Things I’m Loving: Color, Sparkle, and Paper Goods

 

Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 9.21.51 AMRecently, I’ve been lamenting the lack of color in my life. So I’ve been working to brighten my days in small ways. Below are some recent finds I’ve been loving. Clockwise from lop left:

Whitney English hosted my favorite Alt for Everyone session and makes this outstanding planner that incorporates three daily goals, an hourly breakdown, and plenty of room for lists. So obviously I’m craving one more than a slice of red velvet cake. Check them out on etsy, and preorder her August – July version. It comes in gold stripes too! Glitter? Count me in.

A recent copy of WOOF Magazine featured a fellow Northeastern student who founded Heads Up 4 Charity. The company started with bracelets made from pennies (hence, Heads Up), and now sells jewelry and clothing. A portion of the proceeds go to various charities.

Oh, Klean Kanteen. Forgive me for getting all worked up about a water bottle, but it’s amazing. I love their vacuum-insulated bottles. My mom’s kept ice intact when we left it in her 120+ degree car. And It keeps hot things hot, too, as I learned chugging coffee on the way to my 4:00 a.m. broadcast internship. It’s BPA-free, sustainable, and—with all the bright colors—all-around awesome.

I bought myself these stellar Jack Rogers as a graduation gift to myself. I’m still working them in, but they go with everything, and have just the right amount of sparkle.

I’ve been going on several interviews lately, and have thus been burning through stationary like crazy. I love Kate Spade’s stationary cards for sending a little love to the important people in my life. After all, it is on my bucket list (#38!) to send more thank you cards, this year!

I just finished reading Where’d You Go, Bernadette with my mom. It was interesting but I’m not entirely convinced it lived up to the hype. Nonetheless, I was giggling a couple of times—It’s hard not to love a schitzo. Next on the list? The Signature of All Things, Liz Gilbert’s most recent novel. Turns out she’ll be doing a reading in two weeks in the tri-state area. So I might finally meet the woman who first made me want to be a writer. How’s that for boosting creativity!

 

 

Happy Sant Jordi: Books on my Lit List

rose and bookThree years ago, I learned about the glories of La Diada de Sant Jordi—This Catalonian (and spreading!) holiday takes its name from St. George, the patron saint of Catalonia, and it falls on the anniversary of his death (also his Catholic Feast Day). Think of Sant Jordi as a nerdy Spanish Valentine’s Day. Every year on April 23rd, lovers in Catalonia, Spain, exchange gifts—boys give girls roses and girls give boys books.

Roses have been associated with the holiday since Medieval times, but the incorporation of books is more recent. In 1923, a bookseller began to advertise the holiday as a way to commemorate the deaths of two renowned authors: Spain’s Miguel de Cervantes and a little-known author who goes by the name William Shakespeare. Both men died April 23, 1616 (cue creepy sci-fi music).

Catalonians took to the trend and some celebrate by doing 24-hour marathon readings of Cervantes’ Don Quixote (Woof). Others flock to Las Ramblas, Barcelona’s main thoroughfare, to take advantage of the numerous makeshift stands selling flowers and books. Throughout the day, some four million roses and 400,000 books are purchased in celebration of love.

Well I love love. And books. And can’t think of a better reason to compile a spring book wish list—with the weather finally warming up, I’m dreaming of beaches, so forgive me for the chick lit.

BernadetteWhere’d You Go, Bernadette
I’ve been meaning to purchase this book for a while now—after all, it was on my graduation-gift-to-self post!—but still haven’t managed. To Bernadette’s Microsoft-guru husband, she’s a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace; to design mavens, she’s a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom. Then Bernadette disappears. This book is the literary equivalent of multi-media art: email messages, official documents, and secret correspondence come together to create what’s a reportedly “compulsively readable and touching novel” about a mother and daughter’s role in an absurd world.
$9.99 on Kindle.

WanderlustThe World of Wanderlust Story
I recently started following Brooke Saward’s World of Wanderlust blog (for obvious reasons). This book is an insight into her endeavors since the first time she traveled through to the creation of World of Wanderlust, as well as an insight into what the future holds. Most importantly, this book is an insight into her travels to date and provides the backstory of her life. It sounds to me like memoir meets inspirational mommy blogger? But the reviews seem relatively positive, so I’m intrigued. Plus, $2 from every book download (given her global audience, Saward only sells digital copies) is donated directly to the Destiny Rescue project, fighting child prostitution.
$17.99, available for download here.

TransatlanticTransAtlantic
I’m a huge Colum McCann fan, and loved—lovedHow the Great World Spins. His more recent TransAtlantic came independently recommended by my mentor, and I’m very much looking forward to reading it. McCann brings to live different story- and time-lines, eventually weaving them together in a 6-degrees-of-separation spin. In TransAtlantic, he does the same with his female characters from the mid-1800s through to the 1990s. From Ireland to Missouri and Newfoundland, their journeys mirror the progress and shape of history.
$10.99 on Kindle.

Minimalism vs. Perfect 10

81v-vnEQ-oL._SL1500_I mentioned yesterday that I was whizzing through Francine Jay’s Miss Minimalist. Don’t stress—it’s really short, and if you can’t splurge on the 99 cent Kindle download, just head to her blog and get a taste for her minimalism taste and philosophy.

I’ll try to summarize: Minimalism (and “minsumerism,” being a minimalist and conscientious consumer) is a means of “sticking it to the man,” by acknowledging that not only does one not need much of their “stuff,” but they don’t even want it. As consumers, we’re bombarded with advertisements and ever-changing trends that tell us that we need something new. Minimalism says, “No I don’t, thank you very much,” and advocates that we only consume what we truly need.

A brief story of mine: Recently, I really, really wanted this cute elephant pillow from Francesca’s (because elephants are pretty darn cool). And so I bought it for myself. But only a few months later, I donated it. Turns out I guess I didn’t want it as much as I thought. And it wasn’t sophisticated enough to go with my decor. Wasteful?

Jay’s take on things: Minsumerism has many benefits—Less stuff means less stress, because you don’t have to worry about insuring, maintaining, and monitoring all of it. It also means more freedom, because you aren’t grounded to your “stuff.” There’s less pressure to keep up with the trends (because you don’t know or don’t care about them), and you subsequently save time and money that would otherwise be spent acquiring aforementioned “stuff.” On a grander scale, less stuff means a greener planet (none of those icky CO2 emissions from transporting stuff from China, and a more ethical one, because minimalists make conscientious purchases and by not harboring so much crap, the world’s wealth is distributed a little (teensy bit) more evenly. Oh, and it makes you happy. Not a bad argument.

A brief story of Jay’s: When Mr. and Mrs. Jay’s house was broken into, they had so little “stuff” that the burglar walked away with a portable CD player, an empty purse, a lipstick, and a ziplock bag of Canadian coins worth a couple of dollars. Nice job, dude. She writes that the only things really worth stealing—iPods, cell phones, cash, and wedding rings—were always on her and her husband. There was literally nothing to steal.

My take on all this: There’s a lot I agree with about Jay’s minimalist philosophy—weeding out the stuff I neither want nor need; keeping with classy, timeless pieces that don’t necessarily follow “trends;” and I think the idea of being a conscientious consumer is a very eloquent thing—I think that evaluating a potential purchase’s score 1-10 factors in a lot of different concerns, and I don’t see why ethics shouldn’t be up there with quality.

But there’s a lot about Jay’s philosophy that’s doesn’t necessarily jive with my Perfect 10 ideals. Perfect 10 is about quality and lasting style, about recognizing and reflecting one’s personal style, not whatever the media decides to endorse that week. Perfect 10 is about identity and quality, but perhaps it is not necessarily about minimalism, at least the pseudo-Buddhist kind of minimalism that Jay espouses. I don’t want to always feel like I’m living in a barren hotel room.

Jay advocates that we only acquire what we need, and I think that having some of the things we want is just as important, if they are in fact things that we want. And distinguishing between the want-it-nows and want-it-for-keeps takes time and clarity. Some creature comforts are okay, but within reason.

Perhaps it’s a taste thing, because while I appreciate a clutter-free space, the bare, white rooms that Jay posts pictures of are not comforting to me. Having moved so much, I want a place that I can return to that feels like it reflects my style, tastes, and interests. I want warmth and a big, fluffy comforter. I want real furniture, not IKEA. And that’s okay.

The takeaway: Even if our ideals don’t mix entirely, there’s still much to be gained from learning about the minimalist philosophy and lifestyle. It’s important to get rid of clutter, rather than just organize it. One of the most useful takeaways was a philosophy that my mom has always touted, as well: don’t purchase anything that does only one task (that means you, toaster).And I do agree that less stuff means more money in one’s pockets. But I also think that there is some sense of zen and comfort and happiness that comes from a true 10 purchase. Plus, I just can’t bring myself to adopt her style. Too hippie chic for someone working in PR.

TED Talk Tuesday: Less Stuff

Today, I felt inspired. Which is kind of funny—really—because today, I woke up, ate breakfast, watched copious amounts of Netflix while it snowed outside, and then sat on a bus for seven laborious hours. Nothing particularly mind-blowing about all that. Except I’m lying.

Instead if just watching Netflix, I happened upon some incredible TED talks about how to improve your life, career, wellbeing, memory—even shoe-tying skills. Then, while wasting away on the bus (my last trip to Boston in a long while—eek!) I read the majority of Francine Jay’s Miss Minimalist. The short book reads like a collection of blog posts (edit: methinks it is a collection of blog posts) on the minimalist lifestyle and its many applications. I’ll get to that later…

Something about being bombarded by all this inspiration, all these awesome new ideas and applications of my Perfect 10 philosophy, was overwhelming. In a good way. When I move to Manhattan in the next two weeks (double eek!), I’m moving into a furnished room. So I’ll be bringing only my clothes, shoes, and the absolute necessities (like my teddy bear, so shoot me). It got me thinking… I’ll be paying to store all this other stuff in the meantime. Do I really need it?

And so on that note, I thought I’d share with you one of my favorite TED talks, one not included in the Netflix collection, but nonetheless life-changing: short, sweet, and to the point. And oh, so appropriate for little Miss Lives-out-of-a-suitcase over here (Hi, that’s me).

One Story About the Pursuit of Inspiration or What I’m Reading: A Book About Me If I Were 30-Something

photo (1)I’ve been meaning to write a blog post a week, but when I open up my computer, I feel immediately exhausted by everything else I should be doing. That whole I’m-at-the-precipice-of-this-incredible-new-life feeling is a little overshadowed by the whole Getting-a-job-and-life-and-apartment-is-like-really-freaking-hard feeling.

It doesn’t hurt that I’m also feeling pressure from classes (which are amazing), my sorority (also amazing), and a long-distance relationship (you guessed it—amazing). I’m complaining about all these incredible things because I’m an over-stressed emotional cutter who’s never read Ekhart Tolle a day in her life and likes to ruin happy moments (in the now) by writing color-coded lists about things that need to be done (in the future), and also casually forgetting rules about run-on sentences.

But I digress…

In this fluster-cluck of a week, I’m returning to my (inspirational) roots. I’m cuddling up with decaf green tea and chatting about life and the pursuits of pleasure, devotion and (perhaps most importantly) balance with my girl, Liz. Ladies and gents, I’m reading me some Eat, Pray, Love.

Say what you will about the commercialism of Gilbert’s book (it’s Oprah-endorsed, and the beloved topic of many-a-book club), but this story means so much to me. You could argue that EPL taught me how to write, how to read, how to travel, and how to chill the fuck out and be for once in my life. Homegirl’s my guru. Homeguru. Whatever.

My copy is aged and torn and loved and covered in notes and what might be a PB&J sandwich from my sophomore year of high school. But I’m hoping that revisiting those discolored old pages will bring me more than pleasure, devotion, and balance. I’m hoping it’ll bring me inspiration. Okay, and maybe a job.

And (so long as we’re discussing it) a studio apartment in Manhattan for less than $1,000 a month.

Okay, I think I’m done now.

Reflections on Gretchen Rubin’s “The Happiness Project”

happiness-projectRecently, two things happened: First, I talked to my dad about, well, life. Secondly, I read Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project.

I’m not depressed, but there are a lot of things in my life right now that tend to stress me out, and prompt endless list-writing. So. Many. To-dos.

In the conversation with my dad, we talked about various frustrations—how my car is a money-sucking death trap, how my living situation is less-than-ideal, how I don’t have a consistent enough schedule to get a job—and my general lack of peace of mind. In a Joseph Campbell-inspired bout of guru-ness, he suggested that I spend sometime alone in a quiet, indoor place. I laughed/cried. It’s funny/sad because I don’t have any peaceful indoor place (my own head included).

Instead, I said I’d identify some other means of lightening my load. And I started with Rubin.

Rubin’s The Happiness Project was on the bestseller list for almost a year. In a Reader’s Digest-esque summary, Rubin spends a year following resolutions to improve her happiness and general demeanor. And then writes about it. It’s a forced memoir (I don’t usually like that sort of thing—It’s like writing a news story knowing what you want the outcome to be), but an eloquent one at that.

Rubin and I share an appreciation for lists, Elizabeth Gilbert, and a justifiable splurge. And we also share a short temper, lots of mental clutter, and a sometimes-not-so-positive craving for perfection. She also writes like she’s talking at a cocktail party, recanting her year of happiness (and thus has a natural, light, and almost cheeky tone). She laughs at herself. And she ends each chapter on a cheeky upswing.

So I loved it (and her).

Her book prompts the reader to consider some personal truths. Perhaps because I haven’t written “brain barf” in a long while, I thought I’d share mine. Rubin identifies eight splendid truths of happiness, and the first reads:

“To be happier, you have to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right in an atmosphere of growth.”

HER PROMPTS and MY REFLECTIONS:

What makes you feel good? What activities do you find fun, satisfying, or energizing?

In the margin of the book, I scribbled: writing for fun, cooking, viewing art that I’ve studied (especially Van Gogh, who struck a chord when I saw his exhibit in Amsterdam—amazing), writing lists, and accomplishing goals. It’s hard for me to list specific things because I limit myself. I love interior design and transforming my bedroom, but that costs a lot of money, so I don’t do it. I like traveling alone, but it’s kind of weird and very expensive, so I don’t indulge.

What makes you feel bad? What are sources of anger, irritation, boredom, frustration, or anxiety in your life?

On this one, I scribbled: feeling inadequate or less intelligent. For the first, I can pinpoint specific times when I’ve been made to feel inadequate—and it sucks. I like the satisfaction of outlining, pursuing, and accomplishing goals. I like challenge. I like learning. So whenever opportunities like that fall through the cracks or are made extraordinarily difficult, I get frustrated, or bored, or whatever. No bueno.

Is there any way you don’t feel right about your life? Do you wish you could change your job, city, family situation, or other circumstances?

On this one, I feel pretty good, honestly. I have previously felt a little out of whack, but I like to think that I take care to ensure that I am pursuing my whims and whatnot. When I questioned my commitment to journalism, I took a hiatus (read: Paris) and “discovered” an interest and passion for broadcast.

Do you have sources of an atmosphere of growth? In what elements of your life do you find progress, learning, challenge, improvement, and increased mastery?

In this aspect, I’m much like my mom, who loves taking classes—on anything from Spanish to mushroom foraging to sausage making. Right now, this “growth” aspect is easy because I’m in college, where the entire curriculum is based around growth. Moving forward, I think this growth aspect is especially important to keep in mind, because the feeling of accomplishment is one of my most reliable sources of happiness. Post grad, this could be in the form of a book club, fitness classes, traveling, adult classes, cooking classes—even challenges, like cooking all the recipes in a cookbook a la Julie and Julia. Whatever floats my boat, right?

Dear Google, what should I read next?

Voila. I did it. After all that talk, I finally put my money where my mouth is and bought myself a kindle. And though it was a rough ride (delivered it to the wrong address; mother almost claimed it for her prize), it’s finally in my possession, shiny and new and smelling like plastic rather than ink and paper.

I’m excited and have absolutely no clue what I plan to read first. I’m currently enthralled by Adam Gopnik’s rolling prose and insightful observations of the ever frivolous French in “Paris to the Moon.” But it’s a physical book, so there’s no rush to just immediately use the kindle.

Instead, I’ve been thinking about what’s next. What will be the first thing I read on my beloved device? What book could possibly deserve the honors?

I’ll warn you that I still haven’t decided. I’m thinking either a fluffy beach read (if the weather ever bothers to warm up) or something Hemingway or France-related. We’ll see. But in my thinking and research, I came across the following sites that offer insightful suggestions for confused readers.

WhichBook.net is by far my favorite resource because its so interactive and suggests books that I’ve never heard of. In short, the site offers various filter “sliders.” Readers can adjust to four factors (samples include length, sexuality, happy or sad, etc.) to specify their tastes, and generate recommendations. The titles–as far as I’ve seen–are small-name books that I oftentimes have never heard of, but who’s to say they aren’t small-name gems? This site is best if you literally don’t have any jumping off point, or if you want to delve into a new style, genre, amount of sex, etc. If the generator doesn’t peak your interest, there are also numerous lists (by both administrators and users) from which to draw inspiration.

WhatShouldIReadNext.com is also promising. And, yes, I found this by Googling literally “What should I read next?” (Google can be so inspiring!). This site takes a book you know you like and then offers suggestions. It’s nice because you can enter numerous personal favorites and get a wide selection of recommended reads. The downside, of course, is that you get a wide selection of recommended reads, and they’re based largely on similar subjects, rather than similar styles and quality. It’s a simple site, as well, not particularly interactive, and if you want to actually purchase a book, you’ll have to go to amazon or some other site all by yourself. Continue reading

New Thoughts on “To Read or to E-Read”

Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote a post on e-readers, evaluating whether or not I thought they were worth the investment. In the original post, I applauded the stylish covers and the sleek appeal of the readers, but didn’t really understand the appeal. It’s hard to deny my love for the feel and smell of new and old books. Whether they smell like fresh ink or delicious mold, the experience of reading a physical book, of flipping the page and moving a bookmark each night–it’s intoxicating.

However, since writing that post, I’ve also moved a whopping three times. In one year. And in the next couple of months, I’m moving several more times.

And however obvious this may be to regular folk, I’ve come to the realization that books are freaking heavy.

I probably have two or three boxes worth of books in my current apartment. And before I left for school, I packed up another eight or nine meticulously labeled boxes… chick lit, classics, antiques, and personal favorites. I’m a book nerd, I know. For years, I’ve imagined a dream apartment with hardwood floors, brightly painted walls, lofted ceilings,  a spiral staircase and floor-to-ceiling books. And a dog (obviously).

I love books, but–what with moving around the world and such–I’m in a purge mode right now, and am not all that keen on lugging and storing countless boxes of crap.

So, in the spirit of minimalism, I’m thinking about it… and in true Marian form, I’m reevaluating the pros and cons. Hypothetically speaking… If I were looking for an e-reader, it would be simple. No need for colorful gadgets, no need for games or tablet-like features. I have an iPhone, already. Let’s get serious.

Ideally, it would be small, portable, last forever with one battery charge, have a super adorable case, and frequently emit that new book scent from some hidden sensory disbursement thingamajigger.

Obviously, it doesn’t exist. Continue reading

What I’m Reading: Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Cutting for Stone. By Abraham Verghese. VINTAGE.

I have this theory… Oftentimes, I opt to read nonfiction books because they are easy to relate to, easy to get through, and because I think that nonfiction books are more consistently good.

But if I’m being honest, fiction is my true love. Though some novels are too dense or too unimportant, un-relatable, some are extraordinary. Fiction books may not be as consistent, but when they’re good, they’re great.

And every once in a while, a novel tend to sneak up and surround me in its quiet embrace. What starts as simply another book turns into a mild obsession. I read while I walk to work, I read on the train, I read while hanging out with my friends. I carry the book around me even when I’m not reading it. Without it, I feel like I’m missing a limb.

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese is equal parts comforting and lovey-dovey, but also harshly realistic and honest about the mistakes of fate. And while it took me more than a month to finish (Eek!), I blame working weird hours and not the book itself.

It begins in Ethiopia with the births of two conjoined twins, and follows one—Marion—through his loss, his love, his naivety, struggle, and his journey home—wherever that may be. It’s a carefully crafted, “Hero’s Journey”-esque book, rich with historic detail (real and imagined) and personal experience. The author, himself a doctor from Ethiopia spent years interviewing and researching a variety of subjects, and his thorough work is evident.

But what takes Cutting for Stone to the level of greatness isn’t the careful compiling of historical facts; it’s the careful compiling of sentences.

Sometimes the words in his book read more like poetry than narrative, which is exactly what makes the book so engrossing. In his “Acknowledgements,” Verghese credits many phrases to authors, poets, experiences, even Shakespeare. He put in just as much work an effort into the crafting and presentation of his words as to his story—something, as a writer, I can’t help but be in awe of.

Marion’s story, written by anyone else, would be sad but forgettable, good. But paired with Verghese’s carefully chosen diction, it’s great.

 

What I’m Reading: A Book on the Good Book

My past relationship with God has been one of many ups and downs. There are times we’ve been forced together. There are times we’ve been happy together. I’ve seen Him change and morph and I’ve been in love with numerous versions of Him, and he in turn has seen me undergo changes.

And now I treat Him like I treat most of my ex’s. I respect Him, love Him for what he gave me when I needed him. I honor Him and keep in touch, but we’re not close anymore. Not in the same way.

Maybe that’s why I felt inspired to read Sarah SentillesBreaking Up With God: A Love Story. Sentilles was raised a Roman Catholic, but then converted to the Episcopal church. She “fell in love” with God and started learning more. She received her masters of divinity and a doctorate in theology at Harvard Divinity School. And yet. And yet she still couldn’t reconcile the way she felt about God and religion with the things she witnessed in mainstream theology. And yet she still broke up with God.

Though I found the tail end of her memoir dragged a little (you left God. We get it), I related to so much that Sentilles had to say. Like me, she found herself in draining, toxic relationships (hers just happened to be with God). Like me, she had to learn to love herself before she could learn to properly love someone else. Like me, she was fascinated by religion and didn’t see any problem in feminist religious theories. Like me, she believed that reading the Bible is about interpreting what it says in a modern context; it’s about understanding that the Bible is not the end-all-be-all account of religion, and it is written by humans.

“This is what I believe in,” Sentilles writes. “Mystery. Agency. Creativity. Justice. Accountability. Love.” I can believe in all of that.

I’m not going to go off on another ventfest about what I believe. But I did find myself nodding along to much of what Sentille wrote. She argues that what humans love about God–His love and forgiveness and beauty and compassion–are human traits, human traits that we’ve then surrendered and projected onto God. We make them Godly because we think we don’t deserve them.

“What if there is no grand narrative?” she writes. “What is there is only the meaning found in everyday ethics, in trying to live with integrity, in the messy, nebulous, complicated work of caring for what’s around you…in trying not to harm another living being.”

Sentilles ultimately talks about food, which is something everyone can relate with. She talks about the humanity of treating everything we eat with respect. She writes about the beauty of compassion. And, in her own way, about the Sublime beauty that is my version of “God.”

“I used to sit on my deck in Idaho and watch the summer sunset…and I’d think about God.
“Now, I think about the sunset. Now I look around.
“In my search for God, I missed the world right here. Aspen. Lupine. Big Wood River. Red-winged blackbird. Elk. Mountain bluebird. Magpie. Sage.”

I’ve never been to Idaho, but it does sure sound Sublime.

Breaking Up with God: A Love Story by Sarah Sentilles, $18.