My real life superpower

Outside of about a two week span in high school, I've never tried to hide the fact that I'm a nerd. Not just in the "Oh yeah, I read 27 think pieces about comics last week" way, but in a "Big Bang Theory isn't funny because physicists aren't represented well" kind of way.

These days, I stick to cocktails and reading a lot of sci-fi and fantasy. I'm an extroverted introvert, so I tend to prefer deep conversations to small talk. Bartending has helped partially overcome my aversion to small talk, and booze usually tends to lubricate the conversation (pun intended). Even four years in, I'm still trying to wrap my head around people wanting to hear about my nerd-dom.

And at cocktail parties and young professional events, that's my superpower. Not everyone likes reading the same things I do, but almost everyone has a favorite cocktail, mocktail, or flavor. Get on that topic, and I'm in my element.

Probably the greatest part of it is that cocktails are capital-c cool. People want to talk about what they like and dislike in food and drink, and love hearing how things fit together. Dive into the history of a spirit or cocktail? Your audience is usually captive.

My origin story thankfully doesn't begin with exposure to radiation or chemicals or science. When I started behind the bar, I spent almost all of my off-hours researching drinking history, lore, and recipes. I made dozens of flashcards to learn recipes for classic cocktails, and dove into it like I would have for a paper in college. My manager had provided links YouTube videos on bartending technique, and I practiced at home. When I was at work, I went through my flashcard deck of tasting notes as I tried new-to-me spirits, liqueurs, and tinctures.

No matter how far into it I got, customers at the bar wanted to hear about what I'd discovered. My friends were interested, and editors began accepting stories about the weirder aspects of drinking and bartending culture. Before, I had to rely on extensive web searches, tips from friends, or writing assignments to find topics to pitch, but in the bar world, everything was new and shiny and desirable.

I'm still finding things that keep it fun, but the shine has worn off for me. Cocktails are a big part of what I do, and until I find the end to all of the topics I have in my pitch ideas notebook, I'll keep digging. Right now, it's tequila and modernist authors, but in the next week, I'll probably start developing cocktails to submit for the winter menu at Marble Ring.

And until the day the drinking trend moves back to sugar-laden, day-glo club drinks, cocktails will be my superpower. 

Want to claim a superpower of your own? Check out my online whiskey class! In 30 minutes, you'll zoom through nine videos and become a whiskey hero all your own.

Double post: Let's talk about The Media day 1

newY'all all know I'm addicted to NPR. You've probably guessed that I'm also a sucker for a beautifully written Washington Post, gut-wrenching Atlantic or quippy New Yorker column. But all of my media, including the most conservative channels got this election wrong. Not just a little wrong, bigly W-R-O-N-G. Or big league. Whatever. Some people place the failure on the proliferation of fake news sites like these. One writer for one of these outlets even went as far as to say "I think Donald Trump is in the White House because of me." Google and Facebook showed up a little bit late to the party, vowing to vet and monitor publishers' veracity a week after the election.

There are probably some of y'all out there saying "But Clair, you're a writer. You've written articles for The Media. You're part of it!" Yeah, well, I write about cocktails and I'm a fact-checker. That second part is what you should focus on: it means that I get to regularly pick apart articles to make sure that they're watertight. It, along with my physics background, means I really like numbers.

"But censorship!" you cry. When approximately 38 percent of the articles on these websites have been found by one survey to be a mixture of true and false or mostly false, it's damaging to the mere hope of any sort of civilized discourse. In comparison, the so-called mainstream media gets it right much, much more frequently, or about 90 percent of the time.

Here's the rub: It's likely that most people who read this post will be ideologically similar to me. It's conversations like this that must happen over the next four years. But with news sites like this on both sides of the aisle propagating what are literally different sets of facts, the talks are nearly impossible.

If you'd like to get a heads up when you're visiting a possible fake news site, download the Google Chrome extensions suggested here. To make things even cooler, another detector called FiB has been developed by college students and will hopefully be available very, very soon.

New Kid On The Block: Oak + Raleigh

Usually, I'd have a shot of the cafe or outside of the building to show the ambiance, but it was raining cats and dogs that night. With the weather warming up, patio season is fast approaching. This spring, one place I'll be adding to my patio tour will probably be Homewood's Oak + Raleigh. Though they're still working on their patio, it should be a cool spot to hang out with a frosty beer on a warm day.

Nestled in the heart of West Homewood, Oak + Raleigh is a  combination of bar and deli. But don't expect plain deli sandwiches or the usual five domestic beers -- this neighborhood joint is trying to put itself on the map for its mixture of elevated deli cuisine, traditional bar snacks, and a wide-ranging selection of beers and wines, many of which are available for carry-out purchase.

The space inside is a whimsical blend of arcade, bar, and restaurant. They serve beer and wine only, but offer about 100 beers in cans and on draft and around 30 bottles of wine to go. Brock Owen, the bar manager, made some pretty cool beer suggestions throughout the evening -- I started with the Bosteels Pauwel Kwak, a traditional Belgian ale served in a really, really cool glass. Adam began with the Jolly Pumpkin Oro de Calabazo, which was light and floral on the nose, with a pleasantly sour, well-balanced (and dry) body. Tasty.

Usually, I'd have a shot of the cafe or outside of the building to show the ambiance, but it was raining cats and dogs the night we ate there.

On the food side, much of their produce is sourced from their owners' garden, and what's not is purchased as locally as possible. Despite the small kitchen, all of their pickles and pâté are made in house. While we were there, we started with the Pâté B&J. The texture was nicely varied, with crisp apple, crunchy bacon, and sweet fig jam setting off the creamy pâté.

IMG_1529Next up was the Pâté, Pigs, and Pickle, which combined the same pâté with salami, their house pickled veggies, and herb cream cheese spread. Once again, great texture. This plate contains a lot of food, so we ended up bringing some pickles home.

IMG_1532For our main courses, we stayed simple: I got the French Dip and Adam got the Cuban. Both were a step away from the ordinary: the French Dip sauce was a rich, delicious concoction of soy, worcestershire, butter, garlic, and cayenne. It's also their best-selling sandwich, and it's clear that the secret is in the sauce. Adam went so far as to name it the best au jus he'd had.

The Cuban was a pretty cool take on the traditional sandwich, which paired pork and chicken instead of different types of pork. The sides that came with the sandwiches were extremely varied: the loaded bacon potato salad was creamy and rich and the pasta salad was indulgent. But the broccoli and cauliflower salad stole the show: the roasted corn offset the texture of the broccoli, and the tiny bit of soy sauce in the dressing made it slightly salty.

Full disclosure: the bar manager, Brock, is a high school friend of my husband's, and invited us to dine a couple weeks ago. I would've posted sooner, but we've had a lot of family stuff to attend to recently.

Help! I Googled Myself

HELP!One of the best -- and sometimes, most frightening -- parts of being a writer is getting to Google yourself. Earlier this week, after spending a few hours researching absolutely nothing of consequence, I Googled myself. What I found was at once awesome and weird. Here are a few things I learned:

  • There's a short love note article on The Rumpus to a piece I wrote about zombies for The L.A. Review of Books. It's a year old. How could I miss this?
  • It's funny you should ask. One big reason is that Google Alerts DOESN'T WORK. I've had active alerts on my name for the past two years. During that time, it's sent me ONE update that actually caught my work. Things it didn't catch: lots of published articles, mentions, any of the articles about other McLaffertys, and a few other things...
  • Like that I'm a literal footnote in whisky history, at least on Wikipedia. One of my articles is source #4 for their Tennessee whiskey page.
  • Pieces from my mental_floss column have been used as sources for a seemingly academic presentation and an unrelated paper.
  • On the shitty side of things, I found out that a lot of people don't respect copyright. Seven (!!!) different sites that had posted word-for-word or poorly paraphrased versions of articles I've written. That's not cool, guys. Or legal.
  • Apparently Refinery29 has a content sharing agreement with MSN, so I can now say that my work has appeared on MSN.com.

Friendsgiving Done Right

IMG_1162.JPGSince I was a kid, the Peanuts holiday movies have been part of my memories of the season. Though Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown is my favorite (my parents have my copy of the soundtrack, I think), A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving also warms my heart. But I can honestly say that I’d never considered eating/serving/recreating the, um, unconventional Thanksgiving dinner Snoopy fixes for the gang. As of last Tuesday, I can now say that I’ve encountered one of the meals on my nonexistent “Ridiculous (And Slightly Off-Putting) Holiday Movie Meals” list. That night, Adam and I attended our second DinnerLab dinner, where dessert was a riff on Snoopy’s culinary masterpiece of pretzels, toast, jellybeans, and popcorn.

That was definitely the most unconventional dish in the five course lineup, but it was executed with panache and a bit of sass. A bit of background: DinnerLab is a company that hosts popup dinners in unconventional locations in cities around the country. The meal is conceptualized and prepared by one of DinnerLab’s culinary staff or a guest chef.

This time around, the Friendsgiving-themed meal was quite a treat. As the tagline for the meal goes, it was "an unconventional Thanksgiving meal with our family of culinary pros before you have to deal with the lumpy mash and overcooked turkey of your blood relations. Welcome to the family!" Luckily, my family's Thursday meal wasn't like that, but Dinner Lab delivered in spades. The venue, Revelator Coffee Co.'s coffee roasting and warehouse space, just made it cooler.

For both of our Dinner Lab experiences, we’ve sat with complete strangers. Both times, the conversation has been excellent, usually centered around food culture, drinks and cocktails, and pop ups. And then the food. Ooo, the food. Even after six years of memorable Friendsgivings, the DinnerLab food was unique – and delicious. I'll spare you the full descriptions of the meals and give you the highlights:IMG_1163

The first course was Prince Edward Island ceviche with mussels, tomatoes, and shredded skate wing. Highlights: textural variety from the grape tomatoes and celery pieces, salt and taste of seafoodIMG_1165

Next came the roasted veggies. Highlights: rainbow carrots and beets gave it a slight sweetness, while pickled beet slices and crunchy fennel provided a lovely counterpoint

Not pictured: LA Charlie, a slice of beer braised pork belly with cranberry (and science) caviar, pickled beech mushrooms and cauliflower puree. As one of my favorite dishes of the evening, I tucked in before taking a picture.IMG_1166

As Markus Carter, our chef for the evening, explained, "Chile Colorado is something my grandma used to make for me when I was home." Highlights: contrasting texture between the shredded tongue and the polenta stuffing cakes, general savory tastiness and crunch of pumpkin seedsIMG_1169

Ah, yes. The Peanuts Thanksgiving. Carter encouraged us to taste each dish separately and then blend them together to experiment with the different taste profiles. As a note, I'm not a fan of jellybeans, but the jellybean fluff texture was really nice, and paired nicely with the coffee. Highlights: perfectly textured popcorn panna cotta that, with a touch of the pretzel caramel and a bite of the sweet toast crumble, tasted like buttered popcorn.

Without the right spoon

At some point, you just end up breaking down and buying the damn grapefruit spoon. Photo credit Freelancing is a lot like eating a grapefruit without the proper spoon sometimes. It can be frustrating, barely rewarding, and energy consuming. Sometimes, it feels like you spend more energy trying to dig out just a little more fruit or juice with a blunt spoon. But once you've finally eaten the fruit and are squeezing the last drops of juice into your poorly paired spoon, you miss and spill the juice all over your shirt.

Or is that just me? Even better.

Over the past month, I've blogged my butt off for Birmingham Restaurant Week and been contacted by three different new clients. I've invoiced for more money this month than any other since I started freelancing full-time -- a welcome change after having to dip into my savings in July. Even with all of these things going right, I'm still trying to figure out how this writing thing will work going forward.

Several of the sections of my blog have gone on to become recurring paid columns. Cocktail of the Hour is now a regular part of my articles for mental_floss. I was blogging about health and fitness in exchange for personal training, but the gym has since closed. In the past, I'd used blogging to keep myself accountable as a writer or for my own health, but it hasn't stuck.

What I'd like to do is a weekly or monthly roundup post of what I did that week/month -- where I fell short, what frustrated me, and any victories. I'd love for my blog to be a place where I can focus on what I've done rather than leaving it in my head to loop endlessly through a montage of small victories and overwhelming obstacles. I can and will do this thing, and I will do it right. I hope.

 

This week in freelancing

She's probably worrying about money. When I woke up Monday morning, I thought that everything would be different. It was my first day as a full-time freelance writer, and I was certain that I would wake up with all the energy and inspiration to take the publishing world by storm.

Instead, I slept in. If my sleep schedule -- I do my best work between 3 -11 p.m. -- and money worries were factored out, it would have been one of the least stressful non-vacation weeks on record. But even with those two things factored in, it's still been an incredibly productive week. Here's roughly how it went:

Monday Pitched two articles, outlined one, wrote a guest post about bourbon,  itemized my to-do list, cooked, cleaned a bit, and napped.

Tuesday Drafted two previously outlined articles, checked a couple things off my to-do list, tutored and got a pitch rejected. Tuesday evening, a friend and I went to a cocktail reception at Flip Burger at the Summit. We sat with Laura from Alabama Graffiti (Hey, Laura!), and enjoyed salty turkey sliders, blue cheese-y butcher sliders, and stack sliders. To compliment the food, we sipped on extremely raspberry-y Flip Mules.

Wednesday Found out that Adam passed the bar (!!!), napped, celebrated, finished an article about salt and amari for mental_floss, and tutored.

Thursday Put together a budget to find an income goal, freaked out about money, took a nap to deflect the fear, woke up to find I have media credentials for Tales of the Cocktail, and rewrote the intro to an upcoming article for Birmingham magazine.

Friday Friday afternoon, I sat down with a friend to talk about freelancing. What followed was a discussion about fear, change, and growth that has shifted the focus of my writing. More on that another time. I also finished the Birmingham magazine article, pitched mental_floss for May and celebrated my mom's pending retirement and Véro's wedding.

This week was full, and I'm excited to take today off.

Author talk: Carla Jean Whitley

muscle shoals sound studioCarla Jean Whitley is one of the main reasons I call myself a writer. In the four years I've known her, she's been my mentor, friend, confidant and travel companion. While I was interning at Birmingham magazine, she taught me how to approach AP Style (hint: it's not sneakily or from the side) and ways to make sure my articles didn't suck. She's also the author of "Muscle Shoals Sound Studio: How the Swampers Changed American Music," the managing editor of Birmingham magazine and a prolific freelance writer. During the past year, she finished her yoga teacher training and has kept up a regular practice. And yet she still took the time to answer all of my questions on writing.

Clair McLafferty: Why did you start writing when you were young? Carla Jean Whitley: I can no longer recall a time when I didn't write. I suspect my interest was tied to school; I was always a good student, and writing came easily to me. Couple that with positive reinforcement from my teachers and parents, and it's no wonder I kept at it.

However, I also think that interest is intertwined with my love of reading. I've read myself to sleep nearly every night since I was 4 years old, and I often joke that the perfect job would be getting paid to read whatever I want. (OK, OK. I'm not actually kidding.)

CM: What kept you interested? CJW: That positive reinforcement went a long way, and probably fueled my interest up through high school. I also discovered at an early age that I'm excited by sharing ideas, whether my own or those of others. Now, more than a decade into my career, I believe even more strongly in the power of storytelling. Some journalists come to the field because they want to change the world. I ended up here because I like writing and fiction didn't come naturally to me. However, I've seen people better understand their communities because of articles I wrote, and that's humbling and exhilarating.

CM: I understand you published your first book earlier this year. What were some of the biggest challenges you faced during that process? CJW: I've worked in journalism for more than a decade, and so I'm accustomed to reporting and writing (and doing so quickly). I expected writing a book would be similar, albeit stretched over a longer time frame with a much higher word count.
After one or two interviews, though, I realized I needed a different approach. My book, "Muscle Shoals Sound Studio: How the Swampers Changed American Music," focuses primarily on a period from 1969 to the early '80s. The studio's work had already been covered by countless media outlets over the years, and it seemed silly to ask people to not only recount something that happened 45 years earlier, but also to retell stories they've shared over the years.
After that a-ha moment, I regrouped, shifting my focus to historical research and relying on interviews to fill in the gaps. It was a daunting task, but I found myself grateful for my history of journalism professor, who required us to use dozens of primary sources in his class.
CM: What were some of the best parts? CJW: Easily, the most fun was reading old Rolling Stone album reviews and periodically realizing songs I love had been recorded in my home state. I already knew about a number of them, of course, but I had no idea George Michael had tracked a version of "Careless Whisper" here.
CM: How has it been received? CJW: The reception has exceeded my expectations! Just this morning--nearly four months after the book's release--I signed 170 copies for a single order. I'm fortunate that so many people are interested in this story, and I think that's a testament to the incredible music recorded there.
CM: How do you balance authorship, your editorial job and freelancing? CJW: It's a constant struggle. My primary role is managing editor at Birmingham magazine, and I frequently check myself to ensure I'm not neglecting my duties. I'm fortunate to work with supportive people and in a flexible environment, but that could be a recipe for disaster if I weren't vigilant about getting my work done and maintaining the magazine as my No.-1 professional priority.
I primarily write freelance stories and books at night and--when a deadline looms--on weekends. However, I try to be judicious about how I use my time. I often have to decline last-minute invitations to spend time with friends because of assignments, but I try to regularly spend quality time with the people closest to me. Most weekends, I'm hanging out with my boyfriend and putting writing to the side. That makes weeknights spent in front of the computer a bit easier. (Plus, my cats love it. They think writing time is snuggle time!)
When book deadlines draw near, I also cut back on the amount of freelancing I do. I have a couple of regular clients (most notably BookPage), and I don't like to put those relationships on hold. However, there were a couple of months earlier this year when I didn't accept BookPage assignments because I needed to focus on my manuscript, and my editor and friend, the fabulous Trisha Ping, understood. I frequently pitch other publications, but I try not to overschedule myself. (The key word here is try.)
CM: What's next? CJW: I've got a second book, a history of beer in Birmingham, scheduled for release in the spring. That, too, will be published by The History Press. After that, who knows? While history is immensely satisfying to research and write, my true love is narrative nonfiction. I'm always brainstorming ways to move in that direction, and perhaps blend the two.
Bonus: Carla Jean's must-have list for writers:
Writer's Digest (worth every cent. Please subscribe.)
Scratch magazine (I love, love, love this digital-only publication. It works to remove the mystery in the relationship between writers and money, and I've learned so much as a result. Their "Who Pays Writers?" database is also wonderful.)
Quill (the magazine of the Society of Professional Journalists)
Longform (I am obsessed with their podcast!)
And Pocket for keeping it all organized.

Whiskey Trail: Day Three

Charles with one of their fermenters Day three included visits to Woodford Reserve and Wild Turkey. Out of all the distilleries we visited, these were the two that were least familiar to me. My introduction to American whiskey was through Jack and Cokes or whiskey and ginger ale highballs. Woodford wasn't as well known within my college circles, and if we were going to buy whiskey, it would probably be Beam or Jack.

One of the coolest parts of each tour was their master distiller. At Woodford, Chris Morris showed us around and answered my (many) questions about booze, history, classifications, and boozy science. Outside of the nerdery, the campus was gorgeous. Theirs is the oldest working bourbon distillery in the country. It's beautiful, and holds the distinction of being a National Historic Landmark.

Jimmy Russell is awesome.

The coolest part of visiting Wild Turkey was getting to hear from Jimmy Russell. He's been making whiskey there for 60 years (!!!) and knows or knew every important player in the bourbon game. In fact, he's been making bourbon for ten years longer than bourbon was legally required to be made within the U.S.

He's also friendly. When he found out I was from Alabama, he said, "Well, War Eagles!" We were able to get him into storytelling mode, and he told anecdotes about his friends, bourbon and changes in legislation. He's a living part of bourbon history, and I want to collect his stories.

The third day was also where the journalists started hanging out and talking less cautiously. After dinner, we came back and spent time sipping Seelbach Cocktails in the Seelbach Hotel bar. Unfortunately, we weren't able to tour the Rathskeller speakeasy area due to time constraints.

I also realized on this day (Wednesday) that I wanted to come back. The science and history and picky details of whiskey production are amazingly interesting, and I want to learn as much as I can about them. There's only so much you can glean from online sources, and I want more. I'll for sure be back.

How Not To Live Your Dreams

I'm on the American Whiskey Trail* and I'm writing. Some of the pubs of my bucket list have accepted my writing on the topic. It's intoxicating. Literally. But I've spent a lot of time not doing a damn thing to further my writing. Sometimes I spend the day as the middle of a blanket burrito wondering what I did to someone in a past life to suck so much. The experiences leading up to the crappy days have taught me how I can avoid living my dreams, and I thought I'd share:

1. Distrust your intuition. In business, it's good to make well-reasoned decisions, but if you have a squicky feeling about a setup, follow your gut. It's easier to walk away amicably before crap gets real than afterwards. 2. Don't write anything down. I'm probably not going to remember what I have to get done today if it's not logged in a to-do list. Last month, I had an idea for a novel...and didn't bother to write it down. It was something about a woman and a dog or a unicorn, but it was bestseller-quality. 3. Let rejection dictate your day. Just stahp. What can you learn from this and do better next time? Can you reshape it to mesh with another publication's needs? If yes, do it, then eat ice cream and binge watch Arrow. Not the other way around. 4. Procrastinate. Believe me, I'm a BOSS at putting off assignments I dread. But it also makes me a hostage to my whims rather than indulging them off the clock. Just do it, man. 5. Go at it alone. If it wasn't for my friends, I'd be in an asylum. They're my support group and cheering squad and wine -- I mean book -- club wrapped into one, and I'd be a mess without them. They're also quite literally the only reason I started writing journalistically and have the resources to keep doing badass work.

*More on that later.

IMG_2059.JPG

How To Pitch An Idea: Honest edition

Photo credit to Mary Katherine Morris Photography Creating article ideas is easy. Getting them to print is much more challenging. In my four years of freelancing, I've gotten better at framing ideas for specific publications and figuring out what would fit at what publication. What follows is my process for sharing my ideas with others.

1. Record a flash of brilliance. It doesn't have to be perfectly formed, but if it doesn't make it into one of my many notebooks, I'll start playing with Tessie and it'll be gone.

2. Google it. Before you even consider finding a market, search the topic. If my idea has been covered, I'll try to find a more creative angle to us as an approach. If my exact topic has been covered, that item stays in my notebook, but gets put on the back burner until I can figure out how to tackle it.

3. List publications. If this article could fit at one of my bucket list publications, I'll pitch it there first. If/when it gets rejected, I can restructure the idea and present it to one of my mainstays.

4. Draft the pitch e-mail. Obsess over every comma, word choice, and sentence structure. After the content is out of my brain, I reshape it (and reshape it and reshape it) until it blends the publication's voice and style with my own.

5. Hit send. My usual ritual is to close one eye, stare warily at the screen, pray for minor errors, and click. Then I jump back and watch it leave my computer and freak out.

6. Wait. Now that it's sent, what tiny and idiotic errors did I make in the e-mail? OH GOD, I MISPLACED A COMMA.

7. Keep waiting. Don't give in to self-doubt. Editors are busy people, and if I don't hear back within a week, I'll send a follow up message.

Content and Context: Cocktail Syrups

Behind the bar at Octane. Photo credit to Mercedes Tarasovich-Clark. Hi, my name is Clair, and I'm a nerd. For more than a year now, I've been writing a column for mentalfloss.com on cocktail chemistry. This setup combines my love of science with my passion for classic cocktails, and helps me to find new ways to communicate complex topics in food science.

Recently, I've been thinking a lot about flavored syrups: grenadine is used in a surprising number of classic shaken whiskey drinks, and other flavored syrups can class up a simple drink in a hurry. There are many, many ways to make syrups, but they all have their pros and cons. Check it out: How To Make Flavored Cocktail Syrups.

Content and context: "Time Crunch"

I'm obsessed with my #tinyTARDIS Hey, it's a new section on my blog! As I mentioned at the beginning of Write Like Crazy, I'll be posting little blurby entries about articles that are published this month. Since I write for publications that span weddings, Birmingham, farming, UAB, cocktails, nerdiness and general interest, the content within this section should add a lot of variety to the general blog.

Even with all that experience, it's still difficult for me to write about things that are going on in my own life. This Love, Inc. article was especially difficult. Not only did it deal with a very personal decision (moving up the wedding date), but it also forced me to decide how much detail-obsessiveness I could own. In all honesty, I've pretty much planned the bulk of the wedding or have set things in motion to finish it out.

So, for all you soonlyweds and curious kids out there, here's Time Crunch: 3 Things To Do When You Move Up The Date.

Shake it off: Wednesday confessions

Crafty balls. After bartending last night, I slept in today. The result: a compulsion to share everything with you and a need for puppy cuddles. To satisfy the second item, I've trapped Tessie on the couch with me. To fulfill the first, I've put together a list of eight things you probably don't need to know about me.

1. I don't like pants. Or clothing in general. Really, it's mostly a hatred of shopping for new clothes when old ones wear out. It's time-consuming, and for a 6'1" woman, expensive. I don't like spending money or judging my body, so shopping is a generally poor experience.

2. I'm clumsy. Adam calls me Baby Giraffe. If I'm leaning on a counter, there's a 40 percent chance I started falling over and tried to make it look cool. I probably shouldn't be allowed to own a high temp glue gun. Oh well. Thanks, Internet!

3. I'm crafty. I love knitting, sewing, and making things by hand. In preparation for the wedding, Adam's helped me make five textured paper balls out of coffee filters, wiffle balls, and hot glue.

4. Taylor Swift's music is catchy. And I don't hate (most of) it.

5. Music Through The Night is rad. In fact, I listen to it on the way home after almost every shift.

6. Vodka isn't my thing. Whiskey and beer are. But if vodka is your spirit of choice, order it proudly -- the most important part of a drinking experience is that you're happy with what you consume.

7. Writing isn't a hobby. It's what gets me out of bed, keeps me moderately sane, and puts my mind in order. It's not a hobby or a passing fancy -- it's my trade. I use that skill to make money.

8. I vote. And I believe that each adult within the U.S. political system has a responsibility to educate themselves on the issues and exercise their political voice, both in and out of the voting booth. With that said, if you exercise your first amendment rights on Facebook approximately 1,293 per week, I maintain the right to hide your posts.

Post title from either the Florence + The Machine song or the Taylor Swift song of the same name.

Lessons from dog

IMG_1971 Last January, Adam and I adopted a gorgeous little Chesapeake Bay retriever/golden retriever blend* from Decatur Animal Services. Tessie's a rambunctious, affectionate dog who will bounce up and down next to you if she's excited, and loves playing fetch. She loves people, but will act out to test her boundaries.

As I've said before, she's taught me some important lessons about life -- and about writing. Tessie's older now, and as she's matured, she's taught me more about how to value the important things in life.

Go after big challenges. Tessie tries to pick up sticks that are longer than she is every time we go for a walk. If given the chance, she'll lay down and chew them into bite-sized pieces. Like sticks, challenges can be broken into tiny, manageable steps until it's doable. But you won't know that until you face it, pick it up, and carry it around for a while.

Show your people you love them. Retrievers are some of the most loving animals, and want to please you above all else. They will chew up your stuff, and maybe even some of your favorite stuff, but you'll forgive them for it. Even if you discipline them, they'll still want to cuddle later. People make intentional and unintentional mistakes every day. Love them anyways.

Don't forget to play. Everyone needs some time with friends to let off steam. Have fun. Make memories. Be silly.

Friends sit. There's a lot to say for just being present. Sometimes, it's not possible or appropriate to say anything at all, and being there can say more than anything. Your human friends might not pet you, but being there can be as comforting as petting your dog.

Everybody messes up. One night, Adam and I came home to a puppy that had moved an unopened bottle of Noah's Mill bourbon and chewed through the wax and cork. She had spilled most of the whiskey and lapped up a bit of it, and she was tipsy. I was pissed, but since we didn't know how much she'd drunk, I was more worried. We stayed up with her for a while to make sure she was drinking water, had food, and was OK. I checked on her a couple times during the night, and we took her running the next day. Friends, coworkers, family -- everybody makes mistakes.

Be unafraid. Even if a bigger (or more self-important) dog is in your face, it doesn't mean that you won't prevail. Stick to your guns, and don't let anyone push you into doing something that makes you ethically or professionally uncomfortable.

*That was the pound's best guess to her lineage. She was a stray, so they can't say for certain.