Thank you, Janel Moloney

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My fiancée and I are currently working on our thank you notes from our bridal shower, but there’s someone I have to thank for our relationship even existing. Three months from now, I’ll be walking down the aisle and marrying a woman I never would have met if it was not for The West Wing. More specifically, I wouldn’t be marrying Danica if it was not for the character Donnatella Moss and the actor that played her, the lovely Janel Moloney.

Janel has been my hero since I first watched The West Wing and heard her story. For those of you who don’t know, Donna was never supposed to be a main character. Janel auditioned for the role of C.J. Cregg. She was offered the “petite” (as Janel says) part of Donna in the pilot instead. Janel took the part, but she went to set with the intention of doing so well that the creative team wouldn’t want to get rid of her.

Her outstanding work in the pilot inspired Aaron Sorkin to write Donna into every episode of season 1. In fact, after watching the first few episodes back in 2013, I texted my best friend and said “I need Donna Moss to be in this show more.” Little did I know that she would play a huge part in the show, and in my life.

By season 2, she was part of the main cast. And do you know what casting directors call a smaller role in a pilot that has potential for more? “A Janel Moloney part.” When we learn Donna’s origin story in the season 2 premiere, it mirrors Janel’s West Wing journey in a delightful way. After a terrible breakup, Donna moves across the country and hires herself to be Josh Lyman’s assistant. She forces Josh to sit down and take her seriously, and she delivers one of the best lines of the series while doing it.

Donna Moss

Janel’s agency over her career is reason enough to love her, and for a while, that was my number one reason for admiring both Janel and Donna as much as I did. However, over the last few years, my love for both the actor and the character has grown immensely for deeply personal reasons.

In July of 2014, I started talking with a girl I met online named Danica. Her favorite character was also Donna Moss. We started chatting about our favorite show and other things we had in common and became internet acquaintances. Danica and I talked on and off for a few months, but our relationship really started to grow in September of that year.

On September 14, 2014, Janel Moloney reunited in DC with her West Wing costars Allison Janney and Melissa Fitzgerald to raise money for Justice for Vets. (Melissa is now the director of the organization.) I wasn’t living near DC at the time so, when it was announced, I wasn’t able to get off work to travel for the event. Danica already lived in the area and immediately purchased tickets. She was beyond excited for that experience, and I was so thrilled for her (and slightly jealous). When the event ended, Danica was lucky enough to meet Melissa Fitzgerald’s mom, who happened to be sitting nearby. When Mrs. Fitzgerald found out what a big fan Danica was, she was kind enough to take her backstage to meet the actors.

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Danica’s stories from her time with Janel, Allison, and Melissa are amazing. But Janel went the extra mile when she agreed to record a video for Danica’s friends who, like me, love Donna Moss more than any other character on the show. Since Danica and I were only acquaintances at the time, I was a last minute addition to the list of names she handed to Janel.

The morning after the event, Danica sent me the video. Janel read each name and gave us all personalized and hilarious messages. I watched it at work and started crying as soon as I heard my name. And then I continued to watch it throughout the week. That moment was a turning point in my relationship with Danica. If you look back at our messages to each other at the time, they go from a few paragraphs here and there about various popular culture things to lengthy and extremely personal messages. In December of 2014, we met in person for the first time and officially started our long-distance relationship.

In January of 2015, I started having extreme depression and anxiety. It wasn’t the first time I had experienced this, but it was the first time I was willing to acknowledge my mental illness. That was, in large part, because Danica noticed and encouraged me to get help. I was unbelievably happy with her, but I could only see her every other weekend. In those weeks we were separated, I was in a city I had grown to hate with a job that gave me almost daily anxiety attacks. I wasn’t eating or sleeping, and I barely left my apartment on the weekends that Danica wasn’t with me. The only thing that got me through my work day was having The West Wing playing in the background. I couldn’t watch the scenes, but hearing their voices, especially Janel’s, had a calming effect on me. It helped me stay in control of my anxiety and made the work day go by faster. It became my comfort television show.

I got the help I needed from a medical professional and moved close to DC to live with Danica later that year. I started substitute teaching and got into graduate school to become an elementary school teacher. My mental health had completely improved, and I was happier than I had ever been. And then Donald Trump became president.

During Trump’s first few months in office, my anxiety and depression started coming back. I couldn’t watch the news. I only got bits of information from Twitter, Samantha Bee, and John Oliver. Anything else had me panicking. Danica and I got engaged, but I was scared that things would happen to dismantle LGBTQ+ rights before we ever got the chance to say “I do.” To be honest, I’m still terrified of that, but that fear lessens as we get closer to the wedding date. So, I turned to my favorite comfort show, The West Wing. Its idealism gave me hope when I couldn’t find any. That all changed on July 3, 2017, when I spent 10 hours in the waiting room of an ER in immense pain before finally being seen.

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Please excuse how gross I look in this picture.

I had started experiencing some strange symptoms: shooting pain up my arms and legs, numbness and tingling in my extremities, extreme fatigue, randomly dropping things like a pen or my cell phone. I missed almost 15 days of my summer job as a camp counselor because my body couldn’t take it. I went to the ER after googling my symptoms (I know I shouldn’t do this, but I couldn’t help it), but the doctors were not helpful at all. They had no interest in figuring out what was wrong, and it felt like they thought I was making these symptoms up.

After the E.R. visit, I continued to experience the symptoms. My primary care physician was not super helpful either. I had to fight for almost a month for anyone to believe me and to do something about it. Finally, she told me what Danica and I feared the most: my symptoms were often signs of multiple sclerosis. I was terrified, and I couldn’t even turn to my favorite show to help me calm down.

When I first started wondering if I could have M.S., I was in the middle of season 2 in my rewatch of The West Wing, which is when the President’s hidden illness (M.S., of course) becomes a major storyline. For the last half of season 2 and most of season 3, the show is riddled with arguments between the President and those around him about his illness. The hardest one for me to watch, though, was his fight with the First Lady in season 2’s “The War at Home.”

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Hearing those words and knowing it was possible that I had the same disease brought the anxiety completely back. I did the one thing I never thought I’d have to do: I shut off The West Wing for months. I couldn’t watch a full episode, but because I was home from work so many days and dealing with incompetent and unhelpful doctors, I needed a distraction.

Between all of the medical stress and Trump still being president, I was going crazy. I needed The West Wing now more than ever, but I still couldn’t watch it because of the M.S. content. So, I did the only thing I could think of: I turned to Netflix and watched only the scenes with Donna Moss. It worked. It kept my mind off my medical problems when I was stuck at home due to my pain and fatigue. Scenes between Donna and Josh kept me sane and made me smile when almost nothing else could.

I spend a lot of time thinking about “What Ifs?”, which I know stems from my anxiety and depression. What if Danica had never met Janel after the Justice for Vets event or she hadn’t included me in the video? What if I had never sent that first message to Danica in July 2014? What if her favorite character wasn’t Donna Moss or her favorite show wasn’t also The West Wing? What if Janel had never been on more than a few episodes of The West Wing? What if I had never listened to my best friend and watched The West Wing during my winter break in 2013? I have no idea where I’d be if one of those things had been different, but I’ve never been happier than I am now. I owe it all to The West Wing, and mostly to Janel Moloney.

There are a few West Wing events in the DC area that I’ll be at this year, and I’m hoping Janel attends them so I can meet her and thank her for all of this in person. Until then, I’ll simply use the internet to say…Thank you, Janel Moloney. I am so grateful for this life you’ve given me.

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2018 Oscar Thoughts!

For the first time in a long time, I have seen all of the Best Picture nominees and a lot of the nominees in other categories. Here are my thoughts on who will win and who actually should!

Best Picture 

  • Call Me By Your Name
  • Darkest Hour
  • Dunkirk
  • Get Out
  • Lady Bird
  • Phantom Thread
  • The Post
  • The Shape of Water
  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Will win: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

My pick: The Shape of Water or Get Out

There’s a 95% chance Three Billboards… will win. However, I had a lot of problems with the film that I do not want to get into here. If I were voting, my vote would either go to The Shape of Water or Get Out. I was not expecting to love The Shape of Water as much as I did, but it’s one of the most beautiful films I have seen in a long time. I never once thought “When is this going to be over?” and even though the storyline is weird as hell, I bought the unconventional love between Elisa and the Amphibian Man. Get Out is my second choice because it’s a smart and unique film that tackles race in a way that Three Billboards… never could have. The acting, the writing, and the directing is incredible. My third choice is Lady Bird.

Actor in a Leading Role 

  • Timothée Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name)
  • Daniel Day-Lewis (Phantom Thread)
  • Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out)
  • Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)
  • Denzel Washington (Roman J. Israel, Esq.)

Will win: Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)

My pick: Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)

There’s really no other choice here. Gary Oldman completely disappeared in the role of Winston Churchill. If I had not known it was him, I never would have recognized him. Overall, the film was not my favorite. However, his performance was spectacular.

Actress in a Leading Role

  • Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water)
  • Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
  • Margot Robbie (I, Tonya)
  • Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird)
  • Meryl Streep (The Post)

Will win: Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)

My pick: Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water)

Frances McDormand will win here, but in my opinion, her part was nothing we haven’t seen her do before. She was great, but it wasn’t special. Sally Hawkins took on the challenging role of playing a mute woman who falls in love with an amphibian man, and it felt genuine and believable.

Actor in a Supporting Role

  • Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project)
  • Woody Harrelson (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
  • Richard Jenkins (The Shape of Water)
  • Christopher Plummer (All the Money in the World)
  • Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)

Will win: Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)

My pick: Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)

Most of my problems with Three Billboards… involve Sam Rockwell’s character. However, I do think he deserves to win. He gave it his all in this role, and this is an Oscar win that he’s deserved since The Green Mile.

Actress in a Supporting Role 

  • Mary J. Blige (Mudbound)
  • Allison Janney (I, Tonya)
  • Lesley Manville (Phantom Thread)
  • Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird)
  • Octavia Spencer (The Shape of Water)

Will win: Allison Janney (I, Tonya) 

My pick: Allison Janney (I, Tonya) 

I must admit I am incredibly biased about this one. When I went to see I, Tonya, I was already under the impression that she would be my pick for Supporting Actress. Allison Janney won 4 Emmys for her role in my favorite television show of all-time (and she’s won 3 others since then). Honestly, it’s a disgrace that this is her first Oscar nomination. This should have happened years ago. If Janney wasn’t an option for this category, my pick would be Laurie Metcalf. She was wonderful in Lady Bird. But for me, Allison Janney is the only choice here.

Directing

  • Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk)
  • Jordan Peele (Get Out)
  • Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird)
  • Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread)
  • Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water)

Will win: Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water) 

My pick: Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water) 

There wasn’t a more beautiful movie this year than The Shape of Water. Guillermo del Toro’s concept and execution of the film is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. He will win. I have no doubt about that. And he deserves it.

Writing, Adapted Screenplay

  • James Ivory (Call Me By Your Name)
  • Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber (The Disaster Artist)
  • Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green; Story by James Mangold (Logan)
  • Aaron Sorkin (Molly’s Game)
  • Virgil Williams & Dee Rees (Mudbound)

Will win: James Ivory (Call Me By Your Name) 

My pick: Aaron Sorkin (Molly’s Game)

I have only seen two of the nominees in this category, and I didn’t like Call Me By Your Name at all. To be fair, though, I hated the book (hello, straight guy trying to write about gay people) and enjoyed the movie slightly more. I know it is the likely choice to win, but my vote goes to Molly’s Game, the only other nominee I have seen. Once again, I am biased since Aaron Sorkin is the creator and writer of my favorite television show. Molly’s Game was enjoyable, though, and one of my all-time favorite Sorkin films.

Writing, Original Screenplay

  • Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick)
  • Jordan Peele (Get Out)
  • Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird)
  • Guillermo del Toro & Vanessa Taylor; Story by Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water)
  • Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)

Will win: Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)

My pick: Jordan Peele (Get Out)

This one is tough for me. I’ve seen all of these movies, and once again, Three Billboards… will probably win, even though I don’t think it deserves it. I also love The Big Sick (though I have seen some criticisms of it that are completely fair), but since this is the only nomination for the movie, I doubt it will win. I adore Lady Bird and The Shape of Water, but Get Out was brilliant, distinctive, and thrilling. I have seen some Oscar voters say some pretty racist things about Get Out, though, so I doubt Peele has a chance.

My Favorite Things: 15 Television Shows

I’ve watched a lot of television in my (almost) 23 years of life. Anyone who knows me is well aware of that fact. And while I’ve always been quick to say “That’s one of my favorites” to a variety of different shows, I’ve never actually made a list. When I sat down to write this, I intended for it to be a Top 10. However, there were some that I just really needed to include. So, without further ado, here is the list nobody really asked for…My Top 15 Television Shows!


West Wing

1. The West Wing

I watched this show mainly because my best friend asked me to. I knew I would enjoy it, but I had no idea I would fall deeply in love with it. This show combines everything I love into one: politics, smart writing, walk-and-talks, and the most perfect television ensemble of all-time. But most importantly, this show is about a family of people–Jed, Abbey, Leo, Josh, Donna, CJ, Toby, Charlie, and Sam–trying to make the world a better place. It gives me hope that maybe one day we’ll actually have some politicians like them in office.

Favorite Character: Donnatella Moss

Favorite Episode: 17 People

The West Wing is available to stream on Netflix.

Previous blog posts about The West Wing can be found here and here.


2. Friends

I have been watching Friends my entire life. I was only two years old when it started so I truly can’t remember a time when it wasn’t on TV. I didn’t read Harry Potter as a child like a lot of people in my generation (I have since read it, don’t worry). I always say that Friends was my Harry Potter. These six people have been there for me in literally every stage of life. When it ended in 2004, I cried myself to sleep and thought I would never love again. From this list, you can see I was clearly wrong about that. But I’m thankful that Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Joey, Chandler, and Ross will always be there when I most need them.

Favorite Character: Chandler Bing

Favorite Episode: The One Where Everybody Finds Out

Friends is available to stream on Netflix.


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3. The Office

I recently rewatched all nine seasons of The Office and was immediately taken back to the days when I was deep in the fandom on message boards and OfficeTally. The Office was the first show I can remember binge-watching. It was back in 2007 so I had to do it the old-fashioned way—I purchased the DVDs for seasons 1 through 3. It was a complete obsession that I left behind when Steve Carell exited the show. But as I rewatched it, I really missed those glory days. It’s such an intelligent and hilarious show with the most wonderful cast. I also didn’t hate seasons 8 and 9 nearly as much as I thought I did. I won’t ever forgive them for what they did to Andy Bernard, but everything else about it is pretty perfect. If you can find me a better season of pure comedy than season 2 of The Office, please let me know.

Favorite Character: Pam Beesly

Favorite Episode: The Dundies and The Injury (tie)

The Office is available to stream on Netflix.

A previous blog post about The Office can be found here. (This list has changed a bit since then.)


4. Breaking Bad

Is there a show quite as flawless as Breaking Bad? I have yet to find one. It’s clear from the beginning that Vince Gilligan meticulously planned every facet of this show, and it definitely pays off. Each season builds wonderfully on each other, which made the show better as time went on. That’s rare in television, and I’m glad Gilligan and AMC had the sense to end the show when they did rather than keep it on the air for ratings. It’s the only show in the top fifteen that I continued watching despite the hatred I felt towards the main character and the weekly anxiety I had for Jesse Pinkman and Skyler White. The show is so perfect that it makes all of those things so worth it.

Favorite Character: Jesse Pinkman

Favorite Episode: Ozymandias

Breaking Bad is available to stream on Netflix.


5. Parks and Recreation

The Parks and Recreation that just ended is incredibly different from the Parks and Rec that premiered in 2009, and I could not be more grateful. The first two seasons of this show are a bit rocky. Originally slated as a spinoff of The Office, Parks and Rec truly became its own show by the end of season two. And once the characters were firmly established, Parks and Recreation was an incredible treat about a group of misfits with big dreams to make their crazy town better. Throughout its seven seasons, the show remained optimistic, lighthearted, and genuinely hysterical, culminating with a finale that for any other show, I would have loathed. For Parks and Rec, though, it felt just right.

Favorite Character: April Ludgate

Favorite Episode: Flu Season

Parks and Recreation is available to stream on Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Prime.

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The Ten Dollar Founding Father: A Review of Hamilton

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Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton debate the Constitution in the most historically accurate way…with a rap battle. | Photo from The Public Theater.

(Spoiler alerts for American History to follow.)

On January 21, my former theatre professor, Michelle, and I went to see the second preview of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s new show Hamilton at The Public Theater. Miranda’s Tony- and Grammy-award winning musical In the Heights is one of my favorites so I was ecstatic when I heard that he was working on another one. However, when I heard that it would be a hip-hop musical about Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, I was a little hesitant. That’s right, a hip-hop musical about the Founding Fathers. How on earth would that work? But I went because I love Miranda’s previous work and I wanted to spend an evening seeing a new show with Michelle. Once Hamilton started, it took about 2 and a half minutes for me to fall absolutely in love with it.

Hamilton tells a story that is often left out of history books. Most people learn that the first Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton was shot by Vice President Aaron Burr in a duel, but few people understand what led to the death of Hamilton. In Miranda’s new musical, Aaron Burr (played by Leslie Odom Jr.) serves as the narrator of Hamilton’s (played by Miranda) story. Throughout the musical, Burr claims “I’m the damn fool who shot him” in a heartbreaking yet charismatic way. In a way, Hamilton becomes Aaron Burr’s story as well. Though we certainly know less about Burr’s personal life by the end of the musical than we do Hamilton’s, audiences are still given a glimpse into the mind of Burr. Through Miranda’s brilliant words, we are shown Burr’s hopes and dreams, and later, his regret and sorrow for killing Hamilton.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s words are simply magical. Hamilton PublicThe flow of his lyrics seem effortless. It’s even easy to believe that Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton settled their debates over the Constitution using rap battles. In the world that Miranda has created for the Founding Fathers, hip-hop makes perfect sense. But Lin-Manuel Miranda doesn’t just excel at hip-hop, rap, and traditional pop music. From his work on both In the Heights and Hamilton, it’s clear that Miranda has a background in musical theatre. The Broadway ballads and rap songs blend together to provide music that can speak to both old and young audiences, to people who grew up with Broadway music and those who have no knowledge of it.

Perhaps Miranda’s biggest triumph in Hamilton, though, is the use of race to tell the story of the early days of the United States. It’s no secret that Hollywood has a problem with white-washing. If you saw Exodus, you watched a white man portray a man who was certainly not white, and you’ve seen the same done in almost any historical and/or Biblical movie. Miranda and his brilliant director Thomas Kail took the opposite approach, in an effort to show that the story of the Founding Fathers belongs to all 1.172693Americans. George Washington, Aaron Burr, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson are all played by people of color. In doing so, the musical brilliantly brings to light issues of slavery and racism in the early days. Combined with the hip-hop style of music, it also makes the audience question race relations today, connecting brilliantly with the current events of Ferguson and police brutality in a time that has been deemed by many to be a “post-racial America.” Lin-Manuel Miranda, a man of Puerto Rican descent who previously wrote a musical about Hispanic immigrant families in New York City, plays Alexander Hamilton who was known as the “immigrant Founding Father.” When Miranda as Hamilton declares “Immigrants, we get the job done!” in one part of the musical, he isn’t just speaking of Hamilton’s assistance in the development of the United States. He’s speaking about the immigrants of today, who risk their lives to work hard in this country every single day and are shown little respect from our politicians and citizens.

Lin-Manuel Miranda has made it clear on social media that he has made some cuts to the show since I saw it, which is perfect since the length was really the only complaint that Michelle and I had. It is obvious that Miranda has put more than six years of hard work into this nearly-flawless show. It’s brilliant, and I can’t wait to see the life it has beyond the Public Theater. The Broadway world will never be the same.

Hamilton is running at The Public Theater through May 3. Broadway previews begin July 13 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, with the official opening on August 6.


 For a little preview, here is Lin-Manuel Miranda performing one of Aaron Burr’s songs for the President and First Lady at An Evening of Poetry, Music & the Spoken Word back in 2009.

Adulting 101: Budgets

Adulthood sucks. It’s terrifying, stressful, and confusing. My least favorite part, by far, is dealing with finances. Sure, I had to do that when I was a teenager and those four years where I pretended to be an adult in college. However, that mostly included logging onto my banking website and praying I had some money in my account to go to dinner and a movie with my friends. Adulthood means I’m now paying bills my parents once paid for me (thank you, Mom and Dad!), and that’s not fun for anyone. I have rent, cable & internet, electricity & gas, student loans, and Netflix every month. Plus, I need money to buy things like food, clothing, and medicine. Those are all pricey, especially when living in New York City on an entry-level salary.

Luckily, when I moved to NYC, I did a little research and found an amazing budget software called You Need a Budget (YNAB). The software costs $60, which you can pay after a 30-day free trial. I decided to give it a shot, and by the time my trial was over, I realized I wouldn’t survive in this city without it. And after using it for more than eight months, I can truly say this software has saved me a lot more than my original $60 investment.

This is not a screenshot of my YNAB account. If I had $16,000+ in my savings and $29,000 worth of investments, I would cry tears of joy.

YNAB looks kind of intimidating when you first start it. However, it’s actually fairly simple to use and comes with access to free web classes that make budgeting with the program effortless. The software uses 4 basic rules that keep people from living paycheck-to-paycheck as well as help you save money for emergencies, vacations, etc. With YNAB, you assign every dollar in your accounts a job. In doing so, you know exactly how much you have to spend for that month in each category and how much you are able to keep aside for the fun things in life.

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Unlike most budget programs I’ve used in the past, You Need a Budget encourages you to be flexible with your budget (my favorite rule—Rule 3). What you set at the beginning of the month doesn’t have to be what you stick to for the rest of the month. For example, if you budget $100 for groceries but actually spend $150, you can reduce $50 from other categories that you may not be using as much as you thought you would. If you need all of that money, YNAB will deduct it from your spending allotment for the upcoming month. I usually overbudget my electric bill, giving me the opportunity to either save that money for next month’s electricity or add it to another category for the current month. It’s easy to adjust your budget throughout the month and spend only the money that you actually have available without feeling like you’re failing at budgeting.

YNAB requires that you manually enter each transaction into the program so that it can deduct from the appropriate categories in your budget.

You can even easily split transactions into multiple categories! (Example: if you spend money on both groceries and medicine at the grocery store)

When I was researching various budget programs before trying YNAB, this feature seemed to be a negative aspect in a lot of reviews. People wanted something simple that you could import from your bank. However, having to manually input all inflows and outflows of cash really makes you think twice about how much you’re spending. Plus, by entering it the day the transaction is made, YNAB is more updated than your banking website. This is especially helpful when my landlady doesn’t deposit my check for a week or two after I pay my rent, but I need to know how much money I actually have to spend.

In the 9 months I’ve been using this software, I haven’t overspent once. I also haven’t had to transfer any money from my savings account to use for rent or food. In fact, I’ve been able to transfer a significant amount of money into my savings and make a few higher payments than required on my student loans. It truly has been one of the most stress-reducing purchases I’ve ever made. It keeps me organized and relaxed about finances in a city where most people are constantly stressed about it. I highly recommend it!

For $6 off You Need a Budget and to learn more about the program, click here. If you’re a student, you can receive YNAB for free this way. It’s available internationally and can sync to your iPhone and Android for budgeting while traveling.

A 22 Year Old Girl Meets the Most Important Show on TV

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Like a lot of people my age, I grew up watching reruns of Boy Meets World every day after school. The ABC show about Cory Matthews (Ben Savage), Shawn Hunter (Rider Strong), and Topanga Lawrence (Danielle Fishel) was always one of my favorites. Like Cory, I’ve had the same best friend since I was 3 years old, and we’ve gone through life together calling ourselves “Cory and Shawn.” I even ended my high school graduation speech with my favorite quote from Mr. Feeny (William Daniels): “Believe in yourselves, dream, try, do good. I love you all. Class dismissed.”

So, when Disney Channel announced a spinoff show about Cory and Topanga’s daughter, I was skeptical. As we all know, for every spinoff like Frasier, there are 10 spinoffs like Joey, and this was going to be on a children’s network instead of ABC. I felt a little better once Savage and Fishel signed on as series regulars, but I still worried the magic of Boy Meets World would be lost. Eighteen episodes of Girl Meets World later, I’m thrilled to say I was 100% wrong. Honestly, there is a part of me that is starting to like Girl Meets World even more than I like BMW.

I’m so grateful that young kids have the opportunity to watch Girl Meets World. Here are five reasons it is so important to me that they do.

1) A strong female friendship.

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The greatest thing about this show is the friendship between Riley Matthews (Rowan Blanchard) and Maya Hart (Sabrina Carpenter). Blanchard and Carpenter are incredibly talented young ladies who have actually become best friends offscreen, which helps their television friendship seem effortless. From the first episode, it is clear to older fans that these two are meant to be like Cory and Shawn. Riley is a slightly awkward young girl who wants to believe she’s as rebellious as her best friend. Maya is the cool and calm best friend whose single parent struggles to provide everything that she needs in her life. However, the writers do a wonderful job of making Riley and Maya their own people too. They are smart, funny, and adventurous, and most importantly, they completely negate the stereotypes given to preteen girls. Riley and Maya have a strong, loving friendship in which they maturely discuss their wants and needs with each other. They’re quick to support each other in any way possible. They fight, of course, but who doesn’t? But as they work through their conflict each week, viewers young and old are able to see a healthy female friendship on a children’s television show.

2) A discussion of nontraditional families.

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In an interview, Sabrina Carpenter said “To my knowledge, there has never been a character on a Disney Channel show with an absentee mom and a dad who has another family, because that’s not a typical, perfect life. But that’s what life is. It’s not perfect.” The 15-year-old actress is so right. Like her Boy Meets World counterpart Shawn, Maya doesn’t come from “a nuclear family.” Her parents are divorced, and her mother is often nowhere to be found because she’s working extra shifts at a restaurant to provide basic life necessities for her daughter. Unlike her best friend’s life, Maya’s family life is often difficult. She sees the Matthews family as her own, like Shawn did on BMW, which also brings up the important realization for kids that family does not always mean you are related to a person by blood. Maya’s situation is not an unusual one for children to experience. Shows made for kids rarely feature families that are not the “normal” family lifestyle of a mother, a father, and two or three kids. It is refreshing for young children who don’t have that family life to see one a little closer to their own on television.

3) Cory’s continuous growth.

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I’m new to this whole adulthood thing. So far, I’m not a fan. As a kid, I thought when I became an adult, I would magically know everything I needed for life. All of the adults I saw on television seemed to have it figured out. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. On Girl Meets World, they not only understand that but they show it in every episode by allowing Cory to grow as much as his daughter and her friends do. He’s grown tremendously since we first met him in middle school on BMW. But Cory still has a lot to learn about being a father, a husband, a teacher, and a human being. As a 22-year-old fan of a children’s show, I’m thankful that the boy I watched every day on TV after elementary and middle school still has not figured it all out, and I hope kids are able to watch this and see that adults do not know what they’re doing either.

4) Tackling world issues.

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While I take issue with the fact that the middle school featured on Girl Meets World lacks a significant amount of diversity amongst their students for a school in New York City, this show has tackled many vital issues for kids in just 18 episodes. In one episode, we learned that Lucas (Peyton Meyer) has recently moved to NYC from Texas. He didn’t want to leave his friends and family behind, and as someone who experienced this twice in my childhood, I connected deeply with Lucas. It is not easy to do, but Lucas and I are far from the only children to experience this life event. I never saw it on television as a child, and I wonder if it would have been easier if I had seen some small representation of it on one of my favorite television shows.

Like most shows for young people, the writers have also tackled an episode on bullying, but they addressed popularity, bullying, and self-image in unique ways that made the episode standout from the other shows. Perhaps one of the most interesting parts of that episode was Cory’s lesson on cultural appropriation to Riley and his other students. When Riley begins dressing in Harajuku style to become popular, he discusses the dangers of cultural appropriation. Since viewing the episode, I have seen some interesting discussion on the fact that Harajuku is meant to be shared with the world and is therefore not cultural appropriation. And while I do not know a lot about Harajuku and cannot speak to that, I found the overall explanation of cultural appropriation incredibly important for a children’s show. In a time when singers like Katy Perry, Iggy Azalea, and Selena Gomez are appropriating other cultures for their music videos and tours, the issue is rarely discussed in the mainstream media. Instead, it is either ignored, or even worse, celebrated as “art.” By explaining to children what the issue is, even if they did not explicitly use the term “cultural appropriation,” they are helping kids learn early that it is exploitative and racist.

5) Allowing former fans of BMW to enjoy it with their kids. 

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I know I am not ready to be a mother, but a small part of me wishes I had a child who was old enough to watch this show with me. One of the things the Girl Meets World writers have done so intelligently is bridge the gap between the old show and the new. In doing so, they provide a perfect opportunity for the two generations of fans to watch this show together. People who enjoyed BMW as teenagers now have kids around the ages of Riley, Maya, and Riley’s younger brother Auggie (August Maturo), and the show is more than enjoyable for these adults to watch. So far, GMW has featured the return of Shawn Hunter, Cory’s parents Amy and Alan Matthews (Betsy Randle and William Russ, respectively), and Topanga’s school rival Stuart Minkus (Lee Norris). We even saw a brief appearance from Mr. Feeny, and season two promises even more Shawn and Mr. Feeny as well as the return of Cory’s older brother Eric Matthews (Will Friedle). They use flashbacks creatively to show the younger fans what they missed on BMW in a way that is not confusing or overwhelming. By keeping the new generation of viewers informed about the past, they make the show nostalgic and exciting for loyal fans of BMW and build a deep connection between the two shows. And even though I am a huge fan of GMW without having kids to watch it with, I know I would love to spend my Friday nights watching this Disney Channel show with my children if I was a parent.

I don’t know how long the show can last without moving to ABC Family to keep it relevant to the aging audience, but for now, Girl Meets World is exactly what this world needs.

2014, You Weren’t So Bad

2014 was kind of surreal. I still can’t believe it all really happened when I think about it. It was crazy from beginning to end so I am dedicating my first post in a while to this life-changing year.

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I attended the Sundance Film Festival. I kicked off 2014 by attending the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, to conduct research for my Honors thesis. I wrote an extensive recap of this trip back in January, but I still can’t say enough about this experience. As this year’s festival begins, I’m so sad I can’t be there again. One day, I will return, but until then, I’ll enjoy the photos above and rewatch all of the wonderful films I saw while I was there. Also, Amy Poehler touched my hand. I need everyone to remember that.

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I traveled to Washington DC with my best friend. If you know me at all, I’ve probably yelled at you for not watching The West Wing. Or if you have watched The West Wing, I’ve probably scared you with the intensity of my love for the show and for Donnatella Moss. Luckily, I have a best friend who loves the show just as much as I do. So, when Allison and I were trying to decide where we wanted to go for spring break this year, Washington DC was the obvious choice. Our pilgrimage to the land of the Bartlet Administration (who is this Obama person?) was everything I wanted it to be and more. I mean, I touched the wall of the White House and a Secret Service member yelled at me. Truly a dream come true. I am so in love with this city.

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I completed my thesis for graduation from the Honors College. On April 24, just two days before my 22nd birthday, I defended my thesis called “Will You Buy My Movie? A Study of the Films Purchased for Distribution at the Sundance Film Festival.” I was completely terrified, as I felt the word defense implied that I was on trial. However, my advisors were excellent and helped ease the stress of writing and defending a 43 page research paper. I can’t count on my fingers and toes how many times I almost gave up throughout the experience, but I’m happy to say I completed it and passed with honors! What a great start to my 22nd birthday weekend.

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I graduated from college and watched my brother graduate from high school. WHAT?! I have a college degree hanging on a wall in my apartment. The cliche is true—my four years of college went by so quickly. Part of me misses it. The other part—the larger part—is grateful for the experiences I had at Western Kentucky University and happy to be moving on to new things. I also proudly watched as my baby brother graduated from high school and started his college career at WKU. (Special thanks to my parents for all of the hard work they put into throwing our awesome graduation party!)

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I went on a cruise with my family after graduation. Aren’t we cute? This was a much-needed family vacation, and we had an absolute blast. Or we did once my brother got over his illness on our first day. We played with dolphins in the Bahamas, toured St. Maarten in a Jeep, and swam and shopped in St. Thomas. We also became close friends with our tablemates, the other Smiths, who came to visit us in Kentucky when I was home in September.

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I moved to New York City. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been saying that I was going to move to NYC after I graduated from college. People tried to tell me I wouldn’t be able to get a job in the Big Apple right after college and that I would have to work for many years before I made it here. I kind of started to believe them. However, I graduated on May 17 and started my job on June 23. Did I mention this job is in an office building in the middle of Times Square? I made it, and I have to say I’m pretty proud of myself. The same week I got my first job, I met Dule Hill from The West Wing. I also now get to see my uncles Patrick and LeLan pretty frequently. Not too shabby.

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I went back to Kentucky for a week in September. My company offers fantastic benefits. Seriously, I’m so lucky. One of those benefits includes quite a bit of time off so I was able to take a week in September to relax and visit with family and friends after the whirlwind summer that I had.

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I had a number of visitors in the Big Apple. My parents, my aunt, my brother, my cousin, my brother’s friend, and some of my friends have all come to visit me so far. I knew I would have a lot of visitors when I moved here, but I didn’t expect so many this quickly! I’m incredibly grateful that they visit me frequently and that I’m able to live in an apartment large enough to host them.

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I visited Central PerkOn October 8, I fulfilled my lifelong dream of meeting my friends at Central Perk after work. Sadly, it was only a temporary pop-up coffee shop to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the premiere of Friends, but I almost cried while I was there. They turned it into a tiny museum full of artifacts from the show. Kait, Nicole, and I even got to sit on the famous couch, and you could tell how sunken in it was from all of the days that Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Joey, Chandler, and Ross spent on it. I want it to be in NYC permanently.

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I met two of the greatest feminist icons of my generation. For $5, I was able to attend an evening with Tavi Gevinson and Janet Mock to celebrate the release of Tavi’s Rookie Yearbook 3. If you don’t know anything about these two women, I highly recommend you check them out! Tavi is only 18 years old and has accomplished more and helped more young women than I could ever dream of doing. Janet is a leader in the transgender community and wrote a New York Times bestseller that I can’t wait to read called Redefining Realness. After their conversation with each other, we were able to get our books signed and meet them. They were even more incredible in person that I thought possible.

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I spent an evening with Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers. In celebration of her book release, Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers sat down together for a few hours at 92Y in New York and talked about life. The best part? I was there! My friend Kait and I bought VIP tickets for only $68, which meant we were in the fifth row and got a signed copy of Yes Please with our ticket. Amy and Seth really are the cutest friends I’ve ever seen, and Amy’s laugh can change the world. It’s the fifth time I’ve been in her presence, and I’ve walked away a happier and better person after each experience.

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I spent Thanksgiving with my family and two dear friends. Jana and Trip also moved to New York City after graduating from WKU, and I’m so happy they did. While I knew them in college, we’ve gotten a lot closer since we all moved here. Having them join my family for Thanksgiving really made the holiday weekend perfect.

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I went to Kentucky for Christmas. Getting to Kentucky was a tad stressful, but I made it home around noon on Christmas Eve and spent the holiday weekend surrounded by my wonderful family members. Christmas was a little different than usual due to various circumstances, but it was a merry one. How could it not be with all of those cute babies to help you celebrate?

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I spent New Years Eve with a new group of friends. Back in July, I made a new friend who quickly became one of my favorite people in the world. I spent New Years Eve with her and some of her friends in Virginia, and it was the perfect end to a spectacular year.