Category Archives: Lifestyle

How Words With Friends Stole Christmas

I have read so many posts these last few days about favorite books of 2011. Every time, it reminds me of two things: 1) I clearly follow bloggers aligned with my interests if they all love to read as much as I do, and 2) I kind of forgot to read this year.

When I left for our trip to Ohio to spend Christmas with JB’s family last week, I was so excited for the new books I had downloaded onto my Kindle. I even promised a review of them when we returned in my last post.

Well, we’re back. And unless you want to hear about the first third of The Art of Fielding, I got nothing for you.

There are many parties to blame for this, none of which are me, of course. First, there is Martha Stewart. The winter edition of her Weddings magazine had hit the stands and it basically jumped out of the airport bookstore into my bag. So most of the flight to Cleveland was spent reading about crafty wedding DIY projects that I will never DIY.

The next excuse is fuel for the fire of the e-Reader vs. traditional book debate. Halfway through our trip, I knocked my Kindle off the couch (consuming a mixture of wine, chocolate, nuts and cookies between meals will make you kind of clumsy). It fell onto carpet, but for whatever reason, it damaged the screen. I tried to read on the Kindle app on my iPhone, but it’s not very practical for long-term use.

So I was left with no option. After a couple  of days of watching JB and other family members of his stare down at their phones instead of each other as they searched for two-letter words that no one has ever heard of but somehow add up to 54 points, I wanted in on the Words with Friends action.Scrabble Points Throw Pillow

I had defiantly denied requests to join this mobile game. My main reason being that I didn’t want my friends to see what a limited vocabulary I possessed. Many people assume because I like to read and write or because I have a journalism degree, that I must have a generous grasp of the English language.

But I don’t. I’m frequently using a thesarus to sound smarter. And it actually wasn’t in my journalism studies when I noticed this, but rather in graduate school for my counseling degree. You do a lot of reflecting of emotions in counseling sessions, saying back to the client what they were emoting, but using a different word for that emotion (so it’s not parroting) and ideally, a word with deeper meaning that maybe the client was having a hard time expressing or realizing on his/her own. And while I role-played with classmates, I always struggled to find another word for “happy” or “sad” or “surprised” or “disappointed.” Or the word I often defaulted to — “frustrated.”

All this to say that since then, I have been very cognizant of my not-so-way with words. And I didn’t want to play with Words with Friends and expose myself to the three friends who had asked me whole world.

But as it turns out, Words with Friends has NOTHING to do with vocabulary! Or being smart. Or knowing what words are at all. It is all about trying every combination you can with the letters you have to find a word that includes a triple letter or double word tile. I probably recognize only 60 percent of the words I play, but man it feels good when the “sending move” screen comes on and you know your word has been accepted. Fifty points for “Xi” — awesome! Just don’t ask me to use it in a sentence.

JB’s father kept saying we all looked like 19-year-olds with our heads buried in our phones playing the game against each other. I think he was being generous by giving us 19 instead of 12, but it did take over the week. I’m still cutting my teeth on the game so I’m only playing JB (and another player whose screen name is one-off from JB and I accidentally started a game with him). JB had to go back to work today and his moves became very infrequent. It was so annoying.

Yep, I’m hooked.

Are there any mobile games that you are addicted to? Anything “take over” your holidays? Did you know “neif” was a word? (For the record, WordPress did not).


You Know It’s The Holidays When…

After withdrawing cash from the ATM, the account balance on your receipt forces you to rush back to work and go online to check your account activity. You are ready to call the bank to inform them that your account has been compromised and someone has depleted your funds. This can be the only explanation for the balance amount. And it turns out you are right. Someone has depleted your funds. You. All you.

You devour three Hershey’s Kisses Candy Canes in your office before you even take off your jacket in the morning.

You’re wearing the same “outfit” to work that you wore to run errands this weekend.

You’re watching people eat bugs and swim in cow blood. I guess it’s subjective in terms of what television makes you puke. JB would probably say Grey’s Anatomy or The Bachelor are pretty nauseating. However, it is only when those and all the other shows are on holiday hiatus that you may find Fear Factor acceptable television.

You think obsessively about what you are going to wear to spend the holidays with your future in-laws. Will the grandmothers think this sweater is fashionable? How many pairs of boots fit in my suitcase (Do I need every pair I own?)? Did I wear this last year? Are these pajama bottoms cute for Christmas morning?

Above else, you are steeped in tradition. One of my personal favorites is the Secret Santa-esque gift exchange my high school friends and I arrange every year. We do everything through the great website Elfster. This year, JB and I hosted a potluck brunch for the exchange. Check out the tortas JB made (one with sausage and one with chicken sausage for his kosher-style fiance!). I was so impressed, especially because he did it all with me pacing and stressing that we wouldn’t be ready for our guests. I like to call that the “front of house” duties.

The friend who was assigned to me got me exactly what I wanted — an Amazon gift card. I had depleted it five minutes after our guests left to purchase the books I want to read over the break — The Marriage Plot and In the Garden of Beasts. I’ve been longing for some reading downtime and will review them on the blog once I finish them.

This is truly a fun, stressful, busy, relaxing, gorgefest time of year. I hope it is the same for all of you. And with permission to post, on behalf of the future Mr. and Mrs. JB, best wishes for a happy and healthy holiday season and a wonderful new year!

The Longest Commute

Have you ever looked over at the car next to you during your morning commute and wondered if he/she was laughing at the same radio talk show you were? Or singing along to the same station you were tuned to?

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I looked over at all the cars driving alongside me on the way to work wondering if they understood what the hell was happening. I knew we were listening to the same thing because their faces showed the identical feelings of bewilderment, panic, and sadness as mine.

As an American, I felt (and feel) these emotions as everyone did. But the full (and perhaps shameful) truth is, I don’t think about the day and its impact regularly. When I do reflect, these are some of the memories that stick out after that long commute:

  • I remember my friend, later that afternoon, worried about getting flowers sent to his mom because her birthday was the next day. I remember feeling simultaneously dismayed and grateful that he could be thinking about something so normal.
  • I remember the eerie feeling of going to work the next day in one of downtown Dallas’s tallest skyscrapers. Everyone was silent on the elevator up to the 47th floor.
  • I remember how, in relative terms and for however briefly, we all supported and looked to the president to help us through this. Like people say when estranged families mend their differences after a loss, it’s a shame it takes something so tragic to bring us together.
  • Since I’m such a pop culture fanatic, I remember how 9/11 played into the entertainment world. I remember Saturday Night Live’s season premiere with Paul Simon performing “The Boxer” as New York City first responders stood stoically in front of the American flag. How powerful music can be. I remember the discussion of whether shows like Friends and Sex and the City would edit their New York skyline shots that included the Twin Towers (I think SATC did edit its opening credits). I remember the awesome “Tribute to Heroes” concert/telethon shown on every broadcast channel. It was the least annoying I had ever found Bono.
I know I am extremely fortunate that I didn’t have a direct loss or impact from 9/11 that grips my memory. This weekend, my thoughts are with the 9/11 families, survivors, emergency personnel, and military members and families who remember every day.

Coffee Photo Revolution

While catching up on my Google Reader this Labor Day morning, Amber at A Day Without Sushi mentioned she was participating in a Coffee Photo Revolution started at One Sister’s Rant.

As it turns out, I adore coffee. I’m not good at taking photos, but the thought of participating in a revolution on Labor Day is fantastic. The idea was just for coffee lovers like myself to post a photo of their cup of coffee on their blog, link it up with others, and share the joy that so many of us feel from our java.

Coffee makes me happy. It appeals to all my senses — most significantly I love smelling it brew and hearing it poured. And of course, the taste.

Some of the best coffee in Dallas, at Oddfellows in Bishop Arts District

Coffee makes me excited to go to work. I look forward to waking up at my desk (not sure what I am doing during that 30-minute commute) and checking emails while I sip on some Folgers (seriously, I don’t have to be fancy with my coffee).

Representing at work -- Go 'Cats!

Coffee is a reminder of how much JB cares about me. When I stumble downstairs on weekend mornings, I can smell the coffee he brewed for me before he left to play golf. Sure, I could make it for myself, but this gesture is always so much easier sweeter.

And coffee is time spent with friends. In high school, we started hanging out at this Starbucks place. And it’s where we went to catch up when we were all home for winter break during our college years. And just today, I enjoyed a relaxing brunch with two great girlfriends as we all injected our beloved caffeine — even if the restaurant had run out of coffee mugs.

We'll drink out of to-go cups -- just BRING US THE COFFEE!

Not surprisingly, we were not the only ones looking forward to a steaming cup of coffee as they caught up with friends, read the paper, recapped the weekend or just enjoyed a day with a high temperature of only the upper 80s. It’s just the sort of thing that calls for a coffee kick.

Mmmm… I’m already looking forward to work tomorrow.

Are you a coffee drinker? If so, do you just enjoy it in a healthy way that people enjoy a beverage or has it taken on a whole new level like me?

Hair’s The Thing…

I get all sorts of crazy when it comes to my hair.

Overall, I’m not particularly fussy when it comes to vanity. I don’t have to “put on my face.” The latest fashion trends are usually just LATE by the time I catch on to them.

But when it comes to my hair, I’m full-on, I-will-ask-you-ten-times-how-it-looks-before-we-even-leave-the-house-and-by-then-it’s-already-ruined-anyway crazy.

Much of the reason for this is because on any given day, my hair might look like this.

Kathy (Frizzy Hair)

Do you notice how a bed of curls couldn’t just be left alone? There had to be a layer of wavy hair added on top. And for good measure, let’s throw in some random straight pieces. Add a dollop of humidity and voila!

While I have embraced my curls/wave concoction the last couple of years in an effort to sleep later, a few weeks ago, I finally decided to let my hair stylist give me a straightening keratin treatment. Many of these treatments contain formaldehyde, and I was surprisingly indifferent to the fact that my hair would now be cased in the same thing as that frog I made my lab partner dissect in 9th grade biology.

But lo and behold, my long-time hair stylist told me she only uses all-natural keratin products now. The conversation went a little something like this:

Stylist: Oh don’t worry, Caryn, it’s all organic now. No formaldehyde.

Me: Really? But does it still work?

Stylist: Well, it won’t get it completely straight and you will still have to style it, but it will be easier to do so and have less frizz.

Me: I’ll risk the chemicals.

Stylist: There have been links to cancer.

Me: (contemplates) (pouts) FINE.

Fast-forward 72 hours. I’ve just washed my hair for the first time since the chemical-free treatment (per the rules). I’m nervous, anxious and skeptical about the results. But let me tell you, while I did have to still blow dry and flat-iron, my hair was and has since been much more cooperative. And the best news — it looks exactly the same at the end of the day (or the next morning) as when I leave for work, even as we enter a week of 110 DEGREE WEATHER. And the frizz is noticeably less.

I won’t lie, since the treatment, I’ve had a bounce in my step. And I’m so glad I had straight hair when we got engaged (yes, I actually thought of that)! I know “beauty is only skin deep”, “real confidence comes from within”, and so forth. I couldn’t agree more. But whether it’s new shoes, freshly manicured nails, whatever men do to feel more aesthetically confident, or just a frizz-free ‘do, sometimes we just need a little extra… umph.

Any thoughts about all these hair straightening treatments? Besides life, love and happiness (yeah, yeah), what puts a bounce in your step?

Cool Sketch… or Just Sketchy?

Sometimes odd and special things happen on a random Tuesday morning. I was working at Starbucks while my new office was being painted. Typing away at the big group table, my sister and niece surprised me with a brief visit.

Fast-forward about 30 minutes and all patrons are being evacuated for a drainage issue (which is not what you want to hear when it’s YOU coming out of the bathroom). The gentleman who had been sitting across from me stopped me on the way out to give me this sketch.

Beyond being great proof for my boss that I was actually working, the picture captured time with my niece and was beautifully crafted. I was truly touched. Yes, I was caught off guard and thought it to be a little odd, but I also couldn’t stop staring at the drawing my entire ride to work and for the rest of the day.

Excited, I shared the sketch with my friends on Facebook, where it received 20 “likes” and 33 comments. (Not like I care.) (I hardly ever notice or judge my self-worth by things like that.) (I’m just saying that’s close to “It’s a girl!” level of responses.) The comments were divisive — between the “how cool and special” variety and the “creepy and weird.” Finally, a friend wrote this comment:

I don’t think it is creepy at all. People are so hyper sensitive these days instead of just seeing it for what it is.

I understand that because of my niece’s presence, the potential creep factor increases, but I can honestly say I felt nothing but goodwill from this stranger. You could tell he truly enjoyed sketching and the “reveal” to the unsuspecting muse (Too much? I know, but I’ve always wanted to be a muse, humor me).

Through the Facebook comments, I also learned that this artist, Geoffrey Williams, has been spotted at Starbucks many times and even sketched one of my friends before. This prompted me to Google him. I found another blog post from 2008, where the blogger wrote about how this stranger surprised her family with a sketch of them eating dinner. She didn’t seem to mind at all. And from her bio on her blog, she was also fighting Stage IV small cell lung cancer. I can imagine when living that battle, you don’t worry too much about randomness or creepiness. It’s just another unexpected moment in life that should be cherished.

So it begs the question — are we too sensitive? Have we become so cynical that an act of kindness from a stranger immediately evokes “run for your life” responses? I hope not. Because as I have seen these past couple of weeks, it is sometimes strangers who are there when you most need it. More on that below…


Switching gears, most of you have probably read about (or perhaps even have a personal connection to) the Berry family of Houston. If you are not familiar, the parents, Joshua and Robin, were tragically killed in a head-on car accident coming back from vacation. The three children were also in the car and the two boys (9- and 8-years-old) are paralyzed from the waist down with spinal cord injuries. Their 6-year-old sister was also injured, though not as seriously.

The struggle of these children as they face a long road of rehabilitation both physically and emotionally has inspired Texans (and beyond) to act. Communities are rallying to raise funds to support the children and their family and friends who will be caring for them.

You can help too! If you’d like to read more about this family, please visit the Facebook page that has been set up to keep everyone updated and to promote fundraising activities. There is a link to donate, and if you are in Dallas, next Sunday, July 24, there will be two bake sales taking place.  It’s a small way to make a big difference in the lives of these children and their family.

A Quick Post On Resiliency

Photo courtesy of Luke Donald

This weekend I was a little obsessed with the U.S. Open (thanks to JB). And today, I have been overly obsessed with this Oakley advertisement congratulating the champ Rory McIlroy.

(As I wrote in the caption, this picture was from Luke Donald’s Twitter post. Donald is currently the No. 1 ranked golfer and happens to be a fellow Wildcat. If you’re not familiar with him, you can drool over his pictures read more about him here. If you’re still in college, stop tailgating at football games and get thee to a golf tournament!)

But back to Rory McIlroy. Which could have been the Open’s tagline for the weekend: Back to McIlroy. He dominated the 4-day tournament and went wire-to-wire (that means he led the entire four rounds; I learned it this weekend and now I throw it around because I’m a golf expert) to be crowned champion.

The story is sweeter (and explains the pictured ad) because McIlroy was also in the lead going into the final round of the Masters tournament back in the spring before the wheels came off on the final day and he fell off the leader board completely. Immediately, he handled this defeat with poise and, obviously, resiliency.

This advertisement resonated with me not because of my fledgling interest in golf, but because in my job, I see students struggle every day with resiliency, with bouncing back after an obstacle or adversity. I struggle with it myself. We’ve developed such an “everyone’s a winner” society with children that I think sometimes we forget how much one can learn from their setbacks and falls. I like the ad’s wording about “owning your defeats.” We don’t have to always make excuses for our shortcomings or setbacks, we just have to own them. We’ve been taught to learn from our mistakes, but I worry the younger generation is losing the message. And consequently, losing their resilience.

But Rory’s victory is an example of what it really means to own your defeat and grow from it. And at only 22-years-old, he is a great model for today’s youth… and for those of us who are old enough to type phrases like “the younger generation.”