Pura Vida in Costa Rica

Hello friends! I’m just coming back from a week in Costa Rica and I can’t stop smiling. We had the most amazing vacation and it was so nice to have a getaway. It’s such a fulfilling feeling when you finally get to see somewhere that you’ve always wanted to see. What’s that place for you?

For a long time, it’s been Costa Rica for me. Why? All the animals, all the flora and fauna—I love it all. So when this dream came true, I had to pinch myself. We had an incredible time immersing ourselves in nature. Just listening to the sound of the birds every morning was a new peace that I needed. I thought I would share some of my favorite pictures with you to share some of the adventures.

Our trip started out in San Jose, the capital, and we were only briefly there. We then took a small plane to La Fortuna to see the Arenal Volcano. It was beyond beautiful with the masses of plants and flowers and of course, the volcano itself was stunning. We also loved getting to experience the hot springs. Animal sightings included iguanas, frogs, snakes, and tons of birds. Also not to be forgotten is our chocolate tour on an authentic cacao farm owned by the locals.

We then headed off to Manuel Antonio—a beach city on the Pacific coast. What a beautiful scene it was. This was definitely my favorite part of the trip because we saw so much wildlife. Sloths, monkeys, scarlet macaws, bats—it was all so fantastic. You never knew when something might surprise you. We hiked over seven miles in Manuel Antonio National Park and we also had a great catamaran ride in the morning. Next time I go back I definitely want to go parasailing!

It was the perfect getaway that we needed. Life has been so busy for us and we need a breath away from everything. It’s been a little hard this week getting back in the swing of things but it’s a little easier knowing that I got to experience a lifelong dream come true.

I hope you can start to make plans to your dream destination. Looking forward to it is just as much a part of the fun.

Pura vida, amigos!

 

Keep shining,

The Sunny Girl, Lauren Cook

Sunny Star: Dana Gielselman

Hello friends! I hope this post finds you well. I’m sorry for the delay…just when I think life can’t get any busier, it does! I have been working hard on my doctorate at Pepperdine and finding time to write anything but assessment and intake reports are hard to come by these days.

With that being said, I am SO excited to share this interview with a fellow NCL Sustainer, Dana Gielselman. I met Dana this past summer when I came into the NCL Headquarters to film a video. Dana is a fellow UCLA Bruin, Disney intern mastermind, and a total rockstar. I’m so excited for you to learn from this stellar lady. I especially love that she is pursuing a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). She is a reminder that girls can do ANYTHING and I hope that you’ll be that much more motivated after reading her story.

 

1. You had the incredible opportunity of taking not one, but two Disney Imagineering classes at UCLA. On top of that, your team won the competition! Can you tell us more about this experience?

The Disney Imagineering courses at UCLA are by far the most incredible classes I’ve ever taken. For two quarters, weekly speakers from Walt Disney Imagineering would come tell our class about their roles, the process behind creating immersive, themed entertainment, and fun stories about the parks. I was amazed to learn about the collaborative dynamic between creativity and technology at Disney, and I was so excited to be selected to join the second quarter. I then worked in a creative design team with five amazingly talented fellow students. We spent the quarter redesigning a department store model and ultimately presented our project to executives at the Imagineering headquarters. I can’t believe how much I learned; it was one of the most magical experiences of my life!

  1. What was your favorite memory during the Imagineering classes?

Having the chance to work together with an incredible team was definitely my favorite part of the experience. It’s pretty rare to work in a group for a whole quarter and become so close, let alone a group of such motivated, creative individuals. We all had very diverse backgrounds, and it was so neat to see all of our different ideas come together to result in a new, creative solution to the challenge. Getting a behind-the-scenes tour of Disneyland and Disney California Adventure with Tony Baxter—the Disney Legend behind projects such as Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain, The Indiana Jones Adventure, and Disneyland Paris—was pretty unbelievable, too.

  1. Winning the competition required your expertise in math. So many young women are afraid to pursue a major or career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). What has your experience been like as a math major and are you glad that you are pursuing math?

Before college, I loved math because it came naturally to me, and I’ve always found it fun to work with numbers. However, I now love math because it is the greatest academic challenge I have ever faced. I actually didn’t learn what math is truly all about until my second year of college in my first upper division course, Linear Algebra. Math is about taking a statement and explaining why that statement is true or false through logical reasoning. It’s not really about plugging numbers into equations; it’s a way of thinking. Choosing to major in math has been one of the best choices I’ve ever made because it will really help me in any field I choose to pursue.

  1. What encouragement would you have for young women who are considering, or perhaps doubtful, about pursuing STEM?

I would say to not let anyone or anything hold you back from pursuing STEM! The difficulty of science concepts and classes can sometimes be pretty intimidating, but there is so much to learn whether you ace these classes or barely pass. I’ve been in both situations, and it has honestly been so rewarding to see myself grow because of these opposite experiences. So don’t let the challenge hold you back! It’s also important to remember that grades are ultimately just a letter; it’s the understanding of the material that will truly stick with you in the long run if you put in the work. That’s the best part about STEM fields/majors; they’re all about explaining the world we live in, which really applies to anything you decide to do in life.

  1. You have been a National Charity League volunteer and intern. What has this experience been like for you and why are you a part of this organization?

Being a part of National Charity League throughout school and throughout this last summer as an intern has been life-changing. Through the organization, I’ve learned the value of service as I’ve had the opportunity to volunteer with my mom and work with incredible philanthropies such as Ronald McDonald House Charities, Military Support, Family Assistance Ministries, etc. NCL has provided me with so many opportunities to grow and learn leadership, professionalism, etiquette, and communication skills that will continue to help me for the rest of my life. I will also be forever grateful to the wonderfully kind, supportive team at the NCL, Inc. Headquarters for the unforgettable internship experience this summer. As I collaborated with the team on a number of projects, including the launch of NCL, Inc. on multiple social media platforms, I learned more and more about the organization’s impact and incredible work from the inspiring leaders behind it. I can’t wait to stay involved in the organization for years to come and to see how NCL continues to grow!

Keep shining,

The Sunny Girl, Lauren Cook

My Early Christmas Present

I know a lot of people are saying that 2016 has been a bad year and they can’t wait for it to be over, but I still believe there are things to be grateful for. No matter how hard it gets, there is always a little bright light left.

I saw a little bit of that light a few days ago. Actually, it was a blindingly bright light that just changed the trajectory of my life.

Let me start from the beginning. Unfortunately, I come from a family where cancer has liked to claim a stake. My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 35 (she’s alive and well today), my aunt was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age 55 (she’s alive and well, too) and my grandma was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in her early 60’s (she has since passed on but she lived to be 91 years old). So as you can tell from that paragraph, we’ve had lucky breaks from unlucky circumstances.

With my Grandma Farr the night I won Miss Teen California back in 2006.

With my Grandma Farr the night I won Miss Teen California back in 2006.

I was two years old when my mom was diagnosed with cancer so I have grown up having some understanding of what this disease entails. While I don’t remember my mom going through chemo or having surgeries, there were still ripples of her illness all throughout my childhood that served as reminders of what she went through.

Mom and me on a recent trip to Mammoth this past summer.

Mom and me on a recent trip to Mammoth this past summer.

As time went on, our family decided to get tested for the BRCA I and II genes. All of the diagnoses seemed like more than just coincidence. My grandma, aunt, and mom were tested at UCLA about ten years ago and they all had the same variance on the BRCA II gene. At the time the researchers said it was inconclusive. Not enough information to say one way or the other. It could just be chance.

Flash forward ten years. I am now 25. Growing up with all of this information, it has always been important to me to equip myself with as much knowledge as possible. I know that some people hesitate to find out this information about their genetic make-up (and that is a personal decision), but I know that I needed to do the testing for myself. I think back to my mom surviving stage III cancer with a two year old at home and I immediately knew that I want to be as preventative as possible.

So, a few weeks ago, my mom and I went back for testing at UCLA. I cried the morning of the testing but when I saw my mom, we kept it light. I think we both secretly knew how intense this day could be but we decided to stay positive. When you sit in the heaviness of what could be, it’s just too much. We made a mother-daughter day of it and went out for lunch and shopping afterward.

But at the testing, I felt that much more nervous when our genetic counselor told us that the variance that my mom, grandma, and aunt has is actually 95% likely to be pathogenic. The research in the past 10 years has taken those originally inconclusive results and reframed them as mutative agents that are much more likely to lead to cancer than in the average person. Okay, good to know.

So you can imagine how I felt when I answered the phone on Wednesday and my genetic counselor was on the other line. Words, words, words…just tell me what I want to know.

“Your test results came back negative. You do NOT have the pathogenic genes.”

There is that blinding, bright light I am talking about. I had prepared myself to hear the worst—to start thinking about prophylactic surgeries and hormone therapies someday. I had not prepared myself for the news that I do not have the same gene as my mom, grandma, and aunt. In so many ways I have wanted to be like my mom but in this sense, I am glad we are different. I can also say this knowing that my mom has taken every preventative measure possible so I can breathe a sigh of relief.

This news is definitely my Christmas present this year. Telling my mom the good news and seeing the shock and then tears come over her face was one of the best moments I have had in my life. Our prayers have been answered and I could see in that minute that my mom was even more relieved than I was. My dad and grandma were just as excited. I know it’s all just chance, but I feel like I have won the lottery.

Just because you get genetic testing, and the results come back negative, it does not mean you are immune. I know that. I will still take preventative steps and get mammograms when I turn 30. These results should not and will not breed ignorance. But they do bring me some peace. That is something I am grateful for.

If something runs in your family, I’d encourage you to consider genetic testing like our family did. No matter how the results come out, the knowledge is empowering. It does not determine the decisions you make, but it certainly informs them.

Hug your family and friends a little tighter in these last few days of 2016. There are still bright lights all around you.

Keep shining,

The Sunny Girl, Lauren Cook
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