scenes from elmira

scenes of family and home // just before the great unknown

1. i've been getting my cuddle fix at this little man's expense. he usually runs from me when i try to grab his face. but if i just sit down and politely ask for a kiss, he'll come lay one right on my lips! haha!

2. these toddler hands have been trying their damnedest to get at my phone. funny, because he has HIS OWN IPHONE (to play games and music and look at pictures). it's nicer than mine... and he knows how to use it perfectly. 

3. my other baby cousin isn't such a baby anymore. she's going to high school next year! i am endlessly proud of her intelligence and maturity and strength. she's one of my very best friends.

4. my beautiful abuela is a downright magician in the kitchen. i don't know if i was unusually hungry this visit to vegas, but the food she made for me was the tastiest of my life. and all of it made with love! :)

5. this is his just-checking-to-see-if-you-were-looking face. cause if you aren't looking, he likes to go tug on the christmas tree and flick ornaments clean off! every time. it's skillful, really.

6. my dear daddy is my rock. that's unforgivably cliche, but there's no simpler way to put it. he is my strongest, most unwavering source of love. and i am grateful beyond words. 

seeking comfort in central florida

a few weeks ago, i escaped the frigid north and fled to the warmth of friends and family in central florida. my cousin steven flew in from denver, for a huge, boisterous thanksgiving at his mom's house. i saw family i hadn't seen in maybe a decade. i hugged them so tight and told them just how much i love them.

we went out in my old, sleepy hometown and saw all the good friends i hadn't seen since high school or early college. it was frightening and invigorating and unsettling and wildly inspiring, all at the same time. the sincere words of encouragement from everyone i encountered---people i never knew were keeping tabs on me---was exactly what the doctor ordered. 

and i stayed with christine for the entirety of my stay, in her beach house in ponce inlet. 

christine and i spent so many evenings just talking at the colors on the horizon. we both needed each other in that moment in time, in ways that other friends just wouldn't do.

we did yoga on her porch, and breathed in the salty atlantic air. we counseled each other on feeling lost, and realized how to harness that vulnerability---how to turn it into something beautiful. we reflected on the pain of the past, and dreamt up the most perfect futures.

we drank wine and beer and coffee and chai tea lattes to nourish our thirsty ambitions. we got tiny tattoos together---another first to add to our list. we cuddled on the couch and listened to inspiring philosophies. and we expended most of our energy just laughing, every waking hour of every day for a week.

we made first draft plans to see each other again, because we clearly can't go very long without visiting each other, wherever we may be in the world. 

i adore this girl, endlessly. thanks for the love, christine :)

a visit to a gypsy in jacksonville

in an october in-between, i spent a few days with one of my favorite humans in jacksonville, florida. it was a visit we each needed more than we knew. 

you might remember shannon from our fun in barcelona or our reunion in paris. i met her this summer in spain, and was so happy to see her again in the states. we reflected on our travels, and how certain principles are transferring over into our lives now. what to do with them. what they'll do with us. she's an elementary art teacher now, and i had the delight of sitting in on her class for a day. she's teaching little tikes how to appreciate the beauty that's available around the world, and i'm not sure there's a more important job than that. 

we spent hours in coffee shops, walking down overgrown sidewalks, in dark garage-grunge bars, and on her stoop beneath the stars, just TALKING. ohhh the joy of talking to someone who relates to you on so many levels. is there anything more wonderful in this world?

i adore this gypsy soul, and am so grateful we've become so close so quickly. it's one of those friendships that just click without question. one that feels like they've been there forever. one you know you can count on lasting despite the confines of time and space. i love you forever, my sweet shanz!

a love locked on the seine forever

before and after my stay in normandy, i was in paris (again) with a dear friend named kate. we met in the virgin islands months back---only once---right before i left the island. but after about four quick foreign days together, we loved and appreciated each other like long-time best friends.

together, kate and i navigated french heartbreak along the crowded, yet lonely streets of paris. it was mid-august and tourists were crawling EVERYWHERE---even more so than earlier in the summer. and something about being there with her, among the blurry masses, each with our own dissimilar but connected issues, bonded us like you wouldn't believe. 

we spent hours in my favorite starbucks in paris---partly for the free wifi, and partly for the overpriced caffeine, but mostly for the comfy seats that overlooked the bustling boulevard saint-michel. we gave each other overviews of everything. controlling love, foreign flings, outside perceptions. her present, my past, our first-draft futures.

we walked all over, half the time with my heavy bags in tow, because there were a couple more nights where i had nowhere to stay until the last minute. i brushed my teeth in a cafe bathroom. she changed shoes on rue de l'odean. we stayed with a friend of a friend from pakistan. we walked along the seine, through the luxembourg gardens, and the entirety of the latin quarter.

we sat at cafes in front of notre dame, sipping cafe cremes and reminiscing about the caribbean. we calmed our minds with post-impressionism in musee d'orsay. and we stood on rooftops discussing the course of love, and when to know when you've had enough. 

and when night came, and we couldn't handle anymore introspection, we talked with strangers on the river bank. we had a final picnic on the seine, surrounded by musical strangers. we passed around bottles of wine until we couldn't be more honest. and we mused about the meaning of life beneath a full moon.

it was my 5th and 6th time in paris, but i somehow still surprised myself with how well i knew my way around the city---a city that once seemed like a distant dream world, painted in my mind by novels, half-materialized by romantic movie scenes.

i've now either walked through, been hosted in, or partied throughout almost every quadrant of it. i'm pretty confident i could find my way around with closed eyes---not that i'd want to. because i perceive paris in an entirely new light every time i visit. 

scenes from 9th floor sliema

1 & 2. the view i drooled over for over two weeks. // 3. noelle swimming in the sea. // 4. two of the loveliest people i've ever met. // 5. saying goodbye. // 6. the dining room where we spent hours upon hours talking. // 7 & 8. the little prince we took care of. // 9 & 10. creativity. // 11 & 12. dinners on that balcony. // 13. my favorite spot to write. // 14 & 15. my bed & to the roof. // 16. a view i could never grow tired of. 

kees and mich left us their perfect home and perfect view and perfect puppy for two whole weeks. mich also gave us a phone when we went hitchhiking form amsterdam to berlin, so that we'd be safe. he bought our plane tickets to malta. kees made sure we had leftovers of her brilliant cooking. and they even gave noelle and i each money, so that we'd be able to explore the island...

unbelievable. all these gifts would thrill anyone, really, am i right? but it wasn't the gifts, it was the circumstances in which they were given---it was the kindness and selflessness and sincerity behind them---that left me feeling so inspired. 

all i could do was stutter out "th-thank you. i... i. am eternally grateful." to which mich simply requested that i just keep smiling throughout life. god, how could i not, knowing people like them exist?

sunset sessions and the mystery of perfect timing

our first full day in malta was everything i wanted/needed/could've possibly hoped for in that moment of my travels.

we spent the day in the comfy confines of kees and mich's penthouse apartment. i was sick AGAIN (for the fourth time on this backpacking trip---not including hangovers, of course), so i spent most of the day in bed trying to sleep myself back to health. and when i say "in bed," i mean IN A REAL BED! for the first time in about a month! yet again, pretty wonderful timing to be sick, considering the possible alternatives ;)

however, i felt terrible about missing out on time with kees and mich (the dutch angels who invited us to stay in their perfect maltese heaven). they're possibly two of the most perfect people i've ever met---kind, humble, honest, funny, hospitable, knowledgable, successful, and clearly oh so giving. so by late afternoon i force-fed myself vitamin c, multiple cups of tea, and raw cloves of garlic, just so i could feel well enough to absorb some of their goodness. 

i emerged just in time to learn about the sunset sessions. mich, inspired by scarlett's interest in the band 'the national', began creating a playlist of songs he thought should be listened to while watching the sunset. and every time friends or family come over to visit and watch the sunset, he has them add their own pick to the sunset playlist. he's had friends from all over the world contribute. his ultimate goal, he said, is to have a playlist so long that it could last from sunset to sunrise. and to throw a party where all the guests come dressed in white and dance on the rooftop terrace throughout the starlit night to the music hand-picked by friends from around the world.

have you ever heard anything so charming and romantic?! that's exactly how i imagine angels in heaven spend their evenings. point proven. also, i think i want to experience a sunset sessions party every night of my life.

mich told me and noelle that we'd have a chance to contribute our songs that night. he invited a couple friends from sweden to come over for sunset, and to watch the fireworks in st julien's bay. because, as if all this weren't already good enough, noelle and i just happened to land in malta on the weekend that mich's neighboring village would be celebrating their annual religious celebration... a weekend of parades and candle-lighting and fireworks. HOW?! so perfect.

suddenly we noticed the sun quickly setting. mich, kees, noelle, and i ran throughout the apartment in a light-hearted hurry---grabbing cameras, music equipment, appetizers, and glasses of wine. we ran upstairs to the rooftop terrace just in time to be still and watch the brightest remnants of the sun melt along the limestone horizon. 

i put on stacks by bon iver. noelle played songs of water by bread and circus. mich played the doors. the friends soon came and put on their songs, each so different yet all somehow so perfect for the moment.

there were now eight of us there---dutch, swedish, maltese, and american---all appreciating the beauty of light and sound. not long after the sun disappeared, the fireworks began lighting up the bay. grand, sparkling explosions nearly eye-level with our open balcony.  

kees made sure our wine glasses stayed at least half full the entire night. i told mich i'd like to stay forever. he said, with the most sincere smile, that i could stay as long as i'd like. oh my... is there anything more heart-warming than feeling sincerely welcome in the exact place you want to be?