My Favorite Reads of 2015

2016 January 8
by Grace Boyle

I set a goal in the beginning of 2015, to read two books a month and nail 24 books by the end of the year. I will admit, it came down to the wire (as in December 31st) but I’m proud to say I did it. Not to diminish my 24 books in 2015 (which was a busy year!), but in 2013 I read 27!

I love reading. This was a joy to accomplish, but it had its challenges at times. I had to be conscious to read at times where instead I might have diverted to diving into my phone or doing something else. Another difficult rule is that when I start a book, about 99% of the time I finish it even if I didn’t want to. It helped me with focus and also hone in on what I love or don’t love in books. If there were the few books I started in 2015 and couldn’t for the life of me finish them, I didn’t count them.

GoodReads puts together a nice infographic of the synopsis. Great gamification!

Good Reads

Read 24 books!

 

Without further ado, here are my favorite books of 2015. I hope you enjoy them too:

All the Light We Cannot See | By Anthony DoerrThis was my favorite book I read in 2015. GoodReads also told me of all the books I read in 2015, benchmarked against other GoodRead users, it’s the highest rated as well. It’s a beautifully told work of fiction, based on historical facts, about a precocious blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France during the horrific World War II. The stories weave over the course of many years, keeping you deeply intwined into the characters as you grow with them. I couldn’t recommend it more.

Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts On Faith | By Anne Lamott: I resonate with Lamott’s writing and since this is a autobiographical novel, it felt even deeper. She writes visually, she takes you down the rabbit hole, and makes you feel with her words. This book is her chronicle on faith and spirituality, and her journey on her troubled past, and how she found faith. I’ve been very much into memoirs lately, so this is a nice mix of stories, diatribes, and visions. She does this all through a grounded nature and always manages to infuse humor into an another serious topic. I hope to read all of her work.

A Place to Stand | By Jimmy Santiago Baca: This was one of the last books I read of the year. It’s another memoir, and it’s quite harrowing! He’s considered once of the best poets in America so his writing is quite poetic. His story starts with a broken home, in and out of orphanages and jail, and by the time he was 21 he was facing five to ten years in prison for selling drugs. He was illiterate, and his story about how he spent time in isolation, came to his own, and learned to read and write. At times the story is hard to read from the brutality, and sadness he faces to our prison system and what he experienced. It’s a beautiful story of success and a great way to see that anyone can find their way no matter what they’re “handed” in life.

Eleanor & Park | By Rainbow Rowell: A little less heavy than the above mentioned books, this is a story about two misfits’ first love that was so touching to me. It’s realistic as it divulged the often over-the-moon, totally irrational, obsessed feelings that might come between two teenagers falling for each other, as well as the often inconvenient truths of young love and the changes we experience. It’s far from your cheesy RomCom, because the characters are very real and quirky, giving it an edge I didn’t expect. I couldn’t put it down.

Me Before You | By Jojo Moyes: This is another love story, that’s woven with passion and tragedy, and it’s another I never wanted to put down until I finished it. I was moved to tears as you’re drawn through the love and loss of this honest story between two lovers that couldn’t be more different. Sometimes the writing had a cheesy tone, but since I was so enamored, I looked past it (but worth noting here). This book is the perfect easy reading for the beach. Bring your tissues.

The Girl on the Train | By Paula Hawkins: This was a gripping novel, that was very ala Gone Girl. I saw my friend Elisa on GoodReads say, “five star story, four star writing,” about the book and I thought it was a good synopsis. But because I couldn’t put it down, and the story had interesting twists and psychological thriller components it was a favorite read. As one review shares, “Compulsively readable, The Girl on the Train is an emotionally immersive, Hitchcockian thriller and an electrifying debut.”

 

What were your favorite books you read in 2015?

An incredible customer experience: Southwest

2015 December 16
by Grace Boyle

Since 2011, I’ve come to love flying Southwest Airlines because of the good fares, their friendliness and lack of stuffiness, no hidden fees, and their ease of changing flights. Things change at a drop of the hat here at work when traveling to see customers, and the flexibility they offer is helpful. Most of our customer success team flies Southwest, and most of us also rock the Southwest credit card (including myself).

This year as I’ve moved away from “owning” customers myself, I’ve traveled a little less than other years because of my Director of Operations role for our growing Customer Success team. I still travel to see customers and travel for fun (my TripIt tells me 21 flights/trips this year, it’s still a good amount), but it lessened this year which is probably good for my sanity.

Traveling with TSA-Pre and A-list makes for a traveling baseline, you don’t want to be without. I noticed I was shy a few points of achieving A-list this year and ensuring it rolls into 2016. I spoke with someone at Southwest and upgraded one of my flights for a bit more, that would get me right to where I need to be. Ironically, I had two flights to see customers in December that helped ensure this accolade.

Then Denver had a snowstorm this week. My flight to the East coast was canceled. The Denver airport had almost 500 canceled flights on Wednesday.

We tried rescheduling but not everyone on my team could make it with the short time constraint we needed to arrive by, or with other airline options, the same day cost was astronomical. I hunkered down in the snow at home and we made the internal adjustments and onsite rearrangements that sometimes only weather can derail.

Then I realized, I’m 200 points shy of A-list without that flight!

And the only other way to get there, is to TAKE a flight before the end of the year OR purchase more points, which the lowest I could purchase were 2500, well above what I wanted and a hefty price. With the holidays next week and a (road trip) home for it, the flight wasn’t going to happen either.

In one last attempt, I took to Twitter. I tweeted to @SouthwestAir, they’ve always been incredibly responsive and I was curious if there were an option to purchase less points (I was willing to!) or if they had any ideas.

In less than an hour I had a response from Manuel. I explained the situation and asked if they had any ideas. Here’s his DM response:

Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 11.23.40 AM

I went back to work while the snow fell outside. I was already impressed at their response.

Then, in the completely timely fashion he promised, Manuel followed up with the greatest news below:

Screen Shot 2015-12-15 at 6.11.58 PM

 

I was floored.

I’m in the business of client services, retaining customers, ensuring their happiness, and going above and beyond. I know it isn’t easy. I also know as a consumer and frequent traveler, there’s a lot of crappy service out there in general, so although my standards are high I’m usually underwhelmed.

I’m also aware that Southwest get hundreds and hundreds of tweets a day on Twitter alone. There’s a lot of juggling happening.

Manuel took the initiative, got creative with my unique request, found the right people in the timeframe he said he would, and probably saw that I have been a consistent customer, spent a lot of money with them, and wanted to continue to do so with A-list as I was just 200 points away.

This is what differentiates good from great. 

I was happy with Southwest before, but I am a loyalist for life now.

I didn’t expect this response, so they truly delighted and wowed me. Sometimes little adjustments on the side of the brand can mean the world to the customer, and those that know the difference between those “adjustments” make the real impact. I know for sure I won’t forget this. I’m telling everyone I know, and I can’t thank Manuel and the Southwest team enough.

“Here is a powerful yet simple rule. Always give people more than they expect to get.” – Nelson Boswell

 

Your Brain On Love

2015 October 26
by Grace Boyle

Recently, I was recommended the audiobook version of Your Brain On Love by Stan Tatkin. His book Wired for Love is also (I hear) a great supplement of his work.

Your Brain On Love

Produced by Sounds True, the audio book has a strong focus on your brain, and shifting out of conflict into greater intimacy, and understanding with your partner. Which in my opinion, anyone could find useful. We’re always works in progress, period.

Tatkin is a researcher and couples therapist. I love his focus on neuriobiology (down to the literal science) and where he uncovers different attachments styles, based off experiences and who we are, that started at a young age.

One of my favorite parts is how he kicks things off in the beginning with known facts. I love how realistic he is, it’s very grounding. He shares that our brains are built more for war than love (e.g. the negativity is often where we go versus positive and our threat response is often getting in the way of love), there is nothing more difficult than another person, there’s no such thing as as low maintenance person, as partners we are inherently just annoying and will be a burden to the other, in love relationships no one comes pre-trained, you must train each other, partners are responsible for each other’s past (we are a proxy for everyone that came before), we don’t really know what we’re doing, and that the need for parenting, never really goes away.

These are things that often aren’t talked about, but are just at it’s core, so true.

Here are some highlights from Sounds True:

  • The neurobiology of mating—who we choose and why
  • The neurobiology of commitment—building security, the foundation of a healthy relationship
  • Anchor, Island, and Wave types: understanding your attachment style and those of others
  • “Is it you or is it me?” Understanding how the attachment styles of others interact with your own.
  • Experiencing healthy conflict through social contracts, ground rules, and awareness
  • Creating a lifelong plan to continue deepening your relationships

Since I drive on my short commute to work, I love listening to podcasts and this audiobook was no exception. I’ve already begun telling all my friends (single, partnered, married, etc.) because I felt it to be so interesting and helpful in self-awareness. I also think it’s great if you are partnered, that both parties listen to it (that’s what we’re doing).

I also felt some ways in which myself and partner operate (naturally, we’re different in many ways) made so much more sense. In my mind, it’s just one of the many resources I now use in my “tool-belt” for operating successfully, and in unison as a strong partnership.

If you’re at all interested, I couldn’t recommend it more. You can find it here on Amazon or on Audible here.

 

 

 

Making Time for Joy

2015 September 23
by Grace Boyle

I grew up with the phrase (over and over): life is bliss. 

When you think of the things you’re told growing up, this isn’t bad, right?

It was mundane to me though, at first. I don’t think I really knew what it meant until I left home thousands of miles away, for college when I was 18 and you can step away from what you grew up with (potentially your own bubble) and get context.

It was the first real step where I did something for myself, where no one else influenced my decision and I went with my gut on making the move from Iowa to Burlington, Vermont and really, following what felt joyful.

During those four years I acknowledge I had the privilege to make mistakes, make lifelong friendships, travel, live and study abroad, work hard, figure out what made me tick, and chase the joy. From then, I was hooked. I made a promise to myself that no matter what happened, I would keep working and coming back to find that joy and bliss.

dance off

On the flip side, there is work to be done daily to keep reemerging to find joy.

I stumbled across Erykah Badu’s essay on making time for joy in your life, and she shares that joy can easily be pulled from us, with the natural challenges of life:

There’s this natural instinct we have as human beings. Regardless of our position, religion, color or kind, we all have a primal desire for immediate, and almost unwavering, JOY. Eventually, through the experience of events and circumstance, we learn that this desire just may be unreasonable and unnatural. We watch our emotions sway as we are affected and influenced by the energy around us. Our own resistance to “unpleasantness” restricts our movement.

It’s extremely easy to get overshadowed by the doldrums of life. For that reason, I try to really integrate “self care” into my week. I know that I can only be my best self, be heads down, prepared for the challenges that undoubtedly face us – if I’m taking care of myself and subsequently making time for joy. It’s like a daily reminder, and something I think everyone can partake in.

What’s so special about joy is that it’s in the eye of the beholder (I love learning about what brings people joy) and it’s often in the little things that perhaps have no cost associated to them, and are at our fingertips everyday.

For me joy comes in many forms. It’s being out in nature, in the mountains and finding true stillness, kisses and cuddles from my dogs, pushing the limit physically on my yoga mat, on a big hike, or at Crossfit when I’ve surpassed a challenge I didn’t think I could do and running off those endorphins, shared belly-clutching laughter, uninterrupted time to read, a sunset, booking an adventure (whether it’s local for a weekend trip or far away by plane), eye contact, being honest with myself and others, quality time with my honey, catching a fish on the fly on a roaring river in the mountains with him, hard work paid off, happy hour in the late afternoon sun on a patio, feeling whatever it is I’m feeling (just being true), an delicious meal, a farm dinner, a fully stocked fridge and empty dishwasher, opening a bottle of wine you’ve been saving to celebrate (celebrate more!), eight or more hours of sleep, not having to rush wherever it is I’m going, giving back, and finding peace with whatever it is, that I’m doing.

Sunday is my day of rest. It’s typically when I start looking ahead at the week, formulating what I need to do to stay on track, but also where I’ve allocated time for joy (perhaps coming off the weekend where I made that happen). I encourage you to pick a day where you can reflect on the little things you’ve done for yourself, your loved ones, your family, for joy.

Magic Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert

2015 September 17
by Grace Boyle

“What’s worth doing, even if I fail?”

This is the question Elizabeth Gilbert asks Brene Brown, on her latest Magic Lessons podcast.

These two women in a podcast together create enough inspiration for me, but the focus in this podcast is around uncovering “big strong magic” and discussing how essential creativity is for healthy living.

Although the entire 35 minutes are incredibly worth hearing, one of my favorite moment Brown shares in the podcast is this statement:

“I don’t leap for the landing, I leap for the experience in the air. Because you can’t predict the landing.”

I’m not sure what it is, but seasonal changes always invoke a feeling like I too, shed my skin. As the first day of Fall begins next week (September 23rd to be exact) I was reminded of the importance for us to do what really makes us feel alive, and to not hold onto the outcome or result so much.

I encourage you to listen to the podcast. I hope it inspires you today. Here’s to big magic and creativity.

 

 

Seven Year Blog Anniversary and My Move to Boulder

2015 August 20
by Grace Boyle

It seems as if I’ve blinked, and seven years later here we are. Space and time is relative, yet so concrete when you step back from the trek up the mountain, and look at how far you’ve come; how high you’ve climbed.

Ironically, my move to Boulder coincided with my launch of this blog in August 2008.

You can find my first blog post when I moved to Boulder here. It was short and simple. I had no idea what was in store for me. I had no job, no friends here, and nowhere to live. But deep in my gut, I knew I had landed where I needed to be. Where I wanted to be.

I touted picking your place, and letting the rest fall into place over the years, and although it’s an idealist viewpoint it has held true for me.

Starting this blog – although it has been rather dormant the last few years – is one of the best things I’ve ever done. It launched my career, it’s how I found my first job, many friends and wonderful, meaningful relationships in my life, encouraged me to start Grace(full) Plate and my food writing, and ultimately, how I committed to keep writing year-after-year. For that, I’ll always be thankful.

I think I had a Blackberry phone when I moved to Boulder, so the photo resolution isn’t strong, but I found this photo below which my mom took (my trusty side-kick) as I was actually driving West, with my car packed with everyone I owned, to make the move to Boulder.

Grace moves to Boulder 2008

I’m big into symbolism, and in general, feel very grateful for my time here. I’ve grown to love Colorado, and still feel like there are so many places and escapes to explore in this wonderful, colorful state. I think in some capacity, writing and blogging will always be a part of me. Even if I’m not here all the time, I purposefully keep the hosting and website up because it’s engrained into who I am. It has made me who I am. So for now, here it stays.

I appreciate everyone who has been along for the journey, along the entire way and can’t wait for what it will be like even in one year from now.

Thanks Colorado for all you’ve given me. I love your land and earth so deeply. Thanks for enveloping me.

The Efficient Traveler

2015 May 14
by Grace Boyle

I love to travel. I travel for work, and I’ve always lived far from home, so a plane ride away to friends and family is common. I’m big on experiential gifts, so I would way rather have an experience or trip booked than receiving a physical item. I love to see the world, and the adventure that awaits is so exciting.

Grace

Last year, with the help of my Southwest credit card and my (too) frequent work travel, I landed A-list premiere status. I was delighted at my early boarding, and premiere lines I would pop into at airports. Status, finally. Then I shortly realized, this wasn’t enough.

I needed TSA Pre and Global Entry. The travelers apex.

And I’m happy to say, now I have all three. Traveling is much more of a breeze, and besides things being more efficient you can find improved quality of life. I don’t have to get to the airports as early and I don’t deal with the other traveler shenanigans that totally get on your nerves.

That said, I’ve been preaching the good word about TSA Pre. I have friends that travel a good amount, and still don’t have it or don’t realize that it’s not that difficult to obtain.

Here’s what you need to know.

TSA Pre:

  • What is it? TSA Pre allows “low-risk travelers to experience expedited, more efficient security screening at participating U.S. airport checkpoints for domestic and international travel.” You do have to be a U.S. citizen and not been convicted of certain crimes to apply. Here are more details on their eligibility requirements.
  • How much does it cost? Here’s the kicker. It’s only $85 and it’s valid for five years! This in itself, is worth everything. What a price. If you travel even just four to five times a year, I think it’s worth it.
  • What are the required documents for TSA Pre? Right here, you can find a list of the required documentation. It’s not that bad. Not that much red tape. Things like ID, and proof of citizenship.
  • What’s the application center interview like? Mine was five minutes, I was approved, and given a known traveler number in the mail 2-3 weeks after my visit. It was official, but efficient (the meeting) and they actually didn’t even look at all the paperwork I brought.

Now, I hop right into the TSA Pre line at every airport. I never take off my shoes, I don’t have to remove my laptop or liquids, and I’m typically through security in five minutes tops. When I travel with others who don’t have it, it might shave up to 20-35 minutes off your wait time. Breezy.

Global Entry:

  • What is it? Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection program that allows expedited cleared for pre-approved, low risk travelers, upon arrival in the United States. There are essentially automated kisoks at select airports, and you head to baggage claim and exit. Read: If you travel internationally, why not.
  • How much does it cost? The cost is $100, and I actually went with Global Entry because in addition to getting this I also got TSA pre bundled in. Not too much more, but two benefits for that length of time.
  • What are the required documents for Global Entry? Here is how you apply. The process was the same as TSA pre essentially.

So hit the trails. Happy traveling, and let me know if you have any questions. I definitely haven’t looked back.

What you learn from 30 days of no booze, sugar, gluten, or dairy

2015 February 10
by Grace Boyle

On January 12th, I embarked on a 30 day food challenge.

It was pretty strict. At a high level, I couldn’t have:

  • Gluten/Wheat
  • Dairy
  • Booze
  • Sugar

That eliminates a lot of things we enjoy in our daily consumption of food. But ensures for a lot of clean eating, and it also promoted points for sleeping eight hours, five days a week of working out (I didn’t always get five, but always worked out like I do anyway) and 10 minutes a day of meditation or some sort of quiet time without technology.

Today is the last day of the challenge, and I’m happy to say I stuck to it. I’m most happy about the no booze and no sugar.

The biggest win for me, was about reforming new habits. There are a lot of two week cleanses or 10 day challenges, and for me, I knew I needed to do the 30 days. I feel like anyone could do anything for 30 days and I needed to commit to it all or nothing. No point to skimp here or there, might as well do it all the way. Which besides a few little hiccups, or probably not being able to control what my food was cooked in when I ate out, I was strict as could be.

What I learned:

  • Clean food can be good. I scoured Instagram, Pinterest, magazines, etc. to find delicious recipes that were clean eating/paleo inspired and when I cooked for people, they all enjoyed it. It wasn’t like I was limiting myself from all good food, because whole and healthy food is good too. This is a misconception that you have to eat bland food to eat clean.
  • I cooked a lot more. And I love cooking, which was great to get back to. Especially in the winter, I’ve gotten into habits being so tired after work or working out, so we would resort to take-out or throw away meals, because it was easy (frozen pizza anyone)? Not only does it save money, but it’s good to cook together and find that balance of being creative in the kitchen.
  • I slept better. I don’t sleep well even with a few drinks, so I slept really well the last 30 days.
  • I felt very clear. I think it’s largely to do with gluten, but I generally didn’t feel foggy. Your food and diet has such a big impact on this.
  • Self-control is an amazing thing. I felt powerful and love knowing that I don’t “need” anything and that I’m not addicted to anything. It’s a good feeling, that I could say no and put my foot down, and that’s that.
  • Muscle weighs more than fat – go by how you feel. The point is to feel good. I don’t own a scale, and with all the heavy lifting I do at Crossfit, my weight doesn’t really reflect what I look like (or feel like). I did weigh myself near the end of the challenge at a doctor appointment, and I was let down to realize I weighed the same as I remembered, perhaps even more. After talking myself off a ledge, I reminded myself that I feel good and fit into clothes far better than before. I also measured inches before and after, and lost a total of 7.5″ (waist, bust, thighs) which is where it really matters for me. In my waist alone, I am down 3.5″.
  • This particular challenge eliminated not only sugar but healthy ones like honey for instance, so the amount of strict in this challenge, isn’t quite sustainable. I still want to have flexibility to go out and enjoy with friends, but I think I’ve swung the pendulum back. I think a large majority, I will eat clean, and a smaller percentage eat when I feel good and right without being stressed. Now that I saw that I can do it, that you feel better, you’re more apt to try it more often than not.
  • If you set your mind to it, you can do it. The biggest fear I had, was that I would fail and that I wasn’t strong enough. That I’m just that fat kid who wants to eat a bag of cookies and can’t restrain myself (parts of this may always be true, I love food). I held off on similar challenges at my own Crossfit gym, because of the pressure and I felt too overwhelmed. Finally with other co-workers doing this with me and feeling stuffed from the holidays, I decided to take the leap. It’s a huge resurgence for me to remember that my physical and mental strength is strong. I did have a few freak outs during the day 30 days, I can admit that, and there were times where I had to forgo social outings, I missed certain foods a lot, or watched everyone indulge in cheese and wine while I chugged soda water, but it was worth it. And I made it. Unscathed even!

Although today is the last day, I’m not rushing off to get a bottle of wine and I will keep cooking more and probably eating like I have for the last 30 days (with some windows for fun). For now, I’m going to give myself a hug and relax a little though. ‘Cause, I did it!

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