One month in

Time has been flying by. It's been a month since I arrived in the Philippines. So far I have:

  • Frantically stayed active on Yelp - a hard endeavor considering how unpopular Yelp is in the Philippines. And the fact that I don't have cellular data.
  • Spent 5 days in Baguio, a northern city in the mountains. When you live on a tropical island, people vacation to places that are cold. By cold, I mean 65 degrees at night. Sweater weather, indeed.
  • As for my Witcher 3 progress, I have successfully found Ciri, romanced Yen, unlocked Yoana’s forge, and worked on completing my Gwent deck. If you must know.
  • Planned a Boracay trip for my friends visiting me in December. True love is your friends from California coming to the Philippines to see you (and to be beach bums).
  • Researched on what I’m planning to do when I’m in Japan at the end of the year. Got overwhelmed and decided to just prioritize visiting districts (rather than really specific stores or restaurants): Akihabara and Harajuku.
  • Trying to plan a Palawan trip, as that’s on my bucket list before I fly back to Arizona.
  • Eat food. Take pictures of said food.

I know I look absolutely ridiculous in these but I had to buy them.

They were on sale. 

And too good to pass up.

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The Homer one is the smallest size.

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And this Marge one is actually two sizes too big, but it was the last one available and I HAD to get it - her hair is ENTIRELY sequins. 

These two articles of clothing have now been designated as my two of my official midnight-grocery-run-to-Winco outfits.

From Booger to Bougie

I have a puppy now.

Kind of.

He's the ugliest thing I've ever seen in my life. 

My mom saved him at 1 week old when my grandma's Shih Tzu died after giving birth to one ugly puppy. Half pug, half Shih Tzu.  A rat bit his tail, so he was infected. And like, double the dying.

He was really, really ugly. And my cousin named him Booger. Because of the ugliness. 

Today he's three months old. He's INCREDIBLY hyper. And very much alive. And still extremely ugly. And he's not house trained. Much to my dismay.

I've decided to rename him Bougie. Bougie, the ugliest dog. Bougie, the furthest thing from bougie. Bougie, not Booger.

Here he is, in all his ugliness.

Don't say I didn't warn you.

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Hurricane Nic's made landfall!

I landed in Manila this afternoon. It felt different this time - maybe because I know this will be home for the next few months. It felt final. More final, at least. Not forever - I'm coming back to the US, I'm sure of it - but when I landed I didn't have that rush, that high, that usually comes from knowing I only have two weeks on the island and that I must savor every second. I didn't feel that as much today - instead I felt very, very calm. 

I've got fake followers showing fake love to me! (But I actually don't because I'm too cheap to buy them.)

Call me naïve, but it blew my mind how frequently – and how easily -- people “cheat” at social media. And while all these black-hat tactics can be used across multiple platforms, I’m mostly fascinated with them being used for Instagram.

I only started working in SEO this year (that’s search engine optimization, mom - except I gave up trying to explain to my family what this is, and now whenever someone over the age of 50 asks me about my industry I say “internet marketing.” Or if I’m feeling particularly playful, I tell them I fux with Google rankings.) so you could say, despite my many years of browsing the Internet (insert obligatory #millennial), I’m a novice in my field – all things considered.

OK, so I knew about buying followers – bot accounts, basically, which are coded to follow you, Like your posts, and sometimes – for the advanced bot – even comment on your posts. Ah, the beauty of AI…

But it goes deeper than that. (“We have to go deeper!”)

Into the rabbit hole we go.

There’s social media pods, which is 9 times out of 10 a Facebook group OR a Viber/WhatsApp group or a Slack or Discord (ok, a 3rd party platform, you get it) filled with people who have mutually consented to liking and commenting on each other’s posts.

(If you look at Yelp – a platform that insists it’s NOT “social media” – you can see the work of pods more evidently; for example, a popular Yelper may post a review for the gas station down the street and within 15 minutes there’s 30+ upvotes validating how “useful/funny/cool” said review is.)

There’s also the case of sell-out feature accounts, and this surprised me more than it should have, considering I work in SEO. Yeah, you know that super artsy food account you’ve been following? The kind that says “Use #MYHASHTAG to be featured” on their profile, so all aspiring foodie bloggers tag them in the hopes of being featured and getting more promotion…?

MANY OF THESE ACCOUNTS ACCEPT PAYMENT TO BE FEATURED. It’s basically the same concept as those blogs that accept paid guest posts. You literally pay them like, $50 and suddenly you’re featured. It’s less about the organic content and more about the $$$.

And here I was thinking Instagram was run on aspiring photographers or honest creatives. It turns out THE SYSTEM IS CORRUPT. It’s pay to play, all the way.

Yeah, there’s the honest photographers or curators on Instagram still. The ones who think if they throw enough popular hashtags in their caption plus excellent content will guarantee a slow but sure hard-earned success.

You just haven’t heard of them because they’re buried by the black-hat Instagrammers.

I collaborated with my team here at Eminent SEO to create the infographic below, accompanied by a brilliantly written piece by my colleague Remy, who goes into more depth regarding the black-hat tactics I briefly mentioned above:

 

Wanderlustful

I was never one to feel restless or antsy by staying in one place for too long. 

I think I'm a little vanilla, in that sense. I enjoy routine. I appreciate predictability.

I like staying at home.

And yet, after a series of unexpected events... here I am, about to embark on a sorta-kinda-ish spontaneous journey to Manila.. where I will be residing for the next 2 or 3 months. Or so.

A new home, albeit temporarily.

I haven't lived in Manila since I was 13. I spent two years going to Brent International School, before moving back to San Ramon, California with my mom and sister in 2007.

I would be lying if I said I wasn't terrified. I've been searching my mind for WHY I'm so anxious for this big move - but I can't pinpoint why. In all likelihood, moving back home is going to be exciting and fun. I haven't lived in the same roof as my little sister in years. Why am I so nervous?!

Despite how exciting living in Asia will be, I think I'm going to be a little homesick for Arizona. And I'm going to miss the routine I've built here.

It's not a forever goodbye - I'll be back - I just need to put on my big girl pants. Kind of like how I moved across the country to attend Boston University. Except now, I'll be moving across the entire planet.

THINGS I AM EXCITED FOR WHEN I MOVE TO MANILA ON OCTOBER 17:

  • My family, obviously. 90% of my extended family lives in Manila too, so that'll be great. 
  • Awesome food. ESPECIALLY compared to the drab foodie community of Arizona. My Instagram is going to be flourishing, LOL. 
  • Cheaper cost of living.
  • I can reap the benefits of living with a parent, i.e. FREE DINNER!!!! Thanks mom. 
  • I would love to reconnect with old middle school friends from my Brent days. 
  • I'll have time to tour the beautiful beaches and cities of the Philippines: Palawan, Boracay, Cebu, Davao, Baguio, etc. 

Adventure is good. I must not fear jumping out of my comfort zone. In the wise words of some probably drunk freshman biddie stumbling down Commonwealth Avenue.... YOLO.

Manila, I'm coming for you.

Pokemon Go took over my life BUT IT'S STILL NOT ENOUGH.

Despite Pokemon Go being launched over a year ago, I've noticed that the community is still going strong - if you know where to find them.

The hype's died down, that's for certain. I predicted - correctly - that after the first couple months, all the bandwagoners would have quit, and only the true Pokemon fans would be left.

I've played Pokemon Go every single day since launch, with the only exception being a 2 week hiatus because my phone was stolen (it happened a few days after the second gen launched - I was MISERABLE) and another 1 week period where I desperately begged my sorority sister in France to try and catch a region-locked Mr. Mime for me (spoiler alert: she didn't find any) because my ten-year-old cousin had gotten one, and I was jealous.

What stood out to me during the initial hype was how crazy it felt to sit at home and obsessively play Pokemon Moon on my Nintendo DS, and then whenever I had to venture outside and do errands, I put the DS away and whipped out my phone... to play Pokemon Go.

It's kind of fun being consumed by Pokemon.

The introduction of legendary raids have really awakened my excitement for the app. Despite failing to catch Articuno and Moltres, it was exciting to meet random strangers in seemingly random locations around Tempe in an effort to work together to battle a legendary.

I met a 34-year-old woman who was absolutely hilarious... At first, she took me off guard, because I can be a judgmental ass and - well I'm just going to go out and say it - I totally thought she was on drugs. She was talking a mile a minute. But I soon realized she was fucking awesome when she started name-dropping the most recent 3rd party gym raid tracker and more impressively, the /r/TheSilphRoad subreddit. (If you don't play Pokemon Go or surf reddit obsessively, the sentence I just said was probably absolute jargon to you.)

In a nutshell... this lady was a total Pokemon nerd. And being a low key Pokemon nerd myself, I thought she was freaking awesome.

It also blew my mind that she was level 34. (I was only 30 at the time. OK, fine, I still am technically, but once I pop a Lucky Egg and evolve my Pokemon, I'll be 31.)

And then I felt kinda bad for judging her and thinking she was on crack or something. Like, she was probably just super friendly and nice. I need to remember this moment, so future Nicola can avoid acting like a judgmental asshole again.

Later on during the Pokemon Go hunt, I met a level 40. This time she was a very quiet, very meek-mannered but nice foreign woman. I say foreign because she had an accent but I really couldn't quite place it - Spanish maybe? Or Mexican?

In fact, during the raids, I obsessively checked all the other players' levels and I found myself on the lower end of the spectrum. 30 was considered low!

It was very, very humbling to say the least.

You know that quote where it's like - There will always be someone prettier, smarter, and younger than you?

It kind of felt like that.

Cat life.

Some sleepy pictures of Lambert, because he's so cute and I love waking up to that sleepy kitty smile.

I'm not a kitty, but Snapchat lets me pretend.

I'm not a kitty, but Snapchat lets me pretend.

I was confused why my family members thought I had another cat.

Then I came across pictures of this little guy.

This cat kept mewing outside my door until I let it into my apartment. I hear mewing nonstop for a good five minutes, but didn't really expect a cute little kitten to rush my apartment as soon as I opened the door.

I played with it for a little while and then I went to go eat dinner. And when I came back, I found his owners and gave him back lol. He's cute, his name is Simba. And he lives in the apartment underneath mine.

He was my new cat for all of two hours.

San Francisco

I met up with my mom and sister in San Francisco for a weekend full of family, cousins, and FOOD! I introduced them to Boiling Point and, in a typical fashion, went twice on consecutive days.

It's awesome when your family is as food-obsessed as you are.

Philz Coffee Mint Mojito is a MUST if you visit the bay.

Philz Coffee Mint Mojito is a MUST if you visit the bay.

Zanze Cheesecake is amazingly creamy. My only criticism is that it is lacking a decadent graham cracker crust, which is one of my favorite parts of a cheesecake!

Zanze Cheesecake is amazingly creamy. My only criticism is that it is lacking a decadent graham cracker crust, which is one of my favorite parts of a cheesecake!

My sister is so cute.

My sister is so cute.

My 2017 so far:

  • I bought Spotify. I feel like I've just been promoted to "True Millennial" status -- paying for a music streaming service. It's just too convenient. (And, okay, TSwift putting all her music back on Spotify was a big factor in my decision. I'll admit it.)
  • Turmeric, fresh ginger root, sweetener + lemon juice = new nightly ritual.
  • Finished my first bottle of caffeine pills in a span of 7-8 months. I have now allowed myself to "graduate" ... and purchased a way bigger bottle. Progress?
  • I'm doing this thing where I get my nails done every so often. One, it helps me stop biting my nails. Two, a goal of mine that I haven't been working on is to look "put together." AKA look high maintenance. I may not be high maintenance, but when I see another female who looks put together (nails did, hair did, everyone done - plus slays at her job) I definitely feel more than a twinge of admiration. There are, of course, more important things than one's aesthetic, but I think it's very similar to my philosophy on make up - if you feel good on the outside, it can help you feel good on the inside. Fake it till you make it, that sort of thing.
  • Best purchase of the year: Still my $20 step up stool. I can reach ALL the high cabinets now. Yas.
  • I have friends visiting me soon, and other friends making plans to visit me. It's starting to feel like Arizona is home. And I love my apartment. And my cats.
  • I discovered splenda sort of tastes the best out of all the fake sugar. I know stevia is cool and all, but I think I got sick of the taste. Maybe by the end of the year I'll prefer stevia again. But don't even get me STARTED on sucralose. It gives me the weirdest reaction in my mouth afterwards, like a terribly strange aftertaste.

I've been feeling inspired lately. Inspired, motivated, and excited about the future. I think these are good signs. I just have to remember to blog more. (Which reminds me - in a few months I'll be renewing my Squarespace domain!)

Another future goal: To swag out at my desk at work. If I'm going to spend the majority of my day at a desk, I better swag it out somehow. Time to Pinterest.

Slow motion

I have been traveling very frequently these past couple months, and my updates have (regrettably) fallen on the wayside. However, my Boston trip last weekend has marked the end of my busy spring! (My next trip: San Francisco to see my sister and mom, but that's not for another six weeks.)

I'm excited for the next six weeks of not traveling. And don't get me wrong - I love being busy - but there's something nice about settling into a routine. To enjoy my weekends. To live a slow-paced existence. (Arizona is pretty helpful when you want to live slowly... I think it's because of all the retirees and snowbirds. Like, there's a diner on every corner. Diners are kind of for old people.)

I think I'm definitely a grandma at heart. Or at the very least - what is the opposite of thrill-seeker? - whatever it is, I'm that.

I bought CS GO this week. I used to think in all its simplicity that the game was boring (where are the zombies?! the classes?) but now I appreciate it. It's a nice, fast-paced, and no frills first-person shooter. (I played casual and fared OK, to my surprise. But I'm still light years away from playing competitively - I think.)

Summer in Arizona has arrived, which means 1) mosquito bites, 2) sunscreen is a necessity, and 3) the air conditioner is my new best friend. It also means that Sonic shakes are half off after 8 pm. I also dread wearing jeans to work everyday, but it's not like cutoffs are work-appropriate.

One note: now that I am traveling less, my diet has disintegrated. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) I've decided to put aside IIFYM and just eat to my heart's content and "worry later." I'm trying to practice mindful eating too. I'm trying this new thing where I eat and just be happy and not stressed. It's interesting.

I am starting this summer off in slow motion. I want to relax after traveling (and being stressed) since February's break-in. (Which is a topic for another blog post, maybe.) I want to slowly get into a routine and just... breathe. (I want to join a kickboxing gym too, while we're on the subject of things I want.)

I apologize for this post being all over the place. I'm still getting my bearings.

Excited for the summer and what it will bring me.

Boston

It's funny - when I lived in Boston, it never felt like home. I had pledged my undying allegiance to California and *hated* flying back to Boston several times a year. But during my last semester in Boston, I resolved to enjoy every second of it... every snowstorm and wind-chilled-day.

Now that I don't live in Boston anymore, I miss it SO MUCH. The chic fashionistas walking down Newbury Street, beau and Starbucks coffee cup in hand. The Hunter boots. The crisp autumnal weather. Yes, even the horrible face-numbing snowstorms, and the dinosaur of a public transportation system that is the MBTA. I miss it SO MUCH.

I visited Boston for a weekend and it was so fun. Funny how it's hard to appreciate things - people, places, possessions - until they've become a fond memory, forever placed comfortably in the past.

Seattle

I visited Seattle to see some of my best friends and fell in love with the crazy city! And OMG the food - the food was awesome.

Revelations

Against all odds... the Peeps Oreo flavor doesn't suck. On the contrary, it tastes quite good. Similar to strawberry shortcake flavor (a big win for me) but with a faint Peeps marshmallow-like texture.

I say against all odds because today at the grocery store, I argued vehemently with the boyfriend against purchasing them. Swedish Oreos, as we all remember, was a huge failure. He insisted we try them. It was a battle I lost, and I am grateful for it.

Because despite the Swedish oreo mishap, I think the Peeps Oreos have redeemed Nabisco.

And so the great Oreo hunt continues.

EDIT: After a quick Google search, it has been discovered that the Peeps Oreos make your poop pink. WHAT'S NOT TO LOVE? I'm all for this.

Nicola's Oreo Rankings 2017 (Yes, because this post is necessary.)

Some days I get hit with a spark of inspiration to jot something down, and I run to my desk (or now, Squarespace app... which sucks as an app btw) to update my blog. Even if I just end up scribbling down my pointless wonderings (and there are truly a lot of these wonderings) and random thoughts.

This is not really one of those days. 

Today I got hit with a curious need to jot down my definitive list of Oreos, ranked from most pleasant to down right terrible. (I'm looking at you, SWEDISH FISH OREOS.) 

So I've made it a point to try every new Oreo flavor I see. For memory's sake, I'm going to rank them all from AWESOMETASTIC to this-totally-sucks.

  1. Caramel Apple Oreos (these are bomb and freaking amazing.)
  2. Pumpkin Spice Oreos (call me basic but THESE ARE FANTASTIC.)
  3. Gingerbread Oreos
  4. Red Velvet Oreos
  5. Strawberry Shortcake Oreos
  6. Blueberry Pie Oreos
  7. Key Lime Pie Oreos
  8. Peeps Oreos (added 3/2)
  9. Mint Oreos (a friggin' classic.)
  10. Birthday Cake Oreos (I'm referring to the golden cookie/bday cake combo here. The chocolate version of bday cake sucks.)
  11. Golden Oreo.
  12. Brownie Batter Oreos
  13. Cookie Dough Oreos
  14. Normal Oreos (including double stuffed, thins, etc)
  15. Reese's Oreos
  16. Lemon Oreos
  17. Cinnamon Bun Oreos
  18. S'mores Oreos (meh.)
  19. Chocolate Chip Oreos
  20. Peanut Butter Oreos
  21. Filled Cupcake Oreos
  22. Heads or Tails Oreos (like why does this exist.)
  23. Birthday Cake Oreos, the chocolate version
  24. Watermelon Oreos
  25. Berry Oreos (spoiler alert: these taste really stupid.)
  26. Swedish Fish Oreos (THESE TOTALLY SUCK, DO NOT EAT EVER. THESE ARE HORRID. WHY DO THESE EXIST. YECHHH.)

OREOS I HAVE YET TO FIND/TRY:

  1. Chocolate Strawberry Oreos
  2. Cotton Candy Oreos (helloooo, I want these.)
  3. Fruity Crisp Oreo (this looks really promising.)
  4. Toasted Coconut Oreos
  5. Marshmallow Crispy Oreos

Manila 2016 pics

Just realized I never posted pics from my trip to the Philippines this past Christmas! I already uploaded them to my PC and since I'm blogging off of my phone (while sitting in traffic... Don't worry, I am the passenger not driver!) I will have to make do with the photos I kept on my phone.

That time I got LASIK and had to wear no makeup and these fake glasses for a week.

That time I got LASIK and had to wear no makeup and these fake glasses for a week.

My cute sister waiting for me to finish getting my eyebrows done.

My cute sister waiting for me to finish getting my eyebrows done.

Playing with Snapchat filters with my six year old cousin! Gotta start em early.

Playing with Snapchat filters with my six year old cousin! Gotta start em early.

Dad trying to take a selfie with me on our last dinner together before I left Manila.

Dad trying to take a selfie with me on our last dinner together before I left Manila.

This year's family pic. It's like a zoo!

This year's family pic. It's like a zoo!

Notashopaholic

This week, in an effort to ensure I accomplished my goals, I told myself I would reward myself with a gift if I successfully stuck to my healthy eating/working out routine. Typically I would reward myself with food, but that seemed counter intuitive to my goals. (Refer to: New Year's Resolutions post.) Instead, I would reward my newfound healthy ways by spending a boatload of money on myself.

(Okay, not a boatload. But at least over $50. At least.)

It could be something frivolous, like clothes or a waffle maker. Or cake batter flavored protein powder. (The cake batter flavored protein powder was a big contender as my potential prize for an entire day, FYI.)

The week came and went and LO AND BEHOLD, I succeeded. Little did I know the hardest part was yet to come.

I browsed online for a few hours. Zara, TopShop, Urban Outfitters. There were things I liked, certainly. But enough to buy...? I really, really didn't need new clothes. (Note to self about future blog post idea: NICOLA IS THE OPPOSITE OF A HOARDER. I'm addicted to having less stuff.)

Okay, so then what? I browsed around Victoria's Secret and American Eagle. Maybe I'll buy myself brand new underwear, enough to last me the next five years. (Sorry if that was TMI, future employers. Or mom. Whoever is reading this. Sorry that I wear underwear LIKE A NORMAL PERSON.) No, no, I really don't need clothes OR underwear.

OK. Gym clothes. I've been going to the gym consistently, so it definitely makes sense that my reward would be gym clothes! I could get the cute Lululemon leggings, the kind with a giant pocket for my phone. Oh, they're $100? Umm. Hmm. There's a good dupe on American Eagle for $30 too. I can afford it... but it seems silly to spend that much on leggings right now, since I have two perfectly good pairs. Ok, gym clothes are out of the question.

I went to my Amazon wish list. OK, I can just pick something off my wish list (spoiler alert: I have THREE wish lists on Amazon. They are organized into 3 groups: Kitchen, Food, and Miscellaneous. #Priorities. Wait, I just realized I have Kitchen AND Food? OMG what is wrong with me.) and then I can just buy it and move on. Yay for Prime!

What about the waffle maker you've always wanted? Yeah, but you don't really need more appliances, plus you still need to master making pancakes. OK, what about protein powder? There's so many flavors.. like cake batter (!!), birthday cake, graham cracker... SO MANY DELICIOUS OPTIONS. But don't you still have two bags left of chocolate and vanilla protein powder? How about you just finish those bags and THEN buy cake batter protein powder? Oook, what about some new candles? No, you just got a ton of candles for Christmas, remember?

And so on. You get the point. This went on the entire day. I managed to talk myself out of buying every single thing. Even things I KNEW I wanted at some point, like a waffle maker. I just didn't want to buy anything enough, regardless of whether or not I "earned" it with my healthy eating.

The next day, I went to Marshalls with the boyfriend, so HE could buy something.

"Choose something you want, Nicola! ANYTHING that remotely interests you. Just BUY IT," I told myself. (After all, I'M ALREADY IN MARSHALLS, everything I could possibly want from here is already like $10 or less.)

I ended up talking myself out of buying $15 earmuffs and bought a little stand up shelf. To organize my desk. It was $0.99. With sales tax, I ended up spending $1.07.

$1.07.

After much deliberation, I bought myself something I needed. For one dollar. I may as well have rewarded myself with some toothpaste.

What's the opposite of frivolous? Whatever it is, I'm that.

I'd like to think that the reason I couldn't bring myself to buy anything was that eating right and working out was reward enough for me... but no. It turns out I just don't really care for shopping that much.

I'll buy something one day, obviously, eventually. But right now my reward is the cute little shelf on my desk. The most frivolous dollar I ever spent.

MY SHELF, IN ALL ITS ONE DOLLAR GLORY! See how nicely it holds all my things? I'm very cool (and organized).

MY SHELF, IN ALL ITS ONE DOLLAR GLORY! See how nicely it holds all my things? I'm very cool (and organized).

Blog makeover

I have just changed the look of my website and I LOVE it. It is unfortunate that I paid for Squarespace and didn't *love* the theme of my blog until 5-6 months in. But I am in love with the interface now; I think it is a lot cleaner and more me.

The layout beforehand was too cluttered with images, because I was inspired by the gorgeous websites of various graphic designers/photographers. They had BEAUTIFUL artwork to show off, and their layout was reflective of their design skills.

But I'm not a graphic designer or a professional photographer. I'm a copywriter and a blogger and a public relations major, so I needed a layout indicative of my own strengths, instead of someone else's. And I truly think that's where my layout choice failed me initially.

Not anymore though. I think this is clean and beautiful and showcases my ramblings and thoughts in a manner that is very succinct. (As much as I like to call my blog posts ramblings, I'm all about the succinct.)

Interesting how deep introspection can come from the most unusual of places. (In my case, my blog layout.)