in saying yes to all manner of experiences, an effort to push her b oundaries & test her comfort zone. Exhausting? Sure - but the results are worth it, & they may just inspire you to a few more yeses, too.

To Make You Feel Nostalgic for the Past...

The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant
When Ava interviews her 85-year-old Grandma Addie for a school project, she's enraptured by the detailed & fascinating stories her grandmother tells of growing up in Boston as a Jewish immigrant during the turn of the century. With humor & grace, Addie weaves lifetime of tales of friendship, family, feminism, & more, stories so engaging you'll feel like she's your own grandmother.

To Remind You to Cherish Friendships...

A Man Called Ove by Frederick Bachman
This book snuck up on me! I didn't initially like it, but the further I got into the story, the more I found myself enamored of it. Curmudgeonly Ove, widowed & newly unemployed, is planning to take his own life - until his meets neighbors who, despite his best efforts, become friends - & eventually begin to feel like family - who make his life worth living.

To Escape into Another World...

The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
I would've thought them too obvious to include in such a list, but when I learned that a coworker of mine has never read any of these classic books, I realized that I need to preach the gospel. When you want to get your mind off the real world, there's no better way to do it than by visiting the wizarding world. Just reading about Hogwarts is enough to make you feel warm & cozy, & there's nothing more soothing than getting lost in the literal magic of this beloved series. It gets better with every reread!

To Tap Into the Feeling of Young Love...

The Distance from A to Z by Natalie Blitt
Try to remember your teenage days: Was there any feeling more wonderful (&, OK, more agonizing) than that feeling of first love? Blitt's YA romance novel is so much more than that, delving deep into the personalities & personal struggles of teens Abby & Zeke, who meet during a summer French class & fall for one another, despite the fact that they couldn't be more different. This is a light-hearted but well-written read that will have you feeling nostalgic about those feelings of first love.

To Feel Inspired to Fight for a Life You Adore...

Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton
This is the second memoir from bestselling author & activist Melton, who created the online community Momastery. It tackles difficult topics like self-esteem, eating disorders, mental illness, & marital strife (she has since divorced from her longtime husband & remarried soccer star Abby Wambach). I promise, the book is not nearly as touchy-feely as the title makes it sound like it should be - & by the time you finish it, you'll feel ready to take on the world, warts & all.

To Welcome Old Age with Grace...

I Feel Bad about My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman by Nora Ephron
This collection of short stories from the late, great Nora Ephron doesn't sound like it ought to be uplifting - & it isn't always, because life isn't, either. Overall, though, it's an honest, hilarious, & heart-warming look at what it's like to grow old as a woman in today's world, & if you've ever worried about aging (who among us hasn't?), this is the perfect book to help you approach it with a healthy sense of humor & readiness.

To Get You Laughing Out Loud....

One Day We'll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul
Indian-American Buzzfeed writer Scaachi Koul is a twentysomething with stories to tell & the perfect voice for telling them. Her collection of personal essays are deep & powerful, but she manages to tell them with a cleverness & wit that keep the book from feeling too painfully heavy, even when she's addressing subjects that are. Bonus: The bright pink & yellow cover art is of the feel-good variety, especially on dreary days.

To Inspire You to Fight for Your Life...

The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins
Even if you've seen the movies & think you know this story, Collin's YA trilogy will suck you into the world of Panem, a dystopian world consisting of 12 struggling districts under the thumb of an opulent - & oppressive - Capitol. When teenage archer & survivalist Katniss Everdeen is chosen to fight in the annual Hunger Games, a death-match Olympics from which only one competitor emerges alive, she starts a revolution no one expected - least of all the Capitol.

To Activate Your Imagination...

Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi
Even if you're not a person who considers fantasy your genre jam, Mafi tells a story so beautiful & so imaginative that you can't help but fall in love with the world she creates & the characters she introduces. Alice, marked with milk-white skin & hair in a world of brilliant color, embarks on a journey through the made-up land of magical Ferenwood in an attempt to rescue her long-lost father - & what a colorful, magical, marvelous journey it is.

To Encourage You to Be Yourself...

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
Soon to become a full-length film, this YA novel tells the story of Simon, a very closeted gay teenager who has only told one person about his sexuality - his anonymous pen pal, also closeted, whose identity he does not know. As Simon determines just how to share his secret, he wonders: Will his pen pal like him when he does? What about his family & friends? Simon's courage & humor will have you thinking about your own identities & how to better live as your authentic self.

To learn about more about heart health & healthy living, join me & other Cleveland-area bloggers on Friday, Feb. 2nd, at the 2018 Go Red for Women Expo & Luncheon, hosted by the American Heart Association. 

Can't attend? Follow the Cleveland American Heart Association on FacebookTwitter, & Instagram for ongoing tips about healthy living in 2018. Cheers to that!

Disclosure: The Cleveland American Heart Association invited me to write about heart health & to promote the Cleveland Go Red for Women Expo and Luncheon in exchange for a ticket to attend the event. All opinions - & book reviews! - are my own.

Cleveland Starts Here: Learning More About My Favorite City

Monday, January 15, 2018

I'm a sucker for Cleveland. Maybe you've noticed? Before I even moved here, I knew I'd love this city - & right I was.

Something I don't know much about, though, is Cleveland's history. Sure, I read Cleveland Magazine, & I'm a member of the Western Reserve Historical Society, & I once went on a cool walking tour that taught me about Moses Cleaveland, who founded our fair city & then never returned. (Insert Cleveland jokes here.) I know that a Cleveland deejay coined the term "rock & roll," & that one time, our river caught on fire.

And that's... kind of it.

I'm not much for museums, to be honest, but when the Cleveland History Center debuted its new permanent exhibit, Cleveland Starts Here®, I was really excited to check it out. The exhibit is the first thing you walk through when you visit the history center, with two rooms chock-full of CLE paraphernalia & info.

Suffice it to say, I'm more of a history nerd than I give myself credit for, & I found everything at the history center to be really cool. Here, a few highlights:

Upon entering the CLE Starts Here exhibit, you're faced with a huge timeline wall, which includes photos, videos, artifacts, & interactive elements that tell the city's history through the decades. In the surrounding room, you can read about various elements of the city's past & present, from the founding of the Rock Hall to the Cavs' 2016 win. But it's not only the good stuff: The exhibit also talks about the Tamir Rice shooting & subsequent protests, among other less-savory elements of our city's history - much of which continues today.

The best photo I took of the day was of the giant Chief Wahoo right behind the admission desk, but I feel pretty uncomfortable about that, given the mascot's offensiveness. This massive neon rendering used to live atop the sign over Jacobs Field, but it was removed in 1995 when the field was renamed (though it'll always be Jacobs Field to me!) A sign about the mascot's history asks museum guests to weigh in on the controversy, so here's my hot take: Nostalgic? Sure. Offensive? Deeply. Get rid of 'it - & rename the team altogether. 

Though the exhibit itself isn't huge, it's full of small bits & pieces of history & includes rotating features of the center's many Cleveland historical artifacts. For now, you can see a DeLorean, Cleveland political buttons, & a detailed replica of Terminal Tower, & Gay Games medals, among other items. 

From there, we moved into the rest of the museum & its many exhibits.

As someone with political curiosities, I was especially interested in Carl & Louis Stokes: Making History, highlighting two of the city's most impressive brothers. Carl Stokes, Cleveland's 51st mayor, was the first elected Black mayor of a major American city, & his brother Louis was Ohio's first Black congressman. Both have since passed, but their legacies continue to inspire. Cleveland has since had two Black mayors (including current mayor Frank Jackson), & Louis's House seat - my district! - continues to be held by Black politicians: the late Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones & the formidable Rep. Marcia Fudge. 

Speaking of politics, my favorite exhibit was Power & Politics, which opened during the 2016 election season. Did you know that eight presidents came from Cleveland? Two were assassinated (Garfield & McKinley), plus an attempt on a third (Taft). The Western Reserve Historical Society possesses one of the country's largest collections of campaign ephemera, which is (fun fact!) a long-time interest of mine. Maybe it's the marketer in me, but I love old campaign buttons.

I particularly love old Eisenhower paraphernalia, in part because I did my second-grade presidential report on him. Don't laugh! Those reports were a big deal, man, & we all became very possessive & defensive of "our" presidents. Plus, how great a slogan is "I like Ike"? My kingdom to anyone who can help me get my hands on an Ike button of my own!

Mike & I split up for part of our time at the museum, based on our interests. I spent a long time wandering the Wow Factor exhibit, which features 100 garments, accessories, & pieces of jewelry worn by Clevelanders throughout the last 150 years. I even spotted a dress created by Project Runway contestant Valerie Mayen (who owns a local shop called Yellowcake) & one worn by Cleveland blogger & DJ/PR gal extraordinaire Reena Samaan Goodwin.

There's much more to the museum, including the Bingham-Hanna Mansion & Hay-McKinney Mansion galleries, the Setting the World in Motion exhibit (which includes a huge Goodyear gondola!), the entire Crawford Auto Aviation Museum (so many cars), a kids' section, & plenty of Cleveland-themed art, plus a gorgeous courtyard that was, upon our visit, covered in snow.

To cap off our trip, we went for a quick ride on the 1910 Euclid Beach Park Grand Carousel, relocated & restored more than 40 years after the park's closure. The price of general admission includes two rides! Have I ever told you that I love carousels? Mike was a good sport about it, though he didn't quite share my level of enthusiasm. (I chose a horse named Gertrude, in case you were curious. Yes, they're all labeled with names.)

If you live in Northeast Ohio & are looking for a fascinating but low-key museum day, I can't recommend the Cleveland History Center highly enough. I look forward to continuing to visit as the exhibits & featured artifacts change. Know thy city!

And one last thing: I'll also be attending the Western Reserve Historical Society's upcoming fundraiser Somewhere in Time: Satin & Soot, held January 27th. Tickets for this 1870s-themed costume party begin at $50, with all proceeds benefiting WRHS in providing continued education & public programs. Join me!

Disclosure: I was provided two tickets to the Cleveland History Center to visit the Cleveland Starts Here® exhibit in exchange for my honest review, & I will be attending the Satin & Soot event as a member of the media. I am a member of the Western Reserve Historical Society. All views are, as always, entirely my own!

How Do You Hygge?

Friday, January 12, 2018

The concept of hygge has been all the rage for a couple winters now, but this is the first of those winters that has been truly, miserably, brutally cold here in Cleveland. We got lucky with a couple surprisingly mild winters, but this one is here with a vengeance.

Local blog She in the CLE recently published "5 Tips to Enjoy Winter with More Hygge," written by Shibani of Bombay Taxi, which shares ideas for indulging in the Danish concept of "the feeling of coziness and specialness." The Danes, of course, are used to dealing with the cold - though I just learned that the average winter temperature is 32° F, which seems practically balmy right now given Cleveland's recent lows of 0° F.

Tapping into those hygge tips, here's how I'm surviving the CLE cold.

Turning on a "happy light" to keep the S.A.D. away.

After asking social media for recommendations, I finally bought a delightful piece of technology called a VeriLux HappyLight, purchased with an Amazon gift card I got for the holidays. What a good investment! It provides 7500 Lux UV of blocked bright-white light therapy, & while I don't really know what the hell that means, this gadget does keep our apartment feeling brighter, warmer, & far less dreary.

Displaying a beautiful flower arrangement from Silk Plants Direct.

Hygge rules say to decorate your home with plants, but I do not have a green thumb - like, not even close. My grandmother & my mother got great gardening genes, but alas, they seem to have skipped me, & I have no interest in trying to keep real plants alive (or away from my cats). Instead, I ordered the gorgeous peony/rose/hydrangea arrangement you see above from Silk Plants Direct's huge variety. I'm not one for big, bold colors, so when they reached out, I chose something subtle but cheerful that would keep me feeling the glow of spring even in the middle of a freezing-cold winter. I think this beautiful bouquet is doing the trip. (You can get 10% off an arrangement from the site with code BLOGGER10.)

Cozying up under lots of warm blankets.

A few years ago, I used my tax return (the only one I've ever gotten; I always owe!) to purchase this soft faux fur blanket in "platinum frost fox" - but I like to call it my direwolf blanket. Mike has all but claimed it, so we fight over it in cold weather. Time to order another? This summer, I bought a beautiful handwoven Peruvian blanket from Kukuli Market, a Cleveland small biz. It's not cozy, necessarily, but it's very heavy & warm, so when I lie beneath it, it's sort of like one of those gravity blankets designed for people with sensory disorders. It's very soothing - & that is very cozy.

Lighting candles, candles, candles.

Isn't there something about having a bunch of candles lit that makes you feel like your living in The Burrow from Harry Potter? I recently determined that I'm allergic to many - most? - candles, but I've yet to determine which ones or why, exactly. In the meantime, I'm sticking to the one candle I own that seems not to stoke my allergies, & I've ordered it in bulk. It's Yankee Candle's Berry Trifle scent, & it smells like living inside of a warm pie.

Warming up in front of a fake fireplace

This was a hand-me-down from my mom, who has a real fireplace in her family room but bought this fake one to warm her living room. The warming function is broken, so it no longer serves as a space heater, but it sure does look cozy. We've set it up to serve as a placebo in the hopes that it will make us feel warmer than we actually are.

How are you making it through the cold weather? 

Thanks to Silk Flowers Direct for sponsoring this post. I was gifted a flower arrangement of my choosing in exchange for a "neutral blog post." As always, all opinions & views are my own.

Murder at the Manor: A Costumed Dinner Party on Lake Erie

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

I don't recall how the conversation started, but a couple months ago, some friends & I talked about how fun it would be to host a murder mystery dinner party. Usually those kinds of "Sometime we ought to..." conversations fall by the wayside, never to be followed up on, but in this case, we moved quickly. Our friends Trevor & Callie invited us up to their family lake house on Lake Erie for a dinner party with a murderous twist!

The game we chose was Murder at the Manor, sold by a British company (& containing a few Britishisms with which none of us was familiar). A few weeks before the party, each of us chose a character from the list of suspects, complete with punny names & short descriptions of their personalities & style profiles. The character I chose was named Misty Visions, described this way:
You are a free spirit in floaty fabrics adorned with scarves, belts, bangles and big earrings. You're often seen listening to unseen forces or reading stranger's palms.
First, let's discuss the locale. How beautiful is this house? It's riiiiight on the lake, which was frozen over in jagged shards in the zero-degree temps. (The same group of friends was here just a few months ago for Trevor & Callie's wedding reception, where the only ice was in our cocktails.)

We showed up at the lake house with costumes in hand, hanging out & snacking on appetizers until it came time to get ready for the murder mystery portion of the evening. Naturally, I went all-out, purchasing a bronze dress, a lace duster, & an armful of bangles, then decking myself out in crystal necklaces & a Roman scarf fashioned into a makeshift turban. I painted on lots of eyeliner & dark red lipstick, & Misty Visions was born.

Mike's character was General Custard, a disgruntled former Army man, & he played the part with some great vintage military pieces, including a sweet hat (not pictured) & an Army canteen. Alas, I didn't really get any good photos of us aside from the group shot above, & this couple pic is disappointingly dark:

At the start of the party, we pulled numbers out of a hat to determine who was the murderer - kept secret, of course. Then, we each received a character manual that included more background on who we were playing, along with specific instructions about how to answer the questions we'd be asked during the game (with different responses to give depending on whether we were guilty or innocent).

The event took place in three acts, & during each of them, we schmoozed & kibbitzed & asked very pointed questions as directed by our character guides. Of course, we embellished a little bit to get in character, with Blanche Batters adopting a Southern swagger & Dr. Fumbles taking on an unidentifiable accent & Cinders drinking whiskey out of an emptied bottle of Clinique cleanser.

By the time act three ended, I was more confused than ever. I had no idea whodunnit!

We all voted on which character we thought was the murderer behind the tragic death of Lord Heathcliff, & my vote went to his new widow, antiques dealer Em Fatale. Alas, I was wrong - as most of us were. Only one guest, it turned out, accused the actual murderer: Dr. Fumbles, played by our host, Trevor!

As the game came to a close, we took shots of whiskey in celebration - we'd completed a murder mystery party! - then changed into pajamas for the rest of the night. Fortunately, the lake house is large enough to sleep the whole gang, & I was in (a very comfy, fluffy) bed by just after midnight, all traces of Misty Visions wiped clean & the former General Custard snoring beside me.

In the morning, our hosts put out muffins & a bubbly egg casserole, & we sat around the spacious living room drinking coffee & just hanging out, enjoying the views of Lake Erie from the huge picture windows that overlook it. Come early afternoon, we packed up & rolled out, & when we got home, Mike & I spent the rest of the day reading & relaxing & napping (OK, that was mostly me).

The verdict? It was such a fun thing to do, & I couldn't be happier that we put our "Wouldn't it be fun if..." idea into action & actually made it a reality. If you have the type of friends who would enjoy getting all costumed up for a ridiculous night of accents & acting, you've got to host your own murder mystery dinner party - & soon.

All I Do is Sleep, Sleep, Sleep No Matter What

Monday, January 8, 2018

About a year & a half ago, I started having a sleep problem I'd never had before: I couldn't fall asleep for most of the night, & by the time I finally slept well, it was 5 or 6 in the morning. It was like I didn't hit REM sleep until morning - & as a result, I overslept on an everyday basis.
Now, I'm sleeping better during the night - but back to having the same problem I've always had.

I've had trouble sleeping for as long as I can remember - namely, the trouble is that I sleep way too much. Literally, this was the primary complaint of not one but two of my college roommates. Back then, I went to the student health clinic at least once per year to be tested for mono - which I never had. I was just tired all. the. time.

The same is still true today.

Over winter "break" (I don't have one, I just took a few vacation days), I could not get out of bed. I set alarms but slept through all of them. Left to my own devices, one day I woke up at 2pm - at 33 years old! I slept past noon every day. I was perpetually exhausted. I could not get my body moving. 

One of my biggest goals for 2018 is to get my sleep schedule under control - including probably going back to the doctor to get some testing done, maybe a sleep study. It's time to do the damn thing.

For now, here's what I'm trying:

Drinking soothing tea before bed. 

After my aunt first introduced me Celestial Seasoning's Bengal Tea, a caffeine-free tea flavor, over Thanksgiving weekend, I immediately ordered a six-pack. It tastes a little bit like chai but much more flavorful, with robust flavors of cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, & cloves. I don't even put honey in it.

Taking magnesium.

Magnesium supplements have been shown to treat insomnia by decreasing cortisol & relaxing the muscles. It's not like taking melatonin, which actively helps you fall asleep - which I definitely don't need right now. I just need a better quality of sleep so I don't oversleep! Does magnesium work? I don't know, but it can't hurt, right?

Going to bed early-ish.

Duh, I know - but this has always been a difficult one for me. I've been trying to just do less so that when the time comes for me to go to bed, I actually go to bed. I often stay up late working, in part because I start my workday late - but if I can start my workday at a normal time, I can stop working at a normal time, too...

Putting my phone across the room.

I use my phone as an alarm clock, which I regularly sleep right through. I've started plugging my phone in for the night on the other side of the room, which has the added benefit of making sure I don't check it when I wake up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. 

Applying soothing face oil. 

I'm partial to Moonlit Skincare's Midnight Shift Overnight Facial Oil, made of jojoba & sunflower oil to moisturize & hydrate overnight. More importantly, it smells like lavender, so when you press it onto your face & neck, it releases an incredibly relaxing scent.

Using a "calm balm."

I first received this Calm Balm from Lesley Saligoe Botanicals in a Bloom Beautifully box about a year ago, & I use it nearly every night. You put a little in your palm, rub your hands to warm it up, then inhale deeply. It's scented of lavender & ylang ylang & soothes me within one breath.

Listening to a white noise app.

We got an Amazon Echo as a wedding gift, & while we're still trying to work out the kinks, right now I primarily use it as a white noise machine when I sleep (using sounds from Voice Apps LLC). It helps soften the harsh silence & drowns out the more-than-occasional sounds of Mike's snoring.

Sleeping with an eye mask/headphones hybrid. 

I listen to said white noise through my new sleep headphones, which I received as a Christmas gift from Mike. This soft, secure eye mask plugs into the Amazon Echo & pipes sleep sounds right into my ears to help lull me to sleep. I've been falling asleep faster than ever.

All of this is to say that I'm trying... but it's not necessarily working (yet). I'm going to keep at it - especially the getting-to-sleep-early thing - & see my doctor about it again, if I need to. If you have any tips - or have had any weird sleep issues yourself - I'd love to hear what has worked for you. 

Thanks to Moonlit Skincare for providing me with free product many months ago in exchange for my honest opinions. As always, all views are my own. 

2018 Will Be the Year I...

Friday, January 5, 2018

Go on a honeymoon. Spain, here we come! 

See a doctor to try to get my sleep habits under control.

Finally put in the work to make this apartment feel like home.

Up my activism game with protests & more calls to Congress.

Try again to focus on my health, weight loss or not.

Pay off my credit card bill. I'm getting close!

Rely on DevaCurl to bring my hair back to life.

Network with even more Clevelanders.

Try a Harness Cycle class, terrified as I am.

Book a spontaneous-ish trip to someplace I've never been.

Read 100 books again - or try my hardest, at least.

Write my first downloadable blog supplement, a visitor's guide to Cleveland.

Make it back to New York City. It's been way too long!

Build my blog by creating even better content & attending more local events.

Clear out my closet & work on curating my personal style.

Seek out more freelancing opportunities.

Cut way back on carbs. RIP, pizza, I love you.

Find new events to attend & restaurants to try in the CLE.

Take a solo writing retreat... somewhere.

Celebrate three years with Mike & our first wedding anniversary.

What are you planning to do in 2018? 

6 Small Goals for January

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Oh, hello, 2018. I'm not big on making New Year's resolutions, though I do, of course, try to... you know, be a better person. Still, I'm kind of liking this monthly goal thing, instead of setting big, overarching goals that I forget about or fail at by mid-year.

Here's what I committed to in December - & how I did:
  1. Do my best at my big work conferenceThe metrics from the event are a little muddy, for reasons I won't get into here, but we had great engagement & online participation (my area of work) for this event... & I even got to meet Fran Drescher! I'm calling that a win.
  2. Make some sort of holiday-themed plans: My mom & I went to see the Festival of Trees at Playhouse Square & Glow at the Botanical Gardens, both of which I absolutely loved. 
  3. Successfully complete my DietBet: Yeah, I... didn't do this. I tried for the first few days, but then I went out of town for work & my attempt at dieting - errr, eating better - quickly devolved. The good news is I didn't gain any weight, but neither did I win a portion of the DietBet pot.
  4. Buy a mattressWe haven't done this but I'm marking it as complete, namely because Mike's mom reminded us that she's in the process of selling her Cincinnati condo (she used to work down there during the week) & that she has a brand new mattress to get rid of. I'm not sure how long it will take us to secure this item, but whenever she moves everything back north, we'll make this happen. 
  5. Put together our new bed frame: We haven't done this yet because who ever wants to sit down & put together a bed frame? I swear we're gonna do it soon...  
  6. Send all our wedding thank-you notes: I finished my portion of the thank-you notes, but Mike has yet to finish his. I'm marking this goal as complete, though, because I can only control the half that's, well, within my control! (And Mike's working on his.)
Not bad, right? I feel OK about it - & I also finally got new windshield wipers, a November goal that I totally slacked on. It took all of 10 minutes, so I should've done it much sooner.

Here's what I'm aiming for in January:
  1. Hang art on my walls. No, seriously. I'm gonna do it this time. Why is this taking us so long?!
  2. Get a damn haircut. I grew my hair out for the wedding, & now it's out of control & ratty as hell. I had to cancel a hair appointment because of the blackout last month, but January's the month I go in for the chop. 
  3. Eat at home more, eat out less. Aside from rent & bills, I spend the bulk of my money on food - but almost never on groceries. I go out to eat & order delivery wayyyy too often, & I'd like to cut way back on it this month.
  4. Work on my sleep issues. I'm 33 years old & have been struggling with sleep issues for my entire life. I discussed it a bit with my doctor in 2016, but I need to prioritize it again & really try to figure it out.
  5. Schedule some sort of spa service. I've been looking into cupping, & I have a coupon for 20% off a massage or facial, plus a Groupon for a flotation tank. I can't do 'em all, but I want to do something!
  6. Read only books I already own. The one exception is my book club read, borrowed from the library, but beyond that, I'm not reading anything except what's already on my bookshelf. No new books! I have a ton of great but unread novels just dying to be picked up in 2018.
What are your January goals - or your New Year's resolutions? 

What I Read in December

Monday, January 1, 2018

I didn't do a ton of reading in December, mostly because I did a ton of relaxing & Christmas-movie-watching, but I did read enough to hit 77 total books for the year, surpassing my goal of 60 & totaling 24,130 pages. Below are the five books I finished in the final month of 2017.

Next up: I'm currently reading Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, which I didn't finish in time for the 2017 total. After this one, I'll decide between Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay & Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, both purchased through Book of the Month Club. As always, you can get your first book for $9.99 - plus a free tote bag - when you join using my referral link. Happy reading!

Braced by Alyson Gerber

I first heard of this book while working the URJ Biennial in Boston, where its author spoke to the 6,000-person audience in attendance about her experience wearing a back brace in adolescence. I had a back brace, too, so I got a liiiittle excited for this one, even though it's a YA novel for tweens. What I didn't expect was how emotionally difficult it would be, at points, for me to read. I don't think I have a lot of baggage associated with my own scoliosis experience, but this read had me right back in 1997. ★★★★★

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware

I loved Ware's last book, The Woman in Cabin 10 - what a twist! - so I was really excited to get this one from Book of the Month Club. It tells the story of four boarding school friends reunited in adulthood because a secret from their past threatens to come to the surface. The twists & turns at the end were ones I did not see coming, which seems to be Ware's specialty, & these weren't nearly as wackadoo as in The Woman in Cabin 10. ★★★★★

The Mothers by Britt Bennett

I wrote about this book in my post My 10 Favorite Books of 2016; it was the last book of the year & also one of the best. Told from the third-person perspective of an older church-going woman, it tells the story of teenage church member Nadia, whose mother recently died by suicide; her boyfriend, Luke, the preacher's son; & her best friend, Aubrey, who soon becomes close to Luke, too. The book, which follows them into adulthood, tells one of the most agonizingly, exquisitely human stories I've ever read. ★★★★★

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

Yes, this makes for two Ruth Ware books in one month! This story, too, tells of friends reunited, this time for a "hen do," British terminology for a bachelorette party. The weekend's activities take place in a cabin located in, well, in a dark, dark wood, & though the book isn't really a thriller, it's definitely filled with tension & suspense. I saw at least one of the twists coming this time - but this was Ware's first novel, & she's clearly stepped up her twists-&-turns game since then. ★★★★★

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

I know a lot of people don't, but I really love John Green's writing. This is the story of Aza, a teenager who's trying to solve the case of a local billionaire's disappearance while also struggling with significant mental illness. Green, who lives with OCD, wrote about the mind of someone with mental illness so poignantly that it gave me some difficult flashbacks to my own past struggles. As always, Green's teen dialogue is too witty to be realistic, but what really bothered me about this book - at points so much that it totally took me out of the story - was how frequently the main character's best friend called her by a stupid nickname. It was in, like, every other sentence. ★★★★☆

And that'll do it for my books of 2017. If you want to hear more about what I loved this year, check out my top 10 favorite books of the year. As always thanks for reading... books and the blog!

Comment to tell me what you're reading, then add me on Goodreads to keep in touch & see what I've read in months past.

My "What I Read in..." posts include Amazon affiliate links to the titles I discuss. If you buy a book using one of these links, I will receive a small percentage of commission. Please don't feel any obligation to use these links, but if you do, it will help me buy more books.

My 10 Favorite Books of 2017

Saturday, December 30, 2017

I read 101 books in 2016, but I knew I wouldn't be able to make that happen in 2017. Between planning a wedding & working on a big conference for my job, I didn't think I'd have the oomph to make it to 100 - & I was right. To be fair, much of that is because I watched a lotttt of bad TV.

My final total for 2017 is 77 books, which is pretty darn good, all things considered. Below are my top three favorite books of the year - all of which happen to have been new this year (though that's not the case with the honorable mentions listed below them). Without further ado...

The Mothers by Brit Bennett 

This Book of the Month Club read was my 75th book of 2017 & easily one of my favorites. Told from the third-person perspective of an older church-going woman, it tells the story of teenage church member Nadia, whose mother recently died by suicide; her boyfriend, Luke, the preacher's son; & her best friend, Aubrey, who soon becomes close to Luke, too. The book follows them into adulthood and is one of the most agonizingly, exquisitely human stories I've ever read.  ★★★★★

Everybody's Son by Thrity Umrigar 

I read this one for Cleveland Magazine after its entertainment editor asked me to write a couple reviews for their holiday issue - & what an incredible book it is! Anton, a biracial 9-year-old, is taken away from his drug-addicted mother & fostered by a well-to-do white family who later adopt him. He subsequently grows up in the footsteps of his famous father & grandfather, both respected politicians - but what happens when he finds out more about his mother & his past?

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas 

Is a "new classic" a thing? If so, this is one of them - as evidenced by the fact that it was voted Best YA Fiction Book of the Year & its author was named Best Debut Author of the Year by Goodreads users. Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter lives in an all-Black part of town ruled by gangs but attends an almost-all-white prep school, leading her to feel like she lives two separate lives. When a cops kills her best friend during a traffic stop, Starr is the only witness - leading to national attend, local unrest, & plenty of inner & outer turmoil for Starr herself.

Honorable Mentions: I read so many good books this year that it was difficult to pare down the top 10, but here are the best of the bunch, in no particular order:
What's the best book you read this year - & what's on your to-read list in 2018? Gimme all your recs! And as always, you can get your first book for $9.99 - plus a free tote bag - when you join using my referral link. Happy reading!

2017 in Review: Globally Awful but Personally Lovely

Thursday, December 28, 2017

I've been pretty lucky to have a few good years in a row. What does it say about me if I'm perpetually living in fear of waiting for the other shoe to drop?

OK, wait, let's not think about that. Let's think, instead, about the year we're leaving behind, which was a pretty darn good one.

Let's take a look back, shall we?

For the second year in a row, we rang in the new year with friends at Darren & Lilly's apartment, eating cheese & charcuterie & enchiladas & donuts & only watching "New Year's Rockin' Eve" in the two minutes before the ball dropped. Perfect!

My first trip of the year was to Austin in January for my friend Jill's bachelorette party. I only knew one other attendee, but was so much fun to get to know Jill's friends - & how fun is Austin? I need to get back ASAP, for those breakfast tacos if nothing else.

We spent a weekend in Pittsburgh visiting friends & for a change of scenery. Though very cold, we hit up a delicious dinner, had drinks on a twinkly, enclosed rooftop patio, ate a boozy brunch, & had a quick, caffeinated meetup with another set of friends.

I staffed a teen conference in Chicago, where it was unseasonably warm - but I never even left the hotel, so it didn't really matter! I did get to spend time with some great coworkers, & I was proud of the work we did at the event. 

We discovered lots of great new places in the CLE, including Western Reserve Meadery, Hi & Dry, Brewnuts, Chow Chow Kitchen at the Parkview, HiHo Brewery back in my hometown, & lots of others. I look forward to seeing what opens in 2018! 

I took a work trip to D.C. for a team retreat, where we did a bunch of team-building activities & learned about our own work styles. For the first but not the last time this year, I sucked up my fear of public speaking & gave a presentation on SEO, blog headlines, & online marketing.

Mike & I hit up New Orleans for our friends Jill & Michael's wedding. It was Mike's first time there, so we did a whirlwind tour & tried to fit in as much as we could, including the Pharmacy Museum, the oldest bar in America, & a little voodoo visit. 

I struggled with losing my best friend after we had a major falling-out in March. I haven't talked much (read: at all) about it, but it weighed on me for the entire year, & I'm only now starting to come to terms with it - if that's even possible.

We headed to D.C. for another wedding, this time celebrating our friends Allison & Ryder. We were only there for 24 hours, but it was worth it for a wedding full of a bunch of my closest friends in a snazzy, trendy art gallery.

Speaking of art, I photographed as much Cleveland street art as I could, starting in the Hingetown neighborhood of Ohio City. I haven't done a blog post on it yet, but stay tuned in 2018 - & send me tips on where to find your favorite murals! 

My now-sister-in-law graduated from Ohio University, so the whole family made the trip down to Athens, OH (where I attended my first three years of college) to watch her & their cousin William walk. Such a proud day.

In May, Mike & I moved into a new apartment & signed a whopping three-year lease. It's a great place, right in the heart of the Tremont neighborhood (three blocks from our old place), & there's great comfort in knowing we're settled in for a little while.

On Instagram, I talked about body image & my ongoing struggles with weight loss, size acceptance, body positivity, etc. It was a moment of vulnerability that I was terrified to post, but to my relief & gratitude, people responded with such kindness.

We hit up tons of fun events around Cleveland, including Ale Fest, two shows at Playhouse Square, the Festival of Trees, my first church basement fish fry, a pierogi festival (also in a church basement), the Cleveland Asian Festival, & multiple Cleveland Fleas - to name a few. 

My friend Marchae & I presented a Lit Cleveland session on blogging to about a dozen newbies who were incredibly enthusiastic to learn about our favorite online medium. It took place in my new favorite book store, Loganberry Books.

In July, we spent a long weekend at a cabin in Pennsylvania with my cousins & some friends. I've been going to the cabin since childhood, but this was Mike's first visit, & I loved showing him this piece of my past. Unfortunately, we didn't see any bears.

I had jury duty... kind of. It was my first time ever being called, & though I didn't end up on a case, I did have a surprising amount of fun doing my civic duty & waiting in a nearly windowless room for a week with total strangers & spotty wifi.

We went back to D.C. for the wedding of my cousin Patrick & his longtime girlfriend, Claire, this time accompanied by my mom. We didn't see much of the city, but we did love celebrating with them at a fancy Georgetown wedding with a reception at a nature reserve.

My aunt threw me a bridal shower attended mostly by family friends - though my maid of honor did drive up from Tennessee for it. Toast in Gordon Square was the perfect spot for a lovely, intimate get-together with these wonderful women.

I attended my first Cleveland blogger event, a meetup at Hi & Dry right here in my own neighborhood, where I met local bloggers new & old. It also paved the way for me to feel comfortable attending other events, like a menu reveal at the Rowley Inn & a pizza party at Platform.

I spent lots of time with N, my "little sister" from Big Brothers Big Sisters. We mostly go out to eat - including a trip to Olive Garden - but we also visited the toy store Big Fun, hit up the Feast of the Assumption, toured a candy warehouse, & went to a Cavs watch party.

Thanks to the organizing skills of seven of my closest friends, I had a bachelorette party weekend in Savannah, GA, that involved no penis-shaped things & no public sash-wearing, which was exaaaaactly the kind of party I wanted.

My mom & I spent a week at the beach thanks to her timeshare (so '80s!) in Hilton Head Island, SC. Her friend Gloria joined us, which helped diffuse any possible mother/daughter tension, & the whole vacation was so much-needed & relaxing.

My friend Lilly & I spent a night in Detroit to see a live show of our favorite podcast, My Favorite Murder. We loved the show but couldn't figure out Detroit's Greektown, which seems to be full of nothing but clubs - so we spent the night drinking boxed wine in our hotel room.

Our friends Trevor & Callie got married in Geneva, OH, so Mike & our friends & I spent the night in cabins on Lake Erie after attending their beautiful reception at Trevor's parents lake house right on the water. Such a pretty weekend!

For the third year in a row, we dressed up as Harry Potter characters for Halloween. This year, I was Tonks, & Mike was Lupin - though we were only really identifiable as such when standing next to one another. Can we do it again next year? Stay tuned!

On November 11, 2017, Mike & I got married in a beautiful ceremony here in Cleveland, attended by 170 of our loved ones. The party that followed was, in a word, epic, & marrying the love of my life was easily the happiest day of my life.

We haven't taken a honeymoon yet, but we took a few days off work & spent an "afternoon honeymoon" in Amish country. It included a cheese factory, Ohio's oldest general store, homemade mac & cheese, & a covered bridge.

I spent Thanksgiving with my whole family (minus my new husband), who all gathered together for the first time in more than five years. We met up in Cincinnati for a throwback holiday celebration that was so very joyful.

My mom retired after 16.5 years as the head of the children's department at my hometown library. She was worried she'd be bored or wouldn't know what to do with herself, but now she's turning into a gym rat & learning how to sleep in.

I was published in Cleveland Magazine for the first time in more than 10 years, since I was a college intern there, after an entertainment editor there read my book reviews here on this blog & reached out to be about freelancing. 

Mike & I hosted Friendsgiving at our apartment, finding it a worthwhile use of our leftover wedding booze. It was one of the smaller versions of this annual gathering, but it was a lot of fun, aided by copious amounts of baked mac & cheese & the joy of testing Alexa's limits.

I saw two of my favorite musical acts live: Billy Joel for the first time (be still my heart) with my mom at Progessive Field, & Jimmy Eat World for the fourth time, at Blossom with friends. (The latter opened for Incubus, but we left when they came on.)

On the work front, I staffed my organization's biennial convention in Boston, with headlining speakers like Senator Elizabeth Warren, author David Grossman, & actress Fran Drescher.

I read 76 books this year, surpassing my goal of 60. The longest book I read was Stephen King's 11/22/63, a book club read; my shortest was for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf. Stay tuned for a roundup of my favorite books of the year, coming soon.

We celebrated Hanukkah & Christmas together & with family. My mom even came to my in-laws' house for Christmas! It was a simultaneously stressful but low-key holiday season, with lots going on but also plenty of time to chill.

Whew, what a year! More good than bad, at least on the personal front, but I can't even begin to speak about politics & global concerns. I have a feeling those will continue into 2018, but I continue to hope for - & work toward - better.

Tell me: What are some of the best things that happened to you in 2017? What are you looking forward to in the coming year? 
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