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Christmas Music That’s Not About Christmas: A Seasonal Playlist For The Masses


Being unemployed gives me lots of free time to do magical things, like taking my time when determining whether or not seasonal Coffee-Mate is worth the extra few dollars and reading through some of the articles I wrote for the newspaper I used to be editor of. I recently came across one of my favorites, titled “Christmas Music That’s Not About Christmas.” I wrote it when I worked at Gap and was surrounded by Christmas music for five hours straight, three days a week.

I grew to despise the constant holiday music, but felt conflicted because of how much I truly love the season. I crave the cold weather and rainy days that allow me to wear my rain boots; I enjoy the chill I get when I start my car in the morning and have to wait for the heater to warm up; and I love being able to wear super-soft socks to bed without kicking them off in the middle of the night. Simply put, I love the coziness that ensues as a result of the cold weather. It reminds me of the simpler days, when I was a seven-year-old girl who, along with her younger sister, created a winter wonderland for her dollhouse people. Our bedroom was filled with the sounds of Martina McBride’s Christmas album, and our carpet was covered in fake snow and a mirror that had been transformed into an ice-skating rink.

It was a magical time for all involved (especially the teenage dollhouse person who was able to kiss her boyfriend under the mistletoe). Memories like these used to invoke a deep love of Christmas songs, but working in retail completely ruined it for me. So I came up with a playlist of some of my favorite songs that have a cold-weather, holiday-esque vibe to them so I could continue to have a musical connection to the season without being reminded of the destroyed sweater display I had to refold earlier in the day. The playlist is categorized by band, below.

Fleet Foxes: Suitable for cabin trips and long drives through snowy mountains.

"White Winter Hymnal"

This song is about children in scarves walking through the snow. It has the same kind of structure that many of the more traditional Christmas songs have, but with a much more intellectual and symbolic story to tell. It’s fun to sing along to, and it makes road trips seem much shorter and more adventurous.

"Oliver James"
This song is a simple addition to a “sit by the fire and read a Steinbeck novel” playlist, as it is leisurely and has lyrics about Oliver James, who is lost in the rain (typical weather for the holiday season).

"English House"
This song is absolutely beautiful. The melodies are pleasant, relaxing and perfectly suited to waking up in the arms of your significant other as you look forward to a delicious mug of pumpkin spice coffee (note: seasonal Coffee-Mate is definitely worth the extra few bucks).

"Blue Ridge Mountains"
This song is perfect for the holiday season, as it begins with a message to the lyricist’s brother about how he missed his connecting flight to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Tennessee. Such a situation is common during travels from state to state, and many listeners can sympathize. They can then sing along to the beautiful remainder of the song as they wait sadly and anxiously for their family member to arrive safely at the airport.

Beware of "Icicle Tusk"
This tune has a wintery title but is in no way comforting or Christmassy. It’s about murdering the father of a coal miner’s daughter. Don’t put this on any holiday playlist.

The National: Suitable for intellectual holiday gatherings at which you discuss the true meaning of Christmas, the psychology behind telling children that Santa exists and the religious overtones of the holiday season.

"Green Gloves"
Though the lyrics of this song are a bit invasive, the speed of it is perfect for the idling conversations one has as the night grows late and the spiked apple cider settles into a satisfied stomach. The deepness of the lead singer’s voice greatly influences the quality of conversation because it makes people feel wiser.

With the lyrics, “Hang your holiday rainbow lights in the garden,” "Gospel" is one of the only songs on this list that actually mentions the holidays. It’s mellow and uses the piano as its primary form of instrumentation. Most intellectuals can play the piano, so this is a perfect way to show your friends that you appreciate the instrument as well.

Belle & Sebastian: Suitable for catching up with high school friends when back in your hometown for Christmas break.

"The Fox In The Snow"
This is yet another great morning song. When waking up to the first snow of the season, one is often overwhelmed by how pure everything appears to be. To take such feelings even further, analyze the lyrics of this song while you wait for the heater to warm up your cinnamon-scented living room.

"Winter Wooskie"
The lyrics of this song are also about snowy weather, as well as the things one ponders when they see a pretty girl. It’s sweet and lightly romantic, which is perfect because no one wants anything heavy on his or her shoulders when they’re wearing pounds of cold weather clothing.

Beach House: Oh, the irony. Beach House’s older albums are suitable for rainy, cloudy, darkly cold days that inspire nostalgic thoughts about the wonders of childhood.

For some, Christmas was most important back when Santa still existed, and the lyrics of this song are reminiscent of toys and the “heartbreak of our loss,” which, for the purposes of this article, can be interpreted as referring to the loss of the mystery that is Santa Claus.

"All the Years"
This song is a perfect sing-along-song for the hot showers that are taken only as a means of warming your ice-cold body if you can’t afford to turn on your heater. It also contains dreamy lyrics about icicles in heaven, which is where Jesus is, so it can tie in to the true meaning of Christmas as well, if you so wish.

"I Do Not Care For The Winter Sun"
Daylight savings is exciting for most of us who enjoy darker night because we can light our fires sooner and feel cozier longer. Beach House can relate, and the simplicity of the song reflects the simplicity of nature, snowflakes and shorter days.

Beirut: Suitable for those who would rather be in Europe over the holidays. Interestingly enough, the lead singer of the band was influenced by Eastern European music, which is geographically where a decent amount of Christmas folklore originated.

"Forks and Knives (La Fete)"
For those that live in a snowy place, play this song while venturing out in a coat and boots to go Christmas shopping, followed by a cold-weather lunch with a friend. The song could very well inspire you to go into a Hallmark store and admire the many Christmas figurines and stuffed animals. But, whatever you do, don’t read the lyrics. They will certainly take away the wintery effect of the music.

"La Banlieu"
This song continues the ideas conveyed in "Forks and Knives," but in a lyric-less way that leaves the song completely open to interpretation. It is best suited for a very formal Christmas party at which your parents are in attendance and the Christmas tree is color-coordinated with red and gold ornaments.

Memoryhouse: Suitable for evenings that consist of writing about meaningful relationships that really make you think about who you are as a young, independent woman with a soft spot for cold weather.

This song is about getting cold with someone you can’t stop thinking about, and it has a bit of a nostalgic undertone to it. Perfect for a season that emphasizes family, friends and weather.

If you still think that it is absolutely necessary to listen to Christmas classics, however, Sufjan Stevens’ Christmas song collection is quite entertaining, as is a friend of mine’s favorite, A Christmas Together, by John Denver & The Muppets. One of the most beautiful Christmas albums of our time, however, is Martina McBride’s White Christmas. Odd, but true, and easy to play on repeat while you open the mounds of gifts under the tree on Christmas morning. And let us not forget the beauty of Hanson and Christina Aguilera’s respective Christmas albums. Those were by far my favorite to sing along to in the backseat of my mom’s Saturn on the way to Grandma’s house.

Having written all of this, I must admit that I splurged on the absolutely adorable A Very She & Him Christmas LP, and it has undoubtedly renewed my love for traditional Christmas music. The simplicity of the album, as well as the choice of songs and the timelessness of Zooey Deschanel’s voice, remind us of what the holiday season is really about: the comfort of feeling loved by, and enjoying the company of, family and friends, whether or not gifts are exchanged.



How Beyonce Changed My Life


I’ve recently become more stressed than usual about my finances. This is most likely because I’m going to have to start paying back some of my student loans next month, and also because I had an expensive post-Halloween-celebration-hangover-breakfast that included a $10 Bloody Mary (woops). I think it’s safe to say that my college education and a night out with my friends were both money well spent, yet, I still feel guilty, and have unsubscribed from banking alerts that tell me when my balance is dangerously low, solely because they make me cry. This may or may not be a good thing.

So what did I do to fix this? I watched the 20-minute Beyonce documentary, Year of 4. Though I didn’t make money while watching this gem of a short film, I was reassured that because I am a strong-willed, hard-working young woman who knows what her passion is, I can and will succeed in whatever I plan to do with the rest of my life. I never thought a documentary about a world-famous pop star would inspire the likes of me, a former indie-music snob who refused to listen to Top 40 radio (my outlook has recently changed, and I love Beyonce, Britney and Rihanna equally), but Beyonce truly has a way with words. Here are some quotes from the film that really made me fall in love with the extremely talented musician, as well as my current lifestyle and future plans.

1. “I don’t need people to think for me.”
Everyone has something to say to those of us that are unemployed. Though the things they say are often words of encouragement, or the common, “You’re not the only college grad in this position,” others are full of advice. Trust me guys, I know that I can search Craigslist and LinkedIn for jobs, and that new ones come up every day, and that I should just apply to everything because it doesn’t hurt, and that I should check in on resumes I’ve sent out and that I shouldn’t give up. I, like Beyonce, don’t need people to think for me. When they try to do so, it simply makes me feel like I have to prove myself to them or defend my actions and let them know that I’m already doing what they tell me to do. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate their interest, but what I’d appreciate more is an actual job. So, advice-givers, how about an entry-level position at the company you currently work for? That’s what I thought. I’ll find the right job when it’s the right time, and I’m already doing my best to make this time the right time. It’s tough out there for us writers and editors fresh out college, but we’ll find a way to make it work. We always do. Please note, however, that there are certain types of advice-givers that are exempt from this, and they are named Mom and Dad. Their advice is different than that of New York Times columnists and 20-somethings who work for their parents. It’s much more relevant because they know you better than anyone else, especially when it comes to how hard you’ve worked to get where you are today.

2. “You can’t be too comfortable and too confident [in your line of work].”
One day I will not be unemployed, and I’m sure that on that day I will feel a lot more comfortable with my financial situation, and a lot more confident in my work abilities. But hearing Beyonce, who is essentially a walking empire, say that you can’t be too comfortable and too confident was eye opening for me. Just because someone will one day want to hire me doesn’t mean I’m the most skilled in the field or guaranteed to have that job forever. If I were to become too comfortable or confident, I would most certainly lose sight of what was important, and what is important is to continue growing as a person and employee. We can always do better when it comes to our jobs, and its unsafe to think otherwise.

3. “You should be doing it just because you love it.”
I decided a long time ago that I didn’t need a job that would enable me to make millions. I realized that what’s important to me is happiness, love, relaxation, comfort and being satisfied with my life outside of the workplace. While money can certainly help with some of those aspects, it’s not necessary. This is why I’m happy with my life right now. Though I barely make enough to get by, I’m doing things that I love to do on a regular basis. For example, I don’t get paid to write for this website, nor do I get paid to write for Cat Tales, a non-profit newsletter for a non-profit, no-kill cat shelter in Escondido, California. But being able to write for these two outlets is so unbelievably satisfying that I put my heart and soul into the words I type, and talk about them incessantly to my friends and family. These two writing gigs are what make me feel like I’m doing something with my life, and it gives me hope that I will always be happy as long as I’m writing.

Watching Year of 4 while drinking coffee and taking notes on my server notepad was a really important moment for me. It revealed to me in the clearest of ways that writing is what I want to do, and a writer is what I am. But most of all, it showed me that even if I don’t get paid to do what I am most passionate about, every article, column and story that I write is still an accomplishment that I should be proud of.

The documentary also reassured me that it’s okay to be taking time off between working hard in college and working hard in an office. I used to feel guilty about not yet having a career job, but I now see that I earned this break and should be using this time to learn more about who I am outside of school and work. Trust me, I’m learning a lot.

Thank you, Mindy Kaling, for recommending this documentary on your blog. It forever changed my outlook on what it means to be successful, and what it takes to get there.



The Simple Pleasures of the Unemployed


Once upon a time, I lived my life believing that after I graduated from college I would immediately begin a career in publishing or editing. Then, the Editor in Chief job I had lined up fell through at the last minute. Rather than starting my job hunt over immediately, I spent the day of my last final on my couch with my cats, drinking beer, crying and watching Ryan Gosling movies on Netflix. Some may call this a panic attack, but I call it what it feels like when reality sucker-punches you in the face.

But, whatever, right? Now I have all of the free time in the world to do whatever I want, whenever I want. But my options are very limited, seeing as how I barely make enough money as a part-time waitress to cover my rent and car payment. I am well-known by dollar menus everywhere, and I’m also known to haggle at thrift stores (embarrassing, but true). Though I am extremely close to reaching my credit card limit thanks to gas and groceries, I am somehow still holding my life together, and I believe it is because I have fully embraced the simple pleasures of being unemployed (as a full-time employee). Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Taking long showers at 2 a.m.: Back when I was a student with morning classes, there was nothing worse than having to wake up extra early to take a shower. I am notorious for taking showers that are no shorter than 20 minutes, whether or not I shave my legs. Now that I’m unemployed and classless, I can take showers whenever I want and for however long I want, and I choose to do so at 2 a.m., right before I’m ready to snuggle up with my pillows, cats and boyfriend and go to sleep. Recently, however, my roommate told me that if I want to take showers at 2 a.m., I should take them outside in the sprinklers. We’ll see how the next few weeks unfold.

2. Eating breakfast at 2 p.m.: I’ve never been able to eat breakfast before noon, so indulging in coffee, an English muffin and an avocado as soon as I wake up at 2 in the afternoon is absolutely wonderful. I suppose being unemployed and full is better than being employed and hungry, right? Sure, why not.

3. Watching entire seasons of shows in one sitting: Some might say that Netflix is turning my brain into mush, but I’m learning more than I ever thought I would about meth labs and high school football. Thanks to the immeasurable free time I’ve been given by the selfish gods of full-time employment, I am able to watch whatever’s on Netflix for hours and hours and hours. I started my summer binge with Friday Night Lights, and spent many an episode with Matt Saracen and Tim Riggins. The three of us had seven seasons worth of fun in about a month. It was incredible. And then I got into drugs, a la Breaking Bad, a show that has simultaneously made me vomit in my mouth and yell at my T.V. screen. Poor Jesse. He’s so loveable (and hot), yet so, so stupid. Now, on to Parenthood!

4. Being able to go dancing on weeknights: I have recently turned into a dance-a-holic. I dance in my car when I drive (unsafe), I dance in bars full of creepy guys (unsafe) and I dance when I’m eating delicious food (just plain embarrassing). I simply can’t help it – I love to express my joy through movement. Since hangovers can’t negatively influence my mornings anymore, I can go out dancing any night I want, free of consequence…kind of. Maybe I should take up Zumba.

5. Being able to spend hours on Pinterest: Pinterest.com is a website that my mom introduced me to. Users are able to create virtual pinboards (like bulletin boards) and “pin” things that they find online and are compelled to share with friends and strangers alike. Popular pins include DIY crafts, wedding dresses, hairstyles and adorable animals. My pinboards consist of things I’d like to have but can’t afford, like that Alexander McQueen clutch with the skull or the Jeffery Campbell platforms that all the models wear. In my opinion, it’s more satisfying than pretending to online shop because I look at pinning as a way to plan what I’ll buy when I get that real job I went to college for. My business attire is going to be INSANELY, well, insane.

6. I can still dream big, huge even: Since I’m not tied down by a career here in San Diego, I can daydream about spending the rest of my life writing novels in the mountains or becoming a local florist in a small town, or a columnist for a big-city newspaper, like Owen Wilson in Marley & Me, puppy included. I’ve recently started sketching jewelry designs even. My future is even more wide open than I thought it was when I started college. Who knew that not getting a job could be so inspirational?

7. Having the ability to communicate with friends via long Facebook letters: Phone tag sucks. It always has, it always will. But so does trying to find an adequate amount of time to respond to friends across the country, and in other countries at that. Thanks to Facebook and getting to go to “work” at 5:30 p.m., I am able to lounge in my bed (no office chairs or hovering bosses for me!) while writing long, detailed messages to the people I miss dearly. It’s ridiculously heartwarming and cozy.

8. Having clean clothes all of the time: Back when I was in school, my closet would be full of clothes, none of which were clean. I’d go through all of them (and that’s saying a lot) before I ever once had time to even think about doing laundry. Laundry became such a stressful, daunting task that it would actually make me angry, and because of this, newly clean clothes would never end up on hangers or in drawers. It was messy. But now, I do laundry once a week in small doses. Finally, I feel accomplished.

9. Having the option to go to the movie theater for 10 p.m. showings of new releases, particularly Ryan Gosling films: Because I don’t have to wake up at 6 a.m. to get ready for work at a downtown office, I get to catch a late-night movie with my younger sister whenever I want. Our most recent movie venture was the midnight showing of Paranormal Activity 3. It’s a good thing I’m unemployed because I wasn’t able to fall asleep until it was light outside.

10. Getting to spend as much time in thrift stores as I feel like: In my opinion, it’s pointless to go to thrift stores if you don’t have time to browse every rack and every shelf full of knick-knacks. The stress of missing out on a one-of-a-kind item that I could have purchased for $2 can easily ruin my day. Now that I have a full 12 hours to spend in such charitable shops, thrifting has become a relaxing release for both my bored mind and my wallet. You should see how much leopard-print clothing I have in my closet now. And my weird mug collection has completely taken over the second shelf of my kitchen cupboard. Seriously, my life is fabulous.



Interview With Larry Gray

Cat Tales

Many cats and kittens call the Friends of Cats shelter home. It is where some were born, where some were taken and where some will spend the rest of their lives. As such, it is important for them to feel comfortable and safe in their habitat, and the only way to achieve this is to make sure every aspect of the shelter is in working condition.

As us humans know, having repairs done at home can be quite costly. Whether it be a plumbing problem or a leak in the roof, money is required to ensure a decent fix. This can be stressful for a shelter that relies on donations, and that’s where Larry Gray comes into play.

Gray is what Friends of Cats calls their jack-of-all-trades. Not only does he hang out with the cats that reside at the shelter, but he also fixes things so as to better the cats’ safety and well being – for free.

“I’m predisposed to doing charity things,” Gray said. “It was really something when I was asked if I could help out at Friends of Cats… They give me a little direction and then I’m just on my own to do what I do.”

And he certainly does a lot. Currently, Gray is replacing the ceiling inside the unit in which pregnant cats have their kittens. The dry-wall ceiling had collapsed, so Gray decided to replace the entire thing. In the past, Gray has replaced windows and window sills that were damaged by termites, as well as a door that had a tendency to spring open if it wasn’t latched correctly – an inconvenience that could have resulted in cats escaping. His favorite project, however, was installing cabinets in the clinic area of the shelter.

Gray came across some exceptional cabinets at the home of a woman he does home maintenance for. She gave them to him, and he used them to create wall-to-wall custom-built cabinets for Friends of Cats. Gray cut the cabinets down to size so they could fit along the length of one wall, and added glass doors to them as well.

“They look really nice with the glass doors,” Gray said. “It’s nice that they can put the medical supplies behind glass doors instead of on mismatched open shelves.”

One of Gray’s future maintenance plans involves putting stained-glass windows in the Cozy Cottage.

“Something that really struck me is the Cozy Cottage,” Gray said. “It’s for the cats of people who passed away or can no longer care for their cats. They prearrange to have their cats taken care of for the rest of their lives… I always make a point of going into that unit.”

It is apparent that Gray is an animal lover at heart. He has been visiting the furry residents of Friends of Cats for over 10 years, and volunteering his fix-it skills for the last three months, usually on weekends. Aside from doing work at the shelter, he spends about four months out of the year house-sitting and pet-sitting for the people he does home maintenance for.

Gray also has three cats of his own, named Cinnamongray, Maya and The “Waah-Waah” Kitty, so-named because of the “rwow-rwow” noise she makes on a regular basis. “They are my children, but with cat-like features,” Gray said. “My whole world revolves around them,” a statement with which I’m sure we can all relate.

If Gray’s story gives you the charity itch, there are a variety of ways in which you can help Friends of Cats, as well as Gray himself. Besides donating materials like vinyl siding or sheeting, decorative rocks and woodchips are always in demand for the shelter’s landscaping. If your schedule doesn’t allow for physical volunteer work, monetary donations are always appreciated.

According to Gray, “People could help out the most by signing up for a membership or making a donation and signing up for Cat Tales. Get in touch with April [Volunteer Coordinator] or Janet [Shelter Manager] to help out with volunteering. Even just making regular trips over to get acquainted with the cats and give them contact with people helps.”

Gray serves as an inspiration to all of us here at the shelter, and we are excited to see his future finished projects.



Interview with Janet Bianchini

Cat Tales

Friends of Cats is always welcoming new personalities to our family. Usually these personalities come to us in the form of cats, but recently we added a new human – Janet Bianchini.

Sharing our passion for animal rescue, Bianchini, took over as Shelter Manager on April 11 of this year. Having grown up with a variety of pets, Bianchini understands and appreciates our mission here at Friends of Cats, and we are happy to have her expertise at the shelter.

“My passion for animal rescue definitely comes from my parents,” Bianchini said. “We always had cats as pets, and they were always strays that we found or our neighbors found and gave to us.”

It was this passion for the well being of others that led Bianchini to receive her masters in social work, and subsequently work in the field for 10 years.  Though her work was mostly with developmentally delayed adults, Bianchini never lost her passion for animal rescue.

“When [my husband and I] moved to San Diego, our real estate agent put us in touch with Chihuahua Rescue of San Diego,” Bianchini said. “We started fostering one dog at a time, but now it is pretty common for us to have six dogs at a time in our house. It has been such a rewarding thing in my life to give these dogs that have been literally and figuratively thrown away a new chance at life.”

About six months ago, Bianchini realized that she wanted to dedicate more of her time to working with animals. “I was aware of Friends of Cats,” she said, “but I had never been out to the shelter. I was excited to get the opportunity to come on board as the shelter manager… It is such an honor to be the voice for these helpless animals and to hopefully make as big a difference in their lives as they are making in ours.”

Bianchini’s workday at Friends of Cats consists of coordinating daily shelter activities. Though it is common for new management to make big changes when they take over leadership, Bianchini doesn’t plan on making any major changes until she fully sees how everything works. Some things she does plan on adding, however, are ways to market the shelter.

“Getting our shelter out there will raise awareness for the need for help to continue to help all of the cats and kittens at the shelter,” she said.

In getting the word out there, Bianchini will be able to accumulate funds to make necessary repairs to the shelter. “The Box Car has suffered roof damage and water damage. I am working to apply for grants to complete other repairs around the shelter, too.”

Outside of Bianchini’s shelter cats, she has two cats of her own that she rescued as kittens, 13-year-old Sammy and 9-year-old Penny, as well as two Chihuahuas, Luigi and Daisy. She is also still involved with Chihuahua Rescue of San Diego. We are excited to move forward with her and make life for the cats at our shelter even better.