December 07, 2015

Hand Saws and Other Christmas Cheer

I don't know if things in the world were always this shitty, but it seems like the news is getting shittier and shittier by the day.

So this post isn't about that. This post is a completely non-controversial, non-shitty post about Christmas trees.

You see, my parents get a live Christmas tree every year. And when we were younger, we were very Clark Griswold about it: my parents would throw their (often reluctant) children in the back of our red Ford Astrostar so we could drive to the local "Christmas Tree Farm." (I.e., the really big hill in the middle of nowhere covered in Fraser furs.)

We took the whole thing quite seriously: we were equipped with astronaut-level cold weather gear (thanks Mom) and were often met with dangerous wildlife. (And by that I mean squirrels.) It was all very dramatic.

Once we got there, my dad would grab one of the free hand saws near the bottom of the hill, and then he'd release his elves. Upon our release, my brother and sister (Nathan and Samantha) and I would sprint through the trees until one of us found "the one."

The kid who found "the one" would celebrate triumphantly and the other kids would mope, and then my mom would make us take a picture in front of the tree, and we'd all mope. My dad would then lie on the ground and start sawing away at the stump, hoping to God that my mom wouldn't let the tree fall on him.

We'd all dance around my dad (who was carrying the tree) until we reached the bottom of the hill, where my parents would wait in line to get the tree tied up, and Nathan, Sam, and I would get free coloring books and hot chocolate from the ladies at the cash register.

Now, that sort of stopped around the time Nathan started getting taller than the tree. It's not that we don't appreciate coloring books anymore; it's just that the family is now rarely together before Christmas and don't have time for such spectacles. 

This year though, my family was all together the day after Thanksgiving. So for the first time in about ten years, all of the Clarke children (and Derrick) were able to storm a Christmas tree lot in search of "the one."

Only this time, Nathan was 6'7" and I was the one forcing family pictures on us. But it was just as not-shitty as when I was seven.

And best of all, it reminded me that there's still a lot of good out there in the world, despite what Facebook tells ya.

November 23, 2015

Six Things I Learned From a Six Year Relationship

I'm extremely superstitious. As in, I consider spilling salt a near death experience, and there are certain shirts I just can't wear when the Ravens play because I don't want to be responsible for their loss.

My point is that I'm not one to make a hobby out of walking under ladders, or one who is interested in tails-up pennies. But one thing that I do like are Friday the 13ths.

Because Friday, November 13, 2009, is the day that 19-year-old Nicole and 19-year-old Derrick had "the exclusive talk." It was scary and awkward and wonderful, and was the first day of a relationship that will last the rest of my life. And what's a blogger to do in times of monumental milestones other than list all of the things we've learned from our experience?

Nothing. There's nothing else I can do. That being said, here are six things that I've learned from being in a six-year-long relationship.

1. You're not always right, even when you are actually right.
It was a hard day when I learned that I am actually not always right. But that was nothing compared to what I learned from a relationship: sometimes, even when you are right, it's better not to draw attention to that fact. Like when you told him that olive oil shouldn't be heated that hot; the subsequent fire alarm through the smoke-filled kitchen says that you were right, but pointing that out won't do you any favors.

2. Don't always keep score... out loud.
They always say that you shouldn't "keep score" in a relationship... But that doesn't mean that you don't anyway. For example, two weeks ago, I asked Derrick if we could watch a movie instead of the FSU game. At first, Derrick said no... but then he quickly and adamantly changed his mind, and demanded that we watch a movie. When I asked him why the sudden change, he said that he needed to "save his football game card" for a later date. God knows what other cards he's saved over the years.

3. Bacon is so worth it.
Before I started dating Derrick, I avoided bacon and all its butt-increasing glory. But it's only so long that someone can resist the smell of Sunday morning bacon, and I am only mortal. My butt is a little bigger but you know what? Life is so much better when you can just eat the bacon.

4. It's easier to just say it already.
When we first started dating, I'll admit that I pulled the "I'm fine" schtick all the time. But eventually, I got tired of Derrick's pretty unimpressive mind reading abilities, and learned that when he asks me if something's wrong, it's so much easier to just say yes.

5. You don't have to love what he loves... but you'll learn about it anyway.
The depth of my love for Derrick knows no limit... but NASCAR doesn't fall under that love umbrella, no matter how many Dale Jr. t-shirts Derrick buys. But just because I don't care who's still in the Chase, doesn't mean that I don't know who Kevin Harvick is. Because even though I don't care who wins, I care that Derrick cares... so when he talks about it, I still listen.

6. Sometimes, you need to let go of what you thought you knew.
Maybe you thought for sure you'd end up marrying an English doctor, or knew for a fact you'd live in Alaska. You don't need to compromise what's important to you... but sometimes, you find someone worth compromising for. Because even though you thought Friday the 13ths weren't worth getting up for, they could turn out to be one of the best days of your life.

(That still doesn't mean I'm playing around with overturned salt shakers though.)

November 18, 2015

Adult Acne: Does Spironolactone Work?

I just want to put this on the table: acne sucks.

I am in awe of all of the men and women who are confident enough to not care about acne. And in the grand scheme of things, I know that acne is so, so far down on the "things that matter" list.

But it still sucks. Which brings me to this post about the bastard.

You might remember this acne post a while ago, where I told you that I had tried minocycline (an antibiotic which worked, but isn't something I wanted to take long term) and was just starting to try a prescription retinoid.

My Experience with Retinoids

I ended up using the retinoid for a very uncomfortable three months. Like, stepping on a lego in the middle of the night uncomfortable. Or sitting next to a couple making out in the movie theater painful.

You see, even using the lowest strength cream (0.025%) every other day, I couldn't get rid of the "I forgot sunscreen on a boat" look. And being a light shade of cherry Kool-Aid wasn't the worst of it; I also could not run or work out (even indoors) for more than 15 minutes before my face stung to the point of stopping. And the worst part was the sun; even with spf 50, ten minutes outside was enough to start burning my sad, abused face.

I'm not sure if my skin would have eventually adjusted but in the end, although the retinoid did make my pores noticeably less clogged, I didn't want to deal with the no working out, vampire lifestyle anymore.

At that time, I was also about a month into taking an oral medication called spironolactone (or "spiro," if all those letters annoy you), so I stopped using the retinoid and prayed to the acne gods that spiro worked.


Spiro is a medication that was originally prescribed for high blood pressure, but has also been prescribed off-label for over 20 years to treat all sorts of hormonal related issues.

You're probably wondering how a high blood pressure medicine can also affect hormones. And the answer is simple: science.

But seriously, doctors learned a lot about spiro when it was used to treat high blood pressure in women who were also diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is a syndrome which, among other things, is associated with a high level of androgens (i.e., "male hormones") in women. Although women normally produce some level of androgens, too much can do some pretty effed up things. For example, too much androgens can cause unwanted hair growth, sebum production, and a messed up menstrual cycle, all of which are symptoms of the syndrome doctors call PCOS.

The doctors found that spiro was pretty efficient at inhibiting androgens, meaning that it stopped the male hormones from doing that unwanted shiz.

In my case, I didn't have any symptoms of PCOS or an unbalanced level of androgens except that my skin and hair was incredibly oily. When I broke out, it also looked like a "classic" case of primarily hormone-related acne: very inflamed, very deep, and painful pimples on my cheeks and chin that would last for weeks.

So I decided to give spiro a shot.

I've been taking spiro for a little over six months now. I also switched birth control pill brands again about three months ago to see if that helped as well. I don't want to do any jinxing but so far, it seems like it's been helping a lot. I'm still trying to figure out a good skin care routine and I still don't have close to perfect skin, but I also would recommend asking your doctor about spiro if you think your acne is mostly hormonal related.

Spironolactone: The Downsides

I don't feel like I can post this without at least some sort of disclaimer about the downsides of spiro. Because even though it sounds like spiro is pretty safe for long term use, I still have to be careful taking it because:

1. It's a diuretic. Basically, it makes you have to pee a lot, which can lead to dehydration if you're not careful.

2. It's potassium-sparing. This one is the biggest one: potassium-sparing diuretics like spiro can make you pee a lot, and also make you excrete less than normal amounts of potassium while you do so. This means that if you have a kidney problem or eat an unnecessary amount of bananas, you could be at risk for hyperkalemia (high levels of potassium in the blood). I'll let Google explain why that's bad.

3. It's used to treat high blood pressure. Which means that if you already have low blood pressure, it could lower it even more, sometimes to dangerous levels.

4. You can't use it while you're pregnant.

For the sake of not getting sued, I also thought I should add that I'm not a doctor. This isn't a medical journal; this is the experience of one random person online. Don't buy drugs online because you read about them on a blog. Don't confuse my advice with legit medical advice. Don't be stupid. 

Anyway, hopefully this was helpful. Or interesting. Or at least better than stepping on a lego.

And to be clear: this is just an update, not an "end of the story" type post. I don't know if this is a long term solution, and I don't know if in a month, I'll be saying that spiro made me grow a third boob.

But I'm saying a silent prayer and keeping my fingers crossed that for the love of God, I stay acne and third boob free

November 16, 2015


On Friday night, I was sitting outside in the warm Florida evening in front of a dessert shop with my fiance, eating a banana foster crepe with vanilla gelato on top.

And I am so incredibly lucky to say that. Because being able to tell you that means that I am in the top tier when it comes to having a privileged, beautiful life. It also means that it's hard to empathize with the Parisians who were injured this weekend, and almost impossible to empathize with the people who live lives where that kind of fear and violence is commonplace. I am so incredibly sad for them but my life is so far removed from that, I can't know what they're going through.

I had been planning on a post about Derrick and my anniversary on Friday (or, if we're being honest, mostly just about the celebratory crepe), but somehow that doesn't feel right today.

Instead, all I can think about is how much hate there is out there. And there's so much of it. The hate that can convince someone to kill people he doesn't know. The hate from those who blame innocent people for it. The hate from the ones who dismiss the people who are mourning or mock the people who are showing support. There's so much hate, it feels like we're drowning in it.

This post isn't to criticize people's anger or their grief or their fear. And this isn't a political post about how I think the world should respond. Hell if I know what to do about this.

All I'm trying to say is that this weekend was just another reminder that there's a lot of hate and a lot of cruelty out there, and that it's capable of overshadowing all the beauty in life, if you let it. There's not a lot I can do about it and it's not something I can control, but I can control what I decide to contribute.

Because the way I see it is that if you're one of the lucky ones who live a life that can be so, so beautiful, the least you can do is make sure you don't let your own hate take that away.

November 12, 2015

The Biggest Secret in Wedding Planning

Getting engaged is sort of like the first time you're about to walk into your college's cafeteria as a freshman: you're absolutely pumped. You've spent your entire life dreaming of a room filled with endless spaghetti, and now that dream is a reality.

But then you swipe your student card and suddenly, you're completely overwhelmed. Sandwich station? Approved vendors? 24-hour cereal? Cake-cutting fee? Is that ground beef?? If you're not careful, both wedding planning and cafeteria-going can quickly escalate into an all out panic.

But I'm here to tell you that it eventually gets easier. And actually, you even learn a few secrets of the business while you're at it.

In college, I learned that not all that looks like ground beef is actually ground beef. As for wedding planning? So far, the biggest secret of the business seems to be that the best way to get a discount is to...

Ask for one.

Literally. Just ask if you can pay less.

I know, I know; when I first read it in my Bridal Panic 101 manual, I couldn't believe it either. I mean, how could that possibly work? WHY in the world would that work?

Well, I don't know how, but it does. So  much so that so far, I've saved around $500. $500 of discounts just because I asked.

To be clear, I don't even mean that I put on my car dealership face and went through rounds and rounds of greasy-mustached haggling. Actually, I started out saying something like, "I love this napkin set, but it's a little more than I wanted to pay for a napkin set. Is there anything I can leave off the napkin set to lower the price a little?" But nine times out of ten, the napkin seller has said something like, "There's nothing I can really remove from this napkin set, but how about I give you a 5% napkin discount?"

And the next thing you know, I'm choosing colors for my discount napkins.

Now, it might not always work. And sometimes, especially if it's an independent artist I really admire, I don't worry about getting a lower price. But for streamlined vendors (like my venue and my caterer), I figured there's no harm in asking. And surprisingly, it's really paid off.

I guess it's just a lesson that applies to a lot of aspects in life: sometimes, the easiest way to get what you want is to just ask for it. Also, mystery meat casseroles are not your friend.

But I guess that's a lesson for another time.

November 10, 2015

I Stopped Blogging for a Month, and Here's What Happened

... I started blogging a few weeks later and titled my post with a deliberately click-baity title.

Ok, I know, that was lame. You don't have to say it. And I am truly sorry if you clicked this post thinking I'd share something shocking.

(Except that I'm not really sorry. Because as George W. Bush once wisely said...

And seriously, you can't tell me you've never clicked on a blogger's "I went on a juice cleanse, and here's what happened next" post only to be disappointed to hear that she started feeling slightly hungry. Act like you've done this before, you know?)

Anyway, I stopped blogging temporarily mostly because wedding planning is like a needy set of triplets drinking Diet Coke, and also as a personal vendetta against public opinion-sharing. I guess I just read one too many comments about the #MerryChristmasStarbucks debacle, and decided that we'd be okay if everyone didn't tell us what they thought.

But when I told that to Derrick over our weekly Sunday tacos, Derrick told me that actually, he was very entertained by people online. In fact, he said that he followed Herm Edwards particularly for the opinions.

And since Herm and I are more or less one and the same, I figured that that this was my cue: time to jump right back on the blogging bandwagon and have at it. So let's just jump right in, shall we?

1. Sometimes, a cardboard coffee cup is just a cardboard coffee cup, not a political statement or brainwashing tactic. But if it really bothers you, just get an iced green tea. That way, you can ensure that your selfies are 100% PC.

A photo posted by Nicole (@nicoleleigh_724) on

2. There are few things in life finer than a Maryland crab feast. And all of those things involve Old Bay anyway.

A photo posted by Nicole (@nicoleleigh_724) on

3. Knowing your friend's wedding hashtag and not posting about it is equivalent to handing out raisins for Halloween. I mean, c'mon.

A photo posted by Nicole (@nicoleleigh_724) on

A photo posted by Nicole (@nicoleleigh_724) on

A photo posted by Nicole (@nicoleleigh_724) on

4. Sometimes, social media is fake. Sometimes, you really do drop a carton of eggs at 8:30 on Tuesday morning.

A photo posted by Nicole (@nicoleleigh_724) on

5. Florida doesn't suck.

A photo posted by Nicole (@nicoleleigh_724) on

So there you have it, both my opinions for the week and also what I've been up to since I last posted. It's surprising that Herm has so many more followers on Twitter than I do, isn't it?

Also, if once monthly updates aren't cutting it, feel free to follow me on instagram, where I post about even more relevant and valuable matters. Such as these shoes.

A photo posted by Nicole (@nicoleleigh_724) on

Happy Tuesday, everyone! 

September 24, 2015

Just Stop

Lately, in an unusual and unpredicted turn of events, I've been feeling very stressed.

(That was sarcasm, for those of you unfamiliar.) No, the truth is that I'm pretty much always stressed. Even when I don't have a particular reason to be stressed, I can find something to worry about. ("What if I have an undiagnosed autoimmune disorder?!") ("Does this mole look like cancer to you?!") ("What if all the polar bears die?!")

But this time, I actually have a reason. A few, to be honest:
  1. Derrick and I just signed a year lease at a new house, which means another opportunity to  pack up and move every physical thing I own. At least we get to pay a security deposit, though.
  2. Derrick and I just "unofficially" booked our wedding date and our venue. And by that, I mean we "unofficially" decided who we would be giving thousands of dollars to in the near future.
  3. We've both also been under an unusually high amount of work stress lately, which makes the whole security deposit/thousands of dollars thing really fun.
So this post? Sorry, but it's not really for you; this one's for me.

Nicole, just stop. Just stop Google-ing things. It didn't help when you suspected an autoimmune disease, and it isn't helping now. It's just a web of worst case scenarios, so give it a rest.

Nicole, just stop. Just stop trying so damn hard to be perfect. Sure, it's your biggest strength but also your biggest weakness. (And not just in a cliche interview answer sort of way.) You beat yourself up for your mistakes to the point where you can be downright unproductive. The more time you spend berating yourself for the past, the less you're getting done in the present.

Nicole, just stop. Just stop worrying about the small stuff. You know what matters when you're in the midst of life altering decisions? Your dirty bathroom counter.

(There's that sarcasm again.)

Nicole just stop. Just stop worrying about the small stuff, but don't neglect it completely. Sure, in the grand scheme of things, your eyebrows really don't matter. But if it makes you feel better, get those babies taken care of. After all, no one took over the world with unkempt brows.

Nicole, just stop. Just stop taking it out on other people. You're incredibly blessed to have confusingly patient people in your life who will not only take your misdirected irritation, but also rub your feet after... That doesn't mean you need to take advantage of it.

Nicole, just stop. Just stop giving in to the worry. Yeah, the worst case scenario could happen. You could end up a homeless bachelorette peddling around Florida on a trike selling tin cans. 

But probably not. So there's no point in worrying about where you'll get the trike now.

September 21, 2015

Five More Things You Don't Realize Until You're Engaged

I'm a firm believer in the power of jinxes, so I say this with a full "I'm intentionally not jinxing myself" disclaimer: I think that we may have decided on a wedding state, and possibly even a wedding date.

I'm probably not going to say where and when the wedding will be until after the wedding because, you know, internet creeps. (My bridesmaids are all hot so I can only imagine that some cheeseburger graphic T-shirt wearing internet creep would love to know where and when he can consolidate them all, you know, for stalking purposes.)

Anyway, Derrick and I have come a long way since getting engaged in April and it kind of seems like this thing might actually happen. So to celebrate, today I thought I'd list five more things you don't realize until you're engaged.

1. Dress shopping does not need to be like a TLC show.
Ok, so I've never actually watched "Say Yes to the Dress" before. But my experience with buying a wedding dress went like this: I walked into the bridal boutique and said, "I like X, Y, and Z things on a dress." The lady at the front said OK, disappeared for a moment, then came back out holding a dress with X, Y, and Z things on it. I tried it on and said, "Yes, very good X, Y, and Z's here. I would like to get this dress."

The lady (and my mom) convinced me to try on a few more (just to be Sure with a capital "S"), so I did spin around in a few ballroom dresses and form-fitting umbrellas. But in the end, I decided that I was Sure, and got the first dress that I tried on.

So unless TLC makes a show without a plot twist, climax, or literally anything interesting, I can say that wedding dress shopping does not have to be like what you see on TV.

2. At one point, every color will be your wedding color.
After getting my dress before even picking a date, I decided to just throw all of of Lauren Conrad's "12 month wedding planning calendars" to the wind. So the next thing Derrick and I discussed was our wedding colors.

If you remember, I originally decided that my wedding colors were going to be grey and yellow. But after some discussion with my mom and sister, we decided that a plum and gold theme might go better with my dress. So briefly, I was a plum and gold type bride... until I talked to Derrick. Derrick likes blue, and so I thought, "Maybe blue will do, too." So my colors were navy, cranberry, and champagne just long enough for me to realize that I was essentially planning an awkwardly American flag themed wedding. (To be clear, I love America, just not on my bridesmaids.)

I was stumped... until my mom redid her dining room with green walls and Georgia O'Keeffe's Oriental Poppies. If I didn't fall in love, it was at least a strong case of lust. Which is how we ended up here:

By the time we get married next year, I'm assuming that we will have made it through an entire 150 count box of Crayola crayons.

3. Everything that sounds too good to be true, is too good to be true.
Venue shopping can be tiring, overwhelming, and infuriating if you're on a budget. Because most "budget venues" are not what gets pinned on Pinterest.

Of course, this doesn't mean you can't still hold out for the Pinterest-worthy venue; you just have to go into it knowing that if that downtown art museum with marble columns is advertised at a Polish Sausage Making Convention Center price, it's probably a trap. Specifically, a trap to get you into the marble columned ballroom only to be told about the $500 napkin fee. 

4. You will become very judgemental.
Not so much the "I refuse to SoulCycle next to anyone wearing that hideous shade of not-Lululemon" type of judgmental; it's more of the "we're going to objectively rate all our friends' relationships now" sort of way.

One of my friends decided that she was only giving +1's to couples who had been dating for over a year. Another said that she was only inviting spouses. Derrick and I are spending our energy planning how to discreetly ensure that all of our friends are single by next fall, which I feel is a much more practical use of our time.

5. Wedding planning doesn't happen according to Southern Living's instructions.
A few months ago, my mom bought me a Southern Living wedding planner. One of the very first things in the book was instructions on how to use it: you were to sit down with your fiance at your scheduled weekly wedding meetings, because something as important as a wedding should not be planned via phone calls between work meetings.

However, despite Southern Living's passive aggressive suggestions, phone calls between work meetings is exactly when the (little) wedding planning we've done has taken place. And texts during lunch. And Facebook message before the gym. Because to my extreme letdown, life does not stop just because you're planning a wedding, even if you hold the Holy Bible of Coordinating Linens. Work is still there, still stressful, and still necessary. You still have to sign leases and take out the trash and dog-sit Jack Russells even though you're engaged.

So there's no point in worrying about if you're doing it right; you've just got to try to enjoy the fact that you're doing it at all. 

September 17, 2015

Why Not Me?

The summer after my freshman year of college, my best friend, Erika, and I took a trip down to DC to see the sights and do the things. And by "do the things," I mean "do the free things." Because college.

We walked around the Smithsonian museums and the monuments, and took a nice long stroll by the White House. After a while, we also took advantage of the free benches DC offers and sat down to people watch.

I don't have a great memory but I do remember this moment; I remember Erika saying, "Wouldn't it be cool to be one of those people?" as we watched the very important business women in very important business suits crossing the streets to their presumably very important DC jobs.

I remember this moment because I did what I usually do when Erika starts scheming our world takeover projects: I nodded and smiled and thought she was nuts. Because at nineteen, I realized that not every six-year-old becomes an astronaut, even if their mom helped them spell "astronaut" right. By nineteen, I had learned enough to know that somewhere on the way from first grade homework assignments to Mars, most six-year-olds become secretaries, or sales representatives, or human resource managers, or really, just any job that comes with benefits.

I don't  know if that means I was realistic or jaded. I guess nineteen is just when you realize that every mom is telling their daughters that she is the specialist, brightest, most beautiful future world changer out there. (If you're a lucky daughter, that is.) And once you catch on to those mothers and realize that we can't all be the specialist, brightest, most beautiful... you begin wondering, "Why me?" Like, why would I change the world? Why would I get a job at the capital? Why am I different?

Now, six years later, I'm writing this blog post in a hotel room before I take a cab to K street, two blocks down from the White House. I'm here on a work trip, wearing a very important dress with very important heels, and I am assuming that around noon, I will walk across a brick DC street to get a very important salad for lunch.

That's what some nineteen-year-old sitting on a bench would see, at least.

Really, I feel like that same nineteen-year-old I was six years ago. I'm kind of confused about how I got here and even more confused about where I'm going. I feel guilty about ordering overpriced DC salads, and I have three CVS blister pads on my right foot because these shoes are not so much important as they are excruciatingly uncomfortable. 

Basically, I've uncovered the secret: those "very important" people I saw six years ago weren't actually superheros; they were people a lot like me who were probably just making it up as they go.

Which makes you think: if it's possible for a regular human to be one of those DC dress wearers, why wouldn't it be possible to be one of those other people you thought you could never be? Why couldn't I be the author of a book? Why couldn't I write something read by millions, not just Mom? What if JK Rowling is just a regular person who did incredible things? Why couldn't regular me do incredible things too?

Basically, as I'm rolling around here in my comfy Georgetown hotel sheets, I realize now what nineteen-year-old me should have realized then: the real question you've got to ask yourself is, "Why not me?"

September 14, 2015

Things You Shouldn't Apologize For

I've heard that dog people are the best people.

And I get it: dog people do seem really cool. They seem laid back, like they don't mind dog tongues to their faces or dog hair on their pillowcases. They seem chill and outgoing and would probably never, ever order wine at a sports bar. Basically, they seem like the type of person I wish I could be.

But I'm not. I don't like beer, I'm awkward and shy, and I'm about as laid back as the Jack Russell puppy that Derrick and I have been dog-sitting for the past two weeks.

And I definitely don't think I'm a dog person.

I mean, I like the idea of dogs. Actually, before the past two weeks, I spent months sending Derrick pictures of pug puppies hoping it'd convince him to open our home to one. (Or seven.) I like the idea of little pug pups licking your toes, or an old lab cuddling up next to you on the couch.

But it turns out that owning a dog isn't actually like that. There's the occasional toe lick, sure, and sometimes they do calm down and snuggle.

But a lot of the time, they're just bat shit crazy.

They go nuts when the doorbell rings or the cat moves or their squeaky red bone looks at them funny or absolutely no reason at all. They get hair on my clothes and my towels and places that just confuse me. Their poop is smelly, they wake up early, and sometimes the puppy "goes" inside because, well, she's a puppy. Basically, they're more annoying than their toe-licking is pleasing.

Now, it's possible that I just feel this way because these dogs aren't my dogs. Maybe if I had my own (seven) pug pups, I'd take the smells and the yells and the chewed up flip-flops because they are my fur children.

Or maybe I'm just a cat person who likes wine.

But you know what? I'm not really ashamed of it. I mean, if we were all dog people, who would the cats ignore?

So this post is just for all you cat people out there: there's no reason to hide it and there's no reason to apologize for it. And while we're at it, here are a few other things you don't need to apologize for:

Not liking coffee. Even if it's spiced like a pumpkin, and even if it's trending.

Shopping at Forever 21. As long as those crop tops know their place, there's no shame in frugality.

Listening to country music. Or techno. Or top 40. There are some people whose opinions you should care about. Those who knock your music aren't those people.

Not traveling the world in your twenties. If you want to spend your twenties backpacking around the world, that's awesome. If you want to spend your twenties building a career, that's awesome too... no matter what that twenty-something EliteDaily blogger thinks.

Spending your money on decorative spoons. The nice thing about your bank account is that your name is on it. So if you really want some spoons? You own those spoons because you earned them.

Eating Paleo. Or vegan. Or Chocolatarian. As long as you're not vandalizing ice cream trucks or spitting in my tacos, your body is yours to treat however you choose, even if questionably qualified online strangers disagree.

Not getting married in your twenties. Or getting married in your twenties. Because like a lot of things, the only way you're not doing it right is if you're only doing it to be "doing it right."

September 11, 2015

Six Things You Learn from CrossFit

I don't hate trendy things.

I mean, c'mon, I'm a blogger who likes to brunch. I Instagram sunsets and use "brunch" as a verb. I'm basically one PSL away from total internet conformity.

So when Derrick teased me for starting CrossFit (which he thinks is an unforgivably trendy thing to do), I didn't really care. Sure, I could have done without him reaching for the milk with a "CrossFit refrigerator squat" but I like what I like; I can't help if half of America likes it too.

And I do like it. I've been going to a local CrossFit box regularly for about a month now, and I actually like it more and more each time I go. I like the the people, I like the workouts, I like the variety and the intensity. And I just sort of like saying things like "WOD."

Don't get me wrong; I still have a special place in my heart for running. That feeling you get when you PR in the 5K? If you've felt it, you know what I'm talking about. But the road to that PR sucks. It's many, many hours and many, many more miles doing the same thing. Over and over. And over and over and over and over. And just when you think you're "getting variety" with a track workout, you're not really varying anything: you're doing the same thing, only faster.

With CrossFit, you can still work toward that PR; you can squat a weight you've never squatted before or do more pull-ups than you've ever done. (Which in my case, would be one.) But the workouts aren't just the same thing at different speeds; every workout is different, and they generally all make me want to puke.

(I like what I like, OK?)

It's also fun to be learning new things, like how to do a snatch (and how to say that word with a straight face). So in the name of learning and questionably named exercise moves, I thought I'd let you all know about some of the other things you learn when you're WOD-ing.

1. How weak you really are.
Ever since I made the JV soccer team my freshman year of high school, I've had it in my head that I am a pretty decent athlete. And I am unquestionably decent, like Moe's is an unquestionably decent Mexican fast food joint.

But going into the CrossFit box is like experiencing Chipotle after a long spell of Moe's. For example, when the RX for a workout is 95# (in English: you're supposed to use 95 pounds of weight for the workout), I'm in the corner alone struggling with my 35-pound bar while the big burritos around me are pushing around weights more than half my size.

It's good motivation, but also makes you feel like a Joey Bag of Donuts.

2. Another language.
It was only a few days ago that I could finally read the WOD (workout of the day) without using Google. I'm not sure why CrossFitters are so adamant about their acronyms; it's not like doing a 10 min. EMOM of 35# KBS and HSPU makes it any easier, you know what I'm saying?

3. How you've been doing a squat wrong your whole life.
As a runner, a former JV soccer player, and a somewhat engaged participant in gym class, a squat to me has always been a movement similar to sitting in a chair that isn't there.

Not the case in CrossFit.

I mean, I guess it's sort of like sitting in a chair. But the chair is made for someone who's up to your shinbone. Because in CrossFit, a squat doesn't count unless you get your butt down past your knees. "Below parallel," if you will. It makes me wonder what else I learned wrong in the seventh grade gym.

4. How to count under pressure.
Sure, you think you know how to count. But get three rounds into seven rounds of 400 meter run, 5 push-ups, 7 burpees, and 21 lunges, and then see how your math is.

And just to make matters worse, sometimes you're CONFIDENT you've got this counting thing down... and then CrossFit throws you a curveball. Like when I was parading around the kitchen telling Derrick how I did a shoulder press with 75 pounds... only to learn the next day that my bar was 20 pounds lighter than I had believed. Damnit, math.

6. And further, that counting is hard.
But irony is not.

September 10, 2015

Five Things That Are More Important Than Blogging

Last Friday, I taunted you all with a promise of Taco Tuesdays. And then Tuesday came, and Tuesday went... and there were no tacos to be found.

The problem wasn't that there was a lack of tacos in my life. (I had tacos twice last weekend.) No, the problem was a lack of blogging.

I usually don't apologize for not posting because, well, I'm sure to everyone other than my mom it's about an "orange Starbust" on the upsetting scale. But I will apologize for this one because I can only imagine the pain of being promised tacos and then be left taco-less.

So I'm sorry.

It's just that blogging has been way down on the list this time. Like, at least sixth, after these five things:

1. Looking at wedding venues we can't afford
My dream wedding is in downtown Chicago with Taco Joint as my caterer, a Bloody Mary bar for dessert, and a 5411 Empanada truck as our midnight snack. But I can't afford that.

However, based on the info I could find online, I thought that the next closest thing could be in our budget: an art museum in downtown Fort Myers.

But sadly, once we went for a tour, I realized that I did not take into account the cake cutting fee, the bar service fee, the table fee, the door opening fee, the oxygen providing fee etc. etc. that quickly put this venue from in our budget to alongside the empanada truck.

2. Avoiding homelessness
Right now, Derrick and I are living in a town house for an amazing price because Derrick knows its owner. Unfortunately, this owner has decided that he no longer wants to be an owner and is selling the place. Basically, my time last week was been spent pretty evenly between and Zillow. (With a little bit of panic sprinkled over top.)

The bright side is that it turns out my refusal to unpack these boxes in my living room suddenly seems a lot less like indefensible laziness to impressive foresight. 

3. Tacos
Just because I haven't been blogging about them doesn't mean I haven't been eating them.

4. Bachelorette Parties
I plan on writing another post on the unfortunate events that took place at my friend's Disney bachelorette party (which involved a camera charger and a man dressed as Goofy), but for now I will just leave it at this: My Labor Day weekend involved eating scrambled eggs amongst Lilo and Stitch, pineapple upsidedown cake shots, and punting screaming children out from under my feet.

5. House of Cards
I could say that I don't have time to blog but I hate when people say that they don't have time for something. Because no matter how busy you get, you can always find time if you want it bad enough.

Unless you're rewatching Season 2 of House of Cards. Then you don't have time for anything because how in the world are you supposed to blog when Frank Underwood is on the move?

Happy Thursday Everyone.
I promise the tacos will come eventually.

September 04, 2015

Call Me a Snob, But...

Last week, Derrick and I went out with his cousin and her husband for dinner. They are about the same age as Derrick and me, and also have moved around the country quite a bit since college. While we were trading stories about the places we had lived, obviously Chicago came up.

And just like we do whenever Derrick and I talk about the time we spent living in Chicago, we mentioned two things: the winter and the brunch.

Now, normally the first time I meet someone, I try to tone down how much I was into our Chicago Sunday ritual. Because starting a potential friendship with "I used to roam around Chicago taking pictures of Bloody Marys and reviewing them on my mostly irrelevant blog" right off the bat can make me come off as a bit... passionate.

And by that, I mean weird.

But it turns out that Derrick's cousin and her husband are really cool, so I decided to just go for it. I mean, if this couple friendship is going to happen, they were going to find out eventually because I was hoping to reestablish my brunch reviews here in Florida once things got settled.

And luckily, they didn't seem to think I was a nut. I basically took this as a green light; I was pumped to start reviewing. Actually, that very weekend, Derrick and I tried our first brunch spot since I've moved, The Survey Cafe. And before we even looked at the menu, I thought this was going to be a slam dunk. I mean, look at it:

So quaint, So original. So not IHOP. 

Derrick and I did the usual, me looking for the perfect picture while Derrick looked around for a waitress carrying his eggs. Unfortunately, our eggs coming out is where this review ends. Because I cannot, in good faith, write a positive review on Egg Beaters.

(I know that I sound like a big ol' breakfast snob but after you spend over a year in Chicago being served things like this:

Egg Beaters? C'mon.)

After this experience, I decided to call an emergency meeting with the staff at Just the Elevator Pitch to discuss how we were going to move forward. The meeting was short because it was decided almost immediately that we should have a backup plan in case the Florida brunch scene was all Egg Beaters and cold-ish potatoes. It was also short because there is no staff.

Anyway, the point of this post isn't to dis Florida's breakfasts, or even Egg Beaters in general. I mean, the Florida brunch scene might have a lot to offer if I just have some patience. Heck, maybe this post would have been different if I had just ordered French Toast instead of the BLT egg biscuit.

No, this all is actually an incredibly long-winded introduction to the new "series" I am going to be launching ASAP: Taco Tuesdays. Because while the Florida brunch scene remains questionable at best, I know that Florida can do tacos. And I'm not talking about those crispy shell, ground beef, midnight Taco Bell tacos. I mean the al pastor tacos with homemade soft corn tortillas and fresh cilantro.

Derrick and I have always enjoyed a good taco together but ever since I found this list, we've been on a mission. The goal? To find the absolute best tacos in Southwest Florida. Right now, we're averaging about two taco dinners a week.

And what better way to document this hunt than on the blog? I plan on making a graphic for the posts and everything.

Anyway, in case you're just skimming this post until you find my actual point, here it is: I like tacos a lot, and I plan to talk a lot about them on my blog in the future.

Also, no to the Egg Beaters.

Happy Friday!

September 02, 2015

This Is the Rant I Was Going to Post on Facebook About Target's New Toy Aisles

When I was in kindergarden, I loved the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I'd spend many an afternoon in 1996 cursing that a-hole Shredder while reenacting my favorite episode with my TMNT action figures. I'd do this for hours, stopping only to eat a Push-Up pop or two after lunch.

Then it'd be back to work.

This was in 1996, before Facebook, when Caitlyn was still a Bruce, so I imagine that I got those action figures from an unapologetic binary gender aisle at Toys "R" Us. Maybe I noticed I was in the "boys" section, or maybe I was just thinking about the possibility of a Push-Up later.

I don't really remember.

But maybe I should have, at least according to this article in Time about Target's decision to remove gender-based signs. Because according to this article, being interested in a toy that I was told is "for boys" was probably utterly deflating for me. Liking a "boy toy" very likely made six-year-old me feel embarrassed and chastised for who I am. At least that's what the article says.

But in reality, I can't remember ever feeling that way.

Maybe it's just because I was lucky enough to grow up in an exceptionally loving family, who loves me as I am and didn't chastise me for liking action figures and soccer balls. Then again, it could have just been because, at six, this didn't seem like an issue. I didn't think that the "boys" aisle was offensive or demeaning, or challenged who I was as a person. To  me, it's just where the Turtles were.

I understand that I am lucky; the children (and adults) who are belittled, embarrassed, or scorned for who they are face a type of cruelty that I have little experience with. I sympathize with those people, but I'm not familiar with their struggle. Which is why my first reaction to Target removing "boy" and "girl" signs was positive, although a bit unenthusiastically so; it wasn't an issue I've dealt with but if it did save at least one person from some unnecessary suffering, I was all for it.

But since that first reaction, a lot of things have changed. Now, I don't feel any positive feelings toward this issue at all.

Because it's beginning to seem like whatever progress Target was making in helping create a more open, understanding society has been overshadowed by the five giant steps it feels like we're taking back. It doesn't feel like a girl who likes Legos is any better off now than she was before Target made this "bold" move.

Because since Target has decided to create "gender neutral" toy aisles, this debate has overwhelmed social media. And like online "debates" often do, they bring out the worst in people; those people who have the (to me, completely baffling) opinion that girls should be chastised for not being a proper "girl" now have a relevant current issue to voice this opinion on. And some people who probably didn't even have an opinion before this are suddenly enraged that Target no longer considers Barbies a "girl" toy. Because what good is Facebook if you can't give your extremely unhelpful but heated insight on every social issue you hear about?

And those who are for the gender unspecific Target toy aisles don't seem like they're doing Lego-loving Lauren any favors either; instead, it seems like they're providing her with another reason she should feel offended and mistreated.

Like the Time article pointed out, children are very aware of "cultural cues." And now, they're learning that something as ignorable as a "Boys' Toy Aisle" sign is actually an offensive, demeaning injustice that will do irreversible damage to their sense of personal peace. This isn't something to be ignored, like six-year-olds of Targets past; this is an issue that we have to fight to save our delicate psyche from those whose only goal is to tear us down.

Of course, there are still the people out there who are talking about the issue and not using it to create more hostility. I just feel like they're getting drown out.

To me, this whole thing had a lot of potential for good. And maybe it still does. I still think that a gender-neutral aisle could be a good thing if people stop using it as a means to make their hateful opinion relevant, or as another piece of evidencing proving that the world will always be "them" vs. "me." It'd be awesome if we could see it as one corporation's way of rejecting common stereotypes, and use it to get some helpful conversations going. Or at very least, see it as one corporation re-organizing their shelves, and leave it at that.

But then again, what kind of Facebook status would that be?

Obviously, this is a heated subject but I'd love to hear what you think. Am I totally off base? Or do you agree?

August 31, 2015

My New Roommates

This weekend, Derrick and I moved in with three new roommates. They don't have the best breath, and two of them keep walking in on me when I pee. They also keep pooping in our neighbor's yard and expecting us to pick it up for them. Because they're not our roommates. They're dogs.

Okay, Derrick and I were dog sitting this weekend for a friend who was out of town.

I'm going to be upfront with you here: I'm not great with animals, just like I'm not great with children. I mean, I like them, but I don't know how to do a "baby voice" or a "dog voice." Instead, I treat them both like human adults; when I meet a new dog, I end up uncomfortably saying something like, "Hello dog. I've heard great things about you. You're a big fan of bacon, right?"

Luckily for me, one of the dogs we dog sat was extremely human-like. In fact, I don't think I've ever bonded with a dog as well as I bonded with Mira.

Because Mira wasn't like your typical goopy dog rolling over for a belly scratch. No, Mira was sophisticated and was not particularly impressed that we could open the treat bag. She spent most of the time in the corner of the room looking more or less unamused.

I mean, she was a very kind dog; every once in a while, she'd come join us on the bed or sit next to us on the couch. But even when she did this, it was like she considered us equals, as if we had come over for a dinner party that she was politely hosting. And she still wore that same, unamused look. Like she was thinking, "Okay, I'll humor you, but I'd like you to leave once my humans get back."

I felt like I understood Mira better than I understand most people, in fact. I felt sad leaving her, like I was leaving a good friend.

The other two though, they were a different story.

One of the other two was a tiny kitten named Gypsy.

Gypsy was also somewhat distant, but not the "I'll humor you because you seem desperate" kind of aloof that Mira was. No, Gypsy seemed like a hipster who was forced into a Taylor Swift concert. She knew she was too cool for this crowd and was just waiting to get back to her kind.

Which, I mean, was understandable. You see, Gypsy is a street cat who our friend saved.

Literally. Our friend was at a red light when she saw baby Gypsy jump on the tire of the car next to her. If our friend hadn't jumped out of the car and pounded on that car's window, Gypsy would have probably ended up as a cat-shaped splat on the road.

So given Gypsy's history on the streets, I can understand why she wasn't impressed with her new roommates. Because while Mira was cool, collected, and civilized, Piper the Jack Russell was the complete opposite. You see, Piper is just a puppy, which seemed to multiply her Jack Russell level energy ten fold.

The best way I can think to explain Piper is to imagine if Spongebob Squarepants was made of springs. She was always there and always wanting part of the action; Derrick and I would be sitting on two separate couches and Piper would spring back and forth and up and down from our heads to our chests and back again.

Sometimes, she wasn't even looking for our attention at all; sometimes she was just bouncing around the kitchen like a ping pong ball without any particular direction. And on the rare occasions we could get her to sit down, I swear she would buzz like a battery. I think Piper did have a battery, a battery that never, ever died.

Derrick and I would find it somewhat amusing (at least after 7:30 AM), but Gypsy did not. I could try to explain their relationship, but I think the following montage of pictures does it best. I was trying to get a nice picture of Gypsy and Mira to send to our friend. Instead, I got this:

As you can see, Piper couldn't stand to be left out. The moment I pulled out my camera, you could basically hear her little heart pounding, like she was screaming, "ME! OVER HERE! TAKE A PICTURE OF ME! KITTEN! PICTURE! WEE!" And Gypsy wasn't having it.

And Mira? She just did what she always did; gave me that look that very clearly said, "I'm surrounded by idiots."