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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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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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doing Chicago: what to do in wicker park

Posted in Food, Travel by

When I was 16, I came to Chicago on an art scholarship. I fell in love and knew in my heart that I’d live here someday. At age 30 (woof,) I finally did it, and I am so happy. Since I’m getting to explore the city more like a native and less like a tourist visiting the same spots over and over, I thought I’d start sharing some of the hidden gems that might be overlooked by people coming to visit for the first time. Today’s spotlight is on Wicker Park/Bucktown. It’s one of the trendiest “hipster”-ish parts of town, but that means there’s a lot of great food and drinks in addition to things to do and places to shop!

Gotta start with my favorite food group. I love Dimo’s (and Dimo’s loves me!) If you’re in the Six Points area and just need to grab something quick, this pizza is where it’s at. Pop in, drop my name, and grab a slice of the white pie or another monthly special – I promise you won’t be disappointed.

If you have more of a sweet tooth, head across the intersection to Stan’s Donuts. Stan’s began in LA and their popularity has spread here to the midwest with two locations in Chicago. There’s not a lot of space inside, so be prepared to eat your donut and get on out. Go on the weekend to get the biggest selection (the beignets, buttermilk bar, and chocolate sprinkles are my favorites.)

Wicker Park is home to many great bookstores, and one of my favorites is Volumes Bookcafe. Part bookstore, part coffee shop, part bar, this is a really cool spot. Browse for books and cozy up in the cafe with a cup of coffee, or come in later on, grab a beer, and borrow a board game with friends.

Mahalo Chicago Wicker Park

Mahalo is the most Instagram-worthy spot on the block. It’s Hawaiian-inspired, and begging to be photographed. The drink menu is fantastic (grab the daily daiquiri and thank me later) and I look forward to visiting again for a meal. We went a few months ago and weren’t bowled over, but the chef has changed since then, and both the menu and website look much better!

There are a lot of great spots in Wicker Park to grab a cup of coffee – hop off the Blue Line and head straight into La Colombe, or head around the corner to the Starbucks Roastery. (Yeah yeah, I know, Starbucks. It’s a roastery, though, and they have more creative drinks – the Coffee Malt is amazing!) If you’re looking for a spot to set up and work, I love Brü. Very freelance-friendly, and they accept Brewpass. Use the code DESI1 when you sign up for a free cup!

Quimby’s is another great bookstore in the neighborhood. They feature indie and underground books, comics, magazines and – best of all – zines. Growing up I was really into zines (I still have a few of my favorites kicking around my parents house) and I could spend hours browsing the shelves here. They have both local and national authors, as well as lots of fun gifts and notebooks. They also host shows from time to time – the great Sad13 played here last spring.

kanela breakfast club

If you want a cinnamon roll the size of your head (and quite honestly if you don’t, there’s a great Urgent Care I can recommend in Wicker Park because something must be wrong,) head down to Kanela Breakfast Club. It’s my favorite one in the city so far, and the rest of the menu is equally great. They have a nice bar area and it’s bigger than it looks, so don’t let a line deter you. They turn it over quickly.

While it’s not a strictly local spot, I can’t visit Wicker Park without buzzing in to David’s Tea. Their summer collection is gorgeous and the iced tea press makes it easy to make single batches of iced tea in one tumbler – just grab and go. Pop in, grab a tea of the day, and try not to walk out with a pound of tea.

Don’t leave Chicago without a souvenir! Transit Tees have some of my favorite t-shirts and knick knacks. Ever since I saw Rachel on The Real World: Back to New York I’ve loved transit-inspired stuff, and there’s plenty of it here. Whether you want to rep a specific line or stop, they’ll have it. (Plus a lot of awesome Michigan stuff, too!)

Cabana Club

reckless records

If you’re into records, stop over at Reckless Records. Wicker Park is just one of their three locations in the city. They have both new releases and used records, and their website has an up-to-date inventory search. I’ve found my one unicorn record by checking their website constantly! If there’s something you’re on the hunt for, head in. Actually, check them out anyway – the staff is always ready with recommendations.

chop shop pizza summit chicago

Though it might not seem like it, there are a couple venues in Wicker Park where you can check out some shows. Subterranean features some of my favorite artists (including Doomtree in a few weeks!) and Chop Shop’s First Ward venue features some really great punk shows. (They also host the Pizza Summit where I attempted to eat my body weight in pizza against two competitive eaters in April, as pictured above.)

By the end of the day, you’ll be ready for some dessert. Jeni’s Ice Cream is a Midwestern classic (I highly recommend the salty caramel and brambleberry crisp combo) or head up on Damen to Mindy’s Hot Chocolate. Their whole menu is great, but I definitely recommend their namesake hot chocolates or cookies – chef Mindy even wrote a cookbook about cookies, so you know they’ve got to be great!

What are your favorite things to do on vacation? Any places in particular in Chicago you’re curious about? Let me know in the comments – I’d love to share the city with you!

 

July 21, 2017
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banned coffee review & discount code

Posted in Review by
I received a sample from Banned Coffee to review. All opinions are my own.

banned coffee discount code

It shouldn’t be a surprise by now that Dani and I love coffee.

Banned Coffee touts itself as the world’s strongest, most delicious coffee. It features more than three times the amount of caffeine of an energy drink (plus a lot less sugar.) I’m here for anything that will wake me up and cut out sugar. Banned Coffee sent us two different kinds to try: both the regular bean blend as well as the pumpkin spice flavored coffee.

Because of the super high caffeine content, I steeled myself for a rough ride and something really acidic. The first time I tried the regular roast was in a mason jar French press-type so I could test it out, and brewed it like a regular cup. I was shocked at how smooth it was. It doesn’t taste any different from any other coffees – it just wakes you up a bit more! They also have a ground variety, if you’re lazy (like me) and don’t like to DIY the grinding portion.

Banned Coffee also sent along the pumpkin spice blend to try. I love all pumpkin spice everything, all year long (seriously, I make these muffins even in the middle of summer.) It comes ground, and smells just like a pumpkin pie. I liked it just as much as the original roast – just as smooth – and with some half and half or creamer, it’s even better. I can’t wait to use this to DIY some pumpkin lattes!

love this coffee. Personally, I can’t testify to the caffeine levels (I never feel a perk from any sort of caffeine, and never have) but it’s so tasty. I also like that their website has a breakdown of the cost per cup, so you can really see what a great value it is.Both the pumpkin spice coffee and the original blend are Banned Coffee is super smooth so if you’re susceptible to heartburn, this is a great coffee to keep in your cabinet – and best of all, they feature a subscription service you can set the timing for, so you’ll never run out.

If you love coffee, I definitely recommend checking out Banned Coffee! Use coupon code BCDRA20POFF for 20% off!

June 23, 2017
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st. patrick’s day: irish style with Rhetoric Coffee!

Posted in Food by
I was provided a complimentary product from Rhetoric Coffee to review, but all opinions are my own.

Rhetoric Coffee Irish Whiskey

Over the holidays, I went to a Christmas party where they were serving the BEST coffee I’ve ever had. I asked my friend and she said it came from a coffee subscription – from a super cool company called Rhetoric Coffee.

Since getting that taste at Christmas and hearing their sponsorship on My Favorite Murder week after week, I was so excited to partner with Rhetoric Coffee to check out what their subscription is like. I checked the mail as I was heading out of the house one day and got too excited about it – sitting at a stoplight, I tore the box open. It included the best smelling coffee with really awesome artwork, along with information on the artist. They deliver a bag every two weeks so you’re never running out, and different bag size options satiate even the most ardent coffee household (like Dani and I!) Their website has a fun roast countdown too, so you can see when their next one is coming up! I also love that this month’s featured artist is a Chicago guy. The roasts come with themes as well – this batch’s theme was the band 311 (how perfect) and the even included a playlist. I think it might be a cool art option – maybe frame all the bags in your coffee corner! The notes on this roast had our mouths watering: black cherry, orange, hazelnut and milk chocolate. It’s every bit as rich and delicious as it sounds.

They’re also a company run primarily by women, and I love that. You can get your own sample by reaching out to them on Twitter!

One of the benefits of living with a coffee and cocktail enthusiast is that I’ll often get sent amazing recipes throughout the day. The latest was this extremely timely brown sugar Irish whiskey recipe that immediately got me thinking about St. Patrick’s Day coffee!

Our first Rhetoric Coffee delivery arrived a few days ago, so it seemed like the perfect brew for Irish coffees on St. Patrick’s Day. Inspired by the recipe Dani had sent my way, here’s our own version of Irish Coffee:

Read more…

March 17, 2017
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