Spring Break in the Pacific Northwest

This year, I knew that I wanted to do something special for my senior spring break, because I had never gone on a spring break vacation before. However, I also knew the usual destinations were out for me, since I don’t do so well with large crowds, and I much prefer vacations with sightseeing involved (nerd alert, I know). So, I saved up and bought a plane ticket to visit my friend who goes to college in Portland, Oregon. We also planned to spend two nights in Seattle, where I had never been, and a day at the coast so I could touch the Pacific Ocean for the first time.

For those of you who want to save up for a more affordable trip during college, I would highly recommend flying or taking a road trip to go see a friend who attends another school. Keep your eye on Kayak.com in the months leading up to break for cheap flights. Even if your friend hasn’t moved all the way across the country, you’ll still get to explore somewhere new–maybe even somewhere you had never considered visiting before! In my case, my major expenses were the plane ticket and the Airbnb in Seattle. It had a built-in place to crash in Portland, plus a kitchen.

Here is a highlight reel of some of my favorite moments throughout the week!

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I spent my first day touring downtown Portland. This picture was taken after a walk by the waterfront, where tons of beautiful cherry blossom trees had begun to bloom. My favorite thing about my trip to the PNW was the combination of city life plus beautiful nature. Any direction I turned, even in the middle of downtown, I could probably spot a mountain or distant forest. And I cannot even explain how much better the air smelled.

Here are some food highlights: first, here’s a highly-educational food pyramid located outside of Sizzle Pie. Plus, there’s one of Portland’s many renowned food carts. I loved the wordplay on this sign, but I actually ate at a Hawaiian food cart! Mmm, pineapple fried rice…

The next day, we took a scenic three-hour drive to Seattle and spent the night in this airstream! (Thanks, Airbnb!) The inside was fully furnished and totally comfortable. This was a last-minute, impulsive find–I would highly recommend staying somewhere unique for a night, if you can. But before we hit the hay, we spent some time exploring The Elliott Bay Book Company, a famous bookstore in Seattle. I loved the gorgeous wood beams and inviting atmosphere, plus the availability of titles from independent presses and quirky gifts. You better believe I picked up some Jane Austen temporary tattoos.

The next day was jam-packed! We started off by exploring the famous Pike Place Market, stopping for some coffee and breakfast. The line at the oldest Starbucks was insane, so we wound up purchasing our coffee from an independent shop– and I’m sorry Starbucks, but this was such a happy accident, because that coffee was incredible! There’s a reason that Seattle is known for its coffee. Then, we accidentally stumbled upon the gum wall. The wall was scraped clean last November, so I was surprised to see the incredible (and slightly gross) collage of sticky colors covering this alley wall.

Next, we traveled to the top of the Space Needle. For those of you with a fear of heights, I feel your pain. To get to the top, visitors must ride in an elevator with huge windows for 41 seconds–and we could totally feel the wind pushing us side to side. But, I did it! At the top, the views were totally worth it. And as an added bonus, I saw a beautiful marriage proposal happen at the top!

Next, we decided to tour the University of Washington… with about a thousand other people, apparently! The campus’s beautiful cherry blossoms had just bloomed, and tons of visitors were taking family photographs, engagement and wedding pictures, and Easter portraits. Despite the amount of other tourists, we were still able to admire the old buildings, blooming trees, and mountains in the distance.

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After a day of traveling back to Portland and spending some time resting, my last full day was spent at Cannon Beach, Oregon. Not a single one of the many photos I took do this beach justice. The largest rock in this picture is called Haystack Rock and it is 235 feet tall! And behind me, there were beautiful… you guessed it, mountains. As this was my first trip ever to the Pacific Ocean, I decided to ignore the fact that it was March and I was wearing a sweatshirt and two jackets, took off my shoes, and headed in up to my knees. I was so excited! We ate a seafood lunch at a place called Mo’s, where I enjoyed a cup of clam chowder and a shrimp salad sandwich overlooking the Pacific Ocean. All in all, I think this was my favorite day. I loved enjoying nature and some good food with friends, both new and old.

On Art & School

 

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I can’t think of a good title, so please accept this glitter text.

I find it really difficult to balance being a student and an artist. It’s actually a topic that I find myself pretty uncomfortable talking about, as if not devoting myself to one role or the other means that I’m not successful at either.

This might be easier to approach if I start with a story. A few months after I got my first ukulele, all the way back in 2012, a family member that I don’t see that often visited, and I played a few songs for him. He half-jokingly said that he was really disappointed because I was good enough to be on the radio, and he didn’t want me to abandon my education to pursue music. I know he didn’t mean it to be insulting, but the message I got was that I was wasting my time. My first few years with my ukulele, I played every single night for at least five hours. I was also in a creative writing program that took place during the last few periods of classes once a week. Between not spending enough time on my homework and not being at all of my classes, I wasn’t doing as well as I usually did in school. It was really easy to justify to myself then that pre-calc and chemistry didn’t make me happy, so it made more sense to practice music and leave for poetry classes.

It’s a little more difficult to do that now. I love literature. I’ve always loved literature, and I’m so ridiculously excited to continue studying and wrestling with literature for the rest of my life. I can imagine someone might say here that being an English major is basically like writing all the time so it’s the same thing as making art. To some extent, it can be, depending on the professor. I tend to try to twist my essays to talk about ideas I’m already working through, ideas about how art works that I’m also trying to use in art, but sometimes professors want right answers. I don’t have right answers; I tend to point to things that might be right, but I’m really not sure I believe that there’s ever one right way to interpret things. A lot of the time being a student means that you have to know when to do what you’re supposed to do to get a good grade, and I don’t always want to, and I hate feeling like I’m sacrificing my integrity to get a meaningless subjective grade. Grades are only meaningless to an extent, though, because they actually carry weight when other people look at them to make decisions about your future.

So when I see my friends who put their art before school and spend more than their free time on creative projects, I find it can be difficult to feel like I have any right to identify as an artist. Some days I hardly have enough time to finish yesterday’s homework, let alone write multiple poems or even have an experience worth writing about. I know it’s about priorities; I have to make choices about what’s more important, but I just don’t want to pick student because it feels like I’m invalidating an essential piece of myself. I can’t be happy without art, but I also know I won’t be happy if I’m not successful in school. I think doing poorly is a more immediate pain; I can go stretches without writing a poem because I get used to the constant hurt of it.

The longer I go without creating, the stronger I feel like I must just not be good at it or that what I’m saying isn’t worth listening to or that art is pointless, none of which is true. Even when I feel that way, I know it isn’t true, but when I compare myself to “real” artists, it can be difficult to reconcile the fulfillment that comes from creating with the disappointment in everything I’ve ever made. Performing sometimes makes me feel like an imposter or like I’m wasting other people’s time. I often go for months without performing music because it doesn’t feel right. I actually have a pretty big and exciting performance in a few weeks that I’m pretty terrified for because I haven’t played music in front of anyone since last semester. I’m trying to scramble to throw together 30-minutes worth of new material before then because none of my original songs feel right anymore. I know it’s probably not possible, but I keep telling people that I am an imposter because I want someone to hold me accountable for it. It’s all part of the larger problem of me not knowing how to make art a constant part of my life in a way that feels satisfying. I think part of it is that unlike school, where there are markers of success or due dates, art can feel like an infinite, unapproachable space. It’s sometimes difficult to recognize success in art in the same way as in school.

I really want to stress that none of this is meant to make anyone feel bad for me. I’m just really hoping that if someone else feels like this, then they know that it’s not just them. I think that talking about the conflict between school and art is really important, instead of pretending that art magically appears and that there’s a limitless amount of time in which everything that you want to do actually gets done.

I was also asked a week or so ago why it’s so important that the Honors Program has an Artists’ Collective, and at first, I was really frustrated that I was even asked that question. I felt like it made a lot of assumptions about the way that SASHP students engage with art, like we were somehow separate from the rest of the Rutgers population even though the Artists’ Collective programs are open to everyone. I think what the person who asked that question didn’t understand was that Honors Program students aren’t necessarily more dedicated to schoolwork than the typical Rutgers student. I think if that were the case, that Honors Program students studied more than the typical Rutgers student, then the Artists’ Collective would be a group where students would attempt to reconcile the pressures of being a student with the need to be creative. That could have been its original purpose, but now it’s just an art community (that is absolutely wonderful, and you should totally join). Art spaces need to be inclusive and welcoming, so I’m not upset about the current state of the Artists’ Collective, but I do think that there needs to be a conversation about being an artist while being a student.

Keeping It (Mont)real

Over spring break, my friends and I decided to spontaneously drive up to Montreal, Canada. Yes, I know it’s no Cancún or the Florida Keys (actually, Montreal was even colder than here in New Jersey), but we thought it would be a cheap, fun trip. And it was. We started our long over-six-hour drive Thursday morning, making fewer pit stops than I expected. We stopped in Albany to meet our friend who took a bus up from Cornell, grabbed some food, and then continued three more hours until we finally reached our hotel in Montreal. The second we hit the Canadian/USA border, we could tell we were crossing over because… everything was in French. This was perfectly fine for me, as I could read French and speak enough to get by, but for the rest of my group, I heard sighs and “Those French Canadians” all throughout our car. Getting to our hotel, we were starving, tired, and had serious back pain, but we had no time to rest as we wanted to get food right away. Now, this is when I will address the food we ate in Montreal, specifically breakfast food, because it is something that deserves 7000 blog posts dedicated to it. I already knew I loved breakfast food, but being in Montreal, I now want to eat their breakfast foods for every meal of the day. And by the way, Yelp was our best friend on this trip. Knowing nothing about Montreal, we spent most of our hotel’s complimentary WiFi on Yelp and TripAdvisor, two websites that you should definitely take advantage of if you are traveling.

The first brunch we had was in this small restaurant that was about a ten-minute walk from our hotel. We knew nothing about it except for the fact that it had good ratings on Yelp and served eggs. Yeah, we all had sudden egg cravings that morning. Finding the place took forever, but when we did find it, it was worth the wait.

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Don’t let this ordinary looking omelette fool you! It was the best omelette I ever had!

The second day, we had brunch at Universel Dejeuner & Grilladesa restaurant I recommend everyone put on their Montreal to-do list. The food was delicious, the drinks were so good, and the overall atmosphere just automatically put a smile on your face. The wait time was quite long though as it was a very popular place, as we discovered, but once again, the food made it worth it. I ended up accidentally ordering two breakfasts, one being the crepe I posted a picture of below, but with the amount of walking we did every day in Montreal, I had zero regrets.

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Strawberries and Chocolate and Bananas, oh my

Now you may all be thinking that all my friends and I did was eat on this trip (you’re partially right), but we also did a lot of sightseeing. One of my favorite places on this trip was to Montreal’s Notre-Dame Basilica, a beautiful basilica in the historic district of Old Montreal. This was a place we chose to walk to, even though it was quite a walk from our hotel. We wanted to explore the city! This little part of Montreal rightfully deserves its name–it consisted of beautiful, old buildings and parks nestled away from Montreal’s otherwise city-like atmosphere.

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The outside of the Notre-Dame Basilica

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This picture of the inside of the Basilica does it no justice; the artwork and architecture inside can only be truly appreciated with your own two eyes.

My other favorite place that I saw in Montreal was Mount Park du Royal (translation: Mount Royal Park), which is a beautiful mountaintop park with a gorgeous view of the whole city. To fully appreciate the view, we had to trek through icy, snowy woods and “Walk at your own risk,” trails that only the crew of The Revenant themselves would approve of. After thinking, “Okay, I am going to die in Montreal. At least I had a great final breakfast,” about a 100 times, we finally made it to the top of the summit, and the view was breathtaking.

Also, much to our bewilderment, we discovered there was a much safer, actual road we could have walked to get to the top instead of the path we did take, but hey, take the road less traveled by right?

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This view was definitely worth our Oscar-worthy hike.

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Montreal, Quebec from the top of the summit

Overall, my friends and I had a wonderful time discovering Montreal’s little jewels in the three days that we were there. It was a great, inexpensive trip that we got a lot out of, and I can’t wait to go back again when it’s warmer. Especially because I can’t stop thinking about those omelettes…

Hidden Tunnels ‘Round Busch Campus

So… I lied. They’re not actually hidden nor are they tunnels, but they do escape most people’s notice. And they’re perfect to use if it’s cold or raining and you really don’t want to walk outside. This pathway that I’ve managed to carve out–with the help of various others–is what I use when I really don’t want to brave anything in the wilderness that is Busch Campus (and outside). Admittedly, it’s not helpful to get you to ARC (Allison Road Classrooms, for those who don’t know what building this is), but it’ll lead you to the Hill Center bus stop, Physics Lecture Hall, and SERC (Science and Engineering Resource Center).

If you walk around Busch campus, you’ll notice that there are some connecting hallways between buildings; these are key to the pathway. Below, I’ve put together a slideshow that’ll lead you through the maze. I hope it helps!

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Beeware: A Bee Crisis

Since the 1940’s, the number of bees in America has gone from 5 million to 2.5 million. This number is continuing to drop rapidly–it is estimated that we owe bees’ pollination for about one in three bites we take.

Scarily true.

Since 2007, 30% of bees have died in the US. Over the summers, I’ve noticed the amount of bees buzzing around drop off–where once they flocked in groups around my home, scaring me when I nervously left my house, they now are alarmingly almost absent. This cause, the bee crisis, is one close to my heart. Luckily, there are plenty of practical things you can do right at home.[1]

Planting

I love seeing the flowers bloom, and would hate to see less bloom!

Not only could you spread a little beauty in the world, but you can also provides bees with a home and food. There are plants that you can specifically plant to help out the bees. These include things like trees, wildflowers, and fruit-bearing plants. In fact, allowing your grass to grow rather than mowing it in your lawn  can provide bees with dandelions. Bees are suffering from malnutrition and this will help them greatly. My mom and I love to have flowers and trees in pots on our deck–we absolutely love seeing them bloom in the summer. If you have some kind of outside area, it’s a great idea to just put out a bee-friendly plant!

Buy Locally

Buying locally helps give business to local farmers who happen to help out local bee farmers as well. Buying homegrown food helps encourage bee health and bee diversity. Plus, you get to help out in the local community which is cool. In addition, they often avoid wide use of harmful pesticides (see below) that also harm the bees. This helps in encouraging large farms to reduce their usage as well.

Reduce Pesticides

Trying to reduce your pesticide usage would immensely help the bees. Very often, these bees are also being killed by the wide pesticide usage, which often taint the bees’ environment. With group effort, the poisonous material can be curbed, and bees can be safe again. [2]

Getting Involved

There are plenty of ways to get involved, including an easy one right here! Rutger’s PIRG has a petition to help end bee-killing pesticide usage in New Jersey. You can sign it right here, if you want to help out! In addition, there are plenty of worthwhile charities working to fix the problems. By donating or volunteering, you can really get involved in this cause!

The bee crisis has inspired artists all over the globe to spread awareness through their art.

Spreading awareness just among your friends is also a great cause. Looking around for local awareness campaigns is a great way to get involved and serve the community while also hanging out with your friends. As stated before, the PIRG is doing a bunch of petitions that you could get involved in. I’ll definitely be making more of an effort to really appreciate the bees this summer!

Writing Workout

My father says that my creative genius comes from him. Not everybody can be a creative genius, though, which is why there are 227 results if you search “creative writing exercises” on Google. One of the first results is Write to Done’s “10 Best Creative Writing Exercises,” a compilation of ten truly engaging ways to kickstart the writing process. I knew that because I’m a creative genius, I wouldn’t be a good judge of how inspiring these exercises are, so I enlisted the help of my sisters, Cassandra (who hates reading and writing), and Hannah (who loves reading and writing), to try some of them out.

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I’m pretty sure they spelled exercises correctly everywhere else on the page besides this picture.

Find the 7th book from your bookshelf. Open it up to page 7. Look at the 7th sentence on the page. Begin a poem that begins with that sentence and limit the length to 7 lines.

I decided to include the rule that you had to have read the book to ensure that we would each emotionally connect to the material.

Alex: Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale

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Cassandra: American Girl Mini Mysteries

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Hannah: Tony DiTerlizzi’s The Field Guide (The Spiderwick Chronicles)

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This prompt only works under very specific circumstances. There are certain sentences that just don’t make good opening lines for poems, like really long sentences or dialogue. In fact, having a complete sentence as an opening line for a poem doesn’t seem like a good starting point at all. You’re automatically stuck with a complete unalterable thought. I guess the point of this prompt is skip the process of starting, but it might work better for prose than poetry. I actually ended up with a great opening line, though. Margaret Atwood, I sincerely apologize for not using it seriously.

Open the dictionary to a random page. Find a word that you do not know how to define. Write an imaginary definition for it. Repeat.

After several minutes of searching, I concluded that there probably isn’t a dictionary in our house anymore or, if there is, it’s scared of being thrown away and doesn’t want to be found. Instead, I found a website that promised to reveal 15 Extremely Interesting Words You Probably Don’t Know; it wasn’t a guarantee, but I figured I’d give it a shot. I’m glad I did, though, because I was rewarded with “diamonds.”

diamonds in the sea

Jealous?

Alex: JejunatorScreen Shot 2016-03-13 at 10.51.03 PM.pngCassandra: Duende
Screen Shot 2016-03-13 at 10.52.00 PM.pngHannah: Skulduggery

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We had a bit of a hard time getting into this one. I think there are ways this could be an interesting exercise, but for the typical writer, I’m not exactly sure what would be inspiring about it. If you’re interested in working with sound, though, it might be useful to work with words individually and focus on how they feel rather than what they mean. If you’re trying to start a story or a poem, this probably isn’t for you.

Describe a first. Your first kiss, your first kitten, your first day of school—all will make excellent stories.

I know you’re interested in the nitty-gritty details of our lives.

Alex

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Cassandra

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Hannah

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This isn’t really a bad prompt, but it isn’t very interesting. It basically says write a story about something that actually happened in your life. If you don’t want to write about something that actually happened, then don’t. I guess that advice applies to all of these.

Cut out interesting words, phrases, and images from a magazine. Place them in a bowl, close your eyes and pull out two of these magazine snippets. Write a mini-story of not more than 250 words.

The closest “magazine” while we were working on this was a circular for some St. Patrick’s Day sale. I did my best.

Alex: St. Patrick’s Day & SCAN to Shop Our Website

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Cassandra: Silicone Oven Mitt & You are in a hurry

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Hannah: Assembly Required & Men’s Adolfo and Adolfo Red, Regular or Slim Fit

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I feel like we’re not being trusted to be inspired by what we’re inspired by at first glance. Instead of having us look at a magazine and thinking of something, the prompts ask the writer to cut it out, swirl it around, and let luck decide if you’re really interested in it. Luckily for my sisters, I’m a creative genius so I was able to quickly identify the phrases that would lead to the greatest results. I’m not exactly sure why the writer is limited to 250 words, but we weren’t that committed to plot or character development anyway, so it worked out.

Write an advert selling a boa constrictor as a family pet.

Seriously.

Alex: Buy it or I’ll let the boa constrictor loose on your children.

Cassandra: It will go down in hissssstory.

Hannah: The snake is very magical and fun to watch. I have one so I know.

We don’t get it, like, at all.

 

Honestly, though, there’s nothing wrong with wanting a little help. Not only is not everybody a creative genius, but nobody is a creative genius all the time. I think what these prompts get wrong, though, is that they aren’t targeting the right problem. All of them want you to skip the process of thinking of what to write about or the beginning of the story by telling you what to write, but the result isn’t something creative as much as something that just exists. If you just want to have something written, then these prompts are great for having words on a page.

If your problem is creativity, though, then you need to get out of your head, not more in it. By writing to these prompts, you’re limiting what you can do. What works best for me is free writing with total understanding that anything I write isn’t anywhere close to done and doesn’t ever have to be shown to anyone. I also find it helps to have some sort of background noise, whether that be from listening to music or sitting in a public place. The idea is that you minimize your control over what you write so that the weird or emotional or incomprehensible parts don’t get filtered out. Hopefully somewhere in that free write, there’s a little glimmer of creative genius, even if just in one phrase, that excites and inspires you. There’s nothing wrong with finding outside inspiration, but it’s important to remember that you can be inspired by yourself.

Dungeons, Dragons, and Possibilities

Despite the risk of sounding incredibly nerdy, I will say this: Dungeons & Dragons is fun. I know what images this conjures–80’s geeks around intricate maps with expensive miniatures. From an outside perspective, it seems like a really niche game–too complicated, too expensive, and overall, too nerdy to play for most people. But, as someone who thought the same for years, it’s really not at all.

What you’re probably imagining right now.

Dungeons & Dragons is what you make of it. Sure, you can invest in hardcover manuals or intricate miniatures, but it’s really not necessary. All of the resources you need can easily be found online and the biggest investment you’ll probably make is a good set of dice. What’s really needed for a D&D game is a storyteller and enthusiastic players. All the game really is, is an interactive storytelling experience, a lot like a video game or something of that nature. The “Dungeon Master” crafts a story and setting for the players, who interact and play through the story. There’s an infinitude amount of possibility here, as the only limit is the imagination of the people involved.

Way more accurate depiction of what it will look like.

I will admit that the game can be complicated. A lot of it does require some work–especially if you’re the one telling the story. But it’s not as intimidating as it seems! I’m currently running a game where only a couple people have played before and the majority are basically clueless on how to proceed. But within a few rounds, everyone managed to pick it up pretty quickly. And the plus was that they were having fun figuring out how to play as well. This game more than any is about cooperation, and when someone is confused, it only takes a few moments with everyone’s combined efforts to clear it up. I’m new to the game as well, and although I did have to do some reading, I quickly discovered that the rules weren’t nearly as complicated as I had first thought.

A small sample of the insane amount of creativity that can go into a D&D game.

As a creative person, Dungeons & Dragons really helps me exercise that side of myself in a really fun way with my friends. I can write an interesting story, draw a map, or even make tunes to accent the adventures. D&D is a great way to practice your hobbies and have your friends really interact with and appreciate them. I already like to write (I am writing for this blog after all) and creating a story for my friends is just incredibly fun. I love seeing their perspectives on the situations I create and adapting the stories to surprise me. Already, only three sessions in, we have a monster disguised as someone else in the party, a quest to find a long-lost brother, a mysterious charmed map, and a thief in the group who’s slowly stealing all the gold for himself. I am absolutely pumped to see how all of these will pan out and what kind of shenanigans the characters will get into later on.

If you’re even the slightest bit interested in playing, I’d definitely suggest grabbing a few friends and trying it out! There are millions of players (including Vin Diesel!) and the game’s been around for over four decades, so it’s definitely worth it to try it out.

Pictured: Vin Diesel’s birthday cake.

Mental Health Talks

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Confession: I’ve started grinding my teeth. I’m not sure exactly when it started, but I’ve realized that it is likely a result of stress and anxiety. Since anxiety has been affecting me emotionally and even physically recently, I’ve decided to start a conversation here, partly to clear my mind and hopefully to provide comfort to someone who can relate.

I have always struggled with mental health issues, and my moods tend to be further affected by the seasons. So you’re probably thinking things must be on the upswing for me with all the beautiful days we’ve been having… but this isn’t exactly the case. While I’ve been trying to take advantage of the nice days and get outside, the start of spring can sometimes be a struggle for me. The weather can be unpredictable – warm and beautiful one day but chilly and rainy the next – which leads to lots of ups and downs. Plus, it seems like everyone around me is immediately perked up by the springtime weather, and I can’t help but notice that it takes me longer than most to come out of my winter funk. (I would definitely not recommend comparing yourself to others when it comes to mental health, but sometimes, I can’t help it.)

Here are some of my best tips, as a reminder to myself and to anyone reading this post, for how to get out of a low spot.

  1. Be kind to yourself. Do your best to avoid negative self talk. Try not to think of what you consider to be your flaws, because we are all more critical of ourselves than anyone else is. But if you fall into a pattern of critical thinking, or you are unable to meet another goal you have set for yourself, don’t beat yourself up over that too. It can be easy to fall into a cycle. Instead, after a hard day, do something nice for yourself, like eating a special snack or taking a long bath.
  2. Be kind to someone else. If you’re having a hard time, sometimes the best thing to do is to distract yourself. If you decide to do something nice for someone you love, the benefit is two-fold: You can get your mind off your problems, and you can make someone’s day. So call your grandma, take your dog for a run, or treat your best friend to coffee after class. They’ll appreciate your kindness, and their good mood just might be contagious.
  3. Cuddle a pet. Need I say more?

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    Look at all those wrinkles. These pups make me happy always.

  4. Exercise. I know, I know. This is the mental health tip that we all want to ignore. Getting yourself motivated to exercise when you just want to curl up in bed all day can sound like an impossible feat. But I finally gave this remedy a try, and I can promise it makes a world of difference. I have fallen back in love with swimming, which I used to do competitively before college. I love the feeling of floating and the lovely quiet of being underwater. Find what works for you!
  5. Turn off your electronics. Log off of social media. Turn off your phone. Shut down the computer. Sometimes, a change in routine can make all the difference – and let’s face it, electronics have become a crutch in all of our daily routines.
  6. Think of time in manageable chunks. As the infinitely wise Kimmy Schmidt once said, “You can do anything for ten seconds.” I’ve found this mentality to be incredibly helpful in managing the overwhelmed feelings that come with anxiety. If I’m in a funk and think that going to class is going to be difficult, I won’t think of class as an hour and twenty minutes. Instead, I’ll think to myself that I only have to sit and concentrate for four twenty-minute chunks. Twenty minutes is way easier than an hour and twenty!
  7. Create to-do lists with achievable goals, and then reward yourself. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m an incredibly organized person. I keep my planner meticulous, and colored post-it notes are a staple for me. I’ve found that writing down small goals for the day helps me to feel more accomplished and productive. If you’re feeling really down, jot down achievable goals, like cooking yourself a nutritious meal or washing your sheets. Be proud when you can cross them off your list! Reward yourself with a treat when you accomplish something that was a particular struggle.

If you have any additional tips, please let me know! Of course, I am not a professional, and I definitely encourage speaking to someone if you’re struggling. Be kind to yourself. And as a note to myself and anyone reading: It always gets better. Really.

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I highly recommend The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix for more wisdom and a good laugh.

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens

Right now, I’m sitting at home scrolling through Snapchat and slowly dying on the inside with every “View my Story” I come across. People are sandboarding in New Mexico and relaxing in Cancun, and I am spending spring break vicariously living through ten seconds of others’ adventures and pure bliss.

MjAxMy01MjM2ZjFiMWIxMTU2ZGM1 (1)So if you’re in the same boat as me and have no big plans for break, I totally recommend finding some local places to drive to. That way, you can discover new places and new things to do without having to spend thousands of dollars on airfare and hotels, or hearing, “You’re home for only one week, and you don’t even want to spend it with us!” from your parents (as I did when I told my parents I intended on going to Cusco, Peru, for spring break).

One local place that is a quick drive away and is like nothing you have ever seen before is Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, in Philadelphia, PA.

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From the outside, this doesn’t look like anything special. But once you step inside, this place could give Hogwarts a run for its money.

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens is essentially an outdoor museum created by artist Isaiah Zagar. Zagar’s artwork is heavily influenced by his travels (he visited Peru for three years with the Peace Corps) as well as by personal connections with other artists. After coming back from Peru, Zagar settled in Philadelphia and began creating public art and murals using non-traditional objects such as bicycle wheels, empty glass bottles, and handmade tiles. He and his wife devoted themselves to revitalizing the South Street neighborhood by renovating derelict buildings and adding mosaics on surrounding walls. Along with help from the community and other artists, and after several legal battles involving a highway construction where South Street was, Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens officially opened to the public in 2008. It became incorporated as a nonprofit organization with the intention of preserving Zagar’s artwork.

I took the following images when I went here, and hopefully it will give you a glimpse of just how intricate and unique this place is. I could have spent forever looking at all of the objects used and how just regular, everyday junk was transformed into beautiful art.

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And of course, since in this day and age, “Nothing happens unless it’s on Instagram,” bring a friend or a bunch of friends to take pictures with, as these murals are excellent backgrounds. Or, if you can go without your phone and live in the moment, bring your friends with you to just share your amazement at how cool the Magic Gardens are. I know I did.

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Definitely the coolest background for a photo

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Attempt #136 at being artsy with an iPhone and a beautiful tile mosaic

I won’t spoil all of the hidden gems of this place with this post so I definitely urge you to explore this magical place for yourself. Parking is cheap and convenient, and the city itself is a wonderful place to explore. So fear not bored spring-breakers, Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens is waiting for you!

Olive Oil and the Agromafia

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Olive oil is one of the most important products that is produced in Spain. Everything is drenched in “aceite de olive,” from the toasted baguettes that are served at breakfast to the flavored rice of traditional paella. The oil is more delicious than any I have ever tried in the United States, and at first, I believed that was due to the fact that Spain is the largest producer of olive oil in the world. Although the proximity of the farms that grow and produce olive oils could play a role in its freshness and taste, they don’t completely account for the drastic difference in Spanish oil compared to United States’ oil.

The more I looked into the difference, the more interesting it became. Significant amounts of the olive oil that is sold in grocery stores in the United States is imported from Italy, and of that oil, about 70% of it is actually fake. It’s hard to believe at first, but it is extremely difficult and expensive to get authentic olive oil in the United States. Even in Italy, about 50% of the olive oil found on grocery store shelves isn’t real. This is due to the activity of the Italian Agromafia—who also happens to make an incredible profit from selling fake “Italian” cheese, wine, bread, and other products. The Agromafia makes their profit by producing oil of a lower quality in countries like Syria, Morocco, Tunisia, and Turkey. The fake oil is made by mixing regular, high quality extra-virgin olive oil with a cheaper oil such as canola. Then, the mixture is chemically altered so the color matches that of authentic extra virgin olive oil. Sometimes extra favors are added depending on what the mixture contains. In the end of the process, the fake olive oil is sold to major brand name companies, and distributed throughout places like the United States. The fake olive oil is cheap and easy to produce, whereas actual authentic olive oil is relative expensive and labor-intensive to make.

Food, and its authenticity, is one of the most important aspects of Italy’s culture. Because of this, there have been recent raids by Italian police in order to rid the country of fake olive oil. In December of the past year, Italian police “seized 7,000 tons of counterfeit olive oil” (Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project) that was sold on the shelves of grocery stores across the United States, Japan, and Italy. Because Spain produces almost all of it’s own olive oil, the actions of the Italian Agromafia do not affect the authenticity of Spanish oil.

Unfortunately, despite the fact the authorities in Italy are doing their best to gain control of the situation and stop the exportation of all counterfeit food products, it may be a long time before the olive oil on the shelves of American grocery stores is pure and authentic. In the meantime, I plan on thoroughly enjoying as much olive oil as I can while in Spain, and perhaps looking for an American producer of olive oil upon my return to the states. It may not be as delicious, but at least it will be authentic.

(Here is a link to the crime report regarding the fake olive oil and here is a link to a really interesting 60 Minutes special about the production of counterfeit food products and the Agromafia in general.