Things I Love This Fall

fall_faves_1

You probably already know this, but my favorite kind of video to watch on YouTube–aside from daily vlogs–are the “favorites” videos beauty and lifestyle vloggers post on a monthly basis. I can’t get enough of them, and would gladly watch them over and over given the chance. I love that people can use them to make recommendations to others, and seriously–what’s so bad about sitting around and talking about the shit you like?

HOWEVER… I live in a one-bedroom apartment by myself. I have very little space to be bringing in new products to review every month. So I’m going to be making a video and writing a blog post about these things every three months instead.

Here are the things I especially loved from August to October:

Smart Mom, Rich Mom by Kimberly Palmer — You might notice this and say, “Wait… do you even have kids, Shelby?” And no. No, I do not. But one day I might. Since moving out on my own, my interest in finance has increased, and I was intrigued when I read an article about this book in the Detroit News. What caught my eye is that it is specifically written for women AND about building wealth, whereas most financial books and magazines are written for men. It really didn’t disappoint, despite the author’s annoying overuse of the terms “mama” and “mama bear.” I like that it’s about managing and building wealth and establishing good financial habits rather than having a coupon for everything. (I even applied what I read to my own life, which I wrote about here and here!)

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie — I’ve had this book recommended to me on more than one occasion, and I never wanted to read it. Ever. But something changed in August–a Barnes and Noble trip on a rainy afternoon after I cried my eyes out in an academic adviser’s office at the community college–and I wanted to read it suddenly.  I followed the guidelines that come in the book, which say that to get the most out of the book, you should read each chapter twice before moving on to the next: once just reading, once with a pencil or highlighter in hand. I hate to say it, but–this book CHANGED MY LIFE. Like, holy shit. I’ve never not liked people, but I never realized how much I knew about dealing with them before reading this book–without applying that knowledge to my everyday life. Good work, Dale Carnegie!

Bible-Hi-Glider ACCU-Gel Highlighters — Let me start by saying that my PaperMate Flair pens are my favorite writing utensil EVER–but these come very, very close. I actually ended up reading every chapter of How to Win Friends and Influence People three times–once just reading, once with a pencil so I could make marks in the margins, and the final time with these babies. I got a set of three on Amazon for $8, and I’m so happy I did it. They’re safe for highlighting the thin pages of a Bible, but they also don’t bleed through on newsprint, which is why I bought them. They’re perfect.

fall_faves3

Best Fiends — I’m so embarrassed to admit this, but at the same time, #sorrynotsorry. This app was making its rounds on YouTube earlier this year–I want to say I saw it being most heavily promoted in April? but I was still seeing sponsored videos for it in  August?–and to be honest, I downloaded it because Tanya Burr was playing it in one of her videos. It makes me sad that so many of the paid-for advertisements for the game that I saw seem so half-assed, because I think it’s a great game. I don’t do game apps normally–never have I ever played Candy Crush–but this one is entertaining, and when I’m having a shit day, playing it somehow calms me down. I 100% am loving and playing this game every day.

Clash of Kings — Yet another game on my phone! How do I describe this game and my feelings towards it? Can I start by admitting that, as a big fan of George R.R. Martin, I was drawn in by the name? Also, my friends didn’t want to hang out this summer, and loneliness drove me to play it after I ran out of lives on Best Fiends. If you don’t know what the game is, you’re basically the lord of your own castle, and you can build your city around it up, attack monsters like griffins and centaurs, and even wage war against other lords and alliances. My alliance had its issues during its early days, but we got over that and started working more as a team. What did you do today? I attacked a Lava Giant, Level 15…. and won. Finally.

Peter Thomas Roth Pumpkin Enzyme Mask — This mask though. First of all, I don’t care for the smell. Yes, it smells like pumpkin pie, but I don’t like sweet smells. If you like pumpkin pie though, you’ll love the smell–just don’t eat it. I use it once a week. It’s a very nice mask for the end of the day–just apply it to clean skin, gently massage it in, let sit for five to ten minutes, and wash it off! It’s great for exfoliating. Just be careful–don’t get overzealous with your face massage, because it will hurt after.

fall_faves_2

Biore Pore Penetrating Charcoal Bar — Charcoal soap is my favorite thing to wash my face with, and it seems like every brand has their own charcoal soap these days. I saw this product at Target and was fascinated by the shape of the bar, which is why I got it–I like things that look like smooth stones, okay? It has stayed pretty rock-shaped since I first started using it, and I’ve been using it every day since I bought it in early August. Be careful though, because the texture definitely gets rougher as you use more and more of it.

I’d love to hear what you’re loving this fall, so please comment below to tell me!

Experiments in Pennypinching: Using What I Have Already

freezer_inventory1

In my first post of this series, I talked about making breakfast food in bulk and bringing it to work rather than giving in to my bad habit of stopping at Tim Horton’s. This post features another way I’ve tried to change my spending habits and save a little bit of money.

My mother calls me a hoarder; I prefer to think of myself as a forward thinker.

I have a hard time letting go of things. Not because I am particularly sentimental about them, but because I always think “Well, what if I need that later on?” before getting rid of something.

The same thought process affects my spending habits. I’ll be at the grocery store and see that roasts are on sale, and will think, “Oh! I’ll need that when I make pot roast!” So I’ll buy it, but I won’t make that pot roast for three months. I’ll see that chicken thighs are on sale, and I’ll buy them, even though I still have a package that I bought the previous week. And if they’re cheap again the following week, I’ll probably buy more. I’ll need them for something. Eventually.

I also do this with books. I’ll get bored with a book and put it off “for later,” and then I’ll buy a different one–and potentially get bored with that one, too!

I don’t like to think of this as a waste of money, because eventually I do get around to using what I buy. But it is a waste of space. My freezer isn’t tiny, but it is by no means big. And it’s full of things I have half-forgotten about since purchasing them.

Sales are by no means a bad thing, but it’s not like roasts won’t be on sale again. I didn’t need to buy that roast if I wasn’t planning on making it any time in the near future.

So I’m trying to establish a new habit in which I use what I already have rather than stocking up.

I started by taking everything out of my freezer. I pitched the freezer-burnt items and tossed the frozen soups I made last winter (I washed and kept the containers the soups were in though because what if I need them later on?).

As I was putting everything back into the freezer, I took inventory. I wrote down all of what I have and how much. Then, I took a sheet of graph paper, wrote down the items, and then drew a bar to correspond with how much I have. It’s now taped to my refrigerator, and when I take something out, I fill in one square of that bar. I’ve used up a fair bit already, but as I’ve made or bought more, the list has expanded.

freezer_inventory2

Is there anything in particular you are bad about using before buying more? Comment below and tell me what that thing is!

Experiments in Pennypinching: Bringing Breakfast from Home

20160919_091318

Summer is the peak time of year for me at work; I put in about 50 hours a week, but sometimes more if that’s what my boss needs. It’s very nice for the overtime, as it gives me both extra savings and spending money. I might complain about feeling overworked, but the extra wiggle room in my budget is admittedly nice (especially because my energy bill is at its highest this time of year).

Then fall starts and my overtime goes away. And while I live within my means year-round, I always feel a little shocked and stressed financially when that happens. I have to give up the bad habits of summer and go back to more disciplined money habits.

Since I started saving for retirement, I’ve really been trying to become more financially savvy. I’m reading up on finance and investing, watching the Nightly Business Report on PBS, checking the stock market, and talking to the people in my life about money. Currently, I’m reading a book by Kimberly Palmer called Smart Mom, Rich Mom, because even though I don’t have kids, there’s nothing wrong with planning ahead.

You’re reading this and probably thinking, GET TO THE DAMN POINT, SHELBY.

Smart Mom, Rich Mom is about building wealth while you raise a family. It discusses savings and investment plans, and so on. It isn’t a book about extreme couponing and pinching your pennies.

However, it does talk about establishing good financial habits and cutting costs where you can.

timmys_ho

Where I’m cutting costs: Tim Horton’s. I spend a lot of money during the week on breakfast food and coffee. I am one of Timmy’s Hos. It is a guilty pleasure to the point that I’m feeling a little too guilty, to be honest.

Let me elaborate: My average purchase from Tim Horton’s costs between $4 and $6, and sometimes I go there 5 days a week. I’m spending between $20 and $30 a week on breakfast.

And with the peak season at work rapidly coming to a close, I need to cut my Timmy’s habit–by 75%, at least. One day a week, every other week is my goal.

Part of why I have a Timmy’s problem is because I really drag my feet in the morning. I like to get ready and just go to work. Usually I pack my lunch the night before, but I’m not very big on breakfast. Preparing breakfast food in the morning makes me feel ill. I can just throw a packet of instant oatmeal in my purse, and I have. But lately, I’ve just been like, Ugh, oatmeal. It’s taken me all month to even get half through the box on my counter.

But I need to cut Timmy’s out.

So I decided to make things in bulk so all I have to do is grab it from the refrigerator and leave.

I may share the recipes later on, but I was up until 1 a.m. the other day (no wonder I drag my feet in the morning!) making quinoa-and-egg muffins and mini quiche. And on top of that, I made enough to last at least a week. I let them cool off, popped them into ZipLoc bags, and threw most of it into the freezer.

It might not be much but I feel good about it. We all have to start somewhere, right?

20160919_091253

Where do you think you can cut costs? Comment below!

Strong Female Characters: What Do We Really Need?

sfc_cover_image

I’ve been sitting on this post for a while, but lately I’ve been talking to Rosa, my brain twin, and the more we talk about it, the more she and I both want to write about feminism, storytelling, and the characters we love.

There have been several posts written already about this, but I wanted to add my own voice to the numerous ongoing conversations. I don’t expect that my voice will necessarily be heard over the din, but I talk about it a lot: to Rosa, to my friend Toni, to myself (yup), and really just to anybody who is even pretending to listen. The hazard of talking about something that lots of people are already talking about is that opinions have been shaped and decisions have been made and people don’t necessarily feel like listening, even if they agree with you. However, here I am, talking about it.

I’m here to discuss the Strong Female Character.

Generally whenever there is a demand for strong female characters, particularly in film and on television, I roll my eyes. There are two reasons for this:

  1. I find that the results of making such demands set us back more than we realize.
  2. I find that “strong” is 100% the wrong word to describe what it is that we want and need.

When I say that demanding strong female characters sets us back, what I mean is that the result usually lets us down in one way or the other. A lot of shows that have a so-called feminist edge can be hurtful overall to feminism and how far we have come. And it’s not completely the fault of the show itself, but also partly due to the audiences watching.

Agent Carter is an example. Not to trash the show, as I do watch and enjoy it, but when it first aired, I was annoyed by the overall response to the show, which I will summarize thusly:

Yeahhhhhh, Agent Carter! Girls can do anything that boys can!

Hayley-Atwell-in-Agent-Carter

I don’t want to sound like an asshole but I really recall this being a response to the show. And to some degree I get it. Women may have had the right to vote post-WWII*, but their lives were still very different from our lives now. The men who work with Peggy Carter don’t view her as an equal, even though she too is an agent of the SSR (that’s Strategic Scientific Reserve, if you don’t watch the show). What she does matters very little to them because in their eyes, her status as female makes her less-than.

sfc_talk_1

However: this is the twenty-first century. “Girls can do anything that boys can” is no longer an appropriate response. For fuck’s sake, guys. Wasn’t that the same message that audiences got from Mulan? And even in 1998, the concept of girls being capable of the same things as boys was by no means a revolutionary idea.

Having this response, in my opinion, sets us back. It’s part of what I call “Hollywood feminism.” The male execs running the show(s) decide to acquiesce to the request for female stars and storylines, in hopes that getting those female characters and storylines will distract us enough that we won’t ask for something else.

If you think I’m just making it up, you’re right. This is a conspiracy theory that I haven’t really backed up. But in some cases I feel that it is at least half-true, and that is how I felt about the response to Agent Carter.

Moving on to my second point, “strong” is not the correct word to describe what we want.

There are many Strong Female Characters in books and movies and on television. I’ll name some: Michonne, Lagertha, Brienne, Mulan, Lexa from The 100, and so on.

The problem here is that strength is more often portrayed and perceived as a physical quality than an emotional one, although a sort of emotional strength is displayed by many female characters. I like a lot of the characters I have named, but it has nothing to do with their strength, physical or emotional. The issue isn’t a quality of the character; it’s the quality of the creator. A good creator is going to treat their characters well: they will have a backstory, a personality that reflects that backstory in addition to whatever outlook they have on life, they will have goals and the capacity within themselves to change (for better or for worse) and most importantly, the creator will be consistent in all of these.

melisandre

Here I’m going to use a character who may not be physically strong, but is incredibly written**, and her name is Melisandre. Many readers, and especially people who only watch the show, do not like her. She is easily one of the most hated characters, and Dick & Douche (the producers/writers) have made it so. However, George R.R. Martin has made the comment that she is the most misunderstood character, and has also stated:

Melisandre has gone to Stannis entirely on her own, and has her own agenda.

Part of what I love so much about GRRM in addition to his incredible worldbuilding skills (not just in ASOIAF, but also his 1000 Worlds universe) is how much work he puts into his characters. Each one of his characters, regardless of gender, brings to the table their own strengths, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities. He gives them backstories and has these backstories influence their outlooks on life and personalities in some way. Most importantly, and this is what sells GRRM for me forever and ever and always, is the fact that they all have a) goals and b) the capacity for change.

Part of why Melisandre is so misunderstood is due to how mysterious she truly is. We don’t know a whole lot about her past; she claims to be from Asshai and to have been a slave named Melony. We know that she is a priestess of R’hllor (the Red God) and that she believes that Azor Ahai has or will be reborn. Her hobbies appear to be burning people alive as sacrifices and giving birth to shadowbabies. She also is not impervious to compassion, although we don’t always see this.

However, we don’t know, for example, who her parents are. We don’t know how old she is. We don’t know what her endgame is, although many have guessed. And I am positive that GRRM knows exactly what he is doing with her. While she may not be physically strong and her motivations are dubious, Melisandre is an incredible character who is lucky to have had a very skilled creator who does right by her.

Saying we want “Strong Female Characters” sets us up for failure, due to the perception of the word “strong.” The people in charge would rather take that word literally than put in the work to give us fully-developed characters. I’d say we need “Good Female Characters” but “goodness” is also a quality of character that doesn’t mean what I want it to mean. “Well-Written Female Characters” is a little more on the mark, but when you talk about film and TV, things start to get dicey because of all the people involved with the project who aren’t writers, such as directors and actresses.

Strong Female Characters are problematic for more than one reason, and I’ve listed two of them here. Should we change our perception of the meanings of words or should we change the language we use to describe the characters we love and hate?

What do you think of Strong Female Characters? Do you like or dislike the terminology? Comment below with your thoughts!

*this sentence sounds so clumsy… what I mean here is that women have had the right to vote in the US since the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920, so by the time WWII happened, they’d had the right to vote for a while.

**as far as Melisandre goes, GRRM has written an amazing character, and Dan and Dave have done her show counterpart an incredible disservice. Also, Carice van Houten is phenomenal in the role.

Saving for the Future

money

 

When I was 16, I got my first job. It wasn’t much; I was working the cash register at a local hardware store, and in between customers I would carry out tasks like answering the phone and vacuuming. I had to learn how to count back change, and I had to learn how to interact with customers, but the hardest thing was having to balance my work schedule with school.

At the age of 16, I became a workaholic. I. Was. Addicted. To. Working. I loved it. Absolutely loved it. I looked forward so much to summer, when I could get more hours (one week I got 39, and they told me I couldn’t get more than 35). I felt so grown up and responsible, and was so excited to see my bank account grow every week.

Then one day I thought, “What am I going to do with my money?”

I don’t remember how I got there, but eventually I decided I should set up a 401(k) for myself. And I was so excited by this decision, and I was excited to tell my parents my plan.

They laughed at me.

tl;dr: I didn’t set up that 401(k).

Fast forward to nearly a decade later, and I didn’t regret not doing it, but I found myself in a position that probably many other people my age were also in: I wasn’t putting anything away for retirement. My workplace offered a 401(k) program, and even though it didn’t match, I did want to set something up. However, HR took their sweet time sending someone over to help me get started.

Even though I anticipated it being 40 years before I retired, I didn’t want to wait any longer! So I did a little bit of research, and one day while visiting my parents, I asked, “Should I set up a Roth IRA?” This time, they didn’t laugh at me. Instead, I was told, “Absolutely!”

There are two things you need to know about investing for your future. The first: it is never too late. Second: you have a lot of options. You can go through your bank or a financial service like Merrill Lynch. Some banks work with services like Merrill Lynch. You can set up a 401(k), a Roth IRA, or a traditional IRA. You can do all three. And so on. On top of that, all of your options come with their own benefits and pitfalls. In addition to talking to family and friends, I recommend talking to someone who works in finance.

Saving for your future might seem impossible, but you can 100% do it in a way that works for you. Taking that first step might be daunting, but remember that there is no time like the present.

MY ROAD TRIP

Also, I swear there are pictures in this post. I promise.

It’s been a while since we’ve taken a family vacation. And my sister and I aren’t getting any younger, and we’re old enough now where we can travel on our own with friends instead of our parents, and Mom wanted one last family vacation. Stephanie and I could only get a few days off of work, so we did what people who only have a few days of paid vacation time do: we took a road trip.

Our destination was Nashville, Tennessee, but because it was a real road trip, not just a long drive from point A to point B (with a few stops to go to the bathroom), we actually drove the car around and stopped to do things!

DAY ONE

We left the house around 6:30 that morning. Somewhere around 9:00 a.m. we stopped in Ohio for breakfast. It wasn’t a bad breakfast, but the fact that we were in Ohio kept me from really enjoying it. (Maybe here’s the point where I tell you that people from Michigan and Ohio don’t really like each other–why, I don’t actually know. I just have fun with it.)

Then I made a big deal about driving past Wapakoneta, OH. When Mom and I go to Kentucky, we take I-75 the whole way, and Wapakoneta is just a landmark to us by now. Wapakoneta is famous for being the birthplace of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. Neil Armstrong hated being in Ohio so much, he had to go to the moon to get away. Little did he know that when he got back to Earth, Wapakoneta, Ohio was so happy to have been his birthplace they brought the moon to him. You can see it from I-75.

So I made this big deal about driving past the moon in Wapakoneta–“It’s coming up! You can’t miss it. It’s the moon!” and my sister (who has made this drive before, I don’t know why she doesn’t remember it) was fascinated.

…Until she saw it. It’s not very big. It’s part of the Armstrong Air & Space Museum.

Even less enthused than Stephanie was my dad, who commented, “Well, that was anti-climactic.”

There are a few other Ohio landmarks that I see when driving through:

  • quilt barns (which I incorporated into a game–slug the person next to you and yell “Quilt barn!” when you see one)
  • the aborted fetus barn (there is a barn with a picture of an aborted fetus and a broken heart painted onto the side of it, right on I-75)
  • Dayton (my mother hates Dayton, OH)
  • Cincinnati (I love Cincy so much I pretend it’s part of Kentucky so I don’t associate it with Ohio)
  • road construction EVERYWHERE along I-75 (if you are from Michigan, then you understand that our state bird is the road construction barrel–but no, I’m telling you that you won’t believe it any more if you drove through Ohio. Except Ohio actually takes care of their roads. Michigan doesn’t. The only good thing about Ohio is how nice their roads are.)

The fun road trip stuff really started in Kentucky, though. Part of why my mother decided to visit Nashville is because on the way, we could visit some of the distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Bourbon is my personal spirit of choice, but prior to this trip, I didn’t know much about it. Now I could tell you at the very least what defines a spirit, by law, as bourbon. Lyndon B. Johnson is the one who wrote that law. It’s pretty cool. Here’s what bourbon is, by law:

  • Made in the United States of America. To be considered “bourbon” it must be made on American soil. It is our national spirit.
  • Corn. Many spirits are made from corn (and a variety of other grains, including wheat and rye), but the mash bill for bourbon must be at least 51% corn.
  • Oak. All bourbon must be aged in a a new, charred oak barrel. You can reuse the barrel, but the product from that reused barrel is not going to be bourbon. It will be whiskey.
  • Distilled at no more than 160 proof (that’s 80% alcohol).
  • Furthermore, it can’t have entered that new, charred oak barrel at more than 125 proof (62.5% alcohol).
  • Bottled no lower than 80 proof (40% alcohol).

I learned all of that on the first day of our trip, when we went to the Jim Beam American Stillhouse in Clermont, KY. We took a tour of a warehouse where they age the barrels of bourbon. We stepped in and immediately got a whiff of the “Angel’s Share” which is what they call the evaporating water and alcohol. Then we had a tasting where we each got to try two shots of whatever Jim Beam product we chose. Being familiar with Jim Beam’s white label, I decided to try the black label. Then I tried the Jim Beam Green Apple thing, which I didn’t like at all.

Also, the trees in Clermont, KY, are all drunk. Not really. They’re covered in this black moss–it’s non-toxic and naturally occurring, according to our tour guide–that feeds on the evaporating alcohol. That was so cool.

Bourbon all around me

Bourbon all around me

The warehouse was 7 stories tall. And it was packed with 7 stories' worth of barrels of bourbon.

The warehouse was 7 stories tall. And it was packed with 7 stories’ worth of barrels of bourbon

Statue of Jim Beam Master Distiller Booker Noe

Statue of Jim Beam Master Distiller Booker Noe

Oh, and if you go to Jim Beam, you’ll notice a bunch of wooden rocking chairs around. Sit in them. My dad has back problems and even he liked those rocking chairs.

Then we stopped in Bowling Green, KY before crossing the Tennessee border because I wanted my family to experience the wonder of Chaney’s Dairy Barn. They’d never been, although I have. Last time I went, they had Mint Julep ice cream (made with Maker’s Mark bourbon!), but this time, I settled down and enjoyed my coffee-flavored ice cream.

Mmmm... coffee

Mmmm… coffee

Then we went to Nashville and had barbecue at Rippy’s and went and saw some live bands playing in the bars on Broadway. Country music really isn’t my thing, but one of the nice guys playing at Rippy’s (except he covered a lot of Elvis, and his buddies covered a lot of the country stuff) asked us (after learning we were from Michigan), “Sparty or That Other School?” So we gave him the right answer (Sparty, of course!). Couldn’t convince him to play the MSU fight song, but he said at least he knew we were “decent folks.”

DAY TWO

On Day Two of the trip, we left Nashville and went back to Kentucky! Moreover, we went back to Bowling Green! Not for ice cream, but to do what was hands-down my favorite thing on this trip: Lost River Cave.

It’s so cool. Loads of history. Evidence of human activity dating back to the Paleo-Indian era, lots of Civil War history (both Confederate and Union troops hung out there), and so on and so forth. It was America’s first “air conditioned” night club, and even Ella Fitzgerald sang there. Also, it’s beautiful. And apparently, deadly (if you pay attention to those Civil War stories).

Friends of the Lost River is a nonprofit organization; they make their money from boat tours, gift shop sales, and memberships, and the proceeds then go back to preserving the cave. We took the boat tour, which is $17/person for adults, but I loved it. I sadly have no pictures that are very good of the boat tour. I was trying to be inconspicuous and so there was no flash on my camera. I don’t know why. I was definitely not the only person who was taking pictures on that boat.

One of the "blue holes" at Lost River

One of the “blue holes” at Lost River

The reconstructed dance floor of the old night club at Lost River Cave. They have weddings there now.

The reconstructed dance floor of the old night club at Lost River Cave. They have weddings there now

On the way back to Nashville, we stopped at Sumner Crest Winery in Portland, TN. We had a tasting there. I had no idea how much it was going to cost, as on their wine list it just says “Ask us about our tasting experiences!” and doesn’t give a price. So I was pretty conservative compared to the rest of my family, because I tasted 4 wines and they tried as many as they wanted. All were heavenly.

And then I found out the tastings were free. Free! The kind ladies working there explained that the company believes it is important to give free tastings to show that they believe in their product.

I believe in their product. I brought home a bottle of their Bonnie Blue (blueberry wine!) and it’s gone, a week later. All by myself. Mom and Dad got a bottle of their sweet Tennessee blackberry wine (only to find out when we got home that Mom’s friend Pam just gave her a bottle of it less than a month ago). I don’t remember what Stephanie got, but she didn’t leave empty-handed, either.

When we got back to Nashville, we saw Pam and went to Ted’s Montana Grill. Dad and I ate bison burgers. Bison is a little more lean than beef burger, and thus a little more dry, but overall it wasn’t bad at all. We drove through Bicentennial Park, where they were getting ready for Shakespeare in the Park, and then we went back out and saw a band with a badass girl playing the fiddle.

DAY THREE

We left the hotel at eight the next morning and hit the road back to Kentucky (and Michigan). We stopped at the Bourbon Heritage Center at Heaven Hill, in Bardstown, KY. There are actually three distilleries in Bardstown, but we only did Heaven Hill. My uncle has done the Bourbon Trail before and he’ll argue that Heaven Hill had the best tour, information-wise. We took the short tour, which was more expensive than the long tour, but we drank some really good bourbon, in addition to learning the taste differences between wheat bourbon and rye bourbon.

Stephanie was the star of the tour, because Herb, our tour guide, saw her making a face after the first taste of bourbon made a point to ask her after each one what she thought of it. She was a good sport about it. Herb was fantastic! We made a point to write that in the guest book because he was so friendly with us all. And he knew his shit about college sports, because he could talk to my dad (who was wearing his Michigan State t-shirt) about MSU football and basketball, even though Herb himself had gone to UVA.

Then it was back in the car, and we didn’t get out again until we had gotten to Woodford Reserve in Versailles, KY. I’ll argue that this was the prettiest distillery, even though I’ll also tell you that I think Kentucky is by far the prettiest state in the union (that I’ve been to, anyway). But Woodford Reserve is right in the middle of horse country. It’s got a horse farm on one side, and a horse farm on the other, and it is just gorgeous. The tour and tasting were just okay, but by that point, I’d heard that information twice before. Although it was cool to even just see how they made bourbon in the old days. And we got chocolate during our tasting. Not a bad thing.

A quick snap I took of the horse statue out front at Woodford Reserve to send my college roommate, who said "I love the contrast in materials!" the wood components are from used barrels

A quick snap I took of the horse statue out front at Woodford Reserve to send my college roommate, who said “I love the contrast in materials!” the wood components are from used barrels

Then we drove home to Michigan.

Overall, it was a great trip. It was short, but I really enjoyed it and recommend any of those things if you think they’ll appeal to you. If there’s a next time, I’ll definitely take more pictures to share! My family tends to enjoy taking vacations where they lie on a beach and soak up the sun, and I enjoy doing things, but I think they enjoyed it, too!

LIFE LATELY

A picture from Independence Day, which I didn't write a post about

A picture from Independence Day, which I didn’t write a post about

I borrowed this idea from Desiree because I haven’t posted anything real in a while and I feel guilty about it.

A few things have happened recently! Not a whole lot. I had a birthday at the end of May (why I’m telling you about this in almost-August, I don’t know). I am 24 years old now, and while this makes no sense at all, I feel no different being 24 than I did 23, even though 23 was a really difficult year for me and 24 has been not-miserable. I was so happy to turn 24 and tell 23 to kiss my ass.

My mom got a Barnes and Noble membership, so I’ve been reading and buying books. Not including all of the used books I bought for my birthday, too. Meg Cabot’s Royal Wedding came out in June, and she really hasn’t changed much, HRH Princess Mia, but I won’t lie, I still loved reading this newest Princess Diaries book as much as I loved reading the others as a tween and a teen.

In addition to that, and rereading Ken Follett’s Kingsbridge books, I read a book last weekend called Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes. I was excited to read it, but very quickly I started calling it Broken Book because it was bad. I gave it two stars on Goodreads. (ALSO: When people who live in/near Detroit read books set in Detroit and think “Where are all the Black people?” you have a problem)

A few weeks ago Arthur Chu wrote this post for Thought Catalog (which, I really kind of hate TC but Arthur Chu wrote it and I quite like him and his writing) about one of my favorite shows, Dollhouse, Joss Whedon, and Hollywood. I appreciate that Arthur Chu, who is also a fan of Dollhouse and a fan of Joss Whedon, is okay with acknowledging that the show isn’t without its problems. To criticize something that people like can throw fandoms into an uproar (but Dollhouse was cancelled in 2009, so people may look around and say “What fandom?” at this point, I suppose). Not that Joss Whedon doesn’t ever get negative backlash; the response to Avengers: Age of Ultron from early May is still clear in my mind. The post by Chu makes many good points, but among those is My Fave is Problematic And It’s Okay to Know That And Still Like It.

(And yes, I re-watched all of Dollhouse after reading, just for the sake of it. Boooyd! #NotOverIt)

Then there was this piece, “How Not to Be Elizabeth Gilbert,” published by the Boston Review. It’s about travel writing but also about not being “an obnoxious white lady in brown places.” The piece says a lot about travel writing, things I agree with. Not only are successful travel writers typically male, but a potentially dangerous trait of the travel writing genre is that one’s self is the center of attention, and the location (however exotic, however beautiful, however whatever) is just the backdrop.

(It also reminds me of that time my 11th-grade English teacher was reading Eat, Pray, Love, and loving it, and would most likely be that obnoxious white lady in brown places)

IGGPPC is having their second annual summer camp in August! It’s not real sleepaway camp, which I never did, but I participated in some of the activities last year, like the care package swap and some Google Hangouts-based events! It’s a lot of fun!

Also, in spite of being a shiksa, I love reading the pieces at Tablet Mag, and they’ve done a few pieces this summer about summer camp. I liked reading about all the things Marjorie Ingalls’s daughters learned at camp, as well as this piece about how her experiences at camp shaped Margot Kohn’s positive relationship with her body.

Common Room had Potter Week, which is likely a good thing. Harry Potter was one of my early fandoms, but I couldn’t for the life of me think of anything to write along Potter-inspired lines. I like Hadas’s post about crackpot theories (because who doesn’t love a good crackpot theory?). Who doesn’t love a good fan theory, period?

What have you read lately? How is life treating you?

ON “BOOKS EVERYONE SHOULD READ”

Last week, I went to Barnes and Noble with my mother. If I was 14, this wouldn’t have been a particularly notable event; when I was younger, my mom and I went to the bookstore all the time together, but that was before Borders went out of business and my mom never really liked Barnes and Noble.

For the first time in a long time, I was at a bookstore with my mother. One of mom’s coworkers is retiring and Mom, knowing that her coworker quite likes wine but doesn’t necessarily know what beverages pair the best with what foods, thought that if there was a book that kind of explained how that went, it would be a good retirement gift. We did end up finding it, and it was a lot bigger than we had imagined it would have been. It was thorough, apparently.

As a lover of books, I started frequenting Barnes and Noble after Borders went out of business. As a lover of bookstores, I like to look at displays to see what they’re promoting and how they’re promoting certain books. It’s summer, so of course they’re going to have a table that is all books for the junior high and high school summer reading lists. I marvel that apparently my 11th grade English teacher is still assigning Richard Wright’s Native Son as summer reading (it is a book I probably would have liked better had we read it as a class), and that the teacher at my old school’s crosstown rival still assigns The Poisonwood Bible. Other displays (ones that aren’t school-related) promote books that I find questionable, but I can live with the existence and bestselling status of 50 Shades, because I’m glad people read, and I’m glad that they talk about books, my opinions of those books aside.

However, I am forever iffy about the table with the sign that says “Books Everyone Should Read.”

Truthfully, I like the idea of a world where everybody reads. Even better is the idea of a world where everybody likes to read. But those lists of books that everybody should read? I tend to disagree with any statement that says everybody should read a specific book.

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant may well be my favorite book ever, and while I recommend it to a lot of people, I understand that it’s not going to be a book that will appeal to everyone (menstruation! childbirth! Biblical figures!). It’s great when I do find someone who has enjoyed it because then I can talk about this amazing book that I am lucky enough to have found and read and loved.

But the phrase “everybody should read this book” is flawed. It implies that there is something to be gained, often a level of personal growth, from reading certain books. A life lesson.

And not everybody is going to pick up on those hidden messages. Not everybody will learn something from those books.

books_talk_1

In my 12th grade English class, somebody applied “everybody needs to read this” to the book Nineteen Minutes (notable to me because it was the only book by Jodi Picoult that I liked). But even within the book, there is a character who survives a school shooting, and despite having friends who died in the event and even having been shot himself, he doesn’t get that he was targeted by the shooter for having bullied him. He doesn’t change his outlook or behaviors.

It’s also notable that one of my classmates didn’t think the main character’s boyfriend is “so bad.” This was worrisome, even to my teacher, because it’s obvious that the guy is bad news. He has abusive tendencies and refuses to wear a condom when they have sex, and also, right around the time we first encounter him in the book, he’s telling his girlfriend that she’s fat and food-shaming her for eating French fries (I think it was French fries, anyway–12th grade was a while ago).

Not everybody is going to get it. And that’s why, when acting like there is something to be gained by reading a specific book and that everybody should read it, you could be doing more harm than good. Not to mention that the implication that books are for learning from explains why a lot of people don’t pick up books outside of school.

book_talk_2

Confession time: I never understood the appeal of To Kill a Mockingbird, and I didn’t learn anything from reading it. I knew by the time I had read it that racism was bad, and that you should always do the right thing, even if the people around you aren’t. Reading the book didn’t reinforce that message, and ultimately, I didn’t enjoy reading it, even though it’s a standard text in classrooms across the country. Almost everybody has read it, and yet I am sure that there are many people out there who also didn’t enjoy it.

And that’s just talking about texts that are in the American literary canon. There are myriad works that are important in other places that I have neglected to mention here. And to some degree I am happy that they aren’t “books that every American should read” because many Americans aren’t going to understand issues in other countries as they apply to those countries. They might understand an issue as it applies to America, but the context of one’s reading of a text is going to affect the lens through which that text is read. And the culture of that reader is also going to affect the lens.

So, yes, I like the idea of a world where everybody reads, but I’m okay with living in a world where not everybody reads the same books.

Do you think that everybody should read certain books? Why or why not?

MOVING DAY

Hi, everyone! I hope everybody had a good weekend and relaxed a little bit, at least! I was busy moving from Thursday night through Saturday morning, but I am officially moved into my very first all-by-myself apartment and I am so happy!

I actually got my keys a little earlier than I had planned, and my dad and I were here on Thursday night to move in some of my existing furniture and assembling others (like my rad TV stand and my coffee table). Then on Friday I took a half day from work to move the rest of my things in and clean the place.

Moving went pretty much without incident. There was a leak in my kitchen sink that I called maintenance about immediately and the guy who lives across the hall complained that everything smelled like Lysol (Mr. Clean, actually, dude) but the leak is fixed and it appears that nobody else was offended by my cleanliness.

I’ve had two people over to visit already (besides my family, who helped me move–thank you!) and hopefully more will come see me over the next couple of weeks. Here are a few pictures from before and during the move.

Moving made me realize that I have *a lot* of tea

Moving made me realize that I have *a lot* of tea

I also have a lot of movies and TV-on-DVD

I also have a lot of movies and TV-on-DVD

The beginnings of my pantry on move-in day

The beginnings of my pantry on move-in day

Oy.

Oy.

It’s a good place, and I am so, so happy that I am finally here! It’s not a home yet, but I’m going to be working on it!

READ ACROSS AMERICA DAY

In high school I had this t-shirt (which really isn’t surprising, I had lots of t-shirts, because I’m a total t-shirt-and-jeans person) that had the Cat in the Hat on it and for the life of me, I can’t remember what the damn thing said, but it said something about reading. We wore them for our school’s reading week, which coincided with the first week of March. Because of Read Across America Day.

I really wish I had a picture of the damn thing.

Like just about every other nerd on the planet, I enjoy a good read. I don’t care if I’m reading an article about urban farming in BUST magazine, a book about a girl in a boat in Michigan, or Samurai Champloo fanfiction on my phone (Fuugen 4eva), I tend to enjoy whatever I read, so long as I am reading for the hell of it. (Maybe one day I will tell you the story about how I was an English major and hated everything and everybody, because I couldn’t read just for the hell of it)

It is Read Across America Day, so I do plan on taking a couple minutes–just a few!–to read something. Before I focus on getting new books, I need to focus on finishing the few I have started. Likely, I will be reading Burial Rites because that’s what I’ve been carrying in my purse for the last week.

030215_book

How are you celebrating Read Across America Day?