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The Joys of Growing Up

I remember being in eighth grade, and it felt like I had the world at my fingertips – the universe was my oyster.

God, I was so young, naive and so full of prepubescent life.

I know, I am making myself sound so old now and I’m only twenty years old – granted, it feels like an eternity ago.

But you see, back then, I had my “road map” all figured out, and I can hardly recall a moment where I was even discouraged back then, not even a little bit. If I fell down, whether that be failing a math test or upsetting a friend, I got right back up on that horse.

Back then, I was on fire.

Being a pre-teen is that deliciously wonderful in-between period where you’re starting to know what you want, you’re presented with your first real responsibilities, but you are still clearly not an adult. In a shorter sentence: it’s exciting, full of youth, and experiences.

It’s kind of funny because most thirteen and fourteen year old don’t exactly know what they want at that time. All that is on their minds are soccer practices, games with mom and dad cheering them on, those middle school plays that everyone seemed to get into . . . and of course, those horrible dances where everyone would stand around awkwardly, staring at their first real crush from across the gymnasium floor hoping they would look back.

I’m not saying that those kids didn’t have dreams nor am I belittling them, but that’s the typical time frame when things are generally more . . . weird. And oh, things were weird for me, too, no doubt about it. But thing was, I was unstoppable Julia, and I had goals that felt far more wide and expanded than any other junior high, adolescent fourteen year old.

d49be715c02532c00d034493e321d0e0I continued to obtain those goals and those dreams as I transformed into my high school self, and those ambitions did not leave my side for one minute. I wanted to be a writer, a dancer, a film director, as well as a singer. Though I was fifteen, or sixteen I knew that I would have to work hard so I could make those dreams a reality and while some of the dreams dipped in and out like most teenagers’ dreams do, there was one that stayed consistent throughout the years – to be a writer.

I had the spirit, the drive, the never ending curiosity to succeed.

But as I grew older, specifically around the my Junior year of high school, these things started to feel unattainable. I found myself having to work harder than the average student to achieve the same results, and I was constantly dealing with something that was unfamiliar to me – lack of self esteem and confidence issues with my intelligence. I struggled specifically with math, and my difficulties with understanding the concept of the subject became ever more highlighted in high school. I can’t even begin to explain the amount of studying, tutoring, and tears I went through just to pass a math class and the whole time all I wanted was to get back to my golden era, as I like to call it, the time where I thought I knew what was going on.

But I was growing up, and this was the real world – as much as I hate that term, it stands true. I didn’t want to work harder than everyone else, I wanted to keep my active social life and I wanted to believe that I could make it through without math tutoring or staying up late nights studying for an anatomy and physiology test.

My friends at that time had outstanding grades or were constantly on high honor roll. They would talk about how they aced a test without studying for even a little bit. This definitely made me feel self-conscious and that feeling began to eat away at the part of me that had held my “spark”, my determination.

I could literally feel myself becoming weaker, and more discouraged.

When I was eighteen we discovered that I had a learning disability. I remember sitting in a conference room at my high school’s counselor’s office with tears welling in my eyes when we figured out why I had such a hard time learning certain things. The reason why it took so long to find was because I scored so high in English on my ACT, that the math score and science scores were overlooked. I was upset that it had taken this long, but nonetheless I was relieved, and slightly happy to know that English was still my strength, the one thing that I knew I could always use to get me by in life – my passion, the part of me where I didn’t feel completely ignorant. It was almost like it was all that I had.

But deep down, I knew that wasn’t true.

I just had to dig deep enough to realize I was smart, witty, bright and full of wonderful ideas. But like learning, it took awhile in some of these aspects.

As of today, I’m almost finished with my first year at University of Wisconsin-Whitewater as a transfer student. It has honestly been a crazy year, filled with discouragement, encouragement, anxiety, self-reassurance, lots and lots of tears, being stubborn, continuing to doubt myself and my abilities, and becoming one hundred percent, without a doubt, tired of being in a math class! There have been parts of me this year, especially the second semester, that doubted my major, English, and whether or not I wanted to continue to pursue it.

It is in these moments where that nagging, little discouraging, evil voice will creep into the good, ambitious part of my brain where my dreams lie and disturb my peace.

Sometimes I just want to scream and shout, throw something, punch something and curl up in a corner and pity myself.

But that’s only sometimes.

012c46d49ba8f86702ec88efee8f8915This year hasn’t been entirely like that, thank god. I’m trying to remember that there are parts of it that have been good moments where I should feel proud of myself. In fact there are a lot of those moments. They are moments where I found myself acing long gruesome essays, working long and hard on speeches, realizing the sometimes you may not receive the best grade, but taking pride remembering how hard I worked and the effort I put in, and learning how to go to people more often for help. I have to learn to hold onto those times where I can sit and tell myself I did a good job, instead of focusing on the negative.

It doesn’t come easy to me though, that’s why I am currently working on it right now.

And those are the two key words:

Currently,

Now.

– Jules

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Get Outside and Bring a Date: 18 Outdoor Themed Date Ideas

Before I begin, everyone needs to bust open their door and embrace the wonderful, glorious sun, with wind open arms.   I don’t know about all of you, but I’ve certainly missed the sun and all the activities that comes with having warmer weather.

Now, I can begin.  My last blog post was about fun activities that you can do with your friends in the winter.  This week I’ve decided to do fun dates that you can do outside and in.  There are obviously always the go to classics, a movie and dinner.  I’ve included these, but decided to put a spin on it.  Hopefully my ideas help you create more fun and memorable dates.

couple-having-fun-in-the-back-of-a-truckSome of these dates may require the following:

  • Money
  • Water
  • Snacks
  • Phone/Internet-Only for specific adventures. Stay off your phone otherwise!

What you’ll always need:

  • Laughter
  • Smiles
  • Creativity
  • Open mind
  • Sense of Humor
  1. f34f5e70baf640133aa63b044c08b391Go on a Picnic. I feel like this is something couples always say they’ll do together, but never do.  My friend and her boyfriend went on a picnic and made picking a spot a game. The ideas was to pick a number between 1-20 and whatever number they picked that’s how many turns they had to make at each stop sign.  To decide right or left, they flipped a coin.  I think it’s a cool idea, but you may end up having your picnic at a very odd spot…
  2. Go on a hike! It’s finally nice enough to go.  While on your hike you could even pick some wild berries if they are in season (make sure they’re not poisonous…) and if you manage not to eat them all pull out your families recipe book and make a delicious pie!
  3. Go Camping. I mean real camping, in a tent no campers allowed!  There are endless outdoor activities that you both can do.   One of them should be star gazing.  You can have fun finding constellations you already know or making up ones if you don’t.  Bonus:  You can share a sleeping bag.  Snuggling is the best!
  1. 8d35bb6c7fa6ed065e8dddb425a77c17Go on a geocache adventure. Geocache really allows you to fulfill your children hood dream of being a pirate.  Download the app on your phone (there’s a free one) and pick a location where there is a geocache hidden.  You and your date can have fun trying to find the container that has the hidden treasure.  Reminder: Bring along a treasure to trade.  Also some of the containers can be very small, so keep a sharp eye out!
  2. Fly a kite. Challenge each other to see who can fly it the highest.
  3. Go to a museum or play together. Pick one neither of you have been to or seen, it’ll make it that much more special and memorable.  Tip: Save the ticket or brochure.
  4. Explore the local area. Research the towns closest to you to see if they have anything unique or specific to that town. I feel like every place does.  They could have the world’s largest mustard museum for all you know!
  5. Go out for a movie and dinner. Movies and a dinner are always a classic. See if there is a drive in theater near you and afterwards grab a milk shake and burger for a full fifties experience.
  1. Stay home. Have dinner at home and cook each other’s favorite foods. Afterwards, play truth or dare .  It’s an old game, but it’ll give you a chance to learn more about each other.
  2. Paint ceramics together. If you’re feeling extra artsy see if you can throw your own bowls and paint those at a local art studio.
  3. 22be785769eff700b162b8c6e93893a1Go to a café and play board games. My friends and I always find the weirdest, oldest games at the café’s we’ve been to.  You both can sip tea/coffee and share a delicious treat without feeling any pressure to keep conversation flowing nonstop.  You really just can have fun and enjoy each other’s company.
  4. Visit the zoo. Need I say more?
  5. Play pretend. This really isn’t a date, but I still think it’d be really fun. Make up a holiday together.  There can be rules, traditions and meals that have to take place every year.
  6. Take a cooking or art class together. If possible go to an ongoing weekly class. It can be something that you both look forward to and you can count on seeing each other at least once a week. This may be something you want to do once you start dating each other more seriously, but I still think it’d be fun to do at least once.
  7. Go to a wine tasting together. Afterwards decide which one is both your favorite and have it with your dinner later.  Note: Be careful not to drink too much.
  8. Go for a moonlight walk. Seeing the sunset or sunrise together can be cool too, but switch it up and admire the moon for a while.
  9. Play tennis or any sport really that requires a minimum of two people. Whoever loses has to buy desert.
  10. Oh, I almost forgot. Before you enjoy the warmth, tie up some loose ends first.  Go ice skating before it’s too late!

Hopefully you enjoyed my ideas!  Post below with awesome date ideas too!  Also, let me know how if you try any of these and if it was a bust or a must.

I Resolve To… ((A Journey of Growing.))

Hello and happy (almost) spring! If you are like me (and many hopeful others), you probably made some sort of resolution for 2015. How are you doing?!?! Are you seeing willful and meaningful changes in your life? Have you been measuring your progress? Have you formed some new and exciting habits?

I hope so!

2015 has been my year to center myself and take control of the person I want to be. It is also, coincidentally, my 25th year – the year my brain finishes its development. Honestly, it’s like I can feel my pre-frontal cortex making its final adjustments for impulse-control, planning, and sequencing consequences…

I’m totally kidding. But in all seriousness, I am really honing in on some skills that I’d like to continue for my next quarter century, and I think that it’s great if you’ve chosen to do the same! For myself, I looked at areas of intellect, adventure, and physical/mental wellbeing. It has been a lot to take on and challenge myself with, but I’ve set up very measurable objectives in order to meet my final goal which is ultimately to be a happier, healthier, more fulfilled person.

Tip: Fall in love in a comfy chair with an ocean view.

Tip: Fall in love in a comfy chair with an ocean view.

Do you have a lost love? When I was a kid, I was a ravenous reader. I starved for books and I engulfed them. Somewhere between high school and college, I lost my hunger. Reading became a chore and I became a couch potato. I decided that one of my primary goals this year was to revive my love of reading by reading 24 books by the end of the year. It’s March, and I am happy to report that I am about halfway through my eighth book. I’ve shifted my goal to reading as many books as possible this year. So, I’ll ask again – do you have a lost love? A forgotten hobby? Pick that shit up and revive it. (You’re welcome!)

Have you been anywhere new lately? Anywhere exciting? Anywhere that made you cry because of its beauty or warm you to your core? This year, I told myself that I was going to visit three new places. On a whim, I bought a plane ticket to Colorado ($120 roundtrip – thanks Spirit Airlines!) – a place I am well acquainted with and has brought me to tears more than once. If you do nothing else in life, surround yourself with mountains and be humbled by how small you are in this big, beautiful world. After hiking the Hanging Lake Trail and Red Rocks, soaking in hot springs, visiting old friends, and laughing (a lot) with one of my best friends, I returned home with a lighter heart and a smiling face.

Tip: Do go chasing waterfalls. (Hanging Lake, Glenwood Springs, CO)

Tip: Do go chasing waterfalls. (Hanging Lake, Glenwood Springs, CO)

Shortly after, I visited the Virgin Islands and had my soul warmed by the sun, snorkeling, and the beauty of the Caribbean. I cannot tell you how fulfilling these two journeys were to me, or how incredibly grateful I am to have had these opportunities. I can tell you that I don’t want to stop seeking these adventures and exposing myself to the world that surrounds us – whether that be a two hour drive to a state park or a flight to a continent away. I have found my cure for any ailment that may hinder me just by going outside. Nature is for everyone – go get your slice!

Finally, for the past three months, I have been trying to move past pretending to like exercise to actually liking exercise. This has worked to an extent – I have increased my endurance and I look forward to the proud feeling following my workout, but you will not find me dragging myself out of bed every morning at 6am to get to the gym. Unfortunately, I have not come to detest the taste of ice cream, but I have come to dislike the taste of things that are too sweet and most, if not all, processed desserts – particularly candy bars and anything packaged. Fortunately, I have come to really enjoy well-rounded meals, and incorporate a ton of fresh produce and water in my diet. It’s a lifestyle choice not a diet – I’m creating eating habits that I can maintain for long-term, not a short-term fix for weight loss. Listen to your body and abide by the things it needs – and give it a treat once and a while. I know from experience that it really likes treats.

Overlooking Nazareth Bay, St. Thomas, USVI

Overlooking Nazareth Bay, St. Thomas, USVI

My hope for this post is that you are motivated to get moving – whether that is to a new place, a new experience, or literally just moving your body. Moving on to the person you want to be, the person you have big plans for, and the person that deserves the most you can give them. Surround yourself with positive people that love and support you in environment that will foster and encourage growth and personal development. Adopt an optimistic mindset and refine the skills that make you innately you!

Thanks for reading!
Elizabeth

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Just Breathe

breath1Recently I’ve felt like I never have enough time in the day. My to-do list is never ending, however, I typically throw in the towel around 10pm and start to get ready for bed (5:45 am comes early!) Most nights it’s hard to shut off my mind because I’m still thinking about all the things I need to do or what’s on the agenda tomorrow. There are many things in life that we simply cannot control. However, I recently came across an article that reminded me of one thing that I can control: my breath. I don’t know about you, but breathing isn’t something I often (if ever) think about–I just do it. I doubt I am breathing as deeply as I should and I know that breathing deeper leads to more oxygen to your brain and a string of other good things. So I tried the breathing technique that the article recommended and I will admit that I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s simple. It’s quick. And it works (or maybe it’s just in my head…doesn’t matter either way)! It’s called 4-7-8. You simply inhale for 4 counts through your nose; then hold your breath for 7 counts; and finally exhale through your mouth for 8 counts. I cannot say that it made me fall asleep instantly as the author claimed in her article, but it definitely made me stop and focus solely one one thing for a few moments: my breath.

So many things are fighting for our attention at every moment and we rarely take time to simply just be.  Now, I’m not a yogi, but I have started to incorporate this little breathing technique into my day when I find myself feeling stressed and I always feel a little bit better after it. Maybe it’s because my brain is getting more oxygen, or maybe it’s because I’m simply saying no to all the other other stimuli around me for just a minute.

I find deep breathing to not only relax my body, but it also relaxes my mind. It gives me a chance to “inhale” all the blessings I have and a chance to “exhale” all the negative thoughts I have running around. We are our own worst critics. We need to stop being so hard on ourselves.  Yelled at your students today? Exhale. Ate 5 cookies in the break room? Exhale. Your bedroom is a complete disaster even though you just picked it up yesterday? Exhale.  And the list goes on and on. We can choose to inhale only the things that are good for us: You’re beautiful. You’re a good teacher. You’re trying your best. It’s not easy and it’s not something that comes naturally to most of us, but with some practice, I think we can make a habit. So if you’re like me and find your mind to be constantly racing, try the 4-7-8 method. You’ve got nothing to lose.

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-Emily Elizabeth

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Let’s Talk About Love

Dear Independent Strong-willed Sisters.

I am writing to you to talk about love. Yes I see your nose curl in disgust at the mere mention of that four letter word, but give me a minute to plead my case.

Let me start this out by telling you I understand your cynical views. There was a time not so long ago where I too said I did not need that frilly thing which they call love. No, I said, I am far too independent to ever tie myself down to someone else. (Can you imagine someone else always in your space, demanding things of you? Not for me!). I instead declared I would be single for life, surely that was the only way to remain happy and never ever be disappointed.

I get it. I understand. And let me tell you, I fought with tooth and nail to avoid love like the black plague I decided it was. I pushed and I shoved it away. I was mean and unloving.

But I lost.

The crazy thing is dear Sisters, is that a real love breaks through those pessimistic layers and that wall of cynicism you built around yourself. A real love makes you face yourself and see the real reasons that those walls were built in the first place and will love you anyway.

Now I know this may be hard to hear and I know you still may be rolling your eyes at me even now, believing I have been blinded by cupid’s arrow.

Maybe you are right.

b6134454def58bf77ade92252ec8af22But if being blind means having someone who thinks you are amazing even when your makeup is off, your glasses are on, and your retainer is in; who loves you when you are sick, when you are mean, when you are being unreasonable, or are just plain tired, well I think I don’t mind so much that I have been blinded.

And those fears I had the ones of losing my independence, or being annoyed with someone in my space… I tell you this now; the person who is worth your love will expand your independence and encourage you to grow beyond yourself. The person who is worth your love will understand when you need space and when you are lying and really need them to be close.

Dear sisters, I hope for you that you find what I found (even though I was avidly NOT looking for it). A man who is worth your love will not only be your significant other, but your best friend. That is what you deserve and that is what is worth waiting for.

(Gross so much love!)

Always,

-Samantha

Single and Ready to Bingo

All I want for Valentine’s Day is a man with Ryan Gosling’s chiseled abs, Channing Tatum’s dance moves, Brad Pitt’s jawline, Ed Sheeran’s voice, Jared Leto’s eyes, Bobby Moynihan’s humor, Patrick Dempsey’s hair, and ages like George Clooney. Is that really too much to ask?

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Apparently, not only is it too much to ask, but is also impossible for a 24 year old single girl who works second shift at a nursing home. Being single at a nursing home is one of the worst social experiences ever. Hearing everything from “You should settle down” to “Well who is going to take care of you when you’re my age?” to “A pretty girl like you? What’s wrong with you?”, I have come pretty close to wearing a fake engagement ring and photoshopping some celebrity into a photo with me and introducing him as my fiance just to avoid such unfortunate encounters.

So this Valentine’s Day, with nothing to look forward to but a good round of Candy Heart Bingo at work, I reflect on the 5 Stages of Being Single on V-Day:

1. I’m single as f***

Everyone but you is in a relationship, and you’re surrounded by lovesick idiots. Whether it’s roses and kisses and sappy love proclamations on Facebook or hand holding and gooey eyes on the streets, it feels like everyone around you is rubbing it in your face that you are completely single. Can you get any more single? Probably. The days surrounding this ill-fated holiday are saturated in red and pink and flowers, which to any single person are The Worst. As the day draws nearer and nearer you seem to get more and more single, can’t the day just be over now so you can stop wallowing in your complete aloneness. What are your Valentine’s Day plans, your friends ask. Wallowing in self pity you say.

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2. Everything is RED

It’s as if the world is out to get you. You can’t step out of the house without being reminded of how single you are. The hot topics at work involve what your Valentine’s Day plans, what your sweetheart has planned for you, and how awful it must be to be single, which turns your disbelief and skepticism into molten lava rage. You want to punch every heart shaped balloon and box of chocolates. And the monstrosity that is heart shaped pizzas?! I would prefer mine to be perfectly ordinarily circular please. As the day draws nearer you develop a personal vendetta against everything red and heart shaped. You can’t even enjoy your emojis anymore.

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3. Who Needs Love Anyways

What is today? February 14? Weird, must not have gotten the memo. Your anger and rage have dissipated into denial and blissful ignorance. I think I’ll stay in bed all day and wear sweatpants in honor of this hallowed day. Maybe eat my weight in chocolate and finally clean up my e-mail inbox. What is that you say, there are other fish in the sea? Well, I don’t particularly like fishing.

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4. Treat ‘Yo Self

You decide to take this day as your personal holiday: it’s all about you, girlfriend! Whether it’s a Galentine’s Day celebration with your gal pals, a spa day on your own, or a shopping spree, bank statements and calories don’t exist. The sky’s the limit, and you are pulling out all the stops. Things are beginning to look up, Valentine’s Day could be enjoyable. If couples can have a special day, you can too. Seize the day, bask in the love in the air. Embrace your singleness and OWN IT.

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5. Que Sera Sera

It’s the day of and your emotions are all over the place, but you’ve come to accept the fact that you will be spending the day alone. At this point you’ve come to terms with it all and have a sense of freedom: anything could happen now that you have no plans and no one to tie you down. You’re on cloud nine with no expectations for the day to let you down. Enjoy your freedom, this rollercoaster of emotions only comes once a year!

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Happy Valentine’s Day, Muses!

-Jen

Let’s Talk About Bodies

Let’s chat about bodily agency. Because apparently men and women everywhere are still unaware of the idea that a person has complete control over his or her body. It’s about time everyone understands what that means.

Untitled design (29)A couple months ago I was heading home from post-work drinks with coworkers. My walk back is roughly fifteen minutes and in a very safe area. I never think twice about walking alone. And, you know what? I absolutely shouldn’t have to.

Halfway through my walk, I came across a pub where a group of people were sitting outside. When I passed them, one man decided it was acceptable to slap my ass. The rest of his friends simply laughed along at the entertainment this guy was providing to the group. I was amazed at how strongly they exemplified what is wrong in our society.

I spent the rest of my walk home absolutely fuming. I felt violated and weak. Sure, it might appear to be a small incident in the large scheme of things but it meant I was not valued as a person. This man decided that my body was a free for all. The people around him agreed with his behavior and found it acceptable. I wasn’t a human being but instead a source of entertainment and simply an object.

I unashamedly ascribe to the label of feminist. I admire strong women and enjoy being a part of a group of females who support each other. I strive to constantly respect and value myself in a society that often does not do the same. So, “little” things like this incident are truly appalling to me. It made me feel I had no power. Regardless of all the steps I make in my own life, as a woman, my value is meaningless to society.

But it wasn’t only the men who didn’t see my value as a woman. The females in the group who sat there and laughed were completely inexcusable to me. Whether or not they realized it, these women were laughing along with the objectification of their own gender. There is absolutely no reason for a woman to excuse incidents like this as “just a joke”.  Honestly, I find it repulsive that a female would want to be friends with men who took part in degrading acts toward women.

b9332498a66eeace138d02fb1caffb62I’m sick of females who defend this type of behavior in their male friends. I’m tired of men who stress not ALL men would do the same thing. These excuses mean absolutely nothing to me. Until people accept that there is a devaluing of a woman’s body in society and strive to change this, they ARE a part of the problem.

It’s time for everyone to understand a woman’s body is her own. I should be able to walk alone without worrying about feeling violated and powerless. What is wrong with our society that a woman can’t walk home alone without experiencing harassment? People need to stop brushing off situations like this. There have to be strong steps toward complete bodily agency for all people. Maybe then women won’t have to feel powerless.

– Kelsey

Pics or it didn’t happen

If a tree falls in the forest, and no one Instagrams it, did it really happen?

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I’m definitely preaching to the choir here, but I think it’s high time to set the phone down and start living. I’ve always been a supporter of social media, I think there are so many amazing ways that it allows us to keep in contact with far away relatives, connect fans and celebrities, and promote amazing causes in ways that weren’t available a decade ago. The possibilities are limitless.

But this limitlessness is a double-edged sword. Social media slowly crept its way into every aspect of our lives, from where we eat, where we shop, where we go, to whom we spend our time with and even where we poop (Places I’ve Pooped), we have the ability of sharing just about anything we desire to social media outlets. And personally, I have nothing wrong with people being able to share anything they want on social media: it’s the beauty of freedom of speech. And if anyone’s proclamations of love or hate, political outbursts, or the sharing of very personal life events is at all bothersome to you, everyone has the ability to block, delete, or hide notifications from those they want to distance themselves from on the internet.

However, the control of social media on our offline lives has become a bit ridiculous. Smart phones have changed the way we experience everything: meal times include instagrams of food at restaurants or home. People are more worried about making their food look better than everyone else’s than they are about eating it before it get’s Screen Shot 2014-10-26 at 8.54.21 PMcold. A recent Samsung commercial featured a young couple snapping photos at their child’s soccer game, but what I couldn’t get past was the fact that they were so worried about getting the perfect photo of their kid, that they weren’t even watching the game or cheering on their child. Social events, parties, and hanging out with friends now has more emphasis on taking photos to prove you were together on social media than actually forming connections.

"pics or it didn't happen": the motto of our social lives

“pics or it didn’t happen”: the motto of our social lives

Now, I’m not saying that I’m perfect and always put spending time with people above taking photos or that it’s wrong to take photos: I think it’s incredibly important to preserve the memories we’re forming with our friends and families, and social media is a great way to share this. I even am working on a 365 Photo Challenge where I take a photo every day for a year. This means I am on Facebook and snapping photos of myself, my friends and my surroundings at least once a day.

The issue that I do want to tackle is the emphasis on the “fake” lives we project onto social media. For many, it’s about making their lives look better, more fun and more glamorous than the next person’s page. How often do you check out your newsfeed and jealously swipe through someone else’s photos and wish you had been there or snapped a few more photos last weekend to prove that you were more social and fun? f9a5be830deed7db9fe61534ce10d080 (1)How often are you too busy trying to instagram a photo or upload one to Facebook that you miss the game winning shot or miss out on a friend’s story? I know that I am guilty of looking at people’s photos and wishing that I had been there or done that, or obliviously posting photos and not actually interacting with those around me.

The fact is, no one’s life is as perfect and glamorous as social media makes it out to be. Once you get past this and stop judging your life against someone else’s Facebook page, you’ll realize that yours can be just as fun and exciting if you just let it happen. So often we use our phones as a social buffer in situations where we don’t feel comfortable interacting or talking with people we don’t know, or are just plain bored. But if you just put yourself out there and start a conversation, you’ll be surprised by how easy it is to connect with people and have a good time. So set down your phone, close your laptop, and leave them both at home for the weekend: make memories, not megabytes!

-Jen

Preparing for Christmas

lights Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, many of us turn our attention to “the most wonderful time of the year.” The Christmas season is filled with many beautiful traditions that we’ve been doing since we were children–picking out a Christmas tree, baking cookies, wrapping gifts, and decorating the tree. Although these rituals remain the same year after year, it is good for us to take time to reflect and silence our hearts in this season of preparation.  If are intentional with our time leading up to Christmas, I think our joy on Christmas morning will be that much sweeter.  Here are a couple areas that we might think being more intentional about.

Christmas-Gifts3Gifts. I imagine that most of us are thinking about purchasing gifts for our family and friends.  Last year during my AmeriCorps service, I barely had any money so I decided that I was going to make all of my gifts.  Now I’m not the craftiest person out there, so I’m sure you can do it, too.  I realized that making my gifts made me really think about what I was giving and why.  I made homemade body scrubs, chocolate spoons, popcorn seasoning, and mustard just to name a few. Pinterest has something for everyone in your life, I promise.

advent1Faith. Many of us probably go to church with our families on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, but we need not wait until then to prepare our hearts for the Lord. The Advent season is celebrated in most Christian churches in the month leading up to Christmas; many churches have concerts, penance services, and volunteer opportunities.  These are great ways to slow down in the midst of the holiday hustle and bustle and take time for peace and quiet. If you’re looking for something more concrete, here’s a link to receive daily reflections for the season in your inbox or guided meditation from Ireland! (check out the relaxing music, too!)

So as we each prepare for Christmas in our own ways, I hope you’ll look at it like a journey over the next 25 days and savor every sip of hot cocoa, frosted cookie, and lit up houses as you pass by. And when Christmas morning comes, soak in the time with your family and friends and think about what Christmas really means to you. I think this video says it all :)

How do you prepare for Christmas? Let us know in the comments!

It’s a Winter Wonderland!

Winter is almost upon us and that means more time spent in doors…what a drag right?  Well it doesn’t have to be!  There are plenty of activities to do inside and events to go to keep you occupied when it’s way too cold to spend any time outside.  Don’t care if it’s too cold outside?  I have activities for the outdoors too!

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Every winter my number one thing to do is to go ice-skating.  The past couple years I haven’t, but I’m determined to make it one of the first things I do this winter.  Hit your local indoor or outdoor rink this year.  Don’t forget to check if you can rent skates.  I’ve gone to rinks where I had to have my own and didn’t know until I was there.  Afterwords, grab some hot chocolate!

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Go to hockey games!  Seriously.  The games don’t take nearly as long as football games and I think they’re way more exciting to watch.  It is a little chilly, so don’t forget your scarf and mittens.

pa0711_cin_rolls1.jpg.rend.sni12col.landscapeBake something gooey and delicious.  I suggest cinnamon rolls.  I don’t know about any of you, but anytime I eat one I end up getting frosting or yummy cinnamon gooey sauce on my face, so now I only eat this treat at home.  Oh and don’t forget the apple cider!  This treat can get sweet.

Not much of a baker?  Slice up some apples and have a caramel apple bar.  Melt some caramel and grab some of your favorite candy pieces and dip away! IMG_3411

Build a fort.  Some of you might be thinking that we’re all too old to do this, but I think not!  Build your very own couch cushion igloo with out freezing your butt off.

Go to concerts.  They can sometimes be expensive, so check out some local bands.  There can be some really great talent right in your home town.  They’re much less expensive and sometimes even free!Justice_in_concert

Check out a wine tasting or go to a brewery.  The Leinenkugls Brewery isn’t far from me and is definitely something that I’ve always wanted to go to.  Getting free samples is always awesome!

Host a movie night.  I don’t suggest watching anything scary.  You and your guests will be freaked out for a week!  You could even have every lay in your couch cushion igloo that you built earlier:)

Make decorations for the upcoming holidays.  Here are some really cute and easy ideas!

Check out what is going on in the surrounding towns.  They’re could be an awesome mustard museum you’re missing out on.   A mini road trip will be a nice break if you’re getting cabin fever.

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By now cabin fever has set in and you’re probably scratching at the windows to get outside.

Before you set out on your adventure outside layer up!  Because the first thing you’re going to do is build  a snowman and make a snow angel.  Having a friend with you makes it more fun and easier to do  these activities.  Building a snowman takes some muscle and you don’t want a hand print in your snow angel.  Remember to bring accessories for your snowman.  You want yours to be unique and stand out!a-christmas-story

After you finished building and accessorizing you’re snowman get all your friends together because you’re going to have a snowball fight.  If you need any tips watch Elf.  Buddy can make the perfect snow balls and has the perfect throwing technique.download

The next day go sledding!  I always used a saucer when I went sledding and hitting the jumps was always fun.  If you don’t like to go sledding anymore grab your snowboard or skis because you’re hitting the slopes!  And when you’re done go in the lodge and warm up in front of the fire.

Try snowshoeing.  I’ve only ever done it once when I was in grade school at a school field trip, but from what I can remember it was fun!  We played duck, duck, goose while wearing them and I remember trying to run and I fell.  I don’t suggest running in them unless you want a face full of snow.

See if there is any parks near you that the town decorates. In the town next to me they decorate a park full of lights, there are trees that are adorned with ornaments, little ginger bread houses, it’s so beautiful and magical.  My friends and I loved it when we went!

Decorate your house with twinkle lights, wreaths and any other fun Christmas decorations. (When it’s a little closer to Christmas).  It will get you in the holiday spirit.  Don’t forget to crank the Christmas music and have chocolate chip cookies and tea ready when you’re finished.ChristmasLights

Go to the Christmas parade.  Everyone puts so much work into the floats and every year I’m always surprised by people’s creativity.

I hope you have fun days in and keep warm on your days out!

What activities do you like to do in the winter?  Comment below!  We’re always looking for new things to try!

-Gabby