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The good and bad of 2016

Everyone is saying 2016 was a rough year. And I’m with them. But I’m not upset because of how many celebrities died.

My 2016 was a year of tears and goodbyes. But it was also a year of opportunity and challenges, and plenty of firsts.

Rough beginning

On January 6, I was forced to imagine a world without my mother. She fell down an outside ramp at work and shattered her elbow in 8-degree weather. For the first time, I was called as an emergency contact. Read more about that experience here.

We found out later that day she would survive, but still, we were forced to figure out what changes both the immediate and distant future would hold for her and our family.

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Mom gets some TLC from our cat, Babe.

At first I had to help Mom with everything, from showering and cooking to taking care of the cat and doing laundry. For months I had to drive her everywhere, including her myriad doctors appointments.

That first week was difficult for me. And so were those first few months, but each day we began to adapt and accept what happened, and have since learned to live with her limitations.

Life will never be the same for my mom, as she can’t use her arm like she used to. And I’ll never be the same since her fall, as I learned what it means to take care of someone.

We must first experience the bad to see good grow out of it.

First pet

May 19, Babe, our family cat, died. We had gotten her when my brother and I were 3, our first pet. She lived a good, long 20 years. While death is inevitable, you are never prepared when it happens, even with notice. Read more about this experience here

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Babe, doing what she does best, sleeping in a shoebox.

I barely remember a life without her in it. And seven months later, I still expect to see Babe when I come home. It’s a painful reminder every time I remember she’s not here. But as much as I miss her, I’m glad she’s not suffering anymore.

One positive of no longer having a pet is that we can go on vacation without worrying about finding someone to feed her.

We must first experience the bad to see good grow out of it.

New opportunities

This summer, I decided to transfer locations at work, moving over an hour away. I’m living in my first apartment and figuring out a life on my own for the very first time. While I knew it wouldn’t be all smiles and tiaras, I didn’t realize how difficult it would be.

The loneliness, for one thing. Especially living now, in the digital age.

I eat all of my meals alone.

I spend my mornings alone, then get to work where, for the most part, I hunker down and plow through work independently, reading stories, crafting Facebook posts and occasionally messaging designers. There are few words I need to say to anyone face-to-face. I go home from work to an empty apartment, just to repeat the cycle the next day.

There are things I could do to interact with people — take up a hobby, join a club. But those things cost money (supplies, transportation) and I am a cheapskate.

This year, I said goodbye to familiarity and hello to opportunity and independence, and all of the challenges that accompany it.

And while there are times I wished I had someone to talk to, there are obvious advantages of living alone.

It’s quiet, so I’ve gotten quite a bit of reading done. I’m becoming better at cooking, and experimenting with new recipes. And I don’t have any sloppy roommates to share a bathroom with.

Sometimes, independence is worth the struggle.

We must first experience the bad to see good grow out of it.

One last goodbye

The final thing I’m saying goodbye to this year is my car. Just like Mom’s fall back in January, I didn’t see this coming.

I had a 2002 Subaru Outback. I knew it was a matter of time before something went wrong, but I was praying the car would make it through winter.

Then one Sunday, I saw white smoke coming from under the hood. Not good. I thought it might just be snow blowing around the parking lot, as we had our first taste of fresh powder the day before.

But I saw more smoke the next day. There was a new foul odor. Another day of smoke, this time more.

So I checked my oil. Full and clean. That’s when I noticed the coolant was completely empty. Uh-oh.

I took it to a mechanic but had to wait until after Christmas to find out the diagnosis. My research told me it wasn’t a quick fix.

The mechanic confirmed my hypothesis. A broken axle and a leaky head gasket, over three grand to fix on a car only worth two.

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The first time I parallel parked my Subaru; August 2013, Burlington, Vermont. Photo credit: Nick Lemon.

I know these things happen to nearly 15-year-old cars. But my car only has 83,000 miles on it, and I feel it still has a lot of life to live.

Unfortunately, I can’t take that chance. So I’m shopping for another car.

At first, I was majorly bummed my car was out of commission. I felt like a burden asking so many people for rides.

And while this purchase will hurt financially, there are so many positives. Now I won’t have to worry about getting stranded on the side of the road. All of the newer cars have an auxiliary input, a compass and an electronic dashboard — features I couldn’t enjoy with my old car. And now I’ll have a reliable car to travel the country with.

We must first experience the bad to see good grow out of it.

Bring on 2017

While 2016 had its challenges, it was also a year of growth, of opening myself to new opportunities and learning to roll with the changes we simply have no control over.

It’s crazy to think I got through this year sober. I have never had a problem with alcohol and have never touched drugs, but to be a 23-year-old working in the journalism field, well, anyone would tell you I’m crazy.

But I did it.

I actually went to a bar for the first time this year. Two, actually. Both times were for work-related events. And neither time I chose to drink. That, my friends, is one big check mark.

Do I expect 2017 to be easier? No.

In the new year, I will continue to overcome obstacles and learn from life’s experiences. I will work through the tough days, even if only to look back on them and say I made it out alive.

In 2017, I will continue to experience the bad to see the good grow out of it.

A First Time For Everything: A Hiatus

This is the 45th post on my blog. For 45 weeks straight, I have written and shared with you my new experiences, even though I’ve been doing these First Time Fridays for over a year — 60 weeks, to be exact.

It is with great sadness that I tell you I’m not sure when my next post will be, if ever. You see, I’ve run out of new things to do.

That’s not completely true. I still want to travel west to California, write a book, and learn how to make guacamole. But these are all things I can’t presently achieve — life, including work and other responsibilities, makes it difficult to continue trying something new on a weekly basis.

Okay, I could probably learn how to make guacamole right now, but have you seen the price of avocados?! A girl’s gotta make bank before she can splurge, especially on something that’s not a necessity.

This whole First Time Friday idea started back in August 2013 when I had fro-yo for the first time. If you had told me then that that experience would turn into a blog and over a year of new experiences, I would have laughed.

Looking back, I realize many of the firsts I blogged about were a bit trivial; how many times can you try a new restaurant and make it exciting? But some of these experiences were genuinely life changing. For starters, you can only get on a plane and fly solo to Chicago for the first time once in your life. You can only try coffee once, and your first experience as a college grad only happens a single time in your lifetime.

This post is partially inspired by Bob Goff, who quit something every Thursday. I can’t say for sure that I’m “quitting” this blog, but I am definitely taking a break from it, a hiatus. I am not one to ever quit on something, but it’s time to try something new — even if that means giving something up — and that means not blogging every week.

This decision wasn’t an easy one to make. I wanted so badly to make it to a straight year of blogging. I still want to continue to challenge myself and try new things. And I will, just not on a regular weekly basis.

Perhaps in the future I will have the funds to achieve all of my goals. I pray for a future filled with new activities, happiness, and one spent with friends and family.

Thank you all for reading and coming along on these journeys with me. It was with great pleasure that I documented and shared this part of my life with you.

Below are some of highlights of my First Time Friday blogging experience:

photo 1 (3)Alex has been a part of First Time Fridays more than anyone else.

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Words to live by.

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Vermont will always be beautiful.

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This is my shortest post, at only 69 words long, but this selfie with Lou DiMasi is my most popular post, with 152 views.

Trader Joe’s: Missed Opportunity Not A Loss

In middle school, I went shopping with my friend Katie and her mom. I can’t remember if we went to Westchester or Paramus, New Jersey, but either way, it was an area with different stores than we have near us.

After perusing all of the high-end retail stores, her mom made a quick stop at Trader Joe’s.

Whenever I went to Katie’s house, they always had something delicious to eat from Trader Joe’s, a grocery store I had never heard of.

Unfortunately, after that day at the mall, Katie and I decided to look in the store next door while her mom went grocery shopping, meaning I never got to experience the specialty that is Trader Joe’s.

While in Vermont for Alumni Weekend two months ago, I finally had the pleasure of experiencing all that is Trader Joe’s for the first time since a store had just opened in South Burlington.

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I went with my friend Amber, who had a little bit of grocery shopping to do. While she went around crossing items off of her list, I wandered around, wondering what was so special about this store.

They had a lot of frozen foods, and a lot of cheap wine. I like the packaging of their foods, but since I was only visiting Vermont for one more day, I didn’t really need any food.

However, I did like that they have an entire aisle devoted to granola. I ended up buying a bag of Simply Almonds, Cashews & Chocolate Trek Mix, which was delicious; despite their “great food and great prices,” $4.99 was a little more than I’d ordinarily spend on granola, so I thought of it as a treat to myself.

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Amber did get a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables for a lot cheaper than she would have at a competing grocery store, so I’ll give them that.

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While in Connecticut last month with my brother for our Boston adventure, we stopped at the Danbury Trader Joe’s so he could experience the store for the first time.

He wasn’t impressed at all with it, and again I found myself at a grocery store with no real purpose. We did end up getting more granola (a different kind) and some Cliff Bars, so the detour wasn’t a complete waste.

Trader Joe’s is a nice store and I like their unique checkout system, but since we don’t have one in our area, it won’t be a store I frequent too often.

The Power of Prayer

Those of you who have read my past blog posts know of my experiences exploring religion. It all started when I made the decision to attend church in middle school. In the years that followed, a complete stranger gave me a rosary, and I even attended LEAP, a Christian retreat, one year ago.

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The LEAP experience got me thinking a lot about faith, which I connect to praying, something I thought I’d never do.

See, back when 13-year-old me went to Mass with my friend and her family, I didn’t understand praying, why people prayed for others, or even how to pray.

I always thought there was a specific way a person was expected to pray. I thought it was something you had to be taught, and something proper that needed to be taken seriously.

It wasn’t until a year ago that I discovered prayers are just a conversation with God.

I had always thought that since I wasn’t brought up with a strong faith, my “prayers” somehow wouldn’t be authentic — as if religious people could directly call God’s extension to pray, and everyone else (non-religious people like me) got sent straight to voicemail.

I can’t remember the first time I prayed, but for the first time, I feel comfortable praying.

None of this was possible until I experienced praying with others. My friend Greg prayed with me before I gave my talk on LEAP, and during finals week last semester. Actually hearing someone else’s prayers gave me a better idea of how others pray, which made me feel confident in saying my own prayers.

Now, I pray for myself and my family, but also for others. I have friends going through hard times, and I pray for them. Most importantly, I tell them that I’m sending prayers their way.

Never in my life would I have imagined myself saying and doing these things. That is the power of prayer.

For example, two days ago at work, a co-worker who I see only once or twice a month asked how my job search is going. At the end of our conversation, she said she was praying for me. I was touched by her comment. I never thought that someone I see so infrequently would ask God to help me with my career.

The power of prayer is more than we’ll ever know. Praying is a way to keep others in our thoughts, and to stay positive even in difficult situations.

Since this weekend is the LEAP retreat, I’m sending my prayers to the Team and Candidates for a great weekend filled with peace, love and warm fuzz!

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The Best Things In Life Are Free

Writing has always been a part of my life, no matter how hesitant I am to admit it. Becoming a writer — and even learning to call myself one — is a dream that seemed rather unlikely to happen, but one that is quickly becoming my reality.

Freelance writing has always seemed particularly unreachable to me. So you sit and write from home? That’s nice, but what fun is that? To me, freelance writers have proven that they’ve made it in the industry and have earned the right to work at their own convenience.

When my former editor at The Poughkeepsie Journal asked me to be a freelance writer, I was shocked and also very excited.

I have always grown up with The Poughkeepsie Journal. Every morning I’d wake up and find the paper sitting on our dining room table.

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I perused it as I ate breakfast. At first, it was just the comics. But when I entered middle school, I started scanning the sports highlights, and by high school, was reading the whole paper.

In college, I began writing for the TeenVerge column. When I graduated, I figured I’d move on to something bigger and better at a different company. But I was wrong; I’m back writing for the Journal.

I’m officially a freelance writer, and I’m a columnist again, too. Now I’ll be contributing to the “Our Turn” column, and this past weekend my first freelance story was published!

My first story features a local couple that met at a roller rink, and who frequently skate there. They decided to get married, and of course the ceremony happened at the rink! It was fun to hear their love story and writing the piece was great.

Check out the full story here:

http://www.poughkeepsiejournal.com/story/news/local/2014/10/24/couple-hyde-park-roller-rink/17863179/

Freelancing for the Journal will get me one step closer to reaching my dream of being a writer; I can only hope that this gig will provide an opportunity to meet more interesting people and experiment with different styles of writing — and all while working at home.

All American

While in Vermont for Alumni Weekend, I had the opportunity to enjoy American Flatbread for the first time with my friend, and former roommate, Amber.

I had never heard of American Flatbread until all of my college friends began talking about the new restaurant opening downtown. Amber and I went on Sunday afternoon, which ended up working out well, as neither of us had dinner plans.

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Since it was such a nice day, we sat outside, which was probably a good thing; I just read an article that claims the building American Flatbread is located in is haunted with ghosts and spirits. I’m not at all a fan of scary movies or apparitions, so I’m glad we had the option to sit outside.

The restaurant asks that patrons do not take pictures, so I was only able to snap a quick one of the delicious pizza we ordered.

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We decided on a free-form flatbread with green peppers. Every ingredient on the menu is natural, as their philosophy is to serve good-for-you and sustainable foods. While their prices were pretty fair considering the quality of the ingredients used, I wish they had put more peppers on the pizza!

Amber and I chatted as we scarfed down our meal. Currently, Amber is student-teaching in a middle school, so I got to hear about her experiences thus far. She sure is busy (especially with all of that lesson planning and reflecting!), so I was super happy she took some time to relax and eat good food!

All in all, it was a great meal, and a great excuse to catch up with Amber. If you ever find yourself downtown, I highly suggest checking out this new eatery!

When You’re Here, You’re Family

Post-grad life was starting to seem the same only five months after graduation. Get up and go to work. Come home, eat a late lunch. Go to second job. Come home. Write. Go to bed. And then do it all over again the next day.

When Alex texted me about possibly meeting up for dinner, I was beyond stoked.

Alex and I quickly became friends a year ago after our mutual friend, Merrill, introduced us. We ended up graduating together, and, fortunately, live only about an hour apart. I saw her once over the summer, but it was only briefly, as she helped me navigate the subway system and find my way to JFK airport.

Alex works in the city and was coming to my neck of the woods for a business conference. We made plans to eat at Olive Garden, one of Alex’s favorites, and a restaurant I had never been to.

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Last week, I picked Alex up from the Culinary Institute of America (where her work gig was) and drove to Olive Garden.

Although I don’t keep in contact with Alex on a daily or even weekly basis (aside from SnapChats), we immediately picked up where we last left off. She told me about her job and how the conference went, as well as how much she loved her tour of the Hudson Valley. I told her about Alumni Weekend (she couldn’t make it) and how different, yet the same, campus is.

There we were, in the middle of Olive Garden at 9 o’clock on a Tuesday night. Alex was wearing a dress and a blazer, and I had on a dressy shirt and dark jeans. Alex’s hair was straight and mine was curled, but we both wore make-up. We looked good, but even more than that, professional.

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Our waiter served us salad and breadsticks, which were softer and more garlic-y than I had expected. And still we talked, exclaiming over new revelations and sharing stories from our work experiences.

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Soon, Alex’s penne & shrimp and my chicken fettuccine alfredo came, followed even sooner by the check. The clock reminded us that Alex’s train would be leaving soon, even though neither of us could stop talking.

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If this is what post-grad life entails, then I’ll take it. I was so happy to see my college friend and to have dinner with her after a long day of work, and all a stone’s throw from where I grew up.

I got Alex back to her train with time to spare. The train station was eerily deserted, yet those high-backed benches reminded us of one thing: the connector in Dion. Someone finally agrees with me that those benches belong in a train station.

Alex and I goofed off, taking random pictures with random signs as I pretended to know which track her train would depart from. It felt like I was repaying the favor for all of her help getting me to my flight on time in May.

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As we hugged goodbye on the cement platform, we promised to make plans to see each other again, reminding ourselves that no matter where we physically are in life, we’ll always be friends.

Beans In Beantown

Last week, I had a job interview for a company located just outside of Boston. Since I didn’t want to spend eight hours in the car driving by myself, my lovely twin brother, Chris (my nickname for him is Beans and I almost never call him by his given name), agreed to adventure with me.

Since moving away to college three short years ago, I haven’t been able to spend a lot of time with my brother, who I grew up with and who has always been there for everything. It seemed that every time I came home from college for break, he still had class or work.

I’ve been home for almost five months now and we still haven’t had a whole lot of sibling bonding. Chris and I have very different work schedules, and he’s still in school, so finding time to hang out or do anything together is pretty difficult. To say the least, I was excited for this trip.

Usually when I drive to Massachusetts, I take the Mass Pike. However, Chris and I both agreed that Massachusetts (and New York) tolls are expensive and that we needed a change of scenery, so we agreed to journey through Connecticut. Also, my brother and I really wanted to stop at Trader Joe’s, so Connecticut was the obvious route to take.

I was nervous about taking this less direct route, but excited because I had someone else to share the experience with. I was also curious about what our choice of music would be, since I made Chris listen to an entire Beyoncé album when he drove home with me after I moved out of college, which he did not like at all.

We left our house at 7:20 in the morning, leaving more than enough time to get to my interview, which was scheduled for noon.

Almost immediately after merging onto I-84, we hit commuter traffic and rain. I hate driving such high speeds in the rain. I’ve been meaning to get new windshield wiper blades, as the ones I currently have don’t do a great job clearing my window. To say the least, the rain made me dread the rest of the journey, especially when Chris told me we were driving straight into the storm.

This is what our view looked like:

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I also hate passing trucks in the rain because all of the water gushes at your windshield from their tires. Plus, watching the wipers pass back and forth across the window can become quite mesmerizing.

For a while we drove without conversation, listening to the radio. When that station faded, we scanned for another good set of tunes, all while squinting to admire the beautiful fall foliage.

When we hit Hartford, we arrived at more traffic and an accident. I don’t think it’s ever taken me 15 minutes to drive two miles, but that day it did. I was happy we had left so early.

Chris and I listened to a strange rap song as we laughed at other drivers. When we could finally rubberneck at the scene of commotion, we saw a few firemen, some police officers and one septic tank.

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Three hours and 55 minutes later, we arrived at our destination, with 30 minutes to spare. Our next obstacle was to find a bathroom to relieve our aching bladders. It was still raining, and my brother had not taken his rain jacket with him, an unwise decision.

We jumped over puddles, wandering past high-end boutiques until I spotted a restroom from the window of one café. After using their bathroom, I was informed that it was for paying customers only; since I looked a little haggard in my sweatpants and hooded rain coat, the snooty lady, luckily, didn’t give me a hard time when we silently slipped out the door.

After a quick change of wardrobe, I headed to my interview as my brother went to peruse the bookstore across the street.

I think the interview went well. The guy who interviewed me was easy to talk to and asked a lot of questions about my past work experience. He told me a lot about the company and even several interesting things about the local area.

Over lunch, my brother told me about the investing book he purchased at the bookstore and we discussed my interview.

Soon we were back on the road. The drive home featured much better weather; while it was still raining, it was only a drizzle. Plus, we jammed to Ed Sheeran and saw more interesting things, such as a mariachi band and even a New Mexico license plate!

I don’t think I’ve seen a NM plate before, and it was so funny how many times my brother tried to get a picture of the plate before getting a clear enough one (the one below we snagged while sitting in more traffic).

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And of course we had our Trader Joe’s stop! This was my brother’s first time to the store, and I don’t think he was very impressed by it. I mean, we didn’t exactly have a reason to go grocery shopping, although we did get some trail mix and granola bars.

Finally, we stopped at Cracker Barrel for dinner. I swear our waiter thought we were dating, since we were seated near the window, away from other diners, and by the fact that our waiter left the check closer to my brother than to me.

Even though I can’t remember all of our topics of conversation on the way home, I know we laughed far more than we did on the drive up, and we even took a nice sibling photo to document the trip.

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This is the first time I’ve traveled a long distance for a job interview. I have yet to hear back from the company, but even if I don’t get the job, I’m glad I got to spend the day adventuring with my brother.

I Love Garlic

It’s true. I love garlic on my pizza, in my spaghetti sauce…garlic knots, garlic chips, garlic dip…I’ll eat it all.

So it made sense for my mom and I to visit the Hudson Valley Garlic Festival in Saugerties. This was the festival’s 25th year; what started as a group of 425 garlic enthusiasts gathering to promote Pat Reppert’s herb business has turned into a celebratory event with crowds reaching over 45,000!

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My mom and I entered festival grounds minutes after the gates opened and there were already thousands of people walking around, sampling dips and eating garlic products.

We decided to peruse the garlic vendors before the crowd grew bigger. In addition to various samples of raw garlic, dips and salsas, the vendors were selling various maple and fall (pumpkin) products.

I didn’t dare try any raw garlic at 10 in the morning, but I did enjoy the pretzels and dip. I tried bacon ketchup, and even bought a bottle for my brother.

Next, my mom and I perused the craft vendors. I don’t need garlic t-shirts or cooking aprons, but there was one vendor selling personalized license plate mounts that I really loved. They had several bins of cut-up license plates, and you could pick through them to select whichever state/character you wanted to create your own license plate. It’s an awesome idea, but I wasn’t willing to spend so much money on a piece of art.

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After all of this browsing, we decided it was time for lunch. Since we had to pay to get into the festival, we decided to bring our own sandwiches to save money. We did enjoy garlic fries and apple fritters, though!

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At the end of the day, my mom and I left with some garlic powder samples, garlic dip mixes and pure maple cream. Just as we were about to leave, I decided I wanted to be adventurous and try garlic ice cream.

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That might be the only garlic food I don’t like. I love vanilla ice cream — but add chunks of garlic, and suddenly I’ve changed my mind.

My mom and I had always talked about going to the Garlic Festival; now that we have, we can share with others all of the garlic products available in the Hudson Valley.

Back On Campus

Last weekend I journeyed back to SMC for Alumni Weekend. Surprisingly, this wasn’t my first time on campus as a graduate, but it was the first time I was on campus as a grad with school in session.

Some people were beyond excited to see me around; others gave me funny looks, as if I shouldn’t have been there. Regardless, I was so happy to reunite with old friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen since before they spent a semester abroad.

I had a handful of new experiences that weekend, most notably, staying in a townhouse. In my “senior” year, I lived in a suite. I had friends who lived in townhouses, and although I visited their homes often, I had no reason to spend the night there.

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I stayed in #TH214 with my friends Cait, Merrill, Alex and Lauren, who, yes, even started a hashtag for their house. As usual, I washed all of the dirty dishes after our family-style dinners as we talked and talked about our lives. It was so nice to lodge with some of my favorite people on campus, and I truly felt at home in their house.

My time on campus and in the townhouse were great. I never thought I’d get to catch up with so many different people all at once, nor did I think we could execute another Roommate Recap — but we did and we went to Moe’s!

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Alumni weekend was honestly one of the best weekends I’ve had all year. Stay tuned to see what other new experiences the weekend brought me!