9/11 and NYC – a photo blog

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The pursuit of happiness continued in NYC this week. This is a photo blog because there are no words….

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We were consumed with the museum. The audio, video, pictures and exhibits were breathtaking. The emotion in the museum was incredible but they made it educational and honestly, it felt more like a tribute to the lives of the lost rather than an incredibly sad experience. I was not sure how I would handle it from an emotional standpoint but I have been wanting to go for a long time. Every room gave me goosebumps and we completely lost track of time. We spent hours in there, and I would do it again….

** be sure to enter your email at findinglaura.com to keep up with new posts, or find me on Facebook and Twitter!

The pursuit of happiness… A photo blog…

I believe that sometimes you have to place yourself in a happy environment to find yourself in a happy place.

Now that it’s fall, it is easy for me to find happy places because it is my favorite season.

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The flowers are still pretty and it’s not too cold.

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The colors of the leaves are just beautiful.

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Sitting outside is just perfect!

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You’re not alone because the birds are still out.

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A nice walk is fun.

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Sunsets are gorgeous.

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Everything is decorated for fall.

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You can find so may new things to do!

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It’s a good time to relax and reflect.

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The scenery never gets old…

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And the sunrises aren’t too shabby either.

Fall is the perfect season to be in pursuit of happiness.

-L
** be sure to enter your email at findinglaura.com to keep up with new posts, or find me on Facebook and Twitter!

Lessons from Jax…

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He was here for only a short time but I learned so many lessons from him that I’ll keep forever. Maybe you can take a lesson from Jax too.

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Thursday night, Jax got really sick, and I knew it was time. His last days were fun for him, I stayed with him most of the time and played with him and fed him a lot! He was in my arms and the last words he heard were “Mommy’s here.” He is not in pain or suffering anymore which makes it all okay but it doesn’t get easier.

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When I got home right around midnight that night, I knew I wouldn’t sleep so I started collecting his things. I knew I wouldn’t want to come home and find a toy or a treat laying around. Of course, I missed a few so that’s exactly what is happening. I didn’t realize how many weird and random hiding places I had for things. I did what I could to get my house back in order and then I headed to my office very early. I know there is a lot to catch up on after spending so much time with Jax.

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I learned that people are understanding.

Then I ended up in a coffee shop and a field of flowers, literately. I stayed distracted until late afternoon when I had to accept it was time to go back home.

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I learned that a happy environment is the best place to be when you’re sad. I tend to hide out when I’m hurting but I think it actually prolongs the pain to stay isolated for too long.

I learned to be really friendly to people, especially children, when I’m sad. Their response to your friendliness in most cases will actually really cheer you up!

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I learned that I am completely inspired by pet owners. They are incredibly passionate, loving and protective of their pets and of other pet owners, and they are pets too! It amazes me how they will reach out, even if they’re strangers, some people you haven’t talked to in years and even people who you don’t get along with. Pet owners understand each other, and they step up to the plate when they know there is a problem.

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I learned about the Rainbow Bridge.

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I knew that going home was going to be hard. The first thing I saw was his empty cage. The house is quiet and empty and, for some reason, it seems bigger without him in it.

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As I walked up the steps, I still look down like he was going to be walking next to me. And I thought if only there was a way to erase everything from the last six weeks, I would do it. I thought the best thing to do would be to forget that any of this nightmare ever happened. That’s when I really stopped to think.

I learned exactly why I run from everything and everyone. When you would rather not take the risk of being hurt than just being without feeling, you really do miss out on a lot.
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It would be a mistake to forget my time with Jax. Some people would say, “he was just a dog,” but to me he was a lot more. You see, before Jax, I would have said that in my entire adult life, I never thought I was good at anything but my job. I learned a lot about Jax and his condition, but I also really learned a lot about me.

I’ve learned a lot about things I do and how I treat myself and people.

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I’d have never gotten attached to anything or anyone. I’ve always done that on purpose, I’m told it’s a defense mechanism. Except, in the last two years since I moved back home, I started to feel like that was a mistake, and being good at your job is not enough to make you happy. I knew that something had to change but I’ve struggled with feeling heartless and detached sometimes. My experiences in trying to open up we’re complete failures and I ended up hurt more than I started with so, again, I withdrew. Jax taught me though that it is worth the risk to have the attachment.

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I learned that I have a big heart and I am not selfish.

I learned that I can handle anything.

Jax got scared and cried a lot at night because he was sick and I would rock him to sleep. A lot of nights we were up every two hours. I was exhausted and I loved him anyway. It changed my life and how I spent my time and I loved him anyway. I would’ve done anything for him and I gave him all I had to give.

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I learned that I am capable of that, and even through a very tough and hurtful situation.

I learned that I believe, even more than I did, that God will never allow you to have more than you can handle. I operate in extremes, I always have, and sometimes I need extreme situations to learn from.

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The thing is, I’m actually kind of excited about exploring all of the new lessons I just learned. It’s interesting because I had a conversation this morning about how I have guarded myself so well and kept everyone out. It makes so much sense now. I just went through exactly what I’ve been hiding from all this time, in friendships, relationships and in life, not just in pet ownership. These are life lessons.

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I learned not to be afraid to ask for support and not to be guarded with friendships. I have always been so worried about being independent and saying “I can handle it,” I would never ask for help. When it hurt so bad and I couldn’t do it alone anymore, my entire world stepped up to support me. People were amazing. I even cried in front of people, often. I am so glad I let great friends in to help me when I needed it. People are not perfect, some friends will disappoint you, but you’ll never have an opportunity to know great friendships if you let a fear of bad ones keep you away.

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I learned that we’re not meant to go through life alone.

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In another conversation, we talked about how I’ve let myself get consumed with only men who would never treat me right and would hurt me because it would be shallow and easier to detach from. Now though, I know that men who don’t care about me enough don’t deserve to have me caring about them.

I learned that I have so much to offer people, pets, family, friends, co-workers, etc, that I deserve to surround myself with people and things that care, support and treat me like I treat them.

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I learned that I am a good friend and a lot of people thought I deserved good friendship in return.

What I have just learned, is that my job is not the only thing I am good at.

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I learned that I can be an amazing wife, and a wonderful mother and with a family I will find the perfect new puppy to raise in my house. There is a man out there who will be amazing enough to get through to me, and to put up with me, and I will give him everything I have just like I did for Jax. I don’t know him yet, and I know God’s timing is always right but the next time I get a puppy, it will be because we will raise him or her with our children. Although I know it makes some of you sad, I will not get another puppy before that. I know what you’re thinking… I know that the chances of this happening again would be unheard of, that is not the reason.

I learned that something like this, that is so close to your heart, is incredibly difficult to handle alone. Not only because he was sick, but even the bottom line care he deserved, the love and training he needed and the heartache when something was wrong.

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I have learned that being independent does not have to mean being isolated or alone.

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I have learned that it is okay to be sad, that I can give myself compassion and that crying is not bad.

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I learned that, at the end of the day, it would have been easy for me to shut down and never realize any of this, and at another time in my life, I probably would have. Today though, I am happy and proud to have gone through every moment and challenge with Jax. I remember being in the pet store and saying, “this puppy is sick, I can’t afford to take him home and risk him not getting better. I can’t handle that.” I literally said that, and more than once. There was never a chance that I was going to leave there without him though.

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He was meant to be with me, to teach both of us about the beauty of life that we both would have missed without each other…

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-L
**be sure to enter your email at findinglaura.com to keep up with new posts, or find me on Facebook and Twitter!

Happy Places

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Do you have one?

I love finding happy places. I can go to these places when I’m stressed out and immediately feel calmer.

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These days, it is Valley Forge park. Today was one of the days I needed a happy place and it worked. I took a long walk and found a spot under a tree again. There was hardly anyone in the park because the afternoon wasn’t quite over so it was just about silent.

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It is one of my most peaceful happy places.

When I lived in Birmingham, my happy place was Vulcan. It’s a big statue overlooking the city with a viewing tower at the top. I remember sitting up there and feeling like I was above everything. I liked being on top of the world. It has been some time since I got to go to my Birmingham happy place, but I do have it hanging in my house.

I love that place so much that my friend got me a big picture of the view from the viewing tower at dusk as a housewarming gift. It was such an amazing gift.

I had my staff Christmas party there last year. That was a great memory! I also took my little cousin there last year and went through the museum.

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I’m known to do a Laura twirl in happy places! The next happy place was somewhere in Oklahoma that I’ll never know how to find again.

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We just wanted somewhere to watch the sunset. I asked a Park Ranger. As soon as I got out of the car, I fell in love with it. I spun! I watched the sunset and I truly enjoyed every minute of it.

Of course, I was in my happy place all through Italy… But it was Venice that got the twirl.

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My next one is Niagara Falls.

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Of course I enjoy my time there as I’m always in good company with these two incredibly special men. Something else too though, it is larger than life. I just stand there and watch the water falling over that drop in the horseshoe falls and I am in awe. It has always made me happy and is one place I keep saying I need to go to more often!

I think everyone should have a happy place… For me, it is somewhere I go to escape reality. It is a swing set in a park or a bench on a hill or a boat!!!! I love boats!!!

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Sometimes it is just as simple as a place that holds a good memory, or a place where you catch a scent of
something you like, or a place where you can escape from the world.
No matter what it is, I think everyone should have one!

Lessons from Casanova

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Thursday started on the hammock…

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And ended on the hammock…

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There was a nap on the hammock in between too!

Just looking out to the countryside is amazing, still. It does not get old, it does not dull, it does not become less appealing, it is just beautiful.

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Since we are in Chianti, we are surrounded by farms and vineyards and we decided to go for some tastings. As we left a vineyard, I got behind the wheel. We were debating going home or not (when I say home, of course I mean the apartment in Tuscany which I now want to make my home). I made a right instead to drive through the hills more and noticed a farm called Casanova. I’m in Italy, I’m in love with everything and everyone and it is named Casanova so I turned in (In Italy, Casanova just means “new house,” by the way).

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Here, we found a great story…

This farm was beautiful! It was home to many animals, plants and flowers. We sat for a tasting.

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The Owner of this place was a big time business man. He had a big job with big responsibilities and big stress for decades.

He decided that he didn’t want that life anymore and bought this land in Tuscany which had not been functioning or cared for in over 100 years. I can’t imagine that because this place was beautiful.

The woman’s name was LaVinia and as she was telling us this story you could tell she was also passionate about it. As she spoke of the Owner, she said, “when you are passionate about what you do, it’s no problem to start work at 5am and work until 12 or 1am.”

We started the tasting with the balsamic and oh my gosh! I bought some of it so everyone at home can enjoy it on a salad with me while I talk about my trip. It was so delicious. They had one that was aged 30 years and so sweet that they used it as a topping for ice cream. I have never tasted balsamic like that before.

The olive oil and vino followed suit. It was probably the best olive oil I’ve had. Then, she brought out creams. They grow lavender here on the farm and offered oils and lotions. The smell of lavender was wonderful. I use lavender when I have trouble sleeping. Interestingly, sleep has not been an issue in Italy, I just haven’t done it enough because I’m moving around so much.

Anyway, as we talked, we mentioned that there are no to-go cups for coffee. So, we can’t have coffee as we walk around. LaVinia’s answer to it was this:
“We just stay there and enjoy at a table or stand at the counter. We stay to make friends.”
It really is amazing how we speed everything up in America and we miss the opportunities and time that they work hard to protect in Italy. She goes on to say, “If I go away, I don’t enjoy it. It’s like wine.” I really enjoy my cappuccino time and now that she mentioned it, that is where I have met and talked with people the most. It is a big difference from getting coffee in America. I go to Dunkin Donuts in the morning, go through the drive through and avoid as many people as possible. Also, I get the largest cup available so I don’t have to go back. The difference is remarkable, especially since I enjoy sitting and having coffee so much more than I realized.

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After our tasting, the Owner came out and talked to us. It was clear how passionate he was and I loved it. We talked about how much we love Italy and they brought us the most wonderful Tiramisu.

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He talked about life in Italy and jobs and issues. I told him I could learn Italian and work for him. He said, “Sure. You get an Italian man and you will learn it.” I wondered if one of my family members told him to say that but he went on to say that he had to travel for a few months for his job and didn’t know English. His boss told him it was his problem and to figure it out. So, he got a girlfriend there who spoke English and the interaction is what taught him. That does make sense actually because I was learning a lot more Italian when I was with the family here.

The last thing I want to say about this winery is about the Owner. I loved his story so the more he talked, I had to take notes (all I had was a napkin).

20140525-104609.jpgHe said he is hosting dinners and tastings in New York City and I asked if he did any that were open to the public. He said no and explained that the people who visit his winery in Tuscany know of the wine and can buy it and book him to come in for tastings or events. It contains the production to some extent which he preferred. There is no greed or pressure to grow. He was just satisfied with his life and loved it. His response to me was this:

“I don’t need to buy a Ferrari, I am happy with my car.”

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Verona in Love

I literally felt like a princess in Juliet’s house so I threw out my plans and stayed in the room all morning. I had cappuccino and biscotti in bed, stayed in the robe, kept the balcony door open (my balcony overlooks Juliet’s balcony) and listened to the birds chirp. Yes, I, Laura, did absolutely nothing. It was the perfect start to the day.

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I finally got up and left my room around 11:00am. I found a small cafe where I ordered a small gelato, half cafe and half latte and a cappuccino. Not sure if it is normal to have them together but I don’t care.

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I wandered some more, took more pictures, did a little shopping and then decided to follow the church bells. I found the church but couldn’t go in yet because I HAD to take pictures of it. The building was old but detailed, like so many others but different. I loved the arches in the entrances. By the time I went in, mass was almost over but I was okay with that, I still got to hear some of it and then the amazing music. Yes, I took pictures and yes, I did it during mass. I’m a tourist so I told myself I would be forgiven. The church was just so beautiful. I was surprised at the beggars inside the church. I guess nothing is off limits but they were all over people as they stood up. I stayed for a good while after mass saying my own prayers.

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I did more wandering and stumbled upon the arena. This place was larger than life.

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There was some big walk or run today so there were a lot of people on the streets. I started to head back and got distracted by some more shopping.

I went back to the square for my lunch. I sat under the umbrellas again but at a different restaurant. As I sat to eat, I put some music on my headphones, ordered a drink and zoned out. The food was fantastic.

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Then I saw the red heart sign across the street. I have seen the sign several times but from far away and I never knew what it said. But now I see it, it says Club di Giulietta. IT DOES EXIST!

20140518-191551.jpg I meant to ask at the hotel but forgot, it’s from the movie (Letters to Juliet) that made me want to come to Verona. I know it is a sappy chick flick but the town looked so pretty, I knew I wanted to see it some day. Months ago, I wrote a letter from home hoping that I would get a response so I knew it was real before my trip. I did not get the response so I just thought it was made up and felt a little stupid that I believed it because I found it on the internet. I found out you can get training to be a volunteer to reply to letters with them and work in the actual Club. Maybe I will do that someday.

The Little Black Dress

Well… it’s official, I am 30 years old!

Leading up to my 30th birthday, there were several times where I got offended by family because of plans changing and inconvenience… Even trying to plan a night out myself. I mean, everyone knows I need attention… And sometimes people aren’t the best at making that happen. In hindsight, I should have realized people were avoiding me and moving things around and acting funny.

Friday, I had a great day in meetings, time with my Godson at his school and in the spa with cucumber water and one of my best friends. We had a great dinner where I was surprised with a bottle of wine that I had searched for five years ago and never found, thoughtful gifts and great company. I had such a great time I never even thought about the number 30!

Then came Saturday, I woke up and went to get my hair and nails done.  I met my friends (who were staying at my house for the weekend) to eat and then went home to get ready for a night in Atlantic City. I never thought twice about it when my friend, who is always late, was rushing us to leave the restaurant.  They left my house telling me they were going into the city for other plans that night, but asking why I wasn’t ready yet since I was getting picked up in 30 minutes. But what they knew, and I didn’t, is that they were throwing a surprise party for me and here I was laying down in sweats with no makeup on.  See, my cousin had told me that we had to wear little black dresses. On a normal day, I would never even consider it, however it was my birthday (and everyone should wear a little black dress when they turn 30) and we were going to Atlantic City.  I figured it would take me three seconds to put a dress on and I could do my make up in the two hour car ride so I wasn’t rushing to get ready.

I never noticed that when my friends got to my house they were completely jittery and checking their phones and texting. So I started to put makeup on because initially they said it was fine and I had time but at some point they realize that me doing makeup takes too long and told me to stop and get in the car. So I did. But then, I wasn’t putting it on, I was just gossiping and dilly dallying (as usual). I was told that I should put my makeup on while I’m sitting in the front seat and have the mirror because once the guys got in the car I would be in the back. My response was “it doesn’t matter, you can just hold the mirror for me.”  I don’t know how they held back the look of horror when I said that because everybody knows if I would have walked in there without makeup on, it would not have been a good thing. Thankfully, 5 minutes later I realized that she was right and I should use the mirror while I had it and there was light to see. I finished my make up just in time to pull up to the party that my cousin’s mother and father-in-law were attending with my niece and nephew. They were supposed to tell me some story about going into see the kids but they didn’t even have to because I was upset that my niece didn’t call me on my birthday the day before. So I told her I want to go see Leigh and give her a piece of my mind…. she said sure!

That must’ve been such a relief for her that I was going to go in on my own, however, as soon as I got to the door I realized that I was wearing a little black dress… At the last second I stopped and said, “I can’t go in there wearing this.” She had already started to open the door and just froze for a second not knowing what to do. People are standing there waiting to yell surprise and I wasn’t in the doorway. My cousin responded with “JUST GO IN.” So I did and I was greeted by the kids, including my niece who I planned on “giving a piece of my mind,” holding a beautiful bouquet of red roses, and my whole family and my friends yelling surprise!

I have never been surprised before in my life and I realize that there was a lot of time and planning required to pull that off. After hugging the kids, the first thing I did was look down and notice my little black dress. My friends were so funny talking about the fact that if I would have known, I never would have worn that little dress but after the first 20 minutes of tugging on it in an attempt to make it longer, I didn’t care anymore. People thought it looked cute. It was a whirlwind and I jumped around talking to family and new and old friends, danced around the place for a while and laughed so hard at the little things that I never noticed until later.

It was an amazing birthday weekend and one that I will always remember.

After trying to unwind, and catch up on sleep, today I am frantic to get my office in order and finish packing to get on a plane for nine hours that will land in Rome, Italy at 9:10am (Italy time). Since I turned 21, I have said that I would go to Italy when I turn 30, never really knowing if I would or not. Today, that is happening, and by the way, I am bringing that little black dress!

Not every day has been fun or easy and not every day will be, but I am a little older, a little wiser and I realize today, more than ever, that no matter what happened in the past, I am surrounded by people who love me. For that, I am grateful.

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CIAO!!

-L