Challenges | Prep for 2015

One thing I wish I had done for 2014, which I will be doing for 2015, is get myself a couple of challenges.  These are different from goals or resolutions (which I don’t really make) because they have concrete steps built into them.  My challenge for 2013 was to graduate from college.

This doesn't have much to do with the post, but that's my planner for next year.

This doesn’t have much to do with the post, but that’s my planner for next year.


Decide on an area of your life where you want a challenge, first.  Do you want a fitness challenge?  A travel challenge?  A career change challenge?  Maybe you’re struggling to fit your hobbies in with your job and school and family.  A hobby challenge (maybe photo a day?) will help you keep them in your life.  Maybe you’ve moved to a new city and haven’t seen much of it yet.  With a little searching you can easily find a list of the best sites to see, and make that into a challenge, or maybe there’s already a challenge for your city!

For 2015, I will be participating in the Pop Sugar 2015 Reading Challenge.  (You can find the Pop Sugar post here, and I will be uploading a video about it too!)  This amounts to 50 books (or 52 depending on how you interpret the trilogy point) to read during 2015, but it’s more limited than that.  This challenge presents 50 specific types of books, including a graphic novel, a book by a female author, and a book more than 100 years old.  For a different reading challenge you could choose the Rory Gilmore reading list, but that is 335 books long so you may want to choose one season or an arbitrary number of books from Rory’s list.  If you’re not into being restricted in your reading, you could try a GoodReads 50 book challenge.  You can actually personalize that to any number of books that works for you, so if 50 seems too high or too low, you can change it up.  (This year I said 40, but I didn’t take it very seriously, and I didn’t reach it).

A fellow Creampuff on Tumblr, Juli, made this incredible 2015 TV & Movie Challenge, if that’s more your speed.  Much like the 2015 Reading Challenge above, this has different categories, and requirements for completion.  (Sidenote, don’t know what a creampuff is?  You need to watch Carmilla).


If you’d prefer a fitness related challenge, you could try Couch to 5k.  Or doing a certain number of 30 Day Shred cycles.  If you’re into swimming set a concrete time goal and write out the steps.


Writing an entire novel is a great challenge, if it’s something you’re into.  Nanowrimo and the Office of Letters and Light could get you started.  Rachel Hawkins (author of one of my favorite series) and Victoria Schwab (author of the incredible Near Witch) have a system involving stickers and a calendar which you could adopt.


I recently adopted Rosianna Halse Rojas’ 100 Jobs Challenge from 2012 but have since given up because I got a job (actually, since I wrote the draft of this post, I got two!  more info to come).  I’ll probably pick that back up when my seasonal job ends, though.  If you’re in need of a career change, or just a career in general, this would be a great one.  For a career change, though, I’d recommend getting some clear steps in mind before you attack applications.  For more about career searching, keep your eyes open for Job Interview Week next month.  January is all about that Job Search for many of us.


I’d recommend picking a couple of challenges to keep yourself motivated.  I’ll probably pick a fitness challenge as well, but I haven’t decided what yet.  If you want something more long term, create a 25 By 25 style list of goals.  I recently-ish revised mine to reflect my current priorities.

Maybe I just prefer challenges to resolutions because I’m competitive.  I am both a Leo and a younger sister, after all.



Planners | Prep For 2015

Let’s talk about planners. I am the ultimate planner nerd. I’ve had planners since I was like 10, although I’ve only consistently used them in college and since. Bring me your planner questions!


First, let’s decide what kind of planner works for you. Do you want a ring bound? A wire bound? A regular bound? I’ve used all of the above. Generally my favorite is the ring bound, because you can always add pages, but for 2015 I’m using a bound planner from Target. (In fact, it’s this one). Do you need to have your notes in the same place as your planner? Then a ring bound might be for you. I usually ended up carrying a separate notebook anyway, so I didn’t use the notes section of my ring bound planner as much as I theoretically should have.

2015 Planner

Get at me 2015!

Next we need to decide is what size planner you’ll need. I’ve used tiny planners, but I don’t like the lack of space. I’ve used big A5 planners, but they’re hard to carry around everywhere. Usually I default to something about the size of a personal Filofax – 3.7×6.7 inches. For a ring bound planner, keep in mind that your actual binder will be larger, which is part of what makes them even bulkier. If you always carry an enormous purse, I suppose it won’t make much difference, but I also like to be able to grab a small one and just go do my errands. Maybe stop by the bookstore or the library. So I like medium sized planners. If you’re responsible for multiple people, especially kids, you might want a larger planner than I do.


Once you’ve decided what size planner you need, and what kind you want, the fun part happens. You get to shop for a planner. I used three different planners in 2014, and none of them were quite perfect. I like to shop online a bit for planners before I go and actually buy one in a store. Target has a great selection, both from the Sugar Paper LA line and from their regular line. (I honestly debated whether I should spend the $8 on my new planner for a really long time, but I love it so much I decided it was worthwhile). Barnes & Noble also has a good selection, as does Staples. If you’re in the Filofax game, you should look around online first because buying from their website is very expensive.

I recently came across the Passion Planner. If I didn’t already have my 2015 planner, I might have bought the Passion Planner. It was created by a young woman who felt lost for years, and then created the planner to work herself out of that lost feeling. I think it looks gorgeous, and fascinating, and incredibly useful. You can even try it out for free!


If you’re like me, though, you’re too nervous to buy a planner without reading a bunch of blog posts about different types and different specific planners. One of the best planner blogs is Plannerisms. For Filofax planners specifically, there’s Philofaxy. If you like the look of a Filofax, but also think it looks a little boring, check out Gala Darling’s guide to Filofaxes. Trust me, Gala never does anything boring.


This year I chose a bound, pretty, Sugar Paper LA planner from Target because I kept coming back to it. I’ll probably bring a small notebook with me everywhere so I can make notes and have an overall to do list from which I choose that day’s tasks. I know I’ll need that notebook because I’ve tried all different kinds of planners before, and I know myself. Try different kinds of planners, you’ll learn something even if you hate that particular planner.

For more about prepping for 2015, watch this space.

How Easy Is It To Get Ordained?

As of next week (November 19) I will have been ordained through American Marriage Ministries for two years.  Weird, huh?  I’m one of the least religious people I know, and yet technically I’m an ordained minister.  Why?  I was curious.  At the time, I was in an ehtnography class, so I spent a lot of time talking about, and thinking about, the ways different cultures recognize milestones and ceremonies.  One of those was marriages.


Being a non-religious person, I’ve always wondered how non-religious people handled weddings, funerals, and the like, because all of those I’ve ever been to have had a distinctly religious bent.  Whether that’s a 3-hour wedding mass when a friend’s aunt got married, or the touching but very religious funeral service for my grandfather, all of these ceremonies, in my experience, have been tinged with religion.  Then, I read about getting ordained online, almost instantly.  It really is almost instant.

I became an ordained marriage minister through them!


I logged onto the American Marriage Ministries website, filled out a few forms, and was confirmed as a member of their ranks.  There are plenty of licensing “ministries” out there, including Universal Life Church, another biggie.  Personally, I love that it is so easy for someone who matters to the couple getting married to officiate their wedding.  I love that there are options for the non-religious other than the relatively impersonal city hall/justice of the peace route.  While that totally works for some people, it’s always good to have options.  So far, I haven’t performed any marriages, and I don’t know if I ever actually will.  I got ordained mostly out of curiosity.  But I definitely would if someone asked me to.


The thing about being non-religious in America is that in almost everything it makes no real difference (except that people are going to assume you’re religious, especially in this area) but when it comes to celebrating milestones and having ceremonies, your options become instantly limited.  But I honestly think that the ease of online ordination for officiating weddings is indicative of a shift in our cultural opinions about these ceremonies.  It’s a shift to accepting that there are many different ways to celebrate a milestone – be it a wedding, or a funeral, or a sweet 16.  American culture, as a rule, tends to sit back on Christian traditions, which can be a problem for the many Americans who aren’t Christian.  Be they Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Atheist, or simply non-religious with no opinion one way or another about the existence of a deity, there are millions of people who don’t want to have the traditional church wedding.  Instead, with this kind of easy ordination, they could have a friend or family member, a person who has been important to both parties, officiate and make their wedding day truly special.  I’m all for it (obviously) because I’m all for anything that expands people’s freedoms and possibilities, even in a small way.


Paper Writing Tips

Since I just finished chapter 2 of my research paper, I decided to share my paper writing tips.  The paper I’m writing has to be at least 20 pages, and write now I’ve got about 25, and I haven’t written chapter 3 yet.  This is also how I wrote my senior thesis, so it’s been tested a few times.

Paper Writing Tips

Don’t procrastinate!

This is the best tip I can give, although I’m not good at taking it myself.  True story, I rewrote my entire thesis in 48 hours after procrastinating the editing/rewriting process.  I didn’t sleep, mainlined lemonade, and cranked it out.  It was not cute.  Don’t do this.


Find you best background noise.

Depending on what I’m writing, I listen to different things.  For some papers I need no music, just Coffitivity or Soundrown.  For others, I need opera or dubstep with very limited vocals, preferably no vocals at all.  Still other papers require a specific artist.  With this paper I’ve been listening to Bastille almost exclusively, with the occasional Taylor Swift break.  I can’t tell you what will work for you, but give those a try.


Find your best writing spot.

Only you know what your best writing spot is.  I like to write at a table or a desk, but currently I don’t have a desk, so I write at the dining room table.  It’s not ideal because I can hear the living room tv, my grandmother’s in the living room and she always wants to chat, and I’m often stuck having to fix something in the house.  For you, it might mean going to the library, or a coffee shop, maybe sitting in your favorite spot on the couch.  Finding just the right spot is important so that you’re not distracted  by bodily discomfort or by environmental factors.


Outline & find quotes ahead of time.

There’s nothing worse than struggling to figure out what your next paragraph is about, or trying to find a quote to support your point.  Instead, I pull out quotes while I’m reading the articles, then type them into a document the page before my outline.  On the outline I use lettered sections and bullet points, and include the points I want to make, examples to use, which sources I want to cite, and the quotes I’ve pulled out.  I even write sentences to start the sections sometimes.


Reward yourself properly & at good intervals.  

You have to give yourself rewards, but they can’t all be food based.  That’s just not good for you.  Sometimes I reward myself with a snack, but other times it’s a music video, or a TED talk (like this one by Summer Beretsky about anxiety), or a walk with my dog.  For a longer break/reward, I might watch an episode of Bob’s Burgers or The Blacklist.  But, I can’t reward myself for every page, not even for a 25 page paper.  It’s going to be different depending on your goal, but you have to figure out the best intervals.  That could be half hour intervals, five page intervals, or section-based intervals.


Use the Pomodoro Method – but if you’re in the groove don’t stop.

This has really revolutionized the way I write papers.  Let me explain.  According to this method, you work for 25 minutes, then take a five minute break.  Twenty-five more minutes of work, another break.  This goes on for four sessions, then you take a longer break, usually 15 minutes.  You can use a kitchen timer, an app, or a chrome extension.  For non-computer work (like reading and annotating) I use the app ClearFocus on my phone.  For computer work I use the chrome extension StrictWorkflow which serves as a timer and a self-control aid.  It blocks common distracting sites, and you can edit the list to your personal preferences.  If you’re really in the groove though, don’t stop writing until you end that section.

Paper Writing Tips

If you’re easily distracted (and even if you’re not) use an app to control your computer.

I always put on an app to keep me from visiting Facebook or Tumblr or Pinterest while I’m supposed to be writing a paper.  The chrome extension I use, StrictWorkflow, does this really well, so I rarely need anything else.  But I used to use ColdTurkey, which blocks sites for PCs, and I know tat Macs have Self Control as well.  I’m sure there are plenty of other programs and apps to do the same.  Minimizing distraction is, for me, the key to getting in the zone.


Make sure people know you’re working.

I live with my parents and my grandmother, so I tell them “Don’t bother me, I’m writing a paper.”  This always works on my mom, but not nearly as well with my other family members.  When I was at my undergrad, I would tell my roommate or any friends in the lounge not to bother me unless the building was on fire.  Even if you know they’ll still come and bother you, it might make them give it a second thought.


Turn your phone off.

Okay, so I didn’t turn my phone off while I was writing this paper.  But I did put it in another room until my breaks.  Our phones are such an integral part of our lives that when it rings we’re all conditioned to pick up, or check the text, or see who tweeted.  Turn it off, put it on vibrate, or put it away elsewhere so you can actually get your paper done.


That’s it, that’s all I’ve got for you.  Go forth and write!  (And leave your tips below in the comments!)

8 Tips To Decorate Difficult Spaces

Whether you’re in college now, or just graduated, you’re probably looking at a small, difficult to decorate space.  Maybe you’re in a small dorm with concrete walls, or a tiny apartment where you can’t paint or put holes in the walls, or maybe, like me, you’re back with your family.  Theoretically you should be able to change things at home, but not if your room also functions as a guest room.  Luckily over the last couple of years here, I’ve picked up a few tips for decorating spaces you can’t decorate.

8 Tips To Decorate Difficult Spaces

  1. Command Strips

If you’re in college you’re probably hearing (over and over) that these are the only things that you can use on your walls.  We certainly did at my undergrad.  But since command strips are really quite strong, and they come off clean, they’re perfect for this type of space.  I use them to hang my bulletin board, my magnet boards, my calendar, and a few photos.  You can’t tear off paint or drywall with command strips, you don’t put holes in the walls, and they even come in a mock-nail form.


  1. Fun Calendar

While plain calendars are probably a bit cheaper, a fun calendar can add pizzazz and fun to your space.  Pick your favorite animal, your favorite artists, your favorite city, and find a calendar of it.  You can pick them up from almost any store.  Images not really your thing?  Try a whiteboard calendar and color coordinating markers.  A fun calendar can add some beauty to a place when you can’t add a gallery wall.


  1. Cheap Frames & Photos or Cards

There are so many services to get your photos printed for less than 10 cents per print.  Get a bunch of your favorites printed, then head to your local dollar store and pick up some 4×6 frames.  Then you can put them on a surface or hang them with command strips.  Framing your photos gives your space a really homey feel.  Photos not your thing?  Try holiday cards.  I don’t know about your family, but when I was at college my mom always sent me cards for almost every holiday (even Halloween).  I would stack them around the room or hang them on my bulletin board.  Now, I have a graduation card from my Little, a Christmas card from my friend, and a pen pal card from Jordyn on the chest in my room.  Once I pull them out of storage I want to use command strips to hang some postcards I got from friends while they were studying abroad.

8 Tips To Decorate Difficult Spaces

  1. Magnet Boards/Bulletin Boards

I have a small bulletin board and two small magnet boards in my room to hold little bits and bobs.  The great thing about these boards is that they hold so much.  Family photos from my childhood? Check.  Fortunes from fortune cookies?  Check.  Notes from friends?  Definitely check.  You can switch out what’s hung on a board with no fuss, and it takes only a few command strips to hang each one.  Tip: buy a cheap cookie sheet or pizza pan to use as a magnet board, even a burner cover for the stove will work!


  1. Curtain Ties

I have curtains.  I also have blinds.  I hate blinds.  So I just keep them pulled all the way up and use my curtains instead.  But it’s much harder to get natural light with curtains.  Some curtains come with curtain ties, mine for whatever reason didn’t.  So I made my own out of ribbon.  Even if your curtains come with matching ties, making your own from ribbon, yarn, fabric scraps, or some other material is a simple way to make your space your own.  They can match, they can coordinate, they can be complete opposites, but they’re your own.  For that matter, choosing curtains you like is a great way to personalize your space.


  1. Using furniture as decor

Maybe you can’t hang anything on your walls, but if you pick furniture you like, which all goes well together, you can make the space your own.  A change as simple as a new headboard, or new lamps that match, can change the entire way a room feels.  Make sure that your sheets and blankets and pillowcases are ones that you like, and ones that coordinate.  I like to mix a solid color sheet with a patterned blanket and pillowcases.  Show off your photos or cards on the tops of different pieces of furniture.  Add a new lampshade to make your lamps pop.  (I totally have my eye on a gorgeous lamp, but I can’t change my lamp).  Stack your prettiest books on some extra space on the dresser.  Rearrange your furniture until you love the way it looks.  Especially if you have a small space, try to open up the floor, it’ll make every room look larger.


  1. Room Spray

This one isn’t really decorating, but it helps a lot.  If you’re unhappy with how your space looks, at least make yourself happy with how it smells.  I just switched over to my fall scents (pumpkin spice may not be a great coffee, but it’s a great room spray) and it really livens up my room.  Maybe I can’t rearrange all my furniture to the way I like it, but I can make it smell like fall in my room.  Room sprays are pretty cheap, don’t take up much room, and can have a therapeutic effect on you.  (It should go without saying, if you share your space with a roommate or flatmate, make sure that the scents are amenable to you both).


  1. Simplicity

My final tip is to keep things simple.  Too many items in any space will clutter it up.  Clutter can make your space look cramped and small, and completely disrupt the feel of your rooms.  Whether you believe in feng shui or not, every room has a feel.  With decor I’m definitely more on the minimalist side, but I do have a lot of photos around.  Even with a lot of items you can keep the space simple by grouping them.  Remember the rule of thirds, and that the human eye likes things in threes.


I’ve been making my space nicer little by little but since my room doubles as the guest room (#couchsleeper) it’s tough.  I can’t replace any furniture (although I added my bookshelf I’ve had since I was 4, and a storage ottoman), so I’ve had to find other ways.  Curtain ties, photos, cards, and a little rearranging helps make my room a lot better.  More me.  I hope my tips can help you make your spaces more you.

P.S. I’m starting my grad classes today!  Wish me luck!

Advice For College Freshmen

This is the season for back to school, and back to college.  Freshmen are moving into their first dorms, freaking out about leaving their friends behind, and perpetuating freshmen rituals.  (Like the time some friends from high school and I all agreed to howl on our first night in our dorms, or the freshmen at AU jumping in cars with strangers for rides to frat parties – don’t do that one).  As a freshman, I know I needed a lot of advice.  I’m betting you do too.

Advice For Freshmen

You have incredible resources available, use them if you need them.

At most universities there is a counseling center, a medical center, and a wellness center.  These resources are kept confidential.  At my undergrad the medical center charged, but the others didn’t; for the first ten visits the counseling center was completely free of charge, and the wellness center was always free.  If you’re struggling, go and see these people.  A lot of students, especially freshmen, struggle with stress, homesickness, and loneliness.  College age is also the age when a lot of mental illnesses first manifest, and getting help early is the key to mental health.  

Record your thoughts and feelings.

This is a time you’ll want to remember.  You could go the traditional route and get yourself a journal.  (I like this one).  Maybe get a sketchbook and make an art journal.  You could even start a blog!  In five years you’ll want to remember just what freshman year was like.  Plus, this way you can look back in times of stress to previous times of stress and know that you got through them.  (Related to the previous piece, if you think you’re having any kind of mental illness symptoms or you’re concerned about your reactions to stressors, keeping a record can help your doctor or counselor in the future).

Remember that you are young.

I know a lot of people say these are the best years of your life, but they’re not.  Life always gets better, there is always going to be a better time in the future.  What this is, though, is a time to make mistakes and not take yourself too seriously.  You’re never going to be this free again in your life.  Try out all the new things you haven’t done before.  Visit different cities, eat different foods, experiment with different religious groups, take classes in every department.  This one also applies to dating, you’re in college, you don’t need to settle down, get married, and have kids.  Dating moves really quickly in college, but keep in mind that you’re young and you have plenty of time to decide what you want.  

Imagine others complexly.

It’s easy to think your professors are out to get you, that your friends secretly hate you, or that you have a nemesis (who’s really just that weird kid in your religion class who says everything you want to say before you get the chance).  But when you start feeling persecuted, remember that you are not nearly as important to everyone else as you are to yourself.  They’re probably not thinking about you when they do anything.  That kid in class is just on the same wavelength as you.  Your professors are just grading how they see fit.  They might be tough graders, but they’re not out to hurt you with their grades.  Imagine others complexly, and you’ll have a lot better time.

Be the change you wish to see in the world.

A lot of us go to college and have our eyes opened to the world’s pains.  Whether that’s through classes, tumblr, volunteering, classmates, or a protest on the quad, you’re going to discover some pain in the world you never knew about.  And then you’ll get angry.  And then you’ll feel stupid and useless because you can’t change it.  Maybe you can’t.  But maybe you can.  If the injustice that’s lighting your fire is something that affects you, then start by changing your behaviour.  Talk to other people.  Write a blog.  If it doesn’t affect you, there are still plenty of ways to help people a world away.  Research the problem, and write a blog post about it to educate others.  Create a roundup of ways to help those who are there.  Go on a volunteer trip during a break.  You could even create a charitable organization of your own.  Helping others makes you feel great, but more importantly it makes the world a better place.  Walking around angry about the way the world works won’t change it.  You have to be the change.  


Take it from someone who’s been there before, you’re about to have a great four years.  It may not be the best four years of your life, but they will be great years.  And if they’re not?  You can always transfer, and you will always have a better future ahead.  Good luck.

(For more tips, see my video coming soon!)


Evaluating Primary and Secondary Sources

Let’s start with the easiest definition of primary vs secondary sources.  Primary sources are sources from where or when an event happened, or from a person who was involved in or witnessed an event.  Secondary sources are sources from those who were not involved, were not there, and often did not live in that time.

 Primary & Secondary Sources


The journal of a civil war soldier at Gettysburg would be a primary source about Gettysburg.
A newspaper article about the battle of Gettysburg would be a secondary source about Gettysburg.


But it can get more complicated.  What about interviews?  What about newspaper articles?  They can both be both.  An interview can be both primary and secondary in the same interview, but about different topics.  A newspaper article could be either one.  What about news bloggers?  If they were in the event, then their blog post might be a primary source.  How about a documentary?

When you’re focusing on ancient and medieval sources, the lines become even muddier.  Often there are no direct primary sources, but the closest source is the primary source.  Ancient Romans didn’t have a lot of primary sources about the Roman republic, so when historians write about the Roman republic, they use a lot of archaeological sources, and other ancient sources such as Livy who lived after the events.  Julius Caesar’s books are frequently used sources, but he was an observer of the cultures he wrote about.  Even in the colonial era, a lot of the primary sources for indigenous peoples are that of the invading Europeans.


There are a few things that are always secondary sources though.  Journal articles, textbooks, reference books, and most monograph books.  As for primary sources, well, there’s nothing that is always a primary source.  A journal can recount rumor or an anecdote from a friend, an interview could contain third hand information.

 Secondary Sources

When evaluating a primary vs secondary source, you have to be critical and careful.  Each source requires an independent and thorough review, especially when studying historical time periods.  The further back a time period, the muddier the primary/secondary line becomes.


Here are some easy evaluation tools.  Regarding each source, ask yourself:

1) was this person involved in the event I’m researching?

2) was s/he a witness to that event?

3) does this account contain rumor or hearsay?

4) is this a legal document from the time period?

5) (if artifact) has this artifact been reliably dated to the time period?


For further information regarding primary and secondary sources see:


For the downloadable, pdf version of this guide click here: Primary & Secondary Source Guide.