A Book in Review: The One & Only

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

I'm excited to review another book for you this week! I picked up The One & Only at Target for one simple reason — I've read all of Emily Giffin's book. This is her seventh! I started with Something Borrowed and never looked back. I did wait for this one to come out in paperback, though.

The One & Only by Emily Giffin

Emily Giffin writes stories about female friendships and romantic love —and often how the two collide (and sometimes, disaster ensues ;).

In The One & Only, Shea Rigsby is a 30-something living in a fictional Texas football town who's feeling stuck. Stuck in a somewhat dead-end job, in a less-than-stellar relationship, and in the town she was born and raised in. The book opens with a town tragedy, which causes Shea to do some serious re-evaluation. "I couldn't fight the knot of dissatisfaction with the status quo, all the things that had always felt comfortable, good enough." Shea's position is relatable — not unlike the quarter-life crisis many of us are surely experiencing. The big life changes she makes to "shake things up" may not be as relatable — but are certainly interesting.

Shea's best friend, Lucy, seems to have it all together. She's married, has a child, and her father, Coach Carr, is the nearly worshiped head football coach of the fictitious Walker Broncos. Shea's father is somewhat out of the picture, her parents long divorced. One of my favorite parts of the book was witnessing how Shea and Lucy, who are so different,  still have a clicking friendship. Underlying Shea's trials and failures in life and love is the story of the Walker Broncos' season, led by Coach Carr.

I enjoyed following the football season (as a sports fan myself) and the meaningful, relevant commentary on the dark side of the NCAA (as a former NCAA athlete). Shea is a huge football fan, and, knowing some huge football fans who are female it was refreshing to see that represented accurately in literature — not in a gimmicky "she's one of the boys!"way. However, if you're someone who can't get into sports, I might skip this book. It's not a book about sports, but there are so many references that, if you don't know the difference between the Heisman Trophy and the Stanley Cup, it might be difficult to enjoy.*

*I mean that in the nicest way. There are many topics I am clueless about as well.

Without giving too much away, I'll say some of the love story in this book is so unconventional that, at times, it made me uncomfortable. Giffin kind of called my bluff in an interview in the back of the book, saying, "I've always been fascinated by complicated, unconventional relationships. I think, if we're honest, many of us have a rather narrow definition of romantic love and have a tendency to dismiss, or at least feel uncomfortable with anything that falls outside those parameters." I think that's a thought-provoking way to look at it, but I still was not completely satisfied with the book's ending. It left me feeling more questionable than content.

That being said, Giffin knows how to write a page-turner. She's adept at ending chapters with cliff hangers that make you want to keep reading! There were some surprises in this book, but I honestly expected there to be a few more twists and turns along the way. If you've never read Giffin before, I'd recommend starting with Something Borrowed. That one, and Baby Proof are my two favorites.

Have you read all (or some) of Emily Giffin's books? Which is your favorite?

p.s. One thing Giffin does is use characters from her older books in her new books. I've always been able to spot the connections before, but this time, I'm stumped. Supposedly, a male character from Heart of the Matter makes a short appearance in this book, but I can't figure out who. I haven't read HOTM in years, and don't remember it well, but if you know can you please tell me? It's kind of driving me crazy :)

How to Get Same Day Broadway Tickets

Monday, April 27, 2015

For my last job, I was lucky enough to travel to New York City pretty regularly. Once there, I justified buying pricey Broadway tickets since my flight and hotel were covered. However, I soon found tkts discount booths — a way to get same-day discount show tickets, and it was a game changer! I just came back from a long New York City weekend with my twin sister, and we used tkts to see Les Miz! So, I wanted to share my ins-and-outs of tkts! (This is probably obvious to any New Yorker, but as a midwestern girl, I fully realize how many non-New Yorkers exist :)

How it works:
There are 3 locations to get tickets from tkts — Times Square, South Street Seaport, and Downtown Brooklyn. Most have quite a few shows at 50% off!

I recommend downloading the tkts app, which shows what tickets are left, where! I have bought tickets at the tkts in Time Square (under the iconic red steps) during the week, but when Becky and I tried to get tickets on Saturday afternoon, the app told me Times Square was wiped out! So, we went to the South Street Seaport station in lower Manhattan, which had quite the selection, even on a Saturday afternoon. (If you're in the Times Square area, it's just a quick ride on the 1, 2, or 3 train downtown.)

Shows Available:
You likely aren't going to land Aladdin or Lion King tickets (or any new, hit, or new hit show!) from the tkts booth,  so go in with realistic expectations. It's even best to pick your top three shows from their list because availability can change by the time you get to the front of the line. If you're buying with someone else, agree on a top three list!

Mini Reviews:
Phantom, Chicago, and Les Miz are regularly available at the tkts booths, and I've been lucky enough to see them all! A few quick Mini reviews:

The Phantom of the Opera is probably the greatest display of talent I've ever witnessed. This is currently the longest running show on Broadway for good reason. The songs gave me chills, the set was magical, and the story, of course, was moving. The chandelier from the theater is pictured above! (Favorite song: Think of Me)

Chicago is incredibly minimalistic (no costume changes, band on stage, all actors/actresses sit on the side of the stage the whole time). I thought it was good – especially if you're into (all that) jazz music — but it wasn't my favorite. I'm more for a big, flashy show than a simple one, but that's just my preference. (Favorite song: Cell Block Tango)

Les Misérables is beautiful. The music is beautiful, the story is beautiful. The story is also, well, kind of miserable — which shouldn't be a shock. ;) There is lots of violence and death, and also a slew of sex references so I wouldn't take kids to this one (though if I were taking kids to Broadway, I'd probably opt for a Disney show.). I was blown away by the voices of Jean Valjean and Eponine! (Favorite songs: On My Own and, of course, I Dreamed a Dream)

Do you know any genius ways to score Broadway tickets on the cheap? If I could, I'd go to a show every single night I'm in New York :)

p.s. Joanna shared this website for cheap Broadway tickets, but I haven't used it yet! Have you?

Advice on Writing, Vol. 2

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Ernest Hemingway famously said, "There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit at a typewriter and bleed." And, although I highly respect the cat-loving writer, I must say that sometimes, after I've sat at a computer and "bled" for a while, I read my work, and realize it stinks. This is where this week's writer's advice comes in! Brought to you by none other than Cheryl Strayed.

In Tiny Beautiful Things by Strayed*, she shares all kinds of advice on life, love, struggle, and pain, but also the occasional gems on writing, since Strayed is a writer herself! Win-win-win.

*You still haven't read this book, but you read my blog? I'd like you to please stop reading my blog, and spend all the time you could spend reading my blog reading this book ;)

There is a particular chapter that really stuck with me called Transcend.

In it, Strayed writes:

"I teach memoir writing occasionally. I always ask my students to answer two questions about the work they and their peers have written: What happened in this story? and What is this story about? It's a useful way to see what's there. A lot of times, it isn't much. Or rather, it's a bunch of what happened that ends up being about nothing at all. ... For what happened in the story to transcend the limits of personal, it must be driven by the engine of what the story means."

I love those two questions — such a good gauge for substance in writing. Admittedly, in blogging, there isn't a ton of transcendence. What happens in my DIY Bauble Necklace post is I make my own bauble necklace, and that's what it's about. But some of my favorite posts (I'm talking from other people, here) really do seem to transcend. And books? Transcendence is obviously huge. In my English major days, it was like a buzzword around the classroom table. (Like "synergy!" in business meetings.)

But, I've never seen it laid out as simply as Strayed does — and I love it —so I just had to share!

What's your favorite writing tip? :)

New York City Guides

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

I am thrilled to announce Becky and I are flying to New York City on Thursday for the filming of our reality TV show, Joyce & Becky Take New York! Kidding (obviously), but we are flying there for a long weekend — and I can't wait! I haven't been to New York since August (on a work trip), and used to go there pretty regularly for my old job, so I miss the rush of the city.

We're staying at a hotel in lower Manhattan where I stayed quite a bit for work (so I'll know my way around —in theory) but I've been trying to do some preparation  as far as where to eat/what to do. To that end, I've rounded up a list of NYC guides from people who know way more about The Big Apple than I do!

1. I adore A Cup of Jo, and Joanna has some really insightful posts in her NYC Guide. My favorites: 10 Ways to Not Look Like a TouristMy 10 Favorite Shops, & 10 Amazing Ways to Spend an Afternoon. (Becky & I will have to cruise some of those awesome shops! Though we'll probably still look like tourists doing it :)

2. I found The College Prepster's NYC Guide helpful!  I agree with Carly on The Meatball Shop (delicious!) and also the usefulness of Uber in New York. You'd think cabs are everywhere....until it's raining and 4pm (shift change) and you need to get to the airport, stat.

3. The Design Darling Travel Guide lists a lot of cool places in NYC broken down by neighborhood. I also enjoyed her 20 Do-Not-Miss NYC Favorites, Ranked post. Seems like we have lots of brunch spots to choose from! I pinned it for this very reason!

4. Not New York specific, but Hitha on the Go shares a whole bunch of travel tips that are good to browse before a weekend getaway. (My friend Claire swears by the travel steamer — and so does Hitha!)

5. The Glamourai has a series of posts on New York City that are fun to read for inspiration!

6. Travel + Leisure has a brief but useful NYC guide! Especially if you've never gone before.

7. Nomadic Matt is a sweet travel blog written by a guy who's been roaming the world since 2006 — his New York City Guide focuses on traveling on the cheap.


Hope you found these links helpful for planning a future trip to the city that never sleeps :) Dying to know my favorite thing about New York? Baked by Melissa Cupcakes of course!

Anything to add to the must-see must-do must-eat list? I'm all ears!!

Could having less books help you read more?

Friday, April 17, 2015

I was recently walking through the library, searching for a new read, when a title jumped off the shelf. "Ohh, I've been dying to read that!" I thought. Then I realized: I have that book.

Raising the obvious question: Why are you wandering through the library if you have a book at home you're dying to read?

The answer, of course, is even more obvious: I have a ton of books. Many of those fall into the TBR (To Be Read) category. The heaping piles of TBR books do not hinder me from regular trips to the library or bookstore.

This week alone, I bought two new books: The One & Only by Emily Giffin and The Art of Fieldingby Chad Harbach. In my defense, they were both on sale. And both have now joined their many friends in the TBR piles. Quite the eclectic literary party!

So — what's to stop these unread stacks from overthrowing my apartment? It turns out I'm not the first to face this dilemma. Joshua Fields Miliburn in his memoir Everything That Remains has a simple idea he lives out fully: Find joy from pursuing less, rather than from pursuing more. He extends his minimalist approach not only to clothes, gadgets, and kitchen appliances, but also (gasp!) to his burgeoning book collection.

He estimated he had around 2000 books when he started embracing minimalism, and he ruthlessly cut his collection by about 90 percent. Ironically, his decision to purge his books came from a couple quotes from a book, Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. Miliburn writes in his memoir:

"Palahniuk wrote something like, 'Reject the basic assumptions of civilization, especially the importance of material possessions,' and 'The things you own end up owning you. Both quotes kind of woke me up, made me look at the things I was collecting differently, which led me to another powerful line from that same book: 'It's only after we've lost everything that we're free to do anything."

He realized that he was placing a ridiculous amount of value in how impressive his collection of books appeared to others. Don't we all do that sometimes? Maybe we don't judge books by their covers, but we judge people by their book collections.

But,  Miliburn points out, "The real value was in the words —in the act of reading — not in the physical books themselves." And, now that he owns way less books than he did, he claims he reads more than ever before.

Miliburn's ideals mesh well with Marie Kondo's The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering. Kondo isn't necessarily a minimalist, but she is a Japanese cleaning consultant who insists you should only keep items in your home that spark joy in your hearts. She maintains this stance with books — encouraging you only keep books that belong in the Hall of Fame. She goes as far as encouraging you to ditch her book post-reading it if you'd like.

When I consider the combined viewpoints of Miliburn and Kondo, I look at my precious TBR piles a little less lovingly. Are these books really adding value? Or, as Kondo puts it, do these books really spark joy?

Inspired by the notion of more reading, more joy, and less dusting, I've started new TBD (To Be Donated) piles. Sure, some books moved straight from TBR to TBD, but I think that's okay. I like to think they'll find someone who will read them, and spark joy for a reader somewhere.

Have you gone through a huge book purge recently? Any tips?

5 Favorite Madison Coffee Houses

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Jack London wisely said, "You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club." I couldn't agree more. When I find myself uninspired, I search for inspirational spaces to get my write on. Bonus points if they have scones. And lots of coffee. To that end, I've rounded up five of my favorite coffee houses in or near Madison, Wisconsin to share with you all.

1. Colectivo Coffee

The beautiful location that overlooks the Capital is within walking distance from my home, plus, they just opened new digs on Monroe Street! Both have open-air spaces (perfect for when it isn't freezing). I love their granola for breakfast which comes with fresh orange slices. The general feel of their coffee shops is addicting — they're always buzzing with productivity! The only problem is it's occasionally hard to find a table (I swear even at 2 p.m. on a Wednesday it feels full) so you just have to get used to sharing their long tables with others.

2. The Froth House

This cozy little shop is on Allen Street, right off of Regent. I like the living room feel and their friendly staff. They also make a delicious grown-up grilled cheese sandwich called the Formaggio.*  I will warn you, if you go there around noon on weekdays the place will be overrun by high schoolers on their lunch break. But,  it's not all bad. I got the chance to listen to a discussion about who's going to prom with whom, another about how she didn't text him back, and watch a couple with identical body piercings cuddle on the couch. Thank you, the Froth House, for making me incredibly thankful I'm no longer in high school. ;)

*Note: I'm somewhat of a grown-up grilled-cheese addict.

3. Barriques

If there is one differentiating factor of Barriques, it's the 99 bottles of wine on the walls,  making it a great place for evening meet ups. But, it's also a good place for early mornings since  I'm obsessed with their scones (the maple one, pictured below, is my favorite). And they make a mean chicken BBQ wrap, too. There are six locations but I've been to four —West Wash, McKee, Monroe, and Park —and enjoyed them all!

4. Mother Fool's Coffee House

This Willy Street gem has all of the Willy Street vibes — including a cash-only policy, so don't forget your straight cash, homie. The interior is like your most hipster friend's living room. I love it. Good food + good coffee + good vibes = perfect spot to write/chill.

5. EVP Coffee

Even though I am writing a post about coffee shops, I'm not much of an actual coffee snob. I'm all about that ambience. My sophisticated stance on all coffee is similar to my sophisticated stance on all wines: Tastes good to me!  That being said, EVP's Coffee is delicious. Proof: I usually get a vanilla latte, but at EVP I order just a latte because the coffee itself is so good! They are a local, women-owned (!) business with 5 locations — but I've only been to the one on Midvale Blvd, EVP Sequoya. I love the location because it's RIGHT next to the beautiful Sequoya library. A great way I shake off the infamous "writer's block" (which may or may not exist) is by walking around the library. Even better if I have a delicious cup of joe in hand from EVP.

Their decor is bright and modern, too.


I'm sure there are many hidden gem coffee shops I'm missing which I would love to try — I'm all ears!  Have a wonderful (albeit potentially heavily caffeinated) day!

p.s. My love of coffee and my love of watching a certain netflix series collide in this cute etsy mug.

Read This: Carry on, Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton

Monday, April 13, 2015

There are few books I ever re-read. My usual stance is I know the story, I know what happened, let me read something else. But THIS book? I've already re-read passages, and I can see myself referring to it for, you know, ever:

For those of you who haven't heard of Glennon Doyle Melton, I recommend watching her TED talk first. It's one of my favorite TED talks of all time (and I'm a bit of a TED addict.) She's a recovering bulimic, alcoholic, and drug user who now has three kids, a popular blogan inspiring non-profit, and is full of love. But she isn't perfect. Nothing about her book is perfect. Her book is both beautiful and brutal, just like life. 

The Chicago Tribune calls Melton "the anti-Instagram" and I couldn't agree. 

You know how Instagram is often perfect slices of people's lives, filtered excessively to crop out the sadness? Instagram can make you want to scream "I'll have what she's having!" even though you know it's probably fake. Melton is the antidote to Instagram; Melton is a truth teller. She shares hard, brutal slices of her truth. She tells her whole story. Even parts where you raise your eyebrows and think "Did she really just say that? I totally would've left that out." But those moments, combined, are what make her book so extraordinarily relatable.

"Life is a quest to find an unfindable thing. This is the problem. Life is a bit of a set up." is how Melton convincingly begins chapter three. I couldn't help myself from tweeting that quote, and had to restrain myself from breaking the book down into 140 character bits and tweeting the whole thing. It's so refreshing to read such an honest account of life that I just wanted to share it! I am not a recovering bulimic, alcoholic, or drug user. And I am not a parent (except to my beloved cat). But, of course , I have struggles. I've struggled with depression in the past, and, somedays, the world just seems like a terrible place to be in, right? We've all been there/are there.

Carry On, Warrior is a book of feeling, a book of healing. Melton opens her whole world to you, and, by doing so, makes you feel better about your own. The resounding, uplifting message is we are all in this together.

One of my favorite chapters, Namaste, relates Mother Teresa's work in Calcutta to our lives today. She writes that when Mother Teresa wanted to see God, "...she didn't look up and away; she looked into the eyes of the person sitting next to her. Which is harder. Better."

And, even if going to remote parts of the world is not your jam, "I know that Calcutta is everywhere. All of us live in some sort of poverty. Poverty of hope, poverty of peace, poverty of love. We are all poor in one way or another. Mama T. used to call material poverty the easiest poverty to alleviate."

Namaste means "the divine light in me sees and honors the divine light in you," after all. Sometimes we get so caught up in yoga goals we forget all about that.

Melton is a Christian, and this book has a Christian lean (she often references the Bible). I wanted to "warn" you in case Bible mentions totally cramp your style. But then I also wanted to also encourage you, especially if Bible references make you squirm, to give this book a chance. Maybe you were raised in terribly oppressive Christian setting or feel constantly excluded from the Church due to your sexual orientation or personal beliefs. Melton's Christian perspective is so refreshing and so inclusive that, if you're going to give any Christian book a chance, I encourage you to make it this one. Because her book isn't one of exclusion, it's one of love.

She's also hilarious.

As you can tell, I can't recommend this book highly enough! Anyone else read an inspiring book lately that you want to just shout from the mountain tops? Would love to hear as I'm officially in between books! Hope your weeks are off to a good start! xx

p.s. On her blog, she recently wrote a beautiful piece in support of marriage equality where she wrote "I support equal rights for my gay neighbors not even though I’m a Christian, but BECAUSE I’m a Christian." I recommend reading it if you'd like a sample of her writing before reading the book. (Though that essay itself is not in the book.) (You can also read her entire blog, which I recommend :)

p.p.s. The link to the book is an amazon affiliate link, meaning, if you buy it through the link I make a small commission, but the price is unchanged for you. You can also borrow my copy for free if you want —let me know!

p.p.p.s. (Oh my gosh am I in 4th grade?) Thank you, Stephen, for buying me this book for our 5 year anniversary! :)

On forcing yourself to work out: 30 minutes a day

Thursday, April 9, 2015

I played college basketball, so, for years, working out was not an option. It was mandatory. Yes, sometimes running hill sprints at the break of day and lifting at 5:45 am and running 20 suicides in 20 minutes was incredibly obnoxious/challenging/made me actually WISH I was injured (sad, but true), but I had this by-product that of course I didn't appreciate at the time: I was, by default, in shape.* I also was essentially always dressed like a dude so you couldn't really tell. Here's an embarrassing b-ball pic for funsies:

Look at all the fans!! no but seriously, there were a few on the side bleachers. I think. image here
*You don't know what you've got til it's gone, amiright?

But, I graduated. Womp womp. And life as I knew it (dramatically) changed. I started working 9-to-5 (but more like 7-to-6) and working out was suddenly anything but mandatory. Business travel kicked in and the exercise kicked out.

Who has time to hit the gym when there are flights to catch? Do I even want to pay for a gym membership since I'm traveling constantly? Am I packing my gym shoes for any particular reason? Do I really have time for yoga?

But, now that I'm not traveling for work anymore, here's the thing: I'm not working long hours right now, and I still have trouble motivating myself to work out.

So, I stumbled upon this youtube video and wanted to share. The message has really stuck with me so I highly recommend watching it!

Don't feel like watching it? I'm going to spoil the whole thing below, anyway.

In short: Exercise. For 30 minutes a day. He argues in the video (with all kinds of studies) that the best thing you can do for your health is spend half an hour daily being active.

He closes it with this question: Can you limit your sitting and sleeping to just 23 and a half hours a day?


30 minutes.

And you don't have to be training for a triathlon; you can walk.

What do you think? Can you do 30 minutes a day? I'm trying to!

p.s. Any other motivational exercise tips? Please share! I'm always on the lookout for ways to live healthier that do not include cutting candy. :)

Mom's Meals: Beef Stroganoff

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Mom's Meals is a series where I share recipes from my kitchen-wizard mother that I have managed to replicate, even though I once started a fire while boiling water.


When I was a child, I detested mushrooms and onions. Yuck! Now, I'm sharing a recipe where onions and mushrooms are key players.

Proof, ladies and gentlemen, that people can change. I also used to be extremely talkative, and even teeter near the edge of annoying, can you believe it?

Without further ado, the meal that Stephen claims is way better than the Noodles & Company rendition.*

*A huge compliment for someone who would happily eat Noodles & Co. daily.

What you need:

1 lb. beef (I use boneless rib steak)
2 T olive oil
1 can (14 oz.) beef broth
4 T butter (half a stick)
1 large onion
3/4 lb mushrooms
~1 c. sour cream
Egg noodles (to serve with)

What you do:
Slice beef into strips. (I do bite-size little strips.)

Put flour in small bowl and press beef in flour to coat.

Cook coated beef until brown in 2 T olive oil in frying pan.

Reduce heat to low, pour can of beef broth into frying pan, cover, and simmer until meat is tender. Remove cover and stir occasionally.

Rinse mushrooms and slice, if necessary. Dice onion.

In small skillet, saute onion and sliced mushrooms in 4 T butter.

Stir this into the beef a little while before serving, and leave cover off.

Stir in sour cream just a few minutes before serving and heat.

Serve immediately over egg noodles.

It's a delicious, hearty meal. I recommend buying pre-sliced mushrooms (because duh) and dating someone who is good at slicing onions (I literally bawl when I cut onions). 


Advice on Writing, Vol. 1

Thursday, April 2, 2015

I shared that I left my job as a project manager to pursue a career in writing. So I thought it would be fun to start a little series where I share valuable writing advice I learn along the way!

Of course, saying I'm "pursuing a career in writing" can be pretty vague, when you think about it. What exactly am I writing? Magazine articles? Songs? Books? Blog posts? Greeting Cards? Tweets? The options seem endless, as long as you don't think too much about cash flow ;)

Well, in addition to blogging, I've been doing magazine freelance and fiction (that's all I'll say for now :)*

Other pervasive advice from the conference: drink coffee! {mugs at anthropology}
*Since I'm so rarely enigmatic, I revel in mystery when possible.

On behalf of my fiction, I attended the UW Writers' Institute last week at the Madison Concourse hotel and really enjoyed the experience. The keynote speaker on Friday, John Dufresne shared with us advice he tells his students:

"Understand that if you didn't write today, it is because you chose not to."

So simple, but such a powerful statement. It's all about taking accountability for what we do and—sometimes more importantly—what we don't do. Writers have the pesky "writer's block" excuse that pops up every once in a while and this guy was anti-writer's block and pro-hard work. He also said, "Writers block is when your imaginary characters refuse to talk to you" which made me laugh.

I think this advice extends far beyond writing. You can essentially substitute "write" with whatever goal you are working toward. E.g. If you're training for a marathon, replace "write" with "run." If you want to be a famous opera singer, replace "write" with "sing." You obviously get the idea. ;)

His advice, of course, reminds me of a favorite quote:

Happy Thursday, friends! And happy writing, singing, running —whatever you'd like to do :)

p.s. If you are feeling extra nerdy after reading this post: the cutest TED lesson ever on appropriate comma usage.

p.p.s. ICYMI: my family taking Harry Potter world by storm.