To My Sister, On Her Graduation Day

Dear Little Sister,

You’re not so little anymore! Wow, when did this whole growing up thing happen? It seems like just yesterday we were chasing each other around the house and having secret conversations in Nintendo DS chatrooms…now I’m halfway done with college and as of today, you are a high school graduate!

I know this time in your life is full of uncertainty and so many goodbyes. I know you have that bundle of nerves, excitement, and fear in your gut; I remember feeling the same way when I graduated two years ago. Once you realize that a part of life you grew so accustomed to is ending, every day is more bittersweet than the one before it. But I am not writing these words to make you cry even more tears than you have today. I am here to tell you that this is where it all begins.

The moment you crossed that stage tonight in your cap and gown (and you looked beautiful doing it, by the way), you closed a chapter full of memories, academic and personal achievements, hard work, friendships, and laughter. But you also opened a brand new chapter full of the exact same things. You did a lot of growing in high school, little sis, but you will grow leaps and bounds in college. You are entering some of the most important years of your life, although you might not realize it as you’re living them. Higher education is a whole new ball game — it is the place where you finally get to explore your passions and discover your potential. It’s where your social circle expands to include your roommate, floormates, classmates, and party acquaintances (and yes, your best friends since childhood will still be with you). It’s where you’ll spend many sleepless nights studying in the library or your dorm for a difficult exam you may never be prepared enough for.

All of the ups and downs that lie ahead of you are worth it, I promise. You know why? Because the one feeling that will stick with you through it all is the incredible sense of independence. Your time at university benefits no one as much as it benefits you. I can tell you from personal experience that there is nothing better than waking up, walking to class, and taking in your surroundings at the place you will soon call home. You may not feel ready, and that’s okay — thirteen years of education have prepared you for the transition to adulthood, but no one is ever really ready for anything. You just have to jump into freshman year headfirst and have faith that things will work themselves out. Making a life for yourself is hard work and scary as hell, but it’s also more exhilarating than you can imagine, and you never have to do it alone. I can’t wait to watch you do so many amazing things tomorrow as you build on the strong, successful woman you are today!

So, little sister, as you lie in bed tonight and process the culmination of your high school career, I hope you feel accomplished. I hope you look back on the past four years with immense pride and joy while also anticipating the next four years. It’s okay to be sentimental and nostalgic and teary-eyed, as I demonstrated so well after the ceremony. And throughout these summer days before everything changes, I hope you remember some very wise words from Taylor Swift: “It was the end of a decade, but the start of an age.”

Long live all the magic you made. Happy Graduation!

Love always,

Your Big Sister ❤

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Spotify + Summer = Music Bliss

I’m not sure what it is, but every song I listen to sounds sweeter in the summertime.

Music sets the scene for so many precious moments that take place throughout the season, from road trips to beach days and backyard celebrations with sparklers and lemonade. I firmly believe that the perfect playlist can have the power to transform small events into unforgettable memories. And so, naturally, I’ve taken it upon myself to create playlists for almost every occasion and reason you can think of. Not to brag, but I’m kind of a big-shot Spotify connoiseur — at least in my mind, haha!

Anyways, summer is my favorite season and therefore a great excuse for me to go into playlist-making overdrive. There’s just so much good music out there waiting to be heard! For me, this time of year brings out my folksy hippie side so I tend to gravitate towards soft, uplifting tunes that make me want to get up and go on an adventure. I wanted to share some of my Spotify mixes with you all so you can get a better idea of the genres I love and how my personality is shaped by what I listen to. Check out my playlists below!

Summerdays

 

i’m a wanderess

 

Hot Summer Nights…

 

What song, album, or playlist is your summer soundtrack for 2016? Which artists are you loving right now? I’m always looking for new music so feel free to leave some recommendations in the comments 🙂

Stay free! xo

— Morgan

** This post is NOT sponsored by Spotify or any other music-streaming service. All opinions expressed are my own.

My Thoughts on the Insta Obsession

Hello, lovelies! I know, I know, it’s been a while and I’m terrible at keeping this blog up to date, but I’m on summer break now so I hope to write a lot more!

As a journalism major and teenager I am prone to a not-so-slight social media obsession, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. One popular app in particular comes to mind: Instagram.

When I first joined Instagram a few years ago, I just saw it as a cool way to share photos and moments of my life with my friends. Not once did I think of the potential it had to become a digital juggernaut for photography, networking, and even business. If you’re looking for a social medium where it’s possible to gain a sizable following by posting edited photos, the ‘gram is the place to be. In my opinion, the professional and personal opportunities through this app make it the most exciting platform to use right now. How crazy is it that “Instagram model” is a legitimate phrase and that people can go on amazing trips, get connected to a future employer, or spread the message of a movement, all with a few taps on a smartphone? I see more #sponsored and #ad hashtags in people’s posts than I ever thought possible. Technology is a marvel, folks!

But as with most things in life, it’s wisest to take what you see online with a heavy grain of salt, especially when it comes to Instagram. The harm is done when viewers believe that the photos someone posts on their feed are a completely accurate reflection of that person’s life. Let me stress one thing: This is NOT true!!! And in some cases, relying on likes and follower counts for self-validation can have disastrous results.

One example that comes to mind is the very recent, very public case of  Australian teenager Essena O’Neill, who worked her way up the social media fame ladder to become an Instagram star with a following of over 500,000 users. O’Neill once said in a mass email that she had enough money from working with Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and YouTube combined to fund travel excursions and live the ultra-glam, expensive lifestyle many people dream of. She signed with a modelling agency, did photoshoots with different products and brands constantly, and even bought her own apartment in LA, all by age eighteen. Yep, eighteen years old. However, O’Neill quit all forms of social media for good in November 2015 and revealed that the digital world she found herself living in was toxic, materialistic, and rested on “perfectly orchestrated self absorbed judgement.”

Soon after the announcement, she rewrote the captions of nearly all of her 2000+ Instagram photos to show the truth behind her life’s seemingly perfect appearance (before she deleted her account altogether). For instance, one edited shot of O’Neill lifting her shirt to show off a perfectly toned stomach, her hair tousled, now reads: “The only thing that made me feel good that day was this photo. How depressing. Having a toned body is not all we as human beings are capable of.” All the pictures can be viewed on O’Neill’s website BEHIND THE IMAGE, which is the platform she now uses to advocate for safe social media use, healthy self-esteem for girls, and the importance of real life.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/trending/instagram-essena-o-neill-social-media-isn-t-real-1.3302045

When I first heard about this story I immediately thought, “Well, duh…everyone should know that you can’t take Instagram too seriously. Obviously no one’s life is really what it seems online; that’s common sense!” Then I realized — for a lot of people, it is not common sense. If someone posts a picture of a room filled with plants and incense, it’s easy to believe that they’re a chilled out hippie who is all about good vibes and happiness, even if their life is difficult in reality. Maybe we tailor our digital lives to only include the good things because we want to avoid the barrage of negativity in the world today. I’m not quite sure what the reason is, but whether we like to admit it or not, we all care about the image of ourselves that we put out into the world. We get caught up in Instagram themes, filters, and editing techniques that present our individual lives as an “aesthetic” — Lord forgive me if that doesn’t become the most overused word of 2016 — just the way we want it.

Believe me, I am in no way immune to the digital plague and the way it affects my way of life. I check my photos multiple times a day to see how many likes they have. I’m not going to lie, I do feel a little confidence boost when my counts go up, even though I know it’s not healthy to mix self-esteem with social media. I am just as guilty of spending hours playing around on VSCOCam as the next wanna-be photographer. And I’m not saying there’s anything inherently wrong with this; in fact, I personally think Instagram brings out the inner artist and creator in all of us. It helps us see nature and the world from a different perspective, with a photographer’s eye. Colors, contrast, hues, and saturation are suddenly much more noticeable in our everyday lives. Capturing objects from different angles and getting them to fit inside the small square boundaries challenges us to think out of the box. But it is when we let the digital aspects eclipse the real ones that Instaddiction can become a problem. Heavily edited photos and happy captions are okay as long as you remember that what you’re seeing is only one dimension of a person.

So the next time you’re mindlessly scrolling through Instagram and liking every on picture-perfect moment that pops up on your feed, keep in mind that the best moments in life are often unseen, unedited, and offline.

What is your opinion on Instagram’s growth as a platform for business and sponsored posts? Is Internet fame really worth it? Also, leave your username down below and I’d be happy to follow you! I’m @magicalmorganx on the ‘gram.

Stay free! xo

— Morgan

 

Big Adventures, Little Moments

I went home last weekend to celebrate Easter and during my brief visit, I was lucky enough to spend a sunny spring afternoon with my best friend, Kat! The trees were blooming, the air had a promising freshness to it, and we were happy. Being the naturally curious, ambitious explorers that we are, what started out as an aimless drive turned into a quest to find new corners of our hometown…this is kind of our routine, our “thing.”

By the end of the day we were tired but in that perfectly content way, satisfied with all of the beauty we had seen. As I was scrolling through the photos later, I realized something. I realized that the best parts of a grand adventure are the small wonders that touch your soul along the way — something as simple as the contrast between white flower buds and a cloudless blue sky, or the feeling you get when you look at your best friend and see all of the worry leave her eyes as she smiles and relaxes. Even when the details fade from your memory, your heart will always hold onto the special moments that you can’t put into words. And that is one of the most important, precious lessons of life.

Enjoy these gorgeous photographs taken by my lovely friend Katarina, and follow her on Instagram (@misskatarinaxo) if you’d like to see more!

Stay free! xo

— Morgan

Blue Skies Are Calling

Hello, friends! It’s been too long since my last post but I am on spring break this week, so I can finally show this blog some love 🙂

This brief stretch of time away from the stress of collegiate life, combined with the mild weather that has been creeping in here on the East Coast, has given my mind space to wander, and I have one thing on the brain: spring!

One of the best things about life on this Earth is experiencing the change of the seasons, and my favorite part of the cycle is the shift from winter to spring. After surviving the bitter cold and loneliness of the winter months, we are rewarded by nature in so many small ways. Suddenly the sun shines brighter, the grass looks greener, our favorite songs sound better, and each day is more inspiring. And as the world blooms with revitalization, we are reminded of our own potential to do the same.

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For me personally, spring allows me to take a step back and evaluate the way I’ve been living so far this year. I may still have to put up with the same crazy schedule, weekly meetings, and daily obligations, but in some weird way it seems like I have more time on my hands. I can sit down at the end of the day and ask myself things such as: How am I feeling right now? Why might I feel that way? How can I manage my time more efficiently? What can I do to take better care of my soul? What are the things that motivate me? Ideally we should always question ourselves in these ways, but the newness that we observe in springtime provides us with the perfect opportunity to actually do so.

I feel the most connected to the vernal equinox through sensory details: the music I listen to, the photos I see on the Internet, and the colors of the sky when I look up throughout the day. I can make it through even the most boring activity or routine because I have a heightened awareness of my mind, body, spirit, and lifestyle…if only things could be this way year-round, haha! But still, I am eternally in awe and appreciative of the surge of motivation that finds its way back to me right when I need it. I cannot wait to see what comes from it during this spring season! Let me know what you’re looking forward to in the warm months ahead 🙂

Stay free! xo

— Morgan

 

Music Monday: I ♥ Female Folk Singers

I am a huge fan of many different types of music, from R&B to classic rock and pop radio hits. But there is a special place in my heart for what some call the “indie” genre and all of its subcategories. Over the past few years I have broadened my musical horizons and discovered artists that have a distinct folk style, from Bob Dylan to recent John Mayer…then I found some amazing female singers, and I officially fell in love! Here are a few of my favorite ladies in the world of modern folk music.

Joni Mitchell

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For many people, Joni is the first woman to come to mind when we think of 20th century folk music. The effortless emotion and richness of her lilting voice is indescribable, but she uses it to share opinions, thoughts, and stories that settle deep in your soul. I feel the strongest attraction to Blue, perhaps her most iconic album. No matter how many times I listen to it, every song on the record still takes me away to a peaceful journey on a long road to nowhere.

One of my favorite Joni songs is “Woodstock” (from her third album, Ladies of the Canyon) because of the unsettling, dark undertone it carries. I think it perfectly captures the swirling political current of the United States during the 1960s and 1970s, but the lyrics also apply to our human desire to find ourselves and our place in the world. Joni Mitchell is still one of the most celebrated folk artists today, and rightly so.

First Aid Kit

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I was introduced to First Aid Kit through a list of song recommendations that my best friend gave me a while back, but I never expected to become as obsessed with them as I am now! Sisters Johanna and Karla Söderberg formed the group in 2008, and although they are from Sweden, their sweet voices blend together to create some of the most beautiful Americana music I have ever heard. You can hear their style come through on their second album, The Lion’s Roar, and the summer road trip vibes are in full force throughout 2014’s Stay Gold. 

The modern indie folk genre is about more than music, though; the aesthetic and general feel that an artist puts out is equally as important, and these girls have it down. Their merch store is full of apparel with cool graphic designs that are reminiscent of vintage Fleetwood Mac. If I had to describe First Aid Kit in three words? Freedom, warmth, and sunshine.

 Brandi Carlile

Brandi Carlile @ The Troubadour, West Hollywood - 03/04/2015

If you’d never heard of Brandi Carlile before the announcement that she is nominated for Best Americana album at this year’s Grammy Awards, you are not alone! My interest in her is relatively new and piqued thanks to a friend of mine who was listening to her on Spotify, but I am so glad I found her. Carlile’s nominated album, The Firewatcher’s Daughter, is a perfect example of a classic folk record that still ponders life’s big questions but incorporates rougher tinges of country and rock. My favorite tracks are “Wherever Is Your Heart” and “I Belong To You” because of the self-reflection and strength in the lyrics. Whenever I listen to these songs I want to grab my best friends, drive across the country, and just live in the now.

To me, the reason folk music is such a staple in American culture is because it inspires the adventurous spirit in all of us and replaces all of the distractions around us with the simple beauty of the world. And for that, I will always love it.

What genre of music do you love most? Who are some of your favorite artists and why do you listen to them?

 

My Sorority Rush Experience

Hello, loves!

The second semester of my sophomore year of college has officially begun; it’s crazy how fast winter break flew by! It was even shorter for me because I moved back into my on-campus apartment one week early to participate in Panhellenic sorority recruitment.

Yep, you read that right: I rushed Greek life at my school…and I absolutely loved it. The biggest piece of advice I received throughout the week was “trust the system.” Well I did, and it all worked out. I found the home I was looking for: Alpha Xi Delta!

Like many girls my age, I grew up and went through my teenage years with preconceived ideas of what sororities were like. Movies such as House Bunny and Legally Blonde convinced me that the stereotypes were true…and my younger self was determined to never turn into a “sorority girl” when I got to college. Last week, however, I found out that those stereotypes are wrong. 

The recruitment process taught me so much about myself, other girls, and the many different opportunities that sororities offer. If you’re reading this, maybe you’re interested in Greek life at your school but the idea of rushing terrifies you. Maybe you’re just curious to learn more about about how it all works. This is why I want to share my journey with all of you. I’ll give a brief overview of each day, the outfits I wore, and what I gained from the overall experience. Read on!

Days 1 & 2 – Rounds

   

First Outfit: Cardigan, shirt, leggings, knee socks – Target; boots – Kmart;  necklace – my mom

Second Outfit: Top and leggings – Target, black ballet flats (not pictured) – Delia’s, necklace – my best friend

Round days were meant to introduce us Potential New Members to each of the sororities (we had 5 to choose from) and give us a feel for the personality of the individual chapters. On Day 1 I experienced every sorority this way: My recruitment group lined up in alphabetical order and we walked into the designated room that was listed on our schedule. Each of us was immediately greeted by a huge group of excited sisters who were typically yelling sorority chants or singing, and the rooms were decked out in themed decorations. We made small talk with 3 or 4 sisters during the entire half-hour of the party. It was our chance to tell them about ourselves, answer their questions about our personalities and why we went out for rush, and ask them anything we wanted…then we’d take a quick break and move onto the next party. After the first day I had to rank which sororities I liked best from 1 to 5 and I went home.

On Day 2 I came back to find out that based on the sororities’ own rankings, I got invited back to two parties, which meant that two sororities showed a serious interest in me as a PNM. This day was set up the same as the prior one but I had longer conversations with the girls and the focus was on philanthropy, so they showed us a video highlighting the charitable organization(s) they work with. At the end of the second day of rounds I ranked the chapters again based on the experiences I had with them that night.

Day 3 – Preference Night

Cardigan, top, skirt, tights, and booties all from Target. The addiction is real.

This was definitely the fanciest and most important night of the week. By this point the ranking process had narrowed it down to 2-3 sorority parties for all of the approximately 300 PNMs. We got our individual schedules and either waited until our party time or went on our way. I was invited to another sorority as well but by this point I knew in my heart that AXiD was where I wanted to be; every time I walked into their room that week I immediately relaxed and felt comfortable enough to be myself. I made a genuine connection with each girl I talked to & I loved how our conversations ranged from deep talks about college life to obsessing over clothes and Netflix! I won’t go into too much detail about pref night but I will say that the sororities’ ceremonies were beautiful and very emotional. The sisters wore matching black or white formal attire, sang songs that held meaning in their chapter, and displayed bonds of love that gave me a wonderful, funny feeling in my stomach. I honestly felt like I was in the rose-giving portion of The Bachelorette, haha! At the end of this long night I listed my dream sorority as my only preference, went home, and prayed for a bid from the best.

Day 4 – BID DAY!!!

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Bid Day, also known as the best day of my college journey so far & the day I officially found my home in Alpha Xi Delta!! The chapter gave me a bid (an invitation to join) along with 45 other amazing new members who I am now getting to know. Running through the huge crowd of jumping, screaming sorority girls and into the open arms of my sisters was exhilarating! The initiated members threw a party for us in the afternoon to celebrate; it was an event full of pictures, pizza, hugs, upbeat chatter, learning chants, and just feeling welcomed.

My rush week was nerve-wracking and not what I expected it to be at all, but it worked out better than I could have ever imagined. I learned a lot about myself, the values I hold close, and the many benefits of “going Greek” in college. I can’t wait to learn everything there is to know about my sorority’s history and become involved with Autism Speaks, an amazing and important cause that impacts so many people worldwide. I can’t wait to become close friends with my fellow new members and initiated sisters as well! I can’t wait to finally have the college experience I’ve always wanted…and to be an Alpha Xi.

Are you an alumna of a national sorority chapter? Is there anything you’re dying to know about sorority life? Would you ever go out for formal recruitment at your college or university?

Stay free! xo

— Morgan

“New Year, New Me”

Happy New Year, everyone!!!

As the clouds turn their magnificent pink yellow and the first sun of 2016 begins to set, my mind romps about in a field of hopeful energy. Some like to mock the people who look up to the skies and declare, “New year, new me.” They shame them, tear them down for the simple utterance of a worn out cliche that has come to carry an empty promise. I embrace them as my own kind.

What good is there in wearing a cold guise of indifference when each one of us is lucky enough to have been given 365 days of pure opportunity? Why deny ourselves and others the potential for opened doors, new attitudes, and all the good that comes from beginning again? Why ostracize our fellow human beings for possessing even an ounce of clean, genuine positivity when we can learn from them instead?

I cannot stress enough the importance of supporting our loved ones’ optimism and ambition, especially at the dawn of a new year of life. This is because in the moments when we do so we gain empathy and perspective — perspective that we can use to realize our own goals, hopes, and dreams. We find the inspiration and bits of passion that make our hearts hungry for fulfillment and our bodies determined to satisfy that hunger.

So here’s to another year begun with resolute spirit and warm intentions. Here’s to you & I, life, love, and happiness. Here’s to 2016!

My goals for the new year are as follows:

  1. Strengthen my relationship with my God.
  2. Know myself soulfully & spiritually, through yoga and meditation and whatever makes me feel good.
  3. Be present in more adventures, moments, and days of my life.

What do you plan to accomplish in 2016? What are your aspirations and dreams, big or small? Let me know with a comment.

Stay free! xo

— Morgan

Lookbook: Autumn’s Last Breath

Today is Winter Solstice, the longest night and shortest day of the year. Since we are transitioning into a new season, I wanted to take a few moments to reflect on the beautiful autumn we had and the way it made me feel in connection with Mother Earth. It’s difficult to put the rich, soulful energy that I experienced this fall into words…so I decided to translate it through photographs.

My best friend & I took these pictures on an unseasonably warm day a few weeks ago (it was 60 degrees in mid-December thanks to El Niño, but hey, I’m not complaining), and I think they really capture the unity with the woods and sense of adventure that I felt! Enjoy looking through them, and here’s to the final turn of the seasons for this year.

All photography by K.H. and M.O.