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?



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.




Yay! First post!

Hi all. 🙂

Welcome to my new little space on the Internet. Lisi is incredibly busy writing up a storm, meeting deadlines, making moves, so that means I’m the lucky one who gets to spend some quality time with her lovely readers. I hope you will bear with her intermittent absences from her Wednesday Blah-g to hear some musings of my own, but rest assured I’ll just be posting here and there when schedules permit. With that said, I’m so excited to finally be writing my first post on the Office Elf blog! Before I go any further I want to give you a visual idea of what my experience looks like while working with Lisi.

Here’s a shot of the very professional-looking Round Table, on which a great deal of magic happens. As you can see, we take to our notepads and certainly make ourselves at home. Or, at least I do since the office is pretty much Lisi’s home away from home. Lisi keeps a mini fridge nearby and usually offers me numerous caffeinated beverages that I rarely refuse, even if I’ve already had my morning coffee. This is how I get so much work done. And did I mention her office is literally in direct view of the beach? Fresh, ocean breezes mixed with caffeine probably sounds paradoxical, but the combination definitely speaks to productivity. (I am in no way endorsing a spike in your Redbull consumption.) What you can’t see in the above photo is Bee Bee sleeping near our feet. She refused to be pictured because she felt she wasn’t looking her best that day. (But click the About tab up in the Nav Bar for one of the cutest photos of her ever!)

Oh look–

Lisi’s caught red-handed! Er, blue-handed. I turn my back for one second and she’s goofing off again. That’s okay. Considering she’s written upwards towards forty books by now. She probably needs a goofing off session every now and again. I guess Bee Bee and I will let that one slide.

When I’m not literally in Lisi’s office, I get to work from my own office space that’s set up to inspire creativity. Here’s a shot of what I call my “thinking wall,” which helps me do just as the name implies. When I’m working on something creative either for Lisi or for myself, I take to the collaged wall and seek out activating ideas. What you see here is only about 1/4 of it, but Instagram likes to restrict my angle of view.

Here is a link to one of my recent obsessions: AH-MAZING WORK SPACES! There are some featured that belong to famous writers, artists and just overall creative types who clearly have a great sense of the aesthetic. Maybe you’ll get inspired to jazz up your own creative space.

Sometimes I’m not in Lisi’s office or my own office at all, but out at a cafe working via laptop. Here I am at one of my favorite coffee shops called Paper or Plastik.

There is a dividing door and on the other side of it is a dance studio. Might be one of the nicest sights to look up from working and see ballerinas dancing in window light.

And if that weren’t enough, here’s the nifty telephone the cafe keeps in the powder room! (Not that I could say if it’s in working order because I’ve never touched that thing–gross.)

As much fun as working in cool coffee shops and in my own office space is, it still never compares to the good times Lisi and I have at our meetings. She’s so silly and hilarious, and yet completely professional and brilliant that I am just hoping I learn a thing or two through osmosis while I’m elving around her office with her.

Like I mentioned at the top of this post, things have been crazy for Lisi while she’s making deadlines for The Dirty Book Club, and as you know, she has recently finished the first draft for The Phoenix Five (Go Lisi!!! Check out Lisi’s Pinterest to get familiar with characters from each novel). I’ve never had to rely on this mantra before, but I’ve seen the famous saying hanging on the wall of Lisi’s office since our first meeting…

Yep, I figured it was there with a purpose. It’s crunch time for as far as the eye can see and I’ve got a pretty good feeling we’ll both be replaying the framed statement over and over again until 2013 and beyond. Wish us luck and I can’t wait to share more with you next post!