Thanksgiving dinner: a conversational guide

Happy Thanksgiving. Today is the day we  gather with our families to eat and give thanks. And as long as there are families, there will be people with wrong opinions.  All too easily family dinners can be breeding grounds for nasty arguments.

We’ve all heard not to bring up politics or religion and I’ve read a few articles lately about conversation topics to avoid during family dinners. Katie has a great post over about that over at Sass & Balderdash. Slate has a great guide to winning political arguments with your family.

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But I’ve read fewer articles about what TO talk about over dinner. Here are some suggestions for safe (boring) dinner topics.

  • The food. “These sweet potatoes are fantastic, Mom. Could you please pass the peas?” People love food but it generally doesn’t inspire such strong emotion that they’ll get into a fist fight over which was better,  pumpkin pie or pecan pie. Talk about that great cookie recipe you found on Pinterest or that new restaurant that just opened a block from your house. Be careful, though to avoid talking about diets. Especially avoid talking about things you’re eating or not eating because of personal beliefs. It seems innocent to bring up that you only eat organic now, or that you’ve sworn off meat after seeing a documentary about animal abuse in the industry, but that will just cause trouble.
  • The weather. You can’t go wrong with weather talk. We can basically all agree that it’s too cold outside during the winter and that it gets too hot during the summer.  Sunshine is good, rain is mostly annoying. And weather affects everyone so we care about it by default. Be careful, though, not to let weather talk turn into talk about climate change. Was the recent hurricane in the Philippines because of global warming? It’s best to not even talk about it.
  • Your trip home. This could be anything about your flight, drive, or bus road to your house. I’m visiting family in a small, Eastern Kentucky town an hour away from home.  My trip talk is usually a discussion of how many white-tailed deer I passed on the way in. They’re everywhere. But if you’re traveling farther, did the TSA agent get a little too frisky or make an inappropriate comment during your random pat down? Did you sit next to a screaming toddler on the plane? Be careful, though or your talk of the TSA could turn into talk of the NSA, and then we’re back to political arguments.
  • Nothing at all. Some times it’s best to keep your mouth shut. Are you a fan of the Affordable Care Act sitting in a room full of republicans? Bite your tongue and resist the urge to bring up the thousands of low income working adults who will have access to medical care because of health care reform. Maybe even agree with them just to make peace. “Yes, mom, we can all agree that website is a disaster. Do you think they’ll ever get it fixed?” Do you hate the idea of government forcing people to buy insurance, resist the urge to talk about the constitution and liberty. You’re never going to convince them anyway.

What advice do you have for surviving family dinners without getting into an argument?

What I’m dreading about the Christmas season

This may end up being a series, I’m not sure.

There are plenty of things to love about Christmas. Presents, spending time with friends and family members you love. Good food. The beginning of the redemption story if you’re a Christian. But let’s be honest, as with anything, there are down sides.

One of the worst things about the Christmas season, in my opinion, is hearing “Christmas Shoes” over and over on the radio. You know, the song. It’s the one about a little boy emptying his piggy bank at a store to buy a Christmas present for his dying mother. SPOILER ALERT: He doesn’t have enough money and the song narrator pays for them for him.

I cannot, for the life of me, figure out what people enjoy about a song with a gut-wrenching narrative aimed at making people cry.

 

If you haven’t heard it (lucky you), here are the lines that usually get me: “Could you hurry Sir? Daddy says there’s not much time. She’s been sick for quite a while and I know these shoes will make her smile and I want her to look beautiful if mama meets Jesus tonight.”

(No joke, I just typed that from memory).

That was usually the line where I would turn the radio off so I wouldn’t ruin my mascara. Now I turn it off because I’m bored with it. And I don’t understand why people like it.

Isn’t Christmas a happy holiday about the beginning of redemption for mankind? At the very least it’s about giving and celebrating love. How this song with its dying mom/ poor son, tear-jerking narrative became a December staple, I’ll never know.

Newsong released the song in 2000 and it became a mainstream hit for the Christian vocal band. It also inspired a best-selling book, a made-for-TV movie and countless church Christmas plays. Evidently someone out there likes the song. If you do and could fill me in on why, that would be great.

I just don’t get it.

What are you dreading about the holiday season?

I’m tired of social media

I really am tired of social media, but I don’t think I can stop. I’m too addicted to those little red flags that appear on Facebook when someone makes a comment or likes something I post. I get too much pleasure from hearing my cell phone buzz when one of tweets gets retweeted.

Even still, here are some recent observations about life in our all-too-digital world from a social media-weary 20-something.

  • Mine is probably the last generation that won’t spend literally our entire lives on social media. Think about it. When is the last time one of your friends had a baby and didn’t immediately post of a picture of the still-gooey child to their Facebook page? Our children will be on Facebook from the first first day they’re born. They’ll think nothing of it when their first words, steps and poos are broadcast online to 600 or 700 of their parents’ closest friends.
  • We should get used to wearing glasses. I swear my vision is deteriorating because of all the time I spend staring at screens. Most days I’m at my desk up to eight hours a day staring at a computer, writing. Then I have this tiny screen called a cellphone in my pocket that I’m basically chained to. Then there’s my personal laptop and television. I probably spend more time looking at screens than I do talking to human beings.
  • We are always reachable — and that’s not always a good thing. Remember when you could leave your home a few hours and no one had to know where you were? When your phone was a land line attached to a box that played your messages when you got home.? I barely do. I got my first cell phone in college. Now there’s no escape. Not to mention the fact that we broadcast where we are and who we’re with at every restaurant and in every city we visit.
  • We’re only half listening. If you’re talking to a Millennial, rest assured we have one ear on you and another listening for the buzz or ding from our iPhones that signals a text message or Facebook comment. One minute we’re in the room talking to you, and the next we’re sucked into this tiny device that’s talking to us.
  • We don’t need high school reunions.  This year marked my 10th since I graduated high school. My class planned a small get together just a couple blocks from where I work but I didn’t attend. Facebook makes it all to easy to stay connected to the people I went to high school with. I know where they’re living, whom they’re married to and (refer back to my first point) I see pictures of their children on a daily basis. I’m even connected to people I rarely talked to as a 17-year-old. I don’t need to spend 2 hours at a dinner catching up with people when I already know too much about them.
  • All this “connection” hasn’t made our relationships any deeper or more intimate. In fact, I’d say social media has made it more difficult to be real with people. When you look at my Facebook page, you’re getting a much more sanitized version of my life than the one I’m actually living. You see the picture of New York I posted (See? I’m worldly and well-traveled. Aren’t you impressed with me?) But you don’t read about the insecurities and the screw-ups I work through daily or the relationships in my life that are in shambles because of something I’ve done. Also, when was the last time you got an actual phone call from a 20-something? We’d much rather type as have an actual conversation. Some much of our communication is non-verbal that you leave out so much when you have written words.
  • Print isn’t king anymore. That’s not news to anyone but I’m nostalgic for a time when people referred a local daily newspaper or alt-weekly to find out where their favorite back was playing on a given night and for town gossip. Now, nothing beats Facebook for events and gossip. Perhaps that nostalgia is because my day job is writing for a newspaper.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go check Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

You might be a cat lady if

Earlier this year I adopted my second cat. I joke that a cat was the only thing a woman should buy herself when she’s in her late 20s and still single. Actually, I didn’t intend to have two cats. I was happy with Mouse, a small gray thing I’ve had since 2008 when I first moved out on my own.

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But I was browsing through the adoptable pets at Petsmart one day when I saw him — the prettiest long-haired orange cat I’d ever seen. I just had to have Frank.

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“How many cats can I have before I’m a crazy cat woman?” I wondered aloud, and even asked the question on Facebook. But I’m beginning to think maybe “crazy cat lady” isn’t about the number of cats you have. In other words having two cats doesn’t make me a cat lady, but maybe the following does.

You might be a cat lady if:

  1. You decide whether or not to wear a clothing item based not on if there’s cat hair on it, but the amount of said cat hair. I mean, cat hair is a way of life. I gave up trying to be completely hair-free when I adopted a long-haired orange cat. A little hair is OK and a lot of hair can be usually be fixed with a lint roller.
  2. Someone offers you a pillow with cat faces all over it, and you accept it. “This would look great beside my cat figurines and cat-training books,” you say. OK, I don’t really have cat figurines or cat training books. But my aunt gave me this pillow the other day. ImageShe said she thought of me when it came into her possession. Isn’t it fabulously tacky? There was also a cat soap dispenser, Brillo Pad rest and three cat books. “Oh. My. God. Are they grooming you to be a crazy cat lady?” That was the response I got from a friend when I sent him a picture of all my new cat things all laid out in a row. I think I may be well on my way, no grooming needed.
  3. Hearing about a strangers cat dying makes you cry. Again, this happened to me this week. I was curled up in bed under my electric blanket with my cats laying on top of me, reading Slate. In one article, the writer thought her cat told her she was going to die. That story had me choked up twice. And I very rarely cry. Read it for yourself if you need a good cry.
  4. You keep lint rollers in your car, at your front door and at your desk at work. Just in case.
  5. Your Instagram feed is two-thirds cat pictures. (And your friends probably secretly hate you for it).
  6. The Instagram and Twitter accounts you follow are two-thirds cat pictures.
  7. You celebrate National Cat Day by changing your Facebook profile pic to a cat selfie and posting more Instagram pics of your pride.
  8. It’s early November and you’re already thinking of what your cats might want for Christmas.
  9. A typical first date question for you is, “Are you allergic to cats?” Because if it’s him or the cats, it’s the definitely the cats.

It gets better, girls

Note: Forgive the two serious posts in recent past. I promise I’ll get back to one-liners and amusing anecdotes soon.

I was browsing Slate.com when a blogpost about a relatively new trend among teenage girls on Youtube stuck out to me. The girls post videos of themselves asking the world to tell them if they’re pretty or ugly.

In one, a girl with dark-rimmed glasses and thick hair complains about having tiny teeth, big hands and small wrists. She tells her audience she sees herself as “this wicked ugly, fat thing,” and begs them to give her their honest opinion.

Even the cute girls are there with similar questions. They seemed just as unsure of themselves.

It’s difficult to watch these videos, partly because of how insecure the girls all seem. Mostly because of how much some of them remind me of myself at that age.

In middle school,  I was an awkward girl that people sometimes picked on.  Two large moles on both sides of my neck earned me nicknames like Frankenstein and Mole Girl until my parents graciously allowed me to have them removed as an eighth grader. I was weird, too, I’d say. Ultra-religious, awkward and shy, which i attribute to being home-schooled until fifth grade. In middle school I was still adjusting to the new environment.

High school was better but I was always self conscious about my weight and how tall I was.

I never posted a Youtube video of myself asking whether I was pretty. Youtube didn’t even exist yet. But I can relate to this desire for someone to validate my worth.

If I could say something to these girls, my message would be: it gets better. (Can I borrow that phrase from the LGBT community?)

Life gets so much better. Our entire culture is so obsessed with youth that you might make the mistake of thinking that these are the best days of your life.

Me circa 2001, 10th grade, in my natural state -- too blond hair and posing with my enormous rabbit, Roxy.

Me circa 2001, 10th grade, in my natural state — too blond hair and posing with my enormous rabbit, Roxy.

Don’t get me wrong, youth has a lot of positives and being an adult isn’t always fun, but the best kept secret about aging is that you also grow into yourself.  I spent my teenage years trying to make people like me and worrying about those who didn’t. Trying not to mess up for fear of being judged and disappointing people.

Life in my twenties has been about letting go of what other people think about me and finding the type of people who love me and make me come alive. It’s been about finding my own voice.

It gets better, physically too.

You’ll grow into your nose. Your skin will clear up (for the most part). And some day having thighs that don’t touch each other won’t matter at all.

I promise it gets better, girls.

You’ll learn that your personality and how kindly you treat others matter more than your dress size. That the parts of you people called “weird” in high school make you unique and interesting later in life.

You will fall in love with someone who makes you believe you’re worth loving, that you aren’t the ugly duckling after all. You will probably get your heart broken but it will be worth what you learn. Plus, you’ll break a few hearts, too.

Next month I turn 29. I have high hopes for my life as I ease into the next decade —  finding love, succeeding at my job, maybe a kid or two. (Maybe). But I can’t be sure of what will happen. I especially don’t know what life will bring your way, but I do know one thing: this, how you feel at this moment, will not last forever.

It gets better.