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Getting "In the Spirit"...Whatever That Means These Days: Part 1

I am one of those people that just doesn't feel it anymore when it comes to Christmas. I mean, I love going home and seeing my family. I love going to midnight mass. I love the story of Christ's birth, going to mass during Advent, and I love the traditional Christmas dinners my family has (which involve fish, octopus, vegetables, and more fish). Forget turkey and ham, in my house we eat boiled vegetables and codfish drizzled with olive oil. My family comes from a culture full of agriculture, fishermen, and all sorts of seafaring our holidays are a bit different than any I ever see on television.

Everything else about Christmas, however, is a disaster. I hate the red fur-trimmed Santa suits that pop up on every corner. I hate the Macy's "Believe" ads that have swamped all of Penn Station. Whenever I see these, I can't help but think, "Believe in what? Buying more crap?" I hate the overcrowded stores and lines of people with carts full of plastic ornaments, toys, etc....especially when I have only 4 things to check out. I hate the ads that keep popping up on Pandora (most of them are in Spanish for some reason...but I still hear the same annoying message). I hate the ridiculously tacky, inflatable holiday-themed football players you see on people's lawns during this time of year (maybe it's only something you see in South Jersey...but I still think it's obnoxious). I hate the commercials for toys, and a bunch of other crap they guilt you into buying for your kids. I don't have kids yet, so I'm off the hook when it comes to being considered a bad parent for refusing to buy my kid the latest DS, ipad, ipod, etc. Thank God for that.

The other week I committed a small faux pas during the lab gift exchange because of my refusal to give into tacky, over-the-top holiday riff-raff. It all started with my idea to purchase a gift card on and place it in a box. Then place this box in another box in nesting doll fashion...and then throwing this in a few more boxes for good measure.

I didn't have time to wrap it, so I ended up printing out a bow and taping it to the top of the large cardboard box that housed all those other boxes and the card. I know, very classy. This part, however, wasn't the problem. The problem was the gift card itself. I don't know what it is with their holiday card selection is pretty tacky and/or over-the-top.

Nothing says "Happy-over-the-top-and-extremely-tacky-Holidays" like Frosty the Olympic Gold Medalist Snowman.... zooming in on his flaming snowboard of doom to score his way into your heart with speed and MAJOR AIR!!! (This is a random, somewhat obscure Rocket Power reference for those of you who were raised on 1990s and early 2000s Nickelodeon and still remember it.)

Coming in second place is the cardboard box alphabet explosion! If you forget what watching Sesame Street was all about and want to relive the nostalgia of having letters thrown at you from all angles...pick this card. Side effects from buying this card include making up songs about the letter "A" and checking your garbage cans for any signs of Oscar the Grouch when you finally decide to tear off the gift card and toss this orange monstrocity. (Note- This is my default card...available year round for birthdays, anniversaries, showers, holidays, you name it. That's why it made it onto my current "holiday card" list.)
If you do happen to celebrate Christmas the way it was celebrated in the days before Martin Luther made outdoor Christmas trees a thing of the past, then this card is for you...especially if you're into isosceles triangle trees with built-in dotted help you cut around the edges.
If you prefer to tone it down a notch (or a lot of notches), this is the card for you. It features a few crooked row homes on a night as stark, dreary, and this picture to the right. The only saving grace you see (after a few double takes) is a string of shabby Christmas lights hanging from light post to light post. That tiny little set of lights and the snow falling from the cloudless sky are the only signs on this card that make is somewhat seasonable. If it didn't have the snow, it could pass off as a "My Deepest Sympathy" card. It's just so......depressing.

Ultimately, I could not bring myself to get any of the cards from above. Not only were they devoid of anything that could evoke that so-called "Holiday" spirit...but they were so monstrously tacky. Instead of bringing holiday cheer, they made succeeded in evoking a few eye rolls and a head shake or two from me. I could not buy the cards. I simply refused to. They were so ridiculously tacky. To be fair, I am sure that a lot of people are more than okay with these cards. I also DO acknowledge that I can be a tad picky and more than a tad jaded when it comes to anything that our extremely materialistic culture seems to pass off as Christmas-related (even when it has nothing to do with Christmas).

For an example of why I'm a tad jaded by all this Holiday madness....consider the following example of just how crazy we are.
Perfect example: How in the world did we go from this: this permanent holiday fixture?

....and then this two-story $350 monstrocity? 
It's almost like walking into a form of mass hysteria whenever I go out to do something mundane like buy groceries these days....because of stuff like this! To make matters worse, it seems to be starting earlier and earlier as the years go by...and lasting longer. Well, before I go to far with my ranting...let me get back to the card situation....because you are probably wondering what card I did eventually get. Well, I chose the simplest one that was most pleasing to the eye...
I know what you're' under-commercialized. How in the world could I bring such a card into a holiday gift exchange?

Well, I weighed my options. This card was the only one that, in my opinion, didn't suck or look incredibly tacky. The silhouette idea here kind of appealed to did the blending of dark blue into the light orange of early morning. Also, there were no Santa hats, no plastic ornaments, no isosceles trees, no elves (not a big fan of elves besides those in Middle Earth and Harry Potter), no shabby row homes, candy canes, no sparkles, no holly, no bells, no reindeer, no polar bears (not a big fan of these to begin with),  no Rockettes,  no stockings, no snowmen, no toy soldiers...and none of that other stuff that's been shoved down our throats ever since Thanksgiving by everyone from Macy's to Coca-Cola.

For the record, I didn't think this card was perfect. Something about Christ being born in a tiny, two-walled stable just didn't make sense. The Wise King Tango line was also a tad off. However, I suppose sacrifices must be made if you are going to go for a silhouette theme. Anatomical accuracy is one of them. As is structural stability. The donkey, however, was cute. At least I think it's a donkey.


Everyone in the lab knows I am Catholic. If the Dominican cross hanging on my desk doesn't out me as a Catholic, the picture of Pope Benedict XVI certainly does. Fortunately, as far as I know, everyone also knows that I am a pretty reasonable person when it comes to religion. Everyone knows that a good number of my friends aren't Catholic. You name a religion and I can probably name a friend that follows it. If I don't celebrate a particular holiday, I still wish people a good insert holiday here... regardless of how similar or different it is to the holidays I celebrate. That's just how I roll.

So I took the risk and got the card. The person who got the card turned out to be Muslim. There was some worry that my box-within-a-box gift would end up being something strange or Harry Potter-related...but it turned out that the gift certificate was very appreciated and everyone got a good laugh out of the box idea. The best part is, no one was offended by the card.

Between Wasting Time and Serving God

"Science can purify religion from error and superstition; religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes." - Pope John Paul II

One of my worst habits (or possibly my best habits) is catching up on the news and my favorite blogs while I study. When I am studying my bum off or trying to type up some project, I take a few moments to give my brain a small rest every now and then. These little breaks are my only means of catching up with world events and the weather.  Recently, BadCatholic wowed me with a post on yet another “scientific” discovery that supposedly disproved God’s existence. I could not help but reply to this post with a line or two of dry humor followed by a link to this post  from a while back. In this post, I argued in favor of faith over irrelevant details and putting timelines and limits on God’s omnipotence.

I didn’t think much of it until someone commented on this post some time later. I say comment, but it was really more of a cry for help (some would even venture to say “rant”). At first, I thought it was a joke. Then, I thought, “Wow, this guy is actually serious…and attempting to demonize the post of a faithful person who simply stresses the WHY of creation rather than the HOW.” Then I felt the need to respond to this guy and sort out a few misconceptions. Alas, he beat me to the punch and posted something about me on his own blog before I even had the chance to reply (neuro final = no time).

I intended to reply to his comments and defend my good name as a Catholic and as a scientist after finishing my exam…but the more I thought about the tone of the comments and the tone of this individual’s own blog post regarding my post….the more I realized that…. 

Well said, Admiral Ackbar
Call me a creeper, but my suspicions led me to Google him. By the looks of it, I think I’m just going to save myself the time …swallow my pride….and throw in the white towel.  The comments were a trap. They were a trap designed to have me waste my time researching and clarifying…just so he can refute whatever I have to say (and whatever sources I cite)…regardless of what I have to say.  The argument was already lost even before it started. However, I am okay with this. I have already dealt with people just like him before and understand that there are people out there that just need to ruffle feathers to feel like they’ve gotten some point across. Some call them trolls. I call them "They-who-waste-my-time-for-no-reason."

 Any reply to his comments would be a waste of time in the making. Agreeing with him would probably lead to an internet high-five of some sort, followed by this guy riding off into the sunset and never visiting my blog again. The only time I’d waste here would be a three sentences-worth of typing (maximum). However, my integrity as a Catholic as well as a scientist would probably take too much of a hit. Any other reply, ranging from an outright “you’re wrong” to a lengthy and well-studied reply opposing his views would have probably wasted several days-worth of my time (at least). Time would be wasted researching everything (and citing), refuting his increasingly cranky responses…and finally I’d just ignore him and he’d eventually get tired and move on to his next victim.  As a PhD student, I’ve learned the value of triage…so I’m cutting my losses here by just opting out of the battle entirely.

Giving into challenge would be a waste of time for the sake of pride. I refuse to abandon integrity…but pride, not so much. Besides, if our conversation follows the same suit as those of others who have disagreed with him, it would certainly do more detriment to credibility (mine as well as his) than it would draw souls to God. Based on what I’ve read of this guy’s comments, his responses to comments, and how threads have quickly escalated to insults and accusations…I feel that engaging this guy in a discussion would only lead to more polarization between science and religion. One of the main purposes of this blog is to do the opposite.
One minute, SCP...
the next minute ICU. 
Call me a coward, a wimp, or any other name you can think of…but I choose my battles. There’s a difference between attempting to talk about matters of the faith and attempting to reason with obstinacy. The first may serve to enlighten and inform. The second may lead to an emergency room trip. Trust me, I made the mistake of getting into scuffle at a soccer stadium when they sat us in the middle of the wrong fan base….I know how quickly one thing can lead to the other.

The frequency and tone of the comments on my blog are very similar to the comments on other blogs before mine. Considering my schedule and refusal to resort to polemics, I will not involve myself in a debate over dinosaur fossils and conspiracy theories.  There’s no point in my scouring the internet looking for journal articles to reason with someone who refuses to listen to 99.9999% of material out there in favor of the .0001% of material that agrees with whatever he deems to be true.

I simply don’t have the time to waste and I would rather be posting about things and doing things that would help me fulfill my duties as a Catholic Christian…like spreading the good word and sharing my faith. I’d rather heal divides than create new ones. To be quite frank, this guy's previous comments and rebuttals speak for themselves….and polemics just aren’t my thing. If this guy refuses to even listen to the Pope, he definitely won’t listen to some Catholic PhD student….so I’m not going to bother.  He is entitled to his own opinions, beliefs, and conspiracy theories. I will just have to respect that and take whatever beating he’s willing to throw down on that blog of his. I’ll just chalk it up as a lesson in humility and a lesson in dealing with “one of those people.” I suppose every blog gets one or two of them.

Now, a few words of wisdom (sorry, the inner Catholic kept bugging me about sharing this):
Currently, I see in Germany, but also in the United States, a somewhat fierce debate raging between so-called “creationism” and evolutionism, presented as though they were mutually exclusive alternatives: those who believe in the Creator would not be able to conceive of evolution, and those who instead support evolution would have to exclude God. This antithesis is absurd because, on the one hand, there are so many scientific proofs in favour of evolution which appears to be a reality we can see and which enriches our knowledge of life and being as such. But on the other, the doctrine of evolution does not answer every query, especially the great philosophical question: where does everything come from? And how did everything start which ultimately led to man? I believe this is of the utmost importance.

-Pope Benedict XVI

A Few Points to Ponder, Brought to You by the Catechism
1. Who made you? God made me.

2. Why did God make you? God made me to know him, love him and serve him in this world, and to be happy with him forever in the next.

3. To whose image and likeness did God make you? God made me to his own image and likeness.

4. Is this likeness to God in your body, or in your soul? This likeness to God is chiefly in my soul.

5. How is your soul like to God? My soul is like to God because it is a spirit, and is immortal.

6. What do you mean when you say that your soul is immortal? When I say my soul is immortal, I mean that my soul can never die.

7. Of which must you take more care, of your body or of your soul? I must take more care of my soul; for Christ has said, 'What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and suffers the loss of his own soul?' (Matt. 16:26)

8. What must you do to save your soul? To save my soul I must worship God by Faith, Hope and Charity; that is, I must believe in him, I must hope in him, and I must love him with my whole heart.

9. What is faith? Faith is a supernatural gift of God, which enables us to believe without doubting whatever God has revealed.

10. Why must you believe whatever God has revealed? I must believe whatever God has revealed because God is the very truth, and can neither deceive nor be deceived.

11. How are you to know what God has revealed? I am to know what God has revealed by the testimony, teaching, and authority of the Catholic Church.

12. Who gave the Catholic Church divine authority to teach? Jesus Christ gave the Catholic Church divine authority to teach, when he said, 'Go therefore, make disciples of all the nations'. (Matt. 28:19)

Does it really matter how old the earth is? Does it really matter when dinosaurs roamed the earth? Does it really matter if the earth revolves around the sun?


God has a better idea of where we should focus our time and energy. To put it simply, we have far many more important things to worry about besides winning arguments, defending time lines, and arguing carbon14 analyses. If you don’t believe me, reread the Catechism excerpt above until it makes sense.

Pax Vobiscum

And the first 21 Nun Salute Award Goes To...The Fool

Congrats Fool! You made it on the paper and actually made us
Catholics look good...which is quite a feat these days when it
comes to the media... 
The Fool! younger sister.

Why? Because she "still messes up" when it comes to the new mass translation.

The funny thing is, the reporter messed up too (it should be "and also with you" not "and always with you"). However, as my sister (kind soul that she is) pointed out, the reporter wasn't they're off the hook here.

In all seriousness, my sister is getting the award for making it on the paper with her review of the New Mass Translation. I'm so proud!

"I think it's a beautiful change because that was originally there," Soares said after Mass concluded. A student of moral theology at Seton Hall University, Soares, 24, said she felt the language changes brought the congregation closer to Jesus Christ. "These words have a deeper meaning than what we've been saying before."

HUZZAH TO THE  FOOL for her profound wisdom!

Check out the rest of the article HERE!

I completely forgot to mention that I only messed up once during mass this past Sunday! On the other hand, I messed up quite a lot this past Thursday during the Feast of the Immaculate Conception mass.

Pax Vobiscum!

And with your spirit!

Kathleen Sebelius Covering For Planned Parenthood in Alleged Child Rape Cover-up

I was overjoyed to hear that Sebelius had enough sense to overrule the FDA's recommendation on making the morning after pill available over the counter. Considering the stuff she's voted for in the past...this came as a great surprise. Still, she remains one of my least favorite politicians of all time?


Check out ALL's latest "He Said, She Shred" video on youtube. You will have to click on the link because I was unable to embed the video here. For some reason Blogger kept trying to have me post some completely unrelated Russian videos.

Well...I am still horrified. I cannot believe that anyone would ever willingly cover up for Planned Parenthood in such as despicable manner...especially when it involves something as terrible as child rape. The fact that she's the current Secretary of Human and Health Services makes this story all the more horrifying. 

Kathleen Sebelius
...I can't believe you're still in office...
Though I doubt that the current administration really cares about her track record...ALL has a petition for her resignation.

Pax Vobiscum 

As prolife as.... Irish folk music.

We are well into Finals season at Columbia University. I am currently working on my penultimate final for this semester. It is a take home exam. It is due tomorrow.....

....and I am only a quarter finished.

I'm not too worried I got enough faith to see me through this final, the next final...and a bunch of finals after that.

Given my deadline, I will get straight to the point. While typing up the answers to my exam, one of my favorite songs came up. It is Susan Mckeown's version of "Bonny Greenwoodside." I love this woman's voice and she's got a great collection of music if you're into folk music. Though I was unable to find the exact lyrics to her version of this song...I have found a similar one. Don't worry, the original meaning is still there.

The Greenwood Side
(lyrics from Joan Baez version)

There was a fair maiden lived in the north
Oh, the rose and the linsey, oh
She fell in love with her father's clerk
Down by the Greenwood side, oh

He courted her a year and a day
Oh, the rose and the linsey, oh
Till her, the young man did betray
Down by the Greenwood side, oh

She leaned her back against the thorn
Oh, the rose and the linsey, oh
And there, two bonny boys, she's born
Down by the Greenwood side, oh

She's taken out her little knife
Oh, the rose and the linsey, oh
And she's robbed them of their life
Down by the Greenwood side, oh

There, she walked by her father's wall
Oh, the rose and the linsey, oh
She saw her two bonny boys playing ball
Down by the Greenwood side, oh

Oh, bonny boys, if you were mine,
Oh, the rose and the linsey, oh
I'd dress you up in silk so fine
Down by the Greenwood side, oh

Oh, mother dear, when we were dying,
Oh, the rose and the linsey, oh
You did not treat us then so fine
Down by the Greenwood side, oh

Now, bonny boys, come tell to me
Oh, the rose and the linsey, oh
What sort of life I'll have after dying?
Down by the Greenwood side, oh

Seven years of visions of blood
Oh, the rose and the linsey, oh
And seven years of hurt in the womb
Down by the Greenwood side, oh

Seven years down in the mourning bell
Oh, the rose and the linsey, oh
And seven years in the flames of hell
Down by the Greenwood side, oh

Welcome, welcome, visions of blood
Oh, the rose and the linsey, oh
And welcome, welcome, hurt in the womb
Down by the Greenwood side, oh

Welcome down to the mourning bell
Oh, the rose and the linsey, oh
But, God, save me from the flames of hell
Down by the Greenwood side, oh
Down by the Greenwood side

As gruesome and scary as some of the lyrics sound (ie. killing babies, going to hell), I think this song is pretty great. In a sense, this song is about abortion. The difference between the mother in this song and the mother that gets an abortion, however, is that the mother in this story "chooses" to "abort" these children after they are born. I am sure she had her reasons...but they weren't any less justified than the reasons of a mother who commits an abortion before the child is born.

Talk about a double standard. People are outraged when they hear about women killing their own children...but only after these children are born.We may squirm when we hear about mothers killing their children on the news...but what about all the children that are lost every day to abortion? What about the children who didn't live long enough to pose for the adorable pictures news stations tend to post whenever some poor child is killed? We don't often hear about these children on the news. Whenever the issue of abortion is brought up, what we do hear is words like "choice" thrown around...but we are almost forbidden from considering the unborn as human beings. We are shunned when we refer to them as children by those who prefer to dehumanize them with words such as "foetus," "it," "embryo," least favorite terms of "some clump of cells" or "parasite."

Call me crazy...but I see no difference between the murder of a 5 year old and the murder of an unborn child. In my book, pro-life means from womb to tomb. In my book, each life is just as precious as the other.

Don't speak to me of exceptions.

I know that some "pro-life" politicians and people get a lot of well-deserved smack for making exceptions to this "pro-life" rule. Some may defend the life of the unborn but support assisted suicide or the death penalty. If this is the case, they have no right to call themselves "pro-life," just as abortion clinic bombers have no right to call themselves "pro-life." The difference between being "anti-abortion" and "pro-life" is a HUGE one. Those that are truly pro-life don't just respect the life of the innocent. They acknowledge the dignity of every human being and, as a result, defend it. I can't say that I am particularly fond of every life I defend with my stance (convicted killers, etc)...but I do respect their right to life.

Pax Vobiscum

(UPDATE: I have completed and submitted the penultimate final)

Disclaimer: There's probably all sorts of type-o's contained in this post...but I tend to lose my ability to type and speak coherently when it comes to Finals season.

Geeky but Profound

It's a stretch...but it may just be appropriate for this blog...kind of. 

Well, firstly because I cracked up when I saw it. Secondly, because it's all about our calling to "Love one another." Thirdly, Tolkien was Catholic and that's as good a reason as any to share this. As far as I'm concerned, if it's Tolkien then it's Catholic and geeky enough for this blog. I got it from my sister, who got it from a friend, who got it from...some unknown internet source.

One of the coolest Catholics of all time....
Here we go...the best  Facebook status of all time:

That Hobbit you just called fat? He's skipping 2nd breakfast. The dwarf woman you called ugly? She spends hours braiding her hair so you can differentiate her from a dwarf man. That Uruk-Hai you just killed? He's been abused by Saruman. See that Gollum creature with gangly limbs & large eyes? For 500 years, the Ring has poisoned his mind. That elf you just made fun of for crying? He just lost his wizard friend to a Balrog. Repost this if you're against bullying in Middle-Earth.

In all seriousness, I do not tolerate bullying at all. I was bullied for most of my childhood and know what it's like to be insecure about everything from my culture to my weight. I was the fat kid. Looking at old childhood photos...I can't believe I was considered fat! I wasn't completely thin...but I still can't believe how my 11 year old self believed those mean little mouths! I was also the geek (well, they were right on the money with that one...but their attitude about it wasn't). I was the kid with the glasses (still am). I was the Portuguese kid (Pork and Cheese is not too bad a racial slur when you think about it, but it still hurt those days). I was the hairy kid (how times have changed...can't tell you how much hair I lose around finals). I was the kid with the weird clothes. I was even the kid that people called "gay." I wasn't gay...I was just too young to actually like boys (we'll get into the over sexualization of our youth in a later post).

Bullying is really truly one of the worst epidemics this nation has ever encountered. I get the impression that things haven't improved since when I was a kid. I'd even venture to say that things got much worse. I really hope that the kids out there learn a few lessons in empathy and true charity. They may not be getting those lessons from television, music, and the world in general...but that's where we come in. As people who made it through those awkward, terrible years...we should do what we can to help the kids of today get over this terrible epidemic. 

Pax Vobiscum

Happy "Punch a Heretic in the Face" Day

Okay, I am taking a break from reading about capsaicin receptors, because today's feast day cannot be ignored. Today is the feast day of Saint Nicholas.

I know what you're thinking...
One coke-induced sugar rush later, and he's ready for his scheduled world domination...
For most people, today is just any other day. I mean, we've seen that jolly man in red since Thanksgiving when everyone from Coca-Cola to your local mall has been plastering images of this guy everywhere. Considering how this guy is commercialized enough as is, there is no need to put this guy in the spotlight any more than he already is...that heinous, sweatshop-running, representation of over-commercialization.
He doesn't make toys because he's too busy joining forces
with one of the most badass Catholics of all time...
the REAL Saint Nicholas

For some, more traditional is the day where kids leave out wooden shoes (or not-so-wooden) in hopes that they will contain toys or fruit after this saint makes a visit. Tradition holds that his saint was extremely generous and gave all he could to the poor.
I will take the pair to the Right, thank you very much...
Image borrowed from here
For those who really love a good Medieval tale, it is said that he once resurrected three children through prayer. This is quite a feat, considering that these children had been murdered by an evil butcher, cut up, and sold as ham.
For those who, like me, appreciate an even more badass Catholic commemorates the man who punched a heretic in the face in the name of proper Christological orthodoxy. It all started one day either during or following the Council of Nicaea when the Arian heresy was in the process of getting shot down. This heresy stated that Christ was created and had not existed from all eternity. Believe it or not, this heresy had quite a following in these days. One of these followers, some guy by the name of Arius, refused to back down and went on arguing in its favor. The argument went back and forth as tempers flared. Saint Nicholas, true to his faith and inner badass Catholic, battled on with Arius...trying to put an end to the debate. As Emperor Constantine and all sorts of awesome early Catholics looked on, Saint Nicholas put an end to the debate by knocking out Arius.
Take that you heretic!
Talk about knocking some sense into someone! Needless to say, the matter was put to an end and now we got a pretty good reason to celebrate a day like this one.

Pax Vobiscum

***DISCLAIMER*** I am totally joking about punching people in the face. I DO NOT ENDORSE ANY FORM OF PUNCHING...HERETICS OR OTHERWISE.


So it's almost the end of the semester. As you can imagine, I am kind of busy preparing for finals and other exams. With that said, as much as I would LOVE to blog about all that is good and Catholic...I have to focus on all things brain-related for Neuroscience...all things global warming-related for Journal Club, all things genetics-related for Environmental Genetics (at least that's what I think that class is brain is fried so I can't really remember right now). 
Be hold the brain! So much Latin here,
but none of it is as awesome as a Latin mass....
Any spare time between now and the end of the semester will also be spent in the lab slicing/analyzing brains...and not blogging. I'm serious.

I will be back as soon as I get the time.

In the meantime, if anyone out there would like to share their thoughts on PRAYING THE ROSARY, please email me. I would love to share your writings/musings/pictures/experiences!  PLEASE SHARE!

Pax Vobiscum

(and with your spirit....)  

Speaking of peace be with you (and with your spirit), I messed up the New Translation 4 times this past Sunday during mass. I can already see the "and also with you" becoming the new habit to break (next to nail-biting of course...).