Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A Letter to My Freshman Self (and All College Freshmen)

So here I am, embarking on the last semester of my senior year of college. Pretty crazy, right? My life at the end of college has turned out totally different than little high-school-senior-Stephanie would have ever thought. I've transferred schools, I've made many incredible friends, I've gone through the best of times and the hardest of times, and I've grown and changed exponentially. My years in college have been truly life-changing.

As I reflect back on all these things as a senior, I realize how much I have learned and grown since I was a freshman. Freshman year is a weird time with lots of awkward moments and confusion, and lots of transitioning, adjusting, and learning. There are definitely things I know and do now that I wish I had known or done as a freshman.

If I could write a letter to my freshman self (or to other college freshmen), here are some things I would say.

Sometimes it's okay to forget about homework and hang out with your friends.
You don't have to (and you probably shouldn't) go to every movie night or every late-night ice cream run. But once in a while, choose an opportunity to have fun with your friends over doing homework or working on a paper. Studying isn't everything, and what is more, this is your chance forge deep friendships with the people at school and make lasting memories with them. So do it. It's worth it.

At the same time, make studying a priority, and form good study habits now.
Don't be that freshman who stays up until 3:00am every night hanging out with friends and never does their homework. While it's okay to do that once in a while, don't make it a habit. Not only will your GPA suffer, you'll be in for a rough wake-up call come sophomore year when your classes get harder. Do yourself and your GPA a favor by forming good study habits as a freshman that will carry you through the next three years.

There are tons of ways to save money and make college more affordable.
Be sure to explore your financial aid options: apply for scholarships from your school, for federal aid, or for scholarships from outside sources. If you have to take out loans, use a service like Earnest to help you refinance your student loans. Explore all your school's meal plan and living options ~ because usually there are a multiple options with varying costs ~ and choose whatever is best for you. Look into getting a part-time job on campus ~ it will allow you to save some money during the school year, and also give you a little pocket money.

Put yourself out there and get involved.
I know it's hard being a freshman and not knowing anyone. But don't hide away in your dorm room all the time. Introduce yourself to people (and try your hardest to remember everyone's names). Join a couple of clubs that interest you. Go to campus events. Soon enough, you'll be getting to know people who will be your best friends through college and beyond. At the same time, you'll develop your talents, delve into your interests, and, most importantly, grow as a person.

Lastly, I know you're really scared now, but it's going to be okay. In fact, it's going to be amazing.
Believe me when I say the hard, awkward freshman days don't last. This too shall pass, and before you know it you'll be having the most amazing time of your life. Your school will become just as much "home" as home is. The people you meet will become your dearest friends. You'll have unforgettable experiences and make lasting memories. College will change your life for the better. I promise.


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

One Word for 2017: Surrender

(So I almost wrote 2016 as I typed the title of this post. Here's to another year of trying to get used to writing a new date, just as we got used to writing last year's.)

I've been pondering for the last week or so what my word for 2017 should be. I've been searching for a word that would carry me through the coming year in order to grow as God desires me to. As I wrote in my post about my word for 2016:

"This one little word will be my "theme" for 2016. It is a word that I will keep in the forefront of my mind + heart to direct me throughout the year. It will be my track for pursuing my goals + dreams this year. It will help guide me to grow as a person this year, emotionally, mentally, socially, and, most importantly spiritually. It is a word that I hope will help me draw closer to God this year."

This one little word for 2016 was "focus," and in hindsight, I see that there was no word more fitting for last year than that. "Focus" was a consistent and recurring theme throughout my whole year, and through it I grew in more ways than I could possibly have expected. My one little word for 2016 truly carried me through the entire year.

I also wrote, this time last year:

"So this year, I need to focus. I need to put first things first. I need to make more time for the most important things in life, and relish them. I need to recenter my life around God + prayer. I need to stop letting myself get so distracted.
For me personally, I feel that "focus" is a good place to start. If I form a solid foundation for myself by learning to focus, then I can go from there. If my mind + heart are focused and not distracted, my actions will follow accordingly."

I can honestly say that all these things were achieved in my life last year. Not that I'm now perfect and always have perfect focus on the most important things in my life and never stray or get distracted. But after 2016, I have so much more focus on the things I should ~ like God, prayer, my studies ~ and I worry and try to control so much less. I'm more at peace, more centered, more present.

Now that I'm more focused, I want to take more action. Despite my growth in focus, I still find myself struggling to trust God completely and to truly desire His will over mine. I also find that I struggle to be truly selfless, both in my relationship with God and with the people in my life.

That said, I feel particularly called to work on denying myself, sacrificing, and trusting God in this coming year. And so my one word for 2017 is:  s u r r e n d e r .

This year, I'm going to strive to surrender my will to God's more completely. To surrender my life to God more radically. To surrender my will for the sake of others. To forget myself in order to love God and others better.

I'm taking as my role model for this year of surrender my dear patron saint and friend, St. Therese of Lisieux. I want to imitate her Little Way ~ her simple, humble routine of making small sacrifices and of renouncing her will in everyday things for love of God and neighbor. In sacrificing my will in practical, tangible ways, even if they are small ways, I will be better able to sacrifice my will to God and trust in Him.

I'm also taking the following as a prayer or quote to go along with my word for the year:

Let go, my soul, and trust in Him.

I'm going to strive to let go, to surrender, so as to trust in Him more completely and to be truly desirous and accepting of His will instead of mine.

And so friends, that's my mission for 2017: surrender.

What's yours?


Sunday, January 1, 2017

2016 In Review

Long time no see, friends! I know I've been a bit MIA in the blogosphere lately. At the beginning of the school year, I had such grand plans to keep posting a couple times a week, but as the semester continued on and grew progressively crazier, those plans quickly fell by the wayside. My semester was pretty intense, with never-ending reading and papers (#litmajorlife), work, friends, personal stuff, and other commitments. Needless to say, it's been lovely to be on Christmas break these past couple weeks (with another week yet to go!), resting, spending time with family and friends, and celebrating Christmas.

With Christmas break, of course, comes New Year's! I cannot even believe that 2016 is over. So much happened in my life in 2016 ~ exciting things, joyful things, challenging things, painful things. I learned and grew in more ways than I can describe. I met so many people and made so many new friends who have deeply impacted my life. I gained so many new life experiences. I learned more about who I am and who I want to be. 2016 was a hard year in some respects, but an awesome one in so many others.

2017 is going to be a big year for me, and I'm a little nervous but mostly excited to see where it will take me. All I know is that I'm graduating from college in May, and, God willing, starting grad school in the fall. Those are some pretty significant life changes right there... but beyond them I have no idea what 2017 holds for me. I'll just have to let God take the lead and show me the path he has laid out for me ~ and I know it will be incredible.

As we ring in 2017, let's take a look back at the highlights of this past year and all the memories 2016 gave me. Here's my 2016 in review...


Last January I was privileged to meet Dr. Gianna Emmanuella Molla, the daughter of St. Gianna Berretta Molla for whom the saint gave her life. It was incredible to have the opportunity to meet her and hear her story ~ and to hear her talk about her "saint mama."


February was fairly uneventful besides fun times with friends at school, which are always a treasure. I also made some big changes to the blog, including installing my current theme (which I love) and purchasing my domain!


March consisted of more fun times with friends and going home for spring break and Easter. I also took this photo of one of my favorite Florida sunsets of the year:


In April, I finished my literature thesis, which was a huge accomplishment ~ and I even won an award for it! My professor gave me the award for most well-written paper, and this was my prize (I was only a little bit excited):


May was a fun month. I finished my junior year of college, then stuck around Florida for an extra week to do the lab portion of my summer environmental science class. I got to go on an airboat ride, wade through a swamp, hold an alligator, and do several other cool things. (I blogged about my fun lab experiences in this post and this post.)


June was a pretty chill month spent at home in Michigan, hanging out with family and friends. A couple highlights included going to Cedar Point with my cousins and getting my new glasses.


On July 3, I departed for France and proceeded to spend 5 weeks in Europe! I went to France (Toulouse, Paris, Mont St. Michel, Lisieux, Lourdes, and a few small towns), Poland (Oswiecim, Wadowice, and Krakow), Prague, and World Youth Day in Krakow. This trip was definitely my biggest highlight of 2016. Words can hardly describe how much I grew, learned, enjoyed myself, was challenged, and was changed on this trip. You can read all about it in these posts:

I'm Home from Europe - and I am Forever Changed
5 Things World Youth Day Taught Me
Instagram Roundup: Europe Edition
Random Observations about Europe (after Spending 5 Weeks There)
What I Learned about Pilgrimage on My Trip to Europe
Highlights of Europe: Prague
Highlights of Europe: Paris
Highlights of Europe: Lisieux


I was still in Europe until August 8, then I finally came home to the good old U.S. Later in August, my family went on a fun weekend vacation to Mackinac Island, MI before I headed back to school. (You can read all about it in this post.)


By September, I was back at school for my senior year of college. (Crazy, I know.) It was a month full of school, friends, and fun.


On October 3, I celebrated my 21st birthday! I had a great birthday (besides writing a paper all day) and an even better birthday weekend, when I went out with friends and my family came to visit.

Later in October, three of my best friends and I went to Daytona Beach, FL for fall break. It was the most refreshing, relaxing, and fun weekend ever (and one that certainly made for some great memories).

Then to conclude October, some friends and I dressed up as a construction crew for Halloween, which was great fun (and made for literally the comfiest costume ever).


The highlight of November was going to my cousin's wedding in Nashville, and then heading home early for Thanksgiving break. My cousin's wedding was beautiful, not to mention an absolute blast!


December consisted of a stressful but also fun last two weeks of the semester, going to a dear friend's wedding in Atlanta, and then heading home for Christmas break! All beautiful, all fun, and all definitely highlights.

Top Blog Posts

These were my top 10 blog posts from 2016 ~ my posts with the highest number of pageviews. Thanks for being part of my blogging journey this year!
  1. 7 Websites Every College Student Should Use
  2. Tips for Buying and Breaking In Birkenstocks
  3. The Perfect Study Playlist for Getting Stuff Done
  4. The Best Study Method for Boosting Your Productivity
  5. Summer Capsule Wardrobe
  6. 21 Things You Didn't Know about Me
  7. 5 Guidelines to Help You Decide Whether to Transfer Schools
  8. On Waiting
  9. Tips for Staying Focused and Engaged in Class
  10. The Versatile Blogger Award: 7 Fun Facts about Me

And that's a wrap!

Thanks for all the memories, 2016. Here's to an amazing 2017!

Happy New Year, friends!


Friday, November 11, 2016

October Roundup

Hey friends! I'm stunned at how fast October went by, at the fact that we're almost halfway through November, and at how rapidly the end of the semester, the holiday season, etc. is approaching! Also, I know October, like September, was a bit of a dud month for me in terms of blogging... let me tell you, this semester has been crazy. But I do have some awesome links for you from last month from other people's blogs that you should definitely check out!

So without further ado (and despite the fact that it's a little overdue), here's a roundup of my favorite links from October.

This funny piece about expectations vs. reality of college made me laugh cuz it's far too true.

Kayla's tips and Amanda's tips for having an easier, more productive morning are super helpful and motivating. Mornings are something I've been working on this semester (and I think I'm slowly but surely becoming a morning person), and I will definitely be implementing some of their tips!

Speaking of mornings, this post from Amelie is full of reasons why being a morning person is awesome ~ and even with my limited experience as a morning person this semester, I can confirm that they are all true! So if you, like me, are looking for more motivation to become a morning person, look no further.

I appreciated Caroline's tips and outfit inspo for layering in warm fall weather, since fall here in southern Florida consists of temperatures in the mid to upper 80's. #missingmichiganrightaboutnow

This article on FOCUS' blog about why it's okay that Jesus doesn't always fill our emptiness is beautiful. When we feel that aching emptiness, that painful void in our hearts, and it feels as though God is distant ~ he may actually be closer. Not only does this article contain some beautiful insights, it also provides some practical advice ~ give it a read.

I loved Kirsten's post about "just getting started" when it comes to studying. I think just getting started is the biggest thing I struggle with when it comes to schoolwork, and it's the #1 contributor to my bad habit of procrastinating. So this post was so helpful and motivating for me!

On a similar note, this post on Verily offers a very interesting productivity hack that I've never thought of and might just have to try. I have a feeling it might help me a lot with school, especially as the end-of-semester craziness approaches.

Another Verily post for you. This one is about the dangers of sugar and was well-timed, since I'm currently trying to cut back on sugar for both my physical and dental health. And also because the holiday season is fast approaching (Halloween most recently, Thanksgiving in a couple weeks, and Christmas next month).

Lastly, here's a roundup of my (sadly small amount of) blog posts from September and October, in case you missed any or want to read one again:

Highlights of Europe: Paris
August Recap and September Goals
Tips for Staying Focused and Engaged in Class
Highlights of Europe: Lisieux
On Waiting
September Recap and October Goals
A Day in My Life as a College Senior
Instagram Roundup, Vol. III

Also, my post On Waiting was published on The Young Catholic Woman last month (on my birthday, as a matter of fact)! You can check it out here.

Did you enjoy any of this month's links? What are your favorite links from the month?


Friday, October 28, 2016

Instagram Roundup, Vol. III

It's been a while since I did an Instagram roundup, so I thought I'd publish one today and get you all caught up on my recent Insta action! Here are my IG's from the last month or so ~ including my 21st birthday, my fall break in Daytona Beach, FL, and some other lovely moments. Enjoy, and be sure to follow me on Instagram for more pretty snapshots from my little life!

A photo posted by Stephanie (@stephanie.therese) on

A photo posted by Stephanie (@stephanie.therese) on

A photo posted by Stephanie (@stephanie.therese) on

A photo posted by Stephanie (@stephanie.therese) on

A photo posted by Stephanie (@stephanie.therese) on

A photo posted by Stephanie (@stephanie.therese) on

A photo posted by Stephanie (@stephanie.therese) on

A photo posted by Stephanie (@stephanie.therese) on


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

A Day in My Life as a College Senior

As you may know, I'm a senior in college at a small liberal arts school in Florida, where I'm studying literature and theology. In addition to taking 16 credits, I work 12 hours a week, as a student worker at the library and also as a writing tutor. As for extracurriculars, I'm part of a household (basically a prayer-based sisterhood... kind of like a small group or the Catholic school version of a sorority?), I sing in the acapella group, and I volunteer as a catechism teacher in a nearby town once a week.

Between homework and all these commitments, not to mention things like eating, sleeping, socializing, and keeping in touch with people back home, you could definitely say college keeps me busy! But it's a good kind of busy (most of the time ;), and I live an enriching, fulfilling, and fun life here at school ~ and I love it.

So let's get a little close-up of that life right now!

Here's a typical Monday or Wednesday for me:

7:00am: Wake up and pray morning prayer with my household

7:15-8:15am: Shower and get ready for the day

8:30am: Eat breakfast at the cafeteria

9:00-11:50am: Do homework, emails, blog stuff, etc. at the library

12:00-1:05pm: Class (20th Century Literature)

1:15pm: Eat lunch

1:45-3:35pm: Do homework, emails, blog stuff, etc. at the library

3:45-4:50pm: Class (Metaphysics)

5:00pm: Go to Mass

5:40pm: Eat dinner

7:00-10:00pm: Work at the library (where, most of time, I can do homework)
  • On Mondays: 7:00-8:00pm: Acapella rehearsal, followed by work
10:00pm: Wind down in my room: watch an episode or two of a show, do spiritual reading, get ready for bed

11:00pm: Go to sleep

So there you have it: a typical Monday or Wednesday in my life as a college senior this semester. Now I'm off to enjoy my much-needed and long-awaited fall break for the next few days!

What does a typical day look like for you?


Friday, October 14, 2016

September Recap and October Goals

Hey there, friends! I know I've been a little MIA lately, barely managing to publish one post a week for the last month or so. Learning to balance blogging with all my responsibilities here at school (homework, work, commitments, etc), on top of getting enough sleep, making time for friends and family, and having down time, has certainly been a challenge.

The last 2 weeks especially have been an absolute rollercoaster ride with lots of ups and downs. The ups were awesome: my 21st birthday, my family coming to visit for a weekend, and two super fun nights out with friends. But the downs were just like an endless stream of sucker punches: a super busy schedule, having four papers due within a week, immediately followed by a midterm, and also some personal / emotional struggles.

Basically everything in the world was happening all at once, and it was at some times very stressful and exhausting (as evidenced by the cold sore I woke up with the other day), but at other times super exciting and joyful.

Thankfully, I'm now at a point where I have some room to breathe, because my mid-semester craziness is over, and fall break is less than a week away (*jumps for joy*). So guess what that means ~ I can actually do some blogging! I'm super excited about it!

So now that it's halfway through October (I don't even know how that happened), let's see how I did on my September goals, and lay down some goals for (the rest of) October. Once again, I'm joining forces with a group of awesome bloggers to bring you this monthly goals post ~ be sure to check out their goals for October too!

S E P T E M B E R  R E C A P

Academic Goal: Stay on top of readings.
I was actually really good about this for most of September. But as soon as my 1-2 weeks of paper-writing from hell came around, regular class readings definitely fell by the wayside. Papers had to get priority, though I probably should have managed my time better so I could have been a bit better about doing other homework.

Personal Goal: Establish consistent morning and nighttime routines.
I actually got pretty good about this during September, especially with my morning routines. Up until these last 1-2 weeks, I was consistently getting up at 7:00am and praying morning prayer, getting ready for the day, getting breakfast at the cafeteria, and getting to the library by 8:30 or 9am to do homework until my first class. This has continued to be my routine for the most part, with some exceptions over the last 1-2 weeks when I really needed extra sleep.

Spiritual Goal: Do a little bit of spiritual reading each day.
I was also pretty good about this for most of September. I would spend a few minutes reading my Bible before bed, and I've also been reading more of Story of a Soul lately. However over the last couple weeks, I've definitely been neglecting spiritual reading. I really want to get back into it though, because it's just been so enriching.

O C T O B E R  G O A L S

Academic Goal: Get a handle on my time management.
For the first part of the semester, I was probably the best I've ever been about staying on top of homework and not procrastinating. But when my aforementioned 1-2 weeks of paper-writing from hell came around, I was under so much stress academically and emotionally that my time management went out the window (and several of my papers were turned in late). So this month I'm gonna whip my butt back into shape and get back into good homework / time management habits.

Personal goal: Get to bed no later than 11pm on weekdays.
If I want to continue getting up at 7am, I have have have to be in bed no later than 11pm. I cannot function when I have less than 7-7.5 hours of sleep ~ and there's nothing I hate more than feeling like a zombie all day because I didn't get enough sleep. Sometimes time gets away from me at night and I wind up staying up till 11:30 or 12, but no more! I'm determined to get to bed by or before 11pm on weeknights from here on out.

Spiritual goal: Novenas!
I want to pray the St. Jude novena leading up to his feast day on October 28, and I also want to pray a 54-day rosary novena starting on October 16 and ending on December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception. The rosary novena is the one I'll need extra motivation for ~ saying a rosary every day can be a challenge. But I'm super pumped!

What are your goals for October?

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