Archives for category: family

So this week I’m making the move to the midwest. St. Louis, Missouri. Home to the best sports fans in the country, the arch, Anheuser-Busch, countless casinos, and about 65 of my relatives. I’ll be living downtown in my very own artist loft. Yes, the place where people potentially throw paint up on the walls, drink a bunch of wine and talk about how fascinating and expressive it is. And I say ‘potentially’ not because that… doesn’t really happen… I say it because I’m not quite sure about the rules and limitations of the apartment complex yet :)

Regardless, I am nothing less than ecstatic to soon be living in a new city, and can’t wait for all the exciting adventures ahead.

But with that said, it is also kind of bittersweet to be leaving Virginia, where I have spent the last 17 years of my life. I’ll be leaving the city that is home to many of my nearest and dearest friends…. aka all those childhood friends and parents who stood by me through ALL the awkward hair styles and through all of my ridiculous fashion decisions (a 1st grader in tims and a huge Tigger sweatshirt, seriously guys?).

Richmond is where I learned all of the important stuff. Like, that turkey sandwiches taste way better with Doritos in-between the bread. Or that getting dropped off by your mom in HS was wayyyyy cooler than having to ride that dreadful yellow bus (But if you did have to take the bus for some reason, that you made sure to stand, not sit, in the back of the bus). Richmond is where I learned how to play kick the can, manhunt, and Last Chance. Richmond is where I co-founded a club called the Kreative Kids Klub and put on magic shows, circus routines, and guinea pig races for the neighborhood kids. And Richmond is where I preceded to co-adopt a manatee with all the money we raised at such fairs. For the short time I could actually touch my toes, I decided to take on karate, where I experienced my first regret: quitting a belt before black (*SMH). Virginia is where I was dubbed the name Shay, Shay Shay, Shanaynay, Shaydiz, Shanny, and everyone’s favorite… ‘Jeff’s little sister.’ Richmond is where I often passed the time by playing pool in our bonus room while blasting a mix CD of the Backstreet Boys, 98 degrees, Nsync, and Hanson. It was here that I also learned, much later, that such an activity was not a cool thing to do.

I had my fair share of themed bday parties, art projects, and collectibles (beanie babies, poggs, and the Lemony Snicket’s ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’ series to name a few). I participated in about every after school activity, sport, community service project, and spirit competition growing up to bore a stranger for about a week. I learned how it felt to lose at an early age thanks to the hundreds of ping pong matches, basketball one-on-one’s, and.. let’s face it.. ANY sort of game I played against my brother. (Thanks Jeff!). And most recently, I learned how… entertaining it is to have your parents for roommates :)

Richmond will always be home to me because of all of the above, and much more. Most of my immediate family is here, and most of my childhood is here. No matter what St. Louis brings me, or whichever city after that, I will always remember all that Richmond has given and taught me over the years. Because after all, it’s here in Richmond that I gained one of the most important assets of all: the courage and confidence to move away and know I can make it on my own.

*shaking my head


I woke up to the first foggy and dull day in my entire trip. Welp, guess it’s time to leave. But I had a few hours to kill, and I was not about to head to the airport without getting breakfast! :)

Left: A fellow clown trying to bring back a little sunshine to everyone.  Right: There are about 6 of these fresh markets at Pike’s Market. But that’s A-OK with me because they hand out free samples of the most delicious fruit ever. That’s one way to get a girl some breakfast.

Ahh… Piroshky Piroshky. This is another, more traditional way of getting a girl some breakfast. Highly recommended.

But after breakfast, it was time to hit the road. My spontaneous, solo-travel trip was over. After 8 hours of travel I’d be back on the East Coast, and back to the daily grind. So here are the ten main things I took from my excursion:

  1. I can do this. I can go somewhere new, by myself, figure out how to get places, and make new friends. This trip was a big confidence booster for me. I realized I’m capable of being independent… capable of putting myself out there, out of my comfort zone, and still able to have a great time.
  2. I’m still afraid of heights. But I’m brave enough to face them. With the number of bridges, cliffs, and log jams I had to cross, I would say I  embraced the experience and tried my best to overcome these challenges. I definitely “drank the sauce” if you will.
  3. Drink good beer. And drink it slowly. Because it’s expensive out here. I advanced from my Natty light days to the lovely world of microbrews and… nicer beer. (Still working on the vocab, obvi) I also learned that a brewery is often the best and easiest place to not only meet people, but to also learn about a city.
  4. Being in a new city makes you way more observant. I probably know the city of Portland and Seattle better than Richmond or Raleigh. And it’s embarrassing. When I was learning about each city from some of the locals, I kept thinking to myself…geez I hope they don’t come to Richmond because I don’t have the slightest idea about where to take a visitor. But on the plus side, I improved my directionally-challenged mind and have become a lot more observant of people, places, and…street signs.
  5. People still get kicked out of bars out here. It was often refreshing to overhear the drunken conversations at the bar, the annoying complaints of a perturbed customer, and the overly dramatic conversations from teenage girls and/or homeless people. Yeah, it seems like a whole other world out here, and people are super nice, but people are still people. And that was a comforting feeling for sure.
  6. Fashion doesn’t matter when you’re traveling. Especially when you’re walking miles and miles a day. Suck it up, and wear your ugly tennis shoes. Oh, and don’t pack so much. (I learned this, but then again I ‘learn’ this every time I pack. It just never really sinks in.. I guess)
  7. Put yourself out there. I already touched on this in number one, but it was really the biggest takeaway from the trip. No matter how stupid you feel, how ridiculous the situation or the question is, or how much your “cool factor” might decline… put yourself out there. You never know what will come of it, who you’ll meet, or what you’ll learn. And if you want an easy place to test out this adventurous attitude, come to Portland. You’ll fit in just fine :)
  8. Bring water on hikes. Come on Shannon, you got this.
  9. It’s a freaking small world. Whether it was meeting up with Amy in Portland, figuring out the bartender went to Godwin HS, or realizing a new friend was about to work with one of my best friends from softball… I couldn’t help but think of how small the world really is.
  10. No matter where you go, you will always have a support system back home. I couldn’t have racked up the courage to travel by myself, much less go through with it without my friends and family’s support back home. Every step of the way (taking me and/or picking me up from the airport, letting me crash at their house, treating me to dinner, giving me a pep talk when I was down, paying for some of my hotel nights, driving across town and through rush hour to visit with me for an hour, reading my blog :), and just simply being interested in hearing about my trip), I’ve realized how great I have it, and how many people really do care about me. Being in such a new and different place made me very thankful for all the friendships and relationships I have made along the way (and even the new ones from the trip). So thank you, you know who you are. I couldn’t have done any of this without you!

I could go on and on, but I know I might have already lost you due to the length of this post. This technically marks the ‘end’ of the trip-blogging, but I can’t guarantee that I won’t mention it or remember something else about the trip down the road. Thank you thank you thank you for reading my blog and following me on my trip. It was definitely worth it, and it happened at the perfect time.

And to those of you who have never taken a trip like this, or have never studied abroad, I highly recommend doing it. You learn a lot. About people, the world, and yourself.

After a brief stop in Raleigh, I headed out to St. Louis for a few days. The trip was a short one, but was packed with a job interview, a Cardinals game, an extensive downtown/midtown tour of STL, some great meals along with some tasty beers, and some quality family time. Similar to most trips, I wish I could have stayed longer, but who knows…maybe I’ll go back and stay for a much longer period of time. J

But hands down, I felt pretty spoiled throughout the two days. Front row seats behind home plate, with an all you can eat buffet and beer service, and VIP parking? Are you kidding me? (You da man Uncle Tom!) Getting an extensive tour of 6 different areas of St. Louis to possibly live in, topped with the best rib-eye and beers, plus getting a car and a place to stay?? Talk about some family love! (Shout out to Bill and Kris!) And some fun nights with cousins to help me get the taste of life in the Lou. (Sam, Ruth, Luke, Tara, I’m talking about you!).

All in all, my trip to St Louie was a refreshing break from the east coast, not to mention I think my interview went pretty well. J It was crazy to see hints of Richmond and Raleigh in St. Louis, and I could really see myself moving there in the future!

-the all you can eat buffet was pretty classy, but Sam made sure to keep it real with some bread and butter

-yup, that’s the view from my front row seats. #luckytoknowmyuncletom

-not pictured: gma’s manhattan

-free beer!

-she’s so hip

-guessing the reason Wainwright gave up quite a few hits was because of the face in the distance. (insert Title of post reference)

-this is my sorry attempt at trying to make up for the fact that I didn’t get a picture with my great hosts. Bill, Kris, and Ruth, stay cool y’all!

-I don’t know what this building is, but who cares… Luke and Tara’s rooftop deck and view is sick. And so are they! Not pictured: Charles

-so much love for these two. Also not pictured: Cousin Jaxson running away from my camera

St. Louis, you da bomb! Thanks for a great trip!

Next stop: Raleigh, NC



This weekend I travelled south to Greenville, SC and Atlanta, GA. As the weekend went along, I decided I would let my iPhone pictures narrate the trip, but I soon realized that I was pretty terrible about taking pictures, and taking very captivating pictures at that. On my next leg of my trip I promise to be a tad more conscious about it and snap better shots. But for now, here are the highlights of the trip:

1. The 7 hr trip to Greenville wasn’t bad at all. Started off with the most-perfectly-proportioned-topping sandwich (that phrase makes sense to me) from Subway, and ended with spotting a decked-out NC State van at the most random gas station outside of SC. The only hiccups on the trip were the vending machine eating one of my quarters, and a short and sunny rain shower in which I couldn’t decide if I should wear my sunglasses or not.

2. I got to see my sister Jill (who is currently 22 weeks preggo!) and brother-in-law Jon, along with the precious pup Rip. While Jon and I bonded over NC State and Clemson fball games, Jill kept me grounded with marathons of The Hills and Honey Boo Boo. The weekend had its thrills with a golf cart ride from Jill and Jon’s 10-year-old niece, and to top it off, I found out they’re going to name their little girl Sarah Marie Tompkins!!

3. I reunited with Nicole Foo, who went to Japan with me in 2006 for HSD. We literally hadn’t seen each other in 6 years. Definitely arranging reunion part II very soon!

4. I reunited with Kensey LaReau, a good friend and vball teammate from high school. Although she was rooting for the wrong tiger, it was still great to see her!

5. Lastly, I tailgated in a food court for the first time, witnessed people dressed up for Dragon-con (spelling?), I finally brought some luck to the Clemson Tigers, I ate St. Louis-style pizza in SC, and I got to visit with my favorite sister and brother in law. Life is good!

Next stop: Raleigh for a night, St. Louis in the morning

“All great things must come to an end.”

This quote sucks. Seriously. Who ever wants this to be true?

But unfortunately, it is reality, and it happens to all of us. And it happened to me this month.

This year marks the end of my work with High School Diplomats (aka HSD or “the Japan program” as many of you are probably more familiar with). Although it is somewhat a relief to not have people look at me like I have 3 heads when I try to explain to them what I do, or to have some friends back home who are probably still confused about what I’ve been doing these past eight years, it is and was the furthest thing from easy for me to say good-bye. My involvement in this amazing program… this “great thing” that has become a part of who I am and that has introduced me to the most amazing people, has finally come to an end.

And just like the quote, it sucked.

It sucked real bad.

What was the worst part? Hmm.. let’s see. Leaving my staff, who has become family to me and has supported me through the thick and thin. But there’s also the part about no longer getting the chance to immerse myself in another culture, and help to build relationships between two different countries (well at least not as often :)). Oh yea, andddd the part about no longer being a counselor for kids, and getting to witness them experience this life-changing program. There’s also the fact that I’ll be leaving a program that has undoubtedly made me a more worldly, compassionate, and all around better person. But really, the worst part is this feeling of emptiness in my stomach, like a part of me has left.

Dramatic? Maybe. Honest? Absolutely.

But through these few days of being removed from the program, I’ve realized a few things. First, that this hollow feeling is a result of putting 100% of myself into the program. It confirms how much the program has really meant to me, and that joining the program was one of the best decisions I’ve made. Second, I’ve realized that even though my “time” with HSD is over, that the memories, the lessons, and the friendships will forever be a part of me. And I for one am looking forward to seeing how the past eight years will shape my future, and always being reminded of all the great times as I go. And lastly, I’ve realized that feeling like this is vital for moving forward and taking the next step. It is important that in life, we have these up and down moments, to force us to sit back and realize how good we really have it. It makes you appreciative of what you’ve been given, what you’ve earned, and what you’ve learned along the way. Everything happens for a reason, and every experience prepares you for the next one.

I’m sad to leave HSD, but I’m thankful for the opportunities and the memories it has given me. I can’t imagine where my life would be, or the type of person I would be, if it wasn’t for this program, but I am more grateful for all the tools it has provided me with as I look onward.

It’s the end of a personal era, but it’s the start of a new beginning. All great things must come to an end, so even greater things can come of them. Not as fluid as the first quote, but it works for me.

So thank you to my HSD staff both in the states and in Japan, for being a part of my life and helping to shape my next adventure. I couldn’t have done this without you.

The other day this tweet came across my Twitter feed:

LivingForMonday (@LivingforMonday)
4/17/12 2:40 PM
RT @leadtoday: Stop whatever it is you’re doing right now and reach out to someone who needs a bit of encouragement.

Pause for a little shout out… everyone should check out the Living for Monday website. This start-up company works to help college students and young professionals find their passion and align their core values with their dream job. If anything, sign up for their MONDAY::Drop, a weekly email post of inspiration and motivation. It’s awesome!

Now back to the program..

The above tweet really made me think. These days everyone is busy. Everyone has a million things going on, everyone is multi-tasking, everyone is often distracted. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Youtube, you name it, it’s hard to think of actual moments in time where we were focused on one thing, and one thing only. I’m not saying in certain situations it’s needed, especially since at the workplace people are needing to take on several projects at once to just keep up with the competing market. However, there are also those moments.. those certain situations.. that we need to stop whatever we’re doing, drop everything, and reach out to someone.

Example 1:
On the way back from my internship with the Police Department, I stopped at the gas station because I had approx. 3 miles left in my tank (whoops). I went in to grab a quick snack because I was in a bit of a rush to get back home to meet a project deadline. At the checkout line, however, I couldn’t help but notice a distressed woman asking several people for help with directions. Visibly upset, with tears running down her face, I witnessed two separate individuals brush her off and claim they weren’t from around here and couldn’t help. (This is where I’ll add in that I saw both of them use their smart phones while waiting in line.) While I was paying, we made eye contact from afar, and I decided to linger around a bit on purpose to give her time to approach me. Long story short, after about 20 minutes of drawing a map, trying to speak in Spanish, and actually going outside to help her visualize how to get from Lauderdale all the way down to Staples Mill, she seemed confident enough to give it a try.

Now who knows if she actually made it to her destination, (gosh, I really hope she did) especially since the only Spanish words I could remember were “Habla espanol?” “izquierda” “cuatro” and “buena suerte.” But nonetheless I felt good about the experience. Yeah, I could have kept my head down and joined the other two people, but I knew if I was in her position, I would really appreciate a helping hand and some encouragement.

Example 2: (less emotional and dramatic, I promise)

Recently a few of my college friends went to Oak Island for our annual beach weekend. While we’re used to having at least 15 people show up, we were more than happy to have the seven of us make it out.

Even though we didn’t make this announcement flat out, all of us kind of made the decision to pack our phones up for the weekend. (I know, more than 2 hours without our phones..gasp) But it was worth it. Why? Because all of us are going in different directions in our careers, (some are already in different countries), and the chances that we’re going to be able to get together as often as we’d like in the future, are pretty slim. The farther we get from graduation, we’ve realized that every year is going to be harder and harder to get all of us out to the beach, or even in one city for one weekend. So we took advantage of the weekend, gave up the need to be connected to people back in Raleigh, or know what was trending on Twitter, and we just hung out. Because no matter how advanced technology gets, how competitive the economy becomes, how many new TV shows premiere during the week, peopleyour friends, your family, your community….people are the most precious things we have in life.

So once in a while, put the phone down and look up. Look people in the eye, talk to someone new, and live in the moment. Because you never know how much a simple gesture can make someone’s day.

A couple weeks ago, my sister shared with me this classic photo she found on Pinterest. I could hear her laughing through the computer, she thought it was so funny. A week or so later she visited Richmond for a weekend, and during dinner she showed me the picture once again and laughed even harder than before.

But I gotta admit, the picture is hilarious. And it epitomizes our relationship. In fact, the dynamic works just the same whether I imagine the baby on the left being my sister or my brother (obviously I’m always the one on the right). Growing up we always picked on each other. You could say it was mainly one-sided, but after a while (meaning just a few years ago) I learned how to get my swings in here and there. And if you’ve been around my family long enough, you’ve definitely heard of all the childhood stories…like the one where we created our own Winter Olympics during one of the many blizzards in Reading, PA, and I was picked to be Nancy Kerrigan while my brother posed as Tonya Harding and chased after me with one of those Flintstone plastic bats. Or when we reenacted ALL of the scenes of Aladdin, and while Jill and Jeff were Jasmine and Aladdin.. I was fortunate enough to be either the camel in the opening scene, one of the guys from the market Aladdin steals bread from, or my favorite.. Abu.

But through all the tough love and sarcastic jabs at the youngest sibling… they were, and always have been there for me. They’ve always been there to listen and give advice. They’ve always included me in their circle of friends and made me feel welcomed. And most importantly, they’ve always set good examples, and have been incredible people to look up to (whether they’re aware of it or not).

So even though I don’t have someone to share Valentine’s day with necessarily, knowing that I have two people who will be there no matter what, is more than enough for me. :)

And since I started it off on a funny note, I thought I’d end it on one too. Here’s a link to an eCard I got from my lovely father today. Out of all the President’s Day, Halloween, and other holiday’s I didn’t even know existed, I’ve got to say… this is the best one yet. (Thanks Pops, you’re the best!). So enjoy folks, and Happy Valentines Day to all the lovahs out there.

It’s been several months since my last post, and I apologize for that. I could blame it on lack of time, or not having anything interesting to talk about, but who wants to hear excuses? But I will say, the best way to come out of a slump is to be inspired by something, or someone. And that folks, is what brings me to this post.

I’m sure a lot of you have seen or heard on the news about the “layaway angels” from K-mart. In West Michigan, a lady was standing in line to pay off her layaway bill in order to bring home a few Christmas presents for her children. As she was digging for some change, the lady behind her in line stepped up and laid down the money needed for the toys. This same lady proceeded to pay off the bills for 7 other layaway customers, spending over $1000. When questioned why the generous acts of giving, she just said to “Remember Ben,” (her husband who had recently passed away).

This anonymous act of Christmas spirit spread like wildfire. In as little as one week, “layaway angels” were popping up in Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Nevada, and California. People were spending anywhere from $40 to $1500. An 8 year boy brought in 8 weeks of allowance ($40) to pay off the layaway bills for several strangers that he didn’t know, and would never know. Another man in California gave $15,000 to a Kmart, paying off several layaway customer’s bills.

Watching the videos of customers coming up to the layaway desk, only to see a handwritten note on their receipt reading “Merry Christmas,” and to hear that a complete stranger had paid off the rest of their bill, was truly an eye-opening experience. One layaway angel said that the reason he was doing this is because he has been blessed all his life, and wanted to share his blessings with others.

I, too, feel very blessed with all that I have been given in my life. Good health, great friends, but most importantly, the best family a girl could ask for. I’ve always lived by the saying, “surround yourself with people who believe in you,” and everyday I am surrounded by my family who has always been there for me, supported me, and believed in me.

So as Christmas day approaches, let us all remember how fortunate we are, and how a simple act of kindness, and a little layaway angel spirit, can make a big difference in someone else’s life.

My two fondest memories of Bernie, my best friend’s late grandfather, were from a vacation to Cancun, Mexico.

1. The first night at the resort, I admit that I had a little too much to drink. Needless to say, the next morning was a little rough and the thought of any sort of alcohol (especially tequila) made me queasy. As I slowly made my way down to our very first breakfast together (considerably tardy), I saw that they had saved a seat for me. And to my surprise, there was a shot of tequila. at my placemat. waiting for me. Turns out, it was Bernie’s clever idea to make me suffer at 8:30am.

2. At one of the dinners, Bernie decided to eat the blob of green “stuff” on the side of his plate, thinking it was guacamole. He proceeded to eat THE-ENTIRE-THING. A few minutes of him slowly chewing and us anxiously waiting for smoke to come out of his ears…. he swallowed and said, “Woo, that sure was some hot guacamole.” But we all knew better, he had just eaten the entire serving of wasabi.

The wasabi story is just a small example of how strong of a man Bernie was. He served in the United States Army for 22 years, putting his life in danger to serve his country. And for the past few years, he battled Parkinson’s disease. But no matter the pain or suffering, he never seemed to let it stop him from making others smile. There were only handful of times that I had the chance to visit with him, but of all those times, he never failed to make me laugh.

Bernie was a kind man, and he will be deeply missed.

His funeral was held at Arlington National Cemetery. I had the honor of attending the service, and documenting some of the traditions. The service was truly remarkable.

I’ve included a few of the pictures that I took during the day.

Bernie, thank you for teaching me to never take life too seriously, or go a day without cracking a joke. Rest in Peace.