tune tuesday / best of 2014

angaotyEveryone is releasing their “Best Of 2014″ year-end lists now, and once again, I find myself disagreeing whole-heartedly with Rolling Stone’s number one pick. This could easily be the “Year of the Playlist” for me as my BFF and I made each other devastating playlists that we played ad nauseum all year, but there were a few albums to see heavy rotation as well. Here’s a look at some of my favorites and as always follow me on Spotify to see what I’m digging every week!

the hold steady teeth dreamsthe hold steady teeth dreams

While I LOVED the last The Hold Steady release (2012’s We Can Get Together,) I was in the minority. Fans and critics lamented the departure of longtime accordionist/organist/connoisseur Franz Nicolay and wondered if they would return to their “former splendor.” Teeth Dreams shut all those critics up – though the sound is slightly different than their first big albums, the addition of Steve Selvedge on guitar plays great against Tad Kubler’s lead, and our old friends the Cityscape Skins even make a comeback in “I Hope This Whole Thing Didn’t Frighten You.” In interviews, Kubler has given me reason to be nervous, saying that when writing this album he felt like it might be the last time he ever wrote with Craig Finn. If it is, they’ve given me a lot here. My favorite track? “Spinners,” which was my #1 most played song on Spotify this year. The chorus says “heartbreak hurts, but you can dance it off,” and that’s exactly what I’m trying to do. Listen on Spotify.

cory branan the no-hit wonder cory brananRS at least got this one partially right by listing it on their top country albums of the year, so at least we agree there. Cory Branan is one of the best songwriters you haven’t heard of, and I’ve had the privilege of seeing him twice since I moved to Nashville. Another record with dynamic stories from both ends of the romantic spectrum (my current favorite is “The Only You”: I got me another girl, she looks like you at twenty… three. While she sleeps I trace the places where your tattoos used to be), some of my other favorite artists including Jason Isbell and Craig Finn joined Cory on the making of this album. Stream it on Spotify.

moose blood

mbikyim

These British punk darlings had my heart from the first moment I heard their Boston/Orlando EP back in May. It’s rare that I will give a new band a play if I’ve never heard anything about them, but a friend posted “Boston” on Tumblr with a few of the lyrics (I sleep alone by the phone, waiting for you to come home) and I’ve been hooked ever since. I special ordered this vinyl from my local record store and it hasn’t come off the record player since November. It’s a perfect blend of sweet sentiments (I jumped a flight of stairs because I knew you were waiting there, I jumped a flight of stairs because I was so excited to have you home) and bitter asides (I hope you’re miserable) and I can’t get enough of these guys. Listen on Spotify.

jessie ware tough love

jessie ware tough love

I actually got into Jessie Ware by accident. NPR featured an interview with her and I never actually caught her name, but I figured the British “Jessie” they were talking about had to be Jessie J. Nothing from that interview made sense to me based on what I know of Jessie J and when I googled it later, I discovered why – I was listening to the uber-talented Jessie Ware speak instead. Her voice is soulful and warm, ethereal on “Tough Love” and longing on “Say You Love Me.” She talks about love and heartache (but mostly heartache,) and the relatability I find in these songs makes it one of my top picks for the year. Find it on Spotify.

johnnyswim diamonds

jsd

I admit: I was sleeping hard on these guys. They sold out three nights at my venue and I had heard of them but never listened to them despite two of my close friends raving about them for months leading up to the show. I became a fan before soundcheck was even over. Their 2014 release’s title track was described as being a “suck it” song for someone who had told them they would never make it and I cried the first time I heard them play it. It’s been a tough year – “Diamonds” may well be my anthem for it. Other favorite tracks include “Take the World” (’cause they can write stories and they can sing songs, but they don’t make fairy tales sweeter than ours) and “Over” (so wake me up, the dream I had is over.) Check it out on Spotify.

What were your most-played songs of 2014? What do you think was the best album this year?

Christmas Bells are Ringing: Holiday Gift Guide 2014!

holiday gift guide

I don’t want to toot my own horn or anything, but I’m a great gift giver.

It’s true – I was recently working the merch table for a band that had a mug as one of their items. It was selling well on its own because it’s cute, unique, and super functional (probably everyone has a band shirt with their favorite band on it, so there’s no need to buy at a show. But a logoed mug? Sure! Give it to me!) I got this idea that it would make a cute container for a gift basket type thing – wrap up a scarf and tuck that in along with an iTunes gift card or book and a hot chocolate mix and it’s even better. Original and creative and if I got that, I would love it.

More evidence to support my case: my family does Christmas at Thanksgiving, and typically that involves a lot of Black Friday running around the stores for last-minute forgotten gifts (or, if you’re most of my family – running around to get ALL of your gifts at once.) This year my uncle was laid up after achilles tendon surgery, so I did all of his bidding. I got everyone’s gifts knocked out between two stores, and they were the biggest hits of the night (Lush’s FUN and shower jellies were big winners, along with a Hot Wheels set for the 5-year-old and one of those elastic chairs for the 10-year old.)

So I think my gift suggestions should hold some weight. Here are a few ideas for the giftees in your life:

the foodieRawSpiceBar’s subscription box: RawSpiceBar delivers freshly ground, small batches to your door every month. The $6 monthly fee is affordable and spices are a great way to mix up your cooking!

the athlete

I’ve never been a big gadget-y person and track all my activity using apps on my phone, but if I were considering a watch, I’d go with this watch by Nike. The big letters make it easy to read while wiping away sweat and lets you track activity, map your route, and inspires you with fun sayings for PRs.

the fashionista

Score the perfect Christmas sweater from Boohoo.com. This British website features funny pop culture references as well as classic designs, so whether your girl is an Elf fan or prefers the more traditional fair isle design, Boohoo has you covered.

hard

At work the other night, we had a big discussion over gifting. What to get the people who just buy themselves whatever they want, what age you stop giving gifts to all of your siblings, etc. The most popular thing we all decided that we would want is to spend time with people. If you have a hard-to-shop-for person in your life, consider inviting them over and cooking their favorite meal, or taking them to that museum exhibit they’ve mentioned checking out.

bookworm

This wine and book holder bath caddy is perfect and fun to keep the necessities in arm’s reach for a uber-relaxing bath. Pick one of the books from NPR’s Concierge and the only thing missing is a waterproof iPad case to get your Netflix fix in the tub as well!

your mother

If yours is anything like mine, she works hard and can use a whole lot of relaxation (but would never set aside time to take care of herself.) Put together a gift mug for her: the bigger the better for maximum stress reduction. Tuck in some teas, a cozy scarf, a bar of  Swedish Dream Sea Salt Invigorating Bath Soap (super exfoliating and great-smelling,) some candles and her favorite Lush bath melt and she has everything she needs for a night for herself. (Substitute this for your sister, girlfriend, yoga teacher, whatever woman in your life needs some pampering.)

I was provided a complimentary product for review from Boohoo.com, but all opinions are my own. Some links may be affiliate links!

Beachbody Coaching + Challenge Group!

If you’ve been reading A Northern Girl for awhile, by now you’ve figured out that I found my fitness passion about two years ago. But with the lifestyle change I recently went through and the seemingly endless hours I work, I’m not left with a lot of time to hit the gym. All my extra time has to go toward housekeeping, relaxing, or my favorite – sleep! After very careful consideration, I made the choice to become a Beachbody coach.

I’m working through the PiYo program right now and really enjoying it. It’s a hybrid of pilates and yoga and has really been helping strengthen some of my weakest muscles, help me recover tone I’ve lost over the last few months, and has helped rehab some of the chronic injuries and pains I’ve had. PiYo is a great program for runners who want to increase flexibility, get better at stretching (which I’m AWFUL at) and lean out. It’s even helping with some of my anxiety.

beachbody

Along with PiYo, I’m also trying out Shakeology. Because my days are so busy and I typically forget to eat dinner, I’m using it as a meal replacement. I’m also using it to help me stay healthy through flu season (one bad cold is enough for the year) and replace vitamins and minerals I know I’m missing out on.

Really, I waffled back and forth over deciding to be a coach for months. I wasn’t a Shakeology user, it seemed like Beachbody was just another network marketing pyramid scheme, etc. But I am still very passionate about pursing a career in fitness, and beginning in this sort of business feels like the right way to learn more about the industry.

If you have any questions about PiYo, Shakeology, or any other Beachbody products, please let me know! Once the new year hits I’m going to purchase the Les Mills BodyPUMP workout so I can finally restart my beloved Pump workouts once again. You have my promise that this blog won’t become 100% Beachbody sales and marketing focused (to be honest – I was hesitant about even posting this, but I want to continue being a fit-focused blog, so it’s a natural evolution to me to include this new venture as well.) I’m going to run a week-long challenge group around Christmas to keep people motivated during the holidays. Let me know if you’re interested!

2015 planner picks

2015 planners, agendas, calendars

One of my favorite parts of the end of the year is shopping around and looking at the pretty new planners that are coming up and dreaming of ways I can organize my life. Since college, I’ve used the same planner (the Moleskine Weekly Planner) but that never stopped me from looking and lusting. This year I did pull the trigger and buy a new one, but before I reveal The One, I thought I’d share some of the other contenders!

Day Designer: this thick spiral bound notebook features a hard cover with thick black and white stripes. Join her email list to get a preview of the daily pages, which include a priority to-do list and hour-by-hour blocks to plot your day.

May Books: I’ve reviewed May Designs before, and I really like them. I considered getting one of them for the new year, but wasn’t sure they’d offer enough space for me.

Sessa Vee: Her printable planners are absolutely gorgeous. Pretty, florally designs and extremely functional. Ultimately I didn’t go with this one because after waffling back and forth and back and forth again, I decided against doing a three-ring binder for portability reasons.

Kate Spade: I would have gone with this one if it had been in-stock at the kate spade website where it is $12 cheaper, but these sell out fast. I love the gold dots, and the hard cover keeps the spiral from being exposed and getting tangled up on things in your bag. It also opens so that the pages lay flat, which is awesome for writing and keeping things organized.

And after all that, the one I said yes to: the ban.do 2015 17-month planner. (This is an extremely popular one and the design I originally wanted, a cover that reads “I am very busy.” is sold out everywhere. The linked website is actually the only webstore I found that still had either design in stock!) It has a lot of the features I loved about my Moleskine (pocket on the back cover, ribbon to cord off pages, and elastic band to keep it shut) as well as things I always wished for in my red beauties – tabbed months and full page calendar views, for example. (If Hattan Home still has it in stock, use code “OINKOINK” to save 10%!) It’s also the most affordable on the list, clocking in around $20 pre-discount.

Inside, it features colorful illustrations, fun messages to cheer up dreary days, and suggestions for weekend activities – “dye your hair pink” and “bake a pumpkin pie from scratch” are two of my favorites!

I’m only sad that I didn’t get this planner a few months ago so I could have been using to to its maximum, but I’m excited to jump in now.

How do you organize your life? Are you a physical planner person like me or are you all digital?