A Review – Part 1: Books

I’ve been thinking about this series for a long time. I’ve spoken about starting it several times, i’ve thought about publishing different versions, but it just didn’t feel authentic or right. Plus, nowadays everyone has a blog, and I recognize mine is just one of the many, but what makes it worth it are the awesome messages of support from readers I’ve never met but who seem to get why I started this blog in the first place.

So here it goes, an attempt to end the hiatus for real this time.

A Review of What’s Been Happenin’: Books

When I moved to Carrboro. I was scared out of my absolute-freaking mind. The support and encouragement from my mentors, family, and friends, was the security blanket I clung to for what felt like weeks. The bubble of comfort and “safety” I had in Asheville? Was popped without my permission (Or so it felt) and I was in a totally new place, without a clue of how to feel about my least favorite thing in the world – change.

But i’ll get into that later…. this post is going to recap for you all my academic experience for the past year. Which can arguably be summed up in a loud audible sigh.

First, a round of applause for my professors who challenged the mess out of me at UNC Asheville.

Second, a round of applause for my bosses/coworkers who taught me everything I know about professionalism and developed me as a leader, and employee.

Third, for my parents who taught me to be stubborn and raised me with a work ethic that makes me want to roll my eyes at my own self sometimes, but I digress.

What has Graduate School taught you so far?

one year

This is a question I get asked a lot. It’s hard to sum up the amount of notes taken or lectures and classes that I sat through because the learning process changed so much for me in grad school. And to be honest that I don’t think you realize how much you learn in that first year until you’re at work and spit out vocabulary words from your organizational theory course or cite case from public administration law as if it is the most natural thing of life. However, since the post is titled books, here is a quick list that I think sums up the year.

Stop ignoring your local governments like they are antiquated and don’t do anything. They do everything.

I came into my MPA program, not wanting to really go into local government, but rather understand it’s role in whatever career related to housing that I would end up choosing, and what I got instead of guidance on the housing piece was a whole lot of knowledge and understanding about how crucial local government is to everyday life.

And the sad thing is? We ignore them. We ignore it and take for granted what local government’s contribute to everyday life. We don’t understand what public servants really do. We rush to look at the state level (oh NC….ohhhhhh NC….) and the federal level like that’s where it ALL happens when that’s where A LOT happens but not ALL things happen.

From housing, to roads being paved, to public transportation. Safety, making the community look nice, programs for the young, old, and in between. Things are really really happening at the local level, and despite my resistance at first, meeting what’s felt like hundreds of county and town managers (really just dozens) across NC, has really put the role of local government into perspective. So I challenge you, look up your town or city’s official website/twitter, look at what they’re doing. Even if you don’t get involved. You’d really be surprised as to how much is going on.

I can’t run away from math anymore.

Ya’ll. I took budgeting this past semester. Had a phenomenal professor who was patient in every single way you could be patient, and I learned so much about math I didn’t understand before. And maybe it was just the practicality of the course and how I realized I had to actually understand the math she was describing and educating us about, but truth is, I just can’t run from it anymore. It’s been a good streak though. #RIPmathavoidance2012-2016

There are more and more acronyms being created everyday and ya’ll might as well start tracking them.

I’ve been hearing acronyms for things I didn’t realize had acronyms from day one of graduate school. Eventually most if not all were explained to me, but my goodness it was so daunting for the first few weeks. My most salient example however is from my first day of work this summer. I learned a total of 11 acronyms on my first day. ELEVEN. Come on housing world…. do better….

Procrastination is the devil.

All I have to say about this is that my worst nights (and some of the funniest) came from times I procrastinated and I never want to do it again, and am fully aware that come October (that’s my goal) that’ll probably not be realistic but hey… i’m trying.

A lot more goes into your environment than you realize.

This is kind of like the “stop ignoring your local government” lesson, but the planning version. This past year I decided to apply for the City & Regional Planning program, was accepted and will be officially joining in the fall as a dual degree student. However, I had the opportunity to take a workshop in the Spring, and it blew my mind on a weekly basis. Despite it being housing focused, it consistently explored the intersectionality between other policy areas and over time, I realized how interconnected the players that construct the towns and places we live and enjoy on a daily basis truly are.

Sleep. Please do it.

I can’t really talk about getting sleep because I started writing a part of this at 1:30 in the morning  BUT, the first year of graduate school has really taught me to value sleep. Partially because it would happen anyways, and partially because I didn’t like how my body was reacting without it. Sleep matters. Do you best to get it. #tipofthecentury


Of course there is more….

struggle story

So 6 items is not an accurate depiction of ALL that I learned, but these six I’ve listed above really capture the year in a nutshell.

My hope is that over time i’ll be able to change and grow from all of it, but for now I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

So, that’s why i’ve broken up this series into four sections: Books, Pugs, Stresses, and Joys.

We’ve covered books! So be on the lookout for Part 2: on Pugs coming soon.


As always, Much love!



Stopping to Collect the Beautiful Moments

This past Monday night I sat in a lounge/restaurant with two of the most hilarious phenomenal people I know and laughed. I laughed harder than I’ve laughed in what feels like a really long time.

Something about the laughter, the great food, and the drinks, the fact that it was a Monday night and that these two awesome women were by my side made the craziness I’ve been feeling surrounding me lately, simply go away. It was like our presence plus the laughter and great queso dip made the crazy stress say “alright I’ll go away”.

One simple beautiful moment of freedom

I think that I’m guilty of half the stress I am experiencing. And let me tell you why. It’s not because I do too much (kinda) or that I don’t know how to balance my time. It’s because I’ve been allowing myself to sink so deep, so so so deep into every negative emotion that I’ve hardly been able to enjoy the truly beautiful moments.

I’ve been stressed from the moment I stepped back into class in August, but I assume that because I’m over-involved, am a senior, and projected to be on her way to greatness that I cannot show weakness for one single second, and that my friends, is so very stressful.

I’ve been sad, I’ve had my heart broken this semester, and you’d think it gets easier but it really really doesn’t.

I’ve been angry, finally after so long of letting things slide I realized that I can be angry and how to be angry but now it’s so simple to be angry and I’m passionate about way more than I thought I was and I get angry (because I care) about way more than I thought I would.

I’ve been self-conscious. Gaining weight instead of losing weight when you’re trying to lose weight is such a downer, and I’m not getting into the whole confidence self-image talk right now but it is stressful and anxiety-inducing to have your body changing into a shape that you’re finally strong enough to love but you’re just not there yet.

And all of this I say not to solicit pity or sympathy or attention…but to be honest and express the fact that this, ALL of the above, has contributed to a chronic funk that has BARELY allowed me to truly enjoy my last fall semester of my undergraduate career.

So when I cam across this quote, by who I’m not sure (thanks Pinterest) It made me stop, and realize this all over again.

You have to STOP and collect the beautiful moments.


I’ve had a few beautiful moments this semester.

  • Learned how to help people register to vote
  • Started my 3rd year tutoring some phenomenal kids in Asheville
  • Started my Senior thesis (not always beautiful but it’s on something I care about)
  • Finally had the courage to get highlights (took like 2 years ya’ll, I’m not a very good rebel)
  • Wrote my first newspaper article
  • Turned 21
  • Went on an amazing date
  • One an award that led me to meet other people working to change the world and make a difference.
  • Grown closer to people because our time together consistently is winding down.

So, I say all of this to say, that life is full of beautiful moments we don’t stop to collect often enough. We lie and wallow and swim in the depths of negativity before we choose to do the same in positivity. And why? Because it’s easier? That makes no sense. Negativity just  makes things harder. I suppose we’re wired that way though, the more stress the more we wallow.

I’m not saying to not be stressed, that’s impossible, especially in this day and age, I’m saying take a moment, at least once each week and collect the beautiful moments you didn’t bother to collect as they were happening.

That laughter, that margarita, and queso dip made me feel freer than I’ve felt in a while. But that was just one moment. One of many that have happened, and many that will happen. So just don’t forget to pause. You never know how free you can truly feel until you do.


Taken in October 2014 : Capturing a Beautiful Moment. (Left to Right : Harper, Me, Leigh)


Much Love,


Heartaches & Heartbreaks #6: Learning to like, and to love again, and again, and again

I know that the title of this series threw people off. You might have assumed the entire series would consist of stories of how my heart has been broken and how I’ve overcome those moments. Nope. That would be a really long series though. As you can tell, if you’ve seen and read the first 5 posts of this series, I believe that there are a lot of other hard lessons to learn and experience that can feel either exactly like, or really similar to a heartbreak…and they definitely make your heart ache.

I try to integrate my personal business into these without feeling too uncomfortable for your sake and mine… I believe in transparency…but matters of the heart are a touchy subject, so if I ramble around particular parts, it’s because finding the words to say about something that changed you internally…can be one of the hardest things you ever do.


(taken from pinterest)

So I am finally doing a post, the last of this particular series in the genre that every one assumed the series would be in.

I also promise to do future posts more in depth about my feelings on relationships as many people have surprisingly requested, but in the mean this one… is just about another lesson.

So let’s begin!

Learning to like and to love again and again and again

Sometimes… I miss the simplicity of middle school/high school romance.

Notice I didn’t say I missed middle/high school romance, but rather the simplicity of the romance that would pop up and distract us during those times. Why? Because I miss the days where if you liked someone you’d spend maybe a week or two mulling over it and then you’d tell them. In a note, in person, or you’d get that friend to you know, get you the hook up.

Now, getting the hook up? Is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT.

Notes? no more.

Telling someone how you feel? Could happen, could not ever happen, could actually take a year or two to happen, but there’s no real guarantee. The art of friends helping friends out isn’t dead but I mean it really depends on the friend and the pool you’re picking from–but I’ll get into that later.

I have this crazy belief that having feelings for someone should not be complicated… and I am frustrated because I’ve internalized the societal/peer pressured thought-process that makes liking someone so so so complicated.

I used to so bold. I once asked the same guy if he liked me 3 times in middle school. 3 times. Said no each time, I brushed it off like a champ (was actually real upset 2/3 times …) . Then got over it (Finally). Then a year later he asked me out, and I said no. Not out of revenge, the feelings were gone. And that’s life.

Once I came to college, I was introduced to the notion of being casual. Oh yeah we’re just “chillin” we’re just “hanging out” . What? Huh?

Once I came to college, I was exposed to the whole culture of talking to multiple people at once, and i’m over here like what…. ? how??? Don’t you get tired?? How is that not stressful?

Please know that I’m not passing judgment. I’m saying this from my point of view entirely, and these are few things I don’t understand.

Another thing that seems to be not really common (again it might be my environment, I’ll get there) is friendships that lead to something else. Once you are in the friend zone you are there for good my friend (hahaha) and I learned that really quickly, as in first year of college quickly.

And now I find myself finally coming to terms with the new system around me. And I can respond accordingly and often times it doesn’t even come as a surprise. Oh friend zone? okay, you’re staying there too, no biggie. Oh you’re trying to chill? That’s cool, but no I’m good, I can chill with my friends. But nevertheless, although it isn’t surprising, it stings each time, no one is invincible, I know I’m not. But I still have hope.

Pouring my heart out? Can take your girl here anywhere from 3 months to 1.5 years. What happened to the bold awkward 7th grader? I have no clue. I’m still awkward, just not bold.

I’ll stop my rant. To say, that going through all of this mess–being hurt, and getting over it, and then being hurt again and then getting over it, and then getting the courage to say something and finally saying it… etc…. has taught me a lot, and I know that it hasn’t been a waste of my time.

You see, when you learn what love is, or how to love someone, or what you like and how to communicate that or express that, in a complicated system like the one in place now…. you’re actually growing stronger I think.

strongweak                                                              (taken from pinterest…)

 Let’s look at the bright side…

I can’t begin to tell you, how much I value some of the friendships that developed from friend zoning. It’s not me copping out its me being honest.

I can’t begin to tell you what being able to observe and recognize and learn the differences between what I want and what lies in the question “hey you wanna chill?” has done for me…. it’s protected me and my heart from a lot.

And I can’t begin to express how weirdly wonderful it is, although stressful and painful sometimes….to develop feelings for a person, develop them, think through them, understand them, and feel finally ready and comfortable enough to say something about it even after all that. It’s kind of great, no matter the outcome. To be able to say no matter the outcome, I took a chance and said something, I spoke up for my heart.

The lessons just keep on coming

Ultimately, I keep learning how to express what my heart and I want. Again and again, I come across new concepts that I didn’t think of before….because the process was too simple.

I think my biggest fear in being single for the past 4 years has been losing my appreciation of love and relationships. I don’t want to be bitter. I realized that although simple and easy is nice, it won’t always work out that way, and if was the right person, wouldn’t complicated be worth it anyways?

Many might call me too idealistic on this matter. That the hook up culture and technology has ruined dating and relationships.  I don’t think so. People ruin dating and relationships, hook up culture and technology complicate them often time unnecessarily so.

I may not be bold like I used to be, but I still fall just as hard. And I don’t feel ashamed of that fact.

And if you don’t speak up for your heart, defend it from not only others and the outside influences, but also from the negative-nancy(or neil for my fellas) that we all can be some times…then I don’t think it’s possible to truly get over heartaches and heart breaks.

If someone breaks your heart, they are not the ones responsible for putting it back together. No matter what your story is, standards are, history is etc… a heartbreak is a heartbreak for a reason. It is a pause in a moment or series of moments that requires that you stop and listen and tend to one of the most important muscles in your body.

The one thing that has saved me the most pain is not being ashamed of my faith in love or how hard I can fall for someone in the first place. It’s one of those things society tries to say is a weakness when really, it can just as easily be turned into a strength.


                                                               (taken from pinterest…)

I just believe, and I know i’ll continue to learn these lessons and new things even after I find the “one” whoever God is sitting on or secretly rooting for that to be.

And I’m okay with that.

Until then, I will keep on keeping on…trying to stay as faithful to my heart as I can possibly be, as I learn to like and love again and again and again…

Much love,


Thank you so much for supporting this series! If you have suggestions for a new post, or the next series please email me at stephwatkinscruz@gmail.com . 

Heartaches & Heartbreaks #5 : Growing Pains

I apologize for the lateness of this post, but I think that everything that has happened in the past two weeks allowed me to make this more honest and truthful and transparent than I thought I was being in my initial draft of this post. So, let’s get started shall we?

Growing Pains!! Not the kind where you grow tall people, I have no idea what that is like.

When we’re young, we can’t wait to be old. We see our parents, our teachers, our role models, our idols, etc… with this air about them that seems so cool. At least I did. I though that my teachers were some of the coolest people in the world, and I couldn’t really figure out why , but what I did know is that they were grown.

Grown. To be grown. Why in the world do we aspire to get here so much when we’re little? And then once we’re here, wish we were little again? The irony kills me time and time again.

Now for a slightly sobering reason as to why I personally wanted to be grown up.

I wanted to help.

I was uncomfortable as a child…awkward too, but uncomfortable because I felt useless being young and in school…I loved school but whenever things were tight or a little rough financially. I was beyond frustrated when certain things happened and yet again there I was a student, no money to my name to help my family out to make sure my mom wouldn’t stress anymore to help out my dad once in a while…I wanted to be a grown up so bad… ever since I was 10.

When I turned 10, I learned to fear and dislike money.

Now I don’t fear it. I just still don’t like it very much, probably because I still don’t have much.. but hey, I digress.

I remember being 10 years old and feeling like the weight of the entire Watkins-Cruz clan was on my shoulders. I was going into middle school, and the frequency of my father’s “focus pumpkin you have to go to college” talks were really getting ridiculous.

SO that’s when it started really I wanted to come to college to be grown and one day help my parents out. I wanted to work hard in school the only place my parents would let me work (thank you by the way) so that I could get to a point where I could help them out, take care of them, lift stress off of them.

And let me tell you…. being a 20 something is great, but sheesh it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

I can picture the adults reading this and chuckling to themselves, but come on, think about how you felt at this point…there was no story book telling you what it would feel like…nor what it would be like. Even if you had parents that “kept it real” with you, you still had to go through a moment of ….oh….OH…. okay… this is grown.

Growing pains I believe come in a variety of ways. As someone who hasn’t grown since the 8th grade I’m not really talking about height here, I’m talking about emotional, mental, and physical growing pains (aside from bones).

Let’s look at what is added on when you begin to grow older:

  • Bills : There’s money again. Say hello world, and goodbye the awesome checking/savings you thought you’d have because bills exist, and self-control is needed constantly in this area.
    • Credit Cards are apparently the devil. Didn’t know that. Still not entirely convinced by I see the argument’s point.
    • Taxes. What?
    • Rent. Lawd, rent.
    • Car payments. That vehicle of freedom can be a burden now.
    • Fun money. I have $15 and that needs to last me for 1.5 weeks of fun at least.
  • Health: We cannot do what we want to do or have to do or need to do if we’re unhealthy. Simple as that. But when you’re 2.5 hours away from home, surrounded by people who all ceremoniously get sick or start coughing on the same day…what’s your move? You can’t just run home. Or when you see that all the beautiful junk food is starting to make those steps you have to climb everyday real difficult, it’s on YOU to change that. You need to find the balance in healthy food and exercise, and pinterest sadly does not count.
  • Work: Jobs are great. I’ve been blessed to have great jobs these past few years, but the greatness of them doesn’t discount the fact that they’re a huge responsibility. Those mornings you could sleep in? BYE. Those times you could sit around and procrastinate and do homework, hello office hours, BYE free time. I’m being dramatic, but you see the point.
  • Love Life & Relationships: I’m not going to go into detail here, for my last entry in this series is dedicated to this… but geez….another challenging one that changes again and again as you get older.

Ultimately I think growing pains shouldn’t be limited to describe when people grow taller. One, that would make no sense for me to talk about, and two, I think the phrase really fits perfectly in describing what a lot of growing up feels like. It’s sort of painful. I mean obviously not at once, but the constant yet erroneous changes that pop up? Painful. The transitions you go through? Painful.

And it’s not a matter of an “OW” painful. It’s the kind of pain that is what makes you dead tired when you go to bed at night.

It’s the kind of pain that makes your heart almost unbearably heavy but you know you keep going anyways.

It’s the kind of pain that is expressed as stress.


It’s the kind of pain that can often remind you of how far you’ve come, and how far you have yet to go.

Much love,