December 05, 2016

Six Christmas Things All Catholic School Kids Will Understand

Thursday night, Derrick and I picked up our second annual live Christmas tree, which is no small feat for two people living in Florida. (It's a strange sensation picking out a tree while simultaneously being devoured by mosquitos.)

Also not a small feat: two very strong-willed people coming together to decorate a live Christmas tree.

Now, not only are Derrick and I two very strong-willed people, we're also two very strong-willed people with very different views on proper tree decorating. Let's just say that Derrick was not pleased when he turned his back and found my hedgehog ornament on top of the tree where the star apparently belongs. ("This is where I draw the line, Nicole.")

But despite our obvious differences in opinion on proper tree etiquette, we did have a good time hanging the bulbs and tying the ties with Justin Bieber's holiday mix in the background.

The best part of the evening, though, was Derrick's face when I told him that we should get ourselves an Advent calendar.

Now, I attended a Catholic school from kindergarten through my senior year of high school, so to me, an Advent calendar is about the same as eggnog in terms of familiarity. To Derrick, however, the idea was as foreign as... well, a hedgehog atop our tree.

I tried to explain the tradition of the Advent calendar, but I think the only thing he really got out of it was little holiday-themed chocolates. (Which, I guess to be fair, is often the most important part of any story that involves little holiday-themed chocolates.)

But once I got going on Advent calendars, I couldn't stop. What other seemingly run-of-the-mill Christmas traditions did Derrick not know about? I mean, the man lived in a world without Advent calendars and Christmas pickles before I came along—who knew what else he was missing out on.

Which leads me to this: 6 Christmas things all Catholic school kids will definitely understand.

1. Advent calendars. As discussed above. If you went to a Catholic school, you know the joy of opening that little cardboard door every December morning. Who cares if the chocolate inside tasted a little bit like glue? Each little gluey chocolate was one gluey chocolate closer to the big day.

2. Advent wreaths. No one is as pumped about lighting a candle as a kid who went to a Catholic school. And especially the pink one—the signal to kids across the world that we're sliding into the home stretch.

3. Homemade nativity scenes. Because all Catholic kids know that there is no more proper way to welcome the birth of Jesus than with a toilet paper roll replica of the scene.

4. Nativity plays. Similar to homemade replicas of the nativity scene, Christmas is just not Christmas until your elementary school-aged self has reenacted Jesus's birth. I personally never landed the coveted role of Mary, but one year in second grade I did wow the masses with my performance as the Christmas martian.

5. Christmas socks. Out-of-uniform days are not so much a rare treat to a Catholic school kid as they are a spectacle of sorts. It's the red carpet of elementary school, the three or four days a year when you have the chance to prove just how trendy you and your glitter jeans actually are. And while you might not always get an out-of-uniform day for Christmas, you will certainly get at least a Christmas sock day. And never is your sock game more critical than on this day.

6. Midnight masses. When I told Derrick about this one, he was positive I was playing games with his head. But, seriously, if you're going to do Christmas Eve as a Catholic, you're going to do it hard. 

Happy Monday, everyone!
It's the most wonderful time of the year, after all.

November 28, 2016

The Gift Guide for Those Who'd Rather Not

It's officially that time of year again. The season we love, the season we sorta hate, the season we spend between childlike giddiness and all-out panic.

Oh, the holidays.

For those with large families, it may mean trying to bargain off creepy uncle Sal as your Secret Santa recipient. For those with small families, it may mean you and your husband getting your stories straight for your Annual Christmas Dinner Interrogation. For the festive ones, it means cookie swaps and ABC Family marathons and hidden pickles. For the not-so-festive ones, it means wine and Netflix and all your condiments in plain sight. 

And for bloggers?

It means gift guide on gift guide on gift guide.

Now, I've been a "blogger" for several years but I've always felt like I—a girl who hasn't owned lip gloss since fourth grade—had no business participating in this trend. After all, one search through Pinterest and you'll see most gift guides have the same things: makeup palettes, bath bombs, those weird antler things that belong on your gallery wall.

In other words, things I know nothing about.

Now, don't get me wrong. I think those things are cute, just like everyone else. But I also feel like I'm not quite Susie McBlogger enough to actually put them on my site. I mean, sure, I could try to be a little more trendy, maybe use some makeup other than Maybelline mascara... but I'd rather not.

This year, though, I've done it. I've found the perfect solution. This year, I've put together one of those coveted gift guides—filled with coffee mugs and throw pillows and silver bangles—but I've mixed it together with a dash of "nope." The trendiest of trendy guides, for those who'd rather not.

Susie McBlogger will be so proud.

"Owner is shady. Dogs are cool." mat. For the person who doesn't like people-people, but can tolerate dog-people. Sometimes.

Milkshake anxiety tank. It's a rare occasion when the word "milkshake" and "anxiety" can be used in the same sentence. This is one of them.

"I Hate Everyone" bracelet. It looks so sweet, but that's just because people can't see what's going on inside. Sort of like you.

Fox mug. The pun is only the second best part of this mug.

"Nope" sweatshirt. For the one who doesn't necessarily wear her heart on her sleeve, but doesn't mind it on her chest.

"Because cats" pillow. Some days, you don't need anyone else in your life. Because, cats.

The face blanket. For the one who just can't on an entirely different level.

Happy Holidays everyone!
Let the madness begin.

November 14, 2016

My Election Post

So this past week has been... interesting? Shocking? Terrifying? Mind-numbing? Infuriating? Hopeful? I guess it depends on you who ask.

I think that last part is the important part, though. The results of last week's election in America mean different things to different people.

I mean, think about how many people out there are 100% dead sure that their candidate was the best choice. This group can more or less be split into two halves, both of whom voted for 100% dead opposite candidates. Both sides can't be right, right?

Well, the thing is, I'm not so sure.

You see, maybe I have too much faith in people, but I believe that the majority of the people on both sides of last week's election want the same things. They want to feel that they and their loved ones are safe. That they're being heard. That things are just.

We all want these things, but how to get them depends on exactly what we think is standing in their way.

For example, a small, rural business owner might feel like she and her loved ones aren't safe because they can't afford their health insurance. What if her child gets sick and she's faced with either not taking her to a doctor or going bankrupt? This is—understandably—a huge concern, and will be the primary motivating factor for how she votes.

Or, in another example, a Muslim American in New York might be afraid that her neighbors could turn against her and her family simply for what they believe. Of course, this is a real fear, her biggest concern, and will be the leading motive in her decisions.

Both of these people might've voted for different candidates, but both made the "right" decision based on her personal circumstance. Sure, it might've been the "wrong" decision for someone with different priorities, but people's priorities are often dictated by their most immediate and critical concerns. 

Is one of these people's concerns more legitimate than the other? I know I can't make that judgment.

And I don't think anyone can because no one will truly know what it's like to be in a situation other than their own. I mean, even the people who—admirably—try to sympathize with someone outside their little bubble will still only be observing another person's experiences—not actually living them.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't be listening to the other bubbles, though. Because—as I think this election is showing us—no one wins when people stand in their own bubble, surrounded by their own bubble inhabitants, bouncing their own screams off their bubble walls.

But that's where it feels like a lot of people are at right now. They're shouting in their bubble, and all the echos in there are drowning out anything coming from the outside. I mean, it's validating to have your own opinions bounced back at you, but in terms of all the bubbles in this country as a whole?

It's not helpful.

Now, this is not to say that you shouldn't voice your opinion. Voice it loudly, if necessary. Just make sure you're not refusing to hear any voice but your own.

And, of course, the idea that every "bubble" will be able to put aside their differences is not realistic. Some bubbles will just never see eye to eye.

But I do think that it might be possible to save some of our country from burning—or at least save some of the relationships that are fracturing before our eyes—if more people were listening to other bubbles as much as they are screaming into their own.

Because while everyone's reality is different regarding this election, there is one thing most of us have in common: regardless of who won this election, we all still have much to lose.

November 10, 2016

Happiness Is a State of Mind

Since graduating from college, I've called "home" to a respectable variety of places. My favorite by far, though, has been the cities.

First, there was Chicago, where every Sunday I'd pick up quarters to use in the community washing machine and walk two city blocks to get groceries from Trader Joe's. And then there was Washington, DC, where I'd get lunch from the food trucks in Farragut Square and eat it across the street from the picketers at the White House.

Now, I live in southwest Florida, where no one pickets and I have my own washing machine.

But while you'd think these things would've made this move easy, the transition to southwest Florida may have been the hardest one yet.

You see, since college, I've decided that I'm a "city person." As in, I like living in downtown apartments with four bars within half a mile. I like taking the subway to work and watching St. Patrick's Day parades from my apartment window. I like having brunch joints and used bookstores and yoga studios all on my street.

I loved Chicago and DC because they were rarely ever predictable and definitely never boring.

But a city is the exact opposite of where I live now. Where I live now, there's a 6 PM rush at Carrabba's before everyone heads home to turn in. Public transportation consists of two Uber drivers and their minivans, and the only thing I can see from my window is hole 9 of the community golf course. My neighbors are retirees from up north, who come down every winter to congregate in driveways and gossip at the community pool. Every day is predictable because that's the way people here want it.

It's a much, much slower, quieter way of life in southwest Florida, one that I still don't think I'm used to.

But to be honest, I've never given southwest Florida much of a chance. Instead, I've spent most of my mental energy comparing it to Chicago and DC, a match-up I had determined Florida would lose from the start. I mean, I am a city person in a very un-city place. How could I possibly be happy with my living situation when I'm a zebra squished in a fish tank?

And the answer to that question is that I couldn't—it was just not possible for me to be happy.

But it's not because of what was around me—it's because of what was in my own head.

You see, it's like Dale Carnegie (and every fortune cookie writer ever) has said: It isn’t what you have, or who you are, or where you are, or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about.

Basically, I can decide my situation is great or it is horrible, that I am happy or I am not. Either way, I'll be right.

So recently, I've been working on changing my state of mind. I've been focusing on noticing—and enjoying—the great things about southwest Florida instead of what it lacks. I'm focusing on the fact that I live in a place that is warm and colorful, even in November.

And sure, there are a lot of old people here—but where there are old people, farmer's markets are sure to follow. And where there are farmer's markets, there are fresh vegetables, homemade sweet tea, and pineapples just waiting to be photographed.

And if a blogger can't appreciate a place like that, well, is she really even a blogger at all?

November 07, 2016

The 9 Types of People on Facebook This Election

So, this election, am I right?

But seriously.

I mean, I'm not an American history whiz, but I can't imagine this is what the Founding Fathers had in mind. (Then again, it's possible the 1700's were pretty wild—George Washington telling John Adams that he's no muppet while John manically giggles in his matching pantaloons.)

Either way, I'm one of the millions who have been watching this race closely, sort of amused and sort of wanting to bash my head through a wall.

And as someone who's been watching closely, I've made quite a few observations.

Now, I'm not here to talk about my political observations. (You can find all the unsolicited political opinions you need on Twitter anyway.) No, what I am here to talk about is my observations on the people sharing their unsolicited political observations. In other words, the majority of my Facebook friends.

And what I've found is that among all my friends, there are basically nine types of people—nine types of people I'm sure every Facebook user has come across this election season.

1. The unapologetic conservatives. We all have these friends—the ones who "like" Tomi Lahren and won't stop linking to articles confirming that it was Hillary who opened the Chamber of Secrets. Whether you agree with them or not, at least you know where they stand.

2. The outspoken liberals. These friends are especially knowledgeable about all things, and will happily explain—using the largest words possible—why Hillary's plan is indeed the only plan that will fix our economy. They took a semester of Econ in college, after all, so they know.

3. The sneaky influencers. The friends whose profile pictures includes an "I voted" sticker. They don't want to tell you how to vote, though. I mean, if you want all the polar bears and puppies and baby otters to die then fine, vote for Trump—they just think it's important you vote.

4. The "I don't usually post about politics..." guys. They don't usually do this. (Not since last week, at least.)

5. The ones voting for Gary. It's like America's trying to decide if we should have cheap Mexican or all-you-can-eat Chinese for dinner. When we are collectively paying the price later this evening, these guys are the ones who'll be like, “Don't look at me. I wanted pizza.”

6. The just plain panicked. These people have nothing really substantial to add to the conversation, but still think they should add something anyway. And that something is usually more or less this.

7. The angry ones. These people are a lot like the panicked ones, in that they also think doomsday is upon us. The only difference is that these people aren't worried about it—they're just pissed. Then again, they're also pissed about Starbucks's new holiday cups and the fact that Chipotle guac isn't free, so take that for what it's worth.

8. The silent observers. These people have their opinions, sure. But other than one or two low-key snarky statuses, they pretty much keep their thoughts to themselves. Be warned, though: The fact that these people aren't part of your heated political debate doesn't mean they're not judging you for it.

9. The cat memers. Maybe they know what's going on or maybe they are living in ignorant bliss. Either way, the memers refuse to get involved with any of this nonsense, and instead believe in the power of a well-timed cat meme.

But just remember, no matter which one of these guys you are, it'll all be over tomorrow. (Although it's TBD whether "it" is the election... or the world.)

Good luck, America!