Book Review: “The Magnolia Story” by Chip & Joanna Gaines (with Mark Dagostino)

Before I begin this review I am going to acknowledge my obvious bias: I love Chip and Joanna and everything about them.

This was the first book I checked out with my town library card. As soon as I saw it I was so excited! After spending a copious amount of time watching Fixer Upper when I came home from college, I was endlessly curious about how they met, got their start flipping houses, and were chosen for a show. All of those questions are answered with grace, humility, and humor in this memoir.

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The book opens with the story of HGTV camera crews coming to their house to film them in order to pitch the show to the home improvement network. They then go back to each other’s beginnings and the story continues from there. While the story is mostly told by Joanna, Chip has plenty to say too, whether he’s telling his side of the story or inserting his witty comments into Joanna’s narrative. Don’t worry, you can always tell who’s talking!

The book also includes some pages of photos, from their first dates to flipping houses.

I’m not going to spoil anything, but their story is amazing. I was blown away and inspired by the way they live their life and their dedication to their faith. Chip especially gave me new insights on life. I have to return the book soon, but I am eventually going to buy myself a copy so that I can open it whenever I need encouragement in life. Reading this also cemented Waco, Texas as one of my bucket list destinations!

This book is essential for any Chip and Joanna fan!

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What to get on a coffee date (when caffeine bothers you)

I remember the days of my youth when I blissfully strolled into Starbucks and ordered my favorite drink: a chai tea latte. After roughly two years of this, at the turn of 2018 the Starbucks chai began to wreak havoc on my stomach. It wasn’t long before anything with caffeine in it–including green tea lattes and certain hot chocolates–resulted in very unpleasant consequences.

Being a lover of warm drinks and coffee shops themselves, I was crushed. But my caffeine-free quest has led me to discover that most coffee shops provide more options for people like myself than I initially thought.

Starbucks actually has a solid amount of options for warm, non-caffeinated drinks. As most coffee shops do, they have a pretty wide assortment of hot herbal teas (which can also be iced). Additionally, their steamers are perfect for a snowy or rainy day. Basically a steamer is steamed milk with flavored dolce pumped into it. My favorite is the cinnamon dolce–it’s warm and soothing with that slight spicy kick of cinnamon that makes me feel like I’m cozied up to a fire. Another option is the vanilla dolce steamer. The only way I can describe its taste is that of a warm milkshake. But not warm in a bad way; I mean it literally tastes like the warm version of a milkshake. Just try it.

The coffee chain also offers smoothies and pressed juices for warmer days, along with steamed apple juice.

On the topic of apple drinks, there’s a coffee shop near my campus that serves apple cider! So that’s also an option if you’re looking for something lighter than steamed milk.

But if you are caffeine-free crusader like myself, I would caution you not to abandon the idea of indulging in your favorite coffee and tea drinks too quickly. There are multiple coffee shops that I’ve tried where I can have chai tea without it bothering me. I can’t explain why sometimes it bothers me and sometimes it doesn’t. Keep trying and see what places work for you–it may just be luck of the draw!

Disclaimer: This is in no way sponsored by Starbucks, nor am I a nutritionist/dietician. I am only sharing my experiences and personal opinions. 

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Making moves

I write this from my old desk, but in my new bedroom overlooking my new yard and the new barn in that new yard.

No, I didn’t move to a farm; quite the opposite, in fact. The barn in question was used by the previous owners to house an antique car. It now houses a practice room for my dad’s band on the bottom floor and a practice dojo, also for my dad, on the top (though I hope to carve out a corner for myself somewhere in there. Yoga studio, perhaps?).

Moving was an emotional experience for me. I left the only house that I have known my whole life. It was a beautiful house with a sprawling front yard in a quiet neighborhood. It was the house I came back to at the end of every school day until after I graduated. While it made perfect sense for my family to downsize, it was hard for me to accept the change.

However, little by little this new house has started to feel like home. Although it’s hard to be farther away from my childhood friends, I’m closer to my cousins and grandparents, and not to mention civilization. My old house, while beautifully located, was at least thirty minutes away from everything and anything. Simply put, I lived in the woods. Now, I’m lucky to live on a fairly quiet street, but also to be five minutes from anything I could need: grocery, retail, restaurants, you name it. Thankfully we are still in the same state, and given my location it will be much easier to take some awesome day trips this summer. Plus, I was able to get a retail job that comes with a ten minute commute!

Naturally, one of the first things I did after settling into my new house for the summer was go and get my library card. My new town has a gorgeous library adjacent to a park. I know that I’m going to spend the majority of my summer there.

And in regard to the picture: the day I came home from college for the summer, we went out to dinner near our house. When we got out of the car, we saw a rainbow shining over iHop, and I don’t think that’s any kind of coincidence.

My 2018 “Book-It” List

So I did this last year and I think I had about seven books on the list.

How many did I get through?

One. But that’s ok.

This year I’m going to try it again, and I’m shrinking the list along with focusing a lot more on fiction. Without further ado, here is my 2018 book-it list!

1. Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

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I’ve had a very on-and-off liking to John Green’s books. The first time I read The Fault In Our Stars

2. The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

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The biggest reason I want to read this one is simply because I’ve seen sooo many people reading it and loving it. The reviews have been great and I just want to give it a try myself.

3. The Stranger – Barack Obama In the White House by Chuck Todd

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This was on my book-it list last year and I never even started it. I definitely want to get through this book this year, as it was a gift to all of us at the Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference from Chuck Todd himself. I’m a huge fan of the Obama family (Michelle is one of my queens role models) and getting an inside look on their administration from a fellow journalist will be super interesting.

4. How to Be A Bawse by Lilly Singh

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This girl is another one of my queens role models. Not only is she a super successful YouTuber, but she’s a boss philanthropist – she began the campaign #GirlLove and is a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. And, she is the epitome of positivity. So naturally, as one of her biggest fans, I want to read her first book.

There you have it! May the new year bring you happiness and blessings, and wish me luck on this pursuit!

 

What to get the writer in your life for Christmas

I know it’s a little close to Christmas, but I have a place in my heart for last-minute shoppers, as I typically am one.

In general, it is hard to buy gifts for other humans. And if you’re not a writer, it can be even more challenging to buy for someone who’s big into writing. Should I get them something they need? What projects are they working on that I could help with? To assist with that dilemma, I’ve got a quick gift guide for the writer in your life (whatever type of writer they may be). These gifts will almost always make a writer happy. And they have the stamp of approval from both myself and my Creative Writing major roommate.

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JOURNALS

I got these journals from my friend Marlee in a secret Santa my friends had before winter break. Journals are always a great gift for writers because obviously, we tear through notebooks and are always looking for new ones. Aren’t these adorable? Plus, you can go her route and take the next step by customizing them. If you look closely, Marlee wrote my name and/or little messages on the covers of each one. She also wrote a message to me on the first page of each journal. So, not only do I have three new notebooks to write in, but they are even more special to me because I know she put time and thought into making them my own.

BOOKS (and BOOKS ABOUT WRITING)

Books are also a no-brainer for writers. The best way to improve your writing is to read, after all! So figure out what sort of genre your recipient likes, ask a person at your local book store what the great new titles are, or take a peek at your person’s book shelf. But remember that the books you get your writer don’t have to be fictional. Writers will always enjoy a book about writing and how to improve their craft. I’ve been getting books about writing from my best friend’s mom for years, and I so appreciate them. Some of the titles that I have are Writing With Power by Peter Elbow, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler.

AN EXPERIENCE

Above all else, writers need something to write about. So rather than getting them material things, take them on an adventure. Go rock climbing or indoor skydiving. Go see a movie or play. Get in the car, take a bunch of random exits off the highway and see where you end up. First of all, it gets both of you out of the house. And in addition to maybe inspiring some new material, if you and your writer are as close as I’m assuming you are, they will be grateful to have spent the time with you.

I hope this quick guide is helpful. Have a happy holiday!

5 Things I’ve Learned in my First Semester of College

It’s so crazy to think that my first semester of college is already over. I can still clearly remember orientation week back in August. Heck, I can still remember high school graduation! That being said, college has been an incredible experience for me so far. I’m studying what I love and I have learned so much about my field…but above all, about myself. As I get ready to embark on a month-long winter break, here are the five biggest lessons I’ve learned about college so far.

1. You are the top priority

I was the overcommitted kid in high school. Constantly bouncing from activities to homework and back again, I never was able to give myself a true break. I was constantly working, and even when I wasn’t, the thought of what I had to do each day always loomed. Coming to college I vowed to change that, because by the end of senior year I was thoroughly worn out. This semester, I chose my activities carefully so that I wouldn’t overwhelm myself. I planned out each day so I knew when I was doing what. But, unlike in high school, work has not been my number one focus.

I’ve done my best to schedule time to myself and with my friends into every day. I like to meditate, go for a walk when the weather is nice, and journal. In terms of friends, we often eat lunch and dinner together. Or we spend some evenings together doing homework. Additionally, I’ve been trying very hard to eat healthfully and to go to the gym at least twice a week. But all that being said…

2. Balance is key (and no is a good word)

In a perfect world, we would sleep soundly every night and we’d always have enough energy to get everything done and see everyone we want to, with some to spare in order to stay up doing assignments. But that’s just not reality. While it’s important to satisfy the different areas of your life, you really have to listen to yourself. Some nights it’s ok to skip out on hanging with friends if you really need to focus on a project or just need to get to bed early.

We are raised to think otherwise, but saying no to doing something (or taking a break from a commitment to recharge) is not considered weak or selfish. In fact, it’s a sign of strength because you know what you need to do to perform your best.

3. Everyone is just doing their thing, so go ahead and do yours.

Let’s be real: high school was a judgy place. What you wore, who you spent your time with, and which activities you were a part of (not to mention what leadership roles you had) were evaluated and assessed by everyone else around you. College just isn’t like that, at least not here at Emerson. There aren’t any organizations that are “uncool.” There isn’t some unspoken dress code. Everyone’s here to pursue their dreams, whatever they may be, and that’s just something that’s kind of understood. So you have every freedom to be and do whatever you wish. And it’s pretty amazing.

4. People want each other to succeed.

Building off of that, everyone is doing their thing, but they also are always willing to help other people out. Coming from a pretty cut throat high school, this was a bit of a culture shock. But so far from what I’ve seen, it’s pretty true.

Whether a film maker needs extras in a movie or an organization needs help setting up an event, people are constantly reaching and having their calls enthusiastically answered. And the whole seniority thing…isn’t really a thing. I just finished a semester-long program called the Student Government Leadership Program. It was led by two faculty advisors and two awesome juniors. But even though they’re upperclassmen, we’re all friends now, and I know that I can go to them for whatever. In general, I’ve noticed that whenever I’m in a group, I don’t always know or remember what class people are in. That doesn’t matter as much as it did in high school, which is really cool. You’re just working together, and that’s all that matters.

5. Don’t be afraid to shoot for the moon.

Additionally, the reverse is true as well — it doesn’t matter if you’re a freshman. If you work hard and are generally a good person, people are going to respect you, no matter what year they are. Other than certain course requirements, there isn’t much of anything that is limited to you because you’re new here. So, don’t think that being a freshman means you shouldn’t dive right in. Go for it!

I knew I wanted to work for the radio station at some point in my time here, and when the news team needed one more person to write a story for them the first week, I decided to take the plunge. It was so worth it, and I produced three stories over the course of the semester. Getting involved and taking the jump your first year opens lots of opportunities – because I did SGLP, one of the student leaders invited me to be a part of the committee that plans an end-of-year recognition award ceremony!

College is a big and nerve-wracking change. But it’s also a very rewarding one. Coming to Emerson is by far the best life decision I’ve ever made, and I can’t wait to see where next semester takes me!

An Evening With Rupi Kaur

I like poetry, but I was never as enthralled with it as I could’ve been. Not as much as my room mate is.

She’s a creative writing major, which is something I deeply admire, as my writing expertise does not lie in being able to come up with entire worlds from nothing. Naturally, she brought a lot of books with her, including Rupi Kaur’s first installment Milk and Honey. 

I heard a lot about this book and had seen plenty of aesthetically pleasing Instagram photos involving its cover. But as a book of poetry isn’t the first reading material I would voluntarily pick up, the reasons behind the book’s attraction remained elusive to me.

Then one night, my curiosity peaked and I asked my room mate to borrow her copy. I read the whole thing in one sitting. At first, I didn’t enjoy all of it. A handful of the poems are so short I don’t really consider them poems, but blurbs of thought. I didn’t know why people freaked out over a couple of lines that probably took her two minutes to come up with. A lot of the poems were good. Some of them were very good. But on the whole I still could not understand the hype.

A couple weeks ago Rupi herself came to Harvard as part of the tour for her second book, The Sun and Her Flowers. My room mate invited me to come with her, and I said yes, wanting to give the poet a second chance in my mind (and to get a free copy of Her Flowers).

First of all, Rupi is an adorable and lovely human being. She is also a powerhouse onstage. She read through many selections from Her Flowers, and the entire time I was absolutely entranced.

The inflections in her voice gave tangible life to the words on the pages in my lap. They danced as she spoke, twirling above our heads, tickling our senses, making us holler and cry and cheer. This is what I had missed when I tried to read the poetry on my own. This is why I never truly connected to written poetry before – I needed to hear it outside of the pages.

Like its predecessor, The Sun and Her Flowers articulates tales of love, loss, womanhood, and the immigrant’s struggle. But this time, there is an overarching sense of hope and rising-from-the-ashes determination that was not present in Milk and Honey. This book, and that experience, left me with greater confidence in myself, as a woman and a general human being…along with a deep desire to hug my mom.