Jamaican Me Want to Go Again

My family and I went to Jamaica over Labor Day weekend for a short, tropical getaway. Though the country’s economy has been a struggle, and many visitors choose to stay at the all-inclusive resorts for the duration of their vacation, Jamaica is its own paradise away from those high-end hotels– complete with natural gems, lush rain forests & mountains, delicious cuisine, vibrant colors, and the ever-steady sounds of reggae music.

 

We stayed in Runaway Bay, just north of the birthplace of Bob Marley. Once we arrived Friday, we got settled into our stay with a relaxing trip to the beach. That evening, we tried ackee and saltfish and listened to locals play reggae music.

The next day, we set out for Ocho Rios and the Blue Hole (also known as Island Gully Falls, etc.) There are many around the island, as Jamaica is sprinkled with these natural pools of water. “Ochi” is a port town that has blossomed with tourists, due to the surrounding attractions. It was a long and winding road to the Blue Hole, but once we got there we instantly knew it was worth it. The water was the most beautiful crystal clear blue color! We jumped off cliffs, climbed into caves, and even did a rope swing into the pool!

 

On Sunday, we ventured out to Dunn’s River Falls. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but was speechless when I looked up from the Caribbean sea to find this magnificent waterfall stretching up to the sky. We climbed the waterfall, something I have never done before, all the way up to the top! There were lagoons throughout the climb that we dropped into, natural rock water slides, and terraced rocks that provided steps. A group of us made a human chain holding hands, guiding each other through the swift, rushing water and over the slippery stones.

Monday was purely for relaxation, as we had a short time before our flight left. With cold drinks in hand, we reminisced about sunsets, jerk chicken, and the color of the water while listening to reggae beat in the background.

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It was amazing to share this experience with my parents, and to see the more adventurous side of them! Even though they are over 60, they hiked the falls and did the rope swing into the Blue Hole! How’s that for retirement?! We loved the Patois language, the mouthwatering food, and the spirited people of Jamaica. I have no doubt that we’ll be back! #yehman

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The Launch

One day before my 27th birthday, I celebrated the release of my first chapbook, Next to Everything that is Breakable (Finishing Line Press 2017) at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

Over 50 of my friends, family, and colleagues came out to support me as I launched this chapbook into the world.

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The author & the artist.

Books were for sale, as well as artwork by my dear friend Catherine (who also took the photograph on the cover of the book).

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Catherine’s creations with my poems.

Around 2:30 p.m., people arrived to mingle and get refreshments. Shortly after 3 p.m. my mentor, Tess, welcomed the audience and introduced me.

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Tess & I.

I became overcome with emotion as I looked around the room and thanked those that had helped me so much, for I knew without them this endeavor would not have been possible.

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After the reading, I signed copies of books and spent precious, too-short moments with the guests- even my high school English teachers came!

It was an intense whirlwind of an event, but I’m thankful for how smoothly it went. Seeing the people I love come together to show their support for my passion was the highlight of my birthday weekend.

Check out some pictures below:

P.S. For those that were unable to make it to the launch party but would like a signed copy of the book, please message me!

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The guest book!

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Belgium Under Bright Lights

Remember when I quit my job and bought a ticket to Spain in 2013? Where’d we leave off on that story of European adventures? Ah, yes. Ibiza & Paris.

It’s been three years since I existed in these photographs. Three years since I traveled to Belgium by myself. Three years since I met some of the closest people to my heart.

One thing I love about solo travel is that not only does it allow for self-exploration, but it also is how I’ve met the most incredible individuals. People always think that traveling alone has to be so lonely. And yes, sometimes, it can be. But it’s all in how you look at it. When you travel with a group of friends, you tend to stick with that group of friends. You talk among yourselves, go everywhere together, etc. However, when you are alone, it’s easier to be approached and more likely that you’ll approach others. Of course, this depends on whether or not you can put your fears (or pride) aside.

I can promise you right now that what stuck with me from this particular part of the trip is not the Renaissance architecture , the taste of chocolate, or the country itself, but the wonderful friends I made while exploring its cities.

Read my journal entries for yourself.

BELGIUM (BRUSSELS)

Tuesday September 10, 2013-  Here I am, about to board my flight to Brussels. I wish I would’ve booked this trip better. I still have to figure out what I will do when I get there, and pick which part of the country I am going to explore. I’m overwhelmed but so excited.

Okay, so I loved flying on Brussels airlines. They served a small roll with cheese and sauce, and orange juice, and a small chocolate. Loved it! Basically I just love food. Brussels airport was confusing. Ugh it was rough, but then even though my taxi ride was 60 euro, it was worth it because I had the sweetest old man as my driver and he showed me a lot of the sights of the city as we drove past. I checked into my hostel, a bunk bed in a private part of housing up the street that is just for females. My roommate hadn’t arrived yet. I charged my iPad a bit, researched some tours, and finally decided on Ghent and Bruges trip …took off on foot toward the city and of course it poured down rain. The map of Brussels I’d been given was awesome, really helpful. I went to see the Use It center and saw a girl with bright red hair and an infectious smile. It was there I made a friend- Radka.

She’s from Prague. We traveled in the heart of the city together and talked nonstop, she’s just lovely and so much better with direction than I am.

We set our sights on waffles- I mean, you can’t be in Belgium and NOT get them! Mine was tomato and ham and then with Belgian chocolate for dessert. (Yep- definitely got two. Told ya, I LOVE to eat.)

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We saw Manneken Pis ( a famous 1618  bronze statue of a little boy pissing into a fountain) which is pretty small in person. We took several funny pictures, walked on and stood in awe at the Grand Place (Grote Markt) and Royal Palace (official palace of the King and Queen). Stopped at Cafe Bizon, which reminded me of a small Irish pub, and I got Gueze Boon and Kriek Boon (hint of cherry flavor) and the easiest sour one to start with, Radka informed me.

It was so good to finally have some girl talk. We talked about relationships and travel, life and love, things we wanted to do in the future. And we laughed and laughed. It was hard not to be happy around her!

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I thought I was funny.

I was very tired at this point from a long day with little sleep. We decided to call it a night, and got cat called in Chinatown on the way back to our hostel. We laughed it off, but I think secretly pat ourselves on the back. We felt so alive and beautiful.

It was hard to say goodbye. Radka and I made possible plans for me to travel to Prague soon. I don’t know if it will work out, but I sincerely hope it does. She has been a blessing to have.

BELGIUM (BRUGES)

Wednesday September 11, 2013- I woke up early for my trip to Bruges. I  hurried to get ready, and grabbed a piece of bread with jam and called a cab to meet at a hotel for the departing spot. I was so late.  Luckily the receptionist called for me and I’m now on the bus, so stressful. Made a mental note to not let that happen again.

So I just met two people on the bus that became very dear to my heart very fast…Kathy and John from California. I can’t remember what got us talking, but once we did, we didn’t stop! They are incredibly kind people and I’m feeling very lucky that I chose this tour, so that our paths could cross. We started off in Ghent, which was a small and cute town.  We explored St. Bavo’s Cathedral when we got off the bus and then roamed as we pleased. It was pouring out and cold, so I tried to find some warmer clothes but they didn’t have too much, and it was more than I wanted to pay. [I started this trip off in June and in Spain, so I packed almost all summer clothes, with only a couple pairs of leggings and long sleeve shirts. At this point in my trip, I’m trying to be very careful about money, because I don’t know how things will work out or how long I’ll stay overseas.]

We also saw the Castle of the Counts of Flanders/Gravensteen Castle and drove through the countryside.

Upon arriving in Bruges, Kathy, John, and I walked the cobbled streets around one of the most romantic cities I’ve ever stepped foot in. We saw Minnewater (Lake of Love) and paused for some photographs. From there, we explored City Hall, the Market Square, and even more incredible sights.

We stopped to have lunch at a really nice restaurant…which normally I wouldn’t have done and stuck to my bread and Nutella sandwiches or got a cheap sandwich from a street vendor, but I technically did have the money and I really wanted to eat with them. We had cheese croquettes, beef stew in a beer sauce, and then chocolate mousse for dessert. It was the most I’ve treated myself on this trip. John got mussels and let me try some when he found out I’d never had them before. We had delicious white wine and shared fries.

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They reminded me so much of my parents back in the States who I missed so much, and I nearly broke down and cried when they insisted on paying for the bill…It was such an unexpected and kind gesture. They didn’t know how much it helped. They told me all about their children and how they met. Her daughter was getting married in two weeks so she bought a lace handkerchief for her and some chocolates…They took an interest in my life, asking about my travels and experiences, applauded the journey I was on. We devoured orange chocolate sticks and stopped for a beer since the weather was quite awful and we chose not to go on the boat in Bruges. The natural conversation and company more than made up for it! I’ve never felt so connected so instantly. Age didn’t make a difference, we felt like longtime friends. Kathy and I exchanged e-mail addresses and promised to stay in touch. I miss them and the comfort of their presence already.

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Gloomy day, but still beautiful!

Thursday September 12- I showered this morning, packed up, checked out of the hostel and printed my boarding passes, then scarfed down breakfast. Headed out to find the Nord station and to the vintage shops, hoping to find some warmer clothes. One had everything for four euros and if I didn’t have to carry my luggage on my back and was the old me, I would have bought so many clothes. It’s funny how you realize you don’t need all these excess material things. The other was small but had a jackpot- an outdoor raincoat. The lady said she’d take it for 14 euros but I only had twelve on me and she gave it to me. I FINALLY HAVE A JACKET. This time, I did cry. I had something to wear in this rain and colder temperatures, but the kindness of strangers, and the friends that I have made here, have been the sunshine that’s been missing the past couple days. Somehow, I know I’ll be seeing them again soon.  I grabbed my luggage, feeling completely rejuvenated, and walked to the Nord train station, ready for whatever was next.

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First Anniversary!

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Whoa. Exactly one year ago I created From This Side of the Sun. I had zero clue how to use WordPress, let alone how to blog, and no idea what would happen once I let this baby out into the world. All I knew is that I had to do it. I had to create an outlet for my voice.

Since then, it’s been nothing short of an incredible adventure in itself, and my saving grace in its own right. I’ve been able to share my stories of traveling, my struggles and accomplishments with running, my poetry, and even opened up about my health issues. I’ve written about my passions and my most embarrassing moments, from wild adventures to every day life. I have connected with so many individuals across the country, and surprisingly enough, this blog has brought me even closer to those already here at home.

So a massive THANK YOU, from the bottom of my heart, for following along these past 365 days, being an instrumental part of my continuous growth and support of strength, and letting me share my world with you.

New here? I got ya covered. Here’s a snapshot of  some of my favorite memories (both old & new) of posts from August 2015-now. Time really does fly when you’re having fun, huh?

 

Can’t wait to see what’s next!

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That Time I Took My Mom on Vacation

My mom gave me life, so the least I can do is take her on an all-inclusive vacation, right?

I’d been pushing her to do a mother/daughter trip with me for quite some time, and finally, the opportunity presented itself at the beginning of this month. Last Thursday through Sunday (Mother’s Day), we headed to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic for the blue beach, to bask in the sun and bronze burn our booties.

 

Right away, it was an adventure. We were greeted at the airport and escorted to the shuttle that would take us to our resort, where we met a couple visiting Punta Cana for their third time. Turns out they knew my aunt and uncle. You may think, how does that even happen?! But growing up in a small town, and attending a small college, showed me years ago how strong connections can be and how fast they spread. I can’t say I was even fazed.

And then my mom (making conversation, of course) asked them the question: “Are the native people here really poor?” Embarrassed, I tried to shush her, but she went on, loudly. “They seem really poor.” All in earshot of our driver, who was clearly a native of the country. *face palm*

It was like that scene from Mean Girls.

 

 

A small part of me worried what I was getting into, but I just laughed. This was going to be a trip! We got dropped off at our hotel and were greeted with a flute of cold sparking juice and damp, cool washcloths to put on our necks to relieve us from the heat. My mom, as you can see, was in heaven. “I’m never leaving!” she exclaimed. Below, you can see the photos of our hotel and beach areas. (That flamingo was kind of a bitch.)

 

 

Although mom doesn’t drink, she was loving the non-alcoholic cocktails and smoothies. Every day, she’d say, Let’s get a drink. Oh gosh, I sound like such a lush! We spent the majority of our time relaxing at the beach laying out or under the shade of the bed, or hanging out in our VIP pool.

 

 

Steps to vacation: Eat, drink, relax, swim, sleep, repeat.

 

Then my childhood dream came true on Friday- I swam with a dolphin in the ocean. Absolutely everything I thought it’d be! They are such powerful, playful, and beautiful mammals.  Posters and knickknacks of them used to cover my bedroom from wall to wall growing up, and here I was, actually kissing them, swimming with them, having them jump over me. Surreal. Like a true mother, my mom’s enjoyment came out of just watching my excitement.

 

As amazing as the views were, the best part of the trip was the talks we’d have before bed. Mom told me some stories from her childhood, how her parents didn’t have money, and things she had done for fun. I told her my fears, my summer plans, vented about my “problems.” She listened intently, giving advice like only she can do. We talked about my future: traveling, kids (no), marriage. Her regrets, and aging.

We never think about our parents getting older until we notice small things- forgetting something we told them, not being able to walk as far, needing glasses to read, getting frustrated with trying to teach them technology, my mom reading lips because she was struggling to hear me, etc. I have this irrational fear that because my mom handles literally EVERYTHING for our family and constantly has a mind that never stops running, that she’ll develop Alzheimer’s, though I know that’s not how it works.

She mentioned, with tears in her eyes, that her mother would have never done something like this with her. She had died when I was six, and to be honest, I don’t remember much of her. It hit me then that my mother was also a daughter. Crazy as it sounds, I forget that beyond being a mother and a wife, she is a daughter.  She is a woman who does not need to be defined by her roles. A woman who probably, even at 61, still has those empty spaces in her heart from the ones she has lost. A woman who still has dreams and needs and sadness and really tough days where she doesn’t know what the hell to do. A woman who ignores those feelings because so many depend on her strength. That thought made me feel so guilty. I had been blind for so long. So insincere and thoughtless as a teenager, so selfish. So blissfully unaware of how lucky I am to have her.

People talk about how their mother is the glue that holds their family together…mine is the nails used to build us, the glue that keeps us, and the duct tape when all else fails. She has been my backbone in a lot of ways, and I can’t picture a world with her not in it. My parents have worked their entire lives to provide a better life for my brother and I, and even in their sixties, they are moving firewood, taking care of my grandparents, managing three properties, and still picking up the phone when I call. As they near retirement (jealous) my hope for them is that they are able to relax and enjoy themselves.

Now that we’re back in rainy PA, I’m reflecting on this trip and I know that was one of the reasons for going- for everything my mother has given me, it’s always been my dream to give back. Since I can’t buy her a house, or a brand new car, I figured my time and this experience would suffice. Another lifetime couldn’t be long enough to learn from and be loved by you.

I love you mom, hope you had a wonderful Mother’s Day. I’m always missing you.

 

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Leave nothing but footprints,

take nothing but pictures,

kill nothing but time.

25 Things I Wish I Knew Before 25

  1. You will actually miss nap time when you’re older. Milk it.
  2. Your mother will become your best friend. Treat time with her like the treasure it is.
  3. Quit wishing for happiness, create it.
  4. Every second you spend wondering what someone else is thinking is a second lost.
  5. Next time your mom cooks dinner, let her show you how.
  6.  Just stop trying to sneak out- you get caught every time.
  7. The more you chase boys, the more they elude you.
  8. It will take a LOT of failed attempts before you find your way, don’t worry.
  9. Sometimes your accomplishments will not make other people happy.
  10. Crush those goals, anyway!
  11. Remember when your brother bit his nails? Don’t try it. You won’t be able to stop.
  12. Never, ever stop writing.
  13. Not everyone is meant to stay in your life. Learn to let them go.
  14. Hot Pockets are not dinner. Neither are Reese’s Cups. (See #5.)
  15. Start and keep a journal. Take pictures. Your memory is terrible.
  16. Drinking isn’t always fun.
  17. Those things you hate: taxes, bills, insurance? They’re frustrating, but important.
  18. Learn to love yourself before you give so much love away to the wrong people.
  19. Someone is always prettier/smarter/luckier. Stop comparing, you still have things they don’t.
  20. Friendships ending can hurt worse than breakups. Despite everything, you’re worthy of the best love.
  21. Take that damn trip!
  22.  Stop spending so much money on stupid shit. Seriously.
  23. Start running. It will teach you more mentally & physically than you could ever know.
  24. You are never too young or too old to change your life. Do what your heart wants.
  25. You’re going to be just fine. Laugh it off or learn from it- it’s all going to be okay.

 

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The Post-Op Post

Exactly two weeks ago, as many of you know, I went to the hospital to get a pacemaker. It came as a shock to my 25 year old/heart healthy/marathon training self and many others.

I arrived at 9:30 a.m Friday, March 18th. A million things were running through my exhausted mind. I hadn’t eaten anything for over 12 hours, so I was already hangry. Immediately they took me back to prep me, although my surgery wasn’t scheduled until 12:30 p.m. I changed into my gown and clutched the gaping back to cover my bare ass, as not to give a show to everyone else in the room.

A urine sample, IV insertion, and EKG test later, after my vitals were checked and paperwork signed, I waited in my corner hospital bed with my mom and JJ until they came for me. At this point I just wanted to get it over with.

And then, it was time. I ignored the way my voice cracked when I said, “I love you,” to my two favorite people as they wheeled me out of the room and down the hall. I could not look at my mother. I knew she was already crying. Instead, I looked at my feet, took a deep breath and recalled many of the messages you guys had sent, along with the comments,  words of encouragement, prayers, and well wishes. I was still completely overwhelmed with all the support and love I’d received when I first revealed what’s been going on with my health. I knew everything was going to be fine.

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Before surgery.

 

As soon as I shifted onto the operating table, I was already feeling the anesthesia kick in. One of the male nurses said, “Are you a NASCAR fan?” I looked at him like he was drunk. Why was he asking me this now? “Um, not really,” I replied. “Why?”

“Well, you know when the car pulls in to the pit, and there’s a lot of people working really fast? That’s what we are going to do.” Suddenly, there were bodies in scrubs and face masks everywhere, grabbing things, moving around me, and then- blissful sleep.

When I woke up in the recovery room, I instantly knew something wasn’t right. Was it just my body adjusting to this foreign device? I was having spasms on my right side- it felt like being kicked in the stomach. I panicked, of course, because my breaths were coming out weird.  The nurse shouted for my doctor, and then there were three middle-aged men around my bed. One of them put his hand on my side to time out the pulses as the other recorded it on a machine. I (unfortunately) remember joking, “It’s because you’re all so handsome, it’s taking my breath away” or something cheesy of the sort.  (I was a little out of it, okay?!)

Anyway, they knew exactly what it was: One of the wires from the pacemaker was against a nerve that was pushing into my diaphragm. I would have to go right back in so they could redo it and move the pacemaker over. So, anesthesia took me off to dreamland once more.

After what I’m told was another hour and a half, I came out of surgery again. And I had the dreadful realization that I had to pee. Bad. I called for the nurse, and she brought over a bedpan. What the hell am I supposed to do with that?

“Have you ever used one of these before?” she asked. I shook my head no. This was going to be interesting…

I still don’t really know how I did it, or managed not to spill it on myself or the bed. And then, I heard the best words: “Do you want me to bring your family back?”

Minutes later, JJ and mom were in the room with me. Our reunion was brief, as they had to take me down for x-rays and other testing. “This is like a less fun roller coaster,” I said awkwardly as a nurse wheeled me away on the bed.

I don’t know if it’s then that reality set in, or if it was just the anesthesia wearing off, or a combination of the two, but they put me in a hallway next to two elderly men watching Judge Judy and it was miserable. It felt like I was stuck there for an eternity. Finally, I was all done and brought to a different room for out processing. They were letting me go home! I ate small bites of a turkey sandwich and cried when I saw these two enter the room.

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All done & waiting to go home.

*Side note: About .02 seconds after he took this picture, JJ dropped his cell phone right on top of where the incision was made for my pacemaker. Ouch.

The rest of that night and the weekend basically consisted of me sleeping, throwing up, trying to eat, and not moving. I got very sick Saturday because of the pain medication, so I stopped taking it Sunday and felt less nauseous, but obviously was in more pain. I read poetry, watched movies, and ate Chinese food.

My mom had to help bathe me, as I couldn’t move my left arm or get the site wet. (I was advised not to raise my left arm above my head, make repetitive movements, or lift much for a month after.) How humbling that was… I’m 25, an adult. And here I was, not being able to do this on my own. We had to wash my hair in the kitchen sink. Monday afternoon was my first time leaving the apartment. Mom and I went to a couple stores and had lunch while JJ was at work. She left later that evening and we both bawled. It was such a blessing having her there with me.

From there on out, JJ was my saving grace. Dressing me, propping my arm up with pillows, getting groceries, rubbing my back, etc.

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The incision site a few days out.

 

It’s been two weeks, and all of the gauze and bandages are off. I am going for much longer walks, and I’m pretty much back to normal. I still keep my arm in a sling at times- just because for this next month I know I’m going to forget to not use it in the capacity I am used to.

I still get winded going up a flight of stairs, and I had to sit down in the middle of Wal-Mart while grocery shopping because I thought I was going to pass out, but the incision is healing nicely and I hope to be 100% in no time, and (hopefully) even running again.

Thank you again to everyone who wished me well and kept me in their thoughts. And a word of advice: be really, really nice to your mom and to nurses. You can’t imagine what they’ve done for you or what they may have to help you do in the future.

Oh, and find yourself a guy that will help blow dry your hair and put it in a ponytail even if he doesn’t know exactly what he’s doing. You won’t know that kind of love until you’re shown it.

 

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