That Time I Slept With The Windows Open

Thursday, April 24, 2014

It's been a while since I've written for myself, possibly even as long as it had been since I'd slept with the windows open up until a couple of days ago.
So I figured if the weather was warming up, I would too.

I have been the luckiest person during the past month. Getting accepted into my dream study abroad program in Paris, passing all my finals, traveling to Berlin and back (safely, I might add), juggling work and my social life, finally finding the perfect jeans (thank you, Gap), some kind soul returning my lost train U-Pass, being able to see my parents, spending the Easter holiday with my best friend, and kicking off spring in good health!

I know I don't stop to think about how much I have going for me at every moment, but I definitely try to put it into perspective once a day. There is little that is more important to me about my education than keeping my humility through it all. And when I read numerous articles on globalization and the conditions of other countries and my own country's past, it tends to cynicize me to a point of no return. So my biggest challenge to myself lately has been reflection - and maybe this is going along with my goal of bringing meditation into my world - on things that I am learning and how I will use them for good. Whether it is the Peace Corps or ESL or even a 9-to-5 job that I'll have after college, I won't accept anything less than something that will allow me to lend my knowledge to others.

It amazes me every day how far we've all come in the last years. My brother is married, my cousin just had a child, my best friends from home are almost graduated, and I'm living in a big city with the greatest roommates a girl could ask for.
But what's more is that it pushes me to go further. A year and a half ago, I wouldn't have wanted anyone to read my writing - I was so conscious of what people might think and if they would confront me. Now, I love pressing that "share" button so people can take what is running through my head and use it in their own way. I hope that they confront me because the excitement of hearing someone's raw opinion is what I crave.

And I love thinking of what I'll say about my former self when another year and a half has passed...even if I will be an almost-graduate then - yikes!

I guess what I'm getting at is that through the materialistic, chronological, stereotypical content I post on here, there should always be the occasional burst of fresh air. And perhaps I just needed a literal one to remind me that I've been slacking in that department.


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Be My Guest: Author Emily Belden

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

I am very excited to introduce a new series to my blog, Be My Guest, where I post short interviews with various professionals that I think you all will enjoy/need to know about!

To christen this series is Emily Belden, author of the book Eightysixed, a novel about the crazy adventures of a twenty-something Chicagoan who stumbles through the dating game like a pro.

I had the fantastic opportunity to read Emily's book, which I admittedly chose to read over homework more than once (shh!), and ask her a few questions about how it all came together. Take a look at her answers below and be sure to check out the book - available in paperback, on your Kindle or Nook!

ELJ: I have to start with a cliche question; what made you decide to write Eightysixed? Was it written from the first to the last page or did you write bits here and there before piecing it together?

EB: Eightysixed existed long before it was ever Eightysixed. It was my "Dear Diary" on steroids; the only thing I could do to feel better after suffering a massive heartbreak. I felt like I couldn't talk to anyone about it, so I kept it between me and my laptop. I wrote it bit by bit and it eventually turned into a chronicle of what it's like to be a 20-something struggling with wanting it all and having no clue. At some point, I just said to myself, "This could be a book!" So I made it one...

ELJ: A lot of writers struggle to find their voice, yet you pull off the witty, relatable narrative flawlessly. What gives? 

EB: The trick is to be nobody but yourself when you write. Ditch the pen-names, alter egos, and forget anything anyone has ever told you about how to write. Get your laptop out, pour a glass of wine, and let it rip. You'll be surprised at how good "honesty" and "vulnerability" sound on paper.

ELJ: The story follows your love life from college to post-grad through all the lessons you learned. What is your biggest piece of advice for twenty-somethings struggling in the dating game?
EB: I refuse to say "Let love find you," because that is some white-girl advice and really frustrating (am I right?). So what I'll say is this: there is no instruction guide on how to live your 20s. They are defined by mistakes, confusing text messages, and questionable outfit choices. So just go with it, and don't get hung up on the flaws. 

ELJ: There are a lot of crazy moments in your story, but off the pages, what was the most insane moment you had while going through the process of publication? 

EB: Probably seeing my book cover for the first time. We went through a few iterations that I knew weren't going to cut it for the final. I sent them back to the drawing board a handful of times and I'm sure they hated me for it. But one day, when it was time for them to present their latest, the butterflies just flooded my stomach as I braced my eyes for their concept. It was love at first sight. I had no changes after I saw the illustration. I knew it was "it."

ELJ: While we're at it, can you give me a run-down of the process of being published? Any favorite or absolutely dreadful parts of it all?
EB: Publishing is a trying process. It makes you doubt everything you ever thought you knew about yourself, your story, and your "talent." It wasn't until I had a big break by being featured in a Forbes article that publishers (who previously said "no") suddenly became interested; very interested. I went from no options to having my pick of people to work with. What a crazy world publishing is. 

ELJ: What is the best advice you can give to aspiring writers out there? 

EB: Write like no one else will ever read your work. There are so many chapters of this book that I could not have written if I sat there and thought, "My mother is going to read this." Or, "What will my future in-laws think of this?" I had to just do this all for myself, and the readers out there who I knew would "get it" and benefit from this ultimately very touching story.

ELJ: You also have a blog, Total E-Bag, which is a mecca for insightful thoughts and advice. How did your blog come about? Did it impact the writing of Eightysixed at all? 

EB: A few strange things happened to me and I didn't want to have 10 different phone calls with friends retelling the same story. So I put it in a blog, and sent out the link. Next thing I knew, it was named Wordpress #37 out of the top 100 blogs, and was featured as a "freshly pressed" post on their homepage. From there, I had a following who have stuck with me to read my crazy life observations. Many of the posts were inspiration for the book (or vice versa) and you'll hear the same voice on the blog as in the book. A lot of my followers were waiting for something longer than 400 words, so Eightysixed was a big treat for them when it came out!
ELJ: Finally, I must ask, can we expect another novel from you a few years down the road? 
EB: Absolutely! The next one is a work of fiction called Six Months and will be finished this year!

If you loved what Emily had to say here, head on over to Amazon & order your copy of Eightysixed before they all fly off the shelves! 


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What You Need To Know: Job/Internship Interviews

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

I often hear my friends stressing out about interviews...and the whole job/internship application process in general. For some reason I thrive when it comes to applications, and interviews are one of the places I feel most in my element - I like to think I was given a gift.

As of late, I've realized how much I truly enjoy interviews and decided to share some advice with all of you twenty-somethings searching for work.

So here is what you really need to know:

Photo c/o NetMinder IG on Flickr
1. Relax. Easier said than done, perhaps, but interviews are just meant to let the employer know a little bit about you. How are you going to add to their office environment? Will you fit in with the other employees?

2. Tailor it. The inevitable "tell me about yourself" will happen. Just expect it. But don't give a run down of the top half of your resume - they can read. Tell them about the aspects of yourself that will make you the absolute best at this position.

3. Honesty is the best policy. You will most likely have to talk about your weaknesses and strengths at some point, despite how annoying that question can be. No sugar coating and no boasting. Are you not-so-great at time management? Let them know, and then tell them what you are doing to fix it. Are you awesome at web design? Tell them how/why you got into design.

4. Surprise them. The best thing you can do is give the interviewer answers to questions they didn't even know they had. Take their question, answer it straightforward, and then throw in that element of surprise. Oh, you want to know why you should hire me? Well, I am X, Y and Z, and also, I think it's awfully important that someone in this position cares about/has experience in this, that and the other thing.

5. Prepare & practice. Like all good things, interview skills take time to cultivate. Be sure to prepare before you walk into that room. Look up questions on Google, especially if it's for a specific field of work, and ask friends/family to practice-interview you. You will feel 10 times more relaxed if you already know most of the answers, and that way you have a clearer mind to think about the questions that catch you off-guard!

6. Everything happens for a reason. If you know you did your absolute best and the interview still went terribly, don't fret. This is usually a sign of a bad interviewer, and if they can't even interview you properly, why would you want to work for them?

*If you are really struggling with some aspect of interviews, don't hesitate to reach out to me - my advice is free and I truly love giving it!*

Do interviews make you nervous? What is your best piece of advice for an interview?


P.S. For more tips & tricks, take a look at College Atlas's 34 Crucial Tips for Job Interviews - great advice! 

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Foodie Review: Kingsbury Street Café

Monday, April 7, 2014

First of all, let it be known that my favorite meal is brunch. It may be cliché, but I am going to own up to it because I have never known a meal that can be equal parts salty & sweet, which is always an issue I struggle with.

I stumbled upon Kingsbury Street Café in an article online about the best brunch places in Lincoln Park, and while I thought I had seen it all, I was sorely mistaken. I took a trip over to the chic, yet simply decorated restaurant on Sunday with my parents and roommates in tow. It was Sunday brunch, and it was just what the doctor ordered (if you know me personally, that's quite a pun).

The restaurant is nestled behind the Whole Foods and shopping district on North Avenue, which can be terribly tricky for parking but is definitely worth it. We walked in and were greeted by a giant chalkboard and a room full of people, but thanks to an advance reservation, we were seated shortly. It didn't matter much, because we were all infatuated with the bakery display by the waiting area...

Hello specials!
There's something so authentic about a window into the chef's kitchen
*mouth watering*
The easter-themed treats were my favorite
We sat down and were given the most magnificently giant mugs of coffee within minutes (hallelujah!), which basically sealed the deal for me. And the small modern-looking plant on the table added the perfect touch of spring to the otherwise cleanly lined decor.
After perusing the menu, we all settled on our picks, including an order of the bananas foster french toast for the table. I have to apologize, I was not able to get a photo of what might have been the best french toast I have yet to experience, simply because we devoured it as soon as it hit the table - who can blame us?

However, I did snag a couple of my own meal, the Kingsbury spin on eggs benedict, and my father's order of the salmon hash (he was still raving about it as we left the restaurant, so I think it was good).

Our table pre-bananas foster french toast
Kingsbury eggs benedict with smoked BBQ chicken & spinach
The salmon hash with poached eggs & sour cream
My roommates and I are already set on returning in the next few weeks to sample the bakery items. It's safe to say this restaurant will be making an appearance on our short list of favorites for brunch!

Have you been to Kingsbury Street Café? What is your favorite brunch spot in Lincoln Park?


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What You Need To Know: Grocery Shopping on a Budget

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Raise your hand if you're a college student. Now high-five yourself in advance for reading this post.

I will be the first to admit how difficult it is to grocery shop when you're in college. There are weeks when you will eat home every meal, every day, and then there are weeks (especially if you're busy like me) where you suddenly are eating out for every meal, simply because you don't have time. It is stressful. So I've compiled a few tips and tricks on how to patch up the grocery side of this dilemma - because if you have food you want to eat, you will make time to trek back to your apartment between classes.

  1. Find an empty notebook, a legal pad, a piece of paper - honestly anything that can be written on will work - and make a meal plan. I know you associate those words with the bland food at your school's dining center, but don't. Meal planning is so much more. Write down the days of the week, what you want to eat each day, what you'll need to eat each day and some extra snacks you'll probably want on hand. You'll begin to see how much things overlap - a package of ground turkey suddenly becomes five different meals. 
  2. Shop around for the store you're going to. It sounds silly, but taking an extra train ride or even a cab ride might be worth it if you're saving enough money. Look for your nearest Trader Joe's (sorry, I'm a huge advocate of theirs) or regional discount grocery store.
  3. Steer clear of organic if it's not necessary. Honestly, the difference between organic and non-organic is remarkably nonexistent. I've stared down two bags of lettuce several times and I just couldn't justify spending $3 more on the organic kind. There are some times when the organic produce is obviously better quality, and it's okay to splurge then if you'd like.
  4. Stick to your plan when shopping. Those chocolate-covered cherries are always going to be there, but do you really need them? Bring your meal plan with you and check the items off as you go. If you get home and are really regretting not buying the cherries, put them on your list for next time! 
  5. Stick to your plan when eating. I know, sometimes it can be tough to get off the couch and actually prepare those enchiladas, but you will be so happy you did. There are days when I stray a bit from what I had planned, or unexpectedly eat out. Don't let this deter you from getting back on track. And if you're really straying from your plan, re-think what you'd like to eat the next time you make a list. A fancy meal plan looks pretty, but it can be a lot of work if you're not prepared. 
  6. Have fun with it! Grocery shopping and cooking is one thing that young adults struggle with the most (hello, ramen noodles) and with good reason. As long as you keep it simple, you can throw in the ingredients for that Pinterest recipe you've been waiting to try and it won't seem overwhelming. In a few months, you may even find that you keep enough basics stocked in your fridge and pantry to start experimenting in the culinary arts. Do I sense the next Wolfgang Puck emerging..? 
How do you grocery shop? Any advice for meal-planners like myself? 

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