Saturday, December 24, 2016

'Tis the Season! Some of My Favorite Christmas Stories

Back last Halloween, I brought up something pretty unique to the way my family celebrates the holiday season: a fat stack of children's books that takes up residence on our living room table for the duration of October. This means of spreading a happy Halloween was borne from having four children in the house, alongside plenty of their friends, every year... and it's no surprise that we maintain an even more gigantic stack of such reading material for Christmas, as well!

Last time I counted, we were up to 50-odd books, which made the jump from spreading out across the table to making their home on the fireplace somewhere around the 40 mark. This veritable cornucopia of all things Christmas is my favorite part of decorating every year, and contains a collection of every kind of kid's book imaginable, from silly sing alongs - like Alan Katz's Where Did They Hide My Presents? - to reason-for-the-season Christian stories, like Max Lucado's The Crippled Lamb. 

(And, of course, how much does my family love both Christmas and this holiday season? Enough to have two separate books, both titled A Pirate's Night Before Christmas!) 

Despite the fact that there hasn't exactly been an appropriately-aged readership for these kinds of books in this house for a while now - my youngest brother is 15! - this pile continues to grow year after year. And despite my own age, one of my favorite holiday traditions is still flipping on the tree lights, and basking in the glow of our blinged-out, bird-filled Christmas tree with books I've enjoyed before I was even old enough to read.

Image result for the night before christmas carousel bookThe Night Before Christmas, Clement Clarke Moore

'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house... no other Christmas classic could start the season off in such an iconic way.

We've had a pop-up version of this story displayed, carousel-style, on our living room table every year since I was a kid. The beautiful, multi-layered illustrations have provided a visually engaging counterpoint to the density of the original language, and I've spent plenty of my life on the floor, twirling it around in my hands.

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

Image result for a christmas carol book goodreadsNo one ever warned this Muppet-loving twelve-year-old that this was a ghost story, until I was already fifty pages in and nowhere near ready to turn out the lights just yet. Dickens has the distinction of having authored one of the best Christmas stories and one of the best ghost stories of all time... and I'm talking about the same book!

As the old miserly Scrooge has his life changed in the course of one night, after he is visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, so, too, was my life changed, when the decision was made to have our whole family act in a local community theater musical version of this story. We did so for three consecutive years, and still quote the lines from the show to each other at appropriate moments during the holidays. No other time in my life have the six of us been able to take the stage together, and every year, I'm reminded not only of the importance of holiday cheer and good will towards men, but of how happy I am to spend time with my family!

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The Littlest Angel, Charles Tazewell

So, my mom has been a Sunday School teacher for over a decade, and I've been her assistant enough years to feel like I know the Christmas Nativity material front, back, and sideways by now. But one viewpoint I had never stopped to consider, was that of the angels watching the whole thing play out from the clouds.

This story - of a little angel who picks the perfect present for the newborn child, built up of the things he loved most during his own short time on Earth - never fails to make me cry!

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How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Dr. Seuss
There's no going wrong with this one: it's just a classic! From the original Seussian standby, to the animated take, to the riotous Jim Carrey-helmed live action movie, this tale of the grumpy Mount-Crumpit dwelling Grinch is beloved by all, no matter the iteration.

Besides, its animated installment has a special place in the hearts of Sigma Kappas everywhere, as Ted Geisel's wife was a member of Sigma Kappa Sorority  - he himself was a Sig Ep at Dartmouth - and there are several nods to some of our secrets sprinkled throughout its animated film counterpart!

27776515 My New Favorite:

Dear Santa: Children's Christmas Letters and Wishlists, 1870-1920, edited by Mary Harrel-Sesniak, with commentary by J. Harmon Flagstone

Unsurprisingly, one of my most recent holiday reads was added to the pile by the fireside by yours truly, and it's not exactly the same as the rest of the children's books that lay stacked there. This one is a little more thickly bound, a little more intended for adult audiences, and it's even nonfiction!

This curated collection of real-life letters to Santa from the golden age of its practice, features not only the heart-warming requests of children around the globe, but also highlight reels of the historical events taking place at the same time. The more the world changes around them, the more the wishes of its children stay the same. Even almost a hundred years after the final letter was written, that same sense of childlike wonder that surrounds the Christmas season reminds me to take things a little less seriously!

What are your favorite holiday reads, especially for children? Maybe I'll have to pick up a copy or two!  Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Wouldn't Mind Santa Leaving Under My Tree (and a Few that Will Already Be There!)

"Top Ten Tuesday" is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish!

Well, we're within a week left of sugarplum-dream-filled sleeps 'til Christmas, and I've finally finished picking out the perfect presents for friends and family.

However, while I'm busy trying to figure out what I can get away with sticking in a gift bag, and what deserves the full wrap-and-bow treatment, I'm stuck pining after the books that await me under the tree come Christmas morning (Get it? Pining...).

This week's "Top Ten Tuesday" topic celebrates that forward-thinking mindset, and lets us all share a couple of the cool and exciting titles we're hoping to find nestled 'neath the branches.

Peeking at my Presents - Things I Bought Myself and Know I'm Getting

Okay, okay, so there's that age old adage: "If you want something done right, do it yourself!" So when Black Friday deals rolled around after Thanksgiving, I sat myself down at my computer, and got right to it. Then, of course, when they arrived, I handed them off to my lovely parents to give me right back. I get the books I want, and they have presents already pre-selected by yours truly... everybody wins! 

Image result for edith wharton three novels of new yorkImage result for invasion of the tearlingImage result for in the company of women bookImage result for smitten kitchen

Three Novels of New York (The House of Mirth, The Custom of the Country, The Age of Innocence), Edith Wharton
The purchase of this collection of classic novels had very little to do with a sudden craving for American social commentary, and everything to do with the vibrant lilac of the cover, and delicately poised illustrations on its front and back. I'm not only excited to read it, but also to see how pretty it looks on my bedside table!

The Invasion of the Tearling, Erika Johansen
I had read the first installment of this series in the fall of last year, and despite my interest, had kind of forgotten about it until I lent it out to a friend - Callie! - this past summer, too. After rave reviews from her - and even more from mass media about the series' conclusion, which is out now - I knew I needed to finally pick up a copy.

In the Company of Women: Inspiration and Advice from over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs, Grace Bonney
As a recent college graduate, I'm in a constantly struggle to avoid crumpling up under the weight of self-inflicted expectations for what my life is supposed to look like. One of the things that have helped curb off the hollow feeling of missed potential, is by reading about the struggles and survival stories of successful people I admire... like in this book! It's thick, it's quick, and it's absolutely gorgeous to flip through. Plus, right now, I need all the help I can get.

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, Deb Perelman
After following the Smitten Kitchen blog for years and years, I was overjoyed to see her come out with a cookbook compendium of some of my favorites among her pantheon of recipes. Then, of course, I waited a good couple of years - checking it out of the library in the interim - until it was on sale enough for me to grab it for myself!

Stuck On the Sleigh - I Mean, It's Not Like My Parents Read My Blog or Anything... 

But, I mean, there's no such thing as getting TOO many books for Christmas, amirite? Just in case there's an odd number of gifts that need to be balanced between me and my three siblings this year, here are a few quick picks that, in a sheerly hypothetical sense, someone would be able to pick up at a local Barnes and Noble real quick for a last minute wrap session. (Just kidding. Hi, Dad!)

Image result for the romanovs bookImage result for playing dead bookImage result for romeo and or juliet book
Image result for miss don't touch meImage result for dark matter bookImage result for the girl with all the gifts

The Romanovs: 1613 - 1918, Simon Sebag Montefiore
Maybe it's the fact that this is one of the most beautiful covers I've seen all 2016, or maybe it's the fact that the Anastasia musical is set to hit Broadway in the coming year, but this book has been consistently grabbing my attention every time I see it in someone's perfectly-styled #bookstagram. It's too pretty to pass up!

Playing Dead: A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud, Elizabeth Greenwood
Whether it's the fact that I read about the other side of the crematorium business recently, or it's that my first-ever NaNoWriMo project had to do with fake obituaries, but this topic slapped me right in the face as soon as I read it off the cover. I just want to read about more death, guys!

Romeo And/Or Juliet: A Chooseable-Path Adventure, Ryan North
Oh, come on. Not only is the idea behind this project too cute to say no to, but a quick peek at the illustration-laced pages inside assures you that there's plenty of fun to be had for more straight-laced fans of the Bard, as well. Plus, it just gained a companion, with it's newest installment, To Be Or Not To Be! 

Miss Don't Touch Me, Hubert
I'm trading a space on my Christmas list typically reserved for the next installments of some of my favorite comics series for this sturdy study, about a young woman in Paris working undercover in a house for call girls, in order to track down the man who murdered her sister. Don't lie, you just got a little intrigued, too!

Dark Matter, Blake Crouch
Placing on - if not topping - almost every major list of the year for science fiction, I've been entranced by the hype surrounding this title. A real mind-bender, perfect for rounding out a totally surreal year!

The Girl with All the Gifts, M. R. Carey
As someone who is not at all a fan of a certain kind of monster story - one you've certainly began to associate the book with, if you've watched the moving previews of its film adaptation - this book keeps on catching my eye, despite the amount of times I've tried to tell myself I wouldn't like it. Even though that kind of uncertainty would usually relegate a book to the "library" pile for me, I think it would be a good idea to buy anyways, just because my sister and Dad would probably want to read it afterwards. Before we go see the movie, of course!

SO, I think that's my Top Ten. Of course, there are still plenty of non-bookish presents I'd like to see under the tree come Christmas morning, too... so how about that puppy, Dad? I've been a great kid all year!

What's in your Top Ten? Let me know, in the comments below! 

Monday, December 12, 2016

Bits of Books: Nora Ephron, and Mamrie and Hannah Hart

I've been stuck in a bit of a reading slump through the latter portion of this year: whether it was stressing about my Orlando trip, completing my NaNoWriMo Challenge, or even just trying to make the most of my holiday spirit this December, my focus hasn't exactly been on reading... and as a result, I've fallen five books behind on my Goodreads Challenge, with only about 20 days left before the new year!

However, despite the fact that I haven't been reading as much, there are still plenty of books left that I have managed to read this year, that I still never ended up reviewing in the first place, several of which I thought were really good. So, even though my reading habits are shot, that doesn't mean my blogging habits should be!

This bits of books is a short-and-sweet roundup of some recent reads, from seriously funny ladies. 

Nora Ephron, I Remember Nothing and I Feel Bad About My Neck


I haven't had much experience with author Nora Ephron, besides all the movies I love that she's helped create, like You've Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle, or Julie & Julia. Now, I'm kicking myself that it took me 'til after she'd died to pick up some of her written material, because her voice is one I'd want to hear for a very long time. 

These two books of hers, in particular, are very similar: brief collections of essays, lists, and more inner musings of a woman who was both wildly in love with life and food, as well as all-too-aware of the ways she was getting older. These slim packages were low on word count, but high on humor. 

Her voice is intimate and universal, as if the things she's telling you are secrets that only you can know, that the whole world can relate to. From writing about her career beginnings, to the small bald spot - dubbed an "aruba" - on the back of her head where her hair refuses to cooperate, everything she says is slyly funny, sharply clever, and possessing a spirit and spark I can only hope to cling to once I've entered my twilight years. 

I'll definitely be on the lookout for more books from her in future library trips, because be it home entertaining, journalism, or movie making, I'd listen to her talk about anything, because you can bet that it will be funny. 

Mamrie Hart, You Deserve a Drink


Straight out of the success of her wildly popular and pun-filled YouTube channel, comes Mamrie Hart, ready to mix up a custom cocktail of hilarity, irreverence, and, yes, plenty of booze, just like she's known for on the Internet. 

And let me tell you, Mamrie here knows her personal brand like the back of her cocktail shaker. On her channel, she's boisterous, exuberant, and twenty different kinds of fun and zany, and somehow, she's managed to repackage and re-purpose those same qualities of herself, and flip it into an incredibly successful collection of the same tales she's used to spinning on YouTube. 

Accounts of Dairy Queen-heavy car trips and too-nude beach vacation excursions abound in this series of stories, perfectly encapsulated in the book's title. If there's anyone who deserves a drink for making it through this crazy, kooky, sometimes-cringe-y collection, it's you, because, let's face it: Mamrie's had plenty. 

While the Looney Tunes capers might get a little repetitive after a while - let's be real, after a few nights out, our crazy friends' stories all start to sound the same - at the end of it all, you're left thinking two things: 1, I'm so glad Mamrie's not dead, and 2. Because I'd really like to drink with her. 

Hannah Hart, Buffering: Unshared Tales of a Life Fully Loaded

Hannah Hart - zero relation to Mamrie, one of her best friends - is also a wildly popular YouTube phenom, with plenty of alcohol-infused street cred, as well. 

As host of the popular series My Drunk Kitchen, Hannah has already released a best-selling cookbook of her drunken kitchen creations, of the same name; however, the vodka-soaked blissfulness of her zen cooking style is proliferated with plenty of nuggets of surprise mindfulness and reflection, too, that merited their own vehicle for publication. 

One of my favorite things about Hannah is that core of chill optimism and wisdom that winds throughout her YouTube videos, bespeaking a greater sense of connectivity with the world than just what her social networking abilities would entail. This collection of stories from Hannah's childhood, career development, college years, and more, only verifies her abilities to reflect and reveal, without ever seemingly condescending or blunt. 

It isn't just that Hannah is outspoken about the challenges of America's mental health stigmas, it's because she grew up with a schizophrenic parent, and multiple step-parents who couldn't help them. It's not that she's a national ambassador for the LGBT community, it's that she struggled with escaping her pastor father's devotion to religion in order to define what love means for herself. A childhood growing up in substantial relative poverty helped grow a love and appreciation for food of all kinds. Through every story she shares, Hannah weaves a greater understanding of the puzzle pieces of her life that fit together in a way that's brought her to where - and who - she is now. 

(My younger sister - the person who I introduced to Hannah's videos in the first place, and who now shares my love for her funny, fabulous personality - waited for two hours in line in order to get a copy of Buffering signed with a special message by its author, and then gave the copy to me for my birthday. It's only another layer of loveliness to a very exceptional book, from an equally lovely person.) 

Have you read books by any of these funny ladies before? What did you think? Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

New to Me: 5 Tips for Buying Books Secondhand

That adorable kitty in the foreground? One of two that call the cement floors and cushy armchairs of King's their home. This one is Atticus (of To Kill a Mockingbird fame), while his buddy, Herbert (named for Tacoma native and science fiction author Frank Herbert) was probably laying around somewhere in the back.

The other day, I had about an hour to myself while my younger sister was getting her haircut in Stadium District of Tacoma. While I bemoaned boredom and desperately tried to find something on my phone to entertain myself with, a plan was quickly put into action, when she recommended I wander down to one of my favorite places... King's Books! 

King's Books is a secondhand bookstore specializing in New, Used, and Rare titles, and it might just be one of my favorite places in the whole world. From its mismatched furniture, to wooden shelves filled to bursting with titles of all genres and authors, to the two beautiful kitties who call it home and are always happy to entertain guests, every time I step inside King's, it reminds me of the tranquility and agelessness of the art of reading.

As I wandered through the shelves, picking up titles that piqued my interest, and lovingly nestling them back in their spots when they lost it, it dawned on me that while I'd always love my trips to various bookstores, there really isn't anything that beats shopping secondhand. From exciting surprise finds to age-worn, new-to-me titles, there were so many variables that secondhand stores bring to the art of finding the perfect new book that just aren't present in your neighborhood Barnes and Noble.

So, being that by now, I can fully consider myself an expert in the Pacific Northwest's secondhand gems - from local faves like King's, to hole-in-the-walls like Magus Books in Seattle's U District, to city phenomenons like Powell's City of Books in Portland - I wanted to share a couple of my favorite tips and tricks for buying books at these unique and varied locations. 

Would you believe me if I told you that all four of these books only cost me about $11 total??? The three on the right were all on the $1 table, while the collection on the left was only $6.50. Score!

1. Get to know your secondhand bookstore.

The best thing about these kinds of stores is that, from the comfy furniture to the friendly employees, they start to feel like family. So, feel free to make yourself at home!

Do a little wandering and poking around, so that you get a feel for layout and organizational flow of the store as a whole. That way, every time you come in, you'll be able to know where your favorite collections are, and where some of the best purchases can be found.

And don't get distracted by just the shelves and titles you're used to... they're not my typical fare, but I find some of my favorite non-fiction and American history reads right in King's. It's because I know what I'm looking for, and by now, I know how to find it!

2. Go in with a game plan... but don't get too specific.

If you come in with a list of books that you're just dying to have, you're bound to walk away disappointed, if not completely empty-handed! Keep in mind what kinds of books are going to be finding their ways to secondhand stores in the first place: while you're more than likely to find your fair share of classics or tried-and-true titles, you're a lot less likely to pick out just the particular book you're looking for, or niche novels that have specific audiences.

Instead, I like to start my search with authors that I'm always on the lookout for, like Jennifer Egan or Jasper Fforde. Then, broaden it out a little: go through your favorite sections, like Science Fiction, Humor, and Memoir/Biography, and see what's hiding in there. After that, if you're still not ready to leave, then you can widen your search out to the rest of the store. Just having a loose directional plan in place will always make your shopping trip easier, and that way, you're less likely to leave thinking that there's something you've missed out on.

3. Have a dollar amount in mind.

I know, I know: they're at such a discount, no one sells this edition anymore, it has the original cover, it's less than $10. Literally, any excuse you can make for adding one more title to that pile before checkout is one I've used before.

The problem with that is, things I've gotten excited about in-store have had their luster fade in just one car ride, once I've realized that I wasn't as excited about the books themselves, as much as the deal I was getting on them.

So, to avoid overload, go into your secondhand store with a specific price point you're willing to go for. And that's not just for total bookstore purchases: know how much you're willing to spend on each book you're getting. The super-hyped paperback you've had your eye on, for less than $10? Score! The clunky hardcover you've never seen anywhere else, for $20? Okay... but make sure you really want it.

(And by the way, anything torn, stained, water-warped, or with a noticeably damaged cover is always a no-go for me, especially if it's not reflected in the price. If you really want it, it's worth buying pretty, and you can definitely find it somewhere else.)

Before you head to check out, try laying all your intended purchases out on a table or the floor, and really ask yourself, "Am I buying it because I like the book? Or am I buying it because I like the price?" Then, adjust your stack accordingly.

4. Always check the sale section!

Here's a fun fact for you: Tacoma is home to a couple cool authors, bloggers, and other readerly people, who also happen to make the same secondhand store their bookish destination, just like me! (*cough cough* Marissa Meyer, author of the Lunar Chronicles series and the recently released Heartless *cough cough*).

Thanks to them, more than a few ARCs end up making their way to King's, and because of their value as pre-published proofs, are only ever sold from the $1 table, after their finished versions have been published. (Like the ones I grabbed on my last trip, seen in the above picture!).

But that's just King's; I don't know what other stores practice. Still, surprises like those aren't the only reason you should be checking out what's the cheapest at these special cheapy stores! Honestly, the $1 section sometimes makes for my favorite Snapchat material, from super-cringe-y chick lit picks from the early 2000s, to bizarre self-help guides, and more.

5. Take your time. 

Even if you've got a plan in place, you know the store and your price point, and you're open to flexibility, you're never going to be able to run right into your neighborhood secondhand and immediately emerge victorious with a fat stack of reading material.

These kinds of things take patience, eagle-eyes, and more than just ten minutes of your time. The best parts of secondhand stores are the art of wandering, gazing, perusing, and ruminating, really deliberating over the selections in front of you, and wondering what kind of addition they'd make to your personal library.

Take a seat. Pet a kitten. Flip through a couple of pages. Like I said before, make yourself at home.

Do you like shopping for books secondhand? Where are some of your fave secondhand destinations? Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

NaNoWriMo Update #3: How Did She Bloody Do That?

(Why yes, this blog title is a reference to the seminal '90s classic, Muppet Treasure Island.)

I cannot believe I'm able to write these words to you all right now, but as of 1:35pm this afternoon, I officially bested the goals I had set for National Novel Writing Month, clocking it at 50,414 words. True, not as many as the first time I did NaNoWriMo, but then again, I was a lot more confident I was going to win last time, too.

As of the last time you all saw me, I was still a significant amount of words behind not just my end goal, but also the trajectory for my end goal in total. At the time, I needed to be writing a lot over 4,000 words per day to make it to the finish line by November 30th.

However, I beat the odds by writing between 5,000 and 7,000 words just about every day since then, and somehow managed to get it done without losing any friends or sanity in the process.

I know, I'm just as shocked as you are!

I celebrated my win by buying my winner's shirt, as well as by donating to the cause, being that it is Giving Tuesday. Honestly, it's my first time donating, and I feel pretty darn good about the fact that I was able to give back to something that has become such an honored pastime for me.

In terms of goals for what's next, at this point, I honestly can't imagine a future for myself where I'm not trying to write every day. That was one of the reasons I undertook this year's challenge: I really was trying to win back some of that magic, and fall back in love with taking some time every day to just get out of my head, and get some words down on the page.

I've been stuck in this weird cycle of bad days now that I'm living back at home with my parents after graduation, trying to find a job, and, with every rejection, feeling less and less qualified to have one. My writing has been slacking off as a result, and it's just been getting harder and harder to make spending that time seem worthwhile.

This victory, starting so far behind and making so many gains so quickly, has really reinvigorated my confidence in myself, to not only get the job done, but make a really good job of what I do. I want to make sure that I keep writing this time, especially in working on this project - which I happen to have a lot of faith in - as well as simply maintaining those good habits, of spending a couple hours every day on something productive, that also happens to make me wildly happy.

I'm also thinking about picking up my original NaNo novel again, from back in 2014, for a little TLC. It's been a good while since I even glanced at the manuscript, one that I know is positively rough with a capital "R", so I'd love to take the chance to pull it apart a little bit, rewrite it, and maybe find a way to turn it into something readable.

Thanks to this year's NaNo project, I know I'm more than capable to do so.

Did you take part in NaNoWriMo this year? Did you meet your goals? Let me know, in the comments below!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

NaNoWriMo Update #2: You Know It's Almost Over When...

NaNoWriMo is a non-profit which, every November, encourages the world to bring their novel dreams to life, by writing 50,000 words in one month. I've done the challenge once before - and won it! - and am looking forward to trying again this year. We're nearing the end of the road and my typing skills have gone to pot... however, my plot line is still chugging along!

Well, NaNoWriMo is officially peeking over the edge of the horizon, and I feel like I've only barely gotten started. We have less days left in the Challenge than days it took me to actually start writing - which, if you'll remember, I didn't do until the 13th of the month - and if there was any self-indicator that I might actually be in a lot of trouble, it's that my "Words Per Day to Finish On Time" count is now in the 4,000s.

Needless to say, yikes. 

You know the game's almost over, when the fears of inadequacy you voice to your friends and family, get responses that change from "Well, there's still plenty of time left!" to "You know it's all going to be okay if you don't finish, right?" 

In particular, my family members are only just now starting to understand that this all stresses me out tremendously. From my mom staying up late in the kitchen with me, so I can work in some more words before we finally head to bed at 1 A.M., to my sisters pestering me to get off my phone and write so that they can have the room to themselves, they're finally able to tell that there's a solidly good chance I won't make this deadline, so they're giving me all the room I need.

For the most part: unfortunately, we're also finally now on our Thanksgiving vacation, and this cabin is going to get all kinds of cranky if I'm not able to work on the things I want to. Granted that my sister, Delaney, has a near-inability to refrain from singing every five seconds, it might get a little hostile in the back bedroom we're sharing.

This time in 2014, the last time I completed NaNoWriMo, I was able to end the Challenge three days early, clocking out with 50,781 words written, more than 16,000 of which were written in the last three days I'd spent writing alone. Averaging out to 5,356  words a day, it was the most intensive writing period of my entire life, even when compared to creating my Capstone paper for graduation this past Spring.

And like I've said before, I need to write over 4,000 words a day as of right now to make the Challenge on time. Clearly, I've done something of that caliber before, but can I make it again? Especially with my family around, so closely? There's still dinner to make, a Parade to watch, and a massive football victory hanging imminent (Yeah, I said it: Huskies are going to take the Apple Cup this year. Unless of course, by some snowball's chance they lose, in which case, forget I said anything).

(And speaking of snowballs, it's snowing down here where we're on vacation, and if there's anything that's going to convince me to write, it's a winter wonderland landscape outside my window!)

Anyways, that's where I'm at right now: woefully behind, but remaining optimistic - and willing to do a little word math to prove it - and wondering how this whole vacation thing might mess with my stats. The next time I'll update this blog, you'll find out whether I made it or not... I'm as anxious to find out as you are! 

Now, back to Microsoft Word!

How is your NaNo Challenge going? Got any writing tips for those of us who are drowning? Let me know, in the comments below! 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I Am Thankful For

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish!
Thanksgiving is coming up in just a matter of days, so you won't blame me for having some of the things I'm thankful for on the brain. Naturally, some of those things are books. I'm thankful that the Top Ten Tuesday theme for this week fits everyone's current mindsets so well... and besides, this way, you might just find a couple of great book recommendations for the long weekend!

1. Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth

Not only was this one of the first books our Dad read to my sister and I as kids, but he also set aside a beautiful hardcover copy for each of us when we got old enough to really appreciate it. It remains one of the first books I turn to when the real world starts to look a little too much like the Doldrums... Milo and Tock always help break me out!

2. J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series

These books will no doubt be showing up on almost  everyone's lists today, but that doesn't make their presence on this one any less personal. I was always a reader, but I wasn't always an adventurous reader: there was a period of my life where I simply stuck to reading this series, back to back, for over a year! Knowing that Hogwarts is a home I can always return to keeps them on my shelves... and makes me want to buy a personal collection that hasn't been completely destroyed by my siblings.

3. All of the Ali, Kel, and Beka books from Tamora Pierce

I came into the Tamora Pierce fandom both late and a little backwards: the first series I read was the Trickster duology, and I could never really get into Alanna - Ali's famous mother -'s series. Still, if you are a leading female of Tortall, you have a place in my shelves, and the adventurous Ali, steadfast Kel, and dogged Beka (see what I did there?) have long served as inspirations of mine to try and be a little more badass.

4. Madeliene L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time

Another gift from our Dad's library, I think I'm still hanging on to his bright pink-colored cover, because it's just always going to remind me of home. It's unsurprising that a book that involves, so strongly, the power of family, has just as much of a strong place in mine.

5. Frank Herbert's Dune

Yet another gift from Dad, I fell in love with this story long before anyone in our family realized that its author was born and raised in our own hometown! This science fiction epic was read right on the tails of Neuromancer and the first of the Foundation novels, neither of which I particularly enjoyed... if it hadn't been for Dune, I honestly might have given up on the genre! And then where would I be???

6. The Nancy Drew series

I could talk for days on end about the importance Nancy Drew has for me: from getting all of those yellow-spined classics as a kid, to playing the PC games with all three of my siblings huddled on the couch around me, to collecting my favorite editions as an adult (the blue ones that have the war paper rationing stamps on the front pages), it honestly seems like I've spent my whole life loving Ms. Drew. I even have plenty of books on the history of the series (hence, why there's not an author name displayed by the title), and even on its ties to psychology: I have an entire book on Jungian psych in Nancy Drew that I used for a research paper in my junior year AP class!

7. Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre

This spot was originally going to go to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, because they serve similar functions in documenting my reading history, but after reflection, I chose Bronte for what it meant to me, which was something a little different. Everyone thinks they can be the sparkling, sharp-witted Lizzie, but in reading about plain, introspective, and practical Jane, sophomore year Savannah had a lot more in common. The fact that it's now a book my sisters have both read, as well, means I get to share in the love!

8. Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

I seriously cannot say more about this book in this space than what I've said elsewhere: I read it way too early, and it was one of the first books I truly ever fell in love with. I read it every summer, and have done so for over a decade of my life, because this book will always seem like summer to me: a sunny celebration of independence, childhood, and living life like it's one big adventure.

9. Steven Covey's The 10 Habits of Highly Effective Teens

This book launched my love affair with the self-help genre when I was only in the eighth grade! The idea that books could help make your life better - by the direct messages of non-fiction, rather than the indirect means of fiction - always seemed like an appealing one to me, and the engaging, illustrated teen's version of the classic drew me in completely.

10. M.F.K. Fisher's How to Cook a Wolf 

Another beloved read from the high school years, I first became acquainted with Mrs. Fisher through a cooking class's book report project! As a longtime wannabe home cook, her frank instructions, built into the context of descriptive paragraphs, rather than a typical cookbook format, blew my mind. Giving narratives to food was something I had never seen done before, and the ways she made easy ingredients stand out in complex ways was something I held on to (and is one of the reasons I now love to read Ina Garten!). This book was one of the ones that really launched my love of cooking.

Unsurprisingly, when I originally drafted out this post, there were several additional books that made an appearance on the list, as well, including the Dear America series and Max Lucado's Wemmick children's books; however, while I think being thankful is super important, you can't name them all. Hopefully this theme comes around next year so I can thank Jamie Oliver's cookbooks and all of the American Girl library in their own time.

Happy holidays!

What's in your Top Ten? Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

NaNoWriMo Update #1: What the Heck Am I Doing

NaNoWriMo is a non-profit which, every November, encourages the world to bring their novel dreams to life, by writing 50,000 words in one month. I've done the challenge once before - and won it! - and am looking forward to trying again this year! However, as you'll soon find out, I've had a couple setbacks so far...

Being that it is currently the 15th of November - officially marking us as halfway through the month - you should be unsurprised to learn that I've been scrambling all morning, trying to work on my NaNoWriMo project for this year. 

What might surprise you, however, is the fact that my current number count is just over 2,000 words. Total.

Two things have presented themselves as pretty significant roadblocks to my progress thus far, the most significant of them all being that I spent a total of eight days - from the 1st of the month through the 8th - steadily working myself into a sugar coma at the Happiest Place on Earth (East Version).

That's right: right of the bat, I lost a week of writing time, due to living it up in Orlando, Florida, at Walt Disney World, with a best friend who ditched me for sunshine and the Disney College Program as soon as we graduated. Who's got time for writing, when Pirates has a 10 minute wait line and there are still Dole Whips and Mickey Pretzels left uneaten?

The second hurdle I encountered was a lot less fun than a Disney trip, though: I spent the weekend doubled over in pain, in bed, and drifting in and out of sleep, due to a painful ovarian cyst that decided the perfect time to make itself known is when I actually have things to be focusing on (to be fair, I am wildly thankful it didn't rear its ugly head when I was, you know, in Disney World). So, scratch a couple of days off of my tally due to severely limiting physical circumstances, too.

As you might imagine, this is all taking a severe toll on not just my writing ability, but the faith I have in myself that I'm even going to get this thing off the ground, let alone to 50,000 words!

In the lingo of NaNo veterans, I'm a planner, not a pants-er, which is why all of these hurdles are enough to send me into a tailspin. With my 2014 project, Dead Beat Reporting - or, as it was known when it was still in the process of being written, Blood Read - I had a full, complete outline before I'd ever set fingertip to keyboard... but with Hit (this year's more compactly-named project), I mostly just have a collection of world-building ramblings, and the optimistic intention of just seeing how things play out. It makes me nervous.

Still, I think I can swing it. I've done this before, and I've got a lot of info still in my brain that just needs to be written down to paper to prove that I've got it. I've got a couple of weeks left until the end of the month, and if I can just manage to convince my family to leave me the hell alone for a couple hours out of each day, I'll have enough maneuvering room to catch up after such significant setbacks!

Besides, according to my sister, Delaney, "It's not like you're doing anything better right now."

In case you're curious, here's the cover art and story background for Hit:

Stalked by the paparazzi, targeted by obsessive fans, hacked by online criminals... no one has ever said that being a celebrity was comfortable. Sometimes, it turns deadly. However, even when a star dies, that may be when they shine the brightest, their fame only heightened by their tragic demise. 
That's why Hollywood's hit makers, have started hiring hit men. 
An assassin for the Hollywood elite, Guy is tasked by studio executives with endangering the lives of their famous clientele for media exposure and monetary gain. 
A disgruntled former employee of a production studio, Woody was only ever looking for revenge on the boss that ruined his life... definitely not the spotlight. 
A Southern beauty dragged from the wrong side of the tracks to the international stage, Leanne is going to have to ditch the name, the fame, and her domineering pageant Mom, if she's going to outrun a Hollywood hitman. 
In this satirical take on the frightening future of celebrity status, 24-hour media culture, and our relationships with the rich and famous,15 minutes of fame has turned into 15 seconds. When everyone's hunting for the "next big thing," how long can you stay hidden? 

Pretty cool, right? If you liked it, feel free to find me on NaNo and be my writing buddy! Because, let's be real: this year, I need all the help I can get.

Have you ever been a part of NaNoWriMo before? Would you consider doing it in the future? Let me know, in the comments below!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Reading and Leading: What Arts and Education Have to Do With the Election

The first thing I did when I woke up this morning, is the same thing I did when I went to bed last night. On social media, proclamations of disgust and terror came in abundance, and several insisted that they would be taking breaks from the Internet's popular public forums, in order to get away from it all. I think this is a great idea, because what we should really be doing right now, is reading. 

Granted, I do think every time is the perfect time for reading; however, today, it's for a different reason.

Reading as Representation 

The act of Reading itself is very much founded in the intersections of Art and Education. 

Having a literate population is an anthropological symbol of success and cultural collateral, and the resources we have provide us with entertainment as well as information. We are shaped by what we read, reading is constructed based on what we think, and the two interactive states - reading and writing - reflect each other. We see this in all forms of Art, be it reading books themselves, or even just in dissecting the meanings of song lyrics we hear on the radio: we construct, and are constructed by, the media we consume.

When we look at forms of popular art and culture from the past year, significant connective themes trace throughout the disciplines of film and television, stage and song, and yes, of course, what we read.

Image result for hamilton musical wikipediaFor instance, Lin Manuel Miranda's Hamilton is a multiple Tony-award winning musical and cultural juggernaut, and is arguably one of the most successful in the history of its business. Following the story of an immigrant and ambitious outsider entering the political sphere during the turning point of the Revolutionary War, most of the cast within the show is notably played by people of color, as an artistic and directorial choice.

Some of the most popular and influential books this year, like Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad, dealt explicitly with themes of race and history. The critically-acclaimed forthcoming film Loving does, as well, detailing the true-life story of a mixed-race couple whose love is condemned by the government. Beyonce's unapologetic, emotional visual album Lemonade kept us in constant applause, and television shows like Jane the Virgin even made us laugh, too. We followed the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement, while championing stories from new, underrepresented voices.

Clearly, the Arts - both popularly consumed, as well as the less easily-accessible - will always serve as a bastion of diversity, inclusivity, and hope. Books stand proudly among that population.

Education is vital to the success of these causes, as well: coming from a high-ranking public university, like the University of Washington in Seattle, I can talk forever about how much my values are shaped by my education. Even in the rest of the United States, Education is a forefront battleground against injustice, with room being made for new discussions on class, gender, race, and all the ways those things intersect. Our classrooms are representative of this success: due to numerous factors, black women are now officially counted as the most educated population in the US.

However, despite the fact that diversity and inclusion are touted so exuberantly in these areas, they remained overcome by the tidal wave of Trump supporters that showed up in our Electoral College. Why is that?

Learning from History

I read an interesting Time article early on in the election cycle, that highlighted one of the most significant population changes shaking up the democratic process: people who had never voted before were finally finding a reason to take to the polls, whether it was older, rural conservative Republicans who fancied Trump's "truthfulness," or newly-minted voting Millennials who were swayed by Bernie's grandfatherly charm and hyper-liberal status. Unfortunately, as Bernie steadily became less of a viable candidate, the attention of these twenty-somethings swept to third party candidates like Jill Stein and Gary Johnson, while Trump's numbers only swelled among the Midwestern and Southern communities of our country.

Trump's meteoric popularity - though baffling to the media who constantly gave him airtime, interviews, and implicit support via near-ceaseless coverage - is actually very familiar.

Someone like him has come before: an outsider battling against the elite, lacking in formal political education, but touting plenty of plain-stated opinions and an appeal to the rural  classes of the country who felt unrepresented in the political sphere. This President held powerful stances on trade and government interference, that not only led to mass Native American genocide and rougher treatment of black slaves in the South - particularly South Carolina - but also directly contributed to the events that initiated America's Civil War.

Sound familiar? I'll give you a hint: just like Hamilton, there's a multiple-Tony-award-nominated musical about him too. 

Image result for andrew jackson wikipediaThe story of Andrew Jackson, the seventh President of the United States, is one that has been lampooned and lauded in both Arts and Education. It's one you've heard from the stages of Broadway to American History textbooks, to biographies written by best-selling authors, to the Hall of Presidents in Walt Disney World. Held up by Republicans, he was, ironically, the founder of the Democratic Party (back when being so was a decidedly un-liberal thing to be).

I could make a joke here about 2016 being the year of remakes, but I won't, because I don't think that our inability to understand history repeating itself is a laughing matter at all. Why wasn't anyone looking at the replication of these historical factors?

It won't surprise you to note that Trump-won states also have more significant histories of banning books. In 1983, the Alabama State Textbook Committee tried to ban The Diary of Anne Frank - a vivid and moving historical portrait of a young girl's "illegal" personhood  - from schools, on the grounds that it was "a real downer." Meanwhile, Virginia has successfully banned it before, as have plenty of other states, being that the American Library Association continually lists it among its most frequently challenged books.

Basically, what I'm trying to point out, is this: Arts and Education have always served as gateways for amazing stories of diversity, inclusion, and other such American values. The places where Donald Trump gained a hold in the heart of our country, are places known to lack emphasis, or even respect, in those subjects, and that jeopardizes the validity and trust of our democratic system.

Why Books (and You!) are Important in Every Election

Reading gives us an opportunity to explore new worlds, understand new ways of thinking, with greater and more significant empathy than what we are able to do on our own. The current perspectives touted by mainstream media are oriented not to inform, but to inflate pre-existing ideas and egos, but books can help break us out of the rut of homogenized thinking.

I was ruminating over a cup of tea this morning, about Sweden's recent effort to inspire their country's youth with Chimimanda Ngozi Adiche's We Should All Be Feminists. It got me thinking... would things have turned out different, if we had all just read more? If we had started exploring ideas of diversity and feminism through our reading choices earlier on in life - especially those of us living in Trump-won states - would things have turned out differently?

Image result for the diary of anne frank coverWhat if everyone had read The Diary of Anne Frank growing up, like I had? Or Pam Munoz Ryan's Esperanza Rising? Or Mildred D. Taylor's Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry?

So, in the wake of this political turmoil, I choose to read. I invite you all to do the same, but more than anything else, I invite you to think about how Art and Education shapes public consciousness, compared to how Politics does.

I - as a white, suburban, educated, female, living in the gorgeous, glorious liberal haven of the Pacific Northwest - have comparatively a lot less to lose than the average voter. If you are one of the minorities who feel the most threatened by a Trump presidency, please know that you are not alone.

You might feel like your voice was ignored during this election cycle, or maybe it might be taken away, but know this: when you feel you can't speak... you can still sing, or dance, or write, or film. 

Your worldview is beautiful and necessary to broadening the empathetic scope of understanding that we can communicate through Art, and you have every power to create something wonderful out of something tragic. The ability to create Art is a privilege, but there are those who want to help you do it. We need your art, and we need you.

We need your stories. We need to keep reading. 

If you could put a book in the hands of every child in this country, what would you choose, and why? Let me know, in the comments below! 

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Review: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

Image result for smoke gets in your eyes book
Fun fact: I've been fascinated by the death industry ever since a middle school summer vacation in Long Beach, WA, lead to a late-night viewing of the scary movie Mortuary on SyFy Channel. Creepy moss monsters aside, I had never really considered that part of dying before: basically, the cleanup, the whisking away to be deposited elsewhere... the fact that when someone passes on, their body doesn't just go away on its own (well, I guess that depends on what scary movie you're watching, too). 

This book shed a lot of light on a pretty dark subject, without making it too creepy. 

When I'd originally picked up Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: and Other Lessons from the Crematory - in hardcover for a positive steal of $7 this past year at a University Bookstore sale - I didn't know what I was in for, other than a gorgeous cover and fascinating subject matter. When I checked out with a handful of other titles in tow, the cashier raised her eyebrows at it, shook it in her hand, and said, "Dude. This is a good one." I have to say, she's absolutely right.

The book follows the career beginnings of author Caitlin Doughty, as she starts work in a San Francisco mortuary as a crematory operator. Now working as an alternative death specialist and funeral director in Los Angeles, the book shapes the development of her personal perspectives on the death industry, starting with her first attempt at shaving a dead body.

The anecdotes are visceral and unnerving - from lobbing a dead baby underhand into the crematory so they hit where the fire is hottest, to having the extra fat of a super-plus body leaching out of the machine onto the shop floor - but accompany straightforward answers to questions you didn't know you were allowed to ask: what happens to the bodies of the homeless and indigent populations of California? How long does it take for a corpse to actively start rotting outside of refrigeration? Can I order a remote cremation through the power of the Internet?

Obviously, there are parts of the book that are a little hard to read, but the author knows that. Doughty recounts an early life experience witnessing the death of a three-year-old at a mall, as well as the ensuing childhood obsessive compulsive disorder she developed as a result, with empathy and attention. Many of her interactions with the corpses she crosses paths with are illustrated with moving ties to her own life, whether it is considering the lives left impacted by the loss of the twenty-something who stood in front of a train, or comparing the face of a John Doe cadaver to an unrequited love she contemplates losing in a similarly anonymous fashion.

To be honest, the only part of the book that rubbed me a little the wrong way in places was our narrator herself, who seemed a little self-aggrandizing in parts, overly self-deprecating in others, and overall, just a little bit weird. Her opinions were loudly stated and uncompromising; however, in that way, the book is a complete success, in extrapolating on not just her career growth, but in how her start in the industry completely shaped the reasons why she decided to open her own practice. It's almost more of a sort of alternative business account than just a fascinating memoir.

Final Verdict: A creepy, comprehensive, and ultimately, compassionate account of one woman's early journey through the death industry, this book provides an insight into some of society's most well-hidden business practices, by exposing career insights into a job you had never really considered before. For anyone who loved Mary Roach's Stiff - or perhaps wonders about their own cold end - this book is an engaging and illuminating read.

Have you read a nonfiction account of a strange career? Would you ever read a book about this industry? Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Creepy Reads for Halloween!

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish!
Halloweek is here, and I'm officially ready to get spooky! 

All of my favorite television shows having been premiering their Halloween episodes, the Target holiday aisles are well-and-truly picked over for the prime goods, and our local Jo-Ann Crafts is gearing up their Christmas decorations already, which means I'm really in the thick of the spooky-scary spirit. Naturally, that meant it was time for another creeptastic special installment Top Ten Tuesday for the holiday, as well: Hello, Halloween freebie week!

To be honest, I was a little annoyed that past Savannah had already swiped the ideal holiday topic last year, when I talked about our family's severe holiday children's book fixation, particularly in regards to my fave spooktacular-and-not reads for the 31st. However, I quickly realized that there are plenty of creepy reads for those above a middle grade age bracket, too! 

Whether you're into YA or adult, fiction or non, here are my list of Top Ten Halloween Reads for those who may now be a little too old for trick-or-treating. (Which means you're plenty old enough to buy that bag of Reese's Cups for yourself... score!)

what pairs well with those pre-cut Pillsbury ghostie cookie things?

Image result for the divinersImage result for something strange and deadly186103

1. Libba Bray's The Diviners 
1920s New York is a town long-famed for its fearless flappers... including one who happens to be a little more fearless than most, thanks to a mysterious power that helps her read the histories of those whose possessions she holds. Once a string of deaths starts to reveal the town's dark side, it's clear there's something malevolent afoot... and Evie's plenty well-heeled enough to take on the task of catching the culprit herself!

2. Susan Dennard's Something Strange and Deadly
It's the 1800s, and zombies are a real and present threat, especially to a Southern deb. If you think running away from a horde of the shambling undead was hard already, try doing it in a hoopskirt!

3. Scott Westerfield's Peeps 
Being "parasite-positive" might just be the newfangled term for the newly-fanged, but Cal isn't going to let that hold him back. Following the sleuth-work of a man able to navigate the vamp-life without displaying its devastating symptoms, this fresh take on the old characterizations of vampirism has a lot more to do with bacteria and microscopic snails that it does with neck-munching... which might be even more scary.

i can watch the sixth sense without crying (most of the time)

Image result for house of leaves goodreadsImage result for nightmares and dreamscapesImage result for the grownup goodreads

4. Mark Danielewski's House of Leaves
I could talk forever about this masterful mind-explosion of a beautiful and terrifying concept, but I've already gotten the chance to do that, as it was the central text - ie, the only thing we read all Quarter - in one of my senior-year college classes. This book didn't change my life... I'm pretty sure it changed me.

5. Steven King's Nightmares and Dreamscapes
A magnum opus of a horror grandmaster, this collection has probably been my favorite of his that I've ever read. The scarecrow cover is iconic, as are the short stories contained (barely) behind it.

6. Gillian Flynn's The Grownup
Breathlessly short and far-far-FAR from sweet, this fast-paced and slim-spined thriller - following the experiences of a fake medium and the strange family she encounters through her con - is a fitting fear-inducing work from the Gone Girl master of plot twists. 

you know what's truly terrifying? real life

Image result for smoke gets in your eyes booImage result for spook book goodreads mary roach

7. Caitlin Doughty's Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
The memoirs of a crematorium operator, better learning how to live from working with the dead, this recent read has been one of my favorites of the past year, for its illuminating insights into a secretive industry, and significant emotional intelligence.

8. Mary Roach's Spook 
The product of one of my favorite nonfiction authors' forays into the industries of the undead - from understanding EMF readings, to conversing with spiritual guides, and examining near-death experiences - this scientific perspective on popular ghostly theories, practices, and people from around the world is a fascinating one.

special effects can get old and hokey, but a good book can scare you forever

Image result for frankenstein goodreadsImage result for turn of the screw goodreads

9. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
I have held such admiration for this book for so long that I once actually had a dream that I had gotten it tattooed onto my skin. This iconic tale not only helped birth the science fiction genre, but its vivid descriptions and haunting characterizations remain spine-tingling even after it's been mangled by multimedia too many times to count. (My personal, ultimate example of "the book was better" arguments.)

10. Henry James' The Turn of the Screw
You'd think that if you'd read one Gothicky ghost story, you've read them all... but being introduced to this horror mainstay in a sophomore-year college class proved that some stories remain classic for a reason! A subtle and spooky atmospheric thriller that gave me new admiration for unreliable narrators, this one is a decently short read, but one that will stay with you.

You've got a little under a week left before Halloween... plenty of time to squeeze at least one more spooky read in! 
What's in YOUR top ten? Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

There Are Few Cool Reasons to Turn 23: A Birthday Haul

This past weekend, I celebrated my 23rd Birthday. 

The entire experience was a bit of a lesson in irony... Whereas usually, when you say, "I'm turning so-and-so years old," there is an abundance of people responding positively to that information, on my birthday, when I informed people that it was 23 I was turning, those I encountered openly responded with, "Ohmygod, it totally sucks, right?" So, I guess I've hit that point: the pinnacle of birthday excitement has passed... I am officially over the hill.

Despite my old age, my Mom really wanted to make sure I celebrated my birthday with good cheer, especially because she knew how much I was missing spending it with my sorority sisters. So, she made sure I had plenty of time in Seattle to have dinner with some of my best friends, as well as my sister, Delaney, and my birthday itself was spent hitting up a local theater's costume cleanout sale, my favorite specialty grocery store, and my local library.

And, of course, there were presents, presents galore! Naturally, there was an abundance of printed material, and so, I figured I would share my bounty with you, in a sort of mini-haul:

First off, I got two magazines, which are among some of my favorites: Frankie, an Aussie import that encompasses art, photography, fashion, food, travel, vintage, and more - and best of all, totally fits my personal aesthetic - and Jamie, the gorgeously photographed and deliciously inviting publication of super-Brit Jamie Oliver, aka, my eternal middle school #ManCrushMonday.

I also received four books: two memoirs, one work of historical nonfiction, and one poetry collection.

  • The first, I bought for myself: Bloom, by Estee Lalonde, is a recently published memoir from one of my favorite lifestyle YouTubers. 
  • The Ghost Map, by Steven Johnson, is a historical account of one of the deadliest diseases to have ever hit London, the cholera epidemic! 
  • Sylvia Plath's iconic poetry collection, Ariel. What  excites me about this particular edition is that it has been arranged into a facsimile of what her original manuscript would have looked like. 
  • and, courtesy of my Dad's knowledge of my favorite subjects, The Ride Delegate: Memoir of a Walt Disney World VIP Tour Guide, by Annie Salisbury. It's small-press-published, and that sort of self-made quality is what excites me the most... it means it's probably going to be really juicy! 

Of course, I got plenty of non-book presents, too, however, there were a few more that were kind-of book-related, so I figured those deserved a mention, too!

I've been on a total handbrush-lettering kick recently, and my parents are feeding the obsession with two packs of Dual Brush Pens from Tombow, as well as a Calligraphy Starter Kit from one of my favorite pen companies, Staedtler. They also got me a sort of instruction manual on the matter, which I'm definitely looking forward to marking up in the near future!

And remember that awesome Austen movie Callie and I saw over the summer? It's on DVD! Love and Friendship was a super welcome gift, though it had originally made my younger brother a little nervous: apparently, listing the words "Love and Friendship" on your bday list - even if it's underlined, like a title is supposed to be - can raise some concern for your personal well-being.

I also got a gorgeous Julep nail polish inspired by my Zodiac sign - Libra, duh! - and to wrap it all up, I got the background piece for both of these displays: the "Banned Books" scarf from Out of Print Clothing! My family got a kick out of reading between the blacked-out lines, to find some of their favorite titles among the print.

Overall, my birthday was super-fun, despite the age that I was turning itself being distinctly less-than. I am so blessed and grateful to be surrounded by the amazing friends and family that I have, who can fill up a weekend with my absolutely favorite things.

And thank you to you all, too, for sticking by me for yet another trip around the sun! Hopefully, 23 won't be as bad as everyone's chalking it up to be.

What's your favorite way to celebrate a birthday? What's the best book you've ever been given as a present? Let me know, in the comments below!