Feed Your Mind: TED Talks Everyone Should Watch

On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, my high school friends (including Jeannette!) gather for Friendsgiving, an event that is graciously hosted by our friend Christopher. Every year is different and conversation greatly depends on who you’re sitting next to, what’s going on in everyone’s lives, and how much spiked cider has already been consumed. This year we got philosophical at my end of the table, and we started discussing TED Talks. Our conversation was short-lived, but in it we established that TED Talks were amazing and that everyone needs to watch a sampling of them at one point or another.

If you’re not sure what TED or a TED Talk is, here’s a summary:

TED is a non-profit that is devoted to “Ideas Worth Spreading” and stands for Technology, Education, and Design. It began in 1984 as a conference on those three topics, but has since grown to two official conferences (The TED Conference and TEDGlobal) that are held annually. There are also countless TEDx conferences held around the world that are independently organized, but adhere to the same general rules and mission.

Speakers at TED events are tasked with “giving the speech of their lives” in 18 minutes or less. While participants are often experts in their respective fields, their talks are generally not boring or academic. Instead, they are often inspirational and offer insight into humanity rather than into their specific expertise.

Visit ted.com for their online video archive and more information.

Ted Talks

TED Talks I Think Everyone Should Watch (In no particular order)

1. Lesley Hazelton: The Doubt Essential to Faith
In her TED talk from June 2013, Lesley Hazelton discusses how in her quest to write a biography of the prophet Muhammad she came to a realization regarding the doubt that is intrinsic in one’s faith. Doubt, fear, and questioning, she explains, is purely human and, consequently, is absolutely essential to one’s faith.

 

2. Cameron Russell: Looks Aren’t Everything. Believe Me, I’m a Model
In her TED talk from 2012, model Cameron Russell discusses the complexities of what it means to be a model in a world where beauty is largely constructed.

 

3. Benjamin Zander: The Transformative Power of Classical Music
Benjamin Zander demonstrates to the TED audience that just because you think you don’t like classical music, doesn’t mean you can’t learn to like it — or learn to like anything for that matter. It all has to do with truly listening to what you are hearing.

 

4. John Green: The Paper Town Academy
Author John Green discusses how our perception of the world shapes how we lead our lives and how education and learning often takes place as much out of the classroom as it does inside it. He demonstrates that we all live within learning communities that encourage us to expand the maps of our lives.

 

5. Meg Jay: Why 30 Is Not The New 20
Psychologist Meg Jay discusses her work with 20-somethings and in the process demonstrates that someone’s 20s is not a throw-away decade. Instead it is one of the most import ant decades in human development and should be seized for every opportunity it provides.

 

6. Elizabeth Gilbert: Your Elusive Creative Genius
Author Elizabeth Gilbert discusses the phenomenon of genius and asserts that we all have genius, as opposed to a few of us being geniuses.

 

7. Andrew Solomon: Love No Matter What
Andrew Solomon reflects on his interviews with countless parents and discusses how in the end, regardless of differences, it is love that binds.

 

There are hundreds of TED talks, too many to ever watch and certainly too many to pick a definite favorite from. These are only a few of my favorites.

Have you watched any TED Talks? What are your favorites?

DIY Wire Name Jewelry

Can you believe Christmas is exactly 1 month away? I sure can’t…which probably means I should start buying some Christmas presents…(thank god for Amazon.com)

Sometimes I feel like I get into a recipe rut on here, only cooking and providing you with recipes and cooking tutorials. I really love to craft too and with the abundance of ideas that Pinterest provides, there are so many things I want to try. So this past week, I decided I was going to try out making wire name jewelry. It was neither as easy nor as hard as I thought it might be, but I really loved the end product.

Here’s my guide to making Wire Name Jewelry:

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Supplies:

  • Package of jewelry wire (I used 18 gauge in silver for this tutorial)*
  • Wire cutters
  • Small jewelry pliers
  • Chain and clasp to match wire (or alternative)
  • Pen
  • Paper

My Advice Starting Out:

Making wire jewelry takes some practice, but it also takes thought and planning. Some letters, names, and words will be easier than others. Prepare to fail and try again. You will get the hang of it. Just make sure that you buy extra wire so that you can practice.

Instructions:

1. Start with a piece of paper and pen. Think of the word you want to make and write it out in one continuous line, without ever lifting the pen from the paper. Remember, the wire name you will be making has to flow and can’t be joined together. (Unless you plan on soldering the metal together –which is something else entirely.

NOTE: A vital piece of designing your piece of jewelry is to think of how you are eventually going to wear it. How will you hook the chain to the name? Include that in your design. For example, with my necklace, I hooked one end of the chain to the J’s loop and then created an extra loop at the end of the i.

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2. Once you figure out how you want to shape the name/word and you think you know how to shape it, you are ready to really begin. Take your coil of wire and cut a piece with your wire cutters. The length you will need depends on the length of the name/word you are creating. Extra is always good — you’ll just cut it off when you’re done. wire4

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3. Begin shaping your letters. Use both your fingers and the pliers. (The pliers are good to make curves and circles — just wrap the wire around the plier to shape it.

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4. Continue to shape the letters. For some letters, you will have to double the wire up in order to get the look you want.

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5. When you’re done, it’s time to hook the wire name to the chain. I chose to make mine into a necklace. I bought a ready made silver chain with clasp at the craft store and then pried it apart in the middle, reattaching it to the ends of the name. (This can be difficult if the chain links are small, so consider this when you design the piece.wire7

 

6. And you’re done! For my name, I was really surprised how short an amount of time it took me. (It took longer to detach and reattach the chain than it did to actually form my name. But some letters are other words are more difficult. The bottom line is that practice makes perfect. You will also need a lot of patience.

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*Note on Supplies: 

Jewelry wire comes in a variety of sizes and materials. I used simple wire from the cart store in the color silver. You can also buy copper wire (pictured below). Wire is sized by gauge — the smaller the gauge the larger the wire circumference. For name jewelry, you will want a lower gauge (under 20), so that it will hold up. wire5

Jewelry pliers are sold in the craft store, but you may need to buy wire cutters from a hardware store.

You can also make bracelets and rings with the wire. A chain and clasp is also not necessary for all pieces of jewelry — the wire itself can be used for the entire piece. 

Life Lesson #3: It’s a Small World After All

What do you get when you combine six degrees of separation with the song, “It’s a small world after all?” Well, fine readers, you get:

Life Lesson #3: It (really is) a small world after all!

Disney World – one of the most magical places on earth!

A place where kids beg their parents to go on vacation, where newlyweds spend their honeymoon, and where generations of families gather together to take in the magic found here.

There’s so much to see and explore between the various parks that it’s often hard to decide what to do first! Should I go to the Animal Kingdom and go on a safari ride?

Or, should I start with Epcot where I can travel to Italy, France, AND Morocco without ever leaving the park?

Maybe it’s better if I just start in Magic Kingdom, see a parade and some of my favorite Disney characters, ride some timeless Disney rides, and go from there?

Growing up, I was lucky enough to travel to Disney World twice- once with my family and once with my high school band. Both times were wonderful and I can safely say that I was never able to see or do everything that I wanted while I was there. I saw many parades, watched fireworks shows, took pictures with my favorite Disney characters, and rode many rides. Thinking about the rides, the ones that stick out the most to me are: Splash Mountain (awesome, but wet-clearly), Space Mountain (super fun), the Buzz Lightyear ride/game (I rocked that game), and the It’s a Small World After All ride.

If you’ve been to Disney World/Land (or even if you haven’t), you’re probably familiar with “It’s a small world after all.” If you’re not, here’s what you would experience if you were on this ride:

As a kid, I didn’t really understand or appreciate the meaning of the song or the excitement of the ride. Don’t get me wrong, I loved seeing all the different cultures and countries represented in the display…although, the song did get a little annoying after awhile. Nevertheless, I didn’t really see how everything was connected or realize how small of a world we actually live in.

 Now that I’m older and yes, even somewhat wiser, I’ve come to better understand how the song and ride is applicable in the real world.

Most of you may be familiar with the theory of six degrees of separation. It’s a theory that asserts that everyone in the world (yes, all 7.2 billion people) are connected to everyone else by six links or people.

Wow.

It’s such a crazy idea when you take a moment to think about it.

When I think of this theory, it’s hard not to imagine I’m back on that ride in Disney World. Is it possible that a girl from a  small town in Ohio can be connected to a random stranger half way across the country? It seems crazy and doubtful.

I’m not saying that I buy into this theory completely, but I can appreciate it in the context of realizing that it really is a small world after all. When you move to a new place, start a job in a city where you know no one, and are feeling completely alone – remember this.

Remember that we are all connected in some way, shape, or form. Maybe not by six people. Maybe it’s a connection through an activity that you participated in when you were in high school. Maybe it’s through a university you attended for undergrad. Or, maybe it really is by a person. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy. Finding those connections may not even be intentional. You may have to work to make those connections and to put the puzzle pieces together, but I have a feeling that if you look for it, you can find the link.

Here’s why: When my family was in Egypt when I was a baby, we were in the Cairo airport waiting for our flight. From across the airport, someone began frantically waving to my family. From what my parents tell me, they had no idea who this woman was or why she was trying to get their attention. As she approached them, she addressed them by their first names. My parents didn’t recognize her. At all. Literally. It was 2:00 am in an airport half-way across the country from our real home and here’s this woman who knows us. Apparently, she was the sister of the priest of our church in Ohio and had recognized us from a single mass when I was baptized. Connection number one.

In July, Joni and I (and Sarah, too, but she wasn’t there for this part) attended a bachelorette party in Cleveland. As Joni and I were riding in a taxi that evening, we began talking to our driver. We were talking about various topics, when it somehow came up that we had attended the same university for graduate school (not at the same time). It was so random to be riding in this taxi in Cleveland and accidentally find out that we had the same alma mater. Connection number two.

During my first year of grad school, my mom came to visit me. Naturally, this trip involved shopping because what mother-daughter trip doesn’t?! When she was there, we went to Sam’s Club. Shortly after we entered the store, we saw a man who was clearly a Coptic Orthodox priest. So, not to be too creepy or anything…my mom and I followed him and his family to the checkout lane…to talk to them. As we introduced ourselves to the family, we realized that he knew my uncle (who is a priest) who still lives in Egypt. Seriously? In a country with over 80 million people, how could be possibly know my uncle? What are the chances that when my mom and I serendipitously (is that a word?) ran into this family that we would be connected?

It’s a small world.

So, why am I telling you this? I think it’s as much for you as it is for me. I think it can help you realize that no matter how far you go from home that you’re not alone. You’re not disconnected. The connections are there, you just might have to look for them. You might think you know no one. You might think that there’s no one around who can possibly understand the uniqueness of where you came from. But, in some way, the connection is there. It may be unexpected and not in the way that you had anticipated, but I have confidence that you’ll figure it out.

Now, go forth and enjoy the ride! Find those connections.

Who knows, maybe you’ll discover how you’re connected to your favorite actor, musician, or politician!

A Few (More) of My Favorite Things

favorite things

I’m sitting here, windows open, on this lovely day in late August, listening to the dulcet tones of construction equipment and heavy machinery. There is no way that the high school football stadium behind my apartment will be anywhere near ready for the beginning, or let’s be honest, the end of the season this year. Wonder how that’s going to work out for them. Hmm. Anyway

Things are coming together for the wedding, which is pretty exciting. Once we find our DJ, I’ll probably feel like I can kind of relax for a while. I’m looking forward to looking at dresses for my BridesDames and my co-MOHs, and we have our engagement photo session at the end of next month. There is still much to be done, but just not right now. Since I announced that I was engaged on a previous favorite things post, I thought it could do another one with other things I’m loving right now, like…

1. Beauty: CoverGirl Outlast Lipstain

I currently have two different shades in my purse to go with whatever attitude of outfit I wear to work. I bought my first tube of it prior to my cousin’s summer 2010 wedding in Houston. I knew I was going to need something that would last all day and wouldn’t sweat or shmear off in the heat. CoverGirl had just come out with this line, so I thought I’d give it a shot. Besides staying on all day, it has more of a matte finish than a glossy finish, so that gives it more brownie points. I also like how light-weight it is, and the fact that its basically a Sharpie for your lips. My personal favorites are Teasing Blush (415) for everyday looks and Wild Berry Wink (440) for something a little more dramatic.

2. Food & Drink: Chobani Flips Almond Coco Loco

The first time I tried Greek yogurt, I wasn’t too impressed, and actually thought it was somewhat bitter. Of course, I love frozen Greek yogurt, especially Ben & Jerry’s Banana & Peanut Butter flavor, so when I saw this the last time I was out grocery shopping with Brian, I thought I’d give it another go. When I was younger, I loved the Yoplait Yo’Crunches where you’d mix in the M&Ms or Oreo cookie crumbles in the little tub on top of the yogurt cup, but they weren’t that healthy and slightly expensive. The Chobani Flips were on sale for 10/$10, so I couldn’t pass that up. I’m a fan of dark chocolate anything, so this was pretty tasty, in my opinion.  Now I just need to go pick up a few more… maybe the Key Lime flavor?

3. Music: Lorde – “Royals”

I heard this song on The Summit while heading home from work, and thought it was super catchy. (I discover so much good music on The Summit. I don’t care to hear One Direction or Miley on my drive to work.)  Ella Yelich-O’Connor (better known by her stage name Lorde) is a 16 year old New Zealand singer-songwriter. According to Huffington Post, Lorde is the first woman to be on top of the Alternative Music chart in 17 years… so.. since before she was born.

4. Internet: Disney Ladies From Last Night — Not entirely SFW

Somewhere near NYC, Wendy needs some assistance.

I think I came across this website via Imgur, another photo-sharing site that Brian and I like to look at together for the LOLs. The format is simple: take a random Text From Last Night and then superimpose it on a corresponding screen cap featuring a female character from a Disney (or Pixar, some people are so picky…) movie. Many of these are not suitable for work, considering the state most people are in when they send a text worthy of making it on TFLN, but here are a couple of my favorites:

Someone in Philadelphia is missing a kitten.

Can’t be Pittsburgh Dad. Jeffy stole all his books.

5. End of Summer Sales, Whaaaat??!?!

Clothes. (Treat yo’self.) Fragrances. (Treat yo’self.) Massages. (Treat yo’self.) Mimosas. (Treat yo’self.) Fine leather goods. (Treat yo’self.)

There’s not much I love more than a sale, online or otherwise, and this summer, I think I’ve done pretty well with my sweet, sweet deals. I’m signed up for email alerts and online coupons for pretty much all of my favorite stores. Some of my best scores include:

  • $120 of stuff from Bath & Body Works for $45, including gifts for all of my bridesmaids and a few treats for my mom and sister.
  • $111 of clothing from Old Navy for $37, all on clearance + 30% off, and then free shipping.
  • $60 in shoes from Target for $25 — 2 pairs of flats for work and a pair of strappy sandals.
  • $57 worth of stuff from Kohls for $1.25. Yes, the period is in the proper place. Two candles and a set of makeup bags for less than a vending machine soda.

Always wait for the end of the season, when stores start to put out things for the next one. My Old Navy and Target finds can all easily transition from summer to fall. My B&BW haul happened during their Big Semi-Annual Sale. Look for ways to stack coupons on top of in-store percentages off, which Kohl’s is awesome for. This past spring, I was able to get a Vera Wang purse for 27% of the original price through a combination of in-store sales + mobile coupons + a store grand opening gift card we got at the apartment.

What are your favorite things right now? Introduce me to something I might never have seen before. 🙂

“Beautiful Creatures”: Smart, Southern, and Supernatural Gothic

I just finished reading Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. I flew through it in less than 2 days and thought it was a great read. Read below to see my thoughts on the book.

Beautiful Creatures Book Cover

2012 was a rough year for reading for me. My last semester of graduate school was tough. Finishing my classes, writing my thesis, and thinking about what to do with the rest of my life took up most of my time and most of my ability to think. Summer turned out to not be too good for reading either. I was busy for the first part of the summer, my grandfather became ill, and then I was applying for jobs. The Fall continued on with the job search and I felt guilty about reading when I could have been filling out applications.

But, then in early December, my grandfather died. While he was ill, his death was surprising because it came rapidly and with little warning. Pain gives you new perspective. It teaches you.

Books do the same thing. The stories of others help make the events in your own story make sense. They bring catharsis. So, I resolved to not feel guilty about devoting some of my time to reading. I’ve read 2 books so far this week, 4 since the 1st of the month. So, expect me to talk about books a little more on here in the future. 🙂

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But, back to Beautiful Creatures.

Published in 2009, Beautiful Creatures is technically a Young Adult novel for readers ages 12 and up. It is a Southern, Gothic Romance with a storyline deeply rooted in the supernatural. The novel draws heavily on themes of magic and fate. It is 563 pages.

Authors Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl wrote the novel after being dared to by some of the teenagers in their lives. Garcia and Stohl came up with the idea for Beautiful Creatures over lunch and wrote initial passages on napkins. They wrote the book in serial form at first, feeding pages at a time to these same teens who became increasingly impatient to read more of the story. Three months later, the first draft was complete and after some editing Beautiful Creatures is an international bestseller, the first book in a four-part series (The Caster Chronicles), and soon to be a major motion picture.

This is the book cover for the movie-tie-in.

This is the book cover for the movie-tie-in.

A General, Spoiler-free Summary:

Beautiful Creatures is told from the perspective of Ethan Lawson Wate, a 16-year old high school sophomore living in fictional Gatlin, South Carolina in the present day. At the beginning of the book, Ethan is still reeling from the death of his mother Lila several months before in a car accident and is unsure how to react from his father Mitchell’s depressed behavior. Virtually ignored by his devastated father, who sleeps all day and locks himself in his study all night, Ethan relies on the love, support, and care of housekeeper Amma who is like his grandmother.

Raised to be open minded by his liberal professor/writer parents, Ethan feels out of place in Gatlin, a small Southern town deeply rooted in its history and in its conservative values, and he cannot wait until he can leave after high school graduation. A member of the Jackson High School basketball team and a relatively popular kid in his class, Ethan spends most days with his best friend Wesley “Link” Lincoln. However, as summer ends and his sophomore year begins, something is different. Since his mother’s death, Ethan has been plagued by strange dreams, and now he begins to experience strange occurrences and hear strange music. The dreams, which feature a girl Ethan does not know but who seems to know him, seem real — virtually are real — as Ethan wakes up with dirt under his fingernails and mud in his bed.

When Ethan passes a strange car on the road on the first day of school, he feels inexplicably drawn to it, but doesn’t know why. The car’s occupant is Lena Duchannes, niece of Gatlin’s shut-in, Macon Ravenwood. Like her uncle, Lena is “different” than everyone else in Gatlin and she is ridiculed for it by her new classmates. Ethan, however, is drawn to Lena in a way he can’t explain. She is the girl in his dreams, her scent of lemon and rosemary is what he smells as he sleeps, and the music she plays on her viola is the song that mysteriously appears on his iPod.

Ethan becomes Lena’s friend as the rest of Gatlin’s students and residents shun her for her “otherness” and for odd occurrences that begin to happen at Jackson High. Ethan and Lena’s friendship continues to deepen even as her Uncle Macon and his Amma protest the acquaintance. As Ethan seeks to understand his connection to Lena and their relationship develops, Ethan learns that Lena is a Caster. Along with the rest of her family and others like them, she has magical powers. But unlike the others like her family, the Duchannes are cursed — destined to be Claimed on their 16th birthday for either good or evil, for Light or Dark. In a race against time and in a struggle against disapproval, Ethan and Lena rush to learn the meaning of their supernatural connection and to prevent Lena from Turning Dark on her birthday.

In the process, Ethan and Lena learn that all in their lives are not as they seem. That the connection they share goes back over a century to the roots of Gatlin. That Lena’s life has been dominated by secrets. That they may be powerless to do anything.

Ethan and Lena, as depicted in the upcoming Beautiful Creatures film.

Ethan and Lena, as depicted in the upcoming Beautiful Creatures film.

My Take:

I really enjoyed Beautiful Creatures.  Out of 5 stars, I’d give it a 4. For me it was a fast read — I read it on my Nook over the course of about 2 days. At times, the novel was a little slow and lumbering — not because the story was bad, but because there is a lot of description. With this in mind though, I couldn’t wait to keep reading — the plot kept me thoroughly entertained and thoroughly interested. I desperately wanted to know what happened next, to discover the answers to the story’s mysteries.

I also really liked Beautiful Creatures because I found it to be smart, nuanced, and funny. While some may not agree, I found its commentary on small town life and on the narrow mindedness that sometimes infects those towns (or communities or big cities too) funny and true. You’ll have to read to understand, but for someone like myself who is a more liberal persuasion, authors Garcia and Stohl point out important and blind prejudices that many of us have towards who and what may be different in our worlds.

I also enjoyed the story because of its supernatural themes. While I don’t out rightly believe that magic exists (but, who wouldn’t want Harry Potter to be real??), I appreciate the novel’s perception of supernatural connections and fate. I also found the fact that the novel is told from Ethan’s perspective and not from Lena’s to be refreshing.

Some have placed Beautiful Creatures and the three subsequent books in The Caster Chronicles series in the same category as Harry Potter and Twilight. For someone who reveres the ground that the Harry Potter series sits on, I can honestly say that Beautiful Creatures is not as good as Harry Potter. However, I feel that it is, without question, better than the Twilight series.

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A Note About the Movie:

Beautiful Creatures has been made into a motion picture and premieres on February 13, 2013. It is being marketed as a Romeo and Juliet type story and some changes have been made to the plot and to the characters. This being said, however, authors Garcia and Stohl were heavily involved in the project and I think the film’s trailer looks great!

 

The entire Caster Chronicles — Beautiful Creatures, Beautiful Darkness, Beautiful Chaos, and Beautiful Redemption — series has been published.  The fourth and final book, Beautiful Redemption, was published in October 2012.

Happy Reading! Let me know what you think of Beautiful Creatures.