Excuse Me, Jennifer Aniston?

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This weekend, I was reading an article on Huffington post that linked to another article and so on and so forth — you know how the Internet can be a time warp — and somehow I saw a link to the headline, “Jennifer Aniston Talks Motherhood And The Unfair Pressure To Have Kids.”

While I don’t closely follow Jennifer Aniston or most celebrity news, the headline intrigued me since I too feel strongly that people shouldn’t be made to feel weird if they haven’t had kids yet, or don’t even want any — yet this does happen way too often, particularly involving women.

So I clicked it. (The Internet wins again.)

The article referred to statements Jennifer Aniston makes in the January 2015 issue of Allure, and although her comments were brief, I was surprised at how candid she was on this topic and how much I found myself agreeing with her.

For instance, I completely understood what she meant when she said, “I don’t like [the pressure] that people put on me, on women — that you’ve failed yourself as a female because you haven’t procreated. I don’t think it’s fair.”

As a woman with no children myself, I was nodding and thinking, Right on, sister!

Until she said that not having children “doesn’t mean you aren’t mothering — dogs, friends, friends’ children.”

Excuse me?

This is when she lost me.

Who said women have to mother anyone in the first place?

Would this quote have made any sense if a man was saying it?

Try to picture George Clooney saying him not having kids doesn’t mean he’s not fathering his pets, his friends and their kids.

You can’t? That’s because he would never say that. No guy would.

And no one should about women, either.

Women do not need to mother other beings to be valid as people in our society. That’s the point I thought she was making.

This part of her statement was, if anything, proof that she buys into the expectations on women. Trying to spin them in a new way doesn’t hide that.

Now look, I’m not usually one to split hairs and dissect every nuance of a person’s statement. But in this case, I think she completely ruined the point she was trying to make with the idea that women can still be motherly without having kids. And I was unexpectedly bothered by that, as well as comments people have made saying her statement was “brilliant.”

Brilliant for a Stepford wife wanna-be, maybe.

On a side note, another aspect I disliked about what she said is the concept of friends “mothering” friends. Who wants that?! There’s only one person I enjoy being mothered by, and that’s my mother!

In fact, one of my closest friends once had another friend take on a motherly dynamic with her, and let’s just say it was not a fun experience for her! (Although those stories do make us laugh now.) So Jennifer Aniston saying that women can mother their friends, oh and their children, is just plain weird. I mean, do your friends really want you trying to mother their kids? “Oh, I told Johnny he could have a few more cookies. Look how happy he is!” Yeah, your friend is really going to love your motherly “help” there!

To be fair, I think Jennifer Aniston used the word “mothering” to mean being “loving” or “giving,” to counteract the notion of childless people, especially women, being selfish.

However, there’s a big difference between mothering and being loving and giving; you can by all means be all three — which is a beautiful thing, don’t get me wrong — but you can also be loving and giving without mothering in any form.  This is another reason why I found myself strangely disappointed when I read this. Her point had been making so much sense until then. I felt like she took so many steps back with her statement — all while she was trying to be so progressive.

But maybe I should calm down. Some would say that as a female, being easily annoyed like this isn’t the motherly way I should be acting towards others.

I apologize, my sweeties. Now please go have something to eat. You all look so thin…

Note: This post was written as part of LindaGHill’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday, which was skillfully organized this week by author Leigh Michaels while Linda is away. This week’s prompt was “excuse,” which we could use either as a noun or a verb. I wasn’t sure what I was going to write with it until I read this and wanted to comment on it, and the idea of using Leigh’s excellent prompt as a verb in a rhetorical question hit me. :)

Liebster Award!

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I have been nominated for the Liebster award by Sandi of the excellent What Oft Was Thought blog and am pleased to accept!

According to her post about the award, the rules to accept it are as follows:

  1. Acknowledge and accept the Liebster Award by leaving a comment on the blog where you were nominated;
  2. Copy the Liebster logo and paste it onto your own blog;
  3. Inform your nominees by leaving a comment on their respective blogs;
  4. In your blog post about the Liebster Award:
    • link back to the blogger who nominated you
    • answer the 11 questions put to you by the person who nominated you
    • list 11 random facts about yourself
    • nominate, and link to, 3-11 other blogs which you enjoy and which have fewer than 3,000 followers
    • list 11 questions for your nominees

Here are my answers to Sandi’s 11 questions:

  1. What is your ideal vacation?

I’d love to travel internationally to a place I’ve never been before; my first choice would be Tokyo, Japan because I’ve been dying to go there for some time but haven’t had the ability to do so as of yet. One day…

  1. What was your first job?

I helped out during the summers at the school my mom worked for, doing whatever special projects they needed help with, like organizing their archives, helping with mass mailings, etc.

  1. What motivates you to post on your blog?

Great question. It’s hard to define, but I’d say it usually has to do with anything I find helpful or new. For instance, I like to share tips and ideas readers can hopefully use to make their own lives easier, whether they’re cleaning their houses or trying to think up gift ideas. I also like to talk about interesting ideas in books I’m reading that I think others might find interesting as well.

  1. Name a book that you recently finished reading.

The Hidden Tools of Comedy by Steven Kaplan. A good read. I especially liked his points on the differences between comedy and drama, like this statement.

  1. What is your opinion of reality T.V. shows?

At first, I was about to write that I dislike them, but then I realized “reality shows” are more than just Keeping Up With the Kardashians. I’d say they also include competition shows like Master Chef Junior or shows where struggling businesses are turned around, like Hotel Hell and Kitchen Nightmares — all of which I enjoy watching. I’m also a fan of Shark Tank.

  1. How do you feel when a snowstorm hits your area and everything is cancelled for the day?

I usually love it! It’s a fun, unexpected little surprise, as long as it doesn’t shut down things for too many days in a row. Then, the novelty wears off and the challenge of doing what you have to do isn’t so much fun!

  1. Last night, my daughter was telling me about a friend who was applying for dual citizenship in another country. If you could obtain dual citizenship in another country, which country would you choose, and why?

Hmm, this is an interesting question. I’m not really sure without getting to see most of the countries that come to mind, but I lean towards Ireland. Haven’t been there, but I hear it’s beautiful and a friend who has traveled throughout Europe said she finds the people there to be very friendly. That’s a generalization but based on her stories, I can see what she means. I like the idea of having convenient access to traveling throughout Europe from there but also being in a location where many people speak English.

  1. What is your pet peeve with WordPress?

This is an easy one. While I love pretty much everything about WordPress, I’m not a fam of its new stats page. Luckily I can still access the old one, but it’s an extra step to get to now…

  1. Recently, I saw a study claiming that people who read fiction tend to be more empathetic. This study has generated controversy in my household. What is your opinion about this “finding”?

At first, I thought this sounded odd but the more I thought about it, I can see how this could be. People who can buy into a fictional story and relate to its characters could be more inclined to do so with people in “real life.” Once I read the article linked here, I see that is indeed a major part of the explanation for this. However, it should be noted that those who do not enjoy fiction can be just as empathetic — I know I read less fiction than I used to, preferring to learn more about true-life events; I’d say people who enjoy this kind of reading as well simply prefer to relate more to true stories versus made-up ones, but can be just as empathetic. Also, fiction lovers could also be the type who prefer a fantasy over real-world experiences and ironically may not relate so well to people they actually know. So, as with any study, there are nuances to be aware of.

  1. Did you believe in Santa Claus when you were a child?

Yes, until about age 7, I think. I started getting suspicious about a year before, when notes to me from Santa looked strangely like my mom’s handwriting. The final straw came when my mom said something the following year like, “Oh, did I leave the price tag on that gift? I was so tired when I was wrapping presents that I forgot to take it off!” yet she was referring to an item that was labeled as a gift to me from Santa…! We still laugh about that whenever it comes up!

  1. How do you prefer to learn about world news — through the Internet? Through the television? Through a newspaper or magazine?

My preferred choice is actually talk radio, which I find I can have on in the background without being distracted too much from whatever I’m doing while also keeping up with the news. I like how it’s acceptable to do so even in most workplaces, as long as it’s not too loud or on during an important meeting, of course!

And now for 11 facts about myself:

  1. I’m an only child. Well, I’m an adult now, but you get what I mean!
  2. I’m right-handed.
  3. I’m near-sighted. I sometimes wish I could just wake up seeing perfectly without a need for glasses, but I’m still too squeamish about eye surgery to take that step…
  4. I enjoy playing a wide range of video games when I can.
  5. I read a lot — everything from foreign-language books to profiles of companies as well as autobiographies.
  6. I hate the taste of citrus in pretty much any form, whether it involves eating the fruit or in the form of juice. Not sure why!
  7. One of my favorite movies is the Alastair Sim version of A Christmas Carol. It must be that version; his portrayal is the best of the ones I’ve seen! Sadly, I don’t see this one aired as much as I used to…
  8. I have never lived in a house; only apartments.
  9. As a child, I used to confuse the words “globe” and “blimp” with one another. Do with that what you will.
  10. I was addicted to soda in college. Kind of embarrassing to admit! Luckily, I was able to quit when a friend said she’d buy me the CD of my choice if I stopped having any for 1 week. That was the motivation I needed, and was able to keep it going!
  11. I like spicy food. The hotter the better!

As for the 3-11 blogs I nominate, I will go with 3 — I like that number, plus many blogs I follow and would nominate are either no-awards blogs or have more than 3,000 followers. (By the way, it’s not always easy to find follower counts on every blog, so I say to my nominees: if I have underestimated your follower count and you do in fact have over 3,000, I apologize!)

What the Eff!?

Touched by the Page

Dear Diary

As for my questions to these nominees, they are (and feel free to swap one out for one of your own if you like!):

  1. What made you get into blogging?
  2. If you had to spend a year on a deserted island and could only bring one non-electronic item with you, what would it be?
  3. What skill or strength of yours are you most proud of?
  4. What is one goal you have for yourself in the coming year, big or small?
  5. Let’s say you were granted an opportunity to try out another career for a year without any risk to your current job/career and with all your financial needs adequately met, what would it be?
  6. Would you classify yourself as an introvert or an extrovert?
  7. What is one of your favorite movies or TV shows?
  8. What is your opinion of the Mars One program, which plans to send people on a one-way trip to Mars in 2024 — specifically, are the people who want to take part being selfish, as some have claimed?
  9. Do you speak any other languages besides English? If so, which ones, and how fluent are you?
  10. What part of the world would you choose to visit if you won a free trip and hotel stay to anyplace you wanted?
  11. Is there a fashion trend, past or present, that you can’t stand?

I know accepting this award does take a good amount of time, so I echo what Sandi said in that anyone nominated is under no pressure to accept, of course. But of those who do, I look forward to your responses! :)

Oh, and I just had to include 3 honorary mentions. These are blogs I follow and would have also nominated, but they already were nominated for the Liebster award very recently — but check them out because they’re interesting to read!

Shan Jeniah’s Lovely Chaos 

Jeanne Owens, Author 

Creative Writing For Me 

You can find a list of other blogs I enjoy here — hope you find a few new favorites too!

Staying in the Present

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SoCS Badge by Doobster of MindfulDigressions.com

This week’s thought-provoking Stream of Consciousness Saturday prompt, planned and organized by Helen Espinosa of This Thing Called Life One Word at a Time while LindaGHill is traveling, is “present.”

I love this choice, as the word can be used in so many different ways. I’ve chosen to use it to refer to staying in the present moment.

I was inspired to interpret the prompt this way after recently seeing a quote about this concept online which immediately resonated with me. I couldn’t remember it exactly now, so I quickly looked it up so I could share it with you here:

“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow. It empties today of its strength.”
— Corrie Ten Boom  

Beautifully said, and so true. Yet how often don’t we all persist in ruminating on the past or obsessing over the future? We know this rarely produces any positive results, but we do it anyway. And all it does is ruin the present day.

I know I do this. I’ve obsessed over decisions I’ve made (could I have done something different, and better?) or concerns about what lies ahead (will there be layoffs at my job?)…the list goes on and on.

But what do these thoughts really accomplish, short of scaring and/or depressing me?

Nothing.

In fact, this all reminds me of something else I recently read, the book Choose Yourself! by James Altucher (which is an interesting read that I recommend, by the way). In it, he stresses that this way of thinking is pointless. I decided to briefly stop my stream-of-consciousness writing one more time to look up his point on my Kindle and share it with you word-for-word in order to do it the justice it deserves. Altucher writes:

“Most people obsess on regrets in their past or anxieties in their future. I call this ‘time traveling.’ The past and future don’t exist. They are memories and speculation, neither of which you have any control over. You don’t need to time travel anymore. You can live right now.”

I had never thought of it this way, in terms of it being worthless time traveling, and immediately found this perspective so brilliantly simple. That’s exactly what this is, and who wants to spend their days focused on “memories and speculation?”

Not me.

Anything not happening now is not the present, and therefore there’s nothing you can do about it. So stop trying! It’s an exercise in futility!

Of course, this isn’t to say you should just give up on planning for the future and working to achieve your life’s goals — that’s all well and good. But once your thinking gets to a point of lying awake at night in fear of events you can’t control, that’s when it has to end.

For example, what if there are layoffs at your job, as I mentioned worrying about before? Can you control that? Not likely — and certainly not by worrying about it.

What you can do is stay up-to-date with your marketable skills and keep performing to the best of your ability on your current job so that if there are layoffs that affect you, you’re in the best position possible to find new employment, prepared with good references and abilities. Or maybe your employer will see how hard you’ve been working and you’ll be spared. Either way is win-win.

Plus, many times our worst fears never end up happening anyway, as I found out firsthand years ago when faced with this worry about layoffs. I’d heard rumors of cutbacks at my job, but as it turned out, no layoffs ever occurred, luckily — so I went through weeks of self-imposed stress and anxiety for no reason at all.

And when it comes to questioning your past, particularly decisions you’ve made and now regret, someone I worked with once shared a good perspective on this. He told us that we’ve made the best possible decision every single time we’ve had to make one.

Every single time.

Sounds a bit simplistic and overly positive, doesn’t it? But it makes sense. See, while you may now see a way that might have been better, you made your choice based on what you knew at the time, so it was in fact the best decision you could make.

For instance, let’s say you were offered two comparable jobs at similar companies and went with job A, which offered a better salary and shorter commute. However, you’re no longer happy there because your company is struggling, resulting in a tense environment and severe budget restrictions. You may wish you had gone with job B, which is at a company that has since experienced lots of rapid expansion and success. Sure, it’s easy to feel some regret, but you have to brush that off and certainly not blame yourself — you need to recognize that you made the best possible decision you could have at the time, given the information available to you at that present moment. There’s no value in thinking, “That was so dumb of me, why did I do that?” There’s likely no way you could have known otherwise back then. In other words, everything only looks so clear in hindsight.

Or, as “they” say, it’s easy to be a Monday morning quarterback!

Plus, who’s to say with 100% certainty that job B would have worked out better for you personally anyway? Perhaps your colleagues wouldn’t be as easy to work with as your current ones, or your direct supervisor wouldn’t be as reasonable as the one you have now. All of these are just simple scenarios, but I’m trying to point out that you never truly know how another route would have worked out, so there’s no point in worrying about it now.

Besides, even when we have made a mistake, that’s part of life — and nothing is a lost cause. You’re in a less-than-fulfilling job? Start looking now for a new one. You moved to a bad apartment? You can always move again. I’m not saying it’s a snap to make these changes, but they’re always possible.

In moments like these, whether I’m questioning past decisions or getting stressed thinking about the future, it helps me to remember that doing so isn’t worth it. I should just stay in the present moment. I hope this is a helpful reminder for you too!

Don’t Be Such an Open Book!

This past weekend, I was reading a news story about Black Friday sales. I won’t specify the source of this article, and you’ll see why in a moment.

In the story, shoppers were quoted as to what they bought and how much they spent. For the most part, the shoppers quoted weren’t buying anything too extravagant, and only revealed certain things about themselves.

But others were much more open about themselves and their purchases.

One in particular shared her full name, the pricey luxury items she bought and the fact that she’s visiting New York from Oklahoma for her 50th birthday. (Note: I’ve changed her identifying details here out of concern for her privacy on my part; I know this was in the media already, but I don’t want to add to the situation by spreading her information even further!)

I should also point out that her name is somewhat unique compared to other shoppers quoted; in other words, she doesn’t have a common name like Jennifer Smith.

Right away, then, her contribution to the article struck me as just too much, for her sake. Now anyone reading this would have all they need to find out exactly where she lives in Oklahoma, especially since she even included her exact age! And based on what she could afford to buy, she is also likely well-off — and probably wouldn’t be home for another day or so from the publication date, since she’s visiting from somewhat far away.

All of which is dangerous information in the wrong hands, if you ask me.

I decided to test my theory and Google her name and state; sure enough, only a few results popped up. I knew I had the right person because a couple of the results included her age range, which was a match for the information in the news article.

From that brief search, I now had her street address, her phone number, and a list of her relatives.

I continued my creepy experiment by mapping her address and checking out the “street view” of it. Once again, my suspicions were right — she lives in a very nice house that would lead me to believe she is indeed well-off.

And based on her openness in the article, she’s likely not too savvy about her personal privacy, so aside from the risk of robbery, she could be marking herself as a prime target for identity theft or even stalking.

Now to some of you more trusting types, I know I may be coming off as overly paranoid. However, it’s been documented that criminals of all kinds often get ideas as to who to target based on the information victims themselves put out there, or fail to secure properly. For example, it’s been reported for years that some home robberies have been linked to social media posts and that oversharing online has been linked to identity theft – so sharing such personal details in print media, which is eventually posted online anyway, is no different.

Look, just because a reporter asks you a question doesn’t mean you have to divulge everything. I think their Black Friday articles will be just fine if you only give your first name, for example. This media outlet is clearly OK with that, as they quoted a few other shoppers who did this.

I hope this post isn’t coming off as critical of her; I’m writing out of concern for people like her who don’t realize how they’re making themselves vulnerable.

Think of it this way: this media outlet had no qualms printing the information this person shared in good faith; had I been the reporter, I would have cleaned up her information in the story so that it would be less personally revealing to her yet still accurate and useful for my story.

But no one will care as much about you as you do, or should. So don’t rely on anyone else to protect you. Look out for yourself, and you can start by not being such an open book — please!

My Two Cents on “Dress Code” Rules During Royal Visit

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In November, it was announced that Prince William and his wife Kate will be visiting the United States, specifically New York City and Washington, D.C., in early December.

The news about this visit also specified that any media professionals covering the royal event need to adhere to a “dress code” set by Buckingham Palace. If they do not, they will not be allowed in to report on the events.

Here are the rules directly from the official website of the British Monarchy:

Attire for journalists covering Royal engagements

Journalists wishing to cover Royal engagements, whether in the United Kingdom or abroad, should comply with the dress code on formal occasions out of respect for the guests of The Queen, or any other member of the Royal Family.

Smart attire for men includes the wearing of a jacket and tie, and for women a trouser or skirt suit. Those wearing jeans or trainers will not be admitted and casually dressed members of the media will be turned away. This also applies to technicians.

I have some thoughts on this.

Let’s start with the “technicians” part.

How can even the technicians be required to follow these guidelines?  They stand on their feet most of the day and have to handle bulky cameras and other heavy equipment; would sneakers (aka trainers) really be that big of a deal? Especially if they’re the kind of conservative sneakers that are more like shoes, and are in good condition, as opposed to bright neon ones or ratty old gym sneakers? Would that really just ruin the event?

Secondly, and possibly even more importantly, how can people be required to adhere to these rules not only in the UK, but abroad?

That would be like me going to a party at someone else’s house but telling the host what I think they should wear. All the manners books in the world would tell me that I was being rude if I did that; if I’m not the host, I don’t get to dictate things like that. So how come that basic etiquette doesn’t apply here?

To be clear, I do understand the merits of dressing your best on the job, especially for a noteworthy event like this. I also agree with showing basic respect; I’m not saying it would be right to roll up in ripped sweatpants and a stained shirt, whether you’re interacting with royals or anyone else.

I can even understand media outlets telling their staff members to dress their best, so that their companies are represented well in front of such famous public figures.

I get all that.

But there’s something about Buckingham Palace mandating this dress code that bothers me. It seems so out of line. The technician clause seems especially unnecessary and uppity to me; I think that’s what set me off, actually.

For the record, I don’t even dislike Prince William or Kate; I’m not a follower of royal events either. This just stood out to me as not right as soon as I heard it.

In fact, the adverse side of me wants to see someone manage to violate this dress code.

I have fun picturing someone coming in seemingly appropriately dressed, being cleared to enter, and then somehow being able to quickly take off that proper outer layer of clothes — only to reveal jeans and a simple shirt underneath.

The horror!

This topic came up when I was speaking with family over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend and it turned out it’s not just me who found this dress code to be a bit much. In fact, my mother thought it would be interesting to see what would happen if a well-known person or dignitary of some sort were to show up and – gasp! – be in violation of the dress code.

Let’s say it was President Obama, but he had jeans and a blazer on. Wouldn’t he have to be let in anyway?

That concept made me laugh as soon as she said it! She’s so right; it would have to involve a high-standing figure for this scenario to play out this way. And I would love it if someone too prominent to turn away did something like this, just to mess with the royals…although most public figures wouldn’t want to do that. Still, it’s fun to think about…and that’s my two cents on the royals and their “dress code” on our turf!

Note: This post was written as part of LindaGHill’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday. This week’s prompt was: “‘sense/scents/cents,’ with a bonus word this week – ‘sent.’ Choose one, use them all or simply write whatever comes to mind- it’s up to you!” I went with sharing my two cents on this recent news story that we were just discussing over the holiday weekend!

Gratitude for a Few of My Favorite Things

I recently read a book by a man chronicling his experience sending a thank you note to someone every day for a year — it was A Simple Act of Gratitude: How Learning to Say Thank You Changed My Life, written by John Kralik and published by Hyperion in 2011.

John Kralik book

It’s an interesting read; if you want to check it out, click the image above, or here.

This book was still pretty fresh in my mind a few weeks ago when I had to deal with a company’s customer service division to resolve an issue for me.

I started thinking about how they’ll really only hear from people when there’s a problem.

Which is understandable, but having a lot of experience handling clients’ problems myself throughout the years, I know how it feels to not hear enough good feedback. When things are not ideal — you’ll hear it. But when they’re great?

Silence, usually.

At times it can be a little discouraging to only hear the negative side of things, despite everything you’re doing right. So in the spirit of that book, as well as the Thanksgiving season we’re in, lately I’ve been trying to contact companies whose products I love, to let them know they’re appreciated. I also want to help spread the word about them, since I think what they offer is so…well, cool!

I should add that I also do this with individuals, but in this post I’ll just cover a few businesses, primarily because I think they offer products you may enjoy as well or which may give you some gift ideas for the holidays this year!

And no, I am not being paid or compensated in any way for this; I know one or two of you are wondering about that. :)

So, here are 3 of my “favorite things” — to quote Oprah and the famous song from Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music — which I truly appreciate!

Wellspring

I love this company’s “Flip Note” line; I have so many of them that it could be considered an addiction a collection!

Wellspring argyle Flip Notes

Wellspring’s “Stacy Argyle Flip Note.” I love how cute AND practical these are!

These are so handy; while I know many people jot things down using their phones, you can’t deny the merits of old-fashioned pen and paper in a pinch, like when your phone battery is low for example. And these beat generic notepads, which usually get damaged pretty quickly in a purse or bag; Flip Notes, on the other hand, have metal cases that stay shut. That’s because each one comes with a pen (how convenient is that?) which is stored on the case itself (yet even more convenient); when you slide it into place, it locks the notepad shut. That way, you don’t have to worry about the pages getting ruined or torn.

The Flip Notes come in so many cute designs and options, like the “Stacy Argyle” one I have (pictured above); they also have a few options “for men” (which I found amusing).

A couple of times when I found myself in an unofficial meeting without my planner or laptop on me, I was able to use a Flip Notes pad and not worry that it looked unprofessional or that my notes would get lost or messed up, the way I’d feel with a loose sheet of paper or a notepad like this with no protective cover. Plus then I’d have had to look for a pen — but with Flip Notes? They’re small enough that I always have one in my bag, which means I always have pen and paper on me, and in good condition! (I feel like I’m reciting copy for a commercial. Oh well, I love these notepads and am not afraid to say it!)

You can easily find Wellspring Flip Notes, as well as additional pens and paper for them, on the Wellspring website or on Amazon; I use the latter option myself, since I do a lot of my shopping that way. (Amazon is another addiction habit of mine, but we won’t get into that right now.)

So, take a look at what they offer if you think these could be useful to you or anyone you know. I’ve given many as gifts and stocking-stuffers, and everyone seemed to truly like them. In fact, a couple of people I know carry theirs on a daily basis, like I do.

I should also point out that Wellspring offers many other unique products besides Flip Notes, like Auto Notes (which attach to your car’s visor), wall art and more. Although I’ve never personally used these, they look like good gift-giving options as well.

Peter Pauper Press

I am also obsessed with Peter Pauper Press’ line of journals. You can find these in many stores, and of course on their website above as well as on Amazon.

I still remember the first time I came across one of their journals. It was years ago, and I was browsing a bookstore — ah, the good old days, when bookstores were popular! — when I saw it.

It was a beautiful book that looked more like an ancient text one might see on display in a museum than something I could use to record my daily ramblings in.

I bought it instantly, without any of the usual “Hmm, should I?” debates in my head.

Here’s a picture of it from Amazon:

Peter Pauper Press Persian Splendor journal

But bear in mind that online photos of it do not do it justice at all; in person, the book looks so much more beautiful, down to the embossed detailing that isn’t easy to see in a photo. I found it so lovely and well-made, in fact, that — and this is somewhat embarrassing to admit — I didn’t feel I could sully it with my writing!

Yes, I’m aware I have a problem.

Some time later, I thought to look the journal up online and was thrilled to find it. I bought a second one, just so I wouldn’t feel so bad messing one of them up. That’s when I discovered all their other beautiful designs and products.

Today, I have quite a collection of them, and at least now I’m more willing to write in them since I know I can easily find them online again, in addition to a wide range of new designs they release on an ongoing basis. I really appreciate how varied their designs are, ranging from being inspired by 17th-century French book binding to 19th-century Japanese art. (And yes, I have purchased both of those; the first for a friend, the second for me — in case you were curious!)

Another benefit, I find, is that writing in such an aesthetically-pleasing book inspires me to be more creative and thoughtful about what I write in it. I’m much less likely to scrawl nonsense; it’s like the book’s quality helps me think quality thoughts, if that makes any sense.

Anyway, if you’re also into beautiful books and novelty items, or if you’re looking for some gift ideas for the holidays, I urge you to check out Peter Pauper Press’ products. They sell much more than journals, including planners, cute little books, unique bookmarks and more.

Sparkling ICE

OK, I swear I don’t only buy and consume notebooks of various types — although the writer in me does love writing supplies. :)

No, I am also a fan of Sparkling ICE, a line of zero-calorie, “naturally flavored sparkling mountain spring water” beverages that have added vitamins and antioxidants:

Sparkling ICE

These are great! I especially recommend these if ever you’re in the mood for a less-than-healthy soda; I have that tendency now and then but want to avoid soda. Luckily, I’m more than satisfied drinking these instead.

I must be honest about the fact that I haven’t tried all the various flavors they offer, so I can’t vouch for every single option; at first, I’d only tried their apple one, which was pretty good. One day, though, my store was out of apple, so I tried their pomegranate blueberry drink — and I was hooked. I’ve felt no need to explore further ever since. I love this flavor combination, representing a mix I won’t usually find and enjoy too often otherwise.

On a side note, while I do eat blueberries often, I rarely bother with pomegranates even though I know I should; the seeds are so good for you! Luckily, this drink contains real pomegranate juice, as opposed to artificial pomegranate flavoring like so many other products would do. A prime example that always bugs me are the pumpkin drinks out there, most of which have no real pumpkin in them. Why?!

If you’d like to try Sparkling ICE, you should be able to find it in your local supermarket or drugstore; if you need help, check out this link on the Sparkling ICE website for where to find it by you. Once you know which stores carry it, look for it in the bottled water aisle; at least that’s where I typically find it.

You can also order it online via Amazon; I recently ordered it from there myself when my local stores were out of the pomegranate flavor I must have to live prefer!

I feel good having told these companies how I feel about their products, as well as sharing these recommendations with you. I hope this post helps you find a nice treat for yourself or someone  else, and that it also helps these businesses; I get so disappointed when a product I love disappears, so here’s hoping these remain successful enough to stick around for a long time!

Three Surprisingly Easy Ways to Improve Your Language-Learning

Have you ever studied another language, only to hit a wall you can’t seem to get past in terms of your comprehension? I have too; I studied French and Spanish from junior high school through college, and beyond on my own, yet I’ve gotten rusty in both and struggle to really speak and understand either the way I feel I should by now.

But I’ve come up with a few strategies to improve my abilities in both languages, and wanted to share them with you in the hopes you’ll benefit from them too.

I’m not talking about the common tips, like to practice, practice, practice — sure, do that whenever possible. But we already know that, yet many of us still struggle to get to an intermediate level in our language(s) of study.

I also won’t suggest classes — again, nothing wrong with that approach, but I’m assuming that many of us have gone that route already but need help breaking past the classroom-level of proficiency. See, formal, structured lessons often involve learning by rote (think verb conjugations like hablo, hablas, habla, hablamos…). But when it comes to being able to pick up more off-the-cuff forms of communications, it’s not as easy — at least it hasn’t been for me.

Besides, I’m also making another assumption that, like me, you may be unable or unwilling to spend a lot of time and/or money on formal education, one-on-one tutors and so on.

Well, I believe we don’t have to. Right now I’ve been looking for little ways to incorporate my target languages into my daily life, and here’s what’s been working for me so far:

I. I’ve changed my display languages on everything I can think of, from my Kindle to my web browser. I’ve set most of them to French, since I’m weaker in that language. I really like this strategy because I already have an idea of what the prompts mean from having read them in English for so long, yet now seeing them in French teaches me new words I don’t know yet but should.

For instance, in searching for my trash bin in my Gmail account, I realized it was in the area marked “corbeille.” That didn’t sound like the word “trash” to me, so it prompted me to Google it; I found that it meant “little basket.”

Which I found adorable — definitely much more pleasant-sounding than “trash!”

But most importantly,  now I know the word for “basket,” which is a word I probably never would have thought to look up otherwise but one I think is common enough to be very useful.

This strategy also helps me review terms I do know but may have forgotten; for instance, when I go to the area where my sent messages are, I see that they’re called “messages envoyés.” This reminds me that the verb “to send” in French is envoyer. Pretty handy verb to keep in mind, I’d say!

II. I read websites, blogs and books in my target languages. I’m surprised by how many language-learners have only read educational books in their language of study; after formal classes end, they read no more.

Granted, many people also don’t read much at all, even in their native language. But I love to — so recently I decided to do some of that reading in French and Spanish. It’s even easier to do now what with the proliferation of affordable e-books.

I do choose somewhat simple books; I’m not talking about reading translations of Shakespeare. Not ready for that!

What I do is think of subjects I enjoy reading about — let’s say heath and careers. I then type these terms in French or Spanish into Amazon so my book results come up in my preferred languages.

I should note here that before doing this, I often have to do a Google search for a translation of the subject I’m interested in, like when I wanted to search for tips on a healthy life. I forgot the word for “healthy” in French is “saine” and Googled that first so I could do my Amazon search. Just FYI!

I then preview my matches using the “Look Inside” feature to get a sense of whether a particular book is just challenging enough to be educational for me, while also not being so difficult I’m looking up every single word. I also make sure to choose books that seem to have an interesting flow and approach; I know if I choose a boring text, I’ll never read it and defeat the whole purpose. If you’re curious to see the kind I prefer, here are the health books I recently bought in Spanish and in French.

A while back, I also bought French-English and Spanish-English dictionaries for my Kindle. That way, when I read books in French and Spanish and come across a word I really can’t figure out, I just highlight it for its translation, much as you can get definitions of English words using the Kindle’s built-in English dictionary. The translation function is just as easy, once you download the language dictionary you need and go to your settings to make it the default dictionary for that particular language. (FYI, I went with this one for French and this one for Spanish; others I’d checked had reviews saying they didn’t work properly as default dictionaries. In those cases, you’d have the book on your Kindle just like any other book, but the ability to quickly translate a specific word as you read would not be functional.)

I love this aspect of reading foreign language e-books so much; I remember how tedious it used to be to have a physical dictionary on hand for every unknown word, but with an e-reader, the answers are right there so you don’t have to lose your flow or forego the chance to properly learn a new word!

Incidentally, I would have thought it would be possible to just search Amazon for “health books in French” or to type “health” and click a language option, but I haven’t found that to be the case. So, this is why I go about my search this way.

On a related note, I don’t recommend going to the international sites of Amazon, like French Amazon at amazon.fr if you plan to download French books to a Kindle for example; from what I’ve read, you might encounter problems since some books are licensed for use in specific countries. So if you try to use Amazon France for that in the U.S., it won’t work for some books. Plus I believe you may have some payment conversion issues and whatnot. I’ve never tried this though, so if I’m wrong and you know doing this has worked for you, do share!

One other reading tip, albeit on a smaller scale: I also follow Twitter users and media sources who post in French and Spanish. While I’m not the best connection for them since I struggle to respond and comment meaningfully in those languages, I do enjoy reading their updates and find that this helps me pick up more casual forms of communication.

III. I look for shows I can watch in other languages. I prefer doing this online instead of via TV since it’s easier to find what I’m looking for, including some programs that are made specifically for language learners yet aren’t the kind of dry lessons that we often get from traditional classroom learning.

My preference is to watch news segments, because I can often get a sense of what’s being said through the visual cues and context even when I can’t catch or understand every single word. I learn and retain new words much better this way versus reading a vocabulary list and trying to remember it. That works only up to a point for me.

On a related note, I find native speakers often speak too fast for me to understand; this happens to me often with Spanish shows. So, when I’m having a hard time finding a show that’s a good pace for me, or let’s say it’s late and I’m a bit tired, sometimes I’ll watch a show aimed at older kids. I find characters on these shows speak a bit slower yet still provide a good lesson in vocabulary and sentence construction.

Well, that about rounds up my top three tips for improving my language skills. Between a mix of research and trial and error, I’ve found these strategies have been helping me. I hope they help you as well!