The month is winding down (thank goodness…does anyone love February? And this one has been especially brutal), which means it’s time for the most recent installment about what has been flipping through my Kindle lately. Ready? And GO:
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
What it’s about: This is a multi-perspective story that jumps back and forth between past and present. In the past, an Italian small-time hotelier crosses paths with a hauntingly beautiful American actress who bears a secret. They’re together for just over a day before she is torn away from him by a budding director (and Richard Burton, incidentally), but he is never able to fully escape her memory. In the future, that budding director has made a name for himself creating the types of TV shows most of us admit watching with sheepish grins, and his production assistant is ready to quit her soul-sucking job when a handsome wannabe film writer and an elderly Italian man stumble into her office late one night, each with his own mission to reclaim a life he used to think was out of reach.
What I thought: I really admire the way Jess Walter can paint a lifetime in just a few words. She never overwhelms with details, but her writing style is more what I would describe as impressionist — a fleeting glimpse manages to tell you an entire story. And this particular story is packed with truly lovely moments of despair and redemption that captured my attention completely. Highly recommend.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
What it’s about: After the disappearance of Bernadette Fox, a notorious PTA-torturing, impulsive decision-making, revolutionary building-designing wife and mother in Seattle, her daughter sets out to follow a paper trail of emails, notes, and official documents that led up to what made her mysteriously vanish. The resulting compilation results in a story that is equal parts touchingly relatable and laugh-out-loud absurd. But as to whether it leads to Bernadette…well, you’ll have to read to find out.
What I thought: I love love love this book. The character portrayals are so hilariously vivid, and the way the story is laid out is unique without being difficult to follow. It’s an easy read (pick it up for your next vacation), but still whip-smart in a way that keeps you engrossed until the very end.
Wild (From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail) by Cheryl Strayed
What it’s about: At 22, Cheryl Strayed’s life has fallen apart. After the devastating death of her mother, she starts down a self-destructive path of drugs and infidelity that leads to a divorce and depression. In an effort to take control of her life again, Cheryl impulsively decided to hike 1,100 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail — completely alone — for three months.
What I thought: I had mixed feelings about this one. On one hand, it’s a tremendous adventure. I had just started training for my marathon when I started reading it, so in a weird way, I could relate to her physical struggles through inclement weather, constant exhaustion, and near ravenous hunger. I also appreciate a fair amount of self-reflection as much as the next gal. What I didn’t like…is that there isn’t that much of a story here. I feel bad saying that because it was obviously such a huge moment in time for the author, and I’m sure if I had gone through something similar, it would have meant more to me. But the bulk of this book is self-redemption. The trail hiking itself is merely environment, and I guess I had hoped for more of a story there. I think my feelings were entirely personal because I have a hard time relating to and sympathizing with self-destructive people, so in the end, I didn’t really like Cheryl all that much. But it’s still an interesting book about an interesting experience. If you’ve read it, I’d love to know if you’re in the camp of people who wanted to hike the trail after you’d finished, or if it made you swear off hiking ever.
Wool Omnibus Edition by Hugh Howey
What it’s about: You should have known I couldn’t go a whole month without a single science fiction novel. Wool Omnibus Edition is actually a collection of five short stories that Hugh Howey initially released online. As their popularity grew, a publisher purchased the stories, but Hugh apparently put it in his contract that they had to remain available online. I’m only sharing that anecdote because it made me like Howey even more — he loves his fans.
Anyway, the story. It’s set in the (not-too-distant) future, when society lives in an underground silo that stretches 150 stories into the earth. No one is allowed to go outside because some kind of disaster has rendered the planet unlivable — there’s something in the air that eats through just about anything, and the landscape that is visible through a variety of cameras stationed outside the silo is entirely barren and hostile. It’s illegal to even suggest the thought of going outside, and the punishment is that you are “put to cleaning,” meaning you don a special suit designed to let you live outside for a limited time so you can clean the cameras for the rest of the silo’s benefit. Then, without exception, the atmosphere eats through your suit and you die on one of the surrounding hills in full view of the cameras you just cleaned. But, of course, that isn’t the whole story, and the when the silo’s new sheriff steps into the shoes of the most recent cleaning victim, she starts to figure out there’s more to the silo and its origin than meets the eye.
What I thought: You have so many questions from the start of this book, it’s nearly impossible to stop reading. There are so many mysteries to be uncovered about what is really going on, plus enough harrowing moments where lives literally hang in the balance, it’s not the kind of book you casually read. I would recommend this if you’re one of those people who likes books about how we’ve destroyed the planet and have to figure out how to go on. (That should really be its own genre, don’t you think?)
First Shift/Second Shift by Hugh Howey
What it’s about: These two books are the prequels to the Wool series. There’s actually a Third Shift that I haven’t read yet (because my brother hasn’t sent it to me…hint hint). But these books answer a lot of the questions the other five stories leave behind, including what led up to the destruction of the earth and the existence of the silos. Apparently the third book is what really ties them together chronologically, but I’ll let you know for sure when I read it.
What I thought: If you liked the other ones, you will like these. And yes, you should read them in the same order I did. Knowing how things end up actually made these two books easier to follow for me.
What have you been reading?
It’s kind of ironic that I’m a runner because I tend to get bored with the same kind of workout if I do it for weeks on end.
I guess I stick with running because, when you’re training for a race, you’re always striving for different distances. If the end goal changes, it’s a little easier to stay focused.
For other workout classes, though, I’ve never been able to do the same thing for more than a year. So I was pretty intrigued when Diana introduced me to Classtivity.
For $99, you get ten classes that you can redeem at basically every boutique gym in the city. (They’re also in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Seattle, and D.C.) You can “spend” all ten classes at the same gym, or try ten different ones. There’s a whole range of classes from yoga and pilates to boot camps and spin, so it’s impossible to get bored.
The cost breaks down to about $10 per class, which, in this city, is an amazing deal. (The average class you take would typically cost around $40-$50.)
A big part of training for the marathon is cross training my legs and strengthening my core and upper body, so clearly this kind of deal interested me.
And just so things don’t get monotonous around here, I thought it could be interested to share what I think of the new classes I’m taking. Maybe not. But maybe? I’ll rate the gyms and the classes? Eh?
Here we go!
Last night, I took a Core Fusion Barre Class at Exhale New York in Soho.
Space: The gym was on the second floor of the building. The overall space wasn’t exceptionally large (the lobby was downright cramped as one class files out and the other files in), but the actual studio was fine. There are two dressing rooms with curtain doors and one bathroom. You keep your belongings in cubbies.
Cleanliness: Super clean. You spend a couple of minutes before class wiping down the barre, weights, mats, etc. They also have fancy soaps and stuff in the bathroom so you can wash your face, which I always appreciate.
Attitude: Excellent. Not a snob to be found. My teacher, Erin, was incredibly sweet and encouraging but still pushed you to push yourself.
Difficulty (Out of 10, 1 being “could do it in my sleep” and 10 being “omg I can’t walk”): Easily a 9. This class. This class is so hard. I am not a weak person, and I never wimp out on finishing sets, and I had to wimp out so many times. Remember how sweet I was saying Erin was? Behind that pretty smile, there lies a drill sergeant. She told us mid-class that a professional dancer friend of hers once almost threw up in the middle of her class. So…don’t feel bad if it’s tough for you. (Each move can be modified, though, so don’t be too scared!)
Experience: This one was a great workout. Every part of my body felt strengthened, and you get that ballet/pilates feel of stretching all your muscles while they’re strengthened. Just go in expecting it will be hard, but totally worth it. (Plus, each of the workout “sets” only takes about three minutes, and then you stretch. It just feels like an eternity.) And I don’t know about you, but I always feel significantly fancier working out with a ballet barre. So there’s that.
Afterburn (how I felt the next day): As soon as I left the class, I already felt that muscle “buzzing” feeling that I get after a long run. My body is a little sore this morning, but not in a bad way. I’m glad the overall soreness isn’t too bad because I have to run ten miles in a few hours.
Final grade: A+! I’m definitely planning to do this one again.
Ok, so was that helpful? Have I convinced any of you to join me next time? I’m taking another new class tomorrow, so maybe that will be a post later this week.
Have a great weekend!
I’ve been saying for about three years that I really need to decorate our bedroom.
You know, basically since we had an “our bedroom.”
In my defense, I’ve tried. I’ve made loads of plans, even bought a few different bedspreads, but for whatever reason, the room never came together. Part of the problem was that it also doubled as storage since apartments never seem to have enough closets.
Lately, though, I’ve finally gotten to a point where I’ve simplified our belongings enough that pretty much everything has it’s own place, and I even found a look I loved online that I worked to recreate. Plus, a week off of work over the holidays to actually accomplish my lofty goals didn’t hurt.
The room isn’t totally done (I’m thinking of changing the curtains, and I have a picture I want to get blown up to poster-size for the wall), but for the first time, it looks like someone actually put some thought into it. Which obviously means I have to share it with all of you.
For reference, here’s what it looked like before.
Yikes, right? I’m a bit mortified to even share these. To be fair, I’m pretty sure I was also going through our closets that day. But seriously, we lived like that for at least a week or two.
Here’s what it looks like now:
Isn’t that just a breath of fresh air after the “before” photos?
Besides finally clearing out all those clothes (thereby creating more space to store what we actually need to keep), I also adjusted the layout by moving our full-length mirror over by the window. Not only did this give me the space to put our laundry hamper behind the doors where it doesn’t have to be the first thing you see, it’s also better lit for using the mirror anyway.
Then I re-framed a few of our favorite photos to create a gallery wall above the bed. Plus, I got new bedding that I am in love with. (Product sources below.)
I feel like I’m finally getting closer to that goal of a grown-up bedroom. Is it too late to add that to my list of goals for the year?
Resource guide:Duvet cover/shams: Signature Stripe Duvet Set in Navy from One Kings Lane
Floral throw pillows: Olive and Garden on Etsy (no longer available, but the fabric is Waverly Formosa)
Bed Frame and Dresser: PB Teen (literally the bed I had when I was a teen)
White picture frames: IKEA
Deer Head: Z Gallerie (I told a few people it was from West Elm, and I realized when writing this post I was wrong. Sorry, guys! This just shows you how long ago it was that I ordered the dang thing.)
The last time I shared a few of my favorite beauty products, it was met with a flurry of positive response. (Seriously, I heard from blonde pals I hadn’t talked to in a while.)
I think I just always assume I’m the last to discover anything (see: the time I “discovered” the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser and Pandora), so when I find out I’ve introduced people to something, I’m kind of standing there like, “Me? I’m kind of hip?”
It’s just unheard of, guys.
But anyway. In the spirit of sharing, I thought I’d reveal a few more of my favorite products in the hopes of spreading the love around.
1. Garnier Skin Renew Miracle Skin Perfector: Combination to Oily
I was a bit rough on BB cream when it first came out (I mean, it’s pretty much foundation, right? This is like trying to rebrand a bun as a top knot). But after using this product for a few months, I stand corrected. I have pretty good skin, but I get some uneven-ness and redness around my nose, and this stuff completely smooths it out. The overall effect is totally glow-y without looking greasy. Plus, it’s under $12. Love that.
2. Queen Helene Mud Masque Pack
I tried this mud masque after it was recommended as a coworker, and it might be the best gift she has ever given me. If you’re prone to blackheads or the occasional pimple, it’s a miracle worker. It pulls the dirt out, and I can’t even see my pores after I wash it off. Seriously, that’s pretty amazing for a $4 mud mask.
3. Salux Beauty Skin Cloth
This disposable wash cloth will change your life. I know, I know; bold statement. But my skin has never been softer than when I started exfoliating with this. It’s from a Japanese beauty brand, and it’s cleaner than your typical loofa because it rinses so completely. Order a bunch now. (Note: The exfoliation is probably too much for your face and…delicate areas. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)
4. Oribe Dry Texturizing Spray
Y’all know I love big hair, so I was excited to try this spray after it was recommended by a well-coifed friend. And, guys, it didn’t disappoint. It can sub in for dry shampoo, or be used on clean hair for a little extra oomph. It’s a bit pricey, but makes curls and lift last all day. Can’t be mad at that.
5. DryBar Southern Belle Volumizing Mousse
Like I said, I like big hair. And this is my favorite mousse I’ve ever used. It never makes my hair feel greasy or look like it has a lot of product in it, and it protects from heat styling. Dontcha just love a twofer?
6. Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eye Liner
Anyone who knows me knows I’m a huge fan of the cat eye liner look, and this is the best product I’ve found to create it easily. It seriously lasts all day, and the pen makes it so simple to use. (The trick is to use the point as a sort of stamp to create the eye liner “flick” at the outside corner of the eye. Then simply draw the rest of the line on your eyelid.)
So now you know all my secrets. Anyone else have any great tips to share? (And if you want more suggestions, don’t miss my pal Kayla’s recent post on her top ten favorite makeup products.)
Similar to my annual sum-uppance, I also like to share a round-up of the top ten most-read posts of the year every December. (Last year’s winners here.) It’s usually fairly amusing — I mean, without this list, we would never have known how much people like reading about narwhals, right?
Let’s do this.
10. How to: Baby Gender Reveal Party
I loved writing this post almost as much as I loved planning my friend Megan’s baby gender reveal party, and apparently my readers have enjoyed it as well. You’ll also be happy to know that Bill and Megan had a healthy, adorable little boy that we all adore.
9. How to: Throw a Mad Men Party
So apparently I need to plan more parties? Our
houseapartment-warming party was one of th most successful party I’ve ever thrown. I themed it (because I’m me), and the results were pretty fab. This post shared what I cooked, what we wore, and how I decorated.
8. Get Your StitchFixMy post from the first time I used the service. In the interest of full disclosure, I wrote a follow-up about my other experiences with the company here. I actually did find something in the subsequent fix that I liked, which I have completely forgotten to blog about. But they made things up to me.
7. What Guys Should Wear for Pictures
Listen, dudes. I’m looking out for you. This will hopefully be helpful for any newly engaged folks out there.
6. How to: Nutella Hot Chocolate
Another repeat from last year. You just can’t argue with Nutella.
5. How to: Plan a Bachelorette Party in Chicago
I still think this is one of the most helpful posts I’ve ever written — and one of the best parties I’ve ever planned. I stand behind all of my recommendations, and people who attended have told me that people forward them this blog post when they come across it while Google-searching bachelorette party ideas. That’s some good SEO right there.
4. How to: Create “Disney Princess” Curls
I often joke now that my target audience is little girls between the ages of one and seven because of my cartoonishly large eyes and long blonde hair. But turns out that little joke was a great way to drum up some blog traffic. Go forth and learn how to curl your hair.
3. So…this happened.
So…this one is weird. I mean, the post is funny. It was a funny thing that happened to me. But this post NEVER got any serious traffic until November 28th, when suddenly it exploded in popularity, getting about 5,000 page views in two days. (A sizeable amount for my little blog.) I know the traffic came from Facebook, but I have no idea why or where in the social network. If anyone knows why, I would love to have this phenomenon explained.
2. How to: Paint a Metal File Cabinet
The tale of how my father-in-law and I took a rusted out file cabinet and restored it like new. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll buy spray primer. Everyone wins.
1. How to: Skip Washing Your Hair for Six DaysIt’s like the little post that could. Thanks to a hefty dose of Pinterest traffic, this post has risen from the fourth most-read post last year to the most-read post of the year. Round of applause (and dry shampoo) for everyone!
Thanks for another great year! Can’t wait to see what’s in store for this one.
Hey! Hey, guys! I missed ya.
I hope you all had lovely, safe, relaxing breaks over the holiday. Joey and I did as little as possible, so we certainly did. The only bit of excitement? Babysitting my coworker’s cat.
Her name is Mira. Pretty cute, right?
As my regular readers are well-aware, Joey and I have wanted a pet for a while. It hasn’t been possible yet, so we were pretty excited to spend our week off of work with something small and furry.
Before I tell you how it went, I think it’s important that you know that we are not cat people. I mean, I’ve had a cat, and she was great, but I will always pick a dog first. But like I said, we’re desperate and she still met the “small” and “furry” requirements.
Mira arrived without incident, took a few seconds to get acclimated, and then promptly started playing with us. She chases string (like, you know, every cat ever) and fetches elastic hair ties. She’s tiny, so she didn’t make any kind of mess.
Joey promptly got very attached.
The most annoying/cutest thing about her? She would try to wake us up at 4:30 in the morning, but she would do it by curling up between my shoulder blades (I sleep on my stomach), putting her face right next to my face, and purring as loudly as she could.
I mean, that’s just kind of hard to get mad at.
We also got on a pretty good schedule of pet care — waking up a little earlier to play with her before heading out for the day, scooping litter twice a day to prevent any gross smells, requisite petting time.
The only thing Mira was missing? A desire to cuddle. She loved being pet, but she only sat in my lap one time (and then, it was only for about two minutes)(the happiest two minutes of my day). But that cat has zero desire to be held, at least by us.
Of course, eventually we had to give her back. And for two not-cat people, we were both pretty bummed to go back to our pet-free lives. It might be time to invest in a fish or something.
Either way, it was a good introduction to what it will be like when we finally get our own pet. Someday…