bad days.

sometimes, no matter what people say or do to cheer you up, you just have a sucky day.  i’ve had a lot of those lately because there’s something missing from my life, something that i always counted on to make things okay, to help me see the positive and to simply tell me that it was going to be okay: my grandpa.  i didn’t have a typical relationship with my grandfather.  i didn’t just see him on holidays and get a card in the mail on my birthday.  he was present at every major moment in my life – well, everything that he considered major.  those events included childhood basketball, volleyball and softball games; high school track meets; graduations; family meals; and any other occasion you can imagine.

my grandpa wasn’t just my biggest fan.  he was the one to encourage me to dream bigger, to not fear failure and to always believe in myself no matter the task – and especially when others were telling me i couldn’t do it.  he is the greatest man i know and he touched hundreds of people’s lives with his love, generosity of spirit and cinderella story background.  he lost his parents before the age of 10 and never had a true father after which to model himself in his later life.  that didn’t stop him from being a wonderful father to my dad and uncle, who in turn learned how to not only be great dads, but also to be great men just like him.  he was entrepreneurial in spirit, mindset and work ethic – something i hope to emulate in my own life.

he was yet another soul to lose to cancer.  last summer, he was diagnosed with liver cancer and liver disease.  i remember when my parents sat me down to tell me that he had been given nine months to live; i felt frozen.  the only words that came to my lips were “i’m so sorry, dad.”  when my mom called two weeks ago to say that i needed to come home to say goodbye to him, i felt like someone had kicked me in the stomach.  how can you say goodbye to someone you aren’t ready to lose?  how do you tell someone that everything you are and everything you’ve done is because of them?  how can you thank them for the gift of your very life?  i rushed home to his side, as did my entire family – a true testament to how loved he was and always will be – but i never got to have one last conversation with him.  every time i tried, we were interrupted by a nurse, visiting family member or rambunctious great-grandchild.  i never had the chance to tell my grandpa about my new job or apartment, to tell him how much i would miss him or to say that i couldn’t imagine life without him.  i never was able to have that true goodbye with the man i admire and love so much.  but when my aunt said that his wish was for each of his granddaughters to write a eulogy to read at this funeral, i knew that my grandpa had come through for me one last time.  as my grandma said about their early dating life, he “just kept showing up.”  as i wrote out my last thoughts to my grandfather, 23 years of memories flooded over me.  i cried for sadness and for hopelessness, but also for the pride i felt in having known him and the joy i felt at being able to say i was his granddaughter.  the end product was a letter to him.  it felt more personal and i wasn’t ready to talk about him, when i suddenly could never again talk to him.

in each memory, sad or happy, my grandpa kept showing up.

in each person i greeted last weekend at his wake and funeral, my grandpa kept showing up.

in each story i heard about him, my grandpa kept showing up.

my grandma couldn’t have been more right about her husband: he just kept showing up.  he never let anything block his path to success.  he never let misfortune wipe the smile from his face.  and he absolutely never let cancer take away his spirit.

 

my last conversation with my grandpa:

grandpa, it’s hard to know where to begin. i’ll start with the bad, because that comes to mind the fastest lately. i hate that twenty three years with you weren’t enough. i hate that you couldn’t see my career develop like i know you would’ve loved to do. i hate that i didn’t see you more often when you got sick. i hate that i didn’t call you every chance i got. i hate that you had to suffer when you’d earned more than your share of peace. and most of all, i hate that any future family i might have won’t know you: your love, your acceptance, your crushing hugs and your fervent belief that each of your grandchildren could achieve their wildest dreams in life. but there are a lot of feelings of love in my life lately as well. i love that, when you couldn’t speak to us anymore, you squeezed our hands so we knew you heard us surrounding your bed. i love that the last thing you were able to tell me was how much you love me. i love that you were there at every step of my life as i was growing up. i love that your spirit, your kindness, your compassion and your heart were apparent in each breath you took and word you spoke.

you’ve always been a wonderful example for our family. as a husband, you were faithful, showing your granddaughters how a true man treats the woman he loves. you loved the epitome of grace, strength and beauty – your childhood sweetheart – for 59 years of marriage.  grandma – my heart breaks for you.

as a father, you were a role model of what hard work can achieve. it’s plain how much your sons admired you, as they bore the weight of the last nine months without complaint so they could be by your side to care for you. dad – i can’t put words to what i feel at the thought of losing you one day.

as a grandfather, you embodied encouragement and support. you understood that my dreams would carry me away from america, from home, from you. instead of convincing me of lesser dreams that would keep me near you, you helped me to achieve them and cheered for me along the way. for that, and everything else you’ve done for me, i can’t thank you enough. you might not be here to talk me through my future as you’ve done so many times before, but i feel comforted in the fact that you’ll be watching me from above.

you and grandma bore your sickness with more grace than i knew was possible. i’ve been blessed with a family that would move mountains for me, but i feel more blessed to have been loved so fiercely by someone like you, who i hold in such high esteem.

it may feel like half of my heart passed on with you, but i still feel whole because you left a piece of yourself behind in each and every person you touched during your life. i love you. i miss you. and i’ll never have a day when i don’t think of you.

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treats.

The last few weeks have been spent making tons of Christmas-themed desserts for my friends and family – which means my waistline now hates me. The recipes seem to be popular with those who have tasted them, so I thought I’d share some pictures of the final products and links to the directions to prove anyone can make them without it turning into a Pinterest fail.

First up: Christmas crack (recipe). This recipe is addicting and easy to put your own spin on, i.e. I made two kinds. The coconut and Heath bar Christmas crack is for my mom and me. My dad, who hates coconut, gets Heath bar and crushed pecan Christmas crack. It’s simple to make, a fast clean up (when you put foil on the baking sheets) and the recipe is almost perfect.

To have the best Christmas crack possible, use three packs of graham crackers instead of what the recipe recommends (14 crackers). The homemade caramel won’t make the graham crackers mushy if it’s spread more thinly.

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Next: Oreo balls (recipe). I made the first round of these directly following the directions. They weren’t very good – the taste of cream cheese was extremely overpowering. I don’t like cream cheese on a good day, so this overuse of it almost induced vomiting. The second time I made them, I bought mint-flavored Oreos in the hopes that they would be a better match for the cream cheese. I also used less cream cheese (about 5.5oz) when it actually came time to form the balls. Those two switches made for some delicious snacks, which is proven by the fact that half of them are gone and it’s only been three days since I made them.

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Thirdly: chocolate caramel pretzels (recipe). I followed this recipe almost exactly, minus the addition of coconut oil to the chocolate while melting it. You can use melting chocolates, like I did, or add Crisco to the chocolate to get it smooth (for those who, like me, don’t keep coconut oil on hand). They’re delicious, but be sure to put foil under the pretzels to keep the melted caramel from sticking to the tray in the oven. Whatever you do, don’t use wax paper – unless you enjoy picking bits of it off the backs of the caramel pretzels, that is.

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Finally: sugar cookie cake balls (recipe). My mom described these as “very sweet,” but I haven’t received complaints from anyone else. The recipe suggests making your own sugar cookies, but I used ready-bake dough from the store, which worked fine. I would advise doubling the recipe if you plan to share these. The amount of cream cheese for this recipe was spot on (read: didn’t induce vomiting). As is clear from the picture, I decorated the tops of the cake balls with crushed candy canes (instead of the sprinkles that are called for in the recipe) for a very simple reason: I wanted the Oreo and sugar cookie cake balls to be more unique.

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soulmates.

“Maybe our girlfriends are our soulmates and guys are just people to have fun with.” – Candace Bushnell

Yes, that’s a quote from Sex and the City after one of the women goes through a particularly bad breakup.  The show is a bit of a guilty pleasure because of how ridiculously the women react to hardships in their lives; I feel better about my freak outs when I compare my reactions to theirs.  But this particular scene caught me more seriously.  I see so many of my friends, peers and old classmates pairing off with babies, boyfriends and engagements lately.

 

I’m so happy for those friends, to experience such happiness in their own lives.  But what about those of us who don’t want that in this stage of our lives?  How do we answer the endless stream of questions: When will you meet someone?  Why aren’t you dating anyone?  Did you have a bad breakup last time?  Then there comes the meaningless platitudes: You’ll meet someone when you least expect it.  The best things come to those who wait.  You find the best people when you stop looking.

I’m almost through my twenty-second year.  I graduated from a nationally ranked program – at a good university – with honors.  But that doesn’t seem to be what people call to mind when they think about me.  They see that I moved to Italy and assume that I’m running from something or that I don’t want to start in the “real world.”  Maybe they’re right.  I’m only 22.  I assume I came here because I felt a draw to return, but that was a feeling I had and wasn’t based on much more.  But I do know that whatever I’m missing in my life isn’t going to be found in a man right now.  I always used to have a boyfriend.  I went from one relationship to the next without much thought because that’s what I wanted at that time.  I’m unsure what specifically changed, but that phase of my life is certainly on pause – indefinitely.

None of this means that I don’t feel drawn to find a soulmate.  I just think my definition of that word is different at this point.  It becomes more clear to me as I go through hardships that my soulmate right now isn’t even a singular person.  My soulmates are my friends, just like the girls in SATC.  Because a true soulmate doesn’t just tell you things are going to be okay and that you’re great; that’s what transient friends spout.  A soulmate friend is permanent; he/she reminds you of who you are and why you’re loved.  Tells you it sucks right now, but asks how to help.  Initiates conversations on the topic, instead of sighing when you bring it up yet again.  Helps you remember what you like about yourself.

 

To find a soulmate in a friend is more meaningful to me.  I’ve yet to find a man who can support and love me as truly as a soulmate.  If I’m meant to find the same relationship with a man in the future, I have full confidence that it will happen.  But for now, I’m overly content to share my life with my girlfriends.

firenze.

so, i’m getting ready to move across the world and start working in sales and marketing as a tour guide for FlorenceForFun, a travel company that caters to college study abroad students, and i couldn’t be more excited.  i mean of course, i have the typical “am i going to be any good at this?” and “holy shit, i’m growing up” jitters; but i also know that this is the right move for me at this point in my life. it’s what i want for now and it’s where i want to be, plus i have no ties to anyone or anything in the states. i don’t think i’ll ever stop worrying or being surprised that i’m growing up – because are any of us ever really ready to take every responsibility onto our own shoulders? and i’m absolutely more worried that i won’t be good at it right away because i’m missing the most crucial point of the sales season as a result of problems getting my visa. the worst part is that i have to watch on facebook as my roommates / coworkers are befriending all the students upon their arrival – and securing their sales for the semester – which means there will be less students available to buy trips from me when i finally arrive in florence.

so if you know any students studying in or near florence, italy this year – tell them, beg them, bribe them to use my promo code (SAMANTHA) at http://www.florenceforfun.com. i’ll love you forever. and if you want to see travel pictures from around the world, you can follow my travel account on instagram – @samimay7

here are some pictures i’ve taken over the years of the gorgeous city i’ll soon call home once again – hopefully they entice you to help me with sales *fingers crossed*