Tags Posts tagged with "Family"

Family

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“I suppose I should let the cat out of the bag, being that I leave in about 2 1/2 weeks…., I will be teaching English in Beijing, China for an entire year at a learning center. I will miss so many of you dearly, you really don’t actually know. I just started crying a bit just writing this. This past year has been one of growth and development as I climbed from the pits of clinical depression. It made me isolated and people thought I cut ties. I hope I can see as many of you before I go, so definitely let me know if you’re around New Orleans!”

That was the post I finally made public not too long ago, and it was flooded with warm wishes and sincerity. For such a long time I believed not a soul cared whether I was around or not. This became very isolating and I couldn’t help but stay inside day in and day out. I was living in one of the most exciting cities, filled with sunshine and beaches. That city was Los Angeles, but it wasn’t quite the City of Angels. Rather it came to be, for me at the time, a city of Devils disguising themselves in angelic and heavenly glows. I was alone. I had a few friends I could hang with but we were all so busy with work/school/artistic endeavors we hardly found the time. There was no family. Fast forward to this morning as I sip my coffee under the roof of my best friend since I was 5 years old’s house. We used to sit there blowing snot bubbles during kindergarten nap time and laughing uncontrollably for hours. I haven’t had more gratitude towards the people and things in my life since I lived in New Orleans so many years ago (my family evacuated a couple days before Hurricane Katrina and drove to the Boston area where we stayed with family).

I haven’t lived with my brother, two sisters and parents since 2010, a year before my high school graduation. Since then I’ve gone off to college for 4 years, worked countless jobs and traveled around Europe twice. The travels around Europe, however, was what strengthened bonds with people I hold dear to my heart. Whenever we had the chance to skype or talk on WhatsApp my heart was filled to the brim with joy.There were also times I didn’t even have two euro coins to scratch together. But I never let that impede my journey.

For such a long time I let my depression rule my thinking, preventing myself from having the tiniest ounces of happiness. The first time I headed off to Europe, sure, I admit it was a runaway/escape of sorts. I backpacked, worked odd-jobs, hitch hiked and train hopped across 7 different countries and learned to speak French fluently. For this I can’t help but feel grateful toward. My parents were in full support the entire time. And even though they could not support me financially, the emotional and spiritual support was incomparable to monetary need.My gratitude by far goes toward the support and love one receives when being truly open and honest to their dear friends and family.

About the Author: Xave Guidry has been known as a ramblin’, gamblin’, travelin’ man with a penchant for adventure, fueled by an unwavering wanderlust. He has studied Sociology and Occupational Science at the University of Southern California, where he reinvigorated his creative spirit. Since moving to Los Angeles and finally back to New Orleans, he has regained his love for playing music, writing poetry, and snapping the world around him with a film SLR camera. Xave will begin a new adventure to the Far East, as he sets out on a Chinese/Asian adventure for an entire calendar year.  

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Growing up in a country that practices the value of close family ties makes it hard living your life the way you want to. It teaches you that family comes first and somehow you are obliged to show them they are your priority. You are expected to build your dreams and aspirations to make your family’s life better before you head out on your own. This may be a noble value but there are times that you have to make a choice and go out of the norm.

When I graduated from college expectations starts to pour on me. My family expected me to find a decent good paying job so that we can have a better life. Since then, this has been my goal. Do the job, get paid, give a part of my income to my family, help with my family’s needs and what’s left of my money is for going out to have coffee or movie with friends or save it for the things I wish to buy. But then my priorities changed when I first had a taste of travelling.

Travelling became the top on my list of the things that I need. From the excitement that I felt when I bought my first plane ticket to riding the plane and landing on my destination. Anticipating the adventure and cherishing the rewarding experience was life fulfilling for me. From then on I decided that I wanted to travel as much as I can, to see the many places I haven’t seen, explore and have countless adventures. When I realized these things, my perception changed. Yes, I do want to give back to my family that I also have to make myself happy and travelling is what makes me happy. So, I started to work and save for my travels and me and my dad argues about it most of the time.

My dad thought that I am being selfish and that I am running away from the responsibilities of giving back to my family. But it’s just him being unfair. I know I have the right to choose where I want my life to be heading. Even though he does not understand it, if I haven’t discovered how fun it is to travel I might got married earlier, have kids and settled on a life that I might be regretting. I know I’m doing my best to provide for both my family’s need and mine.

Travelling taught me to enjoy life first. It showed me there are a lot of things that can offer me a lot of unforgettable memories and experience. You can never settle and you will crave more of the world. You want to see and experience everything.  You’ll be learning more once you are exposed. You will understand the way of living better.

Last June 6, 2015, I decided to take a trip on my own. This is the first time I travelled alone. My itinerary was not as concrete unlike when I am travelling with my friends. But I still decided to go on and take the trip. The experience was liberating. It gave me a sense of how I can handle myself on my own. I was surviving for four days of taking care of myself on a place away from my family and people I know. I only have me. I was saying to myself if I will be able to get this trip done without me getting into any trouble, I’ll be able to take on the world.

 

Travelling is what makes me happy and so I choosing it, even if it means I have to break some values and get out of the culture. Deciding to make travel my priority does not mean I’ll forget my family. Though my dad does not see it, whenever I travel it makes me miss home, it makes me want to come home as soon as I can. To share what I learned from the different places I’ve been to. It’s making me closer to them than before.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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The rental car cruises at a safe speed down a long and winding road as I sit squished in the backseat, sandwiched a nearly ten-year-old boy next to a car seat carrying my sleeping toddler. In the front, Elvis is blaring his heart out through the CD player, and we are making good time to the fox sanctuary in Shiroishi, a small town in southern Miyagi, Japan. As we push up a hill into denser forest, something occurs to me, and the smile beaming across my face cannot be stifled. We finally did it.

For most of my life, I’ve been noticing these communities of happy families. These parent-friends and child-friends always meet regularly for play-dates and positive social encounters. They all have lots in common— same school, same church, same hobbies, same interests.

And they were never us.

My family was different, and with my mother too busy for church or PTA involvement, the chance for those parent-friend relationships to develop just never happened. The assumption I made and held onto was that we just didn’t fit in. As the weird kid at school, I would of course come from an equally weird family. That social environment I so idolized would never be open to me, for that was just not how my family interacted with the world.

Twenty years later and 6,000 miles away, I would find out how wrong I had been. Here, I am surrounded by a fresh and fantastic supply of wonderful friends— a social environment made richer by the weirdness my peers in Texas avoided and by the fantastic differences between us all as well as the similarities. Most of the friends I have made are from the same continent if not the same country as I am, but we all have different backgrounds and stories. I have learned more about what it is to be American, and Texan, in my time abroad than I ever could have back home.

As the devious, funny, and wicked-smart kid next to me shows no reservations toward playing puppet games with my freshly awoken daughter next to him, I have confirmation that I’ve made it. In front of my sits his mom, one of the best friends I have made in my life, another girl from Texas with a family labeled “other” who didn’t let the small-minded kids destroy what made her special. Both of us have Japanese last names to match the men we fell in love with years ago— more than a decade in her case and a little less in mine.

Motherhood without community support is terribly challenging, and I don’t know how I could have managed the last year without the constant assurance, assistance and support of my friend, a mom-in-the-know.

I had thought as a child that community was like a puzzle, where all those happy families were pieces from the same box with a picture of blue skies and white clouds while my family, if fit perfectly together, made chiaroscuro patches of shadow too dark and bright beyond comprehension, held tight together by sheer will alone.

It turns out community is more like a quilt, with different textures, colors, patterns, shapes, and thicknesses coming together for the mutual benefit of creating something beautiful and warm.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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As I stood in the Mumbai hospital halls surrounded with the three most important men in my life, tears seeped deep into my heart when we heard of my mother’s diagnosis soon after she was rushed from the hospital room to the ICU with chest congestion.

I was attempting to stay strong while my father, brother, husband and I all had our ears painfully wide open when a torrent of wordage such as “life-threatening”, “bad luck” and “grim situation” were pouring out of the doctor’s mouth.  My mother was diagnosed with a very rare autoimmune disorder after two months of having a Fever of Unknown Origin (FUO) and a plethora of tests to identify the cause.

Therein started the long days and nights in Mumbai for the next three months, most of which were spent within the confines of the hospital.  This wasn’t the exact plan I had in mind for that time.  Instead, what was in the books was to see the northern lights in Iceland, and to eat tapas and sip sangrias with my mother and father in Spain, after my mother would first cajole my father into meeting me there.  Circumstances changed.  I adapted.  Instead of the serene light show in Iceland, I witnessed the roaring lights and sounds of the exuberant Ganesh Chaturthi festival.  Instead of sipping sangrias, I was getting addicted to drinking sweet masala chai with my father in the hospital canteen.

Thankfully, my mother got a second chance to live.  Even though she had to be rushed to the hospital again a couple of months later, she fought through that too.  Each time she got out of the critical state, it was like the dawn of a new life when she could eat again through her mouth or take a step with her bare feet.  Her tenacity to live is why she is still here with us today fighting each day to get stronger.

In the nights, the four of us swapped between sleeping on recliners in the hospital and in a small no-frills apartment close by.  We rented the old apartment from an altruistic sister for a negligible price out of the kindness of her heart.  It had all the bare-essentials we needed – a mattress, fridge, filtered water and a working toilet with hot water.  I ran into the sister a couple of times when I went back to the apartment and one of those times really stuck with me.  “I was very touched when you said we have all the comforts here,” she said in the sincerest of tones.  I had forgotten that I had expressed that to her when we moved in: an intrinsic realization that I don’t need much to be happy.

It then occurred to me that there are certain moments in life that you value the most and it is such moments you live for.  I remember when my mother opened her eyes to look at me and when her whispers turned into more audible sentences.  I cherish the time my father and I sat on the park swings to pause our racing thoughts and remember what it was to feel naive again.  I appreciate not missing out on the time we took my mother out for drives through the Mumbai streets, thick with traffic.  I won’t forget her invigorated smile when she peered out the window at the bustling Bandstand promenade and the brimming food scene on Carter Road, visualizing soon being out there again.

My birthplace, a home that I have been far away from for years, taught me about what was truly important.  I used to be afraid of what the future holds and of whether it would clench me with shark teeth.  But I realized that I was already brave.  After all, I was brave through the three months in the most critical of times.  The part that was missing was in believing that what I want is within me and that all the rest is background noise.

Nobody can explain why the leaves may change color suddenly and know when they would turn again.  Life is a constant state of metamorphosis that is a lot of times well beyond our control.  But every day is a chance to grow and the dawn of a new life.  We don’t need a life-threatening situation to get a second chance to live the life we want to live now.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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When she announced to my sister and me that we were going on a family vacation to Costa Rica, our mother didn’t lead with the possibility of seeing the still-active Arenal Vocano glowing in the evenings, nor the country’s vivid wildlife, nor even the opportunity to learn to surf on the beaches of Tamarindo. Instead, because the mere thought of our renting a car to transverse the knotty roads though the rain forest gave her the vapors, mom’s take on the novelty of our all-girls holiday was to be found in these two words: “private driver.”

 

Thus it was that the three of us we were buckled into a large mini-van by Alejandro, the cheerful driver charged with taking us the 4 hour drive from landlocked La Fortuna to the Pacific coast. As the road climbed up and down around Lake Arenal, our itinerary promised sweeping vistas of green and blue, plummeting waterfalls, and the occasional glimpse of a monkey or sloth.

 

But Alejandro had other plans for amusing his guests. Once we were away, he pressed a button extending a small screen from the van’s ceiling. Picked up from the airport in a similar van a few days earlier, we’d watched a welcome video offering us a few useful phrases in Costa Rican Spanish, and assumed we were in for more of the same. We continued to stare out the windows with our cameras in hand, reveling in the equatorial landscape and scrutinizing the tops of tall trees for swinging mammalian shapes.

 

Then Wham’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” flooded the speakers, and George Michael’s 80’s pompadour filled the screen on the van’s ceiling. The hairdo had pulsed through only a single chorus before it was replaced by Blondie’s Debbie Harry urging “Call Me,” a sentiment barely uttered before it was replaced by Cindy Lauper’s maxim that “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” We stopped looking for sloths.

 

Over the next 3 hours, as our van chugged its way though the ends of the rainforest, past farms and fields and the provincial capital of Liberia, the Costa Rican scenery competed with singing along to the best of English New Wave. The Human League, Culture Club, and Modern English all took their brief turns, punctuated occasionally by Meat Loaf or Celine Dion telling us that their hearts will go on or that they’d do anything for love.

 

And, conducted by our trusty private driver, we sang through it all. The tourist’s incongruities were palpable: instead of properly appreciating colonial architecture, we belted out “we’re only human – born to make mistakes”; instead of stopping to explore small villages in the 90 degree heat, we crooned “we’ll stop the world and melt with you” from the comforts of our air-conditioned minivan. In favor of bopping along to “Karma Chameleon,” we missed countless opportunities to spot local reptiles clinging to the trees.

 

We perhaps did not do justice to the beauties of Costa Rica in that four-hour drive. But mom was right – that private driver was worth every penny.

 

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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Trees on the Ridge

When I looked over the photos I took at Bryce National Park memories come flooding back. I can remember one of the walks from the car to the path, there were small banks of snow I had to cross as well as muddy areas I had to skirt. To most people it was a short walk measured by yards and not miles but I was towards the end of my chemotherapy treatments and it was daunting. By the time I reached the pathway I was out of breath and needed to rest. I remember looking out at the canyon and letting its grandeur sink in. The red rocks with white snow on them were a sight to see. As were the magnificent trees that lined the ridge. Their twisted roots above ground somehow found a home in the harsh environment.

In a way I felt like those trees. It had been a long hard battle; the form of lymphoma I had was rare, very aggressive, and it hid well. Before my diagnosis, I went to several doctors and each time I was prescribed a stronger dose of antibiotics. I was always hopeful that this time it would work, that I’d be able to walk up the short flight of stairs outside my apartment without it feeling like I had just ran a marathon. But each time I was disappointed. However, like the trees at Bryce the buffeting made me want to hold on to my life, to fight for the strength to continue.

When I first received chemotherapy it was amazing how fast it started to work. In just five days my lungs had cleared enough that I was able to lie down on my bed. It was Christmas day and after a month of sleeping sitting up it was heaven. That first week I also lost twenty pounds of fluid. I was luckier than I could have imagined, without chemotherapy I probably wouldn’t have lived to see New Year’s Day. And while at first chemo was a miracle and I thought it wasn’t so bad each treatment was harder for my body to take. I needed a reprieve, a chance to forget about the fight and just live.

Thankfully two of my sisters and my niece were able to travel with me to Bryce. While there, my older sister told me about when she had last she visited. She and her family walked the trail which led to the bottom of the valley and then back up. She said it was a great hike that wasn’t too hard. Obviously I wasn’t up to it then, but I remember thinking when I am feeling better, I will come back and take on that trail.

I wanted to see the valley from below, I wanted to immerse myself into the surroundings, to feel alive and healthy again, and now that I remember this conversation I have a renewed desire to go back to Bryce and take on that trail. We drove around to several lookouts and saw the valley from many angles. My little sister and niece ran up to the higher viewpoints but I was content to stay below and take pictures of the canyon and its amazing trees.

Chemo was hard but it didn’t last forever. It was something I had to deal with and like the trees I had solid ground below. Doctors, neighbors, coworker, and especially family who took care of me in the days following each chemo session all buoyed me up and kept me strong. They were like roots; helping me survive on a rocky ridgeline.

 

That little trip rejuvenated me and helped me endure my last few treatments. It was also quality time with my family and I’m very grateful that I’m still around to appreciate them. Whether they are near or far vacation can bring out the best in you. They can make you braver than you are and connect you with people from both around the world and your own back yard. I have been cancer free for two years now, and while my life isn’t perfect, I hope that I have deep enough roots so that I can brave whatever trials the future holds.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

Family Travel

Gone are the days when family travel was considered a luxury. With the wide-range of travel promos being offered today, and (thanks to the internet) easy online booking process of airlines, hotels, tour operators and travel agencies, families are now going places to have unique experiences together.

Family Travel

And it looks like the upward trend will continue. A study commissioned by the Embassy Suites Hotels indicates that millennial parents take trips with their kids significantly more than older generations, and 38 percent of them do so three or more times a year.

The difficulty of traveling with kids may be slowing down the trend though. The same study mentioned earlier says that 11 percent of parents surveyed find family travel stressful, and that stress was a top reason why some did not take trips with their kids more often. Dealing with child tantrums while waiting for boarding at the airport, finding ways to entertain a bored child at a resort, trying to get hot meals for the kids while away from home are just a few of the demands of traveling with children that parents need to deal with while on vacation. Who would want to travel again soon with their children after a nerve-wracking trip?

Embassy Suites Bumper

To address these family travel concerns and enhance the family travel experience, the Embassy Suites launched the #PrettyGreat Family Travel Hacks program in March 2015.

The program includes an online community that engages parents and provides fun and useful tips from family travel experts and fellow parents to help make traveling with their kids easier and more fun. After all, a vacation is supposed to be time away from the stresses of daily living!

Embassy Suites Dance Party

Here are nifty samples of the ‘hacks’ on the #PrettyGreat Family Travel Hacks hub:

  1. Pack your kid’s outfits in separate bags.
  2. Do not pack clothes that require ironing.
  3. If you have an early flight, get the kids dressed the night before in comfy clothes so they are ready to roll out of bed and make that early morning flight.
  4. Wear your baby. It’s helpful to have your hands free in the airport when you’re lugging around two suitcases, three carry-ons, three personal items, two kids, and the overpriced lunch you grabbed in a rush on your way into the terminal. Bonus: the stroller is then free to be used as a luggage cart.
  5. A pool noodle can act as a bed-bumper on the fly.
  6. No speakers? No problem. Put your phone inside an empty glass to amplify the sound and let the dance party commence.
  7. Use the hotel garbage can as a stool. When they can’t reach the sink in the hotel to brush their teeth, flip the garbage can over and let them stand on that.

Tic Tac Toe Napkin

Aside from the online community, the Embassy Suites is adding new family-focused amenities as part of the #PrettyGreat Family Travel Hacks program. Families can expect coloring books and crayons upon check-in and cocktail napkins with family-friendly games during the evening reception, among other stuff on the house. Select hotels are even providing baby care amenities such as baby wash, wipes and other essentials this summer. These are on top of their usual family-friendly two-room suites, free made-to-order breakfast each morning and complimentary drinks and snacks for two hours every night.

Embassy Suites Buzz Lightyear
Photo: Lisa Niver, We Said Go Travel

 

And, further to the all-suite brand’s commitment to providing families with a great guest experience, the brand is incorporating family-specific training into its orientation program and on-going team member training sessions. This is to equip its team members with the necessary skills to ensure families staying with them can focus on enjoying their vacation time together, discovering awesome places and building beautiful memories.

*****

Photo credits:
Family Travel: Colleen Kelly via Flickr
All other photos: (c) 2015 Embassy Suites

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Before the main course, we feasted on spicy calamari rings, dipped in warm, homemade marinara, I’d created myself.  I never imagined myself standing in the kitchen, dancing to Persian music with my prince, feasting on fresh calamari, in the middle of a tropical, Japanese island paradise.  Nasser slipped in and out of the kitchen snagging a morsel of calamari as he returned to the balcony to grill fillet mignon and fresh vegetables.  Nasser has broadened my horizons: opened my appetite to succulent liver, gizzards and hearts flavored with turmeric, onions, garlic and olive oil, fresh baked salmon smothered with milt and shitake mushrooms, or grilled button mushrooms stuffed with sausage.  My eyes have been opened, as has my palate, but mostly my heart.  My life is full of happy moments and fascinating experiences.

Earlier in the day, I visited Shuri castle and the royal tombs as well as the holiest place of worship in Okinawa with my son, Hunter.  We traipsed up the side of the mountain on an ancient stone path, to see a beautifully lit cavern, over-looking the ocean and the countryside.  Two stalactites dripped into small stone pots; Hunter slipped his fingers into the clear water, which had been considered holy in ancient times.  Hunter remarked that the enchanted place, with its cascading greenery and intricate root systems, reminded him of Fern Gully.  The atmosphere exuded peace.   I had a wonderful time with Hunter.  I wished Nasser could see what I had seen, but he had given me this special time to share with my son.  We had already shared many precious moments in this wondrous place.  We had even visited an untouched beach, just as I had with Hunter today.  How sweet to share these experiences with each of them.  Today, my feet sank in the soft, moist sand as I sauntered down the beach after Hunter.  Then, the surface of my boots scraped against the sharp coral stone and slipped on the green slimy moss.  Hunter remarked, “Mom, you can’t come around here, it’s only for boys”, he teased.   He correctly deduced I could not mount the dangerous, sharply inclined coral island, but I did navigate the less treacherous periphery and joined him round the other side (he had mounted the island and slipped through the opening in the center, whereas I had gone around).  The lilt in his voice belied his genuine surprise, “How did you get here?”  Never underestimate the power of a middle aged woman challenged by her strong, young adult son.  The satisfaction that spread across my lips may have been lost on him as I was out of his line of sight, but I savored the moment, then slipped back around the sharp, rocky face and met him back on the other side.  He collected beautiful coral specimens to create treasures for his friends as I plucked up brilliant pieces of sea glass, surfaces rubbed smooth by the gritty surface of the ocean floor.  The sea mist played with my hair and kissed my skin.  A brilliant blue Ryukyu sparrow played on the sea wall nearby.  Though I had slipped down the concrete wall to the beach, my sore shoulder hindered me from mounting it to return to the car; so, we made our way up the beach to a concrete stair way, collecting treasures along the way.  What a delightful time I shared with my sweet son.

            Back at home, we joined to collectively create a fabulous dinner.  I made the salad: fresh, bright greens, crisply baked pecans, slivers of yellow, red and orange bell pepper, bright red tomatoes, shiny black olives, topped off with tiny, deep red, sweet and sour zerescht that Nasser prepared for me.  He and Hunter grilled fish, chicken wings, eggplant, okra, veggie patties for Hunter, and mushrooms stuffed with spiced tofu.  We enjoyed a sweet Riesling with our neighbor, Loryn, who’d joined us.  Later, Hunter and I would walk her to her friend’s house.  The brisk walk in the fresh, cool Okinawan air awakened me.  Everyone went to bed as I put away the food and washed the dishes…a rarity.   Hunter, Nasser and I usually argue over who “gets” to do the dishes.  How different.  How refreshing, from what I hear of many other families.  But my family is not typical… It is unusual, beautiful…abundantly lovely.

How precious to share these moments from such an extraordinary place, this island paradise.  We have traipsed around, visiting farmer’s markets, peaceful remote villages, desolate beaches.  We have danced at midnight, stopped off at noodle shops, treasure stores, sacred temples, botanical gardens. Life is beautiful beyond imagination and this place is ethereal.  I wish all could see what I have beheld with my eyes, held what I have with my hands, felt and experienced what I have.

 Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Inspiration Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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The bright green, perfectly manicured grass illuminates the giant pink and white rose petal heart, and a guitarist strumming a Beatles Love Song amplifies the cheesiness of the situation to everyone within earshot. I stand, dizzy with anticipation and sweating despite it being a comfortable 65 degrees, on the deck overlooking the 18th tee of Pebble Beach Golf Course. My mother and father are renewing their wedding vows today, on their 30th anniversary. My mother is radiating with giddy anticipation, and my father is nervous and excited in the quiet way that only those close to him can distinguish.

The whole family traveled from all corners of the US to celebrate this momentous occasion. I am proud and excited, yet at the same time want to run for the hills.

As we stand there waiting to be called down, paraded in front of hundreds of strangers, the weather begins to change. The sunny California day seems to be changing with my emotions. The Pacific ocean turning from calm to rocky, as grey clouds quickly move in casting shadows on the monstrous houses that line the coast.

Wanting to make sure this wedding happens before rain comes in, the wedding planner waves us down.

I try not to notice all of the people watching us from the deck of the Pebble Beach Restaurant. My boyfriend touches my back, comfortingly urging me forward. He knows how much I despise unwanted attention. Without that slight push, I am not sure I would have the courage to march across the green with so many eyes on me. My sister parades to the heart like she owns the place, as I slowly and self-consciously make my way across one of the most famous golf courses in the world.

The wedding planner, beaming with faux happiness, dangles a garland of flowers intended for me, and drapes it across my head. Pink, white, red and yellow roses adorn my head. The scent of freshly cut flower overwhelms my senses, yet does not do a thing to calm my nerves. Photos are snapped, I force a fake smile.

My sister, skinny, blonde, and perfect in every way, stands next to me. Chest proud, shoulders relaxed, smug. I look her up and down, trying not to compare myself to her like I do at every family gathering. I, the older sister, aspire to be like her. Thin, confident, and dripping with an “I don’t care what you think” attitude.

From the outside, no one would know the self-conscious turmoil bubbling inside me. I look put together, though on the inside I am anything but. Travel has been my escape and a key element in teaching me about myself and all that I am capable of. As I make my way around the world, my self-confidence grows with each new adventure. This trip, I tell myself, is just another stepping-stone toward positive growth.

So, I try to change my thoughts from negative to positive as the guitarist begins to play Alan Jackson’s country ballad ‘Remember When’, signaling the start of the ceremony. My mother and father stand in the center of that cheesy flower heart holding hands.

As the minister speaks his words, words about love and acceptance and happiness, I try as hard as I can to focus on my parents; my mother-beaming, and my normally stoic father-red in the face and crying.

I look around at where I am and what I am doing. One of the most beautiful golf courses, on one of the most beautiful stretches of land in the world. Even with the changing weather, the deep blue of the ocean collides with the bright green grass and brightens everything, including my attitude.

All of the distractions surrounding us; the people watching, the golfers playing, the ocean waves crashing, blur.

It is here in this blur, surrounded by love and beauty, that I am grateful. The love of my family, coupled with the beauty of the celebration and nature around us, allows me to finally throw out all of the negative thoughts that occupy my mind.

The ceremony ends and I walk with my head held high back to the deck. It is time to celebrate with a champagne toast and the sun, peaking through the clouds, just before it sets over the Pacific Ocean.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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Croagh Patrick, Westport, Co. Mayo, Ireland.

Knock Airport, Co. Mayo is claimed by proud locals to be the foggiest airport on earth; it is remote, built on a hill and, reassuringly, has a large statue of Jesus at the beginning of the runway. Once safely alongside, we walked across the tarmac, rain beating down, to find the door into the arrival lounge locked. After several minutes of waiting in the drizzle, an airport official eventually obliged and somehow raised laughter when he probably deserved complaints, by declaring, in lilting, West of Ireland tones, “It was a surprise flight, we didn’t know you were coming!”

Soon though our party (my wife, two daughters and mother) were zipping along country roads on the way to the wedding of my niece, Anne. We also looked forward to an extended three-day break in Mayo, the county of my father’s birth. The MPV toiled admirably with six of us on board and far too much luggage. When we eventually reached Westport, it was getting dark. We knocked on the guesthouse door to be met by a friendly, unashamedly ‘left-field’ landlady, dressed in floral apron,  tweed dress and a sixties beehive hairstyle.

 “Come in, come in,” she said, “I’ll make some tea. Why wouldn’t I?” 

Completely unable to answer her question we smiled broadly.  And they say it is just the English and Americans who are divided by the same language!  But we immediately felt at home here, like putting on your most comfortable slippers.

 “Where have you all come from?” she asked as she busied off to the kitchen.

 I explained that during the day we had all travelled from four separate UK cities, to which she replied:

 “Jeez, I’ll bet ye feel murdered!”

Five minutes later we were feasting on Irish soda bread and strong tea, while the landlady  explained that a ”widow woman” up the street had died that day and she was now “away to the wake”. I detected more than a slight sense of eager anticipation in her voice.

 “Just leave the crockery and help yourself to whatever you want – sorry I have to go.” And with that offer the dear woman headed for the door.

 You just don’t get that sort of hospitality in the chain hotels, even if duvets had not yet replaced eiderdowns and the owner’s cat gave us a menacing John Wayne stare.

The next day, Anne was married, romantically (Pierce Brosnan got spliced there) to Seanin at Ballintubber Abbey: that most iconic of Catholic churches, where priests had fled by boat across the lough at the back of the abbey when religious zeal consumed Cromwell.  Later we feasted, sang and danced to fast, Irish music. What a difference to English weddings, I thought, where there is a reluctance to start off the dancing. Here just about every table emptied as guests rushed to the floor. The next day, fortified by a full Irish breakfast, with black and white pudding, we strolled past the pretty blue and pink buildings, lured by the sound of the wild Atlantic hammering onto the rocks in the harbour. On our way, we counted six Guinness tankers piping the black stuff into the cellars of the countless bars as nuns strolled by.  The secular and the sacred seemed to co-exist very comfortably in this beautiful little town and the general ambience of the place was most attractive.  

The next day, I sat alone at the top of Croagh Patrick, a sharply pointed mountain, which in excess of 25,000 Catholic pilgrims climb on the last Sunday in July: Reek Sunday. I looked down on the town, the majestic Mayo countryside and the distant specks of my closest family. I felt humbled by the fact that my father had come over to Manchester all those years ago to toil and sweat to help build the city’s skyscrapers. It had been nearly thirty years since his death but we sat together on the top of the mountain that day and the pieces of my life seemed to fit together in an unusually clear and comforting way. His was not a perfect life and nor has mine been, but in my heart I heard my dad say that there is no future in the past. The chance to make the most of the years to come was what mattered more.

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