Tis the Season of Gift Giving. Great.

I am really not, not, not a creative gift giver. I like practicality—things that are useful—but unfortunately, those things don’t often inspire awe and wonder. To make it worse, I’m such an opportunity optimizer that when I do find something that might be cooler than a book (which I would love, by the way), I usually overanalyze myself out of getting that nifty present.

Sigh, the frustration never ends. But then, a couple of years ago, I was introduced to the amazing-ness that is Pinterest, and immediately found myself wanting to try all these different crafting projects. So I pinned and I pinned until I finally had an impressive collection of do-it-yourself directions for everything from ceramic coasters to colorful calendars.

Still, I knew I wouldn’t be making all those things for myself, so I thought instantly to Christmas presents! Crafting up one-of-a-kind items are the most perfect, thoughtful gifts for all the people on your list, and if you have access to a kitchen (as nearly all upperclassmen in CNU’s residence halls do), they are super easy to make while you are at school. Last year in my East Campus apartment, I drew on mugs I bought from the dollar store and baked them in my oven, giving one of each member of my family. Super cheap, and super thoughtful!

This year, I made dough ornaments, which are actually really a breeze to make. All you need is some flour, salt, water, cookie cutters and paint to finish off your masterpiece. I’ve shared the instructions below!

You’ll need:

  • 4 cups of flour
  • 1 cup of salt
  • 1 ½ cups of water


  • Preheat your oven to 300 degrees.
  • Combine the flour, salt and water and mix. After kneaded, roll out the dough on a floured surface.
  • Press your cookie cutters into the dough and make a small hole for hanging.
  • Bake for about 30 minutes, or until hard. Don’t worry if they brown a bit, you can always paint over them!
  • After cooling, paint and decorate your ornaments!

And there you have it: simple and personal gifts that are definitely creative!

CNU Keeps You Coming Back

Here’s the thing about CNU: It keeps you coming back. We have many proud alumni who have put much time after their graduation into making sure this university can stay wonderful and improve upon the great expectations it has set for itself. There’s even a fellowship program for students who are hired to stay an extra year and be a part of the vision of CNU. In recent years, students have been chomping at the bit at the end of every summer to come back to campus and see all the stunning new buildings that have been completed for the new school year.

However, when it comes to coming back for the couple of weeks between Thanksgiving and winter break, most people would assume there to be little enthusiasm. I mean, it is a time when completing projects and studying for exams is at the top of everyone’s list. In fact, those two weeks are the time when the academic buildings are overflowing with students decked out in the comfiest studying attire, and well-settled into a corner to read, read, read (a preferred caffeinated beverage is also included).

But CNU, as always, wants to make every experience on this campus and lovely one. First of all, nearly every building is decorated with a gorgeous Christmas tree with elaborate décor. The trees are so triumphantly spectacular, that you can’t help but go “ahhhh” as you walk into any building. Also, CNU’s many clubs also provide lovely ways to break from studying, such as selling hot chocolate and so much more!

Another wonderful Christmas event enjoyed by many CNU students during this time is going to Newport News City Center to enjoy HollyDazzle, a great holiday event with concessions, Christmas caroling, loads of people from the Newport News community and a gorgeous fireworks display to finish off the night. It really is dazzling is every meaning of the word.

And when it comes to stuff to look forward to when coming back from winter break? Well that’s easy! Having a fresh start to a new semester is probably one of the most exciting feelings a college student can have! That and finally having easy access to the Trieshmann Health and Fitness Pavilion again so you can work off all those Christmas cookies …

9 Ways to Know That the Holidays are Just Around the Corner*

1. Argument as to whether or not Christmas music is being played too early: Halloween is over? CHRISTMAS CAROLS. (Via all your favorite radio stations, at least now you can find some new stations?)
2. Ignoring Thanksgiving: Honestly, this breaks my heart – unfortunately Thanksgiving has just been transformed into that day off before you blow all your money on Black Friday sales … maybe this year we can all take time and enjoy turkey day for what it is and let Christmas have its time later on!
3. Overflowing laundry baskets waiting to be taken home: After Halloween, time speeds up at an alarming rate. Before you know it, you only have those old pair of jeans and sweatpants to wear to class and that pile of laundry has taken over more than half of the room. It’s just easier to do it at home, right?
4. Gingerbread lattes: Hi, Starbucks. We all missed your holiday coffee cups.
5. Hollydazzle: Newport News knows how to bring joy and good cheer to its citizens and CNU students. People from all parts of the city come to City Center to see the tree-lighting ceremony and enjoy holiday music and entertainment.
6. Stress of finals/crowded library: “There are this many students on campus? Where did they all come from?!” Moving between the slumped over students on the couches to the freshmen trying to get through their first week of finals, you find yourself wedged between two people you’ve never spoken to – don’t worry, we’re all in this together. (Hey that stranger to your right is in your biology class!)
7. Pinterest overload: Continuing with the idea of the library, you notice that the majority of computer screens aren’t on Microsoft Word but rather Pinterest Christmas boards guaranteed to have the perfect present for your mom and Aunt Linda.
8. Regatta’s Christmas Meal: Miss Linda joyfully handing out candy canes as you make your way past Santa’s mashed potatoes and grab some of Mrs. Claus’ cookies. You won’t be able to eat for a month … sugar coma.
9. Tacky Christmas Sweater Parties: Every organization on campus all has the same great idea – gathering, eating and looking “fabulous.” Of course, the only way to look fabulous during the holidays is to wear a tacky sweater, courtesy of Village Thrift.

*(if four or more of these apply to your life, then yes, start sending out your holiday cards)

On That Midnight Train to Newport News

My parents, to their great credit, are the frugal-est of frugal. They take pride in this, too, always retelling us the story of when they put seltzer water in prune juice and gave it to my sister and I as Coca-Cola. It’s hilarity at its finest. I won’t muddle you with any more details about my deprived childhood without soda, but expecting to have the keys to a car placed in my hands before my first year of college would have been a fool’s joke. It’s character-building, after all.

There were only a few downsides to not having a vehicle, however—not having a way to get to the Williamsburg Outlets sure saved me a lot of money. And when I wanted a burrito from Chipotle, it wasn’t too difficult to find a person to accompany me. But the real trouble was when holiday seasons would creep across my calendar, leaving questions as to how I was going to get home. I tried carpooling once, but was completely put off by the driver’s lack of road-savvy and texting-while-driving habits.

All that for $20 worth of gas? No, thank you! Plus, traffic on I-64 is seriously no fun. (Quick advice: if you’re ever leaving for home, save yourself the trouble and go in the morning!)

My solution, which I ended up using throughout my freshman and sophomore years, was the Amtrak train located about five minutes from campus. I ended up taking the train so many times that the ticket collectors actually began to recognize me. All the same, there is really no other more convenient, reliable and comfortable way to travel than by train. And when you have an entire row of seats to yourself—heaven! I mean, you can’t exactly sleep or do your homework when driving, can you?

Getting a round-trip ticket is a cinch too. All you do is go online, put in your departure and return dates, and then select the time you’d like to leave. In terms of price, I really didn’t lose any more than I would spend on gas from Newport News to Northern Virginia.

So if you don’t have a car, no fear: Amtrak is here!

Chinese Tea Party

One day in my leadership class, there was talk of having a Chinese tea party, with authentic tea and snacks.  The class was excited about it, but I was skeptical. To me, the idea of a Chinese tea party was intriguing, but I wasn’t quite clear how it related to leadership studies.

The next class, we had a discussion about some of our readings, culture and how leadership related to the Chinese tea party we would be having in class the same day.  As part of our cultural discussion, we talked about the different rituals that are performed in different cultures. A ritual is a symbolic, routine act that connects the individual to the group, which is part of the main concept of this class: Self, Group and Leadership. The Chinese tea party connects the individual with the group. In leadership, it is important for “self” to be connected with the “group,” if the connection is weak or lacking, it makes it almost impossible to lead the group.

So our tea party was an innovative way of portraying the connection between the individual and the group.  It shows how we, as leaders, have to stay connected with the people in order to properly lead and to stay together as a group.

Finding a Little Solitude at CNU

I don’t know what it is about this place. It’s a lovely campus, where students are constantly strolling around together either to class or to Einstein’s to grab a latte and chat about their plans for the weekend. Everywhere I go I hear sounds of laughter, enthusiasm and the buzz of people talking. But some people need a place to escape, just as much as they need to be around all the mild chaos of college students scattering about. That’s why, in my time at CNU, I have scrounged for the best places to just catch some alone time. And whether on campus, or just a short walk from campus, I believe I have found some superb locations:

The Arts Garden in the Ferguson Center: It’s a treasured secret of those who claim the Ferg as their main stomping ground. As you walk into the main academic hallway, just a few paces down the hall on your left will be the door to the Ferguson’s version of the secret garden. It’s just a quiet, quaint little outdoors space placed in the middle of the vast artistic chaos of the Ferguson. It includes benches and plenty of flora to make you feel refreshed and reinvigorated.

Second floor of The Freeman Center: I’m in a club that meets in the Freeman every Tuesday and Thursday. Due to the fact that it meets rather late, I usually have quit a bit of time between dinner and club meeting. Oftentimes I find myself torn between wanting to work in the library, and wanting to go back to my room and just … sit around in solitude. Then I remember that I can experience the comfort and isolation of my room, along with the less distracting environment if I just relax in one of the many cozy corners of The Freeman Center. I highly recommend it.

Panera: The Panera in CNU Village is an excellent place to go if you need to focus and study and must avoid going to Einstein’s for the day (because you WILL see someone you know). Usually it’s packed during lunchtime and dinnertime, of course. However, a mid-afternoon visit almost always guarantees calmness and quietness. That paired with a cup of hazelnut coffee and cheese danish, and you’re ready for a fine afternoon of relaxed study time.

Lionsgate Bridge: If you’re really, really feeling like you need to get off campus and experience a little fresh air, then a trip to Lionsgate is an excellent choice for finding solitude. Just take your bicycle, go down the Avenue of the Arts and along the Harvey Trail next to the Mariner’s Museum, and you’ll find yourself at Lionsgate on the picturesque bank of the James River. On a lovely fall day, it’s a perfect place for doing some light homework, yoga, or just having a picnic with your best friend or significant other. And the close proximity to the great campus of CNU makes it very easy to visit on just any day.

Working at and Around CNU

I’ve held a few different paid positions at and around CNU over the last couple years. Having a job on the side is important to a lot of students, myself included.

My freshman year I got a work-study job in the parking garage at CNU. For a couple of hours a day I would sit in the office and process ticket information, take payments for outstanding tickets, and give students temporary and annual parking passes. The job was not particularly demanding and the administrators at the office were very nice people who were fun to interact with. But I found that after three semesters or so, the hours I was being assigned to work simply did not fit well into my schedule.

From my late-sophomore into junior year I got a job in the English Department. This entailed assistance work for students and faculty members in the department office. I worked only a few hours a week, but it was enough to bring in a little bit of revenue, and, like the job in the parking garage, I was allowed to work on homework if there was nothing to do during my hours there.

In the meantime, during my junior year, I got a position as a student blogger that I still hold today. The hours are considerably flexible because I write posts when I have the ability to write. I write about what I want to write about, and I speak honestly about CNU and I get encouraged to say both good things and bad things about the University. It is a wonderful opportunity to speak my mind and also get some credit for the effort.

Finally, just this year, I picked up a job at a local law firm. The opportunity was presented to me and a number of other students in CNU’s Pre-Law Program by Dr. Jonathan White, the pre-law adviser and American studies professor. Dr. White informed us about the opportunity and recommended a number of us to submit applications at the law firm. I was fortunate enough to get a position, and the experience has been as educational as it has been useful in bringing in some money from the work.

In the city of Newport News, jobs seem to be plentiful. If you can’t find a job on-campus, then there are plenty to be had in the surrounding community. While working many hours on top of school and all the other obligations has been tough on me, I am at least surviving right now with two jobs and school as well as multiple extracurriculars, and I don’t even consider myself to be particularly talented at keeping my life straight. So don’t be afraid to hop into the working world while at CNU.

The Class of All Classes

Senior seminar. Senior thesis. Capstone class. Whatever you want to call it, the senior (sometimes junior) class that serves as the final paper/project in your major is infamous for all-nighters, gallons of coffee and the need for your roommate to shake you to calm you down. This semester I am doing one of my two senior theses, the senior seminar class for English. I am lucky enough to take this class with one of my favorite English professors, Dr. Scott Pollard, who has sculpted the structure of the class in an atypical but extremely beneficial way. The topic? Food and literature. REALLY, HEAR ME OUT ON THIS ONE! So it sounds unusual, right? Well, it is in a way. Food studies is a relatively new area in academia, squeezed somewhere among psychology, sociology, English and any other liberal arts topic you can think of. During the first six weeks of class, Dr. Pollard introduced us to the world of food studies through the The Odyssey (so much food, it’s shocking), The Tale of Peter Rabbit (you’ll never read it the same …) and The Omnivore’s Dilemma. The latter book explores food production in the United States and examines where exactly our food comes from in all of its many stages. But beyond the basic journalistic approach comes the clever ways in which writers insert food into their works to serve a greater purpose. For example, one may examine the ways in which food is prepared in The Odyssey and how that preparation is a reflection on the character’s class and status in society. After we understood how “food is culture,” Dr. Pollard pushed us to examine some of our favorite books or films or even restaurants to see what we could discover. The result? Far more information than was ever thought possible.

With Dr. Pollard’s advice and support toward creating an unusual thesis, my senior seminar paper is not literary analysis, but rather a creative writing piece formatted as a play within a play. The overall idea stems from my two favorite books, Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolfe, and The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath. As the topic of the class is food and literature, and since both women suffered from anorexia and depression, I found links between their writings and their own discomfort with food. For example, the titular character of Mrs. Dalloway throws a dinner party at the end of the novel, yet Woolf was constantly reminded by her husband Leonard to stop writing and actually eat. There are quite few literary articles available showing these connections, so I am using what research I do have along with the two writers’ primary sources to draw connections between these two ideas. Dr. Pollard actually pushes us to pick topics we are interested in, whether or not they have a substantive amount of scholarly research; by doing so, we leave our own mark in the literary research field.

Senior and fellow classmate Stephanie comments on her experiences in this class: “I find the class interesting. I’d never really thought about the importance of food before the class, so it’s definitely given me a new outlook on literature, and life in general. Senior sem is definitely kicking my butt – I like the way Dr. Pollard has organized and formatted the class because it makes sure that I stay on top of the paper; otherwise, I would procrastinate.” Stephanie is writing her paper on Lord of the Flies and how hunger is the factor that ultimately drives the boys to savagery. She argues that the character Beastie is in fact hunger itself, as humans are innately terrified of being hungry, thus forming the children’s fear of Beastie. Dr. Pollard’s class, and all senior seminar classes, push students to think far deeper than they previously have and work to employ the wide range of classes they have taken in order to fully depict their learning process over the past four years. The senior seminar is a class that all students must take, yet we have a wide range of opportunities and choices to pick from. I feel that this truly exemplifies the flexibility of CNU’s curriculum and the overall impact of the liberal learning factors. CNU creates students who can not only think critically, but also deeply and across a large spectrum of studies.

My Case for Taking Challenging Classes

To be quite honest, I was a serious slacker during my first year at CNU. Coming in from high school, which had been pretty easy for me, I thought all my classes would be a breeze and I would be one smart cookie.


College courses can be a whole other monster sometimes, especially when people (read: me) think they can rely on just their wits and intelligence to pass, which can have some serious consequences about how we think about learning. Take me, for example. Feeling frustrated with how difficult I was finding my classes, during class registration for the spring, I decided I would overload myself with a string of “easy” classes to make the learning experience better for myself.

Wrong, again.

That had horrible consequences, and not just in terms of my grades. The thing is, when we view college and our courses as something that should be easy and comfortable and fun, we are really giving into this idea of the business model of education,* which describes school as a transactional relationship between professors and students. Professors teach, students memorize, students get good grades, students promptly forget after their exams.

So are you really, truly learning anything? When we give in to this model, we are not pushing and stretching ourselves to learn and change. Even more insidiously, when we do badly in our classes, we blame professors for not making it easy for us, or for making us work too hard, rather than blaming ourselves for completely botching the opportunity to learn.

Because that’s what school is: an opportunity, not a product.

The solution in this case is to challenge yourself with new experiences. Try something you are interested in, but wouldn’t have thought to take before because you were worried about grades! Personally, I have always found it extremely rewarding to take classes that were difficult, and then mastering them—the feeling that you did work your butt off for that grade is so gratifying. So, stretch your capabilities, take intellectually stimulating classes and who knows, you might end up with a new passion!

*To learn more about the business model of education, try taking Communication 325!

What’s for Dinner?

Growing up with two working parents, dinnertime, or any family meal for that matter, was never a “sit-down and tell me about your day” process. It was grabbing Wendy’s on the way to ballet, Arby’s while rushing to a swim meet or picking up Chipotle before band practice. It’s safe to say that I am one of those fast-food generation kids. How I am not ridiculously unhealthy and severely overweight is beyond me. This is NOT to say that my parents did not care about my well-being, for they most certainly did (our refrigerator was constantly filled with food I DIDN’T want to eat: spinach salad, yogurt, anything labeled “low-fat” or “sugar-free”). However, the amount of extracurricular activities my brother and I were both involved in just did not leave much time for a family meal. Thus, coming to CNU was a new experience for me, considering the dining options were “foreign” to my elementary and picky taste buds.

My roommate (see previous blogs) comes from a family that thrives on the family meal and whose dad is a self-proclaimed, taste-buds-affirmed, gourmet chef. Freshman year I’d see her want to eat bruschetta chicken while I was making a beeline for the French fries. Looking back, I see how much I have grown in terms of food (a silly thing, I know). Due to the abundance of options at Regatta’s, the Common’s, Discovery Bistro and Café, and Einstein’s, I did have the opportunity to remain steadfast in my diet of chicken nuggets, pizza, and burgers, but I actually expanded my options and now, believe it or not, I like salad. Shocking, I know. No one is as shocked as my mother. Of course, although I know I may have come from a little less than normal background in terms of dining, I still have met others like me as well as those like Micaela and people in between. CNU’s Dining Services is aware of the diverse background of students who enter the dining halls every day, and they adapt perfectly to meet the needs and requests of all students. But what is amazing to see is that college really does change you (for the better) in ALL aspects of life, not just your improvement on writing a literary analysis, but also picking Mongolian grill instead of a hot dog.