The First Year Without My Grandfather

The First Year Without My Grandfather

For the man whom I may never be able to do without.
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It’s been just over six months since I lost my grandfather. Before Grandpa Jaro’s passing I had never had to go through losing a loved one and I had no idea just how hard that would be.

My grandfather was from the Czech Republic. When my father was fifteen years old, he left the Czech Republic with his parents, Alena and Jaroslav, and came to the United States; where they settled in Illinois. After almost 20 years together, my grandparents separated in what happened to be particularly nasty and painful divorce. My grandmother died unexpectedly a few years before I was born in 1994. When I came into the world in September of 1996, My father named me Alena (Ah-len-ah) in her memory.

Legacy and family are deeply valued in the Czech Republic, so my grandfather was more than thrilled to have my sister Natalie and I. In turn, we were blessed to have 19 incredible years with him. As I was growing up, I became very aware of much people struggled to say my name correctly. Americans have a lot of trouble wrapping their tongues around the pronunciation. While I did develop a lot of patience, I also began to feel very isolated. Even at the age of six, I knew that my name was very uncommon. I never saw it in the souvenir shops, no license plates or key chains. I began to dread introducing myself, seeing the look of confusion, sometimes amusement on their faces when I said it. I felt very alone, like I didn't quite fit in. While I had plenty of friends growing up, I could never quite shake the feeling of loneliness that came with the name I was given.

Eventually, My grandfather grew to understand why Dad had chosen that name, and came to love it. It was a name that had once caused him so much pain and anger. A name he’d probably even cursed once or twice. A part of me has always thought that Grandpa Jaro was able to find peace with Alena because of the name I was given. Saying it caused him joy once again and he was able to put the past in the past.

Grandpa Jaro nicknamed me “Alenka” - Czech for “Little Alena.” He was so proud and happy to have grandchildren, but I don't think he ever knew how special he made me feel.

Grandpa Jaro, with his strong eastern euro accent, made my name sound so beautiful and unique that I was able to grow to love and embrace it. We really don't have a lot of family members left on my father's side so I always treasured the visits and moments I had with my Grandfather. So when we lost him it was like losing a huge part of my heritage, almost everything I knew about being Czech came from Grandpa Jaro. Even now, there’s a lot I don’t know about that side of our family, and probably never will.

When he passed away unexpectedly this past April, I was in pain, so much more pain than I ever anticipated. He was one of the people I’d cherished most in my life and he’d just slipped away. There would be no more visits, no more letters or stories. Only memories.

This summer, I had a lot of time to think. I thought about the moments I had with him, and the ones he'd never see. After months of grief and anger I was finally able find some solace. Now, i'm focusing on how I going to make him proud every day, push harder, be more mindful, and honor his memory by striving to be the woman he knew I could become.

I would like to take a moment to stress something to my generation and those after us. Sit down with your elders, take the time to bond with them. Listen to them, take an interest in their experiences and their stories. If I had known just how little time I had left with my grandfather I would have done things differently. And I’d give anything to have that time and those moments back.

Cover Image Credit: Alena Mayer

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College As Told By Junie B. Jones

A tribute to the beloved author Barbara Parks.
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The Junie B. Jones series was a big part of my childhood. They were the first chapter books I ever read. On car trips, my mother would entertain my sister and me by purchasing a new Junie B. Jones book and reading it to us. My favorite part about the books then, and still, are how funny they are. Junie B. takes things very literally, and her (mis)adventures are hilarious. A lot of children's authors tend to write for children and parents in their books to keep the attention of both parties. Barbara Park, the author of the Junie B. Jones series, did just that. This is why many things Junie B. said in Kindergarten could be applied to her experiences in college, as shown here.

When Junie B. introduces herself hundreds of times during orientation week:

“My name is Junie B. Jones. The B stands for Beatrice. Except I don't like Beatrice. I just like B and that's all." (Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus, p. 1)

When she goes to her first college career fair:

"Yeah, only guess what? I never even heard of that dumb word careers before. And so I won't know what the heck we're talking about." (Junie B. Jones and her Big Fat Mouth, p. 2)

When she thinks people in class are gossiping about her:

“They whispered to each other for a real long time. Also, they kept looking at me. And they wouldn't even stop." (Junie B., First Grader Boss of Lunch, p. 66)

When someone asks her about the library:

“It's where the books are. And guess what? Books are my very favorite things in the whole world!" (Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus, p. 27)

When she doesn't know what she's eating at the caf:

“I peeked inside the bread. I stared and stared for a real long time. 'Cause I didn't actually recognize the meat, that's why. Finally, I ate it anyway. It was tasty...whatever it was." (Junie B., First Grader Boss of Lunch, p. 66)

When she gets bored during class:

“I drew a sausage patty on my arm. Only that wasn't even an assignment." (Junie B. Jones Loves Handsome Warren, p. 18)

When she considers dropping out:

“Maybe someday I will just be the Boss of Cookies instead!" (Junie B., First Grader Boss of Lunch, p. 76)

When her friends invite her to the lake for Labor Day:

“GOOD NEWS! I CAN COME TO THE LAKE WITH YOU, I BELIEVE!" (Junie B. Jones Smells Something Fishy, p. 17)

When her professor never enters grades on time:

“I rolled my eyes way up to the sky." (Junie B., First Grader Boss of Lunch, p. 38)

When her friends won't stop poking her on Facebook:


“Do not poke me one more time, and I mean it." (Junie B. Jones Smells Something Fishy, p. 7)

When she finds out she got a bad test grade:

“Then my eyes got a little bit wet. I wasn't crying, though." (Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus, p. 17)

When she isn't allowed to have a pet on campus but really wants one:

“FISH STICK! I NAMED HIM FISH STICK BECAUSE HE'S A FISH STICK, OF COURSE!" (Junie B. Jones Smells Something Fishy, p. 59)

When she has to walk across campus in the dark:

“There's no such thing as monsters. There's no such thing as monsters." (Junie B. Jones Has a Monster Under Her Bed, p. 12)

When her boyfriend breaks her heart:

“I am a bachelorette. A bachelorette is when your boyfriend named Ricardo dumps you at recess. Only I wasn't actually expecting that terrible trouble." (Junie B. Jones Is (almost) a Flower Girl, p. 1)

When she paints her first canvas:


"And painting is the funnest thing I love!" (Junie B. Jones and her Big Fat Mouth, p. 61)

When her sorority takes stacked pictures:

“The biggie kids stand in the back. And the shortie kids stand in the front. I am a shortie kid. Only that is nothing to be ashamed of." (Junie B. Jones Has a Monster Under Her Bed, p. 7)

When she's had enough of the caf's food:

“Want to bake a lemon pie? A lemon pie would be fun, don't you think?" (Junie B. Jones Has a Monster Under Her Bed p. 34)

When she forgets about an exam:

“Speechless is when your mouth can't speech." (Junie B. Jones Loves Handsome Warren, p. 54)

When she finds out she has enough credits to graduate:

“A DIPLOMA! A DIPLOMA! I WILL LOVE A DIPLOMA!" (Junie B. Jones is a Graduation Girl p. 6)

When she gets home from college:

"IT'S ME! IT'S JUNIE B. JONES! I'M HOME FROM MY SCHOOL!" (Junie B. Jones and some Sneaky Peaky Spying p. 20)

Cover Image Credit: OrderOfBooks

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5 Ways To Pass The Time On Your Lengthy Road Trip


"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and enjoy the journey."

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Whether you're driving home for the summer, taking a cross-country road trip with your friends, or driving out-of-state for an internship, the time you spend crammed inside a car can be the death of you as the hours seem to drag on and on. From someone who drove through six states alone in an entire day -over a thousand miles- here are a few things you can do to make the time go faster.

1. Start driving early.

The earlier you start driving, the better. Driving in an unfamiliar place as the day begins to transition from day to night can be a little unsettling; you could get lost by taking the wrong exit or turn, or God forbid you're having car issues and left somewhere dangerous, or you need a bathroom break and are forced to pull up to a gas station that's straight out of a scary movie. When you're driving and the day starts getting darker, you become more exhausted than before.

2. Listen to audiobooks.

A concept: the book you never got to read during the semester because you were too busy with your other classes but it's read by your favorite author in audio format to kill at least a good four hours (or more depending on the book) during your road trip.

3. Listen to podcasts.

There is a podcast for everyone and everything, I promise. When you find the one podcast that speaks to you, it is a never-ending rabbit hole from there and you'll end up wishing your road trip was longer.

4. Get some snacks.

Stopping anywhere other than a fast food joint can delay your trip and the fast foods available to us aren't always the best options. Be sure to pack your favorite snacks or even your favorite easy homemade meal. If you're going to stop for a break, make the time well-spent by eating something you actually enjoy and you'll feel good to drive for another few hours.

5. Create a hit music playlist.

No road trip would be complete without a playlist compiled of your favorite jams to get you by. Take the time to explore new genres or nostalgic classics.

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