What I Read in October

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Just like that, it's November. In September, I hit my annual reading goal of 75 books, but I still want to try to see how far I can get by the end of the year. I made it through eight books in October - not a bad number, considering how busy the month was. 

The Perfect Nanny by Leïla Slimani

I think I hated this book. I was intrigued by the premise: a seemingly perfect nanny is suspected of brutally murdering the two children within her care. The book opens with a violent scene, then  moves into a plodding narration that I found ]tedious, cold, & distant. Perhaps this was due to the fact that the novel was translated into English from French - but even translation couldn't have changed the story's lackluster, dissatisfying ending. Skip this one, please. I wish I had. ★★☆☆☆

I Can't Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons I've Put My Faith in Beyoncé by Michael Arceneaux 

Arceneaux, a comedy writer, tells of growing up Black and gay in a religious Texas home. Though he knew from a young age that he was gay, he knew, too, that he couldn't reveal it to his family. At one point, his priest even suggested he enter the priesthood - but eventually, Michael fell away from the faith, moving to bigger cities, pursuing a writing career, & exploring both race, sexuality, & other elements of his identity in ways both poignant & hilarious. ★★★★☆

Mary Anne Saves the Day by Ann M. Martin

Four BSC books down, about a billion to go... I originally tried to read this book in Spanish (Mary Anne Salva la Situación), but I quickly realized that my grasp on the language is nowhere near sophisticated enough for this middle-grade novel. Womp. Anyway, I never much liked Mary Anne as a kid, but reading the first book in her voice, I realized that she's actually cooler - & a lot more bold - than anyone ever gave her credit for.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou

Carreyrou is the journalist who broke the story of the mega-scam that was Theranos, a medical start-up worth billions... that couldn't do a damn thing it said it could. Its founder, Elizabeth Holmes, had been called the next Steve Jobs, featured in The Wall Street Journal & beyond; Henry Kissinger & other big names sat on the board; the company had a major partnership with Walgreens stores... & yet, it was all a farce: Holmes - & Theranos - was a total fraud. ★★★★★

The Lost Girls: The True Story of the Cleveland Abductions and the Incredible Rescue of Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, and Gina DeJesus by John Glatt

Yes, this is the fourth book I've read about the Cleveland kidnappings. The others were memoirs, though, making this the first reported nonfiction book from an outside source. It's written by New York Times bestselling crime writer John Glatt, & it's an incredibly in-depth look at all things Castro-related, including his childhood, his personal life, his horrifying abuse of his ex-wife, his treatment of his own children, the kidnappings themselves... & what his neighbors knew, without even realizing it. ★★★★★

Lethal White by Robert Galbraith (a.k.a. J.K. Rowling)

This is the fourth book in Rowling's popular series about British detective Cormoran Strike and his business partner/friend/potential eventual lover Robin. This one was massively long & an incredibly convoluted, & I listened to it at 1.25x speed on audiobook - the equivalent of about 21 hours of listening. Yowza. This wasn't my favorite of the series - it was pretty hard to follow - but I still love these books, overall. If you're new to the series, be sure to start at the beginning, with The Cuckoo's Calling★★★★☆

The President is Missing by James Patterson & Bill Clinton

When you miss the way life felt under competent presidents, immerse yourself in fiction about them. This was my first Patterson novel, but because this one also bears Clinton’s name across the front, it’s also delightfully liberal in a way I'm guessing most of his books aren't. It's about a brave, decent, action-hero president who’s committed to saving the country, the world, & the dignity of the democratic system during a terrorist attack. The speech he gives at the end of the book is such a dream - exactly what we need right now. ★★★★☆

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

This book was so gooooood. Sure, it was totally predictable, as wacky as the storyline was - but it was done really well, & even though I was pretty sure I knew what would happen, I still enjoyed reading about it as it played out. Laurel, a middle-aged mother, still mourns the disappearance of her 15-year-old daughter Ellie. When she starts dating a new guy, she's alarmed by how much his young daughter looks like hers. Could there be some connection? This was my first time reading anything by Lisa Jewell, but I look forward to checking out some of her many other books. ★★★★☆

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. You can also follow my bookstagram account!

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.

5 of My Favorite True Crime Books

Friday, October 26, 2018

I think I'm a true crime fanatic because I'm scared of everything. You'd think that consuming so much true-crime media would make that fear worse, but somehow it's the opposite - like maybe if I know all about it, I will become immune to it. I know that's not true, of course, but brains are weird places.

I've already told you about my favorite true crime podcasts, but I thought I'd also round up a few of my favorite true crime books. I find, unfortunately, that many true crime books are, frankly, terribly written, so though I've read far more than the five listed here, these are the ones that have risen above, for various reasons.

Have true crime recs for me? I'd love to read your faves! 

Amy: My Search for Her Killer (Secrets & Suspects in the Unsolved Murder of Amy Mihaljevic) by James Renner

Renner, a Northeast Ohio-based crime writer, was the same age as 10-year-old Amy Mihaljevic at the time of her disappearance from Bay Village, OH, in 1989, & he'd followed the case his whole life. She was taken from a shopping plaza by an unknown man who lured her in by posing as her mother's coworker & promising to take her shopping for a gift for her mom. Her body was discovered three months later, devastating the local community; her killer has yet to be identified.

The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule

The late Ann Rule, a psychologist, worked with Ted Bundy at a crisis hotline, & they became fast friends. Though Rule believed her charismatic, friendly colleague couldn't possibly be violent, she did send his name to the police as a potential suspect when she realized he matched much of their criteria in the search for a local serial killer. Rule, a journalist who was working with police on this case, was stunned when her friend was arrested & tried, & she continued to write letters to Bundy years into his incarceration. Eventually, she came to believe in his guilt.

Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker

This book tells the converging stories of a five sex workers whose bodies were all found on Long Island in the early 2010s. The disappearance of one woman, Shannan Gilbert, lead to the initial police search, though Gilbert's death is now thought to be accidental & unrelated to the other women's deaths. All the murders are still unsolved. 

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson

This now-famous book tells the true-life account of the 1893 World's Fair, held in Chicago, but it's written in a way that makes it feel more like a novel. It weaves two tales related only in their connection to the fair itself: that of architect Daniel Hudson Burnham, the fair's director of works, who faced countless challenges in bringing the fair into physical being, & that of H.H. Holmes, one of the first & most prolific serial killers in the U.S., who preyed upon the atmosphere & lifestyle the fair brought to Chicago.

I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara

Part true crime research & part personal memoir, this book was written by the late crime writer, blogger, & wife of comedian Patton Oswalt, who died before she finished writing it. Oswalt hired her fellow researchers & friends to help finish the book, but the end result is a story that is disjointed & often difficult to follow - though incredibly well-written & well-researched, not to mention creepy as hell - about the search for the prolific rapist & murder who terrorized California in the late '70s & '80s. He was caught very shortly after publication! 

Again: I'd love your recs! Leave them for me in the comments so I can add your favorite true crime reads to my TBR list - which you can find on my "True Crime" shelf on Goodreads.

It's a Boo-tiful Life: My Spooky Adventures this Fall

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

It's Halloween season, & you might be surprised at how spooky Cleveland can get! This city is chock-full of old-timey history, & a few interesting shops have recently opened in Lakewood, a suburb right outside the city. I've been trying to visit them all & thought I'd share them with you here. Whether or not you're local, I think you'll be interested in how cool all these weird little spots are...

The Buckland Museum of Witchcraft & Magick

This tiny Wicca museum is located within a record store on 14th St. in Tremont, just around the corner from me. It's just one small room (though they're currently in the midst of an expansion), & it costs $5 to enter, as a means of maintaining the space & the world-renowned collection curated by the late Raymond Buckland. It's a museum, so nothing in the space is available for sale, but it's absolutely worth a visit if you want to learn more about the wide world of Wicca. (2676 W 14th St., Cleveland)


Local witch Miranda Scott just opened Coven in July, & it, too, is a small spot, though she's definitely making the most of it. It's chock-full of witchy goods, including crystals, spices, sage, palo santo, & more, along with kitschy feminist items like Beyonce prayer candles ("Our Lady of Lemonade"), anti-Trump goodies, journals, etc. I bought an aura-cleansing spray made with mica (so it literally sparkles in the bottle), along with a little button that says "HEX TRUMP." Blessed be.

Cleveland Curiosities

If you're in the market for a two-headed taxidermied goat, a pig fetus, a human kidney, or a camel skull, his is the spot for you. Also new as of July, Cleveland Curiosities has been described by local press as "a world-class oddities shop," & you certainly get the feeling that it is when you enter to see a real guillotine. All of their taxidermy is ethically sourced, & some of the owners' work has been featured on American Horror Story! They also offer classes in offbeat hobbies like bat-pinning. (13375 Madison Ave., Lakewood)

Haunted Cleveland Ghost Tours

For my first assignment for Ohio Magazine, I went on Haunted CLE's 20th anniversary tour, a four-hour bus tour with four stops in downtown Cleveland - but it went quickly because it was really interesting & fun. It's mostly a tour of spooky history, but there are also a few references to ghosts, of course! We visited the historic Gray's Armory Museum, which has a creepy shooting range in the basement; the State Theater, one of Playhouse Square's oldest spots; the Cleveland Police Museum, where local author/expert James Jessen Badal spoke about the Torso Murders; & finally, Erie Street Cemetery, where we used copper dowsing rods to try to locate paranormal activity. Spooky indeed!

So tell me: What spooky stuff am I missing? What's spooky in your neck of the woods?

How I Reward Myself After a Workout (a.k.a. How I Convince Myself to Do the Damn Thing)

Monday, October 22, 2018

Look, working out is hard, & I still hate anything that isn't cycling. I'm only a few months into my attempts to get healthier, & I'm still very far away from feeling healthy or in-shape or like I'm doing half of these things right at all - but it's important to start somewhere, & at 34, I figured it was better late than never.

Still, when you've gone 34 years without working out ever much, you may find that you need to entice yourself a little. Here are just a few of the ways I've come up with to trick myself into reward myself after working out.

Stretching at the End of Class
Each class ends with three minutes of guided stretching, though they're not mandatory. As soon as the ride ends, lots of people hop off their bikes & head out - but when I began, I promised myself that, unless I was really under a time crunch, I would always stay for the stretching portion of class.

My favorite stretch is one where you unclip one shoe & bend your foot & knee up onto the handlebars, then lean in at the waist to stretch out your hips. Aaaahhhh. Sometimes, when class is kicking my ass, I think about how, soon, I'll be able to do that stretch I love so much.

A Healthy Meal
I'm trying not to reward myself with food, but I think a healthy food reward is OK, especially when it's something I wouldn't make at home.

When I first started working out, I told myself that each time I went to a Harness class, I could also get dinner from Boaz Cafe, a fast-casual Mediterranean place I love. Sure, it meant I was spending more money than usual, but if that was what it took to bribe myself into working out, so be it - & their loaded lentil bowls are so delicious and so good for me.

A Little Tip
At the recommendation of my friend Ashleigh, I downloaded the Tip Yourself app & pay myself $5 after each ride. The money comes right out of my bank account & is held by the app until I withdraw it.

I haven't yet decided what I'll do with the money I save - invest, buy something nice, put it into my actual savings account? - but I love the idea of rewarding myself monetarily for my workouts, even if it does come from my own wallet. Pay yourself first, they say!

A Really Hot or Cold Shower
A shower isn't so much a reward as it is a necessity, but that doesn't mean it doesn't feel rewarding to wash away all that sweat & grime. Sometimes, a reaaaaally hot shower is exactly what I need to melt away some of the soreness; other times, I want a borderline-cold shower to rejuvenate me, wake me up, & help me feel alive again. Either way, they feel great - &, yes, totally rewarding.

A Good Cup of Coffee
As perpetually sleepy as I am, workouts sometimes make me tired instead of waking me up. After class, I let myself enjoy a soy latte or an iced coffee (no crazy, sugary drinks, though!) to slowly bring me back to life.

Sure, I could make them myself, but, uh, I'd rather the staff of a cute coffee shop make it for me. Luckily, both of my studio's locations are next to great coffee shops: Pour downtown & Rising Star in Hingetown, plus my favorite spot, Civilization, which is on my drive home. If there's one thing Cleveland doesn't lack, it's good coffee!

Bath Bombs
I've never been a fan of baths, but once I started riding, especially in the beginning, I needed to relieve sore muscles. I started soaking in Epsom salts & using bath bombs to make the experience more soothing & satisfying.

My favorites right now come from Puget Sound Soap Shop, an Etsy shop run by my Internet friend Stevie, who sent me a few to try. Unfortunately she doesn't have any for sale right now, but she also sells really amazing handmade soaps! I also just ordered a few geode bath bombs from the incredible Lesley Saligoe Botanicals.

Legs Up the Wall
I'm trying to get better about stretching, generally, but this alleged yoga pose hardly feels like work or exercise. You just lie on your back & rest your legs against the wall, straight up in the air, to help with circulation & alignment... & damn, it feels so good. It also usually means I have to vacuum my carpet first, but that also feels worth it.

Tell me: How do you reward yourself after workouts? Anything I should add to my repertoire?

Disclaimer: I received three bath bombs & a soap from my friend, who owns Puget Sound Soap Shop. All opinions are my own.

12 of My Best Celebrity Sightings

Friday, October 19, 2018

One of my favorite weird topics of conversation is celebrity sightings, meetings, & near-misses. I recently realized that I've had a surprising number of these for someone who's never lived in either New York or LA - & in fact, only one of these celebrity sightings (albeit admittedly my best one) happened in either of those places.

John Glenn (2008)

In my first year of work in Washington, D.C., I attended a memorial event following the death of Sen. Howard Metzenbaum. I spotted my boss, Rabbi David Saperstein, speaking with Sen. John Glenn, former astronaut & one of my favorite people of all time, & instead of going over to be introduced, I simply watched from afar, longingly, & never met my idol before he died. (Read about it here.)

Katie Couric (2009)

I was standing in line to get into the U.S. Capitol building, which can sometimes be a slow process because of all the security you have to go through. When my part of the line finally reached the entrance, the woman in front of me held the heavy door open for me & turned to apologize. "I'm so sorry," she said, "but it's probably going to take me forever to get through." Unsurprisingly, Katie Couric travels with a lot of gear - & is very, very polite.

Maria Bello & Maggie Grace (2009)

When my then-boss spoke at a press conference calling on the international community to help in Darfur, one of the other individuals appearing alongside him was actress Maria Bello, of ER fame. It was in a very small room, & to one side of me was the reporter who wrote the coverage I linked to above; on the other side of me was a confusingly familiar-looking woman who I couldn't quite place - Maggie Grace, who'd just come off her stint as Shannon on Lost. Why was she there?! I never found out.

Sen. Mark Warner (2010)

I was lost in the basement of the Senate office buildings while the government was recessed (which meant it wasn't very crowded & I wasn't likely to  run into any politicians). I asked the only guy around if he knew how to get where I was going; he didn't, but he tried to point me in the right way, looking pretty confused himself. As the elevator doors closed on his face, I realized he was the new Virginia senator I canvassed so hard to elect. (Read about it here.)

Mila Kunis (2011)

I was waiting on a flight from Boston to D.C. when I noticed that the woman sitting next to me was wearing matching Juicy sweatsuit. My friend Jonah always says you should dress up when you fly, & as I tried to determine whether high-end sweats qualify as "dressed up," I realized that I recognized the voice of the woman wearing them. Turns out Mila Kunis was headed to that night's White House Correspondents Dinner - where she was actually dressed up. And she flew Southwest, so no first-class! (Read about it here.)

Nick Jonas (2012)

When Newsies first hit Broadway, my best friend Christina & I bought tickets & met each other in NYC to be among the first wave of viewers to see it. While we stood outside hoping to catch a glimpse of the cast - just for fun, not because we needed autographs or anything - we realized that the handsome man standing next to us was none other than Nick Jonas, who had a night off from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, which was showing next door. (Read about it here.)

Kelly Giddish (2012) 

I was in New York with a friend, standing in line for a latte at some some nondescript bakery. I immediately recognized the woman in line in front of me as Law & Order: SVU actress Kelly Giddish, although she was then new to the franchise in her role as Amanda Rollins. She ordered a black coffee & a croissant. It was all very cosmopolitan, I know.

Jason Mewes (2013)

When I lived in New Jersey, I often worked from the Starbucks in downtown Red Bank, which was across the street from Secret Stash, a Kevin Smith-owned comic book store & museum that features tons of paraphernalia from his movies. One afternoon, a long-haired dude came in to get coffee, & a teenager at a nearby table asked, "Does anyone ever tell you that you look like Jay from the Jay & Silent Bob movies?" Yeah... yeah, he gets that sometimes. (Read about it here.)

Cory Booker (2013) 

The same day I met Jason Mewes, I met Cory Booker, then the mayor of Newark, who was known for his many tweets responding to citizens' complaints & concerns. He was walking down the street with a flock behind him, & as I stood nearby to take a photo from a distance, someone in his camp asked if I wanted to meet him. Of course I wanted to! Now, he's the junior senator from New Jersey, elected later that year. (Read about it here.)

Justice Elena Kagan (2013)

My former boss is a well-known lobbyist & one-time U.S. ambassador whose circle of friends is a who's-who of... well, some big-name whos. At his annual Hanukkah party, I chowed down on store-bought latkes while gushing maniacally about them to my former boss's wife (a former NPR exec) &... Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan. No, it was not embarrassing at all(Read about it here.)

Joe Biden (2015)

OK, fine, this one was less of a "sighting" & more of a very planned & highly coordinated event, but how could I not count it? The vice president was the keynote speaker at a major event hosted by the organization where I work, & I was working backstage, live-tweeting his address. "Do you want to meet the vice president?" my boss whispered. UM, YES. As he worked the line, shaking my coworkers' hands, I asked for a selfie - & Uncle Joe obliged. (Read about it here.)

Evangeline Lilly (2016) 

I was eating lunch at a neighborhood Ty Spot with two friends when we realized that the beautiful waif of a woman dining solo on soup in the corner was none other than Kate from Lost. She was in town to film Little Evil, a super-cheesy Netflix horror comedy co-starring Adam Scott... who my friend spotted in the parking lot of a local Trader Joe's a few days later. (Read about it here.)

Tell me about your best celebrity sighting! I love hearing about other people's. 

I Went on a Self-Care Retreat - Yes, Really

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

I'm not a woo-woo kinda gal. I don't, like... feel in touch with the universe, or whatever. I don't look down on people who do, it's just never felt like my jam. Sure, I bought sage to smudge my apartment, & before a recent doctor's appointment, I bought a crystal quartz to take with me, & yes, I recently bought the The Universe Has Your Back deck

And, um, OK, maybe I'm a little bit more into the universe than I thought I was - but still, I am fairly cynical & jaded & not really a sparkles-&-inspirational-quotes kinda gal or even, hell, much of a hugger.

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.

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!

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.
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