One Happy Island, One Happy Girl

Bon bini! I took a mini vacation over the fourth of July holiday, because why not? Destination: Aruba. Scroll on to see “one happy island” for yourself!

Day One- I arrived in Aruba in the late evening of June 30th, so I saved my explorations for the next morning. I woke early, grabbed breakfast, and walked along Palm Beach and Eagle Beach, breathing in the fresh air.

With a cool breeze, white sand, and blue waters, it was hard to believe I was in such a beautiful place!

Later that afternoon, I climbed Hooiberg Lookout for a view of the entire island:

(Definitely want to bring lots of water with you for this one! Speaking of which, Aruba has the cleanest/most pure drinking water.)

Since I was only staying on the island for a short period of time, I was determined to see and do as much as possible. After the hike and exploring downtown, however, I was beat! I headed back to my hotel to relax with my newly arrived book, and watched boats come in to shore.

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Boat coming in at sunset.

Day Two- To see most of the island as possible, I booked a jeep tour. This covered most of the eastern side of the island, from the northernmost point all the way to Baby Beach. We also explored:

  • Bushiribana Gold Mills Ruins
  • Ayo Rock Formation
  • Hidden caves
  • Arikok National Park

My all-time favorite spots were the natural bridges and pools that we stopped at.

Natural bridge, above, and natural pools, below.

More sights: Alto Vista Chapel, a donkey befriending us, and the California Lighthouse.

After a long day, I needed to refuel. I love being close to the ocean, so I chose to have a delicious seafood dinner on the pier.

Day Three- Beach day! Soaked up the sun, chased lizards (which are everywhere!), and drank fresh fruit smoothies. And no, I can’t take credit for that sand sculpture.

On my last night, I was dazzled yet again at sunset:

The island of Aruba is small, but I was only just beginning to uncover the heart of it. I talked to as many locals as I could, learning about the language (Papiamento, but most Arubans can speak four or five languages), their lifestyle, and how tourism makes up the majority of their economy. The country may be a popular destination for couples and families, but I still enjoyed myself and was grateful to be able to relax and take in the beautiful sights.

Even before I got on my flight home, I knew I wanted to come visit again.

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The only good thing about leaving is this incredible view!

Catch ya on the flip side,

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Chapbook Announcement!

Still in disbelief that this is happening, but I’m thrilled to announce my manuscript was recently accepted for publication! To those that supported me, believed in me, and most of all, who pushed me: I am indebted to you. This has been my dream. How do I even put it all into words…

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Details will be announced soon!

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How to Starve Your Wanderlust From Home

 

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Never stop exploring.

The motto for The North Face? Yes.

But these are also words I have tried to live by. I believe it is fundamental to my well-being (if not everyone else’s around me). Traveling is so good for the soul. It keeps me humble and grounded yet dares me to dream bigger than myself. It opens my eyes to new perspectives, allows me to meet new people, and shows me how small of a place my problems & I occupy. I never want to stop learning about the world, discovering borders I’ve never crossed, and finding myself in the process.

I will confess that I haven’t been doing that. For a while now, I’ve felt extremely restless because I haven’t been traveling. Maybe it’s the dreaded winter months and everything that comes with it, or the stress of timing and unreliable schedules, but all I can think about is planning my next adventure and how miserable I am not currently living it.

Sure, I’ve gone on day trips to wineries and breweries, and next month I am going to Minneapolis to present poetry. But that’s not enough for me.

I’m aching to dig out my passport and book a plane to any point on a map- anywhere but here.

I want foreign foods that set my appetite on fire and languages I don’t understand. I will not uncover the shock of a different culture in the States…right? So what’s the point?

Let’s be honest with ourselves, here. I understand not everyone has the freedom or finances to do so all the time. Some of us have demanding jobs, children, *student loans*, other responsibilities that could hinder our ability to jet off to a different country every month.

HOWEVER. You’re not off the hook. You can’t sit there and make excuses like I did, because I was wrong.

Adventure/traveling/exploring does not just mean abroad. It does not always have to mean a different continent or country. It encompasses more than where you go.

Here is a perfect example. I have lived in Pittsburgh for nearly four years. Had I ever gone to the Mattress Factory? No. So I did.

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And if you can’t tell from the pictures alone, it was incredible. I traveled to a contemporary art museum. I went on an adventure around the neighborhood. I explored these experimental creations from artists around the world and learned the history behind some of the pieces.

Even though it was in the town I am currently living in and therefore, obviously, did not require me getting on a plane or showing my passport, I was still exploring in every sense of the word. And the thought that I was caught up in where I couldn’t go made me completely forget that I have the ability to still escape & explore in other ways, and that just because I’m not on Mount Everest or wherever right now doesn’t mean I a.) won’t be there someday and b.) that there still aren’t amazing sights I can see and heights I can reach.

As I was leaving the museum, this caught my eye:

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Arriving at each new city, the traveler finds again a past of his that he did not know he had: the foreignness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places.

Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino

I can’t begin to describe to you how true that is. We reconnect with a part of our selves that perhaps we never knew was there. I am a part of every place I have ever been, and yet am not defined by it. I’m not complete- I have not discovered everywhere yet.

While I can sit here and tell you how I traveled or why you should book that flight, I’ll save that for another post.

So, here are some ideas for when you want to get away, but feel stuck where you are:

  1. Try a new restaurant/bar. First off, it’s food & drinks. There should be no other explanation necessary. However, you get to experience the atmosphere of a new place, explore the menu, and give your taste buds an adventure. My boyfriend & I did this last weekend and I was floored by how much fun I had.

If you’re in the area, check out Butcher and the Rye:

 2. Read a book. The best journey you can take without ever leaving your bed.

3. Take a class. Spin class, boxing, cooking, dancing, glass blowing, whatever your little heart desires or wants to know. Do that. It allows you to interact with a new group of people, plus adds to your skill set. Win-win.

4. Go on foot. Not everywhere is accessible by car or bus. Go hiking on some back trails, or explore that park you always pass. run

5. Google your town, or the nearest town to you. Think about where you would take a friend who is coming to visit you that are touristy and must-sees. Been to all those places? Then do a quick search to see if there’s any attractions or landmarks you missed, or pick the next biggest town.

6. Pick up a new sport, or do something that scares you. I am training to run 26.2 miles when I never could run more than 2. What do you want to accomplish? What scares you? Dive in headfirst.

7. Don’t just window shop. Just because you can’t afford expensive jewelry doesn’t mean you can’t try it on.  Why not go into a store or wander down a street you walk past every day on your way to work, but have never checked out?

8. Watch a documentary or listen to a podcast. Similar to a book, both watching & listening to stories allows us to follow them as they unfold. Plus, YOU CAN LEARN SO MUCH. I am all about killing those two birds with one stone.

9. See it from a different angle. Never take the train? Live near tons of rivers or lakes, but never been out swimming, fishing, boating, etc.? Get out there. Especially if it’s a hot air balloon, which I still have yet to experience. But, I kayaked on Pittsburgh’s three rivers and it was amazing. kayak

10. Wake up for a sunrise. I will never quite understand how I am speechless every time I see one, or how it can make an everyday “old” view look so new and beautiful.

11. Try out a new recipe. Better yet, want to go to Spain? Thailand? Look up traditional foods and have at it.

12. If all else fails, just go. Take a Megabus (super cheap). Or go on a road trip, even if it’s to a place that’s less than an hour away. Walk. Run. Just go, and see where it takes you.

 

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& don’t you dare forget to dream.

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Prose Before Bros

Yes, I said it.

I thought I was in love when I kissed my first crush, Seth, on the cheek when I was seven. We were behind a tree during a family camping retreat for the Boy Scouts, which both he and my brother were part of. (Smart girl-learning to break hearts at a young age.)

…But it wasn’t exactly a fairy tale ending.  He immediately straightened his glasses, gave me a weird look, and ran away. We didn’t speak after that. But that’s okay, because I learned a different love- escaping with a book instead of chasing boys.

Since then, writers from Sylvia Plath to J.K. Rowling paved the way for my love of literature. Teachers from elementary school to college classes taught me to create my own by nurturing and guiding my craft. I couldn’t ever explain it, but words empowered me. I mean, who needs a man when you’ve got countless characters to fall in love with? There was nothing quite like losing myself entirely in a story, or better yet, discovering myself between its pages in the process. And when I wrote? Indescribable. It was like I held the power. Let’s get real here- The last lines of Sylvia Plath’s Lady Lazarus are a perfect example.

“Herr God, Herr Lucifer
Beware
Beware.

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.”

Come onnnnn. It still gives me chills! But somewhere between that first kiss to writing poetry in my bedroom to getting my first apartment, I lost touch with the paper and pen. When I wrote in college, it was only for an assignment. I stopped reading for pleasure altogether. In fact, I stopped reading. I skimmed, or would use Google. And I definitely couldn’t remember the last time I sat down to write for me. I was caught up in relationships and social life,  and then just trying to get a job like most college grads. Then I got a job and an apartment, and was trying to figure out happiness and paying the bills but still traveling, and what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. (Spoiler alert: I still don’t know.) When I finally wrote again, it was hard. It sucked. I wasted years not reading and writing, and all I could see was how far behind I was.

Which brings me to the here and now. I created this blog to keep writing, and as a place to bring my stories of travel. I joined a writing class. I’ve been submitting my work.

I delayed posting until this week because I was waiting to hear whether or not I got accepted to the 2016 Sigma Tau Delta’s International Convention, and I am THRILLED to announce that I received the e-mail last night. I was on the phone with my boyfriend, and in the middle of peeing (yeah, I’ll admit it) when I opened it. I may or may not have let out that high-pitched scream I do when I’m excited into the receiver, right into poor JJ’s eardrum, and dropped my phone in surprise. Guess it was a good thing I was still sitting down.

So hold on. What exactly is Sigma Tau Delta, you may ask? First off, it is not a sorority. It also isn’t a sexually transmitted disease. Although that is, in fact, what the acronym implies. Ha. STD is an International English Honor Society.  (And yes, believe me, we tried to get “Prose Before Bros” or “STD: Gotta read ’em all!” as our T-shirt sayings, but it didn’t stand a chance against administration.)

I joined Sigma Tau Delta in 2010, and, in my junior year of college, presented at the 2011 Convention March 23-26th in Pittsburgh, PA (shown below). The convention theme was “Beyond Words.”

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With friends Samantha and Laura, exploring the ‘burgh and attending presentations (below).

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Practice makes perfect!

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I presented an original poem, “Discoloration” which I wrote about my father.

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 A year later in 2012,  I had the time of my life at the convention, which was held in New Orleans, LA from February 29-March 3. The convention theme that year was “Reawaken.” New Orleans was a beautiful city, and I heard such beautiful writing in the sessions I attended. I was a senior in college then, and even now I am amazed by the memories I made there, from Bourbon Street to friendships I stumbled into. I hope to go back someday.  I’m still craving beignets from Café du Monde…

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Some classmates/fellow STD members with our professor, Dr. Andrew Ade (above) and below at the Red & Black Gala Dinner and Convention Awards.

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I told you I take eating seriously.

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Presenting poetry from my collection “The Art of Baptizing.”

Now, it has been over three years since I graduated college. I rediscovered Sigma Tau Delta recently and joined the Alumni Epsilon Chapter. Shortly thereafter, I realized I could still submit, and if accepted, present at the convention. Naturally, I was stoked and submitted as soon as I could pull something together. I have been racking my brain waiting these past couple months to see whether or not I would be accepted. Seriously. Not knowing was brutal, and so was trying to prepare myself for rejection.

But, this has a fairy tale ending after all. I am so happy to announce that this year, I am one of 24 Sigma Tau Delta alumni that will present at the convention in Minneapolis, MN from March 2-5, 2016. The convention theme is “Finding Home.” I will be reading ten poems from my collection “From This Side of the Sun.”

Are there any other Sigma Tau Delta members out there? Would love to connect with you!

 

Stay classy readers,

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P.S. I went to Minnesota when I was younger and all I remember is the Mall of America. What is at the top of your list for things to see & do in the City of Lakes?
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Speaking in Catalan Tongue

JUNE 26, 2013

After almost missing my connecting flight, surviving over eleven hours of travel, and freaking out I would not be able to enter the country since I didn’t have my return flight purchased, I made it through the Barcelona airport. Because we had talked via Skype a couple times, I recognized the family as soon as I walked out from baggage claim. I met Jordi, Roser, and their daughter Mar (Adrià was sick with chicken pox and was with his grandparents, poor kid). They insisted that I grab a sandwich at the airport, so I sat there chewing slowly and feeling every bit as awkward and nervous as I thought I might. Again, it hit me in waves how real this was, and how almost completely alone I was. But a bigger part of me was nothing but excited. They were so nice, and I was here. I did it! Bring it on, Spain. We made the drive back- about an hour all on the coast, to what would be my new home.

Look at this incredible view! This is from their porch, looking out over La Palomera and the coast of Blanes:

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Once in Blanes, I met Roser’s parents and we picked up Adrià since he was there. I got a tour of the house, which is connected to another house where Jordi’s parents live. It sits on top of a hill, which makes for the most perfect views. It is beautiful and modern, but a modest size. The children share a room and have a bunk bed, and their play room was converted into a space for me, with a bed, a giant bean bag, a desk, and a small dresser. In the corner, a giant white board read “WELCOME KARA” and beside it, bright colored drawings and paintings from the children.

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I took a short nap to recover from the jet lag, and then joined the family at the pool, which is on the deck above us- at the kids’ grandparents. It was so cold but I dived right in! Mar is such a good swimmer, it is incredible. She is the most beautiful little girl with perfect dark curls and crystal green eyes, very smart too. I was told she would be shy compared to Adrià, which is true. He came right up, yelled to me and kissed me and hugged me hard. Everyone kisses each other on the cheek, it’s great. Maybe because it makes me feel sophisticated, or just because I’m super affectionate.

With Mar, who is almost five, I think she knows that I don’t understand her language but Adrià (who is three) just repeats himself after he asks a question if I do not answer, or answer incorrectly. I had no idea how truly difficult the language barrier would be. I took three years of Spanish classes several years ago, and they don’t speak Spanish anyway, but Catalan. It is so different. I can recognize or guess some words and their meaning when reading Spanish but I am terrible speaking it.

Mar knows how to count from one to ten in English now and is learning her colors. There are four fish (diving toys) that I will throw into the pool and she swims to the bottom to get them, so I taught her blue, yellow, pink, and green. Roser’s English has improved from when we first Skyped although it is still hard with Jordi not here to translate for us. We’ve used her phone or my iPad a couple times but it is not always the most effective tool. It usually ends up in laughter or frustrated apologies. Jordi is a chef and works six days a week, and incredibly long hours. They really do have the most beautiful family, and are so nice to me. I am grateful. However, I feel helpless and like I’m taking up space and am just another mouth to feed. I made a silent vow to start putting more effort into learning their language.

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Adrià and I- he’s a firecracker!                                      Mar and I after swimming.

After the nap (which was in a mixture of Spanish, Catalan, and English- what a headache!) Roser, the kids, and I went to the center of town. Lots of shops, older cafes, narrow streets in cobblestone- it reminded me of Italy. I met a couple friends of Roser’s- all mothers, whose kids were in school with Mar and Adrià.  I don’t have kids to relate to them, nor could I even understand what was being said. So I just watched the kids play and tried to look useful, offering a smile every now and then.

Adrià and Mar rode their bikes around the playground -and they make me so nervous with some of the things they do. Since I can’t keep them in a bubble, or protect them from everything, my first instinct is to run after them and help them if they fall. But most times they surprise me. They just get back up and keep running in circles and screaming. Now may be a good time to admit that I don’t have any experience with kids, and don’t want my own. Probably something I should have strongly considered before I signed up to be an au pair, huh? We came back home and had dinner (hamburgers, pasta, yogurt for dessert), and played games. Mar draws me a lot of pictures. Everything we eat for dinner, she covers in olive oil. My type of girl right there.

I’m falling asleep as I wrote this but I finally thought I figured out how to work the adapter or connector thing and blew a fuse. No, honestly- the thing set off a vicious spark, had this horrible burning smell, and I freaked out. Then I noticed the wireless got disconnected. Roser didn’t say anything to me so I don’t know if she knew it was me but she fixed it sometime because when I woke up it was fine. But now I’m at 15% battery and terrified to charge it…I don’t wanna fry my iPad because it is literally the only thing I have to communicate with my family, friends, and my connection to the rest of the world on that side of the sun. Talk about first world problems. What part of me thought I could do this, again?!

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The Day I Quit My Job

Tuesday, June 4, 2013.

I quit my job. Technically, it was more of a mutual separation. I had come to loathe putting any effort in once 9 a.m. rolled around, and it had grown tired of making my life miserable since it had been working at that for the past eleven months.
Still, it was like breaking up with a boyfriend. Even if you’re the one to cut ties, there is something so strange about the way it feels to pack up the memories in a box and just leave it on a doorstep. I had to walk away from what I knew I did not want anymore, but how would I know where to go next?

I had never quit any job before. I’d worked summers at home between my college years where it was understood that I’d be back at school when the leaves changed in the fall, but I never quit. Still, I always imagined all the ways I’d make my big exit. Maybe, in a red hot rage, I’d throw a dish against the wall at the family restaurant I worked at for three years. Or cuss out a customer. Or just say, “To hell with it!” and sneak out on lunch break and never come back. That didn’t really sound like me, though. How do people even quit jobs?

It turns out that (despite what my family thinks) I’m a little less dramatic than that.

That Tuesday afternoon, after giving prior notice to my supervisor, I just left. I walked quietly out of the double doors with a tiny voice in my head screaming, “OH MY GOD, YES!” all the while feeling a lot like shitting my pants and crawling back home into my mother’s arms, to when things were easier. I knew that I couldn’t possibly know what would come next. After all, the comfortable routine of 9-5 Monday through Friday was now gone. Did I just make a huge mistake?
Most of my friends, like any other college graduate, struggled to find a job after graduation that did not involve food service or retail, and here I was, nearly a year into my first actual “big girl” job, and I threw it away.
But, I did get something in return: a one way plane ticket.

Just shy of my 23rd birthday, I bought my flight to Spain and fought to leave uncertainty on the doorstep of my first apartment. I had a goal in mind:

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I convinced myself I was ready for this. Months of energy had been channeled into reading travel blogs, self-help books, and a desire to make my breaths known, and not just taking them to live. At 22, I had honestly felt life slowly draining from my fingertips with every number I dialed in the call center I worked at, every forever friend I lost, each meal I microwaved when I got home after working countless hours of overtime, and every bottle of wine I finished by myself.

You grow up familiarizing yourself with the way the system works, and what role you play in it. You do what is expected of you: graduate high school, go to college, get a job, start a family, etc. But what if that’s not in the cards for everyone?

I made the decision to move to Spain when I realized that I had no passion for my life. Not a career I loved to throw myself into, a man I couldn’t imagine being without, a hobby to consume my days, a real hunger for my life anymore. I had done just what was intended of me, and what I thought I wanted. I graduated college and moved from my small town to the city of Pittsburgh, where I immediately started working. Yet, I was unhappy. I stopped reading and writing for pleasure. I quit trying to discover the world, let alone trying to change it. I’d live for the weekends, but those would leave me waking to a pounding headache, and blurred memories disguised as happiness. I thought, “Would my 16 year old self be proud of where I am?”

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It was around this same time that my good friend Matt kept posting pictures about his travels from Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand. For a while, I watched from the other side of a computer screen with jealousy. Then, one day, I sent a message pleading with him to tell me anything and everything he could about how I could travel the world like he was, and the rest is history.

He introduced me to Workaway, a site that essentially allows individuals to connect with host families and exchange help (i.e. babysitting, teaching English, gardening, other housework, etc.) for a place to stay, allowing the traveler to fully immerse themselves in the culture of the country of their choice.

Now, don’t get me wrong. As perfect as that sounded, and as badly as I wanted to just ditch everything and escape my cubicle life, I still had fears. I had saved up some money, but what if I came back to the States unable to get a job? I knew how hard it was for me to find this one in the first place, and what my friends were still going through. What if I ran out of money, and had to come back? And then, had to move back in with my parents because I couldn’t afford my rent? How can a girl who just got used to taking a city bus ever survive alone navigating through foreign countries, by HERSELF?! What if I got robbed? What if I got shot by a gang or caught a serious illness? What if I got sexually assaulted in a hostel, or lost my passport, or missed my flight, or was denied by Customs? I confessed my less irrational fears to Matt.

Here was his reply:

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Simply put, he was absolutely right- and I knew it. In that instant, my mind was made up.

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With the help of Workaway, I connected with a family in Blanes, right outside of Barcelona, Spain: Jordi, his wife Roser, and their two children, Mar (5) and Adria (3). After several e-mails, Skype dates, and consideration, it was decided that I would stay with them for two to three months, lend Roser a hand with the children, and help teach them the English language. I would fly out of Pittsburgh International Airport on June 26th and meet them in Barcelona.

In preparing for my big day, Matt also was gracious enough to lend me his backpack that he used during his travels. My mom drove down to help me pack up for six months (that woman can fit the whole state of Texas neatly into a Ziploc bag) and restored order back to my wild, racing mind. I distinctly remember her joking, “You have two boobs and there are seven days in a week. WHY do you have so many bras?!”

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So, finally there I was, packed and ready to go. I had found someone to sublet my apartment, bought an adapter, and left behind my cell phone, several people who didn’t support me or understand, and my fear of the unknown.

Stay tuned for me setting sail, first impressions, and what happens next when I touch down!

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25 and Comin’ Alive

I’m always a day late and a dollar short.

Just two weeks after turning 25, I am finally forging a path back to my childhood dream. With this blog, I hope to not only retrace my footsteps over five months of traveling in Europe, but also rediscover my voice as a writer.

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It’s funny how thirteen-year-old me knew best all along, huh?

Since then, I’ve transferred colleges, broken up with boyfriends, had surgeries, gained a sister and a niece, crashed my car, built friendships that failed, found a soulmate, ate the weirdest sea creatures imaginable, drank absinthe, swam topless in the Mediterranean, cried in castles, jumped from mountains, and the whole time I drifted in and out of my first love- writing.

I received my B.A. in English from Westminster College in 2012 and moved to Pittsburgh, PA. After working for a year in a job that I increasingly became more unhappy at, I had my quarter-life crisis early and quit my job to travel. Now, two years later, From This Side of the Sun is the compilation of months and months of poetry, journal entries, pictures, and word vomit that expels every emotion I’ve ever felt.

Head over to my about me page so I can introduce myself further, or (for those who know me) refresh your memory on where I’ve been.

Can’t wait to catch up with you all!

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