All The Free Things — Summer Edition

summer picnic

For most of you it’s finally officially summer. But just because you suddenly have a whole bunch of free time on your hands doesn’t mean you also have endless funds in your pockets for summer activities. If you’re like me and always trying to have the most amazing adventures you can on as little as possible, then the research I’m about to share with you might come in handy. Check this list of 25 fun free (and almost free) things to do when you’re stumped for options and want to make the most of your day.

1) Have a picnic — This one’s been around forever, but people rarely take advantage of how simple, yet how fun having picnics can be. Alone or with friends, eating outside on a blanket is always more exciting.

2) Public art project — Playing around at home with paints and pencils has all the makings for a good time, but turn it one notch up by creating ephemeral art with friends outdoors. Make it simple: a giant chalk drawing on the driveway, or a message along the sidewalk. Choose what you want to create together and make it a team effort. Then stand back and marvel at your work.

3) Learn a language — No need to pick up a pricey Rosetta Stone package. All that’s required is a wifi connection and the ability to type into Google “Spanish lessons,” or whichever language you’re interested in learning.

4) Visit your public library — You may not even realize your town has one; it might be hiding away somewhere. Libraries tend to offer programs and events all summer long that might pique your curiosity and keep your engaged.

5) Go for a hike, a walking adventure — No matter where you live, there is someplace you can sufficiently hike. It doesn’t need to be a waterfall hike in Malibu or a mountainous excursion in Aspen. Urban dwellers and small-town inhabiters can find beauty all around them, too. Discover your town by foot and explore the far corners of your neighborhood. Trudge up hilly streets, steps, stairs and anything else you can find in your area that will get your blood pumping and help you see new sights.

6) iPhone scavenger hunt — Have you done a scavenger hunt lately? They’re amazing and so forgotten after we reach junior or high school. Let’s bring them back, but with a modern twist. Create a list of unlikely conquests to check off. Try to find someone who will sing a tune for you, go look for a particular leaf or flower, find a specific styled dress in a storefront window and take photos or shoot video of everything you find. Bags with collected oddities are no longer needed. Simply show the friends you’re competing against all the shots from your adventure. Most items checked off the list wins.

7) Travel the world (through your meals) — Make it a point to learn about a region and create food for which it’s best known. Think: Lily Huffman and her family’s International dinner night. Look up recipes online and help your parents in the kitchen to prepare the meal.

8) Look at the stars — Want to know what exactly you’re gazing at up there? There’s an app for that.

9) Make comic books — Instead of trying to crank out an entire novel over the summer (I’ve read some of Lisi’s fans’ comments and some of you are quite ambitious!) why not tell a complete story using pictures and captions. It’ll force you to refine your plot as well as give you some more drawing practice. Do this alone or collab with friends, then share with family and neighbors.

10) Start a book club — Lisi will tell you, it’s one of the best ways to get to know someone and it’s a whole lot of fun discussing favorite characters with fellow book enthusiasts. Create a club where you all read the Clique series together start to finish, and meet up after each book to talk about what you loved most. Then start a new club to discuss the themes and messages (ok, ok, and the drama) of Pretenders and License to Spill.

11) Be Jackson Pollock (the abstract artist known for his splatter/drip paintings) — In an area large enough to move around and experiment, put down a sheet or canvas and go to town splattering it with paint. Let your inner Pollock shine.

12) Movie date — Plan a movie date with mom or your BFF, but do your research first. There are many $1-3 movie theaters across the country and they’re playing movies you’ve been wanting to see.

13) Make a fort — We are never too old for blanket forts. Make one and feel happy.


14) Have a car dance party — Next time your mom’s driving you somewhere or you’re driving your friends to get lunch, crank up the volume and dance it out from behind the safety of your seatbelt. Make a mix cd or mp3 of your favorite anthems and high energy music right now, and get to dancing.

15) Bubble bath (outside) — This is what happens when your relaxing tub experience meets the kiddie pool outside. Add bubbles and make it 100 times more fun.

16) Create a photo series — Decide on a theme beforehand and, using your smartphone or any camera at your disposal, take photos that will reflect your photography project. Collect photos all summer long and then put them together in a collage, scrapbook, or upload them to a photo blog.

17) Explore nature programs — Check nature centers near you for free community programs and start exploring.

18) Plant a garden — You can get flower bulbs and seeds at the dollar store. Choose flowers that grow well in summer like sunflowers and watch them grow 6′ tall in no time.

19) Form a bike gang — Chart a route beforehand and ask a few friends to regularly meet for bike rides. Tell them there are t-shirts or Members Only jackets involved. They’ll say yes.

20) Make a time capsule — Does anyone do this anymore? It’s another one of those forgotten activities that needs reviving. Grab a large jar, tin box or something similar and place items of meaning to you in it (not too much meaning that you don’t want to give them up, of course). A receipt from a favorite restaurant, a rock from your trip to the beach, a few lines from a poem you loved… Write a note about what’s happening in the world or in your life right now in 2014. Then bury the capsule in the garden or near a tree for some future someone to discover it. You may never find out if your capsule is uncovered, so be prepared to let it go to the universe.

21) Learn origami — Another brilliant Youtube craft activity that will make you very popular at birthdays. No money for a gift? No problem. Bring your friend a couple of beautifully folded origami boxes for rings or to keep treasures in and write a heartfelt birthday note in a handmade card.

22) Host a frozen yogurt sundae party — This one isn’t free but can be done on the cheap. Pick up several toppings and frozen yogurt of your choice, and invite  friends over to create their own frozen yogurt sundaes. This will make everyone so happy that conversation, laughter, and good times will naturally ensue.

23) Start flower bombing — Look for places around you that could use a little color or would do well with some life added to it. What better way to brighten up some empty land than bombing it with wildflower seeds? Try the patches of grass between the sidewalk and street, empty lots, grassy medians, and wherever else you can find. Click through the “flower bombing” link above for a few tips on how to make your own wildflower bombs, and start spreading beauty.

24) Fashion challenge — Flip through a few fashion magazines you have at home or pick up a new issue of your favorite. Choose one or two looks you’d love to rock and then head to a thrift store and recreate them for less. Much less.

25) Make a vision board — I made a brand board with Lisi when I first started working with her to get to know her brand and understand her audience. It was incredibly fun to put together and did the trick. You may not have too much use for a brand, but you might love having your own vision board hung up in your room. Gather every print material of interest you can find: magazines, newspapers, ads, etc. and artfully collage images of things you love, experiences you want for you life, goals you have, and anything else your imagination can muster.


This list ends at 25, but the options for fun, (mostly) free things to do in the summer are endless. What activities did I miss? Where else can you adventure for less but get much more? Feel free to let us know in the comments section below. Lisi will return with her usual blah-g post next week. For now, happy summer!





Series Strength

Some people love to throw around the adage “less is more” without knowing where that saying actually comes from. We saw it first in a Robert Browning poem called Andrew del Sarto (Called The “Faultless Painter”), which tells the story of the Renaissance artist who possessed great technical skill in his craft, but lacked soul. You know… soul. That elusive aspect… that je ne sais qoui… that infusion of heart from the artist who created the work that hits you in the sweet spot and keeps you coming back for more. If you’re talking about a painting or interior design, I can understand how “less is more” is a popular critique. But if we’re talking about a story filled with the hearts and souls of its characters, more is most definitely more. Ask any fangirl who just finished reading the very last page in one of her favorite author’s recent books. She wants MORE. We can practically go crazy waiting for the next installment of that lit goodness from a writer we love, and it’s heartbreaking when we’ve reached the end of a series. Like saying good bye to an old friend that’s come along with you on your journey; or more accurately, you’ve come along with them on theirs. Either way, you’ve connected with the heart of that story and you want more of it–plain and simple. Don’t believe me? Series Strength I rest my case. However, I think we’re on the same side of the gavel here so I know you’ll be as excited as I was to check out Barnes & Noble‘s website for License to Spill, the second installment in the Pretenders series, and to see they’ve leaked a little more of the story for her readers to devour. Want the first 24 pages and missed the reveal? Here you go. Want more? Thought so. License to Spill drops June 24th. We’re in the home stretch! Lisi will be back next week with her usual post. We spoke this morning and she said she misses you guys. We’d love to see more of you here on the blah-g. What would you like to see more of each week?



Spring In Your Step

Hello friends. I’m guest blogging today for Lisi who is trapped in the writer’s cave churning out pages for the #DirtyBookClub. She will be back with another fantastic post next week. I really had no idea what I’d be blogging about today, and it’s been particularly difficult to get creatively motivated due to some extreme heat in Southern California. When I say extreme I mean 100 degrees in Los Angeles (it’s not even summer yet!), which might not mean anything to some of you reading this from some unfortunately warmer regions, but most of us in Southern California are total babies when it comes to weather extremes in either direction. Not to be hyperbolic or anything, but it’s not impossible that I’ll perish before the end of this blog post. While I’m here and partially alive, I’ll share with you one trick I like to turn to when I just can’t seem to get the words down on the page or can’t get up and moving. Besides stocking up on popsicles and numerous watermelons, I always make a new playlist each season with songs that still get me out of bed and start my frame of mind off in the right direction. I’ve shared my current Spring into Spring playlist with you today. Some songs are new, some are old, high-speed or lo-fi, but all of them are made for spring, which is traditionally the season to be wilding out anyway (even if wilding out for you only means dancing up a storm in your room; welcome to my life). I hope these songs get you moving and inspire you to create a go-to playlist of your own. Disclaimer: Selena Gomez IS found on this list… because I happen to love her. Really. I do. As Lisi always says: JUDGE.

Ps. This playlist also accompanied my best friend and me on a very mini road trip to Palm Springs last weekend. We stayed just one night and the drive and heat were almost not worth it, except… we got THIS photo out of it. SUCCESS.

Spring into Spring!


I hope you like a song or two in there! Happy spring. Lisi will be back next week!




On My Creative Path

I recently wrote a guest post for Lisi titled #GIRLBOSS. In response to that post, awesome reader Kimberly asked if I’d ever consider writing about my own creative path as a career woman, how I came to work for Lisi, and what my career goals and interests are in the future. Why YES, Kimberly, I certainly will consider writing about that! In fact, I’ll do it now. Great idea.

I suppose I could start by saying since childhood I always wanted to be a writer. I almost wish there was some variation in the mix–astronaut or pro soccer player, perhaps. But no–since six I’ve wanted to write and illustrate children’s books or fantastical epic stories. The subject matter of what I gravitate towards writing has changed over the years but I may someday go back to my roots in what made the child version of myself delirious in wonderment. Since I had a clear idea of where I wanted to end up–which is already a feat if you are choosing a creative path for your life–I was able to declare the “right” major. Eventually anyway. I ended up in the English and Creative Writing department where I got to read all of the books I’d always wanted to. Whatever I now know about writing, I largely have learned from reading other writers’ great works. I have a very long way to go even still and constantly seek out resources on how to hone my craft. The life of any creative person will be that of an autodidact. It’s important and quite necessary in fulfilling your goals as an artist.

During my last year of university, I started a freelance writing services business, writing articles for various magazines and online news sources, providing copywriting and editing for businesses, managing social media communities and executing digital marketing strategies. It was all trial and error and a VERY bumpy road until after I graduated when I could really teach myself the ropes of how to run a profitable business. It took time, but I learned some major life lessons in the process, like my worth as an employee, how to work independently, how to create structure in my life so that I could work from home (and carve time out to keep plugging away on artistic passion projects!), and how to collaboratively work with all different kinds of people. I also learned how to spot a need in the market so that I could constantly teach myself new skills that would keep clients coming back to me time and time again. It was challenging and fun, but a few years into it I heard by word of mouth that the New York Times Bestselling Author Lisi Harrison was looking for editorial help. What a dream that would be! I had to try my chances and see if we were a fit.

I got my resume together and wrote a cover letter specifically for Lisi expressing what the opportunity to work with her would mean to me. I didn’t expect it, but I got a call from her saying we should meet for an in-person chat. I drove down to Lisi’s office that sits right on the Laguna Beach coastline and had an interview with her. She was dressed stylishly, yet effortlessly. I was the schmuck in a black blazer at the beach. She gave me a shot anyway. It’s a tricky thing taking on creative help and working together in the way Lisi would need to work with her assistant, and what seemed to be the most important factors were whether or not our personalities would vibe together, if I had an intuitive understanding of her needs as an employer, if I understood her brand and readers, and if I genuinely cared about her message and product. I’m happy to say that all of those areas checked out, but it wasn’t in the bag there… There were many other strong candidates Lisi had seen and now it came down to a creative assignment we were expected to complete.

Lisi briefed me on an upcoming project (The Dirty Book Club which she is currently writing) and asked that I write up mock descriptions used in developing the setting of a particular scene in 1962.I remember pulling together research for that assignment and hoping or maybe WISHING I’d get the chance to continue working with this author that required such fun and interesting creative help. I was holding my breath, waiting to hear back about who Lisi would choose to bring on board her team. A few days later, I got the news. I could breathe easy as Lisi’s new editorial assistant! I clinked glasses with a friend in celebration of the good news that night. Lisi and I have taken on many projects, sometimes together, sometimes individually, ever since and it’s very easy for me to say she is BY FAR the best boss I will ever have.

Today I view the job as somewhat of an apprenticeship. I am constantly learning from Lisi whether or not she knows or intends to be instructional. As all her readers already know, she’s an amazing role model to girls and women and in many ways I view her as a mentor, succeeding in a field I’d like to be in myself one day. I also get a pretty cool inside look at the day and life of a writer, how a novel comes together, and ALL of the INSANE details that create what you will eventually know as Lisi’s books. They’re really tangible pieces of life and time and effort and tears and sweat all melded together into words on a page. Enjoy it!

The story doesn’t end there since Kimberly also asked about future goals and career interests. It’s difficult to speak on this since, as I mentioned, Lisi is a fantastic boss and I can’t imagine not working closely with her. But of course someday I’ll have to spread my wings even further and tackle new challenges in order to keep growing and developing my career. One thing I’ve learned about choosing a creative path is that “plans” are often not a part of it. There is no linear structure to becoming a successful writer, artist, filmmaker, etc. There’s a lot of daily hard work involved, making it up as you go along, putting yourself out there and being vulnerable to rejection. You also need a lot of luck with a dash of having the right connections. So for now, what I have are many ideas of where I’d like to go. What would bring me the most happiness personally and professionally. If I can somehow marry travel with work, I’d love the opportunity to do so. If I can contribute to the wonderful social work taking place abroad that helps young women and impoverished families, I’ll be there. I’d also feel right at home at a boutique media company in creative direction or in the art department. For now, I am loving working with Lisi and having a hand in the development of her stories. And if I get my schedule together, I can even find time to keep my own writing going (I have several essays and poems forthcoming in print soon!). If you keep your dream close, but sleep very little, you can make it all work. I promise you that much.

For any aspiring writers out there who read this, one lovely thing to remember is that finding your career will be a process that will continuously evolve as you refine your passions. You don’t have to know all the answers today or tomorrow. And if you end up somewhere that doesn’t have you writing, also know you can keep chipping away at your dream in your free time. Many writers have what they call “paycheck work,” or their day job, while they consider their writing to be their “passion work.” That’s the trend for many of my artistic friends in various creative industries, but it is always best to get your day job as close to your heart as can be. That much I’m sure you already know.

I can only remark on my personal experiences and would love to hear about what any aspiring writers out there are doing to further their artistic careers. Let me know in the comments below! Thanks for reading and Lisi will be back next week.





Pop Quiz!


And now for the answers to Lisi’s pop culture quiz:

1. Last year’s Billboard Milestone Award

2. Pharrell Williams; Pharrell Williams; CeeLo Green


4. Harry Potter by JK Rowling

5. Actress Gwyneth Paltrow and Coldplay frontman Chris Martin

How’d you do? Report back on Lisi’s comment section and let us know if you dominated this mini quiz. We’ll create more in the future if this one didn’t pose a challenge. Click on the POP! image above to redirect back to Lisi’s blah-g.


Sophia Amoruso, founder and CEO of Nasty Gal clothing, releases her first book #GIRLBOSS in May

Sophia Amoruso, founder and CEO of Nasty Gal clothing, releases her first book #GIRLBOSS in May

Have you noticed how much flack the word “bossy” has been getting lately in popular culture? “Bossy” has become a word to almost exclusively describe women, or more precisely, women in power, and evidently it is discouraging girls from taking on leadership roles. Who wants to be called bossy? Or take on the negative connotations of being pushy, stubborn, or “too aggressive” that the label communicates? I don’t necessarily disagree with its opposition. But it’s interesting how central the word has become, receiving mention everywhere from books written by women in leadership positions talking about their process (or struggle) of rising to the top, to PSAs featuring celebrity spokeswomen, aiming to urge girls to pursue key positions who might be afraid to take on such a label. Is the word really that scary? The most recent appearance of the anti-bossy movement is the #BanBossy campaign created by Girl Scouts and Lean InThey got a slew of amazing women involved to help spread the word. Check it out below:

Tina Fey's hilarious book Bossypants, released in 2011

Tina Fey’s hilarious book Bossypants, released in 2011

Men are rarely, if ever, described as bossy. Instead, we call them leaders and admire their capabilities to make important decisions for the group and themselves. But why does gender have to come into play here at all? I say, we don’t need to ban the word “bossy” but we do need to use it appropriately, and take the gender out of it altogether.Daenerys isn't bossy. She's just the  boss.

I suppose if modern culture doesn’t find that possible, then this #BanBossy movement is onto something. But until the label disappears completely, which will take time if it ever does, girls need to remember there are worse things to be called than bossy, so shake it off and keep doing your own thing. If you are strong and capable and interested in leadership roles, the world needs more of you. Period. And as much as I love the idea of Sophia Amoruso’s book title #GIRLBOSS, I’d love it even more if one day there is no distinction. A woman who leads is simply just… the boss.

Tina Fey as Liz Lemon from 30 Rock, being a boss and having it all

Tina Fey as Liz Lemon from 30 Rock, being a boss and having it all

6 Incredibly Inspirational Leaders to Know About Right Now

February is Black History Month. I’ve long noticed that very little attention is given to black figures who have greatly impacted history outside of this month, let alone black women who are nowhere close to being household names, yet definitely should be. I’ve compiled a crash course of several historical women I’ve personally been inspired by over the years who are seldom given the recognition they deserve. Needless to say, you won’t find Oprah or Beyoncé on this list; by now they’ve got a proper platform for recognition securely squared away, and rightly deserved. Maybe you’ve read about some of the women who are on this list in school before, or maybe each name will be entirely new to you and you’ll feel inspired to discover other influential women long after February draws to a close.

6). Angela Davis

Famed American Political Activist Angela DavisIf you  don’t recognize her name, you might at least recognize her amazing fro. Angela Davis was a nationally prominent counterculture activist and radical in the 1960s and was known for having a close relationship with the Black Panther Party through her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. She has been an activist and writer promoting women’s rights and racial justice while pursuing a career in philosophy and teaching at the University of Santa Cruz and San Francisco University. This short blurb barely scratches the surface of why Angela Davis is such an influential and powerful figure in our history, so check out the documentary The Black Power Mixtape to learn more about her. (Ask your parents first.)

5). Zadie Smith

Zadie Smith at the Women’s Prize for FictionWe cross over the pond to learn about British realist and post-modern novelist, essayist, and short story writer Zadie Smith. She is the kind of writer you kick yourself over for not having discovered her books sooner. Smith has won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2006, among so many other accolades for her writing. Her debut novel White Teeth, which was published when she was just 25 year-old, became an immediate bestseller and was included in Time magazine’s TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005  list. She is now a tenure professor at NYU and has written a few other books that have all been critically praised. And she’s only 38! Amazing.

4). Mae Jemison

Mae Jemison, first African-American Woman in Space!

Have you ever even heard of Mae Jemison? Don’t worry–it took me a while to discover her, too. I’m glad I did because she’s incredible. Jemison is the first black woman to go into space making her one of the most inspirational and adventurous women to change history. Many of us as kids dream of being an astronaut one day, floating around in a zero gravity chamber, and gazing back at planet Earth from lightyears away. Mae Jemison actually got to do this. Imagine the stories she has from her week-long space journey! She’s also a physician who volunteered with the Peace Corps before later joining NASA. Since then, she’s founded the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence, which brings science education to children. I’m floored…

3). Grace Jones

Music and Fashion Icon Grace Jones

Ps. Smoking is NOT cool. People back then just didn’t know any better.

One of my ultimate favorites on this list is cultural icon Grace Jones. A model, singer, and actress, she broke onto the fashion scene in the 70s and was so ahead of her time that she quickly became the muse for top designers and photographers like Yves Saint Laurent, Claude Montana, and Helmut Newton. She later took over the New Wave music scene and also began appearing in films. She is still a huge influence in the fashion world due to her unique and unprecedented ways of expressing sexuality and style. She was known for her androgynous looks and turned conventional ideas of beauty and sex appeal on their head. To this day, we still do not have many women like her who have influenced style and fashion in such a major way.

2). Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

 Nigerian Author Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieThis woman is an unstoppable force. I first discovered Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie when I came upon her TED Talk, The Danger of a Single Story, which “describes how she found her authentic cultural voice and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.” To my knowledge, her presence simply exploded after this TED Talk and she was everywhere. And I don’t just mean on stuffy radio shows and pretentious literary news spots either… A sample from her TEDx message titled “We Should All Be Feminists” can even be heard in Beyoncé’s 2013 self-titled album (so I lied, Beyoncé’s name definitely made a cameo on this list). TED’s blog describes what can be heard in Beyoncé song “***Flawless”:

The song starts out with a sample of Ed McMahon of Star Search, announcing Beyoncé and her friends in the female rap group Girl’s Tyme back in 1992. From there, Beyonce croons — with strong language that will likely be objectionable to some — on the pressure women feel to be perfect and to think of marriage as the main goal of their life. Adichie’s words come in at 1:24, and form a beautiful second verse of the song:

“We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, ‘You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise you will threaten the man.’ Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. Now marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support. But why do we teach to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same? We raise girls to see each other as competitors – not for jobs or for accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men. We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are. Feminist: the person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.”

Chimamanda Adichie is absolutely someone to keep your eye on, for I easily foresee her contemporary work continuing to hugely impact our social climate.

1). Audre Lorde

Amazing Author Audre Lorde

One of my favorite quotes of all time.

I learned about Audre Lorde, not surprisingly, in a women’s studies course at university. Sadly enough, I don’t think her name comes up too much unless you’re a student enrolled in such a class, but hopefully that will someday change. She is on my favorites list because she was brilliant novelist and essayist, but mostly because she was an incredibly influential poet in my life. She was daring and provocative and feared no one. Lorde wrote what was in her heart, not what publishers deemed appropriate for publishing based on dated social conventions. She published her first poem while still in high school in Seventeen magazine after being rejected by her own school paper which said her poetry was “much too romantic.” Lorde shattered cultural expectations and was unapologetically outspoken about racism, feminism, homophobia and her identity as a lesbian. She called herself a warrior, and I call her a total BAD-A**. I highly recommend The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde and her autobiography, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name. (Again, ask your parents first!) These women are just a few of the hundreds or even thousands that could have made this list. Are you learning about any inspirational black women in school this month? Who would you have added to this list? Thank for hanging out with me on the blog-o-sphere today. Lisi will return next week with her usual Wednesday blah-g post! xx, Alisha, Office Elf