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Desi

2018 book recap & 2019 reading challenge

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So this is it, welcome to the new year! Listening to this song by Motion City Soundtrack just after midnight is my annual tradition as I welcome the changing of the calendar. This year I was extra anxious, because I had nearly completed my 2018 book challenge, and everything else that I wanted to read next would fit the 2019 prompts that Dani and I had chosen.

Last year I managed to read 104 books, which is absolutely a record for me. (That many books, and I still managed to miss a few categories in the challenge. Grr.) I thought I’d revisit some of my favorite books as we gear up for the next challenge!

My Own Devices: Unsurprisingly, this was my book of the year. Dessa is one of my favorite musicians, favorite lyricists, and the writing in her first memoir is unsurprisingly lyrical. It examines the science of love, and if it’s possible to use science to fall out of it, and what to do when the person you’re in senseless love with is also part of your rap crew.

Marlena: This book was recommended to me by two friends, and I’m so glad they did. It’s the story of a woman looking back on her murdered best friend when they were growing up in rural Michigan, running amok and hanging out with the proverbial bad crowd. It’s told in alternating timelines – mostly in the past, with some modern day reflections, and I read it in about two days.

Broad Band: Did you know that the internet was built by women, and that women were the original computers? Even though I work in tech, I truly did not – I’d never really thought about the origin of the word “computer,” or how things were built. Claire Evans tells the stories of some of the most important and influential women in tech, and I haven’t stopped talking about this book ever since. (There were three people who got this for me at Christmas.)

Dark Matter: HOOOO BOY. I found this book while looking for books described as similar to Maybe In Another Life, which is my favorite book, and even though it’s a bit more sci-fi than I usually tend toward, it is incredible. It’s also set in Logan Square, where I spend a lot of time, so it was fun to picture the locations the characters would find themselves in. It made me think a lot about the ethics of things like the multiverse and cloning – you know, just casual topics.

Tell Me Lies: The cover of this book spoke to me, and I checked it out of the library without really even considering what it was about. Turns out it’s about a girl who continually tries to make a relationship with a man who clearly doesn’t care about her. Tina said that this book is for a particular audience, but that that audience would love it, and I agree.

Wintergirls: Clearly, I trend toward enjoying stories about self-destructive women. Laurie Halse Anderson is such a great writer, and the Wintergirls are two girls who bond over their eating disorders until one of them dies, and the other is forced to reckon with her feelings about her friend and her illness. I’d meant to read this for years, and I thought it was really well-written, and certainly didn’t glorify anorexia or bulimia at all.

Sharp Objects: This was actually my first Gillian Flynn book, and I really loved it. The writing feels dark, and the story certainly is – a journalist goes back to her hometown to look for connections in murder and missing girl cases. The protagonist is a cutter, drinks to medicate her depression, and I appreciated the familiarity in her coping mechanisms. I haven’t seen the Showtime series yet, but I aim to binge it soon!

For 2019’s challenge, we had brainstormed all year, noting prompt ideas and reading lists in our shared document. During roommate Christmas at Mindy’s Hot Chocolate (oh my gosh, so amazing, it’s a must visit in Chicago) we reviewed everything, cut out categories from last year that we hated (goodbye, Nordic noir!) and determined the 2019 challenge.

Do you do reading challenges? How do you force yourself to make it through books you hate?!

January 3, 2019
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2018 gift guide: stocking stuffers

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stocking stuffer ideas

It’s that time of year again! Holidays always seem to be the time of year where we feel totally stumped by the people we want to gift. Either they have everything, or they don’t “need” anything. Sometimes it’s a really nice gesture to take a deep look at the recipient’s personality and connect that to any gifts you want to give them. It’s a good tip to keep in mind year-round!

Stockings are my favorite part of the holidays, because tiny presents can go really far. Here are a few ideas anyone in your life is sure to love, if you’re stumped for ideas!

Portable Light Therapy Lamp: Holidays are great, but the winter SAD is real. I use blue light therapy to combat some of those feelings, and it definitely helps. This cute little lamp is great for a traveler or for anyone to put on their desk to pop on – I especially like using mine in the morning.

Playing Cards: These waterproof ones are perfect for drinking games (I had them in college and they lasted for three years), or go a little more upscale with this sleek black set.

Fringed Blanket: Surprise! I love blankets, especially thin cotton ones. They’re easy to roll up and stick into a stocking, and the neutral colors in this one would fit any color scheme.

Travel Candle: Candles can often seem like a default gift, but they’re one I really love getting. Capri Blue’s Volcano scent is a favorite, but I also love rich, masculine scents like this sandalwood one as well. Modern Alchemy has a great deal on a mystery box too, so you could stock up for multiple gifts!

Things I’ll Cancel Later Planner: For the last two years I’ve been bullet journalling and it works well for me, but sometimes I find myself wanting something smaller to throw into my bag. Last year I saw these at Saks and fell in love. They’re quirky with cocktail recipes and funny holidays, really well-made, and high quality. It would make an excellent stocking stuffer! (It’s on sale at Bloomingdale’s until the 9th, and they also have 6% back on eBates!)

Platypus Water Bag: This is hands down my favorite Amazon purchase of all time. I was never carrying water bottles around with me on the train because they’re so bulky, or take up so much space in my bag. On my recent trip to New York, there were people in the airport with water bottle envy, asking all kinds of questions and wanting to know where I’d gotten it. I prefer this model more than the Vapur ones – it has a double lock, and a built-in carabiner for an easy way to clip it on.

Wax Melter: I’ve never seen a wax melter that plugs into an outlet, and I love this idea! I also love this company’s bear-shaped wax as well, though it might be a bit hard to see them melt down 🙁

Hanging Light: I love these kinds of hanging lights – they’re easy to wrap around rods in closets or tack up in spaces without a lot of lighting. Affordable too, and easy to tuck into a stocking!

Smart Sweets Gummy Bears: After starting to eat keto, I discovered these as a suggested sweet treat. They taste exactly like “regular” gummies (but better, in my opinion.) I got them for family stocking stuffers and

Portable Surge Protector: This is a really nice outlet for travel – I hate bringing wall warts, so I’m always looking for surge protectors that have built-in USB ports. It’s also great for someone who wants a lower-profile outlet at home than traditional surge protectors.

Looking for more ideas? Check out my Amazon Stocking Stuffer Idea List – I’ll keep updating it with more fun ideas as I see them!

December 7, 2018
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2018 gift guide: writer’s block

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gift ideas for writers

It’s that time of year again! Holidays always seem to be the time of year where we feel totally stumped by the people we want to gift. Either they have everything, or they don’t “need” anything. Sometimes it’s a really nice gesture to take a deep look at the recipient’s personality and connect that to any gifts you want to give them. It’s a good tip to keep in mind year-round!

There are tons of different kinds of writers – novelists, journalists, essayists, bloggers, or those who like to journal every day. Show your support for their passion with some of these hand-picked items!

Easy Tiger Literary AF Pen: There’s something about writing with a pen and paper that makes me feel super accomplished, plus removing a computer from the equation can cut down on distractions, increasing productivity and focus. This one from is super heavy duty and features a replaceable ink cartridge, so when they use it up, they can keep on going with this super sleek pen.

Writer Emergency Pack: These are great for both daily writing exercises or to get over a hump in a new piece. Each card provides a tip, situation, or some other way to look at a scene. I used to have these and loved using them to write quick flash fiction pieces.

On Writing Well: This book is a classic for a reason. The style of the book, the timelessness of the advice, and the practical skills make it a must-read for any writer (and that includes people who write anything through the day, be it a text message to your friend or an email to your boss.)

Scrivener: Every writer has their favorite word processor, so they might already have something they’re married to. Even so, Scrivener is widely regarded as the be-all, end-all of writing softwares for writers. Scrivener creates index cards for everything so it’s easy to reorganize, features a robust outliner tool, and basically just provides any feature a writer could dream of. (Plus, the company is called Literature and Lattes. I love that.)

Aquanotes: While it seems like a quirky white elephant gift, these do actually sound pretty useful. I can’t tell you how many ideas I’ve lost in the shower, and the ability to jot down a few notes for later is invaluable.

Frixion Pens: These are some of my favorite kinds of pens. They’re erasable and come in tons of different colors – there are even highlighters to go along with them. I love using these in my bullet journal and planners, but they’d also be great for outlining stories or mindmapping plot points.

Novel Teas: No secret that I love tea! There’s something about a warm cup of tea or coffee on my desk that puts me in the writing zone. These cute ones are themed to American Classics, so the quotes on the bags could offer some motivation through writer’s block. Maybe they’ll be on the next run of bags!

Tea Press/Travel Mug: Even if your writer doesn’t like loose leaf tea, this travel mug is a must-have. Dani and I both bought them recently, and it keeps your drinks hot for HOURS. My tea was so hot that after an hour, I finally took the lid off to let it cool down, and four hours after I made it, it was still warm and toasty!

Aloe Plant: Or any kind of plant, really, but studies have shown that plants can increase productivity! I have this aloe plant and love the nice ceramic pot it came in. Costa Farms on Amazon has many other different options, including hard-to-kill varieties like pothos and snake plants.

What’s on your list? What’s your favorite tool for writing?

November 20, 2018
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2018 gift guide: Chicago lover

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2018 gift guide chicago gift ideas

It’s that time of year again! Holidays always seem to be the time of year where we feel totally stumped by the people we want to gift. Either they have everything, or they don’t “need” anything. Sometimes it’s a really nice gesture to take a deep look at the recipient’s personality and connect that to any gifts you want to give them. It’s a good tip to keep in mind year-round!

For travel lovers, it might be nice to help them pay homage to their favorite place. Since I love Chicago, that’s the theme of today, but many of these gifts are available for other cities and states as well. Let’s take a look!

Chicago Bears travel scarf: I have one of these Waypoint Goods travel scarves and I absolutely love it. I hear the Bears aren’t really something to be proud of, but there are plenty of other colors to choose from too! This cozy infinity scarf features a pocket big enough for your phone, cash, and earbuds. Carrying a purse has become such a burden, so I’ve pared down my everyday carry items to fit in this pocket, and I love it.

Chicago Skyline print: Local printers and artists at Foursided have my heart. This skyline print is my favorite, but there are tons of other options if you prefer a map motif, something more mid-century inspired, or want to pay tribute to the long-suffering Cubs.

CTA Stop Magnets: If you’re like me and live in everyday thankfulness for the vast CTA system, Transit Tees has the gifts for you! Tell your friends what line or stop is your favorite – Transit Tees makes magnets and pins for almost all of them. I got the boyfriend a Yellow line magnet as a housewarming present for the new house, so this is a great shop to keep in mind year-round!

Chicago Homesick Candle: Homesick Candles have been around for awhile, but I still totally love them. The Chicago scent hearkens Fannie May chocolates and the breezes from Lake Michigan. The Illinois version of the candle carries more floral scents.

Chicago Flashback: This book from the Tribune staff would be a great gift for a history buff. It not only showcases photos of our beautiful architecture, but also tells the stories of the builders and other notable Chicago residents.

Chicago Skyline Lego Set: Somehow, the older I get, the more I regress into enjoying Legos. I’ve always been freeform and abstract with mine, but this Chicago skyline set is really cool. My grandpa worked on the Sears Tower when it was being built, so it would be a fun homage to that. (And no, I will never call it the Willis Tower.)

Chicago-opoly: This fun Chicago-themed Monopoly-style board game would be a hit for me. I love attending and hosting game nights, and Monopoly is best suited for a long weekend because as everyone knows, it’s a marathon game! This is a great gift idea for someone you don’t know well, because the odds of them not liking fun is… well, pretty low.

Chicago-etched Whiskey Glass: I love these types of whiskey glasses. They’re well-made and the etched Chicago map makes it feel a little fancy.

How is holiday shopping for you? Do you find it difficult, or are you like me, finishing before Thanksgiving even hits?

November 19, 2018
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october 2018 book club

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october book club

What a crazy month October was. My boyfriend and I are moving in together, so the majority of the free time was spent packing up and cleaning his apartment, then unpacking and settling into the new apartment. Moving is exhausting and it’s not over yet, because I’m not moving my things until December. Phew! That left little time for reading, and to be honest, my attention span for reading was getting a bit short anyway. I did manage to get through a few titles this month, though!

My boyfriend got me a Kindle last fall, and turns out that has been the key to unlocking voracious reading. 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!

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

Devil in the White City: Incredibly, it took me until now to pick up this book. I was expecting it to be about H.H. Holmes and his murders, but instead I was pleasantly surprised to find it to be more of a study of Chicago and the World’s Fair. Living in Chicago, I found it more interesting than ever, and it made me appreciate architecture in this beautiful city even more. Even if you aren’t an avid true crime aficionado, I recommend this book (but definitely read the print version, because the audiobook narrator felt s l o w.)

The Evidence of the Affair: This short story by Taylor Jenkins Reid, told in exchanged letters, was a nice dramatic read. Like many of her books, it doesn’t end up where you think it will, either. It’s free for Amazon Prime members, and a nice way to whet your appetite before Daisy Jones and the Six next spring!

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

Everything Everything: I think I’ve had Dani’s copy of this book on my shelf for over a year and never gotten around to it. One night, I was in desperate need of some comfort food, and nothing else I was in the middle of felt good, so I picked this up. I read it in one sitting and absolutely loved it. Another book that left me flabbergasted at the ending, I just didn’t see the twist coming at all. Great reading for a cozy night in when you need to disengage from your brain for awhile.

Interpreter of Maladies: This is a book my boyfriend suggested to fill a challenge prompt last winter, and it took a long time to get around to it. It’s amazing – and easy to see why it’s a Pulitzer winner. Though I really enjoyed it, it did feel like it took a lot of effort to get through. Despite that, I absolutely recommend it – the worlds Lahiri creates are rich, vibrant, and each story’s ending feels organic and real.

What about you? Did you read anything spooky this month?

October 31, 2018
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