Thursday, May 8, 2014


Two blog posts back to back? I am spoiling you guys! But more so, I couldn't resist telling everyone about the awesome fundraiser that took place this past Tuesday, May 6th in New Orleans. Sponsored by the Greater New Orleans Foundation, nonprofits all throughout Southern Louisiana participated in GiveNOLA for the first time. Here's how it worked:

- For the entire day of May 6th (12:00am - 11:59pm) you could make donations to your favorite nonprofits through the GiveNOLA website
- Organizations were broken into Small (budget of under $1 million) and Large (budget over $1 million)
- After the 24 hours of giving whatever percent your organization raised of the total amount raised you would be given that same percent of a $200,000 fund (called the Lagniappe for example if the total amount raised by nonprofits was $2 million and your organization raised $20,000 you raised 1% of the total amount raised and would get 1% of the $200,000 fund landing your organization an extra $2,000!)
- You could win additional money by ranking 1st ($10,000), 2nd ($5,000) or 3rd ($3,000) in either most money raised or most unique donors (there were 1st, 2nd and 3rd place winners for both small and large organizations)
- Every hour there was also a random drawing where every organization that received at least one donation during that hour was eligible for. If you were picked during that hour you won an additional $1,000 for your organization! (So, an additional $24,000 was given out to 24 randomly picked nonprofits)

I was completely blown away at the generosity of people towards the nonprofits in New Orleans.Over $2.2 million dollars was raised from a total over 19,000 gifts! Project Homecoming raised over $20,000 and with the matching percent of the Lagniappe fund will have raised a total of over $22,000! We can accomplish so much with that money and it puts a smile on my face to see how much was given in such a short period of time to not only Project Homecoming but other wonderful nonprofits all over the city. If you are curious about other organizations that were involved or are just curious about GiveNOLA in general, click here to explore the website.

Lesson from the Journey: Everyone who says that New Orleans isn't worth rebuilding should just take a quick look at the GiveNOLA website. There is some fantastic work being done down here that people not only want to see down but support. It's amazing.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

It's May!

The weather in New Orleans recently has been absolutely wonderful. Sunshine, limited humidity and 80 degree weather? April showers have actually brought May flowers! My past week has been busy (as my blog posts seem to continue to emphasis) but I've gotten myself into the mind set to make myself a calendar and power through! I am recognizing that as my YAV year winds down, I am becoming more and more excited to start my teachNOLA training. My YAV year has been rewarding and transforming in so many powerful ways but the opportunity to not only pursue my passion of math and education but to also get my Masters in Education by this time next year is so exciting. To top it all off I get to stay in this wonderful city another year and give my parents some more time to experience it with me! Little do they know the longer they wait to come visit, the longer their visit is going to have to be because the list of things I want to do and places I want to take them to eat is rapidly growing.

I must confess that this past week I was pretty terrible at taking pictures so not all of the following pictures are my own but I promise (even with the delay!) that I had another busy and great week. So enjoy :)

Day 50: Weird Internet

Monday: I had a slow Monday at work this past week and somehow found myself in some weird corners of the internet. So for anyone out there who thought sleeping was impossible at work - fear not! I did the leg work for you and found these stickers that you can place on your eyelids and you can easily sleep at work. You might look like a crazy person and your coworkers might not want to associate with you anymore but hey at least you'll be getting some quality shut eye right?

Day 51: Staff Crawfish Boil!

Tuesday: One of the wonderful parts of working at Project Homecoming are the people that I get to call my coworkers. I am surrounded by talented and passionate people who are truly committed to making New Orleans a better place. This past Tuesday we had our annual Staff Crawfish Boil held out at the Village. The entire staff never gets to all interact at once so it was wonderful to all share our biggest achievements and struggles of the year and to eat together. And boy did we eat. There were crawfish, burgers, chicken, pasta salad, much delicious food. It was a great reminder of how many dedicated people are a part of Project Homecoming and just a fun afternoon. I feel so grateful that I am part of such a wonderful organization.

Day 52: Vegetarian Wrap

Wednesday: Lent might be over and I might not be an official vegetarian anymore but I created this amazing wrap during my vegetarianism and have continued to eat this wrap because it is so good! Hummus, roasted red peppers, shredded carrots, spinach, mozzarella cheese and balsamic vinegar. It's filling and healthy and just all around delicious. Usually I would have thrown some sort of meat in there and it just doesn't need it. It's great to look back on lent and to see that I am able to come up with yummy easy foods to eat. And it doesn't hurt that it's also colorful and beautiful to look at too.

Day 53: Stoop Hanging

Thursday: My roommate Jess had her good friend Ellison (red plaid pants) visit this past week for Jazzfest. He was a wonderful additional to the YAV house during his stay and served as a YAV for two years so understood a lot of the dynamics that come along with living in intentional community. We all woke up Thursday morning to the most perfect weather and decided to enjoy our breakfast and coffee on the stoop. This hanging session turned into us waving to all passing cars and neighbors (which we are demonstrating in the picture above). Colleen was able to capture our friendliness in action with her camera's tripod resting on one of our trusty recycling bins. I'll tell you, starting your morning off right really sets the tone for the whole day. Sunshine, coffee and good company definitely did that for me.

Day 54: Bike Ride

Friday: I have been so busy lately and not been biking as much as I have wanted! I finally found some time Friday morning to get off my lazy butt and hit the road. I've decided that I really prefer biking as a method of working out over running for several reasons: 1. biking is great for my knee because the fluid motion doesn't strain or pound my joint, 2. you can go much further when biking then running and therefore it allows me to see more which I enjoy and 3. I love the MapMyRide app and I love comparing my different rides (my last ride was kind of an embarrassment considering its been a while since I rode so that's why you get the picture of me on the bike!) Regardless, I am glad I discovered biking in New Orleans. It is actually a pretty popular way of getting around and I'm even thinking about possibly investing a bike for next year.

Day 55: Happy Doing Nothing

Saturday: Due to my exhausting week I cleared my schedule on Saturday and did absolutely nothing. I unfortunately wasn't able to make it to Jazz Fest this year (the tickets are pretty expensive and there was no one I was absolutely dying to see) so my house was pretty low key which allowed me to sleep in, cook good food and just chill. My bed and I had some quality hang time and I never changed out of my pajamas. Often times spending an entire day doing absolutely nothing can make one feel lazy but I did not feel that way at all! Coming off of a long week it was perfect to just relax. I left my house once the whole entire day to go over to my friend's house and watch The Princess and the Frog! It was fun to watch because it takes place in New Orleans and I enjoyed all the references to downtown and the bayou. It's also an adorable movie with cute music so that was pretty neat too. Cute movies and relaxed days that are deserved make me happy!

Day 56: Kill Bill Vol. 1 &2

Sunday: Clearly my past weekend was movie oriented and I do not regret it! I am a huge Quentin Tarantino fan (I probably watch Pulp Fiction twice a month easily) and decided to watch Kill Bill since I hadn't seen it in a while. I know that Tarantino has a reputation (an accurate one at that) for being incredible violent and Kill Bill is no exception but I really do think everyone should watch it someday. I forgot just how amazing those two movies are. The acting, the action, the music, the MUSIC, the storyline (classic Tarantino...many story lines told not chronologically) and its stylized nature. It is just so good! I guess what makes me happy is recharging on the weekends with some good films :)

Lesson from the Journey: My life feels chaotic and put together all at the same time but I'm weirdly ok with it. Keeps things interesting.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Busy = Happy

I have been so busy! The type of busy where you come home from your day and quite literally collapse on your bed and fall immediately to sleep. I have officially accepted my teachNOLA position which means that they have asked me for so much paperwork on top of balancing work and YAV commitments. I do believe that being busy is good and as I begin to get excited about teachNOLA training and entering the final stretch of my YAV year, there is a lot I am thankful for.

Day 43: Donut Delight

Monday: I decided to surprise Valentina at work by first stopping by District Donuts. I contemplated which flavors I should get for easily 5 minutes before finally deciding on Cinnamon Sugar, 7 Layer Cake and Banana Pudding. I also got myself a cold brew coffee (I highly recommend trying one if you never have - the coffee is brewed in cold water instead of being brewed with hot water. It gives it a slightly more bitter taste but goes perfect with something sweet like a donut). Needless to say I drank some of my coffee on the way to work (on an empty stomach to make sure I had room for donuts!) and delivered the donuts to Valentina quite literally bouncing off the walls. The donuts were absolutely delicious though and I can't wait to go back.

Day 44: The New Jim Crow

Tuesday: Our YAV community just started reading a new book called The New Jim Crow that talks about the mass incarceration of black men in America. It is an extremely eye opening and disturbing book that is very relevant to the city of New Orleans. The author, Michelle Alexander, makes some bold statements that have really inspired me to explore the subject further. Crime, corruption, African Americans, police force and drugs are all terms very prevalent and relevant to New Orleans which makes for an interesting read. I've found myself really connecting to the material and it has certainly peaked my interest. More to come as I read more :)

Day 45: Haircut!

Wednesday: I cut 6 inches off! Sometimes you just gotta do it. (Momma approves I think!)

Day 46: Syracuse Fashion Show

Thursday: My sister is graduating from Syracuse University this year (which makes me feel old and reminds me that I have officially been out of school for a year!) Instead of going to her actual graduation, I decided to see her senior collection which she has been putting together all year in her design classes. Miranda came up with 8 looks that she not only designed but made (picked out the fabrics, sewed the pieces together, everything). Four of her looks are above and the rest were just as impressive. I am so proud of her and incredibly amazed of her talent. Most of my extended family was able to be there (if you count in the picture there are 27 of us!) allowing us to take up 2 and half rows just to ourselves. You definitely could not miss a Bull in that crowd :)

Day 47: New Home, Old Friends

Friday: Traveling home last week was a little different that usual as my family has just moved into a new house. Its a beautiful house in Pennington, New Jersey in a older neighborhood with big lots and tall trees. I was lucky enough to have two of my best friends from college meet me for pizza (at Conte's of course!) and then spend the night at my house. I really appreciate them making the trip and the effort to see me when I came home. It's always hard being away from people you love but it's a nice reminder when you do get to see them that not much has changed (we are still just as weird!)

Day 48: Surprise!

Saturday: My sorority little sister, Sarah, is graduating this year and part of our tradition in Alpha Chi is to throw the seniors a "surprise" party. In the past, alumni have come back to celebrate with their sorority families and to participate in the celebration. It worked out perfectly that the weekend I came home happened to also be senior surprise! I made my way to Muhlenberg on Saturday evening and got to surprise Sarah and my little little Nicole... I was even in for a surprise when my big showed up! Essentially there were 5 generations of my family at Muhlenberg all together and it was awesome (you can see us all in age order in the top picture!) It was nice to go back to school and remember all of the wonderful people that Alpha Chi Omega has introduced me to. I love my perfect sorority family.

Day 49: Car Ride with my Dad

Sunday: I was so happy to spend some quality time with my family (I would argue I needed more time but I'll take what I can get!) My dad picked me up from Muhlenberg on Sunday afternoon and we leisurely drove to the airport. Between my mom, my dad and my sister, I talk to my family virtually every day but there is something so wonderful about talking in person. Me and my dad got to discuss family, the future, the weekend, and comedians we love. I am so lucky to have the best parents in the entire world and being able to spend some face to face with them was awesome. I miss them more than they know!

Lesson from the Journey: I've gotten to a point where I can't call my little brothers little one of them stands a foot taller than me. Guess it's younger brothers from now on!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Because I'm Happy!

Although my calendar is still filling up and 24 hours continues to not feel like enough hours in a day, I am feeling much more in control of all the chaos that has crept its way into my life. It might be the knowledge that I get to go home on Wednesday and spend some quality time with family and friends but regardless of the reasoning, I am beginning to embrace the crazy nature of these next few months as I believe this kind of busyness will ultimately get me to where I want to be. But for now, here are the next 7 days in my journey of 100 days of happiness.

Day 36: Getting Panoramic Pictures from Michelle

Monday: Michelle (in the white shirt) is one of the YAVs currently serving in Miami. I got to know her pretty well at YAV orientation because we were assigned to the same small group. Since YAV orientation I have only kept in contact with her by reading her blog so it was nice to go on retreat and spend some quality time together and catch up! She is a pretty talented photographer and brought some of her fancy camera equipment including her GoPole which is a pole that attaches to her GoPro camera and is able to take awesome pictures like the ones above! So you get to see not only the amazing group we had all together but the beautiful view we were all fortunate enough to enjoy!

Day 37: The Paradox of Choice

Tuesday: This past Tuesday meeting we watched a Ted Talk by Barry Schwartz entitled "The Paradox of Choice". It raised many interesting questions regarding how having options makes us feel more free (i.e. it equates to freedom) but actually having so many options makes us less satisfied in the end. The best example he uses regards buying jeans. He talks about how their used to be one brand of jean and even though they were stiff and took years and years to break in, he was overall satisfied with his jeans. Now today, there are many different types and brands of jeans which forces us to make a series of choices before arriving at our jean selection. Schwartz mentions that the jeans he bought fit him way better than the stiff jeans of his past but overall he was less satisfied because he wondered if he had made the right choice. Were these really the best jeans for him? What about the second favorite pair? I highly recommend watching it because it really makes you think about all the decisions you make on a consistent basis. If you want to watch the video, click here.

Day 38: Easter Basket in the Mail!

Wednesday: When I grow up I want to be half as thoughtful as my mom. I got a package last Wednesday with Easter Eggs that were filled with candy, silly plastic toys and dollar bills. It had me smiling for days and made it a little less sad to be away from my family on a holiday that we usually spend all together! Also judging by my excitement to open a few plastic eggs, helped me confirm that I am still not too old to receive an Easter basket ;)

Day 39: Habitat for Humanity Restore

Thursday: One of my wonderful roommates Kalyn works at the Habitat for Humanity Restore. The store accepts donations of furniture, lighting, lumber, appliances, and more and then resells them to the public. 92 cents of every dollar goes back into Habitat for Humanity to help with building costs of the houses they build around the city. I helped volunteer this past Thursday and it was wonderful to see all the behind the scenes action of the organization and also getting to see what my lovely roommate does on a daily basis. My contributions consisted of cleaning windows, organizing lumber, locating items that needed to be picked up and talking to customers. I really enjoyed it and I think Habitat is another organization doing great work throughout New Orleans to help get people into their homes.

Day 40: Home Dedication

Friday: We had been trying to coordinate this home dedication for weeks and it finally happened! Homeowner Julia has been living in our house for quite some time now but welcomed us all the same when we came over to officially dedicate her home. She had prepared an amazing spread of food for us all (I'm talking chicken wings, vegetable platter, pulled pork, cheeses, bread, fruit, juice, wine, seltzer, cookies...the whole 9 yards) and let us explore each room of her house as well as her beautiful backyard. Julia's home was an important milestone for Project Homecoming because it was the first home built on NSP2 (Neighborhood Stabilization Project 2) funding. Since her home turned out so beautifully and the work went so smoothly we were able to secure more funding and help build more homes. I always love dedications because it unites every aspect of Project Homecoming - the staff, the homeowners, the volunteers and the physical structures we build.

Day 41: Reunited with my one true love

Saturday: So I might be making this a little bit dramatic but I LOVE fried chicken. It is just a fact of life and after going all of lent without eating Popeyes, I finally got some. I cannot express how good their fried chicken is. I also can order without looking at the menu (2 piece bonafide combo, mild, dark meat, with an extra biscuit... what, what!) I just love fried chicken. Love, love, love it.

Day 42: Red Lipstick Easter

Sunday: I must admit that it was strange spending my first Easter without my family. I am lucky, however, to have made some wonderful friends here in New Orleans that helped make the day special. I went to church with Valentina and her roommate Emily where they had prepared an Easter pancake breakfast prior to a beautiful Easter service. I bought this awesome red lipstick a few days before and it made its debut on Easter Sunday. I've never been one to wear lipstick but after this purchase I just might have been convinced otherwise. I am obsessed :)

Lesson from the Journey: My roommate Kalyn also was lucky enough to get an Easter basket from back home and lovingly shared some of her candy with me. She's not a huge kit kat fan so I offered to take a bunny themed one off her hands. Turns out it is kind of the cutest candy I have ever eaten.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Sorry for the wait!

I'm not sure if it's just the time of year or if it's just my life that has suddenly become overwhelming and busy. I want to apologize for being late on this blog post...I was doing so well! That being said my past week has been quite wonderful despite how all the over the place I have felt. I would choose being busy over being bored and as April continues to move at the speed of light, I am even getting a better idea of what I will be doing with my life next year.

Day 29: Game of Thrones

Monday: If you don't watch Game of Thrones, I highly recommend it. The new season just started a few weeks ago and with that Valentina, Emily, Alex and I have started a new tradition of watching it together on Monday evenings. I am usually horrible at remembering to watch shows as they air, so it's nice to have a group to watch it with and kick off the week right. Next week we're going to try and one up ourselves and bring some food :)

Day 30: One on One at Panera

Egg whites, cheese, sun dried tomatoes, basil on delicious bread. SO good.

Tuesday: The only thing better than breakfast at Panera is talking about your feelings while eating breakfast at Panera. Every month, I meet with my site coordinator, Layne, to discuss what is going on in my life, to check in on my well being and talk about YAV life. This past week, I had an especially nice conversation with Layne as she helped to talk me through my stresses as it pertains to next year. I was able to talk out all the items that I have on my plate, organize my thoughts and avoid what I thought was an inevitable panic attack. Growing up and being more responsible is so hard. I am lucky to have the support system I do down here because I don't know where I would be without it.

Day 31: Dobby

That. Face. 

Wednesday: One of my newer friends down here in New Orleans is the owner of one of the cutest dogs I have ever met. His name is Dobby, he is a little over a year and solidified for me that I need a dog within the next year or I might explode. I have been lucky thus far to befriends dog owners that let me love on their dogs as if they were my own but I seriously can't wait to have one of my own. This past week I got to take Dobby on a walk around Uptown and it was nothing short of wonderful.

Day 32: Acceptance to teachNOLA

Thursday: Quite easily the happiest moment of these happy days was my letter of acceptance to the teachNOLA program. teachNOLA in short is a teaching certification program that helps prepare individuals to teach in a high need school in New Orleans. I would go through a 5 week training program (end of May through the beginning of July), then once I'm certified get support through the interview process and once I (hopefully!) land a job receive a mentor throughout my first year of teaching (this first year includes attending classes and meeting with my mentor periodically) and then upon completion get my masters! Sounds almost too good to be true, right? I'm still working out the details of how it will fit into my YAV year but it is a great opportunity that I feel really blessed to have.

Day 33: Rooftop View

View during the day
View during Sunset

View with Alex, Anna Leigh and I in front of it!

Friday: This past weekend us New Orleans YAVs packed our bags and made our way to the Florida beaches to meet up with our fellow YAVs from Nashville, Atlanta and Miami. It was truly a blessing to be in such a beautiful place and to share it with people who know EXACTLY what you are going through this year even though for me, I haven't kept in touch with many of them. We were lucky enough to stay in this wonderful four story beach house with a 360 degree view of the water. My favorite part BY FAR was the rooftop porch where I spent pretty much all of my free time lying in the sun, engaging in wonderful conversation and taking in the breath taking view. The retreat was a perfect balance of relaxing, getting to know other YAVs and spiritual reflection.

Day 34: Crawfish Boil

Nom nom

Saturday: On the retreat each site was responsible for two meals and our site was responsible for Saturday night dinner! We decided to give everyone a taste of New Orleans and have a crawfish boil. I was a little embarrassed to admit then even though I live in New Orleans and have eaten plenty of crawfish, I have never participated in an actual crawfish boil! I learned out to crack open the crawfish (and suck the heads!) and loved it. There is something so wonderful about working for your food.

Day 35: Road Trip

The best. 

Sunday: They say that the best part of a journey is not always where you are going but how you get there. I spent 14 hours in the car with those nuggets this past weekend and couldn't have been happier. We listened to Jack Johnson (I think we made it through the CD easily 5 or 6 times), talked about how much we thought various items weighed and laughed as Anna Leigh freaked out when we got lost in a neighborhood. I can't believe I have only known these girls for 8 months because there are times (like being stuck in a car) when I feel like I have known them a lot longer. I am even more excited that they are staying in New Orleans and will most likely be my roomies again :)

Life has really picked up lately in wonderful ways. I can't wait to finalize my plans for next year more while still enjoying the last 3 months of my YAV year. Time flies and although I'm excited for what's to come, I don't want to miss out on the wonderful things that seem to happen each day.

Lesson from the Journey: There is a bug called a no-see-um (because you literally can't see them!) that attacked every one of us at the beach. I NEVER get bug bites but the no-see-ums didn't really seem to know or care about that. Worst bugs ever.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

For The Readers

I am going to be completely honest right now and admit that I do not really feel like blogging at the moment. I guess this is where the "failing" in 100 Happy Days comes from and I am trying my very best to overcome the urge to just crawl into bed. I had a wonderful past week and would love to share it will all of you but sometimes I wish my blogs would just write themselves for me! So this blog is for all the people who read my blog and have supported both my YAV year and me as a person. You deserve regular blog posts and I think I've done pretty well so far - so why stop now?

Day 22: Card from Momma

Monday: I don't think it is any secret how much I miss my family. It has been a constant adjustment being so far away from some of the most wonderful people in my life. My mom sent me a "just because" card that made my day. It is nice to know that no matter how far you go and wherever your dreams take you that there are people who will always be cheering you on. I get to see my family in a little over 2 weeks and I can't wait. I am extremely fortunate to have such a strong support system.

Day 23: The Danger of a Single Story

Tuesday: This Tuesday for our meeting we watched a Ted Talk by Chimamanda Adichie titled "The Danger of a Single Story". She talks eloquently and concisely about how it is so easy in our world today to only see and accept a single story. Her best example is how when she came to America to attend college, her roommate (only hearing that her new roommate was from Africa) assumed that Chimamanda didn't know certain things because her single story of Africa was that it was third world country, filled with poverty. Her roommate wasn't aware of the other stories present in Africa and how that narrowed her view of the people who lived there.  Chimamanda articulates this much more beautiful and I encourage to take the 20 minutes and watch the video. It is truly powerful and forces you to reflect on your own interactions with others.

Day 24: 12 Hours with Valentina

Valentina and I trying on cool helmets while doing some errands at Walmart!

Wednesday: Well it all started out as a typical day at work with Valentina. We didn't have volunteers this week so both worked together form 8:30-4:30. We then decided post work to go to the mall then the mall made us hungry so we got dinner and then dinner made us full so we had to relax and watch tv and then relaxing and watching tv turned into 9:00pm and I was like Valentina I love you, but it's time for me to go home. I am just happy that I can work with someone that I can easily put up with for 12 hours straight and not get sick of them.

Day 25: District Donuts

Donut Heaven.

Thursday: Ladies and gentlemen! Listen up! I had the most amazing donuts in the entire world this past Thursday. Valentina and I had to run some errands for work and this wonderful donut place happened to be on our way (funny how that worked out!) They have different flavored gourmet donuts each day of the week so me and Valentina each split and cinnamon sugar and a lemon meringue donut along with two cold brewed coffees. The donuts were literally to die for and the coffee was delicious. I already can't wait to go back. This city keeps surprising me with it's insanely amazing food.

Day 26: High Five of the Week

Unfortunately I don't have an action shot of me getting high fived so this will have to do!

Friday: Every Friday at Project Homecoming there is a staff wide meeting where everyone gets together to share news, what they've been up to and to eat delicious donuts. Each week there is a "high five" of the week which highlights someone on staff who has done an exceptional job in the past week. This week that person was me! It was awesome to get recognition throughout Project Homecoming staff because often times Village Managers get overlooked since we are separate from the direct rebuilding. It also happened at a great time because it was after 8 straight weeks of volunteers (where most of the weeks had 75+!). It is always wonderful to be recognized for your hard work.

Day 27: The Milk Bar

Saturday: If you know me at all the you know that food makes me happy and New Orleans is notorious for delicious cuisine. I have an ongoing list of restaurants that I want to try in New Orleans (it grows faster than I can keep up with it!) and one of those restaurants is called the Milk Bar. It is a sandwich/salad/smoothie place only a few blocks away from where I live. I finally went there on Saturday with Hannah and got one of their vegetarian options (go lent!) It had cream cheese, roasted red peppers, alfalfa sprouts, avocado, and mushrooms on a delicious roll. Basically it was to die for. Nothing like a delicious sandwich.

Day 28: Catching up With AXO

Picture my sorority little Nicole took....oh Aaron Carter, to think one day in the past I had a giant crush on you.

Sunday: Easily one of the most important aspects of my college experience was joining Alpha Chi Omega. I met my best friends who have helped me not only survive college but continue to support me and keep in touch with me as I move onto my next adventures. My sorority little sister called me on Sunday to catch me up on her life and asked me what I had been up to. I shared what's been going on but what she had to tell me was far more superior than the amazing donuts I had had a few days before. Aaron Carter (the "I Want Candy" singer, younger brother of Nick Carter) came to Muhlenberg College and held a performance. He is 26 years old and went up on stage singing "I Want Candy", "That's How I Beat Shaq" and the ever so popular "Aaron's Party Come Get It". I died at this news and silently wished that I had graduated a year later just so I could have witnessed that concert.

Lesson from Journey: Sticking with anything can be really hard (like blogging for example) but consistently blogging has not only been good for me but has also proven a great way to stay in touch with friends, families and whoever else stumbles upon this blog.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Simple Living

One of the goals of the YAV year is to promote the idea of simple living. I thought I had a pretty good grasp of what simple living would look like but it turns out that there is a lot more packed into those two words than one might assume. To one person simple living might mean not buying name brands. To another person simple living might equate to not eating out. Another person might interpret simple living as incorporating composting into their waste management. And yet to another person simple living might mean taking shorter showers. The ways in which we simplify our lives directly depends on the way we currently live so all of a sudden the words "simple living" seem to take on a much more complex meaning.

I came into this year expecting to be challenged in many ways including living on a small budget. To me living simple means giving up many of the "normal" ways in which I am accustomed to living and substituting them for more environmentally and money conscious ways of doing things. Simple living to me also means living more intentionally and thinking more critically about pretty much everything. The clothes you wear, the food you buy, where you spend your money, how you manage your waste, and most importantly how you and your actions fit into the larger picture. In short, simple living means being aware.

It's funny how much this year has forced me to think and reflect about some of my actions. When you have a very limited income you are faced with questions of prioritization that might have never been an issue before. A simple example would be buying cereal - name brand or store brand? If I eat out this weekend then I can't buy that new shirt I want but if I cook at home, I will go out and buy that new shirt. I have to make decisions that I never really had to make before. I think part of that is growing up (living independently, learning what things actually cost, etc.) but I think a bigger part of mulling on these questions comes directly from serving as a YAV. Simple living for me has brought up questions of needs versus wants and ultimately has forced me to reflect on my privilege.

I went to the Post Office earlier this week and while I was waiting in line this disheveled looking man was waiting in front of me with a bundle of paperwork in his hand. He was called up to the desk and upon handing the woman behind the counter his paperwork was told that he was ineligible for a post office box. Upon this news, the man got very upset and tears started to well up in his eyes as he told the woman he really needed a way to receive mail. She told him that he could apply for general mail but was not going to be able to get a post office box without proof of residency. The man told her that he was homeless (thus not having proof of residency) and did not want general mail but was very insistent on getting a post office box. He had to be turned away and he left upset and embarrassed.

It was in that instant that I not only felt privileged to receive mail but privileged because I've never had to think about not being able to get my mail. Seeing that man being denied his preferred way to get mail really struck a cord with me. What other privileges do I have that I am unaware of? Isn't it a privilege to be able to choose to live simply? "Give up" the comfortable life? I have been chewing on these questions all year and the more I explore them, the harder it is to accept the way some things are in this world. It is also hard to not feel guilty sometimes about the material things I have and brings me back to reflecting on my needs versus wants. What a cycle of thinking!

This year has taught me to not only be thankful and appreciative of what I have (from simple things such as receiving mail to my closet full of wonderful clothes to the food that is in my fridge) but also how my actions ripple out into this world. It is human nature to be self involved but I think when you are forced to think more intentionally about everything you see how the world is pieced together in a completely different way. For example, grocery shopping can be a completely different experience depending on your access and income. My roommate works in a poor neighborhood known as Holly Grove. Most of the residents in the neighborhood do not have cars and the grocery stores are too far to walk so if they want to go they have to take the bus. Many of these residents work during the week so their day off (most often Saturday) would seem like an ideal day to go to the store and get food. The catch? The bus doesn't run on Saturdays thus many of these residents only have access to corner stores selling frozen foods and junk food. How much does privilege blind us to broken systems? How much does privilege separate the rich and poor so much that they cannot even relate to the problems being faced? I don't know the first thing about not having a car.

Living simply in conjunction with privilege has really helped me to push the envelope when not only thinking about the people of New Orleans but how I want to live my own life.

Lesson from the Journey: It hurts my brain to think about how beautiful yet how broken our world really is.