Archives for category: personal

OK, so Raleigh isn’t a new city, I get it. But it was nice to regroup before my big trip to the west coast with some of my favorite people. It’s been just about two months since I’ve been to Raleigh, and in Shannon-post-grad-time, this is a long time. So the weekend kicked off with me finding out I didn’t have to work a wedding, giving me an extra day to hang out, relax, and tie up some loose ends.

Friday took me back to the good ol’ days with dinner and drinks at the ol’ Natty Greene’s, followed by a girl’s night out with Emily and Kristi at the Hibernian. Despite choosing a booth with a leak in the roof and realizing that the reason we were the only ones at the bar at first was because it was only 7pm, it was really great to catch up with each other.

Saturday started off with lunch at Slammin’ Sammy’s to watch the NC State game where we won’t talk about how we barely squeaked out a W against UConn, how Kristi only got 9 buffalo bites instead of 10, and how again…we were the only people at the bar at first…ordering a pitcher of beer before noon. Scratch that, we aren’t ashamed of the last part! After a solid mid-afternoon nap, it was time for a cookout and game night. And I’d have to say, the combination of Cranium and Mad Gab has got to be the best recipe for embarrassing moments, ridiculous cases of the giggles, and coming to the conclusion that a station wagon and a PEZ dispenser are the hardest things to draw, not to mention with your eyes closed.

And then Sunday rounded out the weekend with a delicious brunch and a ton of football. I wanted to especially thank Chase Massey for welcoming me into the world of fantasy football with such open arms and beating me by 70 pts. But I wanted to give an even bigger shout out to the best roommate around, Emily, for not only driving me to the airport at 5:15am on Monday, but cooking a gourmet dinner the night before.


From freshman Wolf Camp to awkward, blurry pictures at a bar… these guys are the best.


Potentially the worst group pic we’ve taken ever, but we have learned from it and moved on. Steven’s just pissed he’s not in Disney World yet.


Cranium: it’s a lot funnier than it looks


True life: I have a bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design (2pts for a correct guess)


Let’s pause for a Kodak moment. Having the honor to stand next to Kristi when she gets married next August. So happy for you girl!


The gourmet meal I was telling you about. Yea, let’s talk about it.

Raleigh, you’ve always been good to me. I’ll be back soon enough!

Next stop: Portland, OR

After a brief stop in Raleigh, I headed out to St. Louis for a few days. The trip was a short one, but was packed with a job interview, a Cardinals game, an extensive downtown/midtown tour of STL, some great meals along with some tasty beers, and some quality family time. Similar to most trips, I wish I could have stayed longer, but who knows…maybe I’ll go back and stay for a much longer period of time. J

But hands down, I felt pretty spoiled throughout the two days. Front row seats behind home plate, with an all you can eat buffet and beer service, and VIP parking? Are you kidding me? (You da man Uncle Tom!) Getting an extensive tour of 6 different areas of St. Louis to possibly live in, topped with the best rib-eye and beers, plus getting a car and a place to stay?? Talk about some family love! (Shout out to Bill and Kris!) And some fun nights with cousins to help me get the taste of life in the Lou. (Sam, Ruth, Luke, Tara, I’m talking about you!).

All in all, my trip to St Louie was a refreshing break from the east coast, not to mention I think my interview went pretty well. J It was crazy to see hints of Richmond and Raleigh in St. Louis, and I could really see myself moving there in the future!


-the all you can eat buffet was pretty classy, but Sam made sure to keep it real with some bread and butter


-yup, that’s the view from my front row seats. #luckytoknowmyuncletom


-not pictured: gma’s manhattan


-free beer!


-she’s so hip


-guessing the reason Wainwright gave up quite a few hits was because of the face in the distance. (insert Title of post reference)


-this is my sorry attempt at trying to make up for the fact that I didn’t get a picture with my great hosts. Bill, Kris, and Ruth, stay cool y’all!


-I don’t know what this building is, but who cares… Luke and Tara’s rooftop deck and view is sick. And so are they! Not pictured: Charles


-so much love for these two. Also not pictured: Cousin Jaxson running away from my camera

St. Louis, you da bomb! Thanks for a great trip!

Next stop: Raleigh, NC

 

           

This weekend I travelled south to Greenville, SC and Atlanta, GA. As the weekend went along, I decided I would let my iPhone pictures narrate the trip, but I soon realized that I was pretty terrible about taking pictures, and taking very captivating pictures at that. On my next leg of my trip I promise to be a tad more conscious about it and snap better shots. But for now, here are the highlights of the trip:

1. The 7 hr trip to Greenville wasn’t bad at all. Started off with the most-perfectly-proportioned-topping sandwich (that phrase makes sense to me) from Subway, and ended with spotting a decked-out NC State van at the most random gas station outside of SC. The only hiccups on the trip were the vending machine eating one of my quarters, and a short and sunny rain shower in which I couldn’t decide if I should wear my sunglasses or not.

2. I got to see my sister Jill (who is currently 22 weeks preggo!) and brother-in-law Jon, along with the precious pup Rip. While Jon and I bonded over NC State and Clemson fball games, Jill kept me grounded with marathons of The Hills and Honey Boo Boo. The weekend had its thrills with a golf cart ride from Jill and Jon’s 10-year-old niece, and to top it off, I found out they’re going to name their little girl Sarah Marie Tompkins!!

3. I reunited with Nicole Foo, who went to Japan with me in 2006 for HSD. We literally hadn’t seen each other in 6 years. Definitely arranging reunion part II very soon!

4. I reunited with Kensey LaReau, a good friend and vball teammate from high school. Although she was rooting for the wrong tiger, it was still great to see her!

5. Lastly, I tailgated in a food court for the first time, witnessed people dressed up for Dragon-con (spelling?), I finally brought some luck to the Clemson Tigers, I ate St. Louis-style pizza in SC, and I got to visit with my favorite sister and brother in law. Life is good!

Next stop: Raleigh for a night, St. Louis in the morning

(photo: Oh, the Places You’ll Go, Dr. Seuss. Gift by my lovely HSD staff)

Welp, I ran out of shampoo, conditioner, soap, and used the last of the milk this morning. Looks like it’s time to head out for a little. Good thing I have a month trip planned starting…..today!

It’s going to be a pretty epic month for me. Now I’m not going abroad or doing any extreme bucket list activities, but I am going to be seeing around 7 cities spreading from Atlanta to Seattle, and doing a mixture of work and play along the way. From Richmond to Greenville to Atlanta to Raleigh to St. Louis, back to Raleigh, then out to Portland & Seattle, and ending the trip back in Charlotte, I’ll be going what they all call “mobile” for the next 4 weeks.

My stomach is in knots, and my suitcase is bulging (packing.is.the.worst.and.I’m.so.so.so.bad.at.it), but I’m ready. It’s kind of crazy how all of these different visits, activities, and opportunities fell into place and are all happening in such a short time. Earlier this month I was worried about a possible “lull time” during this transition period for me, but good God was I wrong. Needless to say, I’m making moves, and I’m pretty pumped about it. Yea my stomach is churning, and I can’t seem to fall asleep, but it’s all because of how excited I am right now. I have no idea what’s ahead, who I’ll come across, what I’ll see, or what will come of the trip (this might be due in part to half of the trip not yet being completely finalized :) ), but I know I’m going to learn a lot.

So this is my attempt to pick up where I left off in my city search, and keep you guys updated on what kinds of things I come across, and what tidbits I take from each place. My overall goal for this trip is to not only seek out a place that I want to live, as well as reunite with some friends along the way, but to also soak in the experience, and appreciate the opportunity of getting to do something like this.

First stop, gas station.

Second stop, Subway.

Third stop, Greenville, SC!

Leggo!

Contest: How many times do you think it took to take this picture below:
(Ohhh let the self-pics begin)

“All great things must come to an end.”

This quote sucks. Seriously. Who ever wants this to be true?

But unfortunately, it is reality, and it happens to all of us. And it happened to me this month.

This year marks the end of my work with High School Diplomats (aka HSD or “the Japan program” as many of you are probably more familiar with). Although it is somewhat a relief to not have people look at me like I have 3 heads when I try to explain to them what I do, or to have some friends back home who are probably still confused about what I’ve been doing these past eight years, it is and was the furthest thing from easy for me to say good-bye. My involvement in this amazing program… this “great thing” that has become a part of who I am and that has introduced me to the most amazing people, has finally come to an end.

And just like the quote, it sucked.

It sucked real bad.

What was the worst part? Hmm.. let’s see. Leaving my staff, who has become family to me and has supported me through the thick and thin. But there’s also the part about no longer getting the chance to immerse myself in another culture, and help to build relationships between two different countries (well at least not as often :)). Oh yea, andddd the part about no longer being a counselor for kids, and getting to witness them experience this life-changing program. There’s also the fact that I’ll be leaving a program that has undoubtedly made me a more worldly, compassionate, and all around better person. But really, the worst part is this feeling of emptiness in my stomach, like a part of me has left.

Dramatic? Maybe. Honest? Absolutely.

But through these few days of being removed from the program, I’ve realized a few things. First, that this hollow feeling is a result of putting 100% of myself into the program. It confirms how much the program has really meant to me, and that joining the program was one of the best decisions I’ve made. Second, I’ve realized that even though my “time” with HSD is over, that the memories, the lessons, and the friendships will forever be a part of me. And I for one am looking forward to seeing how the past eight years will shape my future, and always being reminded of all the great times as I go. And lastly, I’ve realized that feeling like this is vital for moving forward and taking the next step. It is important that in life, we have these up and down moments, to force us to sit back and realize how good we really have it. It makes you appreciative of what you’ve been given, what you’ve earned, and what you’ve learned along the way. Everything happens for a reason, and every experience prepares you for the next one.

I’m sad to leave HSD, but I’m thankful for the opportunities and the memories it has given me. I can’t imagine where my life would be, or the type of person I would be, if it wasn’t for this program, but I am more grateful for all the tools it has provided me with as I look onward.

It’s the end of a personal era, but it’s the start of a new beginning. All great things must come to an end, so even greater things can come of them. Not as fluid as the first quote, but it works for me.

So thank you to my HSD staff both in the states and in Japan, for being a part of my life and helping to shape my next adventure. I couldn’t have done this without you.

The other day this tweet came across my Twitter feed:

LivingForMonday (@LivingforMonday)
4/17/12 2:40 PM
RT @leadtoday: Stop whatever it is you’re doing right now and reach out to someone who needs a bit of encouragement.

Pause for a little shout out… everyone should check out the Living for Monday website. This start-up company works to help college students and young professionals find their passion and align their core values with their dream job. If anything, sign up for their MONDAY::Drop, a weekly email post of inspiration and motivation. It’s awesome!

Now back to the program..

The above tweet really made me think. These days everyone is busy. Everyone has a million things going on, everyone is multi-tasking, everyone is often distracted. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Youtube, you name it, it’s hard to think of actual moments in time where we were focused on one thing, and one thing only. I’m not saying in certain situations it’s needed, especially since at the workplace people are needing to take on several projects at once to just keep up with the competing market. However, there are also those moments.. those certain situations.. that we need to stop whatever we’re doing, drop everything, and reach out to someone.

Example 1:
On the way back from my internship with the Police Department, I stopped at the gas station because I had approx. 3 miles left in my tank (whoops). I went in to grab a quick snack because I was in a bit of a rush to get back home to meet a project deadline. At the checkout line, however, I couldn’t help but notice a distressed woman asking several people for help with directions. Visibly upset, with tears running down her face, I witnessed two separate individuals brush her off and claim they weren’t from around here and couldn’t help. (This is where I’ll add in that I saw both of them use their smart phones while waiting in line.) While I was paying, we made eye contact from afar, and I decided to linger around a bit on purpose to give her time to approach me. Long story short, after about 20 minutes of drawing a map, trying to speak in Spanish, and actually going outside to help her visualize how to get from Lauderdale all the way down to Staples Mill, she seemed confident enough to give it a try.

Now who knows if she actually made it to her destination, (gosh, I really hope she did) especially since the only Spanish words I could remember were “Habla espanol?” “izquierda” “cuatro” and “buena suerte.” But nonetheless I felt good about the experience. Yeah, I could have kept my head down and joined the other two people, but I knew if I was in her position, I would really appreciate a helping hand and some encouragement.

Example 2: (less emotional and dramatic, I promise)

Recently a few of my college friends went to Oak Island for our annual beach weekend. While we’re used to having at least 15 people show up, we were more than happy to have the seven of us make it out.

Even though we didn’t make this announcement flat out, all of us kind of made the decision to pack our phones up for the weekend. (I know, more than 2 hours without our phones..gasp) But it was worth it. Why? Because all of us are going in different directions in our careers, (some are already in different countries), and the chances that we’re going to be able to get together as often as we’d like in the future, are pretty slim. The farther we get from graduation, we’ve realized that every year is going to be harder and harder to get all of us out to the beach, or even in one city for one weekend. So we took advantage of the weekend, gave up the need to be connected to people back in Raleigh, or know what was trending on Twitter, and we just hung out. Because no matter how advanced technology gets, how competitive the economy becomes, how many new TV shows premiere during the week, peopleyour friends, your family, your community….people are the most precious things we have in life.

So once in a while, put the phone down and look up. Look people in the eye, talk to someone new, and live in the moment. Because you never know how much a simple gesture can make someone’s day.

Picking up right where I left off… (For those of you just tuning in, check out my intro post about My Road to a Different Area Code.)

From Dallas I flew straight to Las Vegas. A few things you should know before I continue.

  1. The purpose of the trip was to conduct interviews for work on Monday
  2. This was my first time in Vegas
  3. I was by myself (this is important to remember while reading this post)

On the first leg of the trip (to Salt Lake) I sat next to a nice man who gave me great advice on my design business, which might lead to a client or two down the road. (My dad is probably smiling right now). On the second leg of the trip, I sat in the middle seat, next to one guy who made fun of me in a charming way for going to Vegas by myself, and another guy who was a native to the area and gave me all the do’s and dont’s of the city. And it.was.the.loudest.flight.i’ve.ever.been.on. My Vegas friend informed me my flight on the way back will be the quietest flight you’ll ever be on.

Slot machines in the airport? Why not?

Once I got to the hotel, it was just after midnight on Saturday (aka prime time for Vegas night-life) and I decided to go to bed. I know, lame. But a combined 7hrs of sleep over the past two days, 4 flights, and the image of my own king bed did me in for the night.

Sunday -8am

I decided to take the flyer in my hotel room seriously, and check out the restaurant upstairs “Hash Hash To Go” for breakfast. Best. Decision. Ever. They sat me immediately at the bar (because I’m by myself :) ) and within 3 minutes of me placing my order, my food was there. Here’s a picture. ‘Nough said.

9am rolls around, and even though my conservative conscious is telling me to at least wait until the afternoon to start gambling, I sit down at the first BlackJack table I see anyways. I place my $5 bet down, and quickly realize I was reading the wrong sign. I was at a $15 minimum table. What a rookie. So I freak out. For like 4 seconds. And then I think to myself “Play it cool, you’re in Vegas, live a little.” So I added two more chips, and remained sitting.

One hour later. I’m $100 up. Again with the freak out, I quickly decided to cash in and get some fresh air.

PRO: stores blasting oldies music in the streets always heightens an already good mood.

CON: everyone smokes in Vegas

PRO: free drinks when you gamble. and drinking at 9am is encouraged.

CON: if you stay in the same hotel with impersonating performers for too long, you’ll realize they only know a total of 6 songs.

PRO: everyone is friendly. the dealer’s included, and even the fellow gamblers who keep losing more and more money.

CON: you occasionally have to deal with newly 21 year olds who take multiple jagerbombs at 9am and think that hitting on a 20 is a good idea.

PRO: fist-bumping the dealer every time you get black jack.

PRO: Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar restaurant. Live music, good food, fun company, great times

CON: Deciding to take a quick catnap at 8:30pm after a day filled with free waters and soda, causes you to sleep through the night and miss getting to see Vegas at night.

PRO: eating at Hash Hash to go for a second time, and being even more impressed than the first time.

PRO: doubling your money 2 minutes before you have to catch a cab for work

CON: a red-eye flight cross-country

So you could definitely say I got the gambling itch while I was there. I had all these big plans of seeing shows, and exploring all the lights and attractions of this never-sleeping city. But I just had so much fun meeting random people at the tables, and soaking in the culture that way. Not sure if I could handle more than 3 days in Vegas, but I did enjoy my first experience.

Oh, and here’s me and the wolfpack of one.

Next stop, TBD

City #2 (For those of you just tuning in, see my post On the Road to a Different Area Code and Finally back from my trip to Charlotte)

So… my trip to Dallas and Austin was not what you call the conventional “sight-seeing/let’s see what these cities have to offer” kind of trip. It was a 36-hour trip mainly consisting of early morning flights, a quick and desperate effort to eat lunch (which resulted in eating at Chipotle), tons of interviews for HSD, a 3 hour drive in a rental car with several detours and u-turns, a sketchy motel, more interviews, returning and renting the same exact car again (yea, don’t ask), more detours (GoogleMaps is my bf4lyfe), and more flights. Despite the grueling synopsis, here are some of the highlights and general observations of Texas:

-Dallas is flat. And from all the times I wished for flatter roads while running my pitiful 2-3 mile running routes in Richmond, I never knew such a flat city even existed. I’ll tell you this, if I move to Dallas, I’ll for sure up my runs to at least 4 miles.

-Southern Methodist University is B-E-A-U-T-I-F-U-L. Absolutely gorgeous. However, you can’t hang a single 8.5×11″ piece of paper with directions to your interview room because it’s against university policy. So, now SMU has been demoted to “just pretty.”

-If you’re contemplating whether you should rent a car to drive from Dallas to Austin (about 3 hours) or bite the bullet and pay for a flight…. bite the bullet. Because the price of a multi-city drop off and mileage on a rental car will bite YOU in the you-know-what. (insert the part where we had to return and then rent the exact same car again, in order to alleviate some of the stress on our wallets)

-The speed limit in Dallas is 75 mph. Which is awesome… in theory. Because when you make the lanes more narrow, and enclose the HOV lane with two Jersey walls, you instead white-knuckle the steering wheel, fear for your life, and slow down to a pitiful 65 mph.

-The restaurant we went to for dinner was hopping. It was as if Margaritaville came out with a Tex Mex special and moved to Dallas. (Go with me on this one) It had a main floor with a bar, then an outdoor patio with another, bigger bar, and then the whole upstairs was dedicated to the smoking section with…yea you guessed it.. another bar. Things really are bigger in Texas. Oh yea, the food was DANK.

-Austin is much prettier in my opinion. Much more scenic, and much more hilly.

-Abel’s on the Lake – great place to soak up a little of the Austin view and day-scene. And again with the multiple bars. One indoor and one outdoor. With 60+ beers on tap, you would think they were known for their beers, but when asked the question, the waitress said “our view.” And I have to admit, even though the beers were pretty tasty, the view was better. This picture doesn’t do it justice:

Even though the trip was pretty quick, and I was either working or deciphering GoogleMaps directions most of the time, I still have a major crush on Austin. I’m glad I got to make a trip out there and get a little taste of the fun, weird city. It definitely deserves a second visit.

Next stop, Las Vegas.

More like finally getting around to blogging about my trip that was almost a month ago :)

Long story short, my trip to Charlotte exceeded my already high expectations, and was a great start to my possible-relocation-tour. I stayed with an old college friend, Sarah (emphasis on the “old” :) ), who needless to say was pretty eager to sell the city to me. Here are a couple of highlights from the weekend:

-There’s no better way to start off the trip in my mind than taking the Megabus. A little more snug than my ride to NYC, but amusing nonetheless. One piece of advice: If you’re trying to lose weight, don’t take the Megabus. Your fellow bus companions eat everything from hotdogs to salt and vinegar chips to twinkies. And the truck stop to McDonalds doesn’t help either. (separate blog post for the rest of my Megabus tips to follow)

-A 3 mile nature walk is fun while you’re walking, but miserable the following day. At least for me that is. My shins are still screaming at me. Another tip: if you choose to hide your keys under a rock so you don’t have to carry them in your hand, make sure you remember which rock you chose.

-An all-you-can-eat sushi buffet for $9 is the key to my heart. And don’t let the crazy bargain fool you, the quality of the rolls was on point! Here’s a picture of one (of many) of my plates.

-After I recovered from my rice coma, we walked to a local bar called the Bling Pig. Two things:

  1. Any bar within walking distance receives an A in my book
  2. Any bar with board games, arcade games, and bar games receives an A++ in my book. I mean come on, Skeeball, battleship, darts, and Guess Who in the SAME bar? Get out of here.

-Frisbee golf is a great way to hang out with friends and enjoy the spring-like weather, but a terrible way to find out you’re no longer as good at the game as you thought you were!

 

(this is the part of the blog post where we skip over the fact that we spent 2.5 hours watching the NC State-Clemson basketball game)

 
-Saturday night we went to see a cover band for the Rolling Stones called Satisfaction. Things I learned here:

  1. We lowered the average age group by at least 20 years.
  2. Despite their age, Rolling Stones’ groupies can still out-dance you if you don’t watch out.
  3. I don’t know as many Rolling Stones’ songs as I thought I did.

 

-We topped off the weekend with a bike ride around the neighborhood and NoDa area. Things I learned here:

  1. NoDa is a really cool area and has some really pretty houses and buildings.
  2. I’m out of shape.

So there you have it. A brief, long overdue, overview of my trip to Charlotte. Charlotte will definitely remain on the list of possibilities. Thanks Sarah, Brandon, Steph, Colleeen, Brent, Megan, and crew for the great hospitality!

Next up, Austin TX.

If I’ve spoken to you in the past month or two, I’ve told you that I’m looking to move to a different city. Which city you ask? Who knows. It changes with the day of the week. East coast, west coast, south, 2 hours away, you get the point.

But what does stay the same, is that itch to go SOMEWHERE. I figure that at this point in my life, I have the opportunity to move to a new city and start over. Richmond has always been great to me, don’t get me wrong. Living here since 1st grade and creating most of my childhood memories in the West End has been nothing but fantastic. Living in Raleigh for four years in college, and one year following was also time well spent. I am very fortunate for the friends I’ve made in both cities; down to earth, funny people who liked me for me. The comforting thing to know while I ponder over this idea, is that no matter where I end up, the friendships I’ve made and kept will definitely survive the move.

So the search is on. This week I’m headed to Charlotte to see some old college friends. My intention for going is not only to catch up and hang out with people I haven’t seen in a while, but also get a better feel for the city, and try to imagine myself living there. Charlotte has always been near the top of my list for cities to move to, so let’s see what this weekend does to its rankings.

And as a side note, my goal for this series of posts is to 1) update you on the ongoings of my life b) share my thoughts on possible new cities for me and iii) to hopefully hear from you guys about your views on these different cities or if there should be other places that I should consider. (kudos to Katie Lackey for the idea).

Anyways, on to the 704.

A couple weeks ago, my sister shared with me this classic photo she found on Pinterest. I could hear her laughing through the computer, she thought it was so funny. A week or so later she visited Richmond for a weekend, and during dinner she showed me the picture once again and laughed even harder than before.

But I gotta admit, the picture is hilarious. And it epitomizes our relationship. In fact, the dynamic works just the same whether I imagine the baby on the left being my sister or my brother (obviously I’m always the one on the right). Growing up we always picked on each other. You could say it was mainly one-sided, but after a while (meaning just a few years ago) I learned how to get my swings in here and there. And if you’ve been around my family long enough, you’ve definitely heard of all the childhood stories…like the one where we created our own Winter Olympics during one of the many blizzards in Reading, PA, and I was picked to be Nancy Kerrigan while my brother posed as Tonya Harding and chased after me with one of those Flintstone plastic bats. Or when we reenacted ALL of the scenes of Aladdin, and while Jill and Jeff were Jasmine and Aladdin.. I was fortunate enough to be either the camel in the opening scene, one of the guys from the market Aladdin steals bread from, or my favorite.. Abu.

But through all the tough love and sarcastic jabs at the youngest sibling… they were, and always have been there for me. They’ve always been there to listen and give advice. They’ve always included me in their circle of friends and made me feel welcomed. And most importantly, they’ve always set good examples, and have been incredible people to look up to (whether they’re aware of it or not).

So even though I don’t have someone to share Valentine’s day with necessarily, knowing that I have two people who will be there no matter what, is more than enough for me. :)


And since I started it off on a funny note, I thought I’d end it on one too. Here’s a link to an eCard I got from my lovely father today. Out of all the President’s Day, Halloween, and other holiday’s I didn’t even know existed, I’ve got to say… this is the best one yet. (Thanks Pops, you’re the best!). So enjoy folks, and Happy Valentines Day to all the lovahs out there.

http://www.americangreetings.com/ecards/view.pd?i=560250379&m=5558&rr=y&source=ag999&c=emag63458

It’s January. The start of a new year and the start of a lot of lofty New Year’s resolutions. I will definitely admit that I am one of those people who always says, “oh I’ll start that tomorrow,” or “January is in a few weeks I’ll start doing that then.” There’s something about setting that future goal that is so appealing and seems so attainable. And then January actually rolls around and you realize the goals aren’t going to get carried out on their own.

I can also admit to being the type of person who not only thinks of nearly impossible resolutions, but too many nearly impossible resolutions. Fortunately my mom came to the rescue this year and informed me that people should only make two resolutions, so that they are easier to remember and easier to stick to. I sadly looked at my list of 12 resolutions and realized I needed to bring out the ol’ red pen.

So I narrowed my list down to three things.

1. Lose x amount of weight

2. Do something everyday (and I don’t mean something as in shower or take out the trash. I’m talking things like making progress on a personal video project, read a few chapters in a book, blog, maybe even try to learn a few words in a different language. Doing something extra that helps me keep moving forward.)

And lastly
3. Open up more

At the moment I’m feeling pretty good about the list. Not only do I think they are doable, but I think that if I actually follow through, I will become a better person. I also like my list because overall it helps me stay aware. It’ll remind me to keep in shape and that good health should be a big priority. It’ll help me stay productive and hungry for learning new things and challenging myself. And it’ll make me more aware that relationships with friends and family are extremely important, and that opening up more often will only make me stronger.

Out of the three, #3 is by far my biggest challenge. I’m hoping to work towards it everyday, and I’m hoping you’ll help me along the way.

Happy new year everyone!

It’s been several months since my last post, and I apologize for that. I could blame it on lack of time, or not having anything interesting to talk about, but who wants to hear excuses? But I will say, the best way to come out of a slump is to be inspired by something, or someone. And that folks, is what brings me to this post.

I’m sure a lot of you have seen or heard on the news about the “layaway angels” from K-mart. In West Michigan, a lady was standing in line to pay off her layaway bill in order to bring home a few Christmas presents for her children. As she was digging for some change, the lady behind her in line stepped up and laid down the money needed for the toys. This same lady proceeded to pay off the bills for 7 other layaway customers, spending over $1000. When questioned why the generous acts of giving, she just said to “Remember Ben,” (her husband who had recently passed away).

This anonymous act of Christmas spirit spread like wildfire. In as little as one week, “layaway angels” were popping up in Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Nevada, and California. People were spending anywhere from $40 to $1500. An 8 year boy brought in 8 weeks of allowance ($40) to pay off the layaway bills for several strangers that he didn’t know, and would never know. Another man in California gave $15,000 to a Kmart, paying off several layaway customer’s bills.

Watching the videos of customers coming up to the layaway desk, only to see a handwritten note on their receipt reading “Merry Christmas,” and to hear that a complete stranger had paid off the rest of their bill, was truly an eye-opening experience. One layaway angel said that the reason he was doing this is because he has been blessed all his life, and wanted to share his blessings with others.

I, too, feel very blessed with all that I have been given in my life. Good health, great friends, but most importantly, the best family a girl could ask for. I’ve always lived by the saying, “surround yourself with people who believe in you,” and everyday I am surrounded by my family who has always been there for me, supported me, and believed in me.

So as Christmas day approaches, let us all remember how fortunate we are, and how a simple act of kindness, and a little layaway angel spirit, can make a big difference in someone else’s life.

High School Diplomats** is a program very near and dear to my heart. I was a student in the program back in 2005, and ever since then I’ve worked as a staff member. The program has sent me to Japan twice, and has introduced me to the most amazing and talented group of individuals who have become my second family. One of the most difficult parts about being so invested in this type of program, is that it is incredibly difficult to explain exactly how this experience has impacted me. But on the other hand, for that same reason is why HSD is so unique. You have to experience it yourself to really understand what it’s all about.

After seven summers with the program, I’ve learned a lot, not only about another country and another culture, but also about myself. And after seven summers, I still struggle to find the words to describe my appreciation for the program and all that it’s given me.

But despite the difficulty, HSD is too important to go unnoticed and to not spread the word to everyone I know. So a few weeks ago, I interviewed a few former and current staff members. I asked them a series of questions mainly about how they got involved in the program, how they think HSD is unlike any other summer program, and why they think it’s important for other’s to experience. After about 120 minutes of solid footage, I narrowed it down to about 11 minutes, split into 3 videos. I interspersed some footage from the program this past summer to add to the experience and give you a taste of what life at Princeton in July is like.

The staff members spoke from the heart, and none of this was rehearsed. What you see is what you get, and hopefully by hearing them talk you can see and maybe even feel the passion they have for the program.

Here are two of the three videos. I hope you can take a little break in your day to listen to these guys talk about a program that has played a big role in who I am today.

 

“It is that first year when you do HSD as a student, that is one of the most eye-opening experiences any high school student can have anywhere.” -Rachel Easter, HSD 2004 student

 

“This is just a small stepping stone for many people’s lives, but it’s the strongest foundation for me that I’ve ever had in my life.” -Machel Ross, HSD 2008 student

 

**High School Diplomats is a cultural exchange program between Japanese and American high school students that takes place at Princeton University. If you know me, it’s the “Japan program” that I’ve been talking about for the past 7 years. If you don’t know me, it’s a great opportunity for all sophomore and junior HS students, and you should go to www.highschooldiplomats.com to learn more about it!

My two fondest memories of Bernie, my best friend’s late grandfather, were from a vacation to Cancun, Mexico.

1. The first night at the resort, I admit that I had a little too much to drink. Needless to say, the next morning was a little rough and the thought of any sort of alcohol (especially tequila) made me queasy. As I slowly made my way down to our very first breakfast together (considerably tardy), I saw that they had saved a seat for me. And to my surprise, there was a shot of tequila. at my placemat. waiting for me. Turns out, it was Bernie’s clever idea to make me suffer at 8:30am.

2. At one of the dinners, Bernie decided to eat the blob of green “stuff” on the side of his plate, thinking it was guacamole. He proceeded to eat THE-ENTIRE-THING. A few minutes of him slowly chewing and us anxiously waiting for smoke to come out of his ears…. he swallowed and said, “Woo, that sure was some hot guacamole.” But we all knew better, he had just eaten the entire serving of wasabi.

The wasabi story is just a small example of how strong of a man Bernie was. He served in the United States Army for 22 years, putting his life in danger to serve his country. And for the past few years, he battled Parkinson’s disease. But no matter the pain or suffering, he never seemed to let it stop him from making others smile. There were only handful of times that I had the chance to visit with him, but of all those times, he never failed to make me laugh.

Bernie was a kind man, and he will be deeply missed.

His funeral was held at Arlington National Cemetery. I had the honor of attending the service, and documenting some of the traditions. The service was truly remarkable.

I’ve included a few of the pictures that I took during the day.

Bernie, thank you for teaching me to never take life too seriously, or go a day without cracking a joke. Rest in Peace.