Real Talk: New Year, New Resolutions

It’s 2016. When did that happen?

As we all know, a new year means New Year’s Resolutions. Everyone resolves to lose weight and go to the gym… and they stick with it until mid-February. Then the gym crowd empties out again (and I can have my treadmill back, dammit), and the resolution falls by the wayside.

I don’t normally do resolutions. For one, I can’t really stick with them. But this year, I thought I’d make a list of things I want to do in 2016. Goals for myself, of a sort. Some of these are serious, some are more lighthearted. Because it’s about balance, y’all.

You can call them resolutions if you like. For me, they’re more like life improvements instead of resolutions.

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No, there’s no reason for this hedgehog. I just thought it was cute.

1. Become more involved in my church.

Over the course of 2015, I started attending Capitol Hill Baptist Church in D.C. I’d been once, a few years ago for the Easter service, but I hadn’t been back because, well, I was lazy. I didn’t have a car, and Sunday bus service is less than reliable.

In April, I brought my car to D.C. And there went my excuse. I’ve been attending regularly as I can with work travel, but I would like become more involved. First, I plan on joining this year. I’d like to do a small group Bible study, maybe volunteer. I think that that would be good for my growth, as a Christian, and the church is so warm and welcoming.

2. Stop worrying about what my friends are doing on social media.

That sounds stupid, doesn’t it? Let me explain.

I suffer from a syndrome, best diagnosed in the title of Mindy Kaling’s first book — Is everyone hanging out without me? I have this paranoia that while I’m sitting at home in my pajamas and reading a book, all my friends are out having oh-so-much fun together. Without me.

So what do I do? I check Facebook. And Instagram. And Snapchat. And that just reinforces the feeling of isolation — which is funny, isn’t it? We’re so connected via the internet, yet it can make a person feel as lonely as ever. It’s not good for your mental health to worry about such stupid things like that.

But that’s the thing about platforms like Instagram, isn’t it? We present our ‘perfect’ life. One where we’re having so much fun, enjoying adventure, drinks, and other beautiful people. We don’t see the other side, which, if we’re being honest, probably encompasses more of reality than the curated side.

I think it can be best summed up by a friend. She recently moved back to D.C. after a year or so pretty far away. We were talking about her new job and why she’d moved back, and the question was posed, “You looked so happy where you were living. All your posts were of the fun things you did. Why would you want to leave?”

And her response? “Yeah, but I didn’t post about all the nights I sat at home, drinking an entire bottle of wine by myself.”

So in 2016, I’m quitting that. I’m going to do my best (and it’ll probably take effort) to not worry about everyone else. Sure, they’re having fun — but they’re also just like me: on the couch alone some nights.

3. Go home more often

I have a car. Tennessee is only an 8 hour drive away. There’s no reason for me not to suck it up and take a weekend and go see my family. I love spending time at home — why don’t I do it more often?

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My last road trip home

4. Spend money on experiences, not things

That sounds like the most basic, white girl thing ever, doesn’t it? I’ve seen this on several Thought Catalog pieces, but it’s something I’d really like to try. Because yeah, a new Kate Spade purse is nice — but a last minute road trip to the Outer Banks with some friends is way more meaningful.

I’m a travelbug. Always have been, always will be. That’s a requirement to date me — must have passport. If I can snag a super cheap airfare somewhere I’ve always wanted to go, why not go? I’m single and childless, with a great job that encourages me to actually use — not hoard — my vacation days. Why not go?

BRB, just adding to my AirBNB wishlist.

5. Play more golf

I used to hate golf. Hate hate hated it. But then I started playing and fell in love. I’ve got a nice set of clubs and a car. There’s no reason not to play a round every few weekends or so (when the weather gets back above freezing, obviously). I can channel my inner Robin Williams (NSFW video, obviously).

6. Music. Must have more music

I’ve been in D.C. for 6 1/2 years. How is it that I’ve still never been to the Kennedy Center? Home to the National Symphony Orchestra, the DC Opera, and venue that plays host to some of the most esteemed musicians in the world. But I’ve only heard the NSO play once — discounting seeing them on TV for the Fourth of July.

So, a goal this year is to make it to all of them: the ballet, the opera, the symphony. And that doesn’t even count in all the great live music venues in D.C. It’s something I haven’t really taken advantage of here yet, and I intend to change that.

7. Remember to take time for myself

These days, it feels like everyone puts a priority on being busy. The most common excuse for why someone can’t do something is, “Oh, I’m busy.”

Without getting into the cult of ‘busy,’ I do think burnout is very real. Especially in a city like D.C, where you work hard and are then generally expected to play hard. It’s hard to remember that it’s perfectly acceptable to turn down plans simply because you want to go to bed at 8:30. (And yes, I realize this sounds contrary to Life Improvement #1, but I’m channeling my inner Dowager Countess here).

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8. Show gratitude

Nothing is perfect. In fact, I think there’s no such thing. But for everything that is ‘wrong,’ there is so much that is amazing in my life. I’m very blessed with a healthy family, a roof over my head, a steady income, and my own health. I have amazing friends who love me, and who I love in return. There’s so much to be grateful for. Instead of focusing on the negative so much, I want to focus on the positives.

9. Lose weight

Come on, you knew that one was coming. 😉

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Real Talk: theSkimm on GMOs

Several months ago, a friend introduced me to theSkimm. It’s quickly become one of my favorite daily e-mails; a quick roundup of the day’s happenings, plus a few fun pop culture stories. It’s especially great for me because I have become pretty lax about reading the news — if it isn’t Roll Call or Politico’s Morning Ag, I might not get around to reading it.

This morning, I was dismayed to open today’s Skimm and see the following near the bottom of the e-mail.

Thing To Know -- This is not accurate information

Thing To Know — This is not accurate information

This was extremely upsetting for me to see. As a Millennial with a background in agriculture — and one who still works to promote the industry as my career — this sort of misinformation is seen all too often in the argument against GMOs. I’ve had lots of conversations with both family and strangers (both can get pretty heated) about the safety and benefits of GMOs, and why they’re beneficial for consumers.

My friend Michelle — also a Skimm’r — wrote in to the editorial staff about this issue. With her permission, I’m posting her letter below.

Dear Skimm,

I recently signed up for your email and have been a huge fan thus far. I liked your Facebook page after watching your cable tv interview and have encouraged my girlfriends and husband to sign up. I was very upset to see your ‘thing to know’ article today. It makes me question if your newsletter is truly an unbiased publication.

I am writing in because I believe that creating doubt as to whether or not GMOs are safe for the average consumer by providing false information is hurting consumers, the environment, farmers, and the people living in poverty. Hundreds of studies have been conducted to test whether GMOs are safe. To date, not a single study indicates that GMOs cause new allergies or cancers, infertility, ADHD, or any other diseases. The article linked to in your newsletter brings up the Seralini study. Seralini was a French scientist that published a paper stating that GMOs are unsafe. Since then, the international science community has showed that he manipulated data to get those results and the findings cannot be replicated. His PhD has actually been revoked, which is pretty much unprecedented.

Now to the benefits- a report came out this week from the The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications. The paper was dedicated to Norman Bourlog who was a founder of the organization, a Nobel Peace Laureate, and his advances with wheat (which there is no GMO variety to date) is credited with saving more lives in human history than anyone else. Here are a few of the highlights-

• Millions of risk-averse farmers, both large and small, world-wide, have determined that the returns from planting biotech crops are high, hence repeat planting is virtually 100%
• Good returns on their investment is the critical test applied by demanding farmers when judging the performance of any technology
• 18 million farmers benefit from biotech crops – 90% were small resource-poor farmers.
• On average GM technology adoption has reduced chemical pesticide use by 37%,increased crop yields by 22%, and increased farmer profits by 68%.

I believe that everyone should have the choice to decide what they are eating and they need the facts to make those decisions. In your newsletter you say “you know those strawberries that are freakishly red and big in February? GMOs” There are no genetically modified strawberries anywhere in the world. Currently there are eight genetically modified species that are legal to grow in the United States: corn (field and sweet), soybeans, cotton, canola, alfalfa, sugar beets, papaya, and squash. Potatoes will be on that list soon.

Also, while plant breeding is incredibly advanced and impressive, mother nature still holds the trump card. No amount of technological advances can help plants that are adapted for warm weather grow in the winter. Mostly likely, those winter strawberries come from Florida, California, Mexico, or South America. According to Florida Strawberry Growers Association, Plant City, Florida, is the winter strawberry capital of the nation. They produce more than 15% of the strawberries purchased in U.S. grocery stores every winter.

I would encourage you to send your readers to sites that provide peer reviewed research and facts on GMOs. GMOanswers is an informative resource. It’s fact sheets – like this one from Ohio State University provide a great introduction.

The technology is complicated, confusing, and potentially scary. And I don’t think that scientists should get a free pass, but decades of research have proven that GMOs are safe, they let us grow more food on less land, we use less chemicals, which lowers food prices and could even provide more nutritious food (check out Golden Rice).

Please consider the benefits of GMOs when you publish future newsletters.

Thank you,
Michelle

Digging even deeper: lately, I’ve become a huge fan of Dr. Kevin Folta, chairman of the Horticulture Sciences department at the University of Florida (I’ll forgive him that one tiny sin…). I began to read his blog and follow him on Twitter, and after meeting him and hearing him speak in person, that fandom is firmly cemented.

In an interview done with a science and food website, he was asked about genetically modifying a strawberry. (And here is where I hope theSkimm takes note). His answer was:

Can you make GMO strawberries?

Yes we can, and we do. They are created in the lab for research purposes ONLY. If we add or take out a strawberry gene in strawberry, we can understand what it does and how it affects traits we care about. Then once we’ve linked a gene to a process, we can then use traditional non-GMO methods to breed that gene into elite lines. In the lab, we also use a very different strawberry (Fragaria vesca) a simpler cousin to the commercial strawberry (Fragaria x ananassa). Even if we had a transgenic plant that could solve a problem or make money for farmers we could never afford the time and money it would take to approve it. Right now such plants are only tools to understand biology better.

If you’re interested in learning more about his work or plant biology in general, he did an AMA on Reddit last summer!

Other agriculural Skimmr’s have taken notice. Katie Pinke has a great post on her blog that I encourage y’all to check out — Strawberries Are Not GMO, and How theSkimm Got It Wrong.

Articles like today’s Skimm newsletter only help make the water even more murky. The issue of GMOs is a touchy one that inspires a lot of passion from anti-GMO activists, and it’s easy to lose sight of the science in the face of harsh rhetoric. Hopefully, both theSkimm’s editorial staff and their readers will learn from this!

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Real talk: On the banning of books

I love to read.

Obvious statement is obvious, of course, but it’s one that I believe bears repeating. Since I learned to read many, many, many years ago, I’ve read pretty much every book I could get my hands on. My fourth and fifth grade teachers still talk about how they had to make me put up my book during our weekly spelling tests.

There were two articles I read last week; both, coincidentally, involved author Neil Gaiman. Now, I feel like someone is going to revoke my nerd status for this next remark, but I have to clear the air her: Gaiman’s bestseller book, American Gods, is one of the few books I have never been able to finish. The story just did not captivate me the way I hoped it would.

There. I said it. Shun away, y’all.

(Also, if you’re not a reader but wondering why American Gods sounds familiar, it’s because it’s currently in development as a series for HBO).

However, an article popped up on my Twitter feed linking to a Guardian article about a lecture Gaiman gave recently in London. You can read the article in its entirety here, and I strongly recommend you do so — and yes, for those of you who are Facebook friends with me, I did post this on my wall last week.

There was one key point that ties into the next article, and it’s really such an amazing point that I want to highlight it here.

Well-meaning adults can easily destroy a child’s love of reading: stop them reading what they enjoy, or give them worthy-but-dull books that you like, the 21st-century equivalents of Victorian “improving” literature. You’ll wind up with a generation convinced that reading is uncool and worse, unpleasant.

Well-meaning adults… it’s those people I want to discuss now.

The other article I saw on Twitter last week referenced one of Gaiman’s other popular works, Neverwhere. The BBC recently produced an amazing podcast of the story featuring a veritable Who’s Who of British stars including James McAvoy, Natalie Dormer, and Benedict Cumberbatch (available on iTunes, I believe).

A mother in Alamogordo, New Mexico, successfully petitioned the local school board to remove Neverwhere from a supplemental reading list at Alamogordo High School, where the book has been offered in the curriculum since 2004.

Why?

A single passage on page 86 which makes reference to two background characters engaging in public sex.

And just for the record, I would like to high five the English teacher at AHS who wrote this letter in response to the controversy. Rock on, Ms. Wallis!

Now, let me clear this up: I do not have kids. I don’t even have a dog. However, I don’t think it’s possible for me to state how strongly I am opposed to this sort of knee-jerk reaction from “well-meaning adults” when it comes to removing books from library shelves.

Story time! When I was in the eighth grade, a mother of one of my classmates petitioned the school board to remove several books from our junior high library shelf. While I’ve forgotten what the third book was, the other books were Detour for Emmy and The Color Purple — the former because it included a sexual scene, the latter because the book opens with a rape.

My thirteen year-old self was very outspoken against the campaign. I supported our school librarian, talked to my classmates and teachers about why the banning of books was wrong, and even wrote a letter to the editor of our local paper (my parents still have several copies in their office).

I didn’t believe — and I still don’t believe — that a few parents have the right to dictate what I can and cannot read. Nor do I feel that this mother in New Mexico has the right to deprive 100+ high schoolers of the opportunity to read Neverwhere. I was blessed with two amazing parents who pretty much let me read whatever I wanted to, but they were always there to talk about my literature choices with me.

My best friend’s parents wouldn’t allow her to read Harry Potter. We all know how much I adore those books. They weren’t my parents’ cup of tea, but they never tried to stop me from enjoying them. We had open discussions about witchcraft, magic, and faith — but not once did they take my books away from me.

Long story short: banning books is wrong. And in our society, it is baffling to me that this sort of thing is still going on. Take a stand, and read a banned book. Or you know, read a non-banned book.

The point is: read.

Real Talk: A fear of failure

What scares you?

I don’t mean the deep fears, the ones rooted in some dark psychological place that is far too serious for my blog. I mean the little, trivial ones. Scary things like clowns, horror movies, or spiders.

No, these aren’t personal… why do you ask?

Amen, Ron.

I like to think that not much scares me on a superficial level. I know my friends will argue — they’ve seen my face when someone suggests we watch the latest Saw movie. HOWEVER. It is completely logical to dislike scary movies. I mean, why would I want to be scared for the fun of it? Scary =/= fun.

Sorry, tangent. That’s not the point. The point is, I’m going to share with you something that scares me.

Failure.

I know, that’s a cop-out fear. After all, doesn’t everyone fear failure? Who walks around and thinks, “You know, I’d like to fail today.” Not I, said Virginia. I was born with a healthy spirit of competition and a need to win at everything. I’m sure that doesn’t stem from growing up in a competitive family or anything.

A year or so ago, my cousin directed me to the TED Talks website. It’s a collection of inspirational and thought-provoking talks given by various celebrities, writers, artists, and other innovators. If you have time, head on over and take a look — but I’m going to embed my favorite below.

In 2008, JK Rowling (she of the Harry Potter genius) gave the commencement address at Harvard University. Obviously, I didn’t go to Harvard — but a generous soul filmed her speech, and it’s available as a TED Talk. The topic of her address?

The Importance of Imagination and the Fringe Benefits of Failure.

It’s a very entertaining speech, and if you’ve got some time, I would encourage you to listen to all of it. I could dissect the entire thing, but that would take more time than we have today.

But what does all this have to do with me?

Well, I’m starting a new project — a project that strikes fear in my heart. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, but it’s something that’s going to open me up to outside criticism, likely rejection, and possible failure.

I’m writing a book.

It’s taken a while, but I have an idea. I have a main character who’s taken grasp in my head as well as several supporting ones (I promise I’m not schizophrenic). I’m working on supporting documents, character maps, and I have a playlist (because obviously, there must be music).

It gives you WINGS.

I hope to use this space as a sort of look into my writing process — which I’ll go ahead and tell you, won’t be very interesting. Random internet browsing, doing research on the most peculiar things (after a rousing game of Six Degrees of Wikipedia), and lots of caffeine ingestion. But I have a goal, and by year’s end, I’m going to accomplish it.

It’s going to be a wild ride! But I’m glad to have y’all there with me.

Look away, Dixieland…

As the long, hot days of July give way to August, my mind starts to wander. The dog days of summer are upon us indeed. Here in D.C., it’s approximately 7400 degrees outside – roughly the same temperature as Dante’s infamous Inferno.

And so my mind wanders to a different time, a different place – roughly one month and 500+ miles away. From the bustling metropolitan of Washington, D.C. to the sleepy college town of Oxford, Mississippi, I close my eyes and I’m back on the Square.

I love D.C. I really do – I mean, why would I live here if I didn’t love it? Some people prefer the speed and crowds (ughhhh, the crowds) of New York, or the Hollywood style of Los Angeles – not me. I’ve been both places, and I think once was enough for me. D.C. is a city that feels like a small town.
But sometimes, there’s no excuse for a real small town.

(Hey, lookie there – a tangent. Me, get off topic? Never.)

So my wandering mind and wandering thought processes move back to their original destination, that miraculous period at the end of August that heralds in that most blessed of times:

FOOTBALL SEASON.

Cheesing with Lisa and Colonel Reb

I was rereading one of my favorite ESPN.com features by Wright Thompson. If you are an SEC fan of any shape, form or fashion and are not following him on Twitter, you’re missing out. (You can follow him here: @WrightThompson). He’s an Ole Miss fan, but he writes about stuff that sports fan universally can appreciate. Some of his gem tweets (in my totally non-biased, Hotty Toddy opinion):

Literary puns plus hating on Mississippi State? What more could a girl ask for?

Anyway, if you haven’t read his ode to SEC football, stop thyself in thy tracks and get thee over there!

Pulled Pork and Pigskin: A Love Letter to Southern Football

It’s a few years old (hey, we fired Coach O, hired Houston Nutt, fired him, then hired Hugh Freeze! We are Ole Miss!), but it’s still a moving piece about football in the South.

August is almost here, and I’m ready for football season. Even though I haven’t made it to a game since I graduated, I can close my eyes and perfectly remember every detail of the Grove. Pulling my cooler along behind to the tent Elizabeth and I had set up the night before, right where the Walk of Champions splits into a fork. Fraternity boys with their SEC hair (y’all know what I’m talking about) offering to help my mother and grandmother carry our food to the tent. Girls in either five inch stilettos or flip flops with matching sundresses and red Solo cups. The sounds of “From Dixie With Love” echoing through the trees before the band led everyone to the stadium.

(Also, if someone wants to buy me this print from Catherine Ann Herrington, I’d love you forever.)

On days like today, I can’t help but miss my beloved Oxford. And even though they’ll likely be at the bottom of the ladder (again) this season, I can’t wait to cheer for my Rebels. I think Elvis said it best.

I wish I was in Dixie…

An Olympic Moment

Real talk: I love the Olympics.

I mean, how can you not love the Olympics? It’s sporty and patriotic and competitive, all wrapped up in two weeks of non-stop awesomeness. The Olympics are something the entire world can take pride in – the World Cup is awesome, but let’s be real. It’s only a) one sport, and b) the same teams (hello, Europe) usually win.

But in the Olympics? There are always those surprises.

Because we’re among friends here, I’ll confess: the sound of that trumpet fanfare makes me tear up. Call me a sap, but whatever. I get SO EXCITED when the Games are on.

So excited I cancelled dinner plans with M on Friday night so I could go home, order pizza, and watch the Opening Ceremonies on my couch.  Perfect Friday night, in my opinion!

Like most young athletes, I dreamed of competing in the Olympics. I was a competitive softball player until I was eighteen, but those dreams didn’t pan out. Also, I’m still quite peeved the IOC cut softball from the 2012 London Games – too American dominated? It’s not our fault we’re better than the rest of the world!

It’s funny that two of my favorite Olympic sports are those that I could never accomplish in my wildest dreams – figure skating and gymnastics. I hate ice skating – and so do my knees – and the last time I was the proper size for an Olympic gymnast was when I was about nine years old. But I lovelovelove watching them on TV.

I remember staying up past my bedtime (because I’m a senior citizen when it comes to sleep) to watch Evan Lysacek win the gold medal at the 2010 Games in Vancouver. And of course, I don’t think anyone could forget that moment in Atlanta (1996, y’all) when Kerri Strug nailed her vault on one foot to clinch the gold for Team USA.

What other defining moments do you remember from past Games?

And, more importantly…

Do y’all love the Olympics as much as I do? 🙂