It was a hot day in July. I remember because I really wanted a snow cone. I was 13 and awkward and had transition lenses but I still remember that day with clarity. I was at a youth group event with my best friend. My grandmother was late to pick me up, which never happened because she was always the first to arrive to everything. When she did arrive she grabbed me and said “She’s gone. But you’re going to be alright.”

That day, July 9, 2005, my mother left this world to receive her ultimate reward, to rid herself of a broken earthy body and gain a new, heavenly one.

And now it has been 13 years since that day.

I turned 26 back in April and now I have lived half my life with and half without the person who helped raise me and prepare me for this world full of disappointment.

But she didn’t raise me to sulk in self-pity, far from it. Nor did she teach me to focus on the disappointment of this life. She taught me to acknowledge that life throws surprises and hardships and to be always thankful for what we have and who we have. She showed me that strength of character is defined by how we face life’s obstacles and she taught me to raise my head high and accept life as it is, with dignity and grace. She taught me through her unwavering faith that everything, absolutely everything, in this world happens by design and is for the glory of God, who’s understanding is unfathomable from beginning to end. She had every reason to give up. But she didn’t. And neither will I. 

I was at an event recently where people shared personal stories centered around the theme “when life gives you lemons.” While I didn’t share a story that evening, I have been mulling it over in my head ever since.

Sometimes life gives us lemons. Sometimes life give us a lot of lemons. And sometimes life buries us in so many lemons that there is no way we could possibly get rid of all of them on our own. When life gives us that many lemons, we have no choice but to ask for help. But if we are too scared to do that, oftentimes people will come and take some of our lemons away for us, without even being asked to do so or for anything in return. That has been my experience with lemons, at least.

I knew my mom for 13 years and I am a product of her. But I am also just as much the product of the countless other people who have come into my life at exactly the right moments, who have helped shape me over the past 13 years and who have showed me the divine presence that has guided everything this whole time.

I am a product of the countless people who saw me buried in lemons, struggling to figure out what to do with them. They saw me and they saw a need to help and for that I will be forever grateful. It is in them that I saw my mom over the second half of my life, many of them acting like a “mom” to me when I needed one most. Others simply reminding me of her by their gentle spirits, love and humility. Others still by becoming the new friend, confidant and cheerleader that I once had in her.

It makes me sad to know that now my days with her will forever be less than those without her. Up until now I had known life longer with her in it than not and I will always carry the first 13 years of my life with me but they will stay the same as the past is final. The future isn’t promised, I have experienced that all too well, but I must continue. So much has happened over the latter half of my life, too much to mention now. But in essence it’s this: life isn’t easy or guaranteed, people come in and out of our lives for a reason and someday, maybe long after I’m gone, it will all be worth it. 

I think my grandmother would reply to that age-old lemon question with something like this: “If life hands you lemons you better get out the juicer and start separating some eggs ‘cause the merengue for this pie isn’t gunna whip itself. Life gives you lemons, make something with them. And add some sugar while you’re at it.”

I had no idea how my life would be turned upside-down and dumped out in every way possible on that hot day in July 13 years ago. But the free-falling pieces landed exactly where they were supposed to in a way more beautiful than anything I could have ever imagined.

She’s gone. But I’m alright now.

Harmonious to the eye

The Valley of the Temples of Agrigento is one of my favorite sites in Sicily, if not all of Italy. 

Pictured below is the Temple of Concordia, a place holder name as the true name has been lost to us in history.

It is a classical Greek temple of the Doric order, in fact, the best preserved Doric temple from the entire ancient Greek world. It was completed in the middle of the 4th century BC. 

In it's 2,500 years it has withstood storms, earthquakes, wars, bombings and many times of uncertainty. But it's truth has reigned through it all. It shows the height of ancient architecture, and in many ways, architecture today. The Romans would try to copy what the Greeks discovered, though they added their own modifications to the original. During the Renaissance, architects would relearn the ancient proportions that the Greeks had not only calculated, but perfected.

The Greeks discovered a beautiful harmony that runs through and influences all things: the Golden Ratio. 

Classical Greek buildings are harmonious to they eye in the same way music is to the ear. If a chord on a guitar or piano is pleasing, it is within the correct ratio. If a building is pleasing to the eye, it is harmonious.

Our word for style does not directly translate to Greek: "stilos" actually means column. The Greeks used the work rythmos, or rhythmn, to convey our English meaning of style. So they would say a building 'follows the Doric rhythmn.' 

Our guide Giovanna has a wonderful line she always says when we stand in front of this temple to explain this concept:

"Architecture is solid music. Music is liquid architecture." 

A summer nessescity

In a land where iced coffee (as Americans know it) is as close to a reality as a unicorn, alternatives must be found. 

And also in a land where, in the height of summer, temperatures can reach well into the 100 degrees Fahrenheit, cold coffee in a nessescity.  

My go-to (Italian style) cold coffee is a caffè shakerato. 

They’re great because A) they can be ordered practically anywhere B) they contain coffee and C) are ice cold.  

It’s a simple recipe: 

A shot of espresso, ice cubes and simple syrup all combined in a cocktail shaker. Usually served in a Martini glass. 

I like them because I can feel fancy, even if for just a second, while I sip this classic Italian summer staple and drip with sweat at the same time.

Antico Caffè Greco on Via dei Condotti in Rome is a common stop for me and should be for you, too, should you find yourself there.

PRO TIP: order it at the bar and you will pay much less but still get to enjoy the ~fabulous~ atmosphere. At the table is much more expensive but the service is superb.



What a conversation

It’s not often that I long to be a part of a stranger’s conversation but I couldn’t help myself after observing this scene for a moment.  

I was walking in the Jewish quarter of Rome and had already passed this group of women when it struck me just how significant a moment it had been that I just passed by. 

Six women and one little girl. How incredible a sight to see them having a conversation. Six women, each probably having lived at least seven times longer than the little girl. But they were sharing their collective experience with her. 

It was a simple moment on a Saturday evening. One that happens probably almost every day in the exact same spot. But it’s the repetition that makes it special. That little girl will be better off later on in life because she has these memories and the the shared wisdom.