5 Books and Movies That Make You See Things Differently

You know, it’s funny – my favorite types of stories are either fantasy tales with witches and dragons or non-fiction that actually teaches me more about the world. Yes, these things are total opposites, and I get that those preferences don’t make much sense when looked at together. But I guess I figure if I’m not going to be escaping into Oz, I might as well be expanding my education.

I really loved school. While I don’t have much of a burning desire to go back and continue my education (too much work for too much money), I do love learning. The movies and books I’m discussing here are ones that have totally rocked my world. They have made it so that I will never look at North Korea, dead bodies, or birth again. They’re also the sort of stories that are absolutely captivating, even if it’s not a subject matter that you’ve ever given much thought to. I promise that you won’t be able to put them down.

Books and Movies See Differently

1. This Film is Not Yet Rated

G, PG-13, NC-17… we know what these terms mean generally, but where do they really come from and what is their purpose? This Film is Not Yet Rated is a documentary about the history of the movie rating industry and The Motion Picture Association of America, a trade association that has created and enforced the rating system guidelines that still dictate much of Hollywood’s films today. From its persecution of homosexual relationships, differences in depictions of male and female sexuality, and its opinions on violence vs. sex, you’ll never look at a “R” rating the same way again.

2. Going Clear by Lawrence Wright

Most people have vague ideas about the dangerous tactics and brainwashing methods of the church of Scientology. Going Clear is a deep investigation of the history and inner workings of the church. Beginning with the childhood of its mentally troubled sci-fi founder L. Ron Hubbard, writer Lawrence Wright outlines Scientology’s evolution including the legal attacks on the IRS, its aggression towards critics, and often torturous treatment of its own members. I think there is no doubt this is the most brilliantly researched documentation on the church today.

3. The Business of Being Born

I’m not sure if I’ll ever have kids, but The Business of Being Born convinced me that if I do, I’ll go with a midwife instead of a doctor. This 2008 documentary film explores the corruption in the American healthcare system that emphasizes high amounts of medications, costly interventions, and the view of childbirth as a medical emergency rather than a natural process. Including film of actual home and water births, the film asks parents and medical experts to really consider about what is best for families and babies.

4. Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick

North Korea has been the subject of news and many jokes in the last year with the release of The Interview and subsequent digital attack on film studios. But what actually goes on in the heart of this country is tragic and far closer to a 1984 existence than anyone in the western world can comprehend. Barbara Demick explores what it is actually like to grow up and live in dis-utopian North Korea through interviews with escapees, including an orphan who grew up on the street, a couple falling in love, and a mother who was the perfect example of “model citizen.”

5. Stiff by Mary Roach

What happens when you donate your body to science? That’s what curious author Mary Roach explores in this book about the many uses of human cadavers. From body part donation to rates of decay to transportation safety research, the many functions of dead bodies are at times horrifying while at other times completely heartwarming. Roach’s writing style is captivating and charming, and this is just one of many books she has penned that make you look at science differently. (On that note, I also highly recommend her books Bonk about the history of the science of sex and Packing for Mars about the space race.)

What’s a movie, book, or even a TV show that has made you see something differently?

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How to Never Run Out of Blog Post Ideas

Dana Fox from The Wonder Forest sent me her new book 365 Blog Topic Ideas, but as always, all opinions expressed here are my own…. and, in all honesty, her book is fantastic.

If you’re blogging every week, it’s inevitable at some you’ll start to run out of blog post ideas. Or is it? I can’t speak for all niches, but I find that lifestyle blogging is so open-ended, the idea that I could possibly run out of content is a bit absurd. Whether it’s discussing a random passion that I know too much about or sharing a story from childhood, there really is a lot of topics that can be turned into interesting posts. The key is making sure that when you sit down to write, there’s always a number of blog post ideas on hand to draw from.

Blog Post Ideas_v2

1. Keep a list of blog post ideas and take it with you everywhere

If you’re anything like me, your blog post ideas come in the strangest places, and they usually leave about as quickly as they pop into my head. Telling yourself, “I’ll just remember that for when I write next weekend,” is not going to work. So start a list on your mobile phone or a pad of paper you keep in your purse and write down every idea. Most you’ll decide won’t work and you’ll never get to them, but that way when you do sit down to write, you have a list of possible options right in front of you to pick from.

2. Create a set of resources that you can always go to for fresh ideas

There are so many great blogs and books out there that are chalk full of lists of inspiring blog post ideas. Some are lifestyle bloggers that occasionally do a great list like Helene in Between. Others are sites completely focused on the craft of blogging like Yes and Yes. One of my favorites is Dana from The Wonder Forest, who is an awesome mix of lifestyle content and tips on great ways to make your blog better. She sent me her book, 365 Blog Topic Ideas, and I’m telling you, it’s AWESOME. Best of all, they’re open enough that they can be easily adapted for your niche or blog style. There is no doubt I’ll be referencing it often when I’m looking for ideas.

3. Pay attention to what other bloggers are doing & respectfully echo ideas without stealing

The saying is true, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I get great ideas for new posts all the time when I’m looking at other blogs, just like I learn how to be a better writer from reading lots of books. It’s totally okay to cruise Bloglovin’ trying to get ideas for posts when you sit down to write. The key is that you need to be doing something different enough that it’s clear you aren’t stealing… for example, my post about Ways to Live a More Magical Life was inspired by the awesome site Gala Darling, which does a great way of incorporating paganism without isolating its non-pagan readers. If you are going to 100% mimic a post topic, it’s important you come up with your own content AND give the original blogger credit. I did this when I based my Favorite Romances on Television off of Kati Rose’s post about a similar topic by making sure the romances were different and linking to Kati’s post in my intro.

Side note: You guys often leave me comments like “oh, I would love to do a post like this!” on my blog posts like If We Were Friends Grabbing Coffee. And if you just give me a little shoutout in your intro, you are totally, 100% welcome to do so! I love seeing my posts inspire others and get repurposed in unique ways.

4. Create easy-to-replicate post series that you can customize every time

If you’re blogging a few times a week like I am, it probably makes sense to start a series of posts or two. Maybe you won’t call them a “series,” but patterns will start to emerge, whether you do a life update on Fridays, a round-up of your favorite links for the week on Sundays, or just share a bunch of your favorite books, TV shows, and movies a couple of times a month like I do. Typically these posts come together quickly and are easily to duplicate over and over again, while still containing unique and original content every time.

5. If you’re not sure if an idea will work, try writing the post anyways

You wouldn’t believe how often I’m just not sure if a blog post is going to “work.” Are people going to even be interested in this, I ask myself. Often it comes out pretty forced in the first draft or two as I just spill my thoughts out onto the page. But then I let it sit in my drafts folder for a few days or even a few weeks, and when I come back to it with some emotional distance, I realize it is actually interesting or thought-provoking. Of course, there are other times it never leaves my drafts and a few months later I move it to the trash. Basically, write and write and write – you never know what will become your next viral post.

6. Turn everyday activities into a post topic

You would not believe how often I turn my leftover food into a finalized recipe post. Often I’m too burnt out after cooking or it’s too late at night for me to photograph a dish right away. Instead, I wait until the next day to reheat and artfully arrange it. Keep in mind that these are recipes I actually plan to eat – my chia seed pudding, my chili… just everyday meals of mine that I figured would make a good post. Write a post about your job… you may find it to be boring since you do it every day, but others will be fascinated! Maybe you’re obsessed with your dog like me and have tried every treat and toy out there – share your recommendations! Every thing that you do has the potential to become an interesting post.

What are your tips for making sure you don’t run out of topics?

Dana Fox

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An Interested Amateur’s Guide to Coffee

Coffee and I have a complicated relationship. I love it, I really do. I love a dark roast mixed liberally with cream and sugar and a fancy latte with a pretty pattern on top. I love the ritual of making it in the mornings, and I love how it puts an extra pep in my step at 4pm when I’m starting to drag at the office.

But in addition to the fact that it can be downright expensive to purchase at a café, the acid in coffee also seriously messes with my stomach. A few months ago, I tried to give it up entirely in favor of black tea (which I also love, don’t get me wrong). But I can’t help myself – I’m back at it again, drinking a cup with breakfast every morning. And as long as I water it down with plenty of cream and don’t drink it if my stomach is already feeling wacky, I’m okay. #sensitivetummyproblems

Guide to Coffee

Let’s start with a bit of recent coffee history. The first wave movement spanned from the 1800s through the 20th century, and it really was the origin of America’s love affair with this beverage. Instant coffee like Folgers was the go-to, and it wasn’t about quality but mostly about quick and easy.

Then the foodie movement of the 1980s ushered in the second wave coffee era, where consumers began to express an interest in their beans’ origins and how they were brewed. Coffee shops like Starbucks became huge, and people began to express a passioned for the brewed beverage never seen before.

In the beginning of the 20th century, third wave coffee began which is characterized in an interest in the actual coffee flavor itself. Brews became lighter instead of the typical dark roast at chain cafes, and the majority of roasters and cafes associated with third wave were small companies who roasted their own beans in-house.

Now, you can get really geeky when it comes to coffee. Whether it’s making sure it’s an exact temperature or brewing it a certain way, people have strong opinions on the topic. The tips I’m going to recommend here are good for an excited amateur – maybe you drink it daily, but have no strong preference for french press over drip brewing. These tips require no special equipment (other than a basic $15 grinder) and are simple ways to step your coffee game up a bit without becoming totally obsessive.

1. Try a variety of roasts and beans to discover what you like

Much like wine, different types of coffee can have dramatically different flavors. Darker roasts are often nutty, smokey, and tend to be more one-note and less complex (no judgement there – I often prefer darker roasts). Light roasts are often more fruity, sweet, and complex. Medium roasts are, well, somewhere between the two. Beyond trying different types of roasts, try coffee from different places. Maybe you’ll find you prefer the beans from certain countries or from certain roasters.

2. Buy fresh beans that are vacuum sealed and haven’t been exposed to oxygen or light

Coffee beans are a fresh product, and just like roasted nuts, they can go bad quickly when left exposed to air and light. Don’t buy beans from bulk bins at the supermarket. Your best bet is getting them straight from a roaster or, if that’s not an option, a vacuum sealed bag at a high-end grocery store.

3. Store coffee beans in an air tight container, and don’t keep them in the fridge

For many years, I thought coffee beans would stay fresh for longer if I stored them in the fridge. Actually, coffee beans are porous and the cold air can damage them. Instead, keep them in an air-tight container like a canning jar tucked away on a shelf where they won’t be overly exposed to bright light and the temperature is mild.

4. Grind beans yourself right before brewing and don’t use boiling water

It’s a little bit of extra work, but grinding your own coffee beans right before you brew creates a noticeable taste difference since the beans start losing quality immediately after. You can get a fancy “burr mill” grinder, but a whirly blade grinder is cheaper and almost as effective. Also, take your hot water off just before it reaches boiling so it doesn’t burn the grinds and make a more bitter brew. (On that note, don’t re-heat your coffee, since it will turn the beverage bitter.)

5. Stick with 2 tablespoons coffee per 6 ounces of water

This one isn’t too complicated – the standard measurement is 2 tablespoons of coffee for 6 ounces of water. Stray from this, and you’re likely to create one bitter cup of coffee.

6. Heat your mug right before adding the hot coffee

If you’re like me and drink your coffee slowly, you can heat your mug before you add the hot coffee in order to keep your drink warmer for longer. I typically pour hot water in my mug and swirl it around for a minute until it’s nice and toasty. Then I dump the water out and refill with the actual brew.

Do you drink coffee or do you prefer other caffeinated beverages like tea? Are you an interested amateur like myself or a full-on geek? Do you have any strong preferences, like types of roasts, types of brew methods, or preferred roasters?

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Lately I’ve Been Thinking

Book Image

Lately I’ve been thinking about… how much better I feel when I avoid processed grains.

On March 1st, I committed to going completely gluten free for 21 days and so far have been completely successful other than a weak moment with some tempura. I don’t have an allergy, but I definitely feel that I have an emotional addiction to carbs. I’m a boredom eater and a stress eater, and I often rely on bread to feel “full.” I wanted to train myself to look for healthy substitutions like protein and quinoa in my salads, and I’ve honestly been AMAZED by how much better I feel. I feel so much more svelte and less bloated, plus I have way more energy than normal. Even when my detox is over, I’m going to continue to avoid processed grains now that I know how much better I feel without them.

Lately I’ve been thinking about… my boyfriend.

Reg has now been in South America for over three weeks, and I’m starting to miss him with more of a vengeance. To be fair, I’m doing okay – I’ve been hanging out with friends, reading lots of books, and indulging in some retail therapy. And while it is reassuring to know that I’d be alright without him, there is definitely an empty place in my life where he is supposed to be. I miss watching Jon Stewart on the couch as we eat dinner and I miss date night where we spend too much on cocktails and I miss his constant optimism and just being able to hug him. We’ve been texting as much as we can and have had a few phone calls and he’s having an INCREDIBLE time. We did the long distance thing for so long that we have good practice at checking in. But I’m going to be very happy when he’s home again.

Lately I’ve been thinking about… my teeth.

I went to the dentist for the first time in over a year a couple of weeks ago. I’d been putting it off because I was nervous of getting bad news, but my new dentist said that my wisdom teeth looked fine and my TMJ was not causing problems. Unsurprisingly, I do have one cavity, though, which is getting filled this Wednesday, and he gave me a firm but not overly upsetting talking to about flossing more and taking care of my teeth. Since then, I have flossed, brushed, and used mouthwash (almost) every night. I really hope I’ll be able to keep it up for the rest of my life.

Lately I’ve been thinking about… Ru’s awesome new gentle leader collar.

She’s not horrible about pulling on the leash, but if there’s any dogs around she always tries to drag me to say hi. The gentle leader goes around her face instead of on her chest so I can redirect her easily when she starts moving away but it’s not a muzzle and she can still open her mouth, drink, chew, and play like normal. When I first put it on, she kept pawing at her face trying to get it off, but after a few days of only putting it on for meals and cookies, now she’s totally used to it and walking is like a dream. We can even walk a few feet away from other dogs without her constantly pulling towards them. I HIGHLY recommend it for anyone with a pulling or reactive pup.

Lately I’ve been thinking about… work.

The last few weeks have been challenging, but obviously it would be unprofessional of me to go into details. I love my job and I’ve been getting to work on some wonderful, fulfilling, and mentally stimulating projects lately (plus, I just received a much coveted “Sparkle Award” for my work on a presentation). But we’ve been going full throttle for so many days that I’m starting to experience burn-out. I rarely bring my work stress home with me, but on Saturday morning I just woke up feeling exhausted. I treated myself to a trip to the nail salon, a rare occurrence for me, and it’s been getting a little better, but it’s a good reminder to all of you out there who think “I’m so jealous that Cat has my dream job,” don’t forget it’s a job like any other that comes with frustrations and boredom and stress.

Lately I’ve been thinking about… The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Scientology.

Have you seen Tina Faye’s new Netflix TV show yet? I feel like it’s one of those things that’s either totally up your alley or you totally don’t understand. It’s candy colored, totally goofy, and fits perfectly in my preference for slightly random humor. I’ve also started listening to a new audiobook called Going Clear by Pulitzer prizewinning author Lawrence Wright. It’s an exploration of the Church of Scientology told through over 200 interviews by ex-members and other experts. I’m totally an open-minded person and have very little religious judgement, but there’s no doubt this spiritual group has breached the line from slightly quirky movement to sadistic terror organization.

What have you been thinking about lately?

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7 Tips for Taking Care of Indoor Cats

This post was brought to you by the makers of Fancy Feast. I received compensation to write this #WaysToWow post through the Fancy Feast Broths with Chicken program, but all opinions expressed here are my own.

Taking Care of Indoor Cats

The moment I moved out of the college dorms, I started searching rescue groups to adopt a cat. Less than a week later, Pandora – eventually shortened to Panda and sometimes Pandar the Thunder Cat – came home to my crazy, eight person house. I knew eventually I would be moving to a busy city, so I decided from the beginning to not let her go outdoors, and that decision was only reinforced by the fact she’s not exactly the brightest crayon in the box.

Still, in our bustling house there was never a shortage of activity or a warm lap to sit on. She was always an extremely social cat, which is why now that I’ve moved to a quieter house that’s mostly empty during the day, she’s developed some crazy, neurotic tendencies. I know this isn’t often said of a cat, but I’ve come to suspect that she truly has separation anxiety when left alone. And that’s why over the last year, I’ve become dedicated to making sure Panda has a happy and healthy life. Here are my tips for not just taking care of but really wow-ing your cat:

1. Make sure they have lots of spaces that are all “theirs”

Panda has her favorite spots – her two cat trees, her special side of the sofa and of the bed, and Reg’s comfortable desk chair (sometimes she’s determined to sit there even when he’s in it!). When Panda was stressed about Ru joining our home, the #1 thing the vet said I could do for her was make sure she had lots of places to feel safe and secure.

2. Set up perches by windows so they can watch nature

When she’s not sleeping, you can usually find Panda sitting by her three favorite windows or even out on the enclosed back deck so she can look out on the street below. We jokingly call this her “kitty television,” but looking out at the birds, passing people, and other outdoor activity provides some much needed entertainment for indoor kitties.

3. Find a toy that really wows your cat by trying a variety to determine their preferences

I always said that my cat Panda just wasn’t interested in playing, but after stubborn determination, I was really surprised to find out that she likes wobbly floor toys that she can ambush and attack on her own time far more than a string or a wind-up mouse. Material matters too – try toys that make crinkle sounds, that are made from leather, that have springs, and that are filled with catnip.

4. Chip, ID, and vaccinate them, even if they stay inside

It’s not unusual for an indoor cat to decide she’s a bit too curious about exploring outside. These kitties are that are unused to the outside world are far more likely to get seriously injured or even lost while outdoors. That’s why it’s important to make sure you can be easily contacted should your furball decide to make a bolt for it.

5. Pay close attention to signs of anxiety and be proactive about combating them

You may think that your indoor kitty doesn’t have much to worry about, but you’d be wrong. Whether concerns about moving furniture, irregular meal times, or just plain old separation anxiety like Panda, that have lots of problems that upset them! Look for signs of distress like obsessive licking and urinating outside the litter box, then be proactive with tools like Feliway diffusers or Thundershirts to combat them (after a trip to the vet for a check-up of course).

6. Clean their litter box regularly and scatter multiple ones around the house

As we learned from the above anxiety issues, Panda is more than a little neurotic. Although staying indoors keeps her safe on our busy city street, it doesn’t help with her obsessiveness. Keeping the litter box super clean is essential, since cats can be very distraught by dirtiness, and make sure there’s a few around so she doesn’t need to march across the house to use it.

7. Feed them quality ingredients that they really love

For indoor cats who get little physical activity, real, recognizable food ingredients are essential, just like the ones in Fancy Feast Broths. And since Panda’s weight is a real issue like many indoor cats, the perfectly proportioned, ready-to-pour pouches helps guarantee she’s not getting extra helpings. Plus, since meal time is without question Panda’s favorite time, I like the fact that I can give her a food she’s really excited about – the broth disappears in just about 2 seconds!

How do you keep your kitties happy, despite keeping them indoors?

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Blogging Friendships are (Really) Complicated

Blogging Friendships

Online friends was the perk of blogging I honestly didn’t expect. Everyone says “oh, the friendships you make blogging are so great!” in tweets and blog posts, but before I started blogging for myself, it sounded like the kind of thing you just said to be nice. Now I have felt those real connections and the thrill of making a new online friend who I just immediately feel a comradeship with.

These digital relationships allow introverts and those with social anxiety to form bonds that are difficult in the real world. The truth is, I have little energy to invest in a large number of people IRL. But online, the friendships are on my terms. I can respond to tweets or comments or emails when I have time and am in the mood. I write about what’s going on in my life and share it on the blog, they write what’s going on in their life and share it on their blog, and then it’s all like we’re catching up with each other without committing an entire evening to each other’s company.

And these friendships provide very tangible, emotional support. When I posted about my ex cheating on me, it was something I hadn’t talked about very much with friends yet. I was very angry and felt duped and alone. Then, something incredible happened – I received dozens of comments from people saying that they understood, that they had experienced something similar, that my ex was a jerk, and that my feelings were totally justified. It was a completely unprecedented amount of support that overshadowed my lingering resentment at my ex. Instead, I just felt loved.

But the flip side of these positive relationships are a whole set of codes and potential for hurt feelings that are completely different from the codes of real life friends. Who is commenting on whose blog more, who retweets who more, who accidentally slights the other when collaborating on a project… these relationships are deep and complicated and without the benefit of hearing their voice or speaking bluntly or hanging out the couch just watching a movie.

Blogging Friendships 2

It was a wakeup call for me the first time a blogger friend and I miscommunicated. Anyone who knows me in the real world knows that I would always rather someone be honest with me than hide hurt feelings or let resentment build. But this online friend, lets call her N, had become upset and not wanted to tell me, so when I pushed her over the edge and N blew up, I was totally blindsided. I thought all had been fine and without the benefit tone of voice and body language, I hadn’t realized how bad things have gotten.

I apologized profusely for not understanding that I had hurt N, and I believe our relationship is alright now (and maybe even stronger for it). But it was a tricky situation to navigate, and it gave me the full awareness that behind these positive, perky online conversations that we all have with each other are real, complicated human beings.

In another case, I had blogger friend, let’s call her F, who I had been close with when I first started Oddly Lovely. F and I chatted on Twitter, commented on each other’s posts, and I appreciated her positivity and open friendliness. But the tone of my blog changed a lot when I began writing on more controversial topics like being pagan. I could feel F pulling away some then, not relating to my heaviness or my beliefs about religion or homosexuality or other social issues.

I didn’t think much of it for months, but the truth is F and I stopped talking to one another or commenting on each others posts. I understand that just like real life friendships ebb and flow, so do online ones. But I  was really hurt last week when I applied for an ad on F’s site and was rejected without any explanation. She didn’t bother to send me a quick message explaining why, she just outright rejected me. Normally I feel safe here on my blog, even when I discuss opinions that I understand not everyone will share, but this one really cut me. It was the first time someone had essentially said, “I don’t believe in your lifestyle or your views, and I don’t want anything to do with you.”

Have you ever had drama with a blogging friend? Do you find these relationships as complicated as I do?

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