How to make a great care package for a friend studying abroad

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*Disclaimer: I’ve been waiting to post this until I knew my friend had opened the care package, as I didn’t want to take the chance she would see this.

It’s always nice to be a fun and caring friend.

That being said, a friend of mine is embarking on a study abroad program to Grenable, France from August 2015 to June 2016. I’m going to miss her to pieces as will the other two people in our immediate friend group and I decided to make sure she never forgets any of us.

So my friends and I brainstormed a care package and I put it all together.

I had no plans to post about it seeing as this was between the four of us and not for the purpose of being something put up on the interwebs but during the brainstorming phase I had a hard time finding good ideas on the web. I wanted to give people a look at something you can put together, and not break your already fragile wallet, that your friend will not only appreciate but also get great use out of.

At first, this was supposed to be more of a “Things you probably over looked when packing” box but it morphed into a practical and personal care package. A small note to start: all of these items fit into a Recollections Memory Box that can be picked up at Michael’s craft stores for $4-$6.

1.A jump drive
I bought a 16 GB jump drive while doing my back to school shopping and put some music and videos on it for my friend’s viewing and listening pleasure. I separated everything into folders because some of the videos were meant only for when she missed home i.e. Pure Michigan ads I saved from YouTube. For the music, I just took from my iTunes songs I figured she had never heard because where’s the fun in listening to a secret jump drive if you know all the tunes?

A screenshot of some of the songs that made it on the jump drive.

A screenshot of some of the songs that made it on the jump drive.

2.Scarves
I am a knitter and I’m not ashamed. I love to make scarves and have a box full of them seeing as I don’t sell them but continue to make them; let’s just say Christmas is a cakewalk for me. Because she’ll be in a region of France that does get a cold winter, though nowhere near as cold as Michigan, I put in one warm infinity scarf that I finger knitted (if you don’t know what that is click here) and one fashion black lace scarf. Putting in the scarves added practicality and a personal touch seeing as I made them myself.

3.Toiletries
This is one of the more practical parts of the care package. All of the following are travel size items: shampoo, conditioner, make-up remover wipes, bottle of hand sanitizer three packs of Kleenex and a first aid kit. Mostly we just wanted to make sure she had some basic supplies until she settles in especially seeing as she goes to Paris first for a few days and then she goes to her host family. The first aid kit was more because you can never be too prepared and it was tiny.

4.A Notebook
It’s the size of a Composition notebook and the same brand but it’s a more plastic-like cover rather than the cardboard because we needed it to be flexible enough to fit in the box. It could be a travel journal, school notebook, planner, etc.

5.Pens
You can never have too many pens, especially when you’re in college. Enough said.

6.Sony Headphones
If you’re like me and go through headphones like a runner goes through socks (what can I say? I like my music loud) then having a spare set is always necessary. I’ve been using Sony ear buds since I my first iPod’s headphones crapped out back in 2007. They are on the cheap side ($10) and the sound is great seeing as I normally go through them every six-nine months.

7.Ricola
We all get sick at some point during a year time span so of course I included her preferred brand of cough drops. Fun fact: I sent her a very odd Facebook message in order to find out her preferences for certain things I wanted to include such as “Halls or Ricola?” and “EOS or Burt’s Bees?” which leads us to the next items.

8.Burt’s Bees Lip Balm
I love this stuff and have a tube hidden in all my purses. She preferred Burt’s Bees over EOS so I stuck two tubes of the beeswax lip balm into the box. Not going to lie, I was tempted to keep them.

9.Basic School Supplies
Glue sticks, notecards, pack of paperclips, a Post-It cube, crayons (Crayola because they are our childhood), Wite-Out and tape because let’s face it, she probably forgot the basic stuff when worrying about her laptop, charger, clothes, and Nintendo DS.

10.Peanut Butter-y Goodness
She had done a six week program in May and June 2015 so she had an idea about the snack situation in France. Being from the United States, we have a lot of different chocolate, nutty, delicious candies. I had asked if there was any candy, in general, that she couldn’t get in France that she loved and she said mostly it was anything that had peanut butter in them. As a disclaimer, I would like to point out she wasn’t saying you can’t buy peanut butter items anywhere in France but it just wasn’t common. To solve said problem I bought a bag of peanut butter M&Ms and a bag of Reese’s Miniature cups (Not the newer super small ones but the ones individually wrapped and the circumference is close the size of a quarter) and we plan to send her more Reese’s as the year goes on because we’re good friends.

11.Bookmarks
Nothing says we love you like taking the time to make something from scratch. I handmade a bookmark that she could use for textbooks, notebooks or novels.

And there you have it! A care package for someone going to France for nearly an entire year. One thing to keep in mind is how they are traveling. I asked multiple times if she would be putting the box into her checked or carry-on luggage because that makes a huge difference in what you can and cannot put into the package. Even though I know she was putting it into her checked luggage, I still tried keeping all liquids until 3oz and nothing too suspicious which is why I didn’t buy green tea in a thin plastic tube at the Michigan Renaissance Festival due to its’ physical similarity to marijuana. I didn’t want her bag to get riffled through and that box, which is sealed with packing tape, to get broke open.

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Third Time’s The Charm: Tattoos

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Let’s be honest; it’s hard finding an accurate description of what getting a tattoo is like.

If you ask your friends, they’ll play it up to sound tougher, “It hurt so bad, I almost had to take a break at a couple of points but I made it through. Want to see it again?”

If you ask a parent or aunt/uncle, they’ll play it up to convince you it’s a bad idea, “It’s the worst pain in the world. Imagine thousands of hot pokers stabbing you at once and then being thrown into a fire. Don’t do it.”

I have three tattoos, all in different areas and none of my experiences have been that bad.

First off, tattoos don’t hurt that bad but then again they don’t feel all that great. Let’s just say, they definitely don’t tickle.

Tattoo number one.

Tattoo number one.

My first tattoo is what I call the “Spring-Breaker” because I got it during the last Saturday of my spring break when I was 17-years-old, it’s the size of a stereotypical spring break tattoo (a bit bigger than a golf ball) and it’s a paw print with “Mom” written underneath it.

My second is what I call my “Birthday Present to Myself” tattoo because I paid for it myself and got it done the day before my 19th birthday. I also will jokingly call it my “gang” tattoo because it is a Glock 23 with “Dad” written below the handle.

Which brings us to the third one I call my “Tim Burton” tattoo because everything about it is Tim Burton. A couple Christmases ago my parents bought me The Art of Tim Burton and one image always jumped out at me from one of the love notes Burton had sent to Helena Bonham-Carter. It looked like a shrunken head and I loved it instantly. I had been looking for a long time for a Burton inspired tattoo and knew I had found it but I wanted one of his quotes to go along with it. A Google later and I found it, “One person’s craziness is another person’s reality.”

The original image and love note from "The Art of Tim Burton."

The original image and love note from “The Art of Tim Burton.”

I made the appointment in February to get the tattoo done in July. Some of you may be wondering why wait? Let me explain something. I have only seen one person for all of my tattoos and plan to continue to see the same woman. Caryl Cunningham, the woman I trust with my dermal canvas, is really good, plain and simple. Not only does she book up quickly but she also travels and does conventions. So making the appointment months in advance in necessary. When I saw her at the end of July, she was already booked through the year and wasn’t taking any more appointments until she gets her calendar for next year.

Talk about being a hot inking commodity.

May I also mention she is one of the coolest people? Very laid back, talented and has so many stories of her customers and her travels.

Back to the matter at hand: pain.

Tattoos, to me, feel like a weird burning mixed with vibration. If it’s your first time, the artist may offer to do a quick line without ink so you know how it feels. Honestly, the outline is nothing and at times it can be easy to forget it’s happening. The shading/coloring in is when you remember you’re paying someone to put a permanent masterpiece on your skin. That part can start off a bit uncomfortable and the more it goes on the seemingly worse it gets. I would compare it to having a raw spot on your skin, like a busted blister, and continually poking it. Depending on the location, said raw spot could hurt more than if it were somewhere else. Anywhere there are nerve endings is where you’ll be wishing you had a tequila drip.

My first tattoo was on my hip and wasn’t bad at all. The worst part was when she colored in around the hipbone. The second tattoo was on my upper leg and toward the end, due to the amount of shading involved, I was ready to time out for a break. The third tattoo was weirdly the most painful. It was softball sized and on my right shoulder so I figured it wouldn’t be as bad as the second.

Tattoo number two.

Tattoo number two.

Nope.

My guess? I was exhausted and it’s always a poor decision to get anything that could be even mildly painful done when you’re in that state. I had just recently switched to working midnights so I had only gotten about three hours of sleep before leaving for Eternal Tattoos (where Cunningham is located) and I had to work that night as well so this was likely my fault. The good thing was it didn’t take long for her to finish.

But it came out amazing!

I had been worried when I found the image because it looks like Burton had used watercolor paint and I wasn’t sure how Cunningham would feel about trying to recreate it but she told me she was open to just about anything. When we walked in she was finishing up the stencil and making it look like the easiest thing in the world. If I hadn’t been completely at ease before, that definitely put me into my mental Zen.

The really cool part too was the way she covered it. Anyone who has gotten a tattoo before is probably familiar with the plastic covering and tape over your tattoo, you leave it on for a few hours then take it off and proceed to wash and moisturize the fresh ink two-three times a day. Cunningham used a different method and this was my first time with it. She referred to it as a “derm” and it’s used to help treat burn victims by helping to lock in plasma which keeps the tattoo naturally moisturized and also keeps clothing from rubbing against it. The good news is you leave it on for three days and once you take it off your tattoo is healed and all you have to do is survive the peeling phase they all go through.

The downside was how it feels. Because mine was on my shoulder I was nearly constantly aware of it when I tried to fall asleep. Cunningham warned me it would feel weird but I would describe it as a massive bubble that you need to be pop but instead you have to deal and try to get comfortable. The other downside is taking it off. Because of the placement of mine, I knew I would likely need help but Cunningham’s warning is what really made me seek assistance. Instead of pulling the “derm” up like a Band Aide, you have to pull outward parallel to your skin otherwise your skin could come off with it.

All healed tattoo number three.

All healed tattoo number three.

Excuse me…what?

May I note she told me this after it was on my body?

Honestly, taking it off wasn’t too bad but my dad, who helped to take it off, kept pulling upward and it caused it to sting. Once it was off, my skin was irritated in the areas surrounding but the actual tattoo felt perfectly fine. A couple days later I entered the itchy/peel-y phase of new tattoos and was so happy when it was over.

All in all, I would say the worse part of tattoo number three was getting the “derm” off and how itchy it was. Seeing as I’m a girl, I think the culprit was my bra strap constantly rubbing against it and making me want to roll around on a floor made of steel wool.

Back to school: The Unofficial Welcome/Warning to All Incoming Freshmen

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A year ago (fun fact: it was the first post on this blog) I posted a fun and sarcastic piece about the things most survival guides don’t tell you about college. I’d like to take a moment, after much reflection, and present all you college newbies with some more serious things you wouldn’t otherwise know because no one or no survival guide wants to be the bearer of bad news.

Learn how to check your email more often than your text messages
Professors WILL NOT text you about a quiz getting moved up or a class getting cancelled, they email you. Get into the habit of checking your email at least three times a day, more if you have group work, a demanding class or an online class.

Learn to nap

Yup, basically.

Yup, basically.

If you weren’t a fan of napping before college then you need to suck it up and get into the habit. Because all-nighters and hectic schedules become the normal for college students, taking your spare time and turning it into naptime becomes essential to not passing out during boring lectures.

It’s okay to question everything
Do I really want to be a chemical engineer? A nurse? A teacher? A pharmacist? Do I really like my style? My friends? My dog? Am I gay? Bisexual? Asexual? Am I a liberal? What even is that?
It’s okay.
College, for most people, is the first time away from home and it’s a whole lot of changes at once. When thrust into this world, you begin questioning everything. Here’s a life hint: It’s best to question now and figure yourself out before it’s too late.

College is full of weird people you never thought you’d see
If you’ve ever seen the movie “10 Things I Hate About You” then I would like to refer you to the scene when Joseph Gordon-Levitt is new and David Krumholtz is pointing out all the cliques. It’s a lot like that scene complete with girls talking about how they love their Prada backpack but nowadays it’s either Coach or Michael Kors.

The preppy girls you hated are now called “basic”

Jimmy Fallon's Thank-You Notes for all the "basic" Starbucks lovers.

Jimmy Fallon’s Thank-You Notes for all the “basic” Starbucks lovers.

It may be a popular joke to call a girl basic but for reals, this is like, not a drill. All those preppy girls in high school, the ones who giggled at text messages from the person two rows away and hung out with all the jocks, have given fame to the “basic” phenomenon. They now giggle at completely stupid Snapchats, drink Starbucks lattes (with soy and two shots sugar free vanilla, obvi) and they wear glasses even if they don’t require them.

Budget or die
Cut coupons and watch for sales if you are living in a dorm or a campus apartment. Whether you have a job or have a weekly allowance, budget you money so you have enough to cover essentials like rent, food and textbooks. Partying can be done when you’ve secured your future. Also, check your bank account daily to make sure your card hasn’t been compromised and you’ve paid for someone else’s surfboard.

Credit/debt cards are not invisible money from the bank of mom and dad
Please refer to the above-mentioned “Budget or die” because it is not your parent’s responsibility to pay for every visit to Taco Bell and Bed, Bath & Beyond.

Buzzfeed for Ramen hacks (you will get tired of basic ramen noodles)
Especially if you live on campus, Ramen has just become your main dish everyday for the next four plus years. Ramen noodles can get boring after a while though and the need to spice things up, sometimes literally, is all but mandatory. Buzzfeed has come out with many videos on the different things you can make with Ramen including gnocchi, BLTs and cheese sticks.

Plan for a traffic jam
Shout out to commuter students who have to take major highways to get to and from school. You’re not the only driver and not everyone is going to class. Some are on their way to work, some on their way to vacation and others are just taking up space because they’re lost. Accidents happen and construction is inevitable so always plan for the possibility of getting stuck in stop-and-go traffic.

Welcome to the world of politics
It you weren’t politically aware before, you are now! From arguments in hallways to posters on bulletin boards and protests in the quad, college is a petri dish of political agendas slowly growing to the absurd, especially around the times for presidential elections aka this fall! I can’t wait to see the many Donald Trump posters and memes around campus.

Don’t sign things unless you’re really passionate about the cause
Half the time when someone is asking you to sign a petition supporting animal rights or to impeach a president, you either need to submit your email to receive never-ending forwards and graphic pictures but also your name is now on a government watch list. Everyone take a moment to wave at the NSA!

You’ll end up with at least seven pocket Bibles by the end of your first semester
It’s hard to escape the very nice older generation of people who appear on campus multiple times in the fall and spring armed with small green Bibles that easily fit in your pocket. Maybe it’s because college is known as a breeding ground of debauchery but expect to have a Bible shoved, yes shoved, into your hand when you come out of a parking structure stairwell, out of a building, walk across the street, walk into Starbucks and, no joke, try to get your lunch from a food truck.

Things are about to get drastic
Anything that was holding you back from being you in high school has been lifted. It’s like magic! Or at least it’s like magic that has been weighing you down and your senses need time to adjust. Chances are you’re going to be inspired to get healthy and cut out gluten for no other reason than Twitter said everybody else was. You’ll want to join 7 a.m. yoga because a survival guide said it would improve your energy for the day. You’ll want to dye your hair a pastel color because the guy who sits behind you in your bio lecture convinced you you could pull it off. Newsflash: Very few can.

Your professors really have heard it all

Jenna Marbles giving an example of excuses.

Jenna Marbles giving an example of excuses.

If you don’t do an assignment, don’t make up and excuse to get an extension because your professor could write a series on the ridiculous things students have come up with from a death in the family, mass Wi-Fi failure, rabid animals, murder and police. Just be upfront and say you forgot and/or ran out of time. Chances are they’ll be nicer about the situation.

Truthfully, college is easy but the change and responsibility is what throws students for a loop. Chances are you have a job, live on your own and have people to answer to. Basically, it’s your first time adult-ing and it’s terrifying. But remember, #itgetsbetter.