Why the 4th means so much more

First of all, Happy Independence Day America! [ Cue “And I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free…”] In 1776, our forefathers, who were considered rebels at the time, stood up and resisted the ways of a tyrannical government. They were brave. They were fierce.They were Americans. Hoo-rah!

As the Fourth of July rolls around this year and everyone gets their BBQ essentials ready to showcase their patriotism in the likes of star-spangled bathing suits and beer cans, I have to say my heart is a bit heavy. You see while most families see the Fourth of July as a day to hang out by the pool and watch fireworks, my family grew up with it meaning a little something more. For us, the Fourth of July meant it was my grandpa’s birthday. FullSizeRender_1

Every year, since I can remember the Fourth of July was shadowed by the celebration of the patriarch of our family. All 2347 of my cousins and their kids and my aunts and uncles, take time from our hectic schedules and make time to be with each other and celebrate him. There are fireworks, soccer games in the backyard, tons of food and Nanny’s infamous lemon meringue pie that’d I’d have to fight Uncle Steve for.   

This year is the first year that my grandpa won’t be here.

I was very close with my Grandpa, as I am with all of my grandparents. Not many 29-year-olds still have their grandparents, so I count my blessings everyday.

Anyway, all I can say is what a guy. My grandpa lived through some arduous times as a part of the Greatest Generation. His parents came here from Calabria, Italy in search of the American dream, just like many other immigrant families from around the world. They wanted a better life for themselves, for their children (all 12 of them), and America was it. And as many immigrant families know, it was no walk in the park. They had very little money and the work they were given was brutal and scarce. Not to mention the distasteful discrimination towards immigrants which could break a person’s soul. But that didn’t stop my grandpa.

He was one of the most genuine people I’ve ever known. I loved to just sit and talk with him and listen to his stories of the good ol days. Whether he was walking 5 miles to school in the pouring rain uphill both ways, facing a grizzly bear while stationed in the Army in Alaska, or meeting the love of his life, my grandmother Carmela, his stories captivated us all and really painted the picture of who my grandpa was.12241293_10100398461207800_3151820187605164186_n

The last year and a half or so, after my grandma passed away, my family lived with and cared for my grandpa. It was one of the most memorable experiences too and I consider myself lucky to have shared that time with him. Everyday he made me smile. Everyday.

Sometimes I sit and giggle about how cute he was. When it was time for bed and he’d get in his stairlift and say, “Up we go!”  and give the thumbs up. And once he was all tucked in and done ‘Oh-ing’ and ‘Ah-ing’ through his bedtime routine, he’d give me a kiss goodnight and say, “Thank you for everything, God bless you, my Melissa. I love you.” Those memories will never leave my heart.

Now it’s that time of year again and everyone’s heading to the shore and spending time with their loved ones, filling their bellies with hamburgers and hotdogs and popsicles. I’ll be joining in on the festivities too and I’ll even probably have more than one popsicle. And as the fireworks boom and laughs are had, I’ll sing a little happy birthday song for a man who’ll always have my heart.FullSizeRender

Happy 4th of July, everyone.

Happy Birthday, Grandpa.

Love always,

Your Melissa

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Adventure is out there

I’ve been feeling pretty grateful recently and felt I just had to share my gratitude. (Cue eye rolls.) You see, a year ago, I made a decision that changed my life completely. I made the decision to leave my job.

 

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Redwood Forest

 

 

Now, it may not seem like a big deal, but I really loved my job. Don’t get me wrong. Every profession and every school district for that matter have its issues, but I genuinely loved where I was. I had tenure and just finished my 5th year teaching. I loved my students (most of the time- haha). I loved my co-teacher (Shout out Steph!) and my colleagues (team 5A all the way). I had a great relationship with my administration and I was having great success in the classroom. Sounds perfect right?  So what would make me give all that up?

Traveling. My fiance at the time had been offered an opportunity as an Occupational Therapist to get into the field of Travel Therapy. When he first brought it to the table, it just seemed too good to be true. We pick the place anywhere in the US and then recruiters place him in a job in that area or as close as possible. Seriously?

I learned my lesson before about things that seem too good to be true (stupid NADS) so I was not going to be fooled again. We started looking into it and speaking to friends and other people who did it, we found it to be the real deal- I know awesome, right? Now, it was just a matter of us making the decision.  Ray was all about it and since the demand is so high for OTs he really could get a job anywhere. So that left me.

Should I stay or should I go?

Choices like this remind me of a poem I taught my students by Robert Frost called, The Road Not Taken.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

I remember using this poem to examine the depth of figurative language and the symbolism, and analyze the author’s meaning and– sorry old habits die hard. Anyway, I remember discussing with my students the importance of following your heart, taking risks, and not always doing “the norm”. “Be a leader and make your own path.” I’d tell them.

 

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Arches National Park

 

So I spoke with my closest friends, my family, and even my coworkers, about this pickle I was in, in order to get some different opinions and viewpoints on the subject. Thing is-I kept getting the same answer; the answer I wanted to hear. DO IT. I ended up having so much support from everyone, that it really made the decision a no-brainer.

This was an opportunity to explore the country and visit places I’ve always wanted to go. It was an opportunity to learn about ourselves, two newlyweds and a car full of essentials (yes, an X-box is an essential). It was an opportunity; an experience we couldn’t pass up.

 

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London Bridge

 

So I’m grateful. I’m grateful that we had this opportunity in the first place, so thanks Ray for choosing a job that offers us this experience. I’m grateful for such supportive friends and family. I’m grateful for the priceless memories we’ve created along this journey so far. I’m grateful for puppies, Walt Disney, and dark chocolate and- sorry, getting a little off track.

You live once. It’s such a cliche but it’s true. So why not take a chance, go out on a limb, or whatever other analogy tickles your fancy. Life’s too short not to live it- and live it your way.

It’s like ol’ blue eyes once so eloquently put it,

“I’ve lived a life that’s full

I’ve traveled each and every highway.

But more, much more than this,

I did it my way.”

Countries visited: 10
States visited: 25