Author Archives: Sarah Lee

About Sarah Lee

Hi, I'm Sarah! I am a junior Neuroscience student in GPPA Medicine who is still trying to figure out exactly what I want to do in my life. One day I want to be fluent in Russian and explore Eastern Europe. In my free time, I love running, playing piano and guitar, and reading. I currently live in Courtyard residence hall as a Peer Mentor but my home is in Naperville.

The secret to happiness: just one tennis ball

♪♫♪ I’m a new soul, I came to this strange world / Hoping I could learn a bit bout how to give and take…

I know I’m very lucky to be able to go to school in a city so close to home. On a good traffic-less day, Naperville is only an hour away from UIC, so my parents are able to come visit me pretty often, and they often visit me and bring me food or all miscellaneous items I was scatterbrained enough to forget. And when I do want to go home, it’s never far, just a short train or car ride away. I do my best to find a happy medium between spending time with friends, learning to be independent, and experiencing Chicago, and going home to familiar surroundings in the safe suburbs of Naperville. But I’ve never been one to be homesick because there is so much going on in the city around me. And to be honest, there’s not very much for me to miss in Naperville because I see my parents when they visit me, my brother is at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, and all of my friends are at various colleges.

He always looks like he's smiling, especially with his tennis ball! :)

But there is one friend that I always miss with my whole heart when I’m not home: Charlie.

Charlie is my neighbors Don and Caren’s dog, and he is hands down the happiest dog I know. Rarely do I step outside my house and not see him pacing his lawn back and forth, eagerly greeting all of his neighborhood friends with a tennis ball in his mouth. Everyone in our subdivision knows and loves Charlie, and he knows and loves everybody too. Many dog-walkers and their dogs stop by to say hello to Charlie because they know how well-behaved and friendly he is with other dogs and people. While he is just naturally very good-natured, I’m sure this is also in part due to Don’s unparalleled ability to train dogs to behave and listen to him so well. Growing up just across the street since I was a kid, I have seen Don and Caren raising their dogs to be the most friendly and obedient dogs in the neighborhood. Charlie is no exception, and he is able to lounge about the front lawn without a leash because he has been so well-trained to be friendly with others and to stay out of the street.

Of course Charlie has friends everywhere, but since Don and Caren live directly across the street from us, my mom and I like to believe that Charlie gets especially excited when he sees us! Both my mom and I are constantly dropping whatever we’re doing and going over to visit and play with him. He is even able to recognize my mom’s car and know when it is her turning into the street!

Hanging with one of my best friends

Charlie loves to play with my mom because he knows that sometimes he might even get a treat from her. Whenever my mom or I leave our house or return home, we are almost always greeted with the uplifting sight of Charlie on his lawn with his tail wagging quick as a whip, eagerly waiting for us to come over and toss the tennis ball for him to play. And boy, does he love to play with that tennis ball! Usually whenever I get home from the grocery store, the YMCA, or anywhere at all, I rush across the street so that I can greet him with a big hug and kiss. I’ll then spend some time just throwing the ball to Charlie as far as I can, into the next lawn, over and over and he will always find the energy to sprint to it, find it, and bring it back to me. I typically tire out first, and once I sit down on the grass, he often lays down next to me, still chewing on his ball. Over the years, Charlie has surely gone through countless tennis balls, and there’s always a few lying around the front lawn! But it doesn’t matter which one he favors that particular day because as long as he has a tennis ball in his mouth, he’s truly the happiest dog alive.

Just gliding through the water

Before I had to come back to UIC for summer courses, Don was kind enough to take me along to see Charlie swimming! As Don explained to me, almost all dogs love to swim, but Labrador Retrievers like Charlie especially love to swim, and are very talented at it because they even have webbing between their toes to help them. Don always told me how much Charlie loved to swim too, so I was so excited to be able to see it up close and personal! One sunny Saturday morning, Charlie hopped into the back seat of Don’s car and we drove to a pond just a few minutes away from our street. Once we reached the edge of the pond, Don threw the ball far into the water…and it took almost no time at all for Charlie to leap in right after it! It was astounding how strong of a swimmer he was, and within seconds he retrieved the ball, swam back, and climbed back out, dripping wet and looking as happy as any dog could be. After shaking off all the water (onto Don and me!) he was ready right away for another round of swimming. For the next hour, Don and I took turns playing fetch with Charlie by the pond, and I was able to see just how much Charlie loved to swim. Don also showed me a little bit of how he trains Charlie by commanding him to stay after the ball is thrown and wait (with a great deal of patience) until Don allows him to chase after the ball. A couple of times, Charlie would be too eager to get his ball back, and he would jump the gun and leap in the water early. Then Don would hold him back and command him again vocally with hand motions, and Charlie would learn very quickly what he was supposed to do. After a couple of tries at sounding stern, I was also able to get Charlie to listen to my commands! It really shows how obedient and smart he is, especially when he’s able to discern Don’s commands by hand gestures alone. After spending some time running in the sun to dry off, we drove Charlie home for his bath…it was a fantastic day for all of us!

My neighbor Don with his dog Charlie

So whenever it’s time for me to go back to the city, I probably miss Charlie more than anything else in Naperville. Dogs are just so wonderful, always channeling such a carefree, bubbling joy that’s absolutely contagious. Whenever I’m around Charlie, I can’t help but smile and forget about all of my worries and stress for the moment. I just enjoy my time with one of the biggest sources of pure happiness I know. Playing with Charlie and other dogs always makes me believe that things like animal-assisted therapy are so effective because of this — because people are able to grow from the special kind of positivity that only animals can provide.

In other news, in Chicago, all is going well so far with classes, research, and apartment life. I’m enjoying the sense of freedom again that comes with living the city. Being productive is a good feeling! Classes are going super fast since everything is sped up during the 8-week summer session. I’m really glad I read ahead because it makes staying on top of things a lot easier. It’s also much less stressful to balance schoolwork with working in the lab for about four hours every day. So far everything I have done has been very interesting! In my lab, the researchers are working on developing drugs for Alzheimer’s disease. It’s fascinating to me because it feels like for the first time I can finally see all the concepts I spent so long learning in organic chemistry put into real work in a medicinal chemistry lab. My supervisor is a graduate student named Emily who is so smart and patient — I’m learning a lot from her! As I’m slowly picking up the new techniques, I’m looking forward to getting some more independent lab work in the weeks to come. Between lab and school, lots of new challenges are coming, and I’m excited to meet them. It’s only been a couple weeks, but I’m also looking forward to going home for my mom’s birthday and 4th of July next week!

And of course, I know that I will have one big, happy friend waiting for me too. ☺

But since I came here, felt the joy and the fear / Finding myself making every possible mistake ♪♫♪

(New Soul – Yael Naim)

The acceptable uses of cheese

♪♫♪ And if you do, then you’re my friend, and if you don’t, then you’re my foe / And if you are a deity of any sort, then please don’t go~

And so, my one carefree month of summer has dwindled down, and now I must begin a much more scheduled lifestyle of classes and research work. How did the last four weeks happen so quickly and yet also slowly at the same time?! On the one hand, it feels like forever ago that I was wrapping up finals and closing up the residence halls with my fellow staff for the school year. On the other…where did all of my time go? It really does fly away when you’re not paying attention. But the truth is, I know where it all went…my four short weeks have been comprised of the following: learning guitar, baking dozens of desserts, two seasons of American Horror Story, lots of miscellaneous movies and books, season two of Orange is the New Black (binged in one weekend…oops), going to super fun Bodyjam dance classes at the YMCA, playing with the neighbor’s awesome dog, and last but sadly not least, getting quite out of shape by eating aforementioned baked goods.

So in truth, I can’t complain! I’ve lived up the last few weeks to the fullest by spending lots of time with loved ones, doing much that I hoped to do, and most importantly, taking a break from the constant rigidity of classes, meetings, and work. It was recharging to be able to wake up without my multiple phone alarms for once. Although, I do admit it was still hard for me to completely forget about school…I still ended up doing some preview work for my summer classes. I mean, it’s kind of hard not to feel guilty when I see my brother, busy grad student that he is, still hard at work and studying even after his classes have finished. And I’m sure many of my hardworking friends do the same. It’s hard to completely let go of responsibilities in the summer and just forget everything, but I don’t believe that’s not a bad thing. It’s good to look ahead and prepare yourself. At least for me, a lot of planning and micromanaging serves to ease my stress in the future, and I’m glad I spent some time studying too because now I feel even more ready for my summer courses, especially psychology. And I know I need all the preparation I can get…

But then the other day, it suddenly dawned upon me that with no meal plan, I would have to somehow cook and actually provide myself food this summer, and the sad truth is that the amount of recipes that I can “cook” would provide poor sustenance for any human being. I’m trying to scramble and learn some recipes…but it seems that most of my meals for the summer (other than eating out, which I want to limit to only weekends at the most) will consist of mostly oatmeal, salads, sandwiches, and soups, and maybe a little bit of rice or pasta. I want to eat as healthy as possible, which shouldn’t be too difficult since I’m limited in both finances and my abilities of food preparation. I mean, combined all together it’s hopefully enough for me to live on…right? Haha or perhaps I will scrape some time together to learn from my roommate Chevelle, who is quite adept at making her own meals. Now I really regret not spending more time in the kitchen with my mom when I was younger!

Now, in regards to food and eating, there is something else that I want to bring up. Whenever I mention this to my friends, I am usually met with harsh reprimands and disapproving looks of disbelief, accompanied by what’s-wrong-with-you?! remarks…but I am prepared to stand by it firmly, even if it ends longtime friendships:

I do not like cheese. At all.

Maybe this is insignificant to some people, but I happen to be good friends with some hardcore cheese lovers; and when I divulge my aversion to…curdled milk, it’s as if I just said I hate newborn puppies, or I made a personal attack on their core values in life. But I can’t help it. I don’t like cheese — I don’t like the taste, I don’t like how it looks, and perhaps most of all, I don’t like the awful, awful smell. The scent of cheese is enough to make my stomach turn over and make me nauseated. Even a single slice of cheese will taint the most perfect sandwich for me because somehow the rancid flavor permeates pass every other delicious ingredient to reach every one of my taste buds. If I ever find an unexpected dollop of cheese in my food — especially if it’s the absolute worst of them allblue cheese – it will certainly ruin my entire meal and leave my palate feeling remotely violated, even if I try to cleanse my mouth with something I love and cherish, like chocolate.

I know, I know…I’m being overdramatic. I’m being spoiled. This is Ms. First World Problems checking in right here. But this is not a topic to make light of with me! I will say it again and again: I detest cheese. And also, if you stop and think about it, do you realize just how many foods come with cheese? I have to always be on guard when I order food anywhere and everywhere lest I ever forget the critical phrase: “No cheese, please.”

Then, as always, come the inevitable comments…“But you like pizza, and that has LOADS of cheese.” Oh, I know, my friends. I am well aware. But pizza also has sauce, grease, toppings, crust, and loads of other delectable ingredients that make it holistically oh so delicious, and in a rare case like pizza, cheese can complement the taste. Indeed, there are a few rare exceptions to my no-cheese lifestyle. My only thought is that these are inexplicable anomalies that my taste buds have found a strange, unlikely coexistence with. Which is why through the years I have culminated a list of acceptable uses of cheese that are — at the most — tolerable to my tastes. And these are the only morsels of cheese that I have voluntarily allowed to pass through my lips without gagging. In my book, the acceptable uses of cheese are:

  • Pizza — as aforementioned, cheese does not hinder its deliciousness. Pizza is awesome, and makes Chicago, land of the deep dish, so wonderful to live in. But still…I would NEVER order that “extra cheese” option.
  • Grilled Cheese — PROVIDED THAT it is accompanied with warm, yummy tomato soup. They must come in a pair for me, or else the grilled cheese is still not appealing to me. Also I would just like to insert the fact that the grilled cheese at the caf kind of terrifies me.
  • Fondue — you know those Nicholas-Sparks-like-stories that feature that one special boy or girl you meet in your life who seems so completely wrong for you logically, and everyone doubts why you two would even be compatible, but when you two are together, it’s like magic and everything just somehow works and the world is beautiful? That is fondue to me. Oh, melted cheese…you just seem so wrong for me, and should be revolting…and yet you are so, so delicious. The Melting Pot is one of my favorite restaurants and if I could go every weekend, I would.
  • Macaroni and Cheese — it’s kind of a hit or miss. Sometimes it is delicious, and by sometimes, I mean when my mom makes it for me☺. Mysterious mac and cheese I’ve never tried before? No thank you…
  • Nachos with cheese — but let’s be real though. That “cheese” is so processed anyway it’s delicious because it’s horrible for you as junk food. But hey, melted cheese just somehow has a hold on my heart.

And so, with this list of acceptable uses of cheese, I have been living a largely cheese-less lifestyle with absolutely no regrets. I’ll have the hamburger please, no, not the cheeseburger. Cheese on my salad? Just say when? WHEN! Stop that cheese grater, no cheese please! String cheese as a snack? Um, I’ll just wait until dinner.

With that off my chest…I hope you enjoyed my light venting in this post! Haha just trying to preserve some vestiges of humor in my life before all the seriousness must kick back in. And cheese lovers, if we can’t be friends anymore…I understand. We got to stand by our principles, right?

Ne me quitte pas, mon cher / Ne me quitte pas ♪♫♪

(Don’t Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas) - Regina Spektor)

Do you hear the people sing?

♪♫♪ Will you join in our crusade, who will be strong and stand with me? / Somewhere beyond the barricade, is there a world you long to see?

When I was around eight years old, I visited Taiwan with my mom and my older brother, who was around ten. I distantly remember this one time when we were perusing through an enormous mall bookstore that was filled with both Chinese and English books, movies, and CDs. I  eagerly pranced about finding my favorite Disney movies and the Harry Potter books in Chinese and entertained myself by trying to read their foreign titles aloud (always needing a little help with my mom of course). Then my mom picked up a DVD and I was puzzled, because I couldn’t seem to pronounce either the Chinese or the “English” name. To my embarrassment, my brother corrected my initial, pitiful guess.

“It’s not ‘less-miseraables,’ it’s pronounced lay miz-er-ahbit’s French,” he explained.

My mom, who recognized the name as 悲惨世界, was very excited to find the DVD, which was a recording of the 25th anniversary performance of the musical. Like nearly all of the other DVDs in the store, the English was Chinese subtitled. She was very familiar with the Hugo story and loved songs from the musical  as well, but none of us had seen the actual musical before. We bought the DVD (which I recall was a really good deal too!) and brought it all the way home to America, and we eventually watched the epic musical for the first time on our living room television.

Since I was in middle school, my mom and I have made our favorite bonding activity together into frequenting all kinds of musicals in Chicago. Throughout the years, we’ve collected several Playbills, including Wicked, West Side Story, Dirty Dancing, Mamma Mia, Cats, Fiddler on the Roof, and The Phantom of the Opera three times (I think…I kind of lost count on that one!). And this not to say either of us are theater buffs or anything like that at all. I couldn’t tell you what upcoming Broadway shows are being anticipated this year, or what shows won Tony awards last week, or who the biggest stars-to-follow are…no, we are just casual theater-goers who love seeing a show with great actors and phenomenal music we know and love. Mainly, I just follow the Broadway in Chicago website and whenever a new show is coming that I recognize and think we would enjoy comes up, my mom and I buy tickets and plan our outing. We are also typically pretty frugal about buying our seats, often sitting way in the nosebleed sections — but it never matters how high up or far away from the stage we are. We always both have a fantastic time watching a fantastic performance. And now, after all these years without seeing one of our favorites, we can finally add Les Misérables to our long list of musicals!

Last week, my mom and I watched the Drury Lane production of Les Misérables in Oakbrook. A few weeks ago, we managed to buy tickets for the very last day of performances. We had never been to Drury Lane before to see a show and didn’t really know what to expect. It took us a little bit of searching on the winding roads to locate the theater, but we made it just in time. The theater is expectedly quite a bit smaller than the theaters in Chicago, but it was certainly no less beautiful inside with lovely chandeliers lining the inside ceiling and an elaborate set. The backdrop had computer-generated backgrounds that actually enhanced the experience. I wished that I could pull out my phone and snap pictures, but I knew indoor photography was strictly forbidden! As we walked down to find out seat, I was struck by how cozy the theater seemed because everyone seemed packed together without being too crowded. There were no balcony seating, just a main floor, and it looked like every single seat was sold out. In only a few minutes, the lights dimmed, cell phones were silenced around us, and the thunderous music began.

Despite buying our tickets a little bit late, we managed to get two fantastic seats! We were in the 5th row up from the front! I even got up before the show started to peer down into the live orchestra pit. It was my first time being so close to the stage and seeing everything so close; I also think that the acoustics and build of the theater helped as well. We were also lucky to find out that Ivan Rutherford, a seasoned Broadway actor, was playing the lead role of Jean Valjean! According to the Playbill, Rutherford has won multiple awards for that role and has performed as Valjean over 2000 times on Broadway. It was truly a treat being able to see him so close. However, my mom was even more enamored by Quentin Earl Darrington, the actor who played the antagonistic policeman Javert, because he had such a timbre, bellowing voice! It really made numbers like Stars and Javert’s Suicide especially thrilling to listen to. The Confrontation actually turned out to be my mom’s favorite part because of how intense the chemistry between Valjean and Javert was…truly electrical!

However, my favorite part, which has been my favorite from both watching the concert musical, the 2012 movie, and now this live production, still remains the scene with the students planning their revolution against the French monarchy! My favorite character has always been Enjolras, the leader of the students who incites them all to rally for justice, and it was so exciting to be able to watch that happen live. The set did a marvelous job of building too, especially with the student’s barricade made from miscellaneous tables, chairs, and barrels stuck together. My favorite song from the whole show is probably Do You Hear The People Sing and any variant of the melody, when all of the men of the rebellion sing together of their resolve to fight for the future. It’s such a motivating melody and always gets my blood pumping…actually, sometimes I even listen to the Broadway recording of it while I’m running or working out. And of course, the tragic story of Eponine and her unrequited love is always captured so beautifully by On My Own, and Christina Nieves really did her character some heartbreaking justice. Another crowd favorite was the adorable little boy Gavroche, whose brave contributions to the rebellion and witty quips of melody were always met with applause!

Whenever the cast sang together, it was equally thunderous and marvelous. The Act I closer One Day More got everyone excited, and when the lights came up for intermission, I couldn’t wait for the second half. The finale of the musical was also phenomenal, first with the spine-tingling, beautiful message from the Fantine-Eponine-Valjean melody (“and remember the truth that once was spoken: to love another person is to see the face of God!”) which ever so slowly crescendos into the reprise of Do You Hear The People Sing as the fallen men of the rebellion once again gather to sing in solidarity. The entire audience was moved to their feet by the last note and the standing ovation continued as the cast bowed over and over again.

As we exited, there was a huge crowd gathered around Ivan Rutherford, who was signing some autographs and selling CDs in the lobby. Although my mom and I avoided the long line, we did pick up some more information about upcoming shows in the theater. All around us people buzzed about how spectacular the show was. And so, my mom and I can now finally cross Les Misérables off our musical bucket list to watch, and I am so happy we did so by coming to the Drury Lane production. Even though we had no idea what to expect, we definitely hope to return here again to watch some more shows to come. It’s a shame we didn’t check out this theater many years earlier!

Do you hear the people sing, say do you hear the distant drums? / It is the future that they bring when tomorrow comes! ♪♫♪ 

(Finale from Les Misérables - Claude-Michel Schönberg)

Old friends on ink and print

Save me, I can’t be saved, I won’t / I’m a president’s son, I don’t need no love

One of the most unbearable, cringeworthy activities for me to do has always been to read my own writing — especially if it was written a long time ago. To my older eyes, my writing always seems immature, foolish, silly, and downright awful at times. I can’t read it like I would any other piece of writing because I’m constantly evaluating it and finding faults with it (and if you follow my blog…why yes, psych majors, I realize I might have a self-esteem issue to resolve haha). And I can usually read no more than a few pages before I put it all down. Usually I tend to avoid this situation at all by letting my old writing sit in a dark room somewhere just gathering dust so that it’s never exposed to the world…

But unfortunately it’s impossible for me not to come across all my old writings when I’m cleaning out years and years worth of junk from my house’s study room, a Herculean task that my mother has been asking me to do for, um, a few years….oops. With some extra time on my hands, I finally took it upon myself to do so, and I began by digging through the piles of old textbooks and notebooks. It wasn’t long before the entire table and floor were covered with a plethora of half-filled, sloppy journals and dozens of weathered, ancient school notebooks that have definitely seen better days. It’s very funny to look back and see my notebooks, homework, and projects from 11th grade AP Human Geography, or AP Calculus, or 9th grade world history, or even 6th grade English class. And it doesn’t take much rummaging to find almost every single essay, in-class or otherwise, I have written for my English classes grades 9-12. Truly, I could have my own Hoarders episode featuring all of the clutter I have accumulated in the past eight years.

It was pretty easy to decide which textbooks to donate/attempt to sell but unfortunately for my wallet, I found most of them were probably very out of date or used (review books for the SAT anyone?). Even though part of me unbelievably STILL wants to keep them as some sort of touchstone or token of memory of whatever class I used them in, I know my mom will not stand for my junk to be rearranged instead of cleaned out! I plan on donating some of the better ones to the local Naperville library because I notice they’re selling old books all the time, but I think some of the AP review books might be salvageable for reuse. Maybe I’ll try to see if some neighborhood kids (who really aren’t kids anymore like I remember) would like to have them. Essentially, getting rid of the textbooks was definitely less concerning than handling the notebooks.

As I picked through which notebooks to keep and which to recycle, I thumbed through the pages and skimmed the words of Sarah age 10-18. Only some of it was legible, much of it was nonsensical, and all of it was nostalgic…and awful to read! While it was interesting to recall certain events or people that I journaled about, even reading the words that I wrote in order to seem like a good writer to myself kind of made me want to crawl in a hole. But at the same time, I could not bring myself to throw even the worst of the journals away, despite knowing that it is extremely unlikely that I would ever open the covers and read it again. And I most certainly do not want anyone to ever come across it and read it either! But just flipping through the pages felt a little bit like stepping into a time machine and meeting younger versions of myself again, hearing my old voices in my head…I ended up spending the entire day perusing though my formative years in scribbled, incomplete journals and half-finished manga and puppy sketches. Looking back I wish I had kept the diligence to actually finish journals and notebooks that I started before starting a new one…but I have always been in love with beautiful journals and want to use a new one! Thinking back to the number of journals I used to buy at Barnes and Noble…it kind of left me with dozens of journals that are a little too used to be donated, but also still empty enough to feel like a waste…

But within all of the half-finished notebooks, I have countless half-started stories that were born from dream journals as well as more organized, fleshed-out stories whose characters sadly never saw an ending. It felt like visiting old friends and becoming reacquainted — it just so happened that I made these friends up in my head. But their dialogue and the “clever” characterization (spoiler alert: hardly any of them are clever) of them were so familiar to me, and I recalled all of the times I had spent class time daydreaming their stories and backgrounds. I pondered briefly over giving them a resolution now by picking up where my writing before left off, but there are far too many stories, and at the same time it also feels impossible because I am not the same writer I was those years ago when their stories began. Elementary school Sarah mostly wrote about anthropomorphic hamsters (probably inspired by Hamtaro — anyone remember those adorable hamsters with eyes that were way too big for their head on Toonami?) and video game/reality crossovers. In middle school, it seems I even had a fanfiction-type phase where I wrote stories that starred characters from my favorite fiction novels, including Animorphs, the Alex Rider novels by Anthony Horowitz, and a slew of Kenneth Oppel novels. While some of these older stories might be endearing, I think my creative writing in high school was nearly unbearable…I’m sorely tempted to dispose of it all! A good bulk of it comes from a Creative Writing course I took my sophomore year of high school, and I must say, a lot of it seems to embody the worst of moody, angsty teenage writing that is cringeworthy indeed. Not that the class was bad! It was actually probably one of my favorite classes I ever took in high school, and I miss the journal times where we would all receive a random prompt to write about without stopping for 10 minutes straight. A lot of gibberish may have come from that, but also a lot of memories and vented ideas as well. In the end, I decided not to throw the creative writing away (what if one day I really do want to reread it?) but I did box it away carefully to keep it hidden from the world.

Reading all of these writings made me feel as if I was reintroducing myself to old friends that I made up in my head and long forgotten and then remembered again, and I can’t stop thinking about all the ongoing stories and plotlines I had circulating in my mind throughout middle school and high school. Why didn’t I write more of them down? Why wasn’t I more careful in preserving them? What about the details that I can’t remember, even now, after trying to refresh my memory?

So today I picked up yet another new journal — but this one I’m determined to finish from cover to cover. Even though I’ve taken to typing of most of my thoughts on my laptop because it seems faster, I want to bring back my old habit of freewriting for the sake of writing and just feeling my pen on the paper moving nonstop, even if I’m only producing more drivel that I will undoubtedly cringe to read in the future. Even if none of it’s “good writing”, it’ll be fun to see how my style has evolved in the past few years and just let my imagination run absolutely wild again.

And who knows, maybe 25-year-old Sarah might find it interesting to read when cleaning time comes around again.

What a lovely day, yeah we won the war, may have lost a million men but we got a million more / All the people, they say

(People Say - Portugal the Man)

Let me serenade you in a lab…(Am I endearing yet?)

♪♫♪ If you were here we’d laugh about their vacant stares, but right now my time is theirs…

Ever since summer started, I’ve felt a little direction-less because there seems a disconnection between what I know what I have to get done and what I actually want to do. I’ve been spending a lot of time lounging about doing semi-productive things that schooltime-Sarah probably could have accomplished much quicker…but even so, I must say that I have gotten a lot of things done that have been on my “bucket list” for quite some time.

In terms of “business” — that is, school, work next year, other important things — one big thing I’m happy about is that I got a research position! That’s kind of a big deal for me because it’ll be my first real research done here at UIC (I participated in summer research at Northwestern a couple years ago but I haven’t done any projects since then.) Although the lab work I did in the past, which revolved around protein expression in prostate cancer, was very interesting, I didn’t always find myself enthused to go to work every day. My time there was also very short, so perhaps I also didn’t feel as involved. As a result, I wouldn’t say that I’ve spent two years avoiding research per say, but I didn’t actually seek it out actively…perhaps because internally I was never really sure working in a lab is something I would want to pursue. I’ve consulted with my wonderful Honors College Faculty Fellow, former professor, and confidante Dr. Cohen (from the GPPA Medicine program) about my dilemma before, and she has always been reassuring to me that research is certainly not something I must do if it doesn’t interest me. But there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to forego research at one of the best research institutions in the country when there are literally opportunities at my fingertips all the time. I spent the last few weeks of school applying and applying for a summer position (often not getting a response at all…which is expected but still disheartening at times), and it was relieving to finally get the emails for some interviews. About a week ago, I got the news that I got a position with UICentre! I headed back into the city last week and already met the graduate student that I will work with this summer and she was very friendly and answered all of my questions and concerns. However, I can’t help but still be quite nervous because during the interview, it was made very clear that if I didn’t do a good job during the first month (which serves as a trial period or sorts) I would be terminated from the position.

“Nothing personal or anything,” explained the professor. “But lab work is just not for everyone.”

However, I’m going to bet on myself this summer and hope that I will be able to be a careful enough person in the lab…I know lab work may not be for me, though. I guess I will find out if it’s something I am competent in as well as something I would like to do this. As for what exactly I’ll be doing in the lab…I confess I’m not quite certain yet! Not very much was explained to me, but I was assured training would come. Here’s hoping that the first month goes well!

Now business aside…all the fun I’ve been having! It might be silly because I spend almost every day at home – I share a car with others in my family so don’t have access much – and often alone because my parents are work and my brother is at the library studying for his own exams. And yet I have been enjoying myself immensely by throwing myself into guitar. I’m afraid I kind of neglected my guitar throughout the school year even though it sat in my room all year long. I would always tinker on my keyboard instead because the piano is much more familiar to me. When I did pick up the guitar, I could barely struggle through a Youtube tutorial. A year ago, last summer, I unearthed my father’s old guitar which had been in the basement for 20+ years and I immediately tried to learn it. Sadly, even after taking a group guitar course all summer, I lacked the drive and time to get really good at the open chords. I could strum and pluck some music in front of me, but that was it.

Well, no more nonsense! I have started seriously practicing at last, and after strumming day after day until my fingers went from callused to numb, I can finally manage a few songs! I feel much more confident about playing several important chords now (namely C, G, D, Dm, E, Em, F, A, Am, and Bm), and luckily, the wonderful thing about guitar is that for many songs you only need to know 4 or 5 chords! Of course, the much more difficult chords are still, literally, beyond my reach (can my fingers even bend that way?!? Ugh, barre chords…) so I have a lot to learn. But just these two weeks have been a huge improvement! However, I am still working on getting my strumming patterns smooth by switching chords faster.

If anyone is looking to start guitar, I suggest finding some easy songs you know by heart and could sing in your sleep and just strum to the melody in your head. I found that to be the easiest way for me to be motivated to practice and get the chord progressions to happen more smoothly. For me…and this might be embarrassing…that song happened to be Ours by Taylor Swift, haha, much to my brother’s disdain for having to listen to me all day. But the song, like many T Swift tunes, only uses 4 chords so it was perfect to start with! After managing that, I started searching online for more and more songs and tutorials that I was familiar with. Now, I cannot stress enough that I really do not have a good singing voice…at all…but I can’t help but love it! So it’s been such fun for me to finally provide my own “backup” and sing to it! (I’ve never been coordinated enough to sing and play piano at the same time, ha.) Lately, my mom keeps coming into my room late at night as I’m still strumming and singing away, asking if I’m about to hold a concert or something haha. And I reply, nope – just having a grand time on my own.

Maybe one day if I’m feeling REALLY REALLY  brave I’ll post something on Youtube or something…but I never imagined I would be able to do something like that. I’ve always been very private when it comes to singing because I’m so self-conscious. But who knows? If I do though, I’ll be sure to keep you all posted and link it here too :)

Until I go back to school on June 15th for summer classes, I’ve got to enjoy the time I have…because then it’ll be back to a rush of classes, studying, and research every day. In the meantime, I’ll probably still keep strumming some old Swiftie favorites ♥

People throw rocks at things that shine / And life makes love look hard / The stakes are high, the water’s rough, but this love is ours ♪♫♪

(Ours by Taylor Swift)

So Daenerys, Goku, and two Elsas walk into a room…

Some nights, courage running thin / Head down, all adrenaline…

Whenever convention time rolls around, I am always a little dumbfounded at first to see such an eclectic mix of characters appear before me. Not that I attend many entertainment conventions usually, but I was excited to be able to go to ACEN last weekend with my brother for the second time! Anime Central, better known as ACEN to all the hundreds of thousands of fans who flock to Rosemont, Illinois, one weekend in May dressed up in the mad mix of cosplays and costumes. This year was my second time attending (I went last year as well) and it is always a fascinating experience to see all of these people congregated to celebrate their love for anime and entertainment. It’s no wonder that it’s the largest anime convention in the midwest, especially when they invite big names in the industry to be at the panels.

To be honest, however, I have found that I have mostly outgrown anime and manga in the past few years. I remember staying up late Friday and Saturday nights in middle school to watch all the new anime on TV (what a strange time before I knew of Netflix and streaming!) and then read all of the corresponding manga as well. Maybe I grew older and just found other interests, but I haven’t been as captivated by anime in the past couple years. Most likely I just became much busier and occupied with school!

In any case, ACEN is truly worthwhile to attend at least once for any fan of entertainment. I love fictional characters, and it’s thrilling to see the crossover mingling of characters that vary from Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad to Disney and Attack on Titan–a wildly popular anime that I think I will find time to watch this summer…I couldn’t look anywhere in the  convention without seeing about five cosplays from it! However, I think what was really most popular was all the Frozen cosplays. It was funny seeing a line of Elsas who all look so similar but also a little bit different crowded together for a picture! It’s really a testament to how friendships are formed over common interests to see complete strangers from all around the country bonding over an episode of Madoka Magica or taking mass photos together because their cosplayed characters match. On the inside of ACEN was a vendor section, where merchandise of all varieties were being sold. Unfortunately, as the ever frugal and broke college student, I can rarely afford anything I want to buy here! But awesome items I saw (and really wanted!) were a Chewbacca bath robe, an awesome Rurouni Kenshin samurai sword replica, Gundam model kits, and of course tons of adorable Pokemon plushies that I always want! (Luckily I do have some semblance of self-control now that I’m older.)

My nerd is showing! But what’s wonderful is that’s what helped me meet so many friendly and colorful people this weekend. Check out just a couple pictures I took of some of my favorite cosplays!










Tonight you’re electrical / Unchained like an animal / And I want you to know / That you’re glitter and gold

(Glitter and Gold – Little Daylight)

Summer Loving

If I could find a way to see this straight, I’d run away to some fortune that I, I should have found by now…

After a looong week of hardcore studying, cleaning up and moving out, and saying goodbyes, I am quite mentally and emotionally drained as well as disoriented. Everything is just about wrapped up now…so what do I do with myself?!? I don’t have another exam to start studying for, or another program to plan, or somewhere I have to be…it’s the strange yet familiar feeling I get whenever a summer or winter break comes around. And I have a whole month of it before I move back to school for the summer 8 week session! I know I should feel content and relaxed for once and enjoy it – which I do – but I think my workaholic side remains a little too high-strung. It’s hard for me to just shake off the feeling that I have some deadline to prepare for. So I decided to make a short list of things that I could do to occupy myself – mostly things that I have pushed back because of school or other “priorities” that got in the way. If you’re also feeling restless, here are some suggestions for you as well.

  • Read a book. Seriously! I’ve been trying to spend more time reading books I just wanted to read for fun. The top of my list right now is the A Song of Ice and Fire series (aka what Game of Thrones is based on!) which I started last summer. But since each of the books are a thousand pages at least, I never got through the entire series. (I got lost somewhere in A Feast for Crows) I got A Dance with Dragons on my Kindle and can’t wait to get started…I have to stay ahead of the HBO show!
  • Watch a movie every day. I’ve had a looong list of movies to watch that only keeps growing. Thank goodness for Netflix – even if they don’t update their selection that often, there’s still plenty to keep me occupied. On my list at the moment are: American Hustle, The Wolf of Wall Street, V/H/S 2, and rewatch all Miyazaki movies (it’s been a while)
  • Learn a new instrument! I’ve been messing around with ukulele for a while now, and it’s one of the EASIEST instruments to learn! A cheap ukulele only costs about 40 to 50 dollars, and the quality is still decent enough to learn on. I suggest checking your local music stores to see if they’re in stock, or perhaps even looking online. I personally use a Makala uke, which is plastic and was on sale when I bought it, but it’s still decent to produce some mellow chords. After learning just a few chords, it’s super easy to just Youtube some simple songs or Google chord progressions.
  • Start a new show to watch! Again, Netflix makes it infinitely (and sometimes too) easy to marathon a series. At least now I don’t have to worry about homework or studying when I binge watch something…other than the remote shame I receive from spending hours in my bed nest when  Netflix prompts me with “Are you still watching ___? Click continue to keep watching.”
  • Go for a swim! It’s crazy to think that the weather was 50-100 degrees lower just a little while ago. (Although I may have to take that back if the weather keeps being unpredictable…) Enjoy the heat by hopping into the local pool or a beach. I haven’t been to a beach in Chicago for years, so that’s definitely on my list to do sometime this summer.
  • Cook/bake a new recipe. Throw something together and try something new! I’ve never been a cook, so I’m hoping to have a few meals down pat before I move into an apartment one day. Now that I’m home, my dad wants me to bake some of his old favorites again – namely muffins and bread.
Have a great start to your summer!


One more spoon of cough syrup now, whoa…

(Cough Syrup - Young the Giant)

Halfway done…

And if you stay I would even wait all night / Or until my heart explodes, how long?

We made it everyone! The semester is finally over, and summer is just around the corner. It’s unbelievable to me, but I’m halfway done with college. This isn’t that impressive, especially when I know people graduating 1 or even 2 years early and going on to graduate or professional schools already, but I still feel nervous knowing that half of my time here is an undergrad is done! I made up my mind when I came in that I wanted to take four years and try to do everything I can within them. On my first night after moving in, I made a long bucket list of things that I wanted to do here as an undergrad living in Chicago, like visiting all the museums in the city, going on an Alternate Spring Break/Global Medical Brigades trip, or even kind of crazy things like running the Chicago marathon or singing with a stranger on the El. And now I’m coming to realize that my second year is coming to a close, and my time has been whittled down to half of what it was and I have not made much progress on my list:

Things I Have Finished So Far…

  • Write for an Honors College publication (hooray for the Ampersand!)
  • Run a half-marathon
  • Continue learning Russian
  • Go to a ballet (Joffrey Ballet’s Russian Masters)
  • See a concert at the Pavilion (Paramore!)
  • Hold a tea tasting program

I try hard not to compare myself with others in my head because I know then I would start re-thinking and second-guessing myself on almost everything I do…it would drive me crazy! But when I look at this long list of things I want to do and realize I haven’t even made a dent in it, I realize it’s time to get myself in gear. What’s ahead for me? Just looking to this summer, I will be taking a couple courses and (hopefully if I can get a housing scholarship) living on campus again – so luckily, I’ll still be around in the city! I’m a little anxious about taking organic chem lab, but I’m still wrapping up with this semester, so it’s still a little early to worry about that, right? In any case, I think I’ll take a few weeks to myself and my family to just take a breath and enjoy my time at home. My summer classes don’t start until mid-June, so I have about a month to recharge and prepare myself mentally. My biggest fear right now is that I’ll be burnt out after taking classes over the summer to be recharged for the fall! Looking at the schedule of things, I’ll jump right from finishing my summer courses into RA/PM training and move in, with only a weekend in between; then after two weeks of training, fall semester starts right away!

But there’s a ton of things I want to do this summer – concerts to see, people to hang out with again, and movies to watch, places to explore – it’s hard not to be excited at what’s coming ahead.

Congrats on finishing your finals, everyone. Go get some frozen yogurt, see a movie, go to the beach, just take it easy – you deserve it. Have a wonderful summer!

Til we find our way in the dark and out of harm / You can run away with me anytime you want

(Summertime - My Chemical Romance)

Ready or not

I see my pretty face in his old eyes…

It’s insane for me to think that soon I’ll be moved out and back home again. All I really need to do is to survive this coming week with the one huge hurdle being the physics final. I’m relieved to say that I should be fine in my other classes, especially after taking the last couple of tests for them. It’s one of the rare times where I’m confident in my grade! Physics, on the other hand, is a whole other situation to worry about…I’ve been doing all the homework and practice problems though, so hopefully that will be enough to keep me afloat.

In the meantime, though, I’m mostly hanging in there by binge-drinking tea and still trying to keep a fairly normal sleep schedule from night to night. (Although I have a terrible habit of falling asleep in my bed with my laptop. Thank goodness I recently switched to a MacBookPro, which shuts down automatically after a while, because my old 5+ years laptop would never do that!) I’m luckily finding that the year is winding down in many ways that allow me to mainly focus on studying. For instance, I held my last program for the year as a PM; also, the Ampersand will soon release its last issue to pickup at the Honors College. With my responsibilities wrapping up for some other activities, I actually find that I have more time to study for once, which is really helpful….because I’ll need it.

Despite the craziness of this past week and the week to come, I managed to have a pretty fantastic week last week! Last Tuesday, I was able to go to the Bulls playoff game against the Wizards! I’m rarely this impulsive, but my friend Adithyan was able to get discount tickets and successfully rounded up a few friends from Commons West last year to go together! It was wonderful seeing them again. Whenever someone moves into an apartment or even a different side of campus, it can become much more difficult to see them on a regular basis, especially when we have none of the same classes! So this really was the perfect reunion event for all of us diehard Bulls fans.

Heartbreakingly, the Bulls lost in overtime (darn free throws…) 99-101, but I still had the best time with my friends just cheering them on until I nearly lost my voice. It’s been years since I went to a Bulls game, but I have always been a crazy fan of theirs. My dad and I have a habit of cheering them on at home (while my mom sometimes rolls her eyes at us!) and we can get quite heated when the score gets close like this. It’s a whole different experience to be a part of that crowd of fans though, and feeling the intense energy of over 20,000 screaming fans is crazy exciting. I rarely go out on school nights because I’m kind of high strung and think that it’s better to spend all my time studying or doing something productive, but this was the perfect choice to help me relax and recharge before buckling down for finals.

The next day,  on Wednesday, was the annual Campus Housing banquet, in which some of the best and most dedicated people on campus are recognized for all they contribute to make living on campus better for everyone. I’m so proud of my friends who were recognized, including fellow blogger Holly, who won BEST RESIDENT ASSISTANT for East Campus! I loved how all people affiliated with Campus Housing were congregated together because the staff members I see the most are of course the Courtyard staff. It was great to see the desk workers and the IT workers as well! My friends and I also had a great time visiting the photo booth again and again.

Finals are looming once again, but for the first time in forever, my spirits are high. Of course I’ll still be anxious over grades and whatnot, but I am nursing confidence within me and brimming with determination to finish the rest of the year strong.

May the odds (or the curve) be ever in your favor, friends!

Will you be my friend in my dream? / Take that pretty face off surely

(Pretty Face - Sóley)

Food for thought

Snow falls, somehow it doesn’t melt boy when it hits you, why? / All this life I’ve been drowned by confusion…

With the school year winding down, I’m finishing up my last few programs. Last week, I held a program called “Food for Thought” to share some easy tips for eating healthy even as a busy college student. One of the most common complaints I hear (and admittedly partake in at times) from people who live on campus is that there is “nothing to eat in the caf.” That’s of course a hyperbole, but it’s true that a lot of things the cafeteria has to offer are unhealthy – pizza, burgers, fries, grilled cheese…it becomes quite unappetizing after living here for semesters or maybe even years. However, after living here for almost four semesters now, I have come up with a few little tips and tricks for myself to still eat relatively healthy and balanced meals with what is available.

  • Portion control — Use a smaller plate! It helps you control how much you’re eating because there is simply less available for you to eat. It’s a simple way to reduce your portions and prevent overeating, which is tempting in our cafeteria which is an all-you-care-to-eat operation.
  • Eat with your friends! — I find that when I eat with my friends, I tend to socialize more which makes the time pass quicker. Overall I leave the caf after eating less and I’m less tempted to get up for more food when I’m laughing and talking with my friends.
  • Balance is key — your plate should be about 1/2 fruits and vegetables, 1/4 protein, and 1/4 carbs (whole grain if possible!). It’s easy to just pick up everything in the entree line without much thought to what you’re consuming, but try to balance your plate out with some salad and vegetables! At breakfast, the cafeteria also offers some delicious mixed fruit.
  • Everything in moderation — Sometimes people who diet decide to impulsively cut out all sugar/carbs/gluten/fat from their diet, but that’s not actually realistic or even healthy. You still want to have a healthy balance of different foods, and instead of completely cutting out unhealthy foods, simply choose to eat them in moderation. A burger, pizza, or cookie now and then is not going to kill you. For me, a tactic that has been helpful before is I consciously decide to eat as healthy as possible from Monday to Friday, but I let myself eat almost anything I’d like on the weekends. That’s usually when I’ll go out with friends, and I’ll enjoy myself without worrying as much about eating as healthy as possible.
  • When you’re done eating…LEAVE! — Don’t linger in the caf! You’ll find yourself going back and getting more food when you’re actually already full and don’t realize it. When you’re done with your plate, consider heading out to class, even if it’s a little bit early.
  • Craving alert — Keep some healthy snacks in your room on hand. You don’t want to be relying on late night food runs or vending machine food when you feel burnt out from studying and have cravings for something sweet or salty.Unfortunately, calories still count during finals week and the middle of the night! Consider granola bars, apples with peanut butter (or any other fruit), popcorn (with very little butter and salt), trail mix, and other healthier alternatives to keep in your room for when you know you’ll want something to munch on as you study.
  • Keep a calorie count — this might be more relevant if you are looking to change your weight, whether that means you’re looking to lose some weight or bulk in muscle. Regardless, it may be a good idea to keep a rough estimate of what you’re eating so you have a mental track of whether you’re over/undereating. There’s a bountiful amount of smartphone apps dedicated for this, but my favorite that I have used before is MyFitnessPal. That one also will deduct calories that you exercise!
  • Water water everywhere — Take advantage of all the water fountains that are installed around the school and keep a water bottle handy in your backpack! One of the easiest ways to immediately decrease your calorie count is to substitute all your drinks for water. Cutting out soda (including diet sodas which are full of aspartame and make you crave more sweets), juices, and other sugary drinks and drinking water will decrease cravings. And of course, it’s much healthier for you overall!
  • ….or tea! — A warm cup of tea is also a very healthy alternative! Green tea contains more caffeine than coffee and is usually healthier because of the tendency to add too much cream or sugar to coffee. Also it’s so delightful to wake up with the smell of a warm cup of tea! If you’re not looking for caffeine, there are plenty of non-caffeinated teas you could find in any grocery store or tea shop!

Making these little changes in my dietary habits has helped me remain health conscious and stay fit. Even little switches have been immensely impactful, like only drinking water and tea, or grabbing a banana instead of a cookie, or keeping a count of calories. Unfortunately for my program, it was little bit of poor planning of me to hold it as the same time as some other popular events going on the same night (namely the Nearly Naked Mile hosted by Commons West – which I heard was fantastic! – and a UIC baseball game). As a result, I didn’t have a very good turnout at all – but I still wanted to some of my ideas with other people!  I hope some of these tips might help your meals be a little bit healthier, especially if you eat in the dining halls frequently.

I’m counting down the days…Good luck studying for finals, everyone!


Say the word and I’ll be gone / I told you I was gonna lose you to the blue

(Waste of Time - MØ)

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