Lessons from 2020

December 31, 2020

2020 has been a challenging year, to say the least. The COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc across the globe. Mask wearing became politicized because the president refused to support public safety measures and instead flagrantly disobeyed health guidelines and spread disinformation. Election week was full of stress. Though millions of Americans rejoiced in Biden's victory, Trump's false claims about a rigged election prolonged the anxieties that should have ended when Biden was declared winner. Racial injustices plagued the summer. White supremacy groups grew more vocal, as the president again refused to condemn their hateful rhetoric. Job losses and food insecurity skyrocketed. 329,000 Americans died from the coronavirus.

As with the end of any year, I believe it is important to reflect on the past twelve months and consider the ways in which you grew, the lessons you learned, and how you plan to carry those areas of growth lessons learned into the new year. In this post, I am sharing sharing some of the many lessons that I learned throughout this tumultuous year. I have gained so much more knowledge than can be detailed in a single blog post, so I am simply sharing the wisdoms that first jumped out to me and that range from rather heavy to seemingly superficial.

1. "It's Crazy How Fast Things Can Change"

Though a bit cliché, this is one of the most important lessons I am taking away from this year. As with millions of people all around the world, I never could have imagined back in January and February what the rest of the year would have in store for the world. The genuine lesson, though, lies not just in the reality that things can change quickly. Instead it is that because things can change so suddenly, it is so important to be present, to be grateful for what you have or are experiencing in the moment, and also just to "live a little." I know I am not the only one who could tell their past self to go out to the movie theater or eat at that restaurant or reunite with your friend or squeeze your family member just a little bit tighter because in a few months, you will really wish you had.

2. Silent Support vs Active Advocacy

With the terrible racial injustices that gripped the summer this year and exposed the systemic racism rooted in our country, I learned that there is a significant difference between being a silent supporter and an active advocate. Often, being a silent supporter means avoiding uncomfortable conversations and difficult situations. Being an active advocate, though, means speaking up, educating yourself and others, and having the courage to engage in those challenging discussions. Only by being an active advocate, though, can we actually achieve change. I hope to do my part by continuing to use my blog to bring attention to important issues.

3. Appreciate the Simple Joys

Blossoming daffodils. Honeysuckle flowers. The shining sun and blue skies. Crossword puzzles. Cooking Purple Carrot recipes. Roaring fires. These are just a few of the many simplicities that brought me joy this year. During the cold months of March and April, when I thought the weather would never warm up, taking notice of the small signs of spring helped me stay hopeful and get through the rainy, grey days to the warmth of summer. While the warmth and freedom of the summer eased some of the pandemic-related stresses, as the fall and winter months approached, I found myself more frequently continuing this practice of appreciating the small joys  whether by jotting them down in a journal or simply pausing to cherish a particular moment — and it helped put my own worries in perspective and get out of some of my "quarantine ruts."

4. Reading is Therapy

Though I have always believed in the therapeutic powers of reading, 2020 reaffirmed this belief. Reading was a way for me to both escape from the tragic and frightening realities of our pandemic-stricken globe and also to keep myself busy and entertained, especially during the lockdown in the springtime months of March, April, and May. Check out my recent post, Books I Read in 2020, to see all of the novels I read this year.

5. Self-care in Companionship

Whether on social media or in a magazine, you have likely heard people express how, despite the challenges of spending so much time at home this year, a positive aspect of being in quarantine was that it gave them time to practice self-care. One of the lessons I learned this year, though, is that spending time with others is the often the most healthy and rewarding form of self-care. Of course, this observation is a bit ironic since the pandemic forced so many of us to be distant from friends and family members. What I mean, though, is that being together with my immediate family — no matter if we were playing a game, watching a movie, cooking dinner, or simply sitting together in the living room — was most effective in combating those feelings of sadness that we all faced this difficult year. Humans are, as has been made clear over the past few months, social creatures, and so simply being together was so valuable and important since we felt so isolated from everyone else.

6. Dates to Look Forward to

I love to travel, and my mom does too. We find so much joy in planning trips, and of course even more joy in the traveling itself. During difficult weeks at school studying for exams or those dark winter months when the cold feels almost unbearable, the prospect of a future trip gave me an extra push to get through the tough days. With COVID limiting travel, I found it challenging to not have an event — whether it be a trip, a visit with a friend, or a night out to dinner — to look forward to. To curb this feeling of the days sort of slowly slipping by, toward the end of the year I began jotting down ideas for small, COVID-19 friendly activities to do that I could look forward to. From exploring the monuments in Washington DC to shopping for a Christmas tree, having small plans was really helpful in breaking the monotony of days spent at home while still staying safe.

Best Memories of 2020

December 27, 2020

In keeping with tradition, I am sharing my best memories from 2020 in photographs. With COVID-19 causing so much pain and suffering across the world this year and so much stress surrounding the election, it is easy to look at 2020 and only remember the terrible tragedies and heightened anxieties. I think it is important, though, to reflect on the year and recall the moments of joy. I hope you enjoy reliving with me my favorite memories from the year and that you will take some time to appreciate your own best moments, too.

Best Memories of 2019

Best Memories of 2018

Books I Read in 2020 (for pleasure)

December 23, 2020

Literature, I believe, is such an integral part of the human experience. Reading reveals the power of the imagination and the ability of words to hold meaning and carry compassion. Especially during times of struggle and hardship, which the world is no doubt experiencing now and has been for the past several months, reading can be a magical escape from reality and immersion into a different world.

As I have done for the past two years at the end of December, I am sharing all of the books I read throughout the year of 2020 for pleasure, including a couple of novels I have read as a part of several reading groups within my school but excluding those that were part of traditional, academic English classes. While I did read many books this year, especially during quarantine, I am hoping to read even more in the upcoming year, and I would love to hear any of your recommendations in the comments.

1. Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I first learned of Adichie in my ninth grade English class when we watched her Ted Talk entitled The Danger of a Single Story. Her speech was informative, enlightening, and inspiring, and I have wanted to read at least one of her novels ever since. In March, I read Half of a Yellow Sun, a historical fiction novel about the Biafran War in Nigeria. I loved the book, and hope to read her essay entitled We Should All Be Feminists and her novel Americanah in the future. 

2. The Plum Tree, Ellen Marie Wiseman

I have always been fascinated by World War II and thus many of the books I have most enjoyed are historical fiction novels set during that time. The Plum Tree is a historical fiction book that follows a young German woman under Hitler's regime and her friend Isaac, the son of a wealthy Jewish family.

3. Cilka’s Journey, Heather Morris

This is the sequel to one of my all-time favorite novels, The Tattooist of Auschwitz. The novel follows Cilka, a character seen in the former novel. Having been charged as a collaborator after Auschwitz was liberated for sleeping with the enemy, Cilka is sent to a Siberian prison camp, where the story is set. 

4. The Alice Network, Kate Quinn

The Alice Network weaves together two tales. Charlie St. Clair, an American student, travels to Europe in 1947 to find her cousin Rose who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France. There, she meets Eve Gardiner, a former member of the spy network that worked to fight against the Germans in the first World War.

5. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Jamie Ford

This is another novel related to the second World War. Unlike the previous, though, this book is set in America. Ford links together two narratives, that of the protagonist Henry Lee as a child in the 1940s and Henry as a widower and father of a college-aged son forty years later. The novel is centered on the Japanese internment camps established during World War II, a terrible part of United States' history that is too often forgotten about.

6. The Color Purple, Alice Walker

The Color Purple, set in early twentieth-century Georgia, follows the lives of African American women. Exploring themes of sexuality, race, and womanhood, The Color Purple is a story of resilience, of struggle, and of love.

7. We Were the Lucky Ones, Georgia Hunter

8. The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah

9. Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein

The three books above are all historical fiction novels set during World War II. I thoroughly enjoyed them all, but the first two were my favorites of the three. 

10. The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd

Another historical fiction novel, The Invention of Wings is a multi-narrative novel set in the pre Civil War era. It follows the story of Hetty "Handful" Grimke, a young slave of the Grimke household in Charleston, and the youngest Grimke daughter Sarah. I really enjoyed the novel, and if you are looking for another book by Sue Monk Kidd to read, The Secret Life of Bees is wonderful, too.

11. Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky 

I have always loved reading classics, but it had been a while since I read one outside of an academic classroom setting. Eager to read a classic and at the recommendation of my mom who ensured me I would enjoy it, I read Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment. While it was no easy read, I really enjoyed reading this novel. As a psychological thriller, it is imbued with suspense and horror, yet also weaves in a mix of humor and tragedy that adds a distinct complexity to a traditional crime novel. 

12. Girl, Interrupted, Susanna Kaysen

Girl, Interrupted is a memoir by Susanna Kaysen about her experience being admitted to an American psychiatric hospital in the 1960s at at eighteen years old after being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. As an eighteen year old myself, it was very interesting to read about Kaysen's experiences in the hospital. She crafted the book in a way that truly allowed the reader to form a connection with herself and the other patients, and she used powerful metaphors and language to describe topics of mental health that encouraged her audience to think about particular issues in new ways. Expanding beyond her own personal experiences, she also touched upon the history of sexism in psychological treatment, an aspect of the memoir I found particularly interesting.

13. Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson

Speak is a young adult novel that deals with the issues of sexual assault and mental health, and is especially impactful in the wake of the #MeToo movement It was quite short in length but also easy and engaging, allowing me to start in finish it in just one day. The author powerfully addressed the issue of sexual assault and the importance of speaking up while also crafting an interesting and enjoyable story that allowed the reader to get to know the protagonist in a meaningful way.

14. The Little Paris Bookshop, Nina George

From Currently: A Grim Resurgence & Recent Reads

The Little Paris Bookshop was a nice, easy read. It was sent to me as a part of the book exchange, and while it was not very plot-heavy, it was still very enjoyable. Centered in Paris and then moving steadily through regions of southern France, this novel incited my already severe wanderlust and love of Europe.  

15. Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys 

From Currently: A Grim Resurgence & Recent Reads

I was also sent this book as a part of the exchange, and I absolutely loved it. If you have seen some of my reading lists, you may know that I have an obsession with reading World War II related novels, and while I enjoy nonfiction, I especially love historical fiction books. Between Shades of Grey is about a young girl who, along with her family, was forced to leave her home in Lithuania and work in a labor camp in Siberia. Most of the novels I read are centered on Hitler's genocide or the war from the perspective of residents of western Europe, and so it was very interesting to read a novel that was focused on Stalin's occupation of the nations surrounding Russia during the war.

16. Want, Lynn Steger Strong

Want by Lynn Steger Strong follows a young mother living in New York City as she struggles to balance being a mother of two young girls with bouts of anxiety and the threat of bankruptcy. The characters are authentic, relatable, and multifaceted, and though the plot is relatively slow, I feel it adds greater complexity to the setting of the story and dimension to its characters.

17. Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi

Every year, my school hosts a Summer Reading Contest, and the contest involved reading a book sponsored by a faculty member. I chose to read Reading Lolita in Tehran, a book chosen by a teacher I am very close to. As a lover of both historical fiction and nonfiction, I picked this novel because I wished to learn more about life under the Islamic Republican of Iran. Focused on Nafisi's secret book club comprised of seven female students reading forbidden Western literature, Reading Lolita in Tehran explores the power of literature and paints a portrait of the lives of women in revolutionary Iran.

18. How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, Julia Alvarez

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents was actually an option for a required reading book for my English course this year, however due to a change in schedule, the course teachers decided not to require it after all. I read it anyways, as I have always really enjoyed reading the books that are a part of my school curriculum, and this was no exception. The fictional story is focused on the lives of four daughters who moved from their home in the Dominican Republic to New York City in the 1960s.

19. All the Acorns on the Forest Floor, Kim Hooper 

This novel, which I actually won from entering a giveaway sponsored by Goodreads, is a multi-narrative novel that weaves together an array of stories all centered around the theme of motherhood, family, and relationships. 

20. Beloved, Toni Morrison

I ordered Beloved off of Amazon toward the end of the summer and read it while participating in a course called Write Your Novel to serve as a source of inspiration in my own writing process. Beloved is such an incredible book. Centered on a Black woman named Sethe in the pre and post Civil War era, Morrison exposes the tragedies of slavery. Morrison's writing is raw and poetic, and her style of writing significantly influenced the way in which I described and conveyed expressions of emotion in my own novel.

21. Red at the Bone, Jacqueline Woodson

From Currently: In-Person Learning, A Dark Winter, Red at the Bone

Red at the Bone will go down as one of my favorites. Woodson beautifully weaves together the past and present as she explores the relationship between two Black families whose lives become linked when their teenage daughter and son give birth to a baby girl, Melody. She delves into themes of race and class, of desire and motherhood, of identity and self-worth. Red at the Bone is one of those rare reads imbues you with a deep feeling of fullness and compassionate connection to each of the characters. For more informationcheck out this review by NPR.

22. Heroine, Mindy McGinnis

From Recent Reads & A Course on the Heroin Epidemic: Initial Thoughts & More

Heroine, by Mindy McGinnis, is centered on a high school softball player who, after severely injuring her leg in a terrible car accident, is given OxyContin to relieve her pain. She soon comes to like the pills for more than their pain-relieving qualities, though, and as her want for them increases, her addiction starts to consume her life. It is real and raw, and for those reasons is all the more frightening and heartbreaking. For anyone interested in learning more about this issue, I would highly recommend this book as an introductory novel. Though it is fiction and is classified as a young adult novel, it gives a very comprehensive introduction to the opioid problem and highlights how it affects everyone, no matter their gender, race, ethnicity, or socio-economic status.

23. Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates

From Recent Reads

As a part of a Summer Reading Committee at my school, I as well as the other members of the groupboth student and faculty—were given three books from a long list we narrowed down at the end of the summertime to read and discuss throughout the end of the fall and winter term. The first book I read was Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. To quote Toni Morrison, who is referenced on the cover of this novel, Between the World and Me is "required reading." The book is formatted as a letter to the author's teenage son and explores what it means to grow up as a Black person in the United States. Especially given the terrible racial injustices that occurred over the past summer and exposed the deep-rooted, systemic racism in America, this novel is all the more essential for people to read, particularly those individuals who identify as White. Aside from the insights I gained from Ta-Nehisi Coates' book, I was also awed by his beautiful writing style and the way he captured and expressed his internal thoughts and emotions. The fact that it was formatted as a letter to his son made his words even more impactful.

24. Body Talk, Kelly Jensen

From Recent Reads

Another novel that I read as a part of my membership in the Summer Reading Committee is Body Talk. As the cover of the book states, Body Talk, edited by Kelly Jensen, is comprised of thirty-seven voices mostly in the form of three to six paged personal narratives, but also includes illustrations, interviews, and FAQs. Ranging from topics of scoliosis, dwarfism, and other physical disabilities to cancer, eating disorders, and gender and sexuality, the book offers a very wide range of perspectives and seeks to explore how the bodies we live in affect how we moves and view the world and also strives to promote healthy and loving relationships with ourselves and our bodies. Often, these issues are viewed as taboo and there is very limited open discussion, and I appreciated how the authors wrote with such honesty and raw reflection.  The level of intimacy laced in each response allowed me as the reader to better understand the topics being discussed in a more meaningful manner.

25. The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafa

From Recent Reads

I am also a part of a reading group at my school called The Fifteen, a band of fifteen literature lovers in the senior class who gather together throughout the year to discuss novels. The first book we will be discussing is The Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka. The story focuses on salesman Gregor Samsa who wakes up one morning to discover that he has been transformed into a huge, grotesque insect. The novella was published in 1915, and is said to have served as a source of inspiration for dystopian writers George Orwell and Ray Bradbury. As a novella, it of course was very short, and I finished it a couple of days. Over the summer, I read Death of a Salesman, a play by Arthur Miller, and it was so interesting to read the afterwords from the translator and her comparison of the protagonists, since both are salesmen. Also, she discussed the challenges she faced in translating from German to English and analyzed how specific language the other used suggested certain subtleties in the story. 

26. Dreamland, by Sam Quinones

More in Currently: Surging COVID, Art, & Opioid Book

Dreamland delves deep into the history of the opioid crisis, analyzing the revolution in the perception of pain, the prescribing of opiate painkillers, and the role of Purdue Pharma in the epidemic. He weaves together various perspectives, including recovering addicts, doctors, and medical experts, and Mexican dealers to reveal how extensive and complex the crisis is. He also ties in the idea of the American Dream, exploring how it has changed in the past decades and how that shift - with a new focus on consumerism and materialism - has affected the epidemic. At times, Quinone’s acute attention to detail and deep explorations into the history of the use of opiates as painkillers can sometimes leave the reader feeling lost in the complexity of it all. To balance the more factual information and historical aspects, though, the author incorporates narrative to help the book read as both informative and as a story.

My Blog: Reflecting on 2020 & Goals for 2021

December 16, 2020

The start of a new year always fills me with a sense of excitement and thrill for the future, and I love creating goals for the twelve months ahead. While I do feel strongly that setting intentions is important, I find that reflection on past goals is equally, if not more, important. So, as I have done for the past three years, I am going to be sharing my reflections on my blogging goals for the year 2020 as well as my intention for 2021. I hope this serves as a source of inspiration to any fellow bloggers, writers, or other creators.

2020 Goals & Reflections

Currently: Surging COVID, Art, & Opioid Book

December 11, 2020

Surging Cases of COVID-19

As health experts predicted, cases of COVID-19 are surging all across the country. Just two days ago, the United States hit its highest one day toll, with a total of 3,054 deaths. It terribly upsetting, frightening, and also disheartening, since there are still thousands of Americans who refuse to wear masks despite overwhelming evidence of the effectiveness of masks in saving lives. It continues to both baffle and infuriate me that anyone would refute something as simple as putting a piece of cloth on your face to help stop the spread of a deadly virus that has killed so many Americans. 

Due to the severe surges in cases that are likely to only become more severe with the holiday festivities and winter months approaching, it is increasingly important that we all stay home as much as we can and adhere to social distancing and mask wearing guidelines. We are approaching the light at the end of the tunnel with vaccines beginning to receive approval, and Americans just need to hold steady for the next several months until vaccinations become more widely available. 

A Day in DC During COVID-19

December 2, 2020 Washington, DC, USA

This past weekend, my mom and I drove to Washington, DC and spent the day exploring the touristy areas of the city. Though we are not locals, we have lived close to the city for my entire life and thus know the city quite well. Even so, as often happens when you live in such proximity to a big city, we have never spent much time engaging in the traditional, tourist-oriented site-seeing of the famous monuments. 

Of course, due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases, we visited the city with the intention that we would only stay outdoors. Thankfully, it was a beautiful, mid-fifty degree day and the sun was shining, creating the perfect weather for sitting on the grassy fields surrounding the Washington Monument, walking around the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool, and meandering along the sidewalks that curve from the World War II Memorial to the lush grass across from the Capital building. With the colder weather drawing close, we wanted to squeeze in a safe excursion outdoors before buckling down for the next couple of months and staying home as much as possible to limit our exposure to and spread of the virus. 

Recent Reads | November 2020

November 28, 2020

Herione, by Mindy McGinnis

If you read recent post entitled A Course on the Heroin Epidemic: Initial Thoughts & More, you would know Heroine, by Mindy McGinnis is a required reading in the course. I finished it around a week ago in just a couple of days, as it was an easy, engaging read and I learned so much about drug use, addiction, and recovery. For anyone interested in learning more about this issue, I would highly recommend this book as an introductory novel. Though it is fiction and is classified as a young adult novel, it gives a very comprehensive introduction to the opioid problem and highlights how it affects everyone, no matter their gender, race, ethnicity, or socio-economic status.

Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

As a part of a Summer Reading Committee at my school, I as well as the other members of the groupboth student and faculty—were given three books from a long list we narrowed down at the end of the summertime to read and discuss throughout the end of the fall and winter term. The first book I read was Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. To quote Toni Morrison, who is referenced on the cover of this novel, Between the World and Me is "required reading." The book is formatted as a letter to the author's teenage son and explores what it means to grow up as a Black person in the United States. Especially given the terrible racial injustices that occurred over the past summer and exposed the deep-rooted, systemic racism in America, this novel is all the more essential for people to read, particularly those individuals who identify as White. Aside from the insights I gained from Ta-Nehisi Coates' book, I was also awed by his beautiful writing style and the way he captured and expressed his internal thoughts and emotions. The fact that it was formatted as a letter to his son made his words even more impactful.

101 Little Things I'm Thankful For

November 26, 2020

Happy Thanksgiving. In honor of the holiday and inspired by one of my posts from a few years ago, I am sharing 101 little things I am thankful for. While I am beyond grateful for my family, my health, and my education, in this list I chose to focus on the small gratitudes are I often overlooked but still bring me great joy. Especially this year, I feel that practicing gratitude is so important, as it is all too easy to be sucked into the darkness of these difficult times. I hope that you have a restful and relaxing Thanksgiving, and remember to stay safe.

1. Fireplaces.

2. Trader Joe's.

3. Candles.

4. Sea shells.

5. Koi ponds.

6. Fragrant flowers.

7. Soft blankets.

8. Board game nights.

9. NYT crossword puzzles.

10. Pumpkin patches.

11. Colorful pens.

12. Watermelon juice.

A Course on the Heroin Epidemic: Initial Thoughts & More

November 18, 2020

Due to the pandemic, my school adopted a new schedule this year. As a part of the new curriculum, during the last week of the fall term and period between Thanksgiving and winter vacation, students are taking "intensive" courses. Each course is focused on a particular issue related to my school's theme of "Making a Difference" and grants students the chance to delve deep into their issue of interest for four weeks. What I appreciate about these new course offerings is that they were created with the intention of having students pioneer their learning and to engage students in ways outside of the traditional classroom settings, such as by asking students to read books, watch films, and by inviting guests to speak. As I mentioned in my latest Currently post, I chose to take a course entitled Horse of a Different Color  about the heroin epidemic. I have pasted below the course description crafted by my two teachers to provide a more clear explanation of the course.

This intensive is a multi-faceted exploration into the history and effects of opioid use and abuse in the U.S. and abroad. We will consult professionals in many fields, such as first response, healthcare, counseling, and law enforcement to learn about how opioid use became an epidemic…the one that few are talking about. We hope to have visits from people who are firmly in recovery and who will share their journey with us. Peppered into the course will be readings, film, 20th and 21st century music, and individual research. We will end with an upward swing toward changing perspectives and action plans.

A Victory for America: Joe Biden & Kamala Harris

November 12, 2020


For millions of Americans and people all around the world, election week was full of anxiety, stress, and tension. As I watched the votes pour in late Tuesday night, I grew fearful. Fearful that the 2020 election might be a replay of 2016. My fear seemed to be confirmed when I woke up at three o'clock in the morning, jumped out of bed to check the election map, and found that the key battleground states of Ohio and Florida had turned solidly red. The election map told a different story, though, as the days inched by. For weeks prior to November 3, experts advised Americans not to rely on early results since the large amount of mail in ballots cast this year due to the pandemic would take longer to process in many states. Though I was aware of this, I still felt a sense of dread in those first few days when most of the battleground states leaned red. After Biden flipped Wisconsin and Michigan, though, and Arizona, Nevada, and Pennsylvania looked promising, I started feeling hopeful. But it was not until Sunday morning when Pennsylvania was officially called and tipped Biden over 270 electoral votes that I welcomed in the feelings of joy and warmth and hope. Hope for a better future. Hope for a better America.

Watching Biden and Harris speak that night, I was overcome with emotion. It was so moving to hear the president and vice-president elects talk about unity, fairness, and compassion. To inspire love and kindness, and to speak with such eloquence and dignity. And of course, the historic nature of Kamala Harris' nomination cannot be overlooked. Kamala Harris will be the first female vice-president, but as she herself stated Sunday night, she "will not be the last." In addition to being the first woman in the office, she is the first Black woman and first South Asian woman vice-president elect. 


October 31, 2020


At eight o'clock this morning, bundled in layers in preparation for the hour of waiting we expected outside the polling station, my family and I hopped into the car and drove to our designated location to vote on the last day of early in-person voting in our state. Thankfully, the only waiting we did was during the brief period of time before the doors opened at eight thirty. Aside from those few minutes outside in the chilly air, our voting process went incredibly smoothly. We were so pleased not to have to wait in an extremely long line like so many other voters across the country. We also, though, shared a similar sense of frustration at the absurdity of having to wait hours just to vote and a fear that the long lines could discourage some from casting their ballots.

This election is extremely important. Voting for former Vice President Joe Biden in this election means standing up for the rights of women, Black and Brown people, and the LGBTQ+ community. It means condemning white supremacy, something the current president refuses to do, and recognizing that Black lives matter. It means believing in science, understanding that climate change is real and is an existential threat. It means taking action against a pandemic that has killed over 225,000 Americans and is still running rampant across the country. It means voting for kindness, decency, integrity, and honesty, and restoring leadership to the White House. It means voting against a man who has said "grab them by the pussy" to refer to women, who calls Mexicans "rapists," who labeled Dr. Anthony Fauci and other health experts who have worked feverishly to save thousands of American lives as a "disaster" and as "idiots," and who claimed that, in the march led by white nationalists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia, there were "fine people on both sides."

Currently: In-Person Learning, A Dark Winter, Red at the Bone

October 25, 2020

Two Months of In-Person Learning

One week ago marked two months of in-person classes for my school. Thus far, school has felt surprisingly normal, though I think that is because everyone is simply getting more accustomed to adaptations resulting from the virus and the safety precautions of wearing masks and social distancing. Aside from one positive test at the beginning of the year, where a student was sent home to quarantine, and a potential case from a student experiencing symptoms that was deemed as negative after quickly being tested, my school has been very lucky to have not experienced any outbreak. Of course, it is not just luck. It is the result of the safety guidelines that the administration has implemented — including mask wearing, setting up classrooms that adhere to social distancing guidelines, and requiring students to record if they are experiencing symptoms before going to class each day — that has made the school year successful thus far.

Thanksgiving & a 'Dark Winter' Ahead

I currently have three weeks left of my fall term classes and then a short week of class from a unique set of courses offered to students only this year. Because cases are already beginning to rise and health experts have predicted for months that the fall and winter will bring a new surge in cases, my school is closing from November 19 to early January, and students will take virtual, one credit "Intensive" courses during the short period between Thanksgiving and Winter vacations. I chose to enroll in the course entitled Horse of a Different Color: an Epidemic with No Boundaries which focuses on the Heroin epidemic in the United States and around the world. 

Changing Your Relationship with Social Media: A Guide

September 30, 2020

Have you ever strolled into a crowded coffee shop, lugged your baggage to a bustling airport gate, or walked into the waiting area of an orthodontics office only to be met by dozens of breakfast-goers, travelers, and brace-faced teenagers staring intensely at the tiny screens in their hands? While some of the individuals immersed in their devices may be texting loved ones, reading a Kindle book, or sending important emails to colleagues, many are likely scrolling through Instagram, tapping through Snapchat stories, or refreshing their Twitter feeds. 

We are all guilty of wasting time aimlessly perusing social media feeds. FOMO is a real stress inducer and thus impetus for frequent social media checks, and these applications were designed to be addictive. Additionally, in such a digital age, so many of us have become accustomed to constant stimulation, and so rather than being present and in the moment while waiting in line at the grocery store, we choose to click open the Instagram app. 

I have always been very fascinated by social media, including its effects on the brain and its linkage to increases in depression, anxiety, and loneliness, particularly among younger users. While I still have my own struggles with social media usage, throughout the past few years, after experimenting with various techniques and implementing an array habits, I have changed my relationship with social media so that I now use the applications much less frequently and when I do use them, I find myself feeling inspired and informed as opposed to upset and drained. I am going to be sharing my top four strategies that I took advantage of to alter my connection with social media. If you are interested, you can also read my post entitled Social Media which I wrote a couple of years ago in which I go into detail about the toxicity of the comparison that often accompanies social media use.

Silence is Not an Option | A Podcast by Don Lemon

September 17, 2020

America is in crisis right now. A lot of people want to help, but have no idea where to start. In our new podcast, we’re going to dig deep into the reality of being Black and Brown in America, and explore what you can do to help find a path forward. We’ll have tough conversations with activists, artists, and thinkers about our nation’s deep racial divide. As we look for meaningful and lasting solutions, there is a lot to learn and unlearn. These conversations are going to be challenging—even uncomfortable—but they’re important. Because this time, we get to rebuild America together.

This past summer, the Podcast app was by far my most used app. I love listening to podcasts because they are educational, informative, and also very easily accessible. While I have been listening to podcasts for several years now, throughout the last few months, I went from occasionally clicking open an episode to listening to a new podcast almost every single day. Of course, with my return to school, I have not had as much time to engage with podcasts as regularly as I did in the summer, however I have still managed to find the pockets of time to listen to my favorite podcasts.

Back in May, I shared another of my favorite podcasts: The Daily Show by Trevor Noah. His episodes are actually meant to be watched on YouTube, but he also posts versions of his videos as ears editions. As the cover of this post suggests, the podcast I am sharing today is Silence is Not an Option, by Don Lemon.

Don Lemon is a television journalist on CNN. He only very recently created his podcast in response to the injustices that occurred this past summer including the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, but prior to listening to Silence is Not an Option, I watched him regularly on CNN. He is incredibly intelligent, very open-minded and willing to engage with opinions and perspectives that differ from his own, and also has a very soothing voice, making him the perfect podcaster. I have shared this exact same phrase a couple of times in my previous posts entitled Black Lives Matter and My Favorite Books by Black Authors, but it really resonated with me and I think it is very important for everyone to hear: It is not enough to dislike racism, you need to work towards antiracism. I strongly feel that education is the key to working to address systemic racism and that it often serves as the impetus for future action.

September Goals 2020

September 8, 2020

Whether it is the beginning of a year, the month, school season, or trimester, I love setting goals. While of course taking action is the key to achieving any goal you set, I feel that the act of writing down your intentions is half the battle. It has been almost two years since I have shared my monthly goals on this blog, but I am hopeful that reviving this style of post may serve both as a source of motivation for me to reach these aspirations and also inspiration for you to set your own goals for September.

Typically, I set rather specific goals with quantitative elements, as I feel that the more detailed your intentions are, the easier it is to make slow but steady progress. This September, however, I chose to set fewer, broader goals. Part of the reason I wanted to allow myself more flexibility in achieving these goals is because I am about to begin my senior year of high school. Along with balancing academics, much of my time this fall will be dedicated to working on my college applications, and so I want to be mindful of these commitments. Also, while I do have a variety of goals in distinct categories, I chose to simply share my main personal goals. 

Currently: Back to School Quarantine

September 2, 2020

The Beginning of Quarantine

If you read my recent post entitled Currently: College Visits & Back to School Amidst COVID-19, you would know that as of now, my school is welcoming students back to campus for in-person learning. While plans may change at any minute depending on the spread of the virus, students are set to return the second week in September. To ensure the health and safety of everyone on campus, though, my school issued a mandatory fourteen day quarantine for all students, faculty, and staff members prior to stepping onto campus, and another quarantine will take place after students are tested upon their arrival to campus.

Online & In-Person Learning

As mentioned above, unlike many schools across the country, my school is planning to resume in-person learning for the fall trimester. While a completely virtual curriculum was offered, only around fifteen percent of the student body chose to learn online. Even though we are set to learn on campus, the first week or so of classes will begin online until it the school is confident that no one in the school community has COVID-19. As of now, I am unsure of what an in-person academic day will look like; whether classes will be held outside under tents or on grassy lawns, where students will eat lunch, and what extracurricular activities will still be held. 

Philadelphia & New Jersey

August 29, 2020

Near the end of August, before I began my quarantine in preparation for returning to school, my mom and I embarked on a short, three day trip through Philadelphia and to the New Jersey shore. Of course, as with our other few travels throughout this summer, our visits looked different than they normally would. We donned masks every time we departed from our hotel room, obsessively sprayed our hands with hand sanitizer, only ate outdoors at tables that were distant from each other, and sought sidewalks that were the least frequented. Despite the strangeness of our miniature trip, it was still enjoyable to be outside and explore these areas, especially before heading home to practice the quarantine precautions necessary for going back to school to ensure the health and safety of all students, faculty, and staff. With summer ending, I am quite confident that this will be my last journey out until either late spring or even summer depending on the spread of COVID-19 and availability of vaccine, so although it was a very short getaway, I wanted to share the few photographs I captured from Philadelphia and the New Jersey Shore.

Rhode Island, Massachusetts, & Connecticut

August 24, 2020

As I mentioned in my last post entitled Currently: College Visits and Back to School Amidst COVID-19, my family recently drove to Rhode Island to visit a few colleges in the surrounding area. We based ourselves in Providence, Rhode Island, but explored the nearby cities of Newport, Narragansett, Boston in Massachusetts and the village of Stonington in Connecticut. I have very seldom traveled to the New England states. Aside from two trips to Maine many years ago and a drive through Boston on the way, the closet cities to those in New England that I have frequented in the past few years have been Geneva and Ithaca in upstate New York. Of course, because of the pandemic, our visit looked different than it would be in normal times. Even so, it was still an enjoyable trip, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to visit a few schools on my college list. 

Of all of our junkets to nearby cities and towns, I most enjoyed our visits to Boston and Stonington. Though we did more driving around the city than walking to limit our interactions with others and the weather was very gloomy and rainy, I loved seeing Boston and hope to return in post-pandemic times to really explore all its streets, shops, and fun restaurants. Unlike the sprawling city of Boston, Stonington is a small borough on southeastern corner of Connecticut. My mom stayed in Stonington for the summer almost twenty years ago and recalled its quiet, charming atmosphere. Thankfully, unlike several of the other cities we visited such as Newport which had become built up and quite touristy, Stonington retained its lovely small town allure.

Currently: College Visits & Back to School Amidst COVID-19

August 21, 2020

College Visits Amidst COVID-19

As a rising senior in high school, I will be applying to colleges in the fall, and so my family decided to drive up north to safely visit a few schools while also squeezing in a final trip before the academic year resumes. Unfortunately, I went on very few college visits during my junior year. I was was very busy with schoolwork, field hockey games every weekend in the fall, and other commitments, and so it made visiting colleges difficult. We had planned to take advantage of a long weekend in my spring trimester and the summer to visit more schools, but of course our plans were thwarted due to coronavirus. Though visiting schools is not the same this year and it is difficult to get a grasp of campus life without the buzz of students walking around, I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to take this trip and see at least a couple of the colleges on my list. For so many students, including myself, virtual tours and information sessions have had to replace visits for most or all colleges. It is important to remember, though, that while the college process may seem more daunting or unclear, the new challenges faced by rising seniors are quite trivial compared to the terrible tragedies unleashed by the virus.

New Jersey Shore | Summer 2020

August 19, 2020 Spring Lake, NJ 07762, USA

In mid July, my family drove to the Spring Lake, New Jersey to enjoy the beach and beauty of the area. We have been going to Spring Lake for years now, as my mom grew up nearby and we have family in the area. In the past we have always visited in early June since most kids are still in school and thus the beach is much less crowded, however that simply was not feasible this year due to the pandemic.

It was our first time traveling since being in lockdown, so we were a little wary and wanted to ensure that the destination we visited adhered to social distancing guidelines and required the usage of masks. Thankfully, the hotel we stayed in, The Hewitt Wellington, was very strict with regards to its guidelines to ensure guests and staff members took the necessary safety precautions, and the beach also limited capacity by requiring visitors to wear beach badges. All of the restaurants also had take out options and reduced outdoor seating, though we still opted for the locations that were the quietest and felt safest. Though it was a relatively short trip, I wanted to share a few of the photographs I captured, from the central lake of Spring Lake surrounded by lush greenery and the pink and purple sunsets over the ocean to the delicious restaurants of Asbury Park.

The Medina in Marrakesh, Morocco

August 17, 2020 Marrakesh, Morocco

To conclude my series of posts sharing my travels throughout Morocco - from Tamouda Bay and the city of Chefchaouen to our riad in Marrakesh and afternoon tea at the Royal Mansour - I wanted to share my final photographs from the city of Marrakesh itself. As supported by the title, these images were taken inside the Medina in Marrkesh.

The Medina is the historic center of Marrakesh and is surrounded by walls erected in 1122 that stretch 19 kilometers in length. It is the center of life within the larger city of Marrakesh; it is packed with riads, hammam bath houses, and souks selling an assortment of Moroccan spices, incense, various scented oils, and an array colorful textiles. At the center of the Medina is Jemaa el-Fna square, a hub comprised of a myriad of food stalls, snake charmers, henna tattooists, and carriage drivers. While we enjoyed visiting the square, we were also cautious, as we had been warned to avoid the food and to stay away from the snake charmers and men with monkeys. It may seem tempting to look, but they are known to approach tourists and put the animals around peoples' necks in an effort to secure profit. Additionally, the monkeys are chained by the legs and the snakes I am sure are not treated very humanely either, and I personally would not want to support a system that oppresses these animals.

On our first day in Marrakesh, we ventured outside of the Medina to the royal district and visited the historic Kasbah Mosque, or the Mosque of Moulay al-Yazid. Constructed in 1190, it is one of the largest and oldest in Morocco and is still used as a house of worship for Muslims. Five times throughout the day, we heard the call to prayer from the mosque reverberate throughout the entire city of Marrakesh, followed by an echo of dozens of other call to prayers from nearby mosques.

Walking along the cobblestone streets filled with smoke from passing motorcyclists, pungent smells of spices added to couscous, and beckoning tradespeople, I was struck by the vitality and vitality of the Medina. I have never before visited a place so culturally rich, or one that embodies the term sensory overload. I long to return to this breathtaking city; to smell the fragrant scents of saffron, feel the slippery smooth touch of Moroccan argan oil, and to savor the sweet, refreshing taste of Moroccan mint tea.

Tea at the Royal Mansour in Marrakesh, Morocco

August 15, 2020 Rue Abou Abbas El Sebti، Marrakech 40000, Morocco

During our stay in Marrakesh, my mom and I visited the Royal Mansour for afternoon tea. We first learned of this hotel by watching an episode of the TV show Amazing Hotels: Life Beyond the Lobby, in which the two hosts went behind the scenes to learn more about the various processes that go into maintaining such a remarkable hotel. After discovering that this famed hotel was only a short drive from our own stay at Riad Kniza, we knew we had to visit.

The Royal Mansour is very elegant and majestic, and thus quite an expensive place to stay, though thankfully the afternoon tea was very reasonably priced. Though the hotel is absolutely exquisite and beautifully decorated, I must admit it lacked the personal, cozy, and comfortable feeling of the traditional riad in which we stayed. Even so, we had a wonderful afternoon tea and really enjoyed experiencing the grandeur of the hotel.

I chose to order the traditional Moroccan mint tea, and while I was unable to try the various sandwiches, I very much enjoyed tasting the assortment of cookies and scones. Of all of the sweet items, I most enjoyed the plate of small Moroccan pastries and the almond and caramel cookies.

Riad Kniza in Marrakesh, Morocco

August 13, 2020 34 Derb l'Hotel Bab Doukala، مراكش 40000, Morocco

After several days staying at Tamouda Bay in northern Morocco and visiting the famed city of Chefchaouen, my mom and I took the bullet train to Casablanca and then hopped on another train headed  toward the city of Marrakesh, Morocco. Since it was our first time traveling to Morocco, we were first a little wary about train travel. However, traveling by train proved not only easy, but also very efficient and enjoyable. The train stations were very modern, clean, and simple to navigate, and the bullet train was even more impressive, as it was pristine, comfortable, and extremely efficient.

To have a more authentic visit, we chose to stay at a riad as opposed to a hotel. The word riad originates from the Arabic word meaning "garden." Riads are traditional Moroccan homes constructed around a garden or interior courtyard, usually with limited rooms, a central fountain, and sometimes a small spa for guests to enjoy a Moroccan hammam.

We stayed at Riad Kniza, a riad in the heart of the Medina of Marrakesh. The sound of water dripping from the central fountain, wonderful scents drifting throughout the halls from incense and burning oils, rooftop exploding with flora and fauna, and cozy rooms equipped with fresh fruit, hanging lanterns, and massive wooden doors all helped to create a homey and tranquil atmosphere. 

In addition Riad Kniza's central location in the Medina and its beautiful interior and balcony area, all of the meals we ate at the riad were beyond delicious. Every morning, the riad served its guests complimentary breakfast on the rooftop that included fresh yogurt and cereal, Moroccan breads and cakes, an assortment of jams and preserves, eggs, and fresh orange juice or the traditional Moroccan mint tea. We also stayed for dinner one night, where we sat in a small, cozy room and listened to a trio of musicians play traditional Moroccan music in the courtyard. It was a full-course dinner, which allowed us to taste all sorts of delectable, vegetarian Moroccan dishes.

Vegetarian Harira Soup.
Vegetable Pastilla.
Assortment of Moroccan Salads.
Briwates (filo pastry wrapped around mixed vegetables, cheese, rice(sweet))
Sweet potato tajine with Figs, Prunes and Walnuts.
Berber Tajine of mixed vegetables.
Tajine of fish Mchermel with Sweet Peppers and Tomatoes.
Barley Couscous with Green Vegetables.
Johara (cream pastilla with almonds and caramel).
Moroccan pastries served with mint tea or coffee.