In 2017, be just a little nicer

When I first popped over to my pal Merriam-Webster for a quick recap of the first grade vocab word “nice,” definition number one caught me off guard like Brad and Angelina’s divorce.

Nice: obsolete, wanton, showing fastidious or finicky tastes

I quickly start recapping all the small comments I took as compliments (“Oh, she’s so nice!”) and wonder if I’ve been secretly procuring frenemies for years.

Thankfully, a list of synonyms saved 23 years of personal interactions and returned to me more solid vocab ground…kind, polite, virtuous, respectable. But it seems the compassion I mentally associated with the term doesn’t shine through as clearly as I thought it did.

Guy Raz with NPR Ted Talks agrees. This concept of compassion is a character trait reserved more for Nicholas Sparks novels than in regular work day. We can create a hard uncaring exterior made up of excuses for work, a full schedule, hiding behind a computer screen, or simple, “not my problem.” But compassion is a muscle and one that’s decidedly more important than toning your bum or any other body part on you New Year’s resolution gym list.

During one episode of TED Radio Hour, guest Krista Tippett sums it up, well, nicely.

Compassion is making a choice to honor other people’s humanity. It’s something we can decide we’re going to practice much like throwing a ball. The choice to be compassionate can become instinctive with practice.”

Listen to the full TED Radio Hour episode with more from Tippett, a former nun, a Fox News contributor who gets hundreds of hate mail letters a day, and the man who says digital screens are getting in the way of the transformative power of compassion, here.

So, as we sit down to carve out the future of 2017, let’s all make one small note to…just be a little nicer.

Glance it over gift guide – 2016

 Seven sleeps until Christmas! And if your holiday shopping isn’t wrapped up (there’s a not too subtle pun), you may be dreaming of disappointment under the Christmas tree instead of sugar plums.
Fear not! For, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all my people. The glance it over gift guide is here for your immediate perusal.
A note or two on the selections you’ll find here: Largely, use this for inspiration. While I’m sure my mother and yours would gratefully accept a picture frame with our lovely mugs in it, she would probably throw it back in fury if I told her it was a “Preowned 1920s Tiffany & Co gold picture frame” retailing at $3,500. “That’s a cruise to a warmer and happier place,” she’d cry.
Secondly, while having a physical object to place under the Christmas tree is a tradition, the best Christmas gifts don’t fit in brightly colored boxes. Give the gift of your time. It sounds like the last line of a Hallmark movie, but I swear, they’re on to something! A lunch date, chit chat in a coffee shop, or just time on the couch catching up carries more lasting memories than any personalized mug. And technically, this is the most expensive present of all…because nothing is more valuable than time (cue the “Awwwwws” and Bing Crosby).
Gifts for Mom
If your mom is like mine, her Christmas list is generally full of useful things, but maybe not the most fun. Make sure she gets something unexpected this year she can enjoy without having it tied to a chore.
Christmas gifts for Mom
Gifts for Dad
For the guy that probably knows what he wants, but can’t verbalize it, you’ll have to watch closely. The trick to finding a great gift is thinking about what you can do to make an everyday activity easier or more fun. Take your dad for for dinner for a change! Hearing you say, “I’ve got the check” will have him in a holiday spirit for a long time.
Christmas gifts for Dad
Gifts for Sister
People say she’s sweet, but you’re still having a tough time believing it. You can hint at this with some subtle sass in these gifts.
Christmas Gifts for Sisters
Gifts for Brothers
His habits could be a mystery, so be a super Santa sleuth and find out what games your bro has. You may see something you wish you hadn’t…but in the name of Christmas, be brave! And remember: gift cards aren’t a white flag of defeat.
Christmas gifts for Brother
Gifts for Grandparents
What do you get the folks that probably have everything? Years of Christmas after Christmas, grandparents have accumulated a collection of knickknacks. Spare them the space and take them out to their favorite restaurant. Ask them to do a letter writing exchange with you. A fun note: My grandpa loves the belt shown here because it’s similar to ones he had in the Army. A bit of digging can pay off in dividends.
Picks for Grandma
Christmas gifts for Grandma
Picks for Grandpa
Christmas gifts for Grandpa
Gifts for Aunts and Uncles
These guys can be tricky. If you don’t see your extended family often, tap into some family knowledge or scour their social media accounts. Pinterest boards are the eyes to a person’s soul, you know.
Gifts for Aunts
Christmas gifts for Aunts
Gifts for Uncles
Christmas gifts for Uncles
Gifts for the BFF
You probably don’t see this gal as often as you like, so plan a trip together! Near or far, a weekend away is a chance to catch up with the person you chose as your family.
Christmas gifts for the BFF
Gifts for the Boyfriend
He’s probably more cryptic about what he’d like for Christmas than Benedict Cumberbatch is in Sherlock. One underlying rule, make it something utilitarian. If he’d use it on a regular basis, that’s a win.
Christmas gifts for Boyfriend
The Catch-All Gifts
Your boss, co-worker, hairstylist, or rando-person you just want to be merry towards, make it semi-generic. A coffee mug? Generic. A personalized coffee mug? Only semi-generic. These folks are difficult to shop for, so don’t sweat it too much. That will only make your wool sweater more uncomfortable.
Christmas gifts for Everyone Else
The follow up? Thank you cards for all the lovely gifts you get this year. 

The art of the restart

Photo courtesy of Green Chameleon, StockSnap
Photo courtesy of Green Chameleon, StockSnap

I’ve discovered my secret talent, my true calling in life. It’s a skill that many posses, but I excel in wielding it…I can talk myself out of anything. What I’m particularly making reference to is this blog. I fell off the wagon harder than Humpty Dumpty did the wall.

Letting what once was a fun past time hobby slip so far past the back burner that it’s practically behind the stove isn’t anything new. We see it happen all the time. The glowing gym membership that sees a lot of thought, but never much action. The book you know will make you smarter, but goshdangit, it’s lengthier than a high school ex’s Facebook statuses.

I have a firm, though unsubstantiated, belief that out of everything in our lives, Netflix gets most of our commitment. That’s why they can make the episodes of “Black Mirror” so long. They know we’ll stick to it like peanut butter on a toddler’s face.

Good habits are tough to build and bad habits are hard to break. And humans are creatures of habit.

Christine Whelan, a public sociologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told the Washington Post the very idea of restructuring our time and life style is not a sexy concept to us.

“To make a change in our behavior means we’re adding something or subtracting something, and we have to figure out what that is,” she tells the Washington Post. “So one great secret to succeeding at change is to be aware of what isn’t going to happen…”

Deciding to create a positive behavior change, say blathering on in WordPress, eliminates time I would use for, say, building an exact replica of Downton Abby in the Sims. Life’s about tough choices, y’all.

Proving she seems to know us better than we know ourselves, Whelan recommends only trying to make one change at a time…because that’s essentially all we can handle. And building around that switch, we should act (get ready for an acronym AND a pun) SMART.

Whelan says resolutions for positive habit changes should be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • There’s a Reward for sticking to it
  • And progress is Trackable

Whelan says the more time spent actually doing the good habit stuff, the longer you’ll keep to it.

“The more likely it is you’ll develop a habit that you don’t have to think about. It doesn’t require self control, there’s not a lot of active internal debate. You just do it,” she says.

While these tips are straight-up and edging on common sense, we can’t treat building good habits as flippantly.

“Make sure that what you’re trying to change is something YOU really want to do, not something you feel you SHOULD do,” Whelan imparts.

And writing here is something I definitely want. Move over Netflix suggested queue, you’re now back burner material.

Why “busy bragging” shouldn’t be a thing

Picture by The Typical Female Magazine
Picture by The Typical Female Magazine

“Slammed,” “buried,” “swamped,” and “overloaded.” No, I’m not describing a snowstorm hitting an Alaskan town. These are just a few synonyms for “busy” I’ve heard over the past semester as people swap scheduling woes. But these exchanges are far from just sharing a passing complaint. Now, running on four hours of sleep (if I’m lucky) and having a planner so decked out with appointments it’s barely legible, is a point of pride.

These “who’s busier?” throw downs aren’t a conversation. It’s an opportunity to one-up your fellow student, friend, or co-worker by showing them your time is more important, wanted, and needed. But the humble-brag you’re about to share on how you’re managing not just a plate-full of assignments and activities, but a freaking six course meal? Take a moment and sit at the table to reevaluate what you’re trying to accomplish.

The simple fact is everyone is busy. Maybe their manner of busy-ness differs from yours, but it is no less important. As a society, let’s stop the notion a schedule mimicking that of a campaigning presidential candidate equals success.

“To assume that being ‘busy’ (at this point it has totally lost its meaning) is cool, or brag-worthy, or tweetable, is ridiculous. By lobbing these brags, endlessly puffing our shoulders about how ‘up to my neck’ we are, we’re missing out on important connections with family and friends, as well as personal time.

In addition to having entire conversations about how busy we are, we fail to share feelings with friends and family, ask about important matters, and realize that the ‘busy’ is something that can be put on hold for a little while.”

-Meredith Fineman, “Please stop complaining about how busy your are” Harvard Business Review

With Americans rating their work more highly than their personal health, it’s not surprising to hear the World Health Organization has found America to be the most anxious nation, with nearly one third of Americans suffering from anxiety in their lifetimes. It only adds a new level of competition when we are all trying to win the gold medal for “Busy Bee.”

Let’s change the name of the game. Instead of working hard, let’s work smart.

Constrain time spent on, well, time wasters (I’m looking at you Facebook and Twitter). Cut unnecessary meetings or projects. If you realize you’re just in the chess club for a vanity boost, check mate and bust out. Acknowledge attempting to “out-misery” someone isn’t a healthy use of time or energy.

Perhaps instead of  “buried,” “swamped,” and “overloaded,” your planner will begin to feel “productive,” “dynamic,” and “engaged.”

My morning routine: How I get up before 5 a.m.

Photo by Benjamin Combs
Photo by Benjamin Combs

Let me tell you folks, I love to watch a good sunrise. Why? Because that means I got to sleep in. Four days a week at 5:30 a.m., I’m trekking across campus with nary but a street lamp to guide me. Though this paints a rather dark picture (literally), after about three months of waking up before the sun, I would say I’ve perfected a painless morning routine.

10:15 p.m. – The night before is actually when a large amount of my morning is planned. At this point, I’m trying to wind down a bit before hitting the hay and do so by choosing my outfit for the next morning and packing my school bag. By organizing ahead of the morning rush, I avoid any mass confusion and save time.

A major point for me at this time is choosing my clothes for the next day. Hazy and sleepy-eyed, I wouldn’t trust myself to put together a trendy combo in the early a.m. This year I’m making the conscious effort to dress semi-professional during the weekdays. Look sharp, be sharp. So, prior planning prevent poor performance (thank you high school guidance counselor for that nugget of wisdom).

10:45 p.m. – Hopefully I’m in bed. Because my head is hitting the pillow around the same time some of my roommates are hitting the books, I wear a sleep mask to block out any extra light. After a final just-in-case-you-never-know check of my alarm, I’m on the expressway to dreamland.

4:45 a.m. – The ungodly hour is upon me. The alarm is ringing. My roommate has recently taken to the odd habit of jumping out bed, thinking it’s her alarm that is sounding off. No, no, dear. Go back and enjoy your two and a half more hours of rest (you lucky son of gun).

5 a.m. – After brushing my teeth and checking my phone (Facebook, Twitter for any news updates overnight), I hit the shower. My current favorite face cleanser is by First Aid Beauty as it doesn’t dry out my skin and the soft lather is welcoming in the morning. I follow up with my Boots Extracts Brazilian Nut Body Wash and if it’s a hair washing day, Herbal Essence Hello Hydration shampoo and conditioner.

5:15 a.m. – Out of the shower. Time to get dressed, put in contacts, moisturize (Simple Protecting Light Moisturizer), conceal (you don’t get up early without bags underneath your eyes, so I use Maybelline’s Fit Me concealer in the shade Fair), powder (obsessed with NYX’s Matte, Not Flat powder foundation). Throwing on some strawberry Chapstick, I’m feeling more like a real person. The final touch is approximately three spritz of Daisy perfume by Marc Jacobs.

5:35 a.m. – Made it to the TV studio. Unlock doors and begin making coffee (AKA LIFE).

7 a.m. – If the show is coming together well, I’ll take a few minutes to refill my coffee and eat a breakfast bar. If not, I’ll try to grab a yogurt parfait after the show around 9 a.m.

8:30 a.m. – Show time! The seconds before we countdown to live is my favorite part of the morning. Everything we’ve practiced and put together prior to this is all happening now. If you’d like to see what I’m talking about, check out our show’s Facebook page, Cedar Valley Today or follow us on Twitter, @cvtoday.

8:45 a.m. – Show is over! The team gathers for a break down of highs and lows and then I boot up the computer to send out story assignments for today’s crew.

At times, the morning can seem rushed, unforgiving and dark. But through organization, coffee and good attitudes, I’ve learned mornings are full of potential for those who wake up for it.

With age, comes wisdom: 22 things I’ve learned

Photo by Ian Schneider
It is what it is. It was what it was. Photo by Ian Schneider

While it’s absolutely true that birthdays only come once a year (shockingly just like Christmas and every other day of the year), the days and lessons learned in between continue to tick upwards.

And so, in the spirit of my 22nd birthday, I have prepared 22 bits and bobs I have learned over the 8,030 days I have inhabited the Earth with all of you. Strap in people because it’s about to get real.

  1. Birthdays should be celebrated! But every other day should be too.

A small bit of gratitude for something each day goes a long way. Recognizing this has literally been the accumulation of 22 years of living and I probably had a better grasp on it when I was three than I do now.

2. If you have five minutes, call your mom, dad, grandparent, dog.

Not all at the same time, of course. If you love someone, include them in the breaks and spaces of your time.

3. The person with the longest arms should always be taking the selfie.

So simple, and yet…

4. Know that a text is for quick communication, a phone call is for a conversation.

Let’s save our generation from a wave of early onset carpal tunnel syndrome.

5. Just in case, get a passport.

Even without any stamps in it, having one allows for the possibility.

6. Know how to make good coffee.

Everyone knows someone that needs coffee (note: it’s not “likes.” It’s “needs.”) Life is too short for bad coffee.

7. Be the person who has a Band-Aid, Tylenol, gum, and bobby pins with them at all times.

But don’t hand out hair-ties. You’ll grow bitter after you’ve given all yours away.

8. Everything in moderation. 

Life is a balance, in every aspect. Laughing often and crying too keeps you level.

9. Make sure your alarm clock is set to A.M. not P.M.

If you take one thing away from this list, this is the one! Life-saving move, right here!

10. Carry your computer charging cord with you at all times.

11. Same with headphones.

12. Ditto for cell phone cord. 

Basically, don’t be that person who can’t do anything because they let their computer/phone die.

14. Know that sometimes when your mom asks, “Is that what you’re wearing?”, she’s probably in the right. 

It’s hard to admit, but 80 percent of time it’s true.

15. When your mom says to wear a coat, boots, mittens, etc., she’s probably correct.

Mom > Weather Man

16. You don’t have to contour your face.

Make-up guru Bobbie Brown told The New York Post, ““As a beauty expert, I believe in individual beauty, and it’s just not my aesthetic. We don’t need to be contouring like the Kardashians.” Also, you can more effectively use your time.

17. If you think something is worth doing, recognize it’s worth doing well.

If you’re going to put in the effort to doing something, make the end product something you can be proud of. This motto helped me evaluate my priorities with the quality of work I was turning out.

18. Dress for the position above you.

Person: “Why are you dressed up today?” Me: “Because there isn’t a reason not to.” Dress sharp, feel sharp, perform sharp.

19. If it’s green, it’s probably good for you.

This applies to nature, food, and sometimes, money.

20. When others are talking, try not to interrupt.

It says you think what you’re saying is more important than anything anyone else has to say. That’s gross.

21. Always know the names of the president and vice-president, state governor, and names of your significant’s other family members.

Knowing your way around current events and issues looks #flawless at any age. The Skimm can help with that. Sadly, there is no Skimm Guide to your S.O.’s redwood of a family tree.

22. Lastly, be prepared to learn more every year.

This list will probably be entirely new next year and with additional advice. And that’s how it should be.

And so, dear reader, what have you learned with time and age? Leave your advice in the comments below.

Throwing Shade is Only Cool if You’re a Tree

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We’ve heard it, seen it, tweeted it, posted it, and pinned it. From celebrities casting “shade” like Redwoods in the forest to little backhanded remarks in our Facebook feed, it’s becoming cool not to be nice.

Throwing shade: “To talk trash about a friend or acquaintance, to publicly denounce or disrespect. When throwing shade it’s immediately obvious to on-lookers that the thrower, and not the throwee, is the bitchy, uncool one”

Thank you, Urban Dictionary, for perfectly describing this gross social phenomenon.

There is a celebrated history of shading (can I make it a verb like that?). From the conniving and beautiful Mean Girl Regina George and company (whose funny insults can now assault you from T-shirts), celebrities galore, and the cast of Real Housewives of Wherever, giving sass is almost an Olympic sport.

Let’s clear this up right now. Throwing shade? It only seems cool on TV. In true reality (meaning the life the rest of us live without walk-in closets the size of a kitchen), no one wants to hang with the girl or guy who only rags on people and then attempts to disguise their critique under the umbrella of, “Oh, I wasn’t talking about you.”

I get it though. There is that undeniable rush (a high Walter White had nothing to do with) that comes with a well-timed zinger and dramatic side-eye.

“Conventional theories of moral behavior and decision-making assume that unethical behavior triggers negative emotions,” Psychology Today wrote in “Warning: Being Bad Can Feel Good.”

“These theories help support the idea that we are internally motivated to do the right thing, because it makes us feel bad not to.”

Nice theory, but nope. A study by researchers Nicole Ruedy, Francesca Gino, Celia Moore, and Maurice Schweitzer, at the University of Washington, the London Business School, Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania found that during their study, The Cheater’s High: The Unexpected Affective Benefits of Unethical Behavior, people who cheated on a test didn’t feel a rush of guilt overtake them, but rather a positive emotional boost. This boost was dubbed a “cheaters high.”

The researchers further said “once people have this experience, it may be difficult to resist future unethical behavior, especially when someone can derive both material and psychological rewards’ from the behavior.”

And that’s why it can feel good to be bad. But are the “material and psychological rewards” worth the brief rush and the cheap laughs? Let’s vote no. Let’s support and promote each other without belittling.

And if you’re still really into throwing shade? Help save the Redwood trees. I hear they need it.