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There is nothing but hope for the future. After Harvey, Irma, Jose, and Maria drowning all of the South and Puerto Rico, half of North America being on fire and a devastating earthquake in Mexico, I have nothing but prayers for those effected and sympathy for anyone who survived but lost their loved ones and the lives they worked so hard to build. The terrorism rampant everywhere does nothing to help us move forward. It only serves to unite against a common enemy – senseless violence.

In connection to the natural disasters, I must commend the communities who rose up and helped one another in an unprecedented manner. Being in Houston amidst Harvey and then watching how people from all over came here just to help us out made me believe in humanity once more. People of every creed, race, color and gender, regardless of their differences, stood together and literally formed human chains in support of each other. The Cajun Navy was AMAZING as were all of our first responders. I thank you deeply for coming and helping the people of my community so selflessly and bravely. Most of all, thank you for saving lives (both human and animal) and giving us all Hope for the future.

This selfless spirit has been spreading worldwide. Houston and all those that came to lend us help have shown the world that we all Can and Do get along just fine. It is simply a few hundred voices in billions who would love to spread discord – they just manage to be heard more loudly at times because of the disaster that often accompanies their agendas. Though these disasters are devastating and continue to horrify with the extent of damage experienced, the results have been astoundingly positive everywhere. I am simply moved to tears at what people can accomplish when they see each other as simply human. The sympathy, empathy and simple humanity exhibited has been breathtaking.

I know that amongst all these monstrously unhappy worldwide events and unrest, my small battles aren’t even minutely important. At the same time, I believe each of us fights a million small battles each day. Many are fighting for survival itself in deplorable conditions. Many are even now awaiting rescue and trying to put their lives together. Many are left to survive without their loved ones at their sides.

My personal drama, in comparison, cannot even begin to compare. I am extremely Blessed to be untouched by this series of natural disasters thus far. I must expound on this for my own personal satisfaction and to relieve myself of emotions that have been making my heart heavy thus far. There are people I have loved but can no longer see myself walking with in life. I am glad they were here with me when it was the right time for them to be. I am also really happy they have exited my life, willingly or not, and taken their toxic influences with them. I couldn’t quite put it into words until now but I think these words below will suffice:

 

When you tell me you love me
You don’t really mean it
Your words are as empty
As cracks in old, worn stone

When you tell me you love me
You expect me to believe it
Though you never let anyone in
Far enough to call your own

When you tell me you love me
You’re trying to convince me
That a repetition of lies will
Somehow make them come true

When you tell me you love me
You just go through the motions
Forcing me to take false kindness
To you, ugly truth is overblown

When you tell me you love me
You leave me aching with a longing,
A wishing that someone
Really would want to call me their own

When you tell me you love me
But poison others towards me
While insisting on your innocence
You are a lying child, overgrown

When you tell me you love me
But you are only here to judge me
I tell you that love is an emotion
You have never felt or known

You tell me you love me
But you only love being loved
To  love, you must be selfless
But you haven’t a single selfless bone

You tell me you love me
But your words ring hollow
Leaving you unable to comprehend
Why your whims I do not follow

You tell me you love me
But my heart knows better
Than to trust a two-faced viper
With even a second more

When you tell me you love me
But are deaf to my feelings
I would rather you leave me
I am much better off alone

 
I have learned the hard way that there are many people out there that do not truly value sincerity and loyalty. They value nothing but, ultimately, themselves and their own petty self interests. They are also blind to the needs of others and feel resentful when forced to face their shortcomings. They refuse to see things in any light but their own. They are in denial about so many things, it is as though they have created some kind of utopia in their mind that no one else can access. Most frighteningly, they slow become the very people they profess to hate.

Such is the nature of life – it brings us lessons in the shape of people who are kind, who are dedicated, who betray, who lie, who are staunch supporters, who are two-faced frenemies, who become family, who stab you in the back, who break your heart, who mend that broken heart. Such is the passage of time – the highs and the lows are inevitable. Change is inevitable but it does not always have to be a crushing change, rather it can be the metamorphosis of the caterpillar to a butterfly. Pain is inevitable but it does not have to be pain without purpose. Growing pains are a thing to be celebrated and welcomed with open arms.  People coming through the journey of your life only to leave is also inevitable. The ones you need will be in your life at the time that is right for them.

There is not one Right way to do things – there are as many ways as there are people in this world (so approximately 7.6 billion views, give or take a few million). This doesn’t mean that I am saint enough or mature enough to simply accept them all with no debate. I would probably debate my stances rather hotly. What this Does mean is that I can respect you while disagreeing with you. What I cannot respect is someone who is duplicitous and will not respect my intelligence enough to be straightforward and true with me in return.

There are many things that can break a person into tiny little pieces that will never be put back together quite the same – human beings are much more fragile and complex that Humpty Dumpty unfortunately. We all experience loss of faith and hope at some point in our lives. In the face of untold evil both within and without, this loss seems quite inevitable. It is what you do after that initial break that truly defines who you are. The moments when you begin to question the fabric of the universe itself and if there was a maker and who that creator is, and the answers you arrive at after that, define you more than anything else. How you acquit yourself in the face of adversity and sometimes physical opposition defines who you are.

Amidst all the deaths, the chaos, the unrest, the bloodshed, the sheer arrogance of some to believe they are better than others for whatever XYZ reason, the complacency of most of the world population to do little more than nothing in the face of all of this (of whom I must admit I sadly belong), all the stars that are being born and dying, the waves of humanity arriving in and departing from this life, the joy of accomplishment and living, the shattering disappointment of failure and crushing weight of loneliness, there is One thing we cannot stand to lose – HOPE.

The past is done, unchangeable. The present is already here, we can only barely react to it. The future, however, is both our friend and capricious enemy. The only way to bring it to heel is to plan, to fail, and to learn. We must live in the moment while still hoping for a better tomorrow. We must make a way for this better tomorrow to happen. Sometimes that better tomorrow, that better us, requires a hard decision and a difficult parting of ways. Sometimes it is simply an opportunity to grow and become more, to find someone or something better suited to you.

Look at the glass and see it half full – all the world’s events and your own personal dramas will change into different scenarios before your eyes. Our perspectives hold the keys to our tomorrows. We have weathered many tragedies as a collective of humanity. I believe we will prevail again. Together, we must move forward while walking our own paths to our common end. Meandering or direct, easy or difficult, we must all support one another in moving forward. After all, there is nothing left but hope for the future.

Until next time, ciao!

 

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To quote the quote above, “You are not a backup plan.”

Life has a funny way of teaching us things we usually don’t want to learn. We are consistently harassed by events, people and situations that try our patience, test the limits of our hearts and minds, and, more often than not, require us to either be generous of spirit or to eliminate negative elements from our lives.

I am sure every one of you reading this has gone through most of the above and more. While none of those are the most pleasant, rainbows-and-butterflies kind of happy occurrences, these are the moments that define us – both to ourselves and those who are significant enough to warrant an opinion on our actions and our lives.

It’s so easy to blame someone else for one’s own faults. It’s also just as easy to just lie to get out of a situation you don’t want to be in. Equally simple is just living in denial of the facts and refashioning them to suit your needs. Who needs Facts when there are Alternative Facts, right?

While I have never been the strongest, most honest, most brilliant or most talented individual, I believe I have always been the most sincere and loyal friend, coworker and family member. For those people I have brought into my life and chosen to have in my inner circle of friends, I have always tried to give 110%. Sometimes, or rather often, I am disappointed when this level of love and care are either not reciprocated or are used to put me in a “needy, clingy, wants too much of my time” box. I am here to tell anyone else who has had that happen to them that this is total bullshit (pardon my French but this is a post that requires some bluntness).

 

People often want to blame the person who points out a problem or flaw exists. It doesn’t matter how nicely the criticism is phrased – they just aren’t willing to confront the issue or even acknowledge it exists. Their world is much happier without unpleasant truths and expectations. They prefer a world in which they are as close to perfect as it gets. When someone points out a shortcoming, suggests a change, offers advice that doesn’t mesh with their worldview, or raises questions about the relationship, they are immediately put into the “too needy/clingy” or “attacking me/aggressive” categories. This does not mean the individual trying to be sincere and true is in the wrong. It means it’s time to either move on and get rid of the immature individual in question or to make peace with the fact that this person will never truly value you as you are.

 

For those of you clinging to the notion that maybe ‘talking about it’ with this prideful and defensive individual will make a difference, allow me to disillusion you. They will Always see your sincerity and truthfulness (or in my case, my blunt foot forward) as an attack. You might be more tactful than me but the end result will be the same. Nothing between you will change other than the cementing of the ‘fact’ that you are too demanding. Of course, their demands on your time and energy don’t count. They are never too needy. The neediness is all you. To this, my reply is simply:

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Choosing honesty, truth, and sincerity is a choice I have to make several times a day. It isn’t easy. I may be here writing all this but in truth I’m a very private sort of person. Being reticent by nature, it is hard work for me to appear open and honest. It’s not a lie that I am a strong, opinionated, and independent person. It is just also true that I have a hard time opening up to people, I often regret opening up when I do, I hate burdening others with my problems, I have to try really hard to rely on others, and I often feel apologetic that someone like me exists and is usually the cause of drama between friends. This drama might often be instigated by the inconsiderate nature of some people but I am still sorry for it.

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This weird mix of confidence and humility is who I am. Unfortunately for those who like to put people in neat little boxes, I don’t fit any of them. Most people do not understand this and are not willing to accept it. I also do this thing where I grow and change. For some reason, this is also incomprehensible and inacceptable. I simply cannot do anything about this nor do I think I should have to. I am not here to fit in someone’s worldview. I am here to create my own.

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Mr. Hemingway could not have spoken a greater truth more near to my  heart. I may not be the ‘best’ person, but I have been vulnerable because of the traits he mentions. I refuse to let my strengths be made into weaknesses for others to exploit. Fear is the only thing holding most of us back from being our real selves. In reality, all of us are just fumbling our way through life, pretending we know what we are doing, hoping we are heading in the right general direction, and praying no one else sees through our façade.

Some of us are trying our best to just be honest with ourselves and with others. It results in people ridiculing me quite often. Even more, it results in me Learning things I would never have known had I not failed. Fail big – there is no better teacher than failure. Get up after you are broken and hurt and frustrated and ruined. Put one step in front of the other. Learn to love yourself. No one and nothing can hurt you if you are not afraid of failure and rejection.

I have also been extremely blessed in that I have found others who share my level of sincerity and do not want me to fit in a box or be the same forever. I am so very grateful they are in my life. I would be so much more broken without them. One of these great people sent me this quote the other day:

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Another of those amazing people took me to a gun range for the first time (LOL) and let me shoot some of my frustrations away. I am so grateful to both of them. Thank you guys for being there for me and adding a sprinkle of magic into my existence <3. I am also really grateful to my family for being there unquestioningly and giving me comfort in the hardest of times.

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We all fight very hard to be our truest selves. Most of us wear masks to get through the day. But we cannot hide from our own thoughts and hearts forever. There are things we would all rather be in denial about. I just find that extremely exhausting and would rather confront reality head on. The reality is that I am not valued in a way that makes me feel valued. I am being taken for granted and treated as a nuisance. My feelings do not matter because that would inconvenience the other party. Truth is powerful and now that I can accept these truths, I can finally begin to let go of something that has been really painful. I can begin to shift my understanding of another painfully warped relationship and begin to heal myself.

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Words are empty vessels if they are not filled with and followed by actions.  I have decided not to let myself continue with this uncomfortable reality and mold a better, more whole one. I have decided not to fall apart due to people who do not deserve my angst and sorrow – they do not value me enough for me to allow them so far into my heart. It is time to say goodbye to the farce I have been fooling myself with the past few years.

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For anyone else out there struggling with your heart, whether it is because of a friend, a parent, a sibling, or a significant other, remember: You are not a backup plan. You are worthy of being loved as you are. You deserve to be valued and cared for if you have been valuing and caring for another. You do Not have to allow yourself to be hurt for the sake of someone else’s ego. Your self worth, self love, and self confidence do not depend on anyone’s opinion of you – they depend on Your opinion of you. You will face rejection, you will face betrayal and you will want to disappear from the earth sometimes. But do not fear, you are Not alone. All of us have been bruised and battered by life and we are still here.

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There is so much more to your life left for you to discover. Be adventurous. Shoot fear in the ass. And remember, love yourself. There is still hope while you still hope. Be free and be hopeful. On that note, happy Monday, and may you all have a wonderful and productive week! 🙂

 

 

I have had a whirlwind of a last couple of months. Interviews, a new job, getting sued for medical bills I never denied payment for, and a car crash that left my car like so:

The hassle with the insurance companies and finding a new car and needing to pay a difference on the totaled vehicle and paying a citation that followed this horrific and traumatic event in my life was almost enough to make me wish I hadn’t survived. However, the day it happened, I started writing a poem (sort of) and later realized I was just getting frustrated with a system designed to make you give up and decide that life is no longer worth it. If my near death experience taught me anything, it is that there is very little in life that really matters. Everything else is just meaningless fluff.

I am so very grateful to my true friends – the ones who were there for me and stepped up to the plate to help out both me and my family. Being down to one vehicle with a very long commute to work in two opposite directions is zero fun. Thank you guys for being awesome. Thank you for helping me long enough for me to remember how not to be miserable again and to simply be grateful for all my blessings.

Without further ado, here is what I really came to say today:

If you asked me yesterday what I’d be doing today, I would not have said anything along the lines or what actually did happen. This is not how I planned for my Valentine’s day to go. 

Today, I almost died.
Today, I almost killed others with no intent.
Today, I realized in a moment of clarity, while spinning uncontrollably under an 18 wheeler that almost crushed me and being shot back across a miralculously empty for a few seconds high-speed four-lane highway to safety in the median, that I didn’t have any regrets while leaving this world.
Today, by all logic and probability, I should be dead.
Today, I feel so empowered to be alive, to be here still, to be a living voice in the drone of many voices.
Today, I am grateful to be able to write these words, to drink a hot chocolate, to enjoy my family and their love, to learn who my true friends are, and take joy from the antics of my cats.
Today, I am pleasantly surprised to know I have found people, who after a week of knowing me, would drive into danger to save me. And that a person I met once cared enough to send me a few words of comfort in my time of need.
Today, I know I’ve changed into someone I can hardly recognize and so much of the anguish I held inside has disappeared with the wreckage of my cursed car.
Today, my spirit is still restless and all is not well with my soul but I know I am not afraid of death or what comes after. Returning to God’s embrace does not bring this sinful soul a trace of terror, only a yearning to be in His presence.
Today, I know what Really matters to me in the chaos and corruption and suffering and negativity that has been ruling my social feed and fueling my passion for justice and equality.
Today, my heart confirmed that Love really is the cliched answer to so many hatreds but it is not a solution easily achieved. I still cannot bring myself to forgive those that have truly wronged my soul.
Today, I know I was saved by the will of God and in His Mercy He saved me; maybe someday I will be worthy of His miracle.
Today, I know that all things taken into account, GOOD still exists in the world, people can be wonderful, and God still cares.
Today, I am reborn.

I normally do not write political pieces out of fear that some Homeland security agent will decide I’m a threat to the country and make me disappear somewhere no one will ever find me again. In light of the current climate, however, I feel compelled to write about my experience of being an American Muslim female of Pakistani descent in a society that has branded everyone like me as a terrorist.

As an American, I am sad to say I am living through the kind of historic times I never thought I would have to live through. I have always been so proud of my country – the one that polices and guides the whole world, the one that has become the face of democracy, equality and freedom. I have always been so very secure in the knowledge that no matter what the rest of the world was like, I could always rely on my country to be the light in the dark, the world’s knight in shining armor, the army that stands between good and evil.

My pride and faith in this country have been shattered. My belief that America stood for ALL Americans is gone. My belief that the government is here to protect, serve and create order is gone. My hope that the children of tomorrow would grow up as free as possible of racial and religious prejudice has totally evaporated. This is definitely due to the fact that so many acts of terrorism have happened all around the world and have been performed by Islamic terrorists. But it is also because Western countries supplied that hate and the weapons to those terrorists in the first place.

Has anyone ever noticed how there is always more money for building weapons and walls and starting wars but never enough funding for medical care and educating the masses so that they actually understand the world better and can rise up against crooked politicians?

I have been on a roll with trying new things in the past few months. I have also touched base with the things I once loved to do and hadn’t done since my teens or childhood. But now, I am thinking of doing things that aren’t always shiny rainbows and happy unicorns. I am considering joining peaceful protests on the streets – the kind of thing I have never done. I am thinking about writing to my local representatives, senators, governor – all because I am enraged and terrified by the actions of the worst president the United States has ever known. I don’t care if you don’t share my opinion. This is going to continue to be my opinion as long as this man remains president of a country that wholeheartedly finds him absolutely repulsive in every way possible.

I am so very tired of people telling me it is going to be okay. I am tired of people telling me I don’t need to be afraid. I am tired of ‘alternative facts’ and men deciding what women can do with their bodies. I am tired of being profiled and degraded for my religion and the color of my skin. I am tired of being vilified by people who have never even known someone like me. I am tired of people who have never left their small town and seen anything beyond a few hundred miles of our country trying to control the millions of very different lives everyone across the world leads on the basis of their limited experience and willful ignorance.

I am tired of being treated  like a third class citizen because I wasn’t born with the ‘right’ skin color and the ‘right’ religion.

I am especially tired of being told to go back where I came from. How about all of you go back to Europe or Russia, too?

I am tired of domestic terrorism not being labelled as such – unless of course a Muslim person was involved.

A brand new mosque and a brand new, unopened Islamic center were burned down near me recently. To the ground. They took hundreds of thousand of dollars to build and years to make. But they were callously destroyed. Imagine if that happened to a church or synagogue – the world would be in an uproar about it. But mosques? No one cares. It’s not terrorism or a hate crime at all.

The western media doesn’t care about the ethnic cleansing of Burmese Muslims. Or the masses being wiped out in Arabic countries. Or the hundred of instances of terrorism committed against people in Muslim countries like Pakistan and Turkey by those same terrorists. No one in the Western world lifts a single finger against any of it. Nor do they acknowledge that their wars and greed for oil have incited much of these repercussions they now face or that Most of the people killed by terrorist attacks have been Muslims.

Do people think that Muslims just woke up one day and decided to be terrorists? Does no one ever wonder WHY they decided to kill themselves to incite terror and fear in others? Some of them are probably brainwashed and believe they are doing it in the way of God – they aren’t. Islam forbids this kind of evil. Most of them do these things either for the safety of their loved ones or out of hate for the people that never accepted them, always turned them away, looked down on them and treated them as lesser being because they were ‘savages’ – even though the western nations were the ones that invaded and made colonies everywhere. subjecting people to their whims and culminating in a massive slave trade as well as laying down the foundations for terrorist organizations, the effects of which we all continue to suffer from today.

Did slavery exist before all this? Most certainly. But was it so widely accepted and was it done on such a major scale? I don’t believe so. People still think they are so much better than others based on their skin tone. Why this is so, I don’t understand. We are all flesh and blood. We are all human beings who experience the same emotions and needs. Why anyone thinks they are superior to anyone else because of their skin tone is beyond me. Why anyone thinks their religion is superior to anyone else’s is beyond me too.

I still remember the Crusades and the Holocaust. Did the rest of the world forget?

Conquest and subjection of the losing populace are a repetition in human history that will never end. However, we no longer live in an age where you can make mountains of skulls and burn grand libraries to the ground and not have people rise up against you.

To those who think your race is what makes you superior, to those that think your faith is better than everyone else’s, to those that think your way of life is better than the rest of the world’s – NEWS FLASH: IT IS NOT. YOU ARE NO BETTER THAN ANYONE ELSE. YOU ARE JUST AS SIGNIFICANT AND INSIGNICANT AS A BLADE OF GRASS IN A GIANT MEADOW.

To those that want to turn America in to the present day Nazi Germany, good luck. You will not win this war.

Forgive me for the rant, but I felt I would explode if I didn’t put my thoughts into words. In conclusion, the poem I wrote below explains my feelings most clearly:

American born
American raised
Proud not to be
Anti-any-race

Muslims banned
Mosques hazed
On what constitution
Is this based?

America – land of the free
Home of the brave
Why has fear
Become your face?

Good old days of
War, injustice, inequality
Will never return
For the crazed

This is democracy
This is freedom of speech
This is my country
Where my loyalty is based

I will not be silenced
I will not be controlled
I will rise above
The hatred in your soul

 

 

 

 

 

Amidst the plethora of 2017 resolutions and “decide who you want to be this year” and how you can “change everything about yourself” articles, I find that this post will be severely out of place. However, that’s why it actually matters. It isn’t about changing everything about yourself or letting something go or accepting a past failure or turning over a new leaf. It is about continuing to evolve with every day we are blessed with, even when it is depressing, lonely, and hard to breathe. It is about forever forging forward despite all the difficulties and challenges we face in order to grow and achieve our dreams.

Achieving dreams is a different process for everyone. For some, it is go to school, struggle, find an internship and debut in the world. For others, there are a lot of detours along the way. For yet others, school is not even a factor. What they love and are talented in doing doesn’t require any teaching, it’s an intrinsic talent that they polish by actually doing what they love. For a lot of people, a dream is finding something to be passionate about in the first place. Sometimes, we have to explore new avenues to search for a dream. We have to do things and experience things that are out of our comfort zone in order to find what it is we have always been looking for. And sometimes, for some of us, we have more than just one dream.

This post is about how one of my amazing friends inspired me to try something I never thought I would do and it has ended up being one of the most unique experiences of my life. It is about how when we have the courage to pursue our dreams, despite countless setbacks, it is possible to fulfill them and become the people we always wanted to become. It is about me doing something I would have been terrified of doing just a couple years ago – and having a blast doing it. This is the story of a dream becoming a reality.

One of my friends decided to pursue a dream. She created her very own photography business called Ember Faith Photography starting late last year. Her Facebook Page and website are just little steps in the journey towards her achieving her dream. They don’t show you her hard work, joyful enthusiasm and absolute passion for her work. While working a full-time, exhausting job (I know because we work together), being a mother to her beautiful daughter Eden, who I will be showcasing below, and her adorable son Oliver, and going back to school at the same time, she somehow managed to not only start a time-consuming business but excel in her craft.

She has done everything from family portraits, to maternity pictures, to couples photography, to boudoir shoots, to (with me) artsy-ethnic photography, to even a small wedding. I can’t express how fun the shoot we collaborated on was or how mind-blowing the resulting pictures are. I have never seen myself as attractive but Sarah managed to make me feel eclectic, exotic, beautiful and comfortable (even while dancing in an empty parking lot or posing on the street as passerby slowed down to see what was happening XD). I can tell from my own experience that she managed to do the same for all of the people that made a great choice and chose her for their photography sessions.

So, my dear friends, lets go down a road to the realization of a dream and just how beautiful it can be with the pictures that speak for themselves. Here are a few portraits that Sarah did of her daughter Eden, the enchanting flower girl, some time before she began Ember Faith Photography:

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All of the shots of Eden have this certain abstract, almost magical quality to them that make me just get lost in the innocent beauty she has managed to capture here with Eden as the enchanting fairy she is:

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Underlying all those images is the love only a mother can have for her child. Eden being the fascinating model she is certainly doesn’t hurt.

However, there is so much more to showcase that I must move on to these amazing pictures of a very unique wedding photoshoot that absolutely blew me away:

Followed by this great collage of maternity pictures that she made for a friend of ours:

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As well these adorable newborn shots:

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As anyone with any kind of experience taking pictures of children will tell you, it is difficult at best. Sarah, however, makes it look effortless and enchanting as evidenced by the shots of some very different kinds of children below:

Not only is she amazing at making these kids grin from ear to ear and look adorable, she can take the best family portraits I’ve seen in a good long time:

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Not to be remiss, I must showcase her talent for capturing the little special moments between couples of all different kinds as well:

However, none of this encompasses all her talents as a photographer. She and I had the best time collaborating to turn a vision she had into a reality. I was the model, decided on the wardrobe and makeup, and provided some of the looks. She scoped out the locations and brought her enthusiasm and sass. It was absolute magic and I loved every second of it. Here are a few (well sort of) pictures from the shoot we had:

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In front of the wall mural painted by Tyler Kay, a local Houston artist and absolutely phenomenal person: http://www.instgram.com/tylerkay/

I’m sure it is hard to tell from these photos but I’m not normally the type to model on the streets. Sarah made me feel beautiful and valued. I can’t say how much of a confidence boost that was. Below are the pictures where I even danced for her in an empty parking lot:

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After this singular moment in my life, we moved onto another location where we some extremely striking wall art and took a few more pictures that make me question if that is really me in the pictures or if Sarah did some magic and put someone else there in my place:

I think the pictures and their vibrancy speak for themselves. These are all proof of the hard work, the talent, the personality and the artistic eye Sarah is in possession of and is using to the best of her abilities. If y’all ever decide to have a private photoshoot done for yourself, then Ember Faith Photography should definitely be your go-to!

I find nothing as satisfying and humbling as seeing the talents of my friends grow, blossom and stun me with the beauty they produce. Seeing them achieving their dreams and becoming empowered, fulfilled people is such an inspiration amidst the negativity that runs rampant in the world today. I am so, so proud of all of them and am so very grateful that they continue to be part of my life.

A special thanks to Sarah and her amazing work for allowing me to not only feel beautiful for a day but to feel special and unique every time I see the pictures she took of me. Thank you boo!

To all of you out there struggling to make ends meet and feeling down-hearted because nothing ever goes right and you cannot even imagine pursuing that dream you have always had – I know your pain. I know how soul-crushing and difficult and isolating it is. But please, don’t ever give up on yourself. Don’t ever believe the world that assures you that you will never amount to anything. Don’t let your inner demons hold you back.

You Can Do It. I believe more in the power of the human will to accomplish its goals than anything else. May God be with all of you and may you all find success in this new year! Happy 2017!

 

 

 

 

So far, we went to Rome, Assisi, Orvieto, Spello, Florence and Venice together. I suppose it’s now time to introduce to you Padua, Verona and Milano before concluding with Lake Como.

The largest piazza in Italy, Prato della Valle, is surprisingly located in Padua. Just a little ways from the piazza is the Basilica di Sant’Antonio di Padova which is just lovely and also houses a museum of its own.

After that early morning stroll, we ventured onwards and found ourselves in romantic Verona, home to the famous balcony of Juliet and her statue as well as the Arena and several very expensive designer stores all lined on one street. the people of Verona were the most fashion conscious Italians I met outside of Milan.

After a brief time in Verona, we continued to Milano and it’s incredibly different and modern buildings that are a direct result of Milan being bombed during World War II. However, the most recognizable and renowned location in Milan, il Duomo, did not disappoint with its centuries old majesty. The Galleria adjacent to Il Duomo was quite simply one of the most complete collection of exclusive and extremely pricey designers under one figurative roof. Even famous car companies had shops at the Galleria. Behind the Galleria was the famous Opera House and housed in the Galleria is the one artwork I did not get to see – Leonardo’s Last Supper. I wasn’t aware that the tickets had to be bought far in advance and hence did not book myself one. Hopefully, some day I can return to see that historic painting as well.

That regret aside, Milan did not disappoint in its extravagant offerings. It quite reminded me of NYC, just a little less insanely busy. My favorite thing, however, were the roasted nuts being sold by snack carts all over Milan – they were absolutely delicious!

Our activities for the night came to an end after dark and most people returned to the hotel. I returned later that evening to explore the Duomo and visit with a friend. It was perfect.

The next day it rained from morning till night and into my last day in Italy. Unfortunately, it was that day that we had Lake Como on our schedule. I imagine it must be even more amazing during summer, or when it is not raining as it was the entire time we were in the area.

We traveled by bus to the city of Menaggio. From there, we took a boat across Lake Como to Bellagio. We didn’t go to Como itself which was a shame – a friend informed me there was a cheese and chocolate festival at Como that day. However, just exploring Bellagio itself turned out to be great fun for me and though it was raining I still got some beautiful pictures of a place straight out of a fairy tale.

We returned to Milan after those stunning vistas to enjoy another excellent dinner and say our goodbyes. I left Italy the next day. It became an extremely fulfilling and uplifting memory for me.

The beauty of this world and the human mind’s capability to imagine and adapt is endless. Everywhere we went, we encountered warm-hearted, kind and helpful people. I didn’t have a single negative experience with any Italian person. My tour group afforded me a few new good friends and allowed me to meet some kindred spirits.

Italy itself gave me a sense of endlessness. The civilizations repeatedly upended, the many stories associated with every cobblestone, the many different belief systems that came and went, and the astounding art that people created surrounded by the natural beauty of creation – it was a package that is still making me smile with a joyous soul.

There is nothing quite like getting more than you bargained for, especially if it is a pleasant surprise. Italy was much, much more than I had imagined and I didn’t even see all of it. Pisa and Naples were sorely missed. However, everywhere I went, I saw one thing every Italian had in common – a pride in their people and in their heritage, as well as very, very big hearts. I’m sure others have experienced different but I am simply sharing what I experienced.

If I were to live away from the States, Italy is where I would want to create a new home. If you can go, please do visit Italy. It is worth every penny.

For staying with me until the end of my journey, grazie! And because this journey has come to its end, Ciao!

May 2017 bring you many pleasant surprises!

To continue where I left off last time, still in the vein of remembering the good parts of a horrid year, I’ll start with my day in Florence experiencing some of the most famous art and architecture in the world as well as exploring real Italian leather goods and gold products. We drove to Florence from Padua (a small town where we spent the night) and were immediately wowed by its casually grandiose beauty.

We began our journey in Florence with an introduction into one of the most famous art galleries in the world – Galleria Dell’Academia. It was a dream come true for me. I saw not only the David but the amazing incomplete works of art that seemed truly as if they were in the midst of being born that Michelangelo had left behind. I think it’s best seen for yourself:

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I apologize for the atrocious pictures but they were the best that I and my phone could take in the limited amount of time we had there. Of course there were several more sculptures done by students of the Academia over the years that were equally fascinating as showcased below:

As is obvious, the masters of the Academia do not graduate students lightly. However, this was only one wonder that Florence had to share. From the Galleria, we then progressed to the Duomo of Florence – the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. It was so humongous that it encapsulated my entire vision for a good few hundred meters both horizontally and vertically. The detail and artwork were beyond what I could imagine possible for a cathedral of such stature. It was truly magnificent. Right across the street from the Duomo is a Baptistery which is equally amazing. Both were designed by Filippo Brunelleschi and do him a great honor. Please partake of the amazing experience with me:

Moving on from the Duomo, we ended up at the old palace of Florence, Palazzo Vecchio. It belonged to the once reigning families, the Vecchios, and was abandoned after the new reigning family took over and deemed it unfit for living. I’m not sure what exactly was unfit because I was absolutely blown away:

After this fantastic and mind-blowing experience, we then moved on to experience one of the most exclusive shops in Italy that offers only the best of Italian leather and gold – Misuri and The Gold Market. Located in Piazza de Santa Croce almost adjacent to the church of Santa Croce, the sister shops have an unassuming entrance and look just like any other shop from the outside. The inside, however, is a whole different world. We were given a demonstration by one of the owners of The Gold Market and Misuri and it was just amazing. I think their websites speak for them better than I ever could: The Gold Market/ Misuri.

Those who opted to could also explore the Piazza de Santa Croce as pictured below:

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I was so enchanted and so in love with Florence that I elected not to go out on the Italian appertivo dinner offered to my tour group that night and got a good night’s rest.

The next day brought me to the most Unique place I have experienced so far – Venezia. Everything about Venice, from how we got there via a 20 minute boat ride from the mainland, to the hundreds of bridges crisscross the collection of islands that make up Venice, to the very impressive Piazza San Marco and St. Mark’s Basilica, to Doge’s Palace and the Bridge of Sighs, as well as the glassblowing artisans of Venice and the excellent squid ink pasta I immensely enjoyed, made Venice a true once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. I think these pictures will speak for me much better than my words:

The pictures above were simply an introduction to Venice. Below are some images from Doge’s Palace that was literally the most opulent place outside of the Vatican I’ve ever been to.

Following this, we got our first look at Saint Marcos Square where I didn’t really have time to take pictures. We also had a tour of the inside of Saint Mark’s Basilica (interesting fact: it floods regularly as Venice is sinking a little every year) but as photography is not allowed in many religious centers, I was only able to get these pictures of the building and it’s surroundings:

We then progressed to a demonstration of glassblowing by one of the Maestro’s of the Murano Glass Factory, one of the most well-respected and renowned in the world. He blew a beautiful horse and a really cool vase in less than ten minutes:

A short break, with time to make purchases and grab a quick bite to eat, we were then treated to a gondola ride! That was on my bucket list ever since the first time I saw it in a movie when I was maybe seven. It was not what had imagined but it was certainly worth the discomfort to see gorgeous Venice from the water:

After that, I confess most of my time enjoying the wares of Venetian Merchants and had little time for tourist curiosity. I don’t regret a single thing. It was a shopper’s haven (Hi my name is sakurascorpion and I’m a shopaholic). I then had that excellent squid ink pasta in extremely cold sea air next to the ocean and returned to the town of Padua for the night.

I think that’s enough of a recount of my adventures in Italy for today. Hope y’all return for more Italian wonders tomorrow. Ciao!

 

Edit: This post was (somehow) deleted from my blog and the latter half has been re-written. The content of the post remains the same.

This has been a trying year for so many across the world. We each, in our own ways, have struggle to thrive and survive. Many in places that are war-ridden or inhabitable due to famine and disease are literally doing their best to just keep breathing. They are the Holocaust survivors of today.

Personally, I’ve taken several setbacks in my professional and personal life as well. However, on a day like today, I simply wish to give thanks for the amazing people in my life and the wondrous experiences I managed to have this year. Thank you my friends, my family, and my awesome coworkers for making this year not only worth being thankful for but an unforgettable string of memories.

This year, I did something I have wanted to do as long as I can remember – I traveled. I know I already posted about Seattle and NYC – one trip reconnected me to long lost family and the other to the person I have become. The third trip, which I’m about to share with y’all now, opened my eyes and began to show me a path to becoming the person I want to become.

Travelling shows you sides of yourself you never knew existed. It may reveal that you have a cool head under duress (you get lost and then find your way back), it may reveal that you hate change (I really missed my regular breakfast), and most importantly, it will reveal to you how other people live, how they experience the world, and how we are all so different and yet the same. The last is a theme that seems more and more emphasized the more I travel.

This time around, I want to share you with the wonder that is Italy. I don’t really need to elaborate on the amazing history and art that is absolutely everywhere there but I can’t help but be utterly fascinated and awed by the beauty and philosophical depth that pervades the every day life of the Italian people.

I chose to go on a bus tour with a tour group and never regretted that decision. Throughout this tour I saw the wonder that is Rome (more on that later), went to small hill towns like Padua, Orvieto, Spello and Assisi, saw Verona and its iconic Juliet’s balcony, fell in love with beautiful Florence and it’s street artists, experienced the unique city of Venice (more on that later too) and finished off the tour in Milan with its almost jarringly modern vibe.

Upon arrival in Rome, I was directly submerged into the Italian cultural love of food and wine (though I don’t drink) and the showmanship every Italian is evidently a master of. The food, needless to say, was excellent. Pasta, salad, bread, meat, cappucino and wine are the staples of Italian cuisine as I experienced it. There were several dishes I would have loved to have but they contained pork (which I also don’t eat) and so my tasted buds were left satisfied but greedy for more.

Rome was easily the cheapest place in Italy that I had the pleasure of visiting. It also had more to share with the world than basically any city I have ever visited before. Despite spending all day walking around its streets or going from location to location on our excellent tour bus, we barely managed to see the highlights. As an art and history buff, I know I could easily spend several weeks in Rome and still not see it all.

Traveler’s tip: Find little cafes off the main streets for all meals – the food is excellent, the quantity is usually more than an average person would eat and it is MUCH cheaper than a sit-down restaurant. Also, there are little fountains in the walls so if you carry a water bottle with you, there is clean water for you to drink all over the city. Mineral water costs more in Italy than wine or coffee. In addition, if going anytime other than the height of summer, wear layers. It gets cold in the morning and after sunset but is hot in the afternoon. Good walking boots or sneakers are a must. Don’t wear anything you couldn’t last in all day. Those cobblestones hurt.

I had the pleasure of visiting the Vatican amidst my trip to Rome and just that itself was a treat unlike any other. The art is overwhelming and the atmosphere is unique. Tour groups from all over the world can be found in this tiny little country – and it is a country of its own. You just don’t need a passport or visa to go in thanks to agreements between the Vatican and the Italian government. Keep in mind though – unless you have a reservation, you will be in line for several hours waiting to gain entry. It is, after all, a site for holy pilgrimages and home to the Pope. If you follow the Christian tradition, there is plenty for you to see and many places to pray. You can even purchase blessed rosaries at the many shops in Saint Peter’s square. The piece de grace, of course, is the Sistine Chapel. However, there is no photography allowed there so I have no pictures of my visit to that wonder, just these few pictures leading me to the chapel itself:

Which brings us to the wonder that is Saint Peter’s Basilica. My words, and these pictures, cannot describe the majesty of the Basilica. Every stone and every column, the domed ceiling, the floors, the altars and the art – all of it is beyond breathtaking with good reason. Michelangelo, one of the most renowned, prolific and brilliant artists of all time had a big hand in its design and construction. The history behind the building and design of the Basilica is quite interesting. I’ll leave you to satisfy your curiosity with this wiki article. Though my pictures definitely do no do it justice, here are a few of my memories:

The Square itself is no less impressive than the insides of the gargantuan Basilica:

After this amazing but all-too-brief trip to the Vatican, we were rushed off to another of Rome’s signature delights: The Colosseum! With our tour group, we were able to actually walk around on the same ground the gladiators of old would have fought their battles and look down into the pits where hungry animals were kept in terrible conditions in order to make them blood-thirsty in beast vs gladiator battles. I must note, however, that most gladiators were mercenaries and volunteers who were very much akin to modern day professional sportsmen. They were paid generously for their services in most cases. Though the overwhelming percentage of gladiators were willing participants, there were undoubtedly slaves also sent into battle.

Also located next to the Colosseum is a stone arch that has not only withstood the test of time, it is a testament to the passage of human history and the extreme changes that have come about in the world since the fall of the Roman empire. The Arch of Constantine is a triumphal arch that was built in 312 and is the last remaining triumphal arch of the Roman empire. The steps leading to the arch half stone walkways that were laid back in the early days of the Roman Empire and are now part of the cultural heritage of the Roman people.

Beyond that Arch is where the Forum once stood in all its marbled glory. Today, only the marble-stripped foundations have been left behind. The history itself, however, is embedded into every brick in the area.

After the Colosseum and a short lunch break, we again ventured out into Rome and saw even more of its delights.

Walking through the streets of Rome was like a dream come true. We first visited the Spanish Steps which were so crowded with visitors that none of us dared to actually venture onto the steps for fear of being lost forever. Leading to the Steps are buildings housing the most expensive name brands in the world as well as the Spanish embassy in Rome.

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Once we had visited the cultural center that is the Spanish steps (many locals also gather there regularly), we moved onto the most enchanting place of all, the Trevi Fountain, followed by the Senate, the President’s house, the Pantheon and the Navarro Fountain (also absolutely fantastic). I was just disappointed that the Pantheon had no trace of the Gods and Goddesses of old (it is now a Church) but it had the most amazing anti-rain system with a whole in the roof designed to let nothing but a slight mist into the building itself. The Romans were just brilliant architects, not to mention mind-blowing artists.

The Trevi Fountain might have been my favorite but Navarro Square holds second place with the Fountain of Four Rivers. These are places you have to see in person to truly understand their brilliance. Every sculpture, every building seemed so alive. There were so many stories told with every piece of marble and every brick. It was absolutely amazing.

That magical day will be a treasured memory for me forever. Rome is a city that I could easily spend another week or so in and still not see everything. Needless to say, I will be returning some day.

My adventure in Italy continued with Orvieto, a quaint and beautiful town, the next morning. There, we saw the cathedral that took my heart away. It is a fantastic study in architecture and art, built in both the Renaissance and Gothic fashion. The town itself was a typical Umbrian hill town with fantastic art casually thrown about here and there and in little alleyways. We also had an experience in genuine Italian pastries and hot chocolate while in Orvieto. Here are some visual recollections of my time there:

That afternoon, we continued onto Assisi, home of Saint Claire’s church and Saint Frances Basilica. Everything about this visit was grand, gorgeous and majestic.

Many pilgrims make their way to this unique town with an old Roman town center and one of the most visited Basilicas in the world, as well as the beauty that just blows your mind away.

We stayed in the town of Assisi that night but we first ventured out to beautiful Spello that evening for a meal I will never forget. If you ever have a chance, please do visit Ristorante Locanda del Postiglione – it will change your life forever.

That dinner was the end to a long and wonderful day experiencing the smaller towns of Italy and Umbrian cooking.

The adventure continues in Italian Adventures: Part II. Please do return and accompany me on the rest of my journey through Italy!

 

 

 

 

Hey y’all, I know I said my next post would involve a boot, but I’m postponing that for later. I have something I just have to say here right now, today.

Have you ever Known you are loved, cherished and thought of often only to also feel like you’re never good enough and people simply tolerate you because they are kind? I’ve been feeling that way a lot lately. I’m frankly jealous of the people I see together with their friends and just genuinely close to each other with no walls up between them. I miss feeling that way. I miss exchanging a single glance with someone and having them understand everything that just went through my head. 

I miss feeling like I had my own person.

It isn’t that my friends don’t support me or appreciate me. It isn’t that they don’t care about me. It isn’t even that they don’t make time for me. But I simply never feel like I belong or like I’m wanted. This isn’t their fault. I know it’s somehow me being messed up inside causing this view. but somehow I can’t help it.

Something inside feels so broken lately. I think it’s because I feel less than worthy of anyone’s attention. I feel like I am a burden or a bore or both to the ones I love and want to be around. This feeling is slowly crushing all the joy I have built up in my heart this year.

I really hope that all of you out there feel cherished and loved and know you are amazing in so many ways. God bless.

I know this post has been a long time coming and I apologize. I have just been really involved in personal issues and life in general. The recent election is something I’m not going to discuss in this post – I’m incredibly drained from the political and human drama of the moments. Instead, I’m going take this opportunity to talk about my recent trip to the Big Apple.

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned I went to Seattle and saw some amazing things in Washington and Vancouver, BC. I learned a lot from that trip and was delighted to reconnect with family I hadn’t seen in almost two decades. That trip wasn’t just about going away from Houston, it was about reconnecting to my roots – I spent several summers in Seattle as a child. However, this post is about my time in NYC and growing as a person through my experiences there (be prepared for a lot of pictures)!

A few weeks after returning home from Seattle, I visited New York City for the first time in my life. I was a little nervous before I left – I would be on my own in a strange and fantastic city and had no one there to help me out. However, the very thing I was afraid of turned out to be one of the best things about my trip. I absolutely loved exploring, getting lost in, and finding hidden treasures from losing my way in NYC. I rode the subway, the ferry and the bus. I once lost my way and ended up in Harlem at midnight. That resulted in me walking through Brooklyn streets at 2 am on my way back to my Air BnB and almost using my taser on someone that was approaching me threateningly. Hence, while there were moments of anxiety and frustration, there was so much More excitement and energy!

When you hear that New Yorkers are always on the go, you should believe it. People are always on their way to somewhere to do something. It doesn’t matter where you go, people are intent on accomplishing a goal, even if it is to spend an idyllic day in Central Park. That energy infected me too. In just three and a half days, I managed to visit the Empire State Building, Lady Liberty, New York Stock Exchange, Wall Street, the 9/11 Memorial, 5th Avenue, Times Square, Central Park, the MET, the MOMA, Brooklyn Bridge, Rockefeller Center, SoHo, Little Italy, Chinatown, and Grand Central Station. Each place was unique, exciting and thought-provoking. Some of the more iconic locations literally made me tear up with happiness.

One of the best things about NYC was the ease of access to everything one might need. It was great to be able to buy Halal food literally everywhere I went. It was really great being able to get basically anywhere with public transport at all hours of the day and night. I could buy anything I hadn’t brought with me at the countless little stores lining every street. And having street vendors made it easy to get nice things for a low price. In short, NYC surprised me by being so easy to navigate and being so convenient for someone a lone traveler in a strange environment. In retrospect, going there became a huge source of both confidence and self assurance for me. And it gave me the courage to go somewhere else shortly after, which I’ll be talking about in my next post (hint, it looks like a boot!).

Now to review all the amazing places I was lucky enough to visit:

I ended up at Wall Street by accident (took the wrong train) and had a surprisingly good time wandering around there on a holiday (it was Labor day). From there I walked to the majestic and awe-inspiring 9/11 Memorial grounds. I must also admit that I fell in love with the mall/train station adjacent to the Memorial. Being at the Memorial was a really surreal feeling for me, especially given the day I went there. The building itself is amazing enough but the names written on the walls surrounding what looks like a waterfall seen from above made me really grateful for the life I’ve been given. Here are some pictures I took to commemorate my visit there:

 

Following my time there, I decided to go to the Empire State Building. On the way, I got lost a couple of times and wandered through 5th Avenue as well as Korea town, but it was totally worth it. The mass of humanity in NYC is almost overwhelming, but at the same time it’s really wonderful to be around people from so many different places and no one gives your race or gender a second thought. In any case, I did reach the Empire State Building and enjoyed a fascinating view of New York City from up high. It looked more amazing the darker it got and I just have to share the view with all of you!

From there, I went where literally every tourist ever has gone before – Times Square! It was everything I’d ever seen on TV and more. The energy was unbelievable, there were countless street vendors and performers, and I doubt a single true New Yorker was in sight. Even so, it was a dream come true to be there and just enjoy the sights! I absolutely loved Broadway though I didn’t catch a show (I just don’t enjoy theater, I know blasphemy but what can I do?). It was a great way to wrap up my first day in NYC.

I started off the next day with going somewhere I had always dreamed of visiting – the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As an art and history buff, I absolutely loved the MET. If I had the time, I could go there every day all day for a week and still not see everything. Thus far, it is the most awe inspiring museum I have had the pleasure of visiting. There was too much I loved there but I’ll just share a few things that really stood out for me.

I know those are a lot of pictures, but I promise you that that these are only a small percent of the things on display at the MET. For anyone who loves art or history, this is a must see!

After spending the whole day at the MET, I decided to walk the Brooklyn Bridge and fell completely in love with it. The MET and the Brooklyn Bridge are easily my favorite places in NYC as of now. Walking across the Bridge was both amazing and unreal – it felt like I was in a different world for a little while. It’s one of the few things I would like to do again if I ever go back to NYC. Here are some views from the bridge.

Following that amazing experience, I went onto Rockefeller Center. It was a lesson in grandeur and tastefulness. I had an amazing time going to the top and seeing NYC from on high once more.

My adventure on the way back was quite interesting. I had an almost hour long conversation about spiritualism with a hotel employee on my way out of Rockefeller center, followed by an interesting shopping trip for a hoodie which resulted in a stranger offering to take me to dinner and drive me back to my Air BnB. Such an interesting evening.

I started out my next day in NYC by going on a free walking tour of Central Park – or rather a corner of it. The day started out extremely windy and cloudy so I was afraid it would be a disaster but it cleared up right on time for the tour. In fact, it got extremely warm during my time there. Following the tour, I took a brief walk around Central Park on my own and can safely say I completely loved it there, as is obvious from the following shots I took while there.