As a business, it is crucial to connect with your customers and communicate in meaningful ways. However, with the ever-changing business landscapes, it can be difficult to efficiently and authentically send written notes.
Over the past few years in my own business journey as an author and a boutique owner, I've learned this: personal connection is crucial to building brand loyalty. Plus, it's always important on a human level to actually make meaningful relationships. I don't want my readers or customers to just be a number to me. I want them to feel connected.
For a small business like me, writing thank-you notes or personal notes to fans and customers isn't too consuming of a task. What happens, though, when you begin to scale your business? What happens if you're running a business that has thousands of customers? How do you maintain that personal touch?
In the world of technology, handwritten notes have become too burdensome for most companies to incorporate into their strategies and relationship building. This is truly a loss, though, because handwritten notes connect with customers, clients, and potential customers in a personal way. People remember handwritten notes. They feel emotionally connected to them in ways email cannot establish.
This is where Handwrytten comes in. They make sending written notes to customers as easy as sending an email. Using patented technology, the company is able to write over a thousand notes a day. The company takes care of the notes, the envelopes, and even mailing them out, freeing up valuable time for your business. The handwriting styles vary and look realistic. For an extra fee, you can customize your handwriting to match your own. Handwrytten also allows you to incorporate gift cards into your mailings.
For businesses needing to connect with customers in a very real way, Handwrytten can level up your personal connection to customers in a quick, convenient way.
For companies doing international business, you can even take things a step further. Handwrytten features an article on how to say thank you in multiple cultures, which gives you a different perspective on how to use the thank-you note appropriately. This one is worth a read for anyone as it helps you be culturally appropriate and meaningful when working with or connecting with other cultures.
I before E except after C.
How to be polite
Math. Reading. How to write a thank-you.
Growing up, they taught us a lot of things--but they didn't teach us this one thing: Adult life is hard. Really hard.
I think somewhere in our 20s, most of us realize that keeping up with all of the responsibilities, worries, and finances of adult life is exhausting. Add to that the pandemic we have been handling these last few years and the constant changes, most of us are facing anxious, stressful times.
There are, of course, many ways you can try to alleviate these stressors, for better or worse. Some of us turn to self-help books or meditation. Some of us try exercise (and some of us struggle to stick with it). Some of us have picked up a habit of a glass of wine every night or other comfort foods to help us relax. There are all sorts of ways to check out from "real life" for a little while. I think the most important thing, though, is to actually do it. We all need and deserve down time. We all need to quiet our minds and simply have lighthearted fun.
One thing I've turned to in the pandemic? Online games. There's just something about escaping for a while and playing a game. It's even better if it's free. I love that it's something I can squeeze in for a few minutes if I want to focus on something else.
I think sometimes in adult life, we forget something we knew so well in childhood: playing is fun. Below, check out some of my favorite free games I've been hooked on lately. There's something for every type of gamer.
1. If you like search and find games
I love a Where's Waldo? kind of vibe to a game, so this Hidden Objects game has been a great distractor for me during the pandemic or stressful days. It's engaging enough to help me forget about all the worries stacking up but also relaxing as I click through the levels. There's a sense of accomplishment when I clear a level, which does the mind some good.
For this Hidden Objects game, you get several choices of backgrounds. I started with the Chinese temple. There are ten levels total, and each level has three rounds of play. There is a traditional find the object level, which must be completed within ten minutes. Shown below, you have items to find and get points for finding them. Then, the same background has a find the number level where you find numbers 1-31. Finally, you have to spot the difference. If you can accomplish all of that within time, you can move to the next level.
I love that the levels get challenging and give me something to work towards. Also, from a practical standpoint, I don't have to download the game. A few clicks, and I'm in.
I appreciated that the first level was easy enough for me to get used to the game but still had some challenges. I will say the number rounds are very challenging for me. The numbers really blend in (I am partially colorblind, so that might be why). I tripped up on these rounds several times.
2. For the Word Smith
As an English teacher and a writer, I'm all about word games. Truly. Sometimes, a good old crossword can be really great if I want to escape the world a bit but still feel like I'm doing some learning/working my brain.
However, my favorite type of game is definitely a Letter Scramble. I love trying to find as many words as I can in mixed up letters and seeing if I can beat the clock.
The version I've been playing (link above) is really fun because it's not your traditional word game. The letters fly out as you play, which is both exciting and distracting. It makes it harder to think because you feel the pressure of making words before the time runs out AND before the board fills up. If you let too many letters pile up, it can get really confusing. However, you do get more points for longer words, so I try to let some pile up. You also get points for how much time you have left (each level gives you a number of words you have to make, 20, 30, 40 for example).
3. For the logical mind (with a sense of humor)
If you are a logical mind with a sense of humor, The Daily Dog Pooh Game is perfect for you. This game of logic is sort of a spin on Sudoku. The rules are simple, but I found the game to be quite challenging:
*Each cell must have a dog or a poo
*You can't have more than two dogs or poos in a row (or above each other in a column).
*Each row and each column must have the same number of poos and dogs.
This game was so tricky, but I got really absorbed in it. I like that the rules are simple so I can really focus in on the logic part of it. I also like how it made my brain work in a different way. If you like puzzle games (like Minesweeper) this one would be your go-to.
Let me know if you try any of the games, and what you think?
I am so excited to have received an ARC of The Sound of Violet by Allen Wolf. This book is going to be a movie in 2022, so you'll want to check it out now. It's great for anyone who loves young adult reads and romance. Check out more info below, including the first chapter!
About the Book:
Desperate to find a soulmate, Shawn goes on one awkward date after another until he encounters the alluring Violet. He starts dating her, but his autism keeps him from realizing that she’s actually a prostitute.
Shawn thinks he’s found a potential wife while Violet thinks she’s found her ticket to a brand new life. This hilarious and dramatic award-winning story takes all kinds of twists and turns and has been adapted into a major motion picture.
What Reviewers Are Saying:
“Entertaining, well-paced, and highly visual.”
“Wolf, an award-winning filmmaker, has adapted this first novel from his own original screenplay, and its cinematic potential clearly shows. The high-concept narrative is entertaining, well-paced, and highly visual. It’s a charming, humorous, and hopeful tale. A quirky, touching love story that offers insights into autism, religion, and personal tragedy.”
– Kirkus Reviews
“A wonderfully well-written, funny, romantic love story.”
“Unique and inspirational. The Sound of Violet is not your average romance. Rarely do I find myself so captivated by a book that I cannot put it down for nearly two hours. Pick up this book and get lost in the beauty of their relationship. My only complaint would be that the story had an ending, as all stories do, and I did so want to keep reading on. Most highly recommended. The Sound of Violet is simply remarkable.”
– Readers’ Favorite
Read Chapter One Below...
Shawn didn't feel like an adult because adults were married, and he struggled to get through a date. He was twenty-four years old and looked like a man, with his powder-blue eyes, a trim physique, and a handsome face on a well-shaped head crowned with light brown hair. But he had never quite gotten used to his long arms and legs. When he walked, it looked like Shawn was carefully stepping between raindrops, especially when he started noticing all the colors around him.
The bashful sun peeked out from behind a gray curtain of clouds, kissing the Manhattan skyscrapers. Perfect dating weather. Shawn accompanied his latest date along a path through the High Line, a park that snaked above 11th Avenue, formerly abandoned railroad tracks that were transformed into a popular park years ago.
Emily looked pleasant but unremarkable as she trudged along, towering over him. She glanced his way, but Shawn couldn’t peer into her eyes or anyone’s eyes for that matter. When he did, it felt like he was staring into the sun. He’d force himself to do it, though, since people got uneasy when he darted his eyes away. But Shawn couldn’t keep looking for long. The connection felt too electric, like he had jammed his finger into a wall socket.
The trees around them swayed in the wind; their branches collided against each other, clanging like wind chimes on a blustery day. The melodic tones transfixed Shawn.
Emily cocked her head to the side. “Are you even listening?” she asked.
She knocked on an invisible wall between them. “Hello?”
Shawn broke out of his trance. “Sorry. I get distracted sometimes. By all the colors.” He looked up at her height. “You must be good at basketball.”
Her eyes narrowed. This wasn’t Shawn’s first awkward comment of the night. “And you must be great at miniature golf.”
Shawn kicked the ground. “Not really.”
“You’re gonna ask me how the weather is up here? I’ll save you the trouble.” She popped the cap off her bottle and splashed water on his face. “Stormy!”
Shawn stood there, water dripping off his face, his mouth hanging open. His stomach ached as Emily stomped off, shaking her head. What did I do this time? Maybe she doesn’t like basketball. She disappeared into the crowd of people surging around him.
Shawn sat on a park bench and logged into his online dating profile. Time to set up his next date. This was definitely a numbers game.
Later that week, he met Anna at the High Line. She was in her thirties, lean and frail-looking. Friendly, but needy. Pictures of cats covered her rainbow suspenders. Her profile emphasized her love for all things feline, and Shawn hoped there would be more to her. He was getting less picky. Shawn led her down the path.
“Whenever I look at a cat, I try not to think about how lazy it is,” Shawn said.
Anna raised her eyebrows. “They aren’t lazy. They like to sleep.”
“For seventy percent of their lives. Male lions sleep twenty hours a day, so you can tell they’re related.” Shawn had many more cat facts up his sleeve, but this one didn’t land the way he thought it would. He hoped she’d find the rest of them captivating, so all the preparation he did for this date wouldn’t be a waste of time.
“Cats are more intelligent than most people I date,” Anna said.
“Then, you’re dating the wrong people.” Shawn peered at her face. “You know, you look different from your profile picture.”
She slipped her hands into her pockets. “Confession time. That’s actually my sister. I get a lot more interest when I use her pic. We’re pretty similar, though. She’s just more photogenic.”
“No, she’s a lot prettier than you.”
Anna shrank back. “Are you for real?”
“Very,” Shawn said. “She’s the one who got the looks in your family.”
Shawn’s thoughts often raced out of his mouth, unedited. He knew people had to get used to that, or they wouldn’t stick around for long. Anna blinked a few times as if she didn’t know what to say. She scoffed, shrugged her shoulders, then hurried down one of the stairways that led to the street below.
Shawn knew better than to run after her. That had never worked on his previous dates. He peered at the red petals of the snapdragons circling the tree trunk next to him. The petals shivered and hummed, sounding like sustained chords of a violin.
On the following Saturday afternoon, he met Lindsay at the High Line. She looked identical to her picture, and he was relieved. She was in her twenties, with delicate features and dark hair pulled back from the planes of her face.
Their conversation began with how their days were going (fine) and about the state of the world (worrisome). They progressed to how expensive it was to reside in New York City (shockingly so, though technically Shawn didn’t pay anything to live here). Then, the conversation detoured to how people perceive colors. This was Shawn’s opportunity to shine. He fought to keep his thoughts on track as he strolled down the path with her.
“The light receptors in our eyes transmit messages to our brains about what we’re seeing. Newton first observed that the surface of what we see reflects some colors and absorbs the rest. So our eyes only perceive the reflected colors.” He forced himself to stop, a skill that usually led people to talk with him longer.
Lindsay leaned into him. “You’re a walking Wikipedia.”
Shawn beamed. The sunlight sparkled off the brook next to them as it bubbled down the path. He lost himself for a moment in the melodic stream of the water. Lindsay nudged him.
“You there?” she asked.
“Oh. Sorry about that.” He searched for a new topic. “The other day, I read an article about how this place would’ve still been an abandoned railroad track if someone didn’t have the imagination to make it this beautiful.”
Lindsay flicked her hair back. “So true.”
“When it opened, people called it a secret, magic garden in the sky.”
He started walking with a spring in his step. Lindsey reached over and held his hand. Startled, he shook her off. She stepped back with widened eyes. Shawn looked down; his arms hung to his sides.
“I’m sorry.” He paused. “Sometimes touching can be too intense for me.”
Lindsay poked her tongue against her cheek. “Oh.”
“You look like you swallowed a lemon.”
“And your profile didn’t say, ‘don’t touch me.’”
“It used to, but I didn’t get a lot of replies.”
Lindsay bit her upper lip. “Are you on the spectrum?”
Shawn hesitated, then nodded. Whenever he told someone about his autism, their reactions were a mysterious mixed bag. Mysterious because Shawn couldn’t understand what they were thinking. Sometimes those dates didn’t last long after he brought this information to light, even after he explained he was high functioning. His brother, Colin, thought Shawn should keep his autism a secret for as long as possible. Or at least until the second date. But whenever Shawn kept those details in the dark, his dates seemed confused by how he would react to the world around him.
Shawn looked past her at a tall woman with black curly hair and olive skin dressed in a flowing wedding dress, holding a bouquet of purple and pink roses. The bride intertwined her hands with her smiling groom, who kissed the top of her head as a photographer snapped pictures of them holding each other. Shawn took in the moment. This was special.
Lindsay checked her watch. “So…”
“We should grab some coffee,” Shawn said.
“Not a coffee drinker, I’m afraid.”
“I didn’t notice that on your profile.” Shawn swallowed.
“You know what? I should get going. Need to meet someone. Don’t know how I let that slip my mind. Sorry to cut this short.”
“They look like they won the lottery,” Shawn said, pointing to the couple behind her.
“It was so nice meeting you.”
“Should we go out again? I like how you smell like laundry detergent.” He realized he shouldn’t have mentioned her scent. His brother always reminded him to keep olfactory observations to himself.
“I’ll call you, okay?” she said, stepping back from him while keeping up the mask of her smile.
“I’ll wait for your call,” Shawn said, confident that day was just around the corner.
Her plastered grin continued as she made her way down the path. As Shawn watched her leave, the colors around him roared back to life. Tree branches clanged. The water tinkled. Petals hummed. The evening sun dazzled brightly. Shawn shielded his eyes and hurried his way back home.
Shawn shared a large condo with his grandmother on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where the kitchen, dining room, and living room all enjoyed inspiring views of Central Park. Black and white oil paintings of scenes from the city—wet seals basking in the sun at the Central Park Zoo, the triangular Flatiron building dominating its street corner, a couple caught in intimate conversation in front of a boxy florist shop in SoHo—hung on the silver-gray walls. All these were proud creations of Shawn’s grandmother, Ruth, whose spotless home could be easily confused with a museum if the furniture went missing.
A golden birdcage hung in the corner of the room near the window. Inside, the yellow and green lovebirds, Sunny and Cloudy, nestled against each other. Shawn dropped a large spoonful of cooked lentils into their feeding trough. His grandmother liked to stick her fingers into the cage to caress their feathers., But Shawn only dared to feed them. Nothing more.
Shawn kicked his feet up onto the walnut coffee table and tried to sink into the red velvet couch, but it never let him. It was too much like his grandmother, stiff and proper. He turned on the TV and flipped through the channels until he settled on a black and white movie, where a woman gritted her teeth while a seamstress worked on zipping up the back of her wedding dress. The woman turned toward a mirror, and her face lit up. The seamstress dabbed a tear from her cheek.
Ruth’s voice echoed from her bedroom down to the hall. “Shawn, I can hear your feet on the table.”
Shawn quickly moved his legs off the table. “You can’t hear feet.”
Ruth glided into the room in a vintage robe. She was in her seventies with curly auburn hair and a slim body, a gift from her years of swimming. Her stateliness masked her artistic side. She never traveled without putting her face on, as she called it.
“Bore me with the details,” she said.
Shawn looked away from her inquisitive eyes at the darkening clouds outside. It felt like the sun was forever setting on his dating life.
Ruth tapped her foot. “I’m waiting.”
“Same as always…”
Ruth frowned. “You didn’t look into her eyes, did you?”
Shawn looked at the floor. “No one’s going to marry me.”
“Marry? We need to get you a second date.” She straightened one of the paintings on the wall.
“If I don’t get married, I won’t have anyone after you die.”
“I’m still ticking. And when I’m not, you’ll have your brother, whatever that’s worth.”
“Sometimes, to keep myself going, I picture you lying in a casket.”
Ruth gasped. “How dare you say that. You know I want to be cremated. So no one can screw up my makeup.”
“Maybe I should start picturing you as an urn.”
Ruth shrugged. “Whatever works.”
Shawn glanced out the window. A breeze rustled through the trees in Central Park. A drizzle fell in sheets from the sky. “I miss Grandpa.”
“Yeah? Me too.” Ruth filled a silver teapot with water from the sink and set it on the stove. “He’d love to ask me about my day and then turn off his hearing aid.” Ruth snickered. “Once, he told me the best part of growing up was getting less and less peer pressure since all his peers were dying.”
“He died so suddenly. I don’t want that to happen to you.”
“That’s sweet, Shawn,” she said, walking toward him. She took an unsteady step and grabbed a nearby chair to get her balance.
“Who’ll buy my cereal? Or help me pay bills? Or…”
“Glad I’ll be missed,” she said with a wry smile. “Just promise me you’ll keep the urn polished.”
Shawn returned his attention to the TV. The woman was dolled up for her wedding day, gliding down a sweeping staircase. The groom’s smile stretched from one ear to the other. Shawn imagined himself in that white suit, waiting for the love of his life.
“Tell me about your wedding day again, Grandma.”
Ruth didn’t answer.
Shawn looked over and saw her slumped in her rocking chair, looking like a marionette without its strings. “Grandma?” His mouth went dry. He rushed over and shook her, but she only flopped around in his hands.
As we transition seasons, many of us are thinking about sprucing up our outdoor areas. Many of us have been spending a lot more time at home, so our outdoor areas have become our sanctuaries to escape. Thus, many of us are trying to improve our outdoor areas and really create a beautiful, peaceful spot to relax. However, adding to your curb appeal can get expensive--but it doesn't have to. After you get your weeding, painting, and landscaping done, one way you can up your curb appeal game is lighting.
Oftentimes, we overlook lighting outside because we feel like it's too expensive or won't make an impact. However, thanks to Vont, I got to try out their solar spotlights. These spotlights are extremely affordable and high quality. I loved the ease of installation--you can literally just pop them together and put them in the ground, or you can mount them to the house with the hardware it comes with.
Once you set them up, you can pretty much forget about them because they are solar power. You don't have to worry about batteries or using electricity, which is a plus. More importantly, they really take your curb appeal up with their gorgeous lighting effects. They really make your outdoor landscaping look better with minimal effort and cost. I also really like these as an option for our backyard so I can keep an eye on our Great Dane puppy when he is outside. These lights are very versatile in how you can use them.
I definitely recommend these lights for anyone looking for an easy, affordable upgrade. Do head over to https://www.vont.com/ to check out your options. They carry a lot more lighting options for your home as well.
*Thanks to Vont for their free product in exchange for an honest review.
Thank you to Chrissy's Socks for these gorgeous, cozy knee socks to try for free....I loved being able to try them out and tell all of you my honest opinions of them.
2020 taught most of us many things. We learned to adapt to new work environments. We learned that sometimes the simplest things are the most important. We learned that connection is key to happiness. And we learned that being cozy at home isn't always a bad thing.
Since 2020, I have definitely been investing in my cozy, at-home wardrobe. Cozy wear has become a staple, which is why I'm obsessed with the pink socks from Chrissy's Socks. They are knee-high, super comfy, and have the cutest patterns. They make me feel stylish and fun even when I'm lounging at home.
I love curling up with a good book and a throw with these on. I love that they are perfect for any season. They really just add a pop of fun to your at-home wardrobe and show off your personality. They also are a mega hit on IG photos :) (Hello #socksunday). I love that they are made in the USA and fur free.
The other thing I love? They are super affordable, so they make a great gift for anyone on your list. Pick a few based on the person's personality, or mix and match some patterns in a cozy basket for a unique gift they can't get anywhere else. I personally love the cat lover socks because I'm a cat lady.
Be sure to head over and check them out, and scroll down for some more pics of my favorites.
Four Ways to Entertain Party Guests
One of the most exciting things about adulthood (besides being able to eat cake whenever you want and set your own bedtime) is being able to host events. After 2020, many of us are longing for parties and bashes.
But how do you make sure your party is one to remember and not a flop? How do you keep your guests entertained and staying longer than an hour?
If you're looking for some ideas on how to keep the party exciting, look no further. I've got four ideas for you to use at any gathering, big or small, in order to ensure no one is watching the clock or trying to make a quick exit.
1. Get out the Board Games
I know this sounds overly simple, but board games really do bring a room of people together and bring out the laughs. We spend so much time on our phones and devices, it's really a fun, refreshing change to set aside technology and play some basic favorites.
I would suggest gathering a selection of classics and fun, modern hits. I know some of our favorites are Scattergories, Uno, Yahtzee (especially the yard Yahtzee we have), Twister, Pictionary, and Monopoly.
If you want to really up the stakes, have a score board that guests can update throughout the night. Set up different gaming tables and stations that are spread throughout the venue to give people a chance to gather and play.
2. Create Make Your Own Food Options
Let's face it...most of us go to parties for the food. Eating can certainly bring everyone together and make your party memorable. Thus, don't just serve your food and get it over with as quickly as possible. Try involving your guests in the process.
Try a make your own walking taco bar, a mac and cheese bar, or even a hot dog bar. I've also seen some really fun cupcake decorating and sundae bars that kept people engaged throughout the night. There's nothing better than a buffet-style option for at least one of your dishes with all sorts of new toppings to try.
3. Hire a unique kind of entertainment
People love unique experiences, so try giving them something they'll never forget at your party. One really fun idea for modern parties is to find a psychic for hire. Even your most skeptical guests will enjoy the rush of doing something new, and it can be a fun way to add some curiosity and wonder to your party.
Other ideas include finding a magician in your area who would be willing to perform or even a local comedian. People love getting to view live acts, so bring those into your party setting for some true entertainment.
4. Hire live music
Music is always a party go-to. Try adding a dance floor to your venue, even if it is in your backyard. Instead of going with a deejay, consider finding live musicians to perform. It doesn't have to cost a lot of money. Find a high school band who is looking for a gig, or check out some of the non-profit music groups in your area who might play for donations to their cause.
Do you have any ideas for entertainment? Add them below in the comments.
How to Live Your Best Life Ever
Live the life you want.
Don’t worry about what others think.
Live your best life every single day.
We’ve all seen the myriad articles, posters, quotes, and social media posts encouraging us to do just that. Hell, I’m even guilty of writing a few inspirational posts about how we all need to strive to chase our passions and just live the life we want. But here’s the thing I’ve been thinking about lately: Living your best life is freaking exhausting, scary, and sometimes, quite frankly, feels impossible.
None of us want to live a life of misery and fake feelings or a life that is superficial. We all want the inner peace that comes from living a life that is true to who you are. We all want that monk-like serenity and a confidence in our belief systems that comes with it. And I think I speak for most of us when I say we do our best to try to find all of that.
We read books and take online courses. We binge-watch motivational speakers who tell us how to live our life without caring what others think. We turn to meditation, yoga, nature walks, journaling, or whatever else we can get our hands on in order to find some centering and live the life that speaks to us. Still, so many of us seem to be struggling. So many of us seem to be unhappy and unsure of the life we’re living. However, few of us talk about that. We want to think that if we just put in the work or sift through our emotions, we can be smiling lakeside and taking deep breaths of air in a fresh, perfect life we’ve uncovered within. If we just keep smiling, all will be perfect eventually.
But the thing is: Many of us ARE struggling to find this best life. Many of us feel like we’re failing, which can create its own set of stresses. When you feel like not only are you failing at living your best life but you’re also missing the mark in even trying to find it, it’s easy to discount everything you’ve done. I think that’s perfectly understandable, and I think it makes sense why so many of us are having a hard time figuring out our best selves.
Foremost, there’s something hardwired in our society, especially as women, that creates deep-rooted conflict when we try to chase our best life. A major tenant of this aspiration is that in order to live the life you want, sometimes you have to ignore what everyone else thinks. Here arises conflict one: Most of us have been indoctrinated with the belief that to think of yourself and not others is morally wrong. Women especially are taught from a young age to put others first, to be charitable and considerate of everyone’s feelings. We are taught how to be gracious hosts, how to be sweet, how kindness matters above all else, and how to care for our families. We are taught to avoid conflict like the plague and to turn the other cheek. Often, this leads to all sorts of inner turmoil when we do the unthinkable and examine our own wants, needs, and feelings instead. Even when we know it’s happening, it can be really hard to nullify those worries, even at a subconscious level. Thus, even when we try to examine what we want, we almost always look at it through a lens of what others want from us as well. This means our views of what truly will bring us peace are always contorted by social mores.
In addition, self-doubt is a roadblock in our quest for the best version of our lives. Many of us are guided by fear and reality. When we think about what we really want in life, it can be a complete outlier to the life we are supposed to want. Society has a very defined view of what “living your best life” looks like, and if what you want doesn’t fit that mold, it can be easy to talk yourself out of it. Moreover, many of us let critical self-talk override our dreams. We’re afraid we’re not smart enough, brave enough, worthy enough to pursue whatever life it is we want.
And finally, I think the reason living your best life is so much harder than reading a few self-help books or meditating a few minutes a day is that if we’re honest, so few of us actually really know exactly what we want. Even if we can assuage those deep-seated teachings about selfishness and can overcome the self-doubt monster, many of us are left feeling lost in a forest of different paths when we really get down to it. We dig deep inside of ourselves and wade through the darkness only to find when we get to the center that there’s a big blank space. What the hell do I want? It’s a question I’ve tried to answer over and over and over again in my thirties. Oftentimes, I come up blank.
I don’t know if many of us can be 100% certain about what our best life looks like. If we did, we wouldn’t really need to struggle and to evolve in order to figure things out. We’d all come with an instructions manual and just follow the steps to achieve maximum self-actualization. Life isn’t made that way, though. So much of it, as cheesy as it sounds, really is about the journey.
So, what’s the answer, then, to this mucky ball of confusion surrounding self-fulfillment?
I think it’s that we keep trying to find that elusive pile of gold that is happiness. We try new things to see what sparks joy in us--I’m looking at you, Mari Kondo. We take time to self-reflect. We use the quotes and speakers and meditation and whatever else helps us stay grounded, but we also realize that these aren’t magic fixes. We assess our feelings. We change directions. We change directions again because we understand that our version of our best life might change as we grow, too.
We might get our “best life” wrong at first. We might think we know what it is only to get there and realize that wasn’t what we wanted at all. Sometimes, we might feel within an arm’s reach of our best life. Other times, it might feel like we have to trek through the Grand Canyon to get there and we’re all out of energy.
I hope, though, that no matter where you are in your journey to happiness, you remember this.
You are worthy of happiness, even if it takes a lifetime for you to really sort it out.
It isn’t easy for anyone, no matter what the cheesy posters and inspiring posts tell you.
And most of all, I hope you know that whatever life you’re living, whether it’s your best or not, there are beautiful things about you and your present. Don’t let the gorgeous mountain views pass you by because you’re so focused on reaching the top.
Whether you're newly married, just bought a house of your own, are in college, or are in the middle of your career, many of us struggle so much with our finances. In normal times, figuring out a budget and how to make your money work for you can be tough. During the COVID-19 pandemic, however, many found themselves in new, challenging situations; the long-term effects of the pandemic on finances are quite frightening as well. Thus, for many of us, 2021 is a time to reflect on our financial situation and plan for the future.
When my husband lost his job in 2019, we were sent into a scary financial whirlwind. Then the pandemic hit, and things got worse before they got better. We quickly realized that in our eight years of marriage, we really had never made a financial plan or budget to stick to. Thus, out of the wreckage of those hard years came some benefits--we learned how to create a financial plan and stick to it.
Here are three top tips if you're new to budgeting or if you just need a refresher.
1. Know where you are starting
The first key to a successful budgeting plan is to know exactly what position you are in. This means you need to get real about how much you are spending and where. You need to take a hard look at your debts and what money is going out. Some key questions to ask and to communicate with your partner about:
Facing your actual financial position can be scary. So many of us prefer to stick our heads in the sand and just go with the flow. However, this can lead to issues down the road, especially when the unexpected happens (like a loss of hours at work or a layoff). Know your position and what your goals are.
2. Use Cash
Many budgeting experts, including Dave Ramsey, note that using cash can help you stick to a budget. I implemented an envelope system for our family and have seen great results. Having the physical cash in hand allows you to better assess how you are doing with your targets each month and gives you a visual for what the impact of each purchase will be. I am much less apt to hand over cash on a wasteful purchase knowing how little I will have left in my spending envelope for the month.
Create envelopes for the categories that make sense for you. I have one for spending, one for vet bills, one for entertainment and dates, and one for my hair expenses (which is my splurge). I also have a cash reserve for emergencies.
3. Reflect and Reassess Often
The most important thing to do in order to adhere to your budget is to constantly reflect on how you are doing. Each month, I assess how well I stuck to budget categories and how unexpected expenses tripped me up. My husband and I now have frequent conversations about our money and our future goals so we are on the same page.
A big part of financial planning is simply being honest and realistic about how you are doing. It's easy to ignore budget categories and just swipe the card. However, I have found that the peace of mind that comes from financial peace of mind is worth the extra effort.
Has there ever been a moment, no matter how brief, where you fantasize about disappearing from your own life?
I’m not talking about suicide or kidnapping. I’m not talking about living a life on the run. I’m talking about getting lost in the fantasy of getting in the car and just driving away. Maybe it’s just for a day where no one can text you, the dog can’t ask to go out fifty times, and the dishes aren’t piled up in the sink staring at you. Or maybe it’s longer. Maybe in your fantasy, you drive until you hit a secluded beach town. You trade your corporate office for a job shaking drinks at a Tiki Bar and singing karaoke at night.
From what I’ve gathered, I think so many women have moments (or even many moments) where they fantasize about leaving their life, where they dream that they live a different life entirely. And I think a lot of women are afraid to admit that because it makes us sound ungrateful, selfish, and like bad mothers, partners, and workers.
But here’s the thing, ladies. I think it’s completely understandable why so many of us sometimes get caught up in wishing life was different, simpler, quieter. I think it’s completely reasonable that in modern times, women crave the freedom of being who they want and shedding some of the responsibilities. Because for the modern woman, life is exhausting.
That’s not to say men don’t have their struggles, too. To be human is to struggle. To be human is to be frustrated, to take on too many responsibilities sometimes, and to wonder if you’re doing it right. Today, though, we’re talking about the plight of modern women mostly because, to be honest, that’s what I’m familiar with. As a 33-year-old woman, I feel that’s what I can speak the most accurately to.
We are living in beautiful times as women in so many ways. This is not to say life is perfect or that equality is 100%. I know we still have our inequities, injustices, and major hurdles to overcome. Still, living in 2021 as a woman, I feel like I really do have endless possibilities. Want to be a doctor? Go do it. Want to go to the moon? Sure thing. Want to be a stay-at-home mom? Yes, yes, yes. You really do get to choose what you want to do in your career path, and although we could talk about equal pay controversies, let’s just agree that we do have more freedom of choice than our grandmothers and great-grandmothers. That’s a beautiful thing.
However, with choice and freedom comes responsibility. Because even though we are living in an era where women can chase careers and be who they want to be, there still is so much social pressure on us to carry our traditional roles. No matter how awesome your partner is, so many women I know carry the weight of running the household, dinner, laundry, carting the kids around, and all of the traditional domestic roles our grandmothers carried--except now, many of us are working full-time jobs or chasing careers. Or, even if you are a stay-at-home mother, there’s still so much more on our plates than those who went before us. Times have changed. Schedules are hectic. Gone are the days of quiet dinners at home and peaceful nights by the radio. We live our lives at 100 miles an hour plus, and it can be exhausting keeping up.
Add to that financial stresses, career stresses, social stresses of being a friend worthy of a romcom movie, and no wonder so many of us are walking around feeling like zombies. The to-do lists are never ending at work--and then we come home to a never-ending domestic to-do list. And even with the most helpful husband who carries half the weight, it just still feels like housekeeping and decorating and hosting seems to belong to the female side of the relationship. If my house were cruddy for a family get-together, I know--or at least I’ve been trained to believe--that everyone would be looking at me with disdain, not my husband. The “boys will be boys” attitude seems to carry over into adulthood and into domestic life.
There’s also the fact that for so many women I know, a sense of deep-rooted responsibility causes us to want to do all the things. From the time we are little girls, most of us are taught the worst thing you can be in the world is selfish. Our definitions of selfish morph and twist as we observe social mores, community beliefs, and standards. To be a “good” woman--and, henceforth, daughter, wife, mother, etc--one must be selflessly giving and nice. We must seek to make others smile. We must ask what they need and try to give it to them. We must do all the things for those around us so we can be cherished as a successful female.
Many of us grow up to realize that “selflessness” often treads into the dangerous doormat territory. At some point, most women realize that to give to all means to be empty. We recognize we must say “no,” sometimes and we must put our needs first if we are ever to survive. Still, I would argue that this deep-rooted notion of being selfless is so ingrained in most of us, we still abide by it even when we aren’t trying to.
It’s why we say sure to running all the errands while our husbands take some time to relax.
It’s why we push through and go to the game or the social event even when we feel like we have the flu.
It’s why we take on that extra committee at work even though it will mean we don’t have any time to ourselves during the week.
It’s why we do the dishes at midnight and wash that extra load of laundry and change the sheets on Sunday morning instead of sipping coffee.
It’s why we feel the need to be the best at work and at home. It’s why we feel like we need to do all the things--and with a smile worthy of a magazine, to boot.
It’s why so many women are running around bleary-eyed, passionless, and empty.
We put pressure on ourselves to be perfect at our careers, at our passions, as moms, as pet owners, as wives, as girlfriends, as friends, as mothers, as sisters, as daughters, and every other role we take on. We feel guilty for taking a break or saying “no.” Certainly we can do just one more thing or be just one more thing for someone. If we just do that one last thing, maybe we will be worthy.
But my question is: Worthy of what? Why are we feeling the need to do all the things all the time?
That brings me back to my point. Yes, we are blessed to have more choices than our ancestors did. Yes, the women who have gone before us fought for our right to have freedoms they could only dream of. Yes, I am grateful I can be a teacher or a doctor or a singer or a psychiatrist or whatever I want to be.
But here’s the thing, ladies. Just because you CAN be everything doesn’t mean you have to.
I think sometimes we get so caught up in being all the things that we forget to ask what we really want. What really matters? What fills us up with passion and excitement?
I think that’s where the fantasy of disappearing comes from. It is such a foreign concept for so many of us to get out of bed and be who we want to be and do what we want to do that we fantasize about it. We fantasize about just living for ourselves, about not having to wear a million different hats. I think that’s why so many of us wake up in our 30s or 40s and feel trapped, passionless, and used up.
And I think that’s a shame.
Now listen, I know we can’t all just throw down the laundry baskets and corporate reports and head to the tropics to start a commune where we have no chores. I know we can’t just live a life guided by our whims and our joys. Adult life is a downer in that way. There are some necessary evils of growing up. We can’t all pull a Chris McCandless and disappear from our lives, even if living in the quiet solitude on a bus in Alaska sounds joyous--although it didn’t end well for him.
We can, however, learn from people like Chris McCandless. I think we can realize that to live well is to live peacefully and to chase your dreams. That means you will have to say no to some aspects of your life sometimes. This means you will have to make some changes and that we, as women, must make some promises to each other.
Let’s stop fantasizing about escaping and find escapism in our own lives.
Let’s have those tough conversations with our partners about how burnt-out we are and how we need help.
Let’s stop cleaning baseboards and climbing on chairs to clean a speck of dust off fans when we’re hosting. Let’s be realistic about how busy women are and how we can’t be held to ridiculous domestic standards--nor should we be.
Let’s say “no” at work if taking on a new responsibility isn’t something we want right now. Let’s be honest about the fact that just because we can do it all doesn’t mean we have to.
Let’s stop worrying so much about dishes in the sink or baskets of laundry that need folded. Let’s say screw it sometimes and take the morning off to sip coffee.
Let’s team up with other moms to set up carpool systems so we can get some time to ourselves.
Let’s not feel like every single moment of our lives has to be scheduled or planned. Let’s aim for quality over quantity when it comes to activities. Boredom breeds creativity sometimes.
Most of all, let’s be honest in our struggles. Let’s stop wearing the damn fake perfect white teeth smiles of magazines. Let’s stop stressing about our hair and our weight and our outfits. Let’s be real that sometimes, sweatpants and a frizzy ponytail is the best we can do. Let’s put on that looser shirt when we gain a few pounds instead of starving ourselves to the point of passing out just so we have a flatter stomach.
Let’s stop pretending we are superwomen who can do it all with a smile on our face and high heels. Let’s stop thinking that asking for help is defeat. Let’s stop celebrating fakeness online where celebrity women accomplish millions of things on their own (newsflash: many of them have teams that help them).
Let’s stop idolizing exhaustion and start celebrating mindful rest. Let’s stop writing articles only about superwomen who achieve gargantuan lists of successes. Let’s start celebrating all women because every life is hard, and surviving a regular day is an achievement in itself.
I think if we can start working on these truths and being real about where we are as women, then maybe the fantasies will become more reality-like. And who knows, maybe we’ll find that when we pause and reflect, when we take a breath, that Tiki Bar by the beach is actually what we wanted all along. Or maybe we’ll find that we just needed a minute to make our own Tiki Bar retreat in our space in the world--and some honest reflection to go with it.
Lindsay Detwiler is a high school English teacher and the USA Today Bestselling author of numerous novels including The Widow Next Door and Inked Hearts. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, their six rescue cats, and Great Dane, Edmund. To learn more, follow her on Instagram.
By: Savannah Cordova
5 Delightful Romance Books to Look Forward to in 2021
Most of us could always use a little bit of romantic escapism — and especially lately, given the additional burdens of the pandemic. Even when we’re starved of everything from physical touch to the romantic frisson that comes from brushing past someone in a bar, books are still there as our steadfast companions to entertain us and give our imagination some fodder to run wild.
Indeed, the magic of creative writing is that it operates outside the realms of reality, where our wildest dreams can be realized! If you’re looking for your reality-suspending romance fix, check out my most anticipated 2021 releases below.
1. Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert
Why not kick things off with a New York Times bestseller? You might already be familiar with Talia Hibbert’s Brown Sisters series, of which Act Your Age, Eve Brown is the third (and latest) installment. After an unfortunate set of events at a wedding, Hibbert’s purple-haired protagonist Eve, with her signature bashful chaos, is given an ultimatum by her parents — grow up and find herself, even if she’s not entirely sure how.
Cue the entrance of Jacob Wayne, an ambitious (and somewhat flighty) bed-and-breakfast owner on a mission to make waves in the hospitality industry. When Eve interviews for a chef role at Jacob’s B&B, the pair take an instant dislike to each other. But after Jacob is struck down in a car accident, he has no choice but to enlist Eve to hold down the fort…
If you’re a fan of the enemies-to-lovers trope, or just in the mood for a delightful, pacy romp, then run, don’t walk to your local bookshop! (And speaking of sexy romance series, you better check out Lindsay’s Lines in the Sand series — it’s perfect for the beach.)
2. Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney
I couldn’t resist adding one of my favorite authors to this list — and I know I’m not alone in my fangirling! Rooney’s highly anticipated third book is due in September of this year, and if it’s anything like her smash hit Normal People or her exhilarating debut Conversations With Friends, it’s sure to be a zinger.
I’m slightly bending the rules by including this book, as it isn’t strictly a romance, but I’m sure it’ll be worth it. This book follows four characters (Alice, Felix, Eileen and Simon) navigating hookups, romantic entanglements, relationships, and everything in between, as well as all the learning experiences that come with your young years and new environments.
Much to my chagrin, I’ve not been able to get my hands on a copy of the gorgeous proofs that have been doing the rounds on social media — but if the comments from others are anything to go by, it’s sure to be an emotive and poignant read.
3. Reputation by Lex Croucher
Attention, Bridgerton fans! Croucher’s debut novel Reputation blends comedy, period drama, and romance to produce this funny and sweet tale about doe-eyed debutante, Georgiana, as she moves to a new town to live with her less-than-stimulating aunt and uncle.
Luckily, an invitation to a party allows for a run-in with the mysterious and enigmatic Frances Campbell — who also happens to be fabulously wealthy and one of the best-connected people in town. Without spoiling too much, Reputation is all about exploring first loves, sex, and consent when reputation means everything and a woman’s lot was much different than what it is now. It's full of glitzy parties, handsome men on horseback, and a very Austenian sense of humor, and I personally can’t wait to read it.
4. Love in Color by Bolu Babalola
Love in Color is a bit different to the rest of this list. Rather than being one epic love-infused saga akin to The Notebook, it’s a collection of short stories that draw heavily on the magical folklore of West Africa, ancient tales from the Middle East, and classic Greek mythology.
The stories traverse continents and eras, telling stories of prestigious Nigerian goddesses longing for partners that truly see them, to businesswomen trying to replicate their boardroom confidence in their love lives. The organizing themes of the collection are Babalola’s vivid writing and the potency of true love. If my words aren’t enough, take it from the queen of romance herself, Meg Cabot, who described it as “beautifully written and full of joy.”
5. The Soulmate Equation by Christina Lauren
Jess Davis has all but retired from the dating scene. As a single mom and a data scientist, she’s juggling lots of responsibilities — and having been deserted by the father of her child, she’s not sure she can hack another heartbreak.
However, everything changes when she hears about GeneticAlly, a brand-new DNA-based matchmaking tool. Unlike the tumult and unpredictability of falling in love, the logic of numbers is something Jess can get behind. That is, until she’s paired with the company’s founder, the aloof and brooding Dr. Pena, who she’s already met on the industry circuit — and written off. But once she’s convinced to try dating him, for his branding (and so she can earn some money), she realizes there’s more to Dr. Pena than what meets the eye…
If this has taken your fancy, you’re in luck — it was released in May, so you don’t have to spend months waiting for your pre-order in the post!
It’s definitely a great year for romance, so have fun getting lost in these absorbing reads. If you're looking for even more escapism, I can guarantee that children's books are another source of great solace (in addition to romance). Happy reading!
Savannah Cordova is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. In her spare time, Savannah enjoys reading contemporary fiction and romance of all subgenres, as well as writing short stories.
*As an Amazon Affiliate, I get a small fee for any books purchased through the links below.