Never/Always: Splurge Edition

What people choose to spend their hard-earned money on is really telling of their personalities and priorities. If someone is willing to shell out substantial cash for the iPhone 782 6, but won’t buy two-ply toilet paper, I have some real questions about his or her significance in my life. Which leads me to today’s Never/Always topic:

11 Things on which I’ll ALWAYS Splurge

11 Things on which I’ll NEVER Splurge

These lists are not meant to be agreed upon by all, by the way. But if you’re not willing to splurge on martinis, you may not want to share that information with anyone. It’ll make you look undignified.


1. Guac. There’s a good chance that guac will end up on 50% of my Never/Always lists. Whether the extra $3 at Chipotle or $24 for a family-sized appy at Dos Caminos, count me in.

2. Starbucks. We all have a shameful indulgence. Mine is a $4.29 tall soy chai latte. Every single day. That is $30.03/week, $132.99/month, and $1,565.85/year. Um. I shouldn’t have done that math. I definitely should NOT have done that math.

3. Heels/boots. My version of splurging on shoes is probably still pretty cheap in the eyes of most women, but I’d rather buy a $200 pair of hunter boots or a $100 pair of basic pumps than get a $40 pair that fall apart after one aggressive night in NYC Georgetown Clarendon. Sandals, though? What’s up, Target.

4. Martini liquor. A basic gin and tonic at the local Irish pub? House gin, please. A before[√]during[√]after[√] dinner gin martini slightly dirty with extra olives (preferably bleu cheese-stuffed)? The good stuff, please. I don’t have time to brace myself for fiery pine needles before every swallow.


5. Self-tanner. If I’m forced to wear a strapless dress in a winter wedding or need to prepare for a tropical Christmas vacation, I have no qualms with loading up on Jergen’s Natural Glow. It’s about $10 more than it should be, but I’m not trying to scare off wedding guests or tourists with my pastiness.

6. Shampoo/Conditioner. Pantene Pro-V really does make your hair look like the commercials. Same with Bioceutica, but I’m only fancy enough to use the latter because a family member sends me excellent gift baskets.

7. Airport water bottles. They know that no matter how high they jack the price, everyone is forced to buy water only after they make it through strip searches security. It’s so maddening. I mean, a small price to pay for safety- yes, but charging more than $3 for a bottle of water is outrageous. And still I give in.

8. Work clothes. Business casual style doesn’t change rapidly like the fringe or crop top craze, so I’m going to get myself some double-stretch fancy pants from Banana Republic instead of the wannabes from New York & Co. Again, I know my idea of splurging is probably lame compared to most, but keep in mind that I’m a granny who gives zero flips about name brands.

9. Medicine. Name brands might not be important in my clothing choices, but I’m not getting some generic cold medicine that might not do its job. Ain’t nobody got time for Ebola.

10. Brand new books. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany.

11. Victoria’s Secret. 5 for $25? Couldn’t pass it up if I tried. Which may be why I have about 175 pairs of underwear.


1. Apps. With all the free apps out there, why would I ever buy something? I also don’t use apps, so this is probably a silly thing to include on this list.

2. Make-up. I know a lot of girls like their Mac or Bare Minerals or all the fancy stuff from Sephora, but take me to the make-up aisle at CVS and I’m good to go. Maybe this is why all my girlfriends look like supermodels when we go out and I’m the bumbling sidekick. I don’t know.

3. Jewelry. I have some gorgeous pieces of pricey jewelry (again, thanks to family members), but statement necklaces and every day earrings are all courtesy of Target and Forever Love. They’re going to break or get lost anyway.

4. Plane seat upgrades. The concept of first class is nice and all, but at the end of the day, I’m still sitting next to strangers and trying not to get caught reading over their shoulders.

5. Sunglasses. Only the most responsible people in the world should buy nice sunglasses.

6. Wine. You might be shocked that wine is on this list. The thing is, even though wine is my best friend, lover, and soulmate all rolled into one, I can find an awesome bottle for $8 or less, so I’m not going to buy a $40 vintage off the shelf. Also, when I want the really nice stuff, I can just turn on the puppy eyes when my dad takes me to dinner. #perksofstillbeingsingle

7. Cable. I survived living by myself for a year with nothing but Hulu. Not even Hulu Plus. Somehow, I managed to get by without talking to myself often or anything weird like that.

self five

8. A fancy car. The amount I care about cars is even less than my interest in Kim Kardashian’s latest selfie.

9. Cool-kid gym memberships. Expensive cardio machines with personal TVs attached to the front actually make me dizzy. I need to be able to look out at the sea of lunks on machines while I’m getting my cardio on, so high class gyms have no appeal, as they only house ellipticals with TVs five inches from my face.

10. Real plants. Decorative plants are beautiful and maybe someday I’ll graduate to a new level of home décor maturity, but I’m just not ready for that kind of commitment.

11. Electronics. I don’t know if you guys see a trend, but I don’t do gadgets. At the current rate, they all become old news within like, three months anyway.


I feel like you just learned a lot about me. My splurge tendencies exposed more than I wanted them to, so let this be a lesson to make wise choices, everyone.

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More Loyalty, Please

Chipotle. My brother. America. Wawa. ChapStick Moisturizer. CNU.

What do all of these things have in common?

My loyalty.

  • If someone asks where we should go to lunch and a Chipotle is within a five mile radius? Chipotle. But the lines are so long! But they never give the same portion twice! But you’ve had it for your last five meals straight! Don’t care. Going.
  • My brother is the kind of guy who texts me random selfies with my sister-in-law just to brighten my day and forces me to miss out on my precious sleep so that he can listen to me cry we can catch up over an extra drink. He could publicly dis Mindy Kaling and I’d still stand by his side. (Though given he’s a talent agent for comedians, I know he never would.)
  • America might be a little weird these days, what with school teachers in Nebraska no longer being allowed to call kids “boys and girls” because apparently acknowledging genders is now insulting (??), but I still tear up when “I’m Proud to be an American” plays during every 4th of July bar crawl.
  • The predicament: I have about 14 miles worth of gas left in my car, and a sign tells me there’s an Exxon in 2 miles and a Wawa in 14.5 miles. The decision: Wawa.
  • Not lying, I’ve gone to three different drugstores in a one mile stretch to find ChapStick Moisturizer (the blue tube) before buying Blistex, Carmex, or some other second-rate creation that doesn’t make my lips as kissable.
  • Our football stadium (yes, we have a team) may be smaller than the visitor’s bleachers at my high school, but when Christopher Newport University is mentioned on obscure lists of best emerging colleges in the nation, you better believe I swell up! I’ll be C-N-U around, fellow Captains. (ha.ha. …)

Loyalty is hard to come by these days. From relationships to sports teams, people jump ship as soon as something easier or more personally beneficial rolls around. A perfect example is the effect of fantasy football, where “loyal” fans find themselves rooting for someone on the opposing team since that person is on their fantasy team. Where’s the reverence? Where’s the devotion?

The “me” culture of the 21st century is responsible for the demise of a laundry list of once-popular characteristics, to include persistence, humility, and empathy. Loyalty is only one among the many endangered qualities in a jungle of stifling selfishness. Though not yet extinct, loyalty is more of a pleasant surprise than a collective expectation. Examples of unyielding faithfulness are generally applauded for their rarity, such as the couple celebrating their 81st  wedding anniversary  (<– click) or the employee who started in the mailroom and ended up as a principal in the same company (<– click). Though citing extreme examples, the general concept of someone sticking by another person or thing’s side- even when times get rough- is more heartwarming than ever before, because with rarity comes value and admiration. Like gold. Or on the opposite end of the spectrum, beanie babies.

oldest couple

John Betar, 102, and his wife Ann, 98, have been married longer than anyone else in the United States (81 years). [Thanks to Trinity Church in Va Beach for sharing their story on Sunday!]

Part of the problem is a fear of commitment. Choosing one thing means letting go of the idea of something “better” coming along. It means viewing an obligation as a respectable responsibility, not a dreaded requirement. If we are loyal to a person or thing over time, ups and downs are inevitable. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but not a single thing on this earth will ever be consistently phenomenal- except faith, but even that fluctuates due to our state of humanness. When we make the decision to be loyal to something, that decision is almost always made during an “up.” The challenge is to be aware during that initial decision that a “down” will eventually follow, often simultaneously with an “up” replacement. For example, someday your relationship will be in a rut, and at the same time you’ll meet someone new who seems incredible. Loyalty is sticking to your initial commitment, which is on its “down,” even when a tantalizing new “up” is dangling in front of your face. The same can go for your company or favorite brand.

This is not to say that every choice in life needs to be definite. Circumstances absolutely exist where the best move is to close a harmful chapter, but in the spirit of self-development, perhaps we should all choose one or two more things in life to pledge our loyalty. Even if it’s something as silly as Velveeta over Kraft, making the choice to stay loyal (going all the way to a different grocery store if the one you’re at doesn’t carry liquid gold Velveeta) will be a good reminder to not always give way to selfish convenience or personal gain.

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Bikini Talk: Exposing More Than Skin

I was honored to write a guest blog for Kandice Pelletier Swimwear, the official swimwear sponsor of Miss USA 2014. In the post titled Exposing More Than Skin, I explain how donning a bikini reveals more than just physical appearance. Click on the link below to read!


In my Kandice Pelletier swimsuit at Miss New York 2012!

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13 Polite Things that Are Not Actually Polite

In a world where basic please and thank yous are rare, this granny is immensely appreciative of rudimentary manners and polite gestures. Expressing consideration for others with respectful actions is a sure way to win me over, but certain courteous traditions are just awkward or inconvenient. Please refrain from the following:

1. Holding the door when I’m more than 10 feet away

I didn’t plan on taking a power walk or light jog when I got dressed this morning, but now I have to pick up the pace so that you don’t stare at me like I’m a lazy tortoise.


2. Waving me forward at a four-way stop

If it is your turn, please just go. Oh, you don’t know if it’s your turn? Did you pay off your driving instructor or something? How are you allowed on the roads?


3. Covering your mouth when eating

Putting your hand in front of your mouth actually draws more attention to your smacker than if you just openly chewed. And if you have so much food swirling about that you can’t possibly complete a close-mouthed chomp, might I suggest smaller bites.


4. Offering to carry something once I’m already loaded up and situated

The amount of effort it’d take to transfer any one of the four bags slung around my various body parts to your wide-open arms is really more effort than it’s worth.


5. Telling me that I look great today

And every other day…?


6. Sneezing into your hand

Are you really one of those people who hasn’t gotten the memo about the elbow sneeze? Doorknobs. Handshakes. Train poles. Complimentary nut bowls. Think about it.

gross gif

7. Asking me on a date over the phone

Not enough men have the confidence to call instead of text- so props to those who don’t hide behind the keys. Calling is impressive. That being said, if you ask me on a date over the phone, I’m pretty much obligated to say yes. So it’s charming, but also kind of rude. I need to research how women of the pre-text era handled these kinds of situations.

no thank you please

8. Offering for me to go first in the bathroom line

Nobody wants to go first, feeling all rushed and self-conscious about noises and smells. [Unless I’ve had four beers. You know that beautiful expression by John Green, “I fell in love like you fall asleep- slowly, then all at once”? That’s kind of how needing to pee happens after four beers. In that case, pleasepleaseplease let me go first.]

scaring taylor swift

Or you can just sneak into the bathroom first like Ellen DeGeneres…and hope someone behind you is as spastic as Taylor Swift.

9. Standing up to let me into my seat

I know there’s really not a better option in rows of seats, but the “polite” thing to do in this case is definitely no less awkward than the alternative (staying seated).


10. Asking for me to pass the salt

Reaching over someone is the rude thing to do, but I really don’t want to put down my perfectly assembled bite right now to pass you what you need. You should really just reach.


11. Saying that I don’t have to buy you a birthday present

You know what, I would have happily not bought you a gift since I had no idea your birthday was coming up. But now that I know, I obviously have to get you a present. This is the ultimate “no means yes” situation. Well, maybe not the ultimate.


12. Not talking in the elevator

Where did this custom come from? I’m not going to tell anyone your secrets. You and your friend can keep talking. And if it’s just us, ask me about the weather or something. I’m a human worthy of acknowledgment.


13. Offering to sit in the back seat

When someone insists I sit shotgun, it usually means that the driver is questionable company. Thanks a lot.

kill me


You can stop doing these things now.

Please and thank you.

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Weight Loss Solutions and Other Answers You Don’t Want to Hear

“Don’t ask questions you don’t want the answer to.”

I’ve been told that a lot. For some reason, I really love knowing the intimate details of scenarios or opinions that stab me right through the heart. So, did you guys have a really fun time at that wedding I wasn’t invited to? Did my ex bring a date? Was there an open bar? How about instead of getting these answers, I just assume that the wedding was unmemorable, my ex looked around the room and realized he’d never find someone as awesome as me, and it was a cash bar only. But, no. I always need to get the real scoop, then subsequently fight off all kinds of unwanted emotion. Really healthy.

When it comes to asking questions with unwanted answers, I tend to stick to the personal/relational/heartbreaking sort. I’ve noticed, however, that a lot of people don’t want the answers to general self-improvement questions. As a big proponent of the Change-It-If-You’re-Not-Happy Lifestyle (hence why I’ve moved 8,347 times since graduating college), I don’t really understand why people ask how to further their careers, attract more dates, or lose 20lbs if they’re not actually willing to do anything differently. Haven’t you heard the definition of insanity? Doing the same the over and over again and expecting different results. Come on, people.

When people ask me for advice, it’s usually on one of three topics:

  1. Dating (the irony is astounding)
  2. Wine (so proud)
  3. Weight (flattering)

I’m going to focus on #3 here because my answers to #1 and #2 are really, really simple. I’ll get them out of the way quickly:

  1. On getting more dates: Shower and be social. Give your number to someone if you think he’s decent looking/not a serial killer. Say yes when he asks you out. If he doesn’t ask you out, be a confident superstar and casually suggest meeting for drinks. Then meet him for drinks/whatever he suggests. Congratulations, you just went on a date.
  2. On wine: Drink whatever you think tastes good.

So, onto #3. Let me start by saying that I am acutely aware that I am not the most qualified person to answer questions about weight loss and health. I’m going to lay the facts out there, just so you know who’s talking here:

Full Name: Shannon Marie Oliver

Height: 5’7 ¾”

Current weight: 128lbs (though when I weighed myself yesterday morning, I was pretty dehydrated from all the wine I drank the night before…so you may want to add a pound or two. Just keepin’ it real.)

Heaviest weight: 149lbs (sophomore year of college)

Lightest weight: 118lbs (Miss Virginia 2011)

Favorite food(s): Velveeta Shells & Cheese, Guacamole, or Brie cheese. Can’t decide.


Workout regimen: 4-6 months of cardio 4-6 days a week. Followed by 2 months of forgetting the gym exists. Followed by 1 month of trying to decide if I should just cancel my membership. Followed by 1 month of building back up my routine. Repeat.

When people tell me that they want to lose weight, then ask me how I stay thin (oh, stop, not really, tell me more), I notice that 99% of them don’t actually want the answer. Which is to eat less and move more. It’s not rocket science. Unfortunately, particularly in our society, my definition of “eat less” seems really extreme to most people, as does my definition of “move more.” Sure, cutting out french fries or taking the stairs instead of the elevator are technically examples “eating less” and “moving more,” but that’s really not going to take a big dent out of the number on the scale. I’m not suggesting you starve yourself or become a marathon runner, but this is going to take a little more effort than not putting creamer in your coffee.

Losing weight is a numbers game- you have to burn more calories than you consume. And people would be shocked if they knew how many calories they unknowingly consume per day. 1500 calories/day (the number that works for most women to lose weight) is a medium latte (200 cals), a burrito bowl at Chipotle (900+cals if you get sour cream, cheese, and guac), and a small serving of chicken and veggies at dinner (3-400 cals). Most people eat those three things, along with an egg sammy for breakfast, some pita chips and hummus in the afternoon, an extra serving of meat at dinner, and usually some kettle chips while watching TV before bed. Plus a couple hundred calories worth of beverages. When I try to explain that they have to stop consuming so much, people spout off all the “healthy” reasons for everything they eat. “You’re supposed to eat a big breakfast.” “Guacamole is healthy fat.” “You’re supposed to eat six times a day to keep your metabolism going.” “I have to energize before doing a workout.” I mean, keep telling yourself that you’re making healthy choices, but it’s not my fault your pants don’t fit.

Yes, breakfast is important. Yes, guac has nutrients. Yes, you can manipulate your metabolism with food. Yes, you need to fuel your body for a workout. HOWEVER, there’s no getting around the fact that if you eat a big breakfast, you’re still consuming much of your daily allotment of calories before 9 a.m. If you must eat a giant breakfast, prepare yourself to show some self-control at lunch and dinner. There’s also no getting around the fact that guacamole contains more calories than chocolate ice cream. Fact. And I hate being the bearer of bad news, but eating six meals a day will make you overweight. Six “meals” really means six “snacks,” if you’re looking at food intake through the eyes of an average American. Also, a “workout” does not mean taking a casual stroll through the park with some hills. Walking is an awesome way to start if you’re severely overweight, but if you only need to lose 20lbs, get your butt moving a little faster than that. And keep in mind that even running three miles only burns off some of the toppings on your Chipotle. Diet will affect your results a whole lot more than working out (though they do and should work in tandem).

As you can tell by my favorite foods and workout regimen, I’m obviously not a fitness guru who loves yoga and crossfit and never sees the scale fluctuate. When the scale does jump up 5lbs, I’m very aware that it’s simply because I’m eating too much and cobwebs are beginning to form in my sneakers. The key to weight loss and maintenance is being honest with yourself and catching a backslide early. For me, cutting out entire food groups or following diet plans just leads to binge eating. I’m an excellent and impressive binge eater. Because of not wanting to perpetuate that talent, I’ve never been on a technical “diet” and the only time I cut out a food group was leading up to Miss Virginia. (I stopped eating starchy carbs. Getting on stage in a bikini and heels will make you do crazy things.) Anyway, when I gained weight my sophomore year of college and during my first five months in NYC, I didn’t really change what I ate. I just ate more of it. When I lost weight, I just stopped eating portions designed for NFL linebackers. Truth: it’s not necessarily what you eat, it’s how much you eat.

In my current stage of maintenance, I am aware of what I put in my body, but don’t overthink it. If I want fries, I get fries and eat as many as my little heart desires (which is usually all of them). But if I do that at lunch, I eat less than usual at dinner. Since that tends to be my routine (big lunch, tiny dinner), my coworkers think I have the metabolism of a hummingbird and my roommates think I’m borderline anorexic. I’ve stopped caring what they think and just do what works for me.

When people ask you how to achieve something, most of the time they don’t want the answer because the answer challenges their lifestyle. In this case, it’s “Oh, the way you stay thin isn’t how I want to do it” or “You just snap your fingers and lose weight because you had to do that when you were in pageants” or “You don’t indulge enough.” Alright, that’s totally cool if you want to think that. I know I’m not a poster child for healthy choices, but at least I’m honest, not at war with food, and apparently look decent enough for you to ask for my advice.

Listen, improving your life is not easy. And weight loss/maintenance holds unique challenges for everyone (plus we all look good at different weights, thanks to differing body types). No one escapes the temptation to make excuses about one or more areas of life- some people just entertain their excuses longer than others. For all of us, though, it’s time we start asking questions and actually acting upon the answers.

(I’m talking strictly the self-improvement questions, here. Still haven’t learned my lesson about those pesky personal/relational/heartbreaking questions. I’ll stop asking them someday. Maybe.)

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Being Basic: 3 Realizations during Fall

dream phone

Tinder = Dream Phone. These playing cards had the cream of the crop, I’m tellin’ ya.

Fall is the most basic season. Pumpkin spice lattes: check. Leggings: check. Flowy infinity scarves: check. Hunter boots: check. At this very moment, our nation’s average white basic girls (PG version) are transitioning out of the third stage of summer [click here to read the 3 stages of summer] and into their nightly routines of red wine, Scandal, and last ditch efforts on Tinder to find a boyfriend before everyone goes into hibernation during the winter months. [Side note: I’ve never been on Tinder, but I can’t help but equate it to that game “Dream Phone” from the late 90s. Same thing, right?] Autumn is too basic to have its own stages, but it certainly comes with a few realizations. While cozied up in oversized sweaters and gazing at the golden hues of oak trees, basic girls come to these three conclusions:

1. Jeans are actually worse than shorts

I don’t know why people focus on fitness in the summertime. Sure, you don only nine square inches of material at the beach, but after the first few sandy frolics, most of us find that the joyous freedom of being nearly naked far outweighs the fear of a little jiggle in our wiggle. Stuffing our happy, free, and recently-tanned jiggle into a pair of tight jeans brings our newly obtained hippy spirits crashing back down to reality.skinnies Maybe all of that summertime potato salad and beer wasn’t the wisest choice. While most people hit the gym in January (resolutions, duh!) and May (beach weather!), I glue myself to the elliptical in September. Thank the Lord for cyclical fashion trends, because the 80s legging craze provides a much needed buffer between free-flying limbs and sausage cases  skinny jeans.

2. Having friends means watching football

Plenty of ladies enjoy watching football. I get it. However, a large crop of basic girls enjoy football only to the extent that it allows them to show off their homemade buffalo chicken dip, cute jerseys, and ability to hang with the guys. As a girl who can’t cook, owns only a hand-me-down Jim Kelly jersey from my stepmom (go Bills!), and far prefers to hang out with my girlfriends over dirtysweatystinky boys, I can’t even pretend to be basic in this arena (no pun intended). Still, I recognize that the only way to keep any sort of social life afloat during fall is to grab a LIGHT beer (see #1) and casually shake my head in a forlorn manner when someone mentions having drafted Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson on their fantasy teams. Thank you, The Skimm, for sending me emails every morning that allow me to function in society when I would otherwise be labeled clueless.


This is a little taste of the Skimm I received just this morning. What is the Skimm? “The Skimm is the daily newsletter that simplifies the headlines for the educated professional who knows enough to know she needs more.” Shout out to my coworker MGiff for changing my life with this recommendation.

3. College is the best

Most girls learn their basic behavior in college. Messy buns, leggings, Uggs, and Starbucks compose the uniform of the average university coed. The basic uniform gets a slight upgrade in post-college life as we wait until at least November to throw on the Uggs and usually do our hair in the mornings so that we don’t have to partake in an embarrassing talk with the HR department, but the foundation is definitely set in college. The link between fall and college transcends merely fashion, however.basic Each autumn serves as an unwelcome reminder that we will never again get a three month break from responsibilities each summer or live on a campus with all of our friends and endless food at our fingertips. As my college years fade further and further into the distance, I find myself fondly chuckling at those sweet young spirits returning to school and wearing face paint at football games on the TV (full circle) who have no idea how good they have it. And then I realize that I’m 26, not 76, and need to get a hold of myself.


That’s all, y’all, and happy first day of fall! #rhymingisfun

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Never/Always: Top 40 Hits Edition

I lost all of the music on my iPhone after moving to Virginia a year ago and am too poor to pay $10/month for Sirius, so now I just listen to FM radio in my car like a rock star. Because of the nature of FM radio, I have the pleasure of hearing the same 40 songs on repeat- some cycling through more often than others. If you’re interested in making me a mix tape (mix CD? Playlist? How does this work anymore? #granny) in 20 years from now to bring me back to that time I was 26, broke, and generally confused about life, please refer to this list.

11 Current Top 40 Hits I ALWAYS Want to Hear

11 Current Top 40 Hits I NEVER Want to Hear

By the way, I used the most recent American Top 40 list (9/13/14) to compile these songs. Trying to keep this ish official.


1. Problem by Ariana Grande⇒ You didn’t enjoy summer 2014 unless you enjoyed this song. Also, here’s a fun photo of Ariana’s brother, Frankie Grande, and me (and the gorgeous LTSig). #namedropper #photodropper


2. Bang Bang by Jessie J, Ariana Grande, and Nikki Manaj⇒ This song is basically the sequel to Lady Marmelade by Xtina, Pink, Mya (what actually happened to her career?), and Lil’ Kim. Obsessed. Also, my voice has a really major girl crush on Jessie J’s voice.

3. Boom Clap by Charli Xcx⇒ The first 50 times I heard this song, I thought it was paying homage to choreographer Laurieann Gibson from the show Making the Band with P. Diddy and Danity Kane (circa 2005). In my head, these lyrics will forever be “Boom Kat, the sound of my heart.” Love it, love her.

4. Black Widow by Iggy Izalea feat. Rita Ora⇒ Iggy and Rita just fully own the “crazy ex” stereotype and it makes me laugh/fear for all men/maybe relate a little bit.

5.  All About That Bass by Meghan Trainor⇒ This song almost makes me want to gain a few lbs. Almost.

6. Shake It Off by Taylor Swift⇒ Curse you, Taylor! Everything you do is so stinkin’ catchy that it’s impossible to pretend that I’m cool enough to not love bubblegum pop.

7. Rather Be by Clean Bandit feat. Jess Glynne⇒ There’s nono no no, no place I’d rather be than in my car singing this song at the top of my lungs.

8. Stay With Me by Sam Smith⇒ His voice is pure butter, plus the lyrics make me simultaneously feel like there’s no hope for love in this stupid hook up culture and plenty of hope because the chorus is so pretty that it sounds romantic. I never know which way the song will make my emotions swing, so that keeps it interesting.

9. Shower by Becky G⇒ It’s just a happy song. And makes me feel more normal for dancing in the mirror.

10. Amnesia by 5 Seconds of Summer⇒ Because the 11-year-old inside of me will always have a soft spot for angsty boy band songs. Can’t help it. They know how to reach me.

11. Latch by Disclosure feat. Sam Smith⇒ Again, bow down to Sam Smith’s voice. Also, Meryl and Maks danced to a slow version of this song on last season’s DWTS and I am still shipping four months later. Every time I hear it, I imagine that someday I’ll find their kind of chemistry.

You have to watch this. YOU HAVE TO. And they still claim they’re not together. Super dumb.



1. Rude by Magic⇒ At first I thought this little jam was catchy, but then I realized that it’s essentially just an immature boy complaining through my speakers. Why won’t your girlfriend’s father give his approval for you to marry his daughter? Do you have savings? Are you loyal? Respectful? I don’t know anything about you. This is probably your fault.

2. Hideaway by Kiesza⇒ Maybe if Paula Abdul sang it, but I don’t know.

3. Maps by Maroon 5⇒ Not their best work. I’m at a payphone and it’s getting harder and harder to breathe because I’ve got moves like Jagger on Sunday morning and now I’m in misery during this wake up call. Please tell me you followed that/think I’m a genius.


4. Am I Wrong by Nico and Vinz⇒ It just sounds like a million other songs. Give me more spice. Keep me more interested. Wow me.

5. Summer by Calvin Harris⇒ This song was bearable in the summer, but now it’s fall and I’m not feeling it.

6. All of Me by John Legend⇒ Personal problem here. Can’t handle the memories. It’s me, not you, John.

7. Bailando by Enrique Iglesias feat. Sean Paul⇒ Sorry, but this brings me straight back to my first neighborhood in Washington Heights, Manhattan where I couldn’t sleep because of the block parties and gunshots. [Disclaimer: This is not racist. I just like my sleep.]

8. Don’t by Ed Sheeran⇒ It’s like Jason Mraz and Justin Timberlake had a baby and it’s not as cute as I wanted it to be.

9. Fireball by Pitbull feat. John Ryan⇒ Pitbull, stop yelling at me using lots of words I can’t understand.

10. This Is How We Do by Katy Perry⇒ There’s actually only one note in this entire song. One.

11. Habits (Stay High) by Tove Lo⇒ I feel like this is the kind of song that plays at parties in Brooklyn where people look at me funny because I’m not dressed in a flannel and ripped skinnies with high tops.



Alrighty, I look forward to my trip down memory lane in 20 years! Remember to label my mix tape “Shannon’s 2014 FM Jams.”

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Filed under Lists, Never/Always

Miss America 2015: Kira-sistible

I’m going to make this short and sweet because, let’s be honest, Sunday is a school night for this granny and it’s already past midnight.

In case you were watching football instead of Miss America tonight, let me fill you in: Miss New York won for the third year in a row. According to Facebook, people right now feel all the feels. So. Many. Feelings.


I’ve read some really nasty comments about Kira Kazantsev winning Miss America this evening. I’ve also read a lot of wonderful things, however am having a really hard time not letting the negativity overshadow the excitement. It’s taking everything in my power to not call folks out by name on my blog at the moment, because I am sorely disappointed in the lack of class I’ve seen on social media. I want to let these sourpusses know that in no circumstance is it okay to bash a young woman- particularly one that you don’t know. I’m glad everyone has opinions. That in itself is fine. Actually, opinions are great. Otherwise, who would watch the pageant? But put on your big kid pants and try to remember that these women are humans who are defined by far more than a bikini and plastic cup (named Wilson, in case anyone wanted to know).

Let me tell you a few things about Kira. She has been in Atlantic City with the other 52 contestants for the last two weeks. Many of you know that two weeks ago was the two year anniversary of my mother’s passing. Kira took the time out of her crazy-busy schedule at Miss America to send me random texts saying “I love you!” and “I just wanted you to know that I am thinking of you.” During a period of time that was about her dreams and her success and her experience, she made an effort to make me feel loved and comforted. That’s something special. kira3Rewinding 1.5 years, I’ll never forget when she competed in her first local pageant in the Miss America Organization, because it was during my first week as Miss New York. She shone so darn bright on that stage and was so refreshingly non-pageanty that everyone held the phone and asked where she came from. Through laughter after winning, she requested a lesson from me on how to put on the crown since she had never worn one before (wait, wearing a crown isn’t normal? What?). Her ability to laugh at herself fumbling with the crown made me fall in love with her on that very first night. Such a goof. But besides the fact that she’s down-to-earth and thoughtful, Kira is absolutely brilliant. She speaks fluent Russian and Spanish, graduated as a triple major, and was accepted into some of the most competitive law schools in the country. On top of that, she has overcome tremendous struggles that I won’t share here, but are the motivation for her platform, “Love Shouldn’t Hurt”- raising awareness for domestic violence. This girl is a good human. Someone worthy of being a role model.

But you’re angry that she sang while using a plastic cup as percussion?

Because that matters so much. Right.

Keep in mind that this is coming from someone who takes talent very seriously. Talent is my jam. I won talent in both Virginia and New York when I competed. I sang professionally for a year. I’ve taken voice lessons since I was nine. I know what I’m doing. But I’m not offended that someone whose strength wasn’t talent won Miss America. I still think talent is an important part of the competition, but Kira was engaging, personable, and didn’t try to scream out a song that she wasn’t capable of singing. She knew her voice and used it in a way that was reflective of her overall appeal. I applaud that. Plus I really loved the nod to Anna Kendrick and Pitch Perfect (for those of you who live under a rock, that movie inspired Kira’s cup action- she didn’t get the idea from the cafeteria table in third grade). Even if you don’t agree with my assessment, why do you think it is okay to put her down? The argument people love to make is “she put herself in the spotlight to be ridiculed.” Um. Nope. Not why she competed at Miss America. She put herself in the spotlight so that she could have a platform to make a real difference in this crazy world and maybe meet Beyonce (I mean…). And even IF Kira held up a big sign that said, “I’d like you to ridicule me, please!”- what kind of person does that make you if you have the desire to do that? Take a Xanax or chug some wine or maybe both and just go to a corner and stay there.

Okay, so the cup thing was an issue. Addressed that. The other issue was people saying she isn’t pretty enough. Part of me doesn’t even want to tackle the ridiculousness of these statements because I just…can’t. For lack of better words. I simply cannot. Kira is probably top 5 hottest girls I know, which really says something, because I know a LOT of hot girls. Does that sound weird? Yes it does, but it’s true. Thanks to the Miss America Organization, my girlfriends are really easy on the eyes. Said it. Anyways, how does someone get the honor of being on my personal list of top 5 hotties? Well, first of all, they have to be really gorgeous. Kira: √. Second, they have to carry themselves with a confidence that makes every head turn. Kira: √. Third, they must dress in a way that only 1 out of 1,000,000 can pull off. Kira: √. I’m allowed to be shallow here because, remember, we are addressing the fact that people have attacked her physical appearance. Miss America is a beauty pageant  scholarship program where the girls are, yes, judged on how they look, but I didn’t see anyone on that stage- Kira included- who wouldn’t get a thumbs up on the thumbs up/thumbs down test. Don’t know that test? Ask your boyfriend. He knows.


A picture from the night Kira won her first ever local pageant in the Miss America Organization! Oh and that other hot blonde I’m sandwiched between? That would be the current Miss CT, Acacia Courtney, who also rocked it as a semi-finalist this evening.

I hope most of you are sleeping off all of your feelings by now, but let this post remind you that you don’t know the hearts and minds of anyone you see on television. Whether a celebrity or a pageant girl, you have no right to tear people down- especially those who are using their time in the limelight for greater good. If you’re a pageant girl who was saying negative things about Kira, I’m even more disappointed. More than anyone, you should be able to imagine how it’d feel to be in her platform heels shoes. Let’s pull it together, everyone, and be happy for this woman who I can personally confirm is a gem of a being.

I kind of want to end with a sassy “HAH! Even if you don’t like her, she is Miss America and you’re not nanananabooboo,” but that just doesn’t seem classy and is maybe even hypocritical, so I’ll end by saying congrats, Kira! Your heart obviously won the judges over in your private interview, you rocked it onstage, and you stayed authentic the whole time. Those are accomplishments no one can ever take away from you! Way to make history with the threepeat and I’m beyond excited to watch you take over the world this year! You are simply Kira-sistible.

BTdubs, eight of my predicted 10 (<– click) made the first cut. Just saying.


Okay, I’m typing things like “BTdubs.” I should go to bed. Night.


Filed under Pageantry

Miss America 2015 Predictions

OMG everybody grab your Modlash 33s, Jergens Natural Glow, and favorite pair of nude pumps. It’s Miss America week!

Honestly, how has no one come up with an awesome way to make a hit reality show out of Miss America? For years, TLC, ABC, or whatever network Miss America ping pongs onto has tried and failed to come up with an entertaining way to promote the pageant with a four-episode series leading up to the big shabang. THIS SHOULD BE EASY. My personal idea is to have former Miss Americas/Miss States do something of a Drunk History (<–click), where they crack open a bottle or three of wine and tell stories from their glory days, with professional reenactments coinciding with their narrations. I personally know plentyyyy of formers who would happily partake in a clean-ish version. Somebody please forward this idea onto ABC execs. If they can convince Comedy Central to let them do this spin off, I guarantee it’d get huge ratings…plus it’d be a much needed departure from pageant reality shows revolving around the dried up stereotype of catty crown chasers or scary little girls with veneers.

Stop clutching your pearls. You know it’d be hilarious.

But since we’re currently stuck with no form of entertainment surrounding the pageant except for updates on the Miss America Facebook page, I’ll go ahead and use the small amount of information I have to give you my prediction of this year’s Top 10 (Miss America airs on Sunday, 9/14, at 9 p.m. EST).

Not to brag about my amazing talents, but I can say all the states in alphabetical order in one breath, which came in handy when making this list. Keep your eyes peeled for these chicas:

1. Miss Alabama, Caitlin Brunell


Any guys out there recognize her last name? Do any guys read my blog? Dad? *crickets* Caitlin’s dad is former NFL quarterback, Mark Brunell. What does that have to do with her chances at Miss America? Well, besides the fact that she’s been raised to be well-groomed and educated, not that much. Still, it’s worth mentioning since we all need a little sports news in our lives other than the Ray Rice scandal. But back to Caitlin. I’ve seen this girl in person and she’s pretty darn breathtaking on stage. I also love the fact that her talent is dancing to Frozen’s “Let it Go.” She clearly knows that the only people watching Miss America are gay men and little girls in tiaras. KIDDING. Kind of. In all seriousness, everyone I’ve talked to says she’s a sweetheart and incredibly personable. Add in the fact that she has legs for days and a long-standing personal platform (<–click), I think we’ve got ourselves a finalist. Plus she’s a Phi Mu! LIOB <3

2. Miss Connecticut, Acacia Courtney


I’m not going to pretend that I’m not slightly biased, considering I lived with Acacia (uh-kay-shuh) for a week when we were roommates at Miss New York 2012 (she goes to school in NYC, but lives in CT, which makes her eligible in both states- for all of you with confused looks on your faces right now). Speaking from personal experience with helping her change in our hotel room, this girl’s swimsuit body is on POINT. Inappropriate? Sorry? While we’re on her looks, I should mention that she is the girl targeted in One Direction’s hit “What Makes You Beautiful” and Sammy Kershaw’s tune “She Don’t Know She’s Beautiful.” Pick your genre. And age. See flow chart. What I’m saying is that Acacia happens to be an amazon goddess, yet somehow remains the most humble and loving creature on the planet. It’s almost unfair. On top of that, she’s a brilliant speaker and a trained ballerina princess. I expect her to be a top contender.

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3. Miss Florida, Victoria Cowen


Let me catch you up to speed. A gorgeous girl by the name of Elizabeth Fechtel was crowned Miss Florida a few months ago. One week later, officials announced that they’d crowned the wrong girl. Gasp! Victoria was the rightful queen and took her place upon the throne. Elizabeth was stripped of her title and sent back to work in the fields among the peasants. Wait, sorry, that was a bit dramatic. Elizabeth graciously stepped down (the dethroned Miss DE could’ve learned a thing or two from her…just trying to help you out, girl) and Victoria assumed the responsibilities of Miss Florida 2014. I don’t know much about Victoria, but trustworthy sources say that Elizabeth is a pageant force like no other. If Tori (Facebook indicates that’s what Victoria likes to be called…not even sorry for being creepy) finished above Elizabeth, something tells me she’s one to watch. I also see her hugging my girl Miss New York in a lot of pictures, so I consider us friends by association.

4. Miss Georgia, Maggie Bridges


You guys. I have such a girl crush. It all started when I saw her take part in Pageant World’s play on Jimmy Kimmel’s segment called “Mean Tweets.” During Mean Tweets, Jimmy Kimmel has celebrities read aloud the mean things that people tweet about them. Pageant World’s version had pageant girls read mean things that people wrote about them on anonymous message boards (Voy boards). I’m SO MAD I didn’t think of that idea before Pageant World, because it really is brilliant. What better way to make those cyber bullies feel like idiots? Anyways, Maggie was in the video, so I already know she has an awesome sense of humor and is super confident. Check and check. She also really stood out in a video I watched of all the contestants introducing themselves on stage during their arrival ceremony in Atlantic City last week. In an effort to be well-informed while creating this list for you all, yes, I spent 20 minutes of my life watching a video of all 53 girls saying their names into a microphone. You’re welcome. A lot can be determined about a person’s presence in a simple introduction, so I expect great things in the interview room. Oh, by the way, Maggie studies business and biochemistry. SOLD.

5. Miss Iowa, Aly Olson


Usually, the down-home state of Iowa doesn’t get much attention in the good ole U.S. of A. But lately, it’s been shining bright like a diamond. I mean, hello, Farmer Chris is even from Iowa. Oh, you don’t know who Farmer Chris is? Read this (<–click). I like Aly because she seems really natural, well-spoken, and legitimately talented. I’ve watched a few interviews of her on local T.V. stations and she always seems laid back and authentic. She also has this indescribable spark in her eye that tells me she’s in this thing to win it. I’ve always been told that no girl wins Miss America unless she truly believes it’s hers to lose, and something tells me this ginger is expecting big things from herself. I like that. You go, gingey!

6. Miss Louisiana, Lacey Sanchez


Not to be shallow, but Pantene Pro V needs to call this girl STAT and use her locks in a whimsical commercial. Obviously, good hair isn’t the key to winning Miss America, but it sure won’t hurt. Lacey has big hair for being such a little nugget, though her lack of height seems to have helped her in preparing for swimsuit, because it’s pretty clear she couldn’t reach the cookies on the top shelf. I want her arms. She won both the fitness and talent portions of the Miss Louisiana pageant, so I expect a solid performance across the board. Speaking of the board, the Voy board has torn this girl apart for her eyebrows. Let that sink in. Random people across the nation are sitting behind their computers and critiquing a stranger’s eyebrows with such passion that you’d think Lacey’s last name was Peterson. Just for that, I hope this girl makes the cut at Miss America so that all of the eyebrow activists across our great nation can be defeated.

7. Miss Mississippi, Jasmine Murray


Back when American Idol was still relevant (btw, Carrie Underwood is pregnant!!), Jasmine was a finalist on the season with Adam Lambert. I think she was like, 12, at the time because that feels like forever ago, yet somehow she is still eligible to be Miss America. Nonetheless, this beauty sure knows how to capture the attention of a panel of judges. Obviously, she can sing- plus she’s abnormally gorgeous. I’ll be honest in that it’s hard to gather much about her personality from videos I’ve seen, but I just get this hunch that the judges will be captivated by her. Anyone who’s read my blog knows that Professor Trelawney and I have a lot in common, so I think it’s safe to trust in my divine instincts. Or is it..?

8. Miss New York, Kira Kazantsev


Accurately described by my peeps in New York as a unicorn, Kira is a rare and mystical being. She’s that untouchable girl who dresses like every day is a stroll down the runway at NYFW, but then talks to you like you’re best friends and makes you forget that she’s wearing skin tight red metallic pants. How she simultaneously completed three majors, got into law school, and owned NYC’s social scene like her name was Olivia Polermo is beyond me. Impressive doesn’t really cover it. Kira is cool yet vibrant, edgy yet chic, and relatable yet brilliant. It’s funny to see pageant fussbudgets freak out over her clothing choices, because she dresses like a true fashion girl should- fearlessly, unapologetically, and en trend. Think Carrie Bradshaw. If the judges are looking for a Miss America who can hang with celebs on the red carpet, then turn around and talk to politicians and news anchors without missing a beat, Kira’s your girl. Her talent is totally unprecedented- she channels Anna Kendrick and uses a solo cup for percussion as she sings. Her interview is a knock out- the girl exudes pure intelligence. Her body is sick- she walks in her swimsuit onstage like it’s a completely normal activity. Call me biased since, like CT, I know Kira personally, but I’ll be shocked if the judges don’t fall in love.

9. Oklahoma, Alex Eppler


As people say in the pageant world, it’s Oklahoma. There’s something in the water down there. Miss Oklahoma always shows up at Miss America ready to win. Alex is statuesque, mature, and incredibly well put together. I know that description doesn’t sound wildly exciting after my fan girl report of Miss New York, but trust me- it’s something to be commended. I can see this girl sitting on the Miss America throne of the 1950s as a timeless beauty who oozes class. She seems like an old soul, which might be the ticket to standing out among a group of energetic, overly enthusiastic coeds.

10. Miss Virginia, Courtney Garrett


I haven’t spent much time with Courtney, but we competed together years ago at Miss Virginia (her first year and my last in VA). I remember standing behind her in swimsuit and marveling at the force field surrounding her body that defied the laws of gravity. Unfortunately, I was not so lucky to have such a force field holding up my derriere, so marching onto the stage in her tracks wasn’t my favorite moment. Courtney is more than just a walking mystery of physics, though. Her brother has cerebral palsy, so Courtney is an incredible activist and spokesperson for people with physical disabilities. Nothing she does feels exploitative for her personal gain, which can often be the case with pageant platforms (not trying to put anyone down…but we can all admit when a hospital photo seems contrived). With a heart of gold and consistency in all areas of competition, she’ll probably be the judges pick for the All-American sweetheart.

Hope everyone tunes in this Sunday night to see how well my list holds up! Happy pageanting.


Filed under Lists, Opinions, Pageantry



2010 Miss Virginia send off party

I can’t even imagine. I’ve heard those words a lot this week.

Two years have passed since my mom died. Two years since I was singing with my brother at the foot of her bed, watching her heart pump vigorously as it struggled to do its job. Two years since I fixated on the rise and fall of her chest for hours, nervously waiting for her breathing to change like I’d read about in hospice pamphlets. Two years since at 3:20 p.m., it changed.

After acknowledging the shortened breaths and gathering everyone upstairs, I held my mom’s right hand and choked out Jesus is Lord alongside my brother, sister-in-law, grandmother, stepdad, and I think a few others- though it’s hard to recall. I vividly remember sensing the exact moment that she left us, but I continued to sing and stare at her chest, willing it to move again. My stepdad finally broke in and said something along the lines of “You guys, I think she’s gone.”

At that moment, I thought something earth-shattering would occur. My mom was no longer here. I couldn’t laugh with her, ask her what to do, feel her hug me, or simply hear her voice. Surely, the world would shift. But nothing happened. Weirdly enough, instead of nothing being the same, everything was the same. I picked up my cell phone to call my dad, and the touch screen worked like it always had. Later that night, my brother’s in-laws made burgers, which tasted like burgers do. The next morning, I woke up early to see my little brother off to his first day of third grade, and all the kids darted onto the bus like normal. Everything was the exact same.

Just like the amazing people who comforted me this week, I couldn’t imagine losing my mom until it actually happened. Seeing the flickers of pain and imagined empathy on the faces of my friends jolted me back to when I was in their shoes, before those final moments I just described.

Imagining the unknown was awful- maybe even more awful than the reality. Don’t get me wrong. Losing your mother is terrible. Most definitely. That part is easy for everyone to imagine, though. What’s not easy to imagine, and what I want to share with everyone reading this, are the parts that stay the same…or even more surprising, the good parts:

I knew I had insanely dedicated friends before my mom passed away, but the amount of texts, calls, and random acts of kindness that I’ve received over the last two years is astounding. The more love I’ve felt, the more I’ve pushed myself to be a better friend in return. I’ve learned how to be effectively supportive of other people through following examples of active compassion shown me, which will undoubtedly make the rest of my life more meaningful, mentally expansive, and fulfilling.

I’ve never struggled with body image to the extreme extent that many young women my age do, but I’ve certainly had my insecure moments. Since losing my mother, however, the way I see my body is drastically different. My mom always made fun of her legs- muscular, short runner legs with varicose veins and calves so big that she could never wear boots. I remember rubbing my mom’s leg as she laid in her hospital bed and thinking how perfect it was. It was hers. They were the legs that I sat on when I was a little girl. They were the legs that jumped up and down when she got excited. They were the legs that patiently stood in the lobby after every pageant and performance as she waited to give me a hug. I now look at my imperfections through those lenses, knowing that my body is a unique shell that the people I love associate with my soul. Those who matter- myself included- don’t value me based on its “beauty” or “flaws,” so bring on the boat parties and makeup-less mornings.

My mom and I had an extremely close relationship, so she gave me tons of advice over the years. I am sure that I could have continued learning from her year after year, but losing the ability to talk to her has forced me to open up to other wise women in my life. I’ve learned far more from my grandmother, stepmom, discipler, and friends’ moms than I would have if I hadn’t lost my primary confidant.

These positives, along with others, exist as a result of losing my mom. Of course I wish she was still here, but life has a way of taking care of you. I still can’t imagine what it’d be like to go through tragedies different from my own, but at least in this case, I’ve found that with the right support system and faith, it’ll all be okay. The whole motivation for this post is the hope that someone, or multiple someones, finds that over-used and under-grasped phrase comforting. It’ll all be okay.

All that’s left for me to imagine about losing my mother is what it was like for her to meet God. I end with that, because it’s a pretty marvelous thing to imagine [<-click].



Filed under Reflection