Letters to Soldiers

Every Monday people from my dorm gather together for Manicure Movie Monday. We paint colorful designs on our nails, laugh at classics like Bruce Almighty, and enjoy each other’s company. But this past Monday, we added something a little more special to the agenda. We wrote letters to soldiers deployed overseas.

At first I was nervous about what I was expected to do. The idea that my words would be responsible for a soldier’s entertainment or relief from their current circumstance was daunting. I delayed writing my letter until my nails were painted. But after I had applied my last coat of Ruby Ruby, I was still afraid of scribbling some words onto sheets of colorful construction paper. I delayed writing my letter until Bruce found true happiness and contentment being himself.

Yet, even after the film, I was still unsettled by the notion of having to write; something I’ve enjoyed doing since a young age. I didn’t want to create letters that lacked originality, purpose, or creativity, and I knew that the soldiers who would be receiving my letters deserved much more than I could provide for them. But, then I also realized that those brave men and women did deserve something, and who was I to take away what they’ve so clearly earned?

I wrote 6 letters that day. They didn’t contain much, just my deepest gratitude for the courage they’ve shown in service, and some random tidbits about the crazy Maryland weather. I tried my best to lace my words with emotion and appreciation, but even if all they take away is that it was snowing here at the end of March, I think that’s a job well done, because they know that someone, somewhere, is thinking of them.

letters to soldiersThis isn’t our box of letters, but I’m grateful that other people are dedicating their time to supporting such a worthy group of individuals.

Thank you soldiers!

Alternative Spring Break

For the past year or so I’ve been attempting to try new things and expose myself to new experiences and activities. So, fall semester of last year I applied to participate in an alternative break program sponsored by the University of Maryland. I received my first choice assignment, spreading awareness of domestic violence in Knoxville, Tennessee, and last Saturday we departed in 2 vans, traveled for 9 hours, and made 13 beautiful friends.

The first place we went was the Appalachian Museum where peacocks roamed around an open area, bedpans were considered the ideal of creating musical instruments, and small shacks were expected to hold a household.

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After, we walked around a lake and listened to a bunch of old people play bluegrass music in the museum. What a way to connect with a group! We had a blast getting to know each other and explore this beautiful and sunny area.

Over the next couple of days we got down to the real work and collaborated with the YWCA to assist women who were rebuilding their lives, chalked in Market Square to spread awareness, visited a courthouse where they were processing domestic violence cases, and explored the Family Crisis Center. While it felt amazing to help the survivors of this all too frequent problem, the truly wonderful moments all came from my gaggle of girls.

734013_10200207791871636_917922898_nEvery night we would put loving comments into paper bags for each member of the group, describing a quality or occurrence that we loved about that particular person. We also placed statements about what we were hoping to receive from the trip on a huge bulletin board that made us feel accomplished by the end of the week. In addition, we shared amazing and inspiring stories about our lives, the highs and lows of our day, and three jars of creamy peanut butter. I can’t believe I could have gotten so close to so many people in such a short amount of time, but that’s what happens when you put yourself in a situation where you can meet sweet and like-minded people.

I did something good for the community in terms of spreading awareness of domestic violence and speaking to the availability of resources for those in need. And in turn, I was rewarded with 13 great friends whom I hope to keep in contact with even after our trip. No matter what it is you choose to do, if you put good energy  into the world, you can expect to receive good experiences back.

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Crossword Puzzles

I love to read, but that doesn’t always equate to knowing how to spell something, or having random tidbits of information floating about in my head. But, for years people always asked me if I did crossword puzzles, figuring anyone who would want to read must surely complete them in pen, in a leather armchair, in front of a roaring fireplace, wearing a silk robe and smoking a pipe. No, I just like to read books, I don’t read clues to answers I’ve never heard of.

But, about a year ago my boyfriend suggested we do one to relieve our fit of boredom, and I was shamed into acknowledging his computer engineering brain was much better suited to remember an okapi is a relative of the giraffe and an epee is a sword used for fighting, than my supposedly word-savvy mind. Even though his skills were far superior to mine, I found it surprisingly fun to try and think of what letters could be placed in those tiny boxes or glowing when I remember the first name of “famous jazz musician”. Plus, after you’ve been doing it for a while, you find that they reuse a lot of the clues. Aloe is surely always mentioned as a healing lotion, and if there is even a remote possibility they are referencing snakes, asps is surely the word they’re searching for. And the clues are more clue-like than just probing you for a term. Sometimes they are puns, sometimes they look for abbreviations and sometimes you don’t realize how clever they are until you luckily find the word that fits the description and have to pretend you understood their wit the whole time.

Now I do crosswords all the time and genuinely enjoy having to figure things out and learn for myself. IMG_1756Even though I do it on the USA Today website which tells you right away if your letter is wrong, I still feel like I’ve accomplished something when I’m finished (unless it’s one of those times where I go through every letter in the alphabet before it tells me I’ve found the right one). It’s just fun to try them out and see if I can improve my time, destress, or feel good about remembering where to use the term iota. Unfortunately, my boyfriend is still much better at them than me, but that doesn’t mean I love them any less.

Party With A Purpose

Yesterday, I participated in an annual UMD event, Terp Thon. Basically, this is a campus dance marathon where students pledge to stand for 12 hours in order to raise money for Children’s Miracle Network Hospital to take care of children suffering from various conditions and make their hospital experience enjoyable rather than excruciating. Throughout the night, some of the children who have benefited from Children’s Hospital get on stage and speak of their experience. This program has been at Maryland for the past 4 years, and though I’ve heard about it before now and have always considered myself a dancin’ fool, I never actually got up the courage to go until this year.

I was thrilled to finally be going to Terp Thon. All I really expected from it was to have a good time with kickin’ music, a fun-loving crowd, and some entertaining events along the way. I raised $110 dollars to participate (a whole $10 over the minimum) and set off Saturday at noon to have a good time with some of my friends. Those orchestrating the event got up on a big stage in the middle of our indoor stadium and began going over the logistics of the night and a few events that would be taking place.

The beginning of Terp Thon

The beginning of Terp Thon

I was too busy trying to contain my excitement at the large crowd wearing matching neon shirts to pay much attention. My senses were overloaded with long-forgotten 90’s music, those colorful T-shirts, and the wonderful feeling of dancing without a care in the world.

But, I quickly came to realize that I had vastly underestimated what Terp Thon was about. The first child that came out on stage was about 2 years old and kept hiding behind his mother as she spoke about their family’s ordeal with the young kid’s aggressive form of cancer. Whoa. I was tearing up before she finished her speech. Where did this come from? I thought this was a dance party.

389781_10151579696395695_2051817362_n (1) (Trevor was the happiest youngster at this whole event.)

I knew it benefited children like little, shy Trevor, but I had no idea the amount of help him and his family needed, or the amazing support Children’s National provided them. I felt immediately guilty for not raising anymore money for these wonderful and deserving families. I felt guilty for coming to this event and expecting to have a good time while others were suffering. I felt guilty that I couldn’t do more, contribute more, be more for those that needed it.

This night was never about me and my sense of fun, it was always about the kids. Kids like Luca who has a brain disorder, Olivia who suffered from Spina Bifida, Lucwein who found a tumor in his left femur, or Hannah and Noble who had to get their legs amputated after a series of complications. All of these children and their families got the chance to speak to the 2,000 student participants who showed up to raise money for families just like theirs, and it moved me to pieces.IMG_1854 I don’t even feel the need to mention what kind of food they served, or the activities they held, because all you need to know is how much people out there need your help, and that any amount of aid you give, means a world of difference to others. Together, the University of Maryland’s Terp Thon raised $306,735.45 for those that are in need.

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My message to everyone is this, do something for others. It doesn’t have to be much, because any amount of effort that shows you care is just as valuable to the less fortunate. Terp Thon and the Children’s Miracle Network’s slogan is FTK, For the Kids. And when I participate next year, I’ll be sure to keep in mind those less fortunate than me and work to improve their own circumstances, not just look out for my own interests.

Also, it was still a lot of fun!

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P.S. Expect me to request donations from everyone next year, or feel free to donate right away at: http://www.terpthon.org/donatenow.php

Stress Drinking

I have a lot of midterms coming up. Yikes! In addition, I have two papers, a business proposal, and a website design due. Double yikes! And while trying to juggle all of my academic responsibilities I still have two jobs and a steady date with the gym. But, instead of shirking away from my responsibilities, I am facing them head on with a little help from what’s in my mug.

That’s right folks, I’ve been drinking hot chocolate and plenty of it. It’s the perfect thing to lighten my mood when I’m in the middle of a theory review, or need a boost to get through those last 20 pages of The House of Mirth. I love using lists to get my work done, but those lists just don’t give me the same satisfaction as a nice steamy cup of Swiss Miss hot chocolate, stirred smoothly, and topped off with a little skim milk so it’s enough to warm me, but not too hot as to burn a hole in my tongue  Even as winter begins to leave us, this is one treat I’m going to continue indulging in until the end of the semester. Because, what makes you happier than chocolate? Actually, I really don’t know…but if I find something, I’ll write a blog about it.

Mine never look as good as this...But I'm sure it tastes just as delicious!

Mine never look as good as this…But I’m sure they taste equally delicious!

Looking Up, Literally

I walk. A lot. It kind of comes with the territory of being a student at College Park. Be it trotting along listening to my music, or shuffling to work with my body braced against the wind, I feel like I’m always walking. And, due in part to the frequent nature of my walks, I’ve found myself multitasking a bit too much while on the move. Heading over to McKeldin? Perfect time to reflect on my English paper. Need to go to the gym? Why not call my grandparents on the way there, I haven’t talked about the weather in a while. But, all of these distractions have taken the focus off of something I really need to concentrate on, walking. I know walking doesn’t require much thought. We’ve all been doing it since we were tots and it’s more than second nature at this point. But, with all of our distractions I seem to have taken it for granted, mainly in the form of not looking up while walking.

With all of my distractions I seem to have forgotten that there is a beautiful world out there. Old brick buildings, fidgety squirrels, and enormous trees that are kind enough to lend shade in the sweltering summer but finicky enough to drip sap on a moment’s notice. I’ve been too absorbed in my own world, lost in thought and looking at the ground, to appreciate the one right in front of me. All this week I’ve taken care to remind myself to look up while walking, and the difference it made was striking. Feeling bummed out? Need a pick-me-up? Want to reaffirm your views on life? Simply look up. The ground is lonely and cold, but when you tilt your head back at that slight angle the world is suddenly a better place. Those squirrels are frolicking in the trees, the newly green scenery attempts to overrun the buildings brimming with students, and the sun shines down its blessing on those beneath. This earth is a truly amazing place to live. Never forget to look for that, and  always start by looking up.

 

I can tell the difference, can you?

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