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How To Vet a Charity Before Donating

January 31, 2017 2 comments

A new year often brings with it an interest in donating to charities, either for the first time or to new ones entirely. But how do you know a charity is a good one? There’s a quick and easy free resource that can help you out: Charity Navigator.

Charity Navigator rates charities on a star scale of 1 to 4 based on how well they are run, not on what cause they support. They give them an overall score, as well as scores for finances and accountability and transparency. They also tell you exactly where they get their money from and how they spend it, both in charts and in easy to understand visualized graphs. If you register for a free account, you can also see the charity’s tax forms.

If you scroll down to the bottom of the charity’s page, Charity Navigator also tells you similar charities. Do you like this charity’s cause but not their rating? Easily find another one.

What I look for when I select a charity is that it has a 4 star rating and spends a minimum of 75% of its income on programs.

Here’s a quick example of a charity that’s been in the news a lot lately. The ACLU has a 4 star rating on Charity Navigator. They spend 84.5% of their income on programs and 99.5% of their income is from contributions, gifts, and grants.

An Action List for Educating Yourself and Learning to Act from Love

November 11, 2016 Leave a comment

Politics can be complicated. I’ve never thought one side is right purely for being Democrat or Republican (partially because I’m third party myself). But I do believe that what is right is love. Love and compassion. Treating each other with respect and humanity. Approaching the world out of a state of hope and not fear.

What sickens me in this whole situation is how many people on all sides are reacting instead of acting. How many people are rushing to hate on everyone else. And how one man and his campaign actively stirred up these negative emotions in people on purpose. Humans are susceptible to being goaded into negative actions out of fear. It is so easy to prey on people’s fears. Especially in a world where Americans are routinely not taught critical thinking in school. Many are not educated on history or politics. And information literacy (knowing where trustworthy information is and how to find it and fact-checking things others say) is simply by and large not taught to anyone and when it is people often laugh about it and think it’s pointless.

The media seeks only to elicit clicks and watches and not to bring about truth. I was 15 when reality tv first hit the world, and now we’re seeing the consequences of this. People becoming famous and wealthy for negative actions taken in full view of others rather than positive ones. This is what happens when we reward negative behavior and purposefully stir up fear.

I had already made a commitment to strive for more positive energy in my own life months ago. But now I want to encourage others to do this and more. Seek truth. Educate yourself on history. Listen to historians when we warn you. Discover how the world actually works, not how you think it does. (It blows me away how many people didn’t understand the Electoral College before this week). It’s ok that you don’t know. God knows there are things I don’t know. I encounter that every day through my work in academia. Accept what you don’t know. Embrace it with humility. Then get out there and learn more from trustworthy sources. Learning is a lifelong process. Accept it. Seek it out. Act out of love, not out of fear. Be inspired by people who deserve to be famous for their positive work and actions. The change really does start with each and every one of us. Below is a list of just a few resources and suggestions to maybe help you get started.

  • Coursera
    This is a wonderful place to take online classes from academic institutions worldwide for free. You pay a nominal fee if you want to get a completion certificate but actually taking the class and gaining the knowledge is 100% free. All assigned reading and videos are freely accessible too. Consider taking a course in US History, politics, international relations, comparative religion, etc….
  • Learn and use the CRAP test when evaluating whether a resource (source of information like a website or a book) is trustworthy.
  • Choose a group you dislike or fear and go out and seek unbiased nonfiction about them and fiction written by them. We fear what we don’t understand. Knowledge is power.
  • Books
  • Begin a meditation practice as a first step towards mindfulness
  • Begin a gratitude practice –> write down one thing you are grateful for each day.
  • Choose one positive action to perform each day aka make someone else’s life better today by virtue of you being in it
  • Choose one healthy change you can make and begin working on it. Remember to set a SMART goal –> Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound
  • Finally, if you are suffering from an addiction or you feel like you are drowning in despair or anxiety, reach out for help. The first step is asking for help. The change starts with each of us individually. Heal your own hurts and the world heals.

Om Mani Padme Hum

Categories: How To

5 Things That May Surprise You About Planning Your Wedding

October 24, 2015 Leave a comment
5 Things That May Surprise You About Planning Your Wedding

Oh, Bohotats, I had no idea what a hit you were going to be.

When you first get engaged (maybe even before that), you have a whole set of ideas in your head about how both wedding planning and your wedding will go.  I am here to tell you that many of those ideas will be wrong. Some of them in a good way.  Some of them in a not-so-good way.  But they will all surprise you.  So here is a list of things that surprised me about our wedding planning and wedding.

  1.  You might not have an “omg this is the one” moment with your dress.
    I did not.  Many of my friends have not.  I had more of an omg I have to pick one and this one is the right price and works with my body so I guess I’m going with it moment  I did have an omg this is the one moment with my wedding boots, though.  So you will have one of those I feel like a princess moments.  It just might not necessarily be with your dress. And that is totally ok.
  2. Who is super-excited about your wedding and who reacts like you just announced there’s a sale on broccoli will surprise you.
    It’s difficult to write this part without specifically calling out any people who disappointed me, and I don’t want to do that.  Suffice to say, there was one relative in particular who I had always just assumed would be at my wedding and who never RSVPed.  I called them thinking something happened with the mail, and they proceeded to give me the world’s lamest excuse about not coming (it involved deer hunting season), promised to send a card, and then never did.  In contrast, we had a friend come all the way from Texas (for my non-American readers, that’s 3,160 kilometers of travel), and we had friends who we had not known very long be incredibly enthusiastic and generous about our wedding.  To sum it up, a lot of people will show enthusiasm and generosity about your wedding. It just might not be who you were expecting.  As I told one friend who asked me about what wedding planning is like, wedding planning shows you who is really truly invested in you as a couple.  And sometimes that’s great and sometimes it stings.
  3. You will make a wedding website. And no one will read it. (Ok, ok, many people will not read it, and it will feel like no one did).
    I cannot count the number of times someone good-naturedly asked me a question the answer to which I knew for a fact was on the wedding website (and had been from day one), and I had to bite my tongue hard and answer politely and not say “Didn’t you even read the wedding website?! Do you have any idea how much time and effort I invested into that thing?!” Yes, some people read the wedding website and never asked me about things like parking or the weather or where they should stay. But a ton did not. This is a fact of life you are just going to have to accept. You can’t make them read the wedding website but you also can’t not provide it.  As Buddhism teaches us, accept reality for what it is.
  4. You do not have to provide seating during the ceremony. Or assign seating for dinner. Or [insert tradition that you don’t want to do but that everyone on the internet is judging you for not wanting to do].  You will worry about it incessantly but it will actually be fine.
    We didn’t provide seating during the ceremony because we wanted people standing.  I was nervous about this, so I offered to provide chairs to anyone who felt they couldn’t stand for the duration of the ceremony.  No one asked for a chair.  Our venue randomly had a picnic table near our ceremony location that we last-minute moved to the audience section as a seating option, and no one sat on it.  It was totally not a big deal.  Neither was not assigning seating during the dinner.  Now, I’m not saying this wouldn’t be a big deal for every crowd, but it wasn’t for our particular group of friends and family.  The bottom line is, you know yourself, your partner, and your friends and family best. You don’t have to do the traditional thing that the whole internet thinks you have to do.  You just have to think about what will work for you and your partner and your friends and family.  And even if you pick to do something that annoys the crap out of your guests, they’re not going to say a peep to you about it (at least not on your wedding day).  Because the worst wedding taboo of all is complaining to the celebrants.
  5. There is bound to be one throw-away, last-minute thing you do that winds up being a smash hit, and you never could have predicted it.
    For us, this was my last-minute acquisition of a ton of temporary glitter tattoos.  About a week before our wedding I remembered wanting to put on a couple of glitter tattoos for the ceremony. I found some on Amazon, but they came in huge packages.  I bought them anyway. Because wedding.  The day of the wedding, I selected out which ones I wanted and had applied them.  When my girlfriends arrived at the bridal cabin, they were all really excited about the extras I had spread out on the bed.  I told them to feel free to take them (just not in the same colors I was wearing), and it turned out to be a smash hit.  In an instant the bridal suite transformed into a group of giggling women putting on temporary tattoos, and the whole vibe changed from nervousness to excitement and celebration.  I had no clue that my girlfriends would all be super-into this.  I didn’t plan it.  But it was a hit.  Just another example of go with your gut and be generous with your friends and family, and everything will work out fine.

I think what all of these surprises point to is this.  You can plan all you want, but at some point you just have to let go and watch what happens.  So long as your planning was honest and loyal to who you and your partner are, everything will work out ok in the end.  It’ll probably even work out amazing. 😉

10 Tips to Have a Wedding for Under $5,000 That Still Suits Your Personality as a Couple

October 17, 2015 Leave a comment
10 Tips to Have a Wedding for Under $5,000 That Still Suits Your Personality as a Couple

The bridal pie made by myself and my father. The groom’s pie was made by my mother-in-law and sister-in-law.

The average wedding in the United States costs $26,444 (source).  Depending on your region of the country, that average may be higher or lower.  In Massachusetts, the average is higher than that.  When my husband and I sat down to plan our wedding, we knew the average cost, but we also knew that our personal value system didn’t align with spending that much on one day.  We set a budget of $5,000, and I am happy to report that we came in under that by about $500.

I immediately sat down to research and discovered that the three biggest chunks of the wedding budget go to:

  1. The Venue
  2. The Photographer
  3. The Food and Drink

These are followed closely by:

  1. The bride’s outfit
  2. The wedding rings

I thus set my sights on these five things to help us come under budget.

There are a lot of sites out there that talk about general tips for how to save money on your wedding.  Here then I’m only going to talk about tricks that we actually used for our own real wedding that worked.  There are more tips than this, but we didn’t choose to use them.

Tips From Amanda and Phil on How to Have a Budget Wedding:

  1. Keep it small. Under 100 will save you a lot.
    Every single guest you invite (and their plus ones) will cost you more money.  For every guest, you need to send a save-the-date and an invitation.  You also need to feed them, give them drinks, and probably give them some sort of party favors.  In Massachusetts, if you have 100 people or more, you also need to pay to provide a crowd control officer.  This is a law.  My husband was on the fence about having a smaller wedding until we found out about the crowd control officer.  We then agreed to invite under 100 people.  After we made this decision, we discovered that many vendors also up the price starting at 100 or more.  Inviting fewer guests gave us a trickle-down money-saving effect.  It also made us focus on who really mattered the most to us.  Who we most wanted at our wedding.  It led to our wedding having a very intimate and personal feeling, which we both really enjoyed on the day of our wedding.
  2. Seek out venues that might be a good wedding venue but don’t know it themselves yet OR look for non-profits that need to make money in the off-season.
    We knew we wanted to have a campground wedding.  When I started googling, I discovered that campgrounds that had discovered this wedding trend had wedding packages that were…..more than our entire budget.  What I ended up looking for instead was campgrounds that rented out to events but didn’t necessarily specify weddings (or had only one or two weddings there previously).  I also looked for nonprofits and charities that had a significant off-season during which they needed to make money.  One important thing to know about venues is most of them will not post their pricing online.  However, a lot of the venues that don’t market themselves as wedding venues will post event prices.  This is a good sign.  Once you have a list of potential venues, even ones that post their prices online, contact them via email (you want this in writing).  Fill them in a bit on the vision for your wedding, ask for their price points, and ask your top 3 questions for your venue.  For us, we needed to be able to serve alcohol, have guests stay overnight, and have access to a kitchen.  Figure out your top three.  You should be able to get those.  It is unlikely you will be able to get everything on your extensive list.  Once I had responses from the top 6 venues, I ranked them by cost.  We scheduled and went and visited the two cheapest first.  I think this was a key part of our planning process.  It was impossible for me to be swept away by the most expensive because I hadn’t even gone and seen it yet.  We saw the two cheapest and then consulted with each other on if we liked either of them well enough to book it.  We did, and we booked it.  We ended up going with Clara Barton Camp in North Oxford.  They hadn’t done many weddings before but were very enthusiastic about starting to.  They also are a camp for girls with diabetes, so we felt good about our venue money going to a good cause.
  3. Ask your friends and family if they would be willing to gift you services or items you would normally need a vendor for as your wedding present.
    My husband’s sister Olivia is a professional photographer.  Knowing that she had just graduated, we knew she was still working on building a portfolio and also might not have tons of cash around for a wedding present.  We approached her and asked her if she would be willing to gift us wedding photography as our wedding present.  She was all for it, plus it will help build out her portfolio.  I have a friend who got married recently who has an aunt who is a baker, and she asked her to bake her wedding cake as her wedding present.  Both of these gifts saved us money and also made our weddings more intimate.  Phil and I never had to worry about building a rapport with our photographer, because we already had one since she’s family.  The key here is, think through the talents of your friends and family, and then ASK them.  Many people won’t offer because they don’t want to seem like they’re impinging upon your dream wedding.  But they will be excited to do it if you ask.  Just be sure to be clear that it is in lieu of a wedding gift or you might be asking too much of people.
  4. Buy your alcohol yourself.
    You will pay far less if you buy alcohol and supply it than if you do so through the venue.  Find out from the store you buy it from if they will accept unopened alcohol returns.  Many stores do.  We wound up just giving away some of the alcohol as party favors and keeping the small amount that was left for our own future use.  I also want to mention that we had an open bar and bought a relatively conservative amount of alcohol, and we still had lots left over.  Both of my friends’ weddings also had alcohol left over.  You will probably need less alcohol than you think you will.
  5. Use thumbtack.com to find vendors.
    Our venue required us to hire a bartender.  When I first googled, I kept coming up with expensive, high-class bartenders, which is great but we were having a campground wedding!  That’s when I found thumbtack.com.  Thumbtack lets you basically list a job ad.  You put in precisely what you are looking for (location, hours, special things to note, etc…) and then vendors have 24 hours to submit a bid to you.  You then can contact them and talk more to get a feel for them and either accept one or reject all of them.  This was such a time-saver!  I literally just plugged in what we were looking for and then let the bids come to me, and they came in far cheaper than I was expecting.  A lot of the people who use thumbtacks are small family businesses who might struggle to afford to pay for big advertisements or SEO.  This helps you find each other.  We were extremely happy with our bartending service, and it was quite reasonably priced.
  6. Find out if any of your favorite restaurants will do pick-up catering.
    We were really struggling with how to feed people.  Traditional catering was incredibly expensive, and I was personally uncomfortable with asking people to potluck. (Many of our guests were from out-of-town).  Finally one day I remembered reading about pick-up catering orders.  I checked out a couple of our favorite restaurants, and they did indeed offer this option.  One of them even provided all of the serving ware.  So we placed pick-up catering orders and assigned wedding party members to pick up the catering the day of the wedding.  Phil’s mom organized the food as it arrived and set it up in a buffet.  No one had to cook, and it was extremely reasonably priced compared to traditional caterers.  Plus, our out-of-town family and friends got to try our favorite two restaurants.
  7. Buy your wedding outfits from non-wedding companies.
    Don’t search for “wedding dress.” Search for “white dress.”  Once the word wedding is added to anything, the price gets jacked up.  Now, I didn’t want a traditional wedding dress, so I was helped out some by that.  But if you do want one, search for a white prom dress.  It’s practically the same style but much cheaper because it’s for prom.  What I ended up doing was selecting a few stores that I love but that cost more money than I am willing to spend on average everyday wear.  I then searched them for a “white dress.” I ordered the top three, tried them on, and returned the other two.  My dress still feels special because I normally would never buy something for myself from that store, but it also was only $348.  Because it was not a wedding dress.  Similarly, my husband just found clothes he likes and put together an outfit in the color scheme and vibe of our wedding.  He found his shoes thrift shopping, his blazer on Amazon, and he got his jeans from a jean company he really loves (my husband really loves jeans).  If you are assembling your outfit from multiple non-wedding stores, it helps to sit down with your future spouse and lay out guidelines for colors and fashion sense.  Our rough guide was red and orange 60s mod biker, and it worked.
  8. Keep your wedding party small.
    You have to invite the whole wedding party to rehearsal dinner, and you have to buy them each a gift.  Just like with the guest list, the fewer people the fewer you have to do this for.  We wound up having a best man, maid of honor, officiant, and two ushers, plus all of their significant others.  If we had added even one more person per side, it would have cost us at least $400 more between rehearsal dinner and wedding party gifts.
  9. Don’t hire a band or a DJ. DJ yourself.
    My husband researched and rented speakers (less than $250). We made a playlist together on Spotify for both during food and during dancing.  The day of the wedding we had a good friend announce us, but for everything else we took the reigns by grabbing the microphone and informing the crowd of what was up.  This meant we kept the exact timeline we wanted, got to hear exactly what songs we wanted, and we still got to be announced to the crowd.
  10. Buy inexpensive wedding rings.
    My husband and I are both active people, as well as people who aren’t super-comfortable with wearing expensive jewelry.  We ended up buying two silicone wedding rings.  These rings are designed to break off if they get caught on something, which is necessary if you work with machinery or in the outdoors.  They also are cushioned so you can lift weights in them, and they stay on when they’re wet, if you enjoy swimming or if you sweat a lot.  We talked about it and agreed that we would start saving up scraps of metal to have melted down into fancier wedding bands as a celebration of an anniversary in the future.  The band is just a symbol.  It doesn’t have to be expensive.  It just has to work for yours and your spouse’s lifestyle and own personal fashion sense.  Plus, you can always upgrade at a future anniversary if you want to.

As an unofficial final tip, just remember, your wedding is about you and your future spouse.  It should include things you enjoy. You should be happy and comfortable.  Don’t let yourself get sucked into or guilted by the wedding industry (or the wedding industry mentality of various vendors you may deal with) into having a different wedding from the one you want.  It is totally ok to have a small wedding, a casual wedding, a wedding where you serve pie instead of cake, a wedding where you DJ yourself.  As long as you and your partner are happy the day of the wedding, that is all that matters.  And it’s a lot easier to be happy when you haven’t broken the bank.

How to Successfully and Respectfully Pitch Your Book to Book Bloggers

January 5, 2012 12 comments

So!  You’re an author or publisher who has discovered the world of book blogging and says, “Hey! That’s a cool new way to market my book!”  Excellent.  We book bloggers love books and most of us view accepting ARCs as a mutually beneficial experience.  We love books, and trust me, if we love yours we will yak about it ad nauseum.  But!  There are basic guidelines to submitting your book to book bloggers that you really need to follow or you’ll start the relationship off on a bad foot.  Since I’m in the interesting position of being a book blogger and an indie author, I thought I’d put together a convenient set of guidelines for all those authors and publishers out there seeking to develop some book blog based marketing of their book(s).

  1. View marketing your book(s) via book blogs as developing professional relationships.  Book bloggers are people too.  Most of us do this as a hobby due to our love of reading.  We can tell when an author or publisher views us as a tool.  Take some time to get to know us by browsing our blogs, clicking through to our twitter or facebook or flickr, etc…  Friend us on GoodReads or LibraryThing.  Trust me.  I can tell from the pitch email if the author/publisher has taken the time to do this or not.
  2. Read the review polices before submitting and obey them.  Most established book bloggers have a set of review policies somewhere on their site, either under contact information or on a dedicated page.  Take the time to look at and read these.  We post them to make everything smoother for everybody.  For instance, on mine I say I do not accept YA.  You may read this and think, “Oh, but mine isn’t like other YA books, I’ll submit it anyway and tell her that.”  No. Do not do that.  Trust me when I say, I do not like YA.  I avoid it. Yours is not special. You are not a unique snowflake.  And besides, why are you wasting your time submitting to someone who already has an aversion to your genre?  The beauty of book blogs is they let you seek out and find your own niche audiences.  The review policies help with that.
  3. Do not pitch a book to us in the comments unless the blogger specifically states she prefers that.  Most established book bloggers have a blog email or a submission form that they use to sort out the ARC pitches, since we really do get a lot of them.  Comments are for interacting with our own readers, not for you to pitch your book.
  4. Find out our name we go by on our blog and use it in the pitch email.  The only thing more insulting than getting pitched a book that we obviously wouldn’t want if the person had read our review policies is if they start the email by saying “Dear blogger.”  Unless my name on the site is “blogger,” don’t call me that!  Our names are usually pretty obvious if you take five seconds to browse our blogs.  For instance, on mine on the right-hand sidebar there is both a Creative Commons license with my name on it and my twitter handle, which is my name.  If you can’t take the time to address us by name, why should we take the time to read your book?
  5. Do not contact bloggers until you have the final copy that you want reviewed ready to send out.  I encountered this problem multiple times in 2011 when reviewing ARCs.  Either the author would send me a copy then send me another copy months later saying, “Oh, this is the newly edited version” or when I posted my review the author would say, “But it’s different now!”  We agree to review the copy you send us.  That’s it.  It is not our obligation to seek out new edits.  Do not submit a book to us that you are not 100% positive is the absolutely positively best you can do.  I know it’s exciting to have finished the first draft of your book, but editing is your friend.  Nothing puts a reviewer in a worse frame of mind than a book badly in need of editing and no amount of you saying “But it’s different now” will entice us to change your review.  This is viral, indie marketing.  Use it to your advantage and don’t send out ARCs until you are positive it is the best you can offer.
  6. State in your pitch email exactly what format of ARCs you can offer.  This again is a time-saving technique that shows respect for the book blogger.  I personally primarily accept kindle-compatible ebooks, but I hate having to email back to a pitch and ask exactly what format is being offered, especially since I don’t like giving out my mailing address unless it’s for a reason.  It will take you a few seconds to type out a sentence saying what formats you have to offer.  Doing this will generate more positivity between you and the blogger.
  7. Provide the book jacket blurb of the book in the pitch email and do not include praise for your work unless someone super famous has said it.  Really. We just want to know what the book is about.  We do not care how much praise your work has gotten unless one of our own favorite authors has said so.  (For instance, I instantly accept anything Stephen King has praised).  I know that it’s awesome your first book got a lot of praise, and that’s great for you!  But we don’t care.  This again goes back to respecting that the book blogger knows what she likes.  Tell us the genre and give us the blurb and maybe throw in one or two really awesome praises you’ve received, but that’s it. Seriously.
  8. Compare your work (if it’s true and applicable) to other books the reviewer has read and loved.  This shows us that you paid attention to our blog and creates a positive association in our minds between you and a favorite book or author.
  9. Include links in your email signature to your blog, GoodReads/LibraryThing presence, twitter, etc…  Not all bloggers will look at this, but some of us will and sometimes it will lead to an acceptance of an ARC that otherwise might not have been accepted.  It’s smart marketing for you and convenient for the blogger.
  10. Once the blogger accepts an ARC, send the copy immediately and thank them for their time.  If you are mailing a print copy, email them telling them exactly when you put it in the mail and thank them.  If you are sending a coupon code or a file attachment, also be sure to thank them in the email.
  11. When the review goes live, do not disagree with it in public.  This all comes down to being mature.  Everyone gets bad reviews, even the famous authors.  It’s gonna happen if you market your book.  But responding aggressively to a negative review either in the comments or via email just makes you look like a childish jerk. Every time.  Be graceful and thank the blogger for her time.  That’s it.  If your work is good, one or two negative reviews are not going to kill it.  Now, if the blogger got a detail wrong, like a character’s name or who published the book, by all means politely correct her, but do so via email.  You clearly have it, and it shows respect for the blogger by not embarrassing her in public.  Most of us will be grateful to you for pointing out the mistake!
  12. If the blogger liked your book, maintain the rapport and relationship.  I honestly hate it when I love a first book in the series and the author doesn’t offer me ARCs of the rest of them.  You have found a reader who likes you and has an audience to spread that love of your work to.  Why wouldn’t you offer more ARCs to her in the future?  Some of my best professional book blogging relationships are with authors or agents whose first pitch I loved who then proceeded to continue to offer me more books.  I want to like the books I read and review just as much as you want me to.  After one positive experience, why wouldn’t you keep that positive rapport going?

Before I close I just want to give a few examples of the types of pitches and interactions that worked really well on me as a blogger in 2011:

  • “In addition to the obvious wolf connection, judging by what you discuss on your blog, I think you would enjoy it.”
  • ” I would be happy to add you to the list to receive a review copy once they are available.”
  • “It’s great to meet you. I just read your review, and thank you so much for all the kind words.”
  • “Let me know if you’d like to review the sequels. I’ll be happy to send them to you.”
  • “Thanks again for your honest and evenhanded review.” (in response to a negative review)
  • “I’m not ‘technically’ self-pubbed, but the publisher I work with consists of about 3 people on staff and have released a total of 5 books which mine is the only one released by them that isn’t written by people who work there.” (I accidentally said a book was self-pubbed when it was indie pubbed)
  • “Thanks again for reviewing. YOU ROCK MY SOCKS OFF! SERIOUSLY!”

You can see from these samples that all of these authors and publishers treated me like a person, thanked me for my work, and were personable themselves.

I really hope you find the tips helpful in your endeavors to market your books! Viva la reading!

Book Review: A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen

January 18, 2011 4 comments

Summary:
It’s Christmas time and Nora is eagerly getting ready for the holidays with her husband, Torvald, their children, and their friend Dr. Rank when her old friend, Christine, shows up in town.  Christine is recently widowed and is looking for work.  Nora, who appears flighty and silly at first, informs Christine that she saved her husband’s life when they were first married by taking a loan from, essentially, a loan shark to pay for them to take a trip to Italy.  He remains unaware of both the loan she is working on repaying and the fact that his life was ever in danger.  Unfortunately, things come to a head when the man who loaned her the money, Krogstad, threatens to reveal all to her husband.

Review:
This three-act dramatic play was first performed in 1879. It explores the nature of domestic relationships in a way that still holds relatability and power today. The play accomplishes this using the same set design of the Helmer family’s living room throughout all three acts. I found myself impressed by the different feelings evoked by the identical set in each act.

Get the full text of this review by clicking here! (It is 7 paragraphs total with 604 words).

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 88 pages – novella/short nonfiction

Source: Audiobooks app for the iTouch, iPhone, and iPad.

Buy It (Amazon or Bookshop.org)

Five Questions to Minimize Your Possessions

September 15, 2009 11 comments

I’ve been doing my best to be a minimalist for the last four years.  Most people don’t know this about me, but they do notice the results.  My friends have made comments ranging from how quick helping me move was to how does a librarian only have around 200 books of her very own?

Recently a couple of friends have told me they would love to have the organization and ease of care that comes with owning less random stuff like I do, but they don’t know how to accomplish it.  I’m actually going to be helping one of them out in person, but I thought given American’s propensity to be packrats, perhaps a blog post of my techniques might be useful to other folks on the interwebs.

In order to minimize the stuff you already own, you of course will have to sort through it.  Allot yourself plenty of uninterrupted time to do this.  Have trash bags handy for junk and boxes for donations.  I recommend doing the sort as close to trash day as possible so you can get the junk out of your house asap.  Here are the questions I use when evaluating whether to keep something:

1.  Is it actually junk? If it’s a piece of clothing, is it torn/stained/beyond repair?  If it’s a game, is it missing pieces?  If you think you can repair it, stop and think if you actually will.  How long has it been waiting to be repaired?  If it’s going to take you more than a week to get to it, toss it!

2.  Do I need this? By need I mean need as in I’ll have to go naked/starve/will lose my sanity without this.  I count clothing, bedding, and things that help me relax under this category.

3.  If I don’t need it, do I have valid reasons for wanting it? or Am I only keeping this for sentimental reasons? Things that are ok to want for sentimental reasons:  a picture, a letter.  Things that are not ok to keep for sentimental reasons:  that piece of ribbon your girlfriend tied around that bunch of flowers she gave you one time.  The key behind this logic is the minimalist mantra of quality over quantity.  You won’t lose the memory of her giving you the flowers if you throw out the ribbon any more than you did when the flowers died.  It really is just a piece of ribbon taking up space and how often do you really look at it?  In contrast, a stuffed animal she gave you that you snuggle periodically is a quality reminder of your love for each other.  See the difference?

4.  Are there negative emotions/memories attached to this item? Even if an item is useful and in good condition, if every time you see it you remember a negative experience or emotion, you shouldn’t keep it.  It just serves to bring a negative vibe to your household.  Maybe you dread opening a particular drawer because that item is in there, or a lovely painting is on display that everyone likes but you feel badly looking at it.  These are simply not worth keeping.  They aren’t improving your quality of life; they’re bringing it down.  This goes for items that predominantly bring negative emotions/memories, not that have a minor one attached that you rarely think of when seeing it.

5.  Is this a quality item? This is my final sorting step, and one that has really helped me keep items I’m prone to collect down to a reasonable number.  Remember that your possessions take time to maintain.  Items that aren’t as high-quality to you will prevent you from enjoying other items as much.  My book collection is a good example of how quality vs. quantity helps to minimize possessions.  I only keep books that I either loved or want to have around to loan to people.  Yes I love books in general, but my collection is a reflection of me.  I want to look at my bookshelves and know that I only kept around the ones that are truly of quality to me.  Otherwise it’s just collecting for the sake of collecting isn’t about the enjoyment received from the item.

After you’ve finished sorting, bag up the junk and get it out of your house.  Take the boxes of donations to the best places for them to be used.  Now you are left with only things you need or that truly bring more happiness to your life.  Put everything left away.  Don’t be afraid to reorganize as you go.  You’ll have much more free space and new ideas may present themselves.