The Aftermath of Vacation

Wow, I can’t believe its been so long since I’ve blogged….crazy to think of how much has happened since my last post. But I’m gonna try to break it down really quick. While this year has been difficult for me and my family at times, there is also good that has happened to balance it out. Since my last post (I think), I finished both my spring and summer semester classes with straight A’s as I head into my final two semesters of college, and I cannot believe its coming to an end. In addition, I now have an internship writing for the Odyssey, an online news forum for college students about topics of your choice. At the end of June, my mom’s family met up here in Florida to celebrate the life of my uncle Andrew Keller and to spend some much needed time together despite all the craziness that always happens when we are together. Then in July, my parents, brother and I drove to Niagara Falls, stopping along the way at many amazing places and experiencing things I could never be more grateful for. And now we are back home, settling back into routines and such while preparing for school to start. To add to it all, I’m trying to get back into my healthy eating plan after being a little lax about it on vacation.

Instead of Advocare again, I’m participating in a program called Team BeachBody 21 Day Fix, recommended to me by my friend and personal BeachBody coach, Ashley Deegan. I had no hesitation about doing the program because I knew how important it is to learn portion control (again) through their container system and reintegrate myself into working out after realizing how out of shape I actually am. To add to it, I knew Ashley would be the perfect coach because she would be there for support and motivation along every step of the way.

Today was my first day on the program, and it was quite challenging to watch my eating again after a few weeks off. A hallmark of the program is that it takes 21 days to break a bad habit, and I’m sure it takes even less time than that to pick up the bad habit. Following the exercise video was even harder but I finished it. I know that day 1 is the hardest day for sure, and I know it will be a great thing for me once I finish. I’m sharing my journey again because like before it motivates me to continue and succeed, and I hope to be helpful to someone else who feels the same.

I Lived

Today I heard the song “I Lived” by One Republic for the first time in its entirety. Honestly I don’t think I’ve heard a song that powerful in a long time. The lyrics are so moving, and its basically telling you that you need to make every minute of your life count. I started thinking about how much I want to accomplish and make sure that I experience in my lifetime. I now know how precious life is and how short it can truly be.

At 22, I know I have traveled much more than other people my age have or even those who are older than me. With our road trips, we have been to 48 states (the entire continental US) and 6 provinces in Canada. Post-graduation, I’m planning to either travel Europe with my best friend or to road trip across the country. My dream destination is the land of my ancestors, Ireland. I find that nothing is more freeing than getting in the car and driving, which is why I love our road trips so much. I haven’t been on a plane since 2008….weird I know. I’ve thought of a travel writer as something I might want to do, combining two things I love so much. Wanderlust is a real thing.

While I don’t officially know what I want to do after graduation (who even does??), I know I want to do something I enjoy and not be stuck hating what I do. I want to be unafraid to take risks, unafraid to fail, and to know that no matter what happens, I can pick myself back up and start over again. I’m not making a “Bucket list” because that’s too morbid for me…I’m making a “to do list” of the things I want to experience in my life. When the end comes, I want to look back and know I have done everything I truly wanted to in life.

In short, don’t be too afraid to tell someone you love them, which is how I’m feeling right now. Dwelling too much on thoughts can stop you from doing something you know is right. If there’s things you want to do, make sure you do it. One of the most profound quotes I know comes from Babe Ruth: “Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game”…I’ve made this my motto for a while now and its helped me through so many situations. Even if you experience heartbreak or things don’t go the way you wanted, always know that YOU did something you wanted to do. And thats “owning every second”, as Ryan Tedder says in the song (which I linked to the video above if you haven’t heard it).

Body Peace

Our society has a serious weight problem, and its not something that just popped up overnight. For years we tell young girls that its okay to be whatever size you are, yet it seems only skinny girls grace the covers of magazines or become the popular girls you go to school with. Weight has been something I’ve dealt with my entire life, and probably always will. Despite people telling you that you look fine in your own skin, there’s always the nagging voice in the back of your mind telling you its not.

Growing up in South Florida, I lived in a place where people seem to be in bathing suits more often than other clothes. I played soccer for years, and though I didn’t have the best eating habits I wasn’t a chubby kid. I will forever believe that middle school is the absolute worst years in terms of puberty. Though your body is still growing after 14, every kid feels totally awkward to watch themselves change. I got the family genes, which meant I had two things the skinny people didn’t have: boobs and a butt.

In seventh grade I got sick, and I never figured out what was wrong with me. I couldn’t eat or keep food down. It was the absolute worst thing you could imagine. My weight dropped to around 100 pounds and I didn’t have the energy to do anything, especially play soccer anymore. I felt so awkward, like a stranger in my own skin. When I looked in the mirror, I didn’t recognize the face staring back at me.

But at some point the sickness stopped, and life went back to normal. Starting high school, I was probably a size 2. I know that’s small, but there were girls who were smaller than me and it didn’t help that I had a bigger chest than most of the girls in my class. I went to a private school, and I can’t begin to tell you how ruthless and mean people can be with the things they say about people’s appearances.

Unaccustomed to the number of hours I spent in school combined with the hours I spent on homework, I began stressing which led to stress eating. Weight slowly started to creep back on, but it wasn’t like I couldn’t fit into my school uniform. Junior year I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, which is when your body doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormones to keep you functioning properly. Side effects included constant tiredness, hair loss, and abnormal weight gain.

At this point, I was on the school dance team and one day at practice, my teacher felt it would be a good idea to push me down further into a stretch. Hearing a loud pop from my knee immediately signaled that it wasn’t, and I soon learned I had a meniscal tear in my knee. It was just perfect to have to wear a full leg brace that did not bend for 6 weeks in a school that didn’t have elevators. My upstairs classes moved downstairs, and my friends jokingly referred to my brace as “the hobble leg” and imitated my fancy leg swing I had to do to walk around.

Fast forward to junior year of college four years later. During this time my weight had increased dramatically thanks to a lack of exercise coupled with extreme stress eating, terrible food choices, and several other factors. Feeling pain in my knee, I went back to the doctor to find out if I had reinjured myself from the years before. But I was told I hadn’t and that the pain was caused by early onset arthritis in my left knee. I was told it would practically go away as long as I lost 50 pounds.

At 21 years old, having someone tell you that you have arthritis is one of the worst feelings. Ever. I cried for hours, but knew that it was time to make a change. Yet each time I tried, I always fell back into the same habits: no exercise, a schedule too packed to fix my own meals, and constant fast food and soda consumption. By January 2015, my endocrinologist told me I weighed 200 pounds and my weight had become a serious issue for my 5’2″ frame even though I didn’t look like it.

I finally kicked my ass into gear this month after the clothes I just bought no longer fit me. The day after Easter, I started a program called Advocare. Let me tell you, watching my brother eat a chocolate bunny that first day was like pure torture. And there is perhaps nothing worse than caffeine withdrawal. But I’ve pushed through it, even though I’ve had a cold nearly the entire time I’ve been on this damn diet. After 14 days, I stepped on the scale…and I lost 6 pounds.

6 pounds might not seem like a lot to you, but to me its everything. I lost those 6 pounds purely from changing my eating habits, dropping fast food and soda like the bad habits that they are. Those 6 pounds have made me feel so much better about myself and  have inspired me to strive for greatness. With my cold nearly gone and just having bought a new bike for myself (Thank you Tax Return Gods!), I’m looking forward to completing the next half of my challenge and to how much more weight I will lose. I love my body the way it is, and I encourage other people to feel the same.

Last night I ate pizza…after eating a salad of course. I’m not ashamed, I’m damn proud of it.

There’s No Goodbye, Only Love

This blog started out as an assignment for class, something I didn’t regularly like doing and I usually fell behind on postings. But I’m thinking I didn’t enjoy it because I had to do, not because I purely wanted to. The thing is, I like writing; all my life, its been something I’ve loved to do. I think I’d die and go to heaven if I ever wrote a book and it got published, much less made it on the NY Times bestseller list.

So now I’m thinking I’m gonna keep blogging, but this time about my life and things I’ve seen and done. Lately its been a reflecting kind of mood for me, possibly because I’m nearing the end of my days in college. And I am completely scared shitless for what will come after, in total honesty. Maybe its just because of what I’ve been going through.

Since the first of the year, it seems my life has been stuck in an endless spin cycle of horrible things. Sometime in 2014 my uncle Andrew was diagnosed with stage four kidney cancer, and he had been fighting tooth and nail against this cancer with every bit of power he had. Around New Year’s he had called my mom to tell her good news about his prognosis and his hopes for the future. A new semester of school and work had begun for my brother John and I, and we were headlong into it when February 2nd rolled around.

We left school and called my mom to find out what was for dinner. When she answered, she told us she was at the hospital because our grandma had been admitted and she was very sick. At this point in time, John and I hadn’t seen her in about four years since she moved with my uncle to New York. And she was deep in the stages of dementia, so we knew it wouldn’t be good. Like we figured, she didn’t recognize any of us once she was coherent enough to notice people.

Now I don’t think people really understand Alzheimer’s and how debilitating it is to people. Throughout her life, my grandmother was an extremely independent woman and now here she was laying in a hospital bed, needing help to eat and go to the bathroom. While I was feeding her dinner, she kept looking at me with this smirk on her face. I turned to my dad and said “She knows who I am. She doesn’t have to know my name but I know she knows my face and she knows me”. A little while later we were asking her questions, and she turned to me and said “Kaitlyn Hope”.

I can’t tell you how amazing it was to hear her say my first and middle names, and its a feeling I will never again experience in my lifetime. She inspired me with her resilience to get better and go home, and she was soon moved to a rehab center. John and I spent many hours there with her, and while I complained at the time, I am extremely thankful I got that time to spend with her. We stayed with her on Valentine’s Day, even after she told John she was too old to be his valentine. When we left that night, I kissed her good night and said “I love you”. She responded with “Love you too”. I didn’t know that would be the last time I ever spoke to her.

But Valentine’s Day was not completely a happy day. That day we found out Uncle Andrew wasn’t doing good and it looked like his time was very limited. A few days later, Mom left for North Carolina and we stayed behind because of school. The two weeks she was gone was an endless waiting period, wondering when the time would come that he would take his last breath. But that time never came, and on March 1st, Mom finally came home.

Two days later, Mom, Uncle Robert and I became road warriors as we raced along the 12 hour drive back to Duke University in Durham. Just before 11 p.m., we made it to the hospital and went to see Uncle Andrew, who was extremely excited to see us. He looked gaunt and needed an oxygen mask over his face to breathe. Despite what my mother had said to prepare me about his appearance, at that moment nothing that she said made a difference. I was broken to see the effect this cancer had on him, how it was ravaging his body. But it never broke his spirit because he still had a smile on his face and so much love in his heart.

We left not long after because he needed to rest, but he told me he loved me and that he was happy I was there with him. The next day was March 5th, a date I won’t soon forget. I can’t talk about the events of the entire day because it just hurts too much. But at 7:42 pm, less than 24 hours after we got back to Duke, heaven gained another angel through the soul of my beloved Uncle Andrew.

Losing him felt like someone had ripped a part of me away, and I cannot even imagine how it feels for my mother and her other seven siblings. I believe I only got through the next few days because I was with my extended family, and when I finally saw my dad and John again, I couldn’t help but sob. Finally making it home to Florida and trying to get back to normal life was even worse. Pictures of Uncle A are everywhere in my house, and it just hurt so much to realize he was gone.

Days became an empty rhythm of laying in bed staring at the ceiling or trying to function normally. I hadn’t worked in nearly a month, and when I finally went back I almost couldn’t handle it. I wondered if I had hit rock bottom yet, even though I tried so hard outwardly to keep it together.

But life threw another rotten lemon my way on March 26th, a Thursday morning exactly three weeks to the day Uncle A had passed away. I awoke to my mother sobbing over me, finally choking out “Grandma’s gone”. Her words went right over me, I was numb to the pain of loss already. I didn’t cry until about three hours later when my dad came home and collapsed onto me, completely and utterly broken over the loss of his mother.

Now I know people that try to tell me I know how you feel are full of shit. There are so many people in this world who haven’t lost nearly as many people as my family has. John and I grew up only with our paternal grandparents, never knowing my mother’s parents. At age 8, my grandfather died and it still remains one of the worst periods of my life. Fourteen years later, his death still feels as fresh as it did that April morning and it still hurts just as much.

While losing the people we love is quite possibly the most painful thing to feel, it exists to teach us that life is fragile and to love with every part of our being. I am blessed to have 22 years of my life with a grandmother who loved me so much and taught so much about the world around me and the person that I am, and for an uncle who made me laugh always and brought out the best in people. Every experience in life makes us the person we are today.

While I am still broken and grieving, I am still alive, still a human being with the capability to love endlessly and know how much my family means to me. I believe in miracles, I’ve seen them firsthand from Gram and Uncle Ace.The spirit of my loved ones lives on in me, and guides me each day as I know they watch down from heaven. Goodbyes are not permanent; only temporary.

Reflections on My Time in College

As I near the end of my time spent in college, I find myself wondering whether there is anything I had missed out on. Listening to friends’s stories of being blackout drunk or other insane things they had done made me think “Am I really missing out on that?”

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think college is ultimately what you choose to make it. It’s not all about the crazy things you do outside of the classroom, because no employer is gonna hire you thanks to your high tolerance for shots at the bar.

Yes I am “that girl”, the one who finds it more important to sit at home or in the library working on that paper. While I’m not knocking my friends for things that they choose to do, I’m just saying I’d prefer not to. I don’t find being “blacked out drunk” very appealing honestly.

When it comes to college, you do what you want. I understand having to work a ton while you’re in school and I know how hard it can be at times. But one semester I worked 30 hours a week while maintaining a full course load and still managed to get straight A’s, so I know its possible if you put your mind to it.

All I’m saying is to make sure you have fun while in school. Go to sporting events (especially football games), go to concerts, join a club, make friends with your classmates. My classmates and I call ourselves “J-School Crew” because we’ve all become so close over the years.

Be happy and know you did the best you could in all your classes and be proud of the things you have accomplished. Rock that stage on your graduation day.

4 Things You Won’t Learn in College

While perusing Buzzfeed, I came across the article “15 Things College Never Taught You About Life After Graduation“. Naturally I found it hilarious because as a senior nearing graduation myself, it couldn’t be more accurate. It goes without saying that not all lessons in life are learned in the classroom. But certain things that become extremely important once you graduate and wind up in the “real world” are not taught to people when they really should be. So I’ve compiled the most important things I felt college should teach you (with help from the list of course):

  1. Writing a resume. Personally I think there should be a whole course dedicated to resumes and cover letters! (CAN I GET AN AMEN?) Besides nailing your interview, nothing is more important when it comes to getting a job or an internship. If you don’t know how to do these, then there is no hope for you.
  2. Building your credit. Would you like to buy a car or a house at some point in your future? If your credit sucks, that will not be you. Building up your credit responsibly is extremely important, yet math class won’t teach you that.
  3. Doing your taxes. Now I’m really laughing because this should definitely be some sort of workshop that’s offered at college. Taxes are something you will do yearly for the rest of your life, so if you don’t know how to, then use TurboTax or H&R Block programs to help you figure out how to do.
  4. Acting like an adult. Now this one will most likely work through trial & error for a while because most people can’t figure it out. At some point you will realize you can’t go out drinking the night before you have a big presentation at work or that you’ll have to clean up after yourself and do your own laundry. Maybe I’m a little wise beyond my own years, but I don’t feel bad for people who can’t grow up.

Read the list, laugh at it and prepare yourself for some of those things. If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask for it. I’m 22 years old and I’m still learning how to properly save my money…it’s not something you’ll learn overnight.

5 Ways to Demolish Final Exam Worries

It’s that time of the semester again…the dreaded time known as finals. By now, students are beyond ready for the semester to end and have begun the ritual freak-out that is both completing final assignments and studying for final exams. Basically everyone on campus looks like this:

But the trick is to relax and prepare yourself enough so you don’t end up looking like Kevin McCallister over here… To prevent that, I’m going to share my tried and true finals ritual.

  1. Plan it out. First things first, sit down and look at your calendar and syllabus for the last month of school. Prioritize the things that are due first and plan out a list of things to tackle in order. Don’t decide to study for your final exam instead of a quiz you’ll have first.
  2. Catch up with readings. I know you most likely procrastinated on chapter readings (Come on, who even has time to read 2 or 3 chapters a week from the textbook?!), so to avoid last-minute cramming you need to split up the readings and tackle them well before the exam. My suggestion? Read before bed…its proven to help you remember it.
  3. Don’t forget to sleep..or eat. Make sure you remember to take care of yourself. If you’re the person sitting in the library all night drinking coffee, you need to go home and go to bed. Keeping with regular sleeping and eating habits keeps you healthy and not stressed out for finals.
  4. Keep time for yourself to relax. This is important but just make sure it doesn’t overtake your studying. I make sure I’m able to unwind with a book or some Netflix at the end of the day or if I’m feeling particularly stressed. Meditating also helps too.
  5. Don’t lose sight of your goal. Believe in yourself and you WILL conquer your finals. As long as you know you put the proper amount of time into preparing, I have no doubt you can do well. I’ve walked out of an exam with the usual “I so failed that” feeling, yet learned I got an A…don’t let yourself feel that way, just know you did good.

Believe me, I want you to walk out of your final exams looking like this (because I know I do):

Living off campus vs on campus

According to the Department of Education, nearly 50 percent of the nation’s college students commute to their classes, meaning that they do not live on campus. They range in age from fresh high school graduates to parents or other adults going back to school later on life. Commuters are a new class of students who are committed to other responsibilities while attending classes, and also those who hope to save money by not living on campus. While some schools like Florida Atlantic University are largely commuter, they are doing as much as they can to change that status.

As a senior at FAU, I’ve had my fair share of experience with the idea of living on or off campus. I can personally tell you the pros and cons of each scenario..

  • Living on campus benefit- No commute. My first year I lived on campus, and boy was it great to wake up just before class and walk over to my building. In between classes I could go back to my room and take a nap if I wanted to. When you commute, you will not have that luxury…I now wake up about two hours before my class to ensure I have enough time to get dressed and drive forty minutes to campus so that I can get there early and find a parking spot.
  • Living at home benefit- Saving $$$. By living at home, I’m not paying $4000 a semester for a cramped dorm room and a meal plan…I’m sleeping in my own bed, eating the free food that’s in my house, and not paying to do laundry. And when my financial aid kicks in for the semester, I can keep my refund check instead of having to pay for campus housing.
  • Living on campus benefit- Better relationships with others. I won’t lie, I made more friends when I lived on campus than once I started commuting. Making relationships with people you see in class all the time won’t hurt you. Its also helpful to live on campus when you want to craft a good relationship with your professors because now I face the dilemma of teachers having office hours on days I’m not on campus.
  • Living at home benefit- NO ROOMMATESFor me, this was the absolute worst part of my experience. I lived in a suite with three other girls, two of which were the DIRTIEST people I have ever met in my life. They never cleaned up after themselves, threw parties in our living room, and tried to steal things from my room when I wasn’t there. Of course this doesn’t cover everything they did, but you can get the picture and understand why I decided to move back home..

I hope my experience with both situations gives some insight to readers. Honestly I would recommend trying to live on campus because if it doesn’t work out, at least you can say you tried.

3 Ways to Cope with Extreme Circumstances during the Semester

Stress is a typical part of every college student’s experience. On top of worrying about keeping up with assignments and grades, students have other responsibilities such as clubs, jobs, and even families and friends to worry about. Learning to manage stress is important to keep students happy, healthy, and in charge of their grades. But sometimes you may find yourself in an extreme situation in which you have no control over, one that throws off all your stress management. (During this past semester, I lost both my uncle and my grandmother in a month’s time. Trying to stay on top of school assignments has been a challenge.) In this kind of situation, I have found the best things to do in my own experience.

  1. Talk to your teachers. If you’re in school, you need to let your teachers know what’s going on and how you are doing. They aren’t horrible people who don’t care and only want your homework. One of my teachers gave me a month extension on a research paper because I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to work on it. All you have to do is ask your teachers for an incomplete if that’s what you need.
  2. Take a breakEveryone processes situations differently. If reading books or watching Netflix for hours is what helps you, then do it. Trying to keep up with your everyday life after a loss is extremely difficult. You need to take the time to process and grieve.
  3. Seek comfort. Whether its talking to your family, friends, or even counseling, talking over your problems will help you to get through them. I went to see a grief counselor after my losses and I felt much better afterward.

5 Ways to Avoid the “Freshman 15”

Any college student hates those dreaded words: “Freshman 15”. For those just starting college or even those already in college for a while, its extremely easy to get so caught up in everything you’re doing that you become that person who hits up the McDonald’s drive-thru at midnight. Trust me, I’ve been there and those cheeseburgers are definitely not worth the tears you’ll shed when your favorite shorts don’t fit anymore….

Most people have a love-hate relationship with eating right and exercising. But when these two don’t go hand in hand, there are multiple consequences that will affect your studies too, not just your waistline. Here are some easy ways to prevent unwanted weight gain and keep yourself in top shape:

  • Master the dining hall. As a college student, most of your meals will come from the dining hall, which is often buffet style. Knowing what’s the right thing to eat and when you are full is the best you can do. That fifth slice of pizza won’t make you feel amazing tomorrow.
  • Take the stairsTry not to use elevators, instead use the stairs or even take the long way back after class. Wearing gym clothes to class is also a motivator.
  • Get a gym buddy. You will be more likely to go to the gym and work harder if a friend is with you. Joining a sports team or a fitness club at your school is also a start.
  • Don’t be a drunk. Alcohol is just empty calories…avoiding it can help you keep the weight off. If you’re 21 and over, you can have a drink or two when out with friends. You don’t want to be the person who comes home with the beer gut.
  • Grocery shop properly. Only buy foods in their raw form or if you can identify the ingredients on the label. Too many of our foods now have artificial dyes and other ingredients that are unhealthy. Also limit your soda intake and try to drink more water than anything else. Keeping healthy foods on hand in your dorm/apartment will keep you on track.

Keeping these tips in mind now will save you from lots of heartache down the road. Its also good to keep in mind that you should get enough sleep and manage stress properly or it will throw your eating habits out of whack. I’ve been there…and as much as you think that piece of chocolate cake will help solve your problems, it won’t.