A Day for Donuts

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Have you ever dreamt of making your own donuts? Well, if so, I would encourage you this instant to stop dreaming and make them a reality. This is the third time Pete and I have made donuts and, while you should plan for at least an evening’s time to make them, they will leave everyone asking for more.

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Pete started by tripling the dough recipe, which he got from none other than Alton Brown, then dividing it up into portions and letting it rise. I really shouldn’t get any of the credit for these glorious masterpieces, Pete really is the brain and the brawn when it comes to this project. While Pete rolled out the dough, cut the donuts and began frying them, I chimed in enough to keep a steady flow of donuts ready to be fried.

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Not pictured, but we did actually do a glaze (made of milk & sugar) to top off the donuts. Next time, I’ll have to do a better job of documenting the process, but I thought this would be something fun to share while I’m editing more photos! (Plus, my mom’s coworkers wanted to see the end results so, double win!)

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Maternity Shoot with an Old Friend

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One summery night, after work I had the opportunity to drive to Boulder (about 45 minutes from Denver) to meet up with a friend I’ve known since college. We met back in my sophomore year and shared memories baking cookies, attempting to make gimbap and dancing with hoard of Santas one frigid evening at a local watering hole (we’ll save that story for another time.) After college we both moved on to our own endeavors, and about four years ago, our paths crossed again in South Korea, p1100247where I was living at the time, and where Juhee was back for the summer, visiting her hometown. We picked up where we left off and spent the day exploring the streets of downtown, sharing a bottle of wine and laughing about where our lives have taken us. Fast forward to where we are now: Juhee has been studying diligently at CU Boulder getting her PhD and I have been living in and out of Denver.

img_1947I reached out to Juhee once I heard she was moving to Chicago and offered to take some maternity photos for her before she left. Thankfully, Juhee has been patient because photo shoot was nearly two months ago and now she has a gorgeous, healthy little darling named Nery.

I had so much fun capturing this beautiful moment in my friend’s life. She is absolutely stunning in these photos and it was such a wonderful opportunity to reconnect once again, as we walked along the creek, reminiscing of the past and dreaming of the future.

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Denver, At Dawn

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Trying something new is scary enough as it is. Trying something you’ve been doing for a long time, but looking to take it to the next level can be overwhelmingly daunting. And overwhelmingly exciting. For the past year and a half, I have been rolling around idea after idea after idea. The ‘Classic Stephanie’ as I like to call it, is having one idea, being so excited about the possibility that I cannot sleep, then continuing to have another idea the next day, and the next day, and the next. Being overwhelmed by the possibility and potential of what the future can hold is not a bad thing- in fact, it’s freeing. Hope can do that for you. The ability to feel in control of deciding the way you want your future to turn out allowed me to wake up in the morning feeling more alive, more driven, able to lay out the steps and make moves in order to make that happen.

Or so I thought. Then, just over a month ago I saw this image:

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and it truly struck a cord with me. If I continue to go around and around in circles and not make any real decisions, invest any real time or move forward- where will I be in one month, one year, or for the rest of my life? All of these ideas had similarities across the board: creativity, expression, flexibility, community, an element of story telling and ability to do good in the world. I had to make a decision before it was too late.

For more than ten years I had been dreaming about being a photographer. Sometimes, the idea was quiet, and it was easy to keep it to myself. Then, other times I shared the idea; but I had never truly pursued the idea or turned that idea into action. Sure, I’ve been complimented by my carefully selected and artistically edited Instagram photos, but photography? What do I know about that? Could this be my opportunity to trust myself and pursue a new profession? Photography was my first passion. When I was growing up, I learned that Walgreens had a reusable, disposable-style camera that when you finished a roll of film and took it to be developed, they replaced the next roll of film for free. Ta-da! I had a camera and was saving money on film (yes, film!). From there I was able to take as many photos as I want and now have two very heavy totes somewhere in my parents basement with all of these lovely photos and the scrapbooks I made to go with them.

After returning from a trip to South Africa, I decided to invest in a digital single-lens reflex camera which I have been using for the past eight years. Recently, after returning from a trip down under, I decided now is the time to truly invest in myself and give this a chance. If I invest time, money, blood, sweat and tears and after a year it’s not working out, then I believe it is still a worthwhile investment because I am giving it a shot. I am finally trying. By doing this, I am giving myself the potential to truly pursue what I can only [cheesily, yes] refer to as my dream. This has been the most consistent dream, quietly humming in the back of my mind, dream that I have had for over a decade.

The truth is, with this camera in my hand I feel a creative freedom and potential that I have not felt in a long time. I shot with a Canon previously, and after a lot of research and asking an unbelievable amount of questions at Mike’s Camera, I decided to switch to a mirror-less Sony camera. This camera is slightly lighter, which will make it easier to carry while traveling, not to mention the video quality, tripling the number of pixels my previous camera had and it is even weather-resistant! When I asked the employees what I would be missing from the Canon I was looking at to the Sony, he responded with, “Actually, it’s more so what you’re gaining.” Sold!

I was ecstatic to bring my camera home and couldn’t wait to go play. But it was dark when I got home, so I decided the next best thing was to set my alarm for a foreign time for me on a Wednesday and be present for golden hour. I headed to LoHi (in Denver, Colorado) and wasn’t sure where I would end up, and wound up walking across the bridges, over to Union Station enjoying a gorgeous, crisp, early fall morning. This was day one and I couldn’t be more excited to being the girl with the camera, once again.

Here I will share a few of the photos I took that morning. Most of them were shot using the program setting, as I was just trying to get familiar with this camera. I would love to hear any thoughts or feedback you may have on the results from my first morning. Thanks for joining me on this adventure!

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Recap: 365 Days Spent Thinking About Blogging

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Where to begin?! Well… I’m still here! I’m also still living a life on the move, which might be why you haven’t heard from me in awhile: for that, I apologize. Over 365 days have passed since the last time I hit the infamous, ‘Publish.’ That changes today and I cannot wait to put an end to my blogging hiatus.

In the past, I’ve attempted to sum up a year; I don’t want to do that right now, but I can promise that there will be more on the previous years that will gradually spill out in the coming months. For now, I’m going to keep it simple and complete this sentence, five times:

In the past year I’ve decided to…

1. Take every opportunity.

In the past year, I’ve entered six countries and 15 states.  Everyday I’ve felt unsure of the future and my decisions, but I’m still on my feet and so grateful for having the guts to take each opportunity instead of letting fear take control.

2. Set big goals.

Even if you do not complete them fully, attempting to read one book a week for an entire year can still result in reading 45 books. That’s more than the 18 I read the year before, or the 1.5 I’ve read so far this year; I’ll take it.

3. Say, ‘Yes!”

Deciding to say yes might be the most fun ever. Saying yes this year has lead me to living in my all time favorite city (in the U.S.), planning trips to reunite with friends and family, and more upcoming international travel.

4. Attend some awesome parties and drink the latest, tastiest beer.

What does spandex, jump suits, shoulder pads and some of the newest up and coming craft breweries have in common? The New Kids on the Block beer festival brought the best of the 80’s and the best of Denver’s Breweries for one epic night.

5. Do something that scares the heck out of me.

It might have taken some cajoling for me to be on board, but speaking at Denver’s Ignite event last month was one of the most thrilling experiences I’ve had lately. I got to speak about something I’m passionate about and has shaped my life in the last five years.

Writing feels a little rusty, after a year away, but bear with me and we can have some fun. There are upcoming adventures abroad, new endeavors in my neck of the woods, pretty pictures to show off and a whole lot to catch you up on.

Sunrise, Sunrise: A Seoul Sunrise

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Seeing the sunrise in Seoul has been high on my want list nearly my entire stint in Korea. It’s not so much that I overlooked it; on the contrary, I thought about it often, it was always the gumption during those early morning hours that was lacking. I’ve seen the sunrise while finishing those last drops of soju (Korean styled rice vodka) after dancing late into the night, but I had simply never sought it out. Besides, seeing the sun rise from where I lived was not easy.

Consider my apartment a valley in an oasis of concrete jungle. On a good day, you can catch glimpses of blue sky but with high-rise apartment buildings towering in ever direction, the portion of the day when the sun greets the world and departs is hidden in the depth of solid walls that continue as far as the naked eye can see. Knowing my time in Korea was coming to an end, seeing the sun rise had crossed my mind several times in the weeks leading up to my departure. I had been contemplating another venture to Seoul tower, believing it would be worthwhile to see the sunrise. And I had yet to ‘hike’ there. I knew the trek had to be done, and even if it was a cloudy day, the attempt would make it all worth it. The time was now.

I’d say the walk up, brisk as it was in those early February hours, took about a half hour. From below I could see the sky breaking and the emanate light of the sun glowing in anticipation. Eagerness in our last few meters we anxiously ran to the top, seeking out the best viewpoint. To our dismay, turns out the watchtower and ideal viewing spots are for some reason blocked off after hours. Begging the aggushi (older man) in my broken Hangul he waved us the go ahead, and in moments of anticipated bliss, we were only able to capture snap shots of the sky between screens. Retreating outside the blockade we enjoyed the peaceful, gradual ascending sun through the trees at the geographical center of Seoul. Seeing the fiery ball of light first peak over the mountain was surprisingly exhilarating.

Our ragtag crew that assembled in those early hours clambered down together and we made our way through the Namdaemon Market where, in Korean style morning hike tradition, we had blood pork sausage and sundae from a boiling stone pot to warm all our bellies after the morning’s adventure.

 Side note: after realizing I went 11 months in Korea without seeing the sunrise, I have since decided and made it a priority to see the sun rise in every country I visit. Since this morning venture in February 2013, that’s been nine countries, ten if I include my own where I have successfully seen the sunrise.

Evolving Quiescence

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I had never known peace like I did in that moment
aboard the boat with the wind in my hair.
Life appeared before me: clean, whole, pure, simple.
I couldn’t remember yesterday and my mind didn’t consult what would be;
if not for the steady crash of waves, life seemed, in that moment,
to be on pause, and I was sure that because of the depth of this peace,
my heart no longer tenaciously clung to forgotten promises, but let go
and for the first time fully felt the pristine air, free.
Simple. Light. Callow memories, free to drift at sea,
loosening the reign on my soul and allowing this permutation to grip, rip and heal.
The sea, my efficacious healer, omnipotent in this moment,
supplicating my soul, allowed internal quiescence
amidst the cerulean sea.

Maganda Philippines

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I’m not sure how to write this, or even if I should right now, but it’s weighing heavily on my heart. Over the past year I’ve experienced the world in an entirely new fashion. I’ve always sought different avenues to live and embrace life; that has leaded me to various places where I’ve encountered a range of people with customs both similar and different to my own. I’ve experienced more generosity than I could ever imagine and found the greatest joys in the simplest moments.

Amongst these moments, traveling has taught me that it’s not about the thrill or excitement of the adventure (though that does add to it) but in breathing in the moment as it happens. I found myself with grandiose plans that were quickly simplified at the first sight of a market where I could take in the hustling mothers, the panoply of goods foreign to my eye, the taste of the freshest fruit and sweet pastries, listening to the daily clattering about of people moving with life, intention and drive. Everywhere I looked I found the happiest of people, content in their lives and eager to share a word in passing or over food.

This is where I found myself in May. I was traveling with my companion at the time and we were hanging out in Tacloban for three days. Unexpectedly, due to the election in mid-May, we had some extra time, crossed over from Tacloban, in northern Leyte, into Basey, a city in southern Samar, seeking to explore this remote gem known for it’s natural beauty and a park nearby. We’d read in our (un)trustworthy guides we might be able to do a tour for the day, and upon arrival quickly realized that wouldn’t happen.

Without dismay, we set out to explore the region, cameras in hand. People called out friendly greetings as we passed and, without a need to rush, we stopped and chatted with the locals, inquiring about their lives and sharing a few words. Throughout the day, we were offered their local coconut wine, bartered for baked goods, consumed too many mangos (because they are the best) and were even shown a weaving factory by an eager, talkative woman I quickly bonded with over our views on education and a shared, simple snack.

Passing by endless youth, playing the country’s favorite sport basketball, we joked and made our way onward. The afternoon still stands as one of my favorite life memories, and undoubtedly a memorable moment in the Philippines. We were within eye sight of the ocean, in fact many homes were built hovering above the water- and within seconds of being spotted we were ambushed with children who seemed to come out of the wood works at the site of our cameras.

Eagerly they ran- posing, laughing, and skipping without a care to be had. They each gave the other a run for the money, daring to be the star of the photo, to be in the spotlight, the center of attention, humbly showing their beautiful smiles, best poses, and ever present peace sign. I made my way around the concentric block and the persistent kids never gave up! They chanted in unison, ‘One more, one more!’ and just look at them- how could you not snap picture after picture?

It was clear to me that day that their life is simple, but it is full and rich in all the right things: happiness, laughter, love and pure joy. I was overwhelmed by their spirit and touched by the apparent community. I was there for barely a glimpse, but their lives were clear- the veracity of their happiness spoke for itself. To me, that day, their way of life was the definition of my favorite word in Tagalog, ‘maganda’ meaning beautiful.

Salamat-po for such a beautiful day.

View from the Jeepney
Morales Family’s Pedicab
Homes hovering over the water in Basey
Happy Driver Relaxing
Men Gathered to Play Basketball
Family Waving a Warm Greeting

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Going over the bridge that connects Southern Samar to Northern Leyte, just outside of Tacloban

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My deepest regards go out to everyone there now, who is fighting to survive, struggling to make sense of the unbelievable disaster that has just taken place. It’s beyond devastating to see the aftermath of the storm, unfathomable to imagine so many lives lost. I don’t have the words to make sense of it right now, but amidst the disaster, death and horrific scenes I have seen in the news, I can’t help but remember the smiles and laughter from that day and hope for the best for their future.

A Look at the View

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Views. They come and they go. It seemed like the landscape was ever changing as I rolled through Java, but looking back the landscape was surprisingly similar from one end to another. Each place I saw people, hard at work, moving with intention and flowing with this vibrant, successful society.

Climbing the mountain this morning I lost the trail, determined that if I jut kept going up it would eventually lead me the right direction, or at least allow me a better view to find the path again. Wading through waist high grass I was itchy, sweaty and laughing at myself. Remembering the overstated quote, ‘when the two roads divided I chose the one less traveled and that made all the difference’ -and while normally I enjoy this quote, this morning I was wishing I had found the actual trail. Then I turned around and was greeted with lush, green fields, a gleaming ocean and after a few more steps, I thought I glanced the first sight of my sought after temple. Ah, just the right sight to keep me going. Isn’t life like that sometimes? After a few more paces I connected with a smaller than expected path that easily took me to the temple (where I am currently writing this). How many things stand in our way on a daily basis of doing what we want in life? Is it an overgrown, missed footpath that leaves is discouraged? The unknown or fear when we’re in the moment and have a chance to dive overboard before the waves get too rocky? Are you waiting for someone to take the plunge with you, or perhaps push you over the edge? Whatever it is, think about it for a second.

I have found that there is a breaking point for myself. Leading up to something I am so excited, enthralled at the rush, adventure, change. Then I hit panic mode where every doubt, question or negative voice from others floods my head and clouds my vision. I stand there on the edge and let it take over me, consume my entire being. It reminds me of bungee jumping. I didn’t have any desire to do it before hand, but being met with the highest one in the world (Blukronts bridge in South Africa), I couldn’t turn back. Deciding to do it, I knew I’d love it, so why waste time being scared in the moment? I was one of the only in a group of 20 not pacing around ready to poop my pants. I was second to go and watched the first. I remember it clearly because I was excited to go after him, he had a similar spirit as my brother and helped keep my focus in check. My leg straps were on and it was time to stand up; at this point every emotion possible overloaded me and panic set in. No no no! I was waving my hands and ready to dive away, glue myself to the floor with all my might if I had to. But I had reached literally a line where you couldn’t return. I had this sudden breath of calm in the last moment and remembered what one of the workers told me about jumping and not falling: the jumping pictures are what make a good photograph. So in that last glimpse of a millisecond, I chose, and I jumped off that bridge (I have pictures to prove it). The moment of free falling, weightlessness and even risk is one I’ll never forget. Afterwards it was exactly how I expected: I loved it and pined for more. Taking those initial steps, testing out the water and then diving in are the moments that impact us, challenge us, result in change. We become who we want to become and these moments of choice help us get there.

The last couple weeks have been filled with these breaking points, and while I’m not plummeting from a bridge, I have had to wake myself up to escape the doubt ringing in my head. The truth is there are many paths to choose, and just like the one this morning still lead me to my destination, there isn’t a right or a wrong, just different. Finding what works for you is great, especially if it means you get to test out all the wrong ones in the process! Experience makes us relatable, makes us human and propels us forward. Who would ever want to take that away?

In retrospect, I think of how easy taking the path might have been. It was clear and there were even steps along the way. But my path? Well, maybe no one will ever walk that same way again, and that’s kind of cool to think about it. In a homogeneous world it’s kind of fun to think sometimes we can do things a little differently, even if it is a mere 30 minutes plowing through rough terrain.

If you’re always chasing after the moment soon you might forget that this is actually the moment.

Over the last few weeks, traipsing through Java my mood would fluctuate all across the board- ok that is putting it lightly, but really I was all over the place. During those endless, smokey, sweltering bus rides between destinations I battled with myself the ever persistent question of what am I doing? Shouldn’t I be on a beach somewhere relaxing? Shouldn’t this all be really easy and bus rides be in comfort as opposed to this temporary mode of misery? Then, I’d pause and take a second to get out of my own head. I’d look across the aisle at the woman who had been staring at me and offer a smile. And you know what? She returned the smile. Objectively, I could be the only white female going through this area, alone. There are cultural and religious reasons why that would not be possible, or incredibly hard, for a woman in her network. I mean, really it’s not that common in mine either. So while I was busy getting worked up second guessing my choices leading up to those moments, I stepped away from my own minor frustrations and was greeted with beauty, warmth and smooth transitions.

Before we travel we have an idea of what we want to see, or at least I did. Before this trip I had years of day dreaming, pages read of other people’s encounters and I couldn’t help but think: could I do that? Would it look the same? Would that happen to me? How would I find this once I got there? Call me crazy but I’m guessing I’m not the only one to experience this. I think they are part of everyday interactions that are just amplified when your comfort zone is taken away bit by bit with changing food, language, dynamics that have formed our modern norms.

I might think, why hike up the same mountain when you can have different views, and others might think why hike a different one when you love the view you have?

Im finding a freedom more and more everyday when I let go of the shoulds and allow myself to just be and go along with things.

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48 Hours in Singapore

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Ever since I learned about the sanitized, beautiful, urban jungle that is Singapore I’ve been intrigued and excited to add it as one of my destinations in Southeast Asia. The lonely planet gives you three rough guide options: one, two or three day trips. I decided to play it safe and go for two full days, which conveniently fell on the weekend. This was extra convenient because my plan was to hang out and chill with the locals, eat food and explore.

Singapore is in a category of its own when it comes to Southeast Asia, and possibly the world. Now, I am from the heartland of the United States and am no stranger to well kept, natural beauty, but Singapore is a world of its own and seemingly comes off as a pristine, modern day Pleasantville. There are trash bins everywhere and they even recycle! If you have been anywhere in Asia, you’d be as excited as I am that they recycle and options for trash. There are laws against eating or drinking on the train system, there is no spitting on the sidewalk and people are generally more well behaved and refined than some of their neighbors (in my experience) when it comes to table manners.

 After using couchsurfing only twice in the Philippines, I was excited to utilize it and capitalize on my time in Singapore. In retrospect, couchsurfing was the perfect way to explore Singapore and was all that’d I’d hoped and more. I mean honestly, how often do you travel to a new city and fall in step with what feels like old friends? Couchsurfing makes that a reality. Most host even squeezed me in between two others he was hosting so I was able to meet more people, venture around the city with a photographer and yoga student as they put their practices into action, poses going on all over the city. I was able to eat my way through the hawker stalls of little India, enjoy my fair share of tea gingers and a pink drink of pure deliciousness called Bandung (named after the city I was just in, in Indonesia… But I never saw it there). Eventually we made our way over to Chinatown where we battled a full fledged rain storm and eventually cozied up at someone’s house for homemade fantastic Greek food.

The food and adventure filled day was just what I needed to prepare for an all night cycling trip around Singapore; that’s right, I actually biked all the way through Singapore between the hours of 9 pm and 8 am. After not sleeping for several days before (at least not more than two broken hours at a time) the ride did pose a few challenges, all of which were overcome with great conversations and exciting new sites and scenes along the way.

The next day was a slightly slower pace, but no lack of adventure- dont you worry! I explored a few more hawker stalls for that delicious and reasonably priced food, wandered around the neighborhood and then met up with another couchsurfer who introduced me to more of the Chinese influenced cuisine. Topping the menu (I’m scars to say it) was stingray. Also included were many chicken satay dishes with an amazing peanut sauce, egg noodles and oysters. All were unique flavors and if its possible, entirely too much food! In true Singaporean style, I rounded to trip off with a bank breaking beer that cost about $12 USD. I’ll justify this because it was at a brewery called Breworkz (to my knowledge the only local brewery in Singapore) and the wheat beer was delightfully refreshing after a hot, long day. But if you know what my budget looks like, then you’d understand that this was a special ‘when in Singapore’ moment, so ill let it be. 🙂

A few hours of shut eye later, I was out the door and on the road again. I had a weird mix of just indecisiveness about Indonesia. I was excited to be going but felt scattered in my planning. Knowing my flight time would be better utilized if I spent it researching rather than sleeping, I took my trusty Lonely Planet out, planning to read about Java and Bali one more time. Lucky for me (seriously, so lucky!) I was sitting next to a woman who radiated positive energy, returned my smile and … Well, the rest can be explained another time. But I will say that Dea helped calm my nerves, Renew my travelers spirit, remind me why Indonesia is so beautiful, exciting and fabulous and left a lasting mark of friendship. It’s amazing what kind of real relationships can form over a flight, some checked bags and walking to the bus terminal. Not to mention, she’d just backpacked Vietnam for ten days! That trip of hers will definitely inspire mine :).

The Joy is in the Journey


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There’s a saying that keeps echoing in my head, and it’s one I’ve heard over and over, perhaps for years of my life: getting there is half the fun. Everyday this statement rings true. Whether it is in regard to recently: the flight leaving Korea, then driving through Tagaytay, then flying to Puerto Princessa, taking multiple means of unexpected transportation to reach the still semi rural location of El Nido, then far up north, back, to Singapore and quickly on to Indonesia, life is moving quickly. On the other side, I can look at all of this as a process through years of my life.

Before I graduated, I knew that the traditional life style of finding a career path, investing in my own long-term future through possessions and belongings and general job security would not be necessary. Don’t get me wrong, I obviously wanted a job and to be financially responsible and secure but there were a lot of things to consider when it came to finding a place to move to and a job. The only thing I never questioned was that I would be moving to a new location. That part always seems consistent is that I would stay for a while, adjust to the culture, explore as much as possible, feel connected and then move on. Trust me, it’s easier to say than it actually is to do, but for me, this works. It worked well in Denver (though I miss it regularly) and it worked again in Korea. And now it’s happening all over again but the landscape is changing at a faster pace.

One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned through packing up and moving on is to enjoy and embrace the moment. Enjoying those endless bus rides that are so bumpy you fly off your seat, enjoy waiting and talking to people who sit besides you, take a look around at the places you are seeing and invite the people around you to join in the fun! I wish I was learning more about how to collect less along the way and pack less, but unfortunately my bags remain full and heavy on my shoulders. But honestly, right now living in the moment and letting time become it’s own entity is refreshing… I could get used to this.