College kitchen essentials & recipes

I realize that I don’t have a kitchen and haven’t had one at any point in college, but I pretty much feel like I do because my boyfriend has been needing some help in this department. It’s his first time having to cook for himself and not having a meal plan for the cafeteria. He isn’t complaining, and I can see why; it would be awesome to be able to cook every day. But with school, internships, student orgs, and whatever else is going on, it can be hard to find the time to cook a decent meal (or so he tells me). Plus it isn’t always easy to find time to go to the grocery store.

For someone with a busy schedule who has to make themselves meals, making a plan for what you will be eating that week or for the next two weeks is essential. You won’t have the time or energy to go to the store every day/couple of days and get what you need, so trying to get it taken care of in one trip at a time is beneficial. This way you can make a shopping list and know what you are supposed to buy when you go to the store and not have to wander around aimlessly.

Make sure you are bookmarking or somehow saving recipes that you see so that you don’t get to the point where you are eating ramen or PB&J every day. Having your own kitchen is an absolute benefit because you have the choice to eat healthy, so don’t (literally) weigh yourself down with junk food or super easy/frozen meals all of the time. Keep your recipes somewhere and try to have a variety of things.

Don’t let yourself run out of essentials. Every person may have a different list of staple items for their kitchen, but here are a few things that you might want to keep on hand at all times:

-milk

-butter

-olive oil

-salt/pepper

-eggs

-condiments

-fruit and/or vegetables

-rice and/or pasta

-your comfort snack/dessert

-salad dressing

I’m sure I’m missing things on this list, and there are also things that are personalized for each person. But the point is- don’t run out of things you’ll always expect to have. Especially since you’ll need them for a lot of different things.

Things you pretty much need in your kitchen to survive (or so I’ve convinced my boyfriend):

-pots, pans, dishes of ASSORTED SIZES

-measuring cups and spoons

-pizza cutter

-baking supplies

-microwave plate cover

-sharp knife

-can opener

-water filter/Brita

-set of plates, bowls, etc.

-spatula

-cooking utensils

-ice cream scoop

-toaster

If you’re already running low on ideas for things to cook, here are some ideas I have for you.

1. Quesadillas: These are so easy to make…at least my cheat version. You will need:

-tortillas

-shredded monterey jack cheese

-optional: chicken, cubed

Lay a tortilla on a plate. Sprinkle the cheese all over. If desired, add the chicken. Cover with second tortilla. Place in microwave for 30 seconds to a minute. Take it out, cut it up, and eat! Told you-simple.

2. Chicken Caesar Salad. You will need:

-chicken, cubed or sliced

-bag salad or romaine

-caesar salad dressing (or any other kind of dressing)

Put it all together. Ta-da!

3. Baked meatball subs. You will need:

-sandwich roll(s)

-shredded mozzarella cheese

-meatballs

- sauce

Cook your meatballs. If they are frozen, the instructions will most likely call for you to cook them in a pot over the stove in sauce. Do this! Slice open bun/sandwich roll and place it on a cookie sheet. Spread some sauce on bread. Add the meatballs. Cover with mozzarella cheese and then more sauce. Cook at 400 degrees for 10 minutes.

4. Fajitas. You will need:

-tortillas

- green, red, yellow pepper (any, all, just one…up to you)

-onion

-monterey jack cheese

-chicken (optional)

Cut the peppers, onion, and chicken into slices. Cook them in a stir fry pan until done. Warm tortillas in microwave. Spread cooked peppers, onion, and chicken and cover with monterey jack cheese.

5. Stir Fry. You will need:

-rice

-peppers, snap peas, carrots, broccoli…as many or as few veggies as you want!

-chicken/beef/no meat (optional)

Cook your rice as directed. Set aside. In a stir fry pan (how unusual), put cut up vegetables and meat. Cook until done. Put finished product over rice.

6. English Muffin Pizzas. You will need:

-English Muffins

-pizza sauce

-any toppings (pepperoni, sausage, etc.)

-mozzarella cheese

Warm up your oven to 400 degrees. Cut english muffins in half and lay out on cookie sheet. Spread marinara. Top with any pepperoni, sausage, whatever. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese. Remove from the oven when cheese looks melted.

7. Tuna salad. You will need:

-1 or more cans of tuna

-carrot

-relish

-mayonnaise

Open and drain tuna. Add into mixing bowl. Shred carrot over bowl. Drop in relish and mayonnaise as needed. Stir. Put salad on crackers, bread, etc.

8. Ham, cheddar and ranch wrap. You will need:

-tortillas

-ham from deli

-cheddar cheese, shredded or sliced

-ranch dressing

Lay out tortilla. Put down two pieces of ham. Include cheese and spread ranch dressing. Roll up and eat!

There you have it. Hopefully you got a few more ideas and will continue to think of more. When you go shopping, have a plan and know what things will help you make multiple meals (ex: in the above cases, a package of tortillas can go a long way.).

The recipes I provided are obviously not the absolute healthiest, but they aren’t all bad for you. There are a million other things that can be made. It’s just a matter of setting aside the time to figure out what you are going to do.

Good luck! Enjoy your meal.

Let the music heal your soul

In the last year, life has gotten pretty serious.  I had many deaths in my family that brought me down so extremely low.  I’ve worked and worked and worked to prepare for my future.  As a person, a human being, I have been up and down, and up and down.  And I have become passionate about many things that can be considered controversial.  I have written a few blogs about controversial issues such as female reproductive rights, gun laws and safety, and politics.  After Robin Williams’ passing and finding out a past teacher of mine passed from suicide, I started thinking about writing about depression.  BUT I changed my mind! I want to write about something happy.  I want to write about things that make me happy, that keep me going, and get me through some of those hard days we all have.

One of my favorite songs is “Happy” by Pharell Williams.  Yes, it’s overplayed.  But honestly, it does make me happy.  I introduced my mom to the song and she immediately loved it as well.  We were talking over dinner one night about antidepressants and suicide and how some people just get rundown in this world.  One thing she does everyday is listen to the song “Happy.”  She said “some people take antidepressants, I listen to “Happy” everyday on my way to work.”  And I could think of a TON of songs that really do make me happy.  Music is a huge part of my life.  I grew up with music as a central part of the household due to my dad being a musician.

I could think of a million reasons to complain about in my life or things to get stressed out about.  But like my mom said, I am choosing to keep my head up and to keep going because I have a lot to be thankful for.  So, here’s my Happy playlist for the days that I need a push.

(in no particular order)

“Happy” by Pharrell Williams

“Love Never Felt So Good” by Michael Jackson/Justin Timberlake

“Dirt” by Florida Georgia Line

“Love on Top” by Beyonce

“The Man” by Aloe Blacc

“Ain’t It Fun” by Paramore

“Tonight You Belong to Me” by Patience and Prudence

“Dancing in the Dark” AND “Born to Run” by Bruce Springstein

“Three Little Birds” AND “Don’t Worry Be Happy” by Bob Marley

“Boom Clap” by Charli XCX

“All About that Bass” by Meghan Trainor

“Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the waves

“Chelsea Dagger” By The Fratellis

“Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show

“September” by Earth, Wind and Fire

“Move your Feet” by Junior Senior

“Wanna be Startin’ Somethin’” by Micheal Jackson

….and the list goes on.

Living in a sprawl…

♪♫♪ Sometimes I wonder if the world is so small that we can never get away from the sprawl…

Well, it’s week 2 and counting…so I figure it’s time for a mental health check.

Super challenging course load? Check. Required weekly First-Year-Experience programming for freshmen? Check. Rushing to get everything assembled for the Ampersand? Check. Schedule filling up with meetings for every day of the week? Check. Check. Check.

But…Stressed beyond my imagination? Actually…not so. I’m actually impressing myself by being decently calm and collected despite the ever-growing items on my to-do list. My semester will be rough, no doubt, but so far I think I have a handle on things as long as I stay on top of everything and figure what needs to be done when. Alright, I am probably attributing this to it being syllabus week, but I didn’t actually feel like I had a “intro” week to enjoy and get eased in. All of my classes feel like they started off running right away – no time for getting settled or any forewarning. I don’t think a single one of my professors spent more than 10 minutes running through the syllabus before immediately diving into the content, which makes sense since I’m taking all more difficult classes. Usually at last half or the entire first class is dedicated to discussing the syllabus and the course, so I needed to be on my game right away this time.

But all has gone well so far! I’ve been trying to be on top of it by reviewing everything we cover in class on the same evening and then getting ahead for next class too. If I can keep this up, I’m sure things will be okay…but it’s keeping it up that will be the challenge. Like I feared during the summer, I do feel rather burnt out after taking summer classes + doing research and then going straight into 2 weeks of housing training and now straight into fall semester again. Recently it feels like I’ve just had very little personal time to myself since I’m constantly surrounded by other people and have to consciously interact. I’m the kind of person who finds energy and recharges through being alone rather than with other people, so  even though I love meeting all the countless new people I have lately, I’ve been pretty exhausted for the past couple of weeks.

But aside from interacting with the residents on my floor, my staff, and reconnecting with my best friends on campus, I’ve actually been pretty good and trying to meet new people in classes too. One of my favorites is my Russian 201 class. The first day intimidated me greatly – mostly because I am one of the three non-native speakers in the class. Ever since Russian 102, the number of non-native speakers in my Russian classes has been dropping with each successive class as students satisfy their language requirement or find some alternative, presumably easier language to learn. I’ve always loved Russian and can’t wait to keep taking classes on my way to my language minor, but now that the class is 90% native speakers who have grown up speaking, understanding, and hearing the language at home since childhood, I’m anxious that I won’t be able to keep up. Fortunately, though, everyone in the class is so friendly, and the professor seems pretty funny and enthusiastic too. Even though a lot of people dislike language courses, I’ve always loved them, especially in college, because it feels like one of the few classes I get where the class size is small (for Russian usually only 10-15 students) and everyone is encouraged to talk and get to know each other extensively. There are some students in my class who I have known since Russian 103 and 104, so it was awesome to see some welcoming, familiar faces when I walked in on the first day.

Well, I know the bulk of this post has been rather dry so far…but that’s probably because there’s not much else I’ve been up to besides work and school. I’ll try to be more creative in the future, I promise…but in the meantime, the best I can share is that I went to an Arcade Fire concert last week! It has definitely been one of the highlights since my summer final exams ended. Brandon got us tickets and since it was at the United Center, which is so close to where I live on east campus, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to go. As someone who only knew a handful of Arcade Fire songs (and admittedly only two off their newest album), I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, but the concert was simply incredible. The concert was part of Arcade Fire’s Reflektor Tour, and they opened with the title song, which was one of the few I knew and really loved. The lights lit up all throughout the stage, switching around the room rapidly, and it was really exciting to just feel the craze and eagerness of the crowd. Many people even dressed up in costumes or formal attire (the ticket actually said to do so!) and it was funny seeing people walk in by dressed as cartoon characters. When we arrived, Brandon and I actually had our 300 level seats upgraded to 100 level seats free of charge! I’m not entirely sure why they closed off that level, but we definitely had an awesome view of the entire concert. I had a fantastic time just enjoying the ridiculous amount of streamers, balloons, and glowing lights that surrounded the inside of the United Center – and of course the music was entrancing as well. Because there seemed to constantly be something to new pay attention to, I was on my feet nearly the whole time. My favorite performance was the one of It’s Never Over (Hey Orpheus), which had lyrics that alluded to the Greek myth. The lead singers Win and Régine were fantastic, with Régine appearing on the B stage across the main stage as they sang back and forth.

I'm pretty proud of this photo I managed to take! Régine is stunning.

Well…time to get some more work done if I want to stay/get caught up with eveything, even though the things to do just keep rolling in at a faster pace than I’m going at…but in between I’ll just make some time to add all the Arcade Fire albums I can find to my playlists.

…I need the darkness, someone please cut the lights ♪♫♪

(Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) – Arcade Fire)

You’ll thank yourself later…

Now that the first week of school is behind us, it’s really time to get down to business. First off, awesome job on getting through a stressful week of finding classes, ordering and purchasing books, figuring out when and if you have time to eat or nap, and trying to navigate through a sea of students! Since everything is settling down and we will all fall into routines pretty soon, it’s time to start habits…but only the good kind. Make it your mission to avoid forming as many bad habits as possible. Obviously the occasional procrastination or all-nighter will pop up, but do whatever you can to keep those sorts of things occasional. Focus as hard as you can on making the following things happen (as well as any additional things you can think of), and soon enough they will become another part of your routine, even more so something that made your semester significantly better- or even changed your life.

Ever since we were little, people have been telling us to make friends at school. There are quite a few ways to do this, obviously. But there are a couple things about this that I think are exceptionally important. If you live in Campus Housing or in an apartment with people you don’t know very well or even at all, get to know them. You’re living with these people after all, and whether or not you have a relationship with these people will dictate how your entire living experience will go. Plus, if everything works out, there is a chance you will become lifelong friends. If you don’t speak with your roommates, there are simple ways to go about changing that. My freshman year, one of my roommates had the same morning math class as I did. My senior memory isn’t serving me as best as it should be, but on either the second or third day of class, I asked her if she wanted to walk to class together. Even though the first few times were forced interactions, it eventually became natural, and we are now best friends. It definitely won’t always go that way, but remaining at least cordial and having conversations is important to being happy in your living space.

Another important thing to do in the first few weeks is to “make friends” in class. I don’t necessarily mean it in that exact way. It is a good idea to make friends wherever possible, but I’m referring to finding a buddy or two for class purposes. You may want to study together, to text one another and ask about homework, or to let one another know what was missed during an absence. This is something I tended not to do (unless I already knew someone in class) and it made it really difficult to study on my own or move on without the notes from a day I missed.

Along the exact same line, take good notes. Don’t take notes that will only make sense when you are writing them down; take notes that will make sense in December during finals week when you suddenly forget everything you’ve learned all semester. Write out full sentences if need be. Highlight when necessary. Take notes that would make sense to someone else – whether or not you plan to ever share your notes with someone else. There’s really no point in ever writing anything down in class if you aren’t going to do it well…the professor most likely doesn’t care if you take notes. It’s for you. So do it well!

One thing your professors most likely do care about (and that will affect you, too) is whether or not you are awake and alert in class. We all get tired, more like exhausted, pretty much every week. College is hard, and there are a lot of obligations and hours of sleep lost. But the point is – it all comes full circle. Don’t be falling asleep in a class that you stayed up for many nights in a row studying. All that exhaustion is for a reason, and it’s silly to wind up trying to catch up on sleep or even just be accidentally falling asleep when you were staying up for your education. Do whatever it takes to stay awake. You can sleep later on.

A good method to try and prevent extreme exhaustion is to maintain a sleep schedule. Obviously this isn’t that easy to do, and I don’t mean a ridiculously strict sleep schedule. But going to bed around the same time (within a decently sized window) and getting up at the same time each day will help your body adjust to the change. Even if you are off Tuesdays/Thursdays or have a day where you start later, wake up at the earliest time you need to get up at during the week. That way you’ll be ready to do it again the next day, and you’ll have more time in the day with which to accomplish things. It is college after all…always make time for a nap! One of the perks of being a college kid…

The best way to be able to stay on a sleep schedule is to accomplish things when you can and avoid procrastination like the plague. Writing down any and all due dates on the PLANNER that I so frequently recommend will help keep you on track and aware of what is to come. It allows you to figure out things in advance and (hopefully) prevent you from scrambling at the last minute to complete assignments and study for exams. This may even motivate you to do homework/projects/studying ahead of time and cause less stress as it comes, since things can pile up fast with multiple classes. The best part of it is that when you get things done ahead of time, you have more room for fun and sleep (what are those?)

As you are writing assignments down, make sure you aren’t doing so for no reason. Yes, there are the assignments that professors will know whether or not you’ve completed, like responses, problems, essays, etc. But there are also those that people try to get away without doing…most often reading assignments. Just do them. I’m not just saying that because I’m an English major or because I will usually read anything that is put in front of me. Once again- what’s the point of taking the class if you aren’t willing to learn and motivated to do so? Do the reading assignment. Besides-what if the teacher calls on you to answer a question?

Lastly, keep it clean. That is, your living space and homework space. The less clutter or mess around you, the less stressed out you’ll feel. Having a clean environment to do work and relax in will help you be the best student possible. Make time each week (or day, if you need to) to clean up your space. It’s a simple thing that you can do that will make a huge difference in your happiness in the long run.

Good luck with your week!

Ms. Lauren

My first week as a student teacher was great.  Exhausting…..but great.  Getting to know the kids was easy.  I am trying to make connections with each one of them. Each one is unique in his or her own way and I am so excited to work with them and watch them grow.

Every day, we have a morning group that consists of three boys and one girl, all age 3.  Each one of them stole my heart on the very first day.  We also have an afternoon group of 3 boys who are age 4.

One day a little boy with Down Syndrome spoke to me for the first time.  He hadn’t uttered any words yet.  The kids were having snack.  We have picture cards that we ask the kids to point to if they aren’t verbal.  I had the picture cards out for “want,” “more,” “water,” “cracker,” and “apple.” I point to the cards and say the word and ask what he wants.  He pointed to the apple card and said “App….app…papple.”  I was so elated! I mean, it was the highlight of my day.  No one had heard him say anything intelligible until this.  I am so excited to see these kids grow and improve.  I feel so lucky.

Being there a little over a week, I have been able to make some good connections and I’m hoping when I am done in 15 weeks, I’ll be hired! My seminar professor says that special education teachers are needed so much that she doesn’t doubt I will get hired immediately.  Cross your fingers and toes!

This was my first homework piece.  All of the kids did one and we put them on our bulletin board in the hallway.  It was a running joke with all of the teachers that no one would put their exact age and I was A-OK with that!!

This is our classroom.  After a couple days of moving and unpacking box after box, AND doing it in a room that was not yet finished with construction, we FINALLY came to a point where it looked presentable and ready for the kids.

On Wednesday, many of the teachers did the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.  I didn’t participate because I already did my challenge, but I was there to support them and take pictures.  They are such a great group of people.  I feel very lucky to be one of them temporarily.

Go Whittier Wildcats!! Thank you for all of your support!!

Dear Sarah, age 10…

♪♫♪ I don’t know why all the trees change in the fall, I know you’re not scared of anything at all / Don’t know if Snow White’s house is near or far away but I know I had the best day with you today…

Dear Sarah (age 10),

Hi there, it’s me (I mean, you) – but ten years older. Actually, it’s 2014, you’re 20 years old now, and you’re a junior in college, if you can believe it. Twenty. Years. Old. Do you even know what that means? To be double the length of your life so far? Of course you think you do. Because right now you think you know what everything means – and you’re very wrong about that – and you even think you already have the next ten or even twenty years of your life mapped out.

Well…Sarah? You’re wrong. Sweet and naïve, but completely wrong. Take your daily walk to and from Robert E. Clow Elementary School right now, and you’ll realize that your whole world is basically contained within the four block radius between your house and the grade school playground – and even that walk has been “supervised” by your big brother Bob for the past five or so years when you walk together to school every morning and he waits for you by the door every afternoon after the last school bell rings. But Bob also just turned 12 years old, and he just moved on over to Gordon Gregory Middle School across the street from the house. Sure, now Mom says you’ll be able to walk to school and back home alone everyday, but let’s be real – you’re still not stepping foot out of this subdivision alone.

But hey, this isn’t a bad thing. That’s not what I’m trying to point out at all. It’s not like you’ve never gone anywhere or done anything fun. Mom and Dad are always the best at making sure there was some kind of family vacation every year, and it’s always the best time no matter where the destination is. At the age of 10, you’ve been to Taiwan, Japan, England, Canada, and a smatter of the states across America. That’s more than some people at age 20 could say! Whether we’re all on the road to Six Flags or aboard a ten hour flight across the globe, you always knew it would be good time because Mom, Dad, and Bob were there to make it fun (and keep you safe).

Feeling safe – that also means more than you can imagine right now, because you just accept it without much thought. You’re going to keep taking it for granted for years before you realize just how sheltered with protection you were, and once you do realize it, make sure you keep the best memories and never let them go. Remember falling asleep in the car late at night as Dad was driving? You can’t remember where you were all going, but you as long as Dad was driving, we would all get there. And with that, remember falling asleep everywhere? But miraculously, no matter where you ended up – the living room, the backyard, the car – you would always wake up tucked in your bed the next morning.

Or even memories you thought you would leave behind but still come to mind, ten years from now. Remember snuggling close to Mom in that tiny bed at Sleeper’s Inn in London? The TV hummed with an English talk show that neither of you could make sense of. Remember wandering about Chinatown with Bob when Mom and Dad were working at their office? And that one time when Bob spent his allowance buying you Sailor Moon trading cards just because he knew you were eyeing them and it was your favorite show at the time.

Think about all the times you drew sketches of Dad because you told him you wanted to be an artist and he humored you by dressing up in a nice suit and tie so you could practice by drawing him – even though they always came out quite awful-looking – and he always told you they were just wonderful when you were done coloring them in with crayons and color pencils. Just so you know, Dad kept all of those messy pictures, and they’re still in his office right now.

There’s a lot you don’t understand yet, and probably one of the biggest things is just how lucky you are. It’s easy for people to label you that way just because you grew up in Naperville in a nice, safe subdivision that had highly rated schools and teachers – but you know it goes deeper than that. You were surrounded by love since the day you were born, and that’s something rare in the world. Sarah, if I could do anything for you, it would be to slow time for you right now to a standstill and let you be 10 years old forever. Your family has always protected you, steadfast and unfailingly reliable, and if you be honest with yourself, you’ve never properly thanked them for that. Sadly, it might even be several years before you fully comprehend what kind of sacrifices they have made for you to succeed and get to where you will be at age 20.

Your brother, Bob – he’s your biggest hero right now, and frankly nothing’s going to change much when it comes to that. But for goodness sake, grow up already and stop pouting and whining so much when he beats you at Sonic Adventure or Super Smash Brothers on the Gamecube. Trust me, whenever you win, he’s just letting you anyway. And wow, I hope you memorized what it’s like to share a room with him and sleep on a bunk bed – because that’s never gonna happen again. You might bicker a lot now, but believe it or not, there’s going to come a time when you really, really miss it. Soon he’s going to want privacy and more space, and he’ll move into the bigger guest room after your cousin Pam graduates from high school and goes to college. And even then, you’ll still stick to him like glue and spend all your time with him anyway, because you secretly always loved just watching him play his video games even more than joining him and playing yourself. You’re going to keep having epic “Beanie Babies” wars with him, and he’ll dress up your little toys with paper armor and make amazing tanks and planes out of Legos and K’nex. You’ll make stupid bets with him with the loser having to go downstairs and get soda or snacks. You’ll stay up late watching anime on Cartoon Network late into the night on his TV until you fall asleep in his room and he gripes for you to wake up and go to bed. Hold on to this for as long as you can because it won’t last long. You know how smart Bob is, and he’ll soon graduate middle school and head over to IMSA, the math and science academy where he’ll live at a boarding school for high school with other impossibly smart kids. And even if you won’t say it to his face, you’ll miss him so awfully much every single day when you have to go to school by yourself and can’t come home to watch cartoons with him.

And of course, you have your mom and dad’s tireless support. That’s something – the most important thing – that’s not going to change anytime soon. If you can, could you just take a minute to thank them for it? You don’t see it yet but they’re not infallible either. They get tired, worried, angry, and scared, and you do a lot of thing that don’t help with that too. They deserve some appreciation. And for heaven’s sake, stop being such a brat to your mom when she takes you shopping for new shoes and clothes. Yes you think it’s unbearably boring and just want to go read books and magazines instead, but trust me when I say there will come a time when you want to go shopping for clothes and you’ll wish your mom was there to give you advice.

And you have so much time on your hands, would you just practice piano today?! You love it and in just a few years you’ll be busy enough and wish you had time just to fool around with music.

Things like grief, fear, stress, anxiety, shame…all of these terrible, terrible things are just words to you right now. You think you know what they are, but you don’t. And I wish it could stay that way for you, but it can’t. The next 10 years are not going to be easy for you, and many changes are coming very soon. But I can offer you one condolence: I promise that you will be able to handle whatever comes. A lot’s going to happen, and if I could write you a life manual for every year, month, week, day of it, I would – because trust me, there are times that you’re going to feel completely lost and hopeless as to what to do, and sometimes (often, actually) you’ll make the wrong choice. You’re going to cry, get your heart broken, miss people who don’t miss you back, and make all kinds of mistakes. But don’t worry – you make plenty of right choices too. There’s going to be people who walk into your life and stay, and you’re going to go places you never imagined and make memories you keep with you for tens of years to come. And in ten years time, it’s all going to lead you to people and a place that you’re happy with – that I’m happy with – today.

Alright Sarah, you got this. Last tidbit of advice: never stop writing, no matter how awful things are and even if you’ll cringe at it later, because writing will always make you feel a bit better. You’re gonna be fine.

With love,

Sarah (age 20)

And I love you for giving me your eyes, for staying back and watching me shine / And I didn’t know if you knew so I’m taking the chance to say I had the best day with you today ♪♫♪

(The Best Day - Taylor Swift)

Here we go!

It’s the first week of school! Some people may be excited and ready to start and a lot of others are probably dreading getting back to the daily grind of classes, studying, exams, and caffeine drinking. Whatever emotion this first week brings you, it is inevitably time to begin another year of education…not to mention my final year of undergrad! Here is my advice on how to start the semester off on the right foot and to ensure success in the coming months.

Get a planner. I don’t care who you are or how organized you think you are. You are never too organized for a planner. I could not function during the school year without one of these babies. There is no better way to keep track of every requirement, event, assignment, exam — whatever you need to know — without having one of these handy contraptions. I especially recommend the daily planners with the whole month in calendar format at the start of each new one. These are awesome and allow for more things to be written down on each day. Some people recommend color coding things in the planner, which is great, too.

Save money on books. My first semester of college, I walked into the bookstore and was shocked to see the prices for my textbooks. I did buy quite a few of them because I didn’t understand the other ways to get books and because it was already the first week of school and I was worried things I ordered online wouldn’t arrive quickly enough. I now realize how wrong I was. You really, really, REALLY need to save money on books because it’s easy, it feels awesome, and just because you can!

~Order books from Chegg. I heard of this site as a freshman but never looked into it. Now, I wish I had been doing this all along. This online textbook rental service is fantastic, and they even send first time customers surprises in the box of books. Through this website, I was able to rent books that were originally priced at $200 for $50. They even include the return shipping label and box so that everything is free once your package arrives. Also, if your books don’t arrive in time for assignments or the first week of class, they often offer an online e-book for temporary use. Overall a great resource!

~ Rent at the UIC bookstore if reasonably priced. Oftentimes, the bookstore does also offer an option to rent textbooks, so long as you don’t damage or misplace them during the semester. This is a super simple way to save money on books; just this week, I was able to rent a book for one of my classes for $6. Make sure that when you are at the bookstore you are checking out the labels that show how much it costs to rent a book. Totally worth it.

~ Check the various Facebook pages where students sell books. When people are done with books they’ve purchased, they very frequently attempt to sell them to other students online. Check those pages before you ever pay big bucks for a book, because a lot of times, someone is selling the very book you need (especially those that are a UIC-only edition) and is willing to negotiate a price with you.

Get an accordion folder. Honestly one of the best things ever invented. Picking out multiple folders to match notebooks is fun, too, but when it’s time to get work done, I really just need to find whatever I’m looking for quickly, and I don’t want to have to search for it. That’s why this comes in handy. Having an accordion folder with multiple pockets-preferably even more pockets than you have courses so that you can also have a misc. pocket/student org pockets/etc., allows you to have everything you could ever need in one place with the added bonus of staying organized. 

Determine a study/homework space. I know it’s the first week, but this is the key time to start determining some things for the rest of the school year. With a lot of things, maintaining consistency is important. Finding a good place to study or do homework is vital at this time, because when it comes time to get down to business, you need to know where you’re going to go. Make a study space in your room, or find someone to go in public in which you feel comfortable. Sooner or later there will be a test, and I’ve learned from experience that studying in/on your bed is not the place to be.

Review each syllabus. Knowing what is going on in your classes-especially when you have a lot of them-is crucial. Make sure you know when all assignments/tests/etc. are so that you stay organized and get the best grade possible in all of your classes. Many classes have assignments due at a certain time each week or have a quiz on the same day of the week. Reviewing this after you leave the class will help you solidify that in your mind so that you are always on track.

Get involved…..You may or may not have read an entire blog about this last week, so there isn’t much more for me to say here. Don’t just go to class and go home or back to your residence hall room. Do something! Join an organization, run for your building’s hall council, go to programs, DO SOMETHING!

…..but still make time for yourself. It is so so so important (something I am still learning) to make time for yourself. You may get really caught up in academics and leadership on campus and completely forget to take care of yourself or do things you enjoy. Try setting aside some time every day or a few times a week where you can simply unwind, enjoy a favorite hobby, or be with friends/family.

Best of luck in the first weeks of classes and throughout the semester!

My first day of school

Too bad I didn’t get a picture of me on my first day of school.  Actually, my first day with the kids is today.  Last week consisted of moving, more moving, moving things again, organizing, and meetings.

We went to our classroom to find out it was not finished getting constructed.  They took out the sink (which we needed-you can’t have a preschool room without a sink), and hadn’t finished putting in the countertops on, windowsills, projector, or white board.  My teacher was moving from a room twice the size of this one.  So, there were over 160 boxes to move and unpack.  Oy! Then, the furniture.  Which was big, and totally unnecessary for preschoolers.  Yes, lots of stuff to complain about the first day.  I just helped as much as I could.  Apparently, there are a bunch of student teachers there, and I was the only one helping the move in.  I left exhausted, hurting just about everywhere.  My mentor said, “If you can handle this, everything else will be a cake walk.” I didn’t cry at all so I guess I have that going for me. :)

This is the room with about 1/4 of the boxes moved in: This was it as we left the first day (most boxes are unpacked and the centers were taking shape:

We have four kids in the morning and four in the afternoon.  I’m excited to get to the point where everything is done! Right now I just feel a little overwhelmed.  I know once I get in the swing of things and can actually put all of my training into practice, it’ll all get easier.

Update on the 17 day diet:

I finished the first cycle and will be moving on to the second cycle once I get settled in with the student teaching and the stress wears off.  There are so many recipes I’d like to share but I will share one of my favorites now.  Breakfast was always a bit tough because I couldn’t have cereal, toast, or a bagel.  I could have eggs but it did get a bit old.  So, I found a recipe for PANCAKES. That’s right! Pancakes.  How can you have pancakes if you can’t have flour? They are flourless pancakes made with fat free cream cheese.

Cream Cheese Pancakes

Yield: Four 6-inch pancakes

Serving Size: 1 pancake

Ingredients

  • 2 oz cream cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 packet stevia (or any) sweetener
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Instructions

  • Put all ingredients in a blender or magic bullet. Blend until smooth. Let rest for 2 minutes so the bubbles can settle. Pour 1/4 of the batter into a hot pan greased with butter or pam spray. Cook for 2 minutes until golden, flip and cook 1 minute on the other side. Repeat with the rest of the batter. Serve with sugar free syrup (or any syrup of your choice), fresh berries and I had it with a glass of pro-biotic Kefir.

Approx nutrition info per batch: 344 calories, 29g fat, 2.5g net carbs, 17g protein

Stay Hungry!! :)

Weeks 0: Ready Set Go

♪♫♪ Alors tu vois, comme tout se mêle / Et du cœur à tes lèvres, je deviens ton casse-tête…

It’s been a long and hectic two weeks. Even though I braced myself for the whirlwind that is campus housing training, it still managed to take a lot out of me. When day 1 ended and I crawled into bed on Monday night, I tiredly worried that just one day had run me ragged. There were still many days to come, posters to make, programs to plan, names to memorize…and of course classes to prepare for. But the rest of training kind of flew on by, and I quickly became closer to my fellow Courtyard staff through the endless icebreakers and teambuilding activities.

When I first moved back to Courtyard, I honestly was missing my nice kitchen and living room in TBH very much. My room this year is considerably smaller than my room last year, but it’s the typical size of a Peer Mentor room in Courtyard so I can’t complain. Last year, I just lucked out and got the biggest PM room, which was in a triple cluster. During second semester, the two girls living with me actually transferred schools and moved out so I actually had an entire cluster to myself! It was strangely large and I actually didn’t even know what to do with all the space. Quite on the contrary, this year, I have a tiny single room in a 8-person cluster, and I feel like I can’t even fit everything I want in my room. It took several tries of arranging and rearranging my bed and desk to figure out how to optimize the space, and even now I’m not sure I’m satisfied with my choice. I’m trying to be as minimalistic and strategic as possible when it comes to arranging my things, and I’m having my parents take some extraneous items home for me. But even though it’s small, I do think it’s quite cozy. I never needed much space anyway – only just enough to live in. I believe I can quickly get used to this and feel at home here – it might just take me a little more time to get used to the general location  on third floor and living with seven other girls in the same cluster.

Housing training was largely the same as I expected from last year. The first afternoon included a teambuilding day at the student rec center, which was fun and quite exhausting. We played games like dodgeball, volleyball, tag, problem-solving activities, and the human knot. By the end of it, I think everyone was tired and ready to call it a night. But in the evenings, we have in-hall staff meeting time, which was also important to hammer out what policies and staff expectations to follow for the whole year. I think the biggest thing that was accomplished from the whole day was the fact that I knew everyone’s name on my staff, which has 28 people total. The majority of the rest of training was listening to lectures about programming, community, conduct, and other important things to recall from last year. I’m glad I have a year’s experience now, because I remember feeling overwhelmed last year from the plethora of information just thrown at me all at once. But it was nice to be able to bond with my staff during the week and slowly get to know individuals one by one. Most people know me as a reserved person because I typically prefer to watch things unfold in group settings rather than directly contribute to them. I’m not shy –  I just don’t prefer to be the center of attention or say something unless I have something relevant to say. This year, I do feel myself stepping it up more as a leader to speak my mind more and offer advice and insight.

Classes haven’t even started yet, and I already feel incredibly busy. I’m worried because it feels like my marathon training has taken a backseat because I’ve been so incredibly exhausted at the end of the day everyday. Training starts at 10 AM every morning and I usually don’t find myself with free time again until after 9 PM, so my only option is to wake up early to go to the gym. This would be fine, but it makes me exhausted for the rest of the day when I really need to be focused and peppy enough to keep up with my staff’s spirit. All of the different residence halls in Campus Housing are competing for a prize called the Golden Sparky, which essentially is a prize for the most spirited staff. We can earn points for positive spirit and behavior (making cheers, showing up early, participating) or lose points for poor behavior (texting during training, sleeping, poor sportmanship). Courtyard actually DID win last year, and we’re trying hard to keep Sparky in Courtyard, so I want to try to be on my best behavior at all times. But sometimes I must admit it’s so difficult to keep my eyes open when we’re going over things I feel like I know and I’m exhausted from running 7 miles in the morning. My hope is that I’ll fit in gym time more easily when I can plan my schedules more, and then I can catch up to the proper mileage for training. I hit 12 miles last week, and the next goal is 14!

My first bulletin board of the year! - Hunger Game theme

Last week and this week might be Weeks 0, but I’m feeling busier than ever. But my bulletin board (Hunger Games theme!) is up, my Mockingjay-personalized door decs are all over my hallway (I have a 60 residents this year!!), and it’s time for New Student Days events.

This is going to be a good year.

Et malgré ça , il m’aime encore et moi je t’aime un peu plus fort / Mais il m’aime encore, et moi je t’aime un peu plus fort ♪♫♪

(Comme des enfants - Coeur de Pirate)

How to get involved in the res halls

While I and the rest of the student staff members have been moved into our room for a couple of weeks now, freshmen, sophomore, junior, and senior residents are starting to move in. I don’t have any of my own residents this year, but I am living on the same floor as I did my last year. Five of my residents from last year are living in their same rooms again, too, which is really awesome. While I most likely will never know whether or not I had an impact on those residents’ decision to return to campus housing, I do know that I always tried to let all of my residents know about the many, many ways to get involved on campus, especially in campus housing. There are a lot of options, and they can truly change your college experience. If I had never gotten involved with all of the things I did here at UIC, I would be pretty unhappy person and would feel really lonely and unattached to the university. But because I joined as much as I could, I feel very committed to UIC, I enjoy what I’m doing every step of the way, and I have made some incredible friends.

Although every resident’s RA or Peer Mentor will urge them to get involved and truly become a part of campus housing, I am not necessarily saying this as a resident assistant this time, but as a resident- get involved! Now is the time and certainly the place. What better way to get the most out of college? Here are my tips to get involved within UIC Campus Housing:

1. Attend the New Student Days Events. This events are a great way to get oriented with the city of Chicago. You get to experience some really cool things at a discounted price. Other freshmen attend, providing you with an opportunity to get to know others, and the chaperones (RAs/PMs/supervisors) know all about how you can get even more involved. If the ticketed events are already signed up for, there are a ton of free ones you can check out. I don’t recommend missing these.

2. Get to know your clustermates/roommate/floormates. You’re going to be living with these people for the entire year. It’s ridiculous to ignore them or never get to know them, and think about how fantastic it would be if you became friends. Make a point to introduce yourself to them and to get to know them as well. Try inviting them to lunch in the cafeteria or to a Target run. They could wind up being your first friends here.

3. Go to programs. There are actually about 3 million programs planned for you in the first few weeks. Ok, not actually, but the point is there is a lot to do, and all of it is for you! Take advantage of this and attend everything that even remotely interests you…especially because once the school year starts, you won’t be able to go to as many programs because of homework and responsibilities. This is another great way to make friends, have a good time, and hear from staff members about other things you can do to get more involved.

4. Go to RHA. The Residence Hall Association is a great way to be a part of Campus Housing and your residence hall. If you live in housing, you are automatically considered to be a general assembly member. The meetings are every Wednesday at 7pm, and the first one is the first Wednesday of the school year. There are always awesome raffles and, frequently, discounted student tickets to events like Broadway plays or sports. Their meetings usually have a useful topic/guest speaker/program. Plus, you’ll get the latest updates before residents who don’t come to the meetings!

5. Look at posters on the walls & check your email. Pay attention to signage, whether its papers on the walls, emails in your inbox, or postings on social media. Either way, there is a lot of great stuff going on around housing, and you don’t want to become poster blind (stop seeing them and get acclimated to their presence) or one of those people who immediately deletes emails before checking their contents. All of these things are a way of contacting you and getting your attention to notify you of something that may potentially interest you. Get into and stay in the habit of looking at these things and knowing what is going on.

6. Join an executive board. There is a lot going on in housing, and thanks to hall councils (sort of like student councils for college and specifically pertaining to the residence halls), you are able to apply to be on an executive board almost immediately after you move in. This causes instant-friendships, a strong knowledge of how things work in housing, and experience for any other positions you may care to take on in the future.

7. Ask your RA/PM for other ideas on how to get involved. Beyond everything I’ve mentioned, there are even more ways to get involved and feel at home. Your RA/PM have a wealth of knowledge of things you can do and ways in which you can do it. Go ahead and ask them-they would love to have that conversation and get you linked up to the right people/place/etc. It’s one of the things they are here for!

Don’t waste this precious time you have in college-try to fill it with as much as possible that would still keep you sane. Find what you enjoy and run with it. There’s at least one thing here for everyone…it’s just a matter of figuring out what that thing or those things are for you on an individual level. Good luck!

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