Literary Gift Guide 2017

Most of the people in my life are notoriously hard to shop for, so I love the satisfaction of buying the perfect gift for someone. I know a lot of people see Christmas shopping as a chore, but I see it more as a month-long puzzle I can solve.


For that reason, I think that books make a wonderful gift. Not in an “I saw this on the best-seller list so I picked it up” way, but instead in a “this message resonated with me and I want to share it with you” way. Someone’s personal interests, time commitment, and reading history all have to come together for the book to be perfect, and if done right it’s a beautiful thing!

For those of you who have been following along on the blog, you’ve likely seen some of these titles in my Sunday posts as well! These books are some of my favorites, so I hope if you choose to follow my advice that they make one of your loved ones very happy.

For the TV fan:

  • The Magnolia Story — If you’re shopping a Fixer Upper fan, I cannot recommend this enough! It’s wholesome (i.e. something you could give to grandma) and provides a genuine, in-depth look at how Chip and Joanna grew their relationship and career.
  • Talking as Fast as I Can — Gilmore Girls was an integral part of my young life, as it was for many people who grew up alongside Rory. If you know someone who might want to feel as though Loralie Gilmore was talking to them, this would make a wonderful present.
  • The Handmaid’s Tale — I haven’t seen the Hulu series of this yet, but I would highly recommend this book either way. I had a hard time putting it down because the story is so well-woven so for a fan of the show it would be perfect, even if they aren’t typically a reader.


For the history buff:

  • The Invention of Wings — This book alternates between the perspective of a young girl and the slave she receives as a gift. Based on a real, South Carolina woman who did volumes to assist in abolishing slavery, this sheds light on a very impactful period of southern history.
  • The Nightingale — Based on a real-life hero who assisted fallen Allied soldiers out of Nazi-occupied France in World War 2, this book is both her story and a gripping look at day-to-day life in a wartorn country. Whether an enthusiast of France, WWII, or just interested in learning more about a different topic, this would be enjoyable for many types of people.
  • Devil in the White City — Not for the faint of heart, this follows the rise of serial killer H.H. Holmes, most famous for his murderous hotel, and the construction and execution of Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair. This is a historically accurate depiction of the events, but the author did a great job of making it read as a novel so it doesn’t feel dull.


For the gal pals:

  • You Are a Badass — I’ve read a lot of self-help books, and this one has been the most helpful by far. There’s also a few offshoots by the same author which I’ve heard are enjoyable. If you know someone who needs a bit of inspiration without the cheesy self-help exercises, this is a good place to start.
  • #Girlboss — A lot of people I know weren’t thrilled about this Netflix series due to the unlikability of the main character — the most refreshing thing about this book is that it’s written from the perspective of that same character and she totally owns how unlikable she once was. Even for someone who didn’t like the show, I’d recommend giving the book a try.
  • Leave Your Mark — For the 20-something girl trying to build her career and focus her energy, Leave Your Mark would be my number one pick. The author is a PR powerhouse which is what makes this book so fun to read, and it’s also packed with a ton of useful advice in both the personal and professional realms.


For the nonfiction fan:

  • Hillbilly Elegy — Being from the south, there are a number of towns that aren’t towns at all — just unincorporated communities that you won’t find on the map. This non-fiction novel gives an in-depth look at exactly that type of town and examines why so many people with aspirations are unable to fight their way out.
  • A Walk in the Woods — Whether shopping for a nature buff or not, Bill Bryson makes this such an interesting story that it’s easy to forget it’s technically a book about one of the most difficult hikes in the US. Instead, it’s just interesting to go along for the journey.
  • The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath — Definitely a niche but I wouldn’t dare leave it out. A 20th-century American poet, Plath was raised in a society where women weren’t writers (or anything but wives and mothers). Sylvia was known to grapple with mental illness and conflicting views about who she was and who she should be. Her journals give insight into that conflict, so if someone on your list is a fan of her or just of literature in general, I would recommend this one.


What I’m Loving | 11/26/2017

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving! Not being home was hard, but it was nice to spend it with Harley & friends. Our trip home seems so far away, but I know it will be here before we know it!

We got our tree up and decorated and I’m so happy! Growing up, my family would always go to Cracker Barrel and pick out an ornament a piece, so I’m continuing that for ourselves (at Target since there are no Cracker Barrels in California 😔). I even got Bird a cute little egg ornament so she can feel included in more ways than just attacking our tree. I got fun Christmas stamps to send out holiday cards, and will be getting eggnog supplies this week as well! Now we just have to find matching Christmas pajamas made for cats…

Here’s what I’m loving lately:

Books :: I enjoyed The Underground Railroad (Oprah has good taste!). A few critiques mentioned the author took liberty with the actual structure of the railroad — the book references it as a literal railroad operated in tunnels, whereas the historical underground railroad was simply an informal network. For the sake of being concise, I think taking the liberty makes sense but it’s good to note that it’s not a totally accurate historical fiction piece. I also read The Magnolia Story in about a day, which was heartwarming and very interesting if you’re a Fixer Upper fan. I’m now working on The Help which is one of those books I can’t believe I haven’t read already, and great so far!

Listening :: Christmas music — it’s official time and I couldn’t be happier! While I love the classics, I try to mix it up each year so if anyone has suggestions please send them to me!

Spare Time :: Baking and cooking and baking some more! Everything for Thanksgiving turned out beautifully, and it was a great way for me to hone some more cooking skills I don’t typically exercise (such as a homemade shortbread crust!). My teeny turkey in the Instant Pot also turned out beautifully, so we’re set up with plenty of leftovers.

Style :: I found this flannel on clearance last weekend, and “ahh-mazingly soft” is the best way to describe it. I used to wear flannels all the time and I kind of got out of the habit. This one is structured enough to feel fashionable while still being soft and cozy, so it’s a big hit (and American Eagle always has great holiday sales).

Also, if anyone knows where to get cute yet inexpensive stockings, please let me know! I haven’t been able to find any I’ve liked that are a decent price, so I’m still on the hunt.

A Season of Reflection

For the first time, I’m not able to be home with my family on Thanksgiving. My family isn’t very large, but Thanksgiving is a great excuse to get everyone together and spend some quality time with your loved ones (and lots of food). Harley’s family has lived all over so he’s more used to skipping holidays here and there; my family has always lived so close that we’ve never not been together. Now that I have a niece it’s extra sad to be away, and I’m counting down the days until we make our trip home for New Years!

Thankfully, we have some friends in the area who are also unable to go home so we’ll do a Thanksgiving dinner with them. I’m the only one out of the group who enjoys cooking so I’m excited to be making quite a few dishes, and it will be nice to have some pals to hang around and watch football with.

Thanksgiving offers a great opportunity to reflect on the past year and where it has taken you. If you had told me eleven months ago that Harley and I would be living in California, I wouldn’t have believed you. Now with less than two months left in 2017, I realize how many amazing things have happened that I never would have expected. In everyday life, it’s easy to lose sight of the really giant things you’ve tackled — looking back, it’s been a big year of growth and learning.

Though I miss Chattanooga and I’m disappointed to not be with my family this Thanksgiving, I am thankful I ended up where I am. It’s gratifying to be able to look back and think of all the positive changes that have been made, making it even more exciting to look ahead. Now if we could just figure out how to get enough money to go home as often as we wanted, our problems would be solved.

What I’m Loving | 11/19/2017

It’s rare for me to find the perfect mix of downtime & uptime, but I think I had a pretty good go this week. I’ve spent a lot of time preparing for Thanksgiving & Christmas, and trying to build out my gift spreadsheets for everyone! Buying presents is my favorite part of the season, but since we’ll be flying home we’re having to get creative this year.

Here’s what I’m loving lately:

Books :: State of Wonder was a decent read. I feel like the reviews are raving and I never found myself feeling that passionate about it, but I did quite enjoy it. Since finishing that, I’ve read Talking as Fast as I Can (which I totally recommend if you’re a Gilmore Girls fan!), and I’ve now started on The Underground Railroad. I’m too new to it to feel fully immersed, but I’m interested to see where the story goes.

Listening :: Fall Out Boy. We went to their show on Tuesday, and it was the third time I’ve seen them live since I was thirteen. Fall Out Boy was my first favorite band so it was quite sentimental! It’s good to see them still rocking it nearly ten years later.

Spare Time :: Thanksgiving prep. I’ve been a hawk on Pinterest trying to find the best/easiest/cheapest recipes. I think I’m going to attempt a tiny turkey in the Instant Pot for Harley & I — I’m a bit nervous but hopefully, it will turn out! I also found a pie pan for $5 at Target and ordered a hand-held mixer, so I’m really settling into this winter baking thing.

Style :: Christmas, Christmas, and more Christmas. I’ve been searching for Christmas sweaters and Christmas decorations and Christmas recipes…I cannot stop myself. Our ornaments and lights have been obtained, and now we’re waiting on our tree to arrive from Amazon. Now I just have to find Bird a nice stocking!

We’ve been watching a lot of The Great British Baking Show so I’m inspired to try my hand at some adventurous bakes as a project this week. I found a recipe for Instant Pot Wheat Bread which seems perfect for beginners…so hopefully I won’t mess it up too badly!

A Seat at the Table

I think one of my favorite things about the digital age is the ability to find a name for any experience you’re facing. I doubt that 10 years ago anyone had given a name to the inability to internalize accomplishments; thankfully, someone came up with “imposter syndrome” and the sentiment has stuck. This is referenced frequently by women working in STEM fields, and I think it’s something anyone in the modern workplace can relate to at some point in their career.

Feeling like you don’t belong in your given profession can be discouraging at best and kill your enthusiasm at worst. Even with all the qualifications and accolades, self-doubt can undermine everything you do. The question is: how do I make this better? No one wants to feel under-qualified, but how do you take that feeling and turn it into a tangible solution?

Two things to consider are that 1.) no one knows what they’re doing really, and 2.) people who don’t know what they’re doing can still manage to be crazy successful. I’m quick to get caught up in feeling like I don’t have it all together — but no one does! I think it might be the plight of the human (and especially of the woman) to consistently feel that others are better/more qualified/more responsible/etc…but just because your seat at the table is uncomfortable doesn’t mean you should give it up.

The beautiful thing is that speaking freely about struggles opens the door to collaboration and finding the answers. Mentors can be great resources for this, and so can podcasts, blogs, interviews, books with strong leads, or just sharing your thoughts with friends. Surrounding yourself with input that builds confidence and reassures you will do wonders for your career and your self-efficacy.

Don’t let yourself fall into a pit of self-doubt, or think of yourself as an imposter in your career. Not everyone knows what they’re doing, but if you don’t let that stop you wonderful things can happen.

What I’m Loving | 11/12/2017

Another week has come and gone, and aside from the excitement surrounding Taylor Swift’s album release, it’s been a fairly calm one. We have a Friendsgiving next week so I’ve been deciding on recipes, and I’m excited to try some out in my spare time. There are few things I love more than the holidays and the food that surrounds them!

Here’s what I’m loving lately:

Books :: We Are Called to Rise ended up being just as heart-warming and uplifting as the Amazon reviews lead me to believe. If you want a feel-good book that doesn’t sacrifice literary integrity, this one is where I would point you. I’m now working on State of Wonder. I’ve read Commonwealth by the same author, and I’m a fan of her style. I’m barely into State of Wonder so I’m not totally engrossed yet, but I’m excited to see where it goes.

Listening :: Reputation. I’ve grown up with Taylor Swift, and I am obsessed with this new phase of her life. I cannot stop listening to this album.

Spare Time :: Planning vacation! We went to a festival last weekend and got three free lift passes to various ski resorts near Tahoe. They’re all spread out throughout the mountains of Northern California, so I’m having to plan three smaller trips (which is actually way harder!). I’m still so excited though and hoping that I don’t hurt myself this time.

Style :: I’m building my Christmas list, so my shopping habits have been all over the place. I think I’ve finally caved into wanting an Apple Watch…with the cellular connectivity I could leave my phone behind and that’s extremely appealing to me. Also, living in the Bay Area without an Apple Watch makes you a social pariah (kidding! sort of). The hands-free convenience does sound exciting though, so it’s looking like my list will be that and a lot of makeup.

I’m looking forward to taking it easy today. The only things on the to-do list are going to the store and cleaning up the house, and aside from that, we’re just going to chill. My favorite kind of Sunday!

Who and How to Ask for Advice

Asking for advice can feel uncomfortable. I’ve never been the type of person to seek out help, so soliciting someone’s input on a problem usually isn’t my first instinct. It’s something I’ve improved on, and I’m the first to admit that having people to consult when things get rough makes hardships much easier to bear!

I’ve also learned that not all advice is good advice, and there are times when it’s not advantageous to get someone’s input. You probably don’t agree with all the decisions your friends make, so it’s unwise to seek guidance from just anyone in your circle. The only thing worse than getting bad advice is having a person upset with you for not taking it! Make sure the help you’re getting is both valuable and serving to strengthen your friendships.

Here are some tips that have helped me in navigating both who and how to ask for advice (and how to keep the connection going afterwards):

Ask the Right Person. Before you approach someone for guidance, think about the way you’ve seen them react to similar (or totally different!) situations. Your response to this general assessment is a great indicator of whether or not they’re someone you should reach out to. I don’t recommend asking anyone for advice if you don’t have an idea of how they react to conflicts, or if you have a history of disagreeing with their decisions. Everyone reacts to situations differently, so knowing the perspective of your audience is important.

Ask in the Right Way. Most people will be flattered if you ask them for help. When people approach me with questions it makes my day, but for most people, the key is in delivery. For example, everyone hates a “can I ask you something?” text, so instead of giving someone an anxiety attack, just be specific! Leading with something in the nature of “Could I get your advice on a work-related problem?” or “I know you’ve had experience with X situation so I’d love to pick your brain” is a little bit of flattery that goes a long way and keeps people from going to that dark cavern from a “we need to talk” text. Don’t do that to anyone, ever.

Follow Up. Following up is important for so many things, but especially after asking for advice. When someone gives you advice they’re doing you a favor, so it’s common courtesy to follow-up on the outcome. Anyone willing to help you will be thrilled to know how their guidance affected your life, so be sure to let them know what came of it!

Pay it Forward. Always, always, always. Paying it forward is what makes the world go ’round, so always remember the kindness that has been offered to you and do the same for someone else. You never know when you could make someone’s day!

While approaching someone for help still seems daunting, keeping these things in mind has been a big help to me getting over my fear. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent with a drafted text message asking someone if they could shed light on a situation…but I am getting better!

Asking for advice is a great way to touch base with friends you don’t chat with often, and allows you to strengthen connections in new ways. If you’re getting quality input, it’s also a wonderful way to bring fresh perspectives into old situations. If you struggle with it like I do, I hope this helps you conquer your fear!