10 Lessons I've Learned from Harness Cycle

Monday, October 15, 2018

I'm now 60+ classes into my participation in Harness Cycle, & sometimes, to keep my mind off how hard the rides are, I think about what the rides are teaching me. I wrote "Why I Ride"; now, here's what I've learned from riding.
  1. I can do anything for 45 minutes - or at least this thing. I've never, ever liked working out, & these classes are so hard for me. But now that I know the structure of the class & what to expect, & I know that if I can just make it a little bit further, I'll make it through.
  2. The best way to make it through a workout is to think about anything else. I have the hardest time when I think about what I'm doing & how much longer I have to do it, but when my mind goes elsewhere - to my to-do list, to my work, to my writing, whatever - it's a lot easier to make it through a difficult class.
  3. Boutique workouts aren't just for fit, athletic women. I mean, sure, there are a lot of fit, athletic women in these classes, but there are also plenty of not-fit women, & plenty of men, both fit & otherwise, & plenty of older folks. I am not out of place just by, like, being me & having the body I have. Working out is for everybody, even if the gym seems fancy & the Instagram is full of only skinny people.
  4. Fit, athletic women aren't scary or terrible. I knew that, of course, but as a plus-size woman & someone who always feels slightly disheveled, I've long been intimidated by fit, athletic women (who by their very nature seem to have it all together). This class has helped me see that whatever our bodies, we're all just people.
  5. I am the world's sweatiest human, period. I sweat so much that I ride with two towels. Once, I stopped by my favorite Lebanese place after class, & the sweet, elderly woman making my shawarma bowl exclaimed, “Oh! You are catch in rain?” Alas, no. The skies were clear. I was just that sweaty. I'm trying to live with it & own it & just accept it. Ew.
  6. I am more comfortable than ever with my bare face. Lately, I've cut back on my signature winged eyeliner, in part because I like to ride at the end of the day & don't like to have to wash my face beforehand - so on ride days, I don't wear much makeup at all.
  7. I do best when I set small goals for myself. Let's be real: I am not actually very good at cycling; I still can barely ride "up & out" (off the seat). But if I set smaller goals, like, "I'll ride up & out for 30 seconds, then I can ride in the saddle for the next 30," or "Just make it through this round of booty taps, then back to the saddle," I can usually push through.
  8. Good moves make the bad moves worth it. There's some "choreography" on the bike that I really enjoy, & if I tell myself that those moves are coming up soon - next, if only I can get there! - it's easier for me to push myself forward. They don't always come, but when they do, I feel rewarded for making it through the moves I hate (lookin' at you, jumps).
  9. I like working out at the end of the day. I know that for some people, working out in the mornings is a way to wake up & start the day off right. I'm basically never awake in the mornings (see: "Let's Talk About My Sleep Disorder"), but I also like riding in the evenings. It helps me flush out the stress of the day & end it on a positive note.
  10. Strong feels good. I haven't lost any weight - not a single inch or pound. If anything, I think I've gained weight, which feels deeply unfair. I do, however, feel stronger & more flexible than ever, which isn't a trade-off, exactly, but it's not bad, either. I may not look different, but I feel different, & that? Well, that feels damn good.
What have you learned from your workouts? What's your exercise of choice? 

My Favorite Fall Flavors... from Right Here in the CLE!

Friday, October 12, 2018

Are you a fan of fall? It's far & away my favorite season, not least of all because Northeast Ohio is the perfect place for it. The trees are beautiful, the produce is abundant, & the activities are the best - pumpkin patches, hayrides, haunted houses, & all things related to autumnal food...

I'm still burning the "Autumn Escape" candle I made at CLE Candle Co. last month, & now that the fall is in full swing, I'm also tapping into some of my favorite flavors of the season. Here's a little bit of what I'm loving right now, all made right here in Cleveland.

Platform Beer Co.'s Yammy Yammy Beer

I'm not usually a fan of Oktoberfest beers, which are too heavy for my liking - but I'm all about this unusually light sweet potato beer, spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg & cloves. Sure, it gives me heartburn - what doesn't these days? - but that lightly sweet taste is so worth it. It's best sipped on Platform's patio on a cool autumn day.

Pastina's Sweet Potato Ravioli

Mike & I were recently invited to a menu preview at Pastina Rustic Italian in Mentor, OH, about 35 minutes outside the city, & goddamn, was it ever delicious. We tried everything from pizzas to calamari to arancini balls to cavatelli bolognese, but my favorite was the sweet potato ravioli with zucchini & pumpkin seed pesto hash, which I also had for lunch the next day.

It was honestly one of the best dishes I've ever eaten - & everything from Pastina is made by hand, from scratch, using as many local ingredients as possible.

I also loved the Harvest Pizza, a white pizza topped with mozzarella, butternut squash, & zucchini. Are you sensing a theme? Yes, I am a big fan of autumnal veggies.

Tremont General Store's Old-Fashioned Apple Butter

This local shop is just a block down from me, & I hit up a couple times a week for "essentials" like crackers, goat cheese, & bacon. On a recent visit, I asked the owner, Kevin, what he ate with their apple butter. His answer? Vanilla ice cream. I bought both, & now this treat has become on of my favorite fall combos.

Mitchell's Salted Caramel Vegan Ice Cream

This flavor delicious all year round (as does all of Mitchell's ice cream), but it tastes especially delightful in the fall, which I think of as caramel season. I'm not a vegan, but this ice cream flavor is, hands down, one of my favorites.

Come to think of it, should I put apple butter on this cream?! Make my own caramel apple ice cream combo? Holy crap, I'm a genius.

OK, fine, I have one more fall favorite that's not made here in Cleveland: those caramel apple suckers. Remember those? Man, I've gotta go get me some. I have to have at least one every autumn!

What are your favorite fall flavors?

Disclosure: Pastina Rustic Italian invited me & a guest to attend a complimentary dinner for influencers. As always, all opinions are my own.

CheeseHaven: Documenting My Effort to Explore Every Weird Cheese Shop I Can Find

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

First things first: Would you eat chicken & waffles taffy?! I was both fascinated & horrified by this giant basket of flavored saltwater taffy. I bought a few pieces... & was pleased to discover that they taste fully of syrup & not at all of chicken.

Where did I find such a terrible & delightful candy, you ask?


So let's back up a little.

I love cheese. Thus, it follows that I love stores that sell cheese. One of my favorite cheese chops, of course, is Grandpa's Cheese Barn, which is advertised on dozens of highway signs from here to Columbus. I've been a handful of times since my first visit in 2015, & I somehow love it more with each visit.

While I was in Lakeside, OH, for a retreat (yes, the same Lakeside I visited two weeks ago!), I decided to stop at CheeseHaven on my drive home. Would it live up to Grandpa's? Would it sell cheeses I'd never tried before? How much money is too much money to spend on cheese?

You really can't miss Cheese Haven because, as you can see, its signage is... pretty bold. I'm actually, like, pretty impressed by it. Some graphic designer got to have fun with this place!

As you can imagine, CheeseHaven specializes in cheese, but it also sells all kinds of other stuff, like smoked meats, old-fashioned candies, jellies & jams, booze, etc. Their mouse logo is equal parts creepy & adorable, as evidenced below.


One thing I don't love about Cheese Haven is that they have a strict one-sample-per-customer rule. When I say "strict," I mean, "strongly worded signs indicate this rule but no one enforces it, so I still had three samples because how else will I know what I want to buy?!"

Rebel that I am, I tried the ghost pepper spread - it was very hot - but I bought the blue cheese spread instead. So good. I like it with pretzels, though, instead of the Saltines they offered.

Mike loves smokies, so I came close to buying a pack of them as I perusedCheeseHaven's extensive meat offerings. I couldn't decide which to go with, though, & then I remembered that, you know, we live within walking distance of the West Side Market, where we can get them all the time!

I didn't buy this pumpkin butter only because I already have a jar of pumpkin butter at home. Per a recommendation from the owner of the Tremont General Store, my new favorite fall treat is pumpkin butter on vanilla ice cream. Have you tried that? It is incredible, go do it right now. I'll wait.

How was it? Delicious? Good.

So I didn't buy more pumpkin butter, but I did buy CheeseHaven's Blueberry Bourbon Jam, which I have a feeling will be amazing with goat cheese.

Like any good food-centric novelty store, CheeseHaven features a case of weird sodas, including a few really disgusting-looking ones, like "Pimple Pop" and "Martian Poop." I've never tried a strange soda, but for some inexplicable reason, I'm always sort of endeared by cases full of bizarro flavors.

Don't forget the booze! Cheese Haven has a whole section of beer, as welll as weird alcoholic offerings like Kinky liqueur & Bitch wine - & a few extraordinarily Southern flavors & varieties.

All of the booze is kept in a special section, designated by a strongly worded (& grammatically incorrect) sign. This is where you'll find wine & gifts, some of them jokey & vulgar. Even at age 34, sections like this always feel excitingly taboo to me. Anyone else?! It's like sneaking into the back room of a video store!

Finally, as evidenced by that giant taffy basket at the top of this post, CheeseHaven sells tons of candy - though visitors are advised not to let their kids loose in that section, for obvious reasons.

They have tons of taffy, in nearly every flavor imaginable (& some I never would've imagined, like, say, chicken & waffles). I grabbed a couple taffies apiece in pear & caramel apple. Seasonal, right?

I was also fascinated by some of the weird, old-timey candies I found - stuff I'd never seen or heard of, despite having explored plenty of stores like CheeseHaven & other old-fashioned candy shops. I'll say, that Goo-Goo Cluster sounds pretty delicious, doesn't it?

Either the giant jawbreakers are super popular or not popular at all; I can't tell. Did they sell out, or did they not have many to begin with? Either way, all that remained in this basket during my visit was one sad, crumbled jawbreaker that surely won't break anyone's jaw, given that it's in tiny pieces.

That jawbreaker photo brings me to another strange thing about CheeseHaven, which I suspect is the result of my having visited during the off-season: The Lakeside area is heavily touristy & a very popular destination for summer travelers - but in the colder months, the crowds thin way out. Though CheeseHaven was still very busy when I visited, many of its shelves were less than half-full, which made it feel... well, slightly abandoned, despite heavy foot traffic. I wanted moooooore of everything!

All in all, though, I was glad I stopped to check out CheeseHaven, if only to say I did - & to snack on my goodies on the hour-long drive back to Cleveland! I'm less pleased that I somehow spent $60 at a cheese store in the middle of nowhere, but the heart wants what the heart wants, I suppose. 

Are there any cheese stores near you? What's your go-to purchase at kitschy shops like this?

What I Wish I'd Known about Self-Care in My Twenties

Monday, October 8, 2018

My college friend Tara is an established self-care coach & speaker who founded The Self-Care Suite, which "creates affirming spaces for women to flourish." She's also the founder and chief creative curator of The Bloom Beautifully Box, a self-care subscription box for women (currently on hiatus). In other words, Tara knows self-care.

Recently, she posed a question in the Facebook group she runs:
"I’m doing my first self-care workshop for young women (ages 19-22) this week and I am so excited to be spreading the gospel to women at the very beginning of their journey. Tell me: What do you wish you had known about self-care back in your early 20s?"
My response was long-winded & not posted in time to be of help to Tara. Still, it got me thinking, feeling, remembering - so I thought I'd share it with you here.

What do I wish I had know about self-care back in my early twenties?

I wish I had known & really internalized that self-care isn't just for older women, or career-established women, or women with kids. Self-care is for everyone - maybe especially twentysomethings, who are way more overworked & overwhelmed than the world seems to acknowledge.

We expect them to do everything, & to do it with enthusiasm, without recognizing the strains & stresses these expectations put on their fragile ability to balance it all. At that age, I was running myself ragged with work, school, side gigs, a social life, & trying to learn how to be an adult. I had more than one anxiety-induced meltdown that left me feeling completely useless & hopeless & horrible.

Two such memories stand out. In college, I quit my newspaper beat - the prestigious administrative beat, which had made me the senior-most non-editor reporter on staff, with regular access to the university president & other execs. There just weren't enough hours in the day, & I couldn't do it all without letting something fall behind - it was either my deadlines or my grades or my sanity. I beat myself up about quitting, sure that I was a failure & a disappointment who would never amount to anything. I was reassigned to a more flexible beat, but I was embarrassed to show my face in the newsroom around colleagues who seemed to be able to balance all so much better than I could.

In my second year of work, I was asked to travel on a whim to accompany the head of our company on a meeting with the ambassador to Israel. It was a huge responsibility, & I was honored - but I was also petrified. I had a ton of work on my plate in the office, & I didn't feel that I had the time to take this trip and complete my everyday work; I didn't think I would be given leeway on the latter, & I didn't feel as though I could ask for it. I remember this time so vividly because it was the first time I had a panic attack, though I didn't know what to call it.

I felt I was too young to "deserve" self-care or downtime or relaxation or a mental health break.

In my mind, self-care was for other people. I hadn't yet proven myself at work, hadn't worked enough hours, didn't have the excuse of being a mother or a wife, should've simply been able to handle it all by myself. I though that if I admitted that I needed a break or to take some time for myself, I would be chastised or looked down on or ridiculed, whether publicly or behind my back. I was certain it would hurt my career, my friendships, my professional relationships, & my social standing. Self-care seemed like a detriment, not a necessity.

In short, I thought I had to earn my keep in order to earn the right to rest from the pressures of daily life. 

Now, at 34, I know this is not true, & in retrospect, the way I treated myself in my early twenties is one of the main reason I focus so heavily on self-care & mental health today. I can very obviously see how the stress of daily life weighed on me & so negatively impacted my mental health when I was young - in a go-go-go mentality, an amped-up social life, never saying no to any opportunity or possibility, even when I was maxed out. I worked long, late hours; I ate dinner at work, usually Taco Bell or Chipotle; & when I did have free time, I spent it drinking with friends, not taking care of myself.

These days, there's nothing I value more than a "mental health day," be it a workday I'm taken as vacation or simply an unscheduled weekend to myself.

I understand the value of quiet time, just for me - in listening to my body & my mind & my emotions & figuring out what they need in order to operate at full capacity.

I see how health & wellness play into the whole self-care picture, how exercise & movement & healthy foods are related to my overall well-being.

I know that a pizza & a Netflix binge are, in themselves, not sufficient acts of self-care - except for the times when they are.

I see the maintenance of my friendships & other relationships as vital to my own ability to thrive & to feel supporter, loved, & surrounded.

I try not to feel guilty about needing more sleep than the average bear, especially since being diagnosed with a rare sleep disorder.

With all of this in mind, what would I, at 34, tell young women today who are struggling with self-care?

I hope young women today truly take in the lesson that self-care is for them, too - that they are deserving & worthy of mental, physical, & emotional health simply by virtue of existing.

We Went Undercover with Elliot Ness... & Won!

Friday, October 5, 2018

Prohibition Agent Eliot Ness helped bring down Al Capone, then went on to clean up Cleveland of its mafia & mob ties, with undercover work that resulted in the jailing & firing of dozens of corrupt officers. He fell out of favor in the Cleveland area for his actions during the era of the Torso Murders, but his legacy remains here in the city - most popularly in the form of a beloved beer from Great Lakes Brewing Co.

Now, there's also an escape room named after him & dedicated to him!

Earlier this week, Mike & I were joined by our friends Jeremy & Taylor as we checked out Perplexity Games, an escape room company in Ohio City. I'd only done one escape room before, & it was a pretty bad one; Taylor has done three others, without any escapes; the guys have done lots of them, with equal successes & failures. We had no idea what to expect from this one - which made it all the better when this place turned out to be really fun.

The business is family-owned & operated, & Diana, the owner, brainstorms all of the escape rooms with her family. None of it is, like, bought boxed from China, so it all feels very personal, very high-quality, & very creative. They're even working on a Christmas-themed room for the holidays! Diana used to work in antiques, so she conceived of a 1930s-themed theme game that would allow her to outfit a room in period-appropriate decor.

Enter... the Eliot Ness Escape Room.

Our backstory was this: We were Ness's undercover operatives, trying to find a mafia ledger in a city hall office so that we could prove corruption. With 60 minutes on the clock, we got to work, starting in a small office that included nothing but a big, wooden desk, an old-fashioned telephone, & art on the walls - plus a big, locked door.

If you've ever done an escape room, you know nothing is ever as it seems, so we started rummaging through the desk, inspecting the artwork, searching a key, & doing anything else we could think of to get the game started. Each escape room includes at least two rooms, & for me, part of the fun is seeing what's behind closed doors - literally.

We finished the game with five minutes to spare, & I couldn't have been more proud (despite the fact that I was only, like, minimally helpful throughout the game). I felt like there should've been fanfare & confetti! Instead, we took a victory photo, thanked Diana profusely, & headed to Phnom Penh, an awesome Cambodian restaurant nearby, for a celebratory dinner.

It's hard to tell you about this escape room without giving too much away (which is also why I haven't included many photos). I don't want to spoil it! Suffice it to say, though, that it was really cool - lots of twists & turns & unexpected technology & hidden compartments & such.

What I loved about this game was that it appealed to all of our strengths. Again, without saying too much, there was a little bit of everything. Mike used some map skills; Jeremy bet on some horses; Taylor & I did some decoding... whenever one of us was stumped, another one of us usually had an idea to move things forward. The game played to everyone's skills, & while it definitely wasn't easy to beat, it was logical, thoughtful, & genuinely really fun to try to figure out.

If you're in the area, I can't recommend it highly enough - & the fact that it's Cleveland-themed makes it all the more fun. We have a friend, Kevin, who lives in D.C. & is known for his love of escape rooms. I have a strong suspicion we'll be hitting up the Christmas room when he's home for the holidays!

Disclaimer: I was invited to bring a few guests to try out Perplexity Games's Eliot Ness Room in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are, as always, my own. We genuinely had so much fun!

6 Small Goals for October

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Wake me up when September ends...

Wait, already? Well, OK.
  1. Swear less. Well, I did try this, but I can't say whether I did a great job of it or not. I still swore a lot - but I did intentionally cut way back, so I'm going to call it a win. I've yet to count the change in my "swear jar," but we'll see how much it adds up to & whether I can bring myself to donate it to a cause with which I disagree. 
  2. Give my car some TLC. I don't want to talk about it. I did clean out the trash & text my uncle about a tune-up, but other than that, mission decidedly not accomplished.
  3. Do something meaningful during the Days of Awe. I went to synagogue twice, attended an interfaith couples service on Lake Erie, participated in #10Days10Ways, a conversation about racial (in)justice led by Temple Israel of Boston, & did 10 days of personal journaling with 10Q. I also started the books This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared by Rabbi Alan Lew & Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor by Yossi Klein HaLevi. (Reviews to come when I finish them!)
  4. Change my name with my banks. I don't wanna talk about this one, either. 
  5. Make the most of my upcoming work conference. I went to nearly every session & networked with at least five people, which is sort of my max. I didn't attend the big happy hour event because I fell asleep & slept through it, but hey, I did all the professional stuff! 
  6. Make a Goodwill run. I didn't go to Goodwill myself, but I did leave two giant bags of stuff with my mom, who had already been planning to make a Goodwill run of her own. I think that counts! I've also got two more bags in process, so another trip will be in order soon.
I did accomplish a few things in September that weren't on my goals list but that I'm still rather proud of. At least I got something done, right? I did a no-spend week - I saved so much! - & I finally opened a 403(b) with work. I know, I know, I should've done it long ago. 

My goals for October came to mind much more easily than my September ones did, which I hope means they'll also be easier to fulfill. Here's what's on the docket...
  1. Don't feel too overwhelmed. I thought my October calendar was wide open, but it seems to have filled up pretty quickly, & I'm already feeling a little anxious about it. Through exercise, sleep, & maybe meditation, I want to try to stay chill, enjoy the present for what it is, & feel like I've got everything under control. 
  2. Work out my health insurance woes. Ughhh. I finally scheduled all those long-awaited doctors appointments, & now I'm reaping the punishment, in the form of a $5k bill from United Healthcare. My work offers a sort of third-party option for covering the costs our insurance doesn't pay, & they just confirmed that they'll cover this charge - but I need to figure out what to do to get that money, pay that bill, & put it all behind me. Yuck. 
  3. Excel at my social media webinars. I'm hosting two webinars for work later this month, & though one of my August goals was to plan them well in advance, guess what? I didn't. They're still not planned! But hey, I excel at being on deadline, so I'm going to whip up the best damn social media webinars you've ever seen (fine, that's a huge exaggeration) & get them over with. I hope I can end October feeling good about how well they went.
  4. Plan something for our anniversary. It's hard to believe that Mike & I are just about a month away from our one-year wedding anniversary. Say whaaaat? We're thinking of taking a short weekend trip someplace nearby - maybe Amish country again, or back to Lakeside? Basically, we just want to get away for a moment & celebrate this first year of married life.
  5. Cut way back on carbs. I could go into some body stuff here, but I won't. Suffice it to say that I think I eat too many carbs, & cutting back on them would probably do some good for my health & my physique... if I can manage it! 
  6. Start "tipping myself" for cycling classes. At the suggestion of my friend Ashley (go read her blog), I downloaded the Tip Yourself app, & I've started putting $5 in a virtual cookie jar every time I go to a Harness Cycle class. At the end of the year, that'll become #treatyoself money.
What are your goals for October? 

What I Read in September

Monday, October 1, 2018

Hello, October! I didn't finish as many books as I'd have liked in September, probably because I started too many & am now in the middle of all of them. I expect big numbers come this time next month! No joke, I think I'm in the midst of... six different books?

I did finish a few good ones in September, though. Without further ado...

Finding Yvonne by Brandy Colbert

After reading Little & Lion in August, I knew I wanted to move right along to Colbert's other reads, & I was lucky enough to find this one on the shelf at my local branch. Yvonne has always been focused on the violin - but now that it's time to apply to colleges, she's doubting her abilities & her dedication. It seeps over into the rest of her life, too, making her doubt her relationship with Warren, her not-quite-boyfriend of more than two years, & pursue something with a street violist. ★★★★☆

A Girl's Guide to Joining the Resistance: A Feminist Handbook on Fighting for Good by Emma Gray

The author of this book co-hosts one of my favorite Bachelor podcasts. See? Feminists can be Bachelor fans, too! While this book is really geared toward young women & toward people who are new to activism, I found it to be a nice refresher for me, formerly a professional activist who has since begun to slack a little because I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the state of the world. A quick, easy, informative, & worthwhile move. ★★★★★

Hey Ladies!: The Story of 8 Best Friends, 1 Year, and Way, Way Too Many Emails by Michelle Markowitz, Caroline Moss, & Carolyn Bahar

Well... it took me entirely too long to realize that this book was (oh, thank God) satire. According to my Kindle, I was 4% into it before it occurred to me that, oh, this fictional compilation of emails between friends is notttt serious. Until that point, I hated it, but as soon as it dawned on me, I loved it. These woman are almost all batshit bananas, & reading their correspondence throughout the course of a year had me cackling & shaking my head & wanting a pumpkin spice latte like a real basic bitch. ★★★★☆

You'll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein

I usually like to read the memoirs of people who are very different from me: people who have escaped cults, celebrities who say funny things on TV, women who have fled war-torn countries, etc. But Jessi Klein's memoir felt like reading the story of myself. Sure, I'm not a fortysomething mother & comedy writer, but man... her sense of humor feels exactly like mine. I listened to it on audiobook & laughed out loud so often. ★★★★★

The Truth About Stacey by Anne M. Martin

The truth about Stacey is... that she has diabetes? Her condition was actually revealed in book one of the series, so it's not much of a surprise to "discover" is in book three, but this book does go deeper into Stacey's background. We learn about her previous life in NYC, including the fact that her medical issues alienated her best friend. I think Stacey is probably my fave babysitter.

The Seasonaires by Janna King

A group of six twentysomethings are chosen to be "seasonaires" - essentially, fancily named Instagram influencers - for a high-end fashion brand. They live together in Nantucket for the summer, promoting & partying & sleeping around; the book starts & ends with the murder of one of them and one of their competitors, & everything in between is meant to lead up to revealing who died & whodunnit. This was a flaky, frivolous novel dressed up as something better, with a murder to make it more appealing. In the end, I wanted to like this one more than I did. ★★★☆☆

Amusingly, the Baby-Sitters Club book I read this month was my 75th book of the year. That's right, I hit my yearly reading goal... on a middle-grade book published in 1986. Did you set an annual reading goal this year? If so, how's it coming along?

One other thing: As always, you can get a free book with my referral code if you sign up for Book of the Month Club, here. Aside from the library, this is where I get the bulk of my books. It makes the first day of the month my favorite day of the month!

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.

11 of My Favorite Memoirs

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

I didn't start reading again, not really, until 2015, & when I did, I started with the one genre of books I knew I loved: memoirs. Though I've since branched out, it's still my favorite genre, & I try to read at least one memoir a month. I thought I'd round them up here for you, should this be a genre you happen to love, too. Happy reading!

1. In the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero

Proving she's more than a pretty Hollywood face, the Orange is the New Black actress puts pen to paper to tell the devastating, painful story of her family's real-life immigration struggles. When she was 14, Guerrero's parents were deported to Colombia, leaving her - a born-and-raised Bostonian - to grow up fast &, eventually, to try to take on the broken system that failed her family. Well-written, spunky, heartbreaking, honest, inspiring - a real must-read.

2. You'll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein

I usually like to read the memoirs of people who are very different from me: people who have escaped cults, celebrities who say funny things on TV, women who have fled war-torn countries, etc. But Jessi Klein's memoir felt like reading the story of myself. Sure, I'm not a fortysomething mother & comedy writer, but man... her sense of humor feels exactly like mine. I listened to it on audiobook & laughed out loud so often.

3. How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of a War Child by Sandra Uwiringiyimana

Sandra & her family, members of the African Banyamulenge tribe, lived a normal life in the Congo until they were forced to relocate to a displaced persons camp in Burundi. One night, the camp was raided by armed combatants who set fire to the tents & murdered their inhabitants. Sandra, who escaped unharmed, watched her mother & sister get shot - & returned the next day to find her sister's skull. Her traumatized family eventually relocates to the U.S., where Sandra is an activist dedicated to telling her tribe's stories & holding their killers responsible.

4. 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.

5. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

This book should be a must-read for anyone who wants to better understand racial tension in America, whether you're a POC who's living that reality every day or a white person who seeks deeper understanding in order to become a better ally. Truly, Coates' writing - a memoir & social commentary in the form of a letter to his son - is a work of art, & I believe this book will long be looked upon as a classic in its genre.

6. I Feel Bad about My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman by Nora Ephron

This is a quick, easy read of short essays by the late Nora Ephron, the brilliant & insightful writer of You've Got Mail & other such gems. Topics touch on stereotypically female elements of life, like vanity, housekeeping, dating - all from a witty, feminist perspective. Ephron was in her late 60s when she wrote this, so don't expect it to be as progressive as you'd like, but it's still a wonderful, charming book.

7. I Will Find You: A Reporter Investigates the Life of the Man Who Raped Her by Joanna Connors

This is the memoir of a Cleveland journalist who was raped on a college campus in 1984 &, more than two decades later, begins delving into the life of her attacker. Though he has died in prison, she seeks out his friends & family in an effort to learn more about him & what drove him to violence. This book, while at time heartbreaking, terrifying, & difficult to read, is ultimately one of the most powerful memoirs I've ever encountered.

8. Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan

This is the true story of every hypochondriac's worst nightmare. Susannah is young, successful, & living a snazzy NYC life when she starts to lose her grasp on reality, devolving into a full-scale psychosis. Cahalan, a trained journalist & adept storyteller, uses her own scarce memories, along with those of her family, friends, & doctors, to piece together the month she lost & the recovery that has followed.

9. Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More by Janet Mock

Mock's memoir tells the story of her childhood in Honolulu, son of a broken family who grew up to be a beautiful, strong woman - a journalist, an activist, an overall role model. She is a powerful writer & a fascinating person, & I might've fan-girled out when she responded to me on Twitter.

10. Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology & My Harrowing Escape by Jenna Miscavige Hill

I've always been fascinated by Scientology, in a sort of "Isn't this so quirky & bizarre?!" kind of way - until I read this book. Miscavige Hill is the niece of the head of Scientology, the controversial & secretive David Miscavige. Reading the true stories & perspectives of someone who grew up in this cult-like church was, frankly, horrifying. How can anyone support or be a part of this lifestyle is beyond me.

11. Not My Father's Son by Alan Cumming

I didn't know much about the Scottish stage actor & Good Wife star, but when I saw this memoir getting rave reviews, I had to pick it up]. Cumming writes of a tumultuous & abusive childhood & his adult relationship (or lack thereof) with his father, interwoven with his quest to learn more about his late maternal grandfather, a war hero who died in Malaysia. Emotional & worthwhile.

What are your favorite memoirs? I'm always looking for good recommendations!

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A Very Erie Weekend: 48 Hours in Lakeside, OH

Monday, September 24, 2018

Sometimes I forget that Ohio has its own shoreline. We don't spend a ton of time at the beach, as I've never been much of a warm-weather gal, but the time we do spend at Lake Erie always reminds me how lucky we are to have the best of both worlds, all four seasons & our very own coast, albeit of the freshwater variety.

Just over an hour away from Cleveland is Lakeside, OH, a gated community on the Marblehead Peninsula jutting into Lake Erie. It's an easy drive down Rt. 2 West, & then you cross the Thomas Edison Bridge. The entire small Lakeside community is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, & it's a popular tourist destination in the spring & summer months. 

We were in town for the wedding of our friends Kyle & Katherine, who dubbed the event #cakeonthelake. We rented a cute cottage - OK, a "cute" million-dollar house - that was big enough to hold all of us & also seemed vaguely haunted. We found an old Mall Madness game on the third floor, which we'd dubbed "The Orphanage" because it held 10 twin beds; we found the words "RIP PAPA" written in the guest book. But the house itself was big & beautiful & right on the water, with quick access to the Lakeside community (which includes shuffleboard courts & a putt-putt course), along with the ceremony location itself.

Mike was an usher in the wedding, & our friend Lilly did a reading during the ceremony, so they both had to attend the wedding rehearsal. During that time, Lilly's husband Darren & I checked out the 700-foot pier that extends into the lake. It was such a windy day that on one side of the pier, waves crashed over the pier itself, while on the other, the water was completely calm & unmoving.

The wedding itself was wonderful, a full weekend full of festivities. At Friday night's rehearsal dinner, I tried low-country boil for the first time - minus the crawfish, because I'm a wuss of a Northerner - & despite a scary storm that night, the weather cleared up nicely for the early-afternoon ceremony on Saturday. It was windy but beautiful, & soon afterward, we all headed to the reception at the Catawba Island Club.

It was a really fun weekend, & as always, it was just so nice to get in some time with our group of friends. I'm constantly reminded of how lucky I feel to have found not just Mike but the entire group of friends that came along with him. They're such good people, & they have quickly become some of my favorite people; I feel so fortunate that they welcomed me into the fold so quickly & so warmly.

A few highlights: Just before the reception, Ohio State beat Tulane (both are the groom's alma maters); the bride publicly iced the groom for his birthday (yes, it was the same day as their wedding); the evening ended with a lot of boy-band music, including "MMMBop"; we sent off Kyle & Katherine with a trail of sparklers then headed back to our cottage for a low-key after-party.

We didn't get much of a chance to explore Lakeside itself, aside from the areas we hit up as part of the wedding weekend, but we did get to see a few spots. I'd love to go back - maybe later in the fall, as the leaves are changing - to see more of the area. It's just so cute! 

For Saturday morning brunch, we hit up Tin Goose Diner, a small, vintage diner now renovated & attached to the Liberty Aviation Museum. While you eat, you can look out over a small airfield where pilots land their old-timey planes! I got the hotcakes (so fluffy), & we also enjoyed the "hash brown stars," which are not actually hash browns but star-shaped tater tots. Ahhh, Ohio. 

Our rental house was about 100 steps from Coffee & Cream, the cutest little coffee shop slash ice cream joint. Between the ceremony & the reception, I stopped in & ordered a cinnamon latte with soy milk; when I went back the next day for the same thing, the barista remembered me and my order! How's that for small-town hospitality? I also bought a baseball ringer tee here that reads "THE LAKESIDE LIFE" because I am nothing if not a sucker for Cleveland tees.

Lakeside is full of golf carts, which the locals own & vacationers rent to get around the island (er, peninsula). Fun fact: My dad used to be a golf cart salesman, so I actually have a favorite brand of golf cart! I'm willing to set aside my general allegiance, though, to marvel over this one, which is designed to look like a mini antique car - hood ornament & all.

Early Sunday morning before we left town, we had "hangover brunch" with the bride & groom & their friends & family at the rental cottage that had housed the bridesmaids for the weekend. As we ate on the lawn, looking out over the lake, a bald eagle swept through the sky above us. What an incredible sight! Dozens of us stopped eating & watched as this huge, magnificent bird circled over us. I didn't get a picture of it, but now I understand why this statue sat outside the reception site...

Finally, on the way out of town, I convinced Mike to pull into a BP so I could photograph Handless Jacques, a 20-foot imitation Muffler Man who stands over Rt. 2 & is, well, handless. Apparently he used to hold a tray of food, but now he just looks out over the highway with nothing to offer but a vacant stare & a sad paint job.

I know Handless Jacques would've waved goodbye to us, if he could've. He still gave us a great (if morose) send-off as we headed out of town & back to our city lives! Seeya soon, Lakeside.
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