May 31, 2014

Because Delaware (Symptoms of Living in a Tiny State)

Because Delaware. Symptoms of living in a small state. | Business, Life & Design

There's a phenomenon that we like to call Delawaritis.

I'll bet you've experienced it.  Whether you've lived in a small state, small town, exclusive neighborhood, etc.

Whatever the case, I'm sure at some point you've run into someone you know when the odds against it were staggeringly high.  Sometimes it's not someone you know, per say, but someone you've talked to, someone you should know, or someone you meet, talk to for several minutes and then realize that you have some bizarre but valid connection.  Because Delaware.

Sometimes you go to fancy work events, like the Meals on Wheels Cellar Masters' Wine Auction.  The food is delicious, there are samples of booze at every table, and you are happily eating, drinking, and weaving through the crowd with your coworkers when you bump into someone you know.  Tipsily you stare at the couple who are your parent's neighbors and with whom they've played many a game of hearts.  Nope.  No names are coming to you.  Awkwardly you struggle to make conversation without using names or having any idea what they've been up to for the last 12 years.

Small talk social duties complete, you dart back into the crowd only to bump into another familiar face.  Your slight intoxication prevents you from remembering that this woman, a zumba instructor, probably has no idea who you are, until just after you've already made eye contact for far too long.  Then comes an embarrassing explanation of why you were staring and why you know her when she doesn't recognize you in the slightest.

You allow the buzz to wear off until you feel comfortable handling such encounters more smoothly and make a point of hiding from other familiar faces.  The chances of knowing people in this smallish group of 100 or so seem awfully small.  How could you possibly have known so many?

Because Delaware

Sometimes you start a D&D group with your roommate/DM and your boyfriend.  You boyfriend invites one of his coworkers to play.  No one knows him.  Later, the DM invites the older brother of his friend (an old classmate) to play also.  Guess what?  The coworker and the older brother?  They know each other.

Because Delaware

Sometimes (this is my favorite so I'm going to switch tenses) - One time, a friend and I went to the beach for the weekend.  We were dancing and my friend, Cersei (yep, still GoT names), found an attractive fellow that she was all too happy to socialize with.  I felt a bit forlorn at first, having been thus abandoned, but before long, I too found a replacement dance partner.

We had a great time, dancing, drinking, and flirting the night away.  Right around closing time, I was talking to my new dance partner and guess what... I knew him.  We had worked together 6 or 7 years ago.  My first job ever, as a hostess in a burger place.  We had even talked once or twice.

I remembered one of the conversations, because I had thought he was dumb, and then he caught me in a grammatical error, explaining (at length) the difference between "redundant" and "repetitive."  I always remember the things that catch me by surprise and drastically change my viewpoint on something (another post, another day).

I shared that excerpt with him (he didn't remember).

Cersei didn't know her new friend.  They were actually meeting for the first time.  But... a few months later when all had been forgotten, we were again out dancing.  Cersei had been embarrassed about being a bit too forward (her concern - I thought she was fine) with her guy, and also decided that it wasn't something worth pursuing.  After all, what are the odds that you'll see someone again after meeting at the beach, 2 hours away from where you actually live?

So we danced, and laughed with friends, switching bars pretty frequently because it was Halloween and there were several to choose from and tons of costumes to admire.  Lo and behold, also milling amongst the crowd, Guy-from-the-beach (Mc-hoped-never-to-see-again).

What in the hell...?  I won't use the word "random" and definitely not "fate" or "karma."  It's not because of random chance.

It's because Delaware.

Have you ever run into someone you know (or didn't want to see) despite astronomical odds?

May 30, 2014

#YesAllWomen - A Couple Firsthand Accounts of Casual Harassment

I'm a little late to the game on this one.  I didn't feel I had much to say, because I haven't felt that strongly harassed (you know, because just a little is ok) by anyone, at least not since grade school.

There was one time in high school art class that a male classmate was going around the room and putting his arm around random girls.  It was like a game or something.  The girls were always uncomfortable and never said anything.  It made me mad.

Finally, after about a week, he had made his way around the room to my friend.  She sat there and ignored him.  I was furious.  It was like some ridiculous mockery of what couples do, but without permission and with no motive that I could discern other than amusement at our discomfort.  Later that day, it was my turn.  I'd been fantasizing about what I'd do if he put a single finger on me, and my reaction happened before I even had time to consciously react.

He sat, put his arm around me, and amazed, I watched my fist fly out and hit his face.

My god, did I just do that?

He lurched away and called me a bitch, but you know what?  He left us alone after that.

I don't know if you'll say I overreacted or if he deserved it, but I was able to take action and feel in control of the situation.  What I'm finally realizing is that many women are not this lucky and are unable to do this.

I guess I've also experienced what the #YesAllWomen movement is about - casual harassment - and never put much thought into it.  A guy catcalling as I walk by, whistles or stares or rude comments.  It was never enough to make me scared.  Cities are different, but I had always assumed men and women were both equally afraid.

Today, Sister2 emailed us, explaining what the movement is and her take on it.  We hadn't talked about it yet, but damn was this eye-opening!  It never hits home as much until it affects someone you know and love.  Sister2 currently lives in Philly and had a recent experienced that really shook her and proves the exact point this movement is trying to make.

"I don't know if you are aware of the #YesAllWomen movement that has emerged following the UCSB shootings, but I think that it is worth paying attention to. The main idea is that 'No, not all men abuse women, but Yes, all women in the course of their lifetimes have to deal with sexual harassment, assault, and abuse.' And I think in the past I would generally ignored this as a silly feminist thing ([Sister2]'s prior mindset: if women just regard themselves as equal to men and act like professionals, then we are all equal as people, and feminism is unnecessary), but now I really think there's some truth to it. 

Men catcall women all the time and we don't even think of that as out of the ordinary. If your friend told you that a stranger grabbed her butt walking down the street, you would think it was creepy, but not that it was terribly surprising. And if you are somewhere alone at night, you do need to consider whether every man you come across is just a benign stranger or if they're going to harass you or worse. And most men have no idea that this is a normal thing that we deal with on a daily basis

When a stranger violated my personal space and kissed my face/neck, a male classmate blamed me for letting the man get too close to me. It's not my fault for being in close physical proximity to a male stranger; it's his fault for violating my personal space and inappropriately physically touching me! And when women get raped, they are asked what they were wearing at the time, as though wearing something skimpy makes it acceptable for a man to rape them. Men are responsible for their own bodies and their own actions! The fact that people find it understandable for a man to rape a woman because of what she was wearing, or to harass me because I didn't keep a 10-foot radius, is a problem. 

I think that we (the 3 of us) have felt somewhat removed from these kinds of experiences because we are tall and more physically equal to men than most women, and also the two of you may not see if as much because you don't live in cities, but it's a part of our culture, and I think I didn't realize that before."

Hearing what Sister2's classmate said about her experience - being kissed by some random stranger - infuriates me.  She told us this story.  Some man greeted her and went for a hug, like he was someone she knew.  She hesitated because she didn't recognize him but thought maybe he was one of the hundreds of people she's met recently at med school or volunteering, and decided to just go with it.  At the last minute, he instead kissed her, something that made her extremely uncomfortable and that she had shown no desire or consent to do.  And now this is her fault, because she didn't want to be rude to a potential acquaintance?

So I guess what I'm realizing is that I do have plenty to say about this, as should all women.  Because even if you accept that #YesAllWomen have to face this stuff, at least all men should know what we put up with.  Maybe awareness won't solve the problem today.  Maybe there's not a way to solve it.  But we're the ones raising the next generation, and maybe if we're aware, we can raise them to act differently.

Resources she cited and you should definitely take a look at.
Also, if a situation ever escalates and you or someone you know needs help, please use this list of resources for women (and people) in a multitude of oppressive situations.

Tell us what you think!  Share your story or link to your own #YesAllWomen post.

May 27, 2014

Twilight... Taking Obvious to the Limit

I'm not generally an observant person.  Significant teases me about it sometimes.  True to our nature, it's usually a D&D joke, "You have low passive perception" or "You got a 1 on your perception roll."  Stuff like that.  When it comes to watching movies, I'm usually the one asking to pause it to ask questions.  However, some movies are so obvious, even I notice.

Twilight is a perfect example.

Yes, I know it's Twilight.  Any kind of movie snob is going to have plenty to say, and many moments made me cringe in discomfort.  Particularly the second in the series.  All that screaming into pillows and awkward love triangle stuff.  To get to the point: there is some dialogue in the first movie between Bella and the blonde sister (Rose?  Merideth?  Something?  I read the books and I still don't remember) where they're discussing Bella's desire to be turned into a vampire, that goes something like:

"I just know there's nothing I'll ever want more than I want Edward."  (Really?  You, at 17, know everything you'll ever want for the rest of your life.  Gag.  Face palm.  Sorry, irrelevant.)

"There is one thing."

Long dramatic pause... (whilst in my head I'm happily proclaiming "blood!")


Really?  You didn't think we could guess what the one thing was?  Even if there were a few poor souls, somehow unable to guess what one thing Bella would be craving over all others after becoming A VAMPIRE, it would make a nice talking point.  I like discussing things after the movie and that's harder to do when everything is spoon fed to you and there's no room for interpretation.

Also, I'd like to Twilight credit where credit is due.  I enjoyed the last movie quite a bit.  Some moments [SPOILER ALERT] made me laugh at the ridiculousness of it all, like Bella scaling the cliff face in her evening gown, and some of it was just better storytelling and less of the painful and nonsensical love triangle.  Also, her vampire powers put her on more of an even basis with good ol' Edward, so you're not constantly thinking, "Uh, why is everyone obsessed with this whiny girl who always has her mouth hanging open?"

Back to the obvious - I know there's other examples of this, and I've been racking my brain trying to think of one.  Help me out?

What were some movie moments that were so obvious they made you cringe?

May 24, 2014

Bubbles (The Emotionally Volatile Kind)

You might have been hoping this was about bubbly beverages.  It's not.  Nor is it about soap bubbles.  This is all about bubbly people and what they do to their non-bubbly peers.

On a trip not too long ago, I was listening to an acquaintance prattling happily about something or other.  Without warning she switched into a downward spiraling rant.  No transition.  Just bouncing from positive to negative and, eventually, back again.

It made me feel worn out.  So much emotion!  So much negativity!  And for what purpose?

It was actually kind of strange.  After listening to her for a while, I really just needed a break.  I felt kind of empty, as if the vigor of her emotions had drained mine away.  I made excuses to skip dinner so I could be alone and recuperate.

Then it hit me.

That's how my mom and Sister3 have always responded to me!

When I'd get home after work/school/whatever, I'd always be happy and excited, and want to talk about my day.  It always surprised me when, after a few minutes (or an hour, whatever!), the levels of enthusiasm on the other end died away.  Why didn't anyone else want to share with me?  Why weren't they happy and enthusiastic?  But now I know.

I'm the family bubbler.

My emotions have always tended towards the extremes.  When I was happy, I was bubbly and delighted with the world.  The concept of sadness didn't even exist.  When I was upset, everything was a seething mass of misery, and I'd never be happy again.  Rather like my grade school volcano science experiment, all that negativity would bubble up until the inevitable overflow.

High school was a mess.  I was a brat.  Like most brats, I didn't know it.  The problem was everyone else, not me.  And I continued this way, as a selfish, self-centered, emotional wreck until about age 22.

I was dating another emotional wreck (the second of them actually), and we were breaking up.  I was heart broken.  Even though we fought every day.  Even though we made each other miserable.  Even though.

But after 2 months of crying, something happened.  I realized I didn't want to be the person I had been.  I didn't want the rest of my life to be this chaotic mess of emotional extremes.  I started trying to think of solutions and ways to improve things.

And you know what?  It helped immediately.  I didn't improve right away, but having a plan of action, and feeling in control of my life, made me feel better, safer, and less like a sinking ship.

I learned to think things over before reacting.  I was suddenly able to moderate my emotions.  I started to feel stable!  Oh sure, the highs weren't as high, but I had lost far more of the lows as compensation.  Stability felt nice.

I'm still the bubbly one in my family.  But I've stabilized enough that I was easily out-bubbled.  And maybe one day, that acquaintance will also experience what we feel when in contact with a more bubbly personality.


May 22, 2014

Eating Right: What's the Benefit Again?

Ok, ok.  So obviously you're healthier, and if you're strong willed enough to stick to it, you'll probably be thinner.  But I've heard several people say their mood is directly affected by what they eat.  As in, if they eat "crap" they'll feel crappy.  When they eat healthier, they feel better and more energetic.

I've never noticed this.  I'll admit, I do get a little bit of that same feeling I get from running.  I'm proud that I accomplished whatever the positive thing is.  But there's no extra surge of health and well-being.

So what's the point?

I get enjoyment from sugar.  And it far outweighs the tiny bit of pride I get from eating healthy and exercising.  Sister3's roommate in college had an inspirational poster on the wall that said, "Nothing tastes as good as being skinny feels."  I beg to differ!  No way she gets as much enjoyment out of being thin as I get several times a day from the eating of tasty foods.

Are we to put our physical health before our mental health?  Are we to put all of our focus on the appearance of our bodies, rather than the quality of our minds?  I say no!

Fat and happy forever!!!

P.S. I'm reminding myself of the Blerch right about now.  If you don't know what that is, go check out this awesome comic by The Oatmeal.

P.P.S. Don't listen to me.  It's good to be healthy, and if you don't believe me, the Blerch comic will probably convince you.  There's probably a good balance of healthy and tasty and props to the people who have already figured it out!

Jenn's version of the Blerch
My version of the Blerch.  Blerch concept borrowed from Matthew Inman at the Oatmeal.

May 20, 2014

Figure Drawing Take 2 (with Illustrations)

I went back to figure drawing.  It's still awesome!  This time I got permission from the model to share drawings.  Also, and this is the exciting part...

I'm going to pose!  Naked.  For the figure drawing class.

And no, there will be no pictures.  This is something that has been on and off my bucket list as I mentally wavered.  After seeing the class and how respectfully everyone treats the model, I started to think, "Yeah, I'll definitely do this some day."  Then the instructor mentioned that the usual model will be gone for the July studio, and would anyone like to take her place?  We all giggled and then someone pointed at me.  I paused, surprising myself with my hesitation, before acquiescing to the organizer's excited prompting.

The fact that I'm feeling a little nervous about it is, in my mind, an even better reason to do it.  I've mentioned before (maybe?) that I think it's important to do things you're afraid of, and this is one of them!  Plus there's all kinds of implications with being totally confident and accepting of my body, and all that other good, self actualization stuff.

Here's some of my drawings from the last 2 classes.  Oh, and disclaimer, yes these are of a naked woman, so please don't browse while you're working, etc, etc.

Typically we start with 30 seconds and you're just focused on getting rough outlines.

Figure drawing 30 second sketches | Business, Life & Design

Figure drawing 30 second sketches | Business, Life & Design

Then slightly longer poses, like 5 minutes, and you can start getting some shading.

Figure drawing 5 minute sketches | Business, Life & Design

Figure drawing 5 minute sketches | Business, Life & Design

Figure drawing 5 minute sketches | Business, Life & Design

And then the 20 minute poses, which should be enough time to do the whole thing, but I start getting really focused on the lines and having an accurate outline first, and then I run out of time.

Figure drawing 20 minute sketches | Business, Life & Design

Figure drawing 20 minute sketches | Business, Life & Design

This last one was my favorite, but I didn't even get close to having enough time to finish.  But it was gonna be good!  After only 2 sessions, I can see some of my proportions improving.  Typically my people drawings have wide shoulders and neanderthal-y arms and torsos.

What's something you've always wanted to do?

May 19, 2014

Today I Learned How to Enable Blog Comments

I'm a bit embarrassed about this.  Here I've been working to try to increase engagement and interaction with you lovely folks (That's right.  I'm talking to you.  How you doin'?) and wondering what I was doing wrong and why no one ever commented... turns out comments were turned off.  User error!  The good news?  I fixed it.

TIL #6 How to Enable Blog Comments

For those of you who use Blogger and who aren't already laughing at me, this is pretty simple.  I had assumed it was in the general settings (and that's where the settings are to display number of comments out on the main page).

Blogger general post settings | Business, Life & Design

But, as it turns out, there's multiple places to edit comment settings.  Googling it pointed me in the right direction...

Blogger individual post settings | Business, Life & Design

But it took some digging to actually find everything.  Evidently for each individual blog post, you have to turn on comments under "Options" in the right side bar.  To me, this seems counter intuitive.  Why would I want them turned off?  What's the point of a private blog?  Is this not social media?!

Blogger individual post setting to allow comments humorous graphic | Business, Life & Design
Borrowed Frantic Computer Clicker from Hyperbole and a Half, because Allie Brosh's cartoons have the best expressions and I can't even hope to imitate them.

So I realize it's probably too late for past posts (although I went back and fixed them all, just in case ;-), but now that it is fixed, I'd love to hear from you!  Tell me all about your blogging mistakes or daily life face-palm moments.  (Or, if your heart was really set on sharing a raunchy story, feel free to post that on the Bachelorette Post or words of wisdom for life and love on the Relationship Communication Post.)

May 17, 2014

111th Post - 11 Ways to Seize the Day

111. That's a lot of posts.

And the blog has changed a lot since the beginning.  It started as a way to share business news and give Jenn Wells Design a little more personality.  Now, after my career has shifted away from the freelance thing, it's mostly personality with a little business mixed in.  I've really been enjoying writing, now that I've removed the imaginary reins I had given myself (professionalism, pah!).

I've noticed most blogs have an introductory post at the beginning.  My first post was about my tattoo and some kind of self reflective realization I had had in the process of creating it.  I still feel that way, and it's a good introduction to how I approach self actualization and personal growth (though I'm kind of embarrassed now by the writing; hopefully I've improved!), but it's not quite the same as an introduction to the blog.  I couldn't really introduce the blog then, because I didn't know what the blog was for.

I'm still not entirely sure, but I know what inspires me the most.  I usually call it self actualization, but what I mean is living life to the fullest.  Finding new things to experience and experiencing them as much as possible.

I'd like to have it said of me when I die, "Damn, did she live!" 

Personal growth is a part of that, too.  Being the best possible version of yourself, in order to get the best experience out of everything else.  Most of all, I want to find other life connoisseurs to share it with, swap ideas with, and be inspired by.

So in honor of the 111th post (I'll be honest, 100 or even 101 would have been cooler, but I wasn't paying attention), I present 11 Ways to Seize the Day! (I'm pretty sure no one wants to read a 111 item list - I'm doing you guys a favor.):

11 Ways to Seize the Day | Business, Life & Design

11 Ideas for Other Life Connoisseurs

1. Do Things You're Afraid of
This is huge!  Mine was being alone.  I ate at restaurants by myself, forced myself to stay single for at least 6 months after my last breakup (I know it doesn't sound long, but it was for me; I used to dive from one terrible relationship into the next), and most recently visited the Philly Art Museum solo.  Being single was the best experience for me.  It helped me to grow so, so much.

2. Make a Bucket List
If you think it sounds morbid, call it a self actualization list.  But put the time in to think about your life and what experiences would make it fuller and more satisfying.  Also, don't feel like you have to include things just because other people think they're important.  This is all about you.

3. Make Resolutions You'll Actually Do
It's great to set big goals for yourself and to have that bucket list, but try to include both big, idealistic goals, and smaller ones that you can do now.  If everything on there seems hard and unreachable, you might just never bother to start.

4. Think About Yourself
Seriously, spend some time just thinking.  Who are you?  What do you like?  What do you want to do with your life?  Most people are happier with a purpose.  I know I am.  I enjoy my free time more now because I feel like I've earned it after putting constructive time in on other things.

5. Be Arrogant
You're awesome and you know it!  There is nothing wrong with knowing how great you are.  Just don't tell everyone all about it.  Be inwardly confident, even to the point of arrogance, and like yourself.  Know your good qualities and enjoy them.  Just don't lose sight of what your actual capabilities are.

6. Improve Yourself
You're awesome and you know it, but there's still probably a couple little things you aren't happy with.  Take steps to fix them.  Make yourself into the person you want to be, one baby step at a time.

7. Check out Lifehacks
There are plenty of lifehackers out there and communities for them.  Some of my favorite articles have come from  Most of the things you want to do or achieve, other people are also working to do and achieve.  Why not learn easier ways to do it and get support from peers?

8. Treat Yo'self!
Now I wouldn't necessarily take this to the extremes that Tom and Donna do in Parks and Recs, but you have to reward yourself.  If you're working towards a big goal, remember to give yourself smaller rewards along the way.  And don't forget that you're working towards something.  If you have savings goals to reach, and you pass them and keep saving, that's great, but... what are you saving for?  What's the point of having all that extra money if you're not going to enjoy it or get anything of value for it (peace of mind has value too; I'm not saying there's anything wrong with having a cushion)

9. Get to the Point
I'm still working on this one, but life is too short to waste on long explanations and beating around the bush.  Telling someone straight up what you think or how you feel will save so much time and stress, particularly in relationships.  I've got a whole post on what I've learned about communication, but it's basically this: be direct, be honest, and be brief.

10. Ditch the Guilt
If you just read through all this and thought, "Ugh, this sounds terrible" that's fine.  If, at the end of the day, you like just hanging out and watching tv/playing games/reading a good book, and your only regrets are that your life isn't a success by other people's standards, then just say Screw it!  Other people's standards are not important; you're the one who has to live with your choices and only you know what will make you happy.

11. Be Happy
Now that you've thought about yourself and your life and what you truly want, do it!  And when things don't work out, make the best of it.  We can't control everything that happens, but we can control our response to it, and by actively seeking happiness, you might just actually find some.

What are your tips for self actualization?

May 15, 2014

How to Emotionally Scar Your Friends (our first stripper) #FirstsTotalSocial

Fair warning, this is a bachelorette story, and it's mildly raunchy. It could have been worse, but for us, it was already bad enough.

I, along with a mutual friend (we'll call her Melisandre), was selected to be a bridesmaid for a friend who got married just last year (Sansa, yep, we're doing this Game of Thrones thing). Her sister was the maid of honor, but since she was only 19, it was up to Melisandre and myself to handle whatever sort of naughty bachelorette celebrations would occur.

Since we did such a great job, I'm presenting this as a how to.

How to emotionally scar your friends - a bachelorette party planning mishap | Business, Life & Design

That's right.  How to Emotionally Scar Your Friends

Step 1.  Never consult the bride.  Obviously the surprise factor is far more important than asking her what she would like or is comfortable with.  Assume you've known her long enough to figure out what she'll like.

Step 2.  Agonize over your options for a few weeks, and then, when you're starting to feel a bit lost and overwhelmed, pick the first website you see!  Those men look friendly, and the site totally credible!

Step 3.  Put deposits down on a hotel room and for your male entertainer as soon as possible.  Don't leave time for second thoughts or changing your mind.

Step 4.  Buy enough booze for an army, despite the fact that you've only got 5 attendees.  Liquor makes everything fun!  Oh, also have communication issues with the bride's family up until the moment of the party.  It's a great enhancement!

Step 5.  Kidnap your friend from the arms of her loving fiance and bring her to the hotel/casino you've selected as the site of your debauchery.  Pretend the hotel party is the entire surprise, but get the bride started on jello shots while you await your male entertainer.

Step 6.  Slip out of the room when you get the call.  If she catches you, make an excuse about talking to your boyfriend.  She'll be mad, but only until you return with the surprise...

Step 7.  Meet "Markie" down in the lobby.  Brief him on the bride's personality on the way up.  Realize you're in way over your head as he starts asking what level of physical contact she's ok with, and reassures you that it's ok for the ladies to get naked.  Uh, what?

Step 8.  Realize that "strip tease" for a man means the clothes come off in about 2 seconds and the "dancing" is minimal.  Hopelessly accept that for the next hour you will be paying some strange man to grope and grind on everyone, and that you could have gotten this for free at any bar.  Play the cringing game: when the thong comes all the way off, when he pulls out the whipped cream, when he offers private services in the restroom.  You get the idea.

Step 9.  Finally, escort him out, pay him, and heave a sigh of relief.  It's finally over and no one compromised their integrity or their relationship.  Though you all probably feel unclean and/or violated and the song Scream & Shout by gives everyone uncomfortable flashbacks.

Please tell me someone else has epic-ly screwed up their bridesmaid duties, as well!  Share your stories in the comments or link to your blog!

Linking up with Helene in Between and Venus Trapped in Mars for this month's first-themed #TotalSocial, a first in and of itself.

Helene in Between

May 12, 2014

Semi Charmed Summer Book Challenge! #SCSBC14

I'm in the middle of about 5 different books.  It's starting to bug me, with all these intermingled story lines, so when I saw that Steph (from Insert Classy Here) was doing a reading challenge, I said, "Yes, please!"

I like rereading a lot of my old favorites.  And a lot of them are really silly and mindless.  It's relaxing.  But I also like to read classics, to see what the fuss is all about.  And also self help books, to see how helpful they'll be.  So I like the idea of this challenge, because it'll add greatly to the variety that I read.

I'm a bit late with this (I don't fully understand these link up things, but I'm figuring it out), but that's ok because it run until August 31st!  The reading challenge is being hosted by Megan at Semi Charmed Kind of Life, and you can read the rules here, or enter the challenge here.

The Categories and What I'm Reading (updated)

5 points: Freebie! Read any book that is at least 200 pages long.
Words of Radiance, Brandon Sanderson (820 pages remaining)
10 points: Read a book that was written before you were born.
The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas (1,276 pages - Finished!)
10 points: Finish reading a book you couldn't finish the first time around.
— Player Piano, Kurt Vonnegut (341 pages)
10 points: Read a book from the children’s section of the library or bookstore.
— The Two Princesses of Bamarre, Gail Carson Levine (304 pages)
15 points: Read a book that is on The New York Times' Best Sellers List when you begin.
The 5 Love Languages, Gary Chapman (208 pages - Finished!)
15 points: Read a historical fiction book that does not take place in Europe.
— Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden (434 pages)
15 points: Read a book another blogger has already read for the challenge.
20 points: Read a book with “son(s),” “daughter(s)” or “child(ren)” in the title.
— Daughter of the Forest, Juliet Marillier (560 pages)
20 points: Read a book that was/will be adapted to film in 2014.
— Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins (392 pages) - So sad that the Giver wasn't long enough to be considered for this challenge.  It's such a good book!  Also, a bit scared to see what they do to it...
25 points: Read a book written by a blogger.
Hyperbole and a Half, Allie Brosh (384 pages - Finished!) [blog of the same name]
25 points: Read a biography, autobiography or memoir.
— Three Cups of Tea, Greg Mortenson (349 pages)
30 points: Read a pair of books with antonyms in the titles.
— Beauty, Robin McKinley (256 pages) & God Don't Like Ugly, Mary Monroe (432 pages)

May 10, 2014

Introducing... My Family!

Introducing My Family...

If you've been reading along, you might have wondered why I never mention Sister1.  You might have even imagined some dark family tragedy and an estranged sibling.  Or maybe you don't have an overactive imagination.  In any case, you'd be wrong, because Sister1 is me.  There are three of us and I am the oldest.  And the shortest.

Cookie versions of Jenn's family | Business, Life & Design

Ever notice how people associate height with age?  I get asked all the time if I'm the youngest.  "Nope.  They just outgrew me."  Sister3, on the other hand, has only ever been carded once or twice in her young life.  Admittedly, she drinks less alcohol than most her age, but she when she turned 21, she went out several times, for the express purpose of using her ID, and remained disappointed.  I suppose when you're almost 6 feet tall, people mentally assign you a certain level of maturity.

Our height is one of the things I enjoy about my family.  I'm by far the shortest at 5'9", though that's really not too bad for a woman (if I was a guy, I'd be 1" shorter than average).  As kids, my sisters and I were usually taller than our peers and bigger.  Chubby, sure, but big hands and feet, solid wrists, just big bones in general.  And we ate more than most people and weren't embarrassed by it.  We actually called ourselves "Foodmans" at one point, instead of humans, like we were some sort of giant, high-consuming superhuman race.

Now that we've grown up, there's a lot more to be proud of.  My sisters are amazing people, incredibly hard workers, and they're starting to finally show the end result of years of determination and persistance.  Sister2 is in med school, runs avidly, and is involved with several volunteer groups.  She does 3 times as much as yours truly in a week, and with less complaining.  Sister3 just got hired at Apple this summer, and was working such an excessive amount of hours that we were starting to worry about her, until she broke her leg on a ski trip.  Now she's back to a more manageable 60 hours (honestly I'm probably estimating low; if Apple was going for workaholic employees, they picked well), and we actually get to talk to her on the weekends again.

I've actually use them as bragging rights, when I didn't have any of my own.  For example, a few years ago I was at a friend's college graduation party.  Her mother was proud, and rightfully so, but after a few pointed remarks about my own lack of success, I had had enough.  She was foolish enough to politely inquire into what my family was doing, and I let loose with 4.0 GPA stories, neuroscience majors, working with lasers (sounds cooler than it is, according to Sister2), acceptance to MIT, the whole nine yards.  I was vicariously smug through their success.  It was over the top, I'll admit, but I hate when people look down on me!

My mom wouldn't have retaliated like that.  She's a much better person than I am.  It's hard to explain, but my mom manages to be very cynical and practical, while also being immensely considerate and kind, with a strong sense of moral right and wrong.  Hearing the disappointed tone in my mother's voice is the only incentive I need to change my views on a topic.

My dad would most definitely have retaliated, and he would have thrown in some bad words and lost the fake politeness.  My dad is not necessarily a "good" person, but he's super fun, great at telling stories, and cares a great deal about us, though macho-ness prevents him from saying it aloud.

Jenn's family photoshopped onto Star Wars characters | Business, Life & Design
Learn how to use Photoshop?  Make a Star Wars picture.  Priorities, people!
While each individual is very special to me, the most important aspect is the whole.  When my family is together as a group, we can all be as naturally ourselves as it is possible to be.  That's also when we make the best memories.  For example:
  • Playing cards together, getting silly, and laughing so hard we cry.  Every.  Single.  Time.
  • At the end of the school year, my sisters and I would take all of our old school notes, crumple them up, and have the hugest paper ball fight throughout the entire house.  Then, in order to not disappoint our recycling advocate mother, we collected them all and ironed them flat again.
  • Winter nights in the hot tub and then rolling in the new snow.
  • Having contests as kids, beauty pageants, art, singing, whatever, and then asking our mother who was her favorite.  Who was the prettiest.  And my mother being wise enough to never answer that question.  "I love all my children equally."
  • Cheating at games so that no one had to lose.  War, in particular, took forever because when someone got out, we'd always restock their hand.
  • Hearing the quote, "Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people" and realizing the best discussions I ever have are with my family.
  • Growing up, learning together, and realizing my sisters are adults now and we all still like each other.  Even better, we all like the people that we're becoming
  • All these things:
Jenn's family in Braveheart attire preparing for a mud run | Business, Life & Design
We recited the big freedom speech whenever someone (me, mostly; I was the weak link) got tired
Jenn's sisters standing on the Amsterdam sign | Business, Life & Design
From our recent Europe trip
Jenn and her sister proudly display the motorbike accident scene | Business, Life & Design
Also from Europe.  That cactus is the victim of a first time scooter driver and a patch of gravel
I could write a book about all the things I like about my family (that would be silly, who would read it), but I guess what I want most to convey is who I'm really talking about when I mention Sister2 or Sister3.  It's not just this impersonal "Sister2."  It's a person who likes helping people so much that she volunteers with the homeless and refugees, while going to school to be a doctor to help them even more.  It's also a person who has the raw discipline required to be a runner, to study hard for years, and the maintain a lifestyle in keeping with her moral code (in this case, vegetarianism).

Sister3, on the other hand, is brilliant, has tons of personality, but isn't great with people.  Since moving out to California alone for her job and despite working a ridiculous number of hours, she's determined to get the most out of her new life, and so she forces herself to be social, accept invitations that come her way (seriously this is a girl who would not order a pizza until online ordering became a thing), and make a point of doing San Francisco-y things.

Thinking about the people in my life makes me feel humbled.  And grateful.  And now I need to go set up a Skype date with them.

May 7, 2014

Brave Solo Art Viewing - May Self Actualization

For Christmas, I received a membership from Sister3 to the Philly Art Museum.  Along with the membership, she gave me a list of activities/suggested uses, the first of which was "brave solo art viewing."  So I took myself, all by my lonesome, to go view some art.  The adventure began before I even arrived.

Philly is confusing.  I'm not a huge fan, but I find myself traveling there more often now that Sister2 is a resident.  Still.  Horrible one-way streets, too many cars, traffic circles that cause miscommunications between me and Genny, my GPS, sending me shooting off in the wrong direction while she calmly speaks those hated words, "Recalculating."

Map with incorrect driving directions | Business, Life & Design

In total, I circled the museum 3 times looking for parking.  Turns out it was right on the back of the museum.  Oh well... I know for next time!  Once parked, I heaved a sigh of relief and allowed myself to relax.

Once inside, I quickly discovered that heels had been a poor choice of footwear.  Evidently art viewers treat museums with much the same respect as a library, and my footsteps echoed in the large, empty rooms.  Also, while I've experimented with doing things in public by myself, there's still a period of time at the beginning of the activity where you're acutely aware that everyone around you is in groups, and there are all sorts of things you'd like to say, but no one to say them to.

After 45 minutes, I settled into it and started to enjoy it.  In particular I appreciated the statues of Indian deities, the bright hues of early European art, and the armor collection (which Significant will also enjoy when I convince him to go)!

I don't know if being alone is hard for everyone or if some people just do it naturally and easily every day, but I think it's an important thing to practice if it's not.  Being alone gives you time to really get comfortable with yourself and grow, as well as preventing you from being dependent on other people.  The hardest, for me, was eating alone in a restaurant.  It got easier after the first time.  It's not necessarily something I'd want to do frequently - alone time means PJs and pizza!  But I'm glad I'm capable of doing it.

Have any brave solo adventures of your own?  Share them with us!

May 5, 2014

Could vs Would - How to Communicate with Martians

Could vs Would - How to Communicate with Martians | Business, Life & Design

Everyone's heard of "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus," right?  If you haven't, it's a relationship coaching book (and apparently a website now, too) that uses an old school rhyme to make a point, and as a fun theme to kind of tie the book together.  If I recall correctly, we used to chant something like this:

Girls go to Mars
to get more candy bars
Boys go to Jupiter
to get more stupider

As we got older, we got more creative at adapting the rhyme and the planet of choice was often Venus.  I'm sure you can imagine the rest...

Anyway, I finally read the book, partially out of a desire to improve my own communication and party out of curiosity to see what the big deal was.  While the author has a tendency to sound smug and self-congratulatory, and there were a couple things Significant and I didn't agree with, a good portion of it is spot on!  Here's some of the highlights:
  • Brevity vs Courtesy - I'll start with a pretty common one.  Women like to be subtle, both to be polite and because they'd like for their partner to do something for them just because it's a considerate thing to do.  Men tend to be blunt.  If it isn't said directly, they'll often miss the point or feel that whatever task was mentioned wasn't urgent, because it was discussed in a casual way.  Tip: Ladies, Use Short Sentences!  I know it's hard, but it works.
  • The Point System - Women and men keep points differently.  Now, this is not a conscious thing.  We're not actually assigning points.  But you know the feeling where you've done more work and you're starting to resent your roommate/partner/whoever because they've done less?  That's the point system.  Women assign the same number of points to each task, while men give points according to difficulty.  So if a man completes a major chore, he feels like he's done for a while, while a woman would prefer many small things to only one large one.
  • Nagging vs Reminding - I was at a total loss here, until the book helped me out.  Here's the difference: nagging points out the person's failure to complete the task.  Reminding is simply asking again.  There's no need to rub someone's face in the fact that he or she (Who am I kidding, it's probably he) forgot to do something.
  • Different Values - Men tend to value competence.  Women tend to value respect.  This means they prefer different approaches when it comes to requesting favors and leads into the main point.
Cartoon showing miscommunication between genders | Business, Life & Design

Would vs Could!

To a man, "Can you take out the trash?" is a silly question.  Of course he can.  Are you doubting his competence?  To him, it's not simply another way of asking him to do so; it's a different question entirely.  To a woman, "Will you take out the trash?" is abrupt and maybe even rude.  It's assuming that she doesn't have any good reason to refuse and it doesn't allow her to say no without saying, "I don't want to."  For a man, this typically wouldn't be a problem.  Not wanting to do something is a perfectly valid reason... for men.  Women, on the other hand, usually prefer to be more polite, and more aware of the other person'a feelings.  Saying "I don't want to" doesn't just mean "I don't want to take out the trash" it means "I do not value your needs enough to be willing to do this for you."  So we give ourselves an out, by prefacing requests with "Could you?"  Could implies that you might very well have a good reason to refuse, but if you don't it would be very much appreciated.  Could is more polite... to a woman.

So what it comes down to is our different values.  Men do not appreciate having their competence questioned and since they don't place as much value on politeness, a question like "When you get a chance, could you take out the trash?" is just long-winded and unnecessary.  I've switched my approach with Significant to "Will you" or "Will you please" for most things and it seems to be working well.  It still feels rude to me, but he always accepts it at face value.

After discussing these things with Significant, I thought, "Ok, well this is great, but I'll still use my regular method of speech for the outside world."  Turns out, the guys I work with respond the same way.  After a fairly heated discussion with a coworker, who insisted that the word "can" is evil and implies no confidence in the other person's abilities, I gave in.  Apparently abruptness is appreciated by most (many?  just the ones I happened to talk to?) men in communication whether or not you're in a relationship.  I, on the other hand, still prefer "Could you please?" or "If you don't mind."  Maybe, one day, some of these men will pick up a book and learn about my communication preferences...  Or maybe not.  :P

What relationship tips have you learned?