Spring 2014 Reading Challenge

Everyone loves a challenge. Because when you meet that challenge, or at least attempt to meet it, you often end up with a feeling of accomplishment. You also almost always end up learning something in the end.

Reading challenges are very popular. Facebook, Buzzfeed, and the internet as a whole are filled with them. Most of them are just lists asking “how many of these 100 or 1000 books have you read?” But, that can get kind of boring. I’ve read a lot of those books — the classics — and I’ve enjoyed some and hated others. Half the time, though, I think some of the fun gets taken out of the challenge because they’re telling you exactly what to read. There isn’t a lot of choice. So, my reading challenge to you incorporates choice.

 

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The 2014 Spring Reading Challenge:

Between now and the first day of Summer (Saturday, June 21) challenge yourself to read at least 8 books. The books don’t have to be read in any particular order. 

1. Re-read a book that you were assigned to read in high school or college and that you thought was boring. If it’s still so boring that you can’t get into it or through it, try another. 

If you read the book on the first attempt: 20 points.

If you quit the first book and successfully read the second: 15 points.

If you attempt both books but finish neither: 10 points.

If you only attempt one book: 5 points.

2. Read one book exclusively on an electronic device or on your computer. (Most local libraries have e-book catalogs, so don’t buy an e-book unnecessarily.)

If you successfully read the entire book on the e-device: 15 points.

3. Read a book that you swore you would never, ever read. 

If you successfully finish the book: 15 points.

If you read part of it and realize there was a reason you swore you’d never read it: 5 points.

4. Re-read one of your favorite books from when you were young. Condition: The book must be more than 100 pages.

If you successfully read the book: 10 points.

5. Read a book, either fiction or non-fiction that is about events or people at least 100 years in the past.

If you read a fictional book: 20 points.

If you read a non-fiction book: 30 points.

6. Read a book that is at least 500 pages in length.

If you successfully read the book: 20 points.

7. Read a book that belongs to a series of at least 3 books. 

If you read the book: 20 points.

If you end up reading all the books in the series in a row: 35 points. Add another 10 points if there’s more than 4 books in the series.

8. Read one book within the same 24 hour period. The book must be at least 200 pages. 

If you read the book: 40 points.

 

Maximum Score: 170.

 

Think you’re up for the challenge?

 

Let me know what you read and how you’re doing! 

 

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Life Lessons #16 – 20

It’s now March 23 and I’ve only got a few short days to provide you with 10 more valuable life lessons. Impossible? Not quite. Challenging? It’s starting to feel that way. Worth it? Absolutely.

(To be honest, I just spent the last hour crafting a well-thought out blog post, but in my attempt to save the post as I continued writing, I ended up deleting it 😦 As such, the lessons I’ll provide here will be short, but just as important and valuable as all the others.)

Life Lesson #16: Ask yourself is it worth it?

After crying to a friend about how so-and-so hardly noticed me and woe was me, my friend posed a simple question: Was it worth it? Was it worth it to like someone who didn’t like me and to be so upset about it? Probably not. What was the point in willingly putting myself in a situation that made me so unhappy? I learned that lesson early on in high school and it’s one that’s stuck with me for the past 8-9 years. And, don’t think it applies to things as superficial as having a silly crush at 16. It applies to anything and it applies to everything. If you find yourself in a situation that makes you unhappy, or that adds unnecessary stress to your life, or pushes you to your limits, as yourself if it’s worth it. Sometimes, the answer will be a clear and definite no. Nope – it’s definitely not worth it to be in this situation because I know this isn’t good for me. On the other hand, just because the situation is stressful or challenging doesn’t mean it’s not worth it. It just means you’re dealing with a difficult situation that you need to accomplish. You see, the question does more than just make you think about what you should or shouldn’t do. It helps to focus and think more clearly about whether or not it’s worth it to stay in this situation or if it’s better if we move on for now.

Life Lesson #17: Go back to the basics. 

What’s the magic word? I know you all know it.

As kids, we’re all taught to mind our manners: say “Please” when asking for something; thank someone when receiving something; ask people how they are; how the door for others; be kind to everyone; say “Excuse me” when you bump into someone or commit other social faux paus.

It’s simple: we were taught these lessons for a reason. They teach us how to respect others and how to show gratitude and compassion for our fellow human beings. We learn these manners at a young age, and yet somehow they are often forgotten as we grow up. Today, whenever someone thanks me for doing something for them, I’m often pleasantly surprised, but I shouldn’t be, should I? I almost think that these are things we should come to expect. These things aren’t hard and when we forget to them, we often make other people feel like we don’t care about them and like they’re taken for granted. So, go back to the basics – I know that it’s simple and it might not seem that important, but it can really make a difference to someone.

Life Lesson #18: If you can’t dazzle them with your brilliance, baffle them with your BS. – W.C. Fields

I’ll keep this one short. I often think about this in the context of giving a speech: If you can’t remember what you wrote for your speech, but know the general ideas, just go for it. You might not be able to get your ideas across as intended, but you may have a general idea. And if you don’t, perhaps you’ll talk in such a circular way that you’ll confuse them 😉

Life Lesson #19: Make the time for the people and things that are most important to you.

Whenever I make a short trip home, I always try to make time to spend with my mom, dad, and brother and I make sure that I spend time with all of our pets. If possible, I always try to see some of my closest friends and I always try to make time to go to mass. It’s often very difficult to accomplish these things because my trips home often only last 2-3 days and they are also usually filled with a number of appointments (i.e., doctors, car, etc.). It’s hard to fit everything, but I think it’s important that we try to make the time for the people and things that are important to us.  I think it helps people realize how much we care about them and it helps us to realize that we would want them to do the same thing if they were in our situation.

I also do have to mention that my group of friends from high school does an excellent job with this. For a few years after high school, we’d often meet up weekly or every couple weeks for some sort of shenanigans. I think it’s gotten a little more challenging as people have started moving out of the area, but we still have big events with everyone when we know most people will be around. Even though we’re all incredibly busy, we all still make the time for each other and these events are things that I look forward to year-round.

Life Lesson #20: Take the time to figure out what you want.

This lesson can apply to anything in life. Kind of seems like an understatement, doesn’t it? Take the time to figure out what you want – don’t let others, or even yourself, force you into make a decision before you’re ready. I often think about this lesson in the context of college. For many of us, for multiple reasons, we probably felt like we had to choose a major early on in college, perhaps before we were ready. Maybe we felt rushed. Maybe we felt pressure from our family or friends to make a certain decision in a timely manner. Whatever the reason may be, we shouldn’t make a decision before we’re ready. Take time to figure things out. Ask yourself what you want out of time. Don’t make a hasty decision only to realize too late that you’ve made the wrong choice. Give yourself the right figure out what you want and then make a decision.

Surrounding yourself with the right kind of people: Life Lessons 11-15

Throughout our lives, most of us have the opportunity to meet and potentially become friends with thousands of people. Unless we’ve chosen a job that isolates us from others or choose to live a solitary life for whatever reasons, we are generally surrounded by people. All kinds of people. Happy people, sad people. People who make us angry. People who are so complicated that we can never understand them. All. Kinds. Of. People.

At the ripe old age of 24…not to be confused with 25 just yet ;)…I’ve realized that at some point in time, we get to make a choice. We have the ability to choose the people who surround us. Granted, there are circumstances when you won’t be able to escape that awful sneer from someone you can’t avoid. Nevertheless, at least in our personal lives (and even if our work life, at times), we get to choose. As I’ve experienced a multitude of events in my life, I’ve come to realize that there are 5 types of people I want surrounding me:

1. Those who will go to bat for you: It’s always good to have someone in your corner; someone who will be by your side (no matter what), who will stick up for you, and who will fight for you. I’m lucky. I have a lot of these people in my life. I’d definitely say that my family falls into this category. No matter the issue, I always know that if I’m ever in a bind that I can count on them to help me through it. Even if I’m wrong. I’m also lucky enough to have mentors in my life who will fight for me and who will pull their neck on the line for me. We need these people in our lives. We need to know that we have someone in our corner who is always willing to help us out regardless of the time, place, or situation. (Life Lesson #11).

2. Those who challenge you:

When I was thinking about this, I was thinking about how many different ways you can interpret the word “challenge.” What does it mean to be challenged? In what ways do we want others to challenge us? I recently started spinning again and my spin instructor is absolutely incredible. He’s constantly challenging me – to ride faster, to work on my endurance, to work harder. Sure it’s tough, but would I really want to be in a class with an instructor who was very lax in their teaching and who was OK with me only giving a half-hearted effort? It’s unlikely. What would I be gaining? I know that when I go to class, I’m always going to be challenged to do more and I think that makes me a stronger person (both physically and mentally). I think it’s important to be surrounded by people who challenge us because it pushes us rise to a whole new level.

We can also be challenged in other ways. When I presented a paper to a research committee, one of my committee members remarked that she was going to ask me harder questions at my next presentation. She wasn’t challenging the way I wrote or what I had to say, but she was really challenging me to rise to a whole new level. By her raising the bar, she was helping me set a new standard for myself that I didn’t know was possible.

At times, I also think we should surround ourselves with people who challenge the way we think about things. It’s easy to fall into patterns of thinking and believe that our ideas are correct . However, we need to have people in our lives who can bring up different sides to arguments that we didn’t see before and who can challenge us to think in a new way. Although we may not always agree, I think that surrounding ourselves with people who challenge our thinking can lead to growth…and can help us rise to a whole new level (are you sensing a trend?).  (Life Lesson #12)

3. Those who make you want to be a better person: During my senior year of high school, one of my role models in speech and debate was inducted into the OHSSL Hall of Fame. During his acceptance speech, he talked about how being involved in speech and debate and being surrounded by that world made him want to be a better person. It’s been over 5 years since I’ve graduated from high school, but those words have stuck with me. I want to be surrounded by the kind of people who make me want to be a better person – who make me want to be kinder, to try harder, to have more passion, to help others, and so on. I have a friend who is easily one of the nicest, most kindhearted people that I’ve ever met. Seeing the way this person interacts with others, provides support to friends, and dedicates everything (s)he has to the task at hand, I constantly finding myself wanting to be a better person. Hands down, I think that we need to have people like this in our life because they’re constantly helping us to rise to a whole new level.  (Life Lesson #13)

4. Those who add positivity to your life and bring you joy:

It’s easy to get discouraged. Something may happen in the morning that turns your day around and puts you in a bad mood. At the end of day, you need to have people in your life who bring you joy. You need friends who can make you happy after a bad day and who can help you see the positive after a bad day. We deserve goodness in our life. We deserve to be surrounded by people who can make us happy. We don’t need to surround ourselves with people who bring us down or who bring out a side in us that is better off left hidden. I know it’s hard, but if you find yourself surrounded by people who are bringing out your ugly side (and let’s face it, we all have one), let them go. You don’t need that sort of negativity in your life. Don’t surround yourself with people who make you feel bad about yourself or who force you to become someone you’re not. You don’t deserve that. You deserve happiness and you deserve to be surrounded by people who make you feel good.  (Life Lesson #14)

5. Those who make you laugh: 

 

Laughter is good for us. Some would say it’s the best medicine. So, surround yourself with people who make you laugh so hard that you cry or until milk comes out of your nose. Surround yourself with people who you can’t look it in certain situations because you know if you do, you’ll burst into laughter. Laughter is good for the soul and it’s such an easy way to turn around a bad day. (Life Lesson #15)

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I’m sure that you can think of other types of people that you need in your life, but this is what I’ve got. These are the type of people who feed my soul and who make life worth living. These people inspire me and I’m thankful to have them in my life. Without a doubt, these people have impacted the way I lead my life whether I know it or not.

Because here’s the thing – the people who surround us will inevitability impact us, whether we know it or not, whether these changes occur intentionally or at a subconscious level. People can challenge us to rise to a higher level, or they can force us to abandon everything that we know and stoop to low levels. So, who do you choose? Who do want surrounding you and influencing your life?

Lessons I wish I’d Learned Sooner…

So, here I am on January 20, 2014 and I’m just now beginning to reflect on 2013. It was a crazy year for me filled with many good things (i.e., graduating with my master’s degree; getting a job; seeing Josh Groban), and some events that I wish I could erase.  I’m a planner and I pride myself on knowing what to do in these situations. Because things often didn’t go as I planned in 2013, I often found myself a little unprepared for how to handle new and challenging situations. As such, I wanted to share a few of the lessons I learned in the last year, so that you can be prepared in case you find yourself in a similar situation. These lessons aren’t things that you haven’t heard before; I don’t proclaim to be presenting you with rocket science. However, sometimes hearing these things from another person can help them seem more applicable to you. Enjoy 🙂

Lesson #1: Expect the Unexpected. 

We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand. – Randy Pausch

It’s not rocket science, folks. We all have preconceived notions about how our lives will play out. We get it into our heads that we are going to follow a linear path that will be smooth sailing with very few waves. We’re going to go to college, graduate, meet the love of our life, get married, have kids…and, well, you know how the story is supposed to end, right? Unfortunately, life rarely takes us in the exact direction that we had expected. Sadly, we’re so caught up in how we think our lives should play out that we’re often unprepared when things don’t go our way. In 2013, I was certain that I was going to get into a PhD program…so certain that I never took a second to think about what would happen if I didn’t. This leads us to the second lesson.

Lesson #2: Have a back-up plan.

You can always change your plan, but only if you have one. – Randy Pausch

Because we often have it set it in our minds that things will turn out as anticipated, we rarely bother to have a back-up plan. We don’t think about what will happen if things don’t go our way. This is what gets us into trouble. I know that some people might not want to have a back-up plan because they’re afraid to think about the possibility of having to use it. Or, people might not have a plan B because they’re superstitious and think it may jinx them. I get it. It makes you realize that there’s a possibility that you may deviate from your life’s course and that you may have no control over this. Although it’s hard to admit it, that’s life. Life is full of bumps in the road that throw us off our chosen path. As such, we need to be prepared. When I found out that I wasn’t going to be accepted into a PhD program, I was terrified. For someone who considers herself to be a planner, not having a back-up plan in place was awful. It was scary not knowing what I was going to do with my life, when I’d thought for so long that I’d be spending the next 5 years of my life in school. This is where accepting the next lesson becomes really important.

Lesson #3: Sometimes taking the path less traveled is OK. I promise.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I- 

I took the one less traveled by, 

And that has made all the difference. – Robert Frost

When things don’t go the way you had planned, it’s hard. Really, freaking hard. I would actually consider this an understatement. Because we’ve been following a certain path for so long and weren’t anticipating being thrown-off course, it’s really hard to accept anything other than what we’d always had in mind. We think that our life is going to follow a straight path and that we’re going to get to point A to point B with no problems. We have an idea of how things should be. Unfortunately, when we do face these bumps in the road, it’s often hard for us to accept that we won’t be following our chosen path. For me, I thought that I was going to go to college and straight into a PhD program. Obviously, that didn’t happen. When I graduated from my master’s program, the obvious next step was going for my PhD. Also didn’t happen. Learning to accept that (twice) is something that I still struggle with at times. Now, I’m currently working in a great job with wonderful people gaining invaluable experiences and learning more about what I want out of life. It certainly wasn’t expected and it isn’t what I had originally wanted. It’s not the smooth path that I would have originally chosen for myself, but being on this new path has opened my eyes to a world of possibilities that I never knew existed before.

Lesson #4: Don’t just focus on the short-term, focus on the long-term, too.

The future depends on what you do today. – Mahatma Gandhi

When we’re faced with making a decision that we didn’t think we’d have to make, it’s often easy to focus on how our decision will effect us in the present. Too often, we don’t take the time to think about how our decision will impact us in the long-run, when everything that we’re doing now will affect our future. If I had only been focusing on the short-term when I didn’t get into a PhD program, I would have moved back to my parents house in May after graduation and wallowed in self-pity for a couple weeks…or months. However, realizing that if I had a shot at getting into a PhD program in the future, I needed to make a decision that would help me reach my goal and get me back onto my original path. This is where the next lesson is important.

Lesson # 5: Weigh your options. 

“When you have to make a hard decision, flip a coin. 
Because when that coin is in the air, 
you suddenly know what you’re hoping for.” – Anonymous 

Despite not having a back-up plan, I had a wonderful support system to help me think through my options. What were my options? What did I want to do? What option would serve as the best stepping-stone to get me to where I wanted to be? I was fortunate enough to have a few job interviews and even more fortunate enough to have a few offers. Making a decision was challenging because it had to be done rather quickly. However, by weighing my options and looking at the pros and cons of everything, I was able to make the best decision for me. And if you’re still having problems determining what you should, just a flip a coin and you’ll have your answer.

Lesson #6: Learn to be OK doing things alone. 

If you make friends with yourself, you will never be alone. – Maxwell Maltz 

Sometimes when we are thrown off-course, we’re often forced to do things and move places that we never imagined. A job may be available, but it may be in a city where you know very few people. Speaking from experience, this can be very difficult. When you’re used to spending all your spare time with friends who you can call on a whim to go out, it’s a stark contrast to being in a new city with few friends. If you find yourself in a similar situation, I think it’s important that you accept that it’s OK to do things alone. You might be lonely at times and it might be difficult, but it will give you an opportunity to learn more about yourself and focus on yourself and your interests.

The Only “White Christmas” For Me

snowpe

 

I don’t “do” snow. Let’s establish that up front. Being a vertically-challenged person, it means that the bottoms of my pants get all wet, and end up drying with a salt line ring around it. Sooo not attractive. Also, I guess, compared to some people, I fall just short of being a Scrooge. Christmas is not my favorite holiday, although it is lovely to spend time with family and enjoy all that Christmas means for you. For the record, New Year’s Eve is my favorite. You get to dress up and drink champagne, but the whole idea of a fresh new start is always appealing to me. However, if dressing up and drinking champagne is all it takes to get that “fresh start” feeling, I’m entirely in favor of doing it more often.

Right around the week before Thanksgiving, it seems like stores (and some people, too, don’t deny it) start to lose their minds for Christmas. Radio stations start playing Christmas music as soon as possible (sorry Mom), all the Christmas displays go up, and I end up walking around stores while muttering under my breath about premature and unnecessary tinsel. It creeps up earlier and earlier each year, and I think it takes away from how special the season is supposed to be.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Christmas movies, either. Ralphie and A Christmas Story? A-no, thank you. It’s A Wonderful Life? It’s a terrible movie. (I don’t know why George felt like he was the one responsible for the whole thing… it was Uncle Billy who lost the money, so wasn’t this whole mess actually his fault?) The only ones I kind of like are the stop-animation Rankin/Bass specials (think “Rudolph” and Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town), and sometimes, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. But, there is one movie that always puts me in a holiday mood, even if it is just for a little bit.

White Christmas (1954) stars Bing Crosby (Bob Wallace) and Danny Kaye (Phil Davis) as performer/producers who go to audition sister act Rosemary Clooney (Betty Haynes) and Vera-Ellen (Judy Haynes) for their show, and end up following them to Vermont. The foursome arrive at a snowless ski lodge, owned by Wallace and Davis’s former general from the war. No snow means no guests at the lodge, so Wallace and Davis devise a plan to fill it with their former army buddies.

I remember my dad teaching me the song, “White Christmas,” when I was a kiddo, and I learned to appreciate Bing Crosby, as well as some of the other big names in jazz and swing, from one of my uncles. Those 1950’s big-production musicals have always been favorites for me, too. White Christmas is a big-production musical inside a big-production musical — what’s not to love? (There are at least 4 numbers in this movie that are completely superfluous to the rest of the story. See if you can figure out which ones they are here.) Even if it isn’t essential to the story, I absolutely love The Haynes Sisters’ performance from their floor show:


“Sisteerrrrrrrrss!”

There are some things to learn from White Christmas, and most of the lessons seem to come from Phil Davis.

  1. “Let’s say we’re doing it for an old friend in the army:” Phil uses this on Wallace to get him to do the right thing, even though his stubborn friend is reluctant to do it.
  2. Giving their train tickets to the Haynes Sisters so they could escape from a shady landlord: If you’re in the position to help someone, do it. They did this again when Wallace used his TV appearance to appeal to the other soldiers from their unit to come to Vermont for Christmas to surprise the General.
  3. Count your blessings instead of sheep.

I know that this is one of the classics, and AMC has probably already run a marathon of this movie in one of the days leading up to Christmas. But, if you haven’t seen White Christmas, I encourage you to settle in with a cup of hot chocolate and watch it. Looking outside, I can see that Jack Frost paid us a visit last night, so unfortunately for me, this movie isn’t the only white Christmas I’ll have this year.

Wash my hands, my face and hair with snow? SNOWPE.

Want to read more? Check out Buzzfeed’s “15 Questions ‘White Christmas’ Left Unanswered” and “15 Things You Didn’t Know About ‘White Christmas.'” Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, dear readers!