Christmas Themes and Adrenaline Rushes.

I think almost everyone will agree with me when I say that this holiday season is the most wonderful time of the year. I hope everyone is having a wonderful Christmas day with your friends and family! Today is probably the best day of the year by far. I mean, who doesn’t like to get gifts and eat delicious food? I know I do. However, inevitably I get so caught up in the craziness that comes with this time of year that I forget what it is all about.

Sometimes life can get so busy and out of control that is imperative to take a small step back and evaluate yourself and what you are doing with your time. What better time to do that than at Christmas? For me, it began when I, and a few others, volunteered at PATH’s Coats for Kids Drive the weekend before Thanksgiving. Giving of my time to that event was one of the most beneficial things I have ever done. It helped me realize how blessed I am and how much I can offer to those around me.

So, when my mother purposed the idea of purchasing a few Build-A-Bears that our friend was selling and giving them to children in need this Christmas, I was immediately on board. We picked up what turned out to be 14 stuffed animals, and their change of clothes, and set out to get them ready for the kids. I am not going to lie here; it was pretty hilarious seeing four grown adults having the time of our lives dressing a mound of Build-A-Bears. Build-a-Bearsphotoedit

Over the course of the Christmas season, we all found 14 amazing children in which to give the bears. A few were right here in East Texas, some went a little farther south and two special bears traveled all the way to Russia.

Even though the children where the ones physically getting a gift, my family probably received the biggest reward in giving it to them; even bigger than when we opened our own presents this morning. I know this was the case with me.

There is something special about remembering the fundamental theme of this time of year – to give.

Give of your time. Give from your heart.

Volunteering my time to hand out coats and bears has been the most rewarding thing, for me, from this season. I will never forget the smiles of the children and parents as they received the gifts. It might almost be broaching on selfish how good it made me feel. It’s definitely an adrenaline rush. One that I will make sure I feel more than just at Christmas time.

Please remember to give from your heart today and as the New Year comes around. You won’t ever regret it. Guaranteed.

Have a very Merry Christmas!

– S

Reader’s Block

I have never been accused of being a slow reader… I’m not as speedy as my mom, who took a class in speed reading as a teenager (who does that?). However, I am competent in finishing a book in good time. I read all three of the Hunger Games book in 5 days and all the Harry Potter books in a month… I mean, come on they are gigantic!

But anyway, my average time for one good generic novel is approximately four days. So why is it that this one book has taken me almost 5 months to read and this is my 3rd restart in the past year! Sometimes I wonder if pages are magically added to the end as I go along.

The novel, The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, is engaging, adventurous, mysterious and romantic. All the boxes are checked for the ‘What Makes a Good Novel’ List. So why has it taken me so long to finish?

Set in the 1960’s, the story is of a young woman who finds an old book containing ties to Vlad Dracula in her father’s library which, in turn, causes him to have to recant his dangerous past to her so she will understand the danger attached to the mysterious book. Along the way, you get both the father’s compelling backstory of his search for his captured professor and the daughter’s present search for her father, who has gone missing. All while the danger of vampires and Soviet governments are looming overhead.

This sounds like a good read right?! I am really not sure why it is taking me so long to get into this particular story… It may be that it is written very similarly to my freshman college history book. Or that very letter or article that the scholarly characters come across is written out word for word for the reader.

Basically there is no resolution or moral to the story of this particular post… and I am still not sure if I will ever finish the book.

Five “C” Values to Happiness

A little while back I was at Starbucks talking to my good friend George about life, dreams, goals and how to achieve them.

NOTE: I want to say how important I think it is to find someone who you can share things like this with. If you are anything like me, you can get crazy amounts of inspiration and encouragement from these 4 hour dream sessions.

However, back to the main topic! George and I were talking one night and he brought up a very interesting exercise that he had done to help him figure out some things in his life. Like all college students entering (or about to enter) the real world, we both felt the pressure and fear that comes with this life changing leap. Come on, it can be an almost cripplingly scary place.

His idea was to take time and truly think about the 5 things that are most important in his life and write them down. I, being a lover of lists, immediately jumped onto this opportunity and adapted my own version of his wonderful idea.

For me, I am in the beginning processes of my career. I have a huge laundry list of things I have to get done before I graduate and I don’t even want think about entering the chaos and stress that comes with job applications and interviews… I had to have something to put things into perspective. So, I came up with a list to guide me for the rest of my life:

My Five “C” Values to Happiness:

  1. To feel Confident in what I believe to be true.
  2. To feel Creative in my home.
  3. To feel Communicative to my family and friends.
  4. To feel Constructive on my job.
  5. To feel Comfortable in what I wear.

My main goal at the end of life is to have been happy. Obviously, I know everything in life is not going to bring me happiness. However, I want the overall outcome to be positive. I never want to consciously make decisions that I know will bring an outcome of negativity. I really do think these five values are what I can look back on when I am old and say, “Yep, I was happy.”

Be proactive about your life and make your own list values that will be important to your own happiness!

– S

Anne Frank the Author

Anne Frank House
Anne Frank House

I was traveling in Amsterdam about a month ago and I made a stop at the famous Anne Frank House. The museum was really good in capturing the reality of the eight inhabitants who lived in the house behind the bookcase for two full years. It was a very sobering experience to walk the small rooms that hid the families from the evil outside. By the end of the exhibit many were crying and all were silent.

As I wandered the house and read the lines from Anne’s diary I was struck by how mature Ann Frank was during her time in the house. What really made an impact on me was her love of writing.

Anne’s quote: “I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn” was written on the wall as part of the exhibit. This statement hit home with me because I feel exactly the same way. There is a certain urgency and anxiousness that comes when I have a lot on my mind and when I write down my thoughts my mind immediately clears and the world realigns.

I believe many people feel this way and maybe some feel the anxiousness, but do not understand what a great coping mechanism writing can be. For some reason, seeing your own opinion and thoughts written down causes certain things to make more sense. I cannot explain the feeling fully, but some will understand what I mean.

Anne Frank2

Anne also knew the importance of recording her own story during this time period. Maybe she didn’t understand totally the importance her point of view would have on history, but she knew she wanted to publish her work so that others would know her and her companions’ stories. In her last months in the house Anne had begun rewriting and editing her diary for publication.

This made me think of my own story… No, I am not facing a life or death situation during a World War, but I have experiences and thoughts that I can share with others just like Anne. I am only 20 years old, but everyone has their own unique story that could potentially help and impact people all over the world no matter their age. I definitely want to have the mindset of Anne Frank when it comes to my writing.

“Although I’m only fourteen, I know quite well what I want; I know who is right and who is wrong. I have my opinions, my own ideas and principles, and although it may sound pretty mad from an adolescent, I feel more of a person than a child, I feel quite independent of anyone.” Anne Frank, Diary of a Young Girl

I don’t have a favorite food.

Why is it that people are always asking what my favorite food is… Or my favorite book or favorite color? I always get thrown off by these questions and, in the past, would have to do some deep soul searching before I could give them a half-hearted answer. I would stand there and mumble and shuffle my feet until the very last second, in which I inevitably had to give an answer.

I didn’t want to say something to generic so that they would think I was a boring human being. However, I didn’t want to lie about some off-the-wall thing that I would have to research when I got home.

And then I had an epiphany while reading a quote from Milton Glaser, who created the I [heart] NY campaign, about his design projects.

He said, “You just sort of do it, enjoy doing it, the excitement of doing it, and then you are on to the next project.”

That is exactly the same way I feel about my favorite food, book or color. I enjoy the meal that I am eating at the moment more than any other meal I have eaten in the past (if it’s tasty of course). I am in love with the story I am reading currently more than what I have already learned in the past. You get the idea…

I am not one to constantly live off of past experiences. I have to create new stimulating experiences in the here and now. I have learned from the past and am ready to use the knowledge for what I am doing (or eating) now.

So you may ask “What is your favorite food?” And I would have to answer, “Frosted Flakes.”

Feeling liberated,

– S

Adventure, Party of One

Adventure: [ad-ven-cher] an exciting or very unusual experience; a bold undertaking; of uncertain outcome.

Think back to all the times you have been completely alone without knowing anyone… Probably not that many times if you really think about it.

To be alone is not looked on with a positive light. So many people look at me so strangely when I tell them I enjoy being alone. Now, I am not one of those narcissistic freaks who sit alone, on the floor, in the darkness to feel pleasure. But, I am not going to lie and say I do not value time spent just with myself.

Writing this blog is something I prefer to do alone. I cannot concentrate when others are in the room, harmless as they are; they are a huge distraction for me.

However, there are times when I prefer to be with people. Like at a party. I would not want to be alone at that time… that would be really terrible.

Like parties, I used to believe traveling was something you had to do with someone else, if not a whole group of someones! However, while I still believe parties are better enjoyed in groups, I have come to the realization that traveling can indeed be just as thrilling if you are alone.

To travel alone, to a place you have never been, is an adventure – even if you are not doing anything very risky. It is a very bold unusual experience with an uncertain outcome.

The reasons why traveling alone is an adventure:

  1. Boldness: You do not have the comfort of discussing ideas or decisions with another person. You have to learn to rely completely on yourself to make the right choice and analyze your surroundings.
  2. Unusual experience: You will look at and see museums, cathedrals, parks, oceans and streets differently than you would with other people. You have the ability and luxury to concentrate on the things around you without distraction. That doesn’t happen often in our world and brings about great inspiration.
  3. Uncertainty: You never know what interesting people you will meet or what unexpected discovery will come your way. But, you have the ability to follow the path that your travels lead you down without having to be concerned about a group of people.

I would not always want to travel by myself… But, if you want to learn a great deal about yourself, who you are and what you enjoy, try being alone.

To be alone is not to be lonely. It is a time of discovery – of yourself and the world around you!

– S

The day I went to McDonalds

Now I want to start this post by saying, as a general rule, I do not go to McDonalds. It is tasteless and unappealing in every sense of the word. The only time McDonalds has ever sounded good was one time at 5 in the morning when I was about to take a really long road trip… and that was out of desperation.

However, as I was meandering through downtown Dordrecht I decided to pop into the McDonalds on the square just to have a quick taste of home. Let me tell you, it tasted nothing like home. It was amazing! The bread was fresh and plump and the meat and cheese were actually real… I couldn’t believe it!

I probably looked like a complete fatty hurriedly stuffing my face, but I was like “look I am an American and I don’t care!”

After the initial shock, I sat there gazing lovingly at my New York Crispy hamburger with real fries and Coke-a-Cola all the while listening to the over-played “Fireflies” by Owl City and thinking how much it felt like home. You know, except for the conversations in Dutch going on around me and the 15th century church looming right outside my corner window.

I spent a long time watching all the people pass outside until I had finished almost every drop of my one tiny ketchup package that I paid almost 30 cents for…

McDonalds Holland

That’s when I discovered then and there that instead of shuffling around trying too hard to be a “local” I want people to recognize I am an American – an American thoroughly enjoying her time in Europe.

Obviously I am not going to go around shouting “Hey! Look at me I am an American!” But, I love the freedom it gives me to not feel bad about snapping a photo or being a little too excited about an “everyday occurrence” (like a hamburger).

There are positives and negatives about both countries and I am having the time of my life experiencing and deciding what things I like and what things I don’t like. And so far, I can honestly say I definitely prefer the McDonalds here in Holland hands down!

– S