Bossypants

I pretty much want to be like Tina Fey when I grow up. She’s talented, successful, and humble. And she is one of few people on television who can make me laugh so hard that I cry.

Her new book, Bossypants, was a quick and extremely entertaining read. I particularly loved all of the anecdotes from her childhood, as she grew up nearby and references the Philadelphia area often. And honestly, I’d hang onto her every word no matter what she wrote, because whatever she has to say is always undoubtedly hilarious.

While reading in bed one night, I was laughing so hard that I shook the bed and woke Nick up. The stories of Tina’s teenage and college years are wrought with Liz Lemon moments… and, well, I guess her adult years are, too. Jokes and hilarity aside, though, it was refreshing to read that despite being successful and seemingly naturally funny, she honestly never expected or takes for granted any of her success. She worked very hard to become a strong and independent female figure, but still struggles to balance work, marriage and motherhood like anyone else would — the only difference is that she has a way of explaining it all in a way that will make you fall over with laughter.

Basically, if you like to laugh, read this book. The end!

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

It’s been several weeks since I finished reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and I realized I never blogged about it! A few years ago, I never would have picked up a book like this, but after hearing some great reviews from friends and news sources alike, and being a bit more interested in reading non-fiction these days, I decided to give it a shot.

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Henrietta Lacks was an African American mother of four living in Baltimore when she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cervical cancer in 1950; she died at the young age of 30. While she was ill and being treated at Johns Hopkins, tissue was taken from her without her knowledge or consent, and so began the immortality of her cells, nicknamed HeLa. While other cells would die in time, HeLa cells thrived and multiplied, opening up a whole new world for scientists and researchers who were able to use the cells to cure polio, among countless other cures and vaccines. The cells also made way for a billion dollar industry in cell reproduction.

While the book recounts the history of how Henrietta’s cells became the most famous cell line in the history of science, it also follows the story of her children, who mostly lived in poverty and never saw a penny for their mother’s contribution to science.

Science was never a favorite subject of mine, so I had never heard of HeLa or even really fathomed where scientists began (and begin) to find cures and vaccines for diseases. While a few of the super-sciencey sections had me feeling a tad bored/lost, overall I really enjoyed learning about HeLa and Henrietta herself. It’s pretty amazing to think just how far science and civil rights have come in the last 60 years, but there are still a lot of questions and concerns when it comes to tissue ownership and patient rights. Henrietta started the dialogue that continues to evolve today.

I just started reading something quite a bit lighter — Tina Fey’s new autobiography, Bossypants, which is, so far, positively  hilarious.  I’ll be sure to let you all know how it is when I finish reading!

what I wore: four seasons, one closet, endless recipes for personal style

I’m so excited that Jessica Quirk‘s What I Wore book will be out soon! I’ve learned a lot from the style tips she posts daily on her blog, but I still always seem to have a hard time knowing what basics should be in my closet and at-the-ready for whatever may come my way. I look forward to getting my hands on her book when it hits shelves in August. Until then, it’s available for pre-order!

image via whatiworebook.com

White’s Books

You all know that I love my Kindle, but I still adore beautiful real books, too, even if it is just for the covers. I love how many classics are being brought back to life with fresh new cover designs lately, and this bunch from White’s Books (founded by designer David Pearson and publisher Jon Jackson) particularly strikes my fancy. Each cover was designed by a different illustrator and has it’s own unique aesthetic, but the type style and placement tie them together nicely as a series.

images via Creative Review, found via The Naked and The Read

If you like them, too, you can buy the books here.

Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain

In a matter of 26 hours this weekend — with sleep and family time also thrown into the mix — I read Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain by Portia de Rossi in its entirety.

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After seeing her on Oprah last week, I couldn’t help but be intrigued by Portia de Rossi’s story. I knew that she had been very, very thin when she was on Ally McBeal, and I remember being surprised when she came out as a lesbian, but I never knew that such a tumultuous internal battle plagued her for years. I always thought she was so pulled together and glamorous…when in reality, she was just playing the role of a confident actress while she was slowly killing herself as she whittled her way down to 82 lbs. and feared that the truth of her sexuality would ruin her career and her family.

The book mostly chronicles Portia’s journey to rock bottom and is an honest and insightful look into the mind of an anorexic. I have never had an eating disorder, but I think you’d be hard pressed to find a woman who hasn’t, at some point, wanted to lose weight or become more fit — Unbearable Lightness really illustrates how a lifetime of dieting and the pressures of Hollywood (or any career) can slowly and frighteningly warp from a diet into an eating disorder.

Anyone else planning on reading this one?

I Kindle, you Kindle, we all Kindle: sharing books on your Amazon Kindle

[That's four "Kindle"s and the post hasn't even begun!]

When blabbing on and on about my new Kindle, I got some comments and tweets asking about sharing books between Kindles, so I thought I’d delve a little further to answer your questions.

I was unsure about electronic readers from the very beginning because I thought it meant always having to buy books and not being able to share them like I’ve always been apt to do. Plus, I’ve always liked books themselves. When my mom and step-dad gifted me a Kindle, I was still admittedly a little hesitant about it. I had heard that you couldn’t share books between Kindles, but you could share them on Nooks (though there is a time limit on lending books, and you can only lend each title once). It wasn’t until I did a little Googling and found this post that I got really, really excited about my Kindle.

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The short of it: you cannot share or lend books to just any other Kindle user, but you can share an unlimited number of books (for an unlimited amount of time) with up to six Kindles on the same Amazon.com account. For some people this may be a drawback, because they may want to share books with friends without necessarily sharing an Amazon account (where credit card information is stored). If you have family members or other trustworthy friends with Kindles, though, it is an amazing way to share. Case in point: my mom has had her Kindle since last Christmas and has over 20 books already purchased in her library. By adding my Kindle to the same account, I had immediate access to all of her books, and it’s totally legal. Here’s how it works.

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The Help

My new Kindle has definitely awoken the book-lover inside of me. I loved reading when I was younger, but over the years I fell out of the habit of always having a book in rotation, unless I was on vacation. Blame it on the darn internet, always sucking me in and taking up all of my free time…

I’ve been wanting to read more lately, and a Kindle on my mom’s Amazon account (read: 20+ books that she bought for her own Kindle were already loaded for my reading pleasure!) has given me an awesome jump-start. On the plane to Chicago I started reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett, and I quickly got sucked in. I read during any spare moment I could find and I finished it within a week.

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This book was beautifully written and incredibly moving. I didn’t even read the description before I dove in, so I really didn’t know much about the story or what to expect ahead of time, and I think I enjoyed it more as a result (so I won’t give too much away!). Essentially, the setting is Mississippi in the early 60s, a time of turmoil and racial tension as the Civil Rights movement is gaining momentum. The book follows the lives of Aibileen and Minny, two black maids keeping the homes and raising the children of their white employers, as well as Skeeter, a well-off white woman who has just returned home after graduating from college. The three women have more in common than it may seem on the surface, and the story of what they accomplish with the help of one another had me anxiously awaiting each page (and in tears when no more pages remained).

If you haven’t yet read this book — you should! If you have — what did you think?

Simply from Scratch

Many moons ago, I worked various temp jobs over summer and winter breaks from college. One job that I actually returned to a few times (thanks to the fact that they liked me, I guess!) was in the alumnae association office at a local women’s college. It was basic office work — nothing groundbreaking — but I made great money and worked with some really nice people. One of those people was Alicia Bessette, who worked on the college’s alumnae magazine, and was one of the two people I usually spent my lunch hour with. A few years my senior, Alicia was kind, fun, pretty and smart, and she was someone I hoped to be a bit like when I “grew up.”

I hadn’t seen her in years, but a mutual friend of ours (the other lunch buddy!) recently mentioned to me that Alicia had written a book, and that led me to reconnect with her on Facebook. (Oh, Facebook — I love you and hate you all at the same time!) Coincidentally, my new Kindle (birthday present, woot woot!) also arrived last week, so I promptly bought Alicia’s book and dug in.

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I’ll try not to be biased, but I really enjoyed Simply from Scratch, and I think I would feel the same way even if I didn’t know the author personally. It was a fairly light read, but at the same time, it never felt “fluffy,” if that makes sense. The characters are likable, realistic, and developed in a way that really makes the reader connect with who they are and what they’re feeling at the core. The story stays fresh and unpredictable, and it is infused with personality and humor throughout.

The main character is Rose-Ellen, “Zell” for short, a 30-something woman still coping with the loss of her husband who died on a post-Katrina mission to New Orleans a year earlier. Zell’s days often blend into one another, marked only by her work and her outings with Ahab — her dog who “talks to her” in pirate-speak — as she continues to grieve and figure out how to make it through each day. Along the way, she connects with some kind-hearted new friends, reconnects with those from her past, and decides to take on the challenge of entering a nationwide baking contest (after turning her oven on for the first time in over a year). Following her journey of growth and pursuit of happiness is an absolute delight.

This is not just another story of a person dealing with loss; it’s a sweet story about celebrating relationships, new and old, and finding oneself in the process.

Buy Simply from Scratch here, and read Alicia’s great blog, Quest for Kindness, while you’re at it!

Eat, Pray, Love {part 2}

Back in July I wrote about my thoughts on the book Eat, Pray, Love, and promised a follow-up. Since I saw the movie with Julia Roberts last week, I thought it would be a good time to fulfill that promise.

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We established before that I liked the book, but I didn’t love it like some people did. It was just… alright. However (and I know this may be a totally uncool opinion based on many of the reviews I’ve read), I am coming clean and admitting that I honestly enjoyed the movie. Do I feel like it was deep and completely revelatory? Not so much. Were important details left out for the sake of making the story more Hollywood-ized (like the fact that Liz Gilbert was PAID to take this “year off” to find herself in three different countries and write about her journey)? Of course. But I found the scenery to be a feast for the eyes, Julia Roberts enjoyably refreshing in that she seems to be aging naturally and gracefully (unlike much of Hollywood), and the dialogue charming, even if it was contrived. Ultimately, it was a movie, and it just plain entertained me. (Might I also add, this was the first time I ever went to a movie by myself. And it was kind of awesome.)

Now that I have that admission out of the way… while I didn’t love the book, I mentioned a few months ago that there were a few parts that did stand out to me. In addition to relating to the fact that Liz had a hard time grasping the concept of il bel far niente, or “the beauty of doing nothing,” I also couldn’t help but think, “oh my goodness, that’s totally me,” when I read this passage:

When I was nine years old, going on ten, I experienced a true meta-physical crisis. Maybe this seems young for such a thing, but I was always a precocious child. It all happened over the summer between fourth and fifth grade. I was going to be turning ten years old in July, and there was something about the transition from nine to ten — from single digit to double digits — that shocked me into a genuine existential panic, usually reserved for people turning fifty. I remember thinking that life was passing me by so fast. It seemed like only yesterday I was in kindergarten, and there I was about to turn ten. Soon I would be a teenager, then middle-aged, then elderly, then dead. And everyone else was aging in hyperspeed, too. Everybody was going to be dead soon. My parents would die. My friends would die. My cat would die. My older sister was almost in high school already…. Obviously it wouldn’t be long before she was dead. What was the point of all this?

The strangest thing about this crisis was that nothing in particular had spurred it. No friend or relative had died, giving me my first taste of mortality, nor had I read or seen anything particular about death; I hadn’t even read Charlotte’s Web yet. This panic I was feeling at age ten was nothing less than a spontaneous and full-out realization of mortality’s inevitable march….

My sense of helplessness was overwhelming. What I wanted to do was pull some massive emergency brake on the universe, like the brakes I’d see on the subways during our school trip to New York City. I wanted to call a time out, to demand that everybody just STOP until I could understand everything. I suppose this urge to force the entire universe to stop in its tracks until I could get a grip on myself might have been the beginning of what my dear friend Richard from Texas calls my “control issues.” Of course, my efforts and worry were futile. The closer I watched time, the faster it spun, and that summer went by so quickly that it made my head hurt, and at the end of every day I remember thinking, “Another one gone,” and bursting into tears.

Did you get all that?

So, here’s the thing. I have long been a worrier. People who know me now think I’m a worrier, but they have NO IDEA how much I have truly lightened up compared to my younger self. And while I don’t know that it necessarily happened at age nine, I know that at some point in my formative years, I began to feel like time was passing me by and I just. couldn’t. catch up. Instead of living in the moment and taking things day by day, I was constantly fretting about tomorrow, or feeling stressed out about everything I wanted/needed to do but didn’t know how I’d do it all perfectly. While I could have started just doing it all in a mediocre fashion and figuring it out as I went, I was instead spinning my wheels worrying and wasting time not doing any of it at all.

Instead of treasuring the moments I had with loved ones, I’d start to panic that something bad could happen at any given moment and I’d be completely devastated. Thus, actually missing the whole point of savoring precious time that was happening right then, and instead worrying about the moments that could happen sometime.

It was exhausting.

My controlling, can’t-keep-up-with-it-all, everything-has-to-be-perfect tendencies really hindered me in college. My major was extremely competitive, and instead of spending time really working to become a better designer, I spent most of the days leading up to a deadline worrying about coming up with the perfect solution to the problem so I wouldn’t be kicked out of the program. I missed the whole point, and usually ended up with work that got me by but was not a fair representation of what I was really capable of. While I know it has made me who I am today (and I feel like my design skills have improved tenfold), I look back and feel disappointed that my worries and fears held me back so much.

Over the years, I’ve learned to slow down a bit and just take things as they come. I have learned to face my fears, especially in my work — when I feel myself procrastinating a project because I’m afraid that I don’t have the perfect solution, I force myself to sit down and just start doing something to break the ice. More often than not, something decent actually starts to take shape, and I feel a lot less stressed knowing that I’m not going to be staring down a deadline with nothing to show for my time.

I have learned lately, particularly this past year of self-employment, to stop watching the clock when I’m not working — to savor each blissful unscheduled moment I have and not worry so much about the fact that I’m not being “productive.” I mean, if relaxation leads to becoming a more balanced, content person, I’m pretty sure I can convince myself that I’m making pretty good use of my time. There is still room for improvement, but I’m getting there. I’m doing my best to live in the moment, appreciate what I have now, and not worry so much about what could happen tomorrow or when I’ll accomplish everything I need to accomplish. It’ll all happen… eventually!

So… maybe the hype for Liz Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love was a bit much. But it turns out that we do have a few things in common, after all. She’s not perfect, and I’m tired of grasping for perfection as I watch my life pass me by. Her book isn’t the most groundbreaking page-turner to ever hit shelves, but it led to a blockbuster movie nonetheless. And while that movie isn’t the most riveting, critically acclaimed cinematic revelation, it provided one-hundred thirty-three minutes of utter solitude, relaxation and enjoyment in my life that perhaps I wouldn’t have made time for ten years ago.

I think I can live with that.

Eat, Pray, Love {part 1}

I finally read “Eat, Pray, Love” while I was on vacation last week. I enjoyed reading it, but I don’t think it warranted all the hype it received since its release. (Do you?)

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Don’t get me wrong — I definitely understand why many people (women, in particular) identify with Liz through the crisis of her divorce and her path to self-discovery. For the most part, I enjoyed her writing style and her sense of humor (though I was pretty bored through the first half of Book Two/India). And of course, I’ll see the movie with Julia Roberts when it comes out, simply because it’s a chick flick starring Julia Roberts. Duh.

There were a few parts of the book that stood out to me, though. When Liz was in Italy, she learned the expression il bel far niente, which means “the beauty of doing nothing.” In addition to traditionally being known as hard workers, the Italians certainly know how to practice il bel far neinte, and they practice it well. Gilbert writes of this “cherished Italian ideal”:

“The beauty of doing nothing is the goal of all your work, the final accomplishment for which you are most highly congratulated. The more exquisitely and delightfully you can do nothing, the higher your life’s achievement.”

Even though she is immersed in this Italian lifestyle, Gilbert at first has a difficult time letting go and embodying il bel far neinte as effortlessly as those around her do. She chalks it up to the American stereotype of being overstressed and feeling insecure about “whether we have earned our happiness.”

This struck a chord with me because — as anyone who knows me can attest — I constantly feel guilty if I’m not doing something. Instead of allowing myself to relax, I will often feel guilty for not being productive. I have to make a concerted effort to do nothing (isn’t that an oxymoron?). Even on days when I could probably work for a few hours and then relax for a while as a result of what I have accomplished, I will often continue sitting in front of my computer, looking for things to do, just because I feel like I should. There have been a few occasions recently when I have thought to myself, what are you doing? You work for yourself. You don’t “have” to sit at this computer from 9 to 5. If you’re finished what you needed to work on, take a break!

A prime example of my craziness: last month, I scheduled a massage after Nick gave me a gift card to a nearby salon. Earlier that week before my appointment, I tweeted, “Finally scheduled a massage! I can’t wait to relax.” One of my best friends responded, “hahaha — you’re anxious to relax.”

Spot. On.

Story of my life.

It’s something I really have to work on — allowing myself to do nothing without feeling guilty, or without worrying that my to-do list will blow up if I don’t tackle everysingleitem right this minute. If I don’t blog for a few days, I will not lose all of my readers. (Will I??) If I can’t check email for a few hours, my clients won’t think I have fallen off the face of the earth. If I watch tv without multi-tasking, my brain cells will not rot away.

Do you have an easy time relaxing? How do you forget all of your troubles/responsibilities and just… be?

{Part two to come!}