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Ramblings.

Graphic Design., Inspiration., Projects., Ramblings., REUTS., Writing.

Some New Things…

June 28, 2016
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Since the blog has been experiencing some radio silence lately, I figured I might update you with what’s going on in Ashley land, and what to expect in the future (read: it’s a lot).

Cover Art Tutorial

After all the interest I received from my previous cover art tutorial for REUTS Publications, I’m excited to revive it and offer a new cover art tutorial based on a dear friend’s manuscript. You can expect weekly (or bi-weekly, let’s be real… my summer is p-a-c-k-e-d) posts, from start to finish documenting how a cover design goes from an idea to an advertisement on a Barnes and Noble bookshelf. I’m super excited, so don’t forget to sign up for my mailing list (form below in the footer) to follow along!

From Dill to Dracula

Did I mention I’m busy? From Dill to Dracula is the source for a lot of my daily efforts. Honestly, it started as a joke. I tweeted about how Romanian recipes tend to be unhealthy, and how I should try to create a cookbook of interpreting Romanian recipes with a healthy twist. Playing off this joke-of-a-concept, I tweeted the hypothetical name of my cookbook:

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And then… I fell in love.

I secured the domain name and got to work. From Dill to Dracula has transformed a bit. I dub it A Romanian Food and Folklore Blog where I’m planning on sharing both my family’s Romanian recipes, as well as different cultural tidbits you might not be aware of. There’s already a recipe posted, with a few in queue awaiting release. For the first few months, I’m going to try and be ambitious, posting every week. Then, once there are enough posts in the blog, I’ll be cutting that down to every other week.

If you’re interested in following along, please be sure to sign up for my mailing list. It’s different from the one I use for Eventide & Barley, so you’ll need to make sure you’re signed up for both 😉

A New Writing Project

That’s right. I started writing another book. Except, this time, I already have 15k words written, and (almost) a full plot ready for execution! I can’t explain much about said book, other than the tentative title’s acronym ends up being OTSaON. Any ideas? It’s my first true attempt at Young Adult. Not New Adult. Not Adult. Straight-up Young Adult. And, you know how I feel about Happily Ever Afters, but I’m happy to say OTSaON features a happily ever after… for most everyone 😉

Cardboard Monet, Graphic Design., Ramblings., Random., REUTS., Web Design., Writing.

Why #ILoveTwitter.

March 26, 2016
twitter-love

Twitter recently celebrated a milestone anniversary and, with it, started trending the #ILoveTwitter hashtag. Fitting, really. Now, I’ve only been on Twitter—consistently—for about three years, but I did partake in the hashtaggy goodness because I truly felt obligated. Why? Well, let’s rewind a little bit.

Not many of my IRL friends know I’m on Twitter. It’s actually a social media service that’s more looked down upon than embraced. And, quite frankly, I felt the same way they do about Twitter before I found myself swept up in the community. So, yes, at one point I all but scoffed at the thought of using Twitter, and believed the people who did use it [as frequently as I do, now] were self-absorbed narcissists that only talked about what they had for dinner, or what they were wearing. Hey! Look! I did both of those in one tweet.

#ILove[you]Twitter

As you can see, things have changed. I don’t view Twitter as the sewage of the internet, though you can find those dark alleys, spewing hate and violence, as you might be able to find anywhere online. Instead, Twitter has taken up shop in a very special place in my heart: the writing community. I know I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember, and I’m hoping to make the transition from writer to published author very soon, and, before Twitter, I felt disconnected from a community I so desperately wanted to be a part of. Sure, starting your own publishing company helps, but I really have Twitter to thank for introducing me to other awesome writers, contests and activities to help me hone my writing skill, and exploding my “To Be Read” list beyond anything I can conceivably finish within my lifetime.

That’s why #ILoveTwitter.

I feel like I finally belong in the little niche of the world where I can combine my love for words with my love for design. I feel like I can lament about writer’s block troubles and participate in writing sprints to pull me out of those dark moments. I feel like I have made genuine connections with friends I have never, and may never meet. And, when we do, it’s as if we’ve been best friends our entire life.

#ILoveTwitter. And I’m no longer ashamed to say so because it has enhanced my life in ways I wouldn’t have been able to fathom if I hadn’t fully immersed myself in that community.

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Ramblings.

Baking Soda is Salty & Apple Cider Vinegar Burns Your Eyes.

March 24, 2016
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Even when diluted.

The title has a point, I promise, though it functions as an effective PSA to avoid eye contact with apple cider vinegar (hint: it burns). I’m gearing up for my next haircut appointment with a new stylist and, since they aren’t familiar with me, and I’m not familiar with them, I’m going to have to tell my stylist I didn’t want her to wash my hair.

WHAT?

I know, I kind of hate myself for having thought it (let alone said it), too. My favorite part of getting a haircut was the scalp massaging wash they started it off with. But from here on out there won’t be any pre-washing of my hair. At least, not in the traditional sense. Why? Because I haven’t washed* my hair since February 2015.

*Alright, not the whole truth. I don’t wash my hair with shampoo or conditioner, but I do wash it, in a sense. More to come on that.

Whenever I mention that I haven’t washed my hair with shampoo or conditioner since February 2015 (otherwise known as the “No-Poo Movement”), I get a lot of questions and a lot of interest from friends wondering what it’s like, and if they’d be able to do the same. Since I’m sure there’s a lot of curiosity out there about going chemical-free, I figured a blog post would help to, 1. get the word out there, and 2. help someone take the leap.

But first, what does it mean to join the “No-Poo Movement” (a term I’m not thrilled to be using myself, because it definitely sounds like a fad). Essentially, as the name says, it’s no longer washing your hair with fancy and fragrant shampoos/conditioners. After doing my own research, I learned shampoo acts as a detergent for your hair, stripping it of all the good, and requiring additives (such as conditioner) to replace what’s being taken away. But conditioner is a chemical, too. My first red flag was the need of a second product (conditioner) to fix what the first product (shampoo) did. It seems counter-intuitive . . . because it is. Our hair has so much natural conditioning agents we don’t need to strip and then fix it afterwards, we can just let it do it’s own, natural thing.

So, essentially, I have used up all my bottles of shampoo and conditioner in favor of baking soda (the shampoo equivalent) and apple cider vinegar (the conditioner equivalent). Though there is a convenience factor to bottled shampoo/conditioner (with my new set-up I usually have to mix my concoctions just before I take a shower), I have really enjoyed the outcome. That is, after the awkward, oily period.

True Talk: It sucks. For at least a month, many times longer, you go through the awful period of always greasy hair. Why? Because your hair naturally produces more oil when you use shampoo because it’s constantly being stripped of those natural oils. So when you stop using shampoo it takes just a little bit for your hair to realize, “HEY! I don’t need to kick it into oily overdrive anymore!” (And yes, in this instance, my hair had a consciousness and spoke telepathically to me.)

Some reasons why you might want to make the switch:

1 // Environmental Footprint

  • One of the reasons shampoo/conditioner aren’t healthy for your hair is because they’re made of chemicals. And when you wash it out of your hair it runs down the drain, into the sewer, and contaminating our environment. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t do nearly as much as I could to be kind to our environment (and I really should make more of a point to be environmentally conscious), and I know it seems like the times you use shampoo/conditioner wouldn’t contribute to the pollution of our surroundings, but if you can avoid doing it regardless, why wouldn’t you? I’m not going to lie, my main reason to jumping to the No-Poo movement is my following point, but the fact that I might be taking a step in the right direction as far as my environmental footprint, then I’m proud to be doing something.

2 // Financial Gain

  • Shampoo and conditioner is expensive! At a minimum of $3.00 a bottle (if you get the cheap stuff) that can really add up over the course of a year, or years. At average, a box of baking soda is $0.70 (I get mine at Aldi for only $0.43, and I keep it in my kitchen so I can use it for baking needs, too!), and a bottle of apple cider vinegar is around $3.00 (“But, Ashley!” you say. “That’s the same price as a bottle of shampoo or conditioner.” You’re right, it is, but you dilute it when used, so you don’t run through it nearly as quickly as you would shampoo/conditioner). The numbers don’t lie, you save a lot when going No-Poo.

3 // Someone Double-Dog Dared You

  • I think we can agree this one is fairly self explanatory 😉

4 // Any other reason! You don’t need to justify it.

  • Just do it . . . if you want!

 

Now, you’re probably wondering how you can take the leap and try to No-Poo Movement for yourself. While I could list specifics here, there are many other sites online that explain it better than I could, especially since I’ve always sort of just eyeballed quantities. Check these blogs out: The Hair Pin, The Crunchy Moose and Nature Moms.

So, what do you think? Have I piqued your interest? It’s definitely a commitment, but one that pays off in the end.

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Ramblings., Random.

My experience going viral (on a small scale).

March 17, 2016
Twitter

Mid-January, I made a small tweet I didn’t really think about. It was of a quote I once heard, likely from a professor I can’t remember, but the words stuck with me for the years to follow. I had to butcher it significantly to fit the Twitter character count, but the gist of it comes down to:

Never make fun of someone for mispronouncing a word because it means they learned the pronunciation through reading.

It rang true on so many levels, and I think that’s why it resonated with so many people:

1. Reading is good! You can learn a lot from just picking up a book.
2. Making fun of someone is bad, regardless the capacity.
3. English is hard!

Since January 22th, when I made that tweet, I’ve gone on a rollercoaster of new experiences, including small scale Twitter and Facebook virality, something I never thought would happen, and especially not from a tweet poorly structured and quickly composed. But, I guess that’s how going viral works–you can’t predict it or force it.

At first, I was happy to see all the “hearts” and retweets on Twitter. A couple hundred were cool, vaulting this tweet into my most successful tweet category (previously, it was a response tweet to @JaredLeto, which he retweeted, and gained approximately 40-60 “hearts” and further retweets). But I was proud my most successful tweet was done so on my own, and not because of a celebrity’s fame.

But, then weird things started to happen. About two months later, I woke up one morning with approximately eight new Facebook friend requests, along with some message requests. I wasn’t sure if it was related to the tweet, until I saw the same people following me on Instagram and Twitter, with a connection to that tweet in particular. Friend requests are harmless, but the messages were what really made me uncomfortable. Things like “Hi princess, how are you?” all the way to I love you.” My stomach twisted into knots.

Now, it might seem like I’m exaggerating. This is hardly “going viral” and only a few people broke the barrier to communicate with me, but did so in a very unacceptable way. And that’s what it comes down to; unsolicited messages of a personal nature has crossed the line, especially when I feel somewhat blindsided by the sudden popularity of a two-month-old tweet.

Since then, I’ve been dodging Facebook requests and messages, and filtering who I allow to follow me on Instagram. I never thought I’d be so uncomfortable about something like keeping my images public. But I don’t want the actions of a few to ruin the relationship with an online community I’m a part of. That’s why my Twitter is still public, my Instagram is still public, and I haven’t felt compelled enough to delete the original tweet. I’ve seen so much dialogue brought to light because of my tweet, and I don’t want that to stop. It’s important, on so many levels, to discuss the importance of reading and the reminder that bullying is bad, regardless the situation.

A lot of good has come from this one tweet, especially when a friend tagged me in this picture posted on Facebook:

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 9.47.52 AM

The individual who shared a screenshot of my tweet is blogger Fabulous Chase, and yes, there are over 6,000 shares on Facebook. Of my tweet. That’s on top of the over 6,000 retweets and 6,500 “hearts” on Twitter. The screenshot has also been shared on Instagram, with less interaction, but still. I’ve experience some of the downfall of going viral (on a very small scale), but even better, I’ve created a dialogue about reading and bullying, and hopefully helped people along the way.

I don’t know what exactly the point of this post was. Part sharing a quote that means so much to me, to a different audience. Part recognizing there are very boundaries that can be crossed, even in a digital setting (especially in a digital setting). In the end, hopefully more people can take away something from this, whether it be inspiring and educational, or a lesson that people behind a computer screen are just that: people.

What do you think? About the quote, about “going viral, and about interacting with people you don’t necessarily know? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter!

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Ramblings., Random.

What’s New In Ashley Land?

January 27, 2016
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The other day I made a semi-cryptic tweets, and received an overwhelming amount of support in return.

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So, what happened?

I quit.

No, not the blog, nor Cardboard Monet or REUTS Publications. Earlier this week I made the difficult—and somewhat spontaneous—decision to quit my day job, effective immediately. I won’t go into specifics as to why it happened, and happened in this specific way, but what I will say is so far it has been a positive experience, even if it’ll take a little bit to get used to.

And I can now breath the biggest sigh of relief.

So, instead of being a Debbie Downer about this situation, help me celebrate! I’ve decided to piggy-back off of my “End of the Year” sale, and offer a I Quit My Day Job sale. Order a book cover project by February 15, 2016 and get $100 off your order!

In addition to cover art, I’d like to extend a typesetting discount! Typically my rate is flat for up to 100,000 words, but because we’re celebrating, I’d like to increase that limit to 200,000 words! Huzzah!

Request a quote today and lock in your February and March dates :)

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Ramblings., Random., Video Games

That Whole Blogging Thing

January 12, 2016
wii

Last week I posted about my resolutions for 2016; some lofty, others more reasonably attainable. You’ll notice point number two under short-term goals was:

-Blog more, both in a personal and professional setting. And I have some exciting things brewing on the horizon which might help me achieve this resolution.

Well, guess what? I can finally announce some of those “exciting things brewing on the horizon.” Within the last week I have been accepted for not one, but two blogging positions with some video game blogs. Eeeee! That’s right, not only will I fulfill my very first resolution for 2016, but it’ll also help me write more, and I’ll have an excuse to pursue one of my favorite hobbies: video games. So, while I’ll focus on writing/design/me in this blog, you’ll be seeing posts from me at BitCultures and That VideoGame Blog in the very near future.

While I’m working on my first articles for these two blogs, I could use some (wo)manpower to help think up some new blog posts ideas. At the start, I’ll be working on reviewing some classic titles (meaning I get to dive back into some of my favorite childhood games), as well as showcasing what I think is the worst video game in video game history (it’s not E.T. for Atari). Have a neat-o burrito idea that I can write about / research in the video game industry? Leave it for me in the comments!

Stick with me, because things are about to get crazy. And you can follow my antics on the PlayStation Network by adding me as a friend! The name’s “supersmaaashley.” Do it, to it.

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Inspiration., Ramblings., Random.

New Year, New Resolutions

January 9, 2016
fireworks

New Year’s Resolutions always seem so lofty and out of reach. I almost didn’t want to place any additional stress on myself by coming up with some for 2016. But, at the same time, wandering aimlessly through the year seems like it could be a waste of 365 days. We’re already eight days into this new year, and I definitely feel as if I need some sort of direction, even if they’re small goals, to get me back on track and in the motivated spirit.

And so, with that, I’m setting some resolutions for myself. BUT, instead of just blanket resolutions on the year, I’m breaking these up into short-term and long-term goals, where the long-term goals don’t necessarily have to be completed by the end of the year, but if I’ve at least started them, I’m happy.

Well, here goes…

Short-Term Resolutions:
-Learn to meditate / start meditating. We work out our bodies, I think it’s important to work out our minds, as well. And since my career is primarily a mental strain, I want to do my mind a favor and learn to do… nothing. So, armed with the phone app Headspace I’m making the leap into meditation and mindfulness.
-Blog more, both in a personal and professional setting. And I have some exciting things brewing on the horizon which might help me achieve this resolution.
-Finish writing one novel. I should be putting this under the long-term resolutions, but I’m determined to finish at least one of my WIPs this year. I have to do it.
-Enter a short story competition. I see so many in the writing community who participate in these fun short story/anthology competitions, that I want to join in on the fun, too! A more lofty short-term goal, but that’s the beauty of short stories: they’re short.

Long-Term Resolutions:
-Finish all my WIPs. Not necessarily likely to happen within the 2016 year (though I suppose it could), but if I’m able to make significant progress, I’ll be happy.
-Establish a better work-home balance. The reason this is under a long-term resolution is because I don’t want it to ever end, and I know it’ll be tricky to implement (being the workaholic that I am).
-Learn a new language. Probably my loftiest goals, but I’d like to at least pick up a new language with a basic understanding of how to communicate. I’m deciding between Italian and Romanian, and kind of feel like I need to stick with my roots, and learn how to have riveting conversations with Dracula.
-Volunteer more. I recently was accepted to a local human society to help socialize cats, and I want to make this a permanent part of my life. Nonprofit organizations thrive on volunteer work, and I’m happy to be part of that community.

Do we share any resolutions? Want to learn Romanian with me? Let me know in the comments!

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Cardboard Monet, Graphic Design., Ramblings.

Cover Design is One Big Mistake

July 24, 2015
quote-Henry-Reed-we-each-have-a-sixth-sense-that-138095_1

The article title is not meant to be an exaggeration or click-bait. It’s the truth.

At least, for me it is.

Maybe mistake is a little harsh, but it sure feels like a profession I stumbled upon, and continue to stumble within. The cat’s already out of the bag: I have no formal graphic design training. None. But you want to know what I have in return? I call it my Sixth Sense. Design is all about feeling; how does something feel? If I change this serif font to san-serif, does the design feel better? If I change the background hues from sky blue to cerulean, does the design feel better? There isn’t anything tangible to put to the decision other than whether or not a design feels like it’s headed in the right direction, or just took a sharp U-Turn toward disaster.

Much like how I’ve stumbled into this career, I also stumble upon my designs.

Essentially, when I start a project I have a loose idea of the creative direction, usually a mixture of my own inspiration and the author’s input. But a “loose idea” doesn’t make a designer. Heck, most authors already have a mental visualization of the direction they want to pursue for their cover art. You don’t even have to be creative, but your minds-eye is fully capable of coming up with a sketch. And that’s where my Sixth Sense comes into play.

If you ask me why I’ve designed something one way, or made a change another way, you’ll notice I have a very hard time explaining the reason behind the madness (and, trust me, this is more madness than brilliance). If I’m playing around in Photoshop, trying different, random techniques, it’s usually something I stumble upon that sticks. And how do you explain a mistake to someone other than saying, “it just felt right?” I believe this goes hand-in-hand with inspiration, too. Sometimes if you’re inspired just the existence of that spark of creativity can push a designer to attempt different things. And, sometimes (read: most of the time), it’s just a matter of stumbling upon something unexpected(ly great).

I always keep the author and their story in mind, but sometimes (okay, most of the time) the best designs are created because of two things:

  1. Collaboration—having someone elses input can take a design from good to HOLY !@#$% THAT’S AMAZING.
  2. Pushing Outside the Box—just like my previous blog post about stepping outside your comfort zone, pushing outside that proverbial box more often than not will make a design exponentially better.

Sometimes this Sixth Sense makes me a bit self-conscious when I design. I design from the feeling I experience in my heart, not necessarily from the techniques or skills I’ve learned in a class; and some people may write that off as inexperience of lack of ability. I’ve been self-teaching myself graphic design since I was twelve-years-old, and finally think I found my place in the industry with cover art. There’s nothing better than combining your two passions, and mine just so happen to be art and writing :)

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Cardboard Monet, Graphic Design., Projects., Ramblings., Writing.

A Writer’s Google Search: Coffee Table Book

July 13, 2015
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I’ve had this idea swirling around in my head for quite some time now and I think it’s time to try and make it happen. I’m talking about the A Writer’s Google Search coffee table book I’ve been dying to create. Let me better explain:

The A Writer’s Google Search book a compilation of different and wacky Google searches authors make while writing their stories (e.g. “How to make bombs with soap” I’m sure you know who would have Googled this 😉 . The more outrageous and NSA-prone the tweet, the better. Seriously. The book itself would be visually appealing (think: something you’d see in Urban Outfitters, with lots of color/design and only a bit of copy on each page).

I just have one problem: I need collaborators. I want this to be a collaborative effort with suggestions from readers and writers in the community to help me determine the best, wackiest, or funniest searches to include. Will you help me out? Using the hashtag #AWKgoogle, start posting some of your own crazy Google searches, or come up with one you think your favorite author would have shared (Like my Fight Club reference above). Make it a game by leaving the author’s name out of the Twitter and let people guess who may have Googled that.

OR use this nifty form to submit your Google search:


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(If you’re submitting for your favorite author make sure you tag the search with their name!)

If one of your suggestions is chosen for the book I’ll include your Twitter handle or name — and once it does go to print those who have participated will receive a coupon discount for the finished product (I’ll be printing it through Blurb).

Any author out there knows some of their searches could end them either in the looney bin or prison, it’s just the nature of our business. So, what’s your favorite Google search?

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Tweet About This:

  • Help author @amruggs collect all the odd, terrifying & hilarious search terms a writer uses http://bit.ly/1CGZ5LI #amwriting #amresearching
  • #Amwriting authors: Share your freaky search terms for new collab project by @amruggs http://bit.ly/1CGZ5LI

 

(There’s no deadline to participation. Once I get enough [read: A LOT] of search options I’ll begin designing the book. Until then, lemme have ’em :) I’ll be posting my own, as well, so you can follow the #AWKgoogle tag to see what I come up with.)

Inspiration., Ramblings., Random.

Karaoke, and Overcoming Fears.

June 24, 2015
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Funny title, huh?

Trust me, I never thought I’d write those four words in the same sentence.

But there it is. Big and bold. Karaoke, and Overcoming Fears. If I’ve overcome the fears, why do I feel the slinking of dread in the pit of my stomach as I write this? Why does it still feel like a social handicap still follows me like a shadow? And why did I ever think this was a good idea?

Let’s back track a little bit, shall we? I’ve always had a bit of social—or maybe the right word would be presentation—anxiety. The kind where just the thought of having to step in front of a crowd of any size causes your muscles to tense, and your sweat floodgates to open. It doesn’t even matter who the crowd consists of. For my wedding I had a few-sentence speech to present my new husband with a groom’s cake and, in front of family, friends, the very people we wanted there, I felt exactly the same as I imagine I would delivering a speech in front of a sold-out stadium.

Utter terror.

Maybe it’s a bit of the perfectionist mentality, where I don’t want to get anything wrong and thus over-think and begin to stumble over . . . everything. A part of it is pride–caring about what other people think, even though I shouldn’t. But we’re also human. How can you control that side of human nature? It’s not impossible, but it sure as hell isn’t easy.

But there are few things I’m a firm, passionate believer in, and one of those can be summed up in a simple sentence:

The best [things]* exist outside of your comfort zone.

*You can sub out “things” for just about anything: experiences, friends, etc…

Where does karaoke fit into this?

See my comfort zone sitting over there? It’s the little two square feet of things like design, and video games, and reading. Well, you see, karaoke is approximately on the planet Mars in comparison. Just a bit outside of my comfort zone. If you would have asked me five years ago if I’d sing karaoke, I’d probably laugh in your face. I had done it once in college, but that was to Bohemian Rhapsody and it had a vocal track behind it, so it was more a sing along than actual karaoke. And I love singing, but I’ve always been told I was tone deaf, something that doesn’t go hand-in-hand with karaoke (correction: it totally does, but then again I don’t like making that big of a fool of myself . . .)

Then I moved to Wisconsin, and one night we decided to hit up a karaoke bar. Queue all the symptoms I mentioned before–chills, sweat, stuttering. We sat in the back, away from the bar, so I figured it was my lucky night. That is until we moved, and alcohol with peer pressure caused me to do the one thing I never thought I’d do:

Sing karaoke.

But I did it, and I didn’t die, or shrivel into a pit of embarrassment. I wasn’t fantastic, but it’s karaoke, by definition it’s not supposed to be fantastic (correction: “karaoke” actually means empty orchestra, which is hauntingly beautiful). That one night, a night I’ll never forget, has since changed my life. Now it’s 2015, I’ve been doing karaoke for about two years, and might consider myself an addict. I’m not fantastic at it, but there’s something about letting go of your inhibitions and just not caring that makes karaoke fun.

In case you’re curious (and I know you are), my go-to songs are:

  1. Somebody to Love or Don’t Stop Me Now, Queen
  2. Won’t Say I’m In Love or Part of Your World, Disney
  3. Don’t Know Why, Norah Jones
  4. Jar of Hearts** or A Thousand Years***, Christina Perri
  5. I’m Yours, Jason Mraz

So, in addition to this post being largely a ramble, it’s also a PSA to do something you’ve never done, something well outside of, or just a step outside of your comfort zone, and see how the change effects your life. I can’t promise it’ll be positive, but anytime I’ve found myself a good distance outside of my comfort zone, good things happen.

**Fun Fact: This was my first solo karaoke song . . . ever.
***Yes, I bust out a little Twilight soundtrack every once in a while.