2/29/16

Find Me Unafraid: Coffee Shoppe Reads (Review)

 

There are some books in which you are able to escape to a land of fantasy and get totally immersed in a fictional story. Then there are others that bring you to a world you perhaps were unfamiliar with, that is a reality for millions of people. Find Me Unafraid is one of those books. I happen to love stories of real world struggle and conflict (hence, why I am a Sociology major), so when I happened to see a photo of this book on Instagram randomly one day, I added it to my Amazon cart with little research into the book or what it was about. Sometimes, a title or a cover just gets me and more often than not, the books I choose on a whim like this, end up being ones that I enjoy greatly. I have a fairly good track record when it comes to choosing books like this.

Find Me Unafraid tells the story of Kennedy Odede and his life growing up and living in the Kibera slum in Kenya, Africa. It also tells the story of Jessica Posner and her experience following a visit to Kibera while a student attending Wesleyan University, in which she meets Kennedy and helps him with his organization, Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO). His goal is to help his family and neighbors in the hopes that they are able to rise above the cycle of poverty. Together, they embark on a journey that is filled with perseverance, optimism and love. The book chronicles their experiences from both Kennedy and Jessica's perspectives.

One of the things I loved about this book, was that its story was given from both Kennedy and Jessica's points of view. Kennedy provides his life experiences and what is a harsh reality for many not just in this Kenyan slum, but around the world. The constant violence and the fight to stay alive amidst death, disease and despair is profound. This type of detail is important and helps to give greater power to their story and the work that they do through SHOFCO. Jessica's perspective is also worthwhile as she sees this world though the eyes of someone with great privilege. Her exposure to Kennedy's world makes the stories that we often hear about only in the news, real. Not just for her, but also for the reader. In contrast, the relationship that blossoms between them provides an enjoyable balance to the serious conflict that is a reality and theme of the book.

Their relationship brings them on a journey which for Kennedy, includes the opportunity to attend Wesleyan University on a full scholarship. His experience coming to America for the first time brought some levity to the book for me as he learned so many things for the first time while absorbing a completely foreign world and culture.

Upon his arrival into the United States, he meets with a woman named Linda, whom he calls his American mom as she is someone he had communicated with through letters over the years. She takes him through his first drive-through and his innocent reaction is humorous:

"The food and the drinks just fall into the car window and she pays with a card. What is going on in America? You don't even have to get out of the car and things just fall automatically into your lap like this? I am shocked. I can't explain to Linda and Jessica the feelings I have. Oh America!" (p. 227). 

There are things that we might view as commonplace in western society that can be alien to others and this exemplifies that reality. His perspective also provides great insight, in my opinion, to an issue that is heavily debated today, and a hot-button topic in our current political climate: immigration.

"I follow the news about immigration and so-called illegals with great interest. Here I am, a foreigner who has every intention of going back to my country after I complete my education. There is so much fear that people like me will take jobs away from "true" Americans. It seems to be that the United States has forgotten its glory. It was once the only country in the world that opened its door to immigrants. America has enjoyed the glory of being the superpower exactly because different people from different places contributed to its success" (p. 233). 

I think that this excerpt can prove as a reminder for some of the fact that America is a land built by many. Immigration is what has made this country what it is. I enjoyed following Kennedy's journey through college. Through this experience they are able to grow SHOFCO in ways that otherwise might not have been possible. As Kennedy shares his story and the story of others in his country, his work gains useful exposure that leads to powerful opportunities and collaborations with organizations such as the Newman's Own Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative. SHOFCO now has powerful initiatives focused on girls education, health, community empowerment and water & sanitation. SHOFCO believes that by providing girls with education, they can change their life chances and ultimately shape them to then change their own communities. The work of Kennedy and Jessica and the whole SHOFCO team is invaluable. Find Me Unafraid makes that very clear. It is a book I would suggest everyone read as it provides an in-depth look at the far reaching and everlasting effects that poverty has, as well as the powerful impact that tools such as education can have in breaking that cycle.


Please note: Any funds earned through the affiliate links in this post (that link to Amazon), will be donated to SHOFCO. I will also make a matching donation for any revenue earned through affiliate links on this post. I highly encourage everyone to read this wonderful book! 




2016 Reading Goal: 4/12 completed. 

2/26/16

With your hands // Air-dry clay

I feel like I'm going to preface most of these posts with a disclaimer that I am not an artist... Despite the fact that I feel I don't possess much talent or artistic ability, I still enjoy creating. It's fun to just turn off your mind for a bit and get lost in something that in my opinion can be incredibly soothing and therapeutic. For me, it's not as much about the end result (though let's be honest, success in that department of course helps!), as it is about the process. One of the things I have always wanted to do is make pottery. Unfortunately pottery courses are not only wildly expensive, but they're often far away and not compatible with my schedule. So, when I read about air-dry clay, I figured it would be a nice place to start!



This is the clay I used - - I paid more at a local craft store - so Amazon might be a better bet!





I ended up making a Labrador (that I plan to hang), a pendant with beach glass from the many jars I have amassed over the years, and a small bowl/planter. I find that the clay dries fairly quickly (I stored it in the basement where it was dry and cool). It was easy enough to work with, but you have to make sure to keep it moist. This is the very first time I've ever worked with clay so overall, I think it was a decent experience and I would certainly do it again. If anything though, it has just further fueled my desire to take a proper pottery class!









I used cheap acrylics to paint the clay after it had dried. Most of the paints were fine, but some were barely usable. I don't think you need to spend a ton of $$$ if you want to try something new...it's more about diving in and seeing how it jives first!





 

I plan to seal each piece, but haven't decided what I should use for that so if anyone has any insight that would be great! If you've worked with air-dry clay before, I'd love to see your creations and hear your tips and tricks in the comments! For anyone who is interested in working with clay, I'd recommend trying this first since it's such a low-cost endeavor.

2/22/16

The New Starbucks Rewards program: Worth it?

And now for something a little different on the blog… 


I’m always looking out for ways to be frugal and/or get the most bang for my buck. While it feels like every store has their own reward program – they aren’t all worth signing up for, and many, in my opinion, mislead us into spending more than we want to or should (I’m looking at you, Sephora!). With that said, there are a few programs that I feel are well worth it – and the Starbucks rewards program is one of those. 



I signed up for Starbucks rewards a few years back when I realized that it wasn’t a paid for program as I had mistakenly thought that it was for years! When I found out that members received free upgrades to non-dairy milk alternatives, I was even more excited because I can’t handle dairy very well. For every purchase you make you can earn a star, and after 12 stars, you receive a free drink (you can also get some food items, but I always go for the drink). It takes twelve stars in a year to receive gold level, which has the most benefits. They also run promotions throughout the year where you can earn bonus stars. I drink Starbucks coffee at home so every bag of coffee that I purchase earns me a star, which is great because I have stopped drinking as much caffeine as I once was, so I still have a way to earn stars and easily maintain my gold status. While I found out that the milk claim was inaccurate, I still enjoy the program. It’s an easy way to earn freebies with little effort (Although! I will say – I did not get to use my birthday freebie because it expired within two days of my birthday and I didn’t get a chance to get there. While my other rewards generally last a month or two – or more!!).



So today when I received an email from Starbucks and learned that they were revamping their program, I was a little skeptical… 





Through the new program, you earn 2 stars for every $1.00 spent. As opposed to earning a star for every purchase made. With the new program you need to reach 125 stars to earn a reward. With this new structure, you need to spend about $62.50 to earn a reward. With the old structure, which was a reward for every 12 stars, you could earn a reward much quicker.



For example: a grande White Chocolate Mocha costs $4.45, which means that 12 of them will cost roughly $54. That’s about 8 bucks cheaper than the new star earning structure. Of course if you buy a more expensive drink, the new program might be rewarding. Or, if you purchase for many people at once (I’ve split up drink orders many times to receive my stars and never once has anyone given me a hard time). However, if you are spending less than 5.20 or so per drink/order, the new system does little to benefit you and will actually result in fewer rewards.



In my opinion, the new program is a downgrade for the customer, and a win for Starbucks. It appears at face value that this program allows you to earn stars faster, which it does in a way, but you now need far more stars (from 12 to 125!!) to receive a reward!



They also specify gold members in the email, which makes me wonder if the reward and earning structure is different for different levels, so if anyone out there has received the email and is not gold, please let me know if it’s different!! I’m specifically wondering if we now need to earn 125 stars in a calendar year to maintain our gold status.



I welcome your thoughts on this program in the comments – whether you’re happy or disappointed by the change, I’d love to hear why!


Starry Night - Coffee Shoppe Reads (REVIEW)

 

Ok, time for some confessions... Sometimes I choose a book merely because I like its cover. Other times it's because someone I trust as having good (book) taste read it. Sometimes, its because of a combination of the first two, plus I like the character that the author played on a show that I'm obsessed with. That is exactly what brought this book into my life.

For those of you who don't know, Isabel Gillies is the actress who played the role of Kathy, Elliot Stabler's wife on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. A show that I have watched for years, and may be a bit obsessed with. When I heard that Gillies was an author, I was intrigued. When I saw Mariska (Hargitay) with the book, I ended up ordering it. Which brings us to this moment: my first ever review of a book that I didn't totally and completely enjoy. To be honest, I was hesitant as to whether I wanted to review the book as I wouldn't give it a high rating. I decided that it may be worthwhile if I share not only the books I love and enjoy, but also the ones that for me, are duds.

First off, this book falls into the Young Adult genre. I do enjoy reading YA novels (albeit, not exclusively), so that was not the problem. While there were bits of this book that I did enjoy, overall I felt that Starry Night fell short for me in a lot of ways. I felt like the story, which is of a young girl, her first love and how it changes her life, lacked continuity. While reading it felt like parts of the story were missing, which I think primarily stemmed from the dialogue which is where I found the problems to be most distinct. It was at times difficult to follow the dialogue because to me, it seemed to jump around a lot. I also found it to be cheesy at times, although, this might be entirely a personal thing...I can honestly say that I have no idea how young adolescents talk these days...(I am not "down", nor do I have the "411"...points if you know what movie this is from!)

Aside from the flow of the story and the way it was written, I also felt a bit irked by how the story unfolded. It is merely a story...yes. However, I think that I've grown quite tired of stories in which the female characters (main or otherwise), kowtow to the whims and desires of men. Yes I realize that this is a story of first love, but the male character in the book gets away unscathed despite less than stellar choices, while the relationship completely changes the course of the main character, Wren's life. While realistically, this happens all the time to women in relationships, it would have been nice to see a strong and independent woman, especially in a Young Adult novel, to give young girls an alternative to the weak and submissive female characters that live in the YA realm (not to say that this is always the case...just merely where my mind went when reading this book!). I think I would have enjoyed following Wren's art career far more than her love life, but I realize that would have been an entirely different book.

Overall, despite my criticism of the book, I cannot say that Starry Night is without merit. I did enjoy a quote from Nolan, Wren's love interest, in which he says:

 "life is weird, you know? It doesn't always go in a straight line and then" - he was still playing a little - " you have to figure out how the bent up line you got works." (p. 188) 

I also enjoyed when Wren's father, while having a bit of heart to heart with her says:

"To compromise who you are and where you are going because of emotion is bullshit." (p. 265) 

This line really stuck out to me and highlights the type of themes that I wish had been stronger and more dominating in the book. I actually think it was Wren's father, her friend Charlie and her brother Oliver who were the better characters in the story. I gave this book a 3/5 on Goodreads, which if you use, feel free to add me as a friend! If you've read Starry Night , please share with me what you thought of the book! I'm curious to know if I'm alone in my criticism of the story or not!




2016 Reading Goal: 3/12 completed. 

2/19/16

Five Songs for Friday #3

 *          *          *

Music is a huge obsession of mine, so I wanted to incorporate that into the blog. Five songs for Friday is a regular post (weekly, biweekly, monthly, etc.) in which I'll share some of my current favorites with you! If you've got any song/artist suggestions for me based on what I've listed here or in the past...I'm all ears! (pun INTENDED)! 


 

Happy Friday!

2/15/16

I am Malala - Coffee Shoppe Reads (REVIEW)


 

I will admit that I'm fairly late on the bandwagon in reading this book, but when my sister insisted I do so over break, I figured it was as good a time as any. There was never any reason why I hadn't read the book, its certainly a book that is right up my alley. I think it was just a matter of that I hadn't gotten around to it yet. There will always be a long list of books I hope to read.

I Am Malala chronicles the life of Malala Yousafzai, a Pashtun girl from the Swat Valley in Pakistan. Throughout her own educational journey in a land strongly unwelcoming to the rights of girls, she fought for the rights of other children specifically girls, to obtain an education.  In 2012, when Malala was fifteen years old, she was shot by the Taliban. Miraculously, Malala survived the shooting and has gone on to be a strong and loud advocate for girls education.

I went into reading this book assuming that I would enjoy it, but I honestly think that I underestimated just how much I would enjoy it. I Am Malala is a poignant narrative that allows a view into the reality of life for people in many regions of the world. I enjoyed the book for its many aspects and appreciated how it highlights the many conflicts that exist without our global society. Malala's story is touching and I am glad that she was able to share it as it is not just her reality, but the reality of millions of girls across the globe.

The book was written well and I feel like it not only detailed the events of Malala's life, but it also was infused with personality which helped to lighten the mood of a very harrowing story. In Chapter 11, The Clever Class, She shares a poem that her father keeps with him that I felt stood out in its truth and simplicity:

"First they came for the communists, 
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist. 
Then they came for the socialists, 
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a socialist. 
Then they came for the trade unionists, 
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist. 
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I was not a Jew. 
Then they came for the Catholics, 
and I didn't speak out because I was not a catholic. 
Then they came for me, 
and there was no one left to speak for me."
 - Martin Niemöller


Overall, I truly enjoyed reading I Am Malala and I would absolutely suggest it to anyone as I think it is a book that anyone could benefit from reading.

Today, Malala focuses her time on The Malala Fund, an organization working to ensure that girls are able to obtain an education. I strongly urge you to donate if you are able. As there are affiliate links within this post, any funds earned through these links will be donated to The Malala Fund as well.




2016 Reading Goal: 2/12 completed.

2/12/16

Here Comes Trouble: Coffee Shoppe Reads (REVIEW) + Where to Invade Next

 

Ever since I first read a book by Michael Moore, I was hooked on his style. Personally, I enjoy the way in which he blends together his snarky humor and the truth. I feel like he sent an electric shock through the documentary and non-fiction worlds...showing that you can present material that is perhaps dark, upsetting, etc, without being completely dry and monotonous in your delivery. I've always been drawn to people who have a more snarky sense of humor which is perhaps why I am such a fan of Michael Moore. So after seeing and reading his work, I was very interested in reading Here Comes Trouble which presents stories from his life.

Michael Moore delivers a humorous chronicle of his life, while also retelling his accounts of some of the more pivotal moments in our recent history. The collection of short stories that makes up Here Comes Trouble provide stories of American politics, his hometown, and his ancestors among others. I think that for me, one of the reasons that I like Michael Moore is because he hails from the rust belt city of Flint, Michigan. My hometown of Buffalo, New York is also a rust belt city and has shared some of the same heartbreak that has touched Flint. I enjoyed his story The Canoe in which he re-told the story of his ancestors. I find these types of stories fascinating and often wish that I had a better understanding of my own roots. It amazes me the experiences that Moore had growing up, the examples given in Pietà, in which he witnessed historic laws being discussed by the Senate and The House as a young child are a prime example. Another such experience that stood out to me was his story, A Holy Thursday, in which he recounts where he was when he heard that Martin Luther King Jr. had been shot, and the response from those around him. 

It is clear that the experiences that Moore had as a child and throughout his life, have impacted him and shaped not only who he is, but his work as well. Throughout the book his stories are fascinating and I found myself speeding through the book much faster than I had anticipated. In a story in which he talks of a time when he challenged the status quo, he writes something about change which I particularly enjoyed. In Boys State, he writes, 

"Most important for me, I learned a valuable lesson: That change can occur, and it can occur anywhere, with even the simplest of people and craziest of intentions, and that creating change didn't always require having to devote your every waking hour to it with mass meetings and organization and protests and TV appearances with Walter Cronkite. Sometimes change can occur because all you wanted was a bag of potato chips" (p. 191). 

Here Comes Trouble is a book that I thoroughly enjoyed. Even if you are someone who has not read or watched any of Michael Moore's works, I would still suggest reading this book. The historical narrative that is threaded through his personal anecdotes provides for a great story. Reading Here Comes Trouble made me want to go back and re-watch all of his documentaries and re-read his books. It was an enjoyable journey through not only Moore's personal history, but our collective American history as well. 

But wait, there's more!!  


Today is the day on which Moore's latest movie, Where to Invade Next comes out! I strongly recommend that you check out the film if it is playing near you! What I love most about Michael Moore's films is that they often make you think, while also making you laugh really, really hard. If you see the film, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments! 






2016 Reading Goal: 5/12 completed.

2/8/16

Valentine's Day Sugar Cookies


I'll take any excuse to bake - especially something themed. Every year I make cutouts for Christmas and over the years we have accumulated quite the collection of cookie cutters that are not for Christmas. Since I've never made cut-outs for any other holiday, I'm not quite sure why we've amassed such a collection. We had four different heart shaped cutters. Four. I decided this year was as good as any to start making cutouts for other occasions. Since hearts seemed to be dominating the cookie drawer (yes, there is a whole drawer dedicated to cookie decorating supplies), I started with some fun Valentines Day sugar cookies.





For these, I used a recipe from Sally's Baking Addiction. For my icing, I followed a recipe similar to the one she paired with her cookies, but instead of water and vanilla extract, I use milk and almond extract. To be honest, I often eyeball it when I make icings and just keep adding things together until I get the texture that I want. Note: If you want shiny icing - the corn syrup is important!!







The weather was quite crap out today so it felt appropriate to be making cut out cookies. Ironically, when it was actually holiday time, we had no snow. I think what I like about cut out cookies is the creativity that they allow. There is no right or wrong way to decorate them, just put on some tunes and have fun!





You could make these as a gift for someone for Valentines Day...or, you could just make them for yourself. No judgement. ;)

2/5/16

Valentine's Day Nail Edit: Five Polishes


I won't deny that Valentine's is a cheesy "Hallmark Holiday" but for some reason, I still enjoy it. I also enjoy painting my nails to match with particular holidays and Valentine's is perfect for that. In this post, I've put together a little edit of some of my picks for your festive Valentine's manicures - I hope you enjoy!