A Trip Down Memory Lane

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I read a blog post the other day entitled “10 Expert Tips for Raising a Reader,” and while I’m nowhere near popping out little humans of my own, it got me thinking about my own experiences with reading as a child. And since I was going down memory lane, I figured I’d go ahead and invite you along. Because we all have to embrace our geekiness at some point.

I don’t really remember being read to as a little kid, but I do know the story my mom tells about how my complete Virgo-ness appeared at an early age. My mom was usually in charge of reading my bedtime stories, which were all Disney-related (because, of course). One night, for whatever reason, she couldn’t read me my precious story, so she sent my dad in there instead. And ever the impatient man, he decided that I was little, I wouldn’t know if he skipped a few pages every once in awhile to get to the end quicker. But, while I might not have been able to read, I did know the order of the illustrations and I could recognize when something just wasn’t right. So I called him out on it, made him start over again and scarred him for life.

One of the stories I do remember specifically reading was the story of Stellaluna, the little bat that could. Man, I loved that book. I couldn’t tell you the storyline without looking at a synopsis of the story first, but I can tell you that the illustrations were beautiful and Stellaluna was just the cutest little bat in the night’s sky. Which tells me that I made my mom read me that story A LOT if I remember the illustrations that vividly. And that mom was a trooper. She had to read stories to both me and my sister separately because I’m a brat who couldn’t/can’t share. So she did. And on more than one occasion she fell asleep mid-word. And I’d have to wake her up to keep going because, like I said, I was a brat. I could pretend like I’ve changed since my bratty days and I wouldn’t still do the same thing, but I’m fairly certain that would not be the truth. Win some, lose some.

I remember the Christmas my grandmother gave me an inscribed copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I think it just said “I’ve heard great things about this book, so wanted you to check it out. Merry Christmas! Love, Grandma and Grandpa,” but I can’t be 100 percent positive of that. What I do know is that it started a 1) obsession with the world of HP and 2) a tradition of inscribed books at Christmas time (which you know I loved). They were generally books that she liked or ones that her friends had recommended to her for a kid my age, but those books became some of my favorite gifts because books are so personal and she took the time to share a little of herself with me through them. And that’s a pretty cool thing for a 10 year old.

Probably the most vivid of my “childhood reading” memories is finishing the final book of the Harry Potter series. The book came out the summer after I graduated high school and before I started college, which I thought was so poetic because Harry and I would be moving on at the same time. I remember getting near the end and saying, chapter after chapter, that I was going put the book down and finish in the morning. Of course that didn’t happen. Instead, I stayed up until 7 o’clock in the morning to finish it. It was just one of those moments where you had been with these characters for almost 10 years and it was all coming to an end. It was emotional and stressful and exhausting, but exhilarating and exciting. Everything book reading is supposed to be. And the perfect final stamp for a childhood full of the love of books.

Cookbooks You Need, ASAP

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Cooking is something that I’ve come to really enjoy as I get further and further into this “adulting” thing. Cooking my own food has definitely helped me expand my palate–and more importantly, my boyfriend’s palate. A recent win? Getting him on board the quinoa train. He’s now even more on board than I am, which I’ll count as a win because damn brown rice takes FOREVER to cook on the stove and I despise cleaning the microwavable rice cooker.

Now that’s not to say that all of my kitchen experiments end up in the “tasty” category, but most of them are, at the very least, edible. Except once when I tried to make creole-style red beans, ended up with weird bean soup and then SCORCHED the bottom of the soup pot trying to remedy the situation. That was a disaster that ended with Chinese take-out and a soup pot in the trash can. And a fair amount of tears because I don’t take failure well.

Thankfully, my cooking has improved since that fateful experience (though I haven’t touched a red bean since). And a huge part of my improvement can be attributed to an investment in pretty-much-fool-proof cookbooks from some of my favorite food bloggers. These cookbook authors/bloggers are HILARIOUS. I followed each of their blogs for a while before getting the real life cookbooks. I wasn’t disappointed at all and neither will you once you check out these three kick ass food tomes. Happy cooking!

  1. The Dude Diet: Clean(ish) Food for People Who Like to Eat Dirty – This cookbook, authored by Serena Wolf of the blog Domesticate ME! Is the newest addition to our kitchen and definitely the one that’s gotten the most work recently. Serena is awesome, the stories of her food-chugging boyfriend Logan are hilarious and her recipes are delicious. The premise of The Dude Diet is “healthifying” some of our favorite, not-so-healthy foods like nachos, burgers and any other standard “bar food” that I’d absolutely order on a Saturday night and then regret come Sunday morning. The lightened-up recipes are pretty simple to make (something that I’m super grateful for when I’m making dinner on a weeknight) and absolutely pass the boyfriend test, so this one will be sticking around for awhile at our house!
  2. Seriously Delish: 150 Recipes for People Who Totally Love Food – Jessica Merchant is the blogger behind How Sweet It Is and again, I absolutely adore her. I’ve been reading Jessica’s blog since before she was even pregnant with her now two year old nugget, Max. She embodies that ‘90s child that still lives in all of us and is not ashamed of it one bit. She is a FABULOUS cook and her recipes are out of this world. So much so that some of them are a little out of my comfort zone, but I like having the challenge available to me if I have the time/bravery to attempt one of her masterpieces. Even if some of her recipes are too advanced for me, her blog and cookbook are still one of the places I check every single time I have a food/recipe-related question because chances are she’s done/cooked it and it’s going to be awesome. Also, the pictures in this cookbook are some of the most beautiful food pictures I’ve ever seen, so even if I can’t master the recipes, I can stare at what the final product is supposed to look like. And they look SO GOOD.
  3. Budget Bytes: Over 100 Easy, Delicious Recipes to Slash Your Grocery Bill in Half – I think Beth Moncel’s blog, BudgetBytes, was the first food blog I ever read and her cookbook is definitely the first one I ever bought for myself. The premise of BudgetBytes is pretty straightforward – good food that won’t break the bank. I LOVE her blog because she lists out how much each ingredient should cost and includes the total price of the recipe plus the cost per serving… It satisfies my (maybe sometimes too thrifty) mind so much to see how much something is going to cost me before I ever step foot in the grocery store. This is especially helpful when I was first starting to cook for myself and didn’t want to spend a ton on random ingredients that I’d probably never use again. BudgetBytes is definitely my main go-to when I need a quick, affordable and delicious recipe to whip up on a weeknight. SO. GOOD.

True Crime Podcasts, FTW

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I know I might have mentioned this around here once or twice (cough-twenty-times-cough), but I absolutely love a good murder mystery. A little suspense, a little action, a little “what the f***?!”… Who could resist? And, it turns out, I love true crime sagas just as much as the make believe ones. Specifically… True crime podcasts. Yes. Please.

Of course my first true crime podcast was Serial, because whose wasn’t? It was magic. And after Serial ended, there was a huge true crime void in my daily commute. So I searched for a new podcast to get me to and from work everyday and I came across You Must Remember This, which was in the middle of their season chronicling Charles Manson’s Hollywood. Let me tell you–it was fantastic.

Fast forward to today and I’ve got a potentially embarrassing number of unplayed true crime podcast episodes on my phone to get me through these brutal Chicago rush hours. But I wanted to give y’all a rundown of my three favorites because everyone needs a new-to-them podcast waiting in the wings. These should be yours.

  • Last Podcast on the Left – This one is rude and crude and crass and I have to say that it’s my favorite. Henry, Marcus and Ben take on serial killers and other gory and gruesome topics (though I usually skip over the alien episodes). It took me quite a few episodes to get accustomed to their humor and their wild tangents, but now I wait (rather impatiently) for them to release their new episode each week. 

Favorites: Jack the Ripper, The Menendez Brothers, Manifestos, Serial Killers and the Women Who Love Them

  • Sword and Scale – This podcast covers high profile trials, unsolved murders, missing person cases and other true crime stories. I found this one mid-fall last year, listened to the podcast’s very first episode, got sucked in and decided to continue going through the podcast in sequential order. Which means that the episode I’m currently listening to is from November 2014, but it’s fun to go back and re-visit news stories that I’ve forgotten about. Mike uses actual audio from 911 calls and Dr. Phil interviews and whatever he can get his hands on and it makes for quite the storytelling experience. 

Favorites: HH Holmes, Jessica Ridgeway murder, Morgan Ingram mystery

  • Stranglers – The Last Podcast on the Left series about the Boston Strangler was one of my first post-Serial episodes and so when I saw this podcast based solely on the Strangler, I was intrigued. Portland Heimlich’s podcast (how great is her name?!) is a documentary-style one about the Strangler’s victims and the search for the serial killer–or killers. Portland interviews actual people with first-hand knowledge about the case and dives DEEP into the recesses of the information the police collected way back when. It’s a fantastic re-investigation of one of history’s more mind-boggling serial killer cases.

So go put your listening ears on, y’all. And get a newfound love for that rush-hour traffic.

Mixing It Up

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Space is limited in my apartment, so design and functionality have to be one and the same. That can create some aesthetic challenges, but it also creates some interesting opportunities. Enter: books as art. I love the idea of optical illusion shelving and some of the more visually creative storage ideas, but the stone walls of my Chicago apartment–circa 1928–make those ideas kind of difficult to realize at the moment. So until we reunite with drywall, I’ll dream of these fun ways to turn my books into wall art and my wall art into useful shelving.

Falling Books

This one would take up a lot of wall space, but how fun is it? You just have to switch out the titles/dust jackets to complete change the visuals of the shelves and keep things continually fresh.

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Floating Books

I like this one for the clean lines the shelves make. How fun would it be to have one of these above your nightstand–like your own little library shelf within arms distance of your bed.

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Inverted Books

I mean this one is just weird, which means that you know I’m going to love it. I have no idea how it actually works, but I don’t care. I want it.

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Palette Books

Now this is one that I do know how it’s made and I enjoy the simplicity of it. I like the idea of a floor to ceiling palette shelf for children’s books because the covers for kid’s books are always creative and they deserve to be seen.

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Rainbow Books

This one isn’t as ‘wall art’-y as the others, but it’s still a fun motif. And one that I can actually accomplish given my stone wall situation. I’ve had my own bookshelves organized by color for a few years now and it never gets old.

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