Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Heading into the New Year

On this last day of 2014, I have spent most of the morning laying in my bed, underneath my lilac quilt, thinking about the year that is about to end. A whole lot has changed for me in this past year: I lost and gained some special people in my life, I traveled, I struggled and I succeeded. All in all, I think 2014 was a great year for me as an individual, since I was able to grow in independence and confidence, but there is always room for improvement. 

I am usually not one for making formal New Year's Resolutions, but here are just a few things that I want to focus on for 2015:
  • Get in shape- I only have one more semester to take advantage of the great gym that my university provides... and I really do miss running 5Ks on the regular. 
  • Make some great connections- Although I originally thought that I would have all my applications turned in for graduate school by now, it seems as though I will be opting for a break from school. I will be looking for a job in a place where I will be happy, and I have the feeling that I will be able to make some connections and expand my network throughout this year, which can help me in the future. 
  • Write every day- I used to keep a journal for every single day, which became too tedious when I began university. Writing my daily thoughts and reflecting was always a nice way to end the day. I have not been able to write very much at all this past semester, but hopefully I can make the effort to write down something each day- a thought, a pertinent quote, an idea that passed through my mind while I zoned out in class. 
  • Savor every last moment of my undergraduate career- It is so bittersweet to think that in just a few short months, I will be graduated and possibly "in the real world," but before that happens, I must survive my last semester of college. I want to both excel and enjoy every last get-together, because I will never have an experience like this ever again. 
  • Practice Yoga regularly- Although this could be grouped into "getting in shape," I regard it to be a bit different. I enjoy yoga because it calms me down and makes me take a pause in my day. The best way to get better at yoga is to practice, and in time, perhaps I will even be able to do the inversions that I have always wanted to do. 
These were just a few of the plans that I have for this upcoming year. Hopefully, 2015 will be the best year yet! 

Do you have any resolutions? 

Happy Yew Year!

Friday, December 19, 2014

A Farewell to my Final Fall Semester

     Here I am towards the end of my final first semester finals week ever, and things actually seem to be going smoothly, to my surprise. Normally, I would be rushing around like many of my peers, trying to fit in all the final projects that I need to turn in as well as studying for exams. Although I did have had a few exams that I needed to study for, I was not too worried about them, and they were all spaced out enough so that I knew that I would have ample time to focus on each subject (hence, why I have had time to blog).
     This extra time on campus sans class has allowed me to do some of the things I love to do, like work out, sleep in, cook great meals, catch up on some Netflix, as well as spend quality time with friends.
     At the beginning of the week, I used my time to work on my last project for a drawing class that I was taking. The unfinished work is pictured above. We ended our semester with a self portrait project, which gave me even more reason to look in the mirror and think to myself "what the heck am I doing?"
     The start of this semester was particularly trying for me, and it seemed to be the same for most of my peers across the board. As things began to wind down, I had a bit more time for introspection.

     Some life lessons I have learned during this semester:

  1. "When eating an elephant, take one bite at a time" - Creighton Abrams
  2. It is important to take time to de-stress by doing something that you love. If you do not, anxiety may eat you alive. 
  3. Even if you have gone to the same college for all four years, it is worthwhile to explore the area in which you are located because you never know what you'll find. 
  4. Staying in touch with good friends is important, whether they live down the hall, across the country, or abroad. 
  5. Never take your opportunities for granted.
  6. Be open to new experiences. 
  7. Take a chance and sign up for an elective that has absolutely nothing to do with your major. 
  8. Keep up with current events.
  9. Get an adequate amount of sleep. 
  10. Stay curious. 
     As my graduation date comes closer, I am becoming more and more aware of the affect that going to university has had on me and how different things would be had I not chosen this university or made these kinds of friends. I am thankful for the things I have learned and where I am right now. I think I am well prepared to move into my last semester of university and then on to the real world.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Common Market

     My passion for ethical consumerism began at the beginning of this semester, after I re-watched Food, Inc., an important documentary on the way food is produced in the United States. This film is filled with startling visuals and statistics that really make you question the food industry and basically everything that you have ever allowed yourself to eat.
     I wanted to find a way that I, a poor college senior, could do my best to become an ethical consumer. I started off by looking into buying products with less packaging... or at least packaging that could be recycled (I am a HUGE proponent of recycling and I actually worked with my university's Environmental Club to help us get single stream recycling on campus last year). I also tried to watch what I eat, especially in regards to meat. Although I had not become a complete vegetarian, I limited the amount of meat I ate, and I completely cut out red meat, especially seeing as I did not really like to eat it that often in the first place. Now, I stick to a mostly vegetarian diet with chicken and turkey a few times a week.
     Just a few weeks ago, my roommate/ best friend had to watch Food, Inc. for a class she is in and she decided she wanted to become an almost vegetarian. Since both of our families still eat meat, we decided not to cut it out completely; this way, when we go home for breaks, we will not react badly to eating meat and we will not cause too much of an inconvenience to our families during dinnertime.
     In addition to becoming kind-of vegetarians, we decided that we wanted to make a real effort to buy ethical goods as much as we can. We did some research and found that there is a natural market co-op just a few towns over from where we attend university. Most of their products are from local places, which benefits the community. Although it is a bit farther out of the way than our regular supermarket, we decided to give the Common Market, of Frederick, MD a shot.
     After scheduling a few hours to make our first visit, we headed out to do our grocery shopping with reusable grocery bags in hand. It was not difficult to find the Common Market, but it was a lot farther away than we expected, and we decided that we would really need to plan our trips to the grocery store, if we would continue to shop here.
     Our week's grocery list was filled with ingredients for dinners like chili and cornbread muffins, burrito bowls, and salads, and we also needed some fruits and vegetables and other goods.
     We started off in the produce section, which was filled with mostly organic and locally sourced foods. We noticed other shoppers around us who were passing up on the little bags that are usually used for produce. We followed suit and realized just how many plastic baggies we were saving just by refusing to use them.
     After exploring the produce section, we went to the dairy section where I was so happy to find milk in glass containers. Consumers can purchase this brand of milk and return the glass container when they are finished, thus cutting down on waste.
     We wanted to try purchasing some things from the bulk section, so we bought our beans for chili from the dispensers, which worked out well. (My roommate and I had never cooked dried beans before, so making the chili was quite an adventure).
     After we had perused the entire store and looked at the cafe section where customers can buy sandwiches and snacks, we decided to check out. We explained to the cashier that it was our first time there, and at the end of the transaction, he handed us each a round poker chip. Little did we know that our reusable bags earned us each a token to play "plinko" with on the way out. The Common Market would donate 5 cents to whichever basket our tokens landed in, which made us happy.
     Now, about the prices... Although the prices are noticeably higher than at our regular grocery store, we found it to be doable. Lucky for us, we are only buying for two people, rather than an entire family which eats three square meals a day. We are going to continue to see how shopping at the Common Market works for us. We really enjoyed our first time there and hope to continue our ethical shopping movement.
     For more information on the Common Market Natural food store, click here.
Do you know of any other similar markets, or have any tips to buying ethical goods? Feel free to leave a comment; I am always looking for more ways to be an ethical consumer!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

On Ambition

     When I was young, it was a common motif of children's shows and books to reach for the stars... and exactly what is stopping me from doing the same thing now? I have lots of aspirations, and none of them seem mediocre to me... I want to go to the greatest grad school to learn all of the necessary skills that I need for my dream job. I want to have my dream job, live comfortably in an apartment in a city that I love, have a family, and still have time to write, cook, and do yoga as hobbies.
     That ideal future is a distant "maybe," but I believe in myself enough that I think I will be able to attain it, or something like it, anyways.
     There are some visible barriers in my way at the moment: stress, money, time, distance and distractions. However, I think that, in time, I will be able to overcome these and at least be happy and comfortable in the life that I lead.
      I want to be extraordinary and unafraid.
     Why not be ambitious? Why not dream big? Why not set our sights on something that seems far away, if we know that we just may have a shot at it if we work hard enough?
     This is how I want to live my life. I have never been much for settling in any aspect of my life. I may not be the best right now, but I am working hard to get there eventually.
     Here is a quote to inspire you:
“She is free in her wildness, she is a wanderess, a drop of free water. She knows nothing of borders and cares nothing for rules or customs. 'Time' for her isn’t something to fight against. Her life flows clean, with passion, like fresh water.”- Roman Pain

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


     Six months ago from this very date, I made the most difficult decision in my entire life. When I walked out of the cafe with a tear-stained face and made my way through the mall to go to a dreadful 8 hour shift at my summer retail job, I thought about how much my life would change.
     To this day, the worst part was losing my best friend; and I realized this shortly after I started my shift. I cried on and off for the entirety of my time at work, and I did not care how bad I looked. It sounds juvenile, I know, but I cried the hardest in the back room when I realized that there was nobody for me to text and vent to while on my break.
     This same feeling continued to hit me every single day for about three weeks. After being in contact with the same person every day for more than three years, it was difficult to be near my cell phone or peruse through social media. It was even difficult to leave my house; So I would go to work and then go back home. I was not miserable, especially because I knew that I had done the right thing, but there was a giant gaping hole in my life that stung; and I was the one who put it there.
     For starters, I discreetly changed my relationship status on Facebook (something I vow never to post again), I took down the photos that I had of us, scattered around my room and I hid them in the bottom of a drawer, and I also put away the little gifts that I had and the things that reminded me of something that I thought would last forever.
     I did not burn the photos or delete them from my social media accounts; I did not throw away the gifts or letters; I did not ever use hateful words, even after I realized that we could never truly "still be friends." I realized that those three years were really very formative for me. I do not regret them in the slightest, even though things did not work out the way that I had planned. I keep the material things and the memories because they are a part of who I am and where I have come from.We had just outgrown each other, and it was time to move on.
     After moping and having to remind myself that I had done the right thing,every single day for a few months, I began to feel empowerment and growth. I had gotten back into some of the things that I had loved to do like writing, hiking, and drawing. I took some time to go traveling and escape from my hometown which is full of memories. I went dancing at a five story club in Madrid. I was outspoken and outgoing. I went on long runs. I flirted with strangers in Spanish. I began to feel more and more myself; more than I ever had in many, long months.
     Although I cannot remember where I first heard the word "excelsior," it has become a mantra for me in these past few months. It means "ever upward," and for me it signifies that even though I was at my lowest for a bit, I was able to rise up from that. Now, I feel as if I am climbing ever upward and that, even though there may still be things in my way, I will be able to surpass them and succeed in becoming my best self.
     I am on that upwards track and I love the feeling. I began my senior year of college as independent, uplifted, and strong as ever. I have grown so much from my experiences and I would not be the same had I not lived through them. I am happy, right where I am, and I only plan on accelerating upwards.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The trials and tribulations of a college senior:

     As I have stated in a previous blog post, whoever told me that my senior year of university would be my easiest yet was a liar, and I resent him or her for getting my hopes up. Anyways, as my last first-semester comes to a close, and finals draw nearer and nearer, I cannot help but to freak out at the stark realization that I still do not know what I am doing after graduation.
     Luckily, I am not alone.
     Actually, I only know of a handful of people who are either really on top of their game or incredibly lucky, who know exactly where they will be working or studying after we get handed our diplomas. Honestly, I am kind of jealous of them... and I wonder how they are even human...

      If you are in my same situation, I am sure you can relate to this list of what makes your last year of college the most difficult yet: 
  1. Senior year is a whole lotta work- Even if you are not taking a full schedule, there are still a million places to be and a million things to be working on.
  2. You are on your own- In high school, I had a guidance counselor that helped me sort out where I wanted to study for undergrad. Although she did not hold my hand during the process, she was always open to me stopping by to ask questions, and she seemed to know me well enough to let me know of programs and schools that would be a proper fit for me. In college, professors and advisers are too busy to actually help you that much. I know that my adviser wants to help me with my future plans and that she wants to see me grow, but she also teaches 100+ other students and leaves campus at 5pm most days. 
  3. Insecurity- YOU KNOW NOTHING ABOUT ANYTHING ANYMORE... I do not even know what I will be eating for dinner for the next week, let alone where I will be or what I will be doing in six short months. I just pray that I will be happy and have something to eat for dinner by then.
  4. So many questions- Throwback to senior year of high school when every family member/friend would ask you what you are doing after graduation and you literally just have to answer "not sure" and stuff your face with Tostitos, to stop this conversation from happening for the seventh time in one afternoon.
  5. Something has to suffer- The very beginning of this semester was mass chaos for me, and I realized that I just had too much on my plate. Although I did not want to drop anything, I ended up having to give up on a fellowship scholarship and project that I really wanted to work on. It was the only thing that was not necessary for me to spend my time on. Hopefully I will be able to take this back up in the near future.
  6. ALL OF MY MONEY IS GONE- Okay, the GRE is like $200; Grad school applications can cost from $45 to $75; Business attire is usually expensive; textbooks are expensive; gas is pricy; groceries are a weekly expense; I could go on for days about all the money I no longer have... let's move on...
  7. Being a student leader is stressful (But still totally worth it)- Senior year makes you a big shot on campus: you are experienced, you know your campus and the student population really well, and you now have the passion and power to accomplish the visions you have for your club or organization. Personally, I spend just as much time on my executive board positions as I do on work for my other classes. It is all about balance.
  8. All of my senior projects/capstones are due in the same week-You will not sleep for a full week and even though you look like death, nobody will take pity on your soul or give you an extension.
  9. Senioritis is incurable- That lack of motivation and early onset of procrastination that you felt at the end of junior year? Yeah, it only gets worse. 
  10. This is your last year of undergrad EVER- Saying goodbye to your friends and university is always at the back of your mind at the end of every great night. No matter what happens, there is always a little reminder that this formative part of your life is coming to an end. Every time someone raises their glass or soda-pop can to toast to your graduating class, you know that it just hit them.
     Underclassmen, ye be warned.
     Do not get me wrong, senior year is still pretty great; It just is not the breeze that I was told it would be, which is okay. I know that I have grown as a person throughout these past few months, since so much responsibility, power, and stress have been poured out onto me. I also feel a lot of support from friends and family and an overwhelming sensation that, even though I still do not know what I am doing with my life, things are going to work out and that I will be okay. I just have to work through the applications and projects while continuing to enjoy myself with all the best people.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Ethical Options for the Holidays

Although we have not even made it to Thanksgiving yet, since we have gotten past Halloween, retailers and companies now have the right to advertise for Christmas and winter holidays. I have always been moderately terrible at picking out gifts for friends/significant others/members of my family. I always second-guess what I get for them... even though I really know that it is the thought that counts.

     Anyways, I am hoping to do something a bit different this year:
I would like to either make the gifts that I get people or buy them from ethical companies. I would also like to make the point of educating the people who receive these gifts as to why they can be considered ethical.

      Recently, I have begun to think a lot about being a conscious and ethical consumer. Most of the time, we walk into the mall and find a $22 shirt, and all we know about it is the price and that it was made in Bangladesh. We know nothing about the people who made the blouse or how they were treated, if the blouse was made in a sweatshop (most likely), where the raw materials came from and if they were harvested/collected in an ethical manner.

     I have found it to be incredibly difficult to be a completely ethical consumer in the modern world. It takes a lot of effort to find out the ethical policies of brands and companies, and barely any companies can truly guarantee if their employees around the world are treated correctly. Also, the companies that stress how ethical their products are usually seem out of my price range.

     It seems to be a trade off: Either buy ethical products and break the bank, or continue to be a mindless consumer and not take into consideration the work that has gone into that pair of leggings you are buying.

Here are a few starter ideas for this up-coming holiday season that hopefully won't break the bank:
  1.  Fair trade coffee/chocolate- This can be found in most grocery stores
  2. WEWood watches- These wooden watches look great and are Eco-friendly. The wood is chemical free, biodegradable, and very unique.
  3. LUSH Cosmetics- These products smell heavenly, and the company works towards several different causes, as can be seen on their Ethical Campaigns page
  4. Smartwool socks- If you have never owned a pair of Smartwool socks, then you have not lived. These are like the royalty of all wool socks. Also, the Merino sheep whose wool is used are treated well and so are the wool growers and cleaners.
  5. Zara, Gap, and H&M- Each of these brands have a pretty good track record in regards to ethical production. I was able to frequent Zara while living in Madrid, and it was a dream.
  6. Ten Thousand Villages-  I grew up visiting these stores across the country and what I find never fails to impress me. Explore some handmade gifts here 
  7. Oxfam - This organization offers tons of fair trade gifts, from ornaments to home goods.
  8. Heifer International- This organization donates an animal to a family in need. You can donate in the name of a friend or family member and help improve the lives of people around the world. For more information, click here
  9. Patagonia- This company (sometimes called "Pata-gucci," by some of my friends) prides itself on being a "responsible company," as it takes environmental issues and workplace conditions into consideration.
  10. Hit up the thrift shop- Lightly used clothes, books, and home decor at low low low prices- never underestimate the power of your local thrift shop.
     These are just a few examples of ethical options for gifts for the holiday season. Perhaps these may help you to not only think of the friends and family members you are giving the gifts to, but also the people who helped make those gifts.

     Do you know of any other ethical brands or products that would make great gifts? Feel free to leave a comment below.

    Saturday, October 18, 2014

    A week in George Washington National Forest

     This past week, I was able to take a break from the stress of schoolwork and extracurricular activities and retreat into nature with a few other women from my university. We went backpacking over our Fall break through our school's Outdoor Adventures program.
     We traveled to George Washington National Forest in Southern Virginia and did some exploring of the trails and places along the Appalachian Trail.
     We were able to meet some through hikers with interesting stories, and their ways of life on the trail reminded me a lot of the Camino de Santiago, which I was able to hike a part of just this past summer. I never realized how big a deal the A.T. was in the US, perhaps because I did not grow up around it; but I now have a great interest in it.
     Unfortunately for my group and I, the weather did not really cooperate with us for our time in the wilderness. There was a lot of rain at the beginning of our week, which forced us to stay at an adorable hostel in Vesuvius, VA. This worked out really well, because without the hostel, we would have been shivering in the downpour for two nights.
    My friends and I came across the novel, A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson while playing board games in our hostel. Although I have not read it yet, my friend was able to go through it in two nights and she said that it gave her some great insight as to what to expect while on the trail. I am next in line to read it.
     After two nights in the hostel, we were able to get back out into the field and do some hiking. We spent three nights huddled in our sleeping bags in shelters against the cold and our days were spent exploring.
     For our final night in the field, we camped at the Seeley-Woodworth Trail Shelter and had a blast making our last meals over the camp stove, setting up bear bags, and making our way to the privy in the dark.
     The day before we left to go back home, we day hiked around Crabtree Falls, which was a beautiful hike alongside a waterfall with plenty of switchbacks going up a mountain.
     The views from above were amazing and the fall colors really made the hike worthwhile:
     My week in the wilderness was void of showers, but it was full of adventure and I definitely used the time to do some reflecting on my senior year, developing new friendships, and finding some inner strength.
    For more information on George Washington National Park, click here.

    Sunday, September 28, 2014

    Stress: The sensation that bites back

    Have you ever not been able to take a half hour out of your day just to shower? Or have you left the house with sandals on, just because you could not find socks in time to leave? Have you ever rushed through errands during your free time, just so that you can go back to your abode two hours later and not have to leave again?
    This is my life right now.
    To the person who told me that my senior year would be the easiest of my life: thank you for telling me a blatant lie.
    Never have I ever been more pressed for time, money, or experiences in my 21 years of life. How do I cram senior projects, class work, jobs, graduate school and internship research, extracurricular activities, a social life, and a balanced diet into 24 hours each day? I am convinced that it is not humanly possible to do so. 
    Basically, I am a 21 year old who is already looking forward to retirement, and I have not even lived life in the "real world" yet.
    The arrangement of words that I use the most each day is "I am just so stressed out" (insert exasperated sigh here).  
    Although I have a lot on my plate, I am unwilling to drop anything. I committed myself to a full schedule, thinking that I would be able to balance everything and still have time to take advantage of the activities that I will miss after I graduate. At the moment, I am struggling to keep my head above the flood of "stuff to do." 
    However, I like to think of this quote from the Bible:
    "From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more." - Luke 12:48
    I have never had this much responsibility or power in my entire life. Not only am I in charge of my future, and my own time management, but I also guide and work over underclassmen through my extracurricular activities positions. They rely on me to be there and not flake out. 
    This quick start to my final Fall semester of undergrad ever has allowed me to learn some things about dealing with stress: 
    1. Take a deep breath. 
    2. Drink a cup of tea (preferably green).
    3. Go on a jog or work out... expend some pent up energy. 
    4. Take a half hour to let Netflix be your therapy. 
    5. Call your mom. 
    6. Doodle.
    7. Bake some cookies. 
    8. Talk to your best friend and let her/him vent to you too. 
    9. Close your eyes. 
    10. Clean your room.

    Wednesday, September 10, 2014

    Shenandoah National Park

    After one of the busiest weeks of my entire life, I decided to reward myself by going on an adventure through a club at my university. The plan was to leave on Friday night to drive three hours to Shenandoah National Park, in Virginia. We would be backpacking and backcountry camping for the weekend. I had signed up and gone on trips through this outdoor adventures club before, but I had never participated in an overnight trip like this one. I love being in the great outdoors, but I had never really been tent camping before, until this past weekend.

     I took a step out of my comfort zone, and decided to give it a shot. I left with a group of nine, with two experienced club leaders who know what they were doing. They would be guiding us through the park and helping us survive the weekend as smoothly as possible. The club also provided us with backpacks, sleeping bags, food and cooking items, tents, sleeping mats and camp chairs.
     Our group left our university on Friday evening, so when we got to the park, it was after nightfall. We hiked about a half a mile along a fire road from the parking lot to our camp site. After finding a flat, well-hidden place away from the road, we set up our tents and I spent my first night in the great outdoors. The sounds of the night were not hard to get used to, but it was a brand new experience for me... I kept trying not to think of the signs we had seen, warning us about bears (at least we were using bear bags).
     Saturday was spent hiking up Old Rag Mountain. The total distance up the mountain, to the summit is about seven miles, but the second half of the trail is all up hill. The scenery and sights were beautiful. We hiked under the threat of rain, but eventually the clouds gave way to blue skies and great views.
     My groupmates and I only brought three packs full of lunch, snacks, and gear for our day hike, so we took turns sharing the load. I also brought along my brand new camera and took over 200 photos during the weekend.
    Some other important things to bring on a trip like this would be:
        1. Non-cotton shirts and comfortable shorts/bottoms
        2. A hat
        3. Pre-broken in hiking boots and hiking socks
        4. A water bottle (and water treatment so you can drink right out of streams)
        5. A properly-fitted backpack
        6. Face wipes (since you won't be showering...)
        7. Bear bag equipment (for tying up your food and good smelling toiletries)
        8. A map
        9. Headlamps 
        10. Camp shoes for after your hike!
     Although some of the rock scrambles on the way up were challenging, the hike was incredible and the vistas were exhilarating. I had never been so high up, with such a great view of our earth as when I was on top of Old Rag. The sight was contemplation-worthy.
    If you would like to learn more about Shenandoah National Park, please visit the park's website:
    Although I am no expert, if you have any questions about my backpacking and backcountry camping experience, feel free to leave a comment!

    Friday, September 5, 2014

    15 Tips for Freshmen:

    The first few weeks of college are full of new experiences, meeting new friends, and growing up. Here are a few tips from a senior, to the freshman class:

    1. Do not sweat the small stuff- These things do not really matter in the long run.
    2. Please take that lanyard off of your neck- Wearing the classic college lanyard around your neck seems like a no-brainer right? Wrong. This act immediately marks you as a freshman. Although nearly every upperclassman has done it in the first few weeks of his or her freshman year, it was quickly learned to be the biggest faux pas a college student could ever make. 
    3.  Do not be afraid to talk to your professors- These brilliant people are here to help you, and they genuinely enjoy seeing you grow and flourish as a student, and as a human being.
    4. Learn how to do your own laundry- It’s about time.
    5.  Beware of procrastination- This demon lurks behind technology screens, right after dinner time, when it is too early to really be worried about impending due dates and homework.
    6.  Participate in club trips- If your university is anything like mine, there are incredible clubs on campus which offer unique and exciting opportunities to try new things. How many people do you know that can say they have gone on a weekend retreat, been caving, and made a daytrip to NYC all in one semester?
    7. Take the time to get to know the library, and the library staff- Honestly, I hardly set foot in the library during my freshman year, and now, I visit it daily. I even have a usual cubical spot. It took me a while to have the courage to ask the library staff for help with finding sources and doing research for projects, but now, I wish I had begun to do that years ago.
    8.  Do not let the drama get to you- It is inevitable, but do not dwell on these issues, young grasshopper.
    9. Get involved on campus like it is your job- This is a fantastic way to build lasting friendships, get to know the university, and gain useful life skills.
    10.  Get to know your surroundings- Even if your university seems like it is in the middle of nowhere, who ever said that there was nothing to do in the middle of nowhere? There are so many amazing adventures to be had, right your backyard.
    11. Take advantage of the workout facilities and fitness classes that are provided- Do you know how much a gym membership costs in the real world?
    12.  Expand your horizons- Join a club that you never would have joined in high school, take an interesting class that has nothing to do with your major, befriend the person you are standing next to in the wrap line.
    13. Take part in your college's traditions-You're one of us now.
    14. Do not be afraid to talk to upperclassmen- We do not usually bite and are actually quite nice.
    15. Be yourself- So cliché, I know, but coming to college is a fresh start and a chance to let the real you be embraced by the people who surround you. You will make lifelong friends during the next four years, who love you for who you are. 

    Saturday, August 16, 2014

    Tips for walking the Way of St. James

    Heed my advice... you'll thank me later:
    1. Be sure to bring along- good socks, sunscreen, a hat, a bandana to cover your neck (to protect yourself from the sun), fast drying undies and shirts (NOT COTTON), a jackknife (just don't keep it in your carry on while traveling by plane), and toilet paper. 
    2. Cut off all of your hair- This is not mandatory, but cutting my thick curls to just above my shoulders kept me cooler, allowed me a little more time to relax because I didn't have to spend so much time attempting to style it, and I also used less shampoo per shower, thus making my tiny travel-sized bottle last longer.
    3. Bring along a reusable water bottle- Spain has AWESOME tap water... is that a weird thing to say? If you use a reusable bottle, you will be saving yourself money as well as saving the world from plastic bottles. Almost every restaurant/hotel along the Camino is used to filling up bottles, so don't be afraid to ask for the tap. 
    4. Get comfortable with peeing al fresco- You may not want to think about it... but there will be a time where you will have to "go" and there will not be a bathroom for miles around... find yourself a nice tree off the path and away from a water source and enjoy the beauty of nature as you become one with it.
    5. Beware of poles and bikes- You are sure to face both of these challenges while on the Camino de Santiago... In most instances, nothing will happen, but there is a high percentage of pilgrims who do not keep track of the other end of their poles, and the pointy part may end up sticking you in the eye or gashing out your kneecap... Bikes just whizz by you at top speed, so just watch yo' back.
    6. For the love of God, break in your shoes before departure- You are bound to get blisters, regardless of how much you train, but knowing your shoes are the right fit and the right style for hiking is a good way to deter major damage. 
    7. Drink water before you are thirsty- Keeping hydrated is imperative, so sip often and refill whenever possible. 
    8. Leave your makeup and dressy clothes at home- Ain't nobody got time for that. 
    9. Carry "business cards" with your name and email- This really worked out well for me... I met some really great people from around the world while walking the Camino, so this was a super easy way to keep in contact with them. 
    10. Do yourself a favor and invest in a good backpack- make sure it has straps that go across your chest and waist to balance out the weight. 
    11. Keep a journal- trust me, even though you may be too tired to write in it every night, you'll want to remember your trip and the experience you have had. 
    12. Eat lots of carbs- It's a non issue cause you'll work 'em right off! 
    13. Leave your earphones at home- Instead of zoning out to Drake, listen to life around you and be present in the moment... you never know who you may meet. Get ready to share your life story a few times.
    14. Do not overpack- it is soooo much easier said than done, but do not bring more than you need and be open to doing a bit of laundry every night.
    15. Smile and say "buen camino" when passing/being passed by other pilgrims- The Camino is not a race, it is a journey that every pilgrim takes individually, for different reasons. This greeting brings a sense of community and solidarity to each pilgrim, and really makes the journey something special. 

    Thursday, August 7, 2014

    Places to relax in Madrid

    Parque del Buen Retiro: 
    Retiro Park is the most well-known park in all of Madrid, and it offers fountains, shade, and even a man-made lake to row boats on.
    Above is the Crystal Palace, which is located inside the park and is free to enter. I did not go in, because I heard that it gets brutally hot in there on summer days, but it looked like an interesting place to visit.
    You can see a surprising amount of wildlife in the middle of Madrid... In just a short time in the park, I saw more turtles in one pond than I have ever seen before, ducks, fish, and frogs... also, all sorts of dogs. It was like a mini safari or something.
     In the middle of the park, there is a statue of a fallen angel; presumably Lucifer... Now, some people find it disrespectful to keep a statue of Lucifer in a public park in a very Catholic country, but I do not really think it is meant to be taken as devil worship.
    The Palace Gardens:

    After visiting the Palace on a nice hot Saturday afternoon, my friend and I decided to venture to the Palace Gardens, which are open to the public. The manicured hedges and trees offered us the shade that we so desperately needed in order to hide from the sun, and it also provided cover for canoodling Spanish lovers...Beware.
    Plaza de España:
    Although not my favorite spot to sit and rest, Plaza de España is a nice place to pass through. There are places for photo ops, as well as nice shady spots to walk through.
     I often passed through the plaza on my way to the main shopping street, Gran Via. My friends and I also found a little market that was set up in the plaza on a Thursday afternoon, which sold handmade goods and clothing. I bought a pair of "Jasmine" pants, which look a lot like the pants that Jasmine wears in Disney's movie, Aladdin.
    Parque del Oeste:
    This group of photos is from one of the nights where my friends and I went to Templo de Debod to watch the sunset, along with half of Madrid. Apparently, this is a very popular place to hang out after dark, and people bring picnic blankets and romantic bottles of wine.
    It gave us a beautiful view of a city as well as a stunning sunset. During the daytime, Parque del Oeste is a massive patch of land with lots of paths for running, a rose garden, and a cable car that can bring you all the way to the other side of the park, on the outskirts of Madrid (I covered this in a previous post).

    Monday, August 4, 2014

    My favorite Museums of Madrid

    I am now back from my two-month-long adventure in Spain, and have realized just how behind I am on my posts. I had a great time, and learned a whole lot about the culture and the city of Madrid, as well as about myself. Much of my time was spent in class or hiding from the heat, but I also found a good amount of time to be a Madrileña and a regular tourist. I visited many of the city's museums, so here is a quick guide and synopsis of what I found there:
    Being one of the world's most famous museums, the Prado is a must see even for the quickest of visits to Madrid. Since I had a whole month in Madrid, I did not need to rush to see the entire museum in one day; instead, I went a total of four times. During regular hours, the entry fee for the museum is €14, but each day from 6 pm to 8 pm, entry is free. This is no secret, so it is best to get to the museum around 5:30 pm, and just wait in the line for a half hour. It is very likely that you will be standing in the shade, so there is nothing to really worry about. 
    The Museum holds some of the most famous works of art, including sculptures and works by Spanish painters such as Velazquez, Goya, and Ribera. There are also paintings by Tintoretto, El Bosco, and El Greco.
     During my final visit to the museum, I was able to see the El Greco exposition titled El Greco and Modern Painting. This exposition included many of El Greco's famous works, as well as others that were inspired by his talent and style. There were paintings and sketches by Picasso, as well as others by Jackson Pollock, Modigliani, and Manet. The beauty of this exposition, which goes until October 5th, was in the comparisons done for each of El Greco's works and the others that were similar to them. Walking around this exposition took me about an hour and fifteen minutes, and I definitely recommend going. 

    This is one of Madrid's hidden gems. I learned about Joaquin Sorolla while visiting Valencia, where he was from. His works are housed in his residence, and include many of his family vacationing on the Mediterranean. Most of his paintings of the sea include beautiful blues and visible brush strokes. They are incredible to see in person.  
    The gardens outside of the house are beautiful, as pictured above, and the inside of the house is decorated with many of his works as well as furniture and items from the period when he was alive. I visited the museum on a Sunday, which meant that I got in for free!
    This museum is located very close to Parque del Oeste and Palacio Real. It is also in the former house of the Marquis of Cerralbo, Enrique de Aguilera y Gamboa. He was a collector of famous paintings, artifacts, books, and clocks. The entire museum ticks, and its walls are filled with lesser-known works by artists such as Tintoretto and Van Dyck.
    The house has a beautiful ballroom and a surprising amount of rooms to go through. I really enjoyed visiting this museum because it was very different from others that I had been to.
    I was also able to visit Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, which holds Modern and Contemporary art by artists such as Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, and Joan Miro as well as the Museo de arte Thyssen-Bornemisza with all different kinds of art. It is smaller and more intimate than the Prado or the Reina Sofia, which is a nice change.
    Every one of these museums are fantastic and worth visiting if you ever visit Madrid.