Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Forgotten Garden

Morton, Kate. The Forgotten Garden. Washington Square Press. New York, New York 10020. 2008. Pages: 552
I was a little skeptical about The Forgotten Garden because it seemed so large (in pages) and the title didn’t really grab me. Both my mom and Ms. A had read this book which positively influenced my decision to read it a little more. They both had said that they really enjoyed it, so I figured I would give it a try. However, I was not anticipating how much I would love the book in the end. I would say though that The Forgotten Garden was the most challenging book I have read all year. There were a multitude of things that made this book challenging: the narration change(s), the time frame(s), and the location(s).
Most of the books I have read this year had narrator changes that occurred every other chapter. However, this book changed more often than every other chapter. What made this book so hard to get into at first was that I had to constantly readjust to the character who was speaking. At one point it would be Eliza, then half way through the chapter it would switch to Rose. This made it challenging because without any notice, it would suddenly switch and the author left it up to the reader to figure that out. Later, in other chapters, it would be Nell and later it would be Cassandra. It became very confusing and took me a while to finally figure out how the author chose to do things. Her style was unlike one I had ever read before. Because she left it up to the reader to figure out, I was constantly thinking while reading. It kept me on my toes, and didn’t allow me to “daze-off” while reading, which was great! Sometimes though, I wished that she had clearly stated who the narrator was!
This book took place in a series of years. In some chapters, the time frame would be from 1907-1913, then switch to 1975-1976, and later switch to 2005. While reading, every time the chapter would change, it was always important that I check the right tab to see what era the chapter was taking place in. With the time change, also came language change. In 1907-1913, the language as more formal than it was in 2005. This was challenging because I wasn’t always clear on what the characters were saying. Reading the earlier eras took more concentration and thought processes, so I made sure that I understood as much as I could.
The setting of the book also switched frequently, so along with the date, I also had to be sure to check the location. Some of the book took place in Australia, but most was located in England. However, the location changed every time the era changed. It was also more challenging because I am unfamiliar with England and Australia and the towns/villages the stories were taking place in, so I was forced to form my own mental image of it. It is easier reading a book that has a specific location that you are familiar with because it allows you to picture it easier. However, by switching up the location and time, it made the book more interesting and exposed me to places I may never get a chance to visit.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book; although the changes were sometimes frustrating and confusing, it made the book interesting. With the constant changes and switches, it kept me on my toes and didn’t allow me to get bored. I had never read a book with constant changes, and I enjoyed it more than I anticipated. By the end of the book, I realized that by providing the reader with information from different locations, years and characters we were ultimately able to solve the mystery of The Forgotten Garden.  

Flying (Part Three of Three)

There are a variety of emotions that I go through when I am going to my destination and when I am coming home from my destination. There are also many factors that affect my level of excitement and how I felt on my destinations.
To a Destination vs. From a Destination
To a Destination:
My favorite thing is waking up at 4:00am to go to the airport to get on a plane to somewhere new and exciting. Although I love my state of Iowa, it is always nice to escape and go somewhere different!
Energy: My energy is always high and I am always excited when I am getting on the plane to my destination. It lets me know that I am going to be somewhere new soon, and that all that is standing in my way is 2+ hours of sitting in a seat overlooking the sky. It is always exciting when the flight attendant announces that you are “beginning to ascend,” because it means you will soon be touching ground!
Packing: Packing when you are getting ready to go on a trip is always fun because you are deciding what you are going to wear and what you want to bring! When I start packing for my trip, it reassures me that my trip is near and that is all I begin to look forward too! When I pack FOR a trip, it is always nicely packed in there because I want to be able to unpack easily. The easier and nicer you pack, the easier it is to unpack! It is almost like a win-win situation!
The Countdown: My favorite thing to do before I leave for a big vacation is to start a countdown. I usually start this countdown three weeks before my scheduled departure. By having a countdown, it is constantly reassuring me that I will soon be leaving and will get to experience new things with new people. This is very exciting to me; however, it also makes me want to leave even more. The more I think about what I WILL be doing once I get to my destination, the more I want to be there.
From a Destination:
Getting on the plane home from somewhere fun or exciting is always hard. Most of the time, you want to stay and enjoy your time more than you already have. It is a reminder that you will have to return to reality once that plane lands in your airport back home.
Energy: My energy is always lower when I am returning from a destination. Going through security seems like more work than it was when you were going to your destination; the flight seems to take longer, etc. Everything just seems to drag. The plane rides are not nearly as much fun because there is not anything to look forward to anymore besides the feeling of being in your own bed again.
Packing: When I pack my suitcase back up after being somewhere fun, I tend to get a little lazy. To me, it doesn’t matter as much what my suitcase looks like on the inside because soon enough it will all end up in the laundry basket. However, my biggest fear in doing this is that the FSA people will have to check out my suitcase and see the mess I left inside. Usually, instead of just throwing everything in, I roll it up or fold it in a sloppy manner. Again, my energy is lacking when I have to pack-it just isn’t as exciting! It is almost as if I am packing away my trip.
The Countdown: The countdown is always fun when you are going somewhere, but it is the complete opposite when you are coming home from your destination. The last thing you want to do is “countdown” because it is almost like wishing away your trip. The thing I tend to do most is purposely try to keep how many days I have left of my trip out of my mind. I don’t like to think about having to get back on the plane to head back home. Reality isn’t as much fun because it means you will have to be productive again.

Flying (Part Two of Three)

There are many perks to flying alone, and also to flying with people you know. However, there are also some issues.
Alone vs. Parents
Alone:
Flying alone can be fun and exciting, but it can also be scary. I was sixteen the first time I flew alone; I was a bit nervous, but I was confident in my skills and I knew that I would be okay.
Baggage: Flying alone means less baggage that will have to make it to your destination. This is important because sometimes planes become too heavy and they are forced to remove the heaviest bags. The less number of bags you check or your family checks, the less amount of chance you have of this happening to you. Also, when you check in with more people, your bags normally stay together; this means that if one of their bags gets left behind, the likelihood of yours getting left behind is very high. Baggage is always an issue when flying, and when traveling alone, it is just less to worry about.
Change in Plans: Airlines are so unpredictable; there could be bad weather or technical difficulties where your flight could get cancelled. By traveling alone, it is easier to get a seat on another flight. When there is only one person to reschedule, it makes finding a seat a lot easier. The more the people, the harder it is to rebook a seat on another flight.
Mood: Personally, I find it easier to fly alone because I am the only person I need to worry about. When there are more than the one parties involved, things can get a little stressful. My mood is usually calmer because I just need to focus on myself and takes away a lot of the stress. However, there are some sketchy people in airports, so when I am alone, my mood is sometimes on the edge. It is necessary to always remain aware of yourself, your baggage and your surroundings.
With Parents:
I have been flying with my parents ever since I can remember. Since I am only seventeen, it is sometimes helpful for them to be there in case of an emergency.
Baggage: When traveling with more than one person, there is always going to be more baggage. Baggage fees have gone up in price and will keep going up as gas prices keep going up. When traveling with more than one person, the likelihood of your baggage getting lost can be higher. However, baggage usually stays together if you check-in together. That means, if you are standing at Baggage Claim and you see one of your family member’s suitcases, your suitcase is likely on its way!
Change in Plans: It is much harder to rebook three or four more tickets on a different flight than it is to rebook one person. This makes it harder if a flight is cancelled or delayed and limits your chances of a back-up flight. However, if your plane does get cancelled in a foreign city, you will not be alone. Sometime it can be nerve-wracking to be stuck somewhere you are unfamiliar with by yourself. By having your parents, or travel companions with you, you will not be alone.
Mood: The more people there are, the more stressful things can get. Flying can be a very stressful experience, and the more people there are to worry about, the greater the tension will be.  However, the more people there are, the more potential opportunities for fun there is! When you travel with more than just yourself, it gives you someone to talk to so you aren’t just awkwardly waiting at your gate all alone.
Flying can be fun with or without your parents or more than just yourself!

Flying (Part One of Three)

I have been flying ever since I was just a few months old. Because I have been flying on airplanes my whole life, I do not have a fear of them. I have flown in a variety of ways and I am able to compare and contrast which ways I prefer.

International vs. Domestic

International:   

International traveling is much different than traveling domestically. However, they are also the same in a variety of ways.

Sleeping:  When traveling internationally, you better prepare yourself for a long voyage. Most of the time, time goes by fast but that all depends on what is going on on the plane. I traveled to Spain last summer, and my plane ride was eight hours there and nine hours back. The quickest way to make a plane ride go faster is to sleep; this is helpful when traveling domestically as well as internationally. However, when traveling internationally, your ability to sleep all depends on who is around you. Most of the time, people tend to put their seats back. My philosophy is that it is quite rude unless everyone behind you has put their seat back. When putting your seat back, you are just allowing yourself to be comfortable and not worrying about others around you.

Food: Finding a way to sleep can be difficult especially if you are on the isle. You risk the chance of getting hit by the food cart if you make any movement toward the isle. This is another thing that is different on international flights; they are required to feed you. They cannot let you go six plus hours without giving you either breakfast, lunch or dinner (or maybe 2 out of 3) depending on the time of your flight. The food however, it not always appetizing; they are pre-packaged meals that appear to be kind of sketchy. On my international flights, I would pick and choose what I wanted to eat out of the meal; I tended to stay away from the meat because I was never really sure where it was coming from.

Size: International planes are going to be much larger than domestic planes. This is because people normally have more luggage/heavier luggage. Also, international planes generally carry more people. This is because it takes so long to get to and from a destination that they can’t be making regular flights back and forth everyday like they can when you travel within our country. A bigger plane can be better because there is more space to move about within the cabin, but it can also mean more people. The more people there are, the more crowded it will be.

Domestically:

Sleep: Sleeping on a domestic flight is a lot easier even though there is not as much room. Usually there won’t be as much of a time change that you will have to adjust to, therefore getting sleep doesn’t matter as much because you won’t be focused on not having jet-leg. Personally, I prefer sleeping on planes that go through turbulence because it helps me sleep. It is easier for me to sleep on domestic flights because there is more turbulence because you are lower to the ground, where more clouds are located.

Food: Domestic flights are not required to serve you food. Usually, they do not hand out more than little packages of peanuts and crackers because of economic cut backs. (This was different in past years.) Now, flight attendants usually just come by and offer you a beverage. Depending on the length of the flight, beverages are not always offered. If the flight is under an hour, a beverage will not be offered. Usually domestic flights are not as long, so a beverage is likely to tide you over until you land.

Size: Domestic planes vary in size. Some can be large, but most are smaller. You usually don’t see a huge plane take passengers from Chicago to Atlanta. The sizes are usually smaller because distance is not as far, and planes can travel back and forth more than once or twice each day. By doing this, flights are easier to catch if one gets cancelled or delayed. Domestic flights offer more leeway because of the shorter distance needed to travel.

International and Domestic planes have a lot in common, but they are also different; flight experiences also vary. I prefer domestic plane rides because they aren’t as long and therefore I don’t get as bored as easily, which is always nice!


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

How to: Stay Calm in a Stressful Situation

We all find ourselves in stressful situations at one point or the other. However, here are a few tips to help soothe these building tensions:
Breathe: They teach you this in yoga; the thing that calms your brain the most is breathing deep breaths. You should exhale and breathe in as many times as you need to in order to calm your nerves and emotions. This may be challenging, but it changes focus from the stressful situation, to something your brain knows how to handle! The deep breaths soothe you inside and out. You may look silly sitting there breathing deeply multiple times, but it will help you out in the long run.
Laugh it Off:  We all know that when things get stressful the tension builds. However, we cannot just sit there and stew over what is about to boil over. Sometimes the best thing to do to relieve the tension inside you is to laugh. People can be stupid and make stupid decisions. However, when someone messes up or something goes wrong, instead of sitting there wondering what “could have been” laugh about it. By hearing yourself laugh your spirits will lighten up a little. Laughing makes the heart grow fonder and laughing at these times is sometimes what is ultimately best for you and for everyone else. By laughing, you are able to let out the sound you want to, without saying the thing you really want to. It’s a win-win situation.
Bite Your Tongue: There is always something we want to say. Although, even though we want to say it, saying it may make the situation worse than it already is. By biting your tongue, you are not only protecting others from hurt, you are also protecting yourself. By the end of the whole situation, you may have multiple holes in your tongue; however, this is most likely what is ultimately best. By speaking our mind when it is not really needed, it could add to the stress and cause others to go off as well. When you bite your tongue, you are helping heal the stress rather than adding to it.
Focus Your Attention Elsewhere: Instead of focusing on the situation and how awful it is, focus on something else that will take your mind off it. By doing this, you are putting your energy in other places. Try to focus on something that will lighten up the tension or make people laugh or happy. Don’t just focus on another stressful situation that could add more worry to the current situation. By distracting your mind, you are ultimately helping yourself.
Stressful situations are never fun; however, with these helpful tips, they can make them better. The biggest thing to remember is to not say something you will later regret. Keep to yourself and soon enough the tension will pass and things will get better again. You control how much energy you put into a stressful situation; don’t let them eat you up. 

How to: Be a Good Boyfriend/Girlfriend

There are many philosophies on how to be a good boy/girlfriend. Although I am not an expert, I somewhat know what makes a relationship work and what doesn’t. Though not everyone may agree with me, here are some of the basics on how to be a good partner.

Be Honest: Everyone knows that “honesty is the best policy,” and that is exactly true. You cannot expect someone to read your mind if you have a problem. By being honest with your partner, you are able to communicate what is really bothering you. When you do this, you are able to get your issue out there where it can be fixed. If you keep something bottled up inside, it will eventually build up so much that it could eventually lead you to say things you don’t mean. I like to refer to people as a Coke bottle: You can only shake it so much before it is going to explode; humans are the same way. By being honest, you are able to relieve this issue and resolve your problem.

Complement Each Other: Everyone knows that a relationship should be built on what is on the inside and not what is on the outside. Even if the person isn’t the “hottest thing you’ve ever seen” on the outside, they should be on the inside. A relationship should be about making the other person happy and treating them like you would want to be treated. Your partner should complement you and make positive comments towards you. When your partner doesn’t do this, it causes the other person to go somewhere else for the compliments; this then causes issues. Just the simple, “You look nice today!” or “You are so beautiful” can really make a difference in how one perceives themselves.

Do Nice Things for One Another: Kind gestures can really make a difference in how we feel about our partner. Someone who is always willing to help the other and make an effort to go out of their way for the other really shows how you feel about the other person. A simple opening of the car door or helping to carry something shows that you are willing to help them and be there for them. It shows that you are a team and that you are willing to be a part of a team, rather than having the other person “ride solo.”

Respect and Trust: You cannot build a relationship without trusting the other person and respecting them. These two words work together to serve the same purpose. You need to respect your partner and realize that they may need time to themselves and with their friends; you are not the only person in the world that matters to them. If you spend every waking minute together you would get incredibly sick of each other and it would make the time you spend together less special. When you respect them, you also should trust them. When you don’t trust that they are doing the right thing, you are disrespecting them. Without trust in a relationship, you have nothing. However, you have to be honest if you want your partner to trust and respect you. All of these helpful tips intertwine together and all help make your relationship the best it can be!

Although I am not expert, I have seen relationships fail and I have seen relationships succeed. These were only a couple of tips on how to make a relationship work. However, the biggest tip is that in order to be in a relationship, you have to be willing to be a part of a team. It takes two to make a relationship work; the effort cannot just be given, it also needs to be returned.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Africa...Again (Part Two)

One thing my dad made sure to let me know was that it was not as bad over there as they were prepared it would be. CARE and other organizations have worked there long term with women in particular in gardens and irrigation programs and microfinance programs and cash for work programs; now, they are self sufficient and they don’t need as much help. There were some really cool success stories he told me about. Although there were great success stories, they were not always easy to come by. Women and villages worked very hard to be where they are now. They don’t take their success for granted.
The thing that upsets me the most is that in America, we take our resources for granted. We can just go to the grocery store or to our back yard with green grass and extra plants to get food and help keep us starving. We take multiple showers a day; use washing machines; run dishwashers. We over use water more than we realize (I am guilty of this as well) but it is doing no one good. It makes us look bad as a country. People are dying across the world because they are not getting the nutrients they need and the fluids they need to survive, while we have it is excess. Recently in Nashville I watched a “Water Show.” This was a fifteen minute show of water shooting up into the sky with music playing in the background; while it was very cool and fun to watch, it was also heartbreaking. My friend made the comment, “I love how we play with water while people in third world countries are dying because they don’t have it.” He is completely true. We are very wasteful in America. We throw away full plates of food just because we don’t like it; if we eat some but not all, we have no problem throwing the rest away. There are people that would kill to have this “leftover food” that supposedly no one wants. People want it; it just isn’t always to give it to them.
My dad’s company, CARE, makes it clear in their mission statement that they aren’t there to hand the people what they need. They are there to help them make sure they can do it on their own and make a life for themselves. This is exactly what they have done in Niger. Although tribesmen are becoming violent in bordering countries, Niger is trying to make sure that doesn’t happen to them. After all of their hard work to get back on their feet, it would be a shame to see it all go down the drain. Niger is a model country; it shows that when you really try, you can prevent a humanitarian catastrophe that is always a bordering threat.


Africa...Again (Part One)

In a past blog, I have expressed my dream to travel to Africa. This dream still exists and it is now more prominent than ever because recently my dad took another trip to Africa. On a previous trip, he traveled to Mali and on this trip, he went to Niger. Niger is located right next to Mali, and is semi-near the countries that are having a multitude of government issues. I was even more worried about my dad on this trip because I knew that Niger was in the top ten of poorest countries in the world.

Niger is a landlocked country in the center of Africa; it is eighty percent covered by the Sahara Desert. Because most of the country is desert, water and crops are scarce, making it very hard to survive. Niger has had many political issues in past years and were finally starting to get back on their feet again when riots and anti government rallies started taking place in bordering countries. Because Niger was one of the only countries in East and West Africa without issues, many people immigrated to Niger. When this occurred, many people were left without food and water, leading many people to die and get struck by diseases. If they don’t get help soon there are about ten million people who are at risk of starving to death. There are not enough resources to help everyone survive; they had trouble before the immigration issues, and now they are having even more problems.

I was aware of these situations when my dad left, but I was not aware of how bad it truly was. I probably did too much research on it and I completely freaked myself out. My dad freaked me out the most by saying that it probably wasn’t going to be safe to leave his hotel and that Americans were not always welcomed with opened arms. I was worried about not talking to him or having him keep me updated on what he was doing and how he was doing. Fortunately, he was able to send me text messages in order to keep me updated on his safety. He made it home safely and had unbelievable stories to tell. (I still have yet to hear all of the stories!)


Thursday, April 5, 2012

"Good Things Happen to Good People" Part Two

The last competition we went to was Show Choir Nationals in Nashville, Tennessee. I was unsure of what to expect at this competition; I knew that by no means was it going to be a cake-walk. However, like we were all year, we were determined to do our best show. There were ten show choirs competing at the Grand Ole Opry and we were one of them. If you made it past day rounds, you would get another chance to perform in finals (only six of the groups made finals). The competition was stiff, but we knew that if we stuck to what we had been doing all year, we would be great; and great we were.  After day rounds, we were in second place by a couple of points. The group ahead of us was SPECTACULAR so we knew we had to bring our A-game. When competing, it is hard to stay focused on having fun, because we are so concentrated on winning.
However, the next day when we performed, we were determined more than ever. We were so close to first place in day rounds, we knew we had to pull out our best show all year. This was our last competition as a group; our last show in front of many people; our last time to be together as a family. We had to make sure we went out with a bang. After we finished our last show, we all burst into tears and these were tears of joy and sadness. We would never compete all together again, and we knew that we did our best show we could have possibly done. Then it was time for awards; sixth place, fifth place, fourth place, and third place quickly passed by and then next thing we knew-it was down to us and the group that was leading during day rounds. The tension in the group was so stiff; we are all so nervous and we had no idea what was ahead of us. Next thing we knew, they called second and it wasn’t us. WE HAD WON. WE WON NATIONALS. WE WERE NATIONAL CHAMPIONS.
As I walked out of the Grand Ole Opry wearing my bright yellow “Banana Jacket,” the greatest feeling came over me. I had people congratulating me and I was still crying from all of the excitement. The pride I had felt was like no other. People came all the way to Nashville to watch us; they wanted to see us; they realized all of the hard work we had put into our season. When people come up to us saying that they came all the way from Michigan to see US, it is a feeling like no other. I was so grateful to be a part of this great group of people. Our director had told us that “good things happen to good people.” We worked hard and we formed a family; we all had fun and wanted to do the best we could, and we did. When you work so hard and dream of something so big and it finally becomes reality, it is a feeling that is indescribable.
The group this year was amazing. I formed friendships that I know will last forever and I made memories that will forever stick with me. Every time I look at my “Banana Jacket” I am reminded of all of those great times. It reminds me that when you truly work for something, it can happen. It helps me to remember that you should never give up. My “Banana Jacket” gives me a sense of pride and gratefulness that I am a part of the amazing group, Happiness Incorporated. 

"Good Things Happen to Good People" Part One

I am a part of the award winning Happiness Incorporated show choir in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Happiness has been around since 1967, and has been an amazing group ever since. I have written about my experience performing as a “Fab Fiver” for the first time in a previous blog. However, this blog is a little different: it is about pride and being grateful.

Ever since July, we have been working to perfect our show for this year. The talent that lies within the group is unbelievable, and my director has been telling us that for three years he has dreamed about this group and the success that we would hopefully have. Like any newcomer, I was a bit nervous to be a part of this group; they have been grand champions many, MANY times and have had countless amounts of recognition. Coming into this group was a shock, but I was ready because I had rightfully earned my spot. I have dreamed about being in this group, and this year it finally happened.

Like many groups, we have travel jackets. However, our travel jackets are unlike those of any other group. They are bright yellow and we call them “Banana Jackets” because when we walk around in them, we look like a stampede of bananas coming to attack. I have always wanted a “Banana Jacket” of my own, and the day I finally got my jacket was amazing. It said my name on it; it had my pins; it was all mine. I finally had people asking to wear MY jacket instead of the other way around. When I put on this jacket, I feel a great sense of pride. I know that people recognize me as a member of Happiness Inc., and when they see me wearing it, I somehow get their respect. It is known that someone who wears a “Banana Jacket” has worked extremely hard for it.

Throughout our three-month-long show choir season, we went to six competitions. Out of those six events, we won FIVE. We made history by setting that record. In the history of Happiness Inc., they have never won more than three competitions, and we won five. This was an amazing accomplishment; we will forever be the year to beat. These five grand champions were not just given to us however, we earned them. We have been working our tails off for a good six months; we spend at least twelve hours a week rehearsing and perfecting our show. We all put in our best effort because we strive to be the best. Because we all have the same goal, we all work together. When we work together, it makes us a family.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Sisters: You Love 'Em, You Hate 'Em

We all want what we can’t have. And when we finally get it, we aren’t always happy with it. When I was little, all I wanted were siblings. I didn’t necessarily care if they were older or younger; I just wanted someone to be around all of the time to play with.
I was an only child until I was about seven. Then I gained two older step sisters and when I was nine, I gained a little baby sister. “Gaining three sisters in a matter of two years?” This was astonishing to me; I went from being the only one worried about to having to wait in line. This was something new to me; I had never experienced anything like it before. I was excited to finally have someone to play with! However, I didn’t realize that having that much estrogen in the house all at once could also cause some issues.
My oldest step sister Nicole came to permanently live with us when she was fourteen and I was ten. Like any ten-year-old, I was always eager to know what was going on, when it was going on; I wanted to know every detail about everyone’s life at every moment of the day. My step sister (I will now start referring to her as my sister) was a moody teenager who wanted nothing to do with me or anyone else, besides her friends. This is when conflict started. We would constantly butt heads and she always found me annoying; the only reason I was annoying to her was because I didn’t know how to relate to her. We weren’t very close then because she was experiencing things I knew I wasn’t experiencing, let alone understand for years to come. Because she couldn’t talk to me about them, it put a barrier between us. This was hard for me because the sister I had always wanted was in the room next door, but I felt like I could never converse with her for the fear of feeling stupid or na├»ve.
Now that I am 17 and my sister is 21, we are able to relate to each other more. She can come to me with her problems because she knows that I will learn from them and that I will give her helpful advice. Although I may not truly understand what she is going through, I have a better mindset to try to piece together the helpful advice I may give her. I know that whenever I have a problem, I can always go to her because she has been through more things then I have and has lived through them. Being able to talk to someone about issues you know they experienced just makes me feel better and it reinforces that everything will be okay. Now that we have both grown up and matured, we are closer. We have become like real sisters. We joke around with each other, we fight, we nag, we do all of the sisterly activities. Growing up can really change a person and bring them closer together. With the transformation she and I have been through, that is really clear to me now. Although we may not have the same DNA, we are truly sisters.
Although having sisters may be tough, it is also a learning experience. People always say that you learn from your mistakes; however, having older sisters, you can learn from THEIR mistakes; I know my younger sister can learn from the mistakes that I have made by seeing them and learning from them. She will be a better person, just as I have been made a better person by watching my older sisters. The fighting and nagging may get tough but it is all worth in the end. Having someone there for you, someone who understands just what you are going through, and someone who can relate to you is just what everyone needs. Everyone needs an older sister to look up to, and I am glad that I have mine.

Birthdays

As we grow up, lives change. We go from wanting to be older to wanting to be younger. We make a transition with birthday gifts and how we choose to celebrate our birthdays as well. However, when does this change occur and why does it occur?

When I was little, the most exciting time of year was always my birthday! It comes right after Christmas, so I was always told to make a combined list of things I wanted. Because Christmas and my birthday are so close, I knew that whatever I didn’t get for Christmas, I was most likely going to get for my birthday. There were always a multitude of presents I just HAD TO HAVE and it always seemed that my lists were way to long and way too complex. However, as I have grown, my birthday has stayed the same. I still make a Christmas list and a birthday list combined and my family chooses which items they want to give me for Christmas, and which to save for my birthday. However, as I have gotten older, it has become harder and harder to come up with things to ask for. I have also come to realize that Christmas and birthdays aren’t always about what you receive; it is about the time together with family and friends and about making memories. However, it still seems that we (at least I any way) always ask for more, even if we don’t need it. Now, being 17, I have noticed a switch from asking for Barbie dolls and American Girl doll clothes to just asking for money. Money? Really? Money doesn’t always seem like an “appropriate gift” or so my family has told me. When my family says this, I find myself trying to come up with actual gifts, but most of the time it is just STUFF and this is stuff I don’t really need. I am a 17-year-old girl and I would much rather have money in my wallet then my room cluttered with a bunch of junk I don’t need. My life has changed, and I know that as I grow older I will keep finding more things to ask for when I really need them, such as items for college, but in the meantime, I don’t like having to scrape way down low to try to come up with some ordinary object to ask for.

When I was little, the most exciting thing to do was planning my birthday party. I worked hard to come up with ideas on what fun activity we could do. My birthday was always a tough one to try to schedule though because it is in the middle of winter. I had a variety of birthday parties: bowling, sleepovers, indoor play centers, hotel parties, dinner and a movie, etc. I always managed to come up with something “fun” to do with all of my buddies. However, when I started becoming a teenager, birthday parties became completely overrated. It may have been just my lazy-teenager hormones kicking in, or just the fact that I didn’t consider them fun anymore. I never had a “Sweet Sixteen” and I stopped having any sort of friend gathering when I got to high school. It became more of a hassle to try to have a party then a pleasurable thing to do. Now, I would much rather go out to dinner with my family and a couple of friends WITHOUT the expectation that a gift should be brought; it is more fun now when things are more laid back.

I still haven’t been able to pin-point exactly when it was that I stopped wanting things and stopped wanting birthday parties. It wasn’t that I didn’t care anymore; it just didn’t seem like that big of a deal. When I was 5, it was HUGE to turn 6 because I knew that I was moving from filling up one hand to show my age, to having to use BOTH hands; something about gaining another year felt different. However, now that I have turned from 16 to 17, it doesn’t feel any different. Yes, I am another number older; big whoop. What is most important isn’t the gifts and the celebrations, it is about being alive and making my life count.

Alzheimer’s Disease

Many people are affected by Alzheimer’s disease every year. There are organizations that are trying to find a cure for Alzheimer’s but so far they have not had any luck finding a cure to this awful disease. This disease doesn’t physically harm those who suffer from it, but it does harm those with family suffering from it. My great-grandmother had Alzheimer’s and it scares me because I know it is genetic.

My great-grandmother Josina suffered with Alzheimer’s for many years before it took her life. It was hard not only on her, but also on those who loved her. I never got to meet her because the “real” her was gone long before I came along. However, even though I never got to meet her, I still hear stories about her all of the time. My grandmother will tell me stories about her mother from when she (my grandma) was a little child to when she saw her in the care center. The two women I hear about are completely different and it never ceases to amaze me how much one disease can change a person. It is hard listening to the stories of my great-grandmother and how she acted after the disease hit her. It scares me knowing that this could one day be me, or any of my other family members.

Recently, Alzheimer’s has been more prevalent in television shows and movies. Some popular ones would be, The Notebook and Grey’s Anatomy.  I cry every time I see these because it makes me realize what my grandmother and other family members went through trying to help my great-grandmother. Because Alzheimer’s is being put on the main stream media, it is bringing awareness to this horrendous disease. I can only hope that one day there will be a cure. 

This year my school did a fundraiser for The Alzheimer’s Walk. I raised some money but unfortunately I was not able to participate in the walk. From what I heard, the walk was quite successful and many people showed up. It is nice knowing that people out there are trying to find a cure to help those suffering. I just hope that something could have been discovered sooner so I could have gotten to know my real great-grandmother. Hopefully in the future people will keep trying to find a cure. Alzheimer’s disease is not only a disease that wears one down, but it also hurts those exposed to it.

Spread the Word to End the Word

Every year in March my school does a day called, “Spread the Word to End the Word”. This is a day used to celebrate people with disabilities. It is a day where cookies, bracelets and stickers are passed out to those that sign a pledge to stop the usage of the “R” word. I have always been an active member in not using the “R” word out of respect, but not everyone is as respectful. By having a day to stop the spread of the “R” word, people are making others aware of the harm they are doing by saying that word. “Spread the Word to End the Word” is a day of respect to those who don’t always get the respect they disserve.

I have always been extra aware of the “R” word. This is because I have a cousin with Down syndrome. My cousin’s name is Jeff (we call him Jeffy) and he is one of the nicest, most lovable men you will ever meet. I have known Jeffy my whole life and I have been aware that he has had Downs. Although Jeffy may not be exactly like many of us, he is still a human being that disserves nothing but the same respect he gives everyone else.

When people use the “R” word, I personally take it offensively. With some people, it just roles off their tongue and I am not afraid to say something when it does. However, some respond with, “I don’t even know when I say it.” That is crap. We all have filters and our brains think before we speak. It is not fair to give that as an excuse because it is not legitimate. We know what we say when we say it. Calling someone with a disability is degrading to them and hurtful to others that are affected by it. When people use the “R” word, they are calling the mentally challenged stupid, and that is not fair. They are the same as us; we all have problems and theirs are just more visible.

As I walked by the table with the pledge and I saw all of the names of people who pledged, it gives me a sense of relief. It makes me happy to know that people are willing to help make an effort to stop and watch what they say so people like Jeffy aren’t hurt by their words. My only hope is that they stick to what they say. As my mom always says, “Say what you mean and mean what you say.” Using the “R” word is not only degrading, but it is hurtful and everyone should make a change and not say it; they wouldn’t only be helping the challenged, but also themselves.

Family Memories

I write this as I am sitting in my family’s beach house on St. George Island, in Florida. I come down here every year on Spring Break to spend time with my family on the beach. I have so many great memories here and I know I will continue to make more memories. Every year that we come down here, I am reminded of how great family time is and how precious it really is.
You would think that everyone has a family and yes this is true. However, even though you may have a family by birth, a true family is more than that. Family to me is a group of people you couldn’t imagine living with constantly, but you know you couldn’t live without them; they are people who are always there for you no matter what; they always provide a shoulder to cry on; they are the ones you want to laugh with; they are the ones you want to spend all of your time with. My family fits this definition perfectly. Although we sometimes get annoyed with each other, we know that we wouldn’t trade any one of us for the world.
I started coming to Florida when I was two; although I don’t remember as much back then, I still have some memories. As the years have gone on we have brought the same people back and we have brought others. (New faces are always nice because it mixes things up a bit.) While we are down here, it gives us all a chance to reconnect. Even though the immediate family all lives within three hours of each other, we don’t always get a lot of time together throughout the year. When we are all in the same house for a week, it gives us a chance to catch up and get involved in each other’s lives for a while.
While we have lost some who used to come down here with us, it really shows that family is truly an important thing. The memories we make down here and the bonds we form are priceless. Without some of this time, many of us would not be as close as we are. Although on week in a house with four bedrooms and ten people may seem to get a little crowed, it always seems to be fun. Yes, there may be times where we get a little “snippy” with each other, but we always remember that these times are irreplaceable. Family is more than blood, it is forming a bond and loving each other and wanting to spend as much time together as we can. I don’t know where I would be without my family, and boy am I ever so grateful for them.