All I Hear Today is Sunshine

navy pier

It is sunny. 70 degrees Fahrenheit. There is a cool breeze. The breeze rustles the leaves on the trees rhythmically. Everything outside seems to be swaying in time, like the earth is dancing to an unknown synchronized routine.

There is something divinely inspirational about this weather. Despite being in Chicago, surrounded by millions of people, I don’t seem to mind. I notice that I don’t seem bothered by the fact that I sat on the highway for 45 minutes. Instead of feeling the overwhelming desire to get away from all these people and relax in the sanctity of my home, I find I am overcome with the unexplainable urge to wander the city, see the sights, and blend in with the hum of the giant machine.

Instead of feeling called to my responsibilities, I feel like staying outside all day. What time is it? I don’t even care. I want to go to the beach; walk, run, explore. I want to find the secrets between the skyscrapers. I want to sit in a park and draw, paint and write.

I sat in my car and didn’t feel irritated or annoyed by all the cars and bad drivers around me. Someone cut me off? Sure, no problem. Go ahead. I missed a green light because that Camry wasn’t paying attention? What’s the rush?

Never mind the fact that my pasty complexion would quickly turn a sunny day into a disaster, or the fact that my weary body would tire after a few hours of walking, running and exploring. These things don’t seem to matter today, because the sun is out, and it is 70 degrees with a cool breeze.

What is it about this weather that is so perfect? It is not too hot. When it’s too hot everyone is crabby and in a hurry. The incessant honking fades into the background. The yelling, loud music, and construction all become silent. All I hear is the sunshine and the breeze. 70 degrees with a cool breeze makes me forget the need to rush. I just want to be in the sunlight and take in all that surrounds me.


Sherlock Holmes Has Got it Goin On


On and off for the past year I’ve been reading Sherlock Holmes, The Complete Novels and Stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. To put it mildly, I love Sherlock Holmes. I’m positive that Sherlock wouldn’t have had any of the same admiration towards me that I have for him, as he is incredibly sexist and thinks little of women and their ability. Nevertheless, I’m still obsessed.

I’ve watched movies and TV shows about Sherlock (I LOVE Benedict Cumberbatch in Sherlock almost as much as I love the original character of Sherlock) and can’t say that I’ve seen anyone more convincing than Jeremy Brett as a TV or film version of Sherlock Holmes and who he truly is as the original character created by Doyle (until recently, when Benedict Cumberbatch took on the role in BBC’s Sherlock).

What I love the most about Sherlock Holmes is hard to pinpoint, but I love that he is completely confident in his abilities and knows exactly what they are. Sherlock can come off as condescending, arrogant, and haughty, but he knows exactly what he is capable of and what he observes the people around him to be capable of. Therein lies the true remarkableness of Sherlock Holmes.


“He loved to lie in the very centre of five millions of people, with his filaments stretching out and running through them, responsive to every little rumour or suspicion of unsolved crime. Appreciation of nature found no place among his many gifts, and his only change was when he turned his mind from the evildoer of the town to track down his brother of the county.” –John Watson, page 663, “The Resident Patient”


I grew up shy, unsure of myself, and insecure. Until I stumbled upon different abilities that let me express myself and assured me that I had potential, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of myself. Track gave me a place to feed my ego. I was good, showed promise, and surprised myself and the people around me. Despite what seemed like never ending health setbacks, I felt like I had found a home.

Humor is another avenue I explored a lot and discovered to be a form of expression that came more and more naturally to me. When I was in elementary school, I would sit and listen to adult conversations and try to come up with one-liners, puns, jokes, anything that I thought might be funny (most of the time it wasn’t, but I tried). Now I find that I (and sometimes others) enjoy my wit and sense of humor. Seriously, if we can’t amuse ourselves and laugh at our own jokes, who will?

And of course, writing. Writing is a hard-earned skill I developed most significantly in high school. So many papers were met with low grades and requests to “expand” and answer “why?”. My freshman year meant realizing that I couldn’t just say something and not have any evidence to support it.

I say all this because I think it’s important to be egotistical and confident in our abilities. You shouldn’t be self-absorbed to the point of being ignorant or delusional, but rather in tune with your abilities and shortcomings so you know how to best utilize and maximize them. When I don’t feel good about myself, I can either look through the perspective of motivating myself in spite of defeat, or just let myself step back and know when I’ve reached my limits.

“’My dear Watson,’ said he, ‘I cannot agree with those who rank modesty among the virtues. To the logician all things should be seen exactly as they are, and to underestimate one’s self is as much a departure from truth as to exaggerate one’s own powers. When I say, therefore, that Mycroft has better powers of observation than I, you may take it that I am speaking the exact and literal truth.’” –Sherlock Holmes, page 683, “The Greek Interpreter”




Other quotes (trust me, I have more):

“Sherlock Holmes had listened to this long narrative with an intentness which showed me that his interest was keenly aroused. His face was as impassive as every, but his lids had drooped more heavily over his eyes, and his smoke had curled up more thickly from his pipe to emphasize each curious episode in the doctor’s tale.” P. 673


“Art in the blood is viable to take the strangest forms.” P.683

Blood Moons and Mediums


On my day off this week I happily binge watched Netflix, particularly a show called “Long Island Medium”. The show focuses on Theresa Caputo and her family in Long Island, New York. While we learn about Theresa and her family, the main focus of the show is Theresa’s ability to channel the souls of individuals who have passed away and are now on “the other side”. Whether or not you believe in the premise of the show or the ability of Theresa Caputo, the overall message of the show is one that everyone can identify with: even though loved ones are not physically on the earth anymore, they are still with you.


It can be hard to believe that someone you can’t see or talk to is with you, but I’ve found that the key is to not forcefully look for “signs” that you can interpret as validation or whatever you want them to be. For example, as much as I would like something as blatantly obvious as a phone call, light flicker, or neon sign conveying a message from my grandfather, it just isn’t going to happen, especially not on command.


The beauty of reminders of the people we love lies in the small things. The “blood moon” this week is a phenomenon of nature, but it also immediately made me think of how my grandpa would always let me know that there was going to be a full moon—which we frequently would watch growing up with root beer floats and popcorn—or some sort of natural occurrence. This occasion could be significant for me then because I’m reminded of memories and part of my grandpa.


The same day that the blood moon occurred, I happened to see, oh so briefly, an old Ford Fairlane, which was a slightly different model of an old car that my grandpa inherited after his brother died, and would drive us around in in the summer months. What better signifier that my grandpa is still a part of my life than to have even the smallest experience that triggers an avalanche of memories.


Even in my day-to-day life I am reminded of my grandpa’s eccentric personality because of my job. Working in retail means never having a second to think, and means constant interruption. Whenever I get irritated that there are a million things going on around me or that I am pulled away from my work by a customer, as soon as I say “Do you need help with anything?” I immediately hear Grandpa’s voice in my head say “Oh, only all I can get!”, just like he always did when out and about. At the time I was embarrassed, but now it makes me smile.


Instead of forcing myself to go through the pain of wishing my Grandpa was only a phone call away or dwelling on what’s left of him in the physical world, I choose to focus on how much of his soul is still with me. I will never be able to rid myself of him and I think that the people who decide to focus only on the sadness of someone being gone are short-sighted and looking at life with the wrong perspective—they’re certainly missing out on a lot.

“Tiny Dog Embarrasses Big Dogs at Park”

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted, and I was inspired by the rain today. Rain inspires me to do just about anything other than go to work. So, in the spirit of creativity I’m going to try something different and post some pictures that I’ve gathered over the last few weeks.














My car hit 180,000 miles a few weeks ago.

Now for some of my cake creations:






A delicious steak dinner from last weekend:



And, since no week goes without irritation:

Not So Good With Kids


I was texting with my sister this week and she sent me a message about how she started laughing hysterically after seeing a baby in a restaurant.  I should probably preface this by saying that we’ve always joked about how awkward I am with children and like to joke that I’m going to have my sister raise my children until they can talk because I don’t know how to communicate with them if they can’t say what they need.


Whenever I see a baby I always end up making eye contact with them and then feel super uncomfortable because they stare, and then I stare, and then we’re just staring and thinking about how weird the other is.  If I cross paths with a dog I always smile and say hi, but if I see a baby I freeze.  I think that maybe some of the tension between me and babies comes from how similar we can be.


For instance, at work the other day (I work in a bakery) I was envying the smell of the popcorn being made across the way from me.  It smelled so good and actually made my stomach rumble.  I’m over here practically salivating like Pavlov’s dogs and look to see a little girl sitting in a cart, clutching a bag of popcorn as big as she is, and laying on it like a pillow.  She was smiling so big and looked so happy that you wouldn’t question that it was the best day of her life.


I couldn’t help but smile and think “you smug bastard” all at the same time.  I was jealous but also knew that, if I was honest, I would do the exact same thing if I had a bag of popcorn to cradle.


Because our store is all about customer service, we’ve been told many times that we must always greet the customer, say hi and ask if there is anything we can do to help them.  So, I temporarily overcome my natural instinct to become invisible, and always try to make eye contact and say hi.  Everything goes fine when the customer has proper social cues and goes about their business, but when the customer is a parent with a kid in the cart, I know there’s only one way this interaction can go.


I’ll smile and say hi to the parent, then see below my eye level a little human looking at me.  Sometimes they smile, but mostly they stare and then of course I stare and then we’re just staring and I can’t help but think that I don’t want to be the first one to break the staring contest but then realize that the parent is probably noticing that I’m staring at their kid and try to discreetly go about my business while trying to nonchalantly win the staring contest.  Sometimes I make faces when the parents aren’t looking so the kid blinks.  Usually they look at me horrified.


One of the suggestions our store manager made about “above and beyond customer service” was

“If you see a little kid crying, imagine how great it would feel to them if you walk over and hand them a cookie to make them feel better”.

I was just like, do you know how awkward I would make that situation?  Flustered, I’d jab a cookie at them and be like “um, here’s a cookie” and then probably stand there uneasily and hope that the parent wouldn’t be mad that this weirdo was giving their kid a cookie that they may or not even be able to have.


One mom and her daughter asked me to write “Happy Birthday Nanno” on a cake for them.  When I brought it back, the mom showed the little girl and said excitedly, “Look how pretty!”  I looked at the girl and said (I thought sweetly) “Is it your birthday?!”  The girl looked at me like I had just suggested that she eat her own poop and the mom said slowly, “No, it’s her grandma’s birthday”.  “Oh, ok.  Have a good birthday!” I said and then quickly walked away.

The Day of Love?


Friday is Valentine’s Day, the Hallmark holiday of extravagance or the anniversary of a bunch of Chicago mobsters murdering each other; it depends on where you fall on the spectrum of opinions of St. Valentine’s Day.

Some people cherish the day as one of romantic gestures, and are maddened when the gestures are not as romantic as they imaged (or when there is no gesture made by their significant other).  Some people feel like they don’t want to really celebrate away from home because of the crowds or they “don’t really get into Valentine’s Day” (this probably means that they secretly do care about the romantic gestures—hint hint).

Personally, this is hell week, which means my uterus is trying to kill me via PMS, so I am perfectly content with a box of donuts and sweatpants.  And my significant other couldn’t care less about the holiday so it’s the best of both worlds for us.  We won’t be perusing the internet for the “Best places for Valentine’s Day” or “Top # of Valentine’s Date ideas”.  That’s right internet, we don’t need you!

I would like to point out that it’s silly to celebrate love and caring and relationships (no matter what kind) one day a year.  If someone really is special to you, you shouldn’t wait for a “special” occasion one day a year to show them.  Instead of making a huge, expensive gesture one day a year, why not spend the entire year making continuous efforts to make someone feel loved and special?  That’s what love is about.

Why This Dog is Better Than You

CBS Chicago says that after today’s 6.9 INCHES OF SNOWFALL (I wish I could capitalize that number) winter 2014 is officially on the list of Chicago’s top 5 snowfalls. Every time we think we’ve seen the last snow–BAM! more snow.

Clearly there are the problems that accompany snow, like the salt shortage going on now, the insane drivers, and even more insane residents who are so territorial about their parking spaces they dig out that they will practically murder you. Seriously.

Today my car got stuck, I had to drive in the snow like 6 different times, and I (and everyone else) was super cranky because of the dangerous driving conditions and drivers. But, guess who wasn’t cranky because of the snow? This weiner dog. Watch this dog frolic and tell me that isn’t the definition of happy.

Is it cold? Yep! Will that stylish coat not protect those little paws from the cold? Yep. But weiner dog doesn’t care! We could all take a positive attitude lesson from this adorably vivacious pup this weekend when the next round of snow shits down like Mr. Cloud just took a giant laxative. And after you watch the weiner dog, click here:
and see some more awesome dogs in the snow. And try to stay positive people.

Another Day at the Gym


This is phone man.

Whenever you are a member of a gym, you generally expect to see weird things.  There are always the guys spending more time ogling themselves in the mirrors than actually lifting; the girls trying to be cute while with a guy or trainer; the girls who are tougher than the guys and care about their workout more than the mirror; and of course the guys who bring their moms.

You heard that right.  There is a high school aged guy (at least he looks that young) who brings his mother to the gym with him.  She stands behind him while he presses (not that she could hold the weights if he needed her to) and encourages him while he yells at her to back off.  Sounds like a strange mother/son or coach/athlete relationship?  Yeah, I can’t help but stare at them.

It’s one thing to go to the gym together to help motivate each other, but the mother has never exercised in any way, any time that I’ve seen her at the gym.  She has this protective look, like “Don’t look at my beautiful son!” while he looks around at girls like “Hey baby, wanna see how much I can lift?”  He also yells and spits air while he lifts.

Another strange behavior I’ve seen at the gym is the not-quite middle-aged man who is always on his cell phone.  He’ll sit on workout equipment or in the stretching area, but I’ve never seen him workout.   I like using one of the group class studios for stretching when it’s not in use because it’s quiet and relaxing.  Of course when this guy comes in though, he sits directly in front of the mirror (seriously, like if he sneezed he’d bash his head against the mirror) and starts making calls.

The most notable call was to his cable company, a conversation he started by saying “Yes I’m so-and-so and pull up my file so you can see what I last called you about so I don’t have to repeat myself.  Refresh your memory”.  I kid you not.  Then he talked about how many times he’s called to complain and blah blah blah.  I was like dude, shut up.  I’m trying to finish my workout over here.  He didn’t pay attention to my telepathic messages though and dirty looks because he was too busy playing with his long mane of hair and sitting cross legged on an exercise ball.

I understand the importance of multitasking in this busy world, but why is the gym the only place you can make those calls?  And why does that other guy have to bring his mom with him to make himself feel good?  To each his own I guess. 

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

This week has been one of perspective shifts and overcoming obstacles. Last week I talked about potential new jobs, and I decided to accept a retail job that starts next month. I’m happy that I will have some money coming in again for bills and to make moving on towards bigger and better things possible. However, I have had some trouble staying positive about the fact that this is another retail job, and one that I am overqualified for.

As a recent college graduate with two degrees, I can’t help but feel that I should be doing something more fulfilling and challenging in terms of a job (and hopefully a career). Unfortunately the opportunity for such a job hasn’t been an option for me yet, not for a lack of trying though. I’m lucky enough to have had one incredibly enjoyable and fulfilling internship already at WGN Radio, and now to have another great experience at Reach Out and Read Illinois. This most recent internship will potentially turn into a paid position in the near future, but the exact date is undetermined.

I have a tendency to not look at the positive side of situations, and have struggled with this bad habit this week as the start date for my new retail job approaches. I am glad I have a job, but can’t help but worry that my co-workers will be like the coworkers at my last job: nice enough but not people that I can look forward to having intellectually stimulating conversations with. I don’t mean that in a bad way, I’m sure my new coworkers will be nice, I just find myself wishing for a work environment that is a bit more challenging.

Thanks to my boyfriend, who reminds me to not worry so much and to look at situations like this in a positive way, I am reminded that there is room for creativity in this position even if it’s not exactly what I want to do. I’ve always struggled with anxiety and nerves and of course experience some of each when I think about starting this new job; but then I’m reminded that because this is a brand new store, all the employees are in the same position: starting fresh.

With these reminders and help shifting my perspective, I’m able to focus on the positive aspects of my currently unemployed situation. I can do what I want with my own time, like read Sherlock Holmes (my favorite), work out (a great way to feel good about myself and relieve some of those nerves), blog and sleep in. When I start my new job, I know I will be tired and will bitter-sweetly think back to this time where I have little to no obligations.


Does it Matter?


Even chipmunks contemplate.

I spent some time catching up with a good friend this week, who is starting a new adventure in her life.  She told me that she was considering starting a blog to document this new chapter, but wasn’t sure if she should.  This conversation got me thinking about how people seem to gravitate towards starting blogs primarily when they are doing some new, exciting, different or temporary thing with their lives.

When friends in college studied abroad, they documented their time in blogs.  When Facebook friends moved to another part of the country—or another country entirely—they blogged about their “new life”.  Even in considering writing this blog post, I wondered if anything I might have to say might be “novel” or “new”.  What it is about people that make us think that documenting our lives is only an option if we are doing something out of the norm?

In thinking further about my conversation with my friend, I thought about how it has been a while since I’ve posted anything on my blog.  There seems to be a constant battle that I fight with myself about whether or not what I have to say is worth posting online.  Not because I don’t feel confident in my thoughts, but I question if others want to read what I have to say.

I lost my job back in December, and have been searching rather unsuccessfully for a full-time, fulfilling job since I graduated college back in May.  I was offered another retail job that I wasn’t very excited about around Christmas time, and didn’t start training until last week.  Then, this week I was offered another retail job with better pay and a nicer work environment.  THEN I was told that the internship site I’ve been working at since October is going to seek additional funding to pay me for the work I do!

Here I am, a TERRIBLE decision maker, faced with the choice between two jobs that I don’t love the idea of (but prefer one over the other), and the possibility of part-time employment at the nonprofit I intern with and love.  Plus I had a first round phone interview with another nonprofit earlier this week.  How is that for almost a year I have had no employment options, and now I have multiple options?  For some, this may not be something that is of any interest.  But to me this is a huge deal.

I debated using my blog as a place to talk about these decisions I have to make now; like I said, to me these choices are a big deal, even if I’m not going to another country or starting some grand new adventure.  If something matters to you though, don’t discount its relevance or worth based on what you think others want to hear.  So, like I encouraged my friend to do, blog about what’s going on in your life, even if you don’t think everyone will find it interesting.  While it’s true that not everyone might not find what you have to say relatable; at the end of the day or end of each “chapter” of your life, believe enough in yourself to talk about what matters to you.

‘Tis the Season of Giving


Tuesday of this week was #GivingTuesday, a day set aside during the holiday season to promote giving in the days after Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  It seems that days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday take away from the idea of giving during the holidays; sure, not everyone buys items for themselves, but it seems that many people use the discount days to buy things that they want.

These past few months, I’ve been working with Reach Out and Read Illinois, a nonprofit affiliated with the Illinois Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics that promotes early literacy by distributing books to children during their well-child visits with their pediatricians.  The goal of the program sites is to provide literacy materials to young children who live in poorer areas, and who would not have access to these materials otherwise.

I wrote an article for the Illinois Pediatrician, a quarterly newsletter, this week which will be out this month.  I want to share it on here as well to reach readers who might not normally see this publication.  Obviously it is geared towards medical providers, so the language may not be as accessible, but I hope that you take the time to read it and check out Reach Out and Read Illinois in general.  It truly is a great program that I hope to continue working with after my internship ends.

For further information, visit the social media sites that I manage:

We also have a holiday fundraiser coming up, for information or tickets you can go to:

Remember that the spirit of the season is about giving, so why not give back?


“A Child’s Future in Your Hands”

By: Ali Bukowski

Growing research shows that the most formative developmental years for a child’s brain are before the age of three. Studies point to early childhood literacy as an important tool to enhancing early childhood development, and early childhood literacy has become a popular topic of conversation.  Whether the message comes from university researchers, newspapers and journalists, or the president himself, everyone seems to agree that early education and literacy is important and should be accessible to all.  In fact, on November 13th, President Obama’s initiative for Pre-K (for three and four-year-olds) available to all low and middle-income families took legislative form, proving to be an important step towards more literate youth.  The Illinois Chapter of the AmericanAcademy of Pediatrics (ICAAP) endorses early childhood literacy through the Reach Out and Read program.

Highlighting the positive impact of Reach Out And Read, Dr. Dipesh Navsaria, MPH, MSLIS, MD, Medical Director of Reach Out and Read Wisconsin, wrote an article which appeared in the Huffington Post on October 23rd of this year, titled “Read Every Day: A Healthy Prescription for Your Child”.  As a doctor and advocate for Reach Out and Read, Dr. Navsaria compares reading routinely with a child to a prescription, pointing out that prescribing reading every day may be “the single, most important prescription I hand you in your child’s early years”.  If a parent was told by a doctor that their child needed medication to be well, surely many would not think twice if the well-being of their child depended on this medicine.  This strong analogy really puts the importance of early literacy in a new perspective.

Dr. Navsaria contends that reading is so important that the outcome of a child’s life can be changed by reading every day.  “The first three to five years of life represent a critical window for learning, with rapid brain development that does not occur at any other time”, says Dr. Navsaria.  “By age 3, a child’s brain grows billions of cells and hundreds of trillions of connections, or synapses…everything a child soaks up during these years helps to set the stage for future learning; these years are truly the foundation on which the rest of life sits.”  Certainly this advice should not be taken lightly.   “New Research from Stanford Finds an Achievement Gap at 18 Months”, written by Alyssa Haywoode and published in Eye On Early Education, focuses on new research from Stanford University, which found that “toddlers from disadvantaged families are already several months behind more advantaged children in language proficiency” by 18 months of age.  The study’s author maintains that parents of children in any income level can close this gap by exposing children to language at an early age.  Anne Fernald, professor of psychology at Stanford and conductor of the study Haywoode focuses on, states that “toddlers learn new vocabulary from context, and the faster a child can get at the words she knows, the more able she is to attend to the next word in the sentence and to learn any new words that follow.”

By speaking to young children regularly, even if they can’t engage in conversation, you expose children to a broader vocabulary, and they become familiar with language more quickly.  The children that the Stanford study focused on were English and Spanish-learning toddlers evaluated for several years.  The study found that “children who are faster at recognizing familiar words at 18 months have larger vocabularies at age two years and score higher on standardized tests of language and cognition in kindergarten and elementary school.”  Clearly this study continues to show what a difference early literacy makes and how lasting the results are when children are literate early.

In September 2013, Katherine Sellgren, BBC News Education Reporter, published “Maths Advantage for Pupils Who Read for Pleasure”, which discussed a study conducted by London University’s Institute of Education.  The study examined the reading habits of 6,000 children and indicated that “reading for pleasure was more important to a child’s development than how educated their parents were.”  The study’s ultimate conclusion was that children who read more have a broader vocabulary, therefore making them more likely to understand more and excel in more educational disciplines.

In addition to the importance of early literacy for scholarly success, parents who practice reading regularly and create a literacy friendly home convey the message that reading is important at any age, and can be a family activity.  Nicholas D. Kristof, columnist for The New York Times, and author of the article “Do We Invest in Preschools or Prisons” promotes early literacy and hopes that literacy legislation moves forward in the near future.  “One problem is straightforward. Poorer kids are more likely to have a single teenage mom who is stressed out, who was herself raised in an authoritarian style that she mimics, and who, as a result, doesn’t chatter much with the child” states Kristof.  “Yet help these parents, and they do much better. Some of the most astonishing research in poverty-fighting methods comes from the success of programs to coach at-risk parents — and these, too, are part of Obama’s early education program.”  If it means changing the outcome of even a single child’s life, why not make early literacy a focus in pediatric offices?

Reach Out and Read is a program that primarily focuses literacy efforts in low-income areas by providing developmentally appropriate books for children at well-child visits with their pediatrician.   Reach Out and Read sponsors understand that circumstances such as income and low parental literacy rates can be factors in homes that are not literacy friendly.  By providing tutoring resources to parents wanting to improve their own literacy while introducing their children to reading, pediatricians can connect parents and children in an additional way.  Reading together creates conversations, which in turn creates more expansive vocabularies, which ultimately creates lasting positive results in children’s lives.

As pediatricians, you hold a very important key to early literacy: the ability to prescribe a book to a child.  The book you give a child can change the child’s life.  By partnering with Reach Out and Read, you can provide a family with resources that they may never have access to otherwise.  With one book, you can change the outcome of multiple lives.

For more information about Reach Out and Read Illinois, or if you are interested in partnering with Reach Out and Read Illinois, please contact:

Elise Groenewegen at or by phone at 312-733-1026 ext. 204


Dr. Navsaria, Huffington Post

Eye On Early Education

Katherine Sellgren, BBC
Nicholas Kristof, NY Times

Ed Central

The Tennessean

Viewer Obsession Advised


As is common with Netflix making so many movies and TV shows so readily available these days, I’ve been watching a lot of the show “Bones”.  If you don’t know, the show is about a forensic anthropologist (someone who learns information by studying human remains, i.e. bones) who partners with the FBI to help solve murders.  Obviously that’s a general summary, but you get the idea.

When I say I’ve been watching a lot of “Bones”, I mean I’ve been watching a lot of episodes.  Some days I won’t watch any, but on the days that I do get a chance, I watch multiple episodes.  “Binge watching”, if you will.  I’ve even had a few dreams about the show, mostly just with the characters speaking in the scientific and matter-of-factual way that they do, nothing like I’m one of the characters or anything like that.  It’s kind of like watching an episode.

I think that the creators of Netflix had a really great idea.  If I wanted to watch a TV show before Netflix, I’d have to buy a season in order to watch a show when I wanted to, or hope that I would find all the episodes in the randomly selected TV lineup.  Now I can watch whatever I want (if it’s on Netflix) whenever I want.  I can even watch Netflix on my phone if I’m in a bind.

Now that it’s so easy to watch so much TV, I wonder if more people are spending their time in front of the TV than they were before services like Netflix.  I know that I personally spend more time watching TV episodes than I used to.  My work environment seems to enforce that mindset of mindless TV watching too.  I don’t mean that we just watch TV mindlessly at work all day; but in this “blue collar” job, a lot of people go home tired and just want to relax in front of a TV that distracts them from their day/life.

When I worked in a “white collar” environment though, more of my coworkers tended to discuss books they were reading and TV they watched.  They were more selective in what they watched.  Sometimes they would watch something just as an escape, but most of the time it seemed like my coworkers were choosing what they watched purposefully, whether it was because they wanted to educate themselves or because they wanted to be able to join in on the discussion of something at work (usually on an analytical level).

It’s interesting for me to see these two sets of work environments now that I feel like I’m more educated than most of the people I work with at my “blue collar” job.  I don’t mean to come off as mean or condescending, but when the people around me do nothing but talk about their personal drama, or read each other the text messages their ex sent them yesterday, or my boss thinks it’s confusing when I use words like “indecisive”, it dulls the brain.  My coworkers are not intellectually stimulating.

I’m sure someone out there has done a study connecting work environments to intellectual capacity or interests; I’m just basing my comments on pure observation.  Obviously the things I’m saying are not exclusive to all types of work environments, but I find it very difficult to think creatively in my “blue collar” work environment these days.  Sometimes I’ll have a creative burst now and again, as you can probably notice based on the frequency of my blog posts these days, but most days I feel brain dead when I get off of work.  It would be nice if there was a perfect work environment that ideally balanced challenging the body and mind…

We Are What We Let Ourselves Be


Last week I neglected to post anything on my blog.  I could defend myself and say that I didn’t have any creative energy, forgot, or had too much going on.  Most of these reasons are true, but really I think it just comes down to the fact that I was too lazy.

I’ve been good about posting for a while now, but have noticed that since I started working at my current job, I’ve started to become lazier in the creative sense.  I am on my feet for my entire shift, aside from one 15 minute break and any trip to the bathroom.  So yes, it can be tiring.  But I’ve noticed as well that a lot of my coworkers are…well, lazy.

I know we’ve all heard the saying “you are what you eat”, meaning if you eat poorly, your body and energy levels will reflect your food decisions.  I’m not sure if there’s a phrase for “you are who you hang out with” though, at least when you don’t have a say in the people you have to work with.

As hard as I’ve tried to not fall into patterns and behaviors that I see in my coworkers (I try to work when I’m at work and not waste time—you know, take some pride in my work even though it’s not what I want to do as a career) it can be difficult to resist mentalities that you are around almost every day.

Of course everyone’s entitled to be lazy or spend their free time as they wish.  I think that when we’re at work we should work though.  The interesting thing is that I haven’t adopted the lazy attitude of many of my coworkers while I’m at work.  I’ve noticed however, that instead of thinking about creative or original things while I’m working, I kind of zone out.

The work I do as a cake decorator is repetitive.  I can’t experiment with new ideas or designs; I have to make the cakes that the store wants me to make.  Now that I don’t have to think quite so hard about how to follow the exact guidelines I am given, my mind is able to wander while I’m working—unless of course a customer has a question or needs help.

I enjoy my work.  I don’t dislike it.  It’s not a place that gives me free reign of course, but not many jobs are like that that I know of.  I’m curious how other people approach their work days.  Do we all space out until it’s quitting time?  What do we do when we’re done for the day?  Do we all just go home and continue to be mindless zombies?

Now that I’ve caught myself falling into these patterns, I’m going to make more of an effort to stop myself from zoning out.  I should stop focusing on the fact that my feet hurt, or that my coworker is annoying me and instead focus on challenging my brain instead of letting it be lazy.

I hope that all of us are able to find hobbies that we enjoy, and also challenge us when we aren’t at our mindless jobs.  If we’re just going through the motions every day and really have nothing original to be proud of, what’s the point of doing what we’re doing?

When the Shit Hits the Fan

It’s Thursday.  I completely forgot until about an hour ago.  Sure, every time I look at my phone it tells me the date but I never made the connection that it was Thursday and that Thursday is when I usually post on my blog.  Oh boy.  Zombie alert!

Well, let’s see.  I started a second job this week.  Unpaid.  Also part time.  It is very exciting and interesting, but like I said, unpaid.  I guess one could call it an internship, but my official title is “Communications Consultant” which I find much more interesting than lowly intern.  (Lowly wasn’t part of the job description).

I’m working for a non-profit organization called Reach Out and Read which is a youth literacy promotion program part of the Illinois Chapter of the AmericanAcademy of Pediatrics (shameless plug? Yes. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter!)  I get to be innovative and creative which is great.  I have always been a huge book lover so this is a great fit for me personally.

The paid job I currently work is going well, but I have to start at 7 am in order to get downtown for the afternoon for my other job.  This must be what adulthood feels like; getting up ungodly early, pushing through work, commuting, getting home and wanting to do absolutely nothing but knowing you have to get ready for the next day and also go to bed at a decent time.  Also, having no idea what day it is.  Ok, so adult life without kids at least.

The company that owns the chain of stores I work for announced last week that they are looking to pull out of the industry by the end of the year.  They’re going to sell their stores individually so we don’t know if our store is going to be picked up by a buyer or if it will close and we’ll all be out of jobs.  On top of all of us wondering, the company (Safeway) selling is making front page news regularly because this decision is so abrupt and potentially devastating.  Yay!

I got in my first car accident this week.  Thankfully no one was hurt and my car is repairable, but not as cheaply as I could hope for.  At least I’m alive, well, etc. etc. but I’m also poor.

Also, I’m developing a large zit on my nose that is red and makes me look like Rudolph.  I think it might be stress-induced.

Usually I try to tie together my post with a theme or advice or just a thought for the week, but honestly I’m having a hard time pulling this all together.  I guess my conclusion is yes, sometimes life can suck.  Sometimes the shit can all hit the fan at once, but your attitude can make a difference.  I personally am not nearly as freaked out about all of this week’s events as I would expect myself to be.  I think I can attribute that to being forced to be positive and polite to customers on a daily basis no matter how rude they might be or if they’re interrupting me.  You learn to just roll with it and a little perspective can help you realize what’s worth spending your energy on.  If you’re having a shitty week, I hope it gets better.  If you’re not, I’m glad!  Try to stay positive people.

Lazy Relationships

Letting someone down.  We’ve all done it.  We offer up our time and then take it back.  We help someone out and then when we could really use help, the person that promised to return the favor metaphorically (or maybe even literally) closes that door in your face.

Is it human nature to let down the people around us?   The people that need us?  It seems to be a cultural norm when it comes to friendships.  The friend that is so grateful that you listen to their problems time and again, but when you have your own problems to sort through, they have a million things to do and life is soooo crazy right now.  Or the friend that constantly says “Let’s catch up soon, I’ll text you!” and never texts you.  Or even the friend that makes the plans and then at the last second always has something life-or-death come up out of the blue.

There are probably countless times that we’ve told ourselves “Oh, that’s just who so-and-so is.  They’re always like that.”  Why though?  Is it because we let our relationships consist of this kind of behavior?  Are we just too nice and accepting sometimes?  These are all questions I’ve struggled with and I have to admit, the closer you are to the person that disappoints you, the more it hurts.  The more of yourself you invest in someone, the more open you are to getting hurt.  I’ve always been (what I believe to be) a nice person.  I’m not the most trusting immediately or even the friendliest.  But I believe every person deserves a chance until they do something to lose my trust or respect.

Are niceness and weakness synonymous today?  I think this is a difficult question to answer, but my observations and experiences have led me to believe that the nicer you are, the harder it is to rely on the people around you.  I also believe that being nice gets you a lot farther when the opposite approach would be to just piss everyone off, resulting in everyone walking away angry.

So, if you have the opportunity to do something for someone this weekend, take advantage of that opportunity.  Take advantage of these opportunities because once they’re gone you can’t get them back.  Investing isn’t just a financial term, it applies to relationships too.  Invest and then reap the rewards, friends.  If your friend asks you to move and you say you can’t because you’re busy but really were just planning on binge-watching Netflix and eating a dozen donuts, you should help your friend.  Netflix and those donuts will be there when you finish helping your friend.  (Maybe the donuts won’t be, but if you leave them out that’s on you friend).

How to Tell a Story

All the advice I have ever received regarding writing has one thing in common: capture the readers’ attention right away.  Whether you start your piece with dialogue to immediately draw the reader in or are writing something more research based, you have to capture the reader’s attention quickly; readers these days don’t always have long attention spans.

Recently I finished watching Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary, The Civil War.  I have learned a bit about the Civil War before, including visiting Gettysburg on a family vacation in middle school.  Burns took educating his viewers about the Civil War to the next level; he told stories that people of modern society could identify with even though our lives are probably nothing like the lives of old.  When I think of history I sometimes can only see all the facts that can seem hard to remember or digest.  There is not quite the same personal aspect to history if you only focus on facts and military strategies.

What really captured my attention was the way Burns overlapped sound effects and bites over still photographs taken during the war.  He didn’t spend time trying to recreate the war, he used actual documentation.  One wouldn’t think that in a world with all this special effect technology that you could be “wowed” by black and white photographs accompanied by cannon fire sound effects, but I was drawn in to these scenes.

The other method that really drove home the emotions of the war was the use of narration of letters and writings from the time period.  Of course the readers of these pieces were recognizable actors, but if Morgan Freeman can’t make you feel something you must have a heart of stone.

Historians like Shelby Foote played an important role in the story-telling process.  I hadn’t personally heard of Foote before the documentary, but he was filled with anecdotes and knowledge as if he had just dropped by from 1863.  He really gave the documentary that personal edge that helped viewers identify with specific individuals in addition to the facts and names of battles.

In the closing episode of the documentary, Foote said something that really made me think:
“If we’d been anything like that superior as we think we are, we would not have fought that war.  But since we did, we have to make it the greatest war of all times and our generals were the greatest generals of all time.  It’s very American to do that.”

Here I was all excited about all this knowledge I had acquired about the Civil War and desiring to learn more about what made this war.  I think the significance of Burns using this quote—along with different perspectives throughout the entire documentary—was to remind us that there isn’t always one right way to think.  Obviously one goal of the war was the abolition of slavery, but when the Union was reinstated, the southern part of the country didn’t necessarily simply adopt the values and beliefs of their defeaters.

It is important to stand up for what you believe in and, as one historian in the documentary put it, this war was a testament to the power of popular majority.  She said that just because the war ended doesn’t mean we aren’t still fighting aspects of it today.  So, not only did I finish this documentary more informed, I also walked away from it thinking.  I think that is a sign of a good story-telling.  Burns created a credible piece that made the viewers walk away unable to easily forget what they had just watched.

Tickle Me Elmo Moments

This weekend I took a short trip back to the Rockford area to help my grandma with some things around her house.  The big project was to help my boyfriend paint the inside of her garage.  It was a lot of work but turned out really well.  Of course one part of the work included clearing off the garage shelves and sorting through what Grandma no longer wanted to hang on to now that my grandpa has passed away.

The garage was my grandpa’s space.  He built their house in the late 1980s and the garage was always a “man cave” for him.  Grandma didn’t know what all he had squirreled away in the garage until we sorted through everything.

Being a “neat freak” like my grandma is, she wanted to vacuum and dust every thing in and every part of the garage.  While vacuuming she came across piles of wheat, grass, acorns, and all kinds of natural things Grandpa had hoarded away because it reminded him of something.  Grandpa wasn’t the only one who loved these collections, because there were trails of mouse poop leading to the grasses and acorns.

“Most of the acorns were just shells because the mice had eaten all of them!” Grandma recollected.  “I even found a pile by the hole in the garage door that something chewed so they could come back!”

One shelf in particular was interesting.  Behind tool boxes and other boxes, not visible at all unless you moved everything in front of it, was a grey box designed to look like a steel lock box.  It was cardboard and had a Velcro flap that you lift up to hear…Elmo.  Sesame Street Elmo.

“Hahahahahaha don’t do it!  No tickle!” the box cries.

“What is this?” I asked my boyfriend, not sure if I’m amused or slightly horrified by Elmo’s voice.

“I don’t know” he said looking at it briefly.

My grandma soon came out to the garage and saw the box.

“Another one?!” she exclaimed.

She went back inside and brought out an identical box.  The one difference?  This one was in Spanish.  “Plaza Sesamo” was printed on this box; the sound didn’t work in this one though.  I can only begin to imagine the Spanish speaking exuberance that is Plaza Sesamo Elmo.

“He bought me one years ago to be silly…he must have gotten the Spanish one on accident” Grandma said, laughing incredulously.

We all had a laugh about Plaza Sesamo Elmo and how Grandpa always was secretive but rarely paid close attention to things like languages of his Tickle Me Elmo’s.  Whenever he would work on a project he would have to make multiple trips to the hardware store because he would grab the first thing that would look right, only to realize once he was home it wasn’t quite right.

I went into this past weekend simply thinking about the work that needed to be done and how long it might take.  I realized, around the time Spanish Elmo surfaced, that it was also a chance to hear some of Grandma’s memories; we found multiple car parts and big purchases squirreled away in the garage that Grandpa had never told her about.

“That asshole!” she said, somewhat kidding, when we found a $500 bill for a car stereo.

The beauty of these experiences lies in the eye of the beholder.  If I had only focused on the work to be done, I would have missed out on making some more good memories.  (My grandma told a story later about how she found a “balloon” on the side of the road when she was 4 and when they got home her sister told on her for trying to blow it up; her mouth was washed out with some pretty serious stuff).  So, if you have any experiences you may not be looking forward to this week, look for the Tickle Me Elmo moments.  You never know, there could be a Plaza Sesamo Elmo out there waiting for you to find.



What’s the worst (or best) experience you’ve had as a customer?

I stumbled across this prompt on The Daily Post, and can’t help but feel the irony of the location I’m posting this from. The way that my morning ride situation works out, I usually end up sitting in Starbucks for about an hour every day before heading to work myself. Sometimes the employees are friendly, but (in my mind anyways) I’ve gotten this idea that they kind of hate me because I’m here almost every day but do not necessarily buy something every day. I always use their bathroom though!

I’m not sure if it’s reasonable or not to feel like I have to buy something just because I’m sitting in Starbucks and using their Wi-Fi. I used to tell myself this is the city; people hang out places like this all the time. Being that I try to consciously keep track of days when I do or don’t spend money and what I spend money on, I choose not to get something all the time. I’ve noticed all the regulars (which I don’t include myself in because the baristas don’t know me by name or know my drink order) by now and how friendly their relationship with the employees is. I have to wonder if they genuinely like these regulars as people or just maintain good relationships because it brings business back.

Usually I try to do my best to walk in to Starbucks unnoticed but sometimes, on those days that I decide to buy a treat on my way out the door, I feel like the barista is very pointedly asking “Nothing to drink with that?” I have to wonder how much of this perceived hostility is in my head and how much of it actually exists. Why is it that I can not let things like that bother me?

I recently started working in a bakery and had an experience the other day that made me ask myself why customers choose to handle some situations the way they do. There was a man looking through the bagel selection while my manager and I were behind the counter. I was asking her a question about the cakes I had to decorate and the man suddenly stands up, bagel in hand, displaying the bagel to us like we’ve never seen one before.

“You see this?” he asks us. “Who makes these?”

Awkward pause.

“You should take a picture of this for whoever makes these so they know what this kind of bagel is supposed to look like.”

“I’m here every day and sometimes when I come in there are hardly any seeds on top” he continues.

My manager informs him: “The overnight lady is good, but she is usually off two days a week so when she isn’t here they aren’t the same. I recently had to fire some one because they weren’t cutting it so don’t worry, I am working on it.”

“Well it’s too bad they can’t be like this every day. This one right here” he says, thrusting the bagel out again, “is perfect. So keep a picture of it so you know what it’s supposed to look like”.

“Okay sir” my manager replies.

After the man walked away my manager rolled her eyes to me; I had been standing there awkwardly listening to the whole conversation, not sure what role I was supposed to play in the situation.

“Oh my God. I hate those people sometimes.”

“Of all the ways to approach that, that was certainly an interesting way to have that conversation” I laughed.

I try to be as accommodating as possible, knowing that customers’ business is what keeps me employed, but sometimes I just can’t believe how customer-employee interactions go. Sometimes my coworkers are the ones being difficult and unaccommodating, and sometimes the customers are making absurd requests. It’s one of the joys of customer relations. I guess that’s why I feel more self-conscious about my mornings in Starbucks now that I work in a customer service field too. I know how annoying it can be when people just hang out or make a nuisance of themselves at my job, but Starbucks culture is more centered around hanging out in the store than the culture of a bakery in a grocery store is (in my opinion). So, if you have to handle a disgruntled employee today, I apologize. But, as customers, we can all do a little more to be accommodating of employees trying to help us. I’m still pretty new to my job and there’s nothing I appreciate more than a little patience while I try to problem solve.

A great customer service story:

Grown Up Things


Earlier this week I spent my morning before work budgeting.  Yes, budgeting.  Typically I try to write or read during that time, but I chose to write out an itemized list of expenses.  “Woah, that sounds like too much fun!” you might be thinking; who would have thought I would get so excited about realizing I have enough in my budget to buy a gym membership?!  Huzzah!

I’ve always been a financially conscious (all I can think of after saying that is the “fiscally responsible” Kmart commercial) person and saver, especially since I grew up in a house where money was always mismanaged and lacking.  I even started working as soon as I legally could in high school so that I could be more independent financially.

Over the last year especially I have really buckled down.  I have started breaking down my purchases into categories and using a budget sheet and monthly spending sheet.  Confession: I am a list-maker.  I make lists for everything; check-lists, to do lists, shopping lists, packing lists, you name it.  Of course tracking where my money needs to go and how much I have is another list I make.  I’ve stepped up my list-making and budgeting this past year especially; last year I budgeted well enough that I had all of my Christmas shopping done by Thanksgiving.  Plus, I wasn’t broke or in debt because of it.  I know, I know, I’m sure there are plenty of people that do that, but how many were college-aged?  (Just let me have my moment of pride please).

I think it is important to save and be aware of how much money you have to spend.  Those numbers let you have a solid idea how much money you’ll have left for “luxury” items and fun stuff.  Personally, I love exact numbers because then I don’t feel like I’m just looking ahead into the void of the unknown.  Will I have enough money?  Oh, a bill came and I don’t have enough to cover it because I spent my money already.  When that bill comes, the person expecting the money will not be interested in an excuse that the money is already gone because of this expense or that expense.  They just want their money.

I did some research before deciding on a specific budgeting style (yes, there are multiple ways to categorize your budget!).  I’ve read some articles and there are some people out there raising families of six on less than $28,000 a year.  If those people can make that work, I can definitely make my income work for one person.

All this being said, I feel like this is one of the “adult things” that make us realize we can’t be financially irresponsible teenagers anymore.  Whimsy and spontaneity are fun, but if you need a place to live, that reality of bills and rent will catch up to you at least once a month.  Some people might even find budgeting attractive, because it means you have your shit together and could potentially support someone besides yourself.

I read an article in Chicago’s RedEye about a dating site called where you can list your credit score on your online dating profile.  The site is described in the article as “whoever you meet there will be financially responsible—or at least skilled at playing the labyrinthine long game that is credit scoring.”  The site doesn’t seem to be hugely successful according to the article, but it does seem like a different approach to dating, especially since it has seemed like excessive purchases and overspending have been such popular messages to society before.

So, fellow “adults”, childhood might be over, but the joy and adventure that go with it don’t have to be over; you just have to be smart about your money. I recently came across a quote that instantly reminded me of my grandpa, a financially responsible man who was also the biggest kid I know.  I’ll leave you with the quote:

“A child-like man is not a man whose development has been arrested; on the contrary, he is a man who has given himself a chance of continuing to develop long after most adults have muffled themselves in the cocoon of middle-aged habit and convention.”

-Aldous Huxley

Creatures of Habit

“Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.”

–Warren Buffett

Humans are creatures of habit.  Even when we describe ourselves as spontaneous or easy-going, there are still certain habits that we don’t want to change.  When I get ready in the morning, I always put in my contacts, eat breakfast, brush my teeth, and then wash my face.  Even though these smaller routines can seemingly be insignificant, it can actually be pretty upsetting when our routines are altered.

When I spent a summer in Alaska a few years ago, there was no running water readily accessible (except in a select few locations) or indoor plumbing.  To some this might seem horrible, and I will admit that it took me some time to adjust habits like my morning routine, but once I settled into a new routine I had just as much trouble readjusting when I returned to a less rustic setting.

It’s funny how we can get so wrapped up in the way things already are or the way we want them to be.  We don’t like change when it comes to things we are comfortable with.  I can’t tell you how many job postings I’ve hesitated to apply for because I don’t like the location, or don’t like the commute; I don’t know how my routine would have to change.  The funny thing is that I’m only applying for the position, it’s not that I’m even being offered the job.

I wonder how many opportunities we sell ourselves short on simply because it would be different.  In my experience, there is something to be learned from every change.  Sometimes I am so focused on how I don’t like that my routines are changing that I can’t focus on any of the positive aspects of the change.  I’m so fixated on being mad that I have to drive a different way, wake up a little earlier, or be around people I don’t know; all of these things could be seen as positives if I chose to see them that way.  Maybe you try something different and learn that you like the change; maybe your life is completely altered for the better because of this change.  Or, maybe this is an experience you never want to go through again; regardless, you learned something.  Even if the experience is negative, you can choose to learn from it, which makes the result a positive one.