The First Week Of University

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While school has already started for a bunch of people, I have one week left to savour summer vacation and relax before I drown in readings and assignments.

The first week of university is simultaneously the best, and worst week of the year. You’re totally overwhelmed with information about your classes, new people, and might even be starting to feel a little bit home sick. On the other hand, you’re enjoying tons of freedom, and have a newfound sense of confidence and responsibility. Either way, that first week is daunting, especially when your first class is with 1500 other people!

Here are thirteen things you can do in that crazy first week to set yourself up for an awesome semester!

Buy an Agenda — I’ve heard it all:“I had an agenda in high school but I never used it.” and “I have a really good memory, I won’t forget about it.” or “I’m not organized enough to use an agenda.” Does any of this sound familiar? If it does, forget the excuses, and buy yourself an agenda. While your first week (or even month) of university might seem incredibly easy and relaxed, don’t be fooled! Things will pick up soon enough, and when they do, you’ll have no idea what hit you. Having an agenda will help you organize your time and make sure you’re on top of things in the midst of midterm and exam chaos.

Organization and time management is so much more important in university than it ever was in high school, so it’s helpful to have a system for keeping track of everything. It doesn’t really matter what agenda you have, but make sure it fits your needs and is small enough that you can take it with you wherever you go. Write down important dates as you become aware of them, and use it to plan what work you need to get done every day. This way it’ll be pretty difficult to miss a deadline and you’ll be on top of your readings and assignments. You can rest easy knowing that any important information about your classes and projects, have been written down and are easy to find.

Print Out Your Syllabi — These packets of paper are your lifeline for each one of your classes. Once you get them, print them out, hole punch them, and store them together in a folder.

Before your classes start, go through each syllabus and highlight important information including: your professors name and contact information, office hours, test and exam dates, assignment deadlines, and anything else you think will be important to know. As soon as you’ve highlighted these things, you can start transferring important information to other places. Test and due dates should be added to your calendar (I use the mac calendar app) and your agenda, so you have easy access to them, and contact info can be written down in your agenda or on your class schedule.

Keep your syllabi safe, they’ll be helpful once exam time comes around and you can’t remember exactly what sections you covered in class.

Make a Schedule — This might sound like overkill to some, but I always find it incredibly helpful to write out a schedule for the semester and hang it on my bulletin board. My schedule usually involves all my classes, work hours, volunteer times and when I plan to workout.

Having a visual representation of how your day will look is really helpful when things start getting more hectic and time management becomes key. It’ll also make it easier for you to plan what work you can do each day and when, so you stay on top of everything.

Find your Classes — To avoid getting lost and feeling anxious about going to class, do a mock run. Write down each building and room number and visit each of them before your classes actually start. This way you’ll know how to get to class on the first day and you’ll look like a pro doing it (who knows, maybe other freshman will even ask you for directions)!

Start your Readings — Don’t be fooled by the easy going vibe of the first week or two of school. Start your readings and try to get ahead while things are still settling. You’ll thank yourself for putting in the extra effort when midterms arrive and you have a bit more room to breathe.

Figure Out the Textbook Situation — Don’t buy your textbooks weeks in advance. Wait until school starts and check the updated syllabus to make sure they haven’t changed. Your professors will likely also mention whether the textbook is actually necessary in your first class. This way you can avoid buying books you won’t actually use.

Find your Library — You’ll be spending a lot of time at the library, so it’s in your best interest to find it (or one of them) during your first week. University libraries often host a bunch of informative intro courses for first years (and anyone else who’d like to take them) so you can become comfortable with the way your school’s library system works. Trust me, going to the library for the first time when you need to do major research for a paper isn’t exactly stress-free. Help yourself out and get familiar with the library system asap!

Find a Study Spot — This is something I cannot stress enough! Find a place you can study effectively on campus as soon as possible! Having a place you know, you study well in takes away a lot of stress and also eliminates the time you’ll spend figuring out where to go for a study session.

You don’t have to make a big deal about this at first (it is only the first week after all), but try to find a spot you enjoy the atmosphere of and is conducive to your study style. Later on in the semester you can always find new spots, but it certainly helps to know one off the bat, even if it’s not quite perfect.

Join a Club — Just do it! Look up your school’s club directory, and narrow it down to one or two groups you’re really interested in. Clubs are the perfect way to get involved in your campus community and to meet people with similar interests and values. I regret not joining any clubs in my first year and have already made a promise to myself to join one as soon as school starts!

Sign up for an Athletic Class — Take advantage of your university’s athletic facilities and programs. There are likely hundreds of intramural teams and registered classes waiting for you to join them! Sports and classes like pilates or yoga, are great ways to meet friends, and also allow you to set aside some time for personal health. Your body and mind will thank you.

Communicate With your Roommate — Don’t wait until the middle of the year to talk to your roommate about what standards you have for your room. It’s important to get everything out on the table asap so you can talk about the things each of you need to do in order for your year together to be successful. Talking about things early also lowers the chances that you’ll have a full fledged fight later in the year.

Some people suggest creating a contract with your roommate, stating all the things you hold each other to, and others are fine with just talking about their expectations and putting some rules in to place. Either way, make sure you have the talk early on.

Hangout With People in your Residence — Don’t shut yourself away! Even if you’re shy (like I was) make sure to reach out to the girl across the hall or the twins next door. They might become your new best friends, or not, but either way you’ll have someone to eat with until you find a more solid group of friends.

Call your Parents — Don’t forget to call the people who love you the most. Your parents are probably struggling just as much as you are, and would love to hear about how everything is going. They’re also the perfect people to call when you aren’t sure about a class, or how to talk to your roommate when something is bothering you.

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These are a few things I found super helpful in my first year of university and I’ll definitely continue doing them this year.

Good luck to those of you who have already started (I know you’ll have a great year), and enjoy the rest of your vacation to those of you who have another week to go (savour every moment)!

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Toronto’s Best Cupcake

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A few months ago, amidst finals stress and sleep deprived study sessions, my friend Alex and I decided we wanted to find Toronto’s best cupcake. We’d just been sorrily disappointed after eating some cupcakes from the Eaton Centre (they may look good, but the Urban Eatery cupcakes are a trap), and felt morally obligated to find a tasty treat worth eating.

Thus, the cupcake challenge was born!

We googled “best cupcakes in Toronto”, compiled a list of four bakeries (Bunners, Prairie Girl, Dlish, and Bobette & Belle), which seemed to appear on every blog post we pulled up, and made up a rating scale to judge each treat!

Our scale consisted of: Prettiness, moisture, frosting to cake ratio (if there is the right amount of frosting for the cake), balanced sweetness (between the frosting and cake), texture (for both frosting and cake), size, flavour overall, and value. Each item on the list was rated out of five, and then we tallied up all the points!

To help make our rating easier, we standardized the type of cupcake we would buy from each location, settling on a classic, chocolate cake with vanilla icing.

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Bunners

Firstly, excuse my (very) poor photography skills here. I didn’t realize that every single picture we took was blurry until after we ate the whole thing up!

Our first stop was Bunner’s on Dundas (there’s another location in Kensington Market)! This bake shop prides itself on gluten free and vegan products and is highly spoken of. Bunner’s didn’t offer a chocolate cupcake with vanilla icing, so we just got chocolate on chocolate.

Review — Firstly, we noticed that the store itself was not exactly welcoming. There was nowhere to sit (it was quite small) and though it was early in the morning, somehow it was quite dark inside. Their selection of cupcake flavours was quite small, and we were a little disappointed to see so few combinations. Atmosphere aside, the Bunner’s cupcake ($4.20) was very large and the icing was nicely piped. The cupcake itself was pretty moist, but the texture was off, it was very grainy and clumpy and the cake was very heavy. The icing also had a strange texture and didn’t sit well on the tongue. There was just the right amount of icing (which proved to be hard to find at the other cupcake locations) and while the icing was sweeter than we would’ve liked, it was balanced out well by the cake.

Overall, we were pretty disappointed with the texture and general flavour of the cupcake.

Prettiness — 2.5/5

Moisture — 3/5

Frosting to Cake Ratio — 5/5

Balanced Sweetness — 3/5

Texture — 2/5

Size — 5/5

Flavour Overall — 1/5

Value — 1.5/5

Total: 23/40

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Dlish

Dlish, a cute little bakery on Queen, was ranked Toronto’s Best Cupcake in 2014 and runner up this year! We ordered a chocolate cupcake with vanilla icing, but they boast a big selection of flavours.

Review — What really killed it for this cupcake (in our opinion) was the icing. The cake itself was pretty standard in texture, moisture and flavour, but the icing was way too sweet. Vanilla is usually a sugary flavour when it comes to icing, but this one was a bit over kill, and to make matters worse, it was grainy and didn’t taste all that authentic. The sprinkles on top were a great touch and they added a lot to the texture.

Overall, this was a pretty average cupcake, nothing all that special. We would’ve been happier had the icing been less sweet, but if you’re in the are, definitely check them out.

Prettiness — 2.5/5

Moisture — 3/5

Frosting to Cake Ratio — 3/5

Balanced Sweetness — 2/5

Texture — 4/5

Size — 2.5/5

Flavour Overall — 2.5/5

Value — 2.5/5

Total: 22/40

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Prairie Girl Bakery

Also excuse this poor photo. Lighting in the PATH is not ideal!

This gem is hidden under the heart of the financial district, in the PATH. It’s a little out of the way, but they have so many options it’s totally worth it! Again, we got a chocolate cupcake with vanilla icing.

Review — Let me start by raving about the cake from this place. It was airy, light, moist, everything you could want in a cake. Alex and I were barely able to speak we were so pleased. Sadly, the icing was the downfall of this cupcake as well. Not only was it too sweet and too thick, but it was barely vanilla at all! In fact we got a really strong cream cheese flavour (which is usually fine, but not when you’re expecting vanilla). Honestly, the unexpectedness of it threw us for a bit of a loop.

Prettiness — 3/5

Moisture — 5/5

Frosting to Cake Ratio — 2/5

Balanced Sweetness — 2.5/5

Texture — 5/5

Size — 5/5

Flavour Overall — 3/5

Value — 3.5/5

Total: 29/40

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Bobbette & Belle

This Leslieville gem is honestly one of the most adorable little bakeries I’ve ever been to! Alex and I were happily surprised by an inviting and stylish sitting area, and we’ve already made plans to go back just because it was so cute! The music was also on point if that’s your kind of thing! Once again, we got a standard chocolate cupcake with vanilla icing.

Lighting was also incredible at this location (as you can tell in this not terrible photo)!

Review — We had big hopes for this little cupcake. It was pretty (prime piping and sprinkle work), and it was from a really pretty place. Sadly, it was only average, and the frosting again, was it’s downfall. The icing was way too sweet, and I know I said that about the others, but somehow, this was the worst of them all. Had the cake been less sweet, it would’ve balanced out the icing, but alas, this was not the case.

Prettiness — 4/5

Moisture — 4/5

Frosting to Cake Ratio — 5/5

Balanced Sweetness — 2/5

Texture — 4/5

Size — 3.5/5

Flavour Overall — 2.5/5

Value — 2.5/5

Total: 27.5/40

A Note From Alex:

Someone once said “a cupcake can make even the worst day a little bit brighter”. Ok, that someone was me, but honestly a good cupcake – or any dessert for that matter – can help ease some of life’s problems. That’s why Lauren and I knew we had to go on a mission to find Toronto’s Best Cupcake!

Obviously, this can be kind of tough, especially since judging foods can be a pretty subjective sport. Some people like a cupcake with really sweet frosting, others only want a little bit of frosting; the list of preferences could really go on forever…That’s why we tried to stick with a set of criteria that we could use to rate them in an unbiased way (as you can tell we have this whole cupcake judging thing down to a science, we could get PhD’s at this point tbh).

As Lauren said, we went to four different bakeries and ate four cupcakes. One cupcake looked pretty but didn’t taste all that great, another was just average, the third had super amazing cake, and the fourth was sold from the cutest shop which definitely made up for the lacklustre cupcake. Oddly enough, at each bakery we found that the frosting was their downfall – I would label myself as a lover of all frostings so that was pretty disappointing to me.

All in all though, I got to tour around Toronto with some amazing company eating cupcakes all day so regardless of the outcome I had a super fun time!

Official Verdict: Toronto’s Best Cupcake? Yet to be found.

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While we were happy to have spent the day eating cupcakes and exploring our amazing city, Alex and I were a little bit disappointed after these treats failed to live up to our expectations. Of course none of them were terrible, but they all followed a similar downfall. Decent cake, and incredibly over sweet icing. As we walked home from Leslieville, something dawned on us! Why couldn’t we, try to make our own perfect cupcake? So, in the next instalment of The Cupcake Challenge, we’ll be taking you through our recipe for creating the best (or our best) cupcake!

I hope you enjoyed this segment, and if you’d like to see something similar but for other foods (like pizza, hamburgers or ice cream) don’t hesitate to sound off in the comments!

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Little Wonders Wednesday

Today’s post marks the beginning of a new series you’ll see once in a while on the blog. One Wednesday a month will now be dedicated to remembering the little wonders in life, and all the things that make this world of ours so incredible!

I’ll be writing about 5-10 “little wonders” in an effort to stay grateful and grounded in the present. Life can get so hectic, and sometimes all you need is a few minutes remembering the little things that make this world so awesome!

If you ever want to contribute your own “little wonder” leave them in the comments and I’ll add them to our list for an upcoming post!

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Hot summer sun on your back and shoulders – There’s nothing quite like the feeling of sun on your shoulders. The heat is therapeutic and if you’re lucky, you’ll be rewarded with a tan later.

Getting hand written letters from your friends – Since Facebook and texting have become so widespread, hardly anyone sends letters anymore! So, whenever you do get one in the mail, it is all the more precious.

Walking through puddles in rain boots – There is nothing more satisfying than walking right through a big puddle because you’ve got your trust rubber boots on, and watching other people hop and skip around it. A good splash or two doesn’t hurt either!

Fresh cut flowers – There is actually science on why fresh flowers make us feel so rad, but you wouldn’t have to pull out any numbers to make my buy a bouquet or two of peonies! Flowers smell beautiful and liven up every space they enter!

Getting a package in the mail – There is nothing more exciting than this! Whether you already know what’s in it, or couldn’t have the slightest idea, nothing beats the adrenalin rush of ripping open the packaging and examining your new belongings!

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I hope you’ll enjoy reading this new segment (and hopefully contributing to it) as much as I’ve loved writing it! It’s so important to appreciate the little things in life because they’re always the things that bring us back from the edge and keep us sane through difficult times!

I hope you’re having a lovely day!

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