Western New York: I Feel Home.

Western New York is a beautiful place to live; constantly I’m awed and surprised by the bounty of this land.   After being here for about three months, I’m beginning to feel settled.

I’ve been incredibly blessed to live in versatile and dynamic places – I mean, Florida and Hawaii – does it wackier than either of these tropical touristy havens?  A Floridian childhood is special in its own ways, yes.  But there was always the part of me that would jealously eye the neighborhoods in John Hugh’s movies, wishing I lived in a northern suburb somewhere – dreaming of White Christmases and houses without stucco.

Western New York is a rich, amazing place.  In the outdoor activity department, WNY’s cup runneth over for sure.  Season to season there is so much to enjoy outside.

Summertime brings swimming, boating and all kinds of water sports on the ample lakes and waterways – specifically Lake Erie – there’s fruit to pick, festivals to go to every weekend, cook outs, camping, hiking, horseback riding, and on and on.  The weather is sunny and warm most days, varying between balmy and mild, the latter giving way to gloriously cool evenings.  This far north the days are long, with dusk’s light fading out at almost 10:00pm sometimes.

As Indian summer fades into Fall, we’ll head into different picking seasons… the grapes first, then apples, pumpkins.  The length of daylight and the level of mercury will both sink.  Hunting season will open up, hiking and camping become more enjoyable with fewer bugs and the festive beauty of the autumnal color show.  Winter snow and the iced over lake will bring even more to do: snow mobiles, skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing, sledding, skating – all things winter.  Thanks to the lake effect snow this region is known for, winter sports and activities are almost always a go ahead (last year was a particularly weak winter, so I’ve been told).  And then as the spring thaw happens, the whole cycle kicks over again, baby animals and wildflowers bloom as warmer days grace this land.  Gardens are planted, the trees extend soft green leaves out of their barren branches, and the desire to run outside and play is felt by all.

More than just a pretty face who’s good for a fun time, Western New York is deep – her rich and dynamic history, specific to my family, has me enthralled.

You see: I’ve always been a transplant.

Growing up in Florida was awesome, don’t get me wrong.  I could swim before I could walk, I’ve seen my fair share of crazy critters, gorgeous sandy sunrises, Mickey Mouse ears, shuttle launches, big cities and sleepy country towns.    Nice, but in ways I’ve never identified before – often hollow.   I’ve never felt like I “fit in.”  Rest assured, I know this is a broad and baseless complaint experienced far more often than people convinced that they’re popular.   But it’s true nonetheless.

Now being here, in the land of my family, where our roots go so very deep (well, American deep, haha) – it’s a very different experience.  An intangible comfort is omnipresent here; I have the confidence of my ancestors encouraging me every day, something in my DNA guides me and tells me, “YOU ARE HOME NOW.”

Being related to so many people in a proximal area is really rad.  Both immediate and extended family are here – and I can hardly go anywhere in town without there being a long-established family connection in place.  And not in a grease-the-palms kinda way, just in a friendly, “Oh! You’re Kathy’s daughter!” kinda way.  My Great Uncle is something of a living legend here too, so that always makes me proud to be known as a Gioia ’round here too.

In Florida, my last name never held currency.  No one cared, no one knew who we were (save for the small immediate circle of my Dad’s co-workers and perhaps the people who did community service with my Mom).  But familial love and long standing relationships bred into generations of families in a small town is something indescribably nice: there’s nothing like the easy acceptance and welcome I feel here.  (Okay, anonymity is nice in its own ways too – especially if you have some wild oats to sow and would like to be able to do just that without seven hundred years of shame brought on your house; my hat tips to Florida for that!).

We’ll go out to eat and there’s a story, many stories, of how one such family member was close with the original owner, and on and on.  I love that the history of this area relates to ME.   My Aunt Patty is always telling me these connections, the old stories, and I’m 100% fascinated.

More than ministrations and tales, it goes deeper, down to something instinctual and primal – something that eludes a direct understanding – that pulls me to this land.  I just can say I “feel” it.   My sense of direction here is flawless –  I grew up in a sleepy beach town with a grid system for roads and huge bodies of water to serve as glaring directionals – Yet, on twisty country roads that weave through hills, I feel like I know my way around.   Sometimes I have this (morbid and) strange vision of late relatives guiding me, walking alongside me, smiling with familiarity as I travel paths they’ve undoubtedly walked along countless times before me.

Weird?

Yeah, I know.

I’m being super weird.

I’ve been mulling over this feeling for weeks now and this is merely my feeble attempt to put the idea into something digestible.  There’s just this massive looming of emotional connection to the actual dirt and trees, the wind and weather here, that I cannot put into words (although I’m trying damn hard as I reach nearly 900 of them in an attempt to suss out an understanding of the feelings this place evokes).

Sigh.

It’s just lovely is all.  I’m happy to be here.  I feel safe, welcomed, wanted, and normal.

Oh!  I can elaborate on the feeling of normalcy, actually.  Growing up in Florida you’re living with a mixed bag of snowbird transplant families.  When I was in college there was legit stat that 30% of Floridians were born in Ohio!  It feels like everyone merely lives there but actually considers New York or Boston or stinky Ohio (sorries! my Dad went to UM, so I gotta hate a little) to be “home.”   Of course I know that there are long-standing Florida families, and that the expansion of the mid-1900s is now making way to third and fourth generations who’ve called the Gunshine State their own.   The vast majority are though, relocated folks from the great white north.

For me, I always knew we were not of that land; I felt like a visitor.   And now – only after living here – do I understand some of the quirks I was raised with that always felt so odd to me.  They’re cultural norms up here!  Little things, like ordering a strawberry shortcake and having it served on a heavy drop biscuit, the exact way my mother always made it.  I’d never in my life had a strawberry shortcake made that way by anyone other than my Mom.  In FL the norm would be angel food cake, pound cake maybe.  Taking a bite of the slightly salty and dense biscuit covered in local strawberries and whipped heavy cream – it was like childhood relived.  “Oh!” I literally exclaimed at seeing the biscuits next to the strawberries last night at Tops (supermarket) – “this is why my Mom does it this way,”  realization of this region’s influence dawning.

The list of little silly habits goes on.

And while I know it seems minute and weird, after nearly three decades of assuming I was just a sore thumb raised by a pair of quirky, wacky (albeit very loving), nut jobs – there’s something so reassuring about being normal.     Yeah, I do think I almost fit in here.  Now… If only I could rid myself of the gentle lilt that betrays me every time I open my mouth.  That and ditch the tie dye, fanny packs, legwarmers, bandannas and other fashion statements akin to wearing a neon “I’m not really from here” tee shirt….

Hahaha.  I kid, I kid.

Yeah, I know I’ll never be run of the mill – a happy realization and one that I’m proud to own.   Don’t worry, I’m not seeking cultural assimilation by any means.

It’s just a nice realization to be able to piece things all together, is all.  And of course, it should go without saying, Florida will always be “home” in so many, many ways.  (I’m actually terribly Florida-sick lately, missing the sand and saltwater more than ever before.  Oh yeah, and all you people who live there too – I miss y’all as well.     But that’s another post for another day.)

For now, wrapping myself in the dichotomous distant familiarity of a land long inhabited by my own blood is just new, fascinating, calming, and … nice.   My induction to Western New York has been altogether charming.

Okay, that’s enough waxing poetic for now!  You get the point, yeah?  (haha, Hawaiian joke.  See, I’m still a regional grab bag).

HAPPY FRIDAY and HAPPY WEEKEND EVERYONE!

xoxo, hhr 

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Bullets, Boooze, and Berries

Sounds like the perfect day, huh? We had us a good ole Redneck Sunday this past weekend! Yee-haw!

Note: Always practice firearm safety, use weapons responsibly, and never fire a gun for fun while intoxicated.  Guns are serious weapons and should always be respected for how powerful they are.

My cousin Nick, his son Austin, my husband Duggs, and I went over to Aunt Ruth’s house (EZ’s younger sister) for some target practice.  Aunt Ruth’s house is known for being THE spot for deer sightings around here. With plenty of property, not a lot of neighbors, and some good areas to set up target practice – it’s the ideal location to go shoot some guns!

loading the bed of the truck with all of our guns

nick, austin, duggs

I mean, if we’re going to be able to hunt successfully at all this upcoming season, we gotta get the practice in now – right?

nicky showing austin how to do it just right

i did awful with my pistol accuracy this weekend, some of my worst shooting ever

austin and the pistol

success!

here’s a sweet little action collage of me with two guns and my fanny pack on. aww year!

he always catches the shell between shots, so hawt!

i could look at this all day long. the man looks good with a gun!

comparing their groups – nick had the top target, duggs used the lower one.

lookin good hot duggs o’ mine

yeah nicky! nick is great at shooting standing up, more sensible than prone position for hunting.

my cousin nick, hittin’ bullseyes all day

i made him pose for this and he was so annoyed

i love using duggs’ rifle, i did way better with it than with the pistol

sassy prone position

my shoulder got beat up. bad!

i’m a gun slingah… in leg warmers, neon tie dye, and a fanny pack.

All in all, we had a lot of fun.

It was a super hot day, which was a mixed bag: I was thankful for the break in the rain we’ve had so much of lately.  But man, it was really hot out – like muggy, humid, hot.  I know that come winter I’ll be longing for these sunny hot days, but after Florida and Hawaii, the cooler weather of New York has been nice.

Hunting and shooting are two hobbies that I’m okay with.  I think that if you’re going to eat meat, getting your meat via hunting is far more humane, healthy, and natural than the factory farming system we have here in the US.  I know that for some of my animal-loving pals, the act of hunting is hard to understand.  If you ever want to know why I feel the way I do, just ask!

Strawberry Festival!

After a couple hours of target practice, Duggs and I headed over to the local Strawberry Festival!  Put on by a near by winery, Merritt Winery, the strawberry festival was a grand ole time.  We swung by mostly to pick up some food for lunch, so we didn’t stay long.

It was a pretty small set up though, so even in about 30 minutes – we were able to at least see everything there was to see.

The festival is home to their world-famous “Sangria Slush” – as soon as I heard that, I was just dying and begging to go all week long.  And trust me, I was not let down.  The red sangria in slushie form was oh so tasty!

After a hot afternoon in the sun, this hit the spot:

What to do after you’ve been shooting all day? Why, shoot some more of course!

The festival all went to benefit jeuvenile diabetes research (great cause, and local too). One of the tables was a small Glock range, and for a few dollars you could fire off seven rounds.  With a beer in hand, Duggs just had to go and shoot some more.

Shoot a bullseye, and win $5 off your food!  Since we were buying burgers and hot dogs to bring home – this worked out perfectly! Good job Duggs.

The fine boardwalk of booths and sundries:

And of course, the classic car show!

the car show portion of the festival was pretty swanky! 

General Lee

little me in the general lee

Strawberries and other fine foods!

strawberry shortcake, the old fashioned way with a heavy drop biscuit

We actually got way more food than this… including some NY state 100% pure maple syrup, a homemade spice and herb mix to cook with, and all the hot food we brought home for lunch.  I should have grabbed some pics of that!

The festival was cute, but I didn’t mind not hanging around for a long time.  There was a band, and the singer was pretty good – but she was just doing covers mostly, and it was nothing epic.  My cousin told me the line up for Saturday consisted of some great local bands that he’s heard before and really likes.

This weekend seems to have kicked off “festival season” – all summer long, just about every weekend around here is some kind of festival or fair.  I am SO EXCITED!  I love fair food, I love the atmosphere, the fun vibe – I want to go to as many as I can (if Duggs actually read my blog, this is the part that would just fill him with dread, lol – imagine going to a fair every weekend? haha).

We had a really fun time.  The sunny hot Sunday outdoors more than made up for how rainy Saturday was and the outside time we lost because of it.  I can’t wait to see what else summer in this new place brings, hopefully more good times and neat stuff to see and explore.

Do you have a lot of festivals in your area? Do you go to them?

ready to head home after a wacky fun day – arms full of treats and awesome

As always – thanks for reading!! xoxo, hhr

Fancy Photos From the Road: Camp Curtis

More photos, I know! I’ve finally uploaded the nice pics from our good camera onto the computer and put together some posts from our trip around New York last week.

I already wrote about the lovely time we had visiting my sister and her boyfriend Jared in Pottersville, NY at their rustic and luxurious lake house on Valentine Pond, Camp Curtis (check out that post, here!)… but I owe y’all the rest of the photos from that leg of the trip.

And since my sister had so much fun messing with the camera, we took a TON of pics while we were there.  With so many animals, such pretty scenery and so much going on, how could you not just snap away all day?

So here’s a whole mess of photos from the few days we were there.  Thanks for looking!

And as always (and I really do mean this), thanks for reading!! xoxo, hhr

Aloha to Hawaii, I’ll Miss You So… Saying GoodBye In Photos

Aloha Beautiful Hawaii! 

aloha rainbow state!

good ole wackiness from my first ever trip to hawaii, back in 2009

Saying goodbye to paradise was harder than I thought it was going to be.  This next step of life is so exciting and wonderful, and trust me: I’m blessed, happy to be where I am physically, emotionally, and everything – this point in life is good.

honeymoon at turtle bay, an amazing time

Our life in Hawaii was extreme, we saw great times and faced challenges.  We reunited there after deployments, but it’s also the place from which we had to say good bye.  We spent sun kissed afternoons out on the water, luxurious days at Turtle Bay, fun evenings out and about… it’s where we said “I do,” and it’s where we found the apple of our eye – our sweet pooch JJ Duggan!

our wedding day

exchanging vows on kailua beach, we did our wedding our way and it was so perfect for us

me and the sweet lil’ pooch, oh i’m so glad we found him in hawaii

It’s also where I’ve battled some health issues, it’s where we suffered a great loss when we experienced our miscarriage, coping through a lonely and hard deployment that was tossed at us without much warning.  But through it all, we came out on top, our marriage was bonded tighter and stronger – so we’ll take with us the happy sunny sweet tropical memories and get ready for a clean slate as we wipe away and move past some of life’s tougher trials.

saying goodbye before a deployment

saying hello when he comes back home again! ahhh, the reunion kiss is always the best.

I’m excited to be in New York and starting this next phase of our lives.  We’re literally writing the first page of a new chapter.  Matthew is out of the Marine Corps and he’s now a civilian, we’ve left Hawaii and moved to New York.  We’re setting out on our own, together.  Duggs was already established in the USMC and living in Hawaii when I came out and joined him – this is a step we’re taking together, going through it all hand in hand.

So yes, I’m stoked to be here in New York…

But I’m going to genuinely miss Hawaii.  I just wanted to take a little post to reflect on the gorgeous aina paradise and really say Aloha.

aloha to paradise, i’ll miss the warm pacific oh so much

we had so much fun boating and out in the hawaiian sun – too much fun to be had every hawaiian day

Hawaii is the kind of place where everywhere you go, there’s an epic view and a breath-taking scene to just suck in and fill yourself with.  The lush mountains, rainbows, flowers, the amazing bright blue oceans and the warm buttery sun bathing all of us.  Hawaii really is this vibrant, happy, relaxed paradise and I am so incredibly blessed to have lived there and spent the time there I was able to.

horseback riding on the north shore, romantic and something i’ll never forget. a truly one of a kind experience.

this island is incredible, i could take a million pics and still wish i had more

When family and old friends came out to visit, we were able to have an awesome time with them in Hawaii – showing off our island home.  I made some amazing friends and connections in Hawaii, Hope Chapel Kaneohe Bay refreshed and renewed my faith and my love of Christ.

sky diving day in the fall of 2010 – duggs, me, anna (my sister), and brian (duggs’ all time bff)

hope chapel women’s retreat 2011 – arise and shine!

L.O.V.E. HCKB Women’s Retreat 2012

me and ashtan and her navy day ball!

haunted lagoon 2011 at the polynesian cultural center, with ashtan + me

girl’s hiking morning at makapuu lighthouse, while all of our hubbies were deployed we made the best of it!

hope chapel k-bay is where i so found my heart for God – this past christmas was so awesome, here i am in between mel and tami!

The military experience is one that we’ll always remember.  Me as a spouse and Duggs as a dutiful member of the United States Marine Corps.  His service is the whole reason we were ever in Hawaii.  Even though the USMC liked to throw wrenches in our plans all the time, I have the utmost respect for the branch and the military in general. I’m grateful for the hard and brave work those dedicated men and women do, and I’m so proud to be married to a man as nobel as a Marine.

our first usmc ball together, in 2010

I tried to pick a couple photos to sum up my amazing Hawaiian experience, the wonderful times I’ve spent in paradise.  And yeah, it was impossible.  So thus… here’s a crazy montage of pics as a way for me to say Aloha!

I’ll miss Hawaii so very much.  I hope that we’ll be able to visit again one day, and hopefully it won’t be too far in the future that we get to go back.  Until then, I’ll take my mainland life one day at a time and find new beautiful sights to oooh and aaah over, I’ll discover new favorite places and I’m sure Duggs and I will forge tons of new memories and create lots of new adventures, all with stories to tell.  But as we do, I take some little pieces of Hawaii with me always – the sea turtle tattoo I got on my first trip to the island, the wedding ring on my hand that will always make me think of Kailua’s soft sandy beach, and the thousands of memories forever etched into my heart.

Aloha Hawaii – I’ll love you always! 

pretty islands (photo credit here)

And to my readers, I thank you (as always) for reading! xoxo, hhr

she’s going the distance…

She’s [not] going for speed.

Oh man, did I go running yesterday.  Yesterday evening, actually. I had an epic run! 

Did you read Friday’s blog, about how I was reading the awesome marathoner-in-training blog (SmilesAcrossTheFinish) and in doing so I got all pumped up to train harder?  (Woah, I just went all blog-within a blog-within a blog, there. Woah.)

we headed out right as the sun was setting, a perfect time to go

So yeah, for those who aren’t caught up on my crappy ramblings: I’m feeling all driven to try and run harder.

Before we go any further, YES, I love Cake.  And if you think I mean the baked batter with buttercream, while you are correct (I love that cake), I really meant Cake.  The title of this post is from a Cake song.  They’re totally in my list of top 25 all time bands.  I should totally make that list sometime.

Anyways, about running: given my current health dilemma and meds, I’m not sure how consistently dedicated I will end up being, but I’ll be damned if I’m not gonna give it the ole college try and then some.  I’m totally down to play through the pain.  And while I honestly do keep my health in consideration, I don’t want to use it as an excuse or to sell myself short.  It’s a rather delicate balance.

I have a goal for workouts per month, and I really want to push myself, even on those days I feel crappy or am having pain.  Sometimes, running or working out, even helps the pain.

I mean, if ever there was a girl rip roarin’ and ready to push the limits, ignore doctor’s orders and warning, disregard the notion of resting/taking it easy, and push through pain because she has the world’s highest pain tolerance – it’s ME!

I was honestly motivated and I had an AMAZING Friday-evening run.

me, making a REALLY weird face before i go running

weirdo

jj lookin' so so fresh

We ran for 63 minutes without stopping.  That may seem really small and insignificant to you, but for me – that was one whopper of a run!  I didn’t walk AT ALL.  And neither did lil’ pooch.

I won’t tell you how far I actually made it during that time.  That would be too embarassing. But, I did discover some nuances about my threshold and I feel like I have a baseline to start from.  I feel so pumped, that I actually want to go running now.

For everyone motivating me, THANK YOU!  I feel so good, and I hope the momentum keeps pushing me forward.

post-run stretch, feeling like a champ!