Tag Archives: Jess Witkins

Mixtape Madness: Share Your Song Suggestions

It’s that time again.

Despite everything going on in the world, some things remain. The annual blog share of song suggestions for an old school mixtape gift is one of them.

Mixtape

Since 2004 I’ve made my mom and sister two mixtapes for Christmas, a Phenomenal Woman Mix featuring all female artists (power ballads and dance worthy, feel good tunes) and a Cafe Mix featuring easy listening jams.

For years I’ve asked for your help. Your song suggestions help me find the most diverse mix of artists and songs, as well as some truly awesome music videos, albums, and songs to play on repeat.

Why might this be the most fun year to collab on a mixtape? I don’t about y’all, but music has been one of the biggest mood lifters for me during this pandemic. Life is stressful. Why not dance some of it out, after all no one is watching if you’re really isolating. *thumbs up*

So I hope you’ll comment below and share with me your favorite song suggestions. Who are the artists you’ve discovered this year? What songs are you playing on repeat right now? What’s your fave song ever? The tune that no matter where you are when you hear it, you have to dance?

Tell me your suggestions for the 2020 Phenomenal Women and Cafe Mixes. As a bonus, I’ll draw TWO LUCKY WINNERS from everyone who comments who will win a copy of the mix cd’s for themselves. Winners and playlists announced in January.

To get started, here are a few songs that made the 2019 lists.

Phenomenal Woman Mix

Call on Me ~ Starley

Stay High ~ Brittany Howard

The Storm ~ ZZ Ward

Came Here for Love ~ Sigala & Ella Eyre

Cafe Mix

My Own Fault ~ Manny Walters

The Weary Kind ~ Ryan Bingham

Lost in the Light ~ Bahamas

Your Somebody Else ~ Flora Cash

Send in those song suggestions! Put on a playlist, share your thumbs up’s with me. Or, for more inspiration, here’s the full 2019 and 2018 lists.

Thank you for your suggestions. Thank you for your good energy. Thank you for dancing along with me and helping spread a little joy, which coincidentally, is my mama’s name. We can’t wait to see what you come up with!

Let’s Talk: Racism and Mental Health

How are you, friend? 

Ok, now how are you really? 

The past 2-3 months have been trying for many reasons. A global pandemic, financial insecurity, job loss or change of work routine, and most recently we are fighting literally and mentally to end police brutality and breakdown systems of oppressions and white privilege. That’s a lot to unpack. We’re gonna need more than a bubble bath to battle this one. 

Racism in the United States exists on every level of our society. From where funding in education goes and doesn’t go, to who is more likely to be screened, pulled over, questioned, incarcerated, or killed by authorities, and also in the accessibility and affordability of health care. 

Right now, more than ever, we have a job to do. We (white folx) gotta do the work. We benefit from the systems in place and they were built by us, so we need to be the ones to tear it down and move us forward with equity. A Hmoob friend of mine once shared in an antiracism training something that will always stick with me. He said white people are not allies to people of color. People of color are allies to white people. The systems were built by white people and so white people need to reform them. It cannot be left upon the minority to reform the majority. 

Don’t mistake me, we need to be listening to POC right now and amplify their voices so we can learn about their experiences and what to address, but we can’t place the burden of fixing *waves at a broken country* on them alone. It is not enough to like their posts. We have to do the work too. Every day that it takes. There is no finish line. We have to keep learning and unlearning and learning. 

Scene from a local protest in Wisconsin.

Now, I’ve been involved in social justice work off and on (and I recognize my privilege to step away) for fifteen years. I’ve led an entire week’s worth of diversity events and a peace march to combat an anti-muslim group, I’ve worked to promote nonprofit partnerships that made the store I worked for a safe space for LGBTQ folks to shop and hired the most diverse team as my staff, I’ve been a community health educator that worked in schools and juvenile detention centers tackling the ways we talk to men about consent, I’ve used my power of press to share stories about people of color in my community, and I helped to found our local Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) chapter. I have done the work, but I have also ignored it when it got to be too much. The number one reason I’ve stepped away each time is burnout. 

This work is hard for everyone. And white folx, we have to deal with our own guilt when it comes to tackling it. So what I don’t want to happen to my white friends who are now “fired up, ready to go” (to quote my favorite president), is to see them march and use their social media to share so much that they disappear a month later. 

And what I don’t want to happen to my friends of color who are dealing with their own trauma and being infiltrated and triggered by many of their white friends’ adding some of theirs on top of it, is for them to be disappointed yet again by white folx fizzling out. 

So I think it needs to be said again. There is no finish line. We do the work together, or it doesn’t get done. 

I also know that we need to take care of our mental health for that to happen. 

I am not a licensed therapist, I have no magic solutions. I will be honest with you that I myself admitted to needing counseling just before the virus hit and everything closed. (Oh, the irony of making the difficult decision to seek help and having your options shut down.) 

So, I stepped up my use of the following and found some new resources. These won’t cure your anxiety or depression. I am still battling mine. My hope is that if you are struggling right now, for any reason, they offer you some respite. 

Resources to Help with Mental Health Management

Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn has been leading a live meditation series every weekday at 1pm CST for two months now and continues to offer this global connection. Jon is the founder of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and his livestreams with Wisdom2.0 have shared parables, poetry, and pause as he guides thousands of people around the world. Past meditations can be viewed on youtube. One of the best parts of his livestream is at the very end when all attendees are unmuted and you can hear thank you’s and goodbyes in a multitude of languages. In a country where politics and media has divided us so greatly, this has made me feel connected in a very isolated time. Every country is facing this pandemic, and every country faces racism. 

The Calm app. With resources offering mood check-ins, daily meditations, masterclass series, and sleep stories, I’ve used this app for years. You can use a free version to start, which I did for months before subscribing, and still access many meditations and a few sleep stories. I typically use this for sleep stories or meditations to help me turn off my anxiety brain, but I’ve also used the music selections more while working from home. Some famous sleep storytellers include: Eva Green, Danai Gurira, Lucy Liu, Stephen Fry, LeVar Burton, Laura Dern, and even Matthew McConaughey. 

Additionally in the realm of sound, I’ve discovered Sara Auster, the author of the new book Sound Bath. She has been offering free sound bath sessions via her instagram live every tuesday and thursday, which are then available for 24 hours to listen to, they are about a half hour long. Sound baths are a meditative practice that focuses on breathing and listening to the sounds around you, granting you a moment of pause. Sara uses a mixture of singing bowls, tuning forks, chimes and more and leads listeners in and out of the meditation with breathing exercises. She has also been raising funds for NY area hospitals and food banks throughout the pandemic. 

Phenomenal joy maker, actress, vegan chef, and self-proclaimed “World’s Favorite Mom” (it’s true), Tabitha Brown is someone I started following a couple months ago. Her instagram account is full of messages of love and self care, hilarious vegan cooking demos, picture book reading (which is a form of self care in itself, yes, for adults too), and she does a series of chats on marriage with her husband, Chance, too. Tabitha is walking color therapy in her dress; I LOVE IT. She’s a champion, a light, and a healer in these times. 

Kojo Nnamdi, the host of The Kojo Nnamdi Show, is a Guyanan American journalist and radio interviewer. This is more educational than therapeutic, but his conversations are so dynamic I find I learn a lot and appreciate the questions he asks. If you’re looking for a place to start, I recommend where I did, which is his Kojo for Kids program, in an interview with YA author Jason Reynolds, answering kids’ questions about the protests. This is a resource because it will give you hope. We need hope more than ever.  

Lastly, for sleep, I am secretly in love with ASMR videos and have used them to help me relax and/or fall asleep for about a year. ASMR stands for autonomous sensory meridian response, which occurs in the form of a slight tingling sensation along the crown of the head and can go down one’s back. It’s created by various triggers which ASMRtists provide through whispered talking as well as tapping, brushing, and stirring sounds, mostly, but not always, filmed in a role play style. My three go to ASMRtists are Chynaunique, Latte, and my absolute fave, TingTing. Check out a sample of her ASMR videos below. 

These are the resources I have found particularly helpful during this time period. I am also journaling and reading more, but did not highlight them as they are known, available resources to most. If you have additional resources you’re using, please share in the comments.

I also hope, if you’re able, you’ll pay it forward. Black mental health matters. I have often forgone professional help because I’ve been uninsured or under-insured. Access to therapists in general can be a struggle, but in particular finding ones who are well-trained in antiracism and can best support POC makes a difference too. If you’re looking for ways to support black people and help dismantle systemic issues like accessibility to health care, I hope you’ll join me in donating to one or more of the following: 

The Gathered Fight is an initiative launched by Bree Jenkins, a black woman and licensed marriage and family therapist, who is asking white allies to support black women’s mental health. Show your support by donating to White Women for Black Women Therapy, offering 4-6 sessions to a black woman who needs it and covering outstanding bills for black women patients so they can continue sessions. 

BEAM, or Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective, provides advocacy, teachers, lawyers, therapists, artists, religious leaders and more to black communities. Their nonprofit supports black trans rights, education about toxic masculinity, and numerous mental health initiatives that help provide therapy, wellness, and advocacy coaching. 

Black Mental Health Alliance is a nonprofit that offers in school mental health services and after school programs, workshops and forums for the community, and partnerships with clinicians to provide easier referrals and access for black community members. 

You can learn more and find additional organizations doing this important work by visiting NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness and their list of organizations that support black health and wellness. 

Be well, friends. Your mental health matters. 

 

You Can Dance If You Want To: New Playlists and Giveaway Winners Announced

With 75 song suggestions from y’all, plus the rabbit holes I fell into while checking out new and old artists – so many rabbit holes – I present to you the 2019 Mix Tapes’ songs and artists that made the final cut.

I have a lot of fun checking out all the artists you recommend and I wouldn’t have the diversity of artists and styles without your help. So first and foremost, THANK YOU for creating this project with me.

Here are the 2019 playlists:

Phenomenal Woman Mix

  • Home ~ Ella Eyre
  • Call on Me ~ Starley
  • Oh Heart ~ Tank and the Bangas
  • You Have Been Loved ~ Sia
  • Forever Young ~ Audra Mae and the Forest Rangers
  • Helpless ~ The Regrettes
  • Dream of You ~ Camila Cabello
  • When I Wasn’t Watching ~ Mandy Moore
  • Marry Me ~ Mahalia
  • Stay High ~ Brittany Howard
  • That Would Be Enough ~ Alicia Keyes
  • Sorry ~ Mali-Koa
  • The Storm ~ ZZ Ward
  • American Pie ~ Shea Diamond
  • Evergreen ~ Yebba
  • To Rise You Gotta Fall ~ Nicki Bluhm
  • Crowded Table ~ The Highwomen
  • Came Here for Love ~ Sigala and Ella Eyre
  • Cold War ~ Kiah Victoria
  • Amen ~ Andra Day

Cafe Mix

  • Shine Your Weary Light ~ Cris Jacobs
  • Somewhere in My Heart ~ Aztec Camera
  • My Own Fault ~ Manny Walters
  • Another Story ~ The Head and the Heart
  • The Weary Kind ~ Ryan Bingham
  • Goodbye ~ The Sweeplings
  • Clay Pigeons ~ Blaze Foley
  • If I Go, I’m Goin ~ Gregory Alan Isakov
  • Lost in the Light ~ Bahamas
  • Waiting Here ~ Jake Isaac
  • The Whole of the Moon ~ The Waterboys
  • In a River ~ Rostam
  • Bag of Bones ~ ZZ Ward
  • All on My Mind ~ Anderson East
  • I Am Easy to Find ~ The National
  • You’re Somebody Else ~ Flora Cash
  • Lisbon Love ~ Cameron Douglas
  • The Tale of You and Me ~ Wild Child

Congrats to pals Darla, Mark, Eric, Tara, Peyton, August, Andy, Jessica, and Maggie who all had songs or artists selected for the final lists! And everyone who shared a suggestion gets a chance to win the playlists – TWO lucky winners selected!

*drum roll please*

This year’s winners are Lisa David Olson and Tara Eilers! Thank you for your song suggestions! May these new tunes continue to help you JAM ON!

Let’s Make a Mixtape. Share Your Favorite Song Suggestions.

It’s November, and around here that means…

It’s time to make the annual mixtapes! Since 2004, I’ve compiled two mixtapes as presents for my mum and sis. More like mix cd’s rather, which yes – I know are also becoming obsolete – but that doesn’t make the actual songlisting any less fun.

This is where you come in.

I need YOUR HELP collecting awesome songs that fit the theme for the mixtapes.

The FIRST is a Phenomenal Woman Mix – all female artists, songs you can dance to, but some ballads are great too.

The SECOND is a Cafe Mix – any artist, more mellow vibes, songs you can play while relaxing at home.

Why should you help?

Why not?! Music is the ultimate mood lifter and who couldn’t use a boost of finding new tunes to jam to and new artists to fall in love with. Go down the same rabbit holes as me sifting through song suggestions in the comments. Watch YouTube videos until you forget how to blink. Play the same song over and over until your significant other knocks on the bathroom door and asks “What, exactly, are you doing in there?”

BONUS: TWO lucky commenters will receive copies of the cds after the playlist is compiled! Free music for you! Woohoo!

So, share your song suggestions in the comments below. I can’t wait to listen. I always find new favorites and couldn’t make these awesome compilations without you. I’ll share the final picks and announce the winners in January.

Here’s some ideas from last year to get you started:

Phenomenal Woman Mix

Fallingwater ~ Maggie Rogers

Great One ~ Jessie Reyez

Shadow on the Wall ~ Ruby Amanfu

Yours ~ Ella Henderson

Cafe Mix

Two Blue Eyes ~ Tall Heights

Famous ~ Serena Ryder

Slow Burn ~ Kacey Musgraves

Beyond ~ Leon Bridges

***

For the full 2018 playlist, click here. Also, 2017 was a great songlist, too, if I do say so myself.

What are your recommendations? I’m all ears!
Also, any suggestions on what platform to adapt
these mixes to once cds do go out?
Thanks, friends! Happy listening! Rock on!

Anthony Bourdain Day: What the Chef, Author, and Travel Guide Means to Me

NEW YORK, NY – NOVEMBER 02: Anthony Bourdain visits the Build Series to discuss “Raw Craft” at AOL HQ on November 2, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Pont/WireImage)

Today is #BourdainDay. In honor of their friend on his birthday, chefs Eric Ripert and José Andrés are asking people around the globe to celebrate what Anthony Bourdain meant to them, and to us. Tony brought people together because he shared food – good food, cultural food, the art of preparing food, the act of sitting down with someone to enjoy food.

Like so many other fans around the world, I was heartbroken when I learned of Tony’s death on June 8th last year. I had been a fan from his early days of No Reservations. My husband and I both scour his collection of travel shows in preparation for any trip we take and always try to visit the restaurants, many of them small, family owned businesses, that he recommended. The first one we ever went to was Salumi in Seattle, WA. We got there early because we knew there’d be a line, and there was, one that stretched around the block. There were only two tables inside if I remember right, and you sit European style, sharing space and a meal with others. We ordered our sandwiches full of the shop’s own cured meats, and bought extra meat to take home. It was an exceptional, ordinary, simple meal.

When we visited Madrid, Spain, we hit up a place whose name I can’t remember. I don’t think it was on the outside of the building. It was a hole in the wall kind of place, again maybe five tables inside. We had the best plate of jamón y queso con juevos y papas fritas. It was small, it was simple, it was muy delicioso. We went there twice.

Tony brought joy to the act of eating. He believed there was nothing quite like sitting down to a meal with someone and talking. And he got, if you’ll forgive my pun, to the guts of the matter. I appreciated his willingness to discuss cultural and political topics on his shows. He knew that as a travel guide and host, he was both illuminating parts of the world for people, but also a part of their demise. He struggled with that. He was part of a crew that showed audiences mine fields in Laos, buddhist monk ceremonies in Thailand, and how to shoot a cobra’s heart in Cambodia. The very things that made people want to jet set away to someplace entirely new and different from what they know. And yet, tourism, as much as it can help a place, can break a place as well. I think that’s why showing the late nights, the locals, sometimes the underbelly, was so key to his style of travel. If you want to experience it, you can’t pick only the good parts. To appreciate it, you should learn from it. That kind of respect for the countries he visited is why I loved his shows, and why I was a fan of his.

I’ve also read several of his books and one of his cookbooks, Appetites, which I recommend if you’re a fan, as it’s full of the recipes Tony loved and made for his family. Like his show, his books capture the thrill of travel, the smells of the food, and the essence of the people he meets. He was incredibly observant to be able to portray these things so eloquently. A year ago in July, I hosted my book club and chose Tony’s memoir, Kitchen Confidential, as our book. I knew I loved Tony’s writing, but this book in particular hit a heartstring for me.

Kitchen Confidential is the story of how Tony became a cook, learning the ropes from a hard knock group of immigrant chefs in a tiny sea shack on the east coast. (The Portuguese sausage soup recipe mentioned in the book is in Appetites. I made it for my book club.) The book also follows him as he moves to New York and climbs the kitchen ladder into different roles. There’s a scene I love where he’s begging to be promoted before, he admits in the book, he’s ready. He’s talking to this hulk of a guy who grabs a pan with his bare hand and holds it for a second or two, his skin growing blisters, just to make a point. Until Tony can do that, he’s not ready to be a cook. And Tony’s like, that guy is crazy, but also, that is my goal now.

What I love about Tony, and that book in particular, is that he validates what it’s really like to work in a kitchen. Just as he did on his show, he illustrated the down and dirty parts of working in a hot, cramped kitchen, standing on your feet all day and sweating. My parents owned a restaurant for many years where my dad was the main chef, and reading Tony’s book was like stepping back in time when I would visit my dad at the restaurant. My mom and I would enter through the staff door, which went right into the kitchen, so a wave of heat would greet you. And like Tony talked about there are undocumented individuals or guys with foul mouths working in the kitchen. My dad gave second chances to a lot of people. Many of the guys who gave me piggy back rides or cracked jokes too loud in my dad’s kitchen were men that had served time or were down on their luck. They could be hotheads, but they were a family.

And so I hope that with all the TV shows, and the books, and the recipes left behind, we can stay connected. I hope his daughter finds a space within them and feels at home in the memories they offer, because that’s what he offered me through his book. I hope you enjoy them too. I hope you go out and grab some good food today, as his chef friends have suggested. It doesn’t have to be fancy, in fact, street food was more his style anyway. I’ll be doing that when I finish up work today.

To learn more about Bourdain Day, check out this post in Esquire with chefs Eric Ripert and José Andrés sharing memoirs of their dear friend, Anthony Bourdain.

Happy birthday, Tony.

“I write. I travel. I eat. And I’m hungry for more.” ~ Anthony Bourdain

 

Turn Up the Volume: New Playlists Revealed

vinyl-2722234_1280A new year brings with it new playlists! With over 70 recommendations from you all, these are some of my favorite mix tape songs yet!

While not every song shared can make it onto the mix lists, I enjoyed checking out all the artists and songs you suggested, and I downloaded many to my own library for further listening.

Here are the songs that made it on the 2018 Phenomenal Woman and Cafe Mixes! 

Phenomenal Woman Mix

1. Falling Water ~ Maggie Rogers

2. Pegasi ~ Jesca Hoop

3. Good Thing Gone ~ Elle King

4. Shine On ~ May Erlewine

5. Hearts Beat Loud ~ Keegan DeWitt & Kiersey Clemons

6. Only Love Can Hurt Like This ~ Paloma Faith

7. Don’t Wait ~ Maipei

8. Great One ~ Jessie Reyez

9. Light On ~ Maggie Rogers

10. Dream ~ Bishop Briggs

11. Armor ~ Sara Bareilles

12. Always Remember Us This Way ~ Lady Gaga

13. She’s Got You ~ Rhiannon Giddens

14. Best Years of My Life ~ Pistol Annies

15. Space Cowboy ~ Kasey Musgraves

16. Boy Band Hero ~ Emily Kinney

17. Shadow on the Wall ~ Ruby Amanfu

18. Something American ~ Jade Bird

19. Yours ~ Ella Henderson

20. Velodrome ~ Dessa

 

Cafe Mix

1. Fine ~ Noah Kahan

2. Blue Ridge Mountains ~ Larkin Poe

3. Two Blue Eyes ~ Tall Heights

4. Famous ~ Serena Ryder

5. Heart of Somebody ~ Caroline Spence

6. Kings & Queens ~ Mat Kearney 

7. Slow Burn ~ Kasey Musgraves

8. Us ~ James Bay

9. Hurt Somebody ~ Noah Kahan & Julia Michaels

10. Roll the Bones ~ Shakey Graves

11. Say Love ~ James TW

12. Beyond ~ Leon Bridges

13. If I Say ~ Mumford & Sons

14. Leave a Light On ~ Humbird

15. Telluride ~ The Lone Bellow

16. Stranger ~ Sawyer Fredericks

17. The Gold ~ Manchester Orchestra

18. Everytime I Hear That Song ~ Brandi Carlile

19. Unraveling ~ Frances Cone

20. Your Water ~ Parker Millsap & Sarah Jarosz

***

Now, without further ado, the winners of the mix tapes themselves, and with great gratitude for their suggestions as I used some from each of them, the 2018 mix tape collections go to Darla from She’s a Maineiac and Mark from Swinged Cat

Until next time, keep dancing, friends!
And feel free to share more of your favorite songs below
as the search for this year’s fave tunes begins NOW! 

What’s On Your Playlist? The 2018 Mixtape Kickoff

It is time. You and I are going to make a mixtape.

Ok, technically a mix cd, but still, a mixtape.

Yes, again.

Yes, even though hardly anyone has a device that will play cds nowadays. (It’s for my mother, she has at least two players that I know of.) 

Since 2004 I started making my mom and sister mix cds for Christmas. It’s tradition now. And I rely on YOUR HELP to find new and exciting music to showcase for them.

It’s simple, just tell me what songs or artists you love listening to.

I make two cds: a phenomenal woman mix (highlighting all female artists) and a cafe mix (featuring songs you can chill out and cozy up to while sipping your morning coffee).

Two lucky participants will get copies of the mix cds as a thank you for sharing your song suggestions!

To get started, here are some highlights from the 2017 mixes.

***

Phenomenal Woman Mix

That’s Alright With Me ~ Andreya Triana

Higher ~ The Naked and Famous

Want You Back ~ HAIM

Deeper ~ Ella Eyre

 

Cafe Mix

The Old Churchyard ~ Offa Rex

Let It All Go ~ Birdy and Rhodes

I Followed Fires ~ Matthew and the Atlas

Without You ~ Oh Wonder

***

What’s on your playlist? Share in the comments!
Two random winners selected in the new year! 

For more music filled posts, check out the full 2017 playlists here, plus 20162015 and 2014 if you just wanna dance.

 

Worth Reading? Some of the Most Buzzed About Self Help Books

I’m a sucker for self help books. I admit it. Mostly because I don’t think anyone can read just one and magically fix their life. I think personal growth is something we work on our whole lives, and reading books with new ideas, processes, or tools are helpful reminders to focus our time and energy where we most want to.

So if you’re a self help junkie like myself, or you know someone who is, here are the latest ones I’ve read and recommend.

***

Self Help Books Worth Buzzing About

51yfkzrjbsl-_sx316_bo1204203200_Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day
By Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky 

I checked this book out from the library and admittedly did not pick it up until it was almost due, and there were holds on it, so I couldn’t renew it. The irony of the fact I had to speed read a book about making time is not lost on me.

Still, this book was a great read with easily digestible sections intermixed with drawings and chart examples. The authors come from technology backgrounds at Google and YouTube. While they both enjoy and appreciate technology, they recognized that it was stealing much of their time away from family and other life goals. They offered practical ways to cut back on screen time and refocus your energy.

What I learned: By implementing some of their tactics, I reduced my mindless scrolling on my phone and how I use my social media by 40%. As someone who earned her nickname of “Wi-fi” from her spouse, I know my husband was impressed with this change.

Recommended for: people looking to reduce or better manage screen time in their lives, tech gurus, business minds

51vx2vhbp1l-_sx331_bo1204203200_The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness
By Paula Poundstone

More of an experimental memoir than a self help book, Poundstone’s book chronicles her attempts at getting fit, organized, and learning new skills. Bonus selling point: while listening to the audiobook in the breakroom, one of our library volunteers listened in while washing some toys and both of us were laughing out loud.

Candid about her moderate celebrity status, Poundstone shares real troubles and issues that are identifiable to many. Her self deprecating humor is laugh out loud at moments, and poignant at others.

What I learned: Have a sense of humor about self help. Poundstone takes both martial arts and dance classes and sees strengths and weaknesses in her abilities with both, but that doesn’t prevent her from finding happiness in the trying.

Recommended for: humor fans, humor writers, parents, anyone looking for some motivation and courage to try new experiences/skills

220px-the_power_of_habitThe Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
By Charles Duhigg

This book was one of my favorite reads of the year, and I probably annoyed a lot of people talking about it. Ha!

With examples covering everything from employee culture to drastic lifestyle changes, tragic accidents to court cases, Duhigg explains how habits play a key role in our lives. The book doesn’t view habits as good or bad, but they can certainly play to our successes or vices. And when you understand how habits work, you have more awareness of how to change them.

What I learned: Many of the examples shared were jaw dropping upon breakdown, especially how habits play a role in our marketing culture. Being aware of that, I felt I had more mindfulness around spending habits and company culture. I also understood what elements I needed to play if I wanted to change habits, and I reduced my fast food intake and diet using them.

Recommended for: goal setters, knowledge seekers, marketers, business minds, managers, those in customer service, teachers, coaches, mentors

95887Eat That Frog! 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time
By Brian Tracy

An older read, but still very relevant. Tracy’s book emphasizes starting your day with the tasks that are the largest or most productive, the “frogs”. Many of us fall into productivity traps like checking emails, and we don’t get around to the larger projects we need to address in a timely fashion. Tackling the most crucial to do’s first ensure increased productivity and fulfillment.

What I learned: Eat That Frog is a short read and includes enough tips and tricks to help you re-channel your focus to make it worthwhile. While the tips didn’t seem new or unexpected, I found it to be a good reminder for anyone with procrastination problems, like myself.

Recommended for: procrastinators, office workers, writers, business minds, anyone interested in productivity boosters

41wibflfg2l-_sx323_bo1204203200_The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment
By Eckhart Tolle 

If you’ve wondered what “living in the now” means, this book explains that. Broken into definitions, explanations, examples, and questions and answers, Tolle illustrates the power of the mind to live in the present. He discusses aspects of ego, listening, subconscious, and more.

What I learned: I’ll be honest, I struggled with this read. There were parts that made me think and I did some journaling around this topic. However, this book is not for everyone, and I admittedly wandered while listening because some of the ideas are very intellectual and I am not well practiced in “the now.” But don’t let me stop you, give it a try.

Recommended for: spiritual seekers, meditation lovers, those with an interest in self awareness

91reitnlplGirl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant To Be
By Rachel Hollis

With chapters broken up by the lies Hollis told herself, she goes on to portray how she challenged her own negative thinking and moved past it. Women will find Hollis’ book very identifiable as we all battle “trying to have it all.”

Hollis keeps it real, though. She does not pretend to have all the answers or have everything figured out. She advocates for therapy, faith, and family/friend support that keep her on the right track, and admits she’s still working on things. Written like a great coffee chat with your girlfriend, Hollis is honest, open, and at times very funny.

What I learned: We all spend more time in our own heads than in anyone else’s, so why not make that a pleasant place to be and stop beating yourself up. Get help where you need it, and take control back to follow your dreams.

Recommended for: entrepreneurs, parents, couples, self help book junkies, lifestyle readers, feminists

7b3d72e4d3-baed-465d-b7cc-a413243b3a337dimg400Unfu*k Yourself: Get Out of Your Head and Into Your Life
By Gary John Bishop

Here’s the self help book for people who think they don’t like self help books. With no nonsense callouts, and a dash of humor too, Bishop provides the steps you need to take to, well, unfuck yourself.

Bishop points out the realistic fact that we’re all going to die someday, and you don’t want to get there and discover you have regrets about things you had the power to change. Offering tips to help you through the mental homework, this book asks you to consider both what you’re willing and what you’re unwilling (which can be just as important) to do.

What I learned: This book focuses on the stories we tell ourselves, so part of Bishop’s plan is for us to understand where our own stories come from. By knowing why we think the way do, we can prepare for the struggles that we’ll face in trying to change it, making that change more lasting.

Recommend for: anyone, but especially those facing transitions in their lives

3d-book-cover-image-gbGirl Boner: The Good Girl’s Guide to Sexual Empowerment
By August McLaughlin 

Combining personal tribulations with a wealth of science to back it up, McLaughlin has created a guide for every woman. Finally, a no shame space for discussing sexual health that advocates whatever path works for you.

From the basic to the advanced, this book is written as if you’re talking with your girlfriends, but full of medically accurate information and body positive / sex positive language.

What I learned: Many women are raised to feel shame about their bodies and their sexuality. McLaughlin’s book is a welcome and much needed addition to the bookshelf. And as a former reproductive health advocate, I wish I’d had this book to refer to students and share with the women I encountered in classes.

Recommended for: all persons who identify as female, people with questions about their sexuality, fans of body positivity/sex positivity, feminists, those who work in healthcare/teach sex ed

51v4-xwstlOwn Your Glow: A Soulful Guide to Luminous Living and Crowning the Queen Within
By Latham Thomas

Own Your Glow is a beautiful combination of storytelling, self help guidance, journal prompts, and practices. Song lists and inspiring quotes are also sprinkled in.

Whether it’s overcoming hardships, dealing with change, or finding the courage to pursue your dreams, Thomas writes to the reader as if she’s a personal coach and mentor for each.

What I learned: I loved Thomas’ journal prompts to ponder the lessons more fully. The book is full of self love and self care practices. It is a total confidence boosting read.

Recommended for: women in need of a pep talk, journal writers, mothers, entrepreneurs

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Those are the self help books I’ve read so far this year.
What titles are on your must read list? 

 

 

 

ERMAgawd: Why You Must Take Risks and Find the Funny

Ok, y’all know I love me a good writers conference. After I left a career in corporate sales to be a writer, I made attending writers conferences part of my ongoing education goal. I’ve attended at least one a year since 2012.

IMG_3837Well, this year something magical happened. I GOT INTO THE ERMA BOMBECK WRITERS WORKSHOP!

ERMA BOMBECK, FOLKS! ONE OF THE FOREMOTHERS OF FUNNY!

The Erma conference happens every two years, and the last two times I tried to get in, it sold out. No joke, this conference sells out faster every year, like in four hours or less.

So this year, I marked my calendar, I had my morning off, I was holding my credit card in hand with my laptop and my phone ready to GO!

And then, I flew to Dayton, Ohio and proudly wore my newbie sticker that said “Erma Virgin”. Yes, that is what they gave us. Be still my humor-loving, former Catholic heart. 

I’ve been to some stellar conferences and always left inspired, but there was energy like you can’t imagine at this conference. (In fact, the organizers said this was the highest rated conference to date!) I got my schedule, planned out where I was going to go, and then immediately threw that out the window, tried something new, made great friends, and gave it all my best!

IMG_3880

Oh NBD, just new friends holding up our Liza Donnelly (from The New Yorker) cartoons!

ERMAgawd, here’s why you should go! 

Taking risks leads to opportunities and learning lessons. 

You all know I like to say yes to new experiences, but being the newbie here, I was admittedly nervous.

A fair amount of the workshop focused on stand up comedy with the hilarious Wendy Liebman. Wendy’s been a stand up comedian for over 30 years. She’s performed on Carson, Letterman, Leno, Fallon, Kimmel, and been a finalist on America’s Got Talent.

 

It seemed like everyone was talking about the stand up classes. Everyone I met was trying stand up or working on their bits. But I had no intention of going. I’m not a stand up, so that’s not for me.

You guys all know I went, right? LOL

I had planned what workshops I was going to attend the night before they started, and that was the last time I looked at that list. If the stand up classes were getting all the buzz, then I decided to go and see what I could learn from them. After all, I like working in different formats because it teaches you new things about your writing.

After the first class listening to people tell jokes, my gears just started rolling and I spent that night coming up with some material. So the next day, I got up with a bunch of other brave, risk-taking people and did a minute of stand up. And I got laughs! Good ones! That is a very good feeling. One that I’m interested and willing to try again! All because of a risk.

A risk, and the ever delightful and supportive Wendy Liebman, who just happened to be on the same flight to Chicago as me, and who gave me wonderful feedback and encouragement while sitting at our departure gate despite the fact that it wasn’t even 6am yet. Bless you, you’re so kind and charming, and I’m eternally grateful.

Find the Funny 

The other classes I attended were about finding the funny, whether it’s using it to add heart or get through hard times. Or even just on Twitter.

IMG_3874One of my favorite workshops was with Lauretta Hannon, author of The Cracker Queen. She had a lot of great tips on being comfortable with writing your story, even the dark parts, while being ok with yourself in the process. I can’t wait to read her book after she shared some examples of how to use humor to write about the tough stuff, and also where to let the dark moments speak for themselves, because we know not everything we go through will be funny.

 

Both Lauretta and T. Faye Griffin, another presenter, reiterated that making people laugh is a gift. Some of the best writers out there have the ability to make you feel something or learn something, but do so through humor, and that is a very special skill.

It’s kind of mesmerizing to me how many different ways there are to be funny. You can do stand up, you can tell a story, you can caption a photo, you can come up with a punchy headline, you can tweet just to name a few. If there was one takeaway from this conference, it is that “funny” is all around us, and we have the skill to shape it.

I’m so grateful for this opportunity. The crowd at Erma is one of the most supportive I’ve ever seen, which is appreciated because I took one other risk while I was at the conference and signed up for Pitchapalooza, “the American Idol of books”.

In a room of roughly 100 people, I put my name in a hat that probably had at least 60 of those people’s names in it. Only 12 were chosen and I was one of them. I got to pitch my book for one minute to a panel of judges and get feedback on my pitch.

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I swear I thought the audience would hear my heart beating through the microphone, but I had practiced my pitch beforehand and gave it my all. I didn’t win the contest. (Way to go, Liz Dubelman, who did win! She was the first person to say hi to me at the conference, so I have a soft spot for her as a human being. Thanks!) I got really positive feedback and simple tweaks to improve my pitch, and was even complimented on my performance! And that’s a win in my book!

So there you have it, taking risks and finding the funny is what Erma is all about. I’m so glad I could attend and so grateful to the conference organizers, presenters, the keynotes (btw, I hope I wasn’t the only one who noticed all the female keynotes got standing ovations), and my fellow attendees. I’m still riding the highs and energized by all of you!

30415524_10155635334077989_8409505191957913715_n

What are you currently learning about your writing right now?
What’s inspiring you? 

 

Little Prayers Poetry: An Interview with Susie Meserve

When it comes to choosing the next book to read, I’ll read anything. I love challenging myself to different genres and diverse authors. I think we learn about our world as readers, and writers, through different mediums and kinds of storytelling.

April is National Poetry Month, and I love exploring this genre because it reaches the reader in a way unlike any other written form. Many of my favorite writers began as poets, and there’s something to recognize about the talent and skill it takes to craft a poem that makes you feel something in a short amount of words and with little filler.

007-KLJ-WEB-Susie-Final-3372Susie Meserve is a poet, memoirist and blogger. Her first collection of poems, Little Prayers, was recently published by Blue Light Press and was the winner of the 2018 Blue Light Book Award.

I’ve followed Susie on twitter and her blog for years, so am happy to welcome her over to the Happiness Project to chat about her new book and why poetry matters today.

***

JW: Welcome, Susie! 

Describe Little Prayers in three words. 

SM: Poetry about life.

SM.LittlePrayersFrntCvrWbWhat would you say are the themes in this collection of work? 

Death and rebirth, flight and return, the life of dreams, the fleetingness of time. And maybe, as Michelle Bonczek Evory suggested on my book cover, “the daily mundane.”

Your poems feature detailed captures of moments and objects, how we can find ourselves lost within those fragments. Is that where the title “Little Prayers” comes from, those moments? 

I think so, yes! This book had several other titles before Little Prayers—for a while it was called “Losing Paradise” (and a friend suggested “The Oracle”). When I stepped back and looked at it, though, I realized that while the poems were all very different thematically and structurally, there was this fleeting, temporary quality to almost all of them. I hope that doesn’t mean they’re not memorable, but they do seem to capture somewhat ephemeral snippets of time—a bird flying in the window, waking in the middle of the night, a session doing dishes, a little ruminating on California—in a meditative, quiet sort of way. So then I looked at the poem “Little Prayer” and thought, yeah, that’s my title poem. I just slightly changed it to indicate a multitude of prayers, not just one. I should add: I’m not a religious person, but my poetry chapbook (Finishing Line Press, 2008) is called Faith. I’m not entirely sure why. I think the act of writing poetry feels somewhat spiritual to me. And let’s face it, it requires a lot of faith—in something!—to be a writer in today’s world.

What does writing poetry compared to other forms of writing allow you to do differently? Do you think you can speak your truth, or Truth, more clearly? 

I love that you capitalized Truth, here, like the universal Truth. I don’t know if I believe in that concept, though. I actually think I can speak my own truth more clearly in personal essays like this one  and this one, where I’ve had to be deeply honest to tell the story. In poetry, I can speak multiple truths, in a sense. It’s all very sneaky. Poetry is absolutely my first love, and I think what I love about it is the unexpected. I just begin sometimes, and things surprise me, and then I have a poem (that may or may not be “true”). This can be very freeing—when it’s working.

Your poems include a variety of style and format. How do you decide what is the “right” format for your poem as you’re writing? 

Great question. This book consists of poems from over 15 years of writing, so it represents a lot of different styles as I tried them on over the years. For a while I was really feeling couplets, then these formless, no-stanza, rambling poems, then poems with numbered sections. I think the poem usually tells you what it wants. For me, a poem I want more control over—because it’s got a more intense, precise quality, maybe—will ask for couplets or tercets, whereas one that feels more free and easy—or unwieldy—might not want any stanza breaks at all.

What’s your best piece of advice for someone writing poetry?

I don’t use prompts, really (though I do like the prompts in the book The Practice of Poetry, edited by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell, excellent for beginners). My biggest advice is to READ. I think when you start to be able to identify the kinds of surprises other poets incorporate into their work, you start to incorporate your own. So reading a wide variety of styles and voices is just essential.

Why do you think poetry is important today? 

I think poetry asks us to tap into a different part of our brains than prose does. It demands and requires more intangibility. I remember well the time my mom told me she liked my poems but felt like she didn’t understand them. I told her she didn’t need to, that she should just appreciate what she got out of them. She told me later how freeing that was for her, that me giving her permission not to work too hard took away a lot of her anxiety and allowed her to just sit with the lines and enjoy them. I think that’s one of the things that’s hardest about poetry—we don’t always “get it” in the way we might, say, a novel or a memoir, and maybe that’s why people run away from it. We don’t want to feel stupid or like we’re missing something. We want clarity, answers. Because poetry often raises questions. But I think that’s a really good thing! Poetry can open us up to mystery and abstraction, which is good for our brains and our hearts. And the music of poetry—learning to hear it—is essential for anyone wanting to write or appreciate good writing.

What’s next on your writing desk? 

I’m most excited about a new poetry collection I’m working on. I’m writing a series of poems about infertility, pregnancy, and motherhood. They’re deeply personal, much more raw, and all linked thematically. I’m thinking of it a bit like a memoir in verse. It’s going really well. I’m super inspired, and just hoping it’s, you know, good.

I’m sure it will be! Thanks, Susie! 

***

In honor of National Poetry Month, Susie is giving away a free copy of Little Prayers to two lucky people who signs up for her newsletter before Sunday, May 6th! Sign up at Susie’s website to win!

You can catch up with Susie on Twitter @susiemeserve or on her website, www.susiemeserve.com, where she blogs regularly about writing and being More Than a Mother.

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