Read what you want

I read 29 books in 2017 and five so far in 2018. Some were incredible. Others were not. But in the process of reading so many different books (about one per week since June 2017, when I started my Alternative Grad School project), I’ve learned so much about the books that draw me in.

Throughout much of last year, I obsessively read self-help books. I had just graduated from college and was looking to figure out how I wanted to live the rest of my life. I read almost 10, but they left me without answers. I read about authors who lived alternative lifestyles, traveled a lot and worked for themselves. They seemed to have everything they wanted and so I set a goal of being like them. Still, the books felt repetitive to the point of being cliche and I grew bored.

I later shifted toward reading memoirs of people I admired. Their books showcased their successes but, more importantly, they exposed the long series of missteps and failures happened came first.

Since January 1, 2018, I’ve read four absolutely incredible books: The Lonely City by Olivia Laing, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coats, Just Kids by Patti Smith, and Milk & Honey by Rupi Kaur. Each one of them taught me more than 10 self-help books could.

In the past, I tried not to read books simply because they were popular (these all made the New York Times Bestseller List); I mixed fiction and nonfiction equally (as someone with a background in journalism, I’m naturally drawn to nonfiction and I’ve started to just accept that); I read books on a wide range of subjects, trying not to read too many on one subject (reading topics that interest me creates continuity and keep me reading).

I am trying to say that you should read what you want. Disregard what and how you think you should read. Seek out books that keep you reading and keep you learning. That is all.



A complete list of books I read in 2017

The following is a complete list of books I read in 2017, separated by category and then ranked. Books I consider must-reads and would recommend to just about anyone are in bold.

Nonfiction books/books that taught me a lot:

  1. Art & Fear, David Bayles and Tedd Orland
  2. Eating Animals, Jonathan Safran Foer
  3. Upstream, Mary Oliver
  4. Female Chauvinist Pigs, Ariel Levy
  5. Utopia for Realists, Rutger Bregman
  6. Postville: A Clash of Cultures in the American Heartland, Stephen G. Bloom
  7. Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite, William Deresiewicz
  8. David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell
  9. Everybody Writes, Ann Handley
  10. The Creating Brain, Nancy Andreason
  11. The Four Tendencies, Gretchen Rubin
  12. The Gig Economy, Diane Mulcahy

Books on living your best life/productivity:

  1. Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl Strayed
  2. The Art of Non-Conformity, Chris Guillebeau
  3. Deep Work, Cal Newport
  4. Zen Mind, Beginners Mind, Shunryu Suzuki
  5. Born for This, Chris Guillebeau


  1. Wild, Cheryl Strayed
  2. The Glass Castle, Jeanette Walls
  3. The Rules Do Not Apply, Ariel Levy
  4. The Bright Hour, Nina Riggs
  5. Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist and Other Essays, Paul Kingsnorth
  6. Tell Me If You’re Lying, Sarah Sweeney
  7. South and West, Joan Didion


  1. The Butcher Boy, Patrick McCabe
  2. The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead
  3. The Gangster of Love, Jessica Hagedorn
  4. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
  5. The Gathering, Anne Enright

10-day vacation for TWO with only ONE carry-on bag

 I love budget travel. I ride the cheapest airlines, sleep in 12-bed rooms, and use the hostel kitchen to cook half my meals. Some people might look at it as giving a lot of things up, compared to how they typically travel. And it’s true, I sacrifice a lot of comforts and sleep to do things this way.
At the same time, though, I think taking cost-cutting measures is rewarding. One of my favorite ways time and money is to travel minimally, packing only what I really need to get by.
For our 10-day trip to Amsterdam, Hamburg, and Berlin, my boyfriend and I flew with WOW, a super cheap airline that doesn’t offer a free carry on or a checked bag at all.
Of course, for a trip that long, especially in November we needed at least one piece of luggage. We opted to keep things cheap and simple by sharing this hiking backpack between the two of us.
Here is a complete list of everything I brought along, including everything I was wearing and what was in my free hand item, a pretty average size leather purse. My boyfriend brought a laptop bag (without a laptop inside) as a hand item and filled the remaining space in the backpack with clothes.


Carry on (including what I was wearing): 
  • 1 QT liquids bag: Soap, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, toothpaste, BB cream
  • Deodorant, makeup (mascara, lipstick, eyeshadow, eyeliner, BB cream), toothbrush, ear swabs, chapstick
  • Power converter, cell phone charger
  • GoPro, GoPro charger, mounts
  • SIM card tool
  • Water bottle
  • Laundry detergent, dryer sheets
  • Prescriptions, ibuprofen
  • Padlock
  • Clothing
    • Socks (3 pairs)
    • Tights (2)
    • Underwear (4)
    • Plain black Leggings (1)
    • Skirts (2)
    • Black dress
    • Shirts (3)
    • Sweater
    • Sports bra, bra
    • Coat
    • Balaclava
    • Winter hat
  • All of Ethan’s clothes
Hand item:
  • Passport
  • A book
  • Journal, pen
  • DSLR camera
  • Phone with “phone wallet” for cards and cash
  • Earbuds
And that’s really everything!
Sharing a majority of the bathroom products and our chargers saved a lot of room. But I would say the real secret was reducing the number of clothing items we brought. We saved a lot of space by doing laundry during our trip. Both of us ended up pretty sick of wearing the same few outfits but we felt it was worth the sacrifice not to be burdened by big, heavy bags wherever we went. I would recommend traveling this way to anyone. It’s shockingly stress-free and keeps you super mobile so your stuff never holds you back.

Budget travel in Berlin, Germany

Budget travel in Berlin, Germany
Ethan and I found super cheap airplane tickets to Europe and did a 10-day tour of Amsterdam, Hamburg, and Berlin late this month. Here’s a post I wrote about my experience in Berlin on the flight back to Chicago.


Budget hostel with a bar

We stayed at Wombats City Hostel-Berlin in a six-bed hostel room. It cost about $12 per night and interestingly included a free drink at the rooftop hostel bar at arrival. They also had €4.50 unlimited (and good) German breakfast in the morning and €2.50 Berliner Pilsner pint-sized beers at night. I met quite a few people there from different English-speaking countries that went out with us later that night.
And the bar had a great (though misty) view of the city.
Coffee everywhere 
I loved the fact that Berlin had coffee shops everywhere. I didn’t love that the cups were so small! I’m used to drinking relatively huge coffees in America so learning to savor a single shot of espresso was a challenge. I typically drink Americano-style plain black coffee, which isn’t very popular in Europe. I grew to really appreciate espresso macchiatos by the end of my stay, though.
Free historical sites 
We visited several free historical sites including the Brandenburger Tor, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and preserved portions of the Berlin Wall.
berlin wall
Thrift shopping in a trendy area near Eberswalderstraße
I met a young German woman about my age on the bus from Hamburg to Berlin who recommended the Eberswalderstraße area to me. I ended up just off Eberswalderstraße on Oderberger Staße and found the best thrift stores. I bought a tiny glass bottle there that was made for a pharmacy in Berlin–way better than anything that could be bought in a tourist shop. Then I checked out some of the vintage clothing stores and got some new-to-me clothes.
thift shopping berlin
Vegan burgers, vegetarian restaurants 
 Again on Oderberger Straße, Ethan and I stopped at a restaurant named Burger World. It was an unfortunate name for such a cute, boutique style place. I ordered a delicious vegan burger. The atmosphere was beautiful, complete with a tablecloth, candle, etc.
 burger world berlin
Across from our hostel, we also stumbled across a great organic/vegetarian-focused restaurant called Rose Garden. Their foods were seasonal, healthy, and ethically sourced. We had pumpkin ravioli there the first time then went back there a second time for coffee and some very generously piled avocado toast.
Craft beer berlin
At Burger World, Ethan and I had tried BRLO beer on a whim. It was great and made in Berlin, so we decided to see if it had a tap house. It turned out to be newly opened, in a building made of 38 international shipping containers and one of the trendiest, top-rated new restaurants in Berlin. I’m not crazy about expensive but very small meals, so Ethan and I shared one, drank a variety of their beers and picked up some falafel sandwiches on our way back to the hostel.

Back at it

Back at it

I graduated from the University of Iowa in May, which caused me to lose access to a lot of their amazing film equipment… but I just bought a Braun NovoScan 120 film scanner so I can finally make digital copies of my images again.

I’m still getting used to it, and I’ve been having trouble getting the colors right. The scanner makes almost all of the adjustments automatically. Ektar is so saturated, I’m sure that’s throwing off the colors completely. Or maybe it’s just me, but I’ve always had this issue while scanning Ektar.

I won’t write a review of this scanner until I try using it with some other (more scanner-friendly) films. I just wanted to get some images posted on my blog to celebrate the fact I’m back in action.

All of the following images were created in La Porte City, Iowa using a Mamiya 645 1000s camera and Kodak Ektar 100 film.


PICT0009 copy copy





Alternative Grad School September update

I’ve been trying hard to keep up with my goals as I started my full-time position. It was difficult the first month when I was first starting my new job, of course, but I feel like I’ve really started to adjust and am learning how to accomplish more tasks after 5:00 p.m. and on the weekends.

Since I wrote my last list, I’ve read the following books, putting me at a total of three fiction books and 10 nonfiction:

  • The Gathering by Anne Enright
  • Zen Mind, Beginners Mind by Shunryū Suzuki
  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
  • David & Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell
  • Everybody Writes by Ann Handley
  • Deep Work by Cal Newport
  • The Gangster of Love by Jessica Hagedorn
  • The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy

And I can now communicate in very basic Spanish. Hopefully, I’ll have the opportunity to travel and use it soon.

The biggest news is that I’ve totally completed one Alt. Grad School goal: Publish three freelance stories. All three were published in Iowa City alternative press magazine Little Village in 2017.

  • Profile of Jane Elliott, an anti-racism advocate famous for her Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes exercise she performed in her 3rd-grade classroom the day after Martin Luther King Jr. died. Jane is 85 and has lived in Iowa her whole life. I had the privilege of interviewing her in her home in Osage.
  • Profile of Bridget Fonseca, a 24-year-old who graduated from the University of Iowa and started an organic farm with her partner Jake Kundert.
  • Current affairs story about young women getting IUDs, a long-term birth control method, because of their fears about the changing healthcare system.

And one last goal I made headway on during these first two months… I’m training to run a 10K (6.2 mi) in 60 minutes or less. On Aug. 27, I completed my first 5-mile run and on Aug. 31, I was able to run 5 miles without taking any breaks to walk, which took about 55 minutes. This may not be a major feat for all runners, but it was big for me! I’ve been slowly increasing my running capacity over the last two years and it’s encouraging to see that, though very gradually, I was able to reach this point. I remember when two or three miles was a significant challenge. Reaching 6.2 miles in 60 minutes will require me to average faster than 10:00/mi, which will not be easy, but I’m confident I can get there by  June 1.

Alternative Grad School

Alternative Grad School

On June 1, I started working on my personal version of Alternative Grad School, an idea borrowed from Chris Guillebeau’s book The Art of Non-Conformity. I was someone who really loved college because I was constantly learning new skills and information. Unfortunately, the world lacks structure for lifelong learners. While I am glad for the limitless opportunity I now have in lieu of arbitrary classes, required assignments, etc., structure helps me work, so I needed a framework in order to continue educating myself. I bought a new notebook and created a list of things I would like to learn, do, memorize, experience, and so on over the next year before June 1, 2018.

You can find Guillebeau’s list here.

My list is very similar with a few adjustments to make the program feasible for me while working full-time. I’ve also added a few of my own, completely original requirements.

  • Memorize every country, world capital, and leader of every country in the world

  • Travel to a new continent

  • Read the basic texts of the major world religions: the Torah, the New Testament, the Koran, and the teachings of Buddha

  • Listen to a Spanish language-learning podcast 5X/week for a year and practice with Ethan

  • Loan money to an entrepreneur through 

  • Train to run a 10K in 60 minutes

  • Show Once Familiar in an Iowa City coffee shop or other public venues

  • Compile a graphic design portfolio by completing 15 Briefbox projects

  • Read 30 non-fiction books and 20 novels

  • Start a blog and post bi-weekly

  • Listen to Grammar Girl and read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

  • Read Know-It-All by A.J. Jacobs

  • Publish three freelance stories

  • Complete a photography series by 12/31/17 and another by 6/1/18

In my three weeks of Alternative Grad School, since June 1, I’ve focused on several requirements more than others. I tried tackling the biggest, most time-consuming requirements right away, the most daunting being reading 50 books in one year.

So far I read:

  • Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland
  • Tell Me If You’re Lying by Sarah Sweeney
  • The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
  • Utopia for Realists: The Case for Universal Basic Income, Open Borders, and 15-Hour Workweek by Rutger Bregman
  • Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America by Stephen G. Bloom

Books June 2017 copy.jpg

I also started learning about Buddhism by reading Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: Informal Talks on Meditation and Practice. It isn’t exactly a Buddhist “text” like my Alt Grad School goals outlined, but it’s a compilation of talks given by Shunryu Suzuki at the Zen Center in Los Altos, California.

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”
—Shunryu Suzuki

I also started learning Spanish via the podcast Coffee Break Spanish, which I discovered on Spotify but is also available on iTunes. I used it to refresh my German studies in the past. Once you get used to the teacher’s Scottish accent, it’s a really great podcast for picking up the basics of a language. So far I don’t know much (Me llama Carly. Vivo en Iowa en Los Estados Unidos.) but I’m getting there.

Goals in which I’ve been behind are my 10K run training (I was truly sick over the past few weeks, I swear), my photography projects, and graphic design. Hopefully, I’ll be able to share some progress in those areas in July.

Wish me luck. Comment with any other important life skills you feel should be on one’s Alternative Grad School list.


Pinhole Project Update

Pinhole Project Update

I’m beginning my last photo project of undergrad and I’ve decided I’m going to build pinhole cameras out of mostly salvaged materials and make into a camera. Essentially, I am trying to explore what photography could look like after an apocalypse of some kind, like an environmental disaster where the latest Canon $3,000 DSLR could become useless.

For reference I’ve mostly been using a book I bought used on Amazon, Pinhole Cameras: A DIY Guide by Chris Keeney, as my guide. I’ve also been reading Minimal Aperture Photography Using Pinhole Cameras by John Warren Oakes and Pinhole Photography From Historic Technique to Digital Application by Eric Renner, though these are more complicated.

Below is the first image I was able to create using a large peanut can and 5×7″ darkroom paper. I scanned the image and reversed the values in Photoshop.


The best piece of advice I ran into was suggested by Keeney’s book: scanning pinholes to bring them into Photoshop and measure them. I used an online pinhole calculator to determine pinhole sizes for various containers. The focus on each of the cameras I’ve made so far has been far more sharp than I ever expected.


Here are a few images I took just this week. You can expect to see a lot more as I start cramming my project into my last few weeks of undergrad.