best audiobooks ever

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best audiobooks

June is National Audiobook Month, which is great – I love audiobooks. Podcasts can be a fun way to pass time at work or on a commute, but audiobooks are just as great and educational. A few years ago when I was driving from Nashville back to my hometown in Michigan, I popped on Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid on Scribd, and it started two love affairs: one with audiobooks, the other with TJR. They can also be meditative – when I’m doing really repetitive tasks, or cleaning the house, it can be nice to have a narrative rather than back-and-forth gossip of a podcast or music. To celebrate this month, I’m sharing some of my favorite audiobooks!

Like reading on your computer or mobile device? Check out Scribd – thousands of eBooks, audiobooks, magazines and more on your device!

Non-Fiction

For audiobooks, I tend toward non-fiction, especially memoirs. It’s a fun way to hear someone’s story in their own voice, in a way that’s a little different than just text on a page. Here are some faves:

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling: I listened to this last week in one workday and totally loved it. It’s Mindy’s second book, and in it, she dispenses lots of advice – from dating, self-confidence, the pressure on women to be thin, and the value of working hard. “Work hard, know your shit, show your shit, and then feel entitled.

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse TysonWhat is the nature of space and time? How do we fit within the universe? How does the universe fit within us? Neil deGrasse Tyson wrote (and narrates!) this book with quick answers to broad, big topics. It’s clever, it’s easy to understand, and it’s easy to turn on and off – he presents a lot of the information in easily digestible bites to fit into any schedule. I really liked this a lot, and it made me think a lot about the world and the universe.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler: Another memoir by a female comedian, this audiobook is awesome. Amy invites Seth Meyers to read a chapter, as well as Carol Burnett, and both are exceedingly funny. Plus, my friendo Craig Finn gets a shoutout – they went to college together in Boston. Small world. She dispenses a lot of advice about what it’s like to be a powerful woman, especially in male-dominated fields, and how she overcame the stigma of being too assertive.

Good Clean Fun by Nick Offerman: Seeing a pattern of specific non-fiction books I like? This was a random pick for work one day – I don’t have a particular interest in woodworking or construction, outside four years of high school theatre – it just seemed like a good workday listen. His voice is almost meditative – very calm, soothing, and would be a really great bedtime story, or even to pop on to calm anxiety.

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore: I learned about “the radium girls” a few years ago from a Buzzfeed long read. In the 1910’s, many women in New Jersey took great jobs painting on watch faces – without any knowledge that they were being poisoned by radium, not knowing what consequences they would all eventually face. This book chronicles their story as well as the worker’s rights and labor laws their experience changed.

Wondering how I read so much? My libraries use Libby and Hoopla– see if your library has a partnership, and check out the mobile app!

Fiction

When listening to fiction, I look for books with multiple actors – it really helps me picture the action, and helps keep things straight! Plus, it’s more like listening to a fiction podcast, which is something I’m exploring more and more lately.

Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink & Jeffery Cranor: I’ve wanted to get into the Welcome to Night Vale podcast for quite awhile, but was never sure where to start – when I saw their first book on Libby, it seemed like a great way to jump in. It’s a really unique story, and I loved the way it built and resolved. The narrator is excellent – he also hosts the podcast – and it’s plenty long, if that’s something you’re looking for!

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders: To be fair, I haven’t actually finished this one yet. But I absolutely love the large and varied cast of voice actors, including Nick Offerman, Carrie Brownstein, Ben Stiller, Rainn Wilson, Kat Dennings, and even more – it makes it feel almost like an old-time radio show, with each character having their own voice. This was also the 2017 Audie winner, and it’s easy to understand why! Historical fiction is a very difficult genre for me to get into, and the way this audiobook is done, even I am enjoying it.

One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus: This is a bit of a long listen, which could be a good thing if you really want to get invested in the characters. The story of a high school murder mystery, someone dies during after-school detention, and the search to reveal who was really behind the death. This book also features multiple voice actors, so it’s easy to keep the characters straight – important for listeners who might otherwise get confused by dialog in fiction audiobooks.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman: Admittedly, this book hasn’t come through my library holds yet, but I can’t wait to listen. Another nominee for the 2017 Audie Awards, the preview sounds great, and the book has widely gotten great reviews. Queue this one up on your phone for poolside listening and skip squinting at a book or eReader!

Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid: I can’t finish the list off without a nod to what made this such a compelling listen for me. Voiced by actress Julia Whelan, the story is wonderful, but Whelan’s performance adds a lot to the story. It’s told in a dual timeline, from the point of view of Hannah Martin. Whelan changes her voice for each timeline to accurately reflect the person Hannah is, and what she’s going through, in each. If this book doesn’t sound up your alley, keep your eye out for anything narrated by her – she’s really wonderful and narrates the best audiobooks!

What do you think are the best audiobooks? What ones are your favorites? I’m always looking for new things to listen to during work or on the road!

June 11, 2018
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work-from-home must-haves

Posted in Career by

I’ve been super lucky to have been working remotely for almost five years now, and I think I’ve gotten it down to a pretty productive science. There’s definitely a lot to be said about creating a workspace that is comfortable for you, but not getting too comfortable. Through a lot of trial and error (and too many days working from my bed,) I thought I’d share some of my most-used products and setups for getting the job done!

I really like ambient background noise, which is funny, because usually that kind of noise pollution while I’m at a coffee shop or something will make me crazy. Ambient-mixer is one of my favorites, but when I’m really struggling to focus, I bring out the big guns: Brain.fm. It’s an AI composer with music and sounds that help you focus, relax, or even sleep. The Beach Focus station is constantly on repeat for me, and I always feel hypermotivated when I have it playing.

In your home office, it can be really easy to think of something in the house that needs to be done, then doing it. Instead, I keep my bullet journal next to me wherever I’m working. This has been more effective for me than any other planning method – even my much-beloved Passion Planner – because it is so customizable. In addition to pages of to-do lists, I also keep my weekly schedule here, including meetings, scheduled breaks, and my weekly work outline. (If I don’t schedule breaks, I don’t take them, and not only does my productivity tank, my burnout hits me like a ton of bricks.)

Not sold on scheduling breaks into your day? Watch this video from Marisa Mohi on how scheduling breaks and sticking to them is an important part of self-care.

Create a dedicated workspace that you enjoy being in. I’m guiltier than anyone for working in bed more often than I should (i.e., at all.) Sometimes it just happens – it’s 1pm and I’ve been typing away since 7 without relocating or moving more than once. It’s important to have a place that isn’t your bed in order to work – trying to condition your brain to be more work-oriented will not only increase your focus, but it will also help you sleep better and improve your posture. Eventually, if you work in bed long enough, your brain and body will be conditioned to work when you’re laying down to sleep, and that’s no good for anybody. (My office is a work in progress, but by the time I’m done, it will feel like you’re on the beach in California – sand in your toes and all.)

Honestly, a dedicated workspace doesn’t even need to be fancy – it can be your kitchen table or a desk in your bedroom. Being in that space is a good physical symbol for your brain that now it’s time to work.

Find a desk that you love (or pop on craigslist to find a cheap one and do a DIY revamp so it becomes a desk you love,) and outfit it with things you want to be surrounded by. A vision board of inspirational quotes or your dream vacation, a candle of your favorite scent, and easy access to your favorite pens – whatever it takes to make it a space you like to spend time. I like a really simple, empty desk – otherwise, I won’t want to sit there. The file organizer that sits on my desk was $1 at Target, as was the wall calendar I have tacked up. I’ll rotate candles out with the season (I’m currently loving Bath & Body Works’ Salt Flower, thanks Dani.) Other than that, there’s not a lot of clutter on my desk.

(Yes, I do have a treadmill desk, but it can be hard to type and walk. I still sit at my old stationary desk pretty often as well when I’m working on copy-heavy projects, like blogging.)

Another thing that can help you get out of bed or off the couch and over to your desk is a mug you love that’s for work only. I have a giant one from my old arena that I love, and I only use it when I’m working at my desk. It’s important to keep a water bottle nearby too – when I moved from an office to a home office, I was constantly dehydrated because I wasn’t drinking water at all. My favorite is this Contigo one, which keeps drinks cold for hours.

Get dressed. I hate this as much as the next person, but to be honest, my work uniform isn’t even that fancy. I get up, put on a sports bra and workout shirt along with workout capris, and call it a day. The act of changing out of my pajamas is all I need to get the creative juices flowing. You could even change out of sleep clothes into sweats – as long as it works for you. This could also be the start of a morning routine – another way to slide into your workday. Get up, maybe do some yoga, start the coffee machine, make breakfast, take your vitamins, say some daily mantras – it’s a good and gentle way to transition from sleep to work.

Lastly, it’s important to have a place to escape to. Luckily I have the option to enjoy my outdoor patio office (since I live in Chicago, I get to do this for about two weeks a year, but still) but sometimes being home at all is too much of a distraction and it’s time to get out of the house. Or maybe the internet has gone out for the tenth time in a day and you can’t deal with one more router reset. Knowing what coffee shops nearby helps because some days you just can’t focus on the work at hand with all those distractions – or the power will go out, the internet goes down, or your neighbors decide that 9am on a Tuesday is the appropriate time to have band practice. Escape to the coffee shop for unlimited caffeine, camaraderie (there’s always someone else working in a coffee shop,) and internet connection.

Do you work remotely? What are your home office must-haves or favorite products?

June 6, 2018
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19 (more) creative father’s day gift ideas

Posted in Living by

Father’s day is coming, and I love to give really unique and creative gifts. Dating a dad has given me real insight I’d never had before – the stereotypes are true, people. (If anyone would like to disagree, I have the photos of him grilling in khaki shorts and an unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt. I might have made him buy that Hawaiian shirt, but that’s neither here nor there.) Being with him has also broadened my horizons on what kind of gifts guys might like – so if you’re stuck with a dad, brother, partner, or someone else who is just hard to buy for, try some of these gift ideas for guys!

Slice off the Ol’ Pie Shirts: This is what I got for my man and his kiddo. (I couldn’t hold out until father’s day, though – they’re adorable in their matching shirts.) They’re super cute, and the seller offers additional kids shirts if there are jealous siblings to consider!

Bullet journal: There have been plenty of studies done that say writing down appointments and tasks helps you remember them better than filing them in a digital app or calendar, so set up a bullet journal (or find a ready-made planner) that can help him keep his head on straight. I still love the Passion Planner, but I’ve been using a bullet journal classic Leuchtturm1917 notebook lately.

Book: Books are really great gift options for anyone, basically anytime. If the dad in your life likes to read, here are a few options: Lost In Space studies pop culture and fatherhood, Don’t Make Me Stop This Car is a humor book by Al Roker (who I picture as an Ultimate Dad,) or Pops: Fatherhood in Pieces, a more heartfelt book by Michael Chabon, there’s a

Set of Nice Socks: Nice Laundry and Land’s End are just a few places you can order customized monogrammed socks, so there’s never a question of sock ownership, and replenishing holy or worn out socks is probably not something he’d ever really consider, even though it probably needs to be done.

father's day gift ideas

Grill Dad Set: One of the things my boyfriend finds lacking at my apartment is grill utensils. This set includes everything needed for a really great cookout, and identifies the owner so no one else tries to snag the tool set.

Wallet: I’ve been using card holder-style wallets for a few years, and I love how minimalist it forces me to be in the cards I carry around with me. This would be a great (and useful) gift for any minimalist man in your life – or maybe just the one who’s been sitting on a six-inch-thick wallet for a few too many years.

Custom Guitar Picks: If your guy is musical, custom picks would be a cool gift. Etsy has a host of different options, from photo picks, branded, or even heavier, engraved metal picks.

Insulated Growler: If your dad, husband, or other male figure loves beer (and honestly, who doesn’t,) this insulated, reusable growler is a great gift idea. Stop by a brewery to get it filled up and take it along on a picnic to enjoy some fresh, cool craft beer on the go! (Also useful for the aggressive coffee drinker. Not that I know any, or anything…)

Bose Build Speaker Cube: This could be a fun hands-on gift for a dad and his kid (or grab an adult version for a really cool DIY project for a guy who loves tech). It will walk them through the steps to create their own working bluetooth speaker to pair with an Apple device!

Still need even more ideas? Check out these past gift guides for guys:

Letters to Dad: If it’s hard to talk about feelings in your family (I was raised in a stereotypical midwestern home – no one ever has feelings ever) this “Letters to” series is a great prompt to start opening the lines of communication, reminisce on memories, or tell your dad or father figure things you’ve always wanted to share.

Dad Joke Glass: The best part of dating a dad is unlimited dad jokes – no matter how crummy they are (sorry honey,) they make me laugh every time. This glass will let everyone around him know that the joke factory is open. (Grab a book to go along with it so he’s never floundering for a joke to tell.)

Enamel Pins: These are a super fun way to customize commuter bags or hats, and there are plenty geared toward dads. Get a set of classic dad shoes, go a little more formal with a declaration of Good Dad-dom, or lean into the humor and Simpsons fandom.

Scotch-Infused Toothpicks: My grandpa has had a toothpick in his mouth as long as I can remember (not the same one, I imagine.) These scotch-infused toothpicks from Uncommon Goods are a unique gift for any whisky lover or chronic toothpick user!

Seaweed Bath Co. Detox Body Scrub: Especially in the summer, skin can get really rough. #TreatHisSkin with this gentle exfoliating scrub (I promise this isn’t sponsored, that was just where my brain took #TreatYoSelf in this case!) It helps wash away some of the dead, rough skin, and the charcoal infusion helps users get really clean.

Card Games: Playing analog games is still just as fun, and it’s more collaborative. Spend “real life” time together with card games like Exploding Kittens or the Oregon Trail card game (which I can confirm is super fun!!)

gift ideas for men

Quip toothbrushes: Bring tech into the bathroom with an electric toothbrush from Quip. Their metal brush handles are super heavy duty, and they’ll send brush head and toothpaste refills on time every three months. We’ve used these for awhile now and I really like it a lot – plus the toothpaste tastes really great.

Mugs: A classic gift, but there are some hilarious options. Baby Daddy, Best Dad Ever, Emergency Dad Jokes – they’re all super hilarious and great options for anyone.

Smart Lawn Sprinkler System: All smart home everything. This would be a super fun gift for anyone who likes technology and working in the lawn.

Sugru Mouldable Glue: Most of the guys I know are always tinkering and fixing things – this moldable glue looks really cool, and really useful for fixing pretty much anything. This would be a cool gift to keep in the toolbox, in the garage, in the car, at work – basically anywhere so he can fix it on the fly.

Do you have any go-to gift ideas for men?

June 4, 2018
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doing Chicago: 24 hours of fitness

Posted in Travel, Work Out by

fitness in chicago

Chicago is a city that’s screaming to be explored by foot power – with tons of different gyms and unique classes to check out. There’s nothing I love more than taking a walk around any of our neighborhoods – there’s always a ton to see, and you’ll almost certainly stumble into a fun street festival or farmer’s market in the summer. It’s one of the most fit-friendly places in America, so if you’re looking to see the city while you get fit, here’s a 24-hour guide to Chicago fitness to follow!

9:00 AM: Head out of your room at the Chicago Athletic Association for a run through Grant Park and along the lakeshore. The hotel was built in the 1800’s as a club for society men to shoot pool and work out, and it’s still decorated with a sporty spirit today. Head north on Lake Shore Drive past Buckingham Fountain, Cloud Gate (more commonly known as “the Bean”,) and follow the path up to Oak Street Beach. Part of the Rock ‘n Roll 10K I ran last summer went along the lakeshore and ended in the park, and it’s really beautiful and inspiring if you depend on scenery to distract yourself from running. Take some time to relax on the beach and cool off, then head out to refuel.

Photo by Sawyer Bengtson on Unsplash

Cloud Gate at Millennium Park

11:00 AM: Try Wicker Park for brunch – whether you’re looking for something healthy (try Native Foods Cafe) or sinful (Stan’s Donuts is a must-try,) there’s something to satisfy everyone in your group. Afterward, take a walk over to Cup & Spoon (2415 W North Ave.) to grab a glass of their Electric Lemonade – the activated charcoal in it will help out with any tummy trouble building up.

From there, it’s a short walk to the Divvy station at Western & Winnebago. Divvy bikes let you rent for a few hours or a whole day, so check one out and take a spin on the 606 trail. A former el line, it was recently renovated into a gorgeous 2.7-mile trail that’s bike- and run-friendly. Markers line the trail with Chicago history and landmarks, so you can learn as you lean!

1:00 PM: Head back downtown on your bike and grab another quick bite to keep your energy levels up. I’m a really big fan of Sweetgreen (huge, fresh salads) and The Protein Bar for great juices and wraps.

2:00 PM: Continue your tour of Chicago architecture and history with a tour on the river. Kayak Chicago offers several different tours, including an architecture tour, so you can appreciate the gorgeous 1800’s buildings in downtown (and scout out those riverwalk bars to visit before heading home for the night.)

5:00 PM: Green Zebra is the perfect dinner for your fit day. A vegetarian restaurant specializing in small plates, their menu is creative and changes seasonally. The tasting menu is a nice way to make the meal special!

7:00 PM: Finish up your day of fitness with a fun dance class. Stiletto Dance Studio offers classes in bootcamp and yoga, but if it’s a girls trip: head there for the Pole Dancing classes and get your groove on. (Or if you’re still feeling up to it, try stand-up-paddle in Lake Michigan with Chicago SUP. It’s beautiful at night.) In the summer, there are often dance parties in city parks, like salsa, mambo, and bachata classes

Photo by Ardian Lumi on Unsplash

9:00 PM: Head to Logan Square and hit up the local barcade, Emporium. You and your friends can keep up your competitive spirit with games like air hockey or pool, or stick to the solo machines like Pac-Man and pinball. (Try a local Chicago brew, like Revolution, while you’re there – beer is a great way to replenish nutrients your body loses after a hard workout!)

8:00 AM: Since you went to bed so early, you’re surely waking up and feeling great! Before heading out of town, grab some Dark Matter coffee and check out Flywheel. It’s similar to Soulcycle (but more accessible to newbies,) and they often have Chicago-centric classes. If you aren’t going to Pitchfork festival, you could at least go to the Pitchfork Flywheel class! Afterward, head to Lincoln Park’s Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Factory. You deserve it after all that work, and it’s a Chicago institution!

What’s your favorite way to actively explore when traveling? Do you have a favorite Chicago workout spot?

June 1, 2018
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may book club 2018

Posted in Entertainment by

I’ve been reading more than ever the past few months. My boyfriend got me a Kindle last fall, and turns out that has been the key to unlocking voracious reading. This month was even more excessive than normal – a flight to California allowed for some dedicated reading time, and (finally) having really nice weather and setting up the patio office meant I just wanted to camp out with coffee and a book at all times!

Dani and I also created our own reading challenge this year to increase our reading: 51 categories to prompt us to pick up books we wouldn’t typically read (or books that have languished in TBR-land for too long.) Here’s what I read this month, including what you should pick up and what you should let lay!

My Own Devices*: My queen Dessa wrote a memoir. And what an amazing story it is. I’m going to do a full review post on this eventually, but I’ll just say that if you’ve ever struggled in moving on from a breakup, this is a really fascinating read. It is absolutely the best book I’ll read this year.

The Pisces*: When I first read the summary of this book aloud to Dani, I thought there was no way I’d ever read it, but the book buzz got to me and I picked it up on Netgalley. This book was sexy, but I hated the main character. Which was possibly the point, but there was nothing redeemable or likable – maybe it’s because I felt too close to it, having someone similar to Lucy in my own life. Wouldn’t really recommend this one.

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost): This was a random pick from boyfriend’s Audible account, but I ended up liking it a lot! It was really interesting to hear her backstory – I don’t know very much about Felicia Day, but I loved hearing about her weird upbringing, being in college and loving both math and music, and then how she turned her video game love into a TV show on her own terms. This would be a good one to read or listen to when you’re feeling like you’ll never reach your goals.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?: Yep, finally. I was super behind on this train, despite borrowing it from a friend a few years ago. I listened to the audiobook of this, primarily on the plane to and walking around LA, and there were parts that were just fall-down funny. On the off chance that there’s anyone who hasn’t yet picked this up, Mindy narrates the audiobook with some special guest appearances, and it’s a really good palate cleanser.

Dark Matter: Another one I’m a few years behind on, but HOLY COW WHAT A BOOK. I could barely put it down, and then shouted extensively for my boyfriend to read it and he finally acquiesced. I don’t read a lot of science fiction, which I think this technically is, and it’s a little bit in line with my Maybe in Another Life obsession. If you haven’t read this yet, put it on your list and read it next.

Wondering how I read so much? My libraries use Libby – see if your library has a partnership, and check out the mobile app!

We Were Liars: I liked the slow reveal of this book, but something about it didn’t hit for me. It’s a YA, which I love, and I’ve never read a mystery in that genre. In We Were Liars, you don’t really realize that it’s a mystery until the character starts to have some memory restored from her amnesia. I used this for our unreliable narrator prompt.

The Wife Between Us: I can’t think of another book this year that had as much buzz as this one, so when my library hold came through, I dove in full speed. It was… not a book I would recommend. About 60% through the book when it starts to be clear what’s happening, I was having a lot of thoughts about trust and control and emotional manipulation in relationships – this is something I think about a lot anyway lately, so maybe I’m just more in tune to it. If you’re a person with baggage around that, maybe skip this book until you’re a good many years of therapy removed. I think the epilogue unraveled the rest of the story. I wish the beginning had been a little more clear and obvious what the viewpoints were. I did like how everything wrapped up and connected but absolutely thought that final twist was unnecessary and really hurt my opinion of the book as a whole.

Pivot Point: Another book I read mostly in LA, this was less of a casual pool book. Pivot Point is YA, and a little bit more in the fantasy realm than I typically delve, but it was suggested for fans of Maybe in Another Life, so you know I was on it. I really liked it a lot, though I think it could have had better character development for some of the secondary characters. It’s a double timeline, and really easy to read.

Split Second: The sequel to Pivot Point. I didn’t like it quite as much, but I liked spending more time with those characters.

The Myth of the Nice Girl*: I loved this book, and am going to do a full review post on it. Being nice is something that I struggle with often, especially in a male-driven tech environment. This book helped me work on my communication skills so that I can still be assertive while still making connections with my co-workers. I’ve always been very empathic, and The Myth of the Nice Girl helped me see that in business, this can be an asset rather than a downfall.

The French Girl: Earlier this year I’d been hearing about this everywhere in the book blogopshere, so I was excited when my hold finally came through. I really liked this. It wasn’t the typical over the top thriller or mystery, and I liked that as you read, there were a lot of plausible culprits for the crime. I also liked that there was a happy ending for everyone that deserved it, unlike many other books in this genre.

Like reading on your computer or mobile device? Check out Scribd – thousands of eBooks, audiobooks, magazines and more on your device!

You Are a Badass at Making Money: This had been on my TBR for awhile, so I grabbed it before my Scribd trial ran out. I really like Jen Sincero’s woo woo, and working on my money mindset is something I’ve needed to focus on. The book definitely helped, and I want to read the physical book as well to reinforce the lessons.

Tell Me Three Things: This was a cute book. It was basically what I had wanted Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda to be. In this book, a new kid starts getting emails and IMs from a mystery student – they connect, and it helps her adjust to her new school. I liked this one a lot more than Simon – the main character was charming, you understood why she was struggling, and I wasn’t sick of her voice and stupid decisions by the end.

Belly Up*: Short story collections are hit or miss for me, and this one ended up being a little more challenging than I thought. The description sounded right up my alley – mediums, ghosts, and psychics! – but it fell flat for me. Some of the stories were hard to read because of their structure, but some of them I did really like (the ones that were actually about mediums and ghosts, go figure.) If you’re a fan of short stories and unique voices, pick this one up.

PBS’ Great American Read just started, and there are a few books on that list I’ve been meaning to pick up, so I’ll read along in June, and continue to make a dent in my Netgalley backlog!

What did you read this month? Anything you’re looking forward to coming out this summer?

May 31, 2018
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