Shop for Good

I get into random research kicks that lead me down rabbit holes of new ideas and discoveries. That’s how I’ve gotten into a lot of the ideas that I discuss here. It’s how I first found out about fast fashion and ethical clothing, the zero-waste movement, and many more things.

So now I’m all into more research, but now it’s about putting my dollars toward other causes. Many other causes, you know, if I wasn’t a college student on a budget. Alas, investing in products actually worth the dollar amount means that the dollar amount is higher than a conventional store in most instances, which obviously limits a lot of people from gravitating toward purchasing from those places.

Except even the people who do have the money to spend, they still choose cheaper options. They like to save their abundance of money for who knows what, as if a dollar amount behind your name will really make the difference at the end of the day. Personally, call me naive, but I have never sought after a job or opportunity based on money. I do gravitate toward scoring good deals and using the occasional coupon, but I have been blessed enough to not necessarily worry about maintaining a low budget.

With the resources I and everyone else has, we have a choice. Once we have purchased what we ourselves need to live, what we have left over is up to us. Of course saving a certain amount for the future is a smart move, but if you have the luxury to choose between buying a cheap shirt from Forever 21 or buying a pricier shirt from a local business or one that is ethically made, what cause do you want to support? Hardworking and probably impoverished people or entrepreneurs? Or big-business sweat shops that promote inhumane practices and work environments?

Yes, this is where I will critique capitalism. Our new mentality in all aspects of life has become one that wants more, for the least amount of effort or money, as fast as possible. Since we are mere human beings, we are then forced to mass produce everything at lightning speed and always come out with new items to keep people interested. We become bored too easily. We feel the need to keep buying more to simply keep up. But the people who are most affected by our choices are the ones we forget about, perhaps because they’re quiet or live in a foreign country. They have the same basic rights as you and me, but we treat them like cogs in our ever-growing, forever-hungry machine.

When you go into a store and buy something, why did you choose that item? Do you know the brand name? Have you had a good experience with the product? Did someone recommend it to you? Okay, with that out of the way, do you know the brand’s values and standards? Do you know what ingredients make up that product and how they affect the human body and/or environment? What impact might this choice have?

That’s a lot of questions for what seems like a simple task and decision, but we become mindless when we resort to what we’re used to without digging beneath the surface. We pride “smart shoppers” who can buy a cart-full of groceries under a certain dollar amount, but I think the actual smart shoppers are ones who are conscious and intentional with their purchases. They might not be spending the least or even the most, but they are aware of the life that put the items on the shelves.

So like I said, I’m a huge proponent of supporting small businesses, especially stores that carry items from smaller vendors or make things themselves. The people owning and working in that store might be people you personally know, and even if they aren’t, they are invigorating the local economy.

Especially if you like shopping online, you have a world of options available. Some sites that I’ve found include Better World Books, the UNICEF Marketplace, and Global Goods Partners, among many others. Certain charities have merchandise themselves, or if there’s a local fundraiser going on and you like what they’re selling, go for it. AmazonSmile and GoodShop even allow you to shop where you usually do online and automatically donate proceeds to your charity of choice. Because if you need a certain item anyways, why not also give back to a cause you feel strongly about?

Heck, you can even go on FreeRice and answer vocabulary questions while feeding the hungry or use the search engine Ecosia that plants trees every time you search. We can live our lives doing more good, and it doesn’t have to break the bank. I think the effort alone is amazing. We need more of that. We need to expand our everyday mindsets beyond ourselves. We need to question what we assume is just or right and really understand how our little choices can add up. And when those choices add up, I hope you too want to make that sum one of good.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

One Email, One Phone Call

As a writer for the Borgen Project, I can safely say that this is the most constructive internship I’ve ever had. I have learned so much not only about non-profit work, but also the impact of global poverty on all aspects of life and the multitude of benefits everyone would receive if we take foreign aid seriously.

Although we may have varying views on America’s role in foreign relations and potentially intervening too often when we shouldn’t, most of our foreign affairs tend to be too often in the aftermath of problems rather than proactively preventing further strain and conflict stemming from poverty. If we support congressional bills that specifically target critical areas, we can make a lasting difference.

Now I’m not about to talk your ear off today and convince you of everything I’m selling (although if you want to donate money to my Borgen Project fundraiser, I’d appreciate it). I want to emphasize an aspect of advocacy that can really hold people back, and that is the fear of not doing enough.

More specifically, it’s that group mentality of not wanting to go against the grain of the majority, even if that means sitting idly by while others near or far suffer. We don’t want to vote in an election knowing that we are in the minority opinion and “this or they won’t get elected anyway.”

So we ask ourselves, what is the point? Why would you want to put time and energy toward a cause or project if the likelihood of change actually occurring seems minuscule? Will my small actions really matter in the grand scheme of things?

The realistic answer is, I don’t know. If people are striving toward opposing goals, there’s inevitably somebody who will fall short of their original intention. Especially if the campaign involves anything political, things can quickly become cutthroat.

As an advocate of any cause, you have to be flexible with the progress you make. If you don’t win a fight, that doesn’t mean you have achieved nothing. The process getting to your end result turns out to be the most productive. For example, my internship requires that I call and email my state’s senators and representative in Washington, D.C., each week. I always leave the same message, never spending more than one minute on the phone. So now I receive emails and mail about different foreign aid bills.

But from sharing my efforts and information with others, I have been able to inspire people to just be more aware about the world and their role in it. I’ve been pushed outside of my comfort zone to ask for donations, to speak on behalf of a cause, and that alone has been a rewarding experience that has really opened my own eyes to the many opportunities out there and the purpose I can serve as an advocate.

Regardless if you’re in a formal position with an organization or not, we can all be advocates. When the world, especially developed societies, feel very self-centered in our own lives and ways, it can be refreshing to look beyond ourselves and have selfless ambitions. I can easily say my outlook on life has changed drastically over the course of a few months from refocusing my energy toward advocacy and action. Rather than sticking to what I thought was best and expected, I feel like I’m following a path that feels right to me.

We aren’t all going to have those epiphanies that turn a 180 on our priorities, but when I say a single email or phone call or opportunity or signature or any effort can be the start of something much bigger than yourself, I am completely serious. You have to start somewhere. Insert some cliche encouragement to go volunteer or donate to charity.

But if we all act with the same intention and determination to make a difference, individuals become groups that become majorities that can move mountains. A machine would not function without the gears and technology churning inside it. A wildfire starts from a single spark.

Because a single person might be the leading force for a certain campaign or cause, but they would be nothing without a support system of like-minded individuals backing them up. We don’t all have to be an outspoken authority to be inspiring or get involved with revolutionary ideas. Maybe your work isn’t admired by thousands, but if just one other person or animal or anything has a better quality of life and is better than how you found it, isn’t that the goal anyway?

With that, I challenge you to do something small. Call your Congress representative. Sign a petition for a local cause you support. Buy something from a fundraiser going toward charity. Heck, if you don’t already, bring reusable cloth bags to the grocery store. You don’t have to exaggerate the energy required to be a positive influence on the world.

As the wise Michael Jackson once said, “If you want to make the better place, take a look at yourself and make that change.”

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

On the Edge

If you live with chronic mental illness, I’m sure you can relate.

An accurate personification of mental illness is a roller coaster. There are constant random turns, dips and dives, peaks and valleys. You never know what direction you might go next.

Obviously we can prepare as much as we can. We take care of ourselves through medication and/or counseling, we make sure our other areas of health are in check, we take each day at a time. That’s all we really can do.

But to some degree, we have limited control of where our mood might go, within a single day, week, month, or year. While we’re feeling happy and content in this current moment, how will we feel in the future?

We cannot avoid feeling depression or anxiety if that’s how our brains operate, if they default to those lower moods. Yes, if these disorders are coming from situational circumstances, they will clear up and you might never have an episode again. If you have full-blown major depressive disorder, general anxiety disorder, or anything else of that nature, chances are you’ll live with the disease for the rest of your life. You will always need some form of treatment. You will always have that different perspective on living that the majority of people might not fully comprehend.

So how do we find any sense of security and stability if we cannot guarantee what direction our mental health might take? Is there even a point to have long-term goals and plans if we just don’t know?

I mean, planning life for anybody is never a guarantee. So often I’ve had certain aspirations for what my purpose in life might be and it took a complete 180, regardless of mental health was a factor. But especially with mental illness, what I assumed was a status quo quickly transformed into a major high or low.

Keeping in mind this spontaneous-seeming changes, it’s hard to be the loved one of someone who is mentally ill. I’ve been fairly content for awhile this summer, but there has been major life changes for me. Good things, not-so fun things. But even if I do feel like I’m in a more positive space, I have bad days and bad moments.

Right now I might be doing well, but I have created tensions and divisions in my life at my weakest. Whether that be my eating disorder tendencies or constantly keeping people at a distance and isolating myself, understandably people will be cautious. I am just always teetering on the edge of good and bad.

So I feel very conflicted when in a position where I feel like I’m okay. Like there’s nothing I can ever do to somehow redeem myself as someone who will never hurt others like that again. At the same time, I don’t want others to see me as a victim or degrades the progress I’ve made for myself, even if I might take a step backward at some other point in time.

From either side, it’s a lot of to ask of someone. You cannot expect trust to fall from the sky or a healthy mindset to last forever. While you shouldn’t have the mentality that turns you into a pessimistic victim (“Why try at all if I’ll never be taken seriously? Why be happy at all if it’s just temporary?”), you have to be realistic. You have to understand why your loved ones are concerned, just as they should understand that you’re trying your best.

Luckily, we are malleable. We are a product of so many influences, and we always the opportunity to change. Just like a rough patch can arise, so can your next best day. We operate within the means of mental illness, but we are not slaves to its every whim. We have the ultimate choice to be our best selves in each moment. It could mean accomplishing everything on your to-do list, or it could simply be eating regular meals in the day.

If you don’t want to make that choice for yourself, do it for your loved ones, your support system. If you put forth an attitude that is proactive and optimistic, your family and friends should be willing to provide you with the patience and encouragement you need. Whoever doesn’t fit that bill isn’t worth keeping. Your intentions and efforts to keep moving forward should speak volumes.

As we continue to talk more openly about mental health, it’s also crucial to communicate every angle of what life looks like, the times we might feel antsy to discuss. We highlight our rock bottoms and our triumphs, but it’s the in-between that can really define our journeys. Not only can learn about the potential triggers and stressors that can hinder our well-beings, but we can also we learn what steps we can take to rise above what feels like an impossibly difficult time and find the strength to reach a point of feeling good again. If you have the potential to become extremely depressed or anxious, you have the potential to become extremely happy, too.

It’s a scary edge to be on with mental illness. No easy way around that. But living on an edge doesn’t undermine your strength.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

An Inconvenient Habit

I love Al Gore. It’s my name on Twitter, no joke. I think he is an inspiring man doing some great things for the world. I’d give him a hug if I ever saw him, or try to at least.

While it’s not in any theatre near me (trust me, I’ve checked), if you have the opportunity to see it, I highly recommend it. I know, a blind recommendation probably isn’t what you like to go off of, but if it’s anything like the original documentary, then it’s a must-see. I remember seeing An Inconvenient Truth back in a middle school science class. While most of my class wasn’t dwelling too much on it, hearing the reality and impending future of our planet really stuck with me. I slightly blame anxiety about humanity destroying nature, but I also give credit to greater awareness of the ultimate human rights and environmental issue.

I have spent a post a few months ago talking about an Al Gore TED Talk that gave an optimistic approach to climate change because truly, we have made significant progress. Never has there been a modern time when eco-conscious options were so abundant. Veganism may seem “trendy,” but it’s a movement quickly spreading and making an impact. We’re generally more concerned about our choices. Rather than buying clothes, food, and products blindly, we want to know where it all comes from. Who or what is affected when I put money toward a company or industry?

And while we have a more open mind toward renewable energy, ethical and fair trade business, organic products, and reducing our waste, we still have work to do. The population continues to grow beyond its means. We still engage in the conventional norms of using plastic and eating meat and supporting big oil. We still have overflowing landfills, poaching endangered species, and buying into fast fashion and constant consumption.

I recommend seeing Al Gore’s films, of course, but I do so as a means of context. I hope that those who do watch them have the same connection and motivation as I first did to take action. It’s one thing to passively watch a movie, walk out of the theatre, and go about your day as usual. It’s one thing to discuss a movie with others and review it under a critical lens, but move onto watching whatever comes out next week without batting an eye.

We are doing no justice if we aren’t taking the message to heart. If we do not see those images of devastation to the planet and not feel the call to do our part. We cannot sit idly by and expect a documentary or trend or whatever else to make a difference. We ourselves are the ones in the driver’s seat. Yes, we support the film by purchasing a ticket, but we continue supporting it by using less plastic, by eating less meat, by driving a hybrid, electric, or more fuel-efficient vehicle.

Because the damage we see on the screen isn’t dramatized. Maybe the certain camera angles or background music convince you otherwise, but what damage is done is thanks to us. We must take responsibility for the sheer fact that Al Gore felt the need to make a sequel to his original film. We inevitably don’t want to uproot our livelihoods and adopt completely new habits, so what did we do before? See the scientific evidence of climate change, watch the news for years about the oceans, about dying species, about pollution, and feel numb to it all.

As much as I love Al Gore, I truly hope he doesn’t feel the need to make a trilogy. I hope we take these words and images, regardless if you hear them from Al Gore, me, or whatever source, and take them to heart and action. We think beyond our daily lives and realize the repercussions of every decision we make. We question what is normal and invest in sustainability. These actions right now are ones that will make a difference for those not even in existence yet. They do matter. Your “small, insignificant” life has the potential to do great things, so make those things positive.

I feel like I’m constantly here just rambling on about the environment, but I’ll keep doing so for as long as I have to. I’m committing to speaking out and being denoted as a “hippie” or “treehugger” if that’s what it means to be actively concerned about our planet. It’s not an isolated problem. It’s not just the animals, a certain plant species, a single body of water. So many of our current issues could all in some capacity stem back to climate change. The fact we’re displacing people from unhealthy conditions and flooding landscapes, we’re wreaking havoc on valuable food sources, we’re not making ourselves fully accountable for climate change. And yes, there are still skeptics out there who are ignorant to it all.

Enough of the ranting. But seriously, let’s do something. Let’s take those baby steps toward more progress, more to celebrate. Let’s work so we don’t need documentaries to reveal our actions. We’ll already know because it’ll be a part of history we’ve seen and overcome.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Silent Toward Hate

I speak from a perspective that will not serve complete justice, if any. But any productive rhetoric to the conversation should be welcome.

Today I speak for Charlottesville. To the people affected by the events transpiring in its quiet town. To the history being made that counteracts that of its founders to establish a unified country.

I visited Charlottesville last month. At that time, I shortly attended a KKK rally (as an outside observer supporting the counter-protest, of course) in which the counter-protesters greatly outweighed the white supremacists waving the Confederate flag to keep a Robert E. Lee statue in place. Police officers surrounded the perimeter of the crowd. A helicopter hovered overhead. But no violence occurred. Noise and signs and numbers spoke loudest. Everyone made their statement and left.

Never did I imagine events progressing from there. That even more white nationalists and supremacists would come to the college town for more protesting. That those disagreeing with these groups’ ideologies would again counter, but with more force. That everything would lose any sense of order and control. A conflict progressing into injury and death. An act of domestic terrorism. Very deliberately driving a car into a crowd of innocent people.

What really drove me to immediately publishing this was the president’s words regarding the incident. He made no specific statements to condemn white nationalism and all that it stands for. He did not condemn the violence in Charlottesville erupting into a death as terrorism. He did not rebuke these groups’ support for him as a world leader. He could have recycled his abruptly short speech for anything. He even mentioned more details about the economy than he did hate, protests, or white supremacy. What exactly is “an egregious act of violence” that should be stopped? We should not have to dissect a leader’s vague words to understand where he or she actually stands on a tumultuous issue.

I do not condone any hate. I do not myself have any hate. But I will never have any respect for the man who is Commander in Chief. Those who remain silent in the face of oppression and violence condone it. As with the protests, the actions speak much louder than any words. He even said little on his infamous Twitter. This avoidance of strong leadership and blatant condemnation are weak excuses for suppressing further divisions among the population and encouraging the values this country stands on. What can occur in the country that the president might actually condemn? How much devastation must occur before he calls out those who are causing it?

We are a patchwork nation. We would not exist without the many ethnicities, religions, genders, sexual orientations, and cultures represented. What claims itself to be “more American” and wanting to “preserve America” as a country attacking and banning diversity could not be more un-American. It’s homegrown Nazism.

Yes, we have our rights and liberties. We can vote, speak, gather, and live freely as American citizens. But we must practice those freedoms through just means, through love, through acceptance. Freedom loses its potency when used for injustice and bigotry.

We cannot deny that these mentalities of white versus diversity are ingrained in our history, as is the Robert E. Lee statue that once stood in Charlottesville. Our ancestors have overcome slavery and segregation, and today we still fight against discrimination, a continuous battle that will probably never reach a stable solution as long as hatred persists.

At one time, the legal devices that we implemented to make the American people feel “safe” were fueled by fear and paranoia. Fearing Native Americans, fearing African Americans, fearing Asians, fearing Muslims, fearing Catholics, fearing Communists. Establishing groups like the Ku Klux Klan came from a need for safety against the unknown that is diversity. So if we want to put “America first,” what does that truly mean? What America are we trying to create, now and for the future?

Hatred clouds our judgment. Hatred encourages us to divide lines in the sand, to throw words and weapons at each other, to drive cars into fellow Americans. People. Human beings. We lose any sense of morality and judgment when we allow ignorance to drive our actions.

Inevitably, each side of the divide has been hateful of each other. When we see things like white supremacy trod in our vicinity, we use loud methods to counter it and make a statement. But too easily we lose sight of being productive. We make our divisions wider. We allow anger to guide us. Anger and hatred will never accomplish anything. They will not solve these deeply rooted issues of prejudice.

Us and them. Right and left. Black and white. White nationalists and neo-Nazis have driven a hateful effort to instill violence, to provoke people who will not be silenced, to spit at societal progress in acceptance and representation. What we need now more than ever is a moment to remember who we are and who we want to be. Instead of anger, we need a more peaceful approach.

Charlottesville is just one issue of many based on race-related hate. Now is the opportune time to remind ourselves that we will not stand for hate. We will not allow violent groups of people to threaten others’ lives and commit terrorism. We will not be defined by anger and fear. We will unite on our common goals of peace and justice. We will stay strong despite leaders who will not stand up and act for our values. We will do more, do better, do good.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Dumbphones

It’s no secret. Suicide is an epidemic for the young population. It’s far too common, far too close to home, far too accessible.

The reason for the rising prevalence of suicide, especially in young women? Smartphone usage. At least that’s what the experts and news outlets are citing.

Which, I definitely agree that social media can be very dangerous when it becomes all-consuming in somebody’s life. It pits us against our peers when we focus on the number of likes or we stare at the “amazing” lives others seem to have. Social media also degrades the value of in-person social interaction which is crucial in maintaining our mental health. That means we keep falling into a vicious cycle of longing for more of the wrong things and still feeling empty.

Not to mention the problem of cyberbullying. I was ignorant at one point for thinking that trolling online and just rude comments had subsided to an extent, but it’s more of me being used to it, a “natural” part of being online and putting yourself out there. People out there will always want to use the advantage of typing behind a glowing screen to say whatever they wouldn’t say in person. Get in fights for no reason whatsoever. Leave messages that make others feel awful.

And when younger and younger kids are now scrolling on smartphones and making social media accounts, they aren’t ready for that. Nobody deserves it, first off. But compared to normal bullying, we still don’t really know how to address and punish those who cyberbully. People can easily hide behind fake personas and usernames, making it hard to actually track down the culprits.

But the effects are just as powerful as normal teasing and taunting. Again, at a young age, as kids are building up their self-identities and self-esteems, social media is an obvious outlet where they can express themselves and learn how they fit in. So when others use those same outlets as a release of their own insecurities to hurt others, that’s when we have problems. Lots of them.

Social media, however, should not be seen as the sole factor at play for the rise in suicide. We have shows like Thirteen Reasons Why that glamorize suicide and make it seem like an acceptable way to deal with tough circumstances. Our consumer-minded society craving instant gratification and constant stimulation makes us unhappy and unfulfilled. We still shy away from mental health treatment, especially when it comes to young people. We blame hormones or puberty or just “growing up” as the reasons for seeing more depressed and anxious young people.

We cannot focus upon one single factor as the cause-effect dictator of growing suicide numbers. The situation is much more complicated, no matter how much we want to simplify it. We can make the conscious steps to limit cell phone usage and social media etiquette, but we must still talk about the elephant in the room: mental health.

Because mental health doesn’t just become a concern once you hit a certain age. It should always be a priority. And we neglect teaching kids about its importance. We blindly tote suicide hotlines but we ignore the potential signs before reaching that breaking point. Chances are, it didn’t come out of thin air. Somebody doesn’t become suicidal just from reading online comments. There’s mental turmoil that nobody sees, and we don’t really acknowledge that it’s there. So yes, kids are going to resort to suicide because it truly feels like the only option.

Treatment should be a valued option at any age. More young people now take anxiety medication and antidepressants not because we are always on your smartphones, but because we recognize the signs more often. Just from what I know about myself, I think I would have really benefited from a diagnosis, from possible medication, from therapy. So many other people would, too. They would actually feel like they aren’t alone, that it’s not just all in their head. Their emotions and thoughts would be taken seriously. They could be proactive in preventing future complications.

As times change and we are so heavily influenced by the internet, we must adapt our approach to teaching young people about respect and overall wellness. First off, obviously I’m only a parent to a dog, but let kids be kids. The second they receive a smartphone, they immediately feel the pressure to grow up faster, to launch into the game of Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. Still give kids that gap of time where they aren’t reliant upon a smartphone for constant entertainment, or at least limit their time on their phones. Develop healthy habits from the start. Social media is an amazing tool for connecting with others, but with any tool, too much of its use results in the negative consequences we keep seeing on news headlines.

And let’s make the effort to make health transparent. If we’re shoving nutritional advice and food pyramids and physical activity in kids’ faces, the least we can do is promote self-care, how to handle stress, and resources like counseling. They are just as, if not more, important than the physical health habits. No, mental illness isn’t a glamorous topic, it’s not something that can be made into a fun game. But it’s so necessary.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

 

Where Happiness Lies

The very title of this post falls heavily upon its category and future compliation I have been adding to for going on a year. It’s a concept that can be so hard to truly grasp, one often learned through trial and error.

We all talk about happiness. This out-of-reach emotion that will magically make the world a better place. We will all smile and laugh and sing around campfires. 

But we personify happiness into a character in of itself. An outside entity that we must run after and must rely upon physical means and steps to get there. 

I have likely suffered from depression and anxiety my whole life, but only recently have I begun to address that. Before then, I was honestly not a happy person. I felt like I dwelled under a storm cloud, and whoever was in my vicinity was immediately pulled underneath.

In my mind, I felt like I was not enough. That I maybe wasn’t worthy of happiness. I didn’t know what it really looked or felt like. When I looked inside my own being, it was miserable.

So I focused attention outward. And, in turn, that also shifted those doubts and worries outward. In my family’s best intentions, that meant that I was basically entombed in a foggy bubble. I couldn’t really let others in, nor did I want to. I was guarded. I was a victim to the bully tugging at my thoughts. 

So often that turned into others going out of their way to try and appease my sulking, my unhappiness that most of the time I was blind to. It meant others buying me gifts and doing whatever they could to provoke some happiness, some chance at connecting to that happy person hidden underneath the layers. 

But this turned into resentment on both ends. It caused frustration to the givers who felt like they never received anything in return, that felt drained from doing so much but seeing the same result. It caused guilt in me knowing that these people are constantly trying to give me everything they could, monetary or not, and yet I could never begin to repay them. And even with my gratitude, the effects were merely temporary and I’d resort back to my usual middle-ground mood.

Something has to give, not someone. I have spent years in this vicious cycle that has brought tension to the relationships that matter to me most. But I cannot fault others for wanting the best for me. I cannot play a blame game for buying this or doing that. At the end of the day, I am the one who must learn this important lesson.

This lesson? Happiness is not a carrot dangling in front of our noses as we run endlessly on a conveyor belt. Happiness is not a store receipt, a single experience.

Happiness can only be found within ourselves. That is where enduring, strong, true happiness lies. And we cultivate the beautiful relationships, memories, and passions in life, taking optimal care of ourselves in the process, to find our own version of happiness.

Chances are, the ingredients to create happiness are already in front of us. Perhaps they are hidden behind mental illness, unhealthy circumstances, or just self-doubt. But the way we perceive our lives, the gratitude we spread, the way we communicate and live are all factors in happiness. There’s a reason why the wealthiest people in the world can be the most miserable, and the people who are in the depths of poverty are some of the happiest and most inspiring.

We must live in a way that we want for ourselves. If we don’t feel happy, we must live as if we already are. We must count our blessings. We must prioritize what truly matters most. We must take care of ourselves in all aspects, physical, mental, social, spiritual, and emotional. 

So happiness is not tucked away in a faraway location. It’s in each of us. It always has been. Our consumer-minded society tells us otherwise. Our loved ones’ best intentions to provide and comfort us can become an addictive drug. But we must instead turn inward. Turn to love, gratitude, optimism, wellness, mindfulness, joy.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

The Next CLEP

You thought online classes over the summer were enough? That writing papers and going to a university center for multiple proctored tests was good enough for what is supposed to be a break? Funny joke.

So in not too terribly long, I will be trying my hand again at something I absolutely detest: standardized-type testing. And not just any standardized testing. A test that is for a foreign language that I haven’t had a formal class in since my sophomore year of high school.

Call me crazy all you want. Why would I want to study for an expensive test and endure the stress involved? Well, to graduate a year early like I’m planning, I need four more credits of a foreign language. I’ve taken two years of French in college (don’t ask how much I’ve actually retained), but to get the credits necessary to major in International Studies, I basically need one more semester of a new language.

This is obviously a problematic situation when you cannot fill a requirement through traditional means, or need to go above and beyond just to earn that degree. I couldn’t even just take another semester of French to meet this quota since every semester after the first year only counts for three credits. A broken system? Just a tad.

So it would be easy to just throw that idea out the window and not fall into this kind of trap. If you’re already completing a major and minor already, why add this to the plate? And still graduate in three years?

The fact is, I take my education very seriously. It truly is my current occupation. If I am investing in a college degree, I want to get the most out of it. I’m not sticking around to slack off when I know what I am capable of completing. Does it feel overwhelming in the moment when you trying to plan out how to get all of your credits in and take classes year-round? Heck yes. But in the end, I know it will be worth it. I know that my hard work will pay off and propel me toward wherever direction I go.

In the present moment, that means making sure I have my grades and credits together that I need to while balancing everything else that’s going on. Taking the CLEP test for a class that would royally screw up my schedule for any other class (since it would be the only one that is four days a week) just makes sense.

Luckily I still have a basic background in German. Even when I was taking French, I would catch myself mixing up the two languages into some new lingo. I still understand the grammar patterns and rules, so my studying will be primarily vocabulary words.

Not to mention, the major listening aspect of the test. You have to listen to German conversations and answer questions about them. I’m predominantly a visual person, and it shows when I gravitate toward reading and writing a language versus listening and speaking it. So having this large portion of the test dependent on auditory comprehension, I have plenty of studying to do.

Studying to listen to German seems backwards to me. I’m used to reading off a list of vocabulary or a book rather than trying to find samples of spoken German, but it is what it is. Now that my summer classes have wrapped up, I can devote most of my energy to buckling down on the German.

I don’t expect to become fluent, although it’s a language I would to say I can still use. I greatly admire bi-, tri-, or multi-lingual people. I think it’s so interesting to learn language and the culture behind it. But in this instance, I truly am just studying for a single test, a concept that really grinds my gears and feels so skewed from how we should view education.

Something I’ve learned over the years is that you have to jump through some hoops to get where you’re going. Education is especially abundant with hoops, whether that be completing every assignment down to the minute detail, reading every rubric front to back, and making sure your bases are covered credit-wise. I make it sound very frustrating, but let me tell you, the reward at the end knowing I did it, that I made a goal for myself and accomplished it, is well worth it.

And while the circumstances of taking a standardized CLEP test aren’t ideal, it’s still an opportunity to learn. We all lifelong learners, regardless of our educational background. We should all be curious, hungry to learn more, to expand our horizons to include new ideas, people, and places. I can use this time to learn how to study in a potentially new light, to manage my time more wisely during a more low-key period before actual classes start, and to take care of myself when the dreaded anxiety comes on.

Life isn’t always fun. College isn’t just parties and alcohol. There’s a level of seriousness required, a self-discipline implemented but still allowing room to breathe. Sure, any tests aren’t fun, but the end result will be something even more rewarding and satisfying.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

It’s a Dog’s Life

While I’m glad I have the time before school starts to come down to my apartment and figure my life out a little bit, there’s another huge reason why I moved in a few weeks early, and her name is Olive.

As we met last week, Olive is my new fur baby. She is quite a good girl, and I’m not just saying that because she’s mine. She goes outside for her business with (general) limited accidents, she’s especially a great cuddler once she’s tired out. She catches onto things quite quickly.

But with having a puppy, a responsibility that alone I haven’t had on my shoulders, you need that time for adjustment to figure out your surroundings and a routine. You need to get used to places like the kennel and the grass in a new place before jumping head-first into a full-blown busy schedule.

I completely understand people’s concerns or questions regarding having a pet in college. You have classes, a social life, other activities…throwing a dog in the mix? How do you manage all of that and do them all well?

If you’re willing to put in the effort and resourcefulness required to do so, the payoff is well worth it. It certainly helps having a companion who is flexible and well-behaved, but in most any situation, you can make it work.

I’m not calling myself an expert by any means. It’s a work in progress that I’m learning about every day. Olive and I are learning about each other, too. As a puppy, inevitably she will be more energetic and curious than an older dog, so at times I’ve felt like a stereotypical helicopter mom trying to make sure of her whereabouts at all times.

I also think there’s an added pressure in having another living being who depends on you. I’m sure the same would go for having children, too. But you feel like you always need to do the right thing, and you worry about making a mistake or aren’t doing your best. That disciplining a puppy or putting her in a kennel to go to bed at night will forever change our relationship.

It’s a dog. Yes, I realize I’m getting a little worked up about how she feels about me. It’s not like she’s in a family and has multiple people to go to. It’s just me. And “me” is a student finishing her senior year of college.

Being a student, if you don’t already, should be seen as a full-time job. Your well-being in between classes and essays is also important. You cannot use a dog as an excuse to avoid socializing with others or as an only reason why you fall short on a test or miss an event for a club or activity. It’s still on you.

For that, I applaud parents. It’s not an easy job. From a child’s perspective, it can be too easy to start nitpicking at certain things a parent might do or say, but at the end of the day, if they have the best of intentions, that’s all you can ask for. They’re just doing their best. They’re human. We’re allowed to make mistakes and learn from them. There are many moments available to make a different decision or act differently in the future.

The same applies to a dog. All I can do is provide her with what she needs to lead a healthy, long life. I do the basic feeding and potty times. I scold her when she needs to hear it. And I reward her and show my deepest affection in between. We learn from each other and make each others’ lives better.

I’ve talked previously about how beneficial pets are to our health and the crucial support they can provide as emotional support animals. That’s a huge reason why Olive is here. She is now a staple in my life. She makes me more patient, more grounded in the moment, more at calm when she’s in my arms. She forces me outside of my comfort zone of my own head’s schedule and “what’s right” by improvising when I need to, talking to people I might not have, being not just a single person going about life, but a person plus one.

If you think that college isn’t the right time for taking care of a dog, that it’s silly to add that kind of commitment on your plate, then when IS the right time? Life isn’t slowing down anytime soon. We just become busier. We transition through different phases. We start new projects and close others. We jump on different opportunities and make new memories with new friends. If not now, when?

It has just been over a week with Olive and a few odd days with just her and I, and I already think I’ve made some growth. We both have, and that is so exciting. I could not ask for a better dog by my side, nor could I imagine living without a furry friend nearby. Will she force me to walk back and forth during the school day? Will she force me to not stay out for so long at a time? Sure. But will she get me outside every day and wear a pet sling (which, by the way, best invention ever) as I go about my day? Will she provide a sense of purpose and belonging that can help myself realize organic inner happiness? She sure will. And that makes everything worth every penny, every frustration, every moment, worth it.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

The Whole (Foods) Shebang

Starting today, I’m living on my own. Which means that I get the joy (and this is only slightly sarcastic because I think it is way more fun that it probably is) of grocery shopping.

Yes, I am fortunate to have funds from my family to help pay for my weekly excursions, but that doesn’t mean I don’t pay attention to the number at the register. I had some experience last summer learning how much food can cost even just for one person, but it’s still something to get used to. Throw around the term “millennial ignorance” around all you want, but how are young people supposed to learn how to “adult” without asking the questions and figuring how to navigate these basic parts of modern life?

So how am I going about this grocery shopping, especially as a vegan? What kind of foods am I buying for myself that can still meet some sort of budget? What IS even a reasonable budget as a single lady trying to eat healthy?

First off, when I’m buying for myself, I am quite conscious of the money I’m spending. Partially it’s from the guilt of using my parents’ money for groceries, a blessing for sure. But I also just love hunting down good deals. Whether it’s a weekly special or a couple of cents off of a gallon of gas, I’m on board.

Also important to mention here are my goals for how I want to eat. Obviously veganism is innately healthier than a conventional American diet, but inevitably there is still processed foods and “junk” foods that are plant-based. To fully reap the benefits that veganism has to offer, I want to focus more on eating whole foods: less packaged and processed ingredients and extra junk that we don’t need.

Everything in moderation. I’m certainly still going to have dessert every evening. But if it costs more anyways to buy dairy and meat substitutes or fancier chips and crackers in the organic aisle, I might want to save a few extra bucks. If I do buy something from a box, I want to be able to understand the ingredients rather than preservative mumbo-jumbo. Most people keen on whole foods strive for eight ingredients or less, but I just want to get the most nutrition out of what I’m making for myself.

And when I say these things, I’m sure there are lots of dollar signs running through your head because same here. But it’s not as scary as it seems to be. It’s a learning process all around, especially when you have multiple factors and goals you want to achieve. While it’s easy to be the typical college student buying ramen and Easy Mac, you’d be surprised by how much you can accomplish if you stick to plant-based whole foods.

Obviously foods like rice, beans, potatoes, and oatmeal are all cheap. So are greens like spinach which are extremely nutrient-dense. Stick to the produce section as much as you can, pretending that the aisles don’t exist. Then to fill in the gaps, that’s when you venture to other places in the store.

Don’t forget about fruits and veggies that canned or frozen as those are also great options. Pay attention to what your grocery store might have on sale and what produce is in season. Inevitably berries past the summertime will be darn expensive. Luckily seasons come and go, and that just gives you the chance to try different foods year-round.

If you’re craving foods like cereal, crackers or cookies, do some research as to the best options available and where you can find those. If they’re reasonably priced, at least. When in doubt, I say to make it yourself because then you’re saving money and putting in the ingredients you want to. Plus it’s awesome to know that you made a recipe on your own. If you want to try some fancy-schmancy “super food” or supplement, then that’s up to you. How much I buy some of the food crazes and trends that pop up every so often can really ebb and flow, but you do you.

Now sticking to a budget. My goal for myself is to never go above $50 a week. That alone sounds very intimidating. I hopefully want to lower my goal, too. I know I have to build up my pantry with the staples first, an investment in of itself, before starting to realistically budget. But if all I need every week is mostly produce and a couple of extras if I want to try a recipe, I think I can do it. As long as inflation doesn’t play against me.

Regardless if I have these goals in mind, the ultimate priority here is health. If I want to live a long life, I’m taking care of myself right now. In this moment, if I have the independence to choose what to put in my body, I want to choose foods that nourish me, along with the daily little treat. Food is powerful. It’s our original means of medicine. It’s our consistent source of nourishment. Having that mentality fit into modern life shouldn’t be complicated. Not if you plan accordingly with the best intentions.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie