A Decade Under the Influence

[Titled after the Taking Back Sunday song I listened to in my teenage years? Maybe.]

Here we are- at the end of a tumultuous decade. There isn’t a way to describe it all, really. Beautifully hard, bittersweet. My timeline and newsfeeds are overpouring with side-by-side photos, recaps of the past ten years: accomplishments, losses, pain, love, suffering, obstacles, growth, change. I’m no stranger to it all, as I think back on 2009-2019. I am more conscious of time, how I move forward through it, how much stares back at me in the rearview mirror…

Some defining moments:

• Earned my B.A. & M.F.A. degrees
I started at Susquehanna University my freshman year and transferred to Westminster College in the fall of 2009. I graduated in May 2012. I was part of Mortar Board, PRSSA, the Holcad Newspaper, Scrawl literary magazine, Campus Programming Council, Sigma Tau Delta International English Society, Alpha Gamma Delta sorority, and other organizations.
After six years out of school and months of consideration, I began my MFA at Carlow University in January 2018 and graduated this past December 2019. The two residencies at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, were among the highlights of my time as a graduate student.

• Moved to Pittsburgh & into my own apartment
I moved to Pittsburgh (“the big small city”) in the summer of 2012 and lived for two years in a house with a few of my good friends before moving into my own little apartment, where I have made my home for the past five years. I’ve sunbathed on my roof, I’ve decorated my apartment with secondhand store gems, and I’ve burned meals. I took a bus for the first time, made it my mission to try all the new restaurants/breweries, learned that I love French fries on my salad, kayaked the three rivers in the summer, and fell in love with late night city lights. But I also grew tired of the never-ending sports talk and the dull grayness of this Steel City, how suffocating its boundaries can be.

•  Bought a one-way flight to Spain & traveled Europe for six months
In 2013, after working a job that left me burned out and at rock bottom, I bought a one way ticket to Barcelona, Spain. Through the help of Workaway, I lived with the most amazing family for three months in Blanes, and then spent the other couple months traveling all across Europe. It was the most thrilling thing I have ever done, and the thing I am most proud of, to this day. I learned how to rely on myself. How to love myself despite failure or faults or fear. How to feel the world around me, and see where I belonged in all of it.

• Traveled to 43 countries & countless cities
Though my wanderlust had begun long ago, that journey in Spain (or Catalonia, rather) kick-started what would be a nearly nonstop travel addiction. I have traveled extensively both domestically and internationally, since 2011. 43 countries in total, and 5 continents. And nope, I have no plans of ever stopping!

• Started my blog
Because of these adventures, I wanted to create a home for the stories, photos, and memories to live. I admittedly have a terrible memory, so I wanted to do this for myself, but also as a way to share these experiences with friends and family both near and far. Thus, this blog was born in 2015.

• Ran races, including first full marathon
In between 2014-2015, I fell in love with running. What began as a small challenge for myself grew larger like wildfire until I was running multiple half-marathons and even completed my first full marathon, just six months after I received my pacemaker.

• Got a pacemaker 

Which, oh yeah- I got a pacemaker in March of 2016, after some health issues. It came as a shock, since I was healthier than I’d ever been. But it was also fuel. Fuel to keep living a life riding the edge, to not wait until the next month/year or until I had more money and things were more convenient. Fuel to cherish this body I’ve been given and not waste any more time doing the things I want to do while I am still physically capable of them.

• Published two books & many poems

I published my first chapbook, Next to Everything that is Breakable, in 2017. Not long after, my second chapbook, The Shedding before the Swell, was published in the fall of 2018. Two book launches were celebrated, surrounded by ones I love most. Many poems were also written, sent out to journals and literary magazines, rejected, accepted, edited, published, revised, and reborn. I gave dozens of public readings. I attended a handful of writing conferences (Conversations & Connections, AWP, Sigma Tau Delta, etc.) and even won some awards. I started my author website and Twitter. Above all, I was able to cement my passion in something concrete, and from that foundation, build a community around it.

• Became an aunt to two adorable girls
My sweet Cora was born in 2015, and my fiery Ellie was born in 2018. They are as different as night and day, and their relationship as siblings reminds me so much of my brother and I when we were young. Watching them grow up, evolve into their own selves, and see their wonder for life and learning has captured my heart in a way I hadn’t felt before. (Although it’s still weird to me sometimes that my brother is a dad!) I cherish this family.

• Found Level Red Boxing
When my body decided it needed a break from running, I found boxing. As a woman who travels alone, I’d originally been looking for self-defense, but when I took my first class at this place, I was hooked. This gym has become my second home, and the members and instructors have become some of my closest friends. They push me every single time, and help me feel strong at every level.

• Left a toxic working environment
My first job was a hostess at a family restaurant and my second was being part of the general maintenance crew at PennDOT. During my college years, I worked in the Admissions Office and gave tours to prospective students, which I truly enjoyed. I’ve always been passionate about higher education and have loved working in the field, so after graduation, I started my career in Admissions at a for-profit college. In 2013, I finally left that toxic (and ultimately unethical) job to work in Administration at another thriving University where diversity, inclusion, innovation, hard work, and heart are the core values.

• Diagnosed w/ MDD, anxiety, & excoriation (dermatillomania) disorder

While I knew deep down I was struggling with my mental health, and always have, I was officially diagnosed toward the latter part of the decade. I began taking medication and started therapy. Everything comes in waves, still. And I suppose it always will. But I am learning to stay grounded and not be swept away with the first wave. Dermatillomania, however, was something very new to me, and difficult to accept. I try to continue to be transparent about each and every one of these struggles because not only is it important to end the stigma around mental health, but because you really never know who is suffering in silence. We all have our demons and downfalls. We all suffer. We are human. The more I am open when it is easiest for me to close off the world, the more it helps those around me know I need support. And this, my friends, is exactly what I’ve learned more than anything. I need love. I need support. I need connectivity. We all do. I have been nothing without those around me, caring for me and guiding me, always.

• Joined The Madwomen in the Attic workshop community & became co-curator of the reading series

I love the Madwomen in the Attic. With every fiber of my being. If you follow me on any social media, you’ve no doubt heard of this wonderful group of women writers. I was honored to start co-curating their reading series back in 2017 and am lucky to be the emcee. This has given me the chance to hear new voices, meet new poets, and stay involved in the community.

• Lost a lot of loved ones, learned how to survive my grief

My grandfather, a man I loved so dearly, passed away on Valentines Day in 2017. I have said goodbye to classmates, former friends, and extended family both in death and distance. I grappled with the fact that not everyone who enters your life is meant to stay, and that friendships don’t always outlast what you think they will. And that it’s okay- sometimes they aren’t meant to. I’ve watched friends become strangers and strangers become friends. I have entered and left two very serious long-term relationships, both which absolutely broke me at the time. I learned that heartbreak is incredibly physical. And that I can survive it. I have learned how strong I am- that I am, and always was, whole on my own. That I love the person I am becoming and every scar she used to try to cover up. That the essence of a woman’s worth is not equated to who she’s with, if anyone, or motherhood or beauty or any other ridiculous notion society pushes. I have written some of my strongest pieces after emerging from the fires that tried to engulf me and learned to become the flame- hence the current working title of my manuscript, Ember. Nothing can ever really extinguish us. We don’t have to have it figured out. We just have to keep going.

• Met some of the BEST humans & strengthened old connections
This needs no explanation. Through my travels, my education, my work and recreational endeavors, I have met some of the most fascinating, kind-hearted, talented, and brilliant souls. People who make early mornings more alive, who make long drives and running errands adventurous, and who make being lost feel like you’re right at home. They have carried me through so many seasons of my life. You guys- you are my home. Thank you, and Happy New Year, wherever in this world you may be reading this.

IMG_7730

sig2

H-Town Vicious

Why yes, I’m referring to the Beyoncé song, “Bow Down.” And speaking of Queen B, I visited her hometown this year, and am here to tell you it’s irreplaceable. So get in formation, ladies & gentleman–

Remember when I went to Belize and met these amazing friends, and then went to Mexico with them a couple months later, and then again to Cuba? I had yet to actually hang out with them in the States, since I live in Pennsylvania and they live in Texas. However, that changed when I visited for a weekend, for my first time at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo!  (I did not realize this was a thing. And it’s a HUGE thing!)

IMG_0804

We actually had a weekend full of concerts, as well. Cardi B at the Rodeo, and then Trampled by Turtles the next night at the White Oak Music Hall.

IMG_0818IMG_0858

 

IMG_3936

 

 

 

IMG_0865

IMG_3956AADE548C-C2DB-4607-83D0-70DB0B377EDC

Also- can’t forget the CRAWFISH! This was a first for me, and I was slightly terrified at first but then loved how messy and delicious this experience was! We also saw The Orange Show and Smither Park, two gorgeous installations of art.

 

 

IMG_0969IMG_0976IMG_0980IMG_0982IMG_0985IMG_0987IMG_0990IMG_1009

Most of our time was spent in between the Heights and downtown, so there wasn’t a lot of actual area covered, but we really packed so much into this three day weekend and I had such an absolute blast brunchin’ with these babes after Barbarella’s!

IMG_3924

IMG_3925

What’s better than fried butter and friendship?!

Fried butter, frito pies, chicken and waffles, tamales, you name it! The food scene is on fire in this city! As is the weather, the nightlife, and the people. Can’t wait to visit again.

sig2

Beachin’ in Barbados

JANUARY 18-21, 2019

My 40th country was the ever beautiful Barbados! Home to Rihanna, amazing rum punches and sunsets, and some guy that told me he’d buy me a Toyota…unless I greatly misunderstood the Bajan dialect, which is probably a safe bet.

IMG_0128

IMG_0157

IMG_0187

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I met quite a few friends, including both locals and fellow travelers that became fast friends. I had flying fish for dinner, which was delicious, and chatted the night away with rum punches at some of the oceanside bars.

IMG_0188IMG_0189IMG_0191

I mainly stayed near Bridgetown, a port city and the capital of Barbados, and spent time on the lovely Rockley Beach, Worthing Beach, and also visited Brownes Beach, Pebble Beach, and Needhams Point. Walking along the boardwalk in the morning was one of my favorite experiences. It was beautiful to watch the waves crash into the white sand and feel the warm sun on my shoulders, not yet overpowering in the heat of the day.

IMG_0192IMG_0194

 

Like the graffiti? I had to send a photo to my mom 🙂

Barbados is such a friendly island and even though it is small in size (21 miles by 14 miles, to be exact) there was so much I wanted to do and see before my weekend there was up. I didn’t get to try pudding and souse, but I sampled Banks beer & Mount Gay rum while hanging out at the Chill Cafe.

IMG_0045IMG_0051IMG_0060

If you get the opportunity for an island getaway, I highly recommend Barbados as a tropical escape!

sig2

Keeping it Cool in Curaçao

Thanksgiving looked a little different this year- no turkey at the dinner table or family all around me. I spent it with another love, one I’m grateful for: traveling solo. I am so thankful for the opportunity to see yet another gorgeous place in this world.

I decided to spend some time in Curaçao for a warm getaway, and was lucky enough to have a layover in Panama City, Panama on the way. I only had a short time in Casco Viejo and tried to make the most of it.

Walking around the beautiful Plaza de Francia (day & night).

img_8602

The view of the city looking out over the water was spectacular, as was the contrast of old & new cities.

I quickly stumbled upon the Cathedral of Panama, as it was right near my hotel and hard to miss. One of the oldest structures in the city.

Sunrise the next morning as I slowly made my way to the airport:

img_8589

Wandering around Plaza Tomás Herrera & Plaza de la Independencia

Aren’t these streets so colorful and charming?

Outside Iglesia La Merced

img_8593

Next: Curaçao

This was the weekend of the marathon, and also a busy time around the holidays, but this town was a breath of fresh air. Here I am posing on the Queen Emma Bridge. Also, speaking of posing- check out that bird in the photo above. I mean, come on…

img_8817

Cool drinks, cooler town.

La Bohème was the spot!

 

Sights around Pietermaai District:

Taking some time to relax on my last day.

This waterrrrrrr though.

Fresh fruit “pizza,” holiday decor, and crystal blue waters. Name a better trio.

Love seeing this view, hate seeing it go.

img_8910

Eat. Drink. Travel. Sleep. Repeat.

Until then,

sig2

Best of Bogotá

My mom might not have been happy with the fact that I went to Colombia, but I sure was. Flights were so reasonable, and what else is a girl to do over a long holiday weekend?

On my first full day there, I set out to climb Monserrate, a mountain with sweeping views of the city. I don’t know what I was expecting, but the hike was tougher than I imagined. Fighting the rising heat, the altitude, and the physical exertion along with my pacemaker- I finally reached the top.

But maybe it took so long because I kept stopping at every turn to stare behind me. Look at these views! There was a church, several restaurants, and other shops at the top. You can also reach the peak by funicular, but if you can handle it, the hike is well worth it.

IMG_6353

After heading back down, I wandered around Bogotá, exploring La Candelaria and surrounding neighborhoods.

The cathedral, capitol, Plaza de Bolivar, Museo del Oro, Silva Poetry House, Gabriel Garcia Márquez mural & museum, and many more were highlights throughout these narrow streets.

And I also stumbled into ALL THIS GORGEOUS ART.

No, really though…

The coffee, of course, was delicious. As was all the food (and mounds of chocolate) I tried!

As always, there is danger in any place. Please use precaution and be smart, especially when traveling solo. But don’t ever let fear of the unknown & stereotypes or opinions of others hold you back from experiencing life! The most wonderful things happen outside right outside your comfort zone.

 

Until next time,

sig2

Havana Good Time

I stepped back in time with the two best friends a girl could ask for. Havana, Cuba was unlike any place I’d ever been.

From the bright colored homes, classic cars, and heart of the Cuban people, nothing was more spirited.

We saw Fusterlandia (above) and admired the beautiful works of art. Then, we sampled different rums, savored the most delicious (and only) flaming coffee I’d ever had, and I had my first cigar, which I loved! We brought several back 😉

From Old Havana, to Mafia Mojitos, we soaked in every experience.

Getting lost around the capital.

IMG_2792

And come on, our balcony view was right near the famous Malecón!

We also caught El Morro cannon celebration and the most breathtaking sunset! What a way to end a trip of a lifetime.

IMG_0153

Please- If you are from the U.S., do not let what is going on right now steer you away from this incredible country. I urge you to see it for yourself. You can get a visa at the airport like we did for support of the Cuban people. Stay at an AirBnB and exchange money beforehand. All things were actually less of a hassle than we expected.

This is one place you will be so happy you didn’t miss!
sig2

An Island of Strength: Puerto Rico Prospers

There will always be beauty in tragedy, this I’ve come to know.

Surely you’ve heard about it in the news over the past year. Due to the absolute devastation Hurricane Maria brought the island of Puerto Rico, the battered island is still healing but moving forward. El Yunque, its beloved rainforest, still looks beautiful but will take nearly decades to truly recover. With the changes, new species of flora and fauna will appear.

In the short time I was here, it was difficult to imagine what it looked like before- all around me it was still so lush, green, and thriving. Colorful streets and smiling people. The pride that beats down like the hot sun. This is what I will take with me from this place- the bounce back. The miracle of life and the sense of love and hope it brings. The strength of a whole community overcoming the odds together. The ability to not only survive, but to prosper.

Here is an insight to my time there:

Walking around the colorful Condado, glimpsing the sunrise at Ocean Beach and catching the sunset at Atlantic Beach.

My new favorite dish- Mofongo!

IMG_4791

Heart of Old San Juan

El Yunque National Forest

What a sweet way to bring in 28 years.

IMG_5308

                                              Keep living. Keep overcoming. Keep thriving.

                                                                                                                     Love always,

sig2