BBC: ‘The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore’.

It’s not even 11am and I’m only the struggle bus for the day – issues at the office, and y’all KNOW how little tolerance I have for that #WhyDontIWorkForMyself

Anyway, I’ve got another book to share with you from Blanche’s Book Club! It’s “The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore” by Kim Fu. Here is the description from Amazon.com:

From the award-winning author of For Today I Am a Boy, a gripping and deeply felt novel about a group of young girls at a remote camp—and the night that changes everything and will shape their lives for decades to come

A group of young girls descend on Camp Forevermore, a sleepaway camp in the Pacific Northwest, where their days are filled with swimming lessons, friendship bracelets, and camp songs by the fire. Filled with excitement and nervous energy, they set off on an overnight kayaking trip to a nearby island. But before the night is over, they find themselves stranded, with no adults to help them survive or guide them home.

The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore traces these five girls—Nita, Andee, Isabel, Dina, and Siobhan—through and beyond this fateful trip. We see them through successes and failures, loving relationships and heartbreaks; we see what it means to find, and define, oneself, and the ways in which the same experience is refracted through different people. In diamond-sharp prose, Kim Fu gives us a portrait of friendship and of the families we build for ourselves—and the pasts we can’t escape.

Apparently I’m just going to read books about getting lost in the wild among hungry animals and questionable plants… but really, I was pretty excited to add this one to my list, and I sadly have to admit that I was disappointed.

Part of me thinks I just didn’t connect with the characters enough, and it was very much a book about characters and less about them getting stranded at camp (although this is about half of the book).

The portions about them surviving camp were nearly horrifying, which I liked. So, I enjoyed the parts about survival, but not so much the backstory of the characters.

For that reason, I don’t feel comfortable recommending this book! It wasn’t terrible, but it just wasn’t my jam.

The next book Blanche’s Book Club will be reading is “Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda” by Becky Albertalli.

And just in case you’re wondering, I finished out yesterday with 8,091 steps – almost 3x what I had last Monday!

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Pedometer: Week 1.

I need to walk more.

About a month ago, the HR department at my job told us they’d be switching our healthcare provider. So when I enrolled, I saw that our new provider, United Healthcare, had a “Motion” program that involved getting a pedometer, setting fitness goals, and earning money toward our care. Sweet!

I have never really tracked my steps. I have been on diets before where I counted calories, and also tracked how much I worked out, but that’s about it. Several years ago, I wore a cheap pedometer as an experiment for an article I was writing. I remember being surprised at how tough it was to get steps and I’d be marching around my apartment at the end of the night (while brushing my teeth) trying to up my tally for the day.

Well, I guess I’ve learned no lesson, because after week 1 with my fancy pedometer, I’ve determined I must just be the laziest person ever.

Let me back up. After signing up for the Motion program, I got a credit of $55 that I could put toward a pedometer. I picked the one that was $55 – the cheapest option. It was black, tracked steps, and said it had an app you could sync with to see the stats on your phone. Works for me!

Another coworker signed up for the Motion program, too, and we got our pedometers in the mail just a few days later. I was told I would get a $40 “Swift Start” bonus if I put the pedometer on right away, so I did – I put it on last Monday around 5:30pm when I got it out of my mailbox and then I headed to my usual Monday night routine: two 1-hour dance classes back-to-back.

Week 1.

That Monday evening I got 2,954 steps.

The days following weren’t much different – I admittedly don’t really move once I get to work, which I have heard is WORSE than smoking cigarettes. I’ve heard repeatedly that we’re supposed to get 10,000 steps per day, and I barely got that in seven days. I know. I’m half ashamed.

However, I decided week one should just be an honest look at my life, and then now we make a change. Right? But I’ll admit that each day, only getting 2 or 3,000 steps, I was getting frustrated and I wondered how people got 14,000 steps each day?

I consulted other pedometer-wearers and they all said that getting steps is a challenge. You really have to set yourself up to get steps – whether it’s parking further away, or setting an alarm every hour to walk a few hundred steps.

A friend of mine tracks her steps and when we went to Vegas last year she would tell me when we’d hit 10K – and I remember thinking, “Wow, we’ve walked a TON,” and I felt very sore.

Hmmm. During week 1, I took a few less dance classes than normal, but I also rode a workout bike for 6 miles, and still only got 2,883 steps for the whole day. My best day was Saturday, where I took a 1-hour cardio class and then a 3-hour nap. Go figure.

So, this week – my goal is to walk more while I’m at work, even if that means simply taking a lap around the office every hour. It still may not get me to 10K, but it will be more than what I got last week… right?

If you track your steps, is there a trick that helps? Walk every hour? I’d love to know how you’re getting your steps in!

Comparing cosmetic primers, III.

My journey may never be complete!

Yep, I am still on a mission to try as many beauty products as possible in order to find the perfect batch! Over the last few months, I’ve tried four new primers, along with an eyelash primer, and I’m here to report my findings.

Balance Me Instant Lift Primer

I got a sample of this primer in my Birchbox! Here’s the description from Birchbox.com: We have our fair share of things we wouldn’t mind getting rid of (pesky neighbors, traffic delays—to name a few), but helping our pores disappear would be at the top of our skincare wish list. This formula uses hard-working ingredients like hyaluronic acid and acacia gum to tighten and blur enlarged pores and smooth and refine your skin’s surface for a glowy complexion.

This one has a thick texture, so it’s good if you have larger pores. Because of its texture, I really felt like I was doing something good for my skin while wearing this. It’s white in color, but rubs in easily.

I’ve seen this primer range in price from $12-$45, so search around if you want to try it!

Smashbox Photo Finish Radiance Primer

I got this as a sample, too, either from Sephora or Birchbox… but I loved it! Honestly, all of the Smashbox primers I’ve tried have been a success, but this one has a little bit of a sheen to it, which I love for summer. Here’s the description from Smashbox.com: This moisturizing face primer gives you an instant golden-hour glow. It has a satin-smooth formula that illuminates, perfects & enhances radiance while hydrating for better makeup application.

Price for this one is around $35 – but it looks like you can buy various sizes on Amazon, including a sample for $7.

MAC Prep + Prime Fix+ 

I bought this after seeing my favorite makeup artist (ahem, Jaclyn Hill) spritz some on her Beauty Blender before applying foundation. I have been using it ever since and am LOVING it. I use this in addition to a cream primer directly on the skin. Here’s the description from Ulta.com:

The holy grail of hydrating mists! M·A·C Prep + Prime Fix+ gives an instant boost of hydration while delivering a soft sheen to refresh and set makeup. The lightweight, prolonging formula is packed with vitamins and minerals, infused with a blend of green tea, chamomile and cucumber to gently moisturize, soothe and enhance your complexion. Pair with your favorite products in near-endless ways – to sheer out foundation, intensify the color payoff of eyeshadows and highlighters or simply to extend the wear of makeup.

Ummm… since I bought the travel size (1 ounce for $12), I did not know it came in different scents – it comes in original herbal, creamy coconut, romantic rose, and calming lavender. I will most-definitely be getting the romantic rose! This is my first time trying a spray primer, and I think it’s perfect for use on a beauty sponge (nothing beats the cosmetic wedge, if you ask me). This one is $26 for 3.4 ounces.

Laura Geller Spackle Hydrating Primer

This is the second primer from Laura Geller that I’ve tried and I like this one better than the Champagne one I reviewed last time. This one really is hydrating and I would almost say you could use it and skip your moisturizer, but I feel like that’s just not right to say. Here’s the description from LauraGeller.com:

Introducing Spackle Hydrating, a multi-tasking marvel that not only perfects, but also hydrates skin with moisturizing ingredients for normal to dry skin. This vitamin-rich formula moisturizes and soothes skin while priming it for make-up application. Formulated with natural, soothing and hydrating ingredients such as Aloe Vera Gel and Cupuaçu Seed Butter.

Laura Geller Fortifying Lash Eyelash Primer

This came as a sample in my Birchbox, and having used the Laura Geller mascara, I was excited to try this. I don’t think I’ve ever used an eyelash primer before so I can’t compare it, but I’d say you can’t really go wrong with adding an extra layer of color to your lashes. Here’s the description from Birchbox.com:

You prep your skin before foundation and apply a base coat before nail polish, so it only makes sense to get your lashes ready for mascara too. A swipe of this primer strengthens and lengthens your fringe and helps prevent clumps. The black tinted formula blends in seamlessly underneath your mascara (read: no white streaks in sight), and even wears great alone on low-maintenance mornings. Lashes look longer, more defined, and dramatic for eyes that do all the talking.

This is $22 – I’ve only seen it in black.

What primers are you guys using? I think so far, the Smashbox Radiance and the Bare Minerals original primer are my favorites, on top of the MAC Fix.

BBC: ‘The Queen of Hearts’.

Another day, another book to read! On Saturday, I went out to lunch with a friend (we had vegan Chinese food) and we went to see Cecile Richards on her book tour. I got home around 5pm, and had one thing on my to-do list: read a book.

This book was due back at the library on Sunday, and it was non-renewable, so I really had no choice but to sit down and read it! So, I made myself a mug of hot chocolate (it was 40 degrees outside), got my electric blanket, and curled up in my reading chair… and basically read this book entirely – I had about 80 pages to finish up Sunday morning.

The book is “The Queen of Hearts” by Kimmery Martin, and before I go any further, here’s the description from Amazon.com:

Named a Most Anticipated Book of 2018 by Southern Living, Elite Daily, and Writer’s Digest 

A debut novel set against a background of hospital rounds and life-or-death decisions that pulses with humor and empathy and explores the heart’s capacity for forgiveness…

Zadie Anson and Emma Colley have been best friends since their early twenties, when they first began navigating serious romantic relationships amid the intensity of medical school. Now they’re happily married wives and mothers with successful careers–Zadie as a pediatric cardiologist and Emma as a trauma surgeon. Their lives in Charlotte, North Carolina are chaotic but fulfilling, until the return of a former colleague unearths a secret one of them has been harboring for years. 

As chief resident, Nick Xenokostas was the center of Zadie’s life–both professionally and personally–throughout a tragic chain of events in her third year of medical school that she has long since put behind her. Nick’s unexpected reappearance during a time of new professional crisis shocks both women into a deeper look at the difficult choices they made at the beginning of their careers. As it becomes evident that Emma must have known more than she revealed about circumstances that nearly derailed both their lives, Zadie starts to question everything she thought she knew about her closest friend.

…Sounds juicy, right?! True to form, I’m not entirely sure how this book got on my list, but it did, and I kept thinking to myself that it would probably be like “Grey’s Anatomy” in book form. And then I heard someone on a podcast refer to it that way, and then randomly, I saw on Kimmery Martin’s Twitter profile, that SHE referred to it that way, too!

One thing I really enjoyed about this was how visual it was – this book would translate well as a movie.

Although parts of the “medical descriptions” made me a bit squimish, I enjoyed the twist that came with the characters being doctors. There were also several layers to the mystery that slowly unfolds, and I appreciated the constant surprises – it was a page-turner, for sure.

I’m recommending this book to anyone who loves a bit of romance (especially among doctors), and those who love a modern mystery.

The next book Blanche’s Book Club will be reading is “The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore” by Kim Fu.

In the meantime, don’t forget to check out my Etsy Shop – I have been adding all sorts of new styles for spring and summer!

Getting a good night’s rest…

Sleepy kitty.

I’ve written a solid amount about the trouble I have had sleeping over the years. As a child, I have always had very vivid, colorful dreams while sleeping – but I also have had terrible, life-like nightmares (some of them I can still remember). I can recall many nights waking up in the early hours, scared from a nightmare, calling for my parents to come comfort me.

My parents, as far as I can remember, stayed up watching late-night talk shows. We always lived in relatively small houses, and I was comforted by the sound of the TV, and/or the hallway light still on. It made me feel safe knowing someone was still up, even if it was likely they were sleeping on the couch.

I don’t remember having sleep issues in high school or college, but since then, it’s been pretty bad. It started after a rough breakup several years ago. I had such bad nightmares that I would wakeup sweating, or crying, and I often couldn’t fall back asleep. After months of trouble, I started seeing a therapist.

After years of learning where my issues were coming from and how to cope, I hadn’t had a nightmare since. Until recently.

I know I am under stress and am still experiencing grief, so I’m not surprised to see the return of these dreams and nightmares. I will say that even though they are scary and force me awake, they aren’t as bad as they were years ago.

Still though, I am working to get myself some quality sleep. Yes, I am currently looking for a therapist, but I know that isn’t going to solve all of my sleep issues.

You see… I hardly ever just want to go to sleep. I know all of the things you’re supposed to do to get a good night’s sleep – set a bedtime, get ready for bed plenty of time before you actually want to fall asleep, don’t sleep with the TV on, don’t look at electronics at least 20 minutes before bed… la la la. I never do any of these things, because I often want to stay up and watch TV or read or work on my blog… it’s rough.

Over the years, I’ve tried various, all-natural sleeping pills and even the strongest of medicines cannot put me on my ass. My mind is always buzzing. However, I have been taking a sleeping pill as of late – really just to force myself to take the pill and tuck myself into bed.

I have found that I have to approach sleep with a combination attack: many things working together to get a quality sleep. I have tried sleepy tea, boiling bananas and drinking the water (which was so freaking boring that yeah, I fell asleep), essential oils, rigorous workouts, hot bubble baths… but this is what’s been working for me lately:

Regular meditation:

I have NOT been meditating lately and I’m paying for it. I’ve noticed that we tend to ignore the things our bodies often need the most – whether it’s exercise or healthy foods, water, or sleep, we just do the opposite. But when I was regularly meditating (about 10 minutes a day), I was getting a more restful, quality sleep.

I am still using the free version of the Calm app – it has tons of free content, especially for those who need help getting to sleep. Try it!

Essential oils on the skin:

I have an oil diffuser that I use regularly, but that isn’t enough to lull me to sleep. So, after trying a sleep oil blend (it’s Lavender, Vetivert and Camomile to calm both mind and body, soothing you to sleep) in my Birchbox, I bought a set that is a roller and pillow spray that helps me sleep. It’s not too intense, so it doesn’t bother my cat (who sleeps in the bed with me) and it’s not something I feel I have to scrub off in the morning.  Perfect for travel, too!

I actually keep my roller and spray in a little cosmetic bag under my pillow so that if I’m settled into bed I don’t have to even move to get them. I also keep some lavender foot lotion in there, too! After a night of dance classes, sometimes I rub my feet and calves with it to help prevent soreness and relax before I try and sleep.

Tea and/or supplements: 

I recently tried Moon Juice’s Dream Dust, and it was about the same as any sleepy/calming tea I’ve tried. Here’s the scoop on it:

Dream Dust® is an adaptogenic blend of tranquil superherbs and Chamomile Flower that help combat the effects of stress to soothe your tension for deep, nocturnal rest.*

Contains ingredients with proven benefits:

  • Reduces stress to help promote more restful sleep*
  • Helps to alleviate the effects of stress and tension*
  • Helps promote better sleep*

I have also tried melatonin pills, and those usually help me sleep for about three hours.

As I said, I use a combination of all of these: meditation at some point during the day, a cup of tea or a melatonin pill about an hour before bed, and essential oils on my wrists as I’m hitting the pillow. It takes a village, y’all!

BBC: ‘The Glass Castle’.

Hellooooo! I’m happy to report that I’m back on the giant sleeping pills and those seem to be working for the time-being. I am still very much into reading as my form of escape, but am slowly getting back into some of my favorite creative endeavors. My blog course at UT is back in session, I made some new jewelry for my Etsy shop, and I’m taking the weekend to get into some new adventures.

But, I’m amped about the latest read from Blanche’s Book Club! It’s “The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls. I know I’m about 7 years late to the game on this one, but here is the description from Amazon.com:

The perennially bestselling, extraordinary, one-of-a-kind, “nothing short of spectacular” (Entertainment Weekly) memoir from one of the world’s most gifted storytellers.

The Glass Castle is a remarkable memoir of resilience and redemption, and a revelatory look into a family at once deeply dysfunctional and uniquely vibrant. When sober, Jeannette’s brilliant and charismatic father captured his children’s imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and how to embrace life fearlessly. But when he drank, he was dishonest and destructive. Her mother was a free spirit who abhorred the idea of domesticity and didn’t want the responsibility of raising a family.

The Walls children learned to take care of themselves. They fed, clothed, and protected one another, and eventually found their way to New York. Their parents followed them, choosing to be homeless even as their children prospered.

The Glass Castle is truly astonishing—a memoir permeated by the intense love of a peculiar but loyal family.

That last line is so true; there were times I just sat with my jaw wide open while reading this book. It’s sometimes difficult to believe it’s a true story. This is a pull-yourself-up tale for an entire family, and they do so in very interesting ways.

I remain amazed at how much Jeannette Walls remembered from her childhood – mainly because I assume trauma would block most of it out. There are graphic details about hunger, the disgusting things they ended up eating, and their incredibly poor living conditions. I can’t say, “I can’t imagine” because Walls described it so well, I could see it vividly in my mind.

This book is so well-written, and the story so layered… there were SO many lines I wrote down in my trusty notebook:

  • I didn’t have the answers to these questions, but what I did know was that I lived in a world that at any moment could erupt into fire.
  • We’d rolled down the windows, and maps and art paper and cigarette ashes were whipping around our heads.
  • Every night for the first few weeks, lying on my cardboard mattress and listening to the sound of rainwater dripping into the kitchen, I dreamed of the desert and the sun and the big house in Phoenix with the palm tree in the front and the orange trees and oleanders in the back.
  • I stirred it as hard as I could and kept stirring even after I knew the paint was ruined, because I also knew that we’d never get more, and instead of a freshly painted yellow house, or even a dingy gray one, we now had a weird-looking half-finished patch job – one that announced to the world that the people inside the house wanted to fix it up but lacked the gumption to get the work done.
  • But a newspaper reporter, instead of holing up isolation, was in touch with the rest of the world. What the reporter wrote influenced what people thought about and talked about the next day; he knew what was really going on. I decided I wanted to be one of the people who knew what was really going on.
  • “And I’ll build the Glass Castle, I swear it. We’ll all live in it together. It’ll be a hell of a lot better than any apartment you’ll find in New York City, I can guaran-goddam-tee that.”

I loved this book. So, now I need to see the movie!

…I’m too late to see it in the theatres, so I may have to wait until it comes out on DVD.

But yes, I’m recommending this to anyone who needs some inspiration right now, to anyone who loves true stories, and to anyone who can relate to a tough childhood.

The next book we’ll be reading is “The Queen of Hearts” by Kimmery Martin.

Listening: ‘Ctrl’ by SZA.

Photo from Rolling Stone magazine.

Morning! I am still very much dealing with stress and grief, and I think it’s safe to say I’ve entered whatever stage messes with my sleep. I’ve been having nightmares nearly every night, and even on the weekends, I can’t seem to get on a sleep schedule that leaves me feeling rested.

But still, I am working to comfort myself by looking to things that have comforted me in the past. One thing that has always helped me is music, so I have been scouring the shelves of my local library’s CD collection and checking out whatever looks good.

A few months ago, I bought a few songs on iTunes from SZA, and decided to get her entire album, “Ctrl” at the library so I could feel it out before buying.

“Ctrl” is SZA’s debut album and it was released in the summer of 2017. It’s mostly R&B, but definitely has hints of soul. I would venture to say she’s got a bit of an Amy Winehouse sound (that is so difficult for me to admit, if you have ANY idea how much I love Ms. Winehouse), and she’s not afraid to come out and say whatever is on her mind.

After releasing many singles from the album, including “Broken Clocks”, “The Weekend”, and “Drew Barrymore”, “Ctrl” went Platinum as of March 2018 – hitting more than 1 million sales.

Last year, SZA was nominated for 5 Grammy awards, but walked away empty-handed. According to an interview she did with GQ magazine (read it here), SZA was “mad as hell” she lost, especially the Best New Artist award, which was (wrongfully) given to Alessia Cara.

But of course, she didn’t create the album to succeed at the Grammy’s, and this is precisely why Grammy Awards don’t matter – everyone loves mediocrity… don’t even get me started.

Even after listening to the album, “Broken Clocks” remains to be one of my favorite tracks, but I also love “Normal Girl”. “The Weekend” is one I’d love to dance to in my stiletto class, and I do like the very first song, “Supermodel”.

I ain’t had a smoke break
In about two days don’t break
Been about three years since I dated you
Why you still talking ’bout me like we together?
I moved on for the better
You moved on to whoever

-SZA, Broken Clocks

SZA has a very unique voice and style, and I’m excited to see what else we hear from her (there is a rumor that she will be collaborating with Missy Elliott).

On another note, I do want to throw something out into the universe that I have been grappling with for some time now, and that’s telling people “no.” I don’t mean telling people “no” in the sense of making plans that I’m too busy to have or taking on too much work, I mean telling people no because I am really just not interested in a relationship with that person.

For whatever reason, I keep getting confronted (often in front of other people) by the same person about spending time together and I feel like I have tried everything – explaining how I felt offended by things that happened between us, blocking phone numbers, posting things on Instagram about rude things they’ve said to me, ignoring them to their face, skirting invitations to hangout… I am at a loss here.

I don’t want to be mean, but I am also not trying to force friendships. I truly feel like I have nothing in common with this person, and I do not want to go to lunch, or discuss books, or even talk. I am just not interested.

Why am I struggling with this? Because I feel like everyone else loves this person and, well, I do not. I’m not going to get into reasons why, but I just cannot shake the anxiety that comes from this situation. Has anyone else dealt with something like this?

Either way, I’ll figure it out.

I’ve got another book to review this week and I think you guys are going to love it – see you then!

BBC: ‘Better Than Before’.

You know, for this being Blanche’s Book Club, I realized I don’t really talk much about my reader friend, Miss Blanche!

For background, Blanche is my rescue kitty, and she just recently turned 5! As a Calico, she is very sassy – and she’s equipped with all of her claws (very sharp) and large teeth. She is quick to attack upon hearing “no.”

At times, our relationship has struggled. Whether she’s waking me up at night or ruining all of my belongings, we’ve fought. Over the holidays, Blanche was pretty sick. She had to go to the vet a few times, eat prescription food, and she had to take lots of medicine (guess who had to give it to her?!).

It was a really rough time. When she doesn’t feel good, I don’t feel good, and I often stayed up during the night petting her and trying to make her comfortable enough to sleep in hopes that rest would help her recovery.

She has been feeling better for almost a month now, and I’m hoping we don’t have anymore episodes of illness. Blanche has been suffering from stress – likely because I have been stressed, so we are both working through it.

I have been making an effort to play with Blanche more, and I’m trying to keep my compulsive cleaning to a minimum. Cats like to feel in control of their environment, and when things change, they get nervous.

But over this past month of her good health, she happily sits beside me as I’m reading – sometimes we sit outside on the patio. The other night, I was on the couch reading, and she was in one of her favorite spots, laying inside of a leather tray that’s sitting on my ottoman. I left to go see a movie, and when I returned three hours later, she was still in the same spot having slept the entire time!

Here’s to hoping I don’t jinx her streak of good health! Anyway, let’s get into the latest read from Blanche’s Book Club: “Better Than Before: Mastering The Habits of Our Everyday Lives” by Gretchen Rubin. Here’s the description from Amazon.com:

The author of the blockbuster New York Times best sellers The Happiness Project and Happier at Home tackles the critical question: How do we change?

Gretchen Rubin’s answer: through habits. Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life. It takes work to make a habit, but once that habit is set, we can harness the energy of habits to build happier, stronger, more productive lives. So if habits are a key to change, then what we really need to know is: How do we change our habits?

Better Than Before answers that question. It presents a practical, concrete framework to allow listeners to understand their habits – and to change them for good. Infused with Rubin’s compelling voice, rigorous research, and easy humor, and packed with vivid stories of lives transformed, Better Than Before explains the (sometimes counterintuitive) core principles of habit formation.

Along the way Rubin uses herself as guinea pig, tests her theories on family and friends, and answers readers’ most pressing questions – oddly, questions that other writers and researchers tend to ignore:

  • Why do I find it tough to create a habit for something I love to do?
  • Sometimes I can change a habit overnight, and sometimes I can’t change a habit no matter how hard I try. Why?
  • How quickly can I change a habit?
  • What can I do to make sure I stick to a new habit?
  • How can I help someone else change a habit?
  • Why can I keep habits that benefit others but can’t make habits that are just for me?

Whether readers want to get more sleep, stop checking their devices, maintain a healthy weight, or finish an important project, habits make change possible. Reading just a few chapters of Better Than Before will make readers eager to start work on their own habits – even before they’ve finished the book.

This is the third book from Rubin that I’ve read. I absolutely LOVED “The Happiness Project” and half-loved its sequel, “Happier at Home”. I was a little skeptical when I picked this one up, but of course I figured, why not?

In short, this one is good, and it’s pretty interesting. Rubin makes it clear that the same habits don’t work for everyone, and that’s just something we have to understand. I think lots of people do things because other people do – whether it’s a certain diet or workout, perhaps trying to get up earlier or go to bed at a certain time. But just because something works for someone else, doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you.

What matters is to be moving in the right direction.

-Gretchen Rubin, Better Than Before

So, this book has a lot of information to help you figure out what works for you. Are you a morning or a night person? A starter or a finisher? A spender or a saver?

Although I don’t really think I have any bad habits (at least, none that I can think of), I know there’s better habits I’d like to pick up.

Toward the end of the book, I was starting to get a little annoyed because I just feel like there’s so much pressure for us to be going somewhere all the time or reaching goals or never resting, and sometimes I want to just BE, and I’m an adult and I do what I want. But even Rubin acknowledges this, as she lets herself drink diet soda and has a habit of chewing on plastic coffee stirrers. Hmm.

This is definitely an insightful book, so if you’re looking to change a few habits or pickup some new ones, this may be the book for you!

The next book Blanche’s Book Club will be reading is “The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls.

I hope you all have a great weekend and a fun Easter! See you next week 🙂

Just Saw It: ‘Ready Player One’.

Photo from BBC.

I’m writing this at 10:15 pm on Wednesday night, after getting home from seeing the first showing of “Ready Player One”, Steven Spielberg’s creation based off Earnest Cline’s best-selling novel.

This was just the movie I needed to see.

I read the book last June, and I loved it. The funny thing is, it fell into my lap at a time when I was searching for an escape… sort of like right now. Since closing the book last summer, I’ve been counting down the months and the days for this movie to hit the big screen.

All book lovers know that when a great book hits the theatres, it’s a gamble. The story might be completely changed, the characters may not be how you imagined, and in general, the movie just won’t do the book justice.

But when the trailer for “Ready Player One” hit the internet a few months ago, two things caught my attention: the main character, Wade, was exactly how I’d imagined him, and his raggedy life within the stacks was built just how I saw it in my mind. Success.

Before I go any further, let me give you the run-down. “Ready Player One” is the story of Wade, a teenager living in Ohio during the year 2045. It’s a time when most of the population is so fed up with life, they seek refuge in a video game called The Oasis.

Everything happens inside The Oasis – work, school, nightclubs, and well, fighting demons. In 2040, the creator of The Oasis, James Halliday, died. And he left his legacy to the first player to find all three hidden keys that unlock a golden egg.

The best parts of The Oasis? You can be whoever you want, do whatever you want, and no one has advantages over anyone else. There are no rules, and anyone can win.

I won’t go into too many details, but the movie is a little bit different from the book. However, it’s only in the ways that needed to be embellished for film’s sake – the kind of things people want to see, even if they didn’t read the book. There’s a little more love and a little more real life scenes than in the book, but it was seamless. Naturally, the movie capitalized on all of Cline’s 80’s references (and added several), but it was very fun.

There were so many great lines in the book that I noted in my book review, but none of my favorites made it into the movie. However, there were several lines worth noting:

  • People come to the Oasis for all the things they can do, but they stay for all the things they can be.
  • Like many of you, I only came here to escape, but I found something much bigger than just myself.

Truthfully, this movie has it all – the drive to fit in, family trials, loss, love, heartbreak, and friendship. It’s half-VR, half-IRL… and it’s eerily meta. Bravo, Mr. Cline.

I’ve already seen reviews giving Spielberg too much credit for the world Cline created – I’ll keep saying it, you’ve got to read this book. I have also seen a few comparisons to “Willy Wonka”, and sure, that’s loosely an argument to be made. But Charlie Bucket does not make for a Wade or Parzival.

As soon as the credits rolled, I noticed I’d been grinning for the entire 2+ hours, and immediately had to send a text telling someone just how good it was. This is one for the books.

BBC: ‘Into the Wild’.

So…who watched the premier of the “Roseanne” revival? Heh, ME!!!! I was overly excited for it, and well, I’m looking forward to seeing what the remainder of the season has to offer. I also whipped up some vegan sloppy joes with rosemary red potatoes, and it was pretty delicious.

I am continuing to roll right on down my reading list and I’m really excited to share the latest read from Blanche’s Book Club with you! It’s “Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer. Here’s the description from Amazon.com:

In April 1992 a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless. He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself. Four months later, his decomposed body was found by a moose hunter. How McCandless came to die is the unforgettable story of Into the Wild.

Immediately after graduating from college in 1991, McCandless had roamed through the West and Southwest on a vision quest like those made by his heroes Jack London and John Muir. In the Mojave Desert he abandoned his car, stripped it of its license plates, and burned all of his cash. He would give himself a new name, Alexander Supertramp, and, unencumbered by money and belongings, he would be free to wallow in the raw, unfiltered experiences that nature presented. Craving a blank spot on the map, McCandless simply threw the maps away.  Leaving behind his desperate parents and sister, he vanished into the wild.

Jon Krakauer constructs a clarifying prism through which he reassembles the disquieting facts of McCandless’s short life. Admitting an interest that borders on obsession, he searches for the clues to the dries and desires that propelled McCandless. Digging deeply, he takes an inherently compelling mystery and unravels the larger riddles it holds: the profound pull of the American wilderness on our imagination; the allure of high-risk activities to young men of a certain cast of mind; the complex, charged bond between fathers and sons.

When McCandless’s innocent mistakes turn out to be irreversible and fatal, he becomes the stuff of tabloid headlines and is dismissed for his naiveté, pretensions, and hubris. He is said to have had a death wish but wanting to die is a very different thing from being compelled to look over the edge. Krakauer brings McCandless’s uncompromising pilgrimage out of the shadows, and the peril, adversity, and renunciation sought by this enigmatic young man are illuminated with a rare understanding–and not an ounce of sentimentality. Mesmerizing, heartbreaking, Into the Wild is a tour de force. The power and luminosity of Jon Krakauer’s stoytelling blaze through every page.

I’ll be honest, I’m not really sure just how this book wound up on my reading list. But, as you may have come to realize, when a book becomes available on my reserve list, I drive straight to the library, walk straight to the reserve shelf, check out said book, and I often start reading it without even looking at the cover or anything else.

One Sunday night, I laid into bed and cracked this book open, reading by just a small book light hoping to fall asleep. Well… I actually read almost the entire book and before I realized it, it was 1 am and I had to force myself to close my eyes.

This book HAUNTED me. I am not quite sure what about it gave me the chills, but I think it’s because this entire story is just so far beyond me. I have no dreams of living off of nature or purposefully abandoning myself into the coldest wild. In fact, that sounds like my biggest nightmare.

A few things about this story really struck me. For starters, he really didn’t do much prepping before he crossed the country by way of hitchhiking, and during his travels, he really had an impact on the people he met.

I was also absolutely amazed by his ability to remember things; details that helped him survive as long as he did. And, I won’t give anything away, but he didn’t die in stupidity. This guy was smart – and he lived a lot longer than I think most people would have.

Krakauer’s writing – at times reporting – was incredible to read. So much so, I added some of his other books to my reading list. There is a movie based off this book, but I’m not sure I am ready to watch it. The book shook me so much, I don’t know if I could see it… you know?

I’m recommending this book for adventure lovers and anyone who enjoys true stories. The next book I’ll be reading is “Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives” by Gretchen Rubin.

Tonight, I’m heading out to see the premier of “Ready Player One” – a movie based on a book I read last summer. I have been counting down the days for this movie to come out! I hope it’s fantastic and I’ll have a review of it tomorrow!

Podcasts I’ve been listening to, Part IX.

I can’t believe it’s come to a “Part 9” of my podcast recommendations – but here we are. Dream big, folks!

It’s been an entire year since I posted about podcasts and that’s simply because I haven’t been devouring them quite like I used to. Since then, I’ve gotten my own office, with a door, which means I spend more time working in silence, sometimes I listen to music, and sometimes I’m simply listening to new episodes from the podcasts I’ve recommended over the years.

I’ve slowly been finding new podcasts to listen to, and well, that’s why I’m writing today – just in case you’ve been looking for some good content to feed your brain. Here goes…

Making Obama

If you’re missing the kindness, wisdom, and poise from our former President (le sigh), this one’s for you. Created by the same people at WBEZ Chicago who brought us “Making Oprah”, this is “Making Obama” and it documents his story from his application to law school. Here’s the description from NPR:

Former President Barack Obama — along with key advisers, mentors, and rivals — tells the story of his climb from Chicago to the national stage. Season One of Making told the story of how Oprah built a media empire. Now, the story of how Chicago shaped the country’s first African-American president.

Right now there are only six episodes (I’m currently on episode 5), and that might be all we get – “Making Oprah” was only 3 parts, with a few bonus episodes. But nonetheless, each episode is around 1-hour, and is so interesting. Start listening to episodes here.

OC Men

I just started listening to this one after I finished watching season 1 of “The OC” for the first time (read my review here). So, I’m only one episode in, but this is pretty comical. Here’s the podcast’s description:

A podcast following the journey of three jerks watching the mid-2000’s show The O.C. Super-fan JT tries to explain the show to his dumb friends, Russell and Jamie, who know nothing about it.

These guys go pretty deep – some of them are studying film, so they really discuss the actors, the body language, and even camera angles. But of course, they’re still talking about “The OC”, and it’s one episode at a time. From the looks of it, they have one podcast episode per “OC” episode, and it looks like they’re all posted, so you can binge away. Start listening to episodes here.

Drawl

I had “Drawl” on my list of podcasts to listen to for months and am finally getting caught up – I’m so glad, because it’s wonderful! Before I go any further, here’s the description:

Drawl is a weekly podcast about Southern poets by Southern poets. Follow along as we feature poetry performances, conversations with poets, and lots of laughs in between. Hosted by Desireé Dallagiacomo and Donney Rose also known as Donney Rose & Desireé Dallagiacomo. Come thru.

I met Donney and Desiree when I was dabbling into the Baton Rouge poetry scene – and these two are so inspiring. They are both amazing poets and they also do an incredible job working with Baton Rouge youth, helping them to use their voices in positive ways. The podcast features a new guest each episode, and it’s making me want to pick up my poetry pen again! Listen to episodes of “Drawl” here.

Straight Up With Stassi

I love, love, LOVE “Vanderpump Rules” and I’ve had my ups and downs with how I feel about Stassi. She’s fashionable and fun, but is she someone I’d go to for political advice? Maybe not. But, this is a fun podcast, and she’s real about everything she discusses, which I love. You can’t fault her for being true to herself, plus, she features fun guests, friends and family. Here’s the scoop:

Love her or hate her, but you can’t ignore the sassy, quick-witted Stassi Schroeder, star of Bravo’s “Vanderpump Rules.” Never one to hold back on any topic, Stassi is here with a weekly podcast, “Straight Up with Stassi’, a biting and hilarious look at the world and everyone in it, according to the Queen Bee herself.

Listen to episodes here.

BBC: ‘The Rainbow Comes and Goes’.

Hello! It’s Friday and I’m just rolling right on through my reading list. Usually, I use my library reserve list to choose the order in which I read books (when it comes time to pick up, that’s the book I read next), but given my recent loss, I saw this book was on the shelf and decided to go ahead and read it.

I’m talking about “The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son on Life, Love, and Loss” by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt.

Last year, when the accompanying documentary came out (“Nothing Left Unsaid“), I watched it immediately – I also wrote a review on it. I have always admired Anderson Cooper, have watched him for years on CNN, and saw him in-person with Andy Cohen last year.

Before I go any further, here is the official description of the book from Amazon.com:

A touching and intimate correspondence between Anderson Cooper and his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, offering timeless wisdom and a revealing glimpse into their lives

Though Anderson Cooper has always considered himself close to his mother, his intensely busy career as a journalist for CNN and CBS affords him little time to spend with her. After she suffers a brief but serious illness at the age of ninety-one, they resolve to change their relationship by beginning a year-long conversation unlike any they had ever had before. The result is a correspondence of surprising honesty and depth in which they discuss their lives, the things that matter to them, and what they still want to learn about each other.

Both a son’s love letter to his mother and an unconventional mom’s life lessons for her grown son, The Rainbow Comes and Goes offers a rare window into their close relationship and fascinating life stories, including their tragedies and triumphs. In these often humorous and moving exchanges, they share their most private thoughts and the hard-earned truths they’ve learned along the way. In their words their distinctive personalities shine through—Anderson’s journalistic outlook on the world is a sharp contrast to his mother’s idealism and unwavering optimism.

An appealing memoir with inspirational advice, The Rainbow Comes and Goes is a beautiful and affectionate celebration of the universal bond between a parent and a child, and a thoughtful reflection on life, reminding us of the precious insight that remains to be shared, no matter our age.

The documentary and the book are obviously based on the same collection of information, but the book is the collection of emails between Cooper and Vanderbilt, which was really interesting.

It’s funny to me how much we don’t know about our families, or even our parents – or maybe it’s just me. But even someone as famous as Gloria Vanderbilt had a bit of a mysterious past to her son. Here are some quotes I took note of during my reading:

  • “I know now that it’s never too late to change the relationship you have with someone important in your life… all it takes is a willingness to be honest and to shed your old skin, to let go of the long-standing assumptions and slights you still cling to.”
  • “I’ve often thought of loss as a kind of language. Once learned, it’s never forgotten.”
  • “I no longer imagine a diamond at my secret core. Instead, I see shimmering flashes of moonlight on the calm of a midnight sea.”

One topic they didn’t discuss in-depth was the suicide of Anderson’s brother, which Vanderbilt was witness to. It’s talked about extensively in the documentary.

All in all, it was a great read, and inspiring – get to know people you care about! I’d recommend this book to anyone who loves memoirs, and of course, fans of Anderson Cooper and/or Gloria Vanderbilt.

The next book Blanche’s Book Club will be reading is “Into The Wild” by Jon Krakauer.

I hope you all have a great weekend – I have another batch of blogs planned for next week! I think it’s safe to say, I am slowly getting my creativity back. Talk soon!

Watching: ‘The OC’, Season One.

Unfolding the drama that is ‘The OC’, season 1.

That’s right, I have NEVER watched a single episode of “The OC” – until now. Of course, I’d heard it was a good show, but it premiered in 2003, when I was strictly watching “Laguna Beach”.

After discovering that my library has NO copies of “The OC” on DVD, I asked for season 1 for Christmas, got it (thanks, mom!), and starting watching it pretty much immediately. Before I dive into my thoughts, here’s the official description from Amazon.com:

When Ryan Atwood, a tough, guarded, fiercely intelligent 16-year-old plunges headlong into the wealthy, privileged community of Newport Beach, he soon discovers that the ruling families of Orange County are every bit as territorial as the tough crowd with which he ran on the streets of Chino. For Sandy Cohen, the idealistic public defender who takes Ryan in; his wife Kirsten, the linchpin of O.C. society; their awkward adolescent son, Seth; and the beautiful troubled girl next door, Marissa Copper – Ryan’s presence will forever change their lives.

Ok, let’s get into this! And yes, there’s about to be loads of spoilers, because I’m assuming I’m the only person who hadn’t seen this show (I’m always late to the game). The season starts with us meeting Ryan in an interesting way – he’s attempting to steal a car with his brother, they mess it up and end up with the cops.

I was shocked – this is what all the hooplah was about? Some loser trying to steal cars? Ugh. But of course, Sandy Cohen, that public defender with a heart of gold, comes to Ryan’s rescue and offers to take him in (duh, there’s room in the pool house) temporarily.

Of course, a kid like Ryan isn’t immediately going to straighten up at the sight of Spanish-tiled roofs and granite countertops, so his presence in the neighborhood does not go unnoticed. He’s new, rough-around-the-edges, and he can’t seem to go anywhere without punching someone.

But alas, he catches the eyes of the girl next door, Marissa (Mischa Barton), and we’re given the romantic side of all the drama. Of course, Marissa’s not without her problems – cut to her drinking an endless bottle of room-temperature vodka.

As the season goes on (there are 27 episodes in season one), drama unfolds with all of the characters, including Marissa and her family, and the Cohens’ extended family members. Each episode ends on a cliffhanger, which explains why I watched a majority of it within a week, and then kept putting off the final three episodes because I wasn’t ready for it to be over.

Honestly, I didn’t grow up watching shows like this. I wasn’t allowed to watch “90210”, and have only seen a few episodes of “Dawson’s Creek”. “The OC” falls in-line with shows like this, the teen-soap type.

It’s good; not too cheesy, and I like the characters. The one that really won me over was Seth (Adam Brody), who is Sandy’s son, and he quickly befriends Ryan upon arrival. Seth is a nerd and despite his family’s name, he hasn’t been able to make many friends or get a girlfriend, well, ever. But once Ryan shows up and throws Seth into the cool scene, Seth is getting all the attention and I got a big kick watching his personality unfold.

For the record, I wanted so badly for Seth to end up with Anna, and was sad to see her go back to Philly. Summer is funny, but her character got stale for me.

Before I forget, let’s discuss Teresa, Ryan’s ex from Chino. I am not a big fan of her, and when she wound up pregnant in the second-to-last episode of the season I was about to scream! She toys with the idea of getting an abortion, but says she just HAS to have this baby (No, girl, you don’t! Your body, your choice!) because, cable TV.

So, the season ends with us not knowing exactly WHO the father is (cue Maury) and Ryan heading back with her to Chino to help her out. NNAAAAOOOOOO! Obviously, I haven’t watched season two yet (please, no spoilers), but I do not think she will end up having the baby and getting a paternity test. I am mostly thinking she will have a miscarriage and/or her and Ryan will get into a fight, sending him back to Orange County at the start of season two. We’ll see.

Probably my favorite two things about this show are 1. the nostalgia, and 2. the theme song. “The OC” is packed with things of my teenage life – silver flip phones, all things Hollister, and the stereotypical California lifestyle. Having said that, the show seemed rather low-budget to me now, but I’m sure if I’d have watched it in 2003, I would have thought it was very glamorous.

And then there’s the theme song, which is highly important (the theme to “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” is another favorite) and I would be lying if I said I didn’t belt out “CALI-FOR-NNIIIAAAAAAA” every single episode I watched. The soundtrack was also key, and brought me back to lots of bands I listened to in college.

So, there you have it! I haven’t started season two yet, but I promise you, I will! I’d love to hear if you watched this show, and why you liked it, or didn’t like it. In the meantime… “Californiiiiaaaaaaa, here we cooommme!”

BBC: ‘There’s Someone Inside Your House’.

Happy Monday! No, really, I am actually feeling good about this week. Last week, I felt so unmotivated and exhausted; I refuse to blame it on Daylight Savings, but something was definitely off.

But now I’ve had a good weekend, got some rest, had some fun, and I have been reading a TON, so I’ve got so many books from Blanche’s Book Club to review! I have also been thinking a lot about this book club. I know a few of you who are following along and/or using the club as a way to keep up with book recommendations (which is awesome, thank you), but it’s a non-committal club, so I haven’t been offering much else.

Should I? I have always wondered if I should offer book club questions or in-depth reader’s guides, or even recipes that go with the books? If there’s a desire for it, I’ll be happy to beef things up. If there was a sign up + email newsletter, would that be of interest? Just feeling things out here – so if you’re a fan of Blanche’s Book Club, let me know what you’d like to see here.

Anywho, let’s get to my latest read: “There’s Someone Inside Your House” by Stephanie Perkins. Here’s the description from Amazon.com:

It’s been almost a year since Makani Young came to live with her grandmother in landlocked Nebraska, and she’s still adjusting to her new life. And still haunted by her past in Hawaii.

Then, one by one, the students of her small town high school begin to die in a series of gruesome murders, each with increasing and grotesque flair. As the terror grows closer and the hunt intensifies for the killer, Makani will be forced to confront her own dark secrets.
 
Stephanie Perkins, bestselling author of Anna and the French Kiss, returns with a fresh take on the classic teen slasher story that’s fun, quick-witted, and completely impossible to put down. 

Before I get too deep into this, I’ll say that I’m not one for scary stuff. It’s not entirely logical because I do like crime… I loved “CSI”, “Dexter”, and “Killing Fields”, and I devoured the coroner’s reports on Derrick Todd Lee.

But I don’t do scary movies. At all. I can’t even watch the previews on TV. When I was in high school, I loved them. That was during the time of “Scream” and “I Know What You Did Last Summer”, and I saw them all.

Once I moved out on my own, however, things were different. Scary movies weren’t so funny and I realized hey, actually some of this maybe could happen. And now I have timers on my lamps and never leave home without pepper spray.

All of that to say… I’m not entirely sure how this book ended up on my list, but I figured if I’m looking for a distraction, it may as well be murder. And this book DELIVERED.

To my delight, this book was very 90’s horror, and it’s high school setting had me feeling vibes from “The Faculty” SO HARD. Very “We don’t need no education…” – even though this book has absolutely nothing to do with the teachers being alien hosts.

I read this book quickly, but it stuck with me for days. The description of the killer was haunting, enough so to make me a tad frightened any time I entered my apartment at the end of the day. This is a goodie, y’all.

I’m recommending this to horror movie lovers, and anyone who loves a thrill and misses the 90’s. If you’re a seasonal reader, this would be a good one to read in the fall, around Halloween.

The next book Blanche’s Book Club will be reading is, “The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son on Life, Love, and Loss” by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt.

Stage Five: Acceptance.

Part five of a five part series.

Ah, here we are, the final stage: Acceptance. This stage can come across as a giant sigh of relief, but the truth of the matter is, acceptance does not equal joy or mean that life goes back to the way it was.

Instead, it simply means that we are accepting life without our person; and we’re figuring out a way to create a new normal. This may mean that different people fill different roles, or that a daily routine looks a little different.

As I mentioned yesterday, my dad wasn’t a part of my daily life so not much changes in that regard. But I certainly feel different.

When I went to Tennessee for his memorial, a majority of my family was there, and it certainly felt so weird without my dad there. He was always keeping in touch with everyone and it would be strange to have all of us in a room without him. When my friend drove me back to Indiana the next day, things just felt a little colder, a little more empty.

I am still trying to learn a lot about my dad and the life he lived. Of the things I’ve heard, I’m starting to realize just how full of a life he did have, and how many obstacles he overcame in such a short time and did so without hesitation.

My dad wasn’t a man looking for fame or fortune – ultimately, I think he was just trying to find a little bit of happiness, perhaps even a touch of adventure in each day. He loved stories, loved meeting people, and even in the confines of what appears to be a reclusive last few years, he found joy in hobbies: fixing fountain pens, attending garage sales, reading, and playing chess competitively.

I am never going to be okay with my dad being gone. But I know my dad would be okay knowing that we are all going to try and find a way to go on without him here, physically. I hope this brings my family together – they’re pretty cool – and I know he’d like seeing us lean on each other.

My dad was cremated, and I flew my portion (1/7th) of his ashes from Indiana to Texas. Right now, they sit on my bookshelf while I wait to decide what I actually want to do with them. I know I’m scattering some of them, and am lightly planning that now. I know my other family members have their own ideas for how to honor my dad, too.

I have no idea how long a journey like this lasts. In college, a close friend unexpectedly passed away and I felt like my heart was ripped to shreds. I remember pulling over and calling my dad when I got the news.

That was almost 10 years ago, and sometimes I still get choked up about that loss. But I am someone who believes in spirits and signs, and I have a connection to radio waves (I know, it’s super weird but I hear meaningful songs nearly everywhere I go), and I’ve already seen a few signs from my dad.

Even just last night, I went to a dance class and we danced to Demi Lovato and DJ Khalid’s “I Believe”, and the lyrics almost brought me to tears: “Tough times don’t last, but tough people do, As long as you’ve got hope, you’ll find your way.”

I know we’re all going to come out of this on the other side, and I have always believed that we aren’t given anything we can’t handle.

Don’t look back at this time as a time of heartbreak and distress, remember me.
…I don’t want you to cry and weep, I want you to go on, living your life.

-Hanson, “With You In Your Dreams”

Thank you so much for reading my grief series – I know it was not a cheerful read. There will be more on this, I’m sure, as I continue on.

If you knew my dad, and have anything you’d like to share with me, please do not hesitate to email me at: Holly@thebitterlemon.com – I would love to hear from you.