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Things I Loved in 2014

Good gravy, what a year!
 
Left a job. Started a business. Said goodbye to my childhood pet and grandma. Saw Katy Perry catapult overhead in a rainbow jumpsuit. Set some boundaries. Said hello to creative freedom, dream clients, travel, and happiness. Turned down projects that didn't make my heart race. Shot my first paying gig. This August marked the first half of my golden year (and I've been collecting anything "gold" that I can get my hands on) and I'm honestly a little sad to see 2014 go.

But before the door shuts and we raise a toast, I wanted to share with you my favorite books, shows, products and apps that I loved this year.

You'll see that many of these were not published or launched in 2014.
Rather, these are the things that I enjoyed, found useful, or incorporated into my day-to-day this year. 

Cheers to a bright, shiny New Year!

Books

Fiction 

The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin (Buy) 

I can only compare this debut novel from Amanda Coplin as silence so loud it’s deafening, like standing in a dark wood only to hear the crazed whistle of your own loose thoughts.

This is the story of a recluse orchardist named Talmadge, orphaned in youth and left to survive with his sister who, one day, disappears from home. His life becomes a rabid search to find her to no avail, and a lifetime of questions left unanswered, rocks overturned in his mind and heart without a trace.

While tending to his Washington orchard, Talmadge, a quiet man with a steady hand for his work and sharp attentiveness for his crops notices two young girls enter his property. Scared, hungry, and both with child, Jane and Della are two sisters who enter Talmadge’s life to break the deafening silence he had become accustomed to. The book is poetic in its dialogue, tragic in the way it unfolds, and an earnest reminder to love without reserve, lest we slip through one another's fingers.

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (Buy)

There’s something about Irish authors that I love. Frank McCourt, Oscar Wilde, Colim Toibin — they're all supremely gifted. Maybe it’s because of the way they put a spin on sadness, or the way they can see God in all the details. Whatever it is, it’s clear that Colum McCann has it, too.

Let the Great World Spin is a story that thrives on synchronicity and interconnectedness of mankind. Opening with a shocking event unfolding high above the streets of Manhattan in August of 1974, it quickly lunges headfirst into the story of Corrigan, a radical Irish man brought to the Bronx to live among the sinners and saints in a self-flagellating calling to respect the disrespected. The novel, like a leaf blowing in the breeze, makes its way into the home of several Uptown mothers all dressed in black, mourning the death of their sons who gave their lives in Vietnam. Next, the scene of a hit-and-run accident leaves a young artist reeling, while a spry grandmother is called to the streets. Never before have I encountered a book that’s 

You wouldn’t think these characters have much in common. They are of different classes, different worlds, brushing shoulders only on the sidewalks of the city. But when the man on the tightrope between the World Trade Center takes his first step forward, they become part of each other’s story — an analogy to the events that unfold and the serendipitous ways that we’re called to one another out here in the real world. 

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri (Buy) 

I’m drawn to immigrant stories like a moth to a flame. The tension between leaving home and staking new ground are something that resonate closely with me, since the European side of my family came to the United States in the 70’s. I’m the only non-native Hungarian speaker on my Dad’s side of the family, the only one fully assimilated into the English culture. I’ve always had so many questions about the transition my grandparents experienced, painting mental pictures in my head of their home, the challenges they faced, how they were received. The process seems painful and thrilling all at once.

So when I picked up this book by Jhumpa Lahiri, an exceedingly talented author, it felt like a sort of homecoming, a book I could really sink into. Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli, Indian expats and newlyweds who’ve settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts are in the midst of acclimating to a new world together. He attends class and studies in the evenings. She cooks meals that remind her of home. The novel is dripping with detail, offering the reader intricate snapshots of the family’s day to day.

When the couple give birth to their first child, Gogol, he is burdened by his parent’s choice to pay homage to a tragic train event and a Russian author all at once. If you’ve ever felt a wave of embarrassment from your parents, a mild disdain for traditions past, or a feeling of pity deep in your gut, I have a feeling you’ll seek refuge in this book. This is a story of generational love, told with compassion, humor, and searing honesty about carrying the torch across continents and bloodlines.

Non-Fiction
 

Brand Thinking and other Noble Pursuits by Debbie Millman (Buy)

There is no one I respect more than Debbie Millman. The host of Design Matters and instructor at the School of the Visual Arts, her words have inspired me to take the leap toward launching Lexicontent, On Branding, and now Brandthology. She is the epitome of what I strive to be: warm, thoughtful, and thought-provoking in the way she gently asks questions of living design legends. You can probably tell, I admire Debbie on a whole other level, like a 60’s kid admired Ringo Starr. 

Brand Thinking isn’t a strategy playbook, nor is it a workbook. To me, it’s an anthology that I return to for blog posts and down to earth designspeak. I’ve heard somewhere before that it’s the written equivalent of being a fly on the wall at a bustling dinner party, among such greats as Malcolm Gladwell, Seth Godin, Alex Bogusky, and dozens of others who lead Fortune 500 brands, take up research in brand anthropology, or build household names from the ground up. 

A few quotes I've highlighted in my copy:

“To appeal to real people in the real world, the brand will have to be able to connect with a series of feelings we have that go back to the time we were four years old — and then — maybe reconnect that experience to a chocolate bar that people can buy for $4. […] The reason we keep refreshing the way so many things look is because of our ceaseless race to leverage the feelings of safety and nostalgia this old thing imparts, while simultaneously injecting a sense of newness to seduce us into reengaging in the experience.” — Seth Godin 

“It feels like we’re in a moment of repudiating the modernist impulse that says we’re happily abandoning the present as we rocket into the future. I think the whole return of retro design — the artisinal movement and the coveting of everything handmade — is evidence of this. It’s as if we’re struggling to create a new notion of time […] Designers are able to help us craft a new notion of what time missed.” — Grant McCracken, anthropologist, cultural commentator, consultant 

“We call this “the first moment of truth” — that moment when you decide whether you’ll invite the brand in and let it be a part of your life.” — Phil Duncan, VP and Global Design Officer, Proctor & Gamble 

The Desire Map by Danielle Laporte (Buy)

If I carry Debbie Millman on my right shoulder, then I carry Danielle Laporte on my left. She’s this starburst source of energy, a doula for inspired thinking and intentional revolutions. She’s helped countless women give birth to their dream businesses, rid themselves of toxic forces, and get knee deep in the work of dreaming. 

The Desire Map is one of those books that marks a turning point for me. Knowing how I want to feel through my Core Desired Feelings is the compass I use every single day. My CDF’s are personal — no one knows them but me — but they give my goals a kind of soulful direction that add up to something intense. In fact, our own Lexicontent workbooks and Emotional Targeting were inspired by the process of naming Core Desired Feelings. Knowing how you want your content to be received is similar to knowing how you want to feel as you go about your day, your month, and your year. Targeting the way you want your customers to feel when they open the email, watch the video, or page through your annual review is more than creating content: it’s creating an emotion that becomes synonymous with your brand.

Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés (Buy)

This is a dense, soul-stirring read, a classic in the canon of feminist literature — while avoiding the stigma of “feminist literature” all along. It smolders. It simmers. It’s like literary incense, dancing under Northern Lights, dyeing your hair with henna. It’s spiritual and raw.

Women Who Run with the Wolves is a homage to the craft of storytelling, and the use of myths, fairy tales, folklore, and symbolism to unveil the female mystique. It’s a timeless reminder of what it means to be a creative force, a source of life, and a creature in today’s wild landscape.

Albums

The Speed of Things by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Jr. (Buy)

This is pure Pop-Rocks for the ears. My favorite track is the very last one, “War Zone” but there are so many standouts on this album. Bonus: I saw these guys live in November and they were as energetic as you’d expect them to be. 

Awake by Tycho (Buy)

This is the album I listened to this year when I had to get massive amounts of sh*t done, or when I needed to be in creative-dreaming mode. It’s lush, cinematic, ambient and unobtrusive, somehow powering you through any beastly to-do list.

The Voyager by Jenny Lewis (Buy)

This album caught a lot of backlash this year, and I’m not too sure why. The Voyager is, no doubt, a new sound for Jenny Lewis, but not altogether a bad one. Her voice is turbocharged, especially on my favorite track, “She’s Not Me”, and the general vibe is pop-gloss Fleetwood Mac. The stories within are a bit “dear diary”, but the music validates whatever twee lyrics are thrown in. A fun album made for grooving to — not taking seriously.

Honorable Mention: 

Evergreen by Broods (Buy)
Sukirae by Tweedy (Buy)
Utah by Jamestown Revival (Buy)

Shows
 

Parenthood (Watch)

Oh, Parenthood. Since your debut in 2010, I have steadfastly waited for Thursday nights like a puppy waiting for its owner to come home at 5 o'clock. This show breaks my heart to smithereens, repairs it again, and stands as the image of what I’d like my family to be like someday. The way the stories are told, woven between vignettes among characters, is highly enjoyable, and the raw emotion blurs the line between “these are just actors” and “these people are an extension of myself”. I will say that this last and final season is my least favorite, but I have a feeling the finale will make me take that back…as I say goodbye in a blubbering pool of my own tears.

Downton Abbey (Watch)

Yet another mainstay in our household. Because of some fancy footwork, I’ve been watching the latest UK versions of the show and am loving it so far. That’s all I’ll say. This is a spoiler-free zone, of course. But I will say that scandal, sex appeal, and shock are par for the course this season. 

House of Cards (Watch)

When Season 2 dropped last February, I kid you not, I holed up in my house after work for hours upon hours watching this 'til (almost) sunrise. It was kind of an addiction. I’ve always had a penchant for political dramas, but this one is absolutely searing in its intensity...and sociopathy. If you haven’t watched this yet, or you’re just getting into the series, the last 30 seconds of Season 2 are goosebump-worthy. NO FAST FORWARDING. 

Products 
 

Audio Technica AT-LP60 Turntable (Buy)

I’ve wanted a record player for years and years. Joe bought this for me recently, and I’m in love. Unlike Crosley’s, which are all looks and low quality, this turntable from Audio Technica is built to stand the test of time. We’ve hooked ours up to play through a stereo system in the studio, which means all the record shopping I’ve done before finally has a means to an end. 

Teavana Contour Tumbler (Buy)

This year, especially with the launch of Lexicontent, I drank a lot of coffee. And tea. And hot beverages in general. At the same time, I also forgot about these beverages and they became ice cold within minutes, only to be found again come late afternoon and “salvaged” as “iced coffee” the next morning. Enter the Teavana Contour Tumbler. This thing keeps my drinks hot for 6+ hours, and even includes a basket for loose leaf teas. I love it.

DeLonghi Safeheat Radiator (Buy) 

We work in a studio inside of our home, which despite its 75 year age, is relatively well insulated. In the winter, it gets a bit chilly especially on the brick side of the house, so we bought this little radiator to supplement running the heat. This thing is magical. Like a giant toaster oven that gives off heat all day long. No noise, no weird humming, no strange smell. It keeps our toes warm all day (and night) long as we move it to whichever room we happen to be in. Totally worth it this winter.

Honorable Mention: 

Aeropress Coffee System (Buy)
Chromecast (Buy)
"Let the Good Times Roll" Lush Scrub (Buy)

Apps & Tools 
 

Sunrise 

I was never a huge fan of iCal. It was always messy, I juggled too many calendars, and to this day, I still get the notifications of people's birthdays that I picked up at a previous job. Yes, people I don't even know. But Sunrise is different. It's a lot more visually friendly, with color coding options, little icons that give a quick view of the type of activity, embedded maps, notes, and much more. It's a robust little calendar app, and I love the heck out of it. 

Scan Pages

Who owns a scanner? *crickets* Exactly. This app is some kind of sorcery. You take a picture of a document, like a receipt, lease, contract, or literally anything else, then it converts it into a high-res black and white version that looks exactly like it was run through a scanner. Save and send the file as a .PDF or .JPG too! This is a lifesaver if you own a business or generally like to stay on top of things.

UberConference 

We do a LOT of interviews, calls, and group meetings. Uber Conference came at the recommendation of Brad, and we've been using it ever since. Create a conference date/time, and the service calls everyone at once. You talk as usual, and once it's over, you have a really clear audio file that you can use for transcribing or general background. It's something we just can't live without.

Evernote 

My first love. My only love. I've used this since college when I toggled between two laptops pretty often, but because of some recent additions, I'm including this in the list. I use this in my writing every single day and it's never left me down. Notes and notebooks sync between devices seamlessly, everything is backed up and protected, and I can even search my notes by keyword. This year, the Evernote team also added some new functions like Work Chat, Context, and Presentation Mode. Whether you're running solo or running with a large work team, Evernote is an app to swear by.

Homejoy 

Homejoy is a home cleaning service that allows you to book a 2.5+ hour home cleaning straight from your iOS device or the Homejoy website. As an entrepreneur, this has radically changed my life in just two sessions. Since our studio is also located in our home, caring for both house and workspace is a huge time suck — and an unglamorous part of the week that left me feeling icky. Now I book an appointment whenever I feel the place needs a good deep cleaning and Homeboy's staff is on the way. I love it, and the price makes up for any time spent doing it on my own.

That's a wrap! What are some of the things you loved this year?