Amanda Cade

Worth It! (Things to try, read, watch, hear, and discuss)

What are we going to do today? I don’t feel like going out tonight. There’s nothing good on TV. We’ve eaten the cake and opened the presents…now what? I’m bored. Sure, let’s all get together…what are we going to do?

When I was growing up, game night was a regular thing for my family. We had a huge collection of board games, and added to it frequently. Playing games was an inexpensive way to spend time together and have a lot of fun, and we still frequently play games as a (now larger) family. By the time I was a teenager, I started having game nights with friends, and that has also remained a regular part of my life. I’m now the proud owner of my own game collection (as are my sisters). Actively participating in a game, whether it’s cooperative or competitive, encourages connections between people while having fun.

Game nights are good for all ages, all types of groups, and can be planned or spontaneous. Here are a few “Amanda Approved” suggestions:

Board and Card Games

Screenshot 2019-09-15 at 8.39.58 AMTried and true, as well as reusable, these kinds of games can be pulled out and played at a moment’s notice. When I was a kid, our staples included Life, Monopoly, and Clue. We also enjoyed party style games like Pictionary, Outburst, and Taboo, which can be played in small or large groups. These days, my personal collection includes all the above, as well as  more complicated games like Arkham Horror, Ticket to Ride, and Pandemic (just to name a few). Apples to Apples is also a favorite (and some of my friends swear by the similar, but R rated, Cards Against Humanity…not really my thing, but really popular with people who don’t mind things getting raunchy).

Untitled design (2)There are also trivia games, traditional card games, memory games…I could go on, but you get the idea. I do want to mention just one more re-playable game, though, because it’s a little bit different and a ton of fun. A writer friend recently introduced a group of us to The Storymatic, which can be used for independent writing prompts or for cooperative storytelling. We drew cards related to settings and characters, and went around the room adding our cards to the narrative, then drawing new cards until the story was “finished”. It was a more free form kind of game, required some creativity, and was hilarious. I mean, when a pirate and a psychic walk into a hospital waiting room, anything can happen.

There are so many games out there, so check your basement, poke around on Amazon, or visit a game store, and you’re pretty much guaranteed to find something perfect for a few hours of fun with friends or family.

Puzzle and Mystery Games

I’ve talked to a few people who’ve balked at the idea of spending $20 or more on a game that they can only play once, but when I think about how much it costs for three or four people to go to a movie or other entertainment activity, I don’t see a problem spending less than that for a fun evening in. I’m a big fan of mystery box games, and am now getting into escape room box sets.

Screenshot 2019-09-08 at 9.23.09 AMMy first mystery game experience was when I was fourteen. The game was called “Barbecue with the Vampire”, designed specifically for teenagers, and a friend’s parents put it together for her birthday party. I loved it, and over the years have played, and hosted, many other box mystery sets. The concept is simple: each player is assigned a character, and given specific knowledge and information. The games also provide clues and information for the group. The goal is to solve the crime and identify the guilty party…unless you happen to be the guilty party, in which case you’re trying to keep from being found out. Everything you need is in the box, and the experience can be as simple or elaborate as you want. I’ve participated in games where the host decorated their house according to the theme and we were encouraged to wear costumes, and I’ve had groups decide last minute to just open the box and get started. If you don’t have the maximum number of players, one person can take on multiple roles and shepherd the game in a more “gamemaster” style (I’ve used hats and accessories to indicate when I’m becoming a different character). There are lots of box sets available, and although the same people can’t play the same game twice, they can be loaned out and passed on for others to play with their friends and families.

Untitled designI’ve been an escape room freak for almost two years now, and have posted about why they’re such great experiences. I have to admit that I was a little skeptical at the idea of trying it at home, but I’ve been surprised and pleased at how much fun my friends and I had when we tried it. Last weekend, we played a game called “The Werewolf Experiment”, which promised, correctly, that we could just open the box and start playing. The instructions were easy to follow, the puzzles were challenging but doable, and while we had to look in the hints booklet twice (three times was the game’s suggested maximum), we never had to get into the answer book (although we were glad it was available, just in case). When we unlocked the last box, everyone cheered.

Untitled design (1)This is another case where each player can only play once, but the game can still be reused. This particular game has PDFs on their website to allow you to print new copies of the consumable puzzles, and detailed instructions for putting everything back together. I’m planning on taking it to my parents’ house for our next family get together, so they can play while I control the hints and add to the atmosphere. Two of my friends have asked to borrow it to do the same with other groups of people, so we’re definitely getting our money’s worth. When we considered that the game cost just over $20, and most physical escape rooms cost about that much per personwe all agreed that it was worth the cost for just one play…and then we ordered three more.

final answer

What are your favorite games? Who do you play with (or plan to play with)? What are some ways to make game nights even more awesome? Let’s talk!

Last week, I mentioned the benefits of reading and offered some suggestions for finding the right book for you. This week, it’s all about finding the time, which is a strangely appropriate plan because last week I barely had time to breathe. Here’s my best advice for getting your pages in:

Keep Your Book Handy

bag and tabletWith the exception of the occasional formal event, I never carry a bag that isn’t big enough for a paperback or my Kindle. Or both. Usually both. You never know when you’re going to end up with some unexpected free time, and that’s a great time to get your reading in. Waiting rooms, grocery store lines, arriving somewhere early…it’s hard to realize how much wait time we tend to have unless we’re actively looking at it. I know I accumulate at least half an hour every week just waiting for someone to arrive so we can start a meeting (especially since I’m terminally early, and sometimes other people…aren’t). When I started my first “real job” in my early twenties, people in the office had such different schedules that I usually ended up going to lunch alone, and reading at lunch became a lifelong habit (unless I’m with someone else, of course). You’ll also always be prepared for the unexpected, like waiting six hours for your car to get fixed after you threw a rod halfway through a four hour drive…just as a totally (not) hypothetical example. Keep your reading material close at hand, so you never miss a chance to get in a few pages.

Try Different Formats

Screenshot 2019-08-31 at 6.24.58 PMIf your reading opportunities tend to be in shorter chunks, or you’re not sure about diving into a novel, you might consider a collection or anthology. Short story, essay, and poetry collections are perfect for bite sized reading, and help you further refine your tastes. They can also be great for discovering new authors and new interests. Some of my very favorite authors I first read in a collection. The Best American series is a real treasure trove, with collections ranging from short stories to essays to food and travel writing and beyond. I especially love the Nonrequired reading collections, because of the wide range of topics and formats.

Audiobooks are another option. Listening to a book still gives you most of the mental and emotional benefits of reading one, and can give you reading time when you need your hands or eyes (or both) for something else-like driving, for instance. My first experience with audiobooks was during a period where I was living five hours away from my family, and driving home to visit one or two weekends a month. The audiobooks made the long drives fly by, and my parents grew accustomed to seeing me sitting in my car outside their house while I waited for the end of a chapter. I don’t make many long drives anymore, but I do listen every day while going to and from work, and often even when I’m just going down the street to the grocery store. I also listen while cleaning my house, exercising, and organizing my work space. Sometimes I have one book I’m reading and another I’m listening to, and other times I go back and forth on the same book (I’m totally in love with Amazon’s Whispersync function).

Make it a Priority

To Do ListIf you have decided that reading more is something you want to do, then be sure to keep that desire in the front of your mind. It’s easier to find time for the things we want to do, and the things we consider important. You can set a specific time (even on my busiest days, I always read for at least half an hour before bed) or a daily goal. Try playing around with your downtime by replacing something you normally do with a little bit of reading, and see how that works for you. If you (like me) are always making to do lists, then add your reading to the list so you don’t forget, and can have the satisfaction of crossing it off as accomplished.

bitmoji-20181110095456

Any other timesaving tips? Read anything good lately? Let’s chat.

I’ve always been a rabid reader, right from childhood. For 2019, I set a personal goal to read 250 books, and having finished number 176 yesterday, I’m right on schedule. When I talk to friends and colleagues about reading, I often hear, “I’m just not a reader” or “I wish I read more” or “I can’t ever find the time to read”. I’m constantly encouraging others to read more, because in addition to being a great mental escape, it’s good for your brain, decreases stress levels, and improves communication skills (for more on the benefits of regular reading, check out this article from Lifehack).

The first step to reading more is to get your hands on something that appeals to you. You might think that with all the reading I do, I don’t have any trouble finding great books. I wish that were the case, but burning through books so fast means I’m constantly on the hunt. With so many options, finding the right one for you can be really daunting. However, it’s completely doable:

Step One: Figure Out What You Like

Screenshot 2019-08-25 at 1.06.01 PMReading is going to be more interesting if you follow your interests. I read mostly fiction, but I do keep an eye out for nonfiction about things that genuinely engage me. Are you a movie fan? Consider a biography of a favorite director, a book or article going behind the scenes of a favorite film, or maybe a book about cinema history. If you watched a documentary or took part in a conversation on a topic that piqued your interest, dig a little deeper on the subject. I’m a longtime circus fan, and that interest has led me to read a lot about circus and carnival history (which, by the way, is a fascinating subject). If you’re looking for a starting point, try a collection of essays (I frequently recommend Malcolm Gladwell’s What the Dog Saw, which has engaging examinations of topics ranging from advertising to condiments to the difference between choking and panicking). You can also look for biographies of people you admire, self improvement books on things you want to change in your life, or books on your professional field.

Screenshot 2019-08-25 at 1.51.08 PMFocusing on your interests also helps when selecting fiction. My aforementioned interest in the circus led me to Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, one of my favorite books of all time, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, which has some of the most beautiful writing I’ve ever encountered, and even Stephen King’s Joyland, which is actually about an amusement park but had some of the same ambiance. Outside of the circus connection, these books have very little in common, but I thoroughly enjoyed all three. In fiction, you can also focus on genre. What kinds of stories do you like? Romance? Science fiction? Fantasy? Horror? Military fiction? Historical fiction? Another genre entirely? A genre based search is a great way to find books that will appeal to your personal taste. If you aren’t a big reader, start with movies. The kinds of films you really enjoy will help point you towards the kinds of books that will hold your attention. My dad, who isn’t a huge reader, enjoyed watching Jack Reacher so much that he read the entire series-more than 20 books. After that, he went looking for similar thrillers and discovered a lot of other authors. A friend of mine enjoys romantic comedies, so she got into chick lit.

Step Two: Find the Book

Ok, so you know what kind of book you want. Now how do you find it? There are lots of ways to hunt down that perfect title, including:

  • Visit a library or bookstore. Wander the aisles or go straight to your preferred genre section. Pick up what catches your eye, read the blurb, and flip through. Talk to librarians and employees and get their recommendations. Browsing an online bookstore or library site also works, but be sure to read the sample before you make a purchase.books
  • Web resources. Goodreads let you browse titles and reviews in several ways, including genre, or you can check out their lists (one of my favorite features) to see collection of books that fit a particular interest. If you sign up for an account and enter things you’ve read and a start rating, the site gives you personalized recommendations. I also really like What Should I Read Next, where you enter a title or author you enjoy and receive suggestions for other titles.
  • Get personal recommendations. If you know someone who’s a reader, ask him or her for suggestions. Be sure to specify your interests, so you don’t end up hearing all about a book you’ll never want to read.
  • Check out book blogs. I follow quite a few, and other people’s reviews often point me towards books I might have missed, or help me determine whether or not a book is for me. For example, I had no intention of reading City of Girls until Kristin’s review changed my mind, and Beth and I share so many of the same tastes that a recommendation from her is as good as gold.
  • Keep an eye on the bestseller lists and look for titles that appeal to you.

So go find your next great read, and on the next post we’ll talk about finding the time to read it.

reading on book

Read any good books lately? What’s on your interest list? Facing any reading hurdles? 

Last week I suggested listening to music as one of several ways to quickly improve a bad mood, so it seemed like a good time to share a few more selections from my personal happy mix. These songs in particular acknowledge that sometimes things aren’t going great, and encourage a more optimistic attitude.

If You’re Going Through Hell by Rodney Atkins

The theme here is simple and straightforward: sometimes things get really tough, but if you keep going you’ll make it through. The message is delivered through an upbeat tempo that helps kickstart your body’s positive chemicals, and a few extended metaphors that drive the point home. I enjoy videos that tell a story, and this one’s fun to watch.

Favorite Lines: “But the good news is there’s angels everywhere out on the street, holding out a hand to pull you back upon your feet”.

All Star by Smash Mouth

This one starts with another plain truth: sometimes people are going to try and tear you down. Then it reminds us that we’re all awesome, and encourages us to embrace it. That’s a message I can definitely get behind. Again, the tune is upbeat and catchy.

And yes, the video’s kind of weird…but I like it. 🙂

Favorite Lines: “The ice we skate is getting pretty thin, The water’s getting warm so you might as well swim”.

Feels Like Today by Rascal Flatts

This song has been one of my favorites for a LONG time, from the first time I heard it. It isn’t peppy like the others; instead, it starts somewhat small and builds to a soaring melody that really sticks with you. The entire song is a reminder that good things are coming our way, no matter what’s going on at the moment. I also really love the video.

Favorite Lines: “While there’s light at the end of the tunnel, keep running towards it”.

The Champion by Carrie Underwood

This is one of the most recent additions to my list. It’s a direct, unapologetic anthem that says, “I worked for it, I deserve it, and I’m going to get it”. Listening to this song gives me an immediate burst of energy, and I think it can apply to any situation where you’re pushing yourself to achieve or overcome something. The video underscores that with images of athletes, social movements, scientific achievements, classroom teachers, rescue workers, and more.

Favorite Lines: “I am invincible, unbreakable, unstoppable, unshakeable, they knock me down, I get up again”.

For more feel good song recommendations (including my personal theme song), see this post.

turntable

I’m always looking to add to my list, so please recommend your favorite songs and videos!

The other day, I had a seriously rotten morning. I massively overslept, which threw a major wrench in my routine. I left my house so late that I had to deal with rush hour traffic (which, if you read last week’s post, you know I despise), and while I wasn’t officially late for work, I arrived a lot later than I normally do, and didn’t get my cherished hour of quiet to get started on my day. I had a lot to do, including some meetings I was dreading, and people stopped me in the hall to tell me about new problems before I even made it to my door.

By the time I got to my desk, I was already feeling angry and defeated. However, hiding from the world wasn’t an option, and I knew that facing the rest of the day with a bad attitude was only going to make things worse.

I’m willing to bet that a lot of you have been there. A bad mood wants to hang around, and it can be hard to shake off, especially if you have a limited time to put your game face on (in this case, I had about fifteen minutes). Luckily, there are several things you can do very quickly that give you a badly needed emotional boost. I can say that I walked out of my office in a much better frame of mind, but I’m not just speaking from experience here: there’s a scientific basis for all three of my favorite fixes.

Research has shown that these simple actions can immediately make you feel better, and if you make a habit of them, they have long term, cumulative benefits. You can even improve your physical health, for a total win-win! So the next time you want to turn your frown upside down (sorry, couldn’t resist), try:

1. Music

smartphone-vintage-technology-musicMusic is one of my favorite ways to keep myself in a positive headspace. Listening to a favorite song, especially if it’s upbeat, is one of the fastest ways to give yourself a boost. I have a happy mix (more on that in this post) that I play every morning, and as much as possible throughout the day, to minimize stress and increase my energy.

Find more on the science, and the benefits, of music here.

2. Laughter

The benefits of laughter are huge. If you’re feeling out of sorts, think of a funny memory, or watch a quick humorous video, like The Muppets performing Bohemian Rhapsody. 

LaughThat one always works for me, anyway. 

If all else fails, fake laugh. That might sound a little strange, but scientists have discovered that fake laughter causes your body to produce the same beneficial chemicals as real laughter, so it’s still going to make you feel better. 

Here’s the proof, and additional interesting info.

3. Communication

Speech BubblesStudies have proven time and again that interacting with others is very important for emotional health. While face to face conversation has the highest benefit, according to current research, phone calls and electronic communication also fill our need for socialization. A quick chat, email, online dialogue, etc. creates an instant mood boost, so when you want to get out of a funk, take a few minutes for some human connection. I talk to my mom and my best friend every morning (even if it’s only a brief exchange) to start the day off right, and go straight to one of them if I’m feeling unhappy. 

To make sure I’m not making this up, and learn more, click here.

happy mood

How do you haul yourself out of the dumps? Share your favorite tricks in the comments!

I can’t believe it’s already August! Last month was a mix of fun and irritants (but a good month overall). Here’s the recap:

Episode One: Independence Week

fireworks

We fade in on me, sitting on my couch, reading a book, with “July 1” written at the bottom of the screen. Suddenly, we hear the sound of fireworks as my neighbors, as usual, start the Independence Day festivities a few days early. Cut to a later scene of me lying in bed with a pillow over my head as the crackles and booms continue. Fade into “July 2”, with me working at the kitchen table, twitching a little every time there’s a small explosion outside. Repeat the shot with the pillow. “July 3” appears on the screen over a different scene. I’m looking a little wrung out while explaining to a colleague that yes, fireworks are illegal where I live, but that the police ignore it for about a week leading up to the 4th, so it’s jut something I have to deal with. Cut to the evening, with more twitching and hiding under my pillow. “July 4” opens at the movies, where I’m catching an early showing of Far From Home (my spoiler-free review is here), and then fades to me celebrating Independence Day at a local park, and thoroughly enjoying a totally legal fireworks display on the appropriate evening.

Unfortunately, the episode ends with a quick montage showing that it was three more days before my neighbors finished setting off their personal hoard. *sigh*

Episode Two: The Go-To Girl

Fade in on a traffic jam. Zoom in on yours truly, scanning radio stations and breathing very deliberately. Cue voice-over:

trafficI don’t do rush hour. I will do just about anything to avoid traffic jams, including leaving early, staying late, and taking circuitous routes that cover a lot more distance than the crowded highways. When I’m in the car, I want to be moving. However, for the next few days I’m in off site meetings at a location about 40 miles away, on a timetable that means I’ll be in morning and evening rush hour traffic. I am trying to see it as a test of my patience and positive attitude.

Then there’s a whole lot of me talking to myself:

  • “Turn signals are our friends, people.”
  • “Slow and steady wins the race.”
  • “I’ve been sitting on the highway, all the livelong day…”
  • “I’m the ‘go-to’ girl, so I’ll go to these meetings. No worries.”
  • “Seriously, my lane isn’t moving any faster than yours!”
  • “I need a donut.”
  • “It’s only three days, it’s only three days…”

Since the meetings themselves weren’t particularly interesting, we repeat the highway experience a few times, then skip ahead to my boss thanking me for taking care of business, and then asking me to join an interview panel.

Me: That really is not the way I’d like to end my week.

Him: I know, but I’d really appreciate it. You know you’re my-

Me: -don’t say it-

Him: -go-to girl.

Me: Ug.

Him: I’ll bring donuts.

Me: …that’s fair.

For more thoughts on being the “go-to girl”, see my Dangerous Compliments post. (Incidentally, my boss is a great guy who always shows appreciation, so that post is really more about others who shall not be identified.)

Episode Three: Celebrate!

party time

Fade in on a park pavilion, full of people and decorated with balloons and banners proclaiming “Happy First Birthday”. In the center of the festivities: my best friend Katie and her adorable little boy. This segment of the episode features food, presents, a smash cake, and (of course) THE QUESTIONS (see June in Review for more on that).

Next up: The entire family converges on Dad’s favorite restaurant for a belated Father’s Day celebration. Featuring a fair amount of table hopping (we were split between two booths), a discussion of whether vegetable ice cream is a good idea (we’re leaning towards “no”, but none of us have been brave enough to try it), and Dad’s good-natured grumbling about us buying him presents even though he told us not to.

Finally, a celebration of Aunt’s and Uncle’s Day combined with Mother’s Day part two. So here we have a lunch and presents for my beloved Aunt Mary, and then we went to see a musical (we’d bought the tickets as a Mother’s Day present back in May).

All the socializing and conversation prompted my post on things to learn about people.

Episode Four: Preempted

This week there would be a re-run or a filler of some kind, because I was fighting a cold and doing nothing interesting. It did, however, give me a unique chance to feel grateful. Luckily, the cold is now history.

Sunbeam

I’m feeling good and ready to conquer August. How about you?

medicine-thermometer-tablets-pills

My brain feels like oatmeal and my immune system is in revolt, but let’s not dwell on that, because I am living in a modern world that offers so many things to make my life easier. Today I am thankful for:

  • Puffs with lotion
  • Vicks VapoPads
  • Soft pillows and fuzzy blankets
  • Delivery services, including drug stores and restaurants
  • Heating pads
  • Hot tea
  • Netflix
  • NyQuil and DayQuil
  • Audiobooks
  • Naps
  • Air conditioning
  • Soup
  • My sense of humor

I am cocooned, medicated, fed, and entertained, and haven’t had to go anywhere or call in any favors. Things could be a whole lot worse.

I'm Sick

What’s going on in the world outside of my house?