The Weekend Five: Best Things About Having a Sister

bestthingsabouthavingasisterWhen I was two years old, I became a big sister. Growing up, we had the typical love-hate sibling-rivalry relationship, and although we were partners in crime, we also constantly fought. After I graduated from high school and moved three hours away, we grew a lot closer, and two years later, she joined me at my university. Over the last four years in the same area, we’ve had a lot of adventures and helped each other through the tough times as well. She is my best friend, and my only regret is not realizing that when we were little!

This weekend, we packed up my sister’s apartment for her big move to graduate school. The move was bittersweet — while I’m ecstatic for her to embark on this new chapter of her life, I’m sad that we won’t be living 30 minutes away from each other anymore. (I’ll also miss my adorable niece, Lucy the chihuahua mix!) Today’s Weekend Five is in honor of my amazing sister — and all sisters everywhere!

The Weekend Five: Best Things About Having a Sister

1. You have a best friend at birth.
A sister is basically a built-in best friend. If I get married someday, I have no idea who the groom will be — but I’ve known who my maid of honor will be for nearly 23 years. Raised by the same parents, you grow up in similar circumstances, often participating in the same activities and developing some of the same interests. Even if your personalities are completely different, you still have a similar upbringing and shared experiences that set you apart from everyone else.

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11913243_10155900359350627_26340899_n2. You can empathize with each other over strange family dynamics.
My sister always joke that we bond the most over being annoyed with our parents. While this isn’t actually true, your siblings do understand (better than anyone else) the family dynamics, and can laugh or commiserate with you when a relative says something silly or offensive.

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3. You can read each other’s minds.
I can make a face at my sister or say one word, and she knows exactly what I’m thinking. I love that we can burst out laughing about something that no one else understands, almost as if we have our own language. Telepathy is a superpower that not everyone is lucky enough to possess, but when you have a sibling, telepathy is a very real thing.

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4. Your sister won’t judge you, because she has to love you.
While this can be a stretch for some sibling relationships, I am fortunate to have a sister who doubles as my support system. I’m a perfectionist who always tries to be on, especially in a very people-driven career, but with my sister, I don’t have to be perfect — I can confide in her about mistakes I’ve made and decisions I struggle with, and she listens and gives helpful feedback. She knows she can always do the same with me. We are not trying to impress or compete with one another.

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5. You have someone who can be a total weirdo with you.
My sister and I have the goofiest conversations that — as evidenced by #3 on this list — only we understand. No topic is ever off limits, and we can act like complete dorks together without worrying about how we are perceived. I love having so many crazy inside jokes with one person!

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Best of luck in grad school, Julie! Readers, what do you love most about your siblings?

The Friday Five: Holidays to Observe All Year

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, it’s nearly impossible not to have the holidays on your mind. Of course, as much as I enjoy pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce, I absolutely love the holiday’s vibe – the reminder that we should be thankful for all that we have and more. Of course, November 24 is not the only day we should set aside to give thanks — that day should be every day!

This week, I would like to take a look at some of the holidays we should observe more often. Feel free to chime in with your own in the comments section below!

The Friday Five: Holidays to Observe All Year

1. Thanksgiving.
Well, if that wasn’t a given, I don’t know what is. 🙂 We should take some time out of every day to reflect upon how fortunate we are, regardless of how stressful life can be.

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2. Valentine’s Day.
Telling someone “I Love You” shouldn’t be restricted to February 14. Doing something spontaneous and sweet for your significant other will mean a lot more to that person if it happens on a random Tuesday rather than a holiday when everyone feels obligated to be romantic. Similarly, you should show small acts of kindness toward everyone throughout the year, instead of saving up for one grand gesture and a remainder of mediocrity and halfheartedness.

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3. New Year’s.
This doesn’t mean you need to get rip-roaring drunk every night and cheer when the clock strikes 12 — you can save that until December 31. However, many people wait until the New Year (and occasionally Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year) to make amends for past mistakes and to create new goals and resolutions. However, we should spend the whole year working on ourselves, not just one small window of time. If we set reasonable expectations throughout the year, we are more likely to stick to them and see some real results. Besides, it is never too late in the year to reinvent yourself.

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4. Independence Day.
Most people tend to be patriotic around the Fourth of July, Memorial Day or a national disaster, but when barbecues and fireworks aren’t taking place, a lot of us forget what it means to be American. You don’t need to be in-your-face about your nationality, but it is important to be present by recognizing how lucky you are to be where you are. (I understand that some readers do not live in the U.S., so feel free to replace this one with one of your homeland’s own national holidays!)

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5. Halloween.
The spookiest holiday of the year is all about overcoming your fears and allowing yourself to have fun. As Robert California from The Office says in a recent episode, “Fear plays an interesting role in our lives. How dare we let it motivate us? How dare we let it into our decision making, into our livelihoods, into our relationships?” By stepping out of our comfort zones more than once every year, we allow ourselves to develop and grow as human beings (or ghouls).

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What are your favorite holidays, and what have they taught you?

Happy holidays, everyone! 🙂

The Rhythm of Love

“We may only have tonight, but till the morning sun you’re mine, all mine.” – Rhythm of Love, Plain White T’s

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Long ago, when I first heard “Rhythm of Love” by the Plain White T’s, I associated the song with a long-distance relationship. I always pictured a couple who spent months and months apart at a time, only to reunite for one perfect night before returning to their own separate worlds.

Ironically enough, although I am now in somewhat of a long-distance relationship (minus the dramatic absences the song suggests and distance of more than 200 miles), I no longer think of the song that way. The lyrics may scream “romance,” but I think the song’s real beauty lies in the idea that when two people only have a short amount of time together, they should make every second count.

When I say “two people,” I am not referring to a couple of sickeningly sweet lovebirds (or several, if you’re into polyamory), and when I say “short amount of time,” I do not necessarily mean “one night.” I find much more meaning in the song when I relate it to any kind of relationship you have with someone you love — not just with your significant other, but with your family, your close friends, your pets. To me, that small window of time that we have, the “tonight” that the song refers to, alludes to the idea that our time with those we love will ultimately end.

Yes, that time may end because of distance, values and various internal conflicts, but in many other cases, that time may be stolen away from us. We may not know when our final hellos, goodbyes, I love you’s and I’m sorry’s will take place.

The past few weeks have shown me just how important it is to savor every moment you have with the ones you love. It was always something I said I believed in, but it never really resonated with me until recently. So many people I know have lost the ones they held dearest, and although I’ve had some close calls, I have been extremely blessed and I don’t recognize that as much as I should.

To sway to the rhythm of love means to enjoy the time you have with those you care about while you have the chance. (Tweet this!) It means that, while you may not always agree with their choices or opinions, you treat them with unconditional positive regard. It means that you accept them as they are, that you love them without looking for reasons to love them, that you recognize their importance in your life and that you express your appreciation for them always, even in the smallest ways.

Although Plain White T’s probably saw Rhythm of Love as a romantic ballad, I think that at its very core it can be expanded to mean something even greater.

Heartbreak and The Latin Deli

“And the heart, like a well-constructed little boat, will resume its course toward hope.” – Judith Ortiz Cofer, “To a Daughter I Cannot Console,” The Latin Deli

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Today in my Women in Literature class, as we broke into groups to discuss our latest anthology The Latin Deli, I couldn’t help but become drawn to its poem called “To a Daughter I Cannot Console.” Although I’m not by any means a fan of poetry, the works of Judith Ortiz Cofer really caught my attention, especially because of the real life situations and relationships that her book brings to light. In this particular poem, a woman (the speaker of the poem) tries to take care of her heartbroken teenage daughter. The speaker tries to explain to her daughter that things will be all right in the end, but naturally, the daughter does not believe this because of the pain she is currently going through.

Of course, when the speaker tries to remember the boy who broke her own heart at sixteen, she can barely even recall his face. Ultimately, she realizes that while “the storm surging within will abate – like all acts of God,” her daughter is still too young to realize this, and will have to undergo those hard feelings herself. As difficult as it is to watch her daughter endure such a disappointment, the speaker recognizes that her daughter will have to learn from life experience rather than merely a mother’s calming words.

The significant things in our lives are always changing. (Tweet this!) The things that are important to us on one day aren’t always the same things that are important to us a year later. When I look back at my high school experience, for example, I realize that the boy who broke my heart in a Spiderman costume right before Homecoming has become just a memory, a random story I’ve told a few friends in college (you can’t make these things up).

In other words, all of us have — at one point or another — been that sixteen-year-old girl, inconsolable over someone or something that has hurt us. But after the wounds have healed, we begin to forget that they were ever really there in the first place. We take on the role of the mother in the poem, optimistic that the passage of time will make everything better.

Therefore, when things haven’t gone our way, we have to keep on moving like that “well-constructed little boat,” and remind ourselves that soon enough, many of our disappointments will disintegrate into the stories we rarely think to tell.

The Freshman 15: Celebrating the Holidays from Afar

Happy Hanukkah to my Jewish and partially-Jewish readers! Tonight, like many other holidays, is a night typically shared with family and friends, as observers exchange gifts and enjoy household traditions. However, some college students will spend the entire duration of this holiday away from home because of final exams and a few lingering classes. In fact, while we may have Christmas break (and some might not even have that!) and many of us do travel home for Thanksgiving weekend, we do run into this problem on plenty of other occasions: birthdays, anniversaries, mid-semester holidays, etc. Even for those of us who will get to celebrate Christmas with our families, we still miss out on some of the pre-holiday preparations – the weeks of decorating, menu-planning and gift-shopping that some people might do together.

So, does this mean that college students are doomed to lose all holiday cheer? This month’s Freshman 15 is all about how to get in the holiday spirit even when you’re far from home. — Tweet this!

Grab your coats and boots, and let’s get started!

The Freshman 15: Celebrating the Holidays from Afar

1. Decorate your dorm room.
While the picture shown on the right doesn’t do it much justice, my three roommates and I wanted to make sure that our apartment was festive for the holidays. Because we come from different backgrounds and religions or non-religions, our room represents both Christmas and Hanukkah, with an electric menorah plugged in by the window, and Christmas lights and garlands lining the walls and ceilings. You don’t have to go all out, but it’s nice to put up a few holiday decorations here and there just so you have something celebratory to come home to. You can purchase these really cute window clings for $1 at Target, or start the search on your own. Besides, I am a firm believer in the idea that personalizing your dorm room or apartment makes you feel much more at home!

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2. Participate in a gift exchange.
Get together with a core group of friends and set up a Secret Santa or other type of gift exchange. Come up with price limits so that no one ends up with an unfair deal or completely breaks their bank accounts. Presents are definitely not what the holidays are all about, but rather the spirit of giving!

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3. Send out holiday cards to faraway friends and family.
Just because you might not get to see each other on the actual holiday doesn’t mean you can’t wish each other a happy holiday! While a Facebook message can be quick and easy, it’s hardly the most personal way to contact someone, and often text messages can even feel like they were sent out en masse. Instead, a simple card can be endearing. When your friends open their mail and see something waiting there from you, they won’t be able to stop smiling.

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4. Throw your own holiday party!
You’re not alone – plenty of your friends at school will be separated from their families during holiday seasons at one point or another, so why not celebrate the holidays with them? Last year, I threw a small Chrismukkah get-together, complete with latkes and Christmas cookies, and this year it’s going to get a lot bigger. Next Tuesday, my friends and I will celebrate in style! Your party can be as outrageous or low-key as you want it to be, and you can ask friends to help chip in.

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5. Ask your family for left-over items.
If you’re ever going to be home before the holiday and not during, ask if you can steal some extra holiday decorations or other items for your own use at school. In fact, I stole #5 on this list from my mom! Chances are, your family has accumulated a lot of excess holiday decor throughout the years, and more times than not, they’d be happy to part with some of it.

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6. Go to a service.
For those of you who celebrate certain holidays more religiously than others, you might feel more in tune with the holiday if you attend a church or synagogue service. Campuses are usually crawling with groups that are ready to take you in, and if not, you can always look around the community for something that appeals to you. I’m not preaching any religion here, but I do think that being a part of a congregation during the holidays can be comforting to some, and if you’re one of those people, you should consider the option.

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7. Volunteer your time.
This may be the Season of Giving, but that doesn’t limit you to just gifts among friends and family. Because others in the world are less fortunate and don’t have the same luxuries we take for granted, doing some volunteer work may be beneficial at this time of the year. Whether you choose one of those Angels at the mall or you visit a soup kitchen, you can make a difference and make someone else’s holiday season a little brighter.

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8. Build a gingerbread house!
It’s fun to be crafty with your friends. Every year when I’m home on a break, my sister and I decorate our own eccentric gingerbread houses (see this year’s example on the right) with our cousins and friends who are visiting, and it’s a great way to be creative and spread our holiday cheer. Not only is it a fun process, but it also lasts for a while afterward, and provides plenty of laughs and smiles along the way.

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9. Bake something delicious.
The way to a college student’s heart is through his or her stomach, right? So if your dorm room, apartment or other living arrangement is equipped for baking, then win everyone’s heart by baking something holiday-esque for them. Either borrow an old family recipe, pick up some break-and-bake cookies from the grocery store (still arguably just as yummy as any other homemade cookie!) or try out one of these adorable cupcake designs.

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10. Leave notes for your neighbors.
If you’re feeling creative or just hospitable, write sweet little notes wishing people the happiest of holidays, and then tape those notes to your neighbors’ doors for them to come back to. You can sign them from yourself and your roommates (always a fun bonding activity), or you can keep them anonymous. Either way, it’s one of those random acts of kindness that you can’t help but feel good about afterward.

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11. Enjoy the cold[er] weather.
We all tend to associate a drop in temperatures with the holiday season. Even if you’re from Florida like me and all you’re ever exposed to are cold fronts, you know that the holidays aren’t complete without a sweater and scarf. Therefore, one way to feel festive is to go outside and really enjoy the cold weather. Build a snowman. Have a snowball fight. Go ice skating. Floridians, go on a picnic but wear a jacket. Embrace the cooler temperatures because before you know it, you’ll be melting in the heat once more.

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12. Showcase old family traditions.
When you celebrate the holidays with your college friends, everyone should bring a piece of their traditional experiences to the rest of the group. Cook that special dish that has been passed down through your family for years, and try out some of the new customs that your friends bring to the table. Seeing your friends in a setting they might normally experience with family can actually bring a group closer and teach you something about those people you never even realized.

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13. Watch your favorite holiday movies.
Whether it’s Shop Around the Corner, It’s a Wonderful Life or Nightmare Before Christmas, boost your spirits by watching a movie that pertains to the holiday you’re celebrating. Sip some hot chocolate and bundle up.

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14. Pump up the volume.
Create a holiday playlist on your iPod or online, and play it whenever you want to feel just a little jollier. Taylor Swift does an adorable cover of Last Christmas!

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15. Create your own traditions.
Yes, it’s hard to be away from home during holidays, but as you create a brand new “family” at school (not to replace your old one, of course), you will find that new events become important to you, and new traditions will emerge. Embrace the changes that you undergo, and enjoy the spirit of the holidays no matter where you go!

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How do you like to celebrate the holidays? What are your plans?

The Friday Five: Things To Be Thankful For

Back in my hometown until Sunday, I’m excited to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family and friends. With the crazy schedules customary of my family, we get to celebrate twice this weekend, and therefore I have even more time to think about all of the wonderful blessings in my life. Even when the semester feels like too much to handle, we have to remember to appreciate the little things in life.

In honor of this Thanksgiving (which we celebrated on Thursday and will celebrate again on Saturday), I would like to dedicate this Friday Five to the things we should all be most thankful for.

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The Friday Five: Things To Be Thankful For

1. You have food on the table and a roof over your head every night.

2. Even when it feels like the world is against you, there are always those few people who support you regardless.

3. You aren’t Amber Portwood… or her daughter, Leah, for that matter.

4. You have survived Black Friday without becoming one of these people.

5. There are only a few more weeks of classes and exams before you can call it quits for the rest of 2010!