Winter Is Coming

photoNo amount of coffee could get me out of bed this morning. (Okay, maybe it could. It probably could… it definitely did.) But mornings were so much more enjoyable when I didn’t have to unravel myself out of a cocoon that is my bed comforter or face the black hole that is a winter morning. Let’s get something cleared up right away: when cold days encroached on college campuses, you gave yourself the option to cancel your class. You thought, “Hey, attendance points, who needs you? What did you ever do for me?” (They actually probably saved your ass from a midterm, but hey no judgment here.) You could saunter into class a casual 15 minutes later and be relatively unnoticed. But now, now you have to be a human being.

The fact of the matter is,  Midwestern human beings really, really like talking about how cold it is outside. I got the go-ahead nod from my boss last night to leave work an hour early, just because it was icy outside. The plus side of this cold weather is that it’s no big deal if you leave your lunch leftovers in the car. Your vehicle is a fridge, to-go. We get to say words that are foreign to people outside the flyover states like, “Sleet.” “Slush.” “Black ice.” We get to take pride in the knowledge that there’s a difference between hot chocolate and hot cocoa. But most recently I’ve just been noticing how snowfall becomes a competition. It could snow all afternoon, but the real determining factor: “Yeah, but did it stick?”

Most of us are probably still welcoming these first few dustings. By the new year, perceptions of snow will start to shift: Snow. AS IF IT’S WARM ENOUGH TO SNOW. But until then, we can revel in being white girls while we snuggle up in sweaters with Starbucks and romcoms. That is, until you get to the Starbucks drive-thru and realize your window has been frozen shut, leaving you to open your car door and jam yourself between the Starbucks exterior and the driver’s seat in order to get your drink from the barista, baking in his hut of heat.

You’re driving home, sitting on the edge of your seat as your peer through the 1×1 area of your windshield that isn’t fogged up. Is that a red light ahead? Nope. Brake lights. That was close. You take a casual look to your left and see a male figure in the car next to you. A recently pinned image of Ryan Gosling wrapped up in Christmas lights leads you to wonder – who is this potential holiday hottie? Suddenly you’re compelled to open your car door (window is still frozen shut) and offer a flirty, “Hey, how much windshield washer fluid can your car hold?” ‘Tis the season.

Personal side bar: what was with people telling me I wasn’t allowed to be cold because I’m from Minnesota? (Joke’s on you. I’m a Phoenix native.) The fact of the matter is that shouldn’t matter. I don’t give Iowans grief when they’re not constantly gnawing on a corn cob.

Anyway, here are some smart and quick ideas to keep the warmth this bone-chilling season.

1. Put blankets/clothes/towels in the dryer a few minutes before you plan on using them — nice and toasty.

2. Use lotion — even if you’re a dude. Scratch that. Especially if you’re a dude. We like when your beard is scruffy, but we don’t like when your skin feels the same way.

3. Avoid falls — easier said than done. But hey, not wearing Uggs would be a good start.

4. Heat up your car before you get in it — duh.

5. Focus on the good things — hot chocolate, Christmas music/presents/lights/movies, snow days, hockey/”hahckey”, spending extra time with family and friends.

Why It’s Okay If Running Isn’t Your Thang

nike running shoes in fall leavesEvery day on my way home from work, I see runners. They trot by on a crosswalk they invented, giving me the passively friendly wave — the Midwestern middle finger. I’m just thinking “Yep, go ahead. After you. I have nowhere to be. No pins to pin. No cats to pet. No denials to deny.”

But now running has been on my mind. And for the last month, I’ve been doing an okay job about running around a few times a week. But does that make me a runner? I feel like I don’t fit in. I mean, I obviously can’t wear a visor because I lack the spiky hair necessary to wear said visor.

Wanting to look the part, I went home to the heartland last month and paid a trip to MOA — the favorite place of anyone who doesn’t live in Minnesota. I had debated for three previous stores whether or not I would go into Lululemon. OH WHAT I WOULD GIVE TO HAVE THAT UPSIDE DOWN MINIATURE “U” WITH WINGS ON THE SIDE OF MY ASS. I’ll tell you what I would give — $80. Flat. Minnesota, hollaatcha no clothing tax.

I immediately sensed I was in a hostile environment. With 16-year-olds aplenty in their spandex and sweatbands (clearly at the MOA on a break from the best vball tourney eva), I couldn’t help but think: really? You’re going to pay a crisp bill for a pair of super stretched out yoga pants? I grinned, thinking I had the upper hand. Hah. I am an adult, with a paycheck and goals. Lost in my daydream of scooping Subway’s tunafish mix onto adolescents’ flawless shiny hair, the Lululemon worker caught me off guard.

“Hi! Do you need a dressing room?”

Little did she know I lived in a sorority for two years and actually preferred to strip down in the hallways. With a hazy remembrance of social norms, I decided to take her up on her gracious offer.

“Uhm……yeah?” Confident. Nice.

“Okay!” She bounced around, her blonde curls bouncing behind her. “What’s your name?” She smiled at me, pen-poised and ready to write my name on the dressing room door.

Hope you studied your consonants, girl.

Past this spelling-of-my-name hurdle that I come across all too often, I thought I was safe to retreat into my 3×7 box. I thought wrong. “Okay, Merritt!” So energetic. “What’s your favorite way to work out?!” Emphasis on the favorite, as if I had multiple activities to choose from.

Is this a trick question? I’m picturing wearing these with no shoes while I move from chair to couch in my apartment. I knew I couldn’t fake yoga. She’d probably make me say my favorite position. And while Happy Baby is one of the best stretches in the world, it wasn’t one I was about to pull out in front of all the Eden Prairie MILFs. Hmm could I go with an organized sport? Softball? I remember being good at that. #glorydays. Ugh no, then my new retail friend would want to set me up with a “really motivated girlfriend” of hers.

“I like to run.”

Lie.

She wrote it on the board, underneath her best attempt at my name.

I’ve tried running countless times. But you wanna know the problem with running? It’s not fun. Blah blah, “It feels so good when you’re done though!” Ever topped off a bottle of wine with your best friends? Talk about endorphins.

I tried on pairs of leggings in my personal box. You’d think that for 80 bucks they could’ve made my butt look way better. Discouraged, I peeled off the jet black layer of new skin and tossed them on the ground (and immediately picked them up. Hello they’re Lululemon.) But as I’m no longer a student, I couldn’t justify buying this pair of leggings. I’m not a runner, and I can’t wear them to work like I could’ve worn them to class. So I left the store, bagless.

When I decided that I wanted to pursue writing as more than just a hobby, I found solace in a book (for writers) by Monica Wood. She said it doesn’t matter if you’re published. It doesn’t matter if you write short stories, novels, feature stories or poems. If you write anything, anything at all, you are a writer. So don’t feel bad if you don’t “hit the pavement” every night; every night that you are out there and running is a night you are a runner.

During my run tonight, I saw a woman wearing a t-shirt that said, “To be your best, you have to forget the rest.” Normally, I’d throw up at that sort of cheesy phrase. But she smiled at me as we passed, and it made sense. Running isn’t for everyone else ever. If you’re doing it, it’s gotta be for you – just like anything that requires motivation. If going for a run makes you feel better, then you gotta do that. If doing 20 jumping jacks makes you feel better, then you gotta do that. If making an egg sandwich mixed with that sweet & sour sauce from Fong’s Pizza that’s been in our fridge for a week makes you feel good, you gotta eat that. As our Pawnee friends say, “Treat yo’self.” Whether that means to a run or to something else is up to you.

Top 10 Student Discounts

Because they don’t know you’re not a student, right? The only downside is for us Iowa State alums who may be on our ninth student ID but were forced to keep the freshman year pic. But most stores won’t notice – or they just won’t choose to call you out. Even if you are a recent grad, it’s not like you’re rolling in cash right away so use that student discount for what it’s worth! I’ve gotten into the habit of automatically asking the cashier if they offer a student discount. Some do not, but on more than one occasion, the cashier has been apologetic and searched for other coupons for me to use for my purchase. (That’s how you get returning customers, kids.) But I made a list of my top 10 favorite discounts.

1. Banana  Republic: 15% off

2. Buffalo Wild Wings: 10% off

3. J. Crew: 15% off

4. Madewell: 15% off

5. Steve Madden: 10% off

6. Chipotle: free drink with purchase

7. CorePower Yoga: special membership pricing

8. Verizon: 18% off your bill (random number, but hey we’ll take it)

9. Apple: 8% off (online or in-store)

10. AMC Movie Theaters: discounted movie tickets every Thursday

Budgeting: it’s a thing

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I hope it’s been a hard-working week! Here’s a quick read about a great way to start managing your finances.

In college I could justify spending $7 on a pitcher of Blue Moon, but I would never spend $7 on a movie ticket. I’d drop $20 on mug night and cheese balls but never on a manicure. I’d pick and choose what was important to me to spend money on — budgeting now is essentially the same idea. We can create different pockets of spending based on where we know our money will go. For example, I know I should budget out more money for gas than groceries because gas is where a lot of my paycheck goes. Budgeting is not a new concept, but the avenues to help you with it have changed. Let me introduce you to mint.com.

Mint.com gives you total visibility of your financial accounts. You decide your own budgets (for things like rent, gas, restaurants, booze, clothes, etc.) and because it’s linked with your bank, the site gives you graphs of how your funds are doing in each of those accounts you’ve budgeted. It’s free to sign up, and I love that the app gives me reminders of when bills are due or if I’m getting close to over-spending in a certain area. This system is much easier to check out on your own than to write or read about, so I encourage you to sign up! It might not solve all of your financial problems, but it’s an awesome start for anyone who’s wondering how to budget the money you do (or don’t) have.

Happy Friday, everybody! Hope you enjoy your weekend spending both money and time with what makes you happiest. I know I will be!

The $5 Alternative

It’s better than other addictions, right? And what’s five bucks in the grand financial scheme of life?

As it turns out, shelling out a crisp $5 bill to Starbucks each morning takes a toll on our bank account. It all seems so easy — we greet the overly-friendly barista, pass Abraham Lincoln’s face across the threshold and are presented with a heavenly cup of coffee that’s hellishly over-priced.

Throughout college, I tried waning my coffee addiction. The hardest part was that I enjoyed going into a coffee shop — the smells, the sounds, the people — because it made for an entire experience. I felt a connection to our coffee place on campus (which preceded an awkwardness when I would see baristas out that weekend, thinking we were friends when clearly we were not.) But I also felt a very light wallet as a result. Luckily for the caffeine-crazed, there is an alternative to the Starbucks, the Dunn Bros., the Caribou, the etc.

Making coffee at home can be just as much of an enjoyable experience. What? Why? How?

1. Quality “you” time. You don’t have interruptions from workaholic women wearing stilettos that pierce the tile floor as they demand caffeine. You don’t have the guy who takes forever to order what he believes to be a “cup of coffee.” And you don’t have jazz music that gets stuck in your head until the next morning when you’re back in there. (Vicious cycle.) Making coffee at home lets you focus on the task at hand and alleviates annoyances.

2. It’s flexible. You can make a small cup of coffee or 12 freaking cups. Think about the possibilities.

3. You can drink it while you wear your pajamas. Show me someone who’s unhappy in pajamas, and I’ll show you a liar.

4. It tastes just as good — seriously. At our place, my sister and I are big fans of Mr. Coffee Iced Coffee Cafe. Complete with a drink guide, it doesn’t skimp out on any favorite flavor add-ons, like caramel or mocha. Plus iced coffee is a perfect complement to summer.

5. It’s cheap! The (approximate) $10 you spend at a coffee shop for two cups of goodness could go toward purchasing a 1-pound bag that will last you weeks. And hey, if you’re living with Mom and Dad (no shame) there’s a good chance you can hop on a grocery trip with them add it to their tab.

Remember that you’re not alone. It’s not like you’re having a secret love affair with your fav coffee place. (Everyone probably sees you there.) There are plenty of us out there trying to get off the $5 coffee track (myself included), but even just being aware of other possible places or options to enjoy our daily fix can make a huge difference.