Monday, April 29, 2013

Finals Time!

So now that life has returned to a modicum of normal, finals time is upon us...and I know a lot of you are college students like me. In this trying time, it's important to know how to crack down and how to stay sane. (If you aren't a college student, consider these tips to help you complete that big thing at work. You know the thing).

Here's what I've learned:

Download some Self Control

None of my essays would ever be done ever without this thing. Since I don't have any Self Control, I use this app for my Mac instead. Make a list of sites that distract you (Facebook, Twitter, Bloglovin) and block them for a set time (like, the amount of time it would take you to write a 10-page paper, for instance). I do mine in 2-hour chunks and come up for air in between. Beware: when you block something, it's blocked no matter what you do, be it closing the app or restarting your don't get overzealous with your timer.

Take a Walk


Seriously, go outside. I mean it. Finals time always falls during the nicest week of the year (it's just science) and you won't get anything done if you're looking longingly out the window all afternoon. Get a few pages written, then go outside. Go do a lap in your nearest green area. The fresh air will do you good, and you really need to take a break from straining your eyes at a computer screen all day!

Treat Yourself

I used this picture of Boloco because this is how I happen to treat myself, but alter according to your tastes. Set a goal for yourself: "I will finish this paper by 8 PM. If I do, I'm treating myself a burrito bowl and a smoothie for dinner." Boom! Motivation. And smoothies! mmm...smoothies.


Written? Kitten! is a great site I like to pull out around this time of year. Every 100 words of your essay you type into their word processor, you get a new cute kitten! It's like the technological version of putting gummy bears strategically on your textbook to make yourself read it. No? Was that just me?

It'll All Be Over Soon

Your big, horrible project may feel like it's never going to end, but you have to remember that it will all be over soon! Finals aren't forever, and before you know it, the shadow of your impending paper/test/presentation that has been looming over your shoulder will shrink up and become a distant memory. Note: the easiest way to shrink the shadow is to start working on whatever it is that is torturing you. So hop to it! No one ever got anything done by procrastinating...

(This post has been brought to you by someone who has a 10 page final paper due on Thursday and a final as I say, not as I do. Good luck with all your work, and wish me luck on mine!)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Boston Strong - Reflections on Marathon Monday

If you've read this blog or know me personally at all, you probably know that I have a pretty strong connection to the great city of Boston. I grew up about half an hour north of here, and my mother used to take me into the city all the time, whether it was to shop in Faneuil Hall or to head to a Red Sox game on the back of a cycle rickshaw. We rode on Swan Boats and dined in the Prudential Center, and I even captained a Duck Tour boat. We always visited the beautiful Saint Ann's Church in Dorchester, my mother's hometown. She shared her love of Boston with me, passionately and convincingly, and I decreed that I should live here someday. Now I'm attending college in the heart of this city.
On Monday, I headed out with some friends to watch the Boston Marathon. We stayed in the windows of the top floor of Crate & Barrel for an inordinately long time looking down onto the marathon runners. There were soldiers, families, and people dressed in tutus. Everyone, even after running for 26 miles, powered through the finish line full speed ahead - and when someone was walking or limping, their fellow runners would come up behind them and make sure they finished the race in full glory, reveling in each other's shared achievements. And for some unknown reason, we decided to leave the Crate & Barrel. For some reason, we decided to chat in the doorway for a few minutes about our plans. For some reason, we decided, in an out-of-character turn, not to go to Starbucks. And because the streets were just too crowded to push down Boylston back to campus, we decided to turn on Exeter Street and make our way down Newbury at what we estimate to be about 2:45 PM.
We didn't make it a block before the ground shook and we heard the first blast. On Newbury Street, parallel to Boylston, you couldn't see the smoke, and everyone was just trying to figure out what happened and if we should be alarmed. I think even then we all knew something wasn't right. Then the second blast, and the ground shook again, and we saw a flood of people rushing through the intersections, and instinct took a hold and we raced inside where we locked ourselves in a dressing room with 3 other young women who turned out to be students at my college. The shop's owner locked the door, and I called my dad. He found out there had been a bomb. The phone cut out. We were all shaking and trying to reconcile what had happened with reality - not in my Boston.
The shopkeepers kept us safe inside until the police evacuated the area, and for a long and scary time we weren't sure what we needed to do or where we could go. Runners and spectators were wandering around like ghosts all along the Esplanade, displaced and scared and alone. The sirens were neverending. As we got further from the city, my phone came alive and buzzed nonstop. Dozens and dozens of texts and missed phone calls pleaded with me to let them know I was okay. Extended family and friends of friends offered me shelter; I had no way to get back to my campus. It was still part of a crime scene.

After what felt like days of walking, a classmate who I've never met offered us a place in his apartment, where we absorbed the news for hours as he offered us comfy chairs and pizza; free WiFi and phone chargers. He offered me, a stranger, and my entire group of 6 a place to stay for the night. "No trouble at all," he said over and over. My mother couldn't keep me out of her sight, though, and her and my father fought their way into the city and brought me home. The next morning at our coffee shop, I nearly burst into tears when I found these greeting me.

I absorbed too many dark images on Monday, and I struggled to fall asleep as I mentally placed myself in the Starbucks with the blown-out glass, or on the sidewalk for an extra few minutes debating whether or not to go to the museum that afternoon. Time was hard to grasp then, but when I Google Mapped the store I ran inside of, I nearly fainted. The proximity was enough to make me sick. And I wanted answers, but I couldn't see those images over and over anymore. I accumulated a sunburn on Tuesday because I sat outside with my mother all day, taking in the trees and the tranquility of nature before I returned back to my city.

But the great thing about the media is that every once in a blue moon they know just what to focus on. It warmed my heart to see the stories about the surgeon/runner who ran straight to the hospital to help injured victims, or the people who ran towards the blast to help out bystanders, or the thousands of people who, like me, found a home to stay in through the kindness of Boston's people. And to see the entire country coming together to help out those who were involved in this tragedy is something I cannot articulate the importance of.
As I'm making this entire rant intensely personal, I took up running just a few weeks ago this year. I visited the Marathon Fitness Expo on Sunday with my boyfriend, and we decided to train to run a half-marathon at Disney World in the next year or two because the spirit of the endurance of the marathon runners inspired us so much. Boylston was closed to set up the marathon, and we walked down the middle of the street in broad daylight, a rare treat in Boston. We jokingly "crossed the finish line" and imagined what it must be like to do it for real, after having pushed your body to its absolute limits.
The city of Boston is running a real marathon now, and it's the hardest one you could ever imagine. I still jump whenever I hear a loud noise, and I see the people around me reacting in a similar way. Copley is still closed, and the city is still reeling - I think it will be for a long time. It isn't fair what happened to our city, to our residents who woke up on a beautiful and uplifting day and had to endure such grave tragedy and loss of life because of the actions of a maniac. It is impossible to process easily, and the fact that I wasn't hurt doesn't negate all the lives senselessly lost.
Yesterday, I needed to get outside, so I stepped out into the Public Garden to find a beautiful day where families sat and soaked in the sun, riding my favorite Swan Boats and doing homework and walking hand in hand around the pond. Seeing people living and existing day to day, soaking in every moment and loving each other and their great city is one of the most comforting things of all.

I think one of the things this experience has shown me is that people are so, so good. For the one or few madmen who perpetrated this terrible act to my home, there were thousands upon thousands of others who just wanted to help each other and preserve the sense of strength and community that runs through Boston like lifeblood. There is so much love in this city, and it has never been more evident than in the hour of this terrible tragedy. It stands as a reminder to hold your loved ones so tightly, and to live each day fully, absorbing each little joy you find in the world and reflecting good back out wherever you go.
I'm sorry to dump this all on you, but I can't really think about anything but all of this right now. As a writer, this is like therapy for me. It's going to take a long time to return to normal, at least for me, but I'll try and get this blog on track sometime soon. As I usually use Thursdays to compile a "Things I Love" post, I'll share with you a few of the joys I've gleaned in the past few days:
This is Maggie, one of the comfort dogs who visited us in Boston this week. We pet them for over an hour. Their calming presence was invaluable.

Some of my classmates have raised tens of thousands of dollars for One Fund with this t-shirt.
The Yankees sang Sweet Caroline at their game on Tuesday night and if you know what this song means to Boston it is incredible.
Boston is my home, and I couldn't continue writing my normal posts until I got all of this out of me, it just didn't feel right. I think it will be a long time before everything will feel okay again, but I'll continue loving my city and all of the beautiful people in it with every fiber of my being. I can't wait to watch the marathon from my new home along its route next year, and I know so many people are waiting with baited breath to support one of the greatest events in this city in every way they can when it returns to Boston bigger and better than ever. We are strong, and as Governor Patrick said at the interfaith memorial earlier today, "The grace this tragedy exposed is the best of who we are."

Monday, April 15, 2013

Tutorial Time: On Making Sponsor Buttons

Hey guys! I'm here to give you a quick tutorial on making pretty blog buttons. "Now Annie," you'd be totally qualified to say, "you've only been blogging for a few months, what do you know about that?" Well, I went to a technical high school where I learned a bit about web design over the course of my 3 1/2 year long Internet Technology education and, much more importantly, I coded and designed my own MySpace page. So I know a bit about web design, and I can click my way around Photoshop pretty well.

This is a tutorial for the absolute beginner, just to give you a sense of what you can do with Photoshop and how you can make your buttons the most aesthetically pleasing given whatever size limitations you have. I'll be working with CS5.1.

Each blog has its own designated size for ads, and, unfortunately for you, they won't usually overlap. It's not the bloggers' fault: every layout looks different, and everybody accepts a different number of sponsors into their roundup. It's important to figure out what blogs you'd like to sponsor in the upcoming month and figure out what their dimensions are before the day of - this way you'll have time to plan what you want your button to look like! For the purposes of this tutorial, we're going to start with 250x110 - this is the size of the ads on Katherine's blog Of Corgis & Cocktails, where I currently have an ad running :).

So click File>New, and type in your dimensions. If your Photoshop has it set to inches, just change it to pixels and make your life easier.

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Cool. You can make your background transparent if you'd like, but it doesn't matter much for the purposes of a blog button. We can play with transparency later.

Now you have a little white box just waiting to be filled up with a happy smiling photo of you (or, yknow, something else. It's nice to get your smiling mug in there, it gives people an idea of what happy individual they're going to see when they enter your blog!)

Now we're going to click File>Place, and dance on through our photo library.

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I'm going to pick a photo from this day I wore a polka dot dress, because it was a sweet outfit and my hair wasn't being blown all around my face that day. I would suggest picking a picture that's very bright and eye-catching. Many of my pictures are because my hair is the color of a fire hydrant, but you may not have this special advantage. Keep this in mind.

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So now, the picture is stupid small. It's fine. On your toolbar, click the Move Tool, and make sure the box up at the top that says "Show Transform Clouds" is checked (it usually isn't). I drew you some helpful arrows. Then, you're just going to click a corner of the photo while holding the shift key (this prevents it from distorting) and drag it until it gets to the right size (this can be, as in the case of this picture, bigger than the canvas you're working with - because I only want the button to show from my neck up).

OK, so now we have a rectangle that looks like this:

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Progress! Now, I don't like how dull the colors are in this photo, because I haven't really edited it yet. I'm going to tweak it a bit before I move forward. I think I will bump up the contrast to make me stand out more against the trees:

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(Annnnd I didn't minimize this window and took a screenshot. Blogception!)

But it's still not colorful enough for me, so I went into the Vibrance tab (still in the Adjustments menu) and cranked up the vibrance and saturation.

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Perfect! You could stop traffic with that hair. This might be a little too bright for you, and that's totally OK. I tend to go overboard, because my eyes go straight to the bright colors in others' blogrolls. And um, have you seen my theme? I have a bit of a thing for the bright and obnoxious. But if you're more into the pastels or the vintage-y hues, feel free to turn your saturation down. Saturation cranked down and contrast cranked up kind of looks like the Brannan filter on Instagram, if that's your thing.

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But we're going to go back to retina-burning red, because that's where I'm at, ya dig? Now we've got to throw the blog name up on there. This is a nice picture because it follows the rule of thirds, so I have 2/3 of a rectangle's worth of space to put my super long blog name on. It helps to have everything on your blog in one or two signature fonts, so it all looks cohesive. and are good resources if you're looking for something fun and original. Here, you'll see "Skinny" and "High Fiber." Let's try High Fiber:

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That's pretty impossible to read. "Skinny" isn't much better. We have a few solutions here. I could make it a little whimsical by throwing a shape in there:

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(We don't need to talk about my Tangled desktop background. I mean, unless you want to)

I decided to channel my inner Bob Ross and put a happy little cloud in there, changing my font from white to black and resizing it a bit so it would show up. If at this point in the tutorial your Photoshop crashes and seizes up your entire Mac, you and I have something in common. Revel in our connection.

A little too cartoony for you? Let's try this:

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I inverted the color of the cloud and text, and made the cloud a little transparent-er. Edgy!

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In your layer toolbar, when you click on a layer, a box at the top says "opacity." You can change the number of that to whatever suits your needs. You can also double click on the box to the left of the shape to change its color.

Anyway, I like the white cloud best. I bumped it down to 90% opacity. Let's see the finished product!



If you aren't much of a fun shapes person, you can try a semi-transparent rectangle like I did for Room 334:

Sometimes colors look better than black & all depends on your aesthetics.

One more thing! When you save your masterpiece, I suggest saving a PSD first, then a PNG. A PSD will save all your layers in case you want to go back and edit or resize something later, and a PNG squashes everything together - but that's what you submit to the blog of your choice.

My apologies if this was a bit basic for you - I saw some bloggers wondering about it and figured I'd share the bit of knowledge I have. I know my explanations can be confusing, too, so if you need clarification, don't hesitate to let me know.

If you end up using something I talked about here, I'd love to see your finished product! Happy crafting.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Things I Love Thursdays

Happy almost weekend! Yet another very long week...but it was studded with really awesome weather! It doesn't get better than 72 degrees in April, I think. :) Here are a few things that made me smile this week:

As you've probably discovered by now, "Reasons My Son is Crying" is so hilarious


A puppy reenacting the Jeep scene from Jurassic Park! PS, you seriously need to see Jurassic Park 3D, preferably with a large audience. It's a revelation.

This dog is so zen.

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I don't think shoes get cuter than these ModCloth Chance Greeting Flats.

This armoire-turned-home-office idea is brilliant! I'm becoming a bit of a home decorating junkie in light of moving into a new space in the fall.

This ice cube tray is the coolest (pun totally intended). You don't need to fill up the individual compartments and (most importantly) it's shaped like a little polar bear!

Homemade Almond Joy. Awesome. Make mine dark chocolate, please!


And last but not least, Boston looked like this yesterday. I don't want to talk about the fact that it's 45 and gross out now. This was taken on my way to getting free Ben & Jerry's for the second time in 2 days. I want to remain in this past moment forever.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Boston Campus Style: Think Pink

First off, guys, I've had the best day! It was 72 degrees, I jogged on the Esplanade, strolled around the Public Gardens, read outside with my future roomie, and then went and got FREE Ben & Jerry's! I think I've spent like 5 hours outside today, and it's been perfect. And now I'm watching wedding shows, getting Boloco burritos, and blogging with my dearest Z (who also happened to take these pictures). Do days get any better?

These pictures are actually from last week (I had flip-flops on today!) but spring time was already beginning then. I love these pants: they really jazz up even the simplest outfit. I've never been much of a "pink" girl, but I think it can be really fun and spring-y when incorporated into your outfit in the right way. This is the first year I really dipped my toes into colored jeans since middle school, and I already have 3 pairs! I really think colored skinny jeans are moving from 'trendy' to 'staple.'

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Chambray - Target
Tank - Cynthia Rowley
Jeans - Buffalo
Headband - ModCloth
Necklace - Betsey Johnson
Flats - Pac Sun
Purse - Target

um, we don't need to talk about the fact that the weather this week looks like this going forward:
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New England, WHAT are you ever doing?!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Procrastination Pals: My Favorite Netflix Documentaries

I figure I'm not the only tragic procrastinator on here - right, guys? Well, if you're part of the "why do today what I can put off till tomorrow" clan, I'd like to share some of my favorite time-wasters with you. I confess, I have an addiction: it's the Documentaries section on Netflix Instant.

I watch them with my friends when classes get cancelled, I watch them with my boyfriend when we're spending a night in, but mostly, I watch them when I'm avoiding writing an essay. It's like procrastinating by exercising - it feels almost productive, even if it isn't really the thing you're supposed to be doing. Also, I just really like to learn about odd things. I have a vast collection of trivial knowledge, and I work tirelessly to add to it every day. Here are a few of my favorite picks on Netflix Instant right now:


1. Forks Over Knives - I've seen a lot of documentaries about vegetarianism/veganism, and this one is by far my favorite. It doesn't just play on your heartstrings, it makes a compelling case for health and wellness, and I was shocked by some of the things I learned - and I say this as a vegetarian of 8 years.
2. 6 Days to Air: the Making of South Park - I understand if South Park isn't your cup of tea. It can be gross, bawdy, and outright incredibly offensive. I've always been a casual fan, but after I saw this documentary, I had a real appreciation for the show that I never had before. It turns out, South Park manages to stay so topical because they don't start making their episodes until about a week before they're going to air (!!). It's seriously incredible to see the speed and dexterity that Matt Stone and Trey Parker work with, as well as a peek into their brilliant (if not a bit twisted) minds.
3. Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey - There is some controversy floating around about the protagonist of this documentary, but when I first saw it, it was about a boy who worked tirelessly to achieve his dream of being a puppeteer on Sesame Street, and eventually became one of the most beloved characters of all time. It's painfully heartwarming, and it will make your inner child dance with joy.
4. Exit Through the Gift Shop - This trippy documentary by London's favorite anonymous political graffiti artist Banksy guarantees to throw you off kilter about 10 times a minute. It changes subjects halfway through, and never stops surprising you and visually intriguing you. While it is a bit experimental, it also provides an interesting look into the underground world of street art.
5. The American Scream - I'm a little bit biased here, but I have a huge thing about Halloween and haunted houses, and this documentary is about people who make elaborate haunt displays in their backyards. It takes place in my home state of Massachusetts, and it's a surprisingly heartwarming case study about how far people will take their favorite hobbies for the good of the community and themselves.
6. Buck - My dad introduced me to this documentary about the "horse whisperer" Buck Brannaman. This is a fascinating look into the relationship between man and animal, and while I'm a big dog person, it's always nice to see how we can bond with our fellow non-canine creatures, too. This man is truly a miracle worker, and to watch how his process was formed and how incredibly effective he is at connecting with even the wildest animals.
7. Conan O' Brien Can't Stop - During high school, I often had trouble sleeping, and found myself on many a school night watching my dearest Conan O' Brien while I tried to will myself to sleep. I pretty much imprinted on him, and now he is my one and only late night man. This documentary gives you a look at the tour he embarked on when he was out of a job, and shows him to be a strongly impassioned man who cares so deeply about his craft and coworkers that he never stops striving for perfection. It's easy to forget when you see personas on TV that there's a real person behind the mask - it's so interesting to see what our favorite celebrities are like when they're "off."
8. Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father - A serious warning about this one: it's incredibly emotionally draining and will fill you with barrels of sadness and rage. I don't hesitate to recommend it, I just want you to know it's a real undertaking. I went into this a little blind, and I think that's the best way - I'll just tell you that this is a documentary made by the loved ones of a family that suffered an unprecedented loss because of an unstable woman and a failure of the justice system.
9. This Film is Not Yet Rated - This is a fascinating expose on the film ratings system and their shady tendencies. It discusses everything from bias against independent studios to sexism, and much more. It's kind of thrilling, as the ratings commission is under many safeguards, and at some points this documentary plays out like a spy film. This was one of my first "fight the man!" documentaries, and it's still one of my favorites.

I hope I shared something new and intriguing with you guys today! Do you love documentaries, too? Please tell me some of your favorites! I'm always on the hunt...

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Things I Love Thursdays

Thank goodness this week is almost over! Things have just been piling up for me. It's such a relief to know that just a few papers weeks from now, it'll be summer time (and the living will, presumably, be easy). Here are some things that caught my eye/made life awesome this week:

By no means am I a fitness expert, but these Nike Flex Trainer 2s are actually amazing. It feels like there's nothing on your feet at all - a pleasant change for someone who has been wearing the same sneakers to the gym since 8th grade (big, flat Vans). I'm trying to branch out from my beloved elliptical and try running for a change - are any of you guys big runners? Any tips?

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I love so many things that ModCloth puts out there, but these. Leggings. You guys. I literally can't even deal with them. I don't know what I would wear with them, or where, or how, but I want them so bad. They're like the SyFy Sand Sharks of legwear. Imagine wearing these during Shark Week! Imagine!!

I saw the Kings of Summer in a special screening yesterday and it was the best. Seriously, welcome to your new favorite summer movie. It was so genuine, and full of heart and friendship, and seriously hilarious - A+ cast and an A+ movie all around. It doesn't come out until May 31, but I obviously give it my highest recommendation. How great is this poster, by the way? As if I needed more reasons to dream of summer!

How Sweet it Is's Lemon Cake with Marshmallow Frosting and Toasted Coconut is drool-worthy. Doesn't it sound like the best flavor combination? I can't wait to get home and get back to baking!

I'm way into this Karma perfume from Lush. I tried it on a whim when I went into the store with my friend, then I had to go back and buy some. I'm not a big perfume girl, but this smell is amazing! Citrus and cinnamon? Perfect!

What are you loving this week?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Boston Campus Style: We Can Do It!


I was channeling my inner Rosie the Riveter this week. I need the strength! The amount of papers I have due this week is beyond anything I could have imagined - but, knock on wood, I think my real estate woes are almost over! And not a moment too soon...

This is another very slow week, for me. Do you feel that? I just want it to be Friday so I can have a night away from homework and watch Jurassic Park 3D in peace! But thankfully, the weather is catching up with the season (yesterday notwithstanding). I couldn't stand another week of cloudy days! I was beyond ecstatic that I could finally traipse around without a coat on - I laid out in the Boston Common for 2 hours the other day! Isn't it funny how much the weather can change your mood? Now I know I'm just getting greedy, but I wish this wind would let up now...blunt bangs and windy days are not a good combination.




Chambray and faux leather jacket: Target
Shorts: LC Lauren Conrad (Kohl's)
Headband: ASOS
Necklace: Marc Jacobs
Flats: Blowfish

Thank you Z for the lovely pictures!