Twenty-nine, Trinidad & Tobago

What do you do when you’re feelin’ fine & about to turn 29? Book a flight to Trini, of course!   Image result for heart eye emoji

I’ve been making it my mission to give myself a birthday gift in the form of a trip each year, and this was no exception. I traveled solo to Trinidad & Tobago after snagging a decent flight. A relaxing, tropical adventure awaited me. Or did it?

Of course, this was another short trip- flying into Piarco International Airport, spending time in Port of Spain- near Newtown. I spent my first full day walking around the entire perimeter of Queen’s Park Savannah, past the U.S. Embassy (which was conveniently very close to my hostel), the Queen’s Royal College, Archbishop’s House, Stollmeyer’s Castle, Emperor Valley Zoo, National Museum & Art Gallery, and the not-to-be-missed National Academy for the Performing Arts, etc.. But I wasn’t here for just the city…

I wanted to spend time in Tobago, so I caught a ferry from Port of Spain to Scarborough. From there, I made my stay in Crown Point.  Sandy Point Beach, Store Bay Beach, Coconut Bay, Swallow’s Beach, and Pigeon Point were my home grounds, and they were all close and gorgeous beaches! On my last day, the island did get hit with some rain, but I took cover at Bago’s Beach Bar and made friends with the locals. And don’t worry- before that, I’d gotten plenty of time with my booty in the sand, and a fresh coconut in my hand.

Just check it out:

Gorgeous, right?! If I still had a drink in hand, I’d cheers ya in the tropics– but until next time…

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P.S. Have you ever traveled for your birthday? If so, I’d love to hear the destination and how the experience was for you!

The Great White North

I have been blessed beyond measure with two supportive, loving, and hard-working people. They’ve watched me grow up, follow my dreams, wander around lost, make mistakes, fail, and get back up again. I know many people who either do not have good relationships with their parents (whether it be due to their lack of support, abuse, toxic traits, distance, e.t.c.) or people who no longer have their parents living. I want to be sure I cherish this time, these memories, and these two people, while I still can.

So, I convinced them to take a trip with me! (Can you believe it?) My mom likes to travel, but my dad is more of a homebody. Still, I thought he would enjoy the beautiful Canadian landscapes. Banff National Park had been on my bucket list for some time (and I thought it’d be easier to convince them to travel somewhere on the same continent, haha).

We flew into Calgary shortly after the Canadian Independence day, and just before ours. I wasn’t certain how busy a 4th of July weekend trip would be, but we weren’t overwhelmed with tourists at all. We spent a week traveling from Calgary to Canmore to Banff to Yoho to Kootenay to Jasper National Park in a rental car. Patience was tested, buttons were pushed, but we all made it out the other side!

Here are some highlights:

Four National Parks

We stayed the first night in Canmore, where we hiked the beautiful Grassy Lakes Trail (shown below). I have never seen water this color- it was unbelievable! Though it was a bit of a hike for all of us, the views were more than worth it. My parents are both in their mid-60’s, and I’m so, so proud of them for pushing through and following along with my crazy adventures! It wouldn’t have been the same without them. I think more than anything, this trip opened up our eyes to how fortunate we are to have healthy and capable bodies.

From Canmore, we continued on into Banff.

The famous beautiful lakes/sights-

Banff:

  • Peyto Lake
  • Lake Louise
  • Moraine Lake
  • Lake Minnewanka
  • Bow Lake
  • Johnston Canyon
  • Fairmont Banff Springs

Lake Moraine was one of the most stunning lakes, in my opinion. It almost seemed like it shone a different hue at every angle. I couldn’t stop staring at it. I decided to hurry and hike to the top of a cliff to get a better view, and told my parents I’d be back shortly. I knew they’d need rest after all the exercise we were getting. Once I reached the top, to my surprise, I saw my dad had followed me up! It was a special moment to have him there and able to see firsthand the incredible beauty before us. Again, the lake seemed to radiate a different blue shade from above. Because we were up for more adventure, we continued on to explore even more National Parks:

Yoho:

  • Natural Bridge
  • Emerald Lake
  • Takakkaw Falls
  • Kicking Horse Pass
  • Mount Victoria

Kootenay:

  • Paint Pots
  • Healy Pass Trail
  • Mount Assiniboine Park

Jasper:

  • Athabasca Glacier
  • Athabasca Falls
  • Maligne Lake
  • Maligne Canyon

My mom’s bucket list item was to see a glacier, so we made sure to make Jasper National Park our last destination, so we could walk out on Athabasca Glacier and even touch the water running down. We did this through the Columbia Icefield Adventure. The tires on those vehicles were as tall as me! Fun fact: there’s only about 30 of them that exist. Oh, and check out the traffic we ran into in the top left photo-

We only had rain one day, at Emerald Lake, and though we didn’t see a bear, we did narrowly miss one hiking- so thank goodness for that! I think my mom would have pooped her pants 😉 Some of the highlights of the trip included my dad making calls out the window to the elk and watching them lift their heads up & look around, getting mom to shuffle across the glass floor Skywalk, and seeing the blue beauties of the lakes for the first time.

I am so glad I had the chance to take this trip while we all were in good health and able to hike. No matter if you believe in heaven or not, this wide open slice of it is truly beautiful, and I was blessed to share it with my mom and dad.

Until next time, the Great White North–

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P.S. Where do you think I should go with my parents try to convince my parents to go with me next?

Ireland Residency #2

JUNE 2-17, 2019

I know I said my last residency was going to be January in Pittsburgh, but I decided I couldn’t miss out on one last opportunity to spend two weeks in the beautiful country of Ireland, learning from and connecting with incredible writers. Thus, I tacked on one more residency of my MFA program. (Click here to read about my first!)

I deeply missed my travel companion, Jaclyn, but still very much enjoyed solo travel in Limerick. I caught a flight there early to spend a couple days exploring before nestling into my dorm room at Trinity College, Dublin, for the two week residency.

Limerick was an adorable city, and I spent most of my short time walking over Thomond Bridge and along the River Shannon, admiring King John’s castle, St. Mary’s Cathedral, and the beautiful street art and roses. I stopped in for a coffee at Jack Monday’s, breakfast at Bakehouse 22,  had a drink at Katie Daly’s Heritage Pub, and dined at Nelly’s Corner. (I basically ate my way back to my AirBnb. But really.) I spent a lot of time in People’s Park, sitting on a bench in the sunshine, and writing. I got lost downtown, stumbled upon Tait’s Clock, and browsing countless boutiques. While I was there, I also saw the Treaty Stone and visited the Milk Market, one of the oldest markets in the country. The Locke Bar next to Matthew Bridge was a great choice for my last night, as I experienced traditional music and dancing. It was a peaceful two days before the residency. See below:

The next day, I caught a bus near Arthur’s Quay Park to Dublin. Can I just say I love how easily you can travel this entire country?

Okay, okay- so now the writing part. During my first residency, in June 2018, I worked with the wonderful Irish poet Enda Wyley. I’ve never met a more passionate reader/writer. She reawakened my excitement for the written word and its endless possibilities. Here are all the current mentors in the Carlow/Trinity program:

 Evelyn Conlon, Fiction
 Carlo Gébler, Fiction
 Brian Leyden, Nonfiction
 Jean O’Brien, Poetry
 Enda Wyley, Poetry

Visiting writers during June 2018 residency:

Thomas McCarthy, Poet (Master Class Instructor)
Sinéad Gleeson, Nonfiction
Richard Blanco, Poetry
Ann Harverty, Fiction
Alannah Hopkin, Nonfiction
Claire Keegan, Fiction
Mark Roper, Poetry
Declan Meade, Editor
Rosita Boland, Nonfiction

What a lineup, huh? So for this most recent residency (June 2018), I was lucky to work with another Irish poet, the fierce Jean O’Brien. Jean taught me to survive my grief, and to “kill the ruddy doves!”

Visiting writers during this June 2019 residency:

Paula Meehan, Poet  (Master Class instructor)
Caitriona Lally, Fiction
Annemarie Ni Churreain, Poetry
Claire Keegan, Fiction
Sinéad Gleeson, Nonfiction
Kevin Barry, Fiction
Nithy Kasa, Poetry
Emilie Pine, Nonfiction
Danny Denton, Editor/Fiction

*Paul Muldoon reading

Every session was rich in its content, every writer was captivating in their craft. Unfortunately, I got sick somewhere between Limerick and Dublin, and the sickness seemed to spread like wildfire throughout the group. I had plenty of hot toddies to soothe my throat, and still managed to attend nearly every reading.

We also took a trip to Boyne Valley/Newgrange area, where I enjoyed the biggest Irish stew & coffee after exploring the Hill of Tara and Trim Castle:

That’s Valerie and I doing weird yoga poses in the photo halfway down on the left, one of my new favorite pictures 🙂

There is a part of Dublin, with its gritty streets, its green plazas, its rolling and quiet beauty, that roars on– a song cemented in my heart. I am forever grateful for the experiences I have had here, shared among friends and mentors, and the opportunity to connect with these brilliant writers, learning from them and their history.

 

These are just snapshots of a place, of laughter, of people in time. I take so many photos because I want to remember it all. And I’m so glad I do. A fellow student, Elicia Parkinson, passed away suddenly in October. She was a brilliant creative nonfiction writer and a dedicated student. Elicia, I hope wherever you are is as beautiful and lush as Ireland’s green pastures, and filled to the brim with books just as heavenly.

Our director included this poem in her e-mail to us, and I want to close this post with it.

 

And Yet the Books
And yet the books will be there on the shelves, separate beings,

That appeared once, still wet
As shining chestnuts under a tree in autumn,
And, touched, coddled, began to live
In spite of fires on the horizon, castles blown up,
Tribes on the march, planets in motion.
“We are, ” they said, even as their pages
Were being torn out, or a buzzing flame
Licked away their letters. So much more durable
Than we are, whose frail warmth
Cools down with memory, disperses, perishes.
I imagine the earth when I am no more:
Nothing happens, no loss, it’s still a strange pageant,
Women’s dresses, dewy lilacs, a song in the valley.
Yet the books will be there on the shelves, well born,
Derived from people, but also from radiance, heights.

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Strong at Every Level

Years ago, as many of you know, I found my love for running. I ran multiple half marathons and even completed my first full marathon six months after my pacemaker surgery. But going from 0-100 so quickly took its toll on me as the time passed. My knee started giving me pain. Running wasn’t as fun for me anymore. I felt like all the progress I’d made was now undone after my surgery, and I just didn’t feel like starting back at the beginning. I was burned out from doing too much too fast, honestly.

As a single woman who does mostly everything (i.e. living, traveling, running, walking, etc.) alone, I became interested in self-defense courses. I wanted to know how to protect myself. To feel more confident and prepared, should anything happen. And as many other women can attest to– with the world we live in, unfortunately, this isn’t a far-fetched possibility.

 

Which brings me to the point of this post: It was back in late August 2018 when a new fitness studio opened near me, Level Red Boxing Pittsburgh, and I tried a boxing class. I can’t explain how instantly and fiercely I loved it! How badass it made me feel, how powerful, how stress-relieving the entire class was… Needless to say, I signed up for a membership that same day. I was looking to tone up and to release negative energy in the form of hitting a heavy bag. What I found, however, was a gym that became like a second home and friends that became fast family. Everyone welcomed me with open arms, and helped push me beyond limits I didn’t know I’d put on myself. Their mantra is “Strong at every level,” and I really did start to feel that way.

In December 2018, I was the first member to hit 100 classes (level yellow) in Pittsburgh and shortly after, in April 2019, I hit level red (200 classes). I hit 300 classes in September and am now nearly to 400!

 

Level Red Boxing began near my hometown in Erie, PA and has since opened in several states. Check out their website to see if there is a studio near you! While this is not self-defense, and it also isn’t solely boxing, it is a great mixture of cardio, boxing basics, and fun! They offer 30, 60, and 90 minute classes for all fitness levels, and the staff are always helpful. Instructors are motivating but not in-your-face, and exercises can be modified for those who need to do so.

See my membership spotlight below and what I’ve had to say about my experience:

 

Thanks for everything, LRB. Love you, fam ❤

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Sweet St. Louis

Wow, y’all. I believe this is now my SIXTH Sigma Tau Delta International English Convention- my fourth as an alumna. The first two were in Pittsburgh, PA and New Orleans, LA during my undergraduate years. Then came Minneapolis, MN, Louisville, KY, and Cincinnati, OH. And now, St. Louis, MO!

I’ll never forget when I was in the Uber, heading from the airport to my hotel, when I caught my first glimpse of the Gateway Arch.

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I stayed at a hotel right in downtown, where I could see it from my window. I also checked out Busch Stadium, Forest Park, the Cathedral Basilica, and Citygarden Sculpture Park. There was plenty more to see, but as usual, I was only in the city for a couple days. I presented my poetry collection and made a couple new friends, and tried the best BBQ ever.

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I also visited the Botanical Gardens, shown here.

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As you can see from my photos, one of my favorite things about this city was the incredible street art and murals!

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These images were taken on a rainy walk through the Mural Mile.

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Such wonderful memories here in sweet St. Louis!

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Next year, the convention will be held in Las Vegas– so make sure to stay tuned to find out if I get accepted and what adventures await, if so!

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