Book Review: Mrs. Poe

Book Review: Mrs. Poe

“I find that the thoughts spoken between the lines are the most important parts of a poem or story.”

Welcome to my latest book review. Today I will be talking about a novel called Mrs. Poe, by Lynn Cullen. As always, I like to recommend another book review for you all to read in case you want to get another opinion on the novel. Book Riot wrote a good one, which you can check out here. But first, read on for my take on the book below.

One of the quotes on the cover reads “Vivid…Atmospheric….Don’t miss it.” I think those first two words are the perfect description of the book. Lynn Cullen does a great job of writing in a way that lets us imagine the places and people in the story, as if we are there ourselves. Set in New York City in the 1840’s, there are plenty of beautiful dresses and lavish dinner parties filling the pages, which I think would make this story into a great play or movie.

Mrs. Poe follows the life of Frances Osgood, a poet trying to make a name for herself, and her forbidden romance with one Edgar Allen Poe (maybe you’ve heard of him?) Throughout the novel you hear about other well-known writers from that era, as well as fun facts about them which was interesting to read. I felt like I learned a lot while still enjoying the story, which is difficult to accomplish in a work of fiction.

While it took some time to pick up, the plot definitely thickens towards the middle of the book when suspense and intrigue starts to build due to Poe’s wife, who appears to have caught on to the affair between Poe and Osgood. Without giving anything away, small details and coincidences start to appear which makes the reader wonder if Mrs. Poe is plotting something terrible, or just a crazy, jealous wife.

Lynn Cullen clearly did a lot of research to make sure everything that happens in this fictional story could have happened in real life, even if we have no way of knowing if any of it actually did. She combed through all of the letters and poems written by Poe and Osgood, and about them, to get inspiration and find historical facts she could use for her book. I think all of this hard work paid off, as the story feels extremely realistic while still giving us the excitement that is often lacking in true stories.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys period pieces, as well as stories that offer a lot of detail and descriptions with which to let your imagination run wild. I would also recommend it to any literary enthusiasts out there, as you will likely learn a thing or two about some of your favorite writers from that time.

Thanks for reading! Let me know in the comments if you’ve read this book, or what the last book you read was. I am always on the lookout for something to add to my must-read list!

 

 

 

Blogger Interview: Stacey Lane

Blogger Interview: Stacey Lane

I’m back with another interview, this time with a fellow Austin local who I actually got to meet with in person! Meet Stacey Lane, a card maker, blogger and YouTuber with dreams of taking her business full-time.

StaceyHeadshot
Tell me a little bit about yourself. Where did you grow up, what did you do in school, how did you get into card making?

I grew up in Northern Vermont, but I’ve lived all over the United States. We just moved to Austin from the Seattle area and are loving all the sunshine so far!

It took me a long time to decide what I wanted to do in college. I landed on graphic and web design, since I’d had an interest in that when I was younger. Some time after I graduated with a 2 year degree, I took a job with Microsoft and worked on the X-Box One console for a year. It was pretty rad.

I got into card making right around the time my contract with Microsoft was coming to a close. At the time, Microsoft required their contractors to take a 100 day unpaid leave of absence. I needed something to do to occupy my time, so I decided one day that I just wanted to make my own Christmas cards. The rest was history.

Tell me about Stampin’ Up and how you got involved as a demonstrator.

Stampin’ Up is brilliant. Before I found Stampin’ Up, my shopping trips would be tedious because I’d always try to find paper that matched a ribbon I liked. And then I wanted some sort of accessory to match that. And, of course, it had to match my ink. Colors are very hard to match! One of my favorite things about Stampin’ Up is that everything matches. It’s taken the stress out of designing, which is wonderful.

I knew that I needed a way to get a break on the costs because craft supplies add up quickly. Enter the demonstrator opportunity. Demonstrators never pay full price for their crafting supplies! I really found success when I started to blog my creations. Before I knew it, I wasn’t spending any money on my craft supplies anymore!

My hobby now pays for itself entirely, which is amazing, and even earns me some extra cash on the side. When the time is right, I plan to take my business full time.

ScrapbookStacey
When and why did you decide to start your own blog and YouTube channel?

I started my blog a couple of months after I joined Stampin’ Up. I decided I needed my blog for a couple of reasons. First, and most importantly, I wanted to grow my email list. As a business owner, your email list is the most important asset you have.

The second reason I started my blog was to document all the cool stuff I was making. I wanted a place I could come back to for inspiration and say “yeah, I remember when I made that card! What a great layout! Maybe I should recreate that card with some new products.”

My YouTube channel was birthed from my love of video production. In high school, I took multiple video classes and always wanted to do something with it. My love for crafting gave me something that I could teach, and now that’s part of how I use my YouTube channel.

In a nutshell, why should someone read your blog or watch your YouTube videos?

I make videos and blog to encourage and educate others about how easy it can be to get into card making and scrapbooking. So many times people are intimidated because they believe you need to be really artistic to make something beautiful. But it’s not true! What makes something beautiful is the thought that was put into it. When I make things, I make them from the heart and I teach you to make them from the heart. And that’s what my blog and YouTube channel is all about.

I also offer classes in the Hutto/Pflugerville area for those of you who want to get your hands inky!

What are you most proud of that you have accomplished so far?

Great questions! A couple of things come to mind. First, I’m proud to have been chosen as a display stamper for Stampin’ Up’s semi-annual demonstrator-only event called OnStage. It’s a high honor and one that not many people get to do and I’m so blessed to have been chosen twice in the last year.

Another thing I’ve accomplished this year is that I held a seminar on how to blog. I turned my love of WordPress into an opportunity to teach non-technical people how to begin blogging as well as how to develop a content and marketing plan. It was a humbling experience but also taught me a lot about who I am. I’m currently developing a curriculum for my website to help teach people how easy it is to begin blogging!

StaceyBirthdayCard
What are you still hoping to accomplish?

I have recently applied to the Artisan Design Team, which is similar to a display stamper, except it’s a heavier commitment. Artisan Design Team members are sent a free box of products every month and agree to blog about those products. It’s a 12 month commitment and I’ve wanted to apply for years and never had the courage to do it until this year!

Another goal that I want to accomplish is to earn an Incentive Trip, which is an all expenses paid vacation. I have friends across the US that have earned this trip multiple times and I’m so very close to being able to earn it for myself.

But my ultimate goal would be to leave my day job and work my business full time.

Growing up, were you always artistic? What were some of your hobbies in high school and college?

I think, in a way, I was. I remember doing all sorts of crafts as a youngster. I did cross stitch, latch hook rugs, glass etching. I remember one year my mother and I made decorative oil infused bottles for everyone we knew.

My biggest hobby in high school was web design. I created websites for my favorite bands. I created a website that had all my friends names on it (of course, that one never made it live because I knew better than to put personal info on the Internet).

In college, I discovered scrapbooking. That’s where my love of paper crafting began. But, being a college student, I didn’t have the funds to really sustain my hobby for long. Fun fact: I remember thinking that rubber stamps were awesome, but some of them were like $20 each! I thought to myself “well there’s one hobby I’ll never get into.” Never say never….

GratefulCard2Stacey
What are some of the things you are most grateful for in your life right now?

There are so many! For starters, my husband. This man has sacrificed his career to raise our children and I’m so grateful that he has taken the time to do that. We are first time home owners and I’m also grateful for that. Owning your own home is an experience everyone should go through. It’s so liberating!

I’m also grateful for Stampin’ Up. I have met so many wonderful people through Stampin’ Up, and forged many friendships with people that I otherwise wouldn’t have met. I’m so grateful for each and every one of them!

Before I started this crazy adventure, I really struggled with self doubt. My upline, Jennifer, kept telling me that I had a talent and could turn my love of paper crafting into a business. For months, I totally didn’t believe her. And then, all of a sudden, I realized that she was right! She believed in me before I believed in myself. I’ve learned so much from her.

Where and who do you draw inspiration from?

My favorite sources of inspiration are the ones that make me feel like I can take on the world. A few months ago, I subscribed to The Middle Finger Project, and the emails that Ash sends are incredibly amazing. They really make you think about who you are and who you can become by shifting the way you think of yourself.

I also draw my inspiration from YouTube and Pinterest, just like a lot of crafty people! Sometimes I’ll just put YouTube on and leave it for hours. It’ll inevitably end up on something like clay modeling, which is really neat, and I’ll be glued to my screen soaking up all sorts of information about a craft that I don’t really know how to do.

What advice would you give someone who wants to start a blog?

Start with WordPress, but not the free version. Purchase hosting and set up your blog on your own. My top recommendation for WordPress hosting is WP Engine, located right here in Austin. You really get what you pay for. And, for the sake of transparency, I do work for WP Engine…

My second piece of advice is to immediately start building your email list. Create an email editorial calendar and send emails at least weekly to your customer base. You may think they don’t want to hear from you that frequently, but here’s the thing: they sign up for your emails for a reason!

What is one thing most people don’t know about you?

I can remember things really easily, especially numbers. For example, I remember both my current and very first credit card number from over 15 years ago. All 16 digits, the security code and expiration dates… and I can rattle them off in a moments notice.

But it’s not only numbers! I can recite all 50 states in alphabetic order, starting with Alabama and ending with Wyoming. And, speaking of alphabet, I can say the alphabet backwards in 4 seconds. Because why the heck not?

FlowerCardStacey

I hope you enjoyed this interview with Stacey! Be sure to check out her blog and YouTube channel, and if you are a fellow Texan, sign up for a class or two. You never know, you could become the next Stampin’ Up demonstrator! You can also find Stacey on FacebookInstagram, and Pinterest.

Table Talk Tuesday With Jenny (Glam TravelGram)

Table Talk Tuesday With Jenny (Glam TravelGram)

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of chatting with Jenny from the awesome travel blog Glam TravelGram over Skype. Jenny is such a sincere person, and her passion for travel and writing really inspired me to put even more work into my blog. I know you all will get just as much out of reading her responses to my questions, as I did with talking to her.

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Why did you decide to start a travel blog?

I have a passion for travel, and it’s something I get to do a lot in my career [as a conference planner]. Throughout my career I’ve seen the beauty of travel, and with this passion I wanted to do more. I was always posting on social media and writing memoirs about my experiences. I found myself almost over-posting on social media, but my friends liked it, and they were always asking me for advice.

One night I was talking to my brother on the phone, and I said I had been thinking of starting a blog for a while, but I wasn’t sure if I should start it because there are so many travel bloggers out there, and I didn’t know if I could succeed. He said he thought I had the talent for it, and I should try it and just see how it goes. That same night, I started my blog!

I like what you said under ‘Why I Travel’ in the About section of your blog: “Every time I leave my home, I come back to it a different and better version of myself.” What exactly is it about traveling that you think makes you a better version of yourself?

I’ve met people from all walks of life, and seen people who live in much harsher environments than myself. Seeing people from different religions and customs has really widened my scope of knowledge about the world we live in, and makes me realize how blessed I am in my own life. After seeing so many people from different backgrounds, speaking different languages, I realized we aren’t so different. We all speak the same language of love. We all want to be loved and we all want to love. The world is so connected.

JennyIG

What is the biggest lesson traveling has taught you?

Being present, in the moment, and really seeing what’s in front of you. I wasted a lot of time taking photos and being on my phone while I was traveling, and now I’m trying to focus on seeing things with my own two eyes, and actually recording those memories in my head so I have stories to tell instead of just photos to show. 

What are you most proud of that you have accomplished so far with your blog?

I’m proud that I got to learn some of the technical aspects of blogging. I like to go behind the scenes and make sure that I’m tuned into my website as a whole, to make sure it is running properly, and that it’s aesthetically pleasing to my readers. I want to know the ins and outs of everything.

But what makes me most proud is that I’ve been able to really explore my creativity and my writing skills. One of the articles I wrote recently on the Mojave Dessert, I would call my masterpiece, because I put a lot of thought into that. I hope to continue writing like that and really exploring the kinds of things I can do with my writing.

What are you still hoping to accomplish?

I’d like to grow a steady readership, which I think is the most difficult part in blogging; building a loyal audience. My blog is still only 3 months old, so I’m just hoping I can keep a steady readership from here on out. To gain followers I’ve been doing what I did from the beginning, which is promoting on social media. Instagram, Twitter and Facebook are my main portals, and they’ve all been doing fairly well, Instagram being at the top.

It sounds like you have a lot going on in your life from your career to your blog to your extensive traveling schedule. How do you balance everything in your life? 

Having the support of my husband has helped a lot. He is constantly reminding me what’s most important in life, and helping me prioritize. I’m also a very organized person. I plan out my days and set goals for myself which helps me accomplish everything. But I wouldn’t be able to do all of this without the support of my husband. He understands and supports me. So no matter what, I make time for him because he is my priority.

JennyHusband

Who are you most inspired by in your life, and why?

My main inspiration is my mom. She’s Super Woman and I don’t know how she gets everything done. I look to her and I think “okay, I want to be like that.” So she definitely inspires me in a lot of ways.

What advice would you give someone who wants to start a blog?

My biggest piece of advice is to not give up. After about a year, a lot of people decide to stop blogging. So I say, push through it. Get through that year. Keep going no matter what. One of the biggest lessons blogging has taught me is to have patience.

What is one thing most people don’t know about you?

I’m a hardcore perfectionist, from the way that I dress to the way that I write. It takes me ten times longer than most people to do things because it’s never perfect, and I want to produce excellent things. My dad taught me growing up that you have to always be striving to be better than you were yesterday. And those have become the words I live by. I can’t even help it, it’s in my blood! A lot of people don’t know that about me, but I guess now they’re going to know…


Don’t worry, Jenny, your perfectionist secret is safe with us! 🙂

I hope you all enjoyed this interview. Please take a moment to check out Jenny’s awesome travel blog and social media accounts (linked below), and as always please get in touch with me if you’d like to be featured on my interview series!

My email if you’d like to collaborate: shelly@shellyray.com

Two Years After College: What I’ve Learned

Two Years After College: What I’ve Learned

11056429_10206515787231869_1344697022287031868_o

Tomorrow marks exactly two years since I walked across the stage at Texas Christian University to accept my diploma for a Bachelor of Science in Strategic Communication. It’s crazy to think that two years have already passed, but at the same time, college seems like ages ago.

As I was reflecting on the past two years, I realized living life outside of college comes with many challenges, and that it takes a lot of effort to have a happy, successful life outside of the college bubble. Though I am in no way an expert in any of the following areas, here are the top three challenges I’ve encountered since graduating, and how I have learned to put in the effort to navigate them.

1. You Have to Make an Effort to Have a Social Life

As I wrote in this blog post, college was a magical time where all of your friends were within walking distance, and for the most part, nobody had busy schedules apart from going to class and studying. When you graduate, you suddenly realize everyone has their own life and their own social schedule, and you have to try harder to see your friends. Not to mention, most of your college friends live in other places now, so making new friends is essential.

However, as long as you make an effort to make plans with people, while also remembering that everyone is as busy as you are, you can maintain a social life that is just as rich as it was in college. I feel very fortunate to have a lot of amazing friends in my life right now, from old friends I have kept in contact with over the course of many years, to new friends who weren’t even in my life this time last year.

2. You Have to Make an Effort to Continue Learning

As I mentioned in this post, it’s been a bigger adjustment than I had anticipated to get used to not having regular classes. When you graduate, you have to actively seek out ways to continue learning, whether that is by reading, listening to podcasts, attending webinars or networking events with panels and speakers, or some other method.

For me, my preferred methods of education have been a mix of some of the above. I got really into podcasts over the last couple of years, and have also been attending regular networking events with my coworkers. And as you all know, I am a big fan of reading books as well. Though it can be harder to find ways to actively learn in your post grad life, it is definitely doable if you put your mind to it (no pun intended).

3. You Have to Make an Effort to Have Hobbies Outside of Work

One topic I haven’t covered in a blog post yet (but that I definitely can if any of you would like me to expand on it) is the difference between having hobbies in college and having hobbies in the “real world.” In college, you are exposed to hundreds of different clubs and organizations, and though you still have to make an effort to join them, it’s relatively easy to do so. I joined a sorority the first week on campus, started working at the school newspaper the next semester, and tried out various other clubs throughout my four years. And for the most part, I found it easy to join them and was often encouraged to join by classmates and friends.

I struggled for a while after I graduated with finding interests and hobbies outside of work. But I finally got into the swing of things a little over a years ago. As you all know, I joined an improv class for about eight months which was a great experience. After I stopped taking the class, I dove into my blog and started organizing a Meetup group for bloggers in Austin. These activities, along with just spending time with friends and family and trying to exercise regularly, have kept me plenty busy and made me feel more fulfilled in my life.

11013150_10153322272599701_1745070297742473796_n

What are some of the pitfalls of post-grad life you’ve experienced, and how have you helped yourself move past them? Or, if you’re still in college, what are you most nervous about tackling once you leave and enter the “real world”? Let me know in the comments!

Austin Adventures: Weird Homes Tour

Austin Adventures: Weird Homes Tour

This weekend I did my part to help Keep Austin Weird by participating in the Weird Homes Tour. The tour is a self-paced, self-driving tour where you drive to different areas of Austin and walk through unique homes. The houses were all “weird” in different ways, some incorporating artistic elements, others showcasing more interesting architecture.

I got a lot of photos during my tour, and thought it would be fun to share them with you all, along with my thoughts on each of the homes. I’ve put them in order of least favorite to favorite, but overall enjoyed walking through each and every house!

Riggins’ Cabinet of Curiosities

The first house we visited was actually used as the home of a main character on a famous TV show. Let me know if you can guess which one in the comments! Hint: the name of the house gives it away if you’ve seen the show. (If you are absolutely stuck, click here for the answer.)

IMG_6774.JPG

The reason this house was my least favorite was because it seemed a bit cluttered and didn’t have a clear theme, or as many artistic elements as the others. On the other hand, there was a lot to look at and people who know a lot about history might have liked it more than I did. The owner of the house mentioned she had many knick knacks from past decades, and a history buff could have spent more time looking around and finding interesting things in that house.

IMG_6773IMG_6770
The Torres Temple

This next home was really clean and simple, unlike the previous one. The reason it comes in second to last place is because I didn’t feel it had enough “weird.” While the Cabinet of Curiosities was basically overflowing with weird, the Torres Temple left me wondering what was so weird about it.

IMG_6807

The unique element that it did have was the different color themes in each room, which were meant to represent “Feng Shui elements and chakra colors to envelop and energetically transform the observer who is entering into this world.” I liked the idea of this, but didn’t really notice much of an energy to each room. Maybe it was just over my head, and a more astute observer or open-minded individual would have loved it.

IMG_6803IMG_6810

Indra’s Awarehouse

This house immediately peaked my interest more than the previous two, and not just because of the on point pun in the name (it was an old warehouse, now used as a hostel for the creatively-minded). Artists, dancers, musicians (including Kendrick Lamar according to a man we talked to who lived there) all gather here to perform together and spread good vibes.

IMG_6788

I really liked all of the artistic touches, from the chalk paintings out front to the paintings on the wall of the bedroom, and the various art pieces hanging around the warehouse.  The only reason this was not higher on my list was because it felt more like an art gallery or some kind of studio as opposed to a “real house”, and I was more wowed by a couple of the traditional homes that still managed to be “weird.”

IMG_6785IMG_6784

Florence’s Comfort House

Coming in second place, this home really did have an element of comfort, with plenty of hippie vibes. I would say this house was the most iconically Austin, from the bejeweled guitars to the messages about peace. It also was the only house where the backyard was the main attraction instead of the inside of the house, which made it stand out from the rest.

IMG_6796

This was also the only home that seemed to be geared both towards adults and children, with much of the backyard comprised of things you might find on a playground. As it turns out, Florence uses her home to help children in the community “make the best of their lives both during their youth and beyond.”

IMG_6790IMG_6791

Under The Sea House

And finally, my choice for first place goes to Under The Sea! I had high hopes for this one just by looking at the name (I’m a Pisces after all), and it did not disappoint. I thought this one did the best job of being weird, while still having cohesiveness and artistic elements without being too cluttered. My favorite part was the garden in the backyard, which had this awesome fence painted with sea creatures (including mermaids).

IMG_6816

IMG_6817

The inside of the house was just as whimsical. I loved all of the details in the dining area, from the colorful teacups to the tiled wall and the peacock-patterned lamp. The kitchen counter was also really cool, with lots of beads and photo cutouts under the surface.

IMG_6814

IMG_6812

The final detail I wanted to mention was the bathroom, which had an awesome color-changing sink, which lit up and changed colors from green to pink.

Read more about Under The Sea.

I hope you enjoyed this virtual tour of some of Austin’s weirdest homes. Based on these photos and my descriptions, which one do you think your favorite would be? Let me know in the comments!

Be sure to check out the Weird Homes Tour on Twitter and Facebook, and look through the hashtag #WeirdHomes on Twitter and Instagram to see more awesome photos from the events in Austin, Houston and New Orleans.

Book Review: Why Not Me?

Book Review: Why Not Me?

MindyReviewHeader

I can’t believe it’s been three months since my last book review! I definitely want to write more this year, I’ve just been really busy lately, and I haven’t had a regular reading schedule for myself. But I finally got around to reading this book, and I’m excited to share my thoughts.

Mindy Kaling has been one of my celebrity idols for a while now. From writing and acting in my favorite show of all time, The Office, to creating her own show, The Mindy Project, I have been following Mindy’s career for a long time and have been impressed with everything she’s accomplished. She also happens to be hilarious, and very inspiration when she wants to be. Not to mention she is an amazing writer. Mindy, if you’re reading this, I’m basically in love with you. No big deal.

I read Mindy’s first book and loved it, so I knew I would like this one if it was anything like the first. And it was, in all the best ways, while still bringing fresh topics and jokes to the table. It’s also full of great quotes, both inspirational and comical, so I thought I would try writing this review a bit differently. I will be sharing some of my favorite quotes from the book, along with a bit of context. Hopefully this will give you enough of a sneak peek to make you want to read the book yourself.

“If you’ve got it, flaunt it. If you don’t got it, flaunt it. ‘Cause what are we doing here if we’re not flaunting it?” 

This quote is from the chapter Unlikely Leading Lady, where Mindy tackles the topic of body image. She talks candidly about her relationship with her body, and the way the media tends to focus on her appearance since, as she puts it “women who are my size are so rarely seen on TV and film.” She also talks about how, although she has had her fair share of body image issues, in general her brain is filled with more important thoughts than what she weighs or whether or not she should eat dessert.

Mindy'sBrain

“As calm as I might be, still, about once a month, I wake up at 4 a.m. and lie in the dark worrying about the same handful of things.” 

This was from a short chapter at the end of the book, aptly titled 4 a.m. Worries. I liked this quote (and this chapter) because Mindy shared some of the real worries that keep her up at night. It made me feel better to know even someone as successful as Mindy still has fears in life. Some of the fears she listed included: what if I have nothing to say? What if I have too much to say and not enough time? 

“Confidence is like respect. You have to earn it.”

In the final chapter of the book, Mindy explains the connection between hard work and confidence. She states confidence must be earned, just like respect. And it must be earned after a lot of hard work. She fights against the idea shown in many movies and TV shows, that working too much is a bad thing. “I have never, ever, met a highly confident and successful person who is not what a movie would call a ‘workaholic.”

“People get scared when you try to do something, especially when it looks like you’re succeeding. People do not get scared when you’re failing. It calms them.” 

I loved this quote because I think it is so inherently true, no matter where you live or who you interact with in life. As Mindy mentions, “That’s why the show Intervention is a hit, and everyone loves ‘worrying about’ Amanda Bynes.” People don’t like seeing others succeed, because it reminds them of everything they haven’t been able to do yet. Mindy goes on to say it perfectly: “When you’re winning it makes them feel like they’re losing, or worse yet, that maybe they should’ve tried to do something too, but now it’s too late.”

 

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into Mindy Kaling’s second book, Why Not Me. There were so many other hilarious and inspirational parts of the book, but you’ll have to read it yourself to find out what they were! Comment below which quote was your favorite, and if you have already read this book or plan to in the future.

Explore With Me: Wineries in Fredericksburg, TX

Explore With Me: Wineries in Fredericksburg, TX

Last weekend I got the chance to check “wine tasting” off of my bucket list. My friend Heather invited me to join her and two other friends to drive to Fredericksburg, Texas (a small town about an hour and a half west of Austin) for a fun day of wine tasting! I’d always wanted to explore wineries, and had heard Fredericksburg was home of a lot of great ones, so of course I was game.

Our first stop before the wineries was lunch at Auslander, a popular German restaurant/beer garden. We did not partake in the beer part since we wanted to save ourselves for the wineries later, but the food was delicious! I tried the jagerschnitzel with potato salad, and it did not disappoint.

Screen Shot 2017-03-29 at 7.21.53 PM.png
Photo courtesy of The Auslander’s Facebook page

Once our stomachs were happy and filled with amazing German food, we drove towards the wineries and ended up stopping at a random one none of us had heard of, but we liked the name: Fiesta Winery. Fiesta had a cute outdoor seating area, complete with an old cowboy singing classic country songs. The tastings were done inside at the bar, so we went in and got to tasting! One of the things I liked about Fiesta was that their menus had descriptions of some of the ingredients and the flavors of each of the wines. We were able to choose six to try, and the descriptions made it easier for me to decide since I had an idea of what was in each of them.

FiestaWinery
Sign at Fiesta Winery

After our tasting we sat outside and enjoyed the beautiful weather for a bit, before venturing to our second (and final) stop of the day: Becker’s Vineyard. Overall we enjoyed the atmosphere and general vibe of Becker’s better than Fiesta, but it was also more expensive and fancy, so it depends on what you are in the mood for. The wine list also didn’t have descriptions, which I was disappointed by being someone who isn’t good at recognizing names of wine without more context.

BeckerVineyards
Soaking up the sun at Becker Vineyard

However, the wine was really good and we were able to sit in the sun and relax for while, and even ate a snack at the food truck they have there. Becker’s is also a lavender shop, which was a huge draw for me. I have always loved lavender, and though I did not buy any of the products they had (including soap, lotion and linen sprays), I will definitely go back sometime and treat myself.

BeckersLavender
Lavender store at Becker

Overall, I would rate my first winery experience a solid 10/10 (the great company may have swayed my vote a bit). If you have a free Saturday, I would highly recommend taking a trip to Fredericksburg, or your neighboring wine town, and making a day of it. Fredericksburg also has a lot of shopping, other restaurants, and tons of other wineries to explore, so I am definitely planning on going back when I get the chance.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve ever been wine tasting or been to Fredericksburg, or if it’s still on your bucket list!

Table Talk Tuesday With Jessica Short

Table Talk Tuesday With Jessica Short

Another Tuesday, another Table Talk. My next guest is someone who I have thoroughly enjoyed chatting with over the past few weeks, and after hearing her answers to the following questions, I realized we have even more in common than I thought! Help me give a warm, virtual welcome to Jess.

JessShort

Do you remember the moment you decided to start blogging? What made you take the plunge?

I’ve had three blogs so this is a hard question to answer! My first blog was really more of a journal in high school. My second one was a travel blog when I studied abroad for a semester in London. But I consider Short & Sweet my first “real” blog!

A little backstory for why I started my blog: I got married in January of 2016, and officially moved from my home in Oregon to where my husband and I went to school in California. Many of my best friends were still in Oregon and my husband was still a student, so I felt really lonely. I realized I needed to find something other than Netflix to fill my time, but didn’t really have any hobbies because for the past year or so I was wedding planning, getting ready to graduate, job searching, and then working two jobs, so I didn’t have time for it. I really enjoy processing through writing, so I thought doing a blog would be great, but I had no idea what to blog about. My husband and another friend gave me the idea of doing a blog about trying out different things every month, and I thought that was a great idea since most blogs have only one niche. I launched my blog in June 2016 after lots of prep, and it has been such a great thing to keep me busy!

Can you give me the elevator pitch for why someone should read your blog?

The Short & Sweet blog is different from any other blog! It is an experiment, a journey if you will, of rediscovering interests and adventuring into new ones. It is about making time purposeful, being adventurous, and having fun! Each month, I choose a new hobby/activity/skill to learn and blog about my experience. It could be a new passion or I could never want to do it again, but this is the time of life to try new things!

I love what you say in your About page on your blog: “I want to prove you can do something fun and meaningful with your time, even if you don’t have much of it.” I think a lot of us, myself included, can sometimes feel as if we don’t have enough time in the day to get everything done. What’s your advice for making time for the fun and meaningful things in life?

That is a real struggle I have every day! Two things that have helped me make time for fun things are 1) Make an action plan! Even if it’s just one day or afternoon a month, put it on your calendar and plan something fun to do, either by yourself or with friends. And protect that time! Don’t let other things get in the way. 2) Once you make that plan, tell people who can keep you accountable, who will remind you to take a day off or to spend time on yourself even though it may feel counterproductive. I read a great quote the other day: “I’m learning that to rest is to not be weak.” Don’t feel guilty for spending time on doing things you love – see it as an opportunity to be rejuvenated so you can be the best you you can be!

What is your number one goal for your blog?

I want to show people that they can make time to try new things and that their time is valuable – it shouldn’t be wasted on watching TV all day or doing things that don’t have meaning! (Although I will admit, I’m a huge Netflix fan!)

A lot of 20-somethings battle with feelings of self-doubt and questioning if they are good enough, especially after graduating college and during the job hunt process. How have you managed to stay positive and not be too hard on yourself?

I really struggled with staying positive during the job search after college – it’s rough! I had this idea in my mind that I had to find my dream job right after college and if it was anything else I would be settling (even though I had no idea what my dream job even was). But once I realized that everyone has to start somewhere and that I wasn’t chained to a job for forever if I didn’t love it, that really helped. We have our whole lives to work, so it’s not the end of the world if we don’t find the perfect job right away!

If you had a life motto, what would it be? (Besides “Taylor Swift has just as many hours in her day as you do”, which I also loved on your About page. 🙂

Thank you! I love Tswizzle 🙂 I think my life motto would be Choose joy! I tend to be a little bit of a pessimist, and sometimes the way I feel about things can really shape my attitude. I have two “choose joy” signs – one at home and one at work – to remind me that I can choose something else. I can’t control what happens in my life, but I can control the way I respond to things.

What three things are at the top of your gratitude list right now?

My husband – he is spending hours every day studying for his MCAT exam to get into med school, but he still makes our relationship a priority and serves me so well.

My church – I have such a great community through my weekly community group and in serving in the high school ministry; every time I’m with them I feel refreshed!

My job – I feel really blessed to have not only a full time job, but a job I truly enjoy, coworkers that are friends, and a company that I can get behind.

JessShortWedding

Who is your biggest “girl crush” in terms of female entrepreneurs, celebrities, or any other woman you look up to, and why?

I have a huge girl crush on Shauna Niequist – she is an AMAZING blogger, author, and speaker. I just got her new book, Present Over Perfect, and it is really shaping the way I view myself and how I want to spend my time and energy. I would HIGHLY recommend her book! Also I love Blake Lively, she is just the cutest.

Your blog is all about rediscovering interests and finding new ones. I’m curious what your main hobbies and interests were as a child, and how they have changed as you’ve grown up?

I had SO many different interests as a kid! I was always really into art and crafty things, and I even went to an art school in junior high. I also did theater and musicals from a young age through high school. I did ballet for 7 years and then transitioned to cheerleading in high school, and I have always been a big reader. But I would say one of my huge passions ever since I was a kid was singing – I was always in choir and in high school I led worship at my church. I wanted to be the lead singer of a band for a really long time, but I ended up doing Communications instead. I still love singing, and I am definitely one of those people who will belt it out along with the radio in the car 🙂 Although I don’t do all of those hobbies anymore, I enjoy seeing other people do them and participating in them when I can!

I have to throw a fun one in here to wrap this up. If you could be any animal, which  animal would you want to be?

This is always a hard one for me – I would probably either be a horse because they are so majestic and free, or a golden retriever because they are so loyal and cuddly!

 

Thanks to Jess for being a great interviewee, and thank you to all of you for continuing to read my blog! As always, feel free to email me or reach out on social media if you’d like to be featured on a Table Talk Tuesday. And be sure to follow Jess on her blog, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

It’s Okay To Say ‘No’

It’s Okay To Say ‘No’

The past few months I’ve been practicing saying ‘yes’ to more things in life. From opportunities like attending CitySTRONG and organizing a Meetup group, to friends asking me to go to a concert with them, saying ‘yes’ has lead to a lot more fulfillment in my social life. I could definitely write an entire blog post about this, so let me know in the comments if you’d like to read that! But for today’s post, I am actually going to focus on the idea of saying ‘no’, which can be just as important as saying ‘yes’.

This morning my friends invited me to go to the greenbelt to hike and swim with them. Normally, I would have said “heck yes!” I love going to the greenbelt, and it is finally starting to be nice and sunny here in Austin. However, this morning I chose to say ‘no’. It’s been a really busy, social weekend for me, and I just felt like I needed a day to myself to get some work done (like write this blog post), do my laundry, and relax. I’m someone who loves being around people most of the time, but I also need alone time to recharge and decompress. If I don’t get this time to myself, I tend to get burnt out and feel overwhelmed.

Screen Shot 2017-03-19 at 5.34.42 PM
Photo I took at the greenbelt. Who WOULDN’T want to hike here?

Knowing this about myself, and knowing it is Sunday and therefore my last chance to get a solid amount of free time before the work week starts back up, I told my friends I would have to take a raincheck. This was actually pretty difficult for me, even though it may sound like a tiny decision in the grand scheme of things. Like I said, I’ve been doing a great job of saying ‘yes’ lately, and in some ways this ‘no’ felt like a step in the wrong direction.

However, I realized the policy of saying ‘yes’ should only be taken as far as is healthy for your mind and body. What I mean by that is, if saying ‘yes’ will add more stress, exhaustion or discomfort to your life in any way, you shouldn’t feel obligated to do it. For me, I knew I wanted to take today to be productive but also get some relaxing in, and that I wanted to do this alone since I had been around people all weekend. While going to the greenbelt would not cause me any serious harm in any way, it would make me more tired and prevent me from getting my desired me-time. So I said no. Simple as that!

So here I am writing this blog post at one of my favorite coffee shops, drinking a frappe and eating a brownie, and feeling content as could be. Sure, I still have a bit of FOMO after seeing my friend’s Snapchats at the greenbelt, but I know I made the right decision for me and my needs today.

Mozarts
Blogging and treating myself to some deliciousness at Mozart’s Coffee Roasters

What do you all think of the concept of saying ‘yes’ to more in life, and how to decide to say ‘no’ when you need to? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments!

Table Talk Tuesday With Haley Marie

Table Talk Tuesday With Haley Marie

I’m back with another Table Talk Tuesday, and I’m so excited for all of you to get to know my interviewee, Haley, from the blog Haley Marie. Haley and I have been chatting over email for a while now, and I was immediately impressed by how smart and driven she was, as a freshman in college. I can remember back to being a freshman and how lost and confused I was about where I wanted to go with my life, so I am really blown away by how Haley’s ability to set goals and go after what she wants.

So without further adieu, let’s get into the interview so you can see what I mean…

IMG_7660

Can you tell me the story of how you decided to start your blog, and what your blogging journey has been like so far?

Though my current blog, Haley Marie, is only a couple months old, I have actually been blogging for about three or four years now. I guess the best way to start is actually with the story behind my first blog, so I’ll just roll with that! I was fifteen years old, and I was in a bit of a rough patch as far as my personal life was concerned. I was aimlessly searching for something to fill my time and build myself back up again. So, I followed my gut and returned to my roots by filling my time with something I’d always loved to do: writing! I channeled all my energy into starting a blog, the Chick Lit Kitchen, where I wrote about my loves of food and romance novels. 

Though the Chick Lit Kitchen was a bit of a flop (I started running out of time to read and make time-consuming recipe posts as I advanced in my high school career), I eventually returned to blogging as a kind of therapy when I entered another rough patch in my life. When I was a bit older, the dormant anxiety and depression I’d always carried deep within me started to become too much to bear. Finally, the thought occurred to me: why don’t I start a blog again? So I did! Love, Haley (my second blog) didn’t start out about mental illness, but it quickly morphed into a place where I shared my deepest thoughts and feelings about the anxiety and depression I was battling. 

Yet as my anxiety and depression began to improve with time (and therapy), I sort of felt that I was outgrowing the old label of “mental illness blogger.” So, as I graduated from high school and began to transition into college, I started to experiment with a couple of new niches. The result was that my blog ended up all over the place. I strayed so far from my original brand that I eventually felt like my best course of action was to start from scratch, rather than rebranding Love, Haley for a second time. That’s how Haley Marie Blog began! Now, while I consider myself a college, beauty and health blogger first and foremost, I will never forget my roots as a mental illness blogger. 

I contributed to your blog post about why I picked my college major. Can you talk about how and why you picked your major, and what your advice would be for picking the right major? 

I actually have two majors, Journalism and Political Science. Somehow, I think I always knew that this was where I would end up eventually. I have always known I wanted to be a writer, just like I have always known I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself (like politics!). Personally, I identify with the word “writer” before anything else, besides maybe the word “woman.” 

My first semester, I was a part of both the student newspaper (as a news writer) and the student PR society (as a member of the digital/creative team, which does client work based on graphic design). I instantly fell in love with the newspaper – particularly with the positive energy and quick pace of the newsroom – and now I am (as a freshman!) an Associate City News Editor there this spring! While I enjoyed PR too, I felt like these were the same experiences I was getting through my blog, which I was much more passionate about than the student organization, and that it wasn’t really as valuable to me as being in a newsroom. 

Around the same time, I also happened to be falling in love with my first Poli Sci class, Intro to American Politics, and all of the heated election discussions it brought. And, I mean, not to be that person, but the 2016 election definitely shaped my perception of the Poli Sci field by showing me just how much the world needs strong female leaders! So, as long-winded as this story has been, that’s exactly how I realized that these two things were the subjects I couldn’t live without studying for the next three and a half years, and the fields I wanted to build my future career around!

What is the most important thing you think someone should know before starting a blog?

Ooh, this is such a good question! My advice for anyone starting a blog is this: whatever you want to blog about, make sure it’s genuinely what YOU want to blog about. Don’t blog about whatever’s popular in that moment (popularity is fleeting). Honestly, what keeps me motivated to keep banging out posts – even when it’s after 1 AM and all I really want is to eat a bagel and go to bed – isn’t getting views or comments or likes on Twitter (though I won’t lie – those things ARE nice!). Instead, it’s passion. And I think most successful bloggers would say the same!

I actually experienced the dangers of falling into this trap firsthand. For a while, I felt self-conscious about my blog because it wasn’t “serious” enough. Instead of blogging about scholarly things like politics, I blog about some of my favorite things: beauty, lifestyle tips and healthy eating hacks. At first, I worried this meant I was vapid and shallow, and that this was the way my readers would perceive me. However, I quickly found that when I wrote about something I was passionate about, rather than things I thought I should write about, I was able to produce better content and let my true sincerity shine through. Because I was writing about things I loved and could genuinely offer my advice on, my posts are more popular – plus, because I actually look forward to writing, I am able to produce more quality content, more quickly!  

A lot of college students and 20-somethings battle with feelings of self-doubt and questioning if they are good enough. Do you have any tips for moving past these negative thoughts? 

I’m not going to lie: though I’ve tried my hardest to be open about my battles with mental illness, body issues and self-esteem, I’m still in that age bracket and I still have insecurities and doubts. Sometimes, I act like I’m beyond the point of having negative feelings or self-doubt, when in reality, I haven’t fully pushed past it – and nobody should expect me to! I’m only 18!

The problem with being in college or in your 20s is that we compare ourselves too much to others – especially when it comes to people like celebrities, bloggers and YouTubers. When we’re confronted with posts and videos like “How I Organize My Life” or “My Perfect Morning Routine,” we always seem to think that everyone else has their life together, and we’re the only ones who are still figuring it out. If you’re someone who reads a lot of blogs, you probably know exactly how I feel. But here’s the secret no one wants to admit (especially not in the college blogging community, where we’re literally telling you how to lead more organized, productive lives): literally none of us have our sh*t together yet! No matter how many blog posts I write about having high self-esteem, no matter how “on-fleek” my eyeliner is on a particular day, no matter how organized my planner appears, I’m still not perfect. Nobody is. 

If you had a life motto, what would it be?

In one word, “balance”! Life, to me, is all about balance between work and play, health and pleasure, friendships and significant others, and all the other competing factors in our lives. To me, balance is all about listening to what your body needs and gratifying it. Maybe it’s all the yoga I’ve been doing lately, but I firmly believe when you give your body what it asks for and start to show it love, sooner or later your body will start to love you back! 

Meditation is a huge way that I achieve balance: my therapist recommended it to me, and I find that 5 to 10 minutes of meditating a day counteracts a lot of the stress I experience in my day-to-day life. Because I try to stay in tune with my body’s physical and emotional needs through meditation, intuitive eating and other mindfulness strategies, I can always tell when I’m getting tired or cranky, what I’m craving (whether that’s a chia seed smoothie and a sweat session, or Chipotle and Gilmore Girls) and when I’m starting to isolate myself because I’m working too hard, and need to plan a night out with my girlfriends. 

What three things are at the top of your gratitude list right now?

My boyfriend, Ryan, always makes the top of my gratitude list! He lives about an hour away from where I go to school, so we don’t see each other very often; however, I’m eternally grateful for all of the stability, balance and positivity he brings me. Whenever he comes into the city for our weekly visit, it puts a smile on my face!

I’m also grateful for my family. My parents are divorced, so my family has had a harder journey than most. Working out the details of where I would attend college and who would pay for it was more difficult and complex than I originally expected; however, I can’t express enough how grateful I am that everyone is trying to make the best of our difficult situation. 

Finally, I’m grateful that I will (hopefully) be travelling to London for five days this summer! My boyfriend and I are planning a trip together. We haven’t finalized the details yet, but I couldn’t be more excited about the possibility of seeing the city together.

IMG_0878

Who is your biggest “girl crush” in terms of female entrepreneurs, celebrities, or any other woman you look up to, and why?

I’m cheating and giving two answers, because I look up to so many women! I personally think that having empowering women as role models is one of the most important things a female entrepreneur can bring to the table.

When it comes to celebrities, Emma Watson is always my go-to answer. I admire her resolve to lead a private life and have a normal college experience at Brown, I love how intelligent and collected she is and I think she’s such an incredible role model for women everywhere. Her work with the UN to further the rights of girls all over the globe inspires me to think about what more I could be doing to help people outside my own backyard.

As far as business goes, I’m a huge fan of Nikki Phillippi. She’s a YouTuber rather than a blogger, but I couldn’t be more impressed by her brand. I discovered her by listening to her Tea Talk series, and fell in love with the way she connects with an audience. She always comes across as so authentic and genuine, and gives advice that makes me think she’s the big sister I never had! Plus, her work with sponsors is just so inspiring to me as a blogger. So, even though YouTube is a bit of a different world from blogging, I hope I can take a leaf from her book and adopt some of the same ingenuity and sincerity as a female entrepreneur in the media.

What is one piece of advice you would give your younger self?

I would tell myself to spend more time focusing on the things that matter most to me and the qualities I would like to see in myself, rather than what other people think of me. I feel like growing up, I put so much energy into achieving “goals” that had nothing to do with my personal character or my entrepreneurial spirit. Though I’ve always been a self-starter who’s achievement-oriented, when I was in late middle and early high school, I sometimes lost sight of that in favor of striving for superficial beauty, popularity or the “right” boyfriend. So, I wish that I had channeled my energy into something productive and meaningful to me, rather than chasing guys who didn’t appreciate me or worrying that my stomach or thighs were “too fat.” If I had been in a more mature state of mind back then, I think I would have focused on giving myself something to be proud of and finding a reason to love myself first, without needing some random guy or friend’s approval.

What is one accomplishment you are most proud of?   

One of the things I love to brag about is my high school senior project. Besides my blog, this project is one of the things in life I am most proud of! Senior Project was a course in my high school geared toward preparing us for a career in our major of choice through completing a research component, internship and final project of our own design. Prophetically, since I’m now a Poli Sci double-major, I spent my year researching the impact of television on American politics. 

For my internship component, I interned in the office of Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker in his constituent affairs department. While I don’t always agree with the Governor’s politics, I loved the human element of getting to do casework for constituents and feel like I was really making a difference in people’s lives. 

For the project component, I invited a group of professionals for a panel discussion at my high school, on the topic of media and politics. For weeks, I was emailing people left and right, filling out grant forms and designing advertisements and tickets for the event. We ended up getting an almost $600 grant from the district’s education fund for my work. I also moderated the panel, which included a Massachusetts State Senator, the Director of MassVOTE, a Boston Globe journalist, a Northeastern professor, and a grassroots campaign organizer for a PR company. Educators and citizens from my town and the wider community attended the panel and even had the opportunity to ask their own questions at the end of the panel! Overall, the night was a whirlwind, and one of the most spectacular experiences of my entire life. 

I have to throw a fun one in here to wrap this up. If you could be any animal, which  animal would you want to be? 

I’d probably transform into a cat. I’m notorious for falling asleep in boring lectures (sorry, not sorry to my Stats and Political Theory professors) and I am fiercely independent. I also crave attention and fall in love with anyone who feeds me treats…so, I guess I just have to face it: I’m pretty much a cat already! 

 

I hope you all enjoyed this installment of Table Talk Tuesday! I’m so impressed by what Haley has been able to do with her blog(s) so far, and at such a young age. I’m looking forward to continuing to read her posts and learn from her. Be sure to subscribe to Haley’s blog, and follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Also, if you would like to be featured on Table Talk Tuesday, leave a comment here or email me at shelly@shellyray.com!