Tuesday, June 24, 2014

10 on Tuesday

I promised I'd fill you in on my life! Here we go!

1) Sadly, I've started back to class already. My three weeks off went entirely too quickly, but on the upside, I'm almost halfway through my class! (Next Thursday is the halfway point!) The official class title is Introduction to Analysis, and it's basically the same thing I did in Intro to Modern Algebra, but somehow it makes a tiny bit more sense (not much, though). The homework is slightly easier, if only because I can at least look through it without wanting to cry, but I still have days when I question my life choices and wonder if I can switch to a Sociology major. (Not really, I want to teach math, but sometimes I wonder if I'll keep my sanity until then!) Such is life, at least this is my only class and I don't have tons of other homework assignments to worry about! All in all, it could be worse...

2) I've also been working a lot. Between class and work, I don't have a day completely off, which I'm starting to hate. Once again, it could be worse, and I'm just being whiny, but still. Work isn't bad, it's actually going well, so that's good! Yep, I still miss the quilt shop, but I can still go back and visit when I get the chance. An interesting thing about working in a different place is learning about everyone's quirks and the overall group dynamic. Needless to say, I can't complain too much!

3) I've somehow managed to find little bits of time to make it home to spend time with my family! I've really missed them a lot over the last few weeks, and it has brightened my days immensely to see them! My nephews are all growing like little (or not so little) weeds! Cody especially is growing into quite the young man...I give him a year before he's as tall as I am!! (I'm 5' 6" as a point of reference!) Holy cow! Cole's vocabulary is increasing by leaps and bounds, and he's starting to look more like a little boy than a toddler! Jakub has probably changed the most and continues to constantly evolve in his looks! From what I've been told, he's now crawling and I have an inkling that he'll be walking by the end of the summer! Sheesh, it seems like Cody was just born...where have the years gone?! (I'm kind of starting to feel old now...just saying!)

4) What would one of my posts be without mentioning the latest St. John's happenings? Most everyone is gone for the summer, but those of us around Stillwater have managed to make our own fun! The highlight of our week is generally Wednesday night lake time/theology study! We've also had lots of random fun time going to random places around town or watching the World Cup! Good times!!!

5) I've officially been bit by the travel bug! I usually don't have that big of an urge to travel extensively, but I've decided that it's high time for me to start! Unfortunately, I can't travel this summer, but I'm thinking seriously about making plans to travel after I graduate next spring. As of right now, the spot at the top of my list is Portugal, but we'll see!

6) We've been getting a decent amount of rain as of late, and I LOVE it!!! Since Memorial Day weekend, it has rained at least once a week every week, and we usually get about 0.5-1 inch each time! Praise God! Even better, everything is still pretty and green and we're not under a Burn Ban, which makes my life much less stressful at work because I don't have to constantly remind customers not to set campfires or use charcoal grills! I hope that it keeps raining like this, we sure can use all that we get!!!

7) I started reading Pride and Prejudice a few weeks ago, and I'm really enjoying it! I'm not sure why it has taken me so long to read it, but I'm glad that I finally gave it a chance! If I ever get around to finishing it, I'll start The Life of Pi, because I've somehow never seen that movie. I'm glad that I finally was able to start making more time to read for pleasure...I almost forgot how much I love it!!!

8) Speaking of old habits that I'm trying to pick up again, I think I'm going to try to start playing my guitar again! I started playing it at a bonfire last weekend, and I forgot how much I love making music! It gets pushed to the back burner a little bit, what with my summer class and all, but I hope that I can make a little bit of time for it at some point!

9) I've got nothing for #9. Sometimes that happens.

10) I do have something for #10, and it's something really exciting, too! Do you remember back in April when I vaguely mentioned my TEC friend Isaac visiting Stillwater? (I kind of slipped that in, so I'm not sure if it was even that noticeable when I did...) We've kept in touch ever since, and decided that we want to start dating each other! Well, technically we aren't boyfriend/girlfriend yet, but it is imminent! Isaac recently graduated from TU with his Master's degree, and he also just started an accounting job in Tulsa! He is a wonderful guy with LOTS of amazing qualities, and I am beyond blessed to have him in my life!!! (There is a very long backstory that goes along with this, but that will have to wait for a day much further down the road for me to tell it in its full glory!) I can't wait to see what the future will hold, but all I know is that things are looking up! God is so good!!!! :)

I hope everyone has a great, safe week soaking up all of the summer fun that is to be had!!! Enjoy!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Practical Ways to Save Money in College!

(One of these days, I'll make a post about what I've been up to lately, but today is not that day!)

People always talk about stereotypical broke college students. While this is a sad but true reality for many students, I don't like for people to think that it's inevitable for students to go broke while pursuing higher education. Aside from getting on a soapbox about the unfairness of the cost of college and various economic issues on which I am somewhat ignorant, I'm going to talk about a few ways that one can make the best of their situation and conserve money where and how they can. In my opinion, I sometimes think that broke college students become that way because they have little to no sense of money management and could actually do something to alleviate their financial situation. Here's a few suggestions that have helped me make it through this past year!

1) I do the majority of my grocery shopping at Aldi's. I had never stepped foot into an Aldi's before I moved to Stillwater, but now it is a place that I frequent! Why? It is possible to buy 1-2 weeks' worth of groceries for one person for about $30, and that does NOT include a bunch of pre-packaged, over-processed frozen foods. It mostly consists of necessities and LOTS of produce! Fun fact: Their canned goods rarely cost over $1 per can, most are actually in the $0.50 to $0.75 range, which is actually a reasonable price! Sometimes, it's a wild card as to what you find there, but they always have the staples of most grocery lists and a great produce section of in-season fruits and veggies! If you shop there, just remember to bring your own bags or be willing to buy sacks there (usually costing either 6 or 10 cents, depending on if you want paper or plastic), and that you'll have to bag your own groceries. (Plus: No worries about weird bag placements or squished loaves of bread!) Also, bring a quarter for a cart...don't worry, you'll get it back when you're done! For healthy (and even not-so-healthy food), I highly recommend Aldi's as a way to cut costs on food! (Note: I still insist on buying my milk from Braum's...I'm a milk snob like that!)

2) In a similar vein, I highly suggest packing a lunch. For one, it's WAAAY healthier than pretty much everything you'll find on campus. Also, it's not a constant drain on your budget...six to ten dollars per day adds up pretty quickly! In doing so, it requires a bit more time and preparation (not to mention foresight as to what your day might bring), but it really pays off! A sub-suggestion is to invest in a good lunchbox and lunchbox accessories...I, for one, love my lunchbox with the built-in icepacks and my reusuable vinyl lunch pouches which also prevent you from constantly throwing out Ziplocs!

3) While I'm on the topic of reusable things, for heaven's sake, quit buying bottled water!!!! Invest in a quality reusable water bottle (I suggest Camelbak or Contigo) and quit wasting upwards of $1.50 on something you can literally get for free! My mom always told me that Grandpa Rudy (her dad) prophesied that a day would come when people would have to pay for a glass of water. To take this a step further, if you are a coffee aficionado, I suggest making coffee at home and bringing it with you, because, like other things, frequent coffeehouse trips will add up quickly! (I'm not condemning them completely, but at least not buying one cup will save some money!)

4) I've gone back and forth on this one, but I think I'm mostly stuck on this one for the time being: if possible and reasonable for your circumstances, (I'm talking school-related only) I highly suggest eliminating either cable or internet (or both!) at home. Granted, most places come equipped with these as a standard feature, but if not, I promise that it won't be the end of the world if you don't have at least one of them, if not both! My parents still refuse to have cable service at home, and if it wasn't for the fact that I would have no television/news access otherwise, I wouldn't have cable, either! Living without home internet is a peculiar challenge, but if you're creative enough, you can easily make do...and by make do, I really mean, find places with free wi-fi access to do any schoolwork that requires internet access. By not having internet access at home over the past year, I have learned how to relish coming home and being "unplugged" from that aspect of life, and I find that I can truly relax at home! Trust me, you can do it if you really want to! :)

5) I love shopping, but I've learned that I can't always fulfill my shopping desires. If I really want to buy new clothes or something of that sort, I always start by combing clearance racks, stores like Ross or TJ Maxx, or, even better, thrift shops!!! All of these are great ways to find new things at a reasonable price! Fun fact: I have found much of my best house ware finds at TJ Maxx...y'all should really check it out!

6) For the fitness gurus out there, some students think that getting a gym membership is a surefire way to get into their fitness plans. Here's the thing: most universities have student wellness centers which you already pay for in your student fees...why pay for something you've actually already paid for? Or, look into joining intramural sports! You can either join a random team or join up with all of your friends, either way, it's a fun way to meet new people and have fun playing the sports you love in a low-pressure atmosphere!

7) Talking about friends, instead of going out to eat with them all the time, stay in and cook together! (That's kind of how the St. John's Wine & Cheese group was started!) Everyone can chip in or bring a specific course, and you can have the added experience of cooking together and sharing a homemade meal together! (PLEASE don't use the "I don't know how to cook excuse"...between Pinterest, YouTube, recipe websites, and EVERY other cookbook ever made, it is easier than ever to learn how to cook! Also, most foods lend themselves to easy preparation...just do it, you'll thank me later!)

8) Okay, not everyone will agree with me on this one, but after my experience, it bears repeating. If you haven't already started college or are weighing the options, consider attending a junior college! It's not a popular choice, and it's definitely not as glamorous, but it is the same education you'll get at a bigger university, but it is actually better, because you don't have to experience insane 200-person classes where you have little to no identity to your professor. You can learn the same material in a smaller environment with professors who aren't preoccupied with their research and are generally much more approachable. Socially, there are fewer opportunities, but it's not a social wasteland either. You really just have to find your niche! If you are at all on the fence about a potential major and might be switching around, it will be MUCH easier at a juco than at a university, if only because there is less red tape! The only way I really think that someone should go to a large university as a freshman is if A) They receive sizeable scholarships that would be silly to pass up, or B) They are independently wealthy and money is no object. With all the money you're saving at a juco, you can, like me, transfer to a bigger university and receive pretty decent scholarships as a by-product! I could go on and on, but I'll stop that soapbox there!

9) This should go without saying, but seriously, APPLY FOR SCHOLARSHIPS!!! EVERY YEAR!!! It is essentially free money that pays for your college, so long as you keep your grades up. For one, it's a wonderful motivator not to totally slack off in class and keep your grades up, and it is that much less money you have to shell out! Even if it takes five hours to fill out the application, if you receive a $1500 scholarship because of that, consider that like being paid $300 per hour!!! Who wouldn't love to be paid like that?!? Lots of local and departmental organizations offer scholarships for students of all levels...it's at least worth a shot! You won't regret it!!!

10) My newest money-saving revelation came when I decided to rent my books last semester. From the outset, I saved almost $400 just by renting instead of buying, and all of my shipping was free! Who can beat deals like that? It was slightly depressing to not get cash back at the end of the semester by selling back books, but I also was comforted in the fact that I didn't get raked over the coals in trying to sell books back and literally receiving $2 back because they're buying new editions the following year. Most rental companies (like Chegg, which I use) give renters the option to buy books if they really want to do so, but otherwise, it's a much better idea!

This is not an exhaustive list, but these are ways that I have saved considerable amounts of money over the past year! I also find it interesting that, while saving money through these steps, I often find myself being more conservative to the environment or society in general! Quite the serendipitous thing, really! (Don't tell me you can't do anything to be conservative, either, I just gave at least four ways to do so! :) ) If you have any other suggestions, I'd love to hear them! Have a great day, and happy thrifting!!!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

There’s Something about Pope Francis…

One of my favorite things is meeting new people. Being that I attend a relatively large university, I meet new people all the time and have lots of random conversations. I’m not sure if it’s because we’re in the middle of the Bible Belt or because I, for whatever reason, elicit the question from these people, but people often ask where I go to church or what religion I am. Of course, I never shy away from responding that I am Catholic and/or that I attend the Catholic Church on our campus. It is a rare occasion that I encounter fellow Catholics in these conversations. However, almost all of the non-Catholics who I encounter have a similar response: “I love Pope Francis!” or “That Pope Francis…he’s really something, isn’t he? I love him!”

Who couldn't love this joyful man of God?
Just coming into his second year of his papacy, Pope Francis has gained celebrity status among non-Catholics, perhaps surpassing that of most other popes of our time (minus JPII in some circles, but that’s beside the point). I find it somewhat ironic/comical that non-Catholics are so in love with the man who is the face of the Catholic Church, regardless of their opinions on our faith itself! Oftentimes when people mention this, I have started asking them what makes them love him as they do, out of mere curiosity. Some of the most common answers I get include, but are not limited to, his love for the Gospel message, his humility (that’s a BIG one), and how he’s changing the Catholic Church. 

I agree with all of these things, but not necessarily in the context in which these people say it. Pope Francis is definitely all about the Gospel. His first apostolic exhortation was entitled Evangelii Gaudium, or, The Joy of the Gospel, if that tells you anything. (More on that in a sec…) I would venture to say that he is also a humble man, being that he strives to live a less ornate life than previous popes have. I also think that he is striving to change the church, but not in the way that everyone else thinks he is. Doctrinally, Pope Francis has not made any changes, nor does he plan to (despite what secular media claims). However, he is striving to show us Catholics how to fully embrace the beauty of our faith, how to encounter the risen Christ, and how to share our faith/evangelize all who we encounter. All of these are great things, in my opinion!

When the College of Cardinals met in conclave to elect Pope Francis, they did not just sit down and pick him willy-nilly, just because they thought that the then-Cardinal Jorge Bergolio was a neat guy. They spent much time in prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to guide them to the right choice. It was solely through the power of the Holy Spirit that they came to this decision and that he accepted the call to the papacy. In the past year, I’ve really come to see just how amazing the Holy Spirit is, as I have seen it at work in my life in the best of ways. If the Holy Spirit can spark these great things in the life of someone as insignificant as me, then why wouldn’t it do the same for these Cardinals seeking direction for deciding a new Pope! I mention this, because I firmly believe that the Holy Spirit knew that Jorge Bergolio was exactly what our church needed at this point in history. Just in his second year, Pope Francis has become a household name and is changing the face of the Catholic Church. All of this from a simple Jesuit from Argentina!

In saying this, I should mention that I do not discount the lives or impact that previous popes have had, because they, too, were (or were supposed to have been) chosen in the same prayerful way Pope Francis was. However, I have a particular love for this pope because he was the one who started to guide me back to fully embracing the Catholic faith. Yes, I went through a short time of questioning the faith, as I think many cradle Catholics should. As I have found, it is only through doubt that true faith is able to come to fruition. It is mostly because of this fact that I hold a special love for the Holy Father! However, my love for Pope Francis is based on more than on all that I have learned about him through various media sources or what others have said. Much of my love for him stems from his first apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium. (Told you I was coming back to it!)

Up to the point when I first heard about it, I had never extensively read anything written by any of the popes or anything that was exclusively Catholic. I guess it had never piqued my interest before then. However, there was one day that I happened to be skimming through the Sooner Catholic, which is the Catholic newspaper distributed throughout Oklahoma City’s archdiocese. There was an interesting article summarizing the letter that I just so happened to read. After reading it, I felt drawn to the letter, so much so that I found it in a PDF online and downloaded it to read, thinking that I would blow through it in a couple of hours.

Boy, was I wrong! It was 224 pages long. That intimidated me at first, but I was already feeling committed to it at that point, so I knew I should go on. Within the first couple of pages of Evangelii Gaudium, I was blown away…absolutely blown away by the depth of what Pope Francis said. And that was just within the “Index” section…what? It got to the point that I forced myself to stop reading because I found it to be so deep that I needed to take a moment to ponder those words. I decided to start a Word document so that I could chronicle my favorite quotations. I originally thought that it would only comprise a few pages, so you can imagine my surprise when I finished reading it the other day and I had FIFTEEN pages of 12-point font (not entirely single-spaced) full of quotations from this document! To say I loved Evangelii Gaudium would probably be the understatement of the year!

I could easily summarize it, but I’m not going to. I’m certain that plenty of other people have written wonderful reviews or summaries of it, so I’ll spare you that. What I will share are a smattering of my favorite quotations...

“Everyone needs to be touched by the comfort and attrac­tion of God’s saving love, which is mysteriously at work in each person, above and beyond their faults and failings.”

“In some people we see an ostentatious preoccupation for the liturgy, for doctrine and for the Church’s prestige, but without any concern that the Gospel has a real impact on God’s faithful people and the con­crete needs of the present time.”

“One cannot but admire the resources that the Lord used to dialogue with his people, to reveal his mystery to all and to attract ordinary people by his lofty teachings and demands. I believe that the secret lies in the way Jesus looked at people, seeing beyond their weaknesses and failings.”

“An authentic faith – which is never comfortable or completely personal – al­ways involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better that we found it. We love this magnificent planet on which God has put us, and we love the human family which dwells here, with all its tragedies and struggles, its hopes and aspirations, its strengths and weaknesses. The earth is our common home and all of us are brothers and sisters.”

“The primary reason for evangelizing is the love of Jesus which we have received, the experi­ence of salvation which urges us to ever greater love of him. What kind of love would not feel the need to speak of the beloved, to point him out, to make him known? If we do not feel an intense desire to share this love, we need to pray insistently that he will once more touch our hearts.”

I hope that these quotations may have inspired you to look into this letter, as I feel that it is well worth everyone’s time to read it! You can download it in PDF format from the Vatican website or it can be found on Amazon, either way, I suggest reading it!

May these divinely inspired words of the Holy Father ignite a fire in our hearts that will guide us to truth, and may God continue to bless Pope Francis as he continues to instill the mission of the Church in all of our hearts and minds! God bless!