TOTY 27: Aiming for the Stars

You might think this title is cheesy, but I love it, and it’s my opinion that counts the most after all.

I turn 27 today, and I’m set to graduate with my Master’s Degree in December (I’ll walk the stage in May, 2020). This is a big year. And I have a lot of big goals I want to accomplish.

There’s a catchphrase I’ve been thinking about for well over a year, that I think sums up my ideas perfectly. It’s from Ashley Poston’s Once Upon A Con series, wherein there’s a mock-conglomerate version of Star Wars/Star Trek/Firefly/Stargate/etc… that’s called Starfield, and it’s tagline is “Look to the stars. Aim. Ignite.” I want that kind of bravery in my life, so I’m adopting it as my theme for the year. Anything is possible, you just have to work for it. So, logically, if anything is possible, why not aim for the stars?

Here are some of my long-term goal for the next year:

1 – Get a Full-Time Job in Publishing.

This summer and fall I will be relentless in the search for a full-time position somewhere in publishing. I know that I want to stay in Boston for as long as possible, and that I don’t want to be in sales or marketing, but I will take just about anything else that will pay me a living wage and give me health insurance. I don’t mean that to sound like I don’t care what job I have, it’s just that I love so many aspects of publishing that I would be pretty thrilled to work anywhere in the industry.

2 – Get in Shape.

I’m over being weak and tired all the time. After my friend’s wedding at the end of June it took me days to recover, and the leg I messed up two years ago is still a little stiff. I’m ready to be in shape again like I was when I ran track in high school. I’m determined to get into some actual strength training this year. To that end, I did my first workout in almost ten years this morning! Big shout-out to my baby sis for writing me up a workout schedule to ease me back in to the practice.

3 – Eat Well.

Now that I no longer have night classes, I’m determined to set up an actual meal schedule and cook 4-5 nights a week, eating out only on the weekends.

4 – Sleep Well.

Again, no more night classes means I can go to bed by 10pm and get up at 5:30 or 6am and actually start my day nice and slow, the way I would prefer to, with yoga, reading, and journaling.

5 – Finish a Manuscript.

I’m determined to finish at least one MS this year, ideally two. This time next year I don’t need to be in a place where I can begin submitting to agents and publishers, but I think it will be at least a great learning experience to finish writing a book.

6 – Buy a Car.

If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll know that a tree fell on my car 18 months ago, and not having one has made it increasingly harder and more expensive to visit my family and friends, not to mention get a job. I’m hoping to be able to afford a used car by this time next summer, maybe a Prius like the one I had (I fit an entire Ikea ‘Billy’ Bookshelf in there once! In a flat-pack, but still!), or something else that gets great gas mileage because my family is pretty spread out. Send me your car suggestions!

7 – Get a Cat.

While I love all of my friends’ pets, I dearly miss having a pet of my own, and I’d like to adopt a cat sometime next year once my financials stabilize. I do also love dogs, but as a new professional I don’t think I’ll be home enough to give it adequate exercise, nor would I necessarily be able to afford regular doggie daycare/dogwalker/petsitter.

8 – Pay Off $8,000.00 of My Student Loan Debt.

My goal is to be debt-free by 35, so I’m hoping to get a jump on it and pay down my principles and avoid as much interest as possible. $8,000 in a year would require me to pay $667 each month – which should be doable once I get a full-time job and probably give up most of my coffee and eating out regularly.

9 – Save for Travel.

My friends and I are planning to go to Ireland next summer, once we’ve all graduated. I’ve never been overseas, and my friends and I all have Irish heritage, so we’re desperate to visit. Flights from Boston aren’t bad either, it’s cheaper than flying to the West Coast. Aside from paying down my debt and saving for a car, this should be my only big-ticket item for the year.

.
.
.

Aiming for the stars, to me, means putting aside my fears and worries and attacking my goals with renewed fervor. It doesn’t mean ignoring that part of me that always says “but what if everything goes wrong? Will I be okay?” and instead acknowledging it quickly and moving on, knowing that I will be okay and charging ahead into the unknown with a sense of peace that only comes from being okay with failing and having to start over and try again and again until something sticks. It’s simultaneously my greatest strength and my greatest weakness. The worrying makes me a great Mom-friend, a wonderful people-manager, and good judge of character, but it also holds me back from a lot of adventures and opportunities because I need to sit and weigh out all the options. The goal is not to stop doing that – that would be out of character for me completely – but to do it faster and more efficiently, to be more decisive, to start setting better boundaries on my private time and become stronger in my arguments, and to be a little more relaxed and go-with-the-flow rather than always worried about where my next step needs to be. I’m excited to see what the future holds for me at 27.

If being 26 ended up being about getting back to a sense of balance and keeping my head above water, 27 will be about blowing everything out of that water. Leaving my retail job and taking a part-time gig at a local coffee shop was the best decision I could have made this winter. I’m finally almost caught up on sleep and am finding time to read and write for pleasure again. It’s life-changing. I’m no longer volunteering at the yoga studio, but I’m trying to actually attend more yoga classes or do yoga at home. I’m focused on my health and am eating better, though still not cooking as much as I would like. I’m shopping less and more intentionally, and I’m focused on saving for the important things. I’m so proud of what I’ve accomplished this year, and my hope is that this year will be just a drop in the ocean of awesome that my 27th year will bring. Here’s to my sixth year of blogging and sharing my favorite books and life-changing moments with you all. I can’t wait!

February Wrap-Up/March Goals 2019: Why Five Days Without Social Media Put Me Back On Track

February and March are always the most challenging months of the year for me. One is incredibly short, and the other features the start of Daylight Savings here in the USA, making my mornings pitch black in place of the sunshine I love so much. They are both dark and cold, with spring seemingly nowhere in sight. So I do a lot of planning and hibernating, and then once spring comes I usually regret not doing anything active to keep up my energy and fitness levels.

In February, I took a five-day break from social media.

I was knee-deep in blog posts to write, papers and homework to complete for graduate school, and cover letters and resumes to finish for job hunting. On top of that, I wasn’t sleeping well due to all the stress these things were adding to my life, and I wasn’t eating or hydrating well, much less working out on a regular basis. I was a wreck, and I was distracting myself by spending copious amounts of time on social media.

Now, I love social media. I have friends I talk to exclusively through my social media accounts, and I didn’t relish the idea of not talking to them for five days. Touching base with them is one of the highlights of my day, reassuring me that I’m not the only one going through a crazy time and that life is complicated for even the best of us. But I was online too much. Instead of sitting down and attacking my to-do list like I decided I would every morning, I was scrolling for an hour or more through everyone else’s updates: proof that they were living life, but also evidence that I was not.

So, I moved all of my social media apps to the back of my phone and vowed not to check my notifications for five days.

I turned on some music and rolled out my yoga mat. I had planned to go for a run, but I was so anxious that I bordered on nausea and didn’t want to risk it. The ‘yoga’ turned into an hour-long nap on my yoga mat as my brain ran itself into the ground, trying to find solutions to life’s many problems, a crash that I’ve probably been headed for since November. I felt better after that, but I spent the rest of the day taking it easy – I hydrated, I read a couple books, and I went over to the coffee shop with my roommate and put in some research time on a paper.

By day three, I had finished my paper for school and a blog post. I also had a spontaneous heart-to-heart with my professor after class one night. I prepared to head to Connecticut to visit my grandmother for the weekend, where we ended up cooking and watching Crazy Rich Asians, Hallmark movies, and The Great British Bake Off. I finished reading two books and slept in.

Of course, I also spent plenty of time trying not to pick up my phone or log into social media from my laptop. I missed my ‘internet friends’ if you will, but I also knew that I needed to concentrate on living and getting the work done.

On day four, I sat in a Starbucks, writing blog posts like this one, but also peaking through my old writing. I do that every so often because it reminds me that I’m creative. I so seldom have time to be truly creative that if I don’t remind myself it can be done, I’m likely to dig myself a new hole and drag myself back into a STEM field for stability. Some of my story ideas (mostly the ones based on vivid dreams I’ve had) are hilariously insane. And sometimes I come across a fully outlined romance novel that makes me grin from ear to ear. Just another reminder that I contain multitudes, and that not everything has to be great, or even good. Everything has value, even if that value is just to remind me what crap looks like.

Since my social media hiatus ended, I have felt much more grounded and calm. I feel like I’ve come back into myself, tapped into what my body needs (sleep and food and physical activity), and screwed my head back on where it belongs. I’ve been able to hang out with friends without feeling like I should be doing a thousand other things, and focus on the thousand other things one at a time without worrying about ditching my friendships. It’s like one long exhale.

February Goals:

Usually, I would have shared my goals at the beginning of the month, but I decided to play it close to the vest this time. Here’s what some of my goals were for February and how well I completed them:

Read 8 Books: I only ended up with 7, but I’ve already finished two in March, so I’m not too mad about it.
February Reads:
Slightly Married (Bedwyns, #1) – Mary Balogh
The Bridgertons: Happily Ever After (Bridgertons, #9) – Julia Quinn
The Serving Leader – Ken Jennings and John Stahl-Wert
Temptation Ridge (Virgin River, #6) – Robyn Carr
Paradise Valley (Virgin River, #7) – Robyn Carr
Nora Roberts Land (Dare Valley, #1) – Ava Miles
Ghosted – Rosie Walsh
January Reads:
Shelter Mountain (Virgin River, #2) – Robyn Carr
Watch Hollow (Watch Hollow, #1) – Gregory Funaro
Whispering Rock (Virgin River, #3) – Robyn Carr
A Virgin River Christmas (Virgin River #4) – Robyn Carr
Gift of the Shaper (Highglade, #1) – D.L. Jennings
Second Chance Pass (Virgin River, #5) – Robyn Carr
On the Way to the Wedding (Bridgertons, #8) – Julia Quinn

Write 8 Reviews: I wrote two, but I’ve written three more now that Spring break has started!

Apply to Full-Time Jobs and Internships: I made no progress in this department officially, but I did a lot of behind the scenes work, creating outlines for Cover Letters and basic resumes that I can more easily adapt for surprise opportunities that come my way.

Workout More: I worked out exactly 3 times this month, and one of those was my yoga-nap. I did manage to come up with some semblance of a workout schedule for the next few weeks, however, so hopefully, I won’t be so miserable when spring finally shows itself. The constant snow has really been putting a damper on my running plans.

Zero Dollar Days: These are an attempt to curb and/or make me hyperaware of my spending habits. It’s much harder than I expected it to be because living in the city requires that I buy train passes all the time and if I get caught out for too long I have to buy food or starve. I’ve been trying to stay closer to home to compensate, but then I get cabin fever.

Write One Chapter of My WIP: (Work in Progress) – I’m attempting to write one chapter a month this year in order to complete a manuscript draft by December of 2019. So far so good.

Work on Big Projects: I have a 15-page case study, a 10-minute group marketing presentation, and a 10-page paper/10-minute presentation on a publishing company of my choice due this semester. Working on them in chunks is the only way I’m going to survive them amidst the shorter weekly assignments. My partner and I met up last week to finish 80% of our presentation, and I have some sources and an extremely rough outline for my case study. The publishing presentation was due last week, and didn’t go as badly as I thought it would.

March Highlights:

This month I am enjoying spring break, which consists of working at my new part-time cafe job, chipping away at the last of my marketing presentation, hopefully completing 80% of my case study, and possibly visiting Salem for the first time! It’s hard to believe I’ve lived in Boston for almost two and a half years and haven’t made the trip up there yet.

My cafe job is so chill y’all – nothing like my old retail job. I’m loving it so far, but I’ve only just started. It’s giving me a small sense of security while I continue the hunt for jobs in publishing, and that security is the reason I started sleeping better last week. It’s also helping me readjust my sleep schedule. As I mentioned in January, retail work left me horribly sleep deprived and for the last few months I’ve barely been able to get out of bed before noon, much less go to bed before midnight. It’s been a vicious cycle, but having a low-stress commitment like this new gig is already helping straighten out my sleep schedule. I should be back to being a morning person by the end of March, just in time to be able to enjoy spring.

Below are some of my goals for March!

March Goals:

Write 10 Reviews: I’m trying to build up a bank of reviews to post from when I don’t finish the book I had planned on time to share on a given Tuesday. These are mostly stand-alone books or romance novels that I’ve read during my commutes around the city.

Read 10 Books: If I can read 6-8 books in the shortest month of the year, I should be able to read 10 in one of the longest.

Apply to Internships and Full-Time Jobs in Publishing: March is going to be pretty focused on applying to summer internships and any publishing jobs that come my way. T-9 months until graduation.

Workout More: To avoid the lethargy I’ve felt every spring for the last 8 years, I need to start a better workout routine now. A mix of running and yoga to start out, but eventually, I’d like to visit the gym on campus with some of my classmates. We have a group chat to keep us all accountable!

Write a Chapter of my WIP: Just like February, I need to complete one chapter of my WIP to stay on track to finish the manuscript by the end of the year.

Cook More Real Food: I’d like to practice my kitchen skills some more before I lose them for good. Less Kraft mac n’ cheese, more chicken pot pie. On Monday night I made chicken over rice with peas in a cream-of-chicken-soup sauce, and it was delicious!

Finish a Craft Project: I have a pile of unfinished projects in my room that just take up space, so I’d like to finish them and maybe make some room for a reading corner.

Have 15 Zero Dollar Days: I’m going to attempt not to spend money for half the month. This might be insane, but it’s worth a shot.

2019 Goals and Resolutions

It’s about time I brought back my monthly goals and updates posts and what better way to start than by looking back over the last six months and forward to the next six!

Looking Back

Since my birthday in July, I’ve tried to live healthy, wealthy, and wise. And it’s been difficult. My schedule at work was always very helter-skelter. When I wasn’t attempting to catch up on sleep, I was working furiously on my homework.
On paper, the scheduling should have worked out. Most full-time jobs are at least 40 hours/week, and 8 hours of class/week is not all that much. To many, five hours of sleep and plenty of coffee is just normal, or even better than normal. But for me it was hell. I am someone who probably shouldn’t be drinking coffee at all, and there is just no amount of coffee that will make me as functional as real sleep can.

Walking away was not an easy decision. I enjoyed my job most days, and I liked the majority of the people I worked with too. But then my physical health became a real question without a real answer. I was only hitting one of my three goals. There was nothing healthy or wise about my job’s effect on my life. As a graduate student, I needed (No. NEED) to be working internships and segueing full-time into my field of study: Publishing. So, I did the healthy and wise thing. I quit my job. Yes, I was terrified. It was a solid position that paid my rent. But I’m excited about some announcements I get to make soon. Don’t worry about me. These next six months are going to be amazing. Hard, yes, but amazing.

In the last six months, I’ve seen my brother marry the love of his life, I’ve taken two amazing classes for graduate school, moved in with two fantastic roommates, started playing Dungeons and Dragons again, started reading regularly again, and built a little home for myself in Boston.

Looking Forward

Aside from a new job with better hours, I have a lot of things coming up in 2019. I’m starting my last year of graduate school, and one of my best friends is tying the knot at the end of June. Siblings and cousins are graduating college in May, and I have a few trips lined up to some pretty cool places and events. Most of all, I want to take more chances and not let fear hold me back.

Goals for 2019

  • Spend Less.

I want to tighten my budget on most things so I can spend money where it matters. On experiences.

  • Make More.

I don’t necessarily mean money. I mean creatively. I want to write more. I want to edit more. I want to make more dinners at home. I want to crochet more and complete a few other crafts I have sitting around unfinished.

  • Take More Chances.

I want to go after more things that scare me; apply for things even when I feel like I don’t have a shot in the dark of getting them.

TOTY – 26: Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise

IMG_6060

 

Today is a few days after my 26th birthday, and I am sitting in a Starbucks tearing up as I read my old TOTY posts. These yearly summaries serve as such a huge reminder of everything I’ve accomplished, and just how much has changed over the past four years. This will be my fifth consecutive year of blogging, and probably my fifteenth year since I started messing around with the idea of having a blog and playing with Blogger, WordPress, and Wix. I’ve loved long-form writing for a long time, and it amazes me that I have the freedom to do something like this every day. Of course, it’s been a bit of a struggle keeping up here over the last year, but there are some wonderful reasons for that.

 

I am attending Emerson College for graduate school in publishing and writing. You all helped me get here by reading this blog and encouraging me to follow my dreams. It’s a lot of work, but I am adoring every second of it! I have met wonderful, interesting, inspiring women who I might even go so far as to call bosom friends. I have had some spectacular professors who have helped shape my image of what the publishing world is and is not, and have pushed me to trust my instincts and pursue my passions. I have learned an incredible amount, and that was only the first year! I still have three semesters left to soak up as much as I can, and I am beyond grateful to be able to be here now.

Last September I moved out of my Uncle and Aunt’s house and into a rented room. It’s not my first time in an apartment – I lived in two apartments during undergrad – but it is the first apartment I’ve had where I have my own room and the first place I’ve paid for completely on my own. To pay for it, I took an assistant supervisor position at a large retail store, where I work 40+ hours a week in addition to going to 8 hours of class and doing 6+ hours of homework. I haven’t had a lot of time to look for a corporate job or an internship, but I haven’t given up. There are a couple very cool opportunities on the horizon that I am aiming for!

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while now, you know that school + work = not enough things to keep me motivated. This has led to me sleeping a lot, which has been necessary with my crazy work schedule, but not productive or overall healthy for my life. I’m hoping to hone my daily schedule this year to make room for what matters most – family, health, and writing.

 

Speaking of health, mine has been a roller coaster this year. Last June I started Accutane for my acne, and after almost nine months had clear skin for the first time in almost eight years. I had forgotten how good my skin looked when it was clear, and while the acne had never really hurt my image of myself, having clear skin definitely improved my confidence. It’s almost like I didn’t realize how awesome of a woman I had grown into until the acne cleared up. Like wiping off the grime of adolescence to see clearly the woman growing underneath. My acne didn’t make me feel bad, but it did keep me trapped in that ‘not a girl, not yet a woman’ stage of life that I was craving an escape from.

On my first day of work at my retail job in October, I sprained my foot at the bottom of my apartment stairs and ended up at the hospital for myself for the first time since I was born. I was bedridden for a week, had crutches for a month after that, and wasn’t allowed to run or do strenuous activities for six months after that.

I got off my crutches just in time for my first Black Friday in retail, and all of the new germs I was around 40 hours a week finally caught up with me. Thankfully, my store had a very quiet Black Friday, because the cold I caught robbed me of my voice for a week and it would have been a nightmare. I am beyond thankful for small miracles.

My six months without exercise ended just about the same time I was finally in the clear post-Accutane. My foot still aches occasionally, and my alcohol tolerance is crap because I wasn’t allowed to drink on the Accutane. It also took longer to finish the Accutane (about nine months vs six) because I had to stop taking it while I was on painkillers for my foot. Organs are precious, and I didn’t want to put mine at risk by pumping them full of chemicals.

 

Cut to about a month ago, when I traveled to Boise, Idaho to visit one of my best friends in the whole world, Jordan. This girl was my radio show co-host in college and has since become part of my family (seriously, we bring her on family-only trips because she blends in as one of us despite being the only redhead). She flew up to Boston last September to help me move into my apartment, and I cried when she moved across the country in January. I flew out there to spend the week between our birthdays together, and it was simply wonderful.

We spent most of the week in various pools, waterparks, and rivers because it was topping 100 degrees and we were super pale. For once, we were on our sunscreen game and avoided getting sunburn. I have my first tan in three years. I spent quiet mornings on her balcony reading and listening to podcasts (I’ll share my favorites soon!), and we explored the city with her local friends (who are just lovely and I miss them already!) late into the evening because the sun doesn’t set until 10:30pm in the treasure valley. We rounded off the week with my first hike since moving to Boston, climbing Table Rock  (follow the link for trail map!), which is 900ft above Boise’s already 2,600 ft elevation. My poor body is used to Boston’s whopping >50ft above sea level, and reaching the top of Table Rock (3,500 ft) was a struggle. It was worth it for the accomplishment and the views of the city and valley, ringed in rolling mountains, but oh boy did I feel it the next day.

 

IMG_5866

 

The cold I caught in Idaho was nearly but not quite gone when I flew back east a few days later, and I ended up with an ear infection and just two weeks remaining on my parent’s health insurance. Cue more little miracles. I tried to take it slow, which is why this post didn’t go up on my birthday like it usually does.

Just as I was recovering from the ear infection, I went home for my soon-to-be sister-in-law’s bridal shower and wasn’t feeling too well. After yet another last-minute doctor’s appointment, I found out I also had strep, so now I’m on medication for that as well. I cannot tell you how thankful I am that all of this happened while I was on my parent’s health plan. To be fair though (in the long list of small miracles in my life) I was able to sign up for my graduate school’s student health care plan until I graduate. God is so, so good y’all.

 

I’m back from vacation and back at work, which right now is mostly training some new assistant supervisors, but I am trying to appreciate the methodicalness of it all as I prepare for my second year of graduate school to begin. Before classes start up again, I will be moving into a new apartment that includes a real kitchen and living room, and yet somehow costs less than what I am currently paying. How I found it beats me. (again, small miracles!)

I’ll be living with a few of my classmates, and I am beyond excited to be A – living with friends rather than strangers, and B – living with these friends who I can be completely myself with, whether that’s loud, quiet, happy, or sad. I think it is one of life’s biggest gifts to live somewhere you can relax and unwind and be your authentic self without having to monitor what you do or say or worry about offending someone just by living your life. These girls inspire me to do my best, but they also encourage me to take time to process life and be my true introverted self. I am so blessed to have them.

 

Starting my second year/third semester of graduate school means I finally know what’s coming and can build a schedule around it. I know my general work schedule, and my class schedule, so I can plan writing time around them, and even *gasp* make time for a bit of working out.

In June of this year, my co-worker/friend Patricia and I signed up for a month of Yoga classes, and I fell in love with it. Two weeks ago I met with one of the studio managers where we attend classes and signed up for their Seva program. I’ll be volunteering there a few hours a week to help keep the studio running smoothly! This particular program includes free access to a few classes in exchange for my volunteering, which is just beyond amazing, but I would probably do the program even without that carrot. I always have a craving to help ‘mother’ people and organizations, and I so rarely have the opportunity to feed that craving.

Yoga has been even more life-changing than I imagined. It is simultaneously harder and easier than I thought it would be, but the inner peace that I find in the practise is another one of those small miracles I’ve been experiencing all year.

 

This brings our total of ‘things Amanda does’ to three. Why stop there?

My theme for this year is Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise like the Benjamin Franklin quote, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” I’ve had that quote taped to my childhood bedroom wall for years, but I noticed it for the first time in forever last time I was at my parents’ house. It’s been floating through my subconscious ever since, and it finally occurred to me last month that that’s what I’ve been searching for. During my vacation, I took some time to sit with my thoughts and see what bubbled to the surface, and I came up with a few truths about myself I haven’t been acknowledging lately.

I am a morning person. My days are best when I get up before 7am and go to bed around 10pm.

I thrive on having too much to do because it forces my brain into organization mode. I was at peak working ability when I was working 4-5 positions and attending undergraduate classes my senior year, and again when I had to schedule my writing time around my cousin’s nap schedule as a nanny. I thrive on slim-to-no time, and I am very good when I am down to the wire. When I don’t have enough to do I procrastinate, and things fall to the wayside and get forgotten easily.

I need to mother. Whether it’s a person or a company, I need to get into the nitty-gritty of what’s going on and fix it, whether physically or through advice. I’ve had a ton of people tell me over the last year that I give great advice, so I guess it’s about time I embrace the title of advice giver and own up to my need to fix things. I will continue to endeavor not to smother people, but also to help them be their best selves through self-care and organization.

 

These revelations led me to create a list of things I want to accomplish this year, each of which falls under healthy, wealthy, or wise.

Under the Healthy category, we have the following tasks:

#1 – Do Yoga Every Day.
I’ve been following Yogi Rachel Brathen for… Well, probably longer than this blog has existed, to be completely transparent, and I’ve always been fascinated by the practice of yoga. My mother has the cold, hard proof in the form of a VHS copy of Yoga for Dummies from probably 2002 that I used to use! It’s taken me sixteen long years, but I’ve finally caught the yoga bug and I don’t plan on letting go of it any time soon.

#2 – Get Eight Hours of Sleep Each Night.
Sleep is the most important thing you can do for yourself. My current job has my sleep schedule all over the place. Most recently in June, there was a fortnight where I fell asleep between 2am and 5am on any given day. It was trippy. As a morning person, working late night hours isn’t good for my creative side or my health, but until I find something 9-5, my sleep schedule is something I need to be proactive about and focused on if I want to avoid getting sick again.

#3 – Cook Three Nights a Week.
The new apartment I am moving into in September has a full kitchen, so I’ll actually have space to spread out and make a full meal – with side dishes – to fix my diet, which has been minor meal prepping and a lot of sandwiches over the last year. If I get a more normal job, I’ll be home for dinner most nights and can actually take advantage of the new kitchen!

 

For Wealthy, I came up with:

#4 – Shop Small.
I want to only shop in used and vintage clothing stores this year. Not only will this help confine my spending, but used and discount clothing hunting is a skill I think everyone should perfect at some point in their lives. By hunting for clothes that come from across multiple years, I think I’ll finally start to build a personal style rather than jumping on whatever the current trend is. I’m excited to see where this resolution takes me.

I also want to only shop indie and used bookstores this year. This is a goal every year but at some point, I end up in Barnes & Noble or Books-A-Million spending money like water. Canceling my B&N membership card didn’t help, I just pay full price now. To combat my horrible book-buying habit, I am going to attempt to go on a 98% book ban this year. Meaning I will do everything in my power not to buy or acquire any new books and to solely use my library card. Unless there is something I am dying to the read and none of the local libraries will stock it for me.

#5 – Save Money.
As I continue my Master’s program, I can feel my loan payments creeping up on me, just waiting for graduation to pounce. I also have a million other things I want to be able to do over the next few years – weddings to attend, overseas trips I want to take, writing staycations, book conventions, etc. To combat all of this, I am going to attempt to curb my general spending (and my eat-out budget) so that I can save at least $400 each month.
– $100 for my emergency fund
– $100 for my loan fund
– $100 for my weddings fund
– $100 for my travel fund.
If this means I have to cut even my book budget and only get books from the library, I will suck it up. It’ll pay off in the end, right? The only things that make you richer by spending money are books and travel, so I’m just trading one for the other. Library cards let me have my cake and eat it too.

#6 – Pursue Passions.
This year I want to focus on what matters most. In the job sense, that means being aggressive and going after those competitive internships and positions that I’m afraid I won’t qualify for. I need to have courage like the Gryffindor I am and charge at my fears head on if I want to overcome them. I can’t just sit around and wait for fate to do its thing when I have the power to help it along in the direction I want so desperately to go. I can do this by grabbing every freelance opportunity I see and giving it 100%, allowing it to build up my writing resume for more permanent positions. This will also up my ‘things Amanda does’ count, which will help me be more productive overall.

 

And finally, for the Wise category:

#7 – Write more.
It probably won’t be every day, because I’ve never been able to keep that promise, but I want to write for myself more regularly than I do now. Blog posts, book reviews, short stories off the top of my head, work towards completing one of the numerous longer-form things I have in the works – I really want to have something I can show people and be able to say “Hey look what I can do!” or “Here’s how I write, take a look!”. I spend so much of my imagination in my head that it never makes it onto the page, and people only know I write at all when they read this site or ask me about my writing and I go down a rabbit hole of explaining my characters and their motivations.

I really want to attempt writing short stories this year. I have a habit of starting and not finishing novels, and I think it will be an interesting exercise in editing myself to try a short-form story. I need to learn how to describe things succinctly, instead of letting the world building run off with my plot. I feel like it’s time to start leaving my mark on the world, and this is how I want to start doing it.

#8 – Become more business literate.
Through podcasts, workshops, webinars, and online classes, I want to educate myself about how to run an actual business, so that I can manage my freelancing and my soon-to-be crushing debt in the best ways I can. This includes learning about advertising and marketing, finance, and SEO.

#9 – Pursue Peace, Grace, and Simplicity.
Through it all, I want to focus on cultivating grace, not perfection. I want and need to organize my life in little ways to make a big impact. I’m taking Emily Ley’s advice and running with it. After reading her book Grace, Not Perfection last year, I am inspired to read her A Simplified Life, Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, and Shauna Niequist’s Present Over Perfect. All three promise to be inspiring.

 

This year, I want to learn to have patience and grace with myself and others. I want to focus less on what the world thinks of me and more on what I could be doing for the world while taking the best care of myself. I want to reach for the stars but in order to get there, I need to build a solid catapult, or a ladder, or a tower. Clearly, I am not an engineer, but you get it. I can’t get anywhere without a solid foundation, and that foundation has to be me.

 

Here’s to my fifth year of blogging. I am so looking forward to all of the cool things I will accomplish and experience this year, and I hope you will join me on this journey.

 

 

Sincerely,

Amanda

 

 

Previous Theme Of The Year (TOTY) Posts:
TOTY – 22: Why Soul Searching is Not my Theme of the Year
TOTY – 23: Wellness and Becoming my Best Self
TOTY – 24: Me Doing Me
TOTY – 25: Responsibility

 

 

Baseball Season Has Arrived!

maxresdefault

 

You guys. I am SO excited to be going to my third major league baseball game ever.

My first game was at the old Yankee stadium when I was maybe six years old, wayyy back in 1998. It was just after my birthday, the middle of an exceptionally hot July, and I was just learning to read. Not that it mattered. I already knew most of the important names: Andy Pettitte, David Cone, David Wells, Daryl Strawberry, Paul O’Neill, Tino Martinez, Bernie Williams, Joe Girardi, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Mariano Rivera, and this hot shot shortstop from my mom’s hometown – Derek Jeter.
My dad’s job sponsored a family bus trip into the city for the game and my father, elder brother, and I attended. Our seats were in the blazing sun and we eventually moved to shady seats that someone had never shown up to claim. I barely noticed. I was too busy watching baseball.
I’ve spent years watching my Yankees on television, and going to most every baseball game that I can get tickets to. Now my 1998 team only plays in the Old Timers Game, and I watch with the same ferocity that I watch the World Series. But I’ve never made it to another Yankee game.

My second game was a Red Sox vs. Orioles game last year that my uncle got free tickets to at a trade show. My uncle, aunt, and baby cousin left early, but I stayed until the very end. I didn’t care that I knew absolutely no one there, much less anyone in the entire city.  And I only cared a little bit that it was a Red Sox game and not a Yankee game. I even cheered for the Red Sox. They won. And the Orioles moved down to the #2 spot, letting my Yankees slide into the #1. 😉

This time around, I bought my own ticket, and I’m taking myself to the ballgame. I don’t even care that it will probably downpour all day and the game will drag on due to rain delays. I’ll be in one of my favorite cities, watching my New York Yankees take on their biggest rivals – my new home team – The Boston Red Sox. And I already know all the important names. ⚾️

 

Vocation Awareness Week – A Reflection on Callings and Life

 

 

Vocation-Awareness-Week-Final.jpg
Photo Circa October 2011

 

 

Yesterday in church, a visiting priest spoke to us about how this week is Vocation Awareness Week. It was perfect timing because I’ve been questioning everything lately.

Grad school is going well, but whether it’s because I’m only taking two classes a semester, or because a lot of the publishing material is the same as what I covered studying broadcasting, public relations, and general communications during my days as an undergraduate, I realized last week that I am profoundly bored. I know, I’m as horrified at the prospect as you are. Mostly, I can’t figure out what, aside from teacher insight, I’m getting out of the classes that I couldn’t get on my own. Graduate school isn’t worth it just for the degree and the name of the school on my resume.

When I was first earning my bachelor’s degree, I was convinced that the right school on my resume was my ticket to the Best Job Ever. After transferring to a smaller school and getting a better education there, I realized how ridiculous that idea was. It’s never been about the school name, it’s always been about what I can learn from the program. That’s why I chose Emerson College. It is supposed to be the best graduate publishing program in the country, taught by current professionals, and my ticket into the industry through networking.

I am enjoying my copyediting class, but that’s because the teacher makes it interesting, and the textbooks are a little dry for me to work through on my own. We also have to take overview classes in book, e-book, and magazine publishing. I was assigned to take magazine publishing this semester, and it is almost exactly the same as three different classes I had to take for my bachelor’s. The teacher is lovely, but the material is nothing new. We also have to do interviews with magazine professionals for this class, and for all of my googling/emailing/twittering/calling, I have yet to get a response from anyone I have reached out to. And the lack of interviews, even though I don’t have control over that, actually affects my grades, which is just terrible and makes me incredibly sad.

So, what am I getting out of graduate school? The truth is, I don’t know. My apartment lease is good through August, so I am going to keep at it for another semester and try to take more classes in book publishing specifically, but if it doesn’t get any more interesting then I don’t see the point in sinking myself into more student debt if I don’t need to.

I spoke to an associate editor back in September at the Boston Teen Author Fest, and while she has a master’s in publishing, she said that if she could go back and do it over, she wouldn’t. She would apply directly to internships instead and get involved in the industry that way. Because you can get as educated as you want, but at the end of the day, the industry is small and the only way in is to know people who will want to hire you. Every day that I’m bored with my classes I feel her advice more strongly.

 

If I choose not to stick with graduate school, the next question becomes, of course, whether I want to try for internships here in Boston, or in New York City? My parents live about 90-minutes from NYC, so moving back in with them would make it possible for me to work a part-time job locally and go into the city a couple days a week for an internship.

On the other hand, I love Boston. I feel at home here, and I rarely feel at home 5+ hours away from my parents. Maybe it’s because I have family nearby if I need them? My aunt, uncle, and cousin live here, and my great aunt and a slew of second cousins live just north of the city.

In 2015, I traveled to Portland, Oregon, for a public relations conference and fell in love with the city. My favorite parts were the lack of nightlife and the abundance of green space. It felt like coming home, except it was on the other side of the country. That’s what it felt like moving to Boston. There are parks everywhere here, and New England is almost as friendly as the Pacific Northwest. I have a profound desire to live within walking distance of bookstores, coffee shops, and museums, and I have that here in addition to a church I really like. This city is huge, but at the same time, it is incredibly small. There is a reason the Boston Marathon starts in another town. The entirety of Boston proper is maybe three miles by five miles, and the extended Boston Area is about ten miles by twelve miles. There is always something going on, and that drives my curiosity and my imagination constantly to new heights.

Moving back home requires me to give up all of the coffee shops, bookstores, museums, and my church, and moving near New York City would require me to give up all of my parks and outdoor space as well as my church community. I am at an impossible crossroads.

 

When the priest spoke about vocations yesterday, a couple things clicked in my mind. I started thinking about my life as it stands now, what I can and cannot live without, and what I can see myself doing for the rest of my life.

I’ve never really wanted to be a nun. In fact, until the spring of 2016, the only thing I definitely wanted out of my life was motherhood. I wanted to raise babies with the love of my life, teach them how to survive in this crazy world, and watch them fly. Admittedly, I went to college because I needed to do something and get a job to pay the bills until the day I got married and had babies and could be a stay-at-home mom, and also to have something to go back to after my babies were grown. But I didn’t love anything like I loved the idea of motherhood, and I think that is one of the primary reasons why I floundered so much during college. By the time I transferred schools at the end of 2012, I was completely lost and unsure if I would ever get married, let alone date, and I threw myself into studying communications at my new school in part to distract myself. I enjoyed communications. It was logical, it was scientific, but it was also at the root of what I loved as a child: creation and creativity. Studying communications brought back my love of writing, which had been missing since I started high school.

I graduated with my bachelor’s in Communication Studies, and then I started looking for a job. I quickly realized that none of the companies that could pay me any livable salary had ethics that I could live with or worked with brands that I could get excited about. It was a sad day when I realized I was back to square one. No potential jobs, no potential relationships, and a fat lot of nothing to show for the last five years of my life. I was lost again. I job searched for six months while helping to plan two weddings, and then I took a retail job. I enjoyed the job and wedding planning, but they didn’t change my life or give me direction. After the weddings, I moved to Boston and became a nanny for my baby cousin. I loved that, too, but it also opened my eyes to the trials that would come with motherhood. For one, you can’t turn it off, and I don’t think I ever really thought about that before. I wasn’t even his mother and the worry was almost crippling. The good days were amazing, but the hard days were harder and more exhausting than anything I have ever experienced. It showed me that I’m not quite ready for motherhood; and that finally allowed my heart to consider other options.

Options. There were many of them at the time. I could move home and get another retail job and exist listlessly while I saved up money for an apartment and then some unfocused future doing who knows what. I could get a job in Boston and stay here, doing the same thing with less of a support network. Or, I could consider graduate school in something.

As a child, I wanted to be in school forever. I wanted to possess all of the knowledge of the universe. I really couldn’t blame Eve for trying that apple, because knowledge is intoxicating. While getting my bachelor’s degree, I decided that I was firmly against going to graduate school. I didn’t want to be a teacher, and if I wanted to study history there were a thousand ways to do that without getting a degree of some kind.

Then I discovered publishing through a YouTube video. Ironically, this is similar to the way I discovered public relations, except that that was through Twitter. After a year of praying over it and processing the idea, I applied, thinking I would have to apply for multiple years before I got in. I was accepted on the first try, and now I’m in the thick of it, but I’m still questioning.

Discovering publishing didn’t suddenly make me want to be a writer or an editor. I’ve always loved those things, but it never occurred to me that I could make a career out of it. When I found publishing, I thought a master’s degree was my only way into the industry. Since getting accepted in March, I have learned so much about the ways into the industry, but the doors themselves are still very much closed to me. I hope to crack them open next semester when I take my book publishing classes, but it is becoming more and more clear to me that opening these doors isn’t something anyone can do for me, but something I have to do for myself, in my own way, and with my own timing.

 

All of this questioning started a couple weeks ago when I finally landed a new job. I’m working in retail in what I guess could be described as head cashier position at a superstore that I won’t name for security reasons. My first day was interesting enough to keep me engaged, and then the morning of my second day I sprained my foot/ankle. After nearly two weeks, I returned to work a week ago for my second day on the job, and everything has been hunky-dory since then. I’ll never know if it’s because I’m on crutches or not, but everyone has been especially kind and calm when I ask questions, and so many people have come up to me and introduced themselves that after only six days on the job I can now tell you the basic hierarchy of the store and who is in charge of which departments, as well as point out the store manager, the HR manager, and the regional manager upon request. It’s amazing to me how quickly the acclimation process is going, and just how much I am enjoying it. I get excited to go to work, even though it means being on my feet/crutches for about eight hours and dealing with a handful of frustrating customers each day. I love serving people, especially when I can serve not only the customers but also my fellow employees in some sort of leadership position.

 

So, in the middle of yesterday’s mass, I realized that motherhood wasn’t my only calling. I can’t live without books. The writing, editing, and creation of them as well as the consumption of them. I adore working with people, whether in a customer service or leadership capacity. I also have a dream of being a Girl Scout Leader someday. I was an assistant leader in middle and high school, and it’s life-changing to help young people discover their strengths and the confidence to pursue their dreams. I want all of these things, and where I live won’t change them. These are my vocations.

September Update & Goals Check-In

Update - 9 - September

This post is going up a little late this month. Mostly because I was completely unmotivated to write it until today, but also because I have kind of a lot going on at the moment.

I’ve moved! I’m still settling into my new home, but I promise to share pictures of my space once my bed arrives. Until then I’m sleeping on an air mattress, which is not ideal, but still better than I thought it would be.

Grad school is going well so far! I’m only two weeks in, but I’m loving my classes and the professors are great. There aren’t a huge number of opportunities to socialize, but I’m working on that. I’ve signed up to be a fiction reader for the graduate-student-run literary journal on campus, Redivider, and I’m hoping to get some opportunities to gain more copyediting experience as well.

There has been nothing but radio silence on the actual paying job front. I don’t understand why companies can’t at the very least have an automatic e-mail sent to anyone they throw into the ‘no’ pile. No answer is just plain rude. Even places that I’ve been able to go into in person and talk to a manager about hiring opportunities just redirect me to online applications that are then met with silence. Thank goodness it’s autumn again. Most retail places are looking to hire for the holidays now, so I should be able to get a position at someplace like Target or Macy’s. I’m sending out those applications today or Sunday.

Right before my nannying job ended, I wrote a cool post about the top 10 board books I read as a nanny. Did your childhood favorite make the list?

Tomorrow, I am attending Boston Teen Author Festival (BTAF) at the Cambridge Public Library and Cambridge Rindge and Latin School! Over 40 YA authors will be there, and while I’m pretty sure I haven’t read any of their books, I can’t wait to learn more about their work and get excited to read it! Best of all, the event is totally free!! I am most excited to meet Lindsay Cummings and Sasha Alsberg. Lindsay and Sasha have written a space opera called Zenith that is due out in January, and I preordered it months ago. Sasha is also one of the reasons I am where I am today. If I had never watched her videos about Emerson and their publishing program, I wouldn’t have looked into graduate school here, and I would probably still be living in New Jersey and trying to get a job in Public Relations while I attempted to write my book and actually working in retail. Instead, I’m chasing my dreams in a city I adore. So thank you, Sasha, and welcome back to Boston! Lindsay is also one of the reasons The Alchemists of Loom by Elise Kova was on my TBR that day I walked into B&N to find Elise doing a signing. She was so nice and gave some really amazing advice about writing and publishing that further convinced me that working in publishing is what I want to do with my life. So thank you, Lindsay, for sort-of introducing me to Elise. Once I get a job I can’t wait to pick up the sequel in the Loom saga, The Dragons of Nova! I was thrilled to participate in the cover reveal for this book!

Next week I’m seeing Patti Smith at an event for Harvard Bookstore, and I am so so excited. After reading her book M Train this summer (twice!) I am psyched to hear her speak and to pick up a copy of her new book, Devotion, which is supposedly about writing. You might only know her for her Springsteen-co-written hit “Because the Night”, or because of her marriage to Fred Sonic Smith, but believe me, her writing is something downright magical.

When I’m not working on homework, filling out job applications, or making multiple trips to the store to buy apartment necessities, I’ve been reading voraciously and re-reading my WIP. It’s amazing how many things I didn’t need during undergrad that I need now (like a teakettle). I haven’t read my manuscript in its entirety since I wrote it last November. Reading it again is like greeting an old friend. It’s a relief to know that I still love it and that the story is still solidly in my head as well as my heart.

I know I’ve been pretty terrible so far with the Friday Files posts, but I think they’ll pick up soon. I just needed to take a beat and figure out how to incorporate them into my life. Expect one on time management next week that should help explain my process. In the meantime, if you haven’t read my first Friday Files post, check it out here. It’s all about building a grown-up wardrobe without breaking the bank.

That’s what’s going on with me this month. Let’s check and see how I did on my goals in August.

August Goals:

Walk over 40 miles: My total for August was 43.45!

Read 8 Books:
River Secrets
Someone to Hold
Forest Born
The Diviners
Carry On
Fall of a Kingdom
A Man Called Ove
The Wind-up Bird Chronicle

What I’ve actually read: A lot of romances.
River Secrets
A Knight to Remember
Getting Out of Hand
Forest Born
Knocking Boots
The Princess Saves Herself in This One
Fahrenheit 451
The Diviners

Review 7 Books:
River Secrets
Forest Born
Someone to Love (Review available in 2018)
Carry On
Fall of a Kingdom
Getting Rid of Bradley
The Wind-up Bird Chronicle

The Diviners (Review Available in 2018)

Secure an Apartment: CHECK!!

Secure a Job: Search in progress.

 

September Goals:

Walk over 50 Miles: As of yesterday, I’ve passed the 50-mile mark!

Read 5 Books:
Fall of a Kingdom
Over Sea, Under Stone
Rise of a Hero
Voyager
The Dark is Rising

What I’ve actually read:
Fall of a Kingdom
Someone to Hold

In Other Lands
Over Sea, Under Stone

Review 6 Books:
Fall of a Kingdom
Someone to Hold (Review Available in 2018)
In Other Lands
Over Sea, Under Stone
Rise of a Hero
Fahrenheit 451

 

Get a job: Apparently, I am not the only graduate student struggling with this. Thankfully the holiday season is fast approaching and all of the retail stores are hiring. Who would have thought that two years out of college I would still be struggling to find a job? Not me. I’m also looking into how I can work as a virtual assistant or freelance copyeditor (once my copyediting class is over). I think this whole financial situation will get a lot easier if I can learn to diversify my income and pull from many places rather than one.

 

How are you doing on your goals? Are you still struggling to find a job? Do you have any advice about diversifying your income? Let me know in the comments, or shoot me an email at Amanda@highlightsandhotchocolate.com.

Until next time,

Amanda