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totally top five 2k13: stuff

So, like last year, I found myself with a little collection of miscellaneous things that I loved this year that I wanted to share and so I’m throwing ‘em all together here for your perusing pleasure!

5. iPhone Apps [lift | daily goals | tody]

Though I am legally and technically an adult — and have been for ten years — I am not great at managing my life. I am really forgetful! And there are just days where I struggle to function for a variety of physical and mental reasons that don’t particularly need to expanded upon. On those days in particular, I am grateful for these three apps, but, really, they’re my every day saviors.

I’ve been using Daily Goals for a really long time now and my goal list has gone through a couple of different iterations and each one has been as useful as the last because the app is so clean and simple and functional. The developer has added some extra functions recently that are nice, but not always functional (the streaks don’t seem to work correctly at all for me?) but I don’t need them anyway, so I don’t really care. I track my every day things in here — vitamins, tooth and skin care, and my selfie-a-day — and it’s nice to be able to scroll through the calendar and see if I’ve missed days.

I’ve been using Tody for quite a long time too and I cannot recommend it enough. It’s a cleaning to do list that actually works and allows you to set tasks and how frequently they ought to be done and it’s all really easy and functional. It’s not the prettiest app in the world, but I don’t care because it does exactly what I need it to do without being fussy or overly complicated.

Lift is a relatively new addition to my system and I really love it. It’s got a community aspect to it that I didn’t care about when I started but have actually found to be kind of motivating. It’s surprising how accomplished a thumbs-up can make you feel! It’s a nice looking app with relative ease of use and functionality. I am not fond of the recent update with the 21 step goal system and wish desperately that there was a way to turn it off; I wish you could create new goals/activities instead of only being able to pull from the ones that already exist — sometimes you just need a really specific goal, you know — and I wish they hadn’t taken the ease of just hitting the checkmark away — you’ve got to hit and save and exit now and it’s pretty silly — but I think it’s a great app despite its flaws.

4. Songza [songza.com]

Songza is a lot like Pandora except Songza has the magical Musical Concierge which helps you choose the station you want to jam to by letting you pick the activity you want to soundtrack. You can even choose playlists based on moods, decades, or cultures/communities. It’s got minimal ads on mobile — way fewer than Pandora at the very least — though you do sometimes have to sit through one if you choose a favorite playlist rather than choosing through the concierge (which wouldn’t bother me that much except it’s always the same video ad for Mondavi wines which should just be subtitled ‘Boring White People on a Dock’) and I think the variety is solid. Plus, it seems to get new music really quickly, which I only know because new Beyoncé jamz pop up with regularity.

I work out to Performance Enhancing Pop: Running almost every day and go to bed to Psybient or 3am Airport pretty often. The holiday playlists have also been great — I’m particularly fond of Never-Ending Christmas Hits, Cozy Christmas Classics, and Jazz Christmas. I also love the 80s Slow Dance and 90s One-Hit Wonders. I prefer the app to the desktop site because it’s much more streamlined and functional. The site is kind of a mess, frankly, but they do their job regardless and the great, varied playlists are what really matter.

3. Graze & Ipsy [graze | ipsy]

I love Graze. Like, so much. Like, an insane amount. It’s a little subscription box — we get it every two weeks, since mail here can be dodgy — filled with four delicious, healthy snack servings. It rules. We’ve been getting it almost the entire time we’ve lived in North Dakota and I know it’ll be following us wherever we go next. And they’re working on bulk options so I can fill my pantry with all my favorites like the veggie sushi plate, my thai, dark rocky road, and boston baguettes. It’s rare that I don’t like something from Graze and even then it’s usually just because I’m a fussy weirdo that doesn’t like goji berries. Such a good, cheap, fun thing to get in the mail! Plus, if you use the link up there, you get your first and fifth boxes free!

I initally tried Ipsy way back when it was still called GlamBag and ordered it alongside BirchBox to see which I liked better. I wasn’t impressed enough to keep either, but I thought GlamBag was leagues ahead of BirchBox*, so when I was looking into subscriptions again, I decided to give it a newly-renamed second chance. I loved that first bag back and haven’t been disappointed with one since. The bags are so so cute — November and December were particularly cute! — and you get a really decent selection of items. I love the POP Eyeshadow Trio I got this month, the BH Cosmetics Baked Eyeshadow I got last month, and have loved and learned a lot from what I’ve received thus far. For $10 a month, you can’t ask for a lot more.

2. Bobbles [amazon | waterbobble.com]

We ordered a couple of Bobbles back in March after I saw my friend Cam raving about them and because even though we like the tap water here, it has a little bit of a weird taste. I grew up on Los Angeles municipal water which is either terrible or the best in the country, depending on who you’re talking to, so I either have really high standards or exceedingly low ones. Either way, we thought it couldn’t hurt to run what we drink through a filter. We loved them so much, we bought two more and they’re the only way we drink water now. They’re particularly nice because the water that comes out of our tap is really cold, so we just drink and refill throughout the day. We both like the Bobble Sport better, since the cap stays attached and we don’t have to hunt them down all the time because we’re forgetful like that.

1. Bath & Body Works Three Wick Candles [spiced apple toddy | sweater weather** | champagne toast | leaves | lemon mint leaf]

I talked about these before at great length and since then, my obsession has only gotten worse. I mean, to the point that I just placed an order about twenty minutes ago so that I could snag some of my favorites to stockpile while they’re super cheap (Use TREAT4YOU for $10 off $40 or WINTERWISHES for 20% off!) during holiday clearance. I mean, it’s so bad that I’m going to have to work out some sort of storage system for them as they go in and out of seasonal usage. I feel like some sort of candle-hoarding monster demon? But it’s kind of worth it to be honest. And since the three-wicks go on sale (2 for $22!) pretty regularly, it’s not too terrible an obsession to have.

My personal favorites thus far are linked up above — Spiced Apple Toddy and Champagne Toast are probably my top two though I haven’t actually burned Champagne Toast yet. It’s part of the seasonal line, but it’s so bright and fruity that I’m saving it for spring/summer where I think it’ll be much more suitable. Spiced Apple Toddy is maybe the best smelling Christmas scent I’ve ever smelled. It’s sweet, but not sugary and tart apple heavy, but it’s got a nice spice that makes it feel super holiday appropriate. Sweater Weather and Leaves are both really close in terms of fall scents, but I think Leaves is suited more for late fall because it’s got an apple base, so it feels a little more holiday-ish/pre-Christmas. Sweater Weather is just unbelievable. And I haven’t burned Lemon Mint Leaf yet, but it smells so good in the jar I want to eat it. So, so pretty. I also love Fireside which is masculine and woodsy without smelling like a campfire.

I recommend only spending the cash on the three-wicks, by the way. The minis and the smalls have, in my experience, burned very poorly and had very little impact scent-wise. Go big or, you know, go home without a candle.

Previously: 2K12 | JAMZ | MOVIES | ALBUMS | TV | BOOKS

*: I cannot emphasize how much I genuinely hated BirchBox. I mean, really, hated it. I opened the box, went through what was in it and went, “I spent ten bucks on garbage!” and I am still angry about it.

**: Amazon links just provided for reference because those scents aren’t currently available on the Bath & Body Works website. I don’t actually think you should spend two or three times what they cost in store. I don’t even think you should pay what they cost in store, to be honest. Wait for sales!

totally top five 2k13: books

It’s time to talk about books! Like last year, this was inexplicably difficult to do? I read a decent amount but when it comes time to talk about what I’ve read, I seem to just go totally blank. I stare into the ether, hoping something magical will work it way around my head and I’ll suddenly be really good at talking about books, but it just never happens. We all suffer for it.


5. Grounded by Kate Klise — previously

I read Grounded as part of the Casual-Ass Internet Book Club and Ms. Klise was kind enough to actually email me when she saw the post saying that I’d chosen her book which I thought was just incredibly sweet.

It immediately panicked me, however, because what if she came back to check out my review and I ended up hating the book?! Luckily for me, she’s an incredible writer and Grounded was an absolutely delight. I thought it was really engaging and intriguing and exactly the kind of book I would have absolutely loved when I was a kid. My casual-ass review of it is one of my favorite things I’ve written this year and one of the only times I feel like I’ve ever managed to really convey what I wanted to about a book. It was a joy to read and a joy to write about.

4. Make Lemonade & True Believer & This Full House by Virginia Euwer Wolff

I first heard of/read Virginia Euwer Wolff’s Make Lemonade trilogy way back in 2008 when I was substitute teaching. I always showed up to work with at least two books so that I’d have something to do while my students were, inevitably, watching a video/taking a test/whatever but one fateful day, I’d already read through everything I’d brought with me. Luckily, I was subbing an English class, so there were books all around me and, conveniently, True Believer was sitting right in front of me on the teacher’s desk. I used the last couple periods of the day to read through it and was so, so impressed and moved, even though it’s the middle of a trilogy.

I’d had all three books on my Amazon Wishlist since that fateful afternoon, but finally got the urge to buy them early this year. They were a truly remarkable read. They’re complex and hard and written in free-verse that is at turns agonizing and artful. LaVaughn is one of the strongest characters I’ve ever experienced in fiction and what she is able to learn and overcome is unbelievable. She makes you want to fight for her and alongside her and even more importantly, she makes you want to fight every single one of your own battles until you can’t fight a second longer.

These books are beautifully rendered and filled with engaging characters who are exceptionally well-fleshed and honest. What a painful joy to experience.

3. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews — previously

I really loved Me and Earl and the Dying Girl when I read it in September and it’s held up as one of my favorites for the year. Though I love it largely for its humor, I also think it’s a story with a good heart that touches reality in an honest way, even when it’s hard. I like Greg as a narrator and his good heart carries the story much farther than a different narrator might have. Earl is bombastic and exciting to read about and Rachel is nicely drawn and feels really genuine. I particularly like Greg’s realizations that surround her illness and the unfair — to her — role it takes on for him and Earl. Greg’s self-awareness never seems phony and is really refreshing to see in a young, white, male narrator.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is also unique in that it has the best cover design I’ve seen in forever and also made me laugh out the loudest and most frequently. It was also an unhappy ending that I not only didn’t hate, but admired. And it has one of the very best teacher characters I’ve ever read in a book.

I still think about Greg and his regretful polar bear noises frequently. Such a delight.

2. Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt — previously

I loved Tell the Wolves I’m Home when I read it back in August and I spent a lot of time thinking about it after I finished and even long after I’d already given it a glowing review. It’s a smart and painful book that hurts in all the right places and hits you with the immense weight of youthful awkwardness in ways that you could’ve never even imagined. It’s funny and raw and the language is just transcendent in places.

June is a remarkable narrator with a gift for observation and articulating heartache in ways you’d never think to and she grows and changes and learns from her mistakes right in front of the readers’ eyes. There is so much heart in this and so much complexity about family and siblingship and the struggle to do the right thing for the people you love. It’s exhausting and tearful and wonderful.

I was worried about reading this one — hype is deadly — but I am so, so glad that I did.

1. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell — previously

Eleanor & Park was like a gift from the book gods this year. It was another one that hype tried to drive me away from — that tricky bastard! — and another that I am so, so glad I read anyway.

Eleanor & Park is rich and funny and filled with wonderful characters, thoughtful narration, and great dialogue, which is something I can’t say for most of the books I read this year. Both Eleanor and Park are fantastic narrators who wear their hearts, thoughts, and observations on their sleeves. It is so, so nice to be deep in the heads of characters who have things to say and see the world in ways that are interesting and engaging and fresh.

It does such a great job capturing what it’s like to be young and scared and unsure and enamored of someone new and an even better job of precisely and evocatively encapsulating the thrill and torture of new love. Eleanor & Park is romantic as hell and sexy in a way that feels true and acutely age-appropriate. It is a wonder of a book and I am so glad that 2013 brought it to me.

Honorable Mentions

Previously: 2K12 | JAMZ | MOVIES | ALBUMS | TV

casual-ass winter tales


I want to talk about Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares first because I read it first and because it made me angrier/more annoyed so I probably have more to say about it.

I did not like Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares. I found it readable-ish and compelling-ish just enough to pull me through, but otherwise really kind of lazy and smug? The writing was good enough and there was some nice placemaking but the characters were both pretty bland and well, I wouldn’t normally say cliché because I think it’s a cheap criticism generally, except for how Dash really was and Lily verged real close to it. The entire book somehow managed to bemoan hipsterism while having two leads who would be classified by the general public as being kind of hipstery*. It wasted my time on multiple tirades about how terrible everything about Christmas is — boring! done a million times! who cares! — and made the character that likes Christmas sound like an infant? And even in the end, I don’t understand why these characters end up together/feel that they only do so because they just don’t know each other at all. Dash is a whiny, angsty pain in the ass who hates Christmas fundamentally. Lily is a mollycoddled crybaby optimist who thinks Christmas is the greatest. Neither of them change significantly enough to warrant mention and yet somehow I’m supposed to believe they’ll ever get along because they… saved a baby kind of and got arrested? I just do not get it.

Plus the little things! There is a fundamental misunderstanding of Pixar movies from both Dash and Lily in totally different ways and it ends up reading like neither Levithan nor Cohn has ever actually watched one, which is a shame as it’s some of the best storytelling going on in pop culture right now. Cohn calls Hermione Granger, Hermione Potter which is so egregious on her part and the part of every single person who let it go through to print that I cannot even start talking about.

I’m going to be totally real and say that I did not really enjoy Let It Snow but that after how irritating Dash & Lily was it was a straight-up relief.

I liked Maureen Johnson’s section/story quite a bit. I thought the Flobie stuff was really funny/cute and Jubilee’s a good narrator. She’s funny and a little bit clever and a lot honest, which makes for a nicely entertaining narrative. I thought the rambling about Jubilee being a stripper’s name and the sort of shame-y talk about strippers was weird but then she cut it with a kind of vague “I don’t mind strippers!” and it felt slightly better? But then she spent a lot of time hating cheerleaders (like most of the girls in the book) and it was just such a bummer. It’s the least awful in this section though, so I’ll take that for what it is. I like Stuart and his family — especially his mom, despite her weird trying-to-get-my-son-laid vibe — even though I am so, so deeply creeped out by any teenage girl deciding to go home with a stranger? Like, get back on the train or stay at the Waffle House! Don’t get murdered!

I didn’t enjoy the other two sections even like, 1/10th as much as I like the first and that’s not saying all that much, since I wasn’t that impressed with it either. I thought John Green’s section was really, really gross and relied on so many miserable stereotypes that I don’t even really want to start. I know a lot of people really love John Green and I think that he can tell a good story, but I think that his depictions of women are often super sexist and rely heavily on that tired “I’m not like other girls” trope and his story in this collection was just rife with it. Gross, gross. Lauren Myracle’s section didn’t fare much better and I found almost every character in it unbearable. I also don’t understand the way people treat Addie? I know we all have That Friend who is super self-absorbed and dramatic, but I don’t really feel like Addie is like that? At the very least, we don’t see enough of it in the story. She’s just gone through a break-up and that’s when everyone is at their worst! And everyone around her seems deeply unsympathetic. You can say “She is always like this” as much as you want, but when your readers don’t see it and you’re in the dramatic characters point of view, we just end up thinking other characters are jerks.

Happy Boxing Day! Sorry I hate everything. Kind of. ♥

*: “Hipster” is neither a criticism nor a judgment coming from me. It’s 2013, hipster 1. has almost no meaning whatsoever, and 2. could describe pretty much every person I’ve ever met under the age of 40. I just mean, you know, people who are a little disaffected and cool while pretending they’re not trying. Everyone is trying. It’s okay, guys.

happy holidays!

jolly jingles: 2k13



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